It’s a way of eating that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline or willpower. It’s about discovering a peaceful and satisfying relationship with food, mind, and body.
This eating style has been around since the mid-1990s, but this common-sense approach got lost in the shuffle of diet fads and quick-fix eating styles. Fast forward, three decades and once again eaters are rediscovering the benefits of intuitive eating thanks to renewed interest from people who were fed up with the temporary results of calories counting and restrictive diet plans.
Original intuitive thought leaders, Evelyn Tribole, RD and Elyse Resch, RDN penned several books and participated in numerous research studies on their method. Their most recent publication, The Intuitive Eating Workbook, was published in 2017 and a new interest in this anti-diet way of honoring our hunger spread like wildfire.
At its core, intuitive eating encourages people to pay attention to their hunger, eat mindfully and work to breaking free from the on-and-off cycle of dieting. Tribole and Resch formed the method of intuitive eating based on these ten principles:
Reject the Diet Mentality: It’s no secret that over-restrictive diets and excessive calorie counting can go sideways pretty quickly and lead to unhealthy and destructive eating habits. Though balance and structure is necessary for most aspects of life, intuitive eating encourages people to make peace with food and listen to their body’s needs.
Honor Your Hunger: Intuitive eating helps participants to be tuned into feelings of hunger and eat to feel nourished, not just to make the feeling “go away.”
Make Peace with Food: Just like an automobile needs fuel to run, our bodies need nourishment to function and live our best life. Acknowledging that food is our friend, not our enemy, is a massive step in embracing the natural eating lifestyle.
Challenge the Food Police: The voice of the hypothetical Food Police is always there to scold us and apply a healthy dose of guilt when we crave the things we “think” we shouldn’t have. Challenging the Food Police means relieving ourselves of the burden counting every calorie and resisting the urge to have dessert.
Respect Your Fullness: As babies, humans are hyper-aware of hunger and feeling full. Babies cry when they are hungry and stop once their little bellies are full. That process gets clouded as adulthood approaches thanks to socio-emotional triggers like stress, anxiety, grief, and even boredom. When steps are taken to eat mindfully and not in a haze of worry or fear, we can be tuned into feelings of fullness and satisfaction.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Humans tend to want more, more, MORE of the things we love. If we adore a TV series, we want to binge watch it. If we like a certain kind of t-shirt, we want it in every color. Food falls into this category as well. If we love a specific dish, we instinctively want to eat as much as possible in case we never get that opportunity again. Discovering the Satisfaction Factor is about redirecting those urges into a healthier form of “gentle knowing.” By slowing down and, savoring every bite, our bodies will respond positively. Paying attention to our body when it tells us “hey, I’m satisfied” will be far more satisfying than wild indulgence.
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food: The world is a super-complicated place. Own your feelings of loneliness, fear, anger or sadness, but also do the work to get to the root of why those feelings are present. It’s very reasonable to want to dull uncomfortable feelings and situations with something comforting like food, but that habit is like putting a Band-Aid on the Grand Canyon. Dig deep, find the “why,” and do the work to heal that part of your life.
Respect Your Body: Love the skin you are in. Sometimes that is easier-said-than-done, but the truth is that our bodies, no matter what shape and size, are works of art. Being hyper-critical and striving for unrealistic expectations when it comes to our size is self-deprecating. Our body keeps us upright and mobile. It allows us to think, explore, and connect with others. And every day we get the chance to do that all over again. It’s time to give our bodies the respect and love it deserves!
Exercise-Feel the Difference: Many of us view exercise as a form of drudgery, but the truth is that a body in motion, stays in motion. Movement is good. Movement is healthy. So the next time you take a walk or participate in a spin class, feel the difference in your mental well-being as well. Find a form of movement that makes your heart sing and stick with it. Exercise is not the enemy; it’s something we can do to help ourselves feel better.
Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: Just because the founders of intuitive eating encourage an “eat what you want” mentality, that doesn’t mean it’s they don’t care about proper nutrition. At the core of this lifestyle change is the advice to make food choices that honor your health, as well as your taste buds. Gentle nutrition is about eating the fruits and vegetables that fuel our bodies while also enjoying things that make our taste buds dance with glee. It’s all about balance and common sense.
A final note about intuitive eating is that it is not meant to be used as a tool for weight loss or gain in any way. It’s about unconditional permission to eat, but with curiosity and non-judgment. It’s learning how to make peace with food, remove the emotional power of a “fear food,” and learn to feel safe around ALL foods.
Remember when the thought of Grandma’s fresh-baked cookies sparked joy and mouth-watering anticipation? I am also sure I am not the only one who loves the feeling of sliding into a nice, clean and warm bed at the end of every hectic day. And we all know the satisfaction of a reassuring hug from a friend or warm snuggles from a favored pet.
In a world that can seem so complex and…loud, the simple pleasures of life can get lost in the hustle and bustle of simply trying to “get through the day” emotionally and physically. But in reality, the tapestry of every hard day is filled with the stitches of the little wonders and simple pleasures we take for granted.
When it comes to life events, we tend to focus on the things we feel form our story. Things like graduations, first home purchases, weddings, job promotions, and babies. Although these things are important, the real substance of a life-well-lived is somewhere in between all of that and having the right amount of creamer in our morning coffee.
Life milestones are incredibly important, but what people sometimes forget is the joy that is experienced in between the long stretches of time in between those moments. These big achievements are significant, but the little things we cherish are just as important in defining who we are as people. So, if you find yourself often feeling small in the overwhelming world we live in, then it’s time for mindset shift. A clearing of the mind clutter and a refocus of the good things that are right under our noses.
It’s time to give big attention to the little pleasures in life that make everything worthwhile.
Look for the Light
We all have parts of our lives that feel broken or even just temporarily “out-of-order.” From dead car batteries to bank accounts on life support, we all have things that threaten to kick our fannies emotionally on a daily basis. But what I can promise you is that, for every dark cloud that looms in your day, the sun is behind it waiting patiently for its chance to shine down on you with warmth and comfort.
Life is like that. Darkness is temporary. The light is always there waiting to be seen.
In my mind, that’s the key. If we are unconsciously always looking for things to be ticked about or spend time mentally steeling ourselves for the catastrophe in life, we will certainly find it. It’s kind of like when you focus on yellow cars. Chances are, you will see A LOT of yellow cars because it’s in the forefront of your mind.
So let’s flip that around. Going forward, I want to encourage everyone to try to make a point to see, acknowledge, and be grateful for little victories and small wonders that are all around us. Instead of grumbling that the mailman is late, stand outside and look for birds in the trees and the peace and solitude of fluffy clouds. It’s not “woo-woo thinking”…it’s a better way to live.
Using the Little Things to Help Others
Thoughtful Words: I saw a meme once that said “Compliments don’t hurt or cost money. Give them freely.” How true is that? And how amazing would it be for the receiver if we showed genuine encouragement and support to another human being with kind words? Try it. I challenge you to verbalize the good in others daily.
Random Acts of Kindness: Imagine how happy and relieved you would feel if someone gifted you with a mowed lawn or shoveled driveway. I’ve even seen families create Blessings Bags filled with toiletries, snacks and a five dollar bill that are left in areas where college kids or homeless individuals can find them. Acts of kindness don’t need to be huge or grandiose, they can be as simple as a held door, an offered elbow, or a meal purchased for the family in line behind you. If you can be anything in the world, be kind.
The Little Things in life that make our hearts sing may seem trivial, but I can promise you they are an important part of the million little pieces that make us who we are. From boredom and pain to gladness and excitement, being aware of the little things in life will indeed make a big impact on our well-being.
Those who know me well know that I am navigating life with a chronic illness. These same people also know about the side diagnosis that decided to tag along with my type1 diabetes; an eating disorder.
The reality is that eating disorders can affect anyone, anywhere. Eating disorders are not an “it’s all in your head” affliction either — they are complex bio-social illnesses that affect all kinds of people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, or backgrounds.
That’s why Monday, February 25 to Sunday, March 3 is such a critically important week for those of us who are fighting the daily battle while working to find our groove when it comes to managing an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness) is a seven-day-stretch where all of us can strive to change the conversation around food, body image, and eating disorders by simply being aware, respectful, and informed.
The 2019 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week theme is Come as You Are. I personally love this tagline because I feel like it invites inclusivity and unification within the eating disorder community. Come as You Are also sends a message to individuals of all stages of body acceptance and recovery that their stories are valid and they matter.
They need to, and deserve to, be heard. And it’s OK to share.
I am no different. I have a story to tell as well and I welcome any opportunity to do so because I know it will bring clarity and comfort to others who are navigating an eating disorder diagnosis. Here’s an excerpt of my story from my book, If I Kiss You, Will I Get Diabetes?
In 2010, my doctor reviewed by weight chart with its wild swings over the past ten years. She suggested that I consult with a doctor who specializes in eating disorders. I was mortified. My food patterns were complicated because I had diabetes. It’s hard to lose weight while managing blood sugars. I had a lot of excuses, but inside I knew I had an unhealthy relationship with food. My life choices had brought me down a destructive path. There, in a cramped white room, the doctor told me, “Quinn, you have bulimia.”
The days, weeks, months, and years to follow started a long journey towards recovery for me. I entered an inpatient treatment program and started chipping away at the mask of perfectionism. I am not a person who likes to ask for help. I pride myself on being self-sufficient. But when I hit bottom, I knew I needed help. Eating disorders paired with diabetes can be a life-threatening combination. Recovery is not an event; it’s a daily choice.
That day all those years ago is still seared into my mind like a hot brand. The difference now is that I know I am not defined by my eating disorder diagnosis and I can (and will) do what it takes to manage it while also raising awareness and initiating the conversation about it as well.
So in recognition of this important week, I want to invite everyone who is comfortable, to take the opportunity to speak out, share their experiences, and connect with others. This nationally observed week, along with the Center for Change community, are safe places where we can all Come As We Are.
I think Brene Brown said it best “You know what we call a decision with limited data points and little “other” information? A conspiracy.”
We’ve all had negative stories about ourselves that we’ve done a pretty good job of harboring for as long as we can remember. Not just “stories”…but also self-limiting beliefs that keep us stuck and “less than” our true selves. Not only do we give these conspiracies a place to reside, many of us tend to feed, water and nurture them until they become like an unruly weed with roots down to the center of the earth.
These “conspiracies” about ourselves could have generated from an off-hand comment from eons ago (think High School gym locker room) or from an unkind verbal label thanks to an unhealthy relationships in our past. Unfortunately, many people harbor hurt and conspiracies about themselves thanks to a rough childhood or a messy divorce.
Conspiracy theories like I’m bad at math or I am no good at turning corners are no more than self-fulfilling prophecies that we drag around behind us like a clunk of sod that is stuck to our heel. And the really damaging ones like I am unlovable or I can’t ever do anything right only work to continually chip away at the foundation of our self-worth, confidence, and joy.
“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity,” Brene Brown.
So, starting today, I want you to chop that conspiracy weed off at it roots and give it the heave-ho so that it will never take hold in your life again. Instead of focusing on thoughts and beliefs that contain limited data points and little ‘other’ information, own the fact that, as a human being that matters, there is nothing that can ever take the truth of your goodness away from you… unless you let it.
There is no mistake you could make, no act you could commit, not a thing that another could do to you, that could ever make you less than who you are. You are a beautifully vibrant and growing human being with endless possibilities for an amazing life.
So grab your weed whacker, rise up and create some amazing stories of greatness in 2019.
Steps for Kicking Self-Limiting Thoughts to the Curb
Remember it is YOUR story: No one earthly person has the write to write our story for us. If this chapter in your life makes you grumpy…write a new one. Only you are the editor and the author of your life’s path. Make it a good story.
Consider the Source: Though it is easier to know this in our heads and harder to practice it with our hearts, the fact remains that it truly is not our business what others think of us. Once again, Miss Brown says it best: “Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement according to someone else doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.”
As we close down 2018 and welcome 2019 with open arms we also will again be surrounded in loud attempts for recruitment into diet culture as a method of self-improvement. For those people who are struggling with weight/size acceptance, body image, and food it can be hard to quiet the noise of weight loss and dieting. Gym memberships are going on special, the new and improved juice detox is advertised to rid the body of holiday toxins, weight loss competitions begin, and there is a push to get “bikini read”. Let’s stop the insanity! In order to wear a bikini– all you need is a body, ANY body! It’s become the social norm to make changes to one’s diet and body in efforts to make up for or undo all the things we weren’t happy about in the year before. A new year symbolizes a fresh beginning and the pressure for a smaller waistline. With a 95% failure rate for sustainable weight loss through dieting, it’s no wonder that we’ve been taught that each year we can start again, until one day we get it right. Here are some dieting myths debunked to put into your toolkit to resist dieting cultural norms.
Myth #1:Thinness=Health: Weight loss and dieting is often sold as a way to increase health. There is a misconception that weight loss will automatically lead to an increase in health and overall wellbeing. There is research that shows that initial weight loss can improve health risk factors short term, however, there is no long-term research that suggests health improvement and sustained weight loss and lifestyle patterns. Increasing health promoting habits can be done without pursuit of weight loss. Take some time and think about what parts of health you do value most and what parts you could focus on more. Keep in mind that health expands much further than nutrition and physical health. Health includes spiritual health, financial health, mental health, and social health. All aspects of health influence the way our bodies and mind function. When focusing on only physical health other areas of health are compromised such as spiritual or social health. For a great video watch this video by Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD-S, “What is Health?”.
Myth #2: Eat less, weigh less: Our bodies are so smart, and like it or not there is no fooling biology. The human body is designed to naturally defend against weight loss at all costs in order to survive. Weight loss and energy deprivation are a threat to the body as it interprets this as a famine. Little does your body know there is a cupboard full of untouched groceries.. With each diet or deprivation, the body learns behaviors and patterns to better adapt for the next time there is a restriction of food. One adaptation that can occur is the increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol and insulin. This sends signals to the body to slow down metabolism and store fat due to energy deficit. Deprivation and dieting also can lead to increased urges in bingeing behaviors. Biology takes over in an overly hungry state and it’s hard to listen to internal cues. Chronic yo-yo dieting with cycles of weight loss and gain is a predictor of overall weight gain. As the metabolism slows the body attempts to resist weight loss. With each diet, the rate of weight loss will slow.
Myth #3: Weighing less will prolong life expectancy: As Linda Bacon, PhD writes in her book “Health at Every Size” no one has proved that losing weight will prolong life expectancy. There is however evidence that suggests that lifestyle changes independent of weight loss can correlate to improved life expectancy. So focusing on overall wellbeing and all aspects of health instead of weight loss will have you living a full life expectancy.
Myth #4: Avoiding carbohydrates is necessary to maintain weight: This myth is broadcasted everywhere. Carbohydrate is the macro-nutrient on the chopping block, much like fat was in the 80’s. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and keep our brain functioning at full capacity. I can’t wait to live in a world where bread will be legalized! Contrary to what is taught to us from a young age forbidding or actively avoiding certain foods only increases our desires for these foods. Having a wide variety of foods and allowing yourself to honor cravings, will put all foods on morally equal playing ground.
Myth #5: BMI determines health: Often times, health status is determined by the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is the ratio of our weight and height. BMI was created in the 1800’s by a statistician for a research study, it later became popular in the 1950-1970’s. It was never intended to be used as a diagnostic tool. BMI doesn’t look at lifestyle, bone structure, genetics, physical mobility, or muscle mass. It’s a readily available equation, which makes it convenient for anyone to use. We’ve been taught by schools, medical professionals, friends, and many others that in order to be healthy we must fall within this small range. In an article review done by the Journal of Obesity in 2014, the group with the highest life expectancy would be considered “overweight” in the BMI scale. Health comes in all shapes, sizes, and BMIs.
With the myths debunked, here is a list of some strategies to support body/size acceptance along your own personal journey of health and well-being:
Clean out your social media, let go of all media that idealizes certain body types and promotes weight loss.
Add body positive pages to your social media. Find an online tribe that supports self- love and body/weight acceptance. Some positive accounts include: Mary’s Cup of Tea, NEDA, Christy Harrison, Taryn Brumfitt, Tess Holiday, and Aerie clothing brand. These are just a few people who can lead you to many more positive and influential social media accounts.
Change self talk. Use affirmations, intentions, mantras, and gratitude lists. Surround yourself in the affirmations or mantras that are important to you. Create collages, vision boards, or write yourself a little love on a sticky note.
EX) Gratitude: I am grateful for my hands and the art they allow me to create
EX) Mantra: I am enough, I am worthy of happiness
Respect your body: Find movement that nourishes your body and soul. Try new activities like racquetball, water zumba, taking a walk with a loved one, or maybe even laughing yoga. Give your body days of rest and tune in to internal cues as a guide in picking what movement or non-movement activities are right for you.
Non appearance based compliments. Compliment yourself and others on something other than weight loss, appearance, or body shape/size.
EX) You are such a good friend
EX) I love coming over to your house because you are such a great host
EX) You have such a great sense of humor
EX) I admire how hard you work
As you start this New Year, remain curious about health and nutrition claims/statements you see in the news social media, or in health magazines. Embrace your individual and unique health and celebrate all the things that truly make you who you are.
Cheers to the New Year and everything that makes you uniquely you!
Tylka, T. L., Annunziato, R. A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R. M. (2014). The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014, 1-18. doi:10.1155/2014/983495
There are countless statistics online pointing out that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February first. This news is not a secret either. Yet hundreds of thousands of people line up every year to jump on the January First Resolution-Making Bandwagon.
So why do we do this if we know that we will probably not follow through or bail within 60 days? Habit? Social Pressure? Peer pressure? All of the above?
Another bit of info that is also not a news flash is what the most popular New Year’s Resolutions are:
Exercise more (38%)
Lose weight (33%)
Eat more healthily (32%)
Take a more active approach to health (15%)
Learn new skill or hobby (15%)
Spend more time on personal wellbeing (12%)
No surprise news here, right? But unfortunately, the top three on this list are the ones that people have the hardest time staying true to. I say it’s time to get OFF this hamster wheel of madness and make a new more sustainable or nurturing plan for ourselves as the calendar gets ready to flip to a brand new year.
First, let’s make a plan of what not to do when making personal and healthy goals for 2019.
“Just say NO” to:
Joining resolution competitions or high-pressured groups
So as we switch to anti-resolution-making-mode, keep one thing in mind; goals are still very important in our lives. Goals not only help us pinpoint what means the most to us in the way of self-improvement, but they provide a starting point for that improvement. A ship can’t leave the harbor unless it has a destination, right?
Here are some guidelines for making a new-and-improved plan for 2019.
Be Real: Make the goals that you want to achieve, or where you want to be emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically, in the New Year reasonable, healthy and honest.
Be Clear: After choosing a specific goal, ask yourself, “What does that look like?” Saying you want to “Take a more active approach to health” is great, but a little vague. Drill down on this goal to identify each tiny step you need to take (including a desired end goal)…and walk towards them daily.
Get a Buddy: If you thrive on accountability then maybe a Goal Buddy is for you. You don’t have to make any changes or face new challenges in life alone.
Practice the K.I.S.S. Method (Keep It Simple, Silly): Instead of making 12 goals on January 1st and getting totally overwhelmed, pick one goal and focus on that. Trying to achieve too much at once is a sure-fire way to end up on Overwhelm Street.
Be Nice to You: We are all human which means we make mistakes and goof up. If you stray from your original plan, all is not lost. Don’t beat yourself up for getting off track. Just get up, brush off the hypothetical dust, and get back into the swing of it.
Celebrate: No matter how small the progress or achievement…celebrate it. Give yourself a high-five, fist-bump or verbal pat on the back and rock your victories.
Most importantly, don’t fall for the hype especially if you are someone in recovery. Know your body, spirit, and limits. Embrace those realities. Repeat.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” -Brene Brown
Perfect human lives only exist on TV.
Actually, I can’t even say that anymore since the most popular shows these days are the ones that share what life is really like; messy, complicated, beautiful, and challenging (think This is Us or Blue Bloods).
Our life is our story and our story is something no one can take away from us. But our stories can be far from perfect and I’m sure most of us wish there was a “do over” button or a hypothetical editor who could go back and “pretty up” some of our more disheveled chapters that make up our past. If you feel this way, you are not alone! We all have parts of our story that are a little more difficult to own up to than others.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us attempt to keep our past failures or imperfections hidden because we are afraid of what others will think of us. In reality, it’s not our business what others think about us, right?
But what if we flipped that notion of shame, embarrassment, and discomfort on its head? What if we took a hard look at who we are as a whole (not just the good stuff) and owned all of it? By “own” I mean really stand in it and embrace it no matter how ratty it may look to us. Own it, like it and honor every inch of it. Every wart, bruise, detour, curse word, mistake, accident, or moment of bad judgment.
Scary and uncomfortable? Most definitely! But also necessary to grow, evolve and do the one thing that is soooo hard for everyone; love ourselves.
Things to Remember when Working to Own our Stories:
Feeling overwhelmed with this whole “owning it” process? I encourage you to start small. Find a trusted friend or loved one and share some of the things about yourself that no one else knows. Baby steps.
When we attempt to keep our failures or imperfections hidden, they are like anchors that pull us down. Life is hard enough without all this extra baggage. Own who you are and where you’ve been. Wear the fact that you are still HERE and going strong like a Badge of Honor.
When we bring these parts of us out of the dark, stare them down, and see they aren’t so big and scary, we take the first step in choosing to think differently about who we are.
Celebrate the whole Package of You; all of the good, the challenges, the heartaches, the joys, the mysteries. All of it has something in it to be proud of.
Never trivialize your achievements. Just like owning your flaws, your achievements, talents, and gifts to the world are something that deserves the light of day as well.
We all have our personal stories. Inherent in our stories are lessons learned and wisdom collected. Through stories, we can embrace our past, own who we are today and the people we’re becoming. Right this moment, pause and look at who you’ve become from all the things you’ve made it through. This life is your story. Own it.
For those struggling with a food, weight, and body image issues Winter can be a stressful time of year. Gatherings with family and a focus on food and drink may not feel exciting and celebratory. It may instead feel like increased pressure, stress, fear and anxiety.
It’s also that time of year when the days feel shorter, darker, and colder. The brightness and long days of Summer are a distant memory and the crispness of Fall is slowly moving behind us. Winter is arriving with all of the things it always brings. Snow, rain, colder days and even colder nights!
The anticipation of the holidays, time with family and friends, increased exposure to food, and the colder and darker days can be a recipe for great inner turmoil.
The joyful celebration of the season may seem nowhere to be found, replaced instead with stress, anxiety, fear, and inner pain.
Gandhi said, “Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself”
Joy is found in the process, in the doing of the inner work, in the fight to recover. Joy doesn’t have to wait until you have reached a point of being fully recovered. Joy can be experienced along the way, with the suffering, with the hard times, with the colder and darker days.
Here are a few messages and ideas for you to consider to find joy within yourself during this time of year:
You are not your illness: remember that this does not define you. It is quite common that those with an eating disorder begin to identify so closely with it, that it becomes hard to find an identity outside of it. You can start to feel lost in the overwhelming intensity of the illness. Part of finding joy is remembering that this disorder is not all of you. Take time to explore your identity and values outside of the eating disorder. Perhaps you are also generous, kind, and compassionate. Perhaps you have a skill of making people laugh or are gifted with animals. Whatever it may be for you- take some time to list some other aspects of who you are. Hang it on your mirror. Look at these things every day and start to spend more time building other aspects of who you are.
Feel your feelings: this can be a hard time of year. It’s ok to feel that. It’s important to feel whatever is coming up for you. Consider journaling about these feelings or talking to a trusted therapist, friend or family member. It is important to allow these feelings to be expressed rather than holding them inside. It is important to face these difficult feelings directly instead of avoiding them. In this way, they can co-exist with joy. We can feel the wide range of human emotion. This is an essential part of the recovery process.
Start a gratitude practice: discontentment can kill our joy. When we are envious of the position of another and critical of our own position in life or experiences, we are unable to feel our own joy or joyful for another person. Taking time to write down what we are thankful for, one thing a day, for example, can be a way to start to shift our perspective on this. We can feel joy for our own gifts and good things in life and joy for others for the good things that they have in their lives.
Have Hope: There will come a time in your recovery that the holidays and winter do not bring the same amount of pain and suffering. At the same time, if this is where you are now, use your suffering as a way to grow and develop your resiliency. Do the hard work of recovery. Really engage with it. There will be ups and downs, but continue to move forward. Imagine your life without the pain and suffering of an eating disorder. Work together with your therapist and dietitian toward that goal. Start to make small steps toward making that a reality. It is possible. It is possible that joy can be found in this process of small and big wins, in knowing you are really deeply engaged in the process of healing.
My Voice Matters. This took the entirety of my experience in 24-hour care to begin accepting. I recall about a month in that my already-high anxiety was peaking. I was certain my family was falling apart because I wasn’t there to help take care of things and, basically, be the glue to the family puzzle. My therapist spent a family session calling my family to ask how they were doing. I was crushed to learn that they were doing well, enjoying their lives, and solving their own problems. By themselves. It was what I needed to hear, really, but my eating disorder heard that I didn’t matter. They were doing just fine without me. My existence was pointless.
Fast forward time to a misunderstanding between me and my peers on the unit. I was known to be a singer while in treatment. I grew up on Disney and so regularly sang Disney songs. The girls would laugh and giggle whenever I sang and I immediately believed it was because they thought I was juvenile, stupid, annoying, and untalented. (I was a pretty good storyteller, am I right?) My negative thoughts grew over the next few weeks until they became the focus of therapy for two or three sessions. My therapist encouraged me to write a letter to my peers and read it to them in group. She wanted to help me see that the stories in my head were just that: really well-created stories that were based in emotion, not fact. I didn’t want to do this. What if she was right? What if I was making it all up? I would feel stupid. What if she was wrong and they really were making fun of me? I didn’t want to have to face that reality. What if they denied it to my face but secretly were making fun of me? I didn’t want to be the brunt of their jokes.
I eventually wrote a letter to the group (out of fear that I would disappoint my therapist if I didn’t do my homework). I brought it with me to group. I asked the group to listen to what I had written before they asked any questions or refuted my thoughts. I was shaking, sweating, anxious, and crying.
The group was really quiet when I finished my letter and I was sure it was because they were “caught in the cookie jar” (pardon the expression). What unraveled actually surprised me. They were taken off guard by my letter. They had no idea I was the least bit offended by their laughing. Why? Because I laughed with them and continued the jokes. They thought it was something I endorsed. They thought they were showing their love for me by laughing and joining in with me since they didn’t know the songs.
That group empowered me to keep opening my mouth in scary situations and speak my truth. Sometimes this got me into trouble because I would take a deep breath and, essentially say anything that came to mind without considering if it was hurtful. As an overanalyzer, if I tried communicating any other way, I would have stayed really silent. For me, the courageous thing to do was not to stay quiet and reflect. It was to speak and learn. That group began my journey of learning that what I had to say mattered and that people were willing to listen.
I am not my body. I got countless compliments on my looks and body during the first four to five months of actively acting on my eating disorder. Yes, it is true. I got asked on a lot of dates and to a freshman filled with doubt, that was really validating. I assumed I was being asked out because of my looks. (Considering the people who were asking me out, that was probably true!) My older roommates were jealous and I took that to mean that I was important as long as I was being asked out. Well, as my eating disorder continued, I got asked on less dates because I was less approachable, more rigid, less authentic, and, as my sisters later informed me, I was “not very fun to be around.” That was disheartening for me. I didn’t understand that people were turned off by my eating disorder! I thought they were avoidant of *me*.
About 6 months after leaving treatment, I started school again. I became friends with one of the more popular kids in school and found out that he liked me. Man did that feel good! When we started going on dates, I was all a bundle of excitement! It was a January evening and the crunching snow, soft falling flakes, and street lights honestly made me feel like I was in a Hollywood movie. This kid turned to me and asked if I wanted to know why he was dating me. My self-esteem balloon was blowing up quickly. He said it was because I didn’t have “F. P.”
“What is that,” I inquired?
“Fat Potential,” he responded.
I was still new to recovery, still wanting to believe that people would like me for me and I was being told that the reason I was going on dates with Mr. Popular was because of my body. I stayed really quiet the rest of the date because I was struggling with how to talk about this really intense pain I had around his comment. I wanted him to be different; I wanted him to like me for something else. I wanted him to like me at any size. And his comment clearly let me know he was interested in my looks.
With the help of my roommates and some continued therapy, I decided to stop dating this guy. To me, I was saying goodbye to instapopularity (which was very important to me since I believed it would allow me to find my place in the university). Shallow though that may be, that was my head space at the time.
Because I said “no” to that relationship, I had the ability to say “yes” to a lot of friendships with people who were many shapes and sizes. And as I continued in my recovery journey, my body adapted to many shapes and sizes. With each shift in my body, I expected people to interact differently with me. Most people didn’t because they were more interested in my personality that was relatively consistent through all of the body changes.
Stop making assumptions. I used to pride myself in being a mind reader. I wouldn’t have put that label on it at the time because it was a *fact* that people believed the way I thought. I didn’t ask if people were mad because I *knew* they were mad. I didn’t ask if people were hungry because I *knew* when they were hungry and what they wanted.
Both in residential treatment and in outpatient care I worked on listening to what people said and believing what they said at face value. If someone let me know they didn’t want to talk, I had to learn to accept that instead of believing they *did* want to talk but that there was something they didn’t like about *me*. If someone told me they would love to have me along for the ride, I had to accept that instead of believing they felt obligated to have me as a tag along and that I was a Service Project. I goofed many times and still assumed. I didn’t stop myself in the assumptions and reacted as if the story in my head were truth. No wonder I had some difficulty making lasting friendships! I wasn’t listening very well!
Over time I became more comfortable with taking things at face value and recognizing that a person’s capacity to tell me the truth was up to them, not me. If what they said to me wasn’t their truth, it was their issue to fix, not mine to assume and then take on. This lesson was harder to accept for my eating disorder and it put up a fight! Consistency with therapy and consistency in checking my assumptions out with others helped a lot.
Some people will like me and some people won’t. One of my worst fears in starting recovery was that people wouldn’t like the healed me. I truly believed people liked me better when I was in my eating disorder. (Now I would call that inauthentic, anxious, and angry but then I would call it striving for perfection.) I was terrified to get to know myself, certain that I wouldn’t like who I met and certain others wouldn’t like her, either. Working through my people pleasing was particularly hard! I was scared to allow others to manage their own feelings! I was worried that if I spoke my truth that it would hurt others and then they wouldn’t like me.
I still remember it was early in 2005, just around 2 years after I discharged from 24-hour care. I was struggling to let go of yet another “little darling” (part of the eating disorder that had sneakily stayed in my life despite my best efforts to let it all go). The struggle was *real*! The grief of letting this go; the anger I felt that I even had the situation in the first place. I can’t say I was a very fun roommate to be around. So when one of my roommates said, “I miss the old Hannah,” I was devastated! How could she miss the old me? No one was supposed to miss the old me! They were all supposed to love the new me so that I could find the desire to stay in this crazy fight of recovery… And yet she said, “I miss the old Hannah.”
She was not the last who didn’t love the me that I am today. A different guy I was dating told me that he found me to be demeaning, belittling, harsh, and too sarcastic. Some of what he said was true and I needed to examine those parts of me to better understand my defenses that were getting in the way of my ability to form lasting romantic relationships. He was right that there were some changes I needed to make. But those were changes I was going to make for *me* so that I could become the person *I* wanted to become. In the past, I had made a lot of changes for others because *they* wanted me to be a certain way. For me, this was no longer a courageous choice. The courageous thing, for me, was to make changes because I wanted to. In other words, most of what he said needed to roll off my back and find its way out of my head because if I had heeded that, I would have made changes to make him happy and stayed in my people-pleasing space.
What I have learned, in general, however, is that the more I work on discovering who I truly am, the more people are drawn to me for the right reasons and the more they appreciate what I have to contribute. The me of 16 years ago would never consider being okay with less than 7.5 billion “friends” who approved of her every move. I am grateful for that girl and I am grateful for who I am today.
Quitting and Failing are different. In my eating disorder, I would push myself mercilessly to finish assignments no matter how tired. I believed that to do anything else would be failing. In my disorder, if I had a problem with someone, I needed to ignore my feelings because “crying about it doesn’t fix anything,” I would say. I know I am not the only one who believed that quitting was the same thing as failing and failing was the same thing as quitting. This is important background so that the story makes more sense.
One of my semesters of college was very challenging. I was taking full-time credits and not working– for me, this was very challenging because I was used to working, volunteering, and maxing out on credit load. My medications were under a change and I had some shameful side effects. There were some dynamics with my roommates that aren’t important to divulge but it is important to know that there was strife in the small, breadbox-of-an-apartment that semester. About 1 month before the end of term I learned that my roommates had all spent significant time going out to spend time together so that they could gossip about me. I responded by people pleasing and being very agreeable because I believed it would somehow stop them from being so mean. I was wrong.
Rather than quit the roommate situation after what I now consider valiant effort (I had put in 3 months of time trying to develop friendships or even agreeable living space and was getting nowhere), I believed I needed to tough this all out, “be the bigger person,” “turn the other cheek,” and do whatever they thought was best for the dynamics in the apartment. I pushed down my hurt for the next 3 weeks. I didn’t acknowledge how painful it was to know they had been gossiping about me. Three weeks of ignoring my own feelings and I was not doing well with managing my life.
With the help of my dad, mom, therapist and his colleague, I quit. I quit living there even though I had paid for the duration of the semester. I quit living there even though there was a week or two left of school. I quit living there even though we lived in the same community and attended the same church congregation. Because if I hadn’t quit, I would have shut down from the me I had started to develop and grow. Leaving that apartment took a lot of courage, not weakness, because it was harder for me to do than sticking around.
See, sometimes quitting is the noblest, most brave thing we can do. We stop holding up our sword and shield, waiting to be ambushed with hurt, and notice who is on the other side of the battlefield. Because I chose to quit, I found the support and the strength I needed to continue my recovery and continue the semester. I never stopped trying to be my best self and so I never failed.
Mixed feelings about recovery is a normal and expected part of the process. Eating Disorders often play a complex role in the life of the one who suffers. While it brings much pain and isolation, it also has typically served a purpose in helping the person cope with painful life experiences. For some people, the eating disorder has been something that has helped them survive deep emotional pain. The thought of giving up something that has been there in a time of need can be a confusing proposition. There is often a feeling of wanting to stop engaging in behaviors, yet also recognizing that there is some benefit in them at the same time. They serve some kind of purpose.
Most likely, the eating disorder has been working quite well as a way to cope- until it starts to create new problems.
These conflicting feelings make perfect sense when you start to explore your story of how the eating disorder developed and you discover the meaning behind it for you personally. While obsession with food, fat, losing weight, or exercising are quite often turned to in an attempt to feel better, these become the very things that brings more pain.
Committing to the goals set out by the treatment team might feel counterintuitive, painful, and quite frankly, impossible. If you are seeking treatment, you may understandably feel conflicted about committing to goals like stopping purging, gaining weight, or eating intuitively.
The eating disorder quickly can become a defining aspect of one’s identity. One might wonder who they are without it. One might wonder if they want to be without it. These feelings need to be respected and engaged with deeply in order to keep moving forward in recovery.
Here are some ideas about working through ambivalence in the recovery process:
Acknowledge Your Ambivalence: Start with acknowledging the feeling. You might, at the same time, want recovery and be uncertain if you want recovery. That feeling is there. It just is. Try not to categorize it with a value judgment of bad or good. Just allow the feeling to be there. Know that this is common, especially in the early days of recovery or entering a treatment program. Now the second step in acknowledging it, is to acknowledge it in the presence of a supportive person. This can be a parent, therapist, or in the context of a therapy group. It is important to acknowledge it, not only to yourself, but to another who can help as you and keep you accountable as you move through it.
Explore Meaning: Take the time to explore how the eating disorder developed. What function has it been serving for you? What have you been using it to cope with? What is the meaning you make of having it in your life? This is important to understand both the pain and the value it has brought and honor both of those things in order to move through it.
Develop New Skills: To truly be able to let go of the eating disorder and step fully into a recovered life it is essential to develop new and effective ways of coping with the challenges of life. Collaborating with a therapist to develop a list of new ways of coping is a key component of working with ambivalence. After that list is developed, the next step is starting to practice. In the moments where you typically would be utilizing an eating disorder related behavior to manage a difficult emotion or situation, try something new. Do the opposite and use a positive coping skill. Some ideas are calling a friend, taking a nature walk, playing with an animal, or engaging in a prayer or meditation.
Feeling these opposing forces of wanting to heal and recover, yet not completely wanting to give up the eating disorder is understandable. Considering change and taking steps such as entering treatment or committing to a treatment plan is filled with so many unknowns. It is scary. It can be hard to see an identity beyond the eating disorder.
It makes sense that one would feel conflicting feelings about giving up something that has provided comfort and companionship. Acknowledge that.
But don’t stop there at acknowledgement. Keep going. Explore what an eating disorder means to you. But don’t stop there. Keep going. Explore the possibility of a new recovered identity. Work on new coping skills. Practice them. It won’t go perfectly every time. But don’t stop there. Keep going.