Friday, February 28, 2014

3 Tools that will Change Your Life, by Erin Treloar

We live in a world that enforces a message into every aspect of our being that we are not enough. We see it on the television, we read it in magazines, we live amongst stereotypes and have deeply embedded belief systems that strengthen the message. Sometimes the message can be helpful as it pushes us to reach our greatest potential but in other aspects of our life it can be very damaging. Learning to genuinely and unapologetically love yourself is not something that simply develops over time; it is something that you must fight for every day. We can fight for it together as a whole but at the end of the day the change must occur within each one of us as individuals. The idea of loving yourself may seem inconsequential but I know from personal experience that it will change your entire world and the experience of those around you.

After struggling with an eating disorder in high school and maintaining an unhealthy relationship with my body for years, I finally reached a point where I was ready to choose my happiness over a number on the scale. I’ve always been someone who sets goals and gets great satisfaction from achieving them and I started to realize that by focusing my time and energy on the superficial I was slowing myself down from accomplishing the things that truly mattered to me. Here are three tools I used to help me get from a place of negativity and self-loathing to the positive, kick-ass place I’m at today.

Shift the Focus
It’s time to stop focusing on your flaws and start looking at all of the incredible things that make you YOU! At what point did it become normal to pick ourselves apart and put ourselves down? When you look in the mirror what words come to mind? Are they loving, kind and generous or are they mean, hate-filled and sabotaging? Would you say the things you say about yourself to your best friend? If the answer is no, ask yourself why? If you lived with someone who was verbally abusive would you flourish or shut down? When you notice yourself speaking poorly about yourself, stop right away and immediately say one or two positive things about yourself. When you start looking for the good in yourself you’ll see it more clearly in others too and in an instant your world will become a more beautiful place.

Surround Yourself with Good
Good people. Good working environments. Good energy. We only have so much time in this world and can’t waste it surrounding ourselves with people, places and situations that drain us of energy or make us feel less versus more. Do an inventory of your life and make a list of anything that is subtracting from your happiness. Make another list of anything that makes you happy, fulfilled, joyful and whole. It seems so obvious that we should try to incorporate more of the later list into our lives but sometimes we get stuck in a rut and don’t even realize that a friend, family member, significant other, job or home situation is bringing us down. Once you are clear on what makes you happy you can make it a priority to schedule more time for it in your life. Whether it’s hanging out with a certain friend, drawing, reading, dancing, running, playing guitar, listening to music, life is all about finding moments of joy to keep your happy tank full!

Let Yourself Feel
We live in a society that is busy, plugged in and checked out when it comes to really understanding and listening to our bodies. We “push through”, yo-yo diet and go from one thing to the next without ever checking in with ourselves. Your body knows what it needs to be healthy and happy but if you don’t stop to listen to it you’ll never know what it’s asking for. Take a minimum of 5 minutes every day (I know you can find 5-minutes!) to check in with your body and actually feel it. Here’s an easy, no fail way to reconnect with yourself:

The 5-Minute Body Check-In
1. Find a space where no one will interrupt you for 5-minutes. (I often do this in my car before getting out to go to a meeting.)
2. Set an alarm so you know when 5-minutes is up. Don’t even think about checking your phone every minute….you’ll get distracted!
3. Close your eyes and start to do a body scan from your feet all the way to the top of your head.
4. Focus on each body part for a few seconds and breathe in and out. If you feel uncomfortable and notice yourself getting fidgety or wanting to get up just take note of the feelings and keep breathing. The more antsy you are, the more you need to sit. When I started this exercise I could barely sit for a minute and now I can last 10 minutes!
5. While you are doing the body scan keep your breath steady and notice where your mind goes. Can you stay focused on the body part you are scanning or do you start thinking about school, your kids, the never ending TO DO list, grocery shopping etc.? If you notice your thoughts moving away from your body slowly bring it back again.

Learning to love yourself doesn’t happen overnight and like anything it takes practice, patience and a few ups and downs. It is worth it though and once you come to a more peaceful place with yourself I can guarantee that all aspects of your life will start to come together in a way that is magical. You can visit my website at www.rawbeautytalks.com to hear the stories of other women on the journey to find their own confidence, happiness and self-love. XO – Erin

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Eating Disorder Recovery in the Gym, by Julia Manson Cheng

It’s been quite a few years since my own personal journey into recovery from an eating disorder (anorexia), although I still clearly remember the days when exercise was a compulsive activity. It was exhausting to push my body hard in the gym on so little energy and it was also mentally draining to constantly feel compelled to exercise my body away. Soon after starting the recovery process I learned how effective it was to continually challenge myself by taking small steps, to slowly move away from living in a dysfunctional way. The more I could distance myself from the disorder and interrupt the patterns that had become sabotaging habits, the faster I recovered and built a better existence. Fitness was one of the things that helped me reclaim my life.

My light bulb moment happened at the gym. For the first time I attended a ladies only group fitness class in Vancouver. There were women of all ages, shapes and sizes eagerly anticipating the workout. Many had arrived early to claim a spot. It was obviously a popular class. Finally the instructor entered the room, set up her music and microphone and began teaching. It wasn’t long before her contagious energy and enthusiasm bounced off the walls. Everyone in the room could feel it too. They moved and clapped in sync, laughed, and cheered out “whoo!” once in a while. It was an amazing experience. Then when the last drop of sweat hit the floor and class was over, the group expressed their heartfelt gratitude by applauding and cheering, as if the instructor were a famous celebrity. It was a powerful experience to witness. What I picked up on was how she influenced the group. Every step she took and every word spoken had an impact. She had full control of everyone in the room, and was held in high regard by the participants for her skills and professionalism. At that moment I pictured myself in her role and wondered what it would be like to have so much power. I saw myself teaching in my tight-fitting workout gear, fully vulnerable in front of a group of women who had high expectations of receiving quality instruction and a great workout. I wondered “Could I really pull it off?” Getting certified to teach fitness (in my mind) would equal success, influence and power (three things I needed). I wondered if accomplishing this goal would change the trajectory of my life. And you know what? It did.

What had once been an accessory for running an eating disorder at full speed became the catalyst for change. Exercise became a huge part of my healing strategy and eventually my career. I’d like to share with you some important strategies for staying on track in your recovery while still participating in an exercise routine for optimal health. There’s a fine line that needs to be acknowledged when someone is in the recovery process and wishes to participate in a fitness program. Since exercise is often used to control body weight, it can trigger old patterns to emerge. There are many things you can do to ensure that you’re exercising for health and not to fuel a disorder. Here are my top 4:

1. Discuss your intention to exercise with your health care provider and therapist. It’s important to know what your physical and mental state is prior to starting a fitness routine in order to choose an appropriate activity to compliment your recovery.
2. Before every workout ask “What is my intention for exercising?”. Honour your body by working out for healthy reasons and resist serving in to your eating disorders agenda.
3. Use a journal to record feelings before and after exercise, and review it frequently. If you start to notice a destructive pattern emerging you can share your findings with your health care provider or therapist, and revise your strategy.
4. Practice yoga. Yoga is a physical and mindful practice that is used in many eating disorder recovery programs. A regular practice will condition you to be self-aware in daily life so you can make responsible choices for your well-being and self-care. Participate in classes that are slow-paced and grounding, with breathing work and meditation components (eg. moon practice) to learn how to be in your body, calm, present and content.

I hope that this blog post will inspire you to take the best possible care of your body and help you on your journey to freedom.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rethinking Everything, by Matt Wetsel

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with wanting to do something adventurous. Move across country, travel, do something totally out of my comfort level. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in the same city for twenty years, and a lot of my close friends have already gone on adventures or are planning to. It’s interesting the way our sense of identity gets wrapped up in our day-to-day lives: our jobs, our neighborhoods, our social groups, our areas of study. Reinventing oneself can be a difficult task. I was thinking about all this when I was invited to do this guest post, and how reimagining where you live, what you do, or other aspects about your life factors into recovery.

Years ago, when I was early in my recovery and had finally gotten into therapy, I was honestly terrified of what life without an eating disorder would like. It consumed so much of my thoughts, time, and energy that it felt like a part of me. Thinking about recovery, I worried about who I would be and what would be left of me afterward. As weird as it can sound, anorexia had become like a close friend. Even though it was the main driving force behind all the misery, malnourishment, and depression in my life, it offered a misplaced sense of structure, normalcy, and comfort.

I should mention – a lot of those feelings of positive affect towards an eating disorder are perpetuated by malnourishment. It’s like I always say – a poorly nourished body and mind are a poorly functioning body and mind. We can’t possibly expect to be in full control of our thoughts, feelings, and rationality when our bodies aren’t getting what they need to function properly. That’s not just conjecture: brain scans of patients with anorexia have even demonstrated reduced brain activity when looking at both themselves in the mirror and the bodies of others.

I was speaking with a friend recently about when I was in recovery, and recalled a time when I was arguably at my worst with anorexia. Some new friends at college invited me out to dinner, and I almost told them, “Thanks, but I don’t eat.” I almost said that. Thankfully, I caught myself, but back then I honestly had trouble remembering what it was like to eat like a ‘normal’ person. As a freshman in college, I would frequent the dining hall and be perplexed by all the people enjoying food and eating seemingly without any anxiety or concern. Though I had been able to do the same just a year or two prior, the eating disorder that had taken over my life made it seem as foreign and impossible as it could be.

How thrilled I was, years later, to find myself on the opposite side of that experience: it has been so long since I experienced any anxiety about food that I have trouble recalling having any kind of unhealthy relationship with eating. That isn’t to say I don’t remember the period of my life that was more or less defined by anorexia; far from it. But the emotional and physiological response to meals, the anxiety over getting dinner with friends or going home to see my family is similarly foreign. Instead of the daily struggle it was once, it’s now a distant memory.

If you are currently struggling or in recovery, you might be thinking as you read this that you can’t imagine ever not feeling anxious about food or meals – I’ve certainly heard that before. But a close friend of mine who is fully recovered from over a decade of being active in her eating disorder has always said: never underestimate the resilience of the human spirit and the body’s ability to heal. After all, it’s only through that resilience and adaptation that our bodies withstand years of mistreatment at the hands of an eating disorder. Sometimes, that healing is such a gradual thing that it feels as though we aren’t making much progress. I used to think my sense of identity and self-worth were intimately tied to the chaos in my head and the number on the scale. But just like anything else you spend a ton of time focused or absorbed in, there’s a life outside of it.

What would happen if…
You stopped weighing yourself?
If you were weight restored?
Never binged again?
What would you do with all that time and energy that you aren’t expending on those things?

I know it’s far easier said than done. In fact, recovery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most worthwhile. Without recovery, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish many of the things I’ve done since – like finishing college with a much higher GPA than when I started, running a half marathon, visiting my best friend while he was living in Japan, become a dedicated activist, or be there for my family through some challenging times.

So what are you waiting for? What will your life look like without an eating disorder?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Open Letter to Parents and Caregivers, by Wendy Prescow

As parents of a 28 yr. old who has been suffering with Anorexia and Bulimia for over 13 years, my husband and I have done everything possible – emotionally, physically and financially to provide and help our daughter. And it is never enough. Our experiences of helplessness, frustration and ultimately anger fuelled me to want to create awareness and take action regarding the bizarre and unforgiving world of Eating Disorders. The pain, for sufferers and their families, is insurmountable. The stress and strain on families is extreme, horrendous and devastating. There is no system in place to help our child/ yes at 28 she is a child with not only an eating disorder but paralyzed with anxiety and depression and still expected to navigate the so called system for help because of her age.

EATING DISORDERS KILL.
THEY HAVE THE HIGHEST MORTALITY RATE OF ANY MENTAL DISEASE.

Yet, unlike cancer, heart disease, aids, autism, etc., etc., Eating Disorders have NO PROFILE. YES, Eating Disorders are recognized as a MENTAL DISEASE, but they are seldom recognized or mentioned under the umbrella of mental illnesses.

We hear, read and see all about MENTAL HEALTH per se, but Eating Disorders are NOT on the mental health radar, programs, campaigns or agendas. The message we get is: just suffer in silence.

So here I am, on behalf of NIED, advocating to make changes and bring public awareness for Eating Disorders - just as Terry Fox and his mom did for cancer. Feb 2012 NIED was launched by MP Mark Adler and in April 2013 the doors to Parliament Hill were opened by Mark to NIED and professionals from across Canada. Mark established the first All Party Eating Disorder caucus.

NIED has been the catalyst to help strategize and establish an Eating Disorder Foundation of Canada- the same eventual magnitude as the Heart and Stroke and Cancer Foundations. This meeting took place here in Toronto on Oct 4 2013.I am overwhelmed and cannot believe another one of our dreams came true. As a follow up to the Foundation meeting NIED returned to the Hill in November 2103 - this time at the request of 16 MP's to continue our discussion and bring greater awareness to more MP's.

The best news the Standing Committee on the Status of Women are now doing a study on eating Disorders amongst girls and women. NIED will continue to Combat ignorance, Create awareness, Collaborate with like-minded individuals and organizations. Eating disorders kill, but they don’t have to.

Monday, February 24, 2014

You Are Beautiful, by Dr. Brad Zehring

I remember the moment I found out I was having a daughter. My mind went to a million places: how am I going to raise a girl, how am I going to keep the boys away, how am I going to afford her? Most of all, I knew she would have to deal with a culture that put way too much emphasis on outward appearance. I knew the statistics; I knew the biology, pathology, psychology, and social factors that would be competing for her attention. How would I make sure she knew she was beautiful? I needed to reinforce that she is beautiful regardless of the way she looks. But instill that she is gorgeous because of the brain she reasons with, because of the eyes that will direct her to see opportunity in a broken world, because she has a mouth/voice that will allow her to lead, because she has a huge heart she loves with, because she will use her arms and legs to make a difference in this world helping her fellow man. I will reinforce she is beautiful because she is my daughter and I love her.

I say all that to say this… let’s not fool ourselves… the way people talk about the way they and others look are NEGATIVELY impacting the world around us. Many new reports are outlining the alarming rise of eating disorders on college campuses around the United States. The US in not unique in this rise of eating disorders and negative body image.

There is a multi billion-dollar industry selling a product that promises weight loss and answered dreams. All it takes to be happy is lose the weight and look like the smiling models on TV, on magazine covers, in the movies. An industry that sells - you are a failure if the number on a scale does not decrease - a smaller number is the carrot dangled in front of our faces.

On the other end is the medical community focusing on weight to sell health. Instead of educating their patients in healthy lifestyles and coming along side of them to make holistic changes, patients are told to lose 10lbs.

One side sells - skinny is better and will make you happy, and the other side sells skinny is better and it will make you healthy. Both miss the mark. Both focus on weight. Both are damaging their clients.

Both are preaching that the numbers on the scale are more important than who is standing on the scale.

In the opening of this blog I talked about my daughter. I have a son, also. I purposefully did not mention him in the opening paragraph. Why? There is a notion that eating disorders and negative body image affect females only. There is growing research and awareness that males, too, face the pressures that females face. But, all to often boys/men are left out of the discussion. I raise my son the same way I raise my daughter when it comes to his self-image. It is not about how much muscle he will have, or how good he will be at sports; I am much more interested in the man he will be to women and his fellow man. Is he building them up? Is he extending a hand? Is he ACTIVELY looking to make a positive difference in this world? I want him to know that I love him and the way he looks doesn’t change anything. In return, I want him to look at others with love regardless of the way they look.

I want to end this post on a personal note. If you have followed my blog you know that I do not minimize personal stories. Personal stories are what make us strong and allow us to help others.

My wife’s eating disorder is firmly documented on my blog. But, my wife and what she has gone through have made me a man and a physician that I would never have become without her. She allowed my eyes to see the hurt, damage, and missed opportunities that our culture possesses. She allowed me the ability to go through medical school and have empathy for those that are marginalized and stigmatized. She allowed me to see the error of “fat talk,” and yo-yo diets, the damage of scales, and the danger of talking negatively about the person in front of the mirror. But, most of all she gave me the ability to be a male voice that is eager to speak up about one of the biggest shortcomings of the human race. The enormity of that sentence is not lost on me. I truly believe the damage humans do to each other with their words is not insignificant, but extraordinary.

My wife has given me the ability to reach out to my patients, to write blog posts to people, to be an influential voice to my family and friends, but most of all, she has allowed me to be the husband and father that I always desired.

She has allowed me to shout from the mountaintops that YOU are BEAUTIFUL in spite of your negative self-talk. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite the number on the scale. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite the amount of weight your physician has told you to lose. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite what culture plasters on TV, in movies, on magazine covers, or on the Internet. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite your eating disorder. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because of your fight for recovery. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but that you keep fighting. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because you don’t give up. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because you were made to tell your story.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jennifer, Do You Think You're Pretty? by Jenn Friedman

Rising at our seats during Chorus Practice in the elementary school auditorium, a girl whom- for all intents and purposes I considered "popular"- turned to me and said, "Jennifer, do you think you're pretty?"

I paused for a moment and considered her motives- had this been pre-meditated? Was it a trap? Was she mocking me?

A multiple choice question was being presented to me- no gray, no "none of the above." And while there was no grade to be given, there was the symbolic red check mark hanging over my head. Was I to be validated in my response? Was it okay to claim confidence? Was I enough?

Stumped for an answer, I gave her the only honest one I could find.

'Yeah," I answered.

"Good," She said, and faced forward once again.

I never reflected on her drive. My focus wasn't on what led her to ask the question, but rather on the sudden and unforeseen permission to come out of hiding. I stated my answer neutrally and honestly. It was no more or less than what I believed. "Pretty" seemed a broad enough range for me to safely qualify somewhere within its borders.

I realized that our interaction had allowed me a rare moment of feeling human, acknowledged, and- dare I say, borderline equal- in school. Here I was, a "less-than person", being noticed by a "person of greater stature." I suspect my blank stare reflected my shock at being given the time of day from someone I deemed more legitimate than myself. For a few precious seconds, I existed without apology.

I'd spent most of my remaining moments at school haphazardly defending my existence to the boys and girls who tore me to shreds at a volume from which I could not hide. I'd been on the receiving end of a seemingly endless array of names, sounds, and gestures from children trying to outdo one another at my expense.

I remember one day- because of a mindless piece of gossip that had gone awry- I was chased by at least ten kids around the circumference of school. I remember running several feet in front of them out of the schoolyard and down the block, hearing them screaming after me. I remember acutely the terror and the shame.

Another time, a couple of girls made fun of me for the socks I was wearing and so they took me aside for some fashion advice. I was so terribly insecure that I went to school the following day wearing exactly what they had instructed me to wear. Upon seeing me, they laughed with each other at me and scoffed, "She actually did it."

There's a sort of "sub-humanness" that accompanies these encounters; an utterly pronounced exposure of the worst of me. Every day I went to school and I learned- in small, big, and regular doses- that I was pathetic.

And while they never made fun of my body size, I became so paranoid that I thought anything about me was grounds for scrutiny. For example, I once sat in class watching a movie where one character called another, "fat," at which point I looked down at the floor, embarrassed at the likely notion that I was now being looked at in association with the word.

My eating disorder first showed signs in my pre-teen years. While I don't cite the bullying as the sole reason for my disorder, I am certain that it played a role in cementing my pre-existing feelings of worthlessness.

I am certain that the effects of bullying justified the presence of my eating disorder. How could it not justify the gnawing of a distorted voice waiting to break? Amidst the traded lunches across cafeteria tables, there I was, my shame budding and beckoning. Oh, I was not enough. I was far from enough. This much I digested as fact. And so of course I would later apply their words to the tape of my own self-talk. Of course I would integrate the harshness directed at my unwelcome presence. Of course I would internalize the inherent hatred of my inherent wrongness. Of course I would choose to conceal my body under layers of clothing, subtract my worth by way of minimizing my frame, and seek comfort in food that loved and punished without fail. Of course I would burrow in the bite-and-swallow and hang my head in toilet bowls of self-dictated repentance.

It can take a while for shame to set in. During the bullying itself, I put so much gusto into fending off the messages flying at me that I didn't have the time or energy to recognize the shame that was building. And when I later started feeling badly about my body, I felt detached from the source of that shame.

Years into recovery, I have begun to remove that protective layer separating my bullying from my shame and, in doing so, make a statement whose inherent boldness is founded on its uncertainty:

"There is nothing wrong with me."

Its taken me the better part of 25 years to stop apologizing for being the person that I am. As I've recovered from my eating disorder, I have subsequently begun to take back every apology I've ever made in service of my scrutiny. I've taken back every time I've apologized for myself through hiding, body-shaming, self-injuring, and attempting in vain to control my sustenance.

Its taken me the better part of 25 years to know that I don't have to be anyone other than the person I am right now in order to warrant someone's love, friendship, or affection- even if I'm having a bad day, even if I'm feeling insecure, even if (gasp) I've gained weight!

Its taken the better part of 25 years to say, "How dare they." And furthermore, to practice compassion. After all, they were kids; insecurity had to have driven their need for a sense of power over another. Its taken me until this very moment, in fact, to realize that they too were seeking control.

I am a musician today. The auditorium chorus seats from which I rose are behind me now. These days, I sit and rise from a piano bench; I use my voice to proudly reinforce my already-visible presence.

"Do I think I'm pretty" today? I think I'm beautiful, in fact: with or without permission.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Loving My Body in the Grey, by McCall Dempsey

Body image. The elusive positive body image that your treatment team constantly chatters about. Sure it would be nice to love your body, but let’s be real here, the notion of loving your body after spending years hating it is frankly insane.

Love my body? That was not in the cards for me unless I lost weight. My eating disorder told me that I could not be happy, I could not go out with friends, I could not go to prom unless I was a certain weight or size. I believed the only way to love my body was to be a size perfect with flat abs and narrow hips. I spent fifteen years in the grips of an eating disorder, killing myself to achieve that perfect body. I was dying to find happiness, but ‘size perfect’ meant anything but joy. It meant sadness. It meant sick.

Even after I spent three months in treatment, I still hated my body, probably even more than before! I really had to ‘white-knuckle it’ through some days. I no longer wanted eating disorder symptoms and behaviors to rule my life, but I could hardly stand the body that I was left with. It was truly painful to sit with the anxiety and dissatisfaction I had with my body. On those difficult ‘white-knuckle’ days, I relied on the people I had come to trust most in this world: my treatment team. They always said that body image would be the last thing to come around. And while it seemed nearly impossible to believe them, I trusted them and knew that one day it would get better.

I know I am not alone in this mindset of body perfection being the key to happiness. Eating disorder or not, we are inundated with messages telling us to eat this and wear that. We see countless images a day of unrealistic (and unattainable) bodies. These images become what we hold our own body image standards to, which ultimately leads to failure because the images are not real to begin with.

Like most of us who have battled an eating disorder, I am also a recovering perfectionist who lived in a world of black and white extremes. My ideas surrounding body image acceptance did not escape my extreme black and white thinking. I thought you had to love your body 24/7 to have a healthy relationship with it. In my mind, positive body image meant running down the beach in a thong bikini screaming, “I love my body.” Eventually, I snapped out of my black and white brain and began to live life in the “Body Grey.”

Body Grey is a practice of love and acceptance. Loving your body and being in the Body Grey is about being present in YOUR skin. It is about acceptance and freedom from those consuming thoughts, pressures and worries. To not care what your eating disorder (and the media) says and to know you are accepted and loved just as you are. Positive body image isn’t about looking a certain way, being a certain size or even loving your body day in and day out. Just like recovery, not everyday with your body is going to be a thousand rainbows and sunny skies. We will still have our ‘yuck’ body days. And guess what? That’s okay! Finding peace with your body can feels impossible and the journey can be exhausting at times. It is not easy. It is a process of patience, trust and more patience. But I can personally attest that it is possible to learn to love your body. After years of abusing my body, my relationship with it has come full circle. What I have come to understand through the journey of recovery is that being happy with your body starts with acceptance: accepting yourself from the INSIDE out. Once I let go of what I thought my body ‘should’ look like and began to love the person that I was, I found myself in a functional and happy relationship with my body. Today, I am proud to say I live a delightful life in the grey. Gone are the days of extreme thinking and body hate. Here to stay is the love I have found for my body in the grey. Won’t you join me in learning to love your body in the grey?


Photo by David Humphries

                   

Friday, February 21, 2014

Recovery: A Forever Journey, by Mallory Faye

Recovery isn’t a destination; it is a forever journey. Does this mean it never gets better or you can’t win the fight over your eating disorder? Absolutely not. The struggle against your eating disorder gets easier and you become stronger in recovery, but with an eating disorder there is never a closed chapter or a closed door. There is hope, hope that better days are ahead, with hope, the sky is the limit. We still need to remember we are living in reality, not a perfect world. Just like your life with your eating disorder never gets to be perfect, recovery isn’t perfect either.

I set out for recovery five years ago when my life had become unmanageable, living ten years with my eating disorder. I was striving to be “thin,” to be “perfect.” The thing is, after ten years that wasn’t achieved, the only thing I was winning at was the fact that I was so miserable and at the point where I had lost everything and almost my life. The idea that I was one day going to achieve this ideal body shape and be the most beautiful girl in the world was my unrealistic perfectionism. I had reached a goal that was supposed to be perfect, but in my eyes it was far from it. This is because the word perfect doesn’t exist.

With the idea of this perfect life with my eating disorder that clearly was never going to become sunshine and rainbows as I once believed, I set out for recovery, a battle that would be lost during some rounds, but won during others. To change my life and make a complete 180 with my habits and my thinking was really challenging. With practice, it didn’t make perfect, but it made it easier and less foreign to me. It is like the first day you are in Spanish class you are really confused and have no idea what the teacher is saying, but eventually you begin to learn the language and you pass the tests.

Recovery is like a rollercoaster, there are ups and there are downs and occasionally there can be huge dips that make your stomach drop. That is what it is, good moments that make you so happy, you have a smile on your face, tough moments where your strength may falter, and then there is the dips, the big falls where you may relapse in a bad hour. The thing is, life isn’t a straight line and it isn’t this high every minute. Much of the time it is dealing with the moments of just being okay and dealing with the grey area of life. The thing is the day is either great or it is terrible for us perfectionists, but our day can just be adequate and being okay with that.

To this date, being in a solid recovery for over 4 years now, there is still a rollercoaster effect. My life isn’t perfect, far from it. My life is good, I am happy, learning Mallory, and doing what I love. Then, there are days where I want to stay in bed all day and cry because something bad happened or there was a trigger that made me want to go back to my eating disorder, but I don’t. My eating disorder is no longer an option for me and it doesn’t have to be for you either. There comes a point in time when you are done making excuses for why you need the comfort of you eating disorder and how you are strong enough to make it through the really rough moments. That is what I did, I was ready to make my eating disorder not an option. Today, that is what my life looks like, it doesn’t involve moments with my eating disorder, but there are moments where it tries to take me over, but I don’t let it. We can beat this disease, together we can start a revolution and hold out hope for better days. It does get better, my eating disorder is no longer on top of me, it is way down the street from me. Never give up and always keep hope alive, because recovery is possible. There is never a day in recovery, your life you aren’t learning and growing, days you aren’t making mistakes or making strides to become better from it. Just remember that I have been there at the bottom and climbed my way to the top and you can reach the top too. Keep fighting and believe. Enjoy the beautiful ride and journey of recovery and all it can teach you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Body Image: On My Journey to Loving Myself, by Kristin Bulzomi

Body image has always been a struggle for me. Even before my eating disorder, I would say awful things to myself about my body. I could never seem to find peace with the way I looked. I was never enough—tall enough, thin enough, pretty enough—for myself.

That hatred and discontent led me into my eating disorder where my body image was even worse. I thought I could fix the issues I had and become “perfect” (as if that existed). I fought and fought myself to be enough but nothing I did or “achieved” was enough. I could not fix flaws in myself that did not exist except in my head, though I did not know this at the time.

Through recovery I have come to understand that perfection does not exist and I am enough as I am. Even still I struggle with being kind towards myself and finding peace in my body. Automatic negative thoughts still linger in my head after many years of residency. Not to mention I am still growing accustomed to this new recovered body of mine and it is really, really hard.

I have heard my team members/providers say many times that body image is the last to go. That simply means that it is one of the last struggles in recovery from an eating disorder. I definitely believe it because after overcoming so much (behaviors, food fears, etc.), I still struggle with my body image.

But, it is getting better. Little by little, it is getting better. As with everything in recovery, I have been fighting to overcome my body image struggles and it is getting better.

Here are a few ways I have battling my body image struggles:

1. “Wear what’s comfortable.” – Dress yourself in clothes that fit comfortably. It sounds easy, but it can be hard. With a changing body in recovery, there are various clothes that may or may not fit. Choose something that feels good on your body. It will make a huge difference on how you feel about your body.
2. Avoid triggers. – If you still have triggering magazines around or you visit certain sites that make you hyper-focused on your body, stop. Make a decision that you are going to care for yourself instead. You probably know what triggers you to self-hate your body, so make the decision for recovery instead.
3. Stop the negative talk! – Avoid talking badly about yourself. It is really easy to go to those automatic negative thoughts you have about yourself and your body. Instead, try catching yourself and stopping.
4. Say something nice. – If you look good once day, give yourself a compliment. It is okay if it is about how good you look in your jeans or how stylish you are. Just a nice comment here or there is a start.
5. Challenge: Engage in positive talk! – This is truly a challenge because not everyone can say something positive about themselves. I know I have not always been able to find something. Definitely keep working towards loving yourself and finding those things that you like about you.

Body image is hard. I work on it daily. I know, however, like everything else in recovery, that I can overcome my struggles. It is not impossible to find love in myself and I know the more I engage in little feats of kindness and non-negative talk, the closer I will get to finally being able to say that I love the way I look and the body I am in. Recovery is always possible.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Freedom Through the Reins, by Treena Hall

There once was a time where my life where it was barely a life at all. I struggled through each day, worrying about each calorie that entered my body and if I had overeaten. “ Would I gain weight from this cracker?” Was a question that I asked myself all too often. I had developed anorexia nervosa. My story began at an early age. I was too young to be worrying about my weight, food, and calories. I should have been worried about my Barbie, playing hide and seek and running around with my friends. Anorexia had stolen that away from me, for I wasn’t a child as I should have been. I was a young girl trapped in a prison within her mind. My worse enemy had also been my best friend, and “she” nearly killed me. I felt like no one would understand why I didn’t want to gain weight, and why I felt so out of control all of time. I could barely understand it myself. I felt alone, very alone. My world began to become very small, and I didn’t care. All I did care about was feeling safe within my anorexia. This safety was actually not safe at all. I was disappearing …physically and emotionally. “ What is it you want me to do?” Nothing, I replied. If only I could answer her questions just in the way I needed to. Where would I even begin to start to tell her I am starving myself to death? If only she could see how I comfort myself when I am frightened and scared of gaining weight. If only… As I lie in bed and reflect on the last words she had said to me, I tried to fight back the tears. Mom will never understand. Shaking quietly with the covers over my head, the teddy bear’s arm secured around my neck, I slip away from my world, to a place where I cannot feel any pain, silently, as tears fall onto my teddy bears face. Now Teddy is the one crying and not I, for good girls never cry. “` Journal entry

I had no smile left, no glim in my eyes or felt any emotions. What I did experience was numbness. I was paralyzed with fear and walking through my life with anorexia at my side. Well it really wasn’t a life, it was a painful existence that I felt like I needed to be in.

The one light in my life, and one that anorexia took away was my connection with horses. I had felt as a young girl, even before the anorexia, that I was meant to be around horses. When I was near them, I felt joy, comfort and unconditional love, even before I understood what that meant. When anorexia came into my life, I did not allow myself to feel these things. My anorexia told me that I didn’t deserve to feel good, and at that time, I believed it.

It wasn’t until I had struggled for sometime, that I finally sought treatment. I didn’t see that I was sick and I certainly couldn’t see that I was too thin. I couldn’t see what others saw. What I saw was what my anorexia told me I was “ out of control”” fat” “ugly” and “disgusting”. It wasn’t until I began treatment that the voice of anorexia began to silence itself, and the voice of who I really am could be heard, which was not what the anorexia told me. Anorexia had almost taken my life, more than once, and it was time to let it go.

During my treatment journey, I finally allowed myself to reconnect to the bond I felt with horses. They had served as my strength when I was felt like giving up. On those nights, where anorexia had beaten me up, I would dream about running on the beach with a horse, and feeling only joy and happiness. This “dream” had become a lifeline for me, a line that I held onto tightly.

It became so clear to me that my connection to horses was what saved my life (along with treatments, it took many hospitalizations before I would loosen the anorexic grip). My journey through anorexia and my love for horses became a way for me to help others that are exactly where I once was. I wanted to give people the chance to connect with a horse while on their journey toward recovery. Horses are wonderful teachers for us, mirroring our emotions, showing us things about who we REALLY are, and not what the anorexia is telling us. Horses are indeed healers, just by being themselves. Loving unconditionally and accepting us wherever we are at.

Through developing my equine program, “Raise Your Wings’, I have learned a great deal more about myself. Though the reasons for my struggle are complex, my purpose isn’t, which simply is to help others that are struggling. I have landed into a place of health, happiness and the ability to make a difference with the horses. Isn’t this what life is about? I certainly believe it is.

Today, I live completely free from anorexia. I rarely think back to the time where I once was, but when I do, it is always to share my story. Always hoping that my journey will help someone see that there is a life beyond anorexia. My life is no longer as it once was.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Body Image Advice, by Julie Carr

Hello! My name is Julie, and I am a nursing student and am recovering from an eating disorder. I created an organization to help others who are also suffering from mental health illnesses. My organization is called Running Without Ed which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization to help raise money for eating disorder treatment scholarships. I suffered from terrible body image and an eating disorder for most of my teenage years. I am now fully recovered from my eating disorder but still suffer from bad body image at times. Here is an excerpt from my story about my recovery posted on RunningWIthoutEd.wordpress.com:

“This long, and emotionally painful, but very rewarding experience has given me my life back. I am no longer just surviving; I am actually living a life. I am finally in the process of achieving my dream of receiving a college degree. The most important things that have come out of treatment are more self-awareness, new coping skills, and the drive I have to accomplish my goals. My eating disorder got in the way of attending college the first time, and I will NEVER let that happen again. With all the professional help, and support I received, I can say this with confidence. Recovering from an eating disorder will be the hardest thing I ever have to do. I will have lapses and I will make mistakes. But most importantly I will learn from each difficult experience and be able to cope with it, and come out stronger in the end. I’m working on building my strength emotionally, physically, and spiritually. From the greatest pains, come the greatest strengths.”

Life is SO much more than looks and appearance despite what you see in the media today. Everywhere you turn there are digitally altered models on weight loss ads. Society gives us an unhealthy and unrealistic ideal body image. Here are my tips to help keep your mind off of the unrealistic unattainable body! These tips are from my personal experience only and are not in any way professional advice.

• Turn off the TV, computer, and phone. Enjoy time outside or inside quiet time.
• Start a new hobby like crocheting or knitting
• Give away too small clothing that may be your "goal". Its only giving yourself the message that you are not good enough the way you are, which is NOT true
• Surround yourself with positive people who don't focus on their bodies and weight loss
• Change your dialog to your body. (I'm too fat to wear shorts--> I am good enough the way I am, I will wear shorts that fit my body on hot days)
• Un-follow negative people on the internet.
• Make a list of “reasons to recover” to help motivate you
• Go mirror less! If you spend too much time criticizing yourself, cover the mirror with positive notes!
• Post an Operation Beautiful note with a positive affirmation in your room! (www.operationbeautiful.com)
• Smash the scale!! Let the doctor weigh you at your well-visit! Focus on how your body feels not how much it weighs


Monday, February 17, 2014

Self-Care Begins with Self-Awareness, by Arielle Lee Bair

Self-care sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? We hear about it all the time. We know it’s something we are supposed to implement in our lives. What we don’t often hear is that self-care begins with self-awareness. Self-awareness makes for a better person, and I’ve come to see self-awareness as an adventure. Sometimes you like it and sometimes you don’t. But you’re taking the journey with yourself. Sometimes it’s a bumpy ride. Sometimes it’s a smooth one. You are both the driver AND the passenger.

If I can be an expert of nothing else, I want to be an expert of ME. Don’t you?

Self-awareness doesn’t have to be about life-altering, game-changing instances. It doesn’t even have to be about problems. At the core, self-awareness is simply about emotions. That’s it. Emotions.

Emotions fuel reactions.
Emotions fuel actions.
Emotions determine mood.
Emotions guide decisions.

Emotions, it turns out, are incredibly important.

But sometimes they feel larger than we are. Sometimes we don’t want to believe them. Sometimes we pretend they don’t exist. Sometimes we embrace them in order to escape other, scarier ones. There are as many scenarios as there are emotions.

But as a pioneer of your own self, you must go forward. In eating disorder recovery and in life, being a pioneer of your own self is major. It’s key. It’s mandatory.

Once you’ve been drawn into the journey of self-awareness, you’re on your way to real self-care. Sometimes the journey involves arguing with yourself. You might want to give yourself a piece of your mind and really let all your frustration out. But at times, that means you have to face what’s bothering you... and not all the things we learn about ourselves feel good.

Eventually, with a little gasp, you let yourself recognize it, whatever IT is. Wide-eyed and nodding, you may decide you can and will stop the denial/defiant ego/self-pity/awkwardness that lies inside of all of us.

And even though it might not make you jump for joy or grin from ear to ear, it’s usually never as bad as it felt at first. And by staring straight into the face of whatever is inside of you with 1) a little confidence, 2) the reminder that you’re human, and 3) the desire to learn about yourself, you’re one step closer to being a master of self-awareness. Your eating disorder doesn’t stand a chance against a master of self-awareness. If mastery seems far away, an impossible goal that’s too ideal, imagine yourself as a traveler on the path of self-awareness. As a traveler, you will learn and experience. Self-care will become an inevitable circumstance of your path. And your eating disorder will watch from the sidelines, bewildered and immobile. A traveler keeps going. A traveler doesn’t stop to entertain the notions of a destructive, negative entity. With self-awareness on your side, you travel the path you’ve set for yourself. You may not always be in control of what happens on that path, but you’re in charge.

Self-care begins with self-awareness. The intricate workings of ourselves deserve time, attention, appreciation, and care. You can’t give any of those things to yourself if you’re working behind a closed door. Open it. And even if it takes a while, don’t be afraid to look inside.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Eating Disorders Awareness Month: Another Step Forward, by Brian Cuban

As we approach Eating Disorder Awareness month for 2014, I think back to the fall of 1979. My freshman year at Penn State University. I was a brutally shy teen who had been fat shamed at home by his mother and bullied at school over his weight, even physically assaulted. A teen who wanted only acceptance from his mother who called him a “fat pig” when he ate too much and the kids at school who teased him over his protruding stomach, telling him he should “wear a bra” That child had few friends and preferred the isolation of his bedroom where he could fantasize about holding a girls hand. Going to the prom. Hanging out with the kids who rejected him either explicitly or in his mind. A depressed, lonely child who finally decided that the only way to achieve these things was to take control of the only thing he knew how, food.

That boy began to starve himself. Deny himself food. He began to lose weight, Lots of it. He weighed himself obsessively. He continually looked at himself in the mirror. He was mystified, depressed and in agony every time he saw his reflection. Nothing had changed. He still saw a huge stomach. He still saw a “dumb bunny” as his mother had called him so often. No matter how much food he denied himself and how thin he got, he saw a fat, stupid child that one wanted to be around. He had become anorexic. He had no idea what that was. He just knew that each meal he missed, each pound he lost, was one more step towards the acceptance he wanted so badly. He would hold a girls hand. He would kiss a girl. He would go on a date. Tomorrow would be different. Just one more pound...

The pounds kept coming off. The mirror image never changed. Something had to be done! He discovered bulimia. He had no idea what that was either. He just knew that it made him feel good. Like the denial of food, binging and purging me him feel normal each time he did it. For a brief moment. Then the shame set in. Tomorrow would be different. Depression became more intense. Another binge and purge cycle to get that normal feeling again. The vicious cycle of bulimia. A cycle that would not release its grip for twenty-seven more years.

That boy became a man. He graduated from college and law school. He was still the eleven years old. He still saw that terrible image in the mirror. In the store window. Binging and purging game him temporary relief for an evening. He discovered alcohol to deaden the pain. He became an alcoholic. He discovered drugs and steroids to create someone new who was confident and unafraid.. He became a drug addict. None of it changed how he felt about himself. The disgust. The distorted reflection. Finally the suicidal thoughts.

That boy who became a man. Unable to sustain relationships. Married and divorced again and again. Unable to open up to those who loved him. Unable to be intimate on any level because he was so ashamed of his body, hiding his bulimic behavior.. The overwhelming shame of a male with an eating disorder and now Body Dysmorhpic Disorder. That man feels deep into the abyss Total darkness. Gun in hand. No hope that that eleven-year-old boy would ever be normal. Then finally he saw a light. The light of love. The light of not wanting to lose those he loved because he was unable to help himself. He had to take a step forward. A step into recovery. A step into the light. Just one small one. So hard. So Afraid. An inch forward with honestly. Honestly about where he had been. Honesty about where he was. He took it. No one laughed. No one shamed him. There was only love and support. He took another. Then one more. The process of recovery from a life of destructive behavior designed to do only one thing, change that distorted image in the mirror to gain love and acceptance. The more steps he took the more he learned that love and acceptance is for how he was, not whom he thought he needed to be. He only needed to be himself. His true self. Here I am. Brian Cuban. I am still recovering. I am alive. I will take another step tomorrow. I will love myself. It’s a process.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

From Paper to Positivity, by Bianca Pisciola

Have you ever thought about how powerful a piece of paper can be? Whether it be a university acceptance letter, a love note or a birth certificate, sometimes a little piece of paper can have an amazing impact. I realized this at 12 when my teacher assigned my class a unique activity. The activity consisted of us anonymously writing down the things we liked about our fellow classmates. At the end of the class, the papers we were using to write our compliments were collected. Our teacher told us she would give us each an individual list with all the compliments we received the next day.

Sure enough, the next day she went around handing out these lists. The paper itself was completely unextraordinary, it was folded up a couple times and it had a strange rainbow graphic all over it. Despite the terrible stationary, the list made me incredibly happy. I looked down the paper, reading all the compliments one by one. There were comments saying I was kind, artistic, funny and… Beautiful? I froze. I looked down at the word again, almost expecting it to morph in front of my eyes into something else. But it stayed where it was. I didn’t know what to make of it.

When I was a kid, there was a period of time in which I was overweight. The teasing I experienced was enough to make me feel constantly self conscious, and I became quite analytical with the way I ate. That in combination with taking up a new sport, ended up causing me to lose a fair bit of weight. The weight I lost meant I was at a point where I was in a healthy weight category. I thought that once I reached my goal I would be happy, but that wasn’t the case. I may have stopped obsessing with my weight, but almost instantly I found new things I wanted to “change”. Instead of being confident I was more insecure than ever. I didn’t want to stay that way, so I decided earlier that year I would focus on the things I did like instead of the parts I wanted to change. Whenever I wanted to obsess over a flaw I would just find something I loved and I’d focus on that. This newfound positivity allowed me to be able to believe that I was beautiful, no matter what anyone else said.

But that paper proved to me that my positive thinking had improved my life in ways I hadn’t even considered. I thought that I was beautiful and even though other peoples opinions may differ that was okay. I never considered that me believing in my beauty would allow other people to think I was beautiful too. When I was insecure and self deprecating I was never called beautiful. Even though my physical appearance remained the same, the ugly negative thoughts I had when I was insecure didn’t allow me to be the beautiful person I was. It was only when I began to believe in myself did other people believe in me too.

A piece of paper may not seem like much, it’s flimsy, rippable and plain. But that paper I recieved at 12 helped validate the positive ideology I now live by and have founded my own non profit organization on. I started this piece by talking about how powerful a piece of paper can be, and though I believe that can be the case at times I think this situation was different. Sure, this paper validated my thinking, but what was powerful was the shift in thinking. The shift to positivity. Because only when I could find the words to describe myself could other people begin to try and describe me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Stigma of Being Fat, by Emily Dick

Let’s face it, if you aren’t “skinny”...life can be really tough for you. “Fat” isn’t just a term that is associated with body size, it is a term that is loaded with other implications such as being lazy, sloppy and ugly. The way society views “skinny” is very different....skinny is associated with being beautiful, successful, confident and motivated.

Not only do “fat” people have to deal with the pressures from society and the media they also are faced with real life bullies who reinforce the thin ideal.

Recently, movie actress Jennifer Lawrence spoke out about how the media bullies celebrities and how this translates to young viewers in their own lives. She explained that “when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls who are watching these television shows, and picking up how to talk and how to be cool, so then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl who's wearing an ugly dress.” The same way a young girl might make fun of an outfit, they learn to make fun of other girls’ size. Lawrence also stated that “I think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on tv...because why is humiliating people funny.”

While I doubt the word fat will be banned on television any time soon, I think the point Lawrence was making is very important. The term fat has become associated with an insult and insults and mean. Insults lead to bullying and bullying can actually influence unhealthy eating which can develop into eating disorders.

It’s a common misconception that eating disorders are only for skinny people. There are many girls that have eating disorders and are still considered fat. The biggest misconception is that individuals choose to be fat because all they do is eat and don’t care about their bodies. This is so wrong. First of all, being fat can be result of several reasons, including genes and metabolism. Regardless of what the media tells us, being fat does not necessarily mean a person is unhealthy. Some people who are fat DO eat healthy and DO exercise. Many of the girls I work with at Danielle’s Place Eating Disorder Support Centre have told me that their eating disorders were not taken seriously because of the way they looked. Many of their doctors would not diagnose them with an eating disorder because they weren’t “skinny” enough. Even some in the medical field are dismissing disordered eating problems because typically you have to be in a certain weight category to have a problem. This is incorrect.

We need to stop judging people based on the way their bodies look and ensure that every girl is instilled with the skills or help that is needed to combat negative body image, disordered eating and other body image issues.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

PEDAW Clothing Drive, by Nafiza Ali

Love our bodies, love ourselves. That phrase echoed with me for quite some time. I couldn’t quite understand why it has become such a challenge to love who we are both physically and emotionally. I first got involved with PEDAW because of my passion to help people recognize both their inner and outer beauty. We are constantly bogged down by the negativity we hear and see in the world that we no longer accept ourselves for who we are. I think we are all extraordinary people that bring a unique gift in every interaction we have with one another.

I decided to run a clothing drive because I realized how guilty I used to be with keeping clothes that were either way too big or too small for me. I remember sitting on my bed and thinking why did I even bother keeping all of this stuff especially since I don’t wear it. It hit me that I wore too big of clothes on days that I wanted to hide my body and I kept too small clothes in hopes to fit into them again. I shared this with a few friends of mine who admitted doing the same thing. This is how the idea of running a clothing drive began to form. I decided to use being a full-time student as an advantage by setting up a small space in the student lounge with empty boxes in the spring. I sent out a mass email to all the students and faculty calling this event Spring Cleaning. The boxes kept filling up during the two weeks the clothing drive ran. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and ecstatic with all the feedback I received from my colleagues. I chose Directions Youth Services Centre as a place to donate the clothing. It is an organization that provides Vancouver’s homeless youth and youth at-risk with support, guidance and striving towards positive change. Sarah, the outreach worker at Directions, was very grateful for the donation on behalf of PEDAW and was excited to distribute them to the youth that frequented the facility. I felt so proud of the time people took to look through their closets and to donate to a wonderful cause that I decided to run the clothing drive again in November. This time I let it run for the whole month and once again received a great amount of clothing donations. The theme for the second drive was Let’s Keep One Another Warm. The clothing was once again donated to Directions Youth Services Centre.

My place with PEDAW is to promote healthy body images and positive thinking in ways that can support the community. Keeping clothes in our closest that are too big or too small is damaging to one’s self-esteem. Life is to be enjoyed and rather than keeping items that oppress your confidence, why not start by making healthy choices and focusing on all the great qualities about oneself. So I say, get rid of the baggage and be happy with the body you have today. It takes you from point A to B, let’s you experience good and bad but most importantly it allows for the opportunity to interact with the world and all that it can offer. Now, how can you stay mad at your body for that?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance, by Kathleen Rea

For a decade I suffered from bulimia. During my recovery, I came to know Merryl Bear, the director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). She had heard that I was a dancer with the National Ballet Company of Canada and asked if I would choreograph and perform a dance based on my recovery at their upcoming conference. I said yes even though the prospect of being open about my struggles scared me.

Creating the dance solo was a challenge because the subject was still raw. I felt so vulnerable. Finally, after months of rehearsal, I waited backstage at the theatre where the conference was being held. My hands clenched into fists and my shoulders tightened in an effort to collect the strength to walk on stage. This would be the first time I admitted publicly that I suffered from an eating disorder, and doing so took all the muscle I had. A large empty mirror frame stood at center-stage, waiting for me; the partner that would give meaning to my performance. I breathed in and took a step into the light. As I did so I heard someone in the theatre gasp and say, “She’s so thin!” Her tone was sharp and brittle. I wondered if this audience member thought I was part of the problem, and that just by standing there on stage my size was encouraging people to starve and dislike their bodies. I took another step towards the mirror frame. Further murmurs of judgments about my size rippled through the theatre. My body froze. I felt that I didn’t belong here, that I was too thin to be spokesperson for positive body image.

I was immobilised not just by a feeling of not being accepted but also by the irony of my situation, because just one hour ago I had been made to feel shamefully overweight.

The theatre where the NEDIC conference took place was across the street from another theatre, where I was dancing in the premiere performance of The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo & Juliet. During intermission, I had run across the street to perform at the NEDIC conference. My required performance weight at the National Ballet Company was bone thin. This was not my choice but the weight required of me to keep my job. For the past five years I had struggled to maintain this unnatural shape. I was told that, because of my “large breasts” (I was a B cup size), I had to be even thinner than the other girls. Those of us with “large breasts” were so ashamed of our womanly curves that we would bind our chests for performances. Our ballet rehearsal mistress frequently told me that I would lose a role unless I dropped weight. I was constantly on a starvation diet. Then after dieting intensely for days, a famished "creature" would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower. In a trance-like state, I would binge on all the foods my strict diet denied me. Emerging from my daze, I would try to erase the calories through various methods of purging. And yet somehow, my struggles with eating were not the worst part. That honor went to the hatred I felt towards my body, and the shame I internalized for not having the willpower to maintain my starvation diet. I often slept on the bathroom floor fighting the urge to find relief through self-harming. I would lie like that on the cold tiles until morning because the comfort of my bed seemed too indulgent for someone who was such a failure. One morning, after a particularly traumatic night, I scraped myself off the bathroom floor and I looked in the mirror at my sunken eyes. I saw in them that I was dying -- a soul death that would eventually result in a physical death if I stayed on the path I was on.

I chose life. I found an eating disorder therapist and began the recovery process. I spoke with the ballet company, telling them I was in recovery from an eating disorder and might gain weight, but that I would try to get back to my performance weight as quickly as possible. Shortly after this, the company went on tour to Washington, D.C. After we returned, the artistic director told me I had been far too fat to appear onstage, but due to so many dancers being injured, they were forced to keep me in the performance lineup. As a result, he informed me, I had embarrassed the nation of Canada on the international stage! By the time of the Romeo & Juliet premiere, I had been told that I was fired because of my weight. They allowed me to finish up the last months of my contract, but only cast me in parts that called for long dresses to hide my “overly large” legs. So there I was, onstage at the NEDIC conference, with legs that were apparently “too thin”. Eight feet in front of me, my mirror frame beckoned me to join it in a dance. My legs felt unsure of their identity and refused to move. Across the street I was too big, and now I was too small. I wondered at what point in crossing the street this change had occurred. Was it when I walked by the yellow car, or when I had to stop to let the bus pass by? I almost laughed. I was both too fat and too thin, simultaneously. There was no winning. I had been searching for body acceptance externally, and I realised in that moment that it did not exist out there. The ludicrousness of the situation gave me clarity, and in a flash I realised that the only place I could find self-acceptance was within myself. My body naturally settled upon this size when I stopped starving myself and it felt right for me. Feeling rushed back into my legs. I took a step forward, followed by another. The murmurs about my body quieted. I reached up to touch the mirror frame and on cue, the music started. It was time to tell my story. And tell my story I did. The steps I took on that stage changed me. I went on to perform my mirror frame piece for fifteen years in various high schools and eating disorder treatment centres across Canada. My healing dance resonated with and gave inspiration to people who suffered from eating disorders and body image issues. In the post-performance chats, I promoted body acceptance not only as acceptance of larger sizes, but as acceptance of the healthy range of sizes we all come in. You get to choose how you feel about your body – not others. Healthy bodies come in a vast range of sizes, from big to small and everything in-between. Society will always have and promote different, constantly changing opinions on what the ‘perfect size’ is. I have learned the hard way that there is no right size beyond the one that you were born to be.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learning to Love Yourself, by Priyanka Parshad

 I am a good person and I know it.


The feeling of never being good enough is the birthplace of eating disorders and it is a sentiment that I know intimately. I suffered from a serious eating disorder years ago which, at its lowest point, resulted in my admittance to a partial-hospitalization program. When I finally realized that learning to love myself gave me more joy than changing myself, I recovered and never looked back. Here's how I rebuilt my broken self-esteem and began living the healthy, balanced lifestyle I lead today.

You are what you think 

In the same manner that failing health can stress our minds, our negative thoughts can make us feel physically unwell. According to the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH) poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions. Some good habits to nurture the mind+body connection are practising positive thinking, exercising for pleasure, and consuming enough food to nourish our minds and bodies. My personal favourites are reading daily positive affirmations (like the French one pictured above), making sure I step away from my desk at lunchtime, and inviting friends over to try out fun new recipes.


Throw away your "goal" clothes

Getting dressed in the morning used to be one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of my day because my closet contained piles of clothes that I had bought when I was underweight. I would often try on those clothes and feel disgusted with my post-recovery body. Then, my therapist advised me to only keep my healthy weight clothes and put away the rest. With time, I noticed that my weight stayed the same but my body image improved drastically - something I thought would only happen if I lost weight. It made me see that I blamed my body for making me feel bad when the real culprit was constantly trying on clothes that didn't fit me.

End "Fat-Talk" 

When you contemplate the qualities in people you treasure the most, how many of those are based on appearance? Very few, I presume. Use this knowledge to stop fretting over your physical insecurities. Don't put your body down in front of others, especially your loved ones. People who love you think you're great just as you are, and when you complain about your body, others will also begin to self-criticize. When you hear appearance-based commentary, try to direct the conversation elsewhere and resist the urge to join in.

Nurture your self-esteem

Get into the habit of making deposits into your "Self-Esteem Bank" by doing something for yourself that you never thought you deserved. Examples include decorating your home for your own enjoyment, taking a class you always wanted to try, and reading a good book. With continued investment in doing things that bring you joy, you will find that you are worthy and deserving of the same care and attention you give to others.

Comparisons are toxic

I've admired an individual's physical attribute on many occasions, only for them to complain that it is a nuisance to them: those who are taller than me have trouble finding shoes in their size, those who are naturally thin can only fit into unfashionable children's clothing, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that magazines telling you how to 'score the perfect body' airbrushed in their editorials would lose readership if they replaced the diet and fitness plans with Photoshop tutorials. It brings to mind my favourite quote by Naomi Wolf, "We as women are trained to see ourselves as cheap imitations of fashion photographs, rather than seeing fashion photographs as cheap imitations of women.”

Understand your motivations

I always wondered where my inextinguishable fire to look "perfect" originated. I hoped that if I understood it, I could put out the fire. I learned that it's in the best interest of marketers to make us feel deeply unhappy with our current appearance. After all, if you felt good dressed the way you are, in the body you were born in, you wouldn’t purchase products with the aim of adapting to society's unattainable beauty ideals. When I realized that this pressure existed so that corporations could earn money and not because physical perfection was a true measure of worthiness, I began to accept myself as I was.

Give yourself a break

Deconstructing the eating disorder mindset and building your self-esteem is no simple feat. I often found myself questioning all the effort and energy I put towards my goals because sometimes improvement came so slowly. When you feel defeated, remember that you're not necessarily in a downward spiral - there is such a thing as an upward spiral! Focus on what you learn from your setbacks and use it as an opportunity to gain new tools of self-discovery. I consider all my setbacks as upward spirals, which lifted me towards a complete recovery.

It is my sincere wish that these reflections will help you re-evaluate how you feel in times of low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. Taking these lessons with you and practising these habits will inspire those around you who are in need of a positive body-image role model. In a society that rewards improvements on your outer shell, cultivating your inner spirit is a challenging task, so give yourself credit for attempting to shift your perspective.

Monday, February 10, 2014

3 Ways to Kick Your Eating Disorder to the Curb...for Good!, by Kelly Boaz

When I was 21, I left eating disorder treatment for the second time. For months I had been shielded from the world - our exposure to the media was limited, we weren't allowed to talk about weight, or calories, or share diet tips. Our food was prepared for us, and portioned out exactly. We were surrounded by other people who were going through the same thing, and were monitored 24/7 by trained professionals. It wasn't easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but we were supported every step of the way.

BOOM!

My time in treatment was up. For the first time in a long time I was alone, and in a place that couldn't be more different than the treatment centre: the airport. There were magazines that boasted foolproof ways to ditch those extra pounds. The TVs stationed throughout the airport played weight-loss commercials and workout shows. The food court had a million options in unfamiliar portions, and I had to choose what I wanted to eat - alone. Staying in recovery in "the real world" is a challenge like no other. While you're trying to get your exercise under control, the world is telling you that you have "no excuse" for sitting on the couch. While you're struggling to stick to your meal plan, the girl at the next table is loudly discussing her latest juice cleanse. You log into Facebook to distract yourself from the noise in your head, and a friend has posted an article titled "The 5 Foods Guaranteed To Make You Fat". With all this noise floating around, how do you stay in recovery?

1. Don't let a lapse become a relapse. You're going to have hard days, and you're going to slip. Your job is to stop beating yourself up for not being perfect in recovery, and get back on the horse. Eat the next meal regardless of whether you skipped the last one or you ate more than you'd planned to. Once you're safely back on track, figure out what made you slip. It's easy to default to "I felt fat", but can you look at what else is going on? Maybe you haven't been sleeping well, or your hormones are acting up. Maybe someone said something hurtful, and you fell back into using food to cope. Journal it out, talk about it with a friend, and make a plan for how you can avoid a lapse next time. Maybe you need to turn off Netflix and get to bed at a better time. Maybe you need to stand up for yourself when you're hurt, instead of letting the wound fester.

2. Build a support system. Fighting an eating disorder on your own can be a really lonely thing. It's also really easy to ignore the warning signs that you're slipping without someone else there who knows what's going on. Pick professionals you trust to be on your team - a therapist, a nutritionist, an MD, whoever you find helpful.

If this isn't an option for you, look for a support group. Many cities offer free or low-cost support groups you can join. If there are none in your area, look for an online support group - just make sure it's run by a reputable organization. Unmoderated or informal groups can easily become triggering. If it isn't challenging you in a good way, or isn't supportive of recovery, move on.

Friends and family can also be a great support system. Just keep in mind that your loved ones may not have ever dealt with an eating disorder before, and may not know how to support you. This is a great opportunity to practice asking for what you need. Do you need them to try and help you solve your problems, or do you just need someone to listen when you're struggling? Do you need someone to cheer you on through meals, or would do you rather they keep it to a "normal" experience? Let them know what you need, and you'll set your mind at ease, as well as theirs. Remember - not everyone can be there for you all the time. Everyone has a different capacity to help, and everyone has difficult things to deal with in their own lives. A "not now" doesn't mean they don't love you - it means they're taking care of themselves, which will mean they are better equipped to support you when the time is right.

3. Keep challenging yourself. Looking back on my recovery process, many of my relapses happened when I stopped taking risks. "Cool. I ate that scary food once, now I NEVER HAVE TO EAT IT AGAIN." I hate to break it to you, but life doesn't work like that. There will always be birthday cakes. There will always be candy on Halloween. There will always be Christmas cookies, and Easter eggs, and Thanksgiving dinner. If you avoid the foods that are scary for you 364 days a year, they're going to be REALLY scary on that one day you have to confront them. If, however, you incorporate them into your life regularly, eventually the anxiety will wear off, and you can focus on the experience, rather than the fear.

And when those "5 Foods Guaranteed To Make You Fat" articles pop up? Don't read them. There isn't a food on this earth that can make you "fat" overnight. If you DO inadvertently click the link, however, challenge it. Go out and eat that food as soon as possible, and prove to your brain that there is nothing to fear. Recovery isn't easy, but the more you fight, the stronger you get. One day, you'll wake up and realize that the foods that once struck fear in your heart are now a regular part of your life. The noise in your head will get quieter, and life will become exciting, not a chore. Don't give up. Recovery is possible, and you're worth it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sharing Our Recovery Stories, by Emily Doer

In 2011 I was voluntarily admitted to the Health Sciences Centre Adult Eating Disorders Program in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The day I walked into program I wanted help, but I don’t think I realized until that moment just how much I needed. I hoped that this was the end for me – and by end I mean, the day I walked out of the PY2 psych ward I would be leaving my ED locked up behind me forever.

That was true, for the most part. It still is true, on most days.

It wasn’t easy. Treatment only works when you make it work. You have to want to recover and be ready to work at it, and luckily I finally did.

When I went into treatment I was embarrassed and ashamed, so I didn’t really tell anyone where I was going. When I came out of treatment I was completely behaviour free on most days, so I guess you could say I “recovered,” but I still didn’t want others to know.

The secret was my crutch and a way for me to keep one foot in recovery, and one foot in the past – one foot dragging behind me with the fear that I could slip back to that dark time again. I was living with this paranoia that the next trigger looming around the corner would be the one that would make me lose complete control and send me spiralling right back to square one, right back through the doors of PY2 that I promised myself I would never walk through again.

The first year out of treatment, every day I woke up with a goal of staying on track. Most days I did, some days I didn’t. But with each “good” day, each day I was behaviour free, I started to pull that dragging foot, that foot that didn’t quite want to let go of the past just yet, a little closer to the one in recovery. I started to tell others and the support made me realize that I didn’t need my crutch anymore; I didn’t need to hide behind the guilt and the shame of my secret life with ED.

I decided to plan a fundraiser for the program that saved me. I wanted to give back to this program that gave me back my life again.

I started planning Tea for E|D – a tea party fundraiser for the HSC Eating Disorders Program in 2012 almost a year to the day that I was admitted to the program in 2011. My goal was to raise $7,000 and sell 150 tickets. I still wasn’t sure if I was ready to tell my story, but I thought I could plan a small event and just hope that no one would ask why.

Different media outlets began hearing about the tea party and started approaching me asking if they could share my story, and I finally felt like I was ready.

With all of the media coverage, word of the tea party and my struggle started travelling around the city. I could have never dreamed of the overwhelming support I received from friends, family members, and complete strangers.

As the phone calls, emails, and messages kept pouring in, I couldn’t believe that I almost didn’t share my own story.

I couldn’t believe how many people are struggling with eating disorders in our community, and how many others shared their recovery story. Some people had struggled with other addictions and mental illness, and they opened up to me about those difficult times. For the first time in my journey I felt accepted, understood, and most importantly, like I wasn’t alone.

On February 10, 2013 we held the first annual Tea for E|D in support of eating disorders in Manitoba. We had over 450 people in attendance and raised over $33,000 for the program.

Eating disorders matter, mental illness matters, and talking about these issues is key. It is the key not only to encourage others to open up, but to make them feel like it’s okay to ask for help, and to believe that recovery is possible.

Recovery doesn’t come without its challenges, triggers, urges, confusion, and mistakes. But, recovery also means triumphs, growth, self-discovery, new relationships and happiness. Recovery is possible, and even on my most challenging days; I still believe this is true.

It’s not easy to open up, and we are all working at our own pace to get to different stages of recovery. This is just my journey and what I have learned from my experience.

By sharing my story, it finally meant that for the first time I was standing with my feet firmly planted together in recovery. Opening up meant I finally trusted myself and believed that I really wouldn’t be going back to that dark place again. I had finally shut the doors to PY2 with my eating disorder behind them and I can confidently say today, that is where my eating disorder will stay forever.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The 'Other' 25%: Males with Eating Disorders, by Paul Gallant

My views expressed in this brief article are based on my clinical experience, research and leadership that include supporting health care teams and health agencies. These teams and agencies have helped people with mental illness and particularly eating disorders. My views are also based upon direct individual and group work with persons who have eating disorders – including males with eating disorders.

Eating disorders, as many readers will know, are complex mental disorders that may have serious health consequences and negatively impact quality of life. For example, anorexia, one form of eating disorder has the highest mortality of all mental illnesses. If past statistics continue to represent the future, which we hope in the case of anorexia, they do not, as recent studies demonstrate that one in five persons with anorexia will die as a result of the disorder or its complications. Certainly this number would seem far too high to ignore.

Yet, much of our society, including health professionals fail to recognize or suspect eating disorders in females or males despite the sometimes apparent medical signs, symptoms and the impact of eating disorders upon society. The difficulty to easily “detect” eating disorders in both males and females, the delayed supports as a result of later recognition, plus the often delayed awareness of friends and families, does not exactly help support earlier awareness of the illness- whether a male or female.

Many readers may be surprised that the earliest medical descriptions of eating disorders, by Richard Morton, included a 16 year old boy with anorexia in 1689. Recent studies suggest that more than one in four cases of eating disorders occur in males, yet males are under represented in eating disorders’ treatment, eating disorders’ public information and in eating disorders’ research. Males are known to have all forms of eating disorders including: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). We know that some males with eating disorders:

• Were teased and/or bullied as a child • Have low self-esteem • Were overweight as a child • Have a drive for muscularity or a drive for thinness • Have co-morbidities such as substance use and depression • Cope emotionally

Who are these men and boys with eating disorders? Sometimes they are a brother, a son, a husband, a boyfriend, a father, a coworker, a student, a boss and of course oneself. Speaking of the twenty or so males I have worked with plus the many I have researched, in what limited research exists, there is at least this common theme. Each male with an eating disorder is an individual. An individual who seeks to be understood without judgment, and who often wants to recover though is uncertain how to begin without any consistent help from health care resources.

“They” cross many cultural, age and socio-economic categories. A 10 year old boy with anorexia to a 75 year old retiree with binge eating disorder, both are included in my limited understanding of the experiences of some males with eating disorders. It is also my understanding that both females and males with eating disorders are ambivalent or hesitant to seek help at various stages of their illness for many complex reasons including loss of control, trust, personal identity, and readiness to change.

Males with eating disorders may be reluctant to seek help for a variety of additional reasons compared to females with eating disorders. The reasons that men reluctantly seek treatment or help include traditionally held ideas of masculinity. Eating disorders present an additional stigma to males. Males with eating disorders may struggle with the added misperception that eating disorders are a “female only” illness.

Resources and supports that help males with eating disorders work towards recovery continue to be lacking. Often those resources that do exist are sometimes located in facilities typically identified with women or with children though indicate they are “open” to serving men as well.

In my view, we need to increasingly focus on health promotion and self-esteem. By building upon community based approaches services that include an increased awareness and early detection of eating disorders in males and females. This includes providing adequate early education in primary schools and support to family doctors and nurse practitioners to help people who have eating disorders. Evidence supports other services in the community including comprehensive approaches to obesity that do not polarize one disorder or illness against another, wellness approaches to whole self, support groups, peer-support, counseling, family therapy, and in certain instances specialist services.

I welcome your comments, feedback and alternative views.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Time to Talk E.D., by Ashley Tritt

I’ve written many things about my past struggles with an eating disorder. Sometimes, it feels as though it was so long ago, and other times the memories are fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

However, one thing is for sure: life without and eating disorder has always been so much better than life with one.

When I look back on the past two years, my decision to speak out and advocate for eating disorder (ED) awareness has probably been one of the greatest decisions of my life. Originally, my intention to open up about my past battle with anorexia was to help others—I wanted to use my experience to give hope to others currently struggling. However, I never could have anticipated the liberation and complete freedom that would come with being so honest about my experience. Although I considered myself fully recovered before deciding to speak out about EDs, being publicly open about my ED has further emphasized the importance of healing, loving life, and enjoying every day—which includes enjoying food, enjoying my body, and, above all, enjoying myself.

The reason I decided to speak about this is because I feel that in the past year, I’ve found the importance of simply speaking out. Not only does it reduce stigma surrounding eating disorders—people who meet me would never know I had an ED as a teen (What, you had an eating disorder? But you seem so comfortable with food now!)—but it also desensitizes others to the big bad word ‘eating disorder’. I mean, that’s the problem, isn’t it? The word itself has such a negative connotation—‘disorder’ and ‘eating’ in the same package. And, when you learn about the truths, statistics, devastating consequences and the suffering behind an ED, the phrase ‘eating disorder’ becomes even more terrifying to someone who’s never experience one. EDs are truly horrible disorders, no doubt. I could write pages about the despair, isolation and suffering, from both my own past experiences and what I’ve learned from others’ experiences. But that’s not the point I am trying to make.

I want to explain the importance of raising awareness, and specifically by not being scared or ashamed to say, “I’ve had an eating disorder”. Obviously, this is a lot easier said than done, and some don’t feel comfortable with this—and that’s okay. Part of recovering from an ED is learning how to respect yourself, and to respect your personal boundaries and comfort zones.

For many though, speaking out is something that many consider once they’ve recovered. How much I would’ve given to meet someone who’d recovered when I was sick, or to have known someone back when I was starting to engage in disordered behaviours who could’ve said, “Ashley, how have you been doing lately?”

That’s the purpose of awareness, isn’t it? Perhaps I would’ve gotten help sooner had someone in my circle been knowledgeable about eating disorders. Perhaps the recovery process would’ve been easier had I not been so entrenched in the depths of my ED.

Awareness saves lives.

Research shows that the earlier a diagnosis, the better the prognosis.

Of course, looking back, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my journey—I am so thrilled with how it’s turned out. Having experienced an ED and then recovering has changed how I see myself and my life. Regardless, the question remains: how are you going to raise awareness? Will it be through talking about your past experience with an ED? Will it be through acting as a role model for positive body image? Will it be through teaching your nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, etc., the importance of loving oneself? Will it be through supporting someone you suspect may have an eating disorder? How will YOU raise awareness? Will it be through simply educating others about what an eating disorder truly is?

You don’t need to have personally experienced an eating disorder to raise awareness about them!

I truly believe that the more we are open with speaking out about eating disorders, the less people need to hide behind their disorder, because they are scared of what others will think. This only fuels the isolation and secrecy that the eating disorders thrive on.

So, if you’re not convinced already, think of it this way; by speaking out about EDs, we go against what the ED represents—deprivation, isolation and suffering behind closed doors. By simply speaking out, we are taking action against eating disorders simply by talking about them, because the simple act of acknowledging the problem goes against everything the disorder signifies.