#DontMiss Loving Yourself in Recovery

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It’s so easy to miss the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. I know, because I had one for over seventeen years, and I was a master at not only hiding it from my family and friends, but deceiving myself into thinking that I didn’t have one.

Thankfully, with the help of God and my support team, I was able to get into a healthy place in my life and learn that it is possible to recover. And just as easy as it is to miss an eating disorder, it’s easy to miss loving yourself in recovery. I am a hard worker, and I love helping others, in fact, it’s one of the things that has helped me to recover. So in this VLOG for the Eating Recovery Roundup, I’ve decided to focus on #DontMiss loving yourself in recovery. Enjoy, and if you have any self love or self care tips you’d like to share, email me at nikkidubosecoaching@gmail.com.

With love and gratitude,

Nikki DuBose

Messages for My Non-Disordered Friends & Family

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By: Erica B.

1. You mean a lot to me: If I have divulged to you that I have/had an eating disorder, you must be pretty important to me. This is not something I share lightly, so if I have shared, I want you to know that I trust you implicitly.

2. Please refrain from “diet talk” or “fat-shaming”: Though it may not seem like a big deal, calling yourself “bad” for having an extra brownie or commenting on how you need to “diet for bikini season” is incredibly triggering to me. I understand that commenting about how “huge your thighs are” is an activity that bonds women and is very prevalent in our society; I can go on for days about how stupid all of that is, but that’s not relevant here. What is relevant is that those comments can send me into a downward spiral of my own insecurities; this may or may not be a problem for non-disordered people, but I will spend days thinking about how “huge I am” and how you all “must be thinking about how fat I am.” It might cause my behaviors to fly off the walls, and that can be really dangerous for my physical and mental health. One seemingly innocuous comment might break me, depending upon any number of factors, so please just avoid them.

3. Please don’t tell me about your friend’s disorder: You may have the best of intentions when you tell me that “you understand” my disorder because your childhood friend went through this “phase where she stopped eating and got super skinny, but then she got over it when she found cross-fit a few months later, and now she eats super healthy and is super fit, look at this picture of her now.” When you tell me well-intentioned anecdotes about eating disorders, my mind immediately jumps to a number of disordered thoughts: I can get competitive, or worried about you comparing my body to your friend’s, or convinced that I must do cross-fit in order to get better, which may not be healthy for me. Whatever my response is, I do not want to see a picture of this girl now. Everyone’s disorders are different.

4. Please don’t make comments on my body: Hearing about how “healthy I am now” is not always a compliment in my mind. Hearing that I’m “thick, but in a healthy way” might send me into internal hysterics. I know you mean well when you make comments about how “sexy” I look in that outfit, but I might then spiral off worrying about the benefits of looking “sexy” versus “skinny.” Body comments are rarely helpful, so please refrain.

5. Please don’t comment on what I eat: Odds are I’ve already given too much thought to the nutrition content of what I’ve put on my plate. If I take a second cookie, I probably didn’t do so cavalierly. I don’t need to hear whether I “eat like a bird” or “must be ravenous today!”

6. Please don’t ask me how low my weight got/how much I’ve put on: This is really personal information. It also doesn’t matter AT ALL. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, so weight is not always indicative of severity. Also, I wouldn’t ask you how much you weigh.

7. I am not crazy: This is here more to ease me than for your benefit. I fear that people associate eating disorders/mental illness in general with insanity. I am not my disorder; I am the same smart, kind, responsible person you knew before I revealed to you my struggle.

8. Feel free to ask questions: Other than ones about specific weights, I am open to questions. I don’t want this to be an elephant in the room. If you want to know something, please just ask me. If it is something I don’t feel comfortable answering, I’ll tell you.

(Re)discovering My Roots through Art in Eating Disorder Recovery

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By: Jamie (OJ)

It’s amazing how one day you can wake up and realize that, holy crap, you’ve been back under your eating disorder’s spell for a few weeks and you didn’t even know it. Well, in hindsight, there were some hints along the way, coupled with precarious relief, but nothing that warranted concern. But then it hits you, most likely at an inconvenient time.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner, CJ and I went on a lovely day trip, which like most other day trips included going out for lunch. I ordered what felt like a challenge food I could handle, a sandwich that sounded delicious, and was feeling proud. When the food was brought to the table though, I felt a familiar, yet distant panic. Eating felt hard again. Old narratives and personifications of what impossible superpowers this food was capable of trickled back into my thoughts:

What?!?!?! [honest disbelief]

How did I not see this coming? [useless self-blame]

Why all of a sudden?  [useless self-denial]

How do I fix this? [glimpse of motivation]

I can’t let anyone know, I just need to get out of this ditch on my own. [useless stubbornness thinking I can do this on my own]

At this point in my recovery though, the short-term relief is coupled with the haunting knowledge of the consequences of my eating disorder behaviors. I’ve gained too much awareness and insight into how I want to live my life, that I feel frustrated, shame, and fear after struggling with a behavior. These emotions clouded the clarity and control I thought I gained over my eating disorder and it was hard for me to determine where I ended and the eating disorder began. So I turned to art.

During a session with my dietitian, she brought up one of my tattoos that says, “I am rooted, but I flow” and asked me what I feel rooted in when I’m stuck in more of the eating disorder mindset? I turned to art:

art for project heal post

The image on the left represents how it feels to be stuck in a state where I’m hovering over the unstable terrain of my eating disorder, encapsulated by shame and fear. I know I’ve been in this space before and it can head down a path that will prevent me from living my life and will put me right back into treatment. It’s tight and claustrophobic. I don’t want to be stuck here, but there is also sadly, a part of me that doesn’t want to comply with what I know I need to do to break free. There’s an internal emptiness, but a sense of safety and protection from what’s outside. In this picture, I’m floating, not connected to any roots, because really, fear isn’t grounding.

 

The image on the right, represents being re-rooted in the present. My dietitian encouraged me to dig deep and connect with the roots that felt most inherent and true in my heart. I’m able to listen to the values of my own heart and I’m not stuck, I’m rooted in the honesty, in vulnerability, and compassion, in values that I know feel important to me. Listening to my heart gives me more ways to trust my intuition.

For those of us who sometimes feel stuck during a meal, a lapse, a slip, a relapse… here are a few suggestions:

  1. Take it one day at a time, try to ground yourself in what you know to be true to your values and goals (not your eating disorders’ values and goals)

  2. Notice the source of information that your eating disorder is trying to convince you is accurate

  3. Stay grounded in your roots that originate from your heart.

  4. And perhaps most of all, trust that you are deserving and worthy of and able to believe in yourself.

 

In strength and healing,

OJ


OJ is currently experiencing and documenting the ups and downs of eating disorder recovery. She and her partner (CJ) share their dual perspectives on eating disorder recovery through a queer lens on their blog www.thirdwheelED.com. OJ’s writing focuses on the intersectionality of eating disorder recovery as a self-identified queer and lesbian woman. She also documents her eating disorder recovery in conjunction with other mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Jamie volunteers with Project HEAL Boston.

Frequently Asked Questions Friday

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Frequently Asked Questions Friday

FAQ

This weeks question is:

How does treatment differ for males?

 

This is a great question, and one that does not receive enough attention or discourse. Males are and have been left out of the eating disorder discussion for far too long. As a society, and sometimes even as health professionals, we tend to hold the mistaken belief that males do not struggle with body image, or that they cannot develop unhealthy relationships with food. This is simply not true. The percentage of males that report struggling with eating disorders has been on the rise for years, but my argument is that our current understanding of percentages and numbers is likely very inaccurate, due to underreporting. There is still that strong societal belief that eating disorders are “female illnesses,” which leads a lot of male sufferers to feel shameful and stay silent about their pain.

 

One important factor to note is that many males develop their eating disorder along their journey to become “fit” versus simply thin. Our society currently holds a different fitness ideal for males than for females. “Fit” for men may imply more of a high muscle-low fat ratio. Currently, the pressure for males to achieve this body-to be “cut”-is astounding. However, this body type is not natural or attainable for the majority of the male population. The term “muscle dysmorphia” has been coined to describe this preoccupation with less fat and greater muscle definition. Hence males can begin to fall prey to the very same behaviors that females do. This shift can be tricky to identify at first, due to the fact that the original intention was not necessarily weight-focused. However, for many of these male eating disordered sufferers, their focus gets lost and the relentless pursuit of thinness takes over. The sport or activity that was once enjoyed then becomes an obsession.

 

Similarly, males tend to struggle more with legal performance-enhancing supplements — things like whey protein, creatine, and L-carnitine. Studies have shown that the use and abuse of such supplements is on the rise, and up to 22% of males stated that they had replaced meals with said supplements in the quest for a lean frame and large muscles. This behavior is dangerous, eating disordered, and rooted in low self-esteem- however it goes largely unnoticed by the majority of our society. In fact, the use and abuse of supplements seems to be considered somewhat normalized behavior at this point. This is quite problematic because these supplements have been linked to the development of eating disorders, and normalizing their abuse contributes to the trend of ignoring male disordered eating behaviors.

 

It is also important to note that, just as the thin ideal does not contribute to all eating disorders among women, current male fitness trends do not factor into all male eating disorders either. Many males report experiencing the very same influences as females- bullying, a drive for perfection, a quest to disappear, a desire for control, a need for numbness, a history of trauma-when conceptualizing their eating disorders in treatment. Therapy and treatment must include room for males to explore this part of their eating disorder, instead of simply focusing on body dissatisfaction with a focus on fitness trends.

 

At the inpatient or outpatient level, male-only groups tend to be helpful. This is because males have concerns regarding social issues, family dynamics, and body image that are vastly different than those of females. Male-only groups are helpful in that they allow males to specifically discuss and lend support around the stigmatization factor to one another. This is not to say that mixed-gender groups cannot be helpful as well. In the end, everyone is suffering with an illness that falls under the same umbrella, so support and camaraderie in general is a healing experience.

 

Research also suggests that a focus on gender dynamics overall in the treatment for males with eating disorders is important. Individual and societal perceptions of masculinity likely affect one’s experience of disordered eating, and must be explored. Masculinity has been correlated with more negative attitudes toward obtaining mental health help, and may contribute to the reason that males make fewer attempts at seeking help. Hence a therapist may identify this as something to explore further.

 

Other parts of treatment are comparable across genders. For example, treatment outcomes are similar. The basic principle of treatment (i.e. weight restoration, disrupting maladaptive behaviors, challenging thoughts related to weight and shape) also remain the same. For a more detailed analysis of this, I would suggest looking into the article “Males and Eating Disorders: Gender-Based Therapy for Eating Disorder Recovery,” found in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, by Greenburg and Schoen.

 

I believe that if we continue to raise awareness and educate others about the fact that males can and very much do get eating disorders, the intervention and treatment for males will improve drastically. Currently, there are still far fewer treatment center options for males than there are for females. But as awareness continues to spread, more and more centers are beginning to not only accept males, but also provide specific tailored treatment or “male tracks.” This is encouraging progress. There is also NAMAD- The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, which provides resources, inspiration, support, and articles for males

(http://namedinc.org/)

 

Conclusively, we still have a long way to go in terms of our awareness and inclusion of males in the eating disorder conversation. But the conversation has begun, and this alone is great progress. Lets keep it going!

 

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Colleen Reichmann is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders, body image issues, self-esteem issues, and women’s issues. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, goldendoodle and (brand new!) sheepadoodle.

Let’s connect!

Email questions to: blog@theprojectheal.org

Instragam @drcolleenreichmann

Facebook Page: Dr. Colleen Reichmann

*The views expressed in this posting are based on this writer’s professional knowledge, training, and experience in accord with current and relevant psychological literature and practice. These views do not indicate that a professional relationship has been established with any recipients. Readers should consult with their primary medical professionals for specific feedback about any and all questions.

 

 

Not Sick Enough

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“Can I ask you something? Would you ever consider going inpatient?” My therapist implored me, her eyes heavy with concern. Truthfully I had been spacing out until that moment, but the term “inpatient” pulled me out of my head quickly. “No way. I’m not sick enough for that.”

 

This just about sums up the endless cycle between myself and various family members, friends, dietitians and therapists for longer than I would like to admit. They approached the topic of a higher level of care- I brushed off the concern, laughed even, and told them I was not nearly sick enough. And they subsequentially found themselves speaking directly to my eating disorder and not me.

 

If you can relate, if you ever find yourself thinking “I’m not sick enough” take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in this thought. I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder, including myself (see above) that has not had this thought at one point or another. But next time you find yourself thinking this, remember: this thought itself suggests that you are, in fact, “sick enough,” because this is an unhealthy thought to have. People who are well do not tend to wish to be ill.

 

According to the DSM-5, the most telling diagnostic factor for an eating disorder is a negative impact on social, emotional or physical functioning. This updated diagnostic classification system takes into account that an eating disorder will present itself in a unique way- a specific constellation of symptoms, behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that cause distress and dysfunction in different arenas of one’s life. Hence there is no actual operational definition for “sick enough.” It is an ED thought and one that stems directly back to the biological and chemical roots of the disorder itself. For example, research conducted among ED samples demonstrates that there is an altered response to pain, emotion intensity, hunger and satiety, and assessment of body shape/body image. This suggests that part of the brain that senses pain related to physical and psychological experiences does not function properly (which may, in part, account for the “numbing effect that many people with eating disorders report). Hence an individual suffering from an eating disorder may be physically or psychologically compromised, but their brain does not sense this. As a result, patients can actually be quite ill but their brain (and specifically the eating disorder part of their brain chemistry) is still feeding them thoughts of “not sick enough.”

To put it plainly-You will never be sick enough, because there is no sick enough. The sick enough that the eating disorder is promising you is a disappearing goal post, a mirage. I’ve had frank conversations with the very people who my eating disorder used to compare me against- the people that I thought fit my idea of “sick enough”-and guess what? They all reiterated some version of the very same thought- “I just never saw myself as sick enough.”

This is why, when the “not sick enough” thought comes to mind, it is important to consciously process and acknowledge the fact that this is your eating disorder speaking. If you want recovery, you must challenge this thought immediately. Ask yourself, “What does sick enough mean? And why do I want to be sick? What will I get out of being sick enough? What will I achieve from being the most sick?” Challenge your eating disorder voice on this every.single.time. Do not let your ED voice bully you into thinking that being sick = happiness.

 

So: A quick reminder that your eating disorder is a real and valid experience even if…

  • You have never been underweight
  • You have never been inpatient
  • You are weight-restored
  • Your labs look fine
  • You have never been on an NG tube/never drank ensure/never been near death
  • You’ve been told you don’t “look like” you have an ED
  • You’ve never been to a therapist
  • You don’t have a strikingly alarming “rock bottom story” about your ED
  • You don’t restrict food groups/count calories
  • You don’t feel triggered by the media or diet culture
  • Your friends or family don’t know
  • Your friends or family don’t believe you
  • You like to eat certain things/look forward to meals
  • You don’t have fear foods
  • You don’t fear foods that others seem to
  • You don’t use the behaviors that people most commonly speak about when they discuss EDs
  • You don’t exercise
  • Your recovery is going smoothly
  • Your journey/gender/ethnicity/identity does not match the most common portrayal of eating disorders in the media or the memoirs

Summarily- ban/obliterate/kick out “not sick enough.” Argue relentlessly with your ED when the thought comes to mind. As a past therapist told me “Let go of the idea of not being sick enough. You are sick. You are also enough. The relationship ends there.”

 

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The Myth of Partial Recovery

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Recovery. Full recovery. Partial recovery. Recovered. Recovering. There is a plethora of phrases that individuals use to describe their experiences of recovering from an eating disorder. There is no definite consensus about what “recovery” versus “recovered” means, even in the medical community (and yes I work in an inpatient treatment setting, so I have the inside scoop folks). Eating disorders are fundamentally different from other behavioral disorders in which people invoke the term recovery towards (such as addiction). Recovery is not black or white. Not even a little bit. It’s every shade of grey that exists on the color spectrum, which means it can be tricky to place yourself on the “recovery continuum” throughout your own journey. While I do not believe it is particularly helpful to get too caught up in the minutia of “Am I in recovery?” versus “Am I recovered yet?” there is one particular phenomenon that I do want to advocate with all my power against- the idea of partial recovery, and more specifically settling for partial recovery. It’s not uncommon for people aiming to recover from an eating disorder to reach a point in their process in which they decide, “This is as good as it is going to get.” I myself have experienced this thought during my recovery journey, and I hear the same thought voiced over and over from the warriors that I now work with. It gets me to thinking- in some sense, when we get comfortable with this thought, we are seeking the “best of both worlds.” That is, we may have challenged and successfully blocked some our most problematic behaviors and progressed from a dangerous place where life is compromised, but still be attempting to control our weight, or still have food rules. In this place, this half-world, we can hold down a job, sustain relationships, and even put up the façade of having a halfway decent relationship with food. And hey, in a diet-obsessed, thin-idealized culture, isn’t this good enough?

 

The problem is, this whole half-world is just that- a half world. It is an illusion. A smokescreen. It’s actually the worst of both worlds. Maybe your body is physically restored to your lowest safe weight. Or maybe the behaviors that invoked the loudest concern from family and friends are no longer occurring. But the fact is, your mind is still very much under siege. The eating disorder is still there, it is still taking up residence in the very depths up your soul. But it’s even more dangerous now. Why? Because it has become an even trickier, wilier bastard. It’s not screaming at you at all hours of the day and night, but it is there, whispering. It is not all consuming, but simply lurking. It tells you it is gone, leaving, on the way out, but its bags are not packed yet. Problematically, the chances are that you will be receiving less support during this time than when you were at your most severely ill.

So is partial recovery good enough?

No way José. Not if you want to get your life back. As Marya Hornbacher (author of Wasted, one of the first memoirs about eating disorders) put it, “That’s the common denominator among people I know who have recovered. They chose recovery, and they worked like hell for it, and they didn’t give up.” If your life is still ruled by diets, if your mind is still consumed with constant anxiety around food, you’re not recovered. Even if such and such BMI is reached. Because all of these are indications that your mind is still malnourished, and needs more time and effort in order to fully heal.

As I previously stated, eating disorders are wily. They will hang around and dawdle and drag their feet, and ultimately will sneak back in if the door is left ajar. And that is, in essence, what partial recovery is. It is never giving yourself the chance to be fully free. It is trying to swim to the river bank without letting go of the log that your are drifting on in the middle of the river. It is stopping short, just before the finish line. Just imagine, for a second, what lies beyond. It is hard, but not impossible. Keep pushing forward, don’t stop, and strive to live the life that you deserve!

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-C

An Open Letter To Insurance Companies

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Dear Insurance Companies,

 

It has become increasingly apparent that there are some significant injustices when it comes to treatment coverage for individuals suffering from eating disorders. Though eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, a mortality rate that actually rivals that of some cancers, many of you, the insurance companies, have policies that specifically exclude reimbursement for eating disorders. As someone who has had to obtain treatment for my own eating disorder, and now years later, is working as a professional in an inpatient eating disorders treatment facility, I feel that I can offer a unique and multifaceted view on this managed care issue. Here are some of the main problems that I have noticed with the way that you deal with eating disorder coverage:

  1. All too often, you provide very low caps, particularly on inpatient days. In fact, the number of inpatient days provided is often so shockingly low that it leaves me wondering if you have been educated as to what the purpose of an inpatient facility even is? What do you expect us, the psychologists, psychiatrists, and dieticians, to accomplish in five days? Perhaps it would be helpful for you to read through the DSM-5 and other accompanying literature, so that you may better comprehend the chronicity and stubborn nature of this illness.

 

  1. Many of you will only cover expenses that are “medically necessary” but will not rule on medical necessity until well after treatment has been initiated. Then, ridiculously, upon review it is decided that care for an eating disorder is not deemed medically necessary. Once again, this leaves me wondering if you have been provided with the proper education needed to understand the nature of eating disorders. These illnesses often include a medical and psychological component. Both are serious enough to warrant treatment.

 

  1. You tend to use weight as the defining factor in whether or not someone receives coverage. This is particularly problematic. I cannot begin to describe how much heartache this ill-thought-out notion has caused both myself in the past, and now the patients that I work with currently. For one thing, it provokes and provides fuel for the long-standing and stubborn “I am not sick enough to deserve help,” thought that plagues so many individuals with eating disorders. Secondly, it colludes with current societal ignorance that eating disorders must be accompanied by weight loss. Did you know that the vast majority of those suffering from eating disorders are not underweight? Please try to understand- you cannot tell who has an eating disorder by looking at them. Low body weight is a symptom of some (the minority) of those suffering from eating disorders. Can you now begin to see the absurdity of basing coverage on a symptom that most sufferers do not have? This would be like basing coverage for chemotherapy on headaches. Some people suffering from certain types of cancer might have headaches, but to base coverage on this transient symptom simply makes no sense

 

  1. You seem to place a hierarchy of eating disorders that is not based in fact. For example, Anorexia Nervosa is typically considered easier to obtain coverage for than Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. However, a 2009 Longitudinal study by Crow et al determines that there is an increased rate of mortality for Bulimia Nervosa and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This new study shows that this diagnosis has an elevated mortality rate similar to that of Anorexia Nervosa. I urge you to read this research, in order to better understand that coverage should not be diagnosis-specific.

 

  1. Some of your policies appear to base coverage entirely on medical necessity, with no regards to emotional or psychological symptoms. Hence even if you do take other factors (aside from weight) such as blood work into account, when these symptoms clear up, you decide to stop covering treatment. Again, this leaves me wondering if you understand the nature of eating disorders. To clear up some of your misunderstandings, I recommend that you read “The Great Starvation Experiment” for a research-based perspective on the long-lasting psychological effects of manipulating food intake and weight. Eating disorders do no “go away” once weight/blood pressure/ electrolytes have been stabilized. Please understand- pulling coverage as soon as medical symptoms have cleared leaves patients confused, and clinicians aggravated.

 

These, insurance companies, are the main problems that I have noticed thus far. Because treatment for eating disorders is so critical and can, quite literally, mean the difference between life and death, I urge you to begin to think more deeply and in a way that makes sense about coverage for these illnesses. Please hear my plea, and the pleas of sufferers, family members, friends, and clinicians all around the world. The request is quite simple. We want eating disorders to be covered by all insurance companies in the very same way that medical illnesses are. We want time and consideration placed into length of stay granted, and we want a deeper understanding about the nature of eating disorders by you, the people who are controlling the very treatment that will save our lives, and the lives of our patients.

Thank you for your time,

C

 

Islam and Eating Disorders in the Muslim World

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For over fifteen years of my life I’ve suffered from the Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. I have had relapses, but keep on rising up with a belief that the Eating Disorder is an illness that can be defeated. I run a blog and offer support to anyone and everyone who needs support to defeat the demon of Eating Disorder. This blog specifically  creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, and offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones. My campaign started from home in Surrey, UK and has now spread to countries across the world. I’m grateful for this illness because it has given me life from a different perspective, it has helped me to gain in-depth understanding of mental illness and it has connected me to beautiful souls from various faiths, cultures and backgrounds across the world.

War Against Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan. Please visit: https://waragainsteatingdisorder.com

*Please note that my experience of my illness and my recovery is only that my-own. I share all of this because I know that what I went through is not confined to just me, it relates to others as well*

I have been asked lots of questions on the negative voice of the demon of Eating Disorder. So many of us struggle with this voice in our head and its evilness. How did I recover from this menacing voice, how did I shut out its evil whispers?

I spent many years living under the slavery of this voice. Yes, I prayed, but with an absent mind. There was no concentration in my prayers and my mind was always so tired. At times I felt too tired and would perform my prayers sitting down and sometimes lying down. Anorexia robs you off your physical and mental strength.

My first step to recovery was NHS outpatient therapy in UK. Despite an excellent therapist and a brilliant psychiatrist, I wasn’t getting better. I was then sent to an Eating Disorder Unit. Even after reaching a certain body weight, my mind was still stuck in its disordered phase. Physically I looked fine, but my mental health was another story in itself. (Like many people with anorexia, I never wanted to go to an Eating Disorder unit).

After discharging myself from the unit, I went back to London to do some voluntary work. It was a difficult time. I spent whole days staring at the computer screen with a blank mind trying to shut out the negative whispers of the demon of Eating Disorder. Other times I studied lunch menus and planned elaborate lunches.  At a low weight, your mind can switch from being rational to irrational but with the weight gain, rational mind becomes slightly stronger and it’s more aware of your thoughts and self-destructive behaviours. It was this coherent spurt of rationality that made me embark on a journey of seeking help for my disordered mind.

I never talked about the negative voice to anyone, even in therapy I never acknowledged or admitted that I had so many thoughts going through my mind. I always gave an illusion that I was perfect and in perfect control of my emotions and my life.

So, I started looking for something, any Islamic place that would help me to defeat this voice in my head. I tried other methods of recovery as well; I went to Chinese Herbalists, Buddhist group, relaxation classes, yoga, to no avail. I considered going to Yemen, to Damascus, to a remote village in Pakistan, to Egypt, anyplace that would provide relief from the negative Eating Disorder voice in my head.

In 2012, I came across the Sufi School of Teaching on internet. I contacted my local group and told them of my interest in joining a group for meditation.

Me and the Sufi School of Teaching

The road to eating disorder recovery starts with admitting you have a problem. I acknowledged that my mind was troubled and that my thoughts were irrational. In recovery therapists and psychiatrists emphasize changing your brain through positive thoughts, affirmations and behaviours. I wanted to influence my mind with positive thoughts. I wanted to recreate my connection with God and mostly I wanted to silence the negative voice in my mind and fill my heart with the praises of Allah.

At the Sufi school of Teaching, my first practice was to do silent meditation for 45 minutes every morning and evening. The art of meditation in Sufi school is the art of being with yourself, connecting with your heart to connect with Almighty. The meditation is also a way for an individual to realise that they are not in full control of their life but God is.

The Art of Silent Meditation

You allow the thoughts to flow through your mind. There were many days when I found the practices very difficult. Our actions can never be divorced from the state of mind from which they spring. This is the basic idea behind meditation. As long as our actions are based upon the needs to satisfy the demon of Eating Disorder they will in the long term reinforce the very feelings of discontent we are trying to avoid and will keep us stuck in the horrible world of negative living. My Eating Disorder mind, which was my subconscious mind, was 80% of my whole mind and I hated those negative thoughts with sheer vengeance.

I used to think, what happens if I stop, if I take time out from doing anything other than serving the needs of the demon of Eating Disorder? I was petrified of making that discovery and then I learned that:

Miracles happen, your mind changes, and you become aware of yourself.

One evening I was meditating and all of a sudden negative menacing voice was there, telling me that I was worthless.

And to this day I will never forget  how I responded to that voice in my head, “No! I am not worthless!  Allah made me, He made me special, He never creates anything that is worthless, Allah mentions me in the Holy Qur’an, I am special, so go away”.

That was it! From that day, every time a thought crossed my mind, anything that was negative, I would talk back. I became increasingly aware of myself, my mind and my thoughts. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I realised that I was changing, my appearance was changing, my thinking was changing, there was a glimmer of life in my eyes and my mind was becoming free. Through the practices, meditation, Dhikr, and Durood my mind slowly changed and I realized the greatness and grandeur of Almighty Allah . Contentment surrounds your heart and your heart becomes engaged in singing praises of its beloved Almighty Allah. This positive change enabled me to build up a strong emotional positive attitude to life and those around me.

I began to have the strength to stand up for myself and tell people what I believed in. To this day people are shocked by my strength. When a wedding proposal came for me, I told the family about my illness and the phases I went through. In a culture where mental illness is seen as a taboo topic, my blunt honesty cost me a lot. I didn’t get married and it upset many people and alienated me further.

I am a living proof of a person who has spent all her life under the slavery of Eating Disorder and prevails. Fifteen years of Eating Disorder suffering is a lot, but all I know is I’m strong, by God I have so much strength. I hate all kinds of Eating Disorders, because all Eating Disorders are dangerous and can kill.

P.S.:  We all are different. Our experiences are different. Recovery means different things to different people. Some people recover with the outpatient therapy, some recover in the inpatient settings and some recover at home. Some people recover with the help of spirituality, and some with the help of other coping tools. But for some recovery is a long arduous journey full of trials and tribulations. Please seek help for your Eating Disorder. Embark on a journey that you feel is best for you. A journey to recovery is a unique one, it’s a journey of self-discovery and ultimate happiness. How many of us are provided with this ample opportunity to rediscover ourselves in this world? Not many, I believe.

Not “An Anorexic.” Why Words Matter

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“She is an anorexic.”

 
“She suffers from anorexia.”

 
If you over heard two doctors talking about the same patient in the above ways, which one would you choose to treat your own ailments?

 
Labeling others or ourselves as disorders is not only disrespectful, it is incredibly harmful and degrading. Why? Because you are not something that you are going through, you are a person, and internalizing labels happens more quickly than we realize. The more we tell ourselves or listen to others tell us that we are “bulimics/anorexics,” the more we begin to take on the label, to step up to the plate of the eating disorder so to speak. Think about it. Your internal dialogue dictates how your feel about yourself, which in turn affects how you see yourself. If you continuously call yourself a label used to describe a mental disorder, then you are effectively labeling yourself as that mental disorder. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, you are not a mental disorder, you are a person. A person with hopes, dreams, goals. A person with your own personality, intelligence, and humor. You are not the chemical makeup of your own brain, or the interplay between genetics and environment in your life. Secondly, one of the goals of eating disorder recovery is to separate yourself from the eating disorder. It is decidedly more difficult to extricate yourself from the grips of what you are, versus what you are suffering from. I know it sounds like semantics. But it really truly is important to pay attention to these things. Our words affect our thoughts, which affect our feelings, which affect, well, everything.

 
Interestingly enough, there are virtually no medical illnesses that garner this type of personal labeling, and only a select number of mental illnesses seem to have taken on the labeling factor with vigor. “An anorexic,” “a bulimic,” “a schizophrenic,” “an alcoholic.” But… “a depressed?” Nope. “An anxiety?” Nah. So what gives? One theory is that addiction, psychosis, and eating disorders are all considered to be ego syntonic illnesses, meaning that the behaviors, values, or feelings that go along with the disorders are consistent with one’s own self-image. In short, this means that the disorders can be trickier to spot to the very people who are suffering from them, because there can be a great deal of denial or refutation on the part of those individuals. Hence people can come to internalize the role of the illnesses as “this is just me” or “this is who I am.” From there it is just a hop skip and a leap to “I am an anorexic.”

 

This labeling is not uncommon either. May 16, 2015, the New York Post ran an article with the title “XX lb. Anorexic Has One Last Chance At Survival.” (Unfortunately they did include the number, which is a separate issue altogether). Labeling an individual who already likely struggles with feelings of shame, insecurity, and low self-esteem by the illness that they are struggling from only serves to further ingrain the idea that there is no hope for the future, and that they are bound to their eating disorder forever. After all, they are “an eating disorder.”

 
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to watch how you speak to yourself and those around you. Labels tend to be detrimental anyway, but using a mental illness as a label? That definitely has a negative impact on well-being and health. So next time someone calls you “a/an (fill in the blank with the unhelpful label of your choice), just tell them, “Labels are for cans and jars, not people.” 😉

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Eight Years After Treatment

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*Written by Nicole Rohr Stephani

Founder, Body Boop

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I’m living the best part of my life right now, but I almost did not make it here. I’ve been married to my husband for one year, we have a darling puppy together, and we live in a beautiful early-1900s house in Chicago. But the one thing that always gets me is that I still run into eating disorder triggers – eight years after I left treatment for anorexia and bulimia for the third time.

 

In early 2014, I found myself getting frustrated that there weren’t more resources for men and women like me, who have been in recovery for five years, 10 years, 20 years, or more. I would run into issues with getting rid of my “skinny” clothes, with conquering fear foods after they had not given me problems for years, with being in a group of women and dealing with the constant weight and self-loathing conversations.

 

How do you find a balance between not going to the gym at all and the unhealthy amount of time you spent there when you were sick? How do you eat nutritious foods without skewing all the way to restriction? Do you see an eating disorder therapist after 8 years of recovery, or can you see a general social worker or psychologist and talk about other things some of the time? What do you do when you are denied life insurance because of your eating disorder history?

 

I wanted to read something that spoke to me and to my dedication to recovery, even after so long. In March 2014, I founded Body Boop, a blog and community dedicated to eating disorder recovery and positive body image. I wanted to build an environment in which men and women could speak candidly about the fact that eating disorder issues do not just evaporate once you exit treatment – there are really tough days, and even weeks, when recovery just isn’t easy. What started out as a personal outlet and endeavor to find comfort on these tough days has now become something much larger – a support for those dedicated to #edrecovery, a media aggregator for non-triggering stories of triumph, and a fundraising source for amazing eating disorder organizations already in existence.

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I did not want to recreate the wheel. I already admire what Project HEAL is doing, so I didn’t want to do that and try to compete. Instead, I’m building a platform where I can hire writers to share their truths about recovery and body image issues while still supporting these organizations I love.

 

On Nov. 8, 2015 at City Winery Chicago, Body Boop and Emilie Maynor Living will be hosting a body image workshop called NOURISH: A Body Image Conversation. Early bird tickets are on sale now, so I hope you’ll join us as we have honest, valuable conversations about where their perceptions of body image come from. As a group, we’ll work on tools for healing and acceptance, and hopefully provide you with a feeling of liberation that you can ride all week long. Ten percent of profits go to Project HEAL. I was lucky enough to complete three stints in treatment, because my mother is a second grade teacher at a public school and I was covered under her amazing state-funded health insurance plan. Everyone who needs treatment is not that fortunate, I know this much. I watched many patients in need leave treatment early because their insurance benefits had run out. They were not ready to lead healthy lives in the real world, but there was no money left for them.

 

I hope you’ll also support the Anna Westin Act. Led by a bipartisan group of female U.S. senators, this bill builds on the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act by requiring that group insurance plans cover residential treatment for mental health and addiction.

 

The most important thing to remember is that eating disorder recovery is a journey – and it’s your journey. When that fitness nut is sitting there talking to you about calories and weights, it’s okay to feel stressed and confused, even if you’ve been in recovery for a long time. There’s no right path or correct way to do things in recovery, and you may need to lean on your circle of friends more often than you think is “okay.” My circle includes two friends from treatment, my husband, my family, my therapist, my psychologist and many more people. I’ve worked hard to survive, and I’m committed to recovery.

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Nicole Rohr Stephani is a writer in Chicago and the founder of Body Boop. Interested in writing for Body Boop or getting involved in the community? Send her an e-mail or follow Body Boop on Twitter