how to deal with negative body image & anxiety

how to deal with negative body image & anxiety

Below is the beginning of a post I contributed to Recovery Warriors, a badass online magazine for eating disorder recovery.To read the full post, click here.

Here’s a glimpse into a pretty common dialogue that shows up in various ways in my work with clients who are navigating eating disorder recovery (usually alongside depression and anxiety). I’ll call this fictional client “Brit”. 

Brit: “I was feeling really crappy yesterday.”
Me: “Yeah? What kind of stuff you were thinking or feeling?”
Brit: “I don’t know, really, it was just inner critic stuff and anxiety I guess.”
Me: “So if I could have plugged headphones into your brain at that moment, what are some of the thoughts I would have heard?”
Brit: “Hmm… maybe like that I have a lot of demands on me at work that I’m worried about, and that I was bad for not making it to the gym that day and eating a bigger lunch."
Me: “Gotcha. And what about the feelings, like emotions or stuff in your body? 
Brit: “Just anxiety like kind of a pressure in my chest, I can feel it some now just talking about it.”
Me: “Can you describe it more, what it feels like right now?”
Brit: “It’s kind of hot in my chest, and a little queasy in my stomach, and my shoulders are tense.”
Me: “Right now, does it feel okay for that feeling to be there?”
Brit: “I don’t really like it, but yeah, I guess so.”
Me: “Just see if you can breathe into those places, your stomach, your chest, and your shoulders, without needing to change or fix them. And are any of those thoughts showing up right now?”
Brit: “A little bit, but not as much. I think it helped just saying them a minute ago.”
Me: “Nice! Sometimes all it takes is just breaking it down a little bit to understand more about what’s going on with you instead of just having that vague sense of ‘yuck.’” 

(I’d go further with her on this, but this part is enough to illustrate my point for now.)

I see those heads nodding in recognition! (Says my clairvoyant alter-ego) —and believe me, this is very much still an ongoing practice for me, too. Whether it’s a specific event that triggers it, or a thought or feeling that shows up first, often I have to intentionally step back and break down piece-by-piece to get clear on what’s going on with me, as I walked through above. 

(To continue reading, head on over to Recovery Warriors!)

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Self-Care for Activists: Stand Up for What Matters — Including Yourself

Self-Care for Activists: Stand Up for What Matters — Including Yourself

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

Let me begin with this: I want you to know that, whatever your political stances, whoever you may cast your ballot or show support for, I respect you.

I respect you simply because I respect anyone who is trying to follow their heart and do what they think is right. With that said, our present reality is indisputably one of the most divisive moments in recent decades, both within and outside the United States. And it has become a time when more people than any other moment in my lifetime are getting off their couches and becoming activists in their own right. 

Even if you don’t identify as an activist regarding the political climate in the U.S., you may be an activist in other ways — whether it’s being a champion for the environment, animals, or kids, taking a stand against fat shaming, or any number of important causes. 

Standing Up for What Matters

It is my belief that part of living a fully engaged life includes standing up for what matters to you, whatever that might be. When you’re in an active eating disorder or other addiction, you could be the most compassionate person on the planet, but 50-90% of your headspace and energy may go toward supporting your ED/addiction — leaving little time and energy left to split between living your life and standing up for what matters most to you. 

This does not make you a bad person at all — it makes you a person with a mental illness who needs appropriate treatment. You simply cannot give if you are depleted. 

The words at the beginning of this post are by Audre Lorde (1934-1992), self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and a well-known feminist and civil rights activist. As she so wisely described, taking care of ourselves is not self-indulgent, but rather, a necessary component of our activism. And they go hand-in-hand: self-care is an important part of your activism, and activism is an important part of your self-care. 

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5 ways to take your thoughts less seriously {using acceptance and commitment therapy}

I still remember the mental prison that accompanied my eating disorder: the non-stop calorie counting, body checking, comparison, and constant planning on how to keep doing it all “right” while somehow staying afloat in the rest of my life. For me, this actually became my biggest motivation for getting help and working toward recovery. I wish that, when I was going through that process, I had known about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and its realistic approach for how to deal with difficult thoughts.

These days when I teach ACT concepts to my clients, they often express a sense of relief and curiosity as they realize, “So, you’re saying it’s normal that I can’t just stop or change my thoughts? But if I can’t… then what do I do with them?” ACT asserts that, not only do we have limited ability to control and avoid internal thoughts and feelings, but that when we try to, we often create much more suffering for ourselves. Thus, it confronts this “control agenda,” challenges us to ask ourselves which of these control strategies are actually “workable” and which aren’t (many — like ED behaviors —often take us further from a meaningful life), and offers alternate ways of dealing with those uncomfortable internal experiences as we acknowledge the truth that we can’t just “get rid of them” like we want.

In ACT, we’re less concerned with proving whether or not a thought is true and more concerned with looking at what happens when we become “fused” with it.Think of the common ED thought, “I’m so fat.” Even if that thought isn’t objectively true, simply being told that by someone else doesn’t really help. And if you are considered overweight by certain medical standards, you could say “see, it’s true! So I am totally justified in beating myself up all day.” Not so fast. Because what happens when you beat yourself up about that (when you get totally fused with that thought)? You feel discouraged, eat more, and then say, “see, exactly. I’m disgusting.” As one of my favorite cartoons says, “Hate is not a magic wand that shrinks thighs.”

So, again, we’re more concerned about whether the thought is workable than whether it’s true or false. Sometimes, being fused with thoughts is okay; for example, when you’re totally engrossed in your creative work, a movie that you’re watching, a game you’re playing with friends. But often, we find that the thoughts we fuse with are not workable — they’re getting in the way of living and negatively impact your choices.

But if we can’t just get rid of them like we’d want, then what?

To read the 5 techniques/tools that will help you take your thoughts less seriously, click through to read the full article at Recovery Warriors! 

You also might want to check out my brief video about defusing from unhelpful thoughts. 

internal family systems: the necessity of compassion for even the destructive parts of ourselves

internal-family-systems
internal-family-systems

I just wrote a new post for Recovery Warriors and wanted to share here, too. While the story in this piece is about my eating disorder, I encourage you to consider what the destructive, misguided parts of you are and to consider these ideas from that perspective. 

I’ll never forget sitting at Geneen Roth’s retreat, furiously scribbling notes about some strange, fascinating thing called “Internal Family Systems.” I was 19, the youngest person in the room by a long stretch. My parents had sent me to her week-long retreat because, though my weight had been “normal” for quite some time, my relationship with food was far from it. So there I sat, wide-eyed in a room full of strangers 2,000 miles from home, when I first learned about Internal Family Systems (IFS) and gained a whole new perspective on my relationship with my eating disorder.

On and off for years, binging had been wreaking havoc on my psyche. I was so ashamed about it, yet the thought of not doing it at all seemed unfathomable. After every binge, I would sit in a daze of self-loathing, meticulously planning how I would get back on track and “make up for everything” in the following days. I abhorred the part of me that binged. It felt like a monster that took control of my limbs and made me do things I’d hate myself for an hour later. Why couldn’t I just STOP?

As IFS would describe it, the part of me that binged was a “firefighter,” a part that swoops in and acts fast when it perceives an emotional threat and reacts quickly to “take control” of the situation, whatever the cost. Firefighters want to distract your attention from painful feelings, often through impulsive behaviors that aim to be a “quick fix.” After a binge, one of my “manager” parts would then take over: assessing the “damage” and making a plan to get everything back in order and appear “normal” externally.

What Geneen helped me understand about these manager and firefighter parts of myself was that, as misguided as their idea of “help” was, their ultimate goal was to keep me safe, protected, and functional. To keep me from getting rejected, criticized, or hurt by others, or to have to face the parts of myself that feel too weak, needy, or vulnerable to accept (these are called the “exiles”). In that light, it seemed almost cruel to hate those parts of myself. Sure, they weren’t going about things in the best way, but their aim was both honorable and understandable.

Continue reading at Recovery Warriors.

could spirituality ever actually *hurt* recovery?

spirituality-in-recovery
spirituality-in-recovery
“I didn’t eat breakfast, but it wasn’t restricting behavior because I was having a spiritual experience. God told me that he was sustaining me, so I didn’t need to eat.”

When a former client said this in a group, the other women didn’t know how to respond. From their vantage points (and certainly mine), this was clearly disordered eating and thinking. Though her peers tried to gently ask more questions to better understand where she was coming from, this client was just not in a place where she was ready to give up her eating disorder. She frequently quoted scripture and said she was always very connected to her faith and spirituality, and yet, had blinders on regarding the reality of her disorder and how it was affecting the parts of her life that mattered the most.

Spirituality is often a highly valuable component of recovery. In any kind of 12-step program, acknowledging and turning your life over to a higher power of your choosing (steps two and three) is a foundational element of working the steps. Of course, a person’s chosen higher power may be less spiritual and more about “Good Orderly Direction,” but spirituality of some sort is highly common. Even aside from the 12-step model, spirituality can offer strength and hope to people during the most difficult times in their lives. The most frequent benefits my clients identify about connecting to spirituality in recovery are:

  • Helps me know that I’m not alone, and that I am already enough
  • Connects me to a sense of hope that everything will work out okay
  • Reminds me of the fact that I’m not in control, and that the control my ED gives me is an illusion — so I can surrender to recovery even when it’s hard

To read the rest of the post, including 2 ways that misuse of spirituality can be harmful to recovery, head on over to Recovery Warriors. 

You might also be interested in my post on what it means to "be spiritual."