Walden Behavioral Care - Eating Disorders Treatment and Recovery Blog
The Walden Eating Disorders Treatment and Recovery blog offers stories from experienced clinicians, individuals in recovery, family members in support and also offers effective treatment for eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating in a range of settings, including inpatient, residential.
I am a 58-year old cisgender female, who uses the pronouns ‘she, her, hers.’
This disclosure was foreign to me until last year when I began working here at Walden Behavioral Care. I hadn’t realized the importance of these types of introductions until I joined the LGBTQ+ task force.
The mission of this passionate group of people is to cultivate an affirming and inclusive environment for patients and employees. One of the main goals of the task force is to nurture an environment that reflects and helps to build upon a greater cultural shift toward equal rights and access to care.
In a report by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), and The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, it was found that more than half of LGBTQ+ youth aged 13 and 24 had been diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives. The report’s findings are based on an online survey of 1,034 young people who self-identified as LGBTQ+ and resided in the U.S.
These statistics were startling to me. I knew immediately, I wanted to help this community in any way that I could.
As an executive on the task force, one of the first initiatives I was brought, was a proposal to begin incorporating pronouns into our email signatures, ID badges and business cards. My initial response was “why do we need to do this” and “is it really that important?” After receiving a thorough education, I soon changed my thinking to “why WOULDN’T we do this?”
Unfortunately, marginalized populations don’t often have the luxury of assuming that the world around them will be safe.
This realization really affected me. All individuals deserve the opportunity to heal in a welcoming, empathetic and inclusive environment. While we can’t control how others interact with diverse communities, we can control how they’re treated while they’re here with us.
To be honest, I am trying, really trying to be aware of how I speak and the language I use.
It’s important that I lead by example – and I am doing that by making mistakes. Transparency has been a really helpful tool for me as I continue this learning process. I have accepted that I am imperfect and am diligent in owning my mistakes. I make sure to apologize and correct myself to show others that this is important to me.
Still, I sometimes fall into my old ways.
The other day, I addressed a group of people using “you guys.” I got the ‘eye’ from one of my colleagues for using gendered language and immediately corrected myself. The ‘old me’ used “you guys” as an informal way to speak to a group. I have since learned that in order to be explicitly welcoming, I have to be careful not to genderize language. I am practicing using “y’all” and “friends” etc. to replace “you guys” or “you ladies.” It’s a more challenging process than I would like, but I know that it will soon become second nature. I think that simply being more mindful of what I say is a good first step.
We have all heard the old adages, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s hard to teach an old dog, new tricks. I am trying though. I promise that I will keep trying in order to help make others feel accepted. It’s a learning curve y’all and I am committed to making this change happen.
It is important that we all try.
We live in a complex world and we all play an important role in shaping it into one that feels safer for all people.
Lisa Rinna and her 17-year-old daughter, Amelia Gray brought eating disorders into the public eye this season on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
In a recent episode, the Hamlin family was having a barbecue together. Lisa Rinna’s 17-year-old daughter Amelia Gray Hamlin said that she wasn’t hungry and refused to eat. Like many other individuals who are experiencing an eating disorder, Amelia claimed that she was allergic to the foods that she was uncomfortable eating. While many people do have legitimate food allergies, it is common to use an allergy as a ‘culturally acceptable’ way to avoid eating ‘fear foods.’
This scene is one of many examples of Amelia’s battle with anorexia, which has been hard on Amelia as well as her whole family. Amelia was frustrated with her parents when they insisted that she eat something. Tension continued to build when Lisa and Harry made comments blaming each other for the situation.
To complicate this difficult situation more, the Hamlin family continues to face this illness publicly. Amelia has been open about her recovery process and has advocated for access to mental health resources on social media. This is wonderful, but on the flip side, she must now endure negative comments and criticism from judgmental viewers and followers. Recovery is never easy, but constant external pressure adds yet another challenging layer to the already emotional experience.
If anyone in your life has an eating disorder, this episode must have struck a chord.
When you’re close to someone with an eating disorder, it impacts you too. Like all forms of mental illness, eating disorders can put a lot of stress on families. Parents and siblings often face feelings of guilt, confusion, frustration, and more. It is our instinct to help when someone we love is hurting and sometimes, it is hard to know exactly what they need.
For anyone facing a similar situation, the good news is that there are ways to support your family member. Family-Based Treatment (FBT) is the only evidence-based model that has been proven to work with adolescents with eating disorders. The model encourages families and loved ones to decrease feelings of blame so that they can use that energy toward moving forward. FBT also focuses on embedding communication and behavioral techniques that can help to interrupt maladaptive coping skills. FBT is also a great tool to help create or restore openness and mutual trust between the family system. By focusing on the whole family, these interventions build a support network outside of treatment to promote lasting recovery.
You don’t have to do this alone. If you or someone you love is living with an eating disorder, we are here to help.
What if I told you that you have been invited to a highly specialized training camp designed to help you become a better, stronger athlete?
Developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts, including sport psychologists, dietitians, and exercise science professionals, every aspect of the program empowers participants to become their best selves and develop the skills needed to thrive both inside and outside of sport. Utilizing premier evidence-based methods, each session teaches athletes how to fuel for sport and life and develop training mastery. Staffed by former athletes and trained professionals who understand the unique challenges, requirements and high demands of competitive sports, each athlete receives individualized sessions designed to help identify their personal limitations, face fears, and build resiliency skills to navigate whatever challenges come their way.
To most athletes, everything I just described probably sounds like a dream come true. Yet, most of the athletes who enroll in this program don’t exactly feel this way during their first week. How could this be?
The Perspective Shift
As with many things in life, perspective can drastically change one’s experience. The program I described is Walden Behavioral Care’s GOALS program. Designed to treat eating disorders, disordered eating and overtraining in competitive athletes, those entering the program often conceptualize the process as analogous to physical therapy. Similar to rehabilitation for injuries like an ACL tear, treatment is often viewed as an unlucky but necessary break from the activities they love required to heal and return to sport.
Unfortunately, similar to physical therapy, many athletes in our program begin to feel vulnerable in their time away from training and competition and doubts about returning to sport begin to fester. Even elite athletes, like Patriots Football star Julian Edelman, admitted in physical therapy, “During the first three weeks after my injury, I hated the world.”
Had he maintained that attitude, he might never have come back to win another Super Bowl. Yet like other elite athletes, Edelman worked hard to adopt a new perspective and told himself, “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” Re-conceptualizing ACL injury rehab as a new form of training, Edelman approached each physical therapy exercise with the same focus and intensity he was known for on the football field and the results soon followed.
It is rare to find athletes who approach eating disorder treatment with this mindset. Although Edelman was not in treatment for an eating disorder, his fears and feelings often mirror many athletes who admit to the GOALs program. During our first session, many athletes often express concerns that entering eating disorder treatment could possibly end their athletic career. These fears are understandable since outside of treatment, people often feel confused about eating disorders in sport. Coaches, athletes and non-athletes alike frequently admit they do not understand the illness, are unfamiliar with treatment, are unsure how one can recover and if they can return to sport. The same uncertainties can also be applied to concussions.
Research and media stories have helped athletes and the general public understand that concussions are a different form of injury that may not be visible but nonetheless threaten the athlete’s ability to perform, participate in sport, and live a healthy life. Eating disorders, which experts refer to as “metabolic and psychiatric injuries,” are in this same category for they can remain invisible to the untrained eye. Yet athletes experiencing disordered eating and/or problematic physical activity will often become be less competitive in sport, more prone to injury and risk permanent physical damage that, in some cases, can be career-ending or life threatening.
Fortunately, similar to Edelman’s ACL injury recovery, eating disorder treatment programs can empower athletes to dig deep, shift perspective, and embark on a rigorous journey to acquire the mental and nutritional skills needed to achieve their full athletic potential, sustain a positive mindset and build a healthy body that will stand the test of time. Other athletes, like Boston University’s track star David Proctor, and competitive cyclist Ben Frederick have begun sharing their stories to help others in similar situations. Both athletes have committed to educating others about the devastating consequences of eating disorders in sport and the power of specialized treatment. With the proper tools in place, David and Ben emerged from treatment stronger than ever and used their newly learned skills to continue excelling in each of their respective sports.
Rehabilitation and/or treatment can sometimes feel like a prison or a punishment for athletes. David Proctor, Ben Frederick and Julian Edelman chose to use their experience in rehab and/or treatment as an opportunity to achieve greatness and longevity in sport.
Matt is a licensed registered dietitian nutritionist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a lead nutritionist and exercise science advisor for the Walden GOALS program. Matt devoted the early part of his career to refining the art of training elite collegiate and professional athletes. In graduate school, he developed expertise in nutrition, behavior change and eating disorders. Matt now devotes his practice to translating nutrition and exercise science into practical solutions. As a lead member of the GOALS team, Matt is known for his dedication to educating and empowering athletes of all backgrounds to facilitate a full and meaningful recovery from disordered eating. Matt holds a B.S. degree in Kinesiology from the Honors College at The University of Massachusetts Amherst, a master’s degree in Applied Exercise Physiology and Nutrition from Columbia University and was a dietetic intern at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
So often, we get asked by caregivers and loved ones how they can most effectively support someone with an eating disorder. To answer this question, we went to visit the amazing clients getting care at our Peabody clinic to share what would be most helpful for them. Here’s what they came up with!
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all concept and that the suggestions below could work well for some and maybe unhelpful to others. When in doubt, ask!
Be my cheerleader, not the police.
If I’m in treatment, it is likely that I have a full team of professionals who are equipping me with the tools I need to take care of myself appropriately. I understand that when you hyper-focus on what I’m eating, how I’m eating or what I’m doing, its because you’re trying to be helpful. I think it’s important for you to know that this ‘policing’ actually has the opposite effect and it can even make me shut down completely.
If I engage in a behavior, please don’t chastise me. I am probably already furious with and ashamed of myself and need your compassion. If I ‘slip up,’ tell me that it’s okay. Remind me that these things are a normal part of recovery and tell me that you will be there to help keep me pushing forward.
VALIDATE my experience.
It is human nature to try to ‘fix’ things by providing advice…unsolicited though it may be. What I need from you is compassion and understanding. Instead of saying, “Meditation helped me with my anxiety, you should try that!” try “It sounds like this is really hard work. I’m here for you whatever you may need.”
Give me reassurance that you will love me unconditionally.
It’s really easy for my eating disorder to tell me that nobody will love me if I gain weight or if I relapse. What I need to know is that you will be there through all of the ups and downs of my healing journey.
Engage me in activities that don’t involve food or exercise.
Eating disorders thrive in isolation. Even if I say no, which I probably will keep inviting me places. This helps to remind me that people still want me around. Invite me to do activities that are food and weight-neutral. I went to paint night with a few of my friends and it helped me begin to feel ‘normal’ again.
Stop talking to me about your diet.
When people talk about diets, it makes me question all of the awesome work that I’m doing in treatment. Please stop assuming that I want to know about your eating habits.
Understand that my eating disorder serves a purpose.
I think a lot of people don’t understand that there’s a reason that my eating disorder exists. While there is certainly a body image and self-worth component for many, I use behaviors to escape, numb, avoid or distract myself from uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health condition.
See me as more than my eating disorder.
We are mothers, brothers, sons, teachers, students and so much more than our diagnoses. I am so blessed to have this incredible boss who left me a card that said, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through, please do whatever you have to do to take care of yourself…” Knowing that I was valued as a professional who had a hiccup was so validating.
Your support is critical in my recovery.
I know that it isn’t easy loving someone who has an eating disorder. I know that it can feel like you are helpless sometimes. Please know that we appreciate your support so much even if we may not say it.
If someone you love is living with an eating disorder, there is hope here at Walden. Contact us today to learn more about our support services.
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give others.” -Christopher Germer
Teachers act as coaches and cheerleaders. We direct plays, wipe noses, grade papers and plan lessons. We comfort students, guide parents, nurture dreams and harness enthusiasm. Also, we deliver good news, stay late, purchase supplies, hold our tongues…and our bladders, too. Teachers teach what needs to be taught and are committed to the well-being of our students.
Teachers are also humans who are not immune to many of the conditions that often afflict the students in our classrooms
I’m not just talking about the flu. I’m talking about serious chronic conditions that don’t go away with some antibiotics and orange juice.
Eating disorders often impact adults working in care professions. Many of us ‘carers’ come to work through sickness because it is in our nature to put whatever we are dealing with at the bottom of our list of priorities in order to keep our students at the top. We hobble along because they need us – and for us, that is what matters most.
But what is actually most important, is that teachers lead by example. Of course they need us, but they need us healthy. I myself have taught more full days of classes with a raging migraine headache simply because no one was able to take my place at the lectern. I did what I could for my health when I had time, but it wasn’t enough. The day eventually came when I had to take a leave of absence from the job I loved because I became too sick to continue.
If one of your students were to become ill, would you encourage them to ‘power through’? Would you encourage them to put off their treatment until it’s convenient? Of course not. You would help them find a way to complete any missed work and welcome them back after they’ve received the help they deserved.
Before I chose to prioritize my health, I had lost sight of the fact that what I teach by example is far more powerful than any lesson plan I could write. I first am an adult in their lives setting an example and then a teacher of a subject. What we do matters. But we are doing our students a disservice if we teach them that health – theirs and ours – is anything less than the most important thing we have.
Take care of yourself; you will have more to bring to the students you love so much.
Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES, is an engagement specialist for Walden Behavioral Care. Her role is to help our patients to navigate the admission process. Before becoming a member of Team Walden, Stephanie was a Senior Prevention Specialist at FCD: Prevention Works!, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation located in Newton, MA. Stephanie is a member of the National Wellness Institute and is a member of a number of training and prevention-focused committees. Stephanie earned her master’s degree from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she served as a graduate assistant to Margaret Burckes-Miller, founder and director of the university’s Eating Disorders Institute.
College break is a great time to get support for your eating disorder.
College break is awesome. The stress from finals has dissipated and you are probably looking forward to crossing items off of your summer bucket list.
It is likely, that eating disorder treatment is not at the top of that list. After all, being inside is way more of a drag than a road trip to the beach! But how long into your adventure will it take for that pesky eating disorder voice to question how you will navigate meals for the day, what it will be like wearing a bathing suit or to start shaming you for enjoying an ice cream cone?
The truth is, avoidance is great…until it isn’t.
Here’s why you might be avoiding committing to eating disorder treatment:
You have 4 pages written for your American Literature essay that is due tomorrow morning. You still need 6 more pages but you’ve already made your font as big as possible. You’ve also increased your margins and have double spaced each line. The stress of the impending deadline feels overwhelming so what do you do? You watch Bridesmaids for the 43rd time instead of hunkering down and finishing the essay.
We’ve all used tactics like this and experienced their temporary relief. For those two hours of comical genius, you are likely less stressed. The reprieve is fleeting, however, because once the movie is over, the essay remains unfinished and now you have even less time to complete it.
Similarly, it is easy to avoid committing to treatment for an eating disorder – there is an infinite amount of other things you could or ‘should’ be doing instead – and your eating disorder is really good at convincing you that these things are more important than your health.
Consider why now is the time to prioritize healing from an eating disorder:
If you were living with a ‘traditionally – medical’ ailment like cancer or diabetes, would you delay your treatment? Would you say, ‘but I need to go to work’ or ‘my friends and I have a vacation planned’ if you knew that addressing the illness early would permit you to do these things later in life? If you knew that you could vastly improve your prognosis going forward, wouldn’t you do everything you could to prevent it from getting worse?
There will never be a perfect time to get treatment, but we know that early intervention significantly increases the likelihood of full and lasting recovery.
This summer break, we encourage you to prioritize your healing. I assure you that once you have quieted the eating disorder voice, you will be much better positioned to fully experience the activities that may have felt like priorities before recovery.
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better later.” ― C. JoyBell C.
Natalie Cohen is the Marketing and Communications Manager for Walden Behavioral Care. In this role, she is responsible for the internal and external communications for the company including social media, newsletters, website copy and marketing collateral. Natalie earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Maine in Orono. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga, doting on her dogter Bella and exploring new restaurants in the Boston area.
“I want to help others who may be hesitant – for whatever reason – to get the eating disorder support they need and deserve. I want them to know that if I can do it, they can do it too.”
Ben Frederick Recovery Story - YouTube
Ben Frederick seemed to have it all; competing in bicycle racing at the highest level, sponsors paying him to do what he loved with adoring friends and family cheering him on. When a bicycling accident led to a severe concussion causing a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Ben’s life changed in an instant.
For almost a year, Ben was bed-ridden with debilitating headaches, nausea and heightened sensitivity to light and sound. He remembers tiny tasks like getting up to make himself lunch requiring several hours of rest before and after. He was unable to exercise and along with increased symptoms of anxiety and depression, Ben began manipulating his food intake to avoid gaining weight – and avoid feelings of pain and loss.
His friends and family began to notice and expressed concern. Through hard work, patience and bravery, Ben took advantage of Walden’s eating disorder support services and is now living his life beyond his eating disorder. Watch Ben’s inspiring story and learn more about what recovery looks and feels like for him.
Silicon Valley has long been recognized as a global think tank for emerging and cutting-edge technology. This California mecca of tech disruptors is revered and relied on for its production of big ideas and ‘hacks’ that simplify processes we didn’t even know needed to be simplified. That is why when I first heard the term “Biohacking,” I thought it had something to do with cyber-security or a phone app. Instead, it refers to a variety of practices that apply ‘the tech-hacker ethos to biology.’ From hanging upside down to increase blood flow to manipulating sleep habits, Biohacking promises to promote ‘better living’ that claims to be informed by science.
Tech moguls are publicly sharing their subjective experiences with biohacking, touting extraordinary results. In a recent interview, Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey explained a nutrition-based routine he called “diet hacking” that essentially described his rigid, elimination-based eating pattern. This ‘lifestyle’ involves multiple-day fasts and has strict rules regarding when what and how to eat. Coincidentally, and quite alarmingly, these behaviors that are marketed to promote health quite closely resemble what we in the eating disorder field might call disordered eating.
Even more concerning are the claims that these leaders in Silicon Valley are making about how Diet Hacking has helped them immensely in their professional careers. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, swears that during his fasts he feels ‘a mild euphoria’ and a ‘constant supply of energy’ that both help him to be “a better CEO.” Dorsey maintains that during his fasts, he feels ‘so much more focused.’
“What what we know about the human brain is that it is 60% fat,” Stu Koman, Ph.D., President, and CEO of Walden Behavioral Care – a national mental healthcare system specializing in the treatment of eating disorders – said. “When the body goes into starvation mode, it begins taking fat from the brain in order to continue performing vital functions like pumping blood to keep the heart beating. A consistent deficit of brain fat can lead to depression, apathy, lethargy, an inability to concentrate and other serious cognitive impairments.”
And so, scientifically speaking, restricting food actually yields the opposite effect of what we would want the brightest minds – whose beliefs and actions are held with high regard – to experience.
A recent article featured in The Atlantic eluded to the fact that the popularity of Diet Hacking is likely a result of our human tendency to gain control in a life riddled with uncertainty. In the mental health field – and within the eating disorder population specifically – we see this innate desire for control play out through restrictive, bingeing and/or purging behaviors that can cause physiological responses like numbness, euphoria and false senses of calm or relief.
“For our clients, the disordered eating behaviors are often adopted as coping skills used to manage uncomfortable thoughts or feelings,” Koman said. “Similar to the responses that many of these tech moguls described during their fasts, these behaviors may work in the short-term, but can cause serious long-term physical and psychological complications.”
The insidious nature of our diet culture has made starvation (and by definition, anorexia) a revered state that should garner the envious “Oh, I wish I had your dedication” statements or the naïve “if it ‘worked’ for you, it will ‘work’ for me” declarations. Diet Hacking, and the influencers blindly endorsing related practices, further substantiate what the eating disordered brain maintains; to be liked, successful, worthy…you have to look, act – or eat – in a certain way.
So what should we make of the Diet Hacking phenomenon and how can we protect ourselves from similar messages that get delivered to us every day? Koman recommends a “buyer beware” attitude before committing to any kind of eating modification – especially without consultation from a medical and/or psychological professional.
“Of course we are not saying that everyone who practices this type of eating behavior has or will develop an eating disorder,” Koman finished. “But for someone who has the genetic predisposition, engaging in this type of ‘lifestyle’ is like playing Russian roulette. Influencers like CEOs of huge tech enterprises have an inherent obligation to ensure that their endorsements reflect appropriate behavior that we would want our children emulating – this lifestyle does the opposite.”
Natalie Cohen is the Marketing and Communications Manager for Walden Behavioral Care. In this role, she is responsible for the internal and external communications for the company including social media, newsletters, website copy and marketing collateral. She is a founding member of Walden’s LGBTQ Task Force which continues to guide Walden in maintaining inclusive and affirming care practices. Natalie earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Maine in Orono. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga, doting on her dogter Bella and trying out new restaurants in the Boston area.
Disclaimer: My recovery is my own. My hope is that in sharing my story, I can help people feel more comfortable accessing the support they need and deserve regardless of who they are, where they’ve been or what they look like. While reading, I urge you to take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t behind. The beauty of recovery is that it looks a bit different for everyone and that is okay!
People often say that recovery takes a village. It’s true…withdrawal and isolation are unfortunate side effects of eating disorders that can be detrimental to living a full life. Due to reasons that are complicated, my family chose not to participate in my recovery. This, of course, was difficult to navigate but throughout my healing journey, I have worked to accept this and find connection in others.
While I don’t have the “conventional” support system, I have learned that family needn’t be those related to us by blood. Sometimes, families are those who find you when you need them most.
My eating disorder journey started when I was about 20 and was training for my first half marathon. I’ve always had pretty significant anxiety and realized during training that running really helped to numb and escape anxiety’s nagging voice. With all of the extra exercise and a lack of proper fuel, I lost a substantial amount of weight. At the urging of one of my sisters, I went to see a dietitian for the first time, not because I thought what I was doing was wrong, but because I wanted to learn which foods would make me run faster.
It just so happened that this dietitian was also an eating disorder specialist who insisted that I start coming to see her twice a week, and after that level of support wasn’t enough, my team eventually recommended a higher level of care. That’s how I ended up at Walden Behavioral Care.
Before my first day in treatment, I remember sitting in the parking lot sobbing to my therapist telling her I wasn’t going to go in. I was terrified; of what treatment would feel like, of the people and what they might think of me. The moment I chose to go in despite this fear, was a pivotal moment in my recovery journey. In group, I found a special connection to each of the special humans who bravely shared pieces of themselves. I had never felt as validated as I did sitting next to people – of all ages, all genders and at all stages of recovery – who understood and experienced the thoughts and feelings that I had kept so hidden from the world. In this setting, I realized I didn’t need the white picket fence to feel hopeful for my own future.
In October of 2018, I was diligently doing the “homework assignment” that my therapist had recommended I try. I am now 26 and have been progressing in recovery for about five years now. Sometimes, I still feel challenged during mealtimes, which is why I found myself watching the morning news while I ate my breakfast. This particular segment featured a1. woman who had created care boxes designed especially for individuals undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It was such a beautiful idea, I wondered why nobody had created such a box for those struggling with eating disorders.
“Why not me?” I thought to myself. After all, nobody was more qualified to understand the unique needs and challenges of someone healing from an eating disorder than someone who was actively healing from an eating disorder! I dedicated all my free time to this project because I knew what it would have meant for me to receive this gift during my hardest moments. And so, by December, I had the first prototype of “Brave Box” in my hands.
Seeing Brave Box go from a simple concept to a fully functioning company that has helped bring hope to hundreds of people struggling with an eating disorder has been a really important piece of my own healing process. I’ve been able to continue increasing my own recovery network and have helped so many others to do the same.
If Brave Box helps even one person feel a little bit less alone – and a little bit more hopeful – then that is more than enough for me.
The term orthorexia has recently become more widely recognized, but it was actually coined in 1998 to describe a disordered eating pattern classified by the restriction of any foods that are subjectively deemed “unhealthy.” A person living with orthorexia may refine and restrict their diet to what they believe to be “acceptable,” commonly sticking to foods that they have labeled as pure, unadulterated and/or whole. While this pattern of eating is seemingly innocent, individuals with orthorexia are so rigid in their food consumption that it starts impacting medical and psychological functioning. Many people use the phrase “healthy eating gone wrong” when describing this disorder, but there are a lot more layers to this disorder that many people aren’t aware of. Here are four lesser-known facts about orthorexia.
The condition typically isn’t associated with poor body image – While individuals with anorexia might exhibit similar patterns of restriction, orthorexia isn’t necessarily rooted in obsessions over appearance or efforts to lose weight. Those with this condition are much more concerned over the purity, cleanliness and/or health benefits of the food.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common co-occurring condition – Just as individuals with OCD must perform strict rituals or compulsions to manage anxiety, individuals with orthorexia share similar high standards for achieving perfection when it comes to eating and being healthy. If “bad” food is consumed, there are often adverse reactions such as panic attacks, over-exercising and/or restricting. Many individuals with orthorexia may even believe that they will fall ill if they consume foods that are not “whole” or “clean,” sometimes going so far as to consider these foods “poison.” To them, the risk of these foods causing sickness or diseases, although mostly unfounded, far outweighs the benefits of eating that specific food.
Orthorexia is different – though similar – to anorexia – Although there are similarities, orthorexia is actually quite different from anorexia. For people living with anorexia, food intake is limited or modified in order to manipulate weight and/or shape. Yes, they may limit themselves to foods they consider to be healthy, but the majority of people with anorexia engage in at least some type of behavior with the intention of losing weight. While weight loss can be a side effect for those living with orthorexia, it is not typically the goal or reason for the adjusted diet. While those with anorexia often have bodily distortions that tell them they are fat when they are actually underweight, those with orthorexia can often recognize that they are thin but have a harder time adjusting their food intake to make up for the deficit.
Treatment exists! And it works! – Treatment for orthorexia is often similar to that of other eating disorders and focuses on many of the thought processes that can be associated with these conditions like black/white thinking, thought distortions and inflexibility. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be extremely helpful in challenging distorted thinking and exaggerated responses to “fear foods.” Medications, if needed, cannot directly treat orthorexia, however, they can treat symptoms associated with it including anti-depressants (i.e., Prozac, Zoloft), anti-anxiety medications (i.e., Vistaril, Ativan), and in some cases working on decreasing symptoms of obsessions and compulsions (i.e., Luvox, Risperdal).
If you or someone you care about are experiencing any orthorexia or disordered eating symptoms, we are here to help you figure out appropriate next steps.