In this video testimonial, a recent alumnus of Mirasol’s teen eating disorder program speaks frankly about her initial concerns, and how she overcame her fears and learned to trust her therapist, her fellow clients, her family and herself.
“I didn’t really choose to come here,” Faith confides. Having never been in treatment before, she was surprised to find herself in a comfortable, home-like environment. And while she was initially very wary of her fellow clients, she was ultimately inspired by their successes.
“I was very self-conscious, but they didn’t really care that I was struggling, because they knew what it felt like,” says Faith. “It was very inspirational, because at the the time, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to do anything to help myself, but I saw others achieve being happy, and living life. It took me a while to realize I could be happy like them.”
Experiential activities helped Faith discover that there were ways to exercise that weren’t just about burning calories.
“I’d never been hiking before, and it was such an amazing experience. I grew bigger relationships and had a stronger bond with the girls that were here. Seeing them achieve so much and go through so much with me was just amazing.”
It wasn’t easy, but Faith learned to trust her therapist, and Mirasol’s family program helped her open up to her family.
“I felt comfortable with my family, and I told them things I had never told them before. It was scary! I thought it would change the way they thought about me, but it didn’t, because I had people here supporting me when I opened up, says Faith. “If I wouldn’t have come here, and gone through this experience, my family would probably be normal, but we wouldn’t be that happy.”
Faith closes with a beautiful poem she wrote about her passion for living.
The holidays are supposed to be the most joyful time of the year, but they bring with them a long list of unrealistic expectations that create a lot of stress and anxiety, especially for anyone who suffers from an eating disorder. Mirasol staff members met to share their thoughts on healthy ways to celebrate the holidays. We found out that successful strategies run the gamut from diving in head first, to head-long flight! In between are many helpful suggestions for minimizing the stress and maximizing the joy of the holidays, however you choose to spend them.
Mirasol Executive Director Diane Ryan is a big fan of diving into the holidays, but she worries about clients in early recovery who want to go home for the holidays.
“When you go home, it’s like you become six years old again. Those are the initial roles that we learn, not only about the holidays, but about how to relate to one another. And then you put a frame around it that says ‘everything must be perfect,’ and it creates a lot of pressure.”
Diane’s strategy is to use tools to “keep the joy part and reduce the stress“.
“I concentrate on my breathing, and I focus on the heart-warming stories, the acts of kindness and the opportunities to serve.”
“I’m all about the Christmas spirit,” says Dietitian Anthony Hackworth. “It can get stressful, and it’s easy to get locked into the drama, but I realize as I get older you don’t have to be there 100% of the time. You can remove yourself, go do the things you want and come back for the fun stuff. So that’s what I recommend to clients.”
Clinical Director Jodi Tudisco grew up in an Italian family with strong holiday traditions.
“So much of the holidays in our family was about the food — preparing the food together, certain foods for specific holidays, sitting down for a big meal together. All the colors and the textures of holiday food are very artistic and beautiful to me. And I want our clients to be able to appreciate the holidays in that same way, but there’s a lot of fear and hesitation around food. How can we help them bridge that gap?”
Primary Therapist Jamelynn Evans suggests that one way to manage expectations around holiday traditions is to remember that “we are meaning-making machines” who have the power to attach new and different meanings to the holidays. She recalls fondly one year when her brother was living in Florida and couldn’t fly home until a few days after Christmas. The family decided to postpone Christmas until he arrived – at midnight – and they all stayed up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, talking and opening presents. “It was so spontaneous,” says Jamelynn, “and I have such a fond memory of what that turned into.”
Jamelynn recommends shifting some of the emphasis away from food: going for walks, singing, playing music, wrapping gifts, decorating. “We’re working toward being more okay with the food, but we don’t need to force that to be okay right now.”
Of course one of the cornerstones of recovery — especially in early recovery — is following a meal plan.
“To do well, and to feel good about the holiday experience, the client needs to follow the meal plan as closely as possible,” Diane says, “but it’s very challenging to stay on your meal plan when there are so many different activities, most of them involving food. Families can help by just being understanding and supportive of what the client needs to do.”
Anthony also recommends “keeping it simple”.
“If you serve traditional holiday foods, talk with family members about their preferences, and serve simple meals — one protein, one starch, one healthy fat and a desert — instead of a whole table full of food.”
Fellow dietitian Anne Ganje concurs. “There is so much hustle and bustle, and so much going on during the holidays. This is not the time to experiment or challenge ourselves. Even if you don’t come from a dysfunctional family, you can be triggered by the anxiety of those around you. If a client needs to just follow the basic meal plan during the holiday season, that is 100% okay. There will be plenty of time after the holidays to process everything that happened and to offer opportunities to challenge meal plans, or to do things differently.”
“Food aside, it’s important to recognize that this is a stressful time of year for most people — even those who don’t have an eating disorder,” says Jamelynn. “This may not be the best time to engage in deep discussions about future plans for career or school. It might be better to keep it a bit lighter and simpler when you do come together.”
At Mirasol, we talk a lot about the importance of setting intentions, and Clinical Director Maeve Shaughnessy thinks this may be the key to getting the most out of the holidays.
“Before going to family events, take some quiet time to think about your priorities and about what’s important to you, so you don’t get overwhelmed.”
Art Therapist Rachel Nelson offers the following tips for how to take care during the holidays:
· Since it can be a stressful time around family, I’m going to make an intention to have fun, and to stay focused on that.
· I will find three positive aspects of family members to focus on.
· I think having those things to focus on will relieve my mind from bringing past frustrations forward.
“Spending time outside is also a really good thing to do,” says Diane, who championed the development of Mirasol’s robust adventure therapy program. “I like to take the clients hiking during the holidays. It’s a nice time of year here in the desert.”
Many embrace the spirituality of this season, and spirituality can take many different forms. For Webmaster and Wilderness Guide Marion MacDonald, this time of year is all about the change of seasons and the return of the light.
“The holidays usually find us camped somewhere in the desert, watching the sun rise on the shortest day of the year, and enjoying the smell of a crackling mesquite fire and a little crispness in the air. What I like most about the holidays is the quiet. Everything seems to slow down between Christmas and New Years – people are calmer, the traffic slows down. It’s a time to think about where you’ve been this past year, and where you want to go in the next one.”
Maeve was surprised to hear the words “holidays” and “quiet” in the same sentence!
“I thrive on that quiet and reserved peace, but I can really get caught up in the hustle bustle, and it’s important for me to set that intention and remind myself that it can be a quiet time as well.”
Ann is fascinated by the different ways that people recharge. For her, this time of year is when most other people are ready to be social and connected.
“There’s a solid month where people who would usually say ‘no” are saying ‘yes’ to invitations to do something socially – so I love this time of year!”
At the far end of the spectrum, Diane confesses that in her younger days she used to get a temporary job at the mall. “I loved the chaos,” she says, and she recommends planning some activities for early January to avoid a post-holiday let-down.
What about clients who are spending the holidays in treatment?
“Many people might think that it would be the worst thing in the world to be in treatment at this time of year,” says Diane. “But my experience over the years is that it’s really quite special for the people who are. Anybody who is in treatment has had some challenging family interactions, so being in treatment takes all of the difficulties of being in early recovery off the table and allows them to continue doing their work.”
“It can be a big relief to clients to be in treatment, because we can validate what they’re experiencing,” Jamelynn concludes. “The truth is that it’s okay to be sad, and we all do think about certain things that we may be missing. But oftentimes what we want and what we need are different. We may want to be home, but treatment may be the best place for right now. I tell my clients that they’re setting themselves up for future holidays that will look much different from the way you’ve spent your holidays in the past.”
It’s an all-too-familiar story: a brilliant young dancer upstaged by an eating disorder. When Ayla’s illness forced her to drop out of ballet school, she fell into a depression, and her therapist recommended residential treatment.
“I locked myself in my room and I was crying hysterically for like four hours,” Ayla recalls. She credits Jodi Tudisco, Clinical Director of Mirasol Adolescent Program, with saving her life.
“My mom knocked on the door and she handed me the phone and it was Jodi, and Jodi pretty much talked me down from killing myself.”
Ayla reluctantly agreed to treatment, but says she was “a shell” when she arrived.
“My world was so small, and I didn’t really think that anything was wrong with me because I had been sick for so long. I never said ‘no I don’t want to get better’ but it was like ‘I don’t need to get better.’ In the beginning, I found ways to try to manipulate the system because I hadn’t heard a voice in my head that wasn’t the eating disorder for about three years. I didn’t trust anybody, and I always pretended like everything was okay.”
But a month into treatment things began to change.
“Things started coming up, and layers of the onion began to peel away,” she recalls. A visit from her mother reminded her of everything she was missing by being in treatment.
“It was like, ‘what am I doing? I had so many opportunities this summer!’ I was supposed to go to Boston Ballet on a full scholarship. It just hit me that there are better things in life than being in treatment!”
I believe you really have to have a moment where you decide ‘I’m going to let go, I’m just going to see what happens.’ It’s really hard to get up to the top of the mountain, but you can decide if you like the view or not, and you can always run back down the mountain. I really like the view from up here.
And so Ayla began building relationships with other people. She developed a close friendship with another MIrasol client, and they promised each other that they would recover together. She also began creating relationships with members of the staff.
“They’re so open!” says Ayla. “All they want is for you to get better, and you can see it in their eyes, you can feel it when you walk through the door. This place for me has been like a family and a home. Being here has helped me learn that family comes in all shapes and sizes, and that people really really love me.”
Ayla believes a key to her recovery was learning to trust the process.
“Sometimes people just go through the motions until they get to a certain point and they say that they’re better. But I believe you really have to have a moment where you decide ‘I’m going to let go, I’m just going to see what happens.’ It’s really hard to get up to the top of the mountain, but you can decide if you like the view or not, and you can always run back down the mountain. I really like the view from up here.”
Ayla also appreciated the individualization of her treatment at Mirasol. In her case, it was recognizing her love of ballet. She worked closely with her primary therapist and her dietitian to resume dancing on a limited basis at a local ballet school, with corresponding adjustments to her meal plan.
“I thought I would never get back to ballet again, but we took it very slowly. I started out dancing once a week, and began taking a ballet class with other people. And then I did a long day like I would have done at my ballet school. It was just amazing for me to see, I felt so safe and so supported. I have fought my eating disorder so hard to get back to ballet. It’s hard because the profession is a lot about your body. I’m very grateful that I can do what I can do in ballet. And I know it’s not all about your body, it’s about the way you dance, and about how much passion you have inside your soul, and I have a lot of it.”
For the traditional closing ceremony on her last day in treatment, Ayla chose to conclude with the Second Solo Variation from “Emeralds”, the first act of “Jewels”, created for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine. What a wonderful way to celebrate a dancer’s recovery!
Backpacking is lot like recovering from an eating disorder. It’s a long uphill climb with a lot of baggage. Sometimes things get pretty hot, and you may experience an occasional breakdown.
And so it was the day we left for Mirasol’s second backpacking trip with clients. This time of year, going anywhere outdoors means traveling to higher ground, since temperatures in mid-June here in Tucson were topping 110 degrees. We set our sights on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile-long wall of sandstone and limestone that slices diagonally across the northeast corner of the state and divides it into two distinct regions. The Rim is home to North America’s largest stand of Ponderosa pine, and also gives birth to dozens of permanent streams that tumbles over the cliffs and water the canyons of southern Arizona. Between the generous canopy of trees and opportunities to splash in an icy stream, we figured we’d be okay to hike, even with temperatures in the mid-90s.
About 100 miles out of town, one of the vehicles broke down, so we sheltered everyone in the shade with plenty of water while we ordered a tow truck from Tucson and made a mad dash into nearby Globe to rent another SUV. I think most people would have given up and gone home at that point, but we pushed through, and we were rewarded for our perseverance with a delightful weekend in the mountains.
More challenges — and more lessons — lay ahead. In an open pasture under a full moon that night, we were all reminded how important it is to stay close and take care of one another. The next day we trekked to a shady campsite next to a gushing spring. Sometimes the solution is flowing right there at your feet, but you still need to pump it up and take it in!
It was a great trip that gave us many opportunities to practice the skills we learn in treatment, including controlling anxiety, being prepared, overcoming obstacles and taking care of ourselves and others. I hope the memory of that sparkling cool stream will serve as a reminder that there’s a big payoff for perseverance, patience and teamwork.
From Mirasol ED Recovery Guest Blogwriter ~ Hope
For a majority of people with eating disorders, weight gain is the greatest fear, challenge, and roadblock to recovery. I get it. It’s been my hardest battle, too. I hope some of these tips help you cope with weight restoration regardless of what stage of change you may find yourself, whether just considering recovery or actually maintaining progress after treatment.
To lift some pressure to help you get started, you could try approaching your recovery as an experiment. A gain doesn’t have to be forever, but at least give yourself some time to work with the differentness of being in a weight-restored body with a nourished brain before you write it off. Hopefully, you will stick recovery through long enough to find relief. But, in a worst case scenario, you can always go back to your eating disorder. First, though, give yourself a chance.
If your body image is still making you miserable, remember that an overwhelming majority of those who recover agree that healing body image is the longest step of recovery. Be gentle with yourself as it may very well take more time for the mind to catch up than for the body to heal.
Here are 8 suggestions to help you along your way.
1. Remind yourself of why you began recovery in the first place. As time passes, it can be easy to begin glamorizing the aspects of the eating disorder that you liked. Do you want to find yourself in the same pain that motivated you to start recovery in the first place? I don’t think so! If you ever reminisce about the good old days of your eating disorder, you have to complete the picture by reconsidering the awful ones too. Dig deep and get to the ugly. What has your eating disorder taken away from you (hobbies, career, relationships, money, energy, hope, etc.)? What complications have you endured? How does having an eating disorder impact your daily life? Also, ask yourself what you are looking forward to by healing. I once made a gratitude list of 101 things I loved about life. From fresh cut fruit to freedom, what are some of your own gratitudes? Together, these are all motivators for your healing.
2. Come up with a food is fuel mantra that works for YOU, such as, “Food is my medicine right now.” Nourishment is a form of medicine, self-respect, and love. Appreciate the foods you DO enjoy. As I learned more about the medicinal values of various whole foods, I began conversing with food on a whole new level. For example, changing my use of food language allowed me to transform my relationship with healthy fats. When I learned walnuts are shaped like the brain and are a healthy brain food thanks to their Omega-3 essential fatty acid content, I changed my internal conversation from, “OMG, these walnuts are fattening and going straight to my bottom half,” to, “This is fueling my brain to help with clear thinking and stable mood. The fats are vital for my nervous system to function at optimum levels.” When I eat avocados, I still think, “Oh yeah. This is going straight to…the shine in my hair, skin, and nails.” 😉
3. Be prepared to deal with body shape, weight, and appearance comments. Be prepared that many well intended people will want to compliment you on your accomplishment of “filling out a bit” and looking so much “better”, so much “healthier”! Some people will not know better and others may not be able to help themselves because they are so relieved and thankful. For someone still ambivalent about weight restoration, a seemingly innocent word like “healthy” can become a tossed grenade that explodes upon our recovery parade. If this happens, it helps to remind yourself that your eating disorder is confusing enough to you. Imagine how confusing it is to the general population. A little compassion can go a long way as a distress tolerance skill with these unwanted comments. In more valued relationships, you may decide to engage in conversation about how you actually interpret appearance-based comments. In all fairness, what we think at times hardly makes sense. PS. Healthy does not mean fat.
4. Just say no to “Thinspiration!” I know; it’s everywhere. The longer you have had an eating disorder, the more likely it is deeply embedded into your life. You don’t always even have to be looking for it. And it goes way beyond magazines and websites. I’ve been sidetracked on Facebook by someone’s alarming new profile picture, where they have clearly lost weight. Catching the interest of my eating disorder thoughts and with just a few clicks later, I could be perusing through photo albums of others with eating disorders –sucked into the abyss looking for thinspiration. Don’t let your social media support become a weapon of destruction against your hard earned progress. If you find yourself caught in a web of thinspiration, whether online or offline, remind yourself of why you began recovery in the first place. These people likely have very painful struggles they are dealing with, too. Every eating disorder has a shadow. Try not to torture yourself with thinspiration. Instead, fill up your newsfeed with pro-recovery outlets!
5. Avoid excessive body checking. There are so many ways we do this without realizing it. The most obvious way is probably the use of a scale, but some things are more discreet such as seeking your reflection in reflective surfaces or measuring body parts by wrapping around your fingers. Some of us might have certain clothing items we use to reference our body in space, such as a certain pair of “skinny jeans” that we taunt ourselves with. Consider donating or consigning these items. While body checking is often intended to provide some level of comfort or relief, conflict ensues when we are not happy with the number, size, or measurement. There are schools of thought that we shouldn’t know our weight at all and others that suggest using blind weigh-ins at the beginning of recovery and gradual weight exposure over time. If there is no way you are giving up your scale, at least consider putting this quote up on a post-it note nearby, “This scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, possibility, strength, or love.”
6. Spend time with encouraging social supports. Reduce your exposure to people who are weight or appearance obsessed. Set the tone and ditch the “fat talk” mania. Encourage your social supports to follow suit. Surround yourself with people who are uplifting and encouraging of others. You probably have enough trouble with criticizing yourself. You do not need further exposure to negative chitter chatter! Positive people will more likely help you appreciate both your inner and outer beauty. It’s also helpful to have a body image role model, whether someone who has recovered for an eating disorder or simply owns body confidence.
7. Adopt doable distraction techniques. Distraction techniques will not cure underlying issues, but they will help you avoid behavior use, which is incredibly empowering. You also deserve a break from the eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Urges are temporary and will pass. While they may return, it lifts one’s spirits to be able to conquer urges when they present. I have used whatever works in the moment when I need a shift in focus away from negative body image. I may choose to read, watch TV, or color a mandala. I often use essential oils as a grounding distraction. Listening to music can change my train of thought quite easily as well. You may wish to call, text, or IM a friend. Snuggle up with your furbabies. Don’t be afraid to spend some time day dreaming about a goal you’ve had. Mental rehearsing plants the seed of success. Or maybe you are a list maker. Do anything other than accept mental torment from ED. J
8. Practice joyous exercise. Exercise can be a touchy subject with regards to eating disorders. If you have a history of excessive exercise, please consider exploring this in a therapeutic relationship, especially before reintroducing exercise into your life. Always seek medical clearance before engaging in exercise. In some cases, you may need a physical therapist to begin physical activity once cleared by your team. Exercise can have incredible benefits when practiced in moderation, including antidepressant benefits. Healthy exercise can also encourage a nourishing appetite, increased energy, and sound sleep – all elements of a balanced lifestyle. When possible, choose joy filled activities such as yoga, gardening, and surfing, where the focus is more likely to be on the activity than the eating disorder. Warning signs of excessive or abusive exercise may include: skipping social opportunities to work out, distress when a workout is missed, unwilling to allow rest days, being driving by obsessive thoughts, using exercise to purge calories, and exercising despite injury.
You’ve made it way too far and worked way too hard to give up now! I cannot emphasize enough that glamorizing the eating disorder only opens the gateway to relapse. Sure, the eating disorder served a purpose for you for a long time, but don’t forget it stopped working, which is why you decided to start your healing. If you find yourself wishing you were thinner or that you had not gained weight, know you are also wishing for all of the pain, struggle, and misery the eating disorder left you. And, you certainly don’t need all of that! You are worth a life worth living.
Top 10 Eating Disorder Blogs of 2015
Eating Disorder Hope Award
- Art Therapy: Challenging the Inner Critic February 8, 2016
- Men Experience Eating Disorders Too! February 8, 2016
- Jenn’s Story: Learning to Put Recovery First January 27, 2016
- “Reflections:” A Powerful Tool for Healing Relationships, Developing Personal Responsibility, and Moving Forward in Recovery January 23, 2016
- The Best Present: The Neurobiology of Giving December 16, 2015
- Having Faith: A Mirasol Client Video Testimonial December 11, 2015
- Suggestions for Surviving — and Maybe Even Celebrating — the Holidays December 7, 2015
- A Special Thanksgiving December 3, 2015
- Breaking the Silence November 21, 2015
- Eating Disorders and Addiction October 29, 2015
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