Fairhaven News & Updates

Identifying Orthorexia: A Sneaky Eating Disorder that Healthcare Professionals Should Know About

June 4th, 2018

All healthcare providers should encourage their clients to eat healthy. But what happens when that ideal becomes an obsession?

We know that an eating disorder is more than just a dietary issue. It is also a mental condition that must be addressed with awareness and compassion. Certain eating disorders fly under the radar, because they do not exhibit the expected physical symptoms, but they do have the same damaging effects on the mind and body. One of these conditions is orthorexia.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia can be described as an obsession with healthy eating. It is not a clinically recognized diagnosis, and is, therefore, difficult to identify. However, the term does help people understand the dangers in obsessing over food. People with orthorexia do not deprive themselves of all food, like those with anorexia, and they do not purge, like those with bulimia. Instead, those with orthorexia place extreme restrictions on their diet, and fixate on ingredients, regimented eating habits and “pure” food options.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, teenagers who diet moderately are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practice extreme food restriction are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Orthorexia can be described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, disguised as a healthy lifestyle. However, it is a dangerous state of mind that can cause severe malnutrition and physical consequences.

What are the warning signs of orthorexia?

Researchers have suggested that orthorexia is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, with the distinction that the obsession and compulsive behavior are directed toward food and eating. With that said, there are a number of warning signs to look out for.

Those with orthorexia often base a great deal of their social and personal life on the accessibility of healthy food options. They could display compulsive behavior when checking ingredients and nutrition labels, or when restricting entire food groups. Someone with orthorexia may also show an unusual interest in the health content of what others are eating. They could show signs of distress when healthy options are not available and could display concerns with body image.

How do I serve my client who may have orthorexia?

The first thing to do is observe. Be aware of the warning signs and learn to identify unhealthy behavior. Since orthorexia is not clinically diagnosable, it is crucial to get clients the right kind of specialized care. Often times, those with orthorexia require treatment for both anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This unique hybrid treatment is best offered at a facility that specializes in eating disorders.

If your observations lead you to believe that your client is exhibiting orthorexic behavior, the next step is to refer them to a qualified treatment center. With the right kind of care and support, clients can begin to rebuild a healthy lifestyle.

This article was adapted from the National Eating Disorders Association. Read the full article here.

If you are or you feel your client is exhibiting behaviors of orthorexia, please contact Fairhaven Treatment Center.

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How to Ask the Right Questions: Practical Steps for Healthcare Professionals

May 31st, 2018

As a healthcare professional, it can be difficult to know how to ask the right questions when you suspect that your patient may have an eating disorder. As with most health-related concerns, it is important to remember that patients are often sensitive or resistant toward any sort of illness they may be facing. Compassion and gentleness are necessary if you hope to receive honest feedback and cooperation from your client.

Healthcare providers must be the first to create a safe space. While we don’t want to assume that someone does, indeed, have an eating disorder, we do want to be sure that if that is the case, we are referring them to the right kind of specialized care.

Taking proactive steps in recognizing the signs and symptoms, and preparing the right questions, will assure that you are providing the best possible care for your client.

Educate yourself

There are a number of resources available that outline the different warning signs of an eating disorder. You do not have to specialize in eating disorders to equip yourself with tools to identify symptoms in your patients. 

Most of us do not include visits to an eating disorder specialist in our regular healthcare routine. Patients often do not see a specialist until the disorder is well under way. Therefore, it is important for primary healthcare providers to serve as lookouts for warning signs and refer patients to an equipped treatment center.

Ask the right questions

If you notice that your patient shows signs of an eating disorder, such as dramatic weight loss, preoccupation with weight, food, calories, etc., refusal to eat certain foods or food groups, anxiety about weight-gain, denial of hunger, development of food rituals or excessive exercise, it may be time to ask more targeted questions.

But how do you know which questions to ask if you do not specialize in eating disorders?

Dr. Teri McCann, Founder and Clinical Director at Fairhaven Treatment Center, has stated that the S.C.O.F.F. questionnaire/screening tool (though not a diagnostic tool) is helpful in identifying those at risk for anorexia or bulimia – and can identify the need to contact a treatment professional for a more detailed assessment.

Asking the following questions can help give you a better idea as to whether a client is developing an eating disorder.

  • S – Do you make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • C – Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  • O – Have you recently lost Over 14 pounds in a three-month period?
  • F – Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  • F – Would you say Food dominates your life?

Proceed with care

Remember that an eating disorder is more than an obsession with food. It is a complex illness that affects both physical and mental health in a dramatic way. Healthcare professionals play a unique role in the life and wellbeing of their clients, and it’s imperative to approach those with eating disorders with the utmost care and compassion. It is more than the choice to eat healthier or simply gain weight. An eating disorder is a mental trauma that must be navigated carefully and patiently.

Once you have identified the warning signs and asked the proper questions, you can then refer your patient to an expert to receive more specialized care.

If you are a healthcare provider and have recognized warning signs of an eating disorder in your client, please contact Fairhaven Treatment Center.

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Eating Disorders: The Dangers of Self-Treatment and the Need for Professional Help

May 24th, 2018

Taking the first step to begin recovery from an eating disorder requires immense courage. There are a number of intervention methods for eating disorders, and each requires compassion above all. Often times, those who live with an eating disorder feel like a burden to the people around them, and therefore, attempt self-treatment. Self-treatment may seem completely possible, especially when you believe you are in control of your mind and body. However, there are several reasons to consider seeking professional help.

According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration, the earlier professional help is sought, the shorter the duration of the disorder, and the greater likelihood of a full recovery. This is not to suggest that there are not methods of self-treatment that can assist in the recovery process. Instead, it is to suggest that there is no need to embark on the journey alone.

It is important to be aware of the potential dangers of self-treatment in order to know when it’s time to seek professional help.

You may not be aware of your needs. It’s difficult to see the full scope of a situation when you’re in the middle of it. You may feel fine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your body and/or mind are receiving everything that they need to recover. Seeking help from a professional can take off the pressure of spotting every need for yourself.

Professionals know and can recommend effective methods of treatment. Therapists, clinicians and health care professionals can prepare you with practical steps to take in your recovery process. Their specialized training enables them to help get to the root cause of what led to an eating disorder, while prescribing the appropriate treatment. They can also monitor both your physical and psychological health and equip you with coping mechanisms to ensure that your recovery is complete and permanent. While you may know what works for you, professionals know the science behind the condition, which is an incredibly valuable resource.

Guessing your needs can sometimes cause more damage. Self-treatment poses the risk of physically issuing yourself the wrong treatment, or mentally causing more trauma by doing it alone. Without an outside (and professional) perspective, it’s more likely that you will undergo more trials and setbacks in your recovery before finding out what works. Professionals can cut out a substantial amount of time and trial-and-error from your recovery.

Self-treatment could lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-harm or isolation. Recovery is an emotional, taxing process that is not meant to be endured alone. Needing help does not mean that you are weak! The pressures of self-treatment alone are more likely to lead to harmful coping mechanisms, like cutting or depression, than undergoing treatment with a professional and a supportive community.

Speaking of isolation, when you cut your journey off from others who can help, you start to believe that no one will ever be able to understand or help. What we often don’t realize in recovery is that the people around us want to help. We need a circle of support to encourage us forward, pick us up on a bad day, empathize with our struggle and remind us of what we’re fighting for.

Seeking professional help takes courage. Reaching out takes strength. Committing to a journey of recovery takes bravery and boldness. What you may not hear enough is that taking those steps is beautiful and admirable. You are never alone, and you are never too far from help or encouragement.

If you are in need of professional help for an eating disorder, contact Fairhaven Treatment Center at 901.757.7979.

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Compassion Supports Recovery

April 17th, 2018

When people struggle with an eating disorder, they often experience high levels of shame and self-criticism. Actively practicing techniques of self-compassion can be beneficial in eating disorder recovery.

What is self-compassion? 
Self-compassion is directing the loving kindness shown to others and to yourself. Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has defined self-compassion as recognizing that you are suffering in a moment or situation, and being kind and understanding toward yourself.

From her studies, she identified three core elements of self-compassion:

  1. Kindness: When we are suffering is when we most need to be kind to ourselves.
  2. Shared Humanity: You are not alone in your suffering.
  3. Mindful Awareness: When we meet our most challenging thoughts and emotions with curiosity (mindfulness) instead of judgment, we don’t over-identify with them or become consumed by them.

Compassion Focused Therapy for Eating Disorders (CFT-E)
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was first developed to target self-criticism and shame, as they were identified as key components of a number of mental health disorders. 

CFT trains our minds (Compassionate Mind Training) to help us experience compassion, develop various aspects of compassion for ourselves and others, improve our abilities to self-soothe, and to foster the courage and wisdom we need to cope with difficult life events, memories or emotions.

CFT-E is designed to develop the compassionate self and use it to:

  • Develop sensitivity, awareness and understanding regarding the way eating and emotions have become linked.
  • Develop empathy for the self and the problems that the eating disorder may have tried to solve, as well as the unintended consequences of these attempts.
  • Develop wisdom around the challenges of recovery.
  • Develop motivation to care for the self in a way that is in one's own best interests and therefore commit to engage in recovery.
  • Develop the confidence and courage needed to offer understanding, support, advice and encouragement to the self. (Goss & Allan, 2010, 2011)

Gentle, self-led compassion for the pain and suffering, and the gratitude for strategies that made life bearable at the time, are recognized in the course of therapy at Fairhaven. The journey of realizing that these extreme behaviors are no longer needed (in cases where they are not) and that the client can reclaim her joy is our goal. 

You are not your eating disorder. Your eating disorder developed to protect you from severe emotional pain. Where self-loathing and disgust existed, there is a now a window with a small opening looking out toward self-compassion. 

When you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to treat them with dignity and compassion. If you’d like to talk to someone about eating disorders, contact a specialist or a counselor at Fairhaven Treatment Center today.


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What is Body Dysmorphia?

April 10th, 2018

Every day, most of us look in the mirror several times to check our appearance. Most probably struggle with some negative self-talk when looking in the mirror - thinking various thoughts that chip away at self-confidence. But those thoughts typically last for a few minutes, and then drift away as focus shifts to the activities of the day. 

People with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day, causing them severe emotional distress and interfering with their daily lives. Research shows it affects men and women almost equally and occurs in approximately 1 in 50 people in the general population of the United States.  

  • BDD often begins to occur in adolescents 12-13 years of age (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It typically surfaces during adolescence and is characterized by obsessive thinking about a flaw that is imagined or, if real, hardly noticeable. Those with BDD compulsively check their perceived flaw and take excessive precautions to hide from others so it will go unnoticed. 
  • BDD is preoccupation with one specific body part. The perceived flaw can happen anywhere on the body, but the most common places are hair, skin, stomach, nose, chin and chest. 
  • BDD is not self-obsession. Self-obsession is the state of being interested in oneself, one's happiness, motivations and interests to the exclusion of other things and is characterized by an exaggerated love of self. Those with BDD feel ashamed of their appearance and suffer from a serious mental illness that affects how they view themselves.
  • The thoughts caused by BDD are difficult to control and disrupt daily life. 
    Individuals with BDD spend an average of 3-8 hours per day thinking about their perceived flaw and doing what they can to hide or change it. It's difficult to focus on important tasks, affects performance at work or school, and causes social isolation.
  • Body Dysmorphia may accompany an eating disorder, but it's important to note that they are two separate disorders. BDD focus on a specific body part, whereas an eating disorder is more generalized to shape and weight concerns. To be diagnosed with an eating disorder eating must be impaired. A diagnosis for BDD states that the individual is overly concerned or convinced that they are misshapen or deformed even though the physician finds either no abnormality at all or, if one is present, a trivial abnormality that would typically go unnoticed.

If you'd like to talk to someone about BDD or an eating disorder, contact a specialist or a counselor at Fairhaven Treatment Center today. 

The goal of the treatment team at Fairhaven is to help clients realize they have the strength within themselves to achieve healthy connectedness, both personally and with others. This process of self-discovery helps our clients reclaim the joy in their lives. We use proven evidence-based therapy for eating disorder symptoms and co-occurring problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma and attachment disorder, a history of addiction or substance use disorder, as well as other challenges that contribute to and perpetuate the disorder. 



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