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so, how did it go?

Way back in the spooky month of October, just prior to Halloween, I presented a MyPlate Haiku on Instagram. Not as deep perhaps as a Zen Buddhist koan, a paradoxical anecdote or riddle used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning in order to provoke enlightenment, but reflective of a puzzlement nonetheless.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while may know that in my little anachronistic village, Halloween is serious business. Hundreds and hundreds of little kiddies and big grown ups dressed in scary–and adorable–costumes descend like zombies and crowd the narrow streets to frighten away any evil spirits–and to collect their sweet rewards. My house is in a prime trick or treat location and next door to the village wizards whose annual display attracts a lot of attention.

And thus, my perennial dilemma. What’s my personal and professional responsibility as concerns contributing to this massive spike in the community’s blood sugar levels? Fun though it may seem, innocuous though one might think–it is not a good thing. There is a lot of sugar going down–way more than Mary Poppin’s prescribed spoonful.

I have stared deep down into pillowcases with more loot than a bank robber’s heist, yet the pirates and ninjas demand more. I have stared deep into the big eyes and darling faces of newly walking toddler princesses and kitty cats, imploring me to fill their plastic pumpkin with some white crystalized sugar drug–I mean treat. Seriously, should there not be some legal age requirement for serving sugar to children? I feel I should be carding these kids, checking ID, asking for a birth certificate or tricycle license.

Every year, Halloween seems to come around quickly, and each time I struggle with the dilemma. Given the havoc I know sugar and sweets wreak on the individual and global level, I do not wish to be a purveyor of this potentially gateway substance associated with dental decay, behavioral issues, food addiction, inflammation, obesity, diabetes and other maladies. To really appreciate the seductive allure of said substance, consider that recently, after a newly levied sugar-tax was imposed in their country, ordinarily level-headed Norwegians have wildly taken to crossing the border into Sweden to procure their candy and soda more cheaply in binge shopping sprees.

But, neither am I ready to leave the party. So, for years my family has stood at the door giving out a combination of edible sweets and non-edible treats in hopes of offering choice and mitigating damage.

But, this last All Hallows’ Eve I decided to go further. In preparation for the nearly four hundred grabbing hands and gaping mouths, I set out to find provisions that would not further the sugar problem at hand. The additional challenge was to try to not substitute it with useless items that would quickly be tossed in the garbage; and to have things that would be suitable for children of all different ages. And, to not spend more than I would on candy.

As usual, I solicited the help of my little witch, Zena, and with broomsticks in hand, off we flew to the nearest Michael’s Arts and Crafts store to fill our cauldron. We scoured about and found some things that were suitable. Also, next door wizard Amy,  informed me of holiday-themed milkweed seed packets available for sale to help save our important monarch butterflies. Perfect. We ordered one hundred of them.

When ready, we poured everything on the bed and got to work. We filled perky IMG_0921pumpkin-faced and scary skull-headed gift bags with age appropriate treats. It was all in fun, though I must say a fair amount of dissection was involved separating parts from wholes. There were all Halloween-themed cool sticker sheets, water-color painting pictures, stamps, little marble maze games, foam cut outs to make masks, erasers–and seed packets. Unfortunately, we did not procure the mechanical pencils which had been a big hit with the older set the previous year.

The only problems were that we ran out of the little bags and took to using business envelopes; and that Zena, being a very good witch, was a bit too generous in filling her bags which left us short of supplies to reach our projected count. But, time was short, so we’d have to make do.

It was then, in anticipation of the big day, I penned and posted to Instagram the koan-tinged haiku:

Treats of a different kind 
No candy for Halloween 
We’ll see how it goes.                                                                                                                       

(We hope they like the Save Our Monarchs Milkweed Seed Packets)

So, how did it go? Pretty well, I’d say. The house was not egged and there were no tricks. There was the one teenager–the kind who doesn’t even have a costume–who did turn and walk away when the cauldron choices were kindly presented to him. A few of the neophyte toddlers did display some cognitive dissonance provoked by being handed something they could not imagine to be the promised candy. And, there was the middle-schooler who when handed a business envelope with indeterminate contents responded by saying she did not like surprises.

But mainly, things were positive. One little girl excitedly told her folks, “We got a card!” There were shrieks of, “It’s the sticker house!” And, the teenagers, were as a whole quite appreciative at receiving something different. I’d say, it was a sign they were actually candied out. It was encouraging to see that they still could like a good, basic pencil–even a non-mechanical one.

The seed packets were mainly tucked in the bags and not really noticed in the dark, but a few who did see them thought they were cool. I hope their value was better appreciated in the light of day–with the help of parents who’d realize what they were for.

The highlight of the evening was once again when Ruth came to the door. Last year, our hearts melted when mid-evening we responded to the doorbell’s beckon to find a little girl and her family waiting. The girl handed us a piece of paper. It was a drawing of–we think–a little bat and a little pumpkin. It was hard to tell, but not bad for a four-year-old. On the back, it was signed, Ruth. IMG_1251

This year, Ruth came to the door with her little sister who was now old enough to stand. Their costumes were beautifully made by their grandmother. Once more, we received a personal drawing–this time of three large carved pumpkins. Ruth’s artistic abilities had increased exponentially. And, now it was signed, Ruth and Grace. This evolved soul, did not seem to expect anything in return. We told them how touched we had been last year and how excited we were to see them again.

As usual, and as we had feared, we did not have enough to make it through the night. As supplies were running low, we frantically tore sticker sheets into individual stickers and repurposed whatever we could.

At the final ring, we had only a few stray bat and pumpkin erasers left. Apologetically we held the basket out to the lone teenager who stood before us. “I’m good with erasers”, he said and graciously accepted the offering.

I tell this story now, not only because it is already less than six months until the next Halloween and time to think ahead. But, because it exposes our complicated relationship with and messaging about food. Please understand I do not maintain a staunch anti-sugar stand. I appreciate how and why we are wired to enjoy it and recognize that it is a source of joy. In my repertoire, I carry a story I once read. When the author was a young girl, her well-meaning parents presented her with an apple with a candle stuck in it, in lieu of cake for her birthday. She cried. It is also well documented how the denial of any sugar seems to breed an uncontrollable urge for it.

But, given the state of our health and what we know about the detriments of sugar and the foods it is cloaked in, and their ubiquitous presence, can we continue to abide the excess that this holiday ritual depends on? Especially as it so strongly impacts children. Who is really benefiting from this candy deluge? The excuses that it is just for one day, and that we can use it as a way of teaching our kids about moderation, may now be too feeble.

I think it may be time for the expansion of creative alternatives. I remember as a child Trick or Treating for UNICEF, carrying a little orange box door to door to collect money for children overseas. Apparently, that campaign was started in 1950, and is still around.  Maybe that idea can be flipped by households choosing a cause of their choice and telling the children soliciting treats that a donation will be made on their behalf to that cause. Just thinking out loud. Honestly, I am not sure I can sustain the full no-sweets effort. However, if little Ruth can draw all those pictures for everyone–I will certainly try.

As always, please say hi, leave a comment, subscribe to and share my blog, and let me know what Halloween ideas you have tried.

Most sincerely yours, Elyn

Related Posts: Eye of the Newt, The Nightmare Before Halloween, Post Halloween Post

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Peepin’ Out Again

This is a mildly revised and updated version of Peepin’ Out, originally posted in May, 2014.

Recently, somehow, word got through to me, that Peeps, those brightly colored marshmallow bunnies and chicks, would now be sold year round. I can’t say if I even knew that those little cuties only peeped out on the market for a relatively short period of time each year in order to celebrate the Resurrection, but apparently this change was newsworthy.

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The Usual Suspects                        Photo by Terri Cnudde

Truth be told, I am really naive and poorly informed on certain things, like candy and religion. I have been confused for decades between Cabbage Patch Dolls and Sour Patch candies–I think that is what they are called. During nutritional consults, I confess that I have uttered the words, “Do you eat like Cabbage Patch Doll candies?”  Not just randomly of course, but in the context of an assessment when I am trying to professionally interpret someone’s intake while sounding like I know what I am talking about.

Somewhere halfway between childhood and deciding to become a nutritionist, I managed to wean myself off of my predilection for sugar woven into various seductive forms. Maybe the end of my relationship with Peeps coincided with my commitment to a vegetarian diet. Eating anything with a face became more distasteful, including these adorable balls of gelatin congealed fluff. I have managed to avoid them for a long while now, except for a time where a co-worker enjoyed flaunting her love of them in front of me like the Adoration.

But, upon hearing the news that Peeps would be popping up in stores on a daily basis, I reacted like Puxatawny Phil seeing his shadow on that fateful Groundhog’s Day. Down into the burrow I hastily fled. Just when I thought that maybe things were getting a little better regarding our capacity to ameliorate incoming incarnations of sugar, this information startled me. To soften the blinding light of  neon-colored commercialism, I had no choice but to go into the dark place below.

By candlelight, I read the small print. Peeps are stewarded by the Just Born Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. According to the website, the wonderful combination of sweet colored sugar and fluffy marshmallow creates an unforgettable taste experience. And, furthermore, it states a great candy isn’t made, it’s just born. Jesus! Don’t these guys realize how bunnies multiply and that chicks are no slackers either when it comes to population growth? I guess they do. Apparently, 5.5 million Peeps are born each day!

This pronouncement of a seemingly immaculate conception in Bethlehem, rather than some sticky mess, presented a whole new ball of carnauba wax–one of the ingredients in Peeps along with sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, potassium sorbate, natural flavors and red 3, blue 1, yellow 6, or yellow 5 depending on the color. With 6.8 grams of sugar, each Peep is endowed with 1.5 (rounding down) teaspoons of essentially pure sugar–the kind that sends our bodies into metabolic-altering, insulin-demanding, fat-storing sugar shock.

In my quest to find out more about this situation, I was forced back above ground. Donning sunglasses, my research led me to my local national chain drug store where I made a few laps around the multi-aisle candy section disguised as a normal sugar craving person. I was forced to blow my cover by asking the clerk where the Peeps were. She reacted as if I must be from another planet. I did not bother to defend my citizenship as an earthling and neither did I explain the whole groundhog thing. But I did say my query had scientific purpose–or something like that. Obviously, Peeps were not to be found after Easter. I was six weeks too late.

But, I said, I thought they were available all year now, in a widening array of flavors. She had not gotten that memo. However, she instructed me to go to the company website if I wanted more information. I thought that was funny. But, it was actually a good idea. (This year I got to see how the little sweeties are born.)

She did add though that she had somewhat recently gotten her little daughter some watermelon ones, so maybe I was right. I stiffened like a stale Peep. Like Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield who deemed himself the protector of childhood innocence, perhaps I take my influence as a nutritionist of the people and for the people a bit too seriously. In my head, I am charged on a daily basis to personally obliterate obesity, or on a larger scale to clean up this whole nutritional mess and its adherent ills.

I liked the care and assistance the drug store clerk had given me despite her initial recoil, and now by association, I cared about her daughter. Could I not issue a global recall of these wolves in chicks’ clothing candies due to salmonella poisoning, avian flu or something to save the children? My usual quandary about how to reconcile the business of capitalist markets and the public health smacked me in the face along with another more subtle underlying dilemma–who am I to take sugar from a baby? Don’t they need some sweetness in this cruel harsh world?

Well, I figured it was time to move back up. As by now, spring had finally arrived in these parts after the long, extended rodent-predicted winter, I decided it should be safe to step back into the sunlight.

Oh well. Send word. Let me know what you think or just say hi. I miss you. And, if you are needing a healthy, bunny-approved, Easter treat, look no further than Naked Food Magazine’s 5-minute Carrot Truffles.

In health, Elyn

P.P.S.  For the winners of the 2018 Peeps diorama contest, check this out. And, oh my goodness, it looks like just this week there is some trouble down on the peeps farm regarding the company’s employee pension plan.

MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Haiku

Lagoon watercress                                                                        Peppers my tongue                                                                        With spring joy.  by Roxanne

 

is that an experience you’re drinking?

My dilemma and I were minding our own business at home, when suddenly an image of a Coca-Cola bottle, or what I thought was a Coca-Cola bottle appeared in the sidebar on my computer.

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Coca Cola global campaign executives

However, the accompanying words said, “This is not a Coca-Cola. It is an experience.” Really? It certainly looked like a Coca-Cola. While still confused, I was also informed that for Coca-Cola, experience goes far beyond the first sip, and that I should make ‘experience’ my business.

With a little click, I found myself face-to-face with Coca-Cola’s VP of Global Design. He told me that they sell almost two billion, (2,000,000,000) servings, excuse me, ‘experiences’ a day. And thus, on a digital platform he would like to have two billion conversations a day, because brands need to listen to their consumers who are all apparently craving choice and innovation.

If so, I hope he is fluent in Twi, one of the Kwa sub-groups of Niger-Congo languages, spoken in Ghana. In 2016, Coca-Cola launched a major initiative in Accra, called Taste the Feeling. It seems they were feeling badly for the millions there who had maybe not been privileged to enjoy the ‘experience’. Interestingly, a group of public health researchers has already done a little study accessing the marketing of non-alcoholic beverages in outdoor ads (visible signs) in a small section of Accra. Of seventy-seven ads, sixty percent featured sugar-sweetened Coca-Cola products–some fraction of which are near schools and feature children–I mean consumers, or soon to be ones–begging for conversation.

My dilemma caught my eye, knowing that this Mr. James Sommerville, would most likely not wish to hear from me. Given that it has been about forty something years since my last sip, I could certainly not claim to be a consumer, thus depriving the company of that 2,000,000,001 serving. Ah, but he had certainly provoked my ire with this seductive, manipulative, alluring message about the right friends, the right time, the right glass–and the tingle.

Might I suggest that he is high fructose corn syrup coating the ‘experience’ or seeing it through caramel colored glasses–with a blast of phosphoric acid and caffeine. Or, that he has drank too much of the figurative koolaid– aka the company’s addictive secret syrupy recipe.

While it is certainly possible he may have already seen my anti-Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) rants, it is not likely. If not, maybe, because like me, he’s recently been watching the 9-Part Docuseries, iThrive, Rising from the Depths of Diabetes and Obesity. But, I don’t think so.

If anything, back when I was writing more about this topic, he may have been concerned with the efforts of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a Coca-Cola funded non-profit, engaging scientists in the promotion of energy balance and exercise as the solution to obesity, thus under playing the evidence on the impact of SSB’s. While founded in 2014, the GEBN was disbanded by the end of 2015, after a New York Times article brought attention to public health authorities’ concerns about its corporate influence. A recently published essay, provides some greater insight into the company’s intentions by shedding light on some of its internal documents.

Or, I don’t know. Maybe lately he’s just been busy globally designing alcopop drinks in Japan. (My dilemma, just gave me its ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look. No, I am not kidding.) But, whatever, he is up to something–and I don’t get it. Even though he was looking right at me, he lost me at “physical analog world” and “push work out to the market”. I know this is nothing new, but call me naive. What’s up here? Does Coca-Cola have to weasel its way into every mouth on the planet–ruining perfectly good teeth, or worsening not so great ones? Not to mention incurring potentially more harm. Why such deliberate cunning? Is this not loca?

A few years ago, I wrote about my dismay regarding Coca-Cola’s marketing ploy of placing common names on their labels. Interestingly, as I was delving into the Ghana campaign, I came upon a story that there was a proposed boycott of the brand in the country. I had a touch of health promotion optimism upon seeing the headline. But, apparently the boycott was due to the fact that the names that the company had placed on the labels in Ghana, were names more predominantly found in the southern part of the country, and did not include the more common (and Muslim) names of its northern reaches. Oh, dear lord.

Well, here is my solution to that problem. Why not put only the names of the executives, such as James, on the labels? This way, consumers will know whom to contact directly should they need any assistance with their health or dental issues, or geopolitical concerns.

It may be tempting to say, for god’s sake, it is just a soda! Let us just ‘experience’ that feeling of happiness, let us ‘taste the feeling’ if nothing else–is a soft drink in hard times asking too much? But unfortunately, it is far from that simple. I ponder these matters about profound insults to population health and where lies responsibility. Coca-Cola and its products are certainly not only to blame, but considering their tactics, neither are they blameless. To say they are a big player is a big understatement. (I am linking to one more article of interest here about the relationship between Coca-Cola and the Ghana health system. I invite you to take a look and let me know what’s going on.)

It is most obvious to look at the rapid increases in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes around the globe as indicators of our health crises influenced by our dietary behaviors. And, yes, according to the latest survey data (published just last week), here in the US, we are still getting fatter, while the food industry giants continue to fight hard against public health measures.

But, there are also other implications of the manipulations of our dietary environment by corporate interests. In recognition of this weekend’s global marches against gun violence in our society, I had wanted to explore the topic of nutritional violence, but this guy cut into the front of the line. Bully. But, I will get to that next. They may be related. Please stay posted. Send word, subscribe and be well.

Most sincerely yours, Elyn

Update: July 2018 In Town with Little Water, Coca-Cola is Everywhere

Related Posts: Reporting from the Rim of the Sinkhole; So-duh; Brought to Tears

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MyPlate    Our Lost Students’ Empty Plate

MyPlate Haiku                                                                                                                                      I should be concerned                                                                                                                            About my health class topics                                                                                                                Serving life not death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

what to eat in troubled times

A friend, an indefatigable defender of human rights and environmental causes, writes to me and asks what to eat in troubled times. I reply,

You should eat the foods of the people from around the world who now need your strength of resistance.

Rice and beans, collard greens
Tzimmes, hummus, dahl
Fatteh, dolma, kibbeh
Chicken soup with tortilla or matzoh ball.

Figs, plantains, chiles, dates, Guacamole, and holy mole, Spooned upon the plates.

Of course, some xocolati
I mean chocolate, dark
Lots of tea, a handful of nuts
All strengthening for the heart.

And, don’t forget the grits. You will need them for the soul.

Please click on the links in the captions of each food photo. These will lead you to the amazing food blogs of three incredible women who are not only very talented cooks with fascinating (and mouth-watering) recipes, but also writers, photographers, educators and cultivators of cultural cuisines and relationships. Also, explore some of the other foods mentioned here if you are not familiar with them. This will take you to both far off lands and perhaps kitchens right in your own neighborhood!

Stay strong. Say hi.

In health, Elyn

MyPlate Song

The world’s spinning madly, it drifts in the dark, Swings through a hollow of haze               A race around the stars, a journey through the universe, ablaze with changes.                 by Phil (Ochs)       

MyPlate Plates