Feature Friday- Ms. McManus

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Feature Friday

Commack High School’s Class of 2017 made a charitable contribution to Project HEAL. Co-founder, Liana Rosenman interviewed her former High School Special Education Teacher, Ms. McManus.

How did you first learn about Project HEAL?

13422467_10154046602110041_1417584056983925780_oI first heard of Project HEAL through both the founder, Liana Rosenman.  Liana reached out to me once Project HEAL was off the ground, and I couldn’t more proud than to be a part of helping her reach her dream of helping others.  She always had a quiet inner strength when she was a student at Commack High School.  Seeing her harness that strength and focus it to achieve her greatest goal; helping others has been my greatest accomplishment in teaching.  I still proudly wear my purple Project HEAL bracelet (one of the first ones sold and by far the best too!) and tell anyone who asks me about it.  Heck, sometimes I tell people about Liana and Project HEAL just, because I am so proud and awed by what she has been able to do.

Why is supporting Project HEAL so important to you?

For many years, I have dealt with being overweight and not liking my body and how I looked.  I also see eating to deal with my emotions.  When I’m sad or upset, or hurt or stressed I eat.  I never had gotten to the point where I would binge or purge or control it in other ways, but I felt a kinship to Liana in that she too struggled with her own inner demons.  Her inner demons pushed her to deny herself subsistence and mine pushed me to overfed mine.  I saw her struggle and gain strength from that struggle and then turn that into something to make a difference in the world.  I really do try to emulate what Liana and Kristina have done with Project HEAL.  I look at them as my inspiration.  I truly believe a teacher never stops learning, and Liana has taught me several times over to never let anything beat you down.  That the best way to defeat those demons is to harness it, shape it and use it to defend yourself and build yourself back up.

Commack High School’s Class of 2017 decided to donate to Project HEAL. Can you explain how that came about?

17554223_10213504950484951_7584123967010637121_nI have been the class advisors for the class of 2017.  These young men and women were an exceptional bunch, and I saw a lot of the desire to help others that I see in Liana.  As we got closer to the time for their prom to happening, many of the class expressed the ideas that they hated that part of their prom ticket cost would go to things that couldn’t help others (centerpieces made of flowers and favors).  We talked about coming up with a way to incorporate centerpieces that could be reused and providing a favor that did some good in the world.  The class officers decided on making a donation.  They were charged with coming up with 5 organizations to donate to.  They had to research them and come up with a small blurb and why that organization should get the donation (what the organization did, where was its homebase, how much they raised, how much money went into the organization to help people).  I made one up on Project Heal and slipped it in with the other 5.  As a committee, they read all 6 and then took a vote.  They voted for Project HEAL, and it was due to the facts that so much of the money raised goes to help those who seek help, to educate and that Liana was a hometown girl that was making great strides in the world.  These students were so very proud of her and wanted to show her and Project HEAL that they believed in her and what she was trying to do with her organization.  I didn’t even have to sell it to them!  They picked it!  LOL!  We then chose to write a simple sign, printed it on some red glittery paper, put it in a nice frame and propped it on the table.  Centerpiece and favor all in one!  Saved the environment and gave to a good cause. 

How did the class of 2017 raise those funds?

Technically we raised the money through the sale of prom tickets. We came up with the amount of the donation by figuring out how much we would have spent on buying flower centerpieces for each table to the prom and on favors.  We added them together and figured we would have spent about $4,600 on those two items.  We then rounded it to the nearest whole number ($5,000) and made that our donation.  The students were happy that part of their prom would be going to towards helping others get better and can share in the happy moments in life like prom once they beat their demons. 

How Can Teachers be Helpful in Early Recognition and Treatment of Eating Disorders?

The best way I can think of is by paying attention to their students.  With the way teachers are being pushed towards testing and scores and being better than the next teacher, district, state, and country in scores; I think teachers need to remember to really look at their students.  Get to know them.  Become vested in the individual, not in their scores.  I know that for myself, just knowing there was a teacher who saw me, saw who I was and that at times I was a scared mess who needed someone to just say “hey, need to talk” meant all the world to me.  I think that’s my job.  That’s calling.  Not getting the knowledge into those little sponges but to let them know that there is always some there for them.  Also, we, not just teachers, need to be more sensitive to those around us.  To know that little ears are always listening and if we sit there and tear ourselves down because were not “thin enough” or “ate too much” or a plethora of other things we make great impacts on others.  I also wish there were training given to teachers.  Courses we had to take to be better prepared.  I remember seeing Liana in High School and thinking such a lovely young lady but so quiet and withdrawn and looking so hurt.  I never wanted to make her uncomfortable, but I also didn’t want her to think no one cared.  I think if I had better training that just going on my gut instinct I might have been able to help more.  At the time, I just offered to be there and help in any way she may have needed.  I realized I left too much for Liana to do on her, and I think more training on the mental health needs and the physical attributes to look for would have been more helpful.  I think teachers need to see and hear firsthand accounts especially seeing that eating disorders are start earlier and earlier.

What Ice cream flavor best describes your personality? Why?

unnamedONE?  Only one?!  Not possible!  LOL! 😊   If I had to pick one ice cream flavor that best described me I’d say Rocky Road.  The name says a lot about how I feel about life.  That life isn’t always smooth and easy but as long as you stay focused and believe in yourself the end will be sweet.  The fact that the base is chocolate and most people like chocolate like most people like me.  LOL! The peanuts are in there and they are usually a little hard like I can be but the marshmallows let you know that I’m really just a mush on the inside.  LOL!

 

What Inspires Me to Work With Patients Who Struggle With Eating Disorders

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This post was written by: Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS, who is the Founder & Medical Director of the Gaudiani Clinic (www.gaudianiclinic.com) in Denver, CO, a unique outpatient medical clinic for adolescents and adults with eating disorders. She is one of very few internal medicine physicians in the country who hold the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist credential from the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals.

 

 

 

I’ve been lucky enough to work with patients who struggle with eating disorders for the past eight years. I adore my patients, and there are so many reasons why they inspire me.

First of all, I chose internal medicine after medical school because I love the idea of caring for the whole person and collaborating with my patients on their health care plan. Patients tell me their story, their hopes and fears, and are the expert in themselves. I bring to them my expertise in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Using language the patient connects with, and framing new or chronic medical problems in the context of each individual’s life, I give my patients a voice. This lets me be more responsive to what patients actually need from their doctor, so they don’t feel talked down to, rushed, or not seen. The mind-body connection is something I deeply believed in even before I started seeing patients with eating disorders. Who people are as individuals, set in the context of their culture, social experience, family, interests, values, and beliefs, privilege or lack thereof, absolutely affects their physical health.

Nowhere are these themes more relevant than in the care of people battling eating disorders. I see how the Western medical system often silos body and soul. Body has to get cared for by one set of doctors, and soul gets cared for by a whole different set. Rarely do the two sets of doctors in their different silos get to communicate enough. I am so inspired by the ways that body affects soul, and vice versa, in patients with eating disorders. I get to listen to the whole story, the way that someone’s temperament, upbringing, societal expectations and pressures, and life experiences have directly influenced their physical health.

I love being able to share with patients the objective evidence of their body’s suffering—both measurable and non-measurable—as a means of countering the eating disorder’s insistent whisper of, “You’re fine. Keep going.” Reuniting body and soul, while spending lots of time listening and understanding my wonderful patients as unique individuals, is deeply rewarding.

In addition, I love the diversity of patients I see who struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorders and their medical complications come in all shapes and sizes, and that refers literally to physical bodies as well as metaphorically to age, gender, life experience, race, temperament, and so many other aspects of life. There are special elements about each that inspire me.

With younger patients, I’m inspired by what they have ahead of them in their lives, how treatment for their eating disorder will allow them to enjoy their birthright of school, a profession, partnership, friendship, and exploration of their interests. With older patients, I love to reflect back to them what they’ve already triumphed over and achieved, to help motivate their present struggle with their eating disorder.

With those who have been sick a short time, it’s so much fun to introduce them to certain concepts of recovery and the mind-body connection, to inspire them to resist the eating disorder voice. And with those who have been sick a long time, I am grateful to explore with them what has worked and what hasn’t, and lean in even more to understand their values and motivations. My female patients speak to my fierce feminism, while my male patients speak to my commitment to underserved populations. In the eating disorder treatment world—much less society at large—males with eating disorders are often marginalized, underdiagnosed and undertreated, and have access to far fewer resources that speak to their unique needs.

Many patients with eating disorders have experienced the message from people in their lives they are “too much”—too emotional, too needy, too sick, too sensitive, too complicated.

My message back, and I’m talking to all you dear folks out there who are struggling with an eating disorder: You are wonderful, worthy, loved. You are a coin with two sides, like we all are. The bright side of your coin is extraordinary, with your intelligence, emotional precociousness, work ethic, determination, and drive. Sometimes such a bright side comes with an equally dark side of the coin…not bad, but harder to manage and less touted by society: the exquisite sensitivity to feedback, the intensity, the deep need for reassurance and recharge. The dark side of your coin probably hasn’t gotten as much support and praise as the bright side.

You are a whole, real person, and the people in your life who love you have faith that you can be your whole self and live according to your values, free from an eating disorder.

Best Practices: The Evidence-Base for Eating Disorder Treatment

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By, Melissa Gerson, LCSW

 

You might have heard it many times before: “evidence-based treatment.” So what exactly does it mean?  Evidence-based treatments are interventions (“therapies”) that are supported by published research demonstrating effectiveness (the “evidence”).   In other words, these are treatments that have been well tested, compared against other established treatments and then highlighted as producing the best outcomes or results.

 

It goes without saying that the outcome of your eating disorder treatment is critically important. So what are the evidence-based treatments for eating disorders?

 

What You Need To Know – anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder best practices

There was a recent exhaustive review[i] of the most current treatments (the evidence base) for eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder in adults and adolescents.  Here are the headlines:

 

  1. In the majority of clinical trials, Enhanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-E) has been shown to be the most effective treatment for adult anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Enhanced CBT (CBT-E) was designed specifically for eating disorders. It is a very structured, time-limited treatment (20 weeks for BN or BED; 40 weeks for AN) with three distinct phases.  The primary focus of the treatment – regardless of the condition – is to establish a regular pattern of stable, flexible eating while addressing the different factors (things like extreme focus on shape and weight or mood-related eating behaviors) that keep the eating problem going.

 

  1. There is broad agreement that, whenever possible, patients should be treated in the least restrictive setting.

In other words, more restrictive settings, like hospitals and residential treatment centers, are for those with the most severe symptoms or medical complications.  Day Treatment Programs, Partial Hospital, Intensive Outpatient Programs, are more intensive and structured settings if the individual is not progressing in standard outpatient care.  For those who are medically stable and able to participate in outpatient treatment, it is in their best interest to do so.

 

  1. Children and adolescents with anorexia or bulimia should be treated with Family-Based Treatment (Maudsley).

Research studies have consistently shown FBT to be the best treatment for children and adolescents with anorexia. An emerging body of evidence is showing similar effectiveness for children and adolescents with bulimia. The beauty of FBT is that not only is it so effective, but it is also time-efficient (once weekly meetings), cost-effective (a fraction of the cost of intensive residential programs), and delivered in a “real-life” setting (home).

 

  1. According to a recent paper in the American Journal of Psychotherapy[ii], there is good evidence to support the use of DBT skills training with adult bulimia and binge eating patients.

The evidence on anorexia is less compelling, but encouraging. There is promising evidence to support the use of DBT with any eating disorder patient who also has Borderline Personality Disorder. According to one study, about 20% of eating disorders patients have co-morbid BPD[iii]; given the effectiveness of DBT with BPD, it makes sense that DBT would be effective for this subpopulation.

 

Treatment Adherence

It’s important to note that CBT-E, DBT and FBT are most effective when delivered in the way they were designed and intended. When finding a provider, be an educated consumer and ask a lot of questions! How long has the provider been working with eating disorders? What kind of training has he/she had (specifically in the evidence-based treatments like CBT-E, DBT and FBT). How closely does he/she adhere to the evidence-based guidelines? Does the provider track patient outcomes (i.e. what percent of his/her patients are getting better and in what time frame)?

 

Eating disorders are treatable and recovery is absolutely possible.

It’s important to get help sooner, rather than later. And of course, consider the evidence base for the right treatment to maximize your chances of recovery.

 

 

 

 

[i] Hay P, Chinn D, Forbes D, Madden S, Newton R, Sugenor L, Touyz S, Ward W. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2014, Vol. 48(11) 977–1008

 

[ii]Wisniewski, L & Ben-Porath, D. D. (2015). Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders: The Use of Contingency Management Procedures to Manage Dialectical Dilemmas. American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol 69, No. 2, 129-140

 

[iii]Milos, G. F., Spindler, A. M., Buddeberg, C., & Crameri, A. (2003). Axes I and II comorbidity and treatment experiences in eating disorder subjects. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 72, 276-285

 

  • Melissa Gerson, LCSW is the Founder and Clinical Director of Columbus Park, Manhattan’s leading outpatient center for the treatment of eating disorders. As a comprehensive outpatient resource for individuals of all ages, they offer individual therapy, targeted groups, daily supported meals and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). Columbus Park uses the most effective, evidence-based treatments like Enhanced CBT and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to treat binge eating, emotional eating, bulimia, anorexia and other food or weight-related struggles. They track patient outcomes closely so they can speak concretely about their success in guiding our patients to recovery.

The World Beyond Your Eating Disorder

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This post was written by Mackenzie Woods, Chapter Leader of Project HEAL Chicago 

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend ANAD’s annual “Wellness, Not Weight” conference in Naperville, Illinois. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I was probably the only attendee who wasn’t a clinician, therapist, doctor, dietician, or someone formally connected to the eating disorder field. At first, this made me a bit uneasy. After all, what do I have to contribute to conversations about medical interventions and treatment approaches? It wasn’t until a few talks into the conference that I started to settle in and realize that I was actually there for a very important reason.

The eating disorder world is one I am all too familiar with—not only through my own experience with anorexia, but also those of both my older and younger sisters. Granted, I have created quite a bit of distance between my eating disorder and myself, having been “recovered” for about eight years now. Anorexia doesn’t rule my life like it once did, and in fact, I feel like a completely different person than my 15-year-old sickly self. It’s actually quite difficult to get back in touch with the mindset of that young girl anymore because so much has changed since I started allowing her to truly live.

One speaker mentioned something that really resonated with me—that is, when you have an eating disorder, your world becomes very small. Your capability for rational thought—or thought beyond anything but food—doesn’t even exist. Through recovery and the passing years, my world has grown exponentially. I moved across the country from California to Wisconsin with my family, traveled and lived abroad on two separate occasions, graduated from a top college and moved to a new Chicago to embark on a new career path. So I suppose that’s my goal in committing myself to organizations like Project HEAL—to encourage others that there IS a world beyond your eating disorder. A great big world. And sure, it’s definitely not always rosy and perfect. Like any other person, I worry about my appearance, finding a job I’m passionate about, experiencing true love, making enough money, being “pretty enough” or “fit enough”…the list goes on and on. But all of that is small and insignificant compared to this grand adventure we call life. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have life.

 

Feature Friday: Poetry To Move You

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Project HEAL is lucky to have the most amazing, talented and inspiring people involved as volunteers. Today we wanted to share some of the beautiful poetry from our National Instagram Manager, Vanessa Frances Poulson! (P.S. you can follow our Instagram at @projectheal) screenshot-2016-10-07-13-40-06

She has published her first book, Laundry, (Go girl!) which is a collection of poetry, prose, and essays, touching on triumph and tragedy, overcoming one’s own demons, abuse, as well as the bittersweetness of first love and first loss. The title was inspired by the idea that with dirty clothes, humans are given the chance to wash, rinse, dry, and fold themselves over and over again. With every cycle, we gain more of our own wear and tear, adding to our own individuality.

Below is samples of her work to inspire you and remind you that you can overcome any battle!

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If you want to read more and immerse yourself into this beautiful poetry, you can purchase Vanessa’s book here!

 

 

The Media Contributes To Eating Disorders But Does Not Cause Them

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Written by Project HEAL Southeast Pennsylvania chapter, Suzanne Brier.

Eating disorders are physical and mental illnesses that are frequently spoken of yet are still simultaneously dismissed and misconstrued. While the causes of an eating disorder are complex, explanations that are offered are too consistently simplified and often presented as if the disorder results from a single variable. More often than not, I will hear well intentioned individuals minimize the severity of an eating disorder by making it to be simply about poor body image and the media’s effects. The reality is that eating disorders are not simply caused by internalization of the thin ideal or poor self esteem. There are many potential factors that can put an individual at risk of this form of illness. While these factors can contribute to the problem, there is much more that needs to be considered and understood. Through my own observations, conversations with sufferers, and review of published scientific articles, the media, in fact, has much less power on how an individual perceives their body than we believe. Body dissatisfaction is far more affected by one’s perception of peer values and actions. Discussions about the importance of losing weight and striving to look a certain way in order to accumulate value in their eyes are much more likely to impact the likelihood of developing the disorder than a magazine or movie. While the media does not have as significant of an effect on the formation of beliefs, the media can have a powerful effect by confirming what a person at risk for an eating disorder has already internalized though other life experiences.

In eliminating other possibilities for development of an eating disorder, we silence the voices of individuals who struggle with this particular mental illness and in doing so perpetuate stigma. As indicated above, the answer to the question of what causes an eating disorder is complex and varies from individual to individual. Not only do causes vary, but like coping with any hardship, how people feel while struggling with an eating disorder will differ. Eating disorders can be motivated by a desire to want to control one’s body because they feel an immense lack of control. It can be motivated by a desire to have a body type that will make you feel you deserve love. Other motives include an attempt to regulate emotions, to avoid appearing attractive to keep others away, especially after a trauma, and to feel worthy by getting praised for your body particularly when nothing else about you makes you believe that you have that worth.

Eating disorders, just like all other mental disorders, are complicated and affected by an interaction of social, psychological, cultural, and biological factors. Among mental disorders, eating disorders are difficult to overcome and come with no known quick fixes. Yet, there is always hope and people do recover. I have witnessed this personally when my best friend sought help for the first time and confided in me as well as those she cared for. It was the seemingly miniscule, but critically important step loved ones made when saying, “I am ready to try recovery.” I believe that we can do better in understanding the nature of eating disorders and avoid making assumptions of what causes the disorder that is by no means one size fits all. This can be how we begin to more effectively provide empathy individually to those who struggle and learn how to better exhibit compassion to those we love deeply and are suffering. In continuing the conversation with new found awareness of various causes, we can work towards erasing stigma and allow for sufferers to share their stories without the shame.

Surviving Anorexia: What I Wish I Knew As The Caretaker

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by: Kim (blogger: Surviving Anorexia: Eating Disorder Recovery. Our Family’s Journey Through Anorexia)

My daughter was diagnosed at 15 with Anorexia. Three major relapses, 17 weeks as inpatient, too many medical appointments to count and now six years later, she is recovered. The journey was harrowing to put it mildly. Thinking back on our experience and what we have learned, I realized there was a list of things that aren’t told to you when Anorexia develops and the long journey through recovery. You find them out yourself the hard way and often alone. Some come as a surprise, others you realize are normal but you didn’t think about, because so much else is claiming your time. Even medical information you will not be told and have to research yourself. I’ve used the term care taker to cover everyone who cares for someone with an ED illness. I’ve used the word child as it related to us, but it applies to over 18 too.

  • The parent or care taker will often be the one who sees the illness develop. Trust your gut instinct and seek help. Don’t wait for the ‘phase’ to pass over. It won’t.
  • It’s not a normal teenage diet, if it’s out of character, is intensive/obsessive, drops most food groups and there is fear about foods.
  • Sudden decisions to be vegetarian, vegan, or sudden developed food intolerance/allergies may be part of developing an ED. Thoroughly check these out and do not regard them as ‘just a teenage fad’.
  • You are often the front-line and sometimes only line of care. Funding and resources can make it very difficult to get what you may need for treatment and recovery.
  • This is going to be a long journey. You may not just get well after the first ’round’. It will take years in some cases.
  • You need to treat yourself for self-care just as much as you care for your loved one. It’s essential to survival.
  • Your marriage or significant relationship will be tested to the max. Take care of it.
  • This is NOT your fault. It’s not your parenting or your family. ED’s are an illness that are a complex ‘perfect storm’ that have many tentacles for development.
  • No one will tell you how exhausted and OVER it you will be. How refeeding is draining for you as well as your child. That you will have a list of appointments on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly basis that you might have to drive miles to – and juggle into normal family routine.
  • You will find yourself up against schools, doctors, clinics, friends, family. Most have a ‘warped’ idea of eating disorders. There will be stigma and wrong beliefs. You have to explain and educate just to get the care and respect your loved one needs.
  • You will need to read up on symptoms, treatment, research. No one else will teach this. As you are the front-line you need to know this stuff.
  • There are often not enough resources or funds in place to provide what your loved one or you will need. That includes treatment centers and hospital beds, ED trained medical/counseling therapists. You may have to get creative in terms of finding the right help.
  • You are not alone – even if it feels like it. There are many of us on the internet, Facebook and other medias who are traveling this journey and can support you.
  • Your child will become a totally different person – loud, rude, maybe even violent, abusive, and manipulative. This is the illness – not your child. Your child is still underneath – vulnerable, lonely, scared and very, very ill.
  • When medium to strong recovery is reached, your true child’s personality will start to reveal itself again. Hang in there.
  • Logical, clear, rational thinking will not be part of your loved ones thinking when the illness is in ‘full residence’ and skews thinking process. They are not able to eat, care, stop or save themselves when they are very ill.
  • Medical professional won’t know it all. Medications are trial and error.  Sometimes many medications may have to be grouped together before they work.
  • Relapse may happen. Prepare yourself for this reality, should it occur.
  • Relapse is every carer takers nightmare, but the fact is, it can be monitored and cared for quite closely by an aware and caring team. You can catch it early. You can keep fighting.
  • Correct weight does not mean you are ‘cured’. KEEP YOUR TEAM AROUND FOR A LONG TIME.
  • Recovery is a very messy journey with lots of ups, downs, corners and relapse.
  • If your child has Asperger’s it will make the recovery treatment harder and some treatments will need to be adjusted.
  • There will be a ‘before ED’ and an ‘after ED’ state for your family. It will affect everything and the way you live and think for years to come – even when your loved one is fully recovered.
  • Eating disorders are a family illness. It will affect all the members and relationships within.
  • Hope is real and full recovery is possible. Don’t give up. Fight for every bit of care and funding you can get.
  • Recovery and being recovered is worth the journey through hell. Keep fighting!

Guest Post: Hello Life

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Author Bio: Shira Moskowitz is an eating disorder advocate and believes that everyone has the right to love themselves as they are. She is the founder of a nonprofit called Hello Life Eating Disorder Recovery Services where she helps other fighters in their journey to recovery.

 

I still remember the day that I decided that I knew I was battling an eating disorder.

 

It was a Monday morning around 8:30 a.m. I told my boyfriend at the time that I promised to not weigh myself that day before I went to work.

 

I promised him that because every single time I stood on my scale, my entire moment, day and night was ruined. No matter what that number said, it was never good enough for me.

 

We had fought about this for a long time.

 

Dinner dates out that I would refuse to go to because I didn’t want to eat, or cancelled parties that I couldn’t attend because I was stuck by a toilet because of laxative consumption.

 

This doesn’t include the many conversations my family had with me about how worried they were about my health.

 

Nothing anyone said really made me want to change anything; not because I didn’t care about how my illness affected them, but because my eating disorder at that time was stronger than I was. Even on the days that I would tell myself, “today’s the day. I am going to break free of this,” I would lose and feel defeated.

 

Just for that for one day, I said I would not stand on my scale. I am one of those people that take promises really seriously. I honestly didn’t’ think that it would be that hard to not stand on it.

 

“I will not stand on it, prove to everyone this isn’t that big of a deal and move on,” I remember thinking to myself.

 

So he left to work before me and I remember hearing the door close and making sure I could hear his car leave the driveway.

 

Without even thinking twice about it and without even questioning my own promise, within 60 seconds of him leaving, I was already standing back on my scale in my room.

 

I remember standing there crying.

 

I had just broken a promise to someone who I really loved. It was not the first relationship that my eating disorder had affected and it wasn’t the first time that I let my illness let down someone who I loved-but it was the first moment that I realized that I had a problem that was more powerful than I was.

 

I had been going to Eating Disorder Anonymous groups. At the time, I told myself I was only going to make my grandma and mom happy because they were worried about me and wanted me to go. I never saw myself as “one of those girls in the real group.” That day, I knew I was just like every other one of those girls in my group.

 

I had a card of a therapist that one of the girls in my group gave me and I called it and left a voice message. Two days later, I was sitting in her office.

 

That day, my recovery journey began.

 

For months, I still didn’t really think I had “that big” of a problem.

 

I would always tell the therapist, “Listen, you really don’t get it. I was overweight as a kid and now I just really like to be skinny. It’s really not a big deal. I just want to get my thoughts about being skinny under control.”

 

Learning that I had an eating disorder was one thing; truly accepting that I had an eating disorder was another.

 

But after the first three months of therapy, I kept realizing one pattern showing itself over and over and over again.

 

Every time I thought I had a good week or a good day, and every time I felt slightly proud of myself for something, my scale would mess it all up.

 

And I use the term “my scale” because it wasn’t just an ordinary scale-it was my scale. The only scale I trusted. The only scale that came with me from house to house-the only scale that I secretly hid-it was like we were each other’s own little secrets.

 

It was New Year’s Eve and I was celebrating it with a bunch of friends and I didn’t bring my scale with me. We were at a ski resort for three days and my therapist and I decided it was going to be my first test without it.

 

I cried every night. Sometimes I cried several times a night. Without my number, I couldn’t gauge what kind of person I was that day, and that was hard.

 

On our way back home, I skipped over dinner with my grandpa who was visiting from Israel at the time, all to go rush home and stand on my scale.

 

I knew then it was controlling my life.

 

On January 21, I put my scale in the trunk of my car and drove it to my therapist’s office. I never, to this day, have stood on it ever again. I still to this day, four years later, have no idea what I weigh.

 

When I brought my scale to my therapist to hold onto for me, I told her that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it big.

 

I don’t even know how I let the words come out of my mouth, but I somehow got them out.

 

“I want to give up my scale for year. Will you hold onto it for me? I’m not sure I want to totally throw it away forever.”

 

She looked shocked. Happy, but shocked.

 

I was shocked too. But I was ready.

 

She asked me if there was anything that I wanted to tell my scale before she took it for a year.

 

The only things that came to my mind were the words, “hello life.”

 

I don’t know where those words came from and I hadn’t thought about it earlier-but for whatever reason, hello life was what came to mind.

 

I tried the first few days of being without my scale alone. I didn’t’ tell anyone. In my typical “I will do it this myself kind of way,” I kept it to myself. But in recovery, that mentality doesn’t last long.

 

So on the 7th day of my life without my scale, I decided to go public.

 

I thought to myself, that if I was going to do this for a year, I need to be accountable to someone else other than myself-so why not be accountable to the online world?

 

That’s where my blog, Hello Life: A Year Without A Scale , was born.

 

Every single day, for that entire year, I vowed to write a post about my one-year journey without my scale and essentially the very start to my journey to recovery from anorexia.

 

That blog, and the support that I got from it from strangers all around the world and my family and loved ones saved my life from my eating disorder.

 

When I started my blog, I thought to myself, “This is going to be a really hard one year journey, Shira. It will feel like you will break, but you won’t. It’s one year, you can do it.”

 

I sit here almost three years later and I am still walking my recovery journey.

 

It was never going to be just a one year journey-and I think that that while my recovery team knew that, they gave me the space to figure it out on my own.

 

To this day, that was the hardest year of my life.

 

I had spent so many years basing my self worth on numbers, that I didn’t even know if I liked myself without this number defining who I was.

 

I would define myself by calories, weight, clothing sizes and minutes exercised. Once I took away the scale, I had no choice but to take off my blinders and really look at who I was.

 

Who was I without a calorie count? Or, who was I when I hit a calorie count that my eating disordered trained brain didn’t like?

 

How was I supposed to sit with those uncomfortable, disappointing feelings?

 

Who was I without my number on a scale?

 

I was a 22 year old college student who made straight A’s. I was a great sister, daughter, friend and hard worker who had multiple internships working my way to becoming a journalist. But at the time, I couldn’t see that. Everyone else around me could see it but me.

 

I wanted to learn what it felt like to love myself-or even like myself-without the scale telling me what numbers I need to make that happen.

 

I wanted to learn what it felt like to go out to a restaurant –and have it not be the same and only restaurant that my eating disorder brain “lets” me go to because it is the only one with the “safe” food choice on the menu.

 

I wanted to learn what it felt like to have a meal in the break room with my coworkers.

 

I wanted to learn what it felt like to pick a coffee creamer that I really liked, not the one with the least calories.

 

I wanted to know what it felt like to eat frozen yogurt with my brothers and not just watch them from the sidelines.

 

I wanted to know what it felt like to celebrate my birthday and not spend days and days prior planning out how to avoid the cake or how to work it off at the gym.

 

I wanted freedom.

 

I have been in recovery for almost four years now and I honestly feel like I have experienced some of the most free moments in my entire life.

 

I’ve gone out to eat at restaurants, new ones all the time-and I explore the menu. 7 times out of 10 I won’t pick my food choice based on “safe” foods-which in my new world of recovery, that is grey and not black and white, 7 out of 10 is pretty damn good.

 

I’ve not only taken my little brothers out to frozen yogurt, but I’ve had whole days with them at a time where I am not tired or so focused on my eating disorder rituals that I can really be present with them.

 

I’ve eaten peanut butter pie with my mom on the floor of my new apartment in the dark because I didn’t even have lamps yet-but we made sure we had pie.

 

I have at least 3 different coffee creamers in my fridge at all times. I measure them out still-and again, in my grey world of recovery that is freedom. It is my freedom.

 

I’m engaged to the most caring, sensitive and amazing man who proposed to me while I was at my heaviest in recovery ever and still thinks I am perfect the way I am.

 

These moments of freedom were worth every moment of my recovery. These moments of freedom are what keep me fighting for my recovery.

 

Even though I know what freedom feels like and even though I have had many moments living in freedom, that is not my everyday reality.

 

I do not live in freedom from my eating disorder 24/7.

 

I do not live in freedom from my eating disorder even 12 hours a day 7days a week.

 

It’s been four years and I am still here fighting hard for my freedom.

 

Being a recovery fighter looks different for me now than it did four years ago.

 

Four years ago, fighting for my recovery meant re-learning how to eat, and re-learning who I was without my scale. It meant learning how to get comfortable with discomfort.

 

I know how to eat again now. I know what I like now. I am an expert now at learning how to sit in discomfort.

 

I know who I am now.

 

Now, being a recovery fighter is about me learning to love myself even when I am at the heaviest I have been in four years.

 

It means battling the constant thoughts in my head that come up when my TimeHop app pops up and shows pictures of myself from one, two, three and four years ago.

 

It means battling the thoughts when I look in the mirror or when my old clothes don’t fit.

 

I always tell myself, “Shira, this is your happy body. Love your happy body.”

 

I am the happiest now that I have ever been in my entire life. I am madly in love, I love my job, I enjoy my life and I let myself enjoy my life-and a lot of that is socially through food.

 

I work out a few days a week and I eat balanced overall. But I love dessert and I am proud to say that I have a little every night.

 

But just because I am happy, that doesn’t mean that my eating disorder thoughts have disappeared.

 

Just because I know what freedom feels like, doesn’t mean I get to live in it all the time.

 

The more time that goes on, the more that I am ok with that. It’s a hard acceptance to come to, but every day I inch my way closer and closer.

 

I used to think that one day I would just wake up and never have another “eating disorder” thought ever again.

 

And maybe for some people that is true.

 

But for me, at least for right now, I am still here fighting strong.

 

I am going to fight for my right to love myself and my happy body-even through planning a wedding and wedding dress shopping, when my eating disorder voice is going to be roaring.

 

But I know that I deserve to look at myself in a wedding dress and think, “Oh my gosh. You are stunning.” I am going to fight for that.

 

I know I will cry, because I already have. But that is ok, because all fighters cry.

 

I know I will wonder why I can’t just wake up one day and be like a “normal” person. I already have done that too.

 

I know I will have moments where I am going to want to take a break and put my gloves down and come back the next day and try to love myself yet again, and that’s ok too.

 

All fighters have to rest.

 

But I will still be here fighting for my moments, days or weeks of freedom.

 

I am going to fight for it so on my wedding day, no matter what kind of body image day I am having, I feel and know matter of factly that deep deep down , that I am truly beautiful inside and out.

 

I am going to fight so I can have more moments of freedom where I get dressed in the mornings and actually say to myself, “wow, you look really great today.”

 

I am going to fight so I can continue to be a role model to my little brothers.

 

I am going to keep on battling these moments of negative self talk because I know how amazing those moments of freedom feel like.

 

And even if I battle these thoughts everyday for the rest of my life-those moments of freedom-whenever they do bless me with their presence-are so worth it.

 

Celebrating my birthday at my favorite restaurant with my friends and family with my favorite cake. That was freedom.

 

Being offered an amazing job because someone in that office thought I was qualified-and it had nothing to do with my looks and everything to do with my determination, work ethic and brain. That was freedom.

 

Skipping a morning workout because to watch one of my favorite tv shows instead. That was freedom.

 

Enjoying Thanksgiving with my family. That was freedom.

 

Beginning and running my own nonprofit for other fighters like me who are trying to overcome eating disorders and learn to love themselves. That is major freedom.

 

All these moments of freedom are what make up my drive to keep living in recovery.

 

I was at a play earlier this week and at the very end of it all the kids sang the song called “Fight song.”

 

I just kept watching them as they all sang their hearts out to the part that says, “I still got a lot of fight left in me.”

 

I remember just watching them and thinking to myself, “Me too!”

 

I still got a lot of fight left in me, which is good since I know I still have a long way to go in my journey to true self love and acceptance.

 

But for today and for this moment, I am proud of where I am and where I came from.

 

And when I think of the next four years ahead of me, I still can proudly and excitedly say, “hello life.”

 

Fearless Friday Feature: “Rescue Me”

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ShannonHi, I’m Shannon. I’m 32 years old and have suffered from the hell and prison of anorexia for 10 years. I am FINALLY in recovery as of January 2016. It took me losing my job, my income, almost my marriage and almost my life for me to (reluctantly) accept the help I needed.

When my husband and I decided to relocate from Washington D.C. to Cleveland before our wedding… I tanked. It was a steady decline for 2 years. Looking back, it was a slow suicide. Not just a physical death, it was a mental death, an emotional death, a spiritual death. ED literally stole my soul. I lost my joy, my carefree and bubbly personality, and I lost my sanity. I literally almost lost everything I cared most about. I loathed myself, I was a walking zombie, I was a monster to my own family, no weight or pant size was ever good enough… I was NEVER good enough.

So, last summer, I ran myself into the ground. I was a wedding planner under major pressure and I was working another event job during the week. I was restricting more than I already had been, and I started compulsively exercising. I had lost ALL sense of reality. My purpose was to keep losing and achieve this unattainable perfection. I was incredibly proud of my withering body; my sickness was my accomplishment. But my body finally made the decision for me. In every way, it was showing me, “I’m shutting down. I simply can’t do this anymore.” My hair was falling out, I couldn’t remember a damn thing, I felt incredibly weak, my husband would find claw marks, scratches and bruises all over my body, I barely had the energy to get out of bed in the morning, working was becoming unbearable, and worse, I started having severe chest pains. Then, I had fainting spells at work and almost in the car while I was driving home. After a much needed EKG, my doctor told me I had gone into bradycardia. I was petrified. For the first time, I was terrified of dying. But still, I couldn’t stop.

Thank God my family decided to rescue me! At the beginning of November, they took me to a residential treatment center in Florida. I was so sick that I still argued passionately with my husband up until they dropped me off. It was unbelievably surreal; I felt like I was being dropped off on an island and would be stranded. I felt defeated and betrayed. These people were trying to take this away from me and turn me into someone I hated even more. There I was, sobbing, thinking my life was over… when in fact, it had just begun.

They literally saved my life! The place I dreaded most became my happy place; my safe bubble. I actually didn’t want to leave. I had the best therapists I’ve ever had, met the most amazing women I have ever met; it was a life altering experience. Everyone there became my army, and the dining room table was my battlefield. Every morning when I didn’t want to get up to eat, and was so homesick it physically hurt, I fought with every fiber of my being to do this for my loved ones. A picture of them sat right next to my plate and that is what got me through every single meal.

It was nothing short of a miracle! When you hit rock bottom, sometimes you just have to surrender. My obsessive need to control everything had come to a tragic end. I couldn’t manage my life anymore, and clearly when I (and my “false god”) steered the ship, look where it got me! I came home a few days before Christmas, and felt like a completely different person. I had a new brain, a new set of eyes, a clear mind, a clean heart, a restored soul. I could really smile again! My marriage is repairing, my muscles are repairing, my organs are repairing, my friendships are repairing, my family is repairing, my faith is repairing, my spirit is repairing. I have energy, I can remember things, I’m kinder, less anxious, less judgmental, less irritable, more loving, more fun, more open, more present. I’m medically stable, following my meal plan, conquering fear foods, have color back in my face and light in my eyes! I am able to do things I couldn’t have possibly done before: hikes with my dog, yoga, going out to dinner with my family talking and chewing freely, laughing out loud with my sister, really feeling hugging my husband, not taking hours to get ready, actually tasting the food I’m consuming. I refuse to fail at my marriage and my second chance at life! The truth is, the enemy does not stand a chance when its victim decides to survive.

Recovery has become my full-time job and the thing I hated most has become my medicine. There is a quote I recently found that seems to beautifully sum it up, “She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.” Although my actual weight when I was sick was low, the weight I carried around with me was by the ton. You see, anorexia doesn’t just affect eating (like so many think)… it affects everything. Let me repeat, everything. It is not a fad, it is not a diet, and it so not glamorous. Is recovery utterly exhausting? Yeah. Does it feel like I’m mourning a death? Yes. Are mirrors still painful to look in? Yep! Do I often still feel shameful for eating? Yeah. Do I fully love and accept myself yet?? Heck no! But am I actively and vigilantly choosing light over darkness and recovery over my illness? You better believe it!!

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I’m choosing my husband’s kisses over calorie counting, a homemade dessert over hiding and compulsively exercising. I’m choosing sunsets over scales, self-care over self-harm. I’m choosing bare feet and dirty paws, less makeup and messy hair, late nights looking at the stars, actually being a wife, feeling like we’re a family again! While the pain is far from over and I’m unfortunately not “relapse-proof”, I am choosing joy, love, freedom, and LIFE day by day, hour by hour, step by step, bite by bite.

Connect with Shannon on Instagram at @feedyoursoulonebiteatatime  

Empowered Through Art

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Healing from an eating disorder can be a tremendous journey. It can be hard, exhausting and sometimes uncomfortable – but at the end of the day we know it’s worth it. It becomes nothing short of empowering when you are able to heal and discover a brand new life without an eating disorder running the show.

For many, it can be about finding that one thing that brings us some inner peace. Whether its through writing, singing or using art to explore our emotions. One of our awesome Project HEAL supporters, Jenna Rose Simon, has done just that. With almost 40K followers on Instagram she has been able to share her powerful artwork to not only heal herself, but bring light to serious topics through captivating images.

We hope her story of recovery can bring you some inspiration today!

1. How long have you been drawing for?
I’ve been drawing for most of my life, but I used to draw mostly portraits of either friends or celebrities.  I only recently started drawing concept art, or things that are based on raw emotion.
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2.  How has drawing affected your recovery?  
Drawing has affected my recovery in too many ways to list.  When I first started drawing concept art, it was really just for me and my therapist.  I didn’t think it could have an impact on anyone else.  She told me that one day, when I was ready, I should put my work in galleries and that it could really help others.  I wasn’t ready to stand up in front of people and talk about my work and the concepts behind them, So I started an instagram account solely for my art.  That kind of exploded quickly.  People did seem helped by it, and that really helped me therapeutically.  I’ve struggled most of my life to feel as though I was good enough, and struggled to feel that anything I ever did would be good enough too.  Drawing the artwork helped me cope with some of the difficult situations in my life.  Sharing it with others and watching it move people has started to help me heal the little voice inside my head that thinks that nothing I do is ever going to be good enough.  It’s still not perfect, but I have moments now where I sit back and say, “Wow, that really touched a lot of people!  I’m proud of that drawing,” and I’ve been able to relate that feeling to some non drawing activities as well.
3. Do you have any advice to those who may want to draw for therapeutic reasons?
I would say do it.  It is not even about skill level.  I went to college to study Art Therapy because I was so fascinated by how much it could uncover that regular therapy didn’t necessarily get to.  Sometimes drawing or writing, or even dancing… any other art form, seems to be an easier way to express feelings.  It doesn’t have to look like a masterpiece, and you don’t even have to share it with anyone else.  It just has to help you in some way.  Everyone is capable of that.
4. What is your favorite piece that you’ve drawn so far and why?
I have a hard time sometimes deciding on a “favorite” piece, because all of my pieces are different, and they all have different purposes.  I think in choosing a favorite, I’d have to say that the one I love is a self portrait I did where I am holding my neck and my brain is trying to strangle me.  The message behind it is “Your thoughts are what’s killing you.”  I feel this is such a common theme among people today, both in eating disorders and other disorders as well.  Sometimes we overthink things to the point that we create situations in our heads that aren’t even real.  I am so guilty of this and still, to this day, am regularly being called on it.  This drawing is meant to depict that we can be our own worst enemy depending on what kinds of thoughts we foster.  Within eating disorders, I think behavior commonly comes from thoughts we foster, which come from experiences we’ve had in our life.  It is so hard to change those thoughts, but this image shows just how important that is.
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5. What is your advice to anyone who is just now entering recovery?
 Try to remember that there is life after these few weeks.  This sounds so utterly specific, and possibly cheesy, but it’s so true.  The first couple of weeks felt almost unbearable to me, and in every moment, I didn’t think I would make it to the next one.  I couldn’t even think 4 weeks ahead to a time where it got easier.  I had people in my life who kept reminding me that typically, the first few weeks are the hardest for a variety of reasons, and then it starts to get easier.  I didn’t really trust them, and I don’t expect anyone to trust me either, I just hope that they take this information and think, “If she could do it, and she is saying this, then so can I,” and continue to have hope.  Sometimes we don’t get to the end because we feel like the current situation will never end.  I am literally still guilty of this on at least a weekly basis, but past experiences and being able to get through very difficult moments have taught me that it will eventually end, no matter how I feel right now.  And when it does end, you’ll be so happy that you stuck out these more difficult primary moments.
Connect with Jenna on Social Media:
Twitter: @JennaRoseSimon
Facebook: Jenna Rose Simon
Instagram: @AGentleTouchOfArt and @JennaRoseSimon
http://jennarosesimon.com