Tag Archive | Recovery

12 Tips For the Holiday

thanksgiving

 

This post was originally written several years ago, but it is worth repeating at the onset of each and every holiday season. 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.”
  1. Don’t try to please everyone else at your own expense. You are the one who matters most.
  1. Do your best with the food. Remember, it’s only one meal in one day of the entire year.
  1. Try not to alter your entire day in anticipation of a difficult meal. Be as consistent as you can before, and after the festivities.
  1. Once the day is over, try not to let “thought hangovers” carry into the next day. Once the day is over, it’s over.
  1. 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.”
  1. Find a “safe” person who you can go to or sit with if you get anxious. Text or call people for additional emotional support.
  1. 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.
  1. Don’t internalize others’ words or opinions about you. Put up an imaginary shield to protect you from getting hurt.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Remind yourself often throughout the day about what your strengths are, and the things you are grateful for.

 

 

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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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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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Well-Intentioned Mothers and Fathers

Several conversations I have had lately with mothers prompted me to write this post regarding parenting around food. There is an extensive amount of controversy over how to handle food and weight with children. The following opinions are based on the extensive experience I have had with parents, children, adolescents, and older teens. Since I am a nutrition therapist specializing in eating disorders, I see those individuals who have had a multitude of negative experiences around the issues of food and weight.

I’ll begin by recounting a story from the first mom I spoke with this past week. Her 13 year old daughter, “Abby”, came to her and said she was unhappy with her weight and wanted to lose a few pounds. Abby would be described as a normal weight girl by “normal” standards, but as a slightly overweight girl by the media’s unrealistic standards. Her mother said she approved of Abby’s plan to lose weight and would help Abby accomplish her goals. She told Abby to write down everything she ate so Abby could assess her portions sizes, and also recommended that she cut out “junk food”. This all seems innocent enough…except for a couple problems.

  1. Abby is 13 years old, which is right in the middle of growth and development. During growth and development, a girl’s body often gets a little larger prior to a growth period. It also gets larger prior to the onset of menstruation. This is normal and should not be interrupted.
  2. Abby is influenced by an array of negative, misguided and often inaccurate influences such as dieting peers, magazines and other forms of media that present a constant unrealistic source for body and weight comparison and dissatisfaction, and a constant barrage of internet sources that tout all types of unhealthy forms of dieting.  All these sources of misinformation may cause Abby to take her innocent diet too far or in a direction that could be harmful.
  3. Abby is not going to be under the supervision of a qualified nutrition professional that can help her through the process, therefore all her decisions will be made by herself and as a result of all the “outside influences”. This is a breeding ground for arbitrary, unhealthy rule-making.
  4. Dieting at any age is the number one behavior that leads to an eating disorder. Dieting at age 13 is tremendously risky.

The second mother I encountered this past week did some research on a particular method of eating that has been shown to have value in certain populations such as those with learning and developmental disabilities such as autism-spectrum disorders. As far as I know (I do not have all the information regarding her children), none of her four children have any type of learning or developmental issue. The reason I tell this story is because I have encountered many mothers who change their children’s diets drastically for one “good” reason or another and many (not all) children react in a very negative, adaptive way.   This mother restricted all breads and other wheat products, as well as all other grains from her children’s diets. I reiterate that I am not writing this post to discuss the pros and cons of any type of eating plan, just to illustrate the effect on children of drastic eating changes. These children frequently come over to my house to visit, and the family dines with ours a couple times a month.  The mother made me aware of the changes she was making to her children’s diet so I prepared meals that included a number of options that they were permitted by their mother to eat. I also included grains and breads for my family to eat, if they desired. On every single occasion the children have been at my house, they have “snuck” some type of bread or other grain while their mother wasn’t looking. I hadn’t been paying much attention at first, but my children pointed it out to me because they were worried the other children would get reprimanded by their mother and wanted to let me know that they were not encouraging nor discouraging the other children to eat any of the “forbidden” foods. They would sneak bread at meal time and would “raid” the cabinets for cookies and other snack foods. Whenever my children would notice, the other children would say “shhhh…don’t tell my mom.”

This mother’s intentions are to help her children but unknowingly, she is helping create a disordered relationship between her children and food. It would be my assumption that they are “sneaking” food in other places as well as my house. They may be feeling deprived of the foods they are not permitted to have in their home. The mother thinks her children are eating in one way when in fact they are eating in another.

I see another phenomenon over and over in my practice. Parents call me to tell me that their child is sneaking food. They find wrappers and all sorts of food paraphernalia hidden in couch cushions, dresser drawers, backpacks, garbage cans, etc. Their solution is to make the food environment even more restrictive, their child becomes even more creative in finding ways to get food, and the disordered relationship between the child and food worsens. If the child has the tendency to appear to the parents as “overweight”, the parents often become overly restrictive with food, reprimand the child for eating “too much”, criticize the child for his/her weight, and create unfair food rules for the child that the other children in the family don’t have to follow (if they are perceived to be of normal weight). An enormous amount of energy is spent by the parents trying to “control” the child’s eating, creating a stressful environment for all, especially for the child. The child ends up feeling deprived and becomes obsessed with food leading to a non-intuitive dysregulated relationship with food.

A (well intentioned) dad once said to me that he was demanding  his 9 year old daughter spend at least 45 minutes on the treadmill each day because she was developing a “stomach”. He was so concerned that she would become an overweight teen and then an overweight adult. He insisted that if he didn’t “help” her, she would be bullied and have no friends.   I met this little girl. She looked like a beautiful 9 year old girl. She had a little roundness to her stomach, as many little pre-pubescent girls do. There was nothing noteworthy about her appearance. I later found out that the dad had been bullied as a child and became an avid exerciser to cope with his negative experiences.  I expressed my concerns to the dad. I explained to him that it was my opinion that his daughter was just fine and did not need to be on the treadmill  to “get rid of her stomach”. I explained that she was perfectly normal. She was probably going to get a little wider before she grew taller and experienced puberty. If allowed to eat a wide variety of foods and experience movement in a way that she enjoyed, she would not be doomed to a life of being bullied and having no friends. She would hopefully develop a healthy relationship with herself and food and he would be better off supporting her in all ways, instead of worrying excessively about her physical appearance.

A dad came to see me to discuss his picky eater. This dad was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. He had numerous degrees and was very well respected among his peers. He said his daughter ate only a few foods and he was desperate to improve her variety of choices and help her develop a more “sophisticated palate”. I asked him what methods he had already tried to help his daughter. He had only tried two…force feeding and bribery. For every new food she tried and liked, he would give her money. If she tried it and didn’t like it, she’d get no money. If she didn’t try it, she’d get no money. If it was put in front of her and she didn’t want to try it, he would force her to eat a bite by actually forcing it in her mouth. My first thought was “Oh my goodness. This poor child is in a bad situation.” My second thought was “Intelligence sure doesn’t equate to good parenting with food.” He was shocked that I disagreed with his methods.  I gave him some helpful suggestions, mostly regarding giving his daughter the power to make her own choices, not making them for her. I also told him not to pressure her in any way. She would not develop a “sophisticated palate” via any of his methods. The only things that these methods would create would be disordered feelings about food, and food aversions. I informed him that the worst thing that might happen if he gave her more freedom and less pressure would be that she would continue to be a picky eater. I also suggested that he invest some of the “bribe money” in a good full-spectrum multivitamin for her so that she wouldn’t develop any vitamin/mineral deficiencies.

None of these parents are bad people. They clearly love their children and want them to be healthy and happy. They are possibly misguided or ill-advised. Perhaps their own issues have clouded their judgment regarding parenting around food.

It is always important, as a parent, to put extensive thought into the actions you take regarding your children’s diet. Bear in mind that a child’s perception is his/her reality. If the child feels deprived or hungry, he/she will take strong measures to meet his/her needs.  If a child is receiving negative or mixed messages at home and in his/her outside environment, he/she may not have the skills to decipher between what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Messages may be internalized and create distorted thoughts and feelings about his/herself.

Force feeding creates long term food aversions. Deprivation creates powerful cravings and rebound overeating.  Try to remove your own food/weight issues from the decisions you impose upon your children. If you are on any type of diet, be careful how you speak about food around your children. Be especially careful about the language you use about your own body and the bodies of others. I treated a 5 year old girl once who was convinced that her thighs were fat because she heard her mother repeatedly say that her thighs were fat. If you are constantly popping on the bathroom scale and commenting negatively about your weight, you are teaching your child that it is normal to base his/her self-worth on the number on the scale.

A great resource for parents is http://www.ellynsatter.com/. Ellyn Satter is a pioneer in the topic of parenting with food. She has written several books that are very informative and helpful. On her website are informative handouts for all types of issues around parenting with food.

Ultimately, when parents lay the groundwork  for their children’s  relationship with food and relationship with themselves, they need to use extreme caution, insight and sensitivity.

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Vacations

When you go on vacation, wouldn’t it be nice to take a vacation from your eating disorder instead of having your eating disorder travel with you?

I’m sure some of you are not even able to go on a vacation because it so stressful that is sets back your recovery. I wanted to write this post because so many people will be embarking on vacations over the next couple weeks due to the spring break from schools. Also, summer is on its way and people often take vacations in the summer. This post is designed to provide you and your loved ones with insight into the challenges faced on vacations and strategies for working through them.

I recently got back from a vacation and realized how nice it was to not have my eating disorder tagging along. In the past, it would involve itself in every move I made, ruining the trip to the point where I was desperate to be back in the safety of my routine, the sameness, the disordered prison I called “home”.

Why is going away so challenging when you have an eating disorder?

No matter what type of disorder you struggle with, there are issues that you face that non-disordered people simply don’t worry about.

The following are some quotes from some of my clients regarding their challenging experiences on recent vacations, due to their eating disorders.

“I don’t remember anything fun about my family vacation. The months prior to the trip, I spent endless hours trying to buy clothes that fit and wouldn’t make me feel enormous. All this clothes shopping made me obsess even more about my body and reinforced to me how abnormal I feel. As the trip got closer, I pulled out all the stops and used every disordered behavior in my arsenal, somehow thinking this would make me feel better before I got there. So, by the time the day arrived when we left, I felt horrible, washed out and more obsessed than ever.

All I remember about the resort was scoping out every single bathroom there that I could escape to in order to use my behaviors. I spent the entire trip pretending to be normal and eating normally. Then when no one was looking, I would bolt to the least conspicuous bathroom. I was exhausted, bloated and depressed. I snapped at my kids and my husband because I couldn’t enjoy all the fun events we were partaking in.”

_____________

“I show up at a tropical resort after weeks or possibly months of anticipation. I’ve probably spent those weeks or months dieting and exercising because I need to look semi-acceptable in ‘resort-clothing’. Chances are that I have failed to lose any weight, so that weighs heavily on me causing me to be cranky.  Part of me says, ‘It’s not over. Try again.’ So, I decide to eat only one meal while I’m there. In fact, I even select cocktails that aren’t high in calories.

The attractive, thin, people around me make me self-conscious.  I feel awkward when I have to talk to them because I think they think, ‘She’s way too fat to be here.’ I decline when they out of pure politeness invite me to 8am yoga.

I try to make healthy food choices, but it’s hard because I am limited to what it available.  Depending on where I am, there may be a plethora of food, but the quality or the preparation may be bad, so I end up feeling unsatisfied, causing me to eat excess Carbs.  (Lots of Carbs at resorts!)  If the quality is great, then I probably indulge and feel guilty after.

Needless to say, at some point in my vacation, I snap and become super-bitch.   After I snap, I hate myself for starting a petty argument and that blows up to hating myself for EVERYTHING bad that I am and have including my body.”

_____________

“My family looks forward to this family reunion on a cruise every year. We all go away for a week where all there is to do is eat, eat, eat. For the months prior to the cruise, I agonize over wearing a bathing suit. I feel so awkward showing my body but I know it would be weird to not wear one. I find myself body checking more and more the closer the trip approaches. I strategize for weeks about how I will handle all the food. I devise a great plan to eat only three small meals, lots of fruit and vegetables, walk around the deck for exercise and drink alcohol minimally.

I am with extended family all the time. There’s no escaping them. The drinks are pouring. They are all feasting at every chance they can get. They stay up till all hours of the night at the clubs drinking and then binge at the midnight buffet.

I usually last about two days with my plan of restricting myself till on about the third day, I can’t take it anymore and a switch is flipped. I go wild. I begin eating like a crazy person. I gorge myself at every chance I get. I spend the next 5 days bingeing and purging over and over and over…usually at least 4 or more times a day. I keep trying to get myself back on track but I don’t have the energy to do it. I just resign myself to being disordered for the rest of the trip.

My personality changes too. I drink and become a ‘party animal’, so everyone thinks I am having a ball. Little do they know I am screaming at myself behind the scenes.”

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“We usually go on a big trip, often to Europe, in the summer. Last year it was to Italy and France. The thought of going somewhere this summer sends chills up my spine. I have such a hard time breaking out of my routine of safe foods and my exercise plan. Everyone tells me that I will do a lot of walking on my trip but it doesn’t feel the same. I end up with strong urges to compensate for the lack of regular exercise. I also have a really hard time eating in restaurants and when we go away, we eat all our meals out. I just get so scared about all the changes and things I can’t control, I do terribly while we are away.

My family ends up getting furious with me because I can’t enjoy the food like they do. I end up ruining all the meals because I always let them down by ordering the safest food on the menu. My parents get in arguments over my eating and then their trip is terrible. I feel like a burden.

When we get back from our trip, my parents get even angrier with me because my weight will be affected and then they are scrambling to get me to eat more to get back on track. It’s a disaster all around.”

_____________

Well…these four stories of vacations are all too real for those who struggle with these illnesses. So, what do you do? How can you go on vacation and keep your eating disorder from ruining it?

First, you need to understand that you have a psychological illness that has been used as a coping mechanism and it doesn’t just vanish because you decide to go away. (Wouldn’t that be nice if it did???) Depending where you are in your recovery, a vacation can be a positive experience or a negative one.

I have treated many clients who have had fabulous vacations, ones when their eating disorders haven’t ruined the trip for them. Those clients were either fairly far along in recovery and/or strategized for the trip so that they felt as comfortable as possible.

Some strategies for your vacation:

  • Accommodate the Time Difference: First, if you are going to fly, plan for your flight and the times changes if there are any. Often, when you are gaining time or getting up extra early, there may be some challenges with figuring out your meals. In my opinion, if you are awake for extra hours, you will need to have an additional meal or snack to accommodate the extra time. Plan for this “extra” and have something comfortable to add in for the day.

 

  • Bring Food:  If you are flying, bring food with you on the plane. You can either buy things at most any airport, or take food from home. Think about in what time frames you will be flying and what meals and/or snacks you would be consuming if you were home…if you weren’t flying. I have been to numerous airports and I have found the packaged foods to be quite universal. I usually bring protein bars, nuts, and dried fruits for snacks. Depending on what time my flight is, I will perhaps buy a sandwich or a salad at the airport if my flight will be during a meal time. I always buy a beverage after I go through the security gate so that I have a drink on the plane. If you are lucky, you might be offered something on the plane, but lately, you have to buy the food. Plus, plane food often sucks. Always be prepared. You never want to be left with no food choices while traveling. Always pack food in your suitcase. Plan to bring enough snacks for every day you will be gone, at every snack time. Worst case scenario, you can bring them home with you. I look at food as important as medicine, and you would never forget to take your medicine on a trip. If you have favorite foods (obviously they cannot be perishable if you are flying), bring them – cereal, peanut butter, crackers, bars, nuts, etc. 
     
    If you are going to a destination and staying in a house or condo, hopefully you will have access to a grocery store once you get there and you might want to go to the store within a short period of time after you arrive so you have all the food you need. You will most likely have some meals in the house/condo which will provide you with structure and familiarity.If you are traveling somewhere by car, bring food as well. The good thing about traveling in a car is that you can bring perishable food with you like yogurt, cheese, sandwiches, etc. If you like to make stops periodically to get food along the way, you will have a choice of either getting something at the restaurant or “rest stop” or eat what you have brought with you. This would be a good time to challenge yourself if the restaurant or ”rest stop” has comfortable food. Most restaurants have a variety of options for a variety of needs. Get as much information about where you will be stopping before you stop so that you have a good game plan.

 

  • Add Structure to Your Meals:  You may need to be flexible if traveling with several people because everyone’s needs will vary, but try to get as much structure in your meals as possible on travel days as well as on vacation days. When you know where you will be going, make a “healthy” mental game plan for your meals and snacks. The last thing you want to do is plan to use behaviors while you are away. That will certainly ruin your trip.  Try to make sure your plan is to eat as recovery-focused, comfortable, and satisfying as possible. Planning to restrict, binge or purge will put your eating disorder in charge from the start and you will not enjoy yourself.

 

  • Try to Avoid Catastrophizing Things:  No matter how long or short your trip is, don’t let the time you are away overshadow the work you have done the other days, weeks and months of the year. Remember, it’s a vacation – a reprieve from the stresses of life.

 

  • Try Not to Compare Yourself to Other People:  You don’t want to ruin your trip by making comparisons that will only serve to make your eating disorder stronger. If you are feeling awkward, remember that people don’t really care what you are doing. They are more interested in what they are doing. On my recent vacation, we were on the beach every day. It was so freeing to just enjoy the sun and the water without feeling the awkwardness that my eating disorder used to inflict upon me. There was the momentary discomfort of walking across the beach into the water but the water felt so good and I am sure no one cared what I wore or what I looked like. Even if they did, I didn’t know any of them and I will never see any of them again.

 

  • Keep Your Food Expectations Realistic:   No matter what eating disorder you struggle with, the food will NOT be the same as it is at home. It most likely will elicit some challenging thoughts and feelings. Your eating won’t be perfect. It’s not supposed to be. This goes back to what I said previously. Go into the trip with a “healthy” positive, recovery-focused game plan and expect that you can’t control everything. On my vacation, the food was not that good. I was in an all-inclusive resort. Frankly, the food was disappointing. But, I ate what I liked, felt excited about a few things and was disappointed by a number of things. The food is a big part of what I look forward to on a trip, but although I was a little disappointed overall, I tried to maintain perspective and for me, perspective is key! If I look too much toward the food as the “make or break” aspect of the trip, I am often let down.

 

  • Get Support:  If you are traveling with family or other people, find someone who will support you when things are difficult. Maybe this will be a parent, friend, sibling, or significant other. Reach out and speak up about what your worries are. They may not “get” it but they can help support you through a rough patch, it can help prevent a disastrous trip.

 

  • Change Your Movement Expectations:  If you worry about movement during your trip, remember, once again, you are on vacation. Things will most likely not be the same as they are at home. Try to change your expectations about movement. If you follow an exercise routine at home and you won’t be able to do the same routine while you are away, use the trip as a time to practice flexibility in your routine. Please try not to catastrophize the change. Change is often very challenging for some people with eating disorders. Sameness is so safe, but once again, try to keep your expectations realistic. I find vacations to be a good opportunity to recharge myself, not to put pressure on myself to do everything the same.  The more pressure you put on yourself about all the things you “should” do on vacation, the more “guilt” your eating disorder will make you feel.

 

  • Stay OUT of Your Head!!! If you start going into eating disorder mode, press your mental “reset” button and try to challenge any negative thoughts and behaviors before they take over.

Remember, there are 365 days a year and your vacation is a small period of time within that year. Try to make the most of it. Try NOT to let your eating disorder and all the associated obsessions and compulsions ruin what could be a fun-filled break from the stressors you experience during the rest of the year.

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Adult Women: You are Not Alone!

When I first started treating people with eating disorders, the average aged client was between 17 and the mid-twenties. Now, I am seeing eating disordered clients as young as 5 years old and as old as in their 70s.

The focus of today’s post will be the “over 35” population. I will spotlight the issues that women face.

 

In my experience, adult women who struggle with eating disorders have struggled with some form of food issues, disordered eating, or eating disorder for a long time. Many times women can trace their struggle back to early childhood. Often they have either lived under the radar, never thought they had a “real problem”, or didn’t want to work on their issues. Then there comes a time in a woman’s life when there is a “perfect storm” of conditions and stressors that manifest into full blown eating disorder symptoms and cause her to seek treatment.

Let’s start with the obvious stressor that we all face; a society obsessed with youth, dieting, and thinness. Although an eating disorder is not about food, dieting, and weight per se, food, dieting, and weight are an integral part of the problem as well as the recovery process. As a woman ages, there are natural and inevitable changes that she experiences. Also, as a result of bearing children, the body experiences changes. In a world obsessed with having the “perfect” body, if an adult woman compulsively attempts to achieve the “perfect” body and uses young airbrushed teenagers as her frame of reference, she will always feel inadequate. Women also play “the comparison game”. It goes like this:

She’s smaller than I am. She’s on XXX diet. She looks happy. She must really have her act together. I bet she has no problems. I’m sure she can go into any store she wants and buy anything she wants and looks fabulous in it. I’ll never look like her. I need to lose weight. I can’t even shop for anything because nothing looks good on me.  I am disgusting. I am so unhappy. Tomorrow, I will not eat any XXX food. Tomorrow I will start being “good”. Yes…tomorrow I will start on the road to happiness. So, today I will eat whatever I want.

The natural changes a woman faces in her body, the comparisons and competitiveness, and the constant barrage of diet and weight loss talk contribute to an ingrained mindset of negativity and lack of self worth. Logically, we all hopefully know that our weight and clothing size do not create our self worth, but our society drills that very concept into our consciousness. It’s hard to escape. So, over the course of a lifetime, many women spend countless hours manipulating their food choices and intake in search of the elusive “perfect” body. Her eating and thinking become increasingly disordered.

Our ability to assess and validate our needs and to communicate them effectively is another stressor that adult women face each day. When a woman has a family for example, it is common for her to put the needs of the family in front of her own. If she has never been “good” at taking care of her emotional needs, she may fall further behind in this area once she has children. Putting herself first is not at all easy, and sometimes by default, she completely neglects her own needs and cannot communicate them effectively. The eating disorder becomes an adaptive form of “self care”. She can take care of everyone else at “take care” of herself simultaneously, without asking anyone for anything. Think of it as “maladaptive multitasking”. This can sometimes take on the form of bingeing at the end of the day or when the kids are at school, eating the kids’ leftovers, restricting, compulsively overexercising etc.

Changing roles within the family as well as outside the family and experiencing loss, can add to the “perfect storm” of stressors. Going from being a single woman to a married one, having the responsibility of a young family or struggling to have children, having an empty nest, watching aging parents deteriorate, experiencing death of a loved one or divorce, living an adult single life, are all extremely life altering events and necessitate big adjustments. They can potentially evoke tremendous anxiety and depression. An eating disorder can become a maladaptive “distraction” from these life altering situations as well as a self-soother, a way to reduce anxiety.

The lack of development of a healthy identity and passion for something (other than her body) is a huge trigger for the development of an eating disorder as an adult woman. Many adult women I see have very little idea of what they truly like and who they truly are. I often ask my clients: “Outside of your family (or your job), what do you like to do? What makes you happy? What are you passionate about?” Very rarely do they have the answer to this. They have often spent so much of their energy devoted to others that they haven’t thought about what they like separate from the interests and needs of their family or work. Therefore, to fill the void, the eating disorder develops as an alternate identity, a distraction from seeking passion, or a way to feel unique.

Women who had suffered various psychological and physical traumas or neglect when they were young, but didn’t have the opportunity to address them with a trusted safe professional, or who additionally suffer from trauma as an adult, may develop an eating disorder to suppress, numb out or cope with the myriad of feelings she may experience and choices she may face.

There are numerous other triggers that, in combination with fragile self esteem, anxiety and/or depression, genetic predisposition, personality type, society’s obsession with appearance and youth etc, provide a toxic recipe for an eating disorder.

The good news is that treatment is available for all those who suffer and adult women who are willing to do the necessary work can make a full and complete recovery. If you are an adult woman and are suffering, or can offer words of hope and encouragement for other women, please comment below. I want all women who suffer to know that they are not alone and that they can get better!

 

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Stuck and Powerless

How many times have you felt stuck in your recovery or in other areas of your life? Have you ever felt powerless against your eating disorder or powerless in areas of your life making you want your eating disorder even more?

These two states of being are extremely powerful forces in one’s recovery, and in life as a whole. You can either allow them to debilitate you, or help move you to a better place.

In the past month or so, I have felt these two states of being particularly powerfully, not in my eating disorder recovery because I have achieved a recovery that is sacred and won’t be damaged by these states of being, but in several areas of life. It made me think of how difficult life is for my clients when they feel “stuck” and/or “powerless” and how often we experience this in life, and in recovery. Feeling stuck and powerless also forced me to make some decisions. The first decision I had to make was based on one question? “Do I FEEL stuck and powerless, or AM I actually stuck and powerless?” The first part of the question indicates that the way that I feel doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. The other reflects a different scenario entirely. In either case, something needed to be addressed. Through my process, I was much more clearly able to see my clients’ difficulties and thus hopefully enable me to help them more effectively.

Three clients come to mind when I think of being “stuck and powerless”. One is stuck in a few areas of life and therefore feels somewhat powerless. The second is stuck at a place in recovery, is tempted to not push to go further, and is having urges to go back to using eating disordered behaviors to “feel” more “powerful”.  The third feels powerless in her life, and historically turns to eating disordered behaviors to distract herself from the issues in life and when she feels badly about herself, thus perpetuating the feelings of powerlessness.  All three feel a bit defeated, and I can understand why.

Mirriam Webster defines powerless as:

1. Devoid of strength or resources

2. Lacking the authority or capacity to act

Stuck means “firmly positioned in place and difficult to dislodge”. Related words are: bonded, cemented, glued, anchored, clamped, embedded, entrenched, impacted, implanted, attached, bound, fastened, secured, immovable, unyielding.

No wonder these two states of being are difficult to manage.

If you are experiencing these issues, first stop to think and reflect on the first definition of powerless. Are you truly devoid of strength or resources?  Do you completely lack the authority or capacity to act?

Often individuals feel a sense of powerlessness as a result of events of the past. Many individuals learned early on that speaking up for what they needed would be met with negative consequences. This learned helplessness or powerlessness is often perpetuated through adulthood, even when the events are in the past.

You may often think you have no strength left, and your resources aren’t plentiful, BUT dig deeper than you ever have before and look for even the teeniest bit of strength to help you through. It is in there. It may be hidden, but it is inside you and you can find it. You also may need to look even harder for resources and “safe” people. They are out there in all sorts of places – in friends, acquaintances, organizations, religious and other spiritual leaders, therapists, teachers, family members, online resources. If you feel you have exhausted all your resources, begin a new search. Remember also, that YOU are your biggest resource. If you think you lack the capacity to act, reflect on the reasons you think that way. Are you basing your reasons on your past experiences or cognitive distortions (distortions of truth), or are you basing them on facts. Ask someone you trust to help you. Maybe you are unable to “see” ways you can act because you are deeply entrenched in the negative feelings that you have lost healthy perspective. Maybe you cannot act now, because of certain circumstances that are beyond your control, but perhaps you can come up with a plan to act within a certain time frame.  You need to continue to search and search for ways to improve your situation.

 

During the times when you are “stuck” at a place in recovery or in life – firmly positioned in place, embedded or entrenched, try to imagine it as an opportunity.  Being stuck is a clue that perhaps you aren’t ready for the next step. What is the next step? Is it too big? Have you not prepared well enough for it? Are you scared? What is expected of you if you take that step? Is it too unfamiliar? Do you need more time? Do you need to strategize more? Are you afraid of you take that step, there’s no turning back? Are you afraid to trust the process and take the leap of faith? Do you not have the confidence that you will be successful? Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that are coming up, the powerful thoughts and feelings as well as the subtle ones. Also pay attention to your eating disordered thoughts. When we are stuck, we often revert back to wanting our eating disordered behaviors as a distraction or to sabotage our progress. In my opinion, being stuck is progress in itself, if you use it wisely.

Below are a few quotes that I thought might help you get “unstuck” and reclaim your power!

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can be absolutely certain that when you feel you are being most unfairly tested, you are being prepared for great achievement. – Napoleon Hill

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart…. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. – Carl Jung

All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience. – Henry Miller

 

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Accomplishments!

When you are in the throes of your illness, is it hard for you to see and appreciate your accomplishments? Does it feel like even when you achieve a positive step toward recovery, that others want more and more from you? Does it ever seem like when you accomplish a goal toward recovery, that you have a hard time accomplishing the goal repeatedly? Do you minimize the steps you take because there are numerous others that you haven’t accomplished yet?

Hopefully this post will help you develop a new found respect for the steps of your recovery.

Remember, first and foremost, that your eating disorder didn’t develop in a day, or a month, or perhaps even a year. If you have had an eating disorder for a “short” or a “long” time, the seeds of the disorder took time to develop, infiltrate your thoughts and manifest in behaviors. I’ve never met someone with an eating disorder who couldn’t trace “issues” back to a time period that predated the actual diagnosis. An eating disorder doesn’t begin on the day you are diagnosed with it. In this regard, you need to understand that your disordered thoughts and behaviors around food, developed over time.

It is an accomplishment in itself to be able to look at the specific behaviors and thoughts you currently have and identify which ones are disordered. Because eating disorders develop over time, people who suffer often aren’t even sure what is “normal” and what is “disordered”.  Differentiating between healthy and disordered thoughts and behaviors is accomplishment #1! Congratulate yourself if you have been able to sometimes discern (not necessarily always) between healthy and disordered thoughts and behaviors. This step is also is made much more attainable with the help of a professional who can assist you in gaining perspective, and challenge the thoughts and behaviors that you may have thought were “normal”.

Any single time you are able to act opposite of what your eating disordered voice says is “right”, that is a huge accomplishment. For example, a client of mine was able to successfully improve her dinner this past week and feel the fullness that accompanied it. Her eating disordered voice told her she was out of control for eating the additional amount, but she did it anyway. She called me right after the first successful dinner, because she was so proud of herself and couldn’t wait to share the good news!

When you can take any single step toward leading a more fulfilling life, you have achieved a real accomplishment. A client of mine challenged herself to go out to a diner for breakfast with her family. She ordered something that was a “challenge food”. She overcame her fear and disordered thoughts and had a successful meal and rewarding experience with her family. She took a very important step in her recovery as she gets ready to go off to college.

Any time you can avert a single binge type experience, you have achieved a step that is enormous. This week, a client was mentally “preparing” to binge because she had “time” to engage in the behavior. She was able to slow down her thoughts enough to ask herself if the binge was what she truly wanted. She asked herself if there was a purpose for the binge that she could identify. She asked herself if there was any way she could delay the binge for a little while to give herself the chance to do something else to express what she was feeling or experiencing. She asked herself how she would feel after the binge was over. After she spent time asking and answering these questions, and taking some time to engage in a self-care activity, she was successful in averting the binge. She felt great about the accomplishment, even though she couldn’t replicate it again for a few days.

Any single time you can question yourself or challenge a thought or behavior and redirect it, you are winning the battle. An adult client had a special occasion to attend. She wanted to wear a dress that she had worn to a previous occasion. She questioned if it would fit because she hadn’t worn it in a while and wondered if it was going to be too tight. She was tempted to try it on anyway but asked herself “how am I going to feel if it is too tight? Will I beat myself up? Will I judge myself? Will it ruin my mood?” She decided she was too vulnerable and wasn’t willing to chance the thoughts and feelings that the experience would bring, so she didn’t try the dress on. Instead, she wore a beautiful blouse and pants and was able to take the focus off her body and enjoy her happy occasion.

Any single time you are able to catch yourself saying mean things to yourself related to your behaviors, and replace a mean thought with a neutral or positive thought, you are accomplishing a huge step in recovery. A client I have seen for quite a long time, consistently falls in the trap of beating herself up after she has engaged in a disordered behavior. She says things to herself that she would never say to another person, because they are cruel, unfair, and untrue. She says these things because she feels defeated, angry, and frustrated at herself for not being able to consistently avoid certain eating disordered behaviors. For the first time recently, she was willing to replace the unkind words with compassionate words (even though, at first, she didn’t believe the kind words). She began to say things to herself like “I’ll get there. I am trying really hard. I’m going to put this behind me and move past it. This behavior doesn’t make me a bad person. I am a good person with a bad illness. I’m doing the best I can.” In replacing the cruel words with words of kindness, she was able to slowly notice that her behaviors lessened a little.

Unfortunately, others in your life may not “see” your accomplishments because of their own fears, frustrations, lack of understanding, etc. They may also seem like they want more and more. Try not to let their lack of understanding, lack of compassion, or fear, discourage you. You need to appreciate and embrace the little victories!

Try not to get discouraged either, when you can’t seem to string together your little victories. New patterns of thinking and acting take time. It isn’t easy to translate new healthy insights into skills consistently at first. Skill-building takes time and persistence. Think of it like you would think of another type of skill-building. Let’s say, for example, you were planning on learning a new language, like Spanish (if you are English-speaking). You wouldn’t expect that you would be speaking conversational Spanish in a month. You would first learn how to read and write a few words. Then you might learn a few short phrases. Then, perhaps you would learn longer sentences, etc. Each word you learn is an accomplishment, but speaking conversational Spanish would take much longer.

In pursuit of achieving a full recovery, over the course of time, each of your single accomplishments will add up. Celebrate each one right now! Don’t focus too much energy on what is yet ahead of you and don’t let other people’s opinions diminish how you feel about your successes. You will succeed in putting each of your accomplishments together and you will see the big picture of recovery. Keep moving forward…one little accomplishment at a time!

 

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Is Recovery Worth It?

“Is recovery worth it?” After you have answered the following questions, you will have a better idea for yourself if recovery is worth it?

Is it worth living a life that isn’t governed by unfair negative punitive thoughts?

Is it worth fighting to eat something, without doubting each and every bite and torturing yourself with catastrophic judgments surrounding a meal?

Is it worth being able to go to an event, party, wedding without obsessing about what you are wearing, or worrying if anyone is looking at you,  or panicking about what food will be served and when it will be served?

Is it worth trying to seek a passion, hobby, or career that fulfills you and makes you want to wake up every day in anticipation of the potential good that can come from the day?

Is it worth communicating effectively, and defending your wants and needs?

Is it worth feeling all your feelings, both positive and negative because it makes your life “real”?

Is it worth placing your energy and time on things that enrich your life, instead of the investment of time that your eating disorder behaviors take up?

Is it worth being free of the physical and emotional pain that your eating disorder inflicts upon you?

Is it worth eating foods that nourish your body and satisfy your appetite instead of eating foods you have convinced yourself you like but you really hate, just because they are “safe” and you incorrectly believe that they prevent you from going out of control?

Is it worth moving your body (if that is your choice) because it makes you feel strong and flexible, instead of hurting your body by exercising because a voice in your head says you need to in order to be “worthy” for the day?

Is it worth taking the risk of exploring who you really are beneath the cloak of the illness that you call your “friend”?

Is it worth really looking at your illness as a coping mechanism that no longer serves you and turning toward healthy coping mechanisms that are as effective as they are unfamiliar?

Is it worth trying not to be perfect as perfection is unattainable, but striving to simply do your best?

Is it worth waking up each day and saying positive things to yourself to start your day?

Is it worth looking back at some point and saying “wow, I am so much happier now than I was while I was in my eating disorder”?

 

I have never, ever met someone who after having recovered, has said that recovery wasn’t worth the time and effort. Everyone has the power and strength to recover. If you want to recover or even if you think you want to recover but you aren’t positive or don’t have the tools yet, keep moving in that direction and have the faith that you will get there. Step #1 is to make sure you strive for positive thoughts and shut down the negative ones. The positive ones are your foundation…the stepping stones on your personal path to recovery.

 

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What Does Recovery Look Like?

The second in the series of three questions I am asked the most is:

“What does recovery look like?”

Answer: Wow! I have changed my answer to this question over the years. In my opinion, recovery is a highly personal “picture”. Recovery to one person will look differently than to another. I’d love your answers, in addition to my own!

In my opinion, recovery doesn’t mean being a perfect eater. Recovery doesn’t mean having a preconceived body size. Recovery doesn’t mean eating to be a certain weight or size.

Recovery means consistently not using food behaviors to cope and communicate your needs and desires, because you have developed more effective healthy ways to cope and express yourself.

Recovery means never dieting.  That’s right! You can never diet again. This is such a challenging area for many people. So very often, clients say to me “Normal people diet. Normal people manipulate their bodies. Normal people overexercise. Normal people use diet pills. How come they can do these things and I can’t?”

“Normal” people don’t have a mental illness where any or all of these behaviors are symptoms of the illness, and when engaging in these behaviors are expressing symptoms of the illness and thus making it worse.

It is not “normal” to do any of those things. Just because something is common, doesn’t mean it is “normal” and it definitely doesn’t make it good or right or healthy or something to aspire to. In my opinion, recovery means not restricting, bingeing and purging, using other substances (diet pills etc), compulsive exercise behaviors, or any type of harmful behavior (even “mildly”).

Once you have an eating disorder, you are VULNERABLE to all things that “normal” people engage in related to food/exercise. That isn’t your fault. It is simply a side effect of having an eating disorder.

Even when you are in a healthy place in your recovery, certain behaviors will still put you at risk. Dieting, for example, is the number one behavior that triggers eating disordered thoughts and can be a catalyst sending you right back into your illness. So you can never diet again…ever. Recovery means redefining “normal”.

How does exercise fit into recovery? Again, remember that you are vulnerable. Exercise (even if it has never been a part of your illness) can be tricky. Everyone knows that movement is good for people. When you have a history of an eating disorder, you have to be attentive to the purpose behind the desire to exercise. If you are healthy and you exercise, you have to be cautious that the purpose doesn’t switch from being healthy to “feeding” your illness. Be honest with yourself and set healthy goals for your exercise. Make sure it doesn’t take on a level of importance where it becomes a “job” or a “behavior”.

Recovery means having a peaceful relationship with food. Food is an essential part of life, but when you are in recovery, food doesn’t occupy all your thoughts. In recovery, you think about food in a neutral or positive way. You don’t have strict black and white rules regarding food, unless medically necessary.

Recovery doesn’t mean having a perfectly happy existence. But, your worst day well will still be better than your best day sick because you won’t be sick and your life will be REAL. Life has ups and downs. Life is difficult at times and joyous at times. Your eating disorder just makes life more difficult on every level, in every way. So, without it, your life ultimately will be less difficult. You will also feel all your feelings – the positive ones and the negative ones. Your feelings are essential, and feeling themwon’t kill you!

Think of all the things you cannot do because of your illness. You will have the opportunity to do any of these things, if you choose, when you are in recovery.  It is freedom.

Recovery means practicing different forms of regular, consistent self-care. Everyone has different ideas of how they can practice this. For some, self care involves having hobbies like reading, blogging, knitting, or doing crossword puzzles. Others like to have creative outlets like singing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or other art forms. Some like listening to inspirational music every day. Whatever you consider self-care, you need to do it regularly.

Recovery is whatever you want it to be. It’s your life. Define it. You only get one life, make it the best one it can be! It’s worth going for!!!

 

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Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Have you ever been feeling pretty good in recovery, feeling like you are getting more comfortable with yourself and with your eating, when you ask yourself  “should I or shouldn’t I try on that skirt I wore last year?” or “should I or shouldn’t I get on the scale?”

Should you or shouldn’t you?

You have to ask yourself a couple other questions first.

“Will I be ok with whatever the outcome is?”

“If this skirt doesn’t fit, will I be triggered, feel bad about myself and then be tempted to use eating disordered behaviors to make me feel better?”

“If the skirt does fit, will I be triggered to want to ‘step-up’ my eating disordered behaviors to make it feel even ‘better’?”

“If the number on the scale is up, am I strong enough to let it go and not have it influence the rest of my day or week or will I beat myself up and catastrophize everything I have eaten in the past day, week or month?”

“If the number on the scale is down, can I simply go on with my day or will I then overthink every morsel of food I put into my mouth next so that I can keep seeing the number go down?”

“If the number is down, but it’s supposed to go up, will I give up?”

“If the number on the scale is the same, will it make me overthink everything I have eaten in the past week or month and fill me with useless self loathing?”

Give serious thought to these questions before you embark on trying on that simple article of clothing or jumping onto the bathroom scale that you have given so much power to. Remember, if that simple act could perhaps create a storm of negative feelings or obsessive thoughts, you must refrain. Recovery necessitates that you trust the recovery process and not take certain chances with behaviors that can be a catalyst for a lapse or relapse.

The way your skirt, pants, or shirt fits, or the direction the scale is headed (unless weight changes are an integral part of your recovery) cannot overshadow the emotional and behavioral work you are trying to do in your recovery. Remember, an eating disorder is not about the food or weight. It is a mental illness that manifests itself in eating symptoms and subsequent weight changes. Try to keep your focus on making healthy changes in your coping/communication skills. Continue to strive for a peaceful supportive relationship with food. If your weight is a component of your recovery, it will be monitored with the help from a professional. In that way, you will be able to process it appropriately and not have thrown yourself at the mercy of your eating disorder.

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Can I Recover?

Many clients have been asking me lately:

“Do you think I can fully recover?”

“What does recovery look like?”

“Is recovery worth it?”

It is normal to be asking these types of questions. In my experience treating numerous people who have been and are continuing to go through the process, these questions come up often.

So, I’d like to answer them to the best of my ability in three separate posts. The answers are my professional opinions, based on my experiences.

Question one: Do you think I can recover?

Answer: I wouldn’t be working in the field of eating disorders if I didn’t think it was possible for everyone who has these illnesses to recover. But, what many people don’t often realize is that recovery takes an enormous amount of fortitude, time, insight, skill-building, and hope.

Fortitude during the good times is easier to attain. Fortitude when things are rough is much harder. It is during the roughest times that your fortitude will be tested, but will need to be an essential ingredient in the recovery process so that you don’t regress or relapse.

The time recovery takes varies person to person. I have never seen any individual recover in a short period of time though. You need to change your expectations if you thought recovery was going to be a “quick-fix.” Most estimates are between 4 and 7 years for the process. Some people make a quicker recovery and some take much longer.

Having insight into the origins of the illness as well as insight regarding it’s ongoing purposes is not only a gift, it is a necessity. If you know what your eating disorder’s functions are, you will be able to find better solutions for those issues.

Skill-building is the process during which you will need to practice using healthy coping mechanisms and communication skills in place of using eating disordered behavior. This new way of living is very challenging. It is uncomfortable. Resorting to comfortable eating disordered behaviors instead of healthy coping mechanisms is, in part, what causes the process to take time.

Recovery also takes support – in various ways – professional support, support groups, support of loved ones, friends, family, and peers. That doesn’t mean that you need to have full disclosure to everyone in your life, but seeking support in various ways from others is key.  Financially speaking, seeking the right type of professional support can be challenging, sometimes impossible. There are services that are free (some support groups and other group meetings). Finances may necessitate you being more creative in the types of support you can receive. There are also organizations like NEDA that have mentoring programs and group support via the internet. Project Heal offers treatment scholarships for people through an application process.

Resources are available. Support is available.

The question I often ask my clients when they ask me if they can recover is “Do you think you can recover? I believe in you, but you have to believe in you!” Often when people are in the throes of these illnesses, they truly don’t know the answer to this question.  They are unsure, scared, and haven’t build the confidence necessary to truly know. If you don’t know the answer to the question for yourself, you need to trust that others have gotten better and with time, strength, and practice, you can too.

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Holiday Cheer

It’s that time of year again when food is the focal point of the holiday and family gatherings are aplenty.  How will you manage the holiday season this year?  Better yet, will you be able to come through the holiday season stronger and healthier than before?

Here are a few points to keep in mind as you join your family for holiday cheer.

  1. Holidays are NOT about the food. This is despite that fact that they seem to be just one big party.  The key word is “seem”.  You need to tap into and find the real meaning of the holiday for YOU!  It may be about vacation, relationships, spirituality, or just all around fun.  Make the real meaning of the holiday your focus and ENJOY!
  2. Holidays are a time to create memories. Make them memories you will want to look back on.  Enjoy the scene of presents piled under a sparkling tree.  Enjoy the bright lights of the menorah.  Enjoy the joyous laughter and the hugs and kisses.  Soak it in by concentrating on the creation of memories that will last a lifetime.  Oh, and take lots of pictures.
  3. Take care of yourself. Excuse yourself when conversations become triggering.  Go to the bathroom and breathe, count to ten.  Prepare a list of reasons why you don’t want to use eating disorder behaviors.  Read it.  Memorize it.
  4. Don’t try to make everyone happy. It’s impossible.  Make sure YOU are happy.  This is difficult to do when you are around family; especially if you are a people pleaser.  Ask yourself if you are helping others at your own expense.  Be extra careful not to make your eating disorder happy.  It’s not worth a dime!  Don’t become your eating disorder’s holiday gift.
  5. Get support! Surround yourself with people that understand and can help you when the going gets rough.  USE your support team.  They are there to help you.

And the most important point of all…HAVE FAITH IN YOURSELF!  DON’T GIVE UP!

You can and will get through this holiday season.  It’s a once a year event and no matter what happens things will go back to normal on January 2ndSo sit tight if you must, breathe if you can, and SMILE!

 

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Jellyfish and the Boat

A colleague and I were talking the other day and were trying to find an analogy for the recovery process. I’ve heard a lot of analogies but I loved her latest one!

 

Let’s say that you’ve capsized off a boat in the middle of the ocean and all you have is your life preserver to keep you afloat. You see a boat in the near distance that you know will save your life but in order to be saved, you have to swim to it. You aren’t an expert swimmer and the water is full of jellyfish. You know you can’t just stay where you are forever because you will eventually drown. The journey toward the boat for safety will be terribly uncomfortable and scary. You will have to struggle to swim amidst the jellyfish. It is the only way you will be saved. You need to muster up an enormous amount of courage, hope, faith, and stamina. Then, you need to plow through those jellyfish one stroke at a time. Eventually you will be pulled out of the water, onto the boat and be led to dry land.

 

The only things that would hold you back are fear and lack of the essential ingredients of faith, hope, stamina and courage. Recovery is the same type of process. There is fear of the unknown, insecurity about the ability to do it, and desire to stay where it is familiar, even though it is a struggle in itself.

 

What enables some people to plow through the jellyfish, and swim to safety? Sometimes it is sheer will. Sometimes it is intrinsic strength. Sometimes it is hitting rock bottom. Sometimes it is the strong desire to have a fulfilling life. Whatever it is, it can be done. You can swim through the jellyfish. You can recover. Muster up the courage, strength, hope, faith and stamina, and move toward recovery!

 

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