You can download and print your own copy of this handout here. Hang it by your desk or stick it in a favorite notebook to remind yourself about the importance of nourishing a healthy online experience.
You can download and print your own copy of this handout here. Hang it by your desk or stick it in a favorite notebook to remind yourself about the importance of nourishing a healthy online experience.
Imagine that you are extremely dedicated to an archery team. You spend day and night in target practice, regardless of the weather conditions and without regard for your own basic needs. You have an unlimited amount of arrows and you continue over and over again to launch the arrows in an attempt to hit the bull’s eye. Day after day, year after year, you never reach that bull’s eye. No matter how hard you train and commit your mind to it, no matter what the conditions are, you always miss what you are aiming for. Sometimes, you get very, very close and think that you just might have reached your goal, but ultimately, you never hit the mark. As a result, you feel that you have failed. In fact, failing becomes part of the way you define yourself. Fear of failing becomes a constant worry for you.
Now imagine, that one day you realize that this target that you have spent all of these hours and days and years trying to hit is so very small that you can barely even see it. Actually, when you look closely, and assess the situation you find the bull’s eye is not just small and faded, it is nonexistent. Upon realizing this, you see you have spent years and years feeling like you have failed because you were trying to hit a target that wasn’t actually there. This is perfectionism.
In this imagined scenario, perfect is the nonexistent target. A sense of failure results from believing that anything but perfect is not good enough. If you are struggling with perfectionism, or you have in the past, you probably know how exhausting this can be.
Perfectionism is an unobtainable illusion guaranteed to make you feel badly.
Under the weight of extreme perfectionism, difficulty with a specific task may be generalized. This can quickly lead to self-criticism. For example, instead of thinking, “I did not do well on that part of the exam; those must have been really difficult questions,” the perfectionist might think “I am so stupid. How could I have missed both of the multiple choice questions?! I am terrible at math.”
Constantly striving for perfect results can lead to feelings of tension and stress. It can also trigger an avoidance of appropriate challenges and risks. For example, you might find it difficult to connect with new people in social relationships at the risk of appearing flawed or imperfect to someone else. Or you may not apply to a great job because you haven’t mastered every single skill set listed as a prerequisite.
In general, perfectionism can cause you to miss out on opportunities to learn from mistakes and may ultimately get in the way of living a balanced, rewarding life.
Addressing perfectionism can aid in eating disorder recovery
Perfectionism is a genetic personality trait that many people are born with. Research has shown this characteristic to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders. Furthermore, once someone has developed an eating disorder, perfectionism can sustain or perpetuate the illness, getting in the way of recovery efforts. For this reason, it can be important to work on perfectionism head on.
With support from a cognitive-behavioral therapist, you can start by making clear, manageable behavioral changes to test out what it would be like to attempt tasks without looking for a perfect outcome. For example, trying to complete tasks “good enough.” It’s usually helpful to start off with very small goals and work your way up to more situations that might be more difficult. Consider these two examples below:
Example 1: If you identify yourself as a “neat freak,” try setting a timer to limit cleaning time to smaller intervals or set a guideline that you will vacuum only 50% of the time that you typically do. Experiment with this and see what the advantages and disadvantages are of approaching this task in a new way. Learn from this experience and make changes accordingly.
Example 2: If you are someone who needs to complete every item on your to-do list before leaving the office (at the expense of family, friends or self), see what happens if you have a couple of items left to work on the next day. Test out how this might affect you. Perhaps you were able to get home on time and enjoy more time with your family or you were able to drive home while it was still light out and enjoy the scenery. See if leaving those items for the next day made much of a difference as you may have approached them more efficiently with a good night’s sleep. Test out if sometimes your perfectionism causes you to put in more effort that will only bring very marginal gains. If so, figure out when is the time to stop and focus on something more profitable.
Starting to make changes on your own is a great first step toward decreasing the amount of influence that perfectionism has in your life. You might also want to consider engaging in a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) group or individual therapy to learn how to change the way in which you interact with your perfectionism.
Committing to decrease your need to be, or appear, perfect will help you to take more and more breaks from target practice and actually enjoy being on the archery team.
Do you want to learn more about perfectionism?
We recommend the book, When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, written by Drs. Martin Antony and Richard Swinson.
If you are a treatment provider and would like to learn more about cognitive and behavioral treatments for perfectionism, join us on April 9, 2016 at The Center for Eating Disorders’ Annual Professional Symposium where Dr. Antony will be presenting on The Nature & Treatment of Perfectionism.
Online registration and event details are available at www.eatingdisorder.org/events.
You can also download the program brochure (pdf) here.
Laura Sproch, PhD
Research Coordinator and Outpatient Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders
Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net / kongsky
In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 (Feb. 21-27), we asked body acceptance activist and eating disorder recovery advocate, Melissa Fabello to share her thoughts on some essential eating disorder awareness topics. If you missed it, you can find her thoughts on self-care, perfectionism and dieting in Part I.
Below, in part II she opens the door to important conversations about body neutrality and intersectionality, and she also shares the one thing she wants people struggling with eating disorders to know about recovery.
Q: You recently wrote an awesome list of 50 body acceptance resolutions for 2016. In that list you introduce body neutrality as an alternative goal when body positivity feels like too much pressure. What did you mean by that?
MF: There are so many aims of the body acceptance or body positivity movement that I love. I have found so much comfort, joy, and support within those communities, and I am forever grateful to them for that. I’ve also found some missteps that I think need correcting, one of which being the push for everyone to feel beautiful and to love their bodies. I think that’s a lovely goal, and I also think it’s too lofty for reality.
Because the truth is that no one loves their body every single day – no one. Part of how body image works is that it can shift and that we all have good days, and we all have bad days. Mostly, when we have healthy body image, we simply see our body for what it is without ascribing any meaning to it whatsoever, and we exist, full of acceptance, in that body. To me, that’s what body neutrality is about. It’s about acknowledging and accepting our body as is, rather than pushing ourselves to have extreme feelings about it either way.
And I like to think of it as an option – not an alternative to the mainstream body acceptance movement. I like to think of it as something that someone can choose to work toward, if that goal feels more realistic than one of unconditional love. Perhaps, even, I like to think of it as a stop on the train toward a more loving relationship with our bodies. I just think that pushing people to love their bodies can backfire if it creates another standard to live up to.
Q: In all of your writing and in advocating for individuals with eating disorders, you take great care to acknowledge the true diversity of those who are impacted. From gender to age to race and socioeconomic status, why is it so important to you to highlight these marginalized voices in your work?
MF: Intersectionality – the understanding that intersecting social identities exist, a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw – is an absolute must in any and all work, I believe, but especially in work that stems from feminism. The ways in which we’re impacted by society differ, based on our identities. As a queer woman, for example, I experience life differently than a straight woman or a queer man. As a white woman, I experience life differently than a woman of color or a white man. Our positionality within the complicated web of identity matters because it affects how we move through this world. This is true in regards to body image and eating disorders, too.
We talk a lot about the thin ideal in our work – and that’s a very real, valid concern. We talk less, though, about how our beauty ideals are also centered on whiteness, on a heteronormative idea of gender roles, on access to money, on youth, and many other intersections. The further that we get away from the ideal, the more suffering we may experience as a result, and the more pressure we may feel to approximate those ideals. And I think that when we center the most marginalized – the people furthest from that ideal – in our work, then we help more people. When our work focuses on white, middle class, cis women, for example, then those are the only people that we help.
The eating disorder field has long focused its efforts on a very specific population, and I think it’s far past time to admit that and to work actively to eradicate the ways that that focus perpetuates systems of oppression like white supremacy and classism, among others. Different voices need to be centered because different experiences exist and have been ignored.
Q: Who do you think could benefit from attending your presentation, Adventures in Self-Care: Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world?
MF: I think that anyone could, honestly! It’s been my experience that conversations around self-care can be difficult to have because so few people practice it. I’m going to talk a lot about what self-care means and why it’s important, but I’m also going to give ideas on how to start cultivating more self-care practices in your life – in ways that are easy and practical. I think that anyone who feels like sometimes life is overwhelming and they need some “me” time could benefit from this conversation – and isn’t that everyone?
Q: Lastly, what is the one thing you would want to tell someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and may be feeling ambivalent, hopeless, overwhelmed by or resistant to the prospect of recovery?
MF: I want them to know that those are very real and valid feelings to have. I want them to know that we’ve all come up against that at some point or another. And I want them to know that one of the biggest obstacles to recovery is believing that it’s one huge accomplishment that looks a certain way. It’s not. Recovery is about a whole bunch of tiny successes that lead you to a healthier, happier place – defined by you. Recovery is in your reach because you get to decide what it looks like and how to get there. But first, you need to take the first step of believing (even skeptically!) that it’s a possibility. And it is. I promise you that it is.
Many thanks to Melissa Fabello for taking the time to share her passionate and thoughtful responses. If you’d like to hear more from Melissa, join us in Baltimore on February 21 to help kick-off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Don’t forget to RSVP. Space is limited.
Download an Event Flyer to share or post:
Adventures in Self-Care…Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world (PDF)
You can find Part I of our Q&A with Melissa here.
If you’ve ever seen one of her YouTube videos than you probably already know Melissa Fabello is a talented and passionate activist. She also writes boldly and beautifully about eating disorder recovery, body image, diet culture and a host of other important issues. In advance of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and her presentation in Baltimore on February 21, we asked Melissa to share her thoughts on why self-care is not self-ish, the intersection of eating disorders and perfectionism, and her experience with recovery in a society obsessed with dieting. We are honored to share her responses with you below.
Q: A lot of people assume self-care to be synonymous with personal hygiene or the daily chores of living. This can sound like a pretty boring topic. Given that you will be in Baltimore on February 21 to discuss the Adventures in Self-Care as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, can you explain more about what self-care really is and why it’s something we should be talking about?
MF: To start, I would actually argue that self-care should, indeed, be a daily chore of living. It should be an intentional practice that we partake in – every single day – in order to take care of ourselves. It really can be as simple as getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, or eating a meal that fuels your body. It’s finding ways to insert self-care into those daily chores of living, which in turn, creates a life that may feel a bit more adventurous.
And when I say “adventurous,” I don’t necessarily mean thrill-seeking, but rather, simply, more livable. And what is more of an adventure than life itself? Self-care puts you in the position to live life more fully and to experience it more broadly because it cultivates your self-awareness and forces you to consider what makes you the happiest.
Self-care, really, is just any set of practices that are nourishing to you – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Those practices can be preventative (like taking care of your physiological and mental health needs to the best of your ability every day), and they can also be intervention methods (think: calling out sick just to spend the day taking a bubble bath and reading novels). But the point is that they are necessary to all of our lives, but especially necessary when we’re in eating disorder recovery.
Q: We often hear from patients who fear that engaging in self-care is a selfish act. How would you respond to someone worried about being, or being perceived as, selfish?
MF: That’s a real concern, and it needs to be validated as such. We live in a culture that’s driven by capitalism, and the number one value held by capitalism is that of productivity. Have you ever slept in because your body needed rest, but then berated yourself for not getting up early enough to start in on your housework? Or have you ever taken a much needed day off to marathon your favorite TV show, but then felt bad that you didn’t work on your school work, even though you hadn’t taken a day off in two weeks? That guilt is the product of believing that our worth is tied up in how productive we are.
This is especially difficult for women. In our society, men are frequently defined by what they do out in the world. Women, though, are judged by how they take care of others. As such, women’s moral development, according to Carol Gilligan, is all about how we understand ourselves in relation to other people. Women, in particular, are taught that taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first is not only a selfish act, but even an immoral one. And that’s just straight up sexist.
One small shift we can make is to redefine what “productivity” means to us. I have an ex-girlfriend who was a hustler, trying to make it in the music business. As such, every day when we talked, she’d ask me, “What did you do today?” or “What did you accomplish today?” And sometimes that really overwhelmed me – because what if I didn’t “do” or “accomplish” anything? But the truth is that even if what I did that day was laugh while playing with my cat, or if what I accomplished was taking a trip to the bookstore for fun, then I’ve been productive. I’ve produced something: self-care. I think we need to remind ourselves that taking care of ourselves is an accomplishment.
Q: Perfectionism is one of several genetic traits that have been identified by research to be associated with an increased risk for the development of eating disorders. From your experience and observation, how does the topic of self-care intersect with tendencies toward perfectionism?
MF: I like to think of myself as a recovering overachiever, although I still fall back into those old habits sometimes. Again, in a culture where we’re taught to value our productivity, it can be hard not to fall into perfectionism as a way to prove our worth. But the truth is that we need to learn to be okay with the fact that none of us is perfect, that we’re all going to make mistakes.
One of the most valuable pieces of self-care advice I’ve received lately is that of learning to be okay with “good enough.” I’m one of those people who, when I give 75%, will feel guilty and ashamed for not giving 100%. What happens that’s interesting, though, is that no one can ever tell that I didn’t give something my all. As far as they can tell, I gave 110% because what I did was absolutely, positively awesome. Learning to be okay with “good enough” means giving something a shot, but not letting it run our lives, and feeling comfortable with the amount of attention that we were able to give something.
Part of self-care is being able to say, “I can’t (or don’t want to) work on this anymore because it’s possible that continuing to do so will damage my mental health. So I’m done now.” And that means letting go of the idea that we – and everything associated with us – has to be perfect.
Q: Another risk factor for eating disorders stems from the emotional and physiological consequences of dieting. What other impacts do you see from a culture that markets diets as a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance?
MF: I’ll be honest: The day that I actively decided to go through weight restoration was the day I realized that I could never be both thinner and happy. I could only ever be one of the two. I could spend every second of every day counting, measuring, and restricting in an attempt to achieve self-acceptance through (what I thought was) self-improvement, or I could attempt to apologize to my body and recreate a healthy relationship with food and within that freedom, find happiness. That concrete realization – that I couldn’t work toward a “better” body and experience day to day happiness – was a huge shift for me.
A spoken word poem that I really love, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird, has a line in it that says: “This was the year of eating when I was hungry without punishing myself / And I know it sounds ridiculous, but that sh– is hard.” And it is. It is hard. Because we live in a culture that is so focused on dieting as, like you said, “a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance” that deciding to go against that grain and to seek validation and happiness from elsewhere is a radical act. And make no mistake: Giving up diet culture is a radical act, both personally and politically. Our culture thrives on making us feel small, weak, and less-than. Rebelling against that pressure, declaring that you will not be contained, and saying “no” to everything that our culture and media want us to believe? That is an incredibly courageous act.
Be sure to check out Part II of our discussion with Melissa in which she delves into body image and the concept of intersectionality as it relates to eating disorders.
Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed. is a body acceptance activist, sexuality scholar, and patriarchy smasher based in Philadelphia. She is currently a managing editor of Everyday Feminism, as well as a doctoral candidate at Widener University, working toward a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies. Melissa has worked closely with The National Eating Disorders Association, The Representation Project, and Adios Barbie on campaigns related to body image, eating disorders, and media literacy. Find out more about Melissa and her work at melissafabello.com.
When we make New Year’s resolutions we tend to think about the definition of the word RESOLUTION as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. However, it might be helpful to remember that resolution can also mean “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict”. Perhaps this year, instead of making a firm to decision to change your appearance, you could resolve to decrease the conflict you experience with your body and see where that takes you instead. Below are ten small things you can do right now to help bring you closer to a resolution with your body. Where will you begin?
#1 – STOP BLAMING YOUR BODY
Remember that negative body image is an ATTITUDE problem, not a BODY problem. Body image is a thought, perspective, idea, and interpretation that you have about your body. Your thoughts are not facts and they can be distorted. The good news is that the thoughts that aren’t working for us can be modified. Write down the phrase “My body image is a THINKING problem, not a BODY problem” and repeat this to yourself throughout the day.
#2 – BE A SCIENTIST
Monitor shape/weight checking behaviors for two days. Try to pick one work/school day and one home day. What are checking behaviors? They include looking in the mirror, looking down at yourself, weighing yourself, watching your reflection in store fronts/windows, measuring parts of your body with your hands, or feeling for certain anatomy to monitor the size of your body. Notice which of these you do, when, how often and in what context. Once you have this data, ask yourself, what am I trying to find out when I check my body? Is it really necessary to check this often? Is my checking biased or is it an objective way to look at my overall shape and weight? Most importantly, is it helping me? Checking behaviors usually are focused on parts of the body you are most uncomfortable with and tend to deepen insecurities. If you determine that it this is how checking is impacting you and that it is not helpful, start experimenting with decreasing these behaviors to see how it changes your thinking, attention and mood. Act like a scientist trying new formulas to see what the result is.
#3 – QUESTION & RE-LABEL “FEELINGS OF FATNESS”
Many people report that they experience “feeling fat.” Next time you experience this, monitor and observe these feelings. Based on your observations, ask yourself if these are in fact feelings or perhaps these are thoughts associated with certain negative mood states (feeling stressed, bored, guilty) or behavioral or physical sensations (i.e feeling full, bloated, hot). If this is the case, each time it happens, remind yourself to re-frame the experience of “feeling fat” and label it more accurately. For example, tell yourself, “I am feeling full right now” instead of “I am feeling fat right now.”
#4 – REDUCE SOCIAL MEDIA EXPOSURE.
It has been shown in research that exposure to many social media outlets can lead to comparison making- in the population at large and also for individuals struggling with eating disorders. Social media can be very difficult for people to stop cold turkey so if the idea of not being “linked in” sounds like too much, identify a goal that is more doable.
#5 – CREATE DAILY AFFIRMATIONS
Collect positive body image quotes or mantras that resonate with you. Place them in areas where you spend a lot of time each day – in your car, by your mirror, at your desk. Focus on one or two that are most meaningful to you. You can even send yourself a couple of alerts from your phone throughout the day as reminders of your positive affirmation. Change your affirmation when you feel the need to mix things up. (Remember, if the idea of loving your body feels too overwhelming as a goal, positive body image mantras don’t have to include messages of complete body adoration. They can, simply focus on body acceptance or even body neutrality.)
#6 – PARTICIPATE IN A JOYFUL MOVEMENT ACTIVITY
Engage in physical activities that interest you and in no way relate to changing your body weight or shape. These activities will be different for everyone based on your own thoughts and preferences. You might need to experiment to find an activity that you can participate in where negative body thoughts aren’t activated. Examples include nature walks, meditative stretching, getting a massage, playing dodge ball on a community team, dancing, or even swinging with your kids on the playground.
#7 – CHALLENGE ONE ASSUMPTION
Our assumptions about beauty and appearance are based on a variety of personal influences but can include society, family, peers, early learning experiences or culture. Examples of assumptions include physically attractive people have it all. If I could look as I wish, my life would be much happier. One’s outward appearance is a sign of the inner person. Pick just one of your assumptions and identify rational thoughts that dispute the assumption. Ask yourself what experiences you have had in your life or that you have noticed others having that do not align with these assumptions all of the time. In other words, work to disprove your own unhealthy theories.
#8 – BE AN ADVOCATE.
If you are trying to shift your own perspective from negative body image to positive body image you might want to start by telling others about body acceptance and working to promote change on a community level. Speak out against photoshopped ads by writing to an editor. Talk to your kids about the functionality of their bodies being more important than weight or size. Tell your friends about the negative consequences of dieting. When you do these things, you are creating cognitive dissonance. Research shows this is helpful in bringing your own thoughts and behaviors into alignment with your new positive message to others. (And yes, it’s totally okay if you aren’t sure that you completely believe everything you’re advocating for yet. You’ll get there.)
#9 – GET UNCOMFORTABLE.
When we make changes in life, usually our anxiety goes up before it starts to decrease. Challenging negative body image causes a great deal of discomfort for most people. Oftentimes this discomfort or anxiety can cause individuals to prefer to avoid working on the issue. That being said, the most effective strategy for working to decrease the effect of fear in our lives is to face our fears. (In therapy, this is called exposure therapy.) So remember that if you are feeling uncomfortable during these challenges, it probably means that the work is working.
#10 – ASK FOR HELP
Choose one or more of the above challenges. If you are able to do it and tolerate your discomfort, it would be worth it to try again, and again and again. If you aren’t able to bear the anxiety of it or your negative body image thoughts are getting in the way of living your life, give yourself the gift of help. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, find a support group and/or call a therapist to set up an appointment. It really is possible to live without body hatred and all-consuming thoughts about weight but it often requires skills and input from other people. This in itself can be uncomfortable, but when you look back on this decision from a place of self-acceptance and body positivity you’ll be glad you didn’t avoid it any longer.
As we head into the holidays, it can be helpful to have a very simple plan for responding to family and friends drawn to the very topics that may be most troubling during recovery from an eating disorder. Depending on how you spend your Thanksgiving this year, one or all of these suggestions may come in handy when the conversation takes a turn toward triggering language regarding bodies, food or weight.
Step 1: Obstruct or change the conversation if you notice someone is heading into a discussion that makes you uncomfortable.
Remember people generally like to talk about themselves and their interests. If Aunt Marie is pressuring everyone to eat more pie or is gushing over a family member’s weight loss, use that as an opportunity to reflect the attention back to her. So who taught you how to bake? What are you up to at work Aunt Marie? How was that vacation you went on?
If you’re comfortable staying on the topic but exerting your power into the conversation you could try something like this: I’ve actually been learning a lot about how weight is not a good determinant of overall health. I’m focusing on my work-life balance and healthier ways to deal with stress. I’m thinking about meditation…have you ever tried it?
Step 2: Set boundaries if someone continues to target you with questions or comments about your body or what you’re eating.
Here are some simple examples with varying levels of intensity. You can choose which ones you think would work well for you, or create your own.
The great thing about practicing these responses with other people is that you’ll be more likely to use them when struggling with negative self-talk or eating disorder thoughts in your own head too.
Step 3: Step away & seek support.
If stressors persist or you find you just need a break from the crowd, locate your holiday ally or text a friend. Take some time to vent about what’s bothering you, take 3 very deep breaths, and then re-focus on the positive parts of the day. Sounds simple but it can make a big difference.
You are deserving of a happy and healthy holiday. How you choose to create that is up to you. Just remember that one insensitive comment from one person does not have to ruin your entire Thanksgiving. At anytime, you can choose to re-engage in both the celebration and your recovery.
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Read more about healthy holiday coping…
Concerned that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder? Call us at (410) 938-5252 for a free and confidential phone assessment or visit www.eatingdisorder.org for more information about treatment options.
Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net / digidreamgrafix
Who’s bringing a dessert? Can someone help with appetizers? Here, have some more! Are you really taking another helping? I wish I could eat like you. Ugh, my diet must start tomorrow!
Sound familiar? It’s not unusual for pre-Thanksgiving talk between family members to focus on food and food-related tasks. It’s also not uncommon for holiday conversation to revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and, in some cases, criticism or praise regarding weight and size. To be clear, making sure there’s enough food to feed everyone at a gathering is important, but it doesn’t need to be the center of everyone’s day.
When an individual is struggling with an eating disorder, or working hard to maintain recovery from one, these topics can activate disordered thoughts about food, trigger negative body image and impact a person’s ability to be emotionally or physically present at the gathering. Intentionally steering the day towards gratitude and connection instead of food and weight can take a bit of work in our diet-obsessed culture but it stands to benefit many, not just those with eating disorders.
Where to start? These are just a few suggestions from our therapists and dietitians. Feel free to share your ideas and recommendations on our Facebook page.
1. Offer roles for family and friends who want to contribute something but may not want to bring food. Not everyone enjoys cooking and some people, especially those with eating disorders, might feel incredibly anxious around food. There are definitely other ways to help and have a meaningful connection to the day that don’t involve preparing food. For example:
Quick Tip: Tap into everyone’s strengths. If your brother has taken up a recent interest in photography ask if he’d be willing to document the day and capture different positive interactions. How great would it be to have a beautiful photograph of a grandparent rocking a new baby or all the cousins playing football outside? These are, after all, the moments you’d choose to remember about a holiday, not how many calories you ate or an offhanded remark someone made about your weight gain/loss.
2. Give in to the gratitude trend. Gratitude might seem like a big social media gimmick right now but the truth is it does have the power to shift your attitudes and perceptions. The moment dinner is served and everyone sits down to eat can be a moment of peak anxiety if you have an eating disorder. In anticipation of this, Google “gratitude quotes”, pick your favorites and write them on small cards to place at each table setting. Depending on how willing your family is, you could also give everyone a chance to go around and verbally share something for which they are grateful.
3. If you’re hosting, do a quick assessment of reading material around your house. Put away (or better yet, recycle) any magazines that are overly focused on appearance, diet or beauty. Studies show even just 3 minutes of looking at fashion or “fitness” magazines can negatively impact self-esteem and trigger feelings of sadness and guilt. Do you really want your 7 year-old nephew to practice his reading skills with a fitness magazine full of photoshopped bodies? Do yourself and your guests a favor by instead stocking your coffee table with photo albums, short stories written by your kids, or some photography books by a favorite artist. (If you really want to make a body positive impact, you could leave a copy of Intuitive Eating or Health At Every Size laying around as well.)
4. Identify an ally (or two). Many of us look forward to holidays with great anticipation because we get to spend time with family members we don’t often see. Some of us experience dread and stress for the very same reason. It’s no secret that family dynamics can be complicated. Instead of focusing on family members who are particularly difficult to handle, focus on the ones who can help. If you have a grandparent, cousin or significant other who knows you’re struggling with recovery, have a conversation with them in advance about the ways in which they can support you at the gathering, at the table, and in specific situations throughout the day.
5. Step away from the bathroom scale. If you’re hosting and you have a scale in your house, move it out of sight temporarily, or permanently. If you are a guest in someone else’s house, consider asking them if they can stash it in a closet for the day. As a parent, spouse or support person of someone in recovery, this would be a great thing to take care of in advance as a way to advocate for your loved one.
6. Whatever you spend time focusing on will be what you spend time focusing on. If you’re in recovery you likely going to need to think about meal plans and meeting nutritional needs and that’s okay, but make sure you also have holiday intentions that don’t involve food, eating or weight. Why? Because if all your goals that day revolve around what you’re eating you will be hyper-focused on food just like you were with the eating disorder. Prioritize your nutritional goals, talk them over with your dietitian and then consider adding some non-food goals like these:
Quick Tip: Whatever you choose, make sure your goals are easy, achievable and positively worded. Think about adding good things into your experience, instead of avoiding a negative. For example, instead of saying “I won’t go on Facebook during our Thanksgiving get together” say “I look forward to taking a break from social media so I can catch up with my loved ones.” Remember, whatever you focus on will be what you’re focused on.
7. Remember that you cannot control everyone else. We live in a food and weight-obsessed society, so it’s likely some of this conversation will make it’s way into your holiday despite your best efforts. If and when it does, be prepared with ways you can change the conversation, set boundaries and seek support.
8. Give Back – Identify a local charity and ask all the Thanksgiving guests to bring a donation for the cause. Even if the day is hard for you and your recovery you will be left with a visual reminder of everyone’s generosity, (even if they couldn’t stop mentioning how many calories were in the appetizer all day).
Thanksgiving can be a truly beautiful holiday that reminds us all to give thanks and reflect upon the positives in life. Taking the focus off food might not only benefit those with an eating disorder but anyone struggling with negative thoughts, low self-esteem or loneliness this holiday season.
When we lift the food frenzy and body angst we are better able to focus on gratitude and authentic connection with others and ourselves.
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Questions about treatment for an eating disorder? Call us at (410) 427-3886 or visit eatingdisorder.org
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They care for you, entertain you and bring you joy. They protect you and teach you, create things for you. They help you and mentor you. They are varied. They are diverse. They are important.
They are people you might see every day.
And they are people we might see every day in the course of providing care and treatment for individuals and families impacted by eating disorders.
At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we see numerous people each day struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID and other feeding and eating disorders. These individuals with eating disorders are varied. They are diverse. They are important.
This is why we were proud to participate in the inaugural March Against Eating Disorders on Capitol Hill last fall and why we are eager to return this year on October 27th for an even larger and more impactful event. As physicians, therapists, dietitians and nurses specializing in the treatment of people with eating disorders, we see the daily struggle, the medical repercussions, the fear and the impact of eating disorders on relationships, careers and families. But we also see the hope, the healing and comfort that comes with treatment and recovery. That is why it’s so important for those of us in the field to stand up and share our voices too.
Why do we march?
These are just some of the reasons why we are excited to stand with The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, The Eating Disorder Coalition, and MAED – Mothers Against Eating Disorders at The #MarchAgainstED in our nation’s capitol. Join us on October 27th to take a stand and help increase awareness about eating disorders.
Why will you march?
Register now at www.MarchAgainstED.com
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Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C, Community Outreach Coordinator at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt for www.MarchAgainstED.com
The original posting of this blog is available at: http://www.marchagainsted.com/blog/why-providers-must-stand-up-and-join-the-march-against-ed
It seems like many colleges and universities have moved away from the standard exam schedule. In fact, it can seem like you are constantly studying for exams or writing papers, with no downtime or lull in the semester at all. Midterms and finals just mean a heightened level of existing anxiety or stress. Unfortunately, for many college students, that means there comes a point in the semester when it seems like there are way too many obligations and way too little time to manage them all. If you are simultaneously working on recovery from an eating disorder this can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if everything seems to be equally important on your to-do list. While it can be easy to lose sight of how critical your recovery is in the midst of these academic priorities, its crucial to remember the potential consequences. Turning to your eating disorder behaviors will only intensify the stress you’re body is under, making it mentally and physically harder to concentrate, harder to interact and connect with other people (i.e. study groups, roommates, support people) and much harder to accomplish that long list of study tasks.
Self-care, nourishing your body, following treatment recommendations and practicing your new healthy coping skills is what will eventually get you through the stress of mid-term or final exams. While the hectic nature of college academics can’t be completely avoided, we can offer some tips to help make it feel more manageable and less likely to derail your progress in recovery.
Prioritize: Make a list of all of your upcoming responsibilities. Pull out the larger projects and see if you can break these down into smaller, more achievable tasks. For example, break down “10 page research paper” into: print articles; read articles; write an outline; write the rough draft; write the bibliography; and revise the paper. Write deadlines next to each item on your list and then organize your to-do list by due-date or high priority items. Don’t forget to breathe.
Eliminate unnecessary responsibilities: Do you really have to do everything on your list? You might have some things on there that are optional projects, or possibly some student organization meetings that are not imperative for you to attend. Perhaps you can ask for less hours at work during exam weeks. Remember that you can also always talk to your professor; if you have 3 exams scheduled on one day, one of your professors may actually be willing to allow you to take the exam for their class on a different day. If you just can’t adjust your schedule, know that this stress is temporary. Focus on the end point and plan a reward for yourself after big assignments are turned in.
Don’t give up on the basics: As tempting as it may be, you still need to prioritize sleeping, eating and self-care. In fact, it is even more important that you take care of yourself during this stressful time. Always strive to get as close to 8 hours of sleep each night as possible, remembering that lack of sleep can have a significant effect on hunger and eating patterns. Make sure you are scheduling times to eat your meals and snacks and that you are thinking ahead. If you know you won’t have time to go back to your room for a meal, remember to pack your food with you or bring money to eat while you are out.
Relaxation is vital. Take some time every day to take a deep breath and be still. Enjoy what the season has to offer. Consider setting aside 30 minutes or an hour during your busy time to catch up with a friend or roommate – no multi-tasking or studying allowed during that time.
Keep your appointments: When things get hectic, it may be tempting to cancel your therapy or nutrition appointments so that you can spend more time studying. This often makes sense in a moment of panic or stress but can easily lead towards losing sight of recovery’s importance. Cancelling appointments during high stress or high pressure times can be a risk factor for relapse. Consider a rock climber choosing to take off her safety harness right when she gets to the highest and steepest part of the cliff. You’d probably question that decision right? The same applies to your “safety harness” and your support system during difficult times. If you are struggling to get to your appointments, speak to your therapist about this and decide together what is the best way to balance your responsibilities with your recovery in mind.
Reach Out: Recovery can feel like a full-time job sometimes, and college is a full-time job for many students. You may be realizing that you are struggling so much with both that you just can’t focus on your academics the way that you want to. You may have missed a number of classes, gotten behind in lectures or just feel too overwhelmed to truly focus. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professor and see if there is any way that you can catch up, delay some deadlines, or work with a tutor to help you in that class. You don’t have to go through this on your own. Ask for help and explore your options for support on campus. If you think you need to withdraw from a class and have missed the Drop/Add deadline, or if you are thinking about taking a medical leave of absence, schedule an appointment with the Dean of Students, an Academic Advisor, or someone at the Counseling Center – that is what they are there for!
While academics and exam stress can be overwhelming, just remember that you have options regarding how you handle that stress and how you let it affect you. You have already accomplished so much this semester. Reflect on what has been working well so far and praise yourself for a job well done. If there are things that have been a struggle, now is a good time to evaluate what aspects of your self-care and stress tolerance could be improved. Try coming up with a reasonable plan to put into action for the rest of the semester and continue reflecting on it to see what is working and what isn’t. If you are stumped as to how to do this, reach out to others for support and additional ideas.
CED wishes you a memorable semester of academic success, balance and self-care. For more insight on the intersection between college and eating disorder recovery, check out our whole blog series at: Battling Body Image Concerns & Disordered Eating on Campus .
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need help or support, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252. You can also reach us by email at EatingDisorderInfo@sheppardpratt.org.
Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED Therapist & College Liaison
Originally published on 11/11/2011
As the newness of the school year starts to fade, you might be realizing that you or a loved one may need more support to maintain or re-focus on recovery while on campus. It might feel discouraging to recognize that you are not doing as well as you had hoped, but you do not have to suffer alone. Most colleges and universities provide a full range of services to their students, and it would be worthwhile to look into what is available on your campus. While every campus is unique, the following services are typically available at every school.
Student Health Center: The Health Center has physicians and nurses that are on site and specialize in working with college students. Many schools have at least one member of the staff that is familiar with working with people who have been diagnosed with eating disorders and will be able to help facilitate your care and make appropriate referrals on and off campus. Sometimes a dietitian is on staff to work with college students who need nutritional counseling.
Campus Counseling Center: The Counseling Center may be part of the Student Health Center, or it may be a completely separate department. At most schools, therapists are available to see students in individual therapy for a wide array of emotional and psychological concerns. The best part is that many of these services are free or very low-cost. The Counseling Center may also offer group therapy, which allows you to connect with others on campus who are facing some of the same concerns that you are. Some counseling centers may also work with a psychiatrist that can prescribe and monitor medications, if appropriate.
Peer Counselors: If the idea of speaking to a counselor is overwhelming, you may feel more comfortable initially meeting with a peer who has been trained to provide support. While a peer counselor is not qualified to do therapy, they can be a great support in supplementing your ongoing care or helping you to access the appropriate level of treatment for you.
Resident Advisors: Your RA is very knowledgeable about life on campus and can help direct you to the people in your community that can best assist you. They typically have gone through training to mediate conflict between roommates, to listen supportively to their residents and to help students access services on campus.
Dean of Students/Academic Advising: If your school work is starting to suffer because of your eating disorder or mood, you can speak to the Dean of Students or your Academic Advisor to explore your options. They will be prepared to help you with administrative concerns such as adding/dropping classes, communicating with your professors, adjusting your schedule to accommodate treatment, taking a medical leave of absence, and directing you to tutors and academic support programs.
Campus Ministries: If you are spiritually connected to your faith, you might feel more comfortable reaching out to the school’s chaplain. The chaplain is available to meet with students and can assist you in locating a place of worship consistent with your beliefs or can help direct you to more spiritually based counselors.
Off-Campus Treatment & Support: If you prefer to access services off campus or would like more specialized outpatient treatment, find out whether there are any treatment centers located close to your school. The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt always welcomes students from surrounding colleges and universities during the school year. The Center is actually within walking distance to Towson University and is located within 5 miles of all of the following campuses:
Students who attend school a bit farther away from their treatment team, may be able to schedule classes in a way that frees up a particular day of the week for fitting in outpatient appointments with various providers.
The Center for Eating Disorders provides a wide array of treatment options including individual therapy, medication management, nutritional counseling, and a free support group every Wednesday night from 7:00-8:30 PM. If you need help finding outpatient treatment services close to your campus, you can visit The National Eating Disorder Association’s Treatment & Support Finder and search by state or zip code.
In the end, where you seek support is not as important as whether you seek support. Remember that you are not alone and asking for help is a sign of strength. If you are struggling, please reach out to a trusted friend, loved one, treatment provider or one of the campus supports listed above.
If you have any questions about the resources or services discussed above,please email Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED’s College Liaison at email@example.com or call (410) 938-5252.
Written by Jennifer Moran, Psy.D.
Originally published 9/13/11