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The Swimsuit

The Swimsuit

It’s almost summer, which means it’s almost swimsuit season. Do you dread swimsuit season? Well maybe my experience can help you. As part of my recent vacation planning, I kept a running list of items, including sandals for my one-year old, a beach umbrella, and a new swimsuit for myself. Not just any swimsuit. A maternity swimsuit. (Cue some dark scary music) I started on the impossible task of finding a cute, comfortable, maternity swimsuit.

Swimsuits are hard enough to find, but try finding a cute maternity suit and the task is almost impossible. So I took my quest online and ordered a few options to choose from. When they arrived at my house, I pulled them out of the package and instantly thought “there’s no way that will fit me – it’s huge!” Guess what, they all fit. One was actually a little tight if I am being completely honest. I could feel myself start to dread our family trip and I actually said aloud to myself “stop it!” 

When talking about her body, Dr. Anna Packard refers to it as she/her and I started to do the same. I started to list the positive qualities of her as I looked in the mirror. It went sort of like this: 

“She is growing a human!” 

“She is strong.” 

“She has the arms to carry and hug her one-year-old.” 

“She is growing a human!” 

“She can feel the ocean breeze on her face.” 

“She can read Harry Potter aloud to her son.” 

“She is growing a human!” 

I repeated that last one quite a few times. I didn’t all of the sudden love that I was fitting into these much larger suits, but the dread of laying on the beach in them started to lessen. Try it! When trying on clothes, give your body some positive self-talk. Maybe the changing rooms won’t be such a dreaded place. 

Invisible Scars

Invisible Scars

I got my first scar at five years old. I was playing at a friend’s house and bent down to pet their Scottish terrier. I accidentally surprised the terrier, and he greeted my advance by tearing flesh off my face. I remember warm towels and the feel of wiry stitches pulling through the skin above my lips. Today, this scar looks like a misplaced, poorly angled smile line.

​In third grade I loved playing soccer with all the boys at recess. I especially liked playing against Matt Cisek; the love of my elementary school world. One fateful day, Matt and I collided brutally on the field. His foot missed kicking the ball and connected directly to my shin instead. The strength of his kick was so forceful that it knocked cartilage off my bone. To this day, as my fingers trace my shin bone I can feel a divot left from the lost cartilage.

My stomach bears a variety of puncture marks. Some randomly scattered holes came from playing capture the flag on a moonless night when I was 17.  My best friend Robert told me to “run for the trees!” when the enemy spotted us. I ran full speed and never saw the barbed wire fence. Several people had to, literally, pick my body off the rusted coils and call my parents to make sure I was current on my tetanus vaccination.

Three other scars, right beneath my ribcage, bear witness to my emergency gallbladder surgery that took place just five days before my wedding. It turned out my stomach pains weren’t actually “pre-marital nerves.” The ER doctor told me that if I didn’t get my gallbladder out immediately, I wouldn’t make my wedding day. My stomach barely squeezed into my wedding dress later that week, still bloated from the surgical gas and wrapped in gauze.

Three more holes puncture my lower abdomen where doctors saved my life after an ectopic pregnancy burst my fallopian tube and tried to take me. These holes remind me of the miracle that is my preserved life and the life that was the twin baby safely nestled in my uterus. We both survived the trauma of emergency surgery and so much lost blood.

While scars manifest the physical impact life has on my body, my body also holds invisible scars deep inside her soft spaces. The creases around my eyes bear witness to years’ worth of smiles and laughter. The ache in my chest weeps my deep loss and empty arms. My upset stomach testifies of my vulnerabilities and yearning. The soft, gray hills inside my skull guard and protect my precious memories.

Scars and marks aren’t pretty, but they reflect truth. They reflect moments lived and the passage of time: a physical autobiography. My scars remind me that through all my living, my body has borne witness to my messy and wonderful life. My body was built for this. It was built to hold all that is me: every memory, emotion, and experience.  And isn’t that beautiful?  

 

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?

Honor Your Health: Gentle Nutrition

Honor Your Health: Gentle Nutrition

“Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.” -Evelyn Tribole, “Intuitive Eating” 

The final principle of Intuitive Eating is “honor your health- gentle nutrition.” 

As we have been breaking down the ideas behind intuitive eating principles, my hope is that it feels much different from rigid, diet-mentality driven eating approaches you may have had previous experiences with.  

Eating is meant to be enjoyed, not just to sustain life! This principle involves how your eating can be both enjoyable and sustaining.  

It’s last for a reason: 

The principle of gentle nutrition is, interestingly enough, not the first principle of Intuitive Eating, but the very last. That may seem quite un-intuitive at first, but as you review the principles of Intuitive Eating below, do you notice anything? 

1. Reject the Diet Mentality 

2. Honor Your Hunger

3. Make Peace with Food

4. Challenge the Food Police

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

6. Fell Your Fullness

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

8. Respect Your Body

9. Movement – Feel the Difference

10. Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition

Honoring your health through learning how to gently nourish yourself is last because you can’t effectively do that without having a secure foundation built through the first nine steps. This step requires some awareness of how this crazy world we live in has impacted your relationship with food and your body. It requires having put some work into healing those relationships. It’s not just physical work- but mental and emotional as well. Skipping any of those steps shortchanges the necessary process to be successful with intuitive eating!  

 

It’s all about balance:

When you look at this principle, you can quickly see that it’s all about balance. The idea that you suddenly “pollute” your bodies when you don’t follow certain guidelines is really strict and rigid- and when you are working towards a balanced, flexible, non-obsessive relationship with food, there is no room for rigid, black and white thinking.  

With that flexibility and balance in mind, start to examine your feelings and observations around eating.  It might help to examine:

  • What foods do I enjoy my experience eating?  
  • Do those foods leave me feeling well nourished? 
  • Do I want to keep feeling the way those foods result in feeling, or make some adjustments/try new things? 
  • Am I eating a balanced, flexible assortment of foods?  
  • Is there room to be curious about new foods? 

When we have really mastered this principle, we will be prioritizing how we experience eating in our own bodies above whatever the popular diet gurus or social media influencers are telling us our eating needs to look like. This step moves you away from that crazy-making, never ending chatter and towards honoring your own intuition that can bring healing and peace. 

Discovering Comfort in Eating Recovery

Discovering Comfort in Eating Recovery

 

Did you have a comfort object as a young kid? Maybe a special blanket, or a stuffed animal? When I was little, my aunt gave me a small, white teddy bear named Theodore. Theodore went with me everywhere. Theodore was not only the stuffie I slept with every night, but he was also my companion on road trips, campouts, and trips to Taiwan. As a college student, I snuggled him through homesickness and post-breakup woes. Theodore has been around for nearly 30 years, and he now​ belongs to my son. My heart swells when I see my little boy hug and talk to his teddy bear. Theodore was (and is) very important to me, first because he was my favorite toy, and later because he came to represent home, safety, and comfort for me (and now for my son). We all need a “Theodore” in our lives–something constant and comforting to turn to when we feel vulnerable, hurt, or alone.

Recently, in a group therapy session I was leading, I asked group members to write down what their eating disorders have given them. On this occasion, every group member listed the word “comfort.” An eating disorder often emerges, and persists, in times when you need comfort the most. It might be something you turn to for soothing and relief when life is painful, or for control when life is chaotic and overwhelming. Your eating disorder might feel like the only thing that can make you feel better when things are at their worst.

If your eating disorder wasn’t comforting in some way, you probably wouldn’t have it in the first place. As safe as your eating disorder might feel sometimes, it is not a harmless teddy bear. It will ultimately create more pain and damage the longer it stays in your life. Not only that, it keeps you from finding and using other sources of comfort. As long as you are tied to your eating disorder, you aren’t free to explore what other things in this world might bring you a sense of comfort and safety. Clinging to your eating disorder makes it harder to care for and nourish the relationships and experiences that can make your life more meaningful.

There are other sources of real, meaningful, healing comfort available to you outside of the eating disorder. There are people who are willing and yearning to support you and help you feel safe. There are experiences full of beauty, purpose, and peace that are waiting for you in recovery. Even if comfort and safety have been scarce in your past, the healing in your future can be so much bigger than what your eating disorder promises you.

It can feel terrifying to think about saying goodbye to your eating disorder, especially if it has been your most reliable source of soothing in the past. I promise you that letting go of your eating disorder will be worth it. Recovery won’t mean you’ll never struggle to find comfort again; what it will mean is that you’ll be able to find comfort from sources that expand and enrich your life, instead of making your life smaller and more painful. It’s ok to need comfort. It’s ok to need some “Theodores” in your life. Recovery will help you find them.

 

 

Lessons from Vienna

Lessons from Vienna

 My all time favorite song is Vienna by Billy Joel. Every time it begins playing, I feel the need to sink into my chair, close my eyes, and soak in all of its goodness and wisdom. Over the years I have learned a few lessons from the lyrics that I would like to share with you. Feel free to pause here and listen to Vienna if it’s been a minute for you, then come back. 

  1. “Slow downnnn, you’re doing fine”. These words can be applied to every single one of us, and in many areas of our lives. Here’s a gentle reminder: Healing takes TIME; Oftentimes, a very frustrating amount of it. But you are going to get there, and there is so much to be learned along the way that you are meant to experience. I know too well how easy it can be to get caught up in anxieties, what-if’s, and should-haves. But what really happens is we miss out on the present by stressing out over the future. Slow down, you are literally doing fine! 
  2. “Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while. It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two”. Consistency is great, but so is flexibility. We truly need a balance of both in life. It’s okay to take time off, switch up your routine, or not be working towards a goal 24/7. When it comes to recovery, it’s impossible to be perfect. In fact, the healthiest thing we can do may be to take a step back from perfectionism. It’s okay to take a day off of school, work, or any other stressor in your life. Trust me, you can afford it. It may actually pay you back. 
  3. “You’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need”. I think our minds like to distract us from the raw and real sides of us. So much so,  we create tasks and situations that distract from truth. In my own journey to healing, my anxiety propelled me into every future possibility. When I hear these words, I think back on what I really needed at that time, which was emotional and physical safety, and basic self-care. Ask yourself, am I using distraction to cope with something? What do I actually need right now? 

This song reminds me that the nature and beauty in life comes from growing, learning and experiencing. Life would have no purpose if we already had it all figured out. The truth is, no one has figured it out yet, and neither should you! If you are feeling stressed or discouraged in your healing journey, take a second to zoom out for a bigger perspective (maybe give Vienna a listen to help you do so). Create some space between yourself and the heavy parts in your life and recognize that you don’t have to carry it all at once. We are all simply doing the best we can on the bumpy path we are on. The nature of life is to figure it out as we go, and we are exactly where we need to be right now. 

 

Changing Old Stories

Changing Old Stories

 The other day, I listened to a podcast and heard the host say, “girls never forget anything.”

​In my experience, I would say that’s true. I remember everything, especially language. A big one is from when I was 12. I was in gym class, and we had to learn all about our data based on our weight and height. My gym teacher taught us what number was too high and what was too low. Based on the numbers, I was considered too “high.” After that, my classmates compared numbers. I have never held a paper so tight, thinking I was less than because of that number. I felt shame around my body—feeling like I was not enough for social acceptance. For years I struggled with labeling: good exercise, lousy exercise, good and bad food.

As I grew older, I felt like my self-compassion grew, but an experience I had with my daughter has impacted me the most. 

I was pregnant with my little girl, Henley. When my daughter, Henley, was born, we discovered some medical issues, including being born without a specific nerve that impacts the right side of her body. To that point in my life, there was always a solution to medical problems. A surgery or therapy of some sort, right? Then the neurologist sat down with us and began to talk. Your daughter is beautiful. She should hit all her typical milestones. However, Henley was born without a nerve in her brain and what this means is she has permanent facial palsy. She won’t be able to blink her right eye and will most likely have a crooked smile as her right side is paralyzed.

He was still talking, but everything went silent. All I could think about was me as a little girl. Feeling so self-conscious about my body that the most important thing in life was my appearance. I felt extreme self-compassion for my child self at that moment. Knowing I have this perfect daughter who may be different from the “normal” beauty standards. I wasn’t worried about her as I knew I could raise her to be a warrior to see the beauty in being different. But at that moment, I knew I needed to work on self-love because the most significant teaching I can do for her is showing up for myself with true self-compassion and acceptance. 

It was time to change the stories that no longer served me. The first lesson was to relearn the love I have for my body and that my body serves me in many ways. My body gives me the option to see all the color this life provides.

The second lesson is differences are what make experiences rich. I had to stop worrying about hitting the next trend. For so long, I thought my biggest priority was fitting a mold that didn’t serve me. I had to come out of my bubble and see the beautiful differences in all of us. 

Third, radical kindness. This one is hard—especially inner kindness. But I learned to sit with my negative stories and let them pass. Learning that my thoughts are not always true. What is true is what serves me, which is having radical kindness towards myself. 

My hope is both my kiddos will learn to see there is so much color in this world. To experience the differences all around them. To learn to have self-compassion and kindness as they grow older will serve them more than fitting the perfect mold. It’s okay to see change is needed, even when it may be more comfortable to stay in the old stories. Having awareness around what is not working is sometimes the first win.

 

Airplane Wings and Us

Airplane Wings and Us

 

“I just don’t let things bother me.” Ever heard someone say this?

Deep breath. I have reactions and thoughts, but first let me share a short story.

I remember one time I was on a particularly turbulent airplane ride. I had the window seat overlooking the wing. I felt frightened as I watched the wings bounce impossibly up and down. I remember worrying if the wings were going to snap off and this would be the end of my story.

The flight had been so scary for me that I called my dad upon landing and told him my experience. When I told him about watching the wings bounce with such intensity I thought they’d break off, he told me, “Anna, you want the wings to bounce. If they were too rigid, they would fall off.” 

This struck me then, and continues to be an important life lesson.

Resiliency is a big concept in the therapeutic world. Indeed, much of what I do with clients is help them build their own resiliency to life’s challenges.

Put simply, resiliency can be thought of as our ability to “bounce back” and adjust to life’s adversities. Intuitively we focus a lot on that “bouncing back” process. But equally important to resiliency is the impact in the first place.

The wind exerted incredible force on the airplane wing and the wing moved in response. The wing let itself be impacted by the events around it. This ability to move in the first place; indeed the ability to be moved in the first place, is key to its resiliency.

It is the same for us. There is no inherent resiliency in “just not letting things bother us.” There is no good life skill in this. In fact, resiliency comes from allowing events to impact us and move us. It is in these impacts that the challenge, insights, and growth happen. We need to be moved in order to grow and change. 

Glennon Doyle has wise words on this topic,

“Being fully human is not about feeling happy, it’s about feeling everything…It’s okay to feel all the stuff you’re feeling… You’re not doing life wrong; you’re doing it right. If there’s any secret you’re missing, it’s that doing it right is just really hard. Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you’re doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes.”

People who have learned to “just not let things bother them” are missing out on valuable life lessons and growth that come from feeling the full range of emotions inherent in the human experience.

Those dark spaces full of struggle and intense feeling, that come from the impact of lived human experience, are sacred. They are where we truly learn who we are and what we are capable of. This is where we learn we can do hard things, which is the definition of resiliency.