Archive for May, 2019

Betsy’s Journey

Betsy Guest Blog Photo

*This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts or behaviors. Please use your discretion and speak with your support system as needed.

Betsy Brenner is a lawyer, married mother of three, tennis coach, and bereavement group leader and in Barrington, Rhode Island. She is passionate about her role as a recovery speaker and has shared her story at treatment centers in the Boston area. Betsy co-leads an eating disorder support group and mentors women who are struggling with mid-life eating disorders.

There are many factors that propelled me into a full-blown eating disorder in my mid-forties.  The first significant event was my parents’ divorce when I was 7 years old.  It shattered the innocence of my early childhood and began years of internalizing any and all difficult emotions.  My Mom continued as if nothing had happened.  I had no opportunity to talk about the divorce or its impact, no place for tears, sadness or anger, no place for feelings of any kind.

There is no doubt that my Mom loved me and I am very grateful for many happy childhood memories, but her suppressed emotions and undiagnosed mental health issues made her moody, rigid, and controlling.  Even with food, she controlled what I ate, when I ate and how much I ate.  I never learned intuitive eating.

I grew up feeling that the only way to make my Mom happy was to achieve success in the classroom and on the tennis court.  I felt so much pressure to meet her expectations of perfection so that she would be proud of me.  There was no place for questioning her ways or expressing my own needs and emotions.  While my tennis success was an important source of self-esteem, the tennis court became my sanctuary, my escape from the emotions inside I was unable to express.

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Staff Spotlight, Caleb Kaihoi

Caleb Kaihoi Staff Spotlight

TEP: Tell us about yourself!

Caleb: I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Site Director at the St. Paul, Como Avenue location, which is an adult outpatient clinic. I have been at the Como location for almost a year and I previously was the Site Director at the Anna Westin House for Adolescents and Young Adults for two years. Prior to that, I was a Therapist at the Anna Westin house for two years. Outside of work, I spend my time with my wife and two daughters. I like to spend time outside playing with the girls, golfing, or working on outdoor projects. Other interests include listening to music, completing house projects, spending time with family and watching sports, especially Gophers basketball, volleyball, and the Minnesota Twins.

TEP: Why did you choose to work for The Emily Program?

Caleb: I chose to work for the Emily Program because I wanted to join an organization that strives to be the best at what they do, in this case, the best at treating eating disorders. I believe strongly in the mission of The Emily Program and the values that it upholds. I feel very fortunate to work with amazing colleagues and fantastic clients.

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How do Eating Disorders Present in Males?

Doctor writing on clipboard

As a field, we are beginning to understand that males are at a high-risk for eating disorders and that it is crucial to understand how males present with eating disorders and how we can treat them. Realizing that men have eating disorders is extraordinarily important. Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening and unfortunately, they are often overlooked and trivialized.

The reality of the eating disorder world is that the diagnoses of eating disorders have historically been based on women. Studies to define what eating disorders are have been done primarily with women. The criteria used to describe eating disorders has been normed to women. The professional field is primarily women and treatment is often designed with a gender bias.  However, we are very aware that men can get eating disorders and that more men are presenting with symptoms and entering treatment. As a result, we have a lot of work to do to truly understand how males present with eating disorders.

To give an example of how eating disorder treatment is normed to women, we can look at current eating disorder screening tests. Typically, there are statements such as these where a client can answer yes or no.

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Eating Disorders: The Brain-Gut Connection

Tea leaves in tea cup

Eating disorders are biologically-based brain illnesses that are noted by changes in food behaviors, eating, and self-perception. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that often become increasingly severe.

Over the last decade, we have seen a new area of research take shape as investigators have studied the brain, personality traits that are mediated by how the brain is wired, and how the brain processes reward. Recently, fMRI studies have demonstrated differences in the experiences of reward in individuals with eating disorders compared to controls who have never had eating disorders as well as people who had an eating disorder but are now recovered.

These studies found that people with Anorexia Nervosa experience less stimulation of the reward pathways of the brain, while people with bulimia seem to experience more active reward pathways. Early research examining reward processing in individuals with binge eating disorders shows data similar to those with bulimia. Additionally, there is emerging research on the gut’s connection to mood and brain function that may illuminate our understanding of eating disorders.

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How Involved Should I be in my Teen Child’s Treatment?

Woman on computer

When your child is struggling with an eating disorder, it affects everyone in the family. Eating disorder symptoms can be confusing and elicit feelings of frustration, fear, and sadness. It’s difficult to know how to help, especially when you aren’t quite sure what’s going on.

Eating Disorders in Teens

Eating disorders are complex illnesses rooted in biology, psychology, culture, and more. These disorders often present when individuals are in their teens, so it’s essential to keep an eye out for eating disorder symptoms in children and young adults. Warnings signs to watch for include:

  • Dramatic weight changes and/or the inability to meet growth milestones
  • Eating less, eating in secret, or hiding food
  • Frequent and negative talk about food, weight, or body image
  • Excessive exercise to “offset” food consumption
  • Bingeing, purging, or the abuse of laxatives
  • Denial of disordered eating despite the concern of those around them

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Ramadan and Eating Disorders

Sun setting over field

*This blog was written anonymously. Please keep in mind that this is one person’s story and everyone’s recovery story will be unique.  

The month of Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, followers of Islam. This was determined when the Prophet Muhammed stated that the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed during the month of Ramadan, and is known as “The Night of Power.” Each day throughout Ramadan, Muslims do not drink or eat anything from sunrise to sunset and are expected to avoid impure thoughts, bad behaviors, and to pray extra. Within this month, Muslims typically spend time reciting the Quran, attending mosques, and engaging in good deeds. It is a time to practice self-restraint, self-reflection, and cleanse one’s soul and gain empathy for those who are suffering in the world that are less fortunate. Each year, Ramadan changes, so unlike Christmas or some other holidays that have destined days, Ramadan is based on the cycle of the lunar calendar. This year, Ramadan began on the night of Sunday, May 5, which means the days can be as long as 15 hours, for example, before the sun sets. When the sun sets, Muslims break fast with a grand feast, known as “iftar.”

Growing up in a Muslim household, my family and I would be a part of a community of Muslim individuals of all ages who would participate in fasting every year. I remember attending a gathering once during Ramadan, and observed children as young as 8, and elderly as old as 80, fast without any complaints or issues. I felt encircled by strong individuals and had so much admiration and respect for them. Ramadan reminded me about testing one’s abilities and strengths; how we, as humans, do not need food and water to do work and to function. The first time I fasted after reaching puberty (which determined my readiness to fast), I felt infinite. My classmates were amazed at my ability to fast all day. I thought I was superior than my peers, believing I didn’t need the same basic necessities as everyone else.

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