What role does “worry” play in your life? If you have ever suffered from an eating disorder you may have gotten to know this feeling pretty well. Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder develop because there is some type of unmet need or wound that has not been healed in our lives. When we begin restricting or overeating or using other types of disordered eating behaviors, this action may be a way to try to meet that need or soothe that wound — whatever it may be. Perhaps there is a need in your soul to feel emotionally safe and secure, an essential part of our development as children that can sometimes be disrupted. As we grow older, we still have this need, and we can try anything to fill it — food, alcohol, substances, sex, gambling, or money.
When these things don’t work to truly fill our inner hunger, we may begin to worry. Worry that our inner hunger will never be truly satiated, worry that we are hurting others in our lives through our self-destructive behaviors, worry that the eating disorder (or other type of addiction) will erase our true voice and cover it up with ugly thoughts and feelings that keep us in the cycle. In truth, eating disorders use worry as a tool to remain in power. When you are worried about upsetting someone or disrupting a family dynamic, these feelings can feel out of our control. Food is a way to try to control something. Worry can creep up when food feels out of control as well. What are people thinking or saying? What harm am I doing to by body? Will I ever have control of food again?
If worry were a person, what would you say to it? Would you sit down and have a conversation about why it is in your life and what purpose it holds? Worry is a close relative to shame, guilt, and anger — feelings that eating disorders can use to continue trying to control your life and your self-esteem. Instead of becoming angry or upset with worry, therefore giving it hidden power, try to get to know it a bit better. Worry is present for a reason, though its purpose may not have a place in your life anymore. Did worry help you get more attention from a parent or a loved one? Did it give you some insight into how you perceive yourself in relation to others?
How can worry help you in your recovery from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder? Worry, like anxiety, can be healthy in small doses. They can keep us alert and on our feet. Perhaps worry can be like gentle nudge for you in your recovery to remain aware of any triggers, to choose healthy paths, and to be openly communicative with those in your support system. Eating disorder recovery involves befriending all parts of yourself — worry being one of them. So pull up a chair and share space with those feelings that might intimidate you!
The holidays are upon us and while they are meant for celebrations of family, friends, and love, they also can be full of stress and anxiety about food and weight. What should I eat? What should I NOT eat? How do I avoid guilt about eating a big meal on Thanksgiving?? How do I release the anxiety so I can actually enjoy eating delicious holiday food with my loved ones?
These are choruses that may ring familiar to you. Does this tape run through your head as you think about the upcoming family gatherings, holiday parties, pot-lucks, and holiday bake sales? It’s hard to resist the temptation to dig into all of the delicious offerings. It’s also challenging to let go of the fear of food that many of us identify with. If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or if you have experienced emotional stress over eating during the holidays, do not fear. You can still enjoy the holidays AND enjoy the food!
I have struggled with eating disorders and know all too well the anxiety about what types of foods will be at holiday events and not being able to trust myself to healthily enjoy them. I have been able to find peace with the season, and can enjoy in moderation all of the foods that I love! For me, one of the biggest keys to this freedom is self-compassion — allowing myself to be present, find joy, and not dwell in self-judgment or guilt.
Here are ten tips for getting what you want out of the holiday season, keeping the food anxiety at bay, and truly enjoying the value of this special time of year.
Eight Tips for Overcoming Food Anxiety During the Holidays:
1.) Don’t go to any gathering too hungry. If you have a few stops to make at holiday events in an evening, have a little something to eat before you go so that you are not starving when you arrive amidst all of the delicious food. When you arrive, check out all of the options and then decide which ones will make you feel good, satisfied, and happy. Eat those in moderation.
2.) Have a buddy in the know. Whether it is a partner, family member, friend, or colleague, find someone who you can feel comfortable sharing your anxious feelings with. Let them know what you hope to accomplish during the event and let them know what your worries are about. Have them be a buddy for you as you focus your attention on enjoyment and not on fear.
3.) Try not to label foods “good” or “bad”. Labels are not healthy for any of us, as they can confine us into a place where we might not feel free to be who we are. Foods feel the same way! Sure, there are some foods that are healthier for you than others, but to truly overcome food anxiety it is important to not separate foods into groups. You can eat anything in moderation. If there is a food that you really love that you might label “bad”, try it anyway. Try to have a small portion and eat it without judging yourself or the food. See what happens!
4.) Know where you can go and what you can do to release holiday anxiety in a healthy way. Keeping active is an easy way to help your mind and your body feel in sync and energized. Go to the park and take a walk around the lake. Practice mindfulness or meditation. Breathe. Or perhaps you find peace listening to music or talking with a friend. Before you enter a potentially stressful situation, identify your personal outlets for stress that you have known to be effective before. Keep those close and plan them into your schedule.
5.) Give yourself a BREAK! The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and to be a break from your regular routine. Allow yourself to ease up on rules or expectations and try to truly be in the moment. Family might be in town that you have not seen for a while. Be present with them and don’t let food take that precious time away from you. The same thing goes for work: leave it at the office!
6.) Come prepared with what you need in order to feel at peace. At some family gatherings, family members may pressure you to “just eat!”, or “don’t you want more??”. Before you enter this atmosphere, know what your personal goals are. Perhaps they are to eat until you are satisfied and then stop. Don’t feel pressured to eat more than you want or need to, despite what others say. Etiquette experts say that it is ok to say no, so follow what your intuition tells you.
7.) Ask for support. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or with any form of emotional eating, there are many places you can go to find others who understand what you are feeling. There are numerous local support groups for eating disorders (local Denver ones are found here), or you can reach out to a therapist or friend who can provide empathy, understanding, and supportive tools for helping you get through the stressful times.
8.) Don’t focus on numbers. I don’t like numbers. They can “tell” us what to feel about ourselves. In terms of weight and food amounts and calories, numbers can be quite damaging. During the holidays, try to feel what your body needs through its internal signals to you, not through counting calories or fat grams. Your body has a voice and it wants to tell you exactly what it needs. It intuitively will guide you to eat until you are satisfied physically and emotionally. So leave the calculators at home and go out with a mission to eat intuitively, to enjoy the food, and to not control it. Don’t allow the word ‘diet’ into your vocabulary! The intuitive eating approach is guaranteed to help you overcome struggles with holiday food anxiety, eating disorders, and emotional stress.
I am hosting a workshop: ”Are you WEIGHTING for freedom from holiday emotional eating?” at my office on Tuesday, December 13th at 5:30pm. Contact me for more information!
Have a happy, healthy, and stress-free holiday season!
When we develop an eating disorder, suddenly our inner artist, our inner dancer, our inner child is suffocated by food, control, and obsession. That young child can be locked inside of ourselves until we begin to embrace recovery, release our behaviors, and allow ourselves to feel our authentic feelings once more. Many of us might fear what will come if we let our locked-up feelings out to play. While there may be a flood of emotion, many of those feelings are ones that a child — a trapped child — would naturally express without the tarnished pain of an eating disorder. You may feel joy, release, spontaneity, laughter, curiosity, and energy. If you are suffering from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, you may be ready to play once again with your youthful, innocent inner child.
How can play therapy be effective in treating eating disorders? When eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia force us to live in a controlled, un-changing world, we can lose sense of the creativity that burst from us as a child and as ourselves before eating disorders took over. Art therapy, music therapy and dance therapy can in this way be very powerful in helping us to reconnect. Play therapy, such as using puppets to re-create or renew different parts of ourselves can encourage us to look at our lives in a new and different way — “outside of the box”. When eating disorders are in control, we may feel as if we have no choice in what we think, feel, or do — we “must” schedule our days according to when and what the eating disorder wants us to eat and how associated behaviors will be planned out. It’s very constrictive and confining.
Do you remember when you were a child and you loved to play? What were your favorite games? One of mine was dressing up in costumes and putting on plays for my family and friends. I would inhabit different characters and create a life that I wanted to inhabit. Did you like to draw? Play in the sand? Play with dolls, stuffed animals, or toy cars? How did you express your feelings on a given day though what you played with and how?
Using play therapy as a child, adolescent or adult with an eating disorder can inspire us to “play out our feelings”, instead of having them locked up inside of us. We may have wounds from our past that are still affecting us today (being called “fat” on the playground in third grade), but we do have the choice of how much we want these wounds to have a place in our current lives. By using play, we can externalize these feelings, give them names, give them identities, and physically throw them, hug them, or do whatever else with them that will help us soothe our inner child.
Here are a few ideas for how you can play your way to recovery from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder and give your inner child the freedom to dance:
Lots of things have been said to be able to help you sleep: warm milk and tea before bed, a bubbly bath, or even a glass of wine. With our ever-demanding and relentless jobs and lives, it’s a wonder that any of us sleep at all! Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article entitled Sleep Medication: Mother’s Newest Little Helper, sparking a conversation about why women tend to have trouble sleeping and what this means for their mental health. The women interviewed for this article described the tape that keeps them awake at 3am: “I need to call that guy about fixing the car. I think I’ve run out my daughter’s favorite snack. Should I change the batteries in the smoke alarm?”. Sound like a tape that might run in your mind? I certainly own my own version.
Nearly one in three women in America admits to using some kind of sleep aid to help them sleep at least a few nights a week – the most common being Lunesta or melantonin, and some forms of anxiety medications and antidepressants are also used to help numb the mind. Medications like Xanax can be addictive, causing some women to “lay off” them for a few days and risk a sleepless night. Tylenol PM also runs the same risk of dependency, and as Chris Baldwin laments, “the mornings after I stop taking them for a bit, I get a hangover.” How’s a woman to win?
Is this sleepless life new for women? Certainly not. Women outnumber men significantly as patients in sleep clinics, causing clinicians to ponder if they suffer from insomnia more than men do. Women in today’s society constantly struggle with making daily decisions and often feel as if they are ‘barely afloat’. Many women, both partnered and single, may feel pressure to be both the breadwinner in the family and also the primary caretaker of children. New motherhood is commonly a cause of sleepless nights — nearly 84% of new mothers report insomnia when they have an infant — but why does insomnia extend past the infant stage?
Many parents are ‘trained’ to keep one ear open to see if their children need them in the night, even if the kids are sleeping soundly in their beds. This habit of wakefulness can persist unless the parent consciously takes steps to cease the pattern and to get more sleep. In a study performed by Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta, three out of four patients were women and 80 percent of the women reported ‘being just too stressed or worried to turn out the proverbial lights.” The article cites a myth that is all too commonly believed: that children are the cause for a parent’s insomnia. The truth is that it is mothers who keep themselves awake, as they struggle with defining when and how they can ‘turn off’ for the night.
In addition to the constant tape of “I should, I need to, I have to remember…” that keeps us awake at times when our bodies want to naturally begin the sleep process, sleep clinicians are pointing to the ever-accesible presence of technology that stimulate our minds.
Do you have the itch to check your email just one more time before turning out the light? Do you read an iPad or brightly lit digital reader right before bed? Do you keep your smartphone by your bedside? These highly animated and active devices also leave your brain activated and dancing around — never to be truly ‘turned off’.
Some women have noted that their perfectionist mentalities — the same drive that makes us want to “be everything to everyone” can keep them awake. Thoughts of “how am I going to create a five-course meal after working all day and helping the kids with homework??” can increase anxiety not just at night but during the daytime as well.
One of the interesting points of the article that I took home, both as a therapist and as a woman, was that for some women the ’3am worry hour’ may be the only time they get to themselves. At 3am, no one is demanding anything of them or needing them to do something — they are left to their own devices. It’s a ‘break’ from the waking day, a time when there might not seem to be enough hours to get everything done. A child psychiatrist from New York notes that she was able to study for her board exams during the 4am-6am hours when no one else was awake and she couldn’t sleep.
Stress, anxiety, and “worrying and then worrying about the worry” can plague us all. They can rob us of our sleep and our well-being. What helps you to sleep? And does it come at a cost?
What is your life’s purpose? Does thinking about that question cause you to break out in cold sweats as you find it more and more difficult to breathe? Relax – I understand the panic about finding ‘who you are’, ‘what you’re meant to do’, ‘what direction should you go?’ and other perplexing thoughts, and so do thousands of other people. Today, the Denver Post ran an article about “The Sophomore Slump” in college, discussing how “sophomores feel anxiety about choosing life direction, deciding on a career path and picking a major; social pressure to find their place on campus, losing high-school friendship ties, questioning their identity and developing autonomy from parents.” All of this can cause anxiety and depression. Whew! That’s a long list of life-defining choices, and, as the article states and many of us have experienced, after the excitement of freshman year wears off we are often left to wonder: who am I? What I would like to share with them: “Relax! Enjoy college, follow your dreams, and you will find your place.”
These questions do not only hit at sophomore year of college. In fact, they can cycle into our lives at many different intervals. For some, these questions come to surface after college graduation as we wonder if we should go to graduate school or hit the job market. Due to economic strains and new opportunities in education, an increasing number of the adult population is embarking upon a midlife career change and these questions can spark and ignite fire: what are my core values? what are my personal strengths? which career path will make me feel most fulfilled? what other parts of my life have purpose — having a family, a home, spending time traveling the world? How do I make all of these fit into my reality, and how can they co-exist in a balanced way?
The Post’s article describes the “sophomore slump”, a time of transition between ‘new-and-exciting freshman year’ and adjusting to the pressures of making life decisions and managing growing responsibilities. It’s the year of finding purpose…or at least poking around for it. I remember my sophomore year of college vividly. I was following my passion and studying European history, but there was a persistent malaise brewing underneath my daily consciousness that whispered to me: “you know that this is not going to turn into a career for you. You do not want to be a history teacher. What are you going to do with this degree?”. I felt both overwhelmed and inspired by all of the opportunities presented to me in college, both academically and socially. I could choose from hundreds of courses to take and further my budding curiosity. I could choose to join the tennis team, or participate in theatre. It was like high school exemplified and glorified; so many choices, combined with my highly anxious and perfectionistic perspective, made me want to crawl in a hole and hide away at times.
How do we deal with the pressure to “be our best person”, to “make lots of money so that we can buy a house, a car, a trip to Europe”? And why do we need to listen to the messages that society tells us, saying that we need to do these things? Peer pressure much? Many people get stuck in jobs and careers that they are not passionate about because they have so many financial obligations that need to be met. What if you could meet those needs, as well as meet the needs of your soul and spirit — find a direction in life that is inspiring and energizing, a purpose that feels like home?
This may involve taking a risk. If you are able to do so, I encourage you to take that risk. Risk following your passion, pursuing your purpose. Have you always loved creating artistic pieces of jewelry but didn’t believe that it could ‘be a career’? Try selling some of your pieces and committing yourself to the process of feeling it out as a possible life transition. When we let go of some of the things that hold us back and stifle our energy, we may find that the world is open and ready for us to channel that passion into our authentic selves.
I took a risk and went to graduate school for something completely unrelated to my previous schooling focus. As I embarked on this new pursuit, that voice came back to me, and instead of whispering it shouted: “Here, you belong. You have found your place!” But it took many years of learning, experimenting, trying on different hats for my life’s purpose to finally be ready to surface. I believe that these unique experiences, in their somewhat unexplainable process, knew where they were leading me all along. I just needed to open up my heart to welcome my purpose. What do you need to do?