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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. 

Building a Positive Relationship With Ourselves

Building a Positive Relationship With Ourselves

As you work towards a space of healing your relationship with your own body, you may begin to notice how others speak about their bodies, talk about others’ physical appearances, or maybe even make comments about your body. Part of entering a space of embodiment means exploring ways to set clear expectations or boundaries about the way that you communicate regarding your own, and others’, physical appearances. By setting clear limits on how those around us discuss, criticize, or interact with our bodies, we reclaim the power to outline our own self-worth and nurture a positive relationship with ourselves.

Setting boundaries may feel overwhelming in the beginning, so here are a few steps to make it easier.

  1. Explore what feels safe to talk about, and what does not. This will help you identify specific topics where boundaries may be needed. For example, it could be comments about your body size, appearance, clothes, or specific body parts. 
  2. Communicate boundaries to friends, family, coworkers, or anybody that has made comments that do not feel safe. Be clear and communicate what type of comments are acceptable and what is not. Express your needs and speak to why this boundary is important to you. Example: From this point going forward, please don’t make comments about my physical appearance. 
  3. Be prepared for pushback, but stick to your boundary anyway. It may be uncomfortable for others to acknowledge how past comments have impacted you, but this does not mean you need to adjust your boundaries to make others feel more comfortable. 
  4. Remember that boundaries can be moveable. If specific boundaries you have set are no longer serving you, you have the right to communicate within your relationships and adjust as needed. 

Boundaries are not walls, and setting boundaries does not necessarily mean shutting others out. We have the ability to set boundaries to protect meaningful relationships, and without boundaries, our relationships may not thrive or evolve into their full potential. Boundaries create a healthy balance between our needs, and the needs of others. You deserve safety and honesty within your relationships, and setting boundaries can be an excellent tool to help you reach that outcome. 

Evolving Beauty Standards: The Science Behind Changing Perspectives

Evolving Beauty Standards: The Science Behind Changing Perspectives

Beauty standards have always been subject to influence by cultural, societal, and individual factors. Throughout history, there has been a noticeable shift in the way beauty is perceived and appreciated. You may be familiar with social media videos showing hair, makeup, or clothing trends through the decades and note the changing- and sometimes comical- differences the standard of “beauty” has brought to women.  Why does this matter?  In a world with an ever-changing bullseye, women find themselves exhausted trying to keep up.  Unchecked, this can wreak havoc on your physical and emotional health.  Let’s take a deeper dive and explore the changing beauty standards and the factors contributing to this transformation.

Societal Influences:

Beauty standards are heavily influenced by societal values and norms. Historically, these standards have often been based on a narrow range (often white, European influenced) physical attributes, perpetuating unrealistic ideals.  However, increased awareness and cultural shifts have given rise to a more inclusive perspective on beauty. This shift is driven by social movements, like body positivity, inclusivity, feminism, and equality.

 

Media:

The media plays a significant role in shaping beauty standards. Traditionally, mainstream media has promoted a homogeneous view of beauty, featuring predominantly slim, young, and white individuals. However, as media platforms diversify, there is a growing demand for representation of different body types, ethnicities, ages, and abilities. Exposure to diverse representations can positively impact self-esteem and body image.

 

Cultural Variations:

Beauty standards vary across cultures, highlighting the subjective nature of beauty. In some cultures, curvier body types are celebrated, while in others, a slender physique is favored. Understanding cultural variations and appreciating diverse aesthetic preferences can help challenge the notion of a singular ideal and foster acceptance of different beauty standards.

Beauty standards are not merely external forces at work-  they also can be internalized by individuals. The concept of “social comparison” explains how people compare themselves to others, often leading to negative self-perception when they fall short of societal beauty standards. 

By understanding the underpinnings of changing beauty standards, you can become aware of how you are influenced and impacted by them.  When you begin to take note of that, you can then take charge and set intentions around the way you want to interact with these ideas.  It allows you to embrace inclusivity, challenge unrealistic ideals, and celebrate diverse forms of beauty. Recognizing the role of ever-changing beauty standards allows us to move toward a more inclusive and empowering notion of beauty, one that values individuality and authenticity.