An Interview with Brianna McKee
“Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy”
Photo credit: @maxwell_remington
BTCF: So many times, eating disorders manifest themselves due a trauma of some sort. Growing up you had family challenges that created personal pain at a very young age and developed an eating disorder at 12 years old. Can you share some of that and what was that like for you at such a young age?
BRIANNA: At the time, I just moved on. I wasn’t really feeling like things were bothering me. I didn’t know there was a problem for a few years and felt like emotionally I was ok.
BTCF: At 15, you experienced a few words about your appearance that triggered the beginning of body dysmorphia from one simple act done by a dance teacher. Did your feelings about dance change? How did you deal with it?
BRIANNA: My feelings of dance didn’t change, but I think I started to get more obsessive of my body and what I was eating and how much and in turn an unhealthy yo-yo imbalance started.
BTCF: What was daily life like for you in high school? Can you share an experience that you felt changed the course of your life?
BRIANNA: The day I graduated…ha-ha. But, really, I’m grateful for it, although it can be hard. The peer pressure, heart breaks, criticism from yourself and others, going through so many changes, I was ready to get out of there.
BTCF: Your eating disordered spiraled out of control when you were dancing at a professional level. It was also at a time when you started yoga. How old were you? What was your relationship with dance? What was your relationship with food?
BRIANNA: I would say it was bad from about 16 to 26 years old or so. I was freelancing doing all kinds of shows and traveling over those years as well. I started yoga, bikram, when I was 20. The heat and looking at myself going inward so intensely in silence was definitely a game changer. One, it helped me not want to self soothe with a bunch of food because the next morning would be so much harder and to look at myself and not be so mad that I couldn’t have enough self-control to not binge until I threw up or make myself do so. Unfortunately, most of the time I was disgusted with myself and so mad. At 23, I moved to Hawaii and I got pretty sick. To be honest, before I left for Hawaii, I was doing more damage to my body then just binging and purging. I was smoking and doing other things to help me not to eat so I would look good in my costumes. That was the only way I thought I could “control it”. That got out of control in more ways than one, and the universe picked me up and gave me a chance in Hawaii. After getting in trouble there and still finding whatever I could to eat before bed, which was usually enough sugar to put someone in a diabetic coma. Eventually, after a couple hospital stays and lots on gut terrorizing rounds of antibiotics, I found a naturopath and that was the real beginning of some healing.
I was diagnosed with systemic candida and metal toxicity. Yeast overgrowth in my blood, brain, GI, reproductive organs, esophagus and mercury poisoning, causing inflammation in my whole body and candida loves and needs sugar to survive. The naturopath put me on a personalized nutritional journey with help and support along with herbs to rebuild. After about a month, I felt like I think most people feel, which was hungry and satisfied before and after eating. It made me cry, I was so relieved.
The next 10 years I still had to and continue to pay attention. Eventually I quit smoking about 4 years ago, which was a 10 year on and off crutch/side kick of the overeating/starving. While in Hawaii, I started my healing process, changing my relationship with food including my food allergies, intolerances, leaky gut, emotional patterns of eating, and other challenges. I also damaged my throat and esophagus from the years of binging and purging. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong but had to administer a tube down my throat because I couldn’t even swallow water for over 30 hours. From my experience, receiving treatment from a naturopath, some holistic specialists, nutritionists helped me. Eating disorders and other addictions are complex, it’s a whole-istic process of healing. And there are always some of those underlying emotional pieces wanting to get acknowledged, which therapists, energy workers, introspective time in nature, your sport of choice, dance, yoga…. all help with that. I’m still figuring out foods and times that help me feel optimal for shows, mood, and overall nutrition. But the difference is it’s not running my life, and I’m not sabotaging, or using food as a self-soothing unhealthy act anymore.
BTCF: Reuniting with your father later in life was something you took initiative on doing. Why was that important to you and did help in your healing?
BRIANNA: I think it’s natural to want to understand and know our parents. The lesson I didn’t figure out until later was that I wanted to understand why I wasn’t good enough and was seeking his approval so I could love myself. I also needed the child in me to heal, even though as an adult, logically I thought it didn’t bother me as a child, because things were going to be better. I’m not a psychologist, but that’s what I take from it now.
BTCF: BTCF believes an eating disorder is not what it looks like on the outside, it’s what’s going on in the inside. What part of this resonates with you? With your journey?
BRIANNA: I fully agree with that, with eating disorders or anything else. Yes, creating to me is picking the color that makes me feel good to wear that day, makeup, cooking, painting, writing, making anything, dancing out a song that’s speaking to me.
BTCF: Can you share what your tattoos mean to you? Do you have a favorite one?
BRIANNA: Yes, I design my tattoos, they are my ideas. I see what and where, or at least the feeling of it, explain and express it to the artist, they draw, and we go from there. They inspire the feelings I want or have intentions to have or heal. Like affirmations, but the energy into positive change with color and design. I think tattoos can be very powerful. As I sit and breathe through the process, meditating it and what the tattoo means to me, it creates change while it’s vibrating into my being. On my throat is a black and grey rose, with a lot of white in it…It’s supposed to be for purity and truth in expression. Throat chakra, speaking and expressing oneself. On my collarbone connected to it is the word clarity. So, the intention of clarity in expression. Still working on that ha-ha… but that is the point. It reminds me, is beautiful, inspires me and hopefully others. I don’t think you want me to share all the stories and meanings of my tattoos. Although, they are usually a symbol of what I’m going through or an affirmation for how I intend to express a lesson. I have mindful on my hand, after reading Mindful Eating by Jan Chazen Bays. It faded a few times and I just kept getting it redone with intention to be more intentional with how, why, and what I fed my body.
BTCF: Were you able to use dance, a creative process to aide you in your struggles? If so, how?
BRIANNA: Definitely, and just breathing and moving energy through has always helped whatever was going on.
BTCF: On your healing journey, what did you find that brought you some grace and aided in your recovery?
BRIANNA: Patience and kindness. and slowing down my universe. (A friend and holistic practitioner told me those and they stuck)
BTCF: Your life as a professional dancer has been extensive and still going strong. How do you relate to dance when it comes to your body today?
BRIANNA: Grown and sexy;) I still have my days (around the holidays) that I overdo it or don’t use food as medicine, like it really is. But I am so much more forgiving, and I want to be nicer to my body and give my organs the foods, herbs, and thoughts that will help them function the best they can. As women, we fluctuate and that’s ok. I can get more fit sometimes and love my curves too. I’m thankful my body does all the things it does for me.
BTCF: If you could describe the two sides of your journey to recovery, what would you say finally brought you to a place of wellness?
BRIANNA: The work is never really done. But the balance is way less 90/10 and more 60/40 and I’m ok with that. Still lots to learn, heal and grow.
BTCF: What other types of certifications do you have and how does that aide in creating a sense of wellness and peace for yourself?
BRIANNA: I have my massage license, reiki 1 & 2 and my 200-hour yoga teaching certification. I’m not doing any massage anymore but still teaching and wanting to learn more about energy modalities.
BTCF: Sharing your story and helping others is a passion of yours. What inspires you? What are you passionate about and why?
BRIANNA: Creating and helping…and when they come together in some way, it’s pretty cool.
BTCF: You have three beautiful nieces. What are three body positive things you share with them?
BRIANNA: They are the best. To be gentle with yourself. Feeling good, healthy, and happy is the most attractive. And to breathe and chew and move… more advice than a body positive thing… but really helps.
Follow Brianna on Instagram @brimckee77