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Living Beyond Body Image

Living Beyond Body Image

One of my favorite ways to spend my free time is boating with friends and family. For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to the carefree days on the lake with nothing to worry about aside from how long I can surf the wake and the downloaded playlist that will be on repeat all weekend long. As I grew older I became aware of my body and the unrealistic expectations that society was trying to force upon me. Instead of solely feeling excited, I had other feelings cropping up. Although the excitement didn’t disappear, it was accompanied by feelings of vulnerability and nervousness. Instead of living candidly like my inner child wished I could, I felt limited and distracted by the way that I was taking up space and the way that I looked in a swimsuit. One of my favorite quotes by Lindsay Kite reads, “Having positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it is believing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.” (Lindsay Kite, 2020). Knowing that your worth isn’t defined by the way your body looks, opens doors from the unrealistic box society tries to force us into.

Have you ever felt unworthy of an experience based on the way you perceived your body? As I think of all of the memories I would have missed out on if I were to give in and avoid certain experiences based on these uncomfortable or unknown feelings, I would have missed out on so many of my all time favorite days and events. When I think of all  of these core memories, I think of the word free. And having the freedom of not limiting myself based on the unrealistic expectations society tries to enforce upon me, requires vulnerability. As you think of your personal experience and your experience surrounding your healing journey, I want you to consider journaling about each of the following questions:

What does it mean to be vulnerable in my healing journey? 

What does freedom surrounding body image look like to me? 

Am I allowing my perspective of my body to limit my experiences?

Am I allowing myself to feel all emotions that are being brought on by my healing process or am I suppressing specific emotions in effort to avoid feeling uncomfortable? 

When we look back on our favorite memories, we are often thinking about the way that we felt, not the way we looked. Making an effort to work through uncomfortable emotions provides a pathway towards a life full of freedom and experiences that we may otherwise miss out on. 

Motivation is Not Enough for Recovery

Motivation is Not Enough for Recovery

Motivation can be a slippery little sucker.  Anyone who has had a hard task in front of them can tell you from experience- motivation is not a constant companion on the way to the achievement.  Motivation isn’t always going to be there for you, pushing you towards your goals.  To be successful, motivation must be joined by perseverance.  

Change equation 

A common way to look at motivation towards change is this equation:
When the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of changing, change will occur.  Most of us will work to avoid pain, even if that means having to make changes we’d rather not make under other circumstances. When we look at that through an eating recovery lens, you may recognize that point in your own life- the moment of desperate realization that you don’t want to stay in the pain of your disorder.  A moment of wanting help, even if it would require you to try new things. The trouble is, the momentum from the motivation gained in that moment of pain doesn’t always last through to full eating recovery.  As motivation ebbs and flows, perseverance comes on the scene to ensure goals are met and recovery is achieved.  

If we were to create an equation for that, it would look like this: motivation PLUS perseverance equals recovery.  

The role of perseverance

Perseverance can be defined as persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.  While we expect recovery to be linear, it’s just not. On the diverging path of recovery, perseverance is what is often keeping you moving forward.  

Motivation is a mover and a shaker, but perseverance is the slow and steady tortoise that’s going to get you across the finish line of your recovery race.  

Don’t give up when motivation wanes

Remember, when you feel a lack of motivation to continue in your eating recovery work, it’s not because you are failing or doing something wrong.  Motivation on its own was never going to get you all the way to recovery.  You aren’t feeling a lack of motivation because you don’t have the ability to recover from your eating disorder.  No one feels motivated all the time!  Motivation just has to be met with perseverance. 

What does that look like in practice?
-Don’t get overly discouraged on the days you want to give into disordered thoughts and behaviors.  You might observe the way you are feeling, while reminding yourself that this is a normal part of recovery and that you will be practicing a “perseverance day” today.

-Develop some personal mantras towards perseverance.  “I’m someone worth the work of the mundane recovery days”; “consistency IS recovery” and “I’m a woman who has her crap together” are all perseverance driven mantras.  Remind yourself of the work you are doing to develop this important “adulting” skill of perseverance!

-Act as though you are already someone skilled at persevering through tough days.  When you are feeling the urge to act on disordered eating thoughts, remind yourself, “I’m someone who I can count on to do what is needed in recovery, even when it’s tough” and keep doing what you know is right- following through on your meal plan, reaching out to your support system, attending your treatment appointments.  

 Remember the equation: Motivation + perseverance = recovery 

Don’t give up on yourself when things get discouraging.  So many times, the act of giving up keeps us from discovering the very important truth about ourselves that we are absolutely capable of doing incredibly difficult things!  

A Letter to Myself in Recovery

A Letter to Myself in Recovery

One of the many reasons I cherish the opportunity to work with clients in recovery from eating concerns is that I have been on my own recovery journey. While my eating disorder does not play an active role in my life anymore, I still find it valuable to look back at my recovery process and reflect on the struggles, challenges, and changes of recovery. In today’s blog, I want to share a letter with you–one that I wish I could have read when I was in the trenches of my recovery battle. Even though everyone’s recovery journey is unique, I hope you’ll be able to find something that helps you, wherever you are on your recovery path.

Dear Recovering Me,

It’s me (you), from the future. I wish so badly that I could invite you here for a visit, so you could see everything that is waiting for you. As I think about you and the struggle you’re going through, trying so hard to recover, I have so many things I want you to know. Here are just a few:

1. Recovery won’t always feel as hard as it does right now. I know it feels like the daily battle will never get easier, and will never change, but I can promise you that it will feel better someday. I won’t lie to you and say that things will get easy quickly; I can promise you that someday, it will feel easier to unhook yourself from those eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Not all of the challenges of your eating disorder will disappear in the future, but you will be stronger and more capable of handling them. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, sticking with recovery is helping you grow.

2. Recovery really will be worth it! I know everyone is saying that to you, and I get that it can feel frustrating to be told “it will be worth it” when it feels like recovery is an impossible battle to fight. You can trust me–I am living in your future, and it is better than you can imagine.

Picture this: making and eating delicious homemade pizza with your new husband every night for almost two weeks (the two of you will call it “The Twelve Days of Pizza”), and truly enjoying every bit of the experience without guilt, worry, or eating disorder behaviors. Another one for you: looking down at your round, saggy, stretch-marked belly after giving birth to a baby, and crying tears of sincere gratitude, awe, and love for your amazing body. There are so many gifts of recovery, big and small. It will be worth it!

3. In the future, there will be times when you don’t like how your body looks… but that won’t matter to you the way it does now. I know you probably wish I were saying something like, “You are going to LOVE the way your body looks in recovery. You’ll for sure be happy with how it looks all the time.” Sorry, that’s not the truth that’s waiting for you. The real truth is that you’ll still have bad body image days sometimes, and your recovered body is not the “goal body” you’re working toward right now. What makes the difference is that you’re at peace with that. You’re ok with not loving your body’s appearance all the time, because you see your body as more than what it looks like. You’ll have so many other things that you want to give your time and attention to, besides having food and your body take up every bit of your focus. When negative body image moments come up, you’ll feel able to move on from them without turning to your eating disorder.

There are so many other things I wish I could tell you from where I am on the other side of recovery. Keep holding on, and keep trying!

With love,

Me

Thanks for reading along. If you feel inclined to, writing a letter of your own could be a helpful and insightful experience. Writing a letter to a past version of yourself, maybe the version that was just beginning to develop an eating disorder, or the version that is in a tough period of recovery, can be a powerful way to acknowledge the growth and perspective you’re gaining. It can also be a way to remind yourself that where you are now is not where you’ll be forever. And if writing a letter of your own doesn’t feel helpful right now, feel free to borrow whatever pieces of mine you want to take with you. I am rooting for you!

 

At War with Yourself

At War with Yourself

Do your mind and body feel unified? Or are you constantly at war with yourself? 

A few years back I attended a yoga class that shifted my understanding of my relationship with my body, and I’d like to share that shift with you. 

​I was very new to yoga and thought it would be a fun hobby to get into. I found a spot in the back left corner of the studio and glanced around the room observing others as they prepared for class. A few moments later, our instructor had us sit at the front of our mats and tune into our breathing. She helped the class set the intention to connect with and be grateful for our bodies that were enabling us to practice yoga that day. 

As we began moving through different poses, I found myself becoming deeply emotional. I couldn’t understand where it was coming from. I felt my throat choke up as I tried to swallow the feelings down and blink away the burning in my eyes. This continued for the entirety of the class as waves of emotions passed over me, but I only partially succeeded in pushing them away. 

The class ended with a meditation lying on our backs. As I laid there, I had a realization that completely changed my life. I realized that I had been at war within myself for as long as I could remember. The subconscious war of my mind and my body. 

My body welled with emotion again as I recognized the pain I had put myself through for so long. The constant disappointment I had placed on my body as it failed to meet the expectations of my mind. This disconnection screamed at me as if my body was finally able to communicate how wrong I had been! I had been fueling an intense and gruesome war within myself and it needed to end.

I have thought so much about this experience and how to mend my relationship between my body and mind. We live in a world that distracts us from inner connection. If we aren’t careful, we allow feelings of hatred, unworthiness, and disappointment to become the foundation of our relationship with our bodies. As I have sought answers, I’ve recognized how common this separation is within all of us, big or small. 

Dr. Melissa Smith often talks about “Laying down your weapons of war”. To me, this means recognizing that we shame our bodies for not meeting our mind’s expectations, and shame our minds for not meeting our bodies expectations. 

We desperately need to view the shame, the should’s, and the disappointment within us as cruel weapons against ourselves, and LAY THEM DOWN. 

When we acknowledge the war we have created between our minds and bodies, we can begin to grasp just how vital connection really is. We are not meant to live with a constant war inside of us. Our minds and bodies were created to work together, to be unified. As we do this, we enable that connection to spread like wildfire in our life. This means greater inner peace, sense of self, meaningful relationships, and an overall increase in quality of life.

 

Another Point of View

Another Point of View

I live in a privileged body. And while I am an advocate for Health at Every Size  (HAES) and body diversity, I know I don’t speak from embodied experience about what it’s like to live in a large body. There are many body-diverse activists out there, sharing their perspective and experiences. I wanted to add to these voices so I invited my friend, who lives in a large body, to share with us.  

Here is our conversation:

Q: Let’s start with the word “fat.” How do you feel about the word fat?

A: It depends on how you say it. It can be used as a description or an insult. I know I’m fat. That doesn’t make me less worthy. As long as it’s descriptive and not derogatory, it’s fine.

Not every fat body is unhealthy. Fat doesn’t equal unhealthy. Thin people can be unhealthy. Fat people can also be unhealthy but it’s not causal.  Being fat also doesn’t mean lazy. I worked out when I was thin and I work out now. “You’re fat and you work out every day? How much do you eat?” People assume I must binge eat my feelings. I eat normally but my body processes food differently now.

Q: You used to be thin. What are the differences you experience from being in a smaller body to now?

A: Thin privilege sucks. When I was thin I got more respect from people. Doctors treat me differently in a fat body.

Q: Can you give examples of how doctors treat you differently in a fat body?

A: One time, I hurt my knee playing handball. I stretched a ligament. A doctor told me I needed to lose weight. Whether I was thin or fat, I still would have hurt my knee. Another time I broke a finger and a doctor told me I was fat and needed to lose weight. I broke my finger and he somehow felt it was relevant to comment on my weight.

Q: How do you feel about your body?

A: I love my body. I stopped caring what others think of me. People hate when you love yourself in a fat body. It’s unacceptable. It’s radical to love myself fat.

Q: How did you stop caring about what others think?

A: I stopped caring because I want to live and enjoy my life. I no longer count calories. I like cooking. I like baking. I like to exercise. I like living. What people think of me only took away from my ability to do that.

Q: Are there still sometimes that it’s hard not to care about the opinions of others?

A: It’s hardest not to care about how my own family reacts to my fat body. It hurts when my family encourages me to lose weight. My mother is thin and struggles with her own body changes. She checks in with me about my eating and exercise habits, instead of checking in with me about how I am doing overall. I know she cares about me but when she does this, it seems like she cares most about my weight and “health.” 

Q: How is dating for you?

A: As a heterosexual, fat woman, men don’t understand why I can love myself. People don’t think people in fat bodies can be loved or be in good relationships. This is absolutely not true. When you are fat, people think you should settle for anyone you can get. “How can you say ‘no’ to propositions?” If you say “no” to someone who approaches or propositions you, they’ll say “your loss” and possibly make a derogatory comment about my size. They believe I don’t have many options so I have to say “yes” but in truth, I have a lot of options. I have dated a lot and have many opportunities. And if someone is attracted to me, thin people wonder, “Why would he want to be with a fat girl?” News flash: There are people who genuinely don’t care about my body size! But it’s hard for people to believe that.

Q: What would you like to say to people?

A: Love yourself. Don’t spend your life wishing you were a different number on a scale. Just live your life. Don’t let the judgements of others hold you back. Ever. Live your life. Enjoy it. Do what brings you joy. Eat the ice cream. Eat the greasiest pizza you want. You can also choose to eat salad. Don’t be afraid to take up space. Be loud. Be proud.

 

Demystifying Eating Concerns Q & A

Demystifying Eating Concerns Q & A

Being diagnosed with an eating disorder can come with a whole new vocabulary. Today, I want to walk you through one of the most frightening sounding words you may hear as you talk with a clinician about your mental health: a “comorbidity”.  

Q: What is a comorbidity? 

A: A comorbidity is a terrifying-sounding word that means a disorder is present at the same time as another disorder. You can have an eating disorder and anxiety, for example, and those would be considered “comorbidities”.  

Q: What are common comorbidities with an eating disorder? 

A: Common comorbidities with eating disorders are OCD (35% prevalence), anxiety (36%), and depression (50-70%).  This means that 35% of people with an eating disorder also have OCD, 36% will have an eating disorder and also anxiety, and somewhere between 50-70% will present with an eating disorder and also have depression.  

Q: How is understanding this helpful? 

A: When working to address an eating disorder, it becomes helpful to understand the entire landscape of your highly individual mental health needs.  

People who are working on eating recovery may have different needs with a comorbidity of depression, for example. Addressing the depression through therapy and perhaps medication would become indicated as someone works to regain health in eating recovery. In treatment, the focus over time becomes not just recovery from an eating disorder, but also providing you access to the tools that are helpful for you to improve the overall quality of your life.  

It’s also helpful to understand how different comorbidities may be impacting your eating recovery. If you were having a depressive episode- experiencing a hard time with motivation and losing interest in participating in life, for example- can you imagine how that might be impacting your ability to succeed in eating recovery? Taking a broad look at your mental health can help direct individualized treatment goals target what is most needed to ensure success.  

Q: Which is treated first? Or can they be treated at the same time?  

A: The first goal in treatment is always to ensure medical stability. Once that is ensured, treatment goals can be discussed and planned with your clinician to make certain that the targeted treatment interventions are meeting your unique needs!  

 

Sources: 

https://psychiatry-psychopharmacology.com/en/comorbidities-in-eating-disorders-132875

 

Bringing Back the Joy in Clothes

Bringing Back the Joy in Clothes

Have you ever ripped through your closet, trying on ten different outfits, nitpicking how you looked, feeling like nothing looked good? Then feeling overwhelmed by all the clothes you have thrown on the ground?

​I have spent way too much time worrying about my wardrobe, judging my body and how it fits into my clothes. 

Last year I had this moment where I no longer wanted to dread my closet. I wanted to feel supported and good about the clothes I put on my body. I cleaned my closet. Anything that made me feel uncomfortable that I had not worn in years was gone and donated. 

Through working on compassion for my body and the changes it has made in my life, I knew I wanted to support myself through the expression of my clothes. 

Shopping gave me anxiety for so long as I thought my body was meant to fit in the clothes, not the other way around. I have become very intentional when shopping to add joy back into the process. I am shopping for clothes to fit my body, and if they don’t fit, that no longer means anything about me, just that the clothes don’t work.

Here are a few things I ask when buying clothes

  1. Do I feel comfortable in these clothes?
  2. Does it fit my body right now?
  3. Does this style support the way I want to show up?

Clothes should be fun, clothes should support you in the way you want to show up, but they should not define anything about you. Take a look at your closet and assess if you should change it up to fit the body you are in right now because where you are right now is right where you should be. You are worthy and beautiful at this exact moment.

 

Protect Your Recovery

Protect Your Recovery

A phrase I often repeat with my clients is “Protect your recovery.” Picture it like this: when you go to a museum to see artistic masterpieces, you see all kinds of protection set up to keep the artwork safe and in lasting good condition. UV-filtering windows, temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms, velvet ropes to help people keep their distance from the art, and anti-theft systems are all in place to preserve the artwork. Likewise, your recovery is a precious and hard-earned treasure that deserves protection.

​One of the most important parts of protecting your recovery is having a schedule that safeguards you against slipping into unhelpful patterns. Doing your best to create a daily schedule that protects your recovery is essential to making your recovery last. Here are a couple of practical ways you can do this:

1. Prioritize meal times and snack times like you would prioritize a job interview.

If you had an interview for a job you really wanted or needed, how would you schedule your day? Would that interview be high or low on your priority list? High, of course. You’d probably make sure nothing got in the way of you being on time, prepared, and present for that interview. In eating disorder recovery, you must prioritize meals and snacks like you would a job interview. Your #1 job, especially in the beginning stages of recovery, is to nourish your body consistently. If other parts of life start to take precedence over meal and snack times, making progress in recovery will be much harder. 

If activities or commitments are getting in the way of your meals or snacks, work with your support system to find ways to stay consistent, either by eating meals during those activities, or shifting your schedule so nothing gets in the way. Set reminder alarms in your phone, cancel plans that would cause you to skip a meal, bring food with you everywhere, ask your professors for permission to step out and eat a snack during class, etc. That might sound intense, I know, but your recovery is worth protecting. And rest assured, as you make progress in recovery, more flexibility can come as you learn to respect and respond to your body’s needs consistently.

2. Get serious about your sleep habits.

Sleep might not seem like a recovery tool at first glance, but healthy sleep habits are an important part of protecting your eating recovery. Getting enough rest can help you manage emotions, and use healthy coping skills instead of turning to your eating disorder. Not getting enough sleep sets you up to be more susceptible to anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as eating disorder urges.

One of the most important parts of healthy sleep is setting a consistent wake time and bedtime, even on the weekends (see https://sleepeducation.org/healthy-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits/ for more info). Having a consistent sleep schedule helps your body get better quality sleep, and also makes scheduling meals and snacks easier. Getting good sleep can be tough for a number of reasons, especially if you are battling health issues in recovery, dealing with anxiety or depression, have a variable work schedule, are in school, or have young kids (and the list goes on). Sleep might not ever be 100% in your control (if only it could be! I have two little kids and haven’t slept through the night consistently in over 5 years!), but do your best to protect your recovery process by improving your sleep habits.

There are many ways to protect your recovery, and your daily schedule is one of them. Your eating disorder recovery is a precious, intricate masterpiece made up of hard-earned triumphs, meaningful struggle, and priceless effort. Every piece of your recovery is worth protecting.