To say or not to say…. That is the question?

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” 

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Working in the field of addiction and eating disorders, as well as being in eating disorder recovery myself, I have experienced and witnessed first hand the lack of knowledge and understanding many people have about eating disorders. 30 million people in the U.S. will suffer from a diagnosable eating disorder during their lifetime, while many more cases go unreported. Eating disorders are often suffered in silence and while there is a sterotypical idea of how someone with an eating disorder should look or act, that is simply not the case. Anyone and I mean anyone can suffer from an eating disorder. No matter the age, race or gender, eating disorders do not discriminate. It is important to not only be aware of signs to look for when you suspect someone in your life may be suffering from an eating disorder but also to be aware of the sensitive nature of this disease. With any form of recovery there will be good, positive days and then there will be dark challenging days. Often times certain words or statements will be enough to send someone who struggles into the dark tangled web of negative thoughts in their head. This is why education and awareness is so important. It is not the fault of those who do not understand, supporting someone with an ED can be difficult and frustrating, it is hard to watch people hurt themselves and know you can only do so much about it. This is why it is so important to educate and increase awareness for those who may not be able to understand the power of this disease. To help people gain understanding is where true change can occur.

“Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

Listed below are some things you should not say to someone with an eating disorder-

1.) You look healthy– To many people this seems like a very normal, harmless comment often times meant to be supportive but to someone who is struggling with an eating disorder this comment can be one of the most triggering. The eating disorder mind has a way of turning many comments and twisting them into something negative. The ED mind hears “healthy” and associates that with being fat, being like everyone else, being normal or someone noticing a change in their appearance. Being called healthy can send someone spiraling downhill into anxiety, depression or trigger them to engage in their ED behavior. When in recovery from an eating disorder it is a very sensitive time, people are challenging themselves in many ways and if they feel their body changes are noticeable to others it can re-trigger those negative ED thoughts back in a very strong way. I advice many people I work with to not comment on the weight or appearance of their loved ones and focus on discussing inward positive emotional changes instead.

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2. Comments about food– Another big trigger that can effect someone with an eating disorder is when someone else comments on their food, labels their foods as healthy or unhealthy or comments on the amount of food someone is eating. For someone struggling with an eating disorder they are already hyper vigilant about what they eat and are trying to break away from stringent rules or judgments on food. For someone trying to overcome their eating disorder, eating in front of people is a huge milestone in itself, eating in front of others is a common fear for someone struggling. Commenting on what they eat or how they eat only puts the hyper focus and fear of eating back into action. Try to refrain from commenting and instead enjoy the company of who you are with and be in the present moment.

3. Why don’t you just eat?– This comment can be very hurtful to someone struggling with an eating disorder, if eating disorder were as simple as just starting to eat or stopping when full then this wouldn’t be the deadly disease that it is. Anorexia is the number 1 cause of death among all mental health issues. Eating disorders like any other mental illness or physical illness are not a choice, no one chooses to go down the eating disorder path. It is an all consuming disease that takes over someones life. I educate people that I come across that eating disorders are more than just about the food or appearance. There is often a deep wound or pain often times eating disorders become a way to cope with many different aspects of life. Try and be supportive and ask helpful questions to gain understanding of someone who may be struggling.

4.Commenting and criticizing your own weight- Those who are struggling with their eating disorder are constantly judging and criticizing their own appearance so to be around someone who is picking themselves apart only emphasizes the negative thoughts and enforces them in the ED mind. It is best to be kind to ourselves in thought and in action, one negative thought or comment feeds off another.

5. Don’t use or talk about numbers or calories-–  This is one of the worst things you can do to someone with an ED. Many times someone with an eating disorder is trying to stop behaviors, stop the obsession of the scale, stop the focus on a dress size or weight and calorie counting. To be around someone who brings that focus and attention back to numbers will only trigger someone trying to avoid those behaviors. 

6. You don’t look like you are someone who would have an eating disorder– This comment goes hand in hand with rule #1, do not talk about someone else’s appearance. Like I stated earlier eating disorders can affect anyone. Eating disorders come in many forms and the majority of sufferers are not the stereotypical image we have of a severely underweight emaciated person. Anorexia only represents 10% of eating disorders. Bulimia affects three times as many people who struggle with ED and binge eating has the highest incidence. Many times many people can experience traits of different eating disorder behaviors going back and forth from restricting, binging, purging or over exercising. When someone who struggles hears they don’t look like they have an eating disorder the ED mind twists and distorts this comment to mean that they don’t look sick enough, that they don’t need help. There is no one way to look, to be struggling with an eating disorder and by increasing awareness this is how we challenge the stereotype. 

 

These are a few key points to keep in mind when you are speaking with or supporting someone who struggles with an eating disorder. Remember to try and be supportive, instead of focusing on food or appearance focus on how they are doing, how they are feeling and ask them how you can best support them.

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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!

New Eating Disorder Recovery & Support Group In Orange County!

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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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Eating Disorders and Sex Addiction??!!

I attended a lecture today which discussed the correlation between eating disorders and sex addiction. Now I can’t speak for all of you out there but personally while I do know that eating disorders have a high rate of being intertwined with other disorders or addictions, sex addiction was never an addiction high on my radar. I have worked in several eating disorder treatment facilities and thought back to the people I encountered. I reflected if there were any underlying sexual issues with anyone I had seen. Nothing stood out to me where I thought ” whoa there was sex addiction somewhere there as well”. So when I received an email about this lecture I was intrigued and excited to learn. It was a very informative lecture touching about many different aspects about someone who has an eating disorder and a sex addiction. There are many similarities especially with the urge, fantasy and reward aspects. I know, having worked with many people who suffer from anorexia it was hard for me to initially understand the correlation between anorexia and sex. The speaker made some key associations, much like someone with anorexia starves or restricts, someone can exhibit sexual starvation behaviors, such as pulling away from relationships, love and touch. It can also be the opposite where someone goes through cycles of longing and seeking out relationships and love and touch in a drastic way which can be correlated to a purge like behavior much like that of someone who suffers from bulimia. While this is still a new concept to me in many ways and I am excited to learn more so I can better understand all and any issues that may come up with my clients so I can better assist and help them. I am curious to your thoughts out there! Have you heard of this? Do you know someone who has experience of sufferering from both an eating disorder & sex addiction or are there any questions you have or more you’d like to know about this topic? I hope to hear your thoughts and opinions. Happy Thursday Everyone!