Simple solutions for holiday (and everyday) conversations about food and weight

dining room
As we head into the holidays, it can be helpful to have a very simple plan for responding to family and friends drawn to the very topics that may be most troubling during recovery from an eating disorder.  Depending on how you spend your Thanksgiving this year, one or all of these suggestions may come in handy when the conversation takes a turn toward triggering language regarding bodies, food or weight.

Step 1:
Obstruct or change the conversation if you notice someone is heading into a discussion that makes you uncomfortable.

Remember people generally like to talk about themselves and their interests. If Aunt Marie is pressuring everyone to eat more pie or is gushing over a family member’s weight loss, use that as an opportunity to reflect the attention back to her. So who taught you how to bake? What are you up to at work Aunt Marie? How was that vacation you went on?

If you’re comfortable staying on the topic but exerting your power into the conversation you could try something like this: I’ve actually been learning a lot about how weight is not a good determinant of overall health. I’m focusing on my work-life balance and healthier ways to deal with stress. I’m thinking about meditation…have you ever tried it?

Step 2: Set boundaries
if someone continues to target you with questions or comments about your body or what you’re eating.

Here are some simple examples with varying levels of intensity.  You can choose which ones you think would work well for you, or create your own.

  • I try not to get involved in discussions about dieting and weight loss.
  • I’d prefer not to talk about my weight today.
  • I am so happy to be here with everyone, I don’t want to waste our time together talking about food/weight.
  • Please don’t comment on my body.
  • Let’s find something else to do or talk about.
  • I’d much rather tell you about school / work / hobby
  • It’s really stressful to me when people make comments about what I’m eating.
  • It’s actually not helpful for me to talk about calories or exercise.
  • I’m choosing to focus on other things this year.
  • It is not beneficial for me to feel badly about my body or guilty about what I ate.

The great thing about practicing these responses with other people is that you’ll be more likely to use them when struggling with negative self-talk or eating disorder thoughts in your own head too.

Step 3:
Step away & seek support.

If stressors persist or you find you just need a break from the crowd, locate your holiday ally or text a friend. Take some time to vent about what’s bothering you, take 3 very deep breaths, and then re-focus on the positive parts of the day.  Sounds simple but it can make a big difference.

You are deserving of a happy and healthy holiday. How you choose to create that is up to you.  Just remember that one insensitive comment from one person does not have to ruin your entire Thanksgiving. At anytime, you can choose to re-engage in both the celebration and your recovery.

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Read more about healthy holiday coping…

 Concerned that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder?  Call us at (410) 938-5252 for a free and confidential phone assessment or visit for more information about treatment options.


Photo credit: / digidreamgrafix




8 ways to take the focus off of food this Thanksgiving

Who’s bringing a dessert?  Can someone help with appetizers?  Here, have some more!  Are you really taking another helping?  I wish I could eat like you.  Ugh, my diet must start tomorrow!

guitarSound familiar? It’s not unusual for pre-Thanksgiving talk between family members to focus on food and food-related tasks. It’s also not uncommon for holiday conversation to revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and, in some cases, criticism or praise regarding weight and size. To be clear, making sure there’s enough food to feed everyone at a gathering is important, but it doesn’t need to be the center of everyone’s day.

When an individual is struggling with an eating disorder, or working hard to maintain recovery from one, these topics can activate disordered thoughts about food, trigger negative body image and impact a person’s ability to be emotionally or physically present at the gathering. Intentionally steering the day towards gratitude and connection instead of food and weight can take a bit of work in our diet-obsessed culture but it stands to benefit many, not just those with eating disorders.

Where to start?
These are just a few suggestions from our therapists and dietitians. Feel free to share your ideas and recommendations on our Facebook page.

1. Offer roles for family and friends who want to contribute something but may not want to bring food.
Not everyone enjoys cooking and some people, especially those with eating disorders, might feel incredibly anxious around food. There are definitely other ways to help and have a meaningful connection to the day that don’t involve preparing food. For example:

  • Planning activities or bringing a craft for the kids (or adults!) to work on.
  • Pet duty. Someone might really love to take the dogs out for a walk while everyone else is distracted in the kitchen or watching the football game.
  • Helping with clean-up and dish-washing (Yes, some people enjoy washing dishes!)
  • Ask the musicians of the family to bring their instruments.
  • See if anyone would be willing to put together a slideshow of past Thanksgiving photos for after-dinner viewing.

Quick Tip: Tap into everyone’s strengths. If your brother has taken up a recent interest in photography ask if he’d be willing to document the day and capture different positive interactions. How great would it be to have a beautiful photograph of a grandparent rocking a new baby or all the cousins playing football outside? These are, after all, the moments you’d choose to remember about a holiday, not how many calories you ate or an offhanded remark someone made about your weight gain/loss.

2. Give in to the gratitude trend.
Gratitude might seem like a big social media gimmick right now but the truth is it does have the power to shift your attitudes and perceptions. The moment dinner is served and everyone sits down to eat can be a moment of peak anxiety if you have an eating disorder. In anticipation of this, Google “gratitude quotes”, pick your favorites and write them on small cards to place at each table setting. Depending on how willing your family is, you could also give everyone a chance to go around and verbally share something for which they are grateful.

3. If you’re hosting, do a quick assessment of reading material around your house.
Put away (or better yet, recycle) any magazines that are overly focused on appearance, diet or beauty. Studies show even just 3 minutes of looking at fashion or “fitness” magazines can negatively impact self-esteem and trigger feelings of sadness and guilt. Do you really want your 7 year-old nephew to practice his reading skills with a fitness magazine full of photoshopped bodies? Do yourself and your guests a favor by instead stocking your coffee table with photo albums, short stories written by your kids, or some photography books by a favorite artist. (If you really want to make a body positive impact, you could leave a copy of Intuitive Eating or Health At Every Size laying around as well.)

4. Identify an ally (or two).
Many of us look forward to holidays with great anticipation because we get to spend time with family members we don’t often see. Some of us experience dread and stress for the very same reason. It’s no secret that family dynamics can be complicated. Instead of focusing on family members who are particularly difficult to handle, focus on the ones who can help. If you have a grandparent, cousin or significant other who knows you’re struggling with recovery, have a conversation with them in advance about the ways in which they can support you at the gathering, at the table, and in specific situations throughout the day.

5. Step away from the bathroom scale.
If you’re hosting and you have a scale in your house, move it out of sight temporarily, or permanently. If you are a guest in someone else’s house, consider asking them if they can stash it in a closet for the day. As a parent, spouse or support person of someone in recovery, this would be a great thing to take care of in advance as a way to advocate for your loved one.

6. Whatever you spend time focusing on will be what you spend time focusing on.
If you’re in recovery you likely going to need to think about meal plans and meeting nutritional needs and that’s okay, but make sure you also have holiday intentions that don’t involve food, eating or weight. Why? Because if all your goals that day revolve around what you’re eating you will be hyper-focused on food just like you were with the eating disorder. Prioritize your nutritional goals, talk them over with your dietitian and then consider adding some non-food goals like these:

  • I will record an interview with a grandparent. (Check out The Great Thanksgiving Listen)
  • I would love to cuddle with a relative’s new baby.
  • I’d like to sneak off to do a 3-minute mindful meditation before dinner
  • I’m going to talk with each family member about their favorite songs, then compile a playlist to share after the holiday.
  • I will give at least 3 non-appearance related compliments to other people on Thanksgiving day.

Quick Tip: Whatever you choose, make sure your goals are easy, achievable and positively worded. Think about adding good things into your experience, instead of avoiding a negative. For example, instead of saying “I won’t go on Facebook during our Thanksgiving get together” say “I look forward to taking a break from social media so I can catch up with my loved ones.” Remember, whatever you focus on will be what you’re focused on.

7. Remember that you cannot control everyone else.
We live in a food and weight-obsessed society, so it’s likely some of this conversation will make it’s way into your holiday despite your best efforts. If and when it does, be prepared with ways you can change the conversation, set boundaries and seek support.

8. Give Back –
Identify a local charity and ask all the Thanksgiving guests to bring a donation for the cause. Even if the day is hard for you and your recovery you will be left with a visual reminder of everyone’s generosity, (even if they couldn’t stop mentioning how many calories were in the appetizer all day).

Thanksgiving can be a truly beautiful holiday that reminds us all to give thanks and reflect upon the positives in life. Taking the focus off food might not only benefit those with an eating disorder but anyone struggling with negative thoughts, low self-esteem or loneliness this holiday season.

When we lift the food frenzy and body angst we are better able to focus on gratitude and authentic connection with others and ourselves.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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You may also be interested in reading:

Simple solutions for holiday (and everyday) conversations about food and weight



Questions about treatment for an eating disorder? Call us at (410) 427-3886 or visit

 Photo Credit: / bugtiger

Why Providers Must Stand Up and Join the March Against ED

This post was written by our Community Outreach Coordinator as a guest blog for the March against eating disorders.  It was originally posted on and has been cross posted here with their permission.

News Anchor
Military Officer
College Athlete

They care for you, entertain you and bring you joy.  They protect you and teach you, create things for you.  They help you and mentor you. They are varied. They are diverse. They are important.

They are people you might see every day.

And they are people we might see every day in the course of providing care and treatment for individuals and families impacted by eating disorders.

MOM March 2014At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we see numerous people each day struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID and other feeding and eating disorders.  These individuals with eating disorders are varied.  They are diverse. They are important.

This is why we were proud to participate in the inaugural March Against Eating Disorders on Capitol Hill last fall and why we are eager to return this year on October 27th for an even larger and more impactful event. As physicians, therapists, dietitians and nurses specializing in the treatment of people with eating disorders, we see the daily struggle, the medical repercussions, the fear and the impact of eating disorders on relationships, careers and families.  But we also see the hope, the healing and comfort that comes with treatment and recovery.  That is why it’s so important for those of us in the field to stand up and share our voices too.

Why do we march?  

  • We march because eating disorders continue to be stigmatized, sensationalized, overlooked and underfunded despite having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • We march because no one chooses to have an eating disorder.  Eating disorders are highly heritable illnesses, meaning 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is genetic. Additional causes are varied and complex.
  • We march because no family should hear “it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it.” from a medical professional before they make it through our doors. A lack of specialized eating disorder training for physicians delays detection and appropriate referrals. Delaying treatment delays recovery.
  • We march because 20-30% of our patients are men who thought they were the “only one” and suffered in silence for a long time. Eating disorders don’t discriminate and treatment shouldn’t either.
  • We march because parents do not cause eating disorders but eating disorders can cause heartache for parents and family members. Guilt, blame, stigma and outdated stereotypes can prevent families from getting the help they deserve. Current research supports an understanding that caregivers can play a positive and integral role in helping a loved one to heal from their eating disorder.
  • We march because eating disorders can be deadly but they can also be overcome.  Early intervention and evidence-based treatment makes a difference.
  • We march because no one should have to get sicker before they can get well. Insurance coverage for eating disorders must not be a barrier to quality care.
  • We march because we live together in a culture that equates weight loss with health, yet we work every day with individuals whose weight loss is associated with osteopenia, hair loss, fatigue, cardiac arrhythmia and infertility.  We support a movement that embraces health-focused goals for our schools and communities instead of weight-focused goals.

These are just some of the reasons why we are excited to stand with The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, The Eating Disorder Coalition, and MAED – Mothers Against Eating Disorders at The #MarchAgainstED in our nation’s capitol.  Join us on October 27th to take a stand and help increase awareness about eating disorders.

Why will you march?  

Register now at

*     *     *


Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C, Community Outreach Coordinator at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt for

The original posting of this blog is available at:


Surviving & Thriving through Mid-Terms & Finals

It seems like many colleges and universities have moved away from the standard exam schedule. In fact, it can seem like you are constantly studying for exams or writing papers, with no downtime or lull in the semester at all. Midterms and finals just mean a heightened level of existing anxiety or stress. Unfortunately, for many college students, that means there comes a point in the semester when it seems like there are way too many obligations and way too little time to manage them all.  If you are simultaneously working on recovery from an eating disorder this can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if everything seems to be equally important on your to-do list. While it can be easy to lose sight of how critical your recovery is in the midst of these academic priorities, its crucial to remember the potential consequences.  Turning to your eating disorder behaviors will only intensify the stress you’re body is under, making it mentally and physically harder to concentrate, harder to interact and connect with other people (i.e. study groups, roommates, support people) and much harder to accomplish that long list of study tasks.

Self-care, nourishing your body, following treatment recommendations and practicing your new healthy coping skills is what will eventually get you through the stress of mid-term or final exams.  While the hectic nature of college academics can’t be completely avoided, we can offer some tips to help make it feel more manageable and less likely to derail your progress in recovery.

Prioritize: Make a list of all of your upcoming responsibilities. Pull out the larger projects and see if you can break these down into smaller, more achievable tasks. For example, break down “10 page research paper” into: print articles; read articles; write an outline; write the rough draft; write the bibliography; and revise the paper. Write deadlines next to each item on your list and then organize your to-do list by due-date or high priority items. Don’t forget to breathe.

Eliminate unnecessary responsibilities: Do you really have to do everything on your list? You might have some things on there that are optional projects, or possibly some student organization meetings that are not imperative for you to attend. Perhaps you can ask for less hours at work during exam weeks. Remember that you can also always talk to your professor; if you have 3 exams scheduled on one day, one of your professors may actually be willing to allow you to take the exam for their class on a different day. If you just can’t adjust your schedule, know that this stress is temporary. Focus on the end point and plan a reward for yourself after big assignments are turned in.

Don’t give up on the basics: As tempting as it may be, you still need to prioritize sleeping, eating and self-care. In fact, it is even more important that you take care of yourself during this stressful time. Always strive to get as close to 8 hours of sleep each night as possible, remembering that lack of sleep can have a significant effect on hunger and eating patterns.  Make sure you are scheduling times to eat your meals and snacks and that you are thinking ahead. If you know you won’t have time to go back to your room for a meal, remember to pack your food with you or bring money to eat while you are out.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”   

~Sydney Harris

Relaxation is vital. Take some time every day to take a deep breath and be still. Enjoy what the season has to offer.  Consider setting aside 30 minutes or an hour during your busy time to catch up with a friend or roommate – no multi-tasking or studying allowed during that time.

Keep your appointments: When things get hectic, it may be tempting to cancel your therapy or nutrition appointments so that you can spend more time studying.  This often makes sense in a moment of panic or stress but can easily lead towards losing sight of  recovery’s importance.   Cancelling appointments during high stress or high pressure times can be a risk  factor for relapse.  Consider a rock climber choosing to take off her safety harness right when she gets to the highest and steepest part of the cliff.  You’d probably question that decision right?  The same applies to your “safety harness” and your support system during difficult times.  If you are struggling to get to your appointments, speak to your therapist about this and decide together what is the best way to balance your responsibilities with your recovery in mind.

Reach Out:  Recovery can feel like a full-time job sometimes, and college is a full-time job for many students.  You may be realizing that you are struggling so much with both that you just can’t focus on your academics the way that you want to. You may have missed a number of classes, gotten behind in lectures or just feel too overwhelmed to truly focus. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professor and see if there is any way that you can catch up, delay some deadlines, or work with a tutor to help you in that class.  You don’t have to go through this on your own.  Ask for help and explore your options for support on campus. If you think you need to withdraw from a class and have missed the Drop/Add deadline, or if you are thinking about taking a medical leave of absence, schedule an appointment with the Dean of Students, an Academic Advisor, or someone at the Counseling Center – that is what they are there for!

While academics and exam stress can be overwhelming, just remember that you have options regarding how you handle that stress and how you let it affect you. You have already accomplished so much this semester.  Reflect on what has been working well so far and praise yourself for a job well done. If there are things that have been a struggle, now is a good time to evaluate what aspects of your self-care and stress tolerance could be improved.  Try  coming up with a reasonable plan to put into action for the rest of the semester and continue reflecting on it to see what is working and what isn’t. If you are stumped as to how to do this, reach out to others for support and additional ideas.

CED wishes you a memorable semester of academic success, balance and self-care.  For more insight on the intersection between college and eating disorder recovery, check out our whole blog series at: Battling Body Image Concerns & Disordered Eating on Campus .

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need help or support, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252.  You can also reach us by email at


Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED Therapist & College Liaison

Originally published on 11/11/2011

Reaching Out for Recovery Resources on Campus

As the newness of the school year starts to fade, you might be realizing that you or a loved one may need more support to maintain or re-focus on recovery while on campus.  It might feel discouraging to recognize that you are not doing as well as you had hoped, but you do not have to suffer alone.  Most colleges and universities provide a full Students on GC campusrange of services to their students, and it would be worthwhile to look into what is available on your campus. While every campus is unique, the following services are typically available at every school.

Student Health Center: The Health Center has physicians and nurses that are on site and specialize in working with college students. Many schools have at least one member of the staff that is familiar with working with people who have been diagnosed with eating disorders and will be able to help facilitate your care and make appropriate referrals on and off campus. Sometimes a dietitian is on staff to work with college students who need nutritional counseling.

Campus Counseling Center: The Counseling Center may be part of the Student Health Center, or it may be a completely separate department. At most schools, therapists are available to see students in individual therapy for a wide array of emotional and psychological concerns. The best part is that many of these services are free or very low-cost. The Counseling Center may also offer group therapy, which allows you to connect with others on campus who are facing some of the same concerns that you are. Some counseling centers may also work with a psychiatrist that can prescribe and monitor medications, if appropriate.

Peer Counselors: If the idea of speaking to a counselor is overwhelming, you may feel more comfortable initially meeting with a peer who has been trained to provide support. While a peer counselor is not qualified to do therapy, they can be a great support in supplementing your ongoing care or helping you to access the appropriate level of treatment for you.

Resident Advisors: Your RA is very knowledgeable about life on campus and can help direct you to the people in your community that can best assist you. They typically have gone through training to mediate conflict between roommates, to listen supportively to their residents and to help students access services on campus.

Dean of Students/Academic Advising: If your school work is starting to suffer because of your eating disorder or mood, you can speak to the Dean of Students or your Academic Advisor to explore your options. They will be prepared to help you with administrative concerns such as adding/dropping classes, communicating with your professors, adjusting your schedule to accommodate treatment, taking a medical leave of absence, and directing you to tutors and academic support programs.

Campus Ministries: If you are spiritually connected to your faith, you might feel more comfortable reaching out to the school’s chaplain. The chaplain is available to meet with students and can assist you in locating a place of worship consistent with your beliefs or can help direct you to more spiritually based counselors.

Off-Campus Treatment & Support: If you prefer to access services off campus or would like more specialized outpatient treatment, find out whether there are any treatment centers located close to your school.  The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt always welcomes students from surrounding colleges and universities during the school year. The Center is actually within walking distance to Towson University and is located within 5 miles of all of the following campuses:

Students who attend school a bit farther away from their treatment team, may be able to schedule classes in a way that frees up a particular day of the week for fitting in outpatient appointments with various providers.

The Center for Eating Disorders provides a wide array of treatment options including individual therapy, medication management, nutritional counseling, and a free support group every Wednesday night from 7:00-8:30 PM. If you need help finding outpatient treatment services close to your campus, you can visit The National Eating Disorder Association’s Treatment & Support Finder and search by state or zip code.

In the end, where you seek support is not as important as whether you seek support.  Remember that you are not alone and asking for help is a sign of strength.  If you are struggling, please reach out to a trusted friend, loved one, treatment provider or one of the campus supports listed above.

If you have any questions about the resources or services discussed above,please email Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED’s College Liaison at or call (410) 938-5252.


Written by Jennifer Moran, Psy.D.

Originally published 9/13/11

The College Conundrum: Feeling Lonely & Isolated on a Campus Full of People

college students walking

Simple Steps to Strengthen Your Support System and Safe Guard Your Recovery

Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars? Objects that are actually close appear clearly but look to be quite far away. If you are feeling socially isolated and alone, you may feel the same way about the people in your life: they are physically close but seem to be just distant enough that you can’t reach out to them. Maybe you are struggling to find the right group of friends at school and are feeling like everyone else has bonded with others to form tight-knit groups that are hard to penetrate. Or maybe you have been struggling and thus avoiding some of those people that are close to you. Either way, when you are feeling alone, it is hard to fight the eating disorder thoughts and urges that might creep in and try to keep you company.

Attending college is a unique experience in that there are so many people with similar interests, who are usually similarly aged, living and/or studying together in one spot. If you haven’t found the right group of people, keep looking, as they are likely somewhere on campus just waiting to welcome you into their lives. If you have been isolating, now is the time to commit to getting up and pushing yourself to reconnect with others, even if that feels really scary.

Be true to yourself. If the idea of going to a loud fraternity party sounds unappealing to you, chances are good that you aren’t going to meet your ideal friend at one. Take some time and think about what you would really like to do that might bring you pleasure. Would you rather spend a quiet evening with a small group of people or enjoy the outdoors with a hiking club? Would you enjoy a student service organization that hosts weekly charity events? Whatever your interest is, there are bound to be others on campus who share it. Contact your Student Affairs office to find a list of all of the student organizations on campus. If you see any that intrigue you, contact the president and find out meeting details and upcoming events. Peruse the school newspaper for lectures, concerts, theater events or student activities that seem interesting and challenge yourself to go to at least one.

If there is a person in your class that seems like someone you might like to get to know better, try approaching him/her.  Depending on how comfortable you are with speaking to new people, you might want to start with a simple greeting. A different time, you might want to ask them a question about the homework assignment to get a conversation started. Progress from there to asking them to study together, and if you seem to get along well, invite them to something fun that is not related to your class.  If it is hard or stressful for you to eat your meals with others for the time being, invite them to activities that are before or after meals so that you can enjoy your time together. On the other hand, if you do better eating around other people, try to schedule activities that include meals or snacks.

Important Tip: It might help to prepare yourself for some level
of rejection during the process of making new friends and
establishing social connections on campus. Not every person
you reach out to will respond positively or take you up
on the offer to hang out. That’s TOTALLY NORMAL and
does not mean you should stop reaching out.
Try not to
take it personally, and remember that they may be struggling
in their own way with social anxiety, health problems or school
family stressors.

If you cannot seem to find the right group of people on campus, try looking to the general community in your area. Pick up a local paper and look for events or activities that are open to the public. You might find that there are more people who have similar interests off-campus, and this is a great way to connect with them.

If you continue to struggle to connect with others, talk with your therapist about joining a therapy group. Groups can be a great way to talk about your experience with others who are experiencing similar types of situations. Here at the Center, we host an open Support Group every Wednesday night from 7:00-8:30 PM.  Therapy and Support groups are not meant to replace social relationships but can be a great place for sharing motivation and practicing interpersonal interaction.

When you are trying to heal from an eating disorder, the process can sometimes feel so draining and exhausting it can be tempting to give in to your urges.  Feeling alone on a campus full of people can make it even more difficult, so it’s important to accept that there is power in numbers.  It may take some courage and effort to reach out initially and try some of the tips listed above, but the payoff is worth it.  Once you welcome people into your daily life that you can turn to for support, even if it is just to distract you for awhile, you will have the extra strength to stay focused on recovery and you might even have a little fun in the process.

You can find more information about eating disorders and treatment and support options at

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD. , CED Therapist & College Liaison
Originally published on 9/26/11

Balancing Act: Back-to-School Basics of Self-Care on Campus

It’s that time of year again! While it was just a few months ago that everyone was so excited for the start of summer break, there is also something very exciting about the start of a new school year: new school supplies, new classes, new back-to-school clothes and maybe even new friends. Notice a theme? The start of a school year offers the opportunity for new beginnings. For some, they will be making a major transition to living on a new campus where every aspect of the experience is, in fact, new. For others, returning to school or starting a new semester offers a chance to improve upon their earlier efforts at balancing school, their social life and self-care. For everyone, this new beginning is a time to pause and reflect on what your goals are for the semester and how you would like to achieve them.

Here at the Center for Eating Disorders , we often work with students who are struggling tocar breakdown balance all of their responsibilities during the very hectic semester. When mounting pressure and too many commitments forces something to be let go, too often people opt to give up sleep, meals, relaxation, or time for self-care. These basic needs are sometimes even viewed as a luxury. While the thought of failing to meet deadlines or getting poor grades can be very stressful, people tend to underestimate just how important the “luxury” of taking care of yourself is in the grand scheme of your overall ability to function. It would be similar to draining a car battery without ever recharging it; eventually, the battery is not going to work and the car won’t start!

Fortunately, this scenario can be prevented with a little foresight and some planning. The start of the semester is a great time to create a plan to help keep things balanced throughout the next couple of months. Here are some tips for creating a good plan.

  1. Write out your schedule for the semester. Once your classes, work schedules and social engagements are in the calendar, go back through and make sure that there are times for all three meals each day. Schedule them in so that they will not be forgotten!
  2. Plan accordingly. Do you have a work shift or a class that goes from 11-2? Plan to pack your lunch so that you can have something to eat during your break.  Look at your syllabi and put important deadlines and exam dates on your calendar. If you notice one week is going to be packed with things to do, plan ahead so you are not overwhelmed.
  3. Get connected to your safety net. Its the first week of school and everything might still be feeling new and  exciting and maybe even easy.   But even if you don’t feel like you need the extra support right now, take a moment while things are slow to identify the phone numbers and locations on campus for the student health center and the counseling center.  Save the info in your phone.  If a time comes later in the semester when you need to reach out for help, you will have made it a little easier for yourself to quickly connect with your campus support system.
  4. Choose a bedtime. School schedules can be erratic. You might start each day at different times based on your class schedule, and you might stay up very late on the weekends or during exam times.   But resist the urge to maintain this erratic sleep schedule throughout your entire college career.  Whenever possible, do your best to go to sleep and wake-up around the same time every day in an effort to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, especially if you are working on recovery from an eating disorder.  Why? Balanced sleep can help you maintain balance in other areas of life as well, such as your mood and your eating.  This is partially because sleep helps your body regulate hormone levels, including those that stimulate feelings of hunger and fullness. When hormones are dysregulated it can set you up for overeating or  bingeing.   When you are tempted to pull those all-nighters during midterm week, remember that studies show a sleep deficit of 3-4 hours a night over the course of even just one week can interfere with the body’s ability to process nutrients from food, manage stress, and maintain a proper balance of hormones. (source: American Thoracic Society, International Conference, News release, San Diego, May 19-24, 2006.)
  5. Schedule “me” time. It is very important that you take time to check in with yourself. Try to find time to journal or do something you enjoy for even just a few minutes every day. If you know that you will struggle to fit this into your schedule, try signing up for a yoga class, a book club or another fun, relaxing activity to make sure that you stick with it.  This is also a great way to meet people with similar interests.
  6. Stay True to Yourself. It can be easy to feel pressured or rushed into making as many new friends as possible, sometimes by altering yourself and your priorities to fit in lest you risk being all alone. You may want to pause every so often and reflect on whether the company you are keeping is raising you up or is dragging you down. Are the new friendships you’re building helping you commit to self-care and positive self-worth or are they contributing to greater body/food anxieties? Listen carefully to your inner voice and let it guide you to make the best decisions for you.

We at the Center wish all of you a happy first semester at school!  Stay connected with this back-to-school blog series and other body image and eating disorder resources by liking CED’s Facebook Page or following @CEDatSheppPratt on Twitter.

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, College Liaison, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Originally published 9/6/11

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos / Naypong

Mindful Eating on Campus ~ Part 2

This is the second post in a two-part blog about mindful eating at college.  If you missed part 1 you can find it here.

dining hallLearning to eat mindfully is a key step in repairing the relationship between your mind and body and trusting your body to guide your eating choices. However, it’s important to point out that not every college student is ready to fully embark upon a mindful eating approach.  Individuals who’ve struggled with an eating disorder may require a period of more structure, meal plans and guidance from a professional dietitian in order to help their bodies return to a place of health and re-establish trust in feelings of hunger and fullness.

When you, with input from your treatment team, feel ready to move towards mindful eating one helpful resource is Mindful Eating 101 by Dr. Susan Albers. In the first part of her book, Dr. Albers differentiates between mindful eating and mindless eating and outlines the seven main habits of mindful eaters which we reviewed in part 1 of this post. In this follow-up, we take a look at some of the specific strategies that Dr. Albers offers to help make mindful eating a reality on a college campus.

First, it is important to pay attention to the language that you use, as language can ultimately shape your behaviors. For example, imagine trying on a pair of pants in a department store fitting room and noticing that they feel too tight. You might think “I am so fat.”  If this carries a negative connotation for you it may lead you to deny yourself of proper nutrition in order to try to lose some weight and avoid the negative feelings. Alternatively, you might think “This brand really sizes their pants in a funky way,” which may instead lead you to try on a bigger size or even try to find pants from a different designer. It’s the same situation, with two very different results. Imagine how one’s self-esteem would be affected in both scenarios. In the first scenario, you can see how someone might start to feel badly about themselves and their body, perhaps even leaving the store without purchasing anything (or buying pants that don’t fit but vowing to fit into them by a specific date).  In the second scenario, the person has not been personally affected, will likely maintain positive self-esteem and will most likely go on to buy a great pair of pants that they feel good wearing. Starting today, be mindful of your speech to others and to yourself. Be aware of the language that might lead to unhealthy choices and try to use more affirming statements.

Similarly, avoid using the word “fat” to describe what is actually an emotion. Have you ever heard someone say that they are having a fat day? The person is most likely actually having a frustating day, an angry day or a sad day. Think about the difference in how someone might cope if they label their feelings as fat versus sad.  Someone who is sad might reach out to others for support, while someone who is labeling themselves as fat may come up with a new unhealthy diet plan. It is so important to identify the true emotion so that you can more accurately address it.  Think about it this way…if your best friend came up to you and said she was feeling sad you would probably not tell her to go try a new diet or hit the gym for an extra 2 hours.  Most likely you would comfort her, listen to her and maybe offer to take her somewhere to cheer her up.  After you identify your own emotions, try being compassionate towards yourself and comforting yourself as you would a best friend in a similar situation.

Once you have started paying attention to your language and emotions surrounding food and weight, you may be  ready to work on practicing mindful eating. Here are some tips from Dr. Albers’ book.

Get out of your rut: Sometimes we follow routines so mindlessly that we don’t stop to consider that there is an alternative to the same foods that we eat every day. Instead of automatically reaching for that oatmeal packet, consider what you might actually like to eat for breakfast and prepare that instead. You might want to try the dining hall instead of packing your lunch or vice versa to add some instant variety to your eating patterns.

Commit to mindfully eating one bite of your food during each meal. Try to savor the food using all of your 5 senses to really be present and in the moment.Its no secret, college can be pretty chaotic and stressful.  But one mindful bite per meal sounds like a pretty reasonable goal, right?

Rate your hunger level. Before you eat, try to gauge just how hungry you are. Let this guide you in making choices about what you put on your plate. Pay attention to how you are feeling physically while you are eating so that you can stop when you are satisfied and not when you are either too full or still hungry. This is especially helpful when confronting the dining hall buffet; ask yourself what you are actually craving so that you have a specific meal in mind instead of mindlessly grabbing food because it looks good.

Be Flexible: If you’ve ever struggled with an eating disorder or fallen victim to fad diets, you may have adopted some very persistent thoughts that tell you to avoid certain foods.  Unfortunately, when you follow rigid rules about eating, it becomes very hard to eat mindfully.  Notice your thoughts about food without judgment, and try not to let them influence the food choices that you make or how you feel about yourself for eating them.  Be flexible at each meal and eat what you are truly hungry for, stopping when you are full.

Don’t skip meals. Ever. It’s as simple as that. By skipping meals, you are setting yourself up to overeat or to make impulsive food choices.  Dieting and skipping meals also lowers your metabolism. Your body does not operate well without consistent energy, so it is very important to offer yourself balanced, consistent meals throughout every day.

Accept your emotions: It’s completely normal to experience a full range of feelings, from sadness to anger to joy. Emotions are temporary states that help to give you information about the situation that you are in. Some people try to act on their eating disorder symptoms as a way to avoid emotions, but this is not a healthy or successful strategy and often makes a situation much worse.

Create a safe environment. Do you notice that you tend to eat mindlessly in the same places or at the same times everyday?  Maybe you frequent the vending machine outside your Calculus class. If you are hungry, then eating that snack is a healthy response to your body’s signal.  But if you tend not to be hungry at that time, think about whether you are eating purely because you’re bored, frustrated or overwhelmed by the math class or simply out of habit?  Consider some alternatives.  Focus on allowing extra time for a very fulfilling and enjoyable breakfast just before your class so you’ll be better able to pay attention and less likely to turn to food for distraction or coping purposes.

Be wary of alcohol
. It’s no secret that drinking alcohol impairs your judgment. Sometimes people will eat more when they are drinking because they are not able to clearly follow their body’s signals. Others may be tempted to restrict to compensate for the calories from alcohol and find themselves even more impaired because there is no food to help their body process the alcohol. If you are of age and choose to drink, drink responsibly and in moderation.

Plan for the holidays and breaks. Special occasions such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s seem to lead to an even more intense emphasis on eating and weight for those who are already struggling.  For some college students, the trips home will be extra stressful because of the family culture around food, meals and social gatherings.  Plan ahead – try to predict what might be triggering for you during the holidays and put support in place that will help you continue to eat in a mindful way. More tips for holiday eating and recovery can be found here.

Find a friend.  How many diets have recommended that you find a friend to go on the diet with so that you can have someone to keep you accountable? Instead of spiraling down the diet hole with a buddy, why not apply the same social technique but with a positive focus? Find a friend who is also interested in learning about mindful eating and encourage each other to practice these skills together.

Use your treatment team. If you are working on recovery from an eating disorder or from negative body image concerns, it is important to work with a trained professional who can help guide you through the process. The members of your treatment team are well-versed in mindful eating and can help you to set goals for achieving positive change, while also being able to point out obstacles that are posing a challenge to achieving your goals.

Whether you eat most frequently in your college dining hall, at a restaurant, or in your own dorm room or apartment, there is no secret formula for exactly what you are supposed to eat and how. The trick is simple: if you can work towards trusting your body and eating mindfully, your body will get just the right nutrition that it needs and your weight will naturally reach its healthy set point.  Your body is very smart and knows what it wants and needs at any given moment. Pay attention, follow its cues, and you may find that you suddenly have more physical and emotional energy than you have experienced in quite a long time.

If you are interested in learning more about mindful eating, visit Dr. Albers’ website, for further tips and information.

If you are worried that you have an eating disorder and would like to find out about your treatment options, please call us at (410) 938-5252 or visit us on the web at

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD., College Liaison at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt; Originally published on 10/11/11


Photo Credit: / lemonade

Mindful Eating on Campus ~ Part 1

college student at laptopFew things are more stressful for a student who is in recovery from their eating disorder than trying to negotiate eating on campus. College living is full of obstacles to eating consistently and mindfully: buffets in the dining halls; eating between classes and on the go; staying up until 4 AM; social events involving food; and limited access to the grocery store or a working kitchen. While many students in treatment are given guidelines as to how to eat in a healthy manner, it is often difficult to implement those strategies in a campus setting but it is possible.  A great resource for this task is the book, Mindful Eating 101: A Guide to Healthy Eating in College and Beyondby Dr. Susan Albers which we will reference throughout this post.

Mindfulness is an old concept that has, more recently become somewhat of a cultural catch phrase. Standing at a coffee shop bulletin board, you may notice advertisements for mindful meditation classes or yoga classes that promise skill development in the art of mindfulness or even magazine covers that stress the importance of mindful living. So, what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness refers to the ability to bring one’s awareness completely to the present moment.  In contrast, mindlessness, refers to behaving or doing things without much attention.

Consider that you are eating dinner in your dorm in front of the TV during your favorite night of Mindful Eating 101television. As you laugh along with the show and get intrigued by products during the commercials, you occasionally pick up your phone and make plans for the evening and attempt to skim a chapter in your text book for tomorrow’s quiz.  All the while, you also continue to go through the motions of eating your dinner…mindlessly. In this situation, your attention is likely focused on the characters and themes in the TV show and not on your food or your body’s response to the food.  When this happens, it is common for people to eat more than they normally would because they aren’t really enjoying their food, and they aren’t in touch with the mechanisms in the body that tell us when we want to stop eating. In contrast, when you choose a meal from the dining hall and sit at a table to enjoy it with a friend but without other distractions, you may find that you eat more slowly, you savor the tastes of the food, and you have an increased awareness of your hunger/satiety cues, which allow you to stop when you feel full. This style of eating would be considered mindful eating.

Individuals who’ve struggled with an eating disorder or have chronically dieted often lose touch with their body’s natural ability to regulate food and eating processes.  Sometimes they may need help establishing normal eating patterns again and re-connecting to their bodies.  In eating disorder treatment, mindfulness is a concept that is used frequently in helping people to develop awareness of their thoughts, emotions, patterns, triggers, and hunger/fullness cues.

Eating mindfully is an important skill because it allows you to eat exactly what your body wants in just the right amounts. Restricting your food intake or dieting is not mindful because it denies your body of the food that it needs for fuel and nourishment.  Bingeing is also not mindful eating because it exceeds the amount of food that your body wants or needs and may cause you to feel uncomfortably full or even pained.  Mindfulness involves trusting your body to maintain a balance.  Learning to eat mindfully can take time, so be gentle with yourself as you practice the steps that will allow you to eat intuitively in response to your own body’s needs.

Dr. Albers outlines the seven habits of mindful eaters in her book.  These habits are the key components of learning to eat mindfully.

  1. Awareness: Use your senses to gather information about the world. By using sight, sound, hearing, touch and taste, you can become attuned to what is going on around you at any moment. Turning this inward, you can better recognize your hunger, fullness and thirst cues to help guide your eating choices.
  2. Observation: Simply notice your thoughts and feelings as an impartial observer. The key is to do this without judgment. For example, if you have the thought “I am fat,” simply notice that it is there, label it as a negative thought, and move on.
  3. Shifting out of autopilot: Some of our routines become so mundane that it is difficult to pay close attention to the details. These routines sometimes enable mindless eating or skipping meals completely, and so you may want to change the routine or bring awareness to it in order to be more mindful. Try waking up a few minutes earlier to fit in breakfast or consider meeting a classmate someplace for lunch that you’ve never been before.
  4. Finding the gray area: Black and White thinking refers to thinking in extremes. Food is good or bad. Someone is fat or skinny. Clearly, life is not that simple. To be mindful, one must be flexible and avoid operating in extremes. An example of this is someone who is on a diet that forbids bread; even if a person wants bread they will deprive themselves of it because of the diet. Sometimes, this deprivation can lead to the person bingeing on bread. In contrast, a mindful eater would recognize the particular craving and allow herself to have an appropriate serving of bread at the time when she wants it.
  5. Be in the moment:  As a college student, you may find yourself frequently eating in class, while cramming for a test, or even while walking or driving across campus. Multi-tasking like this is not considered mindful because you cannot use your senses to enjoy the food or to stay aware of your hunger and fullness cues. Ideally, a mindful eater would sit with their meal on a plate at a table and devote their full attention to eating. However, this is not always a realistic goal for a college student.  Try making small changes that help you stay present during meals, such as always sitting down to eat and turning off your phone to remind yourself to stop texting and posting on Facebook until you finish your lunch.
  6. Non judgmental: Notice judgmental thoughts and proceed with compassion instead of criticism. Often at the campus dining halls, various stations offer different types and categories of food. If you notice yourself judging a particular food station ( “I can’t order from that section, everything is full of fat.”) notice the criticism attached to the food and label it (“there I go thinking of foods in good and bad categories again.”) Practice compassion and focus on truthful statements (“this food may have fat in it, but I need some fat to help me protect my organs”).  Try to incorporate different foods from each of the various food stations at the dining hall throughout the course of the week.
  7. Acceptance: Accept things for how they are as opposed to how you think they should be. Dr. Albers gives a great example in her book of accepting your shoe size, even if you wish it were different, because there really is nothing that you can do about it. As much as you may wish to have smaller or larger feet, eventually you must let go and accept that your feet are the size that they are.

If you’ve struggled with disordered eating, it may be easier to practice mindfulness at first with something that is not related to food. Try this simple exercise to practice the aforementioned skills. Close your eyes and simply count how many sounds you can hear in the room. When you think you have counted the sounds in the room, push yourself to try to hear beyond the room. Can you hear sounds from outside? In the hallway? What about the sounds closest to you…can you hear your own breathing? The sounds that you hear are happening in the here and now; congratulations…you have been successful at being mindful of the present moment! Now you might want to try doing a similar exercise with your food, using your senses to guide your eating.

For more information and tips on healthy eating during college, read Mindful Eating on Campus: Part 2 HERE…


Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, Therapist and College Liaison at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt; Originally published on 10/11/11

 Photo Credit:
1. Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee and
2. Susan Albers /

For more information about Dr. Albers and her Mindful Eating series, visit her website at

The Freshman 15: Fact or Fiction?

college studentOne of the most common fears that we hear from incoming college freshmen is about gaining the dreaded “Freshman 15.”  The Freshman 15 refers to the myth that college freshmen will gain 15 pounds during their first year at school. It has become one of those terms that Americans toss about in conversation as if it is a proven fact, an inevitable reality. There is certainly a flurry of articles written about it at the start of each academic year, dutifully outlining tips to avoid weight gain. But is the Freshman 15 something that really happens? Could the added anxiety  and efforts around trying to prevent the anticipated weight gain actually make things worse?

It doesn’t take more than a simple literature review to determine that the Freshman 15 is, in fact, a myth. Two specific studies found that freshmen did tend to gain some weight during the first year of college, but it was closer to a total of 2-5 pounds, which is significantly less than the rumored 15. (1,3).  So where did the exaggerated myth come from, and why do the studies show that there is even a slight weight increase?

For most students entering their freshman year at college, it is the first time that they are living away from home and making independent lifestyle choices. While this can be very freeing (no more curfews!), it can also be overwhelming in terms of managing a well-balanced, nutritious day of eating and hydrating in the midst of other academic and social obligations. This can lead to problems with weight gain or weight loss, both of which can be indicative of behavior changes or health concerns. Let’s look at some common causes for weight changes and problematic eating on a college campus:

Erratic Schedules: High school provided a very structured day, with bells nicely ringing at the beginning and end of every period. In college, you often have different schedules on different days, which can make it hard to find a consistent meal time. This may lead to an increase in the number of times you wait too long between meals or even skip one. Skipping meals deprives your body of nutrients and can ultimately lead to over-eating at the next meal, which can also lead to weight gain.scale

Dining Halls: Many schools have buffet style cafeterias. The good news is that this provides plenty of choices for you at each meal. The bad news is that many people struggle to recognize what an appropriate portion size is and may lose touch with their internal hunger and satiety cues.  Some students, especially those who buy into the Freshman 15 myth,  may feel anxious about their food choices and will compensate by taking too little food.  Others may have difficulty adjusting to the abundance of food in the college cafeteria and might repeatedly overeat and feel uncomfortably full after meals.

Dieting: Sometimes people are so afraid that they will gain weight in college that they start dieting before the school year even starts. In reality, dieting has actually been shown to be a predictor of weight gain (2). Restrictive eating can eventually lead to over-eating, as well as problems with your metabolism, which can also lead to weight gain. In fact, 95-98% of people who go on a diet gain back all of their weight (or more) within 1-5 years.

Poor Sleep: Many college students don’t get a full 8 hours of sleep each night. Fatigue can impact mood, hormone levels, fullness/satiety cues and can lead to impulsive choices when eating, which can all affect your weight.

Alcohol: Remember that you can choose not to drink and still have an enjoyable and memorable college experience.  However, if you make the choice to consume alcohol, moderation really is the key to responsible drinking.  In addition to some of the obvious risks associated with drinking, individuals who are anxious about weight may restrict their food intake to try to compensate for the calories consumed via alcohol. This ill-advised strategy deprives the body of the essential nutrients that must be obtained to fuel the body. Before you protest and say that a multivitamin can fix that, know that your body best consumes those nutrients if they come from actual food in regular intervals throughout the day.  Multivitamins should only be considered as a supplement to your food and not ever as a substitute for proper dietary intake.  Restricting food in an attempt to compensate for binge drinking calories has been referred to by some internet outlets as “drunkorexia”.  Trendy terms like this  can be dangerous since they often downplay or trivialize the serious underlying problems of eating disorders and substance abuse.

Age: Have you ever stopped to notice that most adults look pretty different from high school students? Your body continues to develop and mature even after puberty. While the bulk of that maturation may have already happened during your early to mid-teens, expect your body to continue to change. This may mean that it is completely natural to gain a couple of pounds, even if your diet and exercise patterns remain stable throughout college.  It is unrealistic to expect your weight and body to stay exactly the same as they were when you were in high school.

Tips for College Wellness:

  1. Eat three meals every day, even if you are very busy and have to take the food with you to eat in class.
  2. Eat mindfully. Try to follow your body’s cues; eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. This can be particularly hard given tip #1 above, but even if its not ideal to eat amidst distractions like a class lecture, a sorority meeting, or your fantasy football draft, its still possible to check in with your body’s hunger and fullness cues during those times and respond appropriately.
  3. Don’t forget to hydrate yourself throughout the day.  Don’t think water is a big deal?  Consider that every single system in your body depends on water so if you you don’t get enough, vital organs and systems can’t function properly.  Keep a water bottle attached to your school bag to make it easy to hydrate and so you have a constant reminder to get in your eight, 8-oz glasses of water each day.   Student athletes may need even more than this.
  4. Resist the pressure to go on a diet (even if all your roommates are doing it). Instead, make an effort to eat a wide variety of foods in moderation. Don’t forget to eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats/oils and dairy.  Take the focus off your weight altogether by not weighing yourself.  Evaluate your well-being based on how you feel physically and emotionally, your energy levels and your health behaviors.
  5. Try going Fat Talk Free
  6. Avoid focusing too much on your body or your weight by redefining “Freshman 15″ in your own way. Make a list of 15 activities or experiences that you would like to try before the end of the school year.  Then find ways to commit to doing them.  Too often, people reflect on their college years and only remember a blur of studying, stress and concern about their weight/bodies.  Redefining your own meaningful list of Freshman 15 is a great way to ensure that you truly enjoy the college experience.

If you have other suggestions or ways to focus on your own wellness amidst the Freshman 15 fears on campus,  please leave a comment below or join in the conversation on our facebook page.  If you are concerned that you or a friend may have an eating disorder, you can take our confidential, online assessment quiz.

For more inforamtion about The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, visit or call us at (410) 938-5252.

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1. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Fabled ‘Freshman 15′ Pound Gain More Often Only 5, Report Researchers.” ScienceDaily, 7 Apr. 2008. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. (

2. Lowe, M., et al. (2006) Multiple types of dieting prospectively predict weight gain during the freshman year of college. Appetite 47, 83-90.

Originally published September 21, 2011

3. Mihalopoulos NL, Auinger P, Klein JD. (March/April 2008) The Freshman 15: Is it Real? Journal of American College Health, 56(5), 531-534.

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD
Originally published 9/21/11

Photo Credit: / imagerymajestic