Breaking the Cycle: Saying “Yes” to Life

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where-the-magic-happensBy: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Blog Manager

A few weeks ago ushered in my 28th birthday, a day I’ve always loved. In reflection, a barrage of memories pass through my mind – elaborately decorated Winnie-the-Pooh cakes as a preschooler, being surrounded by love and warmth of family, and, of course, my tradition of always pausing to appreciate the details of a gift, taking special care to reflect upon handwritten cards and delicately avoiding tearing the pretty packaging. (The last habit – maybe better described as something of a quirk – drove my siblings to frustration upon many Christmases as they waited with impatient anticipation to open their boxes. Sorry, not sorry.) As I reached my teen years, I would designate the week in which my birthday fell as a “birthday week” – not out of egocentricism, but because of my brimming excitement to extend the festivities with people for that much longer.

The past few birthdays, however, have been decidedly different for me. I know some people would roll their eyes as I vaguely lamented getting older, saying, “Don’t worry – you’re only in your 20s! You’re still young!” I typically drop the subject at this point. To an extent, I suppose I could frame my frenzied thoughts on approaching 30 as a “quarter-life crisis,” although a) this so-called crisis has been ongoing for years, and b) I recognize I have already slightly edged past that phase. Even so, my most recent birthdays have sparked more of a somber personal inventory of my life.

Tremendous value lies in the ability to be honest with yourself, taking stock in past events, the present picture, and where the future might lead. However, I realized there is an important difference between an honest assessment, a highlighting of weaknesses and strengths, as well as identifying some short-term goals and longer-term aspirations – as opposed as crossing the line into rumination, swimming in a pool of regret. I will admit it – a decent part of my self-dialogue, when not spun out on anxiety, is a continuous rehashing of opportunities missed, mistakes I’ve made. The accumulation of these thoughts adds to negative mental tapes playing on loop, which are actually a form disparaging self-talk.

Having that realization was more powerful for me than I might have initially expected. I admit I had previously thought I had a good self-talk game going, particularly when problem-solving in complicated situations. Although we cannot control every thought which passes through our minds, we have a degree of control in how we respond to them. So do I continue to tear myself down, or do I instead look myself in the eye, recognize my truths, remind myself I’m human, and continue to move on with the moment -instead of allowing fear, regret, and shame to paralyze me?

Changing the cycle of negative thinking takes time, requiring fine-tuned awareness, perhaps even strict vigilance over thoughts, reframing, challenging, or putting aside the ones that are ultimately toxic to true well-being. My annual inventory has not been totally off-base – I think my realization that I’m not fully living my life is grounded in validity. Admittedly, even for someone who has never meshed with the idea of a five-year plan, I am often haunted by this idea. Although I’ve made strides, I also have the tendency to retreat as bits of life pass me by. But to break this cycle, I must continue to edge out of my comfort zone, not letting self-destructive thoughts dim my light in isolation.

So, as I begin my 28th year, I remind myself of my decision to take a more curious approach instead of focusing on the “what-ifs” or thoughts fueling a sense of inadequacy – and explore the power of saying “yes” to life.

A Birthday Letter to a Dear Friend

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Dear Ellie,

Today would have been your 22nd birthday. You’ve been gone, at least in the physical sense, since March – I can still barely wrap my mind around it. The shock, the jolt, hits me all over again, as it has time and time again for weeks. I admit I struggle with doubt, having faith in general these days. But I also believe that life places certain people in our lives for a reason. I first met you in treatment – I was particularly struck by your quiet presence. Although you didn’t speak much, I was struck by your careful, receptive listening to others who shared in groups. You replied with thought and insight beyond any other seventeen-year-old I had ever met.

Three years later, I would have never imagined we would cross paths again. What were the odds, in a different program out of state? When you arrived, I knew you were clearly struggling, at war with yourself. At the same time, I also saw true glimpses of you beyond this terrible disorder, as that first day you deadpan cracked an inside joke – a bird call – that only we would appreciate. In the following days into weeks we spent hours having “vampire chats” in your rooms with the lights out. You intuitively knew how to make anyone feel comfortable and safe, the sense of trust to needed to be open without any fear of judgment. We shared our stories – I was in a low place mentally and felt completely trapped, but felt glimpses of hope when you spoke of your faith.  Through everything, you had an enduring gratitude, believing in God’s plan for you.

Your creative spirit also drew me to you. I loved sharing music with you because we both appreciated such an eclectic variety, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Spice Girls to Biggie Smalls (okay, maybe your excitement over 90s pop culture in general!). You were the first person my age who also expressed a love for Michael McDonald (outside of the Doobie Brothers). Maybe your appreciation for a diverse array of music across genres and eras resonated with me so much because it pointed to your general spirit on a broader level. In so many ways, you embraced life, with your wit, range of references in conversational banter, and creativity.

If I had to choose one word to describe you, perhaps it would be generous. At the risk of sounding cynical, in today’s competitive, often ego-driven society, bonding with a person who lives in an active spirit of kindness is something of an anomaly. I loved your authenticity, that you were so real, down to earth. You had one of the purest hearts of anyone I have ever known. People were attracted to you largely because you were genuinely interested in others’ well-being, the first to extend a helping hand.

The day I left the program (to transfer to a medical unit downstairs), I remember having packed haphazardly, instead having spent the time writing good-bye letters to everyone on the unit. I saved your letter for last, because I had so much to say and not the right words to do so. Another patient had given me “The Book of Letters” before she was discharged, a tradition in the community – a person, upon discharge, wrote a letter to be read by the next person, who would then add her own piece to the book, choosing another person to continue the chain. People told their stories, shared meaningful quotes, and offered words of encouragement. Upon receiving it, I knew immediately I wanted you to have it next. I had hoped, maybe in some way, you might take comfort in glancing through the words of others who were about to begin the next leg of their journeys.

When I handed it to you, I will always remember how shocked you were, which surprised me. I wished you could see even a glimpse of how worthy you were, and for all that you loved, that you were very loved in return. Later that day, upon moving downstairs, I received an unexpected visitor. I had just finished reading the beautiful hand-written card (complete with your famous drawings) you had penned me, addressed to “Dani California,” your nickname for me. One of your friends delivered a vase of flowers to me. Before I left, a family visited both units on our floor, distributing beautiful fresh bouquets of flowers to patients. I offhandedly commented that I wished I could have taken mine with me. You gave up yours, knowing they would brighten up my room and spirits.

I will carry you with me always – whether you’re on my mind as you often are, or in unexpected flashes as I see or hear something I associate with you. But I wanted something tangible to represent you as well. As we entered spring this year and the weather showed signs of improvement, I thought of your enthusiasm for outdoor activities, your awe of nature. I had a flashback to seeing a remarkable of photo of you in a park, in which a magnificent park had landed upon your hand, remaining long enough for someone to have taken a photograph. I was so moved by the beauty of the moment, the unusualness – at the same time, if anyone were to have such a magnificent creature rest upon her, it would be you. I instantly knew the perfect piece would be a dragonfly bracelet, which I wear every day in your memory.


As I reflect upon you today, there is no denying how deeply you touched me – and I know I’m certainly not the only one. I always think of a line by the Sufi poet Rumi, stating, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your being.” With your grace and beautiful soul, you left an indelible mark upon those who knew you – whether it was for a day or for years.

Love always,

Dani Michaud

(Dani California)




Reflections on Recovery

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By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern

Confession: I have to admit on a personal level, I am uncomfortable with the term “recovery.” I think some of my uneasiness initially stemmed from the idea that I did not particularly want to go back to “life before my eating disorder.” My dealings with anorexia go back many years; as a 20-something, I could not identify with hoping to achieve a prior state of functioning. Despite a protracted length of illness, I still managed to be highly functional on a surface level for a significant length of time. Among other faulty core beliefs, I believed I could only succeed by continuing to measure how I stacked up to others. In turn, letting go of my eating disorder with its rules, order, safety – was a sign of failure. So why would I want to fall even farther from my ideal self?

Furthermore, to be completely honest – I broke a lot of things along the trail of self-destruction in my eating disorder. I am still haunted by this thought, even though on a rational level, I know swimming in regret achieves absolutely nothing. As I work toward learning to better live with myself, I affirm that self-forgiveness is part of the healing process. However, how could I recover when my disorder led me to repeatedly lose major opportunities I would never have again, wear relationships down to bare threads, and inflict lasting damage to my body? I honestly did not know how to “come back” from any of that, let alone live without my eating disorder.

But I had to reframe my thinking. Even if I did incur major losses along the way, having done so did not equate to having ruined my chances for having a life I actually wanted to live, as opposed to entertaining the distant idea of it. With a new conceptual framework, I decided I had to build upward; I still had the chance to actually create my life and take stock in myself as a person of worth. I still grapple with issues surrounding my value and personal abilities, but I have also become more confident. I step outside my comfort zone, which grows a little each time I say “yes” to life. I care less about what other people think about me. I am less afraid to voice my opinion. I open up more. And, I took the plunge and started graduate school. My life is still messy in some ways, probably more so than not, but I have “leaned in” to the chaos. It only really bothers me when I compare myself to other people who seem to be more outwardly “successful.” Let’s be real: no one has it all together. We are all still learning.

Welcome to being human.

Which brings me to my next point: I knew recovery was not a linear process, aware it would involve ups and downs, progression and regression. I suppose, broadly speaking, I have been taking steps in recovery for seven years. Everything I have learned, the work I have done with treatment professionals – all of it “counts.” But when I speak of my recovery, only the past year (and change) come to mind, when I firmly committed to pushing through the process – knowing that if I didn’t, it would prematurely cost me my life. Change or die.

As I mentioned, I started a program for a master’s in clinical social work this January. In adjusting to the workload, I often felt full of self-doubt, a fraud surrounded by an intelligent and accomplished cohort. In the meantime, I dealt with a number of other major stressors – a surgery, coping with a complex medical condition, financial instability, the death of a friend – all of which exacerbated my struggle with depression. My recovery took a backseat; my primary goal was to “get through.” I did not relapse, but I certainly struggled much more, as a product of insufficient self-care.

I do not think experiencing rough patches is necessarily indicative of not being in recovery. In fact, I think learning to navigate them is a crucial part of the process. To me, recovery is largely about coping with, accepting, and experiencing life in the broadest sense – and the spectrum of the emotions it evokes, good or bad. I also think it is important to recognize there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about recovery (even if these are subconscious), even within the eating disorder community. One of these irrational beliefs is that recovery needs to look a certain way – done neatly, perfect.

As time passes and I regain my footing, having better and worse days, I recognize major stressors – beyond more ordinary triggers – have reminded me everyone meets different challenges on their paths forward. My recovery is entirely unique to me. It does not need to fit within the confines of a cookie cutter story. As I work with Project HEAL, I more clearly see the value in showing others there is hope by discussing our individual journeys. So today, I acknowledge my truth and share with others that I am growing more comfortable in my own skin while “in recovery from an eating disorder” and all that it entails.

Dermablend’s No Makeup Campaign

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dermablend-ad-700By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern

I will be the first to (proudly) admit that I’m something of a makeup junkie. Aside from concealing blemishes, I love to learn new techniques, playing with light, shadow, contouring, proportioning, experimenting with winged eyeliner variations. Natural is beautiful, yes, but I also believe wearing makeup can be empowering if the intention is to accentuate your face (as opposed to trying to hide it).

However, I can’t be the only one who is getting tired of seeing cosmetic commercials in which young 20-somethings promote anti-aging cream and doe-eyed models wearing eyelash inserts flaunt the company’s latest innovation in mascara. In today’s age of Photoshop, corporations and product lines choose to sell their product, promising “miracles” while covertly telling us that even with makeup, we’ll never look like that. But the truth is: it’s not real! Even so, in a world of comparisons and gripped by a narrow culturally mediated idea of what we “should” look like, we fault ourselves for being inadequate.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I found that Dermablend, a corrective cosmetics line, released a campaign which features two women, removing their makeup to reveal skin conditions – respectively, acne and vitiligo. The women drive home a point that I concur fully with: one may approach makeup as a means to feeling more comfortable and confident, allowing herself to fixate less on her physical appearance and letting her inner beauty fully shine through. Readers – what do you think? I’ve posted the link above so you can view the videos and provide your feedback.

A Year of Commitment

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tumblr_miqdxsgggZ1s24al1o1_500By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern

Upon contemplating Project HEAL and its mission, I realized today marks exactly a full year from the date on which I have been committed to attaining full recovery. I have been battling anorexia since early adolescence and have been receiving treatment for the past seven years. I suppose indicating an exact, finite date at which one’s recovery began is difficult. In my case – like other sufferers– the path in emerging from an eating disorder is not clear-cut or linear. Rather, it is a gray area with inevitable ups and downs, twists and turns, ebbs and flows.

Then, had I been in recovery for the past several years? What defines being in recovery…versus not? I believe a hard and fast definition is irrelevant, as opposed to the desire and willingness to take baby steps in a journey toward a better life. Regardless, I must admit I think the term “recovery” is somewhat of a misnomer if taken literally. If I were to “recover,” per se, I arguably would be returning to a prior state. I regret the time I have lost to my eating disorder, but I have no desire to return to my pre-teen state. As stressful as adulthood is, I embrace being 27 years old. So I prefer to think of the process as discovery.  And part of discovery is creation (which on its own is a topic for an entirely separate post) – creating our own meanings and definitions.

Accordingly, prior to this date a year ago, I had been in a pattern of wanting change (especially in moments of crisis), only to slip back once the immediate danger dissipated – or the guilt and anxiety of eating grew too much to bear. But after a doctor’s appointment, I took a hard look at myself and where I was. Did I want to be in this place in a year? Is this what I wanted my life to be like? In short, I made a commitment to minimally do what I needed to allow my body to function normally. My eating disorder made me feel trapped, but my physical body also felt like a cage. I was so undernourished that I was too weak to do much. Outwardly, I maintained a semblance of functioning, like I always had. I went to great lengths to seem like I had it “all together” – I worked and completed coursework, but I was dragging myself through the days on fumes.

As much as I “wished” to keep a foot in both worlds, I had to face a difficult reality: Point blank, an eating disorder is incompatible with life.  Did I really want to continue to further ruin my body and greatly endanger my ability to engage in any of the “mundane” activities I was taking for granted? How much self-abuse can a body take? Was it worth it to keep pushing the envelope to how far I could go before falling off the edge?  At the crux, the answers were inarguable, but an eating disorder frankly does not care; it is merciless. Having an eating disorder was not my choice – as much self-reproach and “what-ifs” surrounded my lived experience of it – but I had to take ownership of my path: the seemingly simple yet daunting act of eating.

“White knuckling” would be an understatement to describe my process. I strongly advocate for people to get the treatment they need, as much support as they can, and to use whatever resources are available to them to further their recovery. However, I was determined to pull myself out of the “swamp” without a higher level of care. I was tired of being in and out of hospitals when I wanted to be in the “real world.” But moreover, I needed to prove to myself that I could get back on track without needing the intervention of a higher level of care.

I counted hours, days, because I felt so unsteady, on a tightrope with no foundation beneath me. This sense was technically untrue, since I had learned skills and gained insight from the help I had received in the past. But all of the gains I had made in developing a better understanding of myself would not make a difference alone if I did not harness all my resources in enduring the process of learning to eat again. I had to use many metaphors (because somehow, I believed at some level, that I could subsist at this weight), imagining the food feeding my cells to rebuild my body. Other people shared “gaining weight is gaining life,” which in some respects, is true. This statement did not particularly resonate with me, because a) eating disorders occur at all weights; weight alone is not indicative of a severity of an eating disorder b) eating disorders are mental in origin.

Furthermore, I could not wrap my mind around an expanding body as “gaining life.” Doing so represented most what I despised. However, I had to accept it as a condition that my body is the home for my soul, the vehicle through which I experience the world. If I destroy it, there is no turning back, no do-overs; it is the only one I have. I spent days upon weeks with that as a mantra, using every bit of (stubborn) tenacity I had to keep going as if it were the only option.

If it were the only option? It is the only real option.

The road has not been smooth or perfect, and some days I have my doubts about recovery, since I am still very much learning. At the bottom of everything, I choose to believe in the value of the process, even if the rewards are not necessarily obvious or immediate. Aside from weight, a few gains I have made: Being more open and honest with other people. Being in the moment. Laughing and meaning it. More decisiveness in making choices. The list goes on. A year later, I can more easily reframe my thinking to: is reclaiming my life worth it? And the response to that is an empathic yes.

Speaking out against Stigma

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stigmaBy: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern

I have suffered from anxiety, panic, and OCD since I was a young child, later developing anorexia nervosa and depression. I have received all levels of treatment, many times, over the past several years. As a college undergraduate, I majored in psychology and am currently studying clinical social work with hopes of later serving in the mental health field.  Needless to say, at least on a cerebral level, I have been no stranger to “joining the discussion” on mental illness, even encouraging others to seek help and to be vocal about sharing their stories. So why was I so silent?

My family and some of my friends knew about my struggles to an extent, but I increasingly went to lengths to prevent anyone else from finding out. On some level, I am sure that some people knew, partly because it always felt like the elephant in the room, and my worn physical appearance likely suggested something was amiss. (Although, as I write this, I must note a) looking “too thin” can be attributed to a large number of factors, and b) eating disorders, more often than not, are NOT obvious, just the way other illnesses go painfully unchecked, invisible). I had spent many years in heavy denial of my eating disorder. I knew somewhere, deep down, that yes, I had a problem, but it was not that severe – which is just another variation of the myth of not feeling validated as “sick enough.”

After a few stints in treatment, I still grappled with my belief in that misconception, but the realization had sunk in enough to which I had accepted that I indeed had an eating disorder. But over time, I grew increasingly secretive about the nature of my anorexia. I do think who one chooses to tell – and when – depends on his or her readiness; it is a personal decision. However, I had smothered my eating disorder in a cloak of silence, even failing to tell people that I was in the hospital during my last admission. In retrospect, I now recognize that having shared this information would have strengthened my support network and given people the chance to reach out to me.

Truthfully, I was deeply ashamed. Not only did I feel self-perceived inferiority for living with mental illness (a notion I applied to only myself), but I also experienced a sense of defeat from having been in treatment repeatedly. I did not necessarily feel that I was incapable of recovery, as impossible as life without an eating disorder often seemed. I was motivated to push forward in my journey despite the bumps in the road – but I enormously feared judgment from others for having been in and out of facilities so many times (“again?”). I had internalized the stigma so much that I put up a thick wall, separating me from many of the people I cared about. In doing so, I subconsciously reinforced my beliefs, which in turn created a vicious cycle of perpetuation.

Over the fall of the last year, my existing anxiety and depression snowballed, ostensibly tag-teaming each other as I spiraled down, paralyzed by terror and a permeating sense of hopelessness. The silver lining of this situation was that it finally led me to emerge from my shell and start talking. What did I have to lose? I am grateful that most people were much kinder and receptive than I would have ever anticipated. The bottom line is that I had absolutely nothing to feel ashamed of. Mental illnesses are just as real, serious, and potentially life-threatening as major physical diseases. Stigma still does exist, and people do not always understand the true depths of mental illness beyond “sadness” (i.e. depression) or “a diet gone too far” (i.e. eating disorder). However, there is hope. We can take action, continuing to chip away at this issue by raising awareness by speaking up.

Emerging from Isolation

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friendshipBy: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern 

Even though I had friends growing up, I never felt as if I really belonged anywhere. I could not admit it to myself for many years, but I always felt a sense of perceived inferiority, somehow different and therefore defective. I suppose my battle with low self-esteem began at an early age. It only worsened with time as I battled my eating disorder. Anorexia is truly a disorder rooted in tremendous self-hatred. For a while, I was able to maintain an active social life. But I began turning away social invitations time and time again. Not only did I have severe social anxiety, but really, I could not wrap my mind around how anyone would want to spend time with me. I didn’t even want to spend time with myself.

My friendships began to dissolve because I pushed people away. My mind twisted this reality – instead of attributing my seclusion to the truth that I was isolating, I instead believed that I was disliked and not worth someone else’s time. In periods in which I was functioning better, I was better able to face up to my fears. I would contact my friends and try to make amends. However, inevitably I would spiral back into paralyzing anxiety and depression and the cycle would repeat itself again, growing worse every time.

I began to withdraw completely, with the exception of going to work and putting on my game face for my coworkers and the people I assisted at my job. I was – and am – incredibly grateful for that interaction because I enjoyed being around people and allowing myself to get comfortable enough around them to engage in both serious and hilarious conversations. By nature, I am fairly extroverted and genuinely enjoy getting to know people and their stories. But my fears kept me trapped.

I firmly believe in the importance of friends and a support system in recovery and life in general. I am starting to emerge, allowing myself to be more open and vulnerable in reconnecting with people I care about. I feel fortunate that I have some truly wonderful and forgiving people in my life. I was blind to the idea that my disappearance even had any effect on them because I was so lost and deep into my descent into misery. I had effectively made myself alone, but life is not meant to be lived that way. I am reclaiming my relationships and livelihood as I begin to move forward.

Mindfulness: Enjoying the Moment

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imagesBy: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern 

While in the depths of my eating disorder, I carried around tremendous shame about needing to eat. I would go to great lengths to prevent others seeing me eat the meager bits I permitted myself to have. The secrecy served as a protector against a sense of vulnerability, even though this is clearly an irrational thought as everyone needs to eat. I did not want someone else to bear witness to my incredible sense of discomfort and embarrassment.

Likewise, for years I lamented why food is such a central part of most holidays and celebrations. Why does there need to be such a heavy emphasis on what and how much we are eating? I honestly still have not reconciled an answer to that question, but I have grown to appreciate sharing meals with others, over lunches with friends and dinners with family. I still feel incredibly self-conscious, but I try to remember: eating together is not just about consuming food, but it is a unique time in which we can break free from the constraints of the commitments that comprise life in today’s fast-paced, hectic world.

I have used my fair share of self-talk to contend with the anxiety that still drenches over me in these situations (and admittedly across the board). When I first started allowing myself to tackle a meal with someone else, I primarily used the setting as a distraction – laughter and conversation that deflected from the stress-inducing task at hand. I just needed a way to get the food down. Of course, I was incredibly grateful for the people who sat with me and helped prevent the onset of intense fear associated with the emotions that surfaced when I was faced with eating.

I have become more conscious of practicing mindfulness in everyday life and the ways it proves relevant in practically every aspect of life. Being more mindful helps me to fully experience the present moment (often difficult for me because my ever-present anxiety tends to either lead me to get too far ahead of myself, or to dwell on past events). Having moments of true presence is beautiful because I feel so much more aware and grounded. Thus, over the past several months, I have slowly come to appreciate sharing meals on another level.

Likewise, my younger sister and I tend to have conflicting schedules, but we found time to grab takeout together, enjoying an afternoon of laughter and conversation as we caught up on each other’s lives that afternoon. Instead of frantically counting and recounting calories, or panicking over my rules that constitute patterns and compositions of “permitted” foods, I was able to acknowledge these thoughts. However, the difference this time was that I could gently bat away the intrusive thoughts away instead of letting them dictate the focus of my lunch date.

Eating Disorders in Women at Mid-Life

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eating-disorder1111111By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern                   

The literature on eating disorders in middle aged women (40-60 years) is scant. However, the number of women seeking treatment in this age group has significantly risen over the past decade. Eating disorders know no age boundaries (or gender! More to come on that later); the prevalence of eating disorders in middle aged women may be similar to that of young adults (18-39).  Research demonstrates that younger adults and middle aged women face similar biopsychosocial factors for developing an eating disorder: a tendency toward perfectionism, low self-esteem, and cultural messages pressuring the drive toward thinness.

Studies have shown that middle aged women are more likely to struggle with binge eating disorder, EDNOS (Eating Disorder Otherwise Not Specified) or subthreshold eating disorders, meaning that the afflicted individual demonstrates certain characteristics or symptoms of a more “classical” eating disorder but does not meet full diagnostic criteria. Research on inpatient admissions shows that middle aged women are more likely to have an older age of onset than are their younger counterparts. However, women at midlife also tend to have a longer disorder history. We must consider that although late age onset eating disorders do occur, this is not as likely as the idea that many of these cases have been life-long without prior treatment. In some situations, the woman has experienced a period of recovery from her ED from youth, but has relapsed, deciding to seek help.

Middle aged women also face unique factors rendering them vulnerable to struggling with eating disorders. One study reports that middle aged women must also contend with approaching menopause and aging anxieties. Perimenopausal women scored higher than pre- and post- menopausal women on measures predicting negative body image. This subgroup might be more vulnerable because of hormonal changes, weight gain due to menopause, and their core beliefs about womanhood. They might also feel “out of control” as their body changes, leaving them at greater risk for using disordered eating as a coping mechanism. Additionally, women today face the pressure to “do it all”-  juggling a family and a career, in a pressure cooker environment to maintain a youthful appearance and to fit into society’s ideal of beauty. Midlife also poses a major transition period for women, often marked by children leaving the home, loss of a parent, pressure to meet internalized career deadlines, or possible divorce.

For a woman with a predisposition to an eating disorder, these events may act as the trigger that unloads the gun. Most women are unlikely to speak up about their struggles during their visits to a health care provider. However, since the signs are not always obvious, the clinician may not be looking for them, many people continue to go undiagnosed and untreated.  Some treatment facilities believe that patients of all ages have more in common than they do not regarding symptomology and body image, and thus promote treating age groups together. On the other hand, some treatment centers believe that women have different needs at mid-life, and thus have implemented special programming geared toward an older demographic, like the Renfrew Center and Laureate Psychiatric Hospital. Although a person who has struggled with an eating disorder for a greater length might face a longer road to emotional, mental, and physical stability, full recovery is still possible with appropriate treatment.

Eating to Thrive

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baked goodsBy: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern

In my recovery process from anorexia nervosa, I have created a rule: If I bake an item, I must try it. As part of my struggle with my eating disorder, I have become an exquisite baker. I do truly love to bake. But in the past, I would never eat any of the treats I made, instead only sharing them with others. Likewise, the other night before I went to bed, I came across a tray of cookies I had made for the holidays. I am still learning, but I eat fairly flexibly. However, my first thought was, I don’t need that; I could eat something more nutritionally substantial. In response, immediately decided to act opposite to that thought – why not eat the cookie? Although I have been through similar cognitive processes lately, I have been moving toward “losing the guilt.” I have eaten the less “safe” option before, but always followed by a barrage of self-berating comments correlating my sense of being with what I had consumed.

The truth is, what we eat has absolutely no connection with our worthiness as human beings. None. Only on the surface are eating disorders about the food, but that is just the “tip of the iceberg.” However, I do want to address the way eating well is crucial to being well. Despite what our cultural messages might suggest, our dietary choices say nothing about who we are as people, our abilities, or our quality of character. Furthermore, all foods can fit into any “plan” – whether a person follows an exchange based diet or intuitively eats. Our bodies are intelligent. When we can reach a point in which we truly can listen to our bodies – and experience hunger and fullness cues – our bodies will be able to moderate what we eat, eating more at some times, eating less at others.

Although considering the nutritional value of a particular food has its place, good nutrition is also about including a wide variety of foods and experiencing enjoyment of taste as a sensory pleasure. Although we are subject to an onslaught of buzz about the “Raw Food Revolution” or the “Paleo Diet,” the idea of a “perfect diet” does not exist. Rather, being able to eat flexibly, adapting to different situations, showing a willingness to try new foods, is true healthy eating. We need to be able to recognize that it is okay to eat more of something simply because it tastes good. Upon either eating a sandwich or piece of cake, our bodies will recognize grains as grains, proteins as proteins, and break them down as such for energy, not distinguishing between types of items that we have labeled as being “good” or “bad.”

Truthfully, earlier in recovery, I could have cared less about eating for health. I just wanted to eat as much as I absolutely had to in order to live, not just marginally survive. At that time, I saw living without my eating disorder as doing the minimum necessary to eat within a framework that promoted an essential intake. However, over time, I have begun to better understand that just eating to live – while still having restrictions on what one can and cannot have – keeps one foot in the disorder, encaged. We need to eat well not to merely survive or even live, but thrive. As a result, my next steps have involved breaking down each and every one of the last rules that hold me back from full recovery, an outlook that Project HEAL promotes and believes is fully possible. I am excited to continue and share in my journey as I begin a new blogging adventure, and look forward to having you join me in the process.