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Discovering Comfort in Eating Recovery

Discovering Comfort in Eating Recovery

 

Did you have a comfort object as a young kid? Maybe a special blanket, or a stuffed animal? When I was little, my aunt gave me a small, white teddy bear named Theodore. Theodore went with me everywhere. Theodore was not only the stuffie I slept with every night, but he was also my companion on road trips, campouts, and trips to Taiwan. As a college student, I snuggled him through homesickness and post-breakup woes. Theodore has been around for nearly 30 years, and he now​ belongs to my son. My heart swells when I see my little boy hug and talk to his teddy bear. Theodore was (and is) very important to me, first because he was my favorite toy, and later because he came to represent home, safety, and comfort for me (and now for my son). We all need a “Theodore” in our lives–something constant and comforting to turn to when we feel vulnerable, hurt, or alone.

Recently, in a group therapy session I was leading, I asked group members to write down what their eating disorders have given them. On this occasion, every group member listed the word “comfort.” An eating disorder often emerges, and persists, in times when you need comfort the most. It might be something you turn to for soothing and relief when life is painful, or for control when life is chaotic and overwhelming. Your eating disorder might feel like the only thing that can make you feel better when things are at their worst.

If your eating disorder wasn’t comforting in some way, you probably wouldn’t have it in the first place. As safe as your eating disorder might feel sometimes, it is not a harmless teddy bear. It will ultimately create more pain and damage the longer it stays in your life. Not only that, it keeps you from finding and using other sources of comfort. As long as you are tied to your eating disorder, you aren’t free to explore what other things in this world might bring you a sense of comfort and safety. Clinging to your eating disorder makes it harder to care for and nourish the relationships and experiences that can make your life more meaningful.

There are other sources of real, meaningful, healing comfort available to you outside of the eating disorder. There are people who are willing and yearning to support you and help you feel safe. There are experiences full of beauty, purpose, and peace that are waiting for you in recovery. Even if comfort and safety have been scarce in your past, the healing in your future can be so much bigger than what your eating disorder promises you.

It can feel terrifying to think about saying goodbye to your eating disorder, especially if it has been your most reliable source of soothing in the past. I promise you that letting go of your eating disorder will be worth it. Recovery won’t mean you’ll never struggle to find comfort again; what it will mean is that you’ll be able to find comfort from sources that expand and enrich your life, instead of making your life smaller and more painful. It’s ok to need comfort. It’s ok to need some “Theodores” in your life. Recovery will help you find them.

 

 

Eyes on Your Own Path: Dealing with Comparison in Recovery

Eyes on Your Own Path: Dealing with Comparison in Recovery

Recently I’ve been reading Atlas of the Heart by Dr. Brené Brown. In this book, Brené Brown explores words describing human emotions and experiences and shows how these definitions shape our existence and relationships. When I got to her exploration of the word “comparison,” I knew I had to share it in a blog. She says:

Comparison is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other–it’s trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out. Comparison says, “Be like everyone else, but better.”

Wow, right?

When I read this mic-drop of a definition, I think about how comparison shows up in eating and body image recovery. It shows up in ways that might seem obvious: comparing your body to other peoples’ bodies, comparing what you’re eating to what everyone else is eating, comparing your workout routine to everyone else’s, and on and on. And then there are the comparisons between your current body and your past body–“before and after” pictures, items of clothing that used to fit differently, etc. Comparison can feel motivating at times (for better or for worse), but for most people, the end result of comparison is a sense of inadequacy and exhaustion.

Comparison can also show up in eating recovery in more covert ways. Like Brené Brown says, comparison might whisper in your ear, “Be like everyone else, but better” when it comes to how sick you are. The eating disorder can turn comparison into competition. Comparison might make you feel worthless or invalidated because you are not “sick enough” compared to others, or even to yourself in recovery at different times of your life. Comparison might cause you to look sideways at others’ recovery journeys instead of being able to focus your eyes ahead on your own path. You might find yourself checking the pace of your recovery against someone else’s, and then wondering what’s wrong with you for not moving at the same speed as them.

However it shows up in your recovery process, comparison can end up creating pain on top of pain–an extra layer of suffering on top of the already intense challenges of recovery. And you might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, I shouldn’t compare myself to others.” And maybe people in your life are saying the same thing: “Don’t compare yourself to others.” And sure, stopping comparison would be great, but HOW?

Here’s my take (and Brené Brown and her research team can back me up on this–check it out in Atlas of the Heart): Don’t expect to be able to just stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, when you find yourself comparing, bring your focus back to your own path. Comparison is almost for sure going to happen to you, and to all of us, automatically, without you really choosing to compare. It’s a mental reflex that is only human. When you notice yourself comparing, it’s up to you to either choose to stay on the path of comparison, or pick another path.

One of the alternative paths to comparison that Brené Brown suggests is CREATIVITY. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené says, “Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared.”  You are unique, and what you can create and contribute is entirely your own.

Living life through comparison is like being a measuring stick–rigid, limited, and in a constant state of calculation. Living life through creativity is like being a paintbrush–flexible, unbounded, and in a state of inventiveness. If you find yourself comparing yourself to others to see how you measure up, keep that image in your mind and turn that measuring stick into a paintbrush and create the life you want for yourself.

Another alternative path to comparison: CONNECTION. There are some great thoughts on this alternative in Atlas of the Heart. (Can you tell by now that I want you to go read some Brené Brown?) When you feel the urge to compare or compete with others, think about what it might look like to connect with your own humanity, and the humanity of others. Here are a couple examples that came to my mind when I think of how connection can help you manage comparison:

Comparison says: “She looks so good. I hate my body. I feel disgusting standing next to her.”

Connection says: “She is more than her appearance, and I am more than mine.”

Comparison: “He is so much smarter than me. I’ll never be good enough.”

Connection: “I can appreciate his strengths while honoring and developing my own.”

Comparison: “I am so awkward. Everyone else is so much more confident than me.”

Connection: “It’s human nature to feel self-conscious sometimes. I can be kind to myself when I’m feeling vulnerable.”

If you find yourself struggling with comparison, please remember that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all bound to compare ourselves to others sometimes. Especially in recovery, comparison will happen. Remember this: you can choose the direction you want to turn when comparison tries to pull you off course. That direction might guide you toward creativity, connection, self-compassion, or some other value you hold close to your heart. When comparison tries to pull your focus sideways towards others’ journeys, turn your eyes forward to look at your own path. That path is where you will find your unique self, the healing you personally need, and the singular, beautiful contributions you can make to the world. 

The Story of “Too Much”

The Story of “Too Much”

Sit back and relax, because for this week’s blog, I have a story for you to read. Stick with me until the end of the post for the moral of the story!

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had a marvelous talent for inventing machines. From the time she was old enough to pick up a hammer, she created contraptions that amazed everyone in her village. As the girl grew, her inventions became more and more magnificent. Her innovative mind was bursting with ideas for making her village a better place. At age 16, she created her finest invention yet: a complex pulley system that allowed the villagers to transport heavy loads of stone from the quarries, straight to their village building sites.

Word spread about the girl’s village, and the inventions that made it such an amazing place to live. More and more people began to move to the village. The villagers welcomed the newcomers, and the community grew. The girl felt proud of the prosperity brought about by her inventions. The pulleys she made ran day and night for months, bringing stone from the quarry to the village so the newcomers could build their homes.

One day, the girl hiked to the quarry to check on her pulley system. She saw that some of the ropes were fraying, and the pulleys were beginning to rust. She looked closer, and her stomach dropped as she saw just how thin the ropes were wearing from pulling so many loads of stone to the village.

The girl knew that if repairs weren’t made soon, the system would break down completely. She started to call to the quarry workers to stop the pulleys, but then stopped herself as she thought about the new arrivals to the village. The repairs could take days, or even weeks. How could she force the people to stop building when they had just arrived and were depending on the pulleys to supply them with stone for their homes?

She thought about asking the villagers for help, but realized that she was the only one who knew enough about the pulleys to fix them. She feared there wasn’t time to teach others how to make the repairs. Besides, what if a well-meaning villager were injured while trying to help, or accidentally made things worse? What if the villagers were upset with her for not making repairs sooner? With her stomach in knots, the girl collected her tools, and set to work on the pulleys.

Workers in the quarry waved cheerfully to the girl as she moved from pulley to pulley, hurriedly oiling and sanding the jagged rust that was wearing the ropes down. She flashed nervous smiles at the workers, not wanting them to worry about the state of her invention. 

All day, she rushed around, trying desperately to reinforce the frayed sections of rope with twine. Her fingers became raw from handling the rough ropes, and she was hungry and sunburned, but she couldn’t afford to stop. A worker noticed the girl’s frenzied work, and offered help, but the girl didn’t have a chance to answer before she heard a startled cry from across the quarry. A rope connected to a heavy cart had frayed under the strain of its load, and was now a few strands away from snapping completely.

*RECORD SCRATCH*

Are you still reading? I think you can probably tell this story is heading to a rough place. This is a tale of too much–too much strain, too much pressure, too much at stake.

Let’s do a quick check-in: how are you feeling toward the girl in the story? What do you wish for her? Do you relate to her? If we could rewrite this story and create a better situation, what might we change?

Many of the clients I work with are much like the girl–incredibly talented, capable, and driven to help those around them. Perfectionism and the fear of letting others down can create excruciating, constant pressure. Many of these clients struggle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Like the girl in the story, many of them face barriers to asking for help and support from others, even when things begin to break down.

Here are a few thoughts that may have been useful to the girl in the story, and that may be useful to you when things feel like too much:

  1. If the load is wearing you down, that doesn’t mean you’re inherently defective. The pulleys in the story weren’t a bad invention, and the girl wasn’t to blame for their breakdown. They were just carrying too much. Saying “no” to things that will make your load too heavy lets you say “yes” to the important work you CAN do.
  2. Imperfect support is better than no support at all. Just like the villagers didn’t know the pulley system, maybe people in your life can’t fully understand your problems. Receiving help from others doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. Even if the support you’re getting doesn’t solve all your problems, letting others be there for you is an important part of managing overwhelming situations.
  3. Rest is essential, even when it’s inconvenient. The girl in the story felt like she couldn’t stop the pulleys to repair them because of how the delay would impact others. Then she felt like she couldn’t stop and take care of herself because she was trying so hard to help her village. Continuing to push herself and the system instead of allowing a pause had negative consequences. Stopping and taking time for rest and repair–whether that’s allowing your body to rest, or taking time away from responsibilities–can help you avoid breaking down.

What can you learn from our inventor girl’s experience? Consider one recommendation from the list that can be useful to you, whether you are repairing pulleys or taking on the challenges of eating recovery. 

Three Thanksgiving Recovery Tips

Three Thanksgiving Recovery Tips

In last week’s blog, Kylee Marshall gave us some great illustrations of what Thanksgiving can look like for intuitive eaters. (If you haven’t read her blog yet, go check it out!) This week, I want to give you three simple suggestions for staying on the right track with your eating recovery this Thanksgiving.

1. Envision Your Wins

Thanksgiving in eating recovery can feel overwhelming for a lot of reasons, food-related and otherwise. At the same time, because it can be such a challenging day, Thanksgiving can be an opportunity to take meaningful steps forward in your recovery. Envisioning your recovery wins can help you make them a reality. Take some time to think about just one success you hope to have this Thanksgiving. You don’t have to think on a grand scale here. In fact, keep this win small, but specific. For example, maybe you want your win to be truly savoring and enjoying one of your aunt’s homemade rolls. Maybe you want to be able to focus on talking with your sibling during the Thanksgiving meal, instead of being preoccupied with thoughts about food. Maybe your win will be checking in with your hunger/fullness level before, during, and after the meal. Write your intention down as you approach the day, and commit to making that vision become a reality. 

2. Support Yourself Instead of Pushing Yourself

Monica Packer, host of the About Progress podcast, talks about the idea of supporting yourself instead of pushing yourself as you work toward goals. I think this concept is a beautiful one to apply to eating recovery. After you’ve set your intention for a Thanksgiving win, try planning one simple thing you can do to support yourself as you work toward your intention. What kind, compassionate care can you give yourself to help your vision of success become a reality? Maybe you’ll set aside time to listen to a song that will help you feel supported before your Thanksgiving meal. Perhaps you’ll choose to spend a few soothing moments sitting outdoors after eating. Maybe you’ll FaceTime with a person in your life who understands how challenging Thanksgiving can be. Whatever you choose, remember that any small act done with the intention of lovingly supporting yourself can make a difference in your recovery.

3. Keep the Day in Perspective

Finally, as you approach Thanksgiving prepared with your intention and your plan to support yourself, remember that Thanksgiving is just one day. It’s a holiday that can be messy and complicated, and in many ways, it can be just another day. Your body will use food on this day the same way it does every other day–for nourishment and energy. On this day, just like other days, you do not have to participate in diet talk. Food you eat on Thanksgiving, like food you eat on other days, will not create drastic changes in your body. Food will be one feature of this day, but it does not have to be in charge of your day. This is true every day, not just on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving might not ever be the easiest day of the year in eating recovery, but I hope you’ll remember that you can keep moving forward in your recovery tomorrow. You can make a difference in your own recovery, even through the difficulty of the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Five Reasons to Consider Journaling

Five Reasons to Consider Journaling

Let’s talk about how journaling can help you in eating recovery. I’m not necessarily referring to journaling as in, “Dear Diary, today I…” (although that type of journaling can be great!). Rather, I’m talking about the practice of processing thoughts and feelings through writing. I know, journaling does not come easily to some. We all process things differently, and journaling doesn’t appeal to everyone. That being said, I do give journal prompts out to many of my therapy clients as a supplement to the work we do in therapy. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Responding to a specific journal prompt can help you dig deeper into thoughts that you might not typically approach. Jotting down even a few lines in response to a writing prompt can take you down a path of exploration that you might not otherwise encounter.
  2. Journaling is an opportunity to spend some quality time with yourself. Self-reflection through writing can be a powerful tool for connecting with your internal world. Taking some time to write can help you acknowledge and understand your emotions and needs.
  3. Writing can help you unravel tangled thoughts and feelings. Turning experiences into concrete words can be tough, but engaging with your thoughts and feelings this way can help you make sense of what you’re going through. Some research suggests that putting your feelings into words can help your brain regulate emotional responses. (1)
  4. Journaling gives you something to look back on. There can be power in looking back at journal entries written months or years in the past, and seeing the evolution of your perspective, your successes, and your circumstances. Especially in eating recovery, it can sometimes feel difficult to see progress. Recording your thoughts throughout your recovery process can help you see that you really are growing and changing.
  5. A focused journal prompt can be like a bonus therapy session! (Sounds super fun, I know.) Therapy is great, and it’s only a 50-minute blip in your week. Adding a focused journaling activity between sessions can help you get more out of the work you started in a session and can set you up to make the next session more productive. Trust me, your therapist would love to hear about any journaling you do between sessions. Journaling is an opportunity to stay connected with your work between therapy sessions.

Below are some journal prompts you might find helpful in your eating recovery process. Pick whichever one speaks to you, write down today’s date, and see where your writing takes you.

– What made my most recent recovery “win” possible? Write about (1) a person or resource and (2) a choice you made that contributed to your success.

– Write about one step forward in your recovery that you know you need to take, but haven’t yet. What could change if you take that step?

– Asking for help is a vital recovery skill, and may require you to think outside the box. Write down one thing you can ask for from each of the following people to support your recovery: your therapist, your best friend, a family member.

– Write a letter from your future self, 10 years from now. How do you imagine your future self will feel towards your current self and what you’re going through right now?

– What do I hope will happen if I accept my body as it is? What do I fear will happen if I accept my body as it is?

– What was the take-home message from my last therapy session? What are my intentions for applying that message this week?

Source:

  1.   Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917742706