Pinterest A Grateful Life Lived: February 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

NEDA Awareness Post #6: The Face(s) of Eating Disorders

I want to put some faces behind eating disorders for my NEDA Awareness Week post today.  Please take a minute and put yourself in these shoes. (RELATED: Let's Talk About Eating Disorders)


I've never known what it feels like to be beautiful
Never have I been gazed upon with longing, or loved myself
I punish myself; not a morsel of food touches my lips that hasn't been earned
And I don't eat dinner with others, if I eat dinner at all
And I don't let the world see how fragile I really am
Skin and bones with a damaged heart
I am battling an eating disorder
Only, that can't be true because I am a young mom of three kids

Nobody can see the fatal fear that riddles my body
I hang with my friends, snacking on pizza and chips, already plotting what I'll do next
I wait till I'm alone and I get rid of the damage
Sometimes I lie to my roommate: "It's that stomach bug again."
And no one notices at all
I'm battling an eating disorder
Only, that can't be true because I'm a 18-year-old male

The pounds drop but they don't seem to make a difference
Each number reminds me of one more flaw, one more reason I'm all alone
Each bite of food brings terror with a vengeance
I'm so fearful of gaining weight; I must whittle it all away until I'm acceptable

Until I'm good enough
I'm battling an eating disorder
Only, that can't be true because I'm clinically overweight and don't look sick at all

A trip to the grocery store is no easy feat
My list may be clear but my head is swimming with compulsions:
Cookies, brownies, chips, muffins, donuts
And I crumple the receipt and toss it with the wrappers, sending a quick text to a friend
She will never know; but the shame is enough to kill me and I yell at the mirror
"You're a pig, a worthless fool; You're not worthy of love!"
I'm battling an eating disorder
Only, that can't be true because I'm a middle school student and my doctor said he saw no problem

I dream of food labels
My nightmares involve being forced to eat a cookie
And my hours are spent calculating what vegan, gluten-free, spelt-based dinner I can have
My body is fit; my muscles are strong
And I do not fear physical pain because I push my body to its limit
But the "junk food" is what I fear
A glance at a piece of pie and my anxiety is through the roof
I'm battling an eating disorder
Only, that can't be true because I'm a fit athlete in his prime

My smile is said to light up the room
But nobody knows long the darkness has pervaded my hope
The sadness lingers in my eyes
In a quick brush of the hand, I push the food into my napkin
And no one noticed a thing
I am battling an eating disorder
Only, that can't be true because I am a 60-year-old grandmother of two


There is no "one-face" for eating disorders.  They are as diverse as their victims, manifesting is so many different ways and at so many different levels.  We must stop overlooking and discounting people's struggles because they do not fit the eating disorder mold of a teenage girl who is skin and bones and just wants to be thin.  News flash: That's not realistic and it's not helping our battle against eating disorders.  I truly hope this short prose helped open your eyes to that.  Just because NEDA Awareness Week is almost over doesn't mean your education has to stop here.  Please continue to follow my blog and check out NEDA's website HERE.  We can take back ground one life at a time, and each one of those lives is absolutely worth fighting for. (RELATED: Am I Beautiful?)

NEDA Awareness Week Post #1
NEDA Awareness Week Post #2
NEDA Awareness Week Post #3
NEDA Awareness Week Post #4
NEDA Awareness Week Post #5

Thursday, February 26, 2015

NEDA Week Post #5: Are Eating Disorders Just a Desire to be Thin?

"It's nice to take lingerie out of the bedroom and just mix it up, give it a little twist."  Pardon me, but that is what I just heard as I flipped television channels and stumble upon the 'Victoria's Secret Swim Special: Behind-the-Scenes' on CBS.  The thin model on the screen flashed a grin and the camera panned out to give an all-too-revealing glimpse of her bikini-clad body.

And for the first time: I got it.

I now understand the anger of women across the nation, across the world, who look daily at these shows and ads and believe they don't measure up.  I can't say I've ever paid too much attention, I've tried not to.  But tonight: God has opened my eyes.  I felt the gut-wrenching ache as I realized just how many young girls watch shows like this and see the ribs and bones of the Victoria's Secret models, only to feel inadequate and ugly as a result.

And I was angry.

I was angry for those women, for those girls.  I was also angry at the models: How come they are allowed to be so unhealthy?  I can't do that.  I can't because it's unhealthy and as glamorous as it looks on the screen, it's not.  Always being cold, getting bruises everywhere, being afraid of food, getting dizzy: None of it is worth it.  But for some reason, these  models get to go on national television and pretend like it is. (RELATED: Let's Talk About Eating Disorders)

Now do you see why I'm angry?  I don't typically vocalize my distress in such a manner but I believe it's no coincidence that I flipped on the television this evening before I'd written my NEDA Awareness Post for the day.   I believe that God is speaking through this, giving me a greater sense of compassion for the youth who are so susceptible to these messages.  I am so grateful that I didn't really deal with it much.  Though I felt pressured by the norms of athletes, I didn't pay much attention to the standards society has encroached upon us women.  But it still subtly found its way in to my brain.  And that leads to my topic for today's misconception about eating disorders: That it's all about body image. (RELATED: Beauty is Distinct)

I can't speak for everyone, but I didn't think beauty was too as a kid.  I always considered myself average, not very pretty.  But before you get all glassy eyed for poor little Hannah, understand this: I didn't care.  I was way too busy running around in my bare feet, writing and reading, being a kid.  Clearly, there were some deeper issues that I was dealing with, but a heightened focus on outer beauty wasn't one of them. (RELATED: Do You Think I'm Beautiful?)

Many people think that eating disorders are driven by social pressure to be beautiful. As I explained in Post #1, there is a proven neurological cause of eating disorders. One way to look at it is like there's a gun, a bullet and a trigger.  The gun is the biological predisposition, the culture is the bullet.  The trigger, on the other hand, can be a number of things (Lynne Grefe, CEO of NEDA).

For me, the trigger was my parents' divorce.  That trigger can also be bullying, insecurity, social pressures, trauma, loss, a move or a severe crisis.  The list goes on.  The point is: Society is not the cause of eating disorders but it certainly does exacerbate them.

Eating disorders don't result from the desire to be thin, but the societal and cultural ideals that are in place often act as the tipping point.  For me, it was only after I reached an unhealthy weight that I began to pay attention to the "ideals" in a greater way.  But for others, the unhealthy images around them could be further up in the chain.  I want to make it clear that I never desired to lose weight. That was no motivation.  What I wanted was control and perfection.  But the further I fell, the more I looked to the "ideal" images with a longing for such a life.

But here's the truth: Victoria's got no secret; nothing to hide.  It's all flaunted across the worldwide web, across national television.  We do.  We have tremendous value that is not to be sold for a cheap profit or a quick self-esteem boost.  If we know that these fake images and unhealthy "role models" can act as the bullet, why are we loading our guns so easily, allowing models to parade across our screens with bones protruding and faces hidden behind layers of makeup?   (RELATED: You Can't Fly Solo)

Misconception number four is that society causes eating disorders.  Nope.  Not true.  But it does act as the bullet.  Now, here's the deal: In the whole equation (gun, bullet, trigger), what is it we have control over?  Exactly.

So let's do something about it.


Post #1 for NEDA Awareness
Post #2
Post #3

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

NEDA Awareness Week Post #4: Recovery Takes a While

As I explained in my first post for NEDA Awareness Week, HERE, eating disorders are no sham.  They are complicated, neurological mental illnesses.  Like other mental illnesses, recovery is a long, long process.  How long, you ask? Well, that's what I'm going to explain today.

I love this little guy :)  Remember
that numbers NEVER define you!
So the recovery process varies dependent on the individual's cooperation, their body, their specific eating disorder and their level of care.  However, when it boils down to it: It is recommended that those in recovery stay in treatment for two years after they've gotten to a restored weight.  That is because the brain takes about that long to rewire and function correctly again.  And to clarify, that two years starts when the individual is behavior free.

One of the most frustrating things about anorexia recovery is the facade I seem to have adopted.  It's exciting to me that my body is nearly at a healthy place again.  It's also frustrating because the rest of the world sees normal.  It sees a healthy me.  It sees "ok."  What the world doesn't see is the inside.  That's where the wheels are turning and the battles are raging, day in and day out.  On behalf of the eating disorder community: Don't assume that things are ok just because the body looks better.  I don't say that to set off alarms.  I am, for a fact, doing really great.  (RELATED: Am I Beautiful?)

If you read yesterday's post though, you'd know that the DSM-5 has now officially recognized illnesses such as atypical anorexia, where the individual's body weight is still within a healthy range but they have lost a very unhealthy amount of weight through restricting.  That goes to show the outside is not always a clear indicator of emotional or mental health.  We need to get to know each other, connect and educate ourselves on eating disorders so we can know the signs and avoid the train wreck at the end of the line.

As a cross country and track runner, I like to view recovery as a distance race.  I'm in it for the long haul.  But there's a reason for that: There's hope at the finish line.  There's freedom in Christ that I haven't yet grasped. (RELATED: A Freedom Filled 2015) There's greater friendships and fun and running and travel and all that good stuff.  Yup.  It'll take a while to get there but it gets better and easier every day.  So I keep on trekking.


NEDA Awareness Week Post #3 HERE
NEDA Awareness Week Post #2 HERE
NEDA Awareness Week Post #1 HERE

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

NEDA Awareness Week Post #3: What Types of Eating Disorders are There?

More than once, I've heard girls look toward a thin individual nearby and whisper: "She's so anorexic."  What they mean is that she is skinny but contrary to what's widely believed, anorexia does not equate to thin.  Furthermore, anorexia and bulimia aren't the only eating disorders out there.  Are you intrigued yet?  Keep reading!

The most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, recognizes five main categories of eating disorders:

1. Anorexia Nervosa- this is the eating disorder I have struggled with and it also has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses- that includes depression. (Read my story HERE) The DSM-5 criteria notes that along with a significantly low body weight (for that individual), there is an "intense fear) of gaining weight or becoming fat.  Body dysmorphia, or not seeing the body correctly, goes along with this.  Major healthy complications include amenorrhea, slow heart rate, muscle loss, memory loss and osteoporosis. (RELATED: Am I Beautiful?)

2. Bulimia Nervosa- Bulimia is characterized by binging (eating an excessive amount of food) and purging (getting rid of that food).  In addition, the DSM-5 says that there is a feeling of being out of control during the binging episodes.  Major health complications include dehydration, GI issues, chronic kidney problems and heart problems.

3. Binge Eating Disorder- BED is characterized by the recurring episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short amount of time.  As with bulimia, these episodes are marked by feelings of lack of control.  This eating disorder is actually the most common in the U.S.  In fact, 30% to 40% of people seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with BED (Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness).

4. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder- This category is the most common diagnosis and includes the eating disorders that don't necessarily fall into one of the three categories above.  These include atypical anorexia nervosa (significant weight loss is still present but the individual is not below a healthy weight range) and bulimia nervosa in which the episodes occur less frequently.  There is also purging disorder, which is the act of getting rid of food without any episodes of binging.  Night eating disorder is another one in this category and involves excessive food consumption in the evening that are not explained by a disruption in the sleep cycle or social norms.

5. Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder- This category applies to situations where behaviors cause distress and impair normal functioning, but do not fully meet the other criteria.


Clearly, eating disorders are more than just restricting food or throwing it up.  Rather, there are many different types that just haven't been widely recognized until now.  However, the more we are able to recognize them: The better equipped we will be to halt, treat and prevent them in the future.  Additionally, if any of these descriptions hits home for you or someone you know, please seek help immediately.  If you've read my own story, you know how dangerous eating disorders can be.  (RELATED: What You Can Do to Stop Eating Disorders) They are nothing to mess around with and "wait out."  Please seek medical help and if you need to talk to anyone: I would love to offer any help I can.  I am so glad when people reach out to me for advice for either themselves or a loved one.  It shows that God can, and is, redeeming the pain in my life.


NEDA Awareness Week Post #1 HERE
NEDA Awareness Week Post #2 HERE
NEDA Awareness Week Post #3 HERE

Monday, February 23, 2015

NEDA Awareness Week Post #2: Eating Disorders Don't Discriminate by Age

One of the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders is that they are a problem for the young.  After all, the movies and TV shows usually portray the high school aged girls as the ones starving themselves or throwing up in the bathrooms-- and stay tuned for my post this week about how males can get eating disorders too.

But the truth is, eating disorders don't discriminate.  Though I expected to be greeted by a group of college students when I entered treatment: There were only two of us.  In fact, throughout my journey, I've met women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.  Just like me, a lot of them turned to their eating disorder (E.D) during times of extreme trauma and stress.  Some had only recently fallen into the E.D., but there is a dismally large number that have been dealing with E.D for years.

These are the people I admire so greatly, because they fight tooth and nail to break the patterns that have been in place for decades.  I am so grateful to fight alongside them because they also offer a great amount of wisdom.

Though I wish that E.Ds stayed segregated to a particular age in life, the sad truth is that they span all ages.  From young children to aging seniors: The broken world around us leads to great heartache.  And if one is predisposed to an eating disorder as I talked about in my post yesterday, a series of crises can create the perfect storm. (RELATED: Let's Talk About Eating Disorders)

So before you go thinking that E.Ds are only for the young, take a look at the world around you.  Men and women of every age are struggling to stay afloat, to cling to hope, to love themselves.  Part of NEDA Awareness Week is just that: Letting people know that if they are older and struggling with an E.D, they are not a freak.  They aren't weird or abnormal, they are valued and seen and loved.  Furthermore, the more education we can spread about eating disorders, the more disorders we can catch at a young age so that less and less men and women are living for decades with an eating disorder before getting treatment.  We can save time and more importantly, save lives, by spreading the news about eating disorders. (RELATED: Types of Eating Disorders)


Check out Post #1 for NEDA Awareness Week, HERE
And click HERE for  post #3 on the different types of eating disorders.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

NEDA Week Post #1: The Neurological Basis of Eating Disorders

"Just try and eat more.  Get some meat on your bones."

Gee. How kind of you. What an insightful comment. Just do me a favor: After you fill my plate with chocolate cookies, why don't you go find someone suffering from depression and force their mouth into a smile.

Ok.  So that’s a pretty crude joke and I don’t intend to offend anyone.  My point is: All those things are ludicrous, and yet telling someone with anorexia to “just eat more” seems to be perfectly acceptable.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given unsolicited advice on how to gain weight with shakes and cookies and granola.  I’m not bitter about all the tips because I know all these people genuinely wanted to help me, but the fact that this is an acceptable comment points to a fundamental misunderstanding about anorexia in particular.  That is why, in my first post for National Eating Disorders AwarenessWeek, I’m discussing the neurobiological nature of eating disorders (Note: I’m only lightly brushing the surface as entire books can be written on the subject). 

Has it ever been acceptable to tell someone with cancer to just do a round of chemo, get better and move on with life?  No.  It doesn’t work that way.  There are many stages, treatments and aftercare programs that go into such an illness; and eating disorders are not all that different in this respect.  Assuming that a quick weight gain or some junk food is going to cure an eating disorder, is just insane.  Why?  Because just like cancer or depression: It is a legitimate illness.  Sticking food in the mouth may start healing the body, but it’s the brain that has to start functioning again or else recovery never happens. 

Care to look at what I’m talking about?

As I’ve learned in treatment at The Center forBalanced Living, there’s a typical “relay” system that works in the brain when it comes to decision-making and food in particular.  In a healthy person, the insula leads the way by recognizing hunger and taste in food eaten.  The amygdala senses no fear from the bite of food. It passes the message along to the nucleus accumbens, which takes pleasure in the food.  The anterior cingulate cortex weighs the emotions and the dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex knows that the body needs more.  Pretty cool right?  Well it doesn’t work that way in the brain of someone with an eating disorder. (RELATED: Beauty and Eating Disorders)

While the brain functioning between the eating disorders varies, that of someone with an eating disorder works more like this:  The insula gets the message that food is eaten but it doesn’t register hunger (or do so regularly) and there is little taste of the food.  The amygdala senses great fear and the nucleus accumbens says: “Yuck!”  The orbitofrontal cortex tells the brain to hold back and the anterior cingulate cortex fires off the message to not eat any more.  Then the dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex registers the panic of what to do next.

Do you see the stark difference between the two?  For a healthy person, the amygdala fires when there is true danger.  For someone with an eating disorder, it is not only overfiring, but it’s sending the message to fear food.  The neurological problems can begin for a number of reasons, but it is believed that there is an isolated gene for anorexia and one for bulimia, giving certain individuals a predisposition to eating disorders.  Thus, the act of eating more food is not going to fix a problem in the brain of someone with anorexia.  The nourishment will go a long way, but recovery needs to be multi-dimensional, involving therapy and skill training along with nutrition counseling.  I, for one, could speak for hours on what my body needed and what all the healthiest foods were.  But my eating disorder just told me that I couldn’t have any of it.  Just like in the walk of faith: Head knowledge doesn’t get you very far if you don’t put it into practice.  And I was a sinking ship when it came to living healthy. (RELATED: What Can You Do About Eating Disorders?)

If you’ve stuck with me this long, I’d say that means you’re committed to fighting eating disorders in the world around you.  And from the bottom of my heart: I thank you for that.  I thank you for all the young boys and girls who need to know it’s not ok to starve their bodies.  But it is ok, it is essential, to ask for help.

If, as a result of all my writing, one new person is educated on the dangers of eating disorders, I consider it worth it.  If just one reader begins to grasp the healing power of God, I consider it worth it.  If just one of you is able to recognize an eating disorder as a result of my story, and can stop the ticking time bomb for someone else, I consider it worth it.    And if my blog never makes an impact in any external way, I will still rest assured that I have shined God’s light in the darkness of my life and in the process: I’ve found there is much freedom in being raw and transparent with who I am (2 Corinthians 4:6).  In the end: This blog isn’t for you and it isn’t for me even, it’s for God.  After all: If it weren’t for Him, my life would’ve ended in a hospital bed four years ago.

Thanks for reading today.  Stay tuned for tomorrow NEDA Week post.