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When food becomes a teen’s enemy

A workshop helps island girls achieve a healthy body image.

“A.S.” was striving for perfection when things got out of control.

Her desire to lose weight last year at age 15 made anorexia an appealing outlet for her feelings, which started when she was in the third grade.

“I think it was always in the back of my mind, the commitment to be able to do it,” the Bainbridge High School student said.

“When people confronted me, I was bitter,” said A.S., not her real initials. “They’d say, ‘Why don’t you stop?’ It’s not just like a light switch.”

She was in total denial about the depths of her disease.

“I think you surrender to it. When someone tells you to eat, you’re not going to want to,” she said.

Teen girls have long put pressure on themselves to have the “perfect” body. In their quest to lose weight – fueled by internal stresses and society’s image of looking good – many spiral into a world consumed by anorexia, bulimia, anxiety and depression.

To show Bainbridge teens that they can have a healthy view of their bodies, six area health practitioners will present “Healing the Body Image: A Workshop for Teen Girls” from 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 28 at Yoga and Beyond, 425 Ericksen Ave.

The panel will focus on the role food should play in a teen’s life, ways to identify emotion and relaxation through yoga.

“The goal is to educate these girls on what a healthy body image is. We’ll explore and support the girls’ feelings,” said Bainbridge therapist Janie Burke, who specializes in eating disorders and family therapy. “We have never come together as a group before...and we want to get the word out. The problem is getting worse on the island.”

Bringing a more “alternative” approach to the workshop will be Annie Allender, trained in classical Five-Element acupuncture.

This method addresses balance and well-being in the body, helps teens understand they have support outside their family and therapist and opens a dialogue about their feelings.

“There is a lot more pressure and stress (for teens) in this community, both academically and socially,” she said. “People want to look at it as an idyllic community.”

The workshop also will feature exercises with Stephanie Viele of Yoga and Beyond and comments from Dr. Jillian Worth, a family physician whose patients include teens with image problems and eating disorders. Working with Worth at the Virginia Mason Winslow clinic is Kelly Lawson, R.N.

The panel includes four teens, including “A.S.” who are waging their own war against eating disorders. They’ll share their stories and answer questions.

“The goal (of the workshop) is to bring together the practitioners to help address the concern about body image that every adolescent young woman on the island goes through,” naturopath Amy Turnbull said.

This will be accomplished by supporting the teens’ feelings and telling them that it’s acceptable to talk about this subject, she said.

“We work a lot with diet and nutrition, but the issue is so much more complex than a diet alone,” Turnbull said. “They have to learn how to eat and stay centered and balanced. Rather than limiting calories, they need to focus on living.

“The goal is to both educate these young women and support our uniqueness in ourselves and what our bodies look like,” Turnbull said. “Healthy is more than just a number on the scale.”

Balance

“A.S.” is participating in the workshop because she wants people “to understand it (whether) they have an eating disorder or they know people who have one and are afraid for them and want to learn how to help people. It’s really hard for the parents and the people surrounding you. It’s a learning situation for all family members.”

As she slipped into her own eating disorder, her friends would get mad at her and ask why she chose to do this. Her parents had the same question.

“The initial choice to lose weight is our decision and it got out of control,” she said. “It was not my choice to do everything. We all know it’s not smart. We all know it’s not good for you.

“I always had the support around me. I wasn’t willing to accept or take it. I’ve had a really good relationship with my parents.”

Her parents confronted her several times before she agreed to get help last May. She had became tired, physically and mentally. Obsessing about every calorie, exercising and hiding what she was doing isolated her from family and friends.

“It’s so much work to do it. It consumes you. I thought, ‘I can’t do anything else with my life.’ I did not have the energy to do anything else.”

“A.S.” remains in therapy. She’s still in denial, she said, but her life is better.

“I’m still figuring out what happened,” she said, “and I am eating.”

Joining her at the workshop is “B.M.,” age 18, a recent Bainbridge High School graduate, who has had an even tougher battle for recovery. A troubled household and the need to control something in her life led her to become anorexic and bulimic.

She recently finished a four-month in-patient treatment program in California, to which she did not go willingly.

She admits it saved her life.

“B.M.” was unhappy about her weight in the second grade. By third grade, she was throwing away her lunch. She became dedicated to anorexia in the seventh grade, she said, adding she never thought it would happen.

“(The issue) is way deeper than losing weight,” she said. “My (home life) was very controlling and it gave me a distraction or an escape.

“I was getting confronted for years, then people would forget about it,” “B.M.” said, adding that her parents didn’t understand what was happening to her. “I would work harder to hide it. I was numb. I was isolated. I was always depressed and in a bad mood.”

Throughout the height of her disease, “B.M.” played sports and felt miserable. She suffered severe fatigue, dizziness every time she stood up and sinus bradycardia, a dangerously slow heart beat.

Her friends told their parents about her; her coach, with whom she was close, talked to her mother and they confronted her.

“It wasn’t until after treatment that I was out of the worst part of it,” B.M. said.

She continues to think about her eating disorder every day, but now she talks about it.

“It was natural to avoid food or purge when I ate food. It was normal to me,” she said. “Before, it was my way to cope with stress. Now I write in a journal and do simple things, like taking myself out of a stressful situation and not booking up my schedule. I make time for myself.”

She isn’t purging any more, but she’s still counting calories and looking at labels. She works and fills her days with other activities. If she’s just staying at home, though, she starts thinking about what she ate and why.

“I think darkness has something to do with it,” she said. “Our society is so focused on food…and saying people in size 00 pants need to lose weight. That makes you think, ‘I should never eat again in my life.’

“Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand it.”

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Body image

The cost of attending “Healing the Body Image: A Workshop for Teen Girls” is a $15 donation. The workshop is from 1-5 p.m. Aug. 28, at Yoga & Beyond, 425 Erickesen Ave. To sign up, call Kelly Lawson, R.N., at the Virginia Mason Winslow clinic, 625-7373, ext. 67124.

Facilitators include: Janie Burke, an eating disorders specialist; Dr. Jillian Worth, a Virginia Mason Winslow clinic family physician; Lawson; naturopath Amy Turnball; acupuncturist Annie Allender; and yoga instructor Stephanie Viele.

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