Everything in life I’ve learned from my garden.
Here in Colorado, we have had torrential downpours, golf ball-sized hail, flash floods, and even some snow almost every day since early May. That’s right – in the month of May there were only three days without some kind of moisture from the sky, which is quite abnormal for our typically arid spring climate.
While many of us were lamenting for the sun, turning our faces upwards in hopes of catching a glimpse of a ray, seeds began to wiggle beneath the surface.
But what kind of seeds? And what will they produce?
As an experimental and somewhat overly impassioned gardener, I gazed out with a grain of exasperation at my garden and wondered: What will sprout? Will the seeds and seedlings I planted amidst the rain sprout roots or will they be washed away in a newly imprinted “river”? Will there be “volunteer” seeds that sprout into something I didn’t intend for?
I did not know. But, I had hope. I also had a very clear understanding that Mother Nature is much more powerful and enormous than I or any other gardener is, and we are at the mercy of her force.
So I sat and waited.
Yesterday, a beautiful sunny 85 degree day, I peered over the picket fence guarding my garden (“guarding” feels like a facetious term, as nothing seems to protect my sprouts from the ravenous and assertive squirrels. . . but that is another post for another time).
What did I see?
Lots of green! Yay!
But….which were weeds and which were seedlings I tenderly planted to grow eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, or other goodies??
A few green sprouts were pretty easy to discern which was which. . . and after an hour of pulling the weeds out, I decided I would never win that battle.
There were dozens (and dozens) of other sprouts of which I could not clearly and certainly define their nature. I would just have to wait and see until they grew bigger. (Patience is a virtue, right? Agh!)
As I pried myself away from the soil and sat contemplating this conundrum, I was reminded of another couple of blog posts I wrote last year in a similar fashion as Mother Nature again reminded me of the necessity of letting go (read them here: Mindful Gardening: Six Seeds to Sow to Nourish a Thriving Recovery and Disorderly Mindfulness: When it Hails on Your Freshly Planted Garden).
Gardens are metaphors for life. For recovery. For healing. For ACCEPTANCE.
Weeds will always come back no matter how much time and energy we spend pulling them out. Just like intrusive or negative thoughts, we will never be able to truly eradicate them from our minds, our lives.
We can spend time noticing them, trying to identify them, and bringing mindful awareness to their presence and impact on our emotional well-being.
However, if you will not be able to fully weed them out. . . . are there more fruitful and fertile places to focus your energy and awareness?
Weeds in my garden will grow exponentially bigger and faster than my seedlings, encroaching upon my plants and stealing their nutrients. This parallels the experience of painful events, thoughts, and beliefs about ourselves or others sucking away our positive and nurturing energy and leaving us little room to grow.
Pull out the weeds that you can identify: the thoughts, experiences, or people, who drain your life energy instead of energize it. Do as much of this as you have time and space for.
Overall, acceptance of our entire experience releases us from becoming entangled in our weeds and allowing them to spread over our inner garden.
Weeds are just as natural as the tomato plant I have cautiously and maybe somewhat obsessively tried to protect from the recent downpours.
Can you appreciate your inner weeds?
The secret to harvesting what really matters isn’t about pulling out the weeds from the pepper plant. What really matters is noticing the inner struggle and suffering that we so often find ourselves in. . . and asking: how can I let go? How can I slow down? How can I find acceptance?
So….I am going to let the weeds in my garden grow a little bit longer. Full disclosure here: this will not be a simple or anxiety-free task.
However, if I observe them, try to learn from them and, if possible, understand what they are, I will more accurately and peacefully be able to pull them out when I am ready. That way, I am more apt to pull out their entire roots instead of just their surface leaves.
Or I’ll get some of them, anyway. I realize that tirelessly trying to weed out ALL of the intrusive buggers is akin to believing that I will be able to save my Cinderella pumpkins from the squirrel family that lives in the neighboring Elm.
But hey, choose our battles, right?
So what about you?
Where are your weeds?
How can you learn from them and find some way of accepting them?
Which will you pull out and which will you let stay?
How would that shift your inner dialogue. … your inner struggle?
Can you re-seed your inner garden?
Leave a note below to share!
This time of year, I love reading all of the articles and blogs written to help us try to remember what is truly important to us during the busy, bustling holiday season. What are some of your favorites? Share in the comments box at the end of this post!
As the holidays are upon us and we find ourselves getting caught up in the swirl of family gatherings, work potlucks, traffic, holiday music, gift buying, and so much more, I often find my anxiety ramping up too. There seems to be so much “to do”, “to see”, “to prepare”, “to buy”, “to organize”….etc, etc. If you notice, all of those “to’s” are followed by verbs.
We are always moving, always feeling like we “should” be completing or focusing on the next thing that comes during the holiday season. In years past, the calendar has arrived at January 1st and I
can’t fathom for the life of me how in the world we got there. Where did the time go? I was not being mindful; I was letting the busyness of the season keep me disconnected from what really matters to me.
This year I am committed to adopting a different approach. 2014 was a year of ups and downs for me. Professionally, I have seen my business thrive and achieve milestones such as publishing an e-book and doing more public speaking and supervision than in any previous year — activities that I love, that challenge me and that are fulfilling to me as well as to others.
Personally, I have had some great things happen, and I also have experienced more loss in this one year than I have in my entire life. Going through the stages of grief and sadness has catapulted me to a place of self-awareness and depth that I had not experienced before. I have overcome extremely challenging and life-changing experiences before, such as the recovery process of my eating disorder. However, finding yourself at a place where you have absolutely no control over the experience was something I had never grappled with before. Through the depths of my sadness, I have also been able to open myself up to the depths of gratitude that fills up my life as well.
I often use the metaphor of “the well” with my clients — if you can feel that deep sadness, you have the capacity in your well of emotional experience to feel the same depth of joy. So hold on, persevere, and don’t give up hope.
Reflecting back on 2014, I am struck by three concepts that have highlighted my year: resiliency, authenticity, vulnerability.
What is funny to me is that as I notice these concepts as cornerstones of my year, I also recognize that these are traits that many of my clients have embodied this year as well. It is never lost on me how we all are connected and our processes can be parallel in ways that we may not know or recognize.
What are three concepts that highlight your 2014?
So, as I offer myself grace, as I offer my clients hope, as I offer my colleagues, friends and family love and warmth this holiday season, I pledge to adopt the stance of dwelling. I dwell in the depth of gratitude I have for those who have let me walk with them on their journeys to healing. I dwell in gratitude for those who have opened their arms when I needed someone to hold me. I dwell in the light and possibility of continued healing and growth for us all in a vibrant 2015.
Wishing you and your loved ones a very peaceful holiday season and a 2015 bursting with new possibilities.
I’m happy to share today an inspiring guest blog post by Julie Larkin of Perfectly You Integrative Coaching & Energetic Healing. I love Julie’s fun and quirky writing style and in this post she invites us to look at the parts of our lives that give us a ‘squirrelly’ feeling (and I am not a fan of squirrels, especially when they eat my garden!) — which she describes as ‘That restless feeling that has you contemplating any number of life adjustment(s) from quitting a job, to moving to another state, to leaving the relationship, to utterly altering your lifestyle, to a trip around the world …’
Julie and I connect on a similar vision: helping people connect to their authentic selves and supporting them to live a life that fulfills those unique values, goals, and joys. Julie is an Innovative Coach and Energy Practitioner and she loves to help people live more Perfectly-You on this adventure called life! She integrates forms of energy healing with coaching practice which I think is such a cool way of helping clients access all parts of themselves as a whole being and integrating them into balance. Check out her website at: www.perfectlyyoucoaching.com.
That restless feeling that has you contemplating any number of life adjustment(s) from quitting a job, to moving to another state, to leaving the relationship, to utterly altering your diet, to a trip around the world …
(Okay, okay. That may just be my level of squirrelly. Ha! The ‘let’s do this and let’s do this BIG’ variety … Yeee Haaaaw!!)
Regardless, if you find yourself sitting with some pretty significant restlessness; with feelings that you need a change … well, by all means, make a change!
Ahhhhhh, but practice a bit of mindfulness prior to jumping (if you’re the jumping type).
So very often, it’s the small adjustments that make the BIG difference. It’s why you so often hear that the move to another place, relationship, job, etc. eventually results in more of the same. DAMN IT! (wink)
WHAT SMALL ADJUSTMENTS WOULD ALLEVIATE YOUR LEVEL OF SQUIRRELLY?
Wait, that’s such a broad question. One that might get your anxiety levels up in addition to the squirrelly-ness. Sorry!
What small adjustments would alleviate your level of squirrelly AT WORK? AT HOME? IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP? RELATED TO YOUR SELF CARE? RELATED TO YOUR NUTRITION? RELATED TO YOUR HAVING-FUN FACTOR? ETC?
(Oh, and … this is scientifically proven. The butterfly affect of chaos theory. Read on science geeks!: The Butterfly Effect: This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened.A more rigorous way to express this is that small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results. Our lives are an ongoing demonstration of this principle.) Awwwww Yeaaaaaaaah!!!
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:
- feeling at home in your body
- feeling connected to your body in a safe manner
- an increased ability to be in your body in the present moment and to feel all of its sensations (emotional and physical)
- Safe and healthy expression of needs, desires, fears and wants through the body
- an increased ability to self-soothe when feeling escalated or agitated
- an ability to identify inner needs and tend to them appropriately
- Connection to and acceptance of all parts of your body and of yourself
- Connection to your sense of self; your soul
- Ability to recognize and correct cognitive distortions related to your body
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!
Today I am pleased to offer a guest post by blogger Lizz Schumer, who has known the dangers and pitfalls of disordered eating and exercise, and now advocates for healthy recovery and body image.
Here, she shares her experience with ‘fitspiration’ and describes her journey to balanced, intuitive exercise that fit her body’s unique needs:
I called it the “tyranny of the numbers.” I couldn’t be content to run x number of miles, burn x number of calories or spend x amount of time. The three x’s had to line up, like pictures on a slot machine, for me to hop off the treadmill satisfied. Bingo.
In this way, my compulsive exercising brain held my body captive, tied to a treadmill until one would let the other stop. If I skipped a day, I hated myself, my body, the weakness that I thought resting implied. I counted calories like I counted steps, minutes: obsessively. This was not fitness. This was an exercise in illness.
A person only need spend five minutes on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or even Twitter, to notice the “Fitspiration” trend that’s taking over social media. Slogans like “unless you puke, faint or die, keep going” and “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch,” slapped across photos of tight bodies in tighter clothes flash across the screen in the name of fitness. But what are they really saying?
After years of fighting it, I’ve learned to listen to my body telling me what it needs. My body isn’t a machine and it isn’t a tool. It’s a part of me, and a part that I love and respect. If it’s fainting or puking, there’s something wrong. That isn’t fitness; that’s illness.
And no matter how slow I go, my body still needs rest days. It needs the couch, sometimes. And yes, it often needs potato chips and chocolate, too. And if I don’t give it some off time, my body will break down. Or my mind will, because neither can exist at maximum capacity for long without falling to pieces, because neither were made that way. That isn’t fitness either. But I can tell you what it is.
It’s a culture trying to sell fitness by encouraging shame in our bodies. Fitspiration encourages pushing a person’s body to the limit and beyond, implying that any less is failure. It’s an all-or-nothing attitude that isn’t just discouraging; it’s dangerous. Women are already taught that we’re not good enough. We’re taught that our bodies are imperfect, our efforts are less valuable, our work is worth less. None of these are true, but all of them sell beauty products, self-help gear and yes, workout clothes. We have to look beyond the fitspiration messages and realize that slogans that subjugate aren’t selling us anything we should be buying. That we’re stronger, smarter, better than that.
True fitness, the kind that leaves a person feeling better and living healthier, has nothing to do with fainting and puking. It doesn’t require, or even usually result in, glistening muscles rippling beneath branded spandex. And most of all, real fitness makes a person feel better, not worse. Because my personal fitness level, no matter where it is, is nothing to be ashamed of.
These days, I don’t treat a treadmill like a slot machine, just like I don’t treat my body as a vessel that needs punishing. I put a book over the numbers, cue up my favorite podcast and exercise until a chapter break, the end of the broadcast or my body tells me to. No matter what the numbers say.
Bio: Lizz Schumer is a writer, reporter and photographer living and working near Buffalo, N.Y. The editor of a local newspaper, her work has appeared in a variety of forums. Her first book, “Buffalo Steel” is available from Black Rose Writing. She can be found @eschumer, www.lizzschumer.com and www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.
Do you want to read more about ‘fitspiration’, its unhealthy messages, and related topics? You may find out more about why fitspiration really isn’t that inspirational here; or uncover some of the most damaging fitspiration messages here, and read a report about the dangerous effects of fitspiration on mental and physical health as discussed by psychologists here.
With the news of The Biggest Loser contestant who dropped more than 60% of her body weight over the course of the show and fell to an unhealthy weight, The National Eating Disorders Association asks: ‘Who Is the Biggest Loser? All of Us.” A timely topic that we all must confront.
What are your thoughts or reactions? Please feel free to leave a comment below!
While 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.
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.
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:
- By being real and opening up to my audience about how nervous I was, I was able to find more space and acceptance for the feelings of anxiety and still go on with my presentation even though they were there the whole time. In ACT terms, this would be called “acceptance”.
- Beginning with a mindfulness exercise helped me reconnect with my breath and check in with my body and notice any tension, sensations, emotions it was holding. This also aided my audience to reconnect with themselves as well. In ACT, this would be called “contacting the present moment”.
- All morning before it was my turn to present, I went to several other workshops that I found very engaging and inspiring. I wasn’t able to be truly present, however, because I had intrusive thoughts such as “your presentation isn’t as expert as theirs is”, or “your nervousness is going to get in the way of effectively relaying your presentation”, and other annoying, damaging thoughts. I actively tried to notice those thoughts and pin them as JUST THOUGHTS. They don’t have to mean anything unless I believe them. In ACT, distancing from unhelpful thoughts is called “defusion”.
- I realized that I have had this experience before. I sometimes get caught up in an anxious mindset that is almost paralyzing. At the time of this newest challenge, I made a big effort to notice that I was going into that all-too-familiar frame of mind I could call “my anxious self” and then observe it. I didn’t have to believe that this self was all of who I was or that it really has much relevance. In ACT, this awareness and attention to my ‘anxious self’ is called “Self-As-Context”.
- Much energy and effort had been expended to get myself to the conference and prepare my presentation, so was I really going to let the anxiety keep me from doing what I originally intended? Why was I truly there? I reminded myself that I was there to help offer tools to others about treating eating disorder populations with ACT, and this was important to me because it helps to advocate and spread the word about how this can help those in recovery. By defining my “values”, I was able to keep them in my mind and move forward even though I was still anxious.
- Finally, I did it. I presented my workshop and got through it, and it went quite well. I felt great! By taking an action that is guided by my values, I am engaging in “committed action”.
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?
I thrive on being inspired. Experiencing others’ wisdom feeds my soul. Today I am particularly inspired by two amazing women: Chela Davison and Anita Johnston. These two women are writers, healers, and visionaries. Chela writes in poetic prose on her blog, words that we can all relate to: “Our addictions keep us all wrapped up, entangled in the illusion of release”.
When we become addicted to something — alcohol, food, sex, gambling, drugs, work — this forms a way of coping with a particular sensation that is uncomfortable. “But it’s not the vice that we crave”, writes Chela, “it’s the relief from the arising sensation.” What if we found a way to eliminate the suffering that can come with pushing away uncomfortable feelings, and instead found a way of being with them in an accepting way?
Dr. Johnston is a clinical psychologist and the author of one of the all-time flagship books of my own journey to recovery and ultimately helping others, Eating in the Light of the Moon. I am fortunate enough to be invited as the guest speaker at the Conscious Living Book Club on June 14, and I have chosen this book as a spark for discussion and deep meditation. Why? Because it invites us to explore, through storytelling, myth and metaphor, our relationships with food and emotions, where “stories help us connect with our inner world, to the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth, and to the power of our intuitive wisdom.”
Chela and Anita both draw us deeper — they invite us to truly meditate on what nourishes us and how food or other “things” can become ploys for trying to meet some deeper need. Can we find what we are truly looking for and stop the seemingly endless race (sometimes in a hamster wheel, spinning, spinning) to avoid what we are feeling? What if we already have everything that we will ever NEED?
I invite you to begin a meditation on what your “drug of choice” — whether it be food, alcohol, sex, relationships, shopping, exercise — truly does for you (or used to help you with, but doesn’t work so well any more). What’s your metaphor? What are you truly hungry for? Could it be love? Attention? Self-acceptance? Companionship? What is its symbol?
We are taught from a young age that pain is something that is bad to feel. That we shouldn’t feel it. That we should do everything we can to change it. This might involve eating, drinking, or taking drugs as a way to try to change that feeling. However, pain is a normal, human feeling that we all feel. It’s okay to feel it. The true struggle comes when we exert endless amounts of energy to try to avoid it, and then we develop eating disorders and other addictions because it doesn’t work. Food, at that point, is not what we’re truly hungry for.
As infants, we eat intuitively. We don’t want to eat when we’re not hungry. Sometimes, as a way to try to meet our needs, our caregivers may feed us when we actually are tired, lonely, in pain. Thus begins the cycle of trying to soothe an emotional need with a physical thing. Food can take on a whole other role: companion, soother, nurturer.
How do we free ourselves from these struggles? First, we must understand what we are truly hungering for. Then, we must find a way of connecting with our bodies and our emotions (ALL of our emotions, even the scary ones) in a healthy, accepting way. At this point, we are able to shift the way we experience our emotions and find a way of being with them that is nurturing, not self-destructive. Your need to use food or other substances in unhealthy ways will no longer be so forceful!
So what’s your story? How does food talk to you? Eating in the Light of the Moon uses a metaphor of an old woman in Japan who followed her hunger to a dark cave filled with scary creatures who tried to keep her captive. Only by finding a way to give them what they TRULY needed, was she able to escape. Reading this, and other stories in the book, can help us sort out what’s going on under the surface in a fanciful, endearing and enlightening way.
Tell me: What are you TRULY hungry for? And how can you nourish that hunger in a compassionate, accepting way?