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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.

 

What Keeps You Going? Discovering The Tool That Will Pull You Out When You’re Struggling

When I was 15 years old, and still very much dealing with my eating disorder, I met a man named Peter who told me, “You can be whatever you want to be.” For a lot of people, this is an obvious statement. It’s something I tell my daughters all the time. But for me, this was the first time I had heard these words.

 

At this point in my life, having been sent to live on a kibbutz at a young age and growing up with an abusive and controlling father, I was simply concentrating on survival. However, this man, Peter, opened up an endless world of possibilities to me with those simple words of affirmation.

 

My way of thinking at that time was still very problematic. I spent so much time hating myself. All I could see when I looked in the mirror was someone who was stupid, ugly and fat. However, the idea that education was something that could pull me out of my situation and open doors for me gave me hope. Education began to represent my way out of poverty and to freedom from everything I so desperately felt trapped by.

 

Of course, back then, I didn’t know that I would go on to spend 13 years in higher education, but learning became my salvation. Education paved the way for me to begin understanding my life much better. Peter helped me get my visa to the US and helped me get into the Institute of English in San Francisco. From there I went on to pass the TOEFL exam and be admitted to Golden Gate University, a private university that had many international students.

 

School never came easily to me, but I was incredibly hard working. I had made myself believe that coming to the United States would fix my eating disorder. I believed that once I removed myself from my dysfunctional family and began my education I would be able to leave binging and purging in the past. I had yet to learn how deep-rooted my issues were and wasn’t able to comprehend all the underlying issues for my eating disorder. Still, I credit education as a big part of my survival.

 

I felt privileged to be in school, and I knew that education would give me the opportunity to lead a good, fulfilling life. Unfortunately, with the stress of being in school and the pressure of having to work so much to pay for it, my bulimia got much worse during my first few months at the university. That dream of coming to school in the United States magically curing my eating disorder slowly crumbled.

 

My head was filled with so much information and I was filled with so many emotions. I needed a way to get it all out, to release all the stress and emotions. All I could think about was binging as much as I could and purging as many times as possible. I was overwhelmed with work and school, and I had a difficult time focusing and completing my assignments on time. I felt that I was losing control of myself and regressing once again.

 

After my first year of college, I realized that I loved biology and psychology, and I wanted to study something that would combine both. Biopsychology was the field that I was interested in, but I worried about the limitations of my language skills and my lack of ability to concentrate and complete tasks. I was also very confused about some of my previous relationships. I was able to sort through that mess of feelings through self-reflection, writing and opening up to a family member, and decided that the best thing for me would be to put all my energy into school and avoid getting involved emotionally with any men.

 

This thought was a big turning point in my life: the realization that I could feel competent, whole and safe without having a man in my life to protect me. I was deeply happy to be free and independent. Education served as the empowerment I needed at that point — and it would continue to empower me for years to come.

 

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that at that point I still had many years of recovery ahead of me. I write all of this, though, because I think it’s important to recognize the small steps that you can take to shift your perspective. It’s also a reminder that words of encouragement and support can change other people’s lives. What if, today, you said to someone in your life, “You can be whatever you want to be”?

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists contact me or book an appointment with me. I look forward to hearing from you!

The Other Side Of Rock Bottom: Recovering From An Eating Disorder

I will never forget the day that I stopped binging and purging. In my last blog, I talked about hitting my “rock bottom” moment. That was when I realized I had a problem, but although I wanted to stop, I couldn’t completely quit. Three years later (I was 24 years old and had moved to New York), I decided to attend a seminar about eating disorders at Hunter College, where I completed my undergraduate degree in psychology. The lecturer, Sondra Kronberg, talked about eating disorders and the gap between how people with eating disorders feel and what they actually do/how they act in reality. She also talked a lot about how important it is for people suffering with an eating disorder to learn how to express their needs and how, along with therapy, it is possible for someone to overcome their problem.

 

For whatever reason, the things she said and the timing all added up in my head and from that day forward, I never binged and purged again. The day I stopped binging and purging I thought was the day my eating disorder evaporated from my life. Little did I know back then that while I had stopped abusing myself in this way, the road to my recovery was still very long. It included many more days and nights of suffering and self hatred. That day, and that lecture, were huge for me, but understanding that there was a gap between what I thought and what I actually did was only the beginning. It took months and years of practicing expressing myself and learning to say “no” for me to become the woman I strived to be — a woman with her own strong voice.

 

Soon after I stopped binging and purging, I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and I had to find new coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety and insecurities. I missed my family back in Israel terribly and I thought I couldn’t share this with my boyfriend because he thought that I wanted to live in the US with him. And while I did want that and I loved him and his family, I also wanted to return to my country and my family. This inability to express those feelings and thoughts and gain control over that sadness and anxiety definitely stood in the way of my full recovery.

 

So once my bulimia stopped, I dealt with those feelings in a different, but still destructive, way. I lived in fear of overeating and gaining weight. I shifted my thoughts from obsessing over buying food and eating and purging to obsessing about what exactly I was eating and making sure it was 100% healthy. I became fixated on only eating organic, non-GMO, low-calorie foods. While my battle with bulimia had stopped, my struggle with eating disorders was far from being behind me.

 

During this time, I worked hard in school and found comfort in my books and in psychology. Understanding the human mind and what stood behind the various disorders gave me great insight into my history and allowed me to have more compassion toward myself and my family.

 

I was finally able to complete the missing pieces and the question marks of the vicious cycle I was stuck in for so many years through mindfulness and affirmations. What I realized I had to do was to step back and give myself the space I needed to feel and observe my feelings. To be attentive to what I felt and understand that I can have control over these feelings,  I had to learn not to allow the feelings to control me and make me do things that were disruptive to me. I gradually understood that the only way to break the vicious cycle was to accept certain things about my life and myself as a person.

 

Now, at age 42, food no longer plays such an important role in my life. I find so much joy in working with people and helping them overcome their challenges that abusing myself and my body is no longer something I want to do. I want to be healthy for myself and for my family.

 

A few month ago, I told this story to Doctor Judith Brisman who is my dear friend and one of the top eating disorder specialist in the world. She asked me if I ever called to thank Sondra Krongberg. It occurred to me that I had never reached out, and I didn’t know why. I knew her at this point, as we’ve shared mutual clients over the years, but for some reason I didn’t think of reaching out to her to thank her for that day. After all, it was 17 years ago. I ended up calling her the next day to tell her that I never binged or purged again after hearing her speak. She was touched that I had told her my story and seemed grateful to hear that affirmation, which just reiterated for me how important it is to continue to talk about my recovery process.

 

I’ve always been fascinated by people who knew me at the time and later found out I was anorexic and bulimic because they say things like, “I always thought that you were Mrs. Perfect. You seemed to have it all together always.” No one is perfect. There is no such thing as always having everything all together, and getting rid of that notion is one of the best ways to help your mental health.

 

That box that we put people in when we label them “perfect” is constricting. The second we don’t take the time to learn more about the person behind the smile or the pretty face or the fantastic apartment with the seemingly ideal family, we are doing them a disservice. I learned through Sondra’s lecture that I was living a life that might have seemed perfect to some, but I was not yet able to express what I was really feeling on the inside.

 

For anyone struggling with an eating disorder, I encourage you to keep searching for answers, keep talking to others, keep seeking professional help. It’s not something that gets cured over night, but it is something that can be overcome.

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!

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!

What Is Orthorexia? My Battle And How I Overcame It

When I was 24 years old, I stopped binging and purging. I thought it was the end of the line of what I thought was the battle with Bulimia nervosa. The day that I stopped binging and purging, I thought that was the last day that I would have an eating disorder. I told myself that I was recovered, and I started eating really healthy. What I didn’t realize was that what I was doing was really moving from bulimia to Orthorexia. For the next two years I thought I was super healthy and fit. When people made silly comments about my VERY healthy eating habits, I thought they didn’t understand what it meant to be healthy and didn’t know that what they were eating I considered poison.

Many people have never heard of Orthorexia – and I hadn’t before I realized I had it. Orthorexia is a relatively new term, but the disorder is characterized by an obsession with health – way more so than losing weight, which often comes as a result. You can read the full clinical definition here (http://www.orthorexia.com/), but in general, people who have Orthorexia create terrible associations with what they deem “unhealthy food” and eating such foods will cause things like paranoia, anxiety and irrational fears of disease.

After obsessing and reading more about what is healthy and what else I could do to avoid eating anything that might damage my body or brain in any way, I came across the word Orthorexia. I started reading the definition and while at first I was in a denial about having it, I realized that I was also lying to myself. When I was able to be honest with myself, I had to admit that I wasn’t recovered from my eating disorder but rather developed another form of eating disorder. I decided that I had to slowly introduce myself to what I considered unhealthy food. I tried to initially eat 90% healthy food and 10% unhealthy. Then I realized that I was missing out on a lot of opportunities that involved eating food that I considered bad.

I slowly allowed myself to eat less healthily and was able to enjoy foods that I would have never allowed myself with my previous thinking. I had to totally rework my definition of health, and it was a slow process.

I write this to share with you all how different disordered eating can look for different people. The typical starvation tactics and binging and purging we associate with eating disorders aren’t the only signs of unhealthy behavior.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!