June Blog. The Best is Yet to Come: The “Silver Linings” of Recovery

By Sophie Balisky & Julianna Hindemith, Silver Linings volunteers

Letting go of an eating disorder can be very difficult. Over time you can develop a comfort zone with the illness that feels scary to leave. Recovery is thus a gradual process and requires hard work.

Both Julianna and I are volunteers with Silver Linings Foundation and we have personal  experience with eating disorders. Though we empathize deeply with the discomfort that often accompanies recovery, we eventually overcame this challenge and ever since, our lives have truly flourished!

While recovery is a journey, we want you to know that it is so worth it! Here are some of the “silver linings” that you can look forward to:

Sophie says:

  • Space for other things. My eating disorder directed the vast majority of my thoughts to food fixation and self-hatred. Now that I’ve recovered, I have the space to breathe and think bigger; I feel as if I’ve returned to myself. Food is just food again, I can focus on other things, and live life to the fullest. Once I let go of my eating disorder, beautiful things took its place: contentment with myself, an amazing relationship and uplifting new friends.

  • Empathy and understanding. I will never forget how lonely and hopeless my eating disorder made me feel, yet in the end the pain had a purpose. Now I can  identify and empathize with those dealing with similar struggles, as well as those facing other mental illnesses. Recovery challenged me to reach a new level of self-awareness and acceptance that became the key to healing my eating disorder. Now nothing means more to me than being able to share my story of healing and offer empathy and encouragement to those still navigating the recovery process.

Julianna says:

  • Growing into myself. The most important relationship I have in my life is the one I have with myself. The challenge of overcoming an eating disorder taught me this. My self-discovery helped me become more perceptive of everything around me and my life choices are now driven by self-love instead of fear. Also, I’ve become a more empathetic listener and I am patient for the life I deserve. I no longer let the idea of time intimidate me. It’s important to seek validation from within. This has helped me be more selective about who I associate with, and I no longer dwell on past mistakes. Above all, I’ve stopped putting others’ happiness before my own.

  • Feeling invincible. I remember crying myself to sleep wondering why me? Why do I agonize so much over my weight? Why do I care so much about the number on the scale? In all my fear, I never questioned my part in these harmful behaviours. I was in control all along but I avoided taking responsibility for my harmful thoughts. Everyone encounters adversity in life, yet it is how we handle the challenging moments  that inspires growth and brings about positive change. Now, whenever negative thoughts regarding my self-worth creep in, I remember what I am capable of. I overcame something that controlled my life for 10 years. Recovery has made me feel invincible!

Friends, recovery is possible. Sophie and I are proof that an eating disorder is not a life sentence. The first step is being willing to work on your inner self. Also, you have to  commit to leaving your eating disorder behind, seek insight, and begin to love and accept yourself.

When you do this and start believing in yourself again--or maybe for the first time--you will begin to discover the beautiful power and liberation on the other side of your eating disorder. Go forth, your life is waiting for you!

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May Blog #2: How Parents Can Help Nurture Their Child’s Mental Health

By Julianna Hindemith, Silver Linings volunteer

May 7th was National Child and Youth Mental Health Day. It was also my birthday, and I took the opportunity to reflect on my childhood. I was not always happy growing up. My mental health suffered considerably as a result of struggling with two eating disorders, being bullied about my weight and experiencing a home that was full of conflict. Once a confident and outgoing child, these challenges led me to grow into a fearful and volatile adult. My self-esteem, friendships, participation in extracurricular activities and home-life were all compromised. To this day, my relationship with my family still needs mending and I feel like I missed out on many of the joys of  childhood.

Thankfully I have now reached a place of peace with myself. But it still bothers me that the decline of my mental wellbeing might have been prevented or at least addressed sooner. Unfortunately my experience is all too common. The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that 1.2 million Canadian children and youth are affected by mental illness but only 20 percent receive appropriate treatment.

A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. As children learn and adapt from their surroundings, a lot of responsibility for nurturing mental wellbeing lies with parents and caregivers.

Here are some tips for parents to help you support the mental health of your children:

  1. Talk about your own feelings and vulnerabilities with your children. As they grow children will learn that some days are going to be more difficult than others. This is a reality that they should not be shielded from. Work on cultivating an open, shame-free, supportive environment  for your feelings and your child’s.

  2. Participate as a family in physical activity. Fresh air and the endorphins produced through exercise promote positivity.

  3. Be aware of the impact that witnessing confrontation can have on your children. I was front row to many arguments between my parents. This deeply affected me and contributed to a lot of anger and self-sabotage as I got older. In hindsight, if my parents would have explored counselling or other healthy communication strategies all of us would have benefitted.

  4. Limit your child’s access to television, video games and social media. There are many studies pointing to negative impacts on a child’s development and self-esteem from too much screen time. Your children will thank you in the future.

  5. Set aside time for family mealtimes. This is very important for many reasons including helping children learn vital social skills and the value of social interaction.

  6. Be the person your child can confide in. From my own experience feeling alone and unsupported contributed to the development of my eating disorders. To be clear, this is not to suggest that parents cause these illnesses, but rather, to stress how much eating disorders thrive on shame and secrecy. Parents can help combat this.

  7. Learn to breathe, take a step back and calmly resolve problems. This is a very valuable skill, period. Your children will take note.

  8. Most importantly, love your children for who they are! Your children look up to you. Your acceptance has a huge impact on their self-esteem, happiness and overall well-being.

Footnote: If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, please seek advice from a family physician. For additional tips and resources, please check out this link on Silver Linings’ website, www.silverliningsfoundation.ca/how-to-help

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/default.htm

https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/foster_self_esteem

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May Blog: A Family Matter: An Eating Disorder’s Effect On Loved Ones

By Sophie Balisky, Silver Linings volunteer

Once there was a time when I lived under the weight of a heavy shadow. This shadow was the darkness of an eating disorder and it followed me wherever I went. Although it started off quietly, this shadow quickly developed a loud and cruel voice that convinced me to hurt and abandon myself. I felt isolated by my illness. But I now know that I was not the only one hurt by my eating disorder’s cruel words. Now that the constant chatter has subsided, I can see all the ways in which my eating disorder deeply affected not only me but my family as well…


I’m sorry Mom. I’m sorry that you had to watch your daughter, a piece of your own heart, hate and hurt herself the way that I did. Over and over again, you said, did and gave EVERYTHING you could. I’m sorry that you lost a friend in me for that time period. You always listened, even when I called you from miles away sounding like a broken record. You felt my pain along with me and my burden was your burden.


I’m sorry Dad. I’m sorry that there was nothing you could say or do. You always had the smartest, most logical solutions to my illogical illness. I’m sorry that I got upset at you the time that you made me dinner after I returned home from a long day of work. You’ve always wanted nothing less than for me to be happy. I can’t imagine how frustrating and sad it was for you when I believed I was unworthy of happiness.


I’m sorry Sister. I’m sorry that I was not always fun and easy-going. I’m sad about all of the summers that we didn’t laugh together on the beach. The eating disorder caused me to be emotionally demanding. You were growing up and facing challenges as well and I’m sorry if you ever felt overlooked due to my troubles. I’m sorry that you once stood outside of the locked bathroom door pleading with me to stop hurting myself. That’s not the big sister you needed.


I’m sorry Brother. I’m sorry that our friendship changed and that I said some unkind things to you. I felt so much hatred and anger towards myself when I was sick. Any lack of compassion I showed towards you came from my lack of self-compassion. Whenever I criticized you I was judging myself ten times as harshly. It was unfair that you had to face the side effects of my internal warfare. You didn’t deserve to have the negativity of the eating disorder projected onto you.


I’m thankful Family. I’m thankful that you never gave up on me even when what was hurting me hurt you too. It’s because of you that I didn’t give up on myself.


P.S.: If someone you love and care for is struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone. Silver Linings offers professionally- facilitated Parent & Loved One Support Groups that provide practical skills for supporting your loved one and yourself. The next group starts on May 13. Learn more or register today.

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April Blog: Dear Younger Self. A Letter from your Recovered Self

By Sophie Balisky, Silver Linings volunteer

Dear younger self,

I am writing to you from the distance of a few years and from the perspective of someone who loves you. Why? Because I’m you and you’re me and, spoiler alert, you’re going to go through a chapter of NOT loving yourself. There are so many things I want to tell you. If it was possible to travel through time I would. But instead I’m writing you this letter. Here is what I wish you knew.

The body image ideal you are striving for is not real. You look at the girls you see in your favourite magazines and think that there is no reason why you cannot look like them. You’re convinced that there is something wrong with you because you don’t. I wish you understood that these images are the end result of hours of makeup and photoshop and finding perfect angles. In fact, models often have trouble recognizing themselves in images of them that are airbrushed! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must perfectly match the Victoria’s Secret billboard to be considered beautiful.

Being smaller will not equate to being happier. Believe me when I say that happiness can be found RIGHT now, within this moment, at the size you already are. Being skinnier will not magically make your life better. You will reach your “goal weight” and doubt the number you see on the scale. The confidence and accomplishment you look forward to won’t be there. Instead, you will think to yourself “just a few more pounds” or “just one more week of restriction and then I’ll be there.” But you will never “get there” - there will always be one more pound or inch or imperfection. Reaching a place of satisfaction based on your appearance is like trying to pass your own shadow. You will lose your sparkle and all that makes you, you in the never-ending pursuit of perfection.

Your body and mind are intricately connected. Through daily purging, over-exercising and cycles of restriction, you are wreaking havoc upon yourself physically. Your body is smarter than you know and hears everything your mind tells it. The psychological stress of constant food and appearance related anxiety will take a great toll on your health. Forcing your body into a different form will not work long term. No matter how much control you try to have, your body is designed for balance and will always have the final say. You don’t understand how incredible your body is. If you had a best friend who did everything she could to support you, every second of every day, would you abuse her? Of course not! Yet that is essentially what the eating disorder is doing. Learn to trust your body and she will trust you in return.

How you look isn’t even a fraction of who you are. You believe that your appearance defines you, but please know that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. What people see when they look at you isn’t even the beginning of who you are. You are young and have yet to discover and gain appreciation for all aspects of yourself. You have yet to discover that you are a multi-faceted, sparkling diamond of a being. Obsession with your physical appearance will keep you from acknowledging or believing in all that really makes you, YOU. Your inner beauty is radiant and limitless regardless of what you look like on the outside. Outer beauty fades but love does not. You have so much love around you and within you. I would give anything for you to know this, and for you to be able to show yourself some love right now.

This letter is hard to write because I wish so badly that you could actually read it and skip the pain of mistreating yourself. But please trust me when I say that you WILL find yourself on the other side of your sickness, and this discovery will fill you up far more than you can imagine. Until that time, I love you in all the ways you cannot love yourself. You’re going to be alright.

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March Blog: Let’s Do Away With Diets

By Julianna Hindemith, Silver Linings volunteer

The Zone, Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach and Ketogenic diets...what do all of these have in common? Each and every one has morphed from fad diet to normalized “healthy behaviour” in our society despite that these diets, and many others, can actually be dangerous. Losing weight too quickly can affect normal physiological cues, overriding the body’s natural signals of hunger and fullness. Crash dieting throws metabolism into a state of distress, causing the body to shut down to survive on less energy.

Additional harmful physical issues that can develop from dieting include:
○ nutrient deficiency
○ fatigue, dehydration and muscle cramps
○ headaches
○ osteoporosis
○ weakened immune system
○ muscle loss, including from the heart
○ ketone production, which can result in liver and kidney problems.

On top of this, dieting often triggers damaging psychological changes in the brain contributing to irritability and the development of depression, anxiety and disordered eating. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) states that “35% of persistent dieters progress to pathological dieters and around 20 - 25% of such dieters will develop an eating disorder.” Of course dieting is not the sole cause of someone developing an eating disorder(s), but more often than not it is a precursor.

From a psycho-social standpoint, if dieting rules are someone’s constant preoccupation, he or she may be more likely to withdraw from social settings, family and friends. Disordered relationships with food thrive on isolation, and without awareness and support from friends and family, the dieting cycle can quickly spiral downwards.

Through my personal experience with disordered eating, I’ve learned that happiness is not measured on a scale and dieting teaches you nothing about health. So let’s eliminate from our vocabulary all labels such as “good” and “bad” when it comes to food. Let’s respect our bodies and be grateful for all the amazing things they do everyday to keep us alive. Let’s do away with diets, because eating is meant to strengthen, not compromise, our bodies, minds and spirits.

Reference re: medical information, the National Eating Disorder Collaboration (Australia).

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February Blog: Why Eating Disorders Awareness Initiatives Are Crucial

By Sophie Balisky, Silver Linings volunteer

When you bring up the subject of mental health, you are likely going to be met with a variety of reactions. Raising this topic still makes some uncomfortable, afraid of “saying the wrong thing,” for example, which can translate into not saying anything at all. This is doubly (or triply) the case with eating disorders, despite that these mental illnesses are as prevalent as they are detrimental, affecting over one million Canadians. Nonetheless, Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which just concluded on February 7, reminds us that it is so important to talk about eating disorders because:

1). Eating disorders are misunderstood. Public knowledge of eating disorders is limited and often based on false assumptions. For example, an eating disorder is NOT:

  • A choice based on vanity

  • Only experienced by certain genders, ages, races or backgrounds

  • Only characterized by low body weight

  • Cured by “just eating something”

  • Glamorous or desirable, in any way.

These common misconceptions oversimplify eating disorders and distract from the complex and potentially fatal mental illnesses that they are. Awareness initiatives are essential to address mistaken beliefs, develop accurate understanding of eating disorders and encourage intervention for those suffering, because sadly...

2). Eating disorders are often overlooked. These mental illnesses are tricky and deceptive. Only 1 in every 10 individuals with an eating disorder is diagnosed. There is no one face” of an eating disorder; the illness can present in multiple forms and be caused by multiple factors. And therefore the need for help can go unnoticed by friends, family, and the sufferer themselves. In addition, a disordered relationship with food can easily be hidden behind socially acceptable diet culture and terminology, such as “clean eating” or “portion control.” Awareness is extremely important in order to help recognize the signs of an eating disorder early, because for everyone involved...

3). Eating disorders are devastating. It’s hard to accurately articulate the magnitude of pain an eating disorder is capable of inflicting, both for an individual and their loved ones. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with the main causes of death being suicide and organ failure. One in every 10 individuals with an eating disorder will die from their illness. Eating disorders steal health, energy, joy, freedom, personality and hope from an individual and those trying to support them. Treatment and therapy options are not simple. Food and weight preoccupation is only a symptom of an eating disorder’s deep, emotional roots. In reality, the illness is an unhealthy coping mechanism that can become dangerously entangled with one’s identity. Awareness spreads knowledge of eating disorders’ severity, shining light on the true nature of the illness. This is extremely important considering that…

4). Eating disorders thrive on secrecy. An eating disorder is an isolating illness, creating a cruel confinement for those affected. Eating disorders are insidious in the sense that an emotional dependency is formed between an individual and the illness. This makes an eating disorder a toxic, but comforting “friend” and often a well kept secret. An individual will attempt to conceal their illness out of fear of losing the control and reassurance it gives to them. Eating disorders use shame to their full advantage. An individual with an eating disorder often feels embarrassed and afraid to speak out about their struggles. Eating disorders create an illusion of isolation, where those affected may believe that no one else can understand or relate. Awareness is vital to encouraging those who are impacted to reach out for help. Breaking the silence of the illness is the first step towards loosening its grasp. Speaking openly about eating disorders gradually lessens the stigma surrounding these mental illnesses, giving others the courage to be vulnerable and, above all, provides proof that...

5. Eating disorders can be overcome. Eating disorders breed hopelessness. They sabotage an individual’s mental landscape and outlook. Raising awareness is incredibly important to illuminate the fact that full recovery IS POSSIBLE. What can help? Storytelling from survivors, links to resources, access to available support, and simply feeling seen, all contribute to restoring hope. For many, a small glimmer of light in the midst of an eating disorder’s heavy shadow is all it takes to ease the grip of the illness. Eating disorder awareness provides proof that not only is recovery possible, but it’s so worth it!

Statistics from http://nedic.ca


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December Blog: Strategies for Holiday Stressors

By Julianna Hindemith, Silver Linings’ Volunteer

Once again the holiday season is upon us. Pumpkins and plastic spiders are being replaced by sparkling lights, candy canes and luscious evergreen wreaths. However, the holiday season isn’t a joyous celebration for everyone. It can be a very triggering time for individuals who have an eating disorder. It is actually common for people with eating disorders to experience an increase in symptoms as the holidays approach. The heightened emphasis on food during this time is one reason. Pressure to be more social and upbeat can also increase anxiety.

If I think back to the “holidays” of my eating disorder years, for a long time they played like a series - the current season being more dramatic than the last. I would always tell myself a month prior that if I lost a ton of weight before attending a family celebration, then I would finally be allowed to enjoy myself, and eat and act like everyone else. In reality of course this never worked. I would still be anxious about every bite and every comment, pick fights with my parents and siblings, and count down the moments until I could go home and be alone with my eating disorder. But that was then.

Gratefully the holidays are much less stressful for me now, and my hope in writing this is that this can become the case for you too. Whether you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, in recovery from an eating disorder or caring for someone with an eating disorder, here are some tips that helped me better navigate this time of the year:

  1. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder being mindful that the holidays are about being with your loved ones can help shift your focus away from food. Try to dial down the noise of the eating disorder and take the time to reflect on what the season truly means to you. Try to remember that you are loved and have much love to give. Also, with those who you feel comfortable confiding in, try to openly discuss how they can support you during this triggering time.

  2. If you are currently in recovery don’t feel the need to attend every event that you are invited to. Instead, prioritize the parties that you feel the most comfortable attending and be sure to structure your day to help you keep to your prescribed recovery plan. This is especially important with respect to your scheduled meal times. Also, openly dialogue with your treatment team about any concerns about the holidays that come up for you. You don’t need to go this alone. Let them help you develop effective coping strategies that work for you.

  3. If you are a caregiver of someone with an eating disorder, try to remain positive. The holidays are about  spending quality time together. Try to come up with some non food-centered activities that all of you can enjoy as a family. Regarding your loved one’s eating behaviours over the holidays, understanding where they are in their recovery process combined with validation, goes a long way. For example, if they are not yet ready to eat in front of others, be supportive. Your acceptance and respect for their process will mean a lot.

If you keep only one thing in mind this holiday season let it be this: healing takes time, be kind to yourself.

Silver Linings clinical advisor and Registered Psychologist, Adele Fox, has some additional tips for not only surviving but thriving this holiday season. These are as follows:

  1. For someone struggling with an eating disorder.
    Have an exit strategy
    so that if you become overwhelmed at a function you can make an escape. Try to avoid putting yourself in situations where you have no control over being able to take care of yourself.
    Eat regularly. Do not starve yourself in anticipation of Christmas dinner or an event as this can lead to an increase in symptoms and stress.
    Take a time out if having to eat at a buffet or family style spread to breathe and visualize what you will choose for your plate. Do a walkabout of the food table and then step back and consciously make your food selections.
    Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can cause you to become disinhibited and lead to binging/purging behaviors and difficulties with managing your emotions.   
    Take one or two food items that are safe for you if attending a house function so that, worst case scenario, you will feel comfortable eating something. Another option is to plan to arrive at a function after the meal.   

  2. For loved ones.
    Avoid talking about dieting and making weight/shape or appearance related comments.
    If you want to share a compliment, focus on non-appearance related traits: a person’s laugh, how their eyes light up when they smile or their great sense of humor.  
    If possible, serve meals in the kitchen so that there is not an abundance of food on the table. Serve fun foods (chocolates, candy, dessert items) at set times or lay these out for a limited time only then put them away or send them home with guests.
    Take care of yourself too. Make sure that you have support such as a therapist, a trusted friend, online support groups or literature on the recovery process. Loving someone who is struggling with an eating disorder can be exhausting and stressful.

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September Blog: The Dangers of Social Media

Social media is a dangerous place for recovery. Initially created as a way to keep friends up-to-date and connected with each other, unfortunately it is also a source of comparison. According to a recent study, the average young adult spends approximately five hours a day online. Triggering posts are littered across the internet and make it very difficult to find a safe space to heal.

Instagram, for example, showcases images and lifestyles that predominantly equate beauty, power and love with have a slim body. This, aided by the portrayal of women in the diet and fitness industries and our generational belief that we must live our “happiest” life everyday, advocates for an impractical idealized lifestyle (FYI, #nobaddays doesn’t exist).

Though Instagram encourages self-expression and a sense of community, it is still crowded with false realities. In fact, all social media platforms host false realities, and engaging with them while  recovering from a very realistic and damaging mental illness can be damaging to the healing process.

“All photos are accurate, none of them are the truth,”

shared Richard Avedon, an American fashion and portrait photographer.

When using the term “truth”, he was referring to the fact that the emotions felt about any photo depend on your particular frame of mind at that moment in time. So, if you are having a bad self-esteem day, your perception of what is beautiful or favoured may be altered. You must ask yourself: whenever you see a new post on your feed, are you being objective or subjective?

Browsing social media makes it easy to be discouraged and feel confused about your self-worth. Here are some tips to help avoid triggering photos:

  1. Unfollow negative accounts: The first step to avoid triggers on social media is to take away any temptation. If an account doesn’t support your recovery, unfollow it. Purge yourself of any content that may be toxic for you. Facebook now offers the option of temporarily hiding people’s accounts and you can also “mute” profiles on Instagram.

  2. Follow body positive information: There are many accounts that promote healthy body image and recovery. Filling your feed with positive messaging can help to give you inspiration and look at things differently.

  3. Take a social media break: Sometimes you just need a breather. It can be helpful to download an app that temporarily locks your social media accounts. You can also set time limits and temporarily suspend them without losing your account, so you can have space to recover without having to give it up entirely.

  4. Have a plan: Mistakes happen. That’s why having a plan on how to de-stress and reset your mindset after seeing a triggering post is important.  Whether it is calling a friend, going through breathing exercises or simply taking a minute to shut everything off, having a plan can help you  alleviate stress.

  5. Ask for help: Ask a friend to be there with you for when you decide to re-enter the world of social media. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Having someone there to support you can be encouraging and helpful during this process.

Overwhelming? We know. Social media can be exciting and addictive.. But it  can also sabotage your recovery. You deserve more true, “self-defined” happiness, versus being bombarded with others’ definitions, and images,  of superficial happiness.

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Please send your comments/questions to hello@silverliningsfoundation.ca with the subject "Blog" and we will post your comments and questions with an answer.