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

 

Connecting with EMME on Body Image, Beauty and Balance…

 

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt is gearing up for a week of free community events in recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2013.  To help us kick things off, supermodel and positive body image advocate, Emme will provide a special keynote presentation in Baltimore entitled “Connecting BODY+MIND+SPIRIT” on February 24th, 2013. In advance of this free event, we asked Emme to share her unique insights into the current cultural ideals regarding beauty and to comment on some of the key elements that have helped her establish a positive, balanced relationship with her body, mind and spirit throughout her career.

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 Q & A with Emme Aronson:

Q: Through your development of EmmeNation and your role as an Ambassador for the National Eating Disorder Association, you have become a powerful advocate for positive body image. What does the term body image mean to you and how did it come to be such a significant part of your overall message of self-acceptance?

Emme: Body image is the framework for the house where our soul resides. If the foundation is weak, the house crumbles and the soul cannot fully exhibit its magnificence. How we live day-to-day depends on whether or not we have a connective or disassociated connection with our soul and our body.

Often we live from the neck up in a constant, not fully self-accepting state so to speak. By not breaking this chain of self loathing, body bashing, and guilt, dis-ease within one’s self grows and negativity cycles infinitum. At the same time a select few get richer at the cost of millions being diseased or disconnected each day, even each hour if engaging in large doses of media/TV.

It has always been my opinion that only by taking responsibility for one’s health and well-being of the mind, body and spirit, all parts moving in unison together as a befriended system, will we ever be set free from the onslaught of purely capitalistic influences. Our vitality of health, not to mention our culture and the imminent sustainability of our environment,depends on this effort.

Q: What would you say are some of the biggest pressures facing women and girls today that impact the way they experience their bodies and their inner selves?

Emme: I feel it’s the “capitalism-at-all-costs” mentality which, sadly, gets carried on the backs of women starting at an early age. This constant reminder of inadequacy plants insecurity where there once was none, or the seeds may get passed down generationally from mothers to daughters. With the hypersexualized advertising culture in full swing today, these dormant seeds are watered and the negative impact on body image, self-esteem, goal setting, visualization, and accomplishments rolls on, eroding the cornerstone of our society – women and children.

Q: What has your modeling career taught you about your relationship with your body?

Emme: Coming from a news media background, I immediately saw the lack of body diversity in the reporting of beauty. The story was loud and clear that natural body diversity was not to be discussed in mainstream media, and if it was, you were not to highlight it or shoot beautiful, size diverse models side-by-side. This was due to pressures caused by astounding amounts of money being dumped into diet related advertising (based on products with a 98% failure rate). The diet industry today probably makes well over a hundred billion dollars a year. (Psychology Today stated 50 billion in 1997, up from 30 billion in 1987). Understandably, a conflict of interest precedes that kind of money, especially when in uninformed hands. So its my job, and the job of other NEDA ambassadors, to reach out to the media as best we can to share best practices in reporting on body and eating related issues via the protocol presented to networks, women’s magazines and online outlets. An informed media gives them the opportunity to do good and make a choice, which is the best case scenario.

Q: The fashion and beauty industries often receive a lot of criticism for the role they play in pressuring women (and men) to look better, thinner, different, “perfect”, etc. How have you managed to balance your interests in fashion and beauty with your message of self-acceptance and inner beauty.

Emme: Having regularly been involved in the beauty, fashion, TV and clothing industries during different parts of my 20+ year career, I work on maintaining a balance between all the influences. I’m sure I have ruffled a few feathers when I’ve refused to say a line for a commercial, submitted a suggested rewritten line for a show, or refused commercial opportunities worth a lot of money because they didn’t align with my brand. I know a few people thought I was too righteous or full of myself but at the end of the day, I realized I didn’t need to defend myself but instead, had to go by the feeling I had in my gut. Your gut is a wonderful guide, if it’s tight and constricted, wait on whatever is in front of you. If you feel ease and grace, move forward. You may not understand what’s holding you back but listen to that innate guide that’s been with us since the beginning of time. That sensation doesn’t lie. It sometimes takes a lifetime to be still and feel it but, more times than not, it’s right.

Q: At various points in your life you’ve been faced with significant challenges, including a cancer diagnosis, which have surely tested you emotionally and physically. How have you managed to maintain a gratitude-driven existence and a positive relationship with your body throughout these ups and downs?

Emme: If I didn’t have the hearty body that I have, my cancer and treatments during chemo would have wrecked me. I feel today that cancer was one of my best teachers on so many levels.

However, where I gained the most appreciation for my curvaceous body was when I was pregnant. I absolutely loved being able to carry a child and know I was holding this new life in me. Regardless of the fact that my body gained 70 pounds and I was very large, I felt, without a doubt, that this was what my body was meant to do and I embraced myself at every stage. I even did a photo shoot (with all my bits covered but pretty much nude) and it’s one of my favorite shots.

Q: What is your favorite or most useful piece of advice for individuals who still struggle to find peace with their bodies on a daily basis?

Emme: Develop your list of gratitude and concentrate on that list until the anxiety of not being perfect subsides. This stops me before negative self speak rears it’s angry head. (Granted this sometimes takes years to work, but never giving up breeds success). After repeating this often enough like a trained dog, you come to realize you are much more than the empty shell we call our body. Instead of value being based on shape or size, a person’s true value has a chance to rise and nourish the individual and those around them, shining light on personal character traits like: helpfulness, friendliness, playfulness, bravery, courageousness and so on. Once again, take away the soul and you’ve got nothing, just bones, tendons, muscle and fat.

Q: In addition to your work in the U.S., you’ve been active globally with efforts to help women develop positive relationships with their bodies. Can you tell us more about some of these international efforts?

Emme: I’ve been so blessed to have been given the chance to travel a great deal domestically as well as internationally for my work. As a model I got to represent curvy women on three continents, and today I speak out in national and international press on issues relating to self-acceptance, the tricky issues around body image and how important achieving a healthy balance is to sustainability. Recently I was nominated as a Green Apple Ambassador by the Center for Green Schools, a program of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) (@mygreenschools).  I’m being asked to co-create a K-12 curriculum with the CGS showing the correlation between the following: positive body image + environment = sustainability. Not only in the confines of the ED community are these issues being worked on but in the corporate world, educational systems, and in architectural environments. What is now being discussed in many professional circles is this: If you don’t feel good about yourself, you will not reach for better, think better, act better, eat better, do better, and ultimately may not care about anything beyond your immediate grasp, thus disconnecting you from the world in which you live. Not a great scenario overall.

So there’s clearly a lot of work to be done in the here and now with children, parents, grandparents, schools and the professional community to take responsibility for what we say, think and do to ourselves, to others and to the environment. And guess what? It boils down to such a simple notion:everything rolls from the source!

Q: Do you think we, as a culture, are making progress moving towards “body peace” instead of body bashing as our norm? What have you noticed?

Emme: We’re certainly speaking more about our bodies in print and online, and women are more reflected ethnically, in more various shapes/sizes and in a wider age range, thankfully. All are very important for our culture to see what exists beyond sterile, digitalized images and corporate projections of beauty. However, the more we seem to make progress and move forward toward diverse representations, the corporate push for a more restrained image pops back in again. So education is key and awareness is paramount. An educated and positively engaged mind, body and spirit can help filter what we see, hear and absorb. Indeed, buyer-be-aware of what we “buy into”. Our dollars can be spent in much better ways and can send a bigger message if we really put our heads together for real change in corporate America. I’ve learned, slow change is lasting change.

Q: Who could benefit from attending your presentation in Baltimore on February 24th? What message or skill do you most hope people will take away with them after hearing your talk?

Emme: I hope to connect with those who want to feel less alone and those seeking answers. No need to suffer in silence or bump along life’s journey by yourself. There’s no right or wrong when seeking out one’s truth. So my only message is this: Come with an open heart, you never know what may inspire, inform or ignite you. There’s only one you, and you are perfect just as you are!

 

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Many thanks to Emme for taking the time to respond to our questions and for sharing her strength and insight with our readers.  If you’d like more information about Emme’s presentation on February 24th, you can visit www.eatingdisorder.org/events or download the event flyer.  The event is free to attend but pre-registration is required to reserve seats.

Interested in more on this topic with Emme?  Join us for a special Twitter Chat with her on Thursday, February 21, 2013 from 1:00-2:00 EST.  Follow @CEDatSheppPratt and @EmmeNation for details and reminders.   

All photos of Emme courtesy of EmmeNation.com

Tried & True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday, Part III: AFTER Thanksgiving has Come and Gone

GratitudePost-holiday time can be filled with mixed emotions.  Some people experience RELIEF that it wasn’t as difficult as they had predicted, others struggle with post-holiday  FRUSTRATION or GUILT related to eating disorder behaviors or holiday meal challenges.  Still others head out of the holiday week EXCITED to return to the familiar structure and schedule of school or work. There may have been HAPPY times or SAD emotions woven throughout your Thanksgiving holiday as relationships and expectations for the holiday were tested. Maybe you tried some of the tips we suggested in Part I and Part II of our holiday blog series with a lot of success…or perhaps with a lot of struggle.  No matter how things went or how you’re feeling now its important to honor your emotions and continue on from this point in a recovery-focused way. Here are some tips that can help you make the most of your week-after-Thanksgiving (and beyond).

 

1. Change your filter.  So often, the eating disorder voice shines such a powerful spotlight on everything negative that it can be easy to get caught up in what went “wrong” on Thanksgiving day and ignore everything that was positive.  This is an example of a cognitive distortion called filtering.  In the days and weeks that follow, try not to allow your eating disorder to dictate how you will remember this holiday.  Instead, sit down with positive intention and make a point to reflect on what went well, what worked and who was integral to those successes.

2. Don’t skip therapy. (Sound familiar?)  If you had a hard time during the holiday and find yourself feeling frustrated or ashamed that you acted on symptoms, do not cancel appointments with providers.  Right after slip-ups is the ideal time to meet with a therapist or dietitian to process what happened, what the trigger was and how to prevent a holiday-induced downward spiral.  If your first appointment with a provider won’t be for another few days, take some time to jot down your observations and feelings about the holiday and what you want to remember to discuss with your therapist or dietitian.

3. Accept post-holiday compliments gracefully.  Individuals with eating disorders often have a hard time accepting positive feedback, especially when it clashes with their own negative beliefs about themselves or their abilities.  If someone is genuinely telling you that you did a good job with something, before you refute them, consider how your reaction will affect you and them. When Aunt Martha calls you this week and says  “Thanks for hosting us this weekend.  Your house looked beautiful all decorated for the holiday and the meal was just great,”  your instinct might be to say “Oh please, the turkey was dry and the house was a mess! I just didn’t have time to clean it the way I wanted to.”   When you completely reject a compliment it sends a message to the other person that you may be overly critical in general or that their opinion is not valued.  Additionally, if you deflect compliments from the same people repeatedly, they may be conditioned not to give them at all.  Most importantly, when you reject compliments you deny yourself the opportunity to absorb a positive belief which could go a long way in helping to boost your self-esteem and overall self worth.  Even if you’re struggling to believe that a compliment is true, allow yourself to receive it and entertain the idea that it just might have some validity.  Instead of deflecting, consider simple statements, such as “Thank you so much – that means a lot to me” or even, “Thanks” will work just fine.

4. Move On. If this holiday wasn’t what you had hoped for, let it go.  Don’t continue to blame yourself for things that may have been beyond your control.  Assess what can be changed in similar situations in the future and make note of them, then allow your mind to move on. Getting stuck in thoughts about how disastrous/boring/disappointing/etc. your Thanksgiving was is not going to help you make today the best it can be.  Remember that non-holidays are just as important in the long run of recovery.  Make today a good day; do the best thing for you and your recovery in this moment.

5. Keep the gratitude going.  Thanksgiving does a great job in helping to promote gratitude.  Even if you haven’t yet jumped on the #thanksvember bandwagon via Twitter or Facebook, it’s not too late to start. Take some time tonight to be grateful and send a genuine “thank you” to the support people that helped you enjoy the holiday…

  • If your mom changed the subject at dinner when a relative was harping on you for not taking seconds of her casserole, tell your mom later how much you appreciated her speaking up.  (If you live close by, give her a hug while you’re at it.)
  • If your friend answered frantic text messages you were sending on Thanksgiving day, let him know how much that meant to you that he was available for support in the thick of the holiday.
  • If your little nieces and nephews forced you into hysterical laughter with their impromptu Thanksgiving skit, send them little notes in the mail to let them know you can’t wait for their Christmas or Hanukkah performances too.
  • When it comes to gratitude, remember to use your voice.  It’s an  excellent opportunity to nourish the positives and create more of what you need for your recovery.

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Is there someone you relied on this Thanksgiving to help you through?   If you have feedback or comments about positive ways in which your support people helped out this holiday, we’d love to hear.  Share in the comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday – Part I: BEFORE the Holiday

Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday – Part II: The Day OF Thanksgiving

Above photo courtesy of psychcentral.com (click on the photo to link to interesting research about the benefits of gratitude on health and wellness)

Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday – Part II

Each year we see many individuals with eating disorders, and even those in strong recovery, become increasingly anxious as the holidays approach.  Being on high alert for triggers or signs of relapse can be an effective way of staying recovery-focused and keeping yourself well. However, it’s also important to relax into the holiday and not allow the anxiety to overshadow what could be a very positive experience.

Yesterday in Part I, we shared strategies to help you plan ahead for a recovery-focused holiday.  Today in Part II, our staff share their top tips for making it through the actual day of a holiday with health and recovery intact.

Part II: The Day OF Thanksgiving…

Thanksgiving Mantel

  • RELAX - Focus on your breath, meditate, or listen to soothing music on your way to  he festivities so you start off the celebration in a positive place. If you show up in an anxious or negative mood right off the bat, it’s likely to affect those around you and be intensified.

Try to enjoy the holiday, not just survive it! Focus on what you would like to do and who you would like to do it with. Shift your attention from body image, food, and self-criticism and focus on what you want the meaning of the holiday to be for you.

~Kim Anderson, Ph.D., Therapist and Director of Psychology 

  • Check in with yourself about body comparisons. Believe it or not, we hear a lot about patients not liking family gatherings because they are comparing their bodies to other family members. For many people, these inter-family comparisons can be the most triggering or most intense body comparisons they face. If you find yourself going down that road, hit the pause button. Rewind, reconnect and consider engaging the person in conversation instead. See if you can find out something positive about them you never knew before. Remember that they are more than just their body and you are more than just yours.
  • Get grounded.  If you feel your thoughts drifting to food, body or weight, re-connect to something positive in the moment.  Sometimes wearing a special bracelet or keeping a special item in your pocket that you can reach for and touch/hold can help to ground you.  Connecting physically to an item can help you stay in the moment and tune out the eating disorder voice.
  • Cross generational boundaries.  Be mindful of the different support each generation of your family can offer.  Hanging out with siblings, cousins and others of a similar age to you can be a nice way to connect around common developments and gives you a chance to get support/empathy on specific life stage issues like being away at college, parenting stress, job hunting, retirement, etc. On the other hand, reaching out to older generations, like grandparents, is an opportunity to get outside of your own concerns, to see how priorities can shift throughout life and also to collect some family history. Consider sitting down with an older relative and asking them an open-ended question about their most memorable Thanksgiving.  Even the youngest generations have something to offer you in your recovery-focused holiday…

Spending time with the young children in your family during large family gatherings could be a good distraction from “grownup conversation”. Hang out with the kids, play games with them and ask them about themselves. You might even consider eating with the children and think about being a good role model for them.

~Lisa McCathran, LCPC,  CED Outpatient Therapist

  • Be the family photographer.  Grab your camera and put yourself in charge of documenting the day. Many extended families only have rare opportunities to spend time together.  Catching family memories on film will not only keep you focused on something other than the ED, it will give people around you a reason to smile and be mindful of the special moments throughout the day.
  • Hors d’oeuvres.  Food is often present at holiday gatherings long before the actual holiday meal is set on the table. Be prepared. When eating appetizers/munchies, instead of continually grazing and walking around with food, you may want to put all of your choices on a plate together at once so that you can see a total of what you are eating.  Then allow yourself to sit down and mindfully enjoy eating it.
  • Structure your time before and after the meal by preemptively volunteering to help out in ways you are most comfortable with. For example, ask if you could set the table instead of helping around the food in the kitchen. Instead of packing up the leftovers, consider offering to load the dishwasher or get the kids in their pajamas.
  • Be assertive in making sure you get seated next to your most supportive family member at the dinner table.
  • Use your support. If you took the effort to connect with a “safe person” in advance of the holiday, now you have to be sure to utilize them. It can be hard to ask for help in the moment but it will be worth it.

[Editors note: When we asked our dietitians to chime in on the "eating part" of the holiday and their best piece of advice, they all said the same thing...which means it's probably pretty important.  That's why we've included all of their input below without consolidating.  Even though it's repetitive, it's one of the most important things you can do to have a happy, safe and recovery-focused holiday while recovering from an eating disorder.]

  • Take the time to eat your three meals during the holiday.  Breakfast will be particularly important as it sets the stage for your hunger and fullness cues over the rest of the day.
  • Eat regularly!!! It’s the most important thing to do. This is not the best time to try a new eating schedule.
  • Do not skip meals! Do not plan to compensate for overeating later by skipping meals in advance.
  • Stick to the meal plan especially the day before the holiday and on Thanksgiving Day.

Have an adequate meal at each meal time prior to the Thanksgiving meal so that you’re able to enter the holiday meal hungry, but not ravenous.  When you skip meals or restrict during the day and then enter a meal ravenous, you’re much more likely to eat past fullness.  On the other hand, entering a meal with a natural level of hunger means you will be more likely to stop when you’re properly nourished and comfortably full.

~ Hannah Huguenin, MS, RD, LDN, CED Dietitian

  • Everyone needs a little alone time. Remember to take time by yourself to journal or relax during the day. If you’re staying with relatives and can’t find space inside the house to be alone, grab your coat, a cup of hot tea and step outside for fresh air, or consider volunteering to run an errand for your host
  • Play games. Don’t assume that your host will be prepared with distraction techniques for you - he or she will probably be pretty busy with holiday hosting tasks – so bring your own games to the party.  Grab a holiday-themed puzzle or some of your favorite board games that will encourage interaction. Need something quicker and easier?  Simply bring a deck of cards that you can use to play all sorts of different games with others or even by yourself.

Many people with eating disorders, especially those who’ve experienced trauma, may experience very intense emotions around the holidays. These strong feelings and stressors can be overwhelming but they don’t need to ruin or disrupt your holiday. Consider using a “containment strategy”. Write down the unpleasant thought or feeling on paper and put it “away” inside a designated containment box to be opened later when feeling safer such as in a therapist’s office or when the feeling has decreased in intensity.

~ Irene Rovira, Ph.D., Therapist & CED Psychology Coordinator

  • If you are not attending a family gathering it’s still important to plan a recovery-focused holiday.  In fact, it may be even more important to create structure and social opportunities that will keep you focused on the bigger picture and engaged in positive activities. This could include volunteering your time to other causes like a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or it might mean finding another friend without plans and going out to a movie together.
  • You made a list, now check it twice. If you took the advice in Part I of this holiday blog series, then you should have a list of the top 3 most useful coping skills for you (this will be different for everyone).  If you’re going through the day and you’re struggling with eating disorder thoughts or urges to act on symptoms, refer back to your list and work through them again, making tweaks if necessary. For example, if you called or texted a friend who never replied, do it again but try someone else this time.  Just because the first person didn’t get back to you, doesn’t mean you have to give up.
  • RELAX and end your day with SELF-CARE.  Just as we suggest starting off the day with relaxation techniques, allow more time for yourself to decompress from the holiday as it comes to a close.  Breathe deeply, put on your favorite music playlist for the ride home, or take a few minutes to journal when you arrive home.  Regardless of how the day went, do something nice for yourself before you go to bed on Thanksgiving night. For some people, that might be taking a nice hot bath, reading a book, writing a supportive email to yourself, watching a favorite movie with your spouse or a best friend, or cuddling with your pet. Whatever it is, allow yourself to enjoy it.  Accept that you are deserving of self-care and able to bring your day to a close in a positive way.

We know this is a long list, and you can’t do every single thing on here ( and we don’t want you to overwhelm yourself by trying).  Just choose the ones that speak to you and that you think will be most helpful on your holiday.  Chat with support people and get their feedback regarding how these tips can fit into your specific family’s traditions and holiday schedules.

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Did you miss Part 1?  You can still go back and read the holiday planning and preparation tips here:  Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday, Part I: BEFORE the Holiday…

Find Part III here: Tried & True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday, Part III: AFTER Thanksgiving has Come and Gone

Have a good tip that we missed? Share your support and feedback on our Facebook page.

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Many thanks to the following CED providers who’ve contributed to this blog series:

  • Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN
  • Hannah Huguenin, MS, RD, LDN
  • Jennifer Moran, Psy.D.
  • Kim Anderson, Ph.D.
  • Laura Sproch, Ph.D.
  • Irene Rovira, Ph.D.
  • Amy Scott, LCPC
  • Lisa McCathran, LCPC
  • Anne Holman, LCSW-C
  • Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C
  • Jennifer Lane, MS, OTR/L

 

 

 

Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday – Part I

Thanksgiving centerpiece

Holiday gatherings and celebratory feasts can pose some significant challenges, regardless of where you’re at in treatment or recovery. Being aware of them, planning for them and setting yourself up for an enjoyable holiday is important. That’s why we asked all of our clinical staff at CED to share their best advice for having a safe and successful holiday while maintaining or working towards recovery from an eating disorder. They had so much to share that we couldn’t fit it all in just one post so this is just the first of a 3-part series to help you through the before, during and after of the holidays.  

Through the years, these are some of the strategies and suggestions that our therapists have seen the most success with and we hope you will too.  Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.

Part I: BEFORE the Holiday…

  • Plan, Plan, Plan…..with your treatment team and with your primary supports. Develop a very specific, detailed plan for managing all the stressors that come along with the holidays.
  • Challenge predictable thoughts before the holiday. If you notice you have predictable patterns of negative thinking pop up at family gatherings or the same triggering thoughts sneak up on you every Thanksgiving day, take time to identify them in advance. Write them down and work on challenging the thoughts ahead of time (on your own or with a therapist) so you’re better prepared to defend against these specific negative/irrational thoughts on the actual day.  You might even consider keeping a list of your positive affirmations or challenge statements with you on Thanksgiving for easy access.  (If you know you’ll have your phone handy, you could even send a text to yourself the day before).
  • Identify one or two major positives about the holiday. No matter how anxious or depressed you may feel about an approaching holiday, there IS a positive hidden somewhere, even if it’s as simple as getting time off from school or work.
  • Make a list of your top 3 most reliable coping strategies and keep it handy in a notebook or on your phone.

Decrease stress and increase relaxation. Only say “yes” to events that you would like to attend and believe you can attend with success. Keep your daily schedule of activities and gatherings manageable.

~ Kim Anderson, Ph.D., Therapist and CED Psychology Coordinator

  • RSVP with a time limit. For example, “Thanks so much for inviting me. I’ll be able to be there from 3:00 to 5:00.” This provides you with some boundaries and an opportunity to leave the situation if it’s becoming detrimental to your recovery. However, if things are going better than expected (which often happens) and you want to stay longer, then you can.
  • Choose a worry chair.  If the anxiety is overwhelming or interfering with life, set up an appointment for yourself to “worry” about your concern at a specified time, date and place- this allows you to “delay” the worry and frees you up to take care of business at hand until then.

I really try to highlight for my patients that they are not alone in experiencing high stress around the holidays and that other members of their family are likely struggling with similar anxieties and negative thoughts. Some are able to manage extra stressors in healthy ways like talking about how they’re feeling, getting enough sleep, setting limits, or adding in extra self-care. Other family members may turn to unhealthy management strategies like drinking too much, getting into arguments, withdrawing, avoiding, hiding their feelings, or eating too much/too little. I try to use this to help my patients see that the problem isn’t the food itself, it is ultimately the thoughts and feelings, that can lead to intensified eating disorder urges. Being aware of this can free you up to move forward and choose more constructive and beneficial ways to cope.

~Laura Sproch, Ph.D., Individual and Family Therapist and CED Research Coordinator

  • Identify a “safe person” you can go to that is aware of your struggle and will support, distract, and protect you on the day of the holiday gathering. Talk with that person ahead of time so they know exactly how to support you during the meal and in specific situations. These things are not always obvious and support people may need a little “coaching” in advance. Some people even like to arrange a “code word” with their support person that they can say when they’re feeling really triggered and need an opportunity to remove him or herself from the situation.
  • A day ahead, you may want to plan out the timing for your meals, especially if Thanksgiving meal is falling at an atypical meal time. Refuse to use that timing issue as an excuse to skip meals or go off your meal plan. Simply juggle around your mealtimes a bit so that you can still fit in breakfast, lunch, dinner and one or two snacks. If you don’t do this in advance, it probably won’t happen.
  • Create a holiday project that will provide you with some distraction and also give you something positive to look forward to on the day of the holiday. Consider creating a scrapbook of past family holidays or a hand-made gift for your host/hostess.
  • Set realistic expectations. Work on decreasing expectations about decorations, food, family time, and any other areas in which you’re feeling pressure to be perfect.

Real-life holidays, like many things, will not resemble the advertisements and commercials that portray them. Holiday gatherings will not be perfect…someone will spill their drink all over the carpet, your relatives will arrive late (or unexpectedly early!), kids will have tantrums, arguments may occur, and at least some of the food will get overcooked. The great thing is, that’s all okay and normal. If you find yourself expecting a picture perfect Thanksgiving, take time to adjust your vision and agree to embrace the day in all its imperfection. Ultimately, that is exactly what will make it memorable.

~ Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C, CED Community Outreach Coordinator

  • Focus on the bigger picture. Research causes or charities that interest you where you might be able to volunteer during the holiday season; focus on the meaning of the holiday rather than the food specifically.
  • Don’t skip therapy appointments. With all of the preparations and traveling and extra time committments, many people find themselves tempted to cancel pre-holiday meetings with therapists and dietitians or skip regular support groups.  We’ve encountered this many times before and unfortunately, it rarely results in positive outcomes.  This is exactly the time when extra support is crucial.  Instead of cancelling, consider other options like adjusting your appointment time to an earlier slot before you leave town.
  • Begin a daily practice of gratitude. Start each day by reflecting on something you are grateful for. You could write them each down in a journal or even post them on Facebook. This is a great way to head into the holiday with a fresh and positive outlook.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post with more insight and suggestions from our therapists and dietitians in Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday, Part 2: The Day Of Thanksgiving

[UPDATE]: Part II is now live here

[UPDATE]: Part III is available here: Tried & True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday, Part III: AFTER Thanksgiving has Come and Gone

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You might also be interested in these posts from past holidays…

 Tips for Overcoming Holiday Stress and Anxiety – Part I: The Food

Tips for Overcoming Holiday Stress & Anxiety – Part II: The Stress

Nutrition Tips for a Healthy and Happy Holiday!

Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder: 10 Tips to Help You Get Through the Holiday

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

 

Momentum of Positive Change: The AMA’s Photoshop Policy & Beyond

On its website, the American Medical Association (AMA) states that its mission is to “help doctors help patients by uniting physicians nationwide to work on the most important professional and public health issues.”  It speaks volumes then, that in their most recent press release, the AMA announced the adoption of a new policy to discourage the rampant use of photoshopping and American Medical Association Logophoto editing by advertisers.  In the policy, AMA cites the connection between unrealistic/altered images and adolescent health problems, particularly body image and eating disorders. A press release about the new policy included the following statement:

Advertisers commonly alter photographs to enhance the appearance of models’ bodies, and such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents. A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems. The AMA adopted new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.

Its important to note that eating disorders are biological illnesses with a myriad of  genetic, hormonal and neurobiological factors.  Just as parents do not cause eating disorders, nor do airbrushed magazine ads. (In fact, Carrie Arnold over at Psychology Today’s Body of Evidence does a great job of examining this aspect of the AMA’s statement).  But our hope is that this new policy is not just focused on removing a risk factor for those who may be genetically more susceptible to the “thin ideal”.  A society saturated with computer-generated images portrayed as real bodies is unhealthy and harmful whether it contributes to an eating disorder or not.   Its harmful to females and males.  Its harmful to kids and adults.  Its harmful for anyone that struggles with negative self-esteem or body image.  In this way, the issue of photoshop and media ethics is more than an eating disorder prevention issue but one that addresses self-esteem and body image on a societal level.

While some will say the policy doesn’t accomplish enough, its encouraging to see a well-respected, national organization like the AMA acknowledging the issue and prompting further attention to it. What’s most encouraging isGirl Scouts of America logo that this recent action by the AMA, seems to be part of a larger momentum of change including the Girl Scouts’ announcement of its’ project, Healthy MEdia: Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls which is being co-launched by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and The Creative Coalition.

The new policy also arrives amidst several specific wins in the fight against harmful media practices surrounding weight, food, beauty ideals and sexualization.  Most recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) won a settlement against Beiersdorf, Inc. (parent company of Nivea) Inc. that prohibits them from making continued false claims that its Nivea My Silhouette! skin cream can reduce consumers’ body size.  In June, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) publicly applauded Yoplait for agreeing to pull a troubling ad campaign after being warned by NEDA that it normalized dangerously disordered thoughts around food and weight.  And thanks to international body image advocates Sharon HaywoodMelinda Tankard Reist and more than 5,000 signatures on a petition at Change.org, major networks MTV and VH1 both agreed to ban a violent and misogynistic music video starring Kanye West and other high profile music stars.

Lots of individuals and organizations are pushing back against the tide of false bodies, diet myths, weight prejudice and general negativity in the media.  They’re making great strides in the promotion of positive body image, self-esteem and overall health (vs. weight).  In addition to those we mentioned above, here are just a few more organizations and individuals that are doing good and speaking out for change:

When it comes to body image and media literacy, what other successful campaigns and positive social changes have you noticed lately? 

Join the discussion and check us out on Facebook & Twitter.

You Are So Much More Than Your Eating Disorder

Anyone who has been through the eating disorder recovery process will tell you it is not easy.  Eating Disorders (EDs) are complex bio-psycho-social illnesses and, as such, the treatment and recovery process can often be more difficult than anticipated.  It’s not uncommon for struggling individuals (and their support people) to hold on to a wish that removing one specific trigger will offer a quick fix or a shortcut to recovery.  Unfortunately, there is no magic wand for ED recovery.  Changes to daily routines, altering hobbies or taking time off from triggering activities are sometimes part of the recovery process but these things must be accompanied by additional hard work, specialized therapy and a deeper understanding of oneself and the role that the ED plays in ones life.

When author and recovery advocate Johanna S. Kandel was speaking here at CED in February 2011, she talked about this struggle as it related to her own ballet career and her identity as a dancer.  Now recovered after 10 years of struggling with periods of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, Johanna remembers thinking that removing ballet from her life would also remove the ED.

http://eatingdisorder.org/video/kandel2.flv

In the clip, Johanna shares so bravely about a story which so many others can relate to – being in a very scary place for a long time, feeling like there isn’t much to cling to other than the ED.  The longer one identifies solely with their ED, the harder it can be to envision oneself without it.  Fortunately, while there is no magic wand, there are skilled treatment professionals, evidence-based therapies, ongoing support groups and various treatment options for those who are struggling with all types of eating disorders.  It is never too late to hope.  It is never too late to seek treatment and to begin the journey to recovery.

Do you find yourself hoping one change will erase the ED from your life?  Does it prevent or delay you from seeking meaningful help?  If you find yourself feeling like your eating disorder is your only identify, try this exercise:  Draw a picture of a sun with many different rays of light coming out.  On each ray, write down an important role that you play in life or important elements of who you are.  For example:

Daughter, College Student, Nanny/Babysitter, aspiring Writer, Employee, Colleague, Tutor, Sister…

OR…

Brother, Friend, Fiance, Son, Employee, Hospital Volunteer, Uncle, Artist, Band Member, Pet Owner…

Early on in recovery, the eating disorder may have an important place around your sun as well.  As Johanna mentioned in the clip, it can often feel like the ED becomes your only identity.  Reminding yourself that you are so much more than your ED can help to make it a little bit easier to loosen your grip on the ED.   Gradually, through treatment, the ED becomes a less important part of who you are, and you can spend more time focusing on the true rays of light in your life.

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This was the second of several recovery blogs inspired by the February 2011 presentation by Johanna Kandel at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Follow CED on  Facebook to stay tuned as we continue to post additional recovery-focused blogs and video clips .  Johanna shares more about her own recovery journey in her highly influential book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder,  and continues to support others through her role as the Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, a non-profit organization based in Florida. You can learn more about Johanna and her incredible book in these previous blogs as well:


Jet Fuel and a Handful of No Regrets: The subtle reasons why Media Literacy is so important when it comes to messages about food and weight

Earlier this week we were prepping for a media literacy presentation when we came across a few examples that point to some of the very reasons why media literacy education is so important.  Of course, it’s always very easy to locate magazine ads that exemplify the ills of photoshopping (cue the recent ALDO billboard photoshop fail) or products that perpetuate an unhealthy body ideal and the sexualization of girls (cue the recent Abercrombie & Fitch push-up bikini for 8 year olds).  And, there’s certainly no shortage of  overtly harmful (and grossly inaccurate) claims about food and weight in ads for trendy diets and diet products.  These, unfortunately, very effective ads rake in more than $40 billion a year for the diet industry.  But some of the messages we get about weight, size and food are much more subtle and in many ways, that makes them even more detrimental.

Check out these two ads for almonds found in Men’s Health - a men’s fitness magazine.   Despite the magazine’s title and efforts at health-focused articles, most readers would agree, the general tone of the magazine is usually just as image-focused as any women’s fashion magazine.   Focus on health often seems secondary to the focus on rock-hard abs and a heavy dose of scantily-clad women.  However, we found the following almond ads were somewhat effective at marketing the product in a healthful and holistic way without focusing on the body. What do you think?

“A Handful of Good News…because they’re packed with great stories to tell. Like how just a handful a day gives you 6g protein, 3.5g fiber and can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

“A handful of jet fuel. Grab a snack that’ll give you a boost anytime, anywhere. A handful of heart-smart, nutrient-rich California Almonds with 6 grams of protein power can be just the lift you need. It can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol.”

To be honest, we were fairly surprised to see an ad for anything in this men’s fitness magazine that didn’t include a photoshopped close-up of a chiseled body.  But we were  pleasantly surprised to see these ads focusing on health vs. weight and even highlighting the utility of the body vs. how it looks.  Eating for nourishment and strength to do the things that we enjoy – for example, playing with your kids – is a healthful concept that we fully support and one that is also important throughout the eating disorder recovery process.

We were fully prepared to give this company an A+  for their marketing messages until we found the ads’ female counterparts in Real Simple, a women’s magazine that generally delivers a better-than-average display of body/size diversity and emphasizes physical and mental well-being.  Notice the difference in the  marketing  of the same exact product when it is targeted towards women?

“A handful of chocolate-covered permission. Looking to maximize goodness and minimize guilt? Satisfy more than just your sweet tooth with the antioxidant-rich duo of dark chocolate and California Almonds.”
“A handful of no regrets…Want a simple snack without the guilty aftertaste? Make sure your heart-smart, nutrient-rich California almonds are always within reach. Just a handful a day can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

Internal feelings of “guilt” and “regret” are introduced to the female consumer where previously existed “good news” and “fuel”.  A very different message gets portrayed – one that implies women should rely on external permission to have a snack instead of their own body’s internal hunger cues and legitimate need for nourishment and strength.  These ads also suggest that women should feel guilty or experience regret if they eat certain foods.  These are not uncommon experiences for individuals who struggle with disordered eating*, and it is often this very cycle of eating and the subsequent guilt/regret that perpetuates chronic dieting and many of the symptoms involved with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.  While extreme dieting and eating disorders are a growing problem for both females and males, this marketing campaign clearly capitalizes on the female experience.

Ads such as these do not cause negative body image or disordered eating by themselves.  However, they help to perpetuate unhealthy beliefs within a culture that is already saturated with mixed message about food, weight and an obsession with unrealistic beauty ideals.  Most interesting in this example may be the clear distinction between the two genders.   It’s essential to educate youth and adults about media literacy so we can collectively begin to protect ourselves and our families from the repercussions.  It’s also important to remember that sometimes the very subtle messages about how we “should” relate to food are even more invasive than those with obvious intentions to mislead us.

Be a critical viewer of the media.  Question the images and the advertisements you come across.  Compare ads that are targeted to different genders, ethnicities and ages.   Ask yourself what messages they are sending and what effect they might have.

Do you consider yourself to be media literate?  How do you resist subtle messages like the ones discussed above? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.

*Disordered Eating: A significant deviation from normalized eating patterns that may include dieting, fasting, bingeing, or skipping meals. Disordered eating disregards internal regulation of hunger and fullness and provides the body with much more or much less than the body needs to function properly.  Instead of feeling good after a meal, someone who has disordered eating will often experience feelings of guilt, shame, discomfort, fear or discontent.

The Resolution Solution

The end of a calendar year brings with it endless conversations of new year’s resolutions.  Setting these notoriously lofty goals is often an attempt to pull oneself out of the seasonal funk that can settle in with shorter days, colder weather and a barrage of holiday stressors.  When people make resolutions, it is often done with the intent to completely overhaul their life.  They look to make a sweeping change that will fix all that is wrong, and get them back on the “right track”.  Unfortunately, this particular type of goal setting usually backfires – as evidenced by the fact that most people end up making the same exact resolutions year after year.

New year’s resolutions also send a message that today doesn’t count – it gives us permission to stay unhappy or unhealthy “just a little bit longer” until January 1st rolls around. This could mean different things for different people depending on whether you are working towards recovery from an eating disorder, still struggle with chronic yo-yo dieting or are trying to quit smoking.  So, how do you pull yourself out of the winter blues without jumping on the resolution bandwagon?  Here are a few ideas to get you started…

1.  Don’t wait.  Start making small adjustments today that have nothing to do with food, eating, or your weight. Creating small but positive disruptions in your daily routine can help you stay grounded and may even help to break a cycle of negative thoughts or eating disorder symptoms that are associated with certain places or a time of day.

  • Try taking a different route to work or school.  This small change could open up new possibilities, even if its just observing the new scenery or discovering a park along the way that you never knew existed!  Who knows, you may even find out that your new detour involves less traffic or fewer lights.
  • Do some interior designing.  Consider rearranging some furniture or updating a picture wall inside your house or apartment.  Visible changes such as these can offer a sense of renewal without the obligation or pressure.
  • These are just a few examples…you can come up with your own ideas for “minor adjustments” and share them on our Facebook page.

2. Setting goals is a great thing but not if the goal is unrealistic, unhealthy, too vague, or involves intense pressure to succeed.  All of these characteristics can make it very difficult to follow through with a resolution.  Instead, focus on taking small, concrete steps forward in the direction of balanced living.

  • If you tend to make resolutions that are unrealistic and unhealthy…“I have to get myself to the gym.  I’m going to purchase a membership and force myself to go everyday, no matter what.”
    • Try this instead: “I will commit to going to one or two community yoga classes by the end of the month and work on developing a positive and supportive relationship with my body.”
  • If you tend to make resolutions that are vague and counterproductive… “I need to lose weight by the summer so I’m really going to stick to my diet this year!”
    • Try this instead: “I give myself permission to stop dieting and to trust my body. If I need the help of a professional nutritionist to do this, I will seek one out.”
  • If you tend to make resolutions that leave no room for error and put a lot of pressure on you to succeed…“As of January 1st, I am never going to act on my eating disorder symptoms again.”
    • Try this instead: “Before the week is over, I will call and schedule an appointment to begin seeing a therapist.” This is an example of a small but very meaningful task that can result in long-term change.  If you already see a therapist, consider this instead: “In the next week, I will use at least one new support or coping skill that I’ve never tried before.” Examples include: attending a support group, journaling, or enrolling in art therapy.

3. Now that you’ve resolved NOT to make a resolution, how are you going to cope with everybody else who feels inclined to talk about resolutions, weight loss and diets all of the time?

  • Be the bearer of accurate news.  When your friends start discussing the new diet they will begin on January 1st, inform them about why diets don’t work and be sure to let them know that 98% of the people who go on diets gain all of the weight back and that half of them gain back more than they lost.
  • Try out the “shock and awe” technique. As others start to bemoan their hips and curse their thighs while resolving to change their bodies in the new year, employ the element of surprise – say something  NICE about yourself and your body. Body bashing has become such an accepted form of conversation (especially around the holidays) that when someone (You!) is able to reflect positively on their own body, people are seriously caught off guard and may think twice about their own statements.  Try one of the comments below or come up with a few of your own!
    • “I am so grateful for all of the things my body allows me to accomplish.”
    • “I’m much more concerned about feeling strong and healthy than I am about fitting into a particular size.”
    • Even if you are not at a point in your life, or in recovery, where you actually believe these statements, say them anyway.  Saying them out loud helps move you in the right direction toward real change.  You will not only have helped yourself, but you will steer the conversation away from a negative place and become a role model for positive body image.  This is particularly important if children and adolescents are within earshot of the conversation.

Here’s to a hopeful 2011 full of balance and mindfulness!

If you have any questions about eating disorders, please call our admissions coordinators at (410) 938-5252 to speak confidentially about your concerns and treatment options.  Additionally, you can visit our website at www.eatingdisorder.org for more information, including an interactive on-line quiz that can help determine whether you, or someone you care about, might have an eating disorder that requires professional treatment.