Eating disorders are common in the US — it’s estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will suffer from an eating disorder at some point during their lifetime.1 The term eating disorder is a collective term for several specific disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, among others.
Someone suffering from an eating disorder may have trouble pinpointing what led to their struggles, but the reality is that eating disorders are complicated and often have biological, sociocultural and psychological roots to their development.2 Something has led to disordered or disturbed eating practices, and the best way to heal is to bring the underlying struggle into the light and seek help.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an effort to highlight the commonality of eating disorders and promote health and healing for those suffering from them. By hosting events all over the country to encourage healthy body image and educate the public, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week helps diminish the stigma commonly associated with the struggles surrounding these medical conditions.
Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
There is a range of specific disorders under the broad category of eating disorders, and there is a range of symptoms associated with each one. However, there are some key triggers to watch for if you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, including the following:
Extreme weight loss
Fear of gaining weight
Preoccupation with eating habits and caloric intake
Working out excessively
Weighing yourself at an abnormal frequency
Vomiting after eating
Avoiding situations where eating takes place
Always having an excuse not to eat
Maintaining strange eating habits or rituals
Preoccupation with body image2
Many people who suffer from an eating disorder will go to great lengths to hide it from their loved ones. They may become master manipulators and be skilled in providing excuses for their behavior. However, you know your loved one best, so if you notice changes in their eating habits, physical appearance or demeanor, trust your instincts and don’t be fooled by excuses.
How to Participate in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
One of the main hallmarks of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is education — educating yourself and educating others. A great way to participate in the week is to take a step toward better understanding how eating disorders develop and how they affect those around you. Unfortunately, it’s common to hear people joke about behaviors that are extremely detrimental, like purging or binge eating. Once we recognize that eating disorders are more common than we might realize, we can learn how to be more careful with how we speak about sensitive topics that can be triggers for others.
During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, many organizations will be hosting specialized events in the community. Another great step toward awareness is to find a way to participate in an event. Volunteer your time, or just support the event by showing up and being involved. In particular, college campuses are likely to host spotlight events for students and the surrounding community, so if there’s a college campus near you, there’s likely an event taking place. If you don’t find an event in the works in your area, take it upon yourself to host one or take time during the week to share what you’ve learned with others and support those you love who may be struggling.
Help for Those With Eating Disorders
Although eating disorders can bring fear, anxiety and a sense of being out of control, the good news is that they are treatable and help is available. Many treatment plans include a combination of talk therapy (or individual counseling), ongoing medical care, nutritional counseling and medication.3 At Center for Change, we offer compassionate care for those suffering from eating disorders as well as education and support for how to thrive after treatment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder or you suspect that they may be, please give us a call on our 24-hour, toll-free helpline. Our goal is always to care for you and your family and equip you for a life of health and well-being.
There are all kinds of misconceptions about men and women diagnosed with anorexia. Some people may simply chalk up behaviors to extreme dieting, a zealous preoccupation with fitness or a phase that’ll pass.
Considering that 0.6 percent of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with anorexia — with women three times more likely than men — according to the National Institute of Mental Health, it’s important to make the designation that anorexia is more than a mere self-esteem concern or problem with food.1 It’s a mental health issue that must be taken seriously with treatment being an ongoing, individualized process that must be handled with the utmost care.
Ensuring that you have your daily nutritional needs met while in recovery is absolutely essential. While it may feel counterintuitive to do so when eating disorders and food obsession often go hand in hand, working closely with a trusted medical professional to devise a custom-fit meal plan can be a crucial step in successful recovery.
Reintroducing Healthy Habits
When one’s body has been deprived of food for an extended period of time, and it’s missing the nutritional benefits that regular meals provide, healthful, restorative eating is definitely first priority.2
And when the guesswork is eliminated — namely, what you should be eating, how much, how often, etc. — by having a medically approved strategy in place, mealtimes don’t have to be a source of stress or confusion.
Rather, each meal is seen as fuel for the body and can be “checked off” as another positive step toward healing. Basically if you’ve eaten what you and your doctor have agreed upon at the appropriate times you’ve discussed, you’ve accomplished all you’ve needed to that particular day. And when you’re recovering from an eating disorder and the distorted body image that results, that’s a life-changing prospect.
The physical manifestations of anorexia, including abnormal heart rhythms, weakening bones, and for women, dangerous effects of reproductive functions, are numerous. But if treated in time, they can be reversed.
Developing Support Systems
Just like any other life-changing endeavor, recovering from an eating disorder requires hard work, and it’s always better when you’ve got a strong support system in place.
Despite wanting to move forward, some days are going to be easier for you than others, so it’s important to educate your friends and loved ones in the language they use to be supportive and non-judgmental.3
It’s helpful to know you have someone you can confide in. Having someone present and engaged in your life as a friend, supporting you and the lifestyle changes in progress and including your in social engagements can be especially helpful during this season of change.
Not commenting on your appearance, weight in particular, or working out and exercise is essential. This is a time for building up the body physically and developing a positive association with food, not potentially taking a step backward into behaviors that may have contributed to anorexia in the first place.
Getting Back in Touch With Your Body’s Default Settings
While you transition into healthier terrain, it naturally takes time to learn to listen to your body’s signals again.
It’s particularly important to be patient during this process because it doesn’t happen the moment you leave the hospital or go to therapy sessions less often. It’s an ongoing effort as your body learns to process food again.
Once you begin eating regularly again, it still takes the body a bit to recover and retrain itself. Having a predictable schedule of meals and snacks, not to mention groceries already purchased in advance, inevitably helps set you up for success. Preparation also helps provide built-in accountability, an easy checklist when you’re not quite sure what’s in your best interest with nutrition.
At first glance, a meal plan may seem contrary to recovery from an eating disorder, but being more regimented in the beginning actually helps pave the way for a more flexible future.
So, here we are… it’s the middle of January and there is a good chance that whatever resolutions you have made have already proved a struggle. Perhaps you feel totally caught in the web of “New Year New You” that seems to be floating around all over social media and you aren’t sure how to get out of feeling like a failure.
See most of the time we make these resolutions that are all or nothing. We make resolutions that require us to be a totally different person- a “new you”.
Hmmm, what does that even mean?!
It sure seems like these kinds of resolutions ask us to negate the value of who we already are in service of becoming someone totally different- an unattainable ideal of some sort.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, black and white thinking and all or nothing extremes may be all too familiar to you- and may even be a comfortable place to be mentally and emotionally. An important part of recovery however, is learning to be okay with the gray, the in-betweens, the both-ands of life.
Even if you are actively working on this, there is something about the start of the new year with the focus on resolutions that can sweep us up into the web of extremes.
Diet and consumer culture so expertly lure us into these seemingly innocuous ideas such as eating “clean”, buying only organic, working out more (for health of course!), and denying ourselves certain pleasures of life that may be just “too sweet” for our own good.
Shame and guilt-inducing resolutions have been repackaged as “good for our health” or as “character building challenges”.
We can get caught in this powerful web of diet industry generated ideas and resolutions that ultimately rob us of a deeper connection to our passions, purpose, values, and deepest desires of the heart. These ideas that seem innocent, harmless, or even good for us, in the extreme version (think “new you”), actually bring us deeper into the web of de-valuing instead of celebrating who we are and building up our character.
Now, don’t get me wrong- sometimes we need to make changes in our lives in order to truly heal from something or celebrate and be the best version of ourselves… and what I am suggesting here is that you use all of your energies and intentions to go after just that- the best version of who you are and were meant to be, rather than scrapping it to chase after some unrealistic and unattainable ideal that keeps you disconnected from a sense of deeper meaning and purpose.
Here are a few practical journaling prompts and some action steps for using the rest of January to untangle yourself from the web of unrealistic extreme resolutions and set you on a path of connection, joy, purpose, and meaning in 2018.
Pull out your journal and take some time to reflect and write some of your responses to the following prompts. (I also suggest bringing this to your next therapy session to process and share what you have learned from writing):
Stop and Challenge: What goals did you set for yourself for this year that have you feeling entangled in a web of perfectionism or extremes? How has the diet culture lured you into resolutions that appear healthy but may be the same old messages repackaged or rebranded? Write a response back to those extremes that provides a different perspective, one that takes into account the matters of the heart and soul.
Build on Successes: Instead of the approach of completely starting over each year, what are you proud of or happy about from the last year and the year before? How can you build on that success in the new year? What would be the next step in doing something to take action on that success? Make a commitment to do one small thing in the next week that builds on your success and share that with someone else for accountability.
Find Value in Your Story: What has your life brought to you (joys, heartbreaks, mental health issues, healing etc…)? What have you learned from it? In what ways has it pushed you forward or held you back? Is there something in your story that others may benefit from knowing? Could you inspire someone by owning your story just a little more this year? Think about one person you might want to share a piece of your story with and contact them in the next week for a cup of tea, a shared meal, a walk out in nature, or a phone call.
Cultivate Enjoyment and Meaning: What brings you joy? What helps you feel a sense of purpose or meaning? What matters to you in life? What do you like? Think about intentions or “resolutions” that are in service of bringing more of this into your life. Write down a few things that you would like to incorporate into your life that are not about being better or different, but instead about bringing more joy and a deeper sense of purpose for 2018.
We all have insecurities about our looks. Our focus may change from our weight to our skin, or we may have one particular feature that always bothers us. No one is perfect, and we can often be our own worst critic.
While it’s normal to experience insecurity and low self-esteem due to body image issues, prolonged, excessive worry about specific bodily flaws may point to body dysmorphic disorder.
What Is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thinking and preoccupation with a minor or imagined bodily defect, which often leads to compulsive behaviors and disrupts a person’s everyday life. The International OCD Foundation says that body dysmorphic disorder affects between 5 and 7.5 million people in the US.1 According to Psycom, it usually surfaces in adolescence and affects men and women equally.2
So when is it simply insecurity, and when might symptoms signal something more serious?
Causes and Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
It’s important to realize that body dysmorphic disorder is an actual clinical diagnosis, not just vanity or insecurity about looks. Thoughts about appearance often rule the lives of those with body dysmorphic disorder, causing them to spend exorbitant amounts of time thinking about, checking or trying to conceal perceived flaws. The disorder is closely linked to OCD, anxiety and eating disorders, but it carries specific symptoms unique to the disorder.
While the exact cause of body dysmorphic disorder is unknown and symptoms vary from person to person, Psycom lists certain factors that likely lead to the disorder, symptoms and common areas of fixation.
Causes and factors leading to body dysmorphic disorder:
– Genetic predisposition or having relatives with similar disorders
– Negative childhood experiences, such as bullying or teasing
– Personality traits like low self-esteem or competitiveness with others
– Societal pressures to be pretty
– Other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or depression2
Symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder:
– Fixation on a real or imagined bodily imperfection
– Engaging in behaviors to minimize or hide the perceived flaw
– Engaging in activities such as exercising or getting plastic surgery to try to “fix” the flaw
– Obsession with or avoidance of mirrors
– Repetitive grooming activities or compulsive touching, checking or measuring of the flaw
– Frequent thoughts about appearance
– Avoidance of social situations
– Repeatedly asking others for their opinions of appearance
– Belief that others are taking special notice of the flaw
– Feelings of depression, disgust, low self-esteem and anxiety2
Common areas of fixation related to body dysmorphic disorder:
– Moles or freckles
– Minor scars
– Facial and body hair
– Size and shape of genitalia
– Size of breasts
– Muscle size
– Size, shape or symmetry of face or other body part2
People with certain temperaments and ways of thinking may be predisposed to body dysmorphic disorder and show obsessive or anxious tendencies in other areas of life. 2 This disorder is often mistaken for others due to its similarities in symptoms, but also because those dealing with it often hide their symptoms out of shame and embarrassment over their appearance and obsessions. If left untreated, it can get worse over time and lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and actions.3
It’s important to remember that if your loved one has body dysmorphic disorder, their flaws are real to them, even if they don’t seem real to you. No amount of reassurance or reprimanding will help them see things more rationally. It is a mental illness, and it should be treated as such.
How to Treat BDD
Fortunately, body dysmorphic disorder is diagnosable, treatable and can be improved and managed with proper attention and lifestyle changes, along with professional help. If you notice any of the above symptoms in yourself or a loved one, take action to get necessary help.
Read on for the most common treatments for body dysmorphic disorder.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found to be the most effective treatment for body dysmorphic disorder. This is a specific type of therapy that teaches people how to recognize irrational thoughts and replace negative patterns of thinking with positive ones. Two key processes in CBT are exposure, in which patients confront the situations that cause them fear, and response prevention, which teaches them how to resist the urge to perform compulsions.2
Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are often prescribed alongside therapy to help relieve obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors associated with body dysmorphic disorder. It is believed that serotonin is a factor in the disorder.2
In addition to therapy and medication, there are lifestyle changes you can make to ensure the success of your treatment. Don’t skip medicine doses or therapy sessions, even if you feel fine or don’t feel like talking. Educate yourself on the disorder and how it affects you, and pay attention to warning signs and triggers so you can get ahead of symptoms. Exercise can help alleviate symptoms, especially anxiety and depression, so stay active and take care of yourself. Avoid drugs and alcohol, which can interact with medication and worsen symptoms.2
There Is Help and Hope
Above all, know that if you or someone you love is wrestling with body dysmorphia, there is help, which means there is hope. Reach out to your physician or a mental health professional to find out how to get started on the road to recovery.
1 Phillips, Katharine. “Prevalence of BDD.” International OCD Foundation, Accessed January 15, 2018.
Eating disorders are often a silent disease, hidden in the shadows and closets of life. Unfortunately, however hard someone tries to keep it secret and separate, an eating disorder inevitably ends up affecting almost every aspect of a person’s life.
If you’re in a romantic relationship with someone struggling with an eating disorder, you probably already know this. As much as your partner tries to hide it or tell you it’s not that big of a deal, you feel the strain it places on your relationship.
It may be your partner’s eating disorder, but it’s affecting you too.
How Eating Disorders Affect Romantic Relationships
Romantic relationships require honesty, vulnerability and intimacy from both partners in order to be healthy and successful, and the very nature of eating disorders erodes these crucial relationship elements.
In an article in Psychology Today, Carrie Gottlieb, PhD, talks about the effects eating disorders often have on relationships. A person with an eating disorder is intensely preoccupied with food, weight and shape, making it difficult at times for them to think of anything else. In fact, eating disorders can become so preoccupying that they virtually take the place of other interpersonal relationships.1
As your loved one slips deeper into symptoms, there is increased distance in what should be a close, intimate relationship. Shame and secrecy replace vulnerability and honesty as the eating disorder tightens its grip on its victim. It’s not surprising, then, that romantic partners of people with eating disorders often report feeling decreased emotional intimacy in their relationships.1
What You Should Know About Your Partner and Their Eating Disorder
If you’re romantically involved with someone struggling with an eating disorder, there are some things you should know about your partner. The following list of six key words, compiled from articles in Thought Catalog and Recovery Warriors written by women who have struggled from eating disorders, will help you begin to understand your partner better.
Eating disorders are usually not about trying to look good for someone else (yes, that includes you). Control is often the driving factor – she wants to be in control of her life, and when things get out of control and she starts to feel anxious, she will turn to her eating disorder to regain that feeling of control.
Your partner is most likely hiding many aspects of her eating disorder from you. She hides because she fears your reaction to her habits. She may fear that you will reject her, be disgusted by her or pity her. Or she may even fear your compassion and understanding, since she’s so uncompassionate to herself. She may decline invitations to social events or shared meals in order to hide her habits from prying eyes.
One of the reasons she hides things from you is the shame she feels about her eating disorder. Shame from past events may even be a motivating factor in her eating habits, and while she might feel a fleeting sense of control during one of her episodes, that shame is likely to quickly return in its aftermath.
Self-Esteem. Shame erodes self-esteem, and your partner probably has extremely low self-esteem. While low self-esteem is often a precursor to eating disorders or a co-occurring issue, her self-esteem is further diminished by her eating disorder. She may even be a high achiever in other areas of her life, but until she changes her approach to food and her body, the low self-esteem is here to stay.
Your partner may avoid sex and intimacy due to shame and low self-esteem over her distorted body image, and in fact the disorder may be a way of coping with past sexual abuse. She could also be extremely sexual, using sex as a way to numb the shame and bad feelings. Hormonal imbalances and caloric insufficiency can also decrease sex drive.
As counterintuitive as this may seem, her eating disorder is not, ultimately, about her weight. Even if she does reach one of her goals, she won’t be pleased if she meets it. No matter her weight or waist size, she will never measure up in her own eyes.2,3
Just like with substance abuse, it can take years for someone with an eating disorder to reach the bottom and turn things around. You can’t fix your partner, but there are ways you can be there for her and, hopefully, point her toward recovery.
How You Can Help Your Partner
If your partner is struggling with all of these things we’ve listed, it’s understandable for you to feel helpless or overwhelmed. Don’t worry, there are steps you can take to support your partner, and care for yourself, in this situation.
Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your partner’s eating disorder, and clear up any misconceptions you have about it. This will help you to better understand what she’s struggling with, and how you might be helping or hurting with your responses to her behavior.
Be careful with your words. You may not think your comments about her eating habits or weight are harmful, but the reality is that she’s constantly thinking about these things, and something you say can easily trigger her. As you educate yourself on her disorder, educate yourself on what words are helpful and what words aren’t.
Support your partner. It’s easy to become overprotective or policing, or withdrawn and silent, if you’re dealing with a partner with an eating disorder. You might find yourself questioning every food decision she makes, or conversely, avoiding the topic altogether for fear of saying the wrong thing. Instead, try talking to your partner in a nonjudgmental way if you notice her struggling. See if you can get her to open up and be honest with you. Eating disorders thrive in the darkness, so try helping her bring it into the light.
Find support for yourself. You most likely could benefit from a support group, or even individual or couples therapy with an eating disorders specialist. These environments provide a safe place for you and your partner to talk about your concerns and find new ways to cope with feelings and support your partner.1
There is hope for your partner, and your relationship, no matter how hopeless things may seem. You can play a crucial role in your partner’s recovery process, and you might even find that walking together through recovery actually strengthens your relationship.
After all the holiday fanfare has drawn to a close and the calendar flips to January, it’s natural to start reflecting — dreaming even — about what the New Year might look like for you.
But what if your ambitions, your resolutions of sorts, weren’t the same tired and superficial aspirations peddled in television commercials? What if like poet Emily Dickinson you chose to “dwell in possibility” and aim a little higher? Here are seven ideas worth considering that address wellness far beyond what you look like on the eve of another year.
Visit a new city.
If the two-week European excursion on your wishlist doesn’t seem feasible, financially or otherwise, exploring somewhere new is still a worthy pursuit. Whether playing the tourist in a section of your own town that you rarely explore, road-tripping somewhere cool nearby for a weekend adventure or hopping on a cheap Southwest flight to a city you’ve never visited before, there’s immense value in immersing yourself in new surroundings and experiences.
Make self-care a priority.
Making time for regular therapy (which is good for everyone no matter what season of life you’re in) or taking a few minutes away from your desk to spend more time in nature (which not only makes you happier but gives a big ol’ boost to your immune system), taking time for yourself is never selfish.1,2 It makes you a happier, more productive person.
While reading can feel like a drag when your professor selects the material for you, reading for pleasure is a decidedly choose-your-own adventure. Whether you want to know more about the world and how people think or immerse yourself in a realm you wouldn’t experience otherwise, reading is the ticket.3
In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper’s character said it best: “The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday, that’s guaranteed.” And a quick glance at the headlines on your go-to news site will confirm that reality again and again. But there are a million reasons for practicing gratitude, something you can do by starting a journal dedicated to precisely that, deliberately acknowledging what you’re thankful for at the beginning or end of each day, writing a note to someone who has shown you kindness or bought you a gift or paying it forward at Starbucks by purchasing a beverage for the stranger behind you in line.
Step Away From the Computer
Make no mistake, there are plenty of good things about social media.4 But what if you invested a little less time in virtual interactions and made more time for living, breathing relationships? Ever visit a college campus and notice how everyone is staring at their phone and barely acknowledging the rest of mankind? Notice the people around you. Smile more. Make time for the people you care about.
Learn Something New
Do you wish you could knit a sweater or blanket like your grandmother could? Aspire to learn French or enough about geography and history to give a Jeopardy contestant a run for their money? Maybe you wish you could master calligraphy or channel your inner HGTV nerd as a DIY genius. Whatever it is, learning how to do something new is completely gratifying and worth your time, even if it winds up being a #PinterestFail.
Maybe you’re someone who always has music playing no matter what you’re doing. Or you happen to talk way more than you listen. Perhaps you’re a person who has never explored the pleasure of your own company. Making room for a little quiet in your life is extremely beneficial and delivers a whopping dose of peace in the process — now who wouldn’t say yes to that?5
In our American culture, I think it’s easy to buy into the sense that holidays should be the most joyful and wonderful time of year. But then if we don’t feel that way, there’s something wrong with us, and/or we’ve become Scrooge!
There are a lot of reasons why research has shown higher rates of depression and suicide around the holidays; Seasonal Affective Disorder, year-end stress, family triggers, social media images of other’s “perfect” life, etc. After leaving residential treatment back in 2012, I have tried to stick to these four strategies to keep myself in the best emotional place that I can during this stressful time.
Be honest with your feelings. It’s easy to think that if I just pretend everything’s ok and that I’m happy about the holidays, that I won’t disrupt the holiday happenings. What I found is that I’m a terrible actress and by masking my true feelings, I end up doing a disservice to myself, and to others.
Have a plan before the holiday. Deciding what my gameday plan is in the middle of the game (during Christmas dinner) is not going to be that helpful in my recovery. When I was in treatment I worked with an Occupational Therapist that really helped me pre-plan before stressful events. I could envision the meal, family and friend dynamics, and figure out how best to handle each one of them. Talking it out ahead of time made the day seem much more doable.
Determine your accountability partner and let them know ahead of time. Similar to strategy #2, you don’t want to pick your accountability partner in the middle of the stressful event as you may not decide to pick anyone at that point. I decide ahead of the holidays what my triggers may be (and they can vary year-to-year), and then figure out if a friend or relative would be my best accountability partner. Most of my life, it was difficult for me to ask others for help and/or support, but I now know that most people are happy to help…you just need to ask them.
Write a gratitude list. Look at this holiday season as a time to reflect on how far you’ve grown this past year. I know how tough it is to look at other people’s social media accounts and feel like everyone else’s life is more perfect, more successful, and easier than your own. But let’s all remind each other that social media isn’t real life, it’s what we all choose to curate about our lives. I try to take the month of December to reflect on the past 12 months and what I’ve accomplished, overcome, and gained. It’s easy to list the things that we’re not happy about with ourselves, but it takes a little more work to list the positives that have been accomplished over the year. Doing strategy #4 also has set me up to go into the New Year and not feel triggered by everyone’s New Year’s resolution posts about losing weight, getting healthy, etc. It helps me stay focused on being successful in all areas of my life…not just focusing on my external appearance.
I hope that you will have a wonderful holiday season with the people that you love the most, and look back on 2017 as being another wonderful year lived and conquered.
While it’s occasionally been dismissed as a little too hippy-dippy for some or decidedly low-impact for others, it’s no secret that yoga has a huge number of health benefits. Not only can it help significantly improve strength and flexibility and promote serenity in our increasingly hectic lives, but yoga can also be a real game-changer for healthy sleep, pain management and even lowering blood pressure.1
For anyone who is seeking treatment for an eating disorder, something that affects 24 million Americans and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yoga has been deemed surprisingly effective in providing a positive sense of community, promoting a life-giving, non-judgmental self image, teaching the essential connection between mind and body which helps fuel healthy decision-making and offering an outlet for stress through deliberate breathing exercises.2
In order for those who’ve dealt with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating to get the maximum benefits out of yoga, an environment of self-acceptance and compassion, rather than competition, is fostered by yoga therapists. In a review published in Disability and Rehabilitation, physical therapy that included yoga was successful in significantly reducing eating disorder scores as well as depression in both anorexic and bulimic patients. The study also suggested that quality of life was improved with yoga in the mix.3
Breaking Through with Teens and Binge Eaters
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health produced an intriguing insight: namely, that yoga therapy helped alleviate symptoms of eating disorders in teens.
When comparing standard care alone to standard care with yoga therapy given to a group of 50 girls and four boys between ages 11-21 with eating disorders, researchers from Seattle Children’s Hospital Department of Adolescent Medicine discovered that the group who participated in a semi-weekly hour of yoga practice for eight weeks had greater decreases in eating disorder symptoms than those who participated in standard care alone.3
Another study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine also made the connection between yoga and improvement in binge eating episodes and overall health. When testing a group of women ages 25-63 with binge eating disorder and a body mass index (BMI) over 25, which is considered overweight, the women whose treatment included a 12-week yoga program had fewer instances of binge eating and a marked increase in overall physical activity. In addition to a significant reduction in BMI, these women gained other health benefits including smaller hip and waist measurements.3
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
It’s not surprising considering all the mixed messages people are getting from magazines, movies and television about body image, food and dieting, but it’s still alarming to hear that eating disorders and unhealthy nutritional mindsets are a daily struggle for 20 million females and 10 million males in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.4
But as people have begun exploring out-of-the-box solutions like yoga therapy, which is now being used in eating disorder treatment centers across the US, there have been countless success stories as people regain self esteem and find relief for depression, anger and anxiety. And for those struggling with anorexia in particular? Regular yoga practice has been linked to rebuilding of strength and bone density that has been damaged and lost when the body is deprived of food and all the vitamins and nutrients that accompany it.4
That’s a real game-changer in a world where four out of 10 people have either personally suffered from an eating disorder or know someone who has, according to a study conducted by the National Eating Disorder Association. The act of regularly sweating together in the name of health and healing is definitely worth exploring.4
It’s the day after Halloween and you’ve managed to avoid the bags of leftover candy for now. Then you turn on the radio, and before you can manage to change the channel you hear it:
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go!”
In less than 24 hours, the world jumped from candy corn to candy canes, completely skipping over Thanksgiving. Welcome to the season of eating. For most people, the weeks between October 31 and January 1 are for celebrating and letting go of limits. For you, a person recovering from an eating disorder, it can feel like walking through a minefield.
But the holidays don’t have to derail your recovery. Whether you’re in the first stages of treatment for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, or you’ve lived a life of recovery for years, this season can still be one of joy. By setting yourself up for success ahead of time, you can learn to love the holidays, and yourself, more than you ever have before. The following five tips can help.
Eat Regularly and Reasonably
Eating disorders are mental health issues marked by extreme eating habits and out-of-bounds concerns about weight, shape or overall body image.1 During treatment, you learn the importance of eating regularly, reasonably and on purpose. The holidays can mean trays of tempting snacks in the breakroom at work, extra cookies at home and parties with co-workers, friends and family. With food constantly available, it’s easy to fall into mindless eating or not eating at all to avoid excess calories.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, for Psychology Today recommends working with your therapist to find healthy ways to cope with trigger situations. She also suggests surrounding yourself with people who can help as well as creating a list of coping statements to remind you of how far you’ve come.2
During the holidays, friends, relatives, business referral sources and people you haven’t seen in years come out of the woodwork. If you’re not careful, every evening of every weekend is taken up with a party or activity. None of the events are bad, but having too many can cause stress levels to rise. And increased stress means increased risk of eating disorder relapse. It’s OK and healthy to limit your activities to just the really important or necessary things. Plan ahead for quiet evenings at home, or with a few family members or close friends, to keep you balanced and refreshed. If someone tries to make you feel guilty for not accepting their invitation, they’re probably not someone you need to spend time with anyway.
Susan Albers, an eating issues specialist and clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends slowing down and being flexible. The holidays are about enjoyment, so extend yourself some grace and compassion as you make choices about what to eat and how to spend your time during the holiday season.3
Having a coping strategy in place for holiday parties can help you avoid anxiety when faced with large amounts of food. Take your significant other or a friend to any parties you can and plan what to say when declining certain foods. Avoid party rooms or buffet tables that could derail your food management plan. Stay away from people or conversations that increase your stress level, and make sure you’ve eaten at regular intervals throughout the day before attending any celebration.
Journaling can help keep your thoughts focused and positive during the holiday season. Use your journal to set goals for family gatherings, make lists of people you want to call and visualize how you want your holiday parties to go.
Picture yourself going through each part of your day in a calm and happy way, even while you’re cleaning, cooking or getting ready for guests. Think about each person you’ll serve and how giving back to others makes you feel. Write down these feelings and come back to your journal each time you feel your stress level rising. This kind of vision casting helps you set the tone for what’s ahead rather than becoming overwhelmed by it.4
One of the most important ways to stay on track with your recovery during the holidays is to attend therapy sessions and support group meetings. Support group meetings provide a safe place to talk about how this time of year make you feel and how you’re doing. Sessions with your counselor or therapist help reinforce your goals and review your coping strategies.
Counseling sessions also give you the opportunity to process the things you’ve experienced in healthy and constructive ways. Even if it means cancelling other plans, make attending support group meetings and scheduled therapy sessions your top priority.5
Help for Eating Disorders
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is, you’re not alone. Center for Change can help. We’re available 24 hours a day. Give us a call at 888-224-8250 to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.
Many of us prefer to start our day with exercise. Taking care of our health is important, and exercise undeniably plays a crucial role. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to be healthy. Whether you are controlling weight or improving mental health and mood, exercise has been shown to be a positive health benefit and safe for most people.1 But too much of a good thing can be harmful and addicting.
Individuals who struggle with disorders or addictions have been shown to be more susceptible to exercise addiction. Studies estimate that 15 to 20 percent of individuals who are addicted to exercise are also addicted to alcohol, nicotine or illicit drugs. They also suggest that up to 25% of people with one addiction have an additional addiction. For example, buying or shopping addiction has been identified as common among the exercise-addicted, while exercise addiction is common among individuals addicted to sex. Topping the list are those who have an eating disorder as well as a co-occurring exercise addiction.2
According to a report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, approximately 39 to 48 percent of people struggling with eating disorders also struggle with exercise addiction. Although it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, many professionals are seeing a rise in the occurrence of people addicted to exercise.
What Is Exercise Addiction?
So how do you tell the difference between healthy exercise and a harmful addiction? Experts seem to agree on the following signs:
Tolerance: Many people achieve positive effects from their exercise such as reduction in anxiety, a feeling of euphoria and increased self-esteem. Individuals struggling with exercise addiction find themselves needing more and more of the initial activity to achieve their desired results.
Withdrawal: When a workout is cancelled or postponed, a person who is addicted may experience intense anxiety, fatigue or irritability.
Habit of excess: A person struggling with exercise addiction my repeatedly exceed their planned limits for exercise. This might be promising to stop after an hour spent running, only to tack on an additional 30 minutes or more at the 50 minute mark.
Lack of control: Many individuals who are experiencing exercise addiction find that the compulsion to exercise intrudes uncomfortably into their social and work lives. They cannot seem to stop thinking or planning their exercise environments and cannot keep their habits at manageable levels.
Time: Planning, engaging in and recovering from exercise consumes a noticeably large portion of time, and the amount they exercise far exceeds what is recommended by fitness or medical professionals.
Reductions in other activities: Social, career and recreational activities are deserted to prioritize fitness.
Continuance: Despite warnings from medical professionals and trainers, a person who is struggling with exercise addiction persists in physical activity despite illness or injury, sometimes jeopardizing their own long-term health.3
Recognizing exercise addiction in your own life or in the life of another can be difficult. The escalation and evolution from a healthy habit to an addiction can span over months or years and take longer to admit and confront. It can stem from coping mechanisms, be a secondary or primary addiction and is a behavior-associated addiction. There is little research on the treatment.
Writer Lindsay Hall shared her journey into alcohol abuse, exercise addiction and exercise bulimia in her article, “Running Was My Drug of Choice. Here’s How I Finally Found Balance.” After entering treatment she writes, “Stripped of both running and alcohol, I had to relearn who I wanted to be without the aid of a drug – and yes, exercise was my drug. We live in a society where exercising and focusing on clean eating are the signs of a healthy (and sought after) lifestyle – and I was able to hide behind that for years.”4
Often the first goal for friends and therapists is to help people recognize addictive behavior and for extreme exercise to be reduced. A recent paper by the British Medical Journal recommends cognitive behavioral therapy as a possible solution.5 Treatment centers such as Center for Change offer therapies that can help.
Center for Change takes a comprehensive approach to treating a wide range of eating disorders, while understanding the connection between eating and exercise addiction.