Perfectionism: Aiming for an elusive target

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Imagine that you are extremely dedicated to an archery team. You spend day and night in target practice, regardless of the weather conditions and without regard for your own basic needs. You have an unlimited amount of arrows and you continue over and over again to launch the arrows in an attempt to hit the bull’s eye. Day after day, year after year, you never reach that bull’s eye. No matter how hard you train and commit your mind to it, no matter what the conditions are, you always miss what you are aiming for. Sometimes, you get very, very close and think that you just might have reached your goal, but ultimately, you never hit the mark. As a result, you feel that you have failed. In fact, failing becomes part of the way you define yourself.  Fear of failing becomes a constant worry for you.

Now imagine, that one day you realize that this target that you have spent all of these hours and days and years trying to hit is so very small that you can barely even see it. Actually, when you look closely, and assess the situation you find the bull’s eye is not just small and faded, it is nonexistent. Upon realizing this, you see you have spent years and years feeling like you have failed because you were trying to hit a target that wasn’t actually there. This is perfectionism.

In this imagined scenario, perfect is the nonexistent target. A sense of failure results from believing that anything but perfect is not good enough. If you are struggling with perfectionism, or you have in the past, you probably know how exhausting this can be.

 

Perfectionism is an unobtainable illusion guaranteed to make you feel badly.

Under the weight of extreme perfectionism, difficulty with a specific task may be generalized.  This can quickly lead to self-criticism. For example, instead of thinking, “I did not do well on that part of the exam; those must have been really difficult questions,” the perfectionist might think “I am so stupid. How could I have missed both of the multiple choice questions?! I am terrible at math.”

Constantly striving for perfect results can lead to feelings of tension and stress. It can also trigger an avoidance of appropriate challenges and risks. For example, you might find it difficult to connect with new people in social relationships at the risk of appearing flawed or imperfect to someone else. Or you may not apply to a great job because you haven’t mastered every single skill set listed as a prerequisite.

In general, perfectionism can cause you to miss out on opportunities to learn from mistakes and may ultimately get in the way of living a balanced, rewarding life.

 

Addressing perfectionism can aid in eating disorder recovery

Perfectionism is a genetic personality trait that many people are born with. Research has shown this characteristic to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders. Furthermore, once someone has developed an eating disorder, perfectionism can sustain or perpetuate the illness, getting in the way of recovery efforts. For this reason, it can be important to work on perfectionism head on.

With support from a cognitive-behavioral therapist, you can start by making clear, manageable behavioral changes to test out what it would be like to attempt tasks without looking for a perfect outcome. For example, trying to complete tasks “good enough.” It’s usually helpful to start off with very small goals and work your way up to more situations that might be more difficult. Consider these two examples below:

Example 1: If you identify yourself as a “neat freak,” try setting a timer to limit cleaning time to smaller intervals or set a guideline that you will vacuum only 50% of the time that you typically do. Experiment with this and see what the advantages and disadvantages are of approaching this task in a new way. Learn from this experience and make changes accordingly.

Example 2: If you are someone who needs to complete every item on your to-do list before leaving the office (at the expense of family, friends or self), see what happens if you have a couple of items left to work on the next day. Test out how this might affect you. Perhaps you were able to get home on time and enjoy more time with your family or you were able to drive home while it was still light out and enjoy the scenery. See if leaving those items for the next day made much of a difference as you may have approached them more efficiently with a good night’s sleep. Test out if sometimes your perfectionism causes you to put in more effort that will only bring very marginal gains. If so, figure out when is the time to stop and focus on something more profitable.

Starting to make changes on your own is a great first step toward decreasing the amount of influence that perfectionism has in your life. You might also want to consider engaging in a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) group or individual therapy to learn how to change the way in which you interact with your perfectionism.

Committing to decrease your need to be, or appear, perfect will help you to take more and more breaks from target practice and actually enjoy being on the archery team.

 

Do you want to learn more about perfectionism?

when perfect isnt good enough
We recommend the book, When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, written by Drs. Martin Antony and Richard Swinson.

If you are a treatment provider and would like to learn more about cognitive and behavioral treatments for perfectionism, join us on April 9, 2016 at The Center for Eating Disorders’ Annual Professional Symposium where Dr. Antony will be presenting on The Nature & Treatment of Perfectionism.

Online registration and event details are available at www.eatingdisorder.org/events.

You can also download the program brochure (pdf) here.


Written by:
Laura Sproch, PhD
Research Coordinator and Outpatient Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net / kongsky

 

 

Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello, Part II

 

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In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 (Feb. 21-27), we asked body acceptance activist and eating disorder recovery advocate, Melissa Fabello to share her thoughts on some essential eating disorder awareness topics.  If you missed it, you can find her thoughts on self-care, perfectionism and dieting in Part I.

Below, in part II she opens the door to important conversations about body neutrality and intersectionality, and she also shares the one thing she wants people struggling with eating disorders to know about recovery.

 


Q & A with MELISSA FABELLO: Part II

 

Q: You recently wrote an awesome list of 50 body acceptance resolutions for 2016. In that list you introduce body neutrality as an alternative goal when body positivity feels like too much pressure. What did you mean by that?

MF: There are so many aims of the body acceptance or body positivity movement that I love. I have found so much comfort, joy, and support within those communities, and I am forever grateful to them for that. I’ve also found some missteps that I think need correcting, one of which being the push for everyone to feel beautiful and to love their bodies. I think that’s a lovely goal, and I also think it’s too lofty for reality.

Because the truth is that no one loves their body every single day – no one. Part of how body image works is that it can shift and that we all have good days, and we all have bad days. Mostly, when we have healthy body image, we simply see our body for what it is without ascribing any meaning to it whatsoever, and we exist, full of acceptance, in that body. To me, that’s what body neutrality is about. It’s about acknowledging and accepting our body as is, rather than pushing ourselves to have extreme feelings about it either way.

And I like to think of it as an option – not an alternative to the mainstream body acceptance movement. I like to think of it as something that someone can choose to work toward, if that goal feels more realistic than one of unconditional love. Perhaps, even, I like to think of it as a stop on the train toward a more loving relationship with our bodies. I just think that pushing people to love their bodies can backfire if it creates another standard to live up to.

 

Q: In all of your writing and in advocating for individuals with eating disorders, you take great care to acknowledge the true diversity of those who are impacted. From gender to age to race and socioeconomic status, why is it so important to you to highlight these marginalized voices in your work?

MF: Intersectionality – the understanding that intersecting social identities exist, a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw – is an absolute must in any and all work, I believe, but especially in work that stems from feminism. The ways in which we’re impacted by society differ, based on our identities. As a queer woman, for example, I experience life differently than a straight woman or a queer man. As a white woman, I experience life differently than a woman of color or a white man. Our positionality within the complicated web of identity matters because it affects how we move through this world. This is true in regards to body image and eating disorders, too.

We talk a lot about the thin ideal in our work – and that’s a very real, valid concern. We talk less, though, about how our beauty ideals are also centered on whiteness, on a heteronormative idea of gender roles, on access to money, on youth, and many other intersections. The further that we get away from the ideal, the more suffering we may experience as a result, and the more pressure we may feel to approximate those ideals. And I think that when we center the most marginalized – the people furthest from that ideal – in our work, then we help more people. When our work focuses on white, middle class, cis women, for example, then those are the only people that we help.

The eating disorder field has long focused its efforts on a very specific population, and I think it’s far past time to admit that and to work actively to eradicate the ways that that focus perpetuates systems of oppression like white supremacy and classism, among others. Different voices need to be centered because different 670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12experiences exist and have been ignored.

 

Q: Who do you think could benefit from attending your presentation, Adventures in Self-Care: Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world?

MF: I think that anyone could, honestly! It’s been my experience that conversations around self-care can be difficult to have because so few people practice it. I’m going to talk a lot about what self-care means and why it’s important, but I’m also going to give ideas on how to start cultivating more self-care practices in your life – in ways that are easy and practical. I think that anyone who feels like sometimes life is overwhelming and they need some “me” time could benefit from this conversation – and isn’t that everyone?

 

Q: Lastly, what is the one thing you would want to tell someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and may be feeling ambivalent, hopeless, overwhelmed by or resistant to the prospect of recovery?

MF: I want them to know that those are very real and valid feelings to have. I want them to know that we’ve all come up against that at some point or another. And I want them to know that one of the biggest obstacles to recovery is believing that it’s one huge accomplishment that looks a certain way. It’s not. Recovery is about a whole bunch of tiny successes that lead you to a healthier, happier place – defined by you. Recovery is in your reach because you get to decide what it looks like and how to get there. But first, you need to take the first step of believing (even skeptically!) that it’s a possibility. And it is. I promise you that it is.

 

Continue the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


Many thanks to Melissa Fabello for taking the time to share her passionate and thoughtful responses. If you’d like to hear more from Melissa, join us in Baltimore on February 21 to help kick-off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Don’t forget to RSVP. Space is limited. 

Download an Event Flyer to share or post:
Adventures in Self-Care…Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world (PDF)

You can find Part I of our Q&A with Melissa here.

 



 

Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello: Part 1

 

If you’ve ever seen one of her YouTube videos than you probably already know Melissa Fabello is a talented and passionate activist.  She also writes boldly and beautifully about eating disorder recovery, body image, diet culture and a host of other important issues. In advance of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and her presentation in Baltimore on February 21, we asked Melissa to share her thoughts on why self-care is not self-ish, the intersection of eating disorders and perfectionism, and her experience with recovery in a society obsessed with dieting.  We are honored to share her responses with you below.

 

 


Q&A with MelissA Fabello – Part I

 

Q: A lot of people assume self-care to be synonymous with personal hygiene or the daily chores of living. This can sound like a pretty boring topic. Given that you will be in Baltimore on February 21 to discuss the Adventures in Self-Care as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, can you explain more about what self-care really is and why it’s something we should be talking about?

MF: To start, I would actually argue that self-care should, indeed, be a daily chore of living. It should be an intentional practice that we partake in – every single day – in order to take care of ourselves. It really can be as simple as getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, or eating a meal that fuels your body. It’s finding ways to insert self-care into those daily chores of living, which in turn, creates a life that may feel a bit more adventurous.

And when I say “adventurous,” I don’t necessarily mean thrill-seeking, but rather, simply, more livable. And what is more of an adventure than life itself? Self-care puts you in the position to live life more fully and to experience it more broadly because it cultivates your self-awareness and forces you to consider what makes you the happiest.


Self-care, really, is just any set of practices that are nourishing to you – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Those practices can be preventative (like taking care of your physiological and mental health needs to the best of your ability every day), and they can also be intervention methods (think: calling out sick just to spend the day taking a bubble bath and reading novels). But the point is that they are necessary to all of our lives, but especially necessary when we’re in eating disorder recovery.

 

Q: We often hear from patients who fear that engaging in self-care is a selfish act. How would you respond to someone worried about being, or being perceived as, selfish?

MF: That’s a real concern, and it needs to be validated as such. We live in a culture that’s driven by capitalism, and the number one value held by capitalism is that of productivity. Have you ever slept in because your body needed rest, but then berated yourself for not getting up early enough to start in on your housework? Or have you ever taken a much needed day off to marathon your favorite TV show, but then felt bad that you didn’t work on your school work, even though you hadn’t taken a day off in two weeks? That guilt is the product of believing that our worth is tied up in how productive we are.

670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12 This is especially difficult for women. In our society, men are frequently defined by what they do out in the world. Women, though, are judged by how they take care of others. As such, women’s moral development, according to Carol Gilligan, is all about how we understand ourselves in relation to other people. Women, in particular, are taught that taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first is not only a selfish act, but even an immoral one. And that’s just straight up sexist.


One small shift we can make is to redefine what “productivity” means to us. I have an ex-girlfriend who was a hustler, trying to make it in the music business. As such, every day when we talked, she’d ask me, “What did you do today?” or “What did you accomplish today?” And sometimes that really overwhelmed me – because what if I didn’t “do” or “accomplish” anything? But the truth is that even if what I did that day was laugh while playing with my cat, or if what I accomplished was taking a trip to the bookstore for fun, then I’ve been productive. I’ve produced something: self-care. I think we need to remind ourselves that taking care of ourselves is an accomplishment.

 

Q: Perfectionism is one of several genetic traits that have been identified by research to be associated with an increased risk for the development of eating disorders. From your experience and observation, how does the topic of self-care intersect with tendencies toward perfectionism?

MF: I like to think of myself as a recovering overachiever, although I still fall back into those old habits sometimes. Again, in a culture where we’re taught to value our productivity, it can be hard not to fall into perfectionism as a way to prove our worth. But the truth is that we need to learn to be okay with the fact that none of us is perfect, that we’re all going to make mistakes.

One of the most valuable pieces of self-care advice I’ve received lately is that of learning to be okay with “good enough.” I’m one of those people who, when I give 75%, will feel guilty and ashamed for not giving 100%. What happens that’s interesting, though, is that no one can ever tell that I didn’t give something my all. As far as they can tell, I gave 110% because what I did was absolutely, positively awesome. Learning to be okay with “good enough” means giving something a shot, but not letting it run our lives, and feeling comfortable with the amount of attention that we were able to give something.

Part of self-care is being able to say, “I can’t (or don’t want to) work on this anymore because it’s possible that continuing to do so will damage my mental health. So I’m done now.” And that means letting go of the idea that we – and everything associated with us – has to be perfect.

 

Q: Another risk factor for eating disorders stems from the emotional and physiological consequences of dieting. What other impacts do you see from a culture that markets diets as a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance?

MF: I’ll be honest: The day that I actively decided to go through weight restoration was the day I realized that I could never be both thinner and happy. I could only ever be one of the two. I could spend every second of every day counting, measuring, and restricting in an attempt to achieve self-acceptance through (what I thought was) self-improvement, or I could attempt to apologize to my body and recreate a healthy relationship with food and within that freedom, find happiness. That concrete realization – that I couldn’t work toward a “better” body and experience day to day happiness – was a huge shift for me.

A spoken word poem that I really love, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird, has a line in it that says: “This was the year of eating when I was hungry without punishing myself / And I know it sounds ridiculous, but that sh– is hard.” And it is. It is hard. Because we live in a culture that is so focused on dieting as, like you said, “a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance” that deciding to go against that grain and to seek validation and happiness from elsewhere is a radical act. And make no mistake: Giving up diet culture is a radical act, both personally and politically. Our culture thrives on making us feel small, weak, and less-than. Rebelling against that pressure, declaring that you will not be contained, and saying “no” to everything that our culture and media want us to believe? That is an incredibly courageous act.

 

Be sure to check out Part II of our discussion with Melissa in which she delves into body image and the concept of intersectionality as it relates to eating disorders.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


MF 006Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed. is a body acceptance activist, sexuality scholar, and patriarchy smasher based in Philadelphia. She is currently a managing editor of Everyday Feminism, as well as a doctoral candidate at Widener University, working toward a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies. Melissa has worked closely with The National Eating Disorders Association, The Representation Project, and Adios Barbie on campaigns related to body image, eating disorders, and media literacy. Find out more about Melissa and her work at melissafabello.com.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hannah Huguenin MS, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

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

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

 

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

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

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

DianneBondyPose

A Guest Post by Dianne Bondy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dianne Bondy is the creator and director of Yoga for All 200/500 Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program  and founder and Managing Director of Yogasteya – a virtual online yoga studio that supports yoga for all cultures, shapes, sizes and abilities. On February 22, 2015 she will join other eating disorder recovery advocates in Baltimore for a special event called “Recovery in Real Life”during which she will facilitate a free yoga workshop focused on body acceptance.

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

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

Photo credit: Erika Reid Photography

Photoshop Does Not Cause Eating Disorders – Media & Body Image

Media Literacy Infographic

Click to View (pdf)


National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
(Feb. 23 – March 1, 2014)

Did you know that photoshopped bodies and the unrealistic beauty ideals set forth by the media DO NOT cause eating disorders?  While these unfortunate elements of our society CAN contribute to widespread negative body image and promote an internalization of the “thin ideal”, they cannot be blamed outright for the development of the serious and complex illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia,  binge eating disorder and EDNOS or OSFED.

When it comes to Eating Disorders there are actually a variety of contributing factors, of which the strongest are likely to be genetics and biology. In fact, research suggests 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genetics which includes factors associated with heritable personality traits such as perfectionism.

That being said, some studies have documented a link between exposure to westernized, thin-ideal media and an increase in eating disorder behaviors.   So while Photoshop may not cause eating disorders outright, the bottom line is that we all stand to benefit from more positive and realistic bodies in the media.  After all, individuals who feel better about their bodies take better care of them, regardless of weight, shape or size. Plus, positive body image and media literacy CAN serve as protective factors against disordered eating which is one reason why The Center for Eating Disorders supports projects like the Love Your Tree Campaign and The Illusionists documentary.

The infographic above from the National Eating Disorders Association breaks down some of the important elements of the media’s effects on body image. Click on the image to open and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Read more about the etiology of eating disorders here: Underlying Causes and Contributing Factors

You may also be interested in:

Perfectly Imperfect: A Special Q&A with JENNI SCHAEFER

Jenni Schaefer
In recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 23 – March 1), we caught up with Life Without Ed author and all-around inspiring person, JENNI SCHAEFER. 

It was about  five years ago that Jenni last visited The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt  and we are thrilled to welcome her back here to the CED blog and back to Baltimore on Saturday, March 1st for a new presentation entitled, Perfectly Imperfect: Eating & Body Image. 

It turns out that a lot can happen in five years.  Armed with a new relationship, a new book and lots of new experiences, Jenni continues to educate, inspire and lead by example both within the eating disorder community and beyond.  We are grateful to Jenni for taking the time to answer our questions and excited to share her responses below with our readers.

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Q & A with JENNI SCHAEFER  

Q: You’ve been a longtime advocate and activist for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and will be speaking in Baltimore in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2014. What does this campaign mean to you and what progress have you seen around the awareness and education of eating disorders since you began this journey?

After struggling for years with an eating disorder, I finally picked up the phone in search of real help. I called 1-800-931-2237, which is NEDA’s Helpline.  NEDA sent me a list of treatment resources (via snail mail back then!), and my healing journey began. It is surreal to me how life has come full circle: I am honored to serve as the Chair of NEDA’s Ambassadors Council today. Working with NEDA and NEDAwareness Week means the world to me. My hope during the week is not only to encourage people to get help but also to prevent some from ever going down the treacherous road of an eating disorder in the first place. If I had participated in a NEDAwareness event years ago, I believe that my journey would have been a lot smoother. Maybe I never would have turned to Ed (aka “eating disorder”) in the first place, or maybe I would have realized that I had a problem and reached out for help sooner. Similar to the 2014 NEDAwareness theme, “I Had No Idea” that I was struggling with a life-threatening illness.

Since I began my recovery journey, I have seen eating disorders awareness and education improve greatly. Back when I was struggling in college, I rarely heard anyone talk about eating disorders. But, today, colleges all across the country ask me to speak at their NEDAwareness events. Again, it is amazing how life can come full circle like that!

Q: In addition to your hugely popular and inspirational books, Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, you have a new book out with co-author Jennifer Thomas, PhD called Almost Anorexic: Is My (Or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem? What prompted you and Dr. Thomas to write this book, and can you elaborate on what you mean by the term “almost anorexic”?

While 1 in 200 adults will experience full-blown anorexia, at Cover: Almost Anorexicleast 1 in 20 (1 in 10 teen girls!) will struggle with restricting, bingeing and/or purging that doesn’t meet full diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Almost Anorexic, which is the third book in Harvard Medical School’s The Almost Effect™ series, brings attention to the grey area between “normal eating” and an officially recognized eating disorder. Dr. Thomas and I want people to know that, regardless of their eating disorder diagnosis or lack thereof, both help and hope are available. A diagnostic label cannot adequately depict pain and suffering. All who struggle deserve help, and full recovery is possible.

[To learn more about
Almost Anorexic and to read book excerpts, click here. You can also watch a hopeful book trailer (video) or register to attend a professional workshop facilitated by the book’s co-authors.]

Q: There has been a lot of discussion within the eating disorder field recently around the conceptualization of eating disorders as brain-based illnesses as opposed to purely psychological or behavioral disorders. You touch on the implications of this in Almost Anorexic How can the words we use to define the disorder impact the recovery process?

When I first received help for my eating disorder, people told me that I would never fully recover. They said that an eating disorder was like diabetes and that it would be with me forever. Believing this, in the end, just served to keep me stuck. I had to change my language, and I had to connect with people who believed that I could get fully better. This made all of the difference.

In relation to brain disorder language, Almost Anorexic explains: “Some people and organizations have found brain-disorder language extremely helpful in explaining to others why individuals with eating disorders can’t just “snap out of it” and in absolving parents of guilt and blame for their child’s illness. Others, however, have worried that brain-disorder language may give sufferers and loved ones alike the hopeless (and false!) impression that eating disorders are lifelong illnesses that cannot be treated and may even provide a handy excuse for the continuation of dangerous symptoms (after all, your brain made you do it). To combat this, parent activist Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh has used the term “treatable brain disorder.” We suggest you use the terminology that works best for you. Words are powerful. Don’t let Ed hijack them.”

Q: Perfectionism is one of the genetically-based personality traits most highly associated with the development of eating disorders and will be the focus of your talk in Baltimore on March 1, 2014. Did perfectionism play a role in the development of your eating disorder? Did it also play a role in recovery?

I was not born with an eating disorder, but I was born with the perfectionism trait. Constantly striving to be perfect certainly made me more vulnerable to having an eating disorder. So did other genetic traits like high anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness. However, when channeled in a positive direction, these traits played a crucial role in my recovery. I was able to refine perfectionism, for instance, and apply it to things like attending doctors’ appointments and finishing therapy assignments. When taken to the light, our genetic traits absolutely support recovery.

Q: Individuals who are perfectionists often struggle with the urge to compare themselves to people around them. Among individuals with eating disorders these comparisons are often appearance-based or weight-focused but can also be related to one’s career, house, family, wealth or talent. Constant comparison can be very triggering and detrimental to the recovery process. What strategies help you avoid this comparison trap?

My motto, as I originally wrote about in Life Without Ed, is “Compare and Despair.” Early in recovery, I actually displayed “Compare and Despair” on post-it notes throughout my home. These notes reminded me that comparing inevitably leads to despairing, so I did my best to stop setting myself up for this kind of self-loathing. Further, learning that I was not alone in my tendency to compare helped me to change as well.  The Center for Eating Disorders’ survey related to Facebook and comparisons, for instance, has helped people I know to better understand the growing prevalence of comparing (as well as the fall-out of it) and to feel a sense of camaraderie in making positive changes.

Q: In the age of social media, it seems the opportunity for comparing oneself to others has reached an all time high. Do you have any tips for individuals looking to use social media in a healthy way that is supportive of recovery?

In the tenth anniversary edition of Life Without Ed, which was just released, I talk about the fact that Ed surely has a Facebook account! Each time a person with an eating disorder logs in online, Ed does, too. This awareness is key. Further, individuals with eating disorders can change their online settings to block triggering people and ads. Within the anniversary edition of Life Without Ed, I give many tips for how to use technology to support your recovery, including using mobile apps like “Recovery Record” and “Rise Up + Recover.”

Q: You last visited The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt as a guest speaker in 2009 during which you spoke about the concept of being Recovered. from your eating disorder. What new insights about being Recovered. have you gained over the past 5 years, and has any of it surprised you?

I often say that I am recovered from my eating disorder, but not from life. Part of being “recovered.” actually means continual personal growth. Since my visit to Sheppard Pratt, I have blossomed in many areas, especially related to relationships. I have learned how to let more love into my life and have even gotten married. Luckily, my husband’s name is not Ed! Related to freedom from eating disorders, you can click here to download a table that Dr. Thomas and I created comparing “fully recovered” to “barely recovered.”

Q: What are some of the main points you hope to convey during your upcoming talk, Perfectly Imperfect on March 1st in Baltimore? Who do you think could benefit from attending the presentation?

One of the most common comments I receive from audience members is, “I don’t have an eating disorder, but I do have an Ed in my head.” People also relate to my efforts to overcome perfectionism as well as my journey to find happiness in life. We always have fun singing my song, “It’s Okay to be Happy.” That said, my talks are applicable to anyone who calls him or herself a human! On March 1st, I will discuss finding balance with food and weight in a world that is anything but balanced. We will talk about striving simultaneously for both excellence and “perfect imperfection.” And one big goal of my presentations is to laugh—a lot.

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Do you have your own questions for Jenni?  Join us on Twitter @CEDSheppPratt for a special Tweet Chat on Thursday, February 20, 2014 from 1:00-2:00pm EST with Jenni Schaefer (@jennischaefer) and Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD (@drjennythomas).  Use the hashtag #CEDchat to participate and follow along. Send your questions in advance to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org and we might use them during the chat!

More About Jenni…
Jenni Schaefer’s breakthrough bestseller, Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, established her as one of the leading lights in the recovery movement. With her second book, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life, she earned her place as one of the country’s foremost motivational writers and speakers. Jenni’s straightforward, realistic style has made her a role model, source of inspiration, and confidant to people worldwide looking to overcome adversity and live more fully. She speaks at conferences, at major universities, and in corporate settings; has appeared on many syndicated TV and radio shows; and has been quoted in publications including The New York Times. She is also chair of the Ambassadors Council of the National Eating Disorders Association. An accomplished singer/songwriter, she lives in Austin, Texas

Want to learn more about NEDAwareness Week Events at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt?  Click HERE.

 

 

More, More, More: The Dangers of Excessive Exercise

There is such a thing as too much exercise

Media messages encouraging us to exercise away our “flaws” are rampant, particularly in these summer months when many people are self-conscious about wearing bathing suits and dressing for warmer weather.   We’re nearly halfway through summer but the seasonal cultural pressures to attain the “perfect” beach body are still in full swing. The relentless marketing often focuses on incorporating the most strenuous new workouts, squeezing in more time at the gym, pushing just a little bit harder and faster every step of the way.  When it comes to exercise, the message almost always seems to be more, more, more.

It’s true that staying active and engaging in exercise is a positive activity that can have long-lasting benefits for physical and mental health.  However, it becomes increasingly important in our “faster, longer, harder, more” exercise culture to ask ourselves, can you have too much of a good thing? The Answer:  Absolutely.

 

More is not always better.

Exercise can quickly become unhealthy when taken to extremes or when the body is not equipped with proper nourishment.  Individuals who struggle with perfectionism, rigidity, obsessive/compulsive behavior, addiction or eating disorders are particularly at-risk for engaging in over-exercise (also referred to as exercise abuse or obsessive exercise.)  These individuals often start out with moderate exercise goals in an attempt to change their weight/body shape but can easily slip into patterns that become compulsive.

Often, the same messages that promote extreme exercise also encourage people to ignore their body’s cues – to push past pain and exhaustion in order to reach goals.  But when you override your body’s need for rest, healing, or even medical attention, it can have long-term negative consequences on health, not to mention on overall fitness and athletic performance. Furthermore, exercise and weight loss goals may gradually become more and more extreme, and thus more and more dangerous. It’s important to note that even individuals who do not appear underweight, may be exercising obsessively or working out beyond what is healthy for their body.  Even high caliber athletes are at risk.

“It is no secret among athletes that in order to improve performance you’ve got to work hard. However, hard training breaks you down and makes you weaker. It is rest that makes you stronger. Physiologic improvement in sports only occurs during the rest period following hard training.” [Overtraining Syndrome]

 

Signs & Symptoms of Excessive Exercise
Because exercise is such a socially acceptable and culturally applauded behavior, it can be difficult to identify when someone is engaging in healthy activity and when they may have crossed the line to over-exercise.  It’s particularly important for coaches, trainers, fitness instructors and other professionals in the exercise industry to be aware of the warning signs and red flags that someone may be struggling with obsessive exercise.  These are just some of the signs that an individual may have an unhealthy relationship with exercise:

  • Exercises above and beyond what would be considered a normal amount of time (For athletes, prolonged training above and beyond that required for the sport)
  • Refusal to build in days of rest or recovery; Exercises despite injury or illness
  • Athletic performance plateaus or declines (Overtraining Syndrome)
  • Rigidity, inflexibility regarding exercise schedule
  • Excessive concern with body aesthetic
  • Withdrawal effects (sleep/appetite disturbance, mood shifts, intense anxiety) and feelings of depression or guilt when exercise is withheld
  • Exercise is prioritized over family, work, school or relationships (sometimes to the point of neglecting important responsibilities or obligations)
  • Exercise is the person’s only way of coping with stress
  • Deprives self of food if unable to exercise (feels he/she has not “earned” or “does not deserve” the calories)
  • Defines overall self-worth in terms of exercise performance
  • After workouts, is plagued by thoughts like “I didn’t do enough” or “I should have done more”
  • Rarely takes part in exercise for fun. Activities like hiking, paddle boarding, etc, don’t seem like “good enough” exercise.

If you or someone you know identify with this list, it may be time to step back and take an honest assessment of the exercise relationship.
Excessive exercise not only interferes with an individual’s daily life and interpersonal relationships, but it is also dangerous. Excessive exercise can easily result in overuse injuries and stress fractures which could be temporary or permanent.  Women may have menstrual irregularity and men may experience a decrease in testosterone.  Among the many other potential consequences, exercising too much can lead to decreased immunity and frequent colds or illnesses.  Over-exercise is often a sign of an underlying eating disorder.  Furthermore, recent research found that the frequency of over-exercise predicted suicidal gestures/attempts and concluded that excessive exercise should be noted as a potential warning sign of suicidality among individuals with bulimia. [source: Eating Disorders Review,  May/June 2013]

If your body is telling you that it needs a rest…
You should never exercise when you are sick or injured. When you have a fever, fatigue or muscle injuries, take the day off to help your body heal.  Even a very healthy body needs adequate rest in between workouts.  It’s recommended that you take at least two days off a week to allow your body time for healing and recovery.  Also, make sure that you are properly providing your body with enough carbohydrates, dietary fats, proteins and water to fuel your workouts. Proper hydration is critical when working out.  Dehydration can lead to overheating, muscle fatigue, headache, nausea and it impairs your body’s ability to transport oxygen.

Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Exercise
There are many ways to have a healthy relationship with exercise. First, it is extremely important that you have spoken to your doctors and they have all cleared you for exercise. Just like many things in life, moderation is the key to success.  Focus on establishing a balance between working out and other experiences, relationships and responsibilities in your life.  Consider combining a variety of activities that you enjoy and are convenient to your lifestyle instead of becoming overly attached to one type of exercise for a specific amount of time each day.  Hiking, golfing, dancing, biking, tennis, kayaking and taking your dog for that much needed walk are great ways to be active in different ways. Remember that the goal of healthy exercise is not to change your body but to care for your body so that it will allow you to enjoy your life.

If you think you may be struggling with excessive exercise, we encourage you to talk with someone close to you and seek help to establish a healthier relationship with exercise. You can also visit www.eatingdisorder.org or call us (410) 938-5252.

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Additional Resources:

The Exercise Balance: What’s Too Much, What’s Too Little, and What’s Just Right for You! By Pauline Powers M.D. and Ron Thompson Ph.D.

In response to Dr. Drew ~ Exercise bulimia is not a mild mental health issue (on the CED blog)

 Blog contributions by Amy Gooding, Psy.D., CED Therapist

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

Decoding the Road to Eating Disorder Recovery

 

Everyone’s recovery journey looks different.  Recovery may take some individuals longer or shorter and involve various combinations of treatment providers, treatment modalities and sources of motivation.  Different people may rely more or less on specific support people and utilize different and diverse coping skills.  Aside from just being different, no one’s recovery will be perfect.  That’s a good thing.  The ups and downs are necessary opportunities for growth and learning during the healing process.  In the midst of that, it can be hard to imagine recovery until you see that others have been where you are and have come out stronger and more fulfilled on the other side.

Over the years many individuals have come here to speak about how, why and with what tools they’ve established their recovery from various eating disorders.  In 2010 speaker Jenni Schaefer shared what recovery means to her and why she kept pushing through what she calls the  “mediocre stages of recovery” to reach a state of being “Recovered.”. In 2011 recovery advocate Johanna Kandel also visited to provide insight on her past fears about recovery like what if I can’t recover?” and “what if I hate being recovered?”  She also addressed the challenge of envisioning yourself without the eating disorder and why it’s never too late to find hope and begin the recovery process.

Most recently  we hosted author, scientist and recovery advocate, Carrie Arnold for a talk entitled Hope Through Science.  Carrie’s presentation was an honest depiction of her own challenges and triumphs in recovery.  She also shared about her  exploration of eating disorders through the lens of a scientist, joking with the crowd that she may be the only one to “read PubMed [journal articles] like its sort of a contact sport.”  During her talk, Carrie provided a glimpse at some of this science and talked about how it impacted her understanding of the illness while also working to propel her forward in recovery.

 

 

Hope Through Science attendees responded to Carrie’s down-to-earth, science-minded and very realistic view of her own healing process.  Her discussion about the science and biology behind eating disorders also goes a long way in helping to break through much of the stigma that surrounds eating disorders so that people begin to understand that they are not to blame for their suffering, but they can be responsible for, and capable of, taking the steps to recover.  Lessening this stigma and misunderstanding about what causes eating disorders is also helpful for friends and family who may be struggling to support a loved one in the recovery process. 


“Loved her personal story and clarification of what an eating disorder is; definitely provided more of an idea for my family.”    ~ Event Attendee

 

“It was interesting to hear information about how science can affect the development and progression of an eating disorder and how knowing the ‘science behind an eating disorder’ could potentially help to unlock a successful recovery process.”    ~ Event attendee

 

As noted above, everyone has different strengths to share and different lessons they learn throughout recovery.  Carrie’s distinctive position as both a recovered individual and a science writer, allows her to add a unique perspective to the host of hopeful stories out there.  If your journey to recovery is similar to Carrie’s, and the insight into the biology of eating disorders informs and empowers you personally, we highly reccommend picking up a copy of her most recent book: Decoding Anorexia: How Breakthroughs in Science Offer Hope for Eating Disorders.  Carrie Arnold can also be found blogging about eating disorders, science and recovery over at Ed Bites.  

Regardless of which path you take to get there, recovery can often feel like an uphill battle, and its not uncommon for individuals to feel hopeless at various points along the way.  That being said, it becomes very important for individuals and their families to be exposed to the many different stories of healing and recovery that do exist.  In order to believe that recovery is possible, sometimes you have to see it and hear it.  This is one of many reasons why we at the Center for Eating Disorders find it important to offer recovery-focused events for the community and our patients.  These events provide a platform for recovered individuals to share their stories and their strength while also reminding us all that the process of recovery looks different for everyone.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder or have questions about treatment, please visit www.eatingdisorder.org or call us at (410) 938-5252.  You can also follow CED on Facebook.