The concept of self compassion has always felt a little foreign to me. The idea of it is lovely, but I have learned that practicing self-compassion is much easier said than done. Why do we naturally extend extra grace to others, but we struggle in applying the same love and attention to ourselves? (more…)
My whole life I felt the pressure of making goals when January would come around. But I don’t think I ever had awareness around what type of goal I should even set.
Because if you’re like me, you may have set extreme goals. I set goals that included waking up two hours earlier, the opposite of mindful eating, and balanced exercise. The problem is that I was trying to change something that wasn’t realistic and what society was telling me.
Then February would come around, and I hadn’t come close to hitting those goals because they weren’t meant to be hit in the first place. Then the feelings of shame and let down would surface.
It wasn’t until my late 20’s that January would come around, and I started to realize that goals should benefit your life in a healthy balanced way. That I couldn’t become “more” worthy because I was already worthy as I am. Instead, I started to make goals that changed my mindset to increase my sense of self. I began to make simple daily goals that pushed me forward in the way I wanted to show up every day.
Here are a few examples of goals I have set:
- Wake up 10 minutes earlier to take a few deep breaths, and decide how I want to feel that day.
- Daily gratitude- made simple: writing down a quick thought or simply noting gratitude in my head.
- Speaking kindly to myself, especially when my old stories come up.
- Choosing to embrace new experiences and learning to let go of control.
Here are a few of my tips when making daily goals:
- Make it simple, don’t overcomplicate it.
- Don’t be too rigid in your goals; life happens, and sometimes you have to let go of the plan you had that day.
- Don’t make goals thinking you will become worthy if you hit them. That’s a big plan for feeling let down
- Make goals that help you have a more profound sense of self.
The difference I have felt from going from the old unrealistic goals to the new simple daily goals – is learning to live more intentionally in the present moment. I challenge you to set a few minutes aside and think of daily goals to help you cultivate the way you want to feel and show up daily.
As we continue to break down and explore the principles of Intuitive Eating, we look next at principle seven: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness.
Food comforts. There is likely some food that you feel a certain nostalgia for at different times of the year- during the holiday season, I love the peppermint and cinnamon and fudgy dishes that come with comforting memories of time spent with loved ones and experiencing the magic this season brings. Beyond nostalgia, food also brings comfort when you are in distress. Much like a cozy blanket and warm slippers, food can give you a sense of indulgence and self care that can be particularly meaningful when you are having a hard time.
“Emotional eating” has become a shame-filled catch phrase in the diet industry which would have you believe that eating should- I suppose- be an activity completely outside the realm of your emotions. That doesn’t seem very feasible, does it? When done mindfully, eating is integrated into your awareness- an awareness that includes your emotions!
Mindful eating is the exact opposite of what we might view as “mind-numb” eating- a space where you eat mindlessly, maybe while trying to avoid or numb out your emotions. This can be a powerful way to look at your eating- while not moralistically assigning values to food you may or may not eat during a state of high emotion, can you stay mindful in your experiences of eating?
Have you had a hard day and oreos seem like an amazing source of self-care? I get it. Oreos are the best. Take a moment to check in with yourself- what is the emotion I am currently experiencing? (See emotion wheel below, it can help really cue into what it might be that you are feeling.) Ask yourself- is this an emotion that I would like to experience with oreos? Is the answer no? Keep investigating with curiosity what is called for in that moment. Is the answer yes? Then I want you to slow down, sit back, and savor those oreos, squeezing out every ounce of comfort to be had. Notice how they taste, smell, and feel to consume. Notice how attending to your own needs- physical and emotional- feels. This is not a wild, emotion numbing event- this is mindful and honoring of ourselves. Take a moment to thank yourself with loving kindness for always being there- through the good and the bad- working with your body to identify and provide for yourself the best experiences through life possible.
This is coping with your emotions with kindness. It’s not saying eating while experiencing an emotion is BAD like so many diet platforms would tell you. (Does it even make sense to imagine a world where we only eat when we are UNemotional? A world where we really never experience ice cream when coping with a break up, or eat cake when our friends get married, or go out to a fancy dinner to celebrate a promotion? As a foodie who loves experiencing and gifting the experience of food to others, this diet culture imposed view of food as separate from emotional experiences is foreign and uncomfortable to me!
Food is used to sustain life, yes- but also to comfort and celebrate and mourn. Food isn’t for fixing our emotions, but it can be part of an emotional experience!
It’s not about trusting your body. It’s about letting go.
Just this week I heard one of my clients reiterate her resistance to progress in recovery because she “just can’t trust [her] body.”
What she means is, she can’t trust that she won’t gain weight from nourishing her body. It means she can’t trust her recovered body to be a size she likes.
And this is where trust is misplaced. Because recovery isn’t about trusting your body to do what you want it to do and be the size you want it to be.
You may gain weight in recovery. Your recovered body, may not be a size that you want.
When I was a “budding” therapist, I used to try to motivate clients toward recovery by talking about how their bodies would be more stable when they are regularly nourished, than when they are deprived. When you move out of your body’s way, it will settle towards it’s set point and chill out. While this is true, it’s also not true.
Bodies are complicated. So much more so than we even know. And while set-point is a real thing, supported by research, I no longer want to align with the eating disorder mindset by asserting that bodies won’t change after they have been chronically nourished. I don’t want recovery to still be about weight.
Further, your body is not static but constantly fluctuating and changing.
As a mother to four children, my body has gone through a hell of a lot of change over the decade I spent birthing and nursing them. While pregnancy was an active choice I made, I witnessed how incredibly drastic my body could morph and shift in incredible ways.
Now, as I enter middle-age (turning 40 soon!) my body seems to be accelerating toward even more change. This time, it is not change I am choosing. I can honestly say I don’t love the combination of acne and wrinkles. And hormone shifts are no joke. My body is also shifting and morphing its shape. While it’s far more subtle than pregnancy and may be unnoticeable to others, it is indeed, changing.
So when I think about trusting my body, it’s not trusting her to always be what I want her to be or even show up for me in the ways I want her to. As I am aging, she’s getting less predictable and more demanding, and I’m assuming that only gets more challenging with time.
My relationship with my body is one of mutual respect and care. Respecting and caring for my body is a form of trust. But that trust is knowing she is doing the best she can to take care of me and has nothing to do with her size.
The bigger trust is not placed on my body, but rather in myself. Being in a place with body peace and food freedom, I trust that whatever my body does, I am ok. And I am ok, because I know my worth and contributions in this life are not related to the size of my body. My internal sense of self is stable, even as my earth-suit is always changing.
So I told my client who “just can’t trust [her] body” that, “It’s not about trust. It’s about letting go.” Recovery is relinquishing control in service of freedom. Recovery is understanding that your body has the right to change according to her needs and wellbeing. Recovery is understanding your body, by design, does, and should, continue to change across your years on this blue planet. Recovery is trusting that you are ok in the changes of your body, your life, and this world.
Let’s talk about how journaling can help you in eating recovery. I’m not necessarily referring to journaling as in, “Dear Diary, today I…” (although that type of journaling can be great!). Rather, I’m talking about the practice of processing thoughts and feelings through writing. I know, journaling does not come easily to some. We all process things differently, and journaling doesn’t appeal to everyone. That being said, I do give journal prompts out to many of my therapy clients as a supplement to the work we do in therapy. Here are a few reasons why:
- Responding to a specific journal prompt can help you dig deeper into thoughts that you might not typically approach. Jotting down even a few lines in response to a writing prompt can take you down a path of exploration that you might not otherwise encounter.
- Journaling is an opportunity to spend some quality time with yourself. Self-reflection through writing can be a powerful tool for connecting with your internal world. Taking some time to write can help you acknowledge and understand your emotions and needs.
- Writing can help you unravel tangled thoughts and feelings. Turning experiences into concrete words can be tough, but engaging with your thoughts and feelings this way can help you make sense of what you’re going through. Some research suggests that putting your feelings into words can help your brain regulate emotional responses. (1)
- Journaling gives you something to look back on. There can be power in looking back at journal entries written months or years in the past, and seeing the evolution of your perspective, your successes, and your circumstances. Especially in eating recovery, it can sometimes feel difficult to see progress. Recording your thoughts throughout your recovery process can help you see that you really are growing and changing.
- A focused journal prompt can be like a bonus therapy session! (Sounds super fun, I know.) Therapy is great, and it’s only a 50-minute blip in your week. Adding a focused journaling activity between sessions can help you get more out of the work you started in a session and can set you up to make the next session more productive. Trust me, your therapist would love to hear about any journaling you do between sessions. Journaling is an opportunity to stay connected with your work between therapy sessions.
Below are some journal prompts you might find helpful in your eating recovery process. Pick whichever one speaks to you, write down today’s date, and see where your writing takes you.
– What made my most recent recovery “win” possible? Write about (1) a person or resource and (2) a choice you made that contributed to your success.
– Write about one step forward in your recovery that you know you need to take, but haven’t yet. What could change if you take that step?
– Asking for help is a vital recovery skill, and may require you to think outside the box. Write down one thing you can ask for from each of the following people to support your recovery: your therapist, your best friend, a family member.
– Write a letter from your future self, 10 years from now. How do you imagine your future self will feel towards your current self and what you’re going through right now?
– What do I hope will happen if I accept my body as it is? What do I fear will happen if I accept my body as it is?
– What was the take-home message from my last therapy session? What are my intentions for applying that message this week?
- Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917742706
Eating disorders are inauthentic. To have an eating disorder requires showing up in the world inauthentically.
Eating disorders operate on a false formula for safety, belonging and love. Eating disorders take messages from the world about conformity and belonging and say, “I’ll raise you one more” and do it even “better.”
To quote the authority on the topic of authenticity and belonging, Dr. Brené Brown 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.” (Braving the wilderness p.31-32).
This quote is loaded so let’s explore it part by part and how it relates to eating disorders.
“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…”
We can have compassion for ourselves and how we each learned to believe that acceptance and belonging are synonyms with approval. Often this comes from experiences with rejection. I know the pain my clients unravel under is the belief that their history of rejection equates to truth about themselves. They believe something is wrong with them. They believe their authentic selves are unacceptable to humanity and must therefore be controlled and shrunken and shaped into acceptable and small versions. An eating disorder is both a chronic attempt to move toward love and belonging and also hide away from the vulnerability that is required for that very love and belonging.
This leads to the next point, “which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.”
So first, eating disorders are ubiquitously characterized by striving– to varying degrees of success– to fit into the “ideal” of beauty. In our society, that “ideal” is unrealistic and unhealthy. However, even if you achieve that bodily ideal, your sense of belonging is based on something external, which isn’t authentic. You are literally only granting others access to a controlled version of you that is “skin deep.”
This outward conformity bleeds into an attempt for internal conformity as well. The body is merely a symptom of a whole systemic process. You are not only trying to be outwardly acceptable in your body, but also acceptable in every other way. This is why “people pleasing” is such a chronic curse that accompanies eating disorders. When you are so focused on what you think others want you to be, you cannot get in touch with who you really are. You see parts of yourself as threatening and scary if they fall outside perceived accepted norms.
Further, eating disorders hijack brains and personalities. Eating disorders consume valuable mental energy and reduce the richness that is you into obsessive thoughts about food and body size. All the other parts of you that are worthy of belonging either don’t show up at all, or show up in shadows and whispers.
So, you cannot find belonging when you are chronically faking it. Which is exactly what eating disorders require.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…”
Perfectionism is another “associated feature” of eating disorders. Perfectionism is characterized by reducing vulnerability through chronic attempts to “be perfect” or “do perfectly.” Again, it is the misplaced striving for love and acceptance through presenting a perfected version of ourselves to the world.
I love how Brené Brown pairs authentic and imperfect together. This resonates deeply as truth to me. I’m not going to advocate that this is simple to do in practice, but knowing its truth and value motivates me toward my own willingness to be messy and human.
Because I am messy. I don’t have it all figured out. I know the discomfort of fear and vulnerability. I know the pain of rejection. I am familiar with the darkness in mental illness. I too have parts of my personality that I don’t like and wish were different. I know I am quirky, and for some people, an “acquired taste.”
And there came a point in my life that the cost and energy required in conformity was too heavy and too much. I got tired of inauthentic living. Living inauthentically is painful and lonely.
So I decided to show up in more messy and honest ways. I am not going to pretend I do this well all the time. It’s a work in progress. But in that progress, I have felt more seen and it is here that I have found “my people.”
“…our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Please read that again. And again. And again.
We will never find true belonging in approval from others. In our hearts, we all know this. But the invitation to step into our deepest selves is the epitome of vulnerability. To step into witnessing, honoring, and accepting who we are, with compassion and love. Wow, that would be powerful. That would be brave.
And then to let ourselves expand into our full version of who we are and show up in the world that way. Wow. Now that is honest, courageous, and brave living.
To quote Brené Brown again, “Once we belong thoroughly to ourselves and believe thoroughly in ourselves, true belonging is ours.”
I wish I could hold a mirror for my clients when they show up in their authentic, vulnerable, imperfect selves. The love I feel for them is immediate and deep. I wish they could know how inherently loveable and likeable they are as themselves.
But self-acceptance is an inside job.
I hope for a world where we can all loudly and ceremoniously reject the false formulas for acceptance and belonging, and step into our power: authenticity, imperfection, and self-acceptance.
This is my hope for all of us.
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.
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?
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.