Finding The Artist Within: Art Therapy & Eating Disorders

Art Therapy is becoming a powerful and effective coping skill that the eating disorder community has embraced. Art therapy helps and challenges a person to create and to reflect on the process of the art making experience and the art work they create. This process is powerful especially for someone who is suffering from an eating disorder because it helps gain new insight and awareness about themselves and their eating disorder.

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Having worked with the eating disorder population for six years one common thing I have seen is how difficult it can be for so many to express or identify their feelings and thoughts. For many words are not a viable and comfortable outlet for them to use. This is why art therapy can be so powerful. The transformations I have seen in someone who with words alone could not express the pains within, utilize different avenues of art for expression is inspiring. I wanted to share with the world how art therapy can be used to help those who suffer from an eating disorder in their recovery process.
 
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Art Therapy for Bulimia or Binging:
 For so many people out their suffering from bulimia or binging the behaviors they exhibit is that of a binge then purge cycle or a binge cycle. For someone who suffers with bulimia the purge is their avenue and way to get rid of or releases intense emotions. The purge serves as the outlet for release and a physical act of expression. This physical act on themselves is the attempt to get rid of unwanted feelings & emotions that feel to much to cope with. The binge cycle is an act of no control, a person feels lost and numb during the binge often times this serves as a way to not only disconnect with the body and mind but emotions as well.  The binge and purge cycle are often attempts to cope with unresolved emotional issues such as depression, rage, powerlessness, frustration and sadness. Art therapy is a unique way of tapping into those feelings both conscious and unconscious. 

Incorporating art therapy into someone suffering from bulimia or binge eatings treatment could help with the binge and purge symptoms and a greater understanding of what the binge and purge behavior represents or how its used to help one cope. Using art therapy could become a replacement behavior or coping mechanism for the binge and purge behavior.

Art Therapy for Anorexia
: For someone struggling with anorexia there is a restricting of not only food but emotions. Those who suffer from anorexia severely restrict their food content and this serves many emotional purposes. Starvation depletes the body of essential nutrients that the body needs to feel energy and function. Someone who suffers from anorexia feels a numbing of emotions when in severe starvation. They no longer feel any troubling emotions inside, starvation allows them to numb the pain they feel internally. Art therapy provides an outlet for anorexics to explore buried feelings as well as reconnect with their feelings and perception of themselves and their body.

Art therapy can be used like a key to open doors and hidden things. I empower you if you are struggling with expressing or identifying negative emotions to channel them into a creative form of expression. This allows the development of a new language to find a healthy way to cope with emotions. 

Some examples of utilizing art for coping:

– Creative Journaling

– Scrap booking

– Vision Boarding

– Collage Making

– Painting.

– Writing 

– Pottery/ Clay Making

My hope is to increase the awareness of utilizing art therapy and give so many out there hope that there are healthy powerful ways to confront and get through the pain without turning to the eating disorder behaviors. There is hope for recovery, it’s time to find the artist within

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The Invisible Line: Finding your voice and setting your boundaries

For so many people the ability to stand up for their inner needs and wants can be very difficult. Often times many people I encounter hold many of their emotions and thoughts within themselves. I know especially for the eating disorder population so much of what feeds into their negative view of themselves is driven by an inability to feel they should be seen, heard or have a voice. I work very hard with my clients to not only empower them, but to help them find their inner strength to define their emotions, define their thoughts, define their needs, assert themselves and set boundaries in their worlds. This concept of standing up for ones self is a very hard concept for many people but for the eating diorder community it is especially tough. An eating disorder is a selfish disorder, its a mean disorder, its a bullying disorder. It makes a person feel unworthy, unlovable, and most of all unimportant. This post is for anyone who ever felt unseen, unheard, unloved, for the tears cried at night, for the silent taunting screams that haunt so many. To anyone who ever felt neglected, unappreciated, judged.

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So many peoples lives are spent and driven by the constant worry about what others think, worried about how others see and view them and I ask why? I encounter this pattern with so many of the eating disorder clients I work with, they have such a need and a desire to give all of themselves to loved ones, to worry about how others see them, never feeling good enough, never feeling like they matter. Often times this preoccupation with what others think and how they see us instill a silence within a person. This silence is a dangerous cage, when someone takes their emotions, thoughts and locks them away it’s only a matter of time before all those pent up emotions and thoughts want to break free. I have noticed that for a lot of people who suffer from an eating disorder they have either been surrounded with too rigid of boundaries which leads to suppressed emotions or not enough of a boundary which leads to a sense of not knowing ones own identity. The inability to handle or process emotions from lack of boundaries for someone struggling with an eating disorder can be acted out in many ways.

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Someone struggling with anorexia restricts their food because I often hear it is the one thing that they can control but it is also a way to numb emotions and thoughts. As someone starves themselves and the physical implications start to take affect, the internal implications are unwinding as well. Their is an inability to process or define their emotions and if emotions come up the anorexia serves as a numbing agent. When you are physically depleted, your brain is depleted as well. There is a disconnection between mind and body and often times someone suffereing from anorexia is so malnoursihed or week it serves as a way to disconnect from the world and emotions. This is why in treatment centers when someone is being renourished its an overhwmelming experience. They start to feel again and so many of the negative emotions and thoughts will begin to resurface.

Someone struggling with bulimia its a physical action based behavior. Someone who binges and purges or just purges whatever they ate is coping with emotions and thoughts through a physical act. The pain they feel is often times acted out through purging. It’s a physical release of what has been kept inside of them.  Its a physical representation of trying to purge ones emotions. I hear many comments from so many who suffer from bulimia that its a coping tool for them to release their pain, sometimes its a violent act against themselves, its an aggresive expression of the pain unfolding within them. Within the brain itself the brain associates the cycle of bulimia as a coping pattern so in treatment it is almost like detoxing someone off a drug. The withdrawls from the act of purging leave someone who suffers from bulimia feeling helpless and overwhelmed, when their feelings come up the coping tool they have used for so long is no longer their to serve its purpose and that can be very difficult for someone recovering from bulimia.

Someone struggling with binge eating it’s a way to disconnect from emotions and self. Its an uncontrolable force that takes over its a disociation where a person is not present in the moment until after the binge where guilt and shame then take over. The guilt and shame ruminate and taunt the person which leads to a lower sense of control, worth or value. These negative emotions then fuel the cycle of numbing out and mindlessly eating all over again to further serve a numbing purpose. In treatment for someone who uses food during emotional times this can be a very hard adjustment.

I bring up these three behaviors and components because they all have things in common, they serve a purpose to help someone distract, disconnect and dissociate from emotions that prove to much to bare or handle. I truly believe if someone can develop a way to assert their needs and boundaries and become and advocate for themselves because they believe they are worth standing up for,  it would help them define, process and learn how to handle hardships, needs and emotions. Boundary setting is a crucial skill for people to learn. We must empower our clients to envision and create an invisible line.

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Here is an example list of some unhealthy boundaries:

• Sacrifice their personal values, plans or goals to please others

• Allow others to define who they are and make decisions for them

• Expect others to fulfill all their needs

• Feel guilty when they say no

• Hesitate to share their opinions or assert themselves if they are being treated unfairly

• Frequently feel used, threatened, victimized or mistreated by others

• Afraid of confrontation or conflict

• Take responsibility for other people’s feelings

• Tell others how to think, feel or act

I really work hard to empower my clients to feel comfortable with their voice and their instincts.

Here are some good ways to start defining your needs and emotions:

1. Create a personal bill of rights to slowly feel comfortable identifying  needs and asserting them.

2. Become aware and identify your emotions, thoughts and feelings within your body. This process is about slowly reconnecting with yourself.

3. Set limits for yourself based on your needs and emotions

4. Acceptance- Come to a place of acceptance. Assert your need that you are of value and your thoughts and opinions matter.

For many people when someone starts to assert themselves it can at first be a shock to not only the people in their lives but to themselves. My message to everyone out there who may be struggling with so many emotions that they have pushed down or kept hidden, is to slowly trust in your inner voice, to slowly fight for yourself. There is a purpose to your pain and maybe one purpose is to give you a power you have had all along.

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Walk On Guest Blog Post written by: Madison Nixey

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)

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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………

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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.

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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.

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Breaking the Silence: Eating Disorders and the men who suffer

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.

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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.

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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!

Emotional Reactivity? Our Emotions are linked to our body.. What?

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.

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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. 
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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. 

New Eating Disorder Recovery & Support Group In Orange County!

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