MOURNING ROBIN WILLIAMS

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Like millions of others the world over, I was shocked last week to hear about the death of Robin Williams.  I’m old enough to tell the story of how I remember seeing him guest star on “Happy Days”, and was terribly excited when “Mork & Mindy” came on the air every Thursday.  I literally applauded at the end of each episode, feeling he was just that incredible (I was a dork from Ork).   I was a kid – 11 years old – when the egg-shaped shuttle landed in Milwaukee.  I begged my mom to buy me a pair of rainbow suspenders, so I could be like Mork.  I proudly wore them to middle school, only to have some jerk steal them from my gym locker.

Also like millions of others the world over, I was intrigued by his movie career.  I was too young to understand “The World According to Garp”, but I was hooked on “Moscow on the Hudson” (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out).  He chose to make films that covered a lot of territory.  I have seen a couple of his comedies no less than a dozen times, with “Mrs. Doubtfire” being considered ‘a member of the family’, as I saw someone describe it.

In some ways, his dramas were even better.  Many of us were surprised, delighted and touched by his powerhouse performance as a prep school English teacher in “Dead Poets Society”.  “Awakenings”, “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia” also showcased a comedian who knew how to put aside the one-liners and the quest for laughs, and deliver performances that stay with you.  “Good Will Hunting” took him all the way to the stage of the Academy Awards.

As I moved through each day last week, I found myself in mourning.  Several friends I talked to, both with in-depth conversations about our grief and in participating on Facebook posts, felt the same way.  The impact of his death was something almost tangible.  There are dozens of celebrity deaths throughout each year.  Some get nothing more than a “meh” from us, and sometimes we don’t know who the person was.  Sometimes we utter an initial “Ohhhh”, and sometimes we feel really sad for awhile.

Then there are the deaths of the famous that in and of themselves become infamous.  Their impact is enormous and the news coverage is out of the ordinary.  They are the kind of losses for which everyone has a “Where were you when you heard about it” moments.  John Lennon.  Princess Diana.  Michael Jackson.  MLK.  Kennedy.  Elvis.

And now, Robin Williams.

I knew I wanted to write about his life and death, but I also knew it would take several days to get a handle on my emotions and what I wanted to say.  I’ve found something that keeps resonating with me, and I imagine with a lot of other people, not the least of whom are people who have reason to read an eating disorder related blog.

I keep coming back to how so many of the characters Robin played are the very people we’d like to think could have somehow saved him.  When he was down in the well of his depression, when he began to entertain thoughts of checking out, what if he could’ve reached out to the very characters that helped so many others?

Adrian Cronauer would’ve given a depressed man a reason to tune into the radio every day and gather steam to start to get better.

Mrs. Doubtfire would’ve taken him in her arms and delivered sage advise in her warm brogue, helping him to see it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Dr. Malcolm Sayer would’ve known how to gently pull an awakening out of him, and stayed at his bedside until he had his strength back.

John Keating would’ve recited “O Captain”, teaching him to use the beauty of words and imagery to fight off the dark calling he felt.

Patch Adams would’ve worked tirelessy to gift him with the ability to laugh, even when all seemed hopeless.

Sean Maguire would’ve provided such an amazing therapy lifeline that his patient would’ve held on and beaten his own thoughts of ropes and final goodbyes.

Mork would’ve analyzed him in his usual “humans are so odd to me sometimes” way, and provide the shoulder he needed to lean and cry on.  He would’ve talked him out of committing suicide.  But Mork was just part of a 30-minute sitcom, with a guaranteed happy ending.

As well, all of those movies were just that – films.  While each of those characters (and more) was able to soothe their fictional co-stars who were suffering – and indeed comfort those of us sitting in darkened theaters and lighted living rooms – they could not save Robin Williams.

And in the most basic, perhaps even banal, terms – that sucks.

Robin Williams was in the darkest moments of his life in order to do what he did.  It is quite likely had he been able to pull himself back from the brink, or had someone been there to stop him, he might never act on that drive again.  Then again, he might have.  We will never know.  We also can’t know how much his recent Parkinson’s diagnosis drove his decision.

What does all this have to do with eating disorders?  Plenty.  Many people whose lives have been wrapped up in anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or EDNOS also experience depression and health problems.  Sadly, a number of them go on to attempt or commit suicide.  There are no reliable statistics that can correlate suicides with either eating disorders or depression.  By that I mean the death certificate only covers the actual physical cause of death.  It doesn’t say what drove the person to act in such a horrifying, permanent manner.  It doesn’t provide insight into why someone chose to punctuate their sentence early, to paraphrase Carrie Fisher.

Perhaps if we had a better, more complex overview of just how many cases of depression and eating disorders end up in suicide, we would be better prepared to combat it.  Doctors and therapists could be better informed, which makes for more informed patients.  Those who hold the purse strings for prevention, treatment and research would gain insight into how to better spend their dollars.  The loved ones left behind, as well as strangers who think a “snap out of it” approach is all that’s needed, would be able to better comprehend what has happened, and have compassion for those who suffer and those they leave behind.

So to my Captain, my Mrs. Doubtfire, my Mork, I say this:  I’m not at all certain what happens after we slip the surly bonds of this world, but I do believe there is more to come.  I take some comfort in my belief that Robin is at peace now.  I wish he had not disintegrated to the point that he went looking for it that way, but I like to think that somewhere, on some plane, a whole lot of other souls have spent the last week laughing like they haven’t laughed in quite awhile.

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery
http://www.graceonthemoon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21 QUESTIONS: INTERVIEW WITH LOUISA

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21 Questions is a series of interviews with people who currently have an eating disorder or have recovered from one.  The same 21 questions are asked of each person.  Each interview sketches a picture of someone who has been in the depths of the reality of an eating disorder and is either still working on blazing a path out of it or has gone on to recover. Some of the names used have been changed at the request of the interviewee.   If you would like to be interviewed for this series, please contact us.
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Interview with Louisa:
Q: How old are you?
A: I am 27.
 .
Q: Male or female?
A: Female
 .

Q: How long have/did you have an eating disorder?
A: I have had my eating disorder since I was thirteen or fourteen.

Q: Which one do/did you have, or has it been more than one (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, EDNOS, compulsive exercising)?
A: I had anorexia during my teenage years, which morphed into bulimia at university. For the past few years I’ve struggled with binge eating.

Q: Who in your life knows about it?
A: My parents knew when I was anorexic but don’t now. My boyfriend and my boss are the only two who still know, apart from online friends.

Q: What person in your life was the most helpful and supportive during both sickness and recovery?
A: My boss helped me by giving me a ‘day count’ of days recovered. He also kicks my butt if I want to relapse.

Q: What person that you might have wanted or expected more from was the least helpful and supportive?
A: My parents have always downplayed my eating disorder as being a ‘phase’ or an ‘experiment’ or ‘being a bit picky’.

Q: Do you or have you ever sought professional help, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, doctor, support group or inpatient treatment?  Specify which kind of help you had.
A: I saw a dietician when I was anorexic, but it didn’t help much. I’ve seen a counselor twice in the past, but can’t afford one at the moment.

Q: What was most helpful to you about that help?
A: Knowing I wasn’t alone.

Q: What issue(s) do you feel affected or influenced developing an eating disorder?
A: A couple of things. I have Asperger’s, which was undiagnosed until I was twenty-two. Because of this I knew I was ‘different’, but not why, so I assumed I was bad. I thought losing weight could make me nicer and more people would like me.

Q: Besides yourself, who in your life do you think is/was most affected by how your eating disorder hurt you?
A: My friends – I often back out of social events involving food.

Q: What was the first major breakthrough you had in recovery?
A: I’m not sure.

Q: What is/was the hardest truth to accept about what you have to do in order to recover?
A: Accepting that it will be slower to lose weight than if I restrict.

Q: If you could be eating disorder free for a day, what things would you do?/If you are recovered, what things do you do now that were very difficult when you were still sick?
A: I think I’d do more social stuff with friends, etc. because I wouldn’t have to worry about what they think of me and how much I eat.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone new to admitting they have an eating disorder?
A: Get help NOW, don’t wait until you are ‘sick enough’.

Q: What one suggestion would you give to a loved one trying to support someone with an eating disorder?
A: Be there to listen and don’t minimize.

Q:  Do/did you seek support online?  If so, what kind of support and did it help you?
A: I joined Something Fishy and now I’m on Grace on the Moon. It helps so much to be able to talk about things and not feel quite so alone, though it isn’t the same as real life support.

Q: If you are sure you will not go back to your eating disorder, what gives you that confidence?/If you are scared you will relapse, what is your biggest trigger?
A: I am scared I will, as I still slip up regularly. My biggest trigger is anxiety and feeling overwhelmed with things.

Q:  If you have children or plan to in the future, are you concerned about how your eating disorder may affect them?  If you recovered before you had kids, do you think your experience with the eating disorder will help you to better guide your child away from developing one?
A: I would like to have kids in the future, but would need to be recovered first. I don’t know if I’d be any better or worse at guiding them away from being eating disordered.

Q:  Did you read books or workbooks to help with your recovery?  If so, are there any specific ones you recommend?
A: Not really.

Q: What song, album or musical artist comes to mind when you think of good music to listen to while trying to make positive changes in your life?
A:  I can’t really think of any.

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com

 Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account of MTSOfan.

 

SHOULD PRO-ANA SITE CREATORS GO TO JAIL?

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A proposed law in Italy aims to hold people who run pro-eating disorder websites responsible for their actions.  This proposal would take form as a new clause for a law already in place that makes it illegal to “instigate” suicide.  If the bill passes, site creators could face jail time of up to two years, and fines ranging from $13,000 to $134,000 – double the fine, if it’s shown that the site affected people under the age of 14.

Pro-ana and pro-mia sites (short for “pro-anorexia” and “pro-bulimia”), as they are commonly known, have been a part of the internet since before the turn of the century, and range from the old Angelfire type platforms and web rings, with just a handful of people reading them, all the way to modern day sites that can claim thousands of members who participate.

Pro-ana and pro-mia sites frame eating disorders as lifestyle choices, rather than mental illnesses. They populate their pages with tips on how to stay sick and how to hide an eating disorder from family, friends, and treatment professionals.  Typical offerings on these sites include “thinspiration” (usually pictures of thin and emaciated women, often famous), diet tips, weight loss competitions, and low calorie recipes.

They also give solace to people who are often scared and feeling alone, reassuring them that they have a safe community in which to talk about their anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).  When parents, partners, friends, therapists and doctors are telling someone they are ill and need to radically change their lives in order to recover, a pro-site offers many things the person craves: a feeling of belonging, a false sense of security, reassurance that they don’t actually have to change at all, and ammunition against people who see eating disorders as illnesses, not lifestyles.

Many people believe all pro-eating disorder websites should be shut down, and often go after the companies that host or feature them.  Websites such as Tumblr and Pinterest have banned pro-eating disorder content, while other online giants defend them as a free speech issue. Not all pro-sites have a corporation to whom complaints can be filed.  A person with their own website that is not affiliated with anyone else has free reign to provide whatever content they want, provided certain laws aren’t broken (such as child pornography).

There is also the camp that believes the sites shouldn’t be shut down at all.  Some folks believe they do provide a place for those who usually feel pretty isolated within their disorders, and there is value to this. They will argue that many people take comfort from feeling like they belong somewhere, and are understood and embraced by people who get what they are going through.  They say many of these people go on to embrace recovery and get well, eventually leaving behind their internet “home” for greener pastures.  Some sites do encourage recovery for their members who express an interest in it, acknowledging that those who want to become whole and healed should be able to do so, even within a community hell bent on promoting the opposite way of living.

It’s easy to look at pro-ana and pro-mia sites and understand they are dangerous.  They devalue recovery and mental health, and can help escort a person who is already sick down a path that gets them to an even sicker level, or to the grave.  What’s not so easy is to answer the question of what is to be done about the sites, if anything.

Views differ as to how much the people who create and administrate the websites are responsible for their resulting actions.  The people who create these sites are almost without exception also dealing with their own eating disorders.  One could take the view that they are mentally ill, so it could be considered cruel to add to their problems.  One could also take the view that they are still responsible for their actions, similar to a junkie who is also a dealer, in that having the condition does not excuse the spreading of the disease.

There are a lot of questions to ponder when thinking about a law such as the proposed Italian one, including if similar ones might be introduced into legislation in the U.S. and other countries.  I have given a lot of thought to this and I do not feel I have concrete answers for myself to all the questions that occurred to me, including:

  • Many site creators are underage.  Are prisons really the place for a 16-year-old who is being legally punished for what she created?
  • If site owners of any age are sent to prison, will mental health treatment be provided for them?  After all, a person who gets solid psychiatric treatment, enters recovery for their eating disorder, and becomes no longer interested in running a pro-ana site is not likely to “re-offend”, right?
  • Where is the line drawn in terms of what all a site owner’s responsibility covers? For example, if a member of her site dies from an eating disorder, is she to be held partially accountable for the member’s death? What if the member experiences a heart attack or attempts suicide – did the owner legally have a hand in that, too?
  • Most members of pro-sites are active in encouraging each other to use dangerous tactics to lose weight and hide their declining health.  Should they be held accountable for a member’s death, too? The anonymity provided by the internet does not easily lend itself to tracking down user names and spoofed IP numbers in order to get names and home addresses, so it would take a whole lot of Internet Sherlock Holmes types to track them down.

All in all, it’s a pretty heavy topic.  I applaud the idea of looking to help make the world safer from people and places that actively play a hand in helping people stay sick and get sicker.  What I’m unsure of is how laws can realistically come into play in addressing this, and what the results really would be vs. what people hope and assume they will be.

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery:
http://www.graceonthemoon.com

Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account
of Luigi Caterino

 

 

DRIVE-BY BODY SHAMING HURTS US ALL

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You may have noticed a trendy new phrase and hash tag popping up a lot lately:  Body Shaming.  It describes the act of speaking or thinking in a way meant to cause shame to someone due to their body size.  It is most commonly used when someone judges another person for being overweight.

As often happens, it is a subject that has gained great traction on the internet.  The web has the ability to unite people from every town and continent in pursuit of leaving comments on blogs, articles, Facebook pages and elsewhere. That can be a great, motivating and powerful connection.  Unfortunately, the net is also often host to some of the most vitriolic, unfeeling judgments cast out by busybodies that the world has ever seen.   I call it “drive-by judging”.

Someone posts a photograph featuring themselves or a person who outweighs your average supermodel by 20 pounds or 200 pounds, and here come the drive-by comments.

Fat ass!  Lose some weight!

What was initially supposed to be a simple snapshot of someone posing while on a stroll down the boardwalk of a beach town is now the subject of a verbal beat down.  What was meant to be a picture sharing a new hobby is now picked apart solely due to the clothing size of the subject.

So often, the body shaming comments don’t have a thing to do with the subject at hand.   I often see a person leave a comment on a social media site, and her (or his) profile picture is visible.  Someone who disagrees with her doesn’t have a notion to engage in debate with her based solely on her logic or point of view.  Instead the drive-by judge delights in believing it’s open season on ridiculing her body.

Shut up and call Jenny Craig!  Who cares what you think, you cow!

It’s enough to keep me out of the comments sections many times when I know the body shaming will be as prevalent as a bunch of old racists sitting around on a storefront porch in a southern town two generations removed, spouting hateful and inflammatory remarks.  There is no reasoning with people who not only engage in that tunnel vision way, but think it’s appropriate and even clever.

Body shaming is not always about being overweight.  Attempts to shame someone for being too thin happen, too.  The knee jerk reaction for many is this:  Boohoo, you’re thin, get a real problem!  There was a time years ago when I didn’t get it, and both my insecurity and my eating disorder cleared the path for me to judge those who were thin or too thin.

We can’t always know if someone being thin or underweight is that way because it is their natural body set point or due to illness (including both mental and physical).  Either way, shaming someone for that is presumptuous and just as hateful.  This side of the coin was written about by a member of Grace on the Moon in a blog you can read here.

Body shaming is not limited to size and weight.  It can also be about so-called imperfections, such as scars, stretch marks, wrinkles, facial features, and other things that are usually airbrushed out of what is commonly presented to us as how people – women in particular – look (or should look).  There is even Slut Shaming, which is a whole ‘nuther topic, although it does tie into body shaming.  Commenting that a woman in tight jeans or a short skirt is a “ho” simply because the drive-by artist thinks the clothes are proof enough for him is obtuse and objectifying.

We do not need to drag others down in order to elevate ourselves.  Every time we comment in person or online, or even in the quiet of our own head, in a way that denigrates and attempts to shame someone for their bodies, we add a little more negativity to the world.  We also subtract some decency and compassion from ourselves.  While we cannot control the drive-by shamers of the world, we can definitely make a point of being more aware of how we think, speak and react in our own lives. Our shaming hurts others, and it hurts us, too.

Just as the web can unite people in leaving hateful, shaming words to an unending supply of targets, it can also unite people in more lofty pursuits, such as creating and being a part of the anti-body shaming movement.  We can take little steps here and there to try to deliver pieces of positivity where shaming does not belong.

The next time you see someone body shame another person online, leave a comment of your own.  I recommend being calm with your wording, i.e. not letting “Fuck you, ya big jerk!” be the comment you leave (but feel free to think it!).  Try a short, simple statement that reflects the fact that body shaming is a sad pass time, and you prefer to engage with people who know better.

Even if it’s the Facebook wall or Twitter page of a friend or family member, don’t be afraid to reply with something like, “What does the size of her ass have to do with her political view?”  It won’t guarantee you a happy reaction, but many times it will get a lot of “likes” and “I agree” feedback, and just may make a few people stop and think.

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com

Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account
of Josh McGinn.

 

 

21 QUESTIONS: INTERVIEW WITH KATHY

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21 Questions is a series of interviews with people who currently have an eating disorder or have recovered from one.  The same 21 questions are asked of each person.  Each interview sketches a picture of someone who has been in the depths of the reality of an eating disorder and is either still working on blazing a path out of it or has gone on to recover. Some of the names used have been changed at the request of the interviewee.   If you would like to be interviewed for this series, please contact us.

Interview with Kathy:

Q:  How old are you?
A:  47

Q:  Male or female?
A:  Female

Q:  How long have you had/did you have an eating disorder?
A:  I developed it when I was a kid. Food became a comfort to me when my family life was in turmoil.  I have since recovered.

Q:  Which one do/did you have, or has it been more than one (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, EDNOS, compulsive exercising)?
A:   Primarily binge eating disorder.  In my teens and part of my twenties, I used anorexic behaviors to compensate, but the primary diagnosis would be BED.

Q:  Who in your life knows about your eating disorder?
A:  When I was sick, no one had heard of binge eating disorder.  I didn’t even know I had an eating disorder until I was in my 30’s.  When I first realized what was really going on, I primarily talked about it with people on an online recovery forum.  Since I became more comfortable with it, I have talked to some people in real time about it.

Q:  What person in your life was the most helpful and supportive during both sickness and recovery?
A:  My best friend at the time.  She also was in recovery, and since we had known each other since we were little kids, it made it so easy to talk to her.  Also the small circle of friends I made in the online community were quite helpful.  We emailed, chatted and talked on the phone. It helped me lose the shame of what I was going through, and talk openly about my struggles and progress.

Q:  What person that you might have wanted or expected more from was the least helpful and supportive?
A:  There really wasn’t anyone that I could point to that disappointed me, but I also was careful with whom I shared what was going on.

Q: Do you or have you ever sought professional help, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, doctor, support group or inpatient treatment?  Specify which kind of help you had.
A: I saw a few different therapists at different times over several years.  The first two were 20-something years ago, and they both thought I just struggled with weight (times were quite different then), but they helped with the underlying issues.  The next therapist was the first one I saw when I knew that I had an eating disorder (I was in recovery by then), and it validated me greatly when she accepted what was going on and helped me with it.  I saw a nutritionist when I was in recovery, but she just gave me a no-carb diet plan and was no help.  I have never had inpatient treatment.

Q:  What was most helpful to you about the help you got?
A:  I could start putting pieces of the puzzle together.  I realized I had abandonment issues, for example.  That was huge; especially when I made the connection between how I had learned the sick lesson that food would never abandon me.  Seeing how one problem stemming from childhood had made it easier to develop an eating disorder behavior was mind-blowing to me.  Each therapist I saw helped me put more pieces of the puzzle together.  When I could see my past more clearly, and the payoff to why I had an eating disorder, I was able to really change up my mindset.

Q:  What issue(s) do you feel affected or influenced developing an eating disorder?
A:  My really early childhood was pretty normal, but eventually my parents’ marriage imploded, which made for a very difficult home life.  As well, my brother had a ton of issues and acted out in ways that deeply hurt me.  He was a bully under my own roof, and the help available for what all was wrong with him was limited at the time.  My parents split up, which was very hard, and then got back together, which was hard, too, because they had solved nothing in terms of their marriage.  All of this made it tempting to indulge in food as comfort, and then extreme dieting to try to control something and feel better about myself and my life.

Q:  Besides yourself, who in your life do you think is/was most affected by how your eating disorder hurt you?
A: Probably my mom.  She never understood what was going on, but she tried to be helpful when I finally realized I had an eating disorder.  I know she worried about me knowing something was wrong.

Q:  What was the first major breakthrough you had in recovery?
A:  That when I was binge eating, I was doing so mindlessly.  It was eating with my brain in the ‘off position’.  I began to challenge myself to be fully aware and in the moment, so my eating wasn’t so robotic.  I also had to work on learning when I had true stomach hunger and when I was eating out of boredom or for emotional reasons.  Those two lessons formed the foundation of my recovery.

Q:  What is/was the hardest truth to accept about what you have to do in order to recover?
A:  That ultimately I was the only one who could pull myself out of it.  No matter how much therapy and introspection I learned to have, no one was going to rescue me from myself.  I had to do things I did not want to do.  I had to feel emotions I did not want to feel.  I had to retrain my thought patterns, even when it was the last damn thing I wanted to do at any given time.

Q:  If you could be eating disorder-free for a day, what things would you do?/If you are recovered, what things do you do now that were very difficult when you were still sick?
A:  As a recovered person, two things come to mind.  The first is physical:  I can buy something like a bag of cookies or a cake and not feel like I have to/will just inhale it.  I can eat healthier portions and be satisfied.  Food isn’t a ‘friend’ any more, and I not only can trust myself around former trigger foods, but several times I have forgotten I bought them.  There’s that moment of “Hey, I have brownies!”, when before I would’ve obsessed over when I could be alone to binge on them.  There was no way I would forget what was basically a binge supply.

The other thing is emotional.  I have learned to set boundaries and be comfortable with them.  I can assess a lot of situations much more quickly now, and be able to say something like “I’m not getting involved in that” or “I don’t owe that person an explanation” or “They can go be crazy over there, but I will make sure they stay out of my yard”.  Learning to set boundaries is not only healthy but it’s a time saver!  I can look at certain situations and think about how if I didn’t know better now, I would’ve wasted days or weeks or years with a person or a situation, and it still would not have worked out or it would’ve blown up in my face.  Boundaries free you up in many ways.

Q:  What one piece of advice would you give to someone new to admitting they have an eating disorder?
A:  That it’s hard as hell to start recovery, but it gets easier.  The more time you spend learning to take care of yourself and face your demons, the easier the journey gets.

Q:  What one suggestion would you give to a loved one trying to support someone with an eating disorder?
A:  Throw out what you think you know about eating disorders.  Educate yourself.  Buy books, research online, join a support group.  Don’t assume that what feels right and like the obvious thing to say is actually helpful.

Q:  Do/did you seek support online?  If so, what kind of support and did it help you?
A:  I belonged to a forum that helped me tremendously.  Interacting with others who knew exactly what I felt was eye-opening.  I also learned that when I was writing compassionate, encouraging replies to members, not only could I apply that same compassion to myself, but I deserved it.  That was huge.

Q:  If you are sure you will not go back to your eating disorder, what gives you that confidence?/If you are scared you will relapse, what is your biggest trigger?
A:  It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt it, but there just comes a point where you *know* you are done with the eating disorder. The idea of trying to solve a problem or comfort myself by buying a box of diet pills or starving myself or doing a shameful drive for a box of donuts that won’t make it past the next morning is completely foreign to me.  I know too much to ever go back.  I could go bang my head against a wall for hours and get the same result that going back to an eating disorder would give me:  I just put myself through unnecessary pain and the problem doesn’t change one bit.

Q:  If you have children or plan to in the future, are you concerned about how your eating disorder may affect them?  If you recovered before you had kids, do you think your experience will help you to better guide your child away from developing one?
A:  I do not have kids, but I did think about what I might pass on to children if I had them while I was still sick.  I watch my friends who are in recovery or recovered and how they raise their kids, and I see a wide range of approaches.  I also see friends who don’t have an eating disorder but have unhealthy body images and no idea of how their talk affects their kids, and it makes me sad.

Q:  Did you read books or workbooks to help with your recovery?  If so, are there any specific ones you recommend?
A:  I recommend Geneen Roth books.  Some people think they are mostly geared towards people who are not anorexic, but I found the message translates to all eating disorders.  I also am a big fan of “When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies” (Hirschmann & Munter) and “Eating by the Light of the Moon” (Anita Johnston)

Q:  What song, album or musical artist comes to mind when you think of good music to listen to while trying to make positive changes in your life?
A:  There isn’t a particular artist I relied on, but I found it was important to be aware of my mood and play music that suited it.  If I needed something more uplifting for a tough time I was going through, I might pick Sarah McLachlan, for example.  If I needed something life-affirming, I was careful not to put on something that just kept my mood down. Sometimes sad songs are great, but sometimes they just compound the down mood.  That’s not to say it’s not helpful to crank up a Disturbed c.d. (it is!), but it was helpful to me to become aware of what to listen to when I was in a funk or going through something challenging.  

 

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com

Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account of ro_buk

SHAME ON YOU

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Every New Years Day, the advertising starts up again. A campaign of commercials and print ads meant to speak to the person who made (yet another) resolution to lose weight. I call it the January Conversation.

The words blare from your television and your radio, and off the magazine pages. Choose THIS gym and you won’t regret it! Choose THIS diet plan and watch the pounds just fall right off!   Whatever you do, don’t choose THOSE guys over there, because our solution is the only one that will work! Soon, people are getting out their debit cards and their dollar bills, buying into the mania and myriad of options out there designed to make the average buyer lose much more money than actual weight.

We are now knee-deep in the annual sequel to the January Conversation. It’s the dreaded Swimsuit Season Shaming.

We all know how it goes. We are reminded time and time again that it’s time to strip down to our swimwear and hit the pool and the beach. Only, hey, wait – you, over there!   You aren’t swimsuit ready. You weren’t really thinking of wearing a bikini in public were you? You weren’t even going to settle for a one-piece or men’s swim trunks, right?

Whatever size you are, the message is you can be less. The other message is that Swimsuit Shaming is ok. It’s what happens every year, and this year is no different.

Or is it?

This can be the year you stop and tell yourself that you will no longer buy into the shaming.

This year you will embrace the fact that most people have at least a little cellulite, even if it has to be air-brushed out of magazine covers, gym and diet ads.

This year you will stop assuming that when you arrive on the scene, everyone will stop what they’re doing in order to nitpick your body and all its flaws, real or perceived.

The beauty is that anyone can join in on this revolution. Those who are sick or in recovery can take steps to relieve themselves of their body shame.  Even people who do not have an eating disorder are not immune to the lure of these shaming ads, and can take a stand, too.

Don’t fall for the special gym memberships that focus on your ‘problem’ areas. Your problem area is about how you see yourself, not how the gym companies want you to see yourself.

Don’t fall for the diet plans that make you think the ‘After’ picture is the only one with rights. The ‘Before’ pictures deserve to dive in the pool or sunbathe on the beach just as much.

Don’t fall for the Swimsuit Shaming voice in your own head. Whether or not a person really is overweight or morbidly obese should not impact their inalienable right to put on a swimsuit and go out in their backyard, to their neighborhood pool, or any beach of their choosing.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to choose a swimsuit that you feel flatters you, regardless of what size you are. Just remember that there is no such thing as a person who is undeserving of wearing one at all. Do not give any power to people who judge others, or encourage you to judge yourself.

Shame on them, not you.

 

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com

EVERYONE WITH AN EATING DISORDER IS SKINNY & NEEDS TO GAIN WEIGHT

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There are many things that all sufferers of an eating disorder have in common, whether they deal primarily with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).   Many a book, lecture and website has been filled with a detailing of the commonalities, such as low self-esteem, bad body image, a history of painful life events, a lack of healthy coping skills, and not knowing how to get help.

As well, virtually all approaches to recovery from an eating disorder have things in common.  Therapists, doctors, inpatient professionals, nutritionists, co-sufferers and others usually recognize that everyone who wants to recover must address their fears, assumptions, and painful emotions.  They must challenge beliefs that have held them down for a long time.  They must show up to their treatment appointments and do the homework it takes to apply those lessons to their lives.  They must take stock of their physical health and work on improving it.

And they must all gain weight.  Because everyone with an eating disorder is skinny and needs to gain weight.

Wait, they’re not?  Doh!  Now why would the average person think that?  Because that is the stereotype that is out there.  The general public, which often includes the family members, friends, co-workers, fellow students, and others who know someone with an eating disorder, typically believes that eating disorders are about skeletal people who must gain weight in order to heal.

For millions, this is true.  They are at a weight that is not healthy for them, and they have to put in a lot of hard work, emotional upheaval, and dedication in order to adapt to a meal plan, change their average caloric intake, and restore weight.

For millions of others, they also need to restore weight.  But they do not need to gain weight.  They need to restore going down the scale, not up.

For them, this also includes a lot of hard work, emotional upheaval, and dedication in order to adapt to a meal plan, change their average caloric intake, and restore weight.

Sadly, this is news to many people.  As a society, we are so programmed to believe that needing to gain weight when sick with an eating disorder means the person really IS sick.  When someone needs to lose weight when sick with an eating disorder, eyebrows are raised and questions are asked.

The reality is that many people become overweight or morbidly obese due to their eating disorder.  Too often, the average non-sufferer assumes a good diet will cure all.  They believe that a person who has gone up the scale to a number that is unhealthy for them can separate out the actual eating disorder and address it with the usual approach (therapy, etc.), but then just go on a diet to address any physical health issues.

These people mean well when they suggest a sufferer try Weight Watchers, although WW itself will tell you they are not a program that anyone with an eating disorder should use.  They are honestly trying to help when they tell you they know someone who had success with Jenny Craig, even though this program is known for the yo-yo “success” many of its spokespeople have had.  They don’t know any better when they give you advice about which food groups to cut out and calorie amounts to aim for, as if the sufferer doesn’t already have a long history of trying diet after diet, often including very questionable ones.

In some ways, what is even sadder to me is that some of the misunderstanding of those who need to restore weight down the scale comes from within the eating disorder community itself.  While plenty of sufferers who are underweight or at a healthy weight DO get it, and do not question or judge those who need to lose weight in order to improve their health, it still is a subject that needs to be better understood.

I have been a moderator and administrator of two different eating disorder websites, with a total of 12 years doing those jobs, and I remember vividly an argument that broke out years ago when the subject of restoring weight down the scale came up on a forum.  Some people considered it taboo to even bring up the subject.  A point of order coming from one side of the discussion was that no one should be allowed to discuss losing weight on the forum, since that was just basically going on a diet, and any health concerns from being overweight or morbidly obese should be kept private between the doctors/therapists and the person.

Yet these same people argued that people who need to gain weight for health reasons should be allowed to discuss that on the forum, as they needed support for that.

I was saddened to see such a division among people who –  more so than any other members of the population – should be able to understand each other and support the different journeys each person has to becoming recovered.  The point was made over and over by myself and other members that restoring weight is often necessary, regardless of whether you are going UP or DOWN the scale.  Anorexics do not get the ‘right’ to talk about meal plans, fear of changing the size of their bodies, and what the weight really represents to them, while people who deal with binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating do not get that same right.  These people also need to talk about their meal plans, fear of changing the size of their bodies, and what the weight really represents to them.

The details of any meal plan on both sites I’ve worked on were not allowed, such as calories, amount of weight gained or lost, and specific food plans.  Those things can trigger others and need to be kept in real time with people who understand the physical needs of each individual they treat.  But the expression of emotions and the asking for support related to restoring weight going down the scale were/are definitely allowed, just the same as they are for folks going up the scale.

Many people who have lived for a long time in a body that is too heavy for them and that they reached by having an active eating disorder deal with a fear of losing weight.  That fact alone is shocking to many people.  Those who don’t understand eating disorders think an overweight person who loses weight will feel nothing but joy and pride.  Those who have an eating disorder but have not experienced needing to restore weight going down the scale sometimes feel the same, and feel jealousy because that person “gets” to go on diet.

Neither group has a full understanding of how difficult a meal plan can be, regardless of if it’s more calories than you’re used to or less calories.  Factor in how many people use extra weight as a type of armor, and there’s a whole ‘nuther reason people need support.

Many a person gains a lot of weight through their eating disorder in a conscious or subconscious attempt to avoid sexual or romantic attention, due to molestation or rape that has occurred or is still occurring in their lives, or due to a fear of becoming involved in a sexual or romantic life in general.  Many people also deal with a fear of success, and to them reaching a healthy goal weight will mean success, so they self-sabotage.

Many people put off starting their lives over or making big changes or being happy at all until they reach a goal weight.  When they have a deep-rooted fear of having to actually start their lives over, make big changes or be happy, that makes for a lot of start-and-stops on meal plans.  For these reasons and many others, people who need to restore weight down the scale deserve to be understood and supported by their loved ones, treatment providers, and their fellow sufferers.

Not everyone with an eating disorder is skinny and needs to gain weight.

Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com

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Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account of saxarocks