Title: Eating Disorders and the Impact on Siblings
Description: Kym Piekunka will present on the unique impact eating disorders have on siblings. While many studies have focused on how sisters and brothers affect recovery outcomes, Kym co-created an online sibling survey with Bridget Whitlow, LMFT, to better understand their experience and support needs. With 274 responses from five countries, specific themes have emerged. Come join us as Kym reviews these findings and utilizes her story to highlight the importance of supporting this population.
Bio: Since her sister Kacy’s death in 2002 from bulimia, Kym Piekunka became a speaker, blogger, and advocate focusing on her sister’s experience. Over a decade later, Kym observed the reality for siblings had not progressed. Sisters and brothers were sidenotes in articles, organizational education, conferences and treatment, so Kym switched gears. In 2017 she made it her mission to give the sibling experience a voice by creating the website KymAdvocates.com. Recognizing the lack of research and support systems surrounding siblings and the eating disorder impact, she co-created an online sibling survey. Currently, Kym is presenting on data results, expanding the survey in other languages, and developing sibling support systems.
Location: The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland) or street parking
For teens with eating disorders, Halloween can be scary for the wrong reason: the candy! Most teens with eating disorders are only willing to eat a restricted range of foods. Expanding this range is an important goal of treatment, with the reintroduction of fear foods being a key step. Candy tends to be high on the fear food lists of many teens.
Halloween presents an ideal opportunity.
A Taste of Recovery
Most teens in America are excited for Halloween and its bounty of candy. By incorporating some candy during your teen’s Halloween week you can help them approximate the lives of teens who do not have eating disorders. This step can give them a taste of the full life you want for them—a life where they are unencumbered by food restrictions, a life where they can enjoy all foods, a life where they can travel the world confident that they will easily be able to meet their nutritional needs, and a life where they won’t feel the need to shun social events for fear of facing the foods there.
I know that I’m painting a beautiful picture and that this is easier said than done. Teens with eating disorders will deny that the disorder is driving their food preferences. Instead, they claim they simply don’t like candy anymore. Or that candy was the preference of a child and since then their palates have matured. But don’t believe them—you have crucial parental memory and knowledge. You know which foods your teen actually liked a few years back. You also probably know the foods on which he or she binged if they binged. And it is not credible that any teen really hates all candy!
Especially if your teen had a great many fear foods, you may already have experience reintroducing some of them. But once meals start going more smoothly, some weight has been restored, and binges and purges have subsided, many parents are reluctant to push further. Why rock the boat when your teen seems to be doing well? You may be wondering: Is candy really necessary?
In fact, this Halloween is exactly the right time to introduce candy.
It is much easier to introduce fear foods before your teen is completely independent in their eating. Right now, you are still overseeing meals and your teen does not yet have their independent life back. Pushing the issue of fear foods becomes more challenging when your teen has regained most of their freedom.
When you introduce fear foods to your teen, you will probably feel anxious. Your teen will too. You may even feel like you are going back a step. This is how exposure works—it is supposed to raise your teen’s anxiety. When your teen avoids these fear foods, their anxiety decreases, reinforcing the avoidant behavior and justifying the anxiety response. This perpetuates both the emotion and the behavior. But the food is not truly dangerous—if the teen were to eat the food, they would learn that nothing catastrophic happens. In exposure, the teen is required to eat the food, and the anxiety response shows itself to be baseless. With repeated exposure, the brain habituates, learns that the food is not harmful, and loses the anxiety response.
Exposure works through repetition over a sustained period of time—not all at once. It’s likely that each food on your teen’s feared list will need to be presented several times before the thought of eating it no longer causes extreme anxiety.
You may feel that requiring your teen to eat candy is extreme. However, remember: the healthy part of your teen probably wants to eat candy, but the eating disorder would beat them up if they ate it willingly. By requiring your teen to eat candy, you are actually granting your teen permission to eat it—permission they are unable to grant themselves. After recovery, many teens report that they really wanted the fear food but were too afraid—it was only when their parents made them eat it that they were able to.
And I would argue that fearlessness in the face of candy is important for your child. So be brave about facing potentially increased resistance by your teen and model facing your own fear.
Here’s How to Incorporate Candy During Halloween:
Choose a few types of candy based on your teen’s preferences about three years before they developed their eating disorder. (If you can’t remember, ask one of their siblings or just pick a few options, maybe one chocolate-based and a non-chocolate alternative.) Make your choice based on providing your teen with the typical American teen experience. (American teens will typically collect a lot of candy on Halloween, have a few pieces that night, and then have candy as snacks a few times during the following week.)
You may choose to tell your teen about the candy ahead of time or not. Some families find that telling teens about exposure to fear foods ahead of time is helpful; other families find that it is better to just present a fear food without warning. But note that you are not required to ask their permission; FBT is a parent-driven treatment.
Serve a single serving of candy during dessert or snack a few times during the week of Halloween. Plan carefully and be thoughtful. Do this with the same resolve that you use when you serve them any starches or proteins. You may want to introduce the candy on a day when you feel more confident, will have more time to manage potential resistance, or can be sure a second caregiver will be present. You may not want to present candy, or any fear food, before an event that you are not willing to miss in case you encounter an extreme reaction.
If your teen binges or purges, make sure to sit with them for an hour after they eat the candy.
Plan for what will happen if your teen refuses to eat the candy. For example, will you offer something else instead and try the candy again tomorrow? Offer a reward for eating the candy? Create a consequence for noncompletion? Whatever you decide, be consistent and follow through.
If you do this-this year, there is a good chance that by next Halloween your teen will be eating candy independently!
“Body positivity can’t be just about thin, straight, cisgendered, white women who became comfortable with an additional ten pounds on their frame.” —Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Shape magazine (July, 2018).
Eating disorders are about so much more than body image, but the current diet culture, idealization of the thin ideal, and “war on obesity” make it much harder for people with eating disorders to recover. We are barraged on a daily basis by media images of people who represent only a small portion of the population.
As Dr. Muhlheim discussed in a previous post about fat photography, the mainstream media images we see are not diverse, and the images we do see of larger bodies are often portrayed in a particularly negative and stigmatizing way, adding fuel to the fire.
Thus, an important exercise for people of all sizes in recovery is to curate their social media feed by removing accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and expand the range of body sizes and types to which one is exposed. Adding diversity to your social media feed isn’t only important for people in recovery, it can be just as important for partners as Sarah Thompson wrote about here. It would even be useful for parents and family members of those recovering.
The term used to describe the absence of representation in media was coined by George Gerbner in 1972. This phenomenon is “symbolic annihilation.” Gerbner was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and communications professor who researched the influence of television trends on viewers’ perceptions of the world. According to Coleman and Yochim, Gerbner explained that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” Representations, or lack thereof, lead to assumptions about how the world works and who holds power.
Gerbner did not assign symbolic annihilation to any particular group, so it has since been applied to many different identities. We can apply the concept to non-dominant systemic identities, such as larger bodied people, people of color, trans and gender-expansive people, disabled people, etc. If we don’t see bodies like our own represented, we may come to believe “my body doesn’t matter”. Often, this can turn into “I don’t matter”. This means that for people whose bodies are marginalized in any way, it is essential to see images of people that look like them.
We have developed a roundup of Instagram accounts to help you on the journey. While it is not comprehensive, it is a starting point. What follows are some Instagram accounts that show body-positive images that celebrate diverse bodies in ways that mainstream media does not.
At the time of this posting, these accounts are free of body shaming, fat shaming, food shaming, and disordered eating. Some are people in recovery from eating disorders. If we missed one of your favorite accounts that consistently publishes photos of bodies at the margins, please email us and let us know!
People of color
Gender diverse people
People with disabilities
Other body positive accounts to follow
Coleman and Yochim. The Symbolic Annihilation of Race: A Review of the “Blackness” Literature. Perspectives. Spring 2008. http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/prba/perspectives/spring%202008/Means%20Coleman-Yochim.pdf
When new families talk to me about Family-Based Treatment (FBT), I often find that they are confused about what it is and what it isn’t.
FBT is a type of evidence-based treatment for adolescent eating disorders. This treatment was developed at the Maudsley Hospital in London in the 1970s and 1980s; Doctors Lock and Le Grange manualized it into its current form in 2001. Because of its name, FBT is often confused with more general “family therapy.” Be careful, because these are not the same thing—while both involve the family, FBT is a very specific, behaviorally-focused therapy.
While a treatment that includes some elements of FBT—but falls short of the full manualized treatment—may work for some eating disorder cases, it may not work for more difficult cases. When FBT doesn’t work it is important to know whether the child has had an adequate course of the true treatment in its evidence-based form. This can be tricky—in the field of psychotherapy, most therapists identify as eclectic, meaning they adhere to no single therapeutic orientation but combine techniques from several (just scroll through any Psychology Today therapist profile to get a taste for how many different theoretical approaches most therapists endorse). We don’t yet know which elements of FBT are critical to its efficacy and make it such a successful treatment. This would take expensive dismantling studies in which different partial treatments are tested against each other. Except for studies documenting a separated FBT (where only the parents attend sessions), no such study has been cited in the literature. Until we have good evidence that suggests otherwise, treatments that stay true to the original, already-tested treatments are the safest bet.
I once worked with a patient with panic disorder who had had previous treatment. He told me that his previous therapist had conducted cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), widely accepted as the best evidence-based treatment for panic disorder. When I dug deeper, I found that his therapy had included no exposure to the sensations of panic—considered to be the core element of CBT treatment for panic disorder. Instead, the treatment had focused on discussing his anxiety thoughts—a very different protocol. From this experience I learned to inquire carefully about the treatment my patients have previously received before accepting that it cannot work for them.
So it is with Family-Based Treatment. Sometimes parents tell me that they think they tried FBT but are not sure. If your child was treated in an academic center, it’s more likely they got the evidence-based treatment of FBT in its full form. However, some parents who tell me that FBT didn’t work also tell me:
They did FBT on their own, with no therapeutic support
They had meals with their child, but that the therapist met primarily with the adolescent alone
They didn’t supervise all meals because their child resisted it.
In each of these situations, it is obvious to me that the treatment is not what I would consider FBT. And while it is true that including some aspects of FBT or even a “watered down” FBT may be better than no FBT or parent inclusion at all, it’s important to know whether your child had the real thing or not, especially if they end up needing more or different treatment.
Often, parents who tell me they struggled with renourishing a child on their own find that things go much better once they started working with me or another therapist. That’s not to say that parents should never try to renourish a teen on their own—just that supporting a child with an eating disorder is extremely hard work and best done with the support and guidance of a professional at their side.
Signs Your Child Received FBT
Accordingly, I created the checklist below for parents to determine whether the treatment their child received (or is receiving) is really FBT. To how many of the following statements can you answer “YES” (the more the better)?
My therapist refers to and acknowledges the three phases of FBT:
Phase 1 —full parental control
Phase 2 — a gradual return of control to the teen
Phase 3 —establishing healthy independence
My therapist is familiar with the work of Drs. James Lock and Daniel Le Grange, developers of the FBT treatment.
My therapist adheres to the five principles of FBT:
I was specifically told I was responsible for restoring my teen nutritionally and interrupting behaviors that interfere with recovery (including bingeing, purging, and overexercise). I was specifically told I was responsible for planning, preparing, serving, and supervising all meals.
I was told we don’t know for sure what causes an eating disorder and it doesn’t matter.
Initial attention of treatment focused solely on restoring health including weight gain and stopping eating disorder behaviors.
Rather than being given prescriptive tasks, I was empowered to play an active role and to discover those strategies that worked best for my family and the child whom I know best.
I was taught to externalize the illness and see it as an outside force that has hijacked my child, threatens his or her life, and makes my child do things he or she wouldn’t normally do. My child did not choose the eating disorder.
My therapist spends most of the time with the full family, meeting only briefly with the adolescent alone at the beginning of the session (or in the case of “separated FBT,” all of the time with parents).
My therapist or another member of the treatment team tracks my child’s weight and gives me feedback after every weigh-in on how he or she is doing.
I was specifically told I am responsible for supervising all meals and snacks to ensure completion. If purging has been a problem, I was told to supervise the child after eating to prevent purging.
If my child has been exercising excessively, I was told to prevent this.
After weight was restored and bingeing and purging and other behaviors had ceased, my therapist guided me in gradually returning my teen control over their own eating.
I was told it was important to be direct with my teen about eating adequate amounts of food.
My therapist discusses the importance of both “state” and weight to recovery—meaning my therapist explains that weight recovery is a step towards psychological recovery, but not an end goal in itself.
Dead giveaways your child did not get FBT
Below are some indicators that your child might not have “gotten FBT” and might be receiving some conflicting messages:
I have been told that we, the parents, had caused the eating disorder.
My therapist spends the majority of therapy time alone with the teen.
My therapist spends a lot of time talking about the past and reasons my child wanted, needed, or otherwise developed the disorder.
A dietitian has met alone with my teen and given him or her nutritional recommendations.
My child has been given a meal plan.
I have been told that it is an option to not supervise all meals or prevent all purging.
The FBT therapist has provided individual CBT, DBT, or ACT with the teen during the weight restoration phase.
I have been told from the start of treatment to “not be the food police” (in FBT, this might happen toward the end of treatment, or in Phase 2 with an older teen).
My child has been in charge of making his or her own meals from the outset of treatment.
In conclusion, FBT has been proven to be the most effective treatment for adolescents in clinical trials. That said, not every treatment works for everyone. In my opinion, it is best to start with something that has a backing and then try something else if that doesn’t work. When you have sought out an evidence-based treatment, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the treatment in its researched form.
I’ve recently returned from the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) Conference and I’m reflecting on all I’ve learned. I’ve wanted to share and further explore Substantia Jones’ keynote, “Fat Visibility Through Photography: the Who, the How, and the Hell Yeah.”
Jones is a photographer, a “Fat Acceptance Photo-Activist,” and the proprietor of the Adipositivity Project. She started Adipositivity in 2007 to “promote the acceptance of benign human size variation and encourage discussion of body politics” by publishing images of women, men, and couples in larger bodies. Substantia is passionate about the fact that fat people don’t see a balanced representation of themselves in the media—as she says, “Humans need visibility. Positive and neutral visibility is being denied to fat people.”
So many of the media images we see of larger-bodied people portray them in negative and stereotyped ways: unkempt, unhappy, eating fast food, and often headless—as if they are ashamed to show their faces. At the same time, the range of body types provided by media images does not really represent most bodies. The media typically culls the thinnest or fittest sliver of the population, and then proceeds to photoshop the images of these bodies. According to the Body Project, “Only 5% of women have the body type (tall, genetically thin, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, long-legged and usually small-breasted) seen in almost all advertising. (When the models have large breasts, they’ve almost always had breast implants.)”
In September 2009, Glamour included a photo of Lizzie Miller, a model who is a size 12-14. The photo showed Lizzie nude and looking joyful while displaying a roll of belly fat. The response was overwhelming—American women were thrilled to see a woman who looked more like them and was happy to boot.
While this was groundbreaking, the average American woman is a size 16. So where are the images of the upper half of the weight spectrum? It should be noted that it is not only larger bodies that are marginalized; other bodies are often not portrayed in mainstream media. These include bodies that are darker-skinned, disabled, aging, and gender diverse.
It is important that people in larger bodies see images of people that look like them. It is also important for all people to broaden their aperture on what people should look like. This includes viewing images of fat people who are happy, sexy, desired, and beautiful and engaging in all the activities that make up a fulfilled life.
Those working in the field of body acceptance confirm the therapeutic value of seeing attractive images of larger-bodied people. Unfortunately, these images can still be hard to find. One must look outside of the mainstream media. With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to provide resources for beautiful, artful photos of people living in larger bodies.
During her keynote, Substantia shared photos from several of her favorite fat-positive photographers, including those that inspired her. Below I list some of the photographers she shared and where to find their photos and information about them.
The photography of Patricia Schwarz can be found in Women of Substance – Portrait and Nude Studies of Large Women, published in Japan in 1996 by The Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts. Little has been published about her aside from this article, which states that Schwarz, who belonged to the fat liberation community in the 1980s, specialized in full-color photography of fat women. The book features women posing in domestic, natural and urban settings in various stages of clothing and nudity.
Laura Aguilar is known for her photographs of people from various marginalized communities (including fat, lesbian, and Latina). She is particularly known for portraying her own nude body as a sculptural element in desert landscapes.
Leonard Nimoy (yes, that one) published The Full Body Project, a collection of black-and-white nude photos of members of a burlesque troupe called the Fat-Bottom Revue. According to Nimoy, the purpose of the book was to challenge the harmful beauty ideals promoted by Hollywood.
A blog post by The Militant Baker with some photos
Catherine Oakson was described in an obituary as a creator of “artistic self-portraits—some playful, some sensuous—and messages of body positivity.” Unfortunately, since her death, her photographs are extremely hard to find. Her website, “Cat’s House of Fun,” is only available via web archives (web.archive.org). Search for the website, http://catay.com and look at screen grabs prior to 2017
Shoog McDaniel, an artist and photographer living in Florida, was also present at the ASDAH conference, and their art was used in the conference program. Shoog was featured in this article in Teen Vogue which described them as “the photographer pushing the boundaries of queer, fat-positive photography.” Shoog states “the work that I do is about telling the stories of people who are marginalized and not usually put on the forefront, and whose lives are beautiful and important.”
Although Substantia’s presentation did not touch upon it, it’s worth mentioning Representation Matters, the world’s first website providing high-resolution, royalty-free, stock images of diverse bodies for commercial use. (The image in this post is from Representation Matters.) They specifically include larger bodies portrayed in a positive light. These photos are available for purchase.
Unfortunately, diet culture and thin privilege are alive and well, and those in larger bodies remain marginalized and excluded from most mainstream media. I hope you’ll check out these resources and come to appreciate the vast diversity of the human body. I purchased some photography books to share at my office. Together we need to work to challenge the notion that there is a best way to have a body and learn to celebrate the beauty of all bodies.
Baker, Cindy. 2013. “Aesthetic Priorities and Sociopolitical Concerns: The Fat Female Body in the Photography of Patricia Schwarz and Jennette Williams A Review of Patricia Schwarz: Women of Substance, by Patricia Schwarz, and The Bathers: Photography by Jennette Williams, by Jennette Williams.” Fat Studies 2 (1): 99–102. https://doi.org/10.1080/21604851.2012.709447.
Description: Recovery from anorexia nervosa (AN) follows an unpredictable, windy path. Rarely does it come quick; there is no single trajectory, no infallible indicators of how a treatment will play out. Opinions about the recovery process vary, depending on whose perspective is being sought. The patient—the former patient—sees it one way—but there is no guarantee that the opinions of others, therapists, partners, loved ones, will concur.
This talk addresses the question in a unique fashion. A patient: a former patient, (a doctoral level psychologist) will share her account of a treatment that unfolded over roughly twenty years.
Several points will be discussed. Importantly, the former patient will consider 1) briefly, the etiology of her illness (and we will assume a basic understanding of eating disorders here); 2) briefly, how (some) of the various treatments were directed and integrated across the multi-disciplinary teams (and throughout the years) 3) how her protests and resistances—and there were many— were met, and with what explanations 4) most importantly, looking back, what aspects of this treatment are now recalled as influential, elements seen in a positive light, elements perceived as detrimental.
Perhaps most important for the purposes of this discussion is the concept of the “power struggle” – that all too familiar war our patients learn over years of treatment with us to get into with themselves which then becomes acted out with their caregivers. How can we as treaters do better at not engaging, and shift the power and responsibility back into their hands?
Namely, how can we teach them that if they are to get well, it will be because they choose to get well? How do we teach them that they “win” nothing by restricting their snack for an evening or vomiting their dinner because they feel hurt over something we as clinicians might have said or done to them? These are complicated constructs, but not impossible ones, and by using Dr. Azoff’s past as a case vignette, we might be able to chisel away at some of the answers.
Bio: Jaye Azoff, Psy.D., has been practicing in the fields of clinical psychology and neuropsychology since 2008, when she graduated from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, where she trained under the Health Emphasis Track. Dr. Azoff did most of her field training at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Keck School of Medicine, where she practiced in the hematology/oncology neural tumors unit and trained in many roles over nearly eight years, eventually advancing to become the team’s neuropsychology fellow. It was Dr. Azoff’s own recovery from an eating disorder that propelled her forward and launched her into the eating disorders field. Currently, she is an eating disorders consultant, and she is the owner and operator of Basik Concierge, the world’s only boutique concierge firm offering wraparound services for individuals with eating disorders and their families. She is also the In-House Clinical Consultant for the Kantor and Kantor law firm, which fervently works to attain treatment for individuals with eating disorders struggling to gain access to care. Dr. Azoff is a past board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition. She is a sought-after speaker, having formally addressed the United States Congress in the Spring of 2013, and travels nationally to speak to patients and families affected by eating disorders, as well as delivers in-services to clinicians and other individuals eager to learn about various topics related to eating disorders.
Location: The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)
Recently, I went to visit my grandmother, who is almost 103 years old. She was complaining of leg pain. She asked me to help her put on her shoes. I tried really hard. But in her sweltering apartment (she can’t stand any temperature below 80), I was sweating and the shoes were not going on. I had visions of Cinderella’s stepsister needing to cut off her heels to get her feet into her shoes.
Nana has edema—swelling in the lower part of her legs—because she has been sitting in a wheelchair a lot lately. She is quite fashionable and still loves to get dressed up every day. But no shoes were fitting.
I had to nearly drag her, but I convinced her to go shoe shopping with me. When we went to the shoe warehouse, we pushed her in her wheelchair but brought along her walker as well. Nana has always worn a size 7, but we could not fit her into any shoes smaller than an 8.5 or 9! We tried on one pair of gold shoes —Size 9. Finally, we were finding some shoes that fit.
Nana loved them. And she found them comfortable. The woman who had insisted on wheelchairing everywhere, refusing to walk, suddenly started walking with her walker and refused to stop! She was not taking off those shoes and she was not going to ride in the wheelchair again. Suddenly, Nana was transformed. Not only was she comfortable, but she felt stylish.
Why am I telling this story? Often when I am working with patients of any size who have eating disorders, they may have gained weight from a previous lower weight that the eating disorder was an attempt to maintain. People often experience a sense of failure and surprise when their clothing size goes up a level, just like Nana did. This is no surprise: our culture overvalues thinness. But continuing to wear too small clothing is uncomfortable physically and mentally.
People often have a lot of reasons for not shopping for larger clothing —they worry they will be unable to handle the anxiety and sense of failure, and they also don’t want to spend the money on a larger size. I had to help Nana face this. She didn’t totally understand why her shoes didn’t fit, she felt disappointed, and she definitely didn’t want to spend any money. But boy, after she got those shoes on, she felt so much better!
My patients tell me the same thing —once they have clothes that fit well and are stylish, they feel more able to face the world, and getting dressed each morning is no longer an occasion for self-deprecation.
Bodies age and change in ways that we can’t control. We need to accept that. My advice is always to buy a few things that fit you well and help you to feel great and put the other clothes out of sight for now.
And when I spoke to Nana last week, she let me know how much she was loving her gold shoes and walking more again!
I understand your fears. I get it. You want the best for your loved one. You want him or her to have the best and healthiest and fullest life possible. I do too.
You believe that helping your loved one to lose weight will help achieve these goals. Here, I disagree—I will explain below.
You believe that weight loss will lead to better health. You have heard the scary information about the dangers of obesity and know there is an all-out war on obesity. Or you have seen or heard your loved one ridiculed or judged negatively by peers because they didn’t conform to a certain size.
Calorie restriction also leads to changes in thinking and attention that causes dieters to become preferentially focused on food?
Dieting contributes to eating disorders, weight cycling, and weight gain more often than it succeeds?
Many of the medical problems attributed to obesity are correlational at best, and might be better explained instead by weight stigma and the social pressures experienced by people in larger bodies?
I have been working in the field of eating disorders since my training at a bulimia research lab in 1991. When I first learned to treat binge-eating disorder, a course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for binge eating was expected to be followed by a course of behavioral weight loss. However, since that time we have learned that behavioral weight loss doesn’t work. And while CBT for binge-eating disorder can be successful, it rarely leads to significant weight loss, even among those considered to be in an “overweight” weight category. However, CBT does lead to cessation of binge eating and prevention of further weight gain, which are lofty goals in their own right.
I firmly believe that bodies are meant to come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We are not all meant to be Size 0 or 2 or 4.
Take shoe size: while the average woman today has an 8 shoe size, most do not—some will have size 5 and others will have size 10. Shoe size has a normal distribution within the population.
Just as with shoe size, so it is with body weight. Every body appears to have a set point, a weight at which it functions optimally. This set point is not destined to be at the 50th percentile for every person—some will be heavier and some will lighter. Repeated attempts at dieting seem to increase a body’s setpoint, which is the opposite of what most dieters are trying to achieve.
I no longer support attempts at deliberate weight loss because I have come to believe it is not only fruitless but in fact harmful. Every day in my practice I witness the destruction left by the war on obesity and failed diet attempts. I see the carnage of past dieting, weight regain, shame and self-loathing in the form of disordered eating and intractable eating disorders. Against this backdrop, I believe that above all else, my duty to your family member is to not harm them.
There is no magic solution. Failing to fit the thin mold can be a burden. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have your loved one’s body transform into one that would not be stigmatized, would be celebrated, and would fit into all spaces. But I can’t change your loved one’s genetic body destiny, just as I can’t change any person’s ethnic background or skin color to conform to the privileged group. And I believe the solution is not to change your loved one’s body to conform—the solution is to fight to end weight stigma and the oppression of larger bodies.
Here’s what I can do:
I can help your loved one recover from an eating disorder, using evidence-based treatments backed by scientific research.
I can help your loved one work on accepting and appreciating their body and all its capabilities.
I can help your loved one unfetter themselves from self-imposed rules and restrictions and live a fuller life.
I can help your loved unburden themselves from shame and self-loathing.
I can help your loved one to advocate for themselves if he or she needs accommodations from a world that was not built to accommodate his or her body.
I can help your loved one learn to stand up to weight stigma and bullying.
I can help your loved one request and receive respectful health care.
I can help your loved one improve their relationship with food so that eating and social situations are enjoyable.
I can help your loved one achieve peace.
If you want these things for your loved one, please let me do what I was hired to do—guide your loved one to healthiest, best, and fullest life possible. Please examine the basis of your own hope that your loved one will conform to the thin standard. While I know this comes from a good place, it’s not pointing to the right destination. There are happier places to land. There is much work to be done. We all have weight stigma.
To learn more, I suggest reading the following articles:
Title: Men Struggle, Too: My Journey with Binge Eating Disorder
Description: Description: I’m often asked what’s it like being a guy with Binge-Eating Disorder. It’s sad but true, many view eating disorders as female illnesses. Why is there so much shame about being a guy with an eating disorder? Why did it take so long for me to get diagnosed? Come join me to find out what it’s really like being a guy with Binge Eating Disorder. I will share my story and give you insights into working with males with eating disorders. Here’s a recent article.
Bio: Ryan Sheldon, founder of the blog Mr. Confessions formerly Confessions Of A Binge Eater, a blog he created to not only document his body image and eating disorder struggles but also to promote self love. He is proud to be a much-needed voice for men whose struggles all too often are neglected, while encouraging them to reach out for professional help. Ryan is currently working on a book and has a self-love Instagram account @BingeEaterConfessions
Location: The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)
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Family-based treatment (FBT) is a relatively new evidence-based treatment for adolescent eating disorders. It represents a paradigm shift from older treatments that focused on helping adolescents become independent from parents in order to recover from their eating disorder. In FBT, parents are central members of the treatment team and they are charged with guiding and changing their adolescent’s eating disorder behaviors. In FBT, the therapist meets weekly with the entire family, spending only about 5 minutes alone with the adolescent at the start of each session. It is designed as a standalone treatment. The adolescent is also followed by a medical doctor, but does not have additional appointments with a therapist or a dietitian.
Symptoms of depression and low self-esteem are common in adolescents with bulimia nervosa. One of the many concerns that I hear from parents considering Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for their child with anorexia or bulimia is that FBT won’t address other symptoms the child may have like depression or anxiety. Furthermore, families who are receiving FBT often feel pressured to add additional treatments such as individual psychotherapy for their adolescents to address these other issues. Even other non-FBT clinicians continue to be incredulous that adolescents can improve without other treatment. Fortunately, Cara Bohon, Ph.D. and colleagues at Stanford University recently published a paper that addresses this concern for adolescents with bulimia nervosa.
In their study, 110 adolescents with bulimia nervosa from two sites were randomly assigned to receive either individual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for adolescents or FBT. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is the most successful treatment for adults with eating disorders, focuses on understanding the factors maintaining the bulimia symptoms and developing strategies to challenge problematic thoughts and change behaviors. The therapist meets weekly with the adolescent. The two treatments are of comparable lengths.
Results showed that both FBT and CBT significantly reduced symptoms of depression and improved self-esteem. Previous papers suggest that abstinence from eating disorder symptoms occurs faster in FBT when compared with CBT for adolescents with bulimia nervosa. Thus, FBT may be a better option in many cases.
It is important to dispel parents’ fears that FBT will not adequately address depression and self-esteem. The authors state in the paper, “This concern can subsequently steer families away from an evidence‐supported approach in favor of therapies that may not be as successful in reducing binge eating and purging.”
In fact, the researchers point out that it may be that the cycles of binge eating and purging of bulimia serve to maintain depressive symptoms and poor self-esteem. Thus, one may not need a treatment that directly targets depression.
Dr. Bohon stated, “The reason we conducted this study is because comorbid depression is the norm with bulimia nervosa, and it was important to establish that you don’t automatically need any extra treatment to see improvement in the context of FBT. Obviously, if someone is still struggling after completing FBT, a referral for CBT for depression or another evidence-based treatment would be important, but it is likely not needed for most individuals.”