You Are So Much More Than Your Eating Disorder

Anyone who has been through the eating disorder recovery process will tell you it is not easy.  Eating Disorders (EDs) are complex bio-psycho-social illnesses and, as such, the treatment and recovery process can often be more difficult than anticipated.  It’s not uncommon for struggling individuals (and their support people) to hold on to a wish that removing one specific trigger will offer a quick fix or a shortcut to recovery.  Unfortunately, there is no magic wand for ED recovery.  Changes to daily routines, altering hobbies or taking time off from triggering activities are sometimes part of the recovery process but these things must be accompanied by additional hard work, specialized therapy and a deeper understanding of oneself and the role that the ED plays in ones life.

When author and recovery advocate Johanna S. Kandel was speaking here at CED in February 2011, she talked about this struggle as it related to her own ballet career and her identity as a dancer.  Now recovered after 10 years of struggling with periods of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, Johanna remembers thinking that removing ballet from her life would also remove the ED.

http://eatingdisorder.org/video/kandel2.flv

In the clip, Johanna shares so bravely about a story which so many others can relate to – being in a very scary place for a long time, feeling like there isn’t much to cling to other than the ED.  The longer one identifies solely with their ED, the harder it can be to envision oneself without it.  Fortunately, while there is no magic wand, there are skilled treatment professionals, evidence-based therapies, ongoing support groups and various treatment options for those who are struggling with all types of eating disorders.  It is never too late to hope.  It is never too late to seek treatment and to begin the journey to recovery.

Do you find yourself hoping one change will erase the ED from your life?  Does it prevent or delay you from seeking meaningful help?  If you find yourself feeling like your eating disorder is your only identify, try this exercise:  Draw a picture of a sun with many different rays of light coming out.  On each ray, write down an important role that you play in life or important elements of who you are.  For example:

Daughter, College Student, Nanny/Babysitter, aspiring Writer, Employee, Colleague, Tutor, Sister…

OR…

Brother, Friend, Fiance, Son, Employee, Hospital Volunteer, Uncle, Artist, Band Member, Pet Owner…

Early on in recovery, the eating disorder may have an important place around your sun as well.  As Johanna mentioned in the clip, it can often feel like the ED becomes your only identity.  Reminding yourself that you are so much more than your ED can help to make it a little bit easier to loosen your grip on the ED.   Gradually, through treatment, the ED becomes a less important part of who you are, and you can spend more time focusing on the true rays of light in your life.

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This was the second of several recovery blogs inspired by the February 2011 presentation by Johanna Kandel at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Follow CED on  Facebook to stay tuned as we continue to post additional recovery-focused blogs and video clips .  Johanna shares more about her own recovery journey in her highly influential book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder,  and continues to support others through her role as the Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, a non-profit organization based in Florida. You can learn more about Johanna and her incredible book in these previous blogs as well:


“There is Hope” for Eating Disorder Recovery

Today, April 12th,  the Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC) will lead of group of advocates to Capitol Hill to help lobby in support of The Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act, which is the first legislation to comprehensively promote research, treatment, education, and prevention programs for eating disorders.  It’s an important day of advocacy and one that can be very empowering for recovered individuals, supportive families and treatment providers who attend and use their experiences and their voices to share knowledge, stimulate change and spread hope.

One of our most recent guest speakers, Johanna S. Kandel, Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness,  will be on the Hill today using her voice too.  Johanna is the author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder, a moving book about her own recovery and a must-read for anyone who has ever been touched by an eating disorder.  When Johanna was at The Center for Eating Disorders in February 2011 to help us celebrate National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, she spoke with passion and honesty to a packed auditorium about the importance of spreading hope, using your voice and making a difference.

Click here to WATCH a VIDEO CLIP of Johanna Kandel speaking about using your voice to spread the message of HOPE and RECOVERY.   (from her February 20, 2011 presentation in Baltimore, MD)

Even if you can’t be at the EDC’s Lobby Day today there is still a lot you can do.  Get some ideas from Johanna’s clip above or visit the EDC’s “Take Action” page to find out how you can contact your legislators and ask them to support the FREED Act. You can also make a difference by sharing recovery-focused feedback on message boards like CED’s Online Forum where individuals can post anonymously and ask for support along the road to recovery.

What creative ways do you use your voice to spread hope and let others know that recovery is possible?  Leave your comments below or chime in on our Facebook Page.

Jet Fuel and a Handful of No Regrets: The subtle reasons why Media Literacy is so important when it comes to messages about food and weight

Earlier this week we were prepping for a media literacy presentation when we came across a few examples that point to some of the very reasons why media literacy education is so important.  Of course, it’s always very easy to locate magazine ads that exemplify the ills of photoshopping (cue the recent ALDO billboard photoshop fail) or products that perpetuate an unhealthy body ideal and the sexualization of girls (cue the recent Abercrombie & Fitch push-up bikini for 8 year olds).  And, there’s certainly no shortage of  overtly harmful (and grossly inaccurate) claims about food and weight in ads for trendy diets and diet products.  These, unfortunately, very effective ads rake in more than $40 billion a year for the diet industry.  But some of the messages we get about weight, size and food are much more subtle and in many ways, that makes them even more detrimental.

Check out these two ads for almonds found in Men’s Health - a men’s fitness magazine.   Despite the magazine’s title and efforts at health-focused articles, most readers would agree, the general tone of the magazine is usually just as image-focused as any women’s fashion magazine.   Focus on health often seems secondary to the focus on rock-hard abs and a heavy dose of scantily-clad women.  However, we found the following almond ads were somewhat effective at marketing the product in a healthful and holistic way without focusing on the body. What do you think?

“A Handful of Good News…because they’re packed with great stories to tell. Like how just a handful a day gives you 6g protein, 3.5g fiber and can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

“A handful of jet fuel. Grab a snack that’ll give you a boost anytime, anywhere. A handful of heart-smart, nutrient-rich California Almonds with 6 grams of protein power can be just the lift you need. It can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol.”

To be honest, we were fairly surprised to see an ad for anything in this men’s fitness magazine that didn’t include a photoshopped close-up of a chiseled body.  But we were  pleasantly surprised to see these ads focusing on health vs. weight and even highlighting the utility of the body vs. how it looks.  Eating for nourishment and strength to do the things that we enjoy – for example, playing with your kids – is a healthful concept that we fully support and one that is also important throughout the eating disorder recovery process.

We were fully prepared to give this company an A+  for their marketing messages until we found the ads’ female counterparts in Real Simple, a women’s magazine that generally delivers a better-than-average display of body/size diversity and emphasizes physical and mental well-being.  Notice the difference in the  marketing  of the same exact product when it is targeted towards women?

“A handful of chocolate-covered permission. Looking to maximize goodness and minimize guilt? Satisfy more than just your sweet tooth with the antioxidant-rich duo of dark chocolate and California Almonds.”
“A handful of no regrets…Want a simple snack without the guilty aftertaste? Make sure your heart-smart, nutrient-rich California almonds are always within reach. Just a handful a day can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

Internal feelings of “guilt” and “regret” are introduced to the female consumer where previously existed “good news” and “fuel”.  A very different message gets portrayed – one that implies women should rely on external permission to have a snack instead of their own body’s internal hunger cues and legitimate need for nourishment and strength.  These ads also suggest that women should feel guilty or experience regret if they eat certain foods.  These are not uncommon experiences for individuals who struggle with disordered eating*, and it is often this very cycle of eating and the subsequent guilt/regret that perpetuates chronic dieting and many of the symptoms involved with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.  While extreme dieting and eating disorders are a growing problem for both females and males, this marketing campaign clearly capitalizes on the female experience.

Ads such as these do not cause negative body image or disordered eating by themselves.  However, they help to perpetuate unhealthy beliefs within a culture that is already saturated with mixed message about food, weight and an obsession with unrealistic beauty ideals.  Most interesting in this example may be the clear distinction between the two genders.   It’s essential to educate youth and adults about media literacy so we can collectively begin to protect ourselves and our families from the repercussions.  It’s also important to remember that sometimes the very subtle messages about how we “should” relate to food are even more invasive than those with obvious intentions to mislead us.

Be a critical viewer of the media.  Question the images and the advertisements you come across.  Compare ads that are targeted to different genders, ethnicities and ages.   Ask yourself what messages they are sending and what effect they might have.

Do you consider yourself to be media literate?  How do you resist subtle messages like the ones discussed above? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.

*Disordered Eating: A significant deviation from normalized eating patterns that may include dieting, fasting, bingeing, or skipping meals. Disordered eating disregards internal regulation of hunger and fullness and provides the body with much more or much less than the body needs to function properly.  Instead of feeling good after a meal, someone who has disordered eating will often experience feelings of guilt, shame, discomfort, fear or discontent.