Guest Blogger Gets to the Heart of Gender and Body Image

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

I am in the editing phase of my book (to be released this Fall) entitled Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self. I'm taking a long break from blogging to finish this book that I'm so excited to share with you soon.

In my hiatus, I was blown away by the beautiful poetry and clarity presented by Schuyler Bailar, a student/athlete at Harvard University, who spoke so eloquently at the MEDA eating disorder conference I recently attended. Schuyler is studying psychology and competes on the men’s swimming team. He also happens to be a transgender man recovering from an eating disorder and a public speaker. Schuyler finished his warm, honest, and informative presentation with this letter that he wrote to his mother the evening before he had surgery to remove the breasts that he was born with. I will let Schuyler's words speak for themselves. 

There has been a lot of discussion in my professional circles since the release of the movie To the Bone (warning: content of this film may be triggering to anyone who suffers from an eating disorder). One of the major concerns is that this film is yet another with a very thin white female as the protagonist. Those of us who work in the field of disordered eating know that anorexia nervosa (as well as other eating disorders) exist in people who have bodies that are not emaciated or thin. They also exist in people of diverse race, gender, and sexuality.

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

In the wake of this film's release, it seemed timely to introduce this inspiring young person's writing. Schuyler Bailar's piece below was first published on his blog and he gave me permission to repost it here. You can find information about Schuyler and more of his writings on his website

 

 

 

Dear mom.

I know that a lot has been going on.

I just got out of rehab, I‘m asking you to call me your son, and I want to move out.

And it seems like a lot is about to happen.

I know that surgery is scary and I know most people don’t understand why I would voluntarily undergo a double mastectomy to remove a part of my body of which most of my female friends are jealous.

And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m not a little bit scared, and a little bit sad.

Even though I’ve never wanted them, my breasts are a part of me.

Last week I made a video of myself for myself for later, with my bare chest exposed. And as I did so, I felt this strange surge of pride in my body – a love of every bit of me.

I haven’t ever felt like that…

There’s always been something I’ve hated or wanted to change. Some part of my body that I picked out to pick on.

But that day, even though I saw things I didn’t like, even though I saw things I really do want to change, for some reason, I still felt love and pride for everything. Including my breasts.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing that’s making me doubt my decision to get them removed, but I felt a sort of strange sadness that they’ll finally be gone – kind of like getting rid of a bad habit or something.

And I can’t say I’m going to miss them. Because I’m not.

But it still feels surreal.

My body will be cut open, the fat sucked out of me, my mammary glands thrown out along with my ability to ever nurture a child.

I’ll be patched back up, and wake up probably 10 pounds lighter…

And I will be whole, yet some of me will be missing.

And I will always love that part of me, in a peculiar way. I will always be thankful for the strength and courage they demanded I show as they grew (and grew and grew and grew) to declare to the world this was not me. I am not boobs. I am not woman. I am Schuyler.

But back to how you’re involved.

I like to believe that this body is just as much yours as it is mine.

My little brain, my little arms, my brown eyes with green flecks, my little fingers all grew in your body from your body.

And my body, though it has a separate consciousness than yours, is an extension of yours.

And I want you to know something as I move forwards in my transition: I do not hate the body you gave me.

People talk about transgender individuals being “born in the wrong body.”

As if being born is just something that happens.

As if there were not people and love and care and pain and happiness and joy and terror involved.

Born. Given life. Brought into the world. There is nothing wrong in that process. There is no “wrong” in birth.

I was not born wrong at all; I was not born with the wrong mind; I was not born into the wrong body,

In fact, you did not birth a body at all.

You birthed me; a whole and entire person.

A person with teeny little finger nails, tiny eyes and tiny hands, little itty bitty feet, and a huge heart… a whole person all the same.

A lot of trans people talk about how their bodies betray them and how they hate their hips or lack thereof, their breasts or lack thereof, their femininity or their masculinity…

But I don’t…anymore, at least. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my days of raging, of self-harming, body-hating… I’ve written a good deal of poems angry at my body — some on my body.

But these days, I do not hate my body.

In fact, I have worked hard learning to love every bit of myself – every part of my body that you gave me to love.

And I am proud of it all.

Because you birthed me whole; I arrived an entire person.

And through the past year of treatment and travel and just plain old life experiences, I’ve learned a love that I will always have

For this body of mine.

For the parts that I don’t agree with.

For the parts that I have always agreed with.

For the parts that are invisible…

For this body of mine.

Because no matter how life changes it, this body will always be beautiful, this body will always be something you created.

So.

Dear mom.

Thank you.

I love you.

© S. Bailar 2015

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

Conscious Movement Heals Body and Soul

Conscious Movement Heals Body and Soul

Last week, I took my first ballet class in almost 20 years. Believe it or not, it was heavenly. It felt like some sort of homecoming. And, of course, my 45-year-old body is different than it was in my youth. Yet, I was surprised by how much my body remembered ballet. The sequences. The patterns. The steps. The turnout.

In fact, it was a wise clinician treating me for a recurring hip/knee injury who noticed that my knee caps are not in the same place as most knees. The dance training that took up most of my free time from age 6 to 26 encouraged my bones and joints to develop differently: quite turned out, compared to normal joints. Although the yoga of today was keeping me strong in some ways, it was forcing my joints and bones into parallel positions that were just not normal for them, torquing my limbs.

Photo by forgiss/iStock / Getty Images

When I started turning my feet gently out in yoga class, the instructors corrected me. Sometimes they corrected me many times. Once I explained to the teachers that in order to put my knees over my toes, which is proper alignment for a pose, I had to turn my feet out a bit and showed them my knee caps, they actually got it. I look really weird in yoga class, but thank goodness I don’t care much. And I find it a challenge to work with my strange anatomy.

An osteopath told me that the natural way for our skeletons to stand up is with a slightly open turn out, not parallel. (So much for mountain pose.) And my own particular grounding stance is a bit more turned out at the hips than this normal because of my young dance training.

So, these two healing women providers were edging me back to ballet dancing as a way that is natural for my body to move. I know I’ll never go back to pointe shoes. (Heck, I barely ever wear heels. I vowed never to torture my feet again.)  But here I was being pointed (pun intended) back to ballet for several different reasons and I was really unsure about how it would be to try a class after 20 years.

I wondered if I really could dance with Beginner’s Mind. Also, could I go to class with my body as it is right now: older, less flexible, post-childbirth...?

Surprisingly, I did.

Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images

The piano started playing and with my first plie, I felt that old familiar grace. My arms and legs did what they had done thousands of times before. Since there was so much time between then and now, I definitely felt different. I was stronger in some places in my body and weaker in others. My brain and body did not coordinate as fast as they did when I was a young dancer. But I felt the same exhilarated stirring inside of me. Something spiritual. I felt strangely at home.

As the class progressed, it got more challenging and I had to exert more effort. I became more aware of just how out of shape I was (at least for a ballerina). There were some combinations that were really just beyond my coordination. I laughed at myself when my feet got twisted up. And I cheered myself on if I finally got the formation right.

Photo by spfoto/iStock / Getty Images

And that’s when it dawned on me that I really was returning to ballet with Beginner’s Mind — and Heart. I was kinder to myself. When I knew that I didn’t look like the seasoned, regular dancers in the class, I just reminded myself that for a 45-year-old with two kids who hasn’t taken a class in 20 years, I was doing just amazing. I found myself talking to myself inside like I would to one of my daughters or a client:  “Good for you for trying.” “This will get easier with more practice.” “Look at what you CAN do!”

This was SO different than how I remember talking to myself inside when I was a young dancer, particularly when I was in my teens. I was hard on myself. I pushed myself to have flatter splits, higher kicks, bigger leaps. I compared myself endlessly to the other presumably better dancers. I said punishing things to myself when I messed up the dance steps; I did not laugh with amusement like I was doing today. I did not accept that overextending my legs is not so kind. I once was very hard on myself and hard on my body.

It’s no surprise that self-critical teen developed an eating disorder. I struggled with bulimia, binge eating, and restricting food until I finally got sick of it all and worked on my recovery. I was one of the lucky ones that got sick young and got well fairly fast, with the help of good people and a strong desire to move forward in my life. I danced ballet, and eventually modern dance, through my recovery and through college and did find a more nourishing way to view my more grown-up body and self.

I had been recovered for many years when I decided to stop ballet at age 26. I was taking adult classes with the Boston Ballet while working in the city, then switched to a smaller adult class in my home town outside the city. My study of dance took a backseat to my work and other facets of my life. Somehow, though, I found that if I didn’t dance, I missed connecting with a large part of my soul.

Photo by shotsstudio/iStock / Getty Images

But I also started to find other forms of dance that were fun and joyful for me: swing, barefoot boogie, African dance, and contact improvisation. Other, freer dance forms were calling to me and encouraging my self-expression in ways ballet never had. Swing dance is really a very improvisational form and I had a lot of fun with that. African Dance spoke to my spiritual connection to Nature. Contact improvisation, a partner dance form that involves shared weight, really cracked me open.

The community that dances contact improv is so different than the ballet community, and the dance form felt so alive to me. It called me to be in the moment. No choreography. Just whatever arises between a dancer and the floor and the partners that come along. Instead of following a prescribed sequence of steps that someone else taught me and I memorized; I was creatively moving in real time. It was so much fun to see what arose!

Photo by erikreis/iStock / Getty Images

I needed to get away from structured, rigid dance forms and find my own creative expression. At the same time, I got more creative in my work with clients. I looked more critically at many things in my life. I started to dance to the beat of my own drum in many ways. Eventually, it was contact improvisation and a curiosity about dancing on stilts that introduced me to my current partner and truest love. So, it was with consciousness that I had decided to give up ballet and never looked back.

Until now.

Why now...?

Well… Two good clinical opinions told me that my hips and knees move better in turnout than parallel and that certain parts of my body needed strengthening. While I had to reject choreographed dance in order to really find my own creative voice in movement — and probably in my life in my 20s and 30s — I can now, at 45, return to choreography and rhythm and routine with new respect and a stronger sense of self. Today, I also know well and honor my body’s limitations and preferences. I haven’t rejected the more improvisational dance forms. I enjoy being spontaneous and creative in my body more than anything. DJ’ing a dear friend’s 50th birthday was one of my music and dance highlights of the last several years.

Joyful Movement

Creative expression and dance is important to me and it allows me to write and practice nutrition therapy with fluidity and fresh energy every day. But I don’t need to fully reject ballet anymore, a dance form that trained my body to move in certain ways and still feels grounding and familiar. In fact, it connects me to a younger part of myself. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic of ballet, I found myself just being present in the sheer joy of moving.

I'm not used to dancing with mirrors anymore, and I found myself forgetting that there were mirrors on one of the walls of the studio. Every once in a while, I would glance at myself in the mirror and be surprised at what I saw. I looked at myself in a very matter-of-fact way, with far less judgment than I did as a young dancer. I felt how different my relationship with the mirror was today. I felt reverence for my older but able body. I felt respect and not criticism.

My comparing mind didn't shut off completely, but instead I noticed that there were several people who were also on the wrong foot, like I was. I chose to focus my attention very differently and less critically. I chose to go across the floor with some of the really talented dancers because I knew I could follow-the-leader behind them. When I was a younger ballerina, I wouldn't dare do that because I didn't want to look clumsy next to more graceful, capable dancers. As an older woman, I danced across the floor with others with so much less ego. I was surprised at how different and liberating this felt.

Healthy Body Image

I didn't push my body too much. I felt only a little sore the next day, as if I had used muscles that I don't use regularly. But I didn't feel some of the more stabbing pains that I sometimes felt in my joints after yoga. I began to truly believe the clinicians who told me that that perhaps ballet suits my body better than yoga and may potentially help to heal some of my alignment challenges, particularly if I can really listen to my body as I practice. How interesting that a form of dance that was both a childhood joy for me and, in some ways, encouraged my teenage eating disorder, could now heal my body 30 years later. The experience of dancing ballet again also showed me how far I had come in healing my relationship with my body and self.

Child Loves to Dance

How amazing it was to connect with that younger part of me and treat her more kindly and gently! How freeing it was to return to ballet class for the sheer joy of moving with flowing grace to live piano, focusing on pleasure, feeling my body grow stronger and more fluid. How grounding it was to feel at home in my body, despite it’s limitations and battle scars and history, and to just appreciate the things that it can do. How healing it is to respect and feel grateful for a body that can move in some of the ways that it always moved as a child -- a child who loved more than anything to dance…

 

 

Big Fat Shame

Body Shame, Presidential Election, and  Eating Disorders

We are nearing the presidential election and we hear daily stories about these newsworthy candidates. Donald Trump’s many statements about women have recently gotten a lot of press. Everyone from his opponent Hillary Clinton to Saturday Night Live have been discussing the things he has said over his lifetime about women. While I’m not writing to endorse or defame a candidate, I do want to talk about the subject of shame and weight. Why does our skin crawl when Donald Trump is quoted as calling a Miss Universe candidate “Miss Piggy?” Because, as women — and more and more today in all genders — we know that feeling of being shamed for the way our bodies look.

Body Shame, Presidential Election, and  Eating Disorders

Brene Brown, well-known author and shame researcher, talks about how shame begets shame. When we feel shame, it can lead to fear, grief, and anxiety. Often, without even realizing it, we shame other people as a way to diminish our own shame — or to pass on, inadvertently, the shame that we have experienced in some way ourselves. We do this when we gossip, exclude others, or make critical comments towards others.

Many of the clients that I serve in my nutrition therapy practice who struggle with disordered eating have experienced a lot of body shame in their lifetimes. Some were ridiculed for being fat as children by peers, doctors, even family members. Some watched their parents’ disgust with their own bodies, and learned this self-criticism at a very young, impressionable age. And, we all know that it doesn’t take much looking at modern media to find exclusion, negativity, and even hatred towards larger bodies. Yes, even one of our American presidential candidates has repeatedly denounced women for their size. As human beings, we all want to feel connected, valued, and accepted, but shaming others actually creates more of a culture where we feel diminished, rejected, and unworthy. It’s a vicious cycle.

Body Shame, Presidential Election, and  Eating Disorders

It’s no wonder that women — and, yes, today certainly people of all genders — are afraid of being fat. Though eating disorders are far more complex than this, they often start because of this fear — or because the pursuit of thinness feels virtuous, safe, and self-esteem-boosting. Eating disorders are the number one killer of all psychiatric disorders and they are responsible for an impaired quality of life for millions of people in the United States and other industrialized countries. (In fact, they don’t seem to exist in third world countries where food is more scarce and survival is more pressing.)

How do we shift from a culture of body shame and disconnection to one of connection? We can start by noticing the times when we are being self-critical or critical towards other people. We can also notice how many times we make critical observations about our own bodies and apologize to ourselves for being unkind. We can apologize when it becomes clear that we’ve shamed another. And don’t be afraid to respond to family members, doctors, and authority figures when they shame us or others about weight.

Body Shame, Presidential Election, and  Eating Disorders

Let’s think about this weight and body fat shame that circulates in our culture. We know that in a woman’s body, fat is necessary for fertility. Why are we shaming body fat and encouraging women to have as little as possible? In doing so, we diminish women’s unique fundamental bodily creativity.

I’m going to quote an excerpt from a book that I’m reading with one of the Non-Diet Book Clubs that I run. The book is titled It’s Not About Food by Normandi and Roark, and I don’t think I could write about this topic of honoring a woman’s body better than this passage in chapter 4.

“There was a time when women’s bodies were not treated like objects but were honored for their spiritual properties — the miraculous ability to give birth and nurture new life. But over time this connection has been lost and repressed through the rise of the patriarchal culture that defined spirituality in masculine terms. Goddess images with all different body types have been found: for example, the earth mother of Laurel with huge breasts and belly honoring the sacred female; the vegetation goddess with small breasts and large thighs and buttocks representing the fertility of the earth; the goddess of Mesopotamia who offers her breasts as a sacred gesture honoring the milk of life; and the tall, thin, bird-faced goddess with her arms raised high, bringing the life-giving energy of the sun to the earth. Women’s images weren’t created for the purpose of selling beer, new cars, and other products. Nor were they intended to be a commodity to control or manipulate in order to get what we need or define our self-worth. We were goddesses — to be honored and respected as sacred…”

Body Shame, Presidential Election, and  Eating Disorders

“Sacred means holy, consecrated, and to be revered. It also means to be secure against violence or abuse. We need to take back our original right to have our bodies seen as they are and treated as sacred. But to do that we must first learn to believe it ourselves… Through our own reverence for our bodies we take the first major step toward securing ourselves against violence and infringement. Violence and infringement mean hating, criticizing, forcing starvation (dieting), ignoring our bodily cues of hunger and fullness, forcing our bodies to be something they aren’t naturally, and stripping away our bodies’ spiritual qualities… We can expand our relationships with our bodies to include the incredible spiritual, emotional, and physical wisdom that we hold in the feminine body. When we can do this, we are free to work with our bodies to manifest our dreams, whatever they may be.”

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Amen to that.

I must thank Normandi and Roark for articulating so well the part of recovery from eating disorders and body shame that is what I call the “last frontier” of the recovery process. Honoring and revering the body in the way it is meant to be respected can be a challenging process, particularly when the current culture does not support it.

I think this is why the discussions of women as objects and sexual harassment in the political sphere has been so disheartening for me lately. Instead of getting stuck in my discouragement, I find that writing, reading, and ultimately teaching women another way to see their amazing, creative, beautiful bodies — and to feed them as an act of self-care — is one way that I find solace.

Let’s keep the conversation and the work on this alive. We so desperately need it today.

Feeding the Soul

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Have you ever gone on a vacation but found that you had a hard time slowing down…? 

I have. And I noticed it a few times this summer. 

We can sometimes be so task-oriented in our lives, trying to cram so many things into a short day or week — even if they are rich, meaningful experiences — that we can suffer from a lack of spaciousness. 

Spaciousness is that luscious time that unfolds naturally. In the unfolding, we have room to breathe, to create, to reflect, to have insights, and to really connect with whomever is nearby. I consider spacious moments to encourage creative and spiritual growth spurts. I connect with my truest self, and I and grow more deeply with family and friends when we have some lazy, unstructured time together. 

I also notice that the active, productive, movement-oriented part of me struggles with unstructured time. I get a little restless. I need a balance of doing, being, and creating, and I am appreciating and trying to listen to this more and more as I get older. 

FeedingTheSoul.org

I talk with clients often about how those mini food breaks during the day (you know, the ones where you aren’t really hungry, but find yourself foraging) may sometimes be the sensory part of us yearning for some downtime. Something rich to eat might give us a 5-minute moment of bliss (goddess forbid we stop for more than 5 minutes!), but is that really what we are looking for? Perhaps what we really want is the richer taste of spacious time to do or be or make whatever it is that calls to us. We might not feel that we deserve those regenerative moments, but maybe we do deserve a bit of chocolate. 

What would it be like to fill up space with whatever calls to us in the moment — with what we really want to do, not what we feel obligated to do? Perhaps a few moments to sit meditatively under a tree, or look at the stars, or putter around the house, or write a letter or poem, or maybe even begin to prepare a more spacious and delicious, health-filled meal. There are other things that call to us besides something to eat. I have heard my clients and those in my groups talk quite a lot recently about the spiritual food and connection that we all really long for. 

BlueberryBlessings.org

As I said, I’m not so good at this practice of spaciousness, but I am striving for it in my busy life of juggling family and work responsibilities. The summer is a fitting time to practice being a bit more spontaneous and slow. I recently visited North Carolina and wrote a poem, as a result of taking a few quiet moments with a (now dead) tree in the forest. I’m doing something I’ve never done before in this blog: I’m sharing a deeply personal bit of writing that I never meant for public consumption. The poem came to me in the spacious moments that followed my tree encounter. It was rattling about in my head for a bit until I took the time to write it down. I asked my family and travel companions specifically for time and space, both in the forest and later when I wrote the poem. That’s not generally something I’m great at doing, but I learned how important it can be to ask for quiet and creative space when it’s needed.

A couple of people that I trust told me that my blog readers might appreciate the poem. I hope you do, and I hope you allow yourself some spacious, open, creative moments this summer.

 

AWAKENING

There are many ways to kiss the ground, says Rumi. 

AwakeningPoem.org

I choose lying in the palm of the hand of Nature. 

So much more than a felled tree, 

I am cradled and filled with comfort that never came easily. 

Amid the clear spring water, the moss, the turk’s cap lilies, 

I took a breath,

then another,

And connected with my soul

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Because my soul is

the clear spring water, the moss, the lilies, 

the smooth bark of the supportive tree. 

 

After kissing the ground, I kissed a man. 

A bee stung me mid-kiss, as if to say, 

“No, my dear, not back to this world yet. 

Stay with us in the woods, 

stay with your soul. 

You need more work before you are ready to merge with another.” 

I must embrace my wise,

earthy, 

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watery, 

fiery, 

airy

Self

and feel that Self solidly connected with everything

like I did when the palm of the hand of Nature

cradled me close. 

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I became a tiny child and my wisest oldest self

and the smooth, supportive tree

At the very same time. 

 

When I feel the nudge of a bee, 

I respond by picking some plantain,

chewing it up, 

and drawing out the sting. 

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When I feel the sting of his words, 

I can turn to the plants and

not let the words hurt me. 

For the sting is not really about me. 

That little bee just wanted my attention. 

To share his not-so-sweetness.

That little bee just gave me his message, 

the repeat of a message I’d received in other ways. 

It’s time to forgive.  

It’s time to write. 

It’s time to let things bounce off and back. 

It’s time to sit in the palm of the hand of Nature, 

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Alone but not lonely. 

Then, 

only then, 

I will be ready for

kisses. 

 

Blessings on your summer, 

Heidi

 

Acceptance in Recovery: Important Lessons from April

AcceptanceInRecoverySeedlingsTomato

April in New England this year has been particularly extreme. First it snowed, just as the crocus began to bloom. The snow melted, then it snowed again, knocking down the daffodils. Despite the intermittent frost and cold white blanket in these first weeks of April, the blossoms are still coming. The fragrant little grape hyacinths are dotting my yard this morning. The tomato and basil seedlings on my porch are stretching out to the sun. 

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I was thinking today that this year’s Spring is a little like recovery. My clients struggle with disordered eating, so that’s my frame of reference, but I suppose recovery from anything can feel like the fits and starts of this season. 

One of my Non-Diet Book Clubs is reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Acceptance is one of those harder parts of recovery work, but it’s essential. When we bring mindful acceptance to our experience, we notice our feelings and thoughts without judgement or without trying to push them away. Easier said than done. I personally find it hard to notice unpleasant feelings without judging, analyzing, or trying to explain them away. This is a challenging concept to grasp, never mind to practice. 

Many of you have heard about one framework from which I work with my clients: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In some ways, acceptance is not the best word to use. Clients often mistakenly think it means putting up with, giving in to, or tolerating things that are difficult or challenging. Acceptance is not about complacency, and it’s certainly not an excuse to do nothing on the path to our goals. Instead of putting up with or giving in to our negative thoughts or feelings, we can accept them by dropping the struggle with them — simply giving space for the thoughts and feelings to arise. We notice our feelings and thoughts, but we don’t need to react to them. ACT terms for acceptance work include “expand around it,” “make room for it,” “let it freely flow through you,” “breathe into it,” or in the words of the Beatles, “let it be.” 

AcceptanceAndCommitmentShootsAndSnow

We don’t need to sit on a meditation cushion or yoga mat in order to practice acceptance. Acceptance happens any moment that you bring your attention to your thoughts and feelings, really notice them, and open up to the fact that you are a human being with those thoughts and feelings. You can choose to respond to them or not. You can choose to express them or not. But you don’t try to judge them or push them away. 

So many of us use food — either the withholding of it or the overindulging on it — to manage feelings that we think we can’t handle. 

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Instead, can we notice our hunger sensations, notice our cravings, and notice how full we are in any given moment? Can we accept these as our experience, even if the feelings in our bodies and minds are occasionally unpleasant? 

Can we notice that we feel angry at someone, but we’re choosing to take it out on ourselves by not eating instead of confronting that person? 

Can we notice how much we crave a certain food, and how much of this is about mouth hunger or emotional hunger and not stomach hunger? 

Can we notice feeling numb when we come home from work and just start eating, and admit that we’d rather eat and feel numb than ruminate over and over the stress from the day? Can we just notice this, without judgement? 

SnowDropsAcceptanceEatingDisorderRecovery

These are just some of the questions that can take some time to explore and form the foundation for the profound work done by my clients. This is not about an external diet or person telling them how to eat; this is deep listening to oneself and opening to experience so that clear choices can be made. 

One important addition: noticing without judgement does not mean that we don’t also want to change our behaviors!  Maybe we don’t like that after-work, mind-numbing eating. Maybe we don’t like what food restriction in the service of avoiding anger is doing to our health and energy. Can we non-judgmentally notice these behaviors and acknowledge them as doing our best to deal with painful thoughts and feelings in the moment? Yes, we want to learn new strategies for dealing with stress, anger, frustration, loneliness. 

CrocusInSnowMindfulIntuitiveEating

There’s one very important concept here. (If you take only one thing home from this blog post, I secretly hope it’s this…) Finding new ways to cope and deal with difficult thoughts and feelings will not happen by trying to avoid or push them away. Just ask yourself if this has worked for you in the past…? Avoidance and automatic pilot go hand in hand. Acceptance of what is really happening inside in the present moment is the anecdote. When you can really drop into what is being felt or thought and observe it — and this takes a lot of practice! — you open up the freedom to make choices. You can choose to call a friend when you are feeling lonely, express feelings through writing, choose a snack that makes you feel satisfied and vital when desiring some food, and make other choices that move you towards recovery and the person that you want to be. 

CrocusIntuitiveEating

Recovery from disordered or dysregulated eating — and coming to peace with your body and self — is an ever-evolving process, and it doesn’t stop when you find yourself eating better. Like a flowering bush that needs pruning each year to realize it’s fullest bloom, we are constantly welcoming in the new discoveries about ourselves, as we let old patterns and habits that don’t serve us go. We can appreciate both our petals and our protective thorns. We are human and not perfect, and each of us are one of a kind.

What are the seeds that you are sowing this Spring? What is blossoming within you? What kind of flower are you growing into? What kind of life and person are you wanting to be? Every day, despite the frost, darkness, and other challenging conditions, we strive to blossom and become who we are. In fact, those challenging conditions are part of what makes us like a strong, resilient plant. This Spring, nurture and feed your soul and senses. Provide fertile, nutritious soil and plenty of water. Take good care of the seedling parts of you that long for the sun. 

SeedlingTomatoesMindfulEating

One of my favorite quotes is from Georgia O’Keefe, also a favorite artist. “Nobody sees a flower, really -- it's so small -- we haven't time, and to see takes time…” Take time to fully recover and develop a healthy relationship with food, your body, and your self. Get to know yourself and your uniqueness. Get to know what makes you feel alive and bring that aliveness out into the world. Allow yourself a full range of feelings and notice them all. Take time. Slow down whenever you can to check in with yourself and bring awareness to those feelings, even the hard ones— the ones that we tend to want to avoid or pretend aren’t a part of our experience. 

GrowingSeedlingsMindfulEating

I have to accept that April in New England is a little back and forth. I arm myself with a good warm scarf, lots of layers that I can peel off, and plant little sprouts on my sun porch to remind me that the sunnier side of Spring is coming. I emerge from the in-breath of winter, and breath out a blog post for the first time in awhile. My winter writing is more introspective and I don’t share so much of it. Today I accept and publish for you the imperfect combination of words here to describe this human’s experience of Spring and my work in it. I am grateful for the work with all of you — in person and on-line — that helps me feel the connectedness of all things. 

As I tend to my little seedlings, taking them inside when the porch gets below freezing at night, I imagine all the seeds being sown in the hearts and minds of humans all over, in all kinds of conditions, this Spring. I accept the cold temperatures, even though I don’t particularly like them.  I accept that I have to wait until the soil is warmer to put my plants into the ground. It’s another cold April in New England. The hard stuff in life is part of it all. 

Asking for What We Really Want is Harder than Saying “Pass the Dessert”

In loving memory of Bud-Bud, who always had a good appetite.   

In loving memory of Bud-Bud, who always had a good appetite. 

 

Do you find yourself munching when you are not really hungry? 

Do you find yourself using snacks as reasons to take a break from work? 

Do you reward yourself with a treat when you finish a task — or use a treat to get you through it? 

When you get upset about something, do you find yourself in the fridge or pantry to console yourself? 

If so, you are experiencing emotional eating. 

And we all do it sometimes. 

Who hasn’t overeaten over the holidays because those favorite foods bring back good feelings? Who hasn’t mindlessly eaten to get themselves through a tough assignment? We all do this once in awhile, sometimes without even realizing it. We can’t always eat mindfully and with focus, savoring our food and stopping when we are perfectly satisfied. But for some of us, this overeating happens all too often, causing distress — and sometimes health problems. 

When I see a client in my nutrition therapy practice, I often look at whether she or he is eating a balanced diet. These days, many clients are not eating enough carbohydrates. So many people are afraid to eat too many of them. Not eating enough carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — as well as not eating enough total food energy or calories — can be a set up. An imbalanced or inadequate diet may lead to low energy, cravings, thinking about food too much, and overeating. However, sometimes the foods clients eat seem to be in alignment with their nutritional needs, but they still find themselves binge eating or eating beyond comfortable fullness regularly. It’s frustrating and it really has nothing to do with their food choices much of the time. This is pure emotional eating. And it’s a growing epidemic, so to speak. 

And why not? 

Food is legal and readily available. It’s grounding, sensual, and only takes a few minutes out of our to-do list to engage in. But is that snack really what we are hungry for? Do our bodies need food at this moment — or are we really looking for downtime, stimulation, sensory pleasure, or soothing? Food can provide all of those things for us, but at what cost? Tuning in to what it is that we really want and need — in any given moment — is a practice. It is not easy — particularly if we are someone that is oriented towards serving or taking care of others. (I am all too familiar with this myself.) 

I’d like to propose that the more we ask specifically for what we want and need — of ourselves and from others — the less we will feel the pull to put food in our mouths when we are truly not hungry. And the more we will feed ourselves nourishing food when we are indeed hungry, too.

One of the exercises that I encourage clients to do is to have them set an alert on their phones.  (We carry them everywhere, so we might as well use them for personal growth, right?) The alert should go off at random times several times per day. When that alert sounds, the client has to stop what she is doing and tune in. She should ask: What is going on in my body? What am I feeling? Am I hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Bored? Do I have to pee? Do I feel lonely? Cold? In an uncomfortable position? etc… 

For many of my clients, these alerts may be the only times that they truly check in with themselves during the day. Some begin to notice when they are hungry earlier than when they are ravenous and just about ready to eat their best friend. It’s hard not to overeat when we get that over-hungry.  

Some clients realize that as they work, play, connect, and engage in life, they forget to eat. After a full day, they find themselves starving — literally and figuratively. They may race off into more adventures in search of fulfillment, while denying themselves the food and reflective connection with themselves that they actually need for sustenance. 

Some people do the random alerts exercise and discover that they are frequently in discomfort, but were never aware of it. This prompts them to get help for some physical injuries or digestive issues. 

Some people realize that they want something, but they are afraid to ask for it. It’s easier to just plow ahead and take care of everyone else’s needs rather than tune in to their own.

When clients are helping professionals or parents, they often find it hard to stop and turn their focus on themselves. Eventually, they discover that when they take the time to check in and and take care of themselves (with a bathroom break, snack, short walk outside, stretch, deep breath, or whatever they need in that moment), they are actually better able to be generous and helpful to those around them.

Sometimes our little mindless snacks throughout the day serve that purpose. We’re trying to take care of ourselves some, but not too much. We don’t really take the time to think about what we really need in those moments — connection, touch, warmth, beauty, movement, fresh air — sometimes because we are afraid that we can’t get it or that we don’t have time to get it. But a nibble here will do… 

I’d like to argue that we don’t have time to ignore our needs and desires! 

If we do, it can create stress, exhaustion, resentment, an unfulfilling life… oh, and, yes, overeating and any of the health-oriented “perks” that come from that…  

This week I worked with a client who reflected that she was binging or eating mindlessly after work on a regular basis. When we dug deeper about it, we found that she was using food as a way to “take off the day.” Food helped her get out of her head and into her body, transitioning her from work to home after a stressful day. There was a part of her that was so used to using unhealthy ways to cope with stress and transition, she didn’t really feel like she deserved more than a binge. When we did some imagining about what it would be like if she didn’t hold the belief that she doesn’t deserve the self-care, she was able to come up with an alternative to binging. 

She is indeed hungry when she gets home from work around 4pm, so having an appealing, satisfying snack that could hold her until dinner was the first order of self-care. Then, taking a walk so that she could do something physical seemed like a good way for her to shift gears. She wanted to literally pound the pavement after a challenging work day. Walking helps her breathe deeply, slow down, clear her head, and transition from a day of taking care of others. She realized that thinking of physical activity this way was nurturing and would support her mental transition from work to home, as well as take good care of her body. The positive effects of exercise on our brains and bodies are well documented and she knows this. But it worked better for her to think of exercise as a “want” instead of a “should.” 

It was hard for my client to ask herself for a healthy yummy snack, physical movement,  and some self-care and transition time between work and home. It was easier for her to be careless with herself and operate the way she always has. Once she identified what she really wanted during that binge-filled afternoon time and was able to ask herself for it, she could come up with a plan for how to take care of herself. The challenge will be bringing consciousness to that time of day so that she can really make the change.

She still might need to contend with the part of her that feels undeserving of good self-care, but she has a plan and some compassionate, curious language to use with herself when that comes up. Having me to check in with around her progress helps her to take it seriously, and hopefully I’m modeling non-judgmental processing of her progress on these new afternoon practices. I’m seriously rooting for her and she knows it.

If you find that you aim to make food and self-care changes, but you just keep getting stuck, don’t underestimate the power of connecting with a nutrition therapist or other professional experienced in disordered eating that can help you non-judgmentally explore your resistance to change. Often our own self-judgement gets in the way of helping us make the changes that we want. It may also help to talk to friends or family about your new practices — or connect with a higher power or nature and ask for help. A little compassionate support often goes a long way. 

The next time that you find yourself trolling for sweets or gobbling mindlessly when you aren’t really hungry, ask yourself, “What do I really want? What am I really hungry for right now?” Even if you can’t stop the eating, keep asking this question and stay curious instead of critical. Knowing your desires and needs is an important part of healing from compulsive eating. In fact, it’s an important part of healing from any disordered eating, even restrictive under-eating. When you know what you want, you can ask for it — of yourself or of others around you — and you can stop using food as an inadequate (albeit yummy and soothing) substitute. It takes courage to ask for what you really want and desire, as well as time to reflect and really get to know what’s inside. But it’s worth doing, no matter how long it takes. There may be many bumps along the way, but the result is not only freedom from disordered eating but a more passionate, heart-centered, satisfying life.

Eating Disorder Blogger Slowly Returns to Writing and Learns a Thing or Two about Self-Care

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I’m going to be really honest here. I’ve been quiet on this blog for awhile and some of you have asked me what’s up. Well, here it is… 

It’s been too long since I’ve done any significant writing. It started with the fullness of life taking priority, and then I just got out of rhythm with the regular writing practice that I once had. 

And I haven’t danced enough lately.

And I’m not checking in with myself much or feeling rather clear about my needs and desires.

In fact, sometimes (like today) I feel like I’m just going through the motions. A bit on automatic pilot. Not fully present. A little lost. Not fully connected to my thoughts, my body, my true core self.

But …

I’m not using food — either the consumption of it or the withholding of it — to deal with this feeling. I haven’t done that in any significant way in decades. Food can be a way to soothe, reward, and even self-medicate when things get challenging, but in the end, it’s not really the food — or the control that comes from eating “perfectly” — that is really what I’m looking for in the first place. It’s not really what I’m hungry for or what I crave.

So what am I doing instead…?

I’m going to my journal to write and figure out what’s “eating” me.

I’m making conscious strides to find real connection with the people that I love and that care about me.

I’m checking in with myself and my “support team,” which includes friends and helping professionals, to help me remember my values and my needs.

I’m dancing, which is a way that I connect with all of the emotions that are inside.

It’s been a major transition time. My family has been going through a lot of changes. Really positive transitions have their stress, too. Let’s take the example of my partner moving in and becoming a part of our family. It’s a really good event, but it’s still a transition for all of us, bringing up the ghosts of past relationships as well as uncertainties about the future. Then there’s the new school year, which always seems to bring about a strong feeling of change and newness, amid the adjustment of schedules.

Something that I’ve learned about myself over the years is that transitions are challenging and I need spaciousness to take them in. At the same time, I can also be a “dive right in” kind of girl when the creative energy strikes me. Finding balance during transitions and creative breakthroughs may be part of my life’s work, but it feels worth it.

About twenty-five-plus years ago, when I struggled with an eating disorder, it was a big transition that I was anticipating and passing through: adolescence and the eventual moving away from my childhood home. In the past, I might have used food (either with too much control or out of control) to help me bridge the challenges of transitions, but eventually I learned other ways to cope and take care of myself. Now, decades later as a nutrition therapist who works with others struggling with disordered eating, I hope to help my clients move through their transitions and learn to nourish and feed themselves with care as they settle into their true selves.

I’m reminded, with this funky, automatic pilot, oh-my-goodness-what-a-busy-time, knocked-off-center feeling that I have today that we are all really just trying to find balance in a world that often doesn’t give us enough space and time to catch our breath.

Let’s take a moment together to just catch our breath…

And another moment…

Let’s make it three conscious, slow, spacious, deep breaths together…

(Big sigh)…

Taking a breath or two or three allows me to slow down, let go of the busy schedule and to-do list in my head and just live — really live through my breath — in the moment. When I do that, it’s easier to tap into what I really need or desire in any given moment. It's easier for me to listen better to what the the moment is asking of me. 

As I reflect and slow down, I realize that I need to write more. (This keeps me from driving my family crazy with all the things I have to say.)

I need to find time to dance more. (Dishwashing dance party, anyone?)

I need to hug my family more. (Those of you that have followed the blog, I’m sorry to report that guinea pig Boo is no longer with us. Although sad, her passing gave my daughters a chance to learn something about love and death. We recently added a few other critters to the household…)

Bud-bud stands alone.

Bud-bud stands alone.

And I need to honor my center, even as I get knocked off of it, again and again and again. After all, we’re all human beings here together on this planet, trying to find our way.

I don’t use food to negotiate transitions any more, but I still feel the challenges to my sense of self and value when I start to feel a little “off” during them. I’m so grateful for the reflection and skills and open-heartedness that my recovery has offered me. I’m so grateful to be supporting the recoveries of many wonderful individuals as they discover the best way to nurture and feed themselves on many levels.

Writing this blog post today was both a gift to you, my ever-patient readers who I have been out of touch with, and a bit of my own self-care. How amazing when giving and receiving flow so simultaneously, particularly when they come out of a funky, disconnected-from-self place. And it worked! On this end, I feel better already. Thank you for reading. I hope that I can be a small part of your journey toward balance today as I find my own footing this September. How good it is to be doing this living and breathing, eating and growing, doing and being — together.

Day by day.

Bobert the Beta Fish

Bobert the Beta Fish

Moment to moment.

One

deep 

breath 

at a time.

Today, can you make a commitment to slow down, breathe, and check in with those self-care practices that nourish you? Food is nourishing, but it shouldn’t take the place of other forms of self-care. What or who are your supports when you feel less than your stellar self? 

I commit to not letting it be too long before I connect here with you and myself in writing again. What can you commit to today? How can you commit to your Self today…? 


Bubbles the Gerbil

Bubbles the Gerbil





Eat Clean? Detox? Lose that Winter Weight? Beware of the Nutritionist (or Anyone) Who Tells You What To Eat

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

I have not been a regular blog writer this winter, and I am happy to say that I'm back. 

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

My writing practice inhabited a more internal, quiet space this winter, as New England got deeply pummeled with snow. In my hiatus, I discovered something about myself. It was something I already knew, but I experienced this knowing more deeply: family and relationships are incredibly important to me. My energies went in the direction of my smaller soul community, while outreach to my larger community got put on hold. I happily welcomed guest bloggers’ unique perspectives (see past articles by Deanna D’Amore and Rachel Zimmerman). It felt good to decide to take a blogging break. But I also feel equally good about getting back to the writing practice that I love and that provides no-cost resources and inspiration to those of you who have been my regular readers.

Spring is unfolding, and the trend to hyper-focus on health and nutrition scares me almost as much as some of the discussion about the “obesity epidemic.” There is so much information out there, especially now with on-line channels, that it is staggeringly hard to make decisions about our health. The information on nutrition alone is incredible. It seems that everyone has something to say about what we should eat, even those that don't have any background in nutrition science or have any understanding of human physiology. And while my own work has become more and more holistic and creative over the years, my nutrition therapy practices stay grounded in common sense, compassion, research in behavior, and knowledge of how the body works to process and assimilate food. 

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

Recently, one of my clients said, “One of the things I really like about working with you, Heidi, is that you never say that you know something about how to eat. In fact, you mostly say that you don't know.” She went on to highlight one of the pieces of our work that I think is most critical: I absolutely don't have the answers about what you should eat. I don't have the answers about what anyone should eat. And I'm not going to pretend that I do, no matter how much training I've had in nutrition. In fact, the one person who really does know what what's best for you to eat is YOU. If you listen, your body actually tells you. In my work with clients, I strive to help each individual find the style of eating that really works for them. And that often takes a lot of trial and error, listening, challenging, and practice.  

Now, if somebody has a serious eating disorder and they're either under- or over- feeding themselves significantly, there's no question that the relationship with food is out of balance. We also know that eating disorders are not just about food. Regardless, the ultimate goal, no matter how we need to move forward to get there, is about finding the style of eating that really works for one's individual body. No two bodies are like, and no two people likely need the same types and amounts of food at any given time.

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

Please be wary of anyone who tells you that they have the answer for how to eat, particularly if that answer means eliminating whole types of food. Sure, allergies and intolerances are very real and worth sorting out. But the one-size-fits-all method of health and nutrition advice is just incorrect. The idea that we need to fine tune our diet (“clean” it up) so that it's perfect is also really incorrect and dangerous. Doing so  — worrying about every morsel that comes into our bodies and whether it is clean or not — can create stress and a sense of over-control that itself is rather toxic to our bodies and minds.

Yes, we are what we eat and it's important to eat health-giving food. I believe we should grow food that is full of the nutrients that our bodies need to thrive. I believe in making food choices that connect us to greater health because we are listening to what our bodies are telling us about how to care for them. However, the idea that we have to monitor, scrutinize, and perfect every morsel of food that goes into our bodies is the other end of the pendulum; it’s just as damaging as being mindless, disconnected, processed food eaters.

Spring Detox Nutrition Weight Loss

Take care of yourself. Take care of your wonderful body. Give it good nourishing food. Sit quietly with that nourishing food and feel it go down. Feel it sink into your tissues. Really savor and enjoy it. But don't run around and analyze every morsel you put into your body. Don’t (for a minute!) believe that one way of eating is going to be the answer to all your problems. Don't (for a minute!) believe that one way of eating is going to keep you disease-free. There are so many factors that can trigger illness —  stress and over-control included. Enjoy your days while you have them. The plain reality is that we are all going to die of something sometime. All over the world people eat in so many different ways and thrive. Find the way to eat that makes YOU thrive right now and helps you feel your best.

Find a way to really relax and enjoy food and the pleasure of eating. If you need help, I'm happy to assist you in this process, and so are many nutrition therapists oriented away from diets and towards more intuitive, mindful eating. We all need help with things that don't come naturally,  especially if we didn't learn how to tune in to our bodies from an early age.

As spring unfolds (and, wow, is it ever a big deal here in Boston after all the snow!), turn your faces up to the sunshine. Trust yourself and sink into that feeling of well-being that comes over you when you eat something that tastes and feels amazing. As the flurry of advice on how to detox, clean up, and drop that winter weight piles as high as the melting snow, I recommend instead that you listen to your own feelings and intuition about what to eat. No body knows better about what your body needs than your body.  



How I Battle the Skinny Demon

Spring 2015.jpg

 

The winter and the mounds of snow here in New England have encouraged me to be in a more internal space with my writing practice. I'll return to blogging as sure as the robins return, but I have also discovered some fantastic writers in my hibernation. Today's article is written by guest blogger Deanna D'Amore. Deanna is a fitness trainer who honestly and courageously tells of her challenges around body image and self-care. I hope you find her words as inspiring as I do. The article was first published at http://www.inspiredperspiration.com/battle-skinny-demon-deanna-damore/.

 

I’m the heaviest weight I have ever been. But I’m not going to do anything about it.

Maybe it comes with maturity, maybe it’s exhaustion of trying to squeeze into a version of myself that’s not actually me, cuz I’ve been there too. Many people might look at me and say I’m in great shape and “who are you to complain?” But we all compare ourselves, to our old selves and to each other.

I’d love to tell you that being skinny and waifish didn’t make me happy. It did when I was that! Skinny was the only thing I had, though. I knew deep down I was a mess and couldn’t figure out what else I was bringing to the life table besides being cute and skinny. Maybe it takes not looking the way you think you want to in order to dig a little deeper and find what it is that you really have to offer. Who you really are.

Being skinny is a demon women can never seem to outrun. It runs rampant through our TVs, our social media feeds, it chases us down at lunches out with friends, gatherings with the closest of family. It’s bad for us. Really bad. What’s worse is that proving our desire to be skinny is even expected of us by our own friends and family. It’s not just the magazines, our own circles reinforce the demon we all despise.

I was at a bridal shower table with some of my closest college friends. These are girls I lived with, cheered with, ate with, everything-ed with. Girls who I’ve seen and have seen me cry in a bathtub over a boy (of course). Do I care how any of them look today? No. I’m happy we are able to see each other once this year. But do I care whether or not they think I’ve gained weight, if they’re wondering if I’ve been working out? Yes. I do care.

As we sit there, the conversation inevitably turns to our bodies. Many of us are fit. Some are CrossFitters, others are members of some alternate venue for flying our fitness freak flags. The chat today is whether we are “too muscular,” maybe we should “tone it down, try to be smaller.” Two years ago, it was all about longing for toned and muscular arms (which we all have now). The “oh, me too!” and “I just want to be skinny!” starts flying all over and I can’t help but join in. I even notice it happening. I am fully present to the moment and I don’t like it but I chime right in with the same complaints. I can’t stop myself.

My ride home from the shower is spent wondering about my own programming, figuring out whether I should squeeze in more running, contemplating skipping some exercises this cycle, or maybe just go light for “toning”. No wait, it’s my diet. I just need to lean out a little more. I should drop carbs, drop fat, drop carbs and fat, do a Whole30 minus fruit and nuts. I’ll just stop eating so much.

My mind races. Everything I pride myself on knowing better than, being above, all of those thoughts I have worked so hard to overcome in the past few years flood my brain and I am consumed with the skinny demon. I know I’ll snap out of it, but I wonder why the f***ing f*** I am here again. If I were sitting around with G coaches and members, I wouldn’t be caught dead preaching anything less than how each of us, myself included have awesomesauce running through our veins. How we are so beyond thinking skinny means anything, how we value ourselves for so much more than that, for being strong and capable and badass! So why, after banging out a PR on pullups at G this morning and feeling on top of the world for it, am I on the verge of a fitness breakdown, questioning all that I know to be truth?  Because I can’t help it. None of us can and we fuel each other’s fire.

Outside of my sanctuary, all reality and truth is lost based on a comment from a loved one, a shirt that’s too tight, a big event. There just won’t ever be any escape from these situations or these conversations. It’s the thing you can count on as a woman: women getting together to hate on themselves.

Why? What if you didn’t, though? What if you could find a place of acceptance, and dare I say even love for your body and it’s capabilities? What if you were the one friend who didn’t participate in the conversation or steered it in another direction? How do we go about doing and actually feeling that? I don’t know. But these questions are generally where I start.

Besides Coaching, I also do hair. Sometimes, I’m standing in front of the mirror in my underwear, clothes strewn about, freaking out about feeling fat, with a client coming to the salon in 20 min. I pull out the eyeliner, curling iron, maxi dress and just get it together. I remind myself that my client only cares how beautiful I make them, not how I look doing it. Everyone has that outfit or look that makes them feel better, or at least not awful. I have mine and I put it on. I don’t care if I wore it to work two days ago. I take a pouty selfie and move on with my day. The stupid demon goes away. Other times, I need to dig a little deeper.

I ask myself lots of questions starting with “am I getting my big three right?”

  1. Am I eating the way I know works for me?
  2. Am I moving often and with the right mix of intensity?
  3. Am I getting enough sleep?

Those are my big three. We all have our own, but if you don’t yet, take mine! More times than not, the answer is yes to all three and I just need a high five to the face. I’d bet it’s what most of us need.

My strategies are ever evolving. I am creating my path and figuring out what I need to live the life I feel most confident in and satisfied with. It changes. I know it’s ok to not have it figured out and to have these feelings come up no matter how far along the path to self love I might be on most days. I’m still young but I’ve been through things, faced things, figured out things. I’ve actually grown up and made my way. And I’ve been around long enough to realize that not everyone can say that.

Figuring out how to cope with my life takes trial and error, patience, and will be completely unique to me. The demons may never leave me alone, but awareness and practice means I’ll meet them less and less. And each encounter will be less devastating than the one before. Eventually, the “I feel great” and the “I love my____” outweigh the “I hate my_____” and the “I wish I were_____.” And, I’m always glad when the smoke clears and realize I no longer pound my body with terrible fitness or food choices because of my demons.

For those of you wondering about how the animals are doing this winter...  Bud-Bud and Boo just celebrated a birthday. See them enjoying their veggie-cake with gusto. 

For those of you wondering about how the animals are doing this winter...  Bud-Bud and Boo just celebrated a birthday. See them enjoying their veggie-cake with gusto. 

At one obstacle course race last summer I was among 5% of participants who climbed the entire rope. I can run, sprint, climb, lift, pushup, pullup, crawl, jump and love circles around my younger, skinnier self. I may be at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been, but I’m also so much more than I have ever beenAnd you know what? I love it that way.

 ~ Article republished with permission from the author, Deanna D'Amore. 


I’m Finally Thin — But Is Living In A Crazymaking Food Prison Really Worth It?

I've collected a couple of articles addressing body image concerns and disordered eating that I will share with you while I take a break from blogging this holiday season. The voices of those currently struggling are powerful. They hopefully inspire us all to examine our relationships with food and our bodies and, ultimately, take better care of ourselves.

This month's guest blogger is Rachel Zimmerman, staff writer for WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio News Station. The article was first published on WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

This month's guest blogger is Rachel Zimmerman, staff writer for WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio News Station. The article was first published on WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

I’m Finally Thin — But Is Living In A Crazymaking Food Prison Really Worth It?

I am not fat. At just over 5 feet tall and 101 pounds, I’m actually closer to thin. It shocks me to even write this, but after a zaftig childhood and a curvy-bordering-on-chunky early adulthood, I find myself, in middle age, after two kids, to have reached my “ideal” weight.

But lately I wonder if it’s really worth it.

From the outside, thin is surely better. Other moms tell me I look great. I can consider bikinis. I appear far younger than my actual age and, with a perky, teen-sounding BMI of 19.9, I fit in my daughter’s Forever 21 tops.

But peek inside my brain: it’s alarming.

I spend an inordinate, and frankly embarrassing amount of time thinking about food, planning meals and strategizing about how to control my weight. It’s on my mind pretty much every waking hour of every day and the details are painfully banal: how many pumpkin seeds in my nonfat yogurt; will a green smoothie pack on an extra ounce or two; can I eat dinner early so my weight the next morning will be optimally low?

If I don’t exercise (Every. Single. Day.) I get depressed. If I stray from my short list of accepted foods, I can spiral out of control. My life is bound by a strict system of controls and rigid rules (maintained with a pack-a-day gum-chewing habit) that keep my weight in line. These include daily digital scale checks that set my mood each morning: 102.9 is bad news; 100.4 gets me high. Trivial? Yes. A shamefully first-world problem? Absolutely. But, sadly, true.

And widespread. A new report on women and body image conducted by eating disorder experts at the University of North Carolina makes clear the scope of the problem: a mere 12 percent of middle-aged women are “satisfied” with their body size. (An earlier study put the number at 11 percent.) What’s worse, perhaps, is that even those relatively content ladies are troubled by specific body parts: 56 percent, for instance, don’t like their stomachs. Many dislike their skin (79 percent unsatisfied) or faces (54 percent unsatisfied) or any other parts that suggest, in Nora-Ephron-neck-hating-fashion, they are aging.

The very first sentence of the study, published in the highly un-sexily titled Journal of Women and Aging, makes clear that women who are happy in their own skin are a rare, exotic breed; specimen worthy of study by a crack team of anthropologists. The report begins:

We know strikingly little about the intriguing minority of women who are satisfied with their body size. Defined as having a current body size equal to their ideal size, body satisfaction is endorsed by only about 11% of adult American women aged 45–74 years.

If you dig a little deeper into the study you’ll find that this “body satisfaction” is fragile. Women were asked if they’d remain satisfied if they gained five pounds. The answer (duh): “No.”

And these so-called “satisfied” women seem to spend a huge amount of energy maintaining. They remain vigilant and work hard to keep themselves at what they consider to be an acceptable shape, says study author Cristin D. Runfola, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor and Global Foundation for Eating Disorders scholar at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

The study, which looked at a sample of 1,789 women across the U.S. age 50 and older, found:

Intriguingly, satisfied women appeared to exert considerable effort in achieving and maintaining their satisfaction — a sizable number of satisfied women engaged in weight monitoring, weight-management behaviors, and reported that their self-evaluation was moderately or strongly influenced by weight and shape status. Thus, in contrast to effortless satisfaction, achieving body size satisfaction appeared to be an effortful endeavor that included some of the same behaviors seen in body dissatisfied women.

“It’s disheartening to see that for these women, it was so important to be a specific size and shape,” Runfola said. “Are they satisfied just because they’re fitting this mold that looks good to society? Ideally, we would like people to base their satisfaction on who they are, what they do and not so much what they look like.”

She’s right, but it’s a rare middle-aged woman who delights in her own body. (An aside: Runfola said this research began because so many middle-aged women were showing up at the clinic with eating disorders; the stereotype is that such problems afflict only younger women and girls, but Runfola said about 50 percent of her clinic patients are women 30 and older.  Of course, some men have body issues too, but let’s face it, these are mainly female troubles.)

For so many of us, just when we should be out there enjoying the lives we’ve created over decades, we’re obsessing over our hips and skin and post-childbirth bellies. Personally, I think about how twisted my own priorities can get sometimes: instead of enjoying my great good luck — two smart daughters who sing and climb and do math puzzles, a job I love, a spouse who has never in 11 years of marriage said anything negative about my body — I’m hunkered down counting out my allotment of pepitas for the day.

But maybe this is just the cost of staying thin. We know from research that people who tend to lose a lot of weight and keep it off generally remain vigilant to the point of obsessive; they’re always on guard. In her sweeping 2011 New York Times Magazine story, "The Fat Trap," Tara Parker-Pope quotes Kelly Brownell, a food policy and obesity expert at Yale, about a small cadre of successful weight-losers tracked in the National Weight Control Registry:

“You find these people are incredibly vigilant about maintaining their weight,” Brownell told Parker-Pope. “Years later they are paying attention to every calorie, spending an hour a day on exercise. They never don’t think about their weight.”

Janice Bridge, a registry member who has successfully maintained a 135-pound weight loss for about five years, is a perfect example. “It’s one of the hardest things there is,” she says. “It’s something that has to be focused on every minute. I’m not always thinking about food, but I am always aware of food.”

Can such intense vigilance endure without taking an enormous psychic toll? Must we continue our un-ending competition over who has the best mom abs?

Some think not. The latest trend in addressing many of these entrenched questions of weight and body image hinges on relinquishing such white-knuckle “will power” in favor of self-compassion.

Jean Fain, a Boston-area psychotherapist affiliated with Harvard Medical School and author of the book "The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness," makes the excellent point that “this is America and the perfectionistic standards are unreachable.” She says that no one is ever fully happy with everything — feelings naturally wax and wane and “to think body satisfaction is an achievable and sustainable state is unrealistic.” Body realities are different at age 20 and 30, 50 and 80. The key, she says, is to not let all of these little body imperfections rule our lives, but rather to notice them, allow yourself to feel them even if they’re painful and then get back out there and live a “meaningful, deliberate life.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done; these food prison shackles have been in place a long time.

In the 1970s, my mom and I did the grapefruit diet together; she took me to a fat-farm in upstate New York where we fasted for a week; mornings, in the dark, I jogged with her at a track in Red Hook, Brooklyn, when practically no one else jogged (I’m pretty sure we wore Keds). My early desire to be a dancer didn’t help matters; nor did my summer choreography course at Harvard where I learned how effective vomiting and laxatives can be for weight control. Even now, when my mother comes to visit, she tiptoes into my bathroom each morning and asks: “Is your scale right?” She’s in her 70s; it never ends.

For me now, approaching 50, I’m trying to imagine a softer-edged life; less brittle rigidity and more juiciness. Recently, I’ve been troubled by my self-imposed food prison — an existence that I’d never, ever wish upon my daughters. I’ve sought help to change. But weaning myself off my daily scale addiction hasn’t been easy, nor has introducing new types of foods into my day: yogurt with fat and plump avocados, a fresh, warm blueberry scone now and then, and maybe a few walnuts.

Emily Sandoz, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, studies what she calls “body image inflexibility” and has endured her own struggles with weight and bad body image. Her forthcoming book:  "Living with Your Body and Other Things You Hate," details a fairly new approach that’s gaining traction called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The theory behind ACT is that only by actually working through  our anxiety and deep anguish and body hatred will we be able to focus on the much more important business of living meaningful, vital and psychologically flexible lives.

In ACT, patients are encouraged to face all those waves of body-hating awfulness — “I am fat,” “I’m disgusting,” “I don’t deserve to eat” — head on.  The research suggests that fully wading into this cesspool of distress allows the feelings, over time, to dissipate and lose emotional power.  Studies have found that “ACT is [not only] effective at decreasing symptoms like depression, overeating, or chronic pain,” Sandoz says, “but also that improvement happens by increasing flexibility.”

I wish I could end here by reporting that I’ve just wrapped my scale up in plastic and hidden it in my basement, that I’ve now joined the ranks of the “intriguing 11 or 12 percent” who are satisfied with their bodies. But I’m afraid I’m not quite there yet. What if I’m not willing to let go of thin? What if embracing self-compassion means gaining 10 pounds? Am I trapped in food prison forever?

Sandoz offers this open-hearted response to my kvetching:

“You’re never trapped. You have the keys to the prison! But sometimes having a choice is scarier than not having a choice. Sometimes the food prison is cozier than the big, wide world where I could bulge or break out or wrinkle at any moment. The question…is this: what is it worth, to you, letting yourself out of the prison? What matters more than that high? What matters more than thin? What do you want people to remember about the life you lived?

Will you gain weight or lose weight? Yes. Will I gain weight or lose weight? Yup. Will we hate our bodies or love them? Sure. I just hope, for both of us, that we are doing things that matter while we’re looking however we look and feeling however we feel.

And then she tells me a story:

“Writing this book was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Because the struggle I wrote about was mine. I wanted to map out this path toward a life free of the struggles of hating our bodies. But I had to walk it first. I wrote my last two books in 15 months. This one took 35…And just about the time I finished it, I had this day where I was doing yoga and I glimpsed my leg. I suddenly became aware that it was holding all of my weight and that the muscle was doing exactly what it should be doing and my shin and my thigh came together at my knee exactly as it has to to work in a way that carries me around my world. And I felt appreciation. Just a moment of appreciation for the strength I have in my left leg. And I sat down and cried.

Written by Rachel Zimmerman, staff writer at WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio News Station, and first published on WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

Minding Our Brains To Change Our Lives

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The Non-Diet Book Club started a new book this morning. I can tell already that it is going to be a fantastic group series. We are reading Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson. It’s a true non-diet book because it is not even about food. So, why, you might ask, are we reading this in our group? Well, the group voted it in because there is something very exciting about the relatively new understanding that we can change the neural pathways of our brains. Repetitive, unhelpful ways of thinking and being in the world can be shifted when we consciously work to change the fabric of our minds. Traumatic events may shake us and change our brains in profound ways, particularly when our brains are forming when we are young. But through contemplative practice and techniques that target our unhelpful ways of thinking, we can literally change the way our brains are wired. Science has confirmed it, too, for those who might be skeptical without proof.

So, how does this connect with our relationship to food? Many of you are like my clients. You are interested in changing the way you operate around food. My clients are distressed enough about the way they handle food that they are looking for some help in order to change. I’ve discussed in this blog just how hard change is. (See last month’s post Diving Into September and last year’s post Change and Resistance.) When we’re feeling stuck — when we want to change but seem to find ourselves falling into the same destructive patterns — it’s comforting to know that we really are in charge. We really can move toward significant change if we have the right tools. With small positive acts daily, we build new neural structures in the brain that lead to larger changes as time goes on.

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I’ve written about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) before in this blog, too. It’s the framework that I aim to practice from. Since discovering ACT, I’ve literally gobbled up (pun intended) everything that I can find about it and applied it to my nutrition therapy work. As a result, I have found that clients use the techniques and feel empowered as they work to change their behaviors — and, in doing so, their brains. The term for this brain changeability is neuroplasticity, which means that our brains are really like melty plastic and can be molded. I love what one of my group members said this morning. She said that everyone else’s brain is plastic, but hers is titanium. Everyone laughed and agreed that it can feel hard to imagine change when we feel stuck, shuffling our feet back and forth over the same grooved path of self-destruction. I have found, however, that the techniques of ACT, and specifically the practice of mindfulness, create profound change and allow clients to travel down the road less traveled towards health and well-being.

One technique that we discussed this morning was the concept of thanking the mind. This might sound strange to you. It sure did to me the first time that I encountered it. Why the heck would I want to thank my mind when it criticizes me harshly? But I tried it… For example, I was walking on a cooler morning and noticing that my neck felt cold as the wind blew against it. My brain said, “You idiot. It’s fall now. You should have brought your scarf.” Not the most helpful, warmth-inducing thought, huh? So, I remembered the ACT technique and said, “Thank you, Mind. I hear what you are saying, but I think that pulling my jacket up around my neck and buttoning it might help me stay warmer than calling myself an idiot.” I took a default critical-comment pathway and shifted to a pathway of self-care. Instead of saying “I’m an idiot!” I said, “How can I help take care of myself right now in this moment, given that I am cold and uncomfortable?”

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I needed to be WAY slowed down in order to even observe and thank my mind for the familiar and instructive comment that led me down the path to self-care. Let me repeat that because it’s so important. I had to be WAY …  slowed … down … If you can do this, you will find that there is something about saying, “Thank you for the teaching moment,” that feels much more supportive of change than saying, “Yup, you screwed up again.” And how many times do we choose the latter rather than the former?

This technique can be applied to negative body comments that automatically come up the way criticism did for me that cold morning. It can also be applied to food behaviors. After an overeating episode, try saying, “Thank you, Mind. I hear that old story that I screwed up. But instead let’s look at what happened. I don’t feel good right now about how I ate. Why was it that I overate? Maybe I can understand this better so that it is less likely to happen again. What can I do to take care of myself and prevent this from happening in the future?”  or  “Thank you, Mind, I hear you, but I’m choosing to be curious instead of harsh to myself right now.”

This may feel so alarmingly foreign, but I promise you that if you practice it regularly, you will actually change your default so that you turn less to criticism and self-flagellation. Instead, you will be more compassionate towards yourself, curious about your eating behaviors, and more truly prepared for making changes. Even if you don’t believe what you are saying at first — even if you feel that you don’t deserve a more compassionate stance — try it. You deserve to use the kind voice in your own mind that you would use when you give a friend or loved one the benefit of the doubt. We are all human and imperfect and really deserving at our cores. Create the intention to learn from your stumbles instead of becoming them.

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Okay. Full disclosure. It took me hours to finally sit down and start writing this blog post. I was doing the self-flagellating thing at first. There you go, Heidi, procrastinating again. You are lazy, out-of-focus… I even tried to blame all the people who were interrupting me by phone and email. All of this was not helpful, and did not allow me to sit down and write. Then I stopped, observed my mental chatter, and said, “Thank you, Mind. These are old stories and justifications that aren’t helping me do what I really want to do.” What really helped was slowing down and taking care of myself in a few targeted ways. I acknowledged that I had some unfinished business that I really wanted to attend to first, in order to feel clear and ready to write. I also had to allow myself the break that my mind needed after seeing clients and before I started to work on writing. Once I slowed down, listened inside, got clear on what I really wanted to do,  and acknowledged the resistance to starting to write, it became much easier to just sit down and begin. I wasn’t beating myself up anymore — or trying to flee from that beating by busying in another way. When my mind stayed open to what was really going on and got rid of that old story that I was just a procrastinator, lazy, unfocused, well, then… the work flowed.

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You are not an idiot who will stay stuck as a binge-eater forever and be powerless in the face of sugar. Stop saying that to yourself (or insert another familiar negative story about your eating or your body). Thank your mind for making the story so clear, and work on creating a new story that is more helpful and supportive of change. Get help with this, if you need to, from a therapist or trusted friend. It can be hard to create new stories when the old ones are so potent. But I do believe, with all my heart — and I’ve seen this over 16 years of practice, as well as in my own life — that you really can change your thoughts and habitual patterns. We now know, by looking at MRIs, that our brains are malleable. We are learning that, with mindfulness, meditation, and thought diffusion, you can actually change your brain. But, in my view, the most exciting part about all this is that with regular practice, you can ultimately change your life.

Diving into September

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Even if you aren’t going back to school right now, you probably feel the energy of newness that is September. Here in Boston, where the population feels as if it doubles this month when the students come in droves, there is a fresh-start kind of feeling that permeates the air. I can close my eyes and imagine the smell of new text books, the clang of the cafeteria, the crisp autumn evenings that viscerally feel like back-to-school. It’s in my neural pathways to feel the pull of new, creative energy in the fall.

At the same time, I’ll admit that my blogging joints are rusty. My laptop got a lot of rest this summer, rightfully so, and it’s hard to dive back in to my writing practice.

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“Diving in” was the theme that came to me when I asked myself and the universe what to write about. I saw two clients yesterday that were diving in to new experiences in their lives: one a new relationship and one a new job. Both experienced a lot of trepidation about the changes before them. Change can be scary. Even though the outcome might be positive, change takes us out of our comfort zones for awhile and makes us feel vulnerable — and maybe even a little lost.

The experiences of fear and trepidation about change in my clients’ love and work lives were not unlike the fear and trepidation that they experienced in their nutrition therapy work. Both came to me for different types of disordered eating: one for anorexia nervosa and one for binge eating disorder. Their deep desire to change, coupled with their fear of change, were nevertheless very similar. Their eating behaviors (restricting or binging) were disturbing to them and harming their health overall, but they both were having a hard time letting go. The eating behaviors were serving a purpose, soothing in some way, and helping them negotiate change and stress in their lives by giving them some relief, comfort, and escape.  In the nutrition therapy work, they both learned to listen to their bodies more closely, interrupt the destructive comments that came into their heads about what they should and shouldn’t eat, and trust their intuitions about what is best for them to eat.

Boo Dove into Some Laundry

Boo Dove into Some Laundry

This work spilled over into the bigger issues of life. In fact, if I have learned one thing from my work, it’s that food issues are microcosms for larger life issues — as well as an embodiment of pain, stress, and conflict. The client who was entering a new relationship had to learn to ask for what she needed more clearly, negotiating the boundaries of the partnership. The client who was starting a new job needed to really sink into “what is best for me” in his job search, instead of getting lost in the “shoulds.” Both of them negotiated these significant life changes so much better because they were really doing the hard work on their disordered eating. Dancing outside their comfort zones was something that they were starting to become familiar with.

In both of these cases, with food and with life, my clients needed to let go of their fears (acknowledging them first, but not sinking into them) and then just dive in. I like the image of “diving in” because I’m not really ready for summer to be over. So many times this summer I dove head first into water that was just a bit too cold to be comfy. (It’s one of my favorite things to do.) I called it my “reset button.” When I felt stuck, I’d go jump in the lake or the pond or the ocean and suddenly everything was new.

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So, as the crisp September air beckons (at least here in New England) and the back-to-school energy encourages a fresh start, think about what it is that you need to dive into — both in your quest to improve your relationship with food and body, and in your greater life. Chances are your practice of listening to and nourishing your body more clearly will also be useful when listening to and nourishing your deepest desires and dreams for your life.


Life is really fairly short. Sometimes shorter than we ever imagine. Nothing lasts forever. We don’t last forever. So why not dive in to what feels (and tastes) delicious right now…?

I look forward to a another year at the blog with you, as you navigate your own particular journey.  Thank you for all the sharing — privately and publicly — that you have done with me in the past year since this blog first became a reality. I am deeply grateful for the feedback, comments, and regular reading of the words that come out of me from work that has nourished and transformed so many. In the process, I have become transformed as its witness.

Blessings and gratitude,    Heidi


"I'm So Fat" and Other Lies

After a bit of a summer hiatus, it felt like time for me pull out the laptop and blog again. Today I was both saddened and struck by the crippling negative body talk of my clients.  In fact, if we look around, we hear it all over. It’s as if it is completely reasonable to bash our bodies at every street corner.

    “This makes me look fat.”  
    “Oh, she’s really let herself go…”
    “I probably shouldn’t eat this. I’m too fat already.”

And, the seemingly complimentary, but just as vicious…

    “Oh, you look so good! Did you lose weight?”

Somehow, our moral fabric gets attached to our body shape and size. These comments, while innocent at first glance, can be demoralizing. In fact, some of my clients have comments like these going on in their heads so much all day that it’s hard for them to focus on much else. Other clients further along in their recovery may be able to challenge those thoughts and function well in their lives, but still feel a debilitating sense of shame and disgust around their bodies in the background.

Why do we pick on ourselves so much?

Why do we narrowly see one body type as ideal and all strive to fit into that mold?

Why is fat-ism the last real sanctioned “ism” out there?

I’m not going to answer these questions because they aren’t easy to answer in full. I could write about the cultural changes in body types over the years and the way Marilyn Monroe’s size 12 would be unacceptable in a decade where there is now a size 000. (Don’t even get me started on that one!) I could write about the way the beauty industry insists on making us (particularly women) feel bad about our appearance by airbrushing pores, photoshopping thighs, and giving us a picture of women that is downright fake. After all, if we felt really good about ourselves, then we probably wouldn’t buy that face cream or lipstick or diet product. I could write about the way that subtle comments about weight to a “chubby” child go destructively deep and erode self-esteem. I hear about this childhood shame in the stories of so many of my clients who struggle with disordered eating for decades.

Actually, I’m going to write a bit about the fact that negative body thoughts (who doesn’t have them?) can go awry and become the foundation on which develops a terrible relationship with food and fitness — and, for some, ultimately an eating disorder. I’m also going to invite you to think about and reframe the ways in which you talk to yourself (and those around you) about body weight and shape.

After working with beautiful — truly beautiful inside and out — women and men over the last 16 years, it still makes me deeply sad when I hear the crushing negative body talk that comes out of the mouths of my clients. These are people who are successful, smart, funny, articulate, creative, uniquely gifted — but they cannot see it because all they see is how fat they are. It doesn’t matter how much they weigh, either. They can be underweight or overweight according to medical standards; what matters most is that they feel less than their full selves because of the way that their bodies look.

When someone feels bad about her body — when she feels that she must be smaller than who she is in the present — she is more likely to go on a diet, make food choices that reflect restriction rather than pleasure, exercise to exhaustion and not for enjoyment, and walk around with a general sense of being defective and too much. When these negative body thoughts and the behaviors that stem from them become constant, obsessive, and distracting from the rest of life, then an eating disorder can develop. Eating disorders are the number one killer of all the psychiatric illnesses. It is seriously dangerous for children, adolescents, and adults to go down this path, yet we see so many examples of the way bad body talk is somehow acceptable in our society. How many times have you overheard a bunch of women criticize their bodies, as if this was a way to bond? Yuck.

What really happens, though, when negative body thoughts (again, who doesn’t have them once in awhile?) really go all wrong? How does this thinking get out of control and develop into eating disorders for some and not others?

There are so many factors — genetic, temperamental, and environmental among them — that predispose some people to eating disorders. What I’ve noticed frequently is that disregulated eating and bad body thoughts become a way to take feelings that something is just not right and make them concrete. “I don’t like myself” becomes “I don’t like my body.” “Something is not right” becomes easier to articulate if we say, “Something is not right with my body.” If we don’t like our bodies, well, the internet says that we can do all kinds of things to change them. But all the green smoothies and cross-fit in the world won’t make us like ourselves any more, or compensate for painful feelings that we need to express, or make what feels wrong about our lives really go away. The diet industry likes to feed us the image that if we just change our bodies we can feel good and change our lives, but it’s really not that simple.

Some of my clients “lose the weight” and realize that they don’t really feel much better about themselves. Sometimes they try losing more weight and get dangerously low. How devastating to find out that losing weight is never the answer to life-long happiness. If it is, well, they often realize that it’s a pretty shallow life that their deeper, truer selves aren’t so interested in living.

Now, mind you, I’m not bashing good self and body care. I’m a nutritionist, after all. And a dancer. I believe in taking good care of the amazing bodies that we have been blessed with this lifetime. I work on helping my clients come to an appreciation of the wonderful part of us that the body is. But our bodies are just one part of who we are. I might make a body connection when I dance with a partner and that’s lovely, but it’s the people that I make heart and soul connections with that really keep me coming back.

Loving our bodies starts, in my opinion and in my practice, with loving ourselves and with seeing our bodies as an extension of that self-love. I want to challenge all of you reading — whether you struggle with disordered eating, are in recovery, or are just reading because you enjoy my banter on this topic — to ask yourself the following question when you say something negative (out loud or in your mind) about your body. Ask yourself: What’s really wrong right now?

I’m serious. Just do it. Are these bad body thoughts coming up because you feel inadequate talking to someone that you admire? Are they coming up because you are feeling judged by a family member? Are you feeling fat because your dieting friend is ordering the burger without a bun and you wonder if you should, too? Or are you feeling fat because you just ran up the stairs and feel more breathless than last week? Fat is really not a feeling. It’s tougher to get in touch with other deeper feelings of shame, inadequacy, fear, loneliness, and grief that might be under those negative body thoughts. The body is a great container for our negative energy.

When you feel bad about your body and ask yourself the question “What’s really wrong now?” you get to what you are really feeling in the present moment. When you do so, you may be less likely to use food (over- or under-indulgence) or exercise in a way that is self-destructive. You may, with practice over time, be able to substitute the destructive eating behavior with something that more effectively addresses the feelings underneath. Some of my clients have noticed, after careful reflection, that they use food restriction, binge eating, purging, or hyper-exercise as a self-punishment. They really do feel terrible about themselves, and these activities make their internal struggle concrete and real — in real time. They embody their pain.

Once you notice what might be behind your negative body thoughts, examine what doesn’t feel right — either on your own or with a trusted friend or therapist. Don’t succumb to body bashing just because it’s socially acceptable. We can’t even begin to take good care of the bodies that we have if we loathe them or, even more significantly, if we loathe the person within. I don’t find that clients can make a lot of headway in their nutrition therapy if they are also not doing the work on understanding and caring for their deeper, unique selves.

Don’t allow the negative body thoughts to swim about in your heads. Don’t stay on the surface and say that you’d only be happy if [insert transformative body change here]. Question those negative thoughts. Be curious about them. Listen to what they are trying to say is wrong in your life. Don’t be afraid to squirm when you discover the answers. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s worth examining some painful truths to eventually come to a place of body-acceptance and self-love.

Have a deeply nurturing, restful summer. I look forward to more regularly supporting your journey toward a healthy relationship with food and body here at the blog in September…


Zen and the Art of Chopping Vegetables

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Themes in my work these past few weeks have been about self-care and self-compassion. Couldn’t we all use a little bit more of these…?

Self-care can be a challenge in our busy lives. We spend so much time attending to our work, our children, our friends, our homes, our communities — and all of that is wonderful and rewarding. But does care of our Selves often get squeezed out of the day? Yes, indeed.

I believe that so many of our chronic diseases, our mental illnesses, and our growing fatigues may be related to deficits in self-care. This might mean simply failing to check in with ourselves, appreciating what we are feeling, and knowing when enough is enough. Sometimes we realize, at the end of the day, that we are depleted. We eat as a reward or treat — or to give ourselves something good when the day has left us little energy for anything else. Or, conversely, we restrict or obsess about our food as a way to feel better about and feel more in control of our lives.

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We all want lives that are our own, full of joy-filled activities and meaningful moments. We really do want to learn and grow from our mistakes and challenges in life, but we often punish ourselves instead. Sometimes with over- or under-indulgence of food or other pleasures.

Why do we do this…?!

We do this because food is tied so closely to expressing our larger needs and hungers — and it has been so since the time that we cried for our mother’s care and feeding on our first day as a human being. Whether we want it to be or not, food will always be associated with love and care and asking for what we need. Our brains are wired that way. So, no wonder the disregulated eaters are many, and I’ve been busy doing this work for nearly 20 years!  Now that I am blogging, my aim is to discuss what it takes to heal from this over- or under-eating and to give hope to those on this path.

Mindfulness is one of the most helpful practices for healing from disregulated (a kinder, broader term than “disordered”) eating and for cultivating more intuitive eating. The dictionary defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” or “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It sounds rather simple, but, in practice, mindfulness can be challenging — particularly in our fast-paced, multi-tasking world.

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When I work with clients to cultivate mindfulness in their eating experiences, amazing things happen (but, sorry, not overnight). Gradually, and with practice, disregulated eaters begin to identify the triggers to their un-attuned food choices and behaviors, question whether those choices and behaviors are in their best interest, and begin to make choices that are more aligned with self-care.

One of my favorite mindfulness techniques that I will share with you all today is what I call “The Zen of Chopping Vegetables.” I use this particularly with clients who overeat compulsively, but anyone who eats mindlessly at times could benefit. And it need not be done with just vegetables. It’s really about taking in the sensory environment of whatever foods are being prepared. It’s just that veggies are so colorful and make such a satisfying sound when they are cut. (So much so that when I cut something on a wooden cutting board, the sound makes our pet guinea pigs in the other room squeak in Pavlovian excitement.)

I’m sure many of you — perhaps all of you reading — have chopped vegetables. But have you really chopped vegetables…? I’m talking clear the clutter from your heads, examine that juicy carrot in it’s fullness of color and crispness, and chop away. Notice the sound, the texture, the rhythm of the knife on the cutting board. Now take a vegetable of a different color and texture. Notice the different sound the knife makes on the board, the change in juiciness, the feel of the experience. Notice the patterns on the inside of the vegetable. This exercise is exposing what prep-chefs in restaurant kitchens know already: preparing food is relaxing, transporting, sensual.

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When you get bored of being so in-tune with what you are doing (and you will, it’s the nature of the mind), then imagine where the food comes from, how it was grown, who tended it, and how it got to your kitchen — all the many steps. Acknowledge the miracle that is our nourishment. Now, chop some more. Tune in to the other parts of the meal with the same mindful attention, as if this was going to be your last meal and you really want to savor the experience. You may notice that the process of preparing food can be almost as nourishing as eating it. Almost.

Now, I’m hearing you say, “When in the world do I have time to chop vegetables like this? I only have a half-hour to get dinner on the table for a family of four!” I hear you. Most of the time, I can’t zen-out in the kitchen either. But, I guarantee that if you commit to mindful food preparation practice at least once per week (and ideally more in small doses here and there), you will enjoy those less-mindful times more. You will have slowly, but surely re-wired your brain to relax and nourish yourself more in the act of feeding yourself and others. Instead of a “should” or a “chore,” food preparation can feel like taking good care of your body and soul. It can be a peaceful respite from life’s more stressful thoughts, feelings, and activities.

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And, again, this won’t happen overnight. But by cultivating awareness of, nonjudgmental attention to, and gratitude for the foods that you are preparing, you will slowly appreciate the act of feeding yourself differently. There is little room for obsession, judgement, and mindless binging in the purest form of this sort of practice. If you notice judgement, emotions, thoughts come up; then do notice them, but return your focus to self-care, gratitude, and the sounds and smells that are before you. In the present moment. Right now.

Try it and see what it does for your eating and self-care. It’s just one of many mindfulness practices that clients have found helpful on the path toward healthful, balanced, more self- and body-attuned eating. The act of taking food preparation slowly — the way it used to be done out of necessity — can be healing and relaxing and kind of meditative. But you really want to allow yourself the space and the self-compassion to know that it won’t be easy at first. The simple act of preparing a colorful vegetable or fruit salad — or any baked good or main dish, for that matter — really can be nourishing on so many sensory levels. Allow yourself the time and attention and spaciousness to really notice.


Eating Disorders are Like Compost: Trash to Treasure

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Okay, okay. I’m going to get a little corny this week. After the coldest, longest winter Boston has seen in a while, I’m feeling positively giddy about Spring. So, forgive me the gardening metaphor, but I think it works. This week I was digging around in my compost bin. I dug through layers of leaves, weeds, and scraps of food to get down to the nutritional gold: gorgeous, mineral-rich soil. Organic gardening is my dirty little hobby, and I enjoy seeing the miracles that come from layering goat manure from a friend’s backyard farm with compost made from egg shells, fruit peels, and wilted lettuce leaves from the previous couple of years.

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I was deep into my digging, feeling my connection to the earth and how good it felt to use my body to connect with it, when the theme for this blog post came to me. Here I was, taking all the food scraps that would normally be thrown into the trash and mixing them with other backyard trash (leaves, grass clippings, weeds). With the help of rain, insects, and heat, what once was trash becomes treasure. The end result, with time, is extremely healthy, rich soil that makes my garden grow. The vegetables and herbs that my daughters and I grow from tiny seeds in our sunny front yard each year come out of that rich soil. They are fed and nourished and flourish because I put my old banana peels and raked-up leaves to work for them. The food scraps go back to the earth and, in turn, feed the next year’s crop of food. The cycle continues. How cool is that…?

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It got me thinking, as I was digging through the kinda gross layers of not-quite-composted food to get to the good stuff on the bottom, that eating disorders are like this. (Bear with me here…) My clients with disordered and disregulated eating have a lot they struggle with. There is the food, weight, and body image issues — and there is all of the other struggles that go on underneath these (like trauma, shame, depression, anxiety, low-self-esteem, self-judgement  — to name a few). Working through one’s relationship with food and body, when those relationships have become challenged, is truly hard work. My clients do this hard work; it is not usually fun. But the outcome of doing this work is so worth it. Repairing your relationship with food, learning to love and accept your body and your Self, working through the issues that brought you to use food emotionally… it’s quite an amazing journey. In the process, you get to know yourself intimately, heal some wounds, and discover how to truly take good care of your body, mind, and spirit.

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Clients who have done their recovery work and really embrace their lives often write to me about what a gift their eating disorder was, in the end. Of course, they couldn’t see that when they were in the throes of it. Digging through the non-quite-composted layers in my bin, I encountered biting ants (ouch) and smelly things. However, with time and patience, those icky layers will become earthy gold: soil that produces new blossoms, ripe fruits. Sometimes we just have to dig through the muck to get to the gold. Sometimes we have to examine the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, the parts of ourselves that have been hurt or challenged or hidden. In recovery, we allow ourselves to be nourished with not only good food, but good company. We learn to water and feed and tend to ourselves in a way that allows us to realize our full potentials and give to others around us. In recovery, we take a dark time in our lives and grow from it.

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My clients are doing this every day. If I hadn’t had my eating disorder decades ago, I might not be doing this work that I love and that helps others find their own paths to wellness, healing, and hope. If you are hanging out in the icky layers of the compost bin (and we all have our moments with the worms, no matter how far along in our growth we think we are), know that it’s worth digging deeper and giving yourself time to get to the earthy, rich soil within. It’s worth getting dirty and getting grounded. Working through to that bottom layer brings the outcomes of good soil: creativity, growth, and ripe, luscious fruit.

(I hope my metaphor worked for you. If it didn’t, you can just toss it in your compost bin and compose your own.)

“The grass is always greener where you water it.”

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“The grass is always greener where you water it.”  This seems like an appropriate quote for the Spring, coming a bit later than usual here in New England. (If any of you know who said this, please let me know. I saw it printed with "unknown" after it.) In any case, it seems rather obvious that the grass is greener where it’s tended. One of my clients repeatedly says that she thinks that my work is to point out the obvious that she somehow forgets. Yes, when we take good care of ourselves — when we water that grass — it grows. We grow. Instead of gazing at our neighbor’s green grass (or our neighbor’s body, possessions, partner, whatever…) we can cultivate a greener lawn within ourselves by practicing good self-care.

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Some of us are afraid to practice self-care for fear of being seen as selfish or self-serving or self-absorbed. But these are different states than true care of the Self. Care of the Self fills you up and allows you to be more generous in the world, to give of your own unique gifts, and to give without feeling resentful and depleted on the other end.

But this is no easy task for some of us. It’s a real dance…

So how do we practice good self-care — when it comes to food or anything else? How do we know when we’ve eaten enough or the right things for our unique bodies? How do we know how much physical activity is enough to make us feel good and increase our health without taxing our immune system and making us feel exhausted? How do we really know when enough is enough in our work, relationships, sleep, socializing, or other habits that take time and energy in our lives…?

My Nondiet Book Club is reading Karen Koenig’s book Starting Monday, a terrific read that really lays out the issues underneath disordered and (I like her term better) “disregulated” eating. It’s a challenging book to read, as she asks so many really right-on questions. Chapter 8 is titled “Know What’s Enough,” and I wholeheartedly recommend this chapter (ideally while reading the rest of the book) to anyone who feels that they have trouble with eating. If you go back and forth between under-eating and over-eating — or if you just can’t seem to find a balanced eating style that works for you — this chapter might resonate.

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My favorite thing about Karen Koenig is that she cuts to the chase, exposes our vulnerabilities, but doesn’t just leave us hanging. She generally talks about concrete steps to take, once she points out the issues that get us stuck. Trial and Error is one of the strategies that she writes about in order to figure out how much is enough for you — with food, exercise, work, and in negotiating your needs in relationships. This is one of those (like, duh) really obvious strategies, but yet we are often afraid to employ it. We have to really experiment with how much is enough to know what works for us. Searching out other people’s green grass (“she looks so great, so I want to eat like her”) won’t cut it when you are trying to figure out the way to eat that works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all eating or exercise plan, just like there is no one-size fits-all-amount of work that is right for everyone. Everyone has different thresholds for movement, intimacy, exploration in nature, need for quiet, and need for stimulation.

We are all such wacky, interesting, unique beings, but we often look to others to decide what is best for us.  Other people’s green grass might be nice to look at, for sure, but if we don’t play around in our own gardens, then we miss out on the lushness of a fully lived life.

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Trial and Error, as Karen Koenig writes, means trying different foods and really noticing what tastes and feels good. This takes some time and attention. It means cultivating trust in yourself by having an idea and not being too afraid to test it out and see how it feels, even if it’s something that no one else around you has considered. Just a few examples of what you might come up with as you apply Trial and Error to self-care include:

  • I need to have a solid breakfast in order to have balanced eating the rest of the day.
  • I need at least 7 hours of sleep in order to feel focused and alert.
  • Working out 4 times per week is just right for me.
  • Getting together with friends in person a couple of times per week helps me feel connected.

Create your own set of theories around what you need to feel balanced and test them out. How do you feel? Was your idea too much, too little, or just enough? When I started blogging I heard someone say that I had to blog every week. Someone else said to just blog when the mood hit me. I finally settled on every other week (with exceptions like two weeks ago when I had other priorities), as that helped me stay with my writing practice in a way that fit with my current life. It also gave me a sense of discipline and consistency that helps me stay on track. If I tried to blog more often, it felt like a chore that I didn’t have quite enough time for; less often and I lost momentum and missed it. I found my “enough” and it feels right. For now.

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Practice listening to your own sense of enoughness with food each day — and notice that sometimes a whole sandwich is just right, sometimes a half. Notice what types of foods make your body and mind feel good. Practice listening to your sense of enoughness with other things in life, too. Just because everyone in your office works 50+ hours each week doesn’t mean that this lifestyle is healthiest for you. As you pay attention to your own needs and limits and gradually learn to trust yourself more, you will develop the ability to take good care of yourself.  Karen Koenig writes, “Trust produces confidence, which produces more trust, and each reinforces the other.”

I find this work on “enough” is one of the last frontiers of eating disorders recovery, and it’s often something that has to be revisited even by those of us who are quite far along in recovery. The issues come up more often around other things than food — and food is no longer used as a way to deal with challenges of enoughness. Through the process of recovering from disregulated eating, one’s sense of being enough, doing enough, and saying “enough-is-enough” generally gets easier over time. At a certain point in recovery, we stop choosing to eat (or starve) to make us feel better. Instead, we ask for what we really need and soothe our own disregulated emotions. By directly honoring our needs and emotions, we learn how to take good care of ourselves.

As you tend to your own growth this Spring, notice that green grass of your neighbor, but please don’t forget to water and care for your very own garden.

It’s Spring! Detox Your Body Image!

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The sun is shining (finally) in Boston and it’s feeling like Spring. It’s time for me to blog again about body image…

So what does body image have to do with health and nutrition…? Everything! In fact, it’s one of the things that can hold back our best efforts to take good care of ourselves and eat well.

This week I saw a client who has been making progress in her eating disorder recovery. She’s been eating more intuitively and feeling good about herself, focusing more on her relationship with food instead of her weight. Then, BAM, she goes in for a doctor’s appointment and has to step on the scale. (Well, she didn’t really have to, but she did.) Her body and weight concerns quadrupled and she started to doubt all the real progress she was making. Then, perhaps not coincidentally, she hung out for a bit with the jeans in her closet that don’t fit any more.

Now why would she do that to herself? Why sink back into a place of body loathing when she has been working so hard on body acceptance? I wondered with her if being confident, self-assured, and asking for what she needs (from food, from anybody) is just less familiar than feeling bad. She knows she doesn’t enjoy focusing on what she doesn’t like about her body, but there is some sick kind of comfort in it. So many times I see clients make progress and start to feel great about themselves; then they pull out those skinny jeans that no longer fit. Just this act puts them right back in a place of self-loathing, judgment, and feeling “less than.”

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When I talked to my client further about her resistance to telling the doctor not to weigh her (when the appointment had nothing to do with her weight) or donating the ill-fitting jeans, she admitted that she is afraid that she needs the scale and the jeans to “keep herself in check.” If she doesn’t have the jeans in her closet, she might “let herself go” and gain too much weight. Exploring further, she admits to worrying that if she asks for what she needs, she will be “too much,” her needs will be too great. In her inner world, it’s better to be small, not needy, more in control.

How many women out there worry about taking up too much space, needing too much, being too demanding or too “big?” Well, a lot of us do — and it’s not just women. My client was willing to let the jeans decide if she was good enough, despite all the work that she has done on her personal growth.

Are you measuring your self-worth with a scale or a pair of skinny jeans or some other summery item of clothing that you may try on in the next several weeks? My next thoughts are for my fellow New Englanders and those who live in seasonal climates…

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Here in Massachusetts, it gets really cold in winter. (Okay, yes, all you mid-westerners may say that we don’t know just how cold it can get, but bear with me.) I noticed that my children’s guinea pigs (who regular blog readers are familiar with) got quite a bit rounder this winter. They adapt to the cold, eating more to keep warm. Then, they lose the weight naturally when the weather gets warmer. They go outside more and hibernate in their warm spaces less. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us tried on that bathing suit and said, “Oh, look, I put on a little winter weight this year. Well, by the time I need to wear this, it’ll fit,” and just let nature take it’s course?

Don’t we all crave heavier foods in winter and lighter foods in the summer? If you can find a normal eater who’s not dieting or cutting back on her food in any way, you will see that she often notices this natural shift in weight and doesn’t freak out about it. Those that freak out about it — and diet like crazy in April and May — all too often end up experiencing unhealthy weight-cycling. Many of my clients struggle each year with food in the Spring, instead of simply noticing the ebbs and flows of weight that can just happen in their lives. I wish for them to know the truth (and I rarely admit to knowing any truths) that deep down they are the same wonderful people, despite weight fluctuations.

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We all want to feel good in our bodies. We all want to have vitality and strength and lightness of being. But putting too much emphasis on whether or not we can fit into a pair of jeans or a summer dress is a recipe for low self-esteem and a troubled relationship with food and exercise. I have a wish for you, as you enjoy the brighter days of Spring: take everything that doesn’t fit you in your closet and donate it or consign it or give it to a friend who will wear it. Why do we hold on to these things (anything, really) that makes us feel less than the stellar beings that we are? Wear things that make you feel good, express something about you and who you are, and always remember that you are SOOOOO much more than the size of your jeans.

Spot-Clean Eating

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People are talking a lot lately about “Clean Eating.” Now, I’m all for a let’s-get-back-to-recognizing-our-food way of life. I appreciate shorter ingredients lists (ones where I can find whole foods listed and not chemicals). I like shopping at farmers’ markets, eating seasonally and locally. I believe in all of this, and I believe that our bodies and the planet benefit from eating this way. But as a nutrition therapist and eating disorders specialist, I worry about taking even clean eating too far.

One of my clients this morning described a dilemma she felt while eating in an airport. She prefers to eat free-range organic chicken, but the only option on the airport menu that looked remotely appealing and nourishing enough for how hungry she felt was a wrap sandwich that contained chicken. She knew it was highly unlikely that it was organic, free-range chicken at this restaurant, and she wanted to know what she “should” have done? I told her that only she could answer that question.

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We defined my client’s conflict and erased the “should” from the equation. (One of my favorite exercises lately.) The conflict occurred in her own mind. On the one side, she valued eating a certain way and preferred to choose sources of meat that were humanely raised. This stemmed from her desire to take care of her body and what she put into it, as well as her concern for the planet. On the other side, she has learned, after many years of failed diets, that she benefits on many levels when she eats in a balanced, health-sustaining way. This means balanced meals with solid protein in them, choosing foods that she really likes. She desires to care for her body and soul by doing so.

She was in a dilemma. A conflict. She had two opposing desires and she needed to eat. She could have chosen the sandwich or something else. That ultimately doesn’t matter.  Really.  What matters is that she was able to notice the conflict and resolve it somehow. She didn't give her food choice too much power to make her feel virtuous or bad, wrong or right. She made a decision and was able to live with it. The fact that she needed to check in with me about whether it was “ok” or not, though, speaks to the work that she still wants to do in learning to trust herself. My client actually does know how to feed herself well, but she wanted to make sure that she hadn’t made a bad choice. Again, there are no bad or good choices. Only choices, made either consciously or unconsciously. There was no question that my client had made a conscious food choice, taking her own values, needs, and desires into account. What food she actually chose didn’t ultimately matter! She would either feel good in her body and mind and move on, or not feel so good and learn from it for next time. No judgement; just noticing...

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Now, Heidi, you might say, isn’t it clear that some foods are really more healthful than others…? But, remember, I’m not talking about unconscious eating here. I truly believe that when we make conscious choices, thinking about or own innate preferences as well as what foods feel best in our bodies (this sometimes takes trial and error), we end up eating in a balanced, healthy way most of the time. So many of my clients have “shoulds” that get in the way of really tuning into what feels best in their bodies. Sometimes the foods that they say they “shouldn’t” eat become more attractive just by virtue of them being forbidden.  

That’s why I am consistently bothered by the flurry of conflicting nutritional advice on the internet. How can someone who doesn’t know my body and lifestyle tell me how to eat? Personally, I learned over many years the kinds of meals and snacks that “work” for me. And, in the process, I maintained enough flexibility so that I could enjoy so many different kinds of foods in different settings. Every once in awhile, I discover something that doesn’t feel good in my body. I had some hot peppered oil recently that didn’t sit well with me (though my go-to ginger remedy made my stomach feel better). I now know that if I go to that restaurant again, I’ll go lighter on the hot pepper. I learned from my body experience, albeit a dramatic example. If I trust the latest advice from a nutritional-guru on the internet, I bypass the wisdom that my own body affords me every time I eat and pay attention. I set up a “should eat” situation (that the rebellious part of me might want to rebel against) and take the decision about what to eat away from my own values and preferences regarding food. The eating experience is bound to be less satisfying when I apply “shoulds” than if I am making choices from my own wisdom and self-care.

Another long-term client I saw today has been working hard on finding gray areas in her life. She has operated from all-or-nothing, black-or-white in so many ways. Today she talked about an instance where she found the gray in regards to house-cleaning. Bear with me, as it’s a strange example, but it really works. I promise.

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Long ago, my client read in a housekeeping magazine that she was supposed to wash her bathroom floors weekly. She has had that task on her (immense) to-do list for a long time, but realized that it was often not getting done. And she was really beating herself up about it, particularly when time would go by and she really didn’t like the way the floors looked. It was black-or-white thinking that kept her stuck. She either had to clean the floors perfectly, moving all the furnishings and making them gleam — or she let it go and had to live with floors that were messier than she liked. It never occurred to her — until last week — that she could spot-clean the floors in between. Instead of weekly thorough cleaning, she could clean the floors really well monthly, and then spot-clean (picking up the hair and other things that collect on the bathroom floor without the whole furnishing-moving procedure) in between.

So what does this have to do with food? I think it parallels some of her (and many of our) struggles with food. My client also goes back and forth between eating “perfectly” and “cleanly” — following all of the rules of the blogs and websites that she follows — or she rebels against the “shoulds” and starts eating, in her words, like crap. She knew that neither really felt good, although the “cleaner” eating had the illusion of feeling great at first; it was just not sustainable. So, we had a good laugh today when we considered that she could “spot-clean” her eating, too. Just like the spot-cleaning of her bathroom made her squirm at first (imagining all those germs and gross things under her appliances), eating in this more middle way is hard to get used to. But, just like the spot-cleaning of her house gave her more freedom and rest to pursue other passions, the spot-clean eating (versus the perfect and unsustainable clean eating) really sets her free and shifts her challenging relationship with food. Instead of eating a large plate of just vegetables or a box of plain buttered pasta (one virtuous, in her mind, and one not), she can combine the vegetables and noodles and make a middle-of-the-extremes dish that feels good in her body.

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So, the next time you are out and about and you don’t know if the yummy dish your friends are serving you is as “clean” as the version that you eat at home… Don’t panic, don’t starve, don’t ruminate over the ingredients! Make an informed choice whether to eat it or not, based on your own knowledge of what feels good in your body and your own values. When you find yourself being “good” and “bad” interchangeably with food, give up the struggle and stop judging yourself and your eating. I propose Spot-Clean eating versus Clean Eating, which allows flexibility, pleasure, ease, and space for the rest of the joys of living.

Care of the Athlete (and the Self) Creates a Winning Team

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The recent Winter Olympics buzz inspired me to write about something that troubles me about athletics and sports today: the focus on winning and being there for the team at the expense of the individual athlete. Even in individual athletic pursuits, there is often a focus on competition. The outcome becomes more important than the process. While setting goals can be motivating, I also wonder if so many people lose the joy of moving the body by focusing on the finish and not on the race.

I work with many athletes and former athletes in my nutrition therapy practice. It’s astounding how many of them have challenging relationships with food. You would think that athletes, whose bodies are their instruments, would have increased reverence for food as their fuel. Many of them do, but I am always amazed at just how many also have a lot of conflict and struggle around food.

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Athletic people should ideally be the most in-tune with their bodies. Their bodies are highly capable, and sometimes they depend on these well-trained bodies for a major part of their livelihood. But, more often than I’d like to see, athletes can become quite disconnected from their bodies. They often ignore pain, strain, and fatigue because they don’t want to let the team down. The focus is on winning or finishing or getting the best time or lifting more than they did yesterday... And if a coach has told them that they need to stay thin or lose weight to be top at their sport, then they often engage in dieting behaviors — and sometimes even develop eating disorders — in an attempt to perform their best. Ironically, the dieting and disordered eating often shortens their career or leads to debilitating injuries that last for decades. Some athletes, like football players, are even encouraged to overeat, which can have a lasting impact on their relationship to food and later health.

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It made me think about the way in which all of us “perform” in our lives. Do we operate from our own desires, dreams, appetites — or are we trying to please our “coaches” or “teams?” Are we enjoying the moments of our lives — or are we chasing some goal, some “should” that keeps getting bigger and bigger the more we practice?

Let’s think about this…

  • When you exercise, are you doing it because it makes you feel great and it’s loads of fun — or are you trying to look a certain way for a certain someone or have a certain image? Do you listen to your body when it says it’s time to rest, or do you have a set amount of exercise that you must do in order to feel good about your workouts?
  • When you make a choice about what to eat, do you choose from what you really want to eat and what you know feels best for your body and palate — or do you eat what you think you should, based on someone else's assessment of what is best for you?
  • Are you living your life on your terms, making your own choices? Do you consult with your “team” of loved ones or advice-givers around you, considering their needs and ideas along with your own — or do you give up your own needs for the team, doing what you think you should do?
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My last blog post was a reprint of Sondra Kronberg’s article about eating disorders recovery called “Listening Inward.” She wrote about the importance of operating from a frame of reference that is inside ourselves, honoring our own truths and hungers and preferences instead of those of the people around us. If an athlete is doing that, she is more likely to notice that twinge in her knee and stop, instead of pushing on through pain and hurting herself. If a coworker recognizes that her body wants warm, grounding food and choses the hearty soup, she will feel centered and soothed all afternoon — instead of grabbing the salad, like everyone else around her and feeling hungry, distracted, and unsatisfied afterwards. If we all listen to our hearts and work to create a life that holds meaning and enjoyment for us, then we can say “no” to the things that don’t resonate with the life that we want. We can also say “yes” to the things and people that line up with our values and dreams.

Maybe you didn’t beat your best time, but you ran the race with your friends beside you for a good cause. Maybe you didn’t win the game, but you took many wonderful deep breaths under a clear blue sky. Maybe you didn’t lift as much weight or swim as many laps as you did when you used to go to the gym regularly, but you recommitted to your health and well-being by starting to exercise again. Maybe you didn’t dance as long or as hard as the people around you, but you shook your thang and you loved it.

Bud-Bud and Boo try out snowboarding.

Bud-Bud and Boo try out snowboarding.

Enjoy moving — even if you don’t win the gold medal. Enjoy eating — even if you didn’t create the perfect meal. Listen to your body and its wisdom before you jump on the next diet and nutrition fad. In my experience, healing our relationships with food is comprised of the slow, hard work of changing habits and thought patterns, and no quick-fix nutrition solution will do it. Trust yourself above all else. Don’t forget yourself, when trying to be part of a community, family, or workplace. Feed yourself well so that you can move through life the way you want to: with strength, courage, and not overly influenced by your “team.” Life can be a challenging journey. Appreciate your growth, your unique gifts, and the way that taking good care of yourself helps you move through your unique life with grace. You will truly be a better “team player” if you are taking good care of your Self first.

Listening Inward

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This article, reprinted with permission from the author, appears in the 2014 Gurze Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue. The writer is my colleague, Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN, CEDRD, who can be found at http://www.sondrakronberg.com/


Eating disorders develop and are perpetuated by the loss of trust in your inner voice and bodily messages. Instead, you come to rely on external cues, rules, beliefs, and rituals to regulate how you feel, what you allow yourself to do, and how you relate to your food, weight, body, and other people. It is this separation from one’s inner self and the increasing reliance on outside information, judgments, or beliefs that cements eating disordered behaviors in place. The greater the gap between what you do, think, and say on the outside and how you really feel, who you truly are on the inside, your authentic self — the greater the need for the eating disorder to fill the void, anesthetize the pain, or suppress uncomfortable feelings.

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Recovery is about tuning inward. It is about reclaiming your authentic self from your eating disorder and learning to listen to your internal messages. It is about taking the focus off what the outside world is saying and tuning in to what your inner self and your body are telling you. Recovery and healing result from listening inward. In order to progress, you must develop skills for listening inward, as well as skills for tuning out the external messages of the media, friends, parents, and society. Healing occurs through the process of learning to listen to your own physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual needs. Reclaiming yourself requires learning to listen, hear, and embrace your own hunger for food, love, acceptance, health, connection, pleasure, community, and peace of mind.

How can you learn to be a better listener? Listening is best facilitated by asking questions and waiting for the answers from within you, from your internal voice, your inner guide, or your true self. Learning to ask questions of yourself and to listen for the answers from within will help you get back to being the expert on you. It is a vehicle for developing trust in yourself and creating confidence in your life. Listening to the answers from within that get you in touch with your physical hunger will help you ask questions and listen to the answers that get you in touch with your emotional and spiritual hungers as well. Recognizing and learning to trust your physical cues will help you learn to recognize and trust your emotional cues. Asking questions that identify what foods you are hungry for will help you ask questions that identify where else in your life you are hungry or feeling less than satisfied. Tuning inward to determine what you want at a meal will ultimately help you determine what you want in life. Identifying and being able to ask for what you require to meet your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs will foster your growth. I encourage my patients to practice this in all areas of their lives—with their foods, in their therapy, at their jobs, and in their relationships. Asking questions of yourself will increase awareness and assist you in developing the skill of listening to answers.

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This is a complex skill since our body speaks to us in so many ways. Our body speaks to us through all our senses, our heart, our mind, our feelings, our muscles, our conscious and unconscious thoughts, our energy, our posture, our actions, our hunger, and our fears. To hear it may mean letting go of many past beliefs, rules, and external ways of feeling secure or in control. Developing the skill of listening inward will definitely require persistence, patience, and compassion to break through your old patterns.

Meeting your physical needs develops parallel skills you will use for meeting your emotional needs. Listening to and trusting what your body is telling you physically is paramount to learning to trust your feelings and, ultimately, yourself.

Contrary to the belief of most people with eating disorders, our feelings and our bodies are not the enemy. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If we allow ourselves to align with and listen to our feelings and our bodies, we can use them as our guides. If we listen and attune to our bodies and our feelings, they can help us make decisions that support our growth. They can be our antennae, moving us away from that which causes pain, harm, and disconnection in our lives and toward people, places, and opportunities that meet our innermost needs.

As always, go slowly. Practice using this tool with patience and compassion. Successful change is a slow process.

by Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN, CEDRD