Transformation Within and Without

Transformation Autumn Recovery Eating Disorders

I dimmed down my social media presence during August and September, enjoying more of my live connections. I was often tempted to pull out my phone and “share” some of the beautiful moments, but instead I paused, took a breath, and stayed with the moments. This felt like self-care during significant life change. 

I’m not interested in dropping Instagram or Facebook. I enjoy staying connected to my activist friends in the eating disorder world, local dance events, and extended family. Social media, when approached wisely, connects me to my values and creative expression, which is my lifeblood. In fact, my writing is flowing like a river after a summer of playfulness, travel, and “out-breath.” I’m ready for the “in-breath” of the more introspective days of autumn and winter. This is when I write vigorously. (Much of it not for public consumption.) 

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Summer is shifting into autumn. I took my last swim in Walden Pond (I think). Last weekend, I crossed the US/Canada border at Niagra Falls, creating a watery punctuation mark on a special journey of the heart, celebrating endings and beginnings. This weekend, I visited WaterFire in Providence, RI and experienced art that creates community. It felt integrating on many levels to be there with my high-school-aged daughters and a dear girlfriend from my own high school days. This morning I witness leaves dying as they burst into glorious, lively color in this seasonal transformation. 

Nutrition Counseling Mindfulness

This autumn, I’m beginning to work with 8 individuals who are reading my book Nourish together and taking a deeper dive into healing their relationships with food, body, and self.  I’m diving into the study of somatics and healing trauma. I’m taking on some new individual clients. I’m co-facilitating a multi-disciplinary supervision group for professionals in the eating disorders field who are recovered/ing, and teaching again at the Eating Disorders Institute at Plymouth State University. (There are one or two spaces in both of these. Please reach out with interest.) I’m also changing my hours so that I can be available for my daughters who are making the big transition into high school. When I can, I dance, even if it’s just in the kitchen with my teens and Lizzo. 

I’m a New Englander, so perhaps I feel the season’s drama more intensely. How are YOU honoring transformations? Do you take time to pause, reflect, write, breathe, and appreciate the changes that are happening within you and outside of you during this season of change? 

Is Yoga Right for You?

Yoga Eating Disorders Recovery

~~ This season’s blog is written by Guest Blogger Jacqueline Allman, graduate student in Plymouth University’s Eating Disorders Institute. She wrote this article as part of my “Nutrition Fundamentals and Counseling in Eating Disorders Recovery“ course this past summer. Thank you, Jacquie, for a helpful post about the benefits and pitfalls of incorporating yoga into eating disorders recovery work. ~~

Feet planted wide, I twist, breathe, and open into triangle pose. My body relaxes into the pose, and I feel a calm energy as I connect to the energy of the pose. Tension melts away. I feel strong, alive, and nourished.

Yoga was the first type of exercise that spoke to me. With three young children, I started a morning yoga self-care practice in my early thirties. My yoga practice helped to connect me with my feelings and my body. Yoga grounded me for the day ahead. While I still practice yoga occasionally, I now find joy in many types of movement. I credit yoga with teaching me that movement was something to enjoy.

Yoga is an embodied experience. It has been shown in studies to change the neurophysiology of the brain, increasing the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin—which help regulate mood—while decreasing cortisol, our fight-or-flight stress hormone. Studies have shown that yoga can help to decrease depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorder symptoms. Yoga increases introspective awareness, the ability to be aware of your internal bodily state, including hunger and fullness cues, feelings, and pain.

Intuitive Eating Non-Diet versus Weight Loss

Body dissatisfaction was recently shown to decrease significantly in women ages eighteen to thirty who practiced yoga twice a week for twelve weeks. Body dissatisfaction is linked to poor self-esteem and depression and increases the risk of eating disorders, so yoga may help women develop healthier relationships to their bodies (Ariel-Donges et al, 2019).

Practicing yoga involves attentive focus and awareness of internal body sensations. In a wholesome environment, yoga teaches self-compassion and resilience. Given all the potential benefits, should we all consider practicing yoga? Here is a potential pitfall. Simply because yoga can be beneficial in the treatment of eating disorders does not indicate that it will be helpful for all. Movement, at its best, is something we enjoy, not a prescription or a “should.” The very act of making it a should counteracts the embodied, connective aspect of the practice. As Heidi Schauster suggests in her book Nourish: “Physical activity is truly about being in your body…and being present.” (Schauster, 2018, p 106). She challenges the idea that exercise should be tedious, exhausting, or punishing, asserting instead that movement should be joyful and aligned with your own body’s wisdom about what type and how much activity is enough or right for you. For many, yoga can fill that need. Whatever exercise you choose, mindful, conscious movement will feel good to the soul.

Nourish Nutrition No Weight Loss Food Healing

If you think that yoga might fulfill these parameters for you, read on. For not all yoga classes, videos, and instructors help us to accept and celebrate our bodies. Indeed, yoga can contribute to negative body image and destructive behaviors. Chelsea Roff, founder of Eat Breathe Thrive, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing and helping individuals overcome eating disorders, struggled with anorexia in her youth. A yoga instructor herself, her organization trains yoga instructors to teach mindful eating and body confidence. In her article, “The Truth about Yoga and Eating Disorders,” she addresses potential dangers and concerns. Yoga teachers themselves may suffer from distorted body image or disordered eating. Their language may reinforce body dissatisfaction and unachievable stereotypes rather than self-awareness and acceptance. Similar to other forms of exercise, yoga can become prescriptive or compulsive. Studios may have a judgmental atmosphere or encourage radical cleanses and eating styles. However, in a body-positive, supportive environment, yoga can increase body acceptance and awareness.

Still interested in finding out if yoga is a form of movement that will feed your body and soul? Look for classes that are therapeutic such as relaxing, restorative, or gentle yoga. When taking a class, pay attention to how you feel in the class. Do you feel accepted and comfortable or judged and awkward? Are the participants and instructors of varying shapes and sizes? Is the language positive, emphasizing self-care, self-compassion, and loving awareness? Better yet, look for instructors who have been trained to work with eating disorders and trauma recovery. Yoga can become an important part of recovery. Take the time to listen to yourself and your body and find out if it is right for you.

Intuitive Eating Mindful Eating Non-Diet Anti-Diet

Works Cited:

Ariel-Donges, A., Gordon, E., Bauman, V., & Perri, M. (2019). Does yoga help college-aged women with body-image dissatisfaction feel better about their bodies? Sex Roles : A Journal of Research, 80(1-2), 41-51. doi:10.1007/s11199-018-0917-5

Cook-Cottone, C., Talebkhah, K., Guyker, W., & Keddie, E. (2017). A controlled trial of a yoga- based prevention program targeting eating disorder risk factors among middle school   females. Eating Disorders, 25(5), 392-405. doi:10.1080/10640266.2017.1365562

Douglass, L. (2011). Thinking through the body: The conceptualization of yoga as therapy for individuals with eating disorders. Eating Disorders, 19(1), 83-96. doi:10.1080/10640266.2011.533607

Douglass, L. (2009). Yoga as an intervention in the treatment of eating disorders: Does it help? Eating Disorders, 17(2), 126-139.

Hall, A., Ofei-Tenkorang, N., Machan, J., & Gordon, C. (2016). Use of yoga in outpatient eating disorder treatment: A pilot study. Journal of Eating Disorders, 4, 38-38.

Eat Breathe Thrive. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2019, from https://www.eatbreathethrive.org/

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Karlsen, K., Vrabel, K., Bratland-Sanda, S., Ulleberg, P., & Benum, K. (2018). Effect of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders: A single-blinded randomized controlled trial with 6-months follow-up. International Journal of Yoga, 11(2), 166-169.

Kreatsoulas, J. (n.d.). Yoga For Eating Disorders. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from https://www.yoga4eatingdisorders.com/

 Pacanowski, C., Diers, L., Crosby, R., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2017). Yoga in the treatment of eating disorders within a residential program: A randomized controlled trial. Eating Disorders, 25(1), 37-51.

Roff, C. (2014, September 08). The Truth About Yoga and Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/truth-yoga-eating-disorders

Schauster, H. (2018). Nourish: How to heal your relationship with food, body, and self. Somerville, MA: Hummingbird Press.

Stapleton, P., Crighton, G. J., Carter, B., & Pidgeon, A. (2017, February 9). Self-Esteem and Body Image in Females: The mediating Role of Self-Compassion and Appearance Contingent Self-Worth. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/wp- content/uploads/2018/05/Stapleton2017.pdf

This season’s blog is written by Guest Blogger Jacqueline Allman, graduate student in Plymouth University’s Eating Disorders Institute.

Reframing "Exercise"

Joyful Movement Exercise Fitness

I talked with two clients today about reframing this concept of “exercise.” In the U.S., we have such a complicated relationship with physical activity. We’re often compulsive about it or we’re resisting it, which is something that seems to happen with all “shoulds.” 


What would it be like to change movement into a “want” instead of a “should?” For example, this past weekend, I got my little front yard city garden started. I dug in the dirt and put some seeds and small farm plants into raised beds. I don’t like lifting weights, but I felt my strength as I carried 40-pound bags of topsoil. My muscles felt happy to be of use, and I profoundly enjoyed the process and promise of new Spring growth - on both an embodied and a deeper spirit and soul level. 

 

Eating Disorders Recovery Intuitive Eating

This is one form of movement that nourishes me. I can get blissfully lost in the process. What type of movement brings you joy? What gets you into your body — not in a self-conscious or body-outcome-oriented way, but in a way that feels good and feels integrating for where you are in your life path? What movement takes into consideration any body limitations you have in a compassionate and non-shaming way? 

 

Furthermore, how can we be the change we want to see in the world if our bodies are not attached to our minds? Several clients this past week talked about how much more CREATIVE they feel when they are feeding themselves enough and getting enough sleep. I’m a big fan of rocking the rhythm once in awhile to live life to the fullest, but it’s interesting to me to keep hearing that creativity flourishes better when we take care of our bodies and not just our minds. It makes sense. We take ACTION with our bodies — and do we ever need more fierce change agents in the world! 

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I encourage you to think about the kind of movement that brings you joy and vitality and strength — and do more of it — of course, only when you are fed and rested enough to really reap the benefits. What movement nourishes you? Planting, exploring, dancing, adventuring…? Think outside the box (or the gym). 

 

(“Joyful Movement” — Step 7 of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self) 



Sometimes a face plant is a prayer.

Face Plant Body Love Prayer

As I lie chest down in the tall grass and do as I often do in the morning (write), it feels different to be supported by the Earth in her Spring Splendor. A tree shades. Bees buzz by. Birds twitter overhead. A bunny hops close because I am so still. I am at home and I want and need nothing but the cool freshness of the lush green Earth under my belly. 

I come here to rest, reflect, re-energize after a full and feverish week. I feel so much and let it go into the moist, receptive ground beneath me. Insects crawl around my limbs, like my thoughts trying to take me from this reverie. I smile at the tickling distractions and return to letting go. 

I’m not doing. I’m not striving. I’m not creating. There is time enough for that. I am simply being with Mother Earth, letting her thank me for caring for her in my own small ways. Letting her embrace me in a grassy hug. She sees the shifts within me and she is open and receptive and unconditionally accepting. 

Body Positive Body Acceptance

There is no greater prayer for me than feeling the weight of my body on the Earth. In these challenging times, I need to pray this way often. (Yes, sometimes a face plant is a prayer.) I feel deeply how grateful I am to be in a body. These silent, spacious moments allow me to take up space so that I may create space for others and be a small-but-mighty force of radiant hope in a troubled world.

Body acceptance and connection is one of the hardest steps for clients and readers of my book Nourish. Everyone’s path to embodiment is unique. When do you feel grateful to be in your body? How does connecting with your body and senses support your Self, your relationships with other human beings, and your very own life path?

Clothes at Every Size

This is a guest post written by Simmons College dietetic intern, Daphne Levy, who worked with me for the month of April. Over the past year, I have been collecting resources for this blog post. Daphne, however, took the project to the next level, adding even more clothing resources for people of size. She also writes candidly about her lived experience of being in a body that not all stores cater to, which is something that I personally don’t experience. This makes Daphne a more fitting author of this Spring blog post. What I experience is called thin privilege and it’s for real. Some women in one of my groups this week talked about how it feels to experience weight stigma and fat shaming on a regular basis. It was eye-opening for the smaller-bodied women in the group who don’t experience this kind of treatment.

In New England, when the weather turns warmer and clothing layers are shed, it can be a time for people in all kinds of bodies to struggle to feel good about themselves. Spring is a time of rebirth and the blossoming of the new growth after a winter of inward contemplation and rest. Spring is not a time for body shame. A big thank you to Daphne for this insightful post. Please share it with your friends, particularly those who struggle to find clothes that fit their bodies.

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Clothes at Every Size

by Daphne Levy

Finding clothes that allow you to feel good in your body is one of the hardest things to do in recovery from disordered eating. Feeling good in a body should not be an experience only for thin people. Between having a poor body image and limited access to plus-size fashion, finding clothes that “feel good” can be a daunting task. Even with the increasing popularity of the body-positive movement, our society continues to promote mixed messages. I self-identify as a person who is “small fat.” This means I live in a body that is “obese,” but one that experiences less weight stigma than people in larger bodies. An example of the stigma I recently faced was when I went shopping at my favorite clothing store last weekend and I could not find a single thing that fit me. When I spoke to the employee about how problematic it was to not sell a size above large, she responded with, “If I had known they were going to discontinue plus-sizes, I would not have accepted the job here.” I have been a long-time customer of this retail store, so when I learned that this specific location discontinued plus-sizes, I was shocked.

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This experience left me feeling incredibly disappointed, insecure, and confused. While waiting in line with my friend who was purchasing clothing, I noticed there were several shelves that contained various kinds of candy and chocolate bars. At that moment, I recognized how misleading it was to promote these harmful messages. Why was it okay to sell a variety of foods that are commonly demonized as “junk,” while also shaming body diversity? How is it okay for clothing stores to sell candy but not a size above large?

I left that store feeling extremely upset, yet hopeful knowing that my friend and I were going to another store. As soon as I walked into this store, I could locate the clothing racks that carried my size. I was immediately relieved to see numerous racks of clothing that had sizes bigger than the ones I wear — in plain sight. This was my first positive shopping experience since being in recovery from my eating disorder.

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Living in this incredibly fatphobic society makes living in a fat body hard. I use the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor term in the hope of reclaiming its meaning as such. With that said, it can be so hard to find your personal style in recovery. It might even be traumatizing if you live in a larger body. There are several reasons why this might be. One of the main reasons is that most fashion bloggers/influencers are thin. Additionally, the retail stores that do carry plus-sizes typically only carry up to sizes 1-2XL. This is an example of fatphobia and the stigma that fat folks face everyday. Brands that claim themselves as “inclusive” should not have a size limit because that portrays that they only accept a certain type of fat person. I believe that brands carrying plus-sizes should offer customizable clothing and should feature fat people wearing their clothes on their website.

I would like to validate the challenge of witnessing your body change (read: gain weight) throughout recovery. Not only do you have to witness your body changing, but you continuously have to nourish it and challenge your Eating Disorder Voice all day long. Add buying clothes to the list of things to do, and no wonder you might feel unmotivated!

But let’s say you wake up one day, feeling courageous. Picture yourself as “recovered” for a moment. What does that look like from the outside? What would you be wearing? If you live in a larger body and find that second question difficult, let me ask you, what would you want to wear if you were in a smaller body?

It is more than okay if you cannot answer those questions. I don’t blame you. Diet culture has framed feeling confident in your own skin a radical act, especially if you are fat. Having limited access to clothes that reflect your personality and style makes it even more intimidating. I can only imagine how it might feel to live in a body that is constantly rejected and invisible in this society. If you live in a larger body and experience this type of stigma regularly, I want you to know that I see you and I won’t stop fighting for you.

Below is a list of stores/brands that carry a range of plus sizes. Please note that the size range listed comes from the brand’s website or their size guide and may be different in the store.

A little bit of everything

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Higher end

Swimwear & more

Activewear

If you liked this content and would like to read more about my non-linear 10-step approach to healing your relationship with food, body, and self (starting with a free worksheet), click on the green button below.

What is Embodied Living?

Embodiment Embodied Living

I often talk with clients about what it means to inhabit the body and to live in an embodied way. When our body says, “I’m tired,” and we take care of it with sleep — or “I’m hungry,” and we feed it, we are practicing embodied self-care. But what about the less-obvious ways that we connect to our bodies?

Sometimes when I’m in meditation — or simply engaging in life in a less harried way — my body feels like it’s been hit with a lightning bolt. Heat and energy rise up from my toes to my head and I feel a restlessness and a deep calm at the same time. I call this sensation Truth Rising.

Nourish Book Eating Disorders Awareness Week

I can choose to ignore Truth Rising and keep organizing my sock drawer, or I can stop, listen, and do what feels deep-down truthful in that moment. Sometimes I have to write (lots of times I have to write), sometimes I have to pray and wrestle with something deep in my soul, sometimes I have to do a really hard thing that I don’t want to do. 

Like confront someone. Or set a boundary on my time and energy. Or say “no.” Or say “yes.” Or dig deep down to that angry part of my soul that feels crusty and unpracticed and say something that is controversial but honors my heart and being.

Sometimes Truth Rising comes like gangbusters through my body. I honor it by listening to it, breathing through it, noticing what it is telling me, and making choices that respect it (and ultimately my soul). Sometimes I have to wait a bit to know what it’s saying to me and sometimes the time to act is Now.

Embodied Living

Have I ignored Truth Rising over my lifetime? Hell, yeah. Way more than I’d like to admit. It’s so darn easy when you’ve had good training in Truth Ignoring. In fact, I’ve been an overachiever in Truth Ignoring. The world teaches us to plod along and use our minds instead of our guts and soul-stirrings. Our brains are amazing parts of us, but I don’t think they are the clearest paths to our spirits.

As I tell my clients, embodied living sets you free and brings you closer to the life that you want to lead, whatever that life might be. When we feed ourselves well and get enough sleep, we create room for different communication from our bodies. The Truths we hold in our hearts and souls bring us to living a life that is naturally more loving and expansive.

In the moment, that Truth Rising sensation is about me and my truth, but it’s way more than just me. If I’m living in Truth, I’m doing so that others around me can live in theirs more closely, too. If we are parents, we feel those eyes on us, but all of us touch so many lives throughout any given day — or fail to touch them when we aren’t present. 

Inspiration Diet Wellness Non-Diet Weight Loss

Truth Rising is so incredibly and delightfully (sometimes scarily) contagious. I see it in the groups I facilitate and in the groups I participate in. When we live our lives more closely to Truth, then we live our lives larger and more connected — and have the individual and collective energy to make the world a better place.

All of this comes to us through our very own bodies. I described what Truth Rising feels like in my body, but I know it feels different in different bodies. There are so many ways to practice embodiment and to live our lives fully. But we don’t do this by trying to change our bodies or by ignoring their messages or controlling them. We do this by listening.

It’s Almost March: Are You in New Year’s Resolution Meltdown?

Nourish New Years Resolutions February

So many of us set goals to change our diet or exercise in the new year. Then, by March, we burn out and the gyms are empty again. This can leave us feeling demoralized and ashamed, as if we somehow failed or don’t have enough willpower. The end of February is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It’s just about that time we start beating ourselves up because we haven’t maintained our new year’s resolutions. And for those of us who feel victorious, it’s a good time to ask if our fitness and eating goals have become so rigid and obsessive that we’re miserable and on our way to an eating problem.

Instead, let’s reframe resolutions this year and think of them as explorations. Not big, sweeping changes that aren’t sustainable, but deeper goals that reward us on many levels and build slowly over the year. And, in honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, let’s create explorations that will prevent and not encourage crazymaking around food or shame our bodies.

Diet Weight Loss Non-Diet Intuitive Eating

1.    I resolve not to diet.

Set realistic goals about the things that you’d like to change about your relationship with food and body. Be patient with yourself and honor the process it takes to get there. Research shows that dieting doesn’t bring sustained weight loss, yet the $60 billion diet industry profits from our low self-worth. Vow to never diet again and instead make choices aligned with taking good care of yourself at any size – which sometimes means eating cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday or treating yourself to your favorite dish. Food restriction and overeating are opposite sides of the same coin. Don’t deprive yourself; instead, listen to the wisdom within your body that tells you when and how to eat that’s best for you.

2.) I resolve to include conscious movement in my life.

 The right music can transform dish-washing into a satisfying dance party in my kitchen. Movement comes in all shapes and sizes. Think outside the box – or the gym. What form of movement nourishes and feels good to your body and soul? Do you like to move your body alone or with others – outside or inside? Does vigorous or more gentle movement ground you? If you feel joy when you move your body, you’ll be more likely to do it again and again. It’s not a truly healthy habit if it stresses you out or doesn’t bring you joy.

Conscious Joyful Movement

3.) I resolve to feel my feelings instead of eating or starving them away.

We often use food — either over- or under-eating — as a way to deal with (or not deal with) challenging feelings or thoughts. Eventually, it can just become habit. Mindless overeating is something almost all of us do at times, but it also can be a way of self-soothing when our physical and emotional needs aren’t being met. Do you find yourself eating more food than is comfortable to keep yourself awake — or during social obligations that aren’t all that fun? Maybe you actually want sleep or to be in different company, but you treat yourself to food instead. You take care of the part of you that enjoys yumminess in your mouth, but not the other part of you that needs sleep or connection. Strive to meet the needs underneath the feelings and you may find that food falls into place as just one of the many pleasures of life.

4)   I resolve to discover what truly nourishes my heart and soul.

Nourish Heart and Soul Eating Disorder

We can be so afraid in our culture to sit still and ask ourselves what really fills us up. We compulsively eat, drink, shop, exercise, text, clean, play games, and work. We are sometimes afraid to simply be and to check in with our hearts. Are we afraid of what we might find? We may not know our heart’s desire. If we do know, we may not know the first thing about connecting to it or bringing it into our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to change and try something else, even if that something else might be good for us. We may be so conditioned to feeling lousy, criticizing ourselves, and living in our heads instead of our hearts; sometimes it’s hard to imagine operating otherwise.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to eat or exercise differently in the new year and setting goals. But don’t forget that the reason you are overindulging in food, drink, or sedentary living may be that you are starving for what matters most to you. Explore this instead and watch what happens! Check in with yourself (or, if you are a planner, your calendar) every month or season. Are you filling your life with the things that matter most? If not, make appointments with yourself. Build that nourishment right into your life the way you schedule other priorities. You matter.  And if some binge-eating, exercise resistance, or loss of center creeps back in here and there, try dispensing with the self-criticism. Recognize this as a sign that your soul and spirit need more nourishment and give yourself that gift.

This Eating Disorders Awareness Week, be gentle with yourself and explore what you hunger for.


Giving Thanks and a Recipe for Salve(ation)

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We are entering a busy, bustling holiday season. I don’t know about you, but part of me gets overwhelmed with all the gathering, gift-giving, and good tidings — even though I also love the rhythm, warmth, and festivity of this time of year. 

This Thanksgiving weekend, I’m taking time to notice what I’m grateful for in my life and aiming to go intentionally into the holiday season. 

Is there a way that you can infuse more fun and festivity into this season without adding on to your already full to-do list? Maybe it involves checking in and asking yourself what feels important to you this time of year. 

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What can you say “no” to and what do you really want to say “yes” to? Can you approach the next several weeks with intention and belief that you deserve a holiday season that is nourishing and not harried? 

I’m going to try. 

Today my entrepreneurial daughter and I prepared some homemade hand salve for her to sell at her school’s Holiday Fair. This rich, creamy balm is made with raw honey, coconut oil, olive oil, melted beeswax, and lemon essential oil. Truly a feast for the senses. We had fun working on it together. 

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This is one of those holiday traditions that connects me to what feels important in my life: family, creativity, and traditions or practices that encompass the changing New England seasons. I felt nourished on many levels. 

What do you discover when you look inside and ask what you really need as we enter the darker winter season of festivity and introspection? 

Here’s that recipe from my home to yours. We can all use a little “salve-ation” this time of year. 


Rich Honey Hand Balm

author Stephanie Pollard

yield 8 ounces

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil

  • 1/4 cup almond oil — or we used avocado oil, since nut-free is more allergy-friendly

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 5 tablespoons beeswax pastilles — or leftover chips of beeswax candles 

  • 1 tablespoon shea butter

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons raw honey

  • Essential oils — we used lemon with this batch

  • 8-ounce glass jar or several small tins with lids

Instructions

  1. Combine everything except for the raw honey in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high in 30-second increments for 2 minutes, until the oils and beeswax have completely melted.

  2. Whisk in the raw honey and 10-20 drops of the essential oil of your choice and immediately pour into a glass jar.

  3. Let cool to room temperature before testing. If you would like to adjust the texture, re-melt the balm and add either more beeswax (harder) or more oil (softer) until the desired texture is reached.

(Recipe by Hello Glow at https://helloglow.co/rich-honey-hand-balm/)






Food Insecurity and the “War on Obesity”   

EatingDisordersAwarenessDiversity

Guest Blog Post by Joyce Nadeau, LCSW, School Social Worker

Sarah* comes to my office and appears embarrassed about a request she needs to make.  She is not coming just for herself; she is coming for her family.  A lot rests on her shoulders when both of her parents are unable to provide for her and her brother.  I invite her in and she immediately starts apologizing: “My dad will get paid next week, and I am sorry to ask you again, but can you get us some groceries?”  I immediately remind her that this is no problem. I ask how much they need and how long they will be without.  She again apologizes and talks about the jobs her dad has done and not been paid for.  Again, I remind her that I am happy to help out and it's no trouble at all.  

FoodInsecurityWaronObesity

Sarah hands me a list which reads “peanut butter, bread, ramen noodles, milk.”  I take her list and thank her and suggest she go get breakfast at the cafe.  She hates to eat at school, but I suggest it anyway.  She is a child in a large body who frequently experiences food insecurity. I remind myself that not all hungry kids look emaciated. I could send her to the local food bank, as it is open on every other Tuesday, but the fresh vegetables are a challenge for her family.  Beets are great, but not if you only have a microwave.  Sarah knows that I will not buy the groceries on her list; instead, I will give her a certificate for a local grocery store.  The list is her way of not asking for too much.

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Sarah stands out in the affluent community she and her family settled in.  They live in one room of a relative’s home.  Sarah and her little brother depend on every resource the community has in order to survive.  However, food is still a significant issue.  The community, in an effort to support those with food insecurity, developed a food bank that provides fresh produce from local gardens.  Sarah’s mother was uncomfortable when she told me that most of the foods at the food bank require a stove.  She longs for a food bank with cereal and peanut butter.  She also shared that on one trip to the food bank, she accepted a bag of leeks because she was too embarrassed to admit she could do nothing with them.  

Well-meaning people develop policies to help those in need in our country.  Unfortunately, the “childhood obesity” campaigns have proven that policy that focuses on weight instead of health do more harm than good. I’ve put “childhood obesity” in quotes because the term itself carries a stigma that can further alienate and affect the well-being of individuals and families. In recent years, successful programs to address food insecurity have been under attack as they are pulled into the arena to fight “childhood obesity.”  The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as Food Stamps, and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have been evaluated to examine ways in which they may help reduce kids’ weight. 

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An example of a policy to amend SNAP occurred in New York state. The Department of Mental Hygiene and Human Resources Administration tried to prohibit the use of food stamps to purchase any beverages, with the exception of milk and 100% juice, with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces.  This would have eliminated most sodas, vegetable juices, iced teas, and convenience beverages like juice boxes.  Seems like a good idea?  It might also be a policy created to remind the poor that they can not make reasonable choices for their families.  New York was not alone in the push to reduce options for recipients of SNAP.  Proposals like these have come up in many states.

Another policy directed at the National School Lunch Program was to require more offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches. Again, this sounds good on the surface, but it ended up making the program cost prohibitive for some of the poorest school districts in the nation. The policy ultimately puts schools at risk for dropping out of the program. This is yet another example of how an effort to reduce “childhood obesity” can actually put children at greater risk for food insecurity. 

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If these policies don’t work to solve food insecurity and improve the health of families, then what can we do? A radical idea would be to increase options on SNAP rather than reducing them.  This is being done in some cities where SNAP can be used at local farmers' markets.  This allows the family with the means to prepare vegetables to buy them but does not limit options for families that can’t.  Since the more-veggies-at-school-lunch policy is not solving the problem of food insecurity (and perhaps making it worse in many communities), another non-restrictive idea is to extend the food lunch programs to include breakfast and summer lunch.  Many communities have moved in this direction.  

The answer to “childhood obesity” does not lie in punishing families through policies that restrict access to certain types of food. Some might argue that, like dieting (where 96% of people gain the weight back, often feeling demoralized in the process), restricting access to a wide variety of foods creates more deprivation and stigma.  These policies limit individuals’ and families’ freedom of choice, and sometimes limit access to food in general. This creates more psychological and actual scarcity. The solution to “childhood obesity” is to work instead toward child and family health. Let’s change the focus from weight to health and fight food insecurity with more options for those at risk.

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*Name changed to protect privacy. 

References:

Gundersen, C. (2015). Food Assistance Programs and Child Health. The Future of Children, 25(1), 91-109. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43267764

Ximena Ramos Salas. (2015). The ineffectiveness and unintended consequences of the public health war on obesity. Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne De Santé Publique, 106(2), E79-E81. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/canajpublheal.106.2.0e79

Guest Blog Post by Joyce Nadeau, LCSW, School Social Worker

How To Raise Kids to Love Food, Their Bodies, and Themselves

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There are so many confusing messages about how to eat. It seems that every week there is a new “healthy eating plan” that is “cleaner” than the rest. They sound like breakthroughs, but most of them are diets in disguise. In the United States, the diet industry is a $60 billion industry. And the research shows that 96% of people who go on diets to lose weight will gain the weight back (often plus more), bringing them back to the next book, program, or product. The United States also has approximately 6 to 11 million people with eating disorders, and eating disorders are the number one killer of all psychiatric illnesses.

All of that said, in this culture, how do we raise children to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies? How do we prevent the suffering of eating disorders of all types: restrictive anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and all the variants in between?

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1)    Stop the Diet Talk

Ideally, be a parent that is not dieting. If you are, then try to keep it out of your child’s consciousness as much as you can. (Know that once they get older, this is nearly impossible.) Restrictive eating is not sustainable and it creates a cycle of struggle with food and body that can last a lifetime. Healthful, balanced eating is something that you may want your child to imitate, but if you are a chaotic eater who goes back and forth between restricting and overeating compulsively, your child will be learning how to regulate eating and appetite while watching you. Most of the clients that I work with who struggle with compulsive eating had dieting parents that they imitated or they were put on a diet at a young age by a well-meaning parent or medical professional. The greatest risk factor for struggling with weight as an adult is dieting in childhood and adolescence. Please don’t encourage it or demonstrate to your child how to do it.

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2)    Stop the Fat Shaming

Please consider letting go of the myth that we need to live up to the body shape that is the cultural favorite of the day. I’m going to specifically talk here about women, though I am aware that our cultural biases towards thinness and perfection do, indeed, affect persons of all genders. For ease of writing, I will use a binary distinction, “woman/female,” knowing well that gender is not a binary construct for many people.

Many non-Western cultures today view female fatness as a sign of health, wealth, and vitality. Before the 1800s, so did Americans. In colonial days in the U.S., the voluptuous figure was generally seen as more desirable. In the 1900s, we significantly shifted our aesthetic appreciation of women’s bodies, and the media began to show thin, lithe figures as the ideal. At the same time, the growing diet industry sold us the belief that we could do something to our bodies to live up to that thinner ideal. Feminist scholars highlight the rise of thinness and diet culture alongside the rise of women’s liberation. Many believed it to be a backlash and response to the emerging power and equality of women, feared by the patriarchal structure of society.

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All genders are affected by a thin ideal and weight stigma. Making someone feel bad about their body size—even casual negative talk about fatness or larger bodies—is damaging to children of all sizes. Those in larger bodies will feel they are “less than” and those in smaller bodies will feel they will need to work harder to not be a part of that stigmatized group. We all suffer when we don’t accept our differences and instead place a moral judgment on body size. Don’t tolerate negative fat talk from your kids and please examine your own biases.

Furthermore, even well-meaning comments about weight to a child in a larger body 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 a challenging relationship with food for decades. Negative body thoughts (who doesn’t have them sometimes?) can go awry and become the foundation on which develops a terrible relationship with eating and fitness. For some, this may ultimately lead to an eating disorder. I invite you to reframe how you talk to yourself and your kids about body weight and shape.

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3)    Stay in Your Own Lane

Ellyn Satter, MSW, RDN introduced me to one of my favorite “rules” about how to feed children well. It’s about division of responsibility. Your responsibility as parents and caregivers is to provide a variety of nutritious food. Your child’s responsibility is to eat it. When we try to move into our kids’ lanes and “get” them to eat certain things (or not eat certain things) by coercion, reward, cooking special meals, or doing somersaults in the kitchen, then we are crossing a boundary. We are not helping our children to develop the skills to self-regulate and decide what feels best in their bodies. Some basic limits around sweets are fine, for example, as long as everyone in the house abides by them, but cutting out all sugar entirely is a recipe for a kid who binge-eats at their friends’ houses by middle school. I’ve seen it! (My kids’ Halloween candy gets dusty months later, but some of their friends may still look for it.)

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Don’t impose food rules on your child. (Ideally don’t have them yourself.) If so, your child may use food as a way to separate and individuate from you during the teen years. You will have plenty of other things to negotiate, like curfews. Ideally, food should not be a battleground and a place where a teen feels “control.”

4)    Love Your Body, or at Least Accept It

One of the best ways to accept our bodies as parents is to understand that there are so many forces at work that affect our body size, shape, and health. There are reasons that we have the body shape and size that we do—reasons that have nothing to do with how we eat. Heredity, hormones, and lifelong physical-activity patterns (including how naturally mobile and fidgety or grounded and still you are) have a profound effect on your body size and shape. Even epigenetics research points to your mother’s or grandmother’s eating habits while pregnant as affecting your body weight. (Interestingly, starving moms produce larger-weight children.)

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Bad body talk is somehow acceptable in our society. If we look around, we hear it all over. It’s as if it is entirely reasonable to bash our bodies at every turn.

“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 with eating disorders have comments like these going on in their heads so much all day that it’s hard for them to focus on much else. Others 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 that percolates in the background.

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Yes, the beauty industry insists on making us feel bad about our appearance by airbrushing pores, photo-shopping thighs, and giving us a picture of human beings that is downright fake. After all, if we felt excellent about ourselves, then we probably wouldn’t buy that face cream or lipstick or diet product. Teach your children to be media literate and know this about the diet and beauty industries.

And, above all else, work on accepting your own unique body. If you chastise your thighs in front of your daughter, you teach her that there might be something wrong with hers. After all, you are genetically linked and there is a good chance her body will resemble yours at some point. If you demonstrate love and care and respect for your own body, then it is more likely your children will develop this themselves.

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5)    See Your Child as a Whole Person

I love being a proud mama and telling the story of my daughter in sixth grade. One day a group of boys in her class were judging the girls in on how they look. She and her twin sister were in the top three, but she did not like it. To my amazement and delight, she went on to tell me that she marched up to one of the boys and told him to stop this practice. She said, “It makes the girls at the bottom of the list feel bad, and it makes me feel bad, too.” What she was trying to articulate is that even being told that you look gorgeous can feel objectifying and wrong. I assured her that she is so much more than a pretty face, and she agreed. I admired her courage and knew that I certainly wouldn’t have been so brave in my middle school days.

See your children as whole people and encourage them to see others that way, too. How we look is just one facet of who we are, and it’s certainly not the most important one. Kids understand this implicitly until our selfie culture teaches them otherwise. Create a good foundation for appreciating one’s whole self.

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6)    Get Help for Problems Early, and Be Discerning About the Help

Please get help for yourself if any of the above tips are hard for you. A nutrition therapist/registered dietitian  or psychotherapist specializing in disordered eating is a good place to start if you want to examine your own body image and relationship to food.

If you notice that your child is developing a complicated relationship with food and/or her body, please express concern and love. Tell her that you would like her to get some support and help so that she can feel better and enlist the help of professionals (psychotherapists, registered dietitians, and medical care providers) who have expertise in eating disorders, even if your child is not fully there yet. If your child is younger than age 12, the work may be with parents only. Just any registered dietitian or therapist may not be able to address your child’s concerns in a holistic way. I have heard many stories of professionals exacerbating the problem, particularly if they have their own biases against larger bodies and they haven’t examined them or they don’t have training in working with eating disorders.

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The research suggests that early help for disordered eating creates better recovery outcomes, less relapse, and a greater likelihood that your child will grow up to have a healthy relationship with food, body, and self.  Overall, creating a climate of love, support, and acceptance at home will go a long way. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about many of the cultural and other influences on our children, but we can be a positive nurturing force in the mix.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you can obtain my book Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self  here at https://www.anourishingword.com/the-book/.

"Food Is Love (But Don’t Eat Too Much)"—Why This Mixed Message Hurts, Part 2

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This is Part 2 of an excerpt from the Introduction of the newly published Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Selfby Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S (Hummingbird Press).

Eating, while something we often take for granted, is a learned behavior. And things can indeed go awry in the feeding or eating relationship. In 1996, I published an article based on some work that I did in graduate school with children who had multiple physical deformities and who had been fed through their stomachs by a gastric tube since birth. These kids were typically born without use of their arms and legs. They struggled in their lives in so many ways. One of the areas was eating. These children had missed the natural windows in infancy and toddlerhood, when feeding cues happen and feeding progresses. They didn’t need to learn how to eat because they had all of their nutritional needs met through the tube connected to their stomachs. As you can imagine, they didn’t find food pleasurable at all, and many had aversions to having any food introduced into their mouths.

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My colleagues and I worked with these children to investigate their fears around food and, for some, to eventually learn to find pleasure in eating. We proposed a step-wise process to transition the children from tube-feeding to feeding by mouth. Some of the steps included establishing a positive relationship between feeder and child, oral stimulation and other work on the feeding environment, and eventually a progressive, behavioral feeding program. I still remember like it was yesterday the expressions on some of the kids’ faces when they finally got past their fight-or-flight response to having food near their mouths. They started to enjoy the taste of something delicious for the first time.

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I learned a lot from my time with these kids. They are, of course, an extreme example; but I do believe that all of our relationships with food develop out of our experiences and culture. When imbalanced, it takes intention, attention, and sometimes hard work to change our behaviors around food. The steps outlined in my book are quite different from the steps created in that child research long ago, but the result is the same: A healthier, more life-giving relationship with eating and its connection to the body and self.

What do you do if you’ve gotten so far away from a natural way of eating? What if you don’t even know when you’re hungry or full? Or what you want to eat? What if you only know how to choose the “safe” or lowest-calorie choice off of a menu, and it scares you to think of ordering what you really want? What if your relationship with food has been severely off-kilter, and you find yourself in a diet-binge cycle or feel terribly guilty after eating anything with sugar or carbohydrates? What if you want to have a more easeful, peaceful relationship with food, but it doesn’t feel possible? After all, you grew up around dieters or were put on your first diet when you were ten. Or maybe you now read all the nutrition blogs and see the happy, healthy-looking, beautiful people who must know how to eat better than you do. Instead, I offer you a non-prescriptive, non-diet, body-accepting approach to healing your relationship with food.

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The ten chapters or Steps of Nourish are not meant to be linear. I’ve put the Steps in a certain order because it’s a progression that made sense to me and that seems to play out in my work with clients. They are meant to be fluid, liquid steps—not fixed or rigid. They were certainly cornerstones in my own journey and for many who consider themselves to have worked on and obtained a healthy relationship with food. It doesn’t mean that we don’t struggle with self-compassion or body acceptance anymore. It means that we have ways to deal with issues when they come up instead of restricting, dieting, or overeating. It also doesn’t mean that we never under- or overeat.  We sometimes eat mindlessly or in an un-attuned way. When we do, we get curious—not critical—about it. We notice it happening, check in, learn from the episode of funky eating, and ultimately let it go.

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The first chapter or Step 1 involves ditching dieting: The important foundational step of intuitive eating. Step 2 is about body acceptance.  We will delve into the research-supported world of Health-At-Every-Size® (HAES®) and bust up the weight-loss mindset that so often wrecks our eating and takes us away from caring for our bodies well. Step 3 is about developing awareness of our relationship with food, and its challenges, before trying to change anything. Step 4 is about body trust. I describe mindfulness and practices for tuning in to hunger and fullness, and I discuss the role meditation can play in this process. Step 5 is a “meaty” chapter about mindful eating choices and nutritional common sense. Step 6 invites you in to conscious, joyful movement of your body. Step 7 delves into the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) principle of values clarification. We will look closely at universal human needs and how we nourish our souls. Step 8 encourages us to build sustainable self-care practices and deal with stress. Step 9 involves developing a self-connected eating style. In this chapter, I’ll talk about questions that often come up in my practice around vegetarianism, gluten, other food sensitivities or allergies, food addiction, and “clean” eating. Lastly, Step 10 encourages you to know the company that you keep and build a tribe of support around you during the healing and growing process.

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My wish is that these steps will help guide you on your journey to balance and wellness. It is my desire that all people learn to identify their deepest needs, wants, and hungers and to feed themselves in such a way that they feel nurtured, loved, freed up, and ready to take on the world. You don’t have to spend so much time agonizing about what to eat or not eat. But you do need to devote some time and attention to feeding yourself well, on many levels.

Of course, my book is not a substitute for the incredible healing power of therapeutic relationships and professional help. When someone comes to see me for individual or group nutrition-therapy work, they often have other team members: Psychotherapists, primary care providers, psychiatrists, yoga/ movement/art therapists, naturopaths, etc. I encourage you to share your reading with trusted care providers and bring this work into any personal health and wellness work you are already doing. The stories of many different people are in the book’s pages. I changed the names of the clients who honored me with their stories to protect their privacy. I also use the pronoun “she” a fair amount and sprinkle in a “he” here and there, to mirror the demographics of my practice. I have learned that gender isn’t binary, so my aim is not to exclude you if you do not use these pronouns to identify yourself. I use them for ease of reading and apologize in advance for any challenge that my wording brings up for you. Problems with eating, body, and self know no boundaries and affect all of us.

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Lastly, please read my book with a grain of sea salt. As with any advice from a health professional or other, assorted wisdom-imparting human beings, I invite you to take the information, exercises, and anecdotes to heart that work for you and leave the rest. You are in charge of your journey. (If you don’t feel like you are in charge with food, well, we get to that shortly. Step 1 may help immensely, though it can be one of the hardest steps.) No one knows more about what you need than you do. I hope that this book helps you get in touch with what truly nourishes you on so many levels.

If you liked this passage, please nourish yourself with the whole book. Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self is available here on my website, on Amazon, and on Barnes and Noble

"Food Is Love (But Don’t Eat Too Much)"—Why This Mixed Message Hurts

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This is Part 1 of an excerpt from the Introduction of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self, by Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, soon-to-be published March 2018.

When most of us were newborn infants, food was indeed Love. We simply asked for what we needed. We cried. If our caregivers were tuned in, we got fed. You may have noticed that it’s hard to feed a baby--breast or bottle--without a comforting embrace. When conditions are right, feeding is one of the first times our needs are expressed and met as human beings. If you currently eat or withhold food to comfort yourself, you are not alone. You probably learned at a very young age that comfort and food are connected. In fact, food and love and caregiving are rather entwined. In its purest form, eating is a pleasure and feels good.

When we stray with food, we often long to feel cared for but don’t have the skills to ask for what we want. We’d like to be that little baby who cries when hungry and feeds until she has enough, drifting off to a sweet, satisfied sleep. As adults, we have to take breaks to attend to our bodies, nourish them with food, and then return to our activities refreshed, fueled, and with new appreciation because we’ve paused to take the time to care for ourselves.

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This self-care is not easy when eating becomes a mind-driven activity. And, yes, the very health and nutrition fields of which I am a part are at least partly to blame for us straying from that natural way of eating. We ask our minds instead of our bodies what they need. “What should I eat? What has the most nutrition? The least calories? The least carbs?” If you’ve ever stood agonizing over a menu, not knowing what the “right” choice is, you are not alone.

Part of the problem is that we have so many food choices and so much health and nutrition information—often contradictory. We tend to use our minds to make food choices and leave our bodies out of the decision. Doing so takes us away from our innate capacity to feed ourselves well. We were born with that ability, but the diet and health industry—and all the other things in life pulling for our attention—steer us away from listening to that inner wisdom.

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I fortunately stumbled upon Ellyn Satter’s work in 1992. She blew me away with her message: Your body knows what to eat. I grew up in the Diet Pepsi 1970s, with almost daily ballet classes and the message that I should be careful not to eat too much or my stomach wouldn’t be so “dancer-ly.” I was unused to making food decisions based on my body’s requests. The more I tried to eat less, the more I encouraged binge-eating. Satter inspired me to learn about the psychology of eating along with nutrition. I discovered the role that my food struggles had in my adult transition. I relearned how to feed myself well. Eventually, I developed a more loving relationship with my body and emerging self.

For twenty years, I have assisted clients who have also lost sight of the natural connection that food has to take care of body and self. Whether through over- or under-eating—or cycling between the two—so many of us lose the ability to trust our bodies to tell us what and how much to eat. 

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Often a new acquaintance or client will ask, “Heidi, will you recommend a good basic book on nutrition for me to read?” I feel repeatedly stumped by that question. There are thousands of health and nutrition books out there. I often, in good faith, can’t recommend them. Why? Because so many health and nutrition books are diet books in disguise—or they have messages that encourage dieting or controlling your food intake to achieve the desired outcome. There is no “basic” book that I can find that explains nutrition the way my colleagues and I do in practice—and does so in a way that I found so healing when I was recovering from disordered eating myself.

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How do we get back to this connected, embodied way of eating? My hope is that my book Nourish will assist you in re-learning to tune in—to your body, as well as your feelings, needs, and wants—so that you can make choices with food and other areas of self-care that are life-sustaining and supportive of your goals, dreams, and core values. Often, when our relationship to food and body feels out of alignment, other areas in our lives feel that way, too.

Nourish was born out of a deep desire to integrate work that I’ve done both personally and professionally. After witnessing so many people’s journeys, I believe that healing our relationships with food and our bodies brings us to richer, fuller, and more meaningful lives. Care for yourself by consciously eating, mindfully moving your body, and building sustaining self-care practices and connections; it truly does set you free.

But it doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’re out of practice or never actually learned to do this self-care in the first place. Nourish will give you a road map to finding that freedom. My hope is that the book reads like a conversation with someone you can trust to help you tune in to your own body’s wisdom.

No one knows more about what you need than you do.

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If you liked this passage, please nourish yourself with the whole book. Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self is available here on my website, on Amazon, and on Barnes and Noble

Holiday Epiphany — of the Non-Religious-but-Spiritual Type

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The days grow darker and colder in this corner of the world. The year is coming to a close, and I'm preparing to birth my first book. It's been a surprising, humbling, exhausting, enlivening experience. In the last several weeks, as I've been polishing the edits and getting the book ready for production, I've come back to the daily writing practice that began this whole book-birthing process. I look forward to sharing Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self with you in the new year.

Today, my holiday gift -- to you and to me -- is a short poem about presence and speaking the Truth. May you have a magical 2018!

 

Holiday Epiphany — of the non-religious-but-spiritual type

Finding myself in stillness and in stretch.
A mind attached to a body.
So much doing,
And noticing how hard it is to stay with…

Being.

Feeling solid and grounded in my hips.
Feeling solid and grounded in my truth.

Three wise people (kings or queens or angels?)
Heard my truth yesterday
And they didn’t run away.

Nor did I.

In fact, they kinda appreciated it.
Saw me clearly.
And I saw them
In all their radiance.

I can be more fully there when I tell the Truth.
I can be embodied, take up space, and inhabit myself.
I can meet my goals and needs and wants more clearly.

And I will hear and give to others more clearly
When I first give that
Gift
to
Me.

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Guest Blogger Gets to the Heart of Gender and Body Image

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I am in the editing phase of my book (to be released this Winter) 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.

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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. 

CrocusStrugglesEatingDisorderRecovery

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