Fear Foods and Eating Disorders

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I’m afraid of cake.. I’m afraid that if I allow myself to eat one bite, before I know it the whole thing will be gone! Lots of us have this feeling towards one specific food or another. That feeling is called a food fear. Many individuals suffering from eating disorders have intense food fears. I have talked to many young men and women who have stated that they are “absolutely terrified” of certain foods, and will only eat what is safe for them. “Safe” is a very popular word for those suffering from eating disorders. The idea of “safe foods” vs “fear foods” is often a topic of discussion. Safe foods have a couple different meanings. Either they are safe because they won’t cause weight gain, or they are safe because they do not pose the risk of overeating. Fear foods are avoided because of the threat of weight gain or because the food is too hard to resist and overeating is likely to occur. Common fear foods include: cake, cookies, doughnuts, candy, ice cream, pasta, pizza, chips.

Fear foods are taken to a whole new level when eating out. People struggling with eating disorders often want a sense of control that food can somehow provide for them. Going out to a restaurant or fast food establishment does not feel very “safe” since they are not in control of how the food is made and how much they will be served. When talking about fast food restaurants, I will often hear people say “that’s not healthy.” My response is generally that the majority of foods are ok in moderation and have a time and a place. There is no reason to fear food of any kind. For many people, food fears can easily become irrational. The thought for many is that if they eat a hamburger, a cookie, or even a bite of a cookie, they will (no doubt) gain 5+ pounds. In reality, it takes 3,500 calories ABOVE what your body needs to gain one pound. Chances are, that bite of a cookie or even a whole hamburger won’t even come close to weight gain.

This fear is simply not based on reality, but for people with eating disorders it “feels like it” and feelings can go a long way. If you believed that you could gain 5 pounds in one meal, you may fear food as well. Our food system certainly doesn’t help eradicate the fear as chain restaurants are legally required to provide caloric information for all meals. Just today, I heard someone say that soon there will be another label describing how many sit ups it will take to burn off that meal! As funny as that may sound, it’s not that farfetched in our health crazed society. I was walking in a parking lot with my 10 year old niece a few months ago when a Prius started reversing just as we had passed it. She was a little scared so I tried to lighten the mood and said “Oh, the Prius..the silent killer”..instead of a laugh, her response was “No, that’s salt”. Why is a ten year old girl worried about salt?! Our culture is leading us to take health messages to the extreme.

Don’t get me wrong, being healthy is not a bad thing by any means but why does it have to be all or nothing? Why can’t we enjoy a cookie or a piece of cake without feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame or doing 300 sit ups?!

Hopefully this will help….Next time you feel the Shame Sheriff approaching, tell him that our body is constantly burning/using calories for energy. We don’t need to be active in order to burn calories. Calories are our energy source just as sunlight and water is to a plant. All of our organs including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys etc require energy to function! Our digestive system uses 10% of the calories we eat to heat itself up for digestion.. Our lungs require calories to breath. Our liver requires calories to carry out over 500 different functions daily! If you were to lay in a bed for 24 hours without moving a muscle, not even your pinky, you would require at least 1200 calories for your organs to function properly. If you are out and about, add in an additional 10% for the Thermic Effect of Food (heating of our digestive system to break down and absorb nutrients) and an additional 20-30% for physical activity (walking, housework, mowing the lawn, exercise etc). That’s some serious calorie burning right there!! If you learn about what healthy eating really means and understand how our body functions, there’s no reason to fear food of any kind and there’s definitely no need for those 300 sit ups after a meal!

The Development of Eating Disorders and the Media

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From a very early age, children are taught by society that their looks matter. Think of the four year old little girl who is constantly praised for being “so cute” or the mother who tells her teenage daughter to “be sure to dress nicely and wear make up because you never know who you will run into”. With an ever increasing number of children and adolescents who spend countless hours in front of the TV, or on Facebook or Instagram, more of them are developing a superficial sense of who they are or who they think they should be.

Images on TV spend an obscene amount of time telling us to lose weight and be thin and beautiful. TV series and movies rarely depict men and women with “average” body-types, ingraining in the back of all our minds that this is the type of life we want. Overweight characters are typically portrayed as lazy, the one with no friends, or “the bad guy”, while thin women and muscular men are the successful, popular, sexy and powerful ones. How can we tell the growing children or teenagers in our lives that it’s what’s inside that counts, when the media continuously contradicts this message?

Supermodels in all the popular magazines have continued to get thinner and thinner. The average woman model weighs up to 25% less than the typical woman and maintains a weight at about 15 to 20 percent below what is considered healthy for her age and height. These body types and images are not the norm and are unobtainable to the average individual. We need to constantly remind ourselves and each other (especially children) that these images are fake.

Social media is another trigger for the development of eating disorders. I am so thankful that social media wasn’t nearly as prevalent when I was a teenager. It’s hard enough being a teenager without the added pressure of documenting how you look everyday via the dreaded “selfie” that kids today seem to love so much. With unattainable trends like the “thigh gap”, the pressure to look a certain way is just getting worse and worse. I’ve sadly heard a teenager say that “I don’t know what it’s like to be in high school without a thigh gap”. The thigh gap is pretty self-explanatory. The goal is to become so skinny that your thighs don’t touch when you are standing with your feet together. Hard to attain physical attributes like the thigh gap- combined with social media and an emphasis on women being thinner and thinner – are all aspects that are encouraging eating disorders in young women.

What can Adults and Parents Do about Threats to a Healthy Body Image?

Learn how to talk to your child about healthy body image. KidsHealth.com has some great online resources to help understand and begin conversations about body image. In addition, The National Eating Disorders Association has a great list of 50 things you can do to fight dieting and the drive for thinness.

One obvious challenge with teaching children about healthy body image, however, is a need to have one of our own. If a parent or family member has a history of body image issues or weight concerns, it may be valuable to seek professional advice on how to share these concepts with your children responsibly.

Know the signs of a child with an early eating disorder. Some children struggling with body image problems spiral into a true medical disorder with long term consequences to their mental and physical health. As an observant parent or adult in a child’s life, be aware of some concerning behaviors that may indicate the child’s need for help.

Intuitive Eating: Listening to Inner Hunger Cues

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Intuitive eating, aka mindful eating is a pretty hot topic these days. Intuitive eating creates a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body. It allows you to become completely in tune with yourself as a whole. It teaches you how to distinguish between actual hunger and the emotional feelings that may be fueling your food fire. Do you ever wonder why children seem to have such an easier time refusing food or leaving half a cup of uneaten ice cream in their bowl? This is because we are all born with the innate ability to eat until we are full. Unfortunately, over time, many of us have unlearned this behavior. How often do you overeat and feel uncomfortably stuffed because the food was just TOO good?! I know this happens to me all the time!! So how do we relearn our childhood behavior? Lots and lots of practice! Mindful eating requires lots of hard work and diligence for most of us!

The basic idea of intuitive eating is learning how to recognize and respond to your inner hunger cues. It’s also a process of making peace with food so that you no longer have constant “food worry” thoughts. It’s realizing that your health and your worth as a person do not change, because you ate a food that may be considered “bad” or “fattening”. This may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is rather complex. “Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” may sound like common sense but it can be quite difficult. Our “inner cues” are often misheard, or simply ignored due to our cultural habits. We all know that food is a huge part of our society. Besides dining out, where else do we spend the majority of our time with friends or family? Food will always be all around us. Instead of running from it, or in some cases, running to it, we need to learn how to include it into our lives in a healthy manner.

For those of us who need help returning to our “intuitive eater” state, here is a list of principles from the book Intuitive Eating that will help you learn how to trust yourself and become an intuitive eater.

Intuitive Eating Principles

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working. Learn what healthy eating truly looks like. Consuming as few calories as possible does not equal health and is actually very harmful to the body.

2. Honor Your Hunger

Keep your body fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates (Don’t listen to the myth that carbohydrates are bad. Our diet should consist of 45-65% complex carbs as our brain uses strictly carbohydrate as fuel). If your body is not supplied with adequate calories or carbs, this can trigger a drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are thrown out the window. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food

Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in a “Last Supper” overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4.Challenge the Food Police

Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The “food police” monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative comments, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking thoughts. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to intuitive eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness

Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or snack and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level? On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is starvation and 10 is overwhelming fullness, you should stop eating when you reach about a 7.

6. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own cure. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

7. Respect Your Body

Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as silly (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are.

8. Exercise

Feel the Difference. Get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning jog or hitting the snooze alarm.

9. Honor Your Health

Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly develop a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

Memory’s Effects on Addiction and Recovery

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Addiction affects the entire body, but it has particularly serious effects on the brain. It’s the brain that interprets physical reactions as pleasurable or not so pleasurable, including reactions associated with using alcohol, drugs or other substances. For this reason, researchers study ways the brain is affected by substance abuse and also look for new ways to alter the brain’s reaction to drugs in order to find new ways to treat people who suffer from substance abuse.

New research is looking at an area that may seem surprising. At Western University, researchers are looking at how managing memories could help people to recover from addiction.

The Power of Memory

Memory is a powerful force in the brain. Memories are closely connected to emotions, both positive and negative, and therefore can become a strong influence on current behavior. In the case of addiction, the brain becomes rewired to remember the intense pleasure of taking a drug, causing a person to experience strong, irrational cravings for it, even if rationally they know it is harmful.

Studies have shown the connection between drug use and memory. In one such study, brain scans of people who were formerly addicted to cocaine showed high levels of activity in the amygdala when those people watched a video including cocaine and drug paraphernalia. The amygdala is a part of the brain’s limbic system that is critical for both memory and emotion, showing the close link between these two brain functions. When a person suffering from substance abuse experiences a craving for a drug, memory of the pleasurable experience and the emotions connected to it combine to override their logical thinking and make it very hard to resist taking the drug. To stop the substance abuse, the memory and connected emotions need to become less powerful, so the person is able to resist or disregard them.

Memory Suppression

New research from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry has shown a potential way to control the spontaneous recall of memories, both negative and positive, without removing or altering the memories themselves. By stimulating a type of dopamine receptor in one specific area of the brain, the researchers were able to prevent the immediate recall of both traumatic and pleasurable memories. This has implications for multiple areas of therapeutic treatment. For example, controlling the recall of pleasurable memories may assist people who are recovering from drug addiction, while controlling negative and traumatic memories can help individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Suppressing the immediate recall of memories may help people dealing with either substance abuse or PTSD – or both, in dual diagnosis cases – by reducing the emotional power of their memories.

As shown in the brain scan study, encountering something that reminds a former addict of their drug use can trigger new cravings, based on their brain activity. Just seeing something associated with drug use on a video is potentially enough to trigger pleasurable memories of using the drug. If those memories are not recalled as immediately, former addicts may experience fewer moments of strong emotional recall, thereby reducing the temptation for them to relapse and strengthening their ability to reject future drug use.

More research needs to be done in order to understand the mechanism that controls memory, which to date is not well understood. There is currently a lack of effective treatments for coping with intrusive memories in either PTSD patients or people suffering from substance abuse. But this new discovery suggests that by learning how to suppress instant recall of memories, new prescription drug therapies could be developed to help people recovering from substance abuse to recover more quickly and to avoid relapse in the future.

Does Addiction Affect Genders Equally?

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Addiction can strike anyone given the right set of factors, but the way addiction affects different groups of people are not the same. Women and men are both susceptible to becoming addicted, but the reasons they try drugs or alcohol, the physical effects of addiction, and the ways they seek and receive treatment can differ widely.

Biology

Some of the differences in how addiction affects men versus women appear to be the result of biological gender differences. Men and women have very different hormone balances, and abused substances interplay with these natural chemical systems in different ways. Some studies appear to suggest that estrogen is linked to the brain mechanism that interprets the effects of drugs as pleasurable and leads the body to want more of them. Both male and female bodies contain estrogen, but the naturally higher levels in female bodies may create a higher susceptibility to developing addictions.

Women’s bodies are on average smaller than men’s bodies, which also has implications for drug use and addiction. A smaller body needs less of a drug to feel an effect. If a smaller-bodied person (whether female or male) takes the same amount of a drug as a larger person, the effect of the drug is heightened because there is more of the chemical substance relative to the amount of tissue in the body. Many drugs cause more damage with higher doses. By taking the same amount of a drug as men, women can actually run a higher risk of addiction and physical damage because the dose is comparatively higher for a person with a smaller body.

Social Factors

Men and women differ in more than biology. Differing societal expectations and patterns of behavior have serious implications for how men and women abuse drugs.

Men in modern culture are more likely to be socially rewarded for impulsive or risky behaviors. This can make them more likely to experiment with drugs on a whim when the occasion presents itself. Men are also more likely to feel competitive pressure to try harder drugs or to take larger quantities of drugs or alcohol to prove their strength, daring, or other qualities considered “manly.” Binging on drugs in this way can lead to fast addiction. The signs of addiction in men tend to be more visual and external, including a range of aggressive behaviors toward other people. Societally, men are also often discouraged from expressing or experiencing their emotions, which can lead to suppressing emotions or covering them up with alcohol or drugs.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to try a drug because of feeling pressure to conform to group expectations. A woman is also more likely to try a drug because a male companion introduces it to her, rather than the reverse. Women can live with addictions for a long time because they are surrounded by people who abuse substances, making it hard to break the trend and seek help. Women’s symptoms of addiction tend to be internalized, including feelings of shame, anxiety or depression.

Culturally, it is easier for a woman to admit she needs help, and women are more likely to listen to a friend, doctor, counselor or other trusted person and seek treatment. Men are typically more likely to deny the problems caused by their addiction and to try to manage it alone because there is a greater cultural expectation for men to be stoic and strong in the face of all kinds of problems.

Treatment Designs

Just as women and men often become addicted in varying circumstances and for different reasons, effective treatment needs to take into account gender differences, especially social and cultural differences. For example, men are more likely to enter treatment because they are pushed into it in some way, such as a requirement from the criminal justice system or an ultimatum from a boss or significant other. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be referred to treatment by a social worker or doctor after seeking help with a different issue.

Men may benefit more from confrontational therapies, where women may find better success from supportive therapies and those based on networks. In order to stick with therapy, women are also more likely to need extra support, including child care, because women are more likely to be the primary caregivers for their children.

Dual-Diagnosis and Self-Medication

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Recovering from an addiction takes hard work and good therapeutic support. When a person also suffers from mental illness, the process of addiction recovery becomes even more complicated. “Dual diagnosis” is a term used when an individual suffers from both an addiction issue and a mental health disorder – and both are usually interrelated. The person who is dealing with a dual diagnosis must receive effective treatment for both issues in order to recover and regain his or her health.

Dual diagnosis cases happen for any number of reasons. Some individuals are prescribed medications to help them manage a mental illness but then start to abuse their prescriptions. Others do not receive effective treatment for a mental illness, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and unwittingly become dependent on drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Taking such substances temporarily reduces the pain they experience from the mental illness and “helps” them manage their symptoms. Unfortunately, addiction and mental illness often combine in terrible ways, increasing the severity of symptoms and creating new health complications.

There are many different types of dual diagnosis conditions, as any combination of substance abuse and mental illness falls under this definition. This blog, however, will focus on two common mental issues, anxiety and bipolar, that commonly co-occur with substance abuse. When paired with substance abuse and addiction, these mental conditions can lead to dual diagnosis of anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Almost everyone experiences anxiety occasionally, usually in connection with a specific event or as a result of a combination of circumstances that are difficult or stressful to manage. People with an anxiety disorder, however, experience chronic high levels of anxiety, which may or may not be obviously linked to any specific circumstance. A few examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is also a severe type of anxiety disorder.

People coping with an anxiety disorder may always feel tense and alert and have extreme difficulty relaxing. They may not be able to enjoy the company of other people or activities that previously gave them pleasure. They may start to abuse alcohol or illicit substances in order to calm down and feel better. Over time, though, such abuse can easily become an addiction. An individual with an anxiety disorder may also start to abuse prescription medication intended to treat the anxiety, taking more than prescribed.

Treatment for a dual diagnosis of anxiety and substance abuse requires both addiction treatment to recover from their substance abuse and therapy to help the individual understand the causes of their anxiety and work through any past trauma or current situations that are behind it.

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy levels or activity levels. These changes can be extreme, and they disrupt the person’s ability to maintain relationships or perform normally at school or at work. Bipolar disorder is not easy to recognize from the outside, and sometimes its symptoms are mistaken for other types of illness, such as clinical depression. People who are close to the suffering individual may be able to see the pattern emerge over time, but a psychological evaluation is necessary to truly diagnose bipolar disorder.

People with bipolar disorder may try to manage the most severe changes in their mood and energy levels by self-medicating. They may use alcohol or marijuana to calm manic periods, and stimulants to raise mood during a depressive period. Some individuals may use stimulants to increase or prolong manic periods, enjoying the extreme good mood and high energy they experience. Unfortunately, use of substances to manage symptoms usually results in overall worsening of symptoms as well as a great risk of developing addiction to one or more substances.

People coping with both bipolar and a substance abuse problem need simultaneous treatment of both conditions because changes in treatment of one condition can so easily trigger the symptoms of the other. Medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder may not work or could even be damaging if a person simultaneously uses alcohol or illicit drugs. Effectively treating the addiction requires reducing the energy and mood swings that trigger the substance abuse. Finally, bipolar disorder is not a condition that improves by itself. Unless a person receives both medical and psychological treatment, it is unlikely that they will be able to overcome their addiction, as they will continue to depend on self-medication to manage their symptoms.

Painkillers and Addiction: How Much Is Too Much?

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According to Consumer Reports, about 45 people a day—more than 16,000 people a year—die from an overdose of opioids, which include the drugs methadone, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Despite that number, in the last ten years, prescriptions for these drugs have climbed 300 percent.

And the statistics are startling:

  • One in five Americans report misusing a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime.
  • Teen drug abuse with [prescription painkillers] is now second only to marijuana in popularity.
  • Almost one in 10 high schools seniors report taking Vicodin within the past year.

Where do these students get these painkillers? Their parents, of course. Painkillers are the most-prescribed drug of this decade. And, unfortunately, painkiller addiction is on the rise.

How Does One Become Addicted to Painkillers?

With all the knowledge swirling around about how easy it is to become addicted to painkillers, how is it that there are still one in five Americans who misuse them? There is no single answer to this question as everyone’s situation is different. However, for some individuals, it depends on genetics.

Everyone’s heard of the term “addictive personality,” and that holds true for painkiller addiction. Andrew Saxon, professor of psychiatry and director of the addiction psychiatry residency program at the University of Washington, said in an interview with WebMD that those who have an addictive personality have a different chemical makeup in their brains from others.

When these individuals take their painkiller medication, like most people, they receive a pleasurable rush in their brains. However, once they feel that initial release, their brains want more. The more often these individuals are prescribed these drugs and the longer they take them, the more they want it—creating a vicious cycle.

How to Lower the Potential for Addiction

There are ways to use painkillers safely and properly, lessening the chance of dependency. Instead of long-acting medications, opt for the short-acting versions instead. The long-acting medications tend to be more than your body might need and have a higher chance of being stolen or abused.

When taking pain medication, be sure to monitor everything else you’re putting into your body. If you’re taking pain medication, it’s highly recommended that you skip the alcoholic beverages. When mixed with the medication, it affects your central nervous system and could even lead to overdose. You may also become addicted to the fuzzy-headedness and euphoric feeling of the combination.

If you have chronic pain, examine other prescription medications that may work better than painkillers. There is less of a chance for dependency taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen—particularly for those who suffer from fibromyalgia and other nerve pain. There are also other ways to find relief for chronic pain that include more natural, non-habit-forming remedies, including staying physically active, getting routine massages, and cutting back on alcohol and other foods that cause inflammation. Painkillers are meant to alleviate short-term pain, such as a broken bone or after surgery—not taken for an extended time.

Additionally, when you’re prescribed painkillers, read the label carefully and follow directions completely. If you have sleep problems, let your doctor know about it before any painkillers are prescribed. They could make your sleep problems worse; if you have sleep apnea, it could even be fatal.

It’s also important to be up front with your doctor and ask him or her how you will be monitored if you are expected to take the medication long-term. To prevent others from becoming dependent on painkillers, keep the medication locked up safe, away from children and others who would use them for “recreational purposes.”

Widespread Prevention

Even though there are tighter regulations put forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it still doesn’t seem to do the trick in preventing people from not taking these medications properly—leading to addiction and overdose. These regulations, though inconvenient for the customers, require a written prescription presented in person at the pharmacy. Individuals also cannot get refills called in, and must once again present another prescription to the pharmacist.

These steps, presumably, are the beginning of a long battle between the health care system and trying to curb painkiller abuse. This encourages doctors to more closely focus on their patients’ well being and avoid addiction.

Preventing the Next Tragedy: The Death of Robin Williams

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The tragic and untimely death of comedian Robin Williams has brought Bipolar Disorder and Depression out in the open. His death is a sobering reminder of the potentially lethal results that all too often accompany mental illness and addition. Mr. Williams was an incredibly talented actor/comedian whose passing will be mourned by so many. What is important for everyone to understand, however, is that there are clinically proven and effective treatment options for people who suffer from these problems.

Sadly, in the throes of depression an individual often feels hopeless. As the darkness of depression envelops them, the person may think that “I am hopeless and things will never get better”. They may isolate and withdraw from their family and the people who care for them. This isolation from the world only serves to fuel the depression and increases the likelihood of a person becoming suicidal.

The truth? Recovery from addiction and mood disorders is possible. Healing and wellness from these disabling conditions exist. Advances in our understanding of depression has led to remarkable breakthroughs in treatment. Support systems are available today which help individuals to not only survive but to thrive in life. The saying goes….”it takes a village to raise a child”, but it also takes a “recovery village” to help those suffering with mental and addictive disorders.

At Casa Palmera treatment center, we have a team of professionals who treat people with these potentially lethal conditions. We help the person find their way back to a life of meaning, value and purpose. We start with a comprehensive assessment which may include biofeedback and neurofeedback analysis. This assessment is unique to Casa Palmera, and provides our treating clinicians with the specific information to develop an individualized treatment plan to treat these complex problems. We heal in connection with and fellowship to others. Treatment offers a safe and nurturing environment to begin taking these first steps towards healing, wellness and recovery. If you or a loved one has suffered long enough, we are here to help. Contact us at 1-866-768-6719.

Casa Palmera News Interview on Addiction and Disease

Bruce Figuered, PhD, Director of Clinical Services at Casa Palmera treatment center, was recently interviewed by San Diego Made, San Diego Proud.

Watch the video below to hear his explanation on the importance of viewing addiction as a disease for both those with addictions and their family and friends to help better understand their issues and get the best treatment possible. Also included are discussions on co-occuring disorders, or dual diagnosis, as well as the gratification that the staff at Casa Palmera receives when a patient is positively rehabilitated.

Adapting Addiction Recovery Skills to Eating, Part 4

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Strategy 4: Separate a Substance from Its Related Behavior

You’ve been following along, able to Identify Your Triggers, Avoid them, and attempt Abstinence from your unwanted eating behaviors. So why isn’t everything fixed?

Think back to when you started your recovery from addiction… surely there were slips and slides and lapses and do-overs. That’s what the Desire chip is for, right? So each time you make an attempt and don’t succeed, you have the possibility of identifying a barrier to change that you may not have thought of before.

One common barrier to changing eating behaviors is a Confusion of the Substance with its Related Behavior(s). In other words, you believe that you are hooked on the substance, when really it is the situation that surrounds that substance that is appealing. An example would be someone who is addicted to gambling and alcohol. They might commit to staying out of the casino, but they still drink to excess even sitting at home. Gambling may be a separate problem, but stopping gambling doesn’t address the alcohol addiction. Someone else might say, “I only drink when I’m gambling. If I don’t go to the casino, I wouldn’t bother with booze.” That person has separated the substance from the behavior. If they stay away from gambling, their drinking isn’t a problem.

It is difficult at times to separate two or more related behaviors, and usually only time and attempting to change can reveal the truth. That’s why this barrier is only revealed AFTER you have taken the initial steps to change.

Answering the following questions on your own or with a support person may give you some insight about whether you may have linked two or more issues together.

1. What Are the Good Parts of the Unwanted Eating?

It may be hard to see something good in this behavior you are trying to quit, but I can almost guarantee there is something in there. Take the example of overeating brownies. If this is a behavior you are trying to stop, it can feel like the worst thing in the world. You can swear off brownies and keep them out of your house. But if you find that against all odds you don’t stay away from brownies, consider if there is some good aspect of this behavior… something that feels good right up until it feels bad. Maybe you really like how brownies taste. Perhaps it feels like a reward at the end of a hard day, or something you can do that you don’t have to share. If you can identify the benefits you get, you may be able to find another way to get that same thing – doesn’t everyone deserve to eat something they enjoy, have a reward at the end of the day, or have something of their own that they don’t have to share? You deserve all of these things, you just don’t deserve eating a whole pan of brownies just to get it.

2. Do you prefer the process of eating or the outcome?

What you’re trying to answer is exactly which part of the unwanted behavior has the payoff in it for you? Do you like how you feel when you are in the process of eating the brownies? Or do you enjoy how you feel after they’re gone? Perhaps you hate how you feel after it’s over, you only like the excitement you feel building up in advance. Perhaps you detest how you feel while doing it, you only like the contented feeling you get when you’re done. Or perhaps you feel awful when you see them and the only way to feel better is to make them disappear. Try to pinpoint the exact moment you go from being excited about brownies to hating them, or yourself. It is very challenging to stay in touch with your emotions in this way, but if you can, you will gain valuable information. If your response is something like, “Why would I stay in touch with my emotions?? The whole reason I eat is to get away from them!!” well that begs the question why are your feelings so scary? Definitely one to discuss with a counselor. Because inner demons don’t just go away when you feed them.

3. What if You Change the Eating Situation?

You can answer this question as a thought experiment – you might be surprised at how strong your reaction is to just thinking about changing your eating. For example, let’s use the same example of overeating brownies. Let’s say that you overeat brownies in secret. What if you made that same pan of brownies, and then ate them one by one in the lunch room at work. Do you instantly think, “No way I would do that!” If so, then you know it’s the secrecy you like. Or the way that you check out and relax when you’re eating alone in a way that you couldn’t with people around. Or if you tend to eat brownies in the middle of the night, what would it be like to eat them in the daytime? Would it be different? Feel different? Have a different effect on your mood or your day? Change the scenario just in your mind, or actually try it one day, and see what you learn. Perhaps you are using food to take a break, or to relax, or something else that you are most certainly entitled to, but just need to get in a more effective manner.

4. Would you Eat any Other Food That Way? Or Do Any Other Behaviors in the Same Situation?

Another thought experiment: You go to the store, you pick out some brownies. You take them home and you eat them at home late at night. What would it be like if you brought home carrots instead? Would you look forward to waiting till everyone’s asleep? Would you enjoy eating carrots, or carrot cake, or jello? Or is it only the brownies that make you feel good? What if you got up in the middle of the night to do origami? Or yoga? Or smoke? What would be different if you did a different behavior that doesn’t involve any eating at all? How can you take what you learn and adapt your behavior? Perhaps what you need is a better night’s sleep, or a hobby, and food is just a shoddy substitute.

5. Why Might you NOT Want to Change this Part of your Eating?

This is a super tough question when every part of your mind is thinking, “Of course I want to change! Why do you think I’m here???” But it turns out that only the conscious part of your mind has that thought, and there is more to you than meets the eye. It is extremely hard to dip into your subconscious mind, but you can do it if you think about things in a different way. What would be scary about changing your behavior? What would it be like if you didn’t have brownies to turn to in the night? What might you miss out on, or be losing, or what might you have to do or face if you didn’t have brownies to distract you? Once again you may identify a normal human need that you can meet in a way that doesn’t involve brownies or overeating behavior.

You may find responding to these questions difficult, or you may feel the answers are immediately obvious.

Either way, the more challenging task is to find a way to get what you really need from your life instead of turning to food to get it. This is no different than the task that you faced when you committed to living a drug-free life, or a life without alcohol, or anything else. Change can be hard, but if you can identify the barriers that are holding you back, you will have an easier time of facing life in a different way. It can be tempting to think that food is an easy answer, that food doesn’t require anything of you, no deep introspection, no time with your journal. But I suspect that there is something in you that knows this is false. That although food doesn’t ask anything of you, you ask more of yourself. That is why you are looking for clues, looking for answers, looking for help.

If you know there is more out there for you than the food problems you are facing, please call Casa Palmera at (858) 481-4411. Phones are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and intake counselors can point you in the right direction. No barrier is too high to change when you have the right kind of help.