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

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
from The Center for Eating Disorders’ Staff:

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Craig Boas, LCSW-C

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Heather Goff, M.D.

McGowens.2015

Niccole McGowens, Psy.D.

Hendricks.2015

Rachel Hendricks, LCSW-C

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Anna Hanley, LGSW

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

 

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.