Eating Disorders Among Boys and Men

Today marks the start of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week for 2018. The theme this year is “Let’s Get Real”. I’m honored to take a very small part in advocating for those who struggle with eating disorders by sharing with you some information about and stories from men who struggle with eating disorders.

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In America, one-third of individuals with an eating disorder are male, though boys and men are thought to be under-diagnosed given the stigma males face in regard to help-seeking. Binge-eating disorder is the most often diagnosed disorder among males, though they can exhibit many subclinical disordered eating behaviors such as over-exercise to achieve a body ideal and dieting, purging or using laxatives to lose weight.

Though we read a lot about the objectification of women and the incredibly harmful impact it has on girls’ and women’s self-esteem, we often overlook the fact that objectification of men in the media also contributes to low self-worth. For men attuned to such images, lean and muscular is the ideal. Those who cannot attain it (which is nearly everyone but a tiny fraction of individuals who are genetically predisposed to this body type or spend hours working out on their own or with trainers) are made to feel less-than. The same lie that is sold to women through the thinness ideal is sold to men in the muscularity ideal, namely that being lean and muscular will make you more masculine (“more of a man”), more successful, and happier.

In 2007, when I was conducting interviews for my book, I spoke to two men who struggled with Binge-Eating Disorder. Both talked about their disappointment in themselves for not being able to maintain a certain body type or weight or eat in moderation. One called himself “big boned” as a child, but noted that his self-perception changed negatively over time. Another noted he realized in college he was “way too chubby”. Both men got caught in the cycle of weighing themselves, perceiving the number to be too high, attempting to diet or cut back, experiencing cravings, giving in to a craving, overeating, and feeling ashamed. The shame then sparked renewed commitment to dieting and the cycle continued.

We, as a society, need to notice when our boys start talking about their weight and shape. We need to educate them, as we are starting to do with our girls, that body weight and shape have no relation to self-worth. We need to teach them that masculinity has nothing to do with being “tough” or having a certain body shape. We need to teach them how to mindfully listen to their body’s needs, trusting their bodies to self-regulate. We need to teach age-appropriate emotion vocabulary so boys and young men can express their feelings. We need to teach healthy ways to cope with disappointment, perceived failure, anger, and sadness. Eating disorder prevention is a community affair. We all need to come together in order for sustainable change to occur. Let’s Get Real. Let’s create a society in which all body types are accepted and boys and men are free to be themselves instead of wasting their potential trying to achieve a false ideal sold by the diet and fitness industry.

In peace,

Megan

(Statistics and information gathered from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males)

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NEDA Week 2018 – “Let’s Get Real”

Greetings friends, colleagues, and readers!

Tomorrow, February 26th, is the start of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week for 2018. The theme this year is “Let’s Get Real”, the aim of which is to “expand the conversation and highlight stories we don’t often hear”. I hope to contribute to the conversation all week by sharing some stories from the people I interviewed for my book in 2008 and by sharing information about the challenges faced by people of other religions, races, and groups.

Here’s a sneak peak of upcoming topics:

Monday – Eating Disorders among Boys and Men

Tuesday – Eating Disorders among Athletes

Wednesday – Eating Disorders among Medical Professionals

Thursday – Eating Disorders among the Orthodox Religious

Friday – Binge Eating Disorder: The Most Prevalent Eating Disorder in America

Saturday – How Mindfulness Is Changing My Relationship With My Body

Sunday – “Let’s Keep the Conversation Real”

I hope you’ll join me for a week of learning and sharing. In the meantime, if you are struggling with negative body image or disordered eating, take some time to be screened by the National Eating Disorders Association and learn next steps for treatment and self-care: Eating Disorders Screening Tool

Talk to you soon!

–Megan

Silence or Service?

It has been about three months since I last posted on my blog. During that time, I’ve been engaging in daily prayer, yoga, and mindfulness meditation, all of which encourage me to notice, to observe, to see things as they are, without judgment. In cultivating this practice, there is an emphasis on listening — listening to the heart, the body, the ego, God, and others. I’m grateful for the growth I observe in my ability to listen. However, in my focus on “listening” (or “contemplation”), I believe I fell into my old pattern of all-or-nothing thinking and let “speaking” (or “action”) fall by the wayside.

In one of the daily blogs I follow, Father Richard Rohr, OFM writes about the need for balance between contemplation and action. Both are necessary and have their place in this hurting world. If I only consider, notice, ponder, observe and listen, I miss out on the opportunity to directly serve the needs of my neighbors (and myself). (I am reminded of the conversation going around social media regarding the fruitlessness of “thoughts and prayers” in the face of gun violence). If, on the other hand, I blindly push forward into acts of service without stopping to hear the stories of my neighbors in need, I run the risk of serving others simply to meet my own egoic need to feel good about myself.

On this Day of Service during which we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is important for all of us to engage in thoughtful action or active contemplation. As I consider how that has played out for me today, I recognize that my contemplative practices this morning gave me patience when working with others and inspiration to write an article for my church newsletter. They stirred me to write this blog and will keep me further engaged as I write a letter to my 17-year-old pen-pal who lives in Liberia. I will write to her about the reason I pause to remember MLK, Jr., about the difficulty my country continues to have in terms of respecting the dignity of all humans, and about my own belief that all humans are beautiful and good at their core.

In the weeks ahead, I will consider ways in which I can be more active in my advocacy for those who struggle with eating disorders. And I will check in with myself about whether I’m spending too much time on one side or the other of the contemplation–action pendulum. May you, too, find balance between these opposites and may you use both for the greater good of this hurting world.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

 

The Importance of Being Present to Pain

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Often, for weeks or months at a time, I have very little negative self-talk about my body. Then, sometimes with a distinct trigger and sometimes without warning, the negativity begins…a single, seemingly rational, thought (“You ate too much today”) followed by a fear-based attempt to control something (“You should skip dessert tonight” or “You shouldn’t have any cappuccinos this week”). I often catch myself before I get swept away in the undertow, but not always.

Today, as I frantically headed outside for a walk (not with the intention of enjoying the scenery but of burning off calories I ate while out to lunch with a friend), I suddenly realized that not only was negative self-talk present with me, it was running ten paces ahead, begging me to stop being a loser and catch up. So, I did. I caught up to those thoughts and realized what was happening.

In the past ten days, I have mourned with the nation over the senseless deaths of 58 country music fans. I have learned that my beloved spiritual director is leaving the area to pursue a new ministry. I have said goodbye to my pastor of 10+ years at her retirement service. I have listened to my clients’ stories of pain and loss. And I have been unable to stop or control any of it. Although I’ve cried often and engaged in meaningful self-care, it wasn’t until my walk this afternoon that I realized my mind is trying to control something (someone) when everything feels like it’s slipping away.

And when I realized that was what was happening, I was disappointed and sad. I slowed my pace and started sulking. I remembered my spiritual director’s oft-asked question, “Have you taken this concern to prayer?” and my usual answer, “No. God knows my suffering already.” But this time, I decided to try it. I started talking out loud to God. “Why do I keep falling back into this pattern? Why can’t I be free from this negativity forever? Why can’t I just love myself 100%, all the time? Why do you let me suffer? Why do you let any of us suffer?! WHY DO SO MANY OF US SUFFER?!” I kept walking. I didn’t hear God’s voice responding. The clouds didn’t part. Nothing magical happened. So I kept walking, silent now and more calm.

As I rounded the turn of the last road that would take me back to my apartment, I took a wider path than I usually take, one that took me closer to the road than the houses. I paused to take a photo of some pansies on the corner and then looked up and saw a magnificent tree with sunlight streaming from behind it. And in the middle of the tree was a heart-shaped hole…a scar of sorts. (The photo is kind of dark. Can you see it?) I smiled. I stood in awe. I tried to think of something profound and meaningful to sum up that moment, but the only thing I can say for sure is that it was a moment of True Presence — my presence with pain and God’s presence with me. I took a photo and started walking home.

I still don’t know the answers to my questions, but I know the value of being present to pain instead of running from it. I pray for the courage to continue to be so and for the awareness of God’s presence in my and others’ pain.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

Looking With New Eyes

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It’s been two months since I posted on my blog. In that time, I left my job of 6 years to pursue two part-time jobs in my field. While I don’t regret the decision to leave, it brought new challenges, one of which was an unanticipated month-long grieving process during which I focused on all I had lost: the closeness with my colleagues, a steady routine, predictable income and benefits, my summers off, feelings of competence and pride in my work, and the general approval of others. I didn’t realize how much these losses would affect me. And, for a while, loss was the only thing I could see.

During my grieving, I noticed an increase in emotional eating. I was eating when I was bored, sad, lonely, anxious, or frustrated. I noticed an increase in calorie counting, body-part checking, and obsession with the number on the scale. I increased my exercise and slipped back into thinking certain foods are “bad”. All the while, I noticed my desire to isolate and not talk to anyone about it. However, I did talk to God. I wrote in a prayer journal, prayed out loud, cried about my struggles, and practiced Centering Prayer. I read books by wisdom teachers that reminded me of God’s presence with me…especially in my struggles. Somehow, I was able to trust that this was a temporary relapse into familiar coping skills and not a permanent abyss.

 

Having journeyed through that shadowy valley to where I can now feel the sun again, I find myself looking back at it with wonder, noticing the tools I used, the self-care I maintained, the people I stayed connected with, and the belief I maintained that “no matter what happens, I am beloved”. I marvel at those blessings, having not seen them when I was in the midst of that valley. Then today I picked up my book — published almost 10 years ago — and started reading. 50 pages into it, I started to cry. What an incredible, blessing-filled journey my recovery has been!

Reading my own story certainly brought back for me the pain and suffering I experienced, but I also saw all the grace-filled moments, moments when God was present with me through my dad’s willingness to share with me his experiences with binge-eating disorder; through my mom’s research about B.E.D. in 2005 and encouragement through buying me my first self-help book; through my therapist’s gentle persistence in helping me cultivate self-compassion; and through my recovery community’s support during relapses. At the time, I overlooked God’s presence in those people. Today, I couldn’t help but see it.

This experience has me thinking about the power of changing our focus. In mindfulness practice, we learn not to stop looking at our pain (in other words, not to avoid it), but to view it with new eyes, eyes of curiosity, not judgment. When I picked up my book today, I was curious about my own story. In viewing my story with new eyes, I saw it differently. I wonder how I can look at other aspects of my daily life with the new eyes of curiosity instead of resignation or judgment. Perhaps my losses would be seen as “a natural part of the ebb and flow of life” and other moments of struggle would be seen as just that: a moment of difficulty, not another line added to a narrative made up and stoked by my egoic self.

Perhaps there’s an aspect of your life that needs to viewed differently. Consider the power of being mindfully aware instead of judgmental, critical, or resigned. If you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness, the body scan meditation on UCLA’s website may be a good place to start your practice: click here.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

Self-compassion

A month ago I wrote about my tendency to take on the role of SuperWoman to myself and others. At the time, I recognized the troubling aspects of this voice and vowed to speak kindly to the go-getter in me, thanking her for her efforts and releasing her from her role. The next day I read my blog post to my partner. His candid response was, “That’s great, Meg. Do you think it will stick?” I paused. “This time, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson,” I said. “I’m done with trying to prove myself and be efficient and impress others.” Ahem. Yep. Not so much.

I am who I am. I am driven, compelled, obsessed (?!). I tackle everything on my to do list like it has to be done now and it has to be better than the last time. I have been like this for as long as I can remember. As a child, every moment spent playing would be more interesting or memorable than the last. I would make it so! As a teen, every journal entry would be more inspired. I know I can do it! As a college student, every boyfriend would be closer to my perfect match. If I just try harder, he has to be out there! As an adult, every difficult moment in life will be my greatest lesson. I WILL grow wiser…even if I die trying!

Cue my new superhero: Self-Compassion. This is something I have read about, practiced (loosely) in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, and preached to my clients. Yet, it wasn’t until I was tackling another thing on my to do list last week that it dawned on me just how essential self-compassion is…for me and for all of us.

As I sat down to watch a recorded workshop by self-compassion “guru” Kristen Neff, PhD, I thought, “Let me just watch this on fast-forward and then take the online exam and get these CEUs out of the way.” But she opened with a guided meditation for self-compassion and I thought, “Well, this might be nice. I’ll just listen for a while and then skip ahead.” I ended up listening to the whole thing. And I felt better. It was as if all the rough, jagged edges of my inner struggle were softening. I began seeing my compulsive drive to succeed as it is, without judging it as good or bad. I felt as if I was breathing more easily (or for the first time). I cried. As the tears spilled down my cheeks, I gave myself a gentle hug and rocked from side to side. It was one of several suggested physical gestures of kindness that Dr. Neff says is part of compassion. And it felt so good. I realized how much I wanted to be held and rocked…how much the inner child in me misses being taken care of by others instead of having to do everything myself. And I felt relieved. I felt okay, as I am. That moment of self-compassion opened my heart to the power of self-love.

In her workshop, Dr. Neff shares oodles of research on the positive impact of self-compassion, not just on ourselves, but on others. She shared a personal story about how showing herself compassion while her autistic son was having a meltdown on an airplane actually calmed him down, too. This makes so much sense to me. And it makes me want all of us to be kinder to ourselves. We need it. Our world needs it!

So here are the three components of self-compassion for those who want to begin practicing it: 1) mindfulness of suffering; 2) recognition of our common humanity; and 3) kindness to self. Mindfulness of suffering goes against our inclination. We want to avoid it, right? I used to avoid my emotional pain by over-eating , restricting, or over-exercising. Now I over-work. It’s still avoidance of pain. So, being mindful of my suffering involves taking a breath, turning toward it, and saying, “This is a moment of suffering.” or “This is really hard for me.” or “This hurts.” Then, I can remind myself that others have probably hurt like this, too. (We want to claim ownership of this pain and believe that no one else in the history of humanity has ever suffered this way. But really…!) Lastly, I can show myself some kindness — something as simple as sitting still and breathing or resting my hands over my heart or giving myself a gentle hug.

Since watching Dr. Neff’s DVD, my eyes have been opened to how often I am self-critical and how much in need I am of self-compassion. If you’d like something more concrete than what I shared, I encourage you to listen to any or all of Dr. Neff’s self-compassion meditations on her website (Click here).

I hope that you grow in self-awareness and self-compassion. It’s certainly the next step on my journey.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

On Being Superwoman

In about a month, I’ll be leaving my job of almost six years and starting two new part-time jobs. The intensity of my current job has increased recently and I’m finding it difficult to simultaneously keep up with all of the paperwork and training requirements of signing on to my new jobs.

“You’ve got this, Meg! You’re superwoman! Just sleep a little less, work a little harder. Don’t let anything slip. Show your new bosses how much you can handle!”, says an insidious voice within me.

The voice is very familiar. It’s a cousin of “Ed”, the former voice of my eating disorder. Ed’s comments were always focused on calories, food, weight, shape, and exercise. Ed’s underlying fear was gaining weight; gaining weight to Ed meant I was a “failure” or “unworthy” or “unlikable”.

This voice, which seems encouraging at first, is anything but. It pushes me to ignore my emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Just like Ed. It tries to manage anxiety for me by dictating my behavior. Just like Ed. It puts conditions on my worth and likability. Just like Ed.

This Superwoman voice is just another manifestation of my False Self, my ego. But tonight I recognize it and am speaking words of compassion to it from my True Self:

“Superwoman, I know you’re scared. I know you think you won’t measure up in your new jobs. I know you’re sad to leave beloved co-workers and clients. I know you’re unsure about how you’ll connect with your new clients in this new setting. I know your way of managing that fear, sadness and uncertainty is by telling me to stay busy, to try harder, to get things done a week before the deadline, to prove myself worthy of these new roles. But your way is not helpful to me. Your way wears me down. It causes me to ignore my needs until I’m exhausted and depleted. So, tonight I choose a different way. I choose to sit in stillness and listen to my needs. I choose to respond to my needs. I choose to communicate to my new employers about my need for more time. I choose to remind myself that I was hired because they believe I’m a good fit for the role. I choose to believe that God wants me to be still. I choose to believe that I am already beloved: just as I am without having to do or change or prove a single thing. So, thank you for trying to protect me, Superwoman, but I know how to protect myself…with self-compassion, self-awareness, humility, and love.”

How are your inner voices (Perfectionism, Superhero, Ed, Victim, etc) dictating how you behave? Are you willing to practice self-compassion and speak kindly to that voice? What False Self need (esteem/affection, safety/security, or power/control) is driving you today? Are you willing to take time to tune into the immutable True Self which already knows your needs and how to meet them?

Peace to you on your journey,

Megan