Many people do not know that there is such a thing as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. On February 23-March 1 is NEDA. week. This week is important for many reasons, yet is rarely acknowledged in our culture. Eating disorders are commonly looked down upon, and I feel a big reason is because they are misunderstood. Eating disorders are an ever-growing epidemic. Many are not aware of how many around them could be suffering from this disease. Mothers, Grandmothers, Sisters, Daughters, Brothers, Sons, Grandfathers and Dads may be suffering from an eating disorder. It is a hidden secret that is often guarded, protected, and veiled with fears of judgment and shame. It is time to break down the walls. It is time to empower and fight for those suffering from an eating disorder, as well as educate those who are unsure of how severe of an issue this may
Over 24 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder (anad.org). Eating disorders, specifically Anorexia, are the number one… the NUMBER ONE killer of all mental disorders. NUMBER ONE!!!
Eating disorders can be difficult to understand, but they affect more people than we realize. Dialogues must be started. Media stereotypes and the messages we send to the youth of America must be challenged. This growing epidemic will only continue to get worse, unless we shine a spotlight on this issue and increase our awareness.Young children are not immune to this disease. I have seen patients who have stated that their eating disorders started as young as the age of 5. How can children that young learn to hate their bodies? How do they learn to harm themselves in such a physical way to cope with internal pain? Information about this issue must spread; we cannot stay silent any longer. It is time to speak up, to learn, grow, and face this problem. For someone suffering from an eating disorder, it may feel like being locked in a silent prison that slowly kills.
By talking about eating disorders and reducing the stigma associated with them we can start to make a difference
There are many misconceptions about eating disorders and people who have or are currently struggling with one. I’ve heard time and time again, “Why can’t the behavior just be stopped?”, as if it were as easy as turning an on switch off. What many people don’t know is that an eating disorder is a disease, and also an addiction. Eating disorders are more than just a behavior; it is a mindset and a thought process that takes over many aspects of a person’s life. There is more eating disorders than an obsession with weight and body image; there are factors that contribute to the extreme mindset and feelings that come with an eating disorder. If we can better understand the mindset and find ways to help then maybe one day the recovery rate of won’t be as low as it is now.The purpose of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses – not choices – and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder. We have come far in the last two decades but eating disorders research continues to be under-funded, insurance coverage for treatment is inadequate, and societal pressures to be thin or look a certain way remain rampant. Some doctors fail to recognize the signs or offer the help that many people suffering from an eating disorder need. Education is vital.
We need acceptance, we need love, and we need hope. Most of all, those who suffer from an eating disorder need support. The more we can make them feel safe to share their stories and feel understood, the more we can continue to combat for and help those in need. I have hope that one day we will live in a society where our shape and weight are not what define us. I have hope that one day those suffering will continue to find the courage and strength within themselves to fight and know it’ll be ok; that recovery is possible and that they have a voice we want to hear.This is a call to action. Please do your part and increase awareness with eating disorders. You can visit nationaleatingdisorders.org. The smallest things make the largest difference. Thank you.By talking about eating disorders and reducing the stigma associated with them we can start to make a difference.
When discussing any difficult issues or topics what motivates me and keeps me hopeful are the people who live a life of inspiration. I was honored and touched when such an amazing woman Madison Nixey reached out to me and asked if she could write a post for my blog. My immediate answer is yes. Madison is someone who I met about three years ago. I have had the honor of seeing her along her journey in recovery and she inspires me in so many ways. Her spunk, her say it how it is attitude, her humor and her strength never stop surprising me. Madison was recently in New York City participating in the NEDA walk and that is where her blog post starts. Thank you Madison for writing and sharing a part of your experience to the world.
(Madison & I at the Norooz Clinic Art Fair where Madison spoke about her journey & recovery from her eating disorder)
Walk On written by: Madison Nixey
Last Friday, October 4th I flew out to New York to attend my second ever NEDA walk. Sunday morning, October 6, I laced up my Nike’s and hopped on the subway. The Los Angeles NEDA walk was in February this past year and my experience there left a lot to be desired. I got off the subway at Foley Square, right by the big courthouse in New York. We wandered for a little but confused because there weren’t many visible signs up. We made a left and found ourselves on the outskirts of a huge group of NEDA walkers. Around 1300 people came out to support the cause. 1300 PEOPLE GUYS! That’s like, a whole 1100 more than attended the walk in Santa Monica!!! The atmosphere was incredible. All around me I could hear stories of sadness and hope. There were many people walking for their kids and their mothers and also lots of groups walking for people who had passed away from complications of their eating disorders. The emotion was overwhelming walking around talking to people. It was a great mixture of pride and sadness and fallen dreams. There were parents mourning the loss of the great future their child could have had and children mourning the years lost spent with their mothers.
The walk was across the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge. You could hear chanting and screaming and laughter. It was truly an amazing event to attend. People were stopping me to ask about the cause and the amount of people who even just turned and gave us a second glance was unreal. Along our route/gathering place, there were signs with statistics and ‘fun facts’ about eating disorders. One of the ones that stood out to me the most was; “35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self induced vomiting, diet pills or laxatives”. Take a minute and let that sink in………
Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness and the least talked about cause. It is so so important for awareness to be brought to this issue and we all need to get together and talk about it. Everyone knows someone and everybody’s life whether we know it or not has been affected by disordered eating, whether it be within ourselves or people around us. We need to get together to fight. Fight for better government funding, fight for better insurance coverage, and fight for the right to not be ashamed of what we’ve been through and to be proud of the fight we will have to constantly go through for the rest of our lives.
My eating disorder started when I was 12 years old. I fought to get treatment at age 17. I’ve been in recovery for three years in February. It’s been the hardest, most challenging road I have ever had to walk but it is also the most rewarding and I wouldn’t ever go back and change anything. I view my anorexia more as a blessing than anything because it has taught me to be a strong, independent woman who knows how to fight for what I want. I spend all my free time I have (which is getting to be less and less being in nursing school) dedicated to talking—sharing my story, sharing my recovery and being an open book. The power of sharing your story holds so much, you never know who is still secretly struggling and who could benefit.
Eating disorders are commonly associated as a struggle that only women go through even commonly referred to as a “woman’s disease”. Preoccupation with image, body, and self is highly associated to be issues that women struggle with and think about. I am here to break the silence and inform you that this stereotype is far from true. The reality is that out of the 8 millions people who suffer from Eating Disorders in the US 10 percent of them are male. In fact between 1999 and 2009 the government estimates indicate that the number of males admitted to hospitals for complications from eating disorders rose by a whopping 53 percent. Recent studies and surveys show that young males have admitted to vomiting, restricting or have used laxatives to control their weight as well as taken diet pills. This can be rather shocking as men stereotypically are not thought of to suffer from an eating disorder. I estimate that the rate of men who suffer is probably a lot higher but the embaressment and shame that many men feel stops them from speaking out and seeking treatment for themselves. I am here to shed some light that yes men suffer from eating disorders too.
I can speak on this personally because I have worked in three residential treatment centers and I have seen many young boys and men come into treatment. I have seen boys as young as 10 and the ages range up to the age of 50. Speaking with these boys and men shed so much insight into the gripping affect body image and pressure that men themselves can feel. I have noticed this especially among male athletes who must meet weight requirments for different types of sports. Men feel their own pressure to achieve a certain look or body image type.
Today men are more aware and conscious of their bodies. Media portrays the look of lean, fit built men with muscles and depending on the sport or peer groups, more men are feeling pressured to achieve a certain look. I have noticed that especially men who are involved with wrestling, running, football and other sports feel intense pressure to be above or under a certain weight class. This leads men to either overeat, restrict, purge or use laxatives to meet this criteria. The bottom line is we need to end the stereotypes that eating disorders are a woman’s disease. I want to educate and increase the awareness that an eating disorder can affect anyone! No matter what your age, gender, status etc eating disorders are on the rise and affecting more people. Education needs to start at an early age and that begins with parents and in the schools. We also need to end the shame associated with having an eating disorder. It already is a disorder that those who suffer feel guilt and shame and have a hard time reaching out for help, but the men who suffer feel an even heightened shame to seek help. Treatment and groups have traditionally been targeted to women so we need to branch out and make avenues of help more open so people feel more comfortable reaching out. It’s time to end the invisible struggle, its time to break free, its time to heal!
One thing I have noticed working with eating disorders is how much the emotional reactivity of someone affects their thoughts, actions and their body sensations. The eating disorder behavior whether it be through restricting, purging, over exercising, or binging is usually an emotional reaction to a triggering event. I often hear stories such as a mother or father making a comment that is triggering, friends isolating or alienating someone, bullying, a romantic relationship gone awry, the eating disorder behavior is a way for someone to act out their chaotic emotions. I often ask a client of this reaction ” You did this to get back or punish the person who did you wrong or caused you pain but in the end who is it hurting” It often is reflected back to them, it hurts them and feeds into the cycle of self loathing and affirms the belief that they deserve to be punished. In attempting to punish someone else, the cycle ends up punishing them. One of the emotions that I hear come up is anger, anger is one of the most triggering emotions for someone who suffers from an eating disorder. Anger however is a secondary emotion, there is always a bigger emotion almost like the elephant in the room lingering behind anger. Often times we don’t know to to contain or process anger, that is why many people have coping outlets to deal with anger, shame, frustration etc. It can be alcohol, drugs, or eating disorder behaviors. Many times we respond in anger to the words or actions of someone in our life but not only are we responding to what they did or said but how we interpret the meaning of what was done or said. Your body takes on that energy and then inside you feel anger. Our body takes on our feelings and our emotions are what follows.
One thing I really love to educate my clients on is how to separate from their emotions which is done by teaching emotional regulation. Those who suffer from an eating disorder often have a hard time even identifying the emotions that are stirred up in them so helping them to not only identify their emotions but how it affects their thoughts and body and then being able to regulate them is a powerful thing. That is why I love to work with clients to help them identify these emotions and learn how to think about them, cope with them so they can feel their feelings but not stay stuck in them. There are many great techniques for dealing with emotions, calm music, journaling one thing I find really helpful is opposite action. Opposite Action is a skill from DBT ( Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) .
This skill educates you on one basic fact, every emotions has a leading action. If we feel fear we have an instinct to hide or run away, if we feel sadness we cry etc.
The second point of Opposite Action is that our actions affect our emotions. It is described as a cycle so if we change our actions we can in turn change our emotions, just as if we change how we deal with our emotions we can change our actions. The big question to ask yourself is ‘Does the situation actually justify the emotion?’ This question will help you know when to apply opposite action & to reverse the cycle. To achieve opposite action it requires you to be very present and in tune with yourself and emotions and you do the work to change the initial thoughts and reaction patterns.
It is important to accept your feelings and not judge them or allow yourself to feel guilt or shame for experiencing emotions. My hope is that you realize that your feelings thoughts and emotions are valid and meaningful. We cannot help how we feel sometimes, sometimes our mind and emotions sneak up on us when we least expect it, but through work and time and self awareness you can control how you handle your emotions.