Category Archives: self-esteem

The Bruises and Kisses Our Bodies Don’t Show: ACT Mannequin Art Project on Teen Dating Violence Prevention

By Kathleen Wong, 18, California

Art created by ACT Against Teen Dating Violence

Advocating Change Together (ACT) is a peer health advocacy program at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California. ACT has chosen to advocate for the cause of teen dating violence prevention because this is an issue that seriously impacts our communities and youth.

Teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by a partner to gain and maintain power and control over another. Statistics reveal that at least one in three high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship.

Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15–44. Most people stay in their violent relationships—in part because victims usually blame themselves for causing the violence.

The purpose of ACT is: (1) to allow high school girls to be involved in and advocate for issues affecting women/girls in the community; (2) to reduce the violence in our communities; (3) to encourage youth to have healthy relationships that build a sense of well-being, (4) to increase awareness of the health issues stemming from dating violence; (5) to raise community awareness of available resources; and (6) to create systemic change in San Leandro and Oakland that will benefit present and future generations.

The ACT program consists of groups in San Leandro and Oakland. Participants are first educated about how to be advocates and they learn about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. ACT creates system change by recommending policy, based on our own research analysis, which is then presented to policymakers such as the San Leandro City Council and school administrators. Every month, ACT participants are required to educate at least four peers to enlighten them about the problems of teen dating violence and the benefits of having healthy relationships. In addition, ACT does advocacy, runs workshops, conducts research, and outreaches through social media to local high schools to educate and prevent teen dating violence in the community. Topics addressed include violence, misconceptions of rape, the cycle of abuse, power, and control, being an ally, setting boundaries, and many others.

Recently ACT participants used mannequins as a canvas to illustrate the effects of healthy and unhealthy relationships on our emotional, physical, and sexual health.  A division on the body of the mannequin indicates the contrasting effects of violent and nonviolent relationships on the body. Half of each mannequin shows the positive benefits of a nonviolent and respectful relationship characterized by equality; there are images of hearts and happiness, along with words of endearment on this part of the collage. The unhealthy sides of the mannequins have extensive imagery of cuts, wounds, and bruises, in addition to multiple insults and offensive words. One mannequin has a fencing—like the fencing that surrounds many homes—on the side of healthy imagery of a relationship—to convey the message that everything may seem all peachy and lovey-dovey on the outside, but behind closed doors, that is where the violence occurs.

All of these mannequins illustrate that teen dating violence is not only physical and sexual, but also emotional and mental, and likely to have lasting effects on the victims’ lives.  For example, dating violence can foster low self-esteem, and make its victims accustomed to violent partners and to being treated as unequal and unworthy.

My experience in ACT has been life changing. ACT has helped me grow as a person.  I’ve learned how to network. I have become more confident and less shy. And I have improved my public speaking skills. Overall, I’m becoming smart, strong, and bold! Also, being a part of ACT has changed my perspective on how I look at my community. Because of ACT, I am more aware of what goes on in my community. Before, I never would’ve thought that I could actually make a difference in helping my community. But now, thanks to ACT, I am very determined and passionate about doing whatever I can to make positive changes for my community.

My hope for ACT is that the program will continue as long as possible because it sends such a powerful and positive message to young people that we can advocate for change by working together. I would also like to see ACT become more involved in the community, which has started happening. ACT girls have been attending community meetings to learn more about violence prevention and ways to improve public education on this topic.  I hope this trend will continue and we will get even more involved in the community. One day, I hope the community will know the value of what we do. I hope the community already knows ACT is working to make improvements and that we care!

You can learn more about ACT’s move against teen dating violence by following ACT on Girls IncACT.tumblr.com, GirlsIncACT on Twitter, and by liking Advocating Change Together Girls Inc. of Alameda County on Facebook.

For more information on healthy dating relationships, see the Teen Voices article in the 2012 Teen Focus section of the online Boston Parents Paper, pages 6-8 at:  http://bostonparentspaper.digitalparenthood.com/DigitalAnywhere/viewer.aspx?id=8&pageId=1

There are other organziations that can help too:

Love is Respect

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Circle of Six

We happen to know of two Jewish organizations that offer fantastic teen dating violence prevention programs and curriculum,  Shalom Bayit in Oakland, California has Love Shouldn’t Hurt  and Jewish Women International has a prevention program for girls called Strong Girls and one for boys called Good Guys.

Mentoring at Teen Voices Changed My Life

By Sarah Binning
Originally published on Over My Shoulder Foundation’s blog. Additions made 7-23-12

The spring of 2009, I found myself in a whirlwind. My junior year of college was coming to a close, and the illusive senior year was now just months away. People either batted their sympathetically eyes at me while wishing me luck during my final year, or they annoyingly asked, “So what are you going to do with your life?” Senior year meant it was time to start thinking of the future.

I stared at myself in the mirror as I asked, “What job would truly make you happy?” The answer came easily: writing, editing, or working for a magazine. The next questions were a little more challenging: “How are you going to reach this goal? Where do you need to be?”

Could I, country-bumpkin Sarah, leave the safe arms of Ohio? Did I have what it takes to survive life in the city? Live in a place where the sounds of crickets’ chirping was replaced by cars and trains?

That’s when I found Teen Voices, an organization that allowed me to not only to write and edit, but to combine my love for writing with my feminist voice. This magazine is creating social change through media. And not just with any media: girl-generated media. Suddenly, the idea of moving to a city wasn’t quite so scary. I packed up my bags, loaded the car, and headed to Boston. But what I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t return home the same person.

Teen Voices changed my life. More specifically, my mentees changed my life. While I truly loved every aspect of my internship, my favorite part was mentoring two fabulous teens, Anna-Cat and Malisa, through the process of writing a magazine feature article. Working with young women who have so much creativity, passion, and love to offer the world was truly inspiring.

Mentoring is more than just investing time in someone else’s life. Mentoring is more than just shaping tomorrow’s leaders. Mentoring is a learning opportunity that allows you to grow in ways you never dreamed possible. I mentor because the teen editors at Teen Voices have so much to teach me. And yeah, I’m sure that I’ve taught them some things along the way (or at least I hope I did!), but these girls challenged me to learn new things.

In just six short weeks, here are some things my mentees taught me:

  1. How to walk from The Commons to Faneuil Hall without following the Freedom Trail. When I first moved here, I had no idea how to get anywhere. The Freedom Trail and T stations were the only ways I knew how to find places. If it wasn’t off one of those lines, forget it. Not happening. The girls challenged me to be more adventurous and explore Boston.
  2. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. I remember the time I treated my mentees to ice cream. Balancing my cone while trying to find my wallet, plus the summer heat, was just more than I could handle. My ice cream fell onto my foot and down inside my flats. I was so embarrassed! But as the girls tried to help me clean the stickiness off my foot, all we could do was laugh.
  3. The simple things are what matter most. Say, “Thank you.” Give credit wherever credit is due. Let those you care about know how you feel. Take 15 minutes to ask how their day is going. It’s important to listen and recognize your mentee outside of the realm of work/business. This advice may seem like a no-brainer. But sometimes people just get too busy, or too caught up in their own world, or the project at hand, to remember the simple things.
  4. There’s a difference between having a job you like and a job you love. I loved my time here at Teen Voices so much that I came back as an AmeriCorps VISTA to serve at Teen Voices. And since then, I’ve been hired on as staff. Seriously, I love my job! I want to go to work almost each and every day. I know the articles the teen editors are writing are making an impact on people’s lives. I know that their work, and inherently my work, is worthwhile!

To learn more about Teen Voices, please visit www.teenvoices.com

But Teen Voices needs your help. Because of a recent decrease in funding, we’re at a crisis. We must raise $300,000 by August 1. Yes, it’s that bad.

Here’s how you can help:

Make a donation. $5, $50, or $5000—every donation brings us closer. You can send a safe and secure contribution through this PayPal link.

Or mail a check to:

Teen Voices
80 Summer St, Suite 400
Boston MA 02110

We need your donations by August 1!

Copy and Paste our call to action on your own blog. Help us spread the word about our program, publication, and fundraising efforts.

Reasons Why I Will NOT Boycott Seventeen (Hint: It’s not why you’d think)

By Sarah Binning, Marketing and Editorial Coordinator
Art by Elsa Moseley, 15,Oklahoma

If you’re a feminist, teen girl, reader of Seventeen, or healthy media activist (or a friend/relative to any of the above), you’ve probably heard about the amazing group of teen girls who recently petitioned Seventeen. Their request? They want this teen-centered publication to print real photos of diverse girls—without photo editing or enhancement of the images. The campaign, started by SPARK bloggers Julia Bluhm and Izzy Labbe, led a group of teen activists to hold a mock photo shoot outside Seventeen’s New York office. Armed with posters reading: “The magazine is for me—make it look like me!” and “Teen girls against Photoshop!” the girls waited for a chance to speak with Ann Shoket, Seventeen’s editor-in-chief.

Last week, someone tweeted me the news about Seventeen’s response: @TeenVoices, Seventeen denies girl’s request to stop photoshopping. Boycott Sept. issue. Use #notbuyingSept17 hashtag. PLS. RT.

Was it true? Did Seventeen really deny 25,000 signatures (which has since grown to more than 70,000)? I immediately started searching for related news articles. My heart sank when I was finally able to find an article confirming that the tweet was indeed true. After retweeting the #NotBuyingItSept17 hashtag and after several conversations with colleagues, teens, and activists, I’ve reconsidered and decided I’m not going to boycott Seventeen

My decision isn’t for the reason you would think. It’s not because I believe Seventeen’s statements that their publication is diverse and they do not enhance their photographs. I’m choosing not to boycott Seventeen because:

  1. I’d rather see changes occur willingly. I want Seventeen to see the light. I want them to understand that girls worldwide are unhappy with the size-zero, light-skinned, zit-free, cookie-cutter models we see today in their magazine. We want to see real girls. Let’s open the door for continued conversations with Seventeen and brainstorm ways they can begin to create healthier media.
  2. There are so few magazines, and resources in general, focused on teen girls.  I don’t want to be divisive and undermine another girls’ publication. I’d rather educate them about the unhealthy side effects of this constant stream of negative media. Low self-esteem, eating disorders, and teen depression are just a few of the issues that girls face today. There are steps all publications can take toward creating healthier media. Example: In 2009, French Elle printed a “no-makeup” issue. And in recent news, Vogue said they’ll no longer employ underage or underweight models.
  3. Boycotts are generally short lived. If enough hundreds of thousands of people banned together, we could probably make a significant impact in Seventeen’s revenue. But for how long? If Seventeen can just hang in there for a few more weeks, they’ll find a way to smooth this over with some good PR. Eventually something else will stir up public attention. Society will move on to boycotting something (or someone) else.
  4. Seventeen is not unique.  Like most businesses, Seventeen is a company that financially supports itself through advertising. They’re always in a constant struggle to keep their advertisers happy. And the reality is that advertisers need girls to feel ugly and ashamed so that we’ll buy their products, which “guarantee” us beauty. This issue is larger than just one magazine. Seventeen isn’t the only publication that uses extensive makeup, lightening, and photo editing. The issue lies much deeper in the roots of our society’s standards. Objectifying women and making us feel poorly about our bodies on purpose is not okay.

I’m not saying I’m going to run out and buy a copy of Seventeen magazine. (I don’t, in fact, buy the magazine on a regular basis.) You may or may not want to yourself.  If you’re morally opposed to the content inside the publication, it’s okay if you make a personal decision not to purchase it. What I am saying is that rallying your sisters together for a full-fledge boycott is not a fix-all solution.

Instead, I pledge to:

  1. Sign the petition, and talk about it with the teen girls in my life. Unlike my initial gut reaction to jump on board with the boycott, signing the petition and becoming actively involved (i.e. sharing and discussing this issue) has allowed me to truly think through and understand my personal viewpoint about this issue. I’ve digested the information and issue in a much deeper way than I would have had I just signed on for a boycott.
  2. Raise my voice to make my concerns known! Even by writing this blog, I’m getting my thoughts and concerns into the open. You can do the same. You can even write an Op-Ed for your local newspaper (or even The New York Times). If we leverage public forums, like blogs, twitter and petitions, we can hold our ground for much longer than if we were to just boycott. We can spark discussions, conversations, and maintain our momentum on the issue, not to mention, garner the support of tens of thousands of people easily. Being vocal about the issue will keep this healthy media issue in the spotlight.
  3. Tweet about the petition, and spread the word about how others can get involved.
  4. Share articles about the amazing work Julia, Izzy, and other girls worldwide are doing to promote more real images of girls, and healthy media, in general!
  5. Promote alternative magazines that already portray real girls without photoshopping them, such as Teen Voices. Our girls are gorgeous—just the way they are! But we also know that they are more than just their pretty faces, so we focus on their ideas and experiences, not just their looks.
  6. Become involved with organizations that empower teen girls and support healthy media and education for girls. To name a few: Teen Voices, SPARK, MissRepresentation, GRLZ Radio, Strong Women Strong Girls, Proud2BMe.org, Girl Up, Girl Scouts, and She’s the First.
  7. Be a conscious consumer of media. When I look at an ad or watch a television show, I’m aware that these models and actresses are wearing makeup, and have their hair styled by professionals. I know the advertiser has a mission to sell me something, and I’m skeptical and analytical of their advertising strategies before deciding how I feel about their company and products.
  8. Promote acceptance of a wide variety of images of women’s body types.  Let girls and women see that just as there are a range of skin tones, there are many body types in the world, and many ways to be beautiful—au natural.  I rarely wear makeup, and have learned to embrace the fact that my thunder-thighs, big nose, and goofy ears are here to stay.
  9. Practice promoting positive body images by giving out compliments to friends, family, and even strangers about the ways they are already beautiful—without enhancements. And be sure to include compliments that don’t focus on their appearance at all. Thank those you love for being honest and trustworthy. Congratulate your colleagues for their organizational skills, or creative thinking. Because when all is said and done, it’s really inner beauty that matters most.

I’m sure that other traditional women’s and girls’ magazines and advertisers everywhere are thinking: “I’m glad this happened to Seventeen and not to us! What a press nightmare.” But I hope they’re all paying attention because Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and Abercrombie, you could be next. You need to be a part of this conversation too. We all do.

Run The World: Kathleen Hassan On Women’s Power Source

By Jillian Martin, Editorial Intern
Photos: AMY RADER PHOTOGRAPHER

Last month, Teen Voices participated in NEDAwareness week, held by the National Eating Disorder Association. At the same time, the Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center mentor program held a self-esteem-building event featuring “Confidence Coach” Kathleen Hassan. The school’s gymnasium was packed with middle-school students, their parents, and their mentors and Beyonce’s girl power single “Run The World (Girls),” which kicked off the event.

Hassan teaches the girls where their power comes from: positive thoughts.

“There are girls in this room who feel like they’re not good enough,” Hassan began. “Some are starving themselves. Some would do anything to fit in.”

At this event, Hassan inspired the audience, teaching them where their power comes from—not from putting others down to build yourself up, and not from the media, which sexualizes women and portrays an unattainable image of perfection.

According to Hassan, 85 percent of women and girls have felt worse about themselves after looking at a fashion magazine and 86 percent of self-talk (thoughts) is negative. This happens because, to their detriment, many women and girls today tend to seek their worthiness and confidence from outside forces.

As a healthier model, Hassan teaches girls to get their power from within, instead of from the media, by choosing love over fear. She said, “Thoughts become things… wanted or not.” We emit energy with our thoughts; if they are negative, we will attract negative people and situations, and the energies will feed off each other, becoming more and more negative. On the flip side, if we emit positive and powerful energies, we attract powerful and positive people.

Negative images and energies infiltrate the thoughts of all young girls, but Hassan said we all have an emotional guide system that gives us the tools to “recalculate” those thoughts to something positive.

Hassan taught the audience two strategies to recalculate and achieve. Give them a try so that you, too, can feel confident and worthy and choose love over fear.

Soerny Cruz, a graduate from the program, "achieves" in the final part of the Body Prayer.

The first, Hassan calls a “body prayer.” She called four girls with big dreams to the stage to help out. The first girl was “dream,” and she laid her head in her hands. The next was “believe,” and she held her hands over her heart. The third was “receive,” and she held her hands out open to take in the positive energies. The final girl was “achieve,” and she flexed her arms, showing strength. Within minutes, Hassan had the entire auditorium dreaming, believing, receiving, and achieving.

The second strategy is the use of affirmations. Hassan suggested that everyone pick one affirmation from the list that she showed (these short sayings were accompanied by inspiring photos and the melodic voice of Bruno Mars singing “You’re amazing, just the way you are”) and repeat it every day for a month, as it takes a month to create a new habit. Here are just a few of the affirmations:

  • I choose LOVE over FEAR
  • I am fit, strong, and healthy
  • Peace begins with me
  • Happiness is a choice
  • I am strong

Readmore about NEDAwareness week and Teen Voices’ Artist of the Month Contest and vote on the March art—March’s theme was “Beauty is More than Skin Deep.” Learnmore about Mother Caroline’s adult education, shining star, and mentoring programs, including events and how to get involved.

Valentine’s Day: It’s Not Just for Couples!

By Raven Heroux, Editorial Intern

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and you know what that means: advertising overload for chocolate, heart-wielding teddy bears, and roses. While you may be stocking up on Valentine’s cards, candies, and red blouses, it’s important to remember what love is really all about!

Love isn’t just about finding your soul mate; it’s about taking the time to speak, listen, and care about those around you and share in that mutual caring and trust. Pay attention to the feelings and actions of not only your friends, but also yourself. Valentine’s Day can be a great way to celebrate life, love, and all the important people around you.

This month pay attention to ALL your loved ones: family, friends, crushes, and yourself.  Here are some ways you can show your love:

  • February 13-19 is Random Acts of Kindness Week Pay for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, babysit for free, or take all the change you can find in your house (under sofa cushions, behind your bureau, and in the bottom of your purse are hotspots) and give it to a homeless person down the street!
  • Write Love on Her Arms! The World Health Organization reports that one million people die every year from suicide. Participate in To Write Love On Her Arms to spread awareness and support those individuals struggling with depression, self-injury, and suicide.
  • Attend a local performance of The Vagina Monologues in support of V-Day, the global movement toward ending violence against women and girls.
  • Volunteer! Go to a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, a non-profit organization, or an after school program for kids.
  • Make dinner or dessert with friends or family. Working together to make a masterpiece dish (or disaster!) is a great way to bond, laugh, and learn the art of cooking or baking with the people you love.
  • Have a sleepover with your closest friends! Stay away from the love-obsessed media and get artsy instead. Teen Voices’ Artist of the Month contest is happening right now and we want your art.  Enter for a chance to win a full-scholarship to a summer art program in Boston! So grab your friends, paint, charcoal, pencils, a camera, or whatever you desire, and get creative!

Just remember that Valentine’s Day isn’t about who is dating whom; it’s about loving yourself and others!

Have great Valentine’s Day plans? Leave a comment below and share it with our other readers!

10 Ways for Youth to Address Teen Depression

With winter coming in quickly and holidays approaching, many of us start to feel a rush of holiday spirit and excitement: we may have family parties, school vacations, and a new year at the tip of our fingers. But not everyone shares in the season’s joy—December can also be a challenging time of loneliness, sadness, and despair for some of us.  And for teens, depression can be especially overwhelming.

Could someone you know, a family member, friend, or peer, be suffering from depression? Look for these symptoms and warning signs:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability/anger
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in sleeping/eating habits
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Lack of motivation
  • Thoughts of death/suicide

If you notice these signs, start by offering your support and look for ways you can help.  These tips may be useful.

Many celebrities and organizations have already stepped in to raise awareness and to find ways to support teens suffering from depression. From posting inspirational videos to taking pledges, big names like Ke$ha, Liv Tyler, and Demi Lovato have found ways to get involved. And you can too! Whether you know someone suffering from teen depression or not, Get Ur Good On has made a list of ten ways you can volunteer support and spread the message!

Check out Get Ur Good On’s list of 10 ways YOU can Get UR Good On for Teen Depression!

  1. Take the “It Gets Better” pledge and support LGBTQ youth. Make an even stronger commitment by recording an encouraging It Gets Better video like the ones from Ke$ha, Chris Colfer, Google Employees, and many more.
  2. Create a video about teen suicide and prevention. Upload to YouTube like Max Bennington and spread the word. Find information about depression and suicide on Half of Us and TeenScreen.
  3. To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is a nonprofit working to help people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Miley Cyrus, Liv Tyler,  and Boys Like Girls all support TWLOHA. Want to help too? Plan a penny drive, fashion show, or concert fundraiser and donate. Find more ways to support here.
  4. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. On this day, share Facebook statuses and tweets with organizations peers can contact for counseling or help.
  5. Send positive and encouraging messages to friends. Be a support system for them; a little pick-me-up goes a long way!
  6. Brittany Snow, Demi Lovato, Victoria Justice, and Zendaya all know that Love is Louder than the pressure to be perfect. Take a “Love is Louder” picture and share on Twitter, or upload to GetUrGoodOn.org, Love is Louder’s Facebook page, or make it your profile picture!
  7. Speak out against bullying at school. Visit Teens Against Bullying for anti-bullying activities.
  8. Volunteer with the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. Help make survival kits, volunteer at an event, or join a board committee.
  9. Write the word “Love” on your forearm for one day and explain to people that you are raising awareness of teen depression and suicide. Share “love” pictures on Get Ur Good On as others have done. Make sure to use a washable marker!
  10. Start a mental health screening program at school. Find resources to develop the program on TeenScreen and get friends involved with the planning.

Source: http://tools.ysa.org/geturgoodon/10WaysTeen_SuicidePrevention_Depression.pdf

http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm#sign_and_symptoms.  Reprinted with permission.

ED NOS: The Silent Sickness

By Fallon Kunz

Photo by Hanna Thieme, 16
Massachusetts

ED NOS? What the heck does that stand for? It’s a diagnostic abbreviation that stands for Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Research shows that more than 50 percent of adults seeking treatment for eating disorders are diagnosed with ED NOS.

Eating disorders are very serious, and can be life threatening. They affect people of all genders, ages, backgrounds, and even weights.  Some are easier to recognize than others. All are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behavior and a distorted perception of body image.  Individuals suffering from eating disorders may use a variety of strategies to achieve an ideal weight, combat a fear of gaining weight, or cope with a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Here, a contributor shares the story of her own eating disorder struggles and diagnosis.

On July 19, 2010, my nurse practitioner confirmed what I had known for just over a year. Underneath the heading Diagnoses were the words infantile Cerebral Palsy, migraine headaches, and finally “eating disorder, unspecified.” Most people would be terrified of such a diagnosis. For me, it was a welcome relief. It meant I wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t all in my head. I had not imagined its existence or tricked myself into thinking I was ill. No, it was real. Alice* was listening, and she was going to help me.

Unspecified eating disorders are the most common type of eating disorders seen in outpatient clinics.  According to The Huffington Post, nonspecified eating disorders make up 70% of all diagnoses among patients with eating disorders.  Also known as ED NOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified), these disorders come in all shapes and sizes. ED NOS is a “blanket term.” Currently, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (Fourth Edition) basically says a patient has ED NOS if he or she fails to meet all the diagnostic requirements for Anorexia or Bulimia.

Most of us know about the spotlight disorders. Anorexia and bulimia seem to get all the media’s attention. However, most people have no idea that other EDs (eating disorders) exist. Most of these lesser known disorders never enter the public’s consciousness or come up in a high school health class discussion. Some of these are Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Bulemiarexia, Food Addiction, Orthorexia, Non-Purging Bulimia, CS (chewing and spitting), and Pica. Each of these is unique. Each has its own set of symptoms, and treatment for them is often as individual as the patients themselves. However, they all are considered ED NOS by the medical community.

People with ED NOS may do some of the following behaviors:

  • Binge eat (eat abnormally large quantities of food in a short period of time—for example, eat an entire package of Oreos in an hour)
  • Hide food
  • Eat non-food items, such as chalk, dirt, crayons, etc. (aka  Pica)
  • Obsessively weigh themselves (e.g., step on the scale daily, or several times a week)
  • Eat very fast
  • Prefer to eat alone
  • Obsessively count calories
  • Always seem to be dieting
  • Systematically cut out entire food groups from his/her diet
  • Excessively use laxatives, diuretics, or vomit after meals (all forms of “purging”)
  • Skip meals
  • Exercise excessively

So what causes a person to develop ED NOS or another eating disorder? The short answer is that no one knows exactly. So to get some answers, I went straight to the source–women who suffer with ED NOS every day. Rachel believes she was genetically predisposed to an eating disorder. She has a family member with BED, and has been fighting various eating disorders for nearly 10 years. Emma’s ED NOS began when her daughter became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Nakita isn’t sure of a diagnosis, but she has been periodically binging and vomiting for 35 years. She isn’t sure what caused it, but it began in high school. She was an athlete and began this cycle to control her weight.

For me, there wasn’t one pivotal moment in my life that triggered my ED. What I can tell you is that I was always uncomfortable in my own skin…I was a very small child. This plus my Cerebral Palsy (CP) made me self-conscious. By eleven, I had accepted my disability. But my CP stunted my growth and I gained an incredible amount of weight. My new body came complete with acne and a “muffin top.” It was humiliating. I felt fat and unattractive. That year, I began binge eating. I regularly hid food in my bedroom, backpack, and purse. Diets were also regular occurrences. Bigger disappointments needed more food. Diets regularly failed me. This cycle only shoved me back toward the refrigerator. I continued this way throughout middle and high school. Shockingly, no one noticed. But then again, I was good at hiding it. Binge eating was never discussed in my health classes. This sounds unbelievable, but I thought my behavior was normal. I honestly had no clue I was developing ED NOS.

In college, this behavior escalated. Starving myself was never intentional. On a particularly busy day, I simply forgot to eat. After bingeing, I never wanted to eat because my stomach hurt so much.  This pattern of bingeing and starving continued until last year. God began dealing with me about my eating habits in May. By October, I had found a support group and attended my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting online. By January of 2010, my family and friends knew. As of this writing, I have not binged in almost six months and haven’t starved in two weeks.

Are you reading this and seeing yourself or a loved one here? If so, what do you do?

First, you tell someone. If you are concerned for a loved one, tell them so. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but it is vital. If you’re suffering, tell someone trustworthy and supportive. A doctor, parent, or teachers are safe bets. It is important to remember that ED NOS is just as serious as other eating disorders.

Second, you get educated. Use books, the internet, and your medical professional to get a handle on what you’re dealing with. Some of the books I’ve found helpful are The Battlefield of the Mind and Women, Food, and God.

Third, get treatment. Treatment does not necessarily mean inpatient eating disorder rehab. However, this is always an option. ED’s can be treated by seeing a therapist, counselor, nutritionist, or other expert. I have personally known some people who have successfully treated their eating disorders through 12-step programs such as Overeaters Anonymous.

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of ED NOS. It is a very serious illness that requires treatment. ED NOS is just as valid as any other eating disorder. If you suspect that you or someone you love has it, please get help.  It is important to remember that it is possible to recover.

* Author’s note: To protect the privacy of others, all names-with the exception of authors cited-have been changed. This article is dedicated with all my love to the brave women who shared their hearts with me for this article and to the ladies at DailyStrength who have blessed my life with their friendships.

For a comprehensive guide to information, news, resources, and research efforts related to eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website at www.edap.org.

Editors Note 10-5-11: Want to  make “Real the New Ideal?” Join NEDA for their tween summit on  body image, self-esteem and media, October 15, 2011.