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This is one person's story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

by Caroline Morris

I remember reading the following in Fasting Girls by Joan Brumberg two years ago, while I was researching for my master’s thesis: “Published case reports repeatedly said that girls with anorexia nervosa were ‘sullen,’ ‘sly,’ and ‘peevish,’ implying that they were as parsimonious with their words as with their food.”1

I laughed and immediately emailed the quote to my thesis advisor, knowing she would, whether she admitted it or not, recognize something of me in the description. I was no longer parsimonious with my food, perhaps, but I certainly could be with my words and thoughts. I am far less miserly in my writing.

Writing has always helped me express myself in ways that I never could otherwise. I don’t mean to suggest that I write to express myself to others, though I do. More often, I write to understand. I write to connect with myself and to work through my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It makes sense to me that I was only able to talk to myself about my anorexia by writing about it, and it also makes sense to me that I was unable and unwilling to talk to anyone else about it until long after I had processed on my own. I am convinced that writing saved me, though it was years before I saw the fruit of my processing, before I felt saved, recovered, healed.

The summer of my conversion, or what I half-seriously refer to as my conversion, I read two books concurrently: one about anorexia, the other about the furious longing of God. Whether the reading selection and its repercussions were divinely orchestrated or coincidental, my experience of anorexia was spiritual through and through. My anorexia was an ascetic disorder and my “conversion” a movement from death to life.

The book on anorexia that I stealthily borrowed from my roommate’s bookshelf that summer was Life Without Ed. I figured she had read it for class, but I didn’t know. We weren’t really close. I wasn’t really close with anyone. I read the book, as I did most everything, in secret. I didn’t want her to think I had chosen it as a “cry for help.” I was merely gathering information.

I spent the evening poring over the book, transfixed but still very much composed. And then something happened that made me lose all composure. Somewhere near the end of the book, light shone up from the words and pages and into my mind.

All of the sudden, I saw.

I stood up, dropped the book, covered my mouth, and gasped and heaved and cried and coughed until there was nothing else to do but fall to the floor. Before I could consciously call for movement, I felt my hands reach out and find my computer, and I began writing.

I wrote down everything I could think of, all the thoughts I had but never acknowledged, all the fears that haunted me. That night wasn’t the first night I experienced the very rational fear of dying, but it was the first night I admitted it to myself.

I wrote down everything I could think of, all the thoughts I had but never acknowledged, all the fears that haunted me. That night wasn’t the first night I experienced the very rational fear of dying, but it was the first night I admitted it to myself.

I obsessed over the document for months because I was convinced that if I could only keep writing, something would work together and make sense. I believed that if I could just keep writing, I could find a way to make my story end well.

I did find a way, though the written story never came together: circumstances were such that I eventually needed to put it away—I needed to live the story. Life after anorexia is both beyond my best and wildest dreams and, depending on the day, so exhausting that I almost feel disappointed. I am weary, and I am also happier than I could ever write to be alive.

Writing aided my recovery by giving me something to do, some task to busy myself with. It reminded me that I have thoughts, depths—feelings, even—and that those things are worth fighting for. The more I wrote, the more lucid my writing became, the more lucid my thoughts became, and I steadily regained a sense of self. Most significantly, writing served as a reminder of what I saw the night I began to talk to myself about my anorexia: that I could die at any moment, and that I wanted, more than ever before, to live.

[1] Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: the History of Anorexia Nervosa (New York: Vintage, 2000), 165.

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We opened a new Partial Plus Lodging location in Cleveland, OH today! The Vue, our lodging accommodation in Cleveland, has a new apartment for clients participating in our Intensive Day Programs.

Partial Plus Lodging is available for adults (18+) who do not live within driving distance of one of our outpatient offices, but need to participate in Intensive Day Programs (IDP) or Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). Partial plus lodging allows guests to stay in a comfortable, safe and supportive setting near our locations while working on their recovery.

Partial Plus Lodging is a great place for guests to:

  • Practice real-life recovery skills in peer-supported, non-therapeutic setting
  • Enjoy a safe, charming residential area near public transportation, restaurants and shopping
  • Reflect and rest in quiet, semi-private rooms
  • Conveniently participate in The Emily Program

Partial Plus Lodging is available in Minnesota, Washington, and Ohio

For more information or to refer a client, contact us toll-free at (888) EMILY-77 (364-5977).

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Last month marked the one-year anniversary of Tony joining The Emily Program’s treatment team. Because his career has centered on the treatment of eating disorders and addiction, joining The Emily Program was a natural fit.

On any given day, Tony can be found partnering with clients to assess and treat the medical complications that can arise from eating disorders. He appreciates working with clients to improve their physical well-being and witnessing as they recover from their eating disorder.

“It is very gratifying to have clients feel so much better at the completion of their treatment,” he said. “The most rewarding part of my job is when I see clients enjoying the positive health outcomes of the hard work they have done to change and heal.”

Tony graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s physician assistant program with a Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies. Today, he is a certified physician assistant.

Learn more about Tony and why we think he stands out!

TEP: What’s the most common concern you hear from clients?

Tony: Many clients have concerns about how their eating disorder has affected their physical health. Thankfully, most medical complications of eating disorders improve with recovery. That is one of the many reasons why treatment is so important.

TEP: What have clients taught you about food and eating?

Tony: Every client I meet is unique and special. I’m honored to learn and share in their life story. What clients have taught me is that their story is much deeper than food and eating. When food and eating is no longer the focus, clients are empowered to write a new story.

TEP: What’s your favorite activity on your days off?

Tony: I enjoy hiking at the many beautiful Minnesota state parks.

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Exercise is one of the most common symptoms of an eating disorder. For people across the eating disorder spectrum—anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other eating disorders—obsessive exercise is a very common behavior and may feel compulsive, or like it has to be done. It can also be a widespread compensatory mechanism for those who feel they have eaten too much.

“Obsessive exercise” refers to exercise that goes beyond that which is rational or reasonable for health. “Compulsive exercise” refers to exercise that feels necessary, whether the person wants to do it or not. Exercise done obsessively, compulsively, or both may displace other important activities in life, cause pain, or lead to negative outcomes for the person engaging in it.

“Compensatory exercise” refers to exercise that is done to make up for a binge eating episode or any other kind of eating that someone with an eating disorder feels violates the “rules” of their disorder.

The issue is that exercise, as we well know, is a normalized behavior generally believed to be necessary for optimal health. However, for people with an eating disorder, it presents clear and present health risks. That’s why it’s important to understand when exercise is an eating disorder behavior and when it is not. Note: Someone with an eating disorder may not have the cognitive awareness to know when it’s a dangerous behavior.

There are many health risks associated with exercise when someone has an eating disorder. Exercise can lead to stress fractures and heart dysfunction when a person is underweight. Exercise can also cause extraordinary psychological distress because the person struggling with an eating disorder may feel like the exercise they’re doing is “never enough.”

Exercise may also play a role in maintaining an eating disorder. For someone who is struggling, compulsive exercise is often the behavior that clients are most resistant to giving up when trying to move into recovery. Often people who do not intend for exercise to be a barrier to recovery will, nevertheless, begin to fall back into eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. For this reason, exercise is a very common avenue to relapse. Additionally, in cases for which weight restoration is a goal for a client, exercise increases the calories a person needs to eat in a day, making that goal more difficult to achieve.

For all of these reasons, we often recommend temporarily limiting or even stopping exercise. Although exercise is not typically part of initial eating disorder treatment, it can be reintroduced over time, as appropriate. However, it is imperative that exercise is re-introduced in a slow, balanced manner. It’s not that someone with an eating disorder can never exercise again, but they likely need to maintain a sense of caution because of the potential risks of relapse. Additionally, since the goal of exercise is to move the body joyfully and healthfully, reclaiming exercise with a focus on incorporating enjoyable movement can set a foundation for a new relationship with movement.

AuthorMark Warren, M.D.
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This is one person's story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

by Kristine Irwin, a wife, mother, and advocate for ending sexual violence. She is a full time recruiter at Pittsburgh Mercy and runs a non-profit called Voices of Hope.

My eating disorder isn't something that I usually talk about in great detail. I do, however, think it’s important to tell others about the barriers to eating disorder treatment I faced, the complicated healing process I experienced, and how my mom tirelessly worked to make sure I got better.

During the spring of 2002, I was 16. It was around that time when I began to feel insecure in my own skin. I can't remember exactly what triggered this, but I was hospitalized for depression, and it may have started after that. Either way, I turned to a friend I knew from dance school and said I wanted to lose weight. She told me that she had started to purge what she ate to lose weight, so I thought I would try it.

My grandmother also passed away that spring, and that was when I began to binge eat and purge. I didn't cry when she passed, so this was a way for me to grieve. There were times when I would binge eat and purge and leave the wrappers or containers under my bed to hide them from my parents. I also remember a time where I went and had dinner with someone, and then my current boyfriend wanted to make me dinner too. I didn't want to cancel either one, so I stopped at a local grocery and purged in the bathroom so I could eat the dinner my boyfriend was making.

Slowly, I began to get careless and my mom put two and two together and figured out what I was doing. She knew I needed help but didn't know where to go.

My mom took me to the pediatrician that I saw growing up. She didn’t tell me that they were going to examine me for an eating disorder, but they did. The pediatrician I saw said I had no signs of an eating disorder. Maybe this was because I hadn’t done it for too long? I am not really sure, but the only way I thought they would be able to tell is if I had scars on the back of my throat (which I know now is only one of many possible signs).

My mom then found a therapist in our home town that she thought would be able to help. She took me there and she said I came out of that appointment so happy. I told my mom that the therapist said nothing was wrong with me and I was great. However, I was in complete denial. Why would I want to tell someone something so personal?

My mom was not convinced, and she spoke with her own doctor. Her doctor told her to distract me. So the summer of 2004, she enrolled me in a gym and we began working out. I became obsessed with exercise, and for a little while, the disorder faded away briefly.

Then I was raped. And because of that trauma, my eating disorder resurfaced again. No level of distraction or denial could make it go away completely.

Then my mom found The Emily Program. By finally working with people who specialized in eating disorders, I was able to gain an understanding of why I had bulimia. I knew that part of it was grieving for my grandmother, and part of it was the way I coped with everyday life. There were some body image/self-love issues in there as well. Although I never really lost weight from having bulimia, I knew I didn’t like how my body looked for a very long time.

I was eventually able to overcome my eating disorder. I credit the learning and self-acceptance I experienced with being able to love myself and open myself up to truly loving another person, because I met my future husband around this time.

This was all possible because my mom fought for me. Even though I was in extreme denial, she continued to search for the correct help for me, and I will forever be grateful.

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It seems like every day there is a headline about some nutrition “news.” One day it’s “eggs are good for you,” and the next it’s “limit the number of eggs you eat.” We’re all looking for the best, most reliable information, but it can be difficult to decide which stories are worth our time and attention. So why does it seem like we’re constantly bombarded with incomplete or misleading nutrition information?

  • Nutrition scientists are still making discoveries
  • Compared to physics or biology, the field of nutrition is a relatively young discipline. Although the man known as the Father of Nutrition and Chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, can be traced back to 1770, it wasn’t till the early 20th century that much of what we now know as nutrition science began to take shape with the discovery of vitamins and their impact on health. Even today, it’s difficult to stay current on the latest nutrition information because nutrition science is a rapidly evolving field. We are still learning and reevaluating how certain foods or ways of eating affect our health.
  • Nutrition is hot news
  • We see so many stories about food and nutrition because the media knows that headlines about the latest food fad or controversy capture our attention. But these dramatic headlines don’t always give us the full story. Even a small or preliminary study might get reported as “fact” with a simplified, eye-catching headline. The problem? There usually isn’t enough information provided to truly assess if the “news” is really news or not. Sometimes the news story is based on an early study that still requires a lot of follow-up research before we should be drawing conclusions. It’s also possible that a study may be inaccurate because it is poorly designed or funded by an organization that has a self-interest in a certain outcome.
  • One size does not fit all
  • It’s also difficult to get accurate nutrition information because there is rarely one perfect answer. People’s physiologies are all a little different. So, eating one way might be perfect for one person and injurious for another. Books or websites that claim a certain approach is best for everyone often cite anecdotal evidence and are driven by a desire to promote a specific agenda or to sell products rather than a desire to offer sound nutritional advice.

So what should I do?

It is important to have a safe and reliable resource for information regarding food and eating. Ideally, this would be an experienced dietitian who you know and trust. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, speak with a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and thoroughly understands your diagnosis. If you are unable to speak with a professional, you can find accurate nutrition information from well-regarded, reputable sources, including government agencies and client-focused eating disorder websites such as National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).

However you seek answers, be mindful that you don't get consumed with nutrition information, especially if you are experiencing or have ever experienced an eating disorder. When learning about nutrition issues online, from books, magazines or well-meaning individuals, that information can get distorted by eating disorder thoughts and ultimately work against, rather than for, your recovery efforts.

AuthorHilmar Wagner, MPH, RDN, CD
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by Nicole, a former Emily Program client

“Man, if I only knew then what I know now.” How many of us have thought something along those lines admits a moment in our present lives? If we could, most of us would probably be delighted to go back in time and let our past selves in on some newly obtained wisdom.

Though I do my best to live without regret, if I had to go back in time and tell my high school self some encouraging words and helpful life hints, I would certainly have a thing or two to say.

Despite being only twenty-two years old, I have recently acquired an extensive amount of life-changing knowledge as well as developed a completely different, positive outlook on life. This drastic, healthy change in my mental & physical lifestyle of course could not be possible without my selfless parents, my former team at The Emily Program, and anyone who has helped me in any way along the way as I exited treatment for anorexia over four years ago. I cherish these individuals & resources vastly.

My old “self” is strikingly divergent from my current self. Back in high school, I was immensely and unhealthily consumed with what all other people thought of me and said to me. After years of growing up being bullied, I developed into a teenager and pushed even more to fit in. I did this because I wanted friends, guys to actually like me, and in hopes that my classmates would finally stop bulling me. As you can probably guess, that only lead to a life of desperately muting my—what others called “weird”—unique personality. And for what? To be liked by a bunch of meaningless carbon-copies who didn’t take the time to get to know me.

Having now given you that blurb about who I was in high school, I would tell her, “Be weird. Be unique. Be whoever it is that your soul naturally consists of. At the end of the day, you are who you are. You were born with your own set of diverse qualities. Though most people around you animatedly try to convince you that you are ‘too weird’ or ‘too loud and obnoxious,’ go ahead. Be your weird, loud, exuberant self. What matters is that you are authentically yourself and you only strive, in a healthy and realistic way, to better yourself as a person.”

I would then continue to explain, “What I mean by that is stop altering how you dress, the hobbies and the shows you like just because others bully you for it. It is better to have one friend who genuinely accepts & appreciates you for who you organically are than to exert effort into squeezing yourself into phony social groups. You are who you are and that is always going to shine through no matter how hard you to mute it. So stop trying to change the materialistic or your preferences. Take a look at your behaviors instead. For example, instead of switching your handbag to a brand that the ‘popular’ girls carry, vow to make an attempt to be more mindful in life. Or, instead of wearing those ridiculous six-inch heels to school in hopes of attempting to get guys to finally notice you, maybe practice gratitude and respect (yes, for yourself, too) instead. Focus on bettering your soul and your values. And do it for you!”

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Raising awareness about eating disorders and body image issues is so important to all of us at The Emily Program.

Toward that end, we are excited to invite the community to join us for The Emily Program Foundation 5th Annual UnmaskED Gala on Saturday, March 3, at 5:30 p.m. at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis.

This year's UnmaskED Gala will feature live and silent auctions, dinner from D’Amico Catering, Emcee Jennifer Mayerle, and a special live performance.

Dedicated to "unmasking" the secrecy, stigma, and shame associated with eating disorders (ED), this festive fundraising event will benefit The Emily Program Foundation and its mission to work to end eating disorders.

Through advocacy, education programs in classrooms and communities, Friends and Family Support Groups, and financial assistance to those seeking eating disorder treatment, the Foundation increases awareness for eating disorders and body image issues among adults, children and youth. The Foundation also advances citizen lobbying and public policymaking efforts, and advocates for greater access to care, research, and improved prevention methods.

Funds raised from the Gala will be used to support these and other important education and community outreach initiatives.

Tickets are on sale now and going fast! Click here to learn more about the UnmaskED Gala and to reserve your tickets.

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Amra joined The Emily Program four and a half years ago after relocating to the Twin Cities. She started as an eating disorder technician, and after shadowing a meal at the Anna Westin House, our residential treatment facility in St. Paul, she was hooked.

“I absolutely loved the concept of getting to be there in the moment alongside clients, supporting them as they navigated one of the most challenging times in their lives,” she said. “I am beyond honored to get the opportunity to be invited into people’s lives and some of their darkest moments, and be trusted to assist. I am really proud of how brave all our clients are and cannot explain how powerful of an energy it is to be part of it day in and day out.”

Amra recently stepped into a new role as a social worker. In her new position, she wears many hats, but most days she can be found coordinating care for clients and assisting them in smooth transitions in and out of the house.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Winona State University and went on to earn a Master’s in Social Work from Augsburg University.

Learn more about Amra and why we think she stands out!

TEP: What's your secret to building trust with clients?

Amra: I am transparent, honest, authentic and consistent. I think people are perceptive and have strong intuitions, so if you try to be something you are not, they can see right through you.

I think most clients who have interacted with me can say my word has a lot of worth, and that I won’t say something I don’t personally believe. I think people can see that I do have their best interests at heart and I will help in whatever way I can.

TEP: What’s one tip you can offer new clients?

Amra: It’s okay to be scared. You are doing one of the toughest things by simply reaching out for help. You deserve to feel better and you don’t have to face it alone. Just take whatever reason got you to make that call and remind yourself of it constantly because it is worth it, and remember, we will walk this road with you.

TEP: Tell me something interesting about yourself.

Amra: I was born in Bosnia, and I am obsessed with stand-up comedy. George Carlin was the best of all time.

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I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by Roxane Gay, a nationally known writer, professor and speaker. She authored The New York Times best-selling essay collection, Bad Feminist, and most recently, the memoir Hunger.

I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by Roxane Gay, a nationally known writer, professor and speaker. She authored The New York Times best-selling essay collection, Bad Feminist, and most recently, the memoir Hunger.

She’s a woman who, to use her term, is “super morbidly obese” and lives in an “unruly body.” She’s gone through life with these labels given to her by physicians, culture and nearly everyone around her.

She speaks with a level of authenticity and honesty that is rare. She speaks about her own experience in a way that truly helps one understand how very difficult it is to be significantly overweight, bringing about personal and social pain, and implications of how one reads her life.

This topic is, of course, important in our field, as binge eating disorder is the most common of all the eating disorders and, often, the least discussed in studies.

We know, however, that a significant portion of people who are obese have a binge eating disorder. We also know that this group presents late to treatment, and often carries significant emotional issues that are related to their binge eating disorder. In addition, we know binge eating disorder can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy.

What Roxane Gay shared with us was her life experience and the fact that going through the world the way she has, has caused her to suffer psychologically without any actual sense of what she should do to fix it. She talked with great precision about all of the advice she’s been given throughout her life: exercise more, eat less, eat more healthy foods. All things, of course, she knows very, very well.

Her experience with the medical field has been a very negative one. She attributes the severity of her physical and emotional problems to her doctors. She believes medical problems are worsened for obese people because physicians make them feel ashamed at visits. Therefore, people who are overweight often don’t want to go see a physician.

So, problems with obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other issues may get less attention in overweight people compared to those who don’t have a large body size and shape. An obese person is susceptible to other illnesses, but sadly is less likely to seek help for them.

As we begin to understand eating disorders and recognize that binge eating disorder exists and, in fact, is more common than we thought, we also need to understand the amount of suffering these clients have experienced.

As a society, we often think of anorexia nervosa when we think of eating disorders. However, it is crucial that we widen our collective perspective to remember that binge eating disorder is a source of tremendous psychological and physical suffering for so many people. Their suffering is all too often overlooked. Increased awareness and understanding are important first steps toward providing effective care to those struggling with this difficult illness.

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