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There’s Help. There’s Hope! The Emily Program is a warm and welcoming place where individuals and their families can find comprehensive treatment for eating disorders and related issues. This blog is a place for us to share the latest happenings at The Emily Program, as well as helpful tidbits from the broader eating disorder community. Subscribe via RSS to receive automatic updates.We want to hear your story. Email us and ask how you can become a contributor!

Episode 13: Sarah’s Recovery Story

Girl overlooking a lake

Episode description:

Peace Meal’s Recovery Stories series features voices of individuals in eating disorder recovery and beyond. This episode features Sarah Churchward, a professional writer and makeup artist. In her late teens, Sarah was diagnosed with both anorexia and chronic narcolepsy. She discusses the process of coming to accept her chronic illness while being in eating disorder treatment and how that process made her into who she is today.

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Part 1: How Culture can Influence Eating, Eating Disorders, and Recovery

Indian Food and Gathering

Bhakti Doroodian is an independently licensed marriage and family therapist who currently works for The Emily Program as a Clinical Manager and DBT Therapist.  Her background includes treating individuals, couples, and families with a wide variety of mental health and family dynamic concerns.  Her passion for eating disorders surfaced as she noticed the detrimental effects of it on not just the individual, but on the family system as a whole.  She hopes to continue educating clients on the importance of health, wellness, and body acceptance in all forms.   

Food equals love.  This was a concept I learned early on when my grandmother would secretly give me all of my favorite treats before dinner.  When I would fall sick, my mother would make me eat bitter melon for dinner followed by a tall glass of ginger-turmeric milk to nurse me back to health.  After my grandparents passed away, friends and distant relatives brought my family many of our favorite dishes to comfort and support us through a painful time in our lives.  Although I was born and raised in California, my relationship with food was largely influenced by my South Asian roots.  Every summer, my sister and I would pack up our most precious belongings, and head to India to spend our break with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.  While our cousins would fantasize about a life in the United States with the education opportunities, fast cars, and fashion models, my sister and I relished in the simplicity of living in India, even if it was only for a few short months.  

Every day, hand-in-hand, my grandmother and I would walk to the market to see what produce was available for that day’s dinner.  There was no refrigerator, pantry, or grocery store where we could store the essentials.  Instead, our variety was 100% dependent upon what was in season or available that day and whether or not we could afford the farmers’ ever-changing price for produce.  Options were limited so rarely did we choose our meals based on our mood or cravings. Rather, the focus was on counting our blessings and eating nutrient-dense meals to have energy for the day’s work.

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Why Healthy Looks Different on Everyone

Three women on the beach

Health is often described as having a sound mind, body, and spirit. However, society is quick to latch onto the physical aspect of health and question what physical health truly means. Is health subjective? Can people be healthy at different weights? Is everyone’s ideal health different? The answer to all of these questions is yes!

Why do body sizes differ?

We know that body sizes are not all the same and that every single human being looks unique. Body size and structure is determined and influenced by a variety of forces, which is why all individuals look different. Genetics play an obvious role in physical appearance, as an individual’s gene pool influences bone structure, predispositions, and more. For example, if a child has two extremely tall parents, it’s likely that the child will be tall as well.

In addition to genetics, factors like nutrition, society, and autoimmune functioning can influence body size and shape. Nutrient deprivation in growing children can result in stunted growth, weakened bones, and physical changes. Society can often influence body shape as well—typically, what is culturally ideal has an impact on how individuals strive to look, which unfortunately, can be problematic. Lastly, certain autoimmune diseases and other health conditions can affect the appearance of the body. Some illnesses come with physical or appearance-based symptoms, which can alter body size and shape.

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How to Introduce Deep Breathing into your Daily Routine

Mindfulness card

Stressors are all around us—busy schedules, conflict, challenging jobs, life changes, loss, illness—and sometimes we don’t even notice the effect stress has on us until something forces us to recognize it. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and eating disorders are often clear signs that stress has taken a toll on an individual. While these mental health conditions are not caused by stress (they are caused by a variety of things including genetics, psychology, and an individual’s neurobiology), stress often exacerbates these conditions making them more likely to greatly disrupt an individual’s quality of life.

When individuals experience stress, the fight or flight response is activated. This physiological response is the body’s reaction when it believes it is in danger, threatened, or under attack. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot tell the difference between actual and perceived danger, so our body’s reaction to being confronted with a dangerous animal may be the same as its reaction to our friend telling us they have something serious that they want to talk to us about.

When we experience a fight or flight reaction, our bodies produce excess adrenaline and cortisol. The release of these hormones is likely to make our heart rate increase, our bodies tense, and our palms sweat. In an extreme case, this reaction may spiral an individual into a full-blown panic attack, where an individual cannot seem to regain control over their body and mind. In less severe cases, individuals may experience a constant state of mild stress, which can result in a buildup of stress hormones. This ongoing stress can cause tension headaches, poor immune system functioning, mental health illnesses, high blood pressure, and an overall feeling of discomfort and disease.

Of course, in severe cases or when an individual is experiencing mental health concerns, it is important to see a licensed professional for specialized advice and treatment. Luckily, more mild cases can be controlled or dampened by using body-based defenses. In addition to using our breath to control current stress, engaging in a deep breathing or meditation practice daily can promote continued wellbeing and lessen the likelihood of developing stress-related illnesses.

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