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4 Mental Health Challenges Teenagers Face

4 Mental Health Challenges Teenagers Face and How a Therapist Can Help

4 Mental Health Challenges Teenagers Face and How a Therapist Can Help

Being a teenager these days is extremely challenging. As a therapist working with teenagers and a mom of two teenagers, I am aware of the many psychological issues that they face and the stress that this causes many parents. According to Mental Health America, the rates of depression among teens is increasing at an alarming rate. Each year, almost 5,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 take their own lives. In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys totaling 6.6 million teens have had an anxiety disorder according to data from the National Institute of Health. In the past 15 years of working with teenagers, I’ve noticed an increase in rates of depression and anxiety and requests from parents seeking mental health therapists for their teenagers. In the following article, I will discuss the four main mental health challenges that teenagers face with the hope that it will increase awareness of these issues that cause many of our teens to experience mental health illnesses. It’s also my hope that awareness will lead to action. In many cases, a mental health therapist can provide a teenager with the support they need to work through their struggles, but it’s difficult for a young person to recognize when they need help and even more difficult for them to ask for it.

Challenge # 1 Peer pressure

teenagers walking together in school

Primarily during middle school and high school, many teens feel very stressed because they are trying to be like their peers and fit in. This is nothing new, and I’m sure you can remember it from your own high school days. These pressures lead to teenagers dressing and behaving in ways that may surprise you as a parent or caregiver. Middle and high school teens are well known for forming cliques and groups that have their own norms and rules that people have to follow to fit in. Those who are not included feel a lot of pressure to be in certain groups so they may do things out of their comfort zone to fit in. Since the adolescent years are filled with teens struggling to define and discover who they are as a person, this pressure leads to feeling confused, stressed, and overwhelmed. Just because peer pressure is “normal,” it doesn’t meant that every teenager is going to be able to cope with it in healthy ways. For some, the pressure is too much and can lead to destructive behaviors.

One of the most prominent figures in psychology, Erik Erikson, proposed a psychosocial theory comprising of eight stages of development. I am not going to bore you with all the stages — although I think they are very interesting and can add great value to your knowledge as a parent, educator, or anyone who is interested in human development — but I want to give a basic overview as it relates to teenagers. Basically, during each stage, a person experiences a psychological crises, which could have a positive or a negative outcome for personality development. For the purposes of this article, I will jump right into the fifth stage that is relevant to adolescence.

During the fifth stage (ages 12-18), the adolescent searches for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal value, beliefs, and goals. This is an important stage where teens are becoming more independent and begin to look at the future in terms of career, relationships, and families. They also have the desire to belong to a society and fit in. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved during this stage: The Sexual and the Occupational. (Yes, he is influenced by Freud for those of you who are familiar with Freud’s work). Erikson also claims that if adolescents are successful in this stage, it will lead to the virtue of fidelity, which involves being able to commit oneself to others on the basis of accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences. If adolescents fail to establish a sense of identity within society, this can lead to role confusion, which can result in identity crisis and most likely feelings of unhappiness. The good news for you as a parent or a caregiver is that while your child is going through whatever it is with relations to their peers, including negative feelings, stress, or anxiety, it all should somehow help him or her learn how to function in our society and grow into the person that they are meant to be. This might not make sense if you are currently a parent of an adolescent child, however.

During such an important stage, a mental health therapist can provide an outlet to process emotions. In addition, a mental health therapist has coping mechanisms and strategies that will help an adolescent deal with societal peer pressures.

Challenge # 2 Grades and school performance

teen experiencing mental health issues

Teens are under constant pressure to perform well academically while trying to become their own person and be independent of their parents. This pressure to succeed and the comparison to other students who might be doing better can lead to depression and other mental health issues. A study by NYU examined the top high school stresses of 128 private school students in 2015. The results showed that nearly half (49%) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31% reported feeling somewhat stressed. Females reported significantly higher levels of stress than males related to grades, homework, and preparing for college. And 26% of participants reported symptoms of depression that were clinically significant.

Sometimes as parents, we don’t realize when we are part of the problem. Wanting your child to succeed academically is normal, but how do you know when you are adding too much pressure? It can be easy as an adult to be consumed with your own stress at work or with taking care of your family, and oftentimes we dismiss how much pressure our kids are under at school. A mental health therapist can help a teenager when the pressure gets to be too much.

Challenge #3 Physical and hormonal changes

The adolescent years are characterized by rapid physical and emotional changes that affect teens in different ways. This period is marked by increased attention to body image, sexuality, and acceptance that often leaves the teen feeling confused, stressed, and depressed. Teenagers are known for their “raging” hormones and drastic mood swings. If you are a parent of a teenager or if you are around teenagers in any capacity, then you must have noticed the mood fluctuations between excitement, anger, anxiety, and depression. Teenagers’ self-esteem is often affected by their appearance or how they might see themselves. The combination of your body changing so rapidly with peer pressure and the desire to fit in is a lot for someone to deal with.

Challenge #4 Family issues

All families experience varying degrees of stress at different times and for different reasons. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, and when you add familial stresses such as divorce, illness, abuse, separation, merging of families, and financial struggles, it only makes the stresses greater. All these stresses can cause many mental and physical illnesses. Some examples of common triggers and types of stress include career stress, financial stress, personal health concerns, managing parenting responsibilities, and marital and relational stress, among others.

How Can a Mental Health Therapist Help Teens with these Issues?

Now that you are aware of some the biggest challenges that teens struggle with, you might wonder how mental health therapists can help them. A mental health therapist can help your teen learn how to better manage their stress, get more sleep, and make healthier choices. One of the best gifts that you can give your teen is to provide them with a safe space that they can share their thoughts and feelings so that they can reduce their stress and  anxiety and focus better on school and other important areas in their life. In this era of social media where both teens and parents spend so much of their time staring at screens, providing your teen with 45 minutes of quality talk time with a professional can help tremendously.

Many teens are struggling with issues related to control. A therapist can help them understand that their thoughts affect their feelings and behaviors. By explaining that concept and practicing this with teens using examples from their lives, the therapist can help redirect their thoughts to a healthier more productive place. Mental health therapists can work with teens individually, in groups, and with their families. While some teens benefit from individual attention, others might benefit from taking part in group therapy or getting support with the whole family. In some cases, teens might need to work with a therapists individually, in group, and with the family. For example, I am working with a 14-year-old who is struggling with bulimia, and at the same time, one of our family therapists is working with the whole family as well as the teen participating in group therapy with other teens who struggle with bulimia and binge eating.

If you are wondering about the length of treatment the answer is not always easy. Some teens might need to be in therapy on a regular basis as they benefit from speaking to a professional and need the guidance and support. Others can benefit from a shorter term therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy. Regardless of what you might think your teen needs in terms of the length of the time, it is paramount that you know that it takes anywhere from 12-30 weeks to change a behaviors So if you start working with a mental health therapist, you have to make a commitment to yourself and to your therapist in order to see a change in your behavior. If you are not sure, you can always get another professional opinion, but whatever you decide, you must know that it takes times and commitment for your teen to see a change in behaviors.

It is also important to know that while your teen is the one who will be going to therapy, parents play a very big role in the psychological treatment. When your teen is displaying a challenging behavior, parents often need to take an active role and be just as committed in working in collaboration with the therapist and the teen for best results. Furthermore, the therapist can provide parents with techniques and ongoing support to help them with their teen. For example, if the teen is working on anxiety related to his/her parents constantly fighting and screaming, then the therapist might provide the parents with some skills and tools that might help them change the behavior that causes the teen anxiety.

Some therapists will include some less orthodox ways of working with teens, like getting out of the office and doing some activities that can encourage the teen to open up and feel more connected to the therapist. I once worked with a teen who always worried about not looking proper and if she didn’t have time to fix her hair or put makeup on, she would get stressed and depressed. After spending a month with her in my Fifth Avenue office, I realized that she needed something different. So I decided for our next session we would meet at Central Park and spend the time walking around in super casual clothes. I wasn’t sure if my client was going to actually listen and show up casual, but I promised her that I would also be super casual and wear my sweatpants and hair back without makeup. Of course my client stared at me in disbelief, but our next session in the park was spent practicing mindfulness. It was one of her best sessions yet. After that, she said that she felt the most connected to me and that she was able to see me in a different light and be more open and honest. My point is, with teens and adults too sometimes, we have to think outside the box and come up with creative ideas to help and support them. If you or anyone you know has a teenager who is in need of guidance or support, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

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!

Top 5 Reasons Why You Need A Life Coach

Top 5 Reasons Why You Need a Life Coach

Has the thought, “I need a life coach” ever crossed your mind? Are you not sure you need one, but still feeling like you need help of some kind? Maybe someone recommended that you get a life coach, but you are skeptical? Before you write the idea off, let’s first talk about what a life coach is.

A life coach, also called a personal development coach, is someone who counsels clients on anything from career obstacles to personal challenges. But a life coach isn’t just anyone off the street. Personal life coaches are certified professionals whose job it is to equip you with the tools you need to succeed in whatever areas in which you are struggling. The International Coach Federation (IFC) is an organization dedicated to the advancement of coaching throughout the world. It is a highly respected organization that certifies life coaches. The organization is dedicated to making coaching “an integral part of society.” While it is not the only certification program for life coaches, it is one of the most reputable. The takeaway, though, is that coaching has rapidly evolved into a structured, nuanced profession, and the people who go through the certification process are highly trained and qualified. It’s a profession that is regulated, so you can look up a potential coach’s qualifications, as well.

At the end of the day, asking for help and leaning on the support of professionals is a true sign of strength, not weakness. In fact, there are a lot of reputable organizations who make use of some form of “coaching” for their team members. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) did a study in 2009 of the professional coaching industry. Of the organizations surveyed, 90% reported using coaching. What’s even more interesting is that even as the economy took a hit, 70% reported continuing and even increasing their investment in coaching for their teams — proving many businesses feel like their ROI for coaching is high. Many professional sports teams also use a form of coaching off the field. Teams often hire coaches for leadership and character development for their players. So if all these large organizations are using coaching, why not try it on a personal level for your own unique needs?

If you are doing some soul searching and feel like you need a little help, consider these five reasons on why you should find a personal life coach.

# 1 Get selfish

It’s time to think about yourself! Yes, you read that right. When we think about the word “selfish,” it usually brings up negative connotations, but the truth is, being selfish can sometimes be very productive and healing. When’s the last time you paused to ask yourself what you need? Your list of needs can include everything from material needs to physical needs to mental and spiritual wellness and fulfillment. Working with a life coach will give you the space to first and foremost figure out what those needs are, and then to form a plan to figure out how those needs can be met. It’s easy to say you are going to set aside time for yourself to meditate, journal, or come up with a list of goals. However, the reality is that we often put ourselves last on our to-do lists. A coach will give you the freedom and the time to put yourself first and then hold you accountable to your goals, while offering guidance and support. If you think investing in your own personal happiness is selfish, then it’s important to stop thinking about being selfish as a bad thing.

Personal Development Coach

#2 Get happy

You can lead a happier, more fulfilled life. This seems like a cliché, but all too often, people give up on their own happiness and settle for less. Everyone tells you it’s true, and it is, but you have to make time for it! We know that as humans, we like to be working toward something — to be moving forward in life. We also know that as humans, we crave happiness, even if we can’t define what that means in our lives.The study of happiness — how to get it, what factors play the biggest role, how to measure it — has actually become an area scientists and researchers are studying more and more. Why? Because it’s kind of like a universal goal. If you think the pursuit of happiness is a waste of time, there is science that would disagree with you. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that certain types of happiness can actually have an effect on our genes, specifically antibody and antiviral genes. A Finnish study used body maps to show how emotion is expressed throughout the body, and happiness was the one emotion shown to activate every part of the body from the head down to the feet. Other interesting research reveals that age also plays a factor in determining what makes one happy. As we change, sometimes we need help discovering how to get back on our own personal path toward a life that brings us joy.

A life coach is there to guide you on your personal journey toward happiness — at whatever age or crossroads you find yourself. To use a sports metaphor: “You are the player in this relationship, and it is the coach’s job to help you succeed in the game.” So, if you’re feeling like you are missing out on joy in life, a coach can teach you the fundamentals to take your fulfillment to the next level. Stop and think for a moment about your own happiness. Have you lost sight of what makes you happy? Or do you feel like you are in rut? Are your days comprised of going through the same monotonous motions? Professional athletes invest so much into their physical abilities. Perhaps it’s time you started treating your life like the ultimate game. Isn’t your life worth investing in?

Life Coach

# 3 Get unstuck

According to the current edition of The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey, less than half of US workers report job satisfaction.

“In 2013, the percentage of workers satisfied with their jobs was 47.7, well below the historical level of 61.1 percent in 1987. Increasing by a mere 0.4 percentage points from the previous year, overall job satisfaction continues to improve from its lowest point (42.6 percent in 2010), albeit at a disappointingly slow pace.” -The Conference Board

why you need a life coach

Considering how much of our lives are spent at work — and the fact that we depend on jobs for our income — it’s discouraging how many of us feel like we are at a roadblock. You don’t have to accept job dissatisfaction. When you feel like you’ve done everything in your power to achieve your career goals, a coach can offer up new and different strategies to get you on a track that makes you feel both challenged and accomplished. It’s easier to believe that nothing will ever change, but if you feel like you are wasting your days — STOP! You don’t have to figure out everything alone.

#4 Get through major changes

Facing life transitions is difficult on your own. Change is hard. That’s just a fact. At different points in our lives we all face life transitions, which can result in feeling lost, confused, sad and even depressed. These feelings can cloud our judgements and affect other areas of our lives, particularly our relationships. Working with a coach who is able to offer an outside perspective will help you organize your thoughts and feelings, as well as provide a consistent voice in the face of chaotic changes. Life changes can happen at any time. Whether you are transitioning from school to employment, changing careers, going into or getting out of a relationship, starting a family, moving, or going through any other life-changing event, it can feel like your entire life is spiraling out of control. Even small transitions, like a promotion at work, can cause other areas of your life to seem confusing. It’s normal to crave stability, but it’s also not practical to think that everything will always be stable. It is ok to ask for help when you find yourself attempting to navigate the uncertain waters of life.

#5 Get the vital tools you need

You may not currently have the skills you need to execute your plan or get to the next level. Some people have very specific ideas and goals for their life, but they feel like they aren’t attainable. A coach can equip you with new skills that will allow you to do more and reach your full potential — whether that’s in your relationships, your job or your mental well-being. You are already creative. You are already whole. You are already resourceful. You might just need to harness a few things to be able to put everything together to rise above your current situation. Think about all the things we learned as toddlers and young children. We learned so much every day and progressed at such a rapid rate in everything from motor skills to emotional intelligence. At some point, that learning curve plateaus, but does it have to stop? The answer is no. A coach is a resource that will allow you to keep growing, keep learning and continue to acquire new skills. We’d never tell a child who just mastered crawling that there was no need to learn to walk. Don’t cut your potential short by not taking the time to see how you can grow with more guidance.

A life coach means you have someone “in your corner” at all times — someone who will listen (and truly hear you), educate (and not judge you) and see you (while viewing you at your highest self)! Whether or not you believe it, you can absolutely be your best self, and a personal development coach is a great way to help you get there. A life coach is an adviser, friend, confidant, consultant, navigator and facilitator. They are trained in this, so why not let them help you reach your highest self? Get happier, more free and more on task to achieving your goals.

If you’re thinking, “Yes, I already have friends and family members who are always in my corner,” that’s great — but often that might not be enough. Our loved ones are vital components to our everyday lives and our happiness, but it’s impossible for them to offer a completely objective perspective because they know us on such a personal level. It’s also not fair to treat our family and friends as though they are paid professionals. They are also trying to navigate life and haven’t studied or been trained in how to dole out advice and guidance. So while building and nurturing personal relationships is always a great thing, a life coach is a unique relationship, one that cannot be duplicated by an already existing friendship.

Yes, a life coach is an investment, as they aren’t free, but consider how much your happiness is worth. It’s just as important to take care of our mental well-being as our physical well-being. This is not a short-term investment, either. The whole idea behind life coaching is that the benefits will last a lifetime. Factoring in your long-term mental health, how much are you willing to spend to get back on track?

Are you ready to step into a life of choice?

Have you ever thought, ““I need a personal life coach?”

Are you ready to nurture your personal self?

It’s time to take the leap!

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

Eating Disorder 101: A Mental Health Therapist Answers Your Most-Asked Questions Part II

Part II – Effects & Finding a Dietitian

Note: There are two parts to this article. For “Part I – Stress and Society,” click here.

I’m Limor Weinstein, founder of LW Wellness Network, and I am going to answer some of your most-asked questions about eating disorders. My background, experience, and education as a licensed mental health therapist are centered on personal and family well-being. As a mother, wife, and psychotherapist, my goal has always been to provide emotional support and knowledge that may be absent due to a variety of variables. I myself am an ED survivor. I am also an Eating Disorder Specialist who works with clients to help them find their way to better health.

What health risks are related to ED?

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 called lanugo” all over the body to keep the body warm (NEDA).

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” (NEDA). This is because electrolyte imbalance is caused by “dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride” from the body each time the individual purges (NEDA). 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” (NEDA).

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 (NEDA).

Are there any ED withdrawal symptoms? What are they?

Withdrawal from an eating disorder is similar to withdrawal from other addictions. According to a study done by Indiana University, symptoms of withdrawal typically include irritability, cravings, and general restlessness.

Why do people fear overcoming ED?

Fear comes with this decision to recover from an eating disorder because until this point, the eating disorder has helped the individual to feel safe and secure. The eating disorder has given this individual a sense of control and identity. This is why it becomes difficult to stop an eating disorder. But, it is possible. The person affected by the eating disorder must overcome their feelings of helplessness, guilt, shame, and self-disgust to seek help. Once they do this, they will still fear letting go of their eating disorder and going through a change. These fears should be acknowledged and discussed to help in the road to recovery.

There is, of course, always the fear of relapse. The final stage of recovery, maintenance, is about new experiences and adjusting to new developments. With this there is the chance of relapse. But this cannot be the focus of recovery. This is why recovery is an ongoing process, involving asking for help and communicating through thoughts and feelings.

You’ve said that, “While it might not be easy to stop ED, it can be enjoyable.” Can you elaborate?

Although it is not easy to stop an eating disorder, it can be enjoyable. Depending on the type of treatment that one goes through, he or she will likely be surrounded by other people in treatment (which can be both good and bad as discussed earlier). By being surrounded by like-minded individuals, one can see that they are not alone, that there are people out there going through the same thing as them who are also looking to get help.

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 of 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 this energy to do things they love physically and to think about something other than the eating disorder.

Treatment also brings enjoyment back to food. Food is no longer as scary as it once may have seemed. By mending one’s relationship with food, he or she 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. 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. Lastly, treatment leads to gratitude. Living with an eating disorder can be extremely challenging and detrimental. People in recovery, living without an eating disorder, will learn to be thankful for their bodies and minds. 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.

I’m sick of people focusing on why I shouldn’t maintain my ED (health risks, etc.)! Can you tell me why people do continue their ED?

It is easy to list all of the reasons why clients should try and get rid of their eating disorders. There are health risks involved, the eating disorders take over the individual’s life, there’s dramatic weight loss as well as damage to the digestive system and potential organ damage. Sometimes it is not enough to express to the client the negative effects that an eating disorder can have. Rather, we should focus on why people maintain their eating disorders. People with eating disorders become comfortable with their eating disorders. They begin living a lie and don’t know how to get out of it, or if they even want to. As stated earlier, the eating disorder that has such control over their life becomes a sense of security and control. The eating disorder begins making life decisions that the individual does not have to make. Further, the eating disorder becomes his or her release. The willpower not to eat, the binging, purging, or excessive exercise gives the individual a way to relieve stress.

By teaching clients alternative ways to have control in their daily lives or new ways to cope and calm themselves, clients can hopefully give up the detrimental ways in which they achieve this through their eating disorders. If a client can begin to enjoy these alternatives they may be more likely to give up the harmful techniques they were using and transition into recovery.

Is it a myth that the ED person “sacrifices” something or deprives themself when they stop their ED?

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” (Carr, 2011).

Why do eating disorders provide people with a feeling of safety and security?

Life with an eating disorder provides people with a feeling of safety and security. This is because eating disorders are started out of instability, with the hope that the eating disorder will create stability or some kind of control. Eating disorders hold great control over individuals lives that they grow accustomed to over time. It can be scary to let go of this sense of control and comfort that they have been living with.

Is there a link between boredom and ED?

Yes, many people eat out of sheer boredom. It is important to differentiate between biological hunger and boredom. When we develop negative eating habits, we become unaware of why we are eating. An individual may try to fill themselves up with food when they do not feel like their lives are full. Eating becomes a mindless activity, similar to when one emotionally eats.

What is going on the brain of an eating disorder client?

In addition to the other emotional, physical, and social effects that eating disorders have on an individual, eating disorders can lead to neurological damage (Emilyprogram.com). A client’s nervous system is negatively impacted when they engage in restrictive behavior. This leads to disruptions in neurotransmitter behavior, structural changes, and abnormal activity during anorexic states, a weakened response in the reward regions of the brain, and potential shrinking of the brain. Nerve related conditions such as seizures, disordered thinking, and numbness or odd nerve sensations in the hands or feet are also possible effects. Eating disorder clients may become depressed, irritable, or isolated due to the adverse effects on the emotional centers of the brain. An individual also could have difficulty thinking, switching tasks, and setting priorities due to the disruption in the brain’s normal functioning.

Is it an illusion that I can overcome my eating disorder?

In some cases body dissatisfaction does not change once an individual has “recovered” from an eating disorder. Even when the physiological and behavioral aspects return to status quo, mentally a client may still feel negatively about their body. This is why recovery from an eating disorder is an ongoing process that involves overcoming daily triggers that an individual may encounter. However, it is not an illusion. There can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

How do I stop?

Unfortunately, this is not as simple as reading a response. However, I’ve put a list of things I have my clients ask themselves:

  1. What does the ED really do for me?
  2. What purpose does it serve?
  3. Do I really enjoy it?
  4. Do I really need to go through life playing with my health just to maintain my eating disorder?
  5. What am I getting out of maintaining this eating disorder?
  6. Would my life be incomplete without it?
  7. How could I make my life more complete so I can get rid of my eating disorder? How can I use the resources and people around me to help?

Where can I find a dietitian?

If you are trying to figure out where to find a dietitian, chances are, there is someone not far from you. There are fabulous nutritionists, dietitians, and eating disorder therapists all around the country who are qualified and ready to help you. Your doctor may have some good recommendations if you want to find a local dietitian. Do you want someone who is uniquely matched with you? Give us a call. We will learn about you — from your personality, your history, your health past, your struggles, and your goals — and we will find someone in your area who fits you best. We have many fantastic providers whom we trust and adore to help guide our clients on their path to recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an ED, it’s time to take the necessary steps to change life for the better. You can grow into the best version of yourself, starting right now.

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!

Eating Disorder 101: A Mental Health Therapist Answers Your Most-Asked Questions Part I

Part I – Getting Familiar With Eating Disorders

Note: There are two parts to this article. For “Part II – Effects and Finding a Dietitian,” click here.

OK. To get you into the right frame of mind, I want you to really listen up. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you probably have a lot of negative thoughts on the subject. You may be plagued by feelings of gloom, misery, and even depression. Put those thoughts on hold for a moment and picture yourself in a state of elation. Imagine being cured from a terrible, life-threatening disease. Because the truth is, eating disorders are terrible, life-threatening diseases, but you don’t have to fight them alone. We’re here for you!

I’m Limor Weinstein, founder of LW Wellness Network, and I am going to answer some of your most-asked questions about eating disorders. My background, experience, and education as a mental health therapist are centered on personal and family well-being. As a mother, wife, and psychotherapist, my goal has always been to provide emotional support and knowledge that may be absent due to a variety of variables. I myself am an ED survivor. I am also an Eating Disorder Specialist who works with clients to help them find their way to better health.

The following questions are questions that people have been asking me for the past 15 years over and over again, so I have decided to compile a list of answers and include some evidence as support. Since I had too many questions, I have decided to break this blog into part A and B, but if you have any other questions related to eating disorders that you want answered please feel free to email me and I will answer them for you! (limor.w@limorweinstein.com).

What is an ED?

An eating disorder is an illness that includes extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders can have serious emotional and physical consequences on an individual’s life. Although the majority of people with eating disorders are female, this illness does affect males as well. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life (Wade, Keski- Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).  

There are eight types of eating disorders including Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, PICA, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Feeding Disorder, Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). I am not going to go over all the eating disorders, but I will focus on the main three (Anorexia, Bulimia & Binge Eating Disorder). This is not to say that the other eating disorders are not important, but I promise to write about the other disorders as well in later blogs!  

Anorexia is characterized as inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is too low for that individual, intense fear of weight gain, self-esteem overly related to body image, and an inability to appreciate the severity of the situation. Within this categorization, there are two types of anorexia: binge-eating/purging type that involves binge eating and/or purging behaviors during the last three months; and restricting type, which does not involve these behaviors.

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, a feeling of being out of control during the binge eating episodes, strong shame or guilt regarding the binge eating, and indications that the binge eating is out of control, such as eating when not hungry, eating to the point of discomfort, or eating alone because of shame of this behavior.

Bulimia Nervosa involves frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, feelings of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes, and self-esteem overly related to body image.

Is ED an addiction?

In short, the answer is yes. Growing research suggests that there are several similarities between eating disorders and addictive conditions. The American Society of Addiction Medicine now has a more comprehensive definition of addiction, which includes “process” addictions, such as food, in addition to drugs and alcohol. This is because the effect that these substances and behaviors have on our brain is similar across “substances.” The reward centers of our brains can be activated by food in a similar manner as by drugs and alcohol. Once this reward center is activated, an addictive cycle is created. Therefore the stimuli, such as drugs, alcohol, or food, become a desperately desired substance. This is when addiction and dependency occur. Abuse of any substance creates a false sense of temporary happiness or relief, but of course, has its long-lasting consequences. (Eating Disorder Hope, 2016))

In fact, research indicates it is the restriction that becomes addicting, rather than the excessive food. Restrictive behaviors like starving and even exercising increase endorphin levels in a similar way as opiates — which is both fascinating and scary! However, this helps explain why people can’t simply STOP having an eating disorder. It also reinforces why you shouldn’t try to go it alone.

Is there a brainwashing component to ED?

Yes! Individuals who develop an eating disorder frequently tell themselves that eating less is better, eating more is bad, eating will make them gain weight, and gaining weight is bad. They repeat these ideas over and over throughout their daily life. These individuals can be compared to those who have been brainwashed. As explained in “Recovery from Eating Disorders: A Guide for Clinicians and Their Clients,” “they brainwash themselves to prevent weight gain: their feelings of hunger are felt as positive and safe and they are proud of being able to resist hunger, which gives them a feeling of control and self- esteem.” Feeling hungry is not the “norm,” but these individuals strive for that feeling. They also are brainwashed to believe that the image they see when they look in the mirror is not an attractive image, that even at a below normal weight they are still fat.

What do stress and society have to do with my ED?

Eating disorders are a prevalent issue in today’s society, related to the constant pressures to be thin. Whether this is in the media or from our friends and family, the pressures placed on people lead them to develop eating disorders. Those who suffer from eating disorders not only have issues with their eating behaviors, but these issues spread to other aspects of their life. There is no single cause for developing an eating disorder and it can be a combination of factors related to an individual’s social, psychological, interpersonal, cultural and/or biological influences.

Yes, we need to change the way that beauty is portrayed; being thin should not be equivalent to being healthy and beautiful. Society over-emphasizes appearance and sets unrealistic goals when it comes to weight loss. It also associates a thin body with success and love, therefore convincing members of society that if they want to be successful or find love they must first meet this body type. Society also puts labels on food, labeling them as inherently “good” or “bad,” which perpetuates feelings of guilt for eating a “bad” food.

The diet industry spends billions of dollars each year to promote diet pills and magic tricks that will make people lose weight instantly. If these “tricks” really worked then why are there so many of them? The reason that there are so many options out there is because diets don’t work.  

With the increased access to celebrities’ lives it is easier than ever to know what our favorite celebrities are doing to keep their “perfect bodies.” Between this and fad diets we are susceptible to developing body issues and disordered eating.

Is it a myth that people use ED to relax and calm/soothe themselves?

No! It’s not a myth. Eating disorders aren’t always just about wanting to be thin. In addition to striving for some body image ideal, individuals may use unhealthy behaviors such as dieting, starving, binging, and purging to cope with unpleasant and overwhelming emotions and stressful situations. For someone who doesn’t suffer with an eating disorder, this can seem like an unusual concept, but for many people these restrictive and controlling behaviors in regards to food actually bring some sense of peace. While these behaviors may relieve anxiety and stress in the short term, however, in the long term they actually increase anxiety and stress — in addition to creating other serious complications (ULifeline.org, 2016). It is important to note, though, that binging and purging can feel like the only way the individual knows how to receive pleasure.

Do you have an example of an extreme ED case that made news?

Today many people are showing symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. While this disorder is not currently recognized in the DSM-5, due to the “clean eating” phenomenon it is becoming popular. These individuals have an “unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating,” meaning they have a “fixation on righteous eating” (NEDA). While orthorexia may start out as an individual looking to eat better, it can turn into an unhealthy obsession. Individuals look to eat perfectly each day, sometimes taking drastic measures to overcompensate if they “mess up,” which could lead to bulimia. This obsession can also take over their lives, taking joy out of everyday activity and making it difficult to have a social life. Rather than anorexia or bulimia, which focuses on calories and weight, orthorexics focus on healthy eating.

Why do people with ED feel intimidated?

People with eating disorders may feel intimidated by everyone around them. They could feel intimidated by the really “skinny” woman on the street because of the way she looks. They could feel intimidated by the “heavier” woman who is smiling, wondering how she could be so content living like that.

Individuals with eating disorders may feel intimidated to let their secret out. For so long it has been kept a secret between that person and their eating disorder. Letting someone into that secret can be overwhelming and scary.

Another aspect of intimidation can be within the eating disorder community itself. A person may feel intimidation from those who have “worse” cases then them, those who eat less calories, or those who have seemingly more self-control. On the other hand, they could also feel intimidated by those in recovery.

It seems like the ED person has already “programmed themself to fail.” Does our society encourage that?

Recovery from an eating disorder is hard, but it is definitely possible. One of the most important aspects of recovery is willingness to recover. If a person goes into treatment and recovery with the attitude that they do not want to recover, they do not want to gain, and that they are happy with how they are currently it is very difficult for treatment to be successful.

Those who have recovered are always in recovery, which is because there will always be those little triggers and thoughts that could have potential effects on an individual. Similar to how our society can influence the start of an eating disorder, society can also help someone to fail in his or her recovery. The messages about being thin and getting the best body are still out there. Granted there are now stories about feeling good at any weight and plus size models are being featured, but those do not stand out as much as the “5 easy tricks to drop 10 pounds in a week” articles.

Society reinforces eating disorder related behavior. Unknowingly, others who are unaware that an individual has an eating disorder may give positive reinforcement. They could tell their friend how skinny they look and they admire how they can control themselves in front of food or go to the gym for so long. For people who have friends who do know about the disorder, they probably offer care and support. The client may feel that without the eating disorder they would not get the same care and attention from those around them. Whether it’s negative or positive attention that an eating disorder brings to an individual, they likely appreciate this attention and it becomes an additional “plus” to the eating disorder.

What population of the USA has ED? How about the world? Is there any country where ED is not prevalent? Why?

In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011). Eating Disorders affect 70 million individuals worldwide (The Renfrew Center). A study done by Medscape’s General Medicine (2004) shows that prevalence rates in Western countries for anorexia nervosa ranged from 0.1% to 5.7% in females. Prevalence rates for bulimia nervosa in females ranges from 0.3% to 7.3% and from 0% to 2.1% in males. In non-Western countries, prevalence rates for bulimia nervosa ranges from 0.46% to 3.2% in females. Disordered eating in non-Western countries, though lower than in Western countries, have increased, likely due to the influence of Western culture (Makino, Tsuboi & Denerstein, 2004).

Is an eating disorder an oral satisfaction? Is there any evidence relating it to our early child development?

Oral satisfaction is a strong biological urge in every human being. It is common for an infant to suck on his or her thumb for self-soothing. As people get older they may smoke cigarettes or chew gum to get this satisfaction. Overeating and chewing nails has also become common practice when an individual is nervous. We know that “eating disorders are centered on fixations on food, which go beyond mere satisfaction of hunger” (Urdang, 2002). An eating disorder is not just about food or an unhealthy relationship with food, but about something deeper within the individual. There must be something else that is “unsatisfied” within the individual that the client tries to fix with the disordered eating behaviors.

What else should I know? And where can I find a mental health therapist near me?

This topic is so broad and we have so much to write about that we made it two blog posts! To read more about the effects of eating disorders, as well as how to find a mental health therapist or a dietitian, read Part II of this article 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!