Monthly Archives: October 2009

Scales: Jenni Schaefer Weighs In

womanonscaleAwhile back, I asked my roommate if we could remove the scale from the bathroom.  After being in day treatment, I had never owned one because of my tendency to let the scale number dictate my mood.  Soon after my roommate moved in, a scale (a.k.a., what I sometimes identify as an “axis of evil”) appeared between the toilet and the sink.  For 6 months, it called my name.

“Amanda, don’t you want to know?  I bet you want to find out how much you’ve let yourself go.  I could help you.  Just step on.  Then we can figure out how much weight you need to lose.  C’mon, do it.”

And then I would snap myself out of this trance, wash my face, and force myself into the shower.  This worked for about half a year.

 Then I started stepping on it. 

The obsession quickly returned, and after a large amount of inner debate and discussion with others, I decided I needed her to shove the scale in the closet.  I felt for her as I tried to explain the complexities of this disorder.  And I felt bad for having to ask this of her.  Which, you should know, is another large piece of having an eating disorder – being able to ask for what you need, and not feeling guilty for it.

Much to my relief, my roommate barely batted an eye and told me I could stick it in the closet.  “I can weigh myself at the gym,” she told me.

At most eating disorder treatment centers, clients cannot see their weight while being monitored; most clients at this point are too early (and too vulnerable) in their treatment to bear a glimpse of that never-good-enough number.  At this point, I do not weigh myself; I monitor my weight by how well my clothes fit.  I believe this is working for me now, but I was gratefully challenged by Jenni Schaefer’s lecture at MEDA today. 

As I mentioned earlier in my blog, Jenni Schaefer is recovered from an eating disorder, and is an author of two books:  Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me.  She is also a singer/songwriter and speaks frequently about her struggle with an eating disorder.  During her talk, Jenni detailed the journey she took with the scale – and her viewpoint was intriguing and refreshing.  After much debate with her own therapist, Jenni came to the conclusion that to completely avoid the scale was eating disordered in itself.  Why?  Because “normal” people can step on the scale without making the number into a moral issue that will ruin their day.  And if you cannot get on the scale without having a mini-meltdown, perhaps you still have some development to pursue in your recovery.

As Jenni said, this is not an endorsement to have all newly-recovered clients run out and weigh themselves: for some, this could be a huge trigger.  I’m not even sure if this is appropriate for me, and maybe it never will be.  (The next time I go to the doctor, I will probably step on the scale backwards, as I typically do).  But what a great goal to strive to – stepping on the scale without attaching a value judgment to the number.  Jenni’s lecture sparked ideas about recovery I had never considered before.

I encourage you to visit www.jennischaefer.com – I was honored to meet her today, hear her story, and get to share my thoughts about recovery.  Thank you, Jenni!

(Image provided by superstock.com)

Recovery Events – October 22 and 24

goodbye edLWE 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello all!  I don’t have time for a gargantuan post today, as I had a beautiful day filled with clients, meetings, and friends.  But, I quickly wanted to let everyone know about two upcoming events sponsored by MEDA (Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association) and the Center for Change.  Jenni Schaefer is a fellow “recoveree”, body image warrior, and the author of Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me.  She will be the guest of honor at two upcoming events:

1) Lecture – Harvard University, Harvard Hall 104, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Thursday, October 22, 2009, 4-5:30

Sponsored by Center For Change – contact tnoyes@centerforchange.com

2) Book Signing and Q&A – 92 Pearl Street, Newton, MA. 

Saturday, October 24 2009 – 10am-12pm

Sponsored by MEDA – contact hhemenway@medainc.org

I will be attending the book signing, and would welcome anyone who wants to join me!  Feel free to contact me here or privately via facebook if you want to come along.  It’d be a great opportunity to learn more about eating disorders, gain support, or feel generally more empowered. 

Thank you to Alexandra and Austin for providing me with this information!

Cheers,

Amanda

 

Judging a book by its cover.

appearances can be deceiving.
appearances can be deceiving.

During my most recent relapse, I happened to have a check-up scheduled with my nurse practitioner.  Blonde, hippie-dressed, and very Cantabrigian, she is wonderful; however, she knows very little about eating disorders.  She breezily asked, “How are you doing with your eating disorder?”

My hands gripped the table; I was starving but frustrated because the scale said I was two pounds more than I was the day before despite engaging in behaviors.  I wanted to cry out, to tell her how much I was hurting, but instead I answered, “Not so great.”

She turned to me with a quizzical but concerned look.  “So you must be purging again.” 

I could have flipped the table over with the force of my anger.  I have actually never engaged in that ED behavior, and I’ve never been diagnosed with bulimia.  I have been diagnosed with both anorexia nervosa and ED-NOS.  Broken down, the second diagnosis basically means I met some of the criteria for both anorexia and bulimia but not all.  So, I became irate when she assumed I was bulimic because I knew what she meant: I was too weight-stable to be anorexic and restricting.  My eating disorder was so furious when it heard this, but my healthy self was too.  I wanted to tell her that women at a weight of 134 could be starving themselves too.

See, our culture has been so inundated with images of Mary-Kate Olsen and Renee Zellweger that we forget that the time to worry is not when a woman is skeletal; it’s before.  My nurse practitioner was right; I wasn’t 75% of my ideal body weight, as I was four summers earlier.  However, I was teetering on a precarious balance between health and disturbance.  I had dropped 16 pounds in the previous two months by starving and then bingeing .  And she wasn’t listening close enough.

In the picture above, I am smiling and appear happy.  But my eating disorder was raging when it was taken. 

It’s interesting, too.  When I am at my most disordered, I tend to get the most comments from people.  Comments like, “You look amazing!”  and “You’ve never seemed so confident in your life.”  It must be my raging false ID that blinds people as to what is actually going on.

The point of this post is to remind everyone out there that anorexia doesn’t always look like the skeletal, Karen Carpenter images we see on the internet and on TV.  For example, I know some fellow “recoverees” whose period stops when they hit 125.  This weight may appear healthy and beautiful to some, but may be damaging their body on the inside.

It’s different for everyone.  Ask, and don’t assume.

5’10”, 120-lb. model reportedly fired for being “overweight”

bobblehead.
bobblehead.
Last week, a photoshopped Ralph Lauren ad surfaced that portrayed its dungarees-wearing model ridiculously emaciated; her waist was smaller than her head.  The featured model, Filippa Hamilton, went on record as being fired for becoming “overweight”.  Hamilton states that her agent told her this gem, along with the idea that she “couldn’t fit into their clothes anymore.” 
 
Just so you know, at 5’10” and 120 lbs, most women stop menstruating.
 
And just this week in Australia, a second Ralph Lauren ad surfaced featuring a similarly-skinny model (Valentina Zelyaeva, see image).
 
And I almost thought blatantly obvious photoshopping had gone out of style.
 
In my opinion, Ralph Lauren had better do some major damage control.  I find it very interesting that this comes from an American company (popular media typically tends to blame the European fashion industry for setting unrealistic beauty standards).  I tend to think even some of the Dove “true beauty” ads are misleading.  Sure, there are larger women in some of those ads, but the raging feminist in me would like them to take it a step further; I want to see them with no makeup.  I know, I know, I drive a hard bargain.
 
For the original story and Filippa Hamilton ad, read more at:
 
 
(Image provided by photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com and cocoperez.com)

Welcome to the freak show.

a la adam sandler in the wedding singer.
she don't use utensils.
  1. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a Step 4 where addicts are required to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves.”  In layman’s terms, this can mean, “get a sponsor and tell them all of your secrets.”  Basically, it is a means of reducing the shame that surrounds the unhealthy behaviors that accompany any addiction. With the help of a witness who has experienced similar ordeals, one no longer feels alone in their maladaptive ways of coping.

So where the hell do the anorexics, bulimics, and ED-NOS’s get to do their Step 4?

I realize not all people want to air their dirty laundry on the internet, but brutal honesty may serve as a constructive tool for our shaming, mental-health-stigmatizing society.

When it comes down to it, how different are eating disordered behaviors from your neighbor’s peculiar need to check the lock on their front door five times?  Or maybe you’ve noticed that your mother has an unexplainable desire to wash her hands five times in a row.  Whatever way you prefer to channel it, we all have some “freakish” behaviors that we exhibit.  And the way I see it, they are all a means of exerting some sort of control. 

So, in an effort to reduce the shame that surrounds eating disordered behaviors, here I will post five examples of behaviors I have presented with over the years.  And if you’re courageous enough, I encourage you to share yours too.  However, I want to provide the disclaimer that the following may be triggering for those in the midst of an eating disorder. 

1.  Checking for bone protrusion.

Yes, you read it right.  When I first lost weight at the age of 14, I discovered that I had hipbones.  I also discovered that it felt very alluring to have them stick out.  So, even after four years of recovery, I still catch myself bouncing my wristbone off my hipbone to see if it is sticking out enough.  So weird.  This is a hard one to counteract, since it’s as natural to me now as breathing.

2.  Body checking.

This should be a familiar one for “recovereds” out there.  Mirrors can be deadly things, and unfortunately next-to-impossible to avoid in the morning.  And it’s not just mirrors.  Mirrored buildings, reflections on the side of the Starbucks window…all a trigger to suck in your stomach and see if your body measures up to your thin quotient today.  My friends wonder why I don’t have my full-length mirror hung up in my room; this is why.  I’d spend countless disordered vain hours in front of it.

3.  Weighing yourself in the morning.  And after the gym.  And later on around 5.

In case you were wondering, the .4 lbs that you lose after the gym is water weight.  It’s a lie.  I don’t own a scale, and don’t weigh myself purposely.  In fact, when I go to the doctor I step on the scale backwards and let them record the weight without telling me.  My roommate put a scale in the bathroom when she moved in; recently, I needed to ask her to move it for fear of this behavior creeping back.

4.  Eating pickles and mustard.

Why?  Because there’s zero calories.  But beware – this behavior also contains massive amounts of delusion.

5.  Eating food in small, tiny bites.

Anorexics are really proud of the fact that they can make the tiniest piece of food last forever.  In Appetites, Caroline Knapp would talk about her daily dinner: an apple and a piece of cheese.  She would slice the cheese so thin that she could see through it.  I also think this behavior tends to be symbolic with the idea that “I require very little; I take up very little space and will take teeny tiny bites of this”.

I sincerely hope this blog entry hasn’t triggered anyone, but instead has left some recovereds with the feeling of “Yeah, I did that.  I was a part of that insanity.  And it’s calming to hear that I wasn’t alone in it – that someone else did it too.”

The truth is, we’re all clients – eating disordered or not.  The difference between I and the majority of people I know is that I am willing to be honest and talk about my behaviors and issues in an attempt to normalize them for others.  Others perceive this as a weakness on my part, and I have certainly been taken advantage of for it.  There have been times I have been tempted to censor myself after hearing negative feedback for others, but then I realize this blabbermouth of mine – it’s my strength.

Please share below if so inclined.

Supporting someone with an eating disorder…for dummies.

If he asks, "Are you actually going to eat ALL of that?" one more time...
If he asks, "Are you actually going to eat ALL of that?" one more time...

Four years ago, after completing day treatment, I saw my nurse practitioner for a check-up mandated by the program I had attended.  It was summer, and I already felt heavier than I actually was due to the August humidity.  A smile broke across her face as I entered the room.  “Amanda, your face is all filled out!  You look great!”

This was like a punch to the gut, like salt to the wound. 

You see, I was only three weeks into recovery, which meant the eating disordered part of me still screamed for validation.  I didn’t want to hear that I was healthy, that I was gaining weight.  Hearing these words made me feel as if I had failed at what I was best at: looking perfect, and losing weight.  And failing at something, in my irrational mind, meant I – the sum of me – was a failure. 

My mother has often told me that supporting someone who has an eating disorder is one of the trickiest feats to accomplish, similar to walking a tightrope on stiletto heels.  I agree with her to a certain extent; eating disordered behavior is not as black-and-white as abusing benzodiazepines or alcohol.  Alcoholics can avoid the liquor store; anorexics and bulimics still have to deal with Stop N Shop.  However, with the right support and guidance, a husband, friend or mother can flawlessly maneuver around calorie remarks and portion queries.  If you are concerned about a loved one, take a gander at the five tips below. 

1.  Please, please don’t talk about your diet.

Ok, so you just decided to do that new Acai berry cleanse.  And you’re wicked excited about it.  But does anyone really want to hear about it?  If you are making the “normal” individual feel guilty about slacking off on their daily jog, imagine what you are doing to someone with an eating disorder.  As soon as you mention anything number-related, the caloric multiplication tables in an anorexic’s brain will start computing.  And if you think you’re fat enough to warrant a diet, what do you think of her?

ED Translation:  “Mom’s doing the cayenne-pepper cleanse.  See, it’s normal not to eat and just to drink liquids.  Which means I’m disgusting for eating breakfast and lunch today.  Oatmeal + banana + sandwich + apple = 800 calories.  I hate myself, I am a disgusting human being.”

2.  Don’t comment on her portions.

When an eating-disordered individual is recovering from an eating disorder, she is typically put on a meal plan overseen by a registered nutritionist.  What us fast-food-obsessed Americans don’t realize is this: one can eat a large amount of healthy food without gaining weight.  For example, a normal dinner serving of mini-shrimp is 23 pieces.  And, if a woman has malnourished herself, her nutritionist may have her eating double the amount you do normally.  So, if the size of her salmon seems larger than normal, shut your mouth and keep it to yourself.  Even if you’re worried that she may purge later.  When you utter the words, “Are you actually going to eat all of that?”, she hears:  I shouldn’t be eating this; I must have gotten really fat.  Isn’t it rude to comment on anyone’s food?  So why would you do it to her?

3.  Do ask her how she’s feeling.

The point of an eating disorder is similar to the point of substance abuse; the individual suffering is attempting to numb feelings that she learned somewhere were inherently wrong or sinful.  In other words, food is made into a moral issue.  So, if you notice she hasn’t touched her lunch for two days, don’t nag at her out of worry.  Instead, observe what behaviors accompany restrictive eating.  Does she isolate?  Does he tend to apologize for his behavior more?  Sit down with him or her and express your concern that she may be hurting.  For it never really was about the food anyway; the food is just a vehicle to exert control over.  And if you ask her to express her feelings, you’re supporting her in a very important way: you’re sending the message that emotions are valid and worth talking about.

4.  Don’t keep People Magazine in the house.

And Cosmo, for that matter.  Studies have shown that women’s self-esteem plummets after reading a fashion magazine cover-t0-cover.  I, and other eating-disordered women I know, have used magazines like InStyle and People as inspiration to utilize “ana” and “mia” behaviors.  And what good does looking at Angelina Jolie’s unattainable bod do you for anyway?  Do you feel better about yourself after reading them?  Throw Self Magazine away and replace it with National Geographic or the Globe.  It’s just healthier (and brainier) for everyone.

5.  Remember your job is to support, not be responsible.

If you’re reading this, you’re close to someone who has an eating disorder, and care about that person very much.  Maybe so much that at times you’ve felt responsible for this individual, that the burden of “saving them” rests on your shoulders.  Well, I’m going to tell you something that may provide little-to-no comfort: if a woman’s not ready to recover, she won’t.  And you can’t do a thing to change her mind.  But, you can support her.  The best thing you can do for her is consistently express your worry and care for her.  No individual is responsible for another’s survival, and her choice is on her.  So, join a support group if needed.  MEDA (Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association) provides weekly support groups for those caring for individuals with eating disorders.  Visit medainc.org for more details.

Be gentle with yourself.  You are courageous.  And imagine the ways in which you can take the focus off of image and numbers in your own life.

(Image provided by Google Images)