Dietainment…The death of thousands

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Have you heard of Dietainment?? It’s a means of advertising unhealthy eating habits by disguising diet ads as a form of entertainment, often targeted at young women and girls.

For example:

In this ad the reader is led to believe that there is only one body type that is a “beach body”. Realistically though, any body is a beach body. You do not need to strive for one specific set of ideals in order to have a “beach body” as this advertiser is suggesting to consumers.

Recently, Cheerios has released a campaign with the motto “help stop dietainment from reaching our girls”. While many individuals would argue that the messages in such ads are not damaging, my background in media studies has led me to conduct significant research into the suggestibility of children and teens. What I discovered through the course of my research is that children and teens are highly suggestible and prone to the internalization of media messages.

In addition to my academic background, I can also approach this topic from the perspective of someone who has personally been damaged by messages such as this. I can remember being dissatisfied with my body from the age of about 8 years old, so much so that I started asking my mom if I was fat. By the time I was 12 I had already started experimenting with dieting which quickly manifested itself as a full blown eating disorder.

When I was 16, I started cutting out ads such as this from magazines and taping them to the back of my closet door for motivation. I remember looking at these advertisements as a teenager in order to inspire myself to skip meals, work out more, and essentially malnourish my body in an attempt to achieve the ideal body portrayed in advertisements such as the latter.

Admittedly, there were a lot of other things going on that led me to start restricting and purging in order to lose weight; however, this does not change the fact that the advertisements taped to my wall acted as a fuel to the fire that was my bulimia. While I do not place 100% of the blame on the media messages which I saw as a young girl and teenager, I believe that such messages certainly had a significant negative impact on my self-esteem and my self-worth.

Speaking as someone who continues to struggle with disordered eating, I can attest to the negative impact that dietainment can and does have on the impressionable minds of young boys and girls. Conversely, speaking as an academic who has conducted extensive research into the susceptibility of children and teenagers to media messages, I can also attest to the fact that these advertisements are dangerous and damaging. Something needs to be done to stop media providers from releasing such content.

Society agrees that pornographic images are not fit for public advertisements as these messages can be damaging to the psychological health of children. If this is the case for sexual content in media, why is this not the case for dietainment? Both are proven to be damaging so why do we regulate one and not the other?

Girls, boys, men, and women all over the world are starving themselves in order to fit into the unattainable photo-shopped ideals of dietainment ads. People are dying from eating disorders which are often a result of the media ads that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Why is this okay? How do media producers sleep at night knowing that their content could be contributing to the death of thousands of people suffering from eating disorders?

Something needs to be done. Dietainment needs to be stopped.

Ayla

How to respond to being ignored

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“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference”

~Elie Weisel

I’m sure we’ve all been there. One moment everything is going great and you’re feeling sure of your relationship with another person–whether it’s a best friend, boyfriend, girl friend, family member, etc.–and the next moment something seems…off.

They stop talking to you, won’t respond to texts, or show no interest in spending time with you. Often times this happens for a reason; however, sometimes this can be the result of miscommunication or misunderstandings.

Recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of the silent treatment due to my inability to provide enough support in the eyes of my friend. I can understand that the individual may be feeling that way due to my recent circumstances which have left me with very little extra emotional capacity to be a metaphorical shoulder to cry on. I recognize the fact that I have not been as available to my friend in terms of providing emotional support; however, I refuse to let myself feel bad about this because I’ve been dealing with quite a lot of my own stressful circumstances over the last week.

While I believe that it is incredibly important to be able to provide support and receive it from close friends, I think we also need to be considerate of what everyone else is going through as well. We all face stress in our daily lives so it is inevitable that at some points we will not be able to be the supporter because we may be dealing with our own overwhelming situations.

In these cases, I think that we need to cut ourselves and our friends/family some slack. If one of my close friends is dealing with a lot of stress then I will undoubtedly not turn to them to place my own burdens on them to help me work through. For this reason, it’s great to have more than one support system such as multiple trustworthy friends, family members, or a therapist. In fact, over the last week I have needed to draw on all three of the latter sources of support in order to handle my own emotional burdens.

While it upsets me that I was unable to provide my friend with the support that she needed in the moment, I keep reminding myself that I cannot be there for everyone during every moment of the day while also managing to take care of myself. As a result, I have decided to deal with this situation by giving my friend some distance for a few days before reaching out to her again. With that being said, I can only reach out to her so many times before I have to cut my losses and move on. I can’t change the fact that I was unable to support her and I cannot force her to move on and mend our friendship. There is only so much that I can do before I just have to accept the fact that the friendship is over. I hope it will not come to that, but I can’t blame myself for it if that is what ends up happening.

I can’t dwell on a past which I can do nothing to change. Sometimes you just need to acknowledge the mistake and move forward.

xo

Ayla

Blessings in Disguise

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The last week of my life has completely turned my life upside down. I recently found out that I would have to make some significant changes in my life which could have a serious impact on the outcome of the next year of my life. I was scared, confused, hurt, angry, shocked, anxious, and–worst of all–self destructive.

It’s times like this when I am pushed to the limits of my recovery rope. It took all of my will power to hold on and not engage in self-harming behaviors. Sadly, I did succumb to the urges of my eating disorder due to the severity of the stress and emotional distress I was facing.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to cut so badly. I hadn’t felt urges that strong since February. But the difference between the present and the past is that I fought through the urges rather than resorting to self-harm as I did 5 months ago. I reached out for help and told a friend how I was feeling. I called my therapist’s office and made an appointment right away. Granted I was hysterically crying on the phone, but even that is better than taking a blade to my wrist, right?

It’s been a few days now and my level of anxiety slowly went down as the puzzle pieces of my life started to come together again and make sense. I stopped wallowing in self-pity after receiving some tough love and I took action in order to resolve the issue. While there are still a few things that need to be sorted out, for the most part I’ve got a plan and I know what I’m going to do to resolve the issue. I’m feeling better about it and while my immediate reaction may not have been the most productive in terms of the crying, it was a lot better than the self-destructive alternative.

I used to think that crying was a bad thing and that it showed how weak I am. However, what I’m learning is that crying is a healthy and often necessary means of letting out difficult emotions. For years I would hide my emotions away inside until it became overwhelming. This time I let myself feel those emotions and I talked it out with others around me who care about me. While it was a stressful time and in the first few days I was sure that nothing was going to work out, I’m now starting to view it as a blessing in disguise. The newest change in my life is something that needed to happen for me to get where I need to be in the future.

Right now I am basking in the relief of having a plan and thanking God for all of the supportive people in my life who have helped me stay on track with my recovery.

While this was certainly not a great week, it has taught me that I am capable of overcoming significant emotional distress without resorting to self-harm. Go me!!

xo

Ayla

Should you become a therapist if you struggle with a mental illness?

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As many of my readers know, I’ve struggled with a number of serious mental illnesses since I was about 10 years old. However, what most of you will not know is that my goal is to become a therapist and help other people who are struggling with mental illness.

When I tell people that I want to become a therapist–particularly people who are not aware of my own mental health struggles–I find it difficult to be honest about what inspired me to pursue this career simply because I fear that people will think that my own struggles make me inadequate for such a career. I am afraid that people will think that I am weak or that I am in no position to help other people recover from an eating disorder when I am personally still struggling with recovery.

To be honest, I’m afraid of those criticisms because I recognize their validity. In fact, this is the reason why I decided to take some time off of school before pursuing my master’s degree in order to become a therapist. I recognize the fact that I cannot possibly hope to help people if I have not first helped myself.

I know myself well enough to know that I need some time to strengthen my recovery as well as grow as a person before I try to help people with the things that I have struggled with for years. I know that there is risk involved in such a career path because their is potential for the struggles of others to trigger a relapse in myself. However, my therapist believes that if we continue to work together for the next year I will be more than prepared to pursue my career goals in a year if I am accepted into a Master’s degree program.

I am incredibly lucky to have found such a supportive and committed therapist. Her faith in me is unwavering and I have no doubt in my mind that if she feels that my mental health will interfere with my ability to help others she will be honest with me and work with me until she is confident in my ability to help others without sacrificing my own mental health.

Accordingly, I believe that it is entirely possible for someone to become a therapist after struggling with their own mental illnesses as long as the individual is recovered and mentally healthy and stable. If an individual is still struggling with a mental illness it would be irresponsible and unethical to work as a therapist and risk further damaging their own mental health or that of their clients’. However, in individuals who have recovered and successfully overcome a mental illness I think there is potential for these individuals to be even more empathetic and understanding because they have lived through it themselves. In this sense, I think that people who have recovered from mental illnesses can offer wonderful insight and advice to their clients.

My hope is that over the next year I will continue to make progress with my recovery so that I can pursue my dream career if I am successful in my application to the Master’s program which I want to pursue.

Wish me luck!!

xo

Ayla

10 Misconceptions about Bulimia Nervosa

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When you think of bulimia, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably the stereotypical image of an underweight teenage girl hanging her head over a toilet while sticking her fingers down her throat. Sound familiar? While this stereotype is typical among societal understandings of bulimia nervosa, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an accurate representation of the illness. On the contrary, there are a number of misconceptions about the illness that need to be straightened out.

  1. Self-induced vomiting is the only form of bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a binge/purge cycle in which an individual consumes abnormally large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time followed by episodes of purging. While self-induced vomiting is the most widely understood form of purging, it is not the only means of meeting the criteria for a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa. In fact, the spectrum of characteristics of bulimia nervosa is so vast that there are now two recognized forms of the disorder.

The first form of bulimia is the most commonly understood and is known as the purging subtype. This form of bulimia occurs when an individual takes compensatory measures in order to make up for a binge. These measures include anything from vomiting to abusing medications in order to make themselves sick. The goal of these behaviors is to rid the body of the previously consumed food; however, due to the efficiency of the digestive system, much of the nutrients are absorbed into the body within minutes which renders these methods of compensation quite ineffective.

The second form of bulimia is the non-purging subtype which is characterized by behaviors that are intended to make up for the consumption of food without ridding the body of the food through measures such as vomiting. Such behaviors include the restriction of caloric intake or over-exercising in order to balance out the amount of calories consumed during the binge.

  1. Bulimics are usually underweight

While the stereotypical image of individuals who suffer from bulimia tends to be emaciated teenage girls, most individuals who suffer from bulimia are not underweight. On the contrary, most bulimics tend to be of an average weight or even slightly overweight. This is because the majority of the calories consumed during a binge are absorbed into the body before the individual begins to purge. Indeed, digestion begins from the moment that a piece of food enters the mouth which means that even though bulimics rid the body of food soon after consuming it, they are still taking in a lot of calories.

According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, the average binge results in a surplus of 1200 calories being consumed, even when purging occurs immediately after the binge. As a result, many bulimics end up gaining weight rather than losing it. This can in turn cause the individual to restrict caloric intake in order to lose weight which increases the chances of another binge due to uncontrollable hunger.

  1. The signs of bulimia are obvious

Often when individuals think about bulimia nervosa they are under the impression that the symptoms of the disorder are easily detectable; however, this is not the case. In fact, many bulimics suffer from the disorder for years without anyone—even close friends and family—having any idea. While there are many side effects of bulimia nervosa such as tooth decay, hair loss, weight gain or loss, irritability, and puffiness in the facial glands, these symptoms can be easily dismissed by the sufferer as being a result of any number of other factors such as stress or illness. Furthermore, the most serious symptoms of the illness are not obvious to individuals other than the sufferer. For example, irregular menstruation, constipation, and mineral imbalances are all serious consequences of bulimia; however, these symptoms may not be obvious to anyone other than the person who is suffering from the disorder. For this reason, many individuals who suffer from the disorder will go years without treatment.

  1. Bulimia is not often fatal

While many individuals are able to recognize the fact that bulimia can have negative side effects on an individual’s overall health, there is still a significant number of individuals who do not recognize the fact that bulimia can be a life-threatening illness. Indeed, one of the most serious complications that is associated with bulimia is an imbalance in electrolytes which can lead to more serious complications such as a heart attack or stroke. The tendency of bulimics to use purging as a means of weight loss leaves these individuals especially susceptible to electrolyte imbalances which can be difficult to detect early on and can quickly become catastrophic. In addition to this, bulimics are at risk for severe damage to their digestive system due to repeated episodes of binging and purging. Such behaviors can lead to complications such as a ruptured oesophagus which is often fatal.  As a result, individuals who suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa are at an increased risk of death.

  1. Bulimia is only about losing weight

For many bulimics, the behaviors begin as a means of losing weight and quickly morph into a full blown eating disorder. On the surface it appears as though the behaviors are focused solely on the goal of losing weight. However, disordered eating often occurs as a means of coping with unbearable emotional distress such as trauma, low self-esteem, or grief. For individuals who are struggling with issues such as these, the disordered behaviors become a means of dealing with the issues by controlling their consumption of food. Unfortunately, these efforts to gain control often backfire because the eating disorder quickly becomes an addiction. The behaviors that were once a source of comfort and control morph into a form of anxiety when they are unable to control their food intake. The individual may believe that they are in complete control of their behaviors but this control is gradually lost as the eating disorder becomes increasingly entrenched in the individual’s way of life.

  1. Only young women and girls suffer from bulimia

While it is true that the majority of people who suffer from bulimia nervosa are women, 10-15% of bulimics are male. In fact, the statistics could be even greater than that; however, due to the stigmatization of males who suffer from eating disorders, many of these individuals do not come forward and seek treatment.

Furthermore, the traditional notion that eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa are restricted to only young women and girls is also misguided. While it is true that the large majority of bulimic individuals are teenage girls and young adult women, there are also many older women and men who suffer from the disorder. Bulimia nervosa does not discriminate; anyone could get the disorder under certain circumstances. There are a number of biological and cultural factors which play into the development of the disorder, but age and gender are certainly not deal breaking factors.

  1. Bulimics always have a distorted perception of their bodies

We’ve all seen it before: the picture of an emaciated teenage girl staring at her much larger reflection in the mirror. The message conveyed in images such as this suggests that individuals who suffer from bulimia nervosa—or any eating disorder for that matter—are unable to perceive the reality of what they look like. The general understanding is that these individuals must have a skewed idea of what they really look like. While this may be the case for some individuals, most individuals who suffer from an eating disorder have a relatively realistic perception of what they look like, they simply are not happy with it. Indeed, disordered eaters are not delusional; they do not look in the mirror and suddenly double in size. On the contrary, the reflection staring back at them is not abnormally large, it is simply not as thin as the individual wishes. These individuals do not find faults in an inaccurate perception of themselves. The see their reflections as there are in reality but find flaws in themselves that others might perceive as looking fine.

  1. Bulimics think that their behavior is normal and acceptable

One of the most common stereotypes that tends to be portrayed in television or movie representations of bulimia is the idea that the sufferer thinks that the behavior is okay. There is a widespread misconception that bulimics are unaware of the damaging nature of their behaviors when in fact this is not the case. On the contrary, bulimics go to great lengths in order to disguise their behaviors specifically because they are aware of how abnormal and harmful their behaviors are. These individuals are aware of the risks involved in their eating disorder but the desire to continue the disordered eating is so great that they consciously decide to take precautionary measures in order to hide the truth from their loved ones. The truth of their illness is often not exposed until the behaviors begin to take a serious toll on the individual’s overall well-being. At this point the illness becomes more difficult to disguise; however, some bulimics continue to suffer in silence despite the serious risks involved. While many bulimics may be unaware of just how serious the risks of the illness can be, these individuals are by no means ignorant to the fact that there is some level of risk involved.

  1. Bulimia can be easily overcome

If you’ve ever suffered from an eating disorder you’ll surely be accustomed to hearing the phrase “well…why won’t you just eat”? However, if you have had the misfortune of experiencing bulimia nervosa, you will surely understand that it’s not quite that simple. Bulimia is a complex illness with an equally complex solution. The psychological component of the illness is tremendous and extremely difficult to overcome. Indeed, disordered eating is addictive and often requires extensive therapy in order to overcome. Support groups and individual counselling can be extremely beneficial for individuals who are recovering from bulimia; however, relapse is still a common occurrence for individuals who are recovering from the illness.

With that being said, recovery is definitely possible. It may take years of dedicated hard work, but if an individual wants to recover from their illness then there is no reason why they cannot achieve a healthy relationship with food.

  1. The side effects of bulimia are not long-term

So, you’ve come to terms with the fact that bulimia can have serious side effects, but did you know that those side effects can be long term? Even if an individual has recovered from bulimia, the physical toll that the disorder can take on the body is often a long-term struggle. Imbalances in electrolytes can have long term effects on the function of the heart, malnutrition can lead to a loss in bone density, women may become infertile, and the repeated episodes of self-induced vomiting can have a lasting impact on the oesophagus and stomach.  In addition to the physical toll on the body, individuals who have experienced bulimia may also suffer from persistent emotional problems due to brain damage caused by malnutrition. Unfortunately, these emotional difficulties can lead to the development of other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the latter examples are only a few of the many long-term risks involved in bulimia nervosa and often the damage is irreversible.

Can asexuality be triggered by sexual trauma?

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A quick Google search of the term “asexual” will describe asexuality as , “a person who has no sexual feelings or desires”. For a long time I didn’t really have a firm grip on the idea of asexuality, so it was difficult for me to determine whether or not I really fit into the category of “asexual”.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the concept of sexual desire–as well as the desires themselves–has often been shrouded in guilt and shame. Indeed, I spent a great deal of my childhood feeling disgusted with myself and ashamed of the sexual actions that were forced upon me. As a result, I refused to acknowledge my own sexual desires as a teenager and would distance myself from any attempts at intimacy from prospective partners.

Unfortunately, during this particular time in my life I did not truly understand asexuality. I knew it had something to do with people who do not want to have sex, but I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind it. To be truly asexual is to feel no desire for sexual contact with another individual at all. However, in my own experiences it is not that I do not have the desire for intimacy, but that I associate such desires with shame, guilt, fear, disgust, and self-loathing.

What I want to highlight here is that there is a difference between having no sexual desire whatsoever and having the desire but being afraid to pursue it. In my case, I began to wonder if I was asexual because despite my desire to be comfortable with sexual intimacy, I was unable to pursue it without significant emotional distress. This led me to the question: can asexuality be triggered by sexual trauma?

At the time, I absolutely believed the answer to be yes. However, I’m now more inclined to say that it really just depends on the individual. I don’t want to say that it is impossible for sexual trauma to trigger asexuality because it is entirely possible for such a trauma to cause an individual to feel repulsed by the idea of sex. However, there is a fine line between having no desire whatsoever and having the desire but not allowing yourself to acknowledge it.

Therefore, I think the only way to truly answer this question for yourself is to consider your true feelings in terms of sexuality. Do you feel sexual desires which are accompanied by negative emotions that could be skewing your perception of those desires? Do you feel no sexual desire at all? Or perhaps your feelings are completely different than those which are discussed here in this blog post.

To put it bluntly, there is no simple yes or no answer to this question. Everyone who has ever experienced a sexual trauma will react in their own unique way with their own unique repercussions throughout life. While it is possible that there is a link between sexual trauma and asexuality for some people, this does not mean that this will be the case for everyone! This could definitely be something worth bringing up with a therapist!!

Ayla

When your job comes at the expense of your mental health

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Hello hello hello!!

When I started this blog I wanted to use it as a tool to reflect on my own experiences, so today I want to talk about something that I’ve been going through recently: the emotional and mental toll of working a job that you hate.

I’ve had a job since I was 14 years old and I’ve had the experience of working in a number of different fields and settings. I started out working in fast food, tutoring, and baby-sitting, then moved my way up to more skilled positions in corporate offices and even research settings. Recently though, I’ve had to return to work in the fast food industry due to the poor job market in my current city. Unfortunately, this turn of events has not only had a hugely negative impact on my income and financial stability, but also on my overall mental health and emotional stability.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been struggling a lot to stay on track with my recovery from an eating disorder and I’ve also been experiencing moodiness and anger almost everyday. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on until I noticed a pattern: my bad moods, anxiety, and eating disorder urges tend to happen on the days of the week that I have to work.

After a month of working for this restaurant I have finally realized that my recent decline in mental health is not a result of something internal; rather, it is stemming from the unhappiness and dissatisfaction that I have with my new job. I spend 8 hours  taking food orders, making food orders, and listening to people complain about the smallest errors which often have absolutely nothing to do with me. This means that I spend half of my waking hours on days that I work dealing with people who are often rude, demeaning, disrespectful, and critical.

I’ve endured this type of work before, so it is certainly not a new experience. In fact, I have spent nearly 7 years working in the fast-food industry, so I knew what to expect when I started the job. However, the first time I worked in the industry I didn’t really know what else was out there. I had never experienced the feeling of respect from an employer before. This time around is different because I’ve worked jobs that I absolutely loved and I’m no longer ignorant to the fact that not all jobs make me miserable. This makes it a lot harder to endure the 8 hour shifts of hell because I know that there is a job out there that I would absolutely love.

Thankfully, just when I was starting to reach my breaking point with the job that I’m currently in, I lucked out and got an interview with a great organization. A few days later I got the call that the job is mine and I will be free of the food service industry in a matter 6-10 shifts. HALLELUJAH!!

It was only after getting the call and signing my contract with my new employer that I realized how much my fast-food job was bringing me down. I’ve been absolutely miserable for weeks and I’ve come to realize that as my therapist says, nothing is more important than your mental and physical well-being.

So, if you’re stuck in a job that is making you feel miserable and maybe even causing your mental illnesses to worsen, maybe it’s time to consider kicking that job to the curb and finding a new one!! Happy job hunting!!

Ayla