In our previous post we discussed a variety of reasons that individuals with eating disorders, especially those in the early stages of recovery, may choose not to watch the Netflix film To The Bone or other films they know could create roadblocks in their continued recovery.
With that said, triggering media has always been around and will always be a part of our society so it’s helpful to know how to navigate it. Many individuals in long-term recovery or later stages of treatment might feel prepared to watch a film or read a book about eating disorders, despite triggering content. Many of our clinicians have helped to shape such exposure into therapeutic experiences for patients who are ready. For example, during periods of strong recovery, seeing a film like To The Bone can be an opportunity to reflect on one’s own experience, see things from a new perspective, process lingering eating disorder thoughts or channel anger towards the eating disorder in productive ways.
If you’ve considered all of the options and decide you do want to watch a film about eating disorders, these are a few things to consider that can help you do so in safe and productive ways.
- Don’t watch alone. Watch with a support person you can trust and communicate openly with them about how it is impacting you in the moment. You might even consider pausing the show periodically to breathe, reflect and talk.
- Time it right. Only watch it when you know you’ll be attending a therapy session or support group within a few days so you can explore your reactions and get help challenging any distorted thoughts or concerns about what you see on screen. If you currently have a lot of other life stressors or you’re in a time of transition (moving, starting school, going through a divorce, etc.) you may want to consider waiting to watch until things settle down.
- Challenge the ED thoughts. Consider journaling about aspects of the movie that you find triggering and then refute and challenge the inaccurate, negative or distorted thoughts.
- Be an activist. Write a letter to the director of the film or to the editor of a local newspaper regarding what you liked or didn’t like, what was helpful vs. not helpful or what you’d like to see more of when it comes to films about eating disorders. For example, while To The Bone features one person of color and one male in supporting roles, the movie’s star and protagonist is a young, white, upper-middle class woman with anorexia. This doesn’t help to dismantle stereotypes about who is and isn’t impacted by eating disorders. Consider writing a letter that advocates for greater diversity in eating disorder representation or about another aspect of recovery that feels important to you.
- Create an escape clause. Allow yourself the option to stop watching at any point throughout the film. Eating disorders can be associated with all-or-nothing thinking so it may feel like once you start the movie you have to finish it, but remember it’s not so black and white. At any point, if you feel triggered or uneasy about what you’re watching, turn it off.
- Plan ahead. Decide in advance upon an alternative show to watch or a self-care activity you can do when the film is over (or if you stop watching early) that will help you sustain a more recovery-focused mindset.
Do you use these strategies or have other ideas for navigating triggering media safely? Tweet them to us @CEDSheppPratt and we’ll add to the list.
You may also be interested in reading:
To Watch or Not to Watch: That is the Question, Navigating “To The Bone” and other potentially triggering movies about eating disorders
These are just a few of the typical headlines that can be seen on fitness and “health” magazines geared towards men. While there has been fairly widespread awareness cultivated around the media’s negative impact on women’s body image, not as much attention has been paid to how the media targets men and boys with similar body shaming tactics.
Our culture in general, and the media specifically, often pushes women to lose, lose, lose so they can be smaller, thinner and closer to an elusive definition of “perfect” but the opposite message is often being pushed towards men; most advertising and traditional media suggests the male quest for perfection requires they be bigger, stronger and more muscular. Products previously peddled exclusively towards women – hair removal items, weight loss diets, tanning products, and plastic surgery – are expanding their markets by making men take a harder, longer and much more critical look at their own appearance.
A 2016 review of five national studies found that 20 to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone. An earlier study found that college aged men who viewed media images of muscular men showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity (what they think they look like) and their ideal body (what they feel they should look like). The researchers suggested their results could show that even brief exposure to such idealized images can increase body dissatisfaction in men.
Despite this ongoing push for men to get bigger and stronger, over the last decade we’ve also seen the juxtaposition of thinner versions of masculinity. You can see it when looking at modern male mannequins with impossibly small waists and very slim – yet sculpted – abdomens and legs. Conflicting body ideals abound. So what is the message after all…get bigger, but stay lean? Be muscular, but still fit in those trendy skinny jeans? It’s mind numbing to try and understand, and even more impossible to attain, yet these are the messages that boys are forced to decipher from a very young age and often continue to wrestle with into adulthood and middle age.
Given all of this, it isn’t that surprising a 2014 study of more than five thousand males aged 12 to 18 years found nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.
It’s important to note that, as is also the case with females, photoshopped advertisements and a general lack of diversity in the media’s representation of bodies does not in and of itself cause eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are complex illnesses with genetic and biologic underpinnings. However, environmental triggers such as narrow or unrealistic body ideals in the media can contribute to increased levels of body dissatisfaction which has been identified as a risk factor for eating disorders.
Dealing with unhealthy media messages is something that almost every man will have to deal with. As is also the case with girls and women, the dangers lie in the drastic steps some boys and men may take to try to manage increasing body image anxiety. Guys who are more dissatisfied with their bodies may be more likely to engage in risky weight loss, bulking or sculpting behaviors such as extremely restrictive diets, cleanses, steroids, supplements or excessive exercise. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors for anyone. However, in boys and men who are genetically at risk for eating disorders, these types of behaviors can set the stage for an eating disorder, triggering changes in the brain, disrupting metabolic functioning, dysregulating hunger/fullness cues and often worsening body image, mood and anxiety symptoms. Boys and men who have a history of trauma, are involved in sports or careers that promote weight loss and perfection, and those with close family members with a history of an eating disorder are also at higher risk for developing one themselves.
Eating disorders have long been miscategorized as purely a women’s issue, even by some healthcare professionals. As a result it’s quite common for major warning signs like excessive exercise or drastic changes to diet to be overlooked or even congratulated in men. Stigma and stereotypes in the eating disorders combine to make it difficult for men who are stuck in the cycle of disordered eating to break out of it and get help. It is suggested that 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men, yet they only make up about 10% of people seeking treatment.
Talking openly about eating disorders can help minimize shame and embarrassment for males struggling with these issues. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we’ve been treating men with eating disorders for more than twenty-five years and we’re encouraged by the changes we hear in the conversations more recently. More men have been speaking out locally and using national platforms to raise awareness. In just the last year, Zayn Malik of the band One Direction discussed his struggle with an eating disorder and anxiety, performer/songwriter Matthew Koma wrote a poignant blog about his recovery from anorexia, and Joey Julius, a football player at Penn State, made a series of public statements regarding his decision to seek treatment for binge eating disorder. Their messages all point to a resounding hopefulness stemming from the reality that treatment is available and men can heal from their eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.
So what can you do to help the men in your life?
Start by checking in with them. The Let’s Check In campaign is all about empowering individuals, families and communities to talk openly about eating disorders and to strengthen support for individuals of all genders who might feel alone. When it comes to eating disorders, early identification and prompt help-seeking can make a big difference. You can play a role in supporting prevention and recovery from eating disorders simply by educating and preparing yourself.
Know the risk factors and pay attention to any sudden shifts in diet, exercise routine or increased negative comments about themselves or their body. If you’re unsure, the confidential online assessment is a quick tool that can help you gauge whether someone you love might be at risk. Second, if you are seeing increasing warning signs plan to check in with your friend or loved about your concerns and provide them with compassion and resources. A fact sheet, conversation guide and additional resources are available at www.letscheckin.com/.
Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C,
Family Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Regis Aguglia earned his Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2010. Prior to joining The Center for Eating Disorders in 2014, Regis provided individual, family and group therapy in outpatient and school-based settings and gained experience treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. As a Family Therapist in The Center’s inpatient and partial hospital programs, Regis works with families to understand the impact of an eating disorder on the family system and helps to strengthen communication, coping skills, nutritional stability and recovery-focused support. Regis also facilitates a number of inpatient therapy groups including dual diagnosis groups for patients with co-occurring substance abuse and a specialty group for boys and men with eating disorders.
We spent the summer talking about several steps you can take to turn body dissatisfaction into body acceptance. We also presented some of the very important reasons why someone might be motivated to embark on such a task. The bottom line: negative body image can negatively impact all other areas of life – career, academics, physical health, social interaction and intimate relationships. As many as 67% of women ages 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities because they feel badly about their bodies. And women are not alone in the struggle; Thirteen percent of college-aged men say their appearance is traumatic or difficult to handle as well.As we head into the fall, its important to remember that negative body image doesn’t just go away for most people simply because the beach vacations and relentless bikini body advertisements subside. As much as we wish that was the case, we know body image is much more than a seasonal hazard.
Body insecurity will follow young boys and girls into middle school classrooms where they may stop raising their hands or engaging in class discussion to avoid drawing attention to their appearance.
Body insecurity will follow young adults onto college campuses around the country where it, paired with genetic risk factors like perfectionism and anxiety, plus fear of the Freshman 15, may provide fuel for the development of an eating disorder.
Body insecurity will follow the new mom to the play date where she will silently compare and scrutinize her body. She’ll be sold a thousand different ways to get her pre-baby body back.
Body insecurity will follow the quiet colleague home from work each night. He refuses to hang out with friends or start dating until he finally “bulks up” again.
These may be the realities of day-to-day life with body dissatisfaction but they don’t have to be the end of the story. In addition to the 3 Steps we laid out during the #bodypositivesummer campaign, here are a few guidelines to help boost body image in any season.
1. Don’t postpone important events or fun life goals for appearance or weight-related reasons. Putting off a special vacation, not applying for your dream job or not going on a date until you lose XX lbs. is a recipe for missed opportunities and delayed happiness. Saying you’ll get around to something in few months can quickly turn into a few years, or even decades. If you’ve been waiting to live life fully because you’re unhappy with your body, consider taking one small step today towards whatever it is you’ve been putting off. Research flights, update your resume or call an old friend.
2. Stop Fat Chat. When among friends or in social settings commit to steering the conversation away from appearance-based judgments and into more positive territory. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report urging pediatricians and parents to stop focusing on weight, or even mentioning weight, during discussions with children and teens. The reason? Focusing on weight backfires, often leading to unhealthy behaviors that are associated with both obesity and eating disorders. The same is true for adults. Stop focusing on your weight as the golden marker of health and you may actually find it’s easier and/or more fulfilling to engage in healthful behaviors.
3. Cleanse your social media feed. Disconnect from the negativity, surround yourself with positive, healthy, and uplifting social media accounts. If you’re online quite a bit, there is no reason to allow Instagram followers who consistently engage in fat talk or body criticism to cloud your view of yourself. You have every right to unfollow Twitter users that promote weight loss or diet products, even if they are close friends or family members. Remember, you are the curator of your accounts; use that power to cultivate a body positive presence for yourself online.
4. Last but definitely not least…ASK FOR HELP. Negative body image can be a risk factor in the development of eating disorders or may trigger relapse while in recovery from one. If you’re having a lot of negative body image thoughts throughout the day or they’re impacting your behaviors around food and weight it might be time to seek support. Specific evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavior Therapy can be effective in addressing body dissatisfaction. It can help to tell a trusted friend, spouse, or parent that you’re struggling and ask them to support you in getting connected to a counselor or therapist who is trained in these specific techniques.
Not sure where to turn? You can complete a confidential online self-assessment here or call (410) 938-5252 for more information.
Visit eatingdisorder.org for additional resources.
Having a #bodypositivesummer may sound relatively straight forward; however some of the accompanying language may require a bit more explanation. This guide is meant to help break down some of the vernacular you come across within the #bodypositivesummer movement and in other similar discussions about body image.
Body image refers to the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. The key word being subjective. In other words, body image is how you see yourself. Medical definitions of body image extend to include the individual’s emotional beliefs and attitudes about the image they perceive. The same feature might be experienced differently and thus, elicit different emotions from person to person. For example, to one individual, being tall might come with a sense of pride and a belief that his or her height is a strength, while another individual feels embarrassed about being tall and believes that it sets him or her apart in a negative way. An individual’s body image state – negative or positive – is shaped by lived experiences, peer groups, media and marketing, family, community and cultural attitudes, as well as other external sources of body ideals and expectations.
The divergence of one’s body image from sociocultural beauty ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction. Grogan (2008) defines body dissatisfaction as a person’s negative thoughts about his or her own body. Negative feelings about body type, weight, body hair, and skin tone are known to be intensified during summer months due to an increased focus of marketing on these insecurities, greater body exposure due to warmer temperatures, and other socially influenced factors. Beauty standards (also referred to as the thin ideal or body ideal) are often narrow, unhealthy and down-right ridiculous for both women and men. These unattainable “standards” may also lead to dangerous behaviors, such as excess sun exposure, dieting, and potentially by extension, disordered eating. They also set the stage for forms of hurtful interactions such as body shaming. Body shaming, also referred to as body bashing, is any form of mocking, bullying, or insults focused on deviations from body or appearance “norms”. This type of bullying behavior can take place in person during face-to-face interactions or online across social media platforms. Body shaming is normalized and encouraged by advertisements that imply certain bodies are not suited for certain places (like the beach) or for specific articles of clothing (like shorts or a bathing suit).
The antidote to body dissatisfaction is body acceptance. Body Acceptance is approving of and caring for your body despite it’s real or perceived “imperfections”. This is inclusive of other terms like body positive, body neutrality and size acceptance. Being body positive or working towards body acceptance, doesn’t mean you absolutely love the way you look all the time. It simply means you accept and honor all bodies – including your own – as good and worthy of care and respect. It also means you are willing to confront your own internalized weight bias and challenge other stereotypes or assumptions based on a person’s appearance.
We live within a culture that encourages body dissatisfaction. But we have within us individually, the power to be body positive. In doing this for ourselves, we also create space for others, including friends and family members with eating disorders and/or serious body image disturbances, to re-engage in experiences they might be prone to avoid.
Find more info here.
As we head into the holidays, it can be helpful to have a very simple plan for responding to family and friends drawn to the very topics that may be most troubling during recovery from an eating disorder. Depending on how you spend your holiday this year, one or all of these suggestions may come in handy when the conversation takes a turn toward triggering language regarding bodies, food or weight.
Step 1: Obstruct or change the conversation if you notice someone is heading into a discussion that makes you uncomfortable.
Remember people generally like to talk about themselves and their interests. If Aunt Marie is pressuring everyone to eat more pie or is gushing over a family member’s weight loss, use that as an opportunity to reflect the attention back to her. So who taught you how to bake? What are you up to at work Aunt Marie? How was that vacation you went on?
If you’re comfortable staying on the topic but exerting your power into the conversation you could try something like this: I’ve actually been learning a lot about how weight is not a good determinant of overall health. I’m focusing on my work-life balance and healthier ways to deal with stress. I’m thinking about meditation…have you ever tried it?
Step 2: Set boundaries if someone continues to target you with questions or comments about your body or what you’re eating.
Here are some simple examples with varying levels of intensity. You can choose which ones you think would work well for you, or create your own.
- I try not to get involved in discussions about dieting and weight loss.
- I’d prefer not to talk about my weight today.
- I am so happy to be here with everyone, I don’t want to waste our time together talking about food/weight.
- Please don’t comment on my body.
- Let’s find something else to do or talk about.
- I’d much rather tell you about school / work / hobby
- It’s really stressful to me when people make comments about what I’m eating.
- It’s actually not helpful for me to talk about calories or exercise.
- I’m choosing to focus on other things this year.
- It is not beneficial for me to feel badly about my body or guilty about what I ate.
The great thing about practicing these responses with other people is that you’ll be more likely to use them when struggling with negative self-talk or eating disorder thoughts in your own head too.
Step 3: Step away & seek support.
If stressors persist or you find you just need a break from the crowd, locate your holiday ally or text a friend. Take some time to vent about what’s bothering you, take 3 very deep breaths, and then re-focus on the positive parts of the day. Sounds simple but it can make a big difference.
You are deserving of a happy and healthy holiday. How you choose to create that is up to you. Just remember that one insensitive comment from one person does not have to ruin your entire holiday. At anytime, you can choose to re-engage in both the celebration and your recovery.
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Read more about healthy holiday coping…
- 8 Ways to Take the Focus Off Food This Holiday
- What’s in your suitcase? Packing list for a recovery-focused holiday weekend
- Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder: 10 Tips to Help You Enjoy the Holiday
- Tried and True Strategies for a Recovery-Focused Holiday – Part II
Concerned that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder? Call us at (410) 938-5252 for a free and confidential phone assessment or visit www.eatingdisorder.org for more information about treatment options.
Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net / digidreamgrafix
Who’s bringing a dessert? Can someone help with appetizers? Here, have some more! Are you really taking another helping? I wish I could eat like you. Ugh, my diet must start tomorrow!
Sound familiar? It’s not unusual for pre-Thanksgiving talk between family members to focus on food and food-related tasks. It’s also not uncommon for holiday conversation to revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and, in some cases, criticism or praise regarding weight and size. To be clear, making sure there’s enough food to feed everyone at a gathering is important, but it doesn’t need to be the center of everyone’s day.
When an individual is struggling with an eating disorder, or working hard to maintain recovery from one, these topics can activate disordered thoughts about food, trigger negative body image and impact a person’s ability to be emotionally or physically present at the gathering. Intentionally steering the day towards gratitude and connection instead of food and weight can take a bit of work in our diet-obsessed culture but it stands to benefit many, not just those with eating disorders.
Where to start? These are just a few suggestions from our therapists and dietitians. Feel free to share your ideas and recommendations on our Facebook page.
1. Offer roles for family and friends who want to contribute something but may not want to bring food. Not everyone enjoys cooking and some people, especially those with eating disorders, might feel incredibly anxious around food. There are definitely other ways to help and have a meaningful connection to the day that don’t involve preparing food. For example:
- Planning activities or bringing a craft for the kids (or adults!) to work on.
- Pet duty. Someone might really love to take the dogs out for a walk while everyone else is distracted in the kitchen or watching the football game.
- Helping with clean-up and dish-washing (Yes, some people enjoy washing dishes!)
- Ask the musicians of the family to bring their instruments.
- See if anyone would be willing to put together a slideshow of past Thanksgiving photos for after-dinner viewing.
Quick Tip: Tap into everyone’s strengths. If your brother has taken up a recent interest in photography ask if he’d be willing to document the day and capture different positive interactions. How great would it be to have a beautiful photograph of a grandparent rocking a new baby or all the cousins playing football outside? These are, after all, the moments you’d choose to remember about a holiday, not how many calories you ate or an offhanded remark someone made about your weight gain/loss.
2. Give in to the gratitude trend. Gratitude might seem like a big social media gimmick right now but the truth is it does have the power to shift your attitudes and perceptions. The moment dinner is served and everyone sits down to eat can be a moment of peak anxiety if you have an eating disorder. In anticipation of this, Google “gratitude quotes”, pick your favorites and write them on small cards to place at each table setting. Depending on how willing your family is, you could also give everyone a chance to go around and verbally share something for which they are grateful.
3. If you’re hosting, do a quick assessment of reading material around your house. Put away (or better yet, recycle) any magazines that are overly focused on appearance, diet or beauty. Studies show even just 3 minutes of looking at fashion or “fitness” magazines can negatively impact self-esteem and trigger feelings of sadness and guilt. Do you really want your 7 year-old nephew to practice his reading skills with a fitness magazine full of photoshopped bodies? Do yourself and your guests a favor by instead stocking your coffee table with photo albums, short stories written by your kids, or some photography books by a favorite artist. (If you really want to make a body positive impact, you could leave a copy of Intuitive Eating or Health At Every Size laying around as well.)
4. Identify an ally (or two). Many of us look forward to holidays with great anticipation because we get to spend time with family members we don’t often see. Some of us experience dread and stress for the very same reason. It’s no secret that family dynamics can be complicated. Instead of focusing on family members who are particularly difficult to handle, focus on the ones who can help. If you have a grandparent, cousin or significant other who knows you’re struggling with recovery, have a conversation with them in advance about the ways in which they can support you at the gathering, at the table, and in specific situations throughout the day.
5. Step away from the bathroom scale. If you’re hosting and you have a scale in your house, move it out of sight temporarily, or permanently. If you are a guest in someone else’s house, consider asking them if they can stash it in a closet for the day. As a parent, spouse or support person of someone in recovery, this would be a great thing to take care of in advance as a way to advocate for your loved one.
6. Whatever you spend time focusing on will be what you spend time focusing on. If you’re in recovery you likely going to need to think about meal plans and meeting nutritional needs and that’s okay, but make sure you also have holiday intentions that don’t involve food, eating or weight. Why? Because if all your goals that day revolve around what you’re eating you will be hyper-focused on food just like you were with the eating disorder. Prioritize your nutritional goals, talk them over with your dietitian and then consider adding some non-food goals like these:
- I will record an interview with a grandparent. (Check out The Great Thanksgiving Listen)
- I would love to cuddle with a relative’s new baby.
- I’d like to sneak off to do a 3-minute mindful meditation before dinner
- I’m going to talk with each family member about their favorite songs, then compile a playlist to share after the holiday.
- I will give at least 3 non-appearance related compliments to other people on Thanksgiving day.
Quick Tip: Whatever you choose, make sure your goals are easy, achievable and positively worded. Think about adding good things into your experience, instead of avoiding a negative. For example, instead of saying “I won’t go on Facebook during our Thanksgiving get together” say “I look forward to taking a break from social media so I can catch up with my loved ones.” Remember, whatever you focus on will be what you’re focused on.
7. Remember that you cannot control everyone else. We live in a food and weight-obsessed society, so it’s likely some of this conversation will make it’s way into your holiday despite your best efforts. If and when it does, be prepared with ways you can change the conversation, set boundaries and seek support.
8. Give Back – Identify a local charity and ask all the Thanksgiving guests to bring a donation for the cause. Even if the day is hard for you and your recovery you will be left with a visual reminder of everyone’s generosity, (even if they couldn’t stop mentioning how many calories were in the appetizer all day).
Thanksgiving can be a truly beautiful holiday that reminds us all to give thanks and reflect upon the positives in life. Taking the focus off food might not only benefit those with an eating disorder but anyone struggling with negative thoughts, low self-esteem or loneliness this holiday season.
When we lift the food frenzy and body angst we are better able to focus on gratitude and authentic connection with others and ourselves.
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You may also be interested in reading:
Questions about treatment for an eating disorder? Call us at (410) 427-3886 or visit eatingdisorder.org
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net / bugtiger
It seems like many colleges and universities have moved away from the standard exam schedule. In fact, it can seem like you are constantly studying for exams or writing papers, with no downtime or lull in the semester at all. Midterms and finals just mean a heightened level of existing anxiety or stress. Unfortunately, for many college students, that means there comes a point in the semester when it seems like there are way too many obligations and way too little time to manage them all. If you are simultaneously working on recovery from an eating disorder this can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if everything seems to be equally important on your to-do list. While it can be easy to lose sight of how critical your recovery is in the midst of these academic priorities, its crucial to remember the potential consequences. Turning to your eating disorder behaviors will only intensify the stress you’re body is under, making it mentally and physically harder to concentrate, harder to interact and connect with other people (i.e. study groups, roommates, support people) and much harder to accomplish that long list of study tasks.
Self-care, nourishing your body, following treatment recommendations and practicing your new healthy coping skills is what will eventually get you through the stress of mid-term or final exams. While the hectic nature of college academics can’t be completely avoided, we can offer some tips to help make it feel more manageable and less likely to derail your progress in recovery.
Prioritize: Make a list of all of your upcoming responsibilities. Pull out the larger projects and see if you can break these down into smaller, more achievable tasks. For example, break down “10 page research paper” into: print articles; read articles; write an outline; write the rough draft; write the bibliography; and revise the paper. Write deadlines next to each item on your list and then organize your to-do list by due-date or high priority items. Don’t forget to breathe.
Eliminate unnecessary responsibilities: Do you really have to do everything on your list? You might have some things on there that are optional projects, or possibly some student organization meetings that are not imperative for you to attend. Perhaps you can ask for less hours at work during exam weeks. Remember that you can also always talk to your professor; if you have 3 exams scheduled on one day, one of your professors may actually be willing to allow you to take the exam for their class on a different day. If you just can’t adjust your schedule, know that this stress is temporary. Focus on the end point and plan a reward for yourself after big assignments are turned in.
Don’t give up on the basics: As tempting as it may be, you still need to prioritize sleeping, eating and self-care. In fact, it is even more important that you take care of yourself during this stressful time. Always strive to get as close to 8 hours of sleep each night as possible, remembering that lack of sleep can have a significant effect on hunger and eating patterns. Make sure you are scheduling times to eat your meals and snacks and that you are thinking ahead. If you know you won’t have time to go back to your room for a meal, remember to pack your food with you or bring money to eat while you are out.
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Relaxation is vital. Take some time every day to take a deep breath and be still. Enjoy what the season has to offer. Consider setting aside 30 minutes or an hour during your busy time to catch up with a friend or roommate – no multi-tasking or studying allowed during that time.
Keep your appointments: When things get hectic, it may be tempting to cancel your therapy or nutrition appointments so that you can spend more time studying. This often makes sense in a moment of panic or stress but can easily lead towards losing sight of recovery’s importance. Cancelling appointments during high stress or high pressure times can be a risk factor for relapse. Consider a rock climber choosing to take off her safety harness right when she gets to the highest and steepest part of the cliff. You’d probably question that decision right? The same applies to your “safety harness” and your support system during difficult times. If you are struggling to get to your appointments, speak to your therapist about this and decide together what is the best way to balance your responsibilities with your recovery in mind.
Reach Out: Recovery can feel like a full-time job sometimes, and college is a full-time job for many students. You may be realizing that you are struggling so much with both that you just can’t focus on your academics the way that you want to. You may have missed a number of classes, gotten behind in lectures or just feel too overwhelmed to truly focus. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professor and see if there is any way that you can catch up, delay some deadlines, or work with a tutor to help you in that class. You don’t have to go through this on your own. Ask for help and explore your options for support on campus. If you think you need to withdraw from a class and have missed the Drop/Add deadline, or if you are thinking about taking a medical leave of absence, schedule an appointment with the Dean of Students, an Academic Advisor, or someone at the Counseling Center – that is what they are there for!
While academics and exam stress can be overwhelming, just remember that you have options regarding how you handle that stress and how you let it affect you. You have already accomplished so much this semester. Reflect on what has been working well so far and praise yourself for a job well done. If there are things that have been a struggle, now is a good time to evaluate what aspects of your self-care and stress tolerance could be improved. Try coming up with a reasonable plan to put into action for the rest of the semester and continue reflecting on it to see what is working and what isn’t. If you are stumped as to how to do this, reach out to others for support and additional ideas.
CED wishes you a memorable semester of academic success, balance and self-care. For more insight on the intersection between college and eating disorder recovery, check out our whole blog series at: Battling Body Image Concerns & Disordered Eating on Campus .
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need help or support, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252. You can also reach us by email at EatingDisorderInfo@sheppardpratt.org.
Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED Therapist & College Liaison
Originally published on 11/11/2011
As the newness of the school year starts to fade, you might be realizing that you or a loved one may need more support to maintain or re-focus on recovery while on campus. It might feel discouraging to recognize that you are not doing as well as you had hoped, but you do not have to suffer alone. Most colleges and universities provide a full range of services to their students, and it would be worthwhile to look into what is available on your campus. While every campus is unique, the following services are typically available at every school.
Student Health Center: The Health Center has physicians and nurses that are on site and specialize in working with college students. Many schools have at least one member of the staff that is familiar with working with people who have been diagnosed with eating disorders and will be able to help facilitate your care and make appropriate referrals on and off campus. Sometimes a dietitian is on staff to work with college students who need nutritional counseling.
Campus Counseling Center: The Counseling Center may be part of the Student Health Center, or it may be a completely separate department. At most schools, therapists are available to see students in individual therapy for a wide array of emotional and psychological concerns. The best part is that many of these services are free or very low-cost. The Counseling Center may also offer group therapy, which allows you to connect with others on campus who are facing some of the same concerns that you are. Some counseling centers may also work with a psychiatrist that can prescribe and monitor medications, if appropriate.
Peer Counselors: If the idea of speaking to a counselor is overwhelming, you may feel more comfortable initially meeting with a peer who has been trained to provide support. While a peer counselor is not qualified to do therapy, they can be a great support in supplementing your ongoing care or helping you to access the appropriate level of treatment for you.
Resident Advisors: Your RA is very knowledgeable about life on campus and can help direct you to the people in your community that can best assist you. They typically have gone through training to mediate conflict between roommates, to listen supportively to their residents and to help students access services on campus.
Dean of Students/Academic Advising: If your school work is starting to suffer because of your eating disorder or mood, you can speak to the Dean of Students or your Academic Advisor to explore your options. They will be prepared to help you with administrative concerns such as adding/dropping classes, communicating with your professors, adjusting your schedule to accommodate treatment, taking a medical leave of absence, and directing you to tutors and academic support programs.
Campus Ministries: If you are spiritually connected to your faith, you might feel more comfortable reaching out to the school’s chaplain. The chaplain is available to meet with students and can assist you in locating a place of worship consistent with your beliefs or can help direct you to more spiritually based counselors.
Off-Campus Treatment & Support: If you prefer to access services off campus or would like more specialized outpatient treatment, find out whether there are any treatment centers located close to your school. The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt always welcomes students from surrounding colleges and universities during the school year. The Center is actually within walking distance to Towson University and is located within 5 miles of all of the following campuses:
- Goucher College
- College of Notre Dame of Maryland
- Loyola University Maryland
- Morgan State University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Stevenson University
Students who attend school a bit farther away from their treatment team, may be able to schedule classes in a way that frees up a particular day of the week for fitting in outpatient appointments with various providers.
The Center for Eating Disorders provides a wide array of treatment options including individual therapy, medication management, nutritional counseling, and a free support group every Wednesday night from 7:00-8:30 PM. If you need help finding outpatient treatment services close to your campus, you can visit The National Eating Disorder Association’s Treatment & Support Finder and search by state or zip code.
In the end, where you seek support is not as important as whether you seek support. Remember that you are not alone and asking for help is a sign of strength. If you are struggling, please reach out to a trusted friend, loved one, treatment provider or one of the campus supports listed above.
If you have any questions about the resources or services discussed above,please email Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED’s College Liaison at email@example.com or call (410) 938-5252.
Written by Jennifer Moran, Psy.D.
Originally published 9/13/11
It’s that time of year again! While it was just a few months ago that everyone was so excited for the start of summer break, there is also something very exciting about the start of a new school year: new school supplies, new classes, new back-to-school clothes and maybe even new friends. Notice a theme? The start of a school year offers the opportunity for new beginnings. For some, they will be making a major transition to living on a new campus where every aspect of the experience is, in fact, new. For others, returning to school or starting a new semester offers a chance to improve upon their earlier efforts at balancing school, their social life and self-care. For everyone, this new beginning is a time to pause and reflect on what your goals are for the semester and how you would like to achieve them.
Here at the Center for Eating Disorders , we often work with students who are struggling to balance all of their responsibilities during the very hectic semester. When mounting pressure and too many commitments forces something to be let go, too often people opt to give up sleep, meals, relaxation, or time for self-care. These basic needs are sometimes even viewed as a luxury. While the thought of failing to meet deadlines or getting poor grades can be very stressful, people tend to underestimate just how important the “luxury” of taking care of yourself is in the grand scheme of your overall ability to function. It would be similar to draining a car battery without ever recharging it; eventually, the battery is not going to work and the car won’t start!
Fortunately, this scenario can be prevented with a little foresight and some planning. The start of the semester is a great time to create a plan to help keep things balanced throughout the next couple of months. Here are some tips for creating a good plan.
- Write out your schedule for the semester. Once your classes, work schedules and social engagements are in the calendar, go back through and make sure that there are times for all three meals each day. Schedule them in so that they will not be forgotten!
- Plan accordingly. Do you have a work shift or a class that goes from 11-2? Plan to pack your lunch so that you can have something to eat during your break. Look at your syllabi and put important deadlines and exam dates on your calendar. If you notice one week is going to be packed with things to do, plan ahead so you are not overwhelmed.
- Get connected to your safety net. Its the first week of school and everything might still be feeling new and exciting and maybe even easy. But even if you don’t feel like you need the extra support right now, take a moment while things are slow to identify the phone numbers and locations on campus for the student health center and the counseling center. Save the info in your phone. If a time comes later in the semester when you need to reach out for help, you will have made it a little easier for yourself to quickly connect with your campus support system.
- Choose a bedtime. School schedules can be erratic. You might start each day at different times based on your class schedule, and you might stay up very late on the weekends or during exam times. But resist the urge to maintain this erratic sleep schedule throughout your entire college career. Whenever possible, do your best to go to sleep and wake-up around the same time every day in an effort to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, especially if you are working on recovery from an eating disorder. Why? Balanced sleep can help you maintain balance in other areas of life as well, such as your mood and your eating. This is partially because sleep helps your body regulate hormone levels, including those that stimulate feelings of hunger and fullness. When hormones are dysregulated it can set you up for overeating or bingeing. When you are tempted to pull those all-nighters during midterm week, remember that studies show a sleep deficit of 3-4 hours a night over the course of even just one week can interfere with the body’s ability to process nutrients from food, manage stress, and maintain a proper balance of hormones. (source: American Thoracic Society, International Conference, News release, San Diego, May 19-24, 2006.)
- Schedule “me” time. It is very important that you take time to check in with yourself. Try to find time to journal or do something you enjoy for even just a few minutes every day. If you know that you will struggle to fit this into your schedule, try signing up for a yoga class, a book club or another fun, relaxing activity to make sure that you stick with it. This is also a great way to meet people with similar interests.
- Stay True to Yourself. It can be easy to feel pressured or rushed into making as many new friends as possible, sometimes by altering yourself and your priorities to fit in lest you risk being all alone. You may want to pause every so often and reflect on whether the company you are keeping is raising you up or is dragging you down. Are the new friendships you’re building helping you commit to self-care and positive self-worth or are they contributing to greater body/food anxieties? Listen carefully to your inner voice and let it guide you to make the best decisions for you.
We at the Center wish all of you a happy first semester at school! Stay connected with this back-to-school blog series and other body image and eating disorder resources by liking CED’s Facebook Page or following @CEDatSheppPratt on Twitter.
Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, College Liaison, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Originally published 9/6/11
Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos / Naypong