The Power of Resistance: Saying No to the Diet Culture

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By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Carefully disguised in the name of health, diet culture has saturated our society, taking many different forms, including “eating clean,” veganism, elimination diets, cleansing diets and more.  When done in the name of wellness and disease prevention, many abnormal eating habits can be justified, the potential dangers overlooked when the objective is to be healthier.

With the damaging effects of dieting trends lurking about, especially for those recovering from an eating disorder, when do things take it one step too far when it comes to health and nutrition?

The Reality of Diet Culture

While diet culture has evolved over the years, often taking different forms, the reality is that our society continues to obsess about dieting, reaching an unattainable body type/weight, and all that this entails.

In the face of an “obesity epidemic,” dieting has in fact become commonplace, a false form of security and control as a means of counteracting our fear of fat and everything associated with this.  It comes as no surprise that some of the top dieting questions asked in Google include, “How to Lose Weight Fast,” followed by “Best Way to Lose Weight.”

In a recent survey about body image and dieting, 91 percent of women responded that they were unhappy with their bodies and resorted to dieting, with approximately 66 percent of Americans currently on a diet [1].  There is something startling and abrupt to be recognized about a dieting industry that rakes in billions of dollars each year.  People are looking for answers in the wrong places, often complicating their health and risking their overall quality in life by engaging in our prominent dieting culture.

Going Against the Flow

Is there anything that is justified about being on a diet? Is health, nutrition, or wellness achieved with anything that condones restrictions in any form?

The reality is that dieting, no matter its form, is counter to what our bodies are intuitively capable of doing.  For individuals who are susceptible to having an eating disorder, dieting can be the trigger that influences the development of these fatal illnesses.

No matter the look or claim of any type of diet, the bottom line is always the same: Diets DON’T WORK!  The things that are often lost with dieting include self-esteem, confidence, energy, health, quality of life, and an overall peaceful relationship with food and body.

So what can you do in the face of our dieting culture? Resist.

Resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon of a new “health regime” you see trending on Instagram or the diets that claim to give you energy and optimize your longevity.

Anything that recommends restricting any food groups, demonizing certain foods, or deters you from trusting your body completely should be scrutinized and likely avoided completely.

do-not-give-up-2015253_640Your body contains all the innate wisdom needed to guide you safely through the diet-infested culture we live in, avoiding the heartache and misery that is attached to dieting in any form.  It’s simply a matter of resisting what our culture has deemed as desirable and fighting for normalcy; going against the flow of what everyone else seems to be doing, and making peace with our bodies through gentle nutrition, intuitive eating and exercise.

This may ostracize you from mainstream acceptability, but in the end, you will never regret the choice you made to stand for freedom from dieting.

 

References:
[1]: Mintel Consumer Reports, “Diet Trends – September 2016”, http://reports.mintel.com/display/748044/ Accessed 19 April 2017

Crystal Karges_HeadshotAbout the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her nutrition private practice and work with Eating Disorder Hope.  Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as a Contributing Writer and Social Media Events Manager for Eating Disorder Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

The Four Seasons

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By James McLaughlin

Living in the northeast of the United States has allowed me to live life through the ever-changing four seasons. Over the course of my life I have found there is something intrinsically special about each one of them.

Autumn is a time to let go of things we cannot change, but also a time to accept and let go of things that have changed–just as the branches of a tree let go of their changed leaves.

I consider the winter months to be a time to go inside, not only physically, but metaphorically as well. It’s strange that people say things like “this blanket is so warm!” When the truth is that blankets do nothing but allow us to insulate and feel our own warmth. Winter is a season of hibernation for some animals, but for us, winter provides a period of introspection–a time to become cozy with oneself, a time for us to warm up to who we are.

And then there’s our current season, my favorite–spring. What I love about spring is the new life that begins to sprout its way into the world, primarily in the places that were let go in the fall. They say when one clears a space of the old, it makes room for the new–I agree with whomever they are.

I find that spring presents an opportunity for new perspectives. For me, the simple, yet exquisite smell of spring is a reminder to be present–to experience the world with all of our senses, to rediscover joy and gratitude in the small details of our life’s larger picture.

Perhaps there is no greater clichéd phrase pertinent to this specific time of year than April showers bring May flowers–perhaps there is not a clichéd phrase that holds so much truth.

Spring flowers and grey skies. Photo by: James McLaughlin
Spring flowers and grey skies. Photo by: James McLaughlin

Our lives are not always full of sunshine, and rainbows seldom appear after a storm has settled. And it is no secret that flowers need plenty of sunshine, but flowers also depend upon rainy, grey and gloomy days.

Similarly, our rainy days, our life’s difficult times, not only enable our ability to blossom, but also allow us to appreciate the light and love that shines in our lives. That light at times may be cloaked by grey skies, but it is always shining beyond that vail of mist–in the sky, and inside of ourselves.

When we let go of what no longer serves us, when we learn to love ourselves without our evergreen leaves or bold-colored blossoms, when we sprout new roots and grow into the person we truly are, we find that the joys of summer are not contained to several months of blue skies, but something unchanging, something exquisite, something that will always exist inside of ourselves.


10685458_10152412384291548_4590576595723063741_nAbout the Author: James McLaughlin recently became the blog manager for Project HEAL. He is a senior at Montclair State University majoring in Communication & Media Arts. His hope in managing the Project HEAL blog is to be a link between informative and inspiring content & a readership who can relate, grow and find peace with each written word.

#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

Journeying Through Depression Recovery

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By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

When it comes to eating disorders, it is not uncommon to assume that the more obvious signs and symptoms are what define these mental illnesses. However, this falls into the stigmas and stereotypes that are too often created about eating disorders. On the surface, it may appear that eating disorders involve a problematic relationship with food, but there are many more factors that interplay in the development of these diseases.

One common aspect of eating disorders that is overlooked is the frequency that other mental illnesses, such as depression, co-occur with eating disorders. In fact, is is estimated that more than half of individuals who develop an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, also have a comorbid mood disorder, like depression or anxiety [1]. For some, it may be an undiagnosed and untreated mood disorder that triggers the development of maladaptive eating behaviors associated with eating disorders. Because of this common connection between mood disorders, like depression, and eating disorders, effectively treating and managing both conditions is essential to treatment.

Learning From My Own Journey

As a survivor of both depression and an eating disorder, I can attest firsthand to the hope that is found in the recovery journey. Is it an easy process? Not by any means. In fact, the diagnosis of co-occurring depression and an eating disorder can feel hopeless, even overwhelming at times, yet there are effective interventions that can support you through this recovery journey, even when you feel unreachable and at your lowest point.

Some of the most powerful tools for recovery from depression and an eating disorder include the combination of psychotherapy with medication management, such as the use of antidepressants. While some people may feel vehemently against the use of any type of medication for depression, there are several potential benefits that should be researched thoroughly and discussed with your doctor and/or treatment team as an option for your care.

Depression, like eating disorders, is likely influenced by several different aspects, including both biological and environmental factors. Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and antidepressant medication may be helpful in correcting this. Developing healthier coping skills with therapy, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is also a fundamental part of healing and recovering from both depression and an eating disorder.

Individualized Treatment for Recovery

While our diagnoses may feel like a life sentence, it is important to remember that neither your eating disorder or depression defines who you are or what you are capable of achieving. Ultimately, it was through my own struggles with these comorbid conditions that I found healing and became inspired to help others do the same through Eating Disorder Hope. Wherever you may find yourself today, take the necessary step toward recovery by asking for help and discovering what treatment approaches might work best for you. Treatment for co-occurring depression and eating disorders is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and with the help and support of your treatment team and loved ones, you can find your path toward healing and recovery.

References: [1]: Ulfvebrand, S., Birgegard, A., Norring, C., Hogdahl, L., & von Hausswolff-Juhlin, Y. (2015). Psychiatric comorbidity in women and men with eating disorders results from a large clinical database. Psychiatry Research, 230(2), 294-299.


Jacquelyn-Pic-2-22-16-250x250About the Author: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp). Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Cowgirl”, reading, painting and time with family. Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.

Connect with Eating Disorder Hope with Twitter & Facebook.

 

 

Maximize Fun, Minimize Risk on Your Spring Break

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By: Loren Gianini, Ph.D.

Spring Break may mean a trip back home to see family and friends, or time spent with classmates on a tropical beach. For individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, however, this break, regardless of the destination, may not be such a vacation.

Here are some ways to anticipate and manage risks that may emerge during Spring Break so that the time off can actually be restorative and recovery-consistent:

Going Home

What can you do if home is a hot spot?

Stressful Situations

Do you and your siblings tend to argue about who gets control of the TV or who gets to borrow the car? Are there challenges you experience around family mealtimes or by virtue of 24/7 access to a stocked pantry? These circumstances may lead to increased risk for restrictive eating, binge eating, or use of unhealthy behaviors like vomiting or excessive exercise. Think through your own personalized list of high risk situations that could come up and devise an action plan. You may want to talk this through with a therapist, a supportive friend, or family members. Figure out what coping skills you can use- taking a break, using some deep breathing, getting out of the house- and make a plan so that when the stressful moment hits, you are prepared.

Comments about Appearance

Many people in recovery from an eating disorder are adjusting to living with a body weight or shape that is different from what they were used to while ill, or different from what they feel is “ideal.” This can heighten body awareness and discomfort. Some well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) family and friends may make comments about the change in your appearance since the last time they saw you- for example, “You’ve gained weight!”, “You look so much healthier!”, etc. Or, their comments on others’ appearances may make you equally uncomfortable. Figure out how you’d like to respond to these types of comments. You might find it helpful to let family know ahead of time (or in the moment a comment is made) that while they may not mean any harm, those types of comments are not helpful for you, and you’d prefer they refrain from commenting on your looks. You might also provide some direction about what types of comments are helpful to you.

Hitting the Road

Soaking up some sun this Spring Break?  Then maybe you’re worried about heading to an unfamiliar environment, wearing a bathing suit, or other potentially triggering situations.

Meals and Snacks

You’re away from your dining hall and your normal mealtime routine. You may be waking up and going to bed later than you typically do. Your body’s hunger and fullness cues could be a bit off, especially if you’ve travelled to a different time zone. Making sure that you eat at appropriate intervals and in healthy amounts is essential to keeping your risk for relapse low.

  • Explore the grocery and restaurant options at your Spring Break destination online before you head there, and plan out where you will purchase your food.
  • Pack some easy to prepare meals or snacks so that if you are in a bind, you always have food on hand.
  • Keep track of when you eat and make sure you don’t go more than 4 hours between eating, so that you don’t get too hungry.
  • Do you have a supportive friend that you can turn to? Perhaps you can make plans with this friend to eat together even if everyone else is pressuring you to hang out at the beach.

Drinking

Alcohol has historically been ubiquitous on Spring Break. Aside from the standard risks involved with drinking (e.g., increased chances for dangerous situations to occur, like drunk driving), overindulgence with alcohol carries particular risks for people with eating disorders.

  • Drinking to excess lowers inhibitions which could, in turn, lead to a recurrence of binge eating.
  • Those with a tendency towards restrictive eating may feel the urge to reduce their food intake as a means of “making up” for the calories they are consuming through alcohol.
  • Hangovers might reduce the desire to stick to your meal plan and prompt undereating or overeating.

Wherever possible, moderating your drinking is important. Again, you may find it helpful to confide in a close supportive friend, and remove yourselves from situations in which there is pressure to drink to excess. Come up with some lines you could say if you want to decline a drink, so that you feel comfortable doing so when the time comes.

flowers-964881_640“Braving” the Bathing Suit

If you’ve traveled to the beach or some other warm destination, swimming or sunbathing is likely on the menu. If you’re feeling nervous about wearing a bathing suit, come prepared with some healthy coping strategies to test out. For example, if you notice that your thoughts are becoming overly self-critical and your emotions are feeling overwhelming, you may find it helpful to engage in some mindfulness exercises or to challenge the unhelpful thoughts. Maybe you can notice aspects of your body’s function, rather than its form, or maybe you can keep tabs on how your body image changesover the hours on the beach (and why). Try to minimize time spent scrutinizing your appearance and schedule in some distracting, pleasurable activities.

Spring Break is intended to be a time to decompress, relax, and hopefully have some fun. While being in recovery from an eating disorder can make managing Spring Break more challenging, coming up with a plan for how you will handle these challenges can be an empowering way to making a commit to yourself and your continued good health.

This post was previously published on The Feed on March 9, 2017.


Gianini, LorenAbout the Author: Dr. Gianini is a clinical and research psychologist at the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders. Her current research aims to examine food-related decision-making across the weight spectrum.

Signs of Disordered Eating in Children and Teens

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Written by the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders: Loren Gianini, PhD and Barbara Smolek, MPA.

Adolescence is a time of experimentation, rebellion and growing independence.  It’s not unusual for emerging adults to experiment with different lifestyles; after all, the transition to (and then from) college often provides a picturesque backdrop for personal reinvention.

There are multiple common areas of experimentation including the trying on of different school majors or career foci, political beliefs or activist agendas, and friendships or intimate relationships. Health-related domains, including alcohol and drug use, eating and exercise patterns, and sexual behaviors, are also common arenas of exploration. For most adolescents and young adults, health-related experiments may be short lived, or found to improve overall function (for example, learning that it’s important to eat well and get a good night’s rest before a big game). For a susceptible few, however, experimentation around health-related behaviors begins a slippery slope that can be detrimental to physical and mental health.

What should you do if your daughter tells you that she’s routinely skipping lunch at the dining hall or avoiding keeping snacks on hand in her dorm room, but insists “it’s not a big deal because all my friends do too”? Should you be worried if every time you check your child’s social media feed, you notice that she’s posing to look thinner? How about if your credit card bills indicate that your child is frequently buying large amounts of food, of if he has started to describe eating more than usual when feeling stressed about midterms? What is a helpful reaction if your child returns home from college for break and has either gained or lost a significant amount of weight?

In short: What are the signs your child might be struggling with disordered eating, and what can you do?

Here are some reminders about behaviors that may indicate your child may be struggling with eating issues and some tips on how to tease out “normal” young adult behavior from signs of a potential problem:

  1. Trust Your Gut

If you notice a change in your child’s eating behavior and are concerned, trust that feeling, even if your child’s physician says that his or her weight is in the healthy range (Many individuals with eating disorders are actually not underweight.).  For example, you may notice that your child, who has always been a picky eater, is now making excuses not to eat with the family at home, feeling stressed out by dining at restaurants, pushing food around on the plate, and covering their plate with a napkin before clearing it. If you’re wondering how to address your concerns with your child (of any age), read here how to ‘call it as you see it.’

  1. Eating Problems: Not Simply an Intake Issue

If your child seems to go above and beyond the training regimen recommended by their sports team, take note. This could mean trying to get in extra practice before or after school, or trying to train through an injury or illness, even though their coach has recommended they take some time to recover. Has your child’s friends expressed concern? And, if your child exercises in order to compensate for food they’ve eaten, rather than for fun or for health, or seems bound to a rigid fitness routine even when home on a school break, this may also be cause for alarm.

  1. Digital Dilemmas

Are you noticing your child using social media in ways that focus exclusively on appearance? Are they competing in the “thigh gap” challenge, or wanting to pose to show as little of themselves as possible? These challenges are unhealthy, unrealistic, and undermine a healthy self-image. Teach them – explicitly, and by your own example – how to manage normal body image concerns in the digital age. Remind them of those in the media who stand up to Photoshop and choose instead to show realistic images that accurately reflect the acceptability of a range of body types. Teens and young adults are old enough to engage in a meaningful conversation about how their relationship with technology impacts their focus, friendships, and feelings about themselves.

  1. Finding the Fine Line with Food Rules

Has your child recently decided to go gluten-free, even though they do not have celiac disease, or to become a vegetarian, and as a result is eating far less at meals or parties? Experimentation in moderation with new approaches to food, like vegetarianism, can be supported, so long as your child is still eating a broad variety of foods, i.e., not just eating vegetables. People who struggle with disordered eating may adopt rigid food rules which give them an excuse to exclude large groups of foods from their diets. They may say they are trying to be frugal and not spend money on food, or might report that they’re “just” dieting in advance of spring break to “look good in a bathing suit”. A healthy approach to eating includes flexibility, choosing from a wide variety of foods, and it’s important to remember that many teens and young adults in high school and college are still in the process of reaching a stable weight, particularly if they experience changes in activity level (e.g., starting or stopping athletic involvement).

  1. Food and Mood

Does your child seem moody and withdrawn? While it may be common for a teen to want to spend more time with friends than family, the notion that teens withdraw from the world or are constantly irritable is really a myth. Low mood is not specific to individuals with eating disorders; however, if someone has an eating disorder it often comes hand in hand with mood changes, or outright depression. There are many ways that mood and anxiety levels can track with increases or decreases in intake. In one scenario, a teen or young adult might respond to anger and sadness following a fight with a friend by retreating to their room with a pizza and a carton of ice cream. In another context, such as a heavy semester workload or career decisions, the experience of heightened anxiety may play out in under- or overeating. Research suggests that if eating behavior is tightly bound up with fluctuations in mood and anxiety, it is worth taking note. You may be able to help your child develop other, healthier ways to handle life’s inevitable stresses without turning to or away from food.

color-787251_640If you see a troubling shift in your child’s behavior, including but not limited to those listed above, say something. Be mindful to express your concern (rather than your frustration).

If your child is still living at home, you can approach this as you would any other kind of medical issue. If your child had a cold, you might monitor the symptoms for a while and then seek consultation from a doctor if the symptoms did not improve, or worsened. You can monitor what’s happening by talking to teachers and school counselors who can share observations of your child when they are not with you. Pay attention to the attitudes and behaviors of your child’s peer group.

For college students who are living on campus, you can certainly take note of both appearance and behavior when they are home for breaks and reach out to them if you are concerned by what you observe. If you are connected with your child via social media platforms, you might also be able to indirectly monitor their wellbeing based on what they are posting.  Investigate what student health resources may be available to students through their university, and speak with them about accessing those resources if you feel they might benefit from getting help from a professional. You might also refer them to some of our back-to-school tips and suggestions  for college athletes.

For emerging adults, do what you can to empower them to make their own decisions in service of optimal health and functioning. Encourage them to learn about treatment resources local to their area or through their employer’s employee assistance program. If the behaviors of concern persist or worsen, you can offer to speak together with an expert who can provide an objective assessment. This might be your child’s physician, or a mental health provider who is an eating disorders specialist. Remember, families play a vital role in helping those with eating problems (even those in adulthood), and research indicates that early intervention is key.

An earlier version of this post appeared in The Feed on January 4, 2017.


About the Author: Dr. Gianini is a clinical and research psychologist at the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders. Her current research aims to examine food-related decision-making across the weight spectrum. Be sure to check Columbia Center for Eating Disorder’s blog as well.

My Secret New Love of Spontaneity

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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.

Cultivating Hope

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By: Kiernan O’Dell

If you are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, chances are you’ve had that moment of “I just cannot do this any more!” That moment where hope is gone, the process seems too hard or overwhelming and you want to give up-or give in-to the eating disorder.

Actually, if you’re anything like me, you have moments like that often, even daily. Moments when recovery seems so far over there, elusively somewhere out in the ether and the road ahead looks impassable.

While I cycle through feeling like this, I also know that those moments, those emotions, are not forever. I think it’s important to look at why you feel that way, but not live there with that voice that tells you that you cannot possibly recover.

hopeSo what saves me, in those times? Hope. Every single time, hope wins.  I can hear myself reading this and thinking perhaps what you may be thinking: “But how do you find hope when you feel utterly hopeless?”

Well guys, it takes effort and I don’t have all the answers. For me, the biggest source of hope comes from connection. Usually when I’m in a place where I want to give up, I am alone. Perhaps I am with people, but still feeling very isolated. When I am actually–connected to myself, to other people and to this world, I find hope or at least the energy behind hope that inspires me to continue.

Sometimes I have to act as if I feel hope. I have to take the right actions. I heard once that esteem-able acts build self-esteem. I think that hopeful acts build hope.

Perhaps that means eating to my meal plan even when food feels hard and scary. It may mean making that phone call you don’t want to make because connecting with another human being gets you out of your own head for a while and reminds you that a world exists outside of the abusive eating disorder.

Sometimes it means letting your team hold onto hope for you and listening to them when they tell you that.

Hope comes from talking to those in recovery or reading articles about their journey to a full recovery.

Hope isn’t always an emotion that I feel and, to be honest, its not always an emotion that I have the time to wait for. In this arduous process, sometimes I have to go out and hunt hope down.

Sometimes I have to take care of myself just to prove to myself that I can. Sometimes I have to call someone and see how they are. Sometimes I have to pretend my way into the feeling of hope.

These actions mean that I’m taking an active role in my own recovery and THAT gives me hope. If I sat around waiting to feel hopeful before I started acting as if there were hope, I may not be on the path of recovery any more.

Hope is out there and there is plenty of it for the getting, it just takes some work to get to. I have hope for recovery because I have solid proof that it is possible. I’ve seen it happen and although sometimes my eating disorder tells me so, I am not the only person who simply cannot recover.

So where do YOU find hope? What keeps you motivated on hard days? Id love to hear your ideas: We can always use a new path to hope. What gets you there?



image1About the Author: 
Kiernan O’Dell was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After earning a BS in Psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, she attended Columbia University’s Psychological Counseling Program. O’Dell enjoys writing, and hopes to one day adopt it as a full-time job. According to O’Dell, the current road to recovery and sobriety enabled her to discover her purpose, which is to serve as a mentor for others using her firsthand experience.

The National Eating Disorder Association and Project HEAL Team Up For Recovery Heroes Campaign

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In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, February 26- March 4th, Project HEAL and The National Eating Disorder Association have teamed up for a new campaign, Recovery Heroes, to honor our loyal supporters who make recovery possible.

To get involved, post a picture or video of yourself and your hero on Instagram with a caption talking about how they helped you on your journey using the #RecoveryHeroes and #NEDAwareness hashtags.

Kristina Saffran

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Recovery is never an individual process. That’s why I’m so glad @projectheal and @neda are highlighting the importance of #recoveryheroes. No big surprise that mine is my fearless, kind and passionate cofounder @lianarosenman. Thanks for saving my life.


Liana Rosenman

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To begin, I’d like to thank Kristina Saffran for being one my #recoveryheroes Thank you Kristina for saving my life and showing me that I was worthy of recovery!

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Recovery would not have been possible without my family’s constant love and support. Thank you Mom, Dad, and Josh for being my favorite part in this crazy life. Thank you for always being my loudest cheerleaders and for reminding me of my strengths when I was discouraged. I would not be where I am or who I am today with out each of you!

1*mQtOqbH8U6MDVYnWh3MJbgReflecting back on the years I spent sitting in classrooms, there is one thing that I know for certain to be true: I would not be the person I am today without the teacher who believed in me. Thank you for teaching me life lessons that are far more invaluable than anything I could have learned from a textbook. Thank you for giving me the tools to succeed. Thank you for always encouraging me and believing in me even when I didn’t in myself. And, finally, thank you for being the teachers that inspired me to be just like you.

1*55IMGUhjqcpxErgt2fztAwThey say I am their anchor that keeps them grounded. What they don’t realize is they are the light in the darkness, a shining source of strength and courage. Emitting wisdom, hope and love to those around them. Today I dedicate my #recoveryheroes post to the 70 Project HEAL treatment grant recipients.

1*UF9u_ACzu1sQJ0VXirclrgWhat many people may not realize is that much of Project HEAL’s achievement would not be possible without the dedication of our volunteers. Their enthusiasm for Project HEAL and spreading the message that recovery is possible inspires me everyday. I am so thankful to work with such dedicated, kind, and loving people who are truly HEALing the world. Thank you for being #recoveryheroes to so many people and being my everyday heroes!

1*q_cKIuXT4YZXDgK3ctcB5AFor my final post, I am giving a special shout out to my treatment team. You invested heavily in my recovery when I couldn’t even begin to see the starting line. You constantly reminded me of what recovery was not only about from a technical aspect, but what it was for: my family and future, but, most importantly, for myself. Thank you for giving me the tools to succeed and for helping me reach a full recovery.


Tonya Brown

1*4ZToTO_N9FsmZZfBnHfO2gMy #recoveryhero is Megz (Meghan). Together we fight, we cry, we kick, we scream — together we do not give up — especially not on each other. From the time we met in treatment in 2015 and to this present day she has been my partner in crime, my best friend and my recovery sidekick. It’s easy to make friends in treatment, but to maintain that friendship afterwards; that’s dedication and commitment. The last time we saw each other was when she discharged from NYC, just weeks before me…the thought of reuniting gives me goosebumps and shivers down my spine and fills my eyes with tears.

This girl is my world. Recovery is not easy but with her by my side, it’s easier.

Together but apart — we fight.


Allison Dombroski

1*Wpcn3j_obYBzbkYPfr7hswTo celebrate #nedawarenessweek, I’d like to thank my friend Sara, who never gave up on me, even when I pushed away. In recovery it’s important to have a support system. They don’t have to understand exactly what’s going on in your mind, but they’re willing to keep seeing the true you deep inside. Sara helped and continues to help me overcome many obstacles, and ultimately, because of her loyal friendship, I can now say I’m recovered.


Cara Lyons
1*L7KZAw5iJnZKQeeTFZG3NQGrowing up, I was always told how much I looked like my mom — of course, when I was 8 years old, I couldn’t really see the resemblance. Now that I’m older, though, I smile when someone tells me that because she is exactly the woman I want to become. She is my role model, my confidante, my therapist, but most importantly, my best friend. She never forgets to text me each morning and night, even if we haven’t spoken all day and she’s never given up on me, even when wanted to give up on me.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly know how my eating disorder affected her because when I was at my lowest points, she was forced to be strong enough for the both of us to move forward. She never let me see how afraid she was of what my eating disorder had made me become because she knew that would only make me more closed off. So instead, she smiled. She laughed. She cheered me on when I asked to go for ice cream (at one point she even said she would have driven 100 miles just to find an ice cream shop that was open late at night for me). She pointed out the good things that the world still had to offer because I couldn’t see them for myself. And slowly, because of her, I began to get better.

Now that’s not to say the numerous treatment stays, doctor visits, and therapy sessions didn’t play a role too, but my mom was the one who never left my side no matter how bad things had become. She never gave up on me and constantly reminded me of my goals and potential to make a difference in the world. It is because of her that I always try to better myself in the hopes that just maybe, I can be half the woman she is.


Vanessa Frances Poulson
1*9UjD-i7QLeduqRpI4s7zTwI think, as with most children, out first love will always be our mothers. Mom’s are the ones who teach us to be brave, hold our heads up, and stand up talk for what we believe in. Our mother’s help to form and craft our personalities, breed us in strength, and protect us even in our tragedies.

Mothers are protective and understanding, caring and firm, and hold us close when the world tries to push us away.My mother was an incredibly powerful influence through my recovery journey. She was not only a guiding light, but a beacon of hope through darkness, and for that I will never thank her enough.

Recovery, however, is not just about those that helped us through the recovery itself, but also those that stood with us when we came out on the other side, and reminded us in our moments of weakness what it means to be something truly exceptional and valuable. Though I’ve always tried to be the girl that refuses validation from others, falling in love with someone who knew just the right way to keep me steady and moderated with perhaps the best thing that’s ever happened to me. He is the love of my life, and for that, I am so thankful.

These two are my #RecoveryHeros not only for their continued kindness and compassion, but because they are both the complete and well valued lives of my life. I don’t think that I would be half the woman I am today if I didn’t have the shoulders of these two incredible human beings to help me stand again.


Meg Burton

1*a1MLwqsK9at7bAKIrxD3QAI wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the amazing #RecoveryHeroes I have in my life.

This right here is Mary. Mary was my therapist when I first moved to Southern California for college. I was still having phone session with my therapist from home and having difficulty finding resources at Cal State Fullerton to help me with this new life transition. I found Mary online while searching for an eating disorder therapist within the area. Her website was awesome and she looked so kind — so I texted a friend consulting her on this very important issue and we decided that it would be good to send Mary an email. To my very anxious surprise Mary called me that night and then followed up by emailing me potential resources in the area.

I can’t explain how much this meant to me. I was pretty self-sufficient but I was having a hard time finding any help in this new place. On top of that nobody was even trying to help me. I was just having doors closed in my face instead of finding a hand reaching out to help me. And that’s what Mary did. She was the first person to extend a hand and allow me not to walk alone.

Our first interaction with each other pretty much sums up our time together. Mary never left me to walk alone. She stayed present with me through many highs and lows. The moments when I would hide underneath the blankets in her office, unable to communicate; or when I would decide to not talk to her if I was angry. And also the moments where I got stickers for self-care, told epic camp stories, and cried from joy and and gratitude for life after being featured in 17 magazine.

It’s so hard to sum up the impact of a certain person in your life. But I do know one thing, I would not be the same without the time I was fortunate to have with Mary in my life.

All you therapists rule. You have a hard job but it is filled with SO much meaning. Keep making a difference in this world because we need you.


Michelle Blazofsky

1*NTdQJlBRPDvkjIrMe4-mdgAs we approach National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’m joining the #recoveryheroes movement, a collaborative movement between @neda, @recoveryspark, and @projectheal, to send out some love to those who have helped me along the way. I’m forever grateful and thankful for Liana, Kristina and all of Project HEAL for taking a chance on me and allowing me the opportunity to not only gain my life back but also grow in ways I never thought possible. I would not have made it through treatment without my recovery heroes. I went from daily meltdowns to daily triumphs. Thank you all for always being a voice of reason in times of struggle and true examples of confidence and self love.


Danielle Deutsch

1*rcDH8VCYhXgoD_jrephH1wI want to give a HUGE shoutout to Liana Rosenman for being a #RecoveryHero to so many people and being my everyday hero! You’re the most selfless and amazing person I know and I’m so lucky to be able to call you my friend.


Amanda Leigh Lupacchino

1*PufT7tgA_Fvk9hLrMAzlHgIt’s hard to believe that 3 years ago last month I went into treatment for my eating disorder, which I struggled with for 11+ years. As we approach National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’m joining the #recoveryheroesmovement, a collaborative movement between @neda, @recoveryspark, and @projectheal, to send out some love to those who have helped me along the way. It takes a village my friends and these are some of the heroes in mine.

First and foremost I’m forever grateful for Liana, Kristina and the Project HEAL family for taking a chance on me, giving me the opportunity to receive the proper treatment and for sticking by my side. A shout out to my amazing bosses Mel, Hanne and my DDF crew for being an amazing and understanding support system. My EDTNY family for walking through the unknown with me. Pippa, Diana, Natalie, Kylie, Garrett, Marisa, Ginny, Dr. Hong and the many others who have helped me, supported me and tough loved me through this process. The countless friends, family, recovery warriors, theater communities and even strangers who have had a positive impact along the way. There are no words that will ever adequately express how grateful I am for all of you, but I can say confidently and adoringly that I could not have wished for a better team of recovery heroes. Thankful every day. THANK YOU!


Sarah Kravette

1*A0zWfDxX21eTEWKOBtVrnwIn honor of #NEDAwareness Week, I’d like to give a shout out to my “Recovery Hero.” Liana Rosenman came into my life at exactly the right time and showed me that there is an incredible life worth living beyond an eating disorder. To my best friend, thank you.


Christina Grasso

1*osRPObzIP0S42tMfRYCF-QWith upcoming #nedawareness week, we @projectheal-ers are launching a new campaign today with @iskra and @neda called #recoveryheroes to highlight the importance of a support system in eating disorder recovery. I’m lucky to have an incredible family, wonderful friends, and a special doctor who have gone above and beyond to save my life and help me through this process.

But Liana Rosenman is one friend in particular who gives me hope and purpose every day. I met her 5 years ago when I started working with @projectheal, which she co-founded at the age of 15 (!!) while recovering from her own eating disorder. Since then, we’ve grown very close and she is always there to celebrate the good days and let me vent on the not so good days. She watched Betty Piddles for me while I was in the hospital last summer and wrote cute notes on my mirror for my return. Most of all, she is my living proof that recovery is possible. I don’t know where I would be without her and Project Heal, but I do know I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today, that’s for sure. Thank you Liana for changing my life, inspiring me to share my voice and story,and giving me the opportunity to turn the ugliest, most difficult thing in my life into something beautiful and meaningful.


Hannah Smiley Jones

1*8HDY33OuGqC5HQ70fX-gwQMy #RecoveryHero is my best friend, my partner in crime, my person @tessmichelemullen When I found out I was being admitted to the hospital she dropped everything and hopped on a bus from Pittsburgh to Philly to work my two nannying jobs and take care of my cat while I was learning how to care of myself again. She’s seen my good, my bad and my ugly and has loved me unconditionally through it all. Her unrelenting support and belief in both me and my recovery empowers me everyday. I’m so lucky to have had you by my side and I cannot wait for the day when we don’t live on opposite sides of the state anymore. Thanks for being my bestie and recovery hero.


Kelly Byram
1*tZFUWBKstYTNFpvhtVW_sgWhile there have been SO many people I would love to thank who have helped me over the last 12 years and continue to help me on my journey towards recovery…. I want to thank my 3 biggest #RecoveryHeroes-my mom, my best friend Anthony and my precious niece Avery. These 3 people have given me to strength and courage to continue to fight even when I’ve felt I no longer could. Whether they know it or not, they have saved my life. I want to thank them for always believing in me. For cheering me on in the darkest of times and for being there to celebrate my triumphs.


Caroline E. Och
1*kvnsJk0g3QQaEeIZEB1qgwIt’s almost #EatingDisordersAwarenessWeek, and here are my #RecoveryHeroes! Mom, Dad, and Sarah, thank you for your constant support. Because of you, I’m able to recover and pursue my dreams of helping others. I love you!


Jacquie Rangel

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Summer 2016- my brothers, mom and I first met my father in Kuala Lumpur before taking off to Thailand for a family getaway. It was our first visit there in nearly six years and it was a truly incredible time to reflect and think about how much has happened in a seemingly short period of time. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as we sat at the beach for lunch that first day, thinking how the five of us were fundamentally different humans than the ones who sat in a similar formation just years before.

Though I had been developing and attempting to manage an eating disorder for some time then, the Thailand 2010 trip was the moment in time where I think we all truly realized that I was deeply entrenched in behaviors that could end my life and therefore all of our lives as we knew them. Here we were last summer, what felt like several lifetimes later and I sat relishing not only in the freedom to enjoy some of my favorite Thai dishes; but also with the cognitive ability to stay present and open heartedness to recognize how making a full recovery from my eating disorder had, in many ways, liberated the people I love the most. I recognize my family as a group of recovery heroes because I appreciate the absolute fact that we ALL fully recovered from an eating disorder. Yes, I was the one with the symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that I was the only one who was faced with the challenge of a healing experience. In many ways, I believe the pain my family endured was more grueling than my own since they had to go through it without the well-rounded care that I was afforded in treatment. They carried on with their wounds, not even thinking twice to let them heal until they were sure, years later honestly, that I was better.

While I spent a long time feeling a lot of guilt for what I put them through, I’ve come to better understand the ripple effect of healing. My mom says that she always knew I was going through my eating disorder to be able to heal others. However, I believe that they, too, have great amount of healing to share with the world. Their individual experiences of what happened triggered transformation that has healed pieces of them and as a result, provided further space in the world for them to extend this further still to others. Felipe, only eleven at the time, was required to grow up much faster than I did in many regards, yet in the process tapped deep into a thoughtful nature that I see him channel into his many positions of leadership today. Nicholas, my middle brother, was afraid to visit me in treatment, carrying around the preconceived notion of what mental health treatment looks like. In facing his fears, he was able to destigmatize this perception in his mind and I watch with amazement when I see him compassionately showing up for people in his lives when he recognizes a struggle. Then there are my parents of course; who showed up for many difficult conversations and willingly undertook the battle with insurance companies to provide me with life-saving care. Now, I watch as their friends reach out to them, riddled with shame for feeling as though they have failed when their children develop eating disorders. They are able to comfort these people and let them know they are not to blame and counsel them on what did and didn’t work in their experience. I think are times in which we all feel responsible for fixing all that is wrong in the world around us. One thing my journey to being recovered from an eating disorder has opened my eyes to is that we are really only responsible for our own pain. We can be there for others and comfort them, but the action of recognizing and transforming the painful experiences in our own lives eases a fraction of collective suffering in the world. When we do this, we let other people know they have the power to do the same.

So there we were with our Thai spread and the sound of calm waves rolling in. Far from perfect, but that’s not really the point, is it? In that moment we had our health, we had laughter, and we had our ever-expansive healing. Again, I smiled in infinite gratitude for a family that is both strong and easy. These people are my sunshine, my warriors; they are my tribe of recovery heroes.

Letter to a Younger Self: A Project HEAL Series

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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


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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!