Episode 386 Leah Stiles A Journey Through Military Service and Combatting Eating Disorders: A Journey Through Military Service and Combatting Eating Disorders Transcript

This transcript is from episode 386 with guest Leah Stiles.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today my guest is Leah Stiles. Leah is a retired senior chief mass communication specialist from the US Navy and also the founder and CEO of Sea Waves, a nonprofit, which is geared towards helping combat eating disorders in the military community.

Her journey has been one of relentless determination and challenging the status quo. And today she is here. To share her story and shed light on the critical issue of eating disorders within the military. So before we get into [00:01:00] that, I want to welcome you to the show, Leah. I’m really glad to have you here.

Leah Stiles: Thank you, thanks for having me.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. So, um, first off, let’s, uh, let’s start with a little bit about you.

Leah Stiles: Sure. So, um, I joined the Navy in 2001, just right before 9 11. Um, I

Scott DeLuzio: a hell of a time.

Leah Stiles: It sure is. I had just finished up boot camp and was at my, um, first A school in Fort Meade, Maryland, the first day of class, um, and, and then 9 11, so it started off pretty interesting and it just kept getting more interesting from there.

Um, I started off as a photographer’s mate. And that was really cool. I did a deployment on the George Washington as a photographer’s mate, and [00:02:00] that is definitely some of the best memories of my career. Shortly into that, we merged. Photographers merged with the journalists and draftsmen. and lithographers, um, to make the mass communication specialist rank.

Um, and then I made, I, I made chief right around that same time, so I transitioned kind of from, you know, uh, uh, first, uh, first class and down photographer, and then chief and up as a mass communication specialist.

Scott DeLuzio: So that’s cool. Um, and, and, You know, when I think of the careers in the military, a lot of times, and a lot of people, and this is me just being a dumb grunt, um, I think, like, Like the war fighters, like the, the, the kicking in the doors of explosions and the blowing stuff up. But then like, I, I I’m thinking about this and I’m like, okay, we see these things in the news and television and all this stuff, because there’s people [00:03:00] like, like you guys who are out there, like who are taking pictures and telling the stories and, and all of that kind of stuff.

And. That’s a super important job to have too, because, you know, the folks back home need to know kind of what’s going on with the military. And so it’s, it’s kind of cool that, um, there are folks out there who do those types of jobs. Uh, so, so that way you keep the American people informed and that’s, that’s pretty cool.

Leah Stiles: Right, so that’s one purpose of it is definitely to let the American people know what our Navy is doing. Um, but to mention what you first brought up is kicking the door down and all those exciting things. We do have, well, we did have a command for that called Combat Camera. I was actually selected to serve at Combat Camera and, um, that’s, you know, more of that, um, Historical documentation that maybe not everybody in the public sees, but it serves as the eyes and ears of the Pentagon as well.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. Actually, I didn’t, I didn’t think about that, [00:04:00] but yeah, being able to see what’s going on on the ground, um, you know, from that frontline perspective is, is pretty important as well. Um, but, but there’s yeah. Lines kicking in the doors, uh, that type of thing. It, there’s a lot of stuff going on that needs to be reported on as well.

So, you know, you know, from anywhere from the front lines to, you know, being deployed on a ship or, you know, even back home to the things that are happening on, on the different bases and, and everything like that throughout the country, uh, and actually, I guess around the world, um, is an important, uh, aspect, uh, to, to be able.

Leah Stiles: I look forward to seeing you all in the future. [00:05:00] Okay, so that’s a really good question, Scott. Actually, I did. Um, and so it does kind of tie together what we just said about how awesome a job as a Mass Communication Specialist is. Um, and how much variety we cover in everything that we do. Um, I got to meet, um, many celebrities and have just so many cool experiences.

And while I did, um, I, I ended up having a very successful Navy career. Um, I rose to the ranks of senior chief, which as a mass communication specialist is a very challenging road. Um, so I’m really proud to have made it that far. And so I always kind of had a reputation in the Navy of being, um, you know, maybe like a go getter and you know accomplished and there’s a lot of you know beautiful things I got to wear on my chest and all all those great accolades I got a lot of accolades and um [00:06:00] so it was really quite surprising for most people to find out that the entire time I was serving I was serving with an eating disorder.

Um, for me, it was multiple different eating disorders at different times, and I think that there’s a lot of stigma and unknown and just a lot of questions about what that might look like, and so I like to use my story to kind of be able to, um, navigate some of those myths and some of the unknowns about, um, Um, what eating disorders may look like, because there was certainly, especially in the first 10, 15 years of my service, there certainly wasn’t anybody that really was able to recognize that from medical providers to leaders, um, to dental on down.

Scott DeLuzio: wow. Yeah. And you know, it’s unfortunate that there are people like in the medical community who were not able to [00:07:00] provide the assistance that maybe was needed during that time, right?

Leah Stiles: Right, and so that’s another part that’s so important about eating disorders is that they take a specialized care team of a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a nutritionist at a minimum. Usually specialty care teams have, have five members on there. And so, um, A lot of, a lot of people would assume with all of the mental health resources that we have that eating disorders were covered under them, um, and they just weren’t, which is frustrating for me because, um, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

It’s only second to opioid use, and when you think about service members and opioid use, they usually aren’t hand in hand. Um, but service members and eating disorders do run hand in hand, um, comorbidly, um, they run, uh, really closely to PTSD and MST, um, and [00:08:00] they’re, they’re said to affect, you know, there’s a lot of different, um, resources and different subgroups.

And we’re still working on getting, you know, much more accurate information, but what’s out there tells us that one third of females and one fifth of males in the military community are struggling with an eating disorder.

Scott DeLuzio: Because it is something that maybe folks just aren’t talking about enough. I mean, uh, you were talking about how the mental health providers, um, you would have thought that maybe they would have been able to. Help with this type of thing. But, um, there’s so much attention on PTSD and, and other, um, uh, just call it hot ticket, uh, you know, items where, where there’s, there’s a lot of attention on those areas, um, where they, they maybe [00:09:00] just aren’t, you know, Well-trained, um, or if they did get some training, it, it was kind of just, oh, yeah, and by the way, there’s this thing that might happen too, kind of thing.

Um, you know, in, in, uh, uh, eating disorders and, um, that, uh, you know, maybe because there’s not enough awareness or education around it, maybe people don’t even recognize that there is an eating disorder. Because they just, there’s no, um, not enough education to even be able to put the label on the thing.

Like we can, we can kind of wrap our head around PTSD. I think a lot of us can kind of understand what that is just because we’ve been talking about it for years now, um, which I think is great. Um, but that’s As far as these conditions go. And so there’s, there’s some work to be done there. Right. Um, and, um, you know, you, you mentioned it, it’s, you know, a third of females, a fifth of, of males within the military.

Um, and I got to imagine they probably are [00:10:00] experiencing some similar challenges to getting the help, uh, as maybe folks back, uh, years ago, maybe Vietnam era with mental health conditions where it was kind of just. Almost like along the lines of a we’ll just suck it up and deal with it kind of thing. Is that kind of like some of the challenges that they’re facing now?

Leah Stiles: So you really hit the nail on the head as far as, um, you know, mental health and the way we looked at it 20 years ago. That’s really interesting about when I joined in, in 2001.

PTSD really wasn’t a common conversation. Um, it was still very taboo. Um, we didn’t engage leadership on how to recognize it or peers on how to recognize it. We definitely thought that it was the generation before us. Um, until it just became a conversation and data came and support came and we just kind of learned how to have that conversation.

I have the same hopes and dreams, um, through SeaWaves that we’ll be able [00:11:00] to look at eating disorders the same way, um, and kind of transition and understand the way we did with PTSD. Eating disorders have been around, um, as long as PTSD, if not longer, it’s just, um, it’s very hard. to diagnose in a system where nobody is really qualified to diagnose it.

And so I think that some people wait for like the eating disorder diagnosis to, you know, seek help. And, um, that’s going to be very difficult to obtain in the military. So I really try to teach people, um, the, the spectrum that, um, that includes disordered eating. up to eating disorders. And so some people may never receive the eating disorder diagnosis through the DSM 5.

Um, and, uh, you know, that’s something to work on, but that’s okay because in some cases when you get that eating disorder diagnosis, you can no longer serve. Um, [00:12:00] so, but it’s still important, diagnosis or not, to, to really work on your relationship with food and your body. And, um, and so that’s really where disordered eating comes into play.

And I’ve found over my time in the service that, um, we’ve normalized some things, um, that are really disordered, and it’s just been, um, Breaking the, um, that this is the way we’ve always done it, so it’s got to be fine stigma. Um, and just really calling out our, um, in the Navy they call it, Get Real, Get Better.

Like, let’s call it what it is. Um, it’s disordered, it’s unhealthy. And let’s take that knowledge and, and work on getting better.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Yeah. Um, and you mentioned two, two terms there, and I, I kind of would like to help, um, myself and the listeners wrap our heads around the difference between the two, between disordered eating and an eating disorder. Um, [00:13:00] you made a distinction there. Could you kind of maybe define, uh, the difference between the two of those?

Leah Stiles: Sure, um, so it’s all about a spectrum, um, and to get an actual eating disorder diagnosis, um, in the past, there was only three diagnoses for eating disorders, and those are probably the most, um, uh, common or familiar that most people are aware of, and so that would be anorexia, bulimia, and, um, binge eating.

Um, what people don’t realize is that, um, in the past couple of years, DSM 5 has actually included three more, so there’s six total, um, and, um, Um, and so they’ve determined that even though we have the sixth one that’s considered, um, even sort of not otherwise specified, so meaning, um, you know, you qualify, um, for part of this diagnosis, part of this diagnosis, part of this diagnosis, but not completely each one.

Um, and then it [00:14:00] goes into the unspecified. Again, a lot of that can be very difficult, especially in the military community where there’s really no subject matter expert or, um, uh, You know, many people qualify to recognize and diagnose that, um, internally. And so, um, I think that people relate more with understanding disordered eating.

It doesn’t take a doctor to, to teach you to recognize these disordered eatings. And it’s not just about eating, it’s about behaviors. And so if you look at, for example, um, you know, In the military, when we would do like, uh, the weigh ins twice a year, and, um, so for those that just aren’t that familiar, you know, you do your PRT, your physical readiness test, and, um, your BCA, your body composition assessment.

So with, with the BCA, [00:15:00] um, if you’re not within the weight standards that are predetermined, which some people will argue and die on the hill that they are archaic and, um, not, uh, realistic, um, which, um, I could entertain that conversation for quite a while, but regardless, you know, the military needs to have standards.

And so, whatever the standards are, if you fall short of them with the weight, you are then, um, taped with a measuring tape in different areas. You know, for females, it’s the neck, the chest. And, um, waist and then the widest part of their hips slash buttocks, um, it’s different for males. And so even then, if you do that and you’re a half an inch over, um, then you can have very, very, um, Catastrophic effects on your career, on your evaluations, um, and so that was always a big concern for me, right?

Because I was very driven to, to go far in my career and I was like, I will [00:16:00] not allow a half an inch or a quarter of an inch. To, um, to deter me from being, you know, the best sailor that I can be. And so I really relate with that with other people and that anxiety of preparing for those, um, different milestones.

Like at first it was twice a year. Now, sometimes it’s once a year, you know, it goes back and forth and different branches are unique. But some of the things that we see. See, um, preparing for that BCA in ways that we try to shrink our body is beyond the relationship with food. And so very often it’s very common to see people, um, intentionally dehydrate themselves to limit their fluid intake and then sit in the sauna to sweat it out.

Um, it’s pretty common to see people, um, believe it or not, put a layer of preparation H on on their stomachs and wrap it [00:17:00] in saran wrap and then dehydrate that way or work out and try to sweat it out that way there’s laxative use um and different detoxes and just crazy fad um not even fad diets like Fat eating plans that, that we’ve recommended to each other over time for so many years that it became, um, acceptable.

And if you really look at the health and the impact of each of those examples, um, that’s when it would fall under disordered. Not only eating, but then compensation to shrink your body either temporarily or permanently, um, is, it falls under disordered.

Scott DeLuzio: Okay. So that, that makes sense because, so there’s, there’s kind of that, that extreme, two kind of extremes of, of what, what’s going on with that. And, um, you know, one is not necessarily requiring a diagnosis. It’s just, you [00:18:00] can look at it and be like, okay. That’s not right. You shouldn’t be doing that to your body.

Um, you know, that it’s, it’s not a healthy thing to be, you know, purposely dehydrating yourself. Um, it’s one thing if you’re, you know, out in the desert and you ran out of water and like that, that just happens like, okay, fine, but this is your, you know, in, in garrison, you there’s plenty of water available to you.

You, you, you. Certainly should be able to, uh, be hydrated

Leah Stiles: I’m

Scott DeLuzio: or the, you know, pass the tape, uh, you know, test or, or whatever. So, um, so that makes sense. Um, thank you for explaining the, the two of those and the two kind of, um, you know, ways of looking at, at, um, You know, these, these disorders and, and, uh, disordered, uh, eating and kind of the relationship with all of this.

So, um, so you started, uh, SeaWaves, um, after, I’m assuming [00:19:00] after you left the military, is that correct? Okay. So could you tell us more about SeaWaves and, um, you know, where you came up with the idea for it? Um, what its mission is and, and, uh, how it’s helping the military community? Oh,

Leah Stiles: expand a little bit more on my experience in the Navy and that’s kind of what really led me to see waves. Um, so for my first 10 years in the Navy, um, I struggled very privately with my eating disorder. Nobody knew at all, not my husband, my kids, my, my siblings, like nobody knew at all. It was just a internal struggle that I went through alone.

And that was very, um, scary time to just do it alone. Um, for the next five years, um, I was in that phase that we just talked about where I was like, well, I know this is very disordered. I know this is wrong. I know my body can’t handle all these things that I’m doing to it in compensation. Um, [00:20:00] And I, you know, I would do things that appeared to other people to be average or normal, but I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Um, for example, if we had, you know, a command lunch and, um, you know, I, I, I felt compelled to eat what everybody else was eating for lunch. Um, I, I would make sure within 24 hours that I ran. 14 miles as compensation. Everybody congratulated me like, good job, you’re so disciplined, you’re running, you’re training.

Um, but it was really torture. I was punishing myself. I hate running. I’ve always hated running. Um, and so it was that kind of internal struggle where I was being reinforced for losing weight or for exercising. Um, and it brought that cycle where I knew it was wrong, but it was still being kind of applauded at that time.

So for those five years, I kind [00:21:00] of looked for resources to help myself without engaging my command, um, or really my family. And so I looked at all the different mental health resources that the military provides. You know, we have Military OneSource, and we have 988, you can call for, um, support. And there’s, you know, We’ve really done a great job over, I’d say, the past decade or so, um, expanding our resources.

However, each one that I called, um, I had nobody on staff that, um, had eating disorder knowledge. Um, so And so that I, and, and even the few places that are like, Oh, we, um, you know, we support people with eating disorders. When I would call them, it would be a dead end. They didn’t actually have a program. And so I really struggled for those five years to try to find like my own solutions.

Um, so the last five years of my career, um, ended up being really, really [00:22:00] difficult, um, mentally for me. Um, in a two year span, my friends and family lost eight people to suicide and, um, and so recovering from that two year span and, um, trying to, you know, keep my eating disorder under control. It became just nearly impossible.

Um, and so that brings me to 2017. And I was on deployment, um, on the George Bush in the middle of the ocean. And, um, and I was absolutely in the worst, um, in my eating disorder. I was, um, I was addicted to purging. I was purging somewhere between 4 and 18 times a day. Um, and my chain of command, um, my command master chief was a former corpsman, and he had a family member that has had a purging, um, addiction before as [00:23:00] well.

And, um, And so he absolutely recognized all the signs and the symptoms and he held an intervention for me. He gave me 30 days to kind of cut back, get myself together, get my laps right, get, um, my, um, Self, you know, a little bit more healthy. Um, I didn’t do well through those next 30 days. He gave me like another two weeks with some more guidance and, um, resources, but we were, you know, on deployment and, um, there really wasn’t available.

So my command master chief met with my, my CO and my XO, and they really just held an intervention for me and, um, gave me no choice, but to fly me back to the States for treatment. All right. So I flew back to the States, and I went to the Navy’s largest, um, medical hospital in, uh, in Portsmouth, Virginia.

And when I arrived there, even though they knew that I was [00:24:00] coming, um, they immediately said that I needed inpatient treatment. And everybody agreed on that. But nobody could find a place or a way or how to get me there. You know, we found a couple of different places, but TRICARE wouldn’t pay for it. Um, the way it stands right now, TRICARE will not pay for inpatient or residential treatment for anybody over the age of 20.

And I was already over that. Um, and most of us are by the time we seek help. Um, so.

Just nobody, you know, people wanted to help, but nobody knew who, and everybody assumed that somebody else had the answer, you know, Buman thought it was DHA that thought it was, you know, every, everybody thought somebody else was handling that and taking care of that, and, and they just weren’t. Um, so when I retired, Um, I ended up getting very sick and then with my eating disorder and then I got COVID on top of it and I [00:25:00] was bedridden and, um, really the only way that I lived was my husband and my neighbor would take turns with, um, with a dropper and put chicken broth under my tongue.

Throughout the day, the best that they could. Um, and again, they called everywhere in the United States to get me impatient. Everybody agreed for me to be impatient and there was nobody to take me. So this was right after I retired in 2021. So not only did I struggle at the duty, but then on the VA side.

There was still really no help, no resources. So I definitely thought I was going to die when I was laying in bed and I had COVID on top of, um, just being unable to nourish myself in any kind of way. And, um, and so I kind of had that thing that sounds cheesy and so touche, but I was literally like, if I make it through this, I’m going to do something to make it right.

Like, I I’m gonna make this better for the shipmates that come [00:26:00] after me, for all my service members that come after me. Like, I have to, as a senior chief, um, really just make a change. And so I really thought that that meant that I was gonna, like, write a couple blogs or maybe an interview with the media, um, something like that.

Um, so I I ended up, the same mentor that I had on the George Washington, or I’m sorry, on the George Bush, um, contacted me and he was like, Well, I see that you’re trying to heal and I see that you’re trying to do better for everybody around you, but as long as this is still a secret that you keep within yourself, You’re really never going to completely heal.

So kind of out of spite and like to prove him wrong or to prove me wrong, I’m not really sure what, what my reaction was. I said, you know what, that’s fine. And I, I came out on social media. I came out to everybody, my family, my cousin, but I came out on LinkedIn and on Instagram and on Facebook. Everybody found out at [00:27:00] once, you know, within five minutes I was like, Oh no, what did I do?

Um, and so that’s when I really learned, A, that there was a lot of people that were supportive, B, that there was a lot of people that just didn’t understand that I didn’t, I had an anorexia diagnosis and I didn’t look like I have anorexia, right? Um, a lot of people see, you know, anorexia is frail and underway and, um, and, and that’s only 6%.

94 percent of people with anorexia do not fall in the underweight category. So I knew immediately I had a lot of, um, knowledge to provide and clear things up for people that were just, just absolutely confused and thought that eating disorders looked a certain way and certainly not like a senior chief in khaki uniform. The third thing that happened is it, it kind of, um, Uh, I, I have no other term for it than it inspired almost a Me Too movement. And so a lot of people started reaching out to me and like, that’s me and I have that disordered eating, or I’ve had a purging [00:28:00] disorder, or that’s my shitmaid, or my uncle, or my boss.

And, and so people were being so brave and contacting me and acknowledging what their issues were, and almost everybody had the same follow up question. And that was, you know, Now what? Um, and I didn’t have the answer for now what. So long and hard I thought, and the now what I came up with was sea waves.

Scott DeLuzio: And, and so you got to this point where you decided to let the world know, um, you’ve been struggling with this whole time and you got these people reaching out who were like, yep, that’s, that’s me. Um, I, or somebody I know. Um, and. Yeah, that’s a very natural progression is that the next step is like, okay, now what we we’ve identified Who [00:29:00] these people are?

We’ve identified what the problem is

Leah Stiles: On

Scott DeLuzio: But what do we do with it? How do we how do we help these people? and so

Leah Stiles: to

Scott DeLuzio: you’re

Leah Stiles: for coming

Scott DeLuzio: I think your first step is really Education. Uh, I would, I would imagine if, if this was me, it was like, I would be like, okay, we gotta let people know this is a problem in the military community.

Get, get some information, make the military population informed about what these things are, um, and how they can recognize that the symptoms, um, and be proactive in addressing these

Leah Stiles: next few weeks.

Scott DeLuzio: your book?

Leah Stiles: Um, absolutely. And proactive is, is a huge part of prevention and goes back to what we talked about on the scale from disordered eating to eating disorders.

It’s because when you do disordered eating time and time again, it, it will lead to, [00:30:00] so prevention is so important on the front end. Um, so I felt, I felt two very, um, High priorities when starting SeaWaves. The very first thing that I wanted to provide was, um, resources. Um, and so, like we said, you know, a lot of the other chat lines and things.

They didn’t have any specialists on board, um, that could speak on behalf of eating disorders. So one of the very first things I did after founding Z Waves is I partnered with Crisis Text Line. And they provided a code, so it’s WAVES, if you text WAVES to 741741, the, the chat line there is, um, knowledgeable and understanding and has resources to talk about eating disorders there.

Um, in the case that, um, it may, uh, escalate above, you know, what they’re comfortable with, I have personally vetted the resources then that they would, um, refer our service [00:31:00] members, veterans, and families to so there’s no more dead ends. They will be referred to, um, the places that I know. Um, are going to be able to help and serve.

So I kind of started off that way of, um, you know, getting the crisis text line in place and then just connecting the civilian organizations with the military community that needed them. But the second piece that you brought up was really, really important. And that is where a lot of my focus is now, and that’s education and awareness.

So I developed a training, um, and I give it to primarily leadership. But lately it’s been also first line medical staff.

Scott DeLuzio: Okay.

Leah Stiles: you know, I’m not a doctor, but it definitely includes, like, as a leadership 101, what this looks like, what some of the myths are, um, and I, you know, I try to give that as much as possible, any chance that I can, um, through any branch, um, and, and any training opportunity.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I think it’s important for leadership to be able to [00:32:00] recognize these things, um, because especially in the military, I mean, really, this can apply to any organization of business or, or anything like that too, but, um, especially in the military, if you have Folks who are battling something, anything, it could be, you know, PTSD.

It could be, um, you know, an eating disorder, you name it, like anything that they’re battling, that’s taking their mind away from the mission and the job that they’re supposed to be doing. And that could potentially have life and death consequences outside of just that one individual. That, that now is.

You know, maybe putting, uh, their, their squad or their platoon or, you know, whatever the group that they’re, they’re with, that could put them in danger because this person’s head isn’t. In the, in the game, if you will, let’s just put it that way. Um, because they, their head is now focused on something else that they’re, um, that [00:33:00] they’re maybe struggling with.

Um, and, and this is more than just a, um, I got to pick my kid up from school today, kind of a thing that they’re worried about. This is, this is something much more significant than that. And

Leah Stiles: thing that I’m

Scott DeLuzio: that type of stuff. It takes away from, from the mission that, uh, you know, any of these, these leaders are responsible for.

And so if they, they don’t have folks who are, um, a hundred percent, they’re, they’re not coming to the mission, uh, in a, a hundred percent mindset, then they are not Going to perform necessarily at a hundred percent. Um, or, or if they are performing at a hundred percent, it won’t be for very long. You know, it’s not a sustainable type of thing.

And so making the leaders aware, like, Hey, this is a problem. There, there are folks out there who have these issues and. Here’s how you recognize it, um, and, and [00:34:00] here’s, I think, even more importantly, where you can go to get them some help. Um, that, that’s going to just make everybody better, I think, and that’s, I think, an important piece of what it is that you do, right?

Leah Stiles: Right, yeah, mission readiness is a huge part of this. Not only mentally, like you said, you know, anybody that’s struggling mentally is really just not in the game. But physically, what eating disorders do to your body and, you know, the malnutrition and, um, You know, the head fog, and there’s just all kinds of, um, symptoms that come along with almost every eating disorder.

Um, and so that, that absolutely does impact, um, the mission. But I also just want to bring up an interesting point. Um, you know, we talk about, um, Educating leaders, and in my mind, almost everybody in the military is a leader, even the E2s are leading the E1s, so, you know, I think that we’re all leaders, but I also think that when we have these conversations, we think that, like, senior, um, leadership [00:35:00] should be, um, Um, uh, uh, equipped with this information to help junior leadership and below, but what’s really interesting is that eating disorders do not discriminate by rank and, um, the, the first four people that came out to me, um, about, About their struggle were active duty master chiefs.

Um, there was a master chief on, um, on a submarine and, um, and he, I ended up in the hospital with him for the same thing. He had a purging disorder. Nobody suspected this at all, and he was the CMC of the submarine, and so you want to talk about impacting mission readiness. They were ready, they were ready to deploy, and then they were out without their highest, um, You know, enlisted person.

And so, it, this really affects, um, upper, upper military leadership too, especially when you look the further you’re into your career, the more important it is that you don’t, um, that you don’t lose it, that you don’t fail, that you don’t lose your retirement, that you don’t look [00:36:00] bad in front of other people, or your sailors, or your, uh, The people that you lead and you want to look great in a khaki uniform.

And so, yeah, I just wanted to make sure that we brought in the conversation to realize that they really don’t discriminate, um, males, females, um, rank. It really, it really comes down to anybody.

Scott DeLuzio: And, you know, that’s a similar conversation as to what’s been going on in terms of, you know, PTSD and stuff like that. It doesn’t discriminate based on rank or, uh, You know, gender or, uh, age, or, um, even the job that you had in the military, what your MOS was, um, it, it’s really not, none of that stuff is really relevant.

It’s, you know, you experience a traumatic thing and it’s going to affect you. And, um, you know, there’s something, and I don’t, I’m not going to claim that I’m well versed in, you know, eating disorders and what, uh, [00:37:00] uh, you know, You know, what the root cause is, and there’s, that’s probably a, uh, you know, a rabbit hole you can go down where, where there’s so many different, uh, root causes and every, every single case might be a different situation.

Right. Um, so that, that’s something I’m not willing to go down, uh, go down that path, but, um, right now, but, um, I think, uh, just understanding that they exist and that there are people You rely on to, uh, do their job and, uh, not be, um, suffering the consequences of, uh, having this eating disorder. Um, I think it’s just important for the leaders.

And like you said, everyone in the military really is a leader. Um, you know, you said E2s are, you know, leading the E1s, but the way we were trained in the army is you have to be able to do the job two ranks above you. And so even the E1s [00:38:00] should be ready to lead. So, um, you know, everybody really should be able to kind of recognize some of this stuff.

Um, so. You do these, these types of training, uh, with the military community. Um, how’s the reception been with the folks that you’ve, uh, you’ve worked with?

Leah Stiles: So there’s been, um, there’s been a lot of apprehension at first because, um, people don’t know what they don’t know. And they think that if it was, you know, really impactful that they would have heard about it by now.

Um, um, And, yeah, no, delete that part too. Hold on, let me,

Scott DeLuzio: No problem.

Leah Stiles: this. Okay.

Scott DeLuzio: I can cut the whole question out if, if you’d rather not answer that

Leah Stiles: Nope, I do want to because that’s important. Okay. So, so far the reception has been, um, a lot of apprehension. [00:39:00] Um, so the education piece absolutely has to come first. First, for them to know that this, this is absolutely impacting their, um, department division commands. Um, so the education piece comes right along, um, with the awareness piece and, and back and forth.

Um, but. Everybody that I have given this training to, um, has thanked me for enlightening them, enlightening them, and giving them a perspective that they weren’t aware of before. So the feedback after the training has been really, um, really great feedback.

Scott DeLuzio: Well, that’s good. It’s good to hear that, that people are being receptive to this. Um, I, honestly, I asked the question because I was thinking to myself back in like, you know, the pre PTSD being a thing that people talked about, um, where it was kind of just like brushed off as You know, we don’t need to worry [00:40:00] about that.

Um, these guys are tough. They, they can handle this and you know, that type of mentality has definitely shifted over time. Um, and so I wasn’t sure what your response was going to be. Um, I, I kind of was suspecting that in the, the, these early kind of stages of, uh, raising awareness that it might’ve just been, eh, well, it’s not that big a deal kind of thing.

Um, you know, but it’s great to hear that, um, folks are. Taking it seriously and, and that they are receptive to kind of hearing some of the, um, you know, the issues that some of their, uh, their troops may be having, um, and, and wanting to help them too. I mean, it, it doesn’t make any sense, uh, that a leader would, would be like, Uh, they’re having that problem, but I’m not worried about that kind of thing, you know, so, um, so it’s good that they’re, they’re dealing with it, uh, in a positive way, um, at least being receptive to it.

And so, [00:41:00] um, you know, perhaps they have nobody in their, their command that, um, has any sort of, uh, eating issues, uh, going on right now, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t. Tomorrow or, you know, a year from now. And so raising that awareness, at least it’s, it’s on their radar. Right. And so when they start to recognize eating

Leah Stiles: soon. So, I’m going to show you a little bit of what I’ve been doing. So, first of all, I’m going to show you a little bit of what I’ve

Scott DeLuzio: that we can have, um,

Leah Stiles: this

Scott DeLuzio: so outside of the education piece where you go in and you’re, you’re talking to people and, and obviously you have the, uh, the communication side too, where, um, you know, [00:42:00] folks can, uh, you know, You know, access that type of help. Are there any other, you know, kind of initiatives or programs that, that you’ve, uh, implemented to help, uh, with the mission that you guys have?

Leah Stiles: Sure, yeah, so just to, you know, kind of sum it up, the three things that, that I really work day to day on, um, so the first thing is, uh, resources and referrals, and so I’m always building these relationships with, um, with people. other nonprofits and other veteran owned organizations to continue to build, um, those resources.

So again, the second thing that we do is education awareness. And so I’m always looking to grow that program to as many places as I can to, um, implement that training. Cause like you said, a lot of people think that they don’t have anybody in their command with an eating disorder, but if you look at the data of what.

One third of females and one fifth of males and have that in mind at quarters when you [00:43:00] look out, um, out in the ranks, you, the odds are is that you do. Um, and so, you know, there’s that. The third thing that we haven’t really touched on yet is that I work with legislation on, um, on different ways of getting this, um, Fixed through tricare.

Um, there’s currently a serve act at the Hill. It’s been approved but not implemented. And that goes back to fix the thing that we talked about, um, about Tricare not covering over the age of 20. So that’s been approved up to, um. I believe it’s age 55, it’s been going back and forth, um, and so I work with legislation on getting that pushed all the way through and implemented, as well as a few other acts that, um, will support the resources available.

Scott DeLuzio: You know, that just blew my mind when you said that it was covered, but up until age 20. And even now, when you said it covered up until age 55, and it’s like anybody older than that, [00:44:00] like they, their problem isn’t worth it or something. Like I, that just blew my mind. Doesn’t make any sense to me. Like it’s sure a step in the right direction going, going to 55.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, not trying to knock that legislation or anything like that. But, um,

Leah Stiles: for

Scott DeLuzio: it’s like,

Leah Stiles: us

Scott DeLuzio: treatment to, you know, a certain age or something like that. It’s like, well, that person, the person who’s like one day older than whatever the age is,

Leah Stiles: see you

Scott DeLuzio: exist kind of thing. I don’t know that that to me It just blew my mind when you said that and I I wanted to bring that up like come on guys Let’s let’s figure this out. Like I don’t I don’t know what the numbers are, but let’s make it work, you know

Leah Stiles: I feel that way every day. Scott, like, come on guys. Like, some of this just really hurts my head. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t make sense. Um, but we’re making sense of it. And honestly, the more we talk [00:45:00] about it, the more conversations that we have, um, amongst each other. Um, with change makers and decision makers, with our peers, with our family members.

Um, you know, like we said about service members having their head in the game, you know, if their spouse or child is struggling with an eating disorder and they’re over the age of 20 and you can’t afford to get them treatment, um, there’s no way your head’s in the game.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, exactly. Uh, yeah, because it may not necessarily be the service member themselves, but yeah, it could be a, you know, a, uh, a spouse. It could be their 21 year old kid, you know, like who’s just one year over. Um, but now is having all these issues. Um, maybe they were having those issues before and it didn’t come out until after they, they turned 21.

And. It’s like, okay, so we’re just going to [00:46:00] forget about it. I don’t know that that just doesn’t make any sense. So yeah, I think we should, um, you know, definitely push for that and, um, you know, make it so that, um, you know, if, if you have it, your age is kind of an irrelevant factor in that whole equation.

It’s like, if you have this problem, let’s work to fix it. And not, not, you know, throw red tape in the way, um, that that’s not going to make anything any, any better. Right.

Leah Stiles: Right, and that’s the point that I’ll probably close on, Scott, is that, you know, when it comes to awareness and when it comes to, you know, the treatment and the red tape, um, you know, I’ll throw one more stat out there. Um, and that’s that the number one cause of death for somebody with an eating disorder is suicide.

And so anything else that we see, you know, PTSD, anything else that leads to suicide, we rush with [00:47:00] resources and support and, you know, we try our best to, to get those numbers as minimal as possible. But if we’re missing a whole demographic of people struggling with eating disorders with no support and resources.

Um, that is absolutely affecting our suicide numbers.

Scott DeLuzio: You know, this is just the, I don’t know, maybe analytical side of, of me coming, coming out, but it’s like, okay, if we’re missing this demographic, uh, with, with regards to what you just said, what other demographics are we missing too? And so not, not to minimize anything that you’re saying, cause this is definitely important, but there’s, there’s probably another group of people that, I mean, just because we don’t have.

Uh, SEA WAVES of whatever that other, uh, thing is, um, we don’t have the awareness of whatever it is that’s going on. I don’t know who else we’re, we’re missing here. Um, and so it’s like, we, I think we need to [00:48:00] just like pay a little more attention to the world around us and kind of pull our heads out of our asses and, and, and make sure that we’re actually taking care of people who need it.

Um, and not, and not, uh, letting the, these types of things just kind of slip away. So, uh, I, I really do appreciate the type of work that you do. Um, because, um, without it, there’s going to be folks out there who, um,

Leah Stiles: to ask you

Scott DeLuzio: just feel like they’re, um, just resources, like kind of like you, uh, there was no place for it.

Leah Stiles: and

Scott DeLuzio: For you to go. And we don’t want people to be like that. Like where, where now you have to, you know, call all over the country to try to find a place to get the treatment, uh, that you need, um, there, there should be that treatment available. Relatively close to where you live. Um, and, and you shouldn’t have to [00:49:00] go all over the place to be able to get that.

Um, because that to me, wouldn’t make things a whole, uh, wouldn’t make things very easy if you now have to go fly to the other side of the country to get treatment. Now you’re away from your family and away from all the folks that, that love and care for you. Um, you’re, you’re isolated and you’re alone in this place.

Yeah, sure. Maybe you’re getting some, some treatment, but. That’s going to have another effect on you as well. And that’s, that’s not great either. So, uh, so thank you for all the work that you guys are doing, uh, at SeaWaves. So I like to wrap up each episode with a little bit of humor. Um, and this segment I like to do, I always like to do this with, uh, another veteran who’s on the show because it always gets a laugh, especially when I, uh, Use the name of the segment, which is, is it service connected?

Um, and it’s basically like America’s Funniest Home Videos, but military [00:50:00] edition. And so we watch service members do something stupid. They, they fall down, they get hurt or they, uh, you know, nothing too serious. They’re not like, You know, getting blown up or anything like that, but they’re, they’re doing things that, come on, we’ve all been in the barracks at one point or another, we kind of know what goes on.

So they’re doing something stupid and then we get to laugh at it because that’s what we do best, we laugh at each other. And uh, so we’ll, we’ll put that, I’ll pull this video up real quick. Um, And, uh, for the audio only listeners, uh, I’ll try my best to describe this. Uh, right now it looks like we got a Marine standing here and we have somebody else holding what looks like a crab, uh, in the bottom part of the screen here.

So I can tell you for sure, this is not going to end well for this guy. Uh, but let’s give it a play and see how it goes.

Leah Stiles: much

Scott DeLuzio: and they are about to pinch it onto his earlobe, and he is in pain. He is not liking this.

Leah Stiles: [00:51:00] and

Scott DeLuzio: And they’re trying to pull it off, and he’s like, oh shoot, no, don’t pull it off.

Leah Stiles: to

Scott DeLuzio: go. It’s, it, that thing is on there.

Leah Stiles: again

Scott DeLuzio: like they’re not going to help him. So, uh, yeah, probably not service connected. There’s probably nothing too major there, although that was still funny. Um, we can still laugh at that guy and, uh, uh, you know, hopefully he figured out a way to get that crab off of his ear, uh, without causing too much. You know, permanent damage.

Leah Stiles: But like any, any good, uh, military peers will never let them live it down. That,

Scott DeLuzio: like that, they’re walking around with, um, you know, basically evidence that you can’t live this down.

Leah Stiles: that video will show up again, most [00:52:00] likely at retirement.

Scott DeLuzio: Uh, yeah. Retirement. I could see weddings. I could receive retirement. I could see all sorts of, uh, situations where, where this comes up. Um, and, uh, yeah, we’re just going to have to keep that going. Keep that guy, uh, back in the brief that says don’t mess with the wildlife, um, because we’ve all had that brief and, uh, he clearly wasn’t listening or at least not paying attention.

So, um, thank you again, uh, Leah for coming on and sharing everything that you guys are doing with SeaWaves and, um, and how you’re helping the military community. I really do appreciate it.

Leah Stiles: And thanks, Scott, I appreciate you, um, giving me the opportunity to talk about this and, Um, you know, before I go, I just want to say that the very last bit of advice is, um, don’t do this alone. Don’t do any of this alone, whether it’s eating disorders or depression or PTSD, whatever it is that you’re struggling with, just don’t do it alone.

Find [00:53:00] somebody that can, can take this journey with you.

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. That’s, that’s great. Totally great advice. Um, there are people out there who want to help and, uh, they, and, and they’re ready, willing, and able to help. And, uh, you are not a burden to those people. They’re, they’re there. They want to help you, uh, reach out and get the help that you need.

Absolutely. So thanks again.

Leah Stiles: Okay.

Scott DeLuzio: Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

Leave a Comment