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Cognitive Fusion & Decognitive Fusion: The Start to Breaking Unhealthy Eating Disorder Habits

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 

 

Disordered health

Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis – Disordered Health, 2017

Rigid rules around diet and exercise, which often form unhealthy behaviours follow rigid thoughts and beliefs we have of ourselves. In order to promote healthier habits, these rigid thought sets need to change.

We need to become more ‘flexible’ and not be so hard on ourselves. When I suffered anorexia, the fear to eat normally was huge as I thought I was a failure if I did. It was a very irrational thought yet created great fear.  These thoughts lead to very ‘black and white’ thinking, becoming a ‘destructive normal pattern’ making change seem difficult to achieve. However, this thinking is ironic, as we think our rigid rule keeping will bring the change that we want, yet change in itself involves allowing flexibility.

I liken the trap of rigid thinking to a quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption:

“These walls are funny. First, you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.”

Rigid Self Talk = Rigid Rules 

Our self-talk can become a complex trap of comparing, criticising, judging and punishing ourselves. The behaviours of restricted dieting, excessive exercise, binging, purging and other compensatory behaviours can be a result of these thoughts and are a means of controlling the emotions that are unpleasant.

If our thoughts are automatic and govern rigid behaviour around food and exercise, then they become patterns of living we depend on. These create a fear and anxiety within us if we break these rules.  There is no freedom to live fully when we are bound by this kind of rigidity.

Externalising the Problem

I have mentioned this before, but one of the best changes in my self-talk was to not call it ‘my eating disorder’. I refer to it now as ‘the eating disorder’. This creates distance so that the person can begin to see that they personally are not the problem. It allows for discernment of other factors that influence the thoughts and behaviours. It gives a sense of relief and hope that the individual is not worthless and helps develop skills to dealing with the factors rather than self-blame and punishment. Once the problem is externalised then the harmful thoughts can be examined.

hands-1

Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis – Free Yourself

Cognitive Fusion 

Fusion is the joining of two or more things, so cognitive fusion occurs when we attach our thoughts or feelings to something. It may be a movie line, a song, a poem or the storyline of a book that reminds us of an event. Memories can come flooding back and we may have streams of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. At this time, they become our truth or rules that we feel we must obey.

The idea of cognitive fusion shows the need to become assertive in our thoughts and challenge these. The sooner this is done the more flexible we become and able to live in the present and not be driven to act automatically with unhealthy behaviours. The anxiety caused if rigid dieting is broken is immense. Negative thoughts scream in your mind about the failure that you are and that you are dirty and no longer worthy. Compensatory behaviours like excessive exercise, purging, and severe food restrictions are automatic and the cycle starts again.

Cognitive Defusion

Defusion is the opposite of fusion and involves stepping back and creating distance. Cognitive defusion creates distance between our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to an event or experience. Defusion is the first step to take to help analyse thoughts in a healthy manner, seeing them as a stream of words, images, and sounds in our mind. Defusing these thoughts, or creating this distance takes time, however, they eventually have less impact.

A study by Trindade and Ferreira 1, revealed that body-image related cognitive fusion was positively associated with more general cognitive fusion. That means that thoughts are so automatic that certain events trigger automatic behaviour based on these. This shows that the person has lost the ability to be present, socially, physically and psychologically. The study also showed that cognitive fusion regarding body image was linked with unfavourable social rank perceptions. This could be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder or a consequence of having an eating disorder, where submissive behaviour dominates over assertive behaviour.

My personal experience reflects the results of this study. I did not know how to be assertive as I felt I was not allowed to have an opinion. Therefore, I felt unworthy and unloved. Over time, I became submissive as an attempt to please others. I became submissive in my self-talk and thought life. And so the cycle of attempting to make myself ‘feel better’ with unhealthy, rigid diet and exercise behaviours began. Thoughts about my body-image became rigid. The heightened anxiety would not allow for reflection of the present. You can read more about the effect of anxiety on our ability to identify emotion here https://inshapenewsflash.com/2017/03/22/interoception-and-eating-disorders/

Holistic Treatment

Treatment for eating disorders needs to include challenging and replacing thoughts of low self-worth. Treatment needs to be holistic as eating disorders are complex and involve both unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that have negative mental, physical and social health consequences. To treat only the physical symptoms will not be effective in the long term. To get medical, professional help please visit any one of the organisations below or feel free to contact Eleni as a starting point at info@brazengrowth.com.au

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, then do not hesitate to seek help. Some great resources are:

Sources:

  1. Trindade, Inês A., and Cláudia Ferreira. “The impact of body image-related cognitive fusion on eating psychopathology.” Eating behaviors 15.1 (2014): 72-75.

Eleni will also be presenting at the National Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference

Date: August 7-8, 2017

Venue: The Mantra View Hotel, Gold Coast

Register now for a wealth of information: https://eatingdisordersaustralia.org.au

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

Eleni

Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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Prevention of Eating Disorders

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 

 

Family Shadow

Photo Credit: Family – Eleni Psillakis – 2017

 

 

The development of an eating disorder can be prevented! However, no one should feel guilt or blame if these illnesses do develop as they are so complex. I have 3 siblings, all raised in the same household and went to the same school. They did not develop an eating disorder as I did. Individual personalities, circumstances and the way each person deals with emotions and difficulties need consideration.

Understanding the risks and the protective factors, allows us to determine strategies to help those that may be vulnerable to developing these serious and complicated illnesses. They can arise from a variety of physical, emotional, social and family issues and these need to be addressed for prevention to be effective.

Primary and Secondary Prevention

Efforts and protective factors that are designed to prevent eating disorders before they begin are known as primary prevention. Secondary prevention includes programs or efforts that promote early detection of an eating disorder before the behaviours become habits that are difficult to break. The best primary prevention begins in the home as this is where children first learn.

Developing Healthy Self-worth

A common trait of those with any kind of eating disorder is low self-worth and not feeling ‘good enough’. No matter what protective measures are encouraged, the most important one is to encourage self-love. This creates a resilience to critically analyse and bounce back from circumstances that could lead to harmful behaviours in order to feel better about one’s self.

Building up self-esteem that is not based on body shape, size or unrealistic expectations, but on the unconditional love of who someone is, and not what they do or look like is important. Praising inner qualities such as creativity, intelligence, resilience, compassion instead of appearance or comparing them to others is more helpful. We all have these inner strengths but we often overlook or forget about these.

Food and Exercise Attitudes

As a parent, personal trainer, dietitian, nutritionist, sports coach, physical education teacher or anyone that gives advice on diet and exercise, may do well to examine their own beliefs, attitudes and motivations for giving the advice that they do.  Avoid verbal and non-verbal messages which place an overemphasis on body shape. Our own biases of diet and exercise, which may not be healthy can influence someone that is vulnerable. Avoid labelling foods as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Encourage a balanced diet and do not use exercise as a means of punishment for calories eaten.

 

Family dinner

Photo Credit: Healthy Eating – Eleni Psillakis – 2017

 

Addressing Gender Roles in Society

Both men and women are at risk of developing eating disorders and can become obsessed with the appearance and feel shame about their body. Our portrayal of gender roles within the family and in society needs to be addressed and discussed so that individuals are confident in who they are and not behaving according to a norm set by society. If we are not confident and love who we are, we may constantly compare ourselves and our lives to others, chasing the wave of the next trend or fad. If this is not attained, then guilt and shame, which are common features of eating disorders could drive our behaviour.

Media Literacy

If our sense of self is strong and healthy and we love who we are, we are less likely to be swayed by the influences of the media. Not bowing to the notion of chasing being ‘perfect’, whether it be looks, lifestyle or accomplishments. No one is perfect. Social media posts tend to portray people at their best. If someone is vulnerable to an eating disorder they will be influenced by the millions of posts relating to body shape, diet and fitness. Fitspo refers to images and words hoping to inspire others to live a fit, active lifestyle and often show meals or promote diet fads and exercise regimes that are unbalanced and inadequate to sustain activity or health.  Educating on what is healthy and unhealthy and to be able to critically analyse these posts is crucial if someone is vulnerable to be influenced by them.

Learning from Failure

Society is also obsessed with success. Success in any area of life can come after so many failures. Not putting each other down when we fall or make mistakes and using these experiences to learn rather than shaming a person, especially a child, is beneficial to building resilience. Shame, guilt, fear of failing and fear of disappointing others can lead to eating disorder behaviour. These attitudes are then aimed at one’s self, where a person feels they have to adhere to rigid rules and if they ‘fail’ they punish themselves either in a cycle of binge-purging, restrictive dieting, excessive exercise, substance abuse or a combination of all of these.

Love of Movement

Being involved in any physical activity is healthy. Activities that emphasise body shape and size such as dance, gymnastics, bodybuilding, and even boxing or horse jockeying, where a certain weight class needs to be attained, could place a person at risk, considering all other factors. In all activities, if someone is not happy with who they are, constantly compares themselves to others and attempts to use unhealthy diet and exercise behaviours to improve their performance, could be at risk of developing an eating disorder. In fact, their performance will drop if their thoughts are unhealthy and their diet and exercise are unbalanced.

 

FAMILY OUTDOORS

Photo Credit: Unconditional Love – Eleni Psillakis – 2017

 

Communication and Education

Constant, open, non-judgmental communication about how someone is feeling, at all stages of life is such an important factor. Treating people’s feeling with respect and talking about them allows for healthy means of identifying and managing emotions. If not discussed openly and without fear, then these can form unhealthy beliefs about ourselves that we may control with behaviours that are harmful. They affect not only our own physical, mental and social health, but that of those around us and our relationships.

Melbourne Workshop for Fitness Industry Professional Development: Identifying and Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry

Date: June 25, 2017

Time: 10:30am – 4pm

Venue: Virgin Active, 567 Collins Street, Melbourne

Register now: www.brazengrowth.com.au/shop

Eleni will also be presenting at the National Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference

Date: August 7-8, 2017

Venue: The Mantra View Hotel, Gold Coast

Register now for a wealth of information: https://eatingdisordersaustralia.org.au

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

Eleni

Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Eating Disorders: Implications for the Fitness Industry

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 

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Photo CreditCeleste Pascual, 2008 – Finding Yourself – 

I had the honour of presenting a 90min lecture at Filex 2017 on “Identifying and Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry”. One of the participants at the end of the session asked why every trainer was not in the session. Her daughter had signed up for a 12-week body transformation challenge, and was told that dairy and carbs were evil. She was instructed to do an extra hour of cardio on the treadmill because she had eaten these. Her daughter is in a clinic suffering Anorexia Nervosa.

There are so many risk factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Fitness professionals are in a position to identify a person who may be displaying signs of these serious mental health issues. A duty of care exists for physical injuries and so a duty of care with these issues needs to be considered.

We are health professionals. The World Health Organisation’s definition of health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” All these components are not independent of one another. Just as we hope that we are treated as a whole person by others, our management of clients should consider all these factors if we are to be effective in improving HEALTH and not just influencing body shape.

Team Approach

Just as we refer clients to other health professionals for physical injuries and chronic diseases, we can work alongside allied health professionals to be part of the solution, not only for our clients but for our colleagues and ourselves. Fitness professionals are not expected to offer psychological help but we can work as part of this team to offer a holistic approach. In an industry that seems to have become so ‘body shape’ orientated, we may have lost sight of total health. Eating disorders, disordered eating and excessive exercise certainly result in serious negative consequences for physical, mental and social health.

Screening

We screen for physical injuries, chronic physical health conditions, medications and recent surgery. We also need to know how to screen for mental health issues, especially eating disorders, which are associated with unhealthy diet and exercise behaviours. Determining the appropriate questions to include and having some understanding of the possible responses is required to determine if there is a risk of a problem developing.

Communication

To start a conversation with someone who you may be concerned about can be difficult.

Many fitness professionals may avoid these conversations for the following reasons:

  • They think they may upset the client
  • They do not know how to address this
  • They may not be able to recognise that there is a problem.

Research shows that dieting is the single biggest predictor of an eating disorder developing. Women 18-25, who diet severely are 18 times for likely to develop an eating disorder within 6 months. This alone shows that having this initial conversation sooner rather than later is crucial. A person may deny that there is a problem at first, but showing that you care, with constant appropriate support can mean a turning point for them. There are two key factors for this initial conversation.

  1. Express concern about the person’s health and not their body weight or shape.
  2. Be non-judgmental and be empathetic, considering the impact of the language that is used on the client.

Contraindications

If we are only focused on shape and have unhealthy means of attaining this, we may not be aware of the damage done to our bodies. There are contraindications for certain forms of exercise because of the health risks associated with certain eating disorders. Some of these include osteoporosis, cardiac complications, electrolyte imbalances and hormonal deficiencies as a result of dangerous compensatory behaviours.

Exercise Prescription

The value of physical activity on mental health is well documented. Eating disorders are serious mental health issues. Depending on the medical complications, and physical health consequences, the type, frequency and intensity of exercise programmed needs to consider achieving a balance for optimal health. Rigid regimes are not helpful if they result in an obsessive, compulsive need to exercise in which anxiety is increased.

Diet Recommendation

Certificate III and IV trained personal trainers are not qualified to write meal plans unless they have appropriate nutritional qualifications. Advice given should be based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines.  https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55

This applies to advice given to any client let alone those at risk of an eating disorder. A registered nutritionist and dietitian are qualified to do this. Providing rigid meal plans may not be helpful for a person suffering from eating disorders or disordered eating as they already base their sense of worth around adhering to their own, often unhealthy, strict rules. There are dietitians and nutritionists who can specifically assist with the nutritional needs of these clients.

Progress Measures

There are so many other improvements for measures of health other than the number on the scale and body composition. To focus on these for a person at risk of an eating disorder may not be helpful as these things are often their only focus already. It may be more helpful to use measures such as:

  • Improvement in strength and flexibility
  • Enjoyment of movement rather than a compulsion to exercise
  • Eating meals with others
  • Eating meals that they have not prepared
  • Decrease in binge episodes
  • Decreased anxiety around diet and exercise behaviours
  • Increased rest
  • Improved mood

REGISTER NOW!  Gain a better understanding of all the above-mentioned points to help to identify and assist people that may be struggling with these issues. The next 4-CEC approved workshop details are:

Venue: Virgin Active, 567 Collins Street, MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

Date: June 25, 2017

Time: 10:30 – 4pm

Register at: www.brazengrowth.com.au/shop

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

Eleni

Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Tips to Assist Recovery from an Eating Disorder

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 

woman-591576_1280

Photo CreditEleni Psillakis, 2017 – Embrace Life – 

Recovery from an eating disorder is very complex. These serious mental health issues result in a disordered array of physical, mental, emotional and social health consequences. Research indicates that approximately 50% of people who have suffered from an eating disorder fully recover. Because of their complexity, there is no single pathway to recovery and effective treatment would consider the multifaceted nature of these issues and each individual concerned.

No Judgement

I was fortunate to take part in a recovery forum conducted by the Butterfly Foundation, where people with a lived experience of an eating disorder gave insights to key points that assisted recovery. I remember the highlight for me in this setting was that there was no judgment. This is a key factor to assisting recovery. Someone with an eating disorder judges themselves enough. Having someone listen to me respectfully and not focus on the exercise or dieting behaviours made me feel like I was being heard and seen as a human being and not as a problem.

Supportive relationships help to diminish the huge sense of guilt and fear that the individual is already experiencing. The fear of taking the first steps towards recovery is immense. Comments like “you should be eating ice cream, not yoghurt”, not only raised anxiety and fear levels, but I also felt that my attempts in trying were not good enough. This was the mindset I had that developed the unhealthy behaviours to start with. I felt more support from the people that did not comment about food.

A sense of control or agency was the biggest issue for me personally. This was also found to be a common factor for others.  Self-control needs to be encouraged for recovery not in the sense of reinforcing the control over restrictive eating or compensatory behaviours, but rather encouragement that I was taking responsibility for my health. Gradually increasing the amount and variety of foods I ate and changing my exercise habits from running purely to burn calories to cutting out all cardio and just do resistance training was frightening! But the thought of going to the hospital on bed rest was more frightening.

Education about what health problems arose from the behaviours I was engaging in helped. These health problems were not to do with weight or shape but rather the damage to my metabolism, endocrine system, bone health and cardiovascular system. This did not help immediately, but it certainly gave me something else to think about other than merely burning calories. Not being rushed and having time to consider helped alleviate a little bit the fear to try to change my behaviour. As I got through each week gradually increasing for food intake, I realised the fears I had about billowing out were unfounded and my attitude to eating kept improving.

I was in my second year of university when I made first steps to recovery. Gaining feedback from others about my work or how well I was doing in my course was helpful for two reasons. One was that I was able to start focusing on other goals such as obtaining a degree and secondly I felt a sense of responsibility to try and recover. Focusing on other goals helped me to regain a glimpse of who I was as I had forgotten that person.

Professional Help

I will continue to maintain that seeking professional, psychological help was the key to working through the issues that caused the unhealthy diet and exercise patterns. Unless these are treated I do not believe full recovery occurs. Self-acceptance and self-love is the goal where the worth of an individual is not based on the adherence to unhealthy regimes or substances, to deal with negative thoughts. Letting go of calling the anorexia I suffered as ‘my eating disorder’, was one of the most liberating feelings. Your identity is NOT the eating disorder. I found who I was again through many mistakes, a multifaceted treatment plan and lots of unconditional support.

For further tips on what is helpful in assisting recovery please visit https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/assets/Uploads/ButtInsights-BOOK1-online-nov5-FINAL-20161107.pdf.

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

Eleni

Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Interoception and Eating Disorders

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

Comfort Zone Blackboard

 

Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis, 2017 – Comfort Zone –

Beliefs form the basis of our actions, particularly beliefs about ourselves. Depression and anxiety are comorbid with eating disorders giving an exaggerated negative image of self, others and the future. This article looks at how beliefs and anxiety may interfere with accurate interoception and the cycle that this creates, particularly with eating disorders.

Interoception

Interoception involves sensing the physiological state of the body and the ability to accurately identify emotions. For example, sensing pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, hunger, stomach discomfort related to low pH and intestinal tension or confusion over whether someone is feeling fear or anger. The interesting thing is that sensing these physiological signs is affected by our emotional state. To determine the impact of our emotions in regards to eating disorders and how interoception is affected, our beliefs need to be taken into consideration.

The Role of Beliefs and Interoception

A belief can be defined as a mental construct that affirms or denies the truth and is closely linked to the judgment process. These processes provide insight into the link between self and interoception. False beliefs affect decision-making as the individual’s perception of reality is distorted.

To put this into context, when I struggled with anorexia nervosa, the core belief I had was that I was not loved unless I did things and that I was not valued as I was not allowed to have an opinion. So I started exercising obsessively and eating less. As I did this, I had my parents’ attention, whereas before I felt ignored. The anxiety around not exercising or eating became worse and my thoughts continually raced around food, exercise and the strict regimes I set for myself. If I broke these, the anxiety increased and I felt like a failure. So I would react by eating less and exercising more. I did not feel hunger or gauge the intensity at which I ran. I could not rationally evaluate what I was doing.

The Effect of the Constant States of Anxiety

Research has shown that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of the brain is active when a person’s thoughts are at rest as this is when self-reflection occurs, and the power of false beliefs decreases. This means if highly anxious states dominate, the false beliefs become stronger and so the cycles continue. Being in a constant state of anxiety around food, exercise and thinking that I would lose worth or my parent’s attention, did not allow this state of rest to occur and so the false beliefs were strengthened.

In the case of bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, the binge may represent an escape from self-awareness, resulting from guilt and shame. In the process of the binge, anxiety increases and the sense of being full is not acknowledged. This adds to the guilt/shame, and the destructive cycle is strengthened.

The Need to Challenge False Beliefs

This shows that false core beliefs need challenging to break these behaviours. I believe it takes professional help for a person to examine these beliefs and to determine their accuracy especially when they have existed for years. Ways of challenging these false beliefs and then replacing them with accurate ones are vital to changing the behaviour and breaking the cycle. It is not easy and requires effort, but with the right help and support, it is possible.

For help, please contact your GP and/or visit:

References:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00429-010-0258-9

Do You Want to Learn More?

Then come to Filex and join my ‘Identifying and Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry Session

Eating disorders come in all body shapes and sizes. How then do you determine if a client is suffering from any of these serious mental health issues – and if they are, how do you manage them? Drawing on her personal and professional experience, Eleni provides an insight into eating disorders and explains how to best serve clients suffering from them.

When: Saturday 29th April

Time: 10.15 – 11.45am

 See Me at Filex

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she suffered clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling assisted with the unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that made the difference this time around.

IMG_0729

In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.

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An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Follow us on Twitter for more news, tips and inspiration.

Explore our Pinterest boards.

Don’t forget to leave us a comment.

We like to hear what you have to say🙂

What is Muscle Dysmorphia (MD)?

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

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Photo Credit: Matty Flicks, 2014Self Portrait: Got Juice?

Muscle Dysmorphia (MD) is classified as an obsessive-compulsive, body image disturbance disorder that involves excessive exercise as the primary focus with disordered eating as a secondary component.  The compulsion is to achieve high levels of muscularity and leanness. It has also been known as ‘reverse anorexia’ called ‘bigorexia’.

Individuals with MD perceive themselves to lack muscularity and become preoccupied with trying to attain what they perceive as the ‘ideal frame’. Subsequently, they often resorting to unhealthy behaviours and substance abuse to accomplish this.

Signs of Muscle Dysmorphia

The Diagnostic Criteria for MD are:

  • Obsessive belief that his/her body should be more muscular and leaner.
  • Fixation on diet.
  • Significant amount of time weight lifting.

And at least 2 of the following:

  • Pursuing usual training regime at the expense of career, social and other activities.
  • Significant unease or avoidance of body exposure.
  • Presumed body deficiencies affect work performance and social life.
  • Fear of injury that may impede training regime.
  • Believes that his/her body is insufficiently small and not muscular.2

Signs include:

  • Excessive use of dietary supplements.
  • Abuse of pharmacologic substances e.g. anabolic steroids.
  • Obsessive training at the expense of social commitments.
  • Excessive ‘mirror looking.’
  • Overtraining.
  • Training despite injury and/or illness.
  • Body Image Dissatisfaction.
  • Obsessive – compulsive rituals.
  • Disordered eating patterns e.g. very high protein or low-fat diets.

Who Does Muscle Dysmorphia Affect?

Research suggests that 100 000 people worldwide meet the diagnostic criteria for MD. However, this figure may not be accurate as there appears to be less treatment available for this disorder compared to that of other disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa. There has also been little research on the prevalence of MD in both men and women. However, it is considered to be more prevalent in males.

In a study by Pope et al., called “The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession”3, adolescent boy that were presented with various body types on a computer. Of these images, the majority of males chose bodies that were 30 – 40 pounds heavier than they actually were. Some boys even asked if they could make the images bigger. Even more alarming, “ a survey of over 22,000 high school students in Australia found that around 2% of 12- to 17-year-olds had used steroids “without a doctor’s prescription.” When asked why they used steroids, the boys said they wanted to “better at sport, to increase muscle size or to improve their general appearance”- (http://theconversation.com/more-young-men-using-steroids-but-do-they-know-the-harms-3021).

There are many co-morbidities for MD including spending excessive time in the gym at the expense of other life and social commitments and abuse of other substances. One man was known to have missed the birth of his first child as he had to finish his 6-hour training session.

Participating in activities such as weightlifting, bodybuilding and other athletic sports involving power, appears to be a risk factor where individuals have a poor sense of self and poor body image. The idea of gaining more muscle to have ‘and advantage’ may lead to MD and substance abuse.  Justin Rhys,( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrm87U5UkRI) was a New Zealand Bodybuilder who died of the complications associated with long-term destructive behaviours of MD.

The growing number of both male and female participants in bodybuilding competitions, where muscularity and low levels of body fat are judging criteria, raises a concern for MD in both males and females.

Media Influence and Societal Expectations

There appears to be a collision between physical fitness and body image insecurities at the expense of HEALTH. This is the case with all eating disorders. Body image is closely related to self-esteem and the effects on such an image-driven society that we have become may cause many vulnerable people to engage in unhealthy practices.

Muscle Magazines, Fitness Magazines, Fitness Instagram accounts of bodybuilders and fitness models provide instant exposure to muscular, lean bodies. I am not suggesting that this is unhealthy, but what is unhealthy is when, in the name of “Health and Fitness”, obsessive behaviours take over someone’s life at the expense of physical, mental, emotional and social well-being, often resulting in medical complications, broken relationships, a poor sense of self, and even death.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, then do not hesitate to seek help. Some great resources are:

References:

  1. Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
  1. Muscle dysmorphia. An underrecognized form of body dysmorphic disorder.Pope HG Jr, Gruber AJ, Choi P, Olivardia R, Phillips KA – Psychosomatics. 1997 Nov-Dec; 38(6):548-57.
  1. Pope HG Jr, Phillips KA, Olivardia R. The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession. New York, NY: The Free Press; 2000. 


About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she suffered clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling assisted with the unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that made the difference this time around.

IMG_0729

In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.

!cid_918C108D-ADDA-4080-8C97-CCC9687E6514

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Follow us on Twitter for more news, tips and inspiration.

Explore our Pinterest boards.

Don’t forget to leave us a comment.

We like to hear what you have to say🙂

Recovery: The Heart of the Matter

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

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Photo Credit: Kiran Foster, 2012 – Self-Esteem

If I could sum up what recovery from an eating disorder, or any other kind of addictive behaviour, looks like in just a few words, it would be “Freedom to love who you are.” I believe I am correct in saying that most of us want to be loved unconditionally, yet we place conditions on ourselves. As such, many of us can’t even love who we are unless we stick to these ‘conditions’, even though they are harmful.

From my early teens, I believed that love was based on pleasing my parents. There was a lot of emotional and physical control in my upbringing. I am not blaming anyone, but this is how I interpreted what it means to be loved. My self-worth was based on what other people thought of me – conditional love. So I extended this thinking to myself. In my late teens, this took the form of anorexia nervosa. The ‘conditions’ were less eating, excessive exercise, even when I was exhausted and sometimes injured, not eating anything that anyone else had prepared, avoiding social life, keeping the number on the scale decreasing and attempting to be the perfect daughter.

I created a cycle of behaviour driven by the fear of not being loved, guilt, and believing I was not ‘good enough’, and then shame if I broke the crippling regime of conditions I created. The control that I lived under became the means by which I thought I managed my downward spiral of low self-worth.

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Photo Credit: DanaK, 2008 – Self-Worth

Dealing with the Symptoms

Education about the adverse effects of restricted eating, excessive dieting and binge/purge cycles were helpful for the start of my physical recovery. Taking small steps to eat more and realising that I was not going to ‘blow out’ was useful to gradually change some of the signs and symptoms of my behaviour. However, I do not believe that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is full recovery. The thoughts that initiate negative behaviours are like the roots of weeds, and if these are not treated, then the cycle has the potential to recur or manifest in other ways.

My need for approval did not disappear. The ‘people pleasing’ behaviours still occurred well into my marriage. I feared expressing my opinion and just aimed to please as a wife and a mother. When my marriage fell apart, the low self-worth escalated to severe depression and promiscuity became a way of attempting to feel some value. This was another fear/ guilt/ shame cycle. In the era of selfies and social media, I wonder how many people base their worth and value on how many ‘likes’ they get?

Hitting Rock Bottom

My low self-worth led to making a poor decision which cost me time in prison. I hated myself more and was so ashamed. Eighty percent of incarcerated women have endured a life filled with some form mental health issue and the risk of developing an eating disorder while in custody increases. The intensive psychological help I received the year before being incarcerated, addressed the issues that should have been dealt with in my late teens and early 20’s. Recovery meant facing these core beliefs I had of myself.  Facing the unseen issues that manifested into physical behaviours that firstly ‘imprisoned’ my life by my own restrictive conditions and then led to actual imprisonment.

Love is Not Fear Driven

Ironically, it was during this time that I found my freedom. You cannot love yourself or others freely when fear is the motivation. Physical recovery occurs only when the signs are treated. Full recovery happens when the negative core beliefs are treated. In a place where I was locked in a cell 18-hours a day with no access to fresh water or food that I prepared, I fought the lowly thoughts that I had of myself. There were many times where I had to use all the skills my psychologist taught me to challenge low self-worth in that place and fight those I did, as I knew where that thinking led.

Unconditional love drives out all fear. A love of the things about me that I had forgotten. A love of the things that our ‘image driven world’ often forgets such as compassion, creativity, and perseverance, as well as a love of learning, the encouragement of others, and a sense of humour – the list goes on. However, I began to love me again. I could’ve easily fallen into the eating disorder behaviours in prison, where all of your freedom, choices and identity is taken from you. The disordered thinking had taken my identity way before this, so I finally accepted myself warts and all.

What Does Recovery Look Like?

I believe true recovery looks like this:

  • I am free from fear about who I am.
  • I am free to love who I am.
  • I am free to enjoy food that I once feared.
  • I am free to enjoy eating food that others prepare.
  • I am free to exercise for enjoyment rather than from a fear filled obsession.
  • I enjoy resting.
  • My mind is free to pursue goals I had abandoned due to the need to please others.
  • My thoughts are not dominated by food, burning calories or compensatory behaviours.
  • I do not have to live by strict regimes I construct to know my worth.
  • I am free from believing I need to look or be like anyone else.
  • Media images do not make me feel less of myself.
  • I have found me again.
  • My identity is not in an eating disorder
  • My worth is not based on what other’s think of me. If this were still so, I would not be sharing this experience with you. For if I still feared, I would not be free.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, then do not hesitate to seek help. Some great resources are:

The Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders:  http://cedd.org.au

Eating Disorders Victoria: http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au

The National Eating Disorder Collaboration: www.nedc.com.au

The Butterfly Foundation: http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au 

Shape Your Mind Psychologists: http://www.shapeyourmind.com.au

Alternatively, you can contact me, Eleni. I would love to chat with you. Just email me at info@brazengrowth.com.au.

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she suffered clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling assisted with the unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that made the difference this time around.

IMG_0729

In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.

!cid_918C108D-ADDA-4080-8C97-CCC9687E6514

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Follow us on Twitter for more news, tips and inspiration.

Explore our Pinterest boards.

Don’t forget to leave us a comment.

We like to hear what you have to say🙂

Resistance Training and Recovery from an Eating Disorder

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

shutterstock_74681176

The hardest habit for a person suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating to break is the regime that makes them feel ‘safe’. Even though negative consequences result from regimes such as restricted dieting, excessive exercising and bingeing, or purging, laxative use and the abuse of other substances.

Someone who has an eating disorder bases their whole sense of worth on adhering to these regimes. As a result, their body image becomes distorted and low self-worth becomes the driving force for negative behaviours. For example, I felt in control as long as I ran 10 km, twice a day and ate very little.

The Realisation that Change was Needed

The moment my GP told me that I would go to a hospital, on bed rest and a feeding program, was the moment I knew I had to try to break away from this debilitating disorder. The thought of change scared me. But, the thought of hospital and ‘losing control’ scared me even more. I feared that if I didn’t have some input into trying to recover, then the worth that I felt in myself would be lost. I also thought that if I gained weight that I wouldn’t have my parent’s attention anymore, as I had felt unheard or unloved before this.

eleni1

Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis, 2016.

Top left: Eleni 12-months before reaching her lowest weight of 39kgs.

Bottom left: Eleni competing in 1984, just 2-years after starting resistance training.

Right: Eleni taking out the INBA City Nationals.

Elements of Eating Disorder Recovery

Last year, I participated in a forum of women that had recovered or were recovering from an eating disorder. The common elements assisting recovery were having a sense of responsibility for recovery, and having a choice and access to education. My decision to take up strength training and to stop running as a means of gaining weight was frightening, but the thought of going to the hospital was more so. I did not want to live as I was but at the same time did not want to let go of it. I asked my GP for one more chance.

I walked into a gym weighing 39kg and aged 19 and a half and said to the manager, “I need help. I need to put on weight. I want you to stop me weighing myself if you see me doing so and to stop me doing any aerobic classes.” It also took a huge effort for me not to do this at home. Eating disorders are serious mental health issues that have severe physical health consequences.

The thought of embarking on my new journey petrified me, but I knew I could not do this alone. I stopped all my running and started lifting. Just the bar at first or very light dumbbells. Learning the techniques of resistance training and education around the long-term, negative effects of my restricted dieting assisted me to slowly change my thoughts on diet and exercise. One thing I did enjoy straight away was the feeling of my muscles working during specific exercises. I actually enjoyed the movement and not just exercising for the sake of burning calories and keeping the number on the scale low.

Eleni weight training

Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis, 2015 – Eleni Resistance Training in 2015

Resistance Training’s Positive Influence

Gradually I had a shift in my goal. If I wanted to lift more, I would have to eat more. Scary, but hospitalisation was more frightening. My eating gradually increased, and I found that my irrational fear that weight increase would all go around my waist was not true. My anxiety and fear of food and eating decreased. My skin and hair became healthier. There was an improvement in my mood and depression gradually lifted. This, in turn, had a positive effect on how I treated my body. When my body weight returned to a normal range for my height my period returned after being absent for 5 years. My goals shifted towards health and fitness and improved strength, increased bone density and wanting my hormone levels at a healthier level.

A study by Ahmed et al., found that after 12 weeks of a strength training program, 49 college aged women felt fitter, healthier and had a better attitude about their bodies. Plus, these women also had a higher level of self-acceptance1. Although this study did not mention these women had an eating disorder, the results reflect what I experienced. I do acknowledge that some people who take part in strength training may suffer from body image issues, eating disorders or disordered eating. They may have fears and anxiety around about missing a gym session, strict dieting and may even use multiple entries into bodybuilding competitions to mask a fear of gaining body fat or an eating disorder.

Eleni 2016 INBA City Nationals

Photo Credit: INBA, May 2016 – Eleni taking out 1st in the INBA City Nationals, after a 3-year break from competition.

Full Recovery is Body and Mind Based

I feel my full recovery came after having psychological treatment for severe clinical depression as my marriage broke down. The same feelings of low self-worth resurfaced and they were nothing to do with my body weight. Strength training helped again as I felt I had to focus on each rep and set and this gave my mind a break from very negative thoughts. I believe it also reduced the effect of the antidepressants I took as it stabilised my racing mind. I used antidepressants for 7-years and have been off them for 2-years now.

I will continually stress the importance of a multifaceted approach to eating disorder recovery including psychological treatment. There is still so much discussion to be had about eating disorders, and their association with body image issues. My belief is that eating disorders manifest as a need to deal with negative emotions and low self-worth. Lastly, you cannot expect to have a healthy body if your mind and thoughts about life are not healthy.

Reference:

  1. Ahmed, Christine, Hilton, Wanda and Pituch, Keenana (2002) Relations of Strength Training to Body Image Among a Sample of Female University Students: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(4), P645–648, The National Strength & Conditioning Association, USA

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she suffered clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling assisted with the unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that made the difference this time around.

IMG_0729

In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.

!cid_918C108D-ADDA-4080-8C97-CCC9687E6514

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Follow us on Twitter for more news, tips and inspiration.

Explore our Pinterest boards.

Don’t forget to leave us a comment.

We like to hear what you have to say🙂

Unlearning Negative Thoughts and Behaviours of Eating Disorders and Excessive Exercise

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

Unlearning bad habits can make you feel like a new you

Photo Credit: Pallina, 2013 – Second Life –

It takes 21 days to form a habit, whether it be a good or a bad one. That is not a long time considering how long these habits may last in someone’s life. If they are bad habits that last for years, then the consequences are damaging.

Unlearning Bad Habits

Treating the behaviours is necessary, but if we only manage the behaviour, then this is a reactive response. To address the thought patterns is much harder, but the results will be more lasting and beneficial. To treat the beliefs is to treat the cause and not just the symptom. Some thoughts underlying negative behaviour patterns may include but not limited to:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I am only worthy if I try hard.
  • I am not loved as I am.
  • No one understands me.
  • My opinion is not valued.
  • I am not valued.
  • Things never go right for me.
  • I do not deserve anything to go right.
  • I am a failure.

Changing Negative Behaviour into Positive

The negative behaviours around food and exercise become the means of coping with these thoughts and self-worth is based on adhering to these. The core thoughts above lead to extreme diet and exercise that are fear driven. The scary thing is that you believe you are “healthy”. Unhealthy thoughts and emotions do not give rise to healthy behaviours.

It is then hard to let the action go, as that is who you believe you are and believe your worth is. You believe that if you don’t have this, then you don’t have anything. Eating disorders rob a person of who they are, all their talents, dreams, interests and passions.

To unlearn a lifetime of negative thoughts is difficult. Many people have no problem seeking treatment from a physiotherapist, chiropractor, sports coach or doctor for physical treatment or improvement. Seeking help for psychological issues seems harder for some. The need for support is not recognised as well as a fear of addressing the problem. Fear ruled my life.

False Evidence Appearing Real

False Evidence Appearing Real is the best explanation of the word ‘fear’ that I have ever heard. For so long I had believed the negative thoughts, and these had kept me trapped in a cycle of fear and guilt.

One of the best tools I learned was the image of a STOP sign every time my thoughts were going down a negative path. It sounds easy, but it is so hard to do and practice. The more I practised it, the more automatic it became. This action is the basis of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and replaced the negative thoughts. This process involved looking at all the positive qualities I had that I had forgotten. I backed these up by looking at my past achievements, letters or cards of appreciation I had received and activities I loved doing as little girl. I wrote these down. Then I placed them where I would see them all the time to remind myself to start to believing in them. Slowly, I began remembering my dreams that I’d abandoned and this gave me another focus.

Allowing Yourself to Rest and Relax

Believing I deserved to have time to relax, and do nice things for myself was tough. I felt guilty even thinking about not exercising or to have rest days. I also felt guilty when I ceased to doing things for others when exhausted. For me to do something relaxing like reading a book on the beach or to go out with friends brought on my guilt. I believed that if I stopped exercising for just one day that my body would blow out. It was an irrational thought but caused much fear for me.  I remember the first time I went out with my best friend of 21 years. I came home and cried feeling guilty in case anyone had seen me enjoying myself. You can rest! You can do relaxing things for yourself! You are worth it!

Educating Yourself About Your Body

Changing unhealthy thoughts about food and exercise is another reason that needs consideration. A person suffering an eating disorder or having a disordered eating pattern may think that their diet and exercise habits or bingeing and purging are acceptable and healthy. Sound research-based education on how your body functions and why we need certain nutrients is helpful as is understanding the damage done to the body.

The Word Kaizen

This word is one of the best I have ever heard. Kaizen essentially means to make small, continuous improvements, which at times may seem insignificant. The summation of these continuous improvements is changing. This word is how I see unlearning negative thoughts ingrained in my mind. One small step at a time. I believe all factors need addressing as isolating one part of recovery from another is unproductive.

I visualise a STOP sign when I have a negative thought. But initially, I first thought, ‘What is picturing a STOP sign going to do’? Then, I practised it; one negative thought at a time, over and over.  Over time I changed the thoughts to change my behaviour.

The first step to recovery is to accept help from a professional. The next step is to trust this professional so that you can dare believe that you are worth more than you imagine. You CAN recover. You CAN feel good about yourself. One little step at a time.

To find a specialist psychologist that deals with eating disorders, please contact organisations such as the Centre for Eating and Diet Disorders, Eating Disorders Victoria, The Butterfly Foundation, National Eating Disorders Collaboration or Shape Your Mind Psychology.

Alternatively, you can contact me, Eleni. I would love to chat with you. Just email me at info@brazengrowth.com.au

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

IMG_0729

In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.

!cid_918C108D-ADDA-4080-8C97-CCC9687E6514

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

Follow us on Twitter for more news, tips and inspiration.

Explore our Pinterest boards.

Don’t forget to leave us a comment.

We like to hear what you have to say🙂

Communicating With Someone Who Has an Eating Disorder

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW:

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

Communcation helps to overcome an eating disorder

Photo Credit: Communication is the Key to Overcoming an Eating Disorder by Eleni Psillakis 2016 –

Communication involves both listening, speaking and observing. From the research I have done and from the conversations I have had, many people assume that a particular body shape suggests a person is suffering from an eating disorder. But, who is to say what body shape suggests an eating disorder?

Assuming only extremely thin people have an eating disorder is a misconception. The best indicator of an eating disorder is how someone communicates. Watch their body language and how they behave. If we could place a recorder inside the mind of a sufferer of an eating disorder, then we would hear their ‘self-talk’ which is constant, and this is what needs to change.

Observing Eating Disorder Behaviours

With this in mind, listening to conversations and observing behaviours, is the starting point of our communication. The most common signs of an eating disorder are as follows:

  • Look for an ongoing change of mood. This change is the first sign that a problem is developing.
  • Listen to the labelling of themselves and food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
  • Watch for repeated expressions of feeling guilty for having eaten something or having skipped a workout.
  • Observe of any negative comments about one’s sense of worth.
  • Notice changed behaviours such as avoiding meal times, making excuses for eating and picking at foods. You may also witness extreme anxiety around eating, preoccupation with diets, recipes, exercise regimes and avoiding social situations.

Understanding How to Communicate with an Eating Disorder Sufferer

When I suffered from anorexia, my sense of worth focused on how well I adhered to the destructive patterns of excessive dieting and exercise.  Communication about food, body weight and exercise were a threat to my sense of worth. Many comments and questions created so much anxiety. For instance, “Just eat. Don’t you like food? Why can’t you eat like everybody else?” I wanted to let go of my struggle with eating, but I feared this would take away my sense of identity, worth and control. It was constantly battling in my mind.

I feel this struggle for a sufferer is not understood well enough for others to communicate effectively with that person. For instance, many people, including parents, do not ask the sufferer about their feelings. Instead, they question a sufferer’s actions or compare them to other people. They may also choose to avoid the situation altogether.

An eating disorder is like an elephant in a room, everyone can see it, but no-one wishes to discuss it. You also need to consider that without positive communication and discussion, other factors such as social media, the internet and peer pressure will influence a sufferer. They will be listening to this banter, and this will NOT be helping them. Therefore, it is important to begin the conversation about any behaviours as soon as possible.

Starting a Conversation About Eating Disorders

Some key points for the first conversation:

  • The sooner the first conversation begins, the better the chances of addressing for behaviours.
  • Don’t be judgmental or critical; remember a sufferer is judging themselves enough every day.
  • Remember that eating disorders are complex mental health issues.
  • Choose your words carefully. Avoid terms like ‘clean eating’, a ‘good diet’, and a ‘bad exercise session’ as these will cause havoc for someone whose self-worth centres on their feelings of not being good enough or feeling dirty about themselves.
  • Let the person know you care for them and that they can talk to you at any time.
  • Be ready for a negative reaction initially. It doesn’t matter how they react, just let them know you care.
  • Talk about other interests that they may have neglected.
  • Focus on positive qualities that do not revolve around food and exercise.
  • Do not place emphasis on food, body weight and exercise. The sufferer is already focusing on these issues enough.
  • Encourage them to seek help and that you will be there with them every step of the way.
  • Seek out information from organisations such as the Centre for Eating and Diet Disorders, Eating Disorders Victoria, The Butterfly Foundation and the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.

The Crucial Eating Disorder Conversation

The most important conversation is the one going on in the sufferer’s mind. This self-talk is constant and no one hears this but the sufferer so it manifests destructive behaviours. Therefore, psychological help is a must.

Just remember that the scale of an eating disorder does not decide the speed of recovery. The way a person values themselves, loves who they are and their sense of worth is a better indicator. The sufferer needs to move beyond judging themselves based on diet or exercise.

In my course “an Insight to Anorexia Nervosa for Fitness Professionals”, I cover these aspects in more detail, along with identifying and how to manage a client with an eating disorder. This course is also beneficial for parents and friends of eating disorder sufferers. Visit www.brazengrowth.com.au/shop to register for this workshop on November 19, 2016, at the Australian Institute of Fitness, St Leonards Campus.

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

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In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.

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An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

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Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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