My Story of Beating Anorexia

::: POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING :::

:: What is written in this post could potentially be triggering for those who have suffered from an eating disorder; so I ask if you do continue to read my story, please take care of yourself as you proceed. Stop when you need to and do what you need to keep yourself safe. :::

I’ve shared some of my experiences with my eating disorders and my journey through recovery a lot over the years. But, I haven’t actually written my story, really in its entirety. You may have heard me share my story at public events in college or graduate school, you may have heard my poem about my recovery in high school, you may have had a personal conversation with me or heard from someone else about my struggles. But, at 27 years old, I now recognize that there have been pieces of my story I’ve been missing all along. Pieces that were actually pretty crucial to the story, crucial to my recovery. I just didn’t fully understand where I’ve been and how it’s all affected me.

So, in the shortest, most condensed version with what I believe were all the factors in my eating disorder and my recovery, I’m going to share with you all for the first time my real, full story.

::: But, before I do that, I wanted to make mention that I DO NOT blame anyone in my life for my disorder. Everyone in my life was and has been doing what they thought was the best for me – or they just weren’t aware of what could have been triggering for my eating disorder. Those same people who may have accidentally triggered me, were also the ones who saved my life and am truly grateful for them all being in my life. :::

I really think it all started when I was REAL young, as young as five years old. My mom shared with me a conversation we had when I was that age that really struck her and older me. I was telling my mom about how I kissed a boy on the bus – in kindergarten, mind you, so that was a preeeeeeeeetty big deal. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:

Mom: ((Giggles)) Are you going to marry him?

Little Colleen: Nahhh, we’d probably just get “‘vorced.”

Mom: Do you mean divorced?

Little (kind of an ass hole) Colleen: No, mom… ‘VORCED. Like you and dad.

Mom: ((Shock/Confusion)) Colleen, mommy and daddy aren’t ‘vorced. We’re still married.

Little (still an ass hole) Colleen: No, mom, ‘vorced isn’t when you’re married, it’s when people don’t love each other anymore; and daddy sure doesn’t love you.

Mom: Why would you say that?

Little (such an ass hole…) Colleen: Maybe because you’re getting a little fat.

END SCENE.

Just writing those last few sentences little me said to my wonderful mother hurts. It really truly hurts that I said those terrible things. If I could take back ANYTHING I’ve ever said to someone, it would be that very moment where I called my mom fat. But, I was so young and impressionable that just seemed like a reason someone would hate someone – at least what it some of the adults in my life made it seem like… What I heard and saw exhibited by the people in my life showed me that being fat is a moral, character flaw. That someone who may be labeled as “fat” does not deserve love.

I think I’ve carried that message with me through my childhood – more subconsciously.

Skipping ahead a few years…

My one grandmother would always emphasize how “little and cute” I was. How petite I was. That to me, at least at that age, gave people reason to love me; because of my body, I was petite, I was “loveable.”

In my eyes, at least that’s what many adults proved to me was this equation:

Skinny = Loveable, great person

FAT = unloveable, BAD

Again, not so much consciously. I stopped being “little ass hole” Colleen and turned that equation internally. I still loved my mom even though some other people in our lives would comment on her weight. She was still my mom and I thought/think she is BEAUTIFUL and an amazing person.

But, if I were to be fat, who would love me? Grandma might stop talking about me as much. People may stop loving me.

My parents got a divorce when I was six. It was hard on me and my younger (three year-old) sister, but what was harder was seeing them with other people; people who were not my parents.

Around that same year, I struggled in school. I was shy, super shy. I would ask my best friend since we were three years old, Therese, to ask the teacher if I could go to the bathroom. I would ask her to sharpen my pencil. I did not like attention, therefore if I was having troubles with homework or classwork, I would not ask for help. I think I missed a lot of days too, because I faked sick.

I had to retake first grade. Not because I was dumb, but because I was so behind with the days that I missed and how many assignments I probably failed because I didn’t want to ask for help. My teacher and mom decided that would be best for me to be held back. My dad didn’t like it, I didn’t like it.

The next year, I had to get glasses and they found out I had a lazy eye. Guess what I had to wear? An eye patch. I looked like a freakin’ miniature pirate with bifocals…

I bring up these experiences and setbacks, because I think they all might have contributed to my later diagnosis of an eating disorder. Along with being predisposed with a family history of an eating disorder and mental illness on both sides of my family.

At about the age of 10 or 11 (around the time I was in 5th grade), I started to take on the perfectionist persona. I was always ahead of assignments, received straight A’s. I was even tested for being gifted.

It was then too that I started to develop; earlier than my friends. My chest was getting bigger, and I didn’t like it. I LOVED physical education class! Especially climbing the rope and push ups – I was a beast at them both. I also played recreational soccer. What I didn’t like was having extra bounce on my chest. I didn’t like that feeling of having something larger on my body. I also didn’t like the attention it would ensue.

In one of my journal entries (I’ve kept about 15 – 20 journals throughout my childhood into adolescence), I found an entry where I said I needed to “start watching my girlish figure.” Probably something I heard in a movie or TV show. What child thinks of this stuff? So, I decided to start cutting down on how much I ate. I was very active and had a big appetite/high metabolism, so I would eat a lot.

Cutting down on food started off with eliminating snacks. Then to making my meals much smaller. A couple months later, after cutting down on lots of calories, I was only eating one meal per day, dinner. Dinner seemed like the only one I really couldn’t get away with. I would just take something to school with me for breakfast and not eat it. I started hiding the brown bag lunches with the little notes on the napkin my mom wrote for me under my bed… At dinner eventually I started only eating one item. .

Sloppy Joe’s and chocolate milk seemed to make up my diet in those days.

Then my mom started to notice some scary things going on with me…

  • The stench in my room from the old lunches under my bed and eventually seeing the graveyard of uneaten food I would fall asleep on every night.
  • The fruity smell in my breath: Ketoacidosis, which is often a sign of type 1 diabetes that can lead to coma or death.
  • How I would report the exact number of items of food I would eat. Such as how many chips I ate.
  • My significant loss in weight.
  • The peach fuzz-like hairs growing on my face. This is called lanugo, which is usually found on babies in the womb. The goal of lanugo is insulation. Healthy adults/adolescents do not need lanugo to insulate their bodies and so it is a telltale sign of Anorexia Nervosa.

So, my mom was smart and consulted with medical professionals. My pediatrician was also concerned about how low my BMI was. His daughter had Anorexia, so he was quick to recognize the signs. With frequent visits to my pediatrician and eating disorder psychologist and psychiatrist, I was getting the treatment I needed – and thankfully early on in my disorder.

It wasn’t an easy road by any means. My eating disorder counselor often talked about the “voices” in my head. Not like auditory hallucinations, but more of those thoughts I would have stemming from my disordered brain. She would ask whose voice I was hearing. There were no real voices I was hearing, so I got confused and made up what the voices sounded like. I thought that if I told her I didn’t hear voices that she would say there’s nothing wrong with me and that I’m just a lost cause… That everything that was going on with me was not legit.

My psychiatrist took that feedback from my counselor and myself as though I was actually hearing voices. He took it as though I was experiencing psychosis with auditory hallucinations. Therefore, I was put on medication for just that… I do not recall any of this, it’s information I received from my parents. But, I acted psychotic on these meds. I was violent with my mom. I was, as she explained to me, a demon child. Thankfully, I was taken off those meds, my psychiatrist did A LOT of apologizing, and I was eventually put on the right type and dosage of medication to manage my symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Also while going through treatment, PE class and soccer were taken away from me. That was extremely hard for me. I would sit in the gym while other kids were having fun… I felt resistant because of this important part of my day and my favorite sport were taken away from me. I started shoveling the driveway… Not of snow, which sometimes I would do, but of gravel in the grass. I would do anything to be active and burn off calories that I was forced to consume.

I had suicidal thoughts. In my journal I drew pictures of my gravestone engraved with “the girl who would not eat.” I had my plan. I knew when, where and how I would attempt at one time. I was getting ready to make that attempt, crying wishing so hard that someone would bust open the door and save me. I don’t know what stopped me, besides fear and not really wanting to die, but I did… Just like a vast majority of people who think about and attempt suicide, I did NOT want to die, I just wanted the pain to end. I didn’t want to have to go through the millions of hurdles I had to everyday.

Also, being an adolescent, even a week seemed like a century. So not having that immediate release of emotional and mental anguish was intense. I also wanted to stop being a burden to my family. I didn’t think I’d EVER get through it. I just wanted all the pain and struggle to end. Luckily, I was able to get through that pain and make it through recovery.

During my treatment, I had stopped eating. For three days. I would lie about how much and what I ate to my parents. The only thing I consumed in three days was three 8-OZ cups of chocolate milk. When I couldn’t get the energy to go to school, let alone get off the couch, my mom took me to the ER and I was checked in at UH Rainbow’s Children Hospital for a little under a week.

When I wouldn’t eat, the doctors and nurses would threaten to force feed me through a Nasogastic (or NG) tube. Basically put a tube up my nose and down my throat that would pump fluid with the calories I desperately needed into my helpless body. That not only sounded extremely painful, but like they were taking my power away.

::: My psychiatrist also diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder along with Anorexia, which is actually quite common. I needed to have my regime, I needed to have control over my body. I needed control in my life. And that was part of my OCD. I lacked control when my parents got divorced and they were seeing other people; I had no control when I got held back in first grade; and I had no control when my parents and doctors made me go to school looking like a damn pirate. :::

Now, back to my hospital story…

I ate. I had to eat everything on my plate… I probably hadn’t eaten that much at that point between three to six months. So that food, to me, was A LOT. I remember my stomach being so full. And feeling like that was the worst feeling ever. Having my body being nourished and satisfied was worse to me at that point than starving myself and denying my young, growing body what it needed.

I was there for at least three days, eating three meals a day with snacks. I remember family coming to see me. I remember some friends coming to see me. I remember my 5th-grade boyfriend coming to see me and bringing me flowers. I remember wearing my Rugrats night gown and walking through the halls (my time-limited form of exercise) with my family. I remember a friend in my class who came with her mom to see me. They all lived in Streetsboro and had their parents drive them to Cleveland to come see me. That’s what I remember most of my experience at the hospital; the people who truly cared about my health and well-being, especially my peers.

Here’s something else I remember about my peers after and/or before my stay at the hospital… My mom told me that my 5th grade teacher told my classmates where I was and a little about what was going on with me (I really never knew what she said to my classmates). In my elementary school, 5th graders would eat in their classrooms with their classmates. I remember the feeling of being cared for, not only by my lovely teacher and administrators, but by my peers. I remember my fellow students offering their food to me when they saw I wasn’t eating. I remember the genuine kindness and concern of my peers. Those 5th graders did everything in their power to look out for and care for me.

Maybe some or most of them don’t remember 5th grade and what I was going through or even the kind gestures they made to me – but I do. And I really, truly think those 5th grade students made a big impact on my recovery and where I am today. Having a class of peers show their love and support really meant and still means the world to me. So, if you were in my 5th grade class (or were one of my dear friends who helped me as best as you could as a child) and reading this – THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart.❤

After getting out of the hospital, my parents did their very best in making sure I ate. And I really truly tried. My dad would sit with my at breakfast (a meal I was notorious for skipping) to make sure I ate. And I did.

My mom would leave work to come to my classroom to eat lunch with me and my classmates.

Gah, my parents are amazing. They truly saved my life…

More things I remember…

  • The feeling of success and accomplishment of hearing my stomach growl;
  • Imagining delicious deserts like cupckaes and pizza floating above my head every night and fantasizing about eating them;
  • The globs of hair that would fall from my frail body to the drain in the shower;
  • The struggle my parents had been going through with my disorder;
  • The fights, the tears;

I started menstruating at the age of 12; my frail body was really resilient through all the terrible things I put it through… I started eating better and more.

Between the ages of 13 – 14, I relapsed.

I stopped menstruating for about six months. Amenorrhea is the clinical term for that. My wonderful pediatrician said something very profound to me and my mom during one of my appointments that put everything into perspective, even broke me down to years. He said something along the lines of this:

“If you don’t start taking care of your body now and giving it the nutrition that it needs, you will NEVER be able to reproduce. You will never be able to have children.”

Even at a young age, I knew I wanted children one day. But, what was most impactful was knowing that what I was doing to my body would affect the choices I would make later on, how it will affect my life in adulthood.That was the most compelling reason for me to 100% invest in my recovery. I was no longer ambivalent.

I recovered from Anorexia. With lots of help from clinical professionals, my friends and family. My mom especially is my savior. Getting treatment early on in a mental illness is a big indicator for recovery.

Another HUGE indicator of recovery is having a support system, especially family. When I talk about eating disorders, or really any mental illness, in presentations I do as part of my profession, I really hone into the part of having family/friends that are supportive in the individual’s recovery. As that is a HUGE factor in people’s recovery from any mental illness. And it truly played a HUGE role in mine.

I truly thought I was recovered from an eating disorder all throughout high school and even college. Little did I know, at the time, that I had just switched out my eating disorder to another. Though not yet in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the book clinical professionals have used to diagnose people with mental illnesses since the 1950’s; ORTHOREXIA is the disorder I had switched to. This is pretty common for people with mental illnesses or substance use disorders to do; to switch form one disorder to another.

To explain what Orthorexia is, I’d like to add this description from the National Eating Disorders Association.

“Those who have an ‘unhealthy obsession’ with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from ‘orthorexia nervosa,’ a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but ‘orthorexics’ become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with ‘slip-ups.’ An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be ‘good,’ rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.

Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.” – National Eating Disorders Association

This is the best description of what Orthorexia is and what I went through. It may seem harmless and some may think it’s a great thing in a society that’s obsessed with weight and “healthy eating,” but like the last paragraph mentions, that rigid lifestyle can actually cause health problems. For me too, my obsession with my regimented “lifestyle” got in the way of other activities, interests and especially impaired my relationships…

I would skip out on birthday parties or other events in my friends’ lives to keep up with my regime… There are some great friends that I had, best friends, that I think my lack of being there for them during important nights of their lives truly ruined some of those friendships.

It’s sad how much of an impact my disorder has had on my life and relationships. There’s been plenty of times where I refused to go to 21st birthday parties because drinking is “bad” – I also didn’t want to consume those extra calories. I couldn’t just BE THERE for those friends and not drink, I had to continue with my night-time and everyday regimented routine. That’s how strong of a hold Orthorexia had on me. It cost my some of the most important relationships I had. .

Now taking a couple step back to high school… My friends noticed how strict I was with my diet and they did a great thing for me: they did not commend me for my ability to resist sweets and other “bad” foods, like may adults did. They attempted to get me to eat those foods. I remember my best friends trying to get me to eat ONE M&M almost everyday. I couldn’t do it. I felt a sort of superiority and sense of pride each time I refused “bad” food. But, my friends gently insisted. I say “gently insisted,” because when they started a another daily cycle at lunch or dinner, they were not pushy, they gently offered the piece of food I dare not eat and when I would say no, they might ask some questions and might pry me to eat it a little more, but they stopped. They’d still ask just about every day, but were always gentle with me…

The regimented lifestyle continued and got worse in college. I didn’t have those friends with me at college who knew my history nor were my parents or boyfriend there all the time. Instead of gaining the freshmen 15, I lost nearly 15 lbs from even more restricted eating and EXCESSIVE exercise. I would often still exercise on a sprained ankle or pulled muscle, because I couldn’t miss a day.

I discovered what Orthorexia was and diagnosed myself. This wasn’t until probably my junior or senior year of college. And I had tried to overcome it myself. My boyfriend and family really helped me through this. They really helped me try to eat what I deemed “bad” foods. It really wasn’t until my last year in graduate school that I could claim myself recovered from Orthorexia. That was when I fully understood my disorder and finally didn’t feel shame when eating what I once called “bad” foods.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd then, almost a year ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease… Where I have to again restrict my eating… But, I’m able to do so in a healthy, safe way. If interested, read more about my diagnosis,, my reaction to it, and how I’m doing with a gluten-free life by clicking here to read my past posts about it. This post is already the longest I’ve posted – don’t want to make it any longer!

So, that’s my story. As most of those who know me in the work I do now, I do a lot with raising awareness and educating people on mental illnesses (like eating disorders) within the community. I also sometimes facilitate trainings on eating disorders and body image, mainly on college campuses. So, I’m pretty open about my experiences and feel the duty to educate others on topics that most don’t understand or are really aware of because mental health issues are seen as a taboo. I make it my mission to eradicate stigma, to help make people comfortable in talking to others about mental illness (just as if it were a physical condition), and most importantly, to give people HOPE. Hope that people can and do recover.

The quote below is something I came across on Facebook and feel it’s fitting. I would add though that I don’t want it to simply be because of something I did or said to them that helped them not give up. And I don’t think that’s EVER the case. Not giving up comes from the strength of the individual (not me) – I just want to help people find that strength within themselves, find their voice, to give them HOPE.

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Parts of this story were hard for me to type, for me to share with the world. There are pieces in here that I have not told anyone, but had it either between me and my parents or within myself. So, though I’m an open book, there are pages, even chapters of my journey that I wasn’t aware of or too ashamed of to share. But, I feel it necessary, not only in raising awareness and educating others, but in my own personal recovery as well.

So, again, thank you to those who were there for me during my struggles. Whether it was in 5th grade or junior year of high school. I am grateful for all those people who have left a positive impact of my life. Especially my family: my mom, my dad, my sister and others in my family who helped me through it.

Lastly, I’d like to share a picture of my finished tattoo that I got to symbolize my recovery, my freedom from my eating disorders. I got it done 5-years ago to symbolize just that, but recently added the colors and words (that I believe represent what it took for me to recover).

Being fully recovered from both my eating disorders and shortly after finishing my tattoo, symbolizes a lot to me personally. The blue symbol in the wing is the National Eating Disorders Association symbol. Though I am recovered and am free of my eating disorders, they have left an impact on my life. And I will never forget what it took for me to recover. And of course everyone who joined and stuck with me on my path to a healthy, happy life.❤

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Dr. King’s Words Put into Action

So, this post is a little off topic of what I normally post in this Blog, but that’s ok. It’s my blog and I’ll write about whatever I want to.🙂 Expect a lot more of these kinds of posts.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I’m feeling a little nostalgic, a little… Emotional.

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I’ve been reading a lot of quotes by Dr. King – of course I’ve read many of them – but today I’m looking at how I can take those words that wise man once spoke and use them in my everyday life. I do in fact believe and express the same beliefs as Dr. King. It’s just in the past year or so that I have discovered how much I encompass those qualities Dr. King emphasizes and that those are the qualities that I like about myself and hope to utilize to build a career, a life off of.

Dr. King was a man of caring and advocating for others. He believed that all  human beings deserved the to be treated with DIGNITY and RESPECT. That is what I believe. No matter a person’s path, everyone is still human.

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So many humans have been discriminated against and deprived of basic human needs. Look at where we are now in 2015 compared to 1900. We’ve come so far. Women couldn’t vote 100 years ago. People of color couldn’t go into the same restroom as white people. Coming out of the closet was not an option for our LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, there is still HATE and DISCRIMINATION out there in the world by those who refuse to move forward, by those who refuse to chose LOVE and ACCEPTANCE.

My mission in life is to HELP, LOVE, RESPECT, and CARE for others. Doing a kind thing for a complete stranger gives me such satisfaction, so much… Happiness. I was driving on the freeway today and there was an accident on the side of the road. I was in the left lane and the man in the semi truck in the right lane near the accident. The man driving the semi truck noticed the accident last minute and turned on his blinkers. I slowed down and waved the man over. Once we were passed the accident and he returned to the right lane, as I passed him he waved at me in thanks. That SIMPLE kind gesture (as well as for safety purposes) made my day. It’s not so much that the man noticed what I did, but that he recognized that I did it out of his and the people on the side of the road’s well being. I didn’t have to let him over and he didn’t have to wave at me to show his appreciation of what I did. The entire sequence of our interaction was out of kindness and caring for other people’s well being. That’s the kind of world I want to live in, those are the kind of people I like to me around.

Also like Dr. King. I believe in the power of knowledge. The power of a good education. Education that doesn’t teach one WHAT to think but to give the skills of HOW to think. Ignorance is poison. Ignorance creates hate. And hate develops so many scary, ugly things. And my job is to spread knowledge, to educate others. And mainly on STIGMA – something that not only hurts people’s feelings, but creates oppression and discrimination in our society. I go into schools, jails, residential treatment centers, churches and all over the community to educate about some of the most discriminated topics – MENTAL HEALTH.

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Just like race, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, people are discriminated against because of their diagnosis with a mental illness. That stigma and fear of judgement can shield a person from getting help and treatment. Not getting treatment can make life ever so difficult to function, to perform essential everyday activities such as grooming, going to school or works, eating, etc. A mental illness can be just as or more disabling than cancer and paraplegia. If one cannot not function enough to go to work to earn money to pay for their house, care, clothes, and food they lose all of that. As of January 2014, there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. That’s HUGE!

Now, this post is just a beginning of future posts to come about this topic of stigma, helping others and everything in between. I have a new vision of what I want to do with my future career. It involves a lot of what I’ve posted about today, giving people and animals second chances.🙂 More to come on that vision later. Until then, be kind to others and most importantly, be kind to yourself.

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2014 Hurdles Have Made for Some Strong Legs

What a year 2014 has been thus far, and we still have a few months left of it! It’s been filled with ups and downs. The ups: landing my first big girl job and LOVING it. Buying our first house and new car.

But, the downfalls have made me a stronger person. Metaphor time: all those hurdles have made my legs, my body stronger to move forward and to prepare for the next hurdle.

I love metaphors. And running. So that analogy suited me well.

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First, let me start off saying that I know people who have been through some far worse “hurdles” this year. I was not diagnosed with incurable cancer nor did I lose someone I love. I feel for and empathize for people who have gone through those and similar experiences. But, these are my hurdles of my year. I am thankful for my health and family.

So, let’s start with my Celiac Disease diagnosis. How has that made my “legs” stronger? Well, now I know why I’ve had stomach issues all my life! Though I’m not 100% better after a few months of being gluten-free, I know what I need to do to keep my body healthy. I’ve already started improving my times in the races I’ve done this year too!

Next…. I’ve been on Celexa for well over five years and it decided to stop working for me. My anxiety and depression increased. I would break down in tears randomly, not want to get out of bed and felt alone (no matter how many people were around me). On top of that I starting feeling this strange sensation in my head that I describe as brain zaps. This usually happens when one is having withdrawal from an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressant (such as Celexa). But, I was still taking the highest dosage of it.

So, after consulting with my doctor, he switched me to another SSRI, telling me that after being on certain SSRI for a long period of time they just stop working. The brain zaps were still there, and one day at work, they intensified. As did my anxiety. I couldn’t think straight, felt dizzy and shaky. Not knowing what I should do, I went into my supervisor’s office (who thankfully is wonderful person – and counselor!). When I started explaining what was happening I began to hyperventilate and cry. I had my first, and hopefully last, anxiety attack. And at work… Again, THANKFULLY my boss is super understanding and took me to the ER. During the anxiety attack, I had no idea what was going on with me.

How has an anxiety attack made me stronger? Well, I think it’s helped me see just how real and scary a panic or anxiety attack really is. This increased empathy towards those who go through this will make me a better instructor of Mental Health First Aid and as a person in general. Since then I’ve been on two different medications and think I’ve finally found the one that works for me.

I also have turned to the wonderful practice of yoga due to my anxiety as well as the pain from my scoliosis. I’ve been doing yoga for about a month now and can already feel the difference not only in the physical sense, but the mental and emotional sense as well.

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Lastly, my computer’s hard drive crashed and I wasn’t smart enough to back up my files… This means that my book I was writing “My Marathon to Recovery” that I’ve been working on for 2-3 years now is… GONE. I’ve looked through my e-mail accounts, old flash drives and asked around to see if I’ve ever sent a copy. Zero, zip, nada… All those years of putting my heart and soul into that book is gone, disappeared into nothingness.

“You’re boyfriend is a computer geek though.” Yeah, I know, he tried EVERYTHING he could. The hard drive was dead…

I wouldn’t say I got “stronger” at first from losing my hard work. More like infuriated, upset, feeling hopeless. Later, I took this as a challenge. This just means I need to revisit those thoughts, those memories I once had about my struggle and triumph over my eating disorder. Gotta strengthen those fingers through LOTS of typing!

Again, this post isn’t to ensue sympathy, but about how we can turn our downfalls or hurdles into something positive. It’s about being optimistic.

One of my favorite quotes, and another great metaphor,  by Jimmy Dean demonstrates just that, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

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We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can adjust how we deal and see these things. Instead of struggling with the change, we need to just adjust our sails, whether it be our diet due to a diagnosis or our mentality about something that we cannot change. We need to stop fighting against a powerful force that will simply not letup, and adjust our sails.

Back to the hurdles metaphor… We will always be presented with hurdles on our path. The more hurdles we jump over, the stronger we become. Don’t let a hurdle, no matter how big or small, stand in your way of your happiness, health, or your goals.

 

Fighting Relapse

It’s been about two weeks that I’ve been gluten-free – or at least attempted to be. At first, my diagnosis of Celiac Disease was a relief, but now it’s a reality and more than ever I need to fight relapse from my eating disorder.

Also when I received the diagnosis, I was in the midst of becoming an intuitive eater. What’s that? According to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating:  A Revolutionary Program that Works, “Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body–where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom.   It’s also a process of making peace with food—so that you no longer have constant ‘food worry’ thoughts. It’s knowing that your health and your worth as a person do not change, because you ate a food that you had labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘fattening.'”

I bought the book after hearing about this amazing concept, not diet, and started to go through the steps. I was getting good at it! I was eating what I wanted WHEN I wanted. I felt great. I had overcome and recovered from anorexia AND orthorexia, now I was an intuitive eater. I was kicking my eating disorders’ ass! I even coach others through my job’s employee assistance program to become intuitive eaters as well! I have two clients so far and so far they’ve reported doing well.

But then this diagnosis came along… It’s been MUCH harder to eat WHAT I want… There are some alternatives to my favorite foods, like pizza, frozen yogurt, bread. The pizza is disgusting and the bread will take some getting used to.

The symptoms I’ve been experiencing have gotten worse too — not sure if it’s the process of going gluten free or if I’m already more sensitive to gluten than if even a little bit is in some foods I’m getting sick. The symptoms I’ve experienced that are heightened include:

  • Brain Fog
  • Bloat and stomach pain
  • Gassiness
  • Fatigue (it’s been much harder to get out of bed…)
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Weakness

I’ve had these symptoms for a few months now, but they’ve gotten worse over the past couple weeks.

Another concern is relapse. I sought out a new psychiatrist, mainly because the one I’ve been seeing since I was 12 wasn’t working for me and I didn’t feel like he really listened. So, I actually went to a Board-certified advanced practice psychiatric nurse practitioner recently and truly felt like I was heard. Meeting with him was when I truly realized the possibility for relapse. He recommended I see a psychologist there that sees patients with eating disorders. And I agreed. I also agreed to see a nutritionist who can help me go through the process of being totally gluten free.

That was another moment of relief. I don’t need to go through all this on my own. I have GREAT support from family and friends, but it’ll be even better with professional support.

I have been an advocate and spokesperson for eating disorder recovery and prevention for years now. I can’t let myself slip back down the hole — it’s not just for me, but for the others I advocate for. I’m not super human and I need to take care of my physical and mental health.

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Maybe I will relapse, though I will fight to prevent that from happening. But, if it does happen I’ll have people there by my side.

I spoke with a friend from college the other day who was going through relapse to her eating disorder. Talking to her too made me realize that it is real. Relapse CAN happen. But, she is proactive. She reached out to me to talk and see if I can offer advice as to what I do and sought professional help as well. Talking to that great friend gave me the courage to seek help myself. We were both going through some transitions that have sparked a possible relapse to our past eating disorders — I am SO glad she reached out to me when she did, because it not only put her mind at ease but mine as well. THANK YOU, friend. You know who you are.🙂

As always, I’ll keep this blog up to date with my road to recovery.

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Just Another Obstacle on the Road to Recovery

I just received a call from my doctor on some lab testing I had done last week. I tested positive for Celiac Disease…. It’s something I’ve thought I may have for years, but didn’t want to face it. Don’t know what Celieac Disease is? Well here, let me quickly educate you!

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.  It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.  2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

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Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.”

My sister was just recently diagnosed with Celiac too, so my risk was pretty high already!

Long-Term Health Effects

Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems. These include the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers.

Well I definitely got the short stature part, standing at a mere 4’11”!

There are two steps to finding out if you have celiac disease: screening and diagnosis. I’ve had the blood test done, now I just need to meet with my doctor to see what the next steps are…

Just Another Bump in the Road

As you all, at least those who’ve been following my blog or even just on Facebook, know, I have a history of two eating disorders: Anorexia and Orthorexia. So, having Celiac is going to be hard for me to avoid triggers – but I know I can do it!

Through my eating disorders over the past 15 years or so, I’ve gone from restricting calories and basic nutrition to my body to restricting taste and foods that I love. Now, I have to go back to restricting foods that I love, bread, pasta, bagels, GLUTEN, due to the autoimmune disease… Of course the reasoning for the restriction is totally different, but to my mind it almost feels the same.

BUT, I’m a fighter, a survivor, and this disease is just another bump in the road on my journey through recovery, through life.

I’ve always been one of those people who thrive on chaos, big deadlines, and stressful situations. Heck, I wanted to be a journalist for the longest time – even went to college for it! I love staying busy – challenges make me happy. So, I see this as another challenge. And yet another disease that I can speak on and shed light on/bring awareness too.

I think going gluten free will also help me in competing in marathons and triathlons! I’ve always had terrible stomach issues, especially when competing. Hopefully dealing with this disease the right way will improve my performance as well!

More Stigma to Erase

Also, this gives me another disease to break stigma on! I hear A LOT of people going gluten free for diet, weight-loss purposes… So, when people hear about others going gluten-free, there’s a stigma that they’re doing it as a fad diet, the weight-loss purposes. Not many people know what Celiac Disease is, just like most people don’t understand mental illness like eating disorders.

 

I see my doctor next week to find out the next steps. I’ll share more on my journey of becoming gluten free whilst also avoiding triggering myself of my eating disorders.

Erasing the Stigma

Mental illness. Two words that make a majority of people uncomfortable. Two words that 1 in 5 Americans experience.

People are more likely to talk about their physical ailments than their mental. Even though, mental health problems are more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer COMBINED. Then why do so many people cringe or judge over someone with a mental illness?

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It’s called STIGMA. As those who have been following my blog over the past couple of years know, I am VERY open about my mental disorders. From the age of 11 I was dually diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I also have General Anxiety Disorder, have had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, recovered from Orthorexia and depression. But you probably wouldn’t have guessed it if you knew me in high school or college. I’ve always been super involved in school and sports. But, the fact is, the happy-go-lucky girl has always been battling some sort of inner battle. I’m no longer ashamed of my disorders, I know it’s just part of my makeup and I’m proud of the woman I’ve become.

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Former President Bill Clinton

Here’s some statistics on mental disorders. A national survey of Americans found that 19.6% of adults (18 or older) experienced a mental disorder in any one year. This is equivalent to 45.6 million people.

Percentage of American Adults with Mental Disorders in Any One Year

TYPE OF MENTAL DISORDER

ADULTS

Anxiety Disorders

19.1%

Major Depressive Disorder

6.8%

Substance Use Disorder

8%

Bipolar Disorder

2.8%

Eating Disorders

2.1%

Schizophrenia

0.45%

Any mental disorder

19.6%

I think it’s important to note here that these statistics are based on REPORTED mental disorders. The percentage of people who go undiagnosed and untreated are unknown. I truly believe all of these numbers are much larger. But, what’s reported is still very significant and alarming.

So, I make it my mission to erase that stigma of mental illness, educate others and put a face to the disorders I’ve gone through in my life.

Mental Health First Aid

Last week I went through Mental Health First Aid training (MHFA). I’m sure a majority of you have taken CPR and First Aid Training to be able to assist a loved on or stranger in a physical health crisis. But, did you know you’re more likely to encounter someone experiencing a mental health crisis over a physical one?

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Mental Health First Aid is just like First Aid training, it aims to teach members of the pubic how to respond in a mental health emergency and offer support to someone who appears to be in emotional distress.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention… A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentional words.” – Rachel Naomi Remen, Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine, University of California

Those eight hours of MHFA training were so worth it. And I truly believe EVERYONE should go through the training! I thought I was knowledgeable about the subject going into it, but coming out of it I had learned SO much more and made me feel more powerful and confident in assisting someone going through a mental health crisis.

Here are some facts that might help your decision in getting MHFA trained too:

  • Did you know 1 in 5 people experience a panic attack?
  • Untreated depression causes an average of 5 hours per week, or more than 3 days a month of lost productivity in the workplace.
  • One person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes.
  • You can assist someone going through a mental health crisis get the appropriate care.
  • YOU can save a life.

Now let’s dispel some common myths:

“Mental disorders are signs of weakness or personality flaws. If someone wants to be happy, they simply can be happy. If you ignore the problem and use willpower, the problem will simply go away.”

These beliefs are inaccurate and hurtful. Mental disorders cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem typically makes it worse. Treatment strategies will differ for each individual, but professional help is the first step. Depression and other major mental disorders have nothing to do with laziness or lack of willpower.

“People with mental disorders are violent.”

Individuals living with mental disorders are no more likely than a member of the general population to commit a violent act. Research shows that as a group, people with mental disorders are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. More than one quarter of persons with severe mental illness had been victims of a violent crime in the past year, a rate more than 11 times higher than the general population. Put another way, research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent DO NOT suffer from mental disorders. The truth of the matter is those people we hear about on the news who’ve brought a gun to a school or committed some other form of violence and were said to have had a mental illness are the exception. 

“‘Healthy’ people aren’t affected by traumatic events. If they are, it’s because they really do have a mental health problem.”

Trauma can affect anyone, regardless of how strong or psychologically healthy.

People with psychosis usually come from a dysfunctional family.

FALSE

It’s important to educate yourself further on mental disorders. It’s also just as important, if not more important, to become Mental Health First Aid trained as it is First Aid trained. Click here to visit the MHFA website and learn more!

Not only do I feel more educated and skillful in helping someone else with a mental health crisis, but I also feel more apt to take better care of my own mental health. I’ve gone to counselors and psychiatrists since I was probably about the age of 10. But, lately I’ve been experiencing more of my anxiety symptoms and have been shoving it off, taking care of my physical ailments such a sprained ankle and shoulder bursitis. I ice and elevate my sprained ankle, but I wasn’t doing anything to help with my anxiety issues. So, before I made this post, I scheduled an appointment with a new psychiatrist, since I’m not a fan of the one I’ve been seeing since I was 12. I can’t just tell people how important their mental well-being is and then overlook my own. That is just too hypocritical of me and just not healthy.

I tried to make this blog post as short and to the point as possible – so y’all would be more apt to read the whole thing.🙂

Take care of yourselves, physically and mentally.

(Much of the information here was found in the Mental Health First Aid USA Manual, 2013)

So You Think You Know What Eating Disorders Are? Do You?

Listening to the radio the other day, I got pretty heated. Y’all probably heard that the popstar Ke$ha admitted herself into treatment for an eating disorder. Well, this radio talk show host was reporting on it and made a VERY ignorant statement. It went something like this: “I don’t know why she has an eating disorder. She’s always been really hot and skinny.” REALLY?!? If this is WHY people think people get an eating disorder, then there needs to be more education on this mental illness…

So, instead of throwing a hissy-fit, I decided to write a blog post to EDUCATE people on what an eating disorder really is, its contributing factors, signs and symptoms, as well as what to do if you have a friend who you think has an eating disorder. I know, I know, a lot of you are all like “Pshhhhhh, I know what an eating disorder is!” You probably do not… So read on my friends!🙂

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is defined by the Encyclopedia as, “any of several PSYCHOLOGICAL disorders (as anorexia nervosa or bulimia) characterized by serious disturbances of eating behavior.” See, eating disorders are severe mental illnesses.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder – include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males.”

In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011). For various reasons, many cases are likely not to be reported.

A new study estimates that approximately a half million teens struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.

Despite the prevalence of eating disorders, they continue to receive inadequate research funding.

Illness                                            Prevalence                    NIH Research Funds (2011)
Alzheimer’s Disease                        5.1 million                     $450,000,000
Autism                                            3.6 million                     $160,000,000
Schizophrenia                                3.4 million                     $276,000,000 
Eating disorders                             30 million                      $28,000,000

Research dollars spent on Alzheimer’s Disease averaged $88 per affected individual in 2011. For Schizophrenia the amount was $81. For Autism $44. For eating disorders the average amount of research dollars per affected individual was just $0.93. (National Institutes of Health, 2011). Doesn’t make sense does it?

Types of Eating Disorders

((Information gathered from NEDA))

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.  Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition.

Symptoms

  • Inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is clearly too low.
  • Intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain.
  • Self-esteem overly related to body image.
  • Inability to appreciate the severity of the situation.
  • Binge-Eating/Purging Type involves binge eating and/or purging behaviors during the last three months.
  • Restricting Type does not involve binge eating or purging.

Eating disorders experts have found that prompt intensive treatment significantly improves the chances of recovery.  Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa.

Warning Signs

  • Dramatic weight loss.
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).
  • Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss.
  • Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat.”
  • Denial of hunger.
  • Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
  • Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation. The body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, so it is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy. This “slowing down” can have serious medical consequences:

  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing.  The risk for heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Dry hair and skin, hair loss is common.
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Symptoms

  • Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
  • A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes.
  • Self-esteem overly related to body image.

The chance for recovery increases the earlier bulimia nervosa is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of bulimia nervosa.

Warning Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or finding wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
  • Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the compulsive need to “burn off” calories taken in.
  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
  • Creation of lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
  • Continued exercise despite injury; overuse injuries.

Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body.  The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system and purging behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.  Some of the health consequences of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.  Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
  • Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.

Symptoms

  • Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
  • A feeling of being out of control during the binge eating episodes.
  • Feelings of strong shame or guilt regarding the binge eating.
  • Indications that the binge eating is out of control, such as eating when not hungry, eating to the point of discomfort, or eating alone because of shame about the behavior.

Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder

The health risks of BED are most commonly those associated with clinical obesity.  Some of the potential health consequences of binge eating disorder include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Musculoskeletal problems

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Formerly described at Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) in the DSM-IV, Other Specified Feeling or Eating Disorder (OSFED), is a feeding or eating disorder that causes significant distress or impairment, but does not meet the criteria for another feeding or eating disorder.

Examples of OSFED Include:

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa (weight is not below normal)
  • Bulimia nervosa (with less frequent behaviors)
  • Binge-eating disorder (with less frequent occurrences)
  • Purging disorder (purging without binge eating)
  • Night eating syndrome (excessive nighttime food consumption)

The commonality in all of these conditions is the serious emotional and psychological suffering and/or serious problems in areas of work, school or relationships. If something does not seem right, but your experience does not fall into a clear category, you still deserve attention. If you are concerned about your eating and exercise habits and your thoughts and emotions concerning food, activity and body image, we urge you to consult an ED expert.

Orthorexia

Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”  Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity.  They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”

Do I Have Orthorexia?

Consider the following questions.  The more questions you respond “yes” to, the more likely you are dealing with orthorexia.

  • Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
  • Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
  • Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
  • Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
  • Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
  • Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?

There are other eating disorders out there – but the ones listed are the most common. If you want more information on types of eating disorders, please visit the National Eating Disorders Associations’ website by clicking here.

What Causes an Eating Disorder?

I hear it ALL the time. The answer to WHY people, especially young women, form an eating disorder is because of the media and our society’s impeding expectations of how our bodies should look – THIN. Nope, no prize for you! Cultural expectations may CONTRIBUTE to a possible eating disorder, BUT only when other factors are already there, such as having a family member who suffered from an eating disorder (eating disorders are genetic like many other mental illnesses).

So, saying one single factor causes an eating disorder many be incorrect. X does NOT = an eating disorder. X + Y + B + D + C may CONTRIBUTE to an eating disorder.

Shoot, if our culture’s expectations of our bodies were the only culprit contributing to eating disorders, EVERYONE would have one. But that’s not the case, fortunately.

Below are factors that CONTRIBUTE to an eating disorder.

Psychological Factors that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, stress or loneliness

Interpersonal Factors that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Troubled personal relationships
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
  • History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
  • History of physical or sexual abuse

Social Factors that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Cultural pressures that glorify “thinness” or muscularity and place value on obtaining the “perfect body”
  • Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes
  • Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths
  • Stress related to racial, ethnic, size/weight-related or other forms of discrimination or prejudice

Biological Factors that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced. The exact meaning and implications of these imbalances remain under investigation.
  • Eating disorders often run in families. Current research indicates that there are significant genetic contributions to eating disorders.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that can arise from a variety of potential causes. Once started, however, they can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional destruction. Successful treatment of eating disorders requires professional help.

I Think Someone I Love May Be Suffering from an Eating Disorder…

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, there’s help!

What to Say—Step by Step

  • Set a time to talk. Set aside a time for a private, respectful meeting with your friend to discuss your concerns openly and honestly in a caring, supportive way. Make sure you will be some place away from distractions.
  • Communicate your concerns. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about your friend’s eating or exercise behaviors. Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional attention.
  • Ask your friend to explore these concerns with a counselor, doctor, nutritionist, or other health professional who is knowledgeable about eating disorders. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to help your friend make an appointment or accompany your friend on their first visit.
  • Avoid conflicts or a battle of wills with your friend. If your friend refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem, or any reason for you to be concerned, restate your feelings and the reasons for them and leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your friend regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements such as, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”
  • Express your continued support.Remind your friend that you care and want your friend to be healthy and happy.
  • After talking with your friend, if you are still concerned with their health and safety, find a trusted adult or medical professional to talk to. This is probably a challenging time for both of you. It could be helpful for you, as well as your friend, to discuss your concerns and seek assistance and support from a professional.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association’s Helpline

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Eating disorders are SERIOUS, LIFE-THREATENING mental illnesses – not to be joked about or taken lightly. I encourage you all to further educate yourself on eating disorders and be an advocate for positive body image.

Health at Every Size: Why Being “Obese” Is Not the Issue

There is A LOT of focus in today’s society on this “obesity epidemic.” Plenty of doctors and health professionals focus on reducing the  35.7% statistic of Americans who are obese. HOWEVER, there is little to no research backing up that obesity actually CAUSES heart disease, certain types of cancer and early death.

Now, stay with me, OK? I know this will offset A LOT of criticism, I’m asking you to keep your mind open and think. It’s about being a critical reader and viewer – questioning the validity and reliability of research studies done in the past. There is actually a plethora of research out there over the past 20 years that go against what is so popular today about obesity. Studies that found no relationship between weight and health, or those correlating a high weight with height, far outnumber the thinner-is-better studies.

“The Body Wars industries simplify and scapegoat the issue of weight in order to promote dieting, but the myths they have promoted are from from the truth.”

“The evil view of obesity has come from four places: the insurance industry, the medical moralizers, the drug industry and the docile, unquestioned nutritionists who are too often dupes of faddists and hucksters.” – George Mann, Physician

According to Rothblum, E.D., Studies to determine the causes of obesity are often based on limited research and a blindness to obvious factors. For example, socioeconomic status (SES) is rarely examined, despite that obesity and poverty are closely linked in the US. Non-obese Americans tend to be in higher economic strata, and are more likely be more educated and have greater access to dietary and health information, while obese people from lower SES groups have less access to such information.

“The establishment clings to the belief that weight causes disease and death just as people once insisted that the world was flat.” – Susan Woolsey, Co-editor, Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders

As described in her book “Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies,” Margo Maine, Ph.D. said “one powerful stereotype implies that all obese people causes their own “weight problems” by uncontrolled eating. Research over the past 30 years has not confirmed this… In 12 of 13 studies reviewed by one author, obese people ate the SAME amount or less food than non-obese people. Other studies have examined more specific eating habits and found NO major difference in food choice, the amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, or fat consumed, or other food-related behaviors.”

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….Obesity myths ignore genetic contributions. Genetics affect weight, distribution of body fat, frame metabolism and appetite. Contrary to popular belief, weight is NOT a reliable measure of mortality or character strength. It is a complex mix of biological, social and psychological issues as well as lifestyle influences (Maine, 2000).”

As found in much research, “extra” weight can actually be an advantage against the onset and mortality associated with some diseases (Margo, 2000). Larger men and women have have a lower risk for lung cancer (regardless of smoking) and osteoporosis.  Studies repeatedly demonstrate that underweight people are most at risk for health problems. The American Cancer Society found in 1969 that weight loss, whether voluntary or involuntary, dramatically increases the risk of premature death by heart disease or stroke. This study followed 800,000 mean and women ages 40-79 for six years and found no connection between weight gain and mortality. Only weight loss was associated with mortality (Garner & Wooley, 1991).

“The kinds of disease we see in overweight people are the same diseases we see in sedentary and unfit people of EVERY weight. How can we be so sure it’s weight that kills? Maybe it’s just inactivity.” – Steven Blair, Epidemiologist and Exercise Physiologist

Dispelling the Obesity Myths (Maine, 2000):

1. Weight is NOT a reliable predictor of health and health risk.

2. Being slightly above average weight does NOT put you at health risk.

3. There are no found significant differences between the eating habits of “normal” and “obese” people.

4. When it comes to weight, genetics is more important than environment or learned behavior.

5. Being underweight DOES present health risks.

6. The health problems associated with obesity actual are a results of dieting.

7. The weights recommended by the Metropolitan Tables are unreliable, non-universal standard for people.

8. Weight should NOT be stable after the age of 25. Especially for women – women gain more weight upon menopause.

9. Fat on the body is NOT always a predictor of dangerous fat in the body, such as clogged arteries.

Health at Every Size

This brings me to a pretty new public health philosophy, Health at Every Size (HAES). It’s considered the new peace movement. HAES is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.

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Here is another excerpt from the HAES website:

Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.

Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.

– An excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD

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Once I found this philosophy as well as read Maine’s book, I decided that I will not only be an advocate/activist for body acceptance, but also for the push for the incorporation of HAES in EVERY health setting. I am starting training and one-on-one coaching at my employer with our clients.

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It’s time we stop being so obsessed and preoccupied with diets, “fatness,” self-hatred, and striving to be the “thin ideal.” Of course you still want to encourage eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough protein and being physically active – it’s a matter of doing away with discrimination of size and start accepting our bodies as they are. Because, in reality, they’re pretty darn amazing! So let’s start treating them so.

 

An Injury as a Blessing in Disguise

It’s been a total of 51 days since I last ran. And guess what? I’m still alive and mentally stable! As a recovering Orthorexic, this is what I would have thought last year if I hadn’t ran for that long. Going 51 days without running, I would have relapsed and started limiting my food intake and restricting what I ate and only ate what I deemed “healthy.” But, as a recovering Orthorexic and Anorexic, that did not happen and I couldn’t be prouder of myself.

I hurt my knee back in early August due to a nasty fall, which caused a sprained MCL. I was running with Blake and our two dogs in our development on some uneven sidewalks. I wasn’t paying attention to the change in elevation and fell. It didn’t help that my dog Miles was pulling me forward during my fight against gravity and we were going DOWN hill… Despite the blood and bruising, I finished my run. And the next day, instead of icing my sore knee and resting, I went on a “long” run. My knee started to hurt really bad around mile four, but I was supposed to go 16 miles, so I pushed myself to go at least seven… Silly me… I took a DAY off and continued on my regular training schedule. I had not let myself enough time to heal, so it just kept getting worse.

I was scheduled to get in a 20-mile run a few weeks later, and BARELY got in 10. The week after that, with a FULL week off of running (still biking and swimming), I went out to get in that 20-miler and barely made it five and was limping… RUH ROH…

So, with two weeks until the Akron Marathon, I headed to the Orthopedic who took XRAYS and said there’s nothing wrong with the bones, I must have either a sprained MCL or a bone bruise. We would have to do an MRI to get the exact diagnosis, but he said both are treated the same – ice, rest and elevation – so he didn’t want to waste my money, or his time… He wasn’t very helpful. So, I took those two weeks off of running. I biked a few times, but even that made it worse… So no biking either!

So, I ran the Akron Marathon on September 28th. And that was the last time I’ve ran…

I did not anticipate on finishing. I thought I would barely make it to the halfway point of 13.1. Blake ran the half so we stayed together. I had a knee brace on and it actually seemed to help! I felt little to no pain during the run.

Blake and Colleen

Once we neared where the half and full marathon split I told him I wanted to go a little further and possible stop at an aid station around mile 16 or 18 and have them drive me back to the finish line and not finish.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Around mile 18 my knee did start to hurt, so I did stop at an aid station, with the mindset that I was done. The nurses gave me some Icey Hot and Advil. Then one nurse asked if I wanted to finish. I was surprised that she even asked and to have FINISHING as an option, I took it!

So, off I went with even more motivation to finish because of those amazing women at aid station 18!

Courtesy of RunPhotos.com

Courtesy of RunPhotos.com

Courtesy of RunPhotos.com

Courtesy of RunPhotos.com

Though I had to walk a few times and went A LOT slower than my original intended pace and time (before the injury), that was still my proudest and favorite marathon yet! I had not had all the training I needed and my longest run was 15 miles. So that made it even more rewarding.

Courtesy of RunPhotos.com.

Courtesy of RunPhotos.com.

Plus, I LOVE the Akron Marathon – it’s such a spectacular marathon. So much better than the Cleveland, which I’ll NEVER run in again. I am SOOOOOOOOOO happy I was able to EARN that beautiful medal and jacket!

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I haven’t ran since that day… And I stopped biking, because it was making my knee hurt more. I rarely swim anymore either. So, I’ve mainly been walking and lifting, doing upper body workouts. And I’m OK with that.

I wouldn’t want it to be like this forever, but I’m OK with allowing my knee to fully heal.

And I’m OK with still eating. I still have a cookie or chocolate here and there too! Oh, and for lunch after the Akron Marathon I ate Little Ceasar’s pizza for the first time in YEARS! The deep dish is sensational! I’ve have a few other times since then.🙂 And may I add, without an ounce of guilt!

So, this injury has been sort of blessing in disguise… It’s tested my will power. It’s shown me that even without running and doing extraneous exercise I still love my body and will treat it right.

This injury has also allowed me to let my body heal and get me even more pumped up for next year’s races! AND, it’s taught me more about my body and to listen to it when it’s hurting.

My Story on Why Indoor Tanning Beds Are Evil & Why You Should Quit the Deadly Habit Too

We all know it’s bad for us, yet on an average day in the United States, more than 1 million people tan in tanning salons.

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I too was one of those people who visited tanning salons on a regular basis. From my junior year in high school well into my senior year of college, I was an infrequent user. I would sign up for a tanning package before a big dance, graduation, or randomly during the winter months to mask my paleness.

It was the summer before my first year of graduate school when I stopped going completely. Of course I always KNEW how bad tanning was for me, but it was my insecurities that led me into the salons every time. My excuses were that it helped my complexion, it made me feel better about myself, and the oldest one in the book, that it helped with my depression.

The truth is that the tanning beds just dried up my skin and made it darker, so blemishes were less noticeable (not like I ever had acne anyways), and tanning never really made me feel 100% more confident with my body – it was just a cop out. And yes, it does give off some vitamin D, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “studies showing links between vitamin D and other health conditions are inconsistent. Although it is important to get enough vitamin D, the safest way is through diet or supplements. Tanning harms your skin, and the amount of time spent tanning to get enough vitamin D varies from person to person.”

According to the CDC, “Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer.  Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from indoor tanning equipment is the most important preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Indoor tanning before age 35 increases a person’s risk of getting melanoma by 75 percent. Sunburn indicates too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation.”

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Yet, nearly 28 million American tan indoors annually (AAD). Nearly 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are Caucasian girls and women, primarily aged 16 to 29 years.

That summer when I completely stopped going to tanning beds was when I decided to have my first visit with a dermatologist. It was the least I could do for my poor skin that had suffered from hours of “fake baking.” The dermatologist said that I had a TON of moles, and even deemed me the “Queen of Moles.” That first visit I was told I needed to get five of my moles removed because they were abnormal and would possibly be cancerous.

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A couple weeks later, I came back and had them removed. It was fast and easy – slightly painful. They numbed the area around each mole with a shot and then scraped them off with a knife – I’m sure there’s a technical name for the device, but we’ll just call it a knife. The shots were what was painful, and especially in some of the particular areas of my body. Some of the areas where I had moles removed were places where the sun has never shined, but the tanning bulbs had!

Having those moles removed and the assurance from my wonderful dermatologist on how bad tanning is for people made me never want to tan again.

A couple months ago one of the assistants found an abnormal mole between two of my toes on my right foot. That was a bad sign. My dermatologist went on to tell me that moles that appear in places like between the toes, fingers, or on the soles of your feet are more likely to be melanoma… So, I had to go see a surgical dermatologist because it would be more difficult to get to and they would need to go deeper to remove the mole.

After waiting a couple months to get the surgery, since I was in the midst of training for triathlons and a marathon (the surgical dermatologist assured me I’d be OK to wait a little longer), I was FINALLY scheduled to have it removed and biopsied. LUCKILY, they came back negative – NO CANCER. ((whewwww)) But, because of my risk factors, keeping track of my skin and moles is something that I need to take seriously.

Debunking the Myths (from the CDC and my Dermatologist, Dr. Cohn):

“Tanning indoors is safer than tanning in the sun.”

Indoor tanning and tanning outside are both dangerous. Although tanning beds operate on a timer, the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can vary based on the age and type of light bulbs. You can still get a burn from tanning indoors, and even a tan indicates damage to your skin. Tanning beds cause about 1,800 injuries requiring visits to the emergency room every year.

“I can use a tanning bed to get a base tan, which will protect me from getting a sunburn.”

A tan is a response to injury: skin cells respond to damage from UV rays by producing more pigment. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is by using these tips for skin cancer prevention.

“Indoor tanning is a safe way to get vitamin D, which prevents many health problems.”

Vitamin DExternal Web Site Icon is important for bone health, but studies showing links between vitamin D and other health conditions are inconsistent. Although it is important to get enough vitamin D, the safest way is through diet or supplements. Tanning harms your skin, and the amount of time spent tanning to get enough vitamin D varies from person to person.

“My dermatologist prescribed me to tan for my acne.”

You probably want to go see a different dermatologist if they’re telling you this. My dermatologist is 100% against tanning beds and says that those dermatologists are wrong and putting their patients in danger. The truth is that yes, the bulbs in the beds dries out your skin, so there’s less oil, hence less pimples. The darker your complexion, the least likely you are to notice blemishes. So tanning for acne or other skin conditions is purely for cosmetic reasons. If your dermatologist prescribes you with tanning, he or she is just looking out for your appearance, not your health. Tanning will not cure your acne or other skin condition, it is just downright incorrect and dangerous

Risks of indoor tanning  (AAD)

  • The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency of Research on Cancer panel has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).6
  • Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, including beds, lamps, bulbs, booths, etc., emits UVA and UVB radiation. The amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases might be stronger.7,8
  • Studies have found a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning, and the risk increases with each use.9,10,11
  • Evidence from several studies has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.1,2,10,12
  • Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to premature skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma. 1,13-16
  • In addition to the above mentioned risks, frequent, intentional exposure to UV light may lead to an addiction to tanning.17
  • Indoor tanning beds/lamps should be avoided and should not be used to obtain vitamin D because UV radiation from indoor tanning is a risk factor for skin cancer. Vitamin D can be obtained by a eating a healthy diet and by taking oral supplements.
  • In a recent survey of adolescent tanning bed users, it was found that about 58 percent had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps.18
  • The FDA estimates that there are about 3,000 hospital emergency room cases a year due to indoor tanning bed and lamp exposure.19

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Schedule a Full Body Check with a Dermatologist, TODAY!

Everyone, regardless of age or skin tone, should visit their dermatologist for a full body check once per year. However, If you are at a higher risk for development of skin cancer you should visit the dermatologist twice per year (like me). You are considered high risk if you have a fair complexion, freckles, red or blonde hair or you have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past,

And remember, between visits it is important to be familiar with your own body. Know every mole or freckle, so if it changes you will notice and can get into your dermatologist to get it check out.

Dermatologists suggest using the ABCDE rule.

 A – Asymmetry: One half is different than the other half

B – Border of Irregularity: The edges are notched, uneven or blurred

C – Color: The color is uneven. Shades of brown, tan and black are present

D – Diameter: The diameter is greater than 6 mm

E – Evolving: The mole is changing or growing

abcde-300x195My hope in writing this post is for everyone who reads this (no matter how small the number) make an appointment to see their dermatologist for a full body scan. It may be embarrassing at first being completely naked and have a doctor check over every part of of your body, but it’s worth it… It’s worth it to save your life.

It’s also worth to cancel your tanning package and stop putting your skin through the ultimate torture. There are plenty of ways for us pasty people to get a “glow” through lotions and, if you’re so inclined, spray tanning.

So, please stop burning your skin and show it some love! You’re beautiful just the way you are!