Dr. Kimberly Dennis is the Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jenifer Ringer “Too Many Sugar Plums” Controversy Highlights Dangers of Body Image Obsession and Power of Recovery

A November 28th performance of The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet inspired controversy after New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay criticized dancer Jenifer Ringer, who is dancing the role of the Sugar Plum fairy, not for her performance, but for perceived issues with her weight, claiming she “looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many.” But I believe the dancer’s eloquent and reasoned response to Macaulay provides a positive story of recovery.

Ms. Ringer spoke with such clarity and confidence, and with not an ounce of resentment in her demeanor. She demonstrates a healthy and rare ability to detach with love from the criticism of the critic. I agree with the ballerina that bodies that are starved cannot perform. The NYC dance troupe, which she asserts celebrates dancers’ bodies of all shapes and sizes, is truly to be commended.

"As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form,” Jenifer Ringer, told The Today Show’s Ann Curry during an interview Monday. “At the same time, I am not overweight.”

Ringer has openly talked about her struggles with anorexia over the length of her ballet career. Timberline Knolls applauds her braveness. After Macaulay’s article received national attention, both the dancing community and online spectators rushed to Ringer’s defense. The dancer declined to ask for an apology while still firmly insisting her weight is healthy and in no way impedes her ability to dance.

Ms. Ringer nicely highlights how real change happens—by one woman in recovery sharing her recovery with others. That’s what she’s completed in her interviews, that’s what she does each and every time she dances with a healthy body. If we waited for the media and culture at large to initiate the change, we’d be waiting a long time, and the death toll associated with that wait would continue to rise.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Eating Disorders among Children Rising at an Alarming Rate

A recent report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. This is an alarming trend because small children develop their foundation of self worth and body worth in their early years (birth to five years old). This increase in hospitalizations show today’s children have distorted body image issues to such a degree it is causing unhealthy, even deadly, behavior.

According to the study, evidence of excessive weight concern, inappropriate dieting, or a pattern of weight loss in children requires further attention. Talking to the parent of a child may also yield information, however parents could be unaware, or even part of, the problem.

If a mother is anxious about eating, hates her body or has an unhealthy relationship with food, this can be directly transmitted to her children in deep, long lasting ways. The child absorbs and internalizes these same beliefs, regardless of whether or not they were ever explicitly communicated.

Often times, the media is blamed for portraying men and women unrealistically. Media is not going to change, but parents can.

The impact that one woman has on her children is exponentially more powerful than anything the media or culture can do to prevent eating disorders. Eating disorders are family diseases, and are best when treated as such.

Early treatment can not only save the individual, but also family members. We see it every day at Timberline Knolls. We are not only helping women save their own lives, but their recoveries have deep and healing influences on their children and other impressionable people in their lives, so recovery reaches more than just one person.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Helping Pain with Prescription Painkillers Can Lead to Addiction

With as many as 50 million Americans suffering some kind of chronic pain at any one time, prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin have an important role to play in the medical community. But I need to warn you that with prescription painkiller use both patients and doctors must be aware of the risks of addiction.

People who find themselves addicted to prescription medications often deny their disorder with statements such as: "It’s legal, isn’t it?" or "I get it from doctors." But many Americans have come to view pain killers as a harmless treatment for problems that go well beyond the physical pain for which it was originally prescribed.

According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 4.7 million Americans used prescription drugs nonmedically for the first time in 2002—2.5 million of those were opioid pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and combinations that include these drugs. 5.0 percent of 12th-graders reported using OxyContin without a prescription in the past year, and 9.3 percent reported using Vicodin (one of the most commonly abused illicit drugs among teenagers).

However, despite its addictiveness many doctors continue to prescribe these opioids for pain, even though mild to moderate pain can be treated with physical therapy, acupuncture, or biofeedback. Research does suggest that opioids used for non-cancer pain both decreases the pain and causes a moderate improvement in function and quality of life, but this diminishes greatly for people who develop addictions to prescription pain medications – many of whom did not receive any warning of the drug's abuse potential.

Patients with histories of addiction can have a very difficult time distinguishing between taking the medication for the relief of physical pain from the escapist motives that characterized their addictions. Timberline Knolls recommends that patients have support with them when they need to take pain medication, that they not do it alone.

For many people, periodic use can lead to a compulsive need to use, particularly if the person is self-medicating. Any opioid prescribed carries an abuse potential, and patients and doctors need to be and stay aware of this.