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:
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:
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?
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.
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.
That 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:
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!
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
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Try to think about the last time that you felt vulnerable. What were the circumstances? Do you remember what it felt like? How would you describe that feeling? How did the feeling show up in your body?
Was it akin to: feeling open and naked, wondering if you are going to fall off that very high limb that you just put yourself out on? Out of control? Free-falling? Terrifying? Exposed? These all might be words to describe the feeling of vulnerability — among many others. I’m currently engrossed in Dr. Brene Brown‘s newest book: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead in which Dr. Brown spends a lot of time uncovering different facets of vulnerability and tells her own story with this concept that many of us seem to avoid.
Dr. Brown’s definition of vulnerability invited me to pause and truly reflect on my own relationship with being vulnerable. She describes it as:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
Reading that might cause a ripple of anxiety go up and down your spine. Our society today has adopted a kind of fear mentality that breeds anxiety and avoids vulnerability. We have been through so much in the past decade — war, violence, loss, recession — that we feel we must protect ourselves. But what Dr. Brown asserts, and what many of us might now know, is that being vulnerable comes from a place of power. ”Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, creativity, belonging, joy, courage, and empathy. It is the source of hope, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path,” asserts Dr. Brown.
In short, vulnerability is feeling and feeling is connection to our life’s purpose.
In perusing this, I reflected on my own life story and the character that vulnerability has played. What has it taught me? How has it helped me grow? In exploring this, I am able to help my clients find their own empowerment through vulnerability (while holding space for fear of exploring this topic).
Here are some things that I have done that have made me vulnerable:
And this is how I felt: naked, somewhat raw, but also solid. Dr. Brown surveyed many people with this same question — what did you do to be vulnerable and how did it feel? — and the most common response was “naked”. Naked is what we are when we were born and despite all of the layers we put on throughout the years of our lives, naked vulnerability is the place where we find the inner peace we’re looking for. Why? Because we are expressing ourselves honestly, directly, and wholeheartedly, a light shining from our true selves. When we are our true, open self, we are in touch with emotions that make us human — all shades of emotions, from “dark” ones to “light” ones. And if we can offer acceptance and not judgement to our wide range of emotions, then we are able to overcome challenges and build resiliency.
Dr. Brown suggests that we shy away from vulnerability because we feel we need a “shield” in a society that constantly tells us that we “don’t have enough” or that we “aren’t enough”. This passage, taken from the book The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, really struck me:
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time”. Whether true or not, that thought of “not enough” occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. . . Before we even sit up in bed, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. This internal condition of scarcity lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, our arguments with life. . . “
What if we embraced that we are enough just as we are today? We don’t need to do anything else? Would that make being vulnerable less scary? What change might happen if we were to embrace vulnerability? And what if being vulnerable was the vehicle for the change that you’re yearning for?
As we continue to explore the complexities of vulnerability and its relationship to shame and other emotions, please take a look at Dr. Brown’s talk about the power of vulnerability — a video that has touched people around the world.
How can you “dare greatly” today?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am enrolled in a writing class through Original Impulse where I am delving deep and becoming more connected to my writer self. This week, we did an exercise where we introduced ourselves to our inner critic (or gremlin) and tried to get to know it instead of avoid it. This technique made me think of principles in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), as it encourages going into the emotion and engaging it with acceptance instead of trying to rid ourselves of it.
I often work with my clients in a similar way to identify and get to know their critic voice. For those struggling with an eating disorder such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating, there can be an “eating disorder voice” or “critic voice” that speaks negatively or destructively to them and damages self-esteem and healthy coping. In getting to know the voice, speaking back to it, individuating ourselves from it, we can feel empowered and free. We can even utilize the voice’s power for our own good — try to understand what it needs, what it wants, and how it can help us instead of harm us.
I thought I’d share the exercise we did in writing class, altered slightly to speak to the eating disorder voice or whatever the critical voice means for each of us. We all have an Inner Critic. How can we reach across the aisle and enlist his/her support?
When we challenge ourselves or commit to a difficult task (like recovery), sometimes our inner critic can get LOUDER and try to convince us that the effort isn’t worth it. Have you ever had that experience? This is common, so if you come across it don’t let the critic voice get in the way of pursuing your goals. Instead, get to know it – give him or her some direct attention:
Once you have a clearer picture of your Inner Critic’s way of life and personality, you can separate yourself from her and notice your voice as opposed to hers.
Some tactics in working with your Inner Critic:
If your Inner Critic is full of “should’s” and is driven towards perfectionism (as mine sometimes is!), try to remember that the drive for perfectionism keeps us stuck and away from our goals. Recovery (and life) is messy and certainly doesn’t fit into neat little boxes. I like the saying that “Perfect is the enemy of beginning.”
Finally, ask your Inner Critic two important questions:
I notice that sometimes the drive under the critic is actually desiring to help us in some way. For example, my critic’s drive for perfectionism is actually her way of trying to help me find whatever I’m looking for to cultivate inner peace. When I am able to notice that, I can reframe the voice, change the words, and funnel that energy into self-care activities.
After you’ve tried this exercise for yourself, feel free to leave a comment about how this was for you or anything you discovered about your inner critic. Has your relationship with her changed? In doing this, we can connect with, utilize, and befriend all parts of ourselves and not feel like we need to “banish” any of them — even our Inner Critic.
I’ve talked to a fair share of people — those who have been to counseling before and those who have never set foot in a therapist’s office — who break into a cold sweat when thinking about talking with a therapist. I have been in the client’s chair myself, and my experiences in counseling deeply inspired me to want to help others by becoming a therapist. I believe in the power of therapeutic change and benefit and I’ve also “been there” and empathize with how daunting it might seem to enact change in one’s life.
Anxiety and nervousness can precede a therapy appointment. They can cause you to drive around the block a few times before finally parking and walking into the office. I know that sometimes it can feel worse after the appointment, instead of better. I know that discomfort might be part of the protocol. I understand that talking about personal matters can feel foreign, vulnerable, and risky.
So why do it?? Because change can happen. Steps can be taken, with the trust and security of a therapeutic relationship, to achieve personal goals that bring peace, happiness, and clarity to one’s life. This is absolutely possible. But, you may wonder, what do I have to risk in order to achieve that change? These common fears may keep some folks from calling a therapist and today I wanted to “normalize” those fears — and talk about what to do to overcome them. Because everyone deserves a fair shot at a balanced and healthy life.
In working with clients in recovery from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, I often encounter some anxiety around change. Through my own recovery from an eating disorder, I went through various stages of change and different levels of readiness for change. I discovered that I needed to follow my own path, and it may take me up hills and down valleys; most significantly I found out that therapy, while terrifying at times, helped me make the changes that got me to the place I am today — healthy and fully in recovery!
Here are three of the biggest fears that those with an eating disorder who are contemplating therapy may experience. These can also be widened to anyone who is approaching the decision to pursue therapy:
Three Big Fears About Going to Therapy – and how to conquer them:
1.) My therapist is going to force me to change. This is not only a fear about therapy, but also a misconception. A therapist will never (should never) force someone to change. We cannot. It is your life and you make your own choices. Sometimes when health issues are highly concerning, a client may enter a treatment center where he/she must follow certain rules. These rules are for the therapeutic benefit of the client, and while the rules may limit behaviors that are self-destructive, it is ultimately up to the client to open his/herself up to changing thoughts, behaviors, and ways of relating to self and others. If you enter therapy, you are in charge. This isn’t to say that your therapist is not going to challenge some things you do or say, but confrontation is a therapeutic tool that is also for the good of the client. Therapists point out what we sometimes cannot admit to ourselves.
2.) If I open up and am honest, my therapist is going to judge me. Honesty is one of the biggest risks in therapy — because being honest makes us vulnerable, possibly subject to judgment. Honesty is also a vehicle of change, as it allows us to connect with how we truly feel and explore those feelings. A trusting, solid, connected therapeutic relationship can foster a healing and safe space for honesty and this is one of the cornerstones of therapy. A therapist’s job is to be a non-judgemental and non-biased professional whom you can feel comfortable talking with about personal and sometimes painful subjects. If you have concerns about judgment in the therapy room, this is certainly a topic that should be discussed.
3.) If I go to therapy, I will have to keep going for the rest of my life. Sometimes people are afraid of “opening a can of worms”, and feel it’s safer to keep the genie in the bottle. I can relate to this. When I share some of my personal therapy experiences with clients, they sometimes ask me how long it took me in therapy to feel healthy and stable enough to go out on my own. As everyone’s path is different, the length of therapy might be conditional based on each person’s needs and goals. For some, a few sessions might alleviate some presenting symptoms. For others, a few weeks, or months. In the initial few sessions, I go over goals with my clients and we keep track of how progress is going as we move on. The goal of therapy is to help you find tools and strengths that you can utilize whenever you need them, and to empower you to know that you can walk on your own two feet. So, while I empathize with the fear of “being in therapy forever”, this is not ultimately healthy, and an experienced therapist should continue the conversation with you about how you are feeling as therapy moves forward.
Do you relate to any of these common therapy worries? Entering into therapy is an investment in yourself — your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. To find balance and health, this may involve talking about uncomfortable things and confronting destructive coping mechanisms. As someone who has gone through therapy and sometimes still checks in with my therapist, I can attest to the benefits of this process. You are worth the investment!
If you or anyone you know is thinking about “dipping your toe” into therapy, please contact me and I’d be happy to tell you more about the process and what to expect: 720-340-1443 or email@example.com.
The seasons of life cycle through our challenges and our joys. As the fall air begins to color the Colorado skies, I am reflective of the changing tides, the laughs we have laughed, the tears we have wept, and the difficulties we have endured. It has been a tough summer in Colorado. It seems at times so simple to slip into the dark cave that beckons, and I find myself stepping inside. But, what about the light at the other side of this tunnel? A wise mentor shared with me the other day her philosophy on dealing with challenging times. She said “sometimes I need to retreat into my cave, and that is okay. I just try to imagine it lined with sparkling gems and jewels and beautiful rainbow specks of light.”
This philosophy reminds me of the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) principle of getting cozy with our feelings and emotions, accepting them no matter what they are. Today I read a guest post on Tamara Suttle’s popular blog Private Practice from the Inside Out by Ann Stonebraker, who is a therapist in private practice at Labyrinth Healing. Ann wrote of the “green-eyed monster”, and how, when we feel the green eyes of jealousy churning up inside of us (as tends to happen sometimes, naturally), instead of running away from the feeling, we can ask it what it has to teach us. Jealousy can also be approached in a way that reminds us what we are grateful for.
This post inspired me today to blog about the things I am grateful for in my own life personally and professionally. Though our “caves” have much to give and teach to us, instead of dwelling in the darkness of the cave why not look towards the jewels that also line it? Sometimes a darkness yields a gem.
I encourage you to add to this list as you may so desire. A good practice to get into is to write down three things every evening in your own “Gratitude Journal” that you are grateful for that day. I’ll get us started:
Things I Am Grateful For:
My list continues to grow each day. I am grateful for all of you who stop by my blog and give your opinions and ideas. I also encourage you to tune into Private Practice from the Inside Out, which hosts a weekly gratitude blog as well.
What are you grateful for?
When something feels out of your control, what do you do? How do you respond? Do you avoid or deny? Do you get angry? Do you feel helpless or hopeless? Do you turn many of these feelings inward on yourself? I have worked with many people on managing unpleasant or painful experiences and today I got to delve into this very thing myself when I encountered a situation that was out of my control. I then had to decide how I was going to cope with it, and let me tell you — my first response wasn’t pretty. I learned so much about myself during this process; I learned that I have a tendency to internalize, self-blame, and worry. All of those things getting stuck inside of me doesn’t feel great.
BUT, the experience also gave me an opportunity to practice some skills I have learned using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I recently attended a workshop presented by two colleagues Brenda Bomgarder, MA, NCC (whose has a counseling and coaching practice, Creating Your Beyond) and Christine Allison, MA, LPC (www.ChristineAllisonTherapy.com) who are trained in ACT principles and therapeutic methods and who help both professionals and clients in following ACT’s message on coping with emotions.
ACT’s core message embodies “accepting what is out of your personal control (such as emotions, feelings) while committing to action that will improve your quality of life”. What did I learn during this training? Using mindfulness as a guide, three of the basic ACT concepts include:
1) defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories
2) acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle
3) contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity (taken from The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris).
Applying these techniques to the way that we manage emotions allows us to “deal with painful feelings and thoughts effectively” while “helping us to clarify what is truly important and meaningful to us - ie our values – then use that knowledge to guide, inspire and motivate us to change our lives for the better.”
So, because I am a human and swim in the same sea of emotions as every other person, I practiced what it would be like to sit with the worry and distress without pushing it away. I realized as soon as I tried it that the practice of acceptance and open awareness was much less exhausting than trying to avoid or contain feelings that I believed were “not okay”. It’s okay to worry and to really feel it. But I needed to check in and ask myself: what does the worry accomplish? I noted that the worry about this situation kept me away from the bigger thing that I really valued in the grand scheme of things — spending time with a loved one. By accepting the worry and anxiety, it didn’t have such a hold over me and by letting it sit, I was able to move forward and focus on valuable experiences that create a full and happy life.
I am reflective on how ACT can be helpful to those who are struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or loss. In working to accept and sit with painful or unhelpful thoughts or feelings, my clients have noticed that they do not feel the need to “cope” in a destructive way — i.e. cutting, disordered eating, purging — and that it is easier to allow the feelings to be felt. By diffusing thoughts that seem unhelpful and by distancing themselves from identifying strongly with these thoughts, clients feel more empowered to make choices that create a life they desire.
Find out more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science or The Happiness Trap. You may be surprised how stuck we get in the struggle — and how easy it is to move forward from that place!
Here’s a great metaphor for ACT:
Today I am pleased to feature a guest post written by Ryan Rivera who has personally experienced the symptoms of anxiety and now through his website the Calm Clinic, aims to help others identify these symptoms and decrease their impact on their lives. He was gracious enough to write an article for my blog and include some of the ways that anxiety affects eating disorders and how eating disorders can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. I felt that this would be helpful information for those dealing with anxiety, eating disorders, or both, as these issues are commonly experienced at the same time or trigger one another.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety Discussed by Ryan Rivera
As distressing as anxiety might feel, this mechanism was created for a purpose. All organisms are endowed with this flight or fight response to help protect and preserve them from all that is threatening and dangerous. It serves as an adaptive function to ensure man’s survival.
When a danger or threat lurks in the shadows, this flight or fight response sets off to pump adrenaline and other stress hormones into the body to arm it for action—the heart races, breathing shallows, and muscles tighten. After such rush, these incapacitating symptoms lose their sting and bring the body back to its normal, undisturbed motions.
So, why do these symptoms happen?
For those taunted by anxiety and panic attacks, their parasympathetic system, a sub-part of the peripheral nervous system, seems to be not working in proper order. This system which mainly functions to restore the body back into the normal state after experiencing an anxiety jolt fails to work promptly. No one is clear as to why it fails to conduct its job, however one thing is for sure: people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks remain keyed up as there remains a high level of stress hormones pumping throughout the body that have not yet been extinguished.
With adrenaline scorching the brain and body into an overwhelming state, the cardiovascular system is activated. This “red alert” status produces an increase in the beating action of the heart, leading to physically felt heart palpitations. This effect is crucial for the preservation of the body because this helps to rapidly pump more blood to areas of the body that needs it. Vital areas where blood needs to be transported immediately are to the muscles of the biceps, thighs, and legs. The flight or fight response is also designed so that the blood supply in the distal areas of the body, such as the toes and fingers, can be diverted to the vital areas to prevent the loss of too much blood in case injury happens. With the rerouting of blood, cold, clammy skin, and tingling sensations in the toes and fingers are obvious as well. Trembling is noticed in the lips and legs, too. These uncoordinated, clumsy movements are side effects of the increase in the sympathetic nervous system activity.
Alongside the activation of the cardiovascular, the respiratory system is also stimulated to complement the former’s effects. The breathing is accelerated to help send more oxygen to the tissues of the body. Oxygen is needed to fuel the activity of the cells. Without this element, the cells will not be able to operate properly, leading to further bodily harm. Some side effects brought about by the increase in respiratory cycles include the sense of suffocation and tightness in the chest. And because heavy breathing decreases blood supply to the brain, dizziness can be manifested by the sufferer.
The mind is also affected by the changes applied by the flight and fight response. People who are experiencing an attack become more focused on their surroundings. Their senses are keener as well to better see, hear, and feel incoming danger. Because of this change, difficulties with memory and performing chores and errands during an attack are reported by those suffering from anxiety.
Another anxiety symptom is that of the sweating mechanism. Sweating prevents the body from overheating while in action. It cools off excess heat to stop the body from burning itself.
Anxiety is indeed complicated. When left untreated and unmanaged, it can lead to serious problems, for example, obesity or malnutrition (bulimia and anorexia nervosa). People with anxiety disorders are more likely to eat more and gain weight or to deprive themselves with food. Eating disorders can extremely aggravate anxiety symptoms. In addition, anxiety sufferers are at a higher risk of developing heart diseases, diabetes, liver and gallbladder problems, etc. as complications of their eating problems.
For the reasons mentioned, people who suffer from anxiety must soon seek professional care and advice: first, to maintain the function of the brain and its nerves; and second, to prevent from going down the road of emotional and psychological distress. Whenever discussed symptoms are experienced, it’s imperative that a doctor’s visit be prioritized. Another important thing to remember if you are dealing with anxiety is to avoid self-treatment, especially with medications. Drugs for anxiety should only be taken upon a doctor’s recommendation. Most of the time, they are considered as the last option, more so now that natural and alternative methods are known to have an equally positive effect with less to no side effects. Not everyone responds equally to the same type of treatment. We respond to treatment quite differently, so it’s vital that there is proper guidance.
Ryan Rivera went through these same anxiety symptoms. He suffered for 7 years and only recovered through natural means of treatment. To learn about these methods and techniques, visit www.calmclinic.com.
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.
What is your life’s purpose? Does thinking about that question cause you to break out in cold sweats as you find it more and more difficult to breathe? Relax – I understand the panic about finding ‘who you are’, ‘what you’re meant to do’, ‘what direction should you go?’ and other perplexing thoughts, and so do thousands of other people. Today, the Denver Post ran an article about “The Sophomore Slump” in college, discussing how “sophomores feel anxiety about choosing life direction, deciding on a career path and picking a major; social pressure to find their place on campus, losing high-school friendship ties, questioning their identity and developing autonomy from parents.” All of this can cause anxiety and depression. Whew! That’s a long list of life-defining choices, and, as the article states and many of us have experienced, after the excitement of freshman year wears off we are often left to wonder: who am I? What I would like to share with them: “Relax! Enjoy college, follow your dreams, and you will find your place.”
These questions do not only hit at sophomore year of college. In fact, they can cycle into our lives at many different intervals. For some, these questions come to surface after college graduation as we wonder if we should go to graduate school or hit the job market. Due to economic strains and new opportunities in education, an increasing number of the adult population is embarking upon a midlife career change and these questions can spark and ignite fire: what are my core values? what are my personal strengths? which career path will make me feel most fulfilled? what other parts of my life have purpose — having a family, a home, spending time traveling the world? How do I make all of these fit into my reality, and how can they co-exist in a balanced way?
The Post’s article describes the “sophomore slump”, a time of transition between ‘new-and-exciting freshman year’ and adjusting to the pressures of making life decisions and managing growing responsibilities. It’s the year of finding purpose…or at least poking around for it. I remember my sophomore year of college vividly. I was following my passion and studying European history, but there was a persistent malaise brewing underneath my daily consciousness that whispered to me: “you know that this is not going to turn into a career for you. You do not want to be a history teacher. What are you going to do with this degree?”. I felt both overwhelmed and inspired by all of the opportunities presented to me in college, both academically and socially. I could choose from hundreds of courses to take and further my budding curiosity. I could choose to join the tennis team, or participate in theatre. It was like high school exemplified and glorified; so many choices, combined with my highly anxious and perfectionistic perspective, made me want to crawl in a hole and hide away at times.
How do we deal with the pressure to “be our best person”, to “make lots of money so that we can buy a house, a car, a trip to Europe”? And why do we need to listen to the messages that society tells us, saying that we need to do these things? Peer pressure much? Many people get stuck in jobs and careers that they are not passionate about because they have so many financial obligations that need to be met. What if you could meet those needs, as well as meet the needs of your soul and spirit — find a direction in life that is inspiring and energizing, a purpose that feels like home?
This may involve taking a risk. If you are able to do so, I encourage you to take that risk. Risk following your passion, pursuing your purpose. Have you always loved creating artistic pieces of jewelry but didn’t believe that it could ‘be a career’? Try selling some of your pieces and committing yourself to the process of feeling it out as a possible life transition. When we let go of some of the things that hold us back and stifle our energy, we may find that the world is open and ready for us to channel that passion into our authentic selves.
I took a risk and went to graduate school for something completely unrelated to my previous schooling focus. As I embarked on this new pursuit, that voice came back to me, and instead of whispering it shouted: “Here, you belong. You have found your place!” But it took many years of learning, experimenting, trying on different hats for my life’s purpose to finally be ready to surface. I believe that these unique experiences, in their somewhat unexplainable process, knew where they were leading me all along. I just needed to open up my heart to welcome my purpose. What do you need to do?
Yesterday evening, September 25th, marked the first “unveiling” of the work-in-progress support center: “A place of our own”. The Eating Disorder Foundation, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado, has been providing education and support for those affected by eating disorders and their families since 2005. Now, in February 2012, the EDF will open a state-of-the-art support center where people struggling with eating disorders and presenting with varying degrees of recovery can come and hang out in a safe place. ”A place of our own” will be the first of its kind in the nation and is blazing the trail for increased advocacy, education, and awareness in eating disorder treatment and recovery.
I have been volunteering with the EDF for the past two and a half years, participating in projects such as educational presentations in schools and organizing outreach events, but most of my time has been spent in facilitating the weekly ANAD support group for those struggling with eating disorders (Tuesdays, 6:30-8pm; free. Contact me for more information). Through this group, I have been honored to be invited into the lives of the members in an intimate and supportive way, and I have developed deep relationships with group members as well as other volunteers involved with the foundation. Toni Saiber, the founder of EDF, has tirelessly put the word out about the need for attention and education towards eating disorder recovery. She and the 300 people who attended the fundraiser yesterday evening plus other supporters are saving lives every day.
Are you a professional or someone with interest in volunteering with the Eating Disorder Foundation? We need volunteers at our new support center! We are looking for facilitators to help out with a plethora of new groups and classes: you could facilitate and educational class or a movement group, you could run a support group, conduct a workshop, present a town hall meeting, or lead a recreational activity. The purpose of the support center is to “help people integrate what they learn into their everyday lives, thus increasing the chances for longterm change.” By giving to others, our lives are forever touched and changed.
Classes and groups are not meant as treatment, but as resources to help build resiliency and skills to support recovery. ”A place of our own” will be a place where people can come and hang out, with no expectations or pressure – something that is often foreign in the world that eating disorders create. It is a safe place where you will not be judged for who you are or where you are on your journey towards recovery. It is a positive, healthy space where members can inspire and encourage one another. When I think about this idea, my heart skips a beat. Though eating disorders are increasing in numbers, variety, and severity, having a place like the EDF’s support center is going to battle those numbers and provide acceptance and hope in a world where there can be so much pain.
As the gold and red autumn leaves were falling around the new support center yesterday evening, I had a vision of what will be going on in that very space just six months from now. There will be people hanging out in the garden, reading books. They might be quietly discussing tools for healthy mind and healthy body. A yoga class will be in session upstairs in the group room. There will be volunteers on hand to guide a person away from harm and towards recovery. Or, they will just sit and be with themselves. Sometimes, just being present in the moment and appreciating its gifts is all that is needed.
The Eating Disorder Foundation is offering those who struggle with eating disorders a helping hand. You are not alone. I am so inspired by the work and vision of the EDF, and by those who will use this space as a gateway to their own recovery.
For more information about “A place of our own” and how you can help, go to www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.
Amazing and inspiring efforts are continually being made to erase and eradicate eating disorders and to raise awareness about their deadly effects. Just last week a group of teenagers from Boulder went to Washington, DC to lobby and testify before Congress in support of the FREED Act (Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders)! Staggering statistics they are fighting against: 45% of girls and boys in elementary schools want to be thinner and and 9% of nine-year-olds have purged in order to lose weight. That’s NINE year olds!! Reality is hard enough when you are older….to be thinking about weight loss and hurting your bodies at age nine is a tragedy. Watch this local news video to learn more about the Boulder teens’ efforts in front of Congress (they got to meet with some pretty fascinating and powerful people!):
So what is the FREED Act exactly? This Act was conceptualized in February 2009 by the Eating Disorders Coalition, which is a group based out of Washington, DC whose mission is “to advance the federal recognition of eating disorders as a public policy priority.” It is the first comprehensive legislative effort introduced in the Senate to confront the seriousness of eating disorders and to jump start research and advance the treatment, prevention, diagnosis, screening, and awareness of these diseases. It also brings attention to the lack of initiative on the part of insurance companies to recognize the seriousness of these diseases and to increase coverage for treatment.
This is revolutionary! The bill, put to the Senate by Congressman Patrick Kennedy, strongly commands attention to the devastation of eating disorders and outlines a plan for education and prevention initiatives — some of which include: studying the “why” and the effects of mandatory BMI reporting in schools; a grant program for training all types of health professionals about eating disorders; plans for educating the public about EDs through public services announcements; and bringing eating disorders into already existing initiatives about obesity (this one I find very interesting as there is a stigma about obesity and eating disorders and we need to understand their link and how both can be prevented). The awareness piece involves educating professionals and the public about the death rates of eating disorders (not spotlighted clearly or often enough), providing care according to universally accepted criteria, and having the bottom-line assertion that “all Americans with eating disorders deserve care”.
A blog that I read wrote last year about the FREED Act, and pointed out that the National Institute of Health (NIH) allows “$1.20 per person towards research for those with eating disorders compared to the $159 per person towards research for those dealing with schizophrenia — a disease whose prevalence is significantly less than those affected by eating disorders”. This statistic underlines the fact that research and effort into understanding eating disorders is considerably lacking as composed to other types of disorders, and their death rates are often higher than those other disorders’. The FREED Act currently has bipartisan support and hopefully will pass! In 2009, the bill had 20 sponsors and 44 different local and national organizations wrote a letter to Congress in support of the act! Now is your opportunity to act as well!!
What can you do? You can write a letter to Congress by writing your local Representative at this link. You can check out the inspiring work of the Boulder Youth Body Alliance and attend a talk on April 25th at 6:00pm on the Naropa University Campus where you can “come hear our youth talk about their experiences of advocating for the FREED Act (Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders) in Washington DC. They will talk about the bill, what they’ve learned, and three will share their speeches from the Congressional Briefing.”
Now is the time for the change that will save lives!
One of the reasons that we love celebrities and entertainment so much is that they seem almost unreal, like beings who may appear to be like us but are in some way untouchable. They can offer us an escape from our daily grind, as we sit front row for the ups and downs in the lives of movie stars, singers, athletes, reality stars, and politicians. While the hype about a movie star’s love life might distract us from the reality of our own lives and give us a laugh, the truth is that celebrities influence us in ways the are more dynamic and serious than we might be aware of. We have heard many times about the danger of connecting too closely with a celebrity — as comparing ourselves with them, their possessions and their fame can almost always leave us feeling lacking. However, I would like to offer another side — a more constructive side, one that can be helpful if channeled in a healthy manner — to the power of celebrity.
Celebrities suffer from eating disorders, just like millions of the rest of us do. This is one thing that makes them “human”, makes us feel like maybe they can relate to some of the emotions, issues, and struggles that we experience. As eating disorders are built out of a drive for perfection, a desire to succeed, and a dangerous “need” to change ourselves until we fit an ideal, these controlling symptoms can be similar to the cut-throat industry that is Hollywood and fame. As I was doing research for this article, I knew that I could find a few examples of celebrities who have recovered from eating disorders and who are now using their celebrity to speak out in advocacy for eating disorder recovery. I was shocked to find a list of more than one hundred names, the majority of which have recovered, but several of which have passed away from these serious disorders. And I am sure this is a partial list.
I was inspired to write about this today because I came across a video this morning posted by actress Demi Lovato, who has been in inpatient treatment for “emotional issues” for several months. While no one has directly stated that she was dealing with an eating disorder, it appears that this was at least part of what she was struggling with, and in her video she speaks honestly about the challenges she has been faced with. She also appeared calm, strong, and inspired by her journey and I hope that at some point when she has long been recovered that she will use her voice to help others with similar issues (she already hinted at this in her message!). I wanted to write today about the positive influence that celebrities can have on society, as they are often discredited with being negative and damaging impacts on normal people. As celebrities continue to lend their voices to a variety of causes and make donations to worthy foundations,I am hopeful that we can move forward in a healthy way, sending messages of self-acceptance and self-love instead of one that we can never be “enough”.
This week is a very important week for raising awareness and spreading educational resources about eating disorders. February 20-26th are seven days set aside to “finally talk about it”. As talking about eating disorders is scary for many of us who have connections to these deadly disorders — a loved one possibly developing one, a person who is currently struggling with one, or someone who is in active recovery — the thought of really “talking about it” can bring up anxious feelings. Why? Because, as mentioned in my previous blog posts, eating disorders are complex and seductive mental health disorders that threaten your physical and mental health, as well as affecting close relationship ties. It’s hard to tell someone that you have been restricting food or bingeing and purging. It’s hard to hear from a loved one that they have been experiencing out of control eating and feel they cannot stop. This can bring up so many mixed feelings: shame, guilt, and worry.
So, this week, we’re going to open the door to talking about eating disorders and we’re going to offer numerous resources and activities that can help erase the stigmas of eating disorders. Because you know what? We all have some connection to eating issues. Whether it’s being on a diet, exercising to achieve a goal, or trying to change the way you feel by using food to cope, men and women world-wide get it. We don’t all develop eating disorders, but we all have personally felt the effects of controlling food (type and/or amount) or know someone who has. And it we all do just one thing, we can really change the world.
The National Eating Disorder Association has a link with events and activities that are going on in your area. If you live in Denver or in the surrounding areas, the Eating Disorder Foundation is hosting a Candlelight Vigil for those wishing to join in a community gathering recognizing National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
The Fourth Annual Candlelight Vigil will be held to honor those taken by this terrible illness, those who continue to struggle,and those who have found their way to the light of recovery. It will be held at 6:30pm at the Wellshire Inn at 3333 So. Colorado Blvd, Denver, 80222.
Here are some resources for eating disorder awareness: Males and eating disorders; People of color: eating disorders affect us all; Athletes: a coach’s guide to eating disorders; and I t’s Time To Talk About It: an essay by Jenni Schaefer, eating disorder ambassador.
If you do just one thing, you can save a life. Find out more about eating disorders at: www.katedaiglecounseling.com.
Tomorrow morning I am giving a presentation at a local high school focusing on how to notice signs of eating disorders, how they affect us emotionally and physically, the dangers of developing an eating disorder, and resources for getting help. This is a very pertinent topic in schools with all grades — and the need for advocacy is reaching grades even as young as elementary school. Scary, isn’t it? I am excited to begin this new venture, because as a counselor I have an ethical duty to be an advocate for issues that concern mental health issues. I will be giving free talks at local schools (grades elementary-college) and at churches and recreational facilities in the upcoming months, so if you or anyone you know sees a need for this type of presentation in a community you are connected to, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first sign of a potential eating disorder most always is rooted in going on a diet. Diets involve limiting amount of food intake and eliminating certain types of food groups for a certain period of time, which can easily get out of control. As 40-60% of high school girls and 90% of college girls are on a diet at any one time, this statistic coupled with the social and academic pressure of a school environment makes the risk of developing an eating disorder very high. One last statistic: 25% of pathological dieters will develop partial or full-blown eating disorders. Diets are “gateway drugs” to eating disorders and must be monitored carefully; diets are part of my presentation at every grade level as this can be a point of early intervention.
Here’s a video that I will be using to show high school students how they can help each other find resources and notice signs of eating disorders. I am encouraged that increasing numbers of students display awareness of eating disorders and are spreading the word about the dangers of these potentially deadly afflictions!
Another presentation take-away: download and print off my handout: 15 Signs of an Eating Disorder. This can give you information for noticing signs of an eating disorder and can help you save your own life or the life of someone you love.