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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Books are Ready!

It’s a self-help book with a twist!

Books are officially ready for purchase! My first shipment arrived today! If you know any adult woman (30s-60s) who struggles with disordered eating – primarily binge eating, emotional eating, and/or yo-yo dieting, please send her to the link below:

Behind the Mask: Our Secret Battle: Adult Women End Their Lifetime War with Food and Weight, Find Their Voice and Learn Self-Acceptance

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My Book Is Finally Released and Available For Purchase!

My book “Behind the Mask: Our Secret Battle” was released yesterday, February 22, 2013! It was a labor of love, and finally came to fruition.  It was written to provide insight and tools for adult women in their 30s-60s who have struggled with lifetime disordered eating, yo-yo dieting, and body image issues. It is told through the “voices” of two of my clients, Joanne and Marian, who have struggled with food and weight since they were little girls. It outlines the issues they faced a different life stages, and how they used food as a coping mechanism. Additionally, each chapter contains an introduction to the issues, and connections we made along the way. The last third of the book outlines my three-phase approach to healing the reader’s relationship with food and herself.

I hope to reach many women through the words in the book. It is often through the connection with others who struggle with similar issues that we begin to heal our own wounds.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, you can click on the link below and purchase it directly from my ebook store.

https://www.createspace.com/3462313

Within 5-7 business days it will also be available on amazon.com.

Many many thanks to all those who have supported this endeavor!!

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Your Feelings – Keep them in or let them out!

How do you learn to feel and express your feelings when you haven’t effectively experienced and expressed them before? How do you withstand using eating disordered behaviors when the feelings bubble up and become too intense or scary?

Feelings are bits of “information” from your inner self. They provide you with a window into your inner world. Similar to how your eyes provide you with information about your outer world, feelings do the same about your inner well-being. For instance, when you feel sad, you must pay attention to why you feel that way, and perhaps determine if there is any way you can remedy it or if you just need to continue to endure the feeling until it goes away by itself. Feelings are either labeled “good” and “positive”, or “bad” and “negative”, depending on whether feeling them is agonizing and disruptive to your happiness or you “like” them and they enhance your happiness. All feelings, positive and negative, are transient. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you allow yourself to express them, they will healthfully run their course. If you stop them or bury them by using an eating disorder behavior, they will come back again and again, disproportionally stronger and stronger, and you will never learn how to “ride them out”.

What are some ways you can express your feelings without using an eating disordered behavior to numb yourself?

Many people like to express themselves through artistic endeavors. Drawing or painting is a great medium for feelings expression. You don’t have to be “good” at drawing to do this. You simply want to use the paper and paint as a way of expressing and releasing the feelings. Try finger painting.

When you are angry, expressing yourself may be scary. Try punching a pillow, or doing another “physical” means of expression (as long as you don’t hurt yourself or another). Yell and scream, by yourself.  Break bubble wrap.

When you are sad, cry. Crying is a normal, healthy means of expressing sadness. Crying is cathartic. Once you have had a “good cry”, you will feel better. Have yourself a mini “pity party”, and then do something good for yourself!

When you are scared, seek comfort from a safe person, or try to comfort yourself with reassuring words, as if you were your own best friend or parent. Wrap yourself up in a comfortable blanket, play some soothing music, and make yourself a comforting cup of tea.

Over time, you will find that there are your own special and unique ways to express each emotion. The methods mentioned above only scratch the surface of ways to “feel”. Some of them may seem obvious and others may sound strangely new. Sometimes you have to experiment with different methods. Sometimes you will choose something and it won’t work. Keep trying.

Journal writing is a way that many people find helpful to access and express all sorts of inner thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t have to have any particular format or length or topic.

Journal writing is a representation of your innermost experiences, so treat the process with great love and respect. Remember that no one else has to read what you write, you won’t be graded on content or grammar, and you don’t have to explain yourself. In your journal, you can be honest without being afraid. Try to write often, if possible, even if you are only going to write one sentence or word. Additionally, keep an open mind regarding various ways to journal. You can journal on paper or on your computer. You can cut out magazine pictures and words instead of writing sentences. You can use poster board, scrap book materials, stickers, and other types of supplies. If you don’t like writing, try to find another journal technique to express yourself.

Below are some journaling ideas to help you get started. These are not prompts to express the feelings you may be experiencing, however. They are topics related to your eating disorder that may simply get your journal writing started, or prompt some of your inner feelings.

Write the story of your life, with particular emphasis on events that are related to your eating disorder, such as the first time you became self-conscious of your body. How did these events make you feel? When did the disorder begin? Perhaps draw a time line marking important events, or plot a family tree. Are there others in your family who have problems with food and weight, or related problems like depression, alcoholism, or social avoidance?

By writing your story, can you accept that your eating disorder was a reasonable response to your experiences? In other words, do you think your eating disorder has taken care of you in some way? If so, how? If not, what has it done for you?

Why are you pursuing recovery? What are your short term (for this day or this week), medium term (for the next few months or the next year), and long term (for the next few years) goals?

List ways you can fill up your life instead of with food, such as: nurturing relationships, self-respect, a new skill, a spiritual pursuit, etc. Pick one and go for it!

Write a non-judgmental, physical description of yourself. Next, write a non-judgmental description of your character. How do these differ from your usual, opinionated views of yourself?

Write a letter to someone significant in your life to which you would like to be totally honest. This does not have to be about your eating disorder, nor do you have to send this letter. Just express yourself.

How would your life be different if you changed your goal from thin to healthy? Also, explore what the word “healthy” means to you, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

 

Eating disordered behaviors act as a “substitute” for feeling, coping, and expressing yourself. When you continue to use them in place of experiencing these life skills genuinely and effectively, you get further away from leading a rewarding, healthy, honest life. Each time you express yourself through your feelings and your words however, you take one step closer to being free.

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Three Wise Monkeys

You may have seen pictures, or miniature statues of the three wise monkeys. These monkeys date back to 17th century Japanese carvings.  Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian Independence Movement who also influenced non-violence and civil rights movements around the world, had a statue of these three monkeys.

The three monkeys are Mizaru (see no evil) covering his eyes, Kikazaru (hear no evil) covering his ears, and Iwazaru (speak no evil) covering his mouth. Sometimes there is a fourth monkey, Shizaru (do no evil) crossing his arms. How do these wise monkeys relate to eating disorders??? Simply stated, in order to be free of your eating disorder, you must block out any negativity or “evil” that your eating disorder tries to impose on you, and replace the negativity with positivity. You must also take action and do the work that is necessary for your recovery.

 

In order to “see no evil”, you must not compare yourself physically to others. When you have an eating disorder, you are most likely comparing yourself to other people in your daily life, while watching TV, reading magazines, walking through the mall etc. Your eating disorder uses other people as well as your own body image distortion as a means to make you feel bad about yourself. Also, when you look in the mirror or try get dressed, your eating disorder will make you “see evil” by distorting your body image. To avoid it, you may need to choose your clothes in advance (the night before) to hasten the time it takes to get dressed, choose clothes that you feel physically comfortable in (nothing that’s too tight), shower and get dressed in dimmer lighting so that you don’t feel like you are in a dressing room at a clothing store (we all know how awful the lighting is in dressing rooms). Additionally, try to see yourself through the eyes of those who love you. They don’t see the “flaws” that you see. They don’t judge you by your imperfections, like you do. Remember that your eating disorder wants you to see yourself in a negative light so that it can keep control over you. Overall, you need to try to not let your eating disorder distort your vision of yourself.

 

Your eating disorder tries to fill your mind with vicious, self-critical, false, “evil” thoughts. They may sound like this: “You are disgusting.” “You need to lose weight or your life is worthless.” “You are unlovable because of your body.” “You better not eat that or you will go out of control.” “If you take one bite of that food, you will never stop.” “If you eat that food, it proves that you are weak.” “If you lose me, you will stop caring about yourself.” “If you get better, your life will be miserable.”

You probably hear “evil” thoughts like these, loudly and persistently, every waking moment. You may even dream negative dreams that your eating disorder has concocted. Your eating disorder fills your head with “evil” thoughts and you listen to them because you are scared, and the thoughts sound convincing. In order to recover, you must know that ALL thoughts coming from your eating disorder are FALSE. They are ALL DISTORTIONS. They are ALL designed to make you SICK and keep you SICK. During recovery, you need to first recognize the thoughts that are originating from your eating disorder. You need to differentiate the eating disordered thoughts from any non-eating disordered healthy thoughts. The eating disordered ones may be louder and more persistent and the healthy ones may be quieter and less frequent, but the eating disordered ones will always be FALSE. Once you can differentiate between the two, you must either ignore the eating disordered ones, or challenge them and replace them with positive or neutral thoughts. Ultimately, you need to pump up the volume of your own healthy thoughts and extinguishing the eating disordered “evil” ones.

 

“Speak no evil” has a few meanings when it comes to your recovery. First, speak no evil about yourself. When you have an eating disorder, you become so used to speaking negatively about yourself; you may not even know you are doing it. It’s automatic. But during recovery, you need to learn how to speak more positively about yourself and your recovery path. For example, let’s say you messed up at work, or got a bad grade on an exam, or put on an article of clothing that doesn’t fit, or said something during an argument that you didn’t mean, or had a slip in recovery. Instead of beating yourself up for it and saying things like “I’m so stupid.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m such a loser.” “I’ll never get it right.” “People hate me,” try saying “I did the best I could.” “These pants need to be put away because I don’t want to wear them and trigger myself.” “I’m working hard on my recovery and it won’t be perfect.” “It’s normal to make mistakes.” “No one’s perfect.”

The second meaning that “speak no evil” has in recovery is when it comes to honesty. People with eating disorders often keep things to themselves or don’t speak honestly to others for fear of displeasing them or not being liked by them. By being dishonest, you are giving your eating disorder strength to be used against you and to reinforce its own evil agenda. The goal is to speak openly and honestly. Honesty is not evil, it is truth…and truth truly sets you free from your eating disorder.

 

“Do no evil” refers to taking positive recovery action each and every day. Every action that you take that your disorder tells you to take, is self-harming in the short and long term. Your eating disorder ultimately wants to harm you, not help you. Although you may not be capable of acting opposite of every single thing that your eating disorder wants you to do, you can do the very best job you are capable of doing to act in a positive, recovery-focused way. You know better than anyone when you are engaging in eating disordered behaviors and when you are not. Each time you eat a strong meal, you are doing a good job. Each time you reach out for a healthy coping mechanism instead of bingeing, you are doing a good job. Each time you resist purging, you are doing a good job. Each time you do the very best you can do, in any area of recovery, you are doing a good job. Each and every time you do what you need to do to be true to yourself and take care of yourself, you are doing a good job in recovery.

 

As the wise monkeys say “see no evil”, “hear no evil”, “speak no evil”, and “do no evil”. The translation, simply, and concisely is:

See, listen, speak, and do all that is necessary to live free from your eating disorder and create the life you deserve.

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Taking Risks

A week ago I attended a memorial service for a very dear friend who passed away at a young age from a terrible disease. She was 55 years old. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend. She was full of life until her disease took her. As I sat in the church and witnessed the wonderful tribute to her life, I thought “I know she had a wonderful life and took advantage of all the fantastic opportunities she could. She died way too young, but she was loved immensely and lived life to its fullest.”

My friend’s death prompted this post.

Too many of us live life in a safe, predictable way. We don’t take risks because they are scary and we fear that we won’t be able to control all the circumstances around them. We don’t challenge our food behaviors beyond a safe amount because it is very hard to take the risks we know will make us “feel” uncomfortable – physically and/or emotionally. We don’t take the risk to speak up for our needs because we are afraid that others will get angry or upset with us and because we are people pleasers. We don’t take the risk to be vulnerable with others because we want to “fix” everything ourselves and not burden others. We don’t like to be vulnerable because it is terrifying to open up, so we don’t take risks and ask for help. We are so afraid to be “needy” that we pretend we are “fine.” Sometimes we are so tired from working hard at playing it safe and avoiding risks, that we isolate ourselves and our worlds become smaller and smaller. We devote a tremendous amount of effort in attempts to avoid risks and have a safe, predictable life.

Taking risks is scary, but we cannot allow fear to be an obstacle to emotional growth and well-being. Obviously I am not encouraging people to put themselves in unsafe circumstances where their safety and well-being are jeopardized. I am suggesting that we all evaluate our commitment to ourselves and the recovery process and determine which risks are necessary to further recovery and overall physical and emotional health and well-being.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, what are some risks that you are avoiding taking? Are you avoiding adding food to your meal plan because you are afraid of feeling full or because you know your eating disorder voice will make you feel guilty? Are you avoiding giving yourself more self-care time because it is too hard to figure out how to make it work or worried that it will necessitate other people’s help? Are you avoiding reaching out for others’ help because you don’t want to “burden” others or because you simply want your eating disorder more than you want to be free of it and you can use the excuse that you don’t want to bother others as a way to stay stuck? Are you avoiding going out with friends because it requires you to go outside of your emotional and eating comfort zones? Are you avoiding reaching for your dreams because you have convinced yourself that you will never get there or that you will fail once you do?

Try to evaluate how your recovery is going and understand which risks are needed to move forward. Once you do this, choose to take one “risky” step at a time. Understand that you will be scared. You will have doubt. That doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. It means that it is worth doing! There is no better feeling than to look back at the risks in recovery and in life that have paid off! I have never met someone who has taken risks to recover and has regretted the process. And, if by taking a risk, it fails, try again or try a different one. There is no magic pill you can take or magic wand that you can wave to make a full recovery or enrich your life. It is all hard work that eventually pays off.

Below are some quotes I found that may help you take some risks…

Yes, risk taking is inherently failure-prone.  Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking.  ~Tim McMahon

A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are for.  ~John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided.  It is sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.  ~Napoleon Bonaparte

Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.  ~Author Unknown

Often we… expect and want every day to be just like today.  Even though we’re not satisfied with today, we settle for security instead of discovery.  ~Stephen G. Scalese, The Whisper in Your Heart

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  ~Ambrose Redmoon

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.  ~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

 

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Grief and Healing

Grief: deep or intense sorrow or distress, especially at the death of someone

 

Dealing with grief as a result of losing someone is something most people have to experience sometime in their lives. Feelings of sorrow are natural. They result from losing someone meaningful in our lives through death, the loss a pet, a job, or a home. Grieving, or feeling loss, may happen after a divorce, a move, or loved ones moving away. Each of us copes with loss and grief in our own personal way, but there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways of coping.

 

If you try to ignore your pain or make all sorts of efforts to keep it from bubbling up, you will make it worse in the long run. In order to genuinely heal from any type of grief or loss, you have to face it head on and deal with it. Pain never goes away if you actively ignore it.

Having feelings of sadness, fear, overwhelm, or loneliness is a normal reaction to loss. Crying is a “normal” expression of these feelings. Crying is healthy. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of genuine feelings. It is always better to cry than to try to put on a “happy face”. You are not helping your grieving process or helping anyone else by being “brave”.

Although crying is a natural response to grief, some people don’t cry in the face of loss. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel the pain. There is no one specific way to grieve. People express pain in different ways.  There is also no specific time frame for grief to be expressed.

Healthy coping mechanisms help with the grieving process, while unhealthy ones impair the process. For those of you who have experienced loss and used your eating disorder to cope, this post may be helpful for you.

There are several things that are necessary to cope with grief. They are: (1) acceptance and expression of grief, (2) time, (3) self care, and (4) support. Through these key components, you will be able to mourn your loss and heal from it.

Expression of grief has been outlined in the “stages of grief”: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Remember, there is no time frame for these stages but it is important to fully experience them.

  • Denial, numbness, and shock: This stage serves to protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It may be useful when the grieving person must take action (for example, making funeral arrangements). Numbness is a normal reaction to an immediate loss and should not be confused with “lack of caring.” As the individual slowly acknowledges the impact of the loss, denial and disbelief will diminish.
  •  Anger: This reaction usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment through a loved one’s death. An individual may be angry at a higher power or toward life in general.
  •  Bargaining: This stage may involve persistent thoughts about what could have been done to prevent the loss. People can become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better. If this stage is not properly resolved, intense feelings of remorse or guilt may interfere with the healing process.
  •  Depression: This stage of grief occurs in some people after they realize the true extent of the loss. Signs of depression may include sleep and appetite disturbances, a lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells. A person may feel loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity.
  • Acceptance: In time, an individual may be able to come to terms with various feelings and accept the fact that the loss has occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the individual’s set of life experiences. (reprinted from WebMD)

During a time of loss, you may be triggered to use eating disordered behaviors to “feel better”. Although using eating disordered behaviors may cause you to feel numb or distracted, it will inevitably cause more pain and suffering. There are several good ways to express your grief, instead of using eating disordered behaviors. It is also very important for you to take good care of yourself during a time of loss. Although using eating disordered behaviors may initially feel like a way to take care of yourself, it actually causes you to become more depleted physically and emotionally.

Accept and face your feelings head on. You can try to suppress your painful emotions using eating disordered behaviors, but you can’t avoid them forever. In order to heal from your loss, you have to acknowledge and accept the pain. This may sound like an awful plan to you, but avoiding your feelings of sadness and loss prolongs the grieving process. If your grief is left unresolved, it may lead to depression, anxiety, and the use of other “substances” or maladaptive coping mechanisms. How do you face your feelings? The following are a few suggestions: Express your feelings in a concrete or artistic way. Write about your feelings in a journal or on your computer.  If you’ve lost someone you love, write a letter to them saying the things you wanted them to know. Make a scrapbook or photo album of the person and the memories you have shared.

Take good care of yourself physically. Try to get enough sleep. Follow the nutrition guidelines designed by your nutritionist to the best of your ability. Although movement can help you feel better, only do it if it is safe for you to do so. Check with your treatment team for appropriate movement guidelines.

Take care of yourself spiritually. If you are a member of a church, you may find that your religious leader or members of the congregation can provide you comfort. If you have a different type of spiritual leader or healer, perhaps you could reach out for him/her.

Reach out for support in other ways – from your treatment team, friends, family, and other loved ones. Perhaps a support group might help as well. Although you may need some time alone, you don’t want to completely isolate yourself and use eating disordered behaviors in place of real suppor

There may be times when others don’t know how to help, or what to say. There often doesn’t even seem like any words can help during a time of loss. People may say things that don’t help, or seem insensitive because they are uncomfortable with their own feelings or don’t have the ability to express empathy effectively.  Try not to shut down if you have received bad advice or insensitive comments. Reach out to others who you trust. Let yourself feel whatever feelings come up without worrying about what others may say. You may also notice that your feelings change and evolve. You may feel moments of extreme sadness or anger, followed by moments of happiness. This is normal.

There may be times of more intense grief – like holidays, times of year, anniversaries, and places, etc. It’s normal to feel more powerful feelings when you are triggered by certain events. If you can prepare for these events in advance by discussing them with a loved one or trusted professional, you may get through them without being vulnerable  to using eating disordered behaviors, or avoiding the event altogether.

Below are a few quotes I found to be helpful during times of grief and sorrow:

“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

“To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness. “ – Erich Fromm

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” – Earl Grollman

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” – Helen Keller

“You give yourself permission to grieve by recognizing the need for grieving. Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a love. Grieving is not weakness or absence of faith. Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.” – Doug Manning

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  -Henri Nouwen

 

We Remember Them…

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,

We remember them;

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

We remember them;

In the opening of buds and in the warmth of summer,

We remember them;

In the rustling of leaves and the beauty of autumn,

We remember them;

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,

We remember them;

When we are weary and in need of strength,

We remember them;

When we are lost and sick at heart,

We remember them;

When we have joys we yearn to share,

We remember them;

So long as we live, they too shall live

For they are now a part of us as

We remember them.

-from Gates of Prayer,

Judaism Prayerbook

 

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Expectations vs Reality

Some of what can make or break someone’s recovery from an eating disorder are the expectations they place on themselves and others. When expectations are unrealistically high, or based on distorted thinking, they most likely cannot be met, which leads to disappointment, anger, resentment, hurt, sadness, hopelessness, and an array of other negative feelings.

We all have expectations of ourselves and others.  Individuals need to have expectations of themselves and others, yet they must be realistic. Individuals need to hold themselves to standards that help them to strive to do their best in recovery and in other areas of life, but they also need to prevent unrealistic expectations from derailing the recovery process.

Examples of unrealistic expectations I have heard from clients are:

Kate says “I should be further along than I am. I’ve been in treatment for 6 months and I feel like I should be done with recovery by now. I know what I’m supposed to do, so I should be able to just do it.” Subsequently, Kate feels like a failure because she set her expectations too high for where she should be in recovery after 6 months time. Feeling defeated, she prevents herself from seeing all the progress she has actually made in the past 6 months.

Allison says “My parents know what they should do to help me but they constantly do the wrong thing. They are always commenting on my food. I’ve told them over and over that they can’t talk about my eating, but they keep doing it anyway.” Allison’s expectation that her parents will completely stop commenting about her food is unrealistic. Her parents are trying to curtail their comments but they are worried about her and until they see her making progress, their fear is causing them to talk about food more than is necessary or helpful. Because Allison wants them to avoid all comments, she gets angry at them, feels controlled, and as a result, her eating suffers.

Robert says “I went a week without bingeing. I felt like I was on a roll. Then, something snapped and I binged for three days straight. I don’t know why I can’t go longer than a week without falling back into that behavior. I won’t ever get the hang of recovery.” Robert has unrealistic expectations that, after having had a binge eating disorder for over 20 years, he will not have the urges to binge again at this stage of recovery. It felt so good to him that he was able to go a week without bingeing, but he expected that it wouldn’t happen again. His expectation caused him to feel defeated, hopeless, and self-deprecating. These feelings only perpetuate the binge cycle.

Nikki says “I haven’t binged in months. I’m feeling more intuitive about my eating. My weight should have dropped by now but it hasn’t. I can’t trust my body. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.” It was initially Nikki’s expectation that when her binge eating ceased, that her weight would rapidly go down. Since this didn’t happen, she felt disappointed, overwhelmed, and lost as to what she should do next. Since Nikki has experienced yo-yo diets all her life, she was used to seeing weight go down and go up fairly drastically. It was her expectation that recovery would be like a diet “in disguise” and she would lose weight fairly quickly after her bingeing stopped. This expectation set her up to have more urges to binge again since she felt like it “wasn’t working”.

When speaking about her husband, Rachel says “He should have known that something was wrong. He should be able to read my body language. I was struggling and he didn’t do anything to help me.”  It was Rachel’s expectation that her husband could sense she was struggling, and yet ignored her needs. As a result, she felt abandoned, sad, lonely, and uncared for. Her husband is unable to read her mind or body language. That was an unrealistic expectation. Rachel needed to use her voice to get him to understand her needs. He may or may not have been able to support her, but at least she wouldn’t have unknowingly set herself up for the negative feelings she experienced.

 

Eating disorders have complexities that take time to uncover and address. They have ebbs and flows. Additionally, there is no such thing as a “quick fix” for eating disordered behaviors or weight goals.  In the recovery process, it is essential that you discuss your expectations with others, especially those closest to you and your treatment team. Get feedback about whether your expectations are realistic. Try to set attainable, realistic expectations for your recovery and for the responses from others. Ultimately, over time, your recovery will take shape and you will see the fruits of your efforts. Through recovery, you will be able to see the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations and the hope is that your realistic expectations will be met (most of the time).

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Book Release!

My book, Behind the Mask: Our Secret Battle, is in production and will be ready for purchase late November or early December 2012. Women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s who have suffered with lifelong low self-esteem, disordered eating, and body image issues, who have defined themselves by their weight, and experienced the relentless psychological “tug of war” that accompanies these issues, will relish this book as a means to help them deeply understand and appreciate their eating behaviors as a coping mechanism that no longer “serves” them, and as a hands-on skill-building tool.

Behind the Mask first details specific issues that many women struggle with during various stages of life that play an integral role in their disordered relationship with food, through the voices of two adult women with lifelong eating issues and the connections they have made along the way. It then provides my professional detailed three-phase approach to acquire the skills necessary to eat in a more peaceful way, find one’s voice, and practice self-acceptance and self-care. It is a book of connection, hope and tools for recovery.

 

Stay tuned for more specific information on how to purchase the book!

 

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Tips for “Normal” Eating

The following information is the best I’ve seen, as a basic model for trying to normalize disordered eating. It is especially geared for those individuals who have been chronic dieters. 

No matter how many years or decades you have overeaten or how many diets have failed you, you still can learn how to become a “normal” eater—eating when you are hungry, choosing satisfying foods, remaining aware while eating and enjoying food, and stopping when you are full or satisfied.

 

Note: You did not fail on these diets. These diets failed you.

To succeed at eating “normally”, you will need to:

  • Focus like a laser on eating “normally”
  • Stay persistent like a dog digging for a bone
  • Not expect overnight success
  • Switch your attention from the scale to your appetite
  • Learn effective life skills to manage stress and internal distress

Disregulated eaters can learn how to eat “normally.” Here are some tips to speed you on your way.

Using self-talk

Learn “normal” eating skills: Look in the mirror daily and tell yourself you can learn the skills of “normal” eating.

Think of foods as nutritional and non-nutritional: Instead of thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” consider them as nutritional or non-nutritional. “Good” and “bad” are moral terms that are best avoided in the food arena.

Give yourself praise: Do not put yourself down for the mistakes you make with food. Instead, lavishly praise yourself for your successes, even the tiniest ones.

Try a different approach: If experience tells you that diets do not keep your weight off, do not try to convince yourself that you should diet. Instead, give yourself points for trying a different approach.

Become your own cheerleader: Never say anything to yourself that you would not say to a young child you love, including calling yourself stupid, hopeless, bad, a failure, or worthless. Become your own cheerleader by generating positive thoughts about yourself and your progress.

Avoid all-or-nothing thinking: Do not use words like “never” and “always.” Remind yourself that most of life is not black and white, but gray. Think incrementally.

Do not dwell on untrue comments: Detoxify negative things people say about or to you that are untrue, rather than repeating them to yourself. Remember that what people say belongs to them, not to you, even if your name is attached to their words.

Connect to your emotions: Ask yourself often how you are feeling, so you can connect more easily to your emotions, but explore only with curiosity, not condemnation.

Stop judging yourself harshly: Develop self-compassion. Treat yourself lovingly. Practice speaking to yourself with extreme esteem.

Keep a positive attitude: Do not keep telling yourself that learning to become a “normal” eater is hard, because saying so only programs you to find the work more difficult. Instead, substitute words like challenging or doable.

 

Recognizing hunger

Rate your hunger: Check in with yourself often to see how hungry you are by using descriptions such as “not hungry,” “moderate,” “very,” and “famished” or a 1-10 scale.

Evaluate if you are hungry: Every time you think about food, ask yourself if you really are hungry enough to eat or if you actually need something else.

Consider having smaller meals: Experiment with eating smaller meals more frequently.

Think about hunger as a signal: It means that you need fuel, not that you have to go out and seek the most fantastic eating experience of your life.

Know what hunger means: Practice believing that hunger is for fuel and pleasure, not for meeting emotional needs.

 

Choosing satisfying foods

Choose for yourself: Do not get hung up on what other people are eating. Instead, ask yourself what you would like to eat.

Forget about good and bad: Remind yourself that foods fall on a nutritional continuum (high value/low value), not on a moral continuum (good/bad).

Make a satisfying choice: Never eat without first stopping to consider what you want. Spend time making your decision by tuning into your appetite.

Stay clear of guilt or shame: Refrain from allowing guilt or shame to contaminate your eating decisions. Avoid secret eating.

Choose foods that you like: Do not eat foods that you do not find satisfying or enjoyable. Eating them will make you think that you are on a diet.

 

Eating with awareness and enjoyment

Look before you eat: Before you eat, look at your food, its portion size, and presentation. Breathe deeply. Look again before taking a mouthful.

Chew every mouthful thoroughly: Chewing a lot helps to thoroughly release the flavor of foods.

Let food sit on your tongue: This allows your taste buds to absorb the flavor and transmit messages about your appetite to your brain.

Talk or eat: When you are talking, stop eating. When you are eating, stop talking.

Stay connected: Pay attention to your body’s appetite signals while you are eating.

Forget about guilt and shame: Push away guilt and shame while you are eating. Focus only on sensory pleasure.

Pause while you are eating: Think about how you are feeling about your food in terms of quality and quantity.

Know when to stop eating: Stop eating when flavor intensity declines, as it is bound to do. Do not try to polish off all of the food in front of you. Instead, aim for the moment when flavor peaks and you feel an internal “ah” of satisfaction—then stop.

Evaluate how full you are: Keep asking yourself while you are eating, “Am I still hungry?” and “Am I satisfied?”

 

Stopping when you are full or satisfied

Know the definitions: Think of “full” as having enough food (fuel) in your stomach and “satisfied” as reaching thehigh point of pleasure.

Quantify fullness and satisfaction: Use words, such as “nearly full,” “too full,” or “just right,” or a 1-10 scale to rate fullness and satisfaction.

Tell your body: When you feel full or satisfied, focus on that sensation, and broadcast it to your whole body.

Disconnect from food: When you are done eating, put down your utensils, push away your plate, and get up, if possible. At least mentally move on. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect yourself from the food.

Decide when enough is enough: Make sure you do not focus on food that is left in front of you. Recognize that you do not have to finish it or clean your plate.

Changing your beliefs:

 

From: To:
“I need to diet to lose weight.” “Diets do not work long term.”
“This is too hard.” “I can learn to do this over time.”
“This will take too long.” “If I do not change now, I will only end up back in this same place again, so I might as well get going on it.”
“Losing weight is the most important thing.” “I will lose weight if I honor my appetite and learn to eat ‘normally.’”
“I am bad/worthless/ugly if I am overweight.” “I accept my body as it is and still will try to improve it.”

 

Stopping emotional eating

Consider your feelings: If you have the urge to eat when you are not hungry, identify the emotion you are feeling.

Think of a different response: Remind yourself that feelings need an appropriate response—not food.

Know the emotions that trigger unwanted eating: Boredom, loneliness, anxiety, shame, guilt, disappointment, confusion, and helplessness can trigger unwanted eating. Look for more effective ways of dealing with these feelings.

Keep a feelings log: This will help you keep track of what is going on inside of yourself all day long.

Reduce stress: This will lessen frustration, helplessness, and the overwhelmed feeling you sometimes have that may drive you to eat.

Take care of yourself: Make sure you are taking care of yourself (with rest, sleep, hobbies, and fun) at least as well as you take care of others.

Learn from your behavior: If you find yourself eating when you are upset, do not take it out on yourself. Treat yourself with compassion and curiosity. Think about your behavior as a learning experience.

Find help: If you have a history of trauma or abuse, get help through therapy. A strong correlation exists between such a history and emotional eating and weight gain.

Take responsibility for yourself: Do not blame others for your emotional eating. Take accountability for your actions.

Build emotional muscle: Tell yourself that you can bear any emotion and practice doing so. You will find that the emotional muscle you build is amazingly strong and enduring.

 

References and recommended readings

Koenig KR. Nice Girls Finish Fat: Put Yourself First and Change Your Eating Forever.New York,NY: Fireside/Simon and Schuster; 2009.

Koenig KR. The Food and Feelings Workbook: A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health.Carlsbad,CA: Gürze Books; 2007.

Koenig KR. The Rules of “Normal” Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between!Carlsbad,CA: Gürze Books; 2005.

Koenig KR. What Every Therapist Needs to Know About Treating Eating and Weight Issues.New York,NY: WW Norton and Co; 2008.

Contributed by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, MEd

 

 

 

 

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