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?


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



Anxiety Disorders


Major Depressive Disorder


Substance Use Disorder


Bipolar Disorder


Eating Disorders




Any mental disorder


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?

mhfa training bookunnamed

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.


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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


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.”


….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.


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


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.

ragen tumblr_ly6oc8ITpj1qgk1mco1_1280

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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


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!

My Battle with ‘Pro-Ana’ Sites & What ‘Ana’ Did to Me

You’ve most likely heard of them, Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites. Pro-ana refers to the promotion of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. It is often referred to simply as “ana” and is sometimes personified by anorexics as a girl named ‘Ana’. The lesser-used term pro-mia refers likewise to bulimia nervosa and is sometimes used interchangeably with pro-ana.

As a recovered(ing) anorexic, these sites absolutely disgust me… It is known through research that Anorexia nervosa is a VERY dangerous and serious illness, and has the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder.  However, a majority of these sites claim that this disorder is a “lifestyle choice” that should be respected by doctors and family…

The presence of these sites is EVERYWHERE from Tumblr, Facebook, to even personal blogs. I came across a Pro-Ana site this morning and it literally made me sick to my stomach, I shook with anger and even teared up. Knowing that there are people out there promoting this disease obviously really upsets me.

The list below is what the sites/members promote – which was compiled on Wikipedia: ((Yeah, I know it’s not the most reputable resource – but all are supported by research.))

  • Endorse anorexia and/or bulimia as desirable (84% and 64% respectively in a 2010 survey).
  • Share crash dieting techniques and recipes (67% of sites in a 2006 survey, rising to 83% in a 2010 survey).
  • Coach each other on using socially acceptable pretexts for refusing food, such as veganism (which is notably more prevalent in the eating-disordered in general).
  • Compete with each other at losing weight, or fast together in displays of solidarity.
  • Commiserate with one another after breaking fast or binging.
  • Advise on how to best induce vomiting, and on using laxatives and emetics.
  • Give tips on hiding weight loss from parents and doctors.
  • Share information on reducing the side-effects of anorexia.
  • Post their weight, body measurements, details of their dietary regimen or pictures of themselves to solicit acceptance and affirmation.
  • Suggest ways to ignore or suppress hunger pangs.

And just because a site doesn’t outright call itself a Pro-Ana one, or try  to promote and eating disorder – sites and posts called “Thinspiration” or “Fitspiration” are just as dangerous. A BEAUTIFULLY written blog post was written by a man named Kevin Moore on his blog, Reembody Me, titled “The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible ‘Fitspiration’ Photos.” He goes through some of Fitspiration photos and dissects them and discussed how they are dangerous and irresponsible. Seriously, you NEED to read his post – just hover over the title of the blog/post and click!

Why I’m Anti-Ana – I HATE Ana, She’s a Life-Ruining Bitch: This is What Ana Did to Me

I write this blog to aid me in writing my book, “My Marathon 2 Recovery.” I also have been going through my old journal entries from 10+ years ago. And in doing so, I’ve come across some very depressing entries. I did not boast about losing weight or write down tips on how to burn more calories. I was angry, sad, and ultimately sick.

I really didn’t like what I was doing to myself, or I should say, what my disease was doing to me. I did it because I was ill, because it’s what my disease, or as the pro-ana sites name it, Ana, was telling me to do. I would have never promoted what I was happening to me among others. I wouldn’t share my “tips” – I wouldn’t wish such a disease on my worst enemy!

Now, while these pro-ana sites promote eating disorders, I’m going to share some excerpts from my own personal journals while under the cold, hard grasp of the hands of my disorder as well as an essay I wrote in high school about my struggle… Be prepared, you won’t want to be anorexic after reading these – this is what “Ana” did to me…

“I had lost over 15 lbs in a very short period of time. My Pediatrician dually diagnosed me with Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He wrote a note to my school making me sit out of Physical Education and made me quite soccer and softball until I had weighed gained six more pounds. This was not as easy as it sounds. I struggled with the consistent low weight from November of 1999 to March of 2000.

Hair falling out constantly. I was so weak, I could barely scrub my scalp in the shower.

One day as my mom combed my hair after a shower (too weak to do it myself), she noticed how dirty my hair still was even after a shower. I couldn’t properly clean my own hair I was so weak!

I started developing peach-like fuzz on my face – my bodies response to the lack of body fat to keep my warm.

My mom noticed a fruity smell to my breath, which was my body breaking down fat and producing acids known as ketones. This is called Starvation Ketosis, which is a natural metabolic process which helps the body survive during times of starvation.

I remember the arguments and fights with my family. Being so angry and annoyed.

My mom ended up quitting her job so she could make it to all my doctor and counseling appointments, as well as accompanying me in my 5th grade classroom during lunch to assure that I would eat. Yes, we had to eat lunch in our classroom.

I remember becoming so weak and tired. In the car, I remember not being able to hold my own head up – I had to lean it all the way against the seat.

I had stopped following my food plan and became worse than ever. I’d suffered from malnutrition, my hair would fall out in the shower and in my hair brush, my clothes appeared baggy on me, I became so weak to the point that I could barely keep my head up when I sat down.

I’d gone three days with only one cup of chocolate milk (plus the weeks of self-deprivation). I was so weak that I just lied on the couch the third day not able to move. That was when my mom took me to Rainbow’s Babies and Children’s Hospital.

I was so weak, that I didn’t even fight my mom as she drove me to the hospital.

Drawings from my journals(sorry they’re a little blurry):

RIP drawing

“Here lies Colleen Beth Fitzgibbons. The girl who wouldn’t eat.”


to eat or not to eat


At the hospital the doctors weren’t as lenient as my past doctors I’ve dealt with. I had to eat according to their meal plan, three full coarse meals and two snacks a day, other wise they would feed me through a Nasogastric Tube – Gastric incubation via the nasal passage. They would have to stick the feeding tube up my nose through my sinuses and into my stomach. Not wanting the painful way, I ate as they told me and stayed overnight for three days. Those three horrid days really got me thinking. I decided that I wanted to get better and be healthy. I didn’t want to suffer like this my whole life. But, it wasn’t easy…

I relapsed.

Looking back at the age of 15. I started menstruating at 12, but had suddenly stopped for a whole 6 months. When I saw my Pediatrician, he said I had Amenorrhea due to the lack of proper nutrition (starving myself) and over-exercising. I thought to myself, “Eh, whatever.”

It was when he told me that if I don’t start taking care of myself, eating, and listening to my body I would not be able to have kids one day.

That’s when it hit me. I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach. I burst into tears.

What Ana was doing to me was about to ruin my future. I would not be able to conceive, to raise children of my own.

That was the biggest slap in the face and what motivated me to evict Ana out of my life.

After a while, and struggling with eating, I began to menstruate again and still do to this day. But, I’m still fearful that I may never be able to have kids for what that bitch, Ana, had done to my body and organs.

Know the Red Flags and DO SOMETHING

As a public health professional, I know that prevention is the best possible method. So, please, please please, if you or someone you know/love and notice any of these red flags, please seek help – IMMEDIATELY!

If you’re concerned that a loved one may have anorexia, watch for these possible red flags:

  • Skipping meals
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Eating only a few certain “safe” foods, usually those low in fat and calories
  • Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
  • Cooking elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat
  • Repeated weighing of themselves
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Complaining about being fat
  • Not wanting to eat in public

Unfortunately, many people with anorexia don’t want treatment, at least initially. Their desire to remain thin overrides concerns about their health. If you have a loved one you’re worried about, urge her or him to talk to a doctor.

Visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s site for Help & Support.


And if you come across a Pro-Ana/Mia site or Thin/Fitspiration post on social media, SPEAK OUT! Report the site or image to administrators and help put an end to this “trend” that is killing millions… Become an Anti-Ana/Mia Activist!

BAM Makes Some Noise on KSU’s Campus on Body Acceptance & Eating Disorders!

The Body Acceptance Movement, the student organization I created as part of practicum experience for my MPH, planned and implemented programming for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 25 – March 1). As some of you know, I’ve done programming at my undergrad, Bowling Green State University, as president of the Student Wellness Network (SWN). SWN is an affiliate of the BACCHUS Network (a national peer education organization) and we attended the BACCHUS Network’s General Assembly every year and submit applications for recognition/funding of our programming at BGSU. I submitted an application for Outstanding Mental Health Program for our NEDAW, and guess what? WE WON! We were not only recognized at the national conference, but were also featured in their Peer Educator Magazine (see images of the magazine and article below)

EDAW 2010 coverBGSU's Student Wellness Network Receive "Outstanding Mental Health Program  from The BACCHUS Network  during the General Assembly in 2010.

BAM did a lot of the same programming at Kent State University, and we received a lot of wonderful responses! Starting off the week, I presented my Love Your Body Workshop to 22 students and faculty at the Student Health Center. My workshop addressed positive and negative body image, assessed attendees’ body perceptions, touched on some of the adverse health outcomes of body dissatisfaction, how different cultures perceive body image, the media’s role in body image in society, as well as how they can obtain a positive body image and help others. I used an evaluation to capture some data.  According to the evaluation responses after the presentation, one of the reasons why participants attended, 55 percent reported they attend in hopes of learning about to obtain a positive body image.

two ways share what learned feel betterfound out neg body image

The evaluation also found that 46 percent of participants found out through this presentation that they have a negative body image, while 81 percent of participants reported that they learned through the presentation at least two ways to turn their negative body image thoughts into positive ones and 68 percent reported that as a result of this presentation, they feel better about their body image. Seventy-seven percent of participants wished there were more events like this workshop offered on campus. Also, 82 percent of participants reported that as a result of this event, they are more aware of campus resources for body image related issues.

On the second and first day of NEDAW we held an outreach/informational table at the KSU Student Center. A visual depiction of the dimensions of what Barbie AND Ken Dolls would look like if they were real people were displayed, which received a lot of attention. Students were also asked to vent their frustrations to the scale, pick up some handouts and resources related to eating disorders and body image as well as an eating disorders awareness ribbon.

BAM TableSerena

Barbie and KenMesages to the Scale 2013!messages to scale

The table reached approximately 50 people through the two days.


On the third day of NEDAW we had TWO events! We held a panel discussion on eating disorders and body image. The panel included the Director of Women’s Studies who also teaches courses on body image, myself, and three other female students recovering from an eating disorder who are part of BAM.  The panel discussion had a total of 15 students and faculty in attendance, only 11 filled out the program evaluation.

Photo courtesy of Yolanda Li.

Photo courtesy of Yolanda Li.

As a result of the panel discussion, 63 percent of the 11 attendees who filled out the evaluation reported that they are more aware of campus resources for body image related issues. A common thread to why participants attended the event was because they or someone they know have an eating disorder and they wanted to learn more about the disease. Another common thread about what participants liked most about the event was the panelists’ stories and 91 percent of attendees reported that they plan on sharing what they learned to family and friends. The panel discussion was covered by KSU’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater and was featured on the front page the next day.

Also on the third day of NEDAW, BAM held a yoga session titled, Love Your Body Yoga. The emphasis during the session was to focus on the movements and appreciate all the things their body can do. The total count of attendees was 25, and all received a FREE yoga mat!! 🙂

instructor 2 Yoga Monica   ColetteYoga 8


All week students were encouraged to donate jeans that no longer fit to one of four drop-off locations for the campaign Be Comfortable in Your Own Genes. Wear Jeans that fit the REAL You! which was created by the National Eating Disorders Association. All jeans were donated to a local shelter, County Clothing Center in Ravenna, Ohio. We collected around 100 pairs of jeans!

The pretty boxes used for collection. :)

The pretty boxes used for collection. 🙂

 We were featured in the Daily Kent Stater THREE times in one week – twice of which was on the FRONT PAGE.



I was VERY pleased with the outcome of KSU’s NEDAW 2013!! I’m hoping my predecessor will continue with BAM’s goals and efforts to promoting positive body image. 🙂