Written by by Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC, Clinical Director, Green Mountain at Fox Run’s Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating
An open letter to loved ones supporting women who struggle with eating
Dear Loved One,
You might already know that I’m someone who has used food in excess to cope with my difficult emotions, to try to meet unmet needs, to quiet shame, to mask fear, among other reasons.
I’m not necessarily drinking large quantities of alcohol, nor using illicit substances. Instead, I turn to eating in part to numb/distract/escape/avoid/stuff/fill emotions that I find unbearable.
I am not doing this because I’m being indulgent, or permissive, or lazy, or because I don’t give a care. Quite the opposite. I’m doing this because I’m suffering. This is how inner pain manifests for me.
I know you love me and care about me and want the best for me. Often times the things you do and say show that…and sometimes they don’t.
With that in mind, I want to help you help me. I know this is what we all ultimately want. So here are some ways you can truly support me.
1. TRUST ME
I’m learning to trust myself and my body and so I’m making purposeful choices on what I choose to eat, how much and when. No foods are excluded.
I’m eating regularly, in a balanced way and mindfully, which allows all foods to be ‘back on the table’; that’s what balance is about. Think of it as: “Mostly plants, and sometimes cake”.
2. I’M LOOKING AT ALL MEASUREMENTS OF SUCCESS…NOT ONLY THE SCALE.
The scale is just a measurement of my gravitational pull to the earth. I might use it, but only in part, or I might not use it at all.
From a health perspective…medically speaking, that is, I can have healthy ‘numbers’ such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc., even if the number on the scale doesn’t match weight charts.
So besides the scale, I’m also going to look at:
With that, please don’t ask about my weight – instead, it’s much more meaningful to ask how I feel.
3. SOMETIMES WHEN I EAT, IT’LL BE THE WHOLE CAKE. YEAH, THE WHOLE CAKE.
Again, I am someone who has used food in excess to bear the unbearable. So…if it’s the whole cake, know that shaming me will only perpetuate the problem.
Shame is already one of the ‘unbearables’ I need to cope with, so please don’t give me more.
Know that when it’s the whole cake, it’s not about me being permissive. I am not being indulgent. I am not, not caring. I AM SUFFERING.
If it’s the whole cake, something’s up. I don’t want to eat the whole cake. So when that happens, please support me by offering a hug, telling me you love me and letting me know you’re here when I need you.
Because I WILL NEED YOU.
Thank you for supporting me.
Knowing that support at home is so important to healing struggles with eating, this letter is shared with women who participate in Green Mountain at Fox Run’s non-diet psychoeducational program and its Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating. For information on our programs, visit our website: https://www.fitwoman.com/therapy-services-eating-disorder/ or contact our specialists at 800.448.8106. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Content originally posted on 9/8/16 at https://www.fitwoman.com/blog/sometimes-it-will-be-the-whole-cake/
Written By Alexa Riobueno-Naylor, MEDA Undergraduate Intern
Over the course of the summer as an undergraduate intern at MEDA, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct preliminary research for my thesis which I will complete during my upcoming senior year at Wellesley College. My research topic focuses on how Latina and Black women experience eating disorders, which is of particular interest to since it allows me to focus on the relationship between social inequality, individual psychology, and culture. My hope is that my research findings will bring much needed attention to the experiences of Black and Latina women who struggle with eating disorders without receiving appropriate treatment. I also hope that this research highlights the need to bring diverse voices into conversations about eating disorders, in order to help challenge stereotypes about what kind of people are affected by eating disorders.
I first became aware of the discussion around the topic of marginalized populations affected by eating disorders through a YouTube video. This spring I stumbled upon a video created by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) titled, “Marginalized Voices and Eating Disorders: It’s Time to Start the Conversation.” It was only after watching this short video that I realized how significantly individuals with marginalized identities continue to be misunderstood, discriminated against, and further marginalized by a society ignorant to their experience. Many people, including some clinicians and doctors, continue to not fully comprehend the truths regarding the experience of an eating disorder in an individual who is not White, a member of a Western culture, cis-gender, straight, socioeconomically privileged, or has access to health insurance. Until these experiences are brought to light, far too many individuals with life-threatening eating disorders will continue to be underserved.
Soon after deciding that I wanted to focus on this topic, I recognized that I would need to focus on one or two specific populations rather than trying to complete a research project on all marginalized populations struggling with eating disorders. For many reasons, including the fact that I personally identify as Latina, my research focuses specifically on cis-gender women with or in recovery from eating disorders who identify as Latina or Black. Unfortunately, I was only able to include cis-gender women in my research since their stories were the ones accessible to me. My inability to find resources on these populations speaks to an even broader issue regarding the marginalization of trans, gender-queer, gender-fluid, and non-binary folks within eating disorder communities, which would (and should) be a whole other research project.
Over the past few decades there has been a slow but steady increase in research dedicated towards understanding eating disorders in marginalized populations. I have provided links to some of these resources including recent research articles at the end of this post. To summarize, what research has revealed is that women of color experience eating disorders at rates comparable to White women. Some groups even experience eating disorders at higher rates than White women, such as Black women (see Suzanne Wu’s article below) and Latina women (see Alegría et al., 2009). Unfortunately, clinicians and doctors are less likely to diagnose women of color (specifically African American women) with eating disorders, creating yet another obstacle for women of color to maneuver if they hope to seek out professional help for their eating disorder (see Gordon et al., 2006).
In response to outcries from marginalized individuals who have demanded that they be better included in eating disorder communities, the eating disorder community is currently challenging how eating disorders are represented and understood by the public. Many individuals have publicly challenged the blatant homogeneity that persists within movies, TV shows, books, and images that depict individuals with eating disorders. These representations include stories and images of white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, thin, and socioeconomically privileged women such as Lilly Collins in the Netflix film To the Bone and Troian Bellisario in Feed— two movies that were released this summer featuring main characters with eating disorders.
Homogeneous representations of eating disorders push marginalized populations further into the margins of society. This results in feelings of exclusion and loneliness, which makes it much harder for people in marginalized communities affected by eating disorders to ask for the help and support that they need. Therefore, it is crucial that we give marginalized voices the opportunity to be heard.
My research brings together stories written by women of color about their own experiences with eating disorders. By putting their voices at the forefront of my research, I hope to create a more accurate and empowering representation of how Black and Latina women experience eating disorders. I will work to honor the reality of their experiences by focusing on the truth of their story as they describe it in their own words. I will also work to honor the women’s individual experiences, since perpetuating a single narrative based on racial or ethnic identity is what I am attempting to challenge through this research. Hopefully, by rooting my research in the direct experiences of women who have told their stories, I will also be able to offer more specific and informed recommendations as to how Black and Latina women can be better supported by healthcare professionals who treat eating disorders.
Finding ways to make Latina and Black women feel more comfortable seeking out professional mental healthcare is a significant motivating factor behind my research. Many marginalized populations continue to be misunderstood and ignored, which negatively impacts their willingness to utilize mental health treatment services, if those services are even available to them. Researchers and activists have begun to uncover some of the difficult truths behind why marginalized populations do not receive proper eating disorder treatment. However, many questions still go unanswered, including:
Since I am only an undergraduate student, I have not had the ability to personally interview those currently struggling with or in recovery from eating disorders to help me answer these questions. Thankfully, many brave individuals have told their own stories through online mediums like blogs, videos, and podcasts. Many women have also turned their stories into memoirs or novels. Included in my research data are seven novels by White, Black, and Latina women, including the first memoir written about anorexia published in 1979 (Aimee Liu’s Solitaire), as well as Roxane Gay’s novel Hunger: A memoir of (my) body, which was published this summer.
In total, I have accumulated sixty-four stories by women who self-identify as White, Black, or Latina. I’ve begun engaging in a narrative analysis to methodologically compare the stories according to major themes that the stories include. This process includes analyzing the stories according to how they reference or discuss topics such as race, ethnicity, culture, family, community, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status, education, language, healthcare, immigration, and of course, mental health. The process of analyzing and comparing over 64 stories will be a process I will continue into the fall and spring semester of this academic year.
Along with analyzing women’s stories, I have also conducted twelve interviews with clinicians who focus on treating individuals struggling with eating disorders. I have interviewed both therapists and nutritionists, and asked them questions about how they not only treat individuals with eating disorders, but also how they make their treatment more accessible and appropriate for clients who may not be White, able-bodied, economically stable, insured, or have the same kind of support systems available to many “typical” eating disorder clients.
From these interviews, one thing has become particularly clear: many clinicians desperately want to be able to serve a broader, more diverse client population. However, larger factors out of their control such as regulations set by insurance companies, adequate funding to be able to offer sliding scale or pro-bono services, affordable or available office locations, and appropriate training related to how marginalized identities impact clients’ eating disorders are not always available to them.
Clinicians and clients alike are frustrated by the fact that eating disorder treatment continues to be inaccessible to many populations, and more specifically in this case, Latina and Black women. Although clinicians may want to help, and clients may want the help, many suffering with eating disorders continue to go without proper, life-saving care.
From what I’ve learned through my research thus far, both through the stories I have read written by women of color about their own experiences and the interviews I have conducted with clinicians, I’ve come up with a few preliminary findings. This list of findings marks only the beginning of a long list of ways that eating disorder representation, education, diagnosis, and treatment must change in order to better serve the needs of Black and Latina women with eating disorders. I will be adding to this list as my research continues.
Although eating disorders are difficult, destructive, and complicated diseases, full recovery or healing from an eating disorder is possible if individuals who are suffering have access to inclusive, sensitive, and respectful care. I look forward to continuing my research and learning more about how eating disorders impacting Latina and Black women can be more appropriately treated. The eating disorder community is beginning to make great strides in their fight to help individuals with eating disorders get the care they need, regardless of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, body size or background. I look forward to contributing to these conversations by highlighting voices that have been previously silenced.
Additional resources to review related to this topic:
 Marginalized individuals are members of groups excluded due to race, religion, political or cultural group, age, gender, or financial status.
Written by Stacey Koller from New Haven RTC
When an adolescent is struggling with an eating disorder, the effects are not limited to her alone. Eating disorders can have great power in a family system, and every family member will have a unique relationship with the eating disorder.
When a daughter is struggling with an eating disorder, parents experience extreme anxiety. They are fearful for their daughter’s physical health and her emotional well-being. Like all anxiety, this often leads to an attempt to control, so it is common for parents to become obsessive over their daughters eating or exercising habits, and obsessing over her weight. This attempt to control is done in earnest concern but typically leads to power struggles that escalate the behaviors.
At New Haven, we specialize in the family system work that is essential in treating adolescent eating disorders. We understand the power struggles that develop within the bonds of a family when a daughter is struggling with an eating disorder. Because the eating disorder touches each member of the family we make sure to work with each family member as a part of treatment.
Narrative Therapy is utilized with families to help them understand that the problem is the problem-not the person. This gives the family space to address the eating disorder itself, or more importantly the issues that are driving the eating disorder. Moving from an attempt to control into a space where resolution can be found is essential for recovery. Narrative Therapy helps the family unite, then align, against the narrative that is driving the eating disorder.
Of course, this sounds easier on paper than it is in real life. As discussed in our last blog post, New Haven utilizes our Adaptive Family Systems Model to address the roles and narratives that exist in the family. This works takes time, and when it comes to an eating disorder, fear can make it difficult for families to make these shifts. While moms tend to better understand the ideas and narratives that drive the daughter to her eating disorder behavior, dads sometimes have a more difficult time shifting from a place of control and moving to the deeper work at the core. Structural Therapy is used to realign the roles that have developed around the eating disorder, but it is important to recognize that each parent and sibling’s unique relationship with the eating disorder will need to be addressed.
The programming that exists at New Haven already creates an environment where focus on the eating disorder can be minimized so families can also focus on building positive family relationships. As a family becomes closer and connected, the eating disorder loses power in the system. Healing is found over time through dedicated family work.
written by MEDA Undergraduate Intern, Alexa Riobueno-Naylor
Need a break from negativity? Want to jam out to tunes that will make you feel powerful, uplifted, and remind you about how wonderful you are? Listen to the Positivity Playlist!
Recent research out of Durham University and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland revealed that listening to music can impact your mood significantly, both positively and negatively. There is no doubt that music is a powerful force, and can do wonders in changing your mood, energy, and level of confidence.
Thanks to everyone who gave me song recommendations for this playlist!
Click here to listen to the playlist on Spotify, or clink on the links below to listen to each of the songs on YouTube.
I Lived (One Republic)
“I owned every second that this world could give, I saw so many places, the things that I did, with every broken bone, I swear I lived.”
Quit Pulling Me Down (Secret Someones)
“This time, baby, I’m not coming back to you. You won’t break me, it don’t matter what you do. I’d forgotten I was strong since you came around. Quit pulling me down.”
Firework (Katy Perry)
“You don’t have to feel like a waste of space, you’re original, cannot be replaced. If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane, comes a rainbow.”
My Skin (Lizzo)
“I woke up in this, I woke up in this, in my skin.”
Brave (Sara Bareilles)
“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days you can let the light in. Show me how big your brave is.”
Fight Song (Rachel Platten)
“My power’s turned on. Starting right now I’ll be strong. I’ll play my fight song. And I don’t really care if nobody else believes. ‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.”
Roar (Katy Perry)
“You held me down but I got up. Already brushing off the dust. You hear my voice, you hear that sound, like thunder gunna shake the ground. You held me down, but I got up. Get ready cause I had enough.”
Marchin On (One Republic)
“There ain’t no other step than one foot right in front of the other”
“I’m so powerful I don’t need batteries to play, I’m so confident, I’m unstoppable today.”
Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself (Jess Glynne)
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, no. Learn to forgive, learn to let go. Everyone trips, everyone falls. So don’t be so hard on yourself, no”
Beautiful Day (U2)
“It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.”
Love Myself (Hailee Steinfeld)
“I’m gunna put my body first and love me so hard ‘til it hurts.”
Beautiful (Christina Aguilera)
“I am beautiful no matter what they say. Words can’t bring me down. I am beautiful in every single way.”
Walking on Sunshine (Katrina & The Waves)
“I’m walking on sunshine, and don’t it feel good?”
Born This Way (Lady Gaga)
“Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and you’re all set.”
Soy Yo (Bomba Estéro)
“Y no te preocupes si no te aprueban cuando te critiquen tu solo di soy yo” / “and don’t worry if you are judged, when they criticize just say I am me”
Wings (Little Mix)
“And we don’t let nobody bring us down. No matter what you say—it won’t hurt me. Don’t matter if I fall from the sky. These wings are made to fly.”
The Greatest (Sia, Kendrick Lamar)
“I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive”
Live Your Life (Yuna)
“Find your light, don’t hide from who you are. And rise before you fall in hope for something more.”
Shake It Out (Florence + The Machine)
“Shake it out, shake it out. It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back.”
Be OK (Ingrid Michaelson)
“I just want to be ok. I just want to be ok today.”
Set It All Free (Scarlett Johansson)
“I can finally see, it’s not just a dream when you set it all free.”
Brave Honest Beautiful (Fifth Harmony, Meghan Trainor)
“Don’t criticize yourself no more. You got a smile worth fighting for.”
Express Yourself (Labrinth)
“It’s not what you look like when you’re doing what you’re doing, express yourself.”
written by Shari Rogers, LCSW, Therapist, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
Change is a part of life. As adults, we know that things rarely remain the same.
Conversely, normal transitions can be perceived of quite differently and far more negatively by young people. This is primarily due to the simple fact that they are young; a girl of 12 or 13, even 17 and 18, just hasn’t lived that long.
Unfortunately, two key transitions—entering high school and entering college can prove dangerous, even highly damaging to certain females.
For most girls, life proves fairly predictable through elementary school; even if a junior high offers a change, it is usually not too dramatic. High school is different for a variety of reasons. Typically, several schools feed into a freshman class; therefore there are whole new groups of kids to adapt to. Keep in mind that this is a key maturational time for girls, in that most of them are rapidly moving into puberty. This means their bodies are changing in unexpected ways. Commensurately, their emotions are thrown into a tailspin due to hormone fluctuations. High drama can be the rule, not the exception.
If a girl has been taught healthy coping skills, she will weather this temporary storm; if not, she easily becomes fertile ground for an eating disorder. Knowing that at the heart of a food-related disorder is the need to control and cope with turbulent feelings, beginning to restrict or binge and purge can mitigate emotional chaos. Especially with the former approach of reducing food intake, there is the added benefit of weight loss, which seemingly many young girls want these days.
With the exception of puberty no longer being relevant, the transition to college can be even more traumatic. This is often the first time a young woman has lived away from home. Everything is new: friends, dorm life, meals, environment, to say nothing of increased academic pressures. Without parental support, she can easily move into bad habits, especially where food is concerned.
No matter the school or region of the country, female students are keenly aware of the feared “freshmen 15”. No one wants to validate that stereotype. It is no wonder that female college students, particularly in sororities, teach each other how to use eating disorder behaviors.
With a new school year just starting, it is important for parents, school counselors, even primary care physicians to be mindful of how transitions are proceeding with girls and young women. If a girl appears to be highly stressed due to peers or life at a new school, this should be addressed. If parents get the sense that a daughter is not adapting well to college life, a visit might be planned.
Two things are true about eating disorders. The first is that they work. This is difficult for many people to understand; nevertheless, it is true. Whether a girl is starving herself or a young woman is bingeing and/or purging, the behavior is serving a purpose: her stress and anxiety are reduced, she is finding it easier to cope. The second thing is that the early an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a complete and lasting recovery.