Friday, July 29, 2011

Dispelling Eating Disorder Myths

There was a segment yesterday on the Today Show with Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ann Curry, two women I find to be educated and interesting, that highlighted the phenomenon of 'Mommyrexia.' This is a pop psychology term for someone who is pregnant and struggling with an eating disorder (also known as 'Pregorexia'). This is not a new kind of eating disorder, but in fact a term that has been created in the media to describe someone who is pregnant and suffering from an eating disorder. Perhaps this is evidence of our society becoming more aware of women who are struggling with food and their bodies while they are pregnant. While we know that the media does not cause eating disorders, certainly the obsession with celebrities and their post-baby bodies does not have a positive impact on women who are pregnant and having babies. It seems that celebrities are bouncing back to their pre-pregnancy weight within days and weeks of having their babies, and it sets an unrealistic expectation for women everywhere and is not healthy.

All this to say that Dr. Snyderman made some unfortunate comments yesterday about how 'Mommyrexia' is an "Upper East Side, white girl, obnoxious problem.' While my intention here is not to be critical of Dr. Snyderman, my intention is to undo the myths that her comments are perpetuating about eating disorders. She said that it ('Mommyrexia') was "irritating" to her, and that she finds the "whole thing vulgar" (the whole thing= "perfect babies, perfect bodies, perfect lives"). While I agree that eating disorders are troubling, I don't agree that they are irritating. It is irritating when we get cut off in traffic, it is irritating when people are rude, but eating disorders?? When we say they are irritating, I think it connotes that people choose to have eating disorders. Why don't they just stop struggling and eat a cheeseburger? Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but that is what it sounds like to me. I think we have to be careful with our language because it communicates something. I think people choose eating disorders as much as people choose cancer. The choice of course exists to recover, to get help and to act in healthier ways, but anyone who has had an eating disorder will tell you that they wouldn't wish it on anyone.

I also don't agree that eating disorders discriminate-- the body of research that exists tells us that eating disorders do not just affect white women from high socioeconomic status. That is of course a stereotype, but one that we now know is not true. Eating disorders affect males, they affect people of all different ethnicities, of all social strata, and people of all ages. When we hear a very intelligent doctor say that an eating disorder is a rich, white girl problem, it impacts the way that we view the illness and might cause one to think that he or she does not really have a problem because of how they are perceiving this illness. 

I think it is important to have conversations about the things that we hear about and see in the media, not for the purpose of calling people out on their missteps, but to engage in open dialogue so as to dispel myths and untruths. Trying to undo some of these myths that were perpetuated on this segment of the Today Show might help educate people about eating disorders... and allow those that may be struggling to understand and know that what they are struggling with really is an eating disorder and that they can recover and receive help.

And below, some links to a few interesting articles on eating disorders that have popped up in the last few days.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CPR, First Aid and Eating Disorders???

Monday night, I had the privilege of attending a CPR/First Aid training that was required for some volunteering that I will be starting in the fall (more on that later!). I'm not going to sugarcoat it.. the 4 hour training was a little long, especially after a full day of work...which is probably why a few people may have received a text message containing this photo that I sneakily snapped from my phone with some one-liners.... 

Anyways, there were six of us present for the training, but one girl left after the CPR portion because she had already completed the First Aid part of the training. When our instructor went to go print out our cards at the end of the training (which prove we are officially certified!), I got a little social and started asking questions about everyone. Up to that point, all of our eyes were pretty much glazed over except for the random laughs we got at the expense of the instructor's cheesy jokes. One girl was an accountant, one worked at a software company, one was a school social worker, one was a college student, and then there was me! After asking about the girls, one of them asked about me, and what I do for a living. I told her that I work as a therapist, and that I treat anxiety, depression, and issues related to grief/loss, life transitions, relationships, etc., but I specialize in treating eating disorders, body image and eating concerns. Before I knew what was happening, a full blown conversation was going on.. one of the girls was sharing about the eating disorder she has recovered from, and another girl was telling me about her sister who recovered from anorexia. They were all asking me questions about eating disorders, and it ended up being a nice little conversation. 

This isn't that different from a lot of conversations that I have when people I meet ask me what I do for a living. Sooo... why you ask, am I sharing this? :-) The reason is because I think about the fact that there were just five of us strangers in a room, and over half of us have personally experienced an eating disorder, had a family member or a friend struggle with one. I think that is significant because it goes to show how many lives are being touched by EDs and how many lives have been touched by them. I'm no statistician, but when the topic of eating disorders comes up, people seem to always have a friend, a sister, a cousin, their own experience, etc to share. Typically, people that are struggling do not talk about their eating disorder or their behaviors- sometimes because they are in denial, sometimes because they feel shame, and sometimes, because it just isn't an appropriate time to talk about it. I loved how open these women were and how great a conversation we could have. And, it served as a good reminder that eating disorders impact many people, not just sufferers themselves.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or have a friend or family member that is struggling, seek help or encourage them to seek help. Recovery is absolutely possible. The girl that I met in the training who shared about her own struggle told me how much of a difference therapy made in her life. It is so encouraging to hear positive recovery stories. If you have a recovery story and would like to share it, please send me an email at 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I heard the news about Amy Winehouse's death yesterday afternoon on the radio as I was driving home. Despite the struggles that she lived out in such a painfully public way, her death has still come as a shock to so, so many. I know that I was shocked, and yet, if I'm honest, I wasn't surprised. She was in and out of rehab many times for drug and alcohol addiction, her tours were cancelled due to her instability, she got into legal trouble more than once, she displayed erratic behaviors with people and repeated these patterns in the public eye over the course of the last few years. The thing is... in spite of all of these major red flags, her death is still shocking. I don't think we ever actually expect people to die, even when they are engaging in self destructive and self harming behaviors. 

I am one part sad and devastated over the tragedy of it all, and one part angry. It is so hard to see this happen, when it seems like it could have been avoided somehow. I wrote a post a few years ago when Brittany Murphy passed away (to check it out, follow this link) and I have some of the same feelings now that I did then. Hopefully this can serve as a big wake-up call.. As well as a reminder that while people are ultimately responsible for their own actions and choices, if there are people in our lives that we see struggling-- with addiction, an eating disorder, or any other life threatening condition or behavior that is rooted in mental health/mental illness-- it is essential to act!

I have read quotes by Amy's mother in a few articles, and she admitted that her daughter's premature death was only a matter of time. Someone who is struggling with addiction must take the steps to get better, and must choose to get help- no one can do this for the person suffering. However, in order to get to that place, sometimes people need tough love by the people who are in their lives. While Amy's tour had recently been cancelled so that she could work on her health and recovery (allegedly her drinking), I just wonder if there is something more that could have been done. Maybe her record label could have put more serious sanctions in place, or the people that worked for her could have refused to continue to take care of her. These questions aren't coming from a place of judgment, because who knows, maybe these things were going on behind the scenes! The point is... if you know someone who is struggling, don't be afraid to step in and encourage them to get help, or seek treatment. If it means creating different boundaries in your friendship or relationship with this person until they are healthy, then do what is necessary!! 

If you are the one struggling and you are ambivalent about getting better, perhaps this is a good time to consider some very important things. What kind of life do you want to have? What sort of things are interfering with you from having that life? Do you believe that you are putting yourself in danger? Do you trust the people around you, and their concern and care for you? If not, why? What is holding you back from living the life you want? Often, these answers can be rooted in deeply painful places, and it is tough to face them. I encourage you to approach these questions thoughtfully, and move in a direction towards healing. The loss of Amy's life (and many others as a result of addiction, eating disorders, etc) is truly tragic and there is hope. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't Get Lost in the Crowd

One of my favorite movies for awhile was Center Stage (movie trailer here for those of you unaware and missing out). Let me first explain that for the first 12 years of my life, ballet was a major fixture. At some point, I stopped enjoying it, but because I had so much invested in it, it took me my awhile to come to the conclusion that it was okay to move on and do other things. With that being said, I loved the idea of Center Stage as a movie because it follows the lives of young ballet students who are enrolled in a New York City ballet school/company. The main character, Jody, struggled with her technique but lived and breathed ballet, while Maureen, another central character, had exquisite technique but struggled with the heart and passion for dance. 

I want to highlight Maureen's role because her character in the movie has a lot to teach us about eating disorder recovery. While Maureen does in fact struggle with an eating disorder in this movie [in fact, the movie can be a little triggering in parts due to its accurate depiction of eating disorder behaviors so heads up!], what she teaches us about ED recovery doesn't actually come from her recovery from the eating disorder strangely enough. 

Maureen is a very gifted dancer. She has impeccable skills and yet, she is not passionate about ballet. Throughout the movie, she begins to lose her one-dimensional preoccupation with ballet as she branches out.. making friends, eating pizza, and even dating. She fears that these things will interfere with her ability to be the best ballet dancer in the company, so she really struggles with having a social life. Her boyfriend picks up on her ED behaviors, and questions why she spends so much time doing something (ballet) that contributes to her unhappiness and unhealthiness. While there is ultimately more to the story, she essentially feels that without ballet she does not know who she is. It has defined her for so long that without it, she grapples for a sense of identity. Cue the ED recovery comparison.

One thing that often happens when one is struggling with an eating disorder is that the ED can eclipse one's identity. Sufferers sometimes express that the ED is what causes them to stand out, be noticed, be unique, etc.. For this reason (and others too of course), the ED can become a very important and significant part of someone's identity. This is one of the reasons that makes it tough to give up the eating disorder. By giving up the ED, one feels that she has to give up the thing that makes her special and defines her. This is the big lie of course (that an ED makes you special), but one that feels pretty real for those suffering from an eating disorder. Giving up an identity that we perceive as fulfilling a need can be extremely scary, and yet crucial in order to live our lives in freedom and health. 

At the end of the movie (spoiler alert!!), Maureen end ups quitting ballet. She recognizes that she can have a life and an identity outside of ballet, and that ignoring her feelings and desires was resulting in some very unhealthy ways of coping. The same thing can be said of an eating disorder. While it can be terrifying to let go of, an eating disorder does not add anything positive into your life! If you are scared to let go of your eating disorder because you are afraid that you will lose a part of yourself that makes you unique and makes you stand out... think about your friends and loved ones. What makes them stand out to you? Is it their appearance? Probably not! It's their attitudes, their personality traits, their character, their passions, their interests. Think about what makes others stand out to you, and it might help you to think about the ways in which you stand out!

On another note, the Center Stage soundtrack was killer back when it came out circa 2000. You should check it out- Michael Jackson, Jamiroquai, and Mandy Moore. Haha!! The name of my post, Don't Get Lost in the Crowd, is actually a song title on the soundtrack, and its by Ashley Ballard. It's a good one :-).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Props to the American Medical Association!

You may or may not share my enthusiasm for this bit of news, but as you might know, I am a big fan of pointing out positive movement when it comes to body image and the ways that the media portrays beauty. I just read about some new policies that the American Medical Association (AMA!) adopted at its annual meeting that met recently in late June in Chicago. One of the policies that they voted on is below (scroll down-- I lifted it verbatim from their website:)).

 The basic idea is that the AMA is acknowledging the harm that photoshop and digitally altering images can have and often does have on people, especially children and adolescents. As a result, they are working towards establishing guidelines with marketing and advertisement organizations to represent a healthier, more realistic portrayal of bodies in the media. While they do not specifically say how they plan to do this (I imagine this will take quite a bit of thought+time+work), it is encouraging that physicians are emphasizing the importance of the media's impact on how we perceive beauty and the resulting potential health implications. This isn't to say that the media causes eating disorders- I say this often- because the media does not cause eating disorders. However, unrealistic photos can encourage unrealistic expectations about what our bodies are supposed to look like, which often leads to dieting/disordered eating, which can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. 

For more, check out the AMA's website here.
BODY IMAGE AND ADVERTISING TO YOUTH: Advertisers commonly alter photographs to enhance the appearance of models' bodies, and such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents. A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.

The AMA adopted new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.
"The appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image. In one image, a model's waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist," said Dr. McAneny. "We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

St. Baldrick's Follow-Up with Stacey!

Stacey, Pre-Buzz
Remember this post (and this one, too!), where I shared Stacey and Morgan's story?? These two awesome ladies raised some serious cash for St. Baldrick's Foundation, which donates money to aid in cancer research for children. If you are new to their story, they raised 22,000+ dollars by shaving their heads!! I thought this was such a bold and awesome move that serves as a good reminder about how as individuals we can make a difference.

I had the chance to catch up with Stacey post- buzz, and was curious to hear how it went. I was also curious to ask her what it was like being bald! Stacey and I are friends on facebook, and let me tell you- the girl looked beautiful with a bald head. I saw her pictures (Morgan's too!) and they were beautiful. I think even more powerful and beautiful, though, was the act of doing something sacrificial and kind for others. 

Soo, what was Stacey's experience like? Check out some questions I asked her to share with you all below-

Me: What was it like those first few days right before and right after shaving your head? Were any tears shed? Were you nervous/excited?
Morgan, Stacey and Friends Post-Buzz :-)
Stacey: We were both ready to be on the other side. It’s exhausting raising that kind of money! We’d dyed our hair [they died their hair pink and other fun colors!] and the color was starting to fade, and it was getting hot outside! I wasn’t nervous until about 5 minutes before I left for Harris Field, and mostly right before we walked up to the stage, but I still never got as nervous as I had anticipated. I never cried, and at the first swipe of the clippers, all the nervousness was gone. I did have patches of pink on my scalp from the dye, so I wasn’t super happy with my look until I had washed that off. But I’ve gotten used to it. It’s super easy.

Me: How have people responded?
Stacey: The first day, we all went to a bar and ran into this lady who was having her one-year remission cancer party. After talking to us, she went back to her table and took off her wig for the rest of her party because of our 5 bald heads sitting at the bar! That was really awesome. A few days later, Morgan and I were having lunch and a guy came up and asked us if we’d done St. Baldrick’s, and then thanked us and shook our hands. We don’t really get much anymore, as our hair has grown out enough to look like a hairstyle choice. But those two encounters were really awesome for me.

Me: If/How has it changed or reinforced your thoughts/views on what true beauty is?
Stacey: I honestly forget that I’m bald-ish until I catch someone looking at me funny. I won’t leave the house without earrings (because I look like a boy without them), but other than that, I’m really comfortable without my hair. I miss it when I see someone with really pretty long hair, but I haven’t had any episodes of not feeling good about myself. That fact surprises me, but I dig it.

Me: Any interesting challenges that have come up as a result of being bald? or fuzzy? :)
Stacey: The main challenge was how cold it was to not have hair! I had to wear hats and hoodies all the time. Even in 80 degree weather it was cold. I heard that it can burn really easily too, but I never let it get to that point. Now that we’re getting fuzzy, both of those concerns are over. The only thing now is that everybody wants to rub my head…but I kind of like that part. :)

Me: Anything else you want to share with readers???
Stacey: Our team raised over $22,000! Thanks to everybody who helped us get there!

Stacey and Morgan with a little Fuzz :)

For more on St Baldrick's, check out this video clip below or check out their website here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Children's Malnutrition Center

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala to work in a Malnutrition Center. It was a life-changing trip, which is why I decided to share about it here. While I typically don't blog here about my travel plans, social life, etc... I felt that this was something special and I wanted to give you all the opportunity to learn about and meet some amazing children and people that I had the privilege to meet.

One thing that made this trip so special was that it was a mother-daughter trip... so I got to share this incredible experience with my mother- and other really inspiring women!! 
Madre y moi

We flew into Guatemala City, and drove to Antigua, where we stayed. From there we took a bus each day to San Juan Sacatapequez, where the Children’s Malnutrition Center is located. The Center is primarily made up of children whose parents are no longer able to financially care for them. When the children arrive, they are often extremely malnourished. A seven-month old baby was brought to the Center while we were there-- he was 7 pounds and wearing newborn clothes. So sad. He had to be taken to the hospital, as some of the children do upon arrival.

The Center is owned by the Lions Club of Guatemala, and is largely funded by the organization that we went with, called Orphan’s Heart! During our week visiting the Center, there were 67 children staying there, equipped with 4 workers to take care of all the children. Two workers stay overnight. Can you imagine what it must be like having two people taking care of 67 children under the age of four each night? Wow.

Three of our little babes having a snack :-)
Our volunteer work while there consisted of holding the children, feeding them, bathing them, changing their diapers (I actually never had to change a diaper—coincidence?), and just showing them affection. Considering the child to worker ratio, these children receive such little affection. While a lot of these children have parents, their parents are unable to care for them due to finances, so they drop them at the Center so they can be taken care of adequately. Sadly, with so few workers and so many children, sometimes the children do not have diaper changes more than twice a day. For an infant or toddler, 6-8 diaper changes in a day might be more typical. This means that these children often sit with wet and dirty diapers. We were able to re-stock their supply room and pantry with things that we had brought along with us- diapers, toiletries, toothbrushes, etc. as a way to provide the children with more resources.
Sweet little ones in their cribs...

I am still processing my time in Guatemala, and what I learned from my experience there. But here are a few quick insights.

1.    Generosity- These children are so content with so little. It’s pretty incredible to think about how much we have living in America- and I think that it certainly begs a few questions… how might we help others? How might we use our resources to help those who are in need?

2.   Big Picture- I think it is valuable to step away from our lives for a minute to get a glimpse of the bigger picture. We can get so caught up in our lives, our work, our relationships… that we forget that life exists beyond ourselves! This does not at all mean that we need not be concerned with our lives- but it’s important to try to find a balance! Serving others and looking outward is so important.

3.   Gratitude- After visiting third world countries, it is always interesting to come home to the luxuries of the first world. I think that rather than feel guilty about the things that we have, and the things that we have access to, we have a responsibility to appreciate what we have, but more so, to ponder how we might give to others and share what we have!!

The last thing I will say (holy lengthy post!) is that when we volunteer or serve others, we often are the ones that walk away changed. It's not that we serve others for the sake of feeling good about ourselves of course, but I think when we help others, we often leave the experience feeling more greatly impacted by those whom we serve. I know that the children and workers at the Center left such a great impact on me, greater than anything that I could have done in my short time there. For more info on the Center, or to find out how you might donate or buy supplies for the Center, follow this link.
I love this little guy- wish I could have smuggled him home with me!!!