Testimony on The Inclusion of Questions on Eating Disorders in National and State Youth Risk Assessment Tools


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The following written testimony was provided by Steven Crawford, M.D. in advance of the Maryland State Medical Society House of Delegate’s vote on the matter of advocating for the inclusion of eating disorder questions in state and national health monitoring tools. 

Additional information on the position of Dr. Crawford and The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt can be found by reading the following articles: 

Data Collection Critical to Understanding Eating Disorders – Baltimore Sun

30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help – The Hill

More detailed information about resolution 10-18 is linked in the testimony below.

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Testimony of

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

Before the

MEDCHI, THE MARYLAND STATE MEDICAL SOCIETY HOUSE OF DELEGATES

April 29, 2018

Resolution 10-18 – The Inclusion of Questions on Eating Disorders in National and State Youth Risk Assessment Tools

My name is Dr. Steven Crawford, and I am pleased to appear today on behalf of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.  For nearly 30 years, on a daily basis, I have been involved in clinical care, teaching, and research of life-threatening eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia. I started my career in at Mercy Center for Eating Disorders, and subsequently I have held leadership positions in psychiatry at St. Joseph Medical Center, and currently, with Dr. Harry Brandt, I co-direct one of the largest hospital based eating disorders programs in the United States at Sheppard Pratt Health System.  I am a member of the Academy For Eating Disorders, a Distinguished Fellow the American Psychiatric Society, and a faculty member of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

I come before you asking your support of Resolution 10-18 which asks for the “The Inclusion of Questions on Eating Disorders in National and State Youth Risk Assessment Tools.”

In the United States there are an estimated 20 to 25 million people who suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders.  These illnesses destroy lives and devastate families throughout Maryland.  Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate and the highest suicide rate of any psychiatric illness.   Further, the eating disorders are unique in that virtually every major organ system in the body can be affected by starvation, poor nutrition, and the dangerous behavioral patterns associated with eating disorders.  Sudden death is not uncommon.

After over two decades of mandatory surveillance of eating disorders signs and symptoms under the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state stakeholders voted to remove the mandatory eating disorders surveillance questions in 2015. The questions were removed under the pretense of changing public health priorities.  This, despite growing prevalence of eating disorders, an increasing awareness of their impact and the knowledge that every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.  Eating disorders should be among the top priorities of CDC because of their high death rate and the evidence that early identification and treatment are essential.

In this resolution, we request support of Med-Chi in advocating to the Maryland Department of Health for the immediate re-instatement of eating disorder questions in any current and future statewide Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS).  These efforts, if successful, would position Maryland as a national leader in tracking, assessing and mitigating the negative medical, social and financial burdens caused by eating disorders.

Additionally, we are working with the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED), the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), and The Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) to ensure the eating disorder questions are reinstated on a national level through the CDC surveillance systems.  This resolution additionally asks the MedChi’s American Medical Association (AMA) Delegation ask our AMA to advocate that the CDC reinstate the eating disorder questions into the YRBSS.

It is our hope that the House of Delegates will support this critical initiative by passing resolution 10-18.


UPDATE: On April 29, 2018, the MedChi House of Delegates voted to adopt resolution 10-18.

 

Knitting Together Skills for Eating Disorder Recovery

April is National Occupational Therapy Month ~ #OTMonth 


If you’ve had an eating disorder yourself, or you know someone who has, you might know all-too-well that one of the side effects of these illnesses is decreased engagement in meaningful, fun or productive activities. Eating disorders have a way of overtaking a person’s energy and time, even altering the way the brain works.Knitted squares in blue, grey and white; the beginning stages of a blanket

As more time is spent obsessing about food and weight, and engaging in symptomatic behaviors, there tends to be less and less mental energy available for activities unrelated to meals, food or thoughts  of body dissatisfaction.  By no fault of their own, individuals who develop eating disorders often don’t realize how much the eating disorder shifts their focus and leads them away from people,  events, and activities they once enjoyed.  This is one of the reasons The Center for Eating Disorders (CED) at Sheppard Pratt has always incorporated Occupational Therapy into our treatment options for individuals with eating disorders.An individual’s “occupation” is any activity that occupies his or her time.  Thus, Occupational Therapists (OTs) focus on enabling people to participate in meaningful and purposeful activities of daily life. At CED, our OTs work to provide individuals with a setting where the behavioral changes made through Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and insights learned in other psychotherapies can be converted into new behaviors that become part of the long-term healing process. We’ve written before about some of the ways our OT Department does this through Horticulture Groups.  Similar work is done throughout the year in different ways – including through mindful knitting groups.

Knitting is a craft that requires both physical and cognitive skills and thus engages both mind and body simultaneously. Knitting has the advantage of engaging the senses with the sound of the needles, touch of the yarn and movement of the hands that, together, hold the attention of the mind in the present moment. Repetitive action can be calming, textures can provide grounding opportunities and hand movements offer engagement for mind and body. This can be a much-needed relief for persons with eating disorders whose thoughts are constantly being pulled to the last meal or to the next one, or to persistent negative beliefs about their body, weight or size.

Over the last two years since our knitting program began, the OTs in The Center for Eating Disorders’ Partial Hospital Program (PHP) facilitated two therapeutic knitting groups, running twice a week for 8 months a year as an addendum to our core CBT protocols and additional evidence-based therapies. Participants could join for one session or many and were reminded frequently that each contribution is part of the whole. In these groups, patients who were veteran knitters joined beginners, learning new skills and sharing experiences. The groups were an opportunity for individuals to practice mindfulness and socialize with peers while, as one participant put it, “focus on calming,repetitive activity that also produces a tangible result” completely separate from anything related to one’s eating disorder.  The tangible result? Mindful knitting participants worked to create a collage of knitted squares which, when knitted together, became finished baby blankets.

When asked about the impact of the groups, individuals indicated  they “became more centered, distracted from my negative thoughts”  and “my anxiety level changed”.  Others shared that “the knitting was calming; the repetitiveness of the knitting felt good.” The power of knitting as a therapeutic tool has been documented outside the individual experiences of our patients. According to Corkhill et al., (2014), knitting in groups can impact perceived happiness, improve social confidence and feelings of belonging.

The knitting group, like many of our other OT groups, offers a safe environment to explore a new hobby (or rekindle interest in an old one), challenge perfectionistic tendencies, relax in recovery-focused ways, and stay in the moment with the flow of the needles and yarn.  This opportunity to engage the mind and the body also allowed for reflection on the healing and recovery process. When our most recent group of participants were asked how to apply the skills learned in knitting group to their broader recovery goals, responses included all of the following:

  • “ I can look at each of my new coping skills as accomplishments and enjoy the state of calmness.”
  • “I didn’t give up. I can remember not to give up so quickly.”
  • “I was able to feel good about myself. I can definitely use that for self-esteem issues.”
  • “[I’m] very excited to go home and knit. It’s so helpful to practice being in the moment.

The knitting groups provided a healing experience, new mindfulness skills and a variety of powerful reflections for participants. They also provided participants with an outcome they could feel good about. Upon completion, the group’s resulting baby blankets were donated to newborns at Mt.Washington Pediatric Hospital where they can continue to promote healing in new and important ways.

Would you like to find out more about OT and other treatment options at The Center for Eating Disorders? Call us today at (410) 938-5252.


Christine Brown, MS, OTR/L

Blog Contributor: Christine Brown, MS, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders. Christine received her Masters of Science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1999. Prior to joining the team at The Center for Eating Disorders, Christine spent time providing community-based services as an intensive case manager and worked in a general psychiatric inpatient and partial hospital program.  In her current role at The Center, Christine provides occupational therapy for adults and adolescents in our inpatient and partial hospital programs. She assists patients in increasing engagement in valued roles and meaningful occupations through group and individual interventions. In addition to the knitting group and other OT groups, Christine facilitates the sensory awareness and horticulture specialty groups.

 


Reference:

Corkhill, Betsan & Hemmings, Jessica & Maddock, Angela & Riley, Jill. (2014). Knitting and Well-being. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture. 12. 10.2752/175183514×13916051793433.

 

8 Tips for Raising Body Positive Kids (Who are also Competent Eaters)


If your goal is to raise kids with high levels of self-esteem, eating competence, body satisfaction and a healthy weight (which is different for everyone) then join the chorus of advocates saying #wakeupweightwatchers and ditch the diet mentality for yourself and your family.  We know weight-loss diets don’t work. We also know they can cause serious harm, especially when introduced to kids and teens.  Let’s prevent the weight loss industry from profiting off our children’s generation.

So if dieting doesn’t work to help kids maintain a healthy weight, what is a parent to do?  These 8 tips are a great place to start.

  1. Make a commitment to having family meals together as often as you can within your family’s schedule. Having regular sit-down meals as a family has been shown to be a protective factor against a range of health and mental health problems including disordered eating.1,2,3,4 
  2. Introduce and incorporate a variety of foods from different food groups at every meal. This doesn’t assume your kid will actually eat them but it’s important to expose them, even if it’s just on someone else’s plate.
  3. Teach and model body acceptance (as opposed to body criticism or body comparison). Kids are always listening and watching how the adults around them relate to their own bodies.
  4. Support your child’s natural ability to regulate hunger and satiety. Promote trust in their ability to self-regulate. We recommend learning more about Ellyn Satter’s Family Feeding Model and the Division of Responsibility in feeding.

Research has shown that size acceptance and learning to use hunger and fullness cues produces sustainable improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, physical activity, self-esteem, and depression compared to dieting.” 5

 

  1. Engage in physical movement as a family with the goal of adventure, fun, coordination and social connection. Try not to frame exercise as punishment, as a way to gain permission to eat or as a means to an end (i.e. weight-loss).
  2. Incorporate all foods without fear or mixed messages. Food is energy and fuel but it’s also okay for it to be enjoyable too. Don’t forbid specific foods or categories of foods (unless there is an allergy of course). Refrain from using food as a reward at home and in the classroom as this can confuse kids, encourages them to eat in the absence of hunger or may lead to a pattern of rewarding oneself with food.6
  3. Refrain from labeling foods as “good foods” vs “bad foods”. Connecting foods with negative labels like bad, toxic or junk foods, can send kids a message that food is related to morality. Even young kids may internalize these labels. Ex) I ate a bad food, therefore I must be bad or I should feel badly. This can trigger strong feelings of guilt or shame related to eating as well as increased emotional eating.
  4. Support healthy sleep habits. Kids who don’t get enough sleep, or have chaotic sleep schedules, show changes in hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Not getting enough sleep can also impact the way a child’s body metabolizes certain foods.7

While these tips are meant to be a very basic place to start, they might still feel overwhelming since we live in a culture of toxic messages about food and weight. It’s hard to let go of anxiety about our kids’ eating behavior and weight. These can also be difficult to implement if you have your own history of body image struggles, eating disorders or dieting.

If you’re worried that your own relationship with food or weight might be complicating the way you approach these issues with your kids or teens you’re not alone. It can be helpful to get support from a therapist with eating disorder expertise or other non-diet practitioners. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt we provide a number of services that can help, including:

If you’re interested in any of these services, please call (410) 938-5252 for more information. 

Previous Post: 10 reasons NOT to introduce dieting during childhood & adolescence


References:

  1. Losing weight won’t make you happy
  2. Are Family Meal Patterns Associated with Overall Diet Quality during the Transition from Early to Middle Adolescence?
  3. Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood.
  4. BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
  5. 10 Reasons to Stop Dieting Now
  6. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: how to eat, how to raise good eaters, how to cook
  7. The connection between sleep and growth

Additional Recommended Reading: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift

 

12 Tried and True Ways People Upheld a Recovery-Focused Holiday


Looking back on this holiday season, it’s safe to say that social gatherings and celebratory feasts posed some significant challenges for anyone trying to develop a more peaceful relationship with food – including those in recovery from an eating disorder. That’s why The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt launched a social media campaign called the “12 Days of Eating Disorder Recovery.” The initiative shared tips on how to maintain healthy relationships with food through the holiday season and beyond. These are summarized below – one for each day of the 12 days – so you can use them to navigate future holiday seasons and get a little help finding the joy and peace within the hustle and bustle.


#12DaysofEDRecovery

Day 1: Keep expectations realistic and set manageable goals that will help you stick to your plan.

Regardless of where you’re at in recovery, celebrations, holiday feasts and schedule changes can pose challenges. Planning ahead and setting realistic expectations can help you stay focused on what truly matters.


Day 2: Grab a notebook or journal and write down all the reasons why recovery is important to you.

While you’re at it, make another list of support people. Figure out in advance who you will call if things get overwhelming or if you simply need to get out of your own head. Things that help you cope daily are still needed during the holidays.

If you’re headed out of town, pack your suitcase with your notebook along with other recovery tools. This could be tangible things like a fidget cube, fun book, art supplies or a favorite essential oil.


Day 3: Connect in safe and meaningful ways with others in recovery.

Recovery from an eating disorder is a journey that requires support, encouragement and ongoing motivation. Individuals with eating disorders and their loved ones can find hope and help in others who understand what they’re going through. Support groups and therapy groups can be a great way to strengthen recovery skills and help remind you that you are not alone.


Day 4: Set a goal today that has nothing to do with food, weight or your eating disorder.

It’s common for social gatherings to revolve around food in our culture, especially during the holidays. These celebrations often lead to an intensified emphasis on meals and eating for those working on recovery from an eating disorder. Keep doing what you need to do to fuel your body in recovery, but try also setting a goal for yourself that has nothing to do with food or your eating disorder.


Day 5: Don’t let your eating disorder make decisions for you in the grocery store. Use price or brand to inform decisions instead of reading nutrition labels.

Whether we like it or not, grocery shopping is part of adulthood. But for the millions of individuals living with an eating disorder, this everyday task feels overwhelming and becomes a significant barrier to recovery. If you are worried about buying items for upcoming gatherings or celebrations, this tip can help make grocery shopping more manageable.


Day 6: Defuse grocery shopping stress by bringing a friend, avoiding crowds and shopping at smaller stores in off-peak hours.

If you’ve had negative experiences with grocery shopping, you can start developing more positive associations. A Registered Dietitian may provide some easy steps for managing your grocery list.

Ask your dietitian for support, or consider adding one to your treatment team if you haven’t done so. You can also go with a friend or support person the first few times to help distract from any eating disorder thoughts and avoid being triggered by diet products.


Day 7: Infuse your New Year with body positivity and gratitude.

Be prepared to see your newsfeed flooded with New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships and diet plans in the coming weeks. To balance triggering and unhealthy messages, remember to reality check all the bogus weight-loss ads and surround yourself online and IRL with body-positive people and organizations.

Pay attention to which images and messages contribute to your feeling badly about yourself or your body and do what you can to remove them from your daily life. When you notice them, remove them (unsubscribe, throw them away, etc.) or challenge them.

Focus on gratitude for the functionality of the breath in your body, the ability to move, see, hear, taste or touch. Try to elevate those in your mind as you go through your day.

Create your own New Year’s goals with body positive thoughts. Work to set aside unhealthy ideals and embrace your body.


Day 8: Tackle eating disorder stigma by dispelling myths among friends and family.

Major misconceptions about eating disorders are widespread, even among those closest to us. Family can be a key component to recovery success. Unfortunately, some family and friends may still subscribe to ED myths that lead to stigma and might make it harder to ask for help or to seek treatment. Help educate and increase awareness about eating disorders among your loved ones.


Day 9: Friends and family can be a great support network. Be open with the people closest to you about how they can best support you.

Holiday conversations often revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and even criticism or praise about body weight and size.  Did this happen for you during Chanukah or Christmas this year?

The start of a new year can be a great time to enlist family members as allies by being open about your needs and boundaries. Set the stage for healthier gatherings in the new year by having a post-holiday conversation with them about how their words impacted you and what they can do instead to support you at the table and in other stressful situations.


Day 10: Meditate or listen to soothing music to start your day in a positive place.

It’s not just about food and body image. Incorporating mindfulness in the new year can be a way to care for your overall mental health. If you’re heading back to work or school after winter break, find a way to change up your routine to build in mindfulness practices.  Even just three minutes of meditation can help you set a positive intention for the day.

You can be mindful in your social connections too. Cultivate awareness about the different support each generation of your family can offer. Hanging out with cousins can be a nice way to connect and get support on specific life stage issues like being away at college, parenting stress, job hunting, etc. On the other hand, reaching out to older generations, like grandparents, is an opportunity to see how priorities can shift throughout life. Even the youngest generations have something to offer you in your recovery-focused festivities.


Day 11: Aim for balance and flexibility rather than perfection.

Individuals who are perfectionists often struggle with the urge to compare themselves to people around them. Research has shown perfectionism to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders.

Constantly striving to be perfect with food or appearance during the holidays can lead to tension and stress. Even those holiday photo cards hanging around your house can trigger negative social comparisons. Try making some small changes to help ease perfectionist tendencies this time of year.


Day 12: Support is essential to your wellbeing. Recovery is possible with treatment and support.

Whether you are an individual working on recovery, or a loved one who is close to someone in recovery during this time of year, it’s important to remember that support is essential to wellbeing.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.

Ask for help.

 

If you are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder and you’re not connected to a therapist or receiving treatment, don’t wait any longer.  There is no reason to go through this alone. Call (410) 938-5252 for a free phone assessment today.


This holiday season, and year-round, carry these tips with you. Recovery is possible and recovery is worth it.

Easing Anxiety About Grocery Shopping During Eating Disorder Recovery

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Easing Anxiety About grocery Shopping - Woman with Shopping Cart [IMAGE]Whether we like it or not, grocery shopping is a necessary task of adulthood. It can be annoying or simply unenjoyable for anyone who is living a busy life or just doesn’t enjoy shopping or cooking. Most adults however, make it in and out of the grocery store regularly without significant disruption, problems or stress. But for the millions of individuals living with an eating disorder, an everyday task like buying food for themselves or their families feels completely overwhelming. Just thinking about going food shopping can trigger intense anxiety and may result in avoidance or elevated eating disorder symptoms. Actually going to the store and getting out before the milk gets warm seems impossible at times.

Since having consistent, structured and fulfilling meals are such a fundamental part of eating disorder recovery, being able to source and purchase the food for those meals then becomes a primary part of treatment.  If someone is too anxious to step foot in the store, obsesses over the label on every item or finds they just wander aimlessly, it can really inhibit their ability to bring home the foods they need to meet their nutritional goals. As a result, difficulties with grocery shopping can become a significant barrier to recovery. That’s why our Outpatient Nutritional Coordinator put together these tips to help individuals with eating disorders (or anyone really) navigate the grocery experience and become more confident in your shopping ability.

Plan, Plan, Plan: This is one of the most impactful tips! Planning your meals ahead saves you time and money. It can also decrease anxiety at meal times since you know that you have something in place and what to expect. In order to maintain stable meals, you must have a menu planned and food available to meet that plan; remember to incorporate foods from all food groups. Set aside one hour, one day a week for meal planning. Planning ahead also cuts down on the amount of trips to the store you need to take during the week.  One to two trips to the grocery store per week is reasonable

Organize your list: Based on your planned menu, create a grocery list. Breaking it down into the sections of the grocery store can cut down on time spent in the store. People that “wing it” end up wandering too long or revisiting the same aisle two or three times. Keep a pad of paper in your kitchen or a list on your phone where you can write down food staples that you run out of during the week; add them to your main grocery list before you go.

Be realistic: Set realistic expectations when you plan your meals. What do you have going on this week?  Which nights will you have more time to cook?  Which nights do you need something easy to assemble?  At which meals would it make sense to use leftovers?   Pick up a variety of foods that require different levels of preparation.

Mission possible: Set a time limit and stick to it.  Make it your mission to be at the register in 30 minutes or less.

Add support: Go with a friend or support person for the first few times. Whether they know you have an eating disorder or not, this will help distract from any eating disorder thoughts in your head and will keep you more on task.  Letting your support person know your goal of being at the register in 30 minutes or less can also help hold you accountable to not wasting time wandering aisles or compulsively comparing items.

Stick with what you pick: If you find yourself spending too much time reading labels or comparing similar products, try to make the decision based on which one is on sale that week. Choosing the item based on price can also help expose you to different brands and allows you to discover which one your taste buds truly prefer.  Another way to decrease label reading is to view the grocery store ad online before going to the store when making your list.  This allows you to view items without being able to read their labels and to commit to having them on your grocery list based on what is on sale.  This is helpful for reducing time comparing products, getting exposure to trying different products out, and can save you money!

Shrink the store: Sometimes it’s fun to shop at a large grocery store and to have a lot of options, but for some people more options = more anxiety. If that’s the boat you’re in, try shopping at a smaller store such as Aldi, Eddie’s, or the grocery section at Target.   It’s a lot easier to decide which yogurt to buy when you have three options instead of thirty!  Having less options of yogurt, cereal, bread, crackers, etc, can reduce time spent in the aisles and will help you get out of the store faster.

Ditch the diet products:
Avoid being lured into fat free, sugar free, “diet products.”  They do not satisfy and will only leave you feeling hungry and stuck in the “diet mentality.”  Normalized eating incorporates regular products that are more satisfying and enjoyable.

Avoid the crowds: Try to shop at times when the grocery store is not as busy. Typically during the week, 3-6pm tends to be the busiest time at the grocery store.  Sundays are also very busy days.  Try to go in the morning, later in the evening, or on Saturday.   You can also look your grocery store up on google maps and look at their “popular times” bar graph to see less busy times to shop.

Check your status:
Be mindful of your vulnerability factors.  Are you tired? Stressed? Hungry? If the answer is yes, plan on engaging in some self-care first and going to the grocery store when you are feeling more rested, stable and satiated.

Ask an RD: If you need help planning meals, making grocery lists, expanding variety, and setting goals for improving your confidence with grocery shopping, ask your dietitian for support. If you do not have a dietitian, consider adding one to your treatment team if you are working through an eating disorder.

Remember that with learning any new skill, it takes practice and time.   If you have negative experiences with grocery shopping in your past, try some of these tips to begin developing more positive associations with going to the grocery store. Over time, this will help decrease your anxiety around grocery shopping. Plus, having food available for meals will help you stay on track on your journey to recovery.


The Center for Eating Disorders is excited to announce the launch of a brand new Grocery Shopping Support Program designed to aid individuals working on recovery from eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Parents/Caregivers of children and adolescents are also eligible for participation. Program components and goals include:

  • Snack/meal/menu planning
  • Grocery list development
  • Incorporation of challenging foods
  • Efficiently utilizing time spent in stores
  • Managing impulsive food purchases
  • Identifying triggers and coping skills
  • Decreasing anxiety around food and food purchases
  • Exposure to food-based environment
  • Individualized treatment goals

If you’re interested in scheduling a grocery support appointment, please call (410) 938-5252.  If you have questions about the program you can also email Hannah Huguenin.


Written By: Hannah Huguenin MS, RD, LDN
Outpatient Nutrition Coordinator

Hannah has been an integral part of The Center for Eating Disorders’ staff since 2008, and provides individual nutritional counseling for the outpatient population. In her role at The Center, she manages the outpatient nutrition team and leads program development. She was instrumental in building the Center’s new Grocery Shopping Support Program. Hannah also provides ongoing support to help patients decrease eating disorder behaviors, meet their nutritional goals and improve their relationship with food through nutrition education.

How to Stay Recovery-Focused When Interacting with Triggering Media

In our previous post we discussed a variety of reasons that individuals with eating disorders, especially those in the early stages of recovery, may choose not to watch the Netflix film To The Bone or other films they know could create roadblocks in their continued recovery.

With that said, triggering media has always been around and will always be a part of our society so it’s helpful to know how to navigate it.  Many individuals in long-term recovery or later stages of treatment might feel prepared to watch a film or read a book about eating disorders, despite triggering content. Many of our clinicians have helped to shape such exposure into therapeutic experiences for patients who are ready.  For example, during periods of strong recovery, seeing a film like To The Bone can be an opportunity to reflect on one’s own experience, see things from a new perspective, process lingering eating disorder thoughts or channel anger towards the eating disorder in productive ways.

If you’ve considered all of the options and decide you do want to watch a film about eating disorders, these are a few things to consider that can help you do so in safe and productive ways.

  1. Don’t watch alone. Watch with a support person you can trust and communicate openly with them about how it is impacting you in the moment. You might even consider pausing the show periodically to breathe, reflect and talk.
  2. Time it right. Only watch it when you know you’ll be attending a therapy session or support group within a few days so you can explore your reactions and get help challenging any distorted thoughts or concerns about what you see on screen. If you currently have a lot of other life stressors or you’re in a time of transition (moving, starting school, going through a divorce, etc.) you may want to consider waiting to watch until things settle down.
  3. Challenge the ED thoughts. Consider journaling about aspects of the movie that you find triggering and then refute and challenge the inaccurate, negative or distorted thoughts.
  4. Be an activist. Write a letter to the director of the film or to the editor of a local newspaper regarding what you liked or didn’t like, what was helpful vs. not helpful or what you’d like to see more of when it comes to films about eating disorders. For example, while To The Bone features one person of color and one male in supporting roles, the movie’s star and protagonist is a young, white, upper-middle class woman with anorexia. This doesn’t help to dismantle stereotypes about who is and isn’t impacted by eating disorders. Consider writing a letter that advocates for greater diversity in eating disorder representation or about another aspect of recovery that feels important to you.
  5. Create an escape clause. Allow yourself the option to stop watching at any point throughout the film. Eating disorders can be associated with all-or-nothing thinking so it may feel like once you start the movie you have to finish it, but remember it’s not so black and white. At any point, if you feel triggered or uneasy about what you’re watching, turn it off.
  6. Plan ahead. Decide in advance upon an alternative show to watch or a self-care activity you can do when the film is over (or if you stop watching early) that will help you sustain a more recovery-focused mindset.

Do you use these strategies or have other ideas for navigating triggering media safely?  Tweet them to us @CEDSheppPratt and we’ll add to the list. 


You may also be interested in reading: 
To Watch or Not to Watch: That is the Question, Navigating “To The Bone” and other potentially triggering movies about eating disorders

 

 

 

 

 

To Watch or Not to Watch: That is the Question

Navigating “To the Bone” and other Potentially Triggering or Inflammatory Movies about Eating Disorders

Like most things in life there are benefits and risks that come with exposure to media, especially media that depicts sensitive or potentially life-altering subject matter such as eating disorders, suicide or mental health. As you may have already noticed from the controversial conversations about it, the Netflix movie, To the Bone is no different. The film depicts a young woman, Ellen, in the throes of her eating disorder and follows her through the recovery process which the synopsis points out, includes
help from a “non-traditional doctor” played by Keanu Reeves. It may come as no surprise that the main character, Ellen, is a young, white, very thin, upper middle-class woman, and that the particular eating disorder she is dealing with is anorexia nervosa. Hollywood tends to over-rely on this stereotyped depiction of eating disorders, despite the fact that in reality, eating disorders and the people they impact are much more diverse.

As one of the nation’s longest-running providers of evidence-based treatment for children, adolescents and adults with eating disorders we’ve been asked by numerous patients and families in the previous weeks how to handle such a film.  And while To The Bone may be a new film, this is far from a new question.  Over the last several decades, similar questions have been raised in response to documentaries, blogs, fictional books and memoirs written by individuals recovering from eating disorders.

Decades of observing the impact of this type of media has reinforced our recommendation that individuals who are currently struggling with an eating disorder or those who are in the early stages of treatment and recovery don’t typically benefit from watching movies or reading books that display any of the following characteristics:

  • extremely graphic depictions of people engaged in eating disorder symptoms such as bingeing, purging, chewing/spitting, body checking, over-exercising, self-harming or abusing drugs and alcohol
  • detailed descriptions of ED thoughts and behaviors that are left unchallenged, unexplained or are not paired with sufficient education regarding the consequences
  • conversations that include specific numbers such as weights, clothing sizes, calorie counts or repetitions of exercise.

If you notice any of these characteristics in a movie, show or book, it should be a red flag that it might not be a beneficial resource or recovery-focused activity for someone who is currently struggling.

We always look to support popular media that finds a way to raise awareness and stimulate meaningful discussions about eating disorders in safe and non-triggering ways. With that in mind, we went into our own viewing of this newest movie with high hopes and an open mind. Unfortunately, what we found was that To The Bone ultimately ticks off all three of the red flags mentioned above. Furthermore, the film’s depiction of treatment methods and treatment protocols are far from helpful, safe, or accurate.  As a team of specialized professionals, many of whom have spent their entire careers learning about, researching and utilizing evidence-based treatments for eating disorders, this film was, quite frankly, disappointing and at times difficult for our staff to watch.

On the flip side, it did do a good job of illustrating the immense pain and struggle faced by those who are impacted by these illnesses. It also got people talking about an issue that is usually hushed in society despite the fact that eating disorders impact 20-30 million people.  Our hope would be that some viewers of the film gain insight or information that could help them check in with a friend or loved one who is showing warning signs and needs help.

Taking into account both perspectives and the possibility for all the positive and negative impacts, it’s crucial to think  critically about the media introduced to us as communities, families and individuals.

If you are a therapist, a parent, educator or friend of someone with an eating disorder

It’s really important to empower anyone considering watching a film about eating disorders to feel like they can disengage safely and with your support.  Let them know it’s okay to decide not to watch because it has the potential to be harmful for them and their recovery.  This can be a hard but powerful decision because it builds confidence and sets a precedent for recovery-focused decision-making.  How? Today, it might be saying no to a Netflix film that “everyone else is watching and talking about” but tomorrow it could be saying no to a dangerous cleanse that a favorite celebrity is promoting on social media or saying no to a friend that encourages you to step on her bathroom scale. Learning how to say no to such things, even when the societal pressure and internal urges are strong, is imperative for long-term recovery.

If you have an eating disorder or are in recovery from an eating disorder…

If you’re like a lot of our patients, seeing a trigger warning at the start of a film or hearing in advance that it might be detrimental isn’t always a deterrent and might even make the content more intriguing. We’ve heard from some of our patients that they choose to watch the film despite their own reservations and knowledge of the content.  Most of the reactions included versions of the following:

  • I found myself comparing my body to the actress in the film and thinking that maybe I wasn’t deserving of or didn’t really need treatment since I wasn’t as thin as her.
  • I found myself wishing I could go back to my eating disorder.
  • I was tempted to use “a little bit of my ED behaviors” and was reassuring myself I wouldn’t let it get that bad.
  • If she [the actress Lily Collins] can “lose weight safely” for this role after recovering from an eating disorder in real life than maybe I can too.  

Despite what may be positive intentions for this film, it’s important to be realistic about how it actually plays out for the millions of people with eating disorders who watch it. While not everyone will have reactions like these, we think it’s important for individuals and support people to know it’s a possibility that the person who is struggling with an eating disorder may overlook the negative aspects of the eating disorder on screen and only see the perceived positive or glamorized aspects.

If you are struggling with whether or not to watch this film, or engage with any other eating-disorder focused media, remember that it’s okay to say no. At the very least, we encourage you to discuss your decision with a treatment provider or trusted support person.  If you decide together that watching this type of film might actually be beneficial at certain stages of recovery, check out these guidelines for watching safely.

Some of the most important ways to enhance recovery and prevent relapse include: continuing regular contact with treatment providers, following evidence-based recommendations, engaging in regular self-care and creating a home environment that is conducive to your continued healing and recovery. In this case, that might also include creating a Netflix watchlist that doesn’t have anything to do with eating disorders.

Do you have thoughts on the film or the media surrounding it? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.


Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C, Community Outreach Coordinator, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

A Focus on Body Image & Eating Disorders in Boys & Men for #menshealthmonth

“Get Lean in 2017”
“Shrink Your Gut,”
“Add Bulk To Your Arms”
“Get Rock Hard Abs,”

These are just a few of the typical headlines that can be seen on fitness and “health” magazines geared towards men. While there has been fairly widespread awareness cultivated around the media’s negative impact on women’s body image, not as much attention has been paid to how the media targets men and boys with similar body shaming tactics.

Our culture in general, and the media specifically, often pushes women to lose, lose, lose so they can be smaller, thinner and closer to an elusive definition of “perfect” but the opposite message is often being pushed towards men; most advertising and traditional media suggests the male quest for perfection requires they be bigger, stronger and more muscular.  Products previously peddled exclusively towards women – hair removal items, weight loss diets, tanning products, and plastic surgery – are expanding their markets by making men take a harder, longer and much more critical look at their own appearance.

A 2016 review of five national studies found that 20 to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone. An earlier study found that college aged men who viewed media images of muscular men showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity (what they think they look like) and their ideal body (what they feel they should look like). The researchers suggested their results could show that even brief exposure to such idealized images can increase body dissatisfaction in men.

Despite this ongoing push for men to get bigger and stronger, over the last decade we’ve also seen the juxtaposition of thinner versions of masculinity.  You can see it when looking at modern male mannequins with impossibly small waists and very slim – yet sculpted – abdomens and legs.  Conflicting body ideals abound. So what is the message after all…get bigger, but stay lean? Be muscular, but still fit in those trendy skinny jeans? It’s mind numbing to try and understand, and even more impossible to attain, yet these are the messages that boys are forced to decipher from a very young age and often continue to wrestle with into adulthood and middle age.

Given all of this, it isn’t that surprising a 2014 study of more than five thousand males aged 12 to 18 years found nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.

It’s important to note that, as is also the case with females, photoshopped advertisements and a general lack of diversity in the media’s representation of bodies does not in and of itself cause eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are complex illnesses with genetic and biologic underpinnings. However, environmental triggers such as narrow or unrealistic body ideals in the media can contribute to increased levels of body dissatisfaction which has been identified as a risk factor for eating disorders.

Dealing with unhealthy media messages is something that almost every man will have to deal with. As is also the case with girls and women, the dangers lie in the drastic steps some boys and men may take to try to manage increasing body image anxiety. Guys who are more dissatisfied with their bodies may be more likely to engage in risky weight loss, bulking or sculpting behaviors such as extremely restrictive diets, cleanses, steroids, supplements or excessive exercise. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors for anyone.  However, in boys and men who are genetically at risk for eating disorders, these types of behaviors can set the stage for an eating disorder, triggering changes in the brain, disrupting metabolic functioning, dysregulating hunger/fullness cues and often worsening body image, mood and anxiety symptoms. Boys and men who have a history of trauma, are involved in sports or careers that promote weight loss and perfection, and those with close family members with a history of an eating disorder are also at higher risk for developing one themselves.

Eating disorders have long been miscategorized as purely a women’s issue, even by some healthcare professionals. As a result it’s quite common for major warning signs like excessive exercise or drastic changes to diet to be overlooked or even congratulated in men. Stigma and stereotypes in the eating disorders combine to make it difficult for men who are stuck in the cycle of disordered eating to break out of it and get help. It is suggested that 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men, yet they only make up about 10% of people seeking treatment.

Talking openly about eating disorders can help minimize shame and embarrassment for males struggling with these issues. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we’ve been treating men with eating disorders for more than twenty-five years and we’re encouraged by the changes we hear in the conversations more recently. More men have been speaking out locally and using national platforms to raise awareness. In just the last year, Zayn Malik of the band One Direction discussed his struggle with an eating disorder and anxiety, performer/songwriter Matthew Koma wrote a poignant blog about his recovery from anorexia, and Joey Julius, a football player at Penn State, made a series of public statements regarding his decision to seek treatment for binge eating disorder. Their messages all point to a resounding hopefulness stemming from the reality that treatment is available and men can heal from their eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

So what can you do to help the men in your life?

Start by checking in with them. The Let’s Check In campaign is all about empowering individuals, families and communities to talk openly about eating disorders and to strengthen support for individuals of all genders who might feel alone. When it comes to eating disorders, early identification and prompt help-seeking can make a big difference. You can play a role in supporting prevention and recovery from eating disorders simply by educating and preparing yourself.

Know the risk factors and pay attention to any sudden shifts in diet, exercise routine or increased negative comments about themselves or their body. If you’re unsure, the confidential online assessment is a quick tool that can help you gauge whether someone you love might be at risk.  Second, if you are seeing increasing warning signs plan to check in with your friend or loved about your concerns and provide them with compassion and resources.  A fact sheet, conversation guide and additional resources are available at www.letscheckin.com/.


Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C

Written by:
Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C,
Family Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Regis Aguglia earned his Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2010. Prior to joining The Center for Eating Disorders in 2014, Regis provided individual, family and group therapy in outpatient and school-based settings and gained experience treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. As a Family Therapist in The Center’s inpatient and partial hospital programs, Regis works with families to understand the impact of an eating disorder on the family system and helps to strengthen communication, coping skills, nutritional stability and recovery-focused support. Regis also facilitates a number of inpatient therapy groups including dual diagnosis groups for patients with co-occurring substance abuse and a specialty group for boys and men with eating disorders.

What is a “Fear Food”?

 


At some point during treatment for foods_fearan eating disorder, most individuals will meet with a Registered Dietitian. One of the many important things you’ll do during those sessions is identify and discuss your personal list of fear foods. This is an important step that allows the dietitian to individualize treatment, help you plan for and overcome obstacles, and work alongside the rest of the treatment team to empower you in your recovery.

What are fear foods?
A fear food, or challenge food, is a term for foods that one finds difficult to incorporate into everyday eating. This term is used for foods that feel scary to eat, often because of negative thoughts or feelings related to the food’s nutrient content. Fear foods can be items or categories of food that one perceives to be “bad” and which, when consumed, might trigger feelings of intense guilt or shame. As a result, people with eating disorders often completely avoid or restrict their fear foods. Sometimes, just being around a particular food or being faced with the possibility of eating it can result in increased anxiety.

For people with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, these fears and the perception of certain foods as “bad” are often related to anxiety about anticipated weight gain and/or an inability to stop eating the food once they begin. In other words, there tends to be a strong belief that eating a fear food will instantly make you fat or that eating a certain food will make you lose control and overeat.

A person’s list of fear foods might be specific, like ice cream or peanut butter.  For others, their fear foods might encompass a whole category like all desserts or fried foods. Someone else’s fear food list might include an entire nutrient group such as carbohydrates. Common fear foods are also items considered by many to be tasty, but may also be labeled as “junk food” in our current culture.

Where do fear foods come from?
Fear foods develop from personal values, attitudes, feelings and even memories associated with a certain food. Messages from the people close to you – family, friends, coaches, teachers, healthcare providers – all play a significant role in determining your thoughts about food and can ultimately influence your (dis)comfort with particular food items.

Fear foods may also stem from a variety of impersonal sources including trending cultural ideas about food, media messages, advertisements or even nutrition information intended to be educational and beneficial. For example, there are multitudes of articles and news stories that include lists of supposedly good vs. bad foods, or foods that are better/worse for health.

Another frequent source of fear or shame related to food is dieting. Given that most diets limit or cut out certain foods, dieters start to believe that the eliminated food is bad. The more diets a person goes on, the more fear foods they are likely to have.

What are some consequences of avoiding fear foods?

  • Limited variety and lack of enjoyment in meals
  • Social isolation
  • Obsessive thoughts about the feared food
  • Worsening anxiety
  • Increased eating disorder symptoms and heightened risk of relapse
  • Prolonged negative relationship with food

People without eating disorders may have fear foods too but the consequences for those with eating disorders are much steeper since we know that limiting variety and continuing to avoid specific foods during recovery raises one’s chances for relapse. Two of our CED dietitians recently wrote in more detail about this topic for our friends at Eating Disorder Hope in a post entitled, The Importance of Incorporating Fear Foods and Challenge Foods in Recovery.

Remember, no single food has the power to make you thin or fat. And, ironically, the avoidance of a food is typically what leads a person to overeat it.

If you think you might need assistance reintegrating fear foods or overcoming negative thoughts about food and eating in general, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252 for a free phone consultation. 


In individuals with different eating disorder diagnoses, or those with co-occurring disorders, fear foods might manifest differently. For example, in individuals with ARFID, anxiety may be related to a fear of choking or to a perceived health consequence of eating the food item. In individuals with PTSD, fear foods may stem from associations with the traumatic experience.  In both cases, treatment methods may differ, and the treatment team should take into account the origin and underpinnings of each fear food when providing education and support.


Blog Contributors:
Hannah Huguenin, MS, RD, LDN
Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN
Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C

Faking It: Sunless Tanning and the Risks You May Not Have Considered

Faking It_ SunlessTanning_SORENSENSkin cancer is among the most common forms of cancer in the United States. In fact, over the past three decades, there have been more cases of skin cancer than all other forms of cancers combined.1  Furthermore, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Dermatology estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year in the United States may be the result of indoor tanning, with approximately 6,000 of these cases being melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.2

Most people are aware of these risks. Warnings of cancer and other related health problems are broadcast widely, and reminders to slather on sunscreen can be heard from all corners of our pools and beaches. At the same time though, the pressure to acquire the media’s ideal body is strong, and this culturally defined ideal frequently includes obtaining a “luxurious summer glow” or becoming a “bronzed beauty”. For some, the perceived benefits of tanning via sun exposure, or tanning bed, seemingly outweigh those severe health risks and they continue tanning despite the danger. In research on UV exposure, some excessive tanning behavior has even been described as an addiction. Many other people, including 1 in 10 adolescents, opt for what is promoted as the safer option – sunless tanning.

Body image avoidanceSunless tanning products (creams, foams, sprays, stains, etc.) are heavily promoted as a viable option for someone looking to achieve a summer glow without assuming the health risks of tanning beds or sun exposure. But is it completely without risk? If we know UV exposure is unhealthy, then why are we spending time and money trying to fake it? It’s a million dollar question with a million dollar answer, or more accurately, a $763 million answer; that’s how much the fast-growing sunless tanning industry was worth in 2014.

Like the bikini body, the elusive summer glow represents an unfair and unrealistic expectation that can contribute to an individuals’ experience of body dissatisfaction. Additionally, trying to change skin color with the use of sunless tanning products can be viewed as a form of body image avoidance. An inability to achieve the tan ideal, or the time and mental resources spent focused on one’s perceived inadequacies, simply magnify negative feelings towards the body.  Thus, sunless tanner may help dodge the bullet, so to speak, by avoiding UV rays, but it is not completely harmless. Body dissatisfaction, body image avoidance, and low self-esteem are some of the most well documented risk factors in the development and presentation of eating disorders.  Furthermore, studies have found links between general tanning behaviors and unhealthy weight control practices. Consider the following associations:

  • Steroid use and unhealthy weight loss strategies were 4x and 2.5x more likely, respectively, among high school males who used indoor tanning, compared to their non-tanning counterparts.3
  • Boys who tan were more likely to be trying to lose or gain weight than non-tanners.4
  • Female students who engaged in indoor tanning were also more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control practices.5
  • A belief that a tan improves appearance is one of the strongest predictors of UV exposure behaviors.6

We know that body dissatisfaction can drive both tanning and unhealthy weight control behaviors. These correlations underscore the point that, despite a lower skin cancer risk, promoting sunless tanning may still be problematic, especially in individuals who struggle or have struggled with body image. Promoting or validating the quest for a tan body has the potential to reinforce negative body image thoughts and perpetuate appearance related obsessions.

It is important to keep in mind that any beauty ideal is carefully crafted and enforced by #bodypositivesummer_TANNINGan industry that profits from the body dissatisfaction it’s “standards” create. Tanning is no different. In fact, it’s important to point out that the tan ideal is just one way that westernized beauty ideals promote insecurity or dissatisfaction across the spectrum of skin colors. The media’s pressure on Caucasian women to be tan occurs concurrently with tactics like whitewashing and digitally lightening the skin (and hair) of women of color in prominent advertisements. Writers at Beauty Redefined unpack the cultural implications of those practices in the post: Beauty Whitewashed: How white ideals exclude women of color.

By creating the narrowest possible margin for beauty, the media essentially convinces everyone their skin is either too light, too dark or some other shade of inadequate. As a result, people who internalize the cultural definitions of beauty feel ‘required’ to purchase some sort of product or service to achieve the ideal, or risk being invisible. As Director Elena Rossini reveals in her masterful documentary The Illusionists, the very same company that promotes tanning products in the U.S., profits off of skin-whitening creams in India.

Media influencing what we perceive as beauty is not exactly a new conversation, but sometimes these ideals become so much a cultural norm that we cease to question them. Just think how often the phrase “you look so tan!” is thrown around as a compliment or “I’m so pale” is delivered as a self-criticism.  Great diversity of skills, skin colors, body shapes and sizes is a natural and healthy part of life. Any group who tries to change that, especially for profit, should be met with critical speculation. Just as we attempt to challenge the thin ideal, we should seek to debunk tanning myths and push back against unrealistic or unhealthy expectations. One way to do that is by helping to build families and peer groups that prioritize body positivity and body acceptance.

As individuals, we can push back by refusing to buy-in to a heavily marketed tanning industry that includes outdoor tanning, indoor tanning or pre-packaged tanning. Perhaps the money, time, and mental resources devoted to the quest for a perfect summer glow could be better used elsewhere?

Find out just how much money you could save by expanding the infographic on the right.  Then head on over to Twitter or Instagram to tell us what you would do with your savings and how you intend to finish out your #bodypositivesummer free from the grip of body dissatisfaction.

 

About the Author:
t_sorenson_headshotTaylor Sorensen is a rising senior at Trinity College in Hartford, CT where she is majoring in Neuroscience.  At Trinity, Taylor is involved in research focusing on the neuronal underpinnings of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  She joined The Center for Eating Disorders as a summer intern in both the Research and Community Outreach Departments.


 

References:
  1. Stern, RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):279-282.
  2.  Wehner, MR. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 Apr;150(4):390-400. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.
  3. Miyamoto J, Berkowitz Z, Jones SE, Saraiya M. Indoor tanning device use among male high school students in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2012;50:308–310. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.08.007. [PubMed]
  4. Demko CA, Borawski EA, Debanne SM, Cooper KD, Stange KC. Use of indoor tanning facilities by white adolescents in the United States. Archives of Pediatriac and Adolescent Medicine. 2003;157:854–860. doi:10.1001/archpedi.157.9.854. [PubMed]
  5. Guy, GP. Et al. Indoor Tanning Among High School Students in the United states, 2009 and 2011. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 May; 150(5):501-511.
  6. Pagoto, SL, Hillhouse, J.Not All Tanners Are Created Equal: Implications of Tanning Subtypes for Skin Cancer Prevention. Arch Dermatol. 2008 Nov; 144(11): 1505–1508.

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