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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.

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?