What Guilt Has to Do With Embracing Your Authentic Self

Source: Pexels/Thnh Phng

Source: Pexels/Thnh Phng

Has your self-help turned into self-criticism? Read this article featuring the first part of my interview with Danielle LaPorte, author of White Hot Truth.

Are You Free?

“How has your day planner changed and morphed with this revelation?” I ask, hoping she’ll send me a screenshot of her week ahead to verify the transformation.

Instead, she delivers something much sweeter, “There’s an inner-peace now, a calmness, and a feeling of spaciousness. There’s room to be myself. Room for the answers to show up. Room to change my mind. I’m no longer attached to others beliefs. Time has expanded.”

With all that talk of inner-peace—still an ever-elusive concept to me—I wanted to ensure I was getting the real deal. Knowing Danielle was raised Catholic, much like myself, and a working mother, I needed to test out her humanness; make sure she wasn’t this fully enlightened spiritual anomaly, but a legit woman like me who swirls around a shit storm of emotions on the regular. Clearly, it’s not cool to ask someone, “Are you for real? Can I trust that what you’re dishing out is reliable and authentic?” Instead, you gracefully enter a side door and ask about guilt. Why guilt? Because as women, the willingness to openly talk about what doubles us over with guilt is a litmus test for authenticity I’ve found reliable time and again.

“I noticed you mentioned the “G” word earlier, what’s your relationship like with guilt?”

There’s a pause. I notice this pattern in our brief time together. It’s not my sense she desires to give a perfect answer to prop herself up, but more a need to be precise and honest. It takes courage to pause long enough to check in with yourself to offer clarity. 

“It’s always there, but I’ve got it in check. Guilt is part of having a conscience. Guilt is part of being a loving, caring person. When you expand you’re going to bump up against other people. Someone’s feelings are going to get hurt. You’re going to erect some boundaries. It won't be easy. As you choose what’s most loving for yourself you create disharmony which may create some guilt. I feel less and less guilty about the hurt feelings that occur from making healthy choices for myself.”

I snuggled in a little more to her realness. Her truth is also mine. Guilt lives right here inside of us all AND, it doesn’t have to be a current that takes us under.

“Saying no for me is pretty clear. I don’t want to go backward. Saying yes when I mean no leads to exhaustion. There is a very basic equation when determining where to spend my time: Social media or my kid? An extra hour of sleep or a book review? Getting sick or pleasing someone else? Saying no becomes much easier when health is your priority.”

Loving her more with each #truthbomb I secretly wished we were sitting on her deck, instead of me sitting on the floor of my office, criss-cross applesauce. “Danielle, when do you feel most disconnected?”

“When I’m not being feminine. When I shift from being this juicy fluid girl, to being too harsh, abrupt, or abrasive I feel instant regret. I replay the incident over and over in my head sometimes for the next couple of days. Eventually, I let it go and endeavor not to do it again; until the next time.”

We both crack up laughing because this is white hot truth. Screwing up and then making peace with yourself is exactly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. We mess up, get out of alignment, and then, with courage we forgive ourselves, let it go, move on, and then circle around it again, because guess what, we are human and this is our work. The goal, the evolution, perhaps the revolution, is not to spin out for two days forever, maybe you cut it down to two hours, but we get back into alignment with more ease.

“I was recently talking to my shrink about this very situation and how gross it felt. She shared with me that you are becoming more yourself and you step out of that space it’s even more noticeable. You can hardly bear the lie.”

I feel her truth in my bones. My heart whispers, “Mmm. Hmm. Just like me…”

“May I Shine So that Other’s May Shine As Well.”

I asked Danielle to open our conversation with an intention. “May this conversation bear the truth of light that helps other people see their capacity to grow. May everything that comes of this be all about love and clarity. And so it is.”

You can soak up more of Danielle on her website where you’ll also find her book.

Hungry for more?

*Part 1 in this blog series can be found here.

Angie Viets, LCP is an author and clinical psychotherapist in private practice. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, and overeating. Angie is dedicated to empowering others to nurture their body, mend their relationship with food, and to embody their most authentic self. Her passion for the field was born out of her own hard-won battle with an eating disorder. She believes that full recovery is possible! Read more.

Danielle LaPorte’s White Hot Truth Soothes Self-Help Fatigue

Source: Unsplash/Annie Spratt

Source: Unsplash/Annie Spratt

Has your self-help turned into self-criticism?

The self-help struggle is real. Collectively we search for the truth, our path, and purpose from the outside in. We seek answers from psychologists, psychics, and priests without slowing and softening to the wisest guru of all: Ourselves. During my sultry conversation with Danielle LaPorte about her newly released book, White Hot Truth, she shed some light, because, as she says “it’s all about the light,” on how she became her own guru.

Danielle vividly explained the moment when she realized she was at a “jarring juncture: the conflict between sincere spiritual aspiration and the compulsion to improve.” As she opened her day planner and saw upcoming appointments with a shaman, psychotherapist, and astrologist, along with scheduled massages and yoga classes, she had a revelatory moment where she realized “all of this self-helping was becoming a bit of a burden and impinging on my ability to create with a capital C. Spirituality was becoming just another thing on my f*ing to-do list.”

Through breathy prose she broke down how she questioned her spiritual quest and transformed her to-do list, thus creating freedom and fluidity. With her lyrical lathering in full force (by the way, I highly recommend the audio version of the book; you can thank me later) I noticed my shoulders settling into their natural position, less like accessories for my ears, more gliding down my back like wings. My breath eased its way into a gentle rhythm as I physically released the anxiety of my own daunting self-help regimen.

What is this feeling overcoming me as this diva I’ve admired for years (and secretly channeled in moments of insecurity) – thanks to her rockstar books like The Desire Map and The Firestarter Sessions – reveals her process and progress (because, as she says in her Canadian accent, “everything is progress”) to me? Ah, yes, it’s relief! Relief that there’s another way. Relief that we can still be self-evolving, spiritual seekers, without stressing ourselves out on the regular. Without drowning ourselves in green juice cleanses and repeatedly clearing our chakras. We can liberate ourselves from the perpetual spiritual striving through discernment and self-love. Finally!

“It’s Not How We Seek Spiritual Growth; It’s Why We Seek It.”

Many of us, myself included, are drawn to the vast sea of self-help. Investing copious amounts of cash to feel free. We sign up for the lightworker retreat, past life regression, and some oh-so-necessary karmic healing. Yet, ultimately—I’m speaking from my own decades worth of psychotherapy, angel card readings, and psychic sessions—it wasn’t ever quite what my soul needed to truly heal. Why? Because everything I thought I could find ‘out there’ was already inside me. I’d become dependent, tethered actually, to the feedback from others that only I could best offer myself. What once was a young woman chained to an eating disorder like a dog on a leash, was now someone addicted to guidance from experts. Looking to strangers to tell me about…me. Someone who could only get quiet and still in a yoga studio. I was missing the point.

It’s painful to be lost, for sure. However, suffering is waiting for someone else to bring you home when you knew the way all along. You don’t need to wait until next Wednesday at 2 p.m., or head to an ashram to get clarity about your path, because, as Danielle says, “the best self-help is self-compassion.” Guess what, it’s free!

Self-Help or Self-Hate?

When Danielle described, in her alluringly poetic way, that underneath all of our self-helping is a whole hell of a lot of self-hatred I heard myself silently screaming, “Hell ya, sister! Preach!” I mentally scanned the thousands of self-help books I’ve purchased in an attempt to transcend whatever self-imposed trap I was caught in. Books with promising titles like, 10 Steps to Radical Self-Acceptance, left me feeling frantic as they gathered dust on my nightstand. Why do I continue to buy into the notion that a book, sermon, or healer holds the key to unlock the door to my evolution? Probably because it seemed easier.

Without question, I’m devoted to spiritual growth, healing suffering (my own and others), and tending to my psyche and soul. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these soul goals, unless, they disempower you, or require you to disown your deeply held inner wisdom. Seek the counsel of others as a conduit to connecting with your truth, not as a means to adopt others' truth about you.

Compulsive Self-Improvement     

Danielle believes, “We are driven by the compulsion to improve. We all look so healthy on the outside, but we’re really actually pretty neurotic on the inside.”

Danielle is clear that she didn’t ditch her spiritual to-do list entirely, she’s found a more useful sequencing of priorities. “Self-referencing is a lifelong journey. I meditate daily, pray, or engage in some sort of contemplation. It’s like brushing my teeth, it has to happen.” Therapy continues to be on her agenda, but it’s evident she’s no longer reliant on it to make a decision.

White Hot Truth is the permission we all need to check in with ourselves deeply, with reverence, and to listen to the wisdom of our bodies and souls. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep the yoga class if it serves you. Call the astrologist if you’re in the mood. But let’s stop the perpetual insanity of striving to perfect what was never intended to be perfect. Let’s greet ourselves—our messy, sometimes arrogant, or inconsiderate selves—with compassion, gratitude, and unabashed acceptance. We have everything we need. Already. We are wholly (or holy) enough even when we feel dreadfully inadequate. Beautiful even when we feel broken. The solution is not out there, my love, it’s right here inside. Go talk to the part of yourself that knows. Find her on the trail alongside the river. Find him in the pauses, those quiet moments in between. Sit in your own company and dwell there long enough to remember yourself. That’s the way home. Those are the moments where we hear the truth. Lean on others for support, yes, but don’t let their interpretation or analysis be your sole compass.

Get White Hot Truth!

Hungry for more?

*Part 2 in this blog series will be published on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

*I'd love to inspire you to take the next step on your path to recovered and send you my free weekly Recovery Tip videos. Please visit my website to sign up.

Angie Viets, LCP is an author and clinical psychotherapist in private practice. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, and overeating. Angie is dedicated to empowering others to nurture their body, mend their relationship with food, and to embody their most authentic self. Her passion for the field was born out of her own hard-won battle with an eating disorder. She believes that full recovery is possible! Read more.

Learning to Trust Your Body Again

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Think about the eating-related thoughts that go through your mind on any given day:
“You shouldn’t eat that, it’s too high in sugar.”  
“You can’t be hungry already, it’s not time to eat for another 2 hours.”  
“That has waaaaay too many calories in it.  You don’t deserve to eat it.”  

Notice a common theme among them?  

It’s the overall distrust of your body and your appetite. The eating disorder makes you believe that your own body is working against you and that if you listened to its signals you’d be fat, unhealthy, and completely unworthy of love. Ouch, pretty harsh, huh?

As Geneen Roth, author of multiple books on compulsive overeating, dieting and body image, has said: 

"Your body is the vehicle for your spirit and your soul. It is the piece of the universe you've been given to tend, to care, to cherish. Without it, you couldn't sense or taste or touch or feel."

Why do so many of us distrust our appetites? We’ve been taught to believe that if we ate what we wanted we’d eat ourselves into oblivion. We’ve been taught to fear food and to fear our appetite. The “war on obesity” has become a war on our bodies. Fear of becoming fat has made us afraid of food and afraid of our desire for food.

Sarah’s story (name and details changed for privacy)

Sarah is a client who I first encountered well into her recovery. She was no longer starving herself or abusing her body with purging or excessive exercise. Yet she was still plagued by food and her body. “I never feel full when I try to eat normally. It’s as if I could just keep eating and eating,” she told me. “The only time I feel full is when I’ve binged and am stuffed, and then I feel so ashamed and guilty and disgusting that I want to purge. Those urges still come up sometimes.”  

Sarah was still disconnected from her body. Sure, she was eating at regular intervals throughout the day, but it still had very little to do with her actual appetite cues. It was more of a prescribed regimen for eating. Thus, she ate pretty much the same thing every day because she knew how it would make her feel, and she trusted that it was the “right” amount for her body to maintain its current weight. Any deviation from this made her anxious and uncomfortable, which made holidays and social gatherings hard. It was also hard when she had a food craving for something out of the norm.  

The rupture of trust

How does this distrust of the body happen? Usually, it starts in childhood or adolescence. We are born with a natural trust of our appetite - babies cry when they are hungry, and stop when they’ve had enough milk. Toddlers and small children tend to do the same with food.  

We can learn a lot from children when it comes to eating. They will eat when they are hungry, and will stop when they aren’t. The amount they eat will vary from day to day - some days they eat a ton, and other days hardly at all. That’s because they are tuned into their bodies and trust their body’s signals.  

At some point, however, well-meaning adults interfere. They start trying to control and dictate the child’s eating by saying things like, “Eat your vegetables and then you can have dessert,” or, “You don’t need all that sugar, it’s bad for you.”  

Yes, the adult is trying to help the child eat a balanced diet and to be healthy, but it’s backfiring. Because the underlying, unspoken message is that the child shouldn’t trust what their body has said. The appetite cues should be ignored and suppressed. Wanting something sweet is seen as bad, and the dessert must be “earned” through the holy grail of vegetables.  

Then look at the broader culture we live in, with terms like portion control, detox, gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, sugar-free…we’re afraid of food and afraid of our appetites for it.  

Fear-based eating is taking the joy out of food. We need to stop being so afraid of things like sugar, fat and salt. Reality is, they make food taste good. AND foods with sugar, fat and salt do still make a nutritional contribution to our diet. By definition, nutrients are something that the body must have, and sugar is just a carbohydrate, which is a macronutrient along with fat, and salt is an essential micronutrient. That’s how your body sees it when the food is digested and absorbed into your blood stream.  

Rebuilding trust with our body

It’s time to love food again, and to enjoy foods that taste good. Eating is a sensory experience, from the sight to the smell to the texture to the taste of the food. We experience eating with our whole body. And the food is literally the fuel that keeps us alive. Not something to be afraid of - something to be cherished!

The wise Ellyn Satter, a fellow dietitian and eating expert, has said: 

"Go to the table hungry, pay attention while eating, and stop when you are satisfied, knowing that you can come back and eat again when you are hungry later. Eating is meant to be enjoyable."

It takes time to repair and rebuild trust with ourselves. The eating disorder is invested in you distrusting your body and will continue to try and convince you of the ways in which you can’t trust yourself.  

As your True Self gets stronger and you gather more and more attuned eating experiences, you’ll start to see “proof” that your appetite can be trusted. As for Sarah, the client I mentioned earlier, she was able to do this. It took time, patience and persistence. Every eating experience was an opportunity to take a leap of faith that her body knew what it was doing and would guide her appropriately. Sure, sometimes she made mistakes, and sometimes she questioned if she really could trust her body, but over time she was able to see that her appetite was truly calibrated to her body’s needs.  

Some tips for rebuilding trust:

  • Have regular, consistent eating times throughout the day. Your body needs to know and trust that it will get fed again in a few hours. 
  • Keep snacks on hand in case you get hungry sooner than anticipated. Your body also needs to trust that you will feed it during those unexpected times that it gets hungry.
  • Include a wide variety of foods. Keeping food interesting and varied will help your body get all of its nutritional needs met, and it will help you feel satisfied by the variety of flavors and textures of the food.
  • Eat without distractions. Pay attention to your food, like a toddler intently eating and savoring the food off her plate. Paying attention to your food will also foster paying attention to your appetite, and you’ll more readily notice when you are feeling satisfied. 
  • Treat your body with compassion. You will make mistakes with eating. It’s a fact of life. Even normal eaters do it. You’ll sometimes under eat, and sometimes overeat. Notice this sensation without judgment, and give yourself compassion for the discomfort you are experiencing. Let your body guide you on what and when to eat again. 

Process, not perfection

There’s no such thing as perfect eating, so don’t even bother trying. Disappointing for you perfectionists out there, I know! But also potentially freeing? It allows you to experiment with your eating without judgment or fear of failure. Most importantly, it allows you to experience the joy of eating again while trusting that your body will guide you.

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

Leaning Into Yourself: Abandoning Fear & Embracing Yourself

Source: Arno Smit/Unsplash

Source: Arno Smit/Unsplash

We’re all just walking each other home. - Ram Dass

We went around the room, one by one answering the question proposed by our graduate school professor in the Counseling Psychology program I’d recently been accepted into: “Once you complete your master’s and doctoral degrees, what do you intend to do?” Perpetually anxious, I hyperventilated as each member of my cohort detailed their future research plans, careers in academia, and other equally intimidating (and boring, in my opinion) pursuits.

“Angie, what about you?” Dr. Wesley asked sincerely, his head slightly tilted while he awaited the response of yet another ambitious scholar.

“Um, the truth is this is my backup plan.” Oh, God! Holy shit. Did I really just say that? “I mean, I’d like to become a therapist one day, but my real calling is to be a mother.”

Two seconds and twelve hundred heart palpitations later, he moved on awkwardly to the more sophisticated classmate to the right of me who whispered in my ear, “That was awesome!”

Graduate school was a series of humiliating moments, much like this one. Thankfully, despite my profound lack of interest in things like Multivariate Statistics, Research Methods, and Cognitive Neuroscience, I fell in love with courses like Approaches to Psychotherapy and Psychopathology, Group Dynamics, and how we develop and form attachments. In the midst of classes, papers, and presentations, I also made deeply personal and meaningful relationships with my peers, which come to find out is an essential component for healing others.

During graduate school, I got engaged, married, and had my first baby, in quick succession. While my peers wrote their dissertations, I wrote thank-you cards for wedding and baby showers. As they accepted internships, I accepted—for the first time since childhood—my body and its majestic ability to heal itself and expand to meet the needs of a growing baby. I rooted myself in therapeutic techniques and theories, yet more importantly, I found I was most grounded by my inherent gift to nurture and nourish my baby.

I skipped graduation to attend a trip for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Knowing I accomplished the goal meant more than celebrating it publicly, for this accomplishment was much bigger than most people realized. Applying and getting accepted into graduate school was my first giant leap toward recovery.

Despite my insecurity about not being smart enough to get into graduate school, my fear of starting something new and then quitting it when it got overwhelming, all the while hiding out in my illness feeling like a complete fraud as I once had, proved to be an outdated narrative. I flipped the script. I rewrote the story. I discovered I was far more capable than I ever gave myself credit for.

I recovered myself in graduate school. I recovered from an eating disorder, and I recovered to my future passion for helping others heal. There was no hospital or outpatient treatment team (although that would have been ideal). There was the enormity, and often illusory outline, of a dream of living a life beyond the fragmented abyss of an eating disorder. Even when I felt unworthy, I walked towards it. Even when I felt discouraged and defeated, I took another step. I showed up, over and over, for myself. But let me be the first to say, I was a hot mess. I was all over the place and nowhere. I was oozing out and hollow. Uncomfortable and convinced I had to keep going. It wasn’t graceful or glamorous, it was mostly gut-wrenching until it wasn’t anymore. It certainly was not perfect, but somewhere inside I knew I was reclaiming my one true self.

Something shifted later that year, however. The wedding gifts and the framed degree went unnoticed as the incessant demands of mothering ensued. My gratitude for my body’s ability to heal from an eating disorder, to grow a precious little soul, and capacity to deliver that soul into the world became overshadowed with loneliness.

Day after day my husband would leave and go out into the world where there were people, actual people that he talked to, and much to my irritation, would sometimes even have the audacity to go out to eat with them. What?

I was increasingly aware, as I meandered through Target, that this whole motherhood thing was terribly misleading. As I sat in circles with other mom’s during “Books and Babies” at the library, I heard a voice, a loud, demanding voice that said, “Get the hell out of here!”  But where would I go? “Books and Babies” felt like my one shot at connecting with other moms. Other women that maybe, just like me, were feeling like something critical was missing.

I couldn’t figure out why my whole life I had prepared for this thing that I knew without question I was called to do was equal parts misery and magical. My deepest felt sense at the time was that something was wrong with me. Why can’t I just be content with staying at home with my baby? I felt guilty, like some invisible force field of mother’s were frowning down on me, looking at each other with disgust, “Of course, it’s still not enough for her.”

As my son, Beckett, approached eighteen months I sought out and accepted my first position as a therapist at the local mental health center. I shopped daycares like my life depended on it, and in some ways it did. I needed the comfort of knowing my sweet baby would be well cared for while I went to work.

The first several weeks of dropping him off were horrific. His little body clung to me like a rabid animal desperate and afraid. I walked out into the parking lot sobbing, as other mothers hoisted themselves into their SUV’s and reapplied lipstick. I had morbid images of extracting this agony (wherever it lived in my body) and tucking it under their back tires to end the suffering.

When I was at work, I longed to be with Beckett, but when I was at home I couldn’t wait to go back to work where I could put my clinical skills to use. But no matter if I was at work or home, I believed I was failing somehow. I needed help.

My sturdy, reliable eating disorder, my method for managing such complicated feelings, was well into remission. As though handcuffed to the steering wheel I was committed not to turn back to the now rusty behaviors, eager and anxious for me to employ them. I just couldn’t. I knew in my heart, finally, that I simply was unwilling to return to a life dictated and tethered to an eating disorder. There’s got to be another way out.

Pregnancy was the ultimate invitation to heal my body. Motherhood, however, unfolded a rich tapestry woven with opportunities to heal my past and reconnect with my soul.

Fourteen years recovered, three children in my nest, and a million hours clocked in as a therapist later, I’ve reconsidered and reshaped my beliefs about what it means to be called to a profession or a role. Each whisper from our soul is beckoning us to expand, to doubt and underestimate ourselves mercilessly so that we can then more fiercely stand by our own side empowered and emboldened with the knowing that we once again exceeded our limiting beliefs and stepped into the fullest version of ourselves.

So with graduation and Mother’s Day upon us, I’m giving you one hell of an oversimplified recipe for recovery:

  • Walk daily towards one of your soul’s callings.
  • Watch as each step you take towards your passion you shed another thin layer of your old unhealthy ways.
  • Marvel at how messy and majestic you are as you make your way.
  • Lovingly acknowledge each detour and setback as the next lesson to remind you of how strong and steadfast you are despite the distractions and discouragement.
  • Advocate for yourself like you would for a child.
  • Allow your symptoms to guide you home.

Why It's Okay to Dislike Your Dietitian in Recovery

I distinctly remember the day as a hospital dietitian that totally changed my perspective on my profession. I had received a consult for a gentleman who had suffered a heart attack and underwent open heart surgery. With my educational materials in hand, I went to his room and knocked on the door. “Come in,” he said.  

I explained, “My name is Katy and I’m one of the dietitians. I’m here to talk to you about your eating. Your doctor wanted me to go over some information with you before you go home.”  The next thing he said shocked me. “You can tell it to my wife. She does all the cooking.”  

With my poker face I said, “Ok, sure,” and went on to provide the cardiac nutrition education to his wife, hoping that the patient would overhear it and learn something himself. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t care.

In hindsight, I can now empathize with what he was going through. It must have been shocking and terrifying to suffer a heart attack, and very painful to have open heart surgery. The food on the cardiac diet at the hospital probably didn’t taste that great. He needed some time to wrap his mind around what happened, and to take a personal inventory of the changes he needed to make in his life. Then, when he was ready, he would be more appropriate for nutrition education. Hearing me preach to him in the hospital wasn’t going to be helpful.

The thing that was so shocking to me about this encounter was that I had been operating under the assumption that my patients always wanted my help. Especially after something as life-altering as a heart attack. I couldn’t understand why he had no apparent interest in hearing the information, or why he was dumping all of the responsibility for his eating on his wife.  

It was my first real insight into the psychology of working with people as a dietitian. How could it be that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say and do what I told them to do? [gasp]  

Then I started working with clients who have eating disorders and it was like a slap in the face. Talk about people who don’t want to do the things you suggest. If you’ve never stood toe-to-toe with an eating disorder, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like. The best analogy I have is to compare it to a parent telling their child no they cannot stay up late, or no you cannot touch the hot stove, or yes you need to brush your teeth - and the kid spins into a wild rage, lashing out, saying “NO!” or “I hate you!” The parent is doing these things for their child’s own good, but the child doesn’t like it. Eating disorders are much the same way. The person’s true self secretly feels safe and secure (hopefully) that their dietitian is telling them what’s best for their body, but the eating disorder doesn’t like it and will lash out.  

Things I’ve been told by clients with EDs:

  • I don’t like you.
  • F&*$ you!
  • I don’t see the point in coming to these sessions.
  • I’ve always hated dietitians.
  • I honestly don’t want to be here.
  • My parents/therapist/doctor made me come but I don’t really think I need it.
  • I already know everything about nutrition. 
  • There’s nothing you can do that will help me.
  • I don’t trust you.

On the surface, these statements may sound really offensive, and I have to admit that the conflict-avoidant and sensitive part of me always cringes a little bit, but these statements aren’t about me as a person. They are about the threat that I represent to the eating disorder. (And if it is about me not being a good personality fit for the client, that’s fine, I’m happy to get them hooked up with another RD, but this isn’t usually the case with this type of defensiveness and rage.)

The dietitian is the person on the treatment team who is asking you to disobey your eating disorder. The person who is challenging the eating disorder's lies. The person who is helping you see the ways in which the eating disorder is destroying your body. The dietitian is asking you to do the thing you are most afraid of - to eat according to what your body needs, and to cope with your emotions in alternate ways. This may mean gaining weight. It may mean letting go of the fantasy that if you just ate xyz foods and weighed X pounds then your life will somehow be better.  

I get it. It’s uncomfortable, challenging, scary, and often outright infuriating to see a dietitian.  So, it’s ok to kinda hate your dietitian. We understand and we try not to take it personally. At the end of the day, I’m not here to be your BFF. I am here to help you recover. And if I’m never making the eating disorder mad, then I’m probably not doing my job.  

What I can promise you is that I am not fragile, and I will not crumble under the wrath of your eating disorder. My office is a safe place to let out your emotions. And no matter how angry and intimidating your eating disorder gets, I will still be here to fight the fight along side you. You can hate me AND I will still be your cheerleader and advocate for recovery. Maybe someday that hate will turn into gratitude and mutual respect. Many people who recover will say in hindsight that their dietitian was the most challenging member of their treatment team to work with, but was absolutely essential to their recovery.  

So, even if you hate seeing your dietitian, keep an open mind.  She (or he) is there to guide and support you through the difficult process of recovery.  

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

Interview on the ED Matters Podcast

I got the amazing opportunity to be interviewed on the ED Matters Podcast, hosted by Kathy Cortese! We discussed the unique challenges for recovered therapists treating eating disorder patients. 

Getting excited? You can listen to the interview on Gürze-Salucore's website

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The One Question to Ask Yourself Every Morning

Photo Credit: Evan Kirby

Photo Credit: Evan Kirby

In the early morning hours, before darkness lifts and the pace picks up, I tip toe downstairs, shower, and quietly prepare for the day. I love this time before my husband and children wake and my various responsibilities kick in. I can hear my thoughts, my breath, and the stillness.

I dress and approach the mirror. I stand before it, meet my eyes, and instead of asking who is the fairest of them all, I ask: Who do you want to show up as today?

For years and years, I stood before the mirror frantically checking my body. Do I look anorexic enough? Do I look sick enough from the side, front, and back? Of course, the answer was always no, and in an instant, the calm morning hours turned day into a raging hell. Can you relate?

That single moment in front of the mirror determined my attitude for the entire day. And because of that, recovery felt like a big fat inconvenience. An uphill battle. A never ending source of agony. I was always on the defensive, running against the natural flow of life for the sake of a measly moment in the mirror.

I’m 22 years into my healing path now, and I’ve given myself permission to play offense instead of defense. It’s taken time and many leaps of faith to test what would happen if I asked myself a different question in front of the mirror, one that celebrates instead of berates, empowers instead of belittles, raises up versus ridicules.

The idea of asking myself questions that weren’t traps for misery came from learning about the philosophical concept in yoga called the koshas. The idea is that we are all made of five layers: body, breath, mind (emotions), intellect, and spirit. In my experience, recovery is so heavily focused on food and feeding our bodies (because it has to be!) that we often don’t pause and notice how we are feeding our minds. You and I both know how difficult it is to get a grip on spinning eating disorder beliefs, thoughts, and rules! Gruelingly hard work, yes?

The reality I had to face was that unless I started feeding my mind different questions about myself, I would never have an opportunity to respond differently or feel happier or believe I was more than an eating disorder. My experience of life would forever be dictated by a mirror.

Little by little, I started asking different questions, the most pivotal one being: Who do you want to show up as today? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes my answer to that question is related to body size. The difference now, though, is that I don’t allow that thought to stick. I consciously choose to ask myself the question again until the answer that comes is one that feeds my mind with positivity so that I start my day with an attitude of “Look out world, I am ready for you!”

So, I ask you: Who do you want to show up as today? How can you begin to feed your mind differently so that you have the opportunity to create new thoughts about yourself, your body, and your place in your world, in this world?

If you are unsure, just start with one simple question similar to what I ask myself, and don’t let yourself off the hook until your answer is about who you are at your core. We all deserve to draw out these beautiful parts of ourselves, and it begins with feeding our minds new words and thoughts about our whole sense of self.

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500 is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to several eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Connect with Jennifer.

Mama #2: A Tribute to My Mother(In-Law)

© Angie Viets

© Angie Viets

On the day I married her son, she hugged me warmly and with tear-filled eyes said, “You are now my daughter, and although you have a mother, I am now your Mama #2.” The promise was sealed and honored from that day forward. I’ve never received a daughter-in-law card, been introduced, or treated as anything other than her daughter.

I met her son in the first grade. He was my first love and boyfriend throughout high school. Honestly, part of the reason I fell in love with him is because of her. The three-story colonial home at the end of a long drive, beautifully decorated with her impeccable taste, the endless cooking and laundry to keep up with her husband and five football-playing boys, and her never-ending devotion to her family. She embodied everything I hoped I would be as a mother.

Years later, when I broke her son’s heart and moved on, she remained kind to me despite his pain and consequently her own. Several years later she was the first to welcome me back into her family, and to tell me, “He never stopped loving you, and neither did I.”

Shedding tears with my mom, she watched me try on wedding dresses and helped us plan our special day. A year later, she soothed my fears in the delivery room as I gave birth to her grandson. She taught me the art and beauty of nursing a baby as she stocked our freezer full of meals with little notes attached, ‘Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour.’ She quilted each grandbaby a blanket that became soft and worn over the years and was quick to reassure me of what a good mother I was to her grandchildren and her gratitude for loving her son.

Even though there were four other daughters for her to love and endless flooding of her heart and home, she had the unique ability to make you feel adored and cherished. Each of us girls felt as though we were her favorite, because we were, just in different ways.

Sitting on the deck beside the pool one evening, with several daughters(in-law), each with a glass of wine in hand surrounding her, she shared that she never felt as good in her own skin as she did that year. She had just turned sixty, and she looked as beautiful outside, with her glowy Italian skin reflecting the light from the moon on that late fall night, as she explained she felt on the inside. She offered the wisdom to her young daughters that only a well-seasoned mother can about motherhood, marriage, and most importantly, the beauty of being a woman. Three months later she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer that took her life within twelve short and excruciatingly long months. Our foundation cracked the day of her diagnosis, and at times seems to be incapable of mending.

As I lay in her bed holding her over those months, she asked that I now make a promise to her, “Never forget how much I love you. Never forget how much I love you.” She repeated it as though trying to solidify it in my mind, body, and soul. During her illness, she continued to show me by example what a mother’s love truly means. She wanted us to know that she wasn’t angry that she was the one that got sick. “I’m grateful that it was none of you,” she said, as she looked at each one of us and shared the news that her doctors advised that treatment would no longer be beneficial.

During her last visit to my home, we sat outside, listening to the birds, as the kids played and I painted her nails. She looked at the youngest of my three children, as he toddled around the yard, unphased by the loss of her hair and rounded ‘moon face’ from being pumped full of steroids, and cried, “I’m so sad I won’t get to be a part of this...” She gestured to her grandchildren.

Her final promise as “her girls” sat on the edges of her bed: “Something beautiful will come from this.” She repeated it again, “Something beautiful will come from this.” I wish I knew what that meant, or if that’s even true, but maybe two years after her passing it’s too soon to understand. What I know for sure, is something beautiful came from the love she gave all of her children and grandchildren.

The night of her passing from this life to the next, she was held in the arms of her high school sweetheart. As we circled her bed, he opened the sliding glass door from their bedroom and released her spirit to the moon shining brightly above.

While filling out Mother’s Day cards, my baby, who becomes less baby and more of a child every day, asked to make his Grammy a Mother’s Day card and wondered, in the way only small innocent children do, if our postal carrier knew how to deliver it to heaven. I let him make her a card, and I sat in our pantry and quietly cried. Even though he may not remember his Grammy and my Mama #2, he knows her. He knows her because she is alive in our home, in the stories and memories we share, in the faces of his dad and his four uncles, the meals we make from her recipe cards, and the quilts we wrap ourselves in as a reminder of her enduring love. Happy Mother’s Day My Mama #2 and may something beautiful come from this...

Beyond Body Image: What Happens After Recovery

Photo Credit: Morgan Sessions

Photo Credit: Morgan Sessions

Body Image is certainly not a topic or issue unique to eating disorders. It touches all women regardless of a diagnosis or illness. And it certainly doesn’t go away after the illness and unhealthy relationship with food become a thing of the past.

I have had the honor of speaking with many women lately who fall somewhere in a category of “disordered eating” or “negative self-image”, or perhaps just “a normal woman” in today's western culture. Women who are not necessarily in the middle of full-blown treatment or recovery from an eating disorder (as defined by a medical or mental health professional) but who still struggle with being at war with themselves and their bodies. These are generally high-functioning adults living their normal day to day as mothers, sisters, wives, teachers, business-women, fitness instructors, actresses, artists, etc...

Most recently, I have been honored to collaborate with some dear friends and fellow professionals on a Self-Love Mastermind with the help of the leaders and founders of Manifesting Mamas. My dear friend and colleague Josie Kramer is helping me guide women across the country on a 4-week course about body love and self image.

During this course, we show the trailer for the powerful documentary “Embrace”, created by Taryn Brumfitt, founder of The Body Image Movement. {If you have not seen this film yet, I highly recommend you do!}

This past week, our participants were courageous enough to discuss their reflections after watching the video. I feel it important to share this conversation in order to shed light on how body image can be a painful struggle for all women, and most importantly, how we can support each other in cultivating a healthy, empowering relationship with our bodies, our souls, ourselves.

*participant names are changed to protect confidentiality.

Sarah: Here's what I am struggling with after watching this. I don't want to embrace my body as it is. I want a healthier, thinner body. Not because society tells me that's what I should look like, or because I think that's what will make me more beautiful. But because I want to be healthier. Does that make sense? So I guess my question is, is the key to changing your body, first accepting it as it is now? Because until I reach my healthiest me, I want to feel happy with how I am.

Cindy: A wise woman once said, "Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” I like to think that I like my body as it is now but I also love the idea that I alone have the capacity to change it... and am making progress, albeit, baby steps, towards those changes every single day.

Rachel (myself): Sarah brings up such a good point and such a common struggle with the "body acceptance/self-love" paradigm. Because truly, there is nothing innately WRONG with wanting to improve ourselves, to change ourselves, to be "fit" "healthy" "lean" "curvy" "toned" or whatever your personal goals may be.

It really all goes back to balance. There is a difference between self-improvement, health and fitness - and obsessively going to unhealthy extremes (whether emotionally or behaviorally) - which is what the media, health and beauty industries thrive on.

Even when our desires to change our bodies in order to be healthy are truly SOUL-DRIVEN, and not overtly due to society telling us how we should look, there are layers and layers of shame and worth tangled in there that are influenced by outside factors, that we are often not aware of. So the real work in recovery is being aware and accepting of those factors at play while on your journey of health...so that you are completely aware of your intentionality and emotional state throughout that process.

I also love Cindy’s feedback on this!! What an empowering perspective. There is a lot to be said about liking/loving yourself and your body for all that it does - regardless of weight or size! And the truth that you alone have the capacity to make changes towards a healthier you, based on your authentic values and your innate health needs is an incredible gift!

Josie (my partner/fellow recovery warrior): Sarah brings up such a great question! I absolutely agree with the emphasis on balance! What I can add to this conversation is a little of my own story and how it relates... When I was a teenager and into my early 20's I suffered HARD with going on and off restrictive diets & my weight would drastically fluctuate up and down. Whether I was thinner or heavier I felt miserable, I didn't enjoy food & I definitely didn't accept myself. I was in so much turmoil over food that I made a resolve to quit focusing on my weight, to quit weighing myself and to quit dieting all together!!

I decided to start over from a place of self-acceptance & focus solely on health while trusting that my weight would balance out in its own time. The acceptance part was key because I had to accept that I was heavier than I wanted to be. I also had to accept that the “yo-yo” dieting was making my life a living hell.

So I made balanced eating, balanced exercise, and self-care my new approach. No more starvation. No more out of control bingeing. No more over-exercising. And much less obsessing! It was definitely a process but little by little I started feeling so much better!! I enjoyed food again, I fell in love with yoga and I even got to a weight that was much healthier for me!

Better than all that, I started to truly love myself! The decision to stop battling with myself, while still focusing on health made ALL the difference. It doesn't have to be one or the other approach. I think a balance of the two is the answer! 

My favorite part about the transcript above, and the overall experience of working with women on these topics, is the love, kindness and support I get to witness and be a part of every day.

Remember, as Brené Brown said: 

we don’t have to do of all of it alone. We were never meant to
Rachel Daggett - Angie Viets

Rachel Daggett, MS, MFTI is a Wellness and Recovery Coach and a Registered Therapist Intern. She has a private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA, and strives to be an active force of empowerment and love in the community. Through struggling with her own eating disorder and journey of healing, and now being recovered, she has become an advocate for eating disorder recovery and mental health. Rachel has a Masters degree in Psychology, and believes in the importance of caring for the mind, body, heart, and soul as a whole. Rachel is a yogi, a dog-mom, a beach-girl at heart, and has recently started studying the natural healing power of essential oils. Visit her website

Finding Inspiration for Your Recovery From An Eating Disorder

Photo Credit: Cynthia Magana

Photo Credit: Cynthia Magana

Eating disorder recovery is hard work. It is normal to feel ambivalent at times or even to want to give up on recovery. Recovery is not a linear process and there are likely to be setbacks and struggles along the way.

A Brief Exercise

One exercise that I’ll often have clients do who are struggling with motivation for recovery is to write down what their lives could look like 5 years from now if they recover vs. 5 years from now if they stay trapped in their eating disorder. This can really help to put things into perspective.

Finding Inspiration for Recovery

When you look back on your life at age 80, do you think that you will be fondly reminiscing about being a slave to the treadmill or obsessively fixating on food? Living trapped in an eating disorder is not an enjoyable way to be.

If you are struggling with finding inspiration to keep working on your recovery, I would advise that you reach out for help and support from a therapist and other treatment professionals.

Additionally, I often will talk with clients about the benefits of surrounding themselves with body-positive and pro-recovery media. I ask them to go into their social media feeds and unfollow anyone who makes them feel badly about themselves and then to add in body-positive and pro-recovery people.

We are inundated with unhelpful messages and part of counter-acting this is to choose to surround yourself with more positive and pro-recovery messaging.

Another Exercise

Another exercise that can be helpful in terms of building motivation for recovery is to write a goodbye letter to your eating disorder. You could even discuss how it may have been helpful for you in regards to coping at the time, however how it is no longer serving you.

The Bottom Line

No one chooses to have an eating disorder; however, you can make the choice to keep working on your recovery. There are so many beautiful reasons to recover, from being a role model to others, to traveling and exploring the world, strengthening your relationships, and finding happiness and joy again.

I’d love to hear your reasons to recover in the comments below!

Jennifer Rollin - Angie Viets

JENNIFER ROLLIN, MSW, LCSW-C is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, and depression. Jennifer offers eating disorder therapy to individuals in Maryland and D.C. and eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Visit her website.

Surviving Spring Break While in Eating Disorder Recovery

Photo Credit: Jens Johnsson

Photo Credit: Jens Johnsson

During college, March means several things: midterms, green beer, March Madness and spring break. Weeks leading up to spring break the refrain during therapy sessions with my college-aged client’s in recovery sounds like this, “Everyone, literally everyone around me is on a diet and losing weight to ‘prepare’ for spring break. And guess what I’m losing? My f’ing mind! How am I supposed to gain, or even maintain my weight in a world where it’s ok for everyone else to lose weight?” 

The frustration is palpable and it’s real. Spring break while you are recovering from an eating disorder, is the equivalent to a recovering alcoholic walking down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. “It so sucks,” I say, “I get it; it’s messed up and unfair. I wish I could make it go away for you, but I can’t. So, let’s find a way to survive it.”

A few tried and true tips:

1. Personal responsibility 
I learned in my own recovery that no one, I mean NO ONE can protect the sacred space of your recovery like you can. Of course, it’s hurtful when people you are close to continue to talk about their weight loss strategies even after they know you have an eating disorder. However, the reality is we are 100% responsible for our recovery. Period. Once that really sinks in it can be liberating (after you finish freaking out about it). Of course, you need tons of support along the way, but ultimately it’s up to you! And what I know about you, just like me, is that once our minds are made up, you better move out of the way.

2. Get in alignment
Purposefully staying in alignment with your recovery goals is huge, especially during high-stress situations! Here are a few suggestions to lighten the load. Meet with your treatment team a little more frequently until things settle down a bit. Listen to podcasts on recovery. Read daily affirmations that resonate with you. Follow blogs that are recovery oriented. Adopt a mantra to carry you through the next couple of weeks.

3. A visualization
Close your eyes and imagine being lovingly wrapped in a ball of golden light. This light gently warms your skin; it protects you. Your body, illuminated by the light, is a sacred space, a sanctuary where you are healing. The light creates a protective bubble around you that cannot be penetrated by the noise that once was so triggering. The noise never goes away; nor is it your responsibility to make it go away.

Honor the light by remembering that you have the ability to protect what you’ve worked so passionately for - Your Recovery.

4. Surround yourself with positivity
Choose the company you keep wisely. We don’t have the ability to change other people and what they focus on. We can, however, decide which relationships we invest our energy in. Consciously surround yourself with people who aren’t caught up in perfecting their body. (Believe it or not, they do exist; I promise). Love yourself enough to walk away from anything that makes you question your recovery. Your recovery tribe will believe in and encourage you. They will lift you up and nourish you. Be so grateful for them!

5. Be an observer
Notice that this flurry of activity around you is short lived. Sit back as though you’re a writer planning to tell the story of the “Spring Break Freak-out.” An observer story from a former client: “It’s starting again! All of my sorority sisters are ‘preparing’ for spring break by doing a Brazilian butt workout.” Years into her recovery she was able to see the absurdity of these trends and also recognized the sadness of feeling inadequate. She found it interesting to notice that as soon as spring break was over, so were those silly butt workouts.

When the volume is too loud around you and your brain feels cluttered with the competing agendas of recovery or commitment to your eating disorder, step outside. Notice that spring is here; which is truly a time of renewal. You are preparing for something a hell of a lot more important than spring break, you are preparing to Bloom!

Know that I’m thinking of you and am confident that you can ride the waves as they rise and fall. Be gentle with yourself. I’m so very proud of you!

Please Don’t Ask Me How Long This Will Take

Image Credit: KijaDoll

Image Credit: KijaDoll

An open letter to our Supporters,

We had the fight again — the one that happens when our heroic patience finally deflates, and our frustration comes hissing out until it permeates through the house. You want to know: How long is this going to take? How long are we going to suffer like this?

You are tired. You are trying your hardest and we are draining our resources, but nothing seems to do the trick. You don’t know if there is ever a “right thing” to say. Most of the time, you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, afraid that your well-intended comment is going to trigger some irrational fear or anxiety — or worse — in me.

You’ve tried reasoning with me, but you found out quickly that an eating disorder has its own logic and thus it doesn’t respond to reason. You try to put yourself in my shoes, hoping that empathy might translate to energy and keep us both going. It’s impossible to understand, though. How could I struggle, you wonder, with something so basic as eating, something we’re literally born knowing how to do? How long will it take to just click?

You want to know when are things going to get better — when am I going to better?

You’re frustrated. I understand. Your feelings are justified. (And even if they weren’t, you would still have a right to feel however you do. Lord knows that is what I’m trying to believe for myself.)

But please don’t forget: I feel the same way that you do. By the time you finally lose it and tell me how frustrated, exhausted, exasperated, and scared you are, I’ve already said those things to myself. (Several times. Just that day.)

We have a common enemy in this. It hurts me just as badly to live with this monster as it does for you to watch it wreak havoc on me. I want it gone, too, and I’m trying my hardest to make this stop. So please, whatever you do, don’t ask me how long will this take.

Because I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I.  DON’T.  KNOW.

Surely you know that if I could simply erase this illness and leave no trace of it, I would do it. No disordered thoughts, no temptations, no lapses whatsoever. No more therapy appointments congesting my calendar. No more signing up for school and then dropping out because I’m still “not well enough.” No more quibbling with this or that doctor just to cling to a semblance of autonomy over my health.

Free from the embarrassment of inching down grocery aisles trying to choose between the “right” foods and the “safe” ones. From the dread I feel when I see a tray of cookies at the staff meeting. From the anxiety that wakes up each morning as I think about another day of fighting the voices, of struggling to find that mysterious balance between forgiving myself and pushing myself. From the unrelenting sense that I must be either insane or heartless for putting us through this.

All of it, just gone. I would do almost anything for that gift.

But I can’t. And so, when you ask me how long this recovery is going take, what I hear in that question is confirmation of my deepest fear: I am a burden. You are as fed up with me as I am.

It’s not that I want you to hide your fear or sadness, or even your anger (at my eating disorder — not at me). I need to know your feelings because I need to be reminded that my life isn’t the only one at stake here. That’s critical, because in the moments when I can’t find it in me to recover for my own sake, I can do it for you.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not trying to be stubborn. I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m just trying to get through this.

Thank you for your support, your loyalty, and your faith in me,
Your Loved One

Joanna Kay is a New York City writer and social media professional in recovery from a 14-year battle with anorexia. She is the author of The Middle Ground, a blog that chronicles the period between completing treatment and reaching full recovery. Having encountered many hurdles accessing treatment, she also writes frequently about insurance coverage and other urgent issues facing eating disorder patients. Joanna is a mental health advocate with the National Eating Disorders Association and writes and speaks widely about the recovery process. Visit her blog.

How Emotional Eating is Serving You

Emotional eating is usually seen in a bad light. We often hear how eating when stressed, bored or lonely is damaging and should be eliminated. Many articles have been written about how to stop eating emotionally. In fact, when I was doing research to write this piece, I really struggled to find any references that wrote about emotional eating in a positive tone.

However, despite emotional eating’s bad reputation, it’s important to acknowledge the ways it actually serves us. Emotional eating has a purpose, and it’s not a bad one.

1. Food is Comfort

There is a reason many turn to food when uncomfortable or distressed: food is comforting. This is one of the reasons parents often offer food to children who are sad or distraught. It temporarily numbs our discomfort and makes us feel good. While it won’t eliminate the cause of this discomfort, it distracts us from the challenging situation we are encountering. It provides relief and a sense of calm. This characteristic of food is not a bad one. In fact, it allows us to cope with life’s difficulties.

2. An Act of Self-Care

Emotional eating can become a problem when we think of it as being something bad or sinful. After engaging in emotional eating, many are ridden with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. I often hear clients speaking about how horrible they feel after these experiences. In a culture that paints emotional eating as a bad thing, I can certainly understand these feelings. It can be helpful to work on changing our mentality and realizing that eating emotionally is a form of self-care. In fact, it’s just one of the many ways you can use to feel safe and protect yourself.

3. An Opportunity to Learn

I often talk to clients about how it can be helpful to have a toolkit of comforting activities to turn to in moments of distress. Emotional eating can most definitely be one of those tools. Next time you engage in emotional eating, take time to notice what is happening inside of you instead of being self-critical. Note what needs are not being met and what feelings are causing you discomfort. This is a wonderful opportunity to be curious about your experience.

The Bottom Line

It can be very healing to work on accepting our emotional eating behaviors. It allows room for curiosity, compassion, and self-love, while fighting off feelings of guilt and humiliation. You are doing your best to take care of yourself and that is always something to celebrate. 

Josée Sovinsky is a passionate Registered Dietitian working in a community setting in Toronto, Ontario. After facing her own struggles with disordered eating during her degree, she developed a strong interest in helping those affected by eating disorders and mental illness. She decided to learn more about intuitive and mindful eating, body acceptance and Health at Every Size®, which now strongly guide her work. She dreams of a world free from mental health stigma, body shaming, and disordered eating. When she is not helping others make peace with food, she enjoys baking, photography and doing yoga in her living room. Visit Josée's website and connect with her on social media.

Recovered: a Poem About Being Reunited With Soul, Self, and Sisterhood

Photo Credit: ©Angie Viets

Photo Credit: ©Angie Viets

Out of control.
Tethered to terror.
Everything that once was is no longer.

Sad, scared, deeply ashamed.
Desperate to hold onto something real.
Something to comfort and soothe.
Someone. Something. Anything.

Please help me escape this pain.
The not knowing.
The never-ending loneliness.
The deep, hollow feeling in my stomach.  

Alone. Unsure. Unsafe.
I turned in circles trying to grasp onto
something more solid than myself.
And then you came.
Rescuing me from…me.

The perfect antidote to my suffering.
Your predictability, reliability, and steady
presence tricked me into thinking I’d
found just the right place to rest.
You offered the gift of security in
my broken, battered world.

You occupied my every thought.
I could forget all the hurt
and perpetual sadness.
I had you, my ever-loyal companion.

The day marked forever in my mind.
The day I realized I was trapped by you.
Suffocating. Silent.
Utterly consumed and confined.

No matter how hard I tried to escape
the prison you so carefully locked me in,
I got more lost and less found.
Defeated and depressed.

I came to you for a safe place to hide
from myself and my broken heart.
You gave me just what I needed.
Or so it seemed.

I guess that’s what makes the goodbye so hard.
But I’m picking myself up now.
I’m determined, yet unsure of the way.
I can’t go back to where I left off.
Just forward towards what will be.

My mind unable to find the way;
I close my eyes and allow my soul
to guide and illuminate the path ahead.

Despite the harm you inflicted,
the damage you did to my body and spirit,
I still want to thank you.
I bow to you in deep reverence.
Somehow you got me through the wreckage.

But I’m saying goodbye now.
This goodbye is not temporary;
you are no longer welcome in my sacred self.

I assume you will try to return;
attempting to lure me in with false promises.
Yet I assure you I’m wise to your ways now,
and I will gently shut and lock the door.

Eventually you’ll give up on me.
Preying and prying your way into another unsuspecting soul.
They too will come to know you by name
and eventually usher you out as well.

My silent prayer,
my hope, my wish,
is that someday you’ll give up entirely.
You’ll see that we now rely on each other;
this tribe of us once lost now found
United. Mended. And completely whole.

Collectively we are saying goodbye.
Hands and hearts entwined.
We are rising together.
Softer and stronger.
Wise and awakened.
Fully, completely, alive.

To our beloved sisters unsaved,
we honor you.
We acknowledge your bravery and courage
to fight, what often seemed impossible.
We carry you with us.
We shine your light.
We remember you.
Always. Forever.

Seriously, Let's End The War With Our Bodies

Photo Credit: Catherine McMahon

Photo Credit: Catherine McMahon

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Studies have shown that 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their weight and 42% are actively trying to lose weight by dieting and/or exercising.¹'³ These strategies rarely produce lasting weight loss. In fact, the vast majority of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it - often plus some. This type of yo-yo dieting can be harmful to one’s health.⁴

So why do Americans keep putting themselves through the deprivation associated with dieting if it doesn’t work and is potentially harmful?  Perhaps a shift in mindset could break this cycle of “insanity.”

The Health At Every Size (HAES) approach argues that health is related to a person’s behaviors, not their weight.¹'² For example, a person can be “normal” weight and have high blood pressure, and a person can be “over” weight and have normal blood pressure. Interestingly, individuals classified as “overweight” based on their BMI live the longest, while those who are classified as “obese” have the same lifespan as “normal” weight individuals. Dieting has been associated with worsened physical and psychological outcomes, while HAES has been shown to improve them.  

Dieting Approach¹'²

  • Increased appetite
  • Frequent obsessive thoughts about food
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Emotional overeating
  • Weight loss followed by weight regain
  • Reduced self-esteem

HAES Approach¹'²

  • Intuitive eating
  • Improved psychological functioning
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Reduced overeating
  • Maintenance of set-point weight
  • Body acceptance and improved self-esteem

By focusing on health rather than weight, a person is able to break out of the cycle of dieting and care for their body in a loving and compassionate way. Dieting and trying to force the body to lose weight or look a certain way is the opposite of this. It is a way of fighting against the body. When a person cares for their body they treat it with kindness and respect — THIS is what HAES is all about.  

It’s ok if you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around this. After all, it goes against everything our society teaches us. It may even go against what your doctor tells you. The truth is, you CAN be healthy without focusing on your weight. When you are taking care of your body and engaging in healthful behaviors, your weight will land where it is genetically meant to, without you needing to control it. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and this genetic diversity in humans is not only biologically advantageous, but it is beautiful. It makes each of us unique in our own skin.  

Are you ready to end the war against your body? Are you ready for a mindset shift? If so, learn more about the HAES approach by visiting Linda Bacon's website and check out her resources.

References:

1. Provencher et al. Health-At-Every-Size and Eating Behaviors: 1-Year Follow-Up of a Size Acceptance Intervention.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109:1854-61.

2. Bacon L, Aphramor L.  Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.  Nutrition Journal. 2011;10:9.

3. NEDA Information and Referral Helpline. Statistics: Eating Disorders and their Precursors. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org. Accessed May 10, 2012.

4. Montani J-P, et al.  Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the ‘repeated overshoot’ theory. International Journal of Obesity. 2006;30:S58-S66.

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

How You Can Learn to Listen to Your Gut in Recovery

Photo Credit: Eli DeFaria

Photo Credit: Eli DeFaria

Gut reaction. Gut feeling. Gut instinct. These common phrases express the idea of inner knowing, also called intuition or inner wisdom. Our “guts” speak to us about our physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs. They hold our natural brilliance.

Unfortunately, for many of us healing from an eating disorder, we don’t have much tolerance for our gut. The gut, or stomach, is a body part that evokes shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing. It’s a part that many devote lifetimes to trying to shrink, hide, or control. Our social and cultural beliefs that the gut or “tummy” is a body part that must be tamed triples the challenge for individuals in recovery to fight off gut shame and urges to changes his or her body through restricting, dieting, bingeing, purging, over exercise, or deadly combinations of all these behaviors.

Beyond the negative physical connotations of “gut,” is the very real and serious disconnect that happens between our minds, bodies, and spirits when we numb out with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. We become more and more removed from our gut feelings, instincts, and reactions, unable to know or appropriately respond to what we truly need. We lose touch with how to nourish our bodies, minds, hearts, souls, and brains. We lose touch with our inner brilliance.

Luckily, this intelligent guiding wisdom does not disappear, even when we are at our lowest points. With practice and commitment, we can turn to our gut reactions, feelings, and instincts to guide us through the daily challenges of recovery. To do so, we must carve out time and space to tune into our needs and hear what our guts have to say rather than tame our truths, feelings, needs, desires, and right to live with a happy heart.

Letting go of taming my gut physically and emotionally is something that I’ve been working at for a long time. One thing that has helped me is practicing “tuning in” to my inner wisdom. I need space, time, and quiet to clear out the old tapes, beliefs, and other mental clutter to be able to tune into my gut and then take action to fulfill my needs. When my head is spinning about food, my body, a relationship, a decision I have to make, or another stressor, I find a quiet place within and ask myself one key question: What do I know to be true about what I need right now?

I find I can answer that question most truthfully when I do quiet practices that encourage presence such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises. If I am in a social situation and feel unsure or overwhelmed (which is when I usually am most likely to become disconnected from my gut), I bring my attention to my breathing and intentionally slow it down. I rest my mind on my inhale and exhale and hear in my mind: What do I know to be true about what I need right now?

I continue to ask myself this question until an answer bubbles to the surface. This simple question has been a game changer because it empowers me to tune into my true and brilliant voice versus old tapes or vestiges of the eating disorder. I encourage you to ask yourself this question or one like it to begin getting in the habit of tuning in and trusting your gut.

You might take time when you first wake up to be still and quiet and listen to your gut. Pausing before a meal or workout or other times in the day that run the risk of going in the opposite direction of what you truly need is a beautiful opportunity to tune to your inner brilliance. You might be surprised by how easily some of the answers come to you. With practice, you will become more familiar with your needs and build up the inner resilience to trust your gut and live from pure inner brilliance.

Jennifer Kreatsoulas - Contributor Angie Viets

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500 is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to several eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Connect with Jennifer.

Beyond Body Image: What Recovery is Really About

Photo Credit: Issara Willenskomer

Photo Credit: Issara Willenskomer

How many times in recovery have we heard “it’s not about weight. It’s not about the size. Your disorder is really not about your body at all.”? We are told to throw our scales away, never let the doctor show us our weight when we go for a checkup, encouraged not to exercise during recovery, to buy new jeans in more “realistic” sizes… I remember doing these things in my early recovery days and thinking everyone was full of it. They were clearly all in in cahoots to make me completely lose awareness and control of myself. To make me stop caring about my body so I could be 'fat and happy'.

I realize now that this was all so difficult and incomprehensible at the time because, at the time, it was about all of those things (in my sick mind at least). It was, but it wasn’t. It was smoke and mirrors, but I wasn’t ready to see that yet.

As a therapist now, I do it too—I tell my clients that knowing their weight will not do them any good. I remind them that their body is literally crying out for nourishment and energy.

And then I hear myself say that what they are struggling with really has nothing to do with their weight or size at all...it’s a twisted facade to cover up the insecurities, pain, fear, and lack of control going on far beyond anything to do with their physical body image. They’ve got “eating disorder goggles” glued to their faces.

Sometimes, for those who are ready to look beneath the binds that hold them, I get a look of relief that says “tell me more”. But usually, I get a deer in headlights look, a blank stare, or, especially the teens, a thoroughly annoyed eye roll. And that’s okay! Neither response is right or wrong, they simply reflect two very different phases of recovery. I think back to my earlier self, and I get it.

It’s interesting because the illness, the disease, the life vs. death reality all have everything to do with physical factors—but the recovery itself, the true, sustainable, the genuine recovery takes an immensely significant and difficult perspective shift of what really matters...and of what is real. No wonder body image is arguably one of the most difficult parts of recovery.

Something really stuck with me during a presentation last week by Dr. Guadiani of the Guadiani Clinic, and Lyn Goldring, VP of Nursing at Monte Nido. They were discussing the unique jobs of nurses, doctors and other clinicians in the eating disorder treatment field, and Lyn spoke of the invariable truth that sometimes, our most important task is to simply bear witness. I felt like she was speaking directly to me. She was so right, and I so badly needed that humbling reminder.

Recovery is a funny thing. I firmly believe that all the time, it is about feeding the soul. All the time, it is about relationships and boundaries. All the time, it is about self-esteem, control, attachment, and belonging. All the time, it is about so much more than what it seems.

But, in eyes and the mind of a hurting, broken, confused girl, sometimes, it is about the food. Sometimes, it is about the body. My job is not to try to convince anyone otherwise, but to hear, respect, and honor my clients, wherever they may be.

I will remind you, I will show you the light, I will bear witness and be a witness to the beautiful and hopeful realities of recovery. But you must walk towards that light, throw away that scale, try on those new jeans, and choose to trust the process in order to really get there. The mission is not to lose awareness of your body or to lose control so you stop caring. It’s quite the opposite. But it’s one of those things that is so hard to explain, yet so powerful to experience.

Body image is about so much more than the physical, tangible, measurable aspects of the body. And it is undoubtedly something that all women struggle with to some extent. I have lots more to say about this topic, so stay tuned, beautiful girl. And don’t give up.

Angie Viets - Rachel Daggett

Rachel Daggett, MS, MFTI is a Wellness and Recovery Coach and a Registered Therapist Intern. She has a private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA, and strives to be an active force of empowerment and love in the community. Through struggling with her own eating disorder and journey of healing, and now being recovered, she has become an advocate for eating disorder recovery and mental health. Rachel has a Masters degree in Psychology, and believes in the importance of caring for the mind, body, heart, and soul as a whole. Rachel is a yogi, a dog-mom, a beach-girl at heart, and has recently started studying the natural healing power of essential oils. Visit her website

Beyond the Scale: How to Focus on More Important Things in Life

Photo Credit: Braden Barwich

Photo Credit: Braden Barwich

As many people with an eating disorder or weight issues will tell you, we tend towards the obsessive in one way or another. That’s part of the reason we’re facing this challenge in the first place—we obsess about food and then obsess about hiding our issues with food, at the very least. So any discussion about someone facing an issue with food such as Binge Eating Disorder, like me, has to start with the understanding that it all starts with obsession. It’s important for people to know that eating disorders are NOT about the food, they’re about fixation and control.

Such was the case in my life until very recently. Obsession is what fueled my day, my week, my month and led to my battle with BED, from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. I was forever focused on what I was going to eat in five minutes, five hours and five days, as well as how I was going to cover my tracks and do all this without anyone knowing about it.

I obsessed about my weight as well. As if a number can tell you how much you are worth! I reduced everything down to that three digit number after I binged. The high number fueled the shame I felt, and it fueled me when I was starving myself in between binges.

I spent a lot of time on that emotional tightrope, but I am taking big steps toward conquering my eating disorder. That’s why for 2017 and beyond I have made a decision: No more looking to a scale for validation. I am NOT going to weigh myself ever again.

I simply don’t give space to it in my life. I can’t. It offers nothing—not validation or comfort or a sense of accomplishment. It knows nothing about me and how awesome I am in other ways. So, instead, I concern myself with larger issues, like being healthy, eating healthy, exercising, avoiding triggering situations--like late-night eating after drinking--and surrounding myself with people who won’t let me get away with abusing my body or being mean to myself.

I know now that I am much more than a number, and when my weight fluctuates, whether for bad or good, I know that I am worthy and strong and built for the long race. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and I am getting better and better at looking further into the distance while never breaking stride. That’s the way it’s been for me, and I recommend finding that inner strength in you. It’s the only way for us to get through while pursuing health, happiness, and real substance in our lives.

Taking that weight—no pun intended—off of my shoulders has freed me to live in the moment, to concentrate on being the best version of myself without worrying about meaningless, short-term details. I am free now from the shame and worry and guilt, and free to be positive and understand that I am a pretty resilient, substantial person who has shortcomings and talents.

I can live with all of that.

Ryan Sheldon - Angie Viets

Ryan Sheldon is founder of Confessions of a Binge Eater, a blog he created to share about his journey with Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Ryan hopes his story will help others suffering from BED overcome shame and embarrassment, as well as gain back control over food. In particular, Ryan provides a voice for the many men struggling eating disorders while encouraging them to get help. Ryan is not your run-of-the-mill life coach. With an infectious personality, he uses both humor and education to help others facing adversary. Ryan finds when you add humor to a tough situation, it empowers you to stop feeling ashamed and start taking action. Join him on his journey through life with BED. For more information on Ryan, please visit his website.

10 Promises to My Children From Their Recovered Mother

a-promise-to-my-children.png

Dear Beckett, Sophie & Sammy,

This is a special week for your momma and a lot of other people too. It’s a week where people speak up about a sickness that is very serious, but sometimes not talked about very much. You know I’m a psychotherapist (I know, I know, emphasis on psycho) and that I help people with eating disorders. I haven’t talked to you much about my work because it can...

be pretty hard to understand. When I come home tired, you make me smile as you remind me of your idea of what I do: “You just sit and talk to people all day! What’s so hard about that?” Daddy’s work is much easier for us to see as we can drive by the houses and businesses he has helped build. My work must seem sort of invisible when all you see is an office with comfy furniture. 

Since you guys are getting a little older, I wanted to tell you something that’s important about me. For seven years I had an eating disorder. I was very sick for a long time, mostly when I was in college, but I’m all better now. When I married daddy I was slowly getting healthier every day. Finally, I had something way bigger than my eating disorder to help motivate me - I wanted to be a mom. 

You see, I had been praying real hard to be a momma. It was my biggest dream since I was a little girl. I told my third grade class on ‘Career Day’ that when I was all grown up, I wanted to be a mom. When asked in graduate school what I planned to do with my degree, I pretty much answered the same way. I don’t think anybody was looking for that response, but it didn’t matter to me, because being your mom is my true calling (the thing I was meant to do while I’m here on earth). But I was really scared that, because I had been sick for so long, maybe my body wouldn’t work right anymore and that my dream might not come true. I promised myself that if I was able to get pregnant, I would lay down my eating disorder and fight as hard as I could, once and for all, to stay well for you guys and for myself. 

Want to know something really special?? The day I found out I was pregnant with Beckett, I committed to that big promise that I had secretly carried around in my heart. I’ve kept the promise for thirteen years and I’m really proud of myself for that, because it means I can really be here for you. 

Even though it was hard being sick for so long, something beautiful came from it. I learned that I have another very important calling that’s really meaningful to me. When I was sick, I had a hard time finding anyone to help me who really understood how to do so; eating disorders are tricky to heal. I wanted that to be different, even if only in a small way for other people. So daddy and I moved to the same college town where I was sick, and now, I help a lot of other college students get better. Every day I feel so lucky and blessed that I get to be your momma AND that I help other people get well.   

I’ve made some new promises along the way. Some of them may seem silly, but oh well, you know I’m kind of silly. 

  1. You will never hear me order a ‘Skinny Latte’ from Starbucks. It’s just too stupid to say out loud and brings up unnecessary questions. 
  2. When you want to order pizza and have a picnic in the living room, I will be the first to get it all set up and eat with you. Always. Because pizza is delicious! 
  3. If you want to throw on swimsuits on the first warm day of summer and run through the sprinkler in our front yard, I’ll do it with you! I don’t feel the need to hide my body anymore. In fact, I’m really proud of the body I have, it helped me grow and feed you! 
  4. You will never hear me complain about the way my body looks. The way I feel in my body and how I talk about it, has an even bigger impact on you than what I say to you about your body. I wish more moms knew this – maybe they would talk more lovingly about themselves. 
  5. I refuse to be the mom who orders a salad, “Oh, and could you hold the croutons and cheese and put the dressing on the side.”  (If salads like this feel really nourishing and satisfying to you, great!  For me, a salad like this would feel restrictive.) Nor will I ever go on a cleanse, detox, or diet. I spent SEVEN long years doing that, and it’s so NOT FUN! What I eat, communicates a lot more to you than what I feed you. 
  6. We will talk about what ‘sometimes’ foods are and what ‘always’ foods are and you will know the difference. I added this as a new promise when you came home and told me one of your friends said that McDonald’s makes people fat and you didn’t want to eat there anymore. Wait, what?? Sometimes as a mom, you have to do some deprogramming because other people and the media don’t always convey the truth.   There is no restaurant, or food that can ‘make you fat.’
  7. I promise to show you that it’s important to move your body in ways that are fun and feel good to YOU. I won’t spend my time running away from myself in the form of over-exercising. It’s way more fun to play with the three of you anyway! But when you are upset that I’m leaving to go to yoga, I want you to know that it’s important for me to love and take care of my body, just as I love and take care of yours.
  8. I will share with you what a powerful messenger your body is and encourage you to listen to it – like when it tells you to rest when you are sick or hurt, and how hard it fights to get well, all on its own. Our bodies are really cool that way!
  9. Another new promise (as we pull through the carpool line after school). “Mom, what does it mean to have a six-pack?” (And yes, I needed to take a minute before we talked about this, because I was so upset that elementary-aged kids even have these conversations). You will be surrounded in this lifetime by conversations about weight and shape. It’s important for you to remember that we all have unique body types and comparing ourselves to others (really in any way) just doesn’t feel good. So, I will teach you how to turn the conversation away from this kind of talk, and move on to topics that relate to your friend’s insides, rather than focusing on their outsides.  Doesn’t that sound more fun?
  10. We are going to talk a lot about how we mess up – every day. All of us, it’s just part of life. We need to get cozy with the idea of imperfection! Most importantly, I want YOU to know, in your heart, how wonderful, special, and amazing you are – because I’ve learned it’s not enough for me to think that about you, you need to believe it too. 

So, my sweet loves, those are some of the promises I hold in my heart, so I could stay better, and to help protect you from this illness. I’m not going to get it right all the time.  And that’s okay, too. I never promised to be a perfect mother. I figured out as I got better, that there really is no such thing as perfect. But then I had each of you, and wondered if that was really true. As I got to know you, I realized that much like me, you are perfectly imperfect.
 
I’m so grateful that I have the three of you and that I’m all BEDR (pronounced better, Beautifully Eating Disorder Recovered)!!

Love you with my whole heart,

Momma

What an Eating Disorder in Recovery Sounds Like

Photo Credit: Ravi Roshan

Photo Credit: Ravi Roshan

Wait… You’re not over that eating disorder yet?

During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwareness), I did a fair amount of preaching to the choir about early intervention. Presumably, some of it reached the general public, but since the overwhelming majority of my followers — if not all of them — are people who have been affected in some way by eating disorders, most weren’t new to this conversation.

That’s not a bad thing. This population needs education and awareness, too. However, a somewhat jarring conversation at work toward the end of NEDAwareness Week alerted me to the fact that I am very selective about when and where I divulge my eating disorder story. Perhaps I spend a little too much time with the choir instead of the rest of the congregation.

Basically, my immediate coworkers were discussing how guilty they felt about eating the pizza lunch we were surprised with that day and how much extra time they’d need to spend in the gym for it. Soon after that, another person made a comment directly to me about skipping the meal.

The conversation was neither atypical nor all that problematic. I probably took note of it only because 1) I have spidey-senses when it comes to these things, and 2) I was totally immersed in eating disorder chatter that week. To my knowledge, none of my coworkers struggle with eating disorders, so it’s unlikely that comments of that ilk will send them into downward spirals of self-loathing and self-abuse.

However, hearing it, being included in it, and then keeping quiet made me realize that despite my efforts to be an advocate and activist for all-things-mental-health, I have a selectivity problem:

It’s easy to talk about eating disorders and recovery with fellow sufferers/activists or when I’m in their presence; not so easy when I’m out here on my own.

I mean, I do talk about eating disorders in my “real life.” People know that I’ve struggled with this illness for a long time, that I had to take a lengthy medical leave to undergo treatment, and that I devote a substantial amount of my personal time (and vacation days) to mental health advocacy and activism. But as I listened to that conversation — and said nothing in response — I realized that, alongside my advocacy, I still harbor some shame about my illness, and I try to shrug off the struggle when things get too uncomfortable. Or I pretend I don’t hear… or that I don’t care.

That nonchalance speaks louder than what I write on the internet.

Let me make one thing very clear: I’m not saying that the people in my life are ignorant or insensitive. I’m also not saying that I need people to censor themselves in my presence.

My sole observation here is that I live a kind of “double life.” To all of you here in the blogosphere, I am someone battling daily to maintain my recovery. To everyone else in my “real world,” I am someone who had an eating disorder, but am doing much better now.

Time to clear that up.

What the eating disorder sounds like to me

Trigger warning: Mention of some eating disorder behaviors to follow

I’ve admitted before that in my “offline life,” I sometimes speak flippantly about my eating disorder (my struggle in particular, that is — I’d never want to cast anyone else’s battle as superficial or humorous). I do that out of self-defense and some embarrassment. I want people to believe that food is not a big deal for me. After all, it’s food — it is a completely unavoidable (and to most, enjoyable) part of being human.

But in fact, it’s a very big deal to me, and it’s the least humorous aspect of my life. It’s exhausting. It stresses my already-super-stressed husband. At times, it even seems to irritate my treatment team.

But the reality is that, more days than not, I’m still battling it. I have to work hard to stick to my meal plan and not give into “eating disorder thoughts.

Mornings still begin with the urge to inspect every inch of my body to reassure myself that I haven’t magically inflated in the last 24 hours (particularly my stomach — which is problematic when, as a woman, bloating is part of life). Getting dressed can be a nightmare, because I still own many of the same clothes that I wore when I was anorexic (steep medical bills mean no wardrobe budget). Except now they fit, and putting them on usually sparks a bodily memory of how much bigger these clothes used to be — how much smaller I used to be. Usually, I end up changing into something else…and then something else after that…and then eventually find refuge in leggings and loose-fitting shirts.

And then there’s the meals… Breakfast usually goes okay, although I’ve yet to diversify beyond the same two “safe meals.” These two breakfasts guarantee that I’ll be hungry by lunchtime, because eating a meal before my stomach starts to growl still causes me anxiety — I rely on that growl to give me permission to eat, even though I know hunger manifests in other ways than physically feeling it.

Lunch is tricky, too, because if I don’t pack one (which I usually don’t, because my mornings get swallowed up by the mirror battles), then I struggle to figure out what to pick. What if dinner ends up being pasta? How will I know how many carbohydrates to include in my lunch? Should I just focus on lunch and then adjust at dinnertime? But wait, that’s not what normal people do — normal people go with the flow. They don’t pick their meals based on what they’re eating later on… or tomorrow…

But then OH CRAP there are cookies at this meeting… What do I do? If at that point I already had lunch, I don’t feel hungry, so I don’t want to eat one…..but if I haven’t had lunch yet, I worry that eating one will make me feel full before I can get to the “real” food…..then again, I don’t need to stick PRECISELY to my meal plan — I’m allowed to be a little over or a little under on a given day, because it all balances out in the end (or so I’m told)….it’s okay to just indulge in a cookie or two….but I’m not sure I even want one…..but what will everyone think if I don’t have one?…..what will they think if I do?

Then there are days when the anxiety is too much and I take the safest route possible at lunch: the emergency protein shake. My nutritionist and I have agreed on a particular brand that has sufficient calories and nutrients, and that feels safe to me because 1) I know precisely what is in it, and 2) it’s liquid, so I don’t feel as full as when I eat a real meal. But then I feel like a failure, because what kind of 27-year-old gets too anxious to eat solid food?

But I am a 27-year-old, and I live in New York City, so on top of everything else, the most common social venue among my friends is the bar. Then I really start to worry about how I’ve chosen my meals throughout the day, because I can’t always prepare ahead of time to account for the alcohol calories….but then, I shouldn’t do that anyway, because alcohol does NOT count in my meal plan, since alcohol calories are not nutritive and thus I’m not supposed to “compensate” for having drinks with friends. But if I don’t, then I’ll feel too full, and my entire focus will be on how uncomfortably big I feel whilst nevertheless ingesting even more. And uggghhhh….THEY’RE STILL CALORIES. THEY COUNT, DAMMIT.

And god forbid I encounter a scale……….

THAT’S what I weigh??? Why hasn’t anyone told me?! Oh my GOD, HAS THIS BEEN TRUE THIS WHOLE TIME?!?!

Then there’s the iPhone 6 I just got, which apparently has a STEP TRACKER built into the software….and I know I shouldn’t look at that, because whatever number it registers is going to lodge in my head and stay there until I meet that 10,000-steps-a-day goal that everyone swears is so critical for health and fitness and (more important) maintaining weight….but then, what the heck? THAT’S my average daily step count?? I live in New York City for pete’s sake…..

The long road of re-habituation

There are still so many automatic thoughts and behaviors. I see cookies at the meeting and automatically bark at myself, “Stop it. Get in control of yourself. You can’t have that.” Then I catch myself, and I remind myself that I have a New Philosophy to internalize: starving is not a mark of discipline or strength; real strength is saying “no” to the eating disorder — to eat even when it viscerally feels like you are doing something wrong, because you’ve spent half your life training your brain to respond that way.

Often, though, that narrative just makes me feel more ashamed, because there are still times when I don’t tell it “no.” Sometimes I take the easy way out, because I just don’t have the energy to contravene such strong internal urging. And what is the implication of that, seeing as I’m teaching myself that true strength lies in disobeying the eating disorder?

The implication is that I’m weak. Powerless. Undisciplined. Selfish.

Sometimes I wish there were a brain surgery I could undergo — something that would explode the part of my neural network that has come to seek starvation, rewire my motivation and volition, and get the reward centers to light up for food instead.

No such surgery exists, of course. So I just have to persist in the long, arduous process of re-habituation. A habit that runs up against cultural messages about diet and weight-loss… messages that run up against all my therapies that tell me to listen to my body…. therapies that run up against my internal urges to just do things the way I’ve always done them…. urges that run up against my animal instincts that insist THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS “NOT EATING” BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO PROPAGATE THE SPECIES, YOU DOLT.

This is the average climate in my mind.

What’s scary, though, is that I really am doing much, much better.

So just think about how it was before…

Joanna Kay is a New York City writer and social media professional in recovery from a 14-year battle with anorexia. She is the author of The Middle Ground, a blog that chronicles the period between completing treatment and reaching full recovery. Having encountered many hurdles accessing treatment, she also writes frequently about insurance coverage and other urgent issues facing eating disorder patients. Joanna is a mental health advocate with the National Eating Disorders Association and writes and speaks widely about the recovery process. Visit her blog.