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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It’s not about the FOOD

Having worked with eating disorders for over five years I have had many conversations with many different clients. Each story is unique, the way their eating disorder started, the triggers they feel, how they used their eating disorder to cope, the reasons are all very different. One main point I always try to educate people about is no person who suffers or who has suffered from an eating disorder is the same. The behaviors, patterns may be similar but the underlying issues, reasons etc are all very different. One other point I try to educate people on and bring awareness to is that EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT ABOUT THE FOOD!  One common thing clients have come to me and said was, they were triggered or angered by a family member or friend telling them ” To just eat a burger” “Why can’t you just eat ” These types of  question comes from no fault of the person asking it but it does stem from a lack of understanding and education about the depths of an eating disorder. This is why my mission has always been to increase awareness and education because the more people can understand the many layers to the emotional aspects and causes of an eating disorder the better the support system of those who have an eating disorder can understand and cope themselves. My main message to people is that an eating disorder or any addiction for that matter does not discriminate, it does not care about your race, age, financial situation or gender. It can affect anyone anywhere the more we as a nation can understand eating disorders the more we can help those who are fighting them.

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The common assumption is that eating disorders are about an obsession or fear of food. That the main focus for someone with an eating disorder is a fear of getting fat and body image. While these are slightly true and what seems to be the most focused on, the reality is that an eating disorder like any other addiction or drug of choice is another avenue of emotional coping. It is another way to numb out, to feel a sense or release and to escape or avoid unwanted emotions. Anorexia, Bulimia & Binge Eating are also like a drug they give a person a sense of a high or release. The truth is that an eating disorder is often the cause of some sort of trauma, emotional event, life situation, or a number of many other factors.

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I also like to educate people to not blame the parents or family environment. Like anything else a child may have had very loving healthy parents but an outside source could have caused some emotional damage. A person with low self-worth or without a strong sense of identity may be more vulnerable. . This a why eating disorders  can occur at younger ages because at a younger age the identity is just forming and often times the opinion of peers is so important that it can shape how a young adult or child views themselves. I also often hear that people assume eating disorders are a way for someone to gain attention or  “attention seeking”. This infuriates me and further motivates me on my mission to educate. Someone does not choose to develop an eating disorder it is an all consuming disorder that if someone had a choice to just stop they would. It is like any addiction or disease once it reaches a certain point interventions must done to recover. This is why understanding the emotional background of the eating disorder is crucial to developing an appropriate response and treatment approach. Education at an early age is important. Bullying and the medias portrayal of beauty as well as our nations preoccupation with dieting etc are all contributing factors. 

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My message to everyone is do not judge anyone and assume their road is easy. Do not diminish the struggles and challenges someone may be facing. Instead be curious ask questions, educate yourselves there are too many stereotypes about eating disorders that we must break, we must make people aware of the reality. That there is much more to someone who is suffering from an eating disorder than a fear of getting fat and a fear of food. Look beyond what you see. 

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!

Forgiving our mistakes

I have worked with many different people in the past that come to see me with so many different life issues and hardships and one thing that I notice a lot in working with people is how much peoples mistakes or failures still haunt them. People tend to hold on so tightly to their mistakes and failures that is ends up consuming their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and most importantly how they view and see themselves. In general we as people tend to be very hard on ourselves and often times that can lead to the mistakes we make becoming our own prison that we can’t seem to break free from.

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If you are someone who still feels trapped by unresolved issues with others or yourself. Trapped by the mistakes you have made or opportunities you didn’t take. Then this post is for you to be able to finally face it and let it all go. To do that there needs to be resolution. As human beings a sense of closure and relief is something we all long for and need to be able to feel a sense of peace or to make understanding, often times however we are not able to receive closure for many different reasons. That is why we have the capability to create our own closure. Einstein said some very true and honest words ” Who never made any mistakes never learned from anything new.” To be able to move on and heal we must forgive others but we must forgive ourselves. I love to use this exercise taken from the Hoffman Process book written by: Tim Laurence.

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This is a good exercise to either do alone or if theres a lot of pain and emotions you feel may come out to do with a trusted friend or partner or even suggest doing this with your therapist. Get into a moment of relaxation and quiet place, start to think about the different things that are or have bothered you, things that you hold onto, things that make you feel any pain, guilt, shame or regret. If the emotions start to stir inside you notice your body and its sensations, notice your mind and your thoughts and allow the emotions to flow in and out of you and pass through you. Be aware to not simply bury the feeling but to actually begin to face them and let them go.

Make a list of the mistakes and regrets you have or have made and after each one write …. And I forgive myself

When you are done take a moment to sit and reflect and then take the paper and ritually rip it up. This is your release of all the pain and mistakes that were holding you back. You have faced them acknowledged them and now you are throwing them away. If you try this exercise let me know how it worked for you, what didn’t or your thoughts.

Have a healing week everyone!

Reasons not to restrict! Don’t fight yourself, fight the illness!

I hope this helps someone out there. An eating disorder is so powerful because it reshapes and takes control of the mind. How you feel, how you see the world, how you see food & how you see yourself. It’s a mental prison that for so many the idea of breaking free & fighting for that mental control back seems impossible. This list of reasons not to restrict is a great tool to start fighting those eating disorder thoughts that tell you why you should restrict. Initially you may read this and not believe some or all of these reasons, ask yourself why? What automatic thoughts come to your mind reading this list? You may say whats the point in this list none of it applies to me? The more you talk back to yourself & question those thoughts you are having the more you can slowly fight back. The more you fill your mind with some positive light instead of dark. One day at a time , one action at a time. You can do it! 

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