Do the number of inches around your waist measure the amount that you are worth?
Let me tell you something. You’re never going to lose those last five pounds.
What?? How do YOU know?, you might be thinking. That’s none of your business! And then: Yes, I will, and I can!
You are right; maybe you can and it is not my place to assume what your diet and body can and can’t do.
But I am here to ask: why is that so important???
I have met so many people who are suffering every day because they have not asked
themselves that question.
It’s the end of February. How’s your New Year’s Resolution going? If it involves weight loss it has probably been thrown out the window by now. How are you feeling about that?
How are you feeling about yourself?
I hope the answer is “great!”, but I am bravely going to dare to suggest that if a weight loss goal is connected with how you feel about yourself and your body, then you’re probably struggling with some self-criticism right about now. You are never ‘perfect’ enough…
You may be one of the thousands of men or women who ‘wants to lose those last five pounds’ and then you’ll feel ‘confident’ in your body.
I get it. That elusive yet seemingly doable goal of weight loss as a way to feel better about yourself and your body is so tantalizing.
The ads on television and in the magazines throw out all the stops to convince you that going on a diet and counting your calories is the solution as to why you don’t feel so great about yourself. (And they make it look so damn easy!) They promise you if you lost five pounds (or more) you will find…wealth…popularity…success…happiness.
I’m not sure about you, but I receive dozens of spam email messages each day. Here are a few of the most delicious titles:
‘Ellen DeGeneres’ Ageless Look! She looks 20 again just by taking this pill!”,; and from GetSkinnyNow: ‘READ THIS OR HATE YOURSELF FOREVER!’; and from BetterThanBotox: ‘[Secret Revealed!] Arctic Glacier Eliminates Wrinkles Forever!’. And good old Dr Oz promises me: ‘#1 Brand New Diet Tip of 2015: This Miracle Pill Will Burn Fat Fast!!’
Since when is deprivation, shaming, and rigidity a path to inner peace and self-love?
Yesterday marked the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2015. The last week of February each year is designated nationally as a time to flood social media and our society with lots of information, resources, and hope for eating disorder recovery. The theme this year is: “I had no idea… “that some of the things we do and say each day to ourselves or to others can trigger an eating disorder to develop.
One of those statements is “I had no idea…that my quest for health was making me sick.”
Not all diets trigger eating disorders, but rigid and perpetual dieting increases the risk of developing disordered eating behaviors like binge eating. Did you know that statistics show that people who consistently diet are thirteen times more likely to binge eat?
And did you know that more than 65% of people who have lost weight on a diet will gain it back (and then some) within the next year? If weight loss is connected to your self-worth, how is that ever going to point you in the direction of feeling better about yourself?
So instead of focusing on losing weight or counting calories to cultivate a relationship with yourself that is loving and pleasurable, how about trying these seven ideas instead?
1.) Take yourself out on a date. When you have been dieting and controlling your food and body for so long, you may have lost touch with what your body really needs or wants. Spend an evening listening …and then giving. If it wants a pint of ice cream, yum! If it wants to go salsa dancing, sounds fun! This helps to foster a sense of acceptance and connection, allowing you to build on developing a mutually enjoyable relationship with your body.
2.) Ask yourself what five pounds would really change about your life – and if the dieting is worth it? Is losing weight really the way to get there?
3.) Did you know that muscle weighs more than fat? Those extra five pounds may be comprised of muscle and strength…helping to make your body awesome and capable of doing so many things. Why attach a number to that?
4.) Focus on your strength and capability of your body and not your blemishes. What does your body do for you each day that you are not aware of? For example, did you know how complex our digestive system is and how our body facilitates so many essential daily processes that we are not consciously aware of? Amazing!
5.) Ask your body if it is truly hungry and if so, what would taste good to eat right now. So much of the diet mentality is not listening but formulating what you should eat based on someone else’s guidelines. Somebody who is not in your body and doesn’t know it as well as you do. Your body is wise and when it is well-fed it will shift to a place where it naturally feels healthy. That may be losing weight…it may not.
6.) Let go of that negative, judgmental, critical monster voice in your head. You may never be able to make it go away completely, but you can change your relationship with it and the influence it has over you. Focus on what you love about yourself, your body, and food…not what is ‘wrong’ with those things.
7.) Follow Your Bliss. Life is too short. We don’t get a dress rehearsal for our life— this is it! How do you want to spend your precious time here? How can you invite your body to join the party?
I invite you to attempt to get off the rollercoaster of ‘loving yourself WHEN….I lose five pounds…when I can bench press X amount…when I don’t have wrinkles on my face anymore’….and trying to love and accept yourself as you are today. I have tried it and it is so liberating! See how that feels on your body.
I am honored today to share a guest post to my blog by Annette Sloan, a health coach and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering teens to embrace healthy living through her business, (w)holehearted. She is gifting us today with her story about how yoga helped her offer herself something that is so integral to its essence: compassion. Even when you’re struggling with food or body image issues. Especially then.
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Have you ever been to a bad yoga class? Maybe it was a class where the teacher wasn’t sure of her instructions and kept fumbling over her words.
Or maybe she talked too much, which made it hard for you to quiet your mind, or she talked too little, which made it hard for you to know what you were supposed to be doing.
I am a yoga instructor, and I have a confession to make: I once taught the worst yoga class ever. Ok, maybe not the worst class ever. I didn’t make fun of anyone or tell them their body was wrong. No one got hurt. But, I did do an absolutely terrible job of leading the class. I forgot my sequence, mixed up left and right multiple times, and fumbled over the instructions on pretty much every pose.
Not even halfway through the class, I could tell that my students were just humoring me. They wanted to roll up their mats and leave, but they were too polite. It was my first class out of yoga teacher training, and I was screwing up it, big time.
Even worse, this wasn’t just a regular class – it was an audition. One of the polite yogis in front of me owned a yoga business, and I was supposed to be proving my chops as an instructor.
When the hour finally ended, my students gratefully rolled up their mats and departed. I was left with Bonnie, the yoga business owner. Telling myself that I could cry in my car in a few minutes, I looked her in the eye and waited to hear my fate.
Bless Bonnie. Instead of diving into the long list of everything I had done wrong, she kindly asked, “How do you think it went?”
I was honest and brutal in my self-appraisal. Bonnie waited patiently for me to finish, then nodded.
Without agreeing or disagreeing with me, she said, “But did you see how they stayed around to talk with you at the end? If they hated you, they would have left immediately. They liked your energy.”
Once again, bless Bonnie. Talk about compassion.
I didn’t get hired for the job that night. But I didn’t get dismissed either. Bonnie recognized that my nerves had played a huge role in my less-than-stellar performance. She gave me a list of areas to work on, and suggested that I do another audition in a few weeks. Later, she hired me.
The moral of the story is that on the night of my worst yoga class ever, Bonnie embodied an essential component of yoga: compassion.
In my opinion, when a yogi steps onto his or her mat, everything that takes place is in service to a higher goal: to connect mind and body to the present moment – and to be compassionate with whatever comes up.
Downward-facing dog too rough on your shoulders today? Try table instead. Table isn’t feeling good? Child’s pose is always available. The underlying message is: wherever you are, right now, is valid. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. Honor your journey.
I started practicing yoga in high school, and continued through college and my twenties. During this time, I was struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food. (Learn more about my story here, or here for a more detailed version). Thankfully, I’m now on the other side of the struggle. And I can honestly say that my practice of yoga was essential to my healing.
Yoga connected my mind and body in the present moment. It regularly reminded me to practice self-compassion and to honor my journey. My subconscious received the message that I wherever I was, it was ok for me to be there. I was worthy, just as I was.
Eventually, my journey led me to yoga-teacher training, where I found the courage to share the story of my struggle with food.
It was terrifying to make myself so vulnerable – but in airing my shame, I found healing. I summoned up the courage to share my story with others, and eventually, with everyone I knew. Today, I have my own business, (w)holehearted, which specializes in compassionate health coaching for teen girls.
I have yoga to thank for it all – and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Annette Sloan owns (w)holehearted, a Denver-based business specializing in compassionate health coaching for teen girls. Her work as a coach and speaker empowers teens to discover their happiest, healthiest, most authentic selves. Soon, Annette will also debut a program called Empowered Moms, Empowered Daughters, which will help moms to heal their relationships with food, body, and self so that they can be positive role models for their daughters. In addition, Annette co-leads a workshop called “Yoga, Food, and Love: A Compassionate Journey to Healing your Relationship with Food.” Learn more at www.healthyteengirls.com and www.fb.com/healthyteengirls.
Here’s a fun guest post I wrote for nutritionist and counselor Stephanie Small‘s blog. She’s an awesome inspiration in helping women “boost your mood and transform your relationship with food’! Come back next week to read a guest post from Stephanie on my blog! Check it out:
If you have found this post, you probably are someone who has struggled with body image issues in your life. You may have had negative thoughts towards parts or all of your body, like: “Ugh, why do my thighs jiggle and touch each other like that?”, or, “My stomach is so flabby I feel like I’m going to burst out of my pants. How disgusting.” Sit for a moment and really let the effect of hearing those statements ooze into you. Do you feel even more yucky after reading them?
You may have also experienced behaviors that are violent towards your body as a result of some of the feelings and thoughts that have been directed its way. Perhaps you binge eat to a point of extreme discomfort; perhaps you binge and then purge to get the feelings and the food out of your system; maybe you restrict what you eat to try to sculpt the body you think you’d really love.
I’m here to give you some bad news: you’re never going to feel confident in your body.
What? How could those words come from a therapist who spends every day (in and out of the office) offering support to those struggling with eating disorders, body image struggles or who for various reasons feel disconnected from and not at-home in their bodies?
Bear with me. I’m going to suggest that we can never be confident in our bodies until we detach from our bodies. Just for a little while. And then we can come home to them.
As a society, we are afraid of fat. We value thin. We put thin and people who are thin up on a pedestal. You are bombarded with messages that tell you this directly and indirectly hundreds of time each day. It takes conscious, concerted effort each day to notice these messages before you internalize them. And even if you do, you still will internalize them. They will cause you and others lots of suffering because you can never be “enough” of what society tells you that you should be (thin, rich, popular, funny, smart, etc). The point is not to try to stop them, because we never can, but to change the way that you react to them.
I have had many, many clients come to me and tell me about their struggles with food – perhaps they binge eat, or feel out of control in some way. They just want to stop the behavior and they will feel so much better about themselves. This part I totally empathize with – I know how destructive and painful these eating disordered behaviors can be.
Then usually they slip in – ‘I just want to lose some weight and then I know I will feel more confident to [date] [go out for a new job] [stop isolating] [love my body].
They are fused with the thin-ideal as a surefire way to love themselves more. And they don’t realize it or are in denial. I get it – I have been swayed by that campaign as well.
Sometimes we are able to notice that this is happening and step away from being body-centric for a bit and examine what is truly going on for us – fear of not being accepted unless us look a certain way, deep-seated shame, fear of not knowing who we are without being body-obsessed, discomfort with confrontation, etc. – so that we can sort through it, find healing, and then move back to applying that acceptance to our entire being.
But sometimes we can get so stuck on the thin-ideal that we cannot see out of the ‘I must be thin [or lose some weight] to be self-confident’ blinders. We can get on a rollercoaster ride where self-worth is in the same car as ‘physical appearance’, and we are zooming at a frantic pace with seemingly no way to get off the ride.
That’s where I try to stop us (or slow down at least!) and divorce the body for a moment. What is truly going on inside? What are you truly hungry for that has nothing to do with your body? Without looking at that, you cannot be truly confident in yourself or your body (and you won’t be able to actually stop the eating disordered behaviors).
After some time focused away from the external parts of the body and delving deeper into the inner parts of the self, we may discover what that deeper hunger truly is. And we can feed it – without food being the answer.
Then we can re-enter the body work in a holistic, integrated, authentic way where the focus is not on weight but on being embodied – or “at home in your body and yourself”. As you stand on your own two feet, you will radiate confidence from within your body, a confidence that has nothing to do with what your body physically looks like.
When these pieces are integrated back together, you may have thoughts like “I love the way my knees curve that way as I bend down”, or even “My hips are strong and womanly”. Your body may not actually be at the top of your mind as often because it is now a fully connected part of you and the hunger that your body feels is purely physical, or, if you have emotional hunger, you will have the awareness to decipher the “food” that you’re really craving.
What do you think? Have you noticed yourself getting hijacked by the thin-ideal and getting taken away from what really matters to you? How can you find self-confidence without focusing on your body?
Seasons are changing here in Denver, Colorado — at 10am this morning the temperature was a balmy 32 degrees! Yesterday I frantically covered my garden and pots as best I could and am praying that they pulled through this cold snap. Oh, Colorado weather, you never fail to challenge me! I still have so many tomatoes that need to ripen and pumpkins to turn to orange
It is supposed to be back in the 80s next week, also a typical Colorado weather pattern this time of year. I love fall! The shift of the seasons also brings events like back-to-school time and many other forms of change. Going back to school can be an exciting and anticipatory time — what will I learn this year? Who will I meet? What will be my greatest challenge? Where will I grow the most?
It also can be a time where body image concerns can show up pretty intensely as each student is finding their group of friends, adjusting to the school atmosphere, and embracing the unknown. Thoughts like “How do I measure up? Will I fit in? Am I accepted?” can show up during the first few weeks of school. As we wear less tank tops and sundresses and begin pulling on long pants and coats, so, too, do some of us feel a little more self-conscious about our bodies and how we feel in them.
I thought it would be a helpful exercise today to offer some tips for boosting your body image and embracing the awesome person you are as school starts up and the seasons shift. Whether you sometimes struggle with body image concerns or not, I’m hopeful you can find something to relate to and take with you from the list below.
1.) Ask yourself: “How do I feel about my body?” . Remember that you are unique and have so many gifts to offer that only you can! Focus on three body parts that you don’t normally pay attention to (your glands, for example!) and offer them gratitude for the function they serve for you. For example: “I love my spine. Each vertebra is lovingly connected to its neighbors. There is smooth, perfect interaction between them. I am strong and flexible.”
2.) Find a body image boost buddy (BBB). Reach out to someone you trust and talk about body image. Talk about what you love about your body and what you struggle with. Ask them their body image story. Swap tips for embracing and loving the body you were gifted with.
3.) Speak up when you hear someone talking negative about their body or someone else’s. Negativity and judgement can spread like a wildfire and it’s hurtful. If you notice someone putting their body down or criticizing someone else’s, say something to them. They might not even notice what they are doing or the impact it can have. This also can help you feel more positive about yourself, your body, and the messages you are sending about body love.
4.) Create a vision. Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel inside this body? If I felt this way, how would I move differently, how would I interact with others differently, what would this free me to do and experience?” Using guided visualization, to step into and experience this vision, allowing yourself to have a goal to work towards.
5.) Notice your body talk. How do you talk to your body? How do you talk about your body to others? Notice the negative or critical thoughts that you have towards your body and write them down. Then write a counter to each of those thoughts and formulate thoughts that are positive about your body.
6.) Be active. Being active in your body — running, dancing, stretching, playing soccer, or whatever makes you feel good — can help you connect to it in a healthy way and show you the amazing things your body helps you do each day.
7.) Wear clothes that make you feel confident. Wearing clothes that fit your body well can help you feel more comfortable and confident in your body. You may need to buy new clothes or find some oldies but goodies that you love. What’s important is that you enjoy wearing these clothes and therefore are choosing to treat your body with love and respect.
8.) Notice the messages that influence you. Where do you get messages that there is something wrong with the way your body looks? Are there magazines, commercials, television shows, advertisements that try to convince you that you need to change? Before buying into them, try to notice them and ask yourself if you truly believe their message or if they are trying to sell you an unhealthy thought.
9.) Listen to positive messages! The good news is there are so many uplifting and fun sites and other media that are trying to change the way we talk about ourselves and our bodies. Here are a few of my favorite: Operation Beautiful, Beauty Redefined, The Body Positive, and here’s a great list of more body image boost sites!
10.) Redefine what health, beauty, and happiness mean to you! Maybe your definition doesn’t entirely fit with society’s or your best friend’s. That’s okay! This is your body, your life, and you get to decide what makes you feel wonderful!
Here’s a fun video of a hip new song called “All About That Bass”, which promotes positive body image:
Lyrics for this song are here.
Come up with your own! Leave a comment below about your own ways to Boost Body Image!
Happy Fall and Back To School~
As a young girl, I loved to play in the fields of sunflowers by my home and watch as they reached higher, higher, and higher, always facing the sun. They thrived in the light.
As a teenager, I became disconnected from my love of the earth and as my eating disorder destroyed my life, I barely noticed the neglected tulips outside my window. I hid in the darkness and so did my garden.
As an eating disorder survivor and now a professional counselor, I play in my garden daily to nurture my recovery, to nourish my soul, and to reconnect with my authentic self. While I have been recovered for more than 10 years now and feel very solid in my recovery, gardening is an integral factor in sustaining my recovery.
I am blessed to be able to help others who struggle with eating disorders to find their own light in their recovery process and I often utilize metaphors from mindful gardening practices (and get our hands in the dirt and actuallypractice it!) to help them cultivate their own inner gardens.
Do you like to garden? If you were a plant, which type do you think you’d be? Why?
The earth is a natural source of healing energy for us and if we connect with it, we can soothe our inner hunger and feed our soul in a way that food cannot.
1. You are the artist of your own garden. There are hundreds of flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs, and other beauties that can make your garden lush and bountiful! Yes, this can be a bit overwhelming, but it can also be fun! It’s up to you to decide what you like, what you don’t, what you want to experiment with, and what is aesthetically pleasing to you. In recovery, it’s so important to learn that you are unique, you are wonderful any way you want to be, and your voice is the one that truly counts when it comes to taking care of yourself.
2. Can you try to embrace your inner weeds instead of pull them all out? Weeds can sometimes be unpleasant, unsightly, unwanted parts of our gardens. They show up when we didn’t plant them and crowd into our beautiful peony plant. You can spend hours upon hours weeding (trust me, I know!) and while it can be therapeutic to do so, you can never get all of the weeds to permanently scram. This is also true of things in our lives that we feel we want to go away — we can spend so much time and energy trying to get rid of them that we don’t have much space left to notice and appreciate what we already have. Also, some weeds are beautiful and can pop up unexpectedly in the most amazing places — kind of like in recovery when we focus on what we’re grateful for and notice that some of our challenges can sometimes be our greatest teachers.
3. Just as any garden does, your inner garden needs tender, loving care. Self care is so integral to eating disorder recovery. Listening to your inner needs, voice, and limits can foster a healthy bed for lasting recovery. Sprinkle in some self-compassion and you’ll have a beautiful recovery garden nurturing inside of you. Just as gardens need water, sun, shade, and fertilizer, for your recovery garden to thrive you will need to actively and regularly tend to it as well.
4. There is no such thing as a “perfect” garden. Sometimes the gardens that are the most quirky, fun, and unconventional are the ones that we gravitate toward. They embrace themselves even if they don’t follow all of the “rules” of gardening. Just as a garden’s uniqueness is refreshing and inspiring, on the road to recovery it’s essential to remember that there is no perfect body, shape, personality, life, family, recovery, etc. We each discover our recovery in its own imperfect and messy way and through acceptance of this, we learn to accept and cherish ourselves just as we are.
5. If it doesn’t work out the first time, try again. There is no such thing as failure, just learning and having fun. In May, I had just planted my little seedlings that I’d been carefully nurturing indoors for two months. They were finally strong enough to go out in the earth and grow! Of course, the next day we got a MASSIVE hail storm that just about drowned all of my little plants in golf-ball sized pieces. I was so upset, worried and frustrated. After some deep breaths I came to realize that I cannot control nature and that my little plants are going to show me how resilient they are. Once I embraced what I could not change or control, I turned my attention to what I was grateful for and my stress oozed out of me.In recovery, trying to embrace what you cannot control is one of the most difficult but also most freeing concepts — I cannot say that I’m always successful, but hey, I’m not perfect.
6. Patience is a virtue. What seeds do you want to nurture in your own inner garden? Take some time to think of several that you would love to grow in your life. Plant them by writing them down or planting your own garden and setting intentions for each seed that you sow. Of course, some seeds may not grow — this is the nature of nature and also the nature of life. Just plant more. Then, have patience. The most beautiful and magical gifts in our lives take time, gentle care, and acceptance for them to thrive.
Recovery is a garden worth waiting for!
Post originally written by Kate Daigle, MA, LPC and published on the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders site.
At work and in my personal life, I make a conscious effort to “practice what I preach”. I love my job in that it allows me to offer support, encouragement, and tools to my clients to help them create a more fulfilling, balanced and enjoyable life. Much of what I talk about in sessions with clients is “self care”, which is a practice of taking care of yourself through activities and rituals that nourish and foster relaxation and healing.
This, admittedly, can be difficult at times if you’ve struggled to have an accepting relationship with yourself. “Oh, it’s so much easier to take care of others than to take care of myself”, is a common excuse to avoid practicing self care. Yes, I agree that focusing on ourselves can sometimes be uncomfortable and unsettling, however the mental, physical, and emotional rewards of such practice is undeniable and incomparable.
I believe strongly in congruency and authenticity, and feel that I cannot appropriately suggest to my clients to do things that I myself am not able or willing to do. So, I try to maintain a regular routine of self care in my own life. This typically involves exercise, mindfulness practice, gardening, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering.
Yesterday I gave myself a gift of something I’ve never done before, and I have to admit, something I was a bit unsure about: an hour in a floatation tank. A floatation tank is an enclosed, insulated, sound- and light- proofed tank filled with water and 1000lbs of Epsom Salt. I entered the room which held the tank and was told that I would be retrieved again in one hour. “Sometimes that time goes quickly, sometimes it feels like it goes very slowly”, I was informed by the woman working there.
Then she left me. A jolt of anxiety and nervousness rushed through me. I gingerly entered the tank and closed the lid. Pitch blackness. No sound. And I was floating as if my body was weightless. With sensory deprivation this intense, my mind started to freak out a bit. “What if I can’t get out?”, “What if they forget I’m in here and I get stuck?”, “How am I going to just float here for an hour? That seems like an ETERNITY!”, were all thoughts that raced through my head.
After about (I think) ten minutes, I noticed my mind begin to settle down. I tried to actively practice mindfulness of where I was and to notice any thoughts that came into my mind that took me away from the present moment and to put them in a balloon and let them float up to the top of the tank for the time being. I tried to do something that has been a difficult practice for me for my entire life: to let go.
When your mind can’t get data from what you see, and when it can’t register information from what you hear, it feels quite deprived. It’s lost two of its most reliable sources of data which can tell it if it needs to feel a certain feeling: fear, excitement, joy, surprise, or if there is some sort of threat. At some point, the struggle to try to control the experience lifted from me and I was able float, aimlessly. As my mind quieted, I was left with only the sensations that my body was feeling — body talk. I felt fully, truly present in my body.
This type of experience taught me so much and in reflecting back, I believe it could be very beneficial for anyone who feels stress. I think it could especially be powerful for people who struggle with issues related to body image and disordered eating because for this hour, your body is completely weightless. You must trust it, as it is your only source of information and awareness. It challenges you to re-evaluate how you perceive and feel in your body without using visual cues to determine this, and it gives you a sense of being in your body in a whole new way.
Here are the Top Ten Benefits of Floating
And more, depending on your personal goals!! Read more about floatation here.
From the perspective of a professional in the mental health field, I would add:
After my session, I felt rejuvenated, relaxed, and also slightly discombobulated. I felt like I had been on a different plane of existence for an hour — a refreshing to “get out of your head, into your body”, and embrace a new perspective.
I’d encourage anyone who would like to explore a new way of being in your body, a refreshing way of experiencing your mind, and to experiment with “letting go” and trusting your intuition to sign up for a session in a floatation tank. You’ll walk away feeling much different than you did before you went in, and this experience is unlike any other!
Many of the clients that I work with report feeling “disconnected from”, “at war with”, “disgusted by”, or “dissatisfied with” their bodies. To me this says that there has been some form of trauma that has caused a rift in the natural mind-body connection. This could mean an actual traumatic event in one’s life, or, more commonly, it could mean that some form of internal experience (feelings) has felt too painful or too disregulated and we must disconnect from it. Our bodies can be a battlefield for our emotions. Castlewood Treatment Center defines one’s body image as:
‘Body image is comprised of how one sees their body, lives in and experiences their body and perceives how others see their body. Negative body image can serve a protective function to distract clients from painful feelings or emotions held in the body.’
To heal from this disconnect between mind, body and soul, we strive to become more “embodied”, to literally attach ourselves to our bodies once more, as we were when we were born. To find a way to be accepting of our internal and experiences and thus more accepting of ourselves.
What does it mean to “be embodied”? Being “embodied” signifies:
Here are a few ideas for beginning to implement these and be on your way to “becoming more embodied” in a safe, accepting, nonjudgmental, and joyous capacity.
1.) Bring your focus to the daily essential tasks that your body performs for you. Have you ever noticed how many muscles, bones, and ligaments it takes to walk effectively? It’s not just our legs and feet that need to be involved; our whole body is on the job as we walk down the street and keep us balanced. What about all of the steps it take to take a shower? Have you ever slowed down and tuned into each step? Your body does so much for you — much of it out of your consciousness — and you may not realize this. By bringing attention and focus to the physical tasks it implements for you, you can begin to feel more present, grounded, and appreciative of your whole body and the miracle it is.
2.) Draw a body image timeline. What is the story of your body? What would it say to you about its life if it could speak? Begin with a large piece of drawing paper and some art materials. Draw a line from your earliest memory of your body to the present. Fill in each of the events that stand out to you (for example: ‘felt self-conscious in my bathing suit at the pool party, age 13′, or ‘gave birth to my first child, age 33′). Use colors, shapes, words to describe the journey your body has been on until this point. Add influential people to the timeline. This is not about weight, but about how it has felt to be in your body. Then, draw a line from the present into the future: how do you want the story of your body to look from here on out?
3.) Pay attention to the messages you send to your body. These may come from both internal and external sources. What kinds of statements do you send to your body? That it’s not good enough? That it’s awesome and strong? That it’s beautiful? That ‘if only I could lose 5 more lbs, I’d be happy’? Write these down in a notebook. Then try to reframe the negative ones to thoughts that feel more accepting, validating, kind, and compassionate — the kinds of messages you would send to someone you love very much. Offer kindness to what it’s been through — pains, injuries, surgeries, etc — and how resilient it is!
4.) Dance, dance, dance! We all can project feelings of awkwardness, uncertainty, or insecurity on our bodies. Have you ever watched someone dance in a way with complete abandon, fearlessness, and joy? Try it! You can begin in your own home. Turn on a song that you love, one that really gets into your soul, your joints, your body. And let yourself dance to it with no rules and no self-consciousness. Fling your arms around; gallop across the floor; jump in the air! Do whatever your body wants to do — just follow it. See how it feels!
5.) Spend a day tracking your emotions and your body signals. We tend to hold our emotions in our bodies, and they can often show up as somatic concerns if we don’t address them. Have you ever had a stress headache? Or shoulder tension? These could be the result of untreated emotional pain you are holding in your body. When we take care of our bodies appropriately (and this means REST as well as movement!), then we send the message to our emotional selves that we deserve to be appropriately tended to as well. Spend a day tracking the messages from your body and your emotions. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On one side, track any emotions you feel that day (sad, angry, lonely, surprised, etc). On the other, track physical sensations you feel (headache, stomach queasy, muscle spasm in leg, tight hamstring, etc). Just notice where these line up next to each other and if you see any connection.
These are only a few ideas to helping you become more embodied in your body, your soul, and your life. This Saturday, March 29th, I’ll be facilitating a full-day workshop on this topic, using some of these techniques and so much more! There are a few spots left, so contact me ASAP at 720-340-1443 to reserve yours!
Leave a comment below with ideas you have tried that have helped you feel more “at home” in your body. What are the daily practices you use to facilitate this? There are more great ideas as Embodiment Training as well.
This is the only body you’ll have. Let’s see how we can celebrate our bodies and pamper them instead of judge and criticize them!
I don’t see myself as a “typical” risk taker — I don’t think I’d ever like to climb on the side of a jutted cliff or swim with sharks (yikes!). But sometimes something gets into me that pushes me to take a giant step outside of my comfort zone and push myself to my very limits. I recently engaged in one of the biggest challenges I have ever come across in my career: PUBLIC SPEAKING.
I was very fortunate to be chosen in April to be a presenter for the Association for Contextual Behavioral Sciences Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Regional Conference held on September 20-21, 2013. This association brings together professionals who utilize Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Relational Frame Theory with clients in many different capacities to help reduce suffering and facilitate healing. I put together a presentation entitled: Embracing Our Bodies, Allowing Our Experience: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to Treating Body Image and Disordered Eating Issues. This topic is near to my heart and I am always excited to explore the ways that ACT is effective in helping clients from this population.
In April, this sounded awesome! As the days, weeks, and months crept by, I found myself engaging in several anxiety-related activities that let me know that I was feeling quite nervous about presenting in front of so many national and international peers who have a vested interest and skills in ACT. Looking through the ACT lens, I was definitely utilizing experiential avoidance. I procrastinated by doing ANYTHING but work on my presentation (including cleaning and organizing), I filled up my schedule with other activities so I ‘wouldn’t have time to work on the presentation’, and I began having anxiety dreams, one of which included me standing naked in front of all of the mentors and people who have been meaningful to me on my professional path and not having a word to say. All of these techniques did not help to reduce my anxiety, but just delayed it and actually helped it grow.
When it finally came time to present at the conference, I felt the anxiety shivering up and down my body. I knew deep down that I was not nervous about my competency, as I have had training and lots of experience with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, but more about being vulnerable and speaking in front of so many peers that I deeply respect.
Having “survived” this experience, I wanted to share a few things I learned from it, as it has opened up my eyes to the courage, vulnerability, and strength that clients embody every day:
Little did I know, I was utilizing all of the components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help me get through my nerves and present my workshop on the very same topic!
This experience deepened my awareness of and empathy for the struggles that my clients engage with every day. Those in recovery from eating disorders, body image struggles, anxiety, or self esteem issues can seem paralyzed by the challenge of recovery — much like I was before my presentation. But I know from personal experience that it is possible to recover from an eating disorder and to face your fears and prove to yourself how strong you are!
It still will be quite some time before I submit a proposal to present at a national conference again, though
I was recently asked if I thought there was such thing as “good foods” and “bad foods”. To me, this is like asking “do you want to get stuck in a rigid cycle of all or nothing thinking?”. The answer is no!
For myself while I was going through my recovery many years ago, and for others who are actively engaging in recovery today, ‘all or nothing’ thinking can be a common yet very limiting and confining behavior centered not just around eating, but branching out to many areas of life. ‘All or nothing’ thinking occurs in eating disordered behaviors but is not limited to this realm.
Many of us have caught ourselves thinking or feeling: “It has to be this way or nothing at all”, or “I am not able to enjoy my day until I do x, y, and z.” These limiting thought patterns can make us feel like there are only two extremes to choose from, both of them so extreme that they are unhealthy to maintain and actually diminish our life satisfaction. It’s like we’re keeping ourselves in a jail cell, yet we don’t have the key. What gives?
For people who are struggling with disordered eating (and this concept can be applied across many realms, struggles, or concerns), they can arrive at a dichotomous crossroads where there is some sort of decision or classification made about themselves and their experience. These choices might be related to weight, body shape, numbers, or certain food types and amounts. Once there is a “rule” set about these things, it can become quite rigid and hard to challenge. Some folks may decide that certain foods with lower fat or carb or sugar content are “good” foods, while everything else is “bad”. This is based on a fear of gaining weight, but I also see it as a fear of letting go of control.
What is the function of the “all or nothing” thinking? There can be numerous reasons for this, but one of the most common is that seemingly only having two choices (“good or bad”, or “right or wrong”) helps to create a focus where they can put their energy and attention. Food might be something that they can control, when something else in their lives feels out of control — whether it be emotions, a family situation, a relationship, etc. Food can be the “red herring“, the object that is focused on instead of what’s really going on underneath. The problem is, when a rule such as “I can only have x y and z food (even if I don’t really like it), but not a b and c foods (even if I love those foods)”, the body and the emotional self begins to feel deprived and to crave those foods that “aren’t okay”. This can commonly lead to eventual out of control behavior around food, such as bingeing or emotionally overeating and “feeling out of control.”
In recovery, I help my clients find the “grey area”. This can be very scary at times, as living in the “all or nothing” has felt safe, albeit not healthy at times. Only in the grey area can we embrace life’s imperfections, its joy, its silliness, its sadness, and to find ways to tolerate all of these without needing rules to govern them. In the grey area, there are no rules about food, emotions, or the human experience. So, to answer my original question, : “NO, I do not think there are things such as “good foods” and “bad foods”, as these trigger the dichotomous thinking and lead to a rigid, rule-driven, stuck emotional place. By offering ourselves and our experiences compassion, we can eat all foods – especially the ones that we really love! — in moderation and enjoyment.
I don’t want to undermine the importance of nutrition. Getting our nutritional needs met is very important! Some foods have higher and more diverse nutritional content than others, and these foods will make our bodies feel strong, energized, and healthy.
I think that sometimes when ‘all or nothing’ thinking becomes extreme, folks can become convinced that only certain foods with low fat, sugar, salt or carbs means “eating healthily”, when in reality, we need a good dose of those things for our bodies to function fully. Consulting with a nutritionist is a great way to learn about your body’s specific needs. When fear consumes certain foods for you, the true meaning of nutrition and health can go out the door, and the “food rules” can become more about control than about truly nurturing your body. Don’t forget to also nurture your soul — sometimes an ice cream sundae is just what your soul ordered!
By exploring what’s really going on underneath, and having compassion and tolerance for those feelings, we are able to move forward and walk the life of value that we’ve always wanted.
Tell me, what is your experience with “food rules” or “all or nothing thinking” and what are some ways to find more balance and flexibility?
It’s that time of year again. The media pressure to work out and have the ‘ideal’ body has waned a bit since the New Year’s Resolutions campaign, but now it’s coming back in force as the weather warms up and we are all eager to get outside and enjoy the sunshine: “get your best bikini body yet!”, “are you ready to hit the beach?”, “three tips to lose weight FAST to fit into that tiny bikini!”. Then there’s the comparisons to celebrities who have the “perfect bikini body” and whose pictures are spread throughout the internet and in magazines as the “ideal role models” for how your body ‘should’ look this summer. Whoa. I’m exhausted even thinking about it. I can feel my chest start to tighten as I almost fall into that trap: “how will I EVER get my body to look like THAT??”.
Who said that anyone had to have a certain body appearance or type in order to wear a bikini? Where is the logic in that? It doesn’t make sense to me and it feels very shaming, judgmental, and narrow-minded. For those of us who embrace and love our bodies no matter what they look like (or are desiring to do so!), these messages can be very harming. Bikinis come in all shapes and sizes, just like our bodies do. And we all have a right to enjoy our bodies, whether in a bathing suit, a dress, a towel, a jumpsuit, a clown’s suit, or whatever we may choose! I’m of the belief that if we are able to physically put on a bathing suit, we are ‘bikini-ready’.
I found this great article on the Huffington Post that inspired this blog post which asked readers to submit photos of their own fabulous, REAL, bikini bodies! What I loved about it was the energy radiating from these women (no men included in this exercise, though I think that would be a GREAT idea, as men are subjected to media and social pressures as well).
These beautiful bikini babes were jumping around, swimming with fish, enjoying the sun, and even in one case, running through snow, all embracing their REAL, healthy bodies. I could just feel how happy they were, and even if some of them have had body image issues come up (which can happen no matter WHAT your body looks like), they were not allowing those to bulldoze their fun in the sun and water (or snow).
An important point: your body might naturally look a certain way — thin, heavier, whatever. It’s not what your body looks like that matters as much as how you feel in your body and the amount of joy, acceptance and satisfaction you are able to experience in your body. Exercising and eating foods that feel great to your body are certainly healthy practices, but we must remain present and balanced in these pursuits so as to not damage our self esteem and body image.
I wanted to offer some food for thought on this topic as we head into summer and are bombarded with messages that (mostly) tell us that our bodies are not good enough and that we need to change.
If you are looking for support in embracing your beautiful, awesome, real bikini body or in accepting yourself in any other way, please feel free to contact me for a complimentary consultation. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-340-1443.
Forward on to enjoying the sun, the beach, food, friends, and OURSELVES!
Today is a snowy day in Denver! As the wind blows and the temperature plummets, I am reminded of the gift of slowing down. When something comes up that takes us out of our regular routine (whether it’s weather, illness, unforeseen obligations, etc), we might have no choice but to S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. I greet this ‘slowdown’ with anticipation and also a bit of anxiety. What to do on a snow day? Play out in the snow? (did that, nose froze!). Read a book (yes, please)? Peruse the internet ? Have you ever felt this way?
As I noticed all of the feelings I was experiencing and the thoughts I was having, I brought myself back to the present moment and asked:
“What choices do I have with this experience?”
I realized that I have the power to choose acceptance of this moment, EVEN THOUGH I still might feel some anxiety (or whatever else). I became aware that this concept is something I have been working on with clients recently: finding a way to be with slightly uncomfortable feelings while making a choice that helps me to make steps towards being the person I want to be. And today I really want to be peaceful and embrace the cold and snow because I know that tomorrow the sun will come out again, the flowers will be nourished, and the birds will awaken. It will be spring once more.
Mindfulness can be effective in just a few minutes. What is mindfulness and how is it effective?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment, and
A great book for introducing yourself to this concept is: Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Today, offer yourself the gift of slowing down, breathing deeply, checking in with your body awareness, noticing your thoughts but trying to not attach to them. This video is a great tool for experiencing the benefits of mindfulness — whether you have a snow day or a busy day — truly allowing us to feel our bodies and to follow their lead into our experience. I invite you to try it yourself — whether you have an hour to give or even just five minutes.
Happy Valentine’s Day! St. Valentine reminds us that life should be filled with love – for our friends, for our partner, for our family, for our community, and, extra importantly, for ourselves! Have you shown yourself love lately? Sometimes I think the greatest gift we can offer each other and ourselves is to slow down, notice, and be grateful for the world around us. Here are a few great tips for focusing on this reconnection and being present with yourself amidst a busy, chaotic world:
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to change something. When I was a teenager, the focal point of the thing I wanted to change was myself. This dissatisfaction with myself, or parts of myself, spiraled into an exhaustive effort and cycle of “if only I looked like…if only I could do…THEN, I’d be happy”. Let me tell you how that ended up: in an eating disorder. Only when I was able to accept myself, ALL of myself, and the range of emotions I experienced on a daily basis, was I able to stop destructive behaviors and lead a value-driven life. I know that I am not unique in the way I was thinking; I believed that my emotions were the problem and that my thoughts were “bad” and that I needed to change all of it. When I stopped struggling with all of those beliefs, I was free. That didn’t mean accepting the negative beliefs and talk I was saying to myself, but stopping the struggle with my emotions, as I learned that it is not the emotions themselves that create dis-stress or dis-orders, it is the struggle, or attempted control, over the emotions that is the problem.
Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, compulsive over-exercising and other types of disordered eating behaviors as well as body image struggles can be borne out of a desire to find happiness and peace — but somewhere that mission gets diverted into destructive behaviors that lead to suffering. It seems that there is a call to find a way to “be with” our emotions in non-destructive ways.
I am currently getting trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an empirically-based therapy that “makes no attempt to reduce symptoms, but gets symptom reduction as a by-product”, writes one of its founders, Russell Harris. This approach is rooted in values, forgiveness, mindfulness, acceptance, compassion, living in the present moment, and accessing a transcendent sense of self, a therapy that encourages us to accept what is without judgment, and to be find some peace in our struggle (while acknowledging that some type of suffering is part of the human experience). ACT has been clinically proven to effectively treat eating disorders and other types of conditions such as OCD, anxiety, chronic pain, and stress, amongst many others.
ACT uses six core principles to help people develop more psychological flexibility and to get out of some of the rigid patterns that keep us stuck in self-destructive pattens:
I’m eager to utilize this approach with clients and am excited about the way that it encourages us to be ourselves, knowing that we are okay just as we are. To me, this is a big sigh of relief!
Are you interested in applying some of these principles in a hands-on experiential way? Are you ready to cultivate a more peaceful, accepting relationship with food and yourself? Join me and colleague (and ACT expert) Christine Allison, MA, LPC on March 2nd, 2013 for a workshop where we will practice all of this!
Early bird special ends on 2/15 so ACT now!!!
Held at my office, 709 Clarkson St, Denver, on 2/3 from 10am-2:30pm, the early bird rate is $65, and after 2/15 it will go up to $85.
Contact me to sign up TODAY — seats are filling up!
See the flyer here:
Read more about ACT: Embrace Your Demons by Russ Harris
Happy New Year!
2013 is opening up as a bright, fresh breath of air, full of possibilities! How do you approach the New Year? Are you one who makes resolutions to change something, start something or stop something? Are you one to focus on deepening practices that you are already currently doing? Whatever your approach, the underlying theme that I hear from clients (and from myself!) is: I want to be happy and healthy. This is a very doable, energized mindset — but what if you are setting yourself up to fail? The way that we approach this goal is critical to our end result.
The #1 New Year’s Resolution in America is to lose weight. We have all been there. I have been there. I committed myself to working out every day for 30 minutes and had a “goal weight” that I wanted to reach by a “goal date”. Then, when my stamina for getting up early to go work out wore down, I felt badly about myself. When I wanted those delicious foods that I really enjoy but couldn’t have them because they weren’t part of my “diet”, I felt badly about myself. When I lost 10 pounds, I felt proud, like I had accomplished a goal (more of an uphill climb). . . but then that satisfaction wore off and the weight I’d lost came right on back. I felt devastated. This is very common. Why?
Why does weight loss have such a powerful and motivating force upon us? It can make us feel elated — for a while. Then when it’s not sustainable it can make us feel some of those uncomfortable feelings (guilt. . . shame. . . disappointment) . . .when we don’t “succeed” at it. This sets us up to continually feel badly about ourselves, initiating a cycle of dieting and deprivation that only leads down a road of misery and yearning for that chocolate chip cookie. Dieting is the leading cause of eating disorders (note: not everyone who goes on a diet develops an eating disorder, however, the diet mentality is a strong trigger for those who might be at risk for eating disorders) and can also lead to bingeing, purging, and other self-destructive behaviors. Losing weight can “talk a big talk” and convince us that we will love ourselves if only we weighed X amount. It sure is convincing — and a lot of pressure! What’s the deeper need? And how can we meet that as well?
I’m not saying that it’s not okay to have goals, intentions, motivations — I think those can be very healthy and enriching things! I am asking us to contemplate the types of goals that we set and the reasons we are setting them. As I mentioned earlier, the most common desire for those setting resolutions is to be happy and healthy. Yes, for some this means losing weight in order to lower blood pressure or decrease the risk of diabetes or other health-related reasons. For those who are looking to lose weight so that they will feel better about themselves, I believe that there has to be more to it than that. Just losing weight is not going to make you feel better about yourself (see above). In face, it may have the opposite effect (again, see above).
I ask you: what are you really looking for? What do you truly need?
…and others. Does weight loss bring these things to you? I want to invite a radical idea: what if you accepted yourself just as you are today? What if you didn’t need to change/add/subtract/stop anything about yourself to be happy and accepted? Close your eyes for one minute and try to imagine what that might be like. You. Are. Beautiful. Just. As. You. Are. ! These are intentions that foster recovery from eating disorders, addictions, low self-esteem, and other issues.
Special New Year’s bonus: Download my “NewYearsIntentions” handout that encourages reflection of the past year and includes a guided meditation to embrace intentions for 2013. I hope that this year is a happy, balanced, nourishing year for you all!
Looking for a guide on your journey of self-discovery? Send me an email and let’s chat! I offer a complimentary consultation to explore what this exciting chapter of your life might look like!
Growing up, I spent many giggly hours watching ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and reading the books about Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, Roo, Kanga, Christopher Robin, and all of their friends. As an adult, I look at these stories and realize the powerful messages they send us: unconditional love and acceptance, the beauty of simplicity, that we are all unique and different. The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet offer extended meditations on these lessons of peace and understanding.
Today I re-watched one of my favorite episodes, “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore”. The psychotherapist in me couldn’t help but focus on the different roles adopted by the characters as well as the humanity in the story. This particular episode centered on Eeyore, the gloomy donkey with a rain cloud perpetually hanging over his head. Many of us, myself included, can identify with the sadness and despondency that envelopes Eeyore each day. Perhaps there is a part of you that really relates to this. Do you allow this part to have a voice? Do you push it away and try to ignore it because it feels consuming and dreary? Do you judge it and tell it that it doesn’t belong? These actions are the very thing that Eeyore fears. . . that being himself is too heavy for anyone else to love or accept.
When Eeyore goes to hide away and isolate, Pooh goes to find him and try to understand why he is so gloomy that day. Pooh, finding out it’s Eeyore’s birthday, goes to round up his friends to bring him gifts and celebrate. Of course, things go awry (Pooh, unable to control himself, eats the honey that he was bringing for Eeyore, and Piglet trips on his balloon gift and it pops). In the end, all of these characters, who might represent parts of ourselves, sit down at a table and celebrate Eeyore’s birthday. Giving Eeyore space, love, acceptance, attention, and not trying to change him in any way — these actions allowed Eeyore to feel safe and enjoy himself after all. He found that the popped balloon fit better in the (empty) jar of honey than it would have it it was still intact — showing us all that sometimes when things don’t go as planned, they actually turn out better. The silver lining of an unpredicted experience.
Who are the parts of you? Do you have a Tigger — a part that struggles to focus or commit, sometimes says or does the wrong thing but is lovable just the same? Do you have a Piglet — a worrier who wants everything to be okay but doesn’t always know the answer? Do you have a Pooh — a thinker, with great ideas, a peace-keeper, also lovable for his faults? An Owl — wise, knowing, but overcompensating for not being perfect? An Eeyore — gloomy, sad, despondent, brought to life and empowered when his voice is heard and validated? Can all of these parts of you sit down at a table and share a birthday celebration without judgment, exile or banishment?
As Pooh says at the end of this story: “Everybody’s alright, really”. This is a very healing perspective on the essence of human nature — after all, Pooh is the bear that can heal us all.
Take a look at the video yourself and share your perspectives on what Pooh and his friends can teach us — as children, but even more meaningfully as adults.
I love this time of year because there is so much energy given to gratitude. Thanksgiving is a holiday that may bring trepidation and anxiety to folks recovering from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, but it is also a day where we are invited to sit down and be thankful for what we have.
There’s not a day that goes by where I am not giving thanks for my recovery from my eating disorder. As I sit and hold space with my clients who are finding their own journey to recovery, I am regularly reminded of my own process and the steps that brought me to where I am today.
The recovery process of an eating disorder is fraught with ups, downs, twists, and turns, and many frustrations and confusions about these peaks and valleys. Why can’t I just stop these behaviors? some might wonder….or, Why am I not able to see myself the way that others do? I have had to answer these questions myself, and the passion I felt for my own health and healing ignited my career path to becoming a psychotherapist who helps others get here too. Sometimes my clients and I contemplate what they could learn from their eating disorder. What is its function? What are its needs? What is it trying to tell you? And even: What is it wanting to help you with?
I know, thinking of an eating disorders as “helpful” might seem bizarre and unconventional. Eating disorders are painful, destructive, and demeaning, you might say. I agree — they are those things. But by looking at it in a new way, in one that invites gratitude and healing instead of illness and pain, we might find a more peaceful path towards the end goal: recovery.
In the spirit of gratitude and thanks, I wanted to offer some insight into what I learned from my eating disorder (perhaps that I might not have learned in the same way if I hadn’t ever had an eating disorder) — and what you can too.
These are a few thoughts that came up as I was contemplating gratitude today, Thanksgiving Eve. I learn new things every day that I am grateful for in my recovery as well as things that my eating disorder has taught me.
I invite you to think about what you are grateful for today and every day and to foster some energy in that direction. If you have recovered from or are in recovery from an eating disorder, what are you taking from the process? What do you want to look back on in ten years and remember about this journey?
Recovery is lifelong. Every day brings a new opportunity to utilize skills, tools, and learnings from our life’s path. And I’m always growing and learning.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for all of you!
Are you looking for support on your journey to recovery? Please contact me today or call me at (720) 340-1443 to schedule a complimentary consultation!
I have embarked upon a journey of significant life changes and milestones as of late, and am grateful for the twists and turns along my path as well as for all of the benches that have been provided and upon which I may rest.
I came across a poem today entitled “The Bench” by Anne Edwards on a wonderful site called EatingDisordersRecoveryToday.com and found it so touching that I wanted to repeat it here. I hope it can provide encouragement and support for those on any life journey…and in recovery from an eating disorder:
By Anne Edwards
©2010 Gürze Books
I know the journey is hard.
There’s a bench just up ahead
Under some trees.
Let’s sit down,
Stop for a while.
We don’t have to talk
Unless you want to.
We can listen to the birds sing,
Feel the wind,
Enjoy the view,
The life that’s out there for us.
When we are both ready,
We can continue
Our journey of recovery.
I know it has its bumps
And steep hills,
But it also has its
Easier, smoother valleys and vistas.
The most important thing,
Is that we not travel it alone.
It is a journey meant to be taken
Hand in hand.
Last week I had several colleagues suggest to me that I read the article “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in the New York Times. ‘Oh, yes’, I responded to them. ‘I noticed that…but I was too busy today to take a look at it. I’ll try to put it on my list for tomorrow.” Ironic, right? When I finally sat down today to read the piece, I was left with tears in my eyes by the end of it. The message of this article speaks so true to me, as well as to many others, which is why it was posted all over social media; I am guessing I was not the only one who was ‘too busy’ to read it. Trust me, allow yourself the several minutes out of your day to read this piece; it will take you by the shoulders as well, shake you, and ask ‘why do you feel the need to be so BUSY all the time?’.
Several points struck me about this piece: one, that we ‘choose’ to be busy. It’s almost a distraction, a buffer, from our raw, naked selves. The author, Mr. Kreider, points out that those who work three jobs and don’t have a spare minute to sit on the couch because they need to provide for their families are busy….but mostly really tired. They don’t have a choice. The rest of us are busy because it can make us feel important, worthy, useful, productive. But if we are too busy to slow down and truly live our lives, to allow ourselves to do activities that feed our souls instead of drain them, then we are losing a part of ourselves and not gaining anything.
I am one of the busy ones. Mr. Kreider speaks of fleeing the city to an ‘Undisclosed Location’ where he could write in the morning and play in the afternoon, but where he had no phone or internet and he ‘remembered buttercups, stink bugs, and the stars’. Being a business owner, a perfectionist, and a recipient of society’s pressures and expectations to SUCCEED, I often feel like I should be busy.
When I went on vacation in June, a whole week was spent in the countryside with no phone, no internet, no television, and only the canal, the cows, the sheep, and the birds to provide distractions. It was incredibly difficult for me to sit and be idle. I realize now, after being back in the busy-ness of work, that idleness is not just challenging for me. Mr. Kreider realized that “idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”
I am blessed to be given the gift of providing support to those who are struggling with eating disorders and I am grateful that I am allowed to be a witness of their journey towards wholeness and recovery. I have learned from my own recovery as well as from supporting the recovery of my clients that sitting with idleness is a challenge. We feel we should be busy, doing something, or distracted in order to be at peace or of worth. At the end of the day, it feels good to say ‘I did this today’. It is a great feeling to accomplish a goal, but I am reflective now of how I define these goals. I would like to place as much value on reading a book in the hammock as I do on ‘getting tasks done’ from my to-do list. Shifting this perspective replenishes my vital energy and supports my life-long recovery. Sitting with myself in an idle space is not a piece of cake, but it is the pathway to embracing all parts of myself and finding value in the simplest things.
It has been some time since I’ve written…and I’ve really missed it and missed my readers! While on break, I realized the therapeutic value for me in writing blog posts and journal entries and I am eager to process some of the other things I learned while away from my “regular life”.
I was fortunate to be able to take three weeks and travel overseas on a journey of self-care, connecting with loved ones, and exploring new places. Now that I am back in the office, I have been reflective of a few things that I learned and noticed while I was away. These musings have benefitted me deeply as a person and as a psychotherapist and I thought it might be helpful for others if I posted them on my blog.
Reflections from a journey away from routines, control, and expectations:
1.) One of the first things I learned was how challenging it was to give up control, expectations and routine! It proved to be an exercise in self-restraint to separate myself from my work and “just be” (though I did get this down after a few days of adjusting!). Three weeks away from email began to give me symptoms of withdrawal…which I quickly realized was not a healthy thing. I confronted how tied to my work and my home I am, and I learned that it is imperative for me to have boundaries in the way I spend my time, my energy, and my resources. I desperately wanted to be present and aware during my journey, and this was shown to require more work to accomplish than I had thought! The benefit of this, though, is noticing that there is extraordinary value and meaning in the simplicity of life, and things don’t need to be complicated!
2.) I also learned that we are all the authors of our own happiness. I spent time in some very rural areas and met people who live simple, humble lives. These people work very hard and enjoy the bounty of their work as they feast on the fresh produce from their gardens, sip the wine from their grapes, and enjoy the meat of the cattle they have raised in their own pastures. This is all they need to be happy. The beauty of their lives struck a deep chord with me and I notice how contrasting the aspects that make up my life seem to be from this simplicity. I am motivated to pursue that simplicity and the appreciation of the earth as the wonderful people I met do every day. Through making these connections and observing this way of life, I realize that I have a choice. It does not matter how much money I have or what I own; I can enjoy the beauty of life simply by embracing the gifts of the present moment.
3.) Relationships are the roots of a beautiful life. Spending time with loved ones and forming new relationships with friends from afar can deepen our sense of self, our connection with our world, and manifest priceless new memories for a lifetime. In nurturing my relationships and in embarking on new friendships, I was offered a fresh perspective on life: joy is experienced in the present moment, in a joke with a friend, in the taste of a delicious fruit, in the sound of a bird’s song. It does not matter what language we speak or if we understand the words of another — connection is felt inside, in a language that does not use words. Joy is who we are, not what we own or where we have been. In giving up control of where I was going and what I was doing, I was able to embrace the raw beauty of what IS…without needing to change anything.
Now, back home where there are many other gifts and examples of beauty, I am grappling with how to integrate my experience abroad with my experience in my home. It has not been a simple transition however I am grateful for how many definitions of peace, beauty, and happiness I have discovered!
I am hopeful that some of what I learned could strike a chord for you as you embrace the challenges and the gifts on your life’s path. Whether you a in recovery from an eating disorder or managing stressors of a different kind, I know that life can be overwhelming. I encourage you to take a step back and think about the choices you DO have and how you can find peace in a moment of every day.
The holidays are a time of togetherness for family and friends. They bring a certain warmth of sharing love and memories, often coupled with catching up with loved ones who have been away for some time. The holiday season is also filled with food, drinks, and more food — another way that families show and share love. What if you start to notice behaviors with a loved one that are abnormal or self-destructive? I recently read an article by the Huffington Post entitled Parents are the First Line of Defense Against Eating Disorders in College Freshmen. This article gives helpful tips for noticeable signs that your college freshman may have developed an eating disorder after their first semester away from home.
Going away to college can be a perfect storm for eating disorder development: the child’s first taste of freedom and choice, the endless array of dorm food and late night pizza runs, the desire to fit in with new friends through food, drinking, and overindulgence. In the article, some of the signs are noted as: a noticeable weight loss, a withdrawal from family and friends, and over-concern with meal preparation, discussing that college is very stressful or anxiety-producing, and excessive exercise. While one or two of these symptoms might not necessarily mean that an eating disorder is present, these can be signs to keep in mind and notice if they intensify or inhibit the student’s life.
So, say you are concerned about a loved one’s behavior and mood changes and worry that he or she might be developing an eating disorder? How do you approach them so that the disorder doesn’t get worse and he or she might seek out help? This is a very tricky and touchy area, as eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder are plagued with feelings of guilt and shame and often are kept in a place of denial. Anorexia nervosa is also difficult to approach due to the rigidly-controlling and overwhelming feelings that this disorder might inflict on the loved one.
Here are a few tips for trying to show you care about a loved one who might have an eating disorder or body image struggles; I found many helpful hints in the book Good Girls Don’t Get Fat by Robyn J.A. Silverman, PhD which is a very powerful book about “how weight obsession is messing up our girls and how we can help them thrive despite it”.
1.) Your teenage daughter stands in front of the mirror and says she is ‘ugly and fat’, pointing out the flaws in her thighs and waist. What do you say? “I think you have a beautiful body. Think of all of the amazing things that it does for you: ride your bike, play soccer, dance, run, jump. When I look at your body I see a body that is open to a whole world of exciting possibilities.” Try to re-direct the focus away from negative thoughts about the body towards positive, accepting, and hopeful thoughts about the amazing capabilities of our bodies.
2.) Do you notice your daughter or son starting to control food and avoid certain types of food due to potential weight gain? What can you do? Model for him or her a positive relationship with food and your body. Try out many types of foods and express how delicious they taste. Love food for the energy it provides, for the way that it makes your body feel. Be adventurous, be brave. Treat your body with kindness by exercising, eating intuitively, and not worrying about how much or what type of food you are eating. Your children will notice this body-acceptance and hopefully adopt it themselves.
3.) You are a father and are noticing your daughter comparing herself to others, not ‘measuring up’, and starting to refuse food so as to lose weight. What do you do? Compliment her for things about her that are amazing and are not tied to appearance or weight. Help her see her strengths in writing, sports, or theatre without using the way she looks as a defining component. Tell her she is beautiful and remind her of this often. Model a safe, secure, and loving environment so that she can feel okay to be just who she is.
4.) Your daughter does not make the volleyball team, feeling excluded and ‘not good enough’. She begins to isolate herself and work out in her room for several hours a day in order to ‘get in better shape’. What do you do? Perhaps you had an experience in school where you felt rejected or that you didn’t measure up to the standard. Share that experience with your child, show her that it is a normal, if painful, growing up experience, and that she thrives in many other areas. Help her understand how you got through that experience, what you learned from it, and that you are always there to talk with her. Help her to channel that energy into self-esteem building ways, such as joining a yoga class or volunteering at an animal shelter.
5.) You notice large quantities of food disappearing and that your partner has little energy, significant mood swings, and wants to be alone a lot. What do you do? Don’t confront her right away, but try to spend more time with her where food is involved: cook together, eat together, and talk without distraction (like tv or computer) while sharing a meal. Don’t criticize her food choices or amounts. Show her that you care but offering to spend time doing her favorites activities. If she is isolating, invite her to watch your favorite television show together. Create a positive, safe, and nurturing environment and model healthy eating habits to her. Offer yourself as someone she can talk to and not be judged. She will do so when she is ready. Also secure support for yourself: go to therapy, talk with loved ones, do research.
Struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues is devastating for the loved one as well as her family and friends. The more that this is talked about and normalized, the less hidden and shaming it will be. There is always hope, and there is always a time and space for recovery.
One of my greatest strengths as a therapist is the fact that I am human. I am achingly human. In school, they try to teach therapists-in-training how to set boundaries between yourself and your client — how to leave the feelings, emotions, and process of therapy in the office so that it doesn’t affect your home and personal life. On the other hand, we are taught (and it is reinforced) that having empathy is a primary asset of a great therapist. So….being able to “walk in my client’s shoes” should help me become a more dynamic therapist, but I also need to learn to leave those shoes at the front door. Whew! This is one of my biggest challenges currently in my career.
Being able to feel and connect with clients can help build that relationship that allows the client to feel safe and secure to risk what it would be like to make some changes in his or her life. I think that this ability to empathize deeply with clients can ignite a charge of positive progress in the therapy, and I also think that this quality needs to be carefully monitored. Therapists are at risk of burn-out if they don’t engage in self-care on a regular basis. And I think that being a client ourselves is one of the highest forms of self care — for several reasons.
I have had clients ask me if I have been in therapy myself. Honestly, I can’t imagine not having been in therapy, and I am quite open about it. When I chose my career path (or it chose me…), much of the drive and inspiration that took me there came from experiences and growth I have had in my own years of being a client in therapy. I learned valuable tools to help myself find peace and happiness and I also learned a lot about the therapy process itself. How could I know that I wanted to be a therapist if I’d never laid on that couch? I couldn’t imagine it. In my training program, we were encouraged to attend therapy ourselves, and though it was not required, it was given to us for free. This, my university and professors thought, helps to build an amazing counselor — one who knows what it’s like to be across from the therapist, one who is open to working on his/her own issues, and one who can process the anxiety and awkwardness of a first therapy session with you — because they’ve been there.
I am writing about this today because I feel it is crucial for our interests and most especially for the interests of our clients that therapists engage in self-care. A therapist who is burned out and has no outlet to process will have challenges being present for his or her clients. I also think that if we are in therapy, or have been in therapy, we are showing a commitment to the therapeutic alliance itself. We believe in it. We respect it. We are just like everyone else. I get the sense that sometimes therapists are regarded as “in power” or “the leader” in the therapy room. This, in my opinion, is furthest from the truth. The client is the expert of his/her own life and story, and the therapist is the listener and sometimes the guide. I know that if I was a client today and my therapist shared with me that he/she has been in therapy at some point in their lives, I would feel very connected to my therapist — that he or she is a person, just like me, who has things they need to work out, just like me. And they care enough about themselves (and their clients) to talk to someone about those issues.
Going back to the start: I am human. This serves me well sometimes, as it enables me to empathize and connect with clients on a very real level. This also challenges me sometimes, as I work to define my own emotions in my own life. Therefore, I go to therapy. Going to therapy, though it can come with all sorts of pre-conceived notions and judgments, is the act of a strong and resilient person — someone who cares enough about him or herself to commit the effort to making a better life for themselves. I’m not going to lie — it often takes a lot of hard work, patience, and honesty. But for me, those three are virtues in the handbook of freedom and happiness. Being a client in therapy has made me a better woman, therapist, friend, family member, and citizen.
What has it done for you?