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Standing at the Door of Recovery

Standing at the Door of Recovery

I recently signed up for a four-hour song-writing workshop. I would not consider myself to be a musical person. Growing up, I did choir in elementary school and played guitar for a few years in the middle school days. The last time I wrote a song was when I was in middle school. It was called “Cheese to my Macaroni,” not my best work. 

Let’s just say signing up for a song writing workshop was quite out of my wheelhouse. I drove up to where the workshop was being held and just cried. I was so far out of my comfort zone! I was so scared. This was going to push me hard. Writing songs makes me feel very emotionally vulnerable. I was also doing something I wasn’t good at, which led to a deep sense of imposter-syndrome and vulnerability. I took some deep breaths and went inside.

The workshop was great. I was supported, my vulnerabilities and victories validated and welcomed, and I left feeling connected to myself and to those around me. I had done something so hard and scary. Whenever I do something vulnerable with high risks of failing or going against what you know and feel comfortable with, there is risk. However, this was absolutely a growing and meaningful experience for me. I am so grateful to have pushed myself and done something challenging and rewarding.

There is a part of you that yearns for challenge and growth. There is something inside you that is ready to confront your fears, draw upon your strength (with help too), and lean into the vulnerability of growth and change. Eating recovery requires this of you. 

Eating recovery is vulnerable and always pushes you to do something that might go against what you’re used to. Although this can be scary, you are built for it! It is human to crave this push and growth. So, when recovery looks daunting and you feel so uncomfortable you want to retreat, remember, there is growth and beauty on the other side of that door. You just have to take a deep breath and knock. Let’s take a look at the three stages of doing challenging things and walking out the other side enjoying the growth.

Standing on the Doorstep

When you first decide that you’d like to try to heal your relationship with food, you might feel a little like I did before my workshop. You might feel self-doubt, intense fear, worries about what you’re getting yourself into, etc. You might worry about what others will think. This is taking the leap. This is when the part of you that knows you can do more and live a different, more authentic life is trying to scream above the fear. Listen closely to the part of you that is desiring to lean in and be gentle with the part of you that knows this is the point of no-return.

Knocking on the Door

Knocking on the door is where the real work actually begins. This work can have highs and lows. However, being in the room and doing the work sure beats standing on the doorstep. This is where the part of you that desires change and growth will begin to swell. You might have moments that continue to feel scary, but ultimately as you do the work of recovery, you will begin to see the beauty of getting off of the porch.

Walking Out and Reveling in Growth

Walking out after your journey of discomfort will leave you feeling proud, renewed, grateful, and maybe a little tired. You can reflect on your time on the porch, time in the room doing the work, and feel grateful to be on the other side. You will know that change and getting outside of your pre-recovery comfort zone were worth all the risks and setbacks and fear. You will be motivated and armed with new abilities to continue the work. You will have a deeper sense of self.

Whatever stage of recovery you are at, keep with it. Listen deeply to the part of you that was built for change and growth and recovery. Sense your desire and abilities to conquer more than you realize. It won’t be easy, but walking out the door will be worth it.

 

My Body is Perfect

My Body is Perfect

What is the purpose of your body? Do you have a body simply to dress up and look good? Do you have a body to run that extra mile and burn extra calories? Do you have a body so you can be tan and adorn your wrists with jewelry?

I’ve recently been reading More Than A Body by the Kite Sisters and WOW, is it good! Perhaps the greatest theme I’ve gotten from the book is that you and I are so much more than just a body, yet we simplify ourselves and other people down into how a body looks when there is so much more to each of us. We are complex humans, with unique thoughts, ideas, experiences, and training, yet we seem to just forget about all of that and focus on how each other’s body looks. The first thing we often say to each other is “I love your hair today!” or “cute shirt” or “wow, you’re so tan!” which all implies that yes – the first thing we see about that person is how they looked that day. However, we are so much more than how we look. The tagline of the book, “your body is an instrument, not an ornament” has really got me thinking about the function of our bodies.

I feel like I’m using my body for its function–as an instrument–when I’m at yoga trying to do a standing inversion (note the strong word, TRYING). Or, when I’m holding my crying baby and rocking her to sleep, whispering “shhh” and stroking her hair. Or, when I’m hiking and laughing with my friends, using my legs to climb mountains, my eyes to know where to step, and my lungs and heart to keep me alive.

I feel as though I’m using my body as an instrument when I’m eating delicious food, savoring the taste and texture of every mouthful, and imagining how it will help my body thrive. I feel as though I’m using my body as an instrument when I meet with my wonderful clients, hold their struggles, and offer empathy and guidance.

When it comes to bodies, we’ve really missed the mark. If the first thing you notice about your own body and other people’s bodies is how they look, we are treating bodies as ornaments. Start to notice your own body as an instrument. Recognize everything your body is doing for you. 

Recently, my clients and I have been focusing on the ways in which our bodies are perfect. So many of us have forgotten how perfect our bodies are as we’ve internalized society’s message about how the main focus of our bodies should be on how they look. Now hear me out – there are many ways our bodies are perfect if we focus on their function.

What is the purpose of ears? … To hear.

What is the purpose of eyes? … To see.

What is the purpose of legs? … To get us around!

What is the purpose of hands? … To grip, hold, and perform complex fine and gross motor skills.

What is the purpose of stomachs? … To aid in digestion of food.

Yet do you sometimes simplify each of these body parts into how they look? How objectifying! From your toenails to the tiny hairs on your arms to your taste buds, your body is designed with function in mind. Society has taught us that function doesn’t matter near as much as appearance. 

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a client (…or really any woman for that matter) say “I love my legs – they are perfect” or “my stomach is really quite perfect” because they’re focusing on how the body looks through the lens of diet culture and self-objectification rather than focusing on the function of that body part.

If your eyes can see, I’d say they’re perfect eyes. If your hands can grab things, I’d say they’re perfect hands. If your body can do all the things you want it to do, I’d say it’s a perfect body. And if one part of your body doesn’t quite work the way you’d hope, let’s extend some compassion to that part of yourself and recognize how hard it’s trying to work, and the things it does do for you (even imperfectly) and move your focus to the parts that are working as you would hope. You’ll be surprised at how perfect your body is when you simply move your focus onto your body’s capacity as an instrument and not as an ornament.

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

“Call a truce, stop the food fight!  Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable craving and often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.” –Intuitive Eating

Unconditional permission to eat- does that sound like a recipe for disaster to you?  

Interestingly, the research shows that what leads to binge eating behaviors is restriction. What combats binge eating? Food access! When you give yourself permission to eat without conditions, your body trusts that food is available and stops sending you famine level food cravings. Those food cravings? They come from your biology being wired to keep you alive- if your body decides it is experiencing famine due to your restrictive behaviors, your brain will hyper focus on food acquisition.  

In fact, when clients I work with understand the connection between ignoring their hunger, restriction, and binge eating- it’s a powerful “aha!” moment. That binge eating often leads to guilt, frustration, and further commitment to restrict- setting the cycle up once more. It’s like being on a crazy roundabout! When you have had enough and are ready to find the exit- it will become visible by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.  

When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it may seem like the guard rails are off and you may go out of control. But remember- you were out of control on the crazy making roundabout of restriction, cravings, and binge eating. Trying a new approach and striving to make peace with food may feel scary, but that’s exactly what is needed in this situation- a new approach leading to peace!

To give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it’s going to be important to throw out the window the food rules you may be accustomed to holding yourself to. You can eat after any hour- and before any hour! You can eat what you really want. You can eat without keeping score and making plans to “work it off” or “earn” food.  

In Intuitive Eating, a 5 step process is outlined for how to make peace with food:

  1. “Pay attention to the foods that are appealing to you and make a list of them. 
  2. Put a check mark by the foods you actually do eat, then circle remaining foods that you’ve been restricting.  
  3. Give yourself permission to eat one forbidden food from your list, then go to the market and buy this food, or order it at a restaurant.
  4. Check in with yourself to see if the food tastes as good as you imagined.  If you find that you really like it, continue to give yourself permission to buy or order it. 
  5. Make sure that you keep enough of the food in your kitchen so that you know that it will be there if you want it.  Or if that seems too scary, go to a restaurant and order the particular food as often as you like.”

As you continue your journey to make peace with food, you will strengthen your personal insight and judgement related to food.  You will experience less out of control cravings and guilt ridden moments of binge eating.  You will come to know that food is meant to be enjoyed- not obsessed over! 

The Power of Curiosity

The Power of Curiosity

My four-year-old son is one of the most inquisitive human beings I have ever met. As his mom, I often find myself exhausted by his never-ending stream of questions. I keep a running list of some of his most intriguing (and hilarious) questions because I’m constantly astounded by the wonderings inside his little mind. Here is a sampling of questions he has asked me:

“Can moths burp?”

“How do pandas get their hair cut?”

“Where did that guy get his mustache from?”

“How do penguins scratch themselves if they don’t have fingers?”

“Why don’t people talk more about cat birthday parties?”

Sometimes his questions leave me unsure of how to answer, but nonetheless, I appreciate his way of thinking about the world. As you can imagine, his questions often lead us to some very interesting discussions and discoveries. I don’t see him running out of questions any time soon.

Criticism vs. Curiosity

The process of recovering from eating and body image concerns can raise many questions as well, on topics that likely feel more overwhelming than the subject of panda grooming or moth digestive systems. Often, these questions can come from a place of frustration or discouragement. What follows is a sampling of questions that may come up during recovery. As an experiment, I’d like you to compare how it feels to ask these questions with criticism, and then to ask the same questions with curiosity:

Why do I binge any time I’m home alone?

Why is it so hard for me to commit to my meal plan?

Why do all my therapy sessions feel so frustrating lately?

Why do I feel triggered so often?

Why is it so hard for me to talk about how I’m feeling?

Why do I hate my body so much?

Sometimes, asking these questions with criticism and frustration absolutely makes sense. Eating recovery is challenging, and self-criticism can easily show up in the process of trying to break patterns of disordered eating. However, asking these questions with criticism can lead to the awful feeling of being stuck, trapped, inadequate, and overwhelmed. On the other hand, asking these same questions with curiosity–genuine openness and interest–leaves room for change and discovery.

Questions With Curiosity, and Without Judgment

Think about bringing the same energy to these questions as my 4-year-old brings when he looks at a moth and wonders whether or not it can burp. Practice asking yourself questions with curiosity, and without criticism. Let the questions fly, as if you were looking at yourself and your experience for the first time, without judgment.

For example, instead of “Why can’t I just stop bingeing? Why do I always do this? What is wrong with me?”, try this:

Why is it that I binge when I’m home alone?

How did I learn that bingeing was something I could turn to?

Have there ever been times when I haven’t binged while home alone? What was different?

What would I wish for someone else feeling the same way I do when I binge?

When did I first notice the urge to binge today?

Keeping curiosity at the forefront in recovery can help you be more present and aware of your experience, rather than being swept up in patterns without awareness. Curiosity can help you feel more flexibility in the way you think about yourself and your recovery, rather than seeing patterns and beliefs as rigid and unchanging. In short, criticism can lead to discouragement, while curiosity can lead to hope. The next time you find yourself questioning yourself out of frustration, allow yourself to shift into curiosity mode, and notice what feels different.

Also, if anyone finds out if moths can burp or not, please let me know. Thanks in advance.

The Week of Chocolate Cake

The Week of Chocolate Cake

One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I was planning and preparing a scrumptious meal for some friends who would be coming over to share a Sunday dinner with us. I put a lot of thought, time, and effort into making my meal absolutely delicious! I cooked my specialty signature dish for the main course (okay maybe signature and specialty are a bit too exuberant…I just cook it a lot) – chicken and sour cream enchiladas with black beans and sweet potatoes. 

To top the meal off with a delectable dessert, I was planning on making a yellow cake and mixed berry trifle, complete with whipped cream. To up my dessert game a little, I decided to make the cake a chocolate cake instead, because what in this world is better than the combo of chocolate and strawberries? Few things.

That night – and that chocolate cake – began what I’ve affectionately named The Week of the Chocolate Cake, which affectionately turned into the Two Weeks of the Chocolate Cake. Let me tell you more…

After enjoying that luscious trifle, we had leftover chocolate cake just sitting there, not being eaten. So, naturally, we had the same dessert on Monday night and on Tuesday night, which is when we finished it off and it was no longer sitting on the countertop watching us and begging to be eaten. I enjoyed every mouthful. 

The next day at a work meeting, out comes a chocolate cake. It looked delicious! I had a slice. I savored every bite. The next day, I took my little one to a birthday party in a park. Out comes a chocolate birthday cake. I had a slice. It was OK. 

Two days later, we had some more friends over for dinner. They agreed to bring dessert. You can guess what they had in tow for dessert? Yep. Chocolate cake. I had a slice. My body was starting to like chocolate cake less and less the more I ate it. They left the cake with us, so yes, we ate some for dessert for a few days. 

By this point…I never wanted to see a chocolate cake again in my life. If this wasn’t enough chocolate cake for one story, a few days later was my birthday, and what shows up on my table while everyone’s singing to me? Yep. Chocolate cake. *heart sinks, eats out of politeness*. How am I going to eat more chocolate cake? That equaled a few more days of chocolate cake. Finally, I went to an end of the school year party, and you can 100% guess what was sitting on the table…Do I even need to say it?

Chocolate cake.

So that’s how one trifle turned into the Week of the Chocolate Cake which turned into the Two Weeks of the Chocolate Cake.

I don’t share this story to brag about how much chocolate cake I have recently eaten. Instead, I share this story to highlight a few lessons I learned about intuitive eating. But before I do I want to make a disclaimer that I am not a certified dietitian, so I feel a little bit uncomfortable making claims about food and intuitive eating that might not be 100% correct. But I’m going to lean into the discomfort and share it as this was my experience.

1. No matter how scared you are that you won’t be able to stop eating something delicious, you typically will be able to stop if you do not restrict that food. 

For the first few chocolate cakes, I was so excited to eat them and savored every bite. I hadn’t restricted chocolate cake beforehand, it just wasn’t something I had on hand every day before the Week of the Chocolate Cake. After the first week, they stopped being delicious and I inwardly groaned when the chocolate cake was pulled out. 

I mostly did not want to eat chocolate cake after that, because I had eaten some every day for a week already – it had lost its appeal. So many clients tell me they’re worried to eat chocolate cake, donuts, breakfast burritos, chick-fil-a, or a variety of other foods because they’re terrified they’ll never stop. 

When they tell me this, I usually make a well-timed joke about how I expect they’ll still be eating the donut or the burrito in our next session if they literally can’t stop – they’ll be forced to bring it with them to our next session! No client that I’ve challenged to try one of these fear foods has ever had to bring the food to our next session, because they’ve always been able to stop. I can testify to this fact – not only did I stop eating the chocolate cake once it was a regular part of my life, but I also didn’t even want to eat the chocolate cake anymore!

2. Your body craves foods you restrict. 

The more you try not to eat certain foods, the more you will want that food. The opposite is also true – the more you eat of a certain food, the less you’ll think about it as the day goes on. Ask me if I crave chocolate cake, I dare you. The answer is no.

3. Your body wants a variety of foods. 

Even though the Week of the Chocolate Cake was a fun time period where I had a slice of cake every day for…well, about two weeks…I also wanted other foods that added other necessary nutrients to my diet. Chocolate cake offers some nutrients for my body, and other foods offer other nutrients for my body. As I ate chocolate cake every day, I also found myself craving apples, meat, yogurt, and broccoli – all kinds of foods that will give me all kinds of nutrients in addition to the chocolate cake.

4. Your body knows what to do with the food you eat. 

I don’t own a scale or have any interest in weighing myself…But my clothes still fit me just fine after the Week of the Chocolate Cake. I trust that my body knows how to handle the cake and put it to good use. Change happens gradually. And if my close did feel tight, well, I don’t think that would signify a problem. 

When my clients tell me that they can’t eat chocolate or they can’t eat french toast (insert any fear food here) because they’re afraid they’ll never be able to stop, I usually have them eat that food once a day for a few days to show that they’ll usually be able to stop when they quit restricting that food. Further, this exercise shows that sometimes your body even stops wanting the food once it has had it. 

Now, I wasn’t restricting chocolate cake prior to the Week of the Chocolate Cake, but now that I have stumbled upon performing the same challenge that I have my clients do, I can solemnly swear that I do not want chocolate cake for at least a few months. I am glad I took part in every celebration that the cake was a part of, as food is such a huge part of our celebratory rituals as humans, and I’ve learned valuable intuitive eating principles that I can take with me into my life and work. 

Now- please don’t pass me any more cake!

 

 

Sick Enough

Sick Enough

I could retire from my career if I had a dollar for every time a client said some rendition of, “I’m not sick enough to recover.” Variations on this include, 

  • “I’m weight stable so I’m fine.” 
  • “My labs came back normal, so I’m not that sick.” 
  • “My EKG has a slight prolonged Qt interval, but my doctor doesn’t seem that worried about it so I’m fine.” 
  • “I’m the largest person in this room so I don’t deserve to be here.” 
  • “I feel fine, so I am fine.” 
  • “I have never gone inpatient. I’m not that sick.” 
  • “There are others far sicker than me. They deserve to recover, but I don’t. I’ve just failed at my eating disorder.”

(more…)

Starting Where You Are

Starting Where You Are

 

So much of eating disorder recovery is about replacing behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, etc. that are destructive with those that are more realistic, helpful, and truth-centered. This is a difficult and arduous process as you learn new ways of thinking and unlearn problematic patterns. This “replacement” process is vital in maintaining change and protecting recovery. You must learn new ways of thinking and being for you to fully embrace recovery.

I had a session with a client that left me wanting to challenge the “replacement” process when it comes to painful thoughts and emotions. I was reminded of dialectical thinking (as a reminder, this is the process of holding two seemingly contrasting thoughts, feelings, etc. at the same time). Like many, my client has deeply held grief and pain in connection to her body. These emotional ties have felt nearly impossible to replace or abandon at times, leading her to often feel uncomfortable in her own skin.

Your emotions about your body tells you valuable information. They tell you about how you’ve been treated in the past, the way you seek acceptance, the way you’ve been hurt and survived, etc. Abandoning these feelings can feel inauthentic at best and unsafe and self-betraying at worst. 

The hope is that through eating recovery you can create new relationships with your body, however, if this seems difficult and unmanageable, it is okay to choose addition first. What this process looks like is being able to fully honor and validate your experiences of pain, hurt, and exhaustion that you hold within and toward your body while also challenging the truth of these experiences and adding new beliefs and emotions. 

For example, you can feel complicated and yes, even critical emotions about your body while adding, or making room for, gratitude, compassion, and understanding. You do not have to have an uncomplicated relationship with your body to add healing thoughts, desires, beliefs, and feelings to the mix.

Having an uncomplicated relationship with food and body in recovery is not a realistic expectation. Instead of waiting for this to happen before you feel ready to replace those thoughts with recovery-minded, gentle attitudes, try adding more healing thoughts and holding both. 

Here are some examples: 

  1. I am struggling to find myself attractive and acceptable in my body AND I believe my body is doing her best to help me.
  2. I can’t seem to view my body’s resistance to weight loss as helpful AND I want to believe that my body is worth more than her size.
  3. I don’t know how much I believe that my new food behaviors are the right thing AND I am leaning into the idea that my body deserves nourishment.

If replacing old, damaging eating disorder thoughts is a little too much for you right now in your eating recovery, try adding. Add helpful thoughts about body, food, emotions, value, and self. See how this feels as you lean into recovery while still honoring your reality. This is not to let you off the hook or accept the eating disorder thoughts as truth, rather to suggest that starting where you are and building from there is better than waiting until you’ve “arrived” to get started.

The Generosity of Bodies

The Generosity of Bodies

Last summer, I spent the first week of July with a bandage on my thumb. I accidentally sliced my left thumb twice in one week–once while cutting a watermelon, and once while slicing a bagel. (As you may have gathered, this blog is probably not the place to look for tips on knife safety.) Even though the cuts on my thumb have long since healed, some key lessons from that week have stuck with me.

After both incidents with my thumb, I felt slightly frustrated with myself for not being more careful with knives. I felt annoyed that I would now have to deal with the discomfort of an injured thumb, and the inconvenience of having to bandage my cuts. As I grumbled to myself and cleaned up my thumb injury for the second time that week, I was unexpectedly struck with a moment of body gratitude. 

I realized that my body did not resent me for hurting it, even though I had made the same painful mistake twice in a row. My thumb didn’t say, “Well, I tried healing once and you messed up again. You’re on your own this time–you won’t get help from me.” Instead, my body did exactly what it was supposed to do to begin healing. My blood clotted to stop the bleeding, a mild sting reminded me to put on a bandage to protect the broken skin, and my cells immediately began rebuilding to close the wound. Quietly, automatically, my body did its work.

This simple moment left me with a profound insight: our bodies do not withhold healing from us. They are not spiteful, resentful, or vengeful. Our bodies do not hate us or punish us for mistakes or injuries, intentionally or unintentionally inflicted. Our bodies simply do the best they can to heal, to serve us, and to allow us to be here. Bodies are all different in their abilities, histories, shapes, weaknesses, and strengths. All bodies are good bodies. Our bodies are good to us in the best ways they know how to be. Bodies of all types and abilities work at the fullest of their individual capacities from moment to moment.

Now, while our bodies are unquestioningly generous to us in doing the best they can, this is not to say that they are not affected by the way they are treated. Our bodies are perpetually responsive to the things they experience. For example, when our bodies are deprived of nourishment (for any reason), they respond by trying to protect us–either by overconsuming when nourishment becomes available (AKA bingeing), or by slowing or shutting down functions in order to preserve energy. 

When our bodies make changes that feel uncomfortable to us, it is not because they hate us or are out of control. Rather, our bodies are doing what is needed to protect and preserve their functions. We can’t deprive or otherwise harm our bodies without our bodies noticing what’s going on, and responding accordingly! Similarly, when we are kind and attentive to our bodies’ needs, they function at greater capacity.

Your relationship with your body may be difficult for many reasons. Or, perhaps your relationship with your body is in a good place. Maybe it’s some of both. Wherever you are in your relationship with your body, I have an invitation for you: take some time to acknowledge the ways your body is good to you. You may find it helpful to write down a list of your thoughts. My hope for you is that the practice of noticing the generosity of your body will provide you with healing and growth, even in moments when your experience in your body is difficult or painful.