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Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Insight From Michelle Gross, MA, LMFT

Continuing our week of honoring Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I spoke to Visions’ Michelle Gross, MA, LMFT who has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders for over 18 years. Her passion is in treating the eating disorder community both individuals, and their families. Eating Disorder Awareness is something we encourage and support via groups, individualized therapy, and nutritional support. I asked Michelle for some insight into what she tells families with a loved one who is suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors. She says,

 

“When assisting a family who have just learned that their loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, I want them to know that eating disorders are a coping mechanism that tend to occur in individuals who suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Eating disorders numb pain (overeating), release feelings (purging), and create a feeling of control (counting calories). Eating disorders, although not always identical in form, tend to run in families. Family members need to know that the way in which they respond to their loved one is critical to the recovery process; however, they are not responsible for the development of the eating disorder itself. Eating disorders are an illness. Eating disorders are not about weight.”

 

Families who are confronted with this issue have to re-learn how to communicate with each other in a non-triggering way. I recently had to have a discussion with someone about their perpetual food talk and how triggering it was. Every meal was punctuated with negative commentary about weight gain, etc. So, eating with this person was becoming treacherous. Michelle Gross has wonderful insight and suggestions for situations just like this:

 

“It is important for family and friends to know how to be supportive. Unfortunately, the best of intentions to assist the eating disordered individual tend to backfire. Telling an anorexic that recently gained weight: ‘You look so much healthier,’ is easily misconstrued as being told one is ‘fat.’  Attempts to make sure an anorexic eats or a bulimic does not purge, create feelings of powerlessness that intensify the desire to feel in control by minimizing calories or purging.  Innocently mentioning one’s own need to lose weight or recently enjoying a vigorous workout, leave the eating disordered individual feeling inadequate and more dissatisfied with herself.  Loved one’s need to learn the ‘language’ spoken by the eating disordered individuals. Eating disorders are competitive.”

 

And what about triggers? Remember, what triggers one person may not trigger another, but some things are similar across the board. Michelle provides some salient advice here. If we begin to understand the psychological mechanisms of the eating disorder, our awareness and ability to support someone who is suffering increases. By opening our eyes, we can be supportive without judging the individual.

 

Michelle tells us that, “Family and friends also need to learn what triggers or intensifies eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.  Shopping for clothes, going to restaurants, exercising to reduce stress, can all intensify the eating disorder.  Eating disorders are reactive. The more one learns how their loved one’s eating triggers them, the more helpful one can be.”

 

Recovery is a family process, and that includes recovery from substance abuse, mental illness, eating disorders, or processing disorders. Treatment must include all facets of the family system. Learning how to do this is a process and a practice; and as Michelle illustrates, it is not one-sided affair:

 

“It is extremely valuable for family members to be part of the treatment.  Family sessions in addition to the individual therapy offers all members the opportunity to learn how to be supportive, to share concerns in a controlled environment, and gives the eating disordered individual an opportunity to express their feelings in an appropriate way vs. through the eating disordered behaviors.”

 

We need to unite as a recovery community, championing Eating Disorder Awareness Week and encouraging others to do the same. We can facilitate supportive environments and spaces for healing so those suffering from an eating disorder can begin to recover and find freedom from the devastating anguish caused by their eating disorders.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Events Mental Health Recovery Teen Activism

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Visions’ Stefanie Boone, MS, RD Shares Insight

It’s National Eating Disorder Association‘s Eating Disorder Awareness Week

often referred to as EDAW. I asked Stefanie Boone, MS, RD, to provide some insights and tips on what an eating disorder is, what is is not, and ways in which you can be supportive. This year’s EDAW theme is “I had no idea.” We are grateful to have Stefanie as part of the Visions family:

When I see parents, friends, or significant others trying to support their loved one with an eating disorder, my heart goes out to them. Besides feeling guilty (is this my fault?), worried (will he or she be OK?), and overwhelmed, they are often at loss around how to be helpful. Friends, family, and community need education around the following concepts:

–       That an eating disorder is really a symptom of deeper underlying issues;

–       That their loved one cannot just simply stop the behavior;

–       Certain things you may think would be supportive can actually make things worse;

–       That their own talk and behavior around food, diet, and being dissatisfied with their own bodies have and will continue to affect  their children or loved one;

–       That the sports team their child is a part of may actually be feeding into their ED.

My top five tips for those who want to be supportive are:

1. If you are trying to get your loved one to seek help, take a loving and non-judgmental stance with your loved one. An eating disorder is a mental illness, and requires professional help. Express your concern from a loving place.  Share how the ED is impacting you and your family.

2. If you are supporting an adult (spouse, parent, adult child) – do not be the food police. This is usually not helpful. With children and teens parents may need to be more involved – your child’s treatment team will guide you.

3. Be a positive role model – even if you do have your own opinions about food and even if you think you are “fat”, you need to stop sharing these thoughts and comments with your loved one.
And NEVER comment on how your loved looks – this is a very sensitive area and often a completely innocent comment such as “you look great” can be twisted into “is she saying I look fat?”

4. If your child is on a team sport, contact the coach – get more information as to what he/she is advising your children around food and exercise. Your child will most likely need to discontinue this sport at least temporarily while in recovery.

5. If you are a teen and have a friend you are worried about, talk to an adult about it immediately– teacher, school counselor, parents. I know this may be hard, but you may be saving your friend’s life.

 

Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins TODAY: 2/23-3/1. Please share your experience, strength and hope this week, using the hashtag #EDAW14. You never know who you’re helping or who might “hear” you for the first time.

Links to Check out:

How much DO you know? Take the NEDA QUIZ.

Proud2BMe Teen activist guide

Download NEDA’s Key Messages HERE and let others know why you’re participating.

 

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Recovery

Body Image and You: Stand Up to Your Inner Voice

#EDAW13 #LoveMore

In honor of NEDA‘s annual Eating Disorder Awareness Week or EDAW, I had the opportunity to speak about body image and photography at Cal State Northridge. Conversation is a huge part of my photographic process and a key component in working with people.  It’s not uncommon for me to hear self-deprecating commentary from photography clients about their perceived weight issues, body expectations, body shape, size, imperfections, et cetera. We are never exactly where we think we should be, right? In those moments where we are particularly vulnerable (in front of a camera, for example), why wouldn’t we talk about how insecure we might feel? After all, we are inundated with manufactured “perfection” in advertising and media on a daily basis. I find it an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to use these moments to be of service as a body image advocate to honor whomever I’m photographing in order to create a creative partnership. In those moments, we can quiet that angry inner voice of delusion.

 

Recovery asks us to be of service. In my own recovery, I try and bring the energy of service work into everything I do: to love others, even when loving them is difficult. To love myself, regardless of my own perceived imperfections. Eating disorders and disordered eating both have this in common: body image issues. If anything, it is a side effect of being a human being in a visually saturated world, but it doesn’t have to become a necessary evil. There is a way to challenge the negative body image messages we encounter in our everyday lives. Changing your body image means changing the way you think about your body.

 

Start from within:

When you wake up, set an intention to say 3 nice things to yourself throughout the day. Write those things on post-its if you need to and stick them where you won’t miss them.

 

Change negative perceptions to those of acceptance and positivity

Silence your inner critic. Begin to recognize that A: you are not your thoughts,

and B: feelings aren’t facts.

When you hear that negative self-talk revving its engine, try and counteract it with a positive comment.

 

How do we learn to love ourselves when what we see is distorted?

We see reflections of ourselves wherever we go: shop windows, bathroom mirrors, dressing rooms, elevator doors, brass coverings, and random reflective surfaces. Our reflections are everywhere, but are they really a true reflection of us? Most often, they are not.  Many professionals are talking about “Mirror Fasting.” In this practice, you are asked to “fast” from looking at your reflection.

Try this: Make a decision to stop looking at your reflection for a day. See how you feel. Add another day. See how you feel. Women and men who do this tend to have an increase in self-esteem, and a more positive image of their bodies. What we see is not always reality when it comes to mirrors; when we suffer from body dysmorphia, what we see really becomes skewed. Kjerstin Gruys, a 29-year-old sociology graduate student documented her yearlong Mirror Fast in her blog, Mirror Mirror…Off the Wall. In that process, she learned to love her body. I’m not asking you to skip mirrors for a year, but perhaps trying it out for day or a week, noting the emotional effects would be beneficial.

 

Body image issues are something many of us face. Even in recovery, even knowing what we know about the negative factors behind a poor image of self, we struggle. But with what we know, we have to find the temerity to stand up to that inner bully and put a stop to the barrage of self-deprecating chatter. Today, I stood up to that voice and looked in the mirror and said, “You are magnificent.” It felt incredible.

Helpful reads:

How Yoga Changed My Mind (And My Relationship to my Body) by Melanie Klein

Starving for Connection by Chelsea Roff

Voice in Recovery