This webinar was held at 10:30am AEST on Wed 25 Oct 2023.
Claire Pearson (AWC host)
Hi! My name’s Claire Pearson. I’m the Learning and Engagement Manager with the Arts Wellbeing Collective and I’m very excited about our webinar that we have for you this morning. Hope you’re having a wonderful Wednesday morning. It’s 10:30 here on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne. We know we have a few of you coming from near and fast, so thank you for joining.
Our presenters today are Rebecca Lister and Ruth Greene. So not only do Ruth and Rebecca know so much about this area, but they both have wonderful performing arts experience to really understand the context of the performing arts industry.
Thanks, Claire, and good morning, everyone. It’s such a privilege to be here and thank you for the warm welcome.
This morning Rebecca and I will be looking at myth-busting around eating disorders and exploring the links between body image, food and movement. And if it helps, something that one of our psychologists here at EDV talks about is body image can also be replaced with body relationship, and I find that can just help in terms of our understanding.
I would also like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri Wurrung people as the traditional owners and true sovereigns of the land known as Yarra where I am now at the EDV office. And for those of you who enjoy football, this is the old Victoria Park, Collingwood football ground. We acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all nations who may be here today, and we pay our deepest respects to elders, past and present.
We also acknowledge today the living and lived experience of mental health issues and eating disorders, we acknowledge the significant and ongoing contribution of the consumer and carer movements. We are really committed to elevating and embedding the voice of lived experience in all we do.
These are our anchor points, our values that we always refer to at EDV. We always come back to this idea of optimism. That recovery and hope is always possible, that we have courage, that we move towards moving away from our eating disorder, improving our quality of life.
We also focus a lot on connection – connection to others, connection to our self, connection to our body, and we also acknowledge that perseverance is a big part of the recovery journey. You can see here that at EDV we’ve been celebrating our fortieth year. We’re having a big birthday gala in November. So everyone’s welcome, tickets are still on sale.
Here we have a lovely website. Feel free after today, just to have a sneak peek at our website, it’s easy to navigate. You can see, just from the bottom of the sphere here, that lived experience is a big part of all we do.
This morning, we’re really going to look at myths and misunderstandings of eating disorders. Also just go into a little bit deeper about understanding what eating disorders are, what are the risk factors. We’ll also look at how to access support and how to support yourself.
And also, just a bit of self-reflection on how are you nurturing yourself? How are you taking care of yourself? And we’ll also have time if you are concerned about others and how to approach someone as well, and also looking at that idea of how do we improve our body relationship, our body image and essentially a day to day a healthy relationship with food, movement and body as an important part of our mental and physical wellbeing? Over to you. Beck.
Okay, great. Thank you very much, Ruth. So, we’ve got a few myths at the beginning. But throughout this whole presentation we’re trying to look at what are the misunderstandings around eating disorders? Because it’s often the misunderstandings or the myths and incorrect information that stop people from receiving the support and the care that they need to head towards recovery.
Eating disorders are a mental illness, and one of the key factors about eating disorders is that you can recover. If you have early intervention and a support team, you can recover from an eating disorder, same with other mental illnesses. Often it is about learning skills in order to live with it.
So let’s just have a look at some of these myths or facts. Now, you can’t call out your answers, so just hold your answer in your mind, and we’ll see how it goes. Is this a myth or a fact? Have a think about it. It’s easy to tell if someone has an eating disorder because they will be very underweight.
Do you think that that’s true? Or is that a myth? It’s actually a myth. Because you can’t tell by looking at somebody whether they have an eating disorder. People across the weight spectrum and the size and the shape spectrum can experience an eating disorder. And eating disorders are more about the distress and the impact on somebody’s everyday functioning rather than their weight or their body shape. But it’s a myth. And unfortunately, it’s a myth that’s perpetuated often in the media. Often when eating disorders are raised, they’ll show a very particular type of body, so people often think that you can tell by looking at someone, or that you must be a particular size to have an eating disorder. You don’t.
The next myth is about dieting. This is one that we talk about a lot because it’s so important in in understanding eating disorders. Dieting is a normal part of life. Do you think that this is a myth or that this is a fact?
So again, it’s a myth. Dieting is normalized in contemporary society. But unfortunately, it’s not normal. We see dieting around us all the time, particularly in the media. So, we’re made to feel like it’s normal. But actually, it’s incredibly harmful. And we’ll go into it a little bit more as we go along in this presentation, but unfortunately, dieting is the number one risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. One of the things that we encourage people to do is to actually move away from diet culture and talking about diet culture and normalizing diet culture, particularly in the workplace.
And we know with this cohort of people that have joined us today, that working in the performing arts can be quite complex in relation to your relationship between your body and your shape and your size. So, it’s very easy to kind of slip into that normalized understanding that that that dieting is okay. In actual fact, dieting is very harmful.
Eating disorders only affect women. I suspect that this one is probably self-evident. It’s a myth. Eating disorders can affect anyone of any of any gender identity, and we know that over a third of people who have an eating disorder identify as males or as male-identifying.
And unfortunately, this myth stops people from seeking care and seeking help. It prevents people from reaching out because they feel that they don’t fit the category – that everyone needs to look a certain shape size, and they must be a woman. In the same way, eating disorders aren’t segregated only to adolescents. Often people will say, ‘Oh, that’s a kind of a stage that adolescents go through. It’s quite normal.’ It’s not eating. Disorders are serious mental illnesses.
Let’s talk a little bit more about understanding eating disorders. It’s a brief overview. But it’ll help you dispel some of those myths and misunderstandings around eating disorders.
So eating disorders are unfortunately fairly common. And research suggests that there’s probably about 9% of Australians will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime, which is about a million people. Each year. And these statistics don’t take into account the frequent under reporting or under treatment of eating disorder. So, a lot of people live with an eating disorder, but have never had diagnosis, or have never had any treatment. So the percentage for the statistic is probably actually higher.
Of people with eating disorders, Binge Eating Disorder and OSFED, which is Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders, are the most are the most common eating disorders, and that, too, is a dispelling of a myth, because often people think that the most common eating disorder is anorexia nervosa but it’s actually Binge Eating Disorder or OSFED. And many people with eating disorders also, across their lifetime, might present with some other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, or substance misuse. And sometimes that can block people talking about their eating disorder or mental health/medical professionals asking specific questions about your relationship with food and your body. So, eating disorders far more common than what you may think.
So what are eating disorders? And I think it’s important that, before we talk about the different types of eating disorders, you have an understanding that eating disorders are about a distinct pattern of eating behaviour that causes distress and a form of impairment. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice. And they’re not a phase. That’s definitely something that can really stop particularly young people seeking treatment, because often their behaviour is dismissed as just something that teenagers go through. It’s not a phase that you outgrow or attention seeking behaviour. It is important to remember that eating disorders are mental illness. Serious mental illness which can be conceptualized as a maladaptive form of coping. People often use eating disorders in order to feel safe or to feel in control. But we know in the long term that these forms of coping mechanisms aren’t helpful and they’re not healthy. And when you have those myths surrounding a disorder, it can make it difficult to recover or to receive assistance to recover.
We like to break it down to kind of four levels of impact, because often people only see the physical or only understand the physical. So the physical – Some eating disorders can affect your functioning of your heart, your stomach, your gut, your energy levels, your sleep, your teeth, your skin, your hair, so they can have major impacts on your physical wellbeing.
They can have impacts on your psychological wellbeing, particularly on behavioural change. They can increase moodiness, anxiety, and a whole range of other emotions. In a little while we’ll talk a little bit about binge eating disorder which unfortunately, can lead to people feeling incredibly distressed and very suffering very much from self-loathing. So, eating disorders have a huge impact, obviously, on someone’s psychological well-being.
Eating disorders also affect people’s social wellbeing. They can impact so much on your ability to engage socially, people will feel very isolated. They’ll have difficulty engaging socially. Often people will put their eating disorder or their disordered behaviour first, so it impacts on someone’s capacity to have an engaged and healthy social life.
And it can also impact obviously on someone’s quality of life. Which means how they spend their time, how they feel about themselves. The amount of energy they have to be able to contribute to the many factors that make up for a good quality of life. Eating disorders impact across these 4 areas.
A lot of people ask us about disordered eating – What is the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders? If you think of it as a continuum with eating disorders at one end of the continuum and healthy or normal eating at the other end, disordered eating can sort of sit in the middle. It sort of sits in this spectrum between normal and eating disorders, and it might include some of the symptoms and behaviours of an eating disorder, but often with a lesser frequency or a lower level of severity.
Eating disorders, like all mental illnesses, it’s often about the severity, and the number of episodes. In the same way that you know we all, at times, will feel flat, but it may not mean that we have clinical depression. Clinical depression is obviously measured in terms of how frequently it happens over a period of time. The same with disordered eating but disordered eating can be a risk factor in the development of an eating disorder.
And it’s things like fasting or skipping meals or eliminating food groups for non-medical reasons; engaging in restrictive eating or binge eating; and also in excess of exercising which can have serious consequences on both mental and physical wellbeing of an individual.
Let’s just take a quick look. We don’t want to go down a whole clinical path, but it is important that you have an overview. So, most people would be familiar with Anorexia Nervosa, or anorexia, as it’s often referred to, which is identified through the restriction of food, often a significant weight loss. Which can lead to being severely underweight.
Often people with anorexia want to maintain a low body weight through persistent behaviours, such as over-exercising, elimination of food groups. There’s often a strong body image disturbance, there’s an intense fear of gaining weight. There’s an intense amount of value placed upon body, weight, and shape being tied to self-evaluation. I am only good if I look a certain way. And there’s often a persistent lack of seriousness about the low body weight.
Bulimia Nervosa. Again, I imagine, most people would be familiar with Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia is often identified through a cycle of episodes of binge eating and then engaging in some form of compensatory behaviours after the bingeing. And those compensatory behaviours are often engaged within order to prevent weight gain, and they might be things like purging, vomiting inappropriate laxative use, over-exercise. So people will eat a large amount of food, and then try and compensate for that by engaging in unhelpful behaviours, and often there can be a fluctuating weight with Bulimia or a Binge Eating Disorder. As I said earlier, is the most prevalent eating disorder and Binge Eating Disorder can be quite common. It has some similar characteristics to Bulimia, in that there might be recurrent episodes of binge eating. However, there’s an absence of inappropriate compensatory behaviours, and the binges can often lead people to feeling deeply distressed or isolated having terrible feelings of self-loathing. Low self-evaluation, low self-worth, depression and guilt at times.
Most people engage in some form of overeating or bingeing, but often it’s without all the negative feelings. Binge eating is really identified by those awful feelings that occur after. You can’t always tell if somebody has binge eating disorder, again, because weight might fluctuate, weight might be stable. There might be a weight gain, there might not be any weight gain. So that’s why it’s really important if you know that people who are engaging in those behaviours feel terrible, that they reach out for assistance.
OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) is a kind of a general category, where you can’t clearly identify whether somebody has Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa or Bingeing Disorder, but they might have a number of the behaviours. But it’s often a disruptive, a serious and disruptive pattern of eating disorders.
You can’t clearly make a diagnosis that the person has one particular eating disorder. But again, it leads to this terrible form of distress, and an in an enormous amount of time is spent thinking about food and meals and shape and size.
And then Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID, is a fairly new diagnosis. It used to be historically called Selective Eating Disorder, and some people loosely referred to it as kind of picky eating. But it’s when people are very selective about the type of eating that they engage in. They might have very little interest in food, and this can lead to a poor growth in in relation to nutrition.
So again, it’s when people start to eliminate out lots of different food groups because they find it too distressing to engage in certain food groups. So it’s really important that that’s taken seriously and not just perceived as, ‘oh, that person’s just a picky eater’.
Orthorexia is one that comes up a lot, and I would imagine that a lot of the listeners here today who are involved in the in the performing arts sector would be quite familiar with this term, because it is written about quite a lot. And it’s our kind of current obsession with pure or clean eating. And what happens is that people will start to eliminate food groups.
And it’s important to note that, at this stage, it doesn’t have a clinical diagnosis in the DSM, but it can be really seen as a precursor for the development of an eating disorder. So some of the symptoms of Orthorexia go by beyond just like a single, a simple preference and interest in healthy eating, and can cause severe distress and impairment in everyday life. Some of the things can be:
- Compulsive checking of ingredients on food packaging or ingredient lists
- Cutting out food groups and only eating because you believe that it’s healthy or pure.
- An unusual interest in the health and the food that other people are engaging in.
- Spending hours contemplating what kind of food might be served at upcoming events.
And a high level of distress when safe or healthy foods aren’t presented to people, and it can have a huge impact on body image. So Orthorexia is something that we see a lot more in clients that come through our service. And it’s important that that people are aware of the impact of orthorexia.
The key, as I said earlier – one of the myths around eating disorders is that somebody will grow out of it, or it’s just a phase, or it’s not important.
It’s important if you see signs of a of an eating disorder to intervene early. The earlier the intervention the more likelihood of recovery. Eating disorder behaviours may appear to serve a functional purpose like a coping strategy. But over time they increase interference with wellbeing and the ability to function in everyday life.
There may never be a perfect time or a good time to seek help and go through treatment, but the earlier you seek treatment the better the outcome. And a positive relationship with food and body is an important part of mental and physical health. Okay, over to you, Ruth.
Thanks, Bec. And yeah, just finishing off on that. Intervening early is something that we do talk about at EDV. If you’re concerned about yourself or others, never to sit, watch and wait with an eating disorder, to really move towards action. And we encourage people to reach out to us.
We’re just moving on now to the risk factors. And in terms of eating disorders, eating disorders develop through an interaction of factors. There’s no single cause. One of the privileges of my job is working with our ambassadors. We go into psychiatric units, into clinics, and they will share their story of recovery. And quite often they will talk about it being a perfect storm of different factors in their life – Could be traumatic event, a physical event. It could be social factors. All these things that have just come together at this one time, and that is how they believe that they’ve developed their eating disorder. So, it never really is one thing.
In these sorts of contributing factors, it’s biological, potentially psychological. Sometimes, they might talk about their family and the impact of family structures, changes in the family. Also, the Socio cultural and just the situation they find themselves in. The context, their environment.
It could be a stressful time for them at university, and the way that they find self-soothing is through these behaviours that potentially are unhelpful for them.
Ruth. I’m just going to jump in there with the socio-cultural because that kind of ties back to the stuff that I was mentioning earlier around dieting when we normalize things like dieting, that that is a socio-cultural risk factor. Things also like social media, bullying, workplace culture. How do you speak about your body in your workplace? How do other people speak about bodies? Do you use words as a judgement? We’ll use the word ‘fat’ as an example. Do you use that word as a judgment, or do you use it as a descriptor? And how does that impact on the culture of your workplace? So sociocultural is important in terms of how we behave in the things that we say and do and normalize.
Yeah, thanks. Bec, that’s really good point. And one of the bonuses of working at EDV is we do have a real intentional culture here that we signpost, which is that we don’t make appearance-based comments about others. In our kitchen, we don’t comment on what other people are eating or the amount that they’re eating. And it’s kind of one of the bonuses. It can be a bit of a bubble for people that they can come into and just have a break from those sorts of social pressures around what they’re eating, the amount they’re eating or how they look. So, you know, that might be something for other organizations to think about as well, because it can be a real bonus of working here.
So we did touch on this before – What is the biggest risk factor for developing an eating disorder? And Rebecca did mention this. That dieting, in fact, is the biggest risk factor, and what we know to be the impact on the body and the brain, and quite often our ambassadors will just talk about this fogginess. They just can’t think straight, an inability to concentrate. And you’ll also find that their bodies might also go into this survival response that they’re running on empty and only able to concentrate for short periods of time.
And we ask the question, do diets work? I think you know we have touched on this, but going back to the stories of recovery, we find that the Yo-yo dieting is something that people cannot sustain. And it can bring great distress to them as well, and it can promise a little bit more than it can. This kind of false sense of control, perhaps using food using routine, using diet for a sense of control when they’re outside world might seem a bit chaotic. ‘This is something that I control.’ But it does have a big price.
So just thinking about the impacts of diets – it’s quite often when you’re talking to someone who’s experiencing an eating disorder, if I’m on the phone with someone, I will draw circles because you can see that’s kind of the pattern that they’re in. This sort of cycle, going round and round with their thoughts. And what we’re trying to do in terms of recovery is intervene those thoughts and give them some respite from that constant diet cycle and their experience of an eating disorder.
You can see here that we start at the top of the sphere, which is the behaviour in terms of dieting. They have the restriction, and then, if we move to the next one, we can see that food can take up a lot of head space. It can. They might be unable to concentrate at work because they’re thinking about food, or they’re thinking about movement that they want to do. So then, in terms of the diet cycle, they’re unable to sustain it because they’re human, and that action can then make them feel a sense of failure or shame which we could call an automatic negative thought. I feel bad about myself. I’ve failed at this. How do I make myself feel a bit better? I’ll do this behaviour, which can lead to behaviours around binging or overeating.
And again, going back and feeling, I feel bad about myself, I feel guilty. and this sense of guilt comes up a lot in eating disorders, and we talk a lot with our community about intervening with self-kindness, self-compassion, and really sort of trying to turn the ship around on these automatic negative thoughts that eating disorders or dieting can give us.
As we go back to the top of the sphere is if I do this, it will make it all better again. If I do this behaviour, it will make it better. So you can see this sort of a cycle of avoidance. And then coming back up to the top to the behaviour which potentially in this is restriction.
One thing that we really talk about EDV is living with intention in terms of disengaging from diet talk. So again, I’ll just touch back on our culture here. We don’t engage in diet talk, we actively challenge it. We really encourage our community to go towards things on social media that bring them joy and enhance them and energize them and make them feel good about themselves as opposed to leaving a space and feeling impacted negatively about it.
I know it’s not an easy thing to do, but just being mindful and going into these socials with intention, and perhaps curating your social feed. As to what is more helpful for you, really engaging that critical mind, challenging these unhelpful messages that might go to you, but also your family and friends having discussions around it.
We also talk a lot at EDV about a joyful movement as opposed to exercise, or sort of a sense of discipline in that space. And that is just because some people really find to connect back to their body, that movement, and finding joy in movement again can be more helpful for them. So, finding enjoyable forms – whether that might be connecting with nature, going out in nature, doing a hike, being in water… Taking some time today to think ‘what is my connection to movement? What makes what brings my body joy when I move?’
And also just thinking, how would you look after a friend? How would I look after myself? How can I prioritise nurturing myself? And perhaps it might be, you know, some reflection today on what are some unhelpful coping mechanisms that I’ve had that potentially I might. I may need to shift.
And most importantly, we’re all about help-seeking. Really normalizing that mentoring to people that you know. If, in the past, you’ve sought help, how did that go? If it didn’t go well with the first professional, try another. Get in touch with us and we can certainly offer some health professionals that specialize in the area.
Yes, so this can be some guidance around how to really shift conversations in your social circles. We talk a lot at EDV about using I statements because it’s less accusatory and judgmental. If the conversation is not going where you’d like it to be, you know you can practice saying, ‘Oh, I feel uncomfortable when I hear conversations about weight because I feel that leads to unhelpful comparisons.’ And that’s something we talk about a lot – unhelpful comparisons. Which is what I call compare and despair.
You can also be clear and have just have a think. What are your boundaries around this type of unhelpful talk? ‘Yeah, I actually step back from talking about diets now, I just don’t think it’s helpful for me.’
And that can feel uncomfortable.
But it is just really nurturing and nourishing your self-care and your boundaries, and really mentioning to other people as well that that’s just not helpful for you and potentially for others in the space as well.
And you know, another thing really is how can I change the topic around this? How can I shift the conversation away? And yeah, let’s talk about this, and perhaps not about that.
Thanks, Ruth. And I guess one of the other things is people often ask us – How do you give compliments if you’re not talking about people’s body? And we’ll often say that you know it. People will say, ‘Oh, you look great in that outfit, it makes you look so thin’. Or those sorts of things. ‘Have you been on a diet? You look so well.’ We try and steer our conversation away from those sorts of comments to comments more like ‘that colour suits you. That outfits got a great cut. That costume that you’re wearing like really looks great on stage’ rather than ‘you look thin in that’.
And also the way that we talk about ourselves in front of others. You know the classic thing of ‘Do I look fat in this?’ instead saying, ‘Does this style suit me?’ Part of the whole body image, and diet culture is really re-training ourselves to speak in a in a slightly different way.
So, body image is made up of a variety of different things. You know body image is talked about a lot. We tend to move a lot towards the area that’s now spoken about in terms of body neutrality. Where we talk about the function of our body as opposed to how our body looks.
But let’s just break down this notion of body image, because I think one of the myths around body image is this notion that you should love yourself all the time. No one loves themself all the time. It’s very rare. And how we feel about our body can fluctuate. But there’s a few different elements that make up body image. There’s the perceptual body image, which is the way that you see your body, and it’s not always a correct representation of how you actually look. For example, a person might describe themselves as sort of overweight or larger. In actual fact, their size and shape is quite normal. So perceptual body image is how you perceive your body.
Effective body image is the way that you feel about your body. This relates to the amount of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that you might have about your shape and weight and your individual body parts, and that can change really on any day. It’s not a static thing. It’s something that’s quite that that changes quite a bit.
Our cognitive body image is the way that you think about your body, and what we do know is, when people are suffering from an eating disorder, it can lead for preoccupation around body, shape and weight. We know that social media can have a huge impact on cognitive body image. We can receive messages that say you’re going to feel better, or you’re going to be more successful if you are thinner or more muscular or have a particular body shape. So how you think about your body, and how much time you spend thinking about your body.
Your cognitive body image is an important part of body image, and then behavioural is, I think, self-evident. What sort of behaviours do you engage in as a result of your body image? A person who’s dissatisfied with the way that they look might isolate themselves or engage in destructive behaviours. They might engage in over-exercising, disordered eating to change their body image. And I’m sure you can all think of many examples where behavioural body image can get in the way of doing the things that you want to do.
So, ways to improve your body image. Now, many of these will seem quite self-explanatory and quite simple. I guess it’s like anything when you’re working towards helpful behaviours. We tend to talk more in helpful behaviours rather than healthy or unhealthy. But it’s repetition. It’s practicing them. You can’t just kind of focus on them once and go, okay, that’s all, that’s all good on that one. It’s like meditation. If you’re going to engage in meditation, you need to do a little practice regularly. It’s like learning lines. I know that, as an actor, often audiences will say, ‘Wow! How did you learn all those lines?’ You learned all those lines because you put in the hard work, you practice it. You’d lay down new neural pathways and you practice it over and over and over.
This notion of body neutrality is about focusing on what our bodies can do rather than what they look like. And it can help to shift your focus to the outside and remove that pressure on what your body looks like to what can your body do? It can take you for walks. It can enable you to be on stage for long periods of time standing up, but it can enable you to sing. It can enable you to work in the circus industry. So, what your body can do rather than what it looks like.
You can avoid making unhelpful comparisons. One of my favourite quotes is comparison is the death of happiness. The moment we start to compare, we so often compare in the negative, we rarely compare and go ‘Wow! I look so good compared to blah blah blah!’ We often compare in the negative.
Go easy on yourself and your friends, you know. It’s important not to make comments about eating, our habits or bodies or people around us, but also think about the way that we talk about our own bodies and try to be aware of the negative way that we speak about our bodies, and speak about our bodies with kindness.
As Ruth said earlier, curate your social media feed, that’s self-evident. Think critically about the messages that you receive in the media and spend time with people who support and embrace you and treat your body with self-care.
A lot of it starts around this area of body image and acceptance. The more you accept your body and the more you understand body neutrality, the less likely you are to develop an eating disorder. It then moves into a preoccupation with body, shape, and size – distress which can then lead to an eating disorder. Improving body image can prevent the development of an eating disorder and can support recovery from an eating disorder.
Let’s just have a look quickly. I’m very aware of time, because we do want to leave a few minutes at the end for some questions. So, some coping mechanisms on self-care. The other thing is that we’ll also send these slides as a Pdf back to Claire, and she can disseminate to those people who’ve registered for the workshop as well. We’ll put them up on the site. So over you, Ruth.
Thanks. Bec. What are we talking about when we’re talking about coping mechanisms? I’m sure you can all identify in times of high stress or anxiety, there are certain behaviours we might default to and that can calm us down. These behaviours may offer us a sense of calm, control, safety and comfort in the moment. And sometimes they’re not the best choice for us, for our ongoing wellbeing. What we’re really trying to do is firstly identify what our coping style is, and then move towards something that we can do with a bit more intention, and something that isn’t unhelpful for us.
Now, if you want to take a moment just to think about things you naturally turn to when you’re in moments of feeling distressed or overwhelmed. What are those behaviours that you go back to? How do they make you feel in the moment? And what we’re really looking towards is ideally, really expanding this. What we talk about here is building your tool Kit. What can we add? What’s inspiring to put in our toolkit?
It might be things like shifting that negative, critical voice into something that is more self-validating, something that comes from a place of kindness and compassion. Challenging those unhelpful thoughts. Holding space to look for evidence for thoughts rather than just accepting negative thoughts about ourselves. So really sort of waking up to the space around us, and acknowledging what our experience is. Some of you may be writers. It might be helpful for you to write them down as well. We have a lot of our ambassadors have kept journals to this day, and they love writing. It’s part of their creative expression.
Really allowing ourselves to feel our feelings, we talk a lot about that EDV. If we have a feeling, we need to feel it and express that however it might come out. Releasing that, whether that be through laughter, crying and also reaching out to friends, reaching out to people that you feel safe with and feel connected to. Of course, you can also call us at EDV, or you could also call Lifeline as well. But it’s really important that you connect and reach for help if you need it.
So in terms of challenging thoughts, a really helpful way to do this is to think, if this was my loved one, if this was my best friend, what would I say to that?
How would I look after that person? And really turning the ship around on that and being a friend to yourself. Knowing that you are worthy of these kind and compassionate thoughts, and reminding yourself in these difficult moments that this, too, shall pass.
Another thing that we find helpful, too, is this idea of distraction. Some of our community that are on meal plans, for example. They might use distraction as a way of keeping to their healthful routines, and so they might identify in their tool kit a few books that make them happy. So they’ll read a few chapters to keep their spirits up. They’ll watch a comedy. They’ll go back to their choir class, and they’ll really just have that awareness around what is bringing joy towards me.
And how can I nurture myself within my tool kit, and how can I expand it as well…
Beck? I might hand over to you because I know you’d love a bit of sensory grounding.
Sensory grounding is becoming aware of your sensory profile. We often talk about our central nervous system having 2 elements, your sympathetic and your parasympathetic nervous system. If you think of your sympathetic nervous system as your accelerator and your brake as your parasympathetic nervous system. What are the things that increase your energy levels? And what are the things that slow you down? If you’re experiencing distress or you’re experiencing some form of flatness, how do you engage with your sensory profile? How do you use your sight and sound, smell and taste and touch and movement to engage either a way to accelerate your nervous system to create energy or a way to calm yourself down? And it can be helpful to develop a sensory profile you can use at any time. So rather than self-flagellating and saying, I’m a bad person, because I’m having this feeling actually going, This is a feeling that’s happening. This is my body. This is physiological. I’m now going to engage in some sensory profiling to bring myself back to a more even state.
Thanks, Bec. I’ll just zoom through these next two self-care slides so self-nurture. What’s a really good idea is just to make it part of your life. Make it part of your routine. The more practice that you do around self-care the more sustaining it will be for your wellbeing. And it’s always sort of making sure that we have time in our life to do what brings us joy, whether it’s listening to a podcast, going to a show, going to choir practice, going to rehearsal… that is important because it’s part of your self-care, and something that brings you joy. And it’s also good to share with your friends. You might have self-care that is quite internal. So listening to a podcast as opposed to getting some people together and going to, you know, a comedy festival, going to a show.
We pose this question to you when life gets busy – What are the things you wish you had time for? Just taking some time now to think about that. And what are some of the things you would like to do that’s self-care every day? What’s something that you could fit in every day without it being stressful? What is something that is inspiring for you to do once a week?
Or is this something monthly that you love to do, which might be going on your favourite walk? Getting over to the Botanical Gardens, going around there. Just being intentional about yourself. Care and bringing it to the table so that you’re nourishing your wellbeing.
And these are ways to engage in other coping strategies. Because we live in a world that’s busy. There’s a lot of stress. What are the strategies that you use to cope with stress that are helpful as opposed to unhelpful? A lot of the strategies that are used around eating disorders or disordered eating or over-exercising can be quite unhelpful. So again, let’s just move quickly, because I am aware of time, and there might be a couple of questions.
We talk a lot about what is normal eating. So normal eating is about being flexible, and it varies in your response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food, and your annual feelings. There’s no set rule. We talk quite a bit about intuitive eating and intuitive eating is about saying no to dieting, trying to honour your hunger, making peace with food, respecting when you’re full. Eating with your when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full. But we also use food for a variety of things. Sometimes we eat when we’re bored, when we have a great time, sometimes we over-eat because Christmas or Easter.
I saw that one of the comments that came through was around neurodivergence. This is very much an overview, but one of the things when people talk about their own neurodivergent view of the world is that it can be sometimes difficult to determine what your hunger and your full signs are. Sometimes they don’t get picked up as strongly. One of the things that we often talk about is engaging in sort of regular eating, the more regularly that you eat, the more likely this is to maintain this rhythm of nourishment. It sits very much around the very old-fashioned notion of 3 meals and 3 snacks a day and have snacks on hand. Try not to go for hours without eating, plan ahead to have food available so that it’s not so. It doesn’t become a huge issue all the time, and so that you’re not suppressing your hunger and your fullness signals. And even if you’re not getting those signals, you still knowing that you’re giving nutrients and nourishment to your body, engaging and enjoyable movement, not moving in order to punish yourself.
One of the things that we hear often is that people will say I move to punish myself if I’ve overeaten. If I’ve had 2 pieces of cake at the workplace birthday party, I have to punish myself. People will often say, I’ve stopped socializing because I have to go to my gym class on a Friday night, so I can’t go with the crew for pizza and wine after work or after a performance, because I have to exercise, or I have to sleep. People are doing those things often to punish rather than to being engaged in enjoyable movements of thinking about enjoyable movement.
Getting help. It’s important to get help when you need it. When you feel that something might not be operating the way that you want to operate, and a challenge is thinking I’m not sick enough. But it is important that you reach out to organisations like Eating Disorders Victoria. I think that we will stop at this point, Ruth, and just open it up in case there are any further questions, because I am aware that we are almost at the end of our time. But, like, I said, we will send you through a PDF Of our slide, so I’ll stop sharing.
And, Claire, I think that you are going to just see if there were any questions for us.
Thank you both so much. Some excellent points there. And I think that’s so true about that point of ‘I’m not sick enough’ because the Arts Wellbeing Collective is all about pre-emptive action and care and self-care. And how can you tackle things at the top of the hill, not down the bottom of the hill? How do you have those self-care techniques for yourself and looking out for others? And thanks Rebecca for going to that comment on your diversity. I think it’s interesting for performing artists. So just see one point in here from Julia:
“Is it okay to go straight to a distraction to avoid a disorder behaviour such as going out for a walk or watching a movie to avoid bingeing? Or is this best, or is it best to try some sensory grounding or challenging your thoughts first?”
So if you think some things are going on, what would could be some first steps?
Sometimes distraction can be very, very helpful, because it just removes you from the situation. So sometimes leaving the house and going for a walk or doing something else that that sense of distraction can be very helpful. There can be a crossover between sensory profiling and distractions, the two can actually operate hand in hand. One of the things that we often talk about is trying to think about a cognitive model where you have feelings and thoughts and then behaviours. So sometimes the thing that we’re most concerned about is the behaviour. So if you’re engaging in a distraction, or if you’re engaging in some kind of sensory profiling, it can change the behaviour cause. It’s often the behaviour that causes the distress. And then, once you’ve settled your system again, then you can go back and start to think about the feelings and the thoughts. What are the feelings behind this? Why are you having these feelings? What are the thoughts that are that are that are happening at this particular time around the feeling? So those two things are very interrelated. But you know there are certain techniques, things like urge surfing where you might put off a particular behaviour. So you have a particular urge to do something, and you surf that urge, you can come in a wave, a feeling you ride it out. You tell yourself this is a feeling, this will move, this will change. I will come out the other end of this urge, so engaging in some of those behaviours can be extremely helpful as well.
I don’t think that there’s a specific answer, but it’s something that you need to look at yourself and work out what makes me feel the most comfortable? What decreases my distress? Often when people are trying to change behaviours, it’s looking at what is the amount of distress that is caused, and how can I respond to that distress?
Thank you. Another question here is about how do you approach someone? If you think maybe something’s going on. And particularly, this question is about a minor. Someone who’s under 18, you might have seen some behaviours. Restriction. What’s a way that you could approach, particularly if someone is a child.
It’s really important never to berate. Sometimes, when we’re concerned about someone, our emotions can rise up and we can come across as quite stern, our sense of concern can be on. Trying to find a moment when you feel that your emotional regulation is quite steady so that you don’t come across as escalating the situation. Find a time when you’re with the person that’s quite peaceful where you feel comfortable and warm emotionally and safe. The person feels safe.
Using I statements. I statements are kind of counselling 101; I am concerned. I’ve been wondering I’ve been thinking, rather than you behave like this. You do that. When we use you words, the shutters come up, we shut off because we feel like we’re being attacked.
Talking about the concern, not comparing, asking questions. I’m wondering why you’re eliminating a food group. One of the things we get asked about quite a lot is around a Veganism and having that conversation – why is it that you were choosing to have a plant-based diet? Is that for agricultural purposes, or for climate change, or what’s that about? So being curious but in a way that’s gentle. But it’s so much about the situation, not having the conversation 5 min before the young person has to leave for school, or leave the rehearsal room or head off to catch the tram. Sometimes it’s about waiting and finding the time. I recently had a conversation with someone. I said, ‘I want to talk about something quite serious. And I want to ensure that our conversation is one that that we communicate in an effective way. Well, do you agree to that?’ And they said, Well, no, I’m not going to agree to that until I till you tell me what it’s about. And I said, Well, I’m going to tell you what is. So we had a little stalemate. But then they said alright and then I was able to raise the topic. And I said, Yeah, okay, I can understand why you are concerned.
And we went from there, but I had to tip a little toe in the water. I didn’t want to barge in and say, I’m terrified about what’s happening.
I also mentioned, too, we talked about it off screen, the feed your instinct website. Which especially designed for parents or carers as such with loved ones that they’re concerned about. So thank you, Johanna, for putting that up, and also give us a call at the hub as well. And we can talk through how to have these conversations cause there they need to be had, and there is a sense of urgency around that. So, thanks.
Thank you so much. I’m aware, we’re about 5 mins over time. A couple of other great questions in there. Social media is being brought up and about lot of misinformation at the Diet fads. You know, sorting through what’s real, what’s not real information? About particularly dieting.
I don’t think that there’s a specific line in relation to what is healthy and what is unhealthy. I don’t mean to give a fence sitting answer, but neither Ruth nor I is a dietician, so we are always reluctant to go too far into dietetics in relation to an answer, but so often it’s about how you feel.
Does it cause distress for you? I mean, sometimes we can eat food and feel slightly uncomfortable, but that will pass. That feeling will pass as your system digests. But if it’s causing distress or anxiety or impacting on the quality of your life, it’s impacting on the things that you need to do or want to do on a daily basis, then you’re probably leading into some kind of area of disorder. It’s about the amount of distress and the impact that it has on the quality of your life.
But with the questions, if you want to copy those questions and send them back to Ruth and I, we can provide some responses to those questions and send some other documents, because I think it ties into the plethora of information that’s available online about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy. I know that there’s been this whole thing recently about, this is a girl lunch, and this is a girl dinner and all those things which can so often feel that they’re about elimination. And I’m a better person because I do this. Food is really attributed to how you feel and how it impacts on your life. What is the impact that it’s having on your life? Is it stopping you in the same way that we would look at depression, anxiety? How does it impact on the way that you want to live? Does it impact on you doing the things that you want to do on a regular basis?
Thank you so much. I’ll just finish off with that. Please go to the EDV website. It’s in the chat box. And the helplines are there and a whole lot of resources. You can also go to our website artswellbeingcollective.com, we’ve got a whole bunch of free resources there as well, particularly about self-care. We have upcoming self-care and Mental Health First Aid courses in November for our training program, too. So come along to those. And of course, as Ruth and Rebecca said at the beginning, if you have any concerns and you can get support there to be on mental health plan if required. There’s also the Support Act line, which, is 180-95-9500. You can access a free mental health project practitioner who specifically understands the performing arts industry 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so they’re a whole bunch of resources out there. And please reach out to friends, family, or for yourself and thank you so much for joining us today. And thank you, Ruth, and thank you, Rebecca. It’s such an important conversation. We really appreciate your time today.
Thanks, everybody, and we’ll send you the links, resources and a recording of this in the coming weeks. Thanks so much.