Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Declaring Our Independence

Each year on July 4th, I celebrate my independence from my eating disorder once again.

It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, or how many other (and possibly even greater) challenges I may have faced since then. I still celebrate my recovery from “Ed”, as many eating disorder sufferers today term their disease, with all the gusto and force of the newly recovered, hardly believing my good fortune, scarcely comprehending the courage in what I have just achieved.

“This”, I find myself thinking to myself once again, “is worth all the hard work and effort and the years of struggle it took to get here. This is worth the time, the expense, the pain and suffering of the in-between days when I was neither as sick as I had been nor as well as I might yet be.”

In other words, each year, and yet again, I rediscover that recovery is worth it.

There are so many incredible experiences that I have had since that I could never have had while I spent my days engaged in the endless ruminations over weight, calories, numbers, sizes, shapes, portions, and reflections in a coated aluminum pane of glass that my disease required of me.

There are so many bright lights, interesting sights, fascinating people, fun hobbies, rewarding work, and loving connections that I never was able to participate in while my time was wrapped up with “Ed”.

But I can and do participate in them now.

While today, on some level, it is hard to believe that it took me as long as it did to choose to work as hard as I knew I was capable of working towards my own recovery, I liken that to the process that one goes through from denial to acceptance when they are dying, whether it be an emotional or mental, or a true physical death. 

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross writes about this process when she outlines her research into the Five Stages of Grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, grief, and acceptance. I went through all of these stages, and sometimes out of order, and definitely multiple times, on my own path towards choosing and then achieving recovery. Some days I was very accepting of the fact that I was ill and needed to work hard and follow the advice of my treatment team in order to heal. Other days I was not as accepting, for whatever reason, whether it was because I was scared I wouldn’t know who I was without a day consumed by “Ed”, or whether it was because I didn’t feel quite as sick that day and I thought that maybe it wasn’t as serious as my team had made it out to be.

There were also many other reasons.

But whatever the reason, I grieved, erratically but in time fully, and when at last I woke up one day to discover that I had been in sustained recovery for quite some number of days, I felt the impact of the independence I had won for the very first time.

120702-fireworkssIn those first moments of awareness, all the fireworks on the planet would not have been enough to express my triumph, or my joy. Every Fourth of July since then, as the fireworks explode overhead, another, identical set of fireworks explodes in my heart, and I count my blessings, and I thank myself yet again for displaying the bravery and the perseverance and the vision to pursue my recovery like my life depended on it….because it did.

Looking back, I can see that now. Even if I had managed to survive the ravages of my eating disorder and somehow settle into “maintain”, I would not have been living. I would have been existing, trapped in a cycle of endless painful application for acceptance from a part of me that would never willingly have given it, no matter how nicely I asked.

Today, I can ask for and receive my own acceptance, and all in the space of a few moments. I have learned how to extend the same kindness and compassion that I offer to others to myself as well. No longer do I find my principle source of self-esteem in what I achieve, but rather I take it genuinely from not even who I am, but from the simple fact that I am.

I am a human being. I have faced death, and not just physical death but death of all my hopes and dreams, and I have survived. Not only have I survived, but I have won my independence. Today my work and my passion is to share with others what I have discovered about the power of the human spirit to not just survive but to triumph over adversity. Through my work, through how I live my life, and most of all through how I celebrate the Fourth of July each year, I am living proof that recovery is not just possible, but real.

And I wish the same for you.

If you are struggling to overcome a significant life challenge such as an eating disorder, and you don’t want to wait until the next Fourth of July to get started towards your goal, then Southlake Counseling can help. At Southlake Counseling, we not only have more than two decades of training and expertise that supports us in our life-changing work, but each member of our staff also brings to the table their own personal experience of recovering from a significant life challenge. In other words, we get it, we have been there, we understand what it takes, and we can help you to get there too. If you are ready to say “no” to staying stuck and say “yes” to celebrating your independence, we look forward to hearing from you! Contact us at www.southlakecounseling.com for more information.

Be Well,

Kimberly

 

 

5 Reasons to Love Your Female Brain

There is no freedom like seeing myself as I am and not losing heart. –Elizabeth J. Canham

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. –Lao Tzu

When I was developing the Southlake Counseling website, my team asked me to share some of the quotes that kept me going when I was working on my own recovery from an eating disorder. They planned to post these quotes on the new website to encourage visitors to embrace their own potential to fulfill their recovery, health and wellness goals.

As I pondered this assignment and reflected back on my recovering years, I realized that one of the biggest recovery goals I set for myself almost right from the very first day I started trying to beat my eating disorder was this: I wanted to have an experience of actually loving myself.

LOVING MYSELF. It sounded so wonderful.

However, while marooned in the depths of my eating disorder, it also sounded like way too much to ask. Tolerate myself maybe. Throw myself a kind word every now and again, perhaps. But love myself? Hah. As if. Nevertheless, my therapist had encouraged me to add this biggest of my big recovery dreams to my goal list, and so I did.

Recently I read a book that would have helped me so much during the growing pains years as I began to practice self-love and learn the art of self-care. The book is called “The Female Brain”. Written by Louann Brizendine, M.D., “The Female Brain” took me on a fascinating genetic journey through my own female brain, allowing me to have an experience of each of the quotes I mentioned earlier in a brand new way.

You see, loving myself, which can also be rephrased as “seeing myself as I am” and “knowing who I am” requires first studying myself, learning about myself, and attempting to truly comprehend “why I am the way that I am” from both a biological and an environmental perspective.

As a therapist I may get myself into hot water with colleagues for saying this, but over the years as I have built my own practice at Southlake Counseling, I have come to believe that too often we attempt to treat ourselves through an understanding of our environment only.  We enter into therapy and immediately begin to delve into the experiences of our environmental past. What happened when we were a child, a teen, a young adult? Where did we go wrong in handling our first relationship, our first job, our first promotion?

These are important historical questions to ask, for sure.

But even the excellent present-day problem-solving data these environmentally focused answers give us will remain forever incomplete without a complementary investigation of our underlying biological origins. To truly know ourselves, to understand why we are the way that we are, why we do the things we do, and why we are so uniquely lovable exactly as-is, we must also strive to study and comprehend the aptitudes and interests embedded into our genetically unique brains.

Speaking to this point, Dr. Brizendine highlights in “The Female Brain” how, while approximately 99 percent of male and female brain genes are identical, the one percent of our respective genetic codes that is gender-different will give us more trouble than all of the other identical 99 percent combined if we don’t learn how to understand, accept, and support these DNA differences from both the female and the male perspective.

So for this first of a two-part post for this month, I give you five reasons to love your female brain.

p.s. If you are a female, you are likely already eagerly skimming down to the next section to find out all the great things your brain can offer you! If, however, you are one of my male readers, you may catch yourself thinking that you are being overlooked.  Don’t worry. Stay tuned for part two of this post and you will get your day!

5 Reasons to Love Your Female Brain:

  1. You have an exceptional ability to read and accurately interpret facial expressions and verbal and emotional cues
  2. You are naturally oriented towards collaboration and defusing or preventing conflict
  3. You have an innate ability for relationships and a natural empathy towards others
  4. You have a smart and savvy inner “partner picker” that stands at the ready to help you pick wisely when you are ready to choose a mate
  5. Your brain can take you into any career you want to focus on (yes, ladies, if you love math, science and technology, your brain will go toe-to-toe with the guys any day!)

If you found this list interesting, I also highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Dr. Brizendine’s “The Female Brain”. You will thank me later – I promise!

Be Well,

Kimberly

If you are struggling to make sense of your inner mental and emotional life and often feel like you are on ever-shifting sands, Southlake Counseling can help. There are many genetic as well as environmental factors that can affect mental and physical health and emotional and relational wellbeing. Southlake Counseling’s comprehensive individual and group services and our highly trained, empathetic professional staff can partner with you to help you troubleshoot areas of concern and make the most of your strengths, gifts, and dreams! Visit www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.

Declaring Our Independence

Each year on July 4th, I celebrate my independence from my eating disorder once again.

It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, or how many other (and possibly even greater) challenges I may have faced since then. I still celebrate my recovery from “Ed”, as many eating disorder sufferers today term their disease, with all the gusto and force of the newly recovered, hardly believing my good fortune, scarcely comprehending the courage in what I have just achieved.

“This,” I find myself thinking to myself once again, “is worth all the hard work and effort and the years of struggle it took to get here. This is worth the time, the expense, the pain and suffering of the in-between days when I was neither as sick as I had been nor as well as I might yet be.”

In other words, each year, and yet again, I rediscover that recovery is worth it.

There are so many incredible experiences that I have had since that I could never have had while I spent my days engaged in the endless ruminations over weight, calories, numbers, sizes, shapes, portions, and reflections in a coated aluminum pane of glass that my disease required of me.

There are so many bright lights, interesting sights, fascinating people, fun hobbies, rewarding work, and loving connections that I never was able to participate in while my time was wrapped up with “Ed.”

But I can and do participate in them now.

While today, on some level, it is hard to believe that it took me as long as it did to choose to work as hard as I knew I was capable of working towards my own recovery, I liken that to the process that one goes through from denial to acceptance when they are dying, whether it be an emotional or mental, or a true physical death. 

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross writes about this process when she outlines her research into the Five Stages of Grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, grief, and acceptance. I went through all of these stages, and sometimes out of order, and definitely multiple times, on my own path towards choosing and then achieving recovery. Some days I was very accepting of the fact that I was ill and needed to work hard and follow the advice of my treatment team in order to heal. Other days I was not as accepting, for whatever reason, whether it was because I was scared I wouldn’t know who I was without a day consumed by “Ed,” or whether it was because I didn’t feel quite as sick that day and I thought that maybe it wasn’t as serious as my team had made it out to be.

There were also many other reasons.

But whatever the reason, I grieved, erratically but in time fully, and when at last I woke up one day to discover that I had been in sustained recovery for quite some number of days, I felt the impact of the independence I had won for the very first time.

In those first moments of awareness, all the fireworks on the planet would not have been enough to express my triumph, or my joy. Every Fourth of July since then, as the fireworks explode overhead, another, identical set of fireworks explodes in my heart, and I count my blessings, and I thank myself yet again for displaying the bravery and the perseverance and the vision to pursue my recovery like my life depended on it….because it did.

Looking back, I can see that now. Even if I had managed to survive the ravages of my eating disorder and somehow settle into “maintain,” I would not have been living. I would have been existing, trapped in a cycle of endless painful application for acceptance from a part of me that would never willingly have given it, no matter how nicely I asked.

Today, I can ask for and receive my own acceptance, and all in the space of a few moments. I have learned how to extend the same kindness and compassion that I offer to others to myself as well. No longer do I find my principle source of self-esteem in what I achieve, but rather I take it genuinely from not even who I am, but from the simple fact that I am.

I am a human being. I have faced death, and not just physical death but death of all my hopes and dreams, and I have survived. Not only have I survived, but I have won my independence. Today my work and my passion is to share with others what I have discovered about the power of the human spirit to not just survive but to triumph over adversity. Through my work, through how I live my life, and most of all through how I celebrate the Fourth of July each year, I am living proof that recovery is not just possible, but real.

And I wish the same for you.

If you are struggling to overcome a significant life challenge such as an eating disorder, and you don’t want to wait until the next Fourth of July to get started towards your goal, then Southlake Counseling can help. At Southlake Counseling, we not only have more than two decades of training and expertise that supports us in our life-changing work, but each member of our staff also brings to the table their own personal experience of recovering from a significant life challenge. In other words, we get it, we have been there, we understand what it takes, and we can help you to get there too. If you are ready to say “no” to staying stuck and say “yes” to celebrating your independence, we look forward to hearing from you! Contact us at www.southlakecounseling.com for more information.

Be Well,

Kimberly

 

 

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: The Importance of Following Your Dreams

Marianne Williamson once wrote, “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

A few years ago, I received a note from a former client. In her letter, she wrote to me, “Kimberly, thank you for following your dreams, therefore providing me a safe place to recover.”

When I first conceived the idea to use my own experiences recovering from an eating disorder to open a treatment center to help others heal, was I a bit daunted by my dream?

Absolutely.

Were there days I thought, “what was I thinking – I must have been crazy. I just can’t make this work.”

Of course.

Did I quake in my own shoes a bit as I commenced to learning what I needed to know about choosing a location, hiring and managing staff, learning about financials and recordkeeping, marketing and public relations, and designing the kind of program I would have wanted to attend when I was in the midst of my own healing journey?

Without a shadow of a doubt.

Yet today, Southlake Counseling has been in existence for more than 12 years, and we have helped literally hundreds and hundreds of people reach for their dreams within the safety and support of our walls.

It is important to follow our dreams. We all have dreams, and in those dreams, we see the very pinnacle of who we can be, expressed as that stretch-goal we call a dream….the one we think is very nearly impossible but which simply will not go quietly away.

Our dreams show us who we really are, and what we are truly capable of.

The only obstacle standing in between us and the culmination of those dreams exists in our own minds, in the place that insists, “But that is impossible. You can’t do that.”

To which we eventually must say, “Oh really? Says who!” if we want to ever have the opportunity of a lifetime to live out our own vision for who we are.

This is why we are so addicted to reality television. We see other people going for it, succeeding, crashing and burning, getting up, trying again. We see that their motivation, be it money, fame, self esteem, health, love, self expression through the arts, seeing the world, is so powerful that they are willing to expose their innermost intimate thoughts and fears in front of us all in order to reach for their dreams…..just so they can know if it was really possible to be all they can be or not.

This is also why we are alternately horrified or inspired by their example, depending on where we are in our relationship to our own unexpressed dreams.

It can be such a rush to celebrate a hero, but at some point our longing awakens to be the hero we are celebrating.

This is why the note I received from that former client was so meaningful to me. It is why I love the quote from Marianne Williamson, because I can look back and see that all the courage and perseverance it took to follow my dream of opening Southlake Counseling has not only liberated me to embrace my highest vision for my own life as truth, but has liberated others to follow in my footsteps in their own lives, as I have followed in the footsteps of Marianne Williamson and others who came before to inspire me.

You never know who is watching – your spouse, your children, your best friend, your boss, your colleague, the homeless person on the corner, your own self – when you take your dreams by the hand and say “lead me there”.

You never know who you will inspire and liberate. You never know who you will meet – outside and within yourself – when you switch off the reality television show and jump in to live it for yourself.

At Southlake Counseling, we have a personalized “Say Yes to Life” Wellness Program that encompasses all facets of life from body to mind to heart to spirit. At Southlake Counseling, we define “wellness” as the pinnacle of your ability to say Yes to the challenges, choices, opportunities, and relationships in your own unique and unfolding life. Saying “Yes to Life” means saying Yes to placing your health and wellness goals first in your own life. When you are living in the presence of your own remarkable wellness, you can also fully enjoy and be present for your loved ones, your colleagues, your peers, your community, and your world. If you are dreaming of a life lived fully, contact us today to find out more about saying “Yes” to your dreams through a personalized wellness plan designed just for you. www.southlakecounseling.com

Be Well,

Kimberly

Weekly Meditation: I Have the Right to Discover and Celebrate My Unique Beauty

This week marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 20-26, 2011). During this week each year, we honor those who struggle to recover from life-threatening eating disorders, and we resolve to do what we can within our spheres of influence to create a space for all body shapes and sizes to be honored and appreciated for the unique beauty they convey. We can start with ourselves. We can start by noticing where we are tempted to see the absence of beauty in ourselves and others, and strive to perceive its presence instead.

This week I resolve to: Remember that I bring a unique and unrepeatable beauty into this world, and I deserve to celebrate and enjoy this beauty, and encourage others to see and celebrate their unique beauty as well.


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Emotions and Food – Friends or Enemies?

We all know what it is like to have a love-hate relationship with someone.

Or something.

One minute, this is the best thing that ever happened to us. Thank goodness for whatever-it-is. The next minute, we can’t imagine how we will survive another minute without changing everything about our situation as it relates to that someone or something.

This is what it is like trying to introduce emotions to nutrition, and nutrition to emotion. Some days, our emotions and our eating habits may feel in sync and balanced. Other days, well….we get to the end of the day and look back at our food choices and eating patterns in wonder – or shock.

We may not perceive it right from the start, but we eat for so many reasons. Some of our reasons are nutritional. We are concerned about the strength of our bones so we eat foods rich in calcium. We are concerned about our digestion so we add more fiber choices to our diet.

But then other times our reasons for eating are emotional. We are feeling victorious or overjoyed, and so we eat to celebrate with ourselves. We are feeling sad or fearful, and so we eat to commiserate with ourselves.

How do we learn to tell the difference? Why would we want to? Does it really matter why we’re eating – if we eat, we must be hungry, right?

Well, yes. If we eat, we are definitely hungry….on some level, and for something.

But the trick to consumption is to figure out what we are hungry for, and then to “eat” that, and not something else.

For instance, if our body is hungry for nutritious food, it is wise to eat that food and give our body what it needs and requires to function optimally. But if our emotions or hearts are hungry for a hug, for company, for rest, then eating food is not the wise choice, and will leave us even hungrier in a way that no amount of food can fill.

When we eat for emotional instead of nutritional reasons, this is called “emotional eating.”

While the presence of a strong emotion can trigger a feeling of “hunger,” if we pay close attention, our experience of this type of hunger is not the same as the physical empty feeling we get when our body needs fuel.

It may not be easy at first to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger, but it is a skill we can learn with time and practice. According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center website, there are several key signs to help us tell the difference between different types of hunger:

  1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, while physical hunger builds more gradually
  2. Emotional hunger tends to fixate on a ‘comfort food’ (ice cream, chips, etc), while physical hunger tends to focus on foods with distinct nutritional value
  3. Emotional hunger will not wait; physical hunger usually will
  4. Emotional hunger doesn’t respect fullness cues; physical hunger does
  5. Emotional hunger often leaves guilt in its wake; physical hunger leaves comfort and peace

Using these clues, we can start to decipher why we choose to eat, and why we make the food choices that we do. We can become students of our hunger and fullness cues, our body’s needs, and our other needs for nourishment and nurturing that food cannot fulfill.

In this way, we can begin to once again experience the kitchen, the dining room table, the coffee shop, as a safe place to be, and even feel grateful for food’s role and presence in our lives to sustain the body within which our emotional life plays out.

We can “eat” in healthy ways for our body and our mind. We can sit with ourselves in the presence of our emotions and exhibit patience to seek out the appropriate type of nurturing rather than rushing to food as a quick fix. We can move towards our physical health and fitness goals at an equal pace as we move towards our emotional health and fitness goals.

We can feel confident and comfortable in our own skin on every level of our being.

If you are struggling to relate to food in a healthy, self-nurturing way, Southlake Counseling can help. Our evidence-based, empirically-supported nutrition and eating disorders programs provide you with the skills and tools you need to feel confident both in the kitchen and in the rhythm of your daily emotional life. Our skilled and compassionate professional staff has more than two decades of experience facilitating individual transformation in the areas of recovery, health, and wellness. If you are ready to say “no” to emotional eating and “yes” to healthy, balanced, living, visit us at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more!

Be Well,

Kimberly

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Fat Talk Free®Week – A Message of Hope for All of Us!

Many women I speak with each week about disordered eating, body image, and eating disorders are mothers. Or daughters. Or sisters. Or best friends. Or all of the above.

Each woman is grappling with her own perceptions of the obstacles that stand between her and feeling at home in her own skin. I notice that most are also concerned with how their inability to do so may be affecting those whom they love most – their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, their best friends.

While any lasting, worthwhile change usually cannot occur overnight, and may take weeks, months, or even years to fully bear fruit, there are efforts going on right now to ensure that the legacy we leave for each other and for future generations treads more kindly on our perception of our body’s unique and worthwhile beauty, just as it is.

That is not to say that we can’t all do our part to learn how to take the very best care we can of our physical body, one step at a time, and many women who come to Southlake Counseling come because they want to do just that. But this movement takes us beyond our individual efforts and into a societal shift that will make this process easier – and more fun – for all of us.

Take “Strong is the New Thin,” for instance. This is a Facebook-based movement that repositions physical health and strength as an admirable, desirable goal.

Or the emerging “real women” and “authentic women” monikers, meant to denote a woman who is beautiful in her outside-the-thin-box skin.

One of my personal favorites is “Fat Talk Free® Week,” an annual week-long event spearheaded by a partnership between the team that wrote the Reflections: Body Image Curriculum and Tri-Delta Sorority.

The event began a few years ago as a way to promote the curriculum’s scientifically-measurable ability to boost body esteem among sorority women. Now it has caught on at a national level, moving its social media and promotion headquarters to Facebook and digging in its heels to reach out to women of all ages, shapes, and sizes with a message that it is not okay to say no to your own unique beauty.

Fat Talk Free® Week is coming up again this year October 18-22, 2010, and I want to encourage all of you to be a part. You don’t need to wear anything special, buy anything special, or do anything special – other than cutting out all “fat talk” from your life for one short week, and encouraging others you care about to do the same.

Part of saying YES to life is saying NO to the things – and the words – that keep your spirit, mind, and heart feeling small, stuck, and discouraged. “Fat talk,” as I often mention privately to individuals who come to me for counseling support, is a short, straight road to low body- and self-esteem, which then leads to depression, discouragement, and repetition of the same disordered eating thoughts and behaviors we are working so hard to overcome.

So for one week, let us practice saying YES to life together by cutting out “fat talk” from our vocabularies. We can start by finding other ways to compliment our female (and male!) friends and family members. Instead of complimenting them in body-based ways, we can spend an extra moment to think of something else nice to say.

In this way, we can make a commitment to moderate the thoughts in our heads before they emerge from our tongues as words, asking ourselves, “is it kind to me? is it kind to others?” before we speak.

We can also make it a practice to journal out a few short notes at the end of each day of Fat Talk Free® Week, asking ourselves how we are feeling about our bodies and ourselves after abstaining from esteem-damaging fat talk over the past several hours. Do we feel more hopeful? More secure? More self-loving? More inclusive and accepting of others?

And if we like what a week of conversation with no references to “I really shouldn’t eat that” or “Thanks for the compliment but I think this blouse makes me look lumpy,” then we can choose to keep it going!

So as we embark upon this week-long adventure together, I would love to hear your experiences of Fat Talk Free® Week – and please feel welcome to share them day by day by posting your comments here!

Remember, saying YES to life starts by saying NO to those things that would keep us from the fullness of recovery, health, and wellness that we dream of. If we can dream it, we can do it – now all that is left is to say YES to it and begin. If you need extra support to be able to say YES out loud and “go for it” to build the healthy, wonderful life you are dreaming of, contact us at www.southlakecounseling.com today. We look forward to helping you reach for and achieve all of your recovery, health, and wellness dreams!

Be Well,

Kimberly

Wednesday’s Weekly Inspiration: Today is Always a Good Day to Persevere

Our own perseverance is a quality we often both discount and take for granted. In so many tasks we persevere seemingly effortlessly, because we perceive that we have no other choice. For instance, no matter how much we worry or complain, bringing a child into this world will always take approximately nine months. We know this going in, so we are willing to persevere through the uncertainty, the discomfort, the fear of the unknown. We take it day-by-day, without even realizing that this is what we are doing, as we patiently wait for the brilliant results we know are coming.

But when it comes to working toward our own recovery, health, and wellbeing, we give up so easily! We don’t know that we have that same ability to work at it day-by-day, to persevere, and to patiently wait for equally brilliant results.


Today’s affirmation: Today I will remember to keep my eye on the prize, be patient, and persevere.

 

If you want recovery, then CHOOSE it!

If you won a free shopping spree to your favorite store, would you hesitate to redeem your prize? Absolutely not – you’d head right on over to the store, award in hand, to start shopping away!

But what if you were handed a free pass to recover from your eating disorder? Would you turn it in to collect your winnings or just leave it sitting on the kitchen table?

You are intelligent. You are resourceful. You are creative. You are determined. In other words, you already possess the winning lottery ticket of recovery.

But it avails you nothing until you redeem it.

Today’s affirmation: I can and DO choose recovery today!

From Frozen to Fantastic: Ten Tips for Tackling a Child’s Eating Disorder as a Family

Eating disorders are bio-psycho-social illnesses. They are also very treatable. With the right treatment, in appropriate doses, at appropriate times, and for an appropriate length of time, they are even curable.

But medical limitations, patient reluctance, or even media messages are not the primary deterrent to recovery.

The number one reason patients do not get better faster is a plain and simple deficit of information.

In my more than two decades of treating and supporting both eating disordered patients and their loved ones, I have learned a great deal about the type of information that is needed to effectively mobilize a family around a child who is suffering. This article addresses ten key learnings that can take your family from frozen to fantastic in how you collectively band together to combat a child’s life threatening illness.

The first key learning is – do not blame yourself. And do not blame your child. It is nobody’s fault when the biologically-based illness that is an eating disorder arises, in the same way that it is nobody’s fault when a child develops leukemia or autism, or an adult woman develops endometriosis. What is needed and effective is not blame, but rather action in the form of appropriate professional care and informed family and community support.

The second key learning is – an eating disorder is a bio-psycho-social illness with genetic links. Eating disorders have their underpinnings in a biological brain imbalance that results in the affected individual processing the presence of nutrients differently than someone without that imbalance would. As the National Eating Disorders Association states, “biology loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger.”  In the thin-obsessed culture we live in today, there is a clear biological reason why not every exposed individual develops a diagnosable eating disorder. Not everyone is at risk, because not everyone carries the genetic linkages that predispose an individual to develop an eating disorder. Those who develop an eating disorder are life-threateningly ill and require prompt and comprehensive care.

The third key learning is – do not panic. Instead, learn all you can.  Getting educated by reading high quality books and visiting nonprofit and medical websites that contain accurate information about eating disorders will help you and your family understand what you are dealing with, in the same way that a diagnosis of breast or prostate cancer might prompt the affected individual and their family to carefully review current treatments, options, success rates, and risks involved. In the case of an adolescent who is affected, the responsibility clearly rests with the parents to do the homework necessary to pick the best course of care. The more you are able to learn about what to expect, the timeline involved in recovery, what works better in which kinds of cases, and who in your area has expertise in treating eating disorders, the less energy you will waste in fear, indecision, self doubt, and frustration with the recovery process.

The fourth key learning is – get help. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat an ill child or loved one. Eating disorders are the most lethal of all psychiatric-based diseases. They are treatable and even curable – with appropriate professional care. For adolescents in particular, learn as much as you can about newer cutting edge protocols such as Family Based (Maudsley) Method (FBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), both of which have shown excellent results in improving symptoms and returning the affected individual to a healthy state.

The fifth key learning is – don’t forget about your own self-care needs. Supporting your child will take an incredible amount of time and energy. There will be times when you will feel hopeless, exhausted, frustrated, confused. To avoid burning out during each leg of the recovery process, remember that you can accept support and you deserve support . You are working as hard as your child, albeit from a different perspective, and you need to apply good self-care or you will not have the stamina you need to see the recovery process through to its successful conclusion. Seek out supportive groups online or in your area – for example, FEAST-ED.org is an excellent parent support site that offers parent-to-parent mentoring via an online forum called “Around the Dinner Table.”

The sixth key learning is – shame has no place in recovery from any illness, including an eating disorder. We have come a long way from the “don’t ask – don’t tell” generation our parents and grandparents labored under. We know so much more now about what causes psychiatric illness and how to help affected individuals and their loved ones navigate the recovery process. Whether it is cancer, loss, unemployment, divorce, or another personal tragedy, no one is a stranger to the need to recover from life’s unexpected challenges. With your acceptance and validation of your child’s illness, you strengthen your child and your entire family to own the challenge ahead as a learning process and a chance to grow stronger. Don’t let shame rob your child and your family of that energizing and motivating gift.

The seventh key learning is – remember that your child and your child’s illness are not one and the same. Your child is a unique, wonderful individual with endless promise and potential. Your child’s illness is something that he or she struggles with that requires appropriate treatment to overcome. They are two different things. It is important to start immediately to emotionally separate out who your child is from what your child is struggling with. Love the child, treat the disorder – they are not one and the same.

The eight key learning is –DO NOT WAIT.  An eating disorder will not suddenly get better or go away if ignored. Pretending the disorder is not there may cause the child to hide the symptoms out of shame or fear, but disappearance of symptoms is cause for increased rather than decreased concern. Act immediately the moment you see the first sign of symptoms. Research has shown that the sooner an eating disorder is intervened upon, the faster and shorter the recovery period will be.

The ninth key learning is – make sure the treatment you choose is evidence-based. What this means is that, with the wealth of options available today, it is easy to get confused about what is the best choice for your child. Go with where the evidence is. Interview medical professionals and ask for success rates. Contact nonprofit and professional organizations and ask to read recent medical journal and research reports concerning treatment protocols you are interested in pursuing.  Talk with other families about what worked for them. Ask medical professionals for references and call those references to find out what their experiences have been like. Most of all, seek a treatment protocol for your child that is well researched and shows consistent positive results. Treatment is expensive no matter what route you choose, so go for what works.

The tenth key learning is – never discount the transformative power of unconditional love. As the disease takes hold, you may find yourself thinking, “Is this my child?” The answer is “No.” The voice of the disorder at work within your child’s brain may create a different relational dynamic for awhile, as her relationship with food and fear changes and then changes again throughout each phase of the recovery process. Fear is a powerful agent, and may produce bouts of rebellion, resistance, even rage. But underneath any show of resistance, bravado, or anger is a frightened child who is doing her best to understand what is happening and figure out what to do about it. It is no different than the brain changes a bout of chemotherapy or radiation might cause – it is temporary, and reversible with application of proper nutrient levels that produce brain re-balancing with a corresponding return of emotional stability. Love your child, treat the disease, fight it together as a family.

At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of expertise in treating adolescents and families affected by eating disorders. Our specializations include Family Based (Maudsley) Training (FBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Our founder and staff received training directly from Dr. Nancy Zucker, the director of the Duke University Eating Disorders Program, which incorporates both FBT and DBT protocols in their highly successful family-based treatment program. Our clinical director has also received training directly from Dr. Locke and Dr. Le Grange, authors of Helping your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder. At Southlake Counseling, we have seen firsthand how families that recover together grow closer and stronger together. We encourage you to reach out for help and experience the difference expert, compassionate professional care can make in your family’s life. Visit us today at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.

Be Well,

Kimberly