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Recovery: A Family Affair

Recovery: A Family Affair

So, you’re doing the hard and vulnerable work of recovering from an eating disorder, disordered eating patterns, or body image difficulties. You have challenged the food rules, you can actually define (and freely use) the phrases “intuitive eating” and “joyful movement.” You and your body are finally making amends after years of battle. You’ve got a handy-dandy list of coping mechanisms and distress tolerance skills that actually work (and you’ve probably tried some out that definitely do NOT work as well). You may be feeling more like yourself, more present in your relationships, more in touch with your primary emotions, and probably a little tired (recovery can be exhausting!)

If you’re like many of my clients, one question that is probably coming up for you now is: how do I maintain recovery if friends and family are still entrenched in diet-culture, actively pursuing weight-loss, continuing to make comments about other’s bodies, or may not be supportive of my recovery process? Eating recovery can be so liberating and bring a new sense of peace, however, this is sometimes accompanied by the wonders of how to navigate a world that may not be recovery-minded.

If you are in this space, know that you are not alone. Learning to navigate family is a common and vital part of recovery. As a marriage and family therapist, I believe that our family systems are hugely influential (positively and negatively) in our development and healing. Here are some quick reminders of ways to navigate a challenging family system.

1. Educate

Here’s the thing: I don’t think your family members intend to sound eerily similar to your eating disorder, however, their well meaning or misguided intentions do not necessarily lessen their impact. Your family members may just lack information. They may even be in a similar headspace as you were when you began your recovery journey. This is when education can be your best friend. Helping your family members understand the dangers of diet culture, the physical and psychological risks of restriction, and most importantly your pain as you navigate recovery allows them to be more understanding, sensitive, and supportive. I often talk about some of the concepts of recovery such as intuitive eating, body neutrality, and understanding emotional needs as “uncovering buried treasure”. Not everyone has learned the things that you have learned as you’ve gone through recovery. Perhaps letting your family members in on your new knowledge will allow them to think differently, or in the very least, be more aware of how the things they do and say may impact you. This can be done on your own, or with your treatment team (I absolutely love bringing family members into session!)

2. Set Strong Boundaries

Boundaries are important for any relationship. Although they can feel very difficult to set, boundaries actually foster closeness in relationships. Our queen, Brené Brown, says that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Brené goes on to talk about setting boundaries as actually one of the most compassionate things you can do, both for yourself and those in your life. Setting   boundaries means communicating your needs to those you love so that they can help support you. If you are struggling with feeling supported by family members through eating recovery, setting and keeping clear boundaries will help save your relationship   from causing unintentional pain on their part and pent-up resentment on your part. Setting a boundary may sound like, “It’s important to me that we don’t talk about other people’s bodies or comment on weight, even if it’s a ‘compliment.’” It might also sound like, “When you talk about your diet in front of me the story I tell myself is that my recovery doesn’t matter. Can you limit talking about your diet with me so I can maintain my progress in recovery and be open with you about my experiences?”, “I won’t be participating in the family weight loss change (aside: why does everyone like to do family weight-loss challenges??),” or even a simple “No.” You may not feel able or willing to vulnerably share what your boundaries are with every member of your family, however, setting healthy boundaries with those in your family that you trust will benefit your relationship with that person and aid in your recovery. We are not islands; we are deeply connected to others. Setting boundaries is a bid for help and support in your recovery process and invites those closest to you to be a part of your healing while keeping your recovery safe.

3. Garner Additional Support

As a marriage and family therapist I believe in the deep healing that can come from families as they show up and support one another. I also believe it is absolutely vital that we have strong networks of support apart from our families. Especially if your family is having a hard time understanding your recovery work, a supportive network of friends, mentors, extended family, dietitians, group therapy members, doctors, therapists, etc. will be absolutely essential. Find “your people” and keep them close during recovery.

4. Remember Recovery is YOURS

Finally (and let’s be real, most importantly), although there is so much value in family and social support, at the end of the day your recovery is ultimately your responsibility. I yearn for my client’s families to rally around them and buoy them up, as the load of recovery can be heavy and draining. That being said, it is up to you to navigate your own recovery, even when your family may be intentionally or unintentionally unsupportive. Finding support and compassion within yourself will be an important aspect of your recovery journey. I believe your family will be greatly influenced for the better as you heal and recover AND I also believe that at the end of the day it is your life and your peace that you are working for. Although you may be experiencing heartache as you navigate eating recovery without direct family support, remember to show up for yourself and your recovery despite challenges you may be facing in other relationships. Do not forget the most important relationship you have: your relationship with yourself.

Standing at the Door of Recovery

Standing at the Door of Recovery

I recently signed up for a four-hour song-writing workshop. I would not consider myself to be a musical person. Growing up, I did choir in elementary school and played guitar for a few years in the middle school days. The last time I wrote a song was when I was in middle school. It was called “Cheese to my Macaroni,” not my best work. 

Let’s just say signing up for a song writing workshop was quite out of my wheelhouse. I drove up to where the workshop was being held and just cried. I was so far out of my comfort zone! I was so scared. This was going to push me hard. Writing songs makes me feel very emotionally vulnerable. I was also doing something I wasn’t good at, which led to a deep sense of imposter-syndrome and vulnerability. I took some deep breaths and went inside.

The workshop was great. I was supported, my vulnerabilities and victories validated and welcomed, and I left feeling connected to myself and to those around me. I had done something so hard and scary. Whenever I do something vulnerable with high risks of failing or going against what you know and feel comfortable with, there is risk. However, this was absolutely a growing and meaningful experience for me. I am so grateful to have pushed myself and done something challenging and rewarding.

There is a part of you that yearns for challenge and growth. There is something inside you that is ready to confront your fears, draw upon your strength (with help too), and lean into the vulnerability of growth and change. Eating recovery requires this of you. 

Eating recovery is vulnerable and always pushes you to do something that might go against what you’re used to. Although this can be scary, you are built for it! It is human to crave this push and growth. So, when recovery looks daunting and you feel so uncomfortable you want to retreat, remember, there is growth and beauty on the other side of that door. You just have to take a deep breath and knock. Let’s take a look at the three stages of doing challenging things and walking out the other side enjoying the growth.

Standing on the Doorstep

When you first decide that you’d like to try to heal your relationship with food, you might feel a little like I did before my workshop. You might feel self-doubt, intense fear, worries about what you’re getting yourself into, etc. You might worry about what others will think. This is taking the leap. This is when the part of you that knows you can do more and live a different, more authentic life is trying to scream above the fear. Listen closely to the part of you that is desiring to lean in and be gentle with the part of you that knows this is the point of no-return.

Knocking on the Door

Knocking on the door is where the real work actually begins. This work can have highs and lows. However, being in the room and doing the work sure beats standing on the doorstep. This is where the part of you that desires change and growth will begin to swell. You might have moments that continue to feel scary, but ultimately as you do the work of recovery, you will begin to see the beauty of getting off of the porch.

Walking Out and Reveling in Growth

Walking out after your journey of discomfort will leave you feeling proud, renewed, grateful, and maybe a little tired. You can reflect on your time on the porch, time in the room doing the work, and feel grateful to be on the other side. You will know that change and getting outside of your pre-recovery comfort zone were worth all the risks and setbacks and fear. You will be motivated and armed with new abilities to continue the work. You will have a deeper sense of self.

Whatever stage of recovery you are at, keep with it. Listen deeply to the part of you that was built for change and growth and recovery. Sense your desire and abilities to conquer more than you realize. It won’t be easy, but walking out the door will be worth it.

 

Starting Where You Are

Starting Where You Are

 

So much of eating disorder recovery is about replacing behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, etc. that are destructive with those that are more realistic, helpful, and truth-centered. This is a difficult and arduous process as you learn new ways of thinking and unlearn problematic patterns. This “replacement” process is vital in maintaining change and protecting recovery. You must learn new ways of thinking and being for you to fully embrace recovery.

I had a session with a client that left me wanting to challenge the “replacement” process when it comes to painful thoughts and emotions. I was reminded of dialectical thinking (as a reminder, this is the process of holding two seemingly contrasting thoughts, feelings, etc. at the same time). Like many, my client has deeply held grief and pain in connection to her body. These emotional ties have felt nearly impossible to replace or abandon at times, leading her to often feel uncomfortable in her own skin.

Your emotions about your body tells you valuable information. They tell you about how you’ve been treated in the past, the way you seek acceptance, the way you’ve been hurt and survived, etc. Abandoning these feelings can feel inauthentic at best and unsafe and self-betraying at worst. 

The hope is that through eating recovery you can create new relationships with your body, however, if this seems difficult and unmanageable, it is okay to choose addition first. What this process looks like is being able to fully honor and validate your experiences of pain, hurt, and exhaustion that you hold within and toward your body while also challenging the truth of these experiences and adding new beliefs and emotions. 

For example, you can feel complicated and yes, even critical emotions about your body while adding, or making room for, gratitude, compassion, and understanding. You do not have to have an uncomplicated relationship with your body to add healing thoughts, desires, beliefs, and feelings to the mix.

Having an uncomplicated relationship with food and body in recovery is not a realistic expectation. Instead of waiting for this to happen before you feel ready to replace those thoughts with recovery-minded, gentle attitudes, try adding more healing thoughts and holding both. 

Here are some examples: 

  1. I am struggling to find myself attractive and acceptable in my body AND I believe my body is doing her best to help me.
  2. I can’t seem to view my body’s resistance to weight loss as helpful AND I want to believe that my body is worth more than her size.
  3. I don’t know how much I believe that my new food behaviors are the right thing AND I am leaning into the idea that my body deserves nourishment.

If replacing old, damaging eating disorder thoughts is a little too much for you right now in your eating recovery, try adding. Add helpful thoughts about body, food, emotions, value, and self. See how this feels as you lean into recovery while still honoring your reality. This is not to let you off the hook or accept the eating disorder thoughts as truth, rather to suggest that starting where you are and building from there is better than waiting until you’ve “arrived” to get started.

Moving Toward Belonging

Moving Toward Belonging

I recently made a move to a new home. Although it is only 35 minutes away from where I previously lived, it has felt like a whole new world. I have only lived in two cities in my entire life. Moving away from where I’ve made a life for nearly the past decade was difficult and slightly disorienting. Although I was absolutely thrilled to be embarking on a new experience, there was also a lot of grief involved.

At first, I thought my grief centered around familiar places and things. I would miss our favorite acai spot and our go-to local burger joint. I’d miss the beautiful spring blooms in our neighborhood. This town and I had a long history together and I felt such a deep sadness leaving. I didn’t quite understand it, after all, I’d be back to visit friends and it was close enough to even go to dinner there once in a while.

We had lived in our house for about two days before I started feeling sad that we hadn’t made any friends yet. My husband laughed and helped me remember that making friends takes time. The first time we went to the grocery store, I was sad I didn’t see any friends I knew. As I reflected on why I was feeling such a loss, I recognized that it wasn’t the place I was missing. I could find new favorite restaurants, make new friends, and re-establish a sense of normalcy. What I was missing wasn’t the grocery store itself, it was the sense of belonging I felt as I saw friends and navigated the store with ease. It wasn’t the restaurants I missed; it was the way I recognized the people behind the counter and the sense of connection I felt with them. I wouldn’t miss the shorter commute (okay, well maybe I would), but mostly I would miss the sense of familiarity the drive is, the way I felt like I knew exactly where I was and how I fit into the world around me.

A change in scenery threw me. It made me feel less sure of myself and how I fit. I don’t know my neighbors; I have to use maps every time I try to go anywhere. I sometimes feel like my friends will forget me now that I don’t live down the road. 

However, through this process I began to reflect on what I know of belonging. Belonging goes beyond “fitting in.” Although I can be highly compassionate with myself and the grief, sadness, and feeling of disorientation and lack of belonging that comes with moving away from a home in which I felt so comfortable and as though I had a place–that was not belonging. To understand truly what I was seeking for, I looked to Brené Brown, who 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…True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. – Brené Brown”

 So what did I need to do when I was feeling disconnected and afraid of not quite belonging?

  1. Understand the innate need
  2. Belong to myself
  3. Share myself

 My charge as I sought belonging in a new community was not as much about establishing new routines, new “favorite spots,” or even new connections. My charge was to dive more fully into understanding why this was important to me, to be compassionate with myself, understanding that I felt this way because it was a need! 

My next charge was to work on myself. I needed to invest more time into appreciating and seeing my true, authentic self. I needed to find a permanent home, full of safety and belonging, within myself. 

Finally, I needed to be very careful not to work to fit in, but to work to share my true self with others. My true self who is full of flaws, full of works-in-progress, and full of gifts to give and things to contribute. This can always be intimidating in a new place and in a new experience, however, it is absolutely vital to muster up the courage to share our authentic selves. This belonging, this sense of deep connection, is only found in showing up as ourselves.

I’ve seen this pay off in my own life. I think part of the reason moving has been difficult is because I have shown up authentically and created a true sense of belonging and community. I just need to remember that that community and belonging is not location-specific and stays with me wherever I go. I’ve learned that the risks and vulnerability needed to create deep belonging are always worth it.

How do you see the search for belonging in your own life? How do you dig in and show up with your authentic self? When have you seen this pay off in your life? Do you need to focus more on compassion for this as a deep need? Do you need to work on belonging to yourself? Or do you need to work on (like I do), showing up and sharing yourself with others more fully?

 

Beauty of Body Diversity

Beauty of Body Diversity

How is everyone feeling about summer returning?? On one hand, summer is the best. We get to spend lots of time outside, eat yummy foods, have a break from the hustle and bustle, and the best part: longer days and more sunlight! 

On the other hand, summer can often be hard for those struggling to create or maintain a peaceful relationship with food and body. If you’re having some mixed feelings about the weather heating up, you are NOT alone.

I recently got home from a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. I love Atlanta and the richness of culture there. The last time I was in Atlanta was for a school trip in which we studied Civil Rights and the powerful men and women involved in advancing equality. Upon arrival this time in Atlanta, I was immediately struck by the diversity in race, ethnicity, clothing and hair style, gender expression, religious symbols, and of course, body type. I sat on the train from the airport to the rental car pickup and thought to myself, “I know that body image and eating disorders exist everywhere, but if Utah was more diverse in style, body image, etc., I wonder how that could change my clients’ experiences.”

 Everywhere I turned I saw beautiful people: mothers holding children’s hands, hurrying them from the gate; older women with black hair fading to a stunning gray; men with weathered faces; and young women who were trying to get clear about who they were. All of them looked different: different races, different genders, different bodies, but all of them were beautiful because they each offered something unique.

One concept that has been very healing for me as I navigate difficult and potentially triggering conversations and messaging around “getting a summer body” is paying attention to the beauty of diversity. Can you imagine a world where there was only one type of flower? One type of fruit? One type of animal? A world where everyone’s voices sounded the same? Where food was identical? Where there was only one color? What about a world where everyone had the same body (cue spooky clone visual *shudder*).      

Theoretically, I think it is pretty easy for us to buy into the idea that more diversity in how bodies look is good! However, it becomes hard to keep this in mind when we are living within a society that glorifies and celebrates certain bodies while other bodies are marginalized and oppressed. 

To make things harder and more confusing, the standards by which society judges bodies changes constantly, leaving every single woman feeling as though she does not fit and is not good enough. This is also true for men and especially true for those in the LGBTQIA+ community.     

Isn’t it amazing that our bodies find their “happy places” at all different weights? Isn’t it fascinating that eyes can range from greens to browns to blues to grays and everywhere in between? Isn’t it remarkable that different bodies and different body compositions carry different benefits? For example, my (very) short legs can build muscle quickly while lengthy limbs can leap and reach great heights. 

Differences in body types are not just something to be tolerated, but to be celebrated. Your unique body is good, no matter how it looks, but there is beauty to the way you are “different” from others in your appearance. I’ve always been a little bit self-conscious of my cheeks. They’ve basically been the same since I was a little girl. After I got married, my husband always talks about how much he likes to kiss my warm cheeks when I wake up in the morning. Although it would take a lot (A LOT) of contour to make my cheeks look chiseled like the cheeks of someone on TV, the way my body is diverse is beautiful!     

What makes unique aspects of your body beautiful? (Not necessarily just physically, but in other ways too). How can you celebrate body diversity more in your own life? How can you help contribute to positive representations of body diversity in social and other media?