Eating disorders: a mental illness, not a lifestyle choice | Viveca Lee | TEDxMcGill

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In her talk, Viveca Lee goes through her battle with anorexia in order to clear the wide misconceptions about eating disorders and help break the stigma around mental illness Viveca is a third-year student at McGill, completing a BSc in Honours Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. After recovering from Anorexia Nervosa in her early teenage years, she has been aspiring to help improve society’s current lack of understanding of eating disorders. She is a research assistant at the BEEP Lab and is currently working on a thesis project investigating cue-induced psychophysiological responses in eating disorders. Viveca is passionate about creating a positive impact in the community by volunteering at an eating disorder resource and support center, and by giving presentations about mental illness in secondary schools around Montreal. Through her Ted talk, Viveca will be giving listeners an insight into eating disorders from a sufferer’s perspective and clarify some of the wide misconceptions about them. Ultimately, she hopes her talk will contribute to normalizing discussion on mental illness and ending the stigma surrounding it. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

over the past few weeks people ask me
that he’s decided to speak here today
and I would tell them yeah absolutely
I was excited sometimes but to be
completely honest I was also really
scared every so often I was attacked by
all these thoughts like this is a bad
idea
everyone’s gonna judge me what if this
has a negative impact on my future and I
actually almost ended up cancelling this
TED talk the reason I was so anxious is
because I’m going to be talking about a
topic that is extremely slick of times
in our society I’m going to be talking
about mental illness particularly about
eating disorders and sharing my own
personal experience I was diagnosed of
anorexia nervosa when I was 14 and
although I consider myself to have
recovered for approximately four years
now
I’ve only recently found the courage to
speak openly about this topic my
hesitation to give this talk was mainly
due to stigma and ironically the whole
point of my talk was to try to reduce
this thing that in the first place so I
reminded myself staying silent would
only serve to perpetuate this thing man
and that’s exactly why I’m here today
many people with eating disorders stay
silent because it’s not something that’s
well understood and there are a lot of
misconceptions around them something
that typically happens is that people of
eating disorders are blamed for their
condition they often get told things
like stop doing this to yourself or come
on just snap out of it already but
here’s the thing eating disorders are
not a choice there are serious mental
illnesses that affect at least 1 million
people
alone eating disorders particularly
anorexia nervosa have the highest
mortality rate of any psychiatric
illness when I had anorexia
if felt like my mind was possessed by a
demon that was constantly controlling my
thoughts and actions every day I woke up
and there was this voice that was
telling me that I needed to be thinner
and it felt like there was nothing I
could do to ignore him I started to cut
out any junk food for my diet and then I
started to restrict my meals and
increasingly I was adding more rules
about what I could and couldn’t eat I
every time before I ate anything I would
look at the label and if it had any too
much calories fat or sugar I wouldn’t
eat it I started getting into a lot of
arguments with my family because I was
forced to finish my meals when I was at
home I found ways to compensate for it I
started to exercise compulsively at home
I would run up and down the stairs I
would do my homework while standing up
and I was constantly finding more ways
to burn more calories I started to lie a
lot about what I was eating I would hide
food and throw it away when nobody was
looking so I started to restrict my
meals and eventually my health was
rapidly deteriorating I was constantly
cold my hair started to fall out and my
skin became really dry and I was in a
stated but for some reason when I looked
into the mirror I couldn’t see that
there was one point when I went to my
doctor and I don’t remember these
Zachary’s and why but I think it was
something to do with the physical
symptoms that I was feeling as a result
of having of being malnourished and my
parents were with me at the time and my
doctor told my vitals and
announced that my heart rate was
dangerously low and I had to go to the
hospital immediately because I was at
severe risk for heart failure my parents
and I were shocked when we got to the
hospital the doctors told me that I had
to stay there until I was medically
stable and I was devastated because I
didn’t feel like I needed help and I
think it was probably because my mind
was so full of these thoughts of food
that I didn’t have any mental energy
left to pay attention to the physical
damage that my body was doing with every
day at the hospital I was strictly
monitored for the first few weeks I was
not allowed to get out of bed if I had
to use the washroom a nurse had to come
in with a wheelchair and roll me over to
the bathroom which was a few meters away
I was put on very regulated and straight
meals consisting of increasingly large
calories and every day a doctor would
come in and tell me that I couldn’t
leave the hospital because my heart rate
had to reach my certain level so ended
up staying at the hospital for about six
weeks and what’s crazy is that even
throughout those six weeks I was
resistant to the idea that I had an
eating disorder I would plead that there
were people who were eating less than I
was or that I was healthy in comparison
to them I was in denial and denial is a
common characteristic symptom of
anorexia nervosa
but this denial is very much different
from what we usually perceive as simply
a manifestation of stubbornness or a
defense mechanism although there isn’t a
clear understanding of what exactly
causes this lack of awareness study
suggests that starvation induces this
defect
information processing in the brain and
this is why so many people who are in
that initial denial phase of the
disorder will rarely seek treatment
themselves so after I left the hospital
I was I looked physically healthy but I
still had anorexia there’s a
misconception that by definition people
with eating disorders are stick-thin but
an eating disorder is a mental illness
and you can’t tell if somebody has one
simply by looking at them for example
they could have bulimia or binge eating
disorder or they could be partial
emission from anorexia these false
perceptions can prevent suffers with
seeking help because it makes them
believe that they earned sick enough to
deserve treatment recovery from an
eating disorder is not easy it often
involves cycles of relapse and treatment
although there is no cure for an eating
disorder I do believe that there was one
specific event that catalyzed the
recovery process I was browsing the
internet and I fell upon a scientific
research paper on eating disorders and
as I read this paper one thing I learned
was that there are biological
predispositions that make certain people
who are vulnerable to developing an
eating disorder for example genetic
heritability is thought to account for
approximately 50 to 80 percent of the
risk of developing the eating disorder
this may be realized that there were
causal factors that were beyond my
control another thing I learned was that
there’s a neuropsychological explanation
for why I was behaving the way I did it
had to do with the way that the thoughts
and emotions associated with my eating
disorder were conditioned into mice
conscious mind and my nature of
commissioning it repeatedly expressed
itself in the forms of thoughts urges
emotions related to food and body weight
although these research findings can’t
prove what’s actually true
they still validated my feelings of
worthlessness and confusion from not
being able to control my thoughts and
the actions it’s that moment when I
realized that I had a mental illness and
that’s when I really started to recover
the idea that eating disorders are
self-inflicted is just one of the many
misconceptions out there it can be hard
to understand the fact that eating
disorders are not just about wanting to
look thin although the symptoms can
manifest as an obsession with food and
we the underlying causes are much more
complex and extend far beyond that
eating disorders are often perceived as
simply a Western phenomenon that only
occurs in teenage girls but in reality
eating dessert is do not discriminate
the effect people have any size gender
race sexuality and so on in fact it is
estimated that one in four people
suffering from an eating disorder by
male if you know someone who is
struggling with an eating dessert it can
be very difficult to know what to say or
what to do you know it can be really
tempting to just tell someone with
anorexia that so just eat more or blame
someone who binge eats for having a lack
of self-control but that’s not really
helpful in fact the more people were
confrontational to me about my eating
disorder the more made me want to resist
and that’s because of psychological
reactance it’s something that we all do
it’s the idea that when somebody tells
us to do something we perceive that as a
threat to our freedom
and as a human instinct will tend to
react in the opposite manner in order to
get a certain that freedom so instead
try recognizing when it’s their eating
disorder voice that’s speaking and
separate that from who they truly are if
you’re struggling with an eating
disorder I want you to understand that
it’s not your fault I know that you can
may feel completely powerless at times
but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t
try to overcome it because ultimately
you can recovery is very hard but I
promise you that life afterwards is so
much better and if you haven’t done so
already I hope they go find the courage
to seek help because without the love
and support I got along the way I
wouldn’t be here today the theme of this
conference is pushing the envelope and
to me the envelope represents the stigma
that surrounds mental illness the
envelope is a barrier to seeking
treatment
it’s the barrier to speaking up and it’s
a wall between a sufferer and a helper
while it thrives off silence and
misconceptions it can be weakened
through knowledge and awareness so I
invite you to help push on a spendable
by educating yourself and others by
being compassionate and by choosing
empowerment over shame
[Applause]

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