The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Welcome to a #bodypositivesummer

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How will YOU create a #bodypositivesummerBy now you may have already considered whether you are “beach body ready,” but the seasonal push to pressure individuals into body conformity hasn’t even peaked yet, as it does each summer.  In hopes of increasing revenue, the diet companies, tanning salons and hair removal industries have created a standard bikini body goal they’d like us all to strive for. Typically for women this involves being smaller, thinner, toned, hairless and voluptuous in all the right places.  The same cultural undertow usually promotes height, muscularity, definition, and, increasingly body hair removal for men as well.  Both sexes will be bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to have skin that is “golden” or “bronzed”, or as one indoor tanning company so directly put it in their recent ads, “be a better shade of you”.

In the words of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on SNL, “Really!?”

Help us set a new standard for summer bodies, one that is inclusive and enjoyable. Striving for a #bodypositivesummer is an ideal that involves using your body and brain to enjoy your summer instead of spending your summer and your brainpower trying to change your body. This is an opportunity to encourage yourself and your friends to stop skipping, missing out on, or postponing summer fun due to body dissatisfaction.  It’s also an opportunity to focus on well-being and self-care instead of putting your health at risk to meet narrow and arbitrary goals that include futile weight loss, unsafe tanning or even expensive hair removal procedures.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating a #bodypositivesummer. There are no prerequisites for joining in. Despite what the advertisements depict, bodies of all shapes, sizes, shades and abilities can engage in summer fun.  Being body positive doesn’t mean you absolutely love your body right now.  In this case, being body positive just means you’re interested in helping to override negative body image norms that might otherwise hold you, or your friends, back from fun, important or beneficial moments in your life.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring tips and strategies for establishing a summer Body Dissatisfaction INFOGRAPHICremoved from socially constructed beauty ideals that reinforce body dissatisfaction, self-hatred and disordered eating . We’ve invited some of our body positive friends and colleagues to share what they’re doing to override body anxiety and make the most of summer so you’ll be hearing from them along the way too.

You can help encourage your friends and family to embrace body positivity too by educating them about the widespread impacts of body dissatisfaction. This infographic is an easy shareable way to get the message across. Feeling badly about your body is not just an inconvenience. It can have serious repercussions for a person’s quality of life at any age.

(Download Infographic as a PDF here).

If you are one of the many people who dread summer because of heightened body anxiety or you find yourself getting sucked in to the massive marketing campaigns telling you that your body isn’t good enough, stick around and follow the hashtag #bodypositivesummer on Twitter and Facebook for tips, strategies and stories from people who’ve risen above body shame in order to re-engage with life – even during the summer months!

These are just a few ways to get involved:

  • Educate friends and colleagues about the real scope and impact of body dissatisfaction.
  • Read and comment along with us as we share tips and ideas for maintaining a body positive summer, including upcoming guest posts from Erin Mandras, Dianne Bondy and others!
  • Share about your own summer adventures with the hashtag #bodypositivesummer.  We’ll be sharing helpful prompts along the way to get people thinking about their summer narratives in ways that don’t include body shape/size prerequisites.  At summer’s end we’ll be compiling all of the wonderful body acceptance stories and photos we come across to help keep the body positivity going long after summer is gone.
  • If you see or hear a body acceptance story or idea you think others could benefit from, send it our way. Send via email to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org or tweet us @CEDSheppPratt.

Not sure what it all means?  Find a glossary of body image terms here.


Please note: we manage all of our social media sites from a recovery-focused perspective and try very hard to keep these spaces free from triggering content. When sharing your  posts, pictures, comments or tweets, we ask that you do so in a way that does not include before/after pics, specific weights, clothing sizes or descriptions of eating disorder symptoms. THANK YOU.

 

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Self-Care Resources & Coping with Mass Tragedy


Daily self-care is extremely important for individuals with existing physical and mental health diagnoses including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. It can be even more crucial during times of high stress, uncertainty or exposure to traumatic events. Even indirect, or secondhand exposure, to violence or disasters can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. Research conducted by Dr. Pam Ramsden in 2015 found that “viewing violent news events via social media can cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

In the wake of several national and international acts of violence over the past month, most recently the attack in Nice, France, it’s important to assess your own self-care practices and media use and to seek additional help when needed.

Below is a list of resources we’ve compiled that may help you and your loved ones cope in the aftermath of such tragedies.

 

RESOURCES FOR ADULTS:

RESOURCES TO HELP CHILDREN:

If you are experiencing intense or prolonged stress in the wake of violence you’ve experienced firsthand or via exposure through news outlets and social media please do not hesitate to seek help. Speak with a therapist if you have one. You can also seek more immediate assistance via the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990. 

A more comprehensive list of hotlines and articles is available in this article by Skyler Jackson, MS of The University of Maryland: 100+ Resources for the Aftermath of the Orlando Mass Shooting Tragedy.


 

"Look for the helpers." - Fred Rogers

 

 

 

 

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Body Positive Summer Step 2: Stop Comparing. Start Contrasting.


_What you focus on grows. What you think about expands._How much time do you spend thinking about what’s wrong with your body, how it could look “better” or how it doesn’t look like that other person’s body? How often do you compare your body to the bodies of  friends, celebrities or strangers?

The more time you spend looking for what is imperfect or “wrong” with your body, the more likely you will be to find answers that justify the question. It’s kind of like someone searching  for Bigfoot. If you invest a lot of time reading about Bigfoot and watching Bigfoot documentaries, when you head into the forest looking for Bigfoot then every rustle of leaves, flash of furry wildlife or unidentifiable footprint becomes a possible Bigfoot sighting in your mind.  Likewise, if you head into each day comparing your body to an established “ideal” than the list of things you are unsatisfied with will grow and all the evidence will point to your body not being good enough.

Stop comparing. Start contrasting.
Alternatively, set the intention to spend more time thinking about the unique qualities, characteristics and skills that you possess.  In doing so, you will be more likely to take note of the things that set you apart in a positive way.  Part of doing this requires you start with #bodypositivesummer Step 1 to identify and remove external influences that promote  harmful body comparisons.

Then, remind yourself and others that what makes you beautiful is your individuality. Maybe you’re a science whiz or have striking green eyes. Perhaps you’re great with kids or have an artistic flare? Whatever it is, take time each day to honor what you like about your body as well as your overall strengths and personal interests or passions. If you are someone who has struggled with an eating disorder or negative body image for a long time, it might feel like food/diets and weight obsession are your passion. If that’s the case, this summer would be a great time to challenge your norm by exploring new interests and shifting focus.

Have great balance? Sign up for a surfing lesson.
Feel connected to nature?  Join a hiking group.
Skilled writer? Start a science blog.
Have extra time and love? Adopt or foster a new pet.
Got a green thumb? Start a neighborhood herb garden.
Math superstar?  Volunteer to tutor kids over the summer.

Re-read all of your favorite books. Organize a beach volleyball game. Learn to knit. The #bodypositivesummer_TOPICSpossibilities and topics are endless really.

If you feel like you don’t know what your interests are, the key is trying lots of different activities until you find one that sparks your enthusiasm. Good topics and activities are ones that help distance you from eating disorder thoughts, distract you from body comparisons and create a space in which you can be grateful for the body you have right now.

If someone asked you what you WANT to spend your summer thinking about, you probably wouldn’t say “all the things I dislike about my body”, right?  So ask yourself this very question. Imagine your brain is a container and you can choose to fill it with whatever you want over the coming months. Tell us your answers on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #bodypositivesummer.

Not on social media? Email your responses directly to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org and they’ll be compiled to help inspire others.


Find more about the #bodypositivesummer series in the following posts:

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Putting the Mind in Mindfulness

Mindfulness has received a lot of attention in the past decade for its beneficial effect on stress reduction, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. But, is there a connection between mindfulness and the brain? Read on for what research has to say about the connection.Putting the Mind in Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be described in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, a state of mind or state of being. It has been described as an awareness of, and nonjudgmental attention on, immediate experiences, both internally and externally (4). This can be done not only as part of meditative practice, but also as a general mindset applied during daily activities. Mindfulness is a practice of responding to a myriad of stimuli that cross one’s attention, including thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, with openness and acceptance (2, 4). 

A primary means in which individuals practice mindfulness is through meditation. Contrary to popular opinion, meditation is not clearing the mind but rather paying attention to whatever crosses one’s mind as it occurs without judgment. Although meditation is an important aspect of Eastern religions, it doesn’t have to be practiced in conjunction with a particular set of beliefs.  Mindfulness has also been applied in therapeutic settings for treatment of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders (1).  The positive effects of mindfulness have long been reported firsthand by those who practice it, however, now researchers are also learning more about the intricate changes in the brain that occur to produce these benefits.  

Mindfulness meditation has demonstrated positive effects on several functions in the brain such as attention, body awareness, and emotion regulation. 

  • Attention:  The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is responsible for sustaining focused attention on objects while disregarding distractions. Neuroimaging has shown positive effects of long term meditative practice including both increased activity in the ACC as well as increased size which signifies more connections and better regulation of attention (1,3).
  • Body Awareness: The insula is responsible for awareness of bodily sensations. This area has been researched heavily for its association with eating disorders. Research has found both changes in function and structure of these related areas, specifically greater size and density of grey matter, for people engaged in regular meditation practice (1- 4). Benefits include increased awareness of, and accuracy of, bodily sensations.
  • Emotional Awareness: Increased body awareness also has important implications for emotional awareness, which is necessary to be able to regulate emotions and increase empathy (3, 4)
  • Emotion Regulation: Mindfulness also has direct effect on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is responsible for emotional regulation. This is executed by “turning down” the region responsible for emotional processing and reactivity and “turning up” the area responsible for emotion regulation. This results in enhanced control over emotions (3).

Long term practitioners of mindful meditation show the greatest changes in brain structures but short term practice can also exhibit some of these enhancements (1, 4). 

4 quick tips to help you benefit from mindfulness:

  1. Start small.  Incorporate just a few minutes of mindfulness into your daily routine.
  2. Practice.   Complete a 1 minute mindfulness exercise by focusing on your breathing while keeping your eyes open. Check your mind wandering and focus attention back on your breath as needed. Try to keep your breathing at a normal pace.
  3. Be mindful anywhere.  You don’t need a fancy meditation room or a totally quiet space.  Just sit back wherever you are and focus your attention on an object nearby. Observe it, don’t study it or think about it, just observe it for what it is. Try to do this for a few minutes at a time.
  4. Modernize your mindfulness.  You can download mindfulness apps on your phone or tablet for daily reminders and other exercises.  Some good options include Relax Melodies, Omvana, and Headspace. (Though some do have fees that may apply).

 

Lache WILKINS


This post was written by Laché Wilkins, Research Assistant at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

References
  1. Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1239-1252. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291709991747.
  2. Farb, N. S., Segal, Z. V., & Anderson, A. K. (2013). Minfulness meditation training training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention. SCAN, 8, 15-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss066.
  3. Holzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 537-559. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1745691611419671.
  4. Manuello, J., Vercelli, U., Nani, A., Costa, T., & Cauda, F. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and consciousness: An integrative neuroscientific perspective. Consciousness and Cognition, 40, 67-78. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2015.12.005

 

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Body Positive Summer STEP 1: Stop critiquing your body. Start critiquing the thin ideal.


The myth that the size or shape of your body determines what kind of swimsuit you can wear or how much fun you’re allowed to have is entrenched in a culture that profits off of our insecurities. These insecurities may be related to weight or size but also extend to just about every aspect of our bodies – skin, body hair, nails and refuse to miss out on this season of lifemore.  Businesses know that anxious, sad or insecure individuals are better consumers.1  In other words, a person who feels badly about herself is likely to pay more for products she thinks may help her feel, look or be better. The farther she experiences herself to be from the culture’s thin ideal, the greater risk for body dissatisfaction.

The reality is that the answer to all of life’s struggles are not solved by dropping a pant size and cannot be found inside a tanning bed or by embarking on a juice cleanse. Marketers know that the key to their success lies not in creating a product that actually “works” but by keeping people dissatisfied and, thus, poised to keep paying for each new product or weight loss gimmick that comes along next.

Sadly, a focus on weight and appearance is introduced and reinforced quite early.  Recently, Discovery Girls Magazine, aimed at 8-12 year old kids, ran an article suggesting girls choose bathing suits based on “body type” and how they might look in their suit (as opposed to, perhaps, the child’s color and pattern preferences or simply, how comfortable the suit is while playing). Its unfortunate foreshadowing in a culture that tells adults a “bikini body” is something we must attain before engaging in life at the pool on a hot summer day. This is a culture that wants us to prioritize how we appear to others above our own need for comfort or functionality, and in many cases above health or well-being.

So what can we do?

  • Begin to pay conscious attention to the advertisements you are exposed to as the summer heats up. This includes ads on social media, magazine headlines and commercials during your favorite TV show.  But it also includes messages you might hear directly from friends, coaches or via favorite brands on Instagram. Take note of fat talk and body shaming messages that might usually seep into your self-evaluation without you even noticing.  For example, some television shows or swimsuit catalogs simply erase the natural diversity of bodies by choosing models or actors who all look quite similar (or have been photoshopped to appear that way).  As you create an awareness of this flow of information you can begin to consciously object to it AND celebrate the organizations and companies who actually do a good job of representing real and diverse bodies.
  • Each time you find yourself directing negative attention to your body, flip the switch and look outward. Pay attention to whether there are images and messages surrounding you that might be contributing to your feeling badly about yourself or your body. If you notice them, take some sort of opposite action. Remove them (unsubscribe, physically thrown them away, etc.) or challenge them. It could be as simple as blocking a particular kind of ad on your Facebook newsfeed, writing a letter to a magazine editor, or just venting to a friend about a misleading diet advertisement.

Even small acts can be empowering. Once your start, you may be surprised to see who responds or joins you in your efforts.  Self-acceptance and body acceptance may not be profitable for the beauty industries but you and your summer stand to benefit a great deal from these acts.

 

 

Need a little inspiration? Check out this great video from MTV’s Laci Green about the bikini body. Then, let others know how you are removing or challenging the negative or body shaming messages in your life using the #bodypositivesummer hashtag on Twitter or Instagram

Read more #bodypositivesummer posts here:

 

References

1. Cryder CE1, Lerner JS, Gross JJ, Dahl RE. (2008) Misery is not miserly: sad and self-focused individuals spend more. Psychol Sci. Jun;19(6):525-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18578840

 

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From Collegiate Athlete to Pregnant Mom, ERIN MANDRAS talks summer body image pressures {Guest Post}

 


mandrassoccer2 Erin Mandras Erin Chooses body positivity

 

 

 


I went to pick a magazine off the rack the other day at the store, and, just like most people, I am automatically drawn to the headlines highlighted in big, bold capital letters on the front covers.

“Flat Abs, Lean Legs, Firm Butt.”
“Drop XX lbs. Fast.”
“Flat Belly Now!”
“Drop A Jeans Size In XX Days.”
“Sexy Abs Fast.”

You get the point. It is only natural for me, or anyone, to assume that these characteristics are being promoted because they depict beauty, and that sexy is defined as thin, lean, flat, and firm. As we are right in the thick of summer season, and attaining a “bikini body” is at the forefront of peoples’ minds, I picked up one of the magazines and skimmed through it. Thankfully, those magazine headlines don’t effect me in the same way they once did.

I suffered from an eating disorder at the age of twenty. My desire to appear attractive, and be physically fit fully dominated my ability to focus on being healthy. My initial attempt at losing “a few pounds” turned into an obsession with food restriction and excessive exercise. And, it all began in the summertime when I knew I would be in a swimsuit with my friends, and my body was more exposed than in the winter season. Little did I know that my drive to be thin and sexy would lead me down a deep, dark path of depression and anxiety.

I am an athlete. I have always been active and competitive in sports, particularly soccer. Short in height, I needed to have strength in my upper and lower body to be successful. At the time of my eating disorder, however, I lacked size, power, and personality–all attributes that had contributed to my successes on the field. I quickly realized these qualities I once possessed had dissipated and what I thought was making me better, sexier and more confident was actually making me weaker and more insecure.

Fast forward thirteen years.

I am now 23-weeks pregnant with my third child, and summer has begun once again. My body is larger than it has ever been in my whole life.  But so is my heart. I have two little Erin Mandras hits the beach with her kidsboys, who love to go swimming at our neighborhood pool. It is in this environment that I am forced to make a decision: embrace my features and my body, and enjoy myself and my children; or turn back to my eating disorder and disengage from life and from my family.

Love, family, and happiness now far outweigh a desire to be a certain body type. And, for me, who is not happy, joyful, or lively when I am dieting or focusing on dissatisfaction with my body, I choose to live life.

Life is too short to focus solely on my appearance or socially constructed beauty ideals. I much prefer to enjoy myself, exercise healthily, and concentrate on being the best person, mom, wife, daughter, and friend I can be. That is far sexier than any number on the scale or what I look like in a bikini.

 

Erin Mandras is a blogger and inspirational speaker at Kick The Scale.  She’s also a youth soccer coach in the Baltimore, MD area, and cares for her two young kids (Levi, 4 1/2 and Austin, 2 1/2). Prior to these roles, Erin was a college soccer coach at Michigan State University, Towson University, and Loyola University Maryland, and a former women’s soccer player at Michigan State University. She was born and raised in West Bloomfield, MI, is now married to her wonderful husband, Jon Mandras, and resides in Baltimore.   


Wondering how can you start to build a body positive summer for yourself and the people you care about?

Put the magazines down.  Better yet, don’t even pick them up. Create your own headlines.

Local Woman chooses body positivity!What do you want your summer headline to be?

Share with us on Twitter using the hashtag #bodypositivesummer and find out more about the campaign here.

 

 

 

 

 

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GLOSSARY of Terms: Body Image. Body Dissatisfaction. Body Shaming. Body Acceptance.

refuse to miss out


Having a #bodypositivesummer may sound relatively straight forward; however some of the accompanying language may require a bit more explanation. This guide is meant to help break down some of the vernacular you come across within the #bodypositivesummer movement and in other similar discussions about body image.

Body image refers to the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. The key word being subjective. In other words, body image is how you see yourself.  Medical definitions of body image extend to include the individual’s emotional beliefs and attitudes about the image they perceive. The same feature might be experienced differently and thus, elicit different emotions from person to person. For example, to one individual, being tall might come with a sense of pride and a belief that his or her height is a strength, while another individual feels embarrassed about being tall and believes that it sets him or her apart in a negative way.  An individual’s body image state – negative or positive –  is shaped by lived experiences, peer groups, media and marketing, family, community and cultural attitudes, as well as other external sources of body ideals and expectations.

The divergence of one’s body image from sociocultural beauty ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction. Grogan (2008) defines body dissatisfaction as a person’s negative thoughts about his or her own body.  Negative feelings about body type, weight, body hair, and skin tone are known to be intensified during summer months due to an increased focus of marketing on these insecurities, greater body exposure due to warmer temperatures, and other socially influenced factors. Beauty standards (also referred to as the thin ideal or body ideal) are often narrow, unhealthy and down-right ridiculous for both women and men. These unattainable “standards” may also lead to dangerous behaviors, such as excess sun exposure, dieting, and potentially by extension, disordered eating. They also set the stage for forms of hurtful interactions such as body shaming.  Body shaming, also referred to as body bashing,  is any form of mocking, bullying, or insults focused on deviations from body or appearance “norms”. This type of bullying behavior can take place in person during face-to-face interactions or online across social media platforms. Body shaming is normalized and encouraged by advertisements that imply certain bodies are not suited for certain places (like the beach) or for specific articles of clothing (like shorts or a bathing suit).

The antidote to body dissatisfaction is body acceptance.  Body Acceptance is approving of and caring for your body despite it’s real or perceived “imperfections”.  This is inclusive of other terms like body positive, body neutrality and size acceptance.  Being body positive or working towards body acceptance, doesn’t mean you absolutely love the way you look all the time. It simply means you accept and honor all bodies – including your own – as good and worthy of care and respect.  It also means you are willing to confront your own internalized weight bias and challenge other stereotypes or assumptions based on a person’s appearance.

We live within a culture that encourages body dissatisfaction. But we have within us individually, the power to be body positive. In doing this for ourselves, we also create space for others, including friends and family members with eating disorders and/or serious body image disturbances, to re-engage in experiences they might be prone to avoid.

Be a part of the #bodypositivesummer movement.  Follow along on Twitter or Facebook for blogs, tips, resources and opportunities to tell us how you are creating a season of body positivity.

Find more info here.

 

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5 things that might surprise you about eating disorders, weight and food

5 Things That Might Surprise You VENDITTA

Despite how widespread eating disorders are, many, many misconceptions remain about these illnesses and the people affected by them.  These misconceptions are hosted and maintained by a variety of sources including the popular media, opinions of people around you, outdated information online and in textbooks, and by stigma that prevents open and honest conversations that could lead to greater understanding on a more personal level.  As a society, it’s important that we move past the stereotypical thinking, not just about eating disorders but about eating and health in general so that we can shift towards non-judgmental attitudes and practices that truly promote well-being.  After my time as a Community Outreach intern at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, these are the five most surprising facts I thought would be important for my peers and the community to know.

*     *     *

1. Anorexia and bulimia are not the only eating disorders, nor are they the most prevalent. There are more than just the eating disorders that we hear about through the media.  Binge eating disorder, atypical anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa of a low frequency and/or limited duration, and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) are just a few examples.  Some of these diagnoses fall within the category of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), but it is also possible to have an Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder.  In all of these cases though, eating disorders can take a significant toll on a person’s health and quality of life.  It seems the lack of awareness, the sensitivity of these disorders, and the confusing nature of diagnosis for eating disorders have all contributed to the fact that only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder will get treatment.  This is a sobering statistic given that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and are rarely resolved without professional help.  Raising awareness of all the different types of eating disorders and wide variety of symptoms might make it a little easier for individuals who are struggling to see themselves represented and to seek help.

2. Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from eating disorders. It is true that adolescent females make up a large part of the treatment seeking population, but it’s important to note the role that bias and misinformation, even among medical professionals, can play here.  If a person is struggling with an eating disorder and they fall outside of the white, adolescent female stereotype, they are actually less likely to be screened for, correctly diagnosed with, or referred to specialized treatment for an eating disorder.  The truth is that eating disorders do not discriminate; people of any race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status may be affected.  These illnesses affect men, women, children, and the elderly.  It’s important that health and mental health professionals know this and don’t overlook warning signs in their patients.

3. There is no such thing as a “bad food.” Most of us learn throughout our lifetimes that certain foods are “bad” and others are “good” based on any number of analyses – fat content, calories, food group, process by which it was made, etc.  These messages reach us through social pressures, peer groups, family attitudes, commercials, magazines, and just about everywhere we look online.  When we’re surrounded by these messages, it is easy to forget that food is just food and gives us energy and can be enjoyed– it doesn’t have to be assigned a moral value.  Despite what we are told by the healthy lifestyle bloggers, it is okay, even necessary, to eat bread and pasta.  It is okay to get ice cream that isn’t sugar free and to go for the full fat lattes.  None of these things influence our self-worth or intrinsic goodness.  Disordered thoughts about food are everywhere and will likely continue to be everywhere.  Take away the “good” and “bad” labels from the food and you’re one step closer to creating a healthy attitude toward food whether you’re working on recovery from an eating disorder or not.

4. Fat talk is harmful for everyone. Body dissatisfaction can be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders.  Negative thoughts about one’s body are not easily extinguished and most people with eating disorders continue to struggle with these thoughts during their recovery process. Talking about diets, comparing body sizes, complimenting weight loss, or just generally talking negatively about body shape or weight can be very triggering and can even contribute to relapse.  But it’s not just people with eating disorders who are harmed by fat talk.  Whether it is self-directed or directed at a friend or a stranger, focusing on weight/size as a measure of worth or beauty brings everyone down.   It probably seems completely normal for someone to say “you look great, have you lost weight?” or for a co-worker to mention she’s not eating carbs because she’s afraid it will make her fat.  But it doesn’t have to be normal. When fat talk happens, consider how you might turn it around to be positive and helpful instead of feeding into the negativity.  Could you change the subject completely, educate your friend about the dangers of fat talk, or simply model mindful eating behaviors?  You can also remind your friends of all the reasons why you care about them that have nothing to do with what size they wear.

5. You really can’t tell whether or not someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them. People with eating disorders look very much like everyone else – completely diverse.  As stated earlier, this includes diversity in age, gender and race but also diversity in weight and size.  The phrase, “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” is not only misleading but also can be extremely detrimental to individuals seeking support.  Eating disorders can affect low weight, average weight, and high weight individuals.  Unfortunately, many people delay seeking treatment based on an assumption that their health is not at risk unless they are drastically under or overweight.   In general, weight is a very poor predictor of one’s current health.  If you are engaging in disordered eating behaviors and experience frequent negative thoughts about your body, it doesn’t matter what size you are, your health is at risk and you deserve support and treatment.

For more information about different types of eating disorders and treatment visit eatingdisorder.org.

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be exhibiting signs of an eating disorder,  you can take the confidential online self-assessment to find out more.

Emily VENDITTA croppedWritten by: Emily Venditta
Towson University Graduate
CED Community Outreach Intern
Spring 2016

 

Perfectionism: Aiming for an elusive target

archery_by_kongsky


Imagine that you are extremely dedicated to an archery team. You spend day and night in target practice, regardless of the weather conditions and without regard for your own basic needs. You have an unlimited amount of arrows and you continue over and over again to launch the arrows in an attempt to hit the bull’s eye. Day after day, year after year, you never reach that bull’s eye. No matter how hard you train and commit your mind to it, no matter what the conditions are, you always miss what you are aiming for. Sometimes, you get very, very close and think that you just might have reached your goal, but ultimately, you never hit the mark. As a result, you feel that you have failed. In fact, failing becomes part of the way you define yourself.  Fear of failing becomes a constant worry for you.

Now imagine, that one day you realize that this target that you have spent all of these hours and days and years trying to hit is so very small that you can barely even see it. Actually, when you look closely, and assess the situation you find the bull’s eye is not just small and faded, it is nonexistent. Upon realizing this, you see you have spent years and years feeling like you have failed because you were trying to hit a target that wasn’t actually there. This is perfectionism.

In this imagined scenario, perfect is the nonexistent target. A sense of failure results from believing that anything but perfect is not good enough. If you are struggling with perfectionism, or you have in the past, you probably know how exhausting this can be.

 

Perfectionism is an unobtainable illusion guaranteed to make you feel badly.

Under the weight of extreme perfectionism, difficulty with a specific task may be generalized.  This can quickly lead to self-criticism. For example, instead of thinking, “I did not do well on that part of the exam; those must have been really difficult questions,” the perfectionist might think “I am so stupid. How could I have missed both of the multiple choice questions?! I am terrible at math.”

Constantly striving for perfect results can lead to feelings of tension and stress. It can also trigger an avoidance of appropriate challenges and risks. For example, you might find it difficult to connect with new people in social relationships at the risk of appearing flawed or imperfect to someone else. Or you may not apply to a great job because you haven’t mastered every single skill set listed as a prerequisite.

In general, perfectionism can cause you to miss out on opportunities to learn from mistakes and may ultimately get in the way of living a balanced, rewarding life.

 

Addressing perfectionism can aid in eating disorder recovery

Perfectionism is a genetic personality trait that many people are born with. Research has shown this characteristic to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders. Furthermore, once someone has developed an eating disorder, perfectionism can sustain or perpetuate the illness, getting in the way of recovery efforts. For this reason, it can be important to work on perfectionism head on.

With support from a cognitive-behavioral therapist, you can start by making clear, manageable behavioral changes to test out what it would be like to attempt tasks without looking for a perfect outcome. For example, trying to complete tasks “good enough.” It’s usually helpful to start off with very small goals and work your way up to more situations that might be more difficult. Consider these two examples below:

Example 1: If you identify yourself as a “neat freak,” try setting a timer to limit cleaning time to smaller intervals or set a guideline that you will vacuum only 50% of the time that you typically do. Experiment with this and see what the advantages and disadvantages are of approaching this task in a new way. Learn from this experience and make changes accordingly.

Example 2: If you are someone who needs to complete every item on your to-do list before leaving the office (at the expense of family, friends or self), see what happens if you have a couple of items left to work on the next day. Test out how this might affect you. Perhaps you were able to get home on time and enjoy more time with your family or you were able to drive home while it was still light out and enjoy the scenery. See if leaving those items for the next day made much of a difference as you may have approached them more efficiently with a good night’s sleep. Test out if sometimes your perfectionism causes you to put in more effort that will only bring very marginal gains. If so, figure out when is the time to stop and focus on something more profitable.

Starting to make changes on your own is a great first step toward decreasing the amount of influence that perfectionism has in your life. You might also want to consider engaging in a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) group or individual therapy to learn how to change the way in which you interact with your perfectionism.

Committing to decrease your need to be, or appear, perfect will help you to take more and more breaks from target practice and actually enjoy being on the archery team.

 

Do you want to learn more about perfectionism?

when perfect isnt good enough
We recommend the book, When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, written by Drs. Martin Antony and Richard Swinson.

If you are a treatment provider and would like to learn more about cognitive and behavioral treatments for perfectionism, join us on April 9, 2016 at The Center for Eating Disorders’ Annual Professional Symposium where Dr. Antony will be presenting on The Nature & Treatment of Perfectionism.

Online registration and event details are available at www.eatingdisorder.org/events.

You can also download the program brochure (pdf) here.


Written by:
Laura Sproch, PhD
Research Coordinator and Outpatient Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net / kongsky