Celebrating Life as Me

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imagexBy: Amy DiPaola, Wilmington NC Project HEAL Chapter Leader

Recently, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to celebrate life as a young woman recovered from a nine year struggle with anorexia. I appreciate the life I have a million times more now.

My husband and I are celebrating our 4 year marriage anniversary July 30th (we have multiple anniversaries we celebrate). In fact, the entire month of July we make it a point everyday to do something special for the other. Colin and I don’t like being confined to one day to honor our love and life together…we would rather celebrate everyday!

This got me thinking, people put so much effort into celebrating specific days through the year, but why can’t we celebrate life every single day? As the beautiful, amazing, unique men and women that we are, we should be celebrating our selves, our bodies, and our lives every single moment we are here experiencing this life.

As someone who struggled with an eating disorder, honoring my body was a foreign thing until I chose recovery (and I do believe recovery is a choice). I remember the terrible things I believed about myself. The demeaning thoughts I had about Amy. My mind was so consumed with Anamia, my eating disorder. But things changed because I wanted to change. I wanted to truly celebrate holidays, my anniversaries, birthdays and other monumental moments that Anamia never let me experience. But most of all, I wanted to look in the mirror every morning and celebrate myself and my body. I wanted to love who I am.

A year ago I was learning to love Amy. Today, I love Amy each and everyday. I make it a point to say nice things about myself, just like I make it a point to do nice things for my husband on a daily basis.

So as I sit here and enjoy the wonderful anniversary cake I made for Colin and I, I can’t help but soak up this moment. The first time I get to enjoy Colin’s and my anniversary without any eating disorder thoughts or behaviors. Just me, Colin, cake, and our three precious dogs…who also like cake.

Feature Friday: Introducing Amy DiPaola of Project HEAL North Carolina

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Standing Up to Media Myths

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Bathroom-mirror-signBy: Colin DiPaola, Project HEAL North Carolina

It is unfortunate that many of today’s stereotypes about body image are directly related to the media. The media (in all forms) portrays both sexes in ways that bring doubt and unhappiness into the minds of many individuals. When going through business school both graduate and undergraduate programs are taught a lot about marketing and how to market to certain groups of people. This starts out with topics like marketing to children with bright colors and fun expressions with other children laughing and playing. Then the conversation takes a more serious turn, and the reality begins to surface that marketing to children is easy, but how do we continue to market to those children well into their adulthood? The answer all too often comes out to be that you make the child want something that they do not currently possess. Once this process starts, it leads into not only material wants and desires but also into physical traits of underwear models or the skin and hair of make-up models. But the truth is that these things are all unattainable.

Large companies use photo and video editing software to “slim down” models who they think will look too “big” to the audience, or shine hair that may look dull, or smooth skin that had one or two blemishes, when in fact these models are already emaciated due to the lifestyle they are forced to lead because of their profession. Looking good and feeling good about you and helping others do so is actually the farthest thing from what the media portrays. It is sad and eye-opening when a person can’t walk a block without seeing billboards, hearing radio ads, and hearing conversation from peers that has to do with losing weight. Positive body image isn’t looking good in someone else’s perspective, but being happy with who you are. GUESS WHAT, EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT!

People come in all different shapes and sizes, body types and skin tones. For some people it is anatomically impossible for them to have a six-pack or a thigh-gap. These things are made up of thoughts about disliking one’s self and trying to conform to someone else’s anatomical standards. Love your body because it was made the way it was supposed to be made. Love yourself because striving for an unattainable standard is impossible. Being content is being happy, and without happiness, life has no meaning. The next time someone asks, “Do these pants make my butt look big,” say that you don’t judge other people’s appearance because it is not healthy to do so. Stand up against what we know is wrong and fight for your right to be happy with who you are.

The power to change our society’s views can be influenced by a smaller number of people than you might think. If the consumer can stand up and say that they are sick and tired of being treated like the way they were built is wrong, then big businesses will listen. All it takes is for one person to stick their neck out. Join a local group that supports positive body image, or volunteer on a large scale, either way, the more people who advocate eliminating hostile images from the media, the closer we get to achieving our goal.

“We may walk slowly, but we will never walk back.” – Anonymous.

Beauty Within

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tumblr_lnmq9bjmvO1qh9vzro1_500By: Anna Folkes, Project HEAL North Carolina Chapter 

One of my earliest memories is of my mom giving me a bath. I’m not sure how old I was, but it had to have been before the age of five. Mom pulled me out of the tub and began drying me off. I remember running my hand over my swollen toddler belly and silently reassuring myself that my baby fat would go away once I got older. I’m not sure how many toddlers know what baby fat is, or how I even came to know the term at such an early age. But somehow I did know what is was, and it bothered me that I had it. As I got older, my baby fat did go away, and throughout elementary school I struggled to find clothes that fit my stick straight body. Somehow, this bothered me just as much as my baby fat did.

During middle school, my friends began to go through puberty and develop curves. I remember looking at fashion magazines and Victoria’s Secret ads and thinking that once I got older I would have a body like theirs, and then I would be happy. However, puberty didn’t bring the happiness I thought it would. I seemed to be getting curves in all the wrong places. I had hips but no boobs, braces that my gums had an allergic reaction to and swelled up like a hot air balloon for two years, no fashion sense, and no idea what to do with makeup. I looked about as much like a Victoria’s Secret model as a rock does, and I hated myself for it. That hatred for my body continued even after the braces came off and I discovered how to use a straightener. It continued no matter how many times I threw up after weighing myself for the sixth time that day or how many pounds I lost. It continued until I went to treatment over a year ago, and there are still days when I can’t stand to look in a mirror.

When those days come, I think of Charlotte, the three-year-old girl I nanny twice a week. She’s about the same age I was when I first noticed my baby fat, and every time I give her a bath I pray she doesn’t have the same thoughts I did at her age. I plan on having children one day, and I don’t want them to have their every thought consumed with how much they weigh and what they look like. I want to teach them to see the beauty in everything, especially in themselves. There is beauty in everyone, but you won’t find it by spending hours in front of a mirror. You find it by discovering who you are as a person; you find it within.

News Tidbits of the Day

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Wilmington’s Project HEAL Aims to Spread Awareness of Eating Disorders in the Community and Raise Money for Treatment 

Check out North Carolina Project HEAL’s chapter leader Amy DiPaola share her story and mission with the organization in a recent piece:

http://www.nourishedwilmington.com/1/post/2014/04/wilmingtons-project-heal-aims-to-spread-awareness-of-eating-disorders-in-the-community-and-raise-money-for-treatment.html

 

Study finds men don’t seek help for eating disorders because they don’t recognize the symptoms

One misconception is when we think about people with eating disorders, women usually come to mind. However, men – and the people around them – miss out on the early warning signs:

http://time.com/54158/when-a-guy-gets-an-eating-disorder/

 

Study: More Time on Facebook Could Mean Worse Body Image for Women

Compare and despair? New research suggests yes.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/04/10/study-more-time-on-facebook-could-mean-worse-body-image-for-women

 

 

 

 

Recovery: Reclaiming my Life

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where-there-is-life-there-is-hopeBy: Megan Wordsworth, Project HEAL North Carolina Chapter 

I decided to start writing this blog post specifically on March 18th, because it marked a special occasion for me. It made five months since I landed from Denver, to a full life ahead of me in NC. The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind, to say in the least. My eating disorder really started for me about four to five years ago. I had just had a pretty serious surgery to remove a cyst in my thymus gland, at the young age of thirteen. I can remember going to countless doctor appointments prior to and leading up to the surgery. Not once during this whole time did I feel emotion; I was not scared. I never cried, not once. I was fine.

I have always been good with pain, but even now writing this I recall what a traumatic time in my life that was, and I never shed a single tear. You might be wondering why, and looking back at it, I think I know why now. I believed that I had to be strong, and that I could handle any sort of pain possible and that I deserved to feel the pain. This thinking later contributed to my eating disorder.

A few months after the surgery was when I started puberty. Among puberty, things at home not ideal, and such a recent traumatic experience, my life just seemed out of control. I was more scared after the surgery because I felt my body had betrayed me in a way, and I was terrified something was going to happen again. I became very concerned about exercising and what I put in my body. Once I saw that I was starting to gain weight during puberty, which I had no idea was supposed to happen; I began to restrict to lose the weight. It became my addiction. It was a goal and a game to see how little I could eat. Losing weight became my obsession. By the time I was a junior in high school I was completely committed to a relationship with my eating disorder. I hated school. I once had many friends, a triathlete and somewhat social. Once the anorexia became my life I was living a dark life and needed and wanted help, but friends slowly seemed to disappear. I stopped all sports except cheerleading and was now the “wallflower” in the class. My senior year was miserable! I had absolutely no energy to do anything, and I was beyond ready to leave school. I felt so unnoticed. At that point my eating disorder was so bad that I was wearing my winter coat in the summer. I can remember my other classmates making jokes about me being so cold, but they did not know how that I was so cold because my body was shutting down on me. Even though I did not believe it at the time, but I was dying. I was praying and begging for help.

I was at my worst when I started college. I was waking up in the middle of the night and did not know where I was all because of horrible blood sugar attacks, and even then my eating disorder would win. I knew I needed help. I finally told my family of my four-year struggle and thankfully was able to get into ACUTE hospital. ACUTE is located in Denver, Colorado, and is the only hospital that has a floor solely dedicated to eating disorders. I leaned in God’s strength to get me through. I stayed at ACUTE for almost two weeks and then I transferred to inpatient treatment. I had never been so open to the world before. Meeting people from all over the world and learning that I was not the only one struggling was eye opening. I was at inpatient level care for two months and then moved to partial treatment where I stayed another two months. I left treatment healthy and happy for the first time in five to six years. I was so looking forward to starting my life over without my eating disorder. Now, I am finishing my first semester back in college and working towards living out my dream of becoming a casting director and all without my eating disorder. I don’t know why I had to deal with an eating disorder, but I am thankful God is giving me the opportunity to promote awareness for eating disorders and healthy body image. I am so grateful to have my life back!

Living Life to the Fullest

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starsBy: Amy DiPaola, Project HEAL North Carolina
Hi, my name is Amy, and I suffered from an eating disorder, whom I call Anamia, for almost 9 years.
First of all, understanding that eating disorders are never about the food is so important. People are so quick to judge those who are considered too thin or too overweight. People believe they should just eat more or less, like it’s that simple. Well I hate to burst society’s beliefs (wait, actually I am rejoicing), but it’s not that simple. There is always something deeper than the mask (a.k.a. Food) which is used as a cover up for something much more personal.
I can remember the desire to be perfect as young as four. In second grade I cried in front of my classmates because I received a 98% on a spelling test…I felt like I just wasn’t good enough. I “should” have received a 100%, I thought. I beat myself up over little things, like not looking perfect in a photo, missing questions on tests, and not achieving the top grades in my class. I look back at that now and can’t help but feel sorry for little Amy.
At nine my dad passed away. I believe this is what pushed me down the wrong path. My mom retreated back into alcoholism and anorexia, leaving my younger sister and brother, and I alone (at least that’s how we felt). As the years passed, my mom worked as much as she could to provide for us (which I am so grateful for), and I took on the role of “mom” at home. I watched the kids, worked with my mom (at 13 I was working as the head cleaner at a bed and breakfast), went to school and competed in sports. I had this desire to do everything and be the best as well. Try being top dog in gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and track all while trying to take care of a family and go to school. That’s just insane! (And I was only 10-13 years old!)
My mom was remarried when I was 13, and it was around this time that I started engaging in anorexic behaviors. On top of my mom remarrying, my track coach expressed disappointment with my weight. He claimed I needed to lose weight to stay on the track team. I couldn’t take the pressure to be perfect and on top of that I was lonely and scared of failure. This drove me into Anamia’s arms. I lost my friends, my love for sports, my strength, my desire for life, my motivation in school, my creativity, and my passion for people, but the worst part is I lost myself. The happy, athletic, spontaneous, creative, fun Amy was slowly being pushed away. That’s what eating disorders accomplish.
I met my amazing husband, Colin, when I was 17. I hid my eating disorder from him for almost 5 years. When I finally told Colin all I could do was cry. I knew I needed help and if I didn’t receive it I was scared that my life would be cut short. This was one of the hardest steps I took towards recovery, but I realized support is crucial to getting better.
We moved two months later to Wilmington, North Carolina where I began out patient treatment. Financially, inpatient just wasn’t an option for me, but nothing was going to get in the way of my recovery. I worked hard, I stayed motivated, and I never gave up. This was my one chance at recovery. When my nutritionist gave me food goals I completed them. When my therapist asked me to open up and be honest I was. I stayed focused on my goal of recovery. And to be honest, there were days when I felt hopeless. I felt like it was impossible, but my support team helped me push through. I truly believe that if you have the motivation and determination to recover you can!
At the beginning of my recovery I learned to separate Amy from Anamia. Anamia could do what she wanted but Amy had the choice to follow her or defy her. I had to choose and eventually I always chose to defy her, so much so that her voice slowly went away and I instinctively knew what the right thing was to do. Every morning I would read quotes and positive thoughts that helped set me up for an Anamia free day. I would watch videos that Colin took of me when I was high on life and recovery. These videos reminded me of what I truly wanted. I even kept a calendar that I began January 2013 and ended December 2013. I used gold stars to represents days without Anamia, silver stars for days without Anamia that I completed on my own without Colin, blue stars meant I was meeting nutritional goals, and red stars (and after I ran out of red they turned into green stars) at first meant I was defying what Anamia wanted for me; as time passed, they represented doing things for myself. In January I had two gold star days. In December I had 31.
Today, I consider myself fully recovered! My life is amazing now. I don’t have eating disorder thoughts, I don’t act out eating disorder behaviors. I love my body and I love myself. I am passionate about living life to the fullest! I have discovered who Amy is and what Amy likes. I love to read, learn, write, bake, cook, garden, and ride bikes. I enjoy nature and being outside. I am passionate about animals and I love helping others. These are all things that I never enjoyed during my eating disorder. I couldn’t even sit down a read a book for longer than 10 minutes without my thoughts being directed towards food.
I also have relationships now that Anamia is gone (yes, real authentic relationships)! I enjoy my husband’s company, I have friends, I love talking to people. I can actually listen and engage in conversations when before that wasn’t possible.
Eating disorders are rampant in today’s society. The media’s portrayal of women and men is completely unrealistic. Each one of us is unique and has imperfections, and that is why we are all beautiful. Embracing those imperfections and recognizing we are all human is what helped me overcome feeling inadequate and not good enough.
Recovery is amazing! I know many people fear recovery. I did. Not knowing what could happen is terrifying, but realizing what could be is exciting and worth every moment. Recovery is something no one can ever take away from me and I am so grateful to have attained it.