This is the first of two posts on eating disorders and the voice. You can now listen to the audio version of these posts on iTunes and Android.
Eating disorders are now epidemic. Singers and others in the entertainment business with its requisite media exposure are, I believe, especially vulnerable to these debilitating secret illnesses.
No one can approach their full vocal potential while chained to an eating disorder. Why? Because the voice will have problems in these areas:
- Breathing (Power)
- Tone (Path though an open throat)
- Communication (Performance)
From denial to her long-term recovery from anorexia/bulimia, I've been Jenni Schaefer's voice teacher and friend. Jenni recovered using a unique therapeutic approach that involved treating her eating disorder as a relationship, rather than an illness or condition. Jenni actually named her anorexia/bulimia, "Ed," an acronym for "eating disorder." She and I co-wrote the song "Life Without Ed" which is also the title of her McGraw-Hill book endorsed by Dr. Phil and many others.
Testimonials tell us her story is powerful, so here it is from both our points of reference:
Judy... What I noticed the first time I met Jenni was her strange numbness. She couldn't move out of the 'guarded stance:' slumped shoulders, head hung forward, eyebrows frozen, jaw clenched, spine and hips frozen, arms limp and legs locked. She was like a stick figure. Her voice was thin, colorless. She complained that her throat hurt when she sang. Her range was limited, and she had several 'breaks' in her voice. I tried to help her loosen up, but I could barely get her to lift her arms from her sides to allow ribcage expansion. She inhaled from the upper chest in short gasps.
Jenni... "With Ed, I was disconnected from my body... felt like a floating head. I was rigid and had difficulty moving. In therapy sessions, I was encouraged to ‘just move’ --- anything."
Judy... I also had a lot of trouble helping Jenni connect to her songs. When I asked her to visualize singing "Valentines Day" to someone she loved, she couldn't think of anyone! Finally she began to connect by imagining singing to children in a cancer ward where she had worked. An odd thing... She didn't want me to look at her when she sang.
Jenni... "I was disconnected from feelings. I lived in my head. A big purpose of my eating disorder was to starve and stuff feelings --- to keep me out of my emotions. So when I was supposed to connect with feelings in a song, it was not only completely foreign to me, it was also terrifying."
Judy... Jenni was easily deflated and crushed. I had to be very careful not to push her too far with exercises. She somehow needed to sing, but music didn't seem to move her. Because she didn't have the energy to keep her posture erect and flexible, she usually just stood still and lifeless. Or walked like a zombie.
Jenni... "I had no energy --- restricting, binging and purging requires a lot of energy (physical and emotional) and leaves little left for anything else."
Judy... Jenni couldn't understand why she didn't feel something. She would watch me express feelings she couldn't experience, and I think that was a big part of why she reached out for help. She asked me to pray for her. She thought since she didn't feel something, she couldn't pray herself.
Jenni... "Singing is spiritual. An eating disorder kills all spiritual connection. This was a huge hurdle."
To be continued...