Fairhaven News & Updates

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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The Rise of Eating Disorders in Modern-Day Society

December 20th, 2017

Eating disorders hide in plain sight. Those who struggle with eating disorders understand what this means, and how intensely alone they feel with this struggle.

Defining your identity separate from your eating disorder starts with accepting the reality that it is not about the food. Then, add in the courageous step of asking for help. It is refreshing to see more people stepping into the light about their illness and recovery journey, letting others know that celebrity and fame are no cure for ED.

Talking openly about your illness and asking for help is hard, but that is where the recovery journey begins.

The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation recently shared an article on "The Rise of Eating Disorders in Modern-Day Society," via BlueLine.news. Check it out here.

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Calling All Creators

December 7th, 2017

"Calling All Creators" is the mantra of a recent Adidas advertising campaign featured on sports networks this holiday season. These words deeply resonate with me, and remind me how important creativity is in pursuing life to the fullest. 

Four years ago, my life's journey became clear. My path was to create Fairhaven Treatment Center – a place of healing for women with eating disorders. 

Fairhaven would be unique. Our treatment team would recognize the importance of symptom control, while acknowledging that treating symptoms alone is not enough. We would go beyond ED behaviors and address their underlying causes. We would sharpen our attunement skills and approach each client with genuine compassion – the kind of compassion that helps our clients boldly find the boundaries of their comfort zone. We would create an environment of emotional safety that would give our clients the courage to unburden the trauma in their lives. Our clients would be equipped to use their treatment experience as a bridge to forming secure attachments in the "real" world. 

In full creative disclosure, one does not wake up one day and start an eating disorders program. In truth, life prepares you for this journey. Academic commitment creates the foundation. Passion creates the vision. Synchronicity creates the opportunity. 

While pursuing my PhD, I became fascinated by the creative process – particularly with scientists and researchers advancing their work. Like many of our clients, for me, the cognitive part comes easy – and helped me build the foundation while earning my degrees. But cognitive skills are not where the true healing occurs. Instead, it starts with being fully present and connecting with genuine compassion in a shared human experience. 

Recovery from an eating disorder should be more than a cognitive exercise – more than statistics and objective behavioral measures. Although these are important for many reasons, recovery is so much more than that. A life worth living includes the ability to connect with others, radical self-compassion, genuine and secure life-long attachments, and glorious hope for the future. Often, these qualities do not come easily – least of all for those struggling with unresolved trauma and attachment injuries. 

Fairhaven was created with a vision to address both the cognitive work of symptom control and the somatic work vital to unburdening the emotional injury that often precedes it. By calling on the creator within each of our clients, Fairhaven helps them to build an identity independent from their eating disorder – and reclaim their joy in life. 

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

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What Is an Eating Disorder?

November 10th, 2017

Eating Disorders

Most people think of an eating disorder as a lifestyle decision or a diet "gone too far." In fact, eating disorders are serious mental health conditions with life-threatening implications if left untreated. The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses, and more than 12 times higher than that for people without eating disorders.

The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa (extreme restriction of food intake), Bulimia Nervosa (obsessive purging or intentional vomiting of food) and Binge Eating Disorder (uncontrollable eating of large amounts of food in a short time period).

Is an eating disorder an addiction?

Eating disorders and addictions often occur together, and there are many similarities in both risk factors and characteristics. Both disorders can be triggered by stress or are often related to histories of abuse and neglect. Additionally, both are chronic diseases with high relapse rates.

Recovery, however, can be quite different with each disorder. The substance abuser must abstain from the substance; the individual with an eating disorder cannot abstain from the food since it is needed to sustain life. Abstinence for those with eating disorders involves abstinence from its symptoms – starvation, rigid dieting, binge eating, purging and body loathing. Rather than ending the relationship with the substance, the individual with an eating disorder must work to form a healthy relationship with food, while the substance abuser traditionally severs the relationship with the substance(s) of abuse completely. 

What is the treatment standard for an eating disorder?

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends evidence-based treatment from a coordinated treatment team that specializes in Eating Disorders treatment and incudes these interventions:

  • Medical stabilization
  • Nutritional rehabilitation
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Psychosocial treatment

With any chronic and complex illness, early interventions typically have the best results. Too many eating disorders are under-recognized and under-treated, leading to preventable physical and emotional damage.

If you suspect that you or someone you care for has an eating disorder, take a courageous step and seek help from a physician, mental health counselor or dietitian that specializes in the treatment of EDs.

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Fairhaven Sponsors Memphis NEDA Walk 2016

April 1st, 2016

Every year across the nation, hundreds of cities round up and participate in the National Eating Disorder Organization by hosting walks in their city. The National Eating Disorders Association's vision is to eliminate eating disorders globally by promoting positive body image and self-esteem and by discouraging dieting behaviors, drive for thinness, and body dissatisfaction. NEDA is recognized and supported by sufferers, families, health care professionals and educators throughout the world.

Our staff at Fairhaven participated in a NEDA Walk Memphis, hosted by Rhodes College,  because we care about the cause and believe in NEDA's programs.  We, as a treatment center that specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, and the community as a whole, are able to spread the word about NEDA and eating disorders with the confidence that we will feel embraced by our loved ones.  This was a great community-building experience. Fairhaven was proud to participate and sponsor this event, bringing about awareness and education to our very own community.  Here are a few shots from the walk: luminaries created by Fairhaven clients that paved the path and Fairhaven mascot "Buddy" with his new Rhodes friend "Molly". Thank you so much for your support, and a BIG thank you to everyone that joined us and helped through fundraising...it was a very good day!

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