Eating Disorders Explained |

I received this question recently from a reader who is worried she is too old to have an eating disorder. But the facts indicate that incidences of eating disorders in adult women is on a rapid incline. Read on for her question and my answer.

Q. When I was a young adult, I had two serious bouts with anorexia nervosa. For the last ten years I have been doing well except I have gained a lot of weight. I’m in my forties now, and I started a diet about two weeks ago. I thought I could do it the healthy way but I’m really starting to struggle. All I can think about is food and weight and calories. My self-talk is very negative as I can’t seem to keep my calories where I want them and I’m not losing weight as fast as I want to. Part of me is content to get wrapped up in the diet but part of me is scared. I haven’t told anyone anything. I no longer have my treatment team I saw before for my eating disorder. A couple of my doctors have moved out of the area and I don’t know anyone else who treats eating disorders in my area. Besides, I’m too old to have an eating disorder now. ED are for young people not middle-aged women-right? (more…)

Accepting weight fluctuations may just be the single most challenging aspect of recovering from an eating disorder. Over the years I have lost count of the number of questions I have received on this topic, and the vast variety of ways in which the question can be asked.

Recently, another question came in – very simply and directly, the reader wants to know how she can accept this necessary facet of establishing sustained recovery. Big kudos to this reader, who doesn’t ask IF she has to accept it, or WHY she has to accept it, but rather HOW she can accept it. And remember what HOW stands for – Honesty – Openness – Willingness. The three foundational tenets of any lasting recovery program (after accepting that a problem exists) start with HOW.

Q. How can I accept gaining weight?

A. Let’s say your best friend buys you an expensive and beautiful pink sweater. You love everything about the sweater – how it feels against your skin, how it is tailored, how you think of your best friend’s love for you every time you wear it. There is only one problem – you hate the color pink! (more…)

The very most important part of the recovery process is being able to admit that there is a problem. This reader’s question cuts to the core of that one single question we all have to answer for ourselves…no matter how long it takes, how frightened we are, how much it hurts, or whether we feel ready to tell ourselves the truth or not.

By the way, big props to this reader for asking for a second opinion when she finds herself still sitting on the fence!

Q. Hi Shannon, I am reading your book and my mind is stuck back on the addiction section. How do you know if what you are doing is an addiction or helping? I’m really overwhelmed. (more…)

Readers often want to know when recovery “ends” and recovered life “begins”. This is a great question – a matter of life or death to some and semantics to others, but what is important to recognize is that YOUR answer is the only right one – and the only one that matters!

It is also critical to have an answer – even if your answer and someone else’s answer may be different. Your answer to this question will be a principle source of motivation and inspiration to you in your recovery journey, so be sure to take enough time to answer thoroughly and well, as this courageous reader is attempting to do through reaching out for a variety of perspectives.

Q. I loved your book, Beating Ana. But is there an end to recovery?

A. That really depends on how you define ‘recovery’. At some point it does become pure semantics – and each of us gets to figure out for ourselves what our goals are, what our definition of ‘recovery’ is, how hard we want to work, and how much time we are willing to invest.

I can’t answer for everybody, obviously, but I will share with you that my own personal take on your question is that the answer is ‘no’ – but that is because, for me, I define recovery as ‘making progress through life’. (more…)

At some point, sitting on the fence can get mighty uncomfortable! As this reader points out, she really wants to dedicate 100% of her time and attention to recovery, really wants to want recovery, but clearly the fence hasn’t gotten quite uncomfortable enough to choose a side.

That is not to say that we won’t go back and forth either – there is a “grass is greener” perspective in recovery as in life, and we are just as susceptible to it in recovery as out of it. But I can share that wanting to get off the fence is the first step towards actually getting off the fence – and for that, this reader has a lot to be proud of herself for!

Q. How do you “get off the fence” of recovery? I wish I could be 100% dedicated to recovery.

A. The way I got off the fence was when the fence dumped me off. I lost everything and that was the moment in which I woke up. All the work I do now is to try to help others answer that question before they have to experience the rude awakening that I went through, but there is no one simple answer to that question and it takes each person the time it takes.

In my book “Beating Ana“, in the chapter called “The Key to Life”, I encourage you to take a good hard look at what you are living for. What matters to you? Why do you get up in the morning – surely it is not because you are looking forward to spending another day with Ed! What did you dream of being or becoming when you were little? What will you regret never having seen or done or been when it is your time to pass? What have you already lost because of your eating disorder that you want back? (more…)

This question has arisen time and again over the last several years, to the point where I have started calling it the recovery “chicken or the egg” question.

Does treatment not work, or are we not working our treatment program? How do we know which is which? What do we do about it? The first step is obviously to ask the question, which challenges us to look at both chicken and egg honestly, openly, and with willingness to see how both are necessary to achieve our recovery goals.

Big hugs to this brave reader for being willing to do this! (more…)

Here is yet another take on the most-asked question I have ever received. It is very, very important to understand how brain and body work together in facilitating best results for recovery efforts.

It can be challenging to realize we know so little about how our body works, what causes our moods, why we hate or love one thing or another, and what to do about it all. But knowledge is the only reliable source of power, and when we have knowledge, then we can make choices about what to try next to tackle our toughest recovery challenges.

I can also say that simply asking this question shows a basic understanding that the brain must have enough nutrition to think through these tough issues – so it is clear this reader is working hard on her recovery, even when it feels especially difficult! Bravo!

Q. How do you get to the point where you are OK with the weight gain in recovery? I hate my body more than I did before and it is causing me to be depressed, turn to other self-soothing behaviors, and actually question if I really want recovery or not.

A. This is a tough one for everyone in recovery, isn’t it! Part of getting okay with weight gain is giving your brain enough time to get caught up with your body’s changes. Studies have shown that anorexia causes a shrink in brain tissue size and density, but a return to stabilized nutrition reverses that shrinkage. So the brain, which includes the vision and sensory perceptions we use to relate to ourselves, our bodies, and the world, is recovering too. Your eyes will continue to “see” with Ed’s eyes for a time, and during that time the weight restoration will feel particularly intense emotionally. (more…)

This reader asks the million dollar question we all want to know – does the “Ed voice” one day just “go away”, or will we fight it forever? As you will find out, like most tough and life-changing questions, we each must find our own answer and join in the dialogue for the benefit of us all!

Q.Hi Shannon – I have a question. As long as you have been in recovery, would you say you still get annoyed by the ED voice from time to time? I’m trying to figure out if it is realistic to hope that it goes away for good, or if you just have to be prepared to fight it forever. I can do the latter, but I sure would like to find a way to SILENCE it! :)

A. That is a great question – Thom Rutledge from the MentorCONNECT Advisory Board often calls that voice the “inner critic” and I would have to agree – he says that we do criticize ourselves rather routinely, often w/o noticing, and that whether we call the voice “Ed” or not has more to do with the messages we hear than with the voice itself. In terms of Ed specifically, I have noticed that the voice gets quieter over the years – my friend and colleague Jenni Schaefer talks about “societal Ed” and that every woman (person really) is subject to some amount of body frustration whether they have an Ed or not. So I think it is a question that there is no one right answer to, but I do believe after a time we are no longer bothered by what the voice says, and that more than whether an inner critical voice is present determines whether we have recovered or not. Hope it helps somewhat! (more…)

This reader is really wrestling with finding the motivation to do the hard work of recovery. I can relate – I’ll be we all can! Kudos to this reader for putting her doubts out there – when doubts are out in the open, Ed can’t use them against us anymore!

Q.I just finished a chapter in your book, Beating Ana, about finding what interests a person so they can have a reason to keep them going. Well, for me I have been so disconnected with myself that I don’t know what can motivate me to keep going. How can I find something that can give me a nudge in the right direction, so I can find what naturally easy for me to do. My mom tells me I am good at anything I encounter, so I don’t know what it is I like. Like you had music. I never was musically inclined, so for me, I feel lost. I know the answer lies within me but I am frustrated that I can’t find the answers I am looking for. I get mad because I know I “should” get better and eat more, but I am such a doubting Thomas. How can I find the power within me to really trust that inner voice? I am afraid that if I gain weight I’ll be miserable with myself to live with the body I am given. I know that happened to me when I did reach my goal weight one time. I feel bad saying that out loud but I am so stubborn. I know the choice is mine, so why do you think I am so skeptical? I Why do I keep choosing the eating disorder despite its negative effects on my health?

A. Finding your “key to life” does not respond well to impatient – it is a quiet unveiling that takes care, time, and attention to who you are beneath the disordered eating behaviors and thoughts that have long characterized your daily life. It is also important to realize your “key to life” may not be a “thing” (like music) at all – it may be a cause you are passionate about, it may be your love of people and connecting with them, it may be an inner spiritual pursuit, it may be family, it may be many things – and it may be a collection of many things together. (more…)

Here, this reader shares with us a classic Ed manuever – we receive what sounds on the surface like bad news, and Ed takes it and flies away with it…and our focus on recovery! So this brave reader’s task is to quickly get back on task and do whatever it takes to rein in her runaway mind…and Ed’s runaway intentions.

Q. Hi Shannon, can I ask you something? I received a report from my doctor that was done by a psychiatrist as an assesment for a program here. in the last paragraph he states “i think it will be a challenge to sustain the client in thereapy and see a bleak future for her as she is an ongoing suicide risk” . This report was done on fairly recently and since then i have been really active in my recovery and doing extremely well for about 2 and a half months. So reading that was a real blow. Ed turned what he said into “what i am doing is fruitless i will only fall anyway i am wasting people’s time. i might as well just give in and end things”. I have been fighting that thought but it is taking up a lot of mind space right now. (more…)