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Standing at the Door of Recovery

Standing at the Door of Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

Standing on the Doorstep

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

Knocking on the Door

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

Walking Out and Reveling in Growth

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

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

 

My Body is Perfect

My Body is Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the purpose of ears? … To hear.

What is the purpose of eyes? … To see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

Looking Back with Self-Compassion

Looking Back with Self-Compassion

I am currently in a history of psychology class (sounds riveting doesn’t it?) where we have been learning about how we tend to look back on the past with a presentist point of view. Meaning, we use our present-day lens with our present-day values and ideals to judge what people did in the past. With that lens, no one measures up! We think of them all as ignorant, racist and sexist, and we think of ourselves as the enlightened generation that has got everything figured out. 

These discussions have led me to think about the ways in which I am presentist to my own history and life. With side parts and skinny jeans supposedly going out of style and middle parts and boyfriend jeans coming back in, I have been reflecting on the weird and wonderful fashion trends I looked back on with a presentist point of view. Remember the jeans and dress combo, when the height of fashion was to wear a skirt or a dress over your jeans in the early 2000s? Maybe that was just me…

Or the zig-zag part in your chunky highlighted hair that needed to be dead straight?

Or the crop top with the low-rise jeans?

I’m hoping I’m not the only one here with photographic evidence from my school years that suggests I followed some of these trends. Whenever the old pictures come out, I find a small bead of sweat making its way across my forehead because the photos are so embarrassing! These pictures could certainly be used against me one day (and here’s my presentist point of view being shown!).

When we think back on the past, whether it’s fashion mistakes, or something actually meaningful, I think it’s healthier for our self-worth to do so with a little less presentism and a little more self-compassion. If we’re talking about embarrassing fashion trends, instead of cringing so much that you sweat and rip up every picture of yourself in high school, how does it feel different in your body to respond with “that was the trend at the time, and nearly everyone was doing it – it was actually very fashionable to wear my dress over my jeans” instead of “I am so dumb, that trend is so embarrassing, why did I do that?”. Think about how that difference feels.

I’ve used fashion as an example because it’s always changing and trying to keep up is like trying to sprint through a marathon – exhausting and not the best approach! For more meaningful things from our past than fashion, it can help us move forward more easily to look back with self-compassion instead of the lens of what we know now, or our presentist lens. 

Some of these more meaningful examples from the past could be a bad relationship you got into, or a way in which you hurt someone, or maybe it could just be behavior through high school or how you treated your parents. I have found myself thinking back on the past with presentist thoughts like “why did I do that? My priorities were all wrong. I should have acted [X Y Z] way, I would do it differently now”. Well, of course we would do it differently now, we are different people now than we were in the past. 

Our learning and experience have taught us new lessons, and our brains are more developed; of course we would act differently now. I like to think of it in terms of a tool kit – for each experience we go through, we have a new tool in our tool kit. When you look back with self-compassion instead of presentism, you realize you only had less tools in your tool kit then. You used the best tool you had access to at that time.

The situations I have described already pertain to how we tried to use the right tool but we didn’t have enough tools to pick the right one. Looking back with self-compassion even means being kind to yourself if you purposefully used the wrong tool or didn’t try your best to respond well in a certain situation. 

In those situations, I think it feels a lot nicer to say “I made a mistake, which makes me human, and makes me alive, and helps me to connect with everyone else who has made mistakes” which is all of us! You are not unique for making mistakes, and it can unite us if we can accept that we, like everyone, will make mistakes.

Looking back with self-compassion means no longer cringing at past behavior but sending some love to your past self who was likely trying his or her best. You would hope that other people in your life could look back with compassion for you and for themselves too, but if not, that’s OK – maybe that tool isn’t in their tool kit yet. 

Stop using that lens of presentism and recognize how your knowledge and skills were less back then. And, even if it were purposeful behavior, that just makes you more human and still expands your tool kit in a meaningful way. I challenge you to look at old pictures of yourself from high school (always daunting!) and try some of these powerful ways of speaking to yourself. You might find that being a little more kind to your past self dissipates some of the pain old memories can bring.  

Moving Toward Belonging

Moving Toward Belonging

I recently made a move to a new home. Although it is only 35 minutes away from where I previously lived, it has felt like a whole new world. I have only lived in two cities in my entire life. Moving away from where I’ve made a life for nearly the past decade was difficult and slightly disorienting. Although I was absolutely thrilled to be embarking on a new experience, there was also a lot of grief involved.

At first, I thought my grief centered around familiar places and things. I would miss our favorite acai spot and our go-to local burger joint. I’d miss the beautiful spring blooms in our neighborhood. This town and I had a long history together and I felt such a deep sadness leaving. I didn’t quite understand it, after all, I’d be back to visit friends and it was close enough to even go to dinner there once in a while.

We had lived in our house for about two days before I started feeling sad that we hadn’t made any friends yet. My husband laughed and helped me remember that making friends takes time. The first time we went to the grocery store, I was sad I didn’t see any friends I knew. As I reflected on why I was feeling such a loss, I recognized that it wasn’t the place I was missing. I could find new favorite restaurants, make new friends, and re-establish a sense of normalcy. What I was missing wasn’t the grocery store itself, it was the sense of belonging I felt as I saw friends and navigated the store with ease. It wasn’t the restaurants I missed; it was the way I recognized the people behind the counter and the sense of connection I felt with them. I wouldn’t miss the shorter commute (okay, well maybe I would), but mostly I would miss the sense of familiarity the drive is, the way I felt like I knew exactly where I was and how I fit into the world around me.

A change in scenery threw me. It made me feel less sure of myself and how I fit. I don’t know my neighbors; I have to use maps every time I try to go anywhere. I sometimes feel like my friends will forget me now that I don’t live down the road. 

However, through this process I began to reflect on what I know of belonging. Belonging goes beyond “fitting in.” Although I can be highly compassionate with myself and the grief, sadness, and feeling of disorientation and lack of belonging that comes with moving away from a home in which I felt so comfortable and as though I had a place–that was not belonging. To understand truly what I was seeking for, I looked to Brené Brown, who says:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance…True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. – Brené Brown”

 So what did I need to do when I was feeling disconnected and afraid of not quite belonging?

  1. Understand the innate need
  2. Belong to myself
  3. Share myself

 My charge as I sought belonging in a new community was not as much about establishing new routines, new “favorite spots,” or even new connections. My charge was to dive more fully into understanding why this was important to me, to be compassionate with myself, understanding that I felt this way because it was a need! 

My next charge was to work on myself. I needed to invest more time into appreciating and seeing my true, authentic self. I needed to find a permanent home, full of safety and belonging, within myself. 

Finally, I needed to be very careful not to work to fit in, but to work to share my true self with others. My true self who is full of flaws, full of works-in-progress, and full of gifts to give and things to contribute. This can always be intimidating in a new place and in a new experience, however, it is absolutely vital to muster up the courage to share our authentic selves. This belonging, this sense of deep connection, is only found in showing up as ourselves.

I’ve seen this pay off in my own life. I think part of the reason moving has been difficult is because I have shown up authentically and created a true sense of belonging and community. I just need to remember that that community and belonging is not location-specific and stays with me wherever I go. I’ve learned that the risks and vulnerability needed to create deep belonging are always worth it.

How do you see the search for belonging in your own life? How do you dig in and show up with your authentic self? When have you seen this pay off in your life? Do you need to focus more on compassion for this as a deep need? Do you need to work on belonging to yourself? Or do you need to work on (like I do), showing up and sharing yourself with others more fully?

 

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?