Mindful Gardening: Six Seeds to Sow to Nourish a Thriving Recovery!

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.

3383145595_762da82982As 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.

Six Seeds to Sow in your Inner Garden

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.


How many of us must wait until something life-transforming happens before we really appreciate our bodies?

images-24 copyWhile immersing myself in texts, articles, conversations and daydreams to begin putting together a body image group coming in January 2014 (updates coming soon!!), I came across a beautiful and brilliant photo book by photographer Rosanne Olson entitled this is who I am.  Within the book’s covers, fifty-four women are photographed nude, each with stories to tell to prove that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes:

“The portraits, taken by award-winning photographer Rosanne Olson with a steady, non-judgmental eye, speak loudly to the American obsession of feminine perfection — slim hims and full breasts, high cheekbones and tiny waists, taut skin and eternal youth — and even more loudly to the way real women, with real bodies and real lives, look.”

I was struck by the pure humanness and depth in the eyes and bodies of all of the women represented in the book — women from all walks of life, ethnicities, ages, and with their own unique stories.

Utilizing this book with clients who are struggling with their own various body image issues has proven to be an eye-opening and introspective journey.  We have found a richness in exploring how what we see on the outside does not necessarily tell us the true or whole story.  When looking at a photo of a twenty-two year old slim, blonde woman, one might be compelled to focus on her body first and assume (by society’s standards) that she is happy, rich, popular, and perfect.  Reading her story, you learn that she has had part of her lung removed as part of complications of cystic fibrosis and that she lives with other complications every day.  Look in her eyes and you sense a wisdom, perhaps one that delves into her soul and makes her look older than she is.  You sense that she knows her story and its twists and turns.

What do learn or assume if we focus on how a body looks as an assessment tool for how happy, peaceful, confident, healthy, wealthy, etc etc etc a person is?  How true of a measuring tool is that? What are the consequences to this approach?

Ms. Olson posed intriguing questions to her subjects in her “goal of complete revelation — not hiding behind clothing but exposing both body and mind.  What would we learn about ourselves? Would we — could we — become more compassionate?  Not only towards ourselves but towards another?”  I invite you to peruse through the other questions she posed and see how you would answer them yourself:

  • What do you love about your body?
  • How long has it taken you to arrive at acceptance/love of your body?
  • What frustrates you or what would you like to change?
  • Has your body let you down (if you feel that it has) or have you let your body down?
  • How have you supported your body?
  • How have your feelings changed towards your body since you were younger?
  • In general, how do you feel women feel about their bodies?
  • How do you feel the media have affected how women feel about their bodies? (read an excerpt and see some of the stunning photos here)

She then asked each participant why they agreed to be photographed.  Some of the women struggle with eating or exercise problems.  Some have suffered from medical issues or illnesses that have affected the way their body functions, feels, and looks.  They all have had experiences in their lives which have forced them to become more aware of their bodies — whether in a joyful or painful way.

What story does your body hold?  If photographed, what messages about your internal state of being would your body send to those looking at the photo?  Is your internal state congruent with the energy you exude out of your body?

I have been journaling about my own journey with my body.  It has been through so much with me, and yet here it still stands, walks, talks, and dances, my ever dedicated soldier.  I am so grateful for my body, though my relationship with it can wind through sticky paths as well as bright ones.  In my own recovery, I have learned that I must take care of my body, and this is not negotiable.  My body is unique just to me, a gift.  I admire the women in these photos who allow themselves to be vulnerable, naked, and yet to connect to each other and to those who read their stories and see their photos in such a powerful way.

images-25 copyWe have so much to learn from the wisdom of our bodies. Why must we wait until something life-changing happens for us to tune into and adore them?

Stay tuned for my Body Image Acceptance Group coming in January 2014!  The group will be limited to few participants, so sign up quickly.  More info coming soon to my Events page.

 

 


A Lesson In Exposure: How I Made Myself Vulnerable and Found Acceptance

Have you ever had something on your “to-do” list for days….weeks…(in my case, months!)?  And you keep saying, “I’ll do that later”, or “I’d rather do anything — even my taxes! — than do that”?  I knew that I was certainly avoiding parts of my “to-do” list because I found myself cleaning everything in my house, office, car, instead of facing the looming elephant in the room.

vulnerable-buttlerflies-quote-300x246That elephant, for me, was my professional video.  I have made videos in the past, when I started my practice, but took them down because I didn’t feel like they represented “authentic Kate”.  I tried again last year to film a video, with a new edge and twist to it, trying to be myself but instead getting emotionally overwhelmed.  What was the deal?

So, this March I decided to truly look at what was keeping me stuck and to confront those factors.  In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an amazing type of behavioral therapy I was recently trained in, one of the guiding principles is to define what is meaningful to you and to pursue it, even if that means experiencing some uncomfortable emotions or feelings along the way.

I spent an afternoon writing about why I wanted to film a professional video.  What did it mean to me?  Here’s what I came up with:

  • It gives a glimpse for potential new clients to “meet” me and see what it might be like to work with me in counseling
  • It shows that I’m a real person
  • It gives a bit of info about my theoretical orientation, training, and story
  • It gives some tips for getting started on the therapy journey
  • It makes therapy “accessible” and maybe less “scary”

I still was missing something.  Those don’t seem too intense….why couldn’t I just map out what I want to say, and say it?  With my meaningful goal in hand, I engaged in some “exposure therapy” (also an element of ACT), and tried to film some initial versions of my video. I was feeling quite uncomfortable.  I reflected on a quote I recently heard: “I know that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, I’m about to grow”.  Hmm.

After about an hour of filming, viewing, grunting because there was something “wrong” with it, I took a walk and laid down on a patch of green, bright, vibrant grass and took a deep breath.  I breathed into my body and tried to focus on what was my barrier to creating a video that was “showable”.

I realized my Perfectionist was rearing her hair-sprayed, curly, gum-smacking head and was telling me “IT’S NOT PERFECT ENOUGH!!! YOU CAN’T BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT!”.

Oh, man!  How did I not see this before?  I know my Perfectionist quite well…we have coffee sometimes and chat…and I thought I’d be aware enough of her nosiness that I would realize she was interfering.  I guess she tricked me.  I took another breath and told her: “You are not going to control my video.  But, you did show me something very important.”

So, I went back to my office and filmed my video in no time.  It is entitled “Perfectly Imperfect”.  Sure, it gives me the shivers to ‘put myself out there’ like this, but why not be myself?  Being authentic, human, and showing that I am not perfect is one of the most healing aspects I can offer my clients as they find recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or body image and self esteem issues.

My Perfectionist showed me that, while I’m not going to banish her, she is not always helpful.  She can get in the way of me being myself, which then can build up anxiety and stress…to levels that I don’t always want to stay at.  Getting to understand the times when she is and isn’t helpful has been important for me, and you can also find a way to gently (or not so gently) ask your Critic or Perfectionist or Judge or whomever you have to take a hike for now.

If you are so kind, please view my video and leave a comment with your impressions.  My hope is to model that we are all perfectly imperfect and that, in itself, is freeing.  Thank you for taking the time to stop by and view this!

 

If you are looking to improve self-esteem or overcome destructive eating behaviors, I offer a FREE consultation so please give me a call at 720-340-1443!


How to Lend Your Voice to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Let’s Eradicate These Disorders!

NEDAwarenesweek-300x125This week is a very special week for me and for those that I work with and support in recovery from eating disorders.  Every year, the last week of February the National Eating Disorders Association brings National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, this year falling on February 24-March 2.  This is a very busy time of year for me, and also one that I eagerly await, as it brings an opportunity for us to shine attention on devastating eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and many other types of disordered eating and exercise behaviors.  (Note: this is something that needs to be focused on every day of every year, not just one week per year).

Did you know that eating disorders are the #1 most deadly mental illness?  Eating disorders kill more people than any one other mental disorder (source: anad.org).  These often secretive, shameful disorders are hidden from public eye, leading to intense suffering and isolation.  Just by naming them, we take away some of their power.

It’s time to focus on promoting healthy body image, self-esteem, and coping mechanisms and eradicate eating disorders! I truly believe that we can achieve this, though it won’t be easy.  We have taken so many strong steps already!

This year, the theme of the NEDA Week is “Everybody Knows Somebody”.  We all are affected by the issues that cause eating disorders and are touched in some form by these illnesses, whether we are aware of it or not.  “In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life.” (source: nedawareness.org).

What can you do to help spread the word?  Are you hoping to learn more about how to spot these disorders and how to search for support?  Here are some very helpful organizations and websites that can offer guidance to those struggling, and to their families, friends, and loved ones.

You Are Not Alone.

Highly Reputable and Respected Online Support Sites (recovery-focused):

Local Resources (Denver, Colorado area):

This week, I am offering complimentary 30 minute consultations and resources for those who would like to take a step on their journey to recovery.  Please give me a call at 720-340-1443 or send an email to learn more!

I am passionate about and dedicated to the cause of supporting healthy body image, healthy relationship with self and food, and finding peace from internal struggles that can feel overwhelming.  Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but recovery begins after that first step!

Everybody


What Would it Be Like to Accept Your Emotions Instead of Fight Them? An ACT Approach to Mindful Recovery

images-11 copyI 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:

  • Cognitive defusion: when we are able to ‘step back’ and observe language without being caught up in it.  We can notice our thoughts at a distance, release some ownership of them, and tell our minds “thanks, mind, for that thought” instead of automatically believing it to be true or a real part of ourselves.  As we defuse our thoughts, they have much less influence.  This can be very effective with negative self-talk or eating disordered thoughts that could lead to destructive behaviors.
  • Acceptance:  making space for unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings, emotions, sensations, urges, and allowing them to come and go without struggling with them, running from them, or letting them “drive the bus” (a metaphor in ACT where emotions may feel overwhelming but you can still take charge of driving the bus of your life).  I find this to be quite powerful in eating disorder recovery because it allows us to be with our emotions and to find a way of accepting themimages-12 copy (even if we don’t necessarily like them) so that they don’t feel like big scary monsters that we need to flee from.
  • Contact with the present moment:   the practice of bringing full awareness to your here-and-now experiences with openness, interest and receptiveness.  This is akin to mindfulness, where we are able to engage fully in our present moment and be open to all that it has to offer without trying to change any of it or judge it.  The key here is: not trying to change anything.  Yes, we have painful experiences that we would perhaps like to change or erase.  The goal of mindfulness, which in this way is helpful to recovery, is to be in the present with openness so that we can feel our emotions and hear our thoughts but have some space from them so that we can make a choice about what type of behavior is associated with this experience.  This can lead to choosing less-destructive behaviors as a way of relating to the emotional experience we have.
  • The Observing Self: a way of experiencing directly that you are not your thoughts, feelings, memories, roles, sensations, etc.  In eating disorder recovery, this means disconnecting from the eating disorder and seeing who you are separate from the ED and empowering that self to heal, soothe, and find balance in accepting ways.
  • Values:  clarifying what is most important to you, deep in your heart what gives you energy, joy, purpose.  What sort of person you want to be, what is meaningful and significant to you, and what you stand for.  Finding and focusing on your personal values can facilitate the process of accepting your emotions and can be a motivation for sitting with uncomfortable feelings in pursuit of a value-driven life.  Values are what come after an eating disorder; our values are the parts of us that were suffocated by the ED and are powerful and eager to be free.
  • Committed Action:   This is the “action” piece; setting goals, guided by your values and taking effective action to achieve them.  This makes it all worth it!  This is the behavioral part of recovery where destructive behaviors become extinct and value-driven choices and actions replace them.

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:

Cultivating a Peaceful Relationship with Food

Read more about ACT: Embrace Your Demons by Russ Harris


Gratitude in Recovery: What I Learned from my Eating Disorder and What You Can Too

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.

What My Eating Disorder Offered to Me and How My Recovery is Deeper Because of It:

  • I have feelings.  Some muddy.  Some sticky.  Some smelly.  And they are all ok!  I remember that before I developed an eating disorder, I experienced many complex and somewhat foreign feelings (maybe part of being a pre-teen!) and I didn’t know what to do with them.  I pushed many of them — ones that felt ‘unacceptable’ — inside and tried to forget about them.  Oh how they grew and festered!  This then caused me to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do with them.  Disordered eating was one way of trying to manage.  In my recovery, I have learned to find ways to sit with and sit through all of the feelings I experience and to understand that they are part of what it means to be a human being.  I am grateful for all of my emotions, as they give me depth, character, and space to grow.
  • I can eat!.  When I embarked on recovery, one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t be able to eat foods that I really loved and feel satisfied by them.  I worried that my relationship with food would always be somewhat warped and abnormal.  I am so grateful for the relationship I have with food and eating today.  There is truly nothing  that I tell myself that I cannot eat, and I check in with my body daily to ask it what it is wanting.  When I am able to do that, I can eat until I am satisfied, enjoy my meal, and leave the table knowing I can have it again tomorrow if I wish.  Freedom from destructive eating behaviors is so liberating and my whole view on food has shifted!
  • I know myself pretty damn well.  One of the requirements for recovery from an eating disorder is a willingness to explore, accept, and challenge yourself.  Through my recovery journey, I have deepened my connection with my body, I have found acceptance with my emotions and feelings, and I have developed a peaceful perspective about who I am and what makes me unique.  These are things that I believe I learned so deeply (because I had to)  in my recovery and I’m not sure that I would have explored myself so intricately if I hadn’t developed an eating disorder.  I am still always growing, learning, and changing, and will forever be on a quest of self-discovery — and I feel like my eating disorder allowed me to be open to that challenge.
  • My body is mine.  And it’s beautiful.  I was walking down the street yesterday, noticing my steps, my pace, the way my feet felt in my shoes.  I realized that I didn’t want any other body.  I spent so many years wishing I had a different body.  But if I had a different body — blue eyes instead of brown, etc — then I wouldn’t be me.  I am the only person who could be me, and this body is a gift that I am given the responsibility to take care of.  And it will give back to me a hundred-fold.  And it does.

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!


Dishonesty in treatment and recovery: working the stages of change in eating disorder recovery

Recovery from an eating disorder is a complex and difficult process.  I believe that it takes a combination of several factors to fully recover:  honesty, accountability, compassion, and determination.   Treating eating disorders is also challenging because treatment may require holding all of those factors all at once and finding a balance with them in the therapeutic process.

Many people enter counseling because they want to create a new way of living their lives.  They have a desire to change.  The readiness to change, I think, it probably the single most determining factor in actually creating a change.  There are several stages of readiness to change, and clients may show up in any of these stages.

The stages of readiness to change are:

1.) Precontemplation – at this stage, almost all of the desire to change is external to the client, meaning they might be forced to come to therapy, they might be ambivalent about it, they may change only if the external pressure is significant enough — but this type of change is typically short-lived if not internalized.  People in the precontemplation stage might feel ‘demoralized and don’t want to think about their problem because they feel that the situation is hopeless. “There is certain comfort in recognizing that demoralization is a natural feeling that accompanies this stage-and in realizing that if you take yourself systematically through all the stages of change, you can change.”‘

2.) Contemplation.  People in this stage realize they might be stuck and desire for things to be different.  “People acknowledge that they have a problem and begin to think seriously about solving it. Contemplators struggle to understand their problem, see its causes, and begin to wonder about possible solutions.”  Often, people in this stage are not quite ready to risk taking action, and as a result can stay in this stage for a very long period of time.

3.) Preparation.  This is the stage where people begin to make changes — within the next few weeks or a month.  This intention is made public, perhaps by involving loved ones or support systems.  It is important to feel solid in this stage and to develop a foundational plan for how to follow-through with the change; moving too quickly through it might decrease the person’s chances for success.

4.) Action. This is a ‘busy’ period where behavior is overtly changed and modified.  These changes may be more visible to other people (for example quitting smoking or decreasing eating disorder behaviors), but some of the internal work of this stage and prior stages might not be as overtly visible.

5.) Maintenance.  This stage is where changes and steps taken up until this point are consolidated and continually reintroduced to the client.  These might be solidifying new coping mechanisms and preventing relapses.  This is the longest stage of change and requires commitment and ‘active alertness’.

6.)  Termination:  The final goal!  This is where prior issues or struggles are no longer present and recovery feels solid.  In eating disorder recovery, this may mean that behaviors have been eliminated for a long period of time (years) but that alertness is still required to take care of oneself and prohibit a relapse.

Change involves not only modifying behaviors but learning to cope with and manage  emotions in a healthier way.  Lying and dishonesty in treatment and recovery from an eating disorder can come up commonly in several stages of change.  Those where the most committed action is involved — Preparation and Action stages — can create confusing and conflicting emotions.  When the eating disorder is directly confronted and perhaps threatened, it can try to take back control in such a direct way that it may manipulate the client into being dishonest or lying to their therapist or support system.  This is an attempt to remain ‘safe’, even though it may be maladaptive.

Why is this?  There are a few reasons why dishonesty creeps up in recovery.  It may be that the client wants to be “perfect” at recovery, or to please their therapist or loved ones because external validation may feel like the primary form of inner comfort.  If they are struggling, they may feel like they are disappointing those who are supporting them.

It also may come up as the client begins to realize the enormous loss that is felt when an eating disorder is taken away.  This change requires forming new relationships with the self and learning to cope in healthier, more fulfilling ways.  If the client has used the eating disorder to cope with an inner hunger or emptiness, thinking that this needs to be let go can be terrifying.  It is when the client has ‘fed’ that inner hunger in a more loving way that the eating disorder loses its power.

It is important for clinicians to recognize the signs of dishonesty in recovery.  This is a great time to enact change in the eating disorder behavioral process and to show compassion for the struggle that the client is experiencing.  Holding clients accountable and challenging them is a crucial part of the recovery process.  Parents and loved ones can learn more about their role in this process in an article written for parents called Your Role.

It is possible to fully recover from an eating disorder.  Sometimes this might mean going through a few of the stages of change several times, or staying in one for a period of time before you are ready to move on.  If you feel like you or someone you know is ready to make a healthy change in your life, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation at 720-340-1443.


Does Olympic-level athletic training increase the risk of eating disorders?

In light of the XXX Olympic Games currently underway in London, many media outlets have been commenting on the training, bodies, expectations, and pressure on these Olympic athletes.  To qualify for the Olympic Games is a momentous triumph, requiring rigorous training and high standards from coaches, parents, teammates, the public, and the athletes themselves.  Does this high expectation increase the risk for development of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and compulsive over-exercising?

I came across an interesting article about this issue entitled The Price of Gold: Eating Disorders in the Olympics, in which the author describes the complexity of becoming an Olympic-level athlete and the strain this training can put on bodies and self-concept.  Though not all athletes are affected by this pressure in a way that leads to an eating disorder, many Olympians struggle with eating disorders, the risk being higher in: “Sports with weight limits, revealing uniforms (like beach volleyball), and where scores are based on form have higher rates of body image issues and eating disorders. Exercise and perfectionism can be risk factors for eating disorders, so presumably any number of athletes, male or female, at this high level of competition and motivation are at an increased risk, but it doesn’t necessarily cause an eating disorder,” says Douglas Bunnell, vice-president of the Renfrow Center Foundation.

Two athletes currently competing have come forward to speak out about their own experiences with eating disorders and to raise awareness of this issue.  Brittany Viola, a diver, suffered from bulimia when she was 15 and states that she felt pressure to have a certain body type to compete professionally in her sport.  In her recovery, she has come to accept and love her body as it is, and has performed very well in the Olympics.  Hollie Avil, a triathlete, withdrew from the Olympics and ended her professional career as she worked on recovering from her eating disorder.  She remembers being triggered by a comment from a coach that she “needed to lose weight” and now, in her recovery, wants to raise awareness about eating disorders in triathletes and other types of athletes.

An important distinction was noted by Bunnell in this article; he wants to highlight the difference between athletic training requirements and disordered eating.  Many sports require rigorous training schedules, dietary plans, and goal-setting performances in order to compete at world-class level.  This does not necessarily lead to an eating disorder.  Eating disorders can be triggered by fear of weight gain, body dissatisfaction and clear intent to avoid weight gain, self-esteem that is tightly connected to body image, and fear of being out of control.  Eating disorders are much more complex than food and exercise behaviors.

I agree that pressures of Olympic-level (or any other serious athletic competition) training do not lead to eating disorders for every athlete.  I do think that the strict guidelines in terms of body weight, speed, and appearance that are present in many types of sports can increase the risk of an eating disorder, especially if the athlete is being judged on form and physical body characteristics.

Parents and coaches are the first line of defense against their athlete developing an eating disorder. Parents know their child best; they should keep an eye out for any changes in eating behavior or increased pressure to perform that stretch beyond reasonable limits.  Parents and coaches can team together to make sure the athlete is not being trained to focus on body image and weight as much as other areas of performance.

Ten warning signs of eating disorders, provided by Bunnell via a press release, that parents and coaches should be aware of include:

1)    Exercising even while sick or injured.
2)    Skipping class, work, or other important duties to exercise.
3)    Preoccupation with food and weight.
4)    Repeatedly expressing concerns about being fat.
5)    Increasing criticism of one’s body.
6)    Frequently eating alone.
7)    Exercising alone and avoiding interaction with others, especially coaches/trainers.
8)    Making trips to the bathroom during or following meals.
9)    Use of laxatives.
10)  Exercising beyond the normal training regimen.

 

Serious athletes are very competitive; eating disorders thrive on competition and pressure to be perfect.  As there will always be ups and downs in sports competitions, an athlete can internalize the disappointment of not achieving the score or place that he/she had hoped.  This, if combined with body dissatisfaction or high expectations, can increase risk of an eating disorder being used to cope with these seemingly out-of-control feelings.  One patient at the Renfrow Center reflected on her struggle after an injury took her away from playing softball: “Anorexia gave me something to obsess over and focus on as my softball thoughts dissipated, and it protected me from dealing with the devastation.”

If you know someone who might be at risk for an eating disorder, please seek help.  It is possible to catch an eating disorder before it becomes severe, and recovery from these illnesses is fully possible.  More information can be found at my website: www.katedaiglecounseling.com or for a free consultation call me at 720-340-1443, and at the Eating Disorder Foundation: www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.


The Bench: A Place of Respite for recovery and for all journeys in our lives

Today I am reflective of the journey.  

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:

The Bench

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,
And see,
Really see
The life that’s out there for us.
Then,
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,
My friend,
Is that we not travel it alone.
It is a journey meant to be taken
Hand in hand.
Take mine.

 Where are you on your journey?  Where have you come from?  Where are you going to? Do you have a bench where you can sit awhile, until you are ready to continue?  There may be mountains to climb, but remember that there are “beautiful vistas” as well.  This poem is so inspirational to me and comforting as I continue on my own journey of recovery, wellness, balance, and health.  It is helpful to have a hand to hold along this journey, for support, for guidance, for warmth, for grounding.
Hold out your hand to another on this journey.  Ask for support on your own journey.  You are not alone…and the view is amazing.

Eating Disorders and the Workplace: What are these afflictions really costing us?

Bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder — these most commonly defined eating disorders, along with an array of other types of disordered eating behaviors — can impact all parts of our lives.  We have spent time discussing the effects of eating disorders on personal relationships, on self esteem and self care, and on physical health.  What about in our workplace?  A new article in the Huffington Post speaks about the “cost” of binge eating disorder at the workplace: Binge Eating Disorder and its Impact on the Workplace  gives some insight into the positive correlation of binge eating disorder and loss of work productivity.

Dr. Bedrosian, a clinical psychologist with experience treating anxiety, depression and eating disorders states: “Binge eating is more than simply a behavioral problem. Binge eating is associated with greater psychological distress, as measured by increased frequency and intensity of negative emotions, and greater occurrence of negative thoughts and beliefs (e.g., poor body image or obsessive worries about one’s weight). It’s not surprising then that it is also associated with diminished capacity to discharge one’s day-to-day responsibilities.”  I would like to expand this statement to include other types of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia — disorders who have similar underlying symptoms such as low self-esteem and feelings of being out of control — and state that ALL types of eating disorders can affect work productivity (focusing, concentrating, and also achievement in school).

It was interesting to find an article such as this one that gives a broader understanding about the complexities of eating disorders, as oftentimes people who struggle with food issues are either judged as “lazy or unproductive”.  Eating disorders can also go under the radar at workplaces where there is a ‘normalized culture’ where food is brought in and consumed throughout the day and those who struggle with an eating disorder can have behaviors while ‘flying under the radar’.  Dr. Bedrosian concurs that “in general, eating disorders are typically not identified or treated.”  Why is this?  Why are some eating disordered behaviors “more acceptable socially” than others?  When someone who struggles with anorexia, for example, restricts her food, she can get encouraging comments about her “ability to control herself”, and someone who struggles with binge eating disorder can have behaviors that also are not deemed as “disordered”, thus decreasing the rate of intervention and treatment opportunity.  This social acceptance of ED behaviors can only increase the feelings of shame, hopelessness, and guilt that are experienced by those struggling.

The article states also that, due to the unnatural and embarrassing nature of eating disordered behaviors, “some people are more likely to report potentially stigmatizing behaviors (e.g., unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse) to computer-based assessment rather than face-to-face assessment with a health care provider.”  Providing confidential screening for eating disorders as well as other types of stigmatizing behaviors can potentially increase the disclosure rate and open the door to treatment and recovery.

Finally, the article gives notes to employers for important things to know about binge eating disorder (and other types of EDs):

What are three things that employers should know about binge eating?

1. This is a common problem, but a treatable one.

2. Screening and treatment for binge eating disorder need to be part of all workplace health promotion programs and every effort we make to contain the obesity epidemic. That means that all employer-based health risk appraisals and weight management programs should be asking participants about binge eating behaviors and either providing them with or referring them to the appropriate services for the problem. As described … above, our experiences indicate that this will result in identifying and triaging substantial numbers of people whose difficulties might otherwise go unnoticed or unacknowledged

3. We need to provide alternative forms of self-help or self-management (e.g., digital health coaching) for people who might be reluctant to acknowledge their symptoms or come forward for treatment. As described … above, our experiences indicated that by doing so, employers may be able to reach a group of people whose eating difficulties might not have been identified or addressed in any other way.”

What are your thoughts on employer screening for ED behaviors and the subsequent effect on health and wellness in the workplace?  Is this a helpful procedure, or one that further stigmatizes those who struggle?