When it comes to succeeding in eating disorder recovery, one stubborn misconception needs to be discredited—the good food versus bad food debate. Mainstream culture has propagated the idea of attaching morality to certain food groups by idealizing some and demonizing others. But this paradigm is nothing more than a fabricated social construct with destructive implications. When a food is labeled either “good” or “bad,” it suggests the person who consumes that food must take on a similar virtue. But the reality is, character is not based on someone’s diet. Integrity cannot be measured by asking the question, “Did you eat a salad or cheeseburger for lunch?” What you eat doesn’t define you. Foods should not be forced into categories any more than humans should. In order to prioritize eating disorder recovery, it’s time to stop the good food versus bad food food debate.
Why the Good Food Versus Bad Food Debate Is a Problem
If you’ve gnawed on a carrot stick and felt a sense of moral superiority, or scarfed down a slice of pizza only to experience regret afterward, then you’re familiar with the distorted mindset of good food vs. bad food. When you attribute success, praise and worth to eating fruits or vegetables and failure, weakness and shame to indulging in dessert, you become judgmental and restrictive of the foods you’re allowed to consume. You berate and criticize yourself when these diet rules are broken, and in the process, you feel condemned to a rigid existence where food is a necessary evil rather than a source of nourishment and enjoyment.
That’s precisely the reason this good food vs. bad food debate is so problematic—it fuels an eating disorder mentality. The more food groups you write off as negative, the more suspicious and anxious you will become of sustenance in general (Food Anxiety Overview). This fear-based approach to food is how eating disorders originate all too often, and it can plunge you into a toxic cycle of deprivation and subjugation to an illness that will not hesitate to ruin your health and even threaten your life.
Maintaining ED Recovery in the Midst of the Good Food Vs. Bad Food Debate
I confess that I struggle to prioritize eating disorder recovery when all around me it seems like this good food versus bad food debate is gaining momentum and credibility. From wellness gurus touting the benefits of a clean, organic lifestyle to media exposés broadcasting the evils of refined sugar, I am tempted to demonize certain foods and exhibit a self-righteous attitude when I reach for an apple instead of cheesecake. But I am also learning that one food choice does not morally transcend another.
Some foods contain more nutritional density, but this doesn’t inform how “good” they are. Likewise, it has no bearing on the character of a person who decides to ingest those foods. Although my eating disorder would love nothing more than to remove cookies, pizza, burgers and Chinese takeout from my diet altogether, I’ve found that moderation is healthier than elimination. I can fuel myself with green smoothies or quinoa salads and derive guiltless pleasure from an ice cream sundae too. Both options are flavorful and beneficial. In fact, the body needs that balance of nutrition and indulgence. This practice of freedom around eating can sustain long-term ED recovery and silence the good food vs. bad food debate.
In the past few years, I’ve developed a crippling fear of driving, way beyond driving anxiety. People who know me now find it hard to believe that I used to drive every day in LA traffic. When I was younger, I was fearless. In my early twenties, I lived in Los Angeles, which now feels like a different planet compared to my present-day home in Toledo. I never had a fear of driving when I was younger, and I’m hoping that my motivations to succeed in business will continue to help me overcome this specific phobia.
How My Fear of Driving Plays Out
Here in Toledo, I always let my husband drive, but when I’m by myself, I have no choice. Every time I climb into my SUV, I envision all of these horrible scenarios. I hear the sound of a crash. I smell airbags that have been deployed. I see myself broken down in a rough neighborhood, blocking traffic, and waiting hours for a tow truck. It may seem silly, but these thoughts are on repeat every day. Public transportation and alternative modes are scarce and unsafe where I live. I drive because I have to.
My fear of driving isn’t completely unfounded. My mother was killed in a car accident and I myself was in a serious accident as a teenager. I know logically odds are that I’m not going to get into an accident every day, but I also am very aware of the dangers associated with driving.
Am I Getting Over My Fear of Driving?
However, something interesting has happened lately. I recently became a member of the Women’s Business Center of Northern Ohio. Their office is based in Cleveland, about two hours from my home. I have now attended a couple meetings and classes there despite my nervousness. When I plan to go to the WBC office, I get up in the morning with anxiety and want to cancel. I start on the road and want to turn back. I cry in the car, eventually, make it to Cleveland, and fix my makeup in the parking lot.
I joined the Women’s Business Center because I started my own business, and I don’t want to miss any opportunity. Apparently, my desire to make my business successful is stronger than my fear of driving. When I return home from Cleveland, it’s a huge rush. I can’t believe I did it. Sometimes I cry again. Getting past the fear of driving just feels overwhelming.
Is it possible to focus on your strengths to minimize your weaknesses? My confidence and anxiety definitely seem to be linked together. I will not stop going to the Women’s Business Center. I just can’t. Every time I drive to Cleveland I feel just a tiny bit more comfortable. I hope this trend continues, and maybe one day my fear of driving won’t be that big of a deal.
To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s shed some light on anxiety. After all, anxiety affects everyone. Every human being on this planet, across cultures, genders, age groups, socioeconomic groups, and all other groups of people, experiences anxiety. To be sure, not everyone has an anxiety disorder, but anxiety itself is part of the human condition. Therefore, it makes sense that during Mental Health Awareness Month we increase our awareness of anxiety. By doing so we celebrate. We celebrate being human and having the ability to take charge of our mental health despite anxiety.
What to Know About Anxiety for Mental Health Awareness Month
Anxiety is complex. It takes many forms, and it affects people in different ways. Some facts about anxiety:
It can be good. It can motivate. It can ensure we survive by kicking the fight-or-flight response into gear when necessary.
When you feel anxious but can continue with your life as usual, you don’t meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder.
There’s a difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. Panic attacks happen out of nowhere (there’s probably a trigger, but it’s not obvious), or because someone is anxious about having another panic attack. Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, occur in the context of a worry, fear, or very stressful situation.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was classified as an anxiety disorder until 2013. Now it has its own section in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it still has a very significant anxiety component. Obsessions, or thoughts, are anxiety-provoking. Compulsions, or behaviors, are things done to reduce the anxiety.
Separation anxiety disorder is often thought of as a disorder just for kids, such as young children who become upset when they have to be away from their parents or caregivers. Adults can actually have separation anxiety, too. It often happens in times of transitions or periods of adjustments.
Social anxiety involves an intense fear of being judged and/or of embarrassing oneself in front of others. It has nothing to do with being an introvert or an extrovert. Introversion and extroversion are personality traits that have to do with where someone gets his or her sense of energy (from within themselves or from being with others). Both introverts and extroverts can have social anxiety.
A specific phobia is an intense fear of something, some place, or some situation. The fear is so gripping that people cannot get around it. People with specific phobias know that their fear is irrational, but they’re stopped by it anyway.
All anxiety can stop people from moving forward. The reason people can’t move past any type of anxiety, at least at first, is because anxiety is all-encompassing:
It operates at the neurochemical level of the brain, and many different regions of the brain are at work in anxiety
It can take over our thoughts
Anxiety is also a powerful emotion
It tries to control our actions
Being aware of the nature of anxiety and anxiety disorders during Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond is empowering. It leads to increased awareness of the nature of anxiety. Knowledge is power, and armed with knowledge, you can beat anxiety.
Next time, we’ll increase awareness about overcoming anxiety. It’s part of the Mental Health Awareness Month celebration.
In the meantime, what do you want people to know about anxiety to raise awareness? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Around half of the children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).¹ ODD is considered a childhood disorder and is a hard diagnosis to grasp, so here I will address a few of my own questions about the condition: what is ODD, how does it develop, and what is its connection to ADHD? Can it occur in adults? Most importantly, how can it be treated?
Many with ODD almost always feel angry.² They are often impatient, frustrated, and emotionally reactive. Symptoms include being very argumentative, vindictive, and quick to anger. Those with ODD struggle with taking responsibility and following rules, instead blaming and acting aggressively towards others. Some feel oppressed and disliked, reacting to these feelings by purposefully annoying others or breaking rules.
There are many qualifications for this diagnosis. These symptoms must be fairly pervasive and exist for at least six months. Though ODD occurs with numerous other conditions, including learning disabilities, anxiety, and depression, these behavioral problems cannot exclusively occur due to mood disorders, bipolar episodes, psychosis, or substance abuse.³ In addition, the person has neither conduct disorder nor APD.⁴
Why Do ADHD and ODD Often Overlap?
Those with ADHD experience intense emotions and have a hard hard time regulating their feelings. They also tend to be impulsive. Being unable to curb angry impulses can lead to aggressive and contrary behavior as seen in ODD. Being expected to follow instructions and rules that are very difficult for those with ADHD can cause frustration. Further challenges can result in anger at the world, others, and themselves. It is also possible that ADHDers’ sensitivity and fear of rejection lead to the kind of paranoia that is seen in ODD. Without sufficient support, it is easy to see how these conditions could combine to create oppositional defiant disorder.
Treating Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Most advice out there is for parents of children with ODD, but some of that advice can be applied to those who suffer from ODD or ODD-like symptoms. Experts suggest family, group, and individual therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy. For children with ODD, the focus is on helping the adults develop appropriate parenting skills, but adults with ODD can develop their own skills by learning how to meditate and taking anger management courses.
Crucially, one must treat conditions that occur with ODD. Treating ADHD and other diagnoses with appropriate medication and therapy often lessens ODD symptoms. Other helpful steps include forming habits to relieve stress, such as running or journaling, and working to develop a sense of autonomy and responsibility.³
If you have ADHD, have you struggled with rules and authority figures? Do you have a bad temper and find yourself getting into frequent conflicts? Let me know in the comments about your experiences and advice.
What is your perspective on anxiety? Beyond that, what is your relationship with your anxiety? When we live with anxiety, whether it’s occasionally or constantly, it’s quite normal to struggle against it and fight, argue, and curse it—all in an attempt to make it go away. From this perspective, anxiety can be an abusive bully or a prison guard. Viewing anxiety this way leads to thoughts and emotions that are rooted in anger, resentment, and other negative reactions that affect your actions. Shifting your perspective and relationship with anxiety can do wonders for how you feel and live your life.
Perspective is Powerful
In this case, perspective relates to your opinion of your anxiety. Without thinking too much about it, do this quick exercise:
Name three words that describe the anxiety that you’re living with.
If your anxiety were a living being, what would it be?
What color is your anxiety?
What shape is it?
In one or two sentences, describe what anxiety is doing to you/your life.
In most cases, people’s responses are pretty negative. Anxiety isn’t seen as favorable or a positive presence. We remain stuck in the negative. Unfortunately, what we visualize—our perspective on anxiety—becomes our relationship with anxiety. We think and feel and act with that anger and resentment and hatred. We can’t break free. We can’t move forward into our lives.
Having a negative perspective on anxiety reinforces It because your thoughts are negatively oriented. Does this mean that you must start loving anxiety and seeing it as fuzzy baby animals? No, it does not. Your mind would see right through that and would continue to lock horns with anxiety. You’d still be trapped and miserable, and anxiety would still be your prison warden.
No Mud, No Lotus
A liberating perspective on anxiety is represented by the Buddhist phrase, No Mud, No Lotus.
The beautiful lotus flower, resting peacefully among the lily pads on a pond, comes from one place and only one place: the cold, oozing, sticky-yet-slick, mud on the pond floor. From the depths of the pond, through the ooze and the muck, grows the lotus. Up, up it stretches, moving ever forward. Finally, it bursts up through the surface of the pond and unfurls, gradually opening itself to the sunshine.
What would have happened if the lotus flower had cursed the mud? Viewed it as a prison warden? It would have fought and become tangled. It would have become stuck. The relationship would have been one of captor and captive. The lotus might never have burst past the surface to open to the sun and relish in the beauty around it.
Prisoner, or Lotus?
You have probably figured out that the lotus is you. The cold mud that attaches and sucks like a leach is your anxiety. How wonderful that you have a choice. You can visualize your anxiety as a prison guard and, fueled by negative thoughts and emotions, fight to be free but remain stuck in the struggle. Or you can see your anxiety as the lotus sees the mud.
The lotus’s perspective on the mud is one of appreciation. Without the mud, the lotus would wither and die. The mud is what allows the lotus to grow. The mud makes the lotus strong. No mud. No Lotus.
Return to the above assessment. Try answering those questions again, this time from the perspective of the lotus to the mud. Next, visualize yourself as a lotus and anxiety as your mud. It’s no longer your prisoner guard, and you have some wiggle room to begin to rise despite the mud. Visualize what you, the lotus, will look like, feel like, and act like.
With your new perspective and relationship with anxiety, you’re a bud unfurling.
I share another metaphor for anxiety, perspective, and growth in this video. I invite you to tune in.
Change Your Perspective on Your Anxiety to Grow - YouTube
Few people are ready to trust again after an abusive relationship, but there comes a time when you’ll want to open yourself up to others. You want to believe that the people you love won’t hurt you, but wasn’t trusting implicitly how you wound up being abused in the first place? Are you partly to blame for being susceptible to narcissists and perpetrators? This isn’t a simple question to answer, but it is crucial in learning to trust again after a verbally or physically abusive relationship.
Trusting yourself again means you have to relearn your own value after someone else has systematically destroyed it. This is not an easy process, and you will learn that while some people are worth opening your heart to, not everyone deserves your trust. This is a key lesson in healing after abuse, but it’s tough to change the habit of a lifetime.
It takes time to trust other people again after abuse, whether romantically or platonically, but it takes even longer to trust yourself. Self-trust is still very much a work in progress for me, despite being in a happy long-term relationship, but there’s a lot I’ve learned along the way. Watch this video to find out how to gain back your trust in others (and most importantly, yourself) after relationship abuse.
Three Steps to Relearn Trust After Relationship Abuse - YouTube
When we are dealing with depression, self-care can be difficult. Self-care is “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.”1 At a time when we feel like focusing on it the least is actually the time we need to focus on it the most since engaging in self-care can help with depression.
4 Self-Care Guidelines for Depression
Understand what self-care really means. Self-care can sometimes be interpreted as engaging in activities such as getting massages and going to the spa. While those types of activities may reduce our stress levels, true self-care goes beyond merely escaping the stress in our lives and involves doing the things we truly need to do in order to improve our health. It involves taking stock and figuring out what we need to do for our body, mind, and spirit that will help us to be healthier.
Meet yourself where you are. When I’m depressed, my energy levels are low and I often find everyday activities draining. During these times, it would be unrealistic to expect myself to be able to accomplish as much as I normally do. And comparing myself to others and their abilities just makes me feel worse. That’s why it’s important that you meet yourself where you are. On days when it seems that depression is getting the best of you, make adaptations to your self-care plan, rather than neglecting it all together.
Reach out to the experts when needed. When I was younger, I used to feel embarrassed and ashamed when my depression was worse. I didn’t want to let my doctor and counselor know I wasn’t feeling well because I was afraid that they’d be disappointed in me. I now realize that if you’re stuck in the pit of depression, it’s crucial that you get the help you need. This means scheduling and attending appointments with your mental health team so that they can help you. That is what they are there for.
Make a list of daily self-care activities you need to engage in. What activities do you need to do which will improve your mental health? As mind, body, and spirit are all connected, it’s important that you care for all three in order to have improved mental health. This means treating your body the right way by getting exercise, proper sleep, good nutrition, and refraining from alcohol. It also means taking time to nurture your spirit by spending time outdoors, with friends, with your higher power, and doing activities that you enjoy.
If you’re dealing with depression, I’ll hope you’ll consider engaging in self-care. Your mood will thank you for it.
English Oxford Living Dictionaries, self-care. Accessed April 18, 2018.
There are many triggers that can come from having borderline personality disorder, but my personal biggest is canceled plans. With canceled plans comes that feeling of abandonment all over again. Let’s talk about how much consistency, communication and changes in plans can all lead to triggers for people with borderline personality disorder.
Communication and Consistency Goes A Long Way If Canceling Plans
It’s honestly not that hard to make me happy. All I require is to hold your word when it comes to plans and if you can’t, I need full communication as to what went wrong. I don’t know what it is but something in me clicks if someone goes back on their word. A big part of my coping mechanisms for my bipolar and borderline is creating a routine so when I plan something out my entire mental stability is dependent on it happening. It’s one thing if you are already a flaky person because then I expect that from you so there is no disappointment. It’s when you come off as a very consistent person and then out of nowhere, I’m getting let down, that my world comes crashing down.
Canceled Plans Feels Like Abandonment
I seem to put my trust in people a little too much. I view plans as you caring to see me and spend time with me, so when you cancel I feel like you no longer care about me–I feel abandoned. I am immediately flashed back to the feeling of loneliness that I felt as a child. I feel that you are going out of your way to hurt me. It doesn’t even matter if you have a solid excuse if you don’t handle the situation like you would with a child, I will not comprehend what’s going on.
I Don’t Hate You For Canceling, I Hate Myself For Caring So Much
I completely understand that having borderline personality can lead me to overreact and being “dramatic”, but I don’t need you to keep rubbing it in my face. For some reason, people who don’t understand seem to continue to freak out that I am freaking out. What does that lead to? It leads me to hate myself more and more because I can’t get you to understand because at the moment I don’t understand. All I feel is pain and confusion and anger and hurt. This is when I turn to self-harm, not because I want to feel more pain because I want people to see the pain I feel on the inside. My goal is to try to learn that things come up and not everyone is out to get me just by canceling plans.
“Me time” is important for your happiness and health. It can be an opportunity for reflection, a break for self-care, a respite from socializing, or simply the expression of an introverted nature. However, for many people like me, alone time can easily become a contributing factor for depression. Isolation is one of the more dangerous symptoms of mental illness because it encourages cyclical thoughts and keeps us from recognizing the love in our lives.
People also use “me time” as an excuse for unhealthy behaviors. Here are three clues that your alone time isn’t really good for you.
1) Your Alone Time is Happening in the Middle of an Argument
While we may all need to cool down sometimes during a heated discussion, this need should be communicated clearly and handled respectfully. Saying to your conversation partner, “I need to take a time-out from this conversation” is perfectly fine. The situation is even better if you have an expiration date for the break: “Can we take an hour to cool off and then resume?”
However, if you’re storming off during the argument, especially after making your point, you may be practicing avoidance or using abandonment as a form of control. Check in with your desire to be alone; are you feeling like you’re losing an argument, or that fear of confrontation is driving you to go solo? Or are you feeling overwhelmed and drained, like you may not be able to further contribute to the discussion? If it’s the latter, you can respectfully disengage from the conversation to take your alone time.
2) You’re Alone Because You Don’t Want to be a Burden
Alone time is for you. It’s for your own healing, self-care, and rest. Your alone time is not for other people to be rid of you.
A common experience for many with mental illness is feeling like a burden on those we love. When life challenges us, we withdraw. We don’t want others to worry about us; we think our struggles would only bring them down. In those times, we feel like we don’t have anything to contribute.
If your desire to be alone stems from a desire to please others or to spare them pain, you may be entering into an unhealthy thought cycle rather than taking life-giving personal time.
3) You Aren’t Productive With Your ‘Me Time’
Not everything in life needs to have a goal or measure of productivity, of course. However, your alone moments should have a purpose. If you’re taking time for yourself to relax, ensure you’re actually relaxing (through whatever method relaxes you). Watch a movie, meditate, take that hike you’ve been meaning to, or create a painting. If you find yourself frantically knocking chores off the to-do list, though, you’re not using your alone time for yourself. On the other hand, if you’re in bed crying, you’re also not taking alone time; you’re potentially experiencing depression.
As a litmus test for the effectiveness of your alone time, take a look at how you feel afterward. Are you refreshed, revitalized, recharged? Do you feel more clear-headed? If not, you may be using “me time” as a mask for something else.
Often times we wonder how exactly our lives got to their current state. I always felt as though my eating disorder appeared out of no where, like it just showed up one day without any warning. Truth is that eating disorders are progressive illnesses. They do not just magically appear one day when we wake up. This disease goes through many phases before it takes us over, usually going unnoticed until it is making our lives miserable.
How Our Eating Disorder Develops
For many of us, we have probably had issues with food and body for as long as we can remember. However, we did not always have what is considered to be a full blown eating disorder, that takes time.
Before the disorder, we felt miserable. We did not see ourselves as normal. We were constantly dissatisfied with our lives. One day our binging behavior began. At this time we were filled with a sense of relief from our binges. This behavior became a way to cope with everything thrown at us that was seemingly too hard to handle. We were not concerned about this behavior because there was a reasonable amount of time between binges and we felt as though we were still in control.
Over time this behavior happened more frequently and it took larger binges to bring the relief we once experienced. We began to focus more and more on food and less on life. Thoughts became consumed with plans of what we were going to binge on and where. This is when we started to feel like there was no choice but to act on our binging urges.
We continued to binge because at one point in time these behaviors worked for us. They brought us calm from our anxiety and numbness from our pain. We hoped that one day this relief would return but became frustrated when we were just left feeling worse than before these behaviors began.
Becoming Aware Of The Eating Disorder Progression
Though we may be far down the eating disorder progression, it does not mean we should stop being aware of what is going on. Once we begin the recovery process, we need to know what our different warning signs of slips are.
For me, when I begin to feel down, isolate myself, or restrict my food intake, I am undoubtedly setting myself up for a binge. However, now that I know this, I am able to sop behaviors before they begin. For example, when I see myself pulling away from others, I work hard to keep being social a priority.
Realizing that our eating disorder did not come out of no where is important when working towards wellness. When we trace the journey of our behaviors, we gain essential insight into what we need to pay attention to in order to not fall back into old habits.
Take time to reflect and keep working. You can do this.