News from January 2018

Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

January 30th, 2018

Eating Disorder Misconceptions

By Dr. Teri McCann, PhD, CEDS

Starting treatment for an eating disorder takes courage. It is a life-saving decision that is often delayed due to fear of judgment from misconceptions.

Here are the most common misconceptions about eating disorders and the best ways to combat them.

  • Developing an eating disorder is a choice, and you can simply make a decision to “stop.” An eating disorder is not just an extreme diet—or one that can be switched off in a moment. Eating disorders are often preceded by a condition called disordered eating, which serves as a coping mechanism from trauma experienced in life.
  • Only people of a certain background or population are likely to suffer from eating disorders. This is simply not true. Women and men of all different ages, backgrounds and demographics can be subjected to trauma and life experiences that can lead to disordered eating.
  • You can cure an eating disorder by treating the symptoms or through symptom control. This is a potentially dangerous assumption that often leads to relapse. The only way to recover from an eating disorder is by addressing the root cause—often trauma or a horrific event. At Fairhaven Treatment Center, the best intervention is therapy that helps the client find a way to reclaim their joy in life.
  • All eating disorders are either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Although these are the two most referenced eating disorders, binge eating disorder is actually the most common in America. As opposed to bulimia, which involves purging or using laxatives, and anorexia, which is characterized by self-starvation, binge eating disorder is often manifested by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, then feeling a loss of control and shame and regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.

When someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to treat them with dignity and compassion, and not belittle their struggle based on a preconceived notion of what an eating disorder is or may appear to be.

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

Teri McCann, PhD, LP, CEDS
Founder and Executive Clinical Director
Fairhaven Treatment Center

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The Recovery Journey

January 3rd, 2018


The recovery journey is not a war, nor is it a battle that’s waiting around the corner, wishing for the nuclear option (total annihilation of eating disorders, but never finding the proper bomb in the depleted arsenal). As I write this, images of women who have spent years trying to overcome ED in some way – divorcing him, battling him, screaming at him, ultimately giving in to him, but certainly hating him – come to mind.

On reflection, none of the women or young ladies I have ever met were born with an eating disorder. Instead, I hear the stories of women in great physical and psychological pain, who developed an eating disorder to numb the pain.

Malnutrition causes an inability to feel emotion, but there is no typical formula. For example: X amount of restriction = X amount of relief from shame, guilt and terror. That’s not how it works. When pain is severe enough, starvation becomes a tool of dealing with the emotional pain. Malnutrition and its physical consequences are the symptoms of restricting to ease intense emotional pain. An eating disorder is simply a diagnosis. You are not your eating disorder. Your eating disorder developed to protect you from severe emotional pain. 

Above, I gave the example of restriction to ease emotional pain, but binging and the binge-purge cycle are equally futile strategies developed to stop the pain.

It’s important to know that the emotional pain, which initially caused disordered eating and subsequently the eating disorder, can be healed. Without insight into the underlying cause of why your behavior became so extreme to protect you from an unbearable environment, it may feel like you are in a perpetual relationship, always working toward emotional freedom. But it can be different. When the eating disorder is reidentified as a protector that was extreme, because it had to be to save the person from emotion they could not handle, you are free to reclaim the joy that is your birthright.

The belief that the eating disorder is a protector is one you will hear repeatedly throughout treatment at Fairhaven. With eating disorders, there is a significant amount of shame and guilt attached with receiving the diagnosis. Families, and even treatment professionals, often believe it is simply a matter of self-discipline to overcome the disorder. This seems to be particularly true in the care of binge eating disorder, where a multi-billion-dollar industry supports the practice of attacking weight with dieting. The cultural idea of what is desirable further compounds that shame. 

A better way to address the protective nature of binge-eating is to get beyond the layers of shame and guilt that surround the binging. Time and again, I hear stories of children who had emotional needs that were unmet, and food was the secure attachment. In many situations, food binges created a dissociative episode after an event too horrific to feel, and that the client desperately hopes not to remember. The meaning behind a behavior that makes no rational sense in present day context becomes astutely clear with compassionate self-awareness.

Clients start to see their binging as self-protection, and in many cases, food is the secure attachment. Where self-loathing and disgust existed, there is a now window with a small opening looking out toward self-compassion. You have compassion for the child who developed the extreme behavior associated with the eating disorder. The client then works toward letting go of the attitudes, beliefs and emotions that kept her tied to the binging behavior. In letting go, there is no longer a need for binging. However, the “part” of her that binged still exists in its healed form. Having saved her life, now free from burdens, it has the energy and life for any adventures that await.

The binging is healed with no great battle, war or divorce. 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. 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 at Fairhaven.

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