Are You a “Numbers Slave”?

numbers

What type of system are you using to determine what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, when to move, how much to move, etc? Are you a slave to your numbers? Have you ever tried to disentangle yourself from your numbers? Is fear keeping you stuck? Fear of your hunger, appetite, weight? Why have you gotten so far away from your intuitive way of eating and living,and so reliant upon your system?

Think about what types of numbers you are enslaved by?

Numbers on a scale?

Number of fat grams per day?

Number of carbohydrates?

Number of times to eat per day?

Number of crackers, pretzels, pieces of gum, teaspoons of half and half?

Numbers of hours between meals?

Numbers of days per week you exercise?

Numbers of minutes you need to complete before you get off the piece of equipment?

Number of calories you can’t exceed per day?

Number of crunches, push-ups, leg lifts you need to do?

Number in the back of your blouse, your skirt, your jeans?

Number of items in a serving?

Number of ounces your piece of chicken is?

All these numbers for what?

Are they improving your sense of happiness?

Do you feel free when you count? Or do you feel like you can’t be happy unless you focus on all these numbers?

The truth is, the more you focus on any types of numbers, the less you focus on what your body really wants, how much it wants and needs of the essential nutrients, water, movement, and when it needs these things.

Numbers are a dishonest, fabricated replacement for intuitiveness. They are arbitrary, counterfeit ways of feeling in control. They are useless. They render you powerless, NOT powerful. They don’t give you control over anything. They merely give you the illusion of control and disable your inner means of determining your needs. Why are you afraid to give them up? Most likely because you distrust yourself, yet you ARE the best, most trustworthy determinant of what you need. Perhaps society has influenced you. Perhaps you have heard of, or embarked on numerous diet plans that are based on numbers. Perhaps you have been made to feel that you are GOOD when you are following numbers, and BAD when you aren’t.

The longer you rely on numbers, the more disordered you will become. The fear will ultimately keep you enslaved, and you will never know how free you can actually be by trusting that inner self that has been there all the time, ever since you were a baby and knew when to eat and when to stop.

Try to take small steps away from your numbers, and prove to yourself that you can survive. It won’t be perfect. You will make mistakes. There’s no such thing as being perfectly intuitive, 100% of the time. But, that’s life. Your number system is fraught with mistakes, but you trust it like a lifeline. Unfortunately, it keeps you from experiencing the freedom, flexibility, and spontaneity that life has to offer.  Systems don’t keep your weight or health in a stable place either. If you followed the same number system at age 15 that you did at age 5 or at age 35, it would be preposterous that your weight or health would benefit.  

Before January 1st, when you will be bombarded by an enormous onslaught of “new and improved” diets, number systems, and weight loss plans that society will be urging you to follow, why don’t you take a stance against all the numbers propaganda, and turn inward to the best, most trusted resource for health information ever…YOU!!!

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Top 12 Tips for the Holiday

Holidays can be stressful when you have an eating disorder. Here are 12 tips to help you through the day!

1.      Keep your expectations of yourself realistic. You have an illness that makes holidays challenging. Don’t beat yourself up for doing whatever is necessary to get through the day and remain in “recovery mode.”

2.      Don’t try to please everyone else at your own expense. You are the one who matters most.

3.      Do your best with the food. Remember, it’s only one meal in one day of the entire year.

4.      Try not to alter your entire day in anticipation of a difficult meal. Be as consistent as you can before, and after the festivities.

5.      Once the day is over, try not to let “thought hangovers” carry into the next day. Once the day is over, it’s over.

6.      Practice in advance answering any difficult questions that might come up, like:

·        “What are you eating?”

·        “You look good!”

·        “You don’t look so good.”

·        “Try this food.”

7.      Find a “safe” person who you can go to or sit with if you get anxious. Text or call people for additional emotional support.

8.      Change the subject away from yourself if someone starts up a conversation about your illness, or anything you are uncomfortable about. Divert the conversation toward a topic related to them. People love talking about themselves.

9.      Don’t internalize others’ words or opinions about you. Put up an imaginary shield to protect you from getting hurt.

10.   Go outside and take some deep breaths if you need to escape for a few minutes, or distract yourself by playing with children if they are present.

11.   Plan a good self-care activity after the day is over. Take a bath, curl up with a good book, do some online shopping, go to a movie with a friend.

12.   Remind yourself often throughout the day about what your strengths are, and the things you are grateful for. thanksgiving

 

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Diet Bull #%&*!!!

no diet

Today was another typical day in today’s crazy weight obsessed world. But today, I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! I woke up and checked some things online. You know…Facebook, emails, the usual. Of course I saw several ads for weight loss. A “new” trick, supplement, twist on calorie reduction, blah blah blah.  Although I’m completely numb to their content, I still get angry that I’m even forced to see them as they invade my inbox, and pop up in the margins of everything I read. I wish I had some type of power over making them disappear. Maybe like a laser explosive device that would explode all diet ads. I’d love to watch them disappear from my screen. It would be no different than a video game where people blow things up. I’d just be blowing up stupid diet ads.  After I perused through my inbox and mentally blew up all the diet propaganda, I wandered downstairs to make my coffee and read the local newspaper. A few pages in, I saw a gigantic ad from a local doctor who is touting her new weight loss program. She talks about how she was overweight when she was young and how she just made some “simple” lifestyle changes and lost her weight and then became healthy and happy, blah blah blah. Her ad continues to profess her clients’ weight loss successes and her guarantee of weight loss in eight weeks or some such nonsense. If you follow her program, you’ll lose weight and everyone will be happy… especially her, because she will make a ton of money. Yes, some of her clients will lose weight temporarily (especially because she recommends her diet to women who have just had a baby) and I’m sure her “lifestyle” recommendations are sound, but if her diet was the best diet in the land, she’d have people from all over the world lined up to try it. It’s just another gimmick like EVERY OTHER DIET!

My “diet disdain” has been climaxing lately, for a number of reasons.

An adult client came in last week and told me that in years past, she would go to diet meetings and hear how so many people had lost 25, 50, 100 pounds and were so completely happy with themselves and their losses. They received their key chains of success, applause for milestones, and “well –deserved” time on the podium to profess their success to the audience of captivated diet success hopefuls. She said she felt like a loser, a weak excuse of a human because she couldn’t do what they did. She’d skulk out of the meetings, having hoped to get inspiration, but instead feeling defeated. She’d quit the diet and rebound overeat, gaining more weight than she’d ever wanted to lose. What she wasn’t able to “see” was that those same “success stories” regained all the weight they had lost, and had to redo the same diet or embark on a new one to re-lose the same 25, 50, 100 pounds over and over and over again.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen several CHILDREN who have been told by their pediatricians that they are “too fat”. The pediatrician showed these innocent children their growth charts, as if a 9 or 12 year old can even figure out what the chart means. These children were told that they were eating too much and that they were going to get heart disease or type 2 diabetes if they didn’t lose weight. The doctor told their mother to put them on a “restrictive weight loss regime”. WTF!!!!!! When a child leaves the pediatrician’s office begging to never have to go back again, it is a certainty that the child has been traumatized by the experience.

I also recently started seeing a 12 year old who was in the throes of a severe eating disorder because her doctor told her she was “dramatically” overweight and that she needed to lose “XX” pounds. She lost that weight all right, and subsequently lost her innocent childhood as a result because now she lives in fear of everything she puts into her mouth and she’s in intensive treatment for anorexia. Thanks, Doc!

The reality is:

DIETS FAIL.

DIETS DON’T OCCASIONALLY FAIL. THEY FAIL 99% OF THE TIME. (The 1% of people who need to lose some weight succeed at it because they achieve an inner shift and then the weight loss is a side effect, not the intended result)

DIETS DON’T FAIL ONLY FOR “WILLPOWER WEAKLINGS.” THEY FAIL FOR EVERYONE.

YOU WOULD NEVER SIGN UP FOR ANYTHING ELSE THAT HAD A 99% FAILURE RATE, SO DON’T SIGN UP FOR ANY MORE DIETS.

NEGATIVE DIET MESSAGES FAIL, AND CAUSE EMOTIONAL PAIN.

DIETS ARE THE NUMBER ONE BEHAVIOR LEADING TO EATING DISORDERS.

ANY DIET THAT IS UNNATURAL IS UNSUSTAINABLE. PERIOD. END OF STORY.

CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER BE SPOKEN TO IN A HARSH WAY ABOUT THEIR WEIGHT. EVER!

We are a culture of diet obsessed, fearful, self-conscious, self-deprecating people. Why??? Because we listen to, read, and watch too much nonsense about how we are supposed to look, what we are supposed to eat, how much we are supposed to exercise, etc. If we aren’t eating less and exercising more, killing ourselves to look “amazing”, we are made to feel inferior.

Individually, and collectively, we need to look at food and weight drastically differently. We need to examine in ourselves and in our children “why” we may have food and weight concerns. Are we using food in certain ways to cope? Are our children crying out for something by eating “too much” or “too little”?

We need to look at our eating as a “doorway” to find out something deeper about ourselves. If our eating is “off”, and our weight is affected as a result, let’s make a change in our inner world, and let our food take care of itself. Food and weight is never the real problem. It is just a clue. A diet is just a distraction from the real problem. Dig deep. Don’t be afraid to address what’s really going on. Don’t read diet nonsense. It’s just nonsense, but it can negatively affect/hurt you if you are vulnerable.  

I vow to NEVER read any diet propaganda. Will you do the same???

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Body Image and Eating Disordered Behaviors

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“My body image is terrible. All I want to do is use behaviors to feel better, but my body image gets worse no matter which behavior I use. If I restrict to lose weight, I feel fat. If I binge to soothe myself, I feel fat. If I exercise to feel better, I feel fat. Why won’t my behaviors stop me from feeling fat?”

 “Feeling fat” can’t be fixed through using an eating disordered behavior, because it’s not about your body or your weight. It can’t be fixed by bad mouthing yourself, hating yourself, or hurting yourself. All that results from those tactics is feeling lower, more worthless, and in much more psychological and physical pain. The path to recovery, self-care, or positive body image cannot be paved by negativity of any sort. It never has, and never will. It is a fundamental impossibility. If you keep trying, you will never get anywhere, except exactly where you already are, or worse.

Why won’t negativity and/or eating disordered behaviors stop you from feeling fat? Because “feeling fat” is code for feeling bad about yourself. Feeling “fat” is a synonym for feeling low, worthless, sad, lonely, anxious, lost, depressed, confused, disconnected, angry, etc.

Feeling fat is about anything and everything else other than your body. You have to try another tactic. Try to imagine what you might really, genuinely be feeling. It might be painful, but this approach is the doorway to recovery and feeling better about your body. If you continue to feel “fat”, and do whatever eating disordered behavior at your disposal to feel “better”, you may feel relief for a moment, but the feeling will ALWAYS come rushing back like a freight train and you will feel just as bad, if not worse.

The road to feeling better about your body is the road to having a better, more authentic, more fulfilling life. So, if you are feeling lonely, you need to begin building healthy relationships. If you are feeling sad, you may need to cry and feel the tears pour down your face. If you are angry, you may need to shout out loud what you are angry about. If you are confused, search for clarity. Seek advice from trusted people. If you are hurt, express your feelings openly and honestly. If you are living in fear, take small baby steps, leaps of faith, small risks. If you are living an unfulfilling life, try something new, no matter how big or small. Start to develop a hobby, or a passion for anything that you could immerse yourself in. Sing, dance, color, walk in nature, develop your spirituality, learn a new language, do a puzzle. The more immersed you are in living an authentic life, one where you are honestly expressing your emotions, communicating effectively and openly, taking emotional risks, and developing interests and passions, the healthier mentally and physically you will feel. The better you will feel, the less “fat” you will feel, and the less you will be drawn to use eating disordered behaviors to numb out from life.

Remember, the road to healthy body image is NEVER accomplished by trying to “fix” the outside. Search inside, and the outside will take care of itself.

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How Does Stress Affect Your Metabolism?

Brooke

Did you know that your metabolism can be affected by stress? Most people think that their metabolism increases during stressful times, but actually it has the opposite effect for most people.

Some amount of stress is “normal”, and actually encourages your body to produce the appropriate amounts and types of chemicals to keep in a state of equilibrium. When your body is in balance, you will occasionally produce stress chemicals (hormones) to handle the stress and then your body goes back to normal. This level of physiological stress is typical, and one’s metabolism isn’t greatly impacted for any length of time.

The state that many of you find yourself in, however, is not a “normal” amount of stress. You may experience heightened stressors in your home environment and/or work or school environment. These stressors are ongoing and unfortunately, some of them aren’t controllable by you. Added to the outside stressors are the ones that are controllable by you, but often are the worst offenders when it comes to the amount of stress chemicals you produce. Why are they the worst offenders? Because they are happening all the time, instead of occasionally. If stress chemicals slow down your metabolism, wouldn’t you want to lessen them if you could?

A quick lesson in physiology:

As humans, we have an autonomic nervous system (beyond our conscious control) that regulates our internal organ system (heartbeat, lung function, brain, etc). The two sub-parts of this autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. In very general terms, the sympathetic one causes us to “act” where the parasympathetic one causes us to “relax”. Another way to look at them is “quick response” and “slow response”.

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and our “fight or flight” response. Stress de-activates our parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system. It makes sense, for example, if you are being chased by a saber-tooth tiger, you would want your “fight or flight” response to kick in to save you from being eaten.

During “fight or flight”, your body produces a surge of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as insulin. Both of these hormones accelerate fat storage. The movement in your intestines slows down (your body isn’t interested in digestion when a saber tooth tiger is after you). Blood flow to your gastrointestinal tract drastically slows down. There is a significant decrease in your digestive enzyme production, as well as a decrease in thyroid hormone production. Healthy gut bacteria die off, and you excrete essential minerals and vitamins. There’s an increase in inflammation and a decrease in oxygen. In a nutshell, when you are in a constant state of stress, or “fight or flight”, your metabolism slows down.

What does all this mean for you?

Ask yourself 2 questions:

1.      Where am I creating my own unnecessary stress?

2.      How can I lower the stress that I have created?

Are you too hard on yourself? Are you taking on too many responsibilities that you don’t need to? Are you not speaking up for yourself? Are you taking on others’ stresses as well as your own? Are you speaking negatively to yourself?

Studies show that NEGATIVE SELF-TALK is a tremendous controllable stressor. This is an unnecessary stress that will have an enormous negative effect on how you digest and assimilate your food. If you are “trash talking” yourself all day long, beating yourself up for anything and everything that you do, you are hurting yourself in an unconscious physiological way, and slowing down your metabolism.  How many of you say things like:

·        I’ll only be happy when I lose weight.

·        I am disgusting.

·        I hate my body.

·        Everyone else is skinnier than me.

·        I suck.

·        I’m worthless.

·        I’m a loser.

YOU ARE SLOWING DOWN YOUR METABOLISM EVERY TIME YOU SAY THESE COMMENTS TO YOURSELF.

On the other hand, if you REDUCE OR STOP some of your controllable stressors and trash self-talk, AND attempt to add pleasurable things into your life like:

·        sense of purpose

·        healthy connections/relationships

·        sense of belonging

·        spirituality

·        healthy hobbies

·        relaxation

·        quality, enjoyable food and drink

·        sunshine

·        POSITIVE (or neutral) SELF TALK

You will have a positive effect on your overall well-being, you will dramatically reduce your physiological level of stress, and you will effectively increase your metabolism.

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Thank you!

heart-handsThis post is a follow-up of sorts to a Facebook thread that I accidentally started yesterday. What prompted the thread was an article that was sent to me written by a nutritionist who treated people for years for weight loss. It was an apology letter of sorts. The article really resonated with me because in the work that I do, I see many clients who, over the years, have been counseled by “professionals” about how to lose weight and have been harmed physically and emotionally by the advice. These professionals did nothing intentionally to harm their clients. In fact, I’m certain that they thought they were performing a valuable service or dispensing sound advice. But, an essential component to counseling an individual about food, nutrition, and their relationship with their body, is the human factor. It is essential to help the client see what is behind their struggles with food and weight. Their struggle is RARELY about the food or weight. It is OFTEN about other things. Trying to “fix” their weight in the hope of creating a happier life is missing the most essential information about the client. It is, essentially, missing the point. Helping the person to heal their life is where the real work lies. If someone is given nutrition information, factoids to help them become a smaller size, without addressing the underlying issues, it is like placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It will cover up the problem, and provide a distraction from the issues for a period of time, but eventually it will backfire and the problems will persist. Not only will the problems persist, but then they will search frantically for the next diet to embark upon, and start the cycle all over again, shoving all the underlying issues further and further into the recesses of their mind and body.

I have a client who has worked for several years to heal her relationship with her food and body. She had anorexia as a child and now, as an adult, she suffers with emotional eating, and binge eating. As a result of her “use of food” as a coping mechanism, she has gained weight. Thankfully she didn’t come to see me with the sole intent to lose weight, because I wouldn’t have been able to treat her. In fact, I tell all my clients who want to be in a smaller body thinking that their lives will drastically improve when their weight goes down, that I will help them to improve their lives and, if their weight goes down as a side effect of improving their life, then their weight is supposed to go down. We will never intentionally do anything together as a deliberate attempt to lose weight. Over time, this particular client was tremendously successful in making changes in her life, putting her needs on the list of importance. She was able to prioritize her mental health for the first time in her life. She took the time that was needed to listen to, and attend to her needs in multiple areas of her life – private, social, physical, psychological etc.

In the past, she used to exercise purely as a way to lose weight. She was the “cardio queen”, focused purely on how many calories she could burn, and how that translated into what she could eat for the day. It was all a mathematical equation. Food became both her friend as well as her enemy. There were good foods, bad foods. Food was never eaten in a pleasurable way. Getting pleasure from food was “bad”. The moment she put something “pleasurable” in her mouth and swallowed it, she would feel guilt and remorse, swearing she would never touch that food ever again. She wanted to need only the bare minimum of food, but her needs were consistently higher than she wanted them to be. She wanted to restrict and control her body, but her body told her otherwise. She restricted and craved what she wouldn’t allow herself, and then restricted harder and craved more and more till she would “break” and give into the cravings, gaining weight in a rapid fashion.

When this client finally gave up the quest to focus all her attention on calories, fat grams, carbohydrate grams, calories burned, and cardio, and turned her attention to what the issues really were (by the way, this takes an enormous amount of courage and fortitude. It is much harder than focusing on calories and fat grams), she began to lead a much fuller and rewarding life. In fact, the rewards she achieved were FAR BETTER than anything she ever felt by fitting into a smaller pair of jeans for the brief moments that she did.

Currently, as a result of living a fuller life, and not using food as a reward or punishment, a distraction or a drug, she has been able to eat a variety of foods and enjoy every morsel with NO GUILT. The only problem that occurs now is when a “professional” tells her to stop eating this, or eat more of that. Only now, the problem is not HER problem, it is theirs, because she will tell them point blank “Don’t tell me what to eat! I’ll eat what I want to.” It’s amazing the response she receives when she tells people that she never diets and she eats whatever she wants. Now, of course, she doesn’t eat whatever she wants in the quantities that defy her body’s needs. She eats when she is hungry (which took a long time to discover), she stops when she is full (most of the time), and she pays attention to the messages and information that her body and mind give her. She eats foods that provide her with nourishment, and she eats foods that are just for pleasure and don’t provide nourishment. She has the wisdom to know what she needs.

There is no weight loss information, fact, knowledge or instruction that could have “fixed” this client’s issues. There is no diet or subsequent jeans size that could have replaced the healing that she achieved. There is no amount of information that could been better than the wisdom she discovered she had all along, that just needed to be tapped into and unveiled. There certainly would never have been ANY judgment or shaming about her size that could even remotely done anything beneficial to help her along her journey.

So, it is the amazing healing journey of clients like this one that enable me to say that I am so eternally grateful that I have not been a weight-loss professional. I did not write this post to criticize those who want to focus on weight loss as a profession. There is no “one size fits all” approach that works for everyone. I am certain that there are numerous professionals who, with integrity, are helping many people with body image and weight issues.

My advice is simply this:

I would encourage all of you to find the approach that truly “works” for you, not only in the short term, but in the long run.

Don’t blindly take any advice from a professional, simply because they hold themselves up as an expert. If it doesn’t feel right, question it. If a professional doesn’t want to explain their reasons or philosophies, ask yourself why.

Do your own research, not only on the internet or in magazines.There is a lot of misinformation and bias out there.

Find what resonates with you.Discover your own inner wisdom. It’s in there, even if it is buried.

Challenge the notion that weight loss at any and all costs, is healthy. A jeans size cannot determine health or happiness.

Challenge any and all of your toxic dietary beliefs (those that may not be true or are hurting you).

Invest time and energy NOW in finding non-weight related things that can enrich your life. Experiment with different things. You may not enjoy the first, second, or third thing you try.

My approach is not perfect and isn’t right for everyone. I am very fortunate however, to do the work I do and work with the most remarkable clients who have searched for an alternative approach to their food/body issues.  We are on a shared journey. I am grateful for you! Thank you!

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Please Show Kindness to Those in Need!

Dr Suess

A 12 year old client came in this week and cried the entire hour she was in my office. She was despondent over the lack of happiness in her life. She struggles to get through a day in school, then spends her free time in her room fantasizing about the life she wants, creating imaginary friends who aren’t image conscious, who won’t criticize her for having gained weight, who don’t care if she has a “thigh gap” or not, who eat a normal lunch at school, and who will want to do the fun things she wants to do instead of obsessing about thinness, makeup, perfect hair, and clothes. She hears comments by the boys about how “hot” certain girls are. They only pay attention to the girls who are ultra-skinny, have long hair, and wear the nicest clothes. She feels unloved. She has given up going to school clubs and activities. She still cheers but has been demoted to the back of the team, because she weighs too much to be a “flyer” like she used to be. Every day she is reminded of how painful it has been to gain weight, so she turns to the only “friend” she now thinks she has…food. The pain she feels in her life, she exacerbates by bingeing. She soothes the pain momentarily while she is in her food obsessed moments, but as soon as the binge is over, she is starkly reminded physically and emotionally of the pain she feels. She is in 8th grade!

Sadly, this client’s experiences are similar to many middle school and high school girls that I see. They live each day in the world of comparisons, diet talk, sexuality, and bullying over anything and everything. They often turn to restrictive eating, bingeing, purging, compulsive exercise, and self-harm to “feel better”.

I decided, in this post, to share my story. Several people have asked me lately why I am so passionate about treating people with eating disorders. You see, like my 12 year old client, I was bullied in middle school for being “ugly”. I struggled in middle school to be sane. I fantasized about a life I didn’t have just to give myself hope. Home wasn’t a place of reprieve either. I encountered stressors there as well. I never thought at age 12, that things would get better. But, they did. I struggled throughout high school and college with an eating disorder, but I finally got help. There weren’t good resources back then, but it helped just finding someone to listen.   I am very fortunate to have recovered and can pay it forward by having a career where I can help people who struggle. (For those of you who have read my book, you have seen my story before.)

What I want everyone to do after reading this post is to pay attention to the girls and boys who may need support. You can’t take the place of a treatment professional, but you can provide someone in need with a little kindness and a positive connection.

We can’t tell these girls that it will get better in time, when they are in college, or as adults. Those words are not reassuring. They need help NOW! Anyone who is involved with the school systems needs to develop more diverse clubs and activities, support groups, safe places and people for those who aren’t the “popular” kids. And, for those who are “popular” or “happy” on the outside, they are often suffering too.  I know we are all deeply saddened and frustrated by the amount of bullying in schools. It is heartbreaking to talk with a 10, 12, 14, 16 year old who feels worthless because she (or he) has been made to feel that way by her peers. I think we also need to keep a close eye on those kids who may need a little something extra. It is so simple to give a few more minutes of time, ask a few more questions, lend a hand, and show a little more interest to those kids who may not have the voice to be able to ask for help.

If YOU are one of those girls or boys who struggles, don’t be afraid to ask for help. People will care. You just have to find trustworthy people. I know, at times, it may not seem like things will get better. They will, with just one or two caring people to support you.

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. Plutarch

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. Joseph Campbell

Believe you can and you’re halfway there. Theodore Roosevelt

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone. Ronald Reagan

The best way out is always through. Robert Frost

The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering. Ben Okri

Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy: true fulfillment. Tony Robbins

And, when all else fails, remember Dr Seuss’ five lessons of life (above)!

My story:

I am a nutrition therapist for individuals with eating disorders and disordered eating, a wife and mother of two amazing children, and stepmother to a wonderful young woman. I am a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am also recovered from an eating disorder. I struggle at times, but I triumphed over my disorder. I am a warrior when it comes to defeating my illness. While it gets easier and easier, I am always cautious, because my disorder has far-reaching roots.

Seeking My Place in the World

I learned very early in my childhood that I was the “good girl.” Good girls do what they are told and never ever complain, never voice discontent, take only what they are given, and ask for nothing. If good girls ever have a problem, they isolate, cry on their own time, wipe the tears from their faces, and emerge smiling. If they express negativity of any sort, they are told they are unappreciative and they can go live somewhere else, or they get beaten or ignored. These are the principles by which I lived.

My father was a deeply compassionate man. He was reserved and a good provider. He worked tirelessly as an air traffic controller to provide us with a home in a middle class neighborhood, two cars, food, clothing, two vacations a year, and an occasional dinner out at a local restaurant. He worked all different shifts, ranging from the day shift to overnights. Our lives revolved around these shifts and how well we needed to behave based upon “dad’s sleep schedule.” He was an alcoholic, and he had significant medical problems ranging from high blood pressure, diabetes, and gout, to inoperable cancer. Mom blamed his drinking on his stressful job. My brother and I simply did not know what to expect from him day to day. I was the good girl though, so I never got into trouble. I never got hit by him. I followed the rules to the letter. I feared the ramifications. My brother, on the other hand, was the recipient of verbal abuse and physical altercations. I would often try to come between them to keep the peace, but it made things worse. I learned it would blow over if we did what was expected of us. I had to be mute, and my brother had to be submissive.

My mother was raised by a single mother, “The Dragon Lady,” and therefore had no role model for how to take care of two children. I admire her tremendously for how she survived her upbringing without having been parented or loved and eventually fled her abusive mother. I have no doubt that she loved my brother and me. But love was not enough. Simply stated, she did not have the resources to parent us.  At times, she would be incapacitated and bed ridden from stress.  She struggled during our childhood with severe blood sugar irregularities, which led to emotional volatility, sometimes causing her to become violent and punish us with an assortment of kitchen utensils. During happy times, she was adoring and affectionate. During stressful ones, she was unpredictable and frightening.

My brother is three years older than me. As adults, we joke that we raised ourselves. We did not do a very good job. As teenagers, we partied together, we did considerably reckless things behind our parents’ backs, and we supported each other during the tough times at home. When our parents would fight, scream, and throw household objects across rooms, we would sit together in my brother’s room, blast heavy metal music to drown out the noise, and cope with the chaos.

As a child, I loved being out of the house. I was preoccupied with playing and exploring, as most young children are, and did not think about my looks at all.  In seventh grade, at the age of twelve, all that changed. A boy in sixth grade called me an “ugly dog.”  I was devastated. I went home and asked my mother if I was really that ugly. Her response, in a kindly mothering way was, “Well, you have other attributes which you should emphasize. You are good at sports and you are very smart.” 

That was not exactly the reassurance for which I was looking. I thought, If my own mother can’t even lie and tell me I’m pretty, I really must be ugly.

In high school, I decided to go out for cheerleading and track team. I needed to be good at something that would help me change the way I saw myself. And it could not be based upon my looks, or I knew I would fail. When I tried out for the track team, I felt such urgency, almost as if the course of my entire life depended on being accepted. During freshman year, I set the record for the high jump and the discus. I felt like I had found my niche. As my confidence in track grew, my self-consciousness dwindled. I was validated for the first time! I was good at something! 

Then, sophomore year, I could no longer get over the high jump bar. No matter what I did, it was all over. I asked my track coach why I could not do it. His response:  “You’ve got a fat ass.” I felt like I had been sucker-punched. Here was a person who I admired, trusted, and actually thought was one of my staunchest supporters, and he not only betrayed me; he humiliated me in front of the whole team. In reality, I was not even overweight, but his comment sent me reeling. I felt defeated and trapped, with no other options for success. I could not bring myself to muster up the courage to try harder to improve my track skills. I gave up trying – and trusting. Now not only was I ugly; I was fat, too, and alone.

Taking Control

 At that moment, I decided I would never again be criticized about my looks or size. If I got thin enough, no one would call me fat, and if I spent enough time putting on the right makeup and the right clothes and styling my hair just the right way, maybe I would not be so ugly. All I wanted was to be happy and sure of myself. Happiness, as far as I knew, meant being a “good girl,” pretty, and thin.

I was on a mission. Breakfast became a miniscule bowl of oatmeal, lunch was crackers and pickles, and dinner was steamed vegetables. On weekends, I would have an enormous elaborate salad for the day that would take me hours prepare and hours to eat. I would allow myself to eat no more, only less. The rules were the rules. If I ate a morsel more than what my rules had demanded, I would do jumping jacks until I felt I had worked it off. I would spend hours baking beautiful cakes, cookies, and breads for my family and watch them enjoy the treats. I would smell the wonderful fragrance coming off the food but would not put a crumb of it into my mouth or I would have to face days of insane self-criticism and hundreds more jumping jacks.

My weight went down, my clothes grew looser, and I thought I was on my way to being happy. I obsessed day in and day out about food and my weight. I gave up track. I could not bear the humiliation. I kept cheering, not because it was fun anymore, but simply because it was a great way to burn extra calories. I did not care that I was depressed or that I lost my period. Being dizzy and hungry was a small price to pay for eternal bliss. Was I closer to happiness?  Not a chance.

During junior year, I began drinking. I would starve myself during the day and then drink after school with friends. I would get completely obliterated, sober up enough to come home, do my homework, eat the smallest amount of dinner I could get away with, and escape to the isolation of my room. On weekend nights, I would guzzle a bottle of sangria on my way to the bars, knock back massive amounts of mixed drinks until the bars closed, black out, and get dumped on my doorstep by anyone willing to drive my drunken self home. I would inevitably end up vomiting on myself and be forced to clean up the dried caked-on mess the following day.

Off to Rutgers University I went. I was so excited to leave my past behind and start over. I would re-invent myself! I would be the perfect student, perfect friend, perfect daughter, perfect college athlete, perfectly thin, happy, all-American girl. Right from the start, to keep myself in line, I decided to join a sport that required me to “make weight.” As coxswain on the crew team, if I gained a pound, I’d have to starve myself, run, and take laxatives to get the weight back down. Being the only girl on the boys’ team was a dream come true though. For the first time in my life, I got the positive attention I craved. I was, dare I say, popular. The reward for years of obsessing was finally paying off…or so I thought. The stakes were never higher. I could not ever let this go.

I took diet pills to curb my growing hunger and give me a reprieve from stomach pains so I could study. Three a day, then ten, then twenty, then a bottle every few days seemed like it would do the trick. Then, I would chew a sleeve or a box of chocolate laxatives with diet iced tea to make sure any food I had allowed myself to consume would come out. I would spend hours obsessing about which clothes to wear to make the best first impression. Multiple clothes changes seemed like normal female behavior. I did everything everyone wanted me to do so I could stake my claim as the best friend anyone could have. I never wanted to let anyone down. That would surely be the death of me. I would not allow myself to fail at anything. But this self-imposed pressure was more than I could bear.

I spent every waking moment in pursuit of the next level of starvation I could accomplish. I was driven to keep the weight off, above all other goals. I panicked at a fraction of a pound of weight gain, fearing I would lose precious control and become the shameful loser I feared lurked within me. I suffered constant splitting headaches from lack of food and unsuccessfully tried to mask them with bottles of aspirin.

One day while studying, a friend told me her little secret. She ate whatever she wanted and then got rid of it by vomiting. I thought I had found the answer!  I began bingeing and purging, sometimes six or more times a day. I would ride buses from campus to campus within the university to go to different dining halls and fast food restaurants. I would find a secluded table in the dining hall, carry my tray piled up with all sorts of food, and binge until my stomach would be in excruciating pain. Then I would purge in the bathroom, hop on the bus and go to another campus and do the same thing.

By the time the bingeing and purging became addictive, I had already gained a substantial amount of weight, and it was climbing. Now I was unable to stop. My weight kept going up, and I thought I was going mad. I was beginning to unravel.

Losing Myself

I was so focused on perfecting the outside that I lost complete touch with (or perhaps was never in touch with) who I really was and the things in life that were really important. I gave up time with friends so I could binge and no one would be suspicious of my habit. My bingeing was my best friend. I thought it made me happy. It distracted me from all the realities of life, because it took up all my waking hours. I spent countless hours planning and scheming to find the right time and place to binge and to hide my secret. I did not care about my grades. I skipped classes due to food hangovers, sore throats from purging, and pounding headaches from constantly straining my head over the toilet. The next binge and purge were the only “accomplishments” I focused on. I did not make the connection that my eating was going out of control because my life was out of control.

Avoiding Reality

I avoided those feelings about myself that I feared: the feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, lack of direction, emotional immaturity, extreme anxiety, and vulnerability. I was running from who I might be since I was certain that I was not beautiful and did not know how to strive to be anything other than beautiful, thin, or smart. My grades were slipping away, reinforcing for me my loss or lack of intelligence. My boyfriend and friends stopped tolerating me. I stole their food, constantly apologizing and promising to buy them more food, only to steal it again when the impulses to binge were more powerful than any promise I had made. I would binge day and night, causing my mood to deteriorate, and I canceled any plans for social events. They began to avoid me, only validating my assumption that I was unlovable. Once again, I was alone – with just my food, that imposter for my friend.

Whenever I thought I might need help, I could not bring myself to ask for it. You see, as the “good child,” I had no voice for anything unless it was positive. I was not allowed to complain, to feel sad, to feel hurt, or to ask for anything. I was mute. To make matters more confusing, I did not even know I had an eating disorder. Eating disorders were not talked about or well-understood then. There were no support groups. I was alone with my shameful secret. The prison walls were getting higher and stronger, and I did not know how to break out.

Then my dad died. I hit rock bottom. I had nowhere to turn, no one to run to. I was backed into a corner, face-to-face with myself.

My Turning Point

The turning point came for me, ironically, while at college. Looking back, I think it was losing everyone and everything in my life that made me finally face myself. I never felt so alone, but in a way, it was necessary, because part of my problem was that I could not see myself through my own eyes; I could only see myself from others’ perspectives, and what I thought they saw was never good enough.

               One day in my junior year at Rutgers, I was so despondent that I took myself to the college counseling center. There, I met a therapist who was so kind and compassionate. He told me that I was worth saving, that I was not the horrible ogre I thought I was. I almost felt guilty going to our sessions because surely he could not be saying these things about me; he just had not seen the real me yet. It took me weeks just to feel like I even had the right to be there.

I must have wanted to believe him, because I persevered. I embarked on my “healing/feeling” journey, and I began to realize that what I was going through had very little, if anything, to do with my eating and my weight. I had merely been using food behaviors for years as a means to shut down, control, and distract myself from my feelings, my past negative experiences, my mother, father, brother, friends, and anyone with whom I could conceivably have a real relationship. I had been trying to be a human robot, getting by doing normal human things, with no feelings, no hopes, no dreams, and no true sense of self.

We began talking about how I felt when I ate, when I did not eat, when I purged, and when I binged. It took me a long time to even figure out how I felt during these times; it was hard enough to just admit to him that I did these things. Gradually, we began talking about some of the experiences I mentioned earlier: the chaos in my household, my father’s drinking, my mother’s temper, the comments from my track coach, my inability to stand up for myself, and how, as time went on and I continued to separate myself from others, I lost the ability to voice anything important to me for fear of being ridiculed or hurting someone else’s feelings. I especially could not express how I felt, because half the time I did not feel I had a right to these feelings and, during the other half, I could not feel anything but absolute numbness.

Finding My Voice

I knew from experience that I could not just change my feelings, so I began to practice trying to understand what I felt. I was so used to numbing my feelings out with food in one way or another that I felt I needed to start all over. I practiced feeling sad, angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed. I talked with my trusted therapist about my “immature” feelings and practiced expressing them with him.

I started slowly, but I began speaking up. My therapist made this possible for me, because he provided a safe place for me to practice. I was so scared to feel or speak, but I knew it was the only way to stop the critical voice in my head that kept telling me that I was not good enough to have feelings or a voice, that I just needed to strive harder to be thinner, that I was not trying hard enough, that I was weak. He promised me that he would never humiliate me or disappear if I spoke up to him. During our sessions, he would bring up these very uncomfortable issues and encourage me to work through them with him. I would continue to ruminate about the issues, thinking about them for the whole week. Whenever I was alone, I would think about how much it upset me, and I would feel so tempted to binge or starve. It was the first time I was able to see the connection between my feelings and my eating. It was the first time I was able to feel anything real.

I feel sad when I look back and recognize how difficult it was for me to speak about myself. I had to practically hide my face while I said difficult things, but I persevered. I was genuinely proud of myself. I think it was the first time that I actually spoke up for myself and expressed what I was feeling. We never really talked about food after the first few weeks. We were talking about feelings. Over time when I left his office, I would feel a sense of calm I had never felt before. Of course, the old feelings would come back, but the more we talked and the more I practiced speaking up and expressing myself in very small ways, I noticed that my need to starve, hide food, binge, and purge began to diminish.

Working with my therapist helped me to feel connected in a healthy way to at least one person. That made me begin to feel better about myself and to believe that I was worthy of others’ companionship. I slowly began to get in touch again with some of my college friends, although this was very frightening to me. I took those feelings and practiced expressing them. I stood up for myself a little more, and it started feeling really good. I began to realize that I was important and my feelings mattered, even if they did not please others.

These were monumental steps for me, but I found that speaking up did not bring the earth crashing down around me. I also needed to find the language in which I could speak up. I always saw speaking up as confrontational, and that scared me. The feelings of nervousness were too unbearable and would usually trigger the need distract or numb out through starving or bingeing. I learned, however, how to set boundaries and speak up without being combative, so these situations did not terrify me anymore. I could simply say, “I’d rather do something else,” or “I’m not comfortable with that,” or “Thanks for asking, but I feel like staying home.”

Self-reflection and looking at the past were excruciating in the beginning but exhilarating at the same time. It was excruciating because feelings about the past and my current means of self-expression (eating disordered behaviors) that had been so masterfully buried were almost all negative, ugly, and painful. It was exhilarating because through self-reflection, I was able to understand that the past is past and did not have to pave the road for the future. I felt during those years that I was truly standing at the end of a road with two distinctly different paths ahead. On one path, I was destined to continue to forge through life emotionally flat-lined until some catastrophe (usually self-inflicted) jolted me back to life. On the other path of utter unfamiliarity, there stood a slim chance of happiness or joy, or at least perhaps less misery. I chose carefully. Even as I slowly trudged down that new path, there were deep grooves in the gravel from my heels being firmly planted in resistance.

About the Food

In my relationship with my body and food, I was resistant to let go of those behaviors because, although I was learning how to feel feelings and take care of myself, self-destructive food behaviors are addictive. I learned how to eat enough to satisfy my body and my mind, but the process was long, hard, and fraught with errors. I had to eat very mindfully and slowly so that I would keep the power I needed to fight urges to “keep on going” and binge and purge, followed by restriction, laxatives, and exercise. It was a time of serious mind games – my healthy mind against my disordered mind. I still made mistakes in my eating. I overate. I binged, but more mindfully. However, I did not call them mistakes anymore. They were choices. I never wanted to go back to my eating disorder. I was tempted, at times, to feel numb. I had strong desires to avoid that which was uncomfortable or painful, but it would have been a slippery slope to tread on if I even dabbled in those behaviors again. My mantra was, and still is, “My worst day well is still better than my best day sick.”

Re-Envisioning Myself

After I spent some significant time in therapy, I began to see my true self more clearly. I realized that there was much more to me than my outward appearance. In fact, I discovered passions and inner strengths I never knew I had. I began to enjoy the subjects I was studying at school. I had a clearer path toward what I wanted to do for a career. I no longer envisioned myself as an anxious, powerless, voiceless child. I felt strong and capable, yet somewhat vulnerable. I was able to set boundaries with others and use my voice to express myself. I learned how to take care of myself both physically and psychologically. I began the journey toward self-acceptance.

Redefining My Relationships

During my early recovery, I rekindled and formed a number of healthy relationships. I also began dating the man who would later become my husband. Despite my added weight, despite my outer imperfections, he loved something else about me. Of course, I constantly questioned his affection. I feared he would turn on me like everyone else had or that I would ruin everything like I had done in past relationships. I needed so much reassurance. I thought he would certainly get tired of me. It was just a matter of time. He told me I was the girl of his dreams. He told me he loved that I always had a smile on my face when he saw me, which made him feel good about himself. He pointed out my hidden, but real, strengths over and over. He began to make me question, albeit for fleeting moments, the horrible images of myself I had held onto so tightly. Was I really the “ugly dog” with the “fat ass?” Or were those perceptions inflicted upon me as a vulnerable, insecure girl. Why had I felt so deeply that I was worthless?

This man, Dean, helped me see the value of myself as a loving, caring, flawed, and worthy person. With his encouragement, I was able to talk to my mother about the issues I had dealt with in the past. I told her how I struggled to be heard as a child and how her actions and those of my father affected me. I even told her most of what I had been through with my eating disorder. With Dean’s love and support, the continual support of my mother, who currently still regrets her “motherly” comments, and the support of my college therapist who helped me see behind the walls I had built up and to find my voice, I began to slowly climb back to sanity and break out of the prison, brick by brick. It took years of gradual work, but, over time, I began rebuilding my relationships with the people in my life who were important to me. This took my constant vigilance in separating the perceptions that I had so ingrained in myself as a child from a more mature perspective, one that included me as a strong, worthy, feeling individual.

Looking Back and Making Connections

Seeing all of this in black and white, it is obvious to me now that the biggest contributing factor to my eating disorder was my inability to express my feelings and believe that they mattered. I had gained approval and attention as a child for being a good girl, and good girls never complained. I learned to be very self-reliant, never dependent on anyone for fear they would let me down. I felt that being dependent on others made me weak. I had grown so used to stuffing my feelings that when other people had strong opinions or made hurtful comments to me, I was convinced that what they believed must be correct and that I did not have the right to refute them. Since these were people I trusted, I began to believe that I did not have a right or a need to feel. Obviously this disconnect had to come out somehow. It emerged through my eating disordered behaviors.

If I could control myself to the point of almost starvation, then I could control these wayward feelings that kept popping up. When that stopped working, I would load myself with food to satisfy my needs and stuff down the feelings that were trying to scream to me. This started the vicious cycle of binging to numb out because of a need I “should not’ have or because of a feeling I “should not” feel, and purging to flush the need or feeling into the toilet. I felt I somehow needed to get rid of all of it. All of this really had very little to do with food.

My Role as a Nutrition Therapist

I never would have guessed that I would have been able to use my own difficult experiences to help others, but it was these experiences that led me to my current profession, my mission. I began studying nutrition at college, knowing someday I would want to work with people who had food, weight, and nutrition concerns. I decided to learn as much about nutrition and eating disorders as I could. I graduated from college with a degree in nutrition, earned my Registered Dietitian’s degree, and completed my Master’s degree in nutrition. I was a research assistant at St Luke’s Roosevelt Women’s Hospital in New York City performing bulimia research, primarily to gain as much insight into the illness as possible.

For the past twenty five years I have been treating individuals with eating disorders in private practice after working briefly in an in-patient eating disorders unit in a hospital in North Jersey. I consider myself a “nutrition therapist” instead of a traditional “dietitian,” because I combine nutritional guidance with insight and supportive, therapeutic listening. In my office, I provide a safe, non-judgmental environment for individuals who hope to get the help they desperately seek to share their thoughts, feelings, and fears about food, their weight, and their food-related behaviors. I teach people how to see the relationship between their feelings and their eating behaviors. I also help put structure and sanity back into their eating with the hope of  helping them regain a healthy perspective on what normal eating is. 

I speak to young boys and girls in schools to help them appreciate themselves and their differences in size and shape. I try to help them see that their unique qualities are far more important than their weight or clothing size. I try to help take away the shame that larger kids feel about their size or shape. I show them magazine pictures of the unrealistic ideals – emaciated women and “ripped” men – they are told they should look like and help them see these images for what they truly are: impossible and dangerous. I teach parent groups to recognize the warning signs of eating disorders, to de-emphasize weight and outward appearance, and instead support their children if they are beginning to go down the path of unhealthy dieting by being healthy role models with their own food and weight-related behaviors.

In my own home, we do not discuss weight and size in a negative way. We fuel our bodies well, we eat foods we enjoy, and we eat fun foods just for fun. We emphasize and appreciate diversity. We acknowledge our strengths and support our weaknesses, both physically and in other areas of our lives. We do not allow the word “diet” to be used. In our house, “Diet” is a four-letter word that is just as negative and derogatory as four-letter curse words. I never want my children to feel judged, humiliated, or unheard. I encourage my children to express themselves, no matter how difficult.

 

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Obsessions, Obsessions, Everywhere…None Of Them Are Truths!

positive thinking

Recently, a client said to me that she can’t go anywhere without obsessing about other women, how beautiful and skinny they are. I asked her to give me more detail about these instances and tell me what her thoughts would look like during and after seeing these “beautiful, skinny” women. She gave me a detailed description of a scenario and her thoughts that followed.

…I went to The Grove (an outdoor shopping area near my office) and stood on line at Starbucks to order my drink. All the women in line ahead of me were skinny and dressed beautifully. Their hair was impeccable, their clothes fit them perfectly, they wore the perfect accessories, AND they ordered “skinny” drinks. Even their kids looked gorgeous. Not a hair out of place. Flawless. I wanted to order the drink that I really wanted, because you always tell me to get what I am truly in the mood for. I had my heart set on a salted caramel mocha frappucino. But after seeing these beautiful women in front of me, I couldn’t do it. I ordered a skim latte, even though I don’t like skim lattes. My thoughts told me that these women are super skinny because they don’t eat. They are exercising more than me. They are happy. Their husbands are happy. Their kids are always well behaved. They have super happy lives. AND I am fat. I don’t restrict my food. I don’t look good in my clothes. I don’t have enough time to exercise like they do. I will never be like them. I will never be happy. My kids throw tantrums. My husband isn’t happy. It’s all my fault. If I was skinny like those women, my life would be great. My life is terrible. I need to lose weight. Everyone must be staring at me thinking that I need to lose weight…

She went to the milk station and put several Splendas in her skim latte and went directly to her car. She was planning on walking around the Grove to do some shopping, but now she felt dreadful and couldn’t bear to be out among people. She drove home, defeated. She felt awful about herself and her life. She obsessed about how fat and miserable she was for the entire ride home. Ironically, nothing had changed from the time she arrived at The Grove till she got into her car EXCEPT the dialog she had in her head. She went from being excited to have a fun shopping day and getting her salted caramel mocha frappucino, to being consumed by sadness, driving home with a skim latte. Topping it all off, when she arrived at home, she binged on the foods she had bought the prior day for her daughter’s birthday celebration. After the binge, she cried.

What went wrong??? To me, this story is heartbreaking, and yet it happens day in and day out with so many of you. It may not be this exact scenario. The people are different, the place varies, but the obsessions and resulting feelings are the same.  Sadness, defeat, hopelessness.

This can’t continue!!! We need to change the scenario. We need to start with challenging the core negative thoughts and beliefs you have about yourself and others. THEY ARE NOT TRUTHS!!!

Truth Number 1: People who are “skinny” are not happy due to being skinny. Happiness is a byproduct of self-care in mind, body, and spirit, healthy relationships, etc.

Truth Number 2: You can’t tell what a person’s life is like by the clothing they wear or the hair style they have. All you can tell by these two things is that they own a nice outfit that you saw them in (or maybe it was not theirs) and they have a decent stylist.

Truth Number 3: Most, if not all kids throw tantrums.

Truth Number 4: People who restrict their food are not happy. Restriction = obsession.  Obsession = unhappiness (both physically and psychologically)

Truth Number 5: People most definitely are not judging you. And, even if they are, you will never know because they aren’t going to tell you. You have the choice NOT to make these assumptions.

Truth Number 6: Your thoughts create your reality. If you want to have a healthy positive reality, you need to allow positive thoughts to enter your mind, even if you don’t yet believe them.

Truth Number 7: The story you invent about others is NOT their story. It is a concoction of YOUR imagination.

If you don’t want to use a food behavior to cope with the feelings you experience, and those feelings are a DIRECT byproduct of your own negative thoughts and obsessions, you need to work on shutting down these self-sabotaging thoughts and obsessions, replacing them with more positive thoughts, and/or distracting yourself from the obsessions until they pass. This can be accomplished by first asking yourself two simple questions. “Is this a true thought? Or, Is this thought going to help me get where I want to be today, or in life? If the answer is “no”, then don’t accept that thought as truth or as a thought you want to focus on. Next, replace the thought with a new, different, positive, more loving one. You have the ability to do this. It may take practice, but it is essential if you don’t want to always be left fighting off the urges to engage in a food behavior to put a salve on the negative feelings that result from your own obsessions.

How would this look in real terms? In the scenario with my client, as she was standing on line at Starbucks, as soon as the thought came into her head that the women in line were all skinny, beautiful, and happy, she could have immediately (1) asked herself if that thought was true or would help her in how she wants to live her day. After she answered that question with “no”, then she could (2) have replaced that thought with ANY positive, or true thought like:

·        I am excited to do some shopping today

·        I am grateful for this beautiful day

·        I am excited to have my salted caramel mocha frappucino

·        I am grateful for these two hours of solitude

If she could have accomplished these thought shifts, she could have changed the course of her day.

So, remember, that obsessions are not truths, negative obsessions most definitely lead to negative feelings, and most importantly, YOU have the power to change your negative thoughts into positive ones and ultimately change the course of your life.

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Picture “Perfect”

little children

You are at an event – a party, a holiday gathering, or vacation – and inevitably someone wants to take a picture of your group, and they want you to be in the picture.  You feel super uncomfortable. You try to run away, or tell them you don’t like your picture taken. They get upset or angry, and plead for you to be in the picture. You get embarrassed by their pleading and now you are faced with a decision. Do I allow the picture to be taken and splashed all over facebook or instagram? Or, do I persist and insist that I won’t be in the picture?

Having photos taken can be super stressful for anyone who has body image issues. Individuals who struggle with their body sometimes find it painful to see themselves in print. Why is this??? Well, when someone is super critical of themselves and their flaws, they may instantly focus on those flaws when they see themselves in pictures. Truly, no one takes a great picture 100% of the time, but when you have low self-esteem and body image issues, you often can’t look past the imperfections to see yourself the way others see you.

I recently saw a picture of four women I knew. The picture wasn’t flattering of any of them, yet they loved the picture because all they could see was the love and friendship that they shared for over 30 years. None of them focused on the way their hair flew all over the place, or, in their words, the “lumps and bulges” that might have put another person over the edge.

Memories are created through pictures. Once an event has passed, all you have as a reminder of it are the photographs. In years to come, you will crave the memories of all your life’s events. Have you ever looked at pictures of yourself as a child, perhaps with a childhood friend, and smiled at the memories it conjured up? Did you have good feelings about the young person you saw in the picture?

Your feelings about your body will hopefully improve over time, and you will want to see yourself, as well as the places and people who were special to you. And, remember, that you are special to those around you. They aren’t looking at the pictures of you picking apart everything about you. The love they have for you makes them see the beauty in you, regardless of what your body looks like.

Try not to waste another moment of your life running and hiding from the camera. Try not to let your body image issues and your eating disorder prevent you from trying to create memories. Don’t wait until you think you will take the “perfect” picture. Obviously, I’m not recommending that you put yourself into any situation that will cause significant emotional distress. I’m simply recommending that you don’t let your eating disorder guide your decision to avoid the camera. Try to see what others see…your inner beauty, kindness, friendship. Create and savor each and every positive memory you can. Lastly, try not to pick yourself apart if you do see pictures of yourself. Try to find something positive about what you see.

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Post-Holiday Aftermath

flag-fireworks

The 4th of July is behind you and I’m sure you faced challenges, but I also hope you had some successes in navigating through the day. I had numerous conversations with clients who were nervous for the holiday because it is typically a day of barbeques, swimming, drinking, odd eating times, socializing, etc.

I was initially going to write a post to help strategize for the actual day itself, but I thought this time, it was more important to write a post to help with the aftermath.

When holidays approach, people who suffer with eating disorders go into “overdrive” mode with their catastrophic thoughts, fears, and unanswered questions about the day. “Will there only be hot dogs and hamburgers? What time will they be serving the food? Should I eat before I go, or eat there? What if I feel like I’ve eaten too much? What if everyone is drinking? Should I drink? Then what do I do about my food? What if everyone is swimming? I don’t feel good in my body. If I swim, I’m not sure how I will handle my food. What if people comment to me about my eating or my weight? What will I do then?” And on, and on, and on….. You know the drill.

Instead of the holiday being about having a fun celebration, it becomes about your eating disorder, and your eating disorder undoubtedly wants to ruin it for you. It always does. It is a dictator in your head that intentionally messes with your thoughts to elicit fear and discomfort, so that you will stay home and feel “safe”, or attend the party and be “in your head” and still be miserable. Both of these are bad options, because they are driven by what your eating disorder wants you to do, instead of what the real you wants you to do.

But, it’s not your fault that you have an eating disorder. You cannot possibly expect to be able to control all these negative fearful thoughts, but you can certainly attempt to co-exist with them, and do the best you can to act opposite them. If you give up all of life’s events and opportunities, then you end up becoming detached, and even more socially and emotionally awkward. It’s ok to attend functions and not do them perfectly. It’s also ok to struggle with social awkwardness. Feeling uncomfortable is somewhat normal, and doesn’t have to ruin your day. Being dictated by your eating disorder on the other hand, will undoubtedly ruin your day.

The aftermath though, is what some of you may be feeling now. After a holiday, especially if it posed eating and/or body image challenges, is the time when your eating disorder gets ramped up even more. It is skilled at making you OBSESS about what is in the past. It loves to bring up thoughts about what you ate, what you looked like, what people did or didn’t say, but…above all…your eating disorder WANTS YOU TO PAY THE PRICE! The price for attending the event is all about what you do NOW. Your eating disorder wants you to somehow pay penance for whatever it says that you did wrong. Undoubtedly, your eating disorder will concoct something that you did wrong. That’s it’s mission. These are some of the things your eating disorder may tell you now:

·        It may tell you that you need to restrict because you ate something out of the norm.

·        It may say that you are out of control, and you must never eat that food again.

·        It may tell you that you are a horrible terrible person for eating at a time that wasn’t the “norm.”

·        It may tell you that you are F*T because you wore a bathing suit.

·        It may tell you that you need to compensate in one way or another for the “damage” you have done, and also it may tell you that you can never attend another occasion because it’s too hard.

Any of this sound familiar? Of course it does. Do ANY of the above comments sound kind, caring, loving, and compassionate? Would you EVER tell anyone else these things? Of course you wouldn’t. So, you CAN’T listen to them!!!!! They are FALSE statements. They are distortions and untruths.

These thoughts can be so harmful to your recovery, ONLY if you “fuse” with them, believe them, and let them dictate what you do next. This is where you have a choice!!! You don’t have to let these eating disordered thoughts determine what you do next. You don’t have to restrict. You don’t have to compensate in any way. You don’t have to abstain from going to any more parties. You don’t have to accept that you can’t wear a bathing suit. You don’t have to accept that you can’t eat barbeque type foods ever again. You CAN act exactly as you know you need to act, to support your recovery. You NEED to act in a way that aligns with the direction you want your life to take. It is very hard to do this, but it gets easier over time. EVERYTHING in recovery takes practice…EVERYTHING!!! You can start at any time, so why not START NOW!!!

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I’m Driving Myself Crazy!

Recently I got a small glimmer into the minds of my clientscartoon-food-woman when they have disordered food thoughts, feelings, and obsessions of food. I haven’t had thoughts like these in many years since I recovered from my eating disorder because I have fought hard to eliminate them. I also eat very well and often, so the obsessive thoughts that accompany hunger won’t penetrate my mind.

I had to go shopping for presents and party supplies for my daughter’s birthday. I knew I would be out all day and probably would need to have lunch “on the go”. I ate a typical breakfast before I left the house. A few hours later, deep into my shopping day, I was ready for lunch. Unfortunately, I wasn’t near any place where I could go and sit inside and relax. I didn’t want to eat lunch in my car so I had to wait. I went to another store. I sensed my frustration level rising. I wasn’t getting anything accomplished and I was hungry. I was cranky, impatient, and foggy-headed.

I left the store I was in and started mildly obsessing about what I was going to have to eat. “Should I have pizza or a wrap? The pizza place is closer, but it’s always crowded. The wrap place is farther away, but I can sit down quietly and enjoy my meal. The store I need to go to next is on the way to the store where I can get the wrap but then I won’t get to have lunch for another 30 minutes, and I’m hungry now. But I really want a wrap and I might end up having pizza for dinner. Ok, I can wait another 30 minutes to get to the wrap store.” I then proceeded to the store that was on the way to get my wrap. I spent at least 45 minutes in the store, due to lines and the indecision brought on by my ever-growing hunger and foggy headedness. I was angry at everyone, agitated, and couldn’t get food off my mind. I was way too hungry and felt like I wanted to eat anything I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, there was no food in the store. I almost bought snacks that were at the register, but I wanted a “real” lunch, not a snack. My stomach was in pain and I began to feel faint. Meantime, it had been about 6 hours since breakfast. I don’t like to go longer than 3 or 4 hours without food. I was 2 hours overdue. Yikes!!

I left the store, got into my car, and couldn’t think of anything but food. I had originally toyed with the idea of having a salad with all kinds of good toppings, but now my mind was searching for very dense filling foods. I didn’t even want a wrap anymore. I was currently obsessing about cupcakes and donuts. I knew my mind was obsessing because my brain was desperate to be fed, but I couldn’t stop it from happening. I couldn’t “will” the thoughts away, because my brain and body were desperately asking to be nourished. My mind was conjuring up images of all types of foods that I love. At that moment, I conjured up an image of a delicious burrito from “Chipotle” restaurant. It was right on my route, right after the wrap store. I drove down the highway, past the sandwich/wrap store, on my way to “Chipotle”. I pulled into the shopping plaza, and nearly freaked out. It was no longer a “Chipotle” restaurant. It was a “Five Guys” burger restaurant. As you can probably imagine, I felt significantly disappointed. No… I was literally “devastated”. All this negative emotion poured out of me. All this negative emotion, and endless obsessing, was a result of going too long without food. I sat in my car in defeat. I almost cried, but then said to myself “this is what your clients feel every day, multiple times a day. This is so sad. Hunger is no laughing matter. Obsessing about food is excruciating. Trying to defy your body’s basic needs always leads to endless misery, on a physical and emotional level.”

This epiphany didn’t eradicate my hunger though. I still needed to eat. I was now 10 minutes from home, so I decided to just wait the extra ten minutes and fix myself something there.

The problems weren’t over though. As many of you know, when you are overly hungry, you have a hard time being satisfied with what would normally be “enough”. This is the situation I found myself in. I had let my hunger get too strong, and my blood sugar was too low. The hunger and urgency (all caused by low blood sugar, hunger hormones and stress hormones) I felt by the time I got home caused me to eat twice as much as I would have normally eaten. I couldn’t stop after a normal sized lunch. I felt insatiable. The good news was that I knew this was going to happen and I accepted it. Those of you with eating disorders who struggle with these issues unfortunately often feel guilty and beat yourselves up for these types of urgency-driven eating behaviors.

The message I want to impart through this story is that when you don’t trust and listen to your body’s needs, and you try too hard to follow your eating disorder’s ARBITRARY “restrictive” rules such as:

·        Time-driven rules (ie: “I have to eat at 12 o’clock exactly, no sooner and no later.”),

·        Number-driven rules (ie: “I have to eat this exact amount of calories now.” “I can’t eat more than XXX amount of grams of fat.”),

·        “Types of food” rules (ie: I can’t eat bread now because I’m eating a potato later.” I can’t eat a dessert food more than XX times per week.” “I can’t eat pizza because I haven’t eaten it in years.”)

·        Weight rules (ie: I can’t eat this type of food because it will make me gain weight.”)

You will set yourself up for relentless food thoughts, obsessions, physical symptoms and stress, extremes in emotions and/or numbing out from emotions, risk of overeating and binge eating, subsequent feelings of worry and guilt, “deal making”, constant checks and balances, excessive production of “hunger and stress hormones” that may remain elevated, and on and on and on. You can’t “will” these issues away. Your body and brain won’t let you. When your brain is in need of nutrients (glucose is its source of fuel/energy), it will alert you to attend to its needs…one way or another. All the rules that your eating disorder voice concocts to prevent you from eating naturally and intuitively will cause some or all of these symptoms.

I highly recommend that you work on trying to break some of these unfair rules, a little at a time, and try to eat at a frequency that your brain will like. I make sure I eat every 3-4 hours (not obsessively though) to ward off all deprivation-driven physical and psychological stress. Ultimately, the more you can try to trust your brain and your body (I know many of you don’t trust your body), the closer to recovery you will become.  It will definitely take time and a huge leap of faith, but your brain and your body have the answers. You just need to begin listening a bit more to them and a bit less to your eating disorder.

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Metabolism: A Look at the Facts

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The following information was taken from a professional handout I came across recently. I thought it would help dispel some of the myths that are circulated in the media.

Metabolism is the amount of energy that you need per day to keep your body functioning and to complete physical activity and lifestyle needs. The energy used for these functions comes from only one source - the foods that you eat. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) accounts for 60%-70% of the total calories that you burn by regulating your body temperature, keeping your heart pumping, your brain, liver and other organs functioning, keeps your lungs breathing, etc.

Some people say that they gain weight easily because they have a “slow metabolism.” Is this true?

Studies show that the difference in metabolism between two people of the same age, gender, height, and body composition is probably less than 3%. If two 35-year-old women who are both 5′7″ and have the same percentage of body fat would both have their metabolism tested, and woman A burned 1600 calories/day, woman B would most likely burn somewhere between 1552-1648 calories/day. Keep in mind that overweight people usually have faster metabolisms than thinner people. This is because the more you weigh, the more your body has to work.

Is it true that exercise increases your metabolism, helping you to burn calories even when at rest?

Even if you increased your muscle mass by 15%, you would only gain a 5% increase in RMR, which would mean that a person who generally eats 2000 calories/day, would need an extra 75 calories. 

Is it true that your metabolism slows down with age?

Yes, this is technically true. Beginning at age 30 and each decade thereafter, the average person’s metabolism slows down by 2%-3%. This slowing down is not inevitable though. Having an active lifestyle keeps one’s metabolism steady during the decades after age 30.

How will dieting affect my metabolism?

Crash dieting or restrictive eating can have a very strong impact on your metabolism. After 2 weeks of starvation or semi-starvation, resting metabolic rate (RMR) is likely to drop by as much as 15% and can continue to slow down even further during prolonged restriction. Once you have cut your daily calorie level to 1000-1200 calories/day, your metabolism will slow down. However, once a person begins to eat a sufficient amount again, metabolism will “bounce back.” Chronic dieters cannot permanently slow down their metabolism, contrary to popular belief. What does happen though is that with each subsequent diet of 1200 calories or below, your metabolism will slow down just as quickly. Over time, your body composition can shift to a lower proportion of muscle. Muscle is “metabolically active”. If you have a lower proportion of muscle, your metabolism will not be as fast.

Does working out increase your metabolism for several hours after you have finished?

Following a high-intensity workout, your body may burn a bit more for a few hours. If however, you are eating a low-calorie diet, your metabolism will continue to be slow as a result of your restrictive diet. High-intensity working out with a restrictive amount of food will only cause your body to lose muscle and slow down your metabolism as a means of conserving calories.

Is it true that eating spicy foods will increase my metabolism, helping me to lose weight?

If that were true, many people would be devouring chili peppers. The effect of eating spicy foods is so minimal and short-lived that it does not make a difference as far as weight loss is concerned.

 

References and recommended readings

Finn C. The myth about muscle and your metabolic rate. Available at: http://www.thefactsaboutfitness.com/news/cals.htm. Accessed May 14, 2009.

Funderberg L. Ten truths about metabolism. Available at: http://www.oprah.com/article/omagazine/health_omag_200309_metabolism/1. Accessed May 14, 2009.

Laquatra I. Nutrition for weight management In: Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2004:562-563.

Mayo Clinic. Metabolism and weight loss: how you burn calories. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/metabolism/WT00006#. Accessed May 14, 2009.

Shape.com. The truth about metabolism. Available at: http://www.shape.com/weight_loss/diets/lifestyle_changes/healthy_habits/the_truth_about_metabolism. Accessed May 14, 2009. 

Uhland V. The burning questions about metabolism. Available at: http://www.revolutionhealth.com/healthy-living/weight-management/learn-the-basics/metabolism/burning-questions. Accessed May 14, 2009.

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Resentment vs Forgiveness

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We have all felt anger and resentment at times in our lives (unless we have completely suppressed those feelings). Anger is a very healthy and productive feeling, albeit powerful and scary. Resentment, on the other hand, is unproductive, energy draining, and downright harmful.

Have you had an experience lately where you were angry and resentful toward another? What happened? What did the other person say or do to illicit these feelings? What was your role in the situation? How did you respond in the moment? Was the other person’s “wrong” toward you real or imagined? Did you take care of yourself, or did you use a disordered food or exercise behavior to numb out? If you used a disordered behavior, did the feelings come back?? Did the behavior “fix” the problem, or did it make it worse?

I have experienced anger and resentment many times in my adult life. I have also been on the receiving end of anger and resentment. They are both very uncomfortable. What I have learned though, is that when I accept and express my anger authentically, the anger fades over time. When I don’t express my anger, I begin to “imagine” all sorts of added distorted thoughts, scenarios that create resentment. The resentment is a by-product of my own imagination. It is a heavy burden that I inflict upon myself.

On the other hand, when I am on the receiving end of anger and resentment, I must accept the other person’s feelings. I understand that I cannot control their feelings of anger and resentment. I also have to accept responsibility for my part in the situation. What I have no responsibility for are any distorted thoughts or feelings of resentment that are a by-product of the other individual’s imagination.   

Other situations that I have experienced many times (and have heard from numerous clients) is the feeling of resentment when I have tried too hard to please others, given too much, perceived a situation incorrectly, or had unrealistic expectations of others.

Too often, when we suffer from low self-esteem, we “over-give” to make ourselves feel valid. We forget that we are “valid” without having to give anything. We try too hard to please others because we feel insecure and not “good enough” when we say or do something that dis-pleases others. We get scared of the ramifications of dis-pleasing others. We think “what if they won’t like me?” We also over-worry about their needs. In the process of over-giving, over-worrying, and over-pleasing, we lose ourselves and forget about our own needs. This lopsided giving of ourselves leads to feeling tired, drained, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and resentful!

Many of my clients hold others to the highest of expectations, and then get let down. This “let down” is a breeding ground for resentment. Too many times, I hear my clients say “I was hoping he/she would know what I needed.” “I thought he/she would have understood that I was sad, angry, etc.” “I give so much to him/her and get so little in return.” Yikes! First lesson here is that people cannot read other people’s minds to know what is wrong with them! You have to vocalize your feelings and needs (and then you may or may not be understood or get your needs met). Second lesson is that you must try to have realistic expectations of others. Don’t expect that they will do for you what you would do for them in the same situation. Accept that everyone holds themselves to different levels of accountability and responsibility.

Ultimately, we all need to hold ourselves in the highest esteem we possibly can at any given moment. We need to devote energy to pleasing ourselves as much if not more than we devote to pleasing others, and certainly not pleasing others at our own expense. We need to set strong boundaries of self-care so that we are not over-giving all the time. We must not take on the worry of what others are feeling or thinking. We need to understand that others cannot read our minds to know what we need or how we feel. We need to communicate all feelings to the best of our ability, before the negative feeling of resentment builds and builds into a life-draining chip on our shoulder. We need to have realistic expectations of others. Lastly, we must trade in resentment for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the renouncement and cessation of resentment…letting it go! All these tools will be of enormous value in leading a happier, freer, and more authentic life!

“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust…” ~Lance Secretan

“We need to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.” ~Barbara de Angelis

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~Catherine Ponder

“Anger ventilated often hurries toward forgiveness; and concealed often hardens into revenge.”  ~Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

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Perspective

Have you ever had an experience where something relatively small set off a firestorm of catastrophic thoughts, to the point where the thoughts and feelings that were created were so much larger, deeper and distorted than the event that started it all in the first place? This is how cognitive distortions can hurt us more than we could imagine, and why we need to continuously work on staying in the present and focusing on what’s “real”, not what’s a product of our wild and distorted imagination (by the way, our imaginations are often driven by our eating disorder and critical voice).

An example of this phenomenon happened while I was in session this week with a client. Several weeks ago Katie was truly taking in the fruits of all her efforts in recovery. She was feeling very accepting of her body, her eating was much less “rocky”, she was able to see life in a more positive way, and she was able to set some short term employment and academic goals for the next few weeks/months. Overall, her thoughts were clear and she was very self-nurturing. This week, she came in saying that she was not going anywhere in life, she was a failure, her eating was “crazy”, she hated her body, and that her whole recovery was completely back to the drawing board. Whoa!!!!! Could that possibly be true? Could she have possibly done a complete 180 degree turn in three weeks, after feeling completely different the last time I saw her? Of course not. The only things that changed were her feelings, which were ignited by distorted negative thoughts, and her loss of healthy perspective. The event that started the cascade of distorted thoughts and loss of perspective was a conversation that her father had with her about going back to college in the fall, in which he put pressure on her to pick a major and get the ball rolling for re-admission. She felt overwhelmed and, instead of trying to talk things through with her father and hold onto perspective, she shut down from the conversation, and indulged numerous catastrophic thoughts that carried her right back to her eating disorder behaviors and negative self-talk.

Other examples of these distortions of thought are:

Maggie got an 82 on her math test. She is normally an A student. She immediately said to herself “I’m a complete failure. I should have studied more. I’ll never get into college. I’ll never be able to have a career. I’m such a loser.” And, what do you think Maggie wanted to do to make herself “feel better”? She wanted to use her eating disorder. And what would that have accomplished? Absolutely nothing. What Maggie needed to do after getting the 82 on her math test was to feel whatever feelings bubbled up…sadness, disappointment, confusion, and a little anxiety? Then, Maggie needed to gain perspective instead of letting her critical inner voice run wild. The best thing for her to do next would have been to reflect objectively on the situation and think to herself “Well, the material on this test was super hard. I really studied as much as I could have. One test won’t ruin my entire GPA, my ability to get into college, or my life’s goals. If I need extra help in math for the rest of the marking period, I’ll ask my math teacher for the help.” If Maggie followed this type of thinking, she would feel a bit less upset, and she wouldn’t have such strong urges to use her eating disorder. Feeling negative feelings associated with a situation like Maggie’s is normal, but letting her thoughts become catastrophic is not. The distorted thoughts are a byproduct of negative self-esteem, and her eating disordered self-critical voice. They are the thoughts that will instantaneously drive the “need” to run to her eating disorder for numbing out, distraction, self-soothing, etc.

Jen had been dating a guy for about 6 months. Things were going well, when without any notice, he told her that he wasn’t “feeling it” and didn’t want to go out with her anymore. He said it was nothing personal but he wanted to move on. Of course she was hurt, sad, confused, and a bit angry. The news took her by surprise because she thought the relationship was going smoothly. Her thoughts went wild. Instead of calling a friend, crying, or talking it through with the guy, she immediately thought “I’ll never find love. I’ll never have a boyfriend again. I’ll be alone the rest of my life. I’m always going to be alone. I am unlovable. It must be because I have a F-A-T stomach.” Wow! Jen jumped to a millions and one conclusions, none of which had any basis in the truth. They were all manifestations of her strong negative feelings and her low sense of self. It is true that the breakup was very painful, but her mind took the situation and created one distortion after another, making her feel one hundred times worse than she would have if she tried to maintain perspective and looked at the situation as it really was. The truth was that she was getting hints for a few weeks that he wasn’t happy. She wasn’t completely happy with the relationship either. Their goals were very different and, in fact, she was questioning if she really liked him. She was contemplating talking with him about taking a break from the relationship but hadn’t wanted to hurt his feelings. But, since he confronted her and told her he wasn’t “feeling it”, she lost perspective and her distorted thoughts escalated, causing her to feel terrible about herself. Then, she wanted to use her eating disordered behaviors to “show him” that she didn’t care about him. In reality, he didn’t see any of what she was trying to tell him. Instead, he just moved on with his life.

The distorted thoughts (not the healthy ones) that we create are the ones that keep us SICK. Distorted thoughts are not about the truth. They are not based in fact. They are often gross exaggerations or completely false. For more information and specific examples of cognitive distortions, there are numerous sites on the internet. For example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_distortion

Never judge your life, your future, or your recovery when you have just been triggered by a situation that evoked strong feelings. Try to regain perspective with the help of support people – family, friends, and professionals. Try not to indulge those cognitive distortions that you create. And, above all else, refrain from using eating disordered behaviors as an attempt to self-soothe, communicate, distract, or give up. Take a deep breath, regroup, and reset! You know you can!

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Top Ten Strategies to Use at Meal and Snack Times

 

Until you are fairly far along in the recovery process, you may need varying degrees of strategies to help with your eating. Ultimately, you will be able to achieve a more peaceful relationship with food and your body, but until then, here are ten strategies to use. Also remember that you are very vulnerable to the “voice” of your eating disorder in the moments before, during, and after you eat, so mentally “arm” yourself for the possibility of hearing negative, critical, and catastrophizing statements during these times. Take your power back!

 

 

1.  Write down and use positive healthy statements for eating times, such as “I am going to do what is best for my recovery at this meal, no matter what negative thoughts I have.” “I need this food to help my body stay strong.” “By eating this meal, I am helping to gain clarity.” “There is no such thing as a perfect meal, but I will do the best I can to eat well.” “I need food for my organs to function at 100%.” “Even if I eat more than I set out to eat, I will not beat myself up because I am doing the best I can.” “Nothing bad can possibly happen to me by eating this meal right now. Only good things can result from giving my body nourishment.” “I will not base what my nutritional needs are on the negative feelings I have about my body. I will eat what I know to be the best meal for my overall health, and my psychological well-being.

2.  Try not to go longer than 4 waking hours without food. The body is designed to be fed at regular intervals and going too long without food may create heightened food obsessions, cravings, and extremes in hunger. By sticking to a fairly regular schedule of eating, you will be better able to think clearly and tune into your body’s needs better.

3.  Make sure you are in a calm emotional place when you sit down to eat. Eating while upset, angry, anxious, or in any negative emotional state can alter your hunger and fullness cues, and increase eating disordered thoughts, urges, and behaviors.

4.  If you need meal time support from a family member, friend, or other loved one, ask for it before you sit down to eat. Once you sit down with food in front of you, you are already too vulnerable. Sometimes a supportive person can distract you from the negative eating disordered voice and can help make the meal/snack a more enjoyable experience overall.

5.  There’s a saying that goes “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Try to think about what your day is going to look like in terms of schedule, activities, places you will be, and people you will be with. Think about, and plan for how you will meet your nutritional needs. You don’t have to obsessively plan everything you will eat, but be prepared for the day. Clients often say to me “I didn’t have time to eat this food or that food.” “I didn’t have time to prepare my food.” “I didn’t have xxx food in the house, so I just grabbed something at the last minute.” “I didn’t know what I wanted so I didn’t eat.” “I didn’t have anything I liked to I just ate random stuff.” “I ran short on time so I just grabbed something and ate it in my car.” These are excuses, justifications that are not putting recovery as the top priority. Decisions like these will ultimately set your recovery back. Recovery must come first, and having a plan to eat well, and often, must be priority #1.  (I am very busy during the week, and I never ever go to work or anywhere without either bringing plenty of food with me or knowing where I can buy a very satisfying meal/snack. Planning to be well fed reduces my anxiety and assures me that I will be able to meet my needs as well as I possibly can.

6.  Try your best not to multitask while eating. Even if you need distractions while eating, try to be as present as possible. The more mindful you are, the more you can be attuned to what your food needs are. Try not to eat while driving, watching TV, on the computer, or working?

7.  Make sure the meal/snack “counts” psychologically. Too often, people with eating disorders make food choices based on rigid rules, not based on what they like. If you are on a meal plan, or if you are working on intuitive eating, choose foods that appeal to you. Choose foods that you are in the mood for, not foods that you think you “should” have. Eating the same exact foods every day, eating by strict rules, eliminating certain food groups or nutrients, eating less than you know is best for you, are all forms of restriction and will potentially backfire sooner or later.

8.  Make sure you are working on incorporating a wide variety of foods and all the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat). The human body has a need for all the nutrients, to work optimally. It is best to have at least three or four food groups at meal time, and at least two food groups at snack time. By having a variety of food groups, and having foods that appeal to you psychologically (strategy #7), your body will be well fueled and you will feel satisfied. By accomplishing both physical and psychological satiety, you will also get food off your mind a bit easier, obsessions may diminish, and your mind will be freed up to focus on your passions and other pleasures. Remember though, that your eating disordered “voice” will try to beat you up for eating foods that give you pleasure. Tell that negative voice that by eating foods you like, you are getting stronger and closer to recover

9.  Eat sitting down at a table or counter, with as pleasing of surroundings as possible. Use appealing tableware, tablecloth or placemat, and utensils. It is optimal to have all the conditions possible to have a pleasant, mindful meal. You could even make your own special placemat, bowl, or plate. Try not to eat standing up. Food eaten while multitasking or standing up doesn’t “count” psychologically, sets you up for feeling dissatisfied, and increases urges to crave more food.

10.  If one meal or snack doesn’t go well, or if you have used an eating disordered behavior at any time during the day, don’t write the entire day off as a “failure”. At the very next time you need to eat, in order to maintain your structure, you have the opportunity to turn things around. Try to never, ever, end the day with an eating disordered behavior or disordered meal. Make sure you end your day doing something positive with your food. There is no stronger statement you can make regarding recovery than going to bed having done the best you could at the end of the day.

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