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Posts Tagged ‘eating disorder treatment’

Loving someone who is battling an eating disorder (ED) can be quite challenging. You may not know what to say, how to act, or in what way your loved one needs your support. While working daily with individuals with EDs, I get asked a variety of questions from family members who are trying to better understand how they can participate in the treatment and recovery process. There isn’t always information readily available for families, more specifically for spouses, on what things are helpful and unhelpful. Inspired by one of my former patients, I created the following list as a general guide particularly for husbands/wives/partners whose significant other is struggling with an eating disorder and is currently undergoing some form of therapy or treatment. Some things on this list may not work for your relationship so I’d always recommend asking your spouse or partner how you can best support him/her and in what ways he/she is willing to let you participate in their treatment.

  1. First things first, know that at their core, EDs are not about weight. There are many causes for the development of an ED and there are many different reasons why these disorders continue to exist, sometimes for years, before an individual seeks help.
  1. Once your spouse/partner has informed you that he/she has an ED, take time to educate yourself about these disorders before drawing conclusions. This is critical as you begin to navigate the road ahead of you. The more you can learn, the better prepared you’ll be to participate in this journey and to offer support to the person who needs you most.
  1. Reduce or eliminate weight or specific appearance-driven comments. While you may be coming at the subject from a place of love, someone battling an ED can misinterpret such comments and the ED can then utilize this to further the disorder. It may be better to comment on other aspects of your spouse/partner that you like or love. Find non-appearance based topics to talk about and remind him/her of the reasons you fell in love.
  1. Be mindful of the challenges treatment and recovery brings. As if battling the disorder itself wasn’t hard enough, going through this process is daunting, confusing, and anxiety-provoking, among other things. If your spouse/partner is extra irritable in the beginning of treatment, know this may be a result of drudging up many emotional issues that have been buried for years. It may also be a result of stopping the ED behaviors. When the behaviors are ceasing, individuals often don’t know what else to do. They can become easily activated until they learn new skills and new ways of coping with themselves, their lives, and the world.
  1. Respect their personal boundaries. Because those with EDs are dealing with many body image challenges, whether related to past trauma, bullying or another reason, intimacy can be very overwhelming. In addition, individuals can experience several body changes as they are learning to nourish themselves in a new and healthier way. Give your spouse or partner time and space to develop a new relationship with themselves and their bodies without pushing them into intimate situations that may activate a deep emotional wound or trigger an ineffective response. This is an area your spouse/partner will likely be addressing more actively in their therapy sessions and is one way he/she may be able to use their new skills to share with you what they are or are not comfortable with.
  1. Treatment is hard and is necessary. Individuals are encouraged to put as much time and energy as they can on their treatment process. Because of the medical complications that can arise when an ED is present, we as clinicians will often recommend that patients prioritize getting better and work on healing the physical aspects of their EDs in order to do deeper emotional work. As patients progress, they can integrate into their lives more fully and more healthfully. This is particularly important when your spouse or partner is in an intensive treatment program such as residential or partial hospitalization.
  1. Get rid of the scale! Having a scale in your bathroom and readily available can reinforce the urge to step on. We encourage patients to permit their treatment teams to track their weight and to bring their scales to session, destroy it or have someone they trust hide it. If you do hide the scale, it may be tempting to share where it is when your spouse/partner asks. The goal isn’t to exert power, but to assist in limiting the access to a key aspect of the ED, so it is best to refrain from sharing where the scale has been hidden. If you feel you must have a scale for your own purposes, then hiding it may be the best option. Otherwise, I would recommend removing it from the house altogether.
  1. Your spouse/partner wants you to understand. One of the most common things I hear from my patients is that family members “don’t get it.” Some feel like they are being yelled at or told what to do versus being supported. Others feel like they’re not being heard or like their spouse/partner is not making any effort to understand their struggle. The bottom line is that you may not be able to fully understand because you’re not the one with the ED. However, you can educate yourself and follow some of the other suggestions here to at least build awareness.
  1. Recovery is possible and it can take a long time. You may assume that because your loved one has been in treatment or therapy for a few months that they “should be” cured. The reality is that full recovery from an ED can take years. There is no “cure” for an ED. Instead, there are various treatment interventions utilized to assist patients in learning new skills to manage their emotions, experiences, reactions, relationships, etc. without turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Implementing these new skills then requires practice.
  1. By being open to providing support, you’re playing a large role in the journey toward freedom from an ED. I’d encourage you to open the lines of communication with your spouse/partner. Ask how they are doing, what challenges they’re having, and most importantly how you can best provide support. Fighting back against an ED on their own makes things much more difficult. If you’re being asked to stay out of the treatment process, I’d recommend asking your spouse or partner in what ways they are willing to let you in. As he/she progresses, you may be invited in more openly.

While the above is not an exhaustive list, these may good starting points. By letting you into the ED world, you’ve been given an immense amount of trust from someone who may have much difficulty trusting people – guard this with all of your might and simply do the best you can. There is no perfection in the journey to recovery.

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No, I’m not a model (as if you thought I was). But just like many of us, escaping the modeling world is a difficult task especially since we’re bombarded with advertisements every minute of the day. Whether it’s the cover of a magazine, a television commercial, or an Internet ad, we are continually faced with beautiful faces or bodies aimed at leading us to feel like we simply don’t measure up.

Recently I read an article via a friend’s status update and was appalled by the way models are now being recruited in some countries. The article focused on scouts waiting outside an eating disorder clinic to grab up severely ill patients when they stepped outside. It was mentioned how the modeling industry is allegedly guilty of weighing girls in public and I saw elsewhere recently how women are forced to do a Fashion Week cleanse. It’s a tragedy and yet so many young girls aspire to step into this world for the chance to be noticed.

Individuals in a treatment facility for eating disorders most often are battling deep-rooted issues that make them especially prone to accepting that business card from a modeling agent while on a daily walk outdoors. “Hmm, maybe staying sick isn’t such a bad idea. See, it can get me work and I can survive.” It can compromise the very goal for the individuals who are in treatment and can thrust them deeper into or back into a cycle that was already difficult to break. The insensitivity of the scouts mentioned in this article is sickening, disheartening, tragic, and flat out wrong!

I’m able to read this article and see the tragedy of the attempt to take advantage of vulnerability. Eating disorders, whether anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating, are severe mental illnesses that kill thousands of men and women. And although popularly believed, these disorders rarely begin as an “I’m going to lose weight” scheme. In fact, research shows that many sufferers have been sexually abused, bullied, ignored, raped, etc. and the eating disorder is an attempt to regain some control within their lives. It may appear to those on the outside that these individuals are narcissistic, self-absorbed, weight-loss obsessed persons who will do anything to avoid gaining weight for the sake of beauty.

Certainly, these characteristics and behaviors can develop as a result of an eating disorder, but to say this is the total of an eating disorder is way off the mark. Those seeking treatment for these disorders often discover that they were trying hard to do everything for others and to be that “perfect” friend, spouse, daughter, employee, or student in an attempt to protect others from experiencing negative emotions or situations. Often, we are known as givers, selfless givers, who only want the best for those we love and are willing to put others first and ourselves second. We are frequently givers afraid of showing emotion because we want to be strong for everyone else. In the process, we lose ourselves and attempt to gain it back by engaging in unhealthy behaviors that we believe only has an impact on us.

The news of this latest attempt by modeling scouts to recruit severely ill eating disorder patients is the final straw for me. I stopped reading fashion magazines more than 5 years ago and have not missed them. I stopped watching America’s Next Top Model after hearing the critical feedback provided to naturally beautiful women. I’m saying a final goodbye to all things model for the sake of myself and those who are trapped by expectations of beauty.

The bottom line is that beauty is subjective and we all possess some level of it. My hope and prayer is that modeling scouts will either change jobs or stop hanging outside treatment centers like desperate panhandlers.

*If interested, here is a link to the article: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/04/22/modeling_scouts_recruit_teen_patients_at_swedish_anorexia_clinic_are_you.html?fb_ref=sm_fb_share_blogpost

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