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
and
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 www.eatingdisorder.org

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, www.eatingmindfully.com 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 www.eatingdisorder.org

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

 

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net / lemonade

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 www.eatingdisorder.org or call us at (410) 938-5252.

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References:

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. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080406153357.htm)

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

THE ILLUSIONISTS Film Screening – Meet the panel of experts…

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On June 7th, hundreds will gather in Baltimore to be among the first to see an exclusive screening of the much-anticipated international documentary The Illusionists. In addition to viewing the full-length film, event attendees will have a unique opportunity to ask questions and converse with a panel of experts including the film’s director.  Meet the panel members below and be sure to reserve your seat for the event.

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Panel Members:

elena_headshotELENA ROSSINI
Writer & Director of ‘The Illusionists’

Elena Rossini is an Italian filmmaker and multimedia producer. Notable film projects include DOVE SEI TU, a feature-length narrative film set in between Milan, the documentary DIRECTION, and IDEAL WOMEN, an experimental short film juxtaposing beauty ideals in the art world vs. mass media, commissioned by ARTE Web and the Louvre Museum. In 2009, Elena launched a multimedia platform – No Country for Young Women – whose aim is to promote the visibility of professional women and to provide real role models for young girls from entrepreneurs to NASA engineers, illustrators, architects, filmmakers, non-profit directors, award-winning novelists, and more.

Since 2011 when The Illusionists was funded through a crowdfunding campaign, Elena has worked tirelessly as writer, producer, cinematographer and director. Elena is also a photographer and a blogger. Her photos and articles have appeared in Jezebel, indieWIRE, Adios Barbie and Gender Across Borders.  Elena will travel from her home in Paris to be a part of this exclusive advance screening and panel discussion.

 

tmaronickThomas Maronick, JD, DBA
Professor of Marketing
Towson University

Dr. Maronick is a Professor of Marketing in the College of Business and Economics at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.  He holds a BA in Philosophy from St. Thomas Seminary, an MBA from the University of Denver, and a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) from the University of Kentucky with a major in Marketing. It also includes a JD from the University of Baltimore, School of Law. Dr. Marnonick is also an inactive member of the Maryland Bar. At Towson University he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in strategic marketing and marketing research and has also taught graduate and executive development courses in marketing, consumer behavior, and marketing research at a number of universities in the Baltimore and Washington DC area. In addition to his role as professor, Dr. Maronick’s professional background includes serving as Director of the Office of Impact Evaluation in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from 1980 – 1997 where he served as the in-house marketing expert for all divisions of the Bureau, advising attorneys and senior management on marketing aspects of cases being considered or undertaken by Commission attorneys. Dr. Maronick was also responsible for the evaluation of research submitted by firms being investigated by the Commission and for the design and implementation of all consumer research undertaken by the Bureau during that period. Since leaving the Commission in 1997, Dr. Maronick has served as an expert witness in marketing-related cases and has testified in Federal and State courts.  His areas of expertise include: marketing, deceptive advertising, public policy, research, and expert witness/litigation support.

 

Laura.Sproch.2015a_portraitLaura Sproch, PhD
Psychologist & Research Coordinator
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Dr. Laura Sproch is a licensed clinical psychologist who serves as the Research Coordinator and outpatient individual, family, and group therapist at the Center for Eating Disorders. Currently, Dr. Sproch is initiating treatment outcome studies, managing quality improvement projects, and developing novel research projects in an effort to contribute to the field’s understanding of effective eating disorder treatment methods. Dr. Sproch received her Ph.D. in Clinical/School Psychology from Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY where she completed her dissertation examining cognitive similarities between differential eating disorder diagnoses. Dr. Sproch originally joined the CED team in 2011 as a postdoctoral fellow on the inpatient and partial hospitalization units acting as a family, individual, and group therapist. She has also worked with adolescents and adults struggling with disordered eating at a variety of levels of care, including at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, PA and ‘Ai Pono: The Anorexia and Bulimia Center of Hawaii in Honolulu, HI. Her professional interests also include cognitive behavioral therapy, family-based treatment, behavioral modification, and school psychology.

 

Panel Moderator:

Dr. Crawford headshot_portrait

Steven Crawford, M.D.
Co-Director
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

In addition to his leadership role at The Center for Eating Disorders, Dr. Steven Crawford serves as Assistant Chief of Psychiatry at St. Joseph Medical Center, University of Maryland and as an Associate Professor at The University of Maryland where he helps to train medical students on effective screening and care for individuals with eating disorders. As an extension of this commitment to professional training, Dr. Crawford also serves as Director for Eating Disorders fellowship at The Center for Eating Disorders. He is Past President of the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Chair for the Committee on Scientific Activity for MedChi.  Dr. Crawford has participated in numerous research studies including NIMH federally funded research for an international collaborative study on the genetics of Anorexia Nervosa as well as the Family Therapy Treatment of Adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa. His numerous publications include the chapter on Eating Disorders and Substance Use Disorders for the fifth edition of Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook. After more than 25 years of specializing in the field of eating disorder treatment, Dr. Crawford has become a trusted resource for his patients, colleagues and the community.

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Questions about the panel or the event?  Call (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org

 

 

 

Q&A with Filmmaker, ELENA ROSSINI on “The Illusionists”, why she made the film and her hopes for its impact

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After years of following along with and supporting Elena Rossini’s work to produce The Illusionists, we are thrilled to be able to host the public’s first full sneak peek of the film on June 7 in Baltimore. In advance of the event, we asked Elena about the documentary, the challenges she faced along the way and what’s next for her and the film. Read about her experiences below and be sure to RSVP for the advanced screening and panel discussion.

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Q & A with ELENA ROSSINI

Q: “The Illusionists”is a film about the commodification of the body and the spread of westernized beauty ideals. Can you describe those concepts and share a bit about each of the main themes introduced in the film? What was the biggest surprise you encountered while researching the globalization of body ideals?

The central thesis of the film is that after millennia of puritanism, in the 20th century the body was “liberated” – mostly for commercial reasons – and has become “the finest consumer object.” After all, we all have a body and we all go through the process of aging. There is unlimited consumerism built around the idea that a youthful appearance is key to success and happiness. What I found most fascinating is the fact that Western media is so powerful – and persuasive – that it has exported beauty ideals to the rest of the world. So, if you are walking through the streets of Beirut, Mumbai, or Tokyo, you will see billboard ads that display images of Caucasian models with blue eyes, who look very different from the local population. In The Illusionists I show the powerful effects of this globalization of beauty ideals. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from British psychotherapist and author Susie Orbach. She says: “I think one of the tragedies that’s happening at the moment is that we’re losing bodies as fast as we’re losing languages. Just as English has become the lingua franca of the world, so the white, blondified, small nosed, pert breast, long-legged body is coming to stand in for the great variety of human bodies that there are.”

Q: What were the biggest barriers for you in getting this project off the ground?

Completing the film truly felt like a Herculean endeavor, as I did virtually everything on my own: from fundraising to writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing. I even took care of archival material and motion graphics – basically covering the roles of a dozen people. It was never my intention to do everything by myself! A famous French director mentored me and proposed to be executive producer: but no French TV networks wanted to give us funding (after 2 years of various meetings), so I was left to do things on my own… and thus started a Kickstarter campaign. When the film was finished and I looked for a celebrity to record the voice-over, some very prominent film people expressed interest in helping… but then disappeared, so I had to resort to finding someone through my own networks. There is an Italian saying that goes “Chi fa da se, fa per tre” – meaning “you’d better do things yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.”

In the world of film – which is such a collaborative medium – it’s very difficult to do everything on your own. So, when opportunities for collaboration arose, I was so happy! The audio part of the film – from the incredible soundtrack created by Pierre-Marie Maulini of STAL, to the sound mix done by AOC, to the voice-over recorded by the amazing Peter Coyote… it was truly a dream come true.

Q: What would you say makes “The Illusionists” different from other documentaries about the media portrayal of beauty ideals?

I pinch myself every time I ILLUSIONISTSfilmstillMILAN01have conversations with sales agents who have watched the film, because they invariably compliment The Illusionists for the fact that it has a global angle. Filming locations included the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, Lebanon, India and Japan. This is definitely the film’s biggest selling point and what sets it apart.

From the point of view of storytelling and tone, I wanted to highlight the absurdity of certain advertising messages, so there are many sections of the film where audiences laugh out loud. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of documentaries that simply point the finger in an angry way or show depressing facts for 89 minutes and have a one minute uplifting section at the end, seemingly out of nowhere. I think humour can be a powerful teacher!

Q: What aspects of the film are you most proud of?

My favorite moments are definitely the most shocking and humorous ones. I love to hear audiences react out loud when I show the hypocrisy of beauty companies. One of my favorite sections is a split screen with skin whitening ads on one side, and self-tanning lotions on the other: those are ads by the same brands, but done in different regions of the world!

670-06_Illusionists_FB_twitter_sidebar_4_2015_P2Q: If you had to sum up your film in one word, what would that word be?

Subversive (in a positive way!). A friend has recently called me a “gentle warrior” – it was one of the biggest compliments I ever received. I love the idea of challenging the status quo, but in a way that’s not violent or angry.

Q: What is next for the film, and for you as a Director?  Are you committed to doing more work on body image and media literacy?

I have the utmost admiration for the career of activist, author and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne – whom I was super lucky to feature in The Illusionists. My dream is to follow her footsteps and continue working on The Illusionists, updating the film or doing follow-ups in the years to come. There is so much to talk about and the media landscape is constantly evolving: I’d love to go to new countries and produce a web series that continues to tackle these topics.

Q: What do you hope viewers will get out of attending this special advance screening event on June 7th?

I am so excited about this special advance screening because so far I have only shown the full film to friends, friends-of-friends, or sales agents. I am thrilled at the opportunity to have my first big sneak peek at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt and to see how people who don’t know me will react. A friend said something that stayed with me. Weeks after a private screening at his place, he said, “After watching The Illusionists, I don’t see ads the same way anymore.” I loved hearing that. If I can manage to make audience members more aware of ads and their messages, I would have done my job.

 

Join us in Baltimore for the exclusive advanced screening of the film followed by a panel discussion with Elena and other experts on body image and media literacy.  Pre-registration is required to reserve seats.

Click the image below to watch a 4-minute preview of The Illusionists

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FOOD LOGS: How they can help with eating disorder recovery (& why you might still be avoiding them)

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coffee-writing-stuart-milesFood logs are one of a variety of therapeutic tools used during treatment for an eating disorderFood logs – also referred to as food records or food journals – can take many forms.  Some people prefer to jot things down free form in a personal notebook while others do best filling out the prepared charts provided by their dietitian.  Many others have gone tech-friendly and use an app on their phone to track info and share it with providers. Regardless of the form it takes, a food log does much more than track your food.  A helpful format for food logs will include the time of day, a description of the meal or snack, actual food and beverage intake, location/setting of the meal and, most importantly, an individual’s thoughts and feelings before, during and after eating. Completing food logs and subsequently reviewing them with a registered dietitian can be a pretty powerful part of the recovery process. Not surprisingly, and perhaps because they can be so powerful, many individuals also experience some resistance to using them.  If you’ve ever been encouraged to complete food logs as part of your treatment for an eating disorder but had trouble starting or committing to the process, we thought it might help to know why a dietitian would recommend doing them and the specific ways in which they can aid in the recovery process.

Completing food logs throughout the week maximizes time spent in session with your providers. Weekly nutrition counseling sessions are often 30 minutes long.  It could potentially take up the most of that half hour to do a 24 or 48-hour verbal recall of your meals during the session. It’s easier to get down to business if the logs are already done. Plain and simple.

Food logs are like x-rays. If you hurt your arm and asked your doctor to put a cast on it, she would require you to get an x-ray first to see if, how and where it was broken. If you refused, she broken-armwould only be able to give you broad advice, like “take a Tylenol and get some rest.”  (If you’ve broken a bone before you probably know that wouldn’t help a whole lot). On the other hand, if your doctor could look at the x-ray of your arm she could fit you for the exact type of splint or cast needed, assign the proper amount of physical therapy, and provide individualized prescriptions for your pain.  In much the same way, food logs allow the dietitian to give you tailored advice and individualized strategies, rather than simply relying on a general, one-size-fits-all nutrition goal.

Food logs provide insight into your bigger picture. Sure, your food logs communicate specific details from each meal, but they also show trends and patterns over the course of the week related to meal times, location, hunger/satiety  cues, situational triggers and thoughts. Dietitians can often see connections on the food logs that patients don’t always see themselves. Seeing “the forest for the trees”  allows the dietitian to offer the most useful and beneficial feedback to the patient. Let’s say you arrived home from work late and ate an entire large pizza. Looking back on the food log we may see that you had an 8-hour gap without a meal that caused you to feel extremely hungry. Perhaps a goal would be set to have an afternoon snack available for those situations to help you get to dinner hungry, but not ravenous. On the other hand, maybe you had a stable breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack, but your dietitian notices you hadn’t allowed yourself pizza in six months despite the fact that it’s one of your favorite foods. A more appropriate goal in that situation would be to practice food habituation with pizza (exposure to a food over time makes the food less compelling) and having a support person around when you’re eating it for a while. The bottom line: It’s harder to learn from the incident when we only see it from one angle. Food logs help us both have more perspective on why things happen, to know whether the set-up was physical or emotional and how to address the physical and emotional needs going forward.

Food logs provide a way to monitor progress. Nutrition therapy is about making changes that improve your relationship with food and your health. We tend to set small weekly goals that create momentum towards overarching goals and bigger changes over time. How will either of us know if the goals are met if we don’t keep track of them? Keeping a food log provides an objective look at progress from week to week and month to month.  It also takes the pressure off of you and your dietitian to recall from memory all of the details of your food and symptom use from the past month.  Rest assured, as you heal from your eating disorder you will have many more important things to use your brain for!

Returning to a normal and healthy relationship with food means appropriately responding to hunger and fullness signals. It’s impossible to do that if your signals are broken from chaotic or disordered eating. The best thing to get your digestive system and metabolism back on track is structured eating – meaning adequate amounts of food with adequate frequency.  Food logs aid in structured eating accountability, and structured eating over time sharpens your signals. Food logs and structured eating can provide the training wheels to help you get to a place of intuitive eating.

Food logs help connect your mind with your body.  Putting your pen to paper before, during or after a meal increases mindfulness with eating which can decrease mindless eating. Logging intake with your thoughts improves your ability to tell the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.  This practice also increases awareness to how certain foods make your body feel – energy, mood, mental clarity, digestive happiness, etc. Being aware of how foods make your body feel is important in working towards more sustainable and fulfilling eating practices.

Keeping up with food logs can help prevent relapse during transitions.  If you’ve ever received care for an eating disorder in an inpatient or partial hospital setting, you know the transition into outpatient or even intensive outpatient treatment can be difficult as you are once again responsible for completing more meals on your own. One way to help maintain the stability or progress you made in the higher level of care is to continue to self-monitor your intake and associated emotions during that transition and promptly discuss any specific challenges you encounter with your outpatient providers.  If you’re completing food logs, it’s easier to catch a slip-up before it becomes a full-blown relapse.

As mentioned earlier it’s not uncommon for individuals to question the benefit of food logs or to experience some resistance to the idea of completing them. A common reaction from patients is that, “writing down everything I eat makes things worse“ or “I don’t like doing food logs because it reminds hands with pen.africa and freedigitalphotosme of acting on my eating disorder.” As providers, we completely understand that rigidly tracking food and exercise can often be a symptom of the eating disorder.  That being said, there is a big difference between keeping a detailed, private food diary and collaborating with a dietitian to complete food logs during treatment. For one, the end goals are very different. If you tracked your food before it was probably to monitor strict adherence to dangerous eating disorder behaviors or dieting techniques. Those logs probably involved weighing, measuring, and counting calories and were done to benefit the distorted rules of the ED, not to honor or nourish your body. Conversely, the goal for food logs in treatment is to monitor weekly goals, help normalize eating behavior and to improve your relationship with food. When doing food logs with a dietitian, there is no good vs. bad, no shaming, no judgement. The role of the dietitian is not to be the food police waiting to condemn you. Rather, their role is that of a supportive detective. To examine the data, to see if there is something that is setting you up for problematic eating behaviors and then provide you with education and ideas to help make improvements going forward.

Still not sure? Here are a few additional tips for those of you who may have lingering fears about food logs…

For those that are embarrassed to show anyone… Does it make you nervous or uncomfortable to think about showing someone else a record of your daily eating behaviors? If you are worried that your dietitian will be shocked, grossed out, alarmed, or otherwise disturbed by your food log it can be helpful to think of the dietitian like any other specialist.  Take a dermatologist for example. You might feel nervous or uncomfortable during an annual skin check but to the dermatologist, that’s what they do everyday – they look at freckles and moles all day long.  Food logs and weights can be things that feel vulnerable to share, but remember, those are just pieces of data that the dietitian analyzes and they’ve seen and heard it all before. It’s their job to look at meal patterns and associated thoughts/behaviors. Vulnerability takes courage, but being courageous can lead to positive change. If you’re feeling shameful about sharing your food logs, remember this quote from AA – “secrets thrive in the dark and die in the light.” Being honest with your dietitian and allowing him or her to see your food logs is one of the first steps in moving away from the pain of the eating disorder.

For those who struggle with perfectionism… Food logs aid in improving nutrition behaviors just like practicing an instrument aids in learning the skill of playing an instrument. Writing down logs is intended to keep you in the mindset of practicing your nutrition goals for the week. The more often you practice a particular skill, the more it becomes a habit over time. That progression will not be perfect, and that’s a good thing. Even when you have a rough week and the goals aren’t met, food logs are still very helpful!  As providers, we actually learn more from the rough days than we do from the stable days. The logs allow us to see and discuss what some of the barriers might have been to meeting the goal, so we know what to try or be mindful of the following week. Portraying a “perfect” day of eating when it’s not what actually happened is not helpful.  Recording struggles or slip-ups in a food log allows us to work together to correct the focus and try again. Just like it takes practicing a song on the piano before you can play it without looking at the music – food logs keep you intentional in your practice of positive nutrition behaviors before you can naturally engage in the behaviors without the logs.

For those who don’t want to be stuck doing food logs for the rest of their lives (a.k.a. everyone)… Food logs are used to benefit an individual’s relationship with food and establish normal eating.  To that end, the goal is never for someone to be reliant on tracking their intake or completing food logs for the rest of time.  Rather, this is a temporary tool to help bridge the gap between eating disordered and eating intuitively. It might seem counter intuitive to spend your time tracking food in an effort to heal from a disorder that caused you to obsessively focus on food.  But if your goal is to one day be free from disordered eating, it can help to remember this: learning a new behavior often requires focusing on it more before you can focus on it less.

If a dietitian has recommended that you try doing food logs and you were never quite ready to give it a try but you continue to struggle with your ED, it might be worth taking some time for self-reflection. Would it be worth trying something new?  Consider what you would do if your car was stuck in the mud and the first two tow trucks to the scene couldn’t pull you out because they didn’t have the right tools. What would you say to a third one that came along with a different towing device?  Trying something new can sometimes help you to get unstuck. Even if you have tried food logs before and just couldn’t commit to the process, perhaps approaching an old tool with a new perspective or deeper understanding of how it works, could make all the difference.

CED-2014-19334-Mandala-FINALNot wanting to try food logs or other therapeutic tools suggested by your team, can be a form of avoidance. Consider whether you might be avoiding an awareness of particular behaviors or feelings.  Are you trying to avoid being accountable to make changes?  Are you avoiding acknowledgement of your body’s basic needs?  If any of these resonate with you, try being honest with your dietitian or therapist about why you may have been resistant to doing food logs in the past.  Ask for some strategies to make them more manageable or less anxiety-producing. Food logs do take time and you may not always like doing them, but there’s no denying that they can play an important role in facilitating positive change with the support of your treatment team. At the end of the day, doing food logs is temporary. A healthy relationship with food and your body lasts a lifetime.

Written by Hannah Huguenin, R.D. and Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C

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Are you struggling with an eating disorder but you’re not sure where to go for help? Contact The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt at (410) 938-5252 to do an initial phone assessment or visit eatingdisorder.org to learn more.  You may also want to check out our upcoming free events and workshops.

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Hannah Huguenin MS, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

Hannah Huguenin received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics with a minor in Chemistry from Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois. She received her Masters degree from the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City where she also completed her Dietetic Internship. During this internship, Hannah completed a rotation on an acute care eating disorder unit at the Research Medical Center in Kansas City. She has been with The Center for Eating Disorders since 2008, and provides individual nutritional counseling for the outpatient population. In her role at the Center, she provides ongoing support to help patients decrease eating disorder behaviors, meet their nutritional goals and improve their relationship with food through nutrition education.
 
 
Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C
Community Outreach Coordinator

Kate Clemmer earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2005 with a focus on Management & Community Organization and a specialization in Child, Adolescent & Family Health. Before joining the Center for Eating Disorders in 2008, Kate provided school-based therapy to adolescents and families in Baltimore City and coordinated a multi-school health education and prevention program. As the CED’s Outreach Coordinator, Kate currently facilitates trainings and workshops in the community, provides outreach to individuals interested in the Center’s services and coordinates the Center’s annual community events. These events include an annual Symposium for health professionals, the Love Your Tree Body Image Campaign, and National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Kate also facilitates the Center’s community support group for individuals with eating disorders and their friends/family, held on Wednesday evenings.

 

Photo credit: freedigitalphoto.net and (in order) Stuart Miles, Boaz Yiftach, Africa

A Reason to Smile ~ A Featured #NEDAwareness Q&A with Benjamin O’Keefe

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BENJAMIN O’KEEFE is an actor, activist, and writer.  Besides working as a performer, Ben has been an emerging leader in activism work focused on LGBT rights, Youth Rights, and Body Image. In this role, Ben has been responsible for creating many major movements of change – most notably, an International movement against size discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch. Benjamin will speak about his recovery from an eating disorder at a free event on February 22 in Baltimore where he will also co-facilitate a workshop looking at how individual and collective cultural experiences shape the treatment and recovery process.


Today on the blog, Ben shared with us his answers to some of our questions about the recovery journey so that we could share them with you.  Please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or head over to our Facebook page to thank Ben for his inspiring responses.

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Q & A with Benajamin O’Keefe

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

Ben: I think the most important thing to know about eating disorders is that they affect no two people the same. They don’t discriminate–even though many people’s opinions on them do. I think that the way we discuss eating disorders needs to fundamentally change. We need to break down the taboo around eating disorders, and start talking about the ways that these disorders affect people from all walks of life and of all cultural make up.

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

Ben: I learned that I could make it through it anything. Back when I was sick, I never thought that I would make it out of the dark hole that was my disorder. And I certainly never thought that I would make it out to become a person who loves himself so thoroughly–and helps encourage others to do the same.

I learned that, not only am I good enough, but I am great just the way I am.

I learned to surround myself with love, whether that be in the people I spend time with or the environments in which I put myself.

I learned to love my reflection, but more importantly to love what that mirror can’t show me. I am more than a number on a scale, I am a person that deserves love and happiness.

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

Ben: The road to recovery is so different for every person, but one thing that I think everyone can relate to is the isolation that comes with an eating disorder. It’s so easy to feel like we are alone, in fact it’s Ben-headshot-1024x683exactly what the eating disorder wants you to feel, but it’s just simply not the case. There are people that love you, people you don’t even know.

For me, finding a community of people; whether it be people currently struggling, recovered, or just allies, helped me to see that I truly wasn’t alone in my fight, and that we could get through it together.

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

Ben: I think the biggest difference is my relationship with food. It’s no longer an enemy. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. If I feel like having a cookie, then I eat a cookie. It’s seems simple, but for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s not.

For me, I now know that food gives life, and that I shouldn’t fear it, but enjoy it. I make healthy choices, and exercise regularly, but it’s no longer about a number on scale, but instead about being the healthiest person that I can be.

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?

Ben: First of all I say THANK YOU. This is a journey for you too, and sometimes we don’t think to say thank you to the people supporting us.

Second, I think that my feedback would be to find patience. It’s easy for support people to become frustrated when they see their loved ones taking actions that don’t make sense to them, but it’s important to remember that this is a mental disorder. It’s not a choice.

With patience, love, and support your loved one can make it through. They need you—and your strength and love.

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

Ben: Recovery to me means regaining my reason to smile. When I struggled with anorexia I felt like I was never happy. No matter what I did, how thin I got, what compliment I received on my appearance, it was never enough.

Now, it’s hard to find me without a smile on my face. I love life, and I do my best to take whatever comes my way—good or bad—with a smile on my face. To me that is the biggest indication of my recovery.

 Benjamin Okeefe SMILEYou can find Ben smiling over on Twitter @benjaminokeefe.

 Leave your comments below and head over to RSVP for Ben’s upcoming talk at Recovery in Real Life.  You can also view a video invitation from Benjamin here.

Matt Wetsel talks Eating Disorder “Recovery in Real Life” ~ #NEDAwareness Week Guest Blog

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WETSEL-headshot.mediumMATT WETSEL is an eating disorder and body image writer and advocate.  After suffering from anorexia as an undergraduate in college, Matt got involved with the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) doing volunteer lobby work and is now a member of the EDC Junior Board.  Matt launched the blog, Until Eating Disorders Are No More in 2011 and remains a consistently well-informed and responsible voice in the recovery community. We’re honored to feature some of Matt’s personal insights about recovery in the post below and at the upcoming event Recovery in Real Life You can read Matt Wetsel’s full bio here.

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Q & A featuring Matt Wetsel

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

MW: We say it all the time but it’s always worth repeating, eating disorders are serious and must be taken seriously. Especially in America, we live in such a toxic culture that values thinness, promotes dieting, equates weight loss with health without exception, and encourages people to want to ‘improve’ their bodies as if they aren’t good enough already. All of these factors contribute to the trivializing of eating disorders, in popular culture but also within the medical establishment and especially the insurance industry.

It’s so expected of people to diet, to lose weight, etc. that it’s easy to slip into disordered eating behaviors that are actually quite unhealthy and, for some people, pave the way to an eating disorder. These behaviors are so normalized that the warning signs aren’t usually seen as such, but instead are rewarded by the culture and encouraged.

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

MW: I recall some studies that reported someone with an eating disorder spends maybe 90% of their waking hours thinking about food, weight, etc. When I was sick that was definitely true. It takes up so much of your time and energy that it starts to feel like it’s a part of you. When I would think about recovery, I was honestly terrified of what would be left of me if the eating disorder wasn’t a part of my life. I’d plan my social life, my free time, everything around food. I’d check the scale multiple times per day. I’d avoid friends and family just to avoid potentially having meals with them.

Now, meals are a central part of time I spend with people. I love to cook for friends, go to potlucks, things like that. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. I don’t remember the last time I felt anxious about eating, because it’s been years and years. Even when other hardships in my life have occurred (and there have been a few), I have healthy mechanisms for dealing with grief, depression, anxiety, etc. when life gets challenging. I don’t know what I weigh, and I don’t care.

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?

MW: This is a tough but important question. I’m always afraid to be too specific because good advice for one situation could be terrible advice for the next, depending on circumstances. That said, I think it’s very important to not let the person you’re trying to help or support be the sole source of information on eating disorders. Take time to educate yourself on the subject through other outlets. Make time for yourself and find ways to let go once in a while. If you have to, see a therapist of your own. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be less capable of supporting someone else. It’s like on an airplane, you always put your own oxygen mask on first. That’s hard advice to take when you’re watching someone struggle, but it’s true.

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

MW: Much like the previous question about day-to-day differences, recovery, in a word, means freedom. When you spend so much of your time and energy worrying about food, it’s difficult to be productive in other aspects of your life. All of my relationships suffered while I was anorexic. My GPA tanked. I was in pretty constant physical discomfort.

In contrast, I’ve made lifelong friendships doing advocacy work. I ran a half marathon in 2011 that would have been impossible if I hadn’t recovered. I’m free to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life without anorexia calling every shot, and that’s a really beautiful thing.

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On February 22, 2015, Matt Wetsel will co-facilitate a free workshop with Benjamin O’Keefe entitled, Eating Disorders: Creating a More Inclusive Recovery CultureThe workshop will examine how cultural experiences affect treatment, the experience of the body and the eating disorder recovery process.

 

“You Are Good Enough – Just As You Are” A Featured #NEDAwareness Week Guest Post by Dianne Bondy

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How much good could we do in this world if our focus was on feeling good and sharing that feeling with the world around us – and what if we dedicated our whole life to serving others, to being present, and to loving ourselves? All of these things are possible, and they are not nearly as far from our reach as it would sometimes seem.

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A Guest Post by Dianne Bondy

It all begins with learning to recognize that already, right in this very moment: you are good enough. Once we learn to recognize this inherent truth, we can then begin to internalize that message by coming to accept that we are indeed good enough, that we have enough, and that our true inner nature is one of abundance and positivity. Coming to this realization allows us to recognize that we are naturally abundant in love, joy and happiness. Knowing this then gives us the power to unconditionally share our positive qualities with others and our world at large.

It has taken me over 25 years to learn and live this message for myself, and while I know this message to be true deep within myself, I still struggle with accepting it and living it every single day. But I am determined to change the negative language and the negative thoughts that creep their way into my life, and I challenge you to do the same.

Sadly, our culture teaches us from a very early age that we are simply not good enough just as we are. And while our culture may have taught us this message, and our culture may try desperately to perpetuate and reinforce this message, we are ultimately granted a choice as to whether or not we will agree to follow along.

For most of my life, I have been a victim of my own self-hate and poor body image. Living in a culture where you are different when everyone else is the same, a culture that values your skin colour more than the contents of your heart, is a painful challenge to overcome. It is really hard to love yourself when people are automatically judging you, categorizing you, and putting limitations on you – without even having the pleasure of getting to know you first.

I grew up in a small town in Canada where I was the only black girl in a sea of white faces. I felt so alone and I desperately wanted to have a friend that looked like me. It was hard enough facing messages of exclusion and unworthiness from external forces, but it was especially difficult and debilitating trying to deal with these messages from within my own family. My family tried to assimilate and fit in as best we could, but the fact that we were different made my life a challenge. I was teased and tortured by kids at school. To make matters worse, my own family also put a premium on how I looked, rather than who I was on the inside. No matter what I did, I still received the message that I wasn’t good enough.

DianneBondyBridgeI took all of these messages – from the school yard to my living room – and I decided the only thing to do was look as perfect as I possibly good. I thought if only I could just be thin, I would be beautiful. I believed that if I were beautiful, people would accept me: other kids would stop picking on me, my father would stop torturing me for being bigger, and my world would be perfect, I would be at ease, and the struggles would end.So I set out to achieve perfection, and I worked diligently as I chased my new goal.

Being a very focused and driven person by nature, I’m an unstoppable force when I put my mind to something. I worked hard at obsessing and torturing my body; it was a dangerous obsession – but no matter how hard I worked, my life didn’t change, the struggles didn’t end, and people didn’t appear to be any more accepting than before. Not only did my same struggles still remain, but I was also failing school and my friends and family started to worry about my survival.

Why was I doing this and why couldn’t I stop? It was because at the core of my being I was traumatized, and until I dealt with that trauma and its root causes, this pain and hatred was not going away. I struggled with my treatments, disordered eating and poor body image for a long time, but once I surrendered to accepting help and community, there was hope, and over the years, I started to realize that a shift in my perspective was the fundamental key in getting to the other side of my daily struggles.

As life went on, I fell in love and got married. Eventually, my husband and I made the choice to start a family. I wanted to be a mother, and create a family with my husband, and I knew that the only way to do this was to return to something that made me feel whole again. I identified this as a need for a spiritual practice – a practice that would bridge the gap between my body, my mind, and my spirit. This search lead me back to my yoga practice – a practice I had abandoned for years in favor of more extreme forms of physical fitness. Ultimately, returning back to my yoga practice was the beginning of making peace with who I was and what I looked like. I started with breathing and meditation practices, and slowly I began to focus more on the philosophy of yoga. The breath, the philosophy, and the physical practice, were connected to my soul and my higher Self in a way I had never experienced before.

I began to feel included, seen, and divine. I began to see my body as a beautiful and vital container for my soul. My yoga practice taught me that I am part of a bigger, more expansive divine energy that far exceeded the limited perceptions of self that had been dealt to me by society, my family, and messages from outside myself. I discovered that I was both worthy and beautiful. I realized, for the first time in all my life that I was enough – just as I was, and that realization saved me.

Dianne-Bondy warriorRadiating with a new self-love and a realization of my natural abundance, I started to surround myself with friends and a community that uplifted and supported me. I found a way to reinforce my new positive self-talk, and I worked hard every day to breakthrough my old, destructive thought patters. This fundamental shift in my self-perspective, and the internalizing of the message that I am enough -just as I am, is something I work hard at reinforcing every single day. Naturally, I still struggle with disappointment and self-doubt, and every now and again the messages of the world try to penetrate my consciousness. When this happens, I move deeper into my spiritual practices and I connect with my positive, healthy, and vibrant community. Without fail, this always brings me back to my higher self.

My heart resides in my personal mantra, and I want to share this mantra with you. I ask you to say this to yourself: I am enough, I have enough, I have all the time in world, and I am doing nothing wrong. I am perfect as I am.

Nothing is more powerful than our own self-talk, and our own realization of who and what we truly are – not what people at school or work say, not what family members say, not what our society and media tells us – but what we say to ourselves. This means that you have a choice to either connect with what is already deep inside you, or let others lead you astray. If you take a look deep within yourself, I know that you will see how truly radiant and abundant you already are. So I encourage you to create your own mantra – that is, to create your own self-talk, your own powerful little phrase that will bring you deeper within yourself, and drown out the noise from the world outside.

I think Dr.Seuss is one of the most profound philosophers of our time, and so I leave you with one of my favourite quotes…

Today you are YOU
That is truer than true
There is no one alive who is Youer than You
~ Dr. Seuss

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Dianne Bondy 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. On February 22, 2015 she will join other eating disorder recovery advocates in Baltimore for a special event called “Recovery in Real Life”during which she will facilitate a free yoga workshop focused on body acceptance.

You can read Dianne’s full bio here and watch a video invitation from her here.

Many thanks to Dianne for sharing her wisdom and insight with our readers! 

Photo credit: Erika Reid Photography