Body Image and Your Younger Self

Body Image and Your Younger Self

One of the more difficult parts about recovering from an eating disorder is healing your relationship with your body. This is often so difficult because your relationship with your body has been developing since you were young, reinforced by external messaging time and time again.

Can you recall some of your earliest memories of body shame? How old were you? Do you remember how it felt? Did someone say something to you? If so, I’m betting that you probably remember their exact words and tone of voice. Did you engage in any specific behaviors after this first experience of feeling shame about your body? What other factors influenced your developing relationship with your body?

Most of your current negative experiences of your body probably stem from childhood. Part of natural child development is looking to others to help you understand the world. You watch how your friends pump their legs to swing higher and so you do the same. You see your dad lick the spoon of the chocolate cake batter and so you try it too. Your mom swears when she’s upset and the next time you stub your toe, you use that word as well, much to her chagrin. However, because young human brains are constantly taking in information from others to try to understand how things work, you might also have taken in some painful, negative messages that have been truly hard to shake as time has passed. These messages might still be part of your core belief system about your body and about yourself.

For me, one of the most difficult and informative experiences happened when I was in about 7th grade (the most awkward, humiliating time of life). I had a good friend tell me that the boy I had a crush on told her that I would “be the prettiest girl in our grade if I was skinny.” Oof. Talk about one of those memories that sticks with you. My little 12 year-old self drew some pretty painful conclusions from this conversation. Conclusions that stayed with me for more than a decade after.

When you are trying to heal your relationship with your body, I believe that it’s helpful to go back to those early, formative memories that shaped your relationship with your body and try to understand what happened there. Your younger self is probably still clinging on to those messages even if your current self understands that those beliefs are untrue.

There are several ways you could try to help younger you when it comes to healing your relationship with your body. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Look compassionately at a picture of your younger self from a difficult time in your life. How do you feel about your younger body? Do you feel critical? My guess is that you don’t. If you can view yourself the way you’d view a younger child, you might be able to look at your body in the photograph with more compassion. That body is still yours. That body may have changed, but it never lost its value along the way.
  2. Write a letter to your younger self around a painful memory that contributed to the development of your body shame. What would she need to hear? How can you help her in a time of difficulty and uncertainty? How can you show her compassion?
  3. If you’re up for it, do some exploring of the source of some of these negative messages you received. Was this person or source trustworthy? Were they dealing with their own body-image issues? If it was a company or organization, how did they benefit from you feeling insecure? For me, one of the most healing things when it came to body image was reconnecting with my childhood crush/friend on Instagram, the same boy who said the painful comment that I had in the back of my mind for years. We kept up with each other on social media and he was kind, supportive, and respectful. This new interaction helped me look back at that painful event with new eyes. I was able to understand that he was probably also an insecure kid (at the time, he was much shorter than all the girls in our grade). He was also probably a product of diet-culture and media that portrayed beauty in a certain way. Going back and analyzing the source didn’t take little Kylee’s pain away, but it did help me recognize I gave a lot of power to a struggling, insecure teenage boy who was not actually the expert on my worth.

What is it like for you to revisit some of these difficult messages from your past? In what ways have you found healing as you’ve gotten older? What healing does your younger self need a little help with?

The Lie of Black and White

The Lie of Black and White

One therapy modality I use most is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapeutic method shows the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. One of the central tenets of CBT is that our brains all make “cognitive errors.” Basically, this means that we think things that are flawed and untrue. These common thinking errors can be grouped into several categories. For example, emotional reasoning errors, errors in which we jump to conclusions, and black and white thinking to name a few. When we think in black in white, we engage in “all or nothing” thinking. We think something is all good or all bad. We think that something is either all right or all wrong. This way of thinking leaves no room for middle ground or a helpful and realistic “gray” area. Much of our experiences exist in the middle rather than the extremes.

One major lie that I see black and white thinking tell is that there is a “right choice” that is easy and peaceful and that there is a “wrong choice” that is riddled with difficulty, problems, and anxiety. This black and white trap keeps us from making healthy and informed decisions. The truth is no matter your choice, you are going to face difficulty, stress, and hardship. On one hand, this can feel disheartening. On the other hand, it is extremely freeing to accept the fact that there is no problem-free choice. Our charge, then, is to choose the path and the anxiety and the problems that we’re willing to take on and that fits with our values and goals.

I am a marriage and family therapist and I constantly think of how things apply to relationships, couples, and families. When learning about couples, we often talk about the idea that when we choose a partner, we choose with them a collection of problems that we are willing to deal with and accept throughout our lives. Many of the difficulties in our relationships won’t ever be resolved, you just deal with them because the good parts of your relationship are worth dealing with the difficulty. This is the concept of choosing your anxiety applied. You can’t actually find a perfect partner, but you can find a partner that you love with problems you’re willing to accept.

Let me give an example of what this looks like in eating recovery. One of the most common things I hear clients say keeps them from recovering is anxiety. You might worry about what your life and your body will look like if you have a healthy relationship with food and leave the eating disorder behind. Without the perceived sense of control eating disorders give you, you may be nervous that those feelings will be replaced with anxiety—and the truth is, they might be! However, in this scenario, black and white thinking would probably say that recovery brings anxiety while staying the same doesn’t bring anxiety. This just isn’t the case. The fact of the matter is that continuing to live life with eating concerns also has its anxieties—the anxiety of being found out, decreased ability to regulate emotions, and distress around mealtimes. If you can no longer avoid anxiety and difficulty altogether, the goal is then to choose the path that—although problem-filled—fits with your values and your long-term, healthy goals. You can’t always choose whether or not to have anxiety or difficulty, but you can choose what difficulties and anxieties you’re willing to take on in pursuit of long-term health and happiness.

This is just one example of the way black and white thinking may keep you stuck and one solution for pushing those thoughts more towards the middle. What other black and white thinking traps do you notice yourself fall into in your recovery journey? What are ways you can expand your thinking to include a more realistic view of the world?


3 Ways Your Values can Aid in Your Recovery

3 Ways Your Values can Aid in Your Recovery


Can you easily identify your top 3-5 values? If you asked me this a few years ago, I don’t know that I would have a good answer for you. However, today, my values are often in the forefront of my mind and I use them to help direct my life and decision-making. Knowing my values—not my parents’, not my community’s, not my culture’s, but mine—has changed my life. It has allowed me to be more understanding and self-compassionate, more constructively introspective, and more calm in the face of disagreements. I want to share three ways that understanding your values can aid in your recovery and why you should identify them if you do not know them already.

1. Peace

Have you ever compared yourself to someone because they just seemed to act or think differently than you? What if instead of assuming that they were doing it right and you were doing it wrong, you recognized that you may just value different things? Growing up my sister was always described as a “peacemaker.” She was able to be calm and bring harmony to conflict. I…did not always do this very well. I used to always think that I wasn’t as good as my sister because I wasn’t as much of a peacemaker. As I learned more about my values and how they direct my life, I realized that I really value fairness and self-respect. I was not always a “peacemaker” because I was trying to figure out how we could make things fair and I wanted to demonstrate self-respect by standing up for myself. When we look at this situation in this way, we understand that both self-respect and harmony are worthy and needed values, they just show up differently.

In eating recovery, understanding your values allows you to have peace when other people think or act differently than you. When others engage in behavior that you do not understand or that may even be triggering to you, you can recognize that they are coming from a different set of values. Neither of you needs to be better than the other, you are both just trying to live a life in-line with the things you care about. Recognizing this feels much more peaceful than trying to compare or stratify your values against someone else’s. Your job is to stay true to your own values—values that should line up with healthy patterns of recovery.

2. Motivation

My husband and I started out as close friends. When I began to realize that we needed to have more frank conversations about our feelings for one another, I was nervous to bring it up. Much to my chagrin, one of my primary values is “wholeheartedness.” As I was journaling one night, I remember writing that if I really valued wholeheartedness and vulnerability, I needed to talk with him and let him know how I felt. I did so, and although it didn’t always go perfectly smoothly at first, I am so grateful I was able to lean into my values and allow them to give me motivation to make difficult choices. That value and that choice has had monumental payoffs for me.

Knowing your values can help you stay motivated in eating recovery. Do you value connection? Following your meal plan can be a way for you to be more present and connected with those around you. Do you value peace? Eating recovery is bumpy but the messy middle will lead to more peace on the other side. Do you value fun? It’s much easier to have fun when you are nourished and not anxious about someone’s unexpected plans. Knowing your values gives you motivation to keep on the difficult path of recovery and connects you to higher purpose. 

3. Flexible Structure

This is about the time of year where the failed “New Year’s Resolution” jokes start. I often see issues with New Year’s Resolutions because they are inflexible and unrealistic. Values can serve as guideposts for your life and decisions while leaving room for flexibility. There is only one way to “workout for one hour everyday following a specific routine,” while there are many ways to live more in line with your value of “connection.” You know the story of the three little bears? Values are like Baby Bear’s bed. Not too soft (structured), not too rigid or unyielding (flexible). Your values can give you goals and aspirations in recovery while providing lots of self-compassion and understanding along the way.

Are you ready to dive in? Take a look at the handout by Brene Brown in her “Dare to Lead” work. Take time to scan the handout and circle 20-30 values that really resonate or stand out to you. Remember: all of the values listed are worthy and incredible, you’re just picking the ones that jump out to you the most. These do not have to be values that you personify perfectly. These are values that you care about and hope to work towards. Next, narrow down your list to 10 values. To do this, you might look through and see if there are any values that are similar in meaning and pick the one that hits home the most. You may ask yourself, “is this something I value or something I think I ‘should’ value?” Next, narrow down your list to just 5 values. You may look through the definitions of these values and see if that gives you more information or context. Which of these values actually guides your life and decisions? Finally, pick just three values that you really want to focus on.

Find Brené Brown’s PDF version of the listed values here


To: Me; From: Me

To: Me; From: Me

The holidays are right around the corner! If you’re like me, I’ve been trying to coordinate gifts for friends and family members for months. If you still need a last-minute gift idea, check out our holiday gift guide based on love languages (find it here). My love language is words of affirmation or gifts, so it’s very important and fun for me to take the time to really find the perfect gift for those in my life. It also really touches me when others spend time and energy to give me a gift (no matter how small).  For me, gifts aren’t shallow, they can be meaningful gestures to show loved ones that you really know them and are paying attention, that you appreciate them, and that you care about the things that matter to them. One of the reasons I love this time of year is for the nearly palpable feeling of generosity. People seem to be more willing to serve, to give, and to band together as a community.

With gift-giving on the brain, I spent some time thinking about what gifts I would want for you, those doing the hard, tedious, and often painful work of recovery to give yourself. The act of stepping into recovery is a gift that you are giving your past, current, and future self. However, I have an unconventional gift in mind that I believe will have huge payouts for you in the long-run. The gift I want you to give yourself this holiday season is a closet cleanout.

This holiday season, I want you to clean out all the old, uncomfortable, outdated, and ill-fitting clothing. Trash, donate, sell any clothing item that will not allow your current body to be the wonderful instrument that it is. Get it out of your house as soon as you can. Okay, stick with me here. I know a closet cleanout is not the most glamorous of all gifts, but it will absolutely be the gift that keeps on giving. I’m going to walk you through three awesome outcomes that could occur after ditching those clothes hanging in your closet and opting to dress in a way that your current body can feel comfortable and uninhibited.

Create Greater Body Appreciation

First, getting rid of anything clothing that is not comfortable or well-fitting allows you to have a greater appreciation for the body you’re in now. Dressing your current body shows acceptance and commitment to having a good relationship with yourself in the present. Dressing in clothing that is not the right size, holding on hope for your body to change, etc. is a disservice to you actually living your life in your body. Being uncomfortable often prevents you from being present. Getting rid of ill-fitting clothes is a commitment to live life in the present and in your present body.

Reduce Triggering Try-Ons

Next, a closet clean-out can also reduce triggering try-ons. Seeing clothing hanging in your closet that are not comfortable, that you do not like, or that no-longer fit can spur on anxiety. Keeping clothes that are from your eating disordered past can be triggering anytime you try them on and they no longer fit or you do not like the way you look. Give your future self a gift and get rid of the clothing that no longer fits. There will be so much peace that comes with knowing everything in your closet is good to go, comfy, and ready to wear. 

Greater Commitment to Recovery

Finally, one major benefit of a closet cleanout is the commitment to recovery. This actionable decision to rid yourself of clothing that is restrictive or tied to restricting can draw you closer to honoring your body and letting go of your eating disorder. You might be holding onto clothing that doesn’t fit in hopes that these items can somehow accommodate your recovered body. Starting fresh, dressing for your current body, and allowing yourself to lean into recovery is a gift that you deserve. Bodies change and evolve as you change and evolve. It is okay to ditch the sick clothes and find the peace and comfort (literally) that comes from more fully embracing recovery.

A Tale of Three Thanksgivings

A Tale of Three Thanksgivings

​​Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I have some really excellent memories of cozy family dinners around the table, taking turns saying one thing we’re grateful for while my mom gets sappy and sentimental. However, I know that Thanksgiving often spurs on a variety of emotions for most people, especially if you are going through recovery. Do you look forward to the large meal, gathered around with friends and family? Do you dread eating in front of so many people? Are you concerned about diet talk? Do you worry Thanksgiving dinner will feel like an open invitation for others to comment on your food choices? Are you excited to celebrate all the people, places, and experiences that you’re most grateful for? Are you anxious about spending so much time with family or in-laws? My guess is your feelings are probably a mixture of a few of these. Even for me, Thanksgiving can be both an exciting and stressful time and I try to tactfully manage family, food, and celebration.

To give some more context around Thanksgiving and recovery, I would like to present three totally made-up vignettes. As you read through these vignettes, I want you to guess which person has a peaceful and intuitive relationship with food. Sound okay? Great. Let’s get started.

Callie spends Thanksgiving at her grandmother’s house. Her grandma is aging and doesn’t have very much energy these days. Callie’s grandma makes the most amazing pumpkin pie and although she was tired, was able to make these pies for the family dinner. Callie enjoys her meal, going back for seconds to get a little more of her favorite items. By the time dessert rolls around, Callie is noticing that she is feeling a little overly full but decides to have a piece of pumpkin pie and chat with her grandma about the way she makes it and all of the secret ingredients. Callie is left feeling overly full but continues to have a good time with her family. She eats breakfast the next day and looks forward to leftovers for lunch.

Tara spends Thanksgiving with her in-laws. She doesn’t get along with them very well but is grateful to see her little nieces and nephews. When Thanksgiving dinner rolls around she doesn’t feel very hungry, maybe because she feels anxious about what her mother-in-law thinks about their most recent car purchase. Tara eats a few items at dinner but realizes she doesn’t like ham and turkey much anyway. After dinner, she talks with her partner about the anxiety she has been feeling. They process it together and Tara makes her way back to the kitchen to have a post-dinner snack, since she didn’t eat much during the formal family meal and is noticing she isn’t feeling totally satisfied. She eats until she feels full and enjoys the apple crisp her husband made for dessert later that evening.

Sophia spends Thanksgiving with her roommate’s family. Her roommate’s family culture is very different from what she’s used to. However, Sophia feels comfortable with the family and excited to spend time with them. When dinner rolls around (which they do around lunch time in this family), the family eats enthusiastically. The mom encourages Sophia to eat more and more. Sophia, already recognizing that she’s feeling really satisfied, politely indicates to the family that she is full. In this family, they have dessert with the meal, and Sophia decides she doesn’t want a piece of pie. Later, while playing games with the family, Sophia recognizes she’s feeling hungry again and eats a slice of pie with extra whipped cream.

So, could you spot the person that has a peaceful relationship with food? Surprise! They ALL have a very healthy and peaceful relationships with food! I use these little vignettes as good examples of the variety of ways that intuitive eating could show up over the holidays. Being an intuitive eater does NOT mean eating perfectly. Being an intuitive eater is more about the process of honoring your body, which can mean trusting your body when you eat past fullness and honoring your hunger even if you have eaten recently.

Having a peaceful relationship with food goes far beyond simply eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Food can serve many purposes. When stuck in disordered eating and diet culture patterns, food is often a means to an end. However, when you are able to break out of that diet mentality, the purpose of food shifts dramatically. Sometimes the purpose of food for me is energy, like that midday snack or eating a nice breakfast before taking a test. Sometimes the purpose of food for me is creativity, like when I experiment with new recipes or perfectly plate a meal. Sometimes the purpose of food is connection, like sharing a holiday meal together or making an old family recipe (like Callie).

Diet culture tells you that food serves one purpose: to give you control over what your body looks like. To start, this isn’t accurate, but it also keeps you from experiencing the joy that connecting to your bodies through your enjoyment of food can have. That’s something I am not willing to miss out on. The freedom that comes from putting in the hard work of challenging disordered thoughts about food is absolutely worth it! 

So, as the holidays approach, remember that there are many good ways to be an intuitive eater. Lean into trusting your body to process the food you eat and remember it deserves to be fed and nourished, no matter if you ate a holiday meal the night before. Find various purposes of food and remember that it might go beyond “fuel” or “energy.” Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so grateful for my body and for the chance to be a witness of the healing and growth of recovery. I hope this Thanksgiving can be a peaceful one for you as you remember the things you’re grateful for.