Have you ever had something on your “to-do” list for days….weeks…(in my case, months!)? And you keep saying, “I’ll do that later”, or “I’d rather do anything — even my taxes! — than do that”? I knew that I was certainly avoiding parts of my “to-do” list because I found myself cleaning everything in my house, office, car, instead of facing the looming elephant in the room.
That elephant, for me, was my professional video. I have made videos in the past, when I started my practice, but took them down because I didn’t feel like they represented “authentic Kate”. I tried again last year to film a video, with a new edge and twist to it, trying to be myself but instead getting emotionally overwhelmed. What was the deal?
So, this March I decided to truly look at what was keeping me stuck and to confront those factors. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an amazing type of behavioral therapy I was recently trained in, one of the guiding principles is to define what is meaningful to you and to pursue it, even if that means experiencing some uncomfortable emotions or feelings along the way.
I spent an afternoon writing about why I wanted to film a professional video. What did it mean to me? Here’s what I came up with:
I still was missing something. Those don’t seem too intense….why couldn’t I just map out what I want to say, and say it? With my meaningful goal in hand, I engaged in some “exposure therapy” (also an element of ACT), and tried to film some initial versions of my video. I was feeling quite uncomfortable. I reflected on a quote I recently heard: “I know that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, I’m about to grow”. Hmm.
After about an hour of filming, viewing, grunting because there was something “wrong” with it, I took a walk and laid down on a patch of green, bright, vibrant grass and took a deep breath. I breathed into my body and tried to focus on what was my barrier to creating a video that was “showable”.
I realized my Perfectionist was rearing her hair-sprayed, curly, gum-smacking head and was telling me “IT’S NOT PERFECT ENOUGH!!! YOU CAN’T BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT!”.
Oh, man! How did I not see this before? I know my Perfectionist quite well…we have coffee sometimes and chat…and I thought I’d be aware enough of her nosiness that I would realize she was interfering. I guess she tricked me. I took another breath and told her: “You are not going to control my video. But, you did show me something very important.”
So, I went back to my office and filmed my video in no time. It is entitled “Perfectly Imperfect”. Sure, it gives me the shivers to ‘put myself out there’ like this, but why not be myself? Being authentic, human, and showing that I am not perfect is one of the most healing aspects I can offer my clients as they find recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or body image and self esteem issues.
My Perfectionist showed me that, while I’m not going to banish her, she is not always helpful. She can get in the way of me being myself, which then can build up anxiety and stress…to levels that I don’t always want to stay at. Getting to understand the times when she is and isn’t helpful has been important for me, and you can also find a way to gently (or not so gently) ask your Critic or Perfectionist or Judge or whomever you have to take a hike for now.
If you are so kind, please view my video and leave a comment with your impressions. My hope is to model that we are all perfectly imperfect and that, in itself, is freeing. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and view this!
If you are looking to improve self-esteem or overcome destructive eating behaviors, I offer a FREE consultation so please give me a call at 720-340-1443!
This week is a very special week for me and for those that I work with and support in recovery from eating disorders. Every year, the last week of February the National Eating Disorders Association brings National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, this year falling on February 24-March 2. This is a very busy time of year for me, and also one that I eagerly await, as it brings an opportunity for us to shine attention on devastating eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and many other types of disordered eating and exercise behaviors. (Note: this is something that needs to be focused on every day of every year, not just one week per year).
Did you know that eating disorders are the #1 most deadly mental illness? Eating disorders kill more people than any one other mental disorder (source: anad.org). These often secretive, shameful disorders are hidden from public eye, leading to intense suffering and isolation. Just by naming them, we take away some of their power.
It’s time to focus on promoting healthy body image, self-esteem, and coping mechanisms and eradicate eating disorders! I truly believe that we can achieve this, though it won’t be easy. We have taken so many strong steps already!
This year, the theme of the NEDA Week is “Everybody Knows Somebody”. We all are affected by the issues that cause eating disorders and are touched in some form by these illnesses, whether we are aware of it or not. “In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life.” (source: nedawareness.org).
What can you do to help spread the word? Are you hoping to learn more about how to spot these disorders and how to search for support? Here are some very helpful organizations and websites that can offer guidance to those struggling, and to their families, friends, and loved ones.
You Are Not Alone.
Highly Reputable and Respected Online Support Sites (recovery-focused):
Local Resources (Denver, Colorado area):
This week, I am offering complimentary 30 minute consultations and resources for those who would like to take a step on their journey to recovery. Please give me a call at 720-340-1443 or send an email to learn more!
I am passionate about and dedicated to the cause of supporting healthy body image, healthy relationship with self and food, and finding peace from internal struggles that can feel overwhelming. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but recovery begins after that first step!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to change something. When I was a teenager, the focal point of the thing I wanted to change was myself. This dissatisfaction with myself, or parts of myself, spiraled into an exhaustive effort and cycle of “if only I looked like…if only I could do…THEN, I’d be happy”. Let me tell you how that ended up: in an eating disorder. Only when I was able to accept myself, ALL of myself, and the range of emotions I experienced on a daily basis, was I able to stop destructive behaviors and lead a value-driven life. I know that I am not unique in the way I was thinking; I believed that my emotions were the problem and that my thoughts were “bad” and that I needed to change all of it. When I stopped struggling with all of those beliefs, I was free. That didn’t mean accepting the negative beliefs and talk I was saying to myself, but stopping the struggle with my emotions, as I learned that it is not the emotions themselves that create dis-stress or dis-orders, it is the struggle, or attempted control, over the emotions that is the problem.
Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, compulsive over-exercising and other types of disordered eating behaviors as well as body image struggles can be borne out of a desire to find happiness and peace — but somewhere that mission gets diverted into destructive behaviors that lead to suffering. It seems that there is a call to find a way to “be with” our emotions in non-destructive ways.
I am currently getting trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an empirically-based therapy that “makes no attempt to reduce symptoms, but gets symptom reduction as a by-product”, writes one of its founders, Russell Harris. This approach is rooted in values, forgiveness, mindfulness, acceptance, compassion, living in the present moment, and accessing a transcendent sense of self, a therapy that encourages us to accept what is without judgment, and to be find some peace in our struggle (while acknowledging that some type of suffering is part of the human experience). ACT has been clinically proven to effectively treat eating disorders and other types of conditions such as OCD, anxiety, chronic pain, and stress, amongst many others.
ACT uses six core principles to help people develop more psychological flexibility and to get out of some of the rigid patterns that keep us stuck in self-destructive pattens:
I’m eager to utilize this approach with clients and am excited about the way that it encourages us to be ourselves, knowing that we are okay just as we are. To me, this is a big sigh of relief!
Are you interested in applying some of these principles in a hands-on experiential way? Are you ready to cultivate a more peaceful, accepting relationship with food and yourself? Join me and colleague (and ACT expert) Christine Allison, MA, LPC on March 2nd, 2013 for a workshop where we will practice all of this!
Early bird special ends on 2/15 so ACT now!!!
Held at my office, 709 Clarkson St, Denver, on 2/3 from 10am-2:30pm, the early bird rate is $65, and after 2/15 it will go up to $85.
Contact me to sign up TODAY — seats are filling up!
See the flyer here:
Read more about ACT: Embrace Your Demons by Russ Harris
I love this time of year because there is so much energy given to gratitude. Thanksgiving is a holiday that may bring trepidation and anxiety to folks recovering from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, but it is also a day where we are invited to sit down and be thankful for what we have.
There’s not a day that goes by where I am not giving thanks for my recovery from my eating disorder. As I sit and hold space with my clients who are finding their own journey to recovery, I am regularly reminded of my own process and the steps that brought me to where I am today.
The recovery process of an eating disorder is fraught with ups, downs, twists, and turns, and many frustrations and confusions about these peaks and valleys. Why can’t I just stop these behaviors? some might wonder….or, Why am I not able to see myself the way that others do? I have had to answer these questions myself, and the passion I felt for my own health and healing ignited my career path to becoming a psychotherapist who helps others get here too. Sometimes my clients and I contemplate what they could learn from their eating disorder. What is its function? What are its needs? What is it trying to tell you? And even: What is it wanting to help you with?
I know, thinking of an eating disorders as “helpful” might seem bizarre and unconventional. Eating disorders are painful, destructive, and demeaning, you might say. I agree — they are those things. But by looking at it in a new way, in one that invites gratitude and healing instead of illness and pain, we might find a more peaceful path towards the end goal: recovery.
In the spirit of gratitude and thanks, I wanted to offer some insight into what I learned from my eating disorder (perhaps that I might not have learned in the same way if I hadn’t ever had an eating disorder) — and what you can too.
These are a few thoughts that came up as I was contemplating gratitude today, Thanksgiving Eve. I learn new things every day that I am grateful for in my recovery as well as things that my eating disorder has taught me.
I invite you to think about what you are grateful for today and every day and to foster some energy in that direction. If you have recovered from or are in recovery from an eating disorder, what are you taking from the process? What do you want to look back on in ten years and remember about this journey?
Recovery is lifelong. Every day brings a new opportunity to utilize skills, tools, and learnings from our life’s path. And I’m always growing and learning.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for all of you!
Are you looking for support on your journey to recovery? Please contact me today or call me at (720) 340-1443 to schedule a complimentary consultation!
Recovery from an eating disorder is a complex and difficult process. I believe that it takes a combination of several factors to fully recover: honesty, accountability, compassion, and determination. Treating eating disorders is also challenging because treatment may require holding all of those factors all at once and finding a balance with them in the therapeutic process.
Many people enter counseling because they want to create a new way of living their lives. They have a desire to change. The readiness to change, I think, it probably the single most determining factor in actually creating a change. There are several stages of readiness to change, and clients may show up in any of these stages.
The stages of readiness to change are:
1.) Precontemplation – at this stage, almost all of the desire to change is external to the client, meaning they might be forced to come to therapy, they might be ambivalent about it, they may change only if the external pressure is significant enough — but this type of change is typically short-lived if not internalized. People in the precontemplation stage might feel ‘demoralized and don’t want to think about their problem because they feel that the situation is hopeless. “There is certain comfort in recognizing that demoralization is a natural feeling that accompanies this stage-and in realizing that if you take yourself systematically through all the stages of change, you can change.”‘
2.) Contemplation. People in this stage realize they might be stuck and desire for things to be different. ”People acknowledge that they have a problem and begin to think seriously about solving it. Contemplators struggle to understand their problem, see its causes, and begin to wonder about possible solutions.” Often, people in this stage are not quite ready to risk taking action, and as a result can stay in this stage for a very long period of time.
3.) Preparation. This is the stage where people begin to make changes — within the next few weeks or a month. This intention is made public, perhaps by involving loved ones or support systems. It is important to feel solid in this stage and to develop a foundational plan for how to follow-through with the change; moving too quickly through it might decrease the person’s chances for success.
4.) Action. This is a ‘busy’ period where behavior is overtly changed and modified. These changes may be more visible to other people (for example quitting smoking or decreasing eating disorder behaviors), but some of the internal work of this stage and prior stages might not be as overtly visible.
5.) Maintenance. This stage is where changes and steps taken up until this point are consolidated and continually reintroduced to the client. These might be solidifying new coping mechanisms and preventing relapses. This is the longest stage of change and requires commitment and ‘active alertness’.
6.) Termination: The final goal! This is where prior issues or struggles are no longer present and recovery feels solid. In eating disorder recovery, this may mean that behaviors have been eliminated for a long period of time (years) but that alertness is still required to take care of oneself and prohibit a relapse.
Change involves not only modifying behaviors but learning to cope with and manage emotions in a healthier way. Lying and dishonesty in treatment and recovery from an eating disorder can come up commonly in several stages of change. Those where the most committed action is involved — Preparation and Action stages — can create confusing and conflicting emotions. When the eating disorder is directly confronted and perhaps threatened, it can try to take back control in such a direct way that it may manipulate the client into being dishonest or lying to their therapist or support system. This is an attempt to remain ‘safe’, even though it may be maladaptive.
Why is this? There are a few reasons why dishonesty creeps up in recovery. It may be that the client wants to be “perfect” at recovery, or to please their therapist or loved ones because external validation may feel like the primary form of inner comfort. If they are struggling, they may feel like they are disappointing those who are supporting them.
It also may come up as the client begins to realize the enormous loss that is felt when an eating disorder is taken away. This change requires forming new relationships with the self and learning to cope in healthier, more fulfilling ways. If the client has used the eating disorder to cope with an inner hunger or emptiness, thinking that this needs to be let go can be terrifying. It is when the client has ‘fed’ that inner hunger in a more loving way that the eating disorder loses its power.
It is important for clinicians to recognize the signs of dishonesty in recovery. This is a great time to enact change in the eating disorder behavioral process and to show compassion for the struggle that the client is experiencing. Holding clients accountable and challenging them is a crucial part of the recovery process. Parents and loved ones can learn more about their role in this process in an article written for parents called Your Role.
It is possible to fully recover from an eating disorder. Sometimes this might mean going through a few of the stages of change several times, or staying in one for a period of time before you are ready to move on. If you feel like you or someone you know is ready to make a healthy change in your life, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation at 720-340-1443.
In light of the XXX Olympic Games currently underway in London, many media outlets have been commenting on the training, bodies, expectations, and pressure on these Olympic athletes. To qualify for the Olympic Games is a momentous triumph, requiring rigorous training and high standards from coaches, parents, teammates, the public, and the athletes themselves. Does this high expectation increase the risk for development of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and compulsive over-exercising?
I came across an interesting article about this issue entitled The Price of Gold: Eating Disorders in the Olympics, in which the author describes the complexity of becoming an Olympic-level athlete and the strain this training can put on bodies and self-concept. Though not all athletes are affected by this pressure in a way that leads to an eating disorder, many Olympians struggle with eating disorders, the risk being higher in: “Sports with weight limits, revealing uniforms (like beach volleyball), and where scores are based on form have higher rates of body image issues and eating disorders. Exercise and perfectionism can be risk factors for eating disorders, so presumably any number of athletes, male or female, at this high level of competition and motivation are at an increased risk, but it doesn’t necessarily cause an eating disorder,” says Douglas Bunnell, vice-president of the Renfrow Center Foundation.
Two athletes currently competing have come forward to speak out about their own experiences with eating disorders and to raise awareness of this issue. Brittany Viola, a diver, suffered from bulimia when she was 15 and states that she felt pressure to have a certain body type to compete professionally in her sport. In her recovery, she has come to accept and love her body as it is, and has performed very well in the Olympics. Hollie Avil, a triathlete, withdrew from the Olympics and ended her professional career as she worked on recovering from her eating disorder. She remembers being triggered by a comment from a coach that she “needed to lose weight” and now, in her recovery, wants to raise awareness about eating disorders in triathletes and other types of athletes.
An important distinction was noted by Bunnell in this article; he wants to highlight the difference between athletic training requirements and disordered eating. Many sports require rigorous training schedules, dietary plans, and goal-setting performances in order to compete at world-class level. This does not necessarily lead to an eating disorder. Eating disorders can be triggered by fear of weight gain, body dissatisfaction and clear intent to avoid weight gain, self-esteem that is tightly connected to body image, and fear of being out of control. Eating disorders are much more complex than food and exercise behaviors.
I agree that pressures of Olympic-level (or any other serious athletic competition) training do not lead to eating disorders for every athlete. I do think that the strict guidelines in terms of body weight, speed, and appearance that are present in many types of sports can increase the risk of an eating disorder, especially if the athlete is being judged on form and physical body characteristics.
Parents and coaches are the first line of defense against their athlete developing an eating disorder. Parents know their child best; they should keep an eye out for any changes in eating behavior or increased pressure to perform that stretch beyond reasonable limits. Parents and coaches can team together to make sure the athlete is not being trained to focus on body image and weight as much as other areas of performance.
Ten warning signs of eating disorders, provided by Bunnell via a press release, that parents and coaches should be aware of include:
1) Exercising even while sick or injured.
2) Skipping class, work, or other important duties to exercise.
3) Preoccupation with food and weight.
4) Repeatedly expressing concerns about being fat.
5) Increasing criticism of one’s body.
6) Frequently eating alone.
7) Exercising alone and avoiding interaction with others, especially coaches/trainers.
8) Making trips to the bathroom during or following meals.
9) Use of laxatives.
10) Exercising beyond the normal training regimen.
Serious athletes are very competitive; eating disorders thrive on competition and pressure to be perfect. As there will always be ups and downs in sports competitions, an athlete can internalize the disappointment of not achieving the score or place that he/she had hoped. This, if combined with body dissatisfaction or high expectations, can increase risk of an eating disorder being used to cope with these seemingly out-of-control feelings. One patient at the Renfrow Center reflected on her struggle after an injury took her away from playing softball: “Anorexia gave me something to obsess over and focus on as my softball thoughts dissipated, and it protected me from dealing with the devastation.”
If you know someone who might be at risk for an eating disorder, please seek help. It is possible to catch an eating disorder before it becomes severe, and recovery from these illnesses is fully possible. More information can be found at my website: www.katedaiglecounseling.com or for a free consultation call me at 720-340-1443, and at the Eating Disorder Foundation: www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.
I have embarked upon a journey of significant life changes and milestones as of late, and am grateful for the twists and turns along my path as well as for all of the benches that have been provided and upon which I may rest.
I came across a poem today entitled “The Bench” by Anne Edwards on a wonderful site called EatingDisordersRecoveryToday.com and found it so touching that I wanted to repeat it here. I hope it can provide encouragement and support for those on any life journey…and in recovery from an eating disorder:
By Anne Edwards
©2010 Gürze Books
I know the journey is hard.
There’s a bench just up ahead
Under some trees.
Let’s sit down,
Stop for a while.
We don’t have to talk
Unless you want to.
We can listen to the birds sing,
Feel the wind,
Enjoy the view,
The life that’s out there for us.
When we are both ready,
We can continue
Our journey of recovery.
I know it has its bumps
And steep hills,
But it also has its
Easier, smoother valleys and vistas.
The most important thing,
Is that we not travel it alone.
It is a journey meant to be taken
Hand in hand.
Bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder — these most commonly defined eating disorders, along with an array of other types of disordered eating behaviors — can impact all parts of our lives. We have spent time discussing the effects of eating disorders on personal relationships, on self esteem and self care, and on physical health. What about in our workplace? A new article in the Huffington Post speaks about the “cost” of binge eating disorder at the workplace: Binge Eating Disorder and its Impact on the Workplace gives some insight into the positive correlation of binge eating disorder and loss of work productivity.
Dr. Bedrosian, a clinical psychologist with experience treating anxiety, depression and eating disorders states: “Binge eating is more than simply a behavioral problem. Binge eating is associated with greater psychological distress, as measured by increased frequency and intensity of negative emotions, and greater occurrence of negative thoughts and beliefs (e.g., poor body image or obsessive worries about one’s weight). It’s not surprising then that it is also associated with diminished capacity to discharge one’s day-to-day responsibilities.” I would like to expand this statement to include other types of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia — disorders who have similar underlying symptoms such as low self-esteem and feelings of being out of control — and state that ALL types of eating disorders can affect work productivity (focusing, concentrating, and also achievement in school).
It was interesting to find an article such as this one that gives a broader understanding about the complexities of eating disorders, as oftentimes people who struggle with food issues are either judged as “lazy or unproductive”. Eating disorders can also go under the radar at workplaces where there is a ‘normalized culture’ where food is brought in and consumed throughout the day and those who struggle with an eating disorder can have behaviors while ‘flying under the radar’. Dr. Bedrosian concurs that “in general, eating disorders are typically not identified or treated.” Why is this? Why are some eating disordered behaviors “more acceptable socially” than others? When someone who struggles with anorexia, for example, restricts her food, she can get encouraging comments about her “ability to control herself”, and someone who struggles with binge eating disorder can have behaviors that also are not deemed as “disordered”, thus decreasing the rate of intervention and treatment opportunity. This social acceptance of ED behaviors can only increase the feelings of shame, hopelessness, and guilt that are experienced by those struggling.
The article states also that, due to the unnatural and embarrassing nature of eating disordered behaviors, “some people are more likely to report potentially stigmatizing behaviors (e.g., unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse) to computer-based assessment rather than face-to-face assessment with a health care provider.” Providing confidential screening for eating disorders as well as other types of stigmatizing behaviors can potentially increase the disclosure rate and open the door to treatment and recovery.
Finally, the article gives notes to employers for important things to know about binge eating disorder (and other types of EDs):
“What are three things that employers should know about binge eating?
1. This is a common problem, but a treatable one.
2. Screening and treatment for binge eating disorder need to be part of all workplace health promotion programs and every effort we make to contain the obesity epidemic. That means that all employer-based health risk appraisals and weight management programs should be asking participants about binge eating behaviors and either providing them with or referring them to the appropriate services for the problem. As described … above, our experiences indicate that this will result in identifying and triaging substantial numbers of people whose difficulties might otherwise go unnoticed or unacknowledged
3. We need to provide alternative forms of self-help or self-management (e.g., digital health coaching) for people who might be reluctant to acknowledge their symptoms or come forward for treatment. As described … above, our experiences indicated that by doing so, employers may be able to reach a group of people whose eating difficulties might not have been identified or addressed in any other way.”
What are your thoughts on employer screening for ED behaviors and the subsequent effect on health and wellness in the workplace? Is this a helpful procedure, or one that further stigmatizes those who struggle?
A few weeks ago, I went to a panel of eating disorder professionals in Boulder, Colorado, which was the final event in the “Journey to Wholeness: From Anorexia to Addiction, Bipolar Disorder and Recovery” series sponsored by the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and featuring renowned author Marya Hornbacher (author of such groundbreaking books as Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, and Madness: A Bipolar Life, among many others).
The panel, featuring local eating disorder psychotherapist Isabelle Tierney and Toni Saiber, executive board member of the Eating Disorder Foundation, was truly inspiring to me as a mental health professional working with eating disorders, as well as someone who has recovered from my own eating disorder. The panel members had all recovered themselves from eating disorders as well, and I appreciated the candidness about what it is like for them to pursue the passion in life of helping others find recovery.
A resounding theme of the event was HOPE. What place does hope have in eating disorder recovery? How does it support people in their journeys towards wholeness? All panel members agreed that their own personal experiences have influenced and informed their practice today in a way that makes them, resoundingly, human. I was inspired by the authenticity of panel members: ”sometimes, when I’ve had a challenging week, I still have to notice how I try to use food to cope”; “recovery is a lifetime process, always evolving, always present”; “I’ve learned that when I said no to my eating disorder, there were things I then had to say yes to, which was challenging at first”. These are the voices of recovery, spoken by those who are so inspired by this journey that they now make it their life’s work to help others.
I left with a renewed spirit, a passionate drive, a dedication to commit myself to my own life’s path: to help others find their recovery, too.
I was given a handout at the panel, one so useful that I have shared it with many of my clients. It’s entitled “Indicators of Recovery” and I have attached it as a pdf at the end of this post. One of the things I love about this handout is that NONE of the indicators have to do with food, weight, or appearance. There is no counting or numbers. These are indicators to a healthy and balanced life, and can be applied to anyone and everyone — not just those with an ED. I like going through this with clients so that, on the sometimes tough days of recovery, they can see where they are and what they’ve already done in terms of recovery. The first step is asking for help and that’s a HUGE one — maybe the most important one of all.
I want to point out a few of these indicators that really stand out to me, as a possible jump-off point to further discussion and reflection:
While eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder have historically been thought to be “women’s disorders”, over one million men are suffering from these afflictions in relative silence. My guess is that many more men and boys are struggling every day with an eating disorder than the numbers report. With stereotypes looming about women feeling pressure to live up to societal beauty standards and using food to cope with stress, trauma, and anxiety, men who experience the very same struggles may be left isolated, feeling shameful and confused. With the increased numbers of eating disorders around the United States, one positive aspect is illuminated: more education, advocacy, and support is beginning to become available for men struggling with eating disorders.
Beginning March 29th, a new and open support group is starting at the Eating Disorder Foundation. Running every Thursday from 5:30-7pm, this group is sponsored by the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders (ANAD) and is FREE and open to men who are struggling with any type of disordered eating or body image struggles. Facilitators Kate Daigle, MA, NCC and Clinton Nunnally, MA, LPC, are hopeful that this new group will open doors for men to find support in recovery from eating disorders.
What is different about eating disorders in men and women? Not a whole lot. In a clip I found produced in Britain to shed light on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, one of the men talks about how criteria for anorexia nervosa includes amenorrhea (the loss of a female’s monthly cycle) and that he sees this as a gender bias against men who may be dealing with the same disorder. You can view the clip here:
According to the online eating disorder recovery site Something Fishy,
“The most common element surrounding ALL Eating Disorders, including Eating Disorders in Males, is the inherent presence of a low self esteem”.
Men are dealt with pressure to live up to standards, ideals, and stereotypes, just as women are. The image of the strong, muscular male underwear model or the skinny, fashionable hipster affect the way that men perceive themselves. They may be influenced by “what women want” in a mate and conform themselves to fit the desired ideal. In addition, men are supposed to be “the strong, stoic, protector” — one who doesn’t show or admit to emotions — based on Western standards, and this can create a great deal of pressure to fit all expected roles. Men, just as women, can control food in order to try to cope with feelings, or can feel out of control with food as a way of expressing underlying struggles.
We still have a ways to go to understanding how we can best support men in their recovery from eating disorders. I think the first step is admonishing the shame that is often attached to eating disorders. Shame is released by expressing it, addressing it, and letting it go. Here are additional resources for men struggling with eating disorders and for their families and loved ones:
Men With Eating Disorders Often Overlooked (a Talk of the Nation special audio report)
Men Get Eating Disorders Too (a non-profit to raise awareness about EDs in men)
I am hopeful that with these resources and with research to come, that men will not feel so alone or shameful about struggling with an eating disorder and that they might break the silence and search for treatment. If you know of any males who might benefit from the free support group please contact Kate Daigle at (720) 340-1443 or the Eating Disorder Foundation.
I am often asked: “What is recovery? How do I know when I am recovered from my eating disorder?”. With these perplexing concepts, there is no single correct answer. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or any other type of disordered eating is individualized and unique for each person. This special journey is what makes recovery from eating disorders both challenging and rewarding: during recovery, we each learn tools and embellish our strengths that will guide us to a life of balance and wellness for many years to come. We also may slip and stumble a few times during this journey. But staying the course is the key to sustained recovery.
Today, I’d like to shed some light on what to do once you have come to realize that you are “recovered” or “in recovery” from an eating disorder. Again, this is my perception — my feelings about my own recovery. They may help others, they may not. Take what helps. I am safe in assuming that the majority of those in recovery will agree that eliminating destructive and self-harming behaviors is a central key to recovery (behaviors such as bingeing, purging, restricting, over-exercising, cutting, and others). While it is normal to have occasional slip-ups of behaviors while working to find security in recovery, the true definition of recovery must involve a cessation of behaviors. Behaviors such as those listed above are symptoms of a deeper psychological issue. When working to find peace and wellness from behaviors, the root of the issue must be defined and nourished. When this is done, or is “in the process” of being uncovered, harmful behaviors will naturally cease because they will not be needed as a coping mechanism any longer.
One of my favorite quotes I heard recently by Cheri Huber reminded me of the complexity of recovery:
“Having an attachment ripped from deep in our being does not feel kind. Yet when it is gone, when the wound is healing, we can see that the process was one of pure compassion.” ~Cheri Huber
Eating disorders are like an attachment. They are like a relationship. They will never abandon us, deny us, leave us, or disagree with us. We can always rely on them. This is why it is so challenging to let them go — for all of the pain they have caused us, they have also satiated an inherently untended need. I interpreted this quote to mean that when we have our eating disorder taken away from us — whether it was of our own initiative or not — there is pain. The beginning stages of recovery are often the most excruciating; it can feel like ripping off a band-aid and exposing an open wound. Sometimes, it is too painful to bear, and we feel we need to continue using our behaviors until we are stronger in coping. When we sit with the feelings under the eating disorder, when we begin to heal, we can notice that giving ourselves compassion is one of the biggest keys in maintaining a solid recovery.
Here are a few ideas that might help in continuing to deepen your commitment to recovery:
1.) Define what the underlying struggles are, and always keep those in your awareness. This may come in the form of anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties or remnants from a traumatic event. You do not need to focus your awareness on these directly all the time, but tuck them into your consciousness so that you can be notified when you might need to cope with them in a healthier way.
2.) Remember what you have achieved. Again, this needs to be in balance — don’t re-traumatize yourself by vividly placing yourself back into what it was like to be in the eating disorder, but reflect on the steps you have taken, the victories you have obtained, and the strength you have deepened within yourself. Sometimes when I am feeling down, I summon up my gratitude for my own recovery and that I got myself there.
3.) Connect with community. It is always therapeutic to be part of a community that understands and supports you through your recovery. Recovery can be a life-long process in stages, and you may have different needs as you take steps down the road. This can come in the form of joining writing or poetry groups, if it is healing for you to write about your recovery. You also might participate in volunteer activities with local eating disorder support centers. In Denver, the Eating Disorder Foundation offers many volunteer opportunities or classes you can take and expand your horizons in their new support center “A Place of Our Own”.
This is only the beginning of a list of ideas to maintain recovery. What are some of your ideas? Remember always that the journey is challenging at times, but there is hope for a full, sustained, and healthy recovery from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Yesterday I found a raw, heartfelt blog post about what it is like to live with an eating disorder. I remember that through my own recovery process, one of the things that was most meaningful to me was reading the words of people who “got it”. It seemed few and far between to find someone who truly understood the way I was feeling…mostly because of the mysterious and hidden nature of eating disorders themselves. We hesitate to expose them, despite the fact that millions of people do understand what we are feeling. Today, I utilize an empathic approach to my therapeutic philosophy as much as is helpful for my clients. I want them to know that I get it, because I do.
Reading the blog post yesterday, titled Eating Disorders and the Fear of the Ordinary , I was instantaneously drawn to the writer’s reality. She wrote about something she called “the impostor syndrome: the gnawing fear that you don’t really belong there, that you don’t have what it takes, that you somehow slipped through the cracks in the admissions process and are actually an intellectual embarrassment, an incompetent fraud who knows jack-all about anything — and that sooner or later, like the Wizard of Oz, you will be found out and exposed for the humbug you really are.”
I reflected on my own journey. Did I feel like an impostor? Certainly I did, trying to fit in with crowds of people who did not accept me, trying to mold myself into something I wasn’t in hopes that I would be accepted. The most significant way that I was an imposter was in relating to my own self. I was not living within my own skin, my own body; I was detached from the neck down. I couldn’t believe that the body I had was mine, and for many years, I didn’t want it to be mine. Now I know that it was not about my body at all, but about accepting myself for who I was, inside and out. Accepting my sensitive nature, accepting that I had a streak of perfectionism in me that would always peek through.
The author talks about feeling as if we are impostors who “are horribly afraid that somewhere along the line somebody will figure this out. We are convinced in the teeth of the evidence that there is something fundamentally flawed about us, something that needs fixing and yet is unfixable.” This can lead to hurting ourselves through destructive behaviors and feeling as if we are different from everyone else. This would-be self-absorption makes us feel different, special, unique. This feeling, she says, is “miserable, but also seductive.” Thus one of the reasons that eating disorders are so difficult to recover from: we must realize that we are not so different from others, that we belong, and that we are deserve the same self-confidence that others do. But that is also, in the author’s vein, ordinary.
The author also points out that when struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder, one may feel very alone and separate, but
“what’s so funny about this whole self-fulfilling prophecy is that we aren’t really alone, and our methods aren’t really as terribly original as we’d like to think they are. The statistics don’t lie: there are eight million [reported] eating disorder sufferers strong in this country alone, each and every one of us absolutely convinced that we are unlike all the others, that we are somehow Extraordinary.”
What are we trying to achieve by being extraordinary? Do we want to be noticed? loved?
I encourage you to read the entire post, and to reflect upon how it relates to you or to someone you love who has struggled with an eating disorder. The final words are written as if from my own mouth: “I’m not extraordinary, and I’ve nearly killed myself trying to be — but what I am is perfectly imperfect. That’s what I have to offer this world — and that’s fine by me.”
The holidays are a time of togetherness for family and friends. They bring a certain warmth of sharing love and memories, often coupled with catching up with loved ones who have been away for some time. The holiday season is also filled with food, drinks, and more food — another way that families show and share love. What if you start to notice behaviors with a loved one that are abnormal or self-destructive? I recently read an article by the Huffington Post entitled Parents are the First Line of Defense Against Eating Disorders in College Freshmen. This article gives helpful tips for noticeable signs that your college freshman may have developed an eating disorder after their first semester away from home.
Going away to college can be a perfect storm for eating disorder development: the child’s first taste of freedom and choice, the endless array of dorm food and late night pizza runs, the desire to fit in with new friends through food, drinking, and overindulgence. In the article, some of the signs are noted as: a noticeable weight loss, a withdrawal from family and friends, and over-concern with meal preparation, discussing that college is very stressful or anxiety-producing, and excessive exercise. While one or two of these symptoms might not necessarily mean that an eating disorder is present, these can be signs to keep in mind and notice if they intensify or inhibit the student’s life.
So, say you are concerned about a loved one’s behavior and mood changes and worry that he or she might be developing an eating disorder? How do you approach them so that the disorder doesn’t get worse and he or she might seek out help? This is a very tricky and touchy area, as eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder are plagued with feelings of guilt and shame and often are kept in a place of denial. Anorexia nervosa is also difficult to approach due to the rigidly-controlling and overwhelming feelings that this disorder might inflict on the loved one.
Here are a few tips for trying to show you care about a loved one who might have an eating disorder or body image struggles; I found many helpful hints in the book Good Girls Don’t Get Fat by Robyn J.A. Silverman, PhD which is a very powerful book about “how weight obsession is messing up our girls and how we can help them thrive despite it”.
1.) Your teenage daughter stands in front of the mirror and says she is ‘ugly and fat’, pointing out the flaws in her thighs and waist. What do you say? ”I think you have a beautiful body. Think of all of the amazing things that it does for you: ride your bike, play soccer, dance, run, jump. When I look at your body I see a body that is open to a whole world of exciting possibilities.” Try to re-direct the focus away from negative thoughts about the body towards positive, accepting, and hopeful thoughts about the amazing capabilities of our bodies.
2.) Do you notice your daughter or son starting to control food and avoid certain types of food due to potential weight gain? What can you do? Model for him or her a positive relationship with food and your body. Try out many types of foods and express how delicious they taste. Love food for the energy it provides, for the way that it makes your body feel. Be adventurous, be brave. Treat your body with kindness by exercising, eating intuitively, and not worrying about how much or what type of food you are eating. Your children will notice this body-acceptance and hopefully adopt it themselves.
3.) You are a father and are noticing your daughter comparing herself to others, not ‘measuring up’, and starting to refuse food so as to lose weight. What do you do? Compliment her for things about her that are amazing and are not tied to appearance or weight. Help her see her strengths in writing, sports, or theatre without using the way she looks as a defining component. Tell her she is beautiful and remind her of this often. Model a safe, secure, and loving environment so that she can feel okay to be just who she is.
4.) Your daughter does not make the volleyball team, feeling excluded and ‘not good enough’. She begins to isolate herself and work out in her room for several hours a day in order to ‘get in better shape’. What do you do? Perhaps you had an experience in school where you felt rejected or that you didn’t measure up to the standard. Share that experience with your child, show her that it is a normal, if painful, growing up experience, and that she thrives in many other areas. Help her understand how you got through that experience, what you learned from it, and that you are always there to talk with her. Help her to channel that energy into self-esteem building ways, such as joining a yoga class or volunteering at an animal shelter.
5.) You notice large quantities of food disappearing and that your partner has little energy, significant mood swings, and wants to be alone a lot. What do you do? Don’t confront her right away, but try to spend more time with her where food is involved: cook together, eat together, and talk without distraction (like tv or computer) while sharing a meal. Don’t criticize her food choices or amounts. Show her that you care but offering to spend time doing her favorites activities. If she is isolating, invite her to watch your favorite television show together. Create a positive, safe, and nurturing environment and model healthy eating habits to her. Offer yourself as someone she can talk to and not be judged. She will do so when she is ready. Also secure support for yourself: go to therapy, talk with loved ones, do research.
Struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues is devastating for the loved one as well as her family and friends. The more that this is talked about and normalized, the less hidden and shaming it will be. There is always hope, and there is always a time and space for recovery.
What does recovery mean to you? If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder or if you struggle with body image issues, you may think about the term ‘recovery’ often. My own recovery from bulimia was not a straight, neat line. It went up and down and every which way before I finally secured a lasting and healthy recovery. As the year 2011 draws to an end, I am reflective about what the start of a new year brings to us in terms of self-care and intuitive healing.
A new year brings a fresh start, or the possibility of one. I find this to be hopeful, but I also am worried about the message that the holidays can send to those struggling with eating and weight issues (and even to those who aren’t). We are a ‘diet-minded society’ in the United States and I find that this can be harmful to those who are striving to create a unique and personal sense of inner peace with food. I heard an advertisement on the radio the other day that said something like “Indulge now, because you know that there will only be celery sticks after the new year”. This persuasive advertising was meant to sell me some type of food that tastes “really good” but is “really bad” for me — and then it kicks in a nice helping of guilt at the end. Does expecting to feel guilty and needing to ‘compensate’ for eating delicious food lead to a balanced relationship with food? I am struggling with the message that this concept sends to us all.
So, what does a balanced and healthy recovery mean to you? I want to be careful to not fall into the dominant mindset that suggests a new year’s resolution should be “to recover”; don’t get me wrong, I think that embracing recovery, if it is the right time for you to do so, can be a life-changing commitment. However, feeling forced to do so, or guilt-tripped into it, as advertisements want us to feel, is not the way to a lasting and comprehensive recovery from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder. The new year is simply a new opportunity to make a change, to know that your life is worth it, that you deserve to live free of eating disorders and in peace with yourself. Recovery must come from within you. Only you can decide when and how you want your recovery from eating disorders to be.
For me, the end of the year is a time of reflection, goal-setting, and personal development. I have been practicing this for many years, all the way through my own recovery and beyond. If you or someone you know is contemplating making a stride towards recovery, I encourage you to embrace some of these same practices. Here are a few questions to set your recovery wheels in motion:
-Why choose recovery now? What do you have to gain? What do you have to lose?
-What risks are involved in choosing recovery from an eating disorder?
-What fears do you have about recovery? (weight gain, uncomfortable feelings, etc.) What hopes do you have about recovery? (positive thoughts, self-acceptance, healthy relationship with food, etc.)
-What support systems do you have available to you? Who can help you? (more on this below)
-Draw a picture or write a short story about what your life could be like if you lived in freedom from the eating disorder. Who are you and what are your strengths?
-How will you know when you have made some steps towards helping yourself? What will be different?
Sitting down with a pen and paper (or a computer) and really concentrating on these questions can give you a sense of direction and can bring some clarity towards your motivations for change. Sometimes you may only feel in 5% of yourself that you want to recovery. That is okay. Know where you stand today and think about some goals (even if some feel far-fetched right now!) to help yourself start to picture what your life would be like without guilt, shame, and the confinement of an eating disorder. You deserve this freedom!