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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. 

The Nature Fix

The Nature Fix

We have entered my absolute favorite season of the year for hiking. This time of year, the earth really likes to show off her colors! If you know me, you know that I have to get into nature at least once a week as a baseline need for my self-care. I have found nothing else in the world provides me the psychological benefits that mother earth provides.

Stress Reduction: I stress out a lot. Too much. Hiking in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, significantly and quickly reduces my stress levels. Research has shown that exposure to nature lowers cortisol. The sounds of birds chirping, the rustling of leaves, and the sight of natural, beautiful landscapes have a calming effect on our overly active brains. 

Enhanced Mood: This is probably my main reason for hiking. As someone who has a history of mental health concerns and a vulnerability to them, I take managing my mental health very seriously. Nature is a space where my mood feels the lightest, most peaceful, and happiest. Hiking triggers the release of endorphins, which can lead to an immediate mood lift. I took my daughter on a hike this weekend, and she commented on how friendly everyone was on the trail. I told her, “Yes, nature just makes people nicer and happier.” 

Improved Mental Clarity and Presence: The simplicity of hiking – putting one foot in front of the other – helps me be more present and work through my life’s demands without constant stimulation and distraction. Being in nature also helps reduce my problems to their “appropriate size.” I am certainly culpable of inflating the importance of my life’s “problems” and demands. Nature reminds me of my space in the world and helps me hold all of these things more lightly.

Connection to Nature: Hiking transports me into a world so much vaster and bigger than myself. Specifically, I feel connected to our incredible Earth and feel so grateful to be on this journey of life. I hold the paradox of feeling a deep sense of belonging while also feeling small and unimportant. This paradox and connection to something so profoundly incredible as our Earth enhances my sense of well-being. 

Social Connection: Sometimes, I hike alone when I need to decompress and work through internal concerns. Other times, I really enjoy hiking in the company of others. Hiking provides a unique space where we aren’t distracted by our phones or anything else in life pulling for our attention. As a result, some of my life’s best conversations and meaningful connections happen hiking with friends. Group hikes offer opportunities for shared experiences, new memories, and meaningful conversations.

Boost in Self-Esteem: When I hike, I have a unique experience of both being completely embodied, and forgetting about my body. I do not hike for specific metrics like distance, or elevation gain, etc. I hike for the experience of beauty and connection. That said, I also feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I arrive at an incredible vista, summit, mountain lake, or waterfall. Hiking provides a sense of accomplishment that can boost self-esteem and self-efficacy. These feelings of accomplishment extend beyond the trail and positively impact self-worth.

Hiking is not merely a leisure activity; it’s a therapeutic journey. Unlike any other therapy, nature offers, in one combination package, the power to reduce stress, improve mood, and connect to ourselves, others, and something profoundly bigger than ourselves. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or new to the trails, I hope you’ll venture into nature to experience these benefits for yourself. Your mental health will thank you. 

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. 

Is Embodied: A Body Acceptance Group for you?

Is Embodied: A Body Acceptance Group for you?

Is Embodied: A Body Acceptance Group for you? 

Did you know that in our Western culture, negative body image is so pervasive that researchers call this “normative discontent”? That is, it is considered normal to loathe our bodies!

While this, sadly, may be considered “normal,” it is not a benign experience. 

“Ultimately, what body hatred costs us—individually and collectively—is the fullness of life. We lose out on the goodness that comes through our body. And if we are our body, we miss out on experiencing our own goodness and the presence and wisdom that comes from a deep connection to ourselves. We also lose out on connection with others…There is so much goodness within and between us because of our bodies,” (Hillary McBride, PhD). 

As someone who has transformed my own relationship with my body, I am on a mission to help others transform theirs. I do not believe we should accept “normative discontent” as the landing place for our relationships with our bodies. I believe in our ability to heal and transform, individually and collectively, our experiences with our bodies, and, subsequently, ourselves. 

This fall, I am starting another round of Embodied: A body acceptance group. I honestly believe that group is the most powerful venue to confront and change our experiences with our bodies. There is profound power and beauty in the collective experience that group therapy offers. While group can feel vulnerable, it is also the great unifier that threads our experiences together. Joining a community of fellow life travelers, who also want a different experience for themselves and their bodies, is validating, hopeful, and powerful. In group, you are on your own journey, while also witnessing, supporting, and championing others on theirs. Their stories and experience will impact you, just as yours will impact them. Together the group celebrates victories and offers compassion and perspective for the struggle. You are not alone on your journey, and I hope you will join us as we create something beautiful together.

Embodied is a structured 12-week group that combines experiential activities and group process. The group progresses through different themes, building on previous weeks’ activities to build insight, facilitate healing, and accelerate body acceptance. Through engaging in the group, group members will feel more connected to themselves and each other.  

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is some of what previous group members have said about their experience in the Embodied Group:

“I really enjoyed being in group every Monday evening with a group of amazing ladies! I didn’t miss once and really feel like I gained some clarity of my journey and regained some lost confidence.”

“It has helped me be more appreciative of my body! It’s also helped me realize the lies I’ve believed for so many years.”

“I feel more aware of my self-perceptions and how my body actually feels. There is a growing connection that has started, too, and I’m beginning to be kinder to myself and my body.”

“The work made me want to befriend my body- check in on what she is asking from me and remember that we are a team. I am so willing to give her what she wants rather than what I think the world wants for her.”

“It has given me a whole new perspective.”

If you wish for a better relationship with your body, I hope you will consider joining our Embodied group this fall. The group will start on Monday, September 25th, and run Monday evenings from 5:30 pm-7 pm at Balance Health and Healing. I hope to see you there!

Embodied: What Does it Mean?

Embodied: What Does it Mean?

The term “embodied” is used frequently in the recovery community. But what does being embodied mean? It signifies feeling connected to your body in a holistic way. Being embodied represents feeling safe in your body, while being able to experience all sensations, physical and emotional, without limitation. Experiencing being embodied is a powerful feeling, although it can be difficult to achieve without tools to support you as you work towards a place of trusting your body, and allowing your body to trust you back.

Here are a few tools you can use to increase embodiment:

  1. Mindful movement: Engage in movement without expectation. This includes moving your body in ways that feel meaningful without setting prior expectations, such as time requirements or distance obligations. Try dancing, yoga, or going on a walk. 
  2. Sensory awareness: Use your senses to embrace your ability to be present. Identify at least one thing you can taste, touch, smell, hear, and see. Reflect on what it feels like to be present in your body without judgment. 
  3. Identify stories: Notice what kind of thoughts you are thinking about your body or your mind. What kind of messages are you receiving from outside sources (movies, social media, friends, family, etc)? These messages can create the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies and/or our abilities.
  4. Engage in self-care: Show your body and your mind that you deserve to be celebrated and honored. Take a warm bath, get a massage, or engage in morning meditation. 

In my own life, I have noticed that when I am in a place of embodiment, I am able to be more present. Being connected to my body allows me to identify my needs, show up for myself, and be in a place where I can accept love and connection from others. Being embodied allows me to live in alignment with my core values wholeheartedly.

Navigating Recovery While In a Relationship: Part 1

Navigating Recovery While In a Relationship: Part 1

An eating disorder can impact every facet of life, especially the relationships that matter most to you. If you are in a romantic relationship, and have an eating disorder, there have likely been some difficult conversations about how your ED impacts your relationship, and vice versa. Even though it’s challenging, navigating through eating recovery while in a relationship can also bring depth and strength to both your recovery and your connection with your partner.  

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be answering some common questions about handling different aspects of recovery while in a relationship. Let’s dive in!

Q: How do I help my significant other understand my experience with my eating disorder?

A: It can feel really hard to explain the experience of an eating disorder to someone who has never had one themselves. Here are a few thoughts that might help:

  • Don’t stress about explaining yourself perfectly or getting a complete understanding from your significant other. Gaining understanding is a process, and will take time and experience together. Remember that you and your partner don’t have to understand each other perfectly in order to give and receive meaningful support. 
  • Invite them to join a therapy session with you. Talk with your therapist about the possibility of inviting your partner to join a session occasionally. Your therapist can support you in explaining how you’re feeling, and in addressing concerns that you and your partner might have about recovery.
  • Share part of a journal entry with your partner, then talk about it together. Sometimes sharing something you’ve written down can be a starting point for a conversation about how you’re feeling.

Q: How can my significant other support me without smothering me?

A: It makes sense that you need both support and space from your partner as you work through recovery. You can’t do recovery alone, but your partner also can’t make recovery happen for you by watching your every move. Some tips for balancing support and space in your relationship:

  • Make a structured plan for checking in with your significant other about recovery. Schedule the times you’ll check in, and make an agenda for what you’ll talk about. 
    • For example:

Check-in every night at 9:30
1. Be accountable for any ED behaviors from the day.

  1. Share a recovery victory that happened today.
  2. Make a plan for any challenges coming up tomorrow.

Scheduling daily or weekly check-ins can help you and your significant other stay connected, without feeling like you have to constantly be talking about the eating disorder and nothing else. Let the schedule of your check-ins do the work of starting the conversation.

  • Share your treatment goals with your partner, and involve them where possible. Tell your partner what you’re working on with your dietitian and your therapist. If your partner has no idea what’s happening in your recovery, they are more likely to feel like they have to monitor your every move. If you feel like you’re being watched or babysat, you’re likely to feel frustrated and irritated. On the other hand, if you can share what your goals are, and specific ways your partner can help with those goals, you can get support without feeling suffocated.

Q: Won’t talking about my eating disorder just make my partner feel worried and stressed?

A: This is a very common concern that can feel really complicated. A few things to remember:

  • Communicating consistently about your recovery is likely to be more helpful than harmful. Your partner is likely to worry more if you don’t talk consistently about how things are going.
  • You are not responsible for managing your partner’s worry or stress. It’s up to them to ask for support from you or from others as they manage their own emotions and needs. Allowing your partner to feel their emotions and seek needed support is a healthy way to manage challenges in a relationship. Likewise, your partner should not assign you responsibility for their emotions.
  • Sometimes worry and concern can be helpful to your recovery and relationship. If your partner is genuinely expressing concern, that may be valuable feedback that can support your recovery process.

Tune in to my next blog post for more Q and A on relationships!

 

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.