Dishonesty in treatment and recovery: working the stages of change in eating disorder recovery

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.


Does Olympic-level athletic training increase the risk of eating disorders?

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.


The Bench: A Place of Respite for recovery and for all journeys in our lives

Today I am reflective of the journey.  

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:

The Bench

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,
And see,
Really see
The life that’s out there for us.
Then,
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,
My friend,
Is that we not travel it alone.
It is a journey meant to be taken
Hand in hand.
Take mine.

 Where are you on your journey?  Where have you come from?  Where are you going to? Do you have a bench where you can sit awhile, until you are ready to continue?  There may be mountains to climb, but remember that there are “beautiful vistas” as well.  This poem is so inspirational to me and comforting as I continue on my own journey of recovery, wellness, balance, and health.  It is helpful to have a hand to hold along this journey, for support, for guidance, for warmth, for grounding.
Hold out your hand to another on this journey.  Ask for support on your own journey.  You are not alone…and the view is amazing.

A poem for the victims of the Aurora tragedy

I have struggled with the words.  The tragedy last Friday morning in Aurora, Colorado left me without breath, without sense, without energy.  As many of us try to pick ourselves up after this devastation, my heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones.  There is no understanding of this senseless act, and healing has just begun.  I am floored by the outpour of love and support that has enveloped Aurora and its surrounding communities and this gives me some sense of hope that light will shine again.  What do we do in times of crisis?  We cope in the way we know best.  We come together, or we isolate until we can face the light.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and we all experience loss uniquely.

 

If you or someone close to you is affected by this tragedy, please know there are many sources of support, many of them free or low-cost.  Please contact me at kate@katedaiglecounseling.com for more information.  I am here to support you.

I wanted to share a poem that I wrote about this tragedy, as it helped me release some of my pain and I hope it might provide some encouragement for others.

 

A Poem for the Victims of the Aurora Tragedy

A violation of personal safety

An explosion of broken boundaries

Chaos, fear, pain, then silence

To the victims

To their families

To their loved ones

I hold you

The words dissipate

The wounds are deep

Yet a community embraces

Each and every one

Light and hope are passed around

Like bread at the dinner table

Take a piece

Let it fill your belly

As it nourishes your soul

It empowers your body

This energy fills our limbs

So that we may embrace

One another

So that we may come together

So that we may stay together

So that we may hold one another

So that we may breathe

the healing has already begun

 


Eating Disorders and the Workplace: What are these afflictions really costing us?

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?


Idleness: An Unexpected Gift in the Midst of a World Spinning on Busyness

Last week I had several colleagues suggest to me that I read the article “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in the New York Times.  ‘Oh, yes’, I responded to them. ‘I noticed that…but I was too busy today to take a look at it.  I’ll try to put it on my list for tomorrow.”  Ironic, right?  When I finally sat down today to read the piece, I was left with tears in my eyes by the end of it.  The message of this article speaks so true to me, as well as to many others, which is why it was posted all over social media;  I am guessing I was not the only one who was ‘too busy’ to read it.  Trust me, allow yourself the several minutes out of your day to read this piece; it will take you by the shoulders as well, shake you, and ask ‘why do you feel the need to be so BUSY all the time?’.

Several points struck me about this piece: one, that we ‘choose’ to be busy.  It’s almost a distraction, a buffer, from our raw, naked selves.  The author, Mr. Kreider, points out that those who work three jobs and don’t have a spare minute to sit on the couch because they need to provide for their families are busy….but mostly really tired.  They don’t have a choice.  The rest of us are busy because it can make us feel important, worthy, useful, productive.  But if we are too busy to slow down and truly live our lives, to allow ourselves to do activities that feed our souls instead of drain them, then we are losing a part of ourselves and not gaining anything.

I am one of the busy ones.  Mr. Kreider speaks of fleeing the city to an ‘Undisclosed Location’ where he could write in the morning and play in the afternoon, but where he had no phone or internet and he ‘remembered buttercups, stink bugs, and the stars’.  Being a business owner, a perfectionist, and a recipient of society’s pressures and expectations to SUCCEED, I often feel like I should be busy.

When I went on vacation in June, a whole week was spent in the countryside with no phone, no internet, no television, and only the canal, the cows, the sheep, and the birds to provide distractions.  It was incredibly difficult for me to sit and be idle.  I realize now, after being back in the busy-ness of work, that idleness is not just challenging for me.  Mr. Kreider realized that “idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”

I am blessed to be given the gift of providing support to those who are struggling with eating disorders and I am grateful that I am allowed to be a witness of their journey towards wholeness and recovery.  I have learned from my own recovery as well as from supporting the recovery of my clients that sitting with idleness is a challenge.  We feel we should be busy, doing something, or distracted in order to be at peace or of worth.  At the end of the day, it feels good to say ‘I did this today’.  It is a great feeling to accomplish a goal, but I am reflective now of how I define these goals.  I would like to place as much value on reading a book in the hammock as I do on ‘getting tasks done’ from my to-do list.  Shifting this perspective replenishes my vital energy and supports my life-long recovery.  Sitting with myself in an idle space is not a piece of cake, but it is the pathway to embracing all parts of myself and finding value in the simplest things.


The muddier the better: Why we need to get comfortable in our stuck-ness before we can break FREE

With Independence Day coming tomorrow, I am thoughtful –as I am every year — about the freedoms I am grateful to live with every day.  I am grateful to have the freedom of speech and to pursue the career of my dreams.  I am grateful for freedom from the eating disorder that plagued me for many years.  I am grateful to be able to choose where I live and what I eat.  When I have a rough day, I try to spend time with my gratitude journal, where I list several things I am grateful for this day.

What I have learned over my years of searching for and embracing the freedoms of my life is that I have to remember where I have come from in order to appreciate where I am today.  It’s about perspective.  It’s about remembering the losses and the gifts I have endured and been granted.  It’s also about remembering that there are many, many people who do not enjoy the same freedoms that I do.  It’s about having goals to learn about as many cultures, policies, therapies, ideas, opinions as I can so that I am informed to help my clients and live a mindful life.

As I reflect on FREEDOM, the theme of the 4th of July celebrations, I am also reminded of the significant losses that thousands of people in Colorado have recently suffered because of the wildfires plaguing our state.  How does freedom connect to these experiences?  How can those of us who are watching these struggles connect with the experiences and lend our support?  I have spent much time over the past few weeks reflecting on this juxtaposition.

 

Here is what I am aware of today:

  • The more honest I can be with myself about my struggles, the greater chance I have to get through the mud and onto the shore.  The clearer in can be in my own “mud”, the more available I am able to be to give of myself to others.  This entails a balance: reminding myself of where I have come from, but not letting myself dwell in that suffering so that I am “stuck” in it.  By looking back, I can also look forward and out.
  • I am not perfect.  Trust me, I never thought I was! — though there were many years that I experienced great pain in attempts to be perfect.  Today, I try to embrace my imperfection so that I can move forward and be present in what is REALLY important to me:  family, friends, simplicity, connection with the earth, and helping others.  Going through my own therapy has allowed me to sit with myself in an accepting and aware way…though this is not always easy!
  • FREEDOM has so many different definitions.  My definition of freedom may be different than yours.  In this way, I try to meet each of my clients with a curious and hopeful approach, so that I can learn what their own unique freedom looks like to them.  We are connected in the way that we are all searching for freedom and embracing it when it is ours.  I have learned not to impose my definition of freedom on others, but to support others in their own journeys to be released from pain and suffering that holds them back.
  • Freedom can be muddy.  As in the title of this post, I have learned that freedom is not perfect, clear, clean.  Freedom means making mistakes sometimes and moving on.  Freedom means having conflict with another person and setting a goal to resolve it in a peaceful and respectful way.  Freedom can mean having pain sometimes but still moving towards a valuable goal.  Freedom is not perfection.

I work often with those in recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, and today I was struck by a quote from St. Frances de Sales that spoke true to me and to those that I support, even more than four hundred years after it was spoken:

A habitual moderation in eating and drinking is much better than certain rigorous abstinences made from time to time.”

Freedom from food struggles involves balance, moderation, and listening to your inner voice.  This, I believe, can be related to so many other areas of our lives.  What does freedom mean to you?  I encourage you to reflect on this as Independence Day draws near and to share your freedom with others.


The benefits of self-care: learnings and musings from my time away

It has been some time since I’ve written…and I’ve really missed it and missed my readers!  While on break, I realized the therapeutic value for me in writing blog posts and journal entries and I am eager to process some of the other things I learned while away from my “regular life”.

I was fortunate to be able to take three weeks and travel overseas on a journey of self-care, connecting with loved ones, and exploring new places.  Now that I am back in the office, I have been reflective of a few things that I learned and noticed while I was away.  These musings have benefitted me deeply as a person and as a psychotherapist and I thought it might be helpful for others if I posted them on my blog.

Reflections from a journey away from routines, control, and expectations:

1.)  One of the first things I learned was how challenging it was to give up control, expectations and routine!  It proved to be an exercise in self-restraint to separate myself from my work and “just be” (though I did get this down after a few days of adjusting!).  Three weeks away from email began to give me symptoms of withdrawal…which I quickly realized was not a healthy thing.  I confronted how tied to my work and my home I am, and I learned that it is imperative for me to have boundaries in the way I spend my time, my energy, and my resources.  I desperately wanted to be present and aware during my journey, and this was shown to require more work to accomplish than I had thought!  The benefit of this, though, is noticing that there is extraordinary value and meaning in the simplicity of life, and things don’t need to be complicated!

2.)  I also learned that we are all the authors of our own happiness.  I spent time in some very rural areas and met people who live simple, humble lives.  These people work very hard and enjoy the bounty of their work as they feast on the fresh produce from their gardens, sip the wine from their grapes, and enjoy the meat of the cattle they have raised in their own pastures.  This is all they need to be happy.  The beauty of their lives struck a deep chord with me and I notice how contrasting the aspects that make up my life seem to be from this simplicity.  I am motivated to pursue that simplicity and the appreciation of the earth as the wonderful people I met do every day.  Through making these connections and observing this way of life, I realize that I have a choice.  It does not matter how much money I have or what I own; I can enjoy the beauty of life simply by embracing the gifts of the present moment.

3.)  Relationships are the roots of a beautiful life.  Spending time with loved ones and forming new relationships with friends from afar can deepen our sense of self, our connection with our world, and manifest priceless new memories for a lifetime.  In nurturing my relationships and in embarking on new friendships, I was offered a fresh perspective on life: joy is experienced in the present moment, in a joke with a friend, in the taste of a delicious fruit, in the sound of a bird’s song.  It does not matter what language we speak or if we understand the words of another — connection is felt inside, in a language that does not use words.  Joy is who we are, not what we own or where we have been.  In giving up control of where I was going and what I was doing, I was able to embrace the raw beauty of what IS…without needing to change anything.

Now, back home where there are many other gifts and examples of beauty, I am grappling with how to integrate my experience abroad with my experience in my home.  It has not been a simple transition however I am grateful for how many definitions of peace, beauty, and happiness I have discovered!

I am hopeful that some of what I learned could strike a chord for you as you embrace the challenges and the gifts on your life’s path.  Whether you a in recovery from an eating disorder or managing stressors of a different kind, I know that life can be overwhelming.  I encourage you to take a step back and think about the choices you DO have and how you can find peace in a moment of every day.


Rejuvenate, refresh, renew — the important gifts of giving ourselves time off!

How often do you give yourself a break?  I mean a true break, some time off that is long enough for you to unwind yourself from the stressors of your everyday life?  Probably not as often as you need.

Lately I have been asking myself: “what does my soul need?”, “what am I truly hungry for?”, “what is missing from my self that I need to offer my self?”.  These are questions long contemplated and can help you embark on your own journey of tending to yourself.

When answering these questions, I noticed that I am overdue for a break myself and, so in the spirit of self-care, I am going to be away from the office from May 28-June 19 on a multi-purpose getaway.

I try to “practice what I preach” — be a model for my clients of healthy living and taking care of myself.  I have to be honest and admit that I’m not always so good at this…but I am also a human who is continually on a journey of learning and change.  It’s hard to break away for three weeks, but I know that for myself, for my business, and for my clients, I will utilize this time to renew, refresh, and rejuvenate my spirit.  My passion for my work is always growing and I hope to find new inspiration for healing while I am on my adventures.

So, I wish you a peaceful, fulfilling, and restful three weeks.  I will anticipate sharing some of my learnings and experiences when I return the third week of June.  Namaste, Kate


Indicators of Eating Disorder Recovery: Where Are You on the Journey to Recovery?

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:

  • Learning “slips” and “relapses” are signs that something else is really going on and forgiving yourself while investigating the cause.  This is one of the more challenging tasks in recovery but one that is essential in embracing the process of the recovery roller coaster.  Just because you might have a slip does not mean that you have gone backwards.  Slips are opportunities to learn and to practice compassion.
  • Possessing a desire to change.  So simple sounding, yet so complex.  A client’s readiness to change indicates where they are on the journey to recovery and what challenges and what tasks he/she may find as they move forward.  I believe that this factor, as well as asking for help, are the two most essential factors to defining recovery.
  • Feeling negative emotions (or “challenging”) and knowing it is possible to live through them without needing to numb them.  This concept is one of the core concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a therapeutic approach that I use in my practice.  Learning to sit with feelings, believe that they will pass, and not allowing them to overpower other emotions or desires is an integral part of recovery.  We all have feelings, some more challenging than others, and we do not have to allow them to control our experiences.
  • Becoming autonomous and not comparing yourself to others.  We are all beautiful and unique in our own ways.  Finding and relishing in that inner beauty is the antidote to eating disorder behavior.  
Many more Indicators to Recovery are found in the pdf: Indicators of Recovery
Whether you are a professional, a person who is trying to recover from an eating disorder, or a loved one of someone with an eating disorder, I hope you find this pdf helpful.
Which of these indicators are you embracing in your life today?  Which are you working on now?  Which are goals you have for your recovery?
For more support or resources about eating disorders and recovery, contact Kate at kate@katedaiglecounseling.com, or view her website at www.katedaiglecounseling.com.  Further resources: www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.