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A New Way to Think About Body Acceptance

A New Way to Think About Body Acceptance

I am passionate about body acceptance work. I teach it, practice it, and continue to learn and evolve my understanding of how to do this work. The body acceptance journey is often described using the metaphor of a ladder. In fact, when I lecture about body acceptance, I use the following image to capture the idea: 

However, when we used this image in our Body Acceptance Group this last month, my understanding of this “progressive approach” was turned on its head. So many clients share about how they can be in a more accepting or healthy place with their body one day and, the next, feel right back at “ground zero.” Others describe how they can inhabit multiple places with their body at once. For example, they can feel grateful for their body while also feeling disgust for how it looks. They can feel compassion for what their body has gone through and also resent that it refuses to change the way they want it to change. It suddenly became clear in this discussion that the ladder doesn’t fit these experiences at all. I know body acceptance is a non-linear journey, but when we talk about progress, we talk about being in different places than we were before. It’s as if we keep arriving or stepping up to somewhere new, and different, and stable. The journey is so much more fluid and complicated than that. In this group, I suddenly envisioned a better way to conceptualize the body acceptance journey. And it’s one of bubbles. 

Our experiences and relationships with our bodies are deeply rich, historical, personal, complicated, and nuanced. In a holistic perspective, we always carry with us each of these lived feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors in our bodies. Sometimes certain bubbles expand and take up a lot of room. For example, an event or interaction in our lives may trigger more negative feelings about our bodies. Or maybe we are feeling more vulnerable in general and are more prone to feel amplified negative emotions about our bodies. 

Through body acceptance work, there is active movement to amplify and grow different ways of being with our bodies. There is choice in what works for you and what you value, and this journey involves a lot of trial and error and hard work. For some people they really resonate with amplifying body gratitude and find a lot of joy and relief in this. For others, maybe they want to focus even less on their bodies and so focus on identifying and living more intentionally, their values (valued living) and feel a lot of relief in doing so. Some enjoy experimenting, growing skills, and amplifying many different ways of being with their bodies and find at different times, different tools and orientation work better than others. In this work, you will notice these other experiences you are intentionally amplifying will take up more space in your lived reality with your body. And while this doesn’t make more painful experiences or beliefs disappear completely, it changes the overall experience with yourself. 

This lived experience in your body is a moving, changing, fluid experience. As we work, we build confidence and more stability in inviting and amplifying the experiences, feelings, and beliefs we want to have in our bodies. But this doesn’t mean hard days disappear where other feelings and experiences rear their heads and dominate the day. 

There is no “falling backwards” or “getting worse” with this framework of body acceptance. It is simply awareness that certain bubbles are larger today, or this week, and this affects how we feel. We can make conscious choices to use the tools and knowledge we have to attend to the bubbles we want to grow and amplify and have compassion for ourselves on days we are simply doing our best to get by. The body acceptance journey, just like mediation, is a practice, not a final destination. Over time it is easier and more and more rewarding, and it continues to invite us to work and be with ourselves in intentional ways as we move through this messy experience that is life. 

A Letter to My Body

A Letter to My Body

Throughout the past year, my body has carried me through many life-changing experiences. She has carried me through grief, joy, connection, and has provided me the opportunity to grow in ways that I previously doubted possible. 

As I reflect on the ways that my body has shown up for me throughout it all, I am filled with comfort knowing that I can count on her to continue putting one foot in front of the other even when things feel unpredictable and vulnerable.  

The postpartum experience has given me the opportunity to find compassion for my body in ways that I had previously yet to experience. Writing a letter to my body allows me to process these physical changes while identifying both positive and neutral experiences within the adjustments. 

A letter to my postpartum body:

Thank you for showing up for me with a lens of connection and love as I navigate changing roles and challenge fears related to the unknown. 

Thank you to my soft belly for safely housing my babies and then providing a safe place for them to cuddle. 

My tired yet strong arms for holding and caring for the two of them even on days that I didn’t think I was capable. 

My powerful legs that supported me in moving forward through the hardships, grief, and joy. 

My weary eyes that fought to stay awake throughout the many sleepless nights.

My lips for the countless kisses, asks for support, and I love yous said. 

My mind for enduring all of the changes that have occurred, physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

I am proud of you. Thank you for walking through these changes with hopefulness. Your adaptability brings me comfort and peace. 

I challenge you to engage in this exercise and allow neutrality to become a part of your life experiences, too. 

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.

Lessons for Fall

Lessons for Fall

  1. Change is the constant. Did you just roll your eyes? Honestly, I roll my eyes at the cliched memes, “Fall reminds us how beautiful it is to let go.” And it’s not wrong. I love how the earth goes out in a fiery blaze of glory before settling in for a long winter sleep. The earth models for us that change, whether subtle or explosive, is our life constant. I can rage against this natural order, as I often want to, or I can try to take a note from the celestial goddess that is the earth and breathe into change.
  2. There is another cliched meme associated with fall, but this time, it doesn’t make me roll my eyes. It is that fall reminds us that we aren’t made to bloom in every season. The earth unapologetically models this as she stops her work, slows her growth, and settles into rest. Why do we chronically expect ourselves to grow, perform, excel, or “have it all together?!” The earth embraces her own chaos and models that there are seasons for growth and seasons for slowing down and resting. 
  3. Speaking of resting, hibernation isn’t just for bears. As fall invites us to have more psychological flexibility with ourselves, it also invites us to have more physical flexibility. The longer nights and colder days invite us to slow down and collect ourselves from the frenetic, energized experiences that were spring and summer. Just as we are programmed to have daily rhythms, it makes sense to me that we have annual rhythms. I believe there is beautiful intuition to noticing how the foods we crave change throughout the year, turning in the winter towards more hearty, comforting, and warm foods. I also organically want to sleep longer, which makes sense with less sunlight, but I also think holds an intuitive piece to it. I mean, honestly, who of us wouldn’t benefit from more sleep?! This is a time of year when the invitation is really clear to tune into what our bodies need and honor the soft call towards more rest.
  4. Changing seasons bring changing moods. We can be gentle about changing moods that accompany changing seasons. I have a repetitive conversation about fall that mostly goes like this, “Fall is my favorite season! I just hate how short it is before such a long winter!” Winter is the season that shows up most disruptively and abruptly. And then it is long, dark, and hard. I have to psychologically prepare myself for it every year. And in anticipatory dread, I often notice my moods feel erratic and unpredictable in fall. My moods spike with profound feelings of happiness, joy, and aw, and then plummet to sadness and a sense of ambiguous grief. And I am going to offer myself compassion for an internal roller coaster that shows up right now. It just is what it is, and that’s ok. The earth doesn’t apologize for her big moods. She just lets them wash over her and around her and holds them as they do their work before moving on and changing yet again. 

I hope to continue to soak up all that is fall for as long as I can and to be open to all its wisdom. 

Eating Recovery: Learning About Grief

Eating Recovery: Learning About Grief

Have you ever heard of the term disenfranchised grief? Disenfranchised grief is the act of grieving something that is not socially acceptable. This applies to the loss of relationships, jobs, dreams, or even an idea. The quote, “It’s okay to grieve the life that you thought you would live,” stands out to me as I have worked with many individuals who grieve aspects of their life before eating concerns were present. Grief symptoms can be heavy, surprising, and potentially isolating at times. However, knowing the grief process can bring awareness and normalcy through the course. 

The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle consists of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although many people experience all five stages as they process through their grief, there is no specific route to take in effort to grieve the “right” way. I often refer to the grief process as a rollercoaster ride, full of sharp turns, unexpected loops, and seemingly ongoing without end. With awareness of how disenfranchised grief can impact recovery, we can choose to honor the process, and disempower the symptoms that continually show up. 

As you navigate recovery, you may grieve life before feeling as if your relationships revolved around recovery needs, how it felt to connect with friends when food was present, the ability to engage in meals without feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, or what it felt like to be comfortable in your body without always identifying ways that you wish it could be altered. It is essential to allow yourself time and space to grieve and seek support from family, friends, or a therapist. Over time, as you come to terms with the changes, you can begin to adapt to your new circumstances and find meaning and purpose in your current life. 

Expecting and Accepting Body Change

Expecting and Accepting Body Change

Throughout our lives, our bodies are meant to change and adapt. Body changes are a natural and inevitable part of life, but can be distressing when they transpire. It’s common to experience a range of emotions when you notice changes in your appearance, whether they are stigmatized as positive, neutral, or negative. These emotions may be based on societal standards, fears of the unknown, feeling out of control, attachment to familiarity, and/or comparison. And although body changes are expected, the emotions attached may be abrupt. 

My body has gone through many changes in the past few months being pregnant with twins. And although I am so grateful for the experience to grow my babies, I have been surprised at the comments made by others as they notice my changing body. There have been so many individuals who have made unhelpful comments regarding the size of my growing belly. Some say, “Wow, your belly is huge!” and others comment, “Your belly doesn’t look big enough to be growing two babies”. Comments of varying opinions have made me question my body’s ability to adjust “appropriately” without understanding what an appropriate adjustment would even look like.

Throughout this experience, I have learned that all I can do is trust that my body will adjust exactly how she needs to, unrelated to any other bodies or expectations others have set for me. 

Trusting my body requires me to let go of expectations set by cultural norms, media representation, my upbringing, or personal fears. My body is worthy of change, and I have made the choice to accept her exactly as she is through all of the unknown and changes that will continue to occur. My hope is that you, too, will find trust and acceptance of your body exactly as you are now. 

Parenting a Child with an Eating Disorder: A Beginning Checklist

Parenting a Child with an Eating Disorder: A Beginning Checklist

If you are a parent, you already know that the role can be incredibly challenging AND rewarding.  Many parents find themselves searching for a handbook or parenting manual, but as we know, newborns do not come with an instruction booklet attached!  Most of the time, our intuition and some advice from well-meaning loved ones can suffice.  But when you find yourself parenting a child with an eating disorder- when it feels like the parenting difficulty just ratcheted up to an overwhelmingly difficult new level- it can be hard to know where to turn for support and answers. As a parent, you know you play a crucial role in supporting your child on the path to recovery. But how do you best achieve that? 

Seek Professional Help

If you are parenting a child with an eating disorder,  find qualified professionals who can help. Connect with a specialized therapist, dietician, and medical doctor who is knowledgeable and skilled in the treatment of eating disorders. They will help create a tailored treatment plan for your child and can offer wrap-around support for the questions and concerns you have. 

Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power. By taking the time to educate yourself about eating disorders, you will learn how to support your child as they work in recovery.  The Balance Health and Healing blog is a wealth of knowledge!  Here, you can learn about eating disorders and available treatment options.  The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to support your child effectively.

Foster Open Communication & Be a Role Model

Encourage open and non-judgmental communication with your child, creating a safe and comfortable space to discuss their thoughts and feelings with you. Be patient and actively listen, avoiding criticism or shaming.  Be a recovery role model.  Children are watching their parents… even when we think they aren’t! Exemplify a healthy relationship with food and body image within your household. Avoid diet talk or negative comments about your own body. Show your child that self-worth is not defined by appearance.  Ensure your home environment is conducive to recovery by removing triggers such as diet foods, fashion magazines promoting unrealistic body ideals, and negative influences on social media. Cultivate a supportive and nurturing atmosphere for recovery.

Collaborate with the Treatment Team

Work with your child’s treatment team- attend therapy sessions, family counseling, medical and dietary appointments as recommended. Collaborative efforts between you, your child, and professionals are vital for recovery.

Monitor Progress, Not Perfection

Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear process- there will be ups and downs along the way. Focus on your child’s progress rather than expecting perfection. Celebrate small victories and provide unwavering love and support during setbacks.

Self-Care for Parents

Remember that parenting a child with an eating disorder is a new and challenging task. Don’t neglect your own well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to help you cope with the stress and emotions that arise.  As you model healthy behaviors, your child will continue to be strengthened by your example. 

Parenting a child with an eating disorder is undoubtedly one of the more challenging experiences a parent can face. However, with the right support and professional guidance, recovery is possible for your child. Your role in that process takes patience and unwavering love. You- and your child- are not defined by the eating disorder, and with support, you can play a vital role in helping them find their way to a healthier, happier life.

Navigating Recovery While In a Relationship: Part 2

Navigating Recovery While In a Relationship: Part 2

Welcome to part 2! Here are some more answers to common questions I get about navigating eating disorder recovery while in a relationship. While these answers probably won’t feel like a perfect fit for your individual situation, I hope you’ll be able to draw some ideas and support from this post!

Q: How do we keep the eating disorder/recovery from taking over our lives? It feels like that’s all we talk about!

A: Eating recovery should be a big priority in your relationship, but it can’t be the only priority!

  • Have fun together, go on dates often, and make some time for some activities that don’t involve food. Recovery can be hard work for both of you and setting aside time for fun is important.
  • Commit to keeping your partner in the loop. More consistency in communication will help your partner feel they don’t have to check on you all the time.
  • Keep getting to know each other outside of the emotional work of recovery. Ask each other questions about your hopes and dreams for the future. Ask specific questions about successes and struggles in each others’ lives that aren’t connected to the eating disorder. Whether you’ve been together a short time or a long time, it’s important to keep deepening your connection by being a part of each others’ inner worlds!

Q: How do I ask my significant other for help when I’m struggling with my eating disorder? I feel ashamed, and I don’t know how to bring up the fact that I’m having a hard time.

A: Reaching out for help can feel intimidating for a lot of reasons. Some practical ways to get the conversation started:

  • Write out what you want to say before you say it. It’s okay to lean on a script for support. Try to be specific about what the struggle is, and give an example of what might help. Your therapist can support you in finding what you need to express. For example, “I need your support. I’m struggling with ____ (eating disorder behavior or thought). One way you could help me is ____.”
  • Remember that struggling sometimes is normal! There are zero people who go through recovery without needing extra support sometimes. Asking for help when you need it is a good thing for both your relationship and your recovery. It’s healthy to be direct about what you need.

Q: I’ve been secretive about my eating disorder, and now my partner has a hard time trusting me. How can we rebuild trust?

A: Acknowledging that trust has been broken is the first step. Now you can set the intention to rebuild trust.

  • Rebuilding trust takes specific, deliberate action. It won’t just happen on its own. If you can make a structured plan for accountability and honesty moving forward, you can take steps toward rebuilding trust. See my other blog post (part 1) for details about making a specific plan for checking in with each other.
  • Allow your partner space to talk about their feelings. If they’re feeling hurt, angry, or frustrated about an aspect of your recovery, the best way through those difficult emotions is to talk about them together. These conversations might be heavy and will require significant courage and trust from both of you. Getting support from a couples therapist can help you as you work through the emotional aspects of recovery. 

I know we haven’t even scratched the surface on how complex recovery and relationships can be, but hopefully, this can be a place for you to begin. I hope you’ll remember this: asking for support in your relationship and FOR your relationship is an important part of moving forward in recovery.