March 17, 2012

Eating Disorders Can Go To Hell!

This was a billboard placed on the side of the road (I don't
know if it is still there). She was a model...I believe she died
shortly after (but I could be wrong). Good for her for
standing up to the fashion industry. 
I've been touched by anorexia. Not me per say, but someone close to me has succumb to this nasty, misunderstood, wasteful disease and I'm really angry about it. I am angry that this mental illness has yet to be understood by researchers and practitioners, alike. I'm angry because our little, tiny, town has nothing to offer in the way of real support (let's be honest, a big city wouldn't either...I'm just taking it out on stereotyping my small town). I am angry because I can't fix it (I'm an observer not a parent). I am angry because disordered eating and negative body image has once again come into my life.

I've been reading a brilliant book over the last day (seriously, I cracked it open when I got it and haven't been able to put it down).  I believe all parents of girls and teens should read it, but especially those families dealing or about to deal with an eating disorder...it's brilliant! Harriet Brown authors, "Brave Girl Eating; A Family's Struggle with Anorexia". It details her own experience with her daughter and reviews the research.  It takes the attention off the parents (as the cause) and leans towards genetics...not that they have found the origin or anything. She puts a face on the disease and takes the reader through an honest look at what the disease does. I understand if parents don't want to read this book as it may scare you to death, but if you can get through the initial fear, it you will be more prepared than ever to take anorexia by the balls and kick it to the curb.
I can't support this clip with research, but from what I've read and seen for myself, the small behaviours in the beginning (i.e. doing multiple sit ups after eating or taking an extreme interest in low fat or healthy eating). I was just talking to a mother yesterday telling me how great it is to see her 16 year old daughter go to the gym for hours and then go swimming. She was praising her for her activity level.  Just hearing that, made my skin crawl.

I am also very angry at our health promotion fields. Those who (and I was one of these people for twenty years) tout the importance of low fat eating, caloric restriction, "healthy" body weights that can be defined as slender, thin, fit, and skinny.  Our society is really sick in the head when it comes to fat. Women and girls bond with each other through comments disparaging their bodies. Statements like, "I hate my thighs!", and "I'm so fat its disgusting", can be heard everywhere if we listen hard enough. Parents, thinking they are doing good, are pushing their kids towards the fear of fat by offering low fat this and sugar free that. Schools are teaching youngsters how to read calories and fat and to limit their intake. What the hell do you think is going to happen? Will we find the love and respect for ourselves we all need to overall health? Absolutely not!

Our fat phobic society is slowly turning people into orthorexics (someone very rigid in diet and lifestyle as to not get fat or become unhealthy in any way). Of course, the irony is a fear of anything causes illness. The lucky ones; those I determine successful in life are those who truly love themselves for who and what they are. They aren't trying to shrink their waistlines, tone their arms, or search out the lowest fat munchie. They are happy people who love themselves. Why can't we spend the money teaching children that and not how many calories are in a bag of chips? We are pathetically short sighted when it comes to health....and I have played a huge role in this myself.

There's many factors that contribute to an eating disorder. From genetics, psychology, family dysfunction, and the constant social pressure to be thin, it all culminates into the perfect storm. Parents may believe this can't happen to my child (as my sister said when I mentioned all this), but it can. It can happen to anyone.

I am angry that I have spent 20+ years talking about the benefits of exercise and diet for weight loss. I feel angry (at this moment in time) for not choosing art school instead. My entire career has been about changing people for the better vs. loving yourself for who you are and what you do now. It's bringing tears to my eyes as I type this.  Shit.

Being around anorexia again, I realize that although my own eating disorders were kicked to the curb in my twenties, the thoughts remain. Beliefs around worthiness and body size, guilt and about being a fat fitness leader, restricting or eliminating foods, I have to be honest and admit that my own beliefs about fat continue to drive some of my behaviour (not all of it however..I work very hard at challenging myself every day). The only difference is I am able to control those thoughts and not manifest them into an eating disorder all over again. I find myself angry with the mother as she continues to weigh herself and monitor her body size through diet and extreme exercise but I'm sure we have some of the same thoughts. The cold, hard truth is if we dislike something in someone it's only because we dislike it in ourselves. I have to remember that (when I feel like running her over in my car - refer to the blog post "Why Can't We Just Get Long"...you will understand).
Unfortunately, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia don't just affect weight. As the body is developing starvation can have life long affects on the body. Although this diagram isn't the clearest, it does give you the idea of what is at stake.  It causes depression and suicidal ideation (if not attempt), it disrupts cognition and focus, it causes the person to isolate (which in turn starts a vicious cycle). All in all, it's an evil disease without a cure.  The good news is, with Family Systems Therapy - FST (counselling that includes the entire family) the "cure" rate may be higher than with conventional (a.k.a. separate the kid and stick a feeding tube down her) without the FST .  With the little information I have read, I believe we re seeing the turning point of treatment. At there there's that.

So I continue to read whatever I can about anorexia and talk to all my friends in social work and counselling (I'm very lucky I have so many in the helping professional field). I have to remember, she isn't my child and I can do nothing but support her and be her friend. My fear, however, is getting in the way of that at the moment and I am feeling completely paralyzed - scared I'll say something stupid and drive her deeper into the illness. My hope is she isn't that bad, my fear is I'm in denial.

There is a quote I read by Winston Churchill, "If you are going through hell, keep going." I love that. I also remind myself that things don't happen to us in life for no reason, there is a lesson we must learn from everything that occurs (I believe that as strongly as I believe I'm sitting here craving a chocolate Betty Crocker cake with vanilla icing from a can).

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a weekend of nothing to do except get my mountain bike cleaned up, eat a pizza, drink a bottle of wine (not in one sitting...but pretty close), and watch one good movie (the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat without blinking).

K

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