Pink Durian Weight Support Community – Interview with Serena Webber
Serena Webber is the compassionate mind behind Pink Durian Weight Support Community. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to talk about her new venture as an online weight support coach. Her spectacular personal transformation is incredibly inspirational and it is time to share her experience with everyone!
Current Favourite Quote: At any given moment you have the power to say, “This is not how the story is going to end.”
Powerful Women you are “feeling” right now: J.K. Rowling, who turned her terrible life circumstances around through hard work and brilliance, then used her wealth and fame as a platform to speak her mind and advocate for others, and Emma Watson who is a fierce advocate of gender equality and gender rights.
Women who professionally Inspire You: Frida Kahlo, because like me she suffered immensely in her life for many reasons that were not her fault. She also expressed herself through art like I do, and turned her pain into something beautiful that inspired others.
Can you tell us about yourself and your role with the organization? What are you trying to accomplish with Pink Durian?
Pink Durian started as a way to help others with their own food struggles by shining light on my own battles. I tell stories about things that worked, things that didn’t and try to help illuminate that food addiction is a true addiction that needs to be dealt with physically as well as emotionally.
Many people are either firmly in the camp of fat shaming, or fat acceptance. Pink Durian’s stance is that if you are happy with your weight and you are above “average” weight, you have a right to dignity and respect as much as everyone else, but if you unhappy with where you are because of food, you can find the beginnings of recovery here. Loving yourself as you are is important, but if you are not happy where you are maybe addressing issues around food can help.
I feel like I’m a unique position. There are so few role models that have lost the amount of weight I have through completely natural means, and I get told often that I’m the only person people know who has released anything even close to what I have naturally without hawking any pills or surgeries. I am there through Pink Durian to help guide people towards the answers they need to help themselves. Empowering others empowers me to stay on this new path as well, because it is an addiction and addictions are pervasive. There is always the risk I could fall back down. Helping other people helps me stay out of the food.
What sets your approach apart from what others are doing?
I believe there are 2 facets to obesity – the physiological (as in what we are eating and how it affects our bodies) and the psychosocial (what trauma or issues are driving us to where we are eating to the point of obesity).
There aren’t many programs that I am aware of that merge the psychosocial aspects of a psychological or 12 step program with actually discussing your body’s nutritional needs. There is often very little guidance as to what to actually eat. Conversely, food and diet plans don’t usually address any of the psychological reasons we abuse food the way a meth addict would abuse a drug.
Pink Durian is trying to get the message out there that food can be an addiction just like alcohol or drugs, and that to tackle it we need to look at what we are overeating, why and how we can get the psychological support we need to stop.
What are some of your proudest moments with Pink Durian thus far?
One that stands out the most is a lady who had struggled with binging for many years, who emailed to let me know that hearing my story helped her realize she wasn’t alone. She was so relieved to find someone she hadn’t even met that shared a similar past that she didn’t binge that night, which was a first in many years.
Another was an email from someone I didn’t know at all from the Southern US who let me know that she was restarting her program because my story had given her hope.
What inspired you to share your lifestyle with others?
Being helped by other people, including people I knew of online who I had never met in real life but inspired me. Seeing that other people had walked the path I wanted to be on, and had success, gave me hope that it was feasible for me too. I didn’t have to know them. I just had to hear their stories.
Eventually deep into my program I realized that other people were looking to me to be a beacon of hope and inspiration the same way I had been given hope, and I realized that sharing my story and helping other people would help heal me and keep me accountable. I don’t allow myself to slip because I know there are so many people counting on me to stay healthy and show them that it is not impossible to get to and maintain a healthy weight.
Do you have any advice for other women looking to build their businesses or help others online?
Keep it very real and down to earth when helping others. People who are in need of help are naturally suspicious yet deeply vulnerable. They need to hear why you are helping them. I don’t put myself on a pedestal; I share my flaws and my struggles openly. Opening yourself up and making yourself vulnerable helps make you relatable when people can see that you’re human like them.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work?
Helping people get through one day without turning to binging. One day might not sound like a lot but I know first hand how incredibly accomplished people feel when they can get through that day from hell without turning to the food. One day can change someone’s life – I turned one day into many months by taking things one day at a time. Knowing that I turned the immense suffering in my past into a message that helped someone in my future is beyond rewarding.
What are some of the most challenging aspects?
I’m trying to help a large number of people battle one of the most widespread and pervasive addictions in a time where food addiction isn’t yet widely considered a true addiction.
The obesity rate is growing, and I feel that many of those people are truly addicted to food. I have to deal with many of the attitudes and stigmas attached to obesity being from lack of willpower, rather than a physiological addiction. Many of those stigmas come from sufferers themselves, who feel like it is a personal or moral failing that they are obese; that they somehow deserve to be unhappy because they just lack willpower, which I believe is not true.
Add to that the fact that food is so widely available in it’s most harmful forms – you can get fatty, sugar and salt rich food at any street corner at any time of day or night, and it’s so much cheaper and more readily available than nutritious food. Food is also deeply entrenched in most cultures; many cultures, including North American, gather for all reasons around food. It is used for celebration, mourning and everything in between. We also have to eat. A cocaine addict can choose not to use cocaine, and the alcoholic can drink things besides alcohol, but food addicts have to do a dangerous dance with their drug three times a day (at least). Add to that the misinformation about what to eat, how much, etc. and you have a recipe for failure.
Overall, it is an incredibly complex issue to even understand, let alone help other people with. I’m trying to simplify it for others, but it takes a lot of time and breaking down preconceived notions.
How does technology factor into what you do?
Technology is the biggest tool I use to help me reach out to others. I work many odd hours and can’t always make phone calls or meet with people in person, but I can help people online any time.
I can also reach a much wider audience than I ever could in person – any thought or idea I have that could help others is out on the Pink Durian Facebook group and anybody who has a computer could access it and receive help and inspiration. This is especially important for helping food addicts; isolation and shame are big parts of the disease and many of the people suffering are isolated in their houses or rarely go out. With technology I can help them directly or indirectly when they’re at home.
What do you like to do in your personal time?
I enjoy painting whatever emotions I’m feeling and running across the High Level Bridge in Edmonton to de-stress.
What is something not a lot of people know about you?
I’ve sort of taken on the oak tree as my symbol. They start off as acorns which nobody pays any mind to because they’re common, but when those acorns are put in the ground under the right circumstances and in the right environment, they break open and, over many years of perseverance, blossom into something beautiful and resilient that provides shelter for others.
If you have one take-home message for readers out there, what would it be?
You are not beyond help. I was so convinced I would die obese and miserable because I had restarted diets a few hundred times over 12 years. I would have bet all the money I had that I would die that way. I didn’t dream I could be where I am today because I was so lost in addiction. Because I did it, I absolutely know 110% you can do it. It is in every single one of us to make positive change for ourselves.
Serena is an artist, registered nurse and compassionate mind behind Pink Durian Weight Support Community. Although she grew up fit and healthy, trauma from her childhood caused her to gain weight throughout her adult life, and she eventually peaked at close to 300lbs, where she stayed for years. After addressing her emotional addiction to eating and following a food plan, she released more than 130lbs naturally. She now spends much of her spare time painting and helping others achieve the recovery she has found.