Tag Archive | eating disorder awareness week

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 are 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 for 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 shapeshift 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 a 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 on 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 canceled. 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 a 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

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 a 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 the 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

dolls with faith

Moth by Sandy Mudge

The other day I took a walk around my picturesque village. I was thinking about it being Eating Disorder Awareness Week and wondering what I would write about.  I knew I wished to offer something for this annual recognition week that starts in the last week of February–but I wasn’t sure what. Passing the old Victorian houses that line the narrow lanes of this old place, I was feeling perhaps more like a gothic romantic than a modern nutritionist.

This year, the theme that informs the week is “Everybody Knows Somebody”. This speaks to the fact that given the high prevalence of eating disorders in our society, chances are everybody most likely does know someone–whether they realize it or not. Eating disorders are intangible in their essence. They share many elements of an old gothic novel–a vampire story perhaps.

When eating disorders tighten their grip on an individual–as undernourishment and starvation deepen–they can figuratively and literally suck out the life blood. But, outward appearances usually do not identify those with any of the different complex types of eating disorders which we simplistically categorize as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Related and variant disorders exist as well.  And unfortunately, just as with vampires, we may not realize until it is too late, that we actually know someone who is affected. Recognition of these conditions and resources dedicated to their treatment are abysmally low and this is why Eating Disorder Awareness Week is extremely important.

Though my job is to help people re-nourish, balance intake and make peace with food and eating, I recognize that sustenance needs to occur on many levels. Working with those who suffer, I get to be privy to the underside of these debilitating conditions. When I am up close and personal with my clients, I more easily see that they are not fully embodied, as their illness has detached them from their physical form.  It is subtle of course, but they have a fragile, ethereal quality. This does not dismiss the fact that people with eating disorders tend to be extremely intelligent, highly productive, deeply empathic and exceedingly capable.

What is most painful for me to witness is the profound isolation, loneliness and secrecy that these disorders engender. This cruel disease finds its oft very lovely victims scrounging for food at markets alone late at night; avoiding the pleasure of sharing satisfying meals with friends; preparing meals for their children yet not partaking themselves; and, loathing self so profoundly that they apologize for the space they inhabit. The survival of these disorder depends ferociously on the preservation of deep and dark secrets.

Frustrated by my knowing that there are many right in my little community who suffer alone and invisibly; and that there is a serious dearth in services–even more so since New York State cut funding to eating disorder programming a few years ago–I just recently have reached out to form a small program in conjunction with a local holistic health center. I forced myself through my own usual hesitation and trepidation led by one strong intention–to see if I could create a space where people could find a place for a moment of peace, where they could allow themselves to be safely seen–and to share in a cup of tea. The first session was attended by seven courageous people who came out of the woodwork where they usually hide.

The work of two women inspired me to even consider this. One is Shannon Cutts, a survivor of her own 15 year-long battle with anorexia and bulimia, who wrote the book Beating Ana and started the program Mentor Connect. She brought to the table the healing component that emphasizes the importance of social relationships as an antidote to the pervasiveness of these illnesses. I recommend her work highly as a complement to other care.

The other is Mary Ellen Clausen (and her husband Dan) whose own lives were touched by their daughters’ eating disorders.  On a wing and a prayer, they created a welcoming space called Ophelia’s Place, where people could just come for some coffee, chocolate, comfort and care.  From the ‘Our Journey’ page on their website, “We are learning to listen harder, “fixing” less, and believing that the struggle is where the healing begins.  We are learning to “model” healthy behaviors and challenge the “norm”. We are learning to replace blame and judgment with love and unconditional support. We are learning forgiveness. We are learning that recovery is a process and part of that process is an understanding that living life can and must co-exist through the eating disorder.”

This message is important for me to touch base with as I continually try to anchor my own work in this area.  Today, with a client of mine I tried to fix too much. This is a frequent challenge for me–meeting the mandate of reaching for adequate nourishment with some sense of urgency and being prescriptive–while also trying to provide that crucial piece of support and  mirroring forgiveness. I find this work very humbling and it demands leaps of faith for all involved.

It turns out, that when I returned home from my walk, I happened to check my little Facebook page. My friend Susan had posted a link to the website of a mutual friend of ours who I had not been in touch with for many years. One click on led me to the fantastic, whimsical, provocative and sacred creations of my old friend and incredible artist, Sandra Mudge.

With a portfolio of paintings, collages and photographs–and some other media–it seemed to me that Sandra’s heavenly work captures the delicate and ethereal essence of eating disorders–exactly that which I was trying to express–something more representational than descriptive. In the fine art section are a series of pieces of beautiful dresses–doll clothes of taffeta, silk and lace adorned with fragile firefly and butterfly wings–but they are empty of the little girls who should be wearing them –who should be fleshing them out with life, vitality and childhood innocence.

However,as Sandra, Mary Ellen, Shannon and many others continue with their powerful talents to ‘transform helplessness to hopefulness’; and, when faith is summoned, and stories of recovery are shared, more ‘dolls’ can be restored to their full life potential–and they can then take flight.

Please check out Sandra’s page and all the mentioned websites; and if you are someone who is dealing with an eating disorder, please seek help, have faith and never give up hope.  And, as always, responses are welcomed and respected.  Do you know somebody?

In health, Elyn

Related Posts:  Stopping Traffic, Muse of the Girl

http://www.missrepresentation.org/

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

http://www.bulimia.com/

My Plate:  Today is empty

my plate

you ain’t necessarily misbehavin’– part 2

Awhile back, in my post You Ain’t Necessarily Misbehavin’, I began to explore the topic of how we arrive at being the eaters we are today, and how we berate ourselves for so many things that we had little control over.

The last week of February marks the observation of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week–which also has been expanded to reach out to the many who live in daily distress from hating their bodies. I have not been sure what to add to the conversation which is being so ably cradled by many wise people. However, as this struggle is so relevant to the story, and such a part of the fabric that we are all woven into, I offer a continuation of the examination of how our relationship with food and eating gets shaped. Last time, I left off, just as we were being born.                                                                                                                                                                

After we slide out or are plucked from our mothers’ tummies, the messages regarding food and security are profound. Influencing this stage are many factors: how our cries of hunger were responded to; if food was used to placate other needs; whether our cues of satiety were observed; or, if  we were encouraged to keep feeding according to some external measurement.

The emotional state of our caregivers also colors our early feedings. A premature or reluctant feeding infant whose parent anxiously counts every millilitre consumed is having a different sentient experience than the content babe who nuzzles and guzzles while mother hums dreamily.

Whether we are breastfed or formula-fed also may affect us. A breastfed baby exposed to a wider palette of flavors based on mom’s diet may develop greater food acceptability than the formula fed baby who gets the same recipe with each feeding. Also, fullness (and growth) may be appreciated differently, due to the different composition of human and artificial milk.

Other subtleties influence this early feeding stage. Our innate temperaments reveal if we eat to live or live to eat. Some babies internalize the joy of clutching the breast or bottle as core to their being; others see the business of feeding as a mere requisite to the more important work of exploring the larger world. Certainly, much is anchored when we are merely minutes, days and months old.

Then, soon enough, we are small children. By the age of four, by my calculations, we have already had at least eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty eating encounters–and we are already pretty savvy little humans. We have begun to glean that food serves a greater purpose than fueling our bodies for play. It is somehow powerfully linked with love and affection and has powers way beyond its nutrient content. Candy can mend a hurt, ice cream can cool our heated outbursts of emotion and creamy, warm, familiar foods will bring comfort in a heartbeat. We know if food is abundant or if it is scarce.

Another message we receive at this time is that our own bodily sensations are secondary to behaving according to the rules. This ensues when we are told we must wait until mealtime to eat and that we must clean our plates; or, that we are eating too much or too little. These common parenting practices can serve to teach us that our own feelings are not valid and can begin to detach us from natural signals of hunger and fullness. Age-appropriate feeding should match and support the normal physiological and growth needs of young children. (An understanding of the principles of feeding dynamics are best gleaned by reading the work of Ellyn Satter, social worker and dietitian who pioneered research in this area. Her Division of Responsibility in Feeding should be the crux of all childhood nutrition education.)

When we are a little older we may begin to experience disconnects regarding food and our bodies. As little children, we do not differentiate ourselves from our environment. This sense of  separation–and its attendant self-awareness–does not occur until a child reaches the age of eight or nine. But, with the early introduction of  media and abstract reasoning in both schooling and socialization, this change is happening at an earlier age. I believe this is why eating disorders now manifest in younger kids.

Exposure to a barrage of images with distorted messages about feeding, body image and personal values affects everyone, but it is particularly detrimental to at-risk individuals. Unfortunately, we cannot identify who is at risk. Interestingly, non-industrialized cultures only begin to show eating disordered behaviors after television becomes available.

With self-awakening we are catapulted into self-reflection. Girls navigating through this time yearn to be let into the “club”. We enter the kitchen; we sidle up to our mothers, their friends, the aunties and the older sisters. We listen to their rich stories, and are sensitive to their attitudes and judgments. Often we hear women dissect and belittle their bodies; and the chant of the societal and personal mantra “I’m so fat” begins to penetrate our beings. We take all of this and figuratively stuff it into our new training bras and bikini underpants as our bodies begin to take on form and shape.

This is a very vulnerable period in the evolution of feeding behaviors. As a girl’s body begins to change rapidly, and there are hungers that accompany that growth, any chaos, fear, abuse or significant uncertainty in the outer environment can cause the body to become the battlefield for unexpressed emotions. We can stuff emotions down by overeating or we can deaden them by starvation. For some, negative comments from important male figures can solidify maladaptive behaviors that might have otherwise remained transient. Though girls may be more susceptible to this change, boys are by no means immune when they begin their maturation.

By adolescence, the stage is essentially set as the cascade of sex hormones takes up residence, settles in and rounds out the edges of our physical and emotional beings. After this huge developmental landmark, barring a few other components like what we eat, we just ride the waves, responding to food based on the summation of our earlier nature and nurture experiences.

Does this resonate for you? In honor of this week, please take a moment to think about your own story. No judgment, no blame, just acknowledge it. There may be much to actually appreciate. Practice replacing bitter feelings about your body with kind thoughts. Refrain from all trash talk about other people’s size as well as your own. If you suffer, or if you know someone who does, or if you just care about this subject, please check out the following websites:

www.mentorconnect-ed.orgwww.nationaleatingdisorders.org;

All sharings will be deeply honored.

In health, Elyn

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

In the dark places

I ask courage to believe

I am beautiful.

by Anne-Marie