fbpx
801.361.8589 [email protected]
From “Why?” to “What now?”

From “Why?” to “What now?”

We will call her “Kelsie.” I had the honor of working with Kelsie for several years as she worked toward recovery from a severe eating disorder. Kelsie had large, doe brown eyes, a beautiful smile, and a sharp mind. Her mind was so sharp and intellectual that anytime I’d ask her about her feelings, she’d inevitably respond with, “I think…”

When I met Kelsie a decade ago, she had been struggling with her eating disorder for more than half her life. She had very active, severe eating disorder behaviors and was simultaneously very high functioning. She was in a very competitive undergraduate program and by all outward appearances, was thriving. (Her profile is not unique to those struggling with eating disorders).

Kelsie was well-acquainted with inpatient settings. She even described repeated inpatient stays as welcome respites from her intense life and struggle to function with daily demands. It was a recurring pattern for her to discharge from inpatient and begin a slow, then fast march back into severe eating disorder behaviors. I watched her, repeatedly, decompensate. With each inpatient-outpatient cycle, Kelsie felt more hopeless and more entrenched in dark, suffocating shame.

For a long time, Kelsie kept ruminating on “Why” she had an eating disorder. She strongly hoped that if she could just understand why this was her experience, then somehow this would release her shame and help her take the right steps to overcome her struggle. While this absolutely feels like worthwhile insight to pursue and understand, it kept Kelsie stuck. Based on her own reflection of her life, family history, and trials, there was nothing that seemed to “justify” the degree to which she suffered.

She felt selfish and self-indulgent.

Her shame only continued to spiral as she compared herself to friends she met through her treatment journey. Their eating disorders were all “valid,” while hers was not. 

This shame cycle only perpetuated her need to understand the elusive “why” and she perseverated on this question with an OCD-like intensity for years. Kelsie never found a satisfactory answer and eventually our paths diverged.  Several years passed. 

When I saw Kelsie again, she had completely transformed. There was a lightness in her countenance that I had never witnessed. There was new and beautiful self-compassion, where once there was only shame.

She recounted a journey of intense humility and bravery as she submitted herself to the full treatment process and more. As a result of her willingness and dedication, Kelsie was finally, truly, living her life in meaningful and fulfilling ways. As I talked with her, I found she had relinquished her obsessive need to know “why” and had instead decided to focus on the “What now?” and “How?” that were in front of her.

While releasing “why?” was certainly not the only thing that gave Kelsie the momentum she really needed, it felt pivotal. Even transformational.

I think of Kelsie’s powerful journey and how there is a lesson in it for each of us.

It is so easy, and even tempting, to try to understand “why” we go through the things we do in this life. We are drawn to understanding and meaning. And confusion is an aversive experience. Perhaps we may have even found that if there is an identified “why” there can be some peace in that knowledge.

However, from personal experience, I find “whys” are extremely hard to come by. And sometimes the “whys” are deeply unsatisfying. The pursuit of “why,” like with Kelsie, can invite an emotional minefield that leads to paralyzing shame.

Even if you are lucky enough to find a satisfying why, does it truly help you take the next steps forward? When I think about the pursuit of “why?” I think about a deep look inside as well as in the past. Understanding yourself is valuable and can be helpful in knowing your strengths and vulnerabilities. However, one of the first things I learned in graduate school is that “insight is never enough; action is required.”

So, a more powerful question, especially in the recovery journey, is “What now?”

“What now?” invites you to look forward and upward. It invites you to action, growth and progress.

“What now?” is also easier to answer. All the clients I work with, when engaged in honest introspection, know what behaviors they can improve, and they know what fears they need to confront. It’s not easy, but this question illuminates a path forward.

A new year is here. My New Year wish is that each of us can release what no longer serves us and look forward, asking ourselves, “What now?” as we move into another cycle around the sun. While “What now?” can be scary, I hope it also excites you with the possibilities that await you.

 

It’s not about Trusting your Body

It’s not about Trusting your Body

It’s not about trusting your body. It’s about letting go.

Just this week I heard one of my clients reiterate her resistance to progress in recovery because she “just can’t trust [her] body.”

What she means is, she can’t trust that she won’t gain weight from nourishing her body. It means she can’t trust her recovered body to be a size she likes.

And this is where trust is misplaced. Because recovery isn’t about trusting your body to do what you want it to do and be the size you want it to be.

You may gain weight in recovery. Your recovered body, may not be a size that you want.

When I was a “budding” therapist, I used to try to motivate clients toward recovery by talking about how their bodies would be more stable when they are regularly nourished, than when they are deprived. When you move out of your body’s way, it will settle towards it’s set point and chill out. While this is true, it’s also not true.

Bodies are complicated. So much more so than we even know. And while set-point is a real thing, supported by research, I no longer want to align with the eating disorder mindset by asserting that bodies won’t change after they have been chronically nourished. I don’t want recovery to still be about weight.

Further, your body is not static but constantly fluctuating and changing.

As a mother to four children, my body has gone through a hell of a lot of change over the decade I spent birthing and nursing them. While pregnancy was an active choice I made, I witnessed how incredibly drastic my body could morph and shift in incredible ways.

Now, as I enter middle-age (turning 40 soon!) my body seems to be accelerating toward even more change. This time, it is not change I am choosing. I can honestly say I don’t love the combination of acne and wrinkles. And hormone shifts are no joke. My body is also shifting and morphing its shape. While it’s far more subtle than pregnancy and may be unnoticeable to others, it is indeed, changing.

So when I think about trusting my body, it’s not trusting her to always be what I want her to be or even show up for me in the ways I want her to. As I am aging, she’s getting less predictable and more demanding, and I’m assuming that only gets more challenging with time.

My relationship with my body is one of mutual respect and care. Respecting and caring for my body is a form of trust. But that trust is knowing she is doing the best she can to take care of me and has nothing to do with her size.

The bigger trust is not placed on my body, but rather in myself. Being in a place with body peace and food freedom, I trust that whatever my body does, I am ok. And I am ok, because I know my worth and contributions in this life are not related to the size of my body. My internal sense of self is stable, even as my earth-suit is always changing.

So I told my client who “just can’t trust [her] body” that, “It’s not about trust. It’s about letting go.” Recovery is relinquishing control in service of freedom. Recovery is understanding that your body has the right to change according to her needs and wellbeing. Recovery is understanding your body, by design, does, and should, continue to change across your years on this blue planet. Recovery is trusting that you are ok in the changes of your body, your life, and this world.

Self-Acceptance is an Inside Job

Self-Acceptance is an Inside Job

Eating disorders are inauthentic. To have an eating disorder requires showing up in the world inauthentically.

Eating disorders operate on a false formula for safety, belonging and love. Eating disorders take messages from the world about conformity and belonging and say, “I’ll raise you one more” and do it even “better.”

To quote the authority on the topic of authenticity and belonging, Dr. Brené Brown says, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” (Braving the wilderness p.31-32).

This quote is loaded so let’s explore it part by part and how it relates to eating disorders.

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval…”

We can have compassion for ourselves and how we each learned to believe that acceptance and belonging are synonyms with approval. Often this comes from experiences with rejection. I know the pain my clients unravel under is the belief that their history of rejection equates to truth about themselves. They believe something is wrong with them. They believe their authentic selves are unacceptable to humanity and must therefore be controlled and shrunken and shaped into acceptable and small versions. An eating disorder is both a chronic attempt to move toward love and belonging and also hide away from the vulnerability that is required for that very love and belonging.

This leads to the next point, “which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.”

So first, eating disorders are ubiquitously characterized by striving– to varying degrees of success– to fit into the “ideal” of beauty. In our society, that “ideal” is unrealistic and unhealthy. However, even if you achieve that bodily ideal, your sense of belonging is based on something external, which isn’t authentic. You are literally only granting others access to a controlled version of you that is “skin deep.”

This outward conformity bleeds into an attempt for internal conformity as well. The body is merely a symptom of a whole systemic process. You are not only trying to be outwardly acceptable in your body, but also acceptable in every other way. This is why “people pleasing” is such a chronic curse that accompanies eating disorders. When you are so focused on what you think others want you to be, you cannot get in touch with who you really are.  You see parts of yourself as threatening and scary if they fall outside perceived accepted norms.

Further, eating disorders hijack brains and personalities. Eating disorders consume valuable mental energy and reduce the richness that is you into obsessive thoughts about food and body size. All the other parts of you that are worthy of belonging either don’t show up at all, or show up in shadows and whispers.

So, you cannot find belonging when you are chronically faking it. Which is exactly what eating disorders require.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…”

Perfectionism is another “associated feature” of eating disorders. Perfectionism is characterized by reducing vulnerability through chronic attempts to “be perfect” or “do perfectly.” Again, it is the misplaced striving for love and acceptance through presenting a perfected version of ourselves to the world.

I love how Brené Brown pairs authentic and imperfect together. This resonates deeply as truth to me. I’m not going to advocate that this is simple to do in practice, but knowing its truth and value motivates me toward my own willingness to be messy and human.

Because I am messy. I don’t have it all figured out. I know the discomfort of fear and vulnerability. I know the pain of rejection. I am familiar with the darkness in mental illness. I too have parts of my personality that I don’t like and wish were different. I know I am quirky, and for some people, an “acquired taste.”

And there came a point in my life that the cost and energy required in conformity was too heavy and too much. I got tired of inauthentic living. Living inauthentically is painful and lonely.

So I decided to show up in more messy and honest ways. I am not going to pretend I do this well all the time. It’s a work in progress. But in that progress, I have felt more seen and it is here that I have found “my people.”

“…our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Please read that again. And again. And again.

We will never find true belonging in approval from others. In our hearts, we all know this. But the invitation to step into our deepest selves is the epitome of vulnerability. To step into witnessing, honoring, and accepting who we are, with compassion and love. Wow, that would be powerful. That would be brave.

And then to let ourselves expand into our full version of who we are and show up in the world that way. Wow. Now that is honest, courageous, and brave living.

To quote Brené Brown again, “Once we belong thoroughly to ourselves and believe thoroughly in ourselves, true belonging is ours.”

I wish I could hold a mirror for my clients when they show up in their authentic, vulnerable, imperfect selves. The love I feel for them is immediate and deep. I wish they could know how inherently loveable and likeable they are as themselves.

But self-acceptance is an inside job.

I hope for a world where we can all loudly and ceremoniously reject the false formulas for acceptance and belonging, and step into our power: authenticity, imperfection, and self-acceptance.

This is my hope for all of us.

Would life be better if you were thin?

Would life be better if you were thin?

Does the joy with which your puppy greets you in the morning change if you are wearing make-up?

Does the first thrilling drop on a roller coast feel more exciting if you’ve met your exercise goals that day?

Are you able to have a more meaningful conversation with your closest friend because you skipped breakfast?

Do you cheer louder when your child scores her first soccer goal because you are on the Keto Diet?

Does the inspiring awe you feel watching a majestic sunset feel more powerful if you’ve lost weight?

Are you more competent at work because you fit into standard clothing sizes?

Does your mother’s chili on a cold day taste better if you don’t let yourself eat the cornbread?

Does the feeling of your partner’s hand in yours depend on the size of your pants?  

Do you feel more moved singing along to your favorite songs if your stomach feels empty?

Is it more fun to watch your children slide down waterslides, instead of joining them, because you refuse to take off your swim cover-up and reveal more of your body in a swimsuit?  

Was the moment that inspired you to capture a photo feel more meaningful after you’ve edited and curated it for social media?  And over 100 followers “liked” it?

Do you think your children’s laughter sounds better if you turn down French fries?

Your value doesn’t change based on your waistline. The meaning in beautiful moments doesn’t change based on our eating habits. The depth of your emotional connection to others doesn’t improve if you lose weight. Memories aren’t more beautiful if you edit yourself in photos to look more “beautiful.”

Not only does the pursuit of ideal beauty standards NOT enhance the richness of your life, it will actually impede your connections to your life.

Will you notice your partner’s touch or your puppy licking your hand if you are compulsively checking how many people have liked and commented on your photos? 

Will you hear your children’s laughter and be able to join in if you are feeling anxious about fFrench fries? Will you be able to be present with your closest friend when your stomach is rumbling with hunger from missing breakfast?

Do you create better memories watching your children swim as you sit in on the sidelines, shaking your head “no” to their invitations to join them in the pool? Do you even notice your favorite songs playing on the radio when all you can think about is what you have in your fridge that will meet Keto guidelines? 

Will you even stop to witness the sunset when you are busy monitoring how many calories you are burning on that hike?

No.

Here’s the truth.

You are enough, right here, right now, as you are.

Life–in its fullest–is available, right here, right now, as you are.

Life is indeed found and lived, right here, right now, as you are, right now.

Sick Enough

Sick Enough

I could retire from my career if I had a dollar for every time a client said some rendition of, “I’m not sick enough to recover.” Variations on this include, 

  • “I’m weight stable so I’m fine.” 
  • “My labs came back normal, so I’m not that sick.” 
  • “My EKG has a slight prolonged Qt interval, but my doctor doesn’t seem that worried about it so I’m fine.” 
  • “I’m the largest person in this room so I don’t deserve to be here.” 
  • “I feel fine, so I am fine.” 
  • “I have never gone inpatient. I’m not that sick.” 
  • “There are others far sicker than me. They deserve to recover, but I don’t. I’ve just failed at my eating disorder.”

(more…)