Kamila Tan is a Speaker, Advocate, Recovery Coach, & Professional Athlete. Passionate about spreading mental health awareness, breaking down the stigma, and creating safe spaces for discussion, Kamila joins us on the podcast this week to talk about her eating disorder and recovery. We talk about life during the pandemic and where she sees her future heading!

Watch her interview here:

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Alice: Okay, I just started it. [laughs] Yeah, awesome! So Kamila, can you tell me a little bit about what you have been doing during COVID? So, like we all have these crazy experiences. What have you been watching? What have you been doing? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kamila: Sure. So a year ago, when quarantine first started happening, I was actually in the second half of my master’s program. Master’s in Public Health at UCLA and I graduated in June 2020. So in the middle of…

Alice: A lot.

Kamila: …yeah. In the middle of classes, the lockdown happened, school shut down, I graduated online. It was just- it was insane. But it was also in a school of Public Health. So we were- my epidemiology class was like analyzing the virus as it was spreading.

Alice: Wow!

Kamila: Yeah. It was like getting a front-row seat to what was happening. So that was the first part of what I did during quarantine. And then I started a recovery coaching business to help athletes and their families overcome an experience with an eating disorder. And then, I played a little bit of professional beach volleyball here and there, continuing my training. And then my little brother got diagnosed with stage four brain cancer so I scooted back home and have been with my family ever since and have been working and doing a bunch of random things. But ultimately, spending time with them and pouring out my heart there. So, that is a long answer to your question. But that is what my year has been like.

Alice: Yeah. That is a lot going on from graduate school to pro-volleyball to being with your family. That is good that you can be with them during this time. That is really tough.

Kamila: Yeah, it is been a really difficult time and it is been a really fruitful time because we have gotten to work on our relationships together, strengthen each other, be there for each other in all of the difficult things. And we are working as a team to battle an illness and I like to parallel that experience with what I do in my business right now too. Because when somebody is struggling with an eating disorder, it is really important for the family to rally around them and show them support. And in the same way that we are doing with Xavier’s cancer. So, a lot of parallels there for dealing with a chronic illness.

Alice: Yeah. And can you talk a little bit about founding your company and how you were inspired from your own battle with an eating disorder?

Kamila: Sure! So I originally started- my company is called Embracing Strength. And I originally started it kind of just as an online presence because I wanted to create a safe space, essentially, for people to just come and be in community with others that are struggling with the same issues. And I wanted to share a little bit more about what I had been going through, just the treatment process and playing in professional and elite athletics. And also recovering from an eating disorder at the same time, which is really difficult.

So, yeah. I just wanted to have an online presence to explore all of that. And then, people started asking me if it was my business. And I was kind of like, “No. It is not a business”, but it got my wheels turning about people are starting to ask me for services. And maybe I can use my story to provide and to guide and be a mentor to not only athletes, not only young women and men but also their families. And how to set up a treatment team, how to navigate the healthcare system within all of it. Because there is not a lot of guidance out there for that. Especially in the world of athletics. So yeah, that is kind of how it came about.

Alice: And can you talk a little bit more about your story, if it is okay with you? Can you share with your with our viewers and listeners about your own struggle?

Kamila: Absolutely. I think- I mean, it fits really well into jubilance’s theme of womanhood and empowering ourselves as women. Because basically, once I dug into the root of it, once I had the time and the resources to dig into why I had an eating disorder, the root of it was that I did not know how to empower myself. I did not know how to be self-confident in who I was. I did not know where my true identity lies. And that was kind of the heart of it. But basically as an athlete, you have all these pressures to look a certain way, to train a certain way. You have to fit into this beauty standard. There is a lot of ideas out there that if you look a certain way, you are going to perform better. And if you weighed less, you will perform better. And so, all of those pressures caught up to me when I was in college.

And combined with anxiety, depression, and some self-esteem issues, that spiraled into controlling food and controlling my body. And I eventually was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I tried really hard to recover while I was at UCLA playing beach volleyball in the team. But I just was not able to really dig into it as much as I needed to there. And then, when I went into grad school, I actually relapsed and landed in the hospital at Rady Children’s Hospital. I was hospitalized for my eating disorder, went through six months of treatment at the UCSD Eating Disorder Center, and have been in strong recovery ever since. And just now, two years later, I want to use my story and use my platform and use all the knowledge that I have learned to serve others.

Alice: That is wonderful, Kamila. And I think what you said there is no handbook on this. People need help, and how are they supposed to know what to do when this happens? And kind of like our period and like jubilance’s topic, it is taboo. People are not talking about that. How do you start to break those barriers with this subject matter?

Kamila: That is a great question. And you are so right, it is so taboo. I think that our society is getting better at giving people a voice to speak their truth and speak about things that have previously been taboo. But we still have a lot of work to do. So, you asked how I break those barriers. I think, just first, it starts out with creating a safe space for people. Because a lot of why it is taboo is because people are afraid to speak up. I remember when I was struggling with my eating disorder, that I was just so scared for anyone to know. Because I did not want to be labeled as “that girl with the mental illness”, like, “that girl with the eating disorder”.

I did not want that to be attached to my identity. I wanted to be so much more than that. So I did not want to- I did not know who I could speak to about it. So I think it starts with creating a safe space. And then I also think that it starts with empowering people to know that that does not define them. That is what they are struggling with, but it can be overcome. And once you dig deep into who you really are, what you are most aligned with, what makes you happy, what sets your soul on fire, then you can really start to break out of those barriers. And understand that that does not define you. It may be part of your life, but you are so much more. As a person, as a spirit, as a body, it is just so much more than that.

Alice: That is amazing, Kamila. And amazing that you are able to help all of these women. Can you talk a little bit about what you are passionate about? What sets your heart on fire? Is it volleyball?

Kamila: Yeah! So, volleyball is definitely something that sets my heart on fire. And just a really special way that I have been able to connect with people. When I was in college and growing up, I thought it was like my passion to just be the most professional athlete I could possibly be and achieve the highest level.

And then, as I went through my eating disorder recovery, I realized that this sport is so much more to me than that. It is a way to connect with people. It is like a platform to use to raise people’s voices about important issues. It is a place of empowerment. And just appreciating what the human body can do. There are so many things that are- wow I can not speak grammar.

There are so many things about beach volleyball that I just love. Including being out on the beach. So yes, that sets my soul on fire. Serving people sets my soul on fire, getting out in nature sets my soul on fire. Having conversations like this, I am very passionate about. Yeah.

Alice: Amazing, Kamila. How did you get into volleyball? When did you start playing? And when did you discover beach volleyball?

Kamila: I got into volleyball when I was in high school.

Alice: Wow, that is really late for a professional volleyball player too.

Kamila: It is. I mean, I played very recreationally when I was younger than that, but I just started playing club volleyball this summer, I think, before my freshman year in high school. So I was 14 when I first started playing competitively. And then barely made the freshman team by the skin of my teeth in high school.

And then kind of worked my way up. I discovered beach volleyball when I was a sophomore in high school. And it was terrible at first, and the only people that would play with me were my uncle and his older friends. They are like, “Okay. Yeah. We will let this girl play with us”, but I was so bad. Yeah. And similarly to the end, I just kind of slowly worked my way up.

And eventually, in college, I transferred from UC San Diego where I was playing indoor to UCLA in the middle of my sophomore year and was part of that now nationally ranked program. So yeah, slowly but surely.

Alice: Wow!

Kamila: And then I also played USA beach volleyball with your sister, which is so much fun, and we had a blast. So yeah, it has been a journey.

Alice: Wow, that is amazing. Doing so many different and various things. That is awesome. And can you talk a little bit about some of your other passions? So I know that you are a content creator as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kamila: Yeah. So similarly to what I said earlier, I really wanted to create that online presence. That is just a safe space for people to come in, share their thoughts and feelings with me or with others, and as a way to connect with people. Because I know that with issues of eating, and body image, and exercise addiction, their compulsive exercise. I am not the only person that struggles with those things. But like you said, it is a tough taboo subject, so “if somebody does not speak about it, who will?” type of thing.

Every time I post something, it is kind of scary, but I do it- I post most of my content on my page, embracing_strength on Instagram. And I find that many people connect with what I am saying. And sometimes, the content comes on a whim like I am struggling with my own emotions and all emotional process. And I want a space to put it out there so I use that platform. Or sometimes, it is something that I plan out and I do a series of like breaking down myths about eating disorders, things like that. But yeah, it is an ongoing process with content creation. And I love things like this because I get new ideas every time I connect with someone.

Alice: Oh, that is awesome! Well, good. And something that we always ask on this podcast is what is your definition of womanhood?

Kamila: Sure. I think the first word that comes to mind when thinking about womanhood is really just “resilience”. Because I think in our society, women have been so oppressed in so many ways throughout history, and we really had to prove ourselves and break some of those barriers that we have talked about. And just empower ourselves as women to understand that we are so worthy of our dreams, and things like that. And when I think about my eating disorder recovery, it really just is resilience. It is breaking through fears around weight gain, or challenging fear foods, or breaking habits that were so ingrained in my brain. And women- like we are so resilient, we can carry a baby.

Alice: True.

Kamila: Yeah. We take care of families and we also are so nurturing and so kind to everyone around us. Just like we are so strong, yet we are so caring at the same time. So yeah, that is right up.

Alice: Yeah, I think that is a great definition for it. Resilient and finding how to care and care for others. Which I think is such a lovely version of being a woman. That is so nice. And something that I always follow up with is if you could give any woman a piece of advice, like just walking down the street, like give her a sentence or two, what would it be?

Kamila: Wow.

Alice: Yeah. “Hello! I have some advice!”

Kamila: I was not prepared to answer that one. [laughs] I think honestly, it would just be, embraced who you are authentically and naturally. Once again, I think back to my experience with my eating disorder, and so much of it was trying to change who I was. There was this facade of trying to change my emotions or change the way that my body looked or numb out what was going on underneath the surface instead of just embracing who I was authentically. And how my body has been built really strong, and that is who I naturally am, that is how I naturally am physically. And so yeah, just embrace who you are and do not try to suppress that. Because the world needs it, the world needs our most authentic highest selves. And yeah, that just by itself, carries so much worth and value.

Alice: Yes. That is amazing. Yes, we do need to be our authentic selves. And thank you so much for helping women on that journey. Kamila, can you let all of our listeners and viewers know how they can find out more about your coaching and about your website?

Kamila: Sure. So my website is just my name. It is www.kamila K-A-M-I-L-A, my last name, Tan, T-A-N , dot com. And everything about my business and my platform can be found there. I also have blog posts about when I was going through eating disorder recovery on there. And then on Instagram, as I mentioned before, my Instagram handle is a @embracing_strength. So you can find me there too!

Alice: Amazing! Perfect! Thank you so much for being on today, Kamila.

Kamila: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

And if you need a little pick me up from the stress or anxiety of PMS or irritability and gloominess associated with that time of the month – try our OAA Supplement (oxaloacetate).

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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