written by Monte Nido Rivertowns Assistant Clinical Director Gillian Tanz, MSW, LCSW
Gillian is an expert in the mental health field with almost ten years of experience. In her writing, Gillian shares some of the do’s and don’ts she has learned through the years from families and loved ones supporting those in eating disorder recovery.
Supporting a person with an eating disorder can be a very tricky thing to do. How do you know whether what you are doing is supporting your loved one in their recovery process, or enabling their eating disorder to retain its grip? This is a theme that comes up again and again at Monte Nido Rivertowns. Below are some helpful guidelines, as told to me by families, clients and staff engaged in the process of recovery.
Do: Educate yourself about eating disorders. The more you know about what your friend or loved one is going through, the better you can support them. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions also, as every person is unique. Eating disorders are serious illnesses, with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. If you know or suspect you have a loved one suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to support them to get effective treatment.
The following web sites are a good place to start educating yourself:
Don’t: Talk about or evaluate your body or other people’s bodies, or talk about dieting or weight in front of the person in recovery. Even if you are not commenting on their body or their diet, you send an important message about what you value or judge in a person by how you discuss yourself or others. Of course, many people are unhappy with their weight or appearance and the prevalence of the diet industry in our culture cannot be understated. Just because you may be on a special diet does not mean you yourself are engaging in disordered eating habits. However, a person in eating disorder recovery is especially vulnerable to these messages. What is a casual comment to you, can for them be a verbal sledgehammer. This goes for compliments as well as criticisms! For example, noting that a celebrity looks great because he/she has lost weight can send a message that what you value about that person is their appearance. These messages are subtle but insidious, and it takes practice to become aware of them.
Do: Ask to be involved in your loved one’s treatment. One of the most important components of eating disorder recovery is developing a support network of people who understand what you are working on and how they can help. This is what we often call “putting the eating disorder out of a job.” For many people with eating disorders, the ED is a way to cope with difficult emotions, thoughts or events. Using food or disordered behaviors to exercise control over one’s situation is a strategy that may seem helpful to a client until it becomes a real problem. In order to move away from the disorder, the person must begin to trust and rely on friends and family to gain the emotional support that all people need.
Another reason offering your support and involvement can be so powerful is because of the shame and stigma so often associated with eating disorders. Joining with your loved one and engaging in therapy to the degree they are comfortable sends a message of empathy, acceptance and love that they may not believe possible. The alleviation of shame can be incredibly impactful on the recovery process for a person with an eating disorder. This is something supporters can offer in a way that the person in recovery often values more than if it comes from a treatment professional. The validation you can offer with your kindness and acceptance is incredibly healing and important.
Don’t: Make changes in your own life to accommodate the eating disorder. At Monte Nido, we talk about a person’s Healthy Self and their Eating Disordered Self. A person in recovery from an eating disorder may experience a daily battle between these two selves, and it can become quite confusing for them and for their loved ones. For example, a client of mine once told me how supportive her family was—they would stay home and watch tv with her rather than going out to eat at a restaurant. Restaurants made her (Eating Disordered Self) uncomfortable. Rather than making the client choose between what her Healthy Self wanted—time with her family—and what her Eating Disordered Self wanted—to restrict calories—the family’s “supportive” gesture appeased the ED. This enabled her to keep using disordered behaviors with no negative consequences. This client highly valued and loved her family and spending time with them. Before coming to treatment, the client felt her ED was “functional,” despite how miserable she often felt, because she was still able to “have her cake and eat it too.” Creating a choice between staying alone with her ED and engaging socially with her family was exactly what was needed to increase her motivation to recover.
Another reason not to accommodate the eating disorder is because it is awfully tiring! Supporters who go out of their way to appease the disorder can find themselves feeling “burnt out” and even resentful of their loved one. In addition to seeking your own support (see below), it is crucial to know what your limits are and to stick to them. Explain your personal boundaries to your loved one in recovery during a normal conversation (not an argument) and ask for their understanding and cooperation. This is another way to keep yourself healthy and take care of your own needs, so that you can be supportive to them as well.
Do: Get your own support. This can be from many sources, such as a support group, a therapist, friend or clergy. Some treatment facilities offer support groups just for loved ones of their clients for this reason. It is important to recognize that getting your own support can help the person you love who is suffering from an eating disorder. Much like the way that, on an airplane, you’re instructed to put your own air mask on before helping others, you must take care of yourself in order to be supportive to your loved one as they recover.
Don’t: give up hope. Our philosophy at Monte Nido is that real, sustained and permanent recovery from an eating disorder is possible. The road to being fully recovered is not easy, but the presence of loving supporters is essential to progress on that journey. Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for educating yourself so that you can be an effective supporter to your loved one.
Originally published on March 1, 2017 at http://www.montenido.com/2017/03/01/supporting-vs-enabling-dos-and-donts-for-families-and-supporters-of-people-in-eating-disorder-recovery/
By Rachael Clauson, MAAT, Eating Disorder Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
The road to eating disorder recovery has many twists and turns. But the important thing to always remember is that it has a destination. This destination does not have an identifiable name like Salem or Miami; instead it is associated with words like joy, happiness, health, abundance and freedom.
Recovery is a process that necessitates intentionality. By remaining committed to certain fundamentals, recovery can be full and complete.
Such fundamentals include:
The word mindful is bandied about a great deal these days. There is even a mindfulness app–and for good reason. The world is so hectic and everyday lives are so busy that we forget the value of the moment…the importance of the here and now. Essentially, today is all we have; and yet we allow days to slip away without much notice.
In recovery, it is not only useless to dwell on the past, it is counterproductive. Yesterday is genuinely gone. No one gets a “do over.” What’s more, if you take ten minutes to think about what you should have done or said yesterday, you just sacrificed ten minutes of today. Similarly, fixating on the future is nonsensical. It hasn’t happened yet, so again, you are squandering time in the present, time you will never get back.
As the old expression goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day—neither was your eating disorder. It took time to become fully invested; therefore, it will take time to fully extricate yourself. Consider this: if you fractured your leg, you would allocate weeks, even months for the bone to repair. An eating disorder is no different. It takes time for true healing to occur. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
Give your mind, heart and body the time required to heal completely, and remember that healing has no exact timeline and this process looks different for everybody.
We live in a world that is full of possibility, limited only by your imagination, self-doubt, and self-judgment. Which leads us to potential. Each human being is a huge packet of potential—you are no different. You may not have what it takes to be a world famous rock star or brain surgeon and that is okay. The beauty of potential is that everyone is different; otherwise the world would be overloaded with singers and surgeons. You may have the potential to grow beautiful roses, write a lovely poem, or simply be a good friend to someone that needs you. The thing about potential is that it is not always immediately evident due to the layers of self-doubt or the internal voice that says “you can’t do that.” But if you look, you will find it.
Passion does reside within every person. But not unlike potential, it must be sought and cultivated. Think hard about what you genuinely care about. Remember, there is no right or wrong. It may be the environment, cats, the elderly, or racial injustice. Now, find your power and use it. And know that using your power can vary in how it looks and functions. You can join a group that cleans up parks on the weekend, volunteer at a rest home or humane shelter, join a political group that is dedicated to change. You can begin by sharing your voice and experience through words, both written and spoken, or through art. Let your power fuel your passion.
written by a New Haven Residential Treatment Center Mother
Until our daughter attended New Haven, our family had not been exposed to Experiential Therapy. For those parents who are in the same boat and would like insight into what it is like, I’ll describe a recent experience that I had with my husband and daughter during a Family Weekend at New Haven.
When I first read our Family Weekend schedule and saw that we would be doing a ropes course for our family Experiential Therapy, I thought, “FUN! We are an adventurous family.” Little did I know that we’d be walking along a cable 30 feet in the air looking over the Spanish Fork Campus! Rest assured, New Haven had us wear harnesses connected to safety lines and helmets, but still it was scary!
Imagine three telephone poles with two cables in a V-shape connecting them. What would we possibly be accomplishing on this? As instructed, my daughter and I climbed up the telephone pole one by one and then stepped out onto the apex of the V-shaped cables facing each other. We were asked to clasp hands above our heads with straight arms, balance and step sideways along the cables. We were to lean into each other to balance.
When we started, my eyes were focused on my feet, trying not to look at the ground but getting a feel for the cable. The rope was trembling because of my shaking legs. I raised my eyes from my feet to my daughter while saying something like “Shuffle across the cable? Are you kidding?!” I then saw my beautiful daughter’s face, concentrating and looking back at me. I saw in her eyes determination and bravery. She squeezed my hands and said, “Mom, we can do this!” Seeing the Spanish Fork Campus buildings behind her and the mountains in the distance reminded me how high up we were but I took a deep breath, said “OK” and started to shuffle to the right. The cables were taking our feet further and further apart while our hands were still clasped, so we ended up in a triangle shape. My daughter’s arms were getting tired and she wasn’t able to keep them straight to lean into me and we started to falter. The Recreational Therapist yelled to our daughter to straighten her arms and to push against me. She was able to straighten them for a while, which enabled us to traverse more of the course. Eventually, it felt as if we were so far apart that we were almost laying flat! Our shaky arms gave out and we fell, only to drop a few feet and be caught by the safety lines.
Once we were lowered to the ground and the adrenaline rush wore off, we took a few moments to talk about the experience. I shared that I was truly scared until I saw the bravery in my daughter’s eyes and her determination in her words, which helped me move through the experience. It was a part of our daughter that I had not realized was there and I admired her for it. I felt that her determination and bravery was present in our journey to heal and it gave me strength to continue our difficult therapeutic work.
The Recreational Therapist then asked for our daughter’s thoughts about the experience. She described how she realized that when she leaned in as much as I did, we were more successful. We were reminded that our bodies were making a triangle of trust, which can be very stable when all sides are working evenly. When our daughter’s arms were tired and she was not leaning in as much, we started to falter. This was a powerful analogy for our relationship. Our daughter shared that she knew that prior to New Haven, when she was at home and in DBT classes, she was not really trying. She said that she recognizes that her Mom and Dad had been putting in a lot of work in their own DBT classes and practicing the skills at home but that she was doing work on the surface. With the uneven effort, we had not been successful. It was remarkable to hear her make the connection between our triangle of trust on the ropes course and that of our relationship. This realization has impacted her work with our family immensely. Experiencing the triangle of trust really drove home the point for us all and has left a lasting impression on us. We each were given a rope bracelet to wear to remind us of the experience and what we learned. My husband, my daughter and I put it on frequently to reconnect with that moment. Whenever I wear it, I get a warm feeling in my heart and smile.
By, A New Haven Mom
Written by Gretchen Bartlett, Director of Admissions at New Haven Residential Treatment Center
Relationships and interactions help to define who we are and how we see the world. February often becomes a month where everyone thinks harder about relationships as we encounter all of the hearts and cupids tied to Valentine’s Day. At New Haven Residential Treatment Center we not only focus on interpersonal relationships, but also our relationships with our bodies, our skin color, our neighbors, our style, but most importantly ourselves and our families.
AWAKEN: Relational therapy has always been a cornerstone of our delivery model at New Haven. One of our mottos for healing is, “a thousand moments”. What is the goal of those thousand moments? To awaken a young woman to her own goodness, and to reintroduce her and her family to the innately worthy, valuable, bright, talented and beautiful person that they truly are, but have lost along the treacherous road of life.
HAND IN HAND: William Glasser, a highly renowned psychiatrist, author and theorist, stated: “In practice, the most important need is love and belonging, as closeness and connectedness with the people we care about is a requisite for satisfying all of the needs… Being disconnected is the source of almost all human problems such as what is called mental illness…” (1). Hackney and Comier concur in their position, stating that “Unconditional positive regard was one of the original conditions identified by Rogers (1957) as necessary and sufficient for positive personality change to occur. He defined it as prizing the client as a person with inherent worth and dignity…” (2). At New Haven, we join with these and many other theorists of psychology and sociology, who indicate that the most influential aspect of healing is relational.
SUPPORT OF HER FAMILY: From New Haven’s humble beginnings it has been clear that the most powerful relational work we will do will be centered within families. There are few things more poignant in the life of young women than the relationships that exist within the walls of her own home. By the time a young woman reaches New Haven, these family relationships have often been battered, bruised and/or abandoned. We Heal Families. We heal by imploring mom’s and dad’s, siblings and close relatives. We invite them to explore points of discord and sources of trauma, supporting insight into the genesis of these items and the things that perpetuate them. Next we encourage young women and their families toward integrity and fidelity to new ways of being, that ultimately allow for a healthy, interdependent family experience. The process is not easy, though the payoff so sweet.
So as you think about your relationships it’s important to remember that relationships require energy and work. They require perpetual motion, movement and growth in order to be productive. So as a Valentine’s gift to yourself this month, think about one thing that you really like about yourself and share it with those whose relationship you value most. For more information on relational healing at New Haven Residential Treatment Center click here.
1. The William Glasser Institute (2010). Obtained online at: http://www.wglasser.com/the-glasser-approach/choice-theory
2. Comier, L.S., Hackney, H.L. (2001). The Professional Counselor; A Process Guide to Helping. Allyn & Bacon. Fourth Edition, p.48
Written by Oliver-Pyatt Center’s Primary Therapist, Lisa Jimenez, MS
Lisa shares some of her expertise and experience in working with clients suffering from eating disorders, specifically Binge Eating Disorder. She discusses our society buy in to the idea that “thinner is better”, and offers some strategies to embrace your body, no matter the size.
Everyone knows that feeling. You wake up, look in the mirror, and don’t like what you see. Bad body image, it’s the worst. For our women in larger bodies there seems to be an added layer. Not feeling our best, we turn to someone we love for some validation and get the dreaded response, “don’t worry, the weight will come off”. Hmm… that didn’t really help. What about my body now, right as it is in this very moment? Will people not like it? Will they think I’m too much?
We live in a society that idealizes the thin body. Those closest to us, the ones we care about most deeply, often buy into this misconception as well: thinner is better. We search for validation and acceptance in a body that’s beautiful and curvaceous, however one that others may not idealize and may not strive for.
As a larger bodied woman working with clients seeking treatment for Binge Eating Disorder (often larger bodied, however, not always the case) I’ve gathered tools both in my personal and professional life to help combat bad body image. In a society that idealizes thinness, some of these steps may be hard to believe, however, I can say confidently that they work. So why not? Be your own advocate. Give them a shot!
1. Get inspired. There are many amazing, body positive women all over social media speaking up. Add them to your Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter! Flood your feed with women of different body shapes, colors and sizes. Who wants to see the same image over and over? There’s beauty in diversity.
2. Remember your unique worth. You’re a lot more than your body. Think about your values, your interests, all those people in your life that love you greatly. There’s so much to be excited about!
3. Practice body gratitude. This one can be hard, but it is key to body acceptance. Do you remember that cool move you did in Zumba the other day? Yeah, that was your body doing its thing. How about those Latin genes seeping out of your curves? Personally, I like to reflect on how my body connects me with my ancestry. Wherever you’re from, your body is part of your history. How cool is that?
4. Rock your style. I know it may be hard to find a wide variety of sizes in retail store, but there are some fun, stylish brands online. Order yourself something cute. Spend the money. Feel good in what you’re wearing! You deserve it. For now, rummage through your closet and throw on an outfit you feel good in.
5. Nourish yourself. On a day where your body image is not at its best, make it a priority to properly nourish yourself, both physically and emotionally. Don’t skimp on the food. It’s the ultimate set up for mindless eating. And please, do something nice for yourself. Manicure, anyone?
6. Practice body neutrality. Okay fine, you may not love your body today, but you can still show it respect. Try a more neutral approach like “I may not love what I see but I can accept it. I am more than my body.”
7. Gather the evidence. Will people really like me more if I lose weight? Will all my problems miraculously vanish? Is my weight truly the cause of my unhappiness? I think you get it. And if you struggle with this one (as many people do), you might need to move on to number 8.
8. Stop the spiral. There’s a great cognitive behavioral therapy tool where you imagine a stop sign to help you stop ruminating thoughts. If you notice that your head is taking you down the rabbit hole, this is about the time where you whip out this tool. If this doesn’t work, go distract: read a book, watch a funny video, keep that brain of yours occupied.
9. Call a body positive friend. Hopefully you have at least one person in your life on board with body positivity. Take note of these women and call them up when you need a little extra TLC. If you don’t have a friend like this in your life, it’s time to go out and find one!
10. Ask yourself this: when did hating my body ever result in anything positive? Never!