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The Truth: Suffering With an Eating Disorder During Thanksgiving

Using our coping skills while suffering with an eating disorder can feel more difficult during the holidays, especially during Thanksgiving. This is the holiday that we envision in our minds that revolves around a lot of food and a lot of mentally tough choices we feel we have to make involving what and how much we eat. Thanksgiving is not easy while suffering with an eating disorder. The coping skills that we use daily can feel so much harder when we know we have so many people sitting around us. We feel that everyone is watching our every move; what we eat, how much we eat, and what our bodies look like in our Thanksgiving dinner outfits. Getting seconds could feel so easy to anyone else, but when you’re suffering with an eating disorder, you have a back-and-forth battle with the thoughts in your head. These thoughts want you to believe that you’re going to need to intensively work out for hours just to burn off the single plate you had at diner. These thoughts tell you that instead of getting up for seconds, you need to calm it down with how much you’re eating. These thoughts tell you that everyone around you is observing how your body looks in the outfit you chose to wear, so you probably shouldn’t fill up anymore on dessert. 

These thoughts are mentally draining and they are cruel.

This is the ugly truth about suffering with an eating disorder during the day we are supposed to be relaxed and grateful. We should be enjoying this time with our family, friends and loved ones, but instead, we are battling with the demons of our disordered eating thoughts.

We ask that you be patient with us. We ask that you please not pressure us. This is difficult for us. We ask that you love us for who we are. We are struggling, and we fear judgement. We fear this day. 

If you’re speaking to us, please remind us that you support us. If we look like we are struggling, please help us take a little breather. A 5 minute break away from the dinner table can feel like a minor part of your day, but this break could actually be the highlight of our day, allowing us to disregard any of our negative thoughts. Bringing our thoughts back into the present can feel impossible sometimes, but with your assistance, we can feel that we belong again. Going around the table and asking everyone what they are thankful for helps us remember to be mindful and thankful for all that we have and get to experience in life. It may sound simple to anyone else, but to us, this fuels our positive thoughts and helps us take this day in stride. 

Allow us to get through this day at our own pace. We are so thankful for your support, even if it may feel unnoticeable to you when we are struggling. We are brave warriors battling through recovery every single day.

5 Effective Coping Skills for Recovery

5 Effective Coping Skills for Recovery

fortune teller

5 Effective Coping Skills to Assist Your Journey to Recovery

Recovery is a journey. Recovery takes time. Recovery is your journey that you live and control day to day. Throughout this time, life stressors that you may not be able to control come into play and you may feel as if they are acting as a halt in the direction you were headed throughout your recovery journey. Life stressors may include starting back up at school, starting a new job or leaving a current one, an increase in financial obligations, taking care of an elderly family member, moving to a new home, worrying about a touchy conversation you need to have with someone, or even relationship stress. Facing this stress, it feels quite easy to rely on disordered coping skills. However, these disordered coping skills can mentally and physically play a negative impact on recovery. With an eating disorder and partaking in disordered coping skills, one’s eating disorder symptoms could heighten. Practicing healthy coping skills with your eating disorder will aid to the longevity of your wellness and nourishment journey. 

 

Here are 5 effective and healthy coping skills to handle those stressful bumps in the road that life may present in your path while you are on the road to your recovery:

 

  1. Did someone say Self-Care? Make yourself your own priority! Wash your face, brush out your hair, put on a face mask, and hop in that bath tub! Light your favorite candle. Enjoy Mother-Earth and the sunshine she has to offer by taking a walk outside and enjoying some fresh air. Listen to the soothing sound of the rain hitting your windows and meditate for 10 minutes. Get cozy and read a new book. Tidy up your living space, rearrange your closet or organize your dresser. Cook yourself one of your favorite meals or bring out your favorite family relative’s cookie recipe! Allow yourself 7-8 hours of sleep, being well-rested will aid in avoiding triggers.

2. Start a new hobby or activity, or return to one you truly enjoyed in the past. Run to Michael’s, grab a canvas and paint something beautiful, get creative! Start a new DIY project for something that would look great in your home, or something you can give to someone as a gift! Inquire through social media or online for a local book club if you enjoy a great read with people that share the same passion as you. Gather friends and family for a once-a-week game night, such as bowling, roller skating. You could even form a kickball team! Find your passion!

3. Journal it out! Keep a journal handy to write about your day. Write about your daily thoughts, emotions, something encouraging someone said to you that day, three things that you are thankful for.

 4. Recognize the way that you speak to yourself. Whether it be about your body, the food that you eat, or your actions. Write down the negative thought, and for every negative thought, on a separate piece of paper (let’s say a sticky-note) write down three positive thoughts about yourself. Now, throw away that negative thought and remove it from your mind-space as it falls into the trash, crumbled up and left behind. Take that sticky note with your three positive thoughts about yourself and place that on your mirror. Leave it there! Look at yourself in the mirror and read these positive thoughts out loud. Remind yourself how awesome you are. Speak these thoughts into existence to yourself and they will become a part of you! Self doubt and self blame will not cure your eating disorder. Uplift yourself. 

5. Reach out and lean on the community you have built around yourself of friends, family, loved ones, and others going through their own road to recovery. Associate yourself with those that you can trust. These people can help carry you throughout your journey when times don’t feel as easy or fair as they should to you. Allow them and involve them in your healthy coping mechanisms. You will be able to rely on these people when you allow them in, giving them your trust and them giving you theirs!

 

 

Sources:

3 tips for coping with triggers in Eating disorder recovery. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 21). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/3-tips-coping-triggers-eating-disorder-recovery. 

About eating disorders. Eating Disorder Foundation.org. (n.d.). https://eatingdisorderfoundation.org/learn-more/about-eating-disorders/coping/. 

To cope with stress, Try Learning Something new. Harvard Business Review. (2019, November 26). https://hbr.org/2018/09/to-cope-with-stress-try-learning-something-new. 

 

Coming Home from Treatment

There have been many times that a client, fresh from residential treatment or partial hospitalization, has told me that he or she is surprised to return home to find that nothing has really changed. Life around them is still the same. Sure, they learned some skills in treatment but it didn’t solve the life challenges that can be so triggering. Sometimes in the moment emotions are so overwhelming that our first instinct is to return to the coping mechanism that’s become so ingrained in our daily existence. One client actually told me that she didn’t see a point in working so hard on recovery if nothing around her was going to change. She would rather cling to the one thing that’s been consistent in her life: her eating disorder.

Eating disorders are about different things for different people, and at some point in every sufferer’s journey they serve a purpose. For the person who has a difficult home life, the eating disorder may be where she retreats for comfort and control in the chaos. For the person with perfectionistic tendencies who has found that he can’t possibly excel at everything, the eating disorder is something he has complete power over and therefore can excel at. This is part of what makes eating disorders so difficult to give up- underneath the physical and psychological wreckage are definite reasons that hanging on to the illness is reasonable and even necessary.

The problem is that on some level we know that the eating disorder cannot be sustained. We cannot continue to restrict food and expect to live. We cannot binge and purge or over-exercise and expect to lead a healthy, high-functioning life. The physical body clings to every morsel of nourishment and may seem to be able to run on fumes indefinitely. Eventually, the body will crash but the mind will continue to come up with what seem like totally rational reasons to keep pushing. Sometimes, not even hospitalization is enough to spur a leap into recovery.

Life can be a shock for people returning to home, school, or work after inpatient or residential treatment. There is something of a protective bubble in higher levels of care. The intensive treatment provides a safe place for recovery to begin and skills to be learned. It is one thing to apply skills in the treatment milieu or even in family therapy sessions, but it is far another to try to apply them in the overwhelming situations that life can throw at us. According to a study discussed in the Science of Eating Disorders, following intensive residential treatment most women noticed a reduction in behaviors (i.e. they were able to maintain a healthy weight) but cognitive symptoms and thought patterns were still very much present. The cognitive changes that allow us to be able to handle life without the eating disorder take much more time to develop, which is why a solid outpatient program is so important.

The Science of Eating Disorders article lists the major factors that assist people in maintaining recovery:

  • Social support: maintaining connections with family, friends, and treatment team

  • Skills application: continued practice of assertiveness, communication, and meal planning skills

  • Stepping outside oneself: returning to work or school, volunteering, working on higher values all help the focus return to life rather than eating disorder.

Not surprisingly, one major factor that inhibits maintained recovery is loss of support and lack of structure. The importance of these cannot be overstated. People with eating disorders must engage treatment and refuse isolation, even on the worst days. This takes courage and often a profound show of “acting as if” until it becomes easier. Especially as clients return to challenging life situations, the right support can make all the difference.

Science of Eating Disorders (2012). Maintaining Change Following Intensive Eating Disorder Treatment. www.scienceofeds.org

 

Social Media: A Catalyst for Eating Disorder Recovery?


 
We live in a media driven culture with an endless supply of TV shows, internet sites, and phone apps to keep us busy every minute. These platforms are used to deliver messages meant to persuade, inspire, and entertain. Many of these messages contain images of men and women airbrushed to perfection….and it is that very image of perfection that haunts us as we study our own bodies and make comparisons.
 
To say that the internet has influenced body image is an understatement. In recent years, the rise of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites has glorified eating disorders and praised the behaviors that keep sufferers locked in the illness. The Social Issues Research Centre (www.sirc.org) reports that these “pro-ana” websites target individuals who consider their eating disorders to be lifestyles, something to maintain and celebrate. Users share tips on how to engage behaviors and provide support for each other’s illnesses. For individuals who are in recovery, websites like this can be seriously detrimental. Some people in recovery refuse to engage in social media at all, citing the prevalence of hashtags like #thighgap and #thinspogram as just a few of many reasons to shelter themselves from the social media revolution. USA Today (www.usatoday.com) shares the story of Donna, who is in recovery from bulimia. Afraid to expose herself to the kinds of comparisons that fueled her illness, Donna has decided to stay away from popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
 
While it’s clear that social media and pro-eating disorder websites have played a part in our global obsession with obtaining perfection, more and more websites  dedicated to positive body image and recovery are beginning to pop up. Someone searching for eating disorder tips may stumble upon a recovery website or blog and be drawn into a story of hope….leading to the inspiration to begin recovery. The National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) shares the story of one woman who came across the NEDA website in her search for a pro-eating disorder community….a lucky accident that turned out to be the catalyst for her recovery. Nonprofit organizations dedicated to awareness and advocacy use the power of the internet to spread positive body image messages. Eating disorder treatment centers are also getting involved in the awareness movement, offering blogs, webinars, and professional events designed to educate and inspire.
 
Instagram is also proving to be a powerful recovery tool. An online photo-sharing service, Instagram users can visually communicate their lives to their followers. Some individuals in recovery have turned their Instagram accounts into recovery accounts. The Atlantic (www.theatlantic.com) describes this type of account as a place where users can gain support while maintaining as much anonymity as they would like. Some people don’t use their real names, and others find that it’s easier to open up and share initially in an online environment. Recovery accounts document the progress users are making through pictures of meals, inspirational messages, and even pictures of users’ bodies as they work toward weight restoration. Support from followers during the recovery journey can be motivating and provide comfort during difficult periods.
 
Although social media can be a positive recovery tool, users must be vigilant and pay attention to their triggers. Any concerning thoughts and behaviors should be taken seriously and addressed with a treatment team.
 
 
Totally In Control: The Rise of Pro-Ana/Pro-Mia Websites. Social Issues Research Centre, www.sirc.org
 
Rojas, M. (2014). Social Media Helps Fuel Some Eating Disorders. USA Today, www.usatoday.com
 
Kay, J. (2014). How Social Media Led Me to Recovery. National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
 
Mirhashem, M. (2015). Overcoming an Eating Disorder with Instagram. The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com
 

 

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Keys of Eating Disorder Recovery

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Keys of Eating Disorder Recovery

 

I have seen so many of my own patients with Eating Disorders (ED) struggle with how to move beyond the Stage of Change in recovery : “I know I have a problem but not willing to do anything about it ” and get to the Stage of Change: ” I know I have a problem and I am willing to do everything I can to get better”.

With my patients who tell me that they can’t get better, they won’t get better or they don’t even really have a problem, I have noticed a few things:

  1. GREY MATTERS: The majority of people that have the disease of an eating disorder think in absolutes. Black and White. I am either fat or thin. I have no control or I am in total control. I have to do everything perfectly or not at all. 
  2. They feel they can not survive life without their Eating Disorder. They believe that if they choose to start recovery they will lose all control, their voice, their protection, their identity and their purpose in life.
  3. They believe that if they do not have their ED they will no longer be successful, fulfilled, special and worthwhile.

So to be able to get to the next stage in recovery, one must believe:

  1. That they are capable of anything they put their mind to. Someone with an eating disorder is a very determined and capable person. Perseverance is key.
  2. Their ED has begun out of some form of unmet need. They need to learn to be able to fulfill their wants and needs out of assertiveness, determination, perseverance and creativity.
  3. They are capable of change. They are not made of stone, but of soft clay that they can continue to mold, sculpt and make into their best selves.

As a therapist, my role is to never give up on finding a way to communicate these truths, to motivate them to take risks and to take one baby step at a time.

I think of the “little engine” who despite it’s limitations, never gave up, believed in it itself and always had someone cheering him on.

Heather Baker, LCSW, CEDS

 

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