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I hope someday

Well, the storm that prevented my presenting on the panel as described in A Meteorological Change of Plans has moved out to sea–not without causing some serious ruckus. But another strong one is moving in right now, rerouting regular daily trajectories, thus providing me another opportunity to curl up and explore the thorny business of eating disorders on college campuses.

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My Campus Eating Disorder Notebook

Eating disorders are very complicated–and at their crux, are not about food. They have long been, and continue to be, the cornerstone of study for many a scientist and mental health clinician, in terms of the identification of their etiologies and appropriate treatment. Underlying biological genetic-based factors seem to seed the predisposition for the development of one of these conditions that take root by substituting out healthy development and replacing it with one which has a laser-like focus on the control of body weight and shape–and the feeding behaviors that determine such. While advances are being made, these are hard nuts to crack from a mechanistic standpoint.

However, this should not mean that we ignore the evidence that socio-cultural and psycho-social variables also play a causal, and not merely triggering role in eating disorders, and thus should be considered as potent avenues of prevention. And while each and every person exists in relationship to the social and cultural environments with which they interact, college campuses constitute a unique microcosm providing a unique breeding ground for the germination of these disorders. (Today, I discovered the term ‘culture-reactive’ which I think is relevant to this issue.)

I worked at a small liberal arts, predominantly white, self-contained campus in a non-urban community. While there, I would remind my students that this 4-year college experience was just a stage they were going through. It is temporary and somewhat illusionary. Even working only part-time, I could get sucked into seeing life through a campus-view lens and would have to remind myself that this was not ‘the real world’.

Within this world, everyone is–well, young, with all the usual archetypes that youth is associated with. Like some mythical island, it seems like all the inhabitants (aside from the few attending groundskeepers) possess beauty, vigor, vitality–and unbridled brilliance and talent. Each attribute is defined by the normative cultural standard (including thinness) established by no fault of one’s own. Such concentrated energy is pulsating, exhilarating, intoxicating–as well as deceiving, and potentially health diminishing or downright dangerous. Here, often impossible standards present themselves as expectations that should be assumed with ease–forcing any self-perceived failure or deviation from the norm to greatly magnify.

The maintenance or pursuit of this idealized persona and its requisite body weight and shape is challenged on college campuses by a few particulars. Firstly, there are the potent triggers that come from living day-by-day, night-by-night in close proximity to only one’s peers. At this vulnerable developmental stage there is much peer pressure, exposure to all types of media–including unregulated body-focused content, vocalized body shaming of self and others, unending body comparison opportunities, and a multitude of ways to feel “different than”.

Then, there are the academic, social (and athletic) pressures that college students have and the hungers such pressures activate. The non-stop studying, paper writing, exam taking (and sports training)–and attendant lack of sleep, make for long days and extra hungry brains and bodies. These hungers may be physical, “emotional” or stress related–but even stress-related hunger is physiologically driven. This hunger is potent and real, and  involves late night eating associated with studying or socializing. Stir this together with the stress of high personal standards, perfectionism and anxiety and you have all that contribute to uncontrolled feeding impulses, or to advancing control behaviors and starvation.

The college eating experience is also an exception. Many colleges now market their dining venues and meal plans to lure students their way.  Access to a college dining hall is like being on a never-ending cruise. Loads of offerings served from different specialty sections available from early morning to late into the evening. Standard meal plans may limit access to three meals a day, while premium ones allow unlimited visits. Many plans also allow use at other campus food venues.

Being exposed to so much food with no limits, and having to make so many choices at every meal, can be very overwhelming with various responses. Eating (or not eating) amid the clamor of hundreds of other students also makes for challenging circumstances. Enticements also seem to be everywhere on campus. Various clubs and campus activities promise candy, pizza, or doughnuts in exchange for attendance–all within walking distance. Food, its embrace or avoidance, becomes a constant obsession.

On the flip side, students living on or off-campus without a meal plan often have difficulty accessing food or preparing meals. This precipitates and perpetuates other unhealthy feeding behaviors. Students in these settings can isolate themselves more easily; and can both yield to or hide their behaviors more–but students on campus can do so as well.

Finally, I might add the lack of parental/familial supports and/or constraints; heightened attention on ‘healthy’ foods; and increased alcohol or drug use behaviors are additional contributors to the development, unleashing or exacerbation of eating disorders in the college setting. Oh, maybe I will also include easy unlimited access to an indoor gym as another risk factor.

Given the high prevalence of such disorders on campuses, I will assume that most colleges have charged themselves with developing or strengthening approaches to care–though perhaps with continued difficulty. But, it has also been ten years since I worked on campus. Is there new information or have there been shifts in paradigms that have infiltrated and influenced changed consciousness and constructive activity on campuses? Is the explosion of people sharing photos of thinning bodies on social media exacerbating the problem or are movements like Body Positive finally exposing and mitigating this insidious epidemic of body hating? I suspect the former and am aware that men and certain minority groups are becoming increasingly affected.

Still, I believe something is changing and that we can begin to shape shift our perceptions of beauty. And, I believe the collective wisdom of dedicated activists and this current generation of emerging and young adults are going to demand and provide the solutions. They have already witnessed enough in too many ways. The statistics are staggering, sickening and sobering.

My humble little suggestions for colleges (and every place) include the following: create Body Shame Free Campuses; further media literacy as a prevention tool; include and support the parents/families of college-age students with eating disorders and provide resources;  stop the demonizing of all dietary fats as agents of weight gain, and appreciate their vital importance in maintaining body functions; and, educate and inform all campus personnel about eating disorders and maintain trained staff to help students.

And, I strongly invite you to read this article by Laurie Penny, that my dear friend Chris just happened to send me this morning, that defines Eating Disorders as a social crisis and political issue–and explains why we really must care.

What might you add?

Most Sincerely Yours, Elyn

my plate

MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Expression: I hope someday to look back on this time in our history and only read about the curious phenomenon of anorexia and bulimia to be touched by it, not have to witness its destruction and ruin on the bodies and faces I pass on the street. Excerpted from individual’s stories of recovery from the book, The Secret Language of Eating Disorders by Peggy Claude-Pierre.

 

 

 

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a meteorological change of plans

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a student at the college where I had once worked. I had been referred to her as a possible presenter for one of the college’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week activities that the campus group Active Minds was organizing. They asked if I would sit on a panel of professionals on the topic.                                                                                      Butterflies, Tree, Colorful, Color, Ease

I reacted with hesitancy. This stemmed from both my reluctance at public speaking and the fact that I had not done much eating disorder counseling in recent years. And besides, it had been a decade since I served as the Campus Nutritionist.

Still, the chance to participate did call to me. I had dedicated much energy to eating disorder support and other nutritional matters while I was there, and still was invested in the cause. After clearing a few details, I offered and agreed to come to the front of the room, not to proffer any specific nutritional strategies, but rather to share my perspectives gleaned from my particular role during four years at this small liberal arts college. I still cherish the time I spent there holding space with so many impressive young adults as they figuratively shifted their seats from the kids’ table to the grown ups’ one–some more easily than others. The college years are a very vulnerable time for many who pass through them–and, not coincidentally, span the ages when most eating disorders begin.

In preparation for the event, I gathered my thoughts and made some notes for my talking points. Various students I worked with came to mind. They represented the collective of all the forms of eating disorders and disordered types of eating–anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, exercise bulimia, binge eating disorders, stress-induced eating, and orthorexia–an obsession with healthy eating. I tried to recall if orthorexia had even been recognized by the early 2000’s–apparently it was only coined in 1998–but I encountered it frequently.

I remembered the athletes, the dancers, the student leaders, the artists, and the none of the above. Mainly they were female, with just a handful of males seeking help. Many, ready for graduation while I was there, graduated–and I attended a number of end of year ceremonies. Some did not. There were those who required leaves of absence–from which a few did not return. And, if they did, a close eye on their progress was necessary. Though no cases of eating disorders are easy to manage, I recalled the “really difficult” ones–those which forced immediate hospitalization, panicked roommates and friends, and challenged the health providers (and administrators) trying to keep a declining student on campus so they could just finish their education. This was messy. And, the more remote campus bathrooms known to be frequented by those that purged were messy too.

While it was presumed that students would stay active in their physical and emotional care by making and keeping appointments, there was sometimes little to prevent them from elusively slipping out of reach. And, with the prevalence of eating disorders on college campuses estimated to be between about 10-20% for females and 4-10% for males (if not higher), it was certain that there were many who did have disorders that were not receiving any treatment. Eating disorders are masters of disguise.

Despite significant degree of infirmity, I was continuously amazed at how these high achieving students pushed through at high levels of academic, athletic and/or creative performance. Such success did not equate with health. While everyone does their best, and there are models of care, colleges are not fully equipped to handle these serious disorders, medical illnesses, which breed on their campuses–the mental health conditions with the highest level of mortality.

Remembering both the intensity and tenderness of my time with these students helped me to shape what I would want to share with this current cohort, this next in line generation capable of making some serious change in our world. Nothing necessarily earth-shaking or profoundly professional–just the observations of someone who was up close and personal. Could I possibly impart some, dare I say, wisdom or reflection that might resonate or maybe have some impact for this vulnerable cohort? Well, I was prepared to give it a shot and looked forward to the event.

However, first thing yesterday morning, the day of the event, my phone rang. A monster nor’easter was pummeling the East Coast, dropping a fair amount of snow in our area. The panel would be cancelled. Though there was a small touch of relief that I would not have to contend with treacherous roads, I had to process the loss of this opportunity. Not only had I readied myself, but I was eager to hear what the other professionals–mental health clinicians–had to say, and what the audience of students, and possibly faculty or other staff members, wished to ask, as well as to expose or express.

Left alone with my floating ideas, I realized I could deposit them here in my little blog which has been suffering its own neglect. And, I will do so, in a follow-up post. (In the meantime you can visit my previous related posts: Stopping Traffic, Dolls with Faith, Muse of the Girl and Nourish Thyself Well Day.)

In reminiscing, I realized that those who I strove to help nourish during my years at the college, would now be in their early to mid-thirties. Recovery from eating disorders is definitely achievable, and relative to various factors, but not all who suffer are successful. I hope those whose lives touched mine, and who that campus had nurtured in various ways, did emerge from their chrysalis to become the beautiful butterflies they were meant to be. I pray they are doing OK.

Thanks to those who continue to carry the flame.

Most sincerely yours, Elyn

my plate

MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Expression: My great fortune was in meeting people who understood my strange interior life, without judgment and who, at a time when I didn’t feel there was anything to live for, were there to lend me their vision and pull me through the grueling journey of recovery. I’d never been afraid of hard work and perhaps it’s that work ethic that finally worked for me rather than against me.–Excerpted from individuals’ stories of recovery from the book, The Secret Language of Eating Disorders by Peggy Claude-Pierre.

 

size me down

I am not much of a shopper. And, much to my late mother’s chagrin this is true even when it comes to clothing. However, clothes are one of those commodities that need to be replaced and updated at least once a decade or thereabouts, so I do occasionally have to take to the stores and wrangle with the racks of hangers hawking their formless wares.

I have a whole little narrative about my relationship with clothes–and a good and deep relationship it certainly is. Because once I find a cozy item–since I essentially dress for comfort–we are in for the long haul. I will spare you the hoary details and instead share what happened on a recent outing.

National Eating Disorders Association

Zena and I had gone into town to get something I needed for a class I am taking and were then going to head to the farmer’s market. Back in the car between the two errands, just chatting about life, it did come up that I really could use a pair of jeans–given that I didn’t have any.

A few minutes later, we were passing by a small strip of clothing stores. Zena, making particular mention of one of them, said, “Mom, I think that would be a good place for you to find jeans.” And wouldn’t you know, there were a number of parking spots easily available right in front. The next thing I knew, we were in the store.

Apparently, a love of shopping, along with the refined ability to dress oneself and others in exquisite good style, skips a generation. Having Zena with you while hunting for attire is like having the best in a game hunter–I mean personal shopper. She is really good. Except for one thing. She insists that I must try things on. Left to my own devices, I never try things on in stores. I generally know my size and feel confident that by holding the item up before me, I can determine if it will fit well enough–maybe not perfectly–but that’s OK by my gene-lacking standards. The onerous act of dragging one’s body along with a forearm laden assortment of clothes into a tiny dressing room with an enormous mirror is not how I wish to expend my physical or emotional energy.

Given my dogged determination to stop the madness and to help others make peace with their bodies, I purport to have a ‘relatively’ healthy relationship with my own–though gauging relativity is rather vague in this regard. However, I admit that some of this is achieved by having infrequent encounters with its distorted reflection under bright lights in quasi-public places. I would prefer skinny dipping at a sunny beach if bright light and public places are in the offer.

As it turned out, it was a good thing that I was trying things on. Since the last time I shopped, or maybe it is dependent upon the type of store, sizing seems to have changed more than I was aware. This is either a case of new math, or given the placement of multiple zeros on some tags, a result of some computer coding process replacing real numbers. In the name of I am not sure what–we are not our mothers’ clothing sizes. We are increasingly being resized to a lower number. Zena had to forcibly take from me some of the items I had chosen that were based on my belief in an antiquated sizing system.

Into the dressing room we trudged. This step thus engaged the unsolicited assistance of the kind store clerk. I do know these attendants are there to be helpful, but I still prefer to ignore such attention–and besides, I had Zena to help me. Apparently though, my case was complicated, and required the two of them to seek out for me what would best fit. The sizing and styling of jeans is nuanced. Ultimately, I would have to determine if I was curvy straight or modern straight and the style would influence the size. Zena and the clerk each ably navigated the floor and the dressing room bringing me different options, which I compliantly tried on.

At one point, the sales clerk poked her head in and asked me how I was doing. I was not exactly sure, but said I was OK. Eyeing the tag on the pair of jeans I was then donning, she said, “Oh, that is good. You went down a size.” Apparently, it was time for me to have another one of my stunned moments in a retail setting.

I could have responded enthusiastically, that in the six minutes since she had last seen me in the two digit greater-sized pant, I had in the 4 x 4 space taken to a program of calisthenics including jumping jacks and sit ups while wearing one of those fat burning sweat suits– and was glad that my efforts had paid off. Instead, I asked, “What?” She replied by saying, “Isn’t that what every woman wants, to be a smaller size?” Oh dear, I sighed. With Zena out on the floor, at least my daughter would not have to see her mom (gently) trip out this well-meaning woman. She already knows how I feel about such things.

Quietly, I explained where I was coming from and why I was sensitive to her comment. I shared why believing and voicing such assumptions can be misguided and problematic–if not downright dangerous. (Not to mention, how in this case, absurd.) Such common banter ascribing value to diminished size–especially with no knowledge of an individual’s personal experience–belies the realities of those who may be contending with an illness or emotional stress; needing or wanting to gain weight; actually comfortable with their body size; just changing from an adolescent to adult body shape; or struggling with a psychologically and physically disabling eating disorder. Such entrenched beliefs, can trigger reactions ranging from a shaming emotion to a dangerous feeding behavior. Now, how about those new spring colors?

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Cat and Flowers

The clerk’s cheerful countenance dimmed a tad, but she acknowledged what I was saying. She said she had not ever really thought about it. Understandably, it is one of those things we don’t think about unless we have to. But, with 30 million Americans struggling with some form of an eating disorder and many more at risk, (and a zillion just wishing to hate their bodies a little less) I tell this little story in honor of  Eating Disorder Awareness Week which is observed this year from February 26th through March 4th. This year’s theme is, “It’s Time to Talk About It”.

The insidious nature of eating disorders keeps them hidden in bedrooms, dressing rooms, locker rooms and emergency rooms. To shine light on the seriousness of these disorders, an incredible event has been coordinated by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Large iconic landmarks throughout the country will be lit with the blue and green colors of the organization. Please check this out and look for a location near you. Otherwise, you might even see these lights but not understand their significance.

In the end, all was well. I purchased one pair of jeans of some size and style along with a few other attractive items that should keep me well-attired for a few years. I think my mom would be pleased. The clerk and I were all smiles as she handed me the large shopping bag over the counter, and I was feeling smug about the 60% savings. We had actually had a somewhat intimate encounter. Thinking about it, I recognize that dressing room attendants play a big role in helping women of all sizes to find clothing that makes them feel good. Cheers to them! Zena and I headed back out into the great outdoors feeling quite accomplished. Though we never made it to the farmer’s market we’d had a good catch.

Please drop in, say hello, share an experience, subscribe and/or pass my writings along. Thank you.

In health, Elyn

my plate

MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Haiku: In the dark places/I ask courage to believe/I am beautiful. by Anne-Marie

weight, weight, please tell me

This is a post about weight–weighty matters, the weight of the world, mainly the ongoing conundrum of there being too much of it. It is a topic I think about sometimes–trying to wrap my arms around it to contain it properly.

Actually, you will see that I don’t have much to say about it, but am sharing the brilliant voices of others who do. It seems these stories have recently, coincidentally collected in my little basket of big dilemmas.

Before I proceed, and attempt to offer something up on this largely considered nutritional–but so much greater– matter, let me digress for a moment to share something about me and my nutrition work and my nutritionist status. I have a little explaining to do. IMG_0309

I have experienced a lot of changes in the past few years. Some of these are profoundly personal while others are professional. I will stick to the latter and how they have influenced what I write about–perhaps some of you who follow me have noticed–but they are both intertwined.

When I began writing this blog in the fall of 2010-wow-I was perched in a clinical setting that continued to make me privy to the upfront and personal stories of individuals’ eating lives. I had been doing nutritional counseling for many years at that point in time. My clients’ issues strongly reflected, what I refer to in My Story, the massive changes in our food culture and highlighted the intimate art of eating in response to the personal and cultural milieu. The nutritional crises of our time, including the obesity crisis and its shadowed sister–eating disorders–were about twenty plus years deep in the making.

Professionally, I had been riding this unforeseen wave since its onset in the early 1990’s and felt I had something to say to personalize and humanize what was projected as a faceless statistical trend. Having worked with so many people, I was able to synthesize the common experiences that were impacting us all. I could also relate some true experiences of my clients in my writings. I would juxtapose these experiences alongside the larger impacts of poverty, trauma, environmental changes, food adulteration, community access, societal messaging, etc.

But, what I never stopped to share, was that two and a half years ago, I stepped out of direct care. I began doing nutritional program development and administration for a statewide program serving childcare centers–the preschoolers, families and educators. It is a good program. Though its implied mission is to prevent childhood obesity, I strongly prefer a redirection of intention to support the full health potential of all our children and mitigate the effects of what I am wont to refer to as nutritional violence and size stigmatization. Anyway, at that time, the nature of my posts changed and their frequency decreased. I had less material and more other things to tend to.

And now, I have just begun a new position. I am working for a breastfeeding support organization. This is a nutritional and health issue I am passionate about, but for essentially the first time in my career, I am not carrying the title of Nutritionist. I seem to be welcoming this change– it is a natural extension of my life work and public health orientation that fits well with my current circumstances. But it also stirs some emotion. Due to a combination of my personal experiences and the fact that I have not done direct care for a few years now, I no longer feel I can assist others with the acute health challenges of our time and the precise nutritional approaches they demand. So, along with other big changes I am now facing, I think it may be that I am no longer a Nutritionist.

So, my dilemma asks me, “Then what’s with the name of your blog?” For now, I will answer that until I have time to reconsider it, it will stay the same. I am still deeply interested in nutrition and how it relates to our individual and collective health. I am still paying deep attention and I still want to be part of the larger conversation. And, I still want to help people. I may present more concise offerings on my Instagram page which is now called, Lifeseedlings: Budding perspectives and occasional haikus on food politics, nourishment, body respect, eating and cooking. Join me there.

And so, back to the issue of weight which I raised as the focus of this post. I wish it wasn’t all that it was and is. I wish it didn’t dominate the headlines and pervade our thoughts. I am bothered by my own sometimes prejudiced assumptions and that despite my somewhat larger awareness of its complicated nature, I still conflate weight with health and want to help ease and prevent the physical and emotional burdens it encumbers. But it is about time for all of us, those with or without the business to do so, to stop believing that banishing this weight, this unruly fat, is similar to scrubbing dirt and grit off a coal miner’s body–some effort no doubt, some soaps better than others, but once undertaken, the job would be done.

From my observations, I think MAYBE things are changing. We may finally be realizing that plain out calorically restrictive diets of any ilk and fat shaming just don’t seem to be working to solve the problem in the long run nor are they doing anyone much good.

And, while not entirely new, more voices–powerful, angry and/or tender voices, are emerging that challenge the once firmly held ideas and attitudes held by our scientific and medical communities, our society and even our personal selves about the ‘weight problem’. Their words and advocacy may be shifting our perspectives, sharpening our sensitivities, and providing new approaches to care.

Here is a short little syllabus of what I consider to be very interesting insights on the topic. It includes:

  1. Where the story often begins. A post by Your Fat Friend, a personal story about the implications and consequences of early childhood weight interventions; and a discussion on What Harping on A Child’s Weight Looks Like 20 Years Later about the importance of fostering body appreciation for everyone, by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen on her website, Raise Healthy Eaters.
  2. What No One Ever Tells You About Weight Loss. A powerful and personal look at how expectations about ways to lose weight imply a process that is both isolating and not sustainable, by Nick Eckhart in What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Losing a Lot of Weight.
  3. How Even Well-Meaning Assumptions about Fat Athletes Can Be Misguided. Here, Ragen Chastain (whose blog Dances With Fat I have written about before) deconstructs such assumptions in her post, What Fat Olympians Prove (and What They Don’t).
  4. Really? Just five amazing stories from an episode of This American Life, entitled, Tell Me I’m Fat. (Transcript or Audio).

This is not required reading, but I hope you find something thought-provoking, attitude- adjusting or maybe even life-changing within. And, though I don’t have Carl Kasell to answer my phone, you can leave me a message here.

Thanks for listening, following/subscribing, sharing and supporting my writing.

Elyn

 

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MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Haiku

Pick your own today

Happy kids in wide-brimmed hats

Sweet summertime fruit. by Nan (Blessings on her new little grandson, Orion!)

 

 

 

 

peacock feathers

Recently, I received an inquiry from a writer named Mel D., asking to share a piece of her own story on my blog–to impart her experience and shed light on an eating disorder related condition that is not commonly appreciated or understood–body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). As I give space to compassionate discussion of eating disorders, I was glad to honor the request.

In considering the manifestations of BDD, I was drawn to the image of a peacock–such a splendid, mysterious and almost mythical creature–and thus named this post. Not surprisingly, peacocks, and their resplendent feathers, are rich in the symbolism of many cultures, and interestingly, their symbolic and spiritual meanings represent compassion, kindness, patience, all seeing knowledge, resurrection, renewal, and the reminder to show our true colors. I wonder if perhaps the peacock asks, How stunning must we be to honor our beauty; how much self compassion required to accept our flaws; and how not show our true and lovely colors?  

Prior to becoming a writer, I had a career working in finance. It was a job that naturally came with a lot of stress and time pressures. During my teens and twenties, I had suffered with what I now know to be classified as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS, but at the time I had little idea what was affecting me.

The symptoms of my eating problems developed when I was studying at university and straddled the anorexic spectrum. Anxiety and high stress from being in school prevented me from eating properly and I began to calorie count to gain control over my life. Unlike many other anorexics, I knew I was too thin, but felt powerless to stop what I was doing. I began to also develop symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) alongside my eating issues.

BDD is a disorder wherein a person becomes obsessively preoccupied with how some aspect(s) of their body looks and is fixated on trying to correct or cover up the perceived flaw. There’s a clear link between poor body image and eating disorders, although the relationship between the two becomes a vicious circle rather than a linear development.

When poor body image leads to a strong desire to change the appearance, and often this focuses on losing weight, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia can either become triggered or more entrenched. Those who suffer lose sight of the connection between the food they eat, their body, and their physical and mental well being.  Although on the surface eating disorders seem to be about losing weight, the weight loss and other physical effects are really just symptoms of the underlying issue, which is rarely about weight at all.

As with all eating disorders and associated BDD, the key to regaining mental and physical health almost always requires professional help—a residential or outpatient treatment program offering multiple therapies.  It’s also often useful to learn to think of food in new ways, to allow the person to start focusing more on nutrition and health, rather than on weight and appearance. Thinking of food in terms of nutrients, rather than calories, and acknowledging all the amazing things that our bodies do with the nutrients we feed them can be a useful tool in recovery.

It was only when I left the world of finance– after a period of time out sick from stress–that my illness was properly addressed. I can’t claim to be fully well, but after time spent in therapy and rehab, I now understand what my triggers are and can better control my behaviors. Having walked away from my job, instead choosing to become a freelance writer, I now try and to write on the topics that are important to me and that may hopefully help others. 

For more information on eating disorders and BDD, check out this article at Bulimia.com. As these are very serious health conditions, please seek appropriate care promptly. You deserve to heal and be well.

In health, Elyn

Antiques 2 027

Susan’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

In the dark places

I ask courage to believe

I am beautiful.  by Anne-Marie

Nourish Thyself Well Day

Despite its lack of a full complement of days, the tiny month of February (from the Roman februarius or Latin februum–to purify or atone) so kindly embraces Valentine’s Day as well as Eating Disorder Awareness Week–both emotionally-laden events. The two are not ordinarily associated and their purposes may seem disparate, but, with a little tweaking, I think that each celebration might find a friend in the other or a rationale for their coincidence.

February from my window

February from my window

To sort this out a little, let’s acknowledge that Valentine’s Day is a veritable Hallmark Card hootenanny, with messages cloyingly sweet and with a power so strong that it provokes the panicked purchase of chocolates and roses in hopes of successfully and sufficiently demonstrating one’s love for the “other”. While we celebrate Valentine’s Day’s High Middle Ages Chaucerian and 18th-century traditions of courtly love, the holiday has deeper, darker and rather confusing origins. It aligns on the Roman calendar with the celebration of Lupercallia and on the Christian liturgical calendar with the honoring of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus for whom several martyrdom stories were associated–only some of which were tinged with elements of romantic love (Wikipedia).

Eating Disorder Awareness Week commands no shelf space in the greeting card aisle, passes without widespread recognition–and certainly has no such reckless exchange of confections. However, in bringing forth awareness of the prevalence of eating disorders and avenues for treatment and healing, it does have cause for celebration as well. It shines light on these complex and misdirected eating behaviors which thrive in the vampire-esque darkness of secrecy and shame. It serves to bring support to the many who struggle alone–those who battle too in martyr-like fashion against these soul and life-threatening conditions.

Both our desire for romance and the rigid control (and lack thereof) of eating disorders express the longings of the fragile little hearts that beat within all of us. They share opposite sides of the same coin of our need for love. While Valentine’s sentiments relate to one’s love for the “other”, eating disorders expose the imbalance manifested when we lack capacity to love the “self”. Apparently, we cannot quite master one without the other. Eating Disorder Awareness Week provides hope that one can nurture successfully and sufficiently such requisite self-love, while Valentine’s Day might (and should) remind that we can love ourselves as well as others.

A number of years ago, while I was working on a college campus–an environment where eating disorders are more widely acknowledged–I created an activity which was part of a series of events being held during Eating Disorder Awareness Week. By means of various campus communications and a distributed flyer with a banner stating, “Life is too short to waste time hating our bodies”, I brought forth “Nourish Thyself Well Day”. The name implied a broader sense of nourishment and did not distinguish between “well” as an adverb or adjective. The concept was to present a challenge to the self-limiting thoughts and behaviors regarding our diets and our bodies that rob us of our health and well-being. Believing that most of us carry around at least a handful of these, I asked people (anyone and everyone) for just one day to choose a body-affirming or nourishment-providing action that held meaning for one’s personal issues or struggles.

Recently, I came upon the flyer and the list of the suggestions I proposed at that time. They included:

I will not weigh myself today * I will eat when I feel hungry * I will not use food to cover my emotions * I will not diet today * I will not eat/use nutrient-deficient diet foods * I will ask a friend for support if I need it * I will not associate guilt or shame with eating certain foods * I will listen to my body and respond to its needs * I will enjoy hot cooked foods * I will welcome foods with fats * I will honor my right to be an eater * I will have dessert * I will eat slowly and stop when full * I will not entertain starvation throughout the day*  I will not say anything negative about my body or my eating * I will not say anything negative about anyone else’s body or diet * I will not judge my value based on the scale * I will acknowledge my true value.

In revisiting this list, I recognize it has some limitations and does not fully capture the possibilities and alternatives available to us in redirecting or re-imagining how we behave around or think about these issues. At the time, I could only fit so many ideas on the page and I had no mechanism for receiving any feedback. I only released it as an intention that it would seep its way through some crack or crevice and find its way to someone who might find some meaning in it for themselves. I hope it did.

And, so now, in this time between Valentine’s Day and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (which falls this year from February 22nd through 28th–with the theme, “I Had No Idea”), I send the intention of “Nourish Thyself Well Day” out on its own once again. I hope dear little February can handle another event–albeit, a made up one–and one that is really just an extension of the others. Besides, it has been a really frigid winter, and we can all use an excuse for anything that may warm the heart–and lighten the burden.

With hand on heart, feel free to choose your own day to celebrate “Nourish Thyself Well Day”, pick from the above suggestions or create your own, and welcome the experience of shifting old embedded patterns and beliefs.

In health and with much love, Elyn

Heidi's Plate

Heidi’s Plate

My Plate Haiku (or any other poetic form)

Love is a deeper season

Than reason

My Sweet One.

by e.e. cummings

the cookies are coming, the cookies are coming!

I did not consider that the setting would be more than nutritionally neutral. It was a required training on a non-nutritional topic at an off-site setting dedicated to health. Though it was an all day event, I did not know it included lunch, so I had my own packed in my bag. If anything, I supposed it would include the perfunctory coffee and some offering of basic breakfast carbohydrates to start the day and amuse the attendees, but that would be it. My, was I in for a surprise.

have your peeps call my peeps

have your peeps call my peeps

It was a cold morning so I was glad for the tea bag and hot water. But, as I found myself in line with the others waiting for their morning jolt, I of course noticed what was available, and reflected on how nutritional awareness now means lets serve some fruit along with the wide array of pasty pastries. I am more disheartened about such food offerings in my professional settings where health and nutrition are purported to matter. Still, having a day out of the office, to learn about the proper design of research studies, I thought I would pass the day imagining myself as research scientist, rather than nutritionist. Increasingly, I find myself interested in matters of investigation and evaluation, and though I lean strongly toward the qualitative, I like to unveil that quantitative data as well.

The presenters were all quite knowledgeable and held my attention with their touches of humor and accessibility, despite the somewhat dry subject matter. At the end of the morning we were ushered across the hallway for the lunch–which apparently was provided– and consisted of a selection of sandwiches and wraps, bags of chips, cans of soda and bottles of water. As I looked down the three long lines of tables where we were sitting, my clearly not quieted nutritionist mind acted up. I was tempted to count how many people had chosen a soda and what kind, and to then count the total number of people and begin some analysis.

Just as I reminded myself to not play probing, annoying nutritionist, the facilitator took to the microphone and informed the group about the schedule for the afternoon sessions. He then apologized that the cookies had not arrived but that they would be coming soon. The group emitted a palpable response. And, when at break time he did announce the advent of the cookies, as promised, the audience broke into applause. Really, the previously lackluster assemblage of folk, mainly there due to the mandatory nature of the event, responded with animated cheering. Forget the soda study. Where was my neurobiology team when I needed them to measure the excited brainwaves in the prefrontal cortex when exposed to just the anticipation of a sugary surge? I observed the same sparks in the eyeballs of those three-year-olds who just the week before had come to my door disguised as pirates demanding candy. Wow. But, there was still one more twist to come.

As the group got up to dive into and divvy up the cookie bounty, I headed down to the bathroom. On my way back, a woman was heading in my direction. My own brain flipped into one of its pre-programmed reactions. Young, attractive, stylish–I suddenly feel quite badly about myself. As we got closer, she held up a cookie to me and said, “Yeah, I know I am so bad.”

Shocked out of my own internal self-admonishment, I asked, surprised, “What?” She said,”I know I shouldn’t be eating this, but I can’t help myself. I am sure this is emotional eating. I should be better tomorrow. This was a tough week.”  Confused and concerned, I said, “I am sorry, but why are you telling me this?” She reminded me that she knew I was a nutritionist because we had come upon each other while walking near my office the month before, and I had told her what division I worked in. We had talked together for about five minutes before we went our separate ways. Now, here, out of context, it took me a moment to recognize her.

Stupidly grasping for something to say, I stuttered, “Then, if I have any power granted in me as a nutritionist in this very moment, please do not feel guilty and bad about yourself because of a cookie.” “Thank you, Elyn”, she said, sounding relieved as she walked away. She had only just shared a common feeling that many suppress. But her conflict makes her a potential subject for this big human study of who we are as eaters–along with all the rest of us. We are tasked with needing to be cognizant of our food choices, in a toxic food environment, while mysterious uncontrollable drives often control our behaviors. Pretty complicated stuff, this eating thing, aye matey?

Well, I really am quite aware that any situation can present me with a nutritional conundrum. This one concerned how a little cookie can magnify our longing, our regret and all the places in-between. In response, may I suggest that as best you can, nourish yourself in many ways, observe what lights up your prefrontal cortex, avoid long boring meetings, and most of all be gentle and loving with yourself.

In health, Elyn

By my own personal accounting, this is the 100th post of the Nutritionist’s Dilemma, and as you can see, the dilemmas persist. To help me embark on the next hundred, if you are a subscriber, regular reader, occasional visitor, or someone who has just stumbled upon my blog, I would greatly appreciate your taking a moment to: write a comment (below) to let me know how my writings resonate (cogent, amusing, inspiring, galvanizing) or just that you were here (Hi El, Yes, I DO read your blog); share one of my posts (forward to a friend or share on Facebook); click an available like button; subscribe (on side); or invite me on some interesting joint venture to change the world, near or far. 

(I would also love some new haikus as I am now relying on ones written by a cat.)

A deep thank you to those of you who have supported my humble efforts to give voice to my experience and to feed my quiet muse.

Blessings to all and Happy Thanksgiving!

My Plate

My Plate

 My Plate Haiku

I lick your nose, I lick your nose again

I drag my claws down your eyelids

Oh, you’re up? Feed me.

By a cat

from I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats collected by Francesco Marciuliano