Friday, February 6, 2015

You Are NOT Your Eating Disorder

Today's guest post is from Thomas Grainger, adapted from his book, "You Are Not Your Eating Disorder: A Practical Guide To Overcoming An Eating Disorder."  An award-winning producer and filmmaker, Thomas writes from the perspective of his own experience of struggling with anorexia. He seeks to help others - including men - who struggle with anorexia and other forms of disordered eating. He recently contributed to the website Men Get Eating Disorders, Too.

(Please note:  aspects of this post may be triggering)

Here is his story:

"I was inspired. After watching the season premiere of The Biggest Loser, I wanted to be one of them. Not what the contestants looked like on day one of the program, but I wanted to be a success story, to shed the weight just as they do week in and week out. 

So I did. 

As if a light flicked somewhere inside that confused head of mine, I swapped two minute noodles doused in peanut butter, with low calorie ‘miracle’ snack bars, fruit and very little else. So began my journey to body mutilation.

Yes, I was heavily overweight at the time, but it wasn’t too long before I had orchestrated a complete 180. As The Biggest Loser contestants would weigh themselves in each week, so would I…and I lost just as much weight as they did. 

Everyone began to praise me. You look fantastic Thomas’… ‘Keep up the great work’. ‘How did you manage to do it?. For a time I reveled in the appraisals…until they began to dwindle away. 

That fat-kid-turned-skinny had transitioned into the fat kid who was too skinny, to the skinny kid who had become a walking skeleton. 

An addiction to thinness

I had become addicted to calorie counting and excessive exercise. I paid no attention to the nutrition in my food. All I cared about were the numbers going into my body, and the numbers going out. Come rain, hail or shine, you could have seen me walking, hopping, skipping, jumping or running the streets at all hours of the day, trying to keep ‘fit’.

I was miserable, but I had convinced myself that the only way to happiness was being thin. I had become yet another teenager who was caught in the unhealthy belief pattern that your body shape and size was a measurement of your likeability, your popularity, your own sense of self and joy. Yet the blunt reality is this: the more you lose, the sadder you become.

It was never as if I thought I was fat, I just was terrified of putting on any weight, and my prevention mechanism was best executed by simply losing more. I had spiraled out of control. Most individuals think anorexic people believe that they’re fat. I don’t think this is exactly the case. 

Most people with an eating disorder that are underweight, are not happy with their body shape and size. They don’t think that they’re fat, they just aren’t satisfied with where they currently are, and the more weight one loses, the more dissatisfied you become. It’s a perpetual pursuit for perfection, with perfection never being attainable because there’s always a ‘more perfect’ to reach.

A crisis of the heart

Fast track two years after I first embarked on the ‘weight loss journey’, and I was lying in the cardiac ward of Westmead Hospital in Sydney on a heart monitor. I had been admitted through the emergency department, but I couldn’t go into the regular adolescent ward because my heart rate was too unstable. Months earlier my mother had tried to have me hospitalized, but I fought and fought until agreeing on a date to enter the hospital setting once my year nine exams were completed. The day straight after my final exam I was taken to hospital. A few more weeks and who knows what would have happened to me

A nasal-gastric tube made sure I was being nourished 24/7. This was my lowest point in my eating disorder experience. This basic plastic tube was shoved down my nasal cavity and into my stomach by a group of nurses. As one nurse inserted the tube town your nose as you sat upright in bed, the other nurses would be telling you to swallow consistently. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had in my life so far, followed by having the same thing removed weeks later. My nose bled for several hours afterwards. I vowed that I’d never allow myself to be in this position again, and for the next month I stuffed my face whenever possible. I can remember secretly eating a bag of lollies right after breakfast, in the hope of putting on the weight even faster and getting out of the hospital. It worked. For the time being…

Dealing with weighty issues

Fast-forward two years and I was back in the hospital again. This time it wasn’t for my weight, but for the shell of a person I had become in the midst of chronic depression. No longer relying on the eating disorder to control my feelings as much as I had previously, I was left to deal with the overwhelming self-criticism that was screaming from inside that head of mine. Being surrounded by depressed people who don’t attend the therapy sessions and who sit around the same table each day chain smoking, isn’t the most uplifting or inspiring way to recover. What it did do, apart from making me feel like I was living out the film ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ on a perpetual cycle, every time we heard ‘medication time’was make me realize just how many people, from all walks of life, are affected by debilitating thought patterns, addiction and self-hatred.

With more life experiences to store in that memory box of mine, I managed to pick myself up, tick all the boxes, say all the right things, which included not saying anything I wasn’t sure would be received well, and re-enter ‘normality’. I was flung into my final year of schooling to complete my High School Certificate. Everything seemed to be going well for me. I smashed my exams, landed a scholarship at The University of Technology, Sydney and was off to pursue by dreams as a Film Producer with my double degree in Communications and International Studies.

Two years later, I was back at square one. Only worse. What this demonstrated straight away, was that my eating disorder behaviours, were a product of how I saw myself, and my inner conflict with coming to terms with knowing who the hell I was. Perfectionism had led me to some really great opportunities and achievements in the past, but it had also landed me into a nasty concoction of anxiety, depression, self-abuse and a diminishing body. Now with chronic digestive issues, lymphocytic colitis, chronic anxiety, depression and osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) at the age of 20, I was a complete mess.

How did I get to this place…and worse still, for the second time? I hadn’t just become a little underweight. My weight managed to plummet to an embarrassing 45kg. My Body Mass Index was 15 and I didn’t care. I was miserable.  

Choosing Life

Since restoring my body to a healthy weight and for the first time coming to love my makeup for what it is, to embrace myself for the unique and beautiful person that I am (it’s still hard to say that, but I encourage everyone to see themselves as nothing less than a beautiful human being), I have become fascinated in understanding the way we fall into these unhealthy and terribly unbalanced lifestyles. I am dedicated to helping others see their behaviours as being just as irrational, stupid and downright dangerous as mine were.

Most importantly, I hope this book will act as a vehicle to help you to love yourself and unlock the inner potential that is inside of you. Never forget how beautiful and truly special you are. There is only one you, and you only have one body. Treat it with respect. Love it and it will love you in return. 

You can buy the book 

Thomas Grainger is a creative producer and wellness coach from Sydney, Australia. After suffering from anorexia and orthorexia nervosa for several years, he was inspired to combine his expertise in digital media production with his passion for helping others overcome their debilitating personal issues, to embark on a journey of spreading an international message about self-acceptance, empowerment and body awareness.

Twitter: @Tommy_Grainger

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Friday, January 23, 2015

How To Get Over A Mistake

When's the last time you made a mistake?  

Recently, to my dismay, I discovered a typo on the "thank you" pop-up on my mailing list opt-in.  Instead of "Welcome" it read "Wecome."  

Since thousands of people subscribed to the list (including many of you, dear readers) that meant THOUSANDS of people saw the error.

Total mortification.

How could I have missed it?
What would people think?
Yes, I went to that worst place scenario, imagining people would be completely put off and might think less of me.

I confided my concerns to a friend.  She started to laugh.

"I'm so relieved," she said.  "You actually are human."

She went on to tell me that my error, although understandably upsetting, made me seem more accessible and fallible in her eyes, which from her perspective was a good thing.  And she reminded me that all those subscribers still... well, subscribed.

It's easy to lose perspective and feel as if a relatively minor mistake is huge.  In my case, I realized I had highlighted the typo and minimized the overall value I strive to bring to subscribers.

Worrying makes things worse.

Stop obsessing about what happened:  Worrying about a mistake can lead to negative self-talk and an expectation of perfectionism, both of which affect self-esteem.  When you feel bad about yourself, you're more likely to use disordered eating as an escape, for comfort, or as punishment.

Start learning from it:  Figuring out what you can do to prevent another error (double proof-readers for me!) is important.

I often reassure people that it's okay to mess up, screw up, forget or just plain fail.  This experience forced me to put my beliefs into action.

Food for thought:

What does it mean to make a mistake?

What do you feel when you've made an error?

What is your inner judge telling you?

What would you tell a friend in a similar situation?

How bad is it in the overall scheme of things?

The next time you make a mistake (which is part of life and therefore inevitable), keep this in mind:

You made a mistake.  You are not a mistake.

And then give your perfectly-imperfect self a break!

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Friday, January 2, 2015

#$%^&* My Anorexia Said

#$%^&* My Anorexia Said

Guest blog post by Dana Lise Shavin

Dana is a recovered anorexic and author of The Body Tourist, a gritty, blatantly honest, and funny memoir about life after eating disorders. 

When I was fifteen, I went on a hike with some friends. One of their fathers chaperoned. On our way up a steep mountain trail, my friend’s father asked each of us what our number one goal in life was. I didn’t even have to think about it.
“To die thin,” I said.
He laughed. “You are thin,” he said. Which I was. But I couldn’t see it.
“If I was thin, I would be happy, and I’m not happy,” I said. “So obviously I’m not thin enough.” 

My friend’s father was not equipped to confront my growing anorexic mindset, with its dangerous and deeply addictive hypothesis that thinness equals happiness, and as I recall, the conversation moved on to my friends who had real goals, like becoming teachers and doctors and musicians. Four years after that conversation, forty pounds lighter, I still wasn’t happy. But I was still dieting. Not surprisingly, I was hospitalized.

            As a survivor of anorexia nervosa, there’s one question I get asked more than any other: What was the turning point in your recovery?  It’s an interesting question, I think, because it assumes that recovery is linear—that it progresses from unrecovered to sort-of recovered to completely recovered without backtracking, relapsing, or second-guessing. It assumes there is an eye-opening event or insight that turns a light on in the anorexic brain and makes her say, “What was I thinking getting so thin? I must stop this right now!”

           The truth, as we all know, is that recovery happens in fits and starts. You feel better one day and worse the next, eat healthily one day and starve the next. As time goes on, and you continue to do the work of recovery, maybe you eat healthily for two days or two weeks before you relapse. Maybe you eat healthily but feel terrible about yourself, or maybe you eat terribly or starve but feel a shift happening somewhere inside, and you know, without knowing how you know, that real change is coming. This is the true face of recovery.

           So while there wasn’t so much a turning point, so to speak, on my anorexic journey, there was, along the way, a growing awareness about my situation. At nineteen, I had been expelled from college and sent home to my parents. Instead of living in a fun, noisy dorm, attending interesting classes, and hanging out with friends drinking interesting herbal teas in beautiful, snowy upstate New York, I was confined to a hospital ward in my disliked hometown of Atlanta. My long black hair, the one thing about my appearance I actually liked, was falling out in huge hanks. Everything I prided myself on: my independence, my spunk, my academic ability, my close relationships with my friends and my boyfriend, anorexia had devoured.

           But I could only see this in glimpses. Because anorexia is an illusionist. Along with tricking me into believing happiness and contentment lay in a thinness I could never quite attain, anorexia obscured my ability to see my life, and the direness of my situation, clearly and consistently.
In the early days, weeks, and months of my recovery, I regained (and re-lost, and re-gained) a portion of my weight, each time allowing a few more of the pounds to stay. As my brain began to stabilize and my thinking began to clear, I became able—and (this is important) WILLING—to open my eyes to all the ways that anorexia was stealing my life, my friends, my independence, my joy, my sense of humor, and my future.

          There was a growing understanding that I had a choice to make: I could live the way I was living (if I lived—I was already having serious blood sugar plummets and seizures) for years or decades, terrified of food and of eating, denying my body’s wants and needs, forever racing around in a haze of exercise while battling intense hunger.

           Or I could put an end to the anorexic madness and get back to real life, which meant gaining enough weight to go back to college and pick up where I left off with my friends and my studies, and summoning the courage to face the difficult and the scary and the disappointing and the profoundly rewarding aspects of being human. The choice of whether to continue to live the painfully simplistic thin=happy fallacy, or to dig down deep inside myself and discover what was really keeping me from feeling happy—and then to do something about THAT—was mine and mine alone to make.
Easy? No. Worth the effort and the fear and the uncertainty and, yes, the restoration of my weight without any guarantees? Yes. My life is fuller, happier, more creative, more interesting, and more resonant than I ever believed it could be.

          Like an ocean liner, recovery doesn’t turn on a dime. It takes dedicated and consistent time and effort. You are at the helm. Ask yourself: how do I want to live? What would my ideal life look like? Will your greatest achievement be that you died thin?  Or will it be that you summoned your courage, faced your fears, and as a result you really, really lived?

About the author:  Dana Lise Shavin was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1986, she obtained her Master's degree in Clinical Psychology and worked for fifteen years as a therapist, behavior specialist, and psychological examiner. For the past fifteen years, she has made her living as a fine art painter, exhibiting at outdoor art fairs and in galleries throughout the United States. In 2011, Dana returned to her mental health roots and became a certified professional life coach. She specializes in finding balance and fulfillment in life and work, and goal setting with soul. Dana's essays have appeared in a number of journals, including Oxford AmericanThe SunThe WriterAlaska Quarterly Review, and many others. She has been a monthly columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press since 2002, and is the editor of the Chattanooga Jewish Federation newspaper, The Shofar.

Friday, December 26, 2014

This Year I Will...

New Year... New  You?
It’s that time of year again, when people start making New Years resolutions.  Lots of people intend to make changes next year:  they're going to try to lose weight, go to the gym more often, eat healthier – or they intend to stop self-defeating behavior such as bingeing, restricting, purging, and so forth.  

Does this sound familiar?   Do you end up starting off strong and disciplined, but somewhere along the line your resolve fizzles and you're back to where you started?

Here are three ways to do things differently this year:

Stop Trying So Hard.  Resolutions are often phrased in terms of “trying” to make changes.  I’m going to try to lose weight.  I’m going to try be healthier.  Keep in mind there is no trying; there is either doing or not doing.  If you’re trying (and failing) at your attempts to change, there is a reason.  Perhaps you’re afraid, not of failure, but of success.  Fear of success usually involves anxieties about expectations, impulsivity, and/or objectification.

Expectations: You may think that by changing your body, you’ll change your life. But, what if it doesn’t?  What if everything in your life stays exactly the same?  Maybe that’s too much to risk.

Impulsivity:  Maybe you’re afraid you’ll act in an impulsive manner if you are happy with yourself – leave your husband, cheat on your wife, take risks at work, that kind of thing.  If so, dealing with the wish to do those things – and most importantly, why - is a crucial step towards change. 

Objectification: What are your associations to intimacy?  What do you fear will happen if you’re perceived as more attractive to others?

A Different Kind of Resolution:  New Years Resolutions are often only about behavior.   But, what if they were about changing your relationship to yourself, instead of changing your behavior? 

Would you be kinder to yourself, listen to your needs and wants, and be curious (not critical!)?
Make a list of the ways you wish other people would be towards you, such as responsive, open, supportive, and kind.  Then, resolve to be that way towards yourself.

It’s Not About Willpower.  If you don’t address the underlying reasons for why you’re bingeing, restricting or purging, it is difficult to stop.   You must identify and process the underlying emotions and conflicts that are leading to the disordered eating, instead of addressing the behavior itself.

Focusing on food, weight and body image issues takes you away from what you’re feeling and thinking and serves to distract, numb or express what’s going on inside.

What emotions are you protecting yourself from feeling?  Anger? Sadness?  Fear?  Anxiety?

What are your conflicts?  In what areas of your life are you torn?  Job?  Family?  Relationships?

Disordered eating is a way of coping with painful and upsetting emotions and situations.  When you identify those underlying conflicts and find new ways to respond to yourself, you make peace with food.

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