#healing

Making Peace With Our Reflection in The Mirror

Making Peace With Our Reflection in The Mirror

Is that any way to live, in disgust at the sight of your body? This is a question I asked myself for so long and is now the question I ask my clients who struggle with body image.  

How Yoga Can Help You Return to Your Senses in Eating Disorder Recovery

Photo Credit:  Marion Michele

Photo Credit: Marion Michele

I was 18, pulled from my sophomore year of college, and on my way to inpatient treatment for the first time. I sat in the backseat of the car, curled up in my mother’s arms, cold, weak, and desperately afraid.

I have one distinct memory from that ride to Philadelphia: driving past the old Nabisco factory, which, until it closed in 2015, had filled the entire neighborhood for decades with the smell of sugar cookies. As a child, that smell and the cookies the factory produced were mouthwatering. A source of pure joy. An innocent pleasure. That day the sweetness in the air was a cruel joke. I couldn't bear it. I rocked in panic, my throat closed, I moaned, cried, and buried my face as deep into my mother’s side as I possibly could.

That was the first time my sense of smell had been so intensely stimulated in a while, and it petrified me. Starvation had numbed me and compromised my senses. The fear of smells and tastes were paralyzing. My vision was blurry, and I could only hear my eating disorder voice. All other sounds were muffled in the background.

It’s only through looking back on that memory 20 years later, that I understand how anorexia literally desensitized me. As we all know, our eating disorders serve a precise function: to protect. Along the descent into eating disorder hell, protection turns into destruction, leaving us isolated in the torment.

We hollow out physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Sensation is unwelcome. Feeling is not the point.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas - Yoga Helps Return to Your Body

In my experience, the healing process from an eating disorder is a tumultuous effort of learning how to “sense” again—how to sense hunger cues, emotions, our bodies, our intuition, and how we feel in relationships. It’s also a return to our literal senses, sensations, and sensory experiences. In many ways, this aspect of healing—returning to our senses—is what resuscitates our souls by bringing color, textures, and richness back into our lives.

How do we go from numb to sensory human beings?

I find it to be an ongoing process that requires support, patience, and resilience. In my healing, yoga has helped me return to my senses in profound ways. For me, yoga is a safe place to learn how to feel and name sensations that happen in my body. In half pigeon pose I sense an intense stretch in my hip, in forward folds I feel discomfort in my hamstrings, and in triangle pose I notice the sensation of expansion. The more I have become comfortable identifying, naming, and sitting with physical sensations that arise in my body, the easier and more natural it becomes to name and feel emotions, even the painful ones.

The practice of naming physical sensations can be applied to other activities as well. My advice is to find an activity that you enjoy and take stock every so often of what you feel and where you feel it. Name the sensation. Become familiar with it. Observe it. This skill will become useful for naming emotions and experiencing them versus turning to symptoms to banish them.

I recognize that naming sensations in our bodies can aggravate or cause turmoil around body image. Even so, healing requires we name those feelings too. Part of regaining our senses is also knowing and defining our limits. Trust your instincts around when and how often to practice identifying sensations.

Like all aspects of healing, returning to our senses is also a process.

Yoga has also helped me develop my sense of sight. Before I used to stare down food like I would an enemy. Or I'd avert my eyes, turn away from what was fearful. In yoga, we often talk about keeping the eyes soft to embody a sense of ease and calm. I’ve noticed that when my eyes are soft (meaning I am not scrunching up my forehead to fiercely concentrate), my thoughts are kinder. I judge, berate, and demand less. I am more open to the sensory experience of the pose and less concerned about controlling the outcome.

Applying soft eyes in difficult life moments has often made the difference between making a positive choice versus an unhealthy one. Soft eyes have also helped me to stand in front of the mirror and see myself from all angles with compassion.

On a final note, as I recall the Nabisco factory and the difficulty it caused me that day, I can’t help but smile when I imagine how happy the smell would make my two little girls, how much it would light them up, and how they would beg me to stop for cookies. Children have the most beautiful relationship with their senses; automatic, curious, simple, and joyful. Little ones represent the model of what’s possible for all things good. They remind me how much more fun sensational is than numb.

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500 is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder Recovery. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as several influential online publications.  Connect with Jennifer.

Are You Managing an Eating Disorder or Healing from One?

Photo Credit: Catherine McMahon

Photo Credit: Catherine McMahon

“I’m not going to help you manage an eating disorder,” my dietician flat out said to me shortly after I discharged from intensive outpatient treatment. “I’ll continue to work with you, but I won’t help you be a functioning anorexic.”

Whoa! Harsh, right? Brutally harsh, I’d say.

Her words hit me hard in the gut. I felt nauseas and defensive. I was at once insulted and found out by her remarks. After months of inpatient, day, and IOP treatment, and a commitment to long-term outpatient work with my team, I was insulted that my integrity and dedication to recovery wasn’t obvious. Had I not just left my family for a month, taken leave from my job, eaten meals I was terrified of, gained weight, persevered through calorie increases and exercise restriction, and turned myself inside out every day to heal my mind and body? Honestly, what else did she or anyone else want from me?

Still, way, way deep down, I knew my dietician was right. Yes, I had done and accomplished quite a bit during all that treatment; no one was taking that away from me. However, I admit, at the time, living as a “functioning anorexic” was quite appealing. The perfect solution.

If I could pull off being a “little sick and a little well,” if I could do just enough to keep my team and my family off my back, then surely, I’d be “doing” recovery. I’d just be doing it on my terms—or, I should say, the eating disorder’s terms. I’d prevent weight gain, still have room for a little hunger, and feel in charge of my life.

Living this way did not get me very far, and it wasn’t long before I was weary of performing, pretending, and being untruthful to myself and those I love. Merely functioning wasn’t as “safe” as I’d thought it would be. In fact, it was the exact opposite, as the threat of returning to treatment consistently came back in play every few weeks.

I may have dabbled with how “recovered” I was willing to be, but there was positively no way I would settle for being a chronically ill mother and wife. That’s where I drew the line.

And so, I kicked myself into gear by taking a more genuine and sincere approach to healing from rather than merely managing the eating disorder. I did this by adopting the attitude that recovery is a lifestyle, not a side job or something “extra” we must do.

Between therapy appointments and going to groups and keeping food logs, recovery can feel like a time-consuming side job. Over time, this attitude toward recovery can cause us to become resentful. The more resentful we become, the less motivated we are to keep up our efforts.  

When respected as a lifestyle, recovery serves as the foundation from which we must attend to everything in our lives to keep us well and moving forward. To make recovery a lifestyle, I strive to let every choice I make be informed by this question: Is “x” going to support me in my healing or is it going to work against me?

Reflecting on this question guides me to honesty with myself about the people, places, and things in my life that merely help me manage an eating disorder versus those that support me in healthful ways. I choose to avoid the landmines and replace them with things that empower me and build me up. It’s not always easy, but this system of self-accountability has made a profound difference in my approach to recovery and deepened my commitment to myself.

Take a pause and ask yourself: Am I managing or healing the eating disorder? Are there thoughts, rituals, and behaviors in place that covertly are in cahoots with the eating disorder?

There’s no shame in your answer. What’s most important is taking this time to get brutally honest with yourself. I encourage you to tap into your resilience and slowly but steadily begin to loosen the grip on things that do not serve you in healthful ways and replace them with thoughts, rituals, and behaviors that do.

As you shift away from the “functioning” and “managing” mentality and embrace an intention of healing, life will ultimately become more filled with you and the goodness you have to offer this world—your gifts, talents, and passions. And I promise you, it is so worth it!  

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500 is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder Recovery. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as several influential online publications.  Connect with Jennifer.

A Story of a Hopeful Heart

A Story of a Hopeful Heart

If comparisons are the thief of joy, I wonder if depression is the thief of hope.  Hope. Such a tiny a little word, yet in its absence it leaves such large gaping holes.  Sometimes we search for hope, and despite our most valiant efforts, it’s nowhere to be found.  And then, almost as mysteriously as when it left, it returns, filling in the gaps as though it had never left.  

What Does Recovery Look Like to You?

What Does Recovery Look Like to You?

If someone had asked me what recovery looked like to me when wrapped in the cocoon of my eating disorder, I would have likely told them to leave me alone - Exorcist-style (head spinning and projectile vomiting).  However, tucked gently in the folds of that cocoon, was a part of myself who had big plans for my life before I got hijacked by the eating disorder.