Monthly Archives: July 2016

Being there for someone with an ED

How to help someone with an eating disorder

I went to a support group the other night for people struggling with any kind of eating disorder and in any part of their recovery (ie. just starting, 1 year in, a couple months in etc.) One of the topics that came up was the lack of support or understanding from loved ones. My perspective? It isn’t their fault. In fact, there is just not enough education or information available for loved ones to understand how to support. It is obviously different for each person but here I am going write some things of helping/supporting your loved one through an eating disorder.

NOTE: These are all sayings that I have had said to me and I am just talking off of my own experience

1.“You look so healthy” “You look great”

For someone that is struggling with an eating disorder (talking for myself in specifically anorexia) healthy = fat. Healthy means that I am overweight, or that I have failed my eating disorder, or that I am ugly and unlovable (for people who have studied CBT, yes I can see the distortions too) Distorted or not, these types of comments are not helpful. They can send someone struggling with an eating disorder into what I call “analysis mode.” Analysis mode is where the person struggling is trying to figure out the small underlying layers of what the person may mean (even if it is completely unreasonable). For example if someone said to me, “You look great!” I may interpret it as, “They knew I was struggling with an eating disorder and I have gained weight since I last saw them and so therefore they think that I am fat.” Ok, obvious irrational distortions there but that is what is going on in many people’s mind. It is also a comment on bodies and that is a big no-no… leading me to my next point.

 

  1. “She should not be wearing that” “I look so fat today” “That skirt looks so good on you now that you’re weight restored!”

This is a hard one but please no comments on bodies (yourself, the person struggling with an eating disorder, strangers, actresses, magazine photos etc.)

Ok so after reading that sentence who thought, “Wow, well that’ll be walking on egg shells.” CHALLENGING PERFECTIONISM HERE, we’re all human and nobody has ever been perfect at anything (Thomas Edison didn’t make the light bulb on his first try, did he?) I understand A LOT of people struggle with body image and some comments may slip out surrounding your own body image or insecurities. I understand it is totally normal to talk about celebrity weight gain or new plastic surgery or bikini bodies or whatever. I understand it is very easy to say, “Oh she shouldn’t be wearing that.” These are all very normal, understandable, human things BUT it is not only NOT helping the person struggling with an eating disorder it can also put certain thoughts into their head such as “Well that is how I see myself yet my (fill in loved one here) thinks she is ugly and shouldn’t be wearing that, she must not love me” It can also reinforce the thought that EVERYONE is looking at, judging, talking about etc. the person that is struggling with an eating disorder. I know I am very at fault here. I have made too many comments to count and I wish I could blame them all on my eating disorder voice. It is a very difficult thing to do but each time you refrain from commenting on body image of yourself, someone else, the person struggling with an eating disorder it is setting a good example and reinforcing positive thoughts!

 

  1. “Just eat!” or “So you’re finally eating again, you must be better!”

Eating disorders, while they manifest themselves in the form surrounding food and eating are not strictly disorders of food. They go so much deeper than that. They are a mental AND physical disorder. A lot of the time depression, drug addiction, self-harm etc. comes along with them too. Just because someone in recovery is eating does not mean they are better. If you tell me to “just eat” I am not all of the sudden going to do my biggest fear and pick up a fork and eat whatever you want me to, I am sorry you don’t have magic powers. As I said earlier (quote from friend) Eating is simple, NOT easy. Eating disorders are not like a broken bone. Once the cast comes off the wound isn’t automatically healed. There are months and years that have to be put into treatment doing the work, pushing yourself to limits sometimes more painful than what the eating disorder did to you. That is why I cannot “just eat” because my entire being does not want me to.

 

  1. “Are you sure you had anorexia? You don’t look like it!”

UMMMM… NO! First of all, what does “it” look like? What am I supposed to look like to fit your criteria so that you will believe I had an eating disorder? I am so sorry but anorexia (and bulimia, BED, and EDNOS) does not have a body type. They affect people of all races, sizes, ages, genders etc. Eating disorders are not selective and the victim of one does not have to fit your tiny little box that was created by the misinformed people of society. This reinforces the idea also that the person struggling with an eating disorder does not need help or they are not “sick enough” This is only feeding into their eating disorder letting them know that they have not accomplished their goal.

 

  1. “But you’re not fat!”

Thank you so much but this is not helping. I am physically not able to see what I look like. It is called body dysmorphic disorder for a reason. The way I see myself is not the way other people see me. I see myself through the eyes of the eating disorder, which is cruel and irrational. This is also making the assumption that eating disorders are only related to how you see yourself. There are days where I can recognize what my body really does look like but it is still not good enough for my eating disorder, which is a very manipulative and unkind voice.

 

  1. “I’m going on a diet where I’m not going to eat (fill in food groups here)”

I understand that the diet industry is a $60 billion industry. I understand that dieting is apart of today’s culture, America’s culture. This only feeds the eating disorder voice even more. At almost every single lunch since getting out of treatment, there has been some kind of diet talk, some kind of I want to lose weight talk, or some kind of “I ate fruit for breakfast so I can have a donut now” justification talk. It occupies almost every single meal and every single conversation. The eating disorder voice starts jumping with excitement, “Well if they are allowed to cut out bread and not have to go to treatment, why can’t we?” or “Look at their strength to say no, we can say no too!” I just feel as if this is a way to help everyone, eating disorder or not. There are so many other things to talk about than dieting. There are so many more amazing and interesting things happening in the world today!

 

  1. Glorifying eating disorders

This is probably my biggest pet peeve. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for 4+ years and has seen many of my friends be chewed up and spit out by this awful thing, it is NOT something to glorify. There is nothing good about eating disorders, so please do not tell me that I look really great because I lost some weight. Do not ask me my “secret” because it was years of isolation, depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm, fighting my own self, self-hate, and little to no reward. There is not one eating disorder that is better than another. Please do not say to me, “Well at least you have anorexia and not bulimia or binge eating” This is in no way acceptable because it says to the person struggling with anorexia that they “chose” the better disorder and that people struggling with bulimia or binge eating are somehow “less” or “less deserving of treatment” Do not tell me how great you look after you had the stomach flu and have not been able to eat. Please do not tell me how you just don’t feel like eating anything because maybe it will help you lose weight. These words and phrases are just not necessary and do not need to be apart of any sort of conversation.

 

I know the majority (or all) of these are very difficult and asking a lot. I don’t want to come across as harsh or as if I am condemning all loved ones. I know that I have said many of these before (probably for different reasons than loved ones do). It is easy to talk about diets. Living in our society today it is expected that girls are stick thin and look like the Victoria’s Secret models that are pasted across every billboard. I know many people who do not have eating disorders but struggle with body image, which can come about in conversation because it is something that many people can relate to. But being in a house or being around someone that is struggling with an eating disorder, it is best to try and refrain from these 7 things. Remember it is totally ok to make mistakes and slip up. You might hear people who have eating disorders glorifying eating disorders or body shaming themselves or commenting on other people or saying they don’t look as if they have an eating disorder or talking about their diet etc. etc. the list goes on. That is their eating disorder voice talking. It is enough for me to have my ED voice talking in my own head, I really don’t need it coming out of others mouths too.

Going on Vacation: easy for some, difficult for me

I remember sitting through many lectures and discussions during treatment that talked about different triggers for relapse. I understood a lot of them such as certain comments, stressful events, a big change, seeing your weight etc. There was on though that I struggled to understand until I recently experienced it. That trigger was VACATION. Now, vacation may seem like a very relaxing time where one can forget about all worries and struggles and just be able to wind down. However, for someone with an eating disorder, a vacation can bring about a whole host of other problems.

 

Just this past week, right after my discharge from treatment, I went on a week long vacation with north to a family camp in the redwoods called Mt. Hermon. This is something that I look forward to every year. I love the fresh air that floats through the Santa Cruz mountains. I love the shade that the redwoods provide as I stand in the middle of the forest surrounded by thousands of trees. And, I love the people that are there. The crazy dance sessions during worship, the shout of 47 seconds as the timer counts down, and the race to save the very first row because that has been tradition for the past 8 years. This year was a little different. I still had the trees and the fresh air and the people, but I also had an extra “voice” that had spent a couple years nestling itself into my brain.

 

At Mt. Hermon we have all of our meals provided for us in a buffet style dining hall. They also constantly provide snacks throughout the day such as donuts, cookies, scones, ice cream etc. I found that during my time there, a common topic at meal time was how much food everyone ate. I heard comments such as, “Good thing I did the morning trail run” or “I just find myself eating, eating, eating, I’m going to have to go on a diet when I get home.” I sat through a lunch as one woman counted out each and every goldfish to make sure that she had the exact amount for one serving while explaining to us how she had to be “disciplined” and can’t have too many carbs. My eating disorder thrived on this. Of course they didn’t know that I was struggling, how could they? I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want everyone around me to adjust. I just wanted my eating disorder voice turned off and to be able to sit through a lunch without shaking with anxiety. I hated having limited options to choose from. I hated being worried about how much I was eating. I hated the reminders of when I was back in my eating disorder.

 

It was more difficult at the beginning of the week. I felt so lost and alone. The trees weren’t as beautiful, the smiles weren’t as bright, and the air wasn’t as fresh. I felt as if I was walking through life in black and white (not the CBT distortion 🙂 , just the lack of color) As the week progressed however, so did my recovery voice. The more I hung out with friends the more comfortable I became. I walked mindfully through my favorite redwoods and was increasingly relaxed. I had psyched myself out for vacation and focused only on the things that had triggered my eating disorder instead of all the things that were building up my recovery voice.
The week flew by way too quickly and my family and I piled into my mom’s minivan ready to make the trek home. I looked at going home as another trigger in and of itself. I was returning to the hustle and bustle of work, family, driving, and life. I wanted to stay on my vacation because it had finally become the definition of vacation. It was a period of rest. It became a period of relaxation. It was a time for me to unwind and finally separate from my ED. I had thought that at the beginning of the week this vacation going to lead me back into treatment. But instead it built up my recovery voice and helped me continue on my path of recovery.

Quick Entry – October 14, 2015

Note: This is the passage referred to in the last entry (Reflecting Back on Treatment)

Quick Entry – October 14, 2015

This is something that I wrote when I was deep, deep into my eating disorder. It consumed every part of me and stole my focus from school, friends, homework, life, and grammar, as you will see in this.  Please ignore my incorrect grammar, misuse of certain words, lack of punctuation/capitalization etc. This  piece was written during one of my lowest points and captures my raw emotions, thoughts, and perspectives. I have not edited it since it was written in October. I hope you enjoy!

(Just as a disclaimer for anyone who might be triggered, I do NOT use numbers relating to calories, weight, sizes etc. but I do talk about my struggles with food.)

 

i hate it when people tell me i am motivated or disciplined or ambitious or even worse addicted to my healthy nature or my workout regimen. i hate it when people say they wish they had my determination to be so healthy because i have felt for so long now my “healthiness” has become unhealthy. i was scrolling through instagram last night and started crying as i came across a post it said “i destroyed my body for a peace of mind i never got”

when people look at me and see me refuse to eat sugar and fried foods and processed foods and when my conversations always consist of something of healthy information – they don’t know that when i go home i practice some of the most unhealthy habits. i chew a pack (or 2) of gum a day just so that i won’t eat. i drink bottle after bottle of water so that i’ll feel full. i workout as much as i can on the little food that i eat and i count calories as if its my job. if you spent a week with me i don’t know what you would call it but its not healthy. i would not consider myself healthy or determined or obsessed i would consider myself a little bit sick maybe. because i spend 24 hours a day thinking about food. i spend hours calculating how many calories i can eat and how much exercise i will have to do. the mirror is my enemy and i don’t want to step on a scale because when i do the deep seeded hate i have for myself is overwhelming even though the number is far too low for my height, but, i step on it anyways because it tells me i need to. i am so tired of dipping my fork in dressing because i won’t eat it poured over the salad and peeling the cheese off the pizza – never eating a whole slice, unless i made it because i know whats it in it. i spend far too long looking at recipes, workouts, and unachieveable bodies and when I’m not doing that i think about the rolls on my stomach the cellulite on my legs what i will eat next. grocery shopping is a nightmare. i could eat EVERYTHING in the grocery store but i usually exit having purchased a banana or an apple to curb my hunger while my friends leave with the tastiest most unhealthy snacks in the world. WHY CANT I BE LIKE THEM! For one second i would love to just not care just for one second. i want to enjoy actual not 100% chocolate, i want to eat pizza and a croissant aux amandes or enjoy something just something just ENJOY IT!! WHY CAN I NOT ENJOY IT! i wouldn’t consider myself anorexic I’m rarely hungry or at least i don’t feel hungry. I’m just obsessive and i can’t deal with that anymore

Reflecting Back on Treatment

I honestly cannot believe that Saturday was my last day in treatment. It has gone by so quickly! I still remember sitting in the psychiatrist’s office as she told me I had anorexia. That word stung my ears yet felt so peaceful in my head because my “best friend” finally had a name. I let out a little laugh and thought back to a passage that I wrote in October while in France (see next post for passage). In the very last sentence I said, “but I don’t have anorexia, I’m just obsessive” The thing is though, I did, and this lady here was telling me to go live somewhere for treatment, also partially debunking my 2nd automatic thought/theory/idea type thing that “ok, so I have an eating disorder, but I’m not as sick as REAL anorexics” So I left and packed for the next day where I would enter a residential treatment center for the next ten weeks of my life.

 

When I was in it, it was the most terribly long process I have ever experienced. It turned me upside down, inside out, and ripped my heart out then sewed it back in and then ripped it out again. If that sounds dramatic to you, let me tell you there was a lot of drama there. There was a lot of love too. A lot of love for the amazing girls I met there (KG, JD, JF, IT, CL) and the wonderful chef and fellow Pisces, R, and of course my amazingly intelligent and supportive dietitian, NA. I cried when I left but I wanted to go and it was my time to move on to the next step in my recovery. I wouldn’t miss the rules or having to sing while I was in the bathroom or not being able to watch Scandal, BUT, I would miss the people, the safety and comfort of the place and of course my little sister (you know who you are JF). So, I set off on my next adventure… PHP.

I was excited to return home and be in my own bed with my family in the room next door. I was happy because I finally had an amazing therapist and family therapist and I was back with my love (KG). It was going well and I was working hard. I was in PHP for a while, around 8 weeks or so. Throughout that time, I proudly watched JD and CL graduate. I celebrated two birthdays of two new people I met in treatment that have become some of the most important people in my life (all my love for LV and BC), and I learned probably one of the most important but very difficult “philosophies” of self care and letting myself feel and express my emotions (thank you to the amazing LV for that). I spent my Saturdays sitting and participating in five hours of treatment which actually wasn’t bad because of LV and all of the other girls (coming soon, a blog post on these Saturday sessions). These weeks in PHP were some of the greatest, most difficult yet rewarding days of my life. Before I knew it, I was in IOP which suddenly freed up a lot more time so I started working more and going out less (who am I kidding, I didn’t go out before!) I missed my friends more and found myself never wanting to leave treatment. I didn’t want to leave the learning or the safety, but most importantly, I didn’t want to leave my second family.

 

It was bittersweet as the days in IOP decreased, moving from six to four to three and then none. I spent a lot of my time in group texts trying to coordinate when my friends would be there so we could see each other. I had some of my hardest times in IOP but I also had all the strength that I built up over the past three months. At the end, I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to walk into the group room one last time. I wanted to prep my meal and clean the dishes as the laughter of my friends rang through the kitchen and the clomping of the therapist’s high heels echoed through the hallways. I remember when I was told I would be discharged. My immediate reaction was sobbing, you want emotions?… I’ll give you emotion! I thought immediately of my friends, my girls, my family (#2). I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe I was ready but the (sad) truth is, when you want to leave most you can’t leave, but when you are ready to go, you don’t ever want to. My therapist (the phenomenal AD who has cared for and helped me so much!) told me that is how I know I am ready to go. And another truth is, I am ready to go. I am ready to kick some ED ass. I am ready to be able to live my life to the fullest and embrace each moment. I’m ready to cry tears of joy over my accomplishments rather than tears of sadness of the number of calories in a food item. I am ready to sit a dinner table and talk with the people around me instead of the voice inside of my head. I am ready to go out and see what God has planned for me, because I have a feeling that it will be great.

 

I remember hiking with a good friend of mine a week or two ago and talking about some struggles with my ED. I was explaining how I was scared for discharge and how it is sad that not many people know much about eating disorders. Because of this lack of understanding certain people may make some insensitive c0mments like, “Well, why don’t you just eat?” And then, he hit me with the greatest quote that has stuck with me for so long which is, “It is simple, not easy.” The act of picking up a fork is simple but for me, eating the meal is a very difficult task. It is something I struggle with just like some people struggle with their own demons.

ANYWAYS… relating this to discharge, anyone can just drive into treatment and sit through groups, but the hard part is the listening and participating. It is simple for me to sit in a group and nod my head but it is not so easy to talk about my darkest times or see my best friends cry as they talk about theirs. Treatment, and I mean actually doing the work of treatment is not easy, but it is so worth it. It is so worth the hours of therapy and talking about emotions. It is so worth the tears and having to be vulnerable. It is so worth the pain; the physical, mental, and emotional pain that stings throughout the whole process. It is worth it because YOU are worth it. It is a long road but there is a beautiful, freeing, peaceful ending where you can live the way life was meant to be lived, free from the ED.

This blog post is for LV, somebody who has helped me through some of my most difficult times. Thank you for your compassion, intelligence, passion, and care. I am so thankful to have met you and that you were/are one of the key people in this very hard yet not impossible-to-beat times of my life. All my love <3