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So often we think diets are the answer to our weight loss and for some the key to happiness.  For Marie, a diet at age 10 was the gateway to an eating disorder. As one of 10 children in her house, Marie’s life was not like those around her; she felt like the weird girl who didn’t fit in with anyone. She was bullied because of her weight and thought she could control it through the diets her mom used. By age 13 she restricted food, and by age 15 a traumatic experience dangerously escalated her disordered eating habits.

When Marie got to college, her life became out of control. She shares, “Restricting became my only friend. The only thing I could lean on. If I wasn’t thinking about restricting, then I was thinking about things I didn’t want to think about.” Friends watched as she spiraled down the dangerous path of an eating disorder, and they intervened to get her some help.

Marie first went into residential treatment, but after her weight was restored, she was sent home. She lacked treatment for the causes of her eating disorder. “I know I needed help, and I know I needed help coping with my negative emotions. An eating disorder is so much more than weight and food. There are words and actions that I needed help dealing with.” After she returned home, Marie relapsed, and her eating disorder continued.  Her family was supportive, but coming from a big family made it difficult for others to see her struggle with anorexia. She kept them at a distance so she could be alone.

She knew she needed help to overcome her eating disorder, somewhere that would treat the cause of her disordered behavior. For Marie, that place was Magnolia Creek.  Sometimes our struggles in life seem to be more than we can bear, that held true for Marie. Just four days before she was to leave for Magnolia Creek, she was involved in a severe car accident, one that should have ended her life. She remembers the paramedics telling her she must have had a purpose in life and a higher power was indeed trying to tell her something.

“I went to Magnolia Creek broken and bruised mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I wanted help and knew I needed help, even in the condition I was in, I knew I needed this place.”

Was Magnolia Creek something different?

When she arrived at Magnolia Creek, she met with Dietitian, Lucy Abruscato, who knew she was in the right place to fully recover. “When I met with my treatment team, I knew there was something different about this place. I instantly felt like I was cared for, understood, and listened too. Nobody judged me.” Magnolia Creek instills a sense of hope and empowerment by partnering with clients to be an active participant in their treatment. Marie immediately saw that she was in a supportive atmosphere designed to help her find a renewed hope and recover her life.

Marie will tell you that her eating disorder was stubborn, but she knew she was supposed to heal, “I was saved from death. I knew I had to put in the work, surrender to the process, and do what they were telling me to do. I had to put my whole heart into it. When things got tough, I knew I was on the right path.”

For six months, Marie worked hard to recover from anorexia. When times were hard, she worked harder. She knew she was onto something.  Creative Arts was helpful in allowing Marie to express herself in ways she never thought she could. She learned her eating disorder did not define her.

The Family Program at Magnolia Creek also helped to bring her family closer. The Family Workshop is a two-day, intensive program that provides eating disorder education, communication, and boundary setting techniques, interactive groups, and family therapy sessions. For Marie, this workshop provided an opportunity for her parents and siblings to come and understand how her eating disorder not only affected her but her family.  They learned what motivated Marie and through activities such as affirmations and amends, they stimulated discussions and conflict resolution.

Life After Magnolia Creek

Marie came to Magnolia Creek broken, ashamed, and feeling worthless, “I never believed I was pretty or worth anything, but that changed. Self-awareness can be so scary; it can be used to spiral or to look at yourself and say, ‘ok what do we do about this.'” Daily self-affirmations helped her understand she didn’t need to be ashamed. Today she believes what she wrote. She knows she is worth something, “I want to be my best friend. No one knows what I need to hear better than I do.”

During one of her final visits with Primary Therapist, Leah Riley, they discussed her next steps. She told Leah she knew she had to go into the world and find her purpose. She set goals and is ready to do what she wants to do.  Marie is ready to rebuild her life.

“I came to Magnolia Creek not knowing my purpose, so I didn’t believe I had one. Today that has changed. Even though I don’t know what my purpose is, I believe that I have one, and it is going to be a grand adventure to find out what it is!”

The post Broken and Ashamed: Marie’s Eating Disorder Story appeared first on Magnolia Creek.

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Mary was 17 years old when her eating disorder began; it consumed her life, as is this case with so many women who suffer. Due to the stigma often surrounding eating disorders and the confusion surrounding the symptoms, many women do not seek treatment. However, Mary was different.

She had tried to heal herself for some time, but finally reached a point where she needed more. She needed the kind of help that Magnolia Creek provides. Suffering from anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia and a co-occurring substance use disorder, Mary had reached her breaking point. “I chose Magnolia Creek based on my conversations with Michelle Kalz, she helped me understand that this place was different, and from the moment I arrived, I knew she was right.  Magnolia Creek was like something I had never experienced.”

What is treatment like at Magnolia Creek?

Mary was immediately taken by the beautiful and serene setting of Magnolia Creek. The thirty-six wooded acres provide the perfect place for healing for our clients. She was also drawn to the personal attention that our clients receive the minute they arrive.

“At Magnolia Creek they get to know each woman on a personal level. They know what to say, and go that extra mile. From admissions to the therapists to the counselors, they understood me.”

Mary was suffering from not only an eating disorder but also a co-occurring substance use disorder. Magnolia Creek, dually licensed as an eating disorder and mental health treatment center, can tailor the program for a co-occurring substance use disorder. “It was so important that Magnolia Creek could also treat my substance use disorder. They didn’t just treat the behavior of my illnesses, they got to the cause,” shares Mary.

Our Addictive Behaviors group focuses on examining the root of maladaptive behaviors, triggers, and the emotions connected to these behaviors, and allows clients to explore the various means used to cope with perceived negative emotions. Magnolia Creek works with each client to create a customized treatment plan that nourishes the body and strengthens the spirit.  For those struggling with addictive behavior, we believe that 12-step integration is an essential tool. We provide psychoeducation on the 12-steps as well as regular times for weekly client-led meetings, and off-site meetings if needed.

Our holistic approach to treatment provides clients with regular one-on-one sessions with primary and family therapists, dietitians, and medical staff.  The Body Appreciation group was helpful for Mary, and she found it to be a safe place to go when she was feeling so vulnerable. Body Appreciation helps clients to process and address the contributing factors of poor body image and learn skills to improve their body image in the long run. Mary also benefited from the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group, which focuses on practicing skill building by identifying distress tolerance skills, engaging in mindfulness, learning how to regulate emotions, and developing interpersonal skills. She shared, “The DBT group helped me to learn to handle stress and learn coping skills to move back into the world. The skills help me look at the way I view my body.”

At Magnolia Creek, we also have certified dietitians who help educate clients on nutrition-related topics, including the importance of a healthy lifestyle, nutrition content, food advertising, and other nutrition-related concerns. For Mary, this was a vital part of her treatment, “Education was key for me, especially with the orthorexia. Lucy helped alleviate so many of the myths surrounding food. She was a constant encourager, and you could tell she genuinely cared for me.”

The Cooking Group was also an essential element in Mary’s treatment, “Daryl was great and was able to introduce variety. He was so compassionate to each person and their struggles.” The Cooking Group allows clients to learn and implement cooking skills and create a balanced meal with chef supervision. The chef works to enhance awareness of kitchen tools and food safety. Clients learn how to judge food expirations, and how to cook food in ways that sustain nutrient.

What is life like after Magnolia Creek?

Today Mary is living a life free from her eating disorder, “I don’t think about food with an ill intention now; I am comfortable with food and my body. I feel good now about my eating disorder.” She is also attending AA meetings and seeing her therapist regularly. Magnolia Creek made a difference in Mary’s life

“Awareness is huge for me, and Magnolia Creek helped me become aware of what I am doing and what I am feeling. Your success depends on your commitment to treatment, and you have to want to be healed.  Sometimes people are not ready.  I am ready to live my best life.  Magnolia Creek is encouraging; it is a hidden gem.”

The post How Magnolia Creek Made a Difference in Mary’s Life appeared first on Magnolia Creek.

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We know the seriousness of eating disorders; the statistics speak for themselves – over 30 million people will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder in their lifetime. And we know eating disorders are a severe mental illness, with anorexia nervosa topping the list as having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Staggering numbers for a mental illness that can take devastating effects on individuals and families.

Salley knows these effects all too well as she is part of the 30 million that has suffered from an eating disorder. Today she finds herself on the road to recovery, but unlike many others, anorexia has been part of Salley’s life for 45 years. Now in her 60’s, Salley is facing her disorder head-on.

The Freshman 15

Like so many, Salley developed anorexia when she began college. Freshman year is an exciting time with new friends and new experiences. But first comes orientation, then classes, and then the legendary “Freshman 15,” the 15 extra pounds that freshman women, in particular, think are destined to acquire. For Salley, this was the trigger; this is what set her life to intersect with an eating disorder. She recalls, “Everyone hears about and even dreads the “Freshman 15,” but I decided I was not going to give in, I was determined to dig my heels in and beat it.”

People often forget that eating disorders are not about food, and they are not a choice; they are a result of a much deeper issue. For Salley, it was about managing her feelings and emotions and a sense of being out of control. Like so many freshmen, Salley was immersed in the uncertainty of the new experiences and emotions that college brings – feelings of homesickness, of the fear of failure, of being inadequate, to name a few.  While Salley was feeling overwhelmed and out-of-control on the emotional roller coaster that can accompany significant life changes, she realized that she could control her eating and thereby her weight.

Salley’s first defense for what seemed to be the inevitable weight gain was to eat more healthily, a tough act considering she grew up in the South where fried food was the norm.  She became very careful about everything she ate and baked, broiled, or steamed what she could while cutting back on many of her favorite foods. Her determination to not gain weight and her fixation with healthy eating turned into orthorexia. Typically, orthorexia develops in two stages, with the first being the adoption of a healthy eating pattern, and the second developing as more foods are eliminated, and more focus is placed on food, preparing it, and planning meals. For Salley that meant her attention was initially only on healthy eating including avoiding fatty foods altogether. A little weight loss led to some more weight loss, and she began to spiral.

“I remember coming home from college and my mom’s concern. She tried to talk to me about my weight loss, but 45 years ago eating disorders weren’t on anyone’s radar. She expressed her deep concern and wanted to know how to help me,” Salley said.  Her mom tried to make sense of what was happening to her daughter, and in a desperate attempt to help, tried to bargain with her. “My mom told me, if I gained weight, she would lose some weight. She didn’t actually need to lose weight, but she didn’t know what else to do to get through to me.”

As college progressed, so did Salley’s disorder. Her orthorexia led to anorexia, and being very thin became her identity. She changed her major from early childhood education to nutrition, feeling that she could better control her weight if she understood more about nutrition in general. She graduated from college with a degree in nutrition and worked as a clinical dietitian before taking a sales position with a nutrition company.  Her focus for so long had been health; ironically, she was helping others regain and/or maintain their health, all while struggling with her eating disorder secret.

Many Birthdays Later

Years passed, and Salley was successful in her 20-year career in sales but carried her disorder with her. Through the years she also struggled with alcohol.  When she stopped drinking seven years ago, the eating disorder grew stronger dropping her weight to under 100 pounds.  As Salley turned 63 in March 2018, she realized she needed help. “I have had many birthdays, and I have lived my life entire adult life with anorexia. It finally took one person to make me realize I needed help,” she recalls. Her daughter at 27 years old was beginning to battle her own eating disorder.  Just like her mother so many years ago, Salley became deeply concerned for her daughter and didn’t want her to suffer, “I knew the path she was headed down, and I didn’t want her to go through what I had been through.”

Salley had been seeing a therapist for quite some time, and during one session she asked, “What can I do to help my daughter?” Her therapist gave her a card with the name and number of an eating disorder specialist and the message, “the best way to help your daughter is to help yourself.” Salley knew she needed help and had for quite some time, so she followed up on the referral. She began seeing the psychiatrist and attending a FED (Friends and Family of those with Eating Disorders) support group. She also began attending a second support group, ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders). Slowly she began talking about her illness but remained guarded and still more concerned about her daughter than herself.  At an ANAD meeting the therapist who was facilitating the meeting asked Salley if she would consider residential treatment; deflecting the attention, she quickly responded, “sure, why not,” and the door opened.

Magnolia Creek Offers Hope

One of Salley’s main criteria for a residential treatment facility was that it be within a 4-hour drive from Atlanta.   Her search first lead her to a facility in North Carolina, however; after several phone conversations, she realized that this facility was not a good fit.  When she called Magnolia Creek, a voice on the other end understood her struggle like no one else had. “Alycia answered the phone, and she made the difference. She understood my past struggles with alcohol just as easily as she did my anorexia. She told me both of my disorders were like Dracula sucking the life from me, and Magnolia Creek could help me, Magnolia Creek was my answer. Had it not been for that phone call with her, I don’t know if I would have come to Magnolia Creek, she is the one that made the impact.”

Salley accepted that where she was in her life was unhealthy, and Magnolia Creek was her turning point. “My daughter was my mirror, and I was originally doing it for her.  To be successful, I understood I needed to shift gears and make it about me,” she shared.  As Salley packed and prepared to leave for Magnolia Creek, she realized that her journey had become about her recovery.

“When I first arrived at Magnolia Creek, I was honestly shell-shocked. I was scared and barely putting one foot in front of the other, but I had reached a point of total surrender. Everyone at Magnolia Creek, regardless of their role, just exuded, ‘I am here to help you,’” Salley remembers.

While at Magnolia Creek, the most significant impact on her was the staff.  “I never questioned their instructions or the overall protocol. I knew these people genuinely cared about me and my recovery. Their care for me was powerful.” Salley recalls, “The staff counselors were with me day in and day out. They have a tough job.  I felt that they took me under their wing from day one; these amazing, and professional people were so kind and encouraging.  They did their job so well and made a huge difference in my recovery.”

A Healthy Place

Today Salley is home and continuing her recovery.  She has a therapist and a dietitian and attends support groups. “I am in a healthy place now and am surrounding myself with as much support as I can. I have been sick for a very long time and I know I need help to stay healthy,” she shares.

“I hear my daughter say, ‘You are so brave, Mom,’ and that supports and encourages me. She and I are very honest with each other. My journey is mine, and her journey is hers. We will support each other through this, but we can’t do each other’s work.  I now know this.”

The post Anorexia: The Real Story appeared first on Magnolia Creek.

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It is hard for people to understand that eating disorders are not a choice, they are not a lifestyle. Someone with an eating disorder is not trying to garner attention; they are not choosing to battle a life-altering mental health condition.

Eating disorders are an illness that takes control over someone as they struggle with disordered beliefs about their weight and shape, lack of self-esteem, and the constant societal emphasis placed on body image. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are only some of the eating disorders affecting someone’s physical and mental health and lead to severe consequences. 

How does an eating disorder begin?

Eating disorders don’t happen overnight; they can develop over the course of a few months or a few years. Like with any mental health condition, eating disorders, begin differently for each person. For some, it may be losing a few pounds and enjoying the way their body looks with less weight, for others it may be finding comfort in food, and still, for others, it may begin due to depression, stressful triggers, or trauma.

Those with anorexia have significant weight loss from restricting calories, often not realizing how underweight they may be and perceiving themselves as “fat,” despite a dangerously low body weight. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition and claims the lives of an estimated 10-20% individuals due to complications. Associated with a distorted sense of body image, anorexia is closely linked to depression.

Bulimia is characterized by cycles of binge eating followed by purging the body of unwanted calories. The sequence can be triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, and a lack of control. Individuals who have bulimia might feel regret after a binge, but find comfort and well-being following a purge. Purging can bring a sense of control and ease in the stress and anxiety someone may be feeling.  Often consuming between 3,400 calories in as little as an hour or as many as 20,000 calories in eight hours, those with bulimia may repeat the cycle several times in a week.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. The frequent sessions of binge eating leaves individuals feeling out of control and ashamed, often leading to depression. Little is known about the cause of binge eating disorder or why it develops, but it is sometimes linked to genetic disposition, depression, anxiety, and weight discrimination.

While there is no one true cause, several combined factors can produce an eating disorder. Individuals with a family history of eating disorders are more likely to engage in eating disordered behaviors, as well as those who have a history of depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many experts believe eating disorders develop when neurotransmitters in the brain become unbalanced, one being serotonin, which has a central role in anxiety and depression, both common in anorexia and bulimia. Brain scans have shown that individuals with these disorders get too little of serotonin.  Other contributing factors leading to eating disorders can include stress, anxiety, and substance abuse.

What about treatment?

Seeking treatment can be difficult, but can be successful in helping to recover from an eating disorder. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder receive treatment. Eating disorders involve complex relationships between emotions, coping, food, control, and obsessions, making it difficult sometimes to recognize the problem. Many individuals, as well as their friends and family, do not see changes in eating behavior as a sign of an eating disorder. Letting go of established thought patterns and responses can be scary, and many months or years may slip by before taking the step to seek treatment.

Treatment, such as that at Magnolia Creek, can help the brain and the body heal and recover, providing someone with the ability to relearn and trust their thoughts and behaviors.  Our holistic approach utilizes evidence-based therapy such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help clients:

  • Eliminate eating disordered behaviors
  • Identify adaptive skills to cope with life stressors
  • Develop a healthy relationship with exercise
  • Restore weight (within ideal body weight range)
  • Establish healthy eating patterns a healthy relationship with food/fluids
  • Practice food-related life skills (including grocery shopping, menu planning, cooking, and appropriately portioning food)
  • Distinguish emotional and physical hunger/fullness cues
  • Identify and challenge food/body related cognitive distortions

Our professional treatment team works with each client to develop a customized treatment plan that meets their individual needs and nourishes the body and strengthens the spirit. We look beyond the symptoms and behaviors of the eating disorder to help our clients recover, and not just manage their eating disorder.

The post Did you choose your eating disorder? appeared first on Magnolia Creek.

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“You would be a knockout if you lost weight.”

“You need to eat and put some meat on your bones.”

“There is no way that is going to fit you.”

“Are you really going to eat all that?”

“You are SO fat!”

“Your body is disgusting.”

Words matter, and have the power to hurt. Even when we don’t realize it, words can cause someone to pause and pursue unrealistic expectations about their body. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, about 65% of people with eating disorders say that bullying contributed to their condition. Negative connotations about weight and body image can lead to low self-esteem, social isolation, poor body image, and has also been shown to directly contribute to the development of eating disorders.

What is Body Shaming?

Body shaming and fat shaming is the same as bullying, whether it be in person, or online. It is the act or practice of negatively judging someone based on their physical appearance. Typically, people are body shamed when they appear overweight or underweight or don’t fit society’s view of “thin and beautiful”. Our culture loves the ideology of a perfect body, whether it be in print, movies, television, or online, seeing someone who doesn’t fit the mold isn’t considered acceptable to some.

Research conducted by the Yale Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity found:

  • Peer victimization can be directly predicted by weight
  • 64% of students enrolled in weight-loss programs reported experiencing weight-based victimization
  • 33% of girls and 25% of boys report weight-based teasing from peers, but prevalence rates increase to approximately 60% among the heaviest students
  • 84% of students observed students perceived as overweight being called names or getting teased during physical activities

While body shaming has been in society for quite some time, the internet and social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, have brought it to an all-time high. With millions of users signing-on each day, social media platforms open the door for individuals and companies to share unrealistic expectations of an ideal body. Technology has made the focus on appearance easier and given way to a platform that invites body shaming and bullying more frequently.

  • Instagram is one of the most used social media networks with over 200 million users daily
  • Snapchat has 161 million users daily
  • Approximately 65.8% of US companies use Twitter for marketing purposes

“Keyboard courage” plays a key role in making hurtful and derogatory comments toward others online. It is easy to shame someone when behind a screen, making them feel inadequate. Posting body-shaming comments to those they know and don’t know, leaves individuals feeling as if there are no repercussions for their words.

Do words matter to someone’s mental health?

For Megan, her 6-year battle with anorexia began when a close friend said, I finally got the abs I’ve always wanted, and look at you with all that belly fat.” Was it meant to cause harm? Probably not, but the effect was life-threatening. The friend’s words lit a match in Megan and set her on the path for an eating disorder. Although she had a supportive family, she hid her disorder. For years, Megan counted calories, looked in the mirror constantly, worked out obsessively, and lived in baggy clothing, ashamed of her body.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, among overweight and obese adults, those who experience weight-based stigmatization:

  • Engage in more frequent binge eating
  • Are at an increased risk to develop eating disorder symptoms
  • Are more likely to have a binge eating disorder
  • 79% of weight-loss program participants report eating more to cope with weight stigma

We often think of body shaming as only happening to people like Megan, but the truth is, nobody is immune from harmful words about their appearance.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, singer Kesha opened up about her experience, “It became a vicious cycle: When I compared myself to others, I would read more mean comments, which only fed my anxiety and depression. Seeing paparazzi photos of myself and the accompanying catty commentary fueled my eating disorder. The sick irony was that when I was at some of the lowest points in my life, I kept hearing how much better I looked. I knew I was destroying my body with my eating disorder, but the message I was getting was that I was doing great.”

Olympic gold medalist Ali Raisman shared how at a young age, words played a role in her body image, “In seventh grade, I was wearing a tank top at school, and one of the boys told me my arms were disgusting. So, I didn’t wear a tank top to school ever again. Thinking about that makes me so sad because I let one kid affect how I see myself.”

Not only does social media and society play a role in body shaming and bullying, but even family members also make us see ourselves differently. Approximately 40% of higher weight kids are teased about their weight by peers or family members. Weight-based stigmatization at home can lead to binge eating, weight gain, and drastic weight control measures. Negative comments make someone vulnerable and lead to an unrealistic expectation about their body.

Supporting those who are victims of negative comments is critical. Listen to them and emphasize that it is not their fault. Knowing they have support can make a difference in preventing an eating disorder or other mental health issues. For families it is critical to set a good example and avoid teasing others about their weight or talking negatively about other people’s bodies, including your own.

How do you help someone with an eating disorder?

Over 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. And just as Megan did, they struggle in silence. Megan’s dad was unaware of her disorder and chalked her changes in mood and eating habits up to adolescence. Megan’s mom noticed the changes also, and confronted her daughter. As Megan poured out her heart and relived the emotional words that sent her spiraling, she began to feel hopeful.

“I had a feeling something was wrong,” Meagan recalls, “but thought I could manage it. There’s this idea if a person is suffering they should just figure it out — that you’re weak if you ask for help. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I finally opened up to Mom, I began to realize how much trouble I was really in.”

While only 20% of those who suffer from an eating disorder seek treatment, 60% of those who do make a full recovery.  Therapeutic environments, like Magnolia Creek, are designed to support individuals as they explore the contributing factors related to their eating disorder. At Magnolia Creek, clients engage in regular one-on-one sessions with the entire treatment team, which includes the primary and family therapists, dietitians, and medical staff. In a supportive environment, we work with our clients to develop a customized treatment plan that identifies treatment goals and provides the support needed to achieve and maintain the desired change.

Our evidence-based treatment model integrates experiential therapy and activities designed to build confidence, challenge distorted thinking, and help clients develop effective coping skills through experience and metaphor.  Weekly, clients meet with their dietitian to examine personal dietary needs, discuss food preferences, and develop an individualized meal plan.

Magnolia Creek strives to ensure that no one ever feels they are alone in their eating disorder recovery, and we believe that healing and recovery are possible.

Singer Demi Lovato has been outspoken about her eating disorder and bipolar journey. As a role model and an advocate for mental health, she stresses the importance of being open and honest, “It was really hard to talk about on camera,” Demi admits, “but I knew that if I were honest, it would help somebody understand.” She adds, “Sometimes I’m not perfect with my recovery and my eating issues, but I keep fighting. And I want people to see that.”

As we live in a time of social movement and activism, then we should be mindful and aware of words that can lead to life-altering consequences. Demi adds, “I wish I could have told myself that I was beautiful, from my future self,” she says. “People are still going to love you, and you’re beautiful just the way that you are.”

The post Words Have Power: Can they lead to an eating disorder? appeared first on Magnolia Creek.

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“You would be a knockout if you lost weight.”

“You need to eat and put some meat on your bones.”

“There is no way that is going to fit you.”

“Are you really going to eat all that?”

“You are SO fat!”

“Your body is disgusting.”

Words matter, and have the power to hurt. Even when we don’t realize it, words can cause someone to pause and pursue unrealistic expectations about their body. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, about 65% of people with eating disorders say that bullying contributed to their condition. Negative connotations about weight and body image can lead to low self-esteem, social isolation, poor body image, and has also been shown to directly contribute to the development of eating disorders.

What is Body Shaming?

Body shaming and fat shaming is the same as bullying, whether it be in person, or online. It is the act or practice of negatively judging someone based on their physical appearance. Typically, people are body shamed when they appear overweight or underweight or don’t fit society’s view of “thin and beautiful”. Our culture loves the ideology of a perfect body, whether it be in print, movies, television, or online, seeing someone who doesn’t fit the mold isn’t considered acceptable to some.

Research conducted by the Yale Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity found:

  • Peer victimization can be directly predicted by weight
  • 64% of students enrolled in weight-loss programs reported experiencing weight-based victimization
  • 33% of girls and 25% of boys report weight-based teasing from peers, but prevalence rates increase to approximately 60% among the heaviest students
  • 84% of students observed students perceived as overweight being called names or getting teased during physical activities

While body shaming has been in society for quite some time, the internet and social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, have brought it to an all-time high. With millions of users signing-on each day, social media platforms open the door for individuals and companies to share unrealistic expectations of an ideal body. Technology has made the focus on appearance easier and given way to a platform that invites body shaming and bullying more frequently.

  • Instagram is one of the most used social media networks with over 200 million users daily
  • Snapchat has 161 million users daily
  • Approximately 65.8% of US companies use Twitter for marketing purposes

“Keyboard courage” plays a key role in making hurtful and derogatory comments toward others online. It is easy to shame someone when behind a screen, making them feel inadequate. Posting body-shaming comments to those they know and don’t know, leaves individuals feeling as if there are no repercussions for their words.

Do words matter to someone’s mental health?

For Megan, her 6-year battle with anorexia began when a close friend said, I finally got the abs I’ve always wanted, and look at you with all that belly fat.” Was it meant to cause harm? Probably not, but the effect was life-threatening. The friend’s words lit a match in Megan and set her on the path for an eating disorder. Although she had a supportive family, she hid her disorder. For years, Megan counted calories, looked in the mirror constantly, worked out obsessively, and lived in baggy clothing, ashamed of her body.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, among overweight and obese adults, those who experience weight-based stigmatization:

  • Engage in more frequent binge eating
  • Are at an increased risk to develop eating disorder symptoms
  • Are more likely to have a binge eating disorder
  • 79% of weight-loss program participants report eating more to cope with weight stigma

We often think of body shaming as only happening to people like Megan, but the truth is, nobody is immune from harmful words about their appearance.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, singer Kesha opened up about her experience, “It became a vicious cycle: When I compared myself to others, I would read more mean comments, which only fed my anxiety and depression. Seeing paparazzi photos of myself and the accompanying catty commentary fueled my eating disorder. The sick irony was that when I was at some of the lowest points in my life, I kept hearing how much better I looked. I knew I was destroying my body with my eating disorder, but the message I was getting was that I was doing great.”

Olympic gold medalist Ali Raisman shared how at a young age, words played a role in her body image, “In seventh grade, I was wearing a tank top at school, and one of the boys told me my arms were disgusting. So, I didn’t wear a tank top to school ever again. Thinking about that makes me so sad because I let one kid affect how I see myself.”

Not only does social media and society play a role in body shaming and bullying, but even family members also make us see ourselves differently. Approximately 40% of higher weight kids are teased about their weight by peers or family members. Weight-based stigmatization at home can lead to binge eating, weight gain, and drastic weight control measures. Negative comments make someone vulnerable and lead to an unrealistic expectation about their body.

Supporting those who are victims of negative comments is critical. Listen to them and emphasize that it is not their fault. Knowing they have support can make a difference in preventing an eating disorder or other mental health issues. For families it is critical to set a good example and avoid teasing others about their weight or talking negatively about other people’s bodies, including your own.

How do you help someone with an eating disorder?

Over 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. And just as Megan did, they struggle in silence. Megan’s dad was unaware of her disorder and chalked her changes in mood and eating habits up to adolescence. Megan’s mom noticed the changes also, and confronted her daughter. As Megan poured out her heart and relived the emotional words that sent her spiraling, she began to feel hopeful.

“I had a feeling something was wrong,” Meagan recalls, “but thought I could manage it. There’s this idea if a person is suffering they should just figure it out — that you’re weak if you ask for help. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I finally opened up to Mom, I began to realize how much trouble I was really in.”

While only 20% of those who suffer from an eating disorder seek treatment, 60% of those who do make a full recovery.  Therapeutic environments, like Magnolia Creek, are designed to support individuals as they explore the contributing factors related to their eating disorder. At Magnolia Creek, clients engage in regular one-on-one sessions with the entire treatment team, which includes the primary and family therapists, dietitians, and medical staff. In a supportive environment, we work with our clients to develop a customized treatment plan that identifies treatment goals and provides the support needed to achieve and maintain the desired change.

Our evidence-based treatment model integrates experiential therapy and activities designed to build confidence, challenge distorted thinking, and help clients develop effective coping skills through experience and metaphor.  Weekly, clients meet with their dietitian to examine personal dietary needs, discuss food preferences, and develop an individualized meal plan.

Magnolia Creek strives to ensure that no one ever feels they are alone in their eating disorder recovery, and we believe that healing and recovery are possible.

Singer Demi Lovato has been outspoken about her eating disorder and bipolar journey. As a role model and an advocate for mental health, she stresses the importance of being open and honest, “It was really hard to talk about on camera,” Demi admits, “but I knew that if I were honest, it would help somebody understand.” She adds, “Sometimes I’m not perfect with my recovery and my eating issues, but I keep fighting. And I want people to see that.”

As we live in a time of social movement and activism, then we should be mindful and aware of words that can lead to life-altering consequences. Demi adds, “I wish I could have told myself that I was beautiful, from my future self,” she says. “People are still going to love you, and you’re beautiful just the way that you are.”

The post Words Have Power: Can they lead to an eating disorder? appeared first on Magnolia Creek.

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