Posts Tagged ‘Eating Disorders’


September 15, 2009

One of the most positive outcomes of The Alder Fork Festival was the inspiration and opportunity to create an eating disorder/weight preoccupation awareness video.  This 1 minute piece features the voice acting talents of three friends of mine.

Gratitude and Satisfaction

September 13, 2009

The biggest event on my calendar every year is The Alder Fork Festival. Last night’s version was a rousing success.  The music was great, the cake looked fantastic, and we raised a substantial amount of money for the Eating Disorder Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region.  Thank you again to The Clark Institute, Matthew Blacquiere, Dave Fallis, the members of my band, the fantastic volunteers, and everyone who came out and supported such a worthwhile cause.  I am already contemplating next year’s version.

The exuberance of the crowd, and the talent on display were the two highlights for me. This was arguably the best festival in the 10 years I’ve run it. The performances were top notch, and the whole evening ran without a hitch. If you missed this year’s event you will still be able to contribute to in the coming weeks, when a recording of the festival is released for sale. All proceeds of the sale will be donated to EDACWR.

Something To Do In Kitchener Tonight

September 12, 2009

If you are looking for something to do in Kitchener-Waterloo  tonight, that’s Saturday September 12th, please come on down to The Registry Theatre (122 Frederick St.), for some great music in support of an awesome cause. Dave Fallis, Matt Blacquiere, The Clark Institute, and The Alder Fork have teamed up to support the Eating Disorder Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region. Doors open at 6:30pm and the show starts at 7pm.  Admission is $10 with all proceeds going to EDAC.  Hope to see you there!

First Star I See Tonight

August 25, 2009

Please take a second to click on this link and marvel at our universe. Each dot on that picture represents a galaxy of around 100 billion stars. Amazing.

New podcast is up and as always you can find it over there–> In this episode I talk about eating disorders. You can find lots of information and statistics about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of eating disorders by visiting the website of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. This topic is relevant because of The Alder Fork Festival, which is raising money for the Eating Disorder Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region.

The music comes from two True North Records artists, Madison Violet, and Le Vent Du Nord.

News You Can Use

April 27, 2009

Fighting for the smallest goal: to get a little self-control
I know how hard you try. I see it in your eyes
But call your friends, ’cause we’ve forgotten what it’s like to eat what’s rotten
And what’s eating you alive might help you to survive.
We went on as we were on a mission, latest in a Grand Tradition
And oh, what did we find?
It was Ego who was flying the banner, and me and Mia, Ann and Ana
Oh, we’d been unkind
But do you believe in something beautiful?
Then get up and be it

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Me and Mia

Just a quick post tonight because I have been very busy enjoying nice weather and wrapping up the 2009 Change the World Youth Challenge. I wanted to confirm to everyone that the Eating Disorder Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region is on board as our supported organization for The 2009 Alder Fork Festival. If you’ve followed this blog, or know me personally, you hve heard about my passion for this cause. The battl many people wage against their bodies is dangerous, deadly, and unnecessary.  Eating disorders are dangerous mental illnesses, and poor body image is a chronic issue in our society.  A great deal of work needs to be done to educate people about both of these concerns, and EDACWR does a great deal of work in this area.  Just a reminder that the event will be on Saturday, September 12th, 7pm at the Reigstry Theatre in Kitchener. There promises to be great music and a lot of fun.

If you think you might be developing an eating disorder please seek help.  Find the strength inside yourself to say that you want to get better, and understand that starving yourself, and/or purging are not healthy activities.  I realize it is an immense challenge but please try.  For everyone else, if you don’t already love your body, take a deep and long look at that relationship.  There are many good reasons to love yourself.

It’s The Rhythm Of The Sea

April 7, 2009

Sleeping in my favourite shirt.

The Clark Institute

Sleeping in my favourite shirt

New podcast is up today.  It is a very special 25th episode.  I announce the details for The 2009 Alder Fork Festival.  I also talk a little bit about the history of the event and the chosen charity, Eating Disorder Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region.  I will probably devote an entire blog post to the organization, and am planning to set up a separate page for the festival.  The rest of the details are:

The Alder Fork Festival
In support of:
Eating Disorder Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region
Saturday September 12, 2009
Featuring the music of:
Dave Fallis
The Clark Institute
Matthew Blacquiere
The Alder Fork
The Registry Theatre
122 Fredrick St., Kitchener, Ontario
Doors at 6:30pm, Show starts at 7pm
$10 available from the acts, by emailing or at the door

Awake and Cold At Night

January 29, 2009

I am on a roll with these thesis related posts so I’m going to continue today. Tomorrow is  a link day because of the podcast.  The following selection contains a number of summarized studies with accompanying discussion. If you’d like more details about any of the studies please contact me at the Click if you missed Part I and/or Part II.

There are similarities between fasting and anorexia nervosa, such as restricted food intake and attempts to control the body. It appears that strict ascetic codes and other religious restrictions on food, paired with an emphasis on the human body as inherently sinful or evil, could lead to more cases of anorexia among the devoutly religious.  This does not mean that ascetics share the other psychological symptoms of anorexics, such as anxiety disorders, perfectionism, or obsessive compulsive disorder, but rather that their attitude towards eating and the body may be similar. Harold Koenig points out in his brief survey of the literature, that there is no empirical support that belonging to an ascetic community increases the likelihood of anorexia.  In fact, research into ascetic and other religious communities has shown virtually no difference between eating attitudes and body image within the group or the controls. For example, in 2003 Macias, Leal and Vaz conducted a study of 44 women living in open communities in Spain.  The results of the study indicate that the distribution of body satisfaction and dissatisfaction was similar to a control group of university-aged women.  The study showed that 50% of the nuns either perceived that they had a high weight or were fat.    In addition these women exhibited disordered eating behaviour that was also comparable to the control.  Although religious women may not be at an increased risk of developing eating disorders, such as anorexia, as outlined above, a growing body of research indicates that religious and spiritual beliefs do not guarantee protection against the development of this illness. A significant level of dissatisfaction with body shape and size, while often assumed by the public at large to be a problem of middle-class teenage girls, has been documented in communities of nuns in Spain,  an Old Order Amish community,  and among extrinsically religious university students.   It has also been noted in case studies that some anorectics who have a strong Christian affiliation will justify their condition as a type of “spiritual starvation.”
Macias, Leal and Vaz speculate that the source of the nuns’ discomfort could come from the pressure to maintain regimented eating practices or a specified state of holiness.   The daily pressures of ascetic life might create an environment conducive to anorexia.  The challenge of controlling ordinary human desires and urges could lead some to control body weight and food intake.  Despite the author’s initial hypothesis that a cloistered community would insulate the nuns from negative body image and disordered eating, the research showed that the conditions necessary for anorexia to develop exist in an ascetic community.  Other studies of cloistered religious communities have had similar results.   In their study of an Amish community, Platte, Zelten and Stunkard, found that while the young people exhibited a healthy view of their own bodies, the elders often did not.  The authors proposed that this resulted from the focus on physical labour in the farming community.   When members of the community became unable to contribute to the work of the farm, satisfaction with their bodies decreased. It is important to note that the community was mostly shielded from secular media, and as such, these cases of negative body image are unlikely to be connected to the “thin ideal”.
In neither the Spanish study of cloistered nuns, nor the Amish study, did the authors identify a single case of anorexia in those communities.  They did, however, measure the incidence of disordered eating, which in both cases was the same as the general public.  While the sample sizes of these studies are too small to draw general conclusions, they do present the possibility that even strongly religious communities need to address body image because their current theology is not creating a significant difference from the general public. In addition, because both groups were isolated from the influence of the “thin ideal”, these studies demonstrate that this is not the only factor influencing women towards poor body image and disordered eating.
Correlation between high religiosity and positive body image has been found in several studies that have attempted to quantify this relationship.  Based on their own prior research, Mahoney et al. hypothesized that “greater sanctification of the body” would lead to a “great investment in maintaining one’s physical well-being.”   Body sanctification refers to an individual’s view of her body that recognizes its value in religious terms.  It should also be noted that studies by Levin  and Strawbridge et al.  have shown that general religiousness leads to health-protective behaviour.   The Mahoney study was comprehensive, examining a wide range of experimental factors including manifestation of God in the body, sacred qualities of the body, general health-protective practices, as well as physical fitness and asceticism.  The sample included 289 university students 77.5% of which were female.   The study participants were predominately Christian (74%), which makes the results particularly useful for this thesis.   The results of the study supported the authors’ initial hypothesis.  Of particular note they found that higher levels of body sanctification were associated with greater satisfaction with the body.   Thus those participants who attributed religious meaning to their bodies were more likely to have a positive body image.
A study by Boyatzis, Kline and Backof specifically investigated written religious affirmations and their effect on body image.   The authors attempted to establish causality through pre and posttests dealing with body image and the viewing of “thin ideal” photos.    The women were divided into three groups: a control group that read random statements not related to body image, a “spiritual group” that read positive secular body image statements, and a “religious group” that read similar theistic statements.   The religious group showed the greatest improvement in body image on the post test, while the control group saw a decline in their body image.  This study supports Mahoney’s findings about religious beliefs and body satisfaction.
The results of the studies cited above demonstrate a connection between the content of religious belief and body satisfaction. The authors’ conclusions focused on the positive effects of religious belief on body image.  Research into small religious sects has shown that religious beliefs can also have a negative influence on body image.   Although new religious groups are typically small, their experience represents the extreme of devout religious belief, much as anorexia represents an extreme of either the “thin ideal” or fasting.  The Church Universal and Triumphant provides an example of use of restrictive diet in a new religious movement and the consequences of this practice.  The leader of the group, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, dictated all aspects of eating among her followers and framed her directives in a religious context.    She dictated the content and quantity of her follower’s food intake and to avoid “the appetites of the physical body and the appetites of death.”   Members of the community ate primarily rice and vegetables while Prophet had a fridge stocked with “exotic food.”   This last point implies that the food restrictions were related to control rather than a theology of eating practice.  The Church Universal and Triumphant is an unusual example because it does not represent the normal practice of the majority of religious believers. Anorexia, too, is an extreme behaviour. This particular case, along with others cited by Paolini and Paolini,   shows the negative effects of religious teachings on body image. As noted, some care must be taken in considering followers of new religious movements that are, by their nature, part of smaller tight-knit communities. These results, however, support the findings of other studies cited in this thesis, that religious beliefs can influence body image.
In addition to the studies of people or groups who have developed positive or negative relationships with food or their bodies due to religious affiliation and belief, research has been conducted to discover if certain types of people are more susceptible to poor body image or eating disorders due to their religious beliefs.  A notable study by Smith, Richards, and Maglio examined religious orientation and eating attitude in both clinical and sub-clinical anorexic populations.   They defined four types of religiousness based on the commonly used religious orientation scale (ROS).  Intrinsic religiousness is associated with orthodox practice and personal belief, while an extrinsically religious person often belongs to a community for social purposes.  On the two extremes are the pro-religious and nontraditional groups.  The former scored high on both intrinsic and extrinsic scales, and the latter scored low on both and could be considered non-religious.  In simplest terms the difference lies in the extent to which religiousness is an internal or external commitment on the part of the person.  Although the study sample was small, no correlation was found between the intrinsically religious group and anorexia.  As predicted eating disorder symptoms were most prevalent in the pro-religious and nontraditional groups.  Therefore, those for whom religion was an internal commitment were least likely to develop eating disorders.  From this study it can be concluded that there is no connection between religiousness and eating disorder pathology since the most traditionally religious group and the intrinsically religious group did not demonstrate a connection with anorexia nervosa. Based on the research cited above, the promotion of a healthy body image, in religious terms, has positive effects on people. This conclusion will return in Chapter 3.

There She Is

January 28, 2009

I read an account today of the recent Miss America Pageant.  I didn’t watch it because I’m not particularly interested in that sort of contest. I was intrigued to learn that the contestants body’s have more in common with varsity athletes than super models.  Perhaps this has long been the case, but I doubt it. A quick look through the contestants in the swimsuit competition (which is the easiest way to gauge body shape, size, and composition) reveals that they are indeed quite shapely though certainly not average.  A quick look through past winners of the competition doesn’t give any definitive proof that the ultra thin ideal was at play in previous years, but the fact that the Miss America Pageant represents an idea of beauty that is fit rather than miniature is a good thing.  I am going to ignore the other social issues associated with beauty pageants, and instead focus on the notion of the thin ideal in society.  It is unrealistic to expect people to ignore their natural inclination towards subjective beauty because it’s part of our wiring.  We can, however, embrace a wide range of notions of beauty and, more importantly, accept ourselves as we are.  Most people are aware of the pressure of being healthy,  and thin though they are not the same thing.  With the growing movement against super thin models, and the often unrealistic ideal portrayed in the media, perhaps the Miss America Pageant is one sign of this change.  The following is Part II of my thesis chapter on the relationship between anorexia and religion.

Anorexia has only been widely recognized among the general public since the 1970’s, a period of increasing secularization in North America, and is often connected with a society obsessed with beauty and the self.  Thanks to the work of Rudolph Bell in particular, scholars have recognized what appears to be a much longer history of anorexia than had been commonly acknowledged.  The relative infancy of the modern field of psychology limits the amount of historical data that exist for anorexia. In his survey of the literature, Bell states that it was not until the late 19th Century that self-starvation was recognized as a mental disorder rather than as either a devout or diabolical pursuit.   Although it had been apparent for centuries that extreme fasting was dangerous and ultimately fatal, medical science and psychology struggled to make sense of what many early doctors termed hysteria.   In the Twentieth Century, the advancement of psychiatry and psychology provided greater understanding of anorexia nervosa, and an increasing body of clinical research.  As with other mental disorders, however, the religiosity of anorexics was generally ignored or considered part of the pathology. Thus it cannot be said definitively what, if any, effect religion has had on anorexics in the past.  Fortunately there is an ever-growing body of contemporary research chronicling the connections between religion and anorexia, from Patricia Marsden’s work with English anorexics, to Richards and Bergin’s spiritually-oriented treatment.   These authors, and others,  conclude that religiosity has a role in anorexia.  The studies discussed in this chapter examine the role of religious beliefs in the prevention, pathology, and treatment of eating disorders. This section will present the results of relevant studies in two stages of anorexia: prevention/development/pathology, and treatment/recovery.
Christianity is a religion that preaches love, acceptance, and the dignity of the human person, as part of its core message. Current research suggests that the relationship between religious beliefs and the development of an eating disorder is complex.  Notably, in the areas of body satisfaction and eating habits, several studies have shown that religious communities often offer a similar distribution of outcomes to the general population.
Despite the lack of historical empirical data concerning anorexia, both, the human body and food have been major concerns of religion for thousands of years.  From a biblical perspective, the human relationship with the body and consumption dates to the creation story and the earliest human activity.  In the book of Genesis 3:17 an act of eating is used as the symbol for sin entering the world.  This action is then connected to feelings of shame about being naked. The ancient Israelites practiced the sacrifice of edible items, animals and grains, and ritualized significant historical events with food-based celebrations, such as Passover, which features a meal as a central activity. Modern Jews (as well as Hindus, Muslims and others) continue to practice dietary restrictions. In other ancient communities, food played an important role in ritual and religious belief, particularly in relation to agriculture and fertility.   To this day, faith communities continue to incorporate food into their worship through feasting, ritual, and fasting, such as Ramadan for Muslims, and Lent for Christians. Religiously prescribed limits on food intake are similar to eating disorder behaviour in that they seek to achieve a goal through control over eating.
Current research raises questions about the nature of body image presented by religious groups.  One study discovered that Catholics and Jews had higher rates of eating disorders compared to other religious groups.   Results such as this can lead to questions about the theology of the body that is internalized by believers and possibly leads to change when necessary.  John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was itself a response to questions that were being asked about the nature of the human body in relation to sexuality.  Dialogue about body image and its relationship to disordered eating and low self-esteem is an overlooked part of Christian theology.  Its significance for anorexia lies in its connection to poor body image. Since the relationship with the body is an important aspect of anorexia nervosa pathology, influences on body image have the potential to impact the development of this illness. Religious beliefs have the potential to damage body image as well as improve it.  Research has been done on the role of religious belief in poor body image, disordered eating, and the development of eating disorders.  For example, Bell found evidence of religiously motivated behaviour that resembled anorexia among ascetic women in medieval and renaissance Italy.  As well, a survey of two large collections of case studies reveals a variety of experiences among eating disorder patients.    For example, some adhered to religious prescriptions while others rebelled against them.   In cases of anorexia, the illness was viewed as the moral high ground, operating against greediness especially, but also the less obvious concepts of “anger,” and “sadness.”  These emotions are viewed by some patients as wrong or sinful and must be controlled.  The inability to completely control “sinful” behaviour can exacerbate the negative self-image that is common to anorexia.

Should We Forget Ourselves

January 25, 2009

As I was walking through a life one morning the sun was out, the air was warm, but oh I was cold, and though I must’ve looked a half a person, to tell the truth in my own version, it was only then that I felt whole.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Me and Mia

Long time readers of The Alder Fork Blog will know that I don’t always write about music, art, film, and theatre because my mind likes to wander.  I wrote my Master’s thesis on the connections between Anorexia Nervosa and religious belief, with an aim towards exploring pastoral options for treatment and prevention.  Many people asked to read it, and some have.  The second and third chapters of my thesis (when I was discussing the pastoral elements) are not as well written as I would have liked. I kind of tired of the process and allowed myself to make some leaps in the writing. In the end it was good enough to pass, but could have been better. The first chapter, however, is one of my proudest pieces of writing.  In that chapter I reviewed the relevant literature and drew some conclusions of my own about the existing and potential roles for religious interventions, and poastoral education.  Over the next little while I will be featuring that chapter in its entirety,obviously broken up into smaller parts. It begins today with the Part I. Please don’t hesitate to contact me about it, I love to discuss my research. If you or someone you know might have an eating disorder please seek professional help.

Anorexia Nervosa and the “Thin Ideal”
The purpose of this chapter is to present research on the relationship between anorexia and religion.  It will focus on defining anorexia nervosa, and on research about religion and anorexia.  Although there are few empirical studies related to this topic, some hypotheses can be drawn from the available literature.   Notably, the evidence suggests that a religious worldview can influence an individual’s relationship with his/her body. For example, fasting and the valuing of spirit above body have been correlated with poor body image.  As well, spiritual interventions have been useful in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an individual’s efforts to control her body weight through eating, exercise and other means.   The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Eating Disorders IV presents the following four criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia:

A. Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (e.g., weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight less than 85% of that expected; or failure to make expected weight gain during period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected).
B. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
C. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
D. In postmenarcheal females, amenorrhea, i.e., the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.
(A woman is considered to have amenorrhea if her periods occur only following hormone, e.g., estrogen, administration.)

Based on the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, it is apparent that the condition is a mix of psychological (B, C) and physiological (A, D) concerns.
There are two subtypes of anorexia, “restricting type,” and “binge eating/purging type,” which reflect two different methods of controlling food intake and body size.  Restricting anorexia could be considered the extreme dieting model where the individual limits her food intake to the point that she starves herself.  Binge eating/purging type is similar to bulimia nervosa in that the individual eats large quantities of food and then attempts to expunge them through vomiting, or laxative abuse. When a person stops eating, her body first reacts by storing as much energy as possible, entering what is called starvation mode.  Without enough food energy the body shuts down organs and wastes away. For anorexics this extreme weight loss is considered a mark of achievement of body control. If untreated, anorexia can lead to death.
Although persons of any age are at risk for developing anorexia nervosa, this eating disorder is most common among young females between 12 and 25 years of age.  It is estimated that 1 out of every 8 adolescent girls displays eating disorder symptoms (including bulimia and eating disorders not otherwise specified).  The prevalence of anorexia, specifically, ranges between 0.5% and 3.7% in females, and 0.05% and 0.37% in males, with the number of new cases continuing to increase.   Up to 20% of all patients diagnosed with anorexia will eventually die from their condition.
Those who suffer from anorexia come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.   Anorexia occurs most often in industrialized nations that have an abundance of available food.  Eating disorders are common in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and Japan, although research in other areas of the world is currently limited.
As this eating disorder affects a diverse population, the root causes of anorexia are complex.  There is evidence to suggest that certain psychological stresses, such as dysfunctional family life, a sense of helplessness, or even genetics have a role in many cases.   There are two prominent explanations for the proliferation of eating disorders in North America.  The first can be termed controlling the body, and relates specifically to personality variables such as perfectionism, low self esteem, fear of maturation, and familial/cultural variables that leave an individual feeling out of control or dominated (primarily known as the psychodynamic explanation).  The second explanation deals with cultural and peer pressure to achieve and maintain a certain appearance, a misunderstanding of the concepts of body type and development, and fear of obesity.
A negative consequence of the social stigma associated with anorexia is the proliferation of “pro-Ana” (short for anorexia) movements among teenage girls that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice and ideal.   This situation is perhaps the most extreme outcome of a society that values physical beauty, in the form of thinness, as a high ideal.   The glamourization of anorexia as a celebrity disease and a path to acceptance can be seen in the content of these sites.   This type of online community provides anonymous support for girls that they cannot find in the “real world,”  partly due to the fact that anorexics do not speak openly about their condition, as well as the stigma associated with the illness.  The community fostered on these sites is dangerous for those at risk of developing an eating disorder.   This issue will be addressed as part of the discussion of the theology of the body because it relates to the community of those at risk.