What’s Knocking at the Door

As I’ve interviewed different girls and worked in different centers, I haven’t found many girls who wake up and decide to destroy their body one day.  There are other issues always at the door which seem to place a huge emphasis on the disordered behavior.

I won’t discount body image as being part of the problem with eating disorders because I fully understand that it is a HUGE problem. Here are some stats to help us understand the significance:

  • 54% of women reported rather being hit by a truck than be fat.
  • 81% of ten year olds are afraid of being fat.
  • 67% of women withdraw from regular life activities because self conscious about weight.  

However, I don’t think it’s the only issue, and I actually feel as if there are larger sharks lurking in the water of eating disorder territory.  Perfectionism and control have a substantial effect upon many young girls and young adults and these tendencies have a GIANT correlation with eating disorders.

In the book, “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, Courtney Martin talks about how the desire for perfection is destroying young girls around the country.  She writes about girls vulnerable to these disorders,

“We are the captains of the basketball teams, soccer stars, swimming state champs with boxes full of blue ribbons.  We win scholarship galore, science fairs and knowledge bowls, spelling bees, and mock trial debates.  We are the girls with..five year plans.  We take ourselves very, very seriously.  We are peacemakers, do gooders, the givers, and the savers.  We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty….we are living contradictions….We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self deprivation.  We are relentless, judgmental to ourselves, forgiving to others.  We carry the world of guilt–center of families, keeper of relationships, caretaker of friends….We must be perfect and must make it look effortless.”

This book is full of insight, but this paragraph is right on.  So what is it about these personalities which can lead to devastating addictions? Great question…there isn’t a specific answer, but tons of speculation.   Just reading this paragraph stressed me out, so can you imagine the intense stress every day must provide to these girls.

So after I tell people this, I always hear the question, “Why do they worry about it, can’t they just let go?”  WELL, the question in itself should reveal the answer.  Letting go would be giving up control.  Can you imagine if every day you had a check list that long to appreciate who you are as a person? What if you felt as though no one would ever like you if you didn’t complete this list? In a separate book, it tells the story of Shannon who owned these feelings and developed a severe case of anorexia.  She said she did not think any one would like her if she didn’t complete the checklist of perfectionism.  This checklist becomes an identity and if any of it slips off the list, well, there goes who you are and you must claim something else.  Perfect timing for an eating disorder.  Finally, an area that is completely controllable and maintainable, right? Well, we may see the logical fallacies, but this behavior is too addicting to see through it.

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So just eat a cheeseburger, right?

Don’t worry, the title of this post is a common response from some when they approach a victim of this beast of a disease.  If you eat, you won’t have an eating disorder, so it will be fixed right?

W.R.O.N.G.

And, I don’t just mean, well maybe yeah that could be wrong, I mean WRONG.  No study has ever shown this to be the cure.  We are all to assume that as adults we know how our body works…you eat for fuel, and if you don’t, you’ll get cranky.  Well, continuing with that assumption, any girl that suffers from an eating disorder knows this as well.  Giving a physiological lesson on how the digestion system works won’t change her problem.

SO, here comes treatment.  It’s not going to initially the best time of her life, but give her a couple months and there tends to be an appreciation for the time in her life where she develops new and better habits, coping mechanisms, and self confidence.

There is in-patient treatment or out-patient treatment.  (Other details of treatment can be found at this site.)  In-patient should be restricted to those who are in physical need for immediate rescue. It’s ridiculously expensive and insurances will drag their heels through mud before paying anything.  The Center for Change is around 1200 dollars a day. It can be extremely effective, and worth the money if death is lurking the corner.

Out-patient therapy can also be effective if one can slow down the rest of life and have a sincere desire to change.  This consists of counseling, dietary support, medical treatment, and psychiatric evaluation.

Each of these treatments can involve recreational, art, music, dance, yoga, and other unique therapies.  The results from these therapies can be lifelong.  Because an eating disorder can claim someone so intensely, many times letting go has been referred to as saying good bye to a friend.  These recreational activities can help her discover new parts of who she is outside of the addiction.  It also helps release inner emotions in ways words can not.

Therapy should not be optional.  It is a mandatory part of full recovery.  There are more reasons for an eating disorder than weight loss so it can not be treated lightly.  It can be a great and empowering process!

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Oh, being a human…

When we meet a person and engage in a conversation with him/her, we automatically (because we are human) start to figure them out.  There are so many different personalities out there, so it makes sense why we would want to categorize people, so we know how to optimize our relationships with them by knowing what part of ourself we can show and how to treat them in the way they would respond to best…

are you still following? hold tight, keep up, it will all come together soon enough…

Okay, so as we do this, we have an even higher tendency to do this with those who have an issue we don’t understand.  The large umbrella of mental health seems to have even a larger umbrella of misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths of what that mental health disorder consists of.  As is the case for eating disorders…let’s take a look at a few of the ones I’ve heard in the past month…

So I was in a health class where we learned eating disorders seem to have a peak in February and March, and most people attribute this to the desire to look good for spring break and summer bikini time.  Well, eating disorders are not weight loss programs, there must be something deeper in the victim to put her life in this much danger. Let me give a few examples why I think it peaks during Feb/March.

  • The school year is almost over, which means it’s also been a long time since a serious break has been enjoyed, and after the intense stress and exhaustion, she focuses control on something other than school.
  • During Christmas break, her family’s conflict seemed to get to her and she began using the old familiar friend of Anorexia to help her deal with it…it gets to her and she finally collapses and seeks for help
  • She gained weight during the winter break and it caused her to feel out of control and frustrated, so she begins to purge to feel the cleanse she wanted to find.

Does that help show how the answer most people believe could actually not be the case for a majority of people?

In fact, this brings us to our next misconception…how body image really plays into eating disorders.  Obviously, from the post on what eating disorders are, we learned that eating disorders do involve low body weights, however, it does not necessarily mean it is because one is obsessed with weight loss to look good in a bikini.  Saying someone is obsessed with looking good in a bikini is usually what we would say about a shallow and superficial individual.  And in most cases, eating disorder victims are anything but shallow and superficial.  So, what’s it got to do with weight? Well, you’ll have to learn some patience, because that will be talked about in another post.  But my point is, we can’t assume a girl looks at magazine and sees Megan Fox and thinks, I have to lose fifteen pounds to look like her. It could be the desire for a lifestyle in which people want you, because maybe she feels unwanted.  Or it could be the ability to have the amount of control one believes she (any celebrity) may have over their life.  Or it could be the thought that looking like her would solve your problems….do you see how complex this becomes?

The most important thing you can learn from this post is about the complexity of a human mind.  We can not make assumptions, saying eating disorders is a weight loss program or girls do it to be skinny, and think we can fix the problem.  This will not fix the problem.

What will???

….Just wait, we’re covering that soon!

So, soon to come on powerless.no.more:

  • We will discuss some of the common treatments in therapy used for Eating disorder patients
  • We will discuss more about control, perfectionism, time management, people pleasing, self esteem, etc. AKA all the stepping stones that lead to these diseases
  • We will talk science..what happens in the brain? Why do some people turn to this problem and some people don’t? (you’re gonna love this one, I just know it :))
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Let’s meet a few..

I’m going to introduce you to the stories of three young girls and their experience with an eating disorder…

Hi, my name is Jennifer. When I was in high school, I strived to be a competitive athlete. I tried as hard as I could to rise to the top, but nothing seemed to be enough.  I thought I had found my niche and I used it to have an identity, but it wasn’t enough, because I would never be the best. Not to mention, I was so stressed out with school, family, friends, boys, etc. What I found was myself cutting calories until I felt addicted to the thought of starving myself.  I knew my eating disorder would give me the identity I was looking for, so I invested myself into it.  I starved myself for that whole semester, and then once my body couldn’t take it any longer, I got help.  I’m grateful I got help.  I know there is peace and light at the end of the tunnel.  I was able to find an identity in other aspects of my life, and that has made all the difference.

Hi, my name is Lucy.  Life has been rough in the past few years.  I caught myself in the middle of family turmoil as my parents got divorced and school was stressful and I fell in love with a boy who broke my heart..well the list goes on.  I was so stressed out and I didn’t know who to turn to.  I couldn’t control anything in my life, so well..I controlled what I ate.  I did it so well.  I could starve myself for hours and hours, day after day, and I finally felt as if I could control something.  I wasn’t worried about my weight, but I seemed to after my body became addicted to starvation.  It was like a way for me to measure my success.  If I didn’t get an A in biology, then at least I’d feel good about something. I was placed in rehab after reaching the hospital several times.  They helped my learn to refocus my control. I’m so grateful.

Hi, my name is Renea.  I was raised in the textbook perfect family.  I was the good girl who always made my parents proud and one day I just couldn’t do it anymore, being perfect all the time. On top of this, I liked this boy and he went out with a girl who was thinner than me, so I went on a diet.  Something in my brain went crazy and the more results I got and more compliments I got, the more obsessed with the control I gained.  So, I kept control pretty well, and the boy and I dated, and then I felt as if I had to keep even more control. But he’d want to go out to eat, and so when we would, I would make myself throw up or run for two hours.  I’d do anything to get rid of the calories.  I found all types of tricks.  I got really sick and ended up in the hospital.  I’ve gone to rehab and relapsed since.  I know it’s a journey I will face forever, but it’s a journey, eating disorders aren’t destinations, you don’t end there forever. You deal with it when it comes and move on. That’s all we can do.

I want this post to help everyone understand that each person is different when they face an eating disorder and we can not make blanket statements and assumptions and forget there is a face and a story behind each girl effected.

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Down with the Basics…

Although eating disorders may be interesting to me, I realize this isn’t the case for all the 6.9 billion people in the world.  And although I wish it was everyone’s passion, I have dealt with that reality.  So, let’s just cover a few basics such as what it is, what it does to your body, prevalence, etc.

Anorexia nervosa.  Anorexia is a form of an eating disorder that centers around starvation.  Victims of this disease center their days around caloric counting and the withdrawal of food. This is a very dangerous disorder because of the damage it can do to the cardiovascular system.  One’s blood pressure can drop to dangerously low levels, along with potentiall developing a heart arrhythmia and falling into cardiac arrest.  Other dangers consist of fainting, amenorrhea (the loss of menstruation), infertility, osteoporosis, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, vomiting, nausea, the list could go on and on. It can also lead to some kind of mental confusion and other kinds of disorders and addictions such as, cutting, sexual promiscuity, hair pulling, substance abuse, etc.

Bulimia. Bulimia is a form of an eating disorder that centers around a binge and purge session.  Binging is over eating (or the feeling of over eating) and purging is what you do to deal with it.  Purging can be anything from induced vomiting sessions to laxatives and diuretics use to the latest discovery which is over exercising.  This develops quick problems in the esophagus and stomach from the build up of stomach acid.  This causes acid reflux disease and can stay with the victim for life.  It can also develop an electrolyte imbalance and give cardiac problems as well.  Problems with any of the organs associated with digestion are common.

Binge Eating. Binge eating is not simply those who are overweight.  It is compulsive over eating but it has to be tied to psychological issues to be classified as an eating disorder.  This causes severe weight gain which can lead to heart problems and digestive problems, however, the diseases are generally chronic and although shorten life span, can not be shown as easily as anorexia and bulimia.

Eating disorders affect about 10 million although it is hard to determine if this is all; for some never tell anyone….

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