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A Note To Those Recovering From An Eating Disorder

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As a therapist, I help many people overcome challenges in their lives. There’s a common misconception among many clients I’ve treated that mental health professionals all come from a strong foundation and haven’t dealt with the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. The truth is, though, I became a therapist because of the struggles I went through and because I know firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate life when you are dealing with challenges that seem outside your control.

One of the biggest challenges I ever faced was recovering from a severe eating disorder that plagued most of my adolescence. Overcoming my demons and eventually learning healthy coping mechanisms made me the person, the mom and the therapist I am today, but it wasn’t an easy process. I used to struggle with sharing my recovery story because it involves remembering such a dark period in my life, but then I realized opening up about my story of hitting rock bottom could help others going through something similar or simply inspire others to work through their past, which inevitably includes dark moments.

My “rock bottom” moment happened when I was working as a nanny in San Francisco and was living with my sister. I had a nervous breakdown after binging and purging for over five years. I was 21 years old, single, poor and depressed after deciding to leave my abusive and controlling boyfriend. I was working as a nanny and a tutor so that I could pay for my education.

That week I had worked for about 50 hours, in addition to being a part-time student at Golden Gate University where I studied international business. I came home on a Friday evening after I stopped at a local grocery store to stock up on food that I was going to binge on as soon as I got home. My sister was at work and I had the opportunity to eat as much as I could. I thought about the number of times that I binged and purged that day and when I counted I scared myself. It had been 15 times… my record was 30 times a day but while serving in the army I was able to reduce the binging and purging to three times a day so I was hopeful.

When I got home I knew that something was wrong but I couldn’t identify what it was. My thoughts were racing and all I could focus on was eating as much as I could and then purging. I couldn’t wait for the moment when I felt the sign of relief — which for me was lying on the bathroom floor like a drug addict and enjoying feeling high after purging everything I had eaten. All the excess noise in my head would clear for about half an hour. This relief came with a ridiculous delusion that I was somehow lighter and more powerful afterward.

I don’t want to bore you with all the details of that evening, but that night after lying on the bathroom floor for about an hour, I knew that something wasn’t right. I tried to get myself up and I wasn’t able to. My heart was racing fast and I felt like the ground was pulling me down and gravity was winning. Was this how I was going to end my life? That thought had crossed my mind many times before, but this time it felt real. I was 21 years old. I felt stupid, ugly and fat, and at that moment, I knew I had to pull myself together and write something so that I could share it with other girls who felt like me.

This moment from 21 years ago feels like it was just yesterday. I am 42 now, married to the man who I met at age 21 and I have three girls. But that moment will forever be ingrained in my mind. Somehow I pulled myself up that night and I started writing what I wanted to be my memoir. No name. Just words on a page.

I ended up writing over 100 pages that night of what I thought would be my story that would be published after I died. The beginning of my imaginary book was, “As I am writing these pages, I am dying from this horrible disease that has taken over my life for the past seven years…”

Many words followed, disclosing personal information about my family and life and horrible things that happened to me in my childhood that I had never shared with anyone. When my sister got home that night, she confronted me.

Everyone around me knew that something was terribly wrong with me. While they knew I had broken up with my boyfriend and it was a very messy breakup, no one could have imagined I was as sick as I was with bulimia and depression. I had hidden it very well.

Looking back at that time is painful, but it’s also eye-opening. This was simply the beginning of a very long process to recovery. Looking back now, I obviously see so many problems with my thoughts and behavior, but I think one of the biggest ways people can help themselves when they are nearing rock bottom is by sharing with someone you can trust. I lived with my sister and we were very close. Had I opened up to her sooner I think the recovery process would have started much sooner.

The point of me writing this note is to express to those on a similar journey that you are not alone. Everyone has a different “breaking point” so to speak, but what really helped begin to pull me out of that dark place was writing. It was the first time I was acknowledging my demons, which is the first step in any recovery efforts.

I encourage you if you are reading this and it sparks something inside you — maybe you are on a similar journey or know someone who is — to reach out and share your questions and comments.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our eating disorder specialist or dietitians, contact us or book an appointment with me. I look forward to hearing from you!

On The Anniversary Of My Eating Disorder Diagnosis…

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Since yesterday was the anniversary of my eating disorder diagnosis (26 years ago!!), I got to thinking about how grateful I am for everything I’ve been through and where I am now as a mother of three. I thought it would be a good idea to blog about motherhood, gratitude and ways that we, as parents, can help prevent eating disorders/ways for us parents to promote wellness and prevent mental illness.
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My anorexia arrived when I was 14 years old and stuck with me for about a year and a half. I then, secretly, became bulimic for the next 8.5 years, and as crazy as this sounds, I considered myself to be the best bulimic ever. It was all about secrecy.  Without getting into too much of the horrifying details, I can tell you that it was a terrible disease that affected all parts of my life, and thankfully, I was finally able to overcome it at the age of 24.
Now at age 41 and as a mother of three girls ages 6, 9 and 12, I have a new understanding of my mental illness at that age and why I was particularly vulnerable.
I look at my 12-year-old who is kind, happy and confident, and I think of myself as a 12-year-old. I was a neglected, abused teen whose parents couldn’t afford to keep her and was sent to live with a foster family. Yes, in hindsight this was the best thing for me, but as a 12-year-old, it felt like the end of the world. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep as a teenager.
While instilling confidence in a child and providing a safe, loving home goes a long way, I also know that eating disorders affect people regardless of upbringing. As someone who lived with the illness and understands the mindset behind it, I know that it is one of my top priorities to prevent eating disorders in young people.
So, as a parent, what can you do?

My Top 5 Tips:

  1. Teach your kids to be grateful. Gratitude is one of the biggest mindsets I have taken away from my struggle with eating disorders. It’s something that affects your whole outlook on life and allows you to stop focusing on what you don’t have and what you can’t control (both of which fuel negative eating habits). Of course, you don’t want to be one of these annoying parents who constantly nag your kids and tell them how lucky they have it (Yes, I have been guilty of this a few times), but REMEMBER that while you think your kids “struggle” if you don’t give them a lot of “stuff,” in the end it’s our job to breed gratitude in our kids.
  2. Practice mindful eating and MUTE the media. I can’t tell you how important it is to practice eating mindfully. In today’s world where everything is electronic and our kids grow up with exposure to SO much, it is essential to keep the important moments of mealtime as mindful as possible. Specific guidelines that we have created in my family include: Enjoy the food by paying attention to what you are eating and using all your senses; Talk about the good parts of your day and the least favorite part of your day. (Talking as a family and making mealtime an activity and not something your kids dread will help everyone focus on the moment); Lastly, no electronics at the table while eating.
  3. Be a role model. Model healthy eating and healthy body talk when your kids are around. I once saw my 6-year-old  getting herself on the scale and when I asked her why she was doing that she said that “daddy gets on the scale every day…”  As adults, a lot of us are guilty of this, but who is around to see it? We are also all guilty of making various comments to friends or family related to food or weight and we don’t always pay attention to who is listening. Think about what you are saying, especially when you are around your kids. “Fat talk” is so popular, especially among women, once you start the trend of NO FAT TALK, I promise your friends will follow and you will find that you are leading a healthier lifestyle!!! Make it a blanket rule that you do not discuss diets or weight in front of your children.
  4. Educate yourself and your child. Educate yourself about the various eating disorder. 10-15% of Americans suffer from some kind of eating disorder. A new study estimates that about half million teens suffer from eating disorder or disordered eating. It’s important to recognize the signs of a developing eating disorder and know that they manifest in a ton of different ways. It’s not always that you are starving yourself…
  5. Build your child’s self-esteem. You can do that by giving them choices, let them know no one is perfect, don’t draw comparisons between children, encourage independence, assign age-appropriate household chore and spend special time with your child, focusing on his or her unique qualities and gifts.
Most importantly, if you think your child has an eating disorder or even if you suspect one may be developing, seek help as soon as you can, there are a lot of free resources out there. In addition, LW Wellness partners with Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You can find out more here.
If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, contact me or book an appointment with me. I look forward to hearing from you