Recovery When Grieving by Carolyn Hersh, LCSW

Grief and Eating Disorder Recovery On May 8th, 2017 my mother died due to complications from cancer. It was an unexpected death. I still cannot believe she died. My mom was diagnosed in January and passed away in May. She had gone to the hospital for trouble breathing and never left.

I can clearly remember going back to my childhood home and seeing her sneakers in her room waiting for her to return to them. I cried so hard seeing everything she had touched just days before but left, never to feel her embrace again. I was one of those things she left.

It’s been more than a year now since I lost my mom. It was a year that tested me in so many ways: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. One thing I had to face was how my eating disorder and my longstanding recovery would play out through the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

I have my own history of emotional eating and bulimia nervosa. It started at a young age. Whenever I was sad as a child my mom’s solution to cheer me up was a trip to the bakery for a giant cookie. My emotional eating and my hatred of being the larger kid was just one of many factors that led me to a path of destructive behaviors of binging, purging, and restricting.

I’ve been through enough therapy and treatment that I am able to recognize moments when I find myself starting to eat mindlessly. I check in with what emotions or events are going on. I have, for the most part, overcome being an emotional eater. But, then I was hit with an intensity of emotions that I had never felt before. The seven stages of grief are very real and I definitely went through and felt each of them.

My anger, my sadness, my pleading to bring my mom back, to having brief moments of acceptance washed over me on a daily basis. My sadness felt like someone placed a brick on top of my heart. Trying to breathe became difficult at times. I was angry, intensely angry, at cancer, the doctors, the hospital, at God, at my mother, and at myself. We hear so often how eating disorders fester when we feel a loss of control. Losing my mother was the ultimate reminder “you have absolutely no control over this.”

In the early weeks and even months of living in a world where my mother no longer existed, I wanted comfort and distraction. I wanted food. I wanted alcohol. I wanted anything that would take this pain away. And in those moments of pure sadness, I consumed. I knew full well this wasn’t the way to handle my emotions. I decided I need to reach out to my dietitian because yes, even professionals need tune-ups. I remember sitting in my dietitian’s office crying because I gained weight and was feeling out of control with my body and my feelings. I quickly felt hypocritical as an advocate for all bodies are beautiful and guilty because a weight gain should not be something I should be crying about. I lost my mother. Worse things have occurred other than gaining a few pounds. My dietitian reminded me that I know how to eat and that my body will go back to where it should be when I honor my hunger and satiety cues. But, then she shocked me by saying, “Carolyn, maybe you needed to allow yourself to binge in those moments. So it happened. You binged. It’s done. Now, go back to your real coping skills.”

My dietitian gave me permission to accept my binges. She demonstrated compassion for me when I had no self-compassion. She was right. Sometimes we have to be okay with where we are at. My dietitian did not give me the green light to revert back to maladaptive behaviors. She pushed me back on a path of not beating myself up during a time where the last thing I needed was to hurt myself more.

So, how do you manage recovery in a time of grief?

  • Don’t go back to your eating disorder. Just don’t. You know it won’t help and when you are feeling low why make yourself feel lower? But, if you skip a meal or eat a few extra cookies just know that it is not a relapse. I do not consider my binging moments a relapse. They happened. I engaged and then I stepped away. Be gentle toward yourself and give yourself permission to say “It’s okay it happened. Now, what can I do to get back to my recovery?”
  • Go back to your coping skills. Maybe I could have engaged in binging and purging. Maybe I could have thrown my hands in the air and said: “what’s the point?” But I didn’t. In all honesty, I knew this wasn’t something I wanted. So, I made a list of things for me to do to help me through those really tough moments. I took time off from work and went figure skating with friends. The ice was always a very therapeutic place for me, and just being able to feel that cold air whip across my face me feel happy. I spent time journaling, cuddling with my dog, and reaching out to friends and family when I needed to talk. I began nightly walks with one of my girlfriends where we had heart to hearts. I made self-care a priority. You have to. The small lapses that I fell into never once trumped the real self-care that I was doing for myself. If I had beaten myself up for binges and weight gain then it could have sent me on that spiral back to a full relapse. Self-care may mean forgiving yourself for your lapses. Forgiving myself helped me continue to move forward.
  • Death really sucks. Losing someone you love is painful. It can be a torturous pain. There is no way around that. Losing my mother and thinking about her still to this very moment makes my stomach twist, my heart pound, and my eyes water. There will be bad days. I use a lot of radical acceptance in my grief where I acknowledge this is how it is and I have to figure out now how I continue to live in a world where my mom isn’t calling me. It’s hard to do. Believe me, there are days I do not want to accept this, but if I have to pull from my DBT workbook, acting the opposite is what gets me through the rough days. I don’t want to accept my mother is gone, but that is the reality. I do not, however, have to forget her and how she has impacted my life.
  • It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you are feeling and it is okay if those feelings come and go in minutes or if they last for days. There is no wrong way to grieve. During my grief I went to Nashville for a vacation, I would go out on weekends with friends and laugh, and I eventually moved to California. I managed to feel happy on some holidays and cried on others. I did not stop living, but I allowed for my grief to take space in my life.

In the end, going back to my eating disorder would just have caused more chaos in an already chaotic time in my life. I know it won’t give me control, it won’t make me happy, and it certainly will not bring my mother back. I have this blue butterfly pendant necklace my mom bought me before I went into an intensive outpatient program. It gave me strength then and I wear it now to continue to remind myself that my mother was every bit a part of my recovery and is every bit still a part of me. Now, why would I want to throw all that away?

Carolyn Hersh is available to see patients with eating disorders and has Saturday hours. Contact us for more information. 323-743-1122 or lmuhlheim@eatingdisordertherapyla.com 

This Halloween, Serve Candy to Your Teen in Recovery

A Family-Based Treatment (FBT)-approach

Fear FoodFor 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.

Exposure

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. If your teen binges or purges, make sure to sit with them for an hour after they eat the candy.
  5. 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!

Is the (Eating Disorder) Treatment Your Child is Getting FBT?

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 received training through the Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders.
    • The basic training is a 2-day workshop. Have they attended one?
    • Have they received or are they receiving clinical consultation or supervision by a staff member of the institute?
    • Are they certified in FBT by the Training Institute (meaning they have completed the 2-day training and received 25 hours of consultation by a staff member around their treatment of 5 patients)?
  • My therapist owns, seems familiar with, and refers to the FBT treatment manual.
  • 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.
  • I have had a family meal at the therapist’s office.
  • 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.

Summary

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.

Family-Based Treatment Can Help Depression and Self-Esteem Too!

FBT Depression and Self-Esteem

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.”

Source

Valenzuela, Fabiola, James Lock, Daniel Le Grange, and Cara Bohon. 2018. “Comorbid Depressive Symptoms and Self-Esteem Improve after Either Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy or Family-Based Treatment for Adolescent Bulimia Nervosa.” European Eating Disorders Review: The Journal of the Eating Disorders Association26 (3): 253–58. https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.2582.

A More Diverse Eating Disorder Film

Eating Disorder film Tchaiko Omawale
with Tchaiko

In the wake of the premiere on Netflix of another eating disorder film, my friend, JD Ouellette, reminded me that the frustration over another stereotypical narrative about eating disorders could provide an opportunity. At the NEDA Conference in 2014, both JD and I (as well as many other attendees) were impressed by Tchaiko Omawale’s sharing of her inspiring story of recovery on the Friends and Family Panel. Later, we learned about her work (writing, directing, and producing) on Solace, a coming of age feature film inspired by Tchaiko’s journey with an eating disorder and self-harm. In April, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser for Solace and preview a scene. I spoke about the need for more films, stories, and images of people from diverse backgrounds with eating disorders, reading some parts of this article.

Eating Disorder film presentation
Speaking at the fundraiser

As summarized in Truth #5 of the collaborative consensus document, the Nine Truths, “Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.” When I work with people of diverse backgrounds, they consistently tell me they are frustrated that mainstream eating disorder narratives do not portray people who resemble them. Not only the popular media — television, film, print articles, online publications — but even the marketing materials of many eating disorder treatment centers continue to depict eating disorder sufferers mostly as the common stereotype: female, white, and thin.

To those interested in supporting a film that doesn’t reinforce stereotypes, Tchaiko Omawale has made such a film. She needs additional funding to complete the film, which is in post-production. Visit Solace Film page to learn more and, if you are so inclined, join me in supporting this important project. She has a donation page.

Eating Disorder film Tchaiko Omawale and cast
Tchaiko speaking with cast members on her right

2017 Spring LACPA Eating Disorder SIG Open (to non-LACPA members) events

Michael Levine, Ph.D., FAED Date: Tuesday, March 7 at 7:30 pm.

Title: Thinking Critically and Cautiously About the Phrase “Eating Disorders Are Biologically-Based Mental Illnesses

Presenter:  Michael Levine, Ph.D., FAED

Description: It has become a foundational “truth” among many clinicians, researchers, patients, family members, and advocates that, in accordance with the 2009 position statement of the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), eating disorders are “biologically-based mental illnesses.” In fact, number 4 of the AED’s “Nine Truths about Eating Disorders” is “Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.”

Dr. Michael Levine has for many years studied sociocultural factors and their relationship to the prevention of eating disorders and disordered eating. In this talk, Levine offers a critical evaluation of this contention, in so far as one meaning of “critical” is “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation” (Mirriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary; www.m-w.com).

Levine begins by addressing important general concepts, such as “illness” and “biologically-based,” as well as “scientific,” “evidence-based,” and “risk factor.” This sets the stage for a description of the Biopsychiatric/Neuroscientific paradigm in the eating disorders field. He will then consider the evidence for “biological causes” in the development of eating disorders, and its implications for two important challenges in the field: prevention and talking with patients, families, and the media. Throughout his presentation, Levine will compare and contrast the Biopsychiatric/Neuroscientific paradigm with the Sociocultural paradigm. Thus, his concluding remarks will consider what if anything is gained (and/or lost) by applying phrases such as “biopsychosocial” and “gene-environment interactions.”

Bio: Michael P. Levine, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he taught 33 years (1979-2012). In the field of eating disorders, his commitment to research, writing, and activism focuses on the intersection between sociocultural risk factors, prevention, community psychology, and developmental psychology. He has authored two books and three prevention curriculum guides, and he has co-edited three books on prevention. In August 2015, as co-editor with his long-time collaborator and colleague Dr. Linda Smolak, he published a two-volume Handbook of Eating Disorders (Wiley & Sons Publishing). He and Dr. Smolak are currently working on a second, updated edition of their 2006 book The Prevention of Eating Problems and Eating Disorders (Erlbaum/Routledge/Taylor & Francis). In addition, he has authored or co-authored approximately 110 articles and book chapters, and he has presented his work throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Spain, Austria, and Australia. He is a member of the advisory councils of The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the Center for Study of Anorexia and Bulimia (CSAB, NY), the Center for Balanced Living (CBL, Columbus, Ohio) and Monte Nido & Affiliates—Eating Disorder Treatment Centers.

Dr. Levine is a Fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), which has awarded him their Meehan-Hartley Award for Leadership in Public Awareness and Advocacy (2006), and their Research-Practice Partnership Award (2008). Dr. Levine is also a member of the Founders Council of the National Eating Disorders Association, which awarded him the Lori Irving Award for Excellence in Eating Disorders Prevention and Awareness (2004) and the Nielsen Award for Lifetime Achievement (2013). After living for 37 years in Mount Vernon, OH, with his wife, Dr. Mary A. Suydam, a retired (as of May 2015) Kenyon religious studies and women and gender studies professor, they moved to California in late June 2016, to live near UC Santa Barbara, where they both obtained all their degrees.

Location: The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

RSVP to: drmuhlheim@gmail.com

March and April SIG meetings are open to all professionals.   During other months SIG meetings are open to all LACPA members.  Non-members wishing to attend may join LACPA by visiting our website www.lapsych.org


Date: Thursday, April 20 at 7:30 pm.

Title: Medical Complications of Eating Disorders

Presenter:  Margherita Mascolo, MD, ACUTE Medical Director

Description:  Dr. Mascolo is the medical director of ACUTE. She will discuss the medical complications of severe restricting as well as purging. The presentation will include a broad review of the pathophysiology of starvation as well as the organ systems affected. There will be case-based discussion and presentation based on real patients seen on the ACUTE unit. Target audience is mental health professionals, dietitians, and allied professionals who need a broad understanding of the medical complications of restricting and purging.

Bio: Dr. Mascolo is the Medical Director at the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders at Denver Health, where she has been a member of the ACUTE team since its beginning in 2008. She has trained under Dr. Philip S. Mehler for the past 8 years to become one of the country’s leading experts in the medical care of patients with severe eating disorders and served as Associate Medical Director under Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani for the past 3 years.

Dr. Mascolo completed her undergraduate work at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas and earned her medical degree at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. She is board certified in Internal Medicine, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Colorado. Dr. Mascolo has published multiple peer-reviewed articles on the medical complications of eating disorders and is currently working to complete her Certified Eating Disorder Specialist certification.

Location: The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

RSVP to: drmuhlheim@gmail.com

March and April SIG meetings are open to all professionals.   During other months SIG meetings are open to all LACPA members.  Non-members wishing to attend may join LACPA by visiting our website www.lapsych.org

December 2016 LACPA Eating Disorder SIG

Shannon-Kopp-Headshot-e1444137530220Date: Wednesday, December 7 at 7:30 pm (Note: new date)

Presenter: Shannon Kopp – Author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life (HarperCollins Publishers) and Founder of SoulPaws Recovery Project.

Title: The Healing Power of the Paw: How Animals Can Play a Vital Role in Eating Disorder Recovery

With the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and afflicting up to 30 million people in America, eating disorders can have heartbreaking consequences. For eight years, Shannon Kopp battled the silent, horrific, and all-too-common disease of bulimia. Despite a near decade of weekly therapy, medication, loving support from family, and a hospitalization and rehab stay at Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders, she continued to grow progressively sicker.

Then, at twenty-four, she began working with shelter dogs at the San Diego Humane Society, where she felt a deep sense of calm and comfort around the animals. Gradually over time, when Shannon wrestled with anxiety, she began turning to the loving presence of a dog (rather than to the eating disorder). A dog’s ability to live in the present moment helped to pull her out of her head and back down to earth. The dogs grounded her, and they created a vital sense of emotional security.

Shannon adopted a dog and began bringing her dog with her to therapy, and soon, Shannon was sharing on a deeper and more honest level than ever before. This marked the beginning of her eating disorder recovery—she will celebrate seven years free from bulimia on August 28th.

Research on the human-animal bond (known as Anthrozoology) has increased steadily over the years. Studies have shown that the presence of an animal may decrease stress levels by lowering blood pressure and creating a sense of general well-being—for the both human and animal!

Today, Shannon offers free animal therapy—SoulPaws Workshops— to those suffering from eating disorders in her community. (Learn More About SoulPaws Workshops Here: http://shannonkopp.com/workshops/)

Location: The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

Bio – Shannon Kopp is an eating disorder survivor, animal welfare advocate, and the best-selling author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life (HarperCollins Publishers). She is also the founder of SoulPaws Recovery Project, offering free animal therapy to those suffering from eating disorders. Shannon’s story has been featured on CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, Salon, NPR and more. www.shannonkopp.com

http://www.harpercollinsspeakersbureau.com/speaker/shannon-kopp/

RSVP to: drmuhlheim@gmail.com

SIG meetings are open to all LACPA members. Nonmembers wishing to attend may join LACPA by visiting our website www.lapsych.org

A most misguided device

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To the long list of desperate and dangerous weight loss products, we can now add the AspireAssist, sadly approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week. The device is marketed as a “minimally invasive” and “reversible” weight loss “solution” for “people with obesity.” Essentially, an aspiration tube is inserted into the patient’s stomach so that the patient can, after eating, empty the contents of their stomach into the toilet by pressing a button on the device. To critics such as me, this device sounds a lot like a bulimia machine.

The AspireAssist has been through limited research; potential negative consequences remain unknown. It represents yet another example of how larger people are stigmatized and then preyed upon by manufacturers (abetted by the US government) who reinforce the belief that their bodies are inadequate and sell them various misguided products to help them attain the thin ideal. These dangerous products range from medications (remember phen/fen?) to surgeries, and now a device to empty one’s stomach.

Dagan Vandemark, Program and Policy Coordinator of Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders, stated, “This is a medicalized, surgicalized imposition of bulimia on higher-weight bodies, telling folks that having an eating disorder is better than being fat.” Bariatric surgery is often touted as the solution to obesity. And yet, I have seen clients post-bariatric surgery who were no better off.

A number of compensatory behaviors, including vomiting, exercising, and laxative use, can qualify one for a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). The only difference between these behaviors and the Aspire Assist is that the latter is medically prescribed.

Psychologist Deb Burgard has eloquently made the case that the behaviors society prescribes to help large patients lose weight are those same behaviors we diagnose as an eating disorder in lower weight patients. The Aspire Assist goes one step further by mechanizing bulimia nervosa. This device has a potential for the same kinds of weight loss abuse as do laxatives and diabetes medications.

The FDA press release lists among the potential side effects of the AspireAssist “occasional indigestion, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.” The endoscopic surgical procedure to insert the tube includes potential problems ranging from a sore throat, bleeding, pneumonia, unintended puncture of the stomach, and death. Risks related to the stomach opening include infection and bleeding.

As someone who has treated patients with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder for many years, this concerns me greatly. Helping clients to stop purging when it involves a behavior as unpleasant as vomiting is difficult enough. The leverage clinicians use to help people stop purging involves the individual’s own shame and disgust as well as negative health consequences. It is appalling that we now have a device that makes it easier (and permissible) for people to remove food from their stomachs.

Additionally, to help clients break a bulimia cycle, clinicians help clients employ strategies to stop restricting and purging. Bingeing is often the hardest behavior to change. Clients who continue to purge give themselves permission to engage in bigger binges. The thinking is, “Since I am going to purge anyway, I’m going to go ahead and eat more and then get rid of it.” An important intervention is for clients to remove purging as an option; this makes binges easier to modify. Outfitting clients with a no-fuss purge device will only encourage more binge eating.

Eating disorders occur commonly enough; there is a shortage of adequately trained professionals to treat the current number of patients with eating disorders. Let’s not make the problem worse by inducing eating disorders in even more patients.

We need to stop preying on and oppressing people in larger bodies and leading them to believe they are a problem to be fixed. We need to stop subjecting them to insane procedures in an effort to conform to an unnecessary standard. No treatment for obesity has been shown to work long term. We need as a society to accept that people come in all shapes and sizes.

April and May 2016 LACPA Eating Disorder SIG events

Please join us:  

Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 PM

During April all LACPA Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Clubs are available to non-members as a way of introducing them to some of the many FREE benefits of LACPA membership.

Presenter:  Lyn Goldring, RN, Director of Nursing, Monte Nido and Affiliates

Title:  Medical Complications in Eating Disorder Treatment

Description:  Eating disorders affect every system of the body. The physical consequences of severe food behaviors often go unseen because the body is highly adaptive. Developing an adequate “medical tool kit”allows clinicians and health care providers know what questions to ask and what physical test should be done to evaluate the severity of the Eating Disorder. With wisdom and humor, Lyn gives practical advice on understanding and addressing medical issues in a non-medical setting.

Location:  The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

Bio:  Lyn practiced her nursing skills all over the world before finding her way to Monte Nido. Withconsistent compassion she helped to create our current nursing program, managing the well being of our clients’ and a team of nurses at both houses. Lyn’s wisdom and British wit are an essential element of our program, while clients find a safe haven in her kindness.

RSVP to:  drmuhlheim@gmail.com

In an effort to reach out to our community, LACPA is opening up SIGs to nonmembers for a limited time only. Take advantage of this opportunity and encourage your colleagues to attend a SIG during APRIL to experience one of the many benefits of being a LACPA member. In accordance with current policy, non-members will NOT be allowed to attend SIGs during any other months of the year.

Tuesday, May 10 at 7:30 PM

Presenter:  A. Janet Tomiyama, Ph.D., Assistant Professor,Department of Psychology, UCLA, Director, UCLA Dieting, Stress, and Health Laboratory www.dishlab.org

Title:  Dieting, stress, and weight stigma

Description:  Does dieting work to promote long-term weight loss and health? This talk will discuss evidence suggesting the answer is no, and will cover the potential negative consequences of dieting, including stress. Further research on stress and its effects on comfort eating will be presented, as well as novel research on weight stigma and its negative effects on eating, stress, and long-term weight gain.

Location:  The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

Bio:  A. Janet Tomiyama, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her B.A. in Psychology in 2001 from Cornell University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology with concentrations in Health and Quantitative Psychology in 2009 from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2011, she completed a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar Fellowship jointly at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco. Her research centers around eating, dieting, stress, and weight stigma.  She is one of the leading researchers demonstrating the flaws of BMI as an indicator of health. http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ijo201617a.html

RSVP to:   drmuhlheim@gmail.com

May event is only open to LACPA members.

Five Reasons Parents Should be Included in the Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Eating Disorders

I had the honor of presenting a workshop yesterday along with Therese Waterhous, PhD/RDN, CEDRD. and Lisa LaBorde, Outreach Director for Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (FEAST) at the IAEDP Symposium 2016. Our workshop was entitled, From “Worst Attendants” to Partners in Recovery: Empowering Parents as Agents of Change for Children and Adolescents with Eating Disorders.

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A growing body of scientific research demonstrates that parents and caregivers can be a powerful support for a child in recovery from an eating disorder. This model of care is a radical shift from the traditional individually focused therapeutic approach and requires significant changes in how patients and families are treated within a clinical practice.

During my section of the presentation, I presented Five Reasons to Include Parents in treatment for youngsters with eating disorders. I share them here:

  1. The reason to exclude parents was based on theories that have now been debunked.

In the late 1800s Gull suggested that families were “the worst attendants” for their children with anorexia nervosa, and this set the tone for many years. More recent perpetrators of this viewpoint were Hilda Bruch and Salvador Minuchin. In the historical treatment of eating disorders, parents were blamed and the children were taken away to be fixed by professionals. When ultimately sent back home, parents were told, “Step back,” “Don’t get into a battle for independence, “ and “Don’t be the food police.”

These practices were based on early theoretical models for eating disorders that have not been supported by empirical studies. Research has not been able to identify any particular family pattern that contributes to a child’s eating disorder.

  1. Best practices now state to include parents (and not blame them).

As the following clinical guidelines demonstrate, it is no longer the appropriate standard of care to exclude families from treatment.

The Academy for Eating Disorders’ position paper on The Role of the Family in Eating Disorders:

  • The AED stands firmly against any model of eating disorders in which family influences are seen as the primary cause of eating disorders, condemns statements that blame families for their child’s illness, and recommends that families be included in the treatment of younger patients, unless this is clearly ill advised on clinical grounds. 

The Nine Truths About Eating Disorders consensus document, produced in collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Bulik, PhD, FAED states:

  • Truth #2: Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) Guidelines for Eating Disorders also advises:

  • For children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa, family involvement and treatment are essential. For older patients, family assessment and involvement may be useful and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. (p.12)
  1. Research shows better and faster results when parents are included in mental health treatment for their children.

Randomized controlled trials of adolescents with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa show that adolescents who receive family-based treatment, in which parents play a central role, achieve higher rates of recovery and recover faster than adolescents who receive individual adolescent focused therapy. This result is consistent with findings for other psychological disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (improved outcome is found when families are included in treatment) and schizophrenia (a large scale study found greater improvement when treatment included family education and support as part of more comprehensive care).

  1. Parents are often good allies in fighting eating disorders.

On the one hand, patients with eating disorders (and especially younger patients) are often significantly impacted by malnutrition. Research shows they commonly have a decrease in brain grey matter, cognitive deficits and anosognosia—a lack of awareness that they are ill. Recovering on one’s own is commonly difficult for an adolescent whose brain is not fully developed and may lack the cognitive ability to challenge negative thoughts, change behavior patterns, and resist urges. Furthermore, they commonly lack the independence adult clients have to purchase and prepare their own food.

On the other hand, parents are there to take care of their children. They can do the heavy lifting. They can be authoritative and require children to eat. It can be difficult for a therapist to develop rapport with a reluctant and resistant adolescent; it is much easier for a therapist to develop a therapeutic alliance with the parents who do want their child to recover. In situations where there are multiple treatment providers, parents can help with the communication between team members as they will likely be seeing them all. Lastly, parents typically buy the food for the household so they have the ability to execute the meal plan.

Eating disorders often take years, not months, to fully resolve. There will rarely be a scenario in which a patient leaves home for a residential setting and comes home “cured.” The reality is that any treatment is only the first stop on the road to recovery–full recovery takes sustained full nutrition and cessation of behaviors for an extended time period and the family, in many cases, can help that happen. So whatever treatment model is used, FBT principles and training are vitally important for families.

  1. Parents are powerful.

In the past, mental health treatment was primarily private; the internet has changed that. Parent support and activist groups such as FEAST, Eating Disorder Parent Support (EDPS), March Against Eating Disorders, International Eating Disorder Action,and Mothers Against Eating Disorders have connected parents, given them access to scientific information that was not available to parents pre-internet, and given them the tools to organize. Social media has increased the pace of this information. Parents have access to evidence-based information and are demanding treatment that aligns with it. If they are shut out from treatment, they will hear from other parents that this is problematic. They may change providers if they are dissatisfied with the treatment their child is receiving

There is no greater love than the love of a parent for their child. To work with parents and empower them to help their children get well is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.