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.

 

 

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

 

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

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

Part I: BEFORE the Holiday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[UPDATE]: Part II is now live here

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

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

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

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

Nutrition Tips for a Healthy and Happy Holiday!

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

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

 

Invisible Victory: An Athlete’s Story of Hope & Triumph in Eating Disorder Recovery ~ Q & A with Whitney Post

In observance of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2012, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore is excited to offer a special community event to raise awareness about the serious nature of eating disorders, the importance of treatment and support, and to help shed some light on the surprising place where eating disorders often hide – on sports teams and among athletes.  On February 26th, former World Champion rower, Whitney Post, will be speaking about her own identity as an elite athlete and how she ultimately used it to her advantage while recovering from an eating disorder.  Today, Whitney is the President and Co-Founder of Eating for Life Alliance and spends much of her time educating college students, professionals, athletes and coaches about eating disorder prevention and treatment.   

In advance of her talk, we asked Whitney to comment on this important topic and provide our readers with a glimpse into her February 26th presentation entitled, Invisible Victory: An Athlete’s Story of Hope & Triumph in Eating Disorder Recovery. 

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Q & A with Whitney Ladd Post:

Why do you think it is important to address the intersection between sports and disordered eating? What are the benefits to creating awareness and spreading education about this particular topic?

WP: For starters, we live in a culture that is incredibly rewarding of the goal-oriented, driven, take-responsibility, and perfectionistic qualities of athletes.  In addition, the media sensationalizes athletic bodies, not just athletic performances. In athletes, the body can become an obsessive focus as well as a tool for athletic success. Many of the traits that make people successful and driven athletes, can also be easily misdirected towards disordered eating and an overly-critical body image. In one study of college female athletes, 88 % felt they were overweight or needed to lose weight. Another challenge is that some athletic cultures perpetuate the myth that weight loss improves performance, and athletes may be reluctant to acknowledge a problem or seek treatment. In short, it can be very easy for athletes to hide a serious and dangerous eating disorder because they often appear, from the outside, to be excelling at their sport and may look incredibly fit and healthy.

My goal is for everyone, athletes in particular,  to understand the physical and emotional consequences of eating disorders and disordered eating in the short and long term.  Weight loss in athletics can often be presented as the magical elixir, but if it compromises health it will ultimately compromise performance.  I want athletes to know that it is a highly treatable disorder with early and proper interventions, and I want to address their reluctance to seek treatment. In my experience an eating disorder never gets better if left untreated, only worse.

Research tells us that eating disorders are biologically-based illnesses but that a variety of other factors can also play a role in how and when the illness is expressed in different individuals.  Did being an athlete affect your struggle with the eating disorder?  What role did it play in your recovery?

WP: When people ask me if lightweight rowing gave me an eating disorder, I say absolutely not. I loved being on the water, I loved the sense of team, and I loved working hard to win. Yet, I also had an attraction to the grueling process of making weight for the sport, as part of my willingness to put my body through extremes for the sake of weight loss.  Lightweight rowing offered me a mechanism to play out my unhealthy relationship with food and my body.  My years as a lightweight further entrenched my eating disordered mentality.

Yet, there are many features of athletics that can be applied to recovery if the right goals are set.  The sense of team, commitment, step-by-step training toward a goal, and positive self-coaching as well as support and guidance from others can be applied to the treatment of an eating disorder.  Part of my message is that some of the same liabilities of competition and training can be redirected toward recovery.

Your blog about eating disorder recovery is called “Invisible Victory” – why do you refer to this victory as invisible?

WP: Great question.  For me, all my goals in my sports career involved getting noticed, recognized, and praised.  There was always a teammate or a coach or spectator to witness when my hard work resulted in success.  The situation was very different with my eating disorder recovery.  I had to be my own cheer leader, because so many of my victories were not even perceptible to anyone else.  Monitoring and changing my thoughts, behaviors, and reactions were crucial to creating a new relationship with food and my body.  I had to learn to both accept the invisible nature of my new quest, and celebrate the victories big and small with or without witnesses.

When you were struggling with an eating disorder, did you ever reach a point where you didn’t think recovery was possible?  If so, what helped you push past it and what message would you give to other individuals who may be feeling that way now?

WP: Recovery felt very much the way many of my lofty athletic goals felt.  At times I faced feeling totally devastated, discouraged, and depressed, but I never stopped working in the direction of my goal.  So of course there were many times when I wasn’t sure I would ever find my way out of my little prison in which I was both warden and prisoner, but I never stopped trying.

How has your definition of health changed throughout your life as you were struggling with an eating disorder and now, as an advocate for recovery?

WP: The biggest tangible change over the years has been that my self-worth and self-image are no longer tied to exercise. Exercise is still very important to me, but now I workout mainly for the health, mood, and social benefits (I love working out with a friend).   I believe the best way to advocate for health and recovery is to live it.  I continue to place a high priority on physical, spiritual and emotional health.  Without that, nothing else works very well.

It’s clear from your bio at Eating for Life Alliance (ELA) that you’ve accomplished a great number and variety of personal and professional goals.  What would you say you are most proud of today and why?

WP: I am so happy to be freed up from the narrow vision of the world that defines eating disorders.  Instead of all the daily struggles faced when I defined myself by my body, I am now free to channel my energies to so many things.  For me, recovery from my eating disorder was a gateway to an easier and more fulfilling life.  I have a wonderful marriage and a new family, great friendships, and the opportunity to work professionally on something I am passionate about.  Before recovery these things seemed to always belong to other people, not me.

What do you hope is the take-home message for those who attend your presentation on February 26th?  Who could benefit from attending?

WP: My message is one that can benefit anyone who has been affected by an eating disorder themselves or has had a loved one with an eating disorder.  It is also important information for any parent, professional, educator, coach or friend who will likely be in a position to help someone someday if they know what to look for and how to respond.

One practical message I plan to get across to athletes and those who work with them is this: although athletes have a unique set of factors that make them more susceptible to eating disorders, they also have impressive assets that can be enlisted in helping them recover.  Eating disorders are common in athletes, and I don’t want anyone to be isolated and without the help she or he needs.

I want to offer education and encouragement to everyone who attends and wants to know more about eating disorders as they pertain to exercise and athletics, as well as to anyone out there who is looking for more hope.

Download the event flyer (pdf)

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Many thanks to Whitney Post for taking the time to provide these responses and for having the courage to share her story so that so many others may know they are not alone. 

If you would like to hear more about Whitney’s story of recovery, please join us on Sunday, February 26th at 2:00 pm for our NEDAWeek kick-off event, Invisible Victory: An Athlete’s Story of Hope & Triumph in Eating Disorder Recovery.  All are welcome to attend this FREE event.  We strongly encourage athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and athletic directors from surrounding schools and colleges to attend,  as well as any individual who has been personally affected by an eating disorder, their parents, friends, educators, and health professionals.  Please download an event flyer for details.  Attendance is free but seats are limited so pre-registration is encouraged by emailing: RSVP@sheppardpratt.org

This is just one of several special events to be offered over the course of NEDAWeek.  Find out more on our Events Page

You can also request a mailing of event flyers or posters for your organization by emailing  kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org.  

 

Eating Disorders and the “All-or-Nothing” Trap

There are several types of cognitive distortions frequently experienced by individuals who struggle with eating disorders. These negative thought patterns are often longstanding and can play an integral role in maintaining depressive thoughts, anxiety, low self-esteem and reliance on eating disorder symptoms.  One of the primary cognitive distortions identified by individuals who struggle with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder is often referred to as “all-or-nothing” thinking.  Also called “black-and-white” thinking, this thought pattern is akin to the belief that “If I can’t do it perfectly, I might as well not do it at all.”

In the same way that all-or-nothing thoughts can perpetuate harmful eating disorder behaviors (ex: periods of severe restricting followed by frequent binging) , they can also sabotage efforts at recovery.  In this clip, recovery advocate Johanna Kandel talks about how all-or-nothing thoughts crept into her nutrition appointment…

Many individuals can probably relate to this experience in therapy where it becomes difficult/impossible to recover perfectly and immediately.  Setting insurmountable goals (i.e. perfection) makes it really easy to feel like you failed even when, by all other accounts, you are actually making progress.  This often leads to  someone feeling completely defeated and makes it easy to do a u-turn back towards the symptoms, isolation and secrecy that allow the eating disorder to spiral out of control.

For others, all-or-nothing thoughts may be an initial barrier to seeking treatment.  Its not unusual for individuals to hold off on making that first appointment until they are absolutely, positively, completely 100% ready to get well. Sound familiar?  As Johanna discusses in this clip, very few people are ever really going to be 100% ready for recovery but the good news is that you don’t have to be…

Identifying all-or-nothing thoughts that are impacting you and your recovery is an important step towards change.  Once you identify the cognitive distortions, you can begin to challenge them during therapy sessions, thought logs, journaling, and reality-testing.  If you aren’t sure where to start you can use the simple questions listed in this previous post to test validity of any suspected all-or-nothing thoughts. When you start exploring your negative thoughts you might be surprised at how many of them simply don’t stand up to the test.  Once you free yourself to think outside of the automatic negative thoughts you will learn, as Johanna did, that you are not an exception;  you CAN recover and you DESERVE to get better.

How did you overcome all-or-nothing thinking?  What role did it play in your eating disorder?  Join the discussion on CED’s Facebook page or leave a comment below.

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