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Recovery: A Family Affair

Recovery: A Family Affair

So, you’re doing the hard and vulnerable work of recovering from an eating disorder, disordered eating patterns, or body image difficulties. You have challenged the food rules, you can actually define (and freely use) the phrases “intuitive eating” and “joyful movement.” You and your body are finally making amends after years of battle. You’ve got a handy-dandy list of coping mechanisms and distress tolerance skills that actually work (and you’ve probably tried some out that definitely do NOT work as well). You may be feeling more like yourself, more present in your relationships, more in touch with your primary emotions, and probably a little tired (recovery can be exhausting!)

If you’re like many of my clients, one question that is probably coming up for you now is: how do I maintain recovery if friends and family are still entrenched in diet-culture, actively pursuing weight-loss, continuing to make comments about other’s bodies, or may not be supportive of my recovery process? Eating recovery can be so liberating and bring a new sense of peace, however, this is sometimes accompanied by the wonders of how to navigate a world that may not be recovery-minded.

If you are in this space, know that you are not alone. Learning to navigate family is a common and vital part of recovery. As a marriage and family therapist, I believe that our family systems are hugely influential (positively and negatively) in our development and healing. Here are some quick reminders of ways to navigate a challenging family system.

1. Educate

Here’s the thing: I don’t think your family members intend to sound eerily similar to your eating disorder, however, their well meaning or misguided intentions do not necessarily lessen their impact. Your family members may just lack information. They may even be in a similar headspace as you were when you began your recovery journey. This is when education can be your best friend. Helping your family members understand the dangers of diet culture, the physical and psychological risks of restriction, and most importantly your pain as you navigate recovery allows them to be more understanding, sensitive, and supportive. I often talk about some of the concepts of recovery such as intuitive eating, body neutrality, and understanding emotional needs as “uncovering buried treasure”. Not everyone has learned the things that you have learned as you’ve gone through recovery. Perhaps letting your family members in on your new knowledge will allow them to think differently, or in the very least, be more aware of how the things they do and say may impact you. This can be done on your own, or with your treatment team (I absolutely love bringing family members into session!)

2. Set Strong Boundaries

Boundaries are important for any relationship. Although they can feel very difficult to set, boundaries actually foster closeness in relationships. Our queen, Brené Brown, says that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Brené goes on to talk about setting boundaries as actually one of the most compassionate things you can do, both for yourself and those in your life. Setting   boundaries means communicating your needs to those you love so that they can help support you. If you are struggling with feeling supported by family members through eating recovery, setting and keeping clear boundaries will help save your relationship   from causing unintentional pain on their part and pent-up resentment on your part. Setting a boundary may sound like, “It’s important to me that we don’t talk about other people’s bodies or comment on weight, even if it’s a ‘compliment.’” It might also sound like, “When you talk about your diet in front of me the story I tell myself is that my recovery doesn’t matter. Can you limit talking about your diet with me so I can maintain my progress in recovery and be open with you about my experiences?”, “I won’t be participating in the family weight loss change (aside: why does everyone like to do family weight-loss challenges??),” or even a simple “No.” You may not feel able or willing to vulnerably share what your boundaries are with every member of your family, however, setting healthy boundaries with those in your family that you trust will benefit your relationship with that person and aid in your recovery. We are not islands; we are deeply connected to others. Setting boundaries is a bid for help and support in your recovery process and invites those closest to you to be a part of your healing while keeping your recovery safe.

3. Garner Additional Support

As a marriage and family therapist I believe in the deep healing that can come from families as they show up and support one another. I also believe it is absolutely vital that we have strong networks of support apart from our families. Especially if your family is having a hard time understanding your recovery work, a supportive network of friends, mentors, extended family, dietitians, group therapy members, doctors, therapists, etc. will be absolutely essential. Find “your people” and keep them close during recovery.

4. Remember Recovery is YOURS

Finally (and let’s be real, most importantly), although there is so much value in family and social support, at the end of the day your recovery is ultimately your responsibility. I yearn for my client’s families to rally around them and buoy them up, as the load of recovery can be heavy and draining. That being said, it is up to you to navigate your own recovery, even when your family may be intentionally or unintentionally unsupportive. Finding support and compassion within yourself will be an important aspect of your recovery journey. I believe your family will be greatly influenced for the better as you heal and recover AND I also believe that at the end of the day it is your life and your peace that you are working for. Although you may be experiencing heartache as you navigate eating recovery without direct family support, remember to show up for yourself and your recovery despite challenges you may be facing in other relationships. Do not forget the most important relationship you have: your relationship with yourself.

Intuitive Eating Basics: Challenge the Food Police

Intuitive Eating Basics: Challenge the Food Police

When was the last time that you comfortably ate in front of others, not worrying about what they may be noticing about your eating habits? As you work to reject the diet mentality, the next principle of intuitive eating is to challenge the “food police”!  

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating, have this to say:

“The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step to returning to intuitive eating.” 

Were you surprised to hear the food police station described as being housed in your own psyche? Were you expecting the food police to be external forces or people? Like so much of our mental health, what is going on internally drives our ability to function well.  

We each have beliefs about the world that are formed even before our ability to speak. Some of the beliefs you pick up inevitably involve ideas, morals, and assumptions about food. As you work towards more of an intuitive eating approach, it is important to develop some awareness of what these thoughts are. Cultivating non judgmental mindfulness around your food thoughts will allow you to vanquish the food police!  

Think about the different ideas you may have picked up over a lifetime of interacting with food and the world around you. Perhaps you recognize a belief that carbs are bad and protein is good. You may also have thoughts about sugar, dessert, or “earning” your food. Do you have food rules for yourself, perhaps things like, “No food after 7pm”? Where did some of these thoughts come from?  

With non judgmental mindfulness, you don’t have to hand over the power of beratement from the food police to the intuitive eating police. You can observe your thoughts without assigning moralistic values to them (hence “non judgmental” mindfulness!) In doing so, you are able to get curious about the thoughts you have without having to hurry and “shush” them out of shame.  

Let’s take a specific example of someone who is fearful of carbohydrates. In that case, the person might examine: Where did my fear of carbs first come from? A parent’s disciplined adherence to a fad diet during my teenage years? Well, that absolutely makes sense!  Examine and challenge certain thoughts without beating yourself up for having them.  

Identifying cognitive distortions, a principle used often in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can also be helpful as you approach your thoughts mindfully. A cognitive distortion I see a lot in working with clients is black and white thinking. Do some of the thoughts you have about food illustrate that common distortion?  

In our example of the carb avoider, they might have a thought like, “All carbs are bad, so restricting all of them is good.” As they are able to identify thoughts that are extreme, they can begin the work of challenging or reframing the thought. They might ask themselves questions like, “Should I really never eat carbs? Are all of them bad? Are there times when it might be to my benefit to consume a balanced intake of all nutrients?” They can then examine what they have found to be true in their own life. Perhaps they have had times when they heavily restricted carbs and then felt low energy and struggled to not binge eat. They could examine that experience and then develop a reframed, balanced thought like, “My experience has shown me carbs are a normal part of my eating, and they help me feel balanced.” They can then use that reframed thought to remind themselves of the work they are doing every time the food police sound the red alert as they have a carbohydrate in hand!  

As you move towards intuitive eating, take some time to non-judgmentally observe your thoughts for the food police. As you do so, lovingly remind yourself that they do not have jurisdiction over your food thoughts and behaviors- you do not need to be policed and reprimanded! Intuitive eating will provide you with an opportunity to learn how to tune back into your natural body cues. No more red and blue flashing lights when carbs are around! 

You Deserve Validation & Recovery

You Deserve Validation & Recovery

Imagine this situation: You’re in recovery from your eating disorder, and your roommates invite you to go out to dinner with them. Your mind starts to argue with itself. You want to make this dinner a recovery win, but you also feel self-conscious about eating in front of your roommates because they know about your eating disorder. Will they think you’re eating “too much” for someone who has an eating disorder? Or will they be watching you the whole time to make sure you’re eating enough and not struggling? Will they think your eating disorder isn’t that bad, and you’re being dramatic? Or will you feel embarrassed if they notice you stressing about food? Should you eat in a way that will prove that you really do have an eating disorder (because you do), or should you eat in a way that shows you’re totally ok (even if you’re not)? Now should you even go, or should you just stay home? Then what will they think?

If any of this sounds at all relatable, this blog post is for you. If you’re feeling like you have to prove your eating disorder is real, and at the same time feeling like you have to hide your struggle, please know you’re not alone. I hear my clients express these feelings on a regular basis, and it’s a struggle that makes sense! Here is the core of what I hope you can take from this post: You deserve (and can have) both validation and recovery.

Having an eating disorder is an incredibly painful and difficult thing, and you DO deserve validation and help as you work on healing. At the same time, you don’t have to engage in ED behaviors to prove that you are “sick enough” to deserve care, concern, and support from others. You are inherently deserving of all of those things right now, and you will still deserve them after you recover from your eating disorder. You deserve attentive, loving support, regardless of how ill or how well you are (and you deserve to be well!).

Choosing to challenge your eating disorder by going out to eat with your roommates will not mean you don’t have permission to struggle or ask for help. Challenging all-or-nothing thinking is an important part of recovery, especially when it comes to feeling like you have to be either 100% struggle-free, or 100% sick in order to merit validation.

Even if you are progressing in your recovery, that doesn’t mean your eating disorder was never real, or that recovery is a walk in the park for you. It can feel SO scary to acknowledge and talk about the unseen struggles of your eating disorder (past or present), especially if you worry about others not validating you.

A couple of gentle reminders: (1) even if others don’t or can’t understand what you’ve been through, your experience IS valid. (2) The fact that you’re doing better now than you were before you started recovering doesn’t mean that your eating disorder wasn’t/isn’t a serious reality. Your successes in recovery don’t invalidate the struggles in your past, and the struggles in your past don’t invalidate your successes in the present.

You don’t have to stay in your eating disorder to make your struggle valid in the eyes of others. Your battles were and are real, and you deserve to feel free to move forward into a recovered life. What’s more, you are worthy of help and support in your recovery process, no matter where you are on that journey. You deserve validation of how painful, how challenging, how exhausting, and how miserable your eating disorder has been, AND you deserve to heal. You don’t have to trade recovery for validation. You absolutely deserve both, and there is care and help available for you.

Would life be better if you were thin?

Would life be better if you were thin?

Does the joy with which your puppy greets you in the morning change if you are wearing make-up?

Does the first thrilling drop on a roller coast feel more exciting if you’ve met your exercise goals that day?

Are you able to have a more meaningful conversation with your closest friend because you skipped breakfast?

Do you cheer louder when your child scores her first soccer goal because you are on the Keto Diet?

Does the inspiring awe you feel watching a majestic sunset feel more powerful if you’ve lost weight?

Are you more competent at work because you fit into standard clothing sizes?

Does your mother’s chili on a cold day taste better if you don’t let yourself eat the cornbread?

Does the feeling of your partner’s hand in yours depend on the size of your pants?  

Do you feel more moved singing along to your favorite songs if your stomach feels empty?

Is it more fun to watch your children slide down waterslides, instead of joining them, because you refuse to take off your swim cover-up and reveal more of your body in a swimsuit?  

Was the moment that inspired you to capture a photo feel more meaningful after you’ve edited and curated it for social media?  And over 100 followers “liked” it?

Do you think your children’s laughter sounds better if you turn down French fries?

Your value doesn’t change based on your waistline. The meaning in beautiful moments doesn’t change based on our eating habits. The depth of your emotional connection to others doesn’t improve if you lose weight. Memories aren’t more beautiful if you edit yourself in photos to look more “beautiful.”

Not only does the pursuit of ideal beauty standards NOT enhance the richness of your life, it will actually impede your connections to your life.

Will you notice your partner’s touch or your puppy licking your hand if you are compulsively checking how many people have liked and commented on your photos? 

Will you hear your children’s laughter and be able to join in if you are feeling anxious about fFrench fries? Will you be able to be present with your closest friend when your stomach is rumbling with hunger from missing breakfast?

Do you create better memories watching your children swim as you sit in on the sidelines, shaking your head “no” to their invitations to join them in the pool? Do you even notice your favorite songs playing on the radio when all you can think about is what you have in your fridge that will meet Keto guidelines? 

Will you even stop to witness the sunset when you are busy monitoring how many calories you are burning on that hike?

No.

Here’s the truth.

You are enough, right here, right now, as you are.

Life–in its fullest–is available, right here, right now, as you are.

Life is indeed found and lived, right here, right now, as you are, right now.

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.