Category Archives: eating disorders

Should You Feed Your Kids Junk Food? – Huffington Post Live Interview, 6/23/14

I joined the Huffington Post again in late June to talk about the relationships we have with food and the risks of ascribing moral value onto food. After spending years of my life feeling guilty for nourishing myself, I fully consider part of “healthy eating” to include eating food you enjoy, even if it’s high in sugar or not bursting with nutrients, without feeling any guilt, anxiety, or shame.

If you don’t have time to watch the full segment (but you should, because all of the panelists had great things to say!), here’s a snippet elaborating on how I understand “healthy” eating:

Special thanks to Caitlyn Becker and the Huffington Post for the invitation and for continuing to engage in critical discussions around these important issues!

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EDRS 2014 and West Coast Adventures

IMG_20140131_061235The snow had started falling again when I started working on this write-up, and I couldn’t help but miss California all the more. It’s not that I mind the snow, in fact I rather like watching it fall, but all the same – I miss California.

For those of you who don’t know, I just got back from a ten day trip to the west coast following an invitation to present at the 2014 Eating Disorder Recovery Support, Inc. (EDRS) Conference. EDRS functions as a treatment scholarship fund for California residents who have been approved or prescribed outpatient treatment but don’t have the means to pay for it (how cool is that?!).

According to EDRS Board President Bridget Whitlow, last year they raised over $26k, providing assistance to 45 individuals. At the start of the conference, they were expecting to raise over $30k this year and already had 25 people on their waiting list. The Monday following the conference, they anticipated they would be able to respond to everyone who had applied for assistance. I can’t get over what a wonderful concept it is, and the fact that alongside organizing a conference that would probably already get a lot of attendees (because honestly, they had a wonderful line-up of presentations), the EDRS is making a real, direct difference in the lives of real people.

Since I don’t make it out to California very often Continue reading

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Keeping Up With Recovery Over the Holidays

Holidays. While most people look forward to the time off, seeing family and friends, and all the delicious food that usually comes with them, if you’re in recovery, that last one can be quite the challenge. It’s something I struggled with a lot while I was still in recovery, so I thought I’d share some of the things that got me through difficult times.

Keep in mind, these are things that worked for me. Recovery is a very personal process and any kind of suggestions or advice will need to be fine-tuned to meet your own needs. As they said so often in the groups I attended, take what is useful, and leave the rest.

1. Psyche Yourself Up

If there are going to be a lot of people for lunch or dinner wherever you spend your holidays, then that means you need to prepare yourself so you aren’t caught off guard by the things people might say or do.

Holidays often mean seeing family members you haven’t seen in a long time, and in our image-focused, weight-obsessed culture, one of the first things people comment on is appearances.

People who don’t know you have an eating disorder might say something like, “You look so good! Have you lost weight?” not realizing that it’s actually a problem and is nothing to be complimenting or celebrating. When I was in recovery, sometimes even being told I looked healthy would get filtered through the anorexic voice in my head and I would hear something closer to, “You’ve gained weight and they can tell!”

The way I worked through either version of this situation was to remind myself that whatever people had to say, they were trying to be friendly and were well-intentioned. People who have never had an eating disorder may never fully understand what it’s like, so internalizing a well-intentioned greeting or attempt at a compliment doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Of course, even if you do psych yourself up for it, that doesn’t mean you won’t need additional support. That’s why the second tip is…

2. Recruit An Ally

This was never something I really needed for holidays, but I do have a perfect example of this. In 2004, I went on a trip to New York as a part of Alternative Spring Break when I was an undergraduate. I was still very early in my recovery, and the trip involved traveling with nine other students. We stayed in a hostel, worked in clothing banks and soup kitchens all day, and then we took turns cooking dinner for the group most nights.

In other words, it was terrifying.

After a few days, I realized if I didn’t speak up for myself, I was going to have a really difficult time. I asked someone on the trip if we could talk privately, and when we had the chance she and I lagged behind the group. I told her I was in recovery from an eating disorder, and that I couldn’t always put it into words but sometimes I was just overwhelmed by food. I assured her I intended to eat and take care of myself, but that sometimes I might need to get my own food or do things separate from the group. I was fortunate that she was so understanding.  For the rest of the trip all I had to do was walk over to her and tell her I was feeling anxious or freaking out, and she would walk outside with me or keep me company. Sometimes, people would start talking a lot about weight or food, and if she noticed I was trying to change the subject, she would chime in and help redirect the conversation.

The same thing can be done for the holidays. Maybe you have a sibling, a cousin, or an aunt who you can trust to be understanding with these things. Reaching out to someone in advance and just knowing that they’re in tune with the fact that a big Thanksgiving dinner is a challenge can help ease some of the tension.

Having a friend to text or call can be just as good. Letting a trusted friend know you’ll need support and to ask if they can keep their phone handy can be a lifesaver. Sometimes I would call a friend and we would talk about anything but food – I just needed the distraction.

Maybe you don’t have someone like that in your family or who will be in attendance. If you have a friend to call, maybe they aren’t able to answer when you call. What do you do then?

3. Have a Backup Plan

Even if you recruit someone to help support you, they might not always be available the whole time, and there’s always a chance they won’t know exactly what to say or do. And that’s okay!

I always had a backup plan. Above all else, recovery to me was not optional, and I was firmly committed to not acting on urges to engage in disordered eating behavior. It’s a process and we don’t always succeed all of the time, but when we are in the moment and are feeling overwhelmed, that’s when it’s important to know what you’re going to do instead.

Eventually, that anxiety or stress or sense of discomfort passes. To facilitate that process, you can have any number of backup plans. When I was in recovery, sometimes being out to eat at a restaurant would be too much, but I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to myself either.

Sometimes I would just say I had an important phone call to make and walk outside. Some fresh air along with some peace and quiet went a long way to helping myself calm down and get back to #1 – psyching myself up to go back inside, have a meal with my friends, and enjoy the company and food.

Other times, I needed the exact opposite of peace and quiet! If I had driven, sometimes I would go in my car, turn on the stereo, and blast the loudest, most energetic music I had to drown out my thoughts. If you have your headphones handy, they can work just as well. Even if you have to step into the bathroom, listening to a favorite song can help a lot. Both served the purpose of taking my mind to another place, refocus, and tell myself, “I can do this.”

4. Believe In Yourself

I frequently told myself “I can do this.” And if you’re reading this, then you should know – you can do this too! So much time with an eating disorder is spent engaging in negative self talk. Talking down to ourselves. Thinking we aren’t good enough, that no one understands or cares.

That’s why positive self talk can be such an important part of recovery. Maybe you don’t fully believe the positive things you say to yourself. It’s okay to doubt whether or not you actually can do recovery. It’s okay, because recovery is hard. That’s why we practice believing in ourselves even if we aren’t sure that we know something for certain. It may feel silly in the beginning, but is telling yourself you can do something any sillier than constantly telling yourself that you’re unattractive or incapable? I think not.

The truth is, the human body and spirit is incredibly resilient. Recovery is hard, in fact it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most worthwhile. There’s no shame in having an eating disorder, and there’s no shame in reaching out to others for help.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with suggestions for how they’ve gotten through holidays before. Share any ideas or tips you’ve got in the comments below!

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Should NEDIC Reconsider Their Ad Campaign?

Update:
NEDIC put out a response for which I’m appreciative (see here). Perhaps my rhetoric was a little over-the-top, but I do feel strongly about these things and believe they must be treated with the utmost care (see the comments section for further discussion). The nature of the internet can sometimes blow things out of proportion, and I hope that hasn’t happened here. To borrow a phrase from one commenter, I’d never want to ‘silence an ally’ and NEDIC does some extremely important work!

Original Post:
The following photo shows an ad that the National Eating Disorder Information Center is currently running on subways to attempt to get people talking about eating disorders and make them aware of local resources. But am I the only one who has a problem with it?

NEDIC

In response to some initial critique, NEDIC (at least, whoever runs NEDIC’s Facebook page) issued the following replies:

“It does say Hunger is my bff- it is meant to shock, leave an impression and encourage dialogue. Thank you for the feedback and engaging with us.”

…Is the image controversial? Polarizing even? Yes, but as long as it makes people think about it, and talk about it, we feel we have made progress in making more people aware of available resources and support- our end goal. This is our first such campaign and we will be doing market research to gauge reaction on-the-street, and how the campaign is being perceived by the general public. All information will be used to deliver more effective campaigns in the future…”

Where to start?

They actually stated that this is their first such campaign and are doing market research to gauge reactions. Did no one think that perhaps that feedback could have been garnered online via activist communities or opinion polls? In other words, they’re beta-testing this idea to the general populous.

Worse, I have a problem with that whole “as long as it makes people think about it… we feel we have made progress.”

See…

In some situations, I agree, but this is not a “no press is bad press” type situation. When dealing with something deadly like an eating disorder, an ad that (not-so-clearly) aims to satirize the behaviors of disordered eating comes off as trivializing the issue for people who are suffering from EDs and confusing passerby who don’t get it. When going for “on-the-street” reactions you have a responsibility to be concerned about the affects of your message on a general population, and this doesn’t meet that criteria.

You know what’s even more attention-getting? Statistics like the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, upwards of 20% of anorexics WILL DIE as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you were an advocacy organization that campaigned against self-harm or suicide, would you put a similar “controversial and polarizing” message up to turn heads, like “Cutting is my BFF”? I’d certainly hope not.

This campaign is as vapid and harmful as those Urban Outfitters shirts that say “Eat Less.” There is honestly no difference, and whoever thought this up should reconsider what they put out into the world and whether or not this actually helps more people than it harms.

Eating disorders are deadly disorders, and this ad makes a mockery of the families that I have met doing lobby work who have lost loved ones to these terrible illnesses.

To be clear, I love 99% of the images on their page and it looks like they generally do good and important work. As an outspoken and passionate eating disorder activist, I love to see other people and ‘orgs trying to reach out to others. But this particular campaign doesn’t cut it, and hiding behind statements like “Yes, it’s shocking, let’s talk about that” doesn’t cut it, either.

Seriously. Do your “market research” internally or with the population you hope to reach out to. I can think of many forums and groups that would be happy to assist in providing feedback before you pay money to put up harmful ads on subways.

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Filed under Activism, eating disorders

Anorexia in Men on the Rise – Huffington Post Live Interview

Happy Eating Disorder Awareness Week! I had the pleasure of participating in a discussion on Huffington Post Live on eating disorders in men this past Thursday. I’m excited that they chose to highlight this subject during awareness week, and appreciate the thoughtful questions they had for everyone on the segment.

You can watch the full segment below, which includes a young man named Alberto De Leon in Chicago who is currently in recovery from an eating disorder; Margaret Johnson, the editor for HuffPost Women; Amanda Webster, an Australian mother who’s son developed anorexia in childhood; and Dr. Gregory Jantz, an eating disorder specialist in Seattle. You can watch the full video below:

You may notice that the title on the video says, “Manorexia on the Rise.” Well, I don’t care for that term one bit, and I’m happy to report that when I emailed my contact on the production team, they changed it on the main video page and wherever else it was possible. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to edit out of the video stream, but I want to extend my gratitude for the quick response they had in changing it where they could.

I’ve written about my disdain for that term in the past:

If you’ve been keeping up with me on here, you have probably heard me talk about “gender inclusivity.” I believe for ED treatment, research, and prevention to advance, it has to be fully inclusive and not just catered to the majority. I almost slipped through the cracks of the resources available to me during my own recovery because it was all designed for women, and I mourn for other boys and men who find themselves in similar circumstances.

I grimaced at the original title because taking a word like “anorexia” and altering it to reference EDs in men carries the implication that men experience it differently in some way – otherwise, they would just call it anorexia, right? …In short, it by default is not gender inclusive.

It won’t do us any good to take notice of how our recovery culture is feminized if we just turn around and make it gendered in the opposite direction. Eating disorders are, more than anything, a matter of public health concern.

Thanks again to Huffington Post Live for having me, and for responding to my request regarding the segment title so quickly. If more media outlets handled this issue with the same level of care, we’d all be the better for it.

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Quick Updates

Currently Listening: Murder by Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week! Normally I try to have a ton of stuff to post and share, but life has been pretty crazy right now. If I did everything I wanted to do, I’d need about twelve more hours in the day and at least an eight day week!

Which is kind of a salient point for talking about NEDAW. Taking on more than you can handle or have time for can be a recipe for disaster, and I learned a long time ago that sometimes you just gotta let some things go.

Have you heard of NORMAL in Schools? They promote positive body image and eating disorder education  with a special focus on schools and universities. I’m now contributing to their blog about once a month, which means I will occasionally be dividing my writing between this site and theirs. My first post is about one of my favorite topics – gender inclusivity! It’s adapted in part from a seminar paper I worked on last year which discusses the gendering of eating disorder recovery culture:

Maybe you’ve never considered the idea that we have a gendered recovery culture. As a male who suffered from anorexia, though, I know it all too well. To create space and dialogue which is gender-inclusive means we need to examine the reasons that negative body image and eating disorders have historically been associated with women or regarded as a “women’s problem.” Given that it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, this seems a fitting topic. After all, we have a huge recovery culture which has a cursory awareness of eating disorders in males but rarely includes them in a visible way.
-from ‘What the Heck is Gender Inclusivity?

While you’re there, check out other great contributors like Robyn Farrell, Caroline Rothstein, Becky Henry, and Carolin Costyn! I must say, it’s seriously an honor to have my writing appearing alongside so many other awesome voices.

Stay tuned for more updates for NEDAW 2013. What are you doing this week to educate and advocate for eating disorders? For yourself?

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No Numbers, No Compromises

This post is exploring food and weight-related numbers in pop culture and in group settings. A few good friends pointed out that while focus needs to be steered away from numbers, they should also not be made taboo. For example, someone in recovery who is on a meal plan has to keep track of calories and monitor weight. I’m in no way suggesting that someone in those or similar circumstances should avoid numbers. But I do like the idea taking emphasis away from numbers like weight and finding other ways to think about our health. End disclaimer, begin rant.

The focus is always on numbers. Health magazines, exercise programs… everyone seems concerned about their weight.

When it comes to eating disorders, the topic of numbers seems unavoidable. Weight, nutritional information and content, clothing size, BMI – It seems there is no shortage of ways in which to measure the effects of an eating disorder on one’s body.

Any time there’s a magazine article or news story on eating disorders, people want to know what someone’s “lowest weight” was. These numbers get plastered on magazine covers and thrown in your face to shock and amaze readers. In my last post, I wrote: “Idolizing thinness and obsessing over weight – that’s part of what anorexia makes you do. When news articles do that very thing, all they do is reinforce the disease and its’ assault on our bodies and minds.” I’d like to discuss that more. As far as I’m concerned, if a reporter is asking specific questions about weight loss, foods eaten or not eaten, etc, they are interviewing the eating disorder and not the person who is suffering from it. This is a very important distinction. While that information may be important to doctors and dieticians monitoring the health and progress of a person in recovery, it does not belong on a magazine cover or plastered all over a blog. Continue reading

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