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Often times, traumatic experiences in one’s life can elicit high levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to destructive ways of coping. When high levels of stress and anxiety from a painful or disturbing experience persist for long periods of time and make it difficult to complete daily responsibilities, individuals may be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The pain felt from difficult moments in one’s life can lead to using food as a way of coping with difficult emotions and feelings associated with the individual’s trauma.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychological disorder characterized by chronic levels of fear, stress, and anxiety caused by a painful or disturbing experience. Individuals may experience recurrent flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts associated with their traumatic event. Painful emotions may arise from the intrusive thoughts associated with the traumatic experience and can lead to individuals trying to cope by engaging in destructive behaviors, such as disordered ways of eating.

Understanding the causes and symptoms of PTSD can aid individuals suffering from PTSD and an eating disorder to seek the help they deserve for their co-occurring disorder.

Causes of PTSD

 A traumatic event may be caused by a wide range of social, environmental, or situational stressors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are some examples of traumatic events that individuals may experience:

  • Experiencing or watching a loved one go through a dangerous or difficult event.
  • Getting hurt emotionally or physically.
  • Having a painful childhood experience.
  • Witnessing a close loved one hurt.
  • Dealing with high levels of stress caused environmental or social factors.
  • Being diagnosed with a psychological disorder or substance use disorder.
Symptoms of PTSD

 According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals are diagnosed with PTSD if they display the following symptoms for at least one month:

Recurring Symptoms

  • Re-experiencing painful flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts from the event.

Avoidance Symptoms

  • Avoiding certain people, places, or things that lead to disturbing thoughts or memories from the event.
  • Forgetting one’s own thoughts or feelings about the traumatic event.
  • Attempting to feel numbness from the mention or thought of the event.
  • Disengaging from close friends and family that may have a connection with the event.

Arousal Symptoms

  • Having feelings of intense stress or anxiety.
  • Being easily startled or frightened by a person, place, or thing.
  • Experiencing trouble sleeping.
  • Questioning one’s self-worth.
  • Displaying negative thoughts or depressed emotions.
  • Removing previously enjoyed activities from one’s life.

If individuals do not know how to cope with their trauma in a productive way, it can consume their lives and lead to unhealthy behaviors, including disordered eating patterns.

PTSD and Eating Disorders

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, “PTSD prevalence in Eating Disorder patients is about 24.3%, confirming the comorbidity between both disorders.” Traumatic experiences in one’s life can lead to a concern over one’s body image and self-esteem and can result in individuals using destructive eating methods to cope with their difficult moments. These individuals may try to cope with environmental and social stressors by not eating enough, purging, or binge eating. People diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder may feel helpless and defeated by their traumatic events.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with eating disorders exhibit a “predisposition to stress” because they are already consumed by their own negative thoughts and emotions surrounding their self-image and this often leads to a loss of self-control. Additionally, half of all of those suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder also suffer from an anxiety disorder.[1] Heightened levels of anxiety can lead to engaging in destructive eating habits to feel numbness and mask the pain felt from the traumatic experience.

There is a strong link between the stress caused by a traumatic experience and destructive eating behaviors. Research has shown that individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder have higher rates of PTSD than people without an eating disorder.[2] Purging and binge eating behaviors may be used to replace the painful emotions caused by a traumatic experience and can cause individuals to regulate their feelings by trying to achieve the ‘ideal body type’. These overwhelming emotions that are caused by the stress and anxiety associated with trauma can consume a person’s ability to think and behave in a healthy and rational manner.

Individuals diagnosed with PTSD and an eating disorder may try to cope with trauma by excessively exercising, not eating at all, purging, or binge eating. All of these destructive behaviors can be extremely impulsive and can lead to a wide range of mental and health consequences. Professionals must recognize the urgency for treating this co-occurring diagnosis by using researched based psychotherapy techniques and an individualized recovery plan that seeks to nourish and restore the individual’s mind, body, and spirit.

Effective Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Being diagnosed with PTSD and an eating disorder can be extremely debilitating if individuals do not get the professional treatment that they deserve. An individualized treatment plan that is focused on reducing the stress and anxiety associated with the traumatic experience will allow individuals to effectively cope with their difficult moments. An effective comprehensive treatment program emphasizes whole person care and seeks to help individuals learn self soothing strategies and psychotherapy techniques needed in replacing negative thoughts and behaviors with positive solutions.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists are highly trained professionals who are equipped to help individuals establish self-soothing techniques, mindfulness strategies, meal plans, and personalized coping mechanisms learned through methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to best treat any co-occurring disorder. Specialists empathize with each patient and create a personalized recovery plan that fits the needs of every individual. With an emphasis on cultivating self-compassion and feeding the mind, body, and spirit with healthful nutrients, individuals will build the resiliency needed to fully recover from their co-occurring disorder.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[2] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/trauma-posttraumatic-stress-disorder-and-eating-disorders

The post Trauma and PTSD: Linkage to Eating Disorders appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Allow yourself to let go. Let go of the pain, the feelings of self-doubt, and questions of your self-worth. Allow your eating disorder recovery journey to empower you. If you allow yourself to get consumed with negative thoughts, you will never be able to transform your mind, body, and spirit into the powerful human you were meant to be. It is time to release the negative thoughts about yourself so that you can reach your full potential and become healthy and strong again.

You can do small things every day that transform your challenges into confidence and resilience. It is finally time to accept yourself and love yourself. The following are 5 challenges that will build up your confidence.

  1. Be your own biggest fan. Who are you? It is time to find your identity beyond your eating disorder. Harboring on the negative thoughts and emotions will only increase the likelihood that you will relapse in the future. By doing one small thing every day that inspires you and satisfies your soul, you will become your own biggest advocate.

Write down all of your personal and professional goals in life beyond your eating disorder. Devise a plan with your loved ones and therapist on how to actually achieve each one of your goals. The key to all of this is to actually start making it happen. By establishing a daily routine that fosters ways to achieve your life’s goals, with each small accomplishment, you will become your biggest fan because you will find that you can achieve anything. Discovering who you are can seem challenging at first, but once you begin to get out of your comfort zone, you will build up your confidence.

  1. Take a daily moment for self-compassion. Sometimes your eating disorder becomes the critical voice inside of your head and prohibits you from thinking positively about yourself. Taking charge of your own destiny by doing small things every day that cultivate a love for yourself will help defeat that critical voice.

Give yourself advice as though you were giving advice to a friend or family member. Tell yourself that you deserve to be happy and cared for every day. When you create your daily schedule with your therapist, make sure that you anticipate moments throughout your day that you know will challenge you in your work, home, and social spheres. Anticipate these moments and schedule opportunities for you to transform these challenging moments into activities that cultivate self-compassion. These activities can include writing your thoughts down in a journal, practicing mindfulness techniques through yoga or meditation, or going for a walk to elicit the relaxation response during stressful moments. By anticipating stressful moments and having an action plan that will help ease those challenges, you will become a stronger individual.

  1. Speak up. Although this may seem like a difficult challenge, it’s okay to be open about your recovery journey. In fact, when you confide in someone you trust, your resilience against painful moments will continue to build. You do not need to battle the challenge of your eating disorder alone. When you speak up about your own story, you will find that you will gain more confidence in yourself and your abilities.

Speaking up and sharing your challenges can actually be a hidden way to help you with your recovery. You may find that many individuals may be going through similar experiences and this can give you the opportunity to use your own voice to empower the voices of others.

  1. Spend time with supportive friends. Do something with your friends that will take your challenging moments and rebuild your confidence. Go shopping for a new outfit or cook a healthy meal together. Activities that used to seem daunting are more enjoyable and relaxing in the company of good friends. Spending time with friends will help you forget your challenging moments and will build your confidence because you will realize that your friends like you for all of your wonderful qualities, inside and out.

Getting together with supportive friends will remind you of the truly important things in life and will help you overcome stressful moments. Friends will support you every step of the way. Reminding yourself that you have a team of friends willing to be a part of your journey is the greatest gift one can have to overcome difficult moments.

  1. Do something fun. Life is too short to not enjoy the time that you have. Go out into the world and do things that allow your spirit to soar. Whatever you like to do, begin it now.

Having fun does not mean you have to sacrifice the progress you have made during your recovery journey. Instead, make it a part of your daily goal. Scheduling time in your daily routine for fun will help relieve stress and will continue to crush the critical voice inside of your head. Whether it is playing volleyball, bike riding, watching movies, or reading a good book, engaging in the activities you enjoy will help to transform any challenging moment into a way to boost your self-confidence and overall well-being.

Transforming Challenges with the Help of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists

Facing your challenges will help to rebuild your confidence and will give you the strength needed to be mindful of the present moment. Your future self will thank you and you will realize that the beauty and strength within you has always been present. By taking charge of your life and accomplishing your goals, cultivating self compassion, connecting to your friends, sharing your voice, and doing fun activities, you will gain the confidence and willpower to overcome any challenges that may come your way.

Whether you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, be proactive and seek treatment. Seeking a team of medical professionals and Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists will not only improve the physical health of individuals who are suffering, but will also provide patients with the skills needed to overcome any challenges and build the resilience and confidence needed in avoiding a relapse.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

The post 5 Challenges that Will Build Up Your Confidence appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Expressing yourself creatively can help “shift” your thought life.

When in recovery, therapeutic exposures are designed to help you recognize emotions and feelings when faced with a situation that is uncomfortable. Working with a therapist, this approach can help desensitize fears and/or emotions that may have triggered your eating disorder in the past. Gaining control and a sense of empowerment over the “feelings” is a very powerful tool in recovery.

Expressing thoughts and controlling fears to shift your “thought life” can be incorporated into a recovery practice in several ways. One very effective method that helps shift to a more “right brain,” approach is art therapy.

What is Art Therapy

Art therapy incorporates visual arts, such as drawing, painting and other art forms with counseling and therapy. [1] According to the American Art Therapy Association, this mental health profession uses the creative process and the resulting artwork to explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self esteem.[2]

When used in conjunction with other therapeutic exposures in recovery, it can help you shift from explaining feelings to actually feeling them, moving beyond verbal expression into something that is more visual. Using art forms as a means of expression can also provide a safe place to explore ways to manage feelings and possible triggers.

You do not have to be a seasoned artist to implement this practice into your life. In fact, the intention is not to explore your art/visual skills in any way, shape or form. The intention is to help improve and restore a sense of personal well-being to express things that words simply cannot.

It should be noted that art expression is indicative of a person’s culture and understanding of their world. There are no hard and fast rules for all individuals. A visual expression is personal and should be viewed as such.

How Art Therapy Can Be Helpful

There are professional art therapists and mental health professionals who implement this style of therapy with patients within their practices. A quick google search will provide many therapists in your area who specialize in this therapeutic exposure. It’s important to note that when art therapy is combined with other therapeutic exposures in eating disorder recovery, the combination can be a very healing process.

There are no rules or restrictions to getting started. Implementing this “right brain” practice can take many forms within your recovery, and you don’t need to make a trip to the art supply store to reap the benefits of this exercise at home. Letting your feelings and emotions inspire you to express yourself visually can be very liberating. Creating art is a process in which you can express your emotions in a more tangible way, versus “talking” about them.

How to Implement Art Therapy in Recovery

An art therapist professional may suggest many different art forms and mediums to help with expression of feelings and emotions. Expressions like: journaling; focused doodling; zentangle; painting; ceramics and drawing, even if it’s stick figures, are all expressive ways to unleash emotions and open up the right brain a bit.

One very well known art therapy method is body tracing. Body tracing is when you draw out what you think your body is, and the therapist traces your actual body over the top your drawing. Your perceived outline of your body is often larger than the tracing. An art therapist will utilize this visual expression as a tool to talk about the emotions and feelings you see. Expressing emotions through art journaling is also a symbolic way to detail your “thought life” and interrupt self-critical thinking patterns within a container for safe keeping — a journal.

Here’s a great way to implement this into a daily practice that can be documented in your journal, art journal or sacred space of your choosing. This idea (with a little twist) comes from Australian Art Therapist, Sheree Sams, who is a featured guest blogger on the Art Therapy Blog.

  • On one side of the paper (or journal), draw your body shape. Explore realistic and non-realistic self-concepts you have about size. Document your notes on the page so that you can express the way you feel.
  • On the other side, draw your heart and surround it with words of encouragement that symbolize joy and light. This could be words of encouragement that have been shared with you. It can also be positive words, feelings and/or emotions that you perceive about yourself.

This simple, expressive practice can help you acknowledge your feelings and emotions by putting words and images together for reflection and exploration. These artful expressions, when done regularly, can provide you with deeper understanding over your emotions through your recovery process, week over week. When you look back on these works and reflect, you will be able to let your feelings and emotions inspire you to take action.

Art Expression “Looking Forward”

There is a point within the recovery process where you are looking forward, making plans and using learned tools to create structure within your day. Art expressions can be very helpful during this phase in the form of a vision board.

A vision board is a tool used to help clarify, concentrate and maintain focus on a specific life goal. Again, no artistic talents or added supplies are needed. A vision board can be any sort of board or art journal that you use to display images representing the kind of life you want to live.

Here are some ideas to help you get jumpstarted:

  • Gather and collect magazines, color combinations, motivational quotes, words and more. Be mindful of images that set up cultural ideals and expectations that are not “true” or in-line with your thoughts.
  • Cut the images and words out and place them on a poster board, art journal, or sacred space that you choose.
  • Listen to what your heart is saying and let your creativity take over. Don’t worry if the imagery and words go together, fit together, have same color combination, etc. It’s your board. It’s your space. It’s perfectly perfect just the way it is.
  • Allow yourself to organize your board or art journal in a way that speaks to you.
  • Keep it in a space where you can visit with it often as a reminder of your strength and empower you to continue on your healing journey.
  • Have fun with it!

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

Resources:

[1] https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/types-of-treatments/art-therapy

[2]http://arttherapy.org/

Other Resources:

http://www.arttherapyblog.com/mental-health/eating-disorder-therapy-activities-exercises/#.WJHw1BDXPaU

http://www.arttherapyblog.com/mental-health/eating-disorder-therapy-activities-exercises/#.WJH2cxDXPaW

http://www.arttherapyblog.com/mental-health/eating-disorder-therapy-art/#.WJILhRDXPaU

Body Mapping:

http://www.arttherapyblog.com/videos/art-therapy-aids-girl-with-eating-disorder/#.WJILthDXPaU

The post How Does Art Therapy Help in Eating Disorder Recovery? appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Everyone struggles with trying to remain in the present moment. With constant social media distractions, planning for the future, and memories flooded from the past, it can be difficult for most people to appreciate the present moment. For individuals suffering from an eating disorder, becoming mindful, or aware of the present moment, can help save individuals from the critical voices inside of their heads.

For individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, thoughts surrounding caloric intake and weight begin to seem like an insurmountable burden to bear. Negative thoughts take over the mind and dictate an individual’s ability to understand and appreciate the present moment. For people diagnosed with an eating disorder, the critical voice inside of their heads makes them question their self-image and decreases their self-esteem. When individuals are inundated with images of skinny models, information on the next diet fad, and peer and familial pressures, food becomes a way of coping with the stress caused by these environmental factors.

How Mindfulness Can Help Individuals with Eating Disorders

When individuals constantly worry about how the food they just ate might lead to weight gain or obsess over their exercise regimes, they have become unable to live in the present. When individuals become aware of the social and environmental stressors that have caused them to feel shameful and guilty, they can turn those stressors into activities that will feed their soul in a productive and meaningful way.

Practicing mindfulness techniques has proven to be extremely helpful in aiding individuals to understand the driving forces behind their eating disorder. Studies have shown that “students receiving mindfulness demonstrated significant reductions in weight and shape concern, dietary restraint, thin-ideal internalization, eating disorder symptoms, and psychosocial impairment relative to control by 6-month follow-up.”[1] In a world that is constantly clouded with distractions, cultivating mindfulness can help suffering individuals become comfortable in their own skin.

Mindfulness Techniques

Before individuals become overwhelmed with their own thoughts and engage in destructive behaviors, they must practice mindfulness techniques. These techniques can prevent destructive behaviors such as not eating, purging, or eating until uncomfortably full. If individuals take a step back and focus on the present moment and their feelings, they will be able to transform impulsive eating habits into healthy thoughts and behaviors.

The following are techniques that you or someone you love can use to battle difficult moments and become more mindful of the present.

  1. Understand the moment. What is currently happening in your environment that is causing you to feel this way or engage in a destructive eating habit?

By immersing yourself in the present moment, you will become aware of yourself in relation to the environment. Once you are conscious of the moment, you will be able to differentiate between the environmental and personal factors that empower you and the things in the environment that belittle you. When you find yourself wanting to skip a meal, purge a meal, or binge eat, ask yourself “What am I feeling and why do I feel this way?” “What is currently causing me to harm my mind and body?”

Cultivating mindfulness will bring forth the critical voice inside of your head and will allow you to recognize it and remove yourself from the stressors in your environments that cause you to question your self-worth. Becoming aware of the moment will allow you to gain the resilience to remove the negative stressors from your life. By eliminating the critical voice, you can now move on and do things that feed your spirit in a meaningful way. Writing your thoughts down, practicing meditation, or trying yoga are all useful mindfulness techniques that will elicit the relaxation response and will help you live in the present.

  1. Focus on the positive. How can your thoughts and behaviors transform into positive results?Practicing mindfulness will help you realize that your thoughts do not have to dictate who you are. If your mind begins to cloud with thoughts about negative self-image, desires to become thin, or feelings of guilt, than you must reframe them into positive thoughts.

Cultivating mindfulness means that you do not need to act upon negative thoughts. Instead, by becoming aware of the thoughts and emotions that are present, you will be better equipped to remove those thoughts by engaging in positive behaviors such as exercising, cooking a healthy meal, or getting together with supportive friends and family.

  1. Take action. What can you do to nourish your mind, body, and soul?

Now that you are becoming aware of your environment and the thoughts associated with your eating disorder, you can now take action to build resilience against your disorder. Working with your dietician to create a meal plan that emphasizes healthy meal prepping techniques can help you become more mindful while grocery shopping and cooking.

Start turning off all of your distractions when you eat meals. Mindful eating can help you enjoy the taste of food and the company of others. During social gatherings, put your phone away and appreciate the people around you over a good meal. Have fun and cook meals with friends that are healthy and creative. With the help of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, make a daily schedule for yourself. When you stick to a routine, you are less likely to become stressed. By prepping meals ahead of time, establishing an empowering exercise program, and doing things you enjoy throughout your day, your ability to cultivate mindfulness will help you to achieve a positive self-image and will foster love for your mind, body, and soul.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists Can Help

Practicing mindfulness is a self-soothing strategy that will allow individuals to be conscious of their present thoughts and emotions. Self-soothing techniques are ways to cultivate more self-compassion and comfort in your daily life. Be mindful of the present moment and remind yourself that in the face of adversity, you are a resilient human being. Reflect on the painful moment and take a positive course of action. Your body will thank you and you will feel more confident in the future.

Whether you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, be proactive and seek treatment. Seeking a team of medical professionals and Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists will not only improve the physical health of individuals who are suffering, but will also provide patients with the skills needed to cultivate mindfulness.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26052831

The post Mindfulness Techniques in Eating Disorder Recovery appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Anorexia nervosa can be an extremely debilitating and life threatening disorder if individuals do not seek effective treatment. Research has shown that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rates among all eating disorder patients. Now more than ever, individuals must recognize that anorexia is a life threatening disorder and needs immediate attention in order to fully nourish and heal the individual’s mind, body, and spirit.

What is Anorexia?

Individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa eat very small portions of food or no food at all. This leads to abnormally low body weight that can have detrimental health effects on the individuals. Individuals suffering from anorexia are not eating the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients needed for the body to be healthy.

Often times, they see themselves as being overweight and this feeling ultimately leads to an abnormal amount of fear and worry every time the person eats food.[1] People struggling with their relationship with food often have difficulty coping with environmental stressors, such as people and situations, that trigger the stress response.

What are the Physical Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia?
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Sunken features
  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Absence of menstrual cycle or irregular cycles (Amenorrhea)
  • Osteoporosis (weak or brittle bones)
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Dry hair and skin
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Appearance is thin and brittle
What are the Warning Signs of Anorexia?
  • Eats a restricted amount of calories or no food at all
  • Has an excessive exercise regime
  • Obsesses over burning off calories
  • Verbalizes fear of feeling or being “fat”
  • Denies hunger cues
  • Finds excuses to skip meals
  • Shows extreme attempts at dieting
  • Obsesses with the sugar or fat content of foods
  • Displays symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Shows signs of low levels of self-esteem
  • Has a distorted body-image
  • Feelings of anxiousness towards food
  • Declines gatherings that involve food
  • Withdraws from previously enjoyed activities or family and friends
What are the Health Consequences of Anorexia?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the following are the health consequences of anorexia:

  • Slowed heart rate can cause heart failure
  • Slowed blood pressure can cause heart failure
  • Hair loss
  • Growth of lanugo (hair that covers the body)
  • Muscles loss
  • Feelings of weakness
  • Osteoporosis (reduced muscle density causing brittle bones)
  • Dehydration can lead to kidney failure
  • Fainting
  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Imbalance of electrolytes
  • Insufficient levels of vitamins and nutrients causing malnutrition
  • Organ failure
  • Stroke
Refeeding Syndrome

When individuals are malnourished, medical experts will begin the refeeding process to try and restore the absence of vital electrolytes, vitamins, and nutrients. However, when attempting to restore the nutrients to gain back a healthy weight, individuals are susceptible to refeeding syndrome. When patients begin consuming calories again, there can be extreme hormonal and metabolic shifts in the body. The electrolyte and fluid imbalance in the body can lead to low levels of phosphate, potassium and magnesium in the blood. These imbalances in the blood can cause patients to have an irregular heartbeat, respiratory failure, or heart failure.[2]

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of anorexia can help prevent refeeding syndrome by seeking early treatment for a full recovery.

Organic Brain Syndrome

Malnutrition affects every organ in the body, including mental functioning. Patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa may also be more susceptible to organic brain syndrome in which individuals can experience the following symptoms:[3]

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Chronic brain impairment (dementia)
  • Short-term brain impairment (delirium)

Deficient levels of essential vitamins and nutrients can impair mental functioning and can have long-lasting effects on individuals suffering from anorexia. When people suffer from confusion and anxiety, this may lead to unwanted thoughts and continued destructive behaviors. Losing control of situations can lead to feelings of worthlessness and can ultimately cause depression. It is extremely vital that individuals are under the supervision and care of medical experts and Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

Co-occurring Disorders

When individuals are suffering from two psychological disorders, such as anorexia and anxiety, it can be extremely debilitating and can lead to suicidal thoughts if both disorders are not recognized and treated. Over half of all anorexia patients suffer from some type of anxiety disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder or social phobia.[4] The obsessive thoughts associated with self-image, caloric intake, and weight gain drive the person to not eat enough food to avoid feeling and looking overweight. This constant need to achieve the ‘ideal body weight’ can further influence individuals to continue their destructive eating habits.

When individuals experience long-lasting feelings of sadness or question their self-worth, they may also be showing signs of depression. Questions of self-worth and feelings of hopelessness can cause individuals to cope by trying to restrict their caloric intake to achieve the ‘ideal body weight’. The obsession over the perfect body weight and self-image can completely overcome a person’s mind and can lead to negative thoughts and behaviors.

Urgency for Treatment

It is devastating that 1 in 5 deaths from anorexia is by suicide.[5] It is absolutely essential that individuals who are silently suffering from anorexia seek the help they deserve and know that they are not alone. The first step in preventing death is for individuals and their family and friends to become aware of the signs, symptoms, and health consequences of anorexia and know that there is a professional team of experts that can help every step of the way. With long-term recovery, individuals can overcome anorexia by cultivating self-compassion and defeating the critical voice inside of their heads.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists Can Help

If people do not seek help for anorexia or co-occurring disorder, they can easily be trapped in a cycle of shame and guilt and may have difficulty overcoming their disorder alone. Seeking effective treatment can prevent a multitude of health consequences and can empower individuals to improve their quality of life. Individuals will learn how to create meal plans and will be able to incorporate enjoyable activities in their everyday lives to maintain on a lifelong path of recovery.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists help patients find productive coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques that are essential in defeating difficult moments. Additionally, they create an individualized recovery plan for each patient based on their specific needs and goals. With the help of medical experts and the Eating Disorder Recovery Specialist team, patients can fully recover from anorexia and live a meaningful and healthy life again.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2440847/pdf/bmj-336-7659-cr-01495.pdf

[3] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001401.htm

[4] http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[5] http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

The post Anorexia Nervosa: A Life Threatening Disorder appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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For individuals suffering from anorexia and bulimia, the brain plays a fundamental role in their response to food. Although environmental risk factors such as social media, peers, and familial expectations contribute to feelings of anxiousness about weight and self-image, there is increasing evidence that the brain also plays a major role in the development of an eating disorder.

As research unfolds, it is important to understand that the environment alone, does not cause an eating disorder. The following cutting edge information concerning neurobiological factors must be taken into consideration when treating individuals with eating disorders. When psychotherapy techniques combine knowledge of neurobiological and environmental risk factors that fuel eating disorders, individuals will be better equipped to defeat the critical voices inside of their heads.

How the Brain Fuels Anorexia Nervosa

What is anorexia? Anorexia is an eating disorder that is characterized by individuals who eat very small portions of food or no food at all. This leads to abnormally low body weight that can have detrimental health effects on the individuals. Individuals suffering from anorexia are not eating the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients needed for the body to be healthy. Often times, they see themselves as being overweight and this feeling ultimately leads to an abnormal amount of fear and worry every time the person eats food.[1]

For most people, food is a pleasurable experience that satisfies hunger and becomes a part of our social world. For individuals diagnosed with anorexia, the brain responds in a different way to food. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine conducted a study in which they wanted to understand how individuals diagnosed with anorexia are able to ignore the physiological feeling of hunger. For individuals recovering from anorexia, the brain showed “a decreased response to reward, even when hungry. This is opposite of healthy women without an eating disorder, who showed greater sensitivity to rewards when hungry.” The study also concluded that after examining brain scans, individuals with anorexia exhibit a higher sense of self-control than people without an eating disorder.[2] This research has shown that individuals with anorexia display a strong neurobiological difference in their ability to refuse food and potentially starve themselves in comparison to people without an eating disorder.

For most people, the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that stimulates feelings of hunger so the body can maintain homeostasis, or balance in the body. However, when examining the brains of people with eating disorders, it has become evident that the Hypothalamus, Pituitary Gland, and Amygdala, also referred to as the HPA Axis, release vital neurotransmitters, or chemical messages, that regulate mood and appetite. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center sought to understand the abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, that are present in individuals with eating disorders.

“Serotonin is involved with well-being, anxiety, and appetite (among other traits), and norepinephrine is a stress hormone. Dopamine is involved in reward-seeking behavior. Imbalances with serotonin and dopamine may explain in part why people with anorexia do not experience a sense of pleasure from food and other typical comforts.”[3] This cutting edge information makes it evident that anorexia is rooted in abnormalities in a person’s brain makeup  and if individuals do not seek treatment, can cause extreme damage to a person’s health livelihood.

How the Brain Fuels Bulimia Nervosa

What is bulimia nervosa? Bulimia nervosa is often diagnosed for individuals who experience episodes of eating and then purge, or vomit, the food afterwards. Individuals may also use laxatives or may excessively exercise in a very unhealthy manner. Trying to reverse the caloric intake may be caused by feelings of guilt for eating too much food or a large amount of unhealthy food. In most cases, individuals are typically worried about their weight and self-image and may ultimately struggle with losing weight.[4] The struggle with losing weight and meeting societal and peer expectations can become an overwhelming burden and can lead to destructive behaviors.

For individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa, research has shown that they have a “weaker-than-normal response in brain regions that are part of the dopamine-related reward circuitry.”[5] The decreased feeling of food being a pleasure seeking tool to nourish the body may be responsible for why individuals have increased anxiety over the food they eat and may explain why they purge or use laxatives. In addition to not seeing food as a pleasure seeking reward, abnormal levels of serotonin in individuals diagnosed with bulimia may be responsible for these heightened levels of anxiety and ultimately, the impulsive actions of purging or using laxatives to reverse caloric intake.[6]

When it becomes evident that food is no longer a reward to nourish the body and satisfy hunger, treatment for eating disorders must concentrate on treating both neurobiological and environmental risk factors that fuel anorexia and bulimia. By taking immediate action and asking for help, you or someone you love can finally get the proper treatment.

Seeking Treatment that Emphasizes Whole Person Care

It has become increasingly evident that individuals with anorexia and bulimia suffer from a wide range of biological risk factors that fuel their eating disorder. Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists is a team of highly trained professionals that understand the neurobiological and environmental risk factors that cause eating disorders. With knowledge in cutting edge psychotherapy techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), individuals will learn how to use effective coping mechanisms and self-soothing techniques to fuel their brain, body, and spirit in a healthy way.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists can help you improve your quality of life by reconstructing a new self-identity despite the neurobiological factors that contribute to your disorder. With the use of psychotherapy techniques that emphasize whole person care, you will learn how to be resilient against your disorder so that you will think and behave in a way that cultivates mindfulness and self-compassion.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml

[2]https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2015-03-23-anorexia-nervosa-and-brain-response-to-hunger.aspx

[3] http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/eating-disorders

[4] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml

[5] http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/04/eating-disorders.aspx

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12769813

The post Can the Brain Fuel an Eating Disorder? appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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About 30 million Americans of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder.[1] Even though a large number of people struggle on a daily basis with their relationship with food, many people do not understand the depths of eating disorders or how to help individuals who are suffering.

There are many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, especially bulimia nervosa. If individuals are informed and aware of the common myths surrounding eating disorders, they are better equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms to help themselves or someone they love seek treatment.

 

5 Common Myths about Bulimia

If struggling individuals learn about the common misconceptions of bulimia, they will realize that millions of people suffer from the eating disorder and that they are not alone. Once the common myths are dispelled, individuals can sooner begin the healing process.

1- Bulimia only affects teenage girls and women. It is common to believe that only teenage girls and women suffer from eating disorders due to it prevalence in social media, magazines, and movies. It is true that many teenage girls do suffer from eating disorders because they are constantly being bombarded by information on celebrity diets and images of the ‘perfect body’ type. Expectations from society, peers, and family can make it difficult to overcome bulimia. And although it is more common to hear about teenage girls and women suffering from bulimia, men also struggle with their self-image and body weight.

According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, the lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa is about 1.5% for women and .5% for men. This equates to 4.7 million females and 1.5 million males that are diagnosed with bulimia. Males suffering from bulimia experience a wide range of physical and mental consequences. They may purge after an episode of binge eating, frequently weigh themselves, and can have a distorted self-image. Males with bulimia nervosa may deny that they have an eating disorder and will start to withdraw themselves from once previously enjoyed activities and can even experience bouts of depression.[2]

2- Bulimia is only associated with purging. Although it is common for individuals to engage in purging, or vomiting, episodes after they eat food, bulimia can also be marked by a wide range of physical and mental characteristics. In addition to purging, individuals may also use laxatives, diuretics, and excessive exercise to try and reduce caloric intake.

Often times, individuals with bulimia nervosa show signs of low self-esteem and change their lifestyles by incorporating rigid exercise regimes and withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities or friends.

3- Bulimia is easy to recognize. Unlike individuals diagnosed with anorexia, those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa typically have a normal weight or are slightly overweight.[3] This may make it increasingly difficult to visually recognize that an individual is suffering from bulimia.

In addition to their image, it may be difficult to recognize that individuals are suffering from bulimia because both males and females attempt to hide their binge eating and purging episodes. It may take family and friends longer to recognize the signs that their loved one is struggling until they begin to notice the mental and physical distress that the person is exhibiting.

4- Bulimia is the only disorder to be concerned about. A common misconception is that the people who are suffering from bulimia are only concerned about their weight and self-image. However, over half of all bulimic patients have a co-occurring diagnosis. This refers to individuals who are diagnosed with an eating disorder are also diagnosed with a psychological disorder, such as anxiety or depression. In fact, more than half of all bulimic patients also suffer from anxiety.[4] The obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors associated with caloric intake leads to an uncontrollable amount of worry and fear. This causes high levels of anxiety about gaining weight among patients suffering from bulimia nervosa.

Shining light on co-occurring disorders and getting informed on how frequent these cases are is essential in helping individuals seek effective treatment for a full recovery. Researched based techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and self-soothing strategies are used to help individuals cope with their co-occurring disorder and live a healthy, fulfilling life again.

5- Bulimia does not affect long-term health. Contrary to popular belief, bulimia can be extremely harmful to an individual’s health livelihood. There are a multitude of chronic mental and physical health consequences if the destructive eating behaviors, such as purging, persist. For instance, one of the health consequences includes throat and enamel erosion from stomach acid, which is caused by repeated vomiting. In addition to dental decay, more severe consequences include electrolyte imbalances that can lead to heart failure and inflammation of the esophagus.[5]

In severe cases, the cycle of shame and guilt surrounding caloric intake and body-image can cause individuals to be diagnosed with depression or have suicidal thoughts. It is absolutely vital that individuals become informed on the detrimental effects bulimia can have on a person’s health and happiness and should seek treatment to recover the mind, body, and spirit from the eating disorder.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists Can Help

Whether you or someone you love is suffering from bulimia, be proactive and seek treatment. The mental and physical consequences of bulimia nervosa can ultimately be prevented if individuals understand the common myths associated with the disorder. Seeking a team of medical professionals and Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists will not only improve the physical health of individuals who are suffering, but will also provide patients with the skills needed to cultivate self-compassion and live a healthy life.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[2] http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa-males

[3] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml

[4] http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[5] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa

The post Common Myths About Bulimia appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Whether it is at family mealtimes or holiday gatherings, food has the power to bring loved ones together and can be an enjoyable experience. Food is essential for fueling and nourishing the body so that humans can lead long and healthy lives. However, when too much food or unhealthy food becomes a way to deal with social and environmental stressors, it can have detrimental health effects on the body. When individuals do not listen to hunger cues and use food as a coping mechanism for difficult moments, these destructive behaviors can ultimately lead to food addiction.

What is Food Addiction?

Individuals who are addicted to food display similar signs of someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Food becomes a pleasurable experience for individuals and they often continue to seek foods, especially ones high in sugar and fat, to satisfy their palates even without hunger cues. Food addiction can ultimately lead to weight gain and other health problems associated with obesity.

Both normal weight and overweight individuals struggle with food addiction. In many cases, individuals diagnosed with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder show greater signs of being addicted to food.[1] They often engage in binge eating episodes and feel as though they have lost control of the situation. People diagnosed with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder use food as a coping mechanism and may exhibit hidden eating behaviors such as binging and purging.

Signs and Symptoms of Food Addiction

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of food addiction can help you or someone you love seek treatment to overcome the addiction.

  • Continue eating even if no longer hungry
  • Eating in private
  • Eating a large amount of food until uncomfortably full or sick
  • Finding ways to get the desired food
  • Always thinking about food and have difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Withdrawing from friends and family to eat food
  • Spending a lot of money on food
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities to eat food
  • Fear of overeating in front of friends and family
  • Having difficulty with daily responsibilities in home, school, or work because of food
  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt surrounding addictive behaviors to food
  • Exhibiting low levels of self-esteem and self worth about body image and weight
Health Consequences of Food Addiction

When individuals are addicted to food, not only does it consume their entire lives, but it can also lead to lifelong health problems. In most cases, individuals who are addicted to food are craving junk foods, especially ones high in fat and sugar. Sugar becomes a very addictive, but short-term pleasurable feeling that stimulates the brain to seek more. Always craving food and engaging in binge eating episodes can cause weight gain and obesity.

Examining the health consequences of food addiction is vital in ensuring that individuals understand the lifelong effects food addiction can have on health livelihoods. Seeking effective treatment for you or someone you love can prevent the following health consequences of food addiction:

  • Insomnia
  • Malnutrition
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney/liver damage
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Headaches
  • Stroke
  • Digestive problems
  • Arthritis
  • Respiratory problems
  • Reduced sex drive
Psychological Effects of Food Addiction

It is evident that food addiction impacts physical well-being, but it can also lead to an array of mental health related symptoms and disorders. Struggling with the constant images of the ‘perfect body’ and environmental stressors can cause individuals to feel endless amounts of shame and guilt for their poor eating behaviors. The following are the psychological effects food addiction can have on mental health:

  • Feelings of intense anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Panic attacks
  • Distorted self image and low-self esteem
  • Depression
  • Constant feelings of guilt and shame
  • Suicidal thoughts/attempts
Hope for Recovery

If you or someone you love is suffering from food addiction, there is a team of professionals waiting to help you every step of the way. Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists are trained to help individuals suffering from food addiction, an eating disorder, or a co-occurring disorder find a healthy and fulfilling balance. With the use of research based techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and self soothing strategies, individuals will learn to overcome their food addiction by fueling their spirit with good health and positivity.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3207274/pdf/fpsyt-02-00061.pdf

The post A Closer Look at Food Addiction appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Feelings of sadness from life’s difficult moments or from a traumatic event is absolutely normal. However, when feelings of hopelessness and questions about self-worth arise when people are struggling with their weight and self-image, individuals may be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders, such as an eating disorder and depression, can have lifelong mental and physical consequences if individuals do not seek the treatment they deserve.

What is an Eating Disorder?

According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders, about 30 million people of all ages and genders in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. An eating disorder is an illness that is caused by multifaceted mental, physical, and social factors. Eating disorders are typically a result of a negative self-image, societal expectations, or social pressures that cause unwanted stress and feelings of self-doubt about one’s image.

Individuals with an eating disorder are often consumed by stress in their environments and engage in destructive eating behaviors as a coping mechanism to battle through difficult moments. They often have a distorted self-image and experience a cycle of guilt and stress from unwanted thoughts about food and their weight. This obsession to achieve the ‘perfect body image’ can lead to feelings of hopelessness and questions of self-worth.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by chronic levels of sadness, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and guilt. Depression affects the ways in which a person thinks, behaves, and feels and can ultimately lead to suicidal thoughts. The causes of depression can be linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are the signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Long-lasting feelings of sadness or anxiousness
  • Having an empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Having difficulty concentrating or making rational decisions
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Declining physical appearance
  • Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
  • Removal from social groups or family
  • Exhibiting low levels of self-esteem
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts/attempts

When individuals are diagnosed with an eating disorder and depression, they find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of sadness and guilt because they struggle with achieving the ‘ideal body type’. Getting informed about the detrimental effects eating disorders and depression can have on individuals will encourage you or someone you love get the help needed to overcome both disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa and Depression

Individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa often experience a negative self-image and believe they appear overweight. Evidently, this causes individuals to have a very unhealthy relationship with food and leads to the under consumption of calories needed to maintain a healthy body. In serious cases, individuals may not consume any calories at all and may experience serious health problems that can ultimately be fatal.

When individuals experience long-lasting feelings of sadness or question their self-worth, they may also be showing signs of depression. Questions of self-worth and feelings of hopelessness can cause individuals to cope by trying to restrict their caloric intake to achieve the ‘ideal body weight’. The obsession over the perfect body weight and self-image can completely overcome a person’s mind and can lead to negative thoughts and behaviors.

Bulimia Nervosa and Depression

Individuals diagnosed with bulimia nervosa are often characterized by engaging in destructive behaviors such as purging, using laxatives, exercising excessively, or fasting in an unhealthy way. Individuals are typically unhappy about their weight and use destructive behaviors to cope with the stress of eating a large amount of food or high caloric foods.

People with bulimia nervosa may also be diagnosed with depression because the repetitive cycles of binging and purging can cause neverending feelings of shame and sadness. The constant fluctuation in weight and eating patterns can cause individuals to give up on achieving their ideal weight and can lead to social withdrawal and intense feelings of anxiety.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Depression

Binge eating disorder is often characterized by eating too much food in a very short amount of time to the point where individuals feel sick or uncomfortably full. Individuals diagnosed with binge-eating disorder often appear overweight or obese.

Individuals who binge eat often use food as a coping mechanism in response to social and environmental stressors. When they engage in a binge eating episode, it is often followed by intense feelings of guilt. These feelings of guilt will continue to persist as long as the binge eating occurs. To overcome depressed feelings and binge eating, individuals must learn how to take care of themselves through relaxation techniques that replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive outcomes.

Seeking Effective Treatment

Beginning the healing process is essential for individuals struggling with an eating disorder and depression. The only way to truly restore the individual’s mind, body, and spirit back to its healthy state is to seek a treatment recovery plan that emphasizes whole person care.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists are highly trained professionals who are equipped to help individuals establish self-soothing techniques, meal plans, and personalized coping mechanisms learned through methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to best treat any co-occurring disorder. Specialists empathize with each patient and create a personalized recovery plan that fits the needs of every individual. With an emphasis on cultivating self-compassion and feeding the mind, body, and spirit with healthful nutrients, individuals will build the resiliency needed to fully recover from their co-occurring disorder.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

The post Are Eating Disorders and Depression Linked? appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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Depression is rampant in our society. It stems from a combination of social, biological, emotional, and economic factors. It depletes physical, emotional, and mental well-being. While everyone feels down sometimes, it is important to distinguish normal feelings of sadness from clinical depression. Professionals characterize the latter by extreme feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness. These are also commonly experienced by individuals with eating disorders. But did you know depression and eating disorders often occur simultaneously?

Research shows an alarming prevalence of depression in people who have eating disorders. 33-50% of people with anorexia, and nearly half of people with bulimia and binge eating disorders, struggle with depression. Often, the same or similar underlying causes (fear, trauma, loss, insecurity, etc.) result in someone developing both depression and concurrent disordered eating behaviors.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder and also seem to be depressed, it can be helpful to understand the interplay between the two.

Whitney McMullan, LCSW Psychotherapist/Recovery Coach & Care Coordinator for Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, sheds light on some of the numerous ways that eating disorders and depression feed each other: “Both isolate the person dealing with them. With an eating disorder, the more one engages in behaviors, the more one creates distance in meaningful relationships–which creates depression, which is isolating in and of itself. And often depression leads to use of eating disorder symptoms…so it becomes a vicious cycle.”

Individuals also often engage in disordered eating as a means of coping with the seemingly intolerable feelings of depression. Becca, a young woman in recovery from anorexia nervosa, struggled with major depressive disorder for years. She reflects on how she used her eating disorder to cope with her depression. “I often convinced myself that my restriction was simply a reaction to the sadness that filled up my whole body, or a necessary means to the end of numbing the combination of devastating emotions. In a way, I believe my anorexia began as a form of self-medication.”

At the root of it all, Becca sees her depression as the deepest source of her struggle: “My depression was both the catalyst and the fuel for the entirety of my struggle with both sadness and food.” She points out how when one of her mental health conditions feels steadier, the other is prone to taking over: “I’ve walked into the trap of feeling resolved as I establish my anorexia recovery, only to leave myself utterly vulnerable to an episode of severe depression.”

But this insidious cycle can be broken, with support, awareness, and patience.

Whitney encourages individuals who are working on healing from both eating disorders and depression to allow the recovery process to be slow. She explains: “We are a society of instant gratification. We don’t always do a good job tolerating the slow pace at which change happens, which can throw someone back to being entrenched in their eating disorder and depression. It’s important to remember–and to be reminded by one’s treatment team and loved ones–that learning to tolerate and sit with a difficult thought or feeling is the work of recovery…but this does not mean sitting in the difficult thought or feeling.” The key is to cultivate awareness without being self-critical–no small task, but the only way to truly overcome avoidance, minimization, and stagnation in suffering.

For Becca, it has proven imperative to remain constantly aware of her feelings and thoughts: “I cannot overstate the importance of vigilance. Mental illness likes to sneak back into thought and behavior in the most subtle, conniving ways.”

Whitney also emphasizes the importance of having realistic expectations of the often rocky recovery process: “Often, people believe that when things start to get better, everything will be better. So when there are still difficult emotions present, it can sometimes feel frustrating, like no progress has occurred, which can lead back to depression and eating disorder behaviors.” Whitney encourages people to be “clear and specific and realistic about what their hopes and goals are.” This way, they will take small steps away from their struggles, and be able to see and acknowledge their forward movement.

Try recognizing the small accomplishments. As Becca has learned, they add up to large-scale life change. One year into strong recovery from her eating disorder, she is filled with gratitude for her committed work to overcome her eating disorder: “I have a healthy body and mind, I am returning to college in the spring, I am able to make and keep relationships, and most importantly I have my spirit back.”

However, once she had regained stability on the eating disorder front last summer, she fell into the most severe depressive episode of her life. But because she had persevered in her eating disorder recovery, she was able to tend to her depression: “Because I was physically healthy for the first time in my life, I was able to address my depression in a real way. I fought to keep eating, because for the first time in my life I knew that I couldn’t address and defeat my depression any other way.” By staying on track with her eating disorder recovery, she was able to come “back to life in a way where I finally believe that I will make it out of this alive and maybe even happy.”

Whitney encourages those who are doing the hard work of recovery to remember: “It’s possible to feel better and recover. And–it’s a difficult path. It’s important to validate the struggle, but not get stuck in the struggle.”

If you or someone you know may be struggling with depression as well as eating disordered behaviors, please contact Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. We are here to support you!

The post The Interplay Between Depression and Eating Disorders appeared first on Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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