Experiential therapy includes multiple expressive approaches such as role-playing, art therapy, music, animal care, yoga, or various forms of recreation. Unlike talk therapy, experiential therapy encourages individuals to address hidden issues through activities and interactions. Our clients will often begin to identify emotions associated with success, disappointment, responsibility, and self-esteem related to their eating disordered behaviors. The certified therapists at Magnolia Creek work with clients to release and explore the negative feelings of anger, hurt, or shame as they relate to their past experiences.
In addition to traditional and group therapy, Magnolia Creek offers experiential therapies such as art, yoga, cooking group, and equine therapy; each helping clients overcome obstacles that have led to their eating disorder, develop a greater sense of self-awareness, and find new ways to express and nurture themselves.
Mindful Movement, Gentle Movement, Yoga
Our yoga therapy is designed for those with little to no experience with basic yoga practice. Jennifer Howell, our certified Yoga Therapist, meets with clients three days a week to help them positively reconnect with their bodies. Since some clients have different levels of experience, she uses simple movements to stretch and warm-up the body and tailors the pace to each person. Jennifer uses yoga therapy as an opportunity to teach the clients how to be gentle with themselves, gain confidence, and to try something they may have never tried before.
“I have found that using yoga therapy in eating disorder treatment helps clients deal with their fear. They find their strength as they are given a space to reflect and discover how they relate to themselves and the world around them,” says Jennifer.
While some may find yoga to be challenging or boring, Jennifer teaches that performing the various movements gives the body new freedom to increase flexibility, develop balance, breath awareness, and strength. As the women are placed into challenging positions that stretch the body, they can relate it to the negative self-talk and body image that often accompanies eating disorders. Overcoming personal challenges related to their bodies, behaviors, and negative thinking reveals valuable insights about themselves that aid in their recovery.
Art therapy is used to help clients explore their feelings using the creative process. Unlike talk therapy, art therapy allows the women to examine difficult places in their lives and reconcile emotional conflicts without having to talk about it. Nicole Barton, Magnolia Creek Art Therapist, says, “I become very aware of people and the conflicts in their life. You can tell a lot about a person and where they are in their journey by the colors and materials they choose and how they express themselves in their art. This process gives them a way to find healing through creativity, and a way to learn trust as they work through the creation process. Art is perfectly imperfect, and there are no expectations, no bar to reach.” The creative journey is part of the foundation of recovery and encourages clients to foster self-awareness, learn skills to manage their behaviors and addictions, reduce their anxiety and depression, and increase their self-esteem and self-worth.
In the cooking group, clients learn and implement cooking skills, and how to cook food in ways that sustain nutrients. Clients are also encouraged to learn how to not only prepare meals for themselves but how to multitask in the kitchen to cook for others. As with other experiential therapies, clients are invited to be creative and choose dishes outside of their comfort zone. This group also helps clients learn to utilize a team environment to create their final dishes. We utilize the cooking group to empower clients in taking the lead to meet their nutritional requirements through meal planning and preparation.
Like us, horses are very social. Unlike us, they are very accepting and nonjudgmental. Horses can sense our emotions and communicate with us through their reactions. For example, if you are anxious around a horse, they may react by shying away or acting skittish. A horse’s response can help us to see how we act and think consciously and unconsciously which in turn can help us identify our feelings and begin to cope with our emotions. As clients become more comfortable with the horse, it helps them process their negative emotions surrounding their eating disorder and develop behavioral changes they can apply to their recovery journey, and relationships with others.
At Magnolia Creek, our experiential therapies are designed to use these encounters and insights as a tool to promote healing and growth as the clients build confidence, challenge distorted thinking, and develop effective coping skills. We have seen great success as these therapies are contributing factors in helping clients transition back to life outside of treatment.
People often think of eating disorders, such as bulimia, and substance use disorders as separate conditions; however, there is often an overlap between the two. Research shows that roughly 50% of individuals suffering from an eating disorder are also abusing drugs and/or alcohol, a rate that is five times greater than that of the general population.
Studies show that individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa have a 50% higher rate of alcohol use when compared to those without an eating disorder. The connection between bulimia and addiction is strengthened as substance use often leads to a lack of hunger and increased food restriction, which can lead to binging episodes later.
Similarities between Eating Disorders and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders
Eating disorders and addiction share common characteristics as they both affect brain and body functions, and emotional health. Like eating disorders, substance use disorders have a strong genetic factor, as well as links to environmental and psychological factors.
Substance abuse and eating disorders may be two very diverse issues, but they both have similar causes. The behaviors may look very different, but the truth is that those struggling with an eating disorder and/or substance abuse are both hurting people as they search for a way to cope, to numb, to feel better. Substance use disorders often co-occur with eating disorders, such as bulimia, as methods to manage negative emotions or traumatic experiences or to self-medicate mental health conditions.
Laura Cordova, Primary Therapist at Magnolia Creek, adds, “I see many connections between substance use and eating disorders, mainly the use of the maladaptive behaviors of binging and purging, drinking, or using substances, and the need to cope with underlying trauma. I also believe trauma may be one of the primary links between substance abuse and eating disorders. Research shows high correlations between substance use and trauma, as well as eating disorders and trauma.”
Bulimia and Substance Use
Bulimia nervosa involves a cycle of binge eating followed by behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or over-exercise to rid the body of the food consumed. As the frequency of the binge-purge cycle increases, the pattern becomes more firmly engrained in the brain.
As a person engages in the binge-purge cycle, and then uses a substance, the brain is altered to strengthen the desire to continue to use the substance. The brains structure and neural pathways, which are responsible for reward and pleasure, are changed to increase the symptoms of both disorders. Feelings of shame and guilt, both common in bulimia and addiction, often follow the binge-purge episode, and substances are frequently used to subdue these emotions.
Laura adds, “One common theme we see in eating disorder therapy is a connection between cocaine and Adderall use in efforts to suppress appetite and lose weight. Client’s with bulimia may use drugs to suppress their appetite in between binging and purging episodes. This substance use often develops into addiction over time.”
Treatment for Eating Disorders and Co-occurring Substance Abuse
Treatment for eating disorders and co-occurring substance use disorder needs to address both conditions simultaneously. In addition to treating the addictive behaviors, addressing the root cause of the addiction is needed to promote healing and establish coping skills. At Magnolia Creek, we provide a holistic approach designed to support each client as they explore the contributing factors related to their eating disorder and co-occurring substance abuse. In combination with individual and group therapy sessions centered around addictive behaviors and recovery, we believe 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.
Our clinical team works with the client to provide a customized treatment approach using an evidence-based treatment model that integrates experiential therapy and activities such as art, psychodrama, ropes, movement, and recreational outings to build confidence, challenge distorted thinking, and help clients develop effective coping skills through experience and metaphor. We are committed to helping our clients develop the skills they need to establish abstinence and begin maintaining recovery.
During February, the Eating Disorders Information Network (EDIN) sponsors Love My Body month, which encourages individuals to love their bodies, and it promotes numerous community events for education, networking opportunities, and support groups for those in recovery or family members of someone struggling. February is also the time in which we raise awareness about eating disorders during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week spearheaded by the National Eating Disorders Association.
As we begin to focus on raising the awareness of eating disorders, it is important to know that help is available if you think you have an eating disorder. Seeking treatment for an eating disorder can be one of the most challenging steps to take. You may fear that nobody understands, but Magnolia Creek does.
What Makes Magnolia Creek Different?
Magnolia Creek is the place where you can come and be all of who you are without judgement. We offer a multi-disciplinary team to renew your hope, restore your health, and recover your life.
Our professional clinicians partner with clients and encourage them to be an active participant in their treatment. We instill a sense of hope and empowerment as clients learn recovery is possible through:
A safe, therapeutic environment designed to support each client as they explore the contributing factors related to their eating disorder. Clients work to challenge the negative thoughts and behaviors that prevent them from living fully and freely.
Focused and individual care with regular one-on-one sessions with the entire treatment team, which includes the primary and family therapists, dietitians, and medical staff. 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 strength-based and collaborative program looks beyond the symptoms and behaviors of an eating disorder to honor the strength within. We emphasize acceptance, validation, and empowerment at every stage of treatment. Magnolia Creek uses an evidence-based treatment model that integrates experiential therapy and activities such as art, psychodrama, ropes, movement, and recreational outings to build confidence, challenge distorted thinking, and help clients develop effective coping skills through experience and metaphor.
In addition to group and individual therapy, each client meets weekly with a dietitian
to examine personal dietary needs, discuss food preferences, and develop an individualized meal plan. Clients also engage in physical activity to learn a healthy and balanced relationship with exercise. We work with clients to design movement plans that promote overall wellness while accommodating medical conditions and physical needs.
Our treatment model is designed to promote healing and growth while preparing our clients
to transition back to life outside of treatment. We understand that the most difficult time can be when a client leaves treatment. An essential element to a successful recovery is the continuity between treatment and home, and we strive to facilitate a smooth transition through:
Planning During Treatment: Developing an aftercare plan begins early in the treatment process to ensure clients have the needed resources and support following discharge. We work with each client to assemble and locate a treatment team of doctors, therapists, dietitians, and other support professionals they may need once they return home.
Support After Treatment: For 18 months following discharge, our staff regularly checks in with each client to provide encouragement and connect clients with any resources that may further support them at every stage of their recovery journey.
Magnolia Creek believes that healing and recovery are possible, and we want to ensure that no one ever feels they are alone in their eating disorder recovery. As we approach the occasion to further educate our community about eating disorders, now is the time to take the step to live life freely.
“I knew I was in a safe place where I could let my guard down and cry. It was comforting to know that everyone was not looking at me in a certain way because of what I did. I realized they understood what I was dealing with.” – Former Magnolia Creek Client
Practicing self-care is an essential part of eating disorder recovery. Self-care does not have to be extravagant, it is simple, thoughtful ways of tending to your physical, emotional, mental, and psychological care. When you are in recovery from an eating disorder, self-care can help you to efficiently cope with stressors and triggers such as anxiety and fatigue. Although it can seem counter-intuitive to put ourselves first sometimes, regular self-care is a vital part of sustaining recovery.
As you navigate through the food and family gatherings of the holidays, prioritizing some of these self-care tips should be at the top of your list.
Notice how you feel. Paying attention to your feelings and needs is important. Do you need time alone or with friends? Do you need to get outside or curl up with a good book? Stay open to your feelings throughout the day and respect your needs at the moment.
Clear your mind. Take time each day to clear your mind. We often forget that we can rejuvenate our minds and bodies by merely breathing. Taking a deep breath and focusing on yourself is one of the kindest things you can do.
Try something new.Take every day as an opportunity to try something new – a new hobby or recipe, sit and enjoy reading a new book, or visit a new place for a hike. It doesn’t matter, just take the opportunity.
Know and honor your limits.Sometimes practicing self-care means a change of plans. Give yourself permission to choose an alternate plan if it makes you feel comfortable. Remember, your well-being is what is important.
Helping others can serve as a healthy distraction from negative thoughts and feelings. The emotional gratification can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Take a social media break. Removing yourself from social media limits comparing ourselves to others and their lives. Giving yourself a separation from the virtual world will remind you what you love about your life.
Wear what makes you feel good.Put clothes on your body that make you feel beautiful and confident, you deserve nothing less. Don’t adhere to fashion trends if they don’t make you feel good about your body.
Spend time with people who lift you higher. A key element of self-care is being selective about who you choose to spend time with. Avoid those who make you feel uncomfortable and delight in those who embrace you for who you are.
Write a letter to yourself.Those suffering from an eating disorder are often hard on themselves and tend to engage in negative self-talk. Invest time into writing a positive message to yourself, the time and energy you spend in writing personally meaningful words can reduce stress and make thriving easier.
Remind yourself of what your body can do. Always remember how much your body can do. Your body helps you to walk, laugh, love, smile, hug, and so much more. Appreciate it for these wonderful things instead of dwelling on negatives.
As a society, we often only show ourselves to others when we are feeling good, and hide when we are feeling bad. If you are struggling, know you are not alone, and you can reach out to others for support. At Magnolia Creek, our healing environment offers support without judgment to those who are struggling with an eating disorder. Our clinicians use evidence-based therapy through a holistic treatment approach that emphasizes self-acceptance, validation, and personal empowerment. As a team, we design a customized treatment plan to address the medical, nutritional, psychological, spiritual, social-emotional and behavioral needs of each client so they can fully recover, not merely manage their eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions.
Self-care is needed to nurture not only your body, but also your emotional, mental, spiritual, and social health. Regularly incorporating self-care into your life can decrease the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional health issues. It is vital to recognize your importance and devote time to take care of yourself.
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or see yourself in a picture, encompassing what you believe about your appearance, how you feel about your body, and how you feel in your body. Our perception of our body influences our mental health, our physical health, how we take care of ourselves, and how we relate to others. Those with a negative body image have a higher chance of developing an eating disorder and will often suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.
Body image statistics prove many people, even those as young as age 10, are sensitive and vulnerable to critical thoughts about themselves.
Body Image Statistics
Percent of all women who are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting
Percent of women who say the images of women in the media makes them feel insecure
Percent of college-aged girls who feel pressured to be a certain weight
Percent of girls in 1st through 3rd grade who want to be thinner
Percent of 10-year-olds who are afraid of being fat
Percent of teenage girls who are, or think they should be, on a diet
Percent of teenage girls who reported being teased about their weight
Percent of teenage boys who reported being teased about their weight
Percent of girls ages 15-17 who want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance
Percent of teen boys using unproven supplements and/or steroids
Percent of girls age 15-17 who acknowledged having an eating disorder
Percent of women who stated they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future
Percent of men who stated they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future
Total annual revenue of the weight loss industry
Total number of people with an eating disorder in the U.S.
A clear, true perception of your shape, seeing the various parts of your body as they are.
You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape, and you understand that a person’s physical appearance is not about their character or value as a person.
You feel proud and accepting of your unique body.
You feel comfortable and confident in your body.
Negative Body Image
A distorted perception of your shape, perceiving parts of your body unlike they are.
You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.
You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.
Social media has become society’s way of sharing everything in our lives and is a significant tool for influencing others and placing value on the perfect body and appearance. The National Eating Disorder Association released a study of women between the ages of 18 and 25 showing a link between Instagram and increased self-objectification and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images. Americans spend an estimated two hours a day on social media potentially exposed to unrealistic ideals of beauty, diet talk, body shaming, thinspiration, weight loss posts, and more. For someone with a negative body image, they do not see themselves as meeting the standards of the perfect body depicted in many of these posts, leading to sometimes devastating effects.
How do you develop a healthy body image?
Changing how we see our body can be a challenge, but the key to developing a positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural bodies and learn to overpower the negative thoughts and feelings. These guiding principles can help you look at your body in a positive and healthy way.
Educating yourself about social media influences can help you to understand the unattainable and unrealistic standard of size and beauty. Also, limit your exposure to social media and other media such as fashion magazines.
Make yourself aware of factors other than body size, shape, and weight represent a healthy body. Remember blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, physical fitness, or engaging in regular, enjoyable physical activity are also factors.
Regularly acknowledge parts of your body or your appearance that you like, not just your flaws.
Make a list of functions that your body performs that you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, yoga, etc. Engaging in these activities regularly will help you to feel good about your body.
Try not to continuously check your body for flaws and compare your body to bodies of others.
While these are just a few ways that can help to look at your body differently, you should seek help immediately If you notice symptoms of depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder.
How to Build a Better Body Image! Eating Disorder Video #33 - YouTube
Changing your view of your body can sometimes be difficult to do on your own, especially since negative aspects can develop over an extended period. Reaching out to a qualified mental health provider can help you make positive changes in your body image or help you to cope with your body dissatisfaction. At Magnolia Creek, our clinicians use weekly group therapy sessions to provide clients with a skill set needed to combat negative body image. Our therapeutic approach helps them understand many underlying issues cause one to fixate on their body instead of focusing on their emotions and circumstances, and helps to restore their relationship with their body.
We use treatment modalities that include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to educate clients on the connections between their emotions, cognitions, and behaviors as it relates to body image. In ACT, clients are led to explore their set of values and process how their values may be hindered or shaped by their negative perceptions of their bodies. They are then encouraged to imagine a life with less time and value placed on their negative perception of their body. In CBT, clients learn how to begin challenging negative cognitions surrounding their body and replacing those cognitions with ones that help lead to body tolerance and body acceptance. This can be very difficult for clients as many of their distorted cognitions may stem from childhood and are ingrained in them. Our clinicians also use creative writing and art therapy to aid clients in developing a better understanding of the relationship they have with their body.
Eating disorder treatment places a great deal of emphasis on one’s outer appearance, and it is vital to address not only how to challenge negative body image but also have clients journey below the surface and consider what they may be avoiding by hyper-focusing on their bodies. Laura Cordova, Primary Therapist, says, “I often ask my clients “What would you be thinking about if you were not thinking about your body right now?” which often leads them to find connections between their internal emotion and how they may avoid those emotions by focusing on their bodies.” We hope to walk beside clients as they journey toward healing their relationship with their bodies and with themselves and to begin finding self-worth that is not defined by their body.
We have entered the time of year that is full of family and social events. When your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, the holidays can become complicated. During these times of togetherness, we often struggle with what to say or how to act. Even with the best intentions, we might find ourselves searching for pleasant conversations, or avoiding our loved one altogether. The most important thing you can do is focus on taking care of your loved one, and be prepared as they may be experiencing feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and anxiety. Often people without a mental health condition have additional thoughts and feelings stirred over the holidays so it is very important to slow down and pay attention to ourselves and those we love.
Spending time with your loved one in a comfortable and positive environment using these suggestions will make the time together more enjoyable.
Use “I” statements such as “I care about you,” or “I am here for you.”
Make your loved one feel comfortable and let them know it is safe to talk to you.
Encourage them to express how they feel; it is important for you to understand their feelings.
Give your loved one time to talk, don’t rush them through conversations.
Listen to what they say without judgment or criticism.
“You don’t look sick.” There are numerous types of eating disorders, but not all of them change someone’s physical appearance drastically. Anorexia includes a weight criterion, but others do not. Most people with an eating disorder are not underweight. While you might think this is a compliment, you are sending a message that their problem isn’t real.
“You look so healthy.” It’s tempting to comment on how much better someone might look, but unfortunately, your loved one may interpret it as “You have gained weight.” A better choice of words might be, “You look happy.”
“Don’t you know you’re hurting yourself?” Although this may come from a place of caring for your loved one, it may seem condescending. A person with an eating disorder knows they are damaging their body, and that inspires their feelings of guilt and shame.
“You are making me worry.” While this may seem like a normal statement, it implies that your loved one is doing something wrong. Say “I am worried about you,” which lets them know you care and are concerned about them.
These guiding principles can make it easier for you and your loved one to enjoy your time together during the holidays. Remember, all people want to talk about things other than food and their body. Treat them like that and be there for them.
Families of those suffering from an eating disorder are dealing with something that they may have never anticipated, and often don’t understand. Research shows that there is a significantly higher rate of recovery when there is supportive family involvement. At Magnolia Creek, we support a family view in eating disorder recovery; as such, the family’s role in the treatment process is a powerful resource in the recovery journey. Our family program provides education, advocacy, and therapy for family members so they can better understand their loved one’s disorder. At the beginning of treatment, clients meet with their treatment team to establish family relationship goals; identify the family members or support system with whom they would like to work in family therapy.
Cyndi, whose daughter was in treatment at Magnolia Creek, says family therapy helped her to learn boundaries – things she could and could not say to her daughter, “I am now vigilant and aware of the way she thinks, things are perceived differently by someone with an eating disorder. We don’t make a big deal about food in our family. When your loved one is recovering from an eating disorder, it is a learning process for everyone.”
Dealing with a loved who has an eating disorder can be difficult and can throw the family out of balance. However, as your loved one recovers, family dynamics do begin to repair. Throughout the recovery journey, your loved one becomes stronger, and families can push beyond their comfort zone and deal with necessary matters to create change. While there is no cure for holiday stress and anxiety, mentally preparing yourself for the challenges ahead can help boost your mind, body, and spirit.
Lauren was in a dark place, a world out of control. Struggling with eating disorders for 15 years, she felt alone – in her mind that was how life was supposed to be. After years of hiding her eating disorder, Lauren realized that the dark place was not reality.
She began dieting in high school. It went from cutting back on certain foods, to eating every other day, to not eating at all. Her mother, Cyndi, says the hardest part of an eating disorder is watching their mind, and body deteriorate. At one point Lauren was down to 83 pounds and admitted to the hospital. “As a parent, it is a helpless feeling. No matter what we tried, or how many doctors she saw, or interventions – knowing there was nothing we could do was such a helpless feeling. I knew it was up to her.”
Aware that her daughter had previously suffered from anorexia and bulimia, Cyndi did not know Lauren continued to struggle. She was suspicious that something was wrong because of how much food Lauren was consuming while still maintaining a slim figure. “Bulimia is a mean disease, food became her drug, and she would do anything she could to get food. My heart breaks for anyone that should go through this,” she shares “It’s rough on the family; it’s rough on the loved one. It’s a mental illness – you can’t take medication and be happy. It is a different mindset. As a family, you can’t make them overcome it.”
After the birth of her nephew, Lauren realized she wanted to be there for her family. She sat down with Dr. Travis Stork on an episode of The Doctors and told her mother her secret of bulimia, and alternating between binging on junk food and purging.
“I realized that I am not alone, and it is ok to open up. Just tell one person,” she shared. For so many years Lauren felt that food was her only comfort and support. “You have to be aware that you are sick, you need someone to show you that you are not ok. You don’t need to feel ashamed or hurt yourself. Write it down if you can’t speak it – just tell one person. You don’t have to be alone,” she continued.
On that episode, Linda Smith, Executive Director at Magnolia Creek, surprised Lauren with a complimentary stay in residential treatment for her eating disorder. For Lauren, it was the turning point that changed her life. The moment she walked into Magnolia Creek, she recalls feeling like part of the family, “Everyone there took the time I needed. I was far away from home, but I was home.”
At Magnolia Creek, Lauren was in a place where there was no judging, in her eyes everyone was hurting and suffering and understood where she was. “I knew I was in a safe place where I could let my guard down and cry. It was comforting to know that everyone was not looking at me in a certain way because of what I did. I realized they understood what I was dealing with.”
Entwined in her bulimia, she was unable to think about or talk about anything but food or when she could eat. Group therapy sessions at Magnolia Creek benefited Lauren immensely, and for the first time, she could talk about something that did not revolve around food. “The best thing for me was the talking. Talking turned into laughter, and then it turned it to something I could remember. I experienced things there that I hadn’t remembered in years. For me, it was the reason to get me where I am today,” she says.
For Cyndi, Magnolia Creek gave her daughter a second chance, “They didn’t have to do what they did for us. Lauren had reached a true low in her life. At Magnolia Creek, she gave 100%, and they worked a miracle.” Magnolia Creek helped not only Lauren but also her family. They went to the family meetings and received the tools and resources they needed to help Lauren. Working with a family therapist, they learned boundaries – things they could and could not discuss with Lauren. “I am now vigilant and aware of the way Lauren thinks, things are perceived differently by someone with an eating disorder. We don’t make a big deal about food in our family. When your loved one is recovering from an eating disorder, it is a learning process for everyone.”
For those coming into treatment, Lauren says it is crucial for them to know that they should not feel ashamed. “Don’t focus on how many days you will be there, you deserve help. Relax and take it day by day. It is your time, take each day in and use it to your advantage.” She says the therapists at Magnolia Creek helped her learn to stay on track and realize that every day is a blessing.
Cyndi says parents must understand that their child may not want help, but you must be vigilant and continue to try to get them help. “As a parent, you should be patient, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid of the answers. Listen to what your gut is telling you.” Cyndi also credits support groups for parents in helping to her to gain different perspectives on how to support her child and encourages parents to reach out and talk to others.
“We have our daughter back – to hear her laugh, a deep, meaningful laugh makes my heart smile. When she was bulimic, she was angry. There is such a difference in her personality. We take family vacations, and we don’t worry about food. She goes and enjoys herself and is so happy. Our family has a newfound freedom to enjoy the moment. “
Today, Lauren is a different person. Struggling with anorexia and bulimia has been a tough road mentally, but she credits her friends, her family, and Magnolia Creek for helping her continue not to give up. “I will not go back to where I was. For those that are struggling, I will tell you that you don’t have to hurt anymore and you don’t have to be in the dark. Ask for help.”
For many people, the holidays are a time of joy and merriment, a time for family and friends to gather and enjoy each other’s company while sharing in annual traditions and abundant laughter. For most people, highlights of the holiday season include cooking and indulging in a traditional holiday meal. However, for those suffering from an eating disorder, the holidays are often a time of increased stress and anxiety. Because of the emphasis placed on food during this season, the holidays can magnify internal personal struggles and cause an increase in disordered behaviors. The combination of anxiety being around family as well as the increased focus on food can be triggering to those dealing with an eating disorder.
Why are the holidays a cause of increased anxiety for individuals suffering from an eating disorder?
The holiday season is a time of celebration, often accompanied by an assortment of special treats and meals, leaving those who struggle with an eating disorder worrying about what they will eat, how much they can allow themselves to eat, or even how long they will need to exercise to burn off the calories consumed. Also, the typical traditional holiday meals include foods that these individuals often categorize as “bad foods.” The overwhelming thoughts and emotions leading up to the holiday season can cause a more significant preoccupation with food, weight, and overall body image.
While the holiday season may be difficult for one suffering from an eating disorder, some strategies for friends and families can help them to better cope during this stressful time of year.
First, speak with the family members or other support systems before the holidays to help them better understand specific triggers and needs.
Third, make a list of relaxing and distracting activities in case your loved one becomes too overwhelmed.
Lastly, be sure to plan time for any loved ones who are struggling to mentally recharge and know that by providing space and a “get out strategy” you are supporting their recovery when they get anxious.
How to Survive Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder! Kati Morton on Bulimia, Anorexia & Psychology - YouTube
Holidays can be a very stressful time, but for those with an eating disorder, it can also be a “triggering” time. It is essential to their recovery for families and friends to be proactive and plan, making it easier for them as they transition into the holidays.
As individuals suffering from an eating disorder recover, be encouraged that hopefully one day the holiday season is no longer distressing, food and body thoughts will no longer consume them and take away their joy. This holiday season, find safe foods, follow a meal plan, and allow your loved one to step away from stressful situations in the hopes that next year, they will look forward to enjoying the season.
When I think of gratitude at Thanksgiving, my mind travels back to the “picture perfect” Thanksgiving dinners from the old Norman Rockwell prints. But, why should we only be grateful at Thanksgiving?
Giving thanks is merely an expression of gratitude. It is the art of actively opening our hearts and minds to give, receive and respond graciously. The ability to find something positive in something negative, empowers us to embrace our lives, our relationships and to appreciate what we have, tangible and intangible. Feelings of gratefulness allow us to send positive energy which promotes a good attitude and healthy mindset.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
Research shows that the those who regularly practice gratitude have an increased blood flow to the area of the brain controlling eating, drinking, sleep, metabolism and stress levels. The heightened stimulation also results in the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that produces the “feel good” sensation.
For those with an eating disorder, gratitude can be vital in helping to overcome numbness and alter your perception of life, allowing you to be a more positive person. Gratitude can give you back the happiness taken from you by your eating disorder. Practicing gratitude can become part of your daily ritual with these simple suggestions:
Make a gratitude list. Write down what you are grateful for and let it be a powerful tool in transforming a day that you might struggle into one for which you are thankful. Reflect on what you have that makes you grateful – your loved ones, shelter, or just life itself. When you are having a stressful day, look at your list and be thankful.
Find opportunity in challenges. Challenges in life are often perceived as negative, but you can transform them into a learning opportunity. Having a more positive mindset can set you free from negativity and turn you into a more positive person.
Focus on what you do have. With the constant presence of social media, we often compare ourselves to others and the things we may be lacking. Remind yourself of what you do have and be grateful for and focus on these instead.
Focus on positive affirmations. Eating disorders burden us with a weight of negativity. Practicing gratitude transforms how you perceive and treat yourself. Begin by focusing on one thing you like about yourself and turn it into a positive affirmation.
At Magnolia Creek, we believe gratitude is an important aspect of recovery. Our clients work towards developing gratitude using exercises such as developing a gratitude journal, and discussing specific topics in group sessions. In addition, we help clients develop gratitude through experiential activities. Clients volunteer at least once a month at various local non-profits and engage in projects to serve the community. Recently, our clients created hats and motivational art work for patients with breast cancer at UAB Hospital.
Through all our hardships, being able to give freely of ourselves with a positive attitude helps us to build patience, stay humble, develop a grateful heart and have hope for the future.
The binge-purge cycle of bulimia nervosa is one of intense shame for those struggling and can be a source of confusion for loved ones as to why the individual doesn’t “just stop.” First, let’s explain what we mean when we talk about the binge-purge cycle.
The binge-purge cycle is often depicted in the following manner:
Over time, the frequency of the cycle tends to increase, and this pattern becomes more firmly engrained in the brain. However, no matter the frequency or length of time that someone has engaged in this pattern it is possible to step out of it. Let’s look at ten interventions used to help break this cycle:
Decide not to restrict food or calories. People frequently wish to continue restricting calories with just cutting out the binge/purge components, making this one of the most difficult decisions to altering the cycle. However, to break the cycle, there must be a willingness to let go of calorie restriction as well as restricting types of food which can lead to feelings of deprivation. Normalizing eating patterns is essential to freedom, and a dietitian can help provide guidance in ways to do this.
Practice mindfulness. Binging and purging are methods to avoid internal experiences. Practicing mindfulness helps to process what is happening in the body and with your thoughts rather than trying to stop or change them. There are many mindfulness practices, but one I would encourage is urge surfing, which is centered on the notion that our urges and intimate experiences are ever changing and thus time limited. Urges are like a wave with a peak of intensity and then a gradual decline. When we are at the center of an urge, however, the thought that this will ever be different tends to go out the window. In urge surfing, we encourage our clients to notice what the urge or craving feels like in the body and to stay with it, noticing how the urge and the intensity change over time. Staying with the urge allows for a reach to the other side and a decrease in intensity.
Develop a plan for when urges to binge or purge hit. There are likely several things someone would rather be doing than engaging in binging or purging. However, in the heat of the moment tunnel vision sets in and the focus narrows to just binging and purging. Making a list of 5-10 things to do other than engaging in the behavior can be a helpful reminder when the urge hits.
Agree to delay binge eating or purging. An intense urge can be overwhelming and feel everlasting. Delaying the engagement in the behavior by five minutes can make the process seem less overwhelming. At the end of five minutes, a commitment to another five minutes may be possible, and perhaps the next time may be a delay to 20 minutes. Regardless of the amount of time, simply creating that space for a delay provides an opportunity for a different decision to be made rather than acting on auto pilot.
Write a letter to yourself. Writing a letter to yourself about why you don’t want to engage in the binge/purge cycle can be a helpful reminder. Think about writing a letter to your struggling self during strong urges. What would you need to hear, what would be helpful at that time? Often letters are comprised of validation for how difficult the current experience is, a reminder of life goals and how this behavior interferes with achieving them, and encouragement to take some other specific actions instead. Keeping your letter close is encouraged as it can be a powerful tool to have in the throes of urges.
Make a list of positive affirmations. Listing positive self-statements for each stage of the cycle is another idea. What are affirmations are needed to refrain from restricting, to stop from binging or purging, or to cope with the shame that comes from this behavior? The key is to write statements that are at least somewhat believable. They do not need to feel like absolute truth, but should not feel totally out of the realm of possibility.
Identify the thoughts that typically precipitate a binge or purge. Many people will say they have no thoughts before a binge or purge; they just engage in the behavior. However, later the contributing factors are identified. They may say things such as, “Well, I already had one, so I might as well have the whole box” or “If I don’t get rid of this I am going to gain weight.” Identifying these thoughts and then countering them with something more truthful can be helpful. Try this tip – draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper lengthwise, on one side of the line write typical thoughts, on the other side write ways to reframe these thoughts to ones that are more recovery oriented. The act of writing this out allows for a different perspective than the one contributing to the use of behaviors.
Identify and address the most vulnerable times during the day. Often a daily pattern develops for when the binge/purge behavior occurs. For many people, times of heightened vulnerability are the transition to home from work/school or late in the evening. Developing a schedule for what to do during these times of vulnerability can help in practicing the skill of coping ahead, and lessen the likelihood of engaging in behaviors.
Practice healthy self-care. When we look at the cycle, feelings of increased tension and emotions can contribute to a binge. There are aspects of self-care that can lessen our vulnerability to these triggers. The following are some ways to assess self-care are:
Exploring how much sleep you are getting.
What are you doing to cope with stress?
What are you doing for enjoyment?
Is there a healthy work/life balance?
Are you treating any physical illnesses?
Are you staying connected to others?
Identifying simple changes may increase the quality of self-care and can decrease vulnerability to the engagement in behaviors.
Enlist social support. One of the most helpful tools is simply letting others into your world. While extremely challenging, picking up the phone to call a friend or loved one and speaking out loud that you have an urge to binge or purge can be extremely helpful.
HOW TO STOP the Restrict, Binge & Purge Cycle? | Mental Health Help with Kati Morton - YouTube
This list is by no means exhaustive but is just a few ways to start breaking the cycle. When working to break the cycle, I highly encourage you to seek the support of a treatment team. In the beginning, it may feel like your urges are lasting for hours at a time, and you may doubt your ability to do this. The more you can refrain from engaging in the cycle; the more manageable the urges will become. A treatment team can provide the extra support and guidance to breaking this cycle and living the life of freedom that you want.