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Posts Tagged ‘eating disorders’

candleThe hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here and many of us will soon finish our shopping, attend seasonal events, or visit with family and friends before awaking Christmas morning, sitting around the tree in pajamas, sipping coffee and enjoying the blessings we have received.

But for some, this time of the year is more difficult than enjoyable. It may be a time when we remember a loved one who is no longer with us or we struggle to be around the various foods that will be before us. It could be a time when we realize how last year’s Christmas was bigger and better because we recently lost a job and could barely afford to purchase more than a candy cane for someone’s stocking. Or perhaps just being around family is awkward or stressful. Whatever the reason, the holidays can be challenging.

So what can we do to help ourselves get through a time of year intended to be merry and joyful? I’ve compiled some suggestions based on a mix of my personal experience, as well as my knowledge as a counselor. However, I realize that not everyone can find the peace they are seeking this holiday. To help, I encourage all of us to:

1. Stay in the present moment and try not to dwell on what has happened in the previous days/years. This helps us to not miss out on the experiences that are right before us; the memories that are creating themselves today.

2. Focus on the positive aspects of your life. Even when we can’t or don’t want to see them, we all have positives in our lives and this is a great time of year to remind ourselves of the things that have helped us feel good throughout the past 12 months.

3. Call a family member who lives far away and is unable to directly share the holidays with you. Calling my aunts, uncles, cousins or grandmother who all live in Rhode Island gives me a feeling of warmth and love. The phone call may be short, but it reminds me that there are many more people in this world who care about me and about whom I care.

4. Reach out to someone who may not have anyone at all. Perhaps you can stop by a local nursing home and provide Christmas cheer to a man or woman who is lonely or buy a cup of coffee or a muffin for a homeless person you see on the street everyday on your way to the office. Evidence shows that helping others can increase/renew our sense of purpose and feeling of hope.

5. Laugh. Laughter truly is one of the greatest medicines and the best part is that it’s FREE!!! Who doesn’t enjoy a good chuckle now and then? If you’re alone this holiday, there are many websites that have funny videos posted, so why not Google such videos and give yourself a chance to laugh out loud.

6. Practice deep breathing. This is probably the number one skill I teach to my clients, no matter what their age, because it works. When we’re experiencing tough emotions, such as anxiety, taking deep breaths in through our nose and out through our mouth, slowly, can produce a calming effect and is actually proven to slow the heart rate.

7. Listen to your favorite music, even if it’s not holiday related. Music, like laughter, is shown to help increase mood. When you start to stress or the noise of all the kids in your family starts to bring up negative emotions for you, pop in your earbuds and turn on your MP3 player. If you don’t have a MP3 player, head to a quiet part of the house, turn on a TV or a radio and allow yourself to relax.

8. Give yourself grace and know that it WILL be Okay. I’m thinking specifically of those who struggle with food concerns and how much anxiety can be present for those individuals during this time of year. Know that it’s normal and okay to take part in holiday meals and that if we pace ourselves, while practicing some of the above skills, we will get through.

9. Watch a holiday movie. Whenever I see that “Elf” is playing on TV, I instantly feel better. Ironically, the first time I saw this movie I was in a very difficult place in my life. However, it’s a movie that is hilarious and brings to me positive, happy feelings and truly gets me into the spirit of the holiday. There are others that are just as good, such as the old Charlie Brown movies. Whatever you choose, let yourself enjoy it!

10. Pray or talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Coping with the challenges of the season is in no way easy and I’m a believer in prayer and in talking about what’s going on. In those moments when I truly don’t know what to do, I bow my head and say, “God, I need you. Give me strength to get through.” I’ll also quote Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God,” which reminds me that I don’t have to know all of the answers to why things are the way they are and I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. He is there to guide me and to provide that which I cannot provide myself. On another note, if you are having trouble handling a family member, go to that person and gently express your concerns. I use a structure that I also teach my clients: “When you (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank). I need (fill in the blank).” An example? “When you crack jokes about me being unemployed, I feel angry because I worked very hard. I need support and compassion as I try to find another job.” Make sense?

Some additional things we can do to improve our holiday experiences include cooking, baking, crafting, playing in the snow, taking winter/holiday photos.  Maybe you’ll be able to practice at least one of the above and certainly feel free to let me know how you did.

With that I’ll say, try to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Maybe you’ve found yourself in this position before: a friend or loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or addiction and you try to talk with him or her about what they need to do to get better. You get frustrated when those things don’t happen and in your mind you ask, “How in the world can this person not see this?” You try yet again to talk with the person, hoping that this time will be the kicker and he or she will finally “get it,” begin creating change, and life will move on in a more effective, healthy way!

Truth is…sometimes the things we say to loved ones who are struggling with eating disorders or addictions are precisely the things these individuals can interpret in ways that keep themselves sick. How? Well, for each person it’s different, but particularly for those with eating disorders, control is often central to the maintenance of the disorders and if someone perceives that control as being stripped away, enter in more ineffective behaviors! Now, that’s not to say that those behaviors are the fault of the person trying to help. They’re not! You’re not to blame for how anyone interprets what you say to them.

As it relates to eating disorders, I’m frequently asked by parents or friends of someone who is struggling, “What should I say to my daughter/son?” “What should I not say to my friend?” For this reason, I wanted to outline some key statements/questions that can be helpful and not so helpful to say when a loved one has an eating disorder. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, nor is it a list that holds truth for everyone because, again, each person is different.

10 Things to Avoid Saying:

  1. “Just eat!”
  2. “You’re not fat, you’re crazy!”
  3. “How do you stay so small?”
  4. “You eat and aren’t underweight so you can’t have an eating disorder.”
  5. “Oh, you should see so-and-so, their eating disorder is really bad.”
  6. “You look good!” (In fact, any comment about weight, appearance, etc. is not a good idea. And beware…sometimes those with EDs will fish for such comments, “Do you think I’ve gained weight?”)
  7. “You’re being so selfish/You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
  8. “I will make you eat!”
  9. “You have to get better right now.”
  10. “What in the world are you eating?”

On the flip side, there are helpful statements as well…

10 Supportive Statements/Questions:

  1. “How are you feeling today?”
  2. “Is there anything you need from me?”
  3. “I’m concerned about your health.”
  4. “I can sit with you while you eat.”
  5. “While I can’t see you as fat, I hear you and respect that that’s what you see.”
  6. “I’ll support you as you recover.” (Note that you can certainly set boundaries with someone behaving in ways that aren’t conducive to a healthy relationship/friendship: “I need to step away from this situation for awhile in order to take care of myself.”)
  7. “I love you, care about you, and it’s difficult for me to see you struggle.”
  8. “Would you like to go somewhere/do something that doesn’t involve food or eating?” (Of course, not if it’s dinner time).
  9. “Can I help you find help?”
  10. “I remember when we used to…”

For more information, visit the National Eating Disorders Association. If you are in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area and are seeking help for yourself or a loved one struggling with an eating disorder, you may contact me at mthomascounseling@gmail.com for a free consultation.

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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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