As we fully enter into the 2012 year, I am overwhelmed with all of the adds for weight loss and body sculpting programs, the new diet gimmicks and pills and low gym membership offers. Everyone seems to focus on changing the size and shape of their bodies at the new year. I certainly like the idea of change, but why does it have to be external? I have been challenging my clients to focus on what to change on their inside as a goal for the new year. Maybe this is the year to alter your obsession with food and dieting, or the year to set healthy boundaries with your friends and family members. Setting and sticking to regular visits with your therapist or dietitian can be a resolution, or perhaps exercising for pleasure rather than weight loss or body sculpting would be a change worthwhile. When the focus shifts to an internal place, the outcome can be more rewarding. Think of how much anxiety ensues when you spend your energy trying to change your outside appearance. Wouldn’t it be nice to decrease the amount of time you spend thinking about food and body image? What on earth would you fill all that time and space with… spending more time with your loved ones, creating good memories? I propose you do just that! Make a resolution this year that will create an internal change within. I heard this saying somwhere, and it always sticks with me, especially in this moment….”a waist is a terrible thing to mind.”
A globally significant study, which began in 1985, concerning the behavior of teenagers suffering from anorexia nervosa has been published in both the British Journal of Psychiatry and the International Journal of Eating Disorders. This is the only study of its kind and has provided valuable information to compare against widely accepted statistics about anorexia nervosa.
Elizabeth Wentz, Associate Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Sahlgrenska Academy, comments, “This study is unique in an international perspective. It is the only study in the world that reflects the natural course of anorexia nervosa in the population.”The results show that 39 percent of the study group “have at least one other psychiatric disorder, in addition to the eating disorder. The most common of these is obsessive compulsive disorder.” This study contrasts with the accepted fatality rate of 1 in 5 for anorexics, as not a single test subject in this study has died.One encouraging finding that emerged from the study related to pregnancy of the test subjects. Because infertility is a commonly accepted side effect of anorexia nervosa, it is surprising that there was no difference in the number of births between the test group and the control group. Childbirth also appeared to have a routinely positive influence on anorexics.(Source: www.eurekalert.org)
A new novel call Purge has been published by a Connecticut-based writer name Sarah Durer Littman. The novel, told in the first person in the format of a journal, is the story of Janie Ryan. Janie is a 16-year-old bulimic and the novel relates her experiences while receiving treatment at a fictional residential treatment facility called Golden Slopes. Janie’s journal reveals the traumatic events that led to her development of an eating disorder, and how she developed bulimia as a sort of coping mechanism.
Littman comments about her novel’s protagonist: “She is very much in denial of the disease and sort of has the attitude that this isn’t a disease, it’s a diet strategy. It’s really about her growing realization and recognition of the fact that yes, she does have a condition that needs treatment and also her awareness of why she’s doing what she’s doing.”
The novel is the product of Littman’s real-life struggles with anorexia (as a teen) and bulimia (as an adult). The idea for the novel came to Littman while she was attending a writer’s retreat in Vermont. In preparation for the novel, Ms. Littman asked her mother to send her some of her childhood pictures. She comments on looking at a picture of herself at age 15: “I looked at it, and I was like ‘Wow, I actually had a pretty good figure,’ but what made me really sad about the picture is that I remember how I felt at the time, which was fat and ugly.”
Ms. Littman speaks about her motivation for the novel: “I want people to feel hopeful. I wanted to show them that they can overcome eating disorders, if they go through the proper therapy and build a support system. … Hopefully the book will help to raise awareness and to generate a discussion about body image and eating disorders and the pressures on both young women and men.”
According to a new study, bullying may be a significant factor in eating disorders. Beat, a charity that works with eating disorder sufferers in the United Kingdom, conducted the study.
Of the 600 young people with eating disorders who were surveyed, 91 percent reported being the victim of bullying, and 46 percent felt that it contributed to their development of an eating disorder. About half of the respondents reported being bullied for a period of two to five years, while 11 percent reported being bullied for six years or more.
Beat chief executive Susan Ringwood commented on the results of the study: “Bullying undermines young peoples’ self-confidence and lowers their self-esteem, raising the risk of eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex with no single cause but bullying is a significant factor for too many people.”
One 23-year-old man who responded to the survey recalled his experiences as a victim of bullying and, eventually, an eating disorder sufferer: “I only had one friend in high school, but even he bullied me when the others were around. A lot of my classmates didn’t want to associate with me in case they got picked on too. As the bullying grew worse and more kids joined in, I would run out of lessons to escape the abuse.
“I hid in the boy’s toilets where I knew I wouldn’t be found. There I would comfort eat to ease the tension and anxiety that had built up inside me throughout the day and I began to make myself sick. Over time, it developed into bulimia and it took me many years to recover.”
Beat is calling for additional research into the relationship between bullying and eating disorders. According to Beat, approximately 1.6 million people in the United Kingdom suffer from eating disorders.
Spring has definitely sprung which means summer is just around the corner. Summer is a season of many perks…beach vacations, picnics, holiday weekends, longer days, blooming gardens, swimming pools, lightning bugs and flip flops, just to name a few. But for males and females who struggle with their body image, this otherwise pleasant season can be overshadowed by anxiety and dread. Like clockwork, every spring we are bombarded by messages telling us to “Shape Up for Summer” or “Shed those Extra Winter Pounds”. As weather gets warmer and clothes get skimpier, even people who coasted through winter without worry, suddenly become more aware of their body weight and shape. And for those who struggle on a daily basis with negative body image or eating disorders, summer offers added challenges along the journey towards finding body confidence. Pressure to conform can be overwhelming when surrounded by friends or family on that illusive search for the “perfect” beach body – a fruitless and unrealistic ideal sold to us by advertisers, often with complete disregard for health. For some, just the thought of purchasing a bathing suit can trigger enough worry and self doubt to allow these harmful media messages to seep in. From crash diets to tanning beds, summer can quickly become a minefield of dangerous behaviors and deteriorating health.
So what can you do if summertime stress has you low on body confidence? Can you make it through the barrage of destructive messages this summer and still come out okay? Better yet, can you use it as an opportunity to gain confidence, positivity and strength? We say yes, you can! Here are some suggestions:
Talk back. Okay, maybe this goes against everything your parents ever told you but certainly they won’t mind a little attitude if directed at the media and not at them. Dispute harmful summer body myths with positive self-talk, and say it like you mean it…
“No one can tell me what I can and can’t wear; I will find and wear a swimsuit that fits and flatters my body JUST AS I AM instead of trying to change my body to fit into a pre-determined size or style.”
“I refuse to miss out on fun opportunities in my life because some magazine tells me I’m not skinny enough, tan enough or muscular enough to be seen in a bathing suit.”
Stop and smell the roses…literally and figuratively. Grow a garden, plant a tree, feel the grass between your toes, and breathe in the sweet summer air. Sit outside and read a good book feeling the warm sunshine upon your face. Look up in the night sky and gaze at the stars. Be mindful of the scenery and sounds around you this summer. Sail on a boat, take a nature walk, listen to the rain on the roof during a thunder storm. Enjoy all of your five senses with gratitude, and remember to give your body credit for allowing you to do all of these awesome things.
Accessorize. It can be fun to sport a great sun hat or trendy sunglasses that make you feel great and don’t have a size on their tag. And while those accessories are eye-catching, we’d argue that the best beach bodies are those adorned with confidence and a smile. If authentic confidence is hard for you right now, practice the “fake it until you make it” technique consistently, especially if you are going to be around young kids or adolescents who will be modeling your body image behaviors.
Teach others about a healthy lifestyle and show them the power of your positive energy. Refrain from reading articles focused on weight, and talk often about how good health has nothing to do with the number on a scale. Remind yourself and others that pressures from society regarding body size are unrealistic, unhealthy and dangerous. Spend extra time with supportive friends and loved ones who also understand, appreciate, and embrace a diverse definition of beauty.
Change it up! Wear a different color, try a new sport or connect with a new friend. Take a day trip somewhere you’ve never been or try a hobby you were always curious about. Relish in the extra hours of sunlight and remember that a changing of the seasons is not about how you look in a bathing suit, but rather how you live your life.
Be kind. Treat your body, and other people’s bodies, with respect and dignity.
We’ve said it before… and we’ll say it again: Dieting does not work. In fact, dieting damages your physical and mental well being. Chronic dieters are more likely to be depressed, have low self-esteem and most will end up at higher weights than they started. There’s a reason counting calories and adding up meal points were not included in our list of fun things about summer. Summer is bound to go by quickly… try spending your time and energy on things that are actually enjoyable and beneficial. Dieting is neither of those things.
Need a little motivation? Check out the first ever National Swimsuit Confidence Week taking place this week, May 23-27. The movement, launched by Lands’ End, was created to celebrate women of all shapes and sizes, inspire them to embrace their swimsuit beauty and to have fun this summer. Each day Lands’ End is giving away 10 Lands’ End Swimsuits, 10 Lands’ End Beach Towels and announcing exclusive promotions on Twitter. Find out the schedule and more at Mom Spark.
Let’s welcome summer and bid farewell to any lingering anxiety. We hope you can spend time appreciating where you and your body are in this moment. What are you doing to make the best of your summer and to turn the bathing suit blues into body confidence? Share your strategy on our Facebook page!
Find out more about The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt atwww.eatingdisorder.org.
Blog contributions by Amy Scott, LCPC