Tag Archive | eating disorder awareness week

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?

IMG_3545.JPG

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

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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

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 all other care.  http://www.key-to-life.com/

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.”  http://www.opheliasplace.org/

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 http://web.me.com/dollswithfaith/Fine_Art_by_Sandra_Mudge/My_Albums/My_Albums.html 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 I am not quite sure of–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.leftoverstogo.com

http://www.bulimia.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNxtrxVEGFo

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