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Treatment For Eating Disorders

 

Treatment For Eating Disorders: Notes From A Survivor & Mental Help Therapist

 

While it may not be easy to stop your ED, it can be done (and may even be enjoyable!). Before I get into the five questions to ask yourself that can help you get rid of your eating disorder, I am going to get you excited and inspired to become eating disorder free.

But before I even do that, a little bit about my recovery… 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.  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 know now that it is possible to live a happy, healthy life without an ED, and that the steps to get there can be positive and full!

As August McLaughlin discusses in “The Silver Lining: 5 Happy Truths About Eating Disorder Recovery,” there are positive aspects in the road to recovery. Recovery leaves people “feeling lovelier, inside and out.” Individuals with eating disorders have distorted views on themselves both physically and mentally. They want to lose weight to fix their physical appearance, and they take these drastic measures to make them feel better internally. Treatment, however, teaches people how to appreciate themselves for who they are and to love each and every part of themselves.

 

Treatment leads to greater energy. Eating disorders take an extreme amount of physical and emotional energy to sustain. By letting go of an eating disorder, people will gain back their energy to do things they love and to think about something other than the eating disorder.

Treatment brings enjoyment back to food. Food is no longer as scary as it once may have seemed. By mending one’s relationship with food, a person can enjoy their favorite foods without feeling the extreme guilt before, during, and after.

Treatment leads to freedom. Eating disorders have such control over people’s lives that are living with them. By not letting the eating disorder dictate every life decision, individuals are surprised to see how much they can freely live their life, by their own rules.

Treatment comes with support. Depending on the type of treatment that one goes through, they will likely be surrounded by other people in treatment. By being surrounded by like-minded individuals, one can see that they are not alone, and that there are people out there going through the same thing as them that are also looking to get help.

Treatment leads to gratitude. Living with an eating disorder can be extremely challenging and detrimental. People in recovery living without an eating disorder can be thankful for their bodies and their minds without the eating disorder. It may be scary to think about what one’s life would be like giving up this eating disorder that has had so much control, but there is nothing to lose by giving up an eating disorder, just a beautiful life to gain.

Many people believe that when they quit something they are addicted to, they will be sacrificing something. In the case of eating disorders, a client may feel that they are missing out on something by giving up their eating disorder. To help with recovery, we must show how positive it can be to live a life without an eating disorder. There should be “nothing to fear, nothing to ‘give up’ and absolutely everything to gain.”

In order to stop ED, ask yourself the questions below. While I cannot answer these questions for you, I can answer for myself with the hopes that it will help inspire you to search for answers deep within yourself. I would even encourage you to get a piece of paper and write down your answers. Take some time with this, dig deep, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with yourself. Tell the truth, and give yourself some kind love for taking this first step.

Question #1: What does the ED really do for me?

To ask this question in a slightly different way, you can also ask yourself, “What function/purpose does my eating disorder serve in my life?”

My anorexia helped me get attention from people, especially from family members and friends. I was 12 when I was sent to live with a foster family, and by 13, my anorexia helped me stay in control over a life that felt miserable and very much not in control. Of course at the time, I wasn’t aware of that, but I am now.

I was a very developed 13 year-old. Before I became anorexic, I was a bra size D, and had no clue which bra, if any, I was supposed to wear. No one ever spoke with me about bras or anything related to sexuality. I started developing, and, after the first sign of my period — which, by the way, I thought I had gotten hurt because I had no clue what had happened to me — the fears, anxieties, and uncertainty nudged me to become best friends with anorexia and to keep me as the sad little girl that I was. Becoming a grown woman was scary, and I wasn’t ready to enter that stage. My ED also helped me to stay isolated so I could focus on my education, which I knew would help save me from a life of poverty.

As I matured and gained weight, I was sexually assaulted by several people who took advantage of the fact that I was insecure, neglected, and vulnerable. The various other traumatic incidents that happened to most of the eating disorder people I knew as well helped perpetuate my eating disorder. This kept me in a bubble, because I was under the illusion that life with an eating disorder provided people with a feeling of safety and security. My eating disorder started out of instability, with the hope that the eating disorder would create stability. My eating disorder held great control over my life, which I grew accustomed to over time. Letting go of my eating disorder was scary, and I was under the (false) impression that it gave me a sense of control and comfort.

Question #2: Do I really enjoy it?

Once again, ask yourself this question and try to be as objective as you can be. How much joy does your eating disorder bring to your life? Do you enjoy restricting? Binging and purging? When I reflect back and ask my old anorexic or bulimic self this question, the answer is that I did enjoy being skinny or maintaining weight when I binged and purged. Of course, I didn’t know back then that when I purged, I only purged about 50% of what I binged on. I wonder if knowing that would have helped me stop binging and purging. I am not sure about the answer, but regardless, I am sure that I “enjoyed” looking the way I did, even though clearly I was not happy.   

Some people believe that eating disorders calm and soothe people. In addition to striving for thinness, individuals may use unhealthy behaviors such as dieting, starving, binging, and purging to cope with unpleasant and overwhelming emotions and stressful situations. While these behaviors may relieve anxiety and stress over a short time, in the long term they actually increase anxiety and stress, in addition to creating other complications.

Question #3: Do I really need to go through life playing with my health just to maintain my eating disorder?

Of course, at the time the answer would have been, “Of course, yes!” But if you ask yourself that question and truly think about the answer and the kind of life that you wish for yourself, you might come up with a (slightly) different answer.

I remember my first visit to my doctor when I weighed 78 pounds. I had stopped getting my period, and my doctor told me that if I kept up my anorexia, I would never be able to have children. His words stayed with me and helped me kick my anorexia (by welcoming bulimia into my life). If you are wondering about the health risks that are associated with eating disorders, I can assure you that they are real.

There are many health risks related to eating disorders. Each eating disorder has its own health consequences due to the nature of the disorders. As anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation, the body is forced to live without the essential nutrients it needs for normal functioning. Anorexia can lead to abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart failure, reduction of bone density, muscle loss and weakness, severe dehydration which can result in kidney failure, fainting fatigue, overall weakness, dry hair and skin (hair loss is common). It is also possible that there is a growth of a downy layer of hair all over the body to keep the body warm.

With the binge-and-purge cycle of bulimia, the entire digestive system becomes affected, which leads to electrolyte and chemical imbalances of the body. These electrolyte imbalances can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. This is because electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride from the body each time the individual purges. Gastric rupture can occur during binging. Frequent vomiting can lead to inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus, tooth decay and staining from stomach acids. Abuse of laxatives can lead to chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation.

The consequences of binge eating disorder are similar to the health risks associated with clinical obesity. These include, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease due to elevated triglyceride levels, type II diabetes mellitus, and gallbladder disease.

Two other ways to ask this question are below:

  1. What am I getting out of maintaining this eating disorder?
  2. Would my life be incomplete without it?

Question #4: How can I make my life more complete so I can get rid of my eating disorder?

Can you imagine a life where you are eating disorder free? How is your life different? What are you doing? How do you feel doing what you really want to do?

Visualize this. Really think about it. Write it down. Maybe sleep on it. It doesn’t have to be only positive answers — jot down anything that comes to mind.

Question #5: How can I use the resources and people around me to help?

I am sure that for many of you, this might not even be a possibility or an option. Asking for help? That would mean that you have to let go of what is helping you “maintain your weight” and be “happy,” right? But let’s think about it more in depth and start by stating that there ARE many resources and people who CAN and WANT to help you overcome your eating disorder.

There are probably people around you who want to support you, whether you realize it or not. These people can be friends and family members who may or may not know about your disorder already who can be a good support system on your journey to recovery.

Another resource is an eating disorder specialist and/or mental help therapist. Someone who has trained in this field will be supportive, non-judgmental, experienced, kind, and knowledgeable. They can give you specific tools unique to you to help you towards a happier and healthier life! You may be asking yourself “Can I even find a good eating disorder or mental therapist near me?” The answer is almost definitely yes. If you need help in your search, LWWellness is always happy to help by matching you with someone in your area who can help you on this path.

 

Identifying Eating Disorders in Young Children: What Can You Do As A Parent?

If you’ve read some of my recent blogs, you are probably somewhat familiar with my journey and years of struggling with an eating disorder. Most of those blogs focus on my young adult years, but these past few weeks, I’ve been approached by several moms who are concerned about their kids developing disordered eating habits or worrying that their young child might already have a serious eating disorder.

 

As a mother of three girls and as an eating disorder therapist, I’m acutely aware that the average age for children developing eating disorders has dropped from 12 to 7 in recent times. That figure sounds crazy even to me, but I know firsthand how real it is.

 

I was recently approached by a frantic mother whose 7-year-old daughter had been told by her grandfather that she shouldn’t eat the whole bagel because it would make her fat. This mom was so upset because she said she worked so hard to instill healthy eating habits in the house and avoided using the word “fat” or obsessing over body image. However, that one comment had made her daughter obsessed with the idea that she was fat and she started to use language like, “I feel really fat today.”

 

This brings up several things that parents should be aware of. First, we may think of eating disorders as something that only affects teenagers and young adults but it can actually affect children of any age — both boys and girls. Second, it’s important to realize that as a parent, we aren’t the only voice our children hear. They are susceptible to comments from family members, friends, teachers, television, and any other voice they deem trustworthy. Of course it’s essential that you model healthy eating habits and refrain from talking about your own weight or obsessing over diets around your children, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting conflicting information from somewhere else. So it’s not enough to establish healthy eating habits in your home because, let’s face it, we can’t guard kids from the outside world all the time.

 

If you hear your child make a comment about being “fat,” it’s important to ask yourself what this evokes in you as a parent. How do you feel when your child talks about this topic? This will establish awareness, which will help you best deal with the issue. Dismissing it or not acknowledging your own reaction to this as a parent will only further the problem.

 

When responding to your child, you want to give them your full attention. Make eye contact, but speak in a regular voice. While it’s not something that you want to dismiss, you also want to avoid blowing a comment out of proportion or giving it too much attention.

 

So what’s a good response to a child who says they feel fat? Start by asking a follow-up question. “When you say you feel fat, what do you mean? What are you actually feeling? Fat is not an emotion or a physical feeling so use your words to help me understand what you mean by that.” Getting your child to open up about their true feelings is an important first step. From there the conversation can continue.

 

Talk to your child about negative self-talk and steer them away from it. Children will often compare themselves to other children (“I’m heavier than my friends at school”) or make comments regarding how their clothes look on them (“I shouldn’t eat this because my shirt is too tight”). One study found that 81% of 10 year olds are “afraid of being fat,” and they are taking the issue into their own tiny hands by dieting, which can often lead to eating disorders. Additionally, with the focus on childhood obesity in this country, the way that food and weight gain are talked about in school and at home can trigger issues. We get into the idea of food and weight being good vs. bad and the fear that instills can be very powerful. I found a good explanation of this from a trusted online resource: “By temperament, most of the children at risk for anorexia are often focused on doing the right thing and doing it perfectly. They focus on the details (don’t eat bad foods) and miss the big picture (balanced diet and health).”

 

It’s also important to be aware of any major changes in your home life, as children who are experiencing anxiety, family problems, or any kind of issues with peers will sometimes turn to unhealthy eating habits as a way of gaining control in their lives.

 

Finally, the strongest advice I can give you is this: If you think you need to consult with a specialist, don’t hesitate. When problems are picked up on at a younger age it’s much easier to work through them then when unhealthy habits and thought patterns have become ingrained.

 

Being a parent is challenging and it doesn’t come with a guide. Often the issues facing your kids are much different than the ones you may have faced growing up. A good first step is to stay close to your kids and keep the dialogue open. As a parent, you want to be able to help your child but remember that it’s also OK to ask for help.

 

If you think your child might be struggling with eating disorders or body image issues, asking questions is a great first step. LW Wellness Network can provide support, counseling, and guidance for families working through these types of problems. We know that every situation is different because every child is different. Visit us at: www.lwwellness.com and on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/RecoveringTogetherEatingDisorderSupport/. Another wonderful resource is the “Parent Toolkit” from NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association). You can find this at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/Toolkits/ParentToolkit.pdf.

I’d love to hear from other mothers with any questions, comments, or fears you might have regarding your children and establishing healthy eating habits so comment on the blog or reach out on our Facebook page!

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