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Podcast Transcript

Episode 21: Watch Her Rise: A Story of Recovery Turned Into Action!

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

Sam: Hey, I’m Sam!

Ashley: Hi, I’m Ashley and you’re listening to All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. We want to create a space for all bodies to come together authentically and purposefully to discuss various areas that impact us on a cultural and relational level.

Sam: We believe that all bodies and all foods are welcome, we would love for you to join us on this journey. Let’s learn together.

Ashley: Hello, everyone and welcome back to another episode of All Bodies. All Foods. Sam and Ashley are here today, and we are joined by a guest, Dayna Altman! We’re gonna talk to Dayna today about her experience in recovery. Dayna is an alum of Renfrew, and so I wanna share a little bit about her. Dayna Altman is an energetic and dynamic speaker, entrepreneur, author, and creator. The full force and sole operator of Bake it Till You Make It LLC, Dayna harvests her passion for mental health advocacy by using food and baking to create an authentic recipe for vulnerable storytelling. A nationally recognized mental health leader by the Biden-Harris administration, a dual graduate of Northeastern University, and an active Boston community member, Dayna has experience both working in the mental health field and with youth-based nonprofits. Currently, Dayna pursues writing poetry, documentary filmmaking, and exploring new ways to change the world using her own voice. Living with depression and OCD, as well as being in recovery from an eating disorder and sexual assault, Dayna works each day to become her message. Dayna! Thank you so much for being here today.

Dayna: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited to be with both of you, and to talk to you, and share my story, and, yeah, just be in your presence. The energy even on— like, over video is just, it’s so dynamic. It’s palpable. I’m so happy to be here.

Ashley: Aww, thank you!

Sam: Yay, we’re happy to have you! We were just saying how you took over Renfrew’s Instagram and we were watching it and loving it, and we’re just so happy to have you on because we want to learn more about you.

Ashley: Yeah.

Dayna: Yes, I’m excited to share!

Ashley: So, Dayna, yeah, I was telling Sam, I feel like I know you already because I’ve totally stalked you on Instagram. And then also, like, having your, you know, you do the takeover, which I loved. It was just awesome. But I would love if you wouldn’t mind to just start out with telling us a little bit about yourself and sharing with our audience maybe a little bit about your story. And yeah, we’ll just go from there. How does that sound?

Dayna: Great! That sounds great. So, yeah, so I’m Dayna. I use she/her/hers pronouns. I just turned 30—well, I have to stop saying that because I turned 30 like six months ago. I’m just gonna keep saying I just turned 30 until I’m 31. Anyway, I catch myself saying that. I am a mental health entrepreneur and really all of the work that I do in the mental health field, whether it’s speaking, or writing, or pursuing advocacy in whatever way the world takes me, it’s all really based on this idea of wanting to be there for my younger self, or like, wanting to lighten the load for the next generation. I think that that’s something that I’ve been seeing a lot, like, on TikTok and Instagram, people, like, reparenting their inner child. And I think that that really resonates with me. I think when I was struggling the most with my mental health, which I’ll share a little bit about in a moment, but I didn’t have a role model or, like, someone that I felt like I saw experiencing what I was experiencing. I didn’t think that— I thought there was something wrong with me because it felt so lonely. And so, I think that being honest and an authentic advocate is, like, the number one priority of all of my work. I think that’s something that has really been helpful for me in recovery, too. I think when I first started my advocacy journey, I felt a lot of pressure to, like, be just, like, positive all the time. Like, “I’m recovered— check!” Like, “Mental health is over!” Like, that was a part of my life, but I find I have so many more valuable connections and so much more of an impact being honest that this is, like, a journey I’m gonna be on for the rest of my life, and this is something that I am going to struggle with in some capacity. And I’m OK with that. I think sometimes people hear that or I say that, and they’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” like, you know. But for me, I find it empowering because I do feel like being an advocate and sharing my story is, like, what I was meant to do and my purpose in this life. So, I think that that’s only inspiring to me if that makes sense.

Ashley: Yeah, definitely.

Sam: Mhm.

Dayna: Yeah. So, but in terms of my own story, so, yeah, so I grew up really struggling with my mental health kind of my whole life. I think my parents, my mom in particular, has a very unhealthy relationship with food. And so, growing up in that environment, I didn’t realize, like, you could like your body, or love it, or, like, there was any life outside of being on a diet. Like, I really, sometimes I share that and people are surprised, but I’m like, “Imagine being like a little kid in that environment, like, you don’t know any different,” you know?

Ashley: Yeah!

Dayna: Growing up as a millennial and, like, seeing on TV and, like, Seventeen magazine, like, all of the media I was consuming too was very diet focused, very body focused. And so, of course, like, that for me meant, like, that was inspirational to me. Like, if I was gonna be enough, if I was gonna have love, then like, I was gonna be the smallest possible, or like the most perfect person. And so, I kind of went through my elementary school through high school career really struggling with restriction, but also with anxiety and depression. But I didn’t have words for that. I never saw a therapist, I never sought help. I think my parents were really uneducated about the resources that were available in our community, which they admit to. I’m not saying anything poorly about them, they just didn’t know that I could have received help earlier. So, it wasn’t until I got to college where things became too hard to ignore it. And like, I was not functioning. And I’m really lucky because I made some really great friends early on in my college career who knew where the resources were, brought me to the counseling center, were like, you know, “You need help.” And yeah, I’ve been in therapies ever since, which is great. But anyway, so yeah, so I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. And, you know, when I first heard that I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I felt like, almost like, surprised because I had in my mind what someone with an eating disorder looks like, or feels like, and that was not how I saw myself or how I felt.

Ashley: Yeah.

Dayna: And I think that is so dangerous and damaging because I feel like there’s so many people— so, this is my little soapbox, so sorry. But yeah, I just feel like… I just feel like that’s really tough because I feel like there’s some people who could benefit from help, whether it’s therapy, Renfrew— you know, huge advocate and friend of the Renfrew Center. But any type of support, because I didn’t know that I needed it. I didn’t think I looked like I needed help. And for that reason, like, it was really confusing for me to have that diagnosis at first.

Ashley: Yeah! Can I just add, Dayna, that your experience, what you’re sharing with us right now— one, it’s not the first time that either Sam nor I have heard this. We’re both clinicians and both work at Renfrew, but both have private practices, and the amount of people that say, “I didn’t realize that this was my story as well,” or that like, I, you know, I’m air quoting, but like, “fit into this category” as well. That, I mean, honestly, that’s why we’re doing this podcast, is we want to educate and we want to bring resources and awareness to people that are listening because, right, there is no… there’s no one person, and no one body type, and no one experience that is going to have the eating disorder, right? It can be any of us.

Sam: Yeah. Dayna, for you, how did it not match up for you? Like, what was your image of, like, what an eating disorder was supposed to look like? And how did you differ from that?

Ashley: Oh, yeah.

Dayna: Yeah. What a good question. I think that— no one’s ever asked me that before, so I’m having a moment of concierge. No, that’s a great question. Yeah, I guess, like, for me, I thought about, like, my idols in the 90s. Like, Britney Spears, like, you know, celebrities in that capacity. But I also think that something that my mom and I would do, or my mom would ask me to do, would be to like compare her body to other bodies. And for me, having, like, that comparison game, I think, especially early as a young kid, I think for me, I just always felt like, “I’m gonna compare myself to, like, the thinnest person in the room or whatever, and, like, that I’m not them then, like, that I don’t have an eating disorder.” Which is so not true at all. But I think that that, yeah, like, always comparing bodies and, like, not knowing, you know, struggling with body dysmorphia myself but also my mom, like, never really understanding what she looked like, and needing that, like, validation or support getting kind of a better idea, I think was really, is what made me compare myself and think like, “Well, I’m not this person I saw at the supermarket,” or “I’m not what my mom aspires to be,” or “I’m not Britney Spears.” So, yeah, one of those things.

Sam: Right.

Dayna: Yeah.

Sam: Media has such an impact. I was like, I was really curious when you said, you know, “I was growing up, like, watching TV,” and I was just thinking to myself, “I wonder, like, what shows you were watching and what, you know, celebrities were like big then,” and how do you think that impacted you?

Dayna: Yeah. So, I remember like a particular episode of Lizzie McGuire, like, where Miranda has, like, is struggling with an eating disorder, for like one episode, right? And then, like, it gets forgotten. But I think like, yeah, I think that’s kind of what I thought eating disorders were. Like, I remember it so vividly, like, she was, like, she passed out or something and, like, that was when, everyone knew she needed help. And I think that really impacted me because I was restricting, like, most of my high school career and, like, no one ever really knew. I don’t think I even knew what I was doing to be honest. But yeah, so I think, like, that type of show. I’ve also seen, like, on TikTok, like, episodes of Zoey 101— I don’t remember that, like, that show specifically contributing to, like, a narrative that made sense for me, like, eating shorter wise. But I see it now and I’m like, “Oh my gosh! Wow! Like, our generation, that is what we saw.” And I think—

Sam: Right. Like, symptoms aren’t always so obvious. Like, not everyone is, like, passing out when, I mean, they have an eating disorder, and it’s like, restricting get so lost in diet culture, or in families even, where it just is like… some people think it’s, like, healthy.

Ashley: Right.

Dayna: Right, exactly. It’s like making, like, “good choices,” in quotes. Like, whatever that means.

Sam: Right, right.

Dayna: I agree totally.

Sam: Yeah. So— oh Dayna, I have so many questions.

Dayna: Oh, yeah! Do you want me to keep going? Like…

Sam: Yeah! Yes, let’s keep going. Can we keep going with your story? Because I’m also curious about, you talked about, you know, your inner child. I, like, I’m curious, like— who were you as a kid? And, you know, how has reparenting yourself helped you in recovery?

Dayna: Yeah. That’s such a good question. I think… I was really bubbly, like, kind of like I still am today, but—

Sam: I was just gonna say, yeah!

Dayna: A really bubbly kid who always had, like, a smile on her face and, like, a bow in her hair. And I think I’m still very much that person, but I think that I have the language now and the understanding now that, like, I don’t have to be her all the time. Because I think growing up that was, like, the only way I thought, like, people— that’s what I got compliments on. People were like, “Oh, so smiley, so bubbly!” So of course I’m like, “Okay, like, smiley is what I have to be in order to get attention or get love or whatever.” And now I have— reparenting my inner child, which is, like, I think almost just beginning for me to be honest, is really helping me now understand that, like, there’s so many parts of me. And, like, yes, my energetic, bubbly self might draw certain people to me, but, like, there’s other pieces that are not as energetic that are still lovable, I think, in a lot of ways. It’s interesting, so, not to jump too much ahead, but I am currently in the process of working on a documentary right now.

Ashley: Yeah!

Dayna: And I have been watching, like, old home videos, and, like, seeing that little girl I think is really interesting. Because I have a memory of her, like, how I was seeing the world but, like, seeing her from the outside, and almost hearing and, like, watching the way I interacted with my family or with my friends and, like, cringing a little bit, but not because it’s uncomfortable but more because I’m like, “Oh, that’s, like, the only way, you know, how to communicate. Like, you only know how to communicate by asking if you look pretty or like, if beauty—,” I don’t know. So, there’s, like— so, that’s been an interesting journey as well.

Ashley: Yeah!

Dayna: Yeah.

Sam: Well, it sounds like you’ve developed some compassion for little you. It’s like, that’s what you knew, and you were actually pretty resourceful because you figured out really fast how to get praise and how to, you know, feel loved, and you did that.

Dayna: Yeah.

Sam: So, I’m so glad you brought up reparenting because I think you’re absolutely right, it’s, like, a lifelong journey where we’re trying to take care of all parts of ourselves.

Dayna: Yes, definitely. Yeah. I think something that’s been really helpful in that part, in that journey, is also noticing when— like, what age or, like, what part of me is making decisions or, like, driving the bus.

Ashley: The bus, yeah.

Dayna: Much better words. Because that’s been really interesting as well, to kind of, like, understand, “Okay, I’m making these decisions at this age,” or like, “This part of me is in charge.” But like, who would put an eight year old in charge? You know, I don’t— that’s always helpful for me to think about too when I’m thinking, like, “How am I handling this right now?” I guess, so…

Sam: Yeah.

Dayna: Yeah.

Ashley: I’m curious, Dayna, so like, okay, moving to college… so you finally get into therapy in college, you said?

Dayna: Yes, exactly. I started taking medication, which was definitely— and I bring it up because I think that everyone has really different ideas or relationships with meds. And like, for me, I never thought I would be someone who took medication, but it’s been so helpful. Like, it’s just another tool for me. And obviously it’s a very personal decision and there’s a lot of factors that go into it. But I always like to talk about how helpful finding the right medication was, because it really did bring me to a place where I could engage in therapy or, like, engage in being resourceful with tools. Because I think without it, I just, I was just trying to manage the anxiety and, like, living with that, that level of anxiety just wasn’t sustainable. So, I started medication and then after my freshman year, or kind of toward the end of my freshman year, I had met a friend who was a senior and she struggled with an eating disorder herself during her freshman year, and was kind of like, “Look, I think you need help. Like, you should talk to your therapist about getting further treatment.” So, I spent the summer, that whole summer, in different programs. I think my first experience of eating disorder treatment was really hard. I think that, I had in my mind, I was like, “I’m showing up, I’m gonna be better.” And like, the questions I was being asked, to, like, think about the relationship I have with my family, like, think about how I’m gonna cope if I’m not restricting— I was not ready for that.

Ashley: Yeah.

Dayna: And yeah, and so that made the first experience that I had in treatment, like, really hard because I think that I also had in my head that like, “If the treatment wasn’t working then, like, what’s wrong with me?” Like, “I’m broken because, like, I’m showing up every day for six weeks and I feel worse.” And I’m really grateful to have had the resources, like the therapist I was seeing over that summer was able to see, like, “Now it’s not necessarily treating the eating disorder.” Like, the depression is really scary and, like, the suicidal ideation really came to something that I wasn’t able to resist thinking about. So, I ended up in a different program more focused on depression. And I, at first— so, when I left, I was like, “Okay, my life is amazing. Like, I am—” So, through that program, I decided I wanted to become a social worker because I was like, “I wanna go back and help people like me. I also am done with my mental health journey—” You know, that’s funny, right? But that’s how I felt when I was leaving.

Ashley: Yes, yes, yes.

Dayna: I just felt like, yeah, I mean, in some ways it was, like, really refreshing to feel like, “Okay, I have these new tools, like, I understand what’s going on in my head.” But it was during that time I started my first nonprofit organization with my sister. I was 18, she was 15, and it was called The Beautiful Project, and it was all about kind of understanding where the beauty ideals come from. And, you know, this is a long time ago, like, we were really early in using YouTube as a means of storytelling. Which is kind of funny, like, when I talk about it now, especially high school students, they’re like, “What?” Like, no! We were on the cutting edge, okay?!

Sam: Yeah!

Dayna: So, but yeah, I mean, as amazing as The Beautiful Project was, and it was my introduction into entrepreneurship and advocacy, that was kind of the experience that I had where I was like, “I have to be recovered. Like, I have to be better.” Because people started interviewing me, like, I was a social work major, I was telling my story, and I think that that was really, like, kind of a dangerous territory because I was like, “Oh my gosh, I actually feel worse, now I can’t get help or I can’t say anything.”

Ashley: Yeah.

Dayna: And so, the end of that semester into my sophomore year, I ended up taking a medical leave to just really focus on my mental health, which was really hard. I think, being a perfectionist and a smiley people pleaser, thinking, like— I went to a high school that everyone went to college, like, college was not optional. So, being on Facebook, which was the only social media at the time, and seeing everyone, like, at college, like, going to parties, and seeing where I was, I think was so challenging because I felt the ultimate like, “I’m not where I’m supposed to be, like, I’m on the couch in my parents’ house. Like, I can’t even be left alone because, like, my parents were too worried about my safety.” So yeah, that was really a really hard time.

Sam: This comes up so much, like, folks feeling behind in life.

Dayna: Oh, yeah.

Sam: Like there’s some kind of, like, timeline we’re all supposed to be rigidly adhering to. But like, how did you cope with that? For folks out there who are listening who are, like— feel like they’re not hitting those milestones, how did you deal with that?

Dayna: Well, so after, ok, so after feeling this way, I ended up getting into a different treatment program, was there for six weeks, and that helped me understand that, like, there isn’t a timeline. But I guess in the moment, I don’t think I knew how to manage those feelings. Going to that program was life changing, that was life changing. And I can talk about why in a moment. But I think in a lot of ways that experience was like, “Okay, yeah, there’s no, there’s no timeline.” But I think now as an advocate, I heard once, I heard this amazing speaker once who talked about lane eight, like on a track— if you’re in the eighth lane, like, you can’t see anyone behind you or in front of you, you just have to run your own best race. And I love that. I think—

Sam: I love that, Dayna!

Dayna: Not mine! Stephanie Walton. Yeah, Stephanie Walton, you’re amazing, I adore you. I heard her speak, she was amazing. She wrote a book and she talks about that and that’s how I think, like, as a person, yeah, several years out, I think about that a lot. It still comes up for me though. I’m like, “Why am I not—,” well, so many things. I think that the comparison game for me is natural. It’s like, almost, like, what I’m used to. Like, always, wanting to compare myself. I think another thing that’s really helped me in trying— in, like, the idea of being behind on life, I guess this is a little bit different but feels similar, is thinking about what I value in terms of success. Because I think that I’ve always— growing up in, like, the environment and the community that I grew up in, like, I think I always saw, like, success equals money. And that is not something that I am making right now. As an entrepreneur, as someone— but I think something that’s really helpful is thinking about, like, “What do I value?” Like, I value helping people, I value getting people to therapy, I value traveling. All of these things that have been— that has really helped the, like, “Why am I not further along? Why am I not making money? Like, why am I not—”, you know, like those types of things. That’s helped now, thinking about like, “What do I actually care about?” Like, do I really care about, like— you need to live, but like, I don’t think that that is how I see success. So, I think that’s really helpful too.

Sam: I mean, identifying your values is a game changer.

Dayna: Yes, yes.

Sam: It’s one of the first things we do in treatment. It’s like, “Do you know your values? Let’s come up with five if you don’t.” And people are like, “Values? How do I— what are they?”

Dayna: Yeah!

Ashley: Well, I was gonna say, so many people that find themselves in treatment really don’t even know the value system, right? Because you mentioned that, and we all have them but, like, maybe we’ve been so disconnected from them for so long because we have been playing that comparison game. Or the mental health has just taken over our lives so much that we just don’t even know how to speak what it is that we do believe in, that we do want.

Sam: Well, that’s the thing with it, especially in eating— when you have an eating disorder, the eating disorder picture values for you.

Ashley: Yes, yes.

Sam: It’s like, you’re gonna care about food, you’re gonna care about the scale, and all those deeper values sort of, like, go under… underground. And recovery is like digging them back up.

Dayna: Yeah!

Sam: It’s like, “Okay, what do you, like, really care about,” you know?

Dayna: Right. Yeah, that really resonates with me too. So, I love that. Thank you. Yeah. So, being in this program really helped me identify my values. But it’s also when I met my therapist. So, we’ve now been working together for 11 years, almost 12 years.

Sam: Woo!

Ashley: That’s amazing!

Dayna: We’ve been through it. I know. I’m so lucky, we’ve been through a lot. She doesn’t even live in Boston anymore. Like, we’ve been Zooming before it was, like, trendy is what we like to say, you know. But she has really changed my life and I don’t— and yes, it’s her and our relationship and what she’s taught me, but I think, like, from a perspective of trusting myself, which is something that I never had and I’m still working on, she has helped me figure out, like— I guess I always thought going to therapy was, like, you just sat with therapist and they told you what to do. And like, she does not do that for me, ever. And like, at first, I did not like that, I was like, “Why you’re not telling me what to do?” But like, being able to figure— see that, like, I actually can figure it out, like, with her support of course, but like, that she doesn’t need to tell me what to do, I already know what to do, has been life changing for me. And that has been just one of the best gifts that I’ve gotten from her.

Ashley: I wanted to say, just, it sounds like you have your voice. Like, not only are you able to reparent yourself, but you’re able to intentionally move through life the way you want to now. Does that feel accurate?

Dayna: Oh, my gosh, absolutely! Thank you so much for saying that. I think I’ve worked so hard, so to hear that you hear that and see that is really amazing, and I so appreciate it. Because like, I really like what we were talking about with values before, even before treatment, like, in middle school and high school, I feel like I was just going through the motions. Like, I just want to be like everyone else and fit in, and that is not me, like, at all. I love a very supportive partner, who is like, you know, just really embraces the fact that, like, he’s like, “You’re not like everyone else in the best way. Like, the fact that you even wanted to be is funny because, like, you are so special,” and that really means a lot to me too, obviously.

Ashley: That’s awesome.

Dayna: But yes, I’m very, I’m very grateful for that. So, anyway, so I went through this program, I end up transferring schools.

Ashley: Yeah.

Dayna: Ended up going to Northeastern, that was huge. I love Northeastern so much. However, I don’t think that— wherever I started college, I don’t think I would have stayed. Like, I don’t think that it was the college that I went to, had anything to do with, like, I don’t know. Like, I guess I just, I don’t put any blame on the college I started at because it was, like, I wasn’t ready. And so, I feel like if I started at Northeastern I probably wouldn’t have stayed. So, college, my Northeastern college days were exactly what I needed them to be. They were wonderful. I did so many things I didn’t think I would do. I ran for homecoming queen, I started an Active Minds chapter, which is, like, a mental health organization that’s dedicated to, yeah, changing the conversation around mental health. I became a leader. I like, just, just normal and it was great until my fourth year of college. So, at Northeastern most students do five years of school. And that was actually one of the reasons I wanted to go, was because I couldn’t imagine, like, seeing my class graduate without me. Like, there was just something about it that just, like, didn’t feel good. So, I love that everyone Northeastern was kind of on their own timeline. And so, in my fourth year, in the first semester, I remember telling my therapist that I want to study abroad, like that felt really important to me. But we both agreed that, like, six months I was not ready for— I don’t think I would be ready for that ever. I’m such a homebody, like, I love my own space and comfort. And so yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen. So, I am Jewish and I wanted to go on Birthright. And Birthright is an opportunity for people who are Jewish to go abroad for free for 10 days, like your birthright to go to Israel. And unfortunately, I was sexually assaulted while I was there. And that changed everything. Like, that is the moment that I was like, “What did I just spend four years doing? Three years doing? Because I have no coping skills anymore.” And, I think it was really hard, and it was not something— unlike my eating disorder, and unlike my mental health journey, like, speaking about being a survivor was not something that I did until like 2 to 3 years later. And I’m like, I think about that a lot. Unfortunately, I think a lot of my first contacts were kind of, like, “Well, was it that bad?” Or like, you know, “Are you overreacting?” And like that. Whenever I speak to students or anyone I can, I always say, like, “Just be a friend, like you don’t need to be investigating. Like, just—” because I truly think that would have helped my process.

Ashley: I love that.

Dayna: Oh, yeah. Thank you. Like, I really do. And so, it was a long time ago and yet the healing still continues. And, you know, I did a lot of things that were helpful during that time. One of them, of course, like, continuing to see my therapist. But I think another big one was advocacy. Like, even though I wasn’t identifying as a survivor myself, I started a fashion show at Northeastern where it donated all the clothing afterwards to, like, rape crisis shelters.

Ashley: Wow!

Dayna: Oh, thank you! It was, that was one of my best events. And so, yeah, it just, like, I was able to do things, I was able to use my voice, even if I wasn’t attaching my voice yet. And, you know, a couple of years later I felt like I was able to. And I graduated college, which I never thought I would be able to do. And I ended up working at the place that I said I was going to go back to, the treatment center that I was like, “I’m gonna come back here and be a social worker.” So, I worked there for two years and it was a great experience. It really was sometimes. I think about it and I’m like, “Should I have stayed longer?” Because I really did, like, I really valued my time there. But I think that… I think I was like, you know, I think that my skill set is maybe better for macro level change. Like, you know, I don’t know if I’m— Like, I do think, I do feel like it was a good experience. Like, the individuals that I got to work with, I hope benefited from my time there. But I just felt like there was so much more— I had the resources in me to make bigger change and not necessarily be, like, being a one on one clinician just, like, wasn’t what I was going to do. So, I went back to Northeastern to pursue my Master’s of Public Health. And it was during that time I went to Renfrew.

Ashley: Gotcha.

Dayna: Yeah! So, that was surprising for me. I’m so grateful. Oh, my gosh, I had just the best experience at Renfrew, and I’m very open about that because it truly changed my life and my recovery. I think going back to school was hard. Like, I think growing up, seeing an “A” on a paper, and feeling like, “I am an A,” all of the work that I had done, going back to that environment and starting to get papers back and not do well in school, like, that’s hard to rewrite, you know what I mean?

Ashley: Yes, yes.

Dayna: And it was the end of a really, my first long term relationship and it just, I was just really struggling. And so I ended up finding myself at Renfrew, and at first I think I was not super excited to be there. Just because, yeah, I just, I think there was a lot of, like, there was a big part of me that felt like I was, “Yes, I’m on this mental health journey, blah, blah, blah. But I’m over being in treatment.” And so, I think that was kind of adjustment for me to realize, like, you know, part of this journey, like, may mean needing to go back and get treatment.

Sam: Yeah.

Dayna: So yeah, I don’t know if you want me to talk about my experience, or like whatever you think would be best.

Sam: Well, you know, you said it changed your life. I was just curious, like, do you have memories of sort of pivotal moments and what were they? I mean, there’s so many different, like, there’s art therapy, there’s psychodrama. I was just curious, like, what reached you?

Dayna: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think… I think a couple of things. I think from, like, the food aspect, I think breaking down food and thinking about, like, the properties of why you’re eating it was really helpful for me. I feel like the past treatment, like, it was just like, “Oh, you need X amount of this or X amount of that.” There was no, like, reason behind it. But understanding, like, what this actually does for my body was really helpful. Also, it took a lot of, like, it just, I don’t know, it really simplified— whether it was that aspect or just, like, being in that environment, like, I feel like— it’s just, it’s just food. Like, it just was. And that was, like, the best thing that I ever saw around food. Like, it was always this big thing, it’s always gonna be a big deal. But I think at Renfrew, my experience there was realizing like, “This is just, like, that’s it. Like, you have to eat. And like, this is what it’s gonna be, this is how it’s gonna help my body. And like, there are so many other things in my life that deserve my attention.” And I really think that that was what was so pivotal for me was realizing like, “This is just one part of my life. Like, I don’t want this to be forever.” And like, I think that was really helpful. I also did the trauma track, which was really helpful too. And I think, like, writing out my story and kind of understanding and identifying those aspects of where the trauma— where my eating disorder and trauma kind of, like, intersected I’d never done before, so that was really helpful. And I was also there around Thanksgiving, and we had so many practice Thanksgivings that, like, every Thanksgiving I’m like, “Oh, this is just, it’s just stuffing, like, that’s it.” Like, it was having that experience of just realizing that… yeah, I don’t know, I think that, like, being there around the holidays was super helpful for me and something that I try and share with a lot of people who struggle around, like, around food. Even my therapist was like, you know, “That’s such a good practicing and recognizing that, like—” yeah, not giving it, the power that I was giving it.

Sam: Mhm. Yeah, holidays can be such a hard time in recovery.

Dayna: Oh my gosh, yes!

Sam: And it can, it can be such a relief to be, to have the support in a treatment center. It’s just Thanksgiving. My gosh, that’s a big one.

Dayna: Yeah, I think just, like, taking the power out of the food and into, and putting it into me and my story—

Ashley: Yes!

Dayna: Was, like, the best thing that I got out of the Renfrew experience.

Sam: Yeah, that’s amazing.

Ashley: That’s awesome, Dayna.

Dayna: Yeah, thank you so much! No, it was wonderful. And I love that I continue to get to work with Renfrew, it’s so cool. So it was during this time that I started Bake it Till You Make It, which I thought might be a good— I don’t know. What are you thinking?

Sam: Yes!

Ashley: Yeah, let’s talk about it! So, I just want to quickly say, like, one of the things that has captivated us about your story, Dayna, is really how you’ve kind of moved your recovery story. First, I want to acknowledge that at the very beginning of this, you said recovery is still, it’s an active journey, right? It is an active daily thing, which is great. Like, I think we should hear those words, right? But that you’ve moved your recovery into action specifically, so that macro level change, you know? So I would love to learn, I think Sam maybe, I don’t know if you mentioned this yet, like, I wanna hear about your trip to the White House!

Dayna: Oh, yeah!

Ashley: Like, we wanna hear—

Sam: You talked to the Surgeon General!

Dayna: I did, yes!

Sam: Oh, I have to hear this story.

Dayna: Okay, yeah.

Ashley: Yes!

Dayna: So, I’ll give you a little context with Bake it Till You Make It, and then we can talk about it. I think that would be good. So, right before I went to Renfrew actually, so the summer before my second year of grad school, things were just, you know, one of those moments in your life where like everything’s going wrong. So it was, like, the end of my first relationship, I had gotten into this car accident, and that was very pivotal for me because I wasn’t living on campus, back with my parents in the suburbs, I didn’t have a car. All I had was my kitchen, and that’s when I started baking, and that’s how Bake it Till You Make It began. And it was never anything crazy, like, we had boxes of cake mix and I’m still, like— I’m becoming a better baker, but it’s still pretty simple, we keep it pretty simple. It’s really, like, the mental health piece is kind of the driving force of Bake it Till You Make It. But I guess that experience, just like not having anything really to do or, like, being able to leave my house and starting to bake was the first experience I ever had with food that was just positive, or that was, like, fun.

Ashley: Yeah!

Dayna: Like, I started inviting friends over, we would bake together, try new recipes. And that was never something that I did growing up. Like, that was never fun, food was never fun. So, the idea that I could make it fun, and like, I owned that, and also it was a source of connection with people, especially when I was struggling, I think really changed my whole perspective on what baking could be and helped me look at food a little bit from a different lens. I think for so long, it was all about, all through the eating disorder lens. But looking at it from a cultural lens, looking at from a relational lens, like, there are so many aspects to food. And not to invalidate my younger self, but I guess ,like, I just, I never had the options or the space to look at it until this time. So, I decided that I want to write a mental health cookbook, I always want to be an author. And so, I gathered over 40 different stories of people who struggle with their mental health as well as a recipe that was meaningful to them, added some resource pages, and sent it out into the world. And I kind of thought that that was going to be it. But I started doing presentations where I would tell my mental health story, which I had done a little bit. Like, my high school invited me back every year to talk to, like, the psychology class about my mental health journey. But this time, I was baking while I was talking. So, I would be cracking an egg and talking about, like, the difficult— like, when I felt like things were cracking or crumbling for me. And that really caught on, and then the beginning of the pandemic hit. And so, I started doing these workshops and presentations virtually, which was really cool because people could bake along with me in their kitchens.

Ashley: Yes!

Dayna: Like, you’re watching me bake, like, we’re doing it together, which was really special. And yeah, I, now I sit here as a four-time author. I have, like, a couple of other books since then. All cookbooks, all somehow related to food, all somehow related to mental health. And last year at this time, so November 2021. Yeah, I was like, “What year is it?” November 2021, randomly scrolling Instagram, I saw an application like, “Go speak at the White House as a mental health advocate.” And I was like, “Okay, sure, like, that was amazing.” I remember it vividly, like, filling it out. I remember I was, like, sitting on my bed and then I completely forgot about it. And then this week a year ago, I got an email, like, out of nowhere, that was like, “Congratulations! You’re a semifinalist for this.” And so—

Ashley: Oh my goodness!

Sam: Wow, what were you feeling when you saw that?

Dayna: So essentially, so MTV, hosted the first ever Youth Mental Health Action Forum. So, they chose out of, like, the 1000 applicants, they chose 30 young people who were changing the world and their mental— mental health world, were all from different backgrounds, different ages. like 18 to 29. I was a 29-year-old, but whatever. I’m still young, you know, whatever.

Ashley: You just turned 30, Dayna!

Dayna: I know, I just turned 30, yes. And what we did was, over six weeks we got together weekly over Zoom, we got broken up into small groups and we created different kind of pitches about different ways we could talk about mental health using some type of social media, whether it was sharing story— all based on storytelling. Not just social media, some media companies. And then we, yes, we practiced and then we all went to DC over two days, and there were several different companies in the audience listening to our pitches. So, like, companies like Spotify, Snapchat, like, you know, MTV has this amazing, obviously, like, reputation and just, like, they’re the center of the media so they invited all their closest friends to listen to our pitches and that was amazing. But earlier that day, we all got to sit on the White House stage, but I got to speak at the White House!

Sam: Wow.

Ashley: Wow!

Dayna: Got to sit and talk to the Surgeon General who said he loved the name Bake it Till You Make It. And I got to, I mean, I got just, like, a couple of minutes to talk about what I was doing, and Selena Gomez mouthed, “That’s so cool.” She was there.

Ashley: What?! That’s cool.

Sam: Oh my gosh.

Dayna: So yeah, the Rare Impact Fund was, like, one of the sponsors and I have all this Rare Beauty makeup which is really cool. I felt like such a celebrity, we got, like, these bags of, like what you see influencers get, you know?

Sam: You got swag!

Dayna: Yeah!

Ashley: Yeah, you got swag.

Sam: You got White House swag!

Dayna: But the experience was so incredible. Like, in a lot of ways I think, as silly as it sounds, like, I feel like I’m still processing it. It was last May, but so much has happened since then. And I think it really gave me the confidence— one of a couple of major things, but it did really give me the confidence to be like, “Okay, like, my story is powerful, my voice is powerful. I’m gonna turn this into a full-time job.”

Ashley: Yes, yes.

Dayna: And I’ve been doing that since October. And it’s hard! I mean, I— it is hard. Especially my eating disorder and my struggle with anxiety, which was later, a couple of years ago, diagnosed as OCD, which is interesting. I think it really, that thought pattern really matches my anxiety in a way that Generalized Anxiety Disorder just doesn’t do. They love certainty, they want certainty, and, like, my current situation is so uncertain. I’m working, yes, I’m working for Active Minds. I’m on their speaker’s bureau. So, I’ll go and speak. I went to Texas, this week I’m going to New York. And that’s amazing, but like, it’s just, you know, it’s so uncertain, like, it’s not like going into the office every day and knowing, like, what work is gonna look like. And that’s great too. Like, I had many years of that. But I think that’s something that I’ve been trying to think about is like, “Well, I must really love this if I’m willing to challenge my mental illness in this way.” To recognize that, like, in spite of that, I am going to try and change the world.

Ashley: Dayna, you’re so inspirational!

Dayna: Thank you! Oh my gosh, thank you.

Ashley: Listen. So, I want to share this quote that I found from you. Because we’re kind of, you know, getting close to our time, but I just wanna ask you quickly about this quote. So, you said: “I put so much pressure on myself to continue to churn out products and inspiration.” Sorry that I just said that you were inspirational.

Dayna: No, it’s okay!

Ashley: Okay, I’ll go back to the quote now. So: “—To turn out products and inspiration and be a beacon of light for everyone at all times, when I am learning, in reality, the best thing I can do is be honest and be myself, even if it’s messy and not necessarily pretty.” Can you speak to that for a moment? I just, I love the authenticity that you’re bringing to this, and would just love to hear from you about that.

Dayna: Yeah. Thank you, and thank you for finding that quote. I like needed to— myself, like, needed to hear that, because I do put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m like, “Oh, I’m struggling, like, let’s be creative and turn it around.” And in some ways that is authentic to me sometimes, like, that is how I’m recovering. But I think, you know, it kind of goes back to where we started. Like, I think about the younger version of myself or, like, the people who are in high school, middle school, wherever they are struggling. And I think that I see so many people that I look up to and follow who are of the mindset, like, “This is my journey, it’s over, let me help you.” And I’m like, “That is not helpful to me.” I just think about what I would have wanted my younger self and my current self, like, I know— because I feel like that’s unrealistic. And even like the idea, that pressure I put on myself to turn out projects is unrealistic, as much as I want to be, I do feel that pressure to be a beacon of light, because I think that in some ways that is really authentic to who I am. But I also feel, like, as I said toward the end of the quote and what I’m really trying to embrace right now, is it’s ok that, like, I’m not a machine, I’m not a Fortune 500 company. Like, I’m not turning out products, like, I am a person and I’m just doing my best, and that’s truly all I could ask of myself in this moment. But also, like, all like my younger self could ask for me or, like, the younger generation I think in a lot of ways. So, I don’t know, I guess that that’s why this is what I’m about. But I also think, yeah, I guess just, like, the last thing that I’ll add is, like, I think that I also want to honor that sometimes that is the way I feel and find recovery, you know, like in being creative and that’s awesome, but it’s not all the time. So, honoring that.

Ashley: Yeah!

Sam: Dayna, this has been amazing!

Dayna: Thank you, for me as well! I’m so glad you think so. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m just, like, blabbing along.” I hope so. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you both. It’s quite amazing to be here.

Sam: Oh, we’re so happy to have you and I hope maybe you even come back for another episode one day!

Dayna: Oh, part two! Yes! Any time. I would love that so much.

Sam: Thank you for listening to All Bodies. All Foods. I hope you enjoyed the story of Dayna and all that she’s been through and all she’s accomplished. If you loved this episode, you can support us by subscribing, rating, leaving a review, or sharing with others. And if you want more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, our handle is at @RenfrewCenter. For free education, events, trainings, webinars, resources, and blogs, you can head over to our website www.renfrewcenter.com. And if you have any comments or questions you’d like us to answer in a future episode, you can email them to [email protected]. I hope you join us next time on All Bodies. All Foods.

Ashley: Thank you for listening with us today on All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.

Sam: We’re looking forward to you joining us next time as we continue these conversations.

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

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