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Alex, a high school senior with flowing golden hair, described her “perfect” parents with more than a hint of disdain. 

“I’m not exaggerating; when they were dating they were known as Barbie and Ken,” she told me. 

Her Mom was a dietician; tall, thin and obsessed with healthy nutrition.  Her father was a local newscaster with chiseled All-American features.  Alex had an older and younger sister, both of whom had inherited their mother’s lanky physique.  By the roll of the genetic dice, Alex ended up short and round.  Beautiful in her own right, she felt like the odd girl out in this family of tall beauties.    

What Alex had inherited was her father’s penchant for swimming.  Her muscular shoulders were the result of thousands of hours of swimming laps in the pool.  And her dad had big plans for his talented daughter; definitely a college scholarship, but perhaps even a spot on the Olympic team.  A college swimmer himself, he had quit the team his sophomore year, disappointing his father and himself.   At the time, he decided he wanted a normal college experience and the hours underwater were taking a toll on his social life. 

But he had always lived under the shadow of “the swimmer I could have been.”  His failure to reach his potential haunted him.  When he discovered his second daughter’s natural gifts in the water, it re-ignited the burning ember in his soul.  From the time she was small, Alex’s dad pushed her to fulfill what he saw as her potential (and his unfulfilled dream).  

He drove her. Hard.

Over the years her father had invested thousands of dollars for swim coaches and consultants and never let her forget it.  But his plans clashed with her desires.  As college approached Alex, too, was burning out.   While her passion for swimming waned, her dad upped the pressure, yelling at her in the car after mediocre performances.  He refused to hear how unhappy she was. 

Eventually, with seemingly no other way to cope with overwhelming anger and helplessness, Alex started binge eating and throwing up her food.  Her bulimia was her body’s way of saying “STOP”!! 

Alex’s parents brought her to see me when they discovered her eating disorder. In therapy she found a safe place to find her voice.  She started to open up to her father with more courage.  Facing his daughter on her terms, he realized that his unmet needs had blinded him to the damage he was doing to the child he loved.  He relented.  

Alex quit swim team. As a swimmer, she’d had a voracious appetite from burning so many calories; she was accustomed to eating large quantities of food.  She started listening to her body’s signals and liked the new body that emerged.  Her weight and appetite naturally re-calibrated themselves.  

Alex started to pour herself into her REAL passion: singing.  She applied and was accepted to a college with a strong music program.  Once she had the freedom to listen to her inner desires and express her true self, her eating disorder abated.  And her father learned a humbling lesson about the limits of his control.  

How many of us as parents need to learn this difficult lesson?  How do we cope when our agenda for our kids clashes with their desires for themselves?  

As parents we wrestle with these issues every day; when should I hold the line?  When should I let my child determine his fate, even if it looks like a mistake?  Is there room for compromise? 

When a child develops an eating disorder, it may be a sign that the balance has tipped.  As a parent, listen for the signs: eating disorders are not always about body image.  Sometimes our children resort to using their bodies to send a strong message when words are falling on deaf ears. 

Raise Your Right Hand and Repeat The M.O.D. Squad Principle #6: BALANCE SAFETY WITH CONTROL

 

While mindful of her need for safety, I will give her age-appropriate opportunities to make decisions and to deal with the consequences of these decisions.  Even when her ideas, tastes and preferences are different than mine I will try to support her decisions so that she feels a reasonable sense of “control” over her own destiny. 

 

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Disclaimer #1: These principles apply to Dads and sons as well.

Disclaimer #2: An eating disorder is not a choice.  It is a mental disorder caused by a complex combination of genetic, personality, familial, social and cultural influences.   

 

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To start a M.O.D. Squad group, visit www.MyEdin.org.


Dr. Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teens and children with eating disorders and body-image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.
 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010



 

You’ve heard the crazy statistics:

 

·      Our children are exposed to 40,000 ads a year.  

·      Images of women in magazines are stretched on average 15% to make the model appear leaner and taller. 

·      After just 3 minutes of looking at these images, 70% of females feel worse about themselves.

·      The average runway model used to be a Size 4-6; now she is Size 0. 

These days children and adolescents spend more time in front of a screen than they do with any other activity except school and sleeping, averaging SEVEN HOURS a day of texting, TV, IM, Facebook

So how does all this media saturation impact today’s girls?

The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was determined to find out.   

They discovered that the media was harmful to girls in a variety of ways, including causing impairments in cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and beliefs.  In particular, the sexualization of females in the media was linked with eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.

In 1998 Harvard psychologist, Anne Becker interviewed middle school girls in Fiji, three years after Western TV shows were introduced to the island.  She discovered TV exposure directly impacted the girls’ attitudes and beliefs.  They not only talked about the positive attributes of characters on TV, but the fact that they became preoccupied and disparaging of their own weight and body shape.  They actually started throwing up their food in an attempt to look like their new TV role models.  None of these attitudes or behaviors was present prior to their exposure to Western TV.   

So, does looking at skinny models or watching Hannah Montana cause eating disorders? 

It’s not that simple. 

All girls are impacted by the images.  But the girls who develop eating disorders are particularly sensitive to their environments.  They are the “canaries in the coalmine.”

So what’s a concerned parent to do (other than locking your child in a padded cell for 18 years)?

Monitor your kids’ media diet.  Change the channel or better yet, turn off the TV.  Ditch the magazines from the coffee table.  Talk to your kids about “the profit motive,” and explain how advertisers purposely try to increase insecurities so we will buy their products.  Along with your daughter, write letters to companies that are particularly bad offenders. 

By speaking up and speaking out, you empower your daughter to do the same.  The best defense is media literacy and awareness. 

Help your daughter channel her anger and healthy resistance outward, towards the purveyors of the messages.  Then she is less likely to turn the anger on herself (and her body) for not measuring up.

Raise Your Right Hand and Repeat The M.O.D. Squad Principle #7: BALANCE ENJOYMENT OF MEDIA WITH A CRITICAL EYE

 

While recognizing the fun aspects of the media, I will teach her to view media critically, being especially aware of messages promoting intolerance, materialism, sexism, weightism, violence against or the objectification of women and the sexualization of children.  I will promote systemic change by speaking out (writing letters, e-mails or taking other actions) when companies demean or objectify women and children.

 

####

Disclaimer #1: These principles apply to Dads and sons as well.

Disclaimer #2: An eating disorder is not a choice.  It is a mental disorder caused by a complex combination of genetic, personality, familial, social and cultural influences.   

 

####
To start a M.O.D. Squad group, visit
www.MyEdin.org

 


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

 

A patient account:  “So here’s the First Wave: I find out my roommate is moving out in a month.  Then I get my paycheck and it is half of what I expected: Wave Number Two.  Then my mom questions my decision to go back to grad school.  Then the Tsunami hits: my boyfriend says he can’t go to the concert this Saturday. 

Now I’m drowning; the water is churning around me. My head is spinning.  I don’t know which problem to address first.  I am paralyzed: can’t think, can’t breathe, can’t decide.  So I binge and purge. 

Then the water recedes and my head is clear.  I can face my problems and sort them out.  I can think and act.”

This bright, attractive 35-year-old has been coping with her life’s problems in this manner for 20 years.   Old habits die hard, especially when they are so effective at ameliorating suffering.  

The misconception in our culture is that eating disorders are about vanity and image.  But these are superficial assumptions and just skim the surface.  The real story is that eating problems are about managing and coping with overwhelming anxiety.  Most of us can’t imagine how stuffing yourself with food and forcing yourself to vomit would help you feel better, but we humans only get addicted when the pleasure and calmness centers in our brains light up.   

Anxiety is part of the human condition; much has been written on the topic.  Often we end up having anxiety ABOUT our anxiety, which only fuels and feeds it.  Buddhist Psychology is about sitting with the feelings rather than fighting them.  The idea is to simply observe the anxiety without judgment, to ride the wave rather than be swallowed by it, trusting that it will dissipate on its own.  This approach can be quite effective. 

Another way to think about anxiety is to see the wave as a sign that there is something important underneath that needs to rise up and be released.   There are healthy and not-so-healthy ways to free the thing (a monster? maybe just a feeling….) that is pushing up for air.   

When I feel anxiety, it’s often a sign that I need to talk to someone about something.  But I was lucky; I grew up in a family that taught me a language for feelings and allowed me to express myself freely.  

  

·       What if I didn’t have labels for my feelings?

·       But what if I felt like I didn’t have a RIGHT to my feelings? 

·       What if I felt like people would discount or dismiss my feelings?

·       Or worse, what if I felt like people would use my feelings against me?


I’d need to get the release some other way. 

For people with eating disorders, binge eating, starving yourself and/or purging all provide that sense of release.  Anxiety is a physical sensation in the body and often demands a physical expression.  People who cut themselves feel that same release of tension when they see the blood; they describe the act of cutting as the need to take something that they cannot put into words and make real and visible.  

Sweating can be a healthier physical release.  There is overwhelming evidence that exercise helps people feel calmer and less depressed.  But people can become addicted to exercise, too, which ultimately hurts the body.  

A good cry is an excellent physical release. Studies show the natural chemicals in real tears help flush out emotional tension, producing calming endorphins.  Unfortunately, many of us grew up hearing ridiculous messages around showing deep emotion:

·       Crying is a sign of weakness

·       Tears are manipulative

·       Only babies or wimps cry

·       “Suck it up!”


When those messages are internalized by a child, this most basic and natural form of release is no longer available to them. 

In my role as therapist, I hand out many Kleenexes.  Inevitably my clients apologize for “dumping” their problems on me or express their fear of looking weak (“I told myself I would NOT cry this session”).  When I assure them that they are in the perfect place to cry, they are palpably relieved.  Rather than feel burdened by their emotions, I feel the release, too.  The anxiety level in the room drops from a 10 to a 3. 

So if you feel that wave coming, instead of allowing yourself to be smashed against the rocks, ride the wave or summon the courage to dive under it. You may discover an important part of yourself-- a feeling or a need-- pushing to the surface. By embracing that aspect of yourself you will find even greater strength to tackle the challenges that await you on the shore.

 


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.


More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

“I weigh 102 pounds!”   This statement was accompanied by joyous leaping and fist pumps.  “…and I’m 5’2”!  Finally!”

 

My 13-year old son, a late bloomer like his parents, is thrilled to have surpassed two mile stones which had eluded him up until this moment: the 5-foot mark and the 100-pound mark.  Many of his buddies have met Mr. Puberty and have at least 20 pounds and 4 inches on him; his female friends tower over him. Cooper leaps around the kitchen, thrilled at the changes in his growing body.  “I want to get strong this summer!” he states, sharing his plans to run, swim, bike and even lift some weights.  

 

As an eating disorder therapist, I am struck by the marked contrast between his body-confidence and the body-loathing of my struggling clients.  I wonder how many 13-year-old girls run into their kitchen and excitedly announce that the number on the scale is going up! 

 

I recall a friend whose son’s pubescent friend walked into her kitchen and announced, “I’ve hit puberty, Mrs. Jackson!”  “Oh, really?” she asked, bemused.


“Yep, my voice has changed, I have body odor and I am growing hair in places I cannot even tell you about.”  He was more than matter-of-fact: the dude was proud.

 

Imagine this scenario: Your daughter’s friend walks into your kitchen, smiles and announces, “I’ve hit puberty!  My breasts are growing, I’ve gotten my period, I’m getting rounder hips and I’ve got hair growing in places I cannot even tell you about!”

 

Yes, the image makes me giggle, too.  I’m willing to bet that I could count the number of times this scene has played out in America on one hand (if that).  

 

An adorable video is making the rounds on Facebook: it’s called “Jessica’s Daily Affirmation.”   In it, a 3 or 4-year-old curly-headed blonde stands on her bathroom sink and speaks with great enthusiasm to her reflection in the mirror.  She lists all the things that she likes: “I like my house!” “I like my hair!” “I like my pajamas!”  She finishes with a breathless, “I can do ANYTHING,” as she hops down and runs out the door to face her day. 

 

My mind flashes forward to Jessica at 14, standing in front of her full-length mirror: blonde curly hair, in her pajamas, getting ready for her day.


“I like my hair! I like my hips! I like my family! I like my brain! I like my school! I like my butt!  I like my friends! I like my thighs! I can do ANYTHING!” 

 

Try it tomorrow morning.  Stand in front of a full-length mirror and state out loud the things that you appreciate about your life and about your body, arms outstretched, voice booming so the whole house can hear.  Then run out of your bedroom and see how your day unfolds.      



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.


More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010


I’ve noticed a sad and strange paradox in my clients struggling with eating disorders.  While sufferers are typically bright, compassionate and caring people, when they are in the midst of an eating disorder, they can appear selfish, deceitful and even lacking in integrity to those around them.   

To paraphrase author Anne Lamott (who has written about her battles with food): “I felt like the piece of sh*t around which the world revolved.”

I believe this fundamental paradox (selfish yet lacking Self) helps explains the difficulties that those in the eating disorder community have with increasing compassion and understanding surrounding these illnesses.  In the wake of an eating disorder, loved ones may be as emotionally and physically devastated as victims.  

Just imagine this scenario: your best friend gets cancer, but the cancer actually causes her to believe that the life-saving treatment, chemotherapy, is toxic.  The cancer itself has made her phobic of the cure.  Now imagine your friend has to get chemo three times a day and you must convince her on a daily basis that she can no longer trust her own brain. 

Some tense battles would ensue. You can envision how such an illness could tear at the fabric of your relationship as you watched the person you love slowly commit suicide by denying herself treatment.  

For people with anorexia and bulimia, the “chemo” is food.  Supporters become angry at the illness that has stolen their loved one (who still walks and talks but is not really there).  And there is no place to direct their anger except towards the person who is already suffering.  Typically people-pleasers, the person with the eating disorder does not want to upset anyone else, so she becomes an expert in faking, hiding, placating.  This is but one of the ways that eating disorders destroy relationships.

Kate is a 30-year-old client who has had an on-going battle with bulimia for over half of her life.   Bright, beautiful, outgoing and funny, she used to binge and purge a dozen times a day.  She has worked hard in therapy and is down to a once-a-week binge-purge episode.   Married to a patient and supportive guy, they have an adorable 2-year-old boy whom she “loves more than life itself.”  She refrained from purging during her pregnancy, but relapsed immediately after his birth.

While her husband is aware of her on-going struggles, despite my urging she will not reach out to him for help before an “episode” (even though at this point he could likely talk her out of it). On the contrary, she diligently works her bulimia around him, squeezing it into her moments alone and then “not lying, but just not telling” her husband about them.  He tells her how gorgeous she is (of course she thinks “he has to say that”) and he just wants her to love herself and her body as much as he does.

And yet when he leaves the house for a trip to Home Depot, she sneaks in a binge and then heads to the bathroom to throw up.  According to her, they have a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy about her eating disorder: “What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him,” she rationalizes.   This is a woman with strong morals who will teach her son the importance of honesty and trust.  


She only lies in the service of her eating disorder.  

I believe that she will only let go of her eating disorder when she realizes how important she is; how much she matters to those she loves.  I am hoping she can remember in those alone moments, to put her marriage and her love for her child above the ”secret love affair” she is having with “ED” (Eating Disorder). 

I reach for analogies about secret addictions and affairs. Her husband has been trying to quit smoking for years.  “How do you feel about your husband smoking?”  “I hate it!  I think it’s a gross habit!”  “But what if he only smokes when you aren’t around and hides the evidence so you never find out?  Is that okay?”  She smiles, ”OK, I see where you are going with this.  But I don’t want him to die from lung cancer!”  “Well, I’m sure he doesn’t want his wife and the mother of his baby to die from a heart attack or esophageal cancer from years of purging, either.”  

You see, Kate, when you walk into that kitchen to binge and the bathroom to throw up, you bring your child and your husband and me and all the people who love you in there with you. Not only are you NOT alone in that bathroom, it is very crowded in there. Every one of us hurts when you binge and purge.  When you injure this person that we all love, when you are not fully present in your life, you not only deny yourself of life’s joy, but you deny the entire Universe of the gift of wonderful YOU.

Yes, Kate, you matter that much.  

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.


More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.  

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010



Angela, a strikingly beautiful but shy 30-year-old woman, was finally facing her addictions.  A few months earlier she had felt suicidal: but now, with a new job and a new outlook, she was ready to get down to the serious business of taking care of herself. 


She mentioned a book she was enjoying called “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.”  The book was opening her eyes to the self-sabotaging patterns that she developed years ago, particularly when it came to expressing herself at work.  


Her prior corporate environment was a traditional old-boy network, and she had often felt at odds with her mostly male co-workers. She felt it necessary, for the advancement of her career, to silence her rage at their chauvinistic attitudes.  But her anger leaked out and caused her to be perceived as moody and difficult.  At the end of long days of biting her tongue, she binged on huge quantities of food and then threw it all up.  

 

Her silence was literally killing her.    


Starting a new job with a clean slate, she was determined to be “the nice girl,” but somehow this didn’t feel right either.   While the culture felt much better here, the role of placating kiss-ass was not helping her eating disorder.  “If my boss screws up, I either won’t tell him, or I’ll be super sweet about it and point it out as a question, like: ‘Do you think that it might be better to do it this way?  I don’t know, it’s just a crazy thought…’”  


This new self-help book was suggesting that speaking up clearly, without either blowing up or doing a soft-sell, might actually be good for her career (“…and your body,” I added). But the thought of being assertive, of “finding her voice,” terrified her.  She had vacillated between two extremes throughout her life; helpless, silent victim or angry shrew.  She had lost trust in herself and did not know how to read the signals coming from her own body. 


Not surprisingly, the topic of her addictions came up.  It became clear that the multiple cigarette breaks, the bottomless coffee pot, and the daily binge eating and purging served an important function.  I asked her what would happen if I could magically make her addictions disappear. She gave it some deep thought: “Without cigarettes, coffee and bulimia, I’d be a raving Bitch!”


Our task in therapy will be to help her understand and de-construct her anger.  We’ll discover when her anger is actually a positive energy moving her towards self-expression or productive action. We’ll help her discern when something in the present is triggering un-expressed anger from her childhood (which should be expressed in MY office, not hers).  And we will help her decide when and how to just let some things go.  By recognizing the Wisdom inside of her Anger, she will be able to use the gift to great advantage.  I suspect that a more gentle attitude towards herself and the world will dissipate much of the fuel that feeds her addictions.

        

What price does your body~ and the Universe~ pay when you silence yourself? 


 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.  

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

I recently gave a talk about body image to a group of middle school students as part of Love Your Body Week, an eating disorder prevention program. I spoke about unrealistic beauty ideals, as well as the danger in pro-diet and anti-fat messages coming from parents and peers. A video showed an average-looking woman transformed into the ideal of perfection through make-up and Photoshop.
 
I divided the room by gender, assuming boys would only be marginally interested and girls would feel more comfortable if they weren’t flanked by disinterested—or worse, disrespectful boys.
 
What shocked me was while the girls asked some questions, the boys were the ones bursting with one question after another: “Why isn’t it OK to weigh every day?” “Is wrestling a bad sport since it’s divided into weight categories?” “Why shouldn’t people count calories?” “What if you’re a boy who’s really small?”
 
I could barely keep up.
 
Statistics suggest boys are less vulnerable to body image concerns: only boys struggling with their sexuality, models and runners are “at risk.” Sadly, not only are middle school boys concerned about whether their bodies measure up, but they’re hungry for information about how to eat right and how to put body image in its proper perspective.
 
Living in our culture appears to put everyone at risk.
 
Parents need to have a conversation with their middle school boys that include the following messages:
 
➢ All people feel all feelings: boys feel sad and scared, just as girls feel angry. The key to solving (or avoiding) eating problems is to understand, manage and express feelings appropriately and effectively. Using food to calm feelings or searching for the “right” diet is barking up the wrong tree.
 
➢ Try not to be too anxious about your body since it will be different a month from now, a year from now.
 
➢ You can be a healthy eater without becoming obsessed.
 
➢ You should be physically active for the immediate feel-good benefits rather than to burn off last night’s dessert.
 
➢ There is wisdom inside your body if you will just connect to and respect the signals in your heart and your belly.
 
The Bottom Line messages for moms:
 
➢ Don’t assume that just because you have a son, he is immune from body image pressures. Be conscious about your body-talk in front of him (and the same goes for your husband!) Don’t let him hear you put your own body down. You are creating the “norm” for him. Do you want him to assume all women are—or should be—uncomfortable in their bodies?
 
If you are, you can guarantee, he will be too.
 
➢ If your son is in a sport with weight requirements (e.g. wrestling, football) let his natural body size determine his involvement in that sport. Trying to diet—or sweat him—into a smaller weight class to increase his winning odds in wrestling or his chances of carrying a football, could harm his physical and mental well-being.
 
Avoid coaches or sports where this is the norm.
 
➢ Boys may eat to cope with stress, sadness or anxiety. Your job as a conscious parent is to help determine if his sudden weight change is:
a.) his genetic destiny,
b.) the signal of an impending growth spurt, or
c.) a sign he is struggling emotionally.
 
➢ If you cannot determine this, there is no shame is seeking professional help.
 
Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

© ShareWiK Media Group, LLC 2009

Recently, a dear friend (and mom of three sons) shared the fact that her boys complain to her about how “weird” the girls are about eating when they're out together as a group or at school.   While some girls diet in order to get skinny and attract boys, there are those who starve themselves because they have NO interest in the opposite sex.  By returning to a pre-pubescent body, they are attempting to stave off the anxiety that comes with turning into a sexual being.  


More often than not I hear guys say they like to date girls “with meat on their bones.”  They hate the thought of asking a girl on a date only to have her order salad with dressing on the side.  And while there are some who are as body-obsessed as the media indicate, I believe the majority of guys would rather be with someone who is self-confident (and curvy) than insecure (and thin).

 

As far as the guys go, I’ve seen it all:

·      Narcissistic men who actually encouraged their dangerously thin   wives to maintain their unhealthy lifestyle in order to achieve some media-generated body ideal. 

·      Loving men who stood by their partners through the most excruciating phases of recovery and served as key support people in the recovery process. 

·      High-quality guys who walked away from a loved one because the eating disorder had destroyed the relationship.


But for young men seeking a healthy partner (and young women who want to attract one) this tale might provide a clue:


My cousin is tall, blonde and buff from years of surfing the California waves; he is the total Malibu Package.  He looks like a Ken doll and could have had the pick of any Barbie on the beach.  But he’d known plenty of women who were obsessed with their appearance or guilt-ridden around food, and he was uninterested in signing up for a life-time of this.  He was seeking a life partner who would share his love of fun, healthy adventure. So when it was time for him to search for his future bride, he devised an ingenious screening device: The Hamburger Test. 

 

He asked every first date out for a burger.  And he watched.


Did they ask the waitress to hold the bun?  Skip the cheese? Keep the sauce on the side? Or, God forbid, hold the meat? 


The Hamburger Test was his own personal Rorschach, providing valuable information about how his date felt about experiencing pleasure, taking risks, showing up in her life without guilt, claiming her space, owning her appetites.


On his first date with Heidi, a beautiful (and healthy!) pre-school teacher, she ordered the burger—AND the fries.   Ten years and two children later, they have shared many adventures and many hamburgers.   They also eat organic food, do yoga together and are raising their children with a lust for life, encouraging them to embrace all their appetites; for fun, music, art, dance-- and food.


These days it can be a challenge to find women (and men) who live this balanced a life.  When a person’s relationship with food is out of balance, it may be an indicator that other aspects of their life need some work.  The best preparation for a healthy relationship with a partner is a healthy relationship with yourself.  Listen to, respect and honor your appetites. Proudly take up space here on the planet.  Doing so will make you attracted to (and attractive to) just the right partner.

 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

© ShareWiK Media Group, LLC 2009

There is a part of me that is very practical.  Despite my high regard for the right side of the brain, my attraction to musicians and artists and my passionate belief in drawing outside the lines, I’m actually a “straight arrow” at heart. 

 

I believe in doing what is ‘right’ (though not necessarily what is expected), and like any self-respecting youngest child, I’m passionate about what is ‘fair.’

 

So, even as a teenager, I got the take-home message that health and safety trumped everything else.  I can’t say that kept me from making really stupid choices – it was the 70s after all – but I do recall making a good choice, at least once in high school that may have saved someone’s life.

 

To do this, I broke the cardinal rule of teenagers:  I told on a friend.   What’s worse, she was in the grade above me!

 

Four of us ate lunch together every day at school.  There were salads without dressing, low-fat milk, contrasted with a representative sampling of the “mystery meat” offerings for the day, fried okra, dessert (of course).   It was a free cafeteria, so we could grab whatever we wanted to nibble– a teenage girl’s dream: taste it all with no obligation to eat.

 

After lunch, like clockwork, one of my friends (let’s call her Lara) would take her leave to go to the gym to call her boyfriend.   We thought nothing of it. 

 

Until one day, the rest of us were hanging around, marveling at all the food we had consumed – there was nothing left on the table!  And then it hit us:  there were no pay phones in the gym.  (Cell phones were not a basic accessory in those days  -- you actually had to put a dime into a payphone to place a telephone call.)  

 

It clicked.

 

We figured out what was happening.  Lara was gorging at lunch, and then going to the gym to throw up.  Bulimia.  It had to be – did you see how much food she just ate!?

 

We discussed it with genuine concern.  What to do?  Tell the school? Confront her?  Choose a teacher we could trust?  What if we were wrong?  She would be SO pissed off. 

 

Kids’ books and movies are replete with heroes taking matters into their own hands, putting themselves at risk of life and limb rather than calling upon a trusted adult. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson can’t help themselves, and that‘s what makes them such fabulous stories.  But the truth is that those plot lines sorta irk me.  Isn’t there a point when we should be teaching our kids (and adults, to be honest) to recognize when to ask for help?  Now THAT’s a valuable life skill (note to self: write a blog about asking for help)!

 

Fortunately, I was never as brave as Hermione Granger, and the messages of health and safety had been drilled into me from an early age.  In a fit of momentary brilliance, we recognized that Lara’s problem was outside of our realm – that she needed more help than we could offer.  While we were as stupidly fearless as the average teenager (may I remind you that the term “designated driver” had not been invented?), we had the good sense to know when to draw the line.

 

In the end, we decided to tell my mom, who was friends with Lara’s mom.  My mom took care of it and we never talked about it with Lara.

 

I tell my kids that they can trust me with any information and I will hold their confidence and that of their friends…unless it’s a matter of serious health or safety (yes, that’s a subjective call, I know), and then confidentiality goes out the window.

 

I don’t remember my mother being so direct with me about that – but I suspect I got the message somewhere along the line. 

 

Here’s the take home message is this story and what I’m noticing:

 

1.   Someone else’s life is important enough to risk their anger, or even their friendship. 
2.   Pay attention to ‘normal’ issues  -- whether teenagers or adults  -- and watch for signs that something has changed.  If you recognize something going on that might be a health risk, don’t assume everyone else does, too.
3.   When health and safety is concerned, other people’s business just might be your business.  There is a fine line between not getting involved, and avoiding the responsibility to help a friend.  Pay attention to your urges to get involved – trust that your heart will guide you well.
4.   Ask for help when you really aren’t sure how best to handle an important situation.
5.   Sometimes we have to break some rules in the interest of other, more important matters  (we broke the unwritten code of teenage silence).
6.   Make sure the children in your life, whether or not they ‘belong’ to you, have a trusted adult that they can go to without fear of recrimination.  Let kids and teens you love know they can trust you.  Teens who have adults they can trust make better choices than teens who don’t.

 

The girls from the lunch-table and I are still friends—in fact, we saw each other this week.  We have lost touch with Lara, but I hear about her from time to time. 

 

Many years ago, my mother ran into Lara.  Lara thanked her, and asked that she send a message to me, thanking her for saving her life.  Through our intervention, she had gotten the help she needed.  Now, I believe she has a daughter of her own.   I definitely hope her daughter has a good bunch of lunch buddies in high school.

 

 

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is the founder of Touchstone Coaching and a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 

More Elaine Taylor-Klaus articles, click here.

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

 

As a psychologist who works with emotional eaters, I witness the struggles and pain they experience on a daily basis: beyond the debilitating self-loathing are the judgments and insensitivities of those around them.  Traditionally the media have fueled the fire, promoting anorexic body ideals and airing shows like The Biggest Loser where contestants are shamed for “only” losing 5 pounds a week.  Plus-size actors are typically cast in roles where they are bullies or bullied, angry or humiliated.


When I heard there was a new show on the ABC Family called Huge about a group of teens at Fat Camp, I worried the program would be just another exploitive depiction, a chance to promote more stereotypes.


I was wrong.


Monday nights at 9:00 have become the favorite hour of the week for me and my 13-year old son, Cooper.  He is obsessed with this show.  It’s not that he has a weight problem or an issue with food.  He has, however, grown up in a family where we openly discuss prejudice, from racial and religious intolerance to homophobia and weightism.  He’s had friends of all religions, colors and sizes, and our gay friends are the most compassionate, creative and loving couples he knows.  Given that, I think this show feels more like real life than any other popular teen TV fare.   


What I love about Huge is the fact that the weight loss issue is a relatively minor sidebar.  Instead, we learn to care about the complex inner struggles and social interactions of these characters.  They are all deliciously complicated; the gal who annoys us one moment will display vulnerability and emotional depth the next.  And the show manages to wrestle with thorny issues without being preachy. 


In one episode the teens steal some alcohol and get drunk in the woods (“Oh, No!” thinks this protective mom.  “They’re glorifying stealing AND drinking!”)  Not so fast: the pretty girl ends up puking and the rest of the drunken teens coldly humiliate sweet Alistair.  So even though they “get away” with drinking, some significantly bad stuff goes down.   


Tonight’s episode was “Parent’s Weekend.”  Through the kids’ relationships with their parents, we come to understand the angst that leads these campers to the cookies.  Throughout the show, the characters wrestle with their demons, struggling with ways to cope with the gut-wrenching pain triggered by their families—without turning to food.   


After the show, as my son, Cooper laid in bed, I asked him to tell me what he thought of tonight’s episode.


“Now I know why everyone eats! Will eats because her parents blow her off and make her feel unimportant.  Ian eats because his parents fight all the time.  Amber eats because her mother is competing with her for attention.  Becca eats because she is an orphan.  Dr. Rand eats because her father abandoned her mother.  Alistair eats because his father doesn’t want him to be gay…” 


There is no way to watch this show without having one’s consciousness raised about the emotional underpinnings of weight issues.  Huge effectively shows how weight problems are less about calories than feelings.  


As I turned out the light, Cooper said, in hyperbole typical of a 13-year-old, “If they don’t continue this show for another season, I will die!”  By renewing Huge, the decision-makers at ABC Family can do more than save the life of my kid; they can continue to sensitively shed light on the fact that the Calories-In, Calories-Out approach to weight loss has failed. It’s time for a new paradigm. 


The impact of this show could be Huge.        


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.


More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here


© ShareWiK Media Group, LLC 2010  

I recently put together a therapy group for adult women struggling with bulimia. Most of these women have impressive corporate jobs and the majority of them are truly miserable in these careers.  I have witnessed this phenomenon for many years and while there are exceptions to what I am about to say, there is clearly a pattern worth noting.

Women with eating disorders (WwED) tend to get "eaten alive" in the corporate culture. I believe this is for a number of reasons (again, forgive me for over-generalizing!).

·   WwED tend to have a strong (some might say rigid) sense of right and wrong.  Lots of not-so-savory stuff goes down behind the scenes in Corporate World.  The politics, the focus on the bottom line at the expense of morality, the hierarchy of the system just feel wrong at a gut level to these women.

·   WwED tend to be highly sensitive to unspoken emotional realities.  This sixth sense, the ability to read between the lines, can be very difficult to manage in an environment where emotions/feelings are denied, expressed indirectly or viewed as a weakness.
     WwED yearn for a meaningful life.  Many of these women work for companies whose mission does not “turn them on” (e.g. a law firm, managing rich peoples’ money, the insurance industry).  Even if they really believe in the mission of the company (e.g. if they sell a product that has value) the passion for work will be thwarted if they see the company engaging in activities that sabotage the mission.
·    
     WwED tend to care more about real connections with people than money and possessions.  Since the premise of Corporate World is that money is a primary motivator, for these women there is an emptiness to the entire pursuit.
·      
     WwED tend to have highly developed empathy-system and get their greatest joy from being helpful and improving the planet.  They want to be part of the Solution, not part of the Problem.
·      
Many WwED have artistic or creative talents that are either buried or under-utilized. The loss of this aspect of the self can lead to depression and an underlying sense of meaninglessness.  Often this loss is unconscious, but it provides fuel for their eating disorder as a sense of angst or disconnection from the self.


As a wise client told me, "Integration" is a more accurate description of healing from an eating disorder than "Recovery."  Getting better requires integrating all the aspects of the self: Head, Heart, Body and Soul.


As these women are working in therapy, they start to re-evaluate all of their choices, from relationships to their careers.  They may start out seeking fulfillment in other places, such as volunteering for the Humane Society on the weekends, but they notice a sinking depression (and worsening of eating disorder symptoms) every Sunday night in anticipation of another soul-crushing week.  


The strong need for security/stability/predictability and control can over-ride the need for deeper fulfillment. Often they have been pressured by their parents to pick the “safe” career path.  They believe that their misery is their fault, a sign that they are whiny, spoiled or ungrateful (“You have a job, afterall!”).

 
The first step is for them to understand that their misery is not their fault; it is that their lives are out of alignment with their deeper selves. Then they need permission to dream about their ideal profession and to speak these secret yearnings out loud to a receptive audience.  This process is highly liberating.


For some, there comes this magical moment, a turning point when the soul screams, "ENOUGH! I cannot take this for one more minute!"  That’s when the WwED jumps ship. 


Typically she lands in a much better place, free from the shackles of what-other-people-think, societal expectations, and all the “shoulds.”  Not surprisingly, many end up as therapists, artists, teachers, writers, and nurses.  Some start non-profits or do mission work.  They may lose their golden handcuffs, but for the first time they feel truly free.  Not surprisingly, eating disorder symptoms tend to abate when one is fulfilling her life's true purpose.  (Remember, we were talking about eating disorders?)  Eating disorder numbs the pain; but when the life we are living feels congruent with our inner selves, the need to “go numb” goes away.  The split between Private Self and Public Persona is healed.  


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

© 2010 ShareWiK Media Group, LLC   

As we gear up for this week’s annual fundraiser for EDIN (the Eating Disorders Information Network), I’ve been reflecting on the evolution of this organization over the past 14 years.  My original vision was to help people suffering from eating disorders to find available help, serving as a comprehensive referral source.


But as the years went by, we were pulled into local schools where the seeds of eating disorders were starting to germinate. There was a strong need for us to expand into this wide open niche, so we changed our mission to prevention.


We were being asked to plant new seeds.  


Since eating disorders are part genetic and part socio-cultural, there is no vaccination available to prevent the development of an eating disorder.  Eating disorders are about Core Beliefs, which can take root early.  Four-year-olds, when asked to say words associated with the word “Fat,” say “Dirty” “Lazy” “Ugly” “Sloppy” and “Stupid.” 


Unfortunately, there are hundreds of sources for the Core Beliefs that fuel eating disorders.  The two most fundamental beliefs are:

“Fat is Bad.”

“You will be loved, popular, famous, wealthy, happy, in control, liked, safe, successful, respected (fill in the blank) if you are thin.”


How many times are we bombarded with this message on a daily basis?


And how can we dispute a belief if we actually believe it?  


This belief is the water we drink, the air we breathe.


People who develop eating disorders have fully bought the myth, whether as young kids struggling with anxieties, middle school students trying to stave off puberty, high schoolers trying to curtail bullying, college students coping with the anxieties of leaving home, brides who want to look perfect on their special day, new moms getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight, menopausal women trying to keep their aging husbands interested…(and I have not even mentioned the millions of boys and men who suffer for their myriad reasons).   

 

If we want to try to prevent eating disorders, we must develop the capacity and the commitment to challenge the Core Beliefs, to be a voice of sanity, reason and balance in a sea of eXtremes. Yes, there can be negative health consequences to being overweight, but anorexia and bulimia are pretty hard on a body, too. Yes, physical health is important, but what about mental health?  Perfectionism is a good trait if you are a neurosurgeon or a pilot, but perfectionism when it comes to food and body image can mean the death of pleasure and joy (or just death!). 

 

Each of us can help prevent eating disorders by being conscious of the ways that we talk IN FRONT of children, such as when we tell our friend how great she looks (“Have you lost weight?!!”) while our little girls are playing at our feet.  We can be conscious of those “throw away” comments, the way we talk about the people on TV (“Wow, she’s chunking up!”) or the guy jogging around the park (“He could use a few more laps.”)  It’s about changing the way we talk ABOUT ourselves out loud, especially when it is within ear shot of our friends, spouses and kids (“Ugh, my thighs feel Gi-normous in these jeans!). 


And finally, it’s about how we talk TO ourselves inside of our own heads.  If you are having a “Fat Day,” take a breath and say a kind word to your reflection; this should help you take better care of your body that day.

  

You are less likely to take good care of something that you hate. 

 

This week is national FAT TALK FREE WEEK.  Click here to see the powerful video produced by Tri Delta sorority to address this issue among their sisters:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKPaxD61lwo


EDIN’s prevention programs address and challenge the Core Beliefs that fuel eating disorders. So this week (and every week) I ask you to take the pledge that we ask our students to take. 


Raise your right hand and repeat after me:

“I promise to never, never-ever-ever, say anything mean about anybody’s body…

….including my own.”






Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

© 2010 ShareWiK Media Group, LLC   

Last week I attended a luncheon on Childhood Obesity.  On the panel were distinguished professionals in the field: the head of nutrition for the Centers for Disease Control, pediatricians from the local children’s hospital and exercise experts. The audience of 300 Atlanta glitterati included local media people, state legislators, and big donors from around the city.  

   

Given my passion for this topic, I eagerly awaited the distinguished panelists’ remarks.  In her opening prayer, Dr. Kathleen Hall shared the importance of mindfulness and the connection between stress and weight.  


“OK,” my therapist-self thought.  “They get it!” 


Each of the speakers brought their perspective to the issue, like the blind men describing the elephant (“It’s like a rope!” “It’s like a wall,” ‘It’s like a snake”).   We heard about BMIs ("Body mass index" is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women) and negative health consequences of obesity. We were told about programs being implemented to “decrease energy intake” and “increase energy expenditure” in our state.  I waited and listened for someone to address the missing piece.  


Why was no one talking about the heart of the elephant?  Is it because we are like the blind men, and we cannot see it, touch it or measure it? 


When it was time for the Questions and Answers, I got that sick feeling in my stomach that I used to get as a kid in class when I was itching to speak up. 


I was gripped by fear.  All of these important people!  What if I freeze up? Blank out? Sound stupid?  


Encouraged by friends, I got in line at the audience microphones.  I was ready to grab the mike.   


“Well, we are all out of time!” the moderator announced. “Thank you everyone for coming!”  


Sigh.


So here are four points I wish I had had the chutzpah to make that day:  

 

·      (1)  The Key Role of Emotions:  If obesity was simply a matter of socio-economics, nutrition education, more sidewalks and access to fruits and veggies, then no one in a room full of successful, educated people would be overweight.  Even those of us who know about healthy eating and exercise may find it hard to do “the right” thing.   And why is it so difficult?  Call it what you will: serotonin deficit, anxiety, stress eating, inadequate emotional coping skills, buried trauma, low self-esteem.  But unless we teach our kids healthy emotional coping skills, then they will turn to food to manage their sadness, stress, anger and boredom, just like their parents!  Mental health is at the heart of physical health. 


·      (2)  Health vs. Weight.  This may just seem like semantic hair-splitting, but The Fat is Bad message can be highly destructive.  Kids are already getting this message on the playground, in the media and in their homes.  This is the core belief that leads to anorexia, bulimia and secret binge-eating.  We need a national paradigm shift to a  “Health at Any Size” mind-set.  For the sake of our kids, we must be mindful of the message.   


·      (3)  Weightism is a Human Rights Issue. Kids learn about anti-semitism, slavery and sexism in school, but “weight-ism” should also be included in diversity lessons.  The argument against this is: “but you can control your weight!”  So, therefore it’s okay to discriminate, harass and bully you?  Cyber-bullies often attack victims’ weight, knowing that this cuts to the core.  Weight-ism should be part of anti-bullying campaigns, and kids should be taught Compassion and Empathy for each other, especially regarding this issue.


·      (4)  Body Image vs. Self-Image.  While we are connected to our bodies, we are more than our bodies.  In a world that focuses on the outsides, obesity prevention efforts should address what makes someone beautiful as a person, because someone who LOVES themselves is more likely to take care of themselves.  Any efforts which may cause kids to feel ashamed about their weight may only make them heavier, since they are likely using food to soothe and comfort themselves.  


If all this seems too hard, EDIN’s programs have addressed all of these issues for the past seven years. But we are a small organization; we don’t receive government funding or have a national PR campaign.  We need a radical shift in consciousness before we can truly have an impact and we need your help. 

 

Thank you.


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

A core belief of depression is not only that “Life sucks,” but “It Will Always Be This Way.”  This hopelessness can lead to suicide.


That’s why I’m so grateful to the folks who are reaching out to gay youth with the “It Gets Better” message. Started by Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who spoke openly about his struggles growing up gay, the message to “hang in there” past the pain is simple but profound.  The “It Gets Better” message is at the core of psychological resilience.


I recall my mom giving me that message when I was a kid by repeatedly counseling me, “Tomorrow this will be behind you and you will be looking back on it!”  I have used this belief to calm myself through anxieties throughout my lifetime.  

Many of my therapy clients were not so lucky.  


Their parents did not give them life survival skills because they were too caught up in their own pain.  My clients-as-kids dared not imagine a brighter future; life was about minute-to-minute survival.  Fantasizing about a happier time was a luxury they could not afford.  Keeping expectations low protected them from being blind-sided by more disappointment.  Why set yourself up, when the other shoe always drops?  


This adaptive survival strategy becomes a problem when they’ve grown up, escaped their dysfunctional families and built loving homes.  They cannot allow themselves to see and appreciate how far they’ve come, to experience joy in the present, nor to dream.  Expecting to suffer, they make sure that they do, even if it is of their own making.  Plagued by chronic anxiety, they still anticipate the worst.  They may call themselves “cautious” or “realistic,” but this life-stance can morph into chronic negativity and even paranoia. 


I use a powerful imagery exercise with these clients. Here’s how it goes:


Close your eyes and connect to a recent moment when you actually DID feel good, even if it was fleeting.  Now turn up the volume on that moment and really EXPERIENCE it.  Then, while holding onto that feeling, imagine yourself walking back into the past, down a long hallway with many doors.  Pick a door and walk through.  You’ll see a vision of a child in the distance, sitting in front of your childhood home.  As you get closer, you notice that the child is a younger version of you.  Sit down beside that child and let them know, “I’m from your future, and It Gets Better.”  This child has been waiting for your arrival, waiting to hear from you.  The child has been wanting to share the pain they’ve been experiencing, so you just listen as the child shares their pain and sadness and anger.  After a while, pick her up and carry her with you away from the house, through the door and back into the Here and Now.   


Often a person who has experienced a painful childhood is reluctant to go back and greet this child-part of herself.  She may say, “That’s ancient history. It doesn’t affect me now. Why go back and feel all that pain again?”  


Far from “not being affected” by our histories, in fact, that CHILD may be running the show (like the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz).  The kid-part can lead us into poor relationships and bad career choices. She may push love away, or fuel deep sadness, uncontrolled rages, gripping addictions or paralyzing anxieties. 


Sometimes the reluctance to travel back in time is really because deep down she believes she was essentially a bad kid and deserved the poor treatment she received.  Or she fears that if she connects to that kid, she’ll feel burdened and drained by her incessant needs and demands. 


In fact, by re-connecting to and embracing your child-part, and letting yourself know that this time you will be heard and cared for properly, you may start to feel more whole… and more hopeful.  When the kid-you hears “It Gets Better,” the adult-you may be able to actually relax and experience some childlike joy again. 


Re-connection and hope will get you through…

 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

 

 

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cara has been seeing me in therapy for several years for help with her food and weight issues.  A bright, attractive woman married to a great guy, she has a significant amount of weight to lose.  Over the years, she has lost weight through dieting only to gain back more than she originally lost. The extra weight holds her back sexually with her husband, decreases her physical activity and has contributed to arthritic pain. She fears that cancer, heart problems or diabetes could be in her future.  

  

Through the course of our work, she has made tremendous progress in multiple areas. She’s set up her life to pursue her many creative gifts, including building a career that combines her business savvy with her passions.  She and her husband have improved their communication.  She has widened her network of support and developed deeper and more authentic friendships. 


However, her weight has barely budged.  Frustrated with herself and this therapy process, she wonders if the change will ever take place. She has trouble trusting that, in fact, she has been putting the pieces in place for her to finally succeed. 


There is a term in Science called “homeostasis,” defined as: the property of a system that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition.  Family therapists use this term to describe the family system.  Members of a family often feel pressure to remain the same so as not to throw the system off balance. Rigid families discourage change, while flexible families are more likely to evolve in positive directions together.


In a healthy family, the dramatic weight loss of one member may cause everyone to get healthier; the system is flexible enough to “bend” and it can re-organize itself at a higher (healthier) level. But in a rigid family system, one member losing weight may put too much pressure on the family. Sometimes the family cannot bend that far, and it breaks.  


For Cara, the fear of this break is at the root of her weight problem.  Losing the weight for good will take a profound and deep mental shift. In order to consistently make the daily changes, she will have to re-write her family story--a story which was composed generations ago.  Then she will need courage to hold onto her new story while remaining engaged with her closest family members. 


Cara grew up in a working class family in a small town.  Her parents divorced when she was a kid and it was her job to care for her younger sister, do well in school and be the emotional caretaker for her parents.  As a child she comforted herself with food (like everyone in her family).  No one spoke of, nor thought about, the concept of emotional needs.  Life was about daily survival.


Cara grew up fast.  Bright, exceedingly capable and responsible, she pretended that she was fine so as not to trouble her family. Over the years, her weight climbed as she buried her feelings in food.  She went to college, got a job and left her small town for the big city.  


Cara was saddled with two conflicting family messages: while it was her role to bring esteem to her family (they loved to “brag on” her successes) it was also conveyed that she should never act “too good” for her family. The no-win message was: “Succeed!... but don’t make us feel bad about ourselves.  Make us proud, but don’t get too big for your britches.” 


As an adult, Cara can now see from the outside how her family has made and continues to make poor life decisions, how they are often the cause of their own misery. There is a sense of fatalism and passivity in her family. In all the things they say and do, this message is conveyed: We are unlucky.  Bad things happen to us.  Let’s pray things get better some day, but we might as well EAT since our fate is out of our control.


As a successful, married woman hundreds of miles away, Cara has proven to herself that she is the writer of her own script. But when it comes to her weight, Cara has bought the family myth: There is nothing I can do about it.  We’ll just see what happens.  Maybe someday it will change. 


But the core fear is that eating healthy, exercising and feeling good in her body will mean that she has out-grown her last connection to that which is familiar.  When she goes home, their idea of fun is eating lots of fattening and delicious food.  They bond through Food and the misery of being overweight.  If Cara makes a healthy food-choice in their presence, they chide her for being a “party-pooper.”  In her family the unhappy, over-weight women view women in healthy bodies as alien, superior creatures: it is an “Us vs. Them” mentality.


While being an “Us” may kill Cara, being a “Them” feels like abandoning (and being abandoned by) the family she loves.


Cara will need to accept that it is possible to BOTH take care of her body AND love and connect to her family members.  She will have to develop stronger psychological boundaries, so that their suffering does not become her burden to fix.  When they tease her for being healthy, she can learn to not take it personally.  Cara can find a new way be part of her family, with physical energy and healthy self-worth. 

   

There may be more tears shed in my office as she grieves the loss of the old, familiar way of being close to her family, but she can learn how to forge new healthier bonds without sacrificing her own well-being. 

   

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

So you’re driving along in your life and the Check Engine light comes on.  You ignore it, maybe even put some tape over it.  You hear a clunking sound; you turn up the radio.  All of a sudden, the engine seizes up.  You can’t move forward.  It’s lonely and foggy out here. You look around and the reality hits you: “I am Depressed.”


The most insidious quality of Depression is that it steals the energy that allows you to do the things that will help you feel better. If you either cannot sleep or can’t get out of the bed, you are drained of the energy to be with people, feed yourself well and exercise.  Your self-worth drops; those things that brought you joy only cause numbness.


It’s time to get thee to a mechanic.


The recipe for recovery typically involves two parts (although not always!): Part 1: Medication, and Part 2: Psychotherapy. 


Some folks try to omit one ingredient.  One way to think of it is that sometimes Part 1 gives you the strength to do the things that you learn about in Part 2. 


As someone in charge of Part 2, I view Depression as a gift (if used properly!).  The gift is that it can be the impetus to reach out for help.  Seeking therapy is both a gift to yourself (how awesome to be able to talk about yourself for an hour) and a courageous act (you may make discoveries that push you out of your comfort zone.)  Sometimes the places where you get stuck are unconscious remnants from your childhood: exploring your patterns with an outside observer may help you move your life in a new direction.  

 

I have noticed a number of themes amongst my clients battling Depression.


Lack of connection.

An older single man found himself eating boxes of cookies every night to soothe his Depression. His alcoholic mother had not filled his emotional tank when he was a kid; as an adult he had trouble comforting himself when he was alone. A former alcoholic himself with 20 years of sobriety, he was encouraged through therapy to re-started attending AA meetings each morning.  He made breakfast dates and dinner dates. He plugged his friends’ numbers into his cell phone and scrolled through his address book when he felt lonely (instead of hitting the cookies). Over time his Depression lifted as he internalized the awareness that he was loved and an important part of the web of human existence.


Lack of meaning.

A middle aged woman had spent 20 years raising her kids. When they left home, she cared for her sick mother. When her mother decided to move in with my clients’ brother, my client became severely depressed. In therapy she realized that her life had lost its purpose: to care for others. She realized that volunteering at the local children’s hospital could meet that need.  It helped her realize that she mattered, and lit up her heart when the hospitalized children smiled at her. 

    

A stalled grief process.

A single woman who had struggled to find a healthy romantic relationship lost her father to cancer. He had been her sole source of unconditional love, as her mother was critical and judgmental.  Left without her father’s love, her grief morphed into Depression.  She felt paralyzed month after month; she withdrew from her friends and comforted herself with her dogs, TV and food.  As she spoke in therapy about her father, she realized that the way to honor his legacy of unconditional love was to give that love away.  Rather than waiting for a man to love her, she started exploring the possibility of adopting a child. This re-energized her and gave her father’s loss meaning.    

    

Anger turned inwards.

One woman became suicidally depressed after 40 years of tolerating her emotionally abusive husband.  She feared speaking up because he could get “so mean.” In our sessions, she realized that painful experiences in her childhood had taught her to please others and caused her to believe that she was helpless to change bad situations (hence, her decision to end her life rather than speak up!).  She learned in therapy that she had a right to express her dissatisfaction in her marriage.  Her husband attended some sessions, and her new assertiveness changed the dynamics in their marriage. He learned to listen and not interrupt; she learned to tolerate his insensitivity and discovered she had a thicker skin than she realized. As she found her voice, her Depression abated and their marriage improved.  

          

Not measuring up.

A teenage boy wanted to die.  He’d just seen the roster for the school’s football team and he had not made the cut.  His family lived for football, and his parents had spent the past year talking about his try-outs for the upcoming season.  When he didn’t make the team, he was devastated at having disappointed his parents. But when his parents responded with support instead of disdain, he felt relieved. When the coaches encouraged him to switch to a new sport, the cloud of Depression lifted.  His life wasn’t over, it was just turning in an unexpected direction.  

      

Unexpressed creativity.

A 40-something wife had put her creative energy on hold for over 12 years; her husband’s job kept him away from home and caused her to act as a single mother. For years, she had neither the time nor energy to devote to her significant artistic talents. When she came to see me, she was binge eating and purging to medicate her Depression. When she demanded changes in her marriage, her husband was willing to make changes to his work situation.  This freed up time for her to pursue her creative pursuits.  Her brain chemistry changed when she was engaged in her art; she realized that she ignored this aspect of her psyche at her own peril!     

 

The well is dry.

A depressed nurse came for help.  While she loved caring for her patients, she was on-call 24/7. She gave and gave, but had no chance to fill her own cup: friends, yoga, exercise, sewing had all fallen by the wayside. She took a medical leave. She realized that she had difficulty setting boundaries in a number of areas in her life, especially with her mother. As she started to say “No,” she freed up energy for herself.  As she decided to shift her nursing career to one that accommodated a saner schedule, she felt more like herself again.  


So if your Check Engine light is on, ask yourself:


Ø Am I feeling disconnected?

Ø Is my life lacking meaning or purpose?

Ø Are there tears I need to shed over a loss?

Ø Is there anger I need to express? 

Ø Am I not measuring up to some fantasy ideal?

Ø Is my creativity stifled?

Ø Has my well run dry?


And if you need help finding the answers to these questions, your mechanic has an open bay.    


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here


©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

As an eating disorder specialist, I work with bullying victims all day, every day. The irony is that no one may be actually bullying them; they are not getting mean texts on their phone.  No one is spreading cruel gossip, beating them up or even threatening them. 


All of this bullying goes on inside his or her own head.  They carry around their Inner Bully 24/7.  This may actually be the WORST form of bullying because the victim rarely, if ever, gets a break from the constant stream of abuse. 


Courtney, a beautiful mother married to a great guy, has suffered from her eating disorder for over half of her life. Her husband, Bob, wants nothing more than for his wife to love herself and take care of her body. But the Bully-in-her-Brain says:


You are fat, hideous and gross. Don’t let Bob near you; if he touches your flab, he’ll be disgusted. Don’t ask him for help when you’re having a tough time; he’s sick of your whiney demands; you’ve burdened him enough.  Tell him everything’s fine; what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Besides, if he knew what a horrible person you really are, he would divorce you like a hot potato. 


Then the most insidious part. Courtney’s Inner Bully tops it off with:


I know the Real you. I’m the only one who will tell you the Truth.  All those people saying you are worthy, lovable and beautiful are lying, jealous, ignorant or want something from you. You cannot trust them. If they knew the Truth they would leave: but I will NEVER leave you.


This faulty but entrenched belief system reminds me of the character of the wife in the movie “Inception.”  She spends so much time inside of her own dreams that she loses touch with Reality. 


When people in the “outside world” (e.g. people who don’t understand eating disorders) picture people with eating disorders, they imagine the 58-pound woman on Oprah or the 800-pound man on Jerry Springer.  They do not picture the attractive, well-put together, fit-looking, successful, career-woman or home-maker. 

 

But looking OK doesn’t mean you’re OK.  Eating disorders are only partly about weight.  The other part is about eating behavior, about the Bully-in-the-Brain. 


I wrote a play called “What’s Eating Katie?” in which the bully of the eating disorder is played by a separate character. This character starts off seductive and sexy, with lies and promises of Beauty, Popularity and Love.  Over time he chips away at his victim, teenager Katie. He becomes an abusive, controlling and domineering creep while Katie becomes more isolated and unsure of herself.  


People with eating disorders who’ve seen the show ask me, “How did you know what it sounds like inside of my head?” 


Empathy is the antidote to bullying. We are hard-wired to respond with empathy when we see sadness or hurt on someone’s face.  This is why the explosion in the use of technology has increased bullying incidents.  Texting, e-mailing or internet posting removes the face-to-face contact, causing the loss of human connection.  Sometimes it’s enough to remind kids, “If you wouldn’t say it, don’t send it.  Be the same person online that you are in real life.”

     

But reforming a hard-core bully may necessitate a deeper intervention: pushing them to feel their own hurts. In treatment for offenders, bullies who lack empathy are asked, “Do you remember how it felt when your father yelled at you?”  When they can re-connect to their OWN feelings, then their hearts crack open and they’re more likely to be able to empathize with others. 

 

This is similar to the process used to help people recovering from eating disorders. When bad things happened to them, they were not encouraged to “feel their feelings” about it.  To survive, they went numb (by starving or over-eating) and tried to control  the pain by internalizing the bully.  “I can beat myself up better than anyone else can.”  

 

Rather than using their eating disorder to numb the pain, actually experiencing their feelings in a safe place can help the person develop empathy for the part of them that was victimized. “Remember how it felt when those kids were mean to you at school?” “What did you experience when your Dad beat up your Mom?” There is something about this process that is transformative. 


True recovery means the Kind part of you becomes stronger and louder than the Inner Bully.  Healing comes when you start seeking evidence to support the notion that you are loveable and worthy, instead of seeking (or distorting) evidence that you are worthless and evil. Over time, the voice of the Bully in the Brain will become softer, more distant and, best of all, impotent.


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

 

 

 

You may have heard that Walmart launched a beauty line for ‘tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) called GeoGirl.  The make-up line includes 69 items including blush, mascara, lipstick and face shimmer. "It's the first door to beauty for the next generation,”
Joel Carden, executive vice president of marketing Pacific World, the company behind GeoGirl, told Women’s Wear Daily. “These are real cosmetics with natural ingredients that will create return purchases and create a true beauty consumer."

And isn’t that what it’s all about, folks?  Yes, let’s get the kiddies hooked on make-up so they will pressure their mamas to spend their hard-earned money on beauty products. “Tweens were the only age group to increase spending on beauty products during the recession,” according to a report by The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y-based global provider of consumer and retail market research information. “Apparently, today’s kids not only have more money to spend, but they wield tremendous influence over their parents’ purchases.”

A woman who owns a kiddie spa stated in a recent Atlanta-Journal Constitution story on this product launch, that her goal “was a place for girls to come and learn how to take care of and love themselves.” Unfortunately, there will be misguided but well-intentioned moms who’ll actually believe that make-up will help their daughters “feel good about themselves.”  These are the same mothers who’ll buy their daughters a boob job for graduation in the name of self-esteem.

Remember Billy Crystals’ character Fernando from “Saturday Night Live?” In his seductive Italian accent, he’d croon to his guests, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.”

Well, I work intimately with gorgeous women every day. I’m not a fashion photographer; I’m an eating disorder specialist. These women come in perfectly dressed, flawlessly made up, with bodies to die for… bodies that have been starved, stuffed and purged of food, forced to dangerous extremes.  No one knows the pain these women hide from the world.  They are adept at looking good, but they do not feel good.  They have neither a sense of self nor esteem.  No amount of make-up will change the fact that they believe their needs, opinions, dreams, and feelings don’t matter, that they are not smart and that they have little worth or value.  

As a reality check (and to confirm I wasn’t too out of touch in my old age) I queried my resident experts – a couple of 14-year-old girls.  Asked how they felt about 8-year-olds wearing make-up, Caillin stated emphatically, “That seems like a really bad idea.  Those poor girls are going to feel bad about themselves if they don’t wear make-up!”  These teens are highly attuned to the power of social pressures in middle school and feared for their young counterparts. 

The head of their school has a consistent message for parents: the best way to raise confident, emotionally stable adults is to allow them to have a long childhood. What’s the hurry, folks?  Why are we rushing our kids?

 I believe that as parents, our job is to question and challenge social norms and to teach our kids do the same. I call it creating a “Buffer of Sanity.”  As moms we must acknowledge this fact: there’s a difference between “feeling pretty,” which is a temporary high, and “feeling good about yourself,” which is deep and sustained. 

So, in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, here’s your Self-Esteem Primer:

·      If you want your child to have “self-esteem,” boycott the kiddie make-up parties and spas.  To help her feel good about her body, instead of getting her toenails painted, host a rock-climbing party or have sack races in the back yard.  There is nothing like sweat and physical effort to increase endorphins, good feelings and positive body esteem.
·      To help her feel like she matters, instead of teaching her how to apply lip gloss, help her pick a charity and find creative ways to raise money for those less fortunate.  She’ll delight in doing something for others and knowing that she can make a difference.  
·      To help her feel good about her mind, instead of encouraging her aspirations to be a runway model or rock star, take her to a science or nature center where she can learn about the world around her.  Feeding her intellectual curiosity teaches her that she’s as smart as the boys and will help her confidence in the classroom.   
·      To help her find her voice, instead of telling her to “always be nice,” teach her assertiveness so she can speak up respectfully for herself or others.
·      And to keep self-esteem from morphing into narcissism, let her know that while she is special, so is everyone else. Help her find and appreciate the uniqueness of others.

…and let that kiddie make-up gather dust on Walmart’s shelves.

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.
 
More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
 
 
 
 
 


Flight attendants have it right – and the advice is just as useful for those on a plane as well as off. “Remember to place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth before assisting your child.” In other words, fail to take care of yourself and you won’t have what it takes for your kid.  


This is especially true for mothers with eating disorders. Anorexia is the most blatant form of self-neglect. Its theme is the refusal to meet the body’s most basic needs (for food) but it often entails the denial of other important needs (i.e. love, pleasure, intimate connection).  


While the stereotype is that eating disorders are a current day affliction caused by media images, they’ve been around for centuries.  Generations of women have suffered, but they were undiagnosed and untreated. Some wound up in mental hospitals or experienced chronic illness and early death from malnutrition or suicide. Those who were higher functioning got married and had kids. 


When an eating disorder goes untreated for decades it becomes an entrenched and defining quality of one’s self-concept. 


I’m the thin one. 

I’m the one who resists the treats at the restaurant. 

I’m the one who cooks for others but never succumbs to temptation.  


The “pride” in being able to achieve these victories over the body’s needs is a substitute for self-worth.  Like saccharine, its momentary sweetness has no real substance behind it.  


Unfortunately, the older generation of moms had little awareness of how living on nicotine, caffeine, saccharine and adrenaline would affect their offspring.  Their adult children often struggle with a deep and abiding sense of emptiness.    


Olivia sits in my office, the daughter of one of these moms. “I’m grumpy,” she starts off one summer morning. “Actually, I’m hung over, as in ‘Food Hangover.’  Had dinner with Mom last night.”  


A successful, attractive professional in her late 40’s, Olivia secretly binge eats whenever she spends time in the presence of her mother.  That night before, Mom had come through town and taken Olivia out for dinner, ordering a side salad with no dressing and black coffee (“…always the damn black coffee!” Olivia fumes). Her mom excused herself several times to step outside for a cigarette. She looked with judgment and disdain as Olivia ordered dinner off the menu. By the time dessert arrived, Olivia was planning her post-dinner binge back at the house.  


Olivia felt like her mother wore her anorexia like a badge of honor. During her childhood Olivia’s mother never ate dinner with the family.  When they went on vacation, her mother would avoid eating all day, admonishing the kids, “You’re not hungry!” when they started asking for lunch around 2:00 p.m.  Sometimes Olivia would discover her mom quietly eating a box of crackers late at night in the dark kitchen; she’d hide the box like it was heroin.   

   

Because she was chronically hungry, Olivia’s mother was often irritable and short-tempered, blaming Olivia for being “overly dramatic” or “too needy,” a trait most loathed by someone with anorexia. Because her mother’s cup was empty, she perceived her daughter’s normal needs (for love, food, attention) as burdensome. Because Olivia was a bright, sensitive child, she could come to no other conclusion than that she was faulty, unlovable, too much, a disappointment. Despite her many friends, her professional success, and her delightful and effervescent personality, for 47 years Olivia has held firmly to this core belief.    


Thankfully, today there is less shame and greater awareness about treating eating disorders.  Moms who are suffering are seeking help.  


Kerri, a mother of three, had become so depressed from her food rituals that she was not able to parent her kids, spending hours every day in her darkened room.  She avoided family meals, then binged and purged when they were otherwise occupied. She sought therapy when she became frightened by her suicidal plans. She’d written the good-bye letter to her kids and staked out the bridge she was planning to drive off. But her eldest daughter was on the verge of puberty and starting to worry about her body image.  This was Kerri’s wake-up call. She did not want to abandon her daughter at such a crucial stage. She remembered feeling emotionally neglected by her mom at 13 and believed that this contributed to her bulimia.


She called me for help, petrified to reveal her secret to her husband, but ready to break bulimia’s 30-year grip.   


Kerri has worked hard in therapy these past two years. She is now fully engaged as a mother because she is trying to meet her needs by getting sleep, eating meals, exercising, taking medication for depression (and having hot dates with her husband!). She has meaningful discussions with her daughters about their changing bodies, saying the things that she wished her mother had told her at that age. Her kids now see her as a source of love and support rather than a source of pain.    


Meanwhile on a summer morning, I try to help Olivia stop taking her mother’s inability to love her personally. Even as the Adult Olivia knows her mother has an untreated illness, the Kid Olivia still believes the faulty messages that her mother conveyed. So Olivia will need to fill the emptiness with real acts of love. She can nourish her body with rest and exercise and delicious meals (with no guilt). She can fill her heart with the love of her close friends. She can feed her soul by making a difference in the world. 


Food is as essential as oxygen for our survival, but you never hear people feeling guilty for breathing too much, or making ridiculous statements such as: “Wow, you look great! Are you cutting back on oxygen lately?” 


Maybe when a woman decides to become a mother, her doctor should say something like: “You are about to embark on an important journey. Please be sure to feed and nurture yourself before you attempt to nourish a child.”



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Bariatric surgery has catapulted us into a Brave New World.  These days many eating disorder therapists are seeing a new type of client: the pre- or post-bariatric surgery patient. While we may not be schooled in the gastrointestinal and hormonal intricacies of obesity surgery, we are knowledgeable about the complex interplay of emotions, relationships, trauma and food.  Unfortunately, bariatric surgeons may have only had one class (that’s class, not course) on eating disorders in medical school.  


Many in the eating disorder community are adamantly opposed to this surgery.  They view with suspicion physicians who are quick to promote the procedure as the Holy Grail of weight loss rather than viewing it as a last resort.  And while insurance companies may insist on six months of pre-operative nutritional counseling, they do not insist on (and often balk at paying for) pre-operative psychotherapy.   


It’s hard for me to take a hard-line stand on the surgery itself. I know people who’ve destroyed their health, developed eating disorders and alcoholism, gained back all the lost weight and even died following gastric bypass surgery. I also know people who’ve lost weight and kept it off, and whose quality of life has improved 1000 percent following surgery. They have no regrets and tout it as a life-saving operation. 


Get Thee to a Therapist!

I met a bariatric surgeon who’d conducted his own extensive pre-surgery assessments of his patients.  He was shocked to find that 80 percent of his patients who were about to undergo surgery reported being sexually abused as children. 


I wasn’t shocked at all. It’s widely accepted in the psychology community that sexual abuse survivors often develop problems with overeating. An abuse survivor may use food to numb her feelings or punish herself. She may try to make herself less attractive by gaining weight. Over the years, eating can become a default way of coping with negative emotions, while being overweight becomes self-defining.


Now imagine this woman gets gastric bypass surgery to “fix” her weight problem, without stepping a foot in a therapist’s office. Post-surgery she may be ill-equipped to cope with negative feelings since her default mechanism has been taken away. As her body changes and men start noticing, she may be unprepared for the sense of anxiety that she cannot identify or manage. 


This is the patient who may turn to alcohol, cigarettes or shopping for emotional anesthesia. Or she may just eat her way around that tiny stomach pouch. Once I met a woman who lost and then gained back 250 pounds post-surgery.   


More tragically, ERs have a short-hand for the post-surgery patient who’s binged and burst through the tiny stomach-pouch.  “GBGB.” Gastric Bypass Gone Bad.  GBGB can be deadly. 


 “Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.”


Doesn’t it make sense that a person who is 100 pounds overweight should address his or her “food issues” before getting gastric bypass? Here’s a story to illustrate the work that needs to happen between your ears before someone opens your gut. 


Brad is a bright, vivacious and extremely likable guy. A successful man in a long-term relationship, when he arrived for pre-surgery psychotherapy he weighed 386 pounds. Here are just a few of the themes that we addressed during our year together.


Early family messages


When we explored why Brad had ignored his health, he stated that he believed he was not worth the effort. So we dug deeper.


Brad was adopted. He never felt like he “belonged” to his parents. His mother was obsessed with her own fitness but rarely cooked or cared for her son.  Brad always sensed that his mother felt burdened by his needs. Brad’s father was a harsh disciplinarian.  A controlling military man, he’d measure the hangers in Brad’s closet to be sure they were one-inch apart. Sharing these stories helped Brad realize that his parents did not love him in the way that he needed to be loved. This insight was accompanied by deep sadness. This “grief work” helped him let go of his old self-perception.  Acknowledging that their treatment of him was more about their short-comings than his value as a son, he recognized that he was worthy of the effort it took to take care of himself. 


Self-talk


Brad had internalized his father’s perfectionism along with an equally powerful rebelliousness. If you’re surprised to think of someone weighing over 380 pounds as a perfectionist, here’s how it works: If I can’t be Perfect, why bother?


Perfectionism and Complacency are flip sides of the same coin. 


In therapy Brad recognized that his harsh self-talk not only didn’t make him a better person, it actually contributed to his weight gain. Brad recalled a high school gym teacher who had believed in him and pushed him to get fit. With her encouragement, he started to feel good about his body. Realizing that her positive approach had helped him get in shape years ago, he started speaking to himself in kinder tones, rather than listening to – and rebelling against – his internalized father.    


Current Relationship Issues


Brad’s partner was a caretaker.  He loved to feed Brad, but a bit too well! Brad suspected his partner might be sabotaging him since he’d gained 100 pounds in the time they’d been together. We anticipated ways that Brad’s weight loss might alter the dynamics of the relationship. Brad’s new confidence would likely make him more assertive, which would add stress and conflict.  


Brad’s partner decided to get in therapy to work through some of his own issues. This helped prepare them both for a new post-surgery relationship, especially with regards to food, love, power and control.


The Update


Following his surgery, Brad accepted a job in a new city.  It’s been a year. Here are his words:


“As far as the surgery itself, it was actually better than expected. The doctors…made sure I understood any potential complications, discomforts, recovery times...The side effects were exactly as expected…The positive effects far FAR outweighed any of the negatives…It’s been 12 months and I’ve lost 170 pounds…Within 2 weeks…my blood pressure was completely normal…


Within 7 months, my sleep apnea had improved... My energy levels soared and are consistent throughout the day. Food went from being something I was completely obsessed with to almost an afterthought – who knew I had to remind myself to eat...I had not realized how limited I had made my life, avoiding all the anxieties like air travel, small chairs, parties, social activities…I am more social, throwing parties, going to clubs, going dancing, hiking…I started at 386 pounds. 


Today I weigh 216 lbs. If I didn’t lose another pound, I would be content…


And the take-away:


“I feel like (our) therapy was extremely beneficial in dealing with the issues of satiety (emotional versus physical), the feeding of the emotional stuff, acknowledging what my triggers were, and more. I really attribute my success to the therapy I had before surgery, and the lessons I learned from it that I have brought forward post-surgery.  I know other bariatric patients that had little to no therapy, and their success has been very limited. My recommendation would be get some serious therapy before you embark on a surgical solution.”


Amen Brother.



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC




Over the course of my 35 years in practice I have seen a distinct connection between sexual abuse and disordered eating in my clients. This is not to say that all people with eating disorders have abuse history, nor do all people with abuse histories have eating disorders.  But food, among other substances like drugs and alcohol, is an easy and convenient vehicle for stuffing down painful emotions that are prevalent in the survivor’s psyche as well as giving the individual a sense of control or mastery over his/her body where they previously had none.

 

According to Mary Anne Cohen, CSW, Director of the The New York Center for Eating Disorders, “The connection between sexual abuse and developing an eating disorder is guilt, shame, anesthesia, self-punishment, soothing, comfort and rage.”

 

Sexual abuse can have many different ways of impacting one’s eating habits and body image.  With sexual abuse so severely violating one’s boundaries, people find great difficulty in identifying such things as true physical hunger, comfortable satisfied or fullness, sexual feelings, fatigue, and different emotional states.  People will turn to food as a coping strategy to deal with a wide range of disturbing feelings as a way of soothing and comforting their distress. 

 

The use of food serves multiple purposes for many sexual abuse survivors.  Apart from the comfort food brings, it is also a way of controlling the body.  I have treated clients who starve themselves to deny their sexuality as well as others who gain weight to protect themselves from intimacy and thereby, render themselves unattractive.  Others are caught in the never ending cycle of dieting, bingeing, purging, or starving as a means to create the “perfect” body in order to feel empowered, in control, and invulnerable.  In fact, they feel just the opposite.

 

Secrecy also plays a role in the survivor’s psyche.  Depending upon the circumstances of the abuse, the abuser may have threatened the victim or bribed him or her “not to tell.”  There is a great deal of shame and guilt that one can feel as a result of the abuse.  Furthermore, many survivors internalize a variety of negative beliefs about themselves such as “It was my fault this happened.” “I’m a bad person.”  “I am unworthy of good things happening to me,” and “I deserve to be punished.”

 

So how does one emerge WHOLE when so much of the inner self has been damaged, violated, and broken?

 

The case of Andrea is one of bravery, resilience, and illustrative of the fact that one cannot only survive sexual abuse but can also thrive and be whole again.  Andrea first came to see me at 19 years old, a student at a local university.  A beautiful, bright, engaging young woman with dreams of becoming an actress, she struggled with food over the years, starving herself in search of the perfect body.  At the point that she came to see me, she was bingeing, starving, over exercising, and occasionally using laxatives, all in an attempt to control her body. 

 

An alcoholic, disconnected mother and a workaholic, absent father, complicated her family history.  Her oldest sister, whom she adored and looked up to, was left to take care of Andrea and her two younger sisters.  Receiving no love and attention from her home environment, Andrea sought comfort in playing with the local neighborhood boys.  Andrea’s sister resented having the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings and was physically and emotionally abusive to them.  As a result, Andrea spent more and more time outdoors and began to be sexually abused by the boys in the neighborhood by the age of six. 

 

When Andrea finally gave voice to her abuse story in our session, something she had held in for 13 years, she began her journey toward healing.  She had never dared tell anyone her story.  The boys had threatened to hurt her if she did.  She never felt her mother was emotionally available, her father was unapproachable and working all the time, and her sister would only hit her and reinforce that it was her fault. 

 

So she felt alone, abandoned, and full of guilt and shame.  In addition, she divulged another truth that she felt was the most shameful—that it felt good and she thought the boys loved her; they treated her special.

 

As Andrea’s path to healing unfolded, we began to work on identifying and sitting with uncomfortable emotions as well as recognizing the negative beliefs she had about herself. She began to keep a journal to chronicle her thoughts and feelings.  Through journaling she realized that she had held herself responsible for the abuse.  She viewed herself as a “bad person” who needed to be punished causing her to want to starve herself or binge and purge either by over exercising or by using laxatives. 

 

Furthermore, having always been a people pleaser, she realized that she was using this as a strategy for getting love and attention.  However, people pleasing had instead robbed her of the ability to know what she wanted and needed.  She either focused on the needs of others, or did things she should do, not what she wanted to do.  I gave her homework assignments noting and practicing taking care of her own needs and identifying her own wants.

 

Since journaling was so useful to her, I began to have her keep a food journal and trained her to eat mindfully.  As she gradually began to recognize and decode her body’s hunger language, she realized that she was bingeing to stuff down her feelings of shame and guilt, to quell her anxieties, and to protect herself from the strong sexual feelings she had for her boyfriend. 

 

This was the first of many crucial steps in her learning to differentiate between her emotions and her feelings of hunger.  The abuse had caused her to misread her emotional and physical signals.

 

We worked through her feelings of guilt and shame and the negative beliefs she held.  Her deeply held shame about feeling the pleasure during the abuse, disappeared as I explained that it was natural for her body to feel pleasure when it was stimulated and that she was not a bad or her body wasn’t betraying her. It was her body’s natural response.  This also led to a lot of anger work toward her parents for not being “available” emotionally and physically and for not protecting her from the her sister or the neighborhood boys.

 

As time went on she felt more and more empowered using her voice to speak about her needs and feelings instead of stuffing them down.  She was able to tolerate difficult feelings and felt less fearful sexually.

 

 A big turning point though, was when Andrea told her boyfriend her abuse story.  As a result, she felt safe being intimate with him and was willing to be open about what forms of sexual touch she felt comfortable with and what she didn’t.  Their intimacy improved.

 

Twenty years later, I received a call from Andrea.  She was happily married to the man who was her boyfriend at the time, had a peaceful relationship with food and her body, and had a successful career as a teacher.  She realized that acting was her mother’s dream, not HERS!

 

She had truly found her voice, her self, and became whole again.

Most of all, she had become strong in the broken places.

 

Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction.  She is the founder and director of Slimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self.  To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.com.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

Read other Allyn St. Lifer columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Do you go all day without eating, perhaps only drinking coffee, only to gorge yourself on anything that doesn't move once you get home?

 

Do you virtuously dine on cardboard-tasting, calorie-controlled, low-fat, low-carb meals for a period of time, ultimately leading you to binge on all those foods of which you were depriving yourself?

 

Trying to be "good," do you say NO to the luscious chocolate lava cake, just to go home and mindlessly consume two or three pints of Ben and Jerry's?

 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you're well acquainted with Ravenous.

 

Ravenous is a scary-looking, dark, furry creature with huge, dagger-like teeth.  It’s mean, ornery, and moody, with a mind of its own and is about the size of the King Kong with an appetite to match. While masquerading as your best friend, it comes out and takes over... pretty much anytime it feels like it, rendering you helpless and powerless to cater to whatever it desires.  Residing “within,” Ravenous has access to all of your “weaknesses” and will use them against you.  Since it is very possessive, it won’t allow you to have any other friends, isolating you and making you feel that its friendship is all you need to feel complete and fulfilled. 

 

Starving, depriving, and disrespecting your body ensures you a relationship with Ravenous.  In fact, it can easily lead to an “inner marriage,” though a dysfunctional one.  At first, being with Ravenous feels so good, but after a very short while you realize you made a big mistake by accepting its friendship. You discover that a friendship with Ravenous destines you to a life of high and low drama.

 

All of this is by way of saying that food is never going to fill the hole of whatever is missing in your life.  Overeating and/or bingeing won’t substitute for a healthy relationship; it will only leave you feeling ironically empty, no matter how full the food has made you feel.  Furthermore, it leads to a barrage of negativity and self loathing which is the abusive nature of Ravenous.

 

Sadly, some stay unhappily engaged in unhealthy relationships forever because they believe they have no choices.  However, this is not true at all.  Just so you know, Ravenous is most threatened byMindfulness.

In fact …

 

Mindfulness is the Nemesis of Ravenous

 

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a gentle, caring, and compassionate soul who neither needs nor wants to control or own you.  Mindfulness simply wants to be your friend for life and guide you in the most loving, nurturing and healthy ways.  This sensitive being wants to teach you to listen to the voice of your true, physical hunger.  This involves attuning yourself to your body’s signals.  Notice the subtle feelings in your stomach when you’re physically hungry- is it a gnawing feeling? growling? a sense of emptiness?

Knowing the physical sensation of hunger is the first step to being able to mindfully attend to it.

 

With our busy schedules and the many demands and expectations on us in our everyday lives, we tend to fill our time multi-tasking- even when we eat.  Mindfulness, a wise, patient coach, teaches that to really enjoy food and nourish your body, you have to utilize all of your senses and be fully present when you eat.

 

§  Simply eat, doing no other activitiy including talking on the phone, answering emails, reading…

 

§  Use your eyes to visually take in the food, noticing the colors, textures and shapes of the food on your plate. 

 

§  Smell the aroma of the food.  Does it smell fresh or overly cooked?

 

§  Taste the food by slowly chewing and extracting all the flavor from it before taking another bite.  Note the lingering taste.

 

§  Experience the sound of the food as you chew and notice the textural changes

 

§  Touch the food and notice if it feels smooth, rough, hot, cold

 

Having Mindfulness as your friend, you will learn the art of being compassionate and non-judgmental toward yourself and your body, enabling you to make peace with both and feel whole-body, mind, and spirit. 

 

Rather than, calling yourself fat, or focusing on the size of your thighs with disgust or bemoaning the folds of skin on your tummy, be gentle with yourself.  You would never speak to a loved one as harshly as you do to yourself.  Treat yourself as you would your best friend with loving kindness, appreciation, and respect. You have to begin with the negative messages you give yourself.  Catch yourself immediately as you critically exclaim, “I hate my repulsive, fat legs!” See a stop sign, hear yourself yelling, ”Stop” in your head and reframe your negative comment into something non-judgmental, kind, and encouraging like “I appreciate the strength and power of my legs for carrying me from place to place in my life.”  Even if you don’t believe it 100%, give your body positive affirmation.  The more you stop the negativity, the better you will ultimately feel. No one becomes mindful overnight.

 

Being with Mindfulness is a process that requires some energy and effort since the relationship has to develop slowly in order to truly evolve.  A relationship with Mindfulness is not a “contextual friendship,” one that will fade once you move cities or change jobs; but a true friendship that will last a lifetime.

 

In learning to decode the hunger language of your body, I’m going to let you in on the secret: Ravenous is trilingual and speaks in Starve, Deprive, and Stuff.  It’s an easy language to acquire but due to its ease, there’s no positive personal growth that comes from knowing it.  Those who speak these languages appear unhappy and internally tortured.  

 

Conversely, Mindfulness speaks only one language but it is the World’s Expert in it…Attunement.  Learning to speak in Attunement takes time, concentration, and patience but it is well worth your tenacity. Once learned, you will understand the language of true, physical hunger and of inner satisfaction. Using the breath will help you learn to speak in Attunement.  Take 5-10 deep diaphragmatic breaths (belly breaths) and stay focused on the “in breath,” then the “out breath” as much as possible.  Even when your mind wanders into thoughts of what you need to do, daydreams about taking a vacation, or worrying about a troubling interaction with a friend, bring it back to the breath.  Once finished, ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry/” If not, ask what am I hungry for? What am I feeling?  What thoughts are going through my head?  This simple breathing practice of tuning into your own inner process will enable you to be fully present in the moment, another key element of mindful eating.

 

Those mastering Attunement also learn to hear their own voices so they can nourish and nurture themselves and live according to what is healthiest for their bodies and souls.  Learning the language of Attunement from Mindfulness frees them from the grip of Ravenous so they can discover what is truly fulfilling and what gives their lives meaning.

 

To me, it’s a no-brainer-Mindfulness seems clearly to be the better choice.  Even if at first Mindfulnessappears not to be your type of friend, be open-minded and listen to its loving, nurturing voice within.

You may be surprised that Attunement is easier for you to pick up than you think.

 

Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction.  She is the founder and director ofSlimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self.  To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.com.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

Read other Allyn St. Lifer articles, here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times focused on how society can make positive changes by working through our social circles:


The old folk concept that our personal health behaviors rub off on those around us has received a staggering amount of scientific support of late. Over the last few years, study after study has shown that weight gain, drug and alcohol use, even loneliness and depression aren't islands unto themselves but are powerfully contagious — capable of spreading within our social networks just as germs scatter after a sneeze.


The process of using peer influence for good has been dubbed “The Social Cure” and has been used in successful anti-smoking and anti-drug campaigns.   


When I was in the beginning stages of forming a nonprofit to raise awareness about eating disorders, I got a distressing call from a senior girl at a local private school.  Having recovered from an eating disorder herself, she was acutely aware of the warning signs in others.  She was alarmed by what she was witnessing amongst the eighth grade girls. The most popular girl had started eating crackers and water for lunch.  Then her best friend joined her.  Soon there were four girls, then eight. Within a couple of weeks, any girls who brought a normal lunch to the table felt like a “fat pig.”   


“They’ve created a Cracker Club, and all the girls want to belong. Can you help?”


I look back and feel grateful for several things:

#1. This girl spotted the potential dangers in these seemingly harmless behaviors.

#2. Her school was tuned in enough to seek help.

 #3. She taught me about the power of social contagion. 


At that time, there were a number of one-woman shows traveling the country dealing with eating disorders. While these shows were excellent in their own right, I felt that teens themselves needed to be involved in a show, not just passive observers.  


I decided the ideal play would feature football players as well as drama kids and penned “What’s Eating Katie?” about a 13-year-old girl who struggles with an eating disorder.  Katie is a high achiever, one of the best and brightest.  She’s a perfectionist who wants to make everyone happy.

The Eating Disorder (ED) is played by an actor representing a separate character.  Audience members relate to Katie since we all have an internal negative voice; the only difference may be that Katie’s internal voice is meaner, more controlling and ultimately highly destructive.  (To bring it full circle, the play even includes a scene where Katie’s friends start a Cracker Club.)

Between scenes are hilarious “commercials,” spoofing the diet, fashion, fast food and fitness industries.  These scenes place Katie’s struggle within the wider cultural context.  By clearly showing the manipulations of the corporations that profit from making us fat, insecure and then thin again, teens will be better at critiquing the messages that lead to unhealthy behaviors (“You’ll be popular, loved and happy if you are THIN, no matter what the price!”)

By making these messages explicit, they have less power to influence attitudes and behaviors.  The other thing that makes these commercials particularly effective is that the director can cast football players, “geeks,” and beloved faculty members to play these cameo roles, thus opening up the show to include more members of the social network of the school, widening and deepening the impact.   

Over the past 15 years, high schools and colleges around the country (as well as Scotland and Australia!) have performed this play. Last year I updated the script to include cell phones and texting, Google and Facebook (none of which were around in 1996).

Recently I decided to bring the show to the next level by turning it into a musical.  A gifted actor-composer named Bryan Mercer is writing the music. We believe that the combination of my 20 years as a psychologist and his 30 years in musical theater will make the show both educational and entertaining.

Once the songs are complete, we’ll reach out through social media to promote this fresh, bold way for teens to combat weight stigma, body image issues and eating disorders. We’ll also approach local schools and community groups about performing the show in Atlanta in 2012.

This is a life-changing and potentially life-saving project. Ultimately, it encourages people to seek help because recovery is possible. We are funding this stage of the project through a website called Kickstarter.com.  If you want to be part of it, we’d love for you to join us!  The Kickstarter countdown ends October 20th.  Click here for more details:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1746338650/whats-eating-katie-the-musical?ref=live.

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web atdinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

So you’re driving along in your life and the Check Engine light comes on.  You ignore it, maybe even put some tape over it.  You hear a clunking sound; you turn up the radio.  All of a sudden, the engine seizes up.  You can’t move forward.  It’s lonely and foggy out here. You look around and the reality hits you: “I am Depressed.”


The most insidious quality of Depression is that it steals the energy that allows you to do the things that will help you feel better. If you either cannot sleep or can’t get out of the bed, you are drained of the energy to be with people, feed yourself well and exercise.  Your self-worth drops; those things that brought you joy only cause numbness.


It’s time to get thee to a mechanic.


The recipe for recovery typically involves two parts (although not always!): Part 1: Medication, and Part 2: Psychotherapy. 


Some folks try to omit one ingredient.  One way to think of it is that sometimes Part 1 gives you the strength to do the things that you learn about in Part 2. 


As someone in charge of Part 2, I view Depression as a gift (if used properly!).  The gift is that it can be the impetus to reach out for help.  Seeking therapy is both a gift to yourself (how awesome to be able to talk about yourself for an hour) and a courageous act (you may make discoveries that push you out of your comfort zone.)  Sometimes the places where you get stuck are unconscious remnants from your childhood: exploring your patterns with an outside observer may help you move your life in a new direction.  

 

I have noticed a number of themes amongst my clients battling Depression.


Lack of connection.

An older single man found himself eating boxes of cookies every night to soothe his Depression. His alcoholic mother had not filled his emotional tank when he was a kid; as an adult he had trouble comforting himself when he was alone. A former alcoholic himself with 20 years of sobriety, he was encouraged through therapy to re-started attending AA meetings each morning.  He made breakfast dates and dinner dates. He plugged his friends’ numbers into his cell phone and scrolled through his address book when he felt lonely (instead of hitting the cookies). Over time his Depression lifted as he internalized the awareness that he was loved and an important part of the web of human existence.


Lack of meaning.

A middle aged woman had spent 20 years raising her kids. When they left home, she cared for her sick mother. When her mother decided to move in with my clients’ brother, my client became severely depressed. In therapy she realized that her life had lost its purpose: to care for others. She realized that volunteering at the local children’s hospital could meet that need.  It helped her realize that she mattered, and lit up her heart when the hospitalized children smiled at her. 

    

A stalled grief process.

A single woman who had struggled to find a healthy romantic relationship lost her father to cancer. He had been her sole source of unconditional love, as her mother was critical and judgmental.  Left without her father’s love, her grief morphed into Depression.  She felt paralyzed month after month; she withdrew from her friends and comforted herself with her dogs, TV and food.  As she spoke in therapy about her father, she realized that the way to honor his legacy of unconditional love was to give that love away.  Rather than waiting for a man to love her, she started exploring the possibility of adopting a child. This re-energized her and gave her father’s loss meaning.    

    

Anger turned inwards.

One woman became suicidally depressed after 40 years of tolerating her emotionally abusive husband.  She feared speaking up because he could get “so mean.” In our sessions, she realized that painful experiences in her childhood had taught her to please others and caused her to believe that she was helpless to change bad situations (hence, her decision to end her life rather than speak up!).  She learned in therapy that she had a right to express her dissatisfaction in her marriage.  Her husband attended some sessions, and her new assertiveness changed the dynamics in their marriage. He learned to listen and not interrupt; she learned to tolerate his insensitivity and discovered she had a thicker skin than she realized. As she found her voice, her Depression abated and their marriage improved.  

          

Not measuring up.

A teenage boy wanted to die.  He’d just seen the roster for the school’s football team and he had not made the cut.  His family lived for football, and his parents had spent the past year talking about his try-outs for the upcoming season.  When he didn’t make the team, he was devastated at having disappointed his parents. But when his parents responded with support instead of disdain, he felt relieved. When the coaches encouraged him to switch to a new sport, the cloud of Depression lifted.  His life wasn’t over, it was just turning in an unexpected direction.  

      

Unexpressed creativity.

A 40-something wife had put her creative energy on hold for over 12 years; her husband’s job kept him away from home and caused her to act as a single mother. For years, she had neither the time nor energy to devote to her significant artistic talents. When she came to see me, she was binge eating and purging to medicate her Depression. When she demanded changes in her marriage, her husband was willing to make changes to his work situation.  This freed up time for her to pursue her creative pursuits.  Her brain chemistry changed when she was engaged in her art; she realized that she ignored this aspect of her psyche at her own peril!     

 

The well is dry.

A depressed nurse came for help.  While she loved caring for her patients, she was on-call 24/7. She gave and gave, but had no chance to fill her own cup: friends, yoga, exercise, sewing had all fallen by the wayside. She took a medical leave. She realized that she had difficulty setting boundaries in a number of areas in her life, especially with her mother. As she started to say “No,” she freed up energy for herself.  As she decided to shift her nursing career to one that accommodated a saner schedule, she felt more like herself again.  


So if your Check Engine light is on, ask yourself:


Ø Am I feeling disconnected?

Ø Is my life lacking meaning or purpose?

Ø Are there tears I need to shed over a loss?

Ø Is there anger I need to express? 

Ø Am I not measuring up to some fantasy ideal?

Ø Is my creativity stifled?

Ø Has my well run dry?


And if you need help finding the answers to these questions, your mechanic has an open bay.    


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

Karen, an attractive, fit and fashionable 48-year-old mother, has come to get help for her 17-year-old daughter Ashley’s weight problem.  


“I’m really worried about her health. She’s put on 30 pounds since middle school.  She’s a bright and beautiful girl, but her weight is making her miserable,” she told me.  “She’s never had a boyfriend and she’s avoiding her friends.  Every time she gets in the car, she’s buying junk food. I’ve tried dieting with her, signing her up for gym memberships and personal trainers. I’ve offered to buy her a new wardrobe if she lost weight.  Nothing motivates her! I’m afraid whatever I do is only making things worse.”


The next week, I hear Ashley’s story. She’s overcome with tears as she describes her struggles with food and her mom.  Perceptive, sensitive and academically accomplished, she’s very hard on herself. “I can’t understand why I can’t get my act together in this one area!”


She feels hurt by her mother’s pressure to lose weight. To Ashley, whether it’s shopping together, having a meal, or going for a walk, it feels like every encounter is an opportunity for her to feel judged by her mom. 


Ashley’s mother’s concern about her weight is an octopus whose tentacles wind through every interaction, choking the fun out of their relationship. Her mother’s unspoken message is: “I’m disappointed and embarrassed by you. Something’s wrong with you, but I’m at a loss.”


This painful pattern between Karen and Ashley is the age-old dance of millions of mothers and daughters. 


To the Moms: Let Go.

Your daughter’s problem is not that she isn’t motivated enough. She doesn’t need to be “incentivized” with clothes, trips or cash if she drops weight. Believe me, she wants it as much as you do.


What’s happened is that your daughter’s struggle with food  -- an area that should be a negotiation among her head, her belly and her heart -- has become a relationship issue between the two of you. Over the years, your concern and disappointment in her weight has taken up residency in your daughter’s psyche. Your feelings are so salient that she can’t discern the subtle signals in her own body. 


You may be a successful, take-charge woman, used to influencing outcomes. But as difficult as it may be to accept, this one’s out of your hands. 


Perhaps you’ve struggled with your own weight issues. Your fear for your daughter has intensified your involvement in her problem. You’d do anything to prevent her from suffering the way you have. 


Or perhaps you’ve never had food issues and your daughter’s drama is a mystery to you.  Maybe you can eat and exercise without all the fuss, and you view her struggle as a character flaw. 


Whatever your story about food, you can’t solve her problem.  It’s time for you to let go. 


When I say “let go,” I mean not offering to diet with her, not cutting out weight loss articles for her, not asking after her walk how many miles she went. It means not sighing when she reaches for seconds or stiffening when she orders fries. It means not showing off your skinny jeans or bragging about how great you feel after your workout. It means never uttering, “Are you sure you really need that?”


Letting go means trusting that she’ll figure out her weight issues on her own time table.  It means accepting that this might take years, not weeks or even months. 


At the same time, it doesn’t mean denying support if she ASKS for it. If she can’t afford a dietician, therapist or personal trainer and you can, this could be a meaningful gift, if it’s freely given.  No checking in about “how it’s going,” with the implication “I better see results on the scale.” If that’s your mind-set, don’t bother. It will only become another place for her rebellious instincts to sabotage the process.


Here’s the New Paradigm: your role is to develop a more loving and connected relationship with her, whatever her size. This means consciously, deliberately never implying that her value goes up as the number on the scale goes down. She gets that message every day in the culture. Your role is to be a buffer –to detach her worth from her weight.    


To the Daughters: Grab the Reigns and Take Five Steps


Step 1: Get your Mom out of your food. Your relationship with your body is yours and yours alone. That means doing the right thing for your body, not rebelling against your “controlling mom” by eating junk and lying around. Grab the reigns. Instead of rebelling against her, rebel against the diet mentality...which leads to Step 2.


Step 2: No more counting points, fat grams, pants sizes, calories and pounds. Letting go of the numbers might seem scary, but be honest: all that counting only raises your anxiety, which makes you want to eat! Steps 1 and 2 should lower your anxiety. Good.  Breathe. 


Step 3: Become a Belly Whisperer by learning to discern the signals in your gut. It’s recognizing when you’re eating past the point of satiety, and when you’re eating because you’re procrastinating, rebelling, rewarding yourself, or taking a break. At this Step you’ll still do all these things, but you’ll watch yourself do it and imagine better alternatives.  Even if you still choose to eat, the key is that you’re turning your compulsion into a choice.  Even if nothing changes behaviorally, you’re making progress. These deeper changes must take place in order for lasting behavioral (and weight) changes to occur. 


Step 4: Make a different choice.  Instead of eating when you feel like procrastinating, try painting your toenails or reading a magazine instead.  You’ll notice you feel better.  The new choice will reinforce itself, making it easier to do it again. 

     

 Step 5:  Choose healthier foods because you feel better when you eat better. This feels very different from eating healthy because you’re “on a diet” or because your mom is watching. By the time you get to this step, the change in your eating is organic and based on self-love rather than a capitulation to your mom’s wishes.  Organic changes stick.  But getting to Step 5 takes time, so be patient!    


A final word to you both:


Getting the Food Fights out of your relationship is an important developmental milestone in the lifecycle of the mother-daughter relationship.  From the day a little girl is born, the mother-child bond is embodied through food and feeding. The path to a healthy separation around food issues can be bumpy and painful, but the rewards to you as individuals and for your relationship are well worth the struggle!

 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Flight attendants have it right – and the advice is just as useful for those on a plane as well as off. “Remember to place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth before assisting your child.” In other words, fail to take care of yourself and you won’t have what it takes for your kid. 

 

This is especially true for mothers with eating disorders. Anorexia is the most blatant form of self-neglect. Its theme is the refusal to meet the body’s most basic needs (for food) but it often entails the denial of other important needs (i.e. love, pleasure, intimate connection).  


While the stereotype is that eating disorders are a current day affliction caused by media images, they’ve been around for centuries.  Generations of women have suffered, but they were undiagnosed and untreated. Some wound up in mental hospitals or experienced chronic illness and early death from malnutrition or suicide. Those who were higher functioning got married and had kids. 


When an eating disorder goes untreated for decades it becomes an entrenched and defining quality of one’s self-concept. 


I’m the thin one. 


I’m the one who resists the treats at the restaurant.

 

I’m the one who cooks for others but never succumbs to temptation.  


The “pride” in being able to achieve these victories over the body’s needs is a substitute for self-worth.  Like saccharine, its momentary sweetness has no real substance behind it.

  

Unfortunately, the older generation of moms had little awareness of how living on nicotine, caffeine, saccharine and adrenaline would affect their offspring.  Their adult children often struggle with a deep and abiding sense of emptiness. 

   

Olivia sits in my office, the daughter of one of these moms. “I’m grumpy,” she starts off one summer morning. “Actually, I’m hung over, as in ‘Food Hangover.’ Had dinner with Mom last night.”  


A successful, attractive professional in her late 40’s, Olivia secretly binge eats whenever she spends time in the presence of her mother.  That night before, Mom had come through town and taken Olivia out for dinner, ordering a side salad with no dressing and black coffee (“…always the damn black coffee!” Olivia fumes). Her mom excused herself several times to step outside for a cigarette. She looked with judgment and disdain as Olivia ordered dinner off the menu. By the time dessert arrived, Olivia was planning her post-dinner binge back at the house.  


Olivia felt like her mother wore her anorexia like a badge of honor. During her childhood Olivia’s mother never ate dinner with the family.  When they went on vacation, her mother would avoid eating all day, admonishing the kids, “You’re not hungry!” when they started asking for lunch around 2:00 p.m.  Sometimes Olivia would discover her mom quietly eating a box of crackers late at night in the dark kitchen; she’d hide the box like it was heroin.   


Because she was chronically hungry, Olivia’s mother was often irritable and short-tempered, blaming Olivia for being “overly dramatic” or “too needy,” a trait most loathed by someone with anorexia. Because her mother’s cup was empty, she perceived her daughter’s normal needs (for love, food, attention) as burdensome. Because Olivia was a bright, sensitive child, she could come to no other conclusion than that she was faulty, unlovable, too much, a disappointment. Despite her many friends, her professional success, and her delightful and effervescent personality, for 47 years Olivia has held firmly to this core belief.  

  

Thankfully, today there is less shame and greater awareness about treating eating disorders.  Moms who are suffering are seeking help.  


Kerri, a mother of three, had become so depressed from her food rituals that she was not able to parent her kids, spending hours every day in her darkened room.  She avoided family meals, then binged and purged when they were otherwise occupied. She sought therapy when she became frightened by her suicidal plans. She’d written the good-bye letter to her kids and staked out the bridge she was planning to drive off. But her eldest daughter was on the verge of puberty and starting to worry about her body image.  This was Kerri’s wake-up call. She did not want to abandon her daughter at such a crucial stage. She remembered feeling emotionally neglected by her mom at 13 and believed that this contributed to her bulimia.


She called me for help, petrified to reveal her secret to her husband, but ready to break bulimia’s 30-year grip.   


Kerri has worked hard in therapy these past two years. She is now fully engaged as a mother because she is trying to meet her needs by getting sleep, eating meals, exercising, taking medication for depression (and having hot dates with her husband!). She has meaningful discussions with her daughters about their changing bodies, saying the things that she wished her mother had told her at that age. Her kids now see her as a source of love and support rather than a source of pain.   

 

Meanwhile on a summer morning, I try to help Olivia stop taking her mother’s inability to love her personally. Even as the Adult Olivia knows her mother has an untreated illness, the Kid Olivia still believes the faulty messages that her mother conveyed. So Olivia will need to fill the emptiness with real acts of love. She can nourish her body with rest and exercise and delicious meals (with no guilt). She can fill her heart with the love of her close friends. She can feed her soul by making a difference in the world. 


Food is as essential as oxygen for our survival, but you never hear people feeling guilty for breathing too much, or making ridiculous statements such as: “Wow, you look great! Are you cutting back on oxygen lately?” 


Maybe when a woman decides to become a mother, her doctor should say something like: “You are about to embark on an important journey. Please be sure to feed and nurture yourself before you attempt to nourish a child.”

 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 


     When people think of eating disorders, they picture the starving 15-year-old girl or the college student throwing up after a cookie binge.  I’d like you to expand your definition.  The 40-year-old woman about to undergo gastric bypass and the successful businessman who is 80 pounds overweight are both wrestling with eating disorders that are no less harmful and debilitating than anorexia and bulimia.      


     Unfortunately, these particular eating disorder sufferers are more likely to encounter a physician than a therapist.  The sad truth is that most physicians are woefully under-trained in nutrition or the psychology of over-eating.  Many doctors write prescriptions for obesity-related ailments but have neither time nor expertise to address underlying causes.  Many feel helpless and frustrated with overweight patients, viewing them as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant” (Obesity, Research Journal, 2003).  Since physicians report having “lower respect” for their overweight patients, it’s not surprising that many of these patients, sensing this disdain, avoid the health care system altogether  (Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2009). 

     

     Recently, I’ve seen an increase in overweight clients entering therapy.  Some are verging on diabetes.  For others, this is their last stop before bariatric surgery.  Still others arrive after surgery, stating, “I know I need to get my head on straight if I’m going to keep the weight off.”    

So many people want quick, simple solutions to this complex problem.  I’d like to share just a few of the themes that come up in our work together so you’ll understand why a diet, a pill or even surgery often won’t do the trick.   

  

***


*Growing up as an overweight child who was teased and bullied for her weight, Jan’s self-worth is in the gutter.  She’ll need to learn to separate her "Worth" from her "Weight," no easy feat in this culture. By developing compassion for herself, taking better care of herself will start to feel right.  (How can you take care of something you hate?)   


*Uncovering and resolving childhood trauma is crucial.  As a child, Danielle used food to both punish and nurture herself after she was sexually abused by her stepfather. She unconsciously kept on extra weight as protection from unwanted sexual advances growing up.  As she works through this trauma in therapy, she’ll learn to establish healthy boundaries so it will feel safe for her to live in a body that attracts attention.  Therapy will also help her become more accepting of her own sexual needs and desires.   


* As a teenager, Tom gained 50 pounds after his mother died from cancer, soothing his feelings of loss and sadness with food.  He’s been unable to shed the weight through dieting.  Allowing himself to grieve will free him of the need to numb through binge eating.  


*Abby alternates between Denial and Panic.  She refuses to look at pictures of herself or gaze into a mirror.  Whenever she really sees her body, she becomes overwhelmed, angry, helpless and despondent.  Abby is learning to see herself accurately as well as manage her anxiety about her weight.  Until she faces and accepts the reality of where she is in this moment, she will continue to use food as soother, comforter and numbing agent. 


*Gary is learning Patience.  Now that he’s got his eyes open, he wants the weight off fast.   He must resist the siren call of “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” lest he follow that with “Gain 40 pounds in 40 days.”  It will take time to re-wire his brain since it has followed the same neural pathway (i.e. bad feeling=go eat) for decades.  It may take a year to lose those 30 pounds forever, but more important than looking good at the reunion a month from now is being able to dance at his grandson’s wedding 20 years from now.  


*When you look at Sarah, you would not guess that she is a Perfectionist.  But this is the most common attribute shared by every person struggling with an eating disorder.  For binge eaters, the logic goes, “If I can’t follow my diet to the letter, then I might as well eat whatever and however much I want!”  It’s All or Nothing, Black or White, On or Off.  I remind Sarah that the goal is Normal eating, not Perfect eating.  Normal eating is flexible and probably averages out to about 80 percent healthy, 20 percent not-so-much.  This is a formula that a person can live with forever.  


*Ken is intrigued when I suggest he start listening to his body.  He realizes that he has tuned out the signals in his gut for decades. He ignores his satiety signals and barely recalls the last time he experienced hunger.  As we explore his fear of hunger, tears accompany his memories of childhood neglect and loneliness.  Ken is surprised to discover that connecting to this sadness actually helps him feel more alive and whole.  Discovering his ticket out of his eating disorder lies in his gut and not his brain is a new and exciting (and scary) concept.       


*Amanda is learning to recognize the Voice of her eating disorder. It says “I love you and I can make you feel better right now.”  It comes from the primal part of her brain focused on immediate pleasure.  But she can learn to shift into her frontal cortex where she has the capacity to think of the Big Picture.  In a different part of her brain, she can imagine how she’ll feel after she’s overeaten, how she’ll feel in the morning when she wakes up stuffed, how this binge will impact her health over time.  Her challenge is to stay conscious, awake and connected to the big picture when the Voice whispers, “Worry about all that stuff later…”    


*At age 60, Brenda is finally learning to say “No.” Her life-long pattern of taking care of everyone else’s needs only led to resentment, angry blow-ups and debilitating guilt.  Over-eating had been her way to take care of herself.  She’s learning that saying no to others frees up time and energy for activities that are truly fulfilling (and not just filling!).  


***


     Recently a YouTube video from Britain’s Got Talent went viral. It features Jonathon Antoine, an overweight teen who sings like Pavarotti.  Before he sings, you see disdain and disgust on the faces of audience members.  Then he opens his mouth and we discover he is gifted, vulnerable, sweet and courageous.  Our harsh judgment is suddenly transformed into a rush of compassion.  


     Perhaps we can hold onto this little moment of insight when we step away from our computer screens.  We might all feel a little lighter. 


     Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWIK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org. Follow her on Twitter @drzeck.

 

     For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

     ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.


     At age 17, the only thing more important than being liked was being skinny. If I were skinny, I’d be beautiful, and if I were beautiful, I’d be liked. Right?


     This may come as a surprise to my mother, but I teetered through the latter years of high school on the verge of an eating disorder. I suspect it’s an all-too-common situation among teenage girls.


     Obsession with being skinny was an ever-present companion in my life. I wanted it enough to – well – starve for it.


     Now, in those days, Bo Derrick set the standard in the media, and “baby got back” was not part of the public lexicon. There were no J.Lo nor Catherine Zeta-Jones-shaped movie stars to model ourselves after, and we were left with the clear message that skinny trumped almost everything – except maybe if you had hair like Farrah Fawcett!


     So I dutifully drank my TAB, chose naked salads, skipped meals, or ate next to nothing. When I got hungry, I’d light a cigarette, or make other even less healthy choices I’d rather not discuss. I would trigger my body with chocolate and coffee, unaware that I was choosing other ways to purge besides a finger down the throat. And I would revel in the acknowledgements and celebrations of my peers, and their parents, telling me how great I looked – code for “you are looking mighty skinny today, my dear.”


     The good news is that I never completely crossed the line from eating challenges to disorder. Perhaps witnessing a friend’s serious bulimia was enough to keep me just this side of over-the-edge. I don’t really know, but I’m sure it helped. After all, high school is a constant opportunity to compare yourself to others’ successes and failures, to see how you measure up, and recalibrate accordingly.


     But the truth is, I suspect, I have my mom to thank for keeping me from taking the dive into full-fledged eating disorder. (Here’s where you get redeemed for not knowing, Mom!) Growing up, my mom never made a big deal about my weight. We had Charlie’s Chips and cookies delivered to the house, and Oreo’s and Pop Tarts were a regular part of my weekly fare. I can’t say they were a particularly healthy part of my diet, but there was never a sense that I shouldn’t eat it because of getting fat. Rather, I was discouraged from eating it because it might ruin my appetite for the healthy dinner we had every evening!


     At age 11, I wore “hefty” sizes – which I hated – but I never recall my mother making a big deal about it. When I complained, my mother assured me that I would “thin out” when I hit puberty. She was right, of course. I thinned out by 15. So by the time I started obsessing on the whole skinny thing, all of the messages I had running around in my head were coming from the media, my peers and myself. They did not come from the one voice that would stay in my head the longest: my mother. I made up that skinny equals pretty, and the media reinforced it. My mom stayed out of that conversation.


     Instead, the message in my head from my mom said, “Don’t worry, you’re normal, you’ll thin out.” The value of that acceptance and support cannot be underestimated.

 

     We all have scripts we run in our heads, and many of them date back to the messages we internalized when we were children. Many of my clients discover that the gremlin voices they battle as adults are actually thinly veiled versions of one of their parents. More often than not, when the message from a parent is less than encouraging – you’re fat, you’re not good enough, you don’t deserve it, what’s wrong with you, you could do better – its impact can last a lifetime. 


     Now, if you’re concerned that you’re sending your child the ‘wrong’ messages, don’t panic. It’s never too late to change. And if you’re getting all cocky on me, prideful that you would never do such a thing, remember the words of the great Dr. Ed Uzee who said, “it’s not whether you will screw up your kids, it’s just how.” Don’t worry, you’ll find your path!


     So I’m not offering this lesson as a sure-fire recipe for eternal bliss in parent-child relationships. There is nothing simple about those relationships. But I am offering a healthful reminder that the messages we send to our children matter – a lot! In fact, they last a lifetime. What’s more, the messages that speak the loudest, and last the longest, are often the ones we aren’t aware that we are sending.


     For example, I had friends whose mothers were constantly carping on their weight, whose houses never witnessed a selection of ice creams or a box of Krispy Kremes.  They may have been bean poles when they were kids, but the messages they got in childhood made it hard to keep that weight as they got older. Their mothers never realized that the message they were actually sending was, “You’ll never be thin enough.” Many of those friends have been struggling with weight issues their entire adult lives.


     As for me, the voice of my mother has always helped me to establish an increasingly healthier relationship with my size. “Don’t worry about it. Make healthy choices. You’ll thin out.” Even after excessive weight gain through multiple pregnancies, she was right. 


     Kids are going to struggle with life. They’re going to have their hard knocks, and we parents have to learn to let them skin their knees. We can’t always be there to help them get back up. But we can be there to assure, encourage, and motivate from the inside, for decades to come, simply by paying attention to the messages we send when they are young.


     So, thanks, Mom, for believing in me until I learned to believe in myself. I’m sending that message on to your grandchildren. Do you think they’ll get it? Some little voice inside my head tells me they will!


     Elaine Taylor-Klaus is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, a virtual coaching community for parents of kids with ADHD. She is a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com and MySpecialNeedsNetwork.com, and writes for “Living Without” magazine. Elaine coaches women and parents from around the country, on the telephone, to live full and empowering lives. She works together with her husband, David Taylor-Klaus, in their company, Touchstone Coaching.


Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.


 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



Apr 17

I am one of those lucky people who grew up on the skinny side and never had to worry about my weight. Okay, I was a tomboy until my teens and even ran the 50 yard dash and relay race in the Kansas Junior Olympics (and won red and blue ribbons, respectively). But even as a teenager, I had a flat stomach and little fat on my bones. I used to joke that I could eat several hot fudge sundaes a day and never gain weight. When I ran a marathon when I was in my 30s, a friend commented that she couldn’t understand how my skinny legs could carry me 26.2 miles.


Those were the days.


Then I hit my 50s and the word diet entered my vocabulary. Not a structured, strict, named diet, but I started watching the numbers on my scale rise into, for me, unimaginable figures. So I switched to diet sodas and became more mindful of what I ate. Eventually, I brought my weight down from its height. And lately, thanks to surgery, I have essentially reached my goal for my height and age.


But that doesn’t mean I can be casual about my food choices. Those days are over. 


I can’t blame all of this new food-mindfulness on aging and a slower metabolism. I want to blame the Internet, the media, Californians, the New Agers – all of those who tell me which fruit to eat for which organ, not to eat sugar or anything white, and what colors of vegetables should be on my plate. 


Who has time for all of this? Paying strict attention to our choice of diet is now a full-time job. According to these experts – and the advice changes nearly daily – we all have eating disorders!


I’m not trying to minimize the importance of diet on how we feel, our general healthiness and even our longevity. I’m not saying that the chemicals used to repel bugs from our fruits and vegetables are good for us, and hence we shouldn’t consider buying organic produce. And, I never would say that the diets most of us grew up with in America are balanced or healthy.


Yet, I believe there’s a limit to how obsessive we should be about our diets. For instance, I probably have been more casual about my food choices than my sisters. But my passions are outside the kitchen and dining room. I care more about politics or international affairs than they do. We just have different personalities and interests.


After I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I considered several special diets and tried to avoid all dairy, soy and, of course, sugar. I stopped cold turkey my addiction to Diet Coke. 


Most of these diets, however, just didn’t fit my personality. I didn’t want to spend so much time and energy focusing on my food intake. I eventually found a happy medium that I’m comfortable with. I have never been much of a red meat eater; my entrees oftentimes consist of fish. I do eat more whole grain breads and pastas. And I’ve always drunk many glasses of water a day.


In the last five years, I have increased my food supplements, however. But this fits my personality: popping a bunch of capsules that contain special properties of fruits and vegetables is quick. I don’t have to shop at special grocery stores or spend additional time in the kitchen.


After having said all this, I have a confession. Since my last operation, which undid a bunch of tangles in my intestines, I still suffer from some constipation. So I am conscious of eating apples or dried apricots. I think about the impact of the food I eat on my digestive system. And, because I am still me, I swallow stool-softeners, which I accept as an acknowledgement of my age.


But, in my mind, being forced to be constantly cognizant of what I eat is not natural. To me, it’s just a food disorder!



Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.

 

In November 2006, Jan was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. Follow her story here. Read more of Jan's ShareWIK.com columns here



©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



This past week, Lisbeth Rhine, the head of the Eating Disorders Information Network, lost her battle with anorexia.  Her death is a devastating blow to those who knew and loved her as well as the eating disorder recovery community as a whole.  It is especially tragic when a person who is a champion for this cause succumbs to the illness.  We feel an overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness when we lose a warrior on the front lines.   


I met Lisbeth when she joined the EDIN board four years ago.  She was passionate about the issue because she had battled with an eating disorder for decades, dating back to her days dancing with the Atlanta Ballet.  She was an active and involved board member, always raising her hand when we needed a volunteer.  When EDIN needed a new executive director, Lisbeth stepped in as interim director.  She did such an excellent job that the board made her role official.


Lisbeth took on the role of running a nonprofit just as the economy was tanking.  Dozens of charities were closing their doors. Lisbeth made sure EDIN was financially sound, sometimes refusing to pay herself so that EDIN would be in good shape.  She was a dedicated steward of our resources, eliminating expenditures and making us a lean, mean nonprofit machine.  


Over the years Lisbeth’s role expanded.  In the tough economy, she steered EDIN away from annual galas to a popular new fundraiser, the Celebrity Dance Challenge (CDC). She worked tirelessly behind the scenes to organize these highly successful, entertaining (and affordable) events.  


Even as the leader of an organization, Lisbeth was uncomfortable in the limelight.  Two years ago, I was invited to dance in the opening Bollywood number at the CDC.  Just before the big night, a dancer dropped out. I convinced Lisbeth to take her place.  Lisbeth’s dance background was evident as she instantly picked up the moves.  Remembering her out there onstage, I imagine this was a healing experience for her.  After the high-pressured world of ballet, here she was in a rocking, sexy, funky dance.  It was gratifying to watch her take a risk and experience dance in a new way.  


Despite dancing in front of crowds, Lisbeth had a terrible fear of public speaking, an important part of her new role with EDIN.  She recognized that it was important for her to conquer this fear, so after some coaching and encouragement, she started addressing groups of kids, teens and parents.  This past fall, she even spoke at the CDC, openly sharing her own struggle with an eating disorder.  For someone who held her cards close to the vest, this was a big moment.   


To see how much she had grown personally and professionally, people might think that she had conquered the demon, maybe even driven him out of town.  This is why we were all so shocked by her sudden and unexpected death.   


An event like this leaves survivors with a painful mix of feelings.  After the initial shock is a wave of guilt.  “What could I have done?  Did I miss the signs?  Could I have saved her?”


After the guilt comes anger: “How could she abandon us?” 


Then, the loss of hope: “How can we defeat an enemy that destroys our leaders?”  


Then, guilt about feeling angry: “How can I be angry at someone who suffered and died? I am horrible.”  


Please do not feel guilty for feeling angry.  What happened should make you feel angry.  We all feel angry at the senselessness of this loss.  


Losing Lisbeth is wrong.  


Those of us in the trenches often feel like David fighting a cultural Goliath.  We need tireless optimism and hope to keep soldiering on.  Such a loss can steal our resolve or throw us off our trajectory.    


So we must utilize and channel our hurt and anger.  Used properly, anger propels us to act.  This is why it’s helpful to think about the Eating Disorder (ED) as an entity separate from the person suffering from it.   This is the only way to understand how a loving, kind and caring person like Lisbeth can hurt herself.  Lisbeth was tormented by an inner bully so evil that it took her life.  


Be angry about this.  Be angry at ED.  Be angry about all the places that ED appears in our lives, then speak up, confront it, challenge it and change it.


Lisbeth’s death does not make any sense, but her life was important.  The way to honor her life is to continue in her mission.  And that means we must love fiercely.  Be brave in your love, and give your compassion away freely, not just to others but to yourself.  Beating yourself up only feeds the enemy.   


Finally, I want to share a beautiful poem that was sent to me today.  Obviously the universe wanted me to share it with you.   

 

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web here and at MyEdin.org.

 

For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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