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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.

 

Intuitive Eating Basics: Honor Your Hunger

Intuitive Eating Basics: Honor Your Hunger

Have you seen the meme floating around social media that states something along the lines of, “Forgive me for what I said when I was hungry”? Extreme hunger can set the scene for impulsive behaviors. Whether it’s wreaking havoc on your personal lives or setting the stage for enormous cravings for food, deprivation of food can bring with it many unwanted side effects.  

When you have allowed your hunger to get to an extreme point, you’ve likely triggered your biological response to starvation. Sometimes that can happen unintentionally- through lack of nutrients and genuine starvation- and sometimes it can happen intentionally- through dieting and eating disordered behaviors. It’s interesting to observe that your body does not distinguish between unintentional and intentional restrictive eating behaviors- when you are in deprivation, your body responds by issuing strong biological cravings to focus your efforts on securing food.  

How does understanding your biology and honoring your hunger help aid in recovery from an unhealthy relationship with food? 

In Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch instruct, “Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.”

Food obsession starts with deprivation. By deciding to exit the crazy-making cycle of restriction and binging and clueing back into honoring your hunger, you allow yourself to reset. As you then refocus on meeting your needs for nutrition- not by obsessing- but through listening to and following your biological hunger cues- you are able to rebuild trust with your body, which sets the stage for overcoming  unhealthy food relationships. .  

What does listening to and following your biological hunger cues look like?  

First, it may be helpful to examine what ignoring those cues looks like. When you diet or intentionally restrict, you are numbing yourself to the very normal hunger signals of your body. In doing so, you turn down the volume of the signal essentially to a point where you may not even recognize it anymore. When you have done this, there is a process of relearning to listen to your hunger cues that must occur.  

Decide today to check in with your hunger cues. For some, it can be helpful to rank your hunger on a scale of 1-10 and observe what your body is telling you it needs through hunger cues throughout your day. It can also be helpful to look at how you feel hunger. Hunger cues are not just bodily, stomach feelings. They can also present as symptoms of irritability, inability to focus, lightheadedness, and more. Do you identify with any of those symptoms, or recognize other personal hunger symptoms? Taking some time to observe and be mindful of how your body experiences hunger can be a powerful tool in eating recovery.  

After spending time with your observations, you are then ready to begin to honor your observations. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Keep observing. Keep honoring your cues.  

In a world where you are sold a new diet plan every day- it can seem revolutionary to take a step back and focus on very basic ideas like honoring hunger. But imagine the freedom in trusting your body to do the simple biological things it was created to manage- without apps, macros, counting, and obsession. Just listen, honor, repeat.  

 

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror

We live in a world of mirrors. We live in a world of selfies. We live in a world of social media. We live in a world that encourages us to evaluate and monitor how our bodies show up in the world.

Monitoring, evaluating, critiquing, and controlling our bodies is just part of being a woman…isn’t it?

While this is definitely a common experience, this doesn’t have to be your reality. Just like dieting and scales only serve to derail you from your purpose and power, so too, body checking, only serves to cause pain.

Body checking can take many forms. It may be trying on specific clothes to ensure they still “fit.” It may be using your hands to physically measure and squeeze parts of your body like your thighs, waist, and arms. It may be taking selfies with your phone to check your profile. It may be compulsively checking your body in the mirror from a variety of angles, in a variety of different clothes, and across a variety of times during the day.

Body checking increases suffering. Let me tell you why.

  1. While body checking serves the function of control and reassurance that our bodies aren’t changing, our bodies can literally look and feel different day to day. This can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, our body may be retaining more water. Our body may be bloated and uncomfortable. We may be at a different point in our menstrual cycle. We may be sleep deprived. These are all physiological reasons why our body might literally show up in a slightly different shape or size on a different day that has nothing to do with any feared “true” change.
  2. We also may experience our bodies as different from the day before, depending on our clothes. We may have just washed our clothes and so our clothes are a little tighter. We may be wearing something inherently tighter opposed the comfy clothes we wore yesterday. By that contrast alone, we may feel our body is changing, even if that change is an illusion.
  3. Mirrors don’t reflect reality accurately. We all know this intuitively. Sometimes we feel we look better in one mirror vs another. Maybe you have a favorite mirror and maybe you have a mirror you avoid for this very reason. Maybe you know that the mirrors in the Athleta dressing room make you feel and look more flattering than the mirrors in Nordstrom. I don’t make mirrors, and even though theoretically they should all reflect back the same reality, they don’t. Just like scales, each one is off in its own unique way.
  4. Our moods and cognitive states impact how we perceive our bodies. So while our bodies are likely, literally, the same size and shape they were yesterday, depending on how we are thinking and feeling about ourselves and our bodies, this can change what we see in the mirror. It’s fascinating how distorted our perceptions of our bodies can be depending on our internal states. Have you ever noticed that you thought you looked horrible in a photo taken on the night you felt badly about yourself and your body, and then months later, you looked at that same photo and realized you didn’t look as bad as you thought?
  5. Finally, the most important problem with body checking is that it reinforces the illusion that our bodies are the problem. By focusing on our bodies, we continue to believe in the importance of how our bodies look and that how our bodies look are the most important aspects of who we are. This causes the most suffering of all.

Your size and shape are the least interesting things about you. Your size and shape do not embody your power, your voice, nor your purpose. Moving away from body checking frees you up to spend your energy and time pursuing what really matters in your life. Even if you don’t feel confident in your skin, you can commit to spending less energy on checking your body. You can commit to turn your attention to your truths and your values. This is where you can take your power back from the mirror!

Intuitive Eating Basics: Reject the Diet Mentality

Intuitive Eating Basics: Reject the Diet Mentality

Chances are, if you or a loved one has been in treatment for any kind of eating concerns, you have heard your dietician or therapist talk about “intuitive eating”. I want to take some time to break down exactly what we are talking about with this concept, as it is far removed from the cultural ideas we have surrounding eating. For the next few blogs, I will be highlighting principles to help you grow in your mastery of intuitive eating.   (more…)

Beauty of Body Diversity

Beauty of Body Diversity

How is everyone feeling about summer returning?? On one hand, summer is the best. We get to spend lots of time outside, eat yummy foods, have a break from the hustle and bustle, and the best part: longer days and more sunlight! 

On the other hand, summer can often be hard for those struggling to create or maintain a peaceful relationship with food and body. If you’re having some mixed feelings about the weather heating up, you are NOT alone.

I recently got home from a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. I love Atlanta and the richness of culture there. The last time I was in Atlanta was for a school trip in which we studied Civil Rights and the powerful men and women involved in advancing equality. Upon arrival this time in Atlanta, I was immediately struck by the diversity in race, ethnicity, clothing and hair style, gender expression, religious symbols, and of course, body type. I sat on the train from the airport to the rental car pickup and thought to myself, “I know that body image and eating disorders exist everywhere, but if Utah was more diverse in style, body image, etc., I wonder how that could change my clients’ experiences.”

 Everywhere I turned I saw beautiful people: mothers holding children’s hands, hurrying them from the gate; older women with black hair fading to a stunning gray; men with weathered faces; and young women who were trying to get clear about who they were. All of them looked different: different races, different genders, different bodies, but all of them were beautiful because they each offered something unique.

One concept that has been very healing for me as I navigate difficult and potentially triggering conversations and messaging around “getting a summer body” is paying attention to the beauty of diversity. Can you imagine a world where there was only one type of flower? One type of fruit? One type of animal? A world where everyone’s voices sounded the same? Where food was identical? Where there was only one color? What about a world where everyone had the same body (cue spooky clone visual *shudder*).      

Theoretically, I think it is pretty easy for us to buy into the idea that more diversity in how bodies look is good! However, it becomes hard to keep this in mind when we are living within a society that glorifies and celebrates certain bodies while other bodies are marginalized and oppressed. 

To make things harder and more confusing, the standards by which society judges bodies changes constantly, leaving every single woman feeling as though she does not fit and is not good enough. This is also true for men and especially true for those in the LGBTQIA+ community.     

Isn’t it amazing that our bodies find their “happy places” at all different weights? Isn’t it fascinating that eyes can range from greens to browns to blues to grays and everywhere in between? Isn’t it remarkable that different bodies and different body compositions carry different benefits? For example, my (very) short legs can build muscle quickly while lengthy limbs can leap and reach great heights. 

Differences in body types are not just something to be tolerated, but to be celebrated. Your unique body is good, no matter how it looks, but there is beauty to the way you are “different” from others in your appearance. I’ve always been a little bit self-conscious of my cheeks. They’ve basically been the same since I was a little girl. After I got married, my husband always talks about how much he likes to kiss my warm cheeks when I wake up in the morning. Although it would take a lot (A LOT) of contour to make my cheeks look chiseled like the cheeks of someone on TV, the way my body is diverse is beautiful!     

What makes unique aspects of your body beautiful? (Not necessarily just physically, but in other ways too). How can you celebrate body diversity more in your own life? How can you help contribute to positive representations of body diversity in social and other media?

 

The Purpose of Food

The Purpose of Food

I have officially begun mourning the summer months. I absolutely adore the summertime and the activities in the warm sun, the fresh flavors and icy treats, and the feeling of freedom. Even though I’m not in school anymore, I still feel a little lighter and freer from May until August. That being said, this summer felt hotter than most and I’m happy to say goodbye to that. (more…)