Parent of a child with an eating disorder, educator, author and speaker, Becky Henry is a certified life coach who guides caregivers during an eating disorder crisis and educates health care workers about these deadly illnesses.
My Jan 24, 2018 article: What Parents and Health Care Professionals can Expect from Residential Eating Disorders Treatment, highlighted 15 points for parents to consider and prepare for while a child is in a RTC. I promised I’d go into more depth on each point. Please note that these pertain to anyone who cares about someone in recovery, I use ‘parents’ simply because they make up the majority of my coaching practice.
When a child or other loved one is away at treatment you’ll have many emotions. It is easy to have judgment about our emotions. AND, that is not necessary or helpful to us or our loved one. So when we can prepare for emotions, name them and accept them, then we can have a plan to cope with them.
Here are just a few of the emotions parents/caregivers have expressed to me over the years:
Out of Control
Some of these may sound very familiar to you and some, like ‘angry’ may surprise you. It can often surprise us when we feel angry towards our very ill child/loved one. AND, when our loved one is acting out and using us as a punching bag and they aren’t taking responsibility for their actions, anger can be a natural feeling. We don’t help ourselves or our loved one in recovery when we judge our emotions. So how do we stop doing that?
Well, first knowing we’re going to have emotions that may surprise us can prepare us so we’re not blindsided by the emotion. Then naming the emotion can help us gain clarity on what we are feeling so we can accept the feeling and make a plan. After we feel the feeling, name it and allow ourselves the compassion to have the feeling, then we don’t need to be stuck in it. We can then consciously choose to keep feeling it or to then release it when we are ready.
Part of the plan may be simply knowing that emotions are going to show up that we hadn’t expected. And being gentle and kind to ourselves.
Then we can have some coping tools to reduce our distress in our back pocket. One of the keys is to choose one or two that we really find easy and can do anywhere and anytime.
For instance, some parents really find DBT skills helpful. DBT is a mindfulness and distress tolerance therapy designed by Marsha Linehan. It stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I love the DBT skill; ‘Opposite action to reaction.’ When a crisis comes up I can choose this skill to be extra calm so I can make rational decisions.
Some people like the 4-7-8 breathing tool that I teach my coaching clients. It is simply breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 7 and out for a count of 8. And repeating 2-3 times.
Now, it may seem odd to you that I’m not focusing on your loved one’s illness or treatment journey. No. This is about you AND when you take care of YOU, it helps your loved one in recovery. It can feel counter-intuitive. It is essential. What I see is that coaching clients who work with me for 6 months or more are able to implement tools for self-care and then we both see their loved one improve in their recovery. It surprised me too!
When caregivers are not burned out, we can be calmer. More compassionate. More caring. And more confident. When a person in recovery has caregivers who are calmer, more compassionate, more caring and confident; they do better.
So when people ask me, “Becky, how can I support my loved one in recovery?” I tell them, “Get your oxygen mask on 1st. Make sure it’s firmly in place before assisting your loved one.” Where have you heard this before? This is NO DIFFERENT.
I know, it can feel selfish...and please go back and re-read this paragraph again: “When caregivers are not burned out, we can be calmer. More compassionate. More caring. And more confident. When a person in recovery has caregivers who are calmer, more compassionate, more caring and confident; they do better.”
So what do you think? Are you ready to prepare for your emotions? To name them? Accept? Plan? What self care tools will you use? Please share your comments here.
My friend and colleague, Johanna Kandel and Annabelle who are proof that recovery is possible.
Seeing our new baby smile is a milestone that gets recorded in baby books. It gives us great joy to see our friends and family smile throughout our lives. A smile is understood across all languages and cultures. We can feel happy simply by seeing someone smile.
One of the things that “Ed” or eating disorders often takes away from caregivers is seeing our loved one smile. This only adds to our sadness and grief from all of the things “ed” continues to steal from our loved ones and US!
My friend and colleague, Kitty Westin's daughter Anna Westin in the throes of her eating disorder.
I personally experienced this incredibly sad and heartbreaking situation of not seeing my child in the throes of eating disorders not smile for months on end. The pain in my chest was so visceral that I would occasionally look down to see how big the hole was in my chest. It literally felt like there was a hole in my flesh over my heart the size of a salad plate!
This was before I learned about SELF-CARE. And those who know me know I am constantly encouraging self-care as it helps us fill our constantly draining cups. It also helps alleviate our distress and helps us be able to tolerate out child’s distress.
In a nutshell my three tips for caregivers are:
Learn Distress Tolerance skills
Consciously Choose your Perspective
These are all obviously easier said than done. They take learning, support, practice and accountability. When we are suffering so immensely it can be hard to think of what to do and how to do it.
Practicing self-care can be as simple as making a list of things you enjoy and doing 1 every day. It can be much more as well.
Learning distress tolerance skills can help with your distress and with tolerating your loved-one’s distress. Both are essential. This can be some simple 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and breathe out for 8. I have many breathing and meditation videos on my YouTube Channel.
Consciously choosing our perspective can be easy or hard. When we have someone helping us it is MUCH easier. I remember saying to myself, “When I’m sad, “ed” wins. When I’m happy, I and my family win.” And that helped me.
Which tips will you implement today? If you want to try coaching, give me a call or send and email and set up a free 30 minute consultation.
Your loved one needs you to have your cup filled up. This is NOT selfish, it’s essential.
Some of you know that I was in Hawaii in January 2018 when the State of Hawaii issued this warning to the cell phones of all Hawaiian islands:
Understanding how my brain works (a scary concept I give you that) will help you see the connections in my title.
Different people react differently to threatening situations. I have, so far observed different approaches and all have various and numerous causes I’m sure. There must be a study somewhere on this...right Kitty Westin?
Stand firmly in DENIAL and go on with our lives - if the threat remains just that.
Walk around completely unaware.
Sheer and total panic rendering the person incapacitated.
Absolute Terror and action.
Fatalistic approach...we are all going to die and it doesn’t matter what we do.
I have experienced most of the above at different times. This time it was #4! I was the most terrified I have ever been in my life. While others were standing at the oceanside blissfully unaware or fatalistically accepting...I don’t know which, I was preparing to die a long slow painful death and potentially saving my own life.
After 3 bliss-filled weeks on the island of Kauai, I got up and watched one of the most beautiful sunrises I’d seen there. Then my husband left for his daily yoga class (during which he did not learn about the missile warning) and I settled in for a relaxing Saturday morning of looking for potential places to stay next year....haha...might just stay in Minnesota out of range of such attacks.
The warning arrived on my phone and after some frantic scurrying around and searching (along with thousands of others) “How to Survive a Ballistic Missile Attack” on the internet and found an article on Business Insider, I began preparing to try and survive inside while fallout rained down. I even took this photo outside for a “before” photo in case everything was gone afterward. In addition to shutting windows, blinds and doors (yes it got very warm very quickly) and filling every container I could find with water, I called my mom in Minnesota to say, “Goodbye.” During all of this my mind was going a million miles an hour; “Will I ever see any loved ones again? Will Jay stay put at the yoga studio? Will we die instantly or be sickened by fallout? Where are Jay’s passwords? How long with the food in the fridge be safe to eat? Will I run out of water? How will I tell my daughter what was happening? And a thousand scarier thoughts.
While talking to my mom; who was in #1 above, I looked on Twitter and thankfully saw the Governor’s message that this was a mistake...never in those minutes did I envision this potential outcome! We were still going to be healthy, safe, able to eat and drink and breathe clean air!! And see our loved ones again!
Gratitude barely begins to describe how grateful I felt then and still do. It was a mind bender. About 30 minutes of sheer terror and sadness and suddenly back to normal. My good friend in Chicago helped me breathe over the phone until my husband returned. He was in a state of yoga bliss and didn’t even know what had happened...Guess that says a lot about the benefits of yoga, but that’s another article. Check out what Forbes has to say about scientific benefits of GRATITUDE!
After calming down I went to see the waves at the lighthouse with my friends who were also visiting the island from Minnesota. They had watched a football game while this was going on. Both had grown up with air-raid drills and weren’t phased at all. Blew me away, this wasn’t a drill. They’re smart people. It was surreal to be outside breathing clean, safe air and watching the waves and whales after thinking my life as I knew it was over.
The next day as I watched another gorgeous sunrise I was filled with gratitude and joy! I had thought I may never see another sunrise...that whole day I walked around in amazement at all that I still had. Clean air, clean water to drink, safe food to eat and a healthy body still. This was amazing. Three weeks later I am still incredibly grateful for all of these things.
One of the self-care tools I teach to parents of kids with eating disorders is to practice gratitude. Often parents will tell me there is nothing to be grateful for when they have a child at death’s door. Being grateful for clean air, clean water, enough food and good health are some of the things I’ve suggested that they feel gratitude about.
It takes doing it regularly to get into the habit of practicing gratitude so that it can become a go-to tool to cope with all that eating disorders challenge a parent with on a daily basis. This is why we teach how to practice gratitude during the self-care training at the SHIFT HAPPENS Retreats.
The next one is April 25-29 in Pescadero Beach, CA and there are limited spots available. As part of my gratitude I’m offering a Valentine’s Day Special for moms who wish to join us to have SHIFT HAPPEN! Those who register and pay for lodging on Valentine’s Day get the special discounted rates!
So there you have it! Missile Threats, Gratitude, Self-Care and Valentine’s Day! All in one.
I would love to hear what you are grateful for and how you practice gratitude. Please share your comments. Thanks!
Watch for more articles here and on my blog going deep on each of these topics. Look for videos addressing these issues on my YouTube Channel, FB, LI and Twitter. And subscribe to my newsletter to learn about the upcoming E-book: “Survive Sending Your Child to Residential Treatment: How to Cope and Help Your Child Recover"
Most of us were taught LITTLE or NOTHING about eating disorders before becoming parents or health care professionals or both! Even as we’ve fed our little ones and/or told parents of patients how to feed their little ones we most likely had no idea of the complexities of eating disorders and their treatment.
As a parent who has been down this long and winding road of eating disorders advocacy and coaching parents for over 18 years now, I’ve coached many families through the terror, pitfalls and successes. I’ve seen how frustrating it can be for both parents and health-care professionals to not have all the data you need to understand what to expect when you send someone to a Residential Treatment Center (RTC).
I’ve made this as a quick reference for you to print off and keep or share as a PDF with families. Keep this list handy so you will be able to quickly reference the nuances and intricacies of sending someone to a RTC.
First, here are some basics that everyone needs to know:
It’s only a start.
It’s not ever long enough.
Insurance often dictates how long RTC will be.
People do not come home from RTC recovered.
Parents/families need to be part of the treatment team.
When parents/caregivers spend time getting support and learning skills, their loved one has a better chance at success when they return home from RTC.
Step down, often called ‘aftercare’ is essential and needs to be set up before release from RTC.
Parents need to be given support to create the ‘next’ for their child after RTC.
Parents are TERRIFIED and need coaching to learn how to be calm and objective.
Keeping expectations realistic can help prevent frustration and caregiver burnout.
Ideally, location shouldn’t dictate which center a child goes to. The program fit is most important.
EMOTIONS: Be prepared for your emotions - they are all okay.
OXYGEN: Get support to get your oxygen mask firmly in place. This is essential for your health and your child’s recovery.
SUPPORT: Get support to fill your cup up. This is the next step to maintaining your physical and mental health and being able to effectively support your child in recovery, calmly. Support is available - reaching out for help for you is okay.
EDUCATION: Learn as much as you can about eating disorders. There are videos on my YouTube Channel that make it easy to learn, read articles, books, talk to other parents.
BLAME GAME: This is NOT your fault.
THE CALL: Be prepared for THE CALL(s) from your child - typically most kids will call about the 3rd day crying, begging you to pick them up. Knowing that this is coming will help you remain calm. And get help to prepare with responses that validate.
COMMUNICATION: Communicate with the treatment center. Find out from the admitting team what you can expect and what the protocol is for communication with you. Ask a lot of questions.
LEARN: Learn how to be an effective part of the treatment team and WHY that is essential.
RTC is a stepping stone, this is not going to cure them. This will just be getting them started. Sadly,insurance typically dictates how long your child is there. In a perfect world (with insurance that actually paid for full recovery) your child would stay at RTC for 6-18 months, but that isn’t how our health care system is set up at this time.
ENABLING: Enabling…jumping on the rollercoaster...it’s important to learn to tolerate your child’s distress. There will be many times they are not happy in RTC and will tell you that it’s awful. They’ll often try to tell you how they are not sick enough, people are mean to them, etc. Just respond simply: “Honey, I love you. That sounds hard. I know you can do this.” And then ZIP IT!!
VALIDATE: Learn how to validate and not fix. This is a lot of what I work with coaching clients on.
TRUST: Trust your gut.
BOUNDARIES: Learn how to set and follow through on boundaries. Therapists, coaches and others can provide support for this.
UNITED FRONT: Be united front with child’s other parent. Eds love to divide and conquer.
DO YOUR OWN HEALING: As the parent, you need to do your parallel process. To learn how to remain calm, manage your grief, fears, anger, and other emotions. Get support to do this.
ASK: Learn to; ask for help, ask how to be gentle & kind with yourself. Ask how to get support to do these things. Do NOT isolate, this will make it worse.
HOPE: HOLD ON TO HOPE.
COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS: Learn about them, realize the difference between Cognitive Distortions and lying. Another reason that COMMUNICATION is essential with the treatment team, together you can help your child to sort out what they’re malnourished brain is hearing and what was said. The team will hear horrible (not true) things about you as parents and vice versa. You will hear horrible (not true) things about the RTC team.
ROI: Get Releases of Information (ROI) with the RTC, with outpatient team, everyone. No matter your ‘child’s’ age.
SELF CARE: Cannot say this enough ways. This is absolutely essential.
Families are an important part of the treatment team.
Know the 9 myths/9 Truths about eating disorders. Including that they are not a choice and parents don’t cause them.
Anosognosia is real - the person with the eating disorder often won’t acknowledge that they are sick.
Parents are coming to you on one of the worst day of their lives.
Early diagnosis and referral improve treatment outcomes.
Be united with the family, and know that the eating disorder and co-morbid diagnoses can cause distortions in perceptions.
Parents are coming to you on one of the worst day of their lives. They had to break their hearts to bring their child to you.
When Parents are in an information vacuum, brains make up scary stuff. Create a plan for communicating with parents regularly - no matter what the age of the ‘child’.
Be sure to let parents know how they will be included in treatment.
On day one, work with parents on what the step down process will look like. Don’t discharge without a NEXT.
Strongly encourage parents to do their own “parallel process” while their child is in RTC.
Tell the parents that they will very likely get a call from their child about day 3 crying and begging them to come and get them.
Questions for Parents to ask the RTC:
What should I expect when I have questions, how do I best communicate with you, who is the contact person?
How often can I expect to receive updates and how will I receive those?
How often will I be able to have contact with my child and how will that occur?
Who is the person for me to collaborate with at your center to help me fight insurance for more time? And what is their phone number?
Who is helping me set up his/her NEXT for after RTC? And what is their phone number?
Questions for RTC Professionals to ask Parents:
How can we support you?
What will you commit to for getting your own support while your child is here?
Do you have someone you can call when your worries and fears get to be too much?
Watch for more articles here and on my blog going deep on each of these topics. Look for videos addressing these issues on my YouTube Channel, FB, LI and Twitter. And subscribe to my newsletter to learn about the upcoming E-book: “Survive Sending Your Child to Residential Treatment: How to Cope and Help Your Child Recover"
So many people are looking for help right now on how to cope with the holidays when a child has an eating disorder. I wrote about that last year on my blog and just recently co-wrote, “Creating a Game Plan for the Holidays When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder” with my friend and colleague Cherie Monarch for Monte Nido and Affiliates where we are on the Parent Advisory Board. Doing a google search on “How to Cope with the Holidays When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder” will reveal dozens of articles on the topic. So I won’t be writing about that today. Instead I'm sharing with you how to reclaim gratitude and find ways to be thankful even though you're in the midst of this firestorm.
The origins of Thanksgiving are based in gratitude for bounty, family, friends, those who help us get through the winter. We celebrate being thankful for the harvest and that we will have enough food to survive the winter.
The irony of this holiday is profound when you have a child with the most deadly of all mental illnesses and they are most likely malnourished. They may not be thin, but their brain is starved. Here we have this bounty to celebrate and our child either can't eat it, will eat it and purge or they'll overeat and be filled with shame and guilt.
Top off that sad, scary pile of eating challenges with the gravy of co-occurring illnesses that will leave them depressed, anxious, compulsive and antisocial and you have the fixings for a really rotten holiday.
And everyone is telling you to have a “Happy Thanksgiving” and to be grateful. And have fun. How is that supposed to happen? You likely would rather have dental work done. At least then you’d get novacaine.
So how on earth do you possibly have gratitude? When I contemplate how people in a helpless, hopeless situation find and embrace gratitude, I think of the famous author and holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel.
If he could have gratitude I knew I surely could. And I have reclaimed gratitude, I practice it daily. I've told my story so that others may come out of the dark forest of pain, fear, hopelessness and helplessness of parenting a child with an eating disorder.
“Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is his duty.” Elie Wiesel
There is good news and bad news is, it's a conscious choice to practice gratitude. And there are benefits both physically and emotionally. We reclaim our power from the monster I call, ‘ed’ when we choose to practice gratitude.
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
I say it’s bad news because we have to drag our exhausted, terrified, depleted selves up and make this conscious choice. No small thing for someone who is trying to save a child’s life from one of these complex illnesses that are so misunderstood, parents often cannot get health care professionals to diagnose or treat their child. I hear stories daily such as; parents taking kids to the emergency department at hospitals with a child who has a low heart rate only to be told that it’s okay because their child is an athlete. This only gives the eating disorder power and cuts parents off at the knees.
It’s good news because there is actually something we can do to reclaim our lives from being destroyed by ‘ed’ along with our child’s lives. And, if you need more incentive, it actually can help support our child in recovery when we get our oxygen masks on. Yes, practicing gratitude can be as live giving as oxygen!
Check out the research cited in a Forbes article from November, 2014: Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.
Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. So how do I start to practice gratitude in the midst of this firestorm you ask?
Here are a five tips to practice gratitude that I’ve found useful:
Just do it. Like Nike tells us.
Remind myself of the benefits.
Start small. Be grateful for the basics like clean water to drink or hot showers.
Get an accountability buddy, a family member or even a coach.
Be gentle with yourself when you forget, and start again in that moment.
Today I am grateful for freedom and for people who teach us with their hard earned wisdom gained when their freedom was taken away.
Today Becky Henry, a coach for parents of kids with eating disorders, and Kathleen MacDonald of the Eating Disorders Coalition identify potential red flag warning signs that your college student might be developing an eating disorder. Becky and Kathleen bring over 30 years of combined personal and professional experience in the field of eating disorders, as: parent & coach and someone who suffered an eating disorder while in college, is now recovery & previous policy director.
Most college students, have been primed on how not to gain the “freshman 15.” But likely haven’t been primed on just how dangerous trying to avoid gaining weight as a freshman can be. If you are reading this article you likely have some concerns about your college student's health. We want to help you feel capable of helping your child, and give you motivation to take action if you notice any of the following “red flags”:
Isolating from friends and family, or events
Dieting and/or skipping meals
Anxiety and/or depression
More prominent or obsessive exercising
Becoming very secretive and irritable, especially about food or meals
When your child comes home for their 1st break (ie: fall, winter), you notice a change in weight that you haven’t noticed before (this could be a gain or loss)
Abrasion on knuckles (a result of self-induced vomiting)
Use of laxatives, diet pills/diuretics, self-induced vomiting, enemas
Trips to the bathroom during, or immediately following, meals
Increasing criticism of their body or the body’s of others
Increased talk about food, weight, calories, fat, etc.
Complaining of being cold (especially fingers and toes)
Increased consumption of diet soda or water
Rules and rituals around food
Avoiding eating favorite foods
Discomfort in fitted clothes, wearing loose clothing
What happens if you see a few, or more, of these red flags? Your heart rate might have increased and your mind is racing with thoughts like, “Oh my gosh, does my child have an eating disorder?!” We encourage you to take a deep breath. Many of the signs and symptoms we listed above can unfortunately be typical of a college student who is experimenting with behaviors that they witnessed on campus, and they might not indicate a full blown eating disorder. Still, these are very dangerous behaviors and signs, which need to be monitored closely, especially if your child is predisposed to developing an eating disorder.
How do you help?
You're already doing the first right thing by reading recent articles from respected leaders in the eating disorders field. We encourage you to be careful of older, outdated, information on eating disorders, as there is a lot out there that is inaccurate and not based on current research. For example, in the past, the dieting that college students engage in to avoid the media-devised, “freshman 15” was seen as “a phase” and something all women did. Now we know that dieting can evolve quickly and be the precursor to developing an eating disorder.
Next, you want to talk with your loved one. Share your concerns and what you have noticed. Be direct and compassionate. Listen but do not let them brush off your concerns with classic phrases such as, “I’m fine!” or, “There’s nothing to worry about, just look at me!” Those phrases deserve further conversation, ask what they mean by that and tell them what you don’t think is “fine” about their behaviors, mood and symptoms.
Be mindful not to “kvetch” with your son or daughter about your weight-loss goals, body dissatisfaction and/or suggest dieting together. Too often these things are seen as a sign that, “See, if mom is doing it, then it must be OK. I must be fine.”
Then, you'll want a plan in place for next steps if indeed you discover that your loved one is suffering from more than just a few unhealthy behaviors regarding their body, nourishment and the freshman 15. If you realize that the red flags you’ve noticed are signs of something more serious (trust your gut), then you need to get your student to an eating disorder professional ASAP. You can find great resources here and on our websites at www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org and www.eatingdisorderfamilysupport.com
During this process, remember that boundaries are a beautiful thing.
Boundaries are not mean or uncaring, (though it may feel that way when you’re learning them). And sometimes boundaries include invoking “tough-love.” You may need to dig deep and find a strength you didn't know you had, in order to set some tough love into place and help motivate your student to participate in seeking an evaluation and potentially stay home from school to attend treatment.
These are just a few tips for how to recognize an eating disorder and how to get help for your loved one if they are suffering.
The better informed you are, the better you can help your loved one.
Remember that eating disorders are serious, but there is hope. People can and do recover and treatment works. There is a wide-range of treatment options available, including on college campuses, so please know you are not alone and there is help available.
Most of all we encourage you to remember that: If your loved one isn’t healthy enough to return to college, it’s OK --there is NO harm in taking time off for treatment.
College will be there, waiting for you to pay tuition, when your loved one is healthy.
If your college student had cancer, a semester (or two, or five) off in order for them to receive chemotherapy wouldn’t likely cause you to think twice; in fact you’d likely view treatment as “urgent.”
A semester (or two, or five) off, in order for your loved one to get treatment for a dangerous and all-too-often deadly eating disorder, is just as urgent.
Contributing Authors: National Award-winning author, Becky Henry, CPCC, Founder of HOPE Network LLC and Infinite Hope Publishing is a Certified Professional Coach and international speaker. As an unwilling expert, Becky found a process to reclaim joy, she provides support and coaches eating disorders caregivers through this process. Her vision is to see health care organizations fully include families in eating disorders research and treatment.
Health Care associations and organizations get a dynamic, interactive, entertaining speaker who gives health-care professionals a peek behind the curtains into what caregiving a child with an eating disorder is really like. When Becky speaks alongside professional colleagues, CEU’s are available. This gives your staff the clinical alongside the real life aspects of eating disorders. Audiences have said: “You really get it!”, “I had no idea how complex these illnesses are!”, “Now I know what red flags to look for in patients and how to include their families in treatment.” Speaking Topics Include:
Including Families in Eating Disorders Treatment & WHY It's Important to YOU.
What to SAY/NOT SAY to Patients Who May Have an Eating Disorder.
Eating Disorder Red Flags & importance of early diagnosis.
Special Concerns for College Students With Eating Disorders.
How To Talk With Parents When You Suspect An Eating Disorder In Their Child.
How to talk with parents when you suspect an eating disorder. Memberships: International Coach Federation (2015/16 - Minnesota Chapter Board), Monte Nido Parent Advisory Board, Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). Book Becky here: 952-451-5663, CoachBeckyHenry@gmail.com, www.eatingdisorderfamilysupport.com
Kathleen MacDonald fully recovered from an 18 year long battle with dieting, bulimia, anorexia and body image issues. Kathleen’s professional work in the field of eating disorders includes: Education & Prevention Coordinator at the Gail R. Schoenbach F.R.E.E.D. Foundation, Health Insurance Advocate at Kantor & Kantor, Policy Assistant, then Policy & Communications Director at the Eating Disorders Coalition. Kathleen is recognized internationally and in the eating disorder field as an expert in education and prevention and policy. Kathleen was a lead expert in research and developing content for the Education and Prevention section of FREED Act–The Federal Response to Eliminating Eating Disorders (HR 4341). Some of Kathleen’s presentation experiences include: The F.R.E.E.D. Foundation College Speaking Tour; NEDA, BEDA, F.E.A.S.T, and Renfrew conferences; several treatment centers; Congressional Briefings on Capitol Hill; the First National Policy Conference on Eating Disorders on Eating Disorders Legislation in Washington, D.C.; and several media appearances.
The world is mourning Diana all over again on the 20th anniversary of her untimely death.
And I’m celebrating.
I’m celebrating because some of the world changing work she did in addition to helping people impacted by land-mines and AIDs/HIV was to reduce the VAST stigma associated with bulimia.
And now her brave, bold, vulnerability is helping bring eating disorders to the public’s attention again. As Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."
I’m so grateful to this beautiful soul for her vulnerability.
Don't get me wrong, my heart breaks for these young men who long to have their mother. To listen to them say they've not talked enough about the trauma of her dearth all these years is so very sad. I'd always hoped that they'd been able to comfort one another. Maybe now they are.
I mourn because we lost this incredibly generous, loving, mother of two boys that she loved more than anything.
Through Diana’s vulnerability and courage in speaking out about her incredibly private struggle with bulimia she personally impacted regular people who reached out for help with their own bulimia. She created what became known as the “Diana Effect” wherein the numbers of people reaching out for help with their bulimia increased. These people were emboldened by her bravery to speak out.
She gave regular folks ‘permission’ to speak about what they felt was unspeakable. Diana helped reduce the stigma of mental illnesses. And now her beloved sons are continuing her good work. William and Harry along with Kate have created a charity called, “Heads Together” to help educate about mental health and reduce stigma as well as increase access to care.
Recently William participated in a film about eating disorders and spoke about his mother’s bravery in speaking out about her struggles with bulimia. William and Harry are doing so much to honor their mother’s work and continue speaking out about mental health. You can see William praising his mother for being so candid in this interview. Together we can all re-ignite the “Diana Effect” to honor her memory and help bring more attention to bulimia which affects more people than even anorexia.
I’ve been waiting YEARS for Diana’s boys to do this. I’m so grateful that this day has come. Thank you William and Harry!
Will you please join me in following @HeadsTogether on Twitter? It’s one step to help resume the “Diana Effect” that went away 20 years ago when she died so suddenly. Just this past week a young woman in the UK died from an eating disorder. Every day 23 people die from these most deadly of all mental illnesses. We can do something simply by retweeting the @HeadsTogether tweets and supporting that organization. I invite you to also share my tweets @HopeNetworkBeck to help educate about eating disorders.
Twenty years ago the world was mourning a beautiful, remarkable princess and brave woman who made the world a better place. As we mourn her all over again, let’s honor her memory and speak out about the most deadly of all mental illnesses, eating disorders.
Coaching moms who have a child in eating disorders recovery unveils a variety of challenges that life throws at them.
In between learning to;
Set healthy boundaries
Create & engage a treatment team
Be calm in the face of terror and chaos
Nurture a marriage & other children who are getting lost in the fray
These women also are also hitting the age at which their body is ‘turning on them’. Okay, well they say it feels like that.
When we hit mid-life and suddenly and we lose energy, can’t sleep, break out in hot flashes, lose our libido, and get foggy minds it takes a toll. Add to that, the body morphs into something that looks like your grandmother’s body overnight, it’s challenging to not begin having negative thoughts about our bodies along with our child in recovery.
In studying eating disorders I’ve learned that many women in “middle age” develop; eating disorders, disordered eating and “Body Dysmorphia” in which we have distorted perceptions of how our bodies look, as our bodies change. Moms who have a child with an eating disorder aren’t immune to these. After all there is a genetic component to these most deadly illnesses.
My clients often ask how they can be at peace with their own body during this challenging time. Today I’m focusing on the arms specifically...AND...these tools can be used to make peace with any part of your body that has taken up residence in a new locale.
If we don’t laugh, we might cry when our body changes so much we need to buy new, larger clothes and nothing is where it used to be.
Have you ever wondered…
What have my arms ever done TO me?
Like, really....what have they ever done to hurt you?
Tennis elbow maybe or have been broken?
What have my arms done FOR me?
Rocked sleepy children
Held friends close when they’ve been hurting
Planted a garden
Welcomed people into your home
Flown a plane
Performed medical treatments
Helped carry your mom when she broke her hip
Danced with loved ones in your arms
Hugged loved ones tight
As I was looking for photos for this article, I saw many photos of women and children missing one or two arms. It reinforced my aim, to help us all to appreciate and feel gratitude for the arms we do have.
Working at my computer, the muscles have gotten smaller and the arms have gotten looser, bigger and lower...It’s all part of what happens naturally. AND, I’m working at reclaiming some of my strength so that I can have as much freedom as possible for the next 55 years. :) Yet, even though I know all I do about loving our bodies, it can be weird to watch my body change. And have to buy larger clothes. This is the reality.
When we are parenting a child in eating disorders recovery it is essential that we model body positivity at all times. Not an easy task. Our child needs us to show them (not tell them) how we love our bodies. By doing our parallel process we can help ourselves and our child in recovery.
Here are 5 SIMPLE things we can each do to combat these feelings and thoughts we have about our arms (or other body parts), especially as we are wearing sleeveless tops and swimsuits:
Feel gratitude for what our arms have done for us.
Have gratitude for what our arms can do for us still.
Notice when we have judgment and shift to gratitude.
Stop comparing our arms to what they used to look like and what other’s arms look like.
Go do something with our amazing arms to help someone else.
Will you take the challenge and love your body everywhere you go this summer? Even your amazing arms?
How do we implement all this? I’m going to challenge you to make a list of all the things about your arms for which you have gratitude so that you have it handy to accomplish the 5 steps. Feel free to share the shifts you notice on my Facebook page! Shift does happen.
Now, let’s get out there and enjoy the summer! Becky
We gain time and energy to more effectively support our loved one in recovery.
They keep us and our loved ones safe.
Boundaries are not cruel, they’re COOL! It doesn’t help us or our sick child to fall prey to all of the chaos and fear of the eating disorder (ed). We need to live in-tune with our own desires, needs, and feelings.
FEAR can lead to SILENCE, INDECISION and KEEPING OUR CHILD SICK.
If you love or care about or know someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder you may be feeling; fearful, helpless, overwhelmed, afraid, upset, and more. And if your loved one is over 18 you might fear there is nothing you can do to help them with recovery from one of these deadly brain illnesses. There is an endless list of things to fear; when they will eat next, when they might purge again, when insurance will cut them off, will they die?
Fear keeps us stuck. It’s time to send those fears on a hike! There is plenty you can do!
Make sure you’re included in the treatment plan! More and more treatments are including families so there is definitely a lot you can and will need to do. You may be wondering what you do if your area doesn't have a program that includes parents at all. And perhaps your family situation is such that doing the FBT model isn't a good fit. Then it's a matter of finding treatment providers who will work with you and your loved one. Many treatment centers now include parents as part of the team and have options for learning how to help your child. Another option may be to go out of your area. If you’re in the USA, The Alliance for Eating Disorders can you help find a center that is a good fit for your child.
Educate yourself on eating disorders. The more you understand, the more competent and confident you will be in staying calm and not letting fear take hold. It will empower you and give you hope as you learn that there are effective treatments. Treatment usually must continue for a long time, often even after they have been fully re-nourished for over a year. Please hold onto HOPE, this is a normal part of the process.
Do your part to preserve your sanity and health, this helps you remain calm so you can actively preserve the relationship. Eating disorders can destroy relationships as well as lives. Remaining calm doesn't mean it is going to be all wine and roses, but you can do your best to show the person in recovery that they are loved and protect yourself in the meantime by setting limits on what will will allow others to do to us. Not an easy task with someone who often thinks they are unlovable and has their thoughts distorted by the eating disorder. We don’t help them by taking on their experiences and ‘stuff.’
I know what I am in control of myself and my experience and that I’m not in control of other people and their experiences.
When we can be calm, emotionally objective and confident in our decisions we can then cope with the wild things the eating disorder will throw at us. Easy to say, hard to do. Keep reading, we’ll get you on the right path. You may need some extra support with this and that’s fine. We have parent support programs to help with that. Self-care is essential. It is not selfish!
Doing things that fill you up actually helps you and your child. Here is an example of a situation a parent might be facing: “My child with bulimia also abuses alcohol and is stealing. I know he needs treatment for his eating disorder so I keep rescuing him when he shoplifts. I’m getting bitter and angry about constantly bailing him out with money but I’m so afraid if he goes to jail he won’t get the treatment he needs.”
The fear and lack of boundaries around what this parent is willing to set limits on are leading to them being taken advantage of and as a result, the child isn’t getting any better and the parent is becoming bitter and angry. This is not helping anyone.
We become so used to verbal abuse and disrespectful treatment from the eating disorder that we begin tolerating inappropriate behaviors. Once we come to grips with our fears and accept that boundaries aren’t cruel and punitive then we can begin to set limits. And reclaim our power and some HOPE.
I get it, setting limits takes time and energy that we don’t have. And in the long run, they give us more time and energy. Setting and enforcing boundaries are loving acts that keep our kids safe. It takes consistency to enforce them, especially when we haven’t in the past.
Remember having a 2 year-old that wanted to run out into the street? We didn’t let them even if they screamed or cried or pitched a fit. There is no way we would would let them endanger themselves like that. It’s no different now, the stakes are much much higher though.
When we take the time and energy to set limits and enforce them, we gain so much time and energy as well as protecting our child.
It may better serve the parent in the example to instead of bailing him out say, “I will not finance your irresponsible behavior.”
We don’t want our child to live forever in an “almost anorexic” or “almost recovered” state as that would be much more painful and cruel in the long run than making the tough decisions to draw the line in the sand now.
Trust me, I understand how much it hurts. I will never ever forget flying across the country to take my child to treatment. I cried most of the way there and back. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. It broke my heart into a million pieces. I get it how very painful some of the choices are that we have to make for our kids in recovery. These choices can save their lives.
Often with teens and young adults in recovery we must bravely use whatever leverage we have to set boundaries that keep them safe. This might be letting them know the limits and rules for having the privilege of having a cell phone. Or using the car, or going to college. These are tough boundaries to enforce and they will most likely get angry with us. This means they’re learning they cannot use us anymore. Until we are consistent and stay firm they will continue to take advantage of us. And they often will continue resisting taking the recovery steps they need to take.
Boundaries can bring; HOPE, PEACE, CALM, HEALING and JOY!
Loving and caring about someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder likely has left you feeling hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed, terrified, upset, confused and more. When your loved one is over 18 you might fear there is nothing you can do to help them with recovery from one of these deadly brain illnesses. There is HOPE! There are plenty of things you can do to both help your child in recovery (no matter their age) and help yourself.
I'm sharing 10 simple self-care tips with you to try so you can practice self-care and more easily and effectively help your loved one. But first, just like they say on the airplane, you must put on your oxygen mask first! Doing things you enjoy while you have a child who is so sick may seem selfish and counter intuitive but it is essential to practice extreme self-care. This is a crisis and your child needs a parent who is in top form and ready to go to bat for them. So, let's do it!
Me hiking in New Zealand (without ED)
1. Send those fears on a hike! Literally! First, notice that you’re having a fear response. That’s the tricky part. Then consciously CHOOSE to send fears on a hike. Last, CHOOSE another much more useful and fun thing to think about. And then if you like, take your own hike - without the fears.
2. Make sure you’re included in the treatment team. The evidence is increasingly showing that when the family is included, the treatment outcomes improve. The chemical dependency world has known this for over 30 years. They have also been huge proponents of caregiver self-care.
The Mona Lisa Smile is a DBT Skill. :)
3. Learn skills for being; calm, emotionally objective and confident. This may include some DBT SKills. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps anyone with mindfulness and distress tolerance. When we are mindful and have managed our distress, we can be calmer. Being calm helps us be rational in our decisions so we can then cope with the wild things the eating disorder will throw at us. Doing our part to preserve our sanity and health helps us remain calm so we can actively preserve relationships. That doesn't mean it is going to be all wine and roses, but we can do our best to show the person in recovery that they are loved. Not an easy task with someone who often thinks they are unlovable and has their thoughts distorted by the eating disorder.
4. Make a Top 10 List. What’s this you say? When I was learning how to be a more effective parent of someone with an eating disorder, someone gave me one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten. She said, You’re in crisis, practice extreme self-care, and make a TOP 10 List of things that fill you up.” This seemed selfish to me at that point, but I get it now. It was hard to fit it in some days with all the work of helping my daughter.
We cannot pour anything out of an empty cup. So, you out there-yes you, making sure someone else's needs are being met...it's time. Get the nice paper (or any old thing) and make a list of 10 things you love to do, that fill you up. And then...do at least one EVERY DAY. Yes, every day. This will fill your cup up and make you an even better caregiver or “carer” as our friends in the UK say.
It might seem such a small thing to do but it is essential. If you are burned out, you will be of no use to your loved one. They need you, and they need you to be strong. So, do the right thing and go fill yourself up! You are the one who is on the front lines; you're getting the full brunt of the eating disorder's wrath. You need extra defenses.
5. Get support. This may be connecting with others who’ve been through this journey, paying a coach or therapist to guide you or attending a support group.
7. Eat regular meals. This may seem obvious...yet in the throes of the chaos your own eating can get off kilter. Your child needs to see you modeling regular eating habits.
8. Commit to getting ENOUGH sleep. This may feel impossible due to the worries that seem to stream through our brains while in the midst of saving a child’s life. AND, with some practice and support we can get regular good sleep.
9. Get out in nature and move in a joyful way. Do whatever fills you up and commit to leaving Ed behind. Okay, it doesn't have to be biking 'no-handed' on a beach but let it be fun. Try to notice your surroundings.
10. Practice Gratitude. There is so much evidence now on how being grateful reduces stress. And even the act of trying to think of things to be grateful for helps our brains produce more feel good chemicals. Give it a try!
Okay, as you get your oxygen mask in place, here are resources to keep you supported and involved as a family member: