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In Defense of Emotional Eating

In Defense of Emotional Eating

The term “emotional eating” is often used with a negative connotation. Eating for emotional reasons, rather than to satisfy hunger, is usually talked about as something physically and emotionally unhealthy. Here’s my take: Emotional eating isn’t inherently unhealthy! 

Of course, “emotional eating” can sometimes be an ineffective form of coping with emotions or distress. Avoiding emotions through eating can be part of an unhelpful cycle. (Then again, so can avoiding emotions through NOT eating!) However, it makes sense for us to involve food in our experience of many emotions, pleasant and unpleasant!

Eating out of celebration can connect us to our culture, to family and loved ones, and to sensory delight. For me, homemade cherry pie is a food I eat exclusively for emotional reasons! It’s tradition in the family I grew up in to have cherry pie on birthdays and other special occasions, usually AFTER a big meal of Taiwanese dumplings shared together. I’m almost never hungry by the time we get out the cherry pie, so I guess that means I’m always “emotionally eating” when I eat cherry pie. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right! The delicious experience of filling my belly with dumplings, then savoring tart cherries and flaky pie crust is a big part of what makes those special days significant. This type of emotional eating is precious to me because it has been a tradition in my family since I was a child.

Eating for nostalgia, to remember a person, a place, or a tradition, can be beautiful and meaningful. Whenever I eat a fresh peach, whether I’m physically hungry or not, I cannot help but find myself “emotionally eating.” To me, the smell of ripening peaches instantaneously takes my mind back to the kitchen of the home where I grew up. The taste of fresh peaches is the taste of decades of Labor Days spent laughing with my siblings. A bowl of cut-up peaches set on the table is a love note from my mom or dad. For me, peaches are often a part of “emotional eating” that I deem as healthy for myself and my relationships.

Eating because we are feeling stressed or sad makes sense, and can be a helpful choice. Eating can be soothing to our bodies. From the very moment we are born, we are meant to find soothing and safety through eating. Eating is supposed to feel good! When approached intentionally, “emotional eating” can be a helpful tool for coping and self-care. For me, sometimes crunching my way through a bowl of cereal (especially Honey Bunches of Oats with almonds. IYKYK.) is part of what helps me soothe myself enough to face the stresses of another couple of hours of parenting little kids. I see these moments of “emotional eating” as an effective way for me to sit with and work through stress so I can move on with my day.

Food is fuel for our bodies, and it is also so much more. Eating for emotional reasons can add variety, meaning, comfort, and connection to our lives. There needs to be no shame in “emotional eating.” Emotional eating is a normal part of the human experience, sometimes in helpful ways, and sometimes in unhelpful ways. Of course, if eating for emotional reasons has become part of a cycle that is not adding to your well-being, you deserve to have support and help with breaking that cycle, and with learning more effective ways to cope. And even then, eating for emotional reasons can still play a healthy, helpful role in your life. Making room for “emotional eating” is, in many ways, an essential element of having a peaceful relationship with food because eating and emotion can never fully be separated. Food and emotion are inherently intertwined, sometimes in painful ways, but also in beautiful and meaningful ways.

Finding Purpose Outside Your Appearance

Finding Purpose Outside Your Appearance

I recently saw the movie Mean Girls in theaters. As a body image and eating disorder therapist, I could not help but notice how the myriad of messages about appearance and unrealistic beauty standards influence the characters in the film. At one point in the movie, Cady Heron, the new girl, is desperately trying to fit in with the popular clique. She is gathered with the three coolest girls in school as they begin to pick apart their bodies, commenting on everything from their hips to their weight to their complexion. 

Cady grew up in Africa without the internet, living in the middle of the safari with just her mother. Homeschooled and spending most of her time in nature or studying, Cady was not socialized to hate her body. She is visibly shocked by this communal dislike that somehow feigns bonding. Cady wonders why these girls are being pitted against their bodies, their ultimate strength. As the girls stare at her, she awkwardly mutters, “I’m not sure what we’re doing but… me too. I’m ugly too.” 

Sometimes I fantasize about all we could accomplish if our focus was not consumed with food and our bodies. How much more energy would we have to connect with loved ones? What if we invested all that brain power in a hobby or passion? Even though you are confronted daily with messages about how your body should look, you are meant for so much more. You have people to connect with, memories to make, and new experiences to savor.

This month, Dr. Anna Packard and I invited our Embodied Body Acceptance group members to create a “mission statement” related to their life’s purpose and meaning. I invite you to reflect on your own mission statement. Consider the following questions: 

What is your unique purpose and how much does that pertain to what you look like? 

Where do you find passion and meaning in your life? 

What draws people to you that has nothing to do with your appearance? 

What do you want to be remembered for? 

What do you want others to know you believed in and stood for? 

One of my favorite writers, Rupi Kaur, shares her thoughts related to her body’s true purpose in Home Body: “I want to leave this place knowing I did something with my body other than trying to make it look perfect.” Consider your connections, your passions, and your purpose—outside of the shape and size of your body.

The Year of Self-Compassion Goals

The Year of Self-Compassion Goals

Maybe this is the year…

  • You make memories instead of resolutions
  • You count smiles instead of calories
  • You cut the sizes out of your clothes instead of cutting out sugar or bread
  • You sign up for more sleep instead of more fitness classes
  • You step into your own abundance instead of trying to shrink yourself in all possible ways
  • You practice self-compassion instead of shame
  • You move your body how and when you want to and not how and when you think you “should”
  • You get a new friend instead of a new PR
  • You find curiosity instead of judgment
  • You collect resiliency instead of counting failures
  • You find joy in the details instead of stress in the big picture
  • You find unconditional self-love instead of conditional expectation
  • You see your wholeness and strength instead of your brokenness 
  • You recognize your unconditional, unchanging worth instead of the hustling to prove your value to the world
  • You slow down instead of speeding up
  • You breathe into the unknown instead of trying to control all the outcomes
  • You scream for fury, rage, grief, and joy instead of holding it all in
  • You decide to “want to” instead of “have to”
  • You take things OFF your To Do List instead of chronically adding to it
  • You connect with yourself and others instead of metrics and milestones
  • You look back and celebrate how far you’ve come instead of looking ahead at how far you think you still have to go
  • You step into 2024 knowing you are complete, whole, beautiful, and loved, just as you are

Nurturing Self-Compassion: A Journey Away from Overthinking About Your Body

Nurturing Self-Compassion: A Journey Away from Overthinking About Your Body

In a world that often emphasizes external appearances, it’s easy to find ourselves trapped in a cycle of overthinking about our bodies and self-image. The constant comparison to societal standards can lead to stress, anxiety, and a negative impact on our mental well-being. Are you left feeling empty, constantly stuck in your own head, and wondering- is all of this thinking about myself and my body ever going to stop?   The journey toward cultivating self-compassion and breaking free from the cycle of excessive self-focus is possible! 

Understanding the Roots:
To embark on a journey of self-compassion, it’s essential to understand the roots of our overthinking. Reflect on experiences, societal pressures, or personal expectations that may have contributed to this pattern. By acknowledging these factors, we can start to unravel the complex web of thoughts that surround our body image.

Mindful Awareness:
Begin the process of breaking free from overthinking by cultivating mindful awareness. This involves being present in the moment without judgment. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings about your body without attaching value judgments. Mindfulness allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise, creating space for understanding and acceptance.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk:
Overthinking often involves a barrage of negative self-talk. Challenge these thoughts by reminding yourself: I am working to cultivate an existence that doesn’t involve such intense focus on my outward appearance. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Remember that your worth goes beyond physical appearance; you deserve self-love and acceptance.

Embracing Imperfections:
Shift the focus from perceived flaws to embracing imperfections. Recognize that everyone has unique qualities that make them special. Consider the incredible things your body does for you daily, focusing on its strength and resilience. Celebrate your body for the amazing person she is, rather than fixating on perceived shortcomings.

Cultivating Self-Compassion:
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. Acknowledge that everyone has insecurities, and it’s okay to be imperfect. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion, recognizing that you are deserving of love and acceptance just as you are.

Healthy Habits for a Positive Mindset:
Engage in activities that promote a positive mindset. Exercise, meditation, hobbies, and creative pursuits can contribute to improved mental well-being- and give you other things to focus on and think about! 

Seeking Professional Support:
If overthinking about your body becomes overwhelming, seeking professional support can be invaluable. Individual and group therapy can offer a safe space to explore and navigate these thoughts. Professional guidance can provide coping strategies and a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to excessive self-focus.

Breaking free from the cycle of overthinking about your body is a journey of self-discovery and self-compassion. Embrace the uniqueness of who you are, cultivate a positive mindset, and remember that your worth extends far beyond physical appearance. By nurturing self-compassion, you can build a foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with yourself.

Body Reflections

Body Reflections

If you struggle with body image, your relationship with the reflection of your body in the mirror might feel complicated. Maybe you find yourself spending too much time in front of the mirror, picking apart your reflection, and feeling upset about what you see. Or maybe you find yourself avoiding glimpses of your reflection, not wanting to see your body because you don’t feel good about it. Maybe you experience a mix of both. If your body’s reflection is a source of stress in your life, you aren’t alone–body image stress is something everyone experiences at least occasionally and something many experience chronically.

For today’s blog, I want to take the word “reflection” and use its other definition–not the one that means an image thrown back to you by the mirror. Reflection (noun): thought or consideration. The end of the year is a time when we naturally reflect–look back on and consider our experiences, thoughts, and emotions. If body image is a struggle for you, you might find it helpful to do some reflection on your relationship with your body beyond its reflection in the mirror. Here are a few questions that might help you reflect.

  • What were some meaningful experiences I had this year? How was my body a part of those experiences?
  • Where did I struggle in my relationship with my body this year?
  • Where did I grow in my relationship with my body this year?
  • How did my body support me this year? How did I support my body?
  • What were the sensations my body enjoyed this year? Think about experiences with each of your senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, smell.

Focusing on the reflection you see in the mirror can distract you from a deeper, more meaningful type of reflection. What you see in the mirror only tells you a small part of the story of your body and its experience, function, and meaning. Looking deeper–into your relationship with your body, into the experience of being alive in your body–yields so much more complexity and so much more meaning than looking in the mirror does. 

Your Best Might Not Always Be the Best

Your Best Might Not Always Be the Best

My clients know I use a LOT of metaphors in therapy. It’s just how I roll! Here is a metaphor that I’ve shared with a couple of clients lately that might resonate if you’re dealing with perfectionism.

Let’s pretend you’re driving a car. What if when you were driving, you felt like you always had to “do your best?” In some ways, “your best” might mean driving at maximum speed and power, engine revving at full capacity, and really showing everyone else on the road what your car can do. What if you felt like you had to push your car to do its “best” ALL the time?

If you were to drive this way in real life, of course, there would be some negative outcomes. Even if there were no traffic laws to pay attention to, constantly pushing your vehicle to perform at its “best” would actually do damage to the engine, the tires, the transmission, the brakes, etc. Helping your car perform well in the long run, and extending the life and utility of its engine, tires, etc. might actually mean driving at a capacity that is far below your car’s “best.” Sure, you might want to occasionally push your car to show off its full potential in certain situations, like if you were drag racing, trying to outrun a tsunami, or auditioning for a stunt driving role (please don’t do any of those things unless absolutely necessary), but for the most part, taking care of your car would mean driving fairly conservatively.

Even if you feel pressure to always “do your best,” running yourself at full capacity isn’t something you can do all the time, at least not without consequences. You might feel like you have to stay up all night to do “your best” on a project for school. You might feel the need to be extremely rigid about your exercise routine in order to do “your best” physically. You might feel like you have to say “yes” to every opportunity to help someone in order to be the “best” friend/child/sibling/partner you can be. Perfectionism might make you feel like it’s not ok to put in less than 100% effort ever, for anything, even if you’re feeling stressed or burned out.

Remind yourself that, like a car, you aren’t meant to run at full capacity all the time. In fact, most of the time, it’s more effective and sustainable to pace yourself, and conserve energy for the long road ahead. Life sometimes does happen in bursts when we need, and benefit from, using our full capacity. However, more often than not, going at a speed that lets you get things done AND take care of yourself will end up feeling more sustainable and satisfying than pushing yourself to do your absolute “best.”

Welcoming Darkness

Welcoming Darkness

Have you ever thought about the reality that almost everything that has life began life in darkness? Giant Sequoias began their life as small seeds nestled into the dark, damp earth. Potatoes and carrots start and finish growing inside the dark earth. You and I, we began life enclosed in the soft, rich, and profoundly dark wombs of our mother’s bellies. As I contemplate all the variety of life that I know of, I can hardly come up with any exceptions to this reality: It is in darkness that growth begins.

The environments we all began in were full of everything we needed to develop and progress. They were nutrient-dense lodgings that infused us with all we needed.  Was the darkness a bystander witness to our processes? Or a necessary, intimate part of that development? 

I like believing that darkness is a vital companion in our growth. I like believing that darkness is an insulator, a protector, and space holder for the hard work that is growing. It helps me reframe the sense of foreboding I feel as daylight savings ends and we are officially plunged into the darkness of impending winter. And not to be the harbinger of bad news, but for those of us in the northern hemisphere, we will continue to march toward more darkness until December 21st.

Darkness is the hardest part of winter for me. I can handle cold and wet and ice and snow. It’s the darkness that feels the heaviest to hold. 

But maybe darkness isn’t something that weighs me down but rather offers to enfold me? Maybe the darkness isn’t a foe or force that is somehow “against” me, or something to endure. Maybe the darkness is actually a companion and source of potential growth? Maybe it’s in this space that more growth awaits and invites me? 

It is cliché but often true, that the most profound growth always happens in the deepest, darkest moments of our lives. Darkness offers us the most beautiful gifts this way. Darkness believes in us and holds us as we do the work that is ours alone to do. 

We’ve all heard the quote spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. said, “But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Stars are found in the vast galaxies of space. They are far beyond our solar system and realm of existence. We have to be plunged into darkness to find them. In this metaphor, it is the darkness that reveals them. It is in darkness that we connect to these inspiring, expansive sources of wisdom. 

Darkness is here. Instead of wishing it away or fighting against it, I am going to let it hold me and invite me toward my work. May we all pass these upcoming months with less suffering in this way. May we be gentle with ourselves and be held in the darkness that encourages our growth. May we all look up on cold, dark winter nights and breathe in the stars revealed to us.

Navigating the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery: A Survival Guide

Navigating the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery: A Survival Guide

The holiday season is often a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness, but for those in recovery from an eating disorder, it can also be a period of stress, triggers, and challenges. Coping with the abundance of food, social gatherings, and societal pressures during this time can be overwhelming. However, with the right strategies and support, you can not only survive but thrive during the holidays in your eating disorder recovery journey. Here are some essential tips to help you navigate this challenging period successfully.

Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care is crucial year-round, but it becomes especially vital during the holidays. Ensure you maintain your daily routines, including regular meals and rest. Make time for self-soothing activities, like meditation, yoga, or journaling, to help manage anxiety and stress. Remember, your well-being is your top priority.

Communicate with Loved Ones

Open and honest communication with your friends and family is key. Let them know about your recovery journey and any specific triggers or challenges you may face during the holidays. Educate them about how they can support you, whether it’s by not commenting on your food choices or planning activities that don’t revolve around food.

 Set Realistic Expectations

Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself during the holidays. Remember that recovery is a process, and setbacks are part of the journey. You may have moments of anxiety or doubt, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that progress is more important than perfection.

Focus on Non-Food Activities

The holidays are about more than just food. Engage in non-food-related activities, like enjoying quality time with loved ones, engaging in holiday crafts, watching a favorite holiday movie, or participating in a charitable activity. Maintain your focus on the things that truly matter.

Avoid Comparisons

Resist the urge to compare yourself to others, whether it’s about your body, your eating habits, or your holiday plans. Remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and you are making progress at your own pace.

Surviving the holidays in recovery from an eating disorder can be challenging, but it’s entirely possible!  Your recovery is a journey, and the holidays are just one part of it. You can not only survive but also continue to grow  in your recovery during this festive season.