The benefits of self-care: learnings and musings from my time away

It has been some time since I’ve written…and I’ve really missed it and missed my readers!  While on break, I realized the therapeutic value for me in writing blog posts and journal entries and I am eager to process some of the other things I learned while away from my “regular life”.

I was fortunate to be able to take three weeks and travel overseas on a journey of self-care, connecting with loved ones, and exploring new places.  Now that I am back in the office, I have been reflective of a few things that I learned and noticed while I was away.  These musings have benefitted me deeply as a person and as a psychotherapist and I thought it might be helpful for others if I posted them on my blog.

Reflections from a journey away from routines, control, and expectations:

1.)  One of the first things I learned was how challenging it was to give up control, expectations and routine!  It proved to be an exercise in self-restraint to separate myself from my work and “just be” (though I did get this down after a few days of adjusting!).  Three weeks away from email began to give me symptoms of withdrawal…which I quickly realized was not a healthy thing.  I confronted how tied to my work and my home I am, and I learned that it is imperative for me to have boundaries in the way I spend my time, my energy, and my resources.  I desperately wanted to be present and aware during my journey, and this was shown to require more work to accomplish than I had thought!  The benefit of this, though, is noticing that there is extraordinary value and meaning in the simplicity of life, and things don’t need to be complicated!

2.)  I also learned that we are all the authors of our own happiness.  I spent time in some very rural areas and met people who live simple, humble lives.  These people work very hard and enjoy the bounty of their work as they feast on the fresh produce from their gardens, sip the wine from their grapes, and enjoy the meat of the cattle they have raised in their own pastures.  This is all they need to be happy.  The beauty of their lives struck a deep chord with me and I notice how contrasting the aspects that make up my life seem to be from this simplicity.  I am motivated to pursue that simplicity and the appreciation of the earth as the wonderful people I met do every day.  Through making these connections and observing this way of life, I realize that I have a choice.  It does not matter how much money I have or what I own; I can enjoy the beauty of life simply by embracing the gifts of the present moment.

3.)  Relationships are the roots of a beautiful life.  Spending time with loved ones and forming new relationships with friends from afar can deepen our sense of self, our connection with our world, and manifest priceless new memories for a lifetime.  In nurturing my relationships and in embarking on new friendships, I was offered a fresh perspective on life: joy is experienced in the present moment, in a joke with a friend, in the taste of a delicious fruit, in the sound of a bird’s song.  It does not matter what language we speak or if we understand the words of another — connection is felt inside, in a language that does not use words.  Joy is who we are, not what we own or where we have been.  In giving up control of where I was going and what I was doing, I was able to embrace the raw beauty of what IS…without needing to change anything.

Now, back home where there are many other gifts and examples of beauty, I am grappling with how to integrate my experience abroad with my experience in my home.  It has not been a simple transition however I am grateful for how many definitions of peace, beauty, and happiness I have discovered!

I am hopeful that some of what I learned could strike a chord for you as you embrace the challenges and the gifts on your life’s path.  Whether you a in recovery from an eating disorder or managing stressors of a different kind, I know that life can be overwhelming.  I encourage you to take a step back and think about the choices you DO have and how you can find peace in a moment of every day.


Rejuvenate, refresh, renew — the important gifts of giving ourselves time off!

How often do you give yourself a break?  I mean a true break, some time off that is long enough for you to unwind yourself from the stressors of your everyday life?  Probably not as often as you need.

Lately I have been asking myself: “what does my soul need?”, “what am I truly hungry for?”, “what is missing from my self that I need to offer my self?”.  These are questions long contemplated and can help you embark on your own journey of tending to yourself.

When answering these questions, I noticed that I am overdue for a break myself and, so in the spirit of self-care, I am going to be away from the office from May 28-June 19 on a multi-purpose getaway.

I try to “practice what I preach” — be a model for my clients of healthy living and taking care of myself.  I have to be honest and admit that I’m not always so good at this…but I am also a human who is continually on a journey of learning and change.  It’s hard to break away for three weeks, but I know that for myself, for my business, and for my clients, I will utilize this time to renew, refresh, and rejuvenate my spirit.  My passion for my work is always growing and I hope to find new inspiration for healing while I am on my adventures.

So, I wish you a peaceful, fulfilling, and restful three weeks.  I will anticipate sharing some of my learnings and experiences when I return the third week of June.  Namaste, Kate


Indicators of Eating Disorder Recovery: Where Are You on the Journey to Recovery?

A few weeks ago, I went to a panel of eating disorder professionals in Boulder, Colorado, which was the final event in the “Journey to Wholeness: From Anorexia to Addiction, Bipolar Disorder and Recovery” series sponsored by the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and featuring renowned author Marya Hornbacher (author of such groundbreaking books as Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, and  Madness: A Bipolar Life, among many others).

The panel, featuring local eating disorder psychotherapist Isabelle Tierney and Toni Saiber, executive board member of the Eating Disorder Foundation, was truly inspiring to me as a mental health professional working with eating disorders, as well as someone who has recovered from my own eating disorder.  The panel members had all recovered themselves from eating disorders as well, and I appreciated the candidness about what it is like for them to pursue the passion in life of helping others find recovery.

A resounding theme of the event was HOPE.  What place does hope have in eating disorder recovery?  How does it support people in their journeys towards wholeness?  All panel members agreed that their own personal experiences have influenced and informed their practice today in a way that makes them, resoundingly, human.  I was inspired by the authenticity of panel members:  “sometimes, when I’ve had a challenging week, I still have to notice how I try to use food to cope”; “recovery is a lifetime process, always evolving, always present”; “I’ve learned that when I said no to my eating disorder, there were things I then had to say yes to, which was challenging at first”.  These are the voices of recovery, spoken by those who are so inspired by this journey that they now make it their life’s work to help others.

I left with a renewed spirit, a passionate drive, a dedication to commit myself to my own life’s path: to help others find their recovery, too.

I was given a handout at the panel, one so useful that I have shared it with many of my clients.  It’s entitled “Indicators of Recovery” and I have attached it as a pdf at the end of this post.  One of the things I love about this handout is that NONE of the indicators have to do with food, weight, or appearance.  There is no counting or numbers.  These are indicators to a healthy and balanced life, and can be applied to anyone and everyone — not just those with an ED.  I like going through this with clients so that, on the sometimes tough days of recovery, they can see where they are and what they’ve already done in terms of recovery.  The first step is asking for help and that’s a HUGE one — maybe the most important one of all.

I want to point out a few of these indicators that really stand out to me, as a possible jump-off point to further discussion and reflection:

  • Learning “slips” and “relapses” are signs that something else is really going on and forgiving yourself while investigating the cause.  This is one of the more challenging tasks in recovery but one that is essential in embracing the process of the recovery roller coaster.  Just because you might have a slip does not mean that you have gone backwards.  Slips are opportunities to learn and to practice compassion.
  • Possessing a desire to change.  So simple sounding, yet so complex.  A client’s readiness to change indicates where they are on the journey to recovery and what challenges and what tasks he/she may find as they move forward.  I believe that this factor, as well as asking for help, are the two most essential factors to defining recovery.
  • Feeling negative emotions (or “challenging”) and knowing it is possible to live through them without needing to numb them.  This concept is one of the core concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a therapeutic approach that I use in my practice.  Learning to sit with feelings, believe that they will pass, and not allowing them to overpower other emotions or desires is an integral part of recovery.  We all have feelings, some more challenging than others, and we do not have to allow them to control our experiences.
  • Becoming autonomous and not comparing yourself to others.  We are all beautiful and unique in our own ways.  Finding and relishing in that inner beauty is the antidote to eating disorder behavior.  
Many more Indicators to Recovery are found in the pdf: Indicators of Recovery
Whether you are a professional, a person who is trying to recover from an eating disorder, or a loved one of someone with an eating disorder, I hope you find this pdf helpful.
Which of these indicators are you embracing in your life today?  Which are you working on now?  Which are goals you have for your recovery?
For more support or resources about eating disorders and recovery, contact Kate at kate@katedaiglecounseling.com, or view her website at www.katedaiglecounseling.com.  Further resources: www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.

 


How long do we REALLY need to be in therapy? Thoughts from both sides of the couch.

An article in the April 22, 2012 New York Times entitled: “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already” did its job and caused me to reflect on my career, my personal journey, and the complexity of the therapeutic process.  I ended up evoking an audible “hmmmmm.”

Some of my therapist colleagues and I meditated on the clinical and ethical reasons for working with clients and wondered how we know when our clients can ‘graduate’ from therapy.  The article, written by New York psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, is not anti-therapy.  It’s mostly a conversation-starter about why clients seek therapy and the reasons that they stay in it.  I strongly encourage you to read the article and come up with your own thoughts and opinions about it — as it is a very personal subject.

Therapy, in general, is very personal.  This is why I don’t think there is a black-and-white answer to the question of “when is enough, enough?”.  When are we ever finished evolving and changing as human beings?

I was motivated to reflect on my own personal philosophy about therapy as I read the article, both as a client of therapy myself and as a clinician.  As I work often with eating disorders (bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating), I contemplated an additional factor of readiness for change in the therapeutic process.  I am blessed with encountering clients who are at every stage of the change process….for some, this means coming once or twice and then taking their own journey, perhaps, to decide how and when they are ready to commit to recovery.

Recovery in and of itself is fluid and ambiguous.  Some clients come for a while, take some time off, and then return when they feel they need some accountability, some support, some insight.  When I was struggling with my own eating disorder, I was in and out of therapy many times — “tasting” it a bit, smelling it, figuring out if it was what felt right at the time.  I had to do a lot of soul searching before I committed to therapy, and I credit my experience in therapy as my saving grace and the avenue I chose to get to my own recovery.  Since that time, I have gone back to therapy several times, as a way of checking in and tuning up any loose ends.  I believe that therapy will be an essential tool for my mental health for decades to come.  I also believe it helps me grow as a mental health professional, as I am able to know and understand the benefits of working with a therapist whom I wish to emulate myself.

What struck me about the article was the way the author looked at different therapeutic orientations and how (he felt) some are more effective than others.  For example, Mr. Alpert states: “there’s a difference between feeling good and changing your life; feeling accepted and validated by your therapist doesn’t push you to reach your goals.  It might even encourage you to stay mired in dysfunction.”  Herein lies the debate between supporting and enabling a client: how do we know when to encourage a client to try to spread their wings and fly, and how do we know if it would be harmful (ethically, therapeutically) to do so?  This caused me to consider three of the foundations of therapy: unconditional positive regard, empathy, and non-judgment.

Are these enough and sufficient to help clients create the change they wish to see in their lives?  Or do clients need something more?

I believe that the answers depend on each unique client and the therapist with whom they commit to working with.  Not every client and therapist are going to be a perfect fit at the perfect time.  This is why it is important for clients to get to know a therapist, see if they connect, decide if the therapeutic relationship will be strong enough to create a framework for healing and change.  I feel that when the relationship is based on trust, safety and honesty, change can happen.  What is said or not said can be secondary.

I am still reflecting on the complexity of therapy and the players that it involves.  Client needs and goals are the focus of the process, but these can be met in so many different ways.  Just as every human is different, there is no one “perfect” or “right” way to engage in therapy…and that’s the beauty of it!


When things feel out of control: Utilizing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to sit with uncomfortable feelings

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:

 


Who Are All The Parts of You? Inviting Aspects of Ourselves to Sit for a Peace Talk

Have you ever woken up on a given day and felt that you were being pulled in several different directions?  Perhaps a part of you wanted to stay in bed; but another part of you was eager to accomplish the tasks you had set out for the day.  A third part of you felt upset about a conflict with a loved one the day before.  As human beings, we are complex and complicated animals and we have many things that motivate us: fear, joy, pain, anxiety.  How do we decide what to listen to?

If you could sit down at a table with all of the unique parts of yourself, what do you think would ensue?  Would there be conflict, arguing, anger, avoidance?  Would there be efforts to connect, heal, soothe, and find understanding?  Who would be at the table?

With the web of experiences that create the beings we are today, it can feel overwhelming to try to comprehend how the aspects of ourselves interact on a daily basis.  That we are made up of so many parts is a beautiful aspect of the human condition.  Sometimes, however, these parts of ourselves — perhaps a child that is hidden within and her adult counterpart — come in conflict with one another or are pitted up against each other in a way that can cause destructive behaviors in an effort to cope with this discord.

Eating disorders, such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder, along with other issues that create destructive behavior patterns such as substance abuse, addictions, and severe depression and anxiety may be indicators of internal conflict.  Some of us might feel like there is a “dark” part of us, or a “bad” part of us that needs to be hidden from the world and which can elicit feelings like shame and guilt.  Denying or avoiding an aspect of ourselves might only intensify the self-destruction that the feelings may cause.

I invite you to try to get to know all parts of yourself, those that feel scary and dark as well as those that bring light and energy.  In truth, these parts of ourselves are trying to communicate something to us and by embracing them all — even the dark and scary ones — we can free ourselves from unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on exploring the parts of yourself:

1.)  Imagine you are at a play date with yourself when you were  a child.  What sorts of activities are you engaging in?  What do you notice about yourself as a child?  Do you play with others, or mostly with yourself?  How does that child connect with who you are now?

2.)  If you were to write a chapter book about your life, what would you name each of the chapters?  Would they be about experiences you’ve had, or things you’ve learned?  What do you notice about the way(s) you portray yourself in this book?

3.)  Draw a round table with chairs all around it.  Invite parts of yourself to come to the table for a peace talk.  Who is invited?  Is it the timid daughter who avoids conflict?  Is it the strong willed man who stops at nothing to achieve success?  Is it the little girl who blows bubbles and runs freely in the park?  What about the dark shadow who looms behind, above, sometimes within you?  What would it be like for all of these parts of yourself to have a conversation?

If you did have a peace talk, what would be the outcome?

I invite you to imagine what it would feel like to have a truce between the aspects of yourself that sometimes create conflict — the little girl being able to shake hands with the dark shadow, who, when brought into the light isn’t so scary anymore.

On Saturday, May 5th from 11:00am-3:00pm, Kate Daigle, MA, NCC, eating disorder and body image psychotherapist and Carolyn Jennings, poet and writing guide, will spend the afternoon guiding workshop participants to get to know the various parts of themselves through writing exercises, dialoguing, embodiment, and discussion.  We will see what really happens when we sit down and hold court with all of the parts of ourselves.  To register for this low-cost workshop please visit www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.


The Power of Support Groups in Eating Disorder Recovery

Just as “it takes a village to raise a child”, community support is vital to recovery from an eating disorder as well as other mental disorders.  From 2010-2012, I facilitated an open and free support group at the Eating Disorder Foundation for those who are struggling with eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, or any type of disordered eating behaviors.  Each and every week, I was honored and overwhelmed by the amount of support, strength, and wisdom that the participants in the group shared with one another.  The experience very much made me wish I had taken advantage of support groups in my own recovery more than I did.

What do support groups have to offer to recovery from an eating disorder?

  • Community:  “you are not alone”.  I think that those four words can be some of the most impacting for those in recovery.  Eating disorders thrive in isolation and shame, making those who suffer from them feel different, alone, and scared.  Support groups can provide a supportive community where others “get it” and can share words of wisdom that has helped them with their own recovery.
  • Consistency:  open support groups, such as those sponsored by ANAD at the Eating Disorder Foundation, typically run every week, all throughout the year.  No matter where you are on your journey towards recovery, you can depend on the support group to be there for you (unless special circumstances cancel the group for that week).  Support groups and the members and facilitators are dependable, trustworthy, recovery-focused, and open to listen and support you.  These factors are some of the most essential in eating disorder recovery.
  • You decide what you bring, and what you take:  there are very minimal expectations in support groups.  Typically, you are encouraged to share something about yourself, but the degree and the content are up to you.  You can be an active participant.  You can be a quiet observer who occasionally interjects.  You also can take from it what you want to:  perhaps the most helpful thing about the group that night was the fact that it took you away from your behaviors for a couple of hours.  Perhaps you bonded with a member and were very much inspired by her perspective on her own recovery.  Your recovery is YOURS, it is unique, and you can decide its course.
  • Growth and bonding:  If you commit to going to a support group consistently, you are very likely to witness growth and change in other members as well as in yourself.  As members go to therapy, to the support group, and engage in other recovery-focused activities, they will share their paths with one another.  Relationships that form in support groups are strong and often can be long-lasting.  As before, remember that community and support are some of the most important factors in a sustained eating disorder recovery.  When you witness another member take steps on her path to recovery, you are inspired and motivated that you can embrace your very own recovery as well.

Support groups, whether they are focused on helping members recover from eating disorders, alcohol addictions, drug addictions, or any other type of disorder, are special tools on our life journeys.  I learned so much from the members of the group, and continue to process their words of hope, wisdom and dedication towards recovery.  One of the fondest memories I have is the ability of members to use humor in eating disorder recovery.  Who would have thought that laughing about these afflictions could bring so much relief as well as a different perspective?  As I embark on my newest venture of co-facilitating the mens’ support group on Thursdays, I am eager to again take part of the healing power of a community.

The Eating Disorder Foundation is growing.  It is offering many new support groups, most of which are rare to find anywhere else.  Check out their website for a list of groups and their Spring Class Schedule (registration ends on Friday!!): www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.

Groups (all FREE!) offered include:

For people struggling
Tuesday
6:30-8:00pm
Movement Room
For friends & family
1st and 3rd Thursday
5:30-7:00pm
Large Meeting Room
Women 35+
Tuesday
6:00-7:30pm
Large Meeting Room
Binge Eating Disorder
Thursday
5:30-7:00pm
Library
Men’s
Thursday
5:30-7:00pm
Movement Room

Empower yourself. Empower others.  Take advantage of the amazing offerings that support eating disorder recovery!


Breaking through the gender stereotype: new resources to help men with eating disorders

While eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder have historically been thought to be “women’s disorders”, over one million men are suffering from these afflictions in relative silence.  My guess is that many more men and boys are struggling every day with an eating disorder than the numbers report.  With stereotypes looming about women feeling pressure to live up to societal beauty standards and using food to cope with stress, trauma, and anxiety, men who experience the very same struggles may be left isolated, feeling shameful and confused.  With the increased numbers of eating disorders around the United States, one positive aspect is illuminated: more education, advocacy, and support is beginning to become available for men struggling with eating disorders.

Beginning March 29th, a new and open support group is starting at the Eating Disorder Foundation.  Running every Thursday from 5:30-7pm, this group is sponsored by the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders (ANAD) and is FREE and open to men who are struggling with any type of disordered eating or body image struggles.  Facilitators Kate Daigle, MA, NCC and Clinton Nunnally, MA, LPC, are hopeful that this new group will open doors for men to find support in recovery from eating disorders.

What is different about eating disorders in men and women?  Not a whole lot.  In a clip I found produced in Britain to shed light on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, one of the men talks about how criteria for anorexia nervosa includes amenorrhea (the loss of a female’s monthly cycle) and that he sees this as a gender bias against men who may be dealing with the same disorder.  You can view the clip here:


According to the online eating disorder recovery site Something Fishy,

“The most common element surrounding ALL Eating Disorders, including Eating Disorders in Males, is the inherent presence of a low self esteem”.

Men are dealt with pressure to live up to standards, ideals, and stereotypes, just as women are.  The image of the strong, muscular male underwear model or the skinny, fashionable hipster affect the way that men perceive themselves.  They may be influenced by “what women want” in a mate and conform themselves to fit the desired ideal.  In addition, men are supposed to be “the strong, stoic, protector” — one who doesn’t show or admit to emotions — based on Western standards, and this can create a great deal of pressure to fit all expected roles.  Men, just as women, can control food in order to try to cope with feelings, or can feel out of control with food as a way of expressing underlying struggles.

We still have a ways to go to understanding how we can best support men in their recovery from eating disorders.  I think the first step is admonishing the shame that is often attached to eating disorders.  Shame is released by expressing it, addressing it, and letting it go.  Here are additional resources for men struggling with eating disorders and for their families and loved ones:

Males and Eating Disorders: Research

Eating Disorders in Straight and Gay Men

Men With Eating Disorders Often Overlooked (a Talk of the Nation special audio report)

Men Get Eating Disorders Too (a non-profit to raise awareness about EDs in men)

I am hopeful that with these resources and with research to come, that men will not feel so alone or shameful about struggling with an eating disorder and that they might break the silence and search for treatment.  If you know of any males who might benefit from the free support group please contact Kate Daigle at (720) 340-1443 or the Eating Disorder Foundation.


So…I’m in recovery from my eating disorder; what do I do now?: Strategies to fully embrace life after ED

I am often asked: “What is recovery?  How do I know when I am recovered from my eating disorder?”.  With these perplexing concepts, there is no single correct answer.  Recovery from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or any other type of disordered eating is individualized and unique for each person.  This special journey is what makes recovery from eating disorders both challenging and rewarding: during recovery, we each learn tools and embellish our strengths that will guide us to a life of balance and wellness for many years to come.  We also may slip and stumble a few times during this journey. But staying the course is the key to sustained recovery.

Today, I’d like to shed some light on what to do once you have come to realize that you are “recovered” or “in recovery” from an eating disorder.  Again, this is my perception — my feelings about my own recovery.  They may help others, they may not.  Take what helps.  I am safe in assuming that the majority of those in recovery will agree that eliminating destructive and self-harming behaviors is a central key to recovery (behaviors such as bingeing, purging, restricting, over-exercising, cutting, and others).  While it is normal to have occasional slip-ups of behaviors while working to find security in recovery, the true definition of recovery must involve a cessation of behaviors. Behaviors such as those listed above are symptoms of a deeper psychological issue.  When working to find peace and wellness from behaviors, the root of the issue must be defined and nourished.  When this is done, or is “in the process” of being uncovered, harmful behaviors will naturally cease because they will not be needed as a coping mechanism any longer.

One of my favorite quotes I heard recently by Cheri Huber reminded me of the complexity of recovery:

“Having an attachment ripped from deep in our being does not feel kind.  Yet when it is gone, when the wound is healing, we can see that the process was one of pure compassion.”  ~Cheri Huber

Eating disorders are like an attachment.  They are like a relationship.  They will never abandon us, deny us, leave us, or disagree with us.  We can always rely on them.  This is why it is so challenging to let them go — for all of the pain they have caused us, they have also satiated an inherently untended need.  I interpreted this quote to mean that when we have our eating disorder taken away from us — whether it was of our own initiative or not — there is pain.  The beginning stages of recovery are often the most excruciating; it can feel like ripping off a band-aid and exposing an open wound.  Sometimes, it is too painful to bear, and we feel we need to continue using our behaviors until we are stronger in coping.  When we sit with the feelings under the eating disorder, when we begin to heal, we can notice that giving ourselves compassion is one of the biggest keys in maintaining a solid recovery.

Here are a few ideas that might help in continuing to deepen your commitment to recovery:

1.) Define what the underlying struggles are, and always keep those in your awareness.  This may come in the form of anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties or remnants from a traumatic event.  You do not need to focus your awareness on these directly all the time, but tuck them into your consciousness so that you can be notified when you might need to cope with them in a healthier way.

2.) Remember what you have achieved.  Again, this needs to be in balance — don’t re-traumatize yourself by vividly placing yourself back into what it was like to be in the eating disorder, but reflect on the steps you have taken, the victories you have obtained, and the strength you have deepened within yourself.  Sometimes when I am feeling down, I summon up my gratitude for my own recovery and that I got myself there.

3.)  Connect with community.  It is always therapeutic to be part of a community that understands and supports you through your recovery.  Recovery can be a life-long process in stages, and you may have different needs as you take steps down the road.  This can come in the form of joining writing or poetry groups, if it is healing for you to write about your recovery.  You also might participate in volunteer activities with local eating disorder support centers.  In Denver, the Eating Disorder Foundation offers many volunteer opportunities or classes you can take and expand your horizons in their new support center “A Place of Our Own”.

This is only the beginning of a list of ideas to maintain recovery.  What are some of your ideas?  Remember always that the journey is challenging at times, but there is hope for a full, sustained, and healthy recovery from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.


Understanding Disorders Comorbid with Eating Disorders: Insight into Our Complex Psychology

Today, nearing the end of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I am pleased to offer a guest post from Lauren Bailey, a freelance writer who has an interest in eating disorders and psychological complexes:

Understanding Disorders Comorbid with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and those who suffer from them have always had misleading and misunderstood coverage in the media. The public image of anorexia is often simplistic and reductive—we have an idea of most people with anorexia as teen girls with self-esteem and body issues who have developed their disorder in response to media glorification of extreme thinness. While this is certainly part of the issue that exacerbates eating disorders, there’s so much variety to the disorder that ascribing one culprit as the source is downright disingenuous.

Although there are many people who suffer from an eating disorder alone, it’s very common for a sufferer to have additional psychological disorders as well. In fact, almost all psychological disorders have the potential for what is called “comorbidity”—having two or more disorders at the same time. Advancement in the study of comorbidity has helped many suffering from various disorders to receive equal, across-the-board treatment when in the past, one disorder was treated and, still, the sufferer suffered.

In terms of eating disorders, the most typically comorbid disorders are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Just as with eating disorders, many of these other disorders do not have a single source or cause. More often than not, genetics plays a large role. While many who suffer from depression or anxiety develop the disorder in response to a specific set of traumas, there’s really no telling why you or a loved one may suffer from a string of separate disorders that can affect your entire life.

With obsessive compulsive disorder, those who suffer from a comorbid eating disorder will be very particular about their eating behaviors. Many will ritualize eating to an extreme extent. According to an OCD Chicago article:

“…anorexic individuals are much more likely to have a predisposition to acquiring anorexia nervosa from pre-existing OCD and in fact, almost 37% of anorexic patients have OCD.  According to Yaryura-Tobias the cerebral functioning and the primitive brain which contains the basal ganglia, is in particular, related to motor compulsive behaviors…The true manifestation behind the compulsive ritualistic behaviors, tendencies and excessive thought processes are a result of a combination of higher cortical decision making melding with the primitive brain’s compulsive motor movements.”

Although OCD and eating disorders are the most closely related, other disorders mentioned above can impede full treatment for the patient suffering from comorbid ED. PsychCentral cites a study which found that about 14% of people with bipolar disorder have a co-existing eating disorder. And a study published on the National Institutes of l Health website notes that many eating disorder patients have reported a variety of childhood anxiety symptoms before the onset of bulimia or anorexia as young adults.

In the final analysis, the growing body of research on disorders comorbid with EDs demonstrates the importance of anyone suffering from ED to be fully assessed by a trained professional. If there are other unusual or bothersome symptoms or behaviors exhibited in conjunction with eating behaviors, it’s essential to bring up with your doctor the possibility of a disorder hiding underneath the ED to get the full treatment you or a loved one deserves.

By-line:

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99 @gmail.com.