Finding Meaning in Your Eating Disorder Recovery

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The Eating Disorder

I had an eating disorder from the time I was 16 years old until 26. Ten long years of misery. My eating disorder was not something I was proud of. I was very ashamed of it and the behaviors that accompanied it. I binged on huge amounts of food. I restricted and starved myself. I over-exercised and pushed my body to the point of exhaustion. All the while hiding behind a façade of working as a dietitian teaching others how to live a healthy life. I felt like a total hypocrite. Something had to change.  

When I finally gained control of my eating disorder the main reason I did so was because I knew somewhere in the back of mind I wanted to have children. While going through recovery was the hardest thing I had done in my life up until that point, the promise of having children motivated me and propelled me to regain my health and find balance in my life. Even though I had not found “the one” yet, I knew that once I did I would want my eating disorder to be a thing of the past to ensure our chances of conceiving.

Recovery

Any time I thought about going back to my old ways of behaving, I remembered my values of health and family, and how nothing with be possible if I kept using my eating disorder behaviors. I learned how to deal with my feelings without using food, how to stand up for myself, and how to ask for what I needed. In short I became a total functioning, fulfilled person. And then I met my husband. I knew when I met him he was the one. Sounds SO corny I know. But it’s true. He was everything I ever wanted.

Marriage

Things moved fairly fast for us. We moved in together after dating only 8 months. A year later we were engaged and a year later we were married. I started my own therapy business right after we married, and while we both knew we wanted kids we wanted to wait a bit to settle into marriage. So we did. All the while I NEVER worried about getting pregnant. At this point I was 33 years old and well into recovery. I had no doubt in my mind that my body was healthy, and I felt stable and happy with my life.

Baby???

When we were ready to have a baby and started trying I thought getting pregnant would be easy. Because why wouldn’t it be? Isn’t this what I have been told my entire life? Women have babies. Our bodies are designed to do this. We are BORN to do this. It’s as innate as learning to walk or laughing at a funny joke. Or so I thought…  

Fertility and the Eating Disorder

My journey with fertility (I refuse to use the word INfertility out of sheer principle) has been difficult. Heart wrenching at times. Not getting pregnant yet has caused me to question every decision in my life. And to circle back around to my eating disorder, it’s caused me to question my recovery. My recovery that I held as the most sacred event of my life. It has caused me to think “If I recovered because I wanted to have children, but I can’t have children, does that mean I recovered for nothing? And what does this mean for my life?"

When I first had this thought, it stopped me dead in my tracks. My recovery was a waste? How could this be? Cue the most intense shame and guilt you could imagine, along with trying to convince myself that I was not having these thoughts of “recovery being a waste”. Because rationally I knew recovery was not a waste. I knew that without my recovery my life would be a mess. Or I might not even be alive anymore. I knew I would never have been able to create the life I did if I was still using my old eating disorder behaviors.

My eating disorder caused me to push away relationships, friends, jobs, and anything else good in my life. So without recovery I would have NOTHING. But this did not stop the emotional part of my brain continuing to think this thought “If I can’t have kids, what does that mean for my recovery?”

Meaning of Recovery

Now that I am 10 years into recovery, I am re-examining the meaning of my recovery. I have realized that the original reasons I recovered must be changed and adapted for my life today. What worked for me 10 years ago does not work anymore. What is the meaning of your recovery? What do you want in your life? If you would have asked me these questions 10 years ago I would have told you “to have children” but now I realize there is more to it. There has to be. And I am slowly coming to a place of acceptance around this.

Releasing the Shame

My hope with sharing this is to connect with you if you are feeling shame and loneliness about something in your life. It is also partially selfish. I want to alleviate some of my shame around the situation.

I have realized that the shame I feel about my difficulties getting pregnant is similar to the shame I felt about my eating disorder. I felt very isolated and ashamed of my behaviors so I kept them all a secret. But the shame only grew and continued when I did that. I would like to believe I have grown and evolved from the person I was 10 years ago, and here is one way I am doing that. I am speaking out about my struggles. I refuse to feel this shame anymore because shame is toxic. And silence breeds shame. And we don’t have to do it alone.

 

5 Things To Do After You Binge On Valentine's Day Chocolate

It May Be The Opposite Of What You Think

If you binged on all your Valentine’s Day candy this weekend you are not alone. Research shows that 90% of people eat the entire box of candy in one sitting.  Research also shows that I made that statistic up. If you are beating yourself up, from your binging… continue reading!

Shaming yourself from binging on large amounts of food is the worst thing you can do for yourself. Here are facts: you have already binged and you can not go back to an hour before you did this. So what do you do now?

#1 Stop shaming yourself  Beating yourself up for binging does nothing to help you feel better; in fact it makes you feel worse and shameful about your behavior, which will eventually lead to more binging!

#2 Ask yourself what you’re feeling What is going on in your life that caused you to reach for handful after handful of chocolate? Are you feeling sorry for yourself because you’re single? Did you get in a fight with your spouse? Most likely, the food is not the real problem here.

#3 Do something different If you sitting alone and feeling sorry for yourself, this will not help you feel better about yourself. Call up a trusted friend and talk about what’s really going on. Or better yet, ask that friend to come over, or offer to meet her for a movie. Sitting alone feeling bad about yourself will only make things worse.

#4 When you realize the reason you binged in the first place, ask yourself what can be done about this  Maybe you don’t want to be alone anymore and you need to join a dating site. Maybe you and your spouse need couples counseling. Or maybe sitting with your feelings is all you need in this moment.

#5 Do something nice for yourself Give yourself permission to treat yourself. The reason you binged is that you are craving comfort. So try to find comfort in something other than food. Take a bath, put on music and dance, heck, maybe you’re just tired and you need a nap! So be nice to yourself and do something that makes you feel good.

Binging on Valentines Day candy does not have to ruin your day. The candy was meant to make you feel good. So do that and move on! Shaming yourself will keep your feet from moving to a better place.

3 Myths You Believe About Your Weight And Why They are Harmful To Your Health

We are a month into the new year so likely your resolution to lose weight is fading. This is in fact a good thing. The problem with weight loss coaches and any other "expert" in the weight loss field is that they often base your ideal weight either on a chart or some other arbitrary weight goal that they think you should be. The problem with this is that it does not take into account your own body and its set point. We all have a set point for our weight, and trying to get down to a weight that is lower than your set point is harming your health.

I urge you to ask yourself why you want to lose weight. Are you currently healthy, and you think you will look better being a smaller size? Or, do you have a medical reason why you need to lose weight? If it's the latter I suggest getting help from a trained professional, such as a registered dietitian to help provide a safe weight loss plan that is sustainable. If it's the former, I suggest you consider the implications of attempting to lose weight when it is unnecessary for health reasons, and purely for aesthetic reasons.

I have seen many people that have had no issues with food... until they went on a diet. After going on a diet, the restriction sparked a restrict/ binge cycle with food, and many people end up gaining weight from their "diet" and feeling worse about their bodies than before they engaged in the initial diet. And this is how "yo-yo" dieting starts.

Myth #1: If you are not losing weight you are eating too much

Fact: Sometimes we do not lose weight because we are actually eating too little! I have worked with many people who do not eat enough and this actually lowers their metabolism and prevents them from losing weight. If you open any "health" magazine it will tell you to keep your calories around 1200-1500 calories per day. This is not enough. Everyone needs to be eating a minimum of 1700 calories per day, no matter what your weight is.

Myth #2: If you have enough willpower you can get to your ideal weight

Fact: This has been proven wrong. Research shows that willpower, just like a muscle, will fatigue and burn out. So, relying on willpower to help you lose weight will not work. If your meal plan is not balanced and provides satiation, eventually you will not be able to stand being hungry and deprived anymore, you’ll go off your diet, and regain any weight you lost. This is the single most reason why 99% of people “fail” on their diets. The diets simply do not provide enough balance and satisfaction. This is also why I never give people diets. They are harmful and cause deprivation and rebound binging.

Myth #3:  You will feel happy and confident when you reach your ideal weight

Fact: Unfortunately, no. I have worked with hundreds of people who have lost weight, gained weight, and lost weight again. When I ask them if they feel happier at their lower weight, their answer is almost always no. You might think that if you lose weight you will be a different person. But underneath your body, you are still the same person. If you feel insecure and you lose 20 pounds, you will still feel insecure just in a body that is a little bit smaller. If you want to feel better work on strengthening all of the things you think will be different when you lose weight. And start working on them now, in the body you have currently, not the body you may have 20 pounds from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating Disorders and the Holidays

As I’m sure you are aware the holidays are in full swing. Many people assume that everyone loves the holidays. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…right? For some it is, for others it may be the most difficult time of the year. For people with eating disorders, the holidays can seem like a downright scary movie. People with eating disorders are often scared of food, terrified of groups of people, and frightened of heightened emotions. The holidays are filled with all three of these! If you are struggling with an eating disorder, then this is likely the most dreaded time of the year.

When I was recovering from my eating disorder I felt lost during the holidays. I was scared of all the food and felt like I had to pretend to be “okay” all the time. Inside I felt so much anxiety and depression. I wish I would have had someone tell me “it’s okay, this is a hard time for a lot of people”. The following are some tips that will help you get through this difficult time of the year.

Recognize that this is a short time period

While the holidays are going on it feels like it lasts forever. But it is actually only a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is only 8% of the year! Try to remember that when you feel like this time is dragging and it is never going to end. It will end, and you will get through it.

Set your boundaries

You do not have to attend every holiday party and gathering you are invited to. You are allowed to say “thanks, but no thanks”. This is a great time to practice setting your boundaries. And if not attending means saving your well-being, then it’s worth it. I always ask my clients: does the discomfort and guilt of saying no outweigh how bad you feel saying yes and going to the party? If the answer is no, then you should not go!

Thoughtfully eat your fear foods 

It is hard with so many different foods around and everyone and their mother (and aunt, uncle, grandma, cousin, brother) trying to convince you to try their homemade peanut brittle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new and different foods, but if you don’t feel ready to, then don’t. Sometimes when we push ourselves with fear foods, we feel much more anxiety,  and coupled with the anxiety of being surrounded by family, can lead to a complete relapse.

Stick to regular meal times

Do not save up and skip meals in anticipation of a big holiday dinner or party. Restricting will only make you overly hungry which can cause you to binge later. Keep a regular and moderate meal pattern.

Have an exit plan

If you know you will be attending a holiday gathering with friends or family that will be difficult and triggering for you, have an exit strategy. Plan some ways to excuse yourself if things get too tough. Always put your own health above anything else.

Plan something relaxing amidst the chaos

A yoga class, massage, or a walk with a good friend can be a great way to feel back to your “normal” self after being in uncomfortable situations. It is very important to set some time aside to take care of yourself.

Use your treatment team

Talk to your treatment team to help identify what situations may be more difficult, and come up with strategies for dealing with them.

Remember what the holidays are about

The holidays are supposed to be a time for family and friends to reconnect, and to take some time off work and school. Try to focus on this aspect and remember that the holidays do not have to be all about food. Yes, food is a part of it, but it is just one aspect. There can be a lot of good that comes out of slowing down and reconnecting with the people we really care about.

If you are struggling with navigating the holidays with an eating disorder, know that you are not alone. I wish you a joyful and meaningful holiday season from the office of Melissa Preston Counseling!

 

 

 

Taking back our bodies: 7 tips for feeling comfortable in your skin

I haven’t always felt comfortable with my body. In fact, I absolutely loathed and hated my body for 10 years. I not only envied models in magazines, but anyone who appeared confident. Friends, co-workers, random people on the street, anyone I knew that walked with their head held high and shoulders back. I thought the world of these creatures. I call them creatures because they almost didn’t seem real to me. I didn’t understand how anyone could feel comfortable in their body and I wondered how they did it. 

During these 10 years I was so stuck in an endless cycle of an eating disorder, restricting and binging my food, and it was partially because I hated my body. I thought that if I hated it enough, I would be able to hate it into a thinner body. If I shamed and berated any flaw I had, any ounce of fat on my body, it would cause me to want to starve myself enough so that my flaws would disappear. But the weird thing was, the more I used my eating disorder, the more I hated my body. My plan backfired.

I knew I needed to try something different in order to feel more comfortable in my body. I actively started to take steps to end my self-hatred. At first it was very difficult to do the tips listed below. It felt so foreign to actually be nice to myself. But eventually it started to feel good, even great at times. The tips below are taken from my personal experience that I tried, and that eventually enabled me to feel confident in my body, in my skin, and in myself.

Tip #1- Start Treating Your Body Well

We often try to starve ourselves in an attempt to lose weight as we think we will like our body more at a lower weight, but this usually backfires. Nourish your body with food that feels good to you. Eat enough. Eat until you are full. Don’t overeat, or binge until you are numb. Eat mostly healthy foods but don’t be crazy about it. If you want some chocolate, eat some chocolate. Cause chocolate is good for your soul.

Tip #2- Befriend Your Body

Think of your body as your best friend. How would you talk to your best friend? Often times we are very mean to our bodies, and say things to ourselves that we would never say to a friend. Start to think of your body as your friend. How would you talk to it if you actually liked it?

Tip #3- Think Of Your Body As The Vehicle For Your Life

Our bodies are an amazing vehicle that takes us through this crazy experience we call life. Without your body you could not do anything. Our bodies enable us to work, love, hug our friends, kiss our partners, dance at weddings, solve math problems, laugh at the movies, and run on our favorite trail. Remember this the next time you are berating your body; without it nothing would be possible.

Tip #4- Fake It Till You Make It

Confidence often comes after we change our body language. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains how changing our body language can actually affect our hormone levels in our brain to help us feel more confident. Try standing up straighter with your shoulders back and see how your confidence level changes.

Tip #5- Look At Real Women

According to NEDA 98% of American women are not as thin as fashion models. Yet, this is who we compare ourselves to as the “ideal” body. Only 1-2% of women will be able to naturally achieve models level of thinness, everyone else will do it unhealthily. Not to mention all the air brushing that is done with these images. So, you are in fact, comparing yourself to a fake image. In countless studies it has been shown that women feel worse about themselves after looking at fashion magazines. First step, stop buying these magazines! Refuse to compare yourself to this unrealistic image. Look around you. Look at real women that are confident in their bodies.

Tip #6- Wear Clothes That Fit

This seems fairly obvious but I can’t tell you how many clients tell me they still wear old clothes that don’t fit them, in the hopes that they will be a constant reminder to eat less. I used to do this too. But this, like many other things we do usually backfires. When we don’t feel comfortable in our clothes, it is a constant reminder of how we are “failing” and “too big”. How can we possibly feel confident about ourselves when we are constantly pulling or tugging at our clothes all day? Buy clothes that fit well and feel good on your body; it’s amazing the difference this can make.

Tip #7- Exercise To Feel Good

Physical activity can be an amazing force that boosts our endorphins, ignites our lungs, and makes us feel fully alive. However, many people force themselves to exercise past the point where their body feels good. Or they force themselves to do certain exercises because they might burn more calories. Why would we purposely torture ourselves like this? Don’t like running… don’t do it! Move your body in a way that feels good to you. Like dancing? Put on your favorite music and rock on in your living room. Go on a walk with your dog. Focus on how you feel physically and mentally during the activity. If you are counting down the minutes until you’re done, that’s a good sign that you’re not enjoying yourself. Life is too short to do exercise you hate.

 

7 Tips to Conquering Fear Foods

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When you think of the word “fear” what comes to mind? For me I have thoughts and images such as ‘scary, panic, ghosts, dark alleys, heart racing, and skeletons’. When I add the word ‘food’ in front of fear what comes to mind? For most people it’s foods like pizza, donuts, ice cream, hamburgers and fried foods.

I often wonder how food has become something as scary as something that might actually be life threatening, such as walking down a dark alley alone. Food is something that is basic to our survival. How did something so essential to our lives become something that so many people fear on a daily basis?

I understand the fear of food. I used to live it day in and day out. When I was struggling with my eating disorder there was a very short list of foods that I deemed to be “okay” or safe to eat. I would adhere to this list and never let another food pass my lips. It didn’t matter what anyone said to me about my restrictive intake. I avoided most social food situations anyway since I wouldn’t eat at restaurants, friends’ houses, or anywhere I didn’t have control over my food.  The most important thing to me at the time was that I followed my food rules.

Once I began my journey to recovery I started to loosen my grip my foods, but to everyone else I was still very controlled with food. This was difficult for me as I had just started college and I was in many situations where my safe foods were not available to me. So, I had two choices; either eat nothing, or let myself eat those fear foods. Often I choose the former, but I realized I could not continue to do this and appear “normal” anymore. I had to figure something out. I vowed to myself that I would let myself have other foods and deal with it somehow.

I remember the first time I went out on a date when I was 18 years old. I told myself that I was going to be normal (whatever that meant) and just order something off the menu without altering it 10 different ways. The panic in my body of letting myself eat that food was almost unbearable.  I wondered if the guy I was with could tell how anxious I was. I hoped that he thought I was just nervous about being on a date.

I managed to get through the date and actually had a good time once we got through the whole eating part! Then something miraculous happened: I woke up the next morning and realized I did not gain 10 pounds from one meal. Also, one other amazing thing happened that I did not anticipate. When I woke up the next day I was not obsessed with the food I had eaten the night before. My first thought wasn’t “how can I make up for what I ate the night before”, as it was so many times before. My first thought was about the guy I was with and how much fun I had.

It was a very slow process for me overcoming all of my fear foods. Now, I don’t think twice about eating something that used to be scary for me.  I realized this recently as I talked about how I use half and half in my coffee, and my client thought that was crazy! I remember when adding half and half was something that “normal” people did but I would never touch it. Now I can’t imagine my coffee without it!

There is no set formula for overcoming fear foods, but I have realized there were a few key things that helped me slowly conquer my fear foods.

Drop the Good Food/ Bad Food mindset

Viewing foods as either good or bad makes it difficult to let yourself eat a “bad” food. There are no good or bad foods. Every food, yes EVERY food can be part of a healthy diet. There is no single food that will cause you to instantly gain 10 pounds or develop heart disease.

Recognize that fear is part of the process

Sometimes in life, fear is necessary in order to move us forward. Think back to the first time you had a job interview, asked someone on a date, or gave a speech in your class. Was it comfortable? The answer is probably no. Feeling afraid is a normal part of doing something outside of our comfort zone. This is not a bad thing. And usually stepping out of our comfort zone is where the big changes really happen.

Focus on your goal

Focus on what you want out of recovery. Do you want to be able to enjoy your friends and family at social situations involving food? Do you want to have a healthy body and mind? Focusing on the overarching goal can help you when you feel like it’s too hard or not worth it to challenge your fear foods.

 Enlist the support of others

Nobody can do this alone. Tell someone you trust what your goals are and ask for their support. When I really needed help with challenging a fear food I would ask my best friend to sit with me. He would eat with me and gently encourage me that it was okay. Also, seeing him eat the same food helped me to know that I wouldn’t die while eating it! Yes it’s dramatic, and yes, it’s really how I felt.

 Pair the fear food with a safe food

Eating the food you fear with something that feels safe can help facilitate the process. For example, one of my fear foods was butter. Vegetables always felt very safe for me, so in the beginning, I would use a small amount of butter to saute my vegetables. This felt doable for me. Bread was another fear food of mine. If I had started out trying to eat bread with butter that probably would have been too much for me and I would have freaked out and given up.

Don’t push yourself too much

Start small. In the example above, I started with a small amount of butter. I would use ½ teaspoon to start. Yes only ½ teaspoon! It’s what felt comfortable to me. I would gradually add more as I felt more comfortable. I went to 1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons, and so on. Now I don’t measure butter and just use what looks good to me. If I would have tried to push myself to use 2 tablespoons right off the bat, that would have felt like too much for me out and I would have given up! Give yourself the grace to start with what feels okay at the time.

Tell your eating disorder to eff off!

Last but not least, tell your eating disorder to leave you alone! Most of these fear foods are born out of our eating disorders making up arbitrary rules for us of what we can and can’t eat. You can acknowledge your eating disorder telling you that you should not eat a certain food, but it doesn’t mean you have to do what it says. Those thoughts are not helpful and will not help you achieve your goals in the long term.

Conquering fear foods is tough. If you are struggling with any of these, help is available.  You do not have to do this alone.  

 

Your Job is not to be Perfect; Your Job is Only to be Human

Your job is not to be perfect. Nobody ever told you that. At least not explicitly. Being a human is a funny thing. We are all are human. We all have limits. And misgivings. And bodily functions. Yet when we show others our limits, our misgivings, our bodily functions, we are embarrassed. We feel ashamed. We feel less than. We feel imperfect.

So you make a pact with yourself that you will try harder next time. Next time, you will be perfect. You will say the perfect thing, play the perfect part. You will be perfect. Whatever that means. Sometimes you spend hours trying on different clothes and applying makeup. Or you rehearse your lines the entire day so you know exactly what to say to sound intelligent. Or perhaps you spend hours exercising or starving yourself to attain the perfect body.

Then you go to a party. After you’ve spent hours exercising, trying on clothes, and rehearsing lines. You will think that if you look perfect and act perfect, you will be perfect. And then, then people will like you. They will accept you. You will be funny, and intelligent, and pretty, and perfect. And you will do it effortlessly. You will make it look like it’s so easy.

You will leave the party and feel accomplished, yet empty. You will wonder why you feel such a void in your chest. You will try to brush it off and think to yourself that for sure you showed everyone that you were perfect, and they must love you even more now. But this gnawing feeling will not leave you. You will go home and throw off your perfect clothes and wash your perfectly applied makeup off. You will look at yourself in the mirror. You will see yourself in your sweats with no makeup. You will realize that this moment is the first moment you actually feel comfortable. You will wonder why you can not show this person, this imperfect person to other people.

As you stand there you realize that you are far from perfect. You see your wrinkles, your flabby arms, and your stringy hair. You realize in this moment why you feel such a void in your chest. You understand that the person you were earlier, that perfect person, is not you.

You realize that these people you feel like you have to be perfect for probably feel the same way too. That perhaps they are staring at their imperfect bodies at this moment too. You realize the pain we all go through, separately, yet together, to feel acceptance. You know that you will only ever accept yourself, if you show yourself. Your true self. The imperfect one that is staring back at you. The human one.

You will go on a journey. One that involves not ever wearing makeup. Not caring about what clothes you wear. Or how your body looks. You encounter people that give you dirty looks when you go to the mall without makeup on. But you also meet people who don’t notice these things; they don’t treat you any different. These people, they still notice you. They notice your smile, your eyes, and your heart. They see you. The real you. The imperfect you. And you realize that for the first time you see yourself. And you accept it, all of it. Even the human parts. And all of a sudden you clearly understand that when you fully accept the humanness of yourself, the void in your chest is gone. That you are perfectly imperfect just as you are. And that was your job all along.

I'm Ugly and Unloveable: The Impact of Trauma on Self-Image

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and thought: I am so unattractive?  I have.  In fact I think many of us have had this experience and wished we could look or be different.  Who hasn’t had a day where they’ve felt fat, judged their looks, compared their body to some unrealistic measure, or focused on the worst features versus the best? It’s so hard to avoid self-criticism especially when it comes to our bodies and the way we see ourselves.  For some people, this inner critic only comes out when we inspect imperfections closely.  But other people struggle daily to avoid feeling imperfect, broken, damaged, ugly, unworthy and un-lovable.

What causes people to have poor self-image?  Many people who struggle to love themselves and their bodies have also been through something painful in their past which impacts the way they view themselves in the present.  People who have experienced distressing or traumatic life events such as a difficult break-up, social rejection, humiliation, loss of control such as an eating disorder, physical or emotional injury, abuse or assault may see themselves in a distorted way when the pain hasn’t been resolved.  If you are reading this and are thinking that it sounds familiar, the tips below may be helpful in recognizing and repairing some of the effects that trauma has on our self-image:

1.  Trauma can take away our confidence.  When we go through something painful that we didn’t have the ability to do anything about we might find ourselves feeling powerless.  This feeling of powerlessness can translate into other life areas.  We may lack faith in our ability to accomplish our goals or embrace our strengths.  We might look at ourselves in the mirror and feel trapped or hopeless.  You can work to repair broken confidence by engaging in activities that give you a sense of mastery.   Make a list of things that you are good at or ask trusted friends or family what they admire about you, and then find ways to incorporate these things into your daily life.

2.  Trauma can make us feel ashamed.  We often internalize the painful things in our life and perceive them as being our fault somehow.  Shame can cause us to view ourselves as being unworthy or damaged.  When we look at ourselves, we may judge ourselves harshly.  You can practice becoming aware of shame using mindfulness techniques.  Practice self-compassion and focus on the positives, thinking about what makes you unique and likable. 

3.  Trauma can cause an identity crisis.  After something unexpected and distressing happens, we may feel like we’ve become somebody we don’t know or like very much.  Notice instances of self-attack, put downs or judgments.  Ask yourself if you would ever say these things to a friend.   Seeking help from a professional can help you put things in perspective.

4.  Trauma may cause black and white thinking.  Do you find yourself thinking in terms of “good” or “bad?”  This kind of thinking is very rigid and can reinforce feelings of low self-worth. Often we collect evidence to support distorted beliefs about ourselves while ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Practice becoming mindful of generalizations, all or nothing thinking, discounting your successes, and labeling. Notice triggers to this kind of thinking.

If you’ve been through a traumatic event, don’t give up, there is hope.  There’s various therapy methods that can help you overcome the challenges you are facing. Call or contact a professional, licensed therapist if you have lost hope and want to get back on the path to wellness.


denver therapist

Coral Link, M.A. NCC, is a licensed therapist, specializing in EMDR therapy in Denver. She is passionate about serving the community and has dedicated her life to helping others.



Why You Should Never Comment on Someone Else's Food Choices

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I’ve come to realize that people love to comment on what someone else chooses to eat. If you were to eavesdrop at any restaurant table you might hear various forms of “Did you hear the latest news? You shouldn’t eat olive oil, butter is back in now. Have you heard about the new Brittany Spears diet? Are you Paleo? I’ve heard that carbs make you fat. I heard that you shouldn’t eat grains and meat together. Maybe you should try juicing. I stay away from white foods” and the list goes on and on.

As if our choices in what and how much we eat are up for debate and discussion. My work with people with eating disorders and body image issues proves time and time again that we can NEVER assume we know better what that person should or shouldn't be eating. And commenting on it, no matter how well-meaning or benign you mean it to be, will not turn out well.

Recently I attended a family wedding. At this wedding there were delicious cupcakes in place of a traditional cake. Given my love of all things frosting and hatred of the actual cake part (yes I am one of those people) I decided to eat only the frosting off of a cupcake. It was absolutely heavenly, and since there were several different kinds of cupcakes, I thought it was my duty to try the other kinds of frosting off the cupcakes. And let's be real how often do you get to eat gourmet cupcakes. As I went for my 3rd cupcake, a family member commented "Melissa! You're going to gain 10 pounds with all that frosting!" As she chuckled to herself, I felt myself sink. I was, as we say in the therapy world "triggered".

Now let me state that I do not think this family member had any intention to hurt me by her comment. I think she honestly thought she was making a joke and thought nothing of it. However, as an eating disorder therapist I could not help but be flooded with all of the hidden meanings of her seemingly harmless comment.

First of all, as a dietitian and someone that understands calories and metabolism, this is just a ridiculous comment. There is no physiological way eating the frosting off of three cupcakes could cause someone to gain 10 pounds. It takes 35,000 extra calories beyond what you burn in normal daily living to gain 10 pounds. I don't count calories, but I'm pretty certain 3 cupcakes do not add up to 35,000 calories.

Secondly, and more important, what if I DID gain 10 pounds. What would that mean?  Her comment implied that gaining 10 pounds would be something I would not want to happen. This would be an unacceptable outcome. As someone who has been through hell and back with her body, I take great pride in being okay with my body now. I realize that my body is a vehicle to take me through the myriad of life experiences. It is not something that needs to be scrutinized, hated, and controlled on a daily basis anymore. Nor it is something that must conform to what society says is acceptable. Perhaps now my body is what society deems as acceptable, but I know that it will change throughout my life and I will not always look this way. There may be life experiences and changes that cause me to gain 10 pounds, or more than 10 pounds!  Does this mean that if I gain weight I am not acceptable? I sure hope not.

I was rather surprised how much this comment affected me. My inner therapist wanted to speak up and tell this person how hurtful her comment was, but I realized a wedding was not the best place to have this type of conversation. I removed myself and took a walk outside and realized why I was so upset. My heart was hurting for all of those suffering with poor body image because of comments like these. Often times this is all it takes to make someone decide that they need to change what they eat. That the next time they reach for that cupcake or something else deemed “bad” they should think twice about how this food may affect their body. That “bad” food causes one to gain weight, and this should be avoided at all costs. That our bodies are the most important thing and we should value them over any enjoyment we may get from food.

Not everyone will be affected by words like these. But the fact remains that you never know how someone will take something, or what kind of internal war they have going on in their head. What someone else chooses to eat has no impact on you, so the next time you think about commenting on your friend’s/ spouse’s/ co-worker’s/ partner’s food, think twice about the intention of your comment. You may be saving someone from a lifetime of questioning their choices on the very thing that keeps us all alive.

Feel The Fear, Do It Anyway

The last two months, I was preparing for a presentation that I recently gave at the Colorado Association of Addiction Professionals Conference. http://www.caap.us/

The presentation was entitled “Eating Disorders, A Hidden Addiction”.  When I was presented with the opportunity to co-present, I immediately jumped at it! It is one of my professional goals to speak at conferences, and this was the perfect chance to get my feet wet. I knew I would be nervous, but I thought I would be able to handle it since I’ve presented at and spoken in front of many high school and college classes. 

As the weeks went by and the date became closer, that familiar “friend” known as fear became ever more present in my thoughts. Any time I thought about the presentation, I thought about all the ways I could and would FAIL. I pictured myself at the front of the room tripping and falling my face. I pictured myself slurring my words and people throwing tomatoes at me to get off the stage. I pictured someone asking me a question that I would not be able to answer, and all the professionals in the audience would scorn and frown at me thinking how big of an idiot I was. Yes I thought ALL of these things on a daily basis. And yes, I am a therapist and I help other people learn to deal with their uncomfortable and intrusive thoughts. Just because I help others, does not mean I do not have some of my own thoughts that I’d rather not have.

In the past, prior to learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy http://contextualscience.org/act, I always tried to run from my thoughts. Whenever I had an intrusive thought I would try to replace it with positive self talk. For example, while thinking about my presentation and having all the aforementioned thoughts about falling on my face I would instead say to myself “You’ll be fine! None of these things will happen to you. You are smart and everyone will be able to see that during your talk.” This would usually work for a minute or two, but any time I became less conscious of controlling my thoughts, the other, more intrusive thoughts would come back. No matter how many times I tried to make these thoughts go away, they would always come back. It was maddening!

For this presentation, I used all of the techniques on myself that I use with my clients. My mantra for this presentation was “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway”. Every day, especially the week leading up to the presentation the thoughts became more and more intrusive. They were not only present during the day, but they also came out to play at night while I was trying to sleep! When I had these thoughts, instead of trying to fight them, or change them, I accepted them. I accepted that I was having them even though I didn’t like them. I literally spoke to these thoughts and said “I hear you loud and clear. There you are my old friend fear of failure. You can hang out for a while if you want, while I continue to move forward in the preparation for my presentation”. Also, I reminded myself that I was not yet giving the presentation, so in my present state there was nothing I could about the possibility of tripping in front of everyone. Reminding myself of this helped to bring me back to the present and reduced my anxiety. 

When the day of the presentation came I kept repeating, “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway”. If I could show myself that I could feel scared, but yet ACT in the service of my values, then I am living the life I want to live. Was I nervous during the presentation? YES! Did I still do it? YES!

The things we really want in life don’t always feel good in the moment. My clients often come to me because they feel anxious, depressed, lonely, scared, or afraid, and they want to change how they feel. Usually we think that if we feel differently, we will be able to act differently. However, it is usually the opposite. Once we act differently, we have proven to ourselves and showed our brains that we can do something different, and only then do we feel different.

 

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Relationship with Food

Our relationship with food in this country is not good. We have become so detached from our bodies that we eat based on the clock, while driving and texting, or what the latest fad diet tells us to do. Try these 5 simple things to help improve your relationship with food today!

#1. Notice Your Body

Most of us go through life and are completely unaware how we feel in our bodies. When I ask my clients the question “what does it feel like to be hungry?” many of them have no idea. This isn’t their fault. We have been trained as a society to ignore our hunger and not trust our bodies. But if we truly listen to our bodies they will give us the information we need to stay attuned to our hunger and fullness.

#2. Slow Down: Before, During, and After the Meal.

Most of us eat so quickly that we don’t taste our food and we definitely don’t enjoy our food. Food is meant to be enjoyed. It is a sensory experience involving all of our senses. Look at the presentation of the food, Smell the aroma, taste the different flavors, listen to the crunch between your teeth. It awakens your body

#3. Stop Judging Your Food

We often make judgments about food being either good or bad, which we then internalize to ourselves as if we are good or bad based on what we eat. Food is neither good nor bad. All foods can be included in a healthy diet. If you want a piece of cake, eat the cake. Do it slowly and with intention and purpose. Don’t eat in hiding because you feel ashamed for eating it. Feeling ashamed for eating something will only further destruct your relationship with food.

#4. Focus on Health First

Most of the media’s obsession with the latest fad diet has little to do with health and focuses on a person’s weight. Whatever happened to the idea of being HEALTHY? It seems that all people care about is being thin no matter if it’s healthy or not. When we think about promoting health within us it conjures up positive feelings and actions such as reaching for fruit or another healthy snack. When we think of being thin it brings up negative feelings of deprivation that will actually lead to eat that chocolate cake or bag of chips since you’re worried you might be deprived soon.  

#5. Stop Comparing

Your nutritional needs are completely different than your friend, husband, sister, co-worker, and next-door-neighbor. Don’t base what you eat on what they eat. Our nutritional needs depend on our height, weight, activity level, age, gender, metabolism, muscle to fat ratio, and a million other physiological processes that go on in our bodies every day.

How many times have you eaten the same size meal as your husband who weighs twice as much as you? Or ordered that dessert after dinner because your friend did? Or avoided getting that pastry at Starbucks because your friend didn’t get one even though you really wanted it?  If they want to eat something, or not eat something, good for them! But it doesn’t mean you have to follow along their lead. You can avoid this by doing #1 above. Do you want a dessert? Are you hungry? Are you full? What is your body telling you? If you follow #2 above then you will be able to answer these questions.

What do you think? Do you already do some of the things on this list? What can you try doing today that would improve your relationship with food? Let me know in the comments!

How to Get a Bikini Body!

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Step 1. Get a bikini

Step 2. Put bikini on your body

Summer is almost here which means it’s time for magazines, weight loss programs, and commercials to ramp up their bikini weight loss propaganda. As I was at the checkout counter this past weekend I saw no less than 8 titles of articles in magazines promoting different diet and weight loss plans “just in time for summer!”.

When did it become mandatory that one has a “perfect” body in order to step outside wearing a bikini? And while we’re on the subject, what exactly is a “perfect” body anyway? The media will tell you it is a woman that has no hips, large breasts, and a perfectly golden tan. It is estimated that less than 1% of the population is able to naturally and healthily achieve this “perfect” body.

How do we let go of the media’s view of what a perfect body should be and enjoy a day at the pool in our bikini’s?  We need to realize that are cognitive distortions are just that- distortions and recognize that we don’t need to believe and have them limit our outside bikini time.

Comparing

One of the most common distortions I hear in my office is ‘everyone else has a perfect body and I don’t’. First of all, this just isn’t true. If you actually went to a pool or beach and looked around, you would see all kinds of different bodies. Short, tall, fat, thin, hairy, bald. People come in all shapes and sizes; we just have to actually open our eyes to see it.

When you compare yourself to the models in magazines and TV commercials then all you will see are perfectly chiseled, hairless bodies. But this comparison is not fair to make. These people spend their lives trying to achieve that body, and then the images are airbrushed. Essentially, you are comparing yourself to a fake image! That person in the magazine doesn’t even look like that image.

The other way people compare themselves is by picking out the people in real life that you encounter that you judge yourself against. If you do encounter someone with that ‘perfect’ body at the pool, your mind will automatically compare yourself to this person and how you don’t measure up. It’s like your mind is looking to lose in the comparison game! Why did you pick that person to compare yourself to rather than someone else whose body you don’t admire as much? We always lose in the comparison game!

Focusing On One Body Part

Another way we bring ourselves down is by focusing on the one body part that we dislike the most and then overemphasizing it to make it mean more than it really does. For example, if we hate our butt and think it’s too big we may say something like “my butt is too big to even fit into a bikini, there’s no way I can go outside my butt won’t even fit into the pool!”

Perhaps, if we were to stop and look at other characteristics of our body such as our slender arms, or pretty eyes, we would see that our butt is not the only thing that makes up our body. But we unfairly put a magnifying glass to one body part and exaggerate it to make it be bigger literally and figuratively than it really is in our life.

Projecting Our Beliefs

Often our minds lead us to believe that “if I think I look bad then everyone else does too”. This is called projecting our own beliefs into the minds of others. If you were to actually walk out onto the pool deck in a bikini, what do think would happen? Would people come running and scream at you about how terrible you look? No! The fact is, probably no one would even notice you. And if they did actually notice you, trust me, you are thinking much worse things about your body then they ever would. The fact is, most people are so obsessed with their own thoughts that they don’t have time or care to think about how others look. Just because we evaluate ourselves a certain way, does not mean that others do as well.

I encourage you to recognize your cognitive distortions and how they limit your life. Is it possible for you to live the life you want, which includes wearing a bikini at the pool, while still having your cognitive distortion thoughts?

Simply recognizing your cognitive distortions will not be enough to make them go away. But if you engage in the very behavior that those thoughts are telling you to avoid, ie wearing a bikini to the pool, you are choosing to live your life alongside your painful thoughts, instead of allowing your thoughts to dictate your behavior.

Living in the Gray

A market research company recently inquired what I teach my clients during sessions. This company was interested in my dietetic work, even though I am also a mental health counselor. They asked me if I talk to clients about specific foods that they should or should not eat. If you read this post then you will already know my opinion on specific foods being labeled as "good" or "bad."  I explained why I do not recommend certain foods over others and why I do not call foods "good" or "bad." I tried to explain that I tailor recommendations to what the client is already eating, their food likes and dislikes, and their goals for their health and nutrition. The market research team did not like this answer; it seemed like they wanted me to say, 'I tell people don't eat____, and do eat______'.

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Recently, I was having a discussion with one of my clients about the importance of loving her body just the way it is now. This woman is moderately overweight and is having a difficult time learning to love her body. We discussed how she reacts to feelings about her body. When she doesn’t love her body, she develops negative feelings towards it. When she feels negative about her body, she is more likely to abuse it. So she continues the cycle of abusing her body with food, which keeps her in a perpetually overweight and unhealthy state.  She understands this idea and agrees with it; yet it remains a difficult concept for anyone in her situation to accept. While discussing this at a recent session she said, “Well it’s easy for you to say that because you are thin.” This comment stopped me in my tracks.

New Year's Resolutions. Are they really a good idea?

Oh New Years… The start of a new year, a fresh start, a time to really start living life…right?  The truth is, I used to make New Years Resolutions. They typically involved things like ‘see my friends more’, ‘work harder’, or ‘eat less sugar’.  The most common resolutions Americans make are to lose weight, eat healthier, and make more money. I would like to propose something new for you to try this year; NOT making any resolutions. I am not saying that it is wrong of you to want to make your life better. If you are overweight and it is causing health problems then I applaud you for wanting to lose weight to be healthier. If you believe making more money will help you live a happier life then that is great to have this as a goal.

Good food, Bad food… Does food have morals?

Almost every day in my office I hear a client say that they ate a certain food because it was “good” or they try to avoid all “bad foods”.  Another frequent discussion is a client stating “I am a bad person” because I ate a cookie, pizza, cake, or another food that is often deemed “bad” by society, or they say “I was good today”. Their determination of them “being good” is based on only eating foods that day that they determine to be “good”.  My question is “When did food develop morals?” I often joke to clients about the time I threw an almond at the wall during a session just to prove to that client that the almond “didn’t have feelings and therefore could not be inherently good or bad”.  The almond was not mad at me for throwing it against the wall because it has NO FEELINGS, and therefore, no sense of right and wrong.