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On Saturday, May 12, 2018, eating disorder treatment professionals, researchers, individuals affected, family members, educators, and activists came together for NEDAcon Philadelphia at Drexel University. This wonderful conference focused on educating attendees about the diverse experiences of people recovering from eating disorders and inspired a vital call to action for inclusion of marginalized groups in the recovery community. 

The conference presenters powerfully impressed how all connected to the recovery community play an important role in expanding the conversation and representation of who exactly suffers from eating disorders. Exceptional professionals, including Colleen Reichmann, PhD; Ivy Felicia; Samantha DeCaro, PsyD; Hallie Espel-Huynh, MS; and Rebecca Berman, LCSW-C, CEDS, MLSP, spoke on how and why the intersectionality of eating disorders and all body sizes, races, abilities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, ages, and other behavioral and mental health conditions must be valued, respected, researched, and represented.*

A major takeway for me from these presentations was the truth that we can't for wait for the media to change these messages; rather, we, the recovery community, must empower ourselves to lead the way and educate others by using our voices and paving avenues for healthcare, research, and professional outlets to exponentially raise the bar for access to care and overall education about underrepresented groups in the eating disorder community. What a necessary and powerful call to action! And it was personally thrilling and humbling to be in the audience, learning from so many wise voices and feeling moved by others' experiences that were so unlike my own, due to my many priveleges. 

The presenters on the NEDAcon Self-Care Panel from left to right: me, Stacey Lorin Merkl, Nikisha Bolden, and Shalini Wickramatilake Templeman. 

I had the true honor of not only attending NEDAcon, but also moderating a recovery panel on self-care and maintenance. The three women on my panel were brilliantly brave and inspiring, each sharing stories of struggle and victory, pain and healing. Their backgrounds, eating disorders, and pathways to care were all very different. They shared how their marginalized or otherwise non-typically represented personal experiences affected their identity before, during, and after treatment. And they spoke with such courage and confidence about what self-care means to them and the daily steps they take to sustain and support their recoveries. Each offered a message of hope for attendees, including family members.

In their own unique ways, the women on my panel and the people who shared about their challenges in recovery on a panel moderated by Brian Pollack, LCSW, CEDS, are actively advocating for wider acceptance of eating disorders in their communities. They are also raising up their own voices and those of others to create awareness and prevention of eating disorders. They are out in the world every day, owning their recoveries and purposelfully helping others do the same through their example and steadfast commitment to gathering up all the bodies and voices of the eating disorder community, uniting them, and assuring them of their worth and worthiness of care, recovery, and humanity.   

Today, I am filled up with gratitude for the brilliant, brave, and inspiring individuals who shared their stories and showed up for themselves in such empowering ways at NEDAcon. It was an unforgettable day for me, one that has sent me on my way to new explorations and learning about intersectionality and eating disorders, and a quest to seek out the voices and stories of those who are willing to share and be a part of educating me and the world.   

As such, I have 5 action items on my list from NEDAcon. I share them here with the hope that you, too, will join me in these actions and that they may even inspire other steps for you to share with me and the recovery community. 

  1. Diversify my social media newsfeeds so that I am learning from/about other groups' experiences, the challenges they face, and have an understanding of what they value. I will then share/include their posts in my community and amplify their voices in my work, so that they are being heard and seen in my small corner of the recovery community. 
  2. Connect with experts and leading voices with different backgrounds than myself and ask questions about their life experiences so that I am best able to serve my yoga therapy clients and represent the entire recovery community in my speaking and writing. 
  3. Be mindful of images I post. Seek out images that represent a variety of body sizes, races, abilities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, and ages.
  4. Be mindful of the words included on my posts, so as to not unintentionally perpetuate fat phobia or other damaging and insensitive cultural and social messages.
  5. Share others' voices on my blog to promote inclusion as well as provide space for individuals to tell their story. 

To that last action item, if you would like to share your story of recovery on my blog, I would love to hear from you. Individuals of all body sizes, races, abilities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, and ages are invited and welcome. Your story holds more inspiration than you realize, and the recovery community is hungry for inspiration, motivation, healing, and empowerment. If you are interested in sharing your story on my blog, let's connect.

Thank you, National Eating Disorder Association, for such an excellent day of sharing, learning, and ultimately, healing. You have my commitment to practice inclusion and encourage others to do so as well. We don't recover alone; it often takes a village. Let's do this together to make sure no one is alone on their personal healing path.  

*Other presenters at NEDAcon included Melinda Parisi Cummings, MSEd, PhD; Sam Tryon, RD; Steven Crawford, MD; and Laura Cipullo.

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Navigating our food decisions, thoughts, and behaviors is outright exhausting. I can remember the early days and years of recovery feeling so wrung out by the end of the day from the sheer energy it took to choose, create, eat, and digest meals and snacks. All of my energy was directed at eating in some way, shape, or form. The barrage of what, when, and where to eat banged around my brain constantly. The "games" of If I eat this, then I can't eat that, blah, blah, blah, rarely turned off.

Yet, strongly competing with all this "noise"--the constant calculating and planning and worrying--was my heartfelt desire, or intention, to be whole and free for myself and my family. 

Like an internal compass, this intention for wholeness and freedom has guided my healing path in empowering ways. Early on it took diligent practice to proactively confront fear and make choices that aligned with my intention instead of mindlessly giving in to habitual eating disorder patterns. I thank my Yoga practice for assisting me in fostering the internal awareness required to wake up to destructive habits and then cultivate the courage and strength to integrate new life-sustaining patterns.

One very crucial awareness I committed to developing was the difference between my food preferences and food rules. Food preferences, our genuinely natural likes and dislikes, are self-directed. No strings attached. Our preferences represent a pure inner wisdom programmed in our nervous systems. Food rules, as you know, are driven by the opposite of inner wisdom; they are born of a variety of factors, including social and cultural messages, fear, control, and power.

Food preferences are neutral in nature. Although you may have a strong visceral reaction when you see or smell a food you naturally like or dislike, your body's response comes from a neutral space. Whereas shuttering or freezing in fear at the smell or sight of a food for which you have strict rules is not neutral. The reaction is charged with layers of emotions and triggers that initiate spinning thinking. The rules and our reactions to them throw us off center, sending us away from self-directed inner wisdom into the jungle of eating disorder mayhem. The ground beneath us is nowhere to be found as we obsess on rules--breaking them, keeping them, rationalizing them, creating new ones, etc.

Food rules (both those we internalize from social messages and the eating disorder programming) barricade us from wholeness and freedom. Our rules are prisons. Luckily, these prisons of ours lock from the inside, meaning we have complete and total power to unlock the cell door and take a chance on living self-directed rather than rule-bound. I don't make light of what it takes to even consider unlocking the prison cell in the first place, let alone opening the door and taking a step forward. I can also attest to the fact that it is possible to leave the prison and not look back.

So, how do we untangle the difference between preferences and rules? This can be tricky at first, particularly in early recovery when everything about us feels like a result of the eating disorder. But, this is not true. We are way more than the eating disorder, and we have preferences for a variety of aspects of life, we just need to create time and space to reconnect to them.

When we live from the place of preference, we are in our center, tuned into our inner wisdom. When we live from preference, we assert self-assuredness; there's little need for debate. We know what we know to be true because there's nothing to argue about. It is what it is--literally!

To determine the difference between a food rule and preference, try this short Yoga-inspired practice:

  • When making a food choice, observe in yourself your reaction. This includes your physical response, breathing, thoughts, and emotions. If your body tenses; if your breathing turns shallow, fast, or is barely there; and/or if your thoughts and emotions jump on the eating disorder track, then you are working from the "food rule" space. If, on the other hand, your response to a food is more a instantaneous, natural like "Oh, I like that" or "No way, I don't like that food," and your physical, mental, and emotional state is not much altered, you are likely in the preference space. Observe your reactions to gauge which is at play. 
  • Then, "find the ground," meaning, get grounded, centered, present to the experience and moment. To do that, connect with time and space through your feet and hands. Feel your feet on the ground. Sense the connection between your feet and the surface under them.Trust you are steady and supported. Rest your hands on a hard surface, your body, or press one into the other to create grounding in your upper body. You can do this seated or standing, or if you are in a private space, you can rest on your back and allow the floor to support your entire being. Take a 3 to 5 slow purposeful breaths in this grounded position. Notice your inhale and exhale with each breath. 
  • If you determine you are in a "rule space," take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths to interrupt the spinning thoughts and then proceed when you've gained some clarity about the best choice to make for yourself.
  • If in the "preference space," take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths to simply notice your natural inclinations and honor that you do indeed exist outside the identity of an eating disorder. Perhaps write down your preferences as you encounter them to reinforce these self-directed aspects of yourself.
  • If you are unsure which space you are in--rule or preference--notice that too. Give yourself time to take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths in this grounded position and see what bubbles up. There's no right or wrong here. Often, it takes time to reestablish our trust in our capacity to have preferences, and so distinguishing them from rules in and of itself may be process that takes you time and patience. A few quiet, purposeful breaths can do wonders in allowing our inner wisdom to come back online. Trust you will get there.

I recommend you repeat this exercise daily to get in the practice of differentiating between preferences and rules, with the intention of tuning into and honoring your preferences more and more.

Our preferences are like an internal compass. When we respect our preferences, we respect ourselves. We assert our humanity. We express wholeness and freedom. We embody our inner wisdom. Your preferences for food and all things deserve your attention and to be cultivated to the fullest. 

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For many years, including those of early recovery from an eating disorder, my reflection was a source of complete angst. Standing before a mirror or catching a glimpse of my body in a storefront window could instantly send me in a mental tailspin as I meticulously inspected myself from every angle. No matter the day, the prevailing feeling during and after this ritual was disgust.

Is that anyway to live, in disgust at the sight of your body?

I must have asked myself that question hundreds of times before finally answering NO. Believe it or not, taking a yoga class in a room with mirrors was what moved me to interact with my reflection in a new and surprisingly healing way.

Let me set the scene.

It’s a packed Friday noon class. I enter the yoga room to realize that the only spaces left are next to the mirror wall — directly next to it. Meaning, to my right isn’t another practitioner; it’s the mirror.

I scan the room three times over, as if by the third time a space will magically become available. I roll out my mat and feel agitated. I futz with the blocks and my towel and bottle of water, nervously moving them from one side of my mat to other, pretending to get set up for class while inside I feel anxiety building.

In the opening moments of class, I try to rest my mind on my breath, to settle in, and arrive. But that damn mirror is staring at me. I breathe deeper and try to give myself over to the flow, the rhythm of the movement, and the energy in the room.

I come face to face with myself as we enter the first Warrior 2 of the practice. The disgust begins:

Does the flesh around my hips really bulge like that in Warrior 2? Are my thighs really that wide? Does my stomach really stick out that much? Do I really look like that, like all the time?

I breathe deeper and close my eyes. When I opened them, magic actually did happen.

Time seemed to pause, and the sounds in the room faded away. First, I saw my own eyes — just my wide-open eyes. Next, I saw my body in the shape of Warrior 2. I didn’t see body parts, I saw the wholeness of myself in this strong and powerful yoga pose.

Then, I looked past myself and saw the entire room behind me filled with warriors, just like me — working hard, breathing deeply, coming to their mats to find peace of mind.

In that single moment, I recognized myself in the mirror as an individual part of a larger group that came together to experience and share a common purpose. The mirror reflected the definition of the word yoga — to unite or union.

Once I looked past myself in the mirror, it showed me community, the gift of shared experience. The mirror reflected belonging versus self-alienation. Seeing myself through the lens of wholeness created a reflection founded on connection.

In that moment, I understood how viewing myself through the lens of disgust severed any possibility for true connection with myself and others. This realization brought an emotional and physical release in my Warrior 2 pose. As the tears came I deepened the bend in my front knee, lifted my chest, reached longer through my arms, and turned my gaze forward over my fingers. The belonging I felt was so powerful and fulfilling that I didn’t need to “see it” in the mirror. I could sense it from the inside out.

That day in the yoga room brought me face to face with how mirrors can show me what is possible when I take my place in the world with the confidence of a warrior. Now when I see my reflection, I see myself in relation to the world behind me; to appreciate the spaces I inhabit or visit; to take in colors, shapes, nature, architecture, and the beauty of light; to recognize myself as part of a larger group and world.

It’s also helpful to apply the same idea when you look at pictures of yourself. Rather than stay stuck in picking apart your body, notice other elements in the picture. Connect with the memory of the experience—the sounds, sights, and people you were with.

Next time you find yourself spiraling into body disgust, pause, take a breath, and study the mirror for what else it can show you. Seek connection. Look at yourself through the lens of wholeness.

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Anorexia. My demon. The entity that defined, determined, and disciplined me. The part of me I loved to hate and hated to love. The very part I spent the better part of my life striving to banish and preserve at the same time. For who would I be without my demon, without Anorexia?

I contorted my body to cling to it but commanded my mind to renounce it. I showed up to recover but dreaded letting go. What was this “freedom” everyone spoke of? Who was I to be free?

The guilt and shame of failing my demon was heavy, but so was the pain of failing to banish decades of beliefs, behaviors, and rituals. For as much as my favorable character traits and values were a part of who I am, so too was this eating disorder.

The effort to exile Anorexia was exhausting. The struggle was suffocating. The push and pull between wellness and sickness created a momentum of its own, making healing from years of an eating disorder slow going at best and frustrating beyond measure.

But then, a breakthrough. A most unexpected twist to my story. A therapist I deeply trusted asked me about my love-hate relationship with the eating disorder, pointing out how swinging between these two extremes was a barrier to accepting myself.

“What if you made friends with the eating disorder?” she asked. “What if you got to know it? Learn from it instead of hate it or love it?”

She went on, “What if instead of being ashamed of the eating disorder, you embraced the truth that you are capable of all that you are despite and because of it?”

Then this, the most poignant question: “Jennifer, this so-called ‘disorder’ has been a part of you for all these years. Is it realistic to think you can banish it in the first place?”

As I took in her words, something snapped into place. It was me; I snapped into place. The two parts of me that had been warring for so long—my demon and the “real” me—effortlessly integrated, like two puzzle pieces destined to fit together. I felt complete somehow, whole, no longer two halves.

She was right. If I flipped my thinking from believing I had to cast out the eating disorder to honoring it as a part of who I am, then I could also be free of the shame that kept the eating disorder going in the first place.

If I respected Anorexia as a teacher instead of labeling it a demon, then I could engage the eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs in the spirit of understanding, growing, and ultimately healing. Rather than dwell on the guilt of “being bad” or “having a bad day” when I used symptoms to the point of depression, I could look on those moments as “experiences” filled with wisdom and guidance—a truth about something within myself that needed attention, validation, and healing.

I’ll share that once I made this mental shift, of befriending versus demonizing the eating disorder, my symptoms decreased dramatically, I felt more comfortable and confident in my body, and I worked through “my stuff” with much more ease. Without the heaviness of guilt, shame, depression, and failure to hold me back, I was free to move through my life, to accept myself, and to value all my experiences (eating disorder related and otherwise) as opportunities from which to learn. By adopting this approach to relating to the eating disorder, I came to appreciate that I have a unique lens through which to see my life and the world.

To all my friends on a recovery path, you too have an opportunity to understand your life through a healing and empowering lens. What if instead of calling your inner struggles “demons,” you called them teachers, healers, or even friends? What if instead of striving to banish your “crazy,” you embraced the lessons and gifts of your experiences. How would your relationship with yourself change if you traveled the recovery path with a friend instead of a demon?

This can be a tough perspective shift to make. In fact, it may feel like more of a leap than a shift. I often share this story with my yoga therapy clients to introduce the notion that they aren’t “bad” for having a slip with symptoms, because the symptoms are a part of an experience that can be examined, discussed, and processed. As “ugly” as they are, eating disorder behaviors hold wisdom; they want to tell us something. The symptoms don’t make us “bad,” they make us students of our lives.

Certainly, we must resolve to learn our lessons and keep moving forward; I am not condoning actively engaging in eating disorder symptoms! Rather, I offer a perspective shift—from demon to friend—to enlighten you to the truth that you are whole already. No matter how divided or fragmented you may feel in this exact moment, you are whole. Befriend yourself.

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By Faye Bird, Guest Contributor

Your body is the ship, and your life is the journey.

Now, I know sometimes you feel lost. I know sometimes you wonder if the waves that beat against your sides will ever release your from their tumultuous path of destruction. I know sometimes you ask yourself if it would be easier to simply let the crashing tides carry you far, far away from here.

I know sometimes you fear that you’ll live forever in this in between, this life of solitude on your ship as you ceaselessly grasp for tethers, trying to escape from this world where you feel you cannot be reached, or loved, or known, or saved.

I know sometimes you question if the currents will ever guide you home.

What if I told you that the answer was not in the keeping your eyes locked onto the violent waves of your sea, for you already know the pain they are capable of.

What if the answer was not in learning the damaging nature of your tides any longer, for you have learned all you have to learn from them just by surviving into the present, right here and right now.

What if the answer was simple? What if the answer was clutching your wheel with white knuckles, with the ocean’s cold salt water permeating into your bones, and steering your self, your ship, your body, and your life just one degree?

And what if I told you that after many many thousands of miles, after many many thousands of breaths and days and rising suns, that your ship would be somewhere so vastly far from where you had always expected it to be destined for?

What if it is in this one degree shift, that you can save your own life?

See, our lives, our ships, our bodies and minds and souls, are all exactly where they are, in any given moment. The minute we lie to ourselves and pretend we are somewhere far from where we are is the minute that we are overcome with a storm of darkness, of discord, and of disconnection with our truth.

We must realize that it is in this very moment, no matter what storms plague us, no matter how relentless the barrage of gales may be, no matter how cold and exhausted we undoubtedly are, we still have the courage to shift our ships just one subtle yet profoundly courageous degree.

I have thought long and hard about what this degree of mine will be, and have come to the realization that my degree is in the letting go.

The letting go of the belief that no longer serves me, the belief that keeps me stuck in the who-i-used-to-be rather than the who-i-am-yearning-to-become.

The belief that I deserve to hurt for every second that I am alive; the belief that my life is a worthless mistake that must be compensated for and punished.

So, I grasp my wheel. I turn my eyes from the crashing dark waves that lulled me into hopelessness for too many nights, and change my course.

I leave this belief to rest, and instead I believe I am real, I am a soul filled with wisdom and sacred truth, I am a window into infinite wonder and change, and I do belong. I belong here, alive, free of this old thread of darkness that has stayed woven into my heart for much too long.

And yet even with this shift I am not anywhere yet near calm waters. My ship is still reeling from unrelenting walls of surf, I am still fearful of the waters below. But, I am no longer headed for a continuation of that old darkness, I am setting a new course.

Degree by degree, we change our endings. With time and patience and an unending fight, we build our new harbors and tether ourselves and our ships to a life we have never before known.

Degree by degree, we leave our past selves behind and embrace the truest selves we can be; the beings we are when we hold both our present and our future selves with the utmost grace, while still carrying with both pain and gratitude the lessons our darkness has bestowed upon us. When we are integrated, when we are whole. Whole, just as we have been all along.

So, my dear friends. The time has come. What is the shift you know so wholly in your heart that you need to bring about?

What is the belief that is still stealing away your breath, leaving you incapable of moving forward?

What is the piece of your darkness that you need to relinquish? What is the piece of your darkness to which your soul cries “let go”, “let go”, “let go?”

And how, today, will you begin that shift? How will you being the turning of your ship, your being, and your life, to use this small movement to bring about the beginning of the truest freedom?

About Faye Bird
My name is Faye; four letters, a single syllable, but I am on a journey to become so much more. I am 20 years old, living in the California Bay Area, and after many dark years lost in the depths of anorexia, from which I did not believe I could ever survive, I am now a soul rediscovering what it means to feel whole, to find worth and purpose, and to accept my whole being as all that I am. Through words, yoga, art, volunteer work, and connection, I am cultivating the pieces of my being once again, and am so honored to have the opportunity to share my words here today. Keep on keeping on. Always. 

Read more of Faye's brilliant writings on her blog, The Art of Becoming.

 

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*Healing is defined as the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.
*To treat and treatment mean to care for or deal with medically or surgically and the management and care of a patient.

In my recovery from an eating disorder, healing has always been "my word." Healing feels like permission to mend, revive, restore. I visualize healing as en energy running through me like a thread gently renewing the connection between my mind, body, and spirit. I imagine physical and mental pain being enveloped by this nurturing energy that allows me boundless time and space to feel, process, and practice new patterns and perspectives until the place of pain is soothed---healed. 

I often refer to recovery as a healing path. Healing path allows me to feel more “in process” and keep an open mind to that process, whereas "recovered" and "recovery" elicit ideas of landing, arriving, or conquering a destination. I believe that no matter how long we are "recovered," "in recovery," or "recovering," if we are truly engaged in our lives we are always healing in some capacity as we attend to life's twists and turns.

Recent conversations with my Yoga Therapy clients have highlighted the significance of the word healing in their lives as well. One client in particular shared her profound realization of the difference between treating and healing her eating disorder. She shared that, to her, "healing" means (1) connecting to her "real" self and (2) accepting where she is with the intention to change. She told me healing feels empowering, like she is actively and purposefully choosing her actions, words, thoughts, and behaviors; that she is the energy that drives the course of her recovery journey.

My client shared that to treat the eating disorder, on the other hand, feels like the day in and day out "recovery activities" she has to do to stay out of treatment or maintain a baseline of wellness. These moments feel more rote, mandatory (but optional), and are perceived to be associated with less personal agency or power. 

Essentially, for this client, healing is personal and treating is medical or prescribed. 

I've been exploring treating and healing with other clients too, as I am fascinated by the nuances of these words and how they apply to recovery. These conversations and my own reflection on the topic have illuminated how both treating and healing are essential to recovery. It can't be one just one or the other.

Especially in early recovery, most of us need medical care and prescribed physical and mental care. We need to establish a foundation of wellness that only treatment (inpatient, outpatient, etc) can provide. From that stability, we can begin the work of healing. Without the daily "treating" activities (like following a meal plan, going to appointments, or not buying laxatives, for example), we aren't ready to receive healing. And surely, it takes time before doing those treating things feels OK or becomes the new normal.

As I see it then, healing comes in the working through the feelings around our daily treatment steps. It comes from practicing perseverance, trust, surrender, courage, strength, and all the virtues--the "weapons of the warrior" in Yoga speak--we possess.

Here's what I mean:

Treat = not weighing yourself obsessively
Heal = the perseverance to work through the anxiety of not knowing your weight 

Treat = following a meal plan
Heal = taking the hard steps to choose trust in your dietitian and talk out the fear about doing so 

Treat =  limiting time body checking
Heal = asserting courage to let go of depending on the mirror and processing angst around making this change

Treat = calling a friend when you want to restrict or binge
Heal = connecting with your strength to make the call in the first place and giving yourself credit for doing so

I could go on and on here, calling out how equally essential these two parts are to our recovery journeys. Both treating and healing can be tedious and take commitment, patience, repetition, and a whole lot of up and down. But we can handle that, we can ride that wave. We can treat the symptoms and heal the pain. 

When we are in the depths of fearful, painful, and insecure moments, we can become ensnared in eating disorder thoughts and behaviors or begrudgingly stay on the "treat" side by believing "this is as good as it gets" (I remember saying those exact words to my therapist many times in years past). That attitude blocks our healing capacity; it disconnects us from our truest sources of power, our "weapons of the warrior." Opening ourselves to healing as my client defined it (accepting where one is with the intention to change) lightens the "weight" of recovering from an eating disorder. It gives us permission to mend, revive, restore.

As you continue you on your healing path, I invite you to notice the interplay of treating and healing in your life. Give yourself the credit due for how far you have come. Acknowledge that you dig deep everyday. Honoring your grit and persistence is the very first step in healing. Honor it each day, make healing a daily practice. 

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I dedicate this blog post to sharing a really sweet conversation I recently had with my 6-year-old daughter about appreciating our bodies. It went something like this:

Demetra: Mommy, my favorite part of my body are my eyelids, because I love to sleep and it feels so good when I close my eyes and sleep.

Me: I love sleep too!

Demetra: Mommy, what's your favorite part of your body?

Me: My favorite part of my body are my arms, because they are strong and allow me to hug and hold you and your sister. I can do yoga and rock climb, and reach with my arms for your hand to hold.

Demetra: That's nice, Mommy. I like my arms too.

And in that moment, that very pure moment, I thought to myself, after all these years of honest hard work, what a breath of fresh air to not miss a beat, to not even hesitate, or pretend for her sake to say something positive about my body. I could have said more, actually!

And what a gift to me, to witness Demetra celebrating bodies--celebrating HER body. What a cool little conversation between the two of us. Unforgettable. May both of my babies celebrate their bodies always.

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By Sarah Kinsel, Guest Contributor

A short while ago, just under 1 year, I was in a partial hospitalization program at Castlewood. In honor of Valentine's Day, clients were given a “self-love” challenge for 1 week. I tend to think these types of activities are far too Hallmark holiday for my preference, but I made a fair attempt to participate. At the end of the week, I was to reward my attempt in taking a chance on loving myself. Looking back on that time in my life, I had absolutely no way of knowing just how much would manifest from my attempts at self-love.

Last year’s practice in self-love became a lesson in how to simultaneously hold two things that seem like complete opposites: strength and vulnerability. A few times over the last nine months I’ve done my fair share of mucking up the progress I had made towards a consistent meal plan AND that doesn’t necessarily mean I had relapsed. In starting the work of loving myself last February, I had begun the foundation for what would turn into compassion for myself when things (bills, school, relationship, work, etc.) did not go how I felt they should have gone. Side stepping the meal plan did/does not mean I have failed, but it has become a beacon that things may be more difficult than I would let myself believe.

Loving myself--believing in myself--has not been a decision I’ve made once and didn’t need to revisit; it has been moment-to-moment decisions and choices. It has been in the very cognizant choice to continue connecting and being present in my body, even if I was afraid of what my body was trying to tell me. It was in finding things and activities that I love, that I could do outside the eating disorder, that has given me so many opportunities to feel strong and resilient within myself, even though I was afraid of what being strong could mean.

Sometimes that act of self-love has come down to stopping, just for a moment, to breathe, notice what I am genuinely feeling, and giving those feelings space to be heard and felt.

The last year has been amazing, even when it wasn’t. The bottom hasn’t fallen out all the times that my body’s nervous system was telling me the world was ending. In completing my Master's degree, I was able to grasp the line between self-care and avoidance through being productive. I had traveled pretty far from what my heart was telling me I wanted to do and, now, I have found my way back to myself. And that’s really the big ‘thing’…being strong AND vulnerable, because it’s far more likely that life, and those things, are not so black and white. Rather, strength and vulnerability together is like a spark that guides and grounds me as I continue in and through my recovery process.

Sarah Kinsel, based out of Maryland, just completed her Masters degree in clinical mental health counseling and is working within the thanatology sector of therapy. As an individual that has struggled with an eating disorder for 17 years, she is savoring the ways she has connected to her body more recently, and the strong resolve this connection has given her in her own recovery.

 

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Yesterday I passed up 15 seconds of fame. I was invited to participate in a marketing campaign for a very well known brand name company. If I passed the interview, I'd be featured as an "everyday hero." In a 15-second video I'd share my story and about my work in the eating disorder community. That all sounded pretty great--really great! The catch was I had to do it wearing only underwear (remember, this is a marketing campaign, so of course there's a product to be promoted) and demonstrate what it feels like to be comfortable in my skin to express myself.

I spent hours examining myself. I measured the pros and cons of participating. I consulted with trusted friends and colleagues. I considered my husband's feelings, if I would feel proud to show the video to my daughters, if it aligned with my personal recovery values, and most of all, if it would inspire and empower others, especially my clients and the eating disorder community and all women. I also studied my ego in all of it, too. Certainly I was flattered to be asked, and who wouldn't want to have 15 seconds of fame?

In the end, I turned it down. Something in my gut knew this opportunity wasn't right for me. Although I truly do respect the marketing campaign's overarching message, I just didn't feel comfortable putting my body on display. Just 2 weeks ago I had new photographs taken for the banner image of my website because I didn't want the focus to be on my body in a yoga pose. I also insisted with the publisher of my upcoming book that the cover doesn't include bodies on it, because I don't want to promote "ideal" representations of beauty.

If I don't want to display bodies on the cover of my book, then how could it be appropriate for me to display my nearly naked body?

In my work as a yoga therapist, I teach others to relearn how to experience their bodies and find empowerment in the experience. I believe the empowerment is in the experience, not the exterior.

Now, a day later, after much time reflecting, I feel proud that I said no. I feel proud that I am clear with myself about who I want to be in my own recovery and for the people I am committed to serving. I feel proud of my values and integrity. I feel empowered knowing that when challenged, I chose to stay true to sharing my message in ways that align with my values and who I want to be in the world for myself, my daughters, and all on the healing path of eating disorder recovery and body image struggles.

I am thankful for the opportunity and for the gifts and lessons I learned from it being offered to me.

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By Natalie A. Asayag, MSW, LSW, Guest Contributor

For individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, the nagging fear of a slip, lapse, or full-on relapse can underlie daily activities. When one has worked so hard to create a healthy life promoting recovery, this anxiety can feel omnipresent, lurking around every corner.

Fortunately, recovery doesn’t have to be riddled with fear. Taking time to explore and connect with your experiences, perspectives, and feelings through writing can significantly assuage the distress that comes from fear and anxiety.

Journaling is a valuable tool for guiding introspection and inspiration throughout recovery. Taking a big “exhale” in the form of exploration through writing will allow you the opportunity to explore your perspective on your path, journey, and adventure. Allow yourself to take some time to explore the following journaling prompts to get you started.

  • What does recovery look like to you? If you are unable to imagine this for yourself, imagine it for a friend. What would it look like for that individual? How would they feel along their journey? How would they know they are feeling better?
     
  • Which individuals within your support system who accept you for who you are? Have you worked to create healthy boundaries, despite the discomfort of doing so? If you haven’t, are you willing to assess the holes or negativity in your support system? How might you do this when you feel ready?
     
  • How did you handle a challenging situation one year ago versus how you would today? What is different? What lessons have you learned to help you make positive changes in your approach to challenges?
     
  • Can you identify the critical eating disorder voice? Do you allow your healthy, mindful voice to counter the unhealthy voice? How so? If not, what would you like this dialogue to look like
     
  • How present is your self-care routine? What makes you feel good? How often do you partake in these feel good activities and practices?
     
  • Do you hear yourself apologizing often? Tune in to your words and take some time to note how often and in what scenarios you find yourself saying “I’m sorry.” Do the scenarios warrant an apology or have you become accustomed to apologizing? If the latter, explore why.
     
  • Do you feel like a burden to those around you or do you feel you deserve to take up space in your everyday life? Just in case you forgot: it’s the latter.
     
  • How could you be kinder to yourself? More patient? 

Recovery takes time and patience, both with yourself and your journey. Journaling can be a valuable tool for keeping you connected to your values. Writing can also help you stay honest and in touch with how you are caring for yourself. If journaling is not your preference, then I encourage you to explore art, dance, and other forms of expression to help forge a solid self-connection. Remember: You are enough. You are worth recovery. You are not your eating disorder.

Natalie A. Asayag, MSW, LSW, is a psychotherapist and the co-owner and founder of Renew Wellness & Psychotherapy, LLC, located in historic downtown Easton, Pennsylvania. Much of her work focuses on disordered eating/eating disorders, anxiety and depression, body kindness, self-compassion and mindfulness. Natalie most recently presented at the 2017 PA-NASW Social Work Conference, focusing on the intersection of substance abuse and eating disorders. She enjoys helping clients reclaim their sense of self, promoting positive self worth. Renew Wellness & Psychotherapy, LLC can be found on Instagram and Facebook.

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