#DontMiss Loving Yourself in Recovery

Share this:

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

Perhaps you are just as the animal sees you: Someone to love.

Share this:

By Shannon Kopp

During every SoulPaws session, each participant spends about twenty minutes of one-on-one time with a service animal. This past weekend, we were fortunate enough to work with the Pet-Assisted Therapy Animals from the San Diego Humane Society—small animals who lead very busy lives visiting hospitals, schools, treatment centers, and more, offering comfort to people in need. After six months of this service, they then become available for adoption at the Humane Society.

Since we had thirteen participants on Sunday, we gathered thirteen pet-assisted therapy animals: a handful of sweet rabbits, a bunch of guinea pigs, and two rats.

The room fell silent as we placed an animal into each individual’s lap, and for the next twenty minutes, the room stayed quiet. People used this time to bond and connect with their animal, to journal, to pet and snuggle.

Afterwards, one woman held a guinea pig close to her chest and shared, “Initially when you gave her to me, I was scared. I thought she would scurry away. Lately, there has been so much sadness in my home, and in me. I thought I gave off bad energy. I was sure this little animal would sense it.

Picture1
Photo Credit: San Diego Humane Society

But instead, she nestled close to my chest. She stayed so close to me, content in my arms.

And it made me think that maybe I don’t give off bad energy. Maybe I’m more than this sadness. And maybe if the animals know this, I can know it, too.”

Tears gathered in my throat and behind my eyes. I thought back to when I was working at the Humane Society and had relapsed with bulimia, despite years of treatment and therapy. To say that I felt like a failure then is an understatement. I felt like a monster.

But day after day, the shelter dogs wanted to be around this monster. I’d open the door to a kennel and these beautiful, four-legged companions would come running into my arms like I was the greatest thing they’d seen all day. Sometimes, in their unrelenting excitement, they’d knock me over. Sometimes they’d approach cautiously and softly make their way into my arms. Sometimes they’d lick my face and gaze into my eyes with the fiercest, purest light of love. And I too would begin to feel like maybe I was more than my sadness. My bulimia. My monstrous relapse.

Maybe I was more than this harmful story I’d been telling myself for so long.

Animals aren’t interested in stories of the mind. They aren’t interested in what we look like or the “mistakes” we made last night or ten years ago. They aren’t interested in shrinking our sacred being down to a harsh and rigid label. They are only interested in the now. How do we treat them in this moment? Are we gentle? Are we safe? Are we kind?

Animals don’t demand of us what the world does. We’re not expected to walk through grief in five, neat and timely stages…because our sadness makes them uncomfortable. We’re not expected to be thin or pretty or stylish.

We’re not expected to be strong or brave or put-together. We don’t have to know what we want to be when we grow up. In fact, we never have to grow up.

Around animals, we don’t have to play any roles or live behind this pretend mask of adulthood. It’s okay for us to laugh hysterically, to cover ourselves with dog hair and dirt, to roll around on the floor, to pick our nose, to bawl our eyes out, to express the uninhibited joy or the misery we often try to tame in our human society.

We can just be. And what we often find with animals is that our being is enough. We are enough.

So maybe today you are buying into some story the mind is telling you. Maybe your mind is saying that you too sad or too big or too much or too afraid.

Is there a loving animal nearby?

Look into their eyes.

And through your connection with that animal, give yourself a break from this mental chatter. Press the sacred pause button to your thinking. And hold that button down until you begin to feel that you are not “too” anything.

Perhaps you are just as the animal sees you.

Someone to love.


15232131_1828880610657149_6049187928377874562_n-600x800
Shannon Kopp (Left)

About the Author: Shannon Kopp is an eating disorder survivor, animal welfare advocate, and the best-selling author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life (HarperCollins Publishers). She is also the founder of SoulPaws Recovery Project, offering free animal therapy and healing resources to those suffering from eating disorders. Shannon’s writing has been featured on CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, Salon, NPR, Good Housekeeping, Dogster, Maria Shriver, and more. She also regularly posts recovery-related poetry on Instagram! www.shannonkopp.com

Road to Recovery: Liza Kulimanova

Share this:

By TJ Spencer

Project HEAL provides grant funding for people with eating disorders who cannot afford treatment. For many, this treatment has gone beyond saving their lives – it helps them save others’ lives as well.

Such is the case for Liza Kulimanova, a 2014 Project HEAl grant recipient who currently runs a website, educational YouTube channel and a blog dedicated to helping others overcome their struggles with bulimia.

For Liza, her 13-year struggle with bulimia began in her home country of Russia. She remembers being happy until around age 11, when she began dedicating more and more of her time to her studies and striving for perfection. After trying different weight loss centers and Chinese acupuncture to help cope with her struggles, she was prescribed Fluoxetine to help with depression – but it just wasn’t working.

Her days before treatment were filled with a routine of “dwelling on negative thoughts, zoning out, restricting, binging, purging…being extremely busy and ‘productive,’” Liza explains.

This routine was further perpetuated with she immigrated to the United States in 2010.

“I had no support in the USA and I was extremely isolated,” she says.

She then began searching online for scholarships for eating disorder treatment and discovered Project HEAL. With the grant, she was able to attend treatment at The New Beginning in Scottsdale, AZ.

“Treatment was hard and painful, but at the same time giving me relief and making me feel so much better. I am so grateful for treatment and I see bulimia as a gift now. It really allowed me to become a healthier and better person and grow tremendously from the inside,” she explains.

Today, Liza’s routine is filled with smiling, being more present and aware, checking in on herself, creating time for herself and being open to people, along with blogging and bodybuilding.

“I am very determined and disciplined, and willing to grow consistently,” she says.

This determination and discipline has allowed her to become an ambassador for bulimia treatment through her website, blog and YouTube channel.

“Believe that recovery is possible, because it is. Love yourself enough to get better — just take the first step and see where this journey will lead you. Let your life to unfold and let go of the control,” she advises.


headshotAbout the Author: Second-year journalism and French double major at Seattle University, TJ Spencer is originally from a small town in California, but Seattle stole her heart. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and showing off her embarrassing dance moves at cardio dance class. You can find her around Seattle photographing anything and everything, or in her bedroom practicing her French by talking to her roommate’s rabbit.

My Secret New Love of Spontaneity

Share this:

By: Heather Birchall

This may not be true of most anorexics, or even a portion, but honestly I can pinpoint the day I became anorexic, and the day I decided ‘enough is enough, now give me a piece of that lemon meringue pie’.

I’d battled the disease for four years but suddenly, like a cat with a ball of yarn, it unravelled itself overnight. I became determined to put on weight until my period started again, and I could look at myself in the mirror without seeing shadows. It took maybe a few months, and when it happened, I went out shopping.

In the 90’s every student in the UK worth their salt shopped at Top Shop. It’s really hard to find clothes that fit when you’re anorexic. I wore kids clothes generally, or tied an unflattering belt around my waist to hold up skirts and jeans. But now everything was snug, and I gave myself a new look – a short skirt with tights, thick black ones in winter, sheer in summer and patterned or multi-coloured for occasions.

This became my outfit of choice at work, hiking up the Lake District hills and through two pregnancies. Even when I moved to California, where active wear is all the rage, I couldn’t shake the look. But, despite all the confidence I’d gained, there was one thing that just kept nagging at me, and it annoyed and frustrated me. I just could not be spontaneous. I’m not talking about booking a last minute flight to Hawaii spontaneous, but rather “do you fancy checking out that new place for lunch now spontaneous.”

Even when I was recovered, and considered my eating disorder to be a thing of the past, at the beginning of each day I decided what I was going to eat, and there wasn’t room for extra helpings.

restaurant-1284365_1280So, when colleagues asked me out I declined and, as soon as a gaggle of them left, I would take out a forlorn looking sandwich stashed away at the bottom of my bag.

After a while they didn’t ask anymore. Sometimes I would go with them and just buy myself a cup of tea. This honestly seemed feeble to my companion – a bit like pouring a glass of wine in the evening. You need a friend to eat with you, not make a cup of tea last for 40 minutes while they munch on sandwiches and cake.

I’m 40 now, anorexia over 20 years behind me, and it’s only recently that I have been able to take up that lunch offer without any qualms at all. It’s such a relief that I don’t have to plan, and deprive myself of something at the start of the day to make up for that birthday cake that someone wants to share after school pick-up, or that trip to Pinkberry on a whim.

I sometimes wonder though if my future might have been different if I’d accepted those lunch invitations in my twenties and thirties. Would I have progressed in my work faster by discussing things with colleagues at Starbucks? Would I have found out titbits of gossip that made the afternoon pass quicker if only I’d gone on that outing to Pret A Manger?

Maybe I’d have made some closer friends during that time in my life if I’d just had the nerve to go out to a restaurant rather then unwrap the sandwich I prepared each morning. Thankfully there will be enough spontaneous lunches ahead to outweigh the many I turned down. I can happily now raise a glass to spontaneity.


pumpkins 10.00.25About the Author: Heather Birchall started volunteering with ProjectHEAL in early 2016, and has primarily been responsible for interviewing new volunteers and chapter leaders. Before moving to California and developing a passion for the non-profit sector, Heather was an expert in Victorian painting and photography, and spent eleven years working in curatorial roles at the V&A Museum, Tate Britain, and Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester.

Letter to a Younger Self: A Project HEAL Series

Share this:

Dear me (nine years ago),

I’m writing to you because I believe in you. If I really thought you were hopeless, this wouldn’t have a purpose.

I’m worried about your complete and utter denial of how ill you’re getting. Right now, I know it seems like all you’re doing is simply not eating. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it will be for a little while. But let me tell you something: it won’t last forever. I’d like to share with you what’s actually going to happen:

journalYou’ll be worrying about food 24/7, weighing yourself ten times a day, crying at the number on the scale, and bearing through the insane cold in order to stand stripped in front of your mirror for several hours seeing nothing but fat. You’ll be waking up five times every night from body- wracking chills unable to feel your fingers or toes, regularly dozing off at school, fainting in the most inappropriate situations, and running on the treadmill until everything goes black.

Comparing your body endlessly to everyone’s around you, isolating in your room because you don’t want people to see how fat you are, lying to those you love, creating clever excuses for why you can’t eat dinner, hiding food, and seriously worrying people who care about you will become part of your everyday life.

You’ll stop caring about everything that’s truly important, and you’ll eventually lose all the things that make you who you are.

If you don’t reverse it now, that is.

It doesn’t get easier with time; it only gets harder. Don’t wait until you feel inspired – just go for it. Sometimes everyone has to do things they don’t like to do.

Take care of yourself. Be well. I know you can do this, and you will.

With enough love to make up for your lack of love for yourself,

-A


tumblr_ksgmhuwnhu1qa9o8bo1_400_large

Project HEAL’s new peer-based support program, Communities of HEALing, will include an evidence-based eating disorder prevention and body acceptance program known as the Body Project. The Body Project is an intervention that was developed by renowned researchers Eric Stice, Ph.D and Carolyn Becker, Ph.D and is backed by two decades of research at Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Oregon Research Institute. This program has been delivered to over one million young women around the world and is the only program that has repeatedly demonstrated reductions of body dissatisfaction, negative mood, unhealthy dieting and disordered eating. Further evidence indicates that the Body Project intervention reduces the risk of future onset of eating disorders and obesity.
 
Recently, Project HEAL held its first facilitator training of the Body Project with some of our volunteers from NYC and PA, all of whom are in recovery from an eating disorder. One of the activities that all volunteers completed as part of the Body Project program was to write a letter to a younger version of themselves using the information they learned from other sessions of the intervention and advise their younger selves on how to avoid developing body image concerns. The letters shared were truly powerful and we are thrilled to have some of our new facilitators share their letters with you!

Leave Me Alone. Help Me Recover. How to participate in your teen’s eating disorder treatment.

Share this:

By: Erin Parks, PhD.

Very few teens will say that they want their parents to participate in their eating disorder treatment.  This makes sense—teen brains are wired to seek independence, treatment is just one more place where they wish to be without their parents.  Always in the quest for data, we actually asked teenagers what they wanted; not surprisingly, the majority wanted their parents to stay at home.  However, when we asked them after treatment for their thoughts on parent participation—the overwhelming majority said that while they may not have enjoyed it, they would not have recovered without their parents participating in treatment.  So how can you participate in your child’s treatment?

Family Therapy.  The gold-standard treatment for anorexia nervosa in children and adolescents is Family Based Therapy (FBT), also called Maudsley Method.  There is also promising data that FBT may be efficacious for teens with bulimia and even for young adults with anorexia.  In this type of therapy, parents and teens align against the eating disorder, using a medical model, empowering parents to restore their child to health.

 If your child had cancer, you would have dozens of different chemotherapies to choose from—each with different doses, chemicals, and schedules.  No single chemotherapy cocktail works for everyone.  Most parents choose to start with the treatment that has worked for the most people.  Then, if that does not work, they move on to the next most efficacious medication.  Would you choose the medication that caused the least amount of pain, or the medication that saved the most lives?

Just like the popular cancer metaphor, while FBT is a good fit for many families, it may not work for 30-40% of patients.  There are numerous other types of family therapy to try including Systemic Family Therapy, Emotion Focused Family Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Families, among others.  Family therapy can be uncomfortable—that doesn’t mean it’s not working.  Your child will likely protest you going—that doesn’t mean it’s not working.  Commit to four sessions in four weeks before you re-evaluate.


father-daughter-1476167_1280Advocate & Ask Questions
.  No one will ever know your child as well as you do.  Ask questions, listen to your gut, advocate for your child.  You are your child’s best chance at recovery.  Many children have individual therapists in addition to family therapists.  Ask the therapist and/or the treatment center for the treatment goals.  While it is wonderful when treatment feels good—what is most important is that it works.  Track and monitor symptoms—if your child is weight restoring, are they gaining 1-2# per week.  If not—ask why.  If your child is working to stop binging, purging, and/or self-harming—are the number of weekly episodes decreasing?  If not—ask why.

If your child had epilepsy, and they loved their physician and going to appointments, but they continued to have the same number of seizures each week—would you consider treatment a success?

Ditch Your Guilt.  Chances are, as a human, you are imperfect—which means you are also an imperfect parent.  We all are imperfect.  Parenting does not cause eating disorders.  Talk to your family, friends, therapist, clergy member—whatever you need to do to move past the guilt.  Guilt makes people feel stuck—treatment is active and you need to help your child move away from their eating disorder.

Family Skills Groups.  If you think that family therapy sounds fun, get excited for (multi) family skills groups!  Your child is learning new skills: how to eat when they don’t want to, how to socialize when they want to stay in bed all day, how to cope with feeling sad or anxious without turning to binging or purging, how to prioritize their health above societal ideals of beauty.  Go to skills groups with your child so that you can learn the same skills, speak the same therapy jargon, and most importantly—model using these skills in front of your children.  Every day, we experience the same, uncomfortable, human emotions that our children do: worry, sadness, guilt, shame, frustration, overwhelm.  Your children have been using eating disorder behaviors to cope with these emotions—now they are learning new coping skills.  You can use these same skills when you feel these same emotions.

If your child had a learning disorder, and went to a specialist to learn new skills for reading, solving math problems, or holding a pencil—would you observe the sessions so that you would know how to help with homework?

Parent Skills Groups.  Parents do not cause eating disorders, and parents may be doing things that accidentally reinforce ED behaviors or negate recovery efforts.  All parents inadvertently reinforce behaviors in our children that we do not want.  We’ve all been there—I’ll go first.  If my 3-year-old whines enough, I will let him watch videos on my phone (to make the whining stop).  In short, he’s learned that whining is rewarded with getting my phone?!  These accidental pairings (negative behavior = reward; positive behavior = ignored) happen to all parents—and the good news is that they are not permanent, you can change course!  An ED parent skills group can help you examine your habits and make sure you are reinforcing what you want more of and ignoring/punishing the behaviors you want to decrease.

If your child had diabetes, but hated blood draws and insulin injections—would you let them skip them?  Or would you learn new skills to make sure you could get them to follow through with their treatment plan?

Mentor Groups.  Find a parent mentor who has gone through treatment with their child—and then lean on them.  Our center offers every parent a mentor for phone support and has weekly mentor groups.  If you do not have access to these in-person, use online parent communities to receive mentorship, ask questions, and get support.

Education.  Eating disorders affect 1% of the population—there is no reason for the average parent to be an expert in eating disorders.  But here you are—so it’s time to learn.  The most important thing to know: you didn’t cause this, eating disorders are neuro-biologically based illnesses, prioritize weight restoration and symptom reduction, and you can help your child recover and lead a full, happy, healthy life.


Parks_headshotAbout the Author: Dr. Erin Parks is a clinical psychologist and the Director of Outreach and Admissions for the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment & Research. She is passionate about educating clinicians, parents, and the community about the neurobiological basis of eating disorders and the evidence-based treatments that are now available. Dr. Parks wants to help society view mental illness as brain illness–narrowing the funding and resource gap between physical and mental disorders. Connect: Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Talking About Eating Disorders

Share this:

By: Jamie (CJ)

In honor of this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week’s theme of “It’s Time to Talk About It”, I’d like to talk about the all too often forgotten stigma that caregivers hold onto as they care for their loved one in recovery from an eating disorder.

Within the eating disorder and mental health world, treatment providers often acknowledge the associated shame with having a mental illness and releasing this shame is often a part of a patient’s recovery process. As the primary caregiver for my partner who is in recovery from an eating disorder, I too, have experienced shame when my partner, OJ, was hospitalized and in treatment for over a year.

It might sound a bit strange, but telling others about my partner’s hospitalization was somewhat similar to my experience as coming out as gay. Despite having incredibly liberal parents who always accepted my sexuality (thanks mom and dad!), I still felt outside of the societal “norm.”

Similarly when OJ was hospitalized as a result of her mental illness, I felt like I was out of the “norm” since our society tends to have an appreciation and understanding for those who are suffering from a physical illness, but not a mental illness.

Coming out as gay is a series of uncomfortable steps. When I first came out, I only told those who were closest to me, as I felt the safest telling them. Then, I would slowly start telling others until I’ve now, reached the point in my life where I pretty much am open about it completely, except in a few instances when I feel like “outing” myself could be dangerous.

I also took these series of steps when telling people that OJ was sick and receiving treatment. I felt like people were judging me, were judging her, and judging our relationship. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Caregiver shame is real, too. At first, I felt like I had to justify why OJ was so sick. I felt like I had to justify why this happened 5 years into our relationship and not when she was 15 years old, when her symptoms first started appearing. I felt like people wouldn’t understand her illness without a detailed explanation.

This is obviously impossible to do since some of those reasons are personal and there are many contributing factors to mental illness. I was afraid of people’s judgment and would stumble over my words as I tried to give a very ambiguous and general “justification” as to why she was sick. At the same time, I was asking myself the similar questions. Why is this happening now? Did I do something wrong? Was there something I could have done to prevent this?

Although incredibly difficult to admit, I know that there is nothing that I could have done to prevent OJ’s co-occurring mental illnesses. There’s nothing that I could have done to prevent my partner from needing to receive treatment for these diseases. That’s why now as a caregiver and advocate, I try to break the shame, the stigma, and I try to talk about it. I tell our story as openly as possible and without justification. OJ was sick. She is feeling better now and together we work to build a life of recovery every day.

In love and support,

CJ


About The Author: 

Jamie third wheelJamie Dannenberg (CJ) is the primary carer of her partner, also named Jamie but referred to as OJ, who is in recovery from an eating disorder. As the partner of someone with an eating disorder and a registered dietitian, CJ has had to learn to navigate various roles in their relationship. With OJ, Jamie has become involved in global advocacy work and together they share their experience as a queer couple in recovery on their blog thirdwheelED. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

 

Recovery and Everything In-between

Share this:

By: Vanessa Poulson

Let me start by saying, I don’t like being caught in between things.

I see the world as a very black and white place, and I think that’s one of the various things that have gotten me in trouble over the past few years of my life. To me, it’s in the idea that there is “grey space” in between the two sides of the spectrum that has caused so much conflict and nuance in the world, so I’ve tried to avoid it as much as possible.

Clear cut things make more sense to me, but things aren’t always going to work out that way. At least, not for me. Not when there’s an eating disorder involved.

I’ll spare you the story of my diagnosis and treatment, the time I spent in therapy, and the ups and downs of the original recovery process, because that’s not what this piece is about. 

This piece is about the idea of being recovered… But also, not being recovered. Being stuck in between being completely yourself again, but still having those moments and slipups where you feel like you’ve fallen back into old bad behaviors and feelings of self-loathing, but knowing you’re not as bad off as you once were. 

umbrella-783685_640That annoying grey space.

It’s a hard place to be caught up in, not only because you don’t have a definite label for yourself, but also because it puts you at a place where you’ve become comfortable again, but not fully so. You feel like you could stand on your own, but you also feel as if you could stumble over something small, and that’s a scary place to be and a scary feeling to have.  

When people in the eating disorder and mental illness industry ask me, “are you recovered?” it’s easy to stumble on my words, forget what I mean and how far I’ve come, just because I’m stuck on the idea that because I’m not 100% better, I’m not really better at all. 

I have days where I wake up and absolutely hate myself. Everything I see in the mirror is a sign of my own defeat, and even if I’ve accomplished something successful during the day, all of it gets defeated if I feel the slightest bit crummy about my appearance.

But, at the same time, I have days where I wake up and feel like I could take on the world. The days I allow myself to relax if I’m tired instead of forcing myself to go out and work out or get work down feel like the biggest victories, as they are part of a world that I never thought I’d be able to handle or access again. 

In all of this, I still try my best every day to get on the ProjectHEAL Snapchat and bring a positive message to everyone, not only because I know that there are people who are in a worse place, but also because doing something that makes you happy and letting that kind of positivity radiate out of you will only help to make you truly happy yourself. 

Yet, it’s hard to always be preaching recovery when you don’t feel like you’re fully recovered. Even if you know you’re doing better, helping those who are working just as hard as you are to feel good about themselves while not knowing if you yourself are as stable as you’d like to be, can make you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. 

But I think, instead of looking at all the grey space you have left, we have to start thinking about how far we’ve come from your starting point to begin with.

Recovery is a process. Your behaviors change over time. The way that you act and behave in one moment is nothing like what you may be feeling in the next one. Your emotions, just like your feelings about recovery, are fluid and always moving in different directions. Just like you, as a human being, are also always changing. Recovery is not linear, and just because it doesn’t always make sense doesn’t mean that you aren’t healing. 

Learning to love yourself and taking steps towards a successful path of self-love, acceptance, and happiness is what it means to be recoverING. I soon realized that it’s not always the destination that’s important, but the journey itself. We don’t learn nearly all the things that we should from the recovery process if the sole destination of being “okay” again is the only point we allow our minds to ponder while we’re getting there. 

Seeing things from both sides of the spectrum is important, but grey space, fluidity, the little victories that grow into bigger and bigger success stories, that’s what being recovered from an eating disorder is all about, no matter how many steps it takes you to get there.


 

IMG_2344About The Author: Vanessa Frances Poulson has been the manager for the PHEAL National Instagram since she was fifteen years old and is now in charge of the National Snapchat (@projectheal). She is a published author, brand ambassador, environmental activist, and an active writer for various online publications, independent plays, and news organizations. Vanessa is a warrior for positivity and social connection, believing that a optimistic and kind online community is key in fostering a true recovery. You can connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, or email vanessa@theprojectheal.org.

FAQ Friday: Are Weight Transformation Images Liberating or Triggering?

Share this:

by Dr. Colleen Reichmann, Licensed Clinical Psychologist 

 

“Are the weight transformation images a good thing or are they negative for the recovery community?”

 

woman-smartphone-girl-technology-2-650x437This is an important topic, because of the recent swift growth of the online pro-recovery and body positive community. The notorious “Transformation Tuesday” pictures that have historically reeked of diet culture (i.e. images of individuals pre and post-weight loss) have been commandeered by our beautiful community.

If you search #transformationtuesday on social media today, you will still find a slew of weight-loss before and after pictures. However, dotted among these pictures will be the occasional weight-gain picture– typically an individual pre and post-weight restoration during recovery from an eating disorder.

Recently another hashtag started trending – one that is more specific to the recovery community- #gainingweightiscool. A search of this hashtag will almost exclusively yield these before and after weight restoration pictures of individuals in recovery from eating disorders.

Additionally, some of the most loved body positive and recovery accounts routinely post these transformation pictures. These accounts are widely followed, and hence have the potential to deeply impact the community as a whole.

So while I am typically against black and white responses, I do tend to believe there are more negatives to these transformational images than positives. Let me explain:

 

The Negatives

These images focus on just that – images.
They put a face to eating disorders. This encourages us to do what we are all subconsciously primed to do anyway – focus on someone’s appearance as a gauge to estimate how sick they are or once were. The vast majority of individuals suffering from eating disorders are not underweight-indeed many individuals with anorexia may not ever appear drastically underweight. Hence the dangerous myth that eating disorders are all about weight loss is not something that we want to perpetuate via social media.

Additionally, more simply, they encourage us to focus on the outside. We are all SO used to focusing on the outside anyway, and recovery from an eating disorder usually involves a fight to recognize that worth stems from the inside. So putting focus on visual depictions of the illness seems like a step backwards.

They ramp up competitive eating disorder voices.
This is a no-brainer. These pictures are triggering for many individuals struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder. Though the message may be that #gainingweightiscool, the stark visual image of sickness leaves the door open for the eating disorder voices, saying things like, “I’m not sick enough,” or “I never got sick enough,” to creep, ever so sneakily, back in.

An important note is that some well-known body positive activists will post disclaimers on their transformation pictures to address this very point. For example, some will post pictures featuring the pre-weight restoration and post-weight restoration with a notation at the bottom to the tune of: *YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LOOK LIKE I DID FOR YOUR STRUGGLE TO BE VALID. EATING DISORDERS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES*

Disclaimers like these might, however, have the drawback of speaking to rational thought, and the “I’m not sick enough” thinking is anything but rational. Rather, it’s ED thinking. For some, this notation may not be enough to break through the thoughts that come along with the triggering images once they begin. The “I’m not sick enough” thoughts can still be pervasive even after one has been well-educated about the fact those suffering come in all shapes and sizes.

They perpetuate societal misunderstanding.
Society (and sometimes doctors, insurance companies, etc.) already seems to have a tough enough time grasping the fact that eating disorders have no face. ED’s affect people of all different genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, ages, and YES- body types. They Do. Not. Discriminate. And yet, the vast, vast majority of articles and educational pieces for the mass media are written about one type of eating disordered individual – the young Caucasian female with Anorexia Nervosa. Articles for the commercialized media are more often than not accompanied by images of emaciation.

Why? Because this sells. Anorexia is easily sensationalized in the media because of our current societal obsession with the thin ideal.

Those of us involved in recovery awareness and activism cannot necessarily help what a women’s magazine chooses to focus on. But we can help what our social media community chooses to promote. By posting these transformation pictures, we are adding to the societal idea (as well as the eating disordered thought) that anorexia is Everybody’s Favorite Eating Disorder, and that people who are not underweight are not sick. In doing so, we are also perpetuating the tendency to overlook those suffering from other forms of this illness like Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, Other-Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED), and Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).


The Positives

They fight stigma.
It cannot be denied that these transformation pictures buck the trend-among a slew of weight-loss idealization pictures, it can be so refreshing to see someone celebrating weight gain! It is a great reminder that weight loss is not always the goal, and that “healthy” can mean different things for different people.

They allow people to own their stories.
The pictures can be liberating to post. Our society sends an overwhelming message that mental illness is something to hide or be ashamed of. These pictures are an attention-grabbing, incredibly courageous way of saying, “Hey! I went through something. I’m STILL going through it. And you know what? I’m not ashamed. I’m a brave warrior and I’m fighting every day.”

Also, sometimes when one goes through something as trying and difficult as an eating disorder, there is a pull to show people just how much suffering occurred. A pull to shout, “Hey! I went through hell and back, see?” After staying silent and numb for so long, (as people tend to when suffering from their eating disorder), sometimes there is that irresistible pull to break free, tell one’s story, and in turn, set it free. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

And furthermore, not everyone considers their social media account to be part of a social justice movement. Some people simply want to document their journey, and posting their pictures is 100% their right in doing so (although sometimes the pictures depicting severe emaciation do get reported and removed by Instagram).

They start a conversation.
If the pictures are public (and even if they aren’t) they start a conversation. They start a conversation among strangers, family and friends. They force people to confront their own biases about weight gain and health. The pictures are a visual declaration that weight gain can be positive, beautiful, and life-saving. They are a pictorial screw-you to the diet culture script- the idea that weight loss is ALWAYS the goal and that skinnier is ALWAYS healthier no matter what. These pictures have the potential to open people’s eyes and minds to the idea that all bodies are good bodies, and that health can fit every size.

15418558271_0f50aacf1b_o

There are both positives and negatives to these transformation pictures, but my final thought would be to proceed with caution. You never know who could be triggered by the image.

Your journey is yours to own, so of course it is within your right to post your photos and empower yourself and your recovery. I would simply suggest that you be deeply thoughtful about what your reason is for posting the pictures before doing so. Consider not putting too much emphasis on them, and instead focusing on your inner strength, your mind, your newfound ability to deal with tough emotions, and your fresh starts in relationships.

Eating disorder recovery involves so, so much more than the outside.

And, as a final note to the well-known body positive accounts: please use the images sparingly. You are all doing such amazing, impactful work. Your message is SO important, and you have the potential to influence so many. So while your journey may have involved weight gain, there are an infinite amount of other variables involved that make you YOU. Be sure to shine a STRONG light on those as well.

 


 

About the Author:

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site

 

Dr. Colleen Reichmann is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing in Virginia Beach. She works in a group practice, and is a staff psychologist at the College of William and Mary. She is an eating disorders and women’s issues specialist She is an advocate for feminism, body positivity, health at every size, and FULL recovery. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, or send her an email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*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.

 

 

 

 

FAQ Fridays- Are the Friends I Make in Treatment Good for Me?

Share this:

friendly-hug-girls-meadow-forest-149053

Frequently Asked Questions Friday

FAQ

This weeks question is:

Are my friendships with the people I met in treatment good for me?

 

This is a tough one. I personally do not believe that there is one right answer to this question. I think that it depends on 1. The nature of your friendships, 2. Where you are in your own recovery, 3. Where the other individuals are in their recoveries, and 4. Your personality and friendship dynamics. Did you expect me, the psychologist, to say, “No. These friendships are not good for you. End of story”? Well I cannot, in good faith, say that. And perhaps I diverge from many of my colleagues in my belief on this matter, but I do not consider this to be a black and white issue. I think that there are several themes that apply to friendships formed in treatment, so I will attempt to give this complicated question the multifaceted answer that it deserves:

 

It’s no secret that eating disorders are competitive illnesses. In fact, for a great deal of sufferers, treatment can be made more tricky because the eating disorder becomes triggered to be the “best” when surrounded by others who are also ill. This is why a number of treatment centers have policies ruling against socialization after discharge. However, having an eating disorder can also be incredibly isolating. It can be a welcome change to have a friend who just gets it.

 

But when you both have an eating disorder, and you are both trying to recover, things can easily get dicey. Eating disorders are tricky illnesses. You can want recovery in your heart of hearts, and still feel a twinge of jealousy when you see someone else acting on behaviors. You can be working towards weight restoration with all of your might and still find yourself perusing how to cut calories. It’s difficult enough to manage your own symptoms and tease out if the eating disorder is in control at the moment. Now throw another person in exactly the same boat into the mix. You both want recovery. You both understand the torturous nature of this confusing illness. And you are both dealing with working through the ED thoughts and stopping the behaviors. On one hand, it’s beautiful to feel that type of camaraderie. (In a world where most seem to be shouting “Just eat!” what a breathe of fresh air to sit across from someone shaking just as much when they pick up the sandwich.) On the other hand, you are now vulnerable to a particularly strong type of trigger- the relapse of a friend.

 

Anybody who has been through this can tell you- it’s incredibly difficult to watch a friend go through a relapse. It’s easy for the eating disorder to sneak in during this time and set off those competitive feelings. It’s equally as easy to take it personally. (i.e. How could she do this when we are in this together? Doesn’t she know what this does to me?) Additionally, there is the danger of feeling the responsibility to save her. You might feel the pull to begin to pour all of your time and energy into helping her. The danger here? You begin to neglect your own recovery, and, again, the door is left ajar for the eating disorder to flare up.

 

So what is the solution? Should you, as those aforementioned treatment centers suggest, cut off all relationships with fellow patients after being discharged? Or should you throw caution to the wind and venture on towards the sister/brotherhood of recovery warriors? The truth is, only you can answer what is the right solution for you. I know some people who have felt that they need to keep themselves at arm’s length from fellow patients. These individuals have shared that they sought an identity outside of the eating disorder, and noted that they wanted to surround themselves with the healthiest people possible. One friend told me that she felt it necessary to immerse herself in “normal eater world,” so that she could attempt to emulate her friends who have had historically healthy relationships with food and weight. Another individual told me that she was tired of conversations surrounding triggers and fear foods, and indicated that she felt the need to cut off these relationships if she truly wanted to recover for good. I have also heard the opposite-people who feel that their relationships with their fellow warriors were vital to recovery. Some will hold that the bonds that are created when people go through treatment together are unlike any other. There is sense to this- there will never be another time when you are more raw and vulnerable, so these relationships do have the potential to be very deep. In fact, our fearless Project HEAL leaders have shared that they met in treatment, and that their relationship was indeed important to their recovery processes.

 

So, as I initially stated, similar to most everything about recovery, the answer to the question of whether or not relationships between two people in recovery are healthy is not black and white. I believe the answer is- there is no absolute answer. Just like any friendship- some may flourish and some may become toxic. Certainly, many may find a sense of acceptance and peace in these relationships. Others may feel that it is best to keep a clear boundary between friends and fellow patients. No matter how you feel, it is important to be honest with yourself and others about what is helpful to you during the recovery process. No two journeys to recovery are identical, which means you must pay close attention to what is helpful to you. Listen to your inner voice when it comes to friendships with fellow recovery warriors. It may be that you need to return to you original circle of friends after treatment, and keep fellow patients at arms length to protect your own recovery. Or perhaps these friendships will be better suited for you later on in recovery-when you are feeling strong and have a deep sense of what triggers you and what helps you to cope. At that point, you may just find that these friendships can truly be like no other-just ask our Project Heal co-founders! Whatever the case, you and your recovery must come first, so pay close attention to your inner wisdom. It’s there, I promise.

me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.