Erin Matson on Eating Disorders & “Recovery in Real Life” A Special #NEDAWawareness Guest Blog

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ERIN MATSON (@Erintothemax) is a writer and organizer for reproductive justice, equality for women, and social change. An activist and strategist, Erin has led local, state, and national advocacy campaigns and has appeared in a variety of publications and frequently on television, including ABC World News, BBC World News, and MSNBC. She served as an Editor at Large for RH Reality Check, and previously held a variety of positions in the National Organization for Women, including serving as the youngest state NOW president in the country (Minnesota NOW), a founding member of the national Young Feminist Task Force, and a national executive officer (NOW Action Vice President). One of her responsibilities was leading the national organization’s Love Your Body campaign. Erin is an anorexia survivor, and for many years said that recovering from an eating disorder was the coolest thing she’d ever done. That changed when she became a mom. 

We asked Erin to reflect on the experience of living with and recovering from an eating disorder and she graciously allowed us to share her thoughts and ideas with our readers. This is what she had to say…

Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand? 

EM: Recovery is possible! When I was most struggling with anorexia, I wish I had known there were people who do go on to recover. An eating disorder means there is hard work ahead but it definitely doesn’t mean that your life is doomed forever. I had an eating disorder and things were terrible, but today my life is terrific. That possibility didn’t get through to me while I was struggling.

Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself during your experience with an eating disorder and/or the recovery process?

EM: I am. It sounds strange, but one of the most profound things I learned through the recovery process is that I deserve to take up space without relying upon external validators like accomplishments, or roles, or size.

Q: Did you face any specific challenge during the recovery process and what helped you overcome it?

EM: Bad days and bad moments happen. Accepting them when they happen, rather than viewing them as failures or reasons to give up, is the first step to overcoming them. During the more difficult phases of my recovery I tried to observe a mental wall of separation between meal and snack and physical activity times; no matter what happened earlier in the day or the day before, I was going to focus on following my recovery plan during the moment in front of me.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

EM: Cue the music and rainbows! Seriously, the difference is amazing. I am able to enjoy life, a depth of thought, and the company of others in a way that was impossible when I was preoccupied with my eating disorder. Recovery has made me more compassionate toward others and the struggles they may be going through. In the super-awesome category, recovery made it possible for me to have a baby.

Q: What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

EM: Patience. Patience and unconditional love are the best gifts you can give to an individual in recovery. What I didn’t need was people to fix my problem; what I most needed was people who I could count on, no matter what.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

EM: Recovery means living without my eating disorder. It means accepting myself, and allowing myself the freedom to be human. At a macro level, it has come to mean for me actively resisting sexism and eating disorder culture, and working so that people treat each other (and themselves) better.

Want to hear more from Erin Matson on recovery from her Eating Disorder?  Be sure to RSVP for the event Recovery in Real Life and register for her breakout session entitled The Gifts & Challenges of Recovery during Pregnancy, Post-Partum & Parenting. 

Before the event, you can catch Erin chatting about the gifts of recovery in this short YouTube video: What Has Recovery Given You? Erin Matson on Eating Disorder “Recovery in Real Life” 

She also blogs about pregnancy and eating disorders, reproductive justice and other important issues over at erintothemax.com.  

Meet the rest of the #RecoveryinRealLife speakers here.

Meet the #NEDAwareness Week Speakers…

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“Recovery in Real Life:
Celebrating the Voices of Hardship, Hope &
Healing from Eating Disorders”

Sunday, February 22, 2015
Baltimore, MD

Download the event brochure, read about the speakers below, and don’t forget to RSVP to reserve your seats today.

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FEATURED PRESENTERS:

B_OkeefeBENJAMIN O’KEEFE is an actor, activist, and writer.  Born into very humble beginnings with his single mother, twin brother, and older sister, Ben quickly realized his passion for performing. After enduring intense bullying in school, Ben turned to his school’s theater program as a safe haven. It was there, in searching for the voices of the characters that he portrayed, that he found his own.  Besides working as a performer, Ben has been extremely active in activism work, particularly in the topics of LGBT rights, Youth Rights, and Body Image. He has worked with organizations such as GLSEN, The Trevor Project, NEDA, Proud2Bme, and many more. Ben has been responsible for creating many major movements of change. Most notably, an International movement against size discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch. As a writer, Ben has contributed to some of the largest publications in the world including; The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The LA Times and many more. He has begun writing his first book “Our Stories: A Voiceless” and has also been featured in hundreds of publications around the world such as; The New York Times, People Magazine, NPR, Forbes, MTV, and The New Yorker. Appearing on several 20 under 20 and 40 under 40 lists it is well known that is Ben is using his passions to make an impact on the world, one person at a time.  Find Ben on Twitter @benjaminokeefe.

Erin_Matson1ERIN MATSON is a writer and organizer for reproductive justice, equality for women, and social change. She is based in Arlington, Virginia. An activist and strategist, Erin has led local, state, and national advocacy campaigns in areas including abortion rights, contraceptive access, and cultural representations of women.  Erin has appeared in a variety of publications and frequently on television, including ABC World News, BBC World News, and MSNBC. She served as an Editor at Large for RH Reality Check, and previously held a variety of positions in the National Organization for Women, including serving as the youngest state NOW president in the country (Minnesota NOW), a founding member of the national Young Feminist Task Force, and a national executive officer (NOW Action Vice President). One of her responsibilities was leading the national organization’s Love Your Body campaign. Erin is an anorexia survivor, and for many years said that recovering from an eating disorder was the coolest thing she’d ever done. That changed when she became a mom.  Find Erin blogging about pregnancy and eating disorders or on Twitter @Erintothemax.

Christopher SkarinkaCHRISTOPHER SKARINKA developed bulimia at the age of 20 while involved in athletics and high-pressure academics at Harvard University. He continued to struggle as he coped with the stress of an investment banking job after graduation. Now recovered, Chris remains active in the corporate world; he co-founded a company on the west coast and serves as the Chief Operating Officer of a big data company in Washington, DC. He also gives back and has served as Treasurer and junior board member of the National Eating Disorders Association for more than two years. In this role, his primary function is outreach, both broadly speaking and more targeted specifically towards men and athletes. This involves speaking on panels and at conferences, as well as writing articles and organizing outreach and fundraising events.  You can read more about Chris’s story here.

Dianne_BondyDIANNE BONDY is an Author, Motivator, Risk Taker, Educator, Yoga Teacher, and Leading Voice in the Diversity in Yoga and Yoga of Inclusion Movement. After struggling with self-hate, eating disorders and body image for most of her life, Dianne returned to her yoga practice after abandoning it for years for more extreme forms of fitness. This was the beginning of making peace with who she was and what she looked like.  She is passionate about creating a more diverse playing field in the yoga community and is a highly recognized voice in the Diversity in Yoga and Yoga of Inclusion movements – where all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds are recognized and embraced both on and off the mat.  Dianne Bondy is an E-RTY 500 with Yoga Alliance, with extensive training in yoga therapy.  She is a regular columnist for Elephant Journal and Do You Yoga, has been featured in Yoga Journal magazine, The Guardian and appears as a guest author in the books: Yoga and Body Image, and Yes Yoga Has Curves. She is the creator and director of Yoga for All 200/500 Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program  and founder and Managing Director of Yogasteya – a virtual online yoga studio that supports yoga for all cultures, shapes, sizes and abilities.

Matt_WetselMATT WETSEL is an eating disorder and body image writer and advocate.  He focuses on the intersection of gender constructs, mental health, and body acceptance. Matt has degrees in Psychology and Religious Studies, and holds a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University.  After suffering from anorexia as an undergraduate in college, Matt Wetsel got involved with the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) doing volunteer grassroots lobby work. Inspired by the people he met there, he became active in his local community organizing occasional guest speakers and giving talks to help educate others about eating disorders. He currently is a member of the EDC Junior Board and has been interviewed for various news outlets, including the Huffington Post.  He started his blog, Until Eating Disorders Are No More, in early 2011. The name was inspired by the legislative efforts of the Eating Disorders Coalition to help end eating disorders through effective policy reform, public education, and properly funded research. You can find Matt on Twitter @MattWetsel.

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 Additional Breakout Session Presenters:

  • Heather Goff, M.D., CED Psychiatrist & IOP Medical Director
  • Niccole McGowens, PhD, CED Individual & Group Therapist
  • Craig Boas, LCSW-C, CED Individual, Group & Family Therapist
  • Annie Hanley, LGSW, CED Family Therapist

Find out more about this and other upcoming events in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week here.

 

 

It’s Diet Season: Are You Prepared?

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Diet season is officially upon us.
Weight loss companies are well aware that millions of Americans are actively making New Year’s resolutions. Armed with teams of marketers and millions of dollars, they’ve spent the last twelve months crafting their year-end advertising.  And year after year they are wildly successful, at least in terms of revenue. According to this report, global weight loss markets were expected to be worth $586.3 billion in 2014. The U.S. is the largest contributor to that figure and was projected to reach $310 billion last year.

Yes, the weight loss industry has been preparing for an entire year. But, you can be prepared too. The first step is anticipating the messages that you will be bombarded with so you’re not caught off guard. Here are just a few of the diet industry’s strategies you are sure to encounter in the new year:

  • They will make a lot of promises for a “better” you, a “more successful” you, a “happier” you, but most emphatically, a “thinner” you. They will use those terms interchangeably to try to convince you that you cannot be better, happier or more successful without weight loss. You can.
  • They will pay celebrities enormous amounts of money to endorse what they are selling. Average salaries for celebrity weight-loss endorsers range from $500,000 to $3 million via ABC News.
  • They will tell you this time will be different.
  • They will make faulty connections between weight and health.
  • They will use scare tactics and personal stories to appeal to your emotions.
  • They will use before and after pictures that may or may not be the same person, are often retouched and photoshopped, or might just be stock images of someone who never used their product.
  • They will try to convince you that your body cannot be trusted to do one of it’s most basic jobs.  They will insist you need to pay them money to rely on external rules or charts for when and how much to eat.
  • They will ignore the natural and healthy diversity of bodies by telling you everyone can be thin if they work hard enough. This also happens to be one of the four toxic myths that promote most body image and weight concerns. This cycle works very well for diet companies because the more concerned people are with their bodies, the more likely they are to engage in weight control behaviors. In other words, it is in their best interest to keep you dissatisfied with your body so that you keep buying their product and it keeps being ineffective.
  • They will share short-term statistics from studies funded by their own investors to show how well their diet plan works for the first 3-6 months. They will not respond to requests for independent, long-term outcome studies.
  • They may tell you their product is “not a diet but a lifestyle”.
  • They will tell you your health is at risk. They will not tell you about studies like this which found the risk of mortality was higher among people in the underweight category than it was for those in the overweight category OR like this one which showed increased health behaviors led to improved health markers even in the absence of weight loss.
  • They may even include the phrase “results not typical” in fine print at the very bottom of their full page ad or in speedy verbal disclaimers at the end of a commercial.
  • It is only January yet still, they will tell you that summer is just around the corner and then attempt to make the case that your body is not “ready” for the beach. Spoiler Alert: If you have a body and you have the chance to go to a beach, then you are ready.
  • Are we missing anything? Can you think of other trends or predictable marketing slogans used by the diet industry to try to sell their products? You can add to the list on our Facebook page.

Why is it important to be prepared?
The National Eating Disorder Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting, and 20-25% of those individuals will develop eating disorders. This is not because eating disorders are simply “diets gone too far” but because diets trigger biological, emotional and mental shifts in the way you process food and information about that food. It is well established that diets can…

  • Dysregulate and weaken your body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness.
  • Trigger obsessive thoughts about food and weight
  • Cause intense cravings for off-limit foods
  • Create anxiety about certain types of food and in response to specific situations involving food such as eating with other people or in public places when the diet-safe food is unavailable.
  • Establish a pattern of failure, low self-esteem and distrust of one’s body
  • Assign moral judgment to foods
  • Develop a system in which exercise is used as a form of punishment instead of a fun or social activity

Clinging to the diet mentality or getting caught up in weight cycling is futile, not to mention potentially harmful to your health and your wallet. For individuals at risk for eating disorders, or for those in recovery, these dieting side effects can be even more dangerous and may create risk for relapse. This year, don’t let the diet season bring you down. Be prepared to stand up against diet pressures by knowing exactly what to expect.  If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or tempted by the ads this season, print out the list above and try checking off all of the marketing tactics you notice.  Then choose to move towards nourishment, self-care and non-judgment by inviting a body-positive friend to lunch, scheduling a massage, setting the table for a mindful eating experience or reaching out for extra support from a treatment provider.

Other Helpful Resources:

  1. Mindful Eating on Campus: Parts 1 & 2
  2. The Resolution Solution
  3. A Message for People Considering Their Next Diet (pdf) from Linda Bacon, PhD
  4. Ringing in the New Year in a New Way
  5. What is Intuitive Eating?
  6. www.eatingdisorder.org

Join CED on Facebook for body image inspiration and recovery support.

*Above image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and a454

Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part I


Linda Bacon, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized authority on weight and health.  She will stop by Baltimore this fall for two events aimed at dispelling long held myths about weight and health within the medical community and in our society at large. A nutrition professor and researcher, Dr. Bacon holds graduate degrees in physiology, psychology, and exercise metabolism, with a specialty in nutrition. She has conducted federally funded studies on diet and health, and  published in top scientific journals. Dr. Bacon’s advocacy for Health at Every Size (HAES) has generated a large following on social media platforms and the international lecture circuit. Her book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, called the “Bible” of the alternative health movement by Prevention Magazine, ranks consistently high in Amazon’s health titles. Her latest book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand, co-authored by Lucy Aphramor, is a crash course in all you need to know about bodies and health.

We recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Dr. Bacon to get answers to some of your most popular questions about HAES, the work she does dispelling diet myths and her newest book, Body Respect.  You can find Part I of her responses below, and Part II is available here.

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Q & A with LINDA BACON, Ph.D.

Q: What led you to pursue writing about and researching health and weight science?

LB: My journey began from own personal pain: in my adolescence and early twenties, I believed that I was fat, that there was something wrong with being fat, and if only I lost weight, everything in my life would be better: my parents would be more proud of me, I’d be more popular… Those thoughts sent me on the painful journey of fighting my weight, and included an academic search for a solution. What I found along that academic journey surprised me: the research contradicted many of the commonly accepted beliefs I held about weight. I developed a critical lens through my work first as a psychotherapist, next as an exercise physiologist and later a nutritionist. And that critical lens has been so valuable in re-learning how to look at myself, and my own relationship with food and my body, and come to a sense of peace and contentment. The war that was originally waged against my self – the fat on my body – was more appropriately waged against oppressive attitudes about fat. I’m now on a mission to share what I’ve learned, both to support others in their personal journeys and to support social change. Our culture plays a huge role in fueling our disconnection with self and it’s critical we move towards a more just and compassionate world so that this struggle isn’t so normative. No one should experience the pain and body shame that I – and many others – routinely do.

Q: What are the most important tenets of Health at Every Size (HAES)?

LB: I see three aspects as being most important: 1) RESPECT, including respect for body diversity; 2) CRITICAL AWARENESS – challenging cultural and scientific assumptions; valuing people’s lived experience and body knowledge; and acknowledging social injustice as a hazard to health and well-being; and 3) COMPASSIONATE SELF-CARE – in eating, movement, and other areas. There’s a lot packed into those words, so here’s the simpler response: HAES is all about supporting people in moving towards greater acceptance and improved self-care, and advocating for the institutional and social change necessary to support that.

Free event in Baltimore on November 8th. Click image for details.

Q: Why do you think so many people continue to rely on dieting when the data isn’t there to back it up as an effective remedy for weight loss or improved health?

LB: I have a lot of compassion for dieters. The dieting belief system is so strongly a part of our culture and medical belief system, it makes sense that many people would buy into it and believe they are doing the right thing. And there is so much fantasy imbued in the results: the belief that one will be seen as attractive and successful, and that it will ameliorate disease. It makes sense many people grab onto it, and get a sense of hope when they try. And we’re taught to believe the “experts” rather than to trust our own experience. So when the diet fails to give them lasting results, the dieter blames him or herself, rather than the diet.

The diet is the problem and it’s the diet that fails, not the dieter. It takes courage to take our power back and recognize that the problem is out there, not in ourselves, that we have a system inside us well-designed to help us manage our weight, if only we trust it. The HAES journey is about helping people to understand that the source of their pain is not the weight itself – but the weight prejudice, and to reclaim their power to know what, when, how to eat, and a new attitude towards other self-care behaviors.

Not long ago, I had a very poignant experience of the damages of the diet mentality. I attended a wedding reception where there was a beautiful buffet of gourmet food. At one end of the buffet was the proud father of one of the brides. (I’m in California, where it’s legal for lesbians to marry.) He had helped plan this party; to him, sharing food was part of the ritual that brought his daughter’s friends and family together. At the other end, three women approached. One looked at the display and said, “Oh, I really shouldn’t.” Her friend commiserated, saying, “It really is tempting, isn’t it?” They all looked on sadly. This is the world we have created. These women are “good” dieters. For them, virtue lies in confronting the temptations of good food, exerting their willpower, and overcoming their desire.

This saddens me. I want a world where food is about nourishing us, body and soul, where we can celebrate with the shared ritual of eating. Where you eat what you want without guilt… and without bingeing. Where eating is uncomplicated by weight concerns.

Fortunately, that world is possible and the Health at Every Size movement helps to articulate it. I live in it myself, and I’ve tested it in a randomized controlled clinical trial. And my results have been reproduced by others. We have shown that people – yes, even “obese” people who are experienced dieters – can learn to dump the diet mentality and celebrate food, and that it results in improved nutritional choices and improved health outcomes. And that it does not result in that feared weight gain.

Q: In your new book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, you and your co-author Lucy Aphramor write a lot about the influence of social justice on weight and health. What’s the most important thing you think people should understand about the impact of inequality and social differences on weight and health?

LB: I can sum it up in three words: “our stories matter.” Our experiences in the world get lodged in us on a cellular level. The experience of oppression, for example, triggers a chronic stress response, which in turn leads to weakened immunity and increased risk for many diseases. When we focus solely on an individual’s weight or health habits, we miss these structural and political inequities, and it stops us from addressing the policies and systems that have a far greater impact on our health. It also supports a culture of blaming individuals for their disease: e.g., “it’s your fault for getting diabetes; if only you ate better.”

How we get treated in the world has a huge impact on our health. Acknowledging the power of social status in determining health can help take the blame off of the individual and will have more significance for tackling health disparities than getting more people to stop smoking, or to be more active, or to eat more nutritiously. This doesn’t mean that we need to stop talking about behavior change: helping someone take better care of themselves is valuable. But it needs to be put in context. Once we understand this, it opens up new avenues for self-care and for how health care gets practiced.

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Interested?  Want to learn more about Dr. Bacon’s research and how the focus on weight can obstruct us from achieving health?  Read more in Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon: Part II.

Then join us in Baltimore on November 7th and 8th to see her speak. Visit our Events Page to reserve your seats.


 

Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part II

Welcome to Part II of our discussion with internationally acclaimed author and researcher, Linda Bacon, Ph.D.  If you missed Part I, you can find it here

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Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part II

 

Q: What are some of the repercussions of evaluating a person’s health by their weight?

LB: One key repercussion is misdiagnosis. Some thin people get the diseases we blame on weight – and they often don’t get diagnosed until later when they’re more advanced and harder to treat – and many heavier people never get the diseases we blame on weight. And then of course, it introduces the nocebo effect: tell someone they’re going to get sick and they probably will. So it’s just bad medicine. (And expensive! Those excessive costs attributed to “obesity” can be better attributed to weight bias.) Fat or thin, the conflation of weight and health imbues people with a fear of fat and distracts us from what really matters. It brings stigma, a problem of social justice, into health care. It’s both ineffective AND damaging.

 

Q: How could a focus on weight, or on weight loss, get in the way of effective healthcare? Can you give a specific example?

LB: My knee has been bothering me a lot lately, and that provides for an easy example. My father suffered from similar knee problems. However, he was fat (I use that as a descriptive term, stripped of pejorative connotations) and I’m not, resulting in very different treatment from our orthopedists.

My doc told me to first try physical therapy, that stretching and strengthening the muscles around the joint can help. Surgery was also presented as an option.

But what did my father’s doctors recommend? They put him on diets – over and over again. He never developed a regular exercise habit and struggled with weight cycling and disordered eating his whole adult life.

Carrying more weight may have aggravated my dad’s joint problems; no doubt there are ways it’s hard to be in a fatter body. (I should add parenthetically, that there are also ways it confers health advantage, but that’s a much longer blog post.) But trying to lose that weight is no kind of solution. I can assure you, my father – almost all heavier people – they’ve tried already.

My dad went to his death with knee pain. That’s just not effective healthcare. Even if fat is a causative factor and weight loss may be helpful in reducing symptoms, that doesn’t mean that prescribing weight loss is an effective or helpful solution. (Note also that it’s well documented in the literature: prescribing weight loss is more likely to result in health-damaging weight cycling than sustained weight loss.)

My advice in training health care professionals in respectful care with larger people is to start by considering how they would treat someone in a thinner body. Appropriate exercise? Meds? Surgery? Then do what you can to support your patients in implementing your advice and handling the challenges posed by their particular body.

It’s important to remember that good health habits benefit everyone, across the weight spectrum. And that you can’t diagnose someone’s health habits by looking at them. My father – and people of all sizes – could also have benefited from eating disorders screening. Appropriate eating disorders treatment may – or may not – have a side effect of weight change.

 

Q: On November 7 and 8 you will be speaking at two events in Baltimore, one for the community and another specifically for health professionals. What are some of your main goals for each of those talks and who do you think could benefit from attending?

LB: More than anything else, I want to inspire people. For the general community, I want attendees to leave with a sense of hope, that they can lose the guilt and shame and instead take pleasure in eating, that they can look at their bodies kindly. And I want the health care professionals to leave with a greater sense of agency, feeling empowered that they know how to be helpful for people. I want all of us to walk away with a stronger sense of community, feeling that we’re part of a committed group of people helping to make this a more just and compassionate world.

 

Q: Are you hopeful that our medical community, or even our society in general, will be able to make a paradigm shift away from a focus on weight? What helps you stay focused on and inspired by this goal?

LB: I do feel quite hopeful. I’ve watched the transition that’s been happening over the years, how my message resonates with the medical community, once exposed. Most professionals are feeling disillusioned with the old system, and I’m frequently told that coming to hear me talk is a relief. It allows them to take their disquiet seriously and they feel empowered to be presented with solutions that make sense.

But I’m not naïve. As much as I’d like to have faith in the inevitability of justice being done, and the old paradigm being tossed by the wayside, I’m just not confident that’s going to happen large-scale in the mainstream anytime soon. But I find it very liberating to consider that maybe the point isn’t victory, as much as we would like to see that done. Maybe the real issue is that by speaking my truth, I sleep better at night and it gives me hope.

Desmond Tutu offered this advice as rationale for the work of a freedom fighter: You don’t do the things you do because others will necessarily join you in doing them, nor because they will ultimately prove successful. You do the things you do because the things you do are right.

Dr. Linda Bacon

So I try to let go of the preoccupation with outcome, and find fulfillment in my involvement in something worthwhile, and being a part of this greater community. I look forward to being at Sheppard Pratt soon, and connecting with more people committed to a more just and respectful world.

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Many thanks to Dr. Linda Bacon for sharing her time, expertise and compassion with our online communities.  Please join us November 7th in Baltimore when Dr. Bacon will offer an in-depth training for health professionals and then again on November 8th for an inspiring free community event. Find out more and register for both events here.

See Also: BODY RESPECT Q&A with Linda Bacon: Part I

Understanding Hopelessness & Cultivating Hope: Discussing Suicide and the Death of Robin Williams

As the world feels and reacts to the news of Robin Williams’ death, the national conversation has turned quite rapidly to suicide and suicide prevention. Unfortunately, to those of us in the field of mental health, these headlines require daily observance. In general, individuals struggling with eating disorders are more likely than those without eating disorders to think about and attempt suicide. One study found that risk for suicide is approximately 23 times higher in those with eating disorders than in the general population of the same age (Harris and Barraclough, NSPL_Logo_home1997).

While we feel strongly that the details surrounding Williams’ death are a private matter, it has been publicly acknowledged that he was battling severe depression and had a long history of substance abuse.  Among a multitude of public reactions to the news, there is a pervasive feeling of shock that a person whose public life was built around laughter and joy could simultaneously be experiencing so much pain. People far and wide are wondering how this hilarious and much-loved person could actually be feeling so hopeless?

Hopelessness is a difficult topic, particularly for individuals who are not in the midst of feeling it and, perhaps as a result, have a difficult time conceptualizing how anyone else could ever get to a point that they feel completely unable to be helped. But understanding hopelessness is at the core of every discussion about suicide. Discussing it honestly and compassionately can make a difference for those who struggle. Carrie Arnold, a former guest speaker here at the Center, wrote openly about this on her blog after receiving the news about Williams. A poignant account of her own experience with depression and attempted suicide, Arnold captures the importance of striving to understand and develop compassion for individuals in a state of despair.

“We talk of people who complete suicide as being ‘selfish’ that they couldn’t sense their loved one’s pain. Yet when those feelings of utter despair washed over me, all I could think about was the pain I was causing others.”

Arnold goes on to talk about the venture back from despair and the rebuilding of hope, desire and gratitude, writing:

“Then you figure out that you have started living life again without even realizing it. There’s no miracle moment, here, just the slow stringing together of small moments into a narrative called your biography.”

Carrie Arnold’s story is extremely important to tell because it reflects the stories of so many others that don’t make headlines and rarely get told. This is the story of traveling to the brink of hopelessness and continuing right on through. This is the story of hope. The message to people struggling with eating disorders, depression or addiction is that you can prevail.  You can feel hopeless and still not be hopeless.

Almost every single guest speaker we’ve hosted to speak about recovery through the years have shared that they felt hopeless a lot and that they fully believed recovery was impossible for them. They were sure of it. Yet there they are, years later, standing on a stage telling their incredible story of recovery.  Rest assured, many people living full,  meaningful lives without their eating little tree growingdisorders today were once sitting there in front of a computer screen thinking about how recovery was impossible for them too. Too many lives have been lost to suicide, there is no question about that. Yet so many others have been to the depths of hopelessness and traveled back. In fact, according to the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, “the vast majority of people who face adversity, mental illness, and other challenges—even those in high risk groups—do not die by suicide, but instead find support, treatment, or other ways to cope.” This is where we can begin to cultivate hope. Do not listen to any voice that says you can’t recover. YOU CAN.

The news of Robin Williams’ death is a reminder to each of us that hopelessness rarely puts itself on parade. Hopelessness hides; it isolates and it often masquerades as your neighbor, friend or coworker trudging quietly through the thickness of depression all while posting exciting status updates on Facebook or volunteering at their child’s school with a fresh smile. If we take something from the tragic passing of a beautiful person and talented actor, let it be this:

Depression does not discriminate.  A well-polished public life – house, career, car, body, wardrobe, etc – is not an accurate reflection of a person’s private life or emotional experience. Check-in with friends if you know they’ve struggled with depression in the past, and never assume that someone is okay based on outward appearance alone.

ASK FOR HELP.   It is not shameful to struggle out loud. Be honest with those around you about how you’re feeling and do not allow your hopelessness to hide.  Talk to friends, family or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you are in crisis.

Depression, eating disorders and substance abuse are treatable illnesses. If you’ve traveled through hopelessness and back again, share with others about that experience of healing so they know it’s possible and that hopelessness is not a one-way street. Encourage others to get treatment.

Know the signs and symptoms that someone is in immediate danger for suicidal behavior and become educated about underlying risk factors for suicide. For example, adolescent boys and girls engaging in multiple unhealthy weight control behaviors are at greater risk for experiencing suicidal thoughts (Kim, et al, 2009).

For more information about the risks of suicide associated with eating disorders, please visit Medical Complication of Eating Disorders.

If you are interested in getting treatment for an eating disorder and co-occurring issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma or substance abuse, please call us right away at (410) 938-5252.  You are not alone.

www.eatingdisorder.org

*Tree image courtesy of Just2shutter and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Moving Past Resistance & Finding the Motivation to Change

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“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars.
You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
~C.S. Lewis

Change is hard. You’ve likely heard this statement before. It’s also likely you’ve experienced it firsthand because, well, we all have. It’s one of those universal truths. Perhaps you’ve gone through the end of a relationship, relocated to a different city, started a new job, or maybe even changed careers completely. It’s never easy, even when it is exciting. Inherent to every change, including those that are ultimately positive, are feelings omonkey barsf discomfort and fear. Why? It can be uncomfortable, even painful, to do things in a new way, particularly if you’ve been doing them the old way for a very long time. Given that we as humans are naturally programmed to avoid pain and discomfort, it can also mean we find ourselves unmotivated to change.

Deciding to pursue recovery from an eating disorder after several years or even decades of illness is extremely hard. Doing the work of recovery after years of using eating disordered behaviors can, for many individuals, invoke a lot of fear. Eating disorder behaviors and thoughts may have become so entrenched that ceasing these behaviors will require change to all other parts of life as well…rekindling old interests, developing new hobbies, re-building relationships around recovery instead of the disorder, possibly getting new clothes, implementing new routines and learning new coping skills. Knowing that change can be perceived as danger, even when it’s actually beneficial, can help individuals understand their resistance to it. More importantly, this knowledge can help individuals to move past it.

“Fear, Uncertainty and discomfort are
your compasses towards growth.”
~Celestine Chua

Eating Disorders, The Brain & Change

Understanding change is particularly relevant in the field of eating disorders because of the various factors that drive the disorders. Many people already understand that certain social and cultural pressures (like our diet-obsessed culture or excessively retouched advertising) can impact thoughts about food and weight and may serve to maintain eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. It can, however, be just as important to understand the biological pressures that maintain symptoms and decrease motivation to recover. For example, malnourishment and low body weight are biological markers that can impact the brain’s ability to react to new or changing situations. In other words, when someone is not nourished well, they are more likely to struggle with rigidity of thoughts, otherwise known as “cognitive inflexibility” or “poor set shifting”. Research has found that, even at healthy weights, individuals with eating disorders are more likely to be wired for cognitive inflexibility which can mean more resistant to change.

“This characteristic rigidity or inflexible way of thinking and behaving can act as a real hindrance to those who exhibit it. For example, an inflexible thinking style is likely to mean that an individual relies on strict habits and rules to order his/her life. This rule-bound way of living can impede the individual’s involvement in new opportunities and experiences, monopolize time that could be used more productively, and result in relationship difficulties if the rules become extremely rigid. (2010, Tchanturia & Hambrook)

When it comes to eating disorders, there are daily consequences of being set in your ways since those ways are ultimately harmful. When faced with a decision to pursue change or not, it can be helpful to take a closer look at the specific psychological, sociocultural, and biological barriers keeping you stuck or unmotivated. Only then can you make an informed decision.

Motivation to Change- A Model for Understanding How and Why Change Happens

Motivation to Change is a theoretical model that explores the process of behavior change – from wearing sunscreen to smoking cigarettes, drinking excessively to eating disorders. The model proposes that we all participate in the stages of change whenever we are about to make a change in our lives. Research has shown that when therapeutic intervention is matched to a patient’s stage of change and the therapy is conducted within that stage, a more positive and long-lasting result is more likely.

The Motivation to Change model is divided into the following 5 Stages of Change:

  1. Precontemplation – a lack of awareness of the problem; no intention to change
  2. Contemplation – awareness of the problem but uncertainty about making a change; someone is thinking about change, but is not committed
  3. Preparation – intending to take action; there is a desire to make a change and some planning prior to making the change
  4. Action – the actual time spent making the change and modifying behavior
  5. Maintenance – life once the change has been made, including relapse prevention

This is not a linear model. It is expected that individuals may move backward and forward through these stages and that there will be an ebb and flow of motivation. Even during the action phase, individuals will experience indecision and ambivalence. Understanding this process, and having the support of a therapist along the way, is important in reducing discouragement and increasing long-term success. After all, change is hard. But despite the fear and discomfort, change can also be a very beautiful thing.

“Your life does not get better by chance,
it gets better by change.”
~Jim Rohn

Motivation to Change at The Center for Eating Disorders

opposing arrowsThe Center for Eating Disorders incorporates the motivation to change model and concepts in individual therapy at all levels of care and in specialized treatment groups throughout our inpatient, partial hospital and intensive outpatient programs. This summer we are announcing the addition of an outpatient, once weekly, Motivation to Change Therapy Group for individuals with eating disorders. From the first to last session, group members will be asked to participate in discussion and homework activities designed to explore where they are in the model and how ready they feel to move to the next stage. The group will be offered on Saturdays from 4:00-5:00 PM beginning in June 2014.

Anyone interested in participating can contact Rachel Hendricks at (410) 427-3862 or rhendricks@sheppardpratt.org. The group is offered as a complete module, and participants will be encouraged to participate in each session as the sessions will be progressive.

While the Motivation to Change groups at The Center are exclusively for people with eating disorders, anyone can benefit from understanding motivation to change and using the principles to assess, prepare, and make change in their own lives.

Find details about the Motivation to Change group and a long list of other outpatient groups offered at The Center for Eating Disorders by clicking here.

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.”

~Tony Robbins

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References:

Tchanturia, K. & Hambrook, D. (2010). Cognitive Remediation Therapy for Anorexia Nervosa. In C.M. Grilo & J.E. Mitchell (Eds.), The Treatment of Eating Disorders: A clinical handbook ( pp. 130-149). New York, NY: Guilford.

Monkey Bars Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Arrows image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Outpatient Group Therapy at The Center for Eating Disorders {Summer 2014}

JUNE 2014 – The Center for Eating Disorders has launched several new outpatient therapy groups in addition to our other longstanding groups for individuals with eating disorders. Group therapy can be a great way to obtain additional support in the recovery process while also mastering beneficial new skill sets and practicing social interactions in a therapeutic setting with the guidance of a licensed therapist.  We invite you to review the current group therapy opportunities below and contact the group leader if interested.

THERAPY Groups…

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Group for BODY IMAGE
Tuesdays, 5:15 – 6:15 PM
Participants can expect to learn about how to promote positive body image using the cognitive-behavioral model.  The group lasts 10 sessions and will consist of a variety of body image topics (e.g. body checking, body avoidance, body comparison, emotional labeling, eating disorder mindset) and incorporates specific CBT skills with the goal of decreasing an individual’s preoccupation with weight and shape and their control. Please contact Laura Sproch, Ph.D. at 410-427-3851 for further information and to complete a brief phone screening. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for ADULTS
Tuesdays, 5:15-6:15 PM
Thursdays, 6:15-7:15 PM
Participants in this group will learn about the cognitive-behavioral model and its application for eating disorders and for the individual.  Group topics will rotate, based on the needs of the group, with a strong focus on the behavioral skills and making behavioral changes outside of the group.  Skills include, but are not limited to, self-monitoring, imagery, deep breathing, behavioral chain analysis, body image behavioral skills and problem solving. Contact Laura Sproch, PhD at (410) 427-3851 for more information.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for ADOLESCENTS in Transition
Tuesdays, 5:30-7:00 PM
This is a Cogntitive Behavioral Therapy group for adolescents who are transitioning from a higher level of care (at any inpatient, residential or partial hospital eating disorder program) back into outpatient therapy.  The groups runs on a six-week session.  Contact Lisa McCathran, LCPC at (410) 427-3873 for more information.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Group 
Thursdays, 5:30-6:30 PM
DBT is an evidence-based treatment composed of four modules: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  Extensive research has found DBT to be beneficial in the treatment of a variety of disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and eating disorders.  This particular DBT group is open to adults, ages 18 and over, with or without an eating disorder.  Interested individuals, or referring providers, should call Craig Boas, LCSW-C at (410) 427-3879 to complete the screening process. You can read more about DBT and each of the four modules here.

Interpersonal Therapy Group for Binge Eating Disorder / Compulsive Overeating
Tuesdays, 4:30-5:50 PM

Wednesdays, 7:15-8:35 PM
Thursdays, 4:40-6:00 PM 
Process-Oriented and skills-based therapy groups for adults (ages 22 and over) who struggle specifically with Binge Eating Disorder or compulsive overeating.  For more information about these specialized groups, please call David Roth, PhD at (410) 427-3871.

Interpersonal Therapy Group for Adults with Eating Disorders
Wednesdays, 5:30-7:00 PM
A process-oriented group for adults (ages 22 and over) with any type of eating disorder. This is a thematic, open-ended group in which members are encouraged to process current and past struggles in a way that improves insight into the role of the eating disorder in their life and provides an opportunity to develop strategies for moving toward recovery.  A variety of skillsets are introduced and practiced within the supportive framework of the group.  Contact David Roth, PhD at (410) 427-3871 for additional information.

Motivation to Change Therapy Group
Saturdays, 4:00-5:00 PM
Motivation to Change (MTC) is a group for individuals 18 and over with an eating disorder. Participants will be asked to complete a full module from beginning to end (12 groups per module). At the beginning of each module, participants will assess their stage of change and should be able to identify next steps and tools for implementing change by the end of each module. Please contact Rachel Hendricks, LCSW-C at 410-427-3862 for further information and to complete a brief screening over the phone.

SUPPORT Groups…

Collaborative Care Workshops for Caregivers & Family Members
(
Now being offered completely FREE OF CHARGE to all interested families)

Tuesdays, 5:30-7:00 PM 
These 6-week sessions based on the work of Dr. Janet Treasure, are designed to address the most universal needs of the carers: connection with other carers; support; and skills training.  Key skills taught include motivational interviewing, communication, the trans-theoretical model of change, self-care and behavior analysis. Research suggests that participation in these workshops, leads to benefits for both the carers and the patient. The workshops are OPEN to all support people at any stage of a loved one’s illness or recovery and are now being offered completely free of charge. You can read more about collaborative care on our blog.  Call (410) 427-3874 or email Dr. Jennifer Moran to register for the group.

Recovery-Focused Community Eating Disorder Support Group
Wednesdays, 7:00-8:30 PM
Read more about this and other opportunities on our support group page.

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The Center participates with an extensive list of insurance providers which means group therapy services can often be billed through insurance or participants may choose to self-pay. If you are interested in joining any of the groups listed above, please contact the specific group therapist directly or call the main number, (410) 938-5252.

If you are a physician or therapist interested in referring a patient for group therapy as an adjunt to existing individual or family therapy, please feel free to call the contacts listed above.  Our group therapists are committed to communication with providers in the community and to working collaboratively as a team to meet the needs of each patient.  With the proper release forms, group therapists welcome ongoing communication, can discuss skills and principles being covered in the groups, opportunities to apply the skills to individual therapy, and other relevant goals and progress.

This Week in #MediaLiteracy | 2 Campaigns You Should Know About

The world of social media presents an interesting dichotomy.  The challenges of existing in an online community are ever increasing.  Concerns about safety and security are high on the list of course (particularly for parents with tech savvy kids) but additional risks to overall well-being and self-esteem are lingering close behind.  Dangers include online bullying, exposure to harmful imagery or media, and the less sensationalized, yet still problematic, body bashing and body comparison often experienced within sites like Facebook and Pinterest.

Yet while these risks exist, these same online communities also provide a great opportunity for social change and grassroots organizing.  We’ve seen two such examples of powerful social media campaigns this week that we thought were worth sharing.  If you struggle with the body toxic environment online OR offline, perhaps these are opportunities for you to help create change for yourself and for others.   Take a look, find out more, get involved.  Just think, every minute you spend advocating for media literacy, body positivity and truth is one less minute you have to engage in the alternatives.

#TruthInAds

The Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (HR4341) was introduced earlier this week with bipartisan support from Representatives in Florida and California and with collaboration from several great organizations including The Eating Disorders Coalition and The Brave Girls Alliance.

The groundbreaking bill calls on the Federal Trade Commission to develop a legislative framework for advertisements that alter the human body (i.e. shape, size, proportion, color, etc.) and asks for recommendations and remedies for photoshopped ads that are determined to be false/deceptive and which may contribute to a series of emotional, psychological and physical health issues, and economic consequences – particularly affecting, but not limited to, girls and women.” (via Brave Girls Alliance).  If this is something you support, its easy to get involved in any of the following ways:

  • Add your name to the Change.org petition by Seth Matlins
  • Read this great write-up about the Truth in Advertising Act by Matt Wetsel over at his blog, …Until Eating Disorders are No More.  He makes it easy to  find your representative in Congress and how to let them know you support the bill.
  • Take to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other social media site with the hastag #TruthInAds to help spread the word. You can even stop by The Brave Girls Alliance for toolkits, images and talking points for the campaign.

#AdoptTheIllusionists

The Illusionists is a 90 minute documentary about the body as the “finest consumer object” and the pursuit of ideal beauty around the world. Or: how corporations are getting richer by making us feel insecure about the way we look. 

The hard thing for most people about speaking out against society’s narrow ideals of beauty is that it can feel like you’re a fish swimming upstream in a strong current of Photoshopped bodies, fat talk, and dieting.  Taking a stand can mean you’re up against some pretty powerful forces like the beauty and fashion industries, the diet and weight loss industries and even the larger television and film media that rely on funding from these sources. This pressure compounds when you’re an independent filmmaker working to expose the stories and financial benefits behind the WORLD’S beauty ideals.  That’s what filmmaker, Elena Rossini is doing with her documentary The Illusionists and it’s why The Center for Eating Disorders has been a supporter of the film since it first launched via a Kickstarter campaign in 2011.

Now that the film is almost complete, Elena is swimming against that cultural current once more, and has taken to Twitter with the #AdoptTheIllusionists campaign to help the film, and its message, get the widest possible circulation. On her blog, Elena writes, “My passion for the project stems from its potential to incite activism: I strongly believe that The Illusionists can ignite important conversations about consumer culture, mass media, and the epidemic of body image dissatisfaction around the world. It only takes one person to believe in The Illusionists for the fate of the film to change. It could be a producer. An actress. A writer. An activist with the right connections. It could be you.”

The film has already caught the eye of accomplished artists and activists including Geena Davis and Stephen Fry.  If YOU want to see the first 4 minutes of the film and then show your support for the film, visit Elena’s post, It Only Takes One Person or go straight to the #AdoptTheIllusionists campaign page for supportive statements that are ready-to-tweet.

Let us know how you’ve supported the above campaigns and other ways you engage in media literacy activism.  Leave a comment below or join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Photoshop Does Not Cause Eating Disorders – Media & Body Image

Media Literacy Infographic

Click to View (pdf)


National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
(Feb. 23 – March 1, 2014)

Did you know that photoshopped bodies and the unrealistic beauty ideals set forth by the media DO NOT cause eating disorders?  While these unfortunate elements of our society CAN contribute to widespread negative body image and promote an internalization of the “thin ideal”, they cannot be blamed outright for the development of the serious and complex illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia,  binge eating disorder and EDNOS or OSFED.

When it comes to Eating Disorders there are actually a variety of contributing factors, of which the strongest are likely to be genetics and biology. In fact, research suggests 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genetics which includes factors associated with heritable personality traits such as perfectionism.

That being said, some studies have documented a link between exposure to westernized, thin-ideal media and an increase in eating disorder behaviors.   So while Photoshop may not cause eating disorders outright, the bottom line is that we all stand to benefit from more positive and realistic bodies in the media.  After all, individuals who feel better about their bodies take better care of them, regardless of weight, shape or size. Plus, positive body image and media literacy CAN serve as protective factors against disordered eating which is one reason why The Center for Eating Disorders supports projects like the Love Your Tree Campaign and The Illusionists documentary.

The infographic above from the National Eating Disorders Association breaks down some of the important elements of the media’s effects on body image. Click on the image to open and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Read more about the etiology of eating disorders here: Underlying Causes and Contributing Factors

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