What is the relationship between anxiety and eating disorders? A guest post sheds light on complexities of the mind-body connection

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. If you haven’t already come across the post, we recommend you to do so immediately, as it is worth a read. 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?

  1. Heart palpitations
  2. Rapid breathing
  3. Sense of suffocation
  4. Dizziness
  5. Sweating
  6. Cold clammy skin
  7. Trembling
  8. Intense apprehension

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.


It’s miserable, but it’s also seductive: eating disorders and the ‘impostor syndrome’

Yesterday I found a raw, heartfelt blog post about what it is like to live with an eating disorder.  I remember that through my own recovery process, one of the things that was most meaningful to me was reading the words of people who “got it”.  It seemed few and far between to find someone who truly understood the way I was feeling…mostly because of the mysterious and hidden nature of eating disorders themselves.  We hesitate to expose them, despite the fact that millions of people do understand what we are feeling.  Today, I utilize an empathic approach to my therapeutic philosophy as much as is helpful for my clients.  I want them to know that I get it, because I do.

Reading the blog post yesterday, titled Eating Disorders and the Fear of the Ordinary , I was instantaneously drawn to the writer’s reality.  She wrote about something she called “the impostor syndrome: the gnawing fear that you don’t really belong there, that you don’t have what it takes, that you somehow slipped through the cracks in the admissions process and are actually an intellectual embarrassment, an incompetent fraud who knows jack-all about anything — and that sooner or later, like the Wizard of Oz, you will be found out and exposed for the humbug you really are.”

I reflected on my own journey.  Did I feel like an impostor?  Certainly I did, trying to fit in with crowds of people who did not accept me, trying to mold myself into something I wasn’t in hopes that I would be accepted.  The most significant way that I was an imposter was in relating to my own self.  I was not living within my own skin, my own body; I was detached from the neck down.  I couldn’t believe that the body I had was mine, and for many years, I didn’t want it to be mine.  Now I know that it was not about my body at all, but about accepting myself for who I was, inside and out.  Accepting my sensitive nature, accepting that I had a streak of perfectionism in me that would always peek through.

The author talks about feeling as if we are impostors who “are horribly afraid that somewhere along the line somebody will figure this out. We are convinced in the teeth of the evidence that there is something fundamentally flawed about us, something that needs fixing and yet is unfixable.”  This can lead to hurting ourselves through destructive behaviors and feeling as if we are different from everyone else.  This would-be self-absorption makes us feel different, special, unique.  This feeling, she says, is “miserable, but also seductive.”  Thus one of the reasons that eating disorders are so difficult to recover from: we must realize that we are not so different from others, that we belong, and that we are deserve the same self-confidence that others do.  But that is also, in the author’s vein, ordinary.

The author also points out that when struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder, one may feel very alone and separate, but

“what’s so funny about this whole self-fulfilling prophecy is that we aren’t really alone, and our methods aren’t really as terribly original as we’d like to think they are. The statistics don’t lie: there are eight million [reported] eating disorder sufferers strong in this country alone, each and every one of us absolutely convinced that we are unlike all the others, that we are somehow Extraordinary.”

What are we trying to achieve by being extraordinary?  Do we want to be noticed? loved?

I encourage you to read the entire post, and to reflect upon how it relates to you or to someone you love who has struggled with an eating disorder.  The final words are written as if from my own mouth: “I’m not extraordinary, and I’ve nearly killed myself trying to be — but what I am is perfectly imperfect. That’s what I have to offer this world — and that’s fine by me.”


Divorcing the fat stigma and embracing health, wellness, beauty at ANY size

Everywhere you look, there’s an advertisement to help you lose weight — especially this time of year! Celebrities talk about fasting for days before an awards show and commenting on how “AMAZING their body looks after losing all of that baby weight!!”.  As if that is the most important thing in the world.  Why is everyone so afraid of fat?  We are conditioned to believe that the thinner we are, the happier, the more successful, the richer, and the more popular we will be.  We will have it all.  But what about already having “it all” — no matter how we look?  This perspective is revolutionary in mainstream Westernized culture, and quite controversial at times, pushing against such rigidity about what we “should” look like and “should” do.  Tell me this: does thinness REALLY cause happiness?

I was curious about this question so I asked a few of my acquaintances who are affected by this social pressure.  After thinking for a moment, my subject said: “well, yes, it will make me happier because it will give me more self-confidence.”  I asked another colleague the same question and she said: “no, thinness will not make me happier because my body is balanced at its natural set point; no matter how much I could starve myself or workout, my body will always look this way.  If I decided that I needed to be thin to be happy, and my body was not where I wanted it to be, I would be choosing to make myself miserable.”  In both of these perspectives, I gleamed a similar theme:  confidence in our selves could influence happiness.  Many of us look for happiness by changing the way we look, feeling as if that is something we can control.  And we can, to a certain degree.  But if we are choosing to control how we look and doing so in a way that is not focusing on health and wellness of our bodies as well as our minds, this can lead down a dangerous path to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.

I am a huge fan of the philosophy of the Health at Every Size organization (HAES), whose mission “is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.”

Already over 3600 people have signed the HAES pledge to honor and respect their bodies.  Imagine what our world could be like if we chose to love and accept our bodies instead of abuse and control them?

We cannot talk about the fat stigma in the US without discussing the growing problem of obesity in our country.  Statistics show that nearly one third of adults in the US (33.8%) are obese.  The same HAES principles can be applied to those who are obese as can be applied to any other person:  if we choose health and wellness, meaning giving our bodies nutritious and delicious foods and eating in a manner that is mindful and pleasurable, exercising so that our muscles can be strong and active, and finding joy in the beauty of our bodies, then we might have healthier connections to our bodies.  What about embracing terms like health and wellness instead of fat or skinny?

post from the “Dances with Fat” blog written in response to Paula Deen’s recent admission that she has type two Diabetes and those who are criticizing her states:

Public health does not mean public thinness.  It also doesn’t mean being a judgmental busybody who shames or stigmatizes people who don’t look or act like you think they should.  Being for public health means that you are for people having access to the foods that they choose to eat, safe movement options that they enjoy,  and affordable evidence-based medical care.”

There is a movement that has formed to push against the our society’s fear of fat.  We each have our own experiences and opinions about this topic, as it is very close to our hearts and our daily lives.  I invite you to leave a comment, raise your voice, as we need more dialogue to shut out the noise of unhealthy eating and mindsets about food!


Parents can be the key to early intervention in eating disorder development

Parents have an important role in detecting the early signs of an eating disorder in their child.  As a parent, you have a front-row seat to the daily behaviors, emotions, conflicts, and coping mechanisms that your child exhibits.  You can tell if your son or daughter is having a rough day by the way he or she manifests emotions.  Perhaps your son gets frustrated and kicks objects around the house.  Or your daughter is in conflict with a friend and isolates herself in her room.  Many of these behaviors are normal coping mechanisms for the developmental phase that the child is currently in, and they learn more about themselves and the world by utilizing a wide range of emotional expressions and behaviors — sometime to the befuddlement of their parents.

How do you know when a child might be developing a coping mechanism that can lead to destructive behaviors such as an eating disorder?  And what do you do?  As a parent, you have the opportunity to be a soothing and comforting support to your child as he or she navigates through life and through your supportive presence, you can model adaptive and healthy coping mechanisms.

Someday Melissa is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 by Judy Avrin following the death of her daughter Melissa to an eating disorder.  Someday Melissa’s mission is “to promote recognition and awareness of eating disorders and the importance of early treatment”, and the organization created a documentary about Melissa’s journey in order to raise awareness about the dangers of these disorders.  The goal “is to show the film, speak to groups, provide educational materials and have a vital website and blog that are continually updated with information and resources; to share stories of recovery and hope.”

Below is a poster of the film:

In her recent blog post on Someday Melissa’s blog, Judy writes about the “Power of Parental Denial”.  When a doctor suggested to her that he suspected Melissa had an eating disorder, Judy refused to believe it.  She had been careful not to talk about weight or body image in front of Melissa because she was aware of the sensitivity of those subjects herself.  She states that the “signs of Melissa’s eating disorder — desire to lose weight, constipation, increased exercising, mood swings — in retrospect seem lime flashing neon warning signs that should have set off alarms.”  But they didn’t.  Why?

Judy continues to explain that beginning signs of eating disorders can appear like “normal” adolescent behavior and can seem to be explained by other causes.  Doctors are just as crucial as parents for noticing early signs of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, and they sometimes do not point them out — perhaps because people struggling with eating disorders are very skilled at hiding or ‘explaining’ their behaviors.

Many people who are struggling with eating disorders can appear at a normal weight, making it more challenging to detect the symptoms.  Those struggling with bulimia nervosa are rarely underweight and are sometimes a bit overweight, and with the stereotype that ‘people with eating disorders are typically emaciated’ still rampant, many are overlooked.  Judy also points out the power of shame.  Many parents as well as their children do not want to admit that the child has an eating disorder due to the shameful acts and behaviors that can surround these disorders.  The shame can become overpowering and lead to an even deeper cycle of denial and control.

Judy’s mission is to educate parents, teachers, doctors, therapists, friends, and family members about the signs of an eating disorder so that treatment can be sought at the earliest possible time.  Early intervention drastically raises the recovery rate for eating disorders, as the behaviors may be less entrenched and the emotions less intense.

There is a wonderful resource for parents created by the National Eating Disorders Association called the Parent ToolKit.  This, along with parents’ attention to and involvement in their child’s emotional self can save many lives.


Concerned that a loved one might have an eating disorder? Five tips for helping to promote body-love and self-acceptance

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.


A New Year, A Fresh Perspective on Recovery from Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder

What does recovery mean to you?  If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder or if you struggle with body image issues, you may think about the term ‘recovery’ often.  My own recovery from bulimia was not a straight, neat line.  It went up and down and every which way before I finally secured a lasting and healthy recovery.  As the year 2011 draws to an end, I am reflective about what the start of a new year brings to us in terms of self-care and intuitive healing.

A new year brings a fresh start, or the possibility of one.  I find this to be hopeful, but I also am worried about the message that the holidays can send to those struggling with eating and weight issues (and even to those who aren’t).  We are a ‘diet-minded society’ in the United States and I find that this can be harmful to those who are striving to create a unique and personal sense of inner peace with food.  I heard an advertisement on the radio the other day that said something like “Indulge now, because you know that there will only be celery sticks after the new year”.  This persuasive advertising was meant to sell me some type of food that tastes “really good” but is “really bad” for me — and then it kicks in a nice helping of guilt at the end.  Does expecting to feel guilty and needing to ‘compensate’ for eating delicious food lead to a balanced relationship with food?  I am struggling with the message that this concept sends to us all.

So, what does a balanced and healthy recovery mean to you?  I want to be careful to not fall into the dominant mindset that suggests a new year’s resolution should be “to recover”; don’t get me wrong, I think that embracing recovery, if it is the right time for you to do so, can be a life-changing commitment.  However, feeling forced to do so, or guilt-tripped into it, as advertisements want us to feel, is not the way to a lasting and comprehensive recovery from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder.  The new year is simply a new opportunity to make a change, to know that your life is worth it, that you deserve to live free of eating disorders and in peace with yourself. Recovery must come from within you.  Only you can decide when and how you want your recovery from eating disorders to be.

For me, the end of the year is a time of reflection, goal-setting, and personal development.  I have been practicing this for many years, all the way through my own recovery and beyond.  If you or someone you know is contemplating making a stride towards recovery, I encourage you to embrace some of these same practices.  Here are a few questions to set your recovery wheels in motion:

-Why choose recovery now?  What do you have to gain? What do you have to lose?

-What risks are involved in choosing recovery from an eating disorder?

-What fears do you have about recovery? (weight gain, uncomfortable feelings, etc.)  What hopes do you have about recovery? (positive thoughts, self-acceptance, healthy relationship with food, etc.)

-What support systems do you have available to you?  Who can help you? (more on this below)

-Draw a picture or write a short story about what your life could be like if you lived in freedom from the eating disorder.  Who are you and what are your strengths?

-How will you know when you have made some steps towards helping yourself?  What will be different?

 

Sitting down with a pen and paper (or a computer) and really concentrating on these questions can give you a sense of direction and can bring some clarity towards your motivations for change.  Sometimes you may only feel in 5% of yourself that you want to recovery.  That is okay.  Know where you stand today and think about some goals (even if some feel far-fetched right now!)  to help yourself  start to picture what your life would be like without guilt, shame, and the confinement of an eating disorder.  You deserve this freedom!

There is much support available to you.  Resources can be found at The Eating Disorder Foundation, The National Association of Eating Disorders, and at Health at Every Size.


Don’t bully your body! Beautiful body-image boosters for recovery from eating disorders

I’m in a “you are beautiful” type of space today.  It feels like 99.8% of the news and articles I come across every day are about negative messages that we are sent about ourselves, our bodies, and what it means to be beautiful.  Whether they are messages from the media telling us we “should” look a certain way, or if they are attacks on those messages themselves — it feels negative, negative, negative!  How is one supposed to recover from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder if all that we encounter are negative messages.  Puts me in a negative mood.  And that’s right where the eating disorders want us to be!  How about battling eating disorders and negative body image with love, acceptance, and hope?

I was inspired to write this post when someone I respect deeply shared this about her own recovery:

“I tried ending my own eating disorder with a lot of force, judgment, guilt tripping and punishment.  We all know that drill.  One day I woke up and decided to try gentleness instead.  In that moment, my road to recovery was born.  I found real strength through gentle self acceptance.”

The same day that she shared these words, I received a book I had ordered entitled Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It at a Time.  Operation Beautiful is a movement started by Caitlin Boyle whose “mission is to post anonymous notes in public places for other women to find.  The point is that WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL: you are enough…just the way you are!”.  Leafing through the book and then checking out the website, I was inspired and empowered by the energy this project creates all over the world.  Energy to love and accept ourselves and others, sending a message of peace, anonymously, not caring who you are.  Imagine the power that a movement like this can have!  There is no ulterior motive, no attempt to sell us anything, just a pure message that you are okay just as you are.

Here is an example of one of the messages left anonymously:

Join the movement!  Leave an Operation Beautiful message in a bathroom or public place with a message of empowerment and self-acceptance.  You could help someone who might be struggling with an eating disorder such as bulimia forget about the other messages they are sent (the hurtful ones) and focus on the amount of hope and change they can embody!  If you see a post-it, send in a picture of it to OperationBeautiful.com, where it might be featured and where it could ever expand the amount of good that message can do.

Finally, my day of “you are beautiful” is complete with sharing this inspiring video about ANOTHER wonderful project called “The Body Image Project”.

Look at you // The Body Image Project from Body Image Project on Vimeo.

Today you can join in spreading love and helping others find self-acceptance with knowing that they are beautiful inside and out!


The role of worry in eating disorder development and recovery

What role does “worry” play in your life?  If you have ever suffered from an eating disorder you may have gotten to know this feeling pretty well.  Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder develop because there is some type of unmet need or wound that has not been healed in our lives.  When we begin restricting or overeating or using other types of disordered eating behaviors, this action may be a way to try to meet that need or soothe that wound — whatever it may be.  Perhaps there is a need in your soul to feel emotionally safe and secure, an essential part of our development as children that can sometimes be disrupted.  As we grow older, we still have this need, and we can try anything to fill it — food, alcohol, substances, sex, gambling, or money.

When these things don’t work to truly fill our inner hunger, we may begin to worry.  Worry that our inner hunger will never be truly satiated, worry that we are hurting others in our lives through our self-destructive behaviors, worry that the eating disorder (or other type of addiction) will erase our true voice and cover it up with ugly thoughts and feelings that keep us in the cycle.  In truth, eating disorders use worry as a tool to remain in power.  When you are worried about upsetting someone or disrupting a family dynamic, these feelings can feel out of our control.  Food is a way to try to control something.  Worry can creep up when food feels out of control as well.  What are people thinking or saying?  What harm am I doing to by body?  Will I ever have control of food again?

If worry were a person, what would you say to it?  Would you sit down and have a conversation about why it is in your life and what purpose it holds?  Worry is a close relative to shame, guilt, and anger — feelings that eating disorders can use to continue trying to control your life and your self-esteem.  Instead of becoming angry or upset with worry, therefore giving it hidden power, try to get to know it a bit better.  Worry is present for a reason, though its purpose may not have a place in your life anymore.  Did worry help you get more attention from a parent or a loved one?  Did it give you some insight into how you perceive yourself in relation to others?

How can worry help you in your recovery from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder?  Worry, like anxiety, can be healthy in small doses.  They can keep us alert and on our feet.  Perhaps worry can be like gentle nudge for you in your recovery to remain aware of any triggers, to choose healthy paths, and to be openly communicative with those in your support system.  Eating disorder recovery involves befriending all parts of yourself — worry being one of them.  So pull up a chair and share space with those feelings that might intimidate you!


Eating disorders and holiday anxiety: 8 tips for finding peace with food

The holidays are upon us and while they are meant for celebrations of family, friends, and love, they also can be full of stress and anxiety about food and weight.  What should I eat?  What should I NOT eat?  How do I avoid guilt about eating a big meal on Thanksgiving??  How do I release the anxiety so I can actually enjoy eating delicious holiday food with my loved ones?

These are choruses that may ring familiar to you.  Does this tape run through your head as you think about the upcoming family gatherings, holiday parties, pot-lucks, and holiday bake sales?  It’s hard to resist the temptation to dig into all of the delicious offerings.  It’s also challenging to let go of the fear of food that many of us identify with.  If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or if you have experienced emotional stress over eating during the holidays, do not fear.  You can still enjoy the holidays AND enjoy the food!

I have struggled with eating disorders and know all too well the anxiety about what types of foods will be at holiday events and not being able to trust myself to healthily enjoy them.  I have been able to find peace with the season, and can enjoy in moderation all of the foods that I love!  For me, one of the biggest keys to this freedom is self-compassion — allowing myself to be present, find joy, and not dwell in self-judgment or guilt.

Here are ten tips for getting what you want out of the holiday season, keeping the food anxiety at bay, and truly enjoying the value of this special time of year.

Eight Tips for Overcoming Food Anxiety During the Holidays:

1.)  Don’t go to any gathering too hungry.  If you have a few stops to make at holiday events in an evening, have a little something to eat before you go so that you are not starving when you arrive amidst all of the delicious food.  When you arrive, check out all of the options and then decide which ones will make you feel good, satisfied, and happy.  Eat those in moderation.

2.)  Have a buddy in the know.  Whether it is a partner, family member, friend, or colleague, find someone who you can feel comfortable sharing your anxious feelings with.  Let them know what you hope to accomplish during the event and let them know what your worries are about.  Have them be a buddy for you as you focus your attention on enjoyment and not on fear.

3.)  Try not to label foods “good” or “bad”.  Labels are not healthy for any of us, as they can confine us into a place where we might not feel free to be who we are.  Foods feel the same way!  Sure, there are some foods that are healthier for you than others, but to truly overcome food anxiety it is important to not separate foods into groups.  You can eat anything in moderation.  If there is a food that you really love that you might label “bad”, try it anyway.  Try to have a small portion and eat it without judging yourself or the food.  See what happens!

4.)  Know where you can go and what you can do to release holiday anxiety in a healthy way.  Keeping active is an easy way to help your mind and your body feel in sync and energized.  Go to the park and take a walk around the lake.  Practice mindfulness or meditation.  Breathe.  Or perhaps you find peace listening to music or talking with a friend.  Before you enter a potentially stressful situation, identify your personal outlets for stress that you have known to be effective before.  Keep those close and plan them into your schedule.

5.) Give yourself a BREAK!  The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and to be a break from your regular routine.  Allow yourself to ease up on rules or expectations and try to truly be in the moment.  Family might be in town that you have not seen for a while.  Be present with them and don’t let food take that precious time away from you.  The same thing goes for work:  leave it at the office!

6.)  Come prepared with what you need in order to feel at peace.  At some family gatherings, family members may pressure you to “just eat!”, or “don’t you want more??”.  Before you enter this atmosphere, know what your personal goals are.  Perhaps they are to eat until you are satisfied and then stop.  Don’t feel pressured to eat more than you want or need to, despite what others say.  Etiquette experts say that it is ok to say no, so follow what your intuition tells you.

7.)  Ask for support.  If you are struggling with an eating disorder or with any form of emotional eating, there are many places you can go to find others who understand what you are feeling.  There are numerous local support groups for eating disorders (local Denver ones are found here), or you can reach out to a therapist or friend who can provide empathy, understanding, and supportive tools for helping you get through the stressful times.

8.) Don’t focus on numbers.  I don’t like numbers.  They can “tell” us what to feel about ourselves.  In terms of weight and food amounts and calories, numbers can be quite damaging.  During the holidays, try to feel what your body needs through its internal signals to you, not through counting calories or fat grams.  Your body has a voice and it wants to tell you exactly what it needs.  It intuitively will guide you to eat until you are satisfied physically and emotionally.  So leave the calculators at home and go out with a mission to eat intuitively, to enjoy the food, and to not control it.  Don’t allow the word ‘diet’ into your vocabulary!  The intuitive eating approach is guaranteed to help you overcome struggles with holiday food anxiety, eating disorders, and emotional stress.

I am hosting a workshop:  “Are you WEIGHTING for freedom from holiday emotional eating?” at my office on Tuesday, December 13th at 5:30pm.  Contact me for more information!

Have a happy, healthy, and stress-free holiday season!


Play Therapy and Eating Disorders: Healing our inner child

When we develop an eating disorder, suddenly our inner artist, our inner dancer, our inner child is suffocated by food, control, and obsession.  That young child can be locked inside of ourselves until we begin to embrace recovery, release our behaviors, and allow ourselves to feel our authentic feelings once more.  Many of us might fear what will come if we let our locked-up feelings out to play.  While there may be a flood of emotion, many of those feelings are ones that a child — a trapped child — would naturally express without the tarnished pain of an eating disorder.  You may feel joy, release, spontaneity, laughter, curiosity, and energy.  If you are suffering from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, you may be ready to play once again with your youthful, innocent inner child.

How can play therapy be effective in treating eating disorders?  When eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia force us to live in a controlled, un-changing world, we can lose sense of the creativity that burst from us as a child and as ourselves before eating disorders took over.  Art therapy, music therapy and dance therapy can in this way be very powerful in helping us to reconnect.  Play therapy, such as using puppets to re-create or renew different parts of ourselves can encourage us to look at our lives in a new and different way — “outside of the box”.  When eating disorders are in control, we may feel as if we have no choice in what we think, feel, or do — we “must” schedule our days according to when and what the eating disorder wants us to eat and how associated behaviors will be planned out.  It’s very constrictive and confining.

Do you remember when you were a child and you loved to play?  What were your favorite games?  One of mine was dressing up in costumes and putting on plays for my family and friends.  I would inhabit different characters and create a life that I wanted to inhabit.  Did you like to draw?  Play in the sand?  Play with dolls, stuffed animals, or toy cars?  How did you express your feelings on a given day though what you played with and how?

Using play therapy as a child, adolescent or adult with an eating disorder can inspire us to “play out our feelings”, instead of having them locked up inside of us.  We may have wounds from our past that are still affecting us today (being called “fat” on the playground in third grade), but we do have the choice of how much we want these wounds to have a place in our current lives.  By using play, we can externalize these feelings, give them names, give them identities, and physically throw them, hug them, or do whatever else with them that will help us soothe our inner child.

Here are a few ideas for how you can play your way to recovery from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder and give your inner child the freedom to dance:

  • Invite a child in your life (a niece, brother, friend, sister) to show you his/her favorite way to play.  Try to see their play world through their eyes and not your own.
  • Jump on a trampoline as you did when you were a child.  Embrace the reckless feeling of it and the fun of never knowing where you will land next.
  • Look through old albums of your childhood.  Try to put yourself back in those places where you felt happiest and most free.  Who were you with?  What did you love to play with?  What characters did you inhabit?
  • Go through a child’s book and pick out the images that most soothe your inner child’s soul.  Draw those images on a big sheet of drawing paper and organize them in the way that most touches the needs of the little girl or boy inside of you.
  • Find some of your old toys, or ask your parents about what you most liked to play with.  Try to bring yourself back to that place of imagination, mystery and wonder.  What stories would you play out now?
  • Go to a dog park and play with the dogs.  Animals are the most natural beings at play, and they never lose their sense of wonder or excitement.  They are children forever!
Eating disorders can make your world feel like it is very dark and small.  They can offer you the choice of black or gray, and give you a hard sheet of metal with which to work.  Where do you play?  Who is the child within you that begs for freedom from restrictive behaviors, from self-destructive eating patterns, from guilt and shame?  You can find that child simply by inviting him or her out to play.