Sunday, 28 September 2014

EDs are NOT a Passion!

There was a recent article released by Western University that claims that anorexia nervosa, or eating disorders in general, should be called a 'passion'. According to the authors, a passion is something that one finds enjoyable, but can be destructive in excess. (See
http://www.exchangemagazine.com/morningpost/2014/week33/Thursday/14082209.htm for details).

Teen Mental Health Statistics [INFOGRAPHIC] | Paradigm MalibuNow, allow me to tell you what I think about this 'discovery'. EDs are mental illnesses. Some people think of ED as an addiction in that it becomes obsessive and difficult to stop or control. This I understand. My issue with defining ED as a passion is that a passion denotes something positive, something we love and strive to always follow. Now, EDs do become obsessive, and patients always strive to focus all energies and thoughts on the disorder. However, EDs are in no way, shape, or form enjoyable. ED is not something the patient loves. It is not fun, exciting, or life-enhancing. Calling ED a passion makes it seem that the patient enjoys the ED. But this isn't the case at all.

EDs are destructive. They are the number one killers among all psychiatric illnesses. They can cause severe organ damage, emotional pain, and other complications. Patients never choose to have eating disorders. But we can choose our passions. For example, I may find that I enjoy writing and am good at it. I make this my passion by constantly writing, looking for ways to improve my writing skills, etc. But no one ever chooses to have ED because it is fun or because they are 'good at restricting and losing weight'. There is a big difference between the two situations.

I also don't particularly like how the authors state that labelling ED as a passion will change the way we treat these serious illnesses. The authors say that thinking of EDs as a passion means that we see that patients can make decisions about the passion - the ED. But is this true? Not really. In most cases, the ED, as a mental illness, takes over the patient. The individual with ED is not able to make decisions on when to restrict food intake because it is not them in control, but the ED. The person with ED doesn't make a decision to binge, purge, or restrict. It is the ED. Likewise, the patient with ED cannot always make the decision to start eating and to recover. This takes time, and in many cases, treatment must start even when the patient doesn't fully accept or appreciate it. But if we called ED a passion, we would be saying that the person can make decisions on when to engage in the ED, when to stop, etc. And we know that this isn't true at all. We have seen time and time again that brain changes, along with hormonal and chemical influences, change the way a patient with ED thinks, acts, eats, etc. So really, the patient is under the control of the illness. It isn't a passion. It is an illness.

Why do we have to come up with different words to describe what an eating disorder is? Why cant society just accept that ED is a serious and deadly mental illness? Why do we need to bring in incorrect terminology and false ideas around this issue? It is enough to say that EDs are mental illnesses - and life-threatening disorders. This alone should be enough to make us understand that treatment, identification, and prevention need to start as soon as possible. Would you tell someone who smokes or drinks alcohol obsessively that they have a passion for smoking? No. Would you tell someone who has depression that they have a passion for feeling sad? No. So why is it alright to label ED as a passion? It isn't.

Perhaps instead of wasting research dollars, time, and effort on
finding new ways to label EDs, we should instead focus on why they occur, how we can prevent them, and the best ways to treat them. We should focus on how to support patients and their loved ones.
That kind of research and initiative is worthwhile. That's what will make a difference to the thousands of people living and battling eating disorders daily. Prevention, identification, and treatment. Not labelling. We all need to work together to make these changes - every little thing you say or do can make a big difference. Remember this quote on the image to the right - be kind. You never know what each person you meet is dealing with. Don't judge, don't blame, and don't stereotype.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

I was on TV! Watch my feature on CBC News!

Three weeks ago, I was contacted by a reporter from CBC Toronto, asking me if I could do a story on the increase in eating disorders that is occurring. Wanting to help, I readily agreed...not realizing that they wanted me to do the story the next day! Needless to say, it was a last-minute request. But being featured on TV AND raising awareness about ED and mental health? Who could say no?!
 
This news story is highly relevant to society and what is happening in our world today. Although short, the feature highlights the fact that there has been a staggering increase in the prevalence of eating disorders within the past few years. Unfortunately, this has not been met by an increase in treatment. Perhaps even more frustrating is that there is still a lack of knowledge and awareness on eating disorders, prevention, treatment, recovery, and mental health. There still exists stigma around issues such as mental health. My hope is that by speaking out, we can make a difference.

Please take time to watch this segment - it is only about five minutes long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu3TcyjgQ5w. (Please note: this aired two weeks ago on the CBC Toronto News at 6 and 11 pm, but the video was just uploaded - thanks sis!).

But the impact of the segment is not in its length. The impact lays in what we do after hearing the story. Do we go out and make a change? Are you willing to reflect on your own beliefs and knowledge around eating disorders and mental health? Are you prepared to educate yourself and others around you? Are you willing to help raise awareness that EDs are REAL, MENTAL, and SERIOUS illnesses?
 
I hope that you enjoy this little feature I did with CBC news Toronto. More importantly, I hope that it helps you and others learn about ED and mental health, and it makes a change. There is a lot of awareness on many physical health issues, but awareness of mental health issues is lacking. Why? Because we don't want to talk about our feelings and emotions. We don't want to appear vulnerable. It is easier to suggest physical treatments for heart conditions, cancer, etc. than it is for mental health issues, where treatment options may not be so obvious. Everyone, regardless of what health/other issue they are dealing with, deserves treatment, help, and support. They deserve to be cared for, to be empathized with, and to be understood.

Thank you, God, for giving me the courage and strength to speak up about my battle with anorexia. Thank you for showing me that every struggle, every tear, and every hurt happens for a reason. Thank you for using my struggle to raise awareness, and hopefully, to continue to help others. Thank you for never leaving any of us alone, for giving us hope and success. Please strengthen us to continue trusting You, even when times are rough. Please give us Your peace and allow us to see that though we may not understand what is happening now, we will one day. And then we will see that '...in all things God works for the good of those who love Him' (Romans 8:28).

And thank YOU to all my friends, family, and readers. I would not have been here if it were not for all of the care, love, and encouragement you always provide me with. The time each of you takes to motivate me, to read my blog, to pray for me, and to help raise awareness makes a HUGE difference. I am so blessed to have all this support around me.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Writing Goals Down: The Key to Success?

What is the best way to ensure that your goals will succeed? How do you make yourself believe that you will accomplish your goals and have success, as well as feel accomplished? Is there a relationship between goal completion and satisfaction?

There is no doubt that setting goals makes life easier. If you want to get a promotion, what do you do? You take the time to think about what steps you must take. Maybe you need to finish your next assignment on time. Maybe you need to get to work on time, and be more optimistic. If you are trying to improve your health, maybe you will drink more water, eat a variety of foods, enjoy an active lifestyle, reduce stress, etc. Whatever your goals are, the key is to make a plan of action. But how do you 'make' this plan?

I personally love to write things down. I find that when I do this, I see an organized plan for what I have to do, what I need to accomplish, and where I am going. It also helps me look back and see what I have done, what I still need to do, and what I have succeeded in. Interestingly, there appears to be evidence that supports that writing out goals does indeed have an impact on overall life satisfaction, task completion, and even stress levels. In one study, writing out goals and accomplishments decreased people's negative thinking and low moods (http://www.cog.psy.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/papers/2013/Teismann_WritingAboutLifeGoals_JHealthPsychol(2013-e-pub).pdf - I recommend that you take the time to read this study, if interested. You can skip to the results section if you want the quick facts about the implications!). It also reduced cortisol levels - the 'stress' hormone that is released when we are stressed. This hormone also has negative effects on our bodies when released in excess, including depressed immunity, irregularities in hormone functioning, poor concentration, and more. Within just three days of writing out goals, participants felt happier, more confident, less stressed, and more optimistic about their lives.

What is the lesson here? Writing out goals and accomplishments really does seem to make a difference on our health and emotions, as well as the perspectives we take about our lives. Of course, this doesn't mean that if you don't write your goals out, you will be depressed and unsuccessful. It also does not mean that writing out goals and successes are the ONLY ways to be happy or satisfied. However, if you should take something away from this, it should be that looking at your life with a plan or with optimism can really change the way you live. Being positive and organized can help you become more successful and relaxed.

Writing things down provides you with a plan, but also with a reference on what you have to do, as well as what your next steps are. Then, when you are done, you can refer back to what you wrote down and see what you have accomplished - and this helps you feel good about yourself, which can improve your mood and confidence. If you haven't completed all you wrote down, looking back at it will help you see what you can improve the next time around, or to see whether or not your goals were realistic and doable. Does this mean you have to start writing everything down now to be successful and happy? No. But I will ask you one thing: the next time you have a lot of tasks to do in one day, or when you have a major project to accomplish, try writing the steps or tasks down on a piece of paper, on your phone, etc. Then, refer to your list during the task, as the day goes by and you complete the things to do, or after you are done what you needed to do. And let me know how this makes you feel to see what you have
accomplished, or to see your goals achieved. I guarantee it will make a difference. You will feel better about yourself, you will feel and become more productive, and you will be more enthusiastic and positive about life. Try it, and let me know what your thoughts and experiences are!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Published again: Beauty, Uniqueness, and Feeling Needed

Once again, my work has been published by Made4More, an organization dedicated to helping others live through everyday challenges faced in the world. This post is about true beauty, and what it means to be 'beautiful', and how this relates to our needing to feel loved, special, and unique: http://made4moreministry.com/2014/08/18/you-are-beautiful-and-i-mean-it/

Looking at this way, we see that beauty doesn't only to women. Nor does it mean how we dress, what our bodies look like, or what make-up or watches we wear. That is what the world wants you to think beauty is all about. Why? Because the world lives off of this misconception. The media and companies fool us into thinking that we need the latest brand-name clothes to look 'cool', or that we need to have that designer-brand watch because it shows others that we can afford it. For women, there is the pressure to be thin and tall. For men, there is the pressure to be muscular and strong. All around us, we see ideas of what the world wants us to think beauty is about.

But beauty really is much more than the outward appearance. We are all made to be beautiful because we are created in the image of God. You are beautiful inside and out - whether you are male or female, young or old, short or tall, etc. It is not about how you dress or what you accessorize with. It is about your heart and your mind. Do you wish others well? Do you strive your best to keep your heart, mind, and actions pure? Can others look at you and see Christ? Do you use your talents and words to help others and give them strength, hope, or encouragement? Do you realize that you are special, loved, and needed?

Something that I have learned along my journey is that I need to stop thinking of beauty as being something I see in the mirror or on the scale. I had to learn to reframe beauty as what God intended it to be - my actions, thoughts, and words. My beauty and my self-worth are defined by these qualities, not by my appearance. I am beautiful because God created me, and He doesn't make mistakes. I am beautiful, unique, and needed because I strive to use my actions and words to help others. I am beautiful because God gives me the strength to endure hardships. And the same applies to YOU. Yes, YOU. You are beautiful too! I know males may feel uncomfortable with this wording, so to all the males out there, you are special and attractive because you are made in the image of God, too! Remember not to let the world trick you into concentrating only on the outward appearance. You are beautiful. You are special. You are needed. You are loved. (P.S. Look at the image and quote above about people being like stained glass windows. This is an amazing analogy, and so encouraging. Challenges give us strength and teach us many lessons!)

P.S. I love this quote about beauty and Oreos. Not only is it true, but I love Oreo cookies...so this quote is awesomely true and delicious at the same time!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'Do no harm': ED Prevention Strategies in Schools

From my own school experiences, there is much emphasis on healthy eating and controlling weight. I am sure you can think back to your own (or your children's, friends', etc.) school experiences and pinpoint a time when 'healthy eating' and weight was discussed. In my case, the focus on weight and eliminating 'junk' food led me to become more entrenched in the eating disorder. So, how do schools 'prevent' ED through their education programs? One article focussed on just that:
http://www.ocoped.ca/PDF/ODea_2000.pdf.

Not surprisingly, the authors found that programs that focussed on obesity were unsuccessful. This makes think when we think about it: if we are telling kids that they shouldn't enjoy chocolate because they will become obese, what does this say about being overweight? It makes children feel that being overweight is equal to being inferior, lazy, or sinful. Furthermore, it makes students feel nervous about food and their weight, opening the door for negative thoughts and emotions to occur - about themselves, and about food. In addition, speaking negatively about certain foods (ex. chips, bread, juices, candy, etc) makes students think in an all-or-nothing manner: 'if teachers say that candy is bad, I am bad if I eat candy. So, I cannot eat candy at all - not even a little bit'. Students fail to see that moderation and enjoying all foods is encouraged. To add to that, the emphasis on food and weight makes students become easily influenced by the media and other sources, and this makes them believe that eating is all about appearance:. For example, students will come to view eating not as a necessary component for health, bur rather, as a means of looking tall, beautiful, thin, attractive, sexy, etc. Instead of helping students understand that all food is needed and acceptable for a healthy body and mind, schools pressure students to see eating as a competitive activity, one in which the 'best' and 'healthiest' eater has the 'best and fittest' body. Without a doubt, this can lead to serious mental and emotional issues....and eating disorders.

I highly recommend that you read this article - it is easy to understand, and also has great information not only for schools, but also for us in our everyday lives. The authors note that rather than presenting food in a negative manner, schools (and you, as a member of society!) should speak about food in a more positive light. We need to acknowledge our dependence on food for energy and sustenance. We ought to be mindful that all foods are perfectly acceptable in a healthy lifestyle. We need to stop seeing weight and calories as dictators of health and happiness. We must not be swayed by images and media pressures that tell us that beauty is only a matter of weight and appearance. Focussing on strategies to improve self-esteem and confidence are essential, as this helps students understand that their self-esteem and appreciation for themselves should not be based on what foods they eat or what the scale says. Food and eating should be presented in a positive manner that allows students to feel safe and comfortable. Eating ought to be viewed as a fun experience that allows for creativity, adventures, social time, enjoyment, and even learning (ex. trying new foods, other cultures, nutrients and vitamins, body processes that depend on nutrients, etc.).

As a member of society, this article has implications for you too, not only teachers. If you are a parent, this article can help you understand how you can teach your children about food and health. In the workplace, at home, or even when you are out with family and friends - you can be a positive role model. You can approach food and health in a positive manner and you can demonstrate that food is to be enjoyed, celebrated - not despised or feared. You can illustrate that health comes in all sizes and is not dictated by a number on the scale. You can model that healthy eating means being able to eat a variety of foods, even sweets/desserts/salty chips/fats/carbohydrates (and other foods!) without
feeling guilty. If you can do this, you will see that others will learn from you. That will see your positive approach to food and health and they will adopt this in their lives as well. Soon enough, more and more people will begin to see the truth: that food ins a necessary, and not evil, part of life. And that beauty doesn't come from a mirror, body shape, or clothes size. This will help you and others live happier, healthier lives...and will likely reduce the prevalence of eating disorders.

I challenge you today to look at how you view food and health, and to reflect on how you can change your actions and thoughts to model positive and healthy relationships with food. You will see and feel the difference - and others will, too. And you will be helping to spread a very important, but often neglected and hidden message: that health is more than just a number on the scale, that food is necessary and life-saving, and that we ought to focus on living HEALTHY, BALANCED, and HAPPY (not thin, muscular, miserable, etc) lives.