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Women Empowering Women | Feature: Dr Anita Johnston

Ladies, I don't think we realize how big of a deal we really are.... the IMPACT that we have on each other. When Empowered W O M E N come together, its like a domino affect happens. We listen to each other's stories and perspectives, SHIFTS happen. Our voices can be contagious.

This month of October, I am doing a "Women Empowering Women" blog series. I am so incredibly grateful to have the beautiful, inspiring author, Dr. Anita Johnston. A woman who has helped and inspired thousands of women on their struggles with EATING DISORDERS. Her theory of using mythology and story telling have helped women shift their relationship with their self image, body shaming, and eating disorders. This process of story telling allows women who struggle with eating disorders to feel more relatable and to find understanding which leads to self healing.

Dr. Anita's book, Eating in the Light of the Moon, was life changing for me. I will be forever grateful to have read it and for my dear friend and guide who gave it to me years ago. Thank you Anita for taking the time to share your journey with me this month and incredible work with those who find so much healing.


Anita Johnston, Ph.D, CEDS, storyteller, clinical psychologist and certified eating disorder specialist and supervisor, is the Clinical Director of Ai Pono Hawaii Eating Disorders Residential Treatment Programs in Maui and Honolulu and the Executive Director of Eating Disorder Programming for the Integrative Life Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

She is the author of Eating in the Light of the Moon, which has been published in six languages, author of several professional articles and book chapters, and the co-creator of the Light of the Moon Café, an interactive, online “workbook” or women’s circle for Eating in the Light of the Moon.

A pioneer in the field, Dr. Johnston has been working with women’s issues and eating difficulties for over thirty-five years. She founded the Anorexia & Bulimia Center of Hawaii in 1982 and Ai Pono, the first free-standing eating disorders Intensive Out-Patient program in the country in 2001.

She provides individual consultations online and conducts workshops and professional trainings around the world, using metaphor and storytelling, along with her training as a clinical psychologist, to address the complex issues that underlie struggles with eating and body image.  

What’s your story? 

I was born and raised on the island of Guam in a strong matriarchal family and multi-ethnic household. The women in my immediate and extended family were prominent leaders in the community and used story telling as a way of communicating important messages and values. I always had an interest in psychology and sociology, especially around women’s issues. Early in my career I discovered that disordered eating and negative body image were extremely prevalent among women and became curious about why this was so. In those days, I was living in Hawaii, and very little was known about eating issues. There wasn’t even an eating disorders field of study. A psychology intern I was supervising was doing her doctoral dissertation on the incidence of eating disorders in Hawaii. As we began to become aware of how many girls and women were desperately struggling with eating and their bodies, we created a center so they would have a place to get some help. This was back in the early 1980’s and was the beginning of my life’s work in this area. I published Eating in the Light of the Moon in 1996, and I have since helped to create programs and centers around the US and in Australia and Europe. I continue to be passionate about this work and love doing workshops, women’s circles, professional trainings, and creating programs.

What do you love most about yourself? 

My curiosity.

What gets you truly excited about life?

Learning about the visible and invisible aspects of life and helping people develop greater awareness so they can have richer, more meaningful and peaceful lives.

How would you define your purpose in life?

To shift consciousness around the Feminine principle so that all humans, regardless of gender, can experience wholeness and healing found in embracing their instincts, emotions, and intuitions.

What was the main purpose and reason you wrote Eating in the Light of the Moon?

I was trying to help my clients recover from their eating difficulties and they kept asking me where they could read more about the concepts we were talking about. I realized that a book like that hadn’t been written yet. So, it started out as a “booklet” and then just continued to grow on its own. Because I had a family and a busy practice, it took me 10 years to write it. I began with some of the stories and analogies I had used in my practice and then, as more healing tales came to me, I included them.

What is your belief on reasons why people develop eating disorders? There are so many theories out there ... like they want to be skinny, it’s about control, etc...

What I found is that those who struggle are typically highly emotionally sensitive and very intuitive individuals. That in and of itself is not a problem. However, it can be problematic if you are emotionally sensitive and highly intuitive in a world that doesn’t value, respect, or teach you how to work with these attributes -- and instead devalues, dismisses, and disrespects them. What if you are emotionally sensitive and never learned about the natural flow of emotion and have been taught that you are “too” emotional, or “too” sensitive? You start to believe there is something wrong with you and that you have to find some way to dim your light – so that you can “fit in.”  This is where food comes in (either through food restriction or over eating) because food behaviors that are not connected to physical instincts can help numb or distract you from feelings that you don’t know what to do with. But food is not the problem. The real problem is the feelings that underlie the disordered eating behaviors and thoughts -- which never get resolved because the focus is on food. So, the eating behaviors continue, leading to even bigger problems that are the result of becoming disconnected from your emotional guidance system and instinctual body wisdom. 

What Empowered Message can you give to women?

The recovery path is a path to greater consciousness awareness.

Those who go down the path are the ones the world has been waiting for. Our world is in great need of emotionally sensitive and highly intuitive individuals – because what comes with that is an ability to be empathetic to others and sensitive to the wisdom of the natural world. We humans have strayed too far away from our true nature. The skills required for recovery are the very skills we need to find our way back. Those who have recovered from disordered eating can illuminate the pathway for others.

If you could deliver a message to a woman in her 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, what would that be?

Learn how to connect with your authentic self, and not abandon Her when you enter the doorstep of relationships.

What’s your family like?

I am very close to my sisters who live in different parts of the world. We communicate as often as we can despite being multiple time zones apart. We treasure the times we can get together and laugher is always a part of our connection. And I have two incredible daughters who, amazingly, live near by. I am so proud of the women they have become. 

Where do you live currently?

 I am based in Denver where I work virtually with individual clients and my online courses, but travel every other month to my residential eating disorder program in Maui, and then all over for conferences and other speaking or training engagements. So, my other home is airports.

Whats your mantra?

Trust Life.

Thank you Anita! Yall, if you want to continue to learn and absorb from Dr Anita Johnston, please follow her and absolutely pick up a copy of Eating in the Light of the Moon.

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