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! 

IMG_6415.jpeg

 

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.

HAES Plus Size Fashion .jpg

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.

Fat Positive Blog .jpg

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.

Health at Every Size Body Positive .jpg

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

Eating Disorders Recovery Not Weight Loss .jpg

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.


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

FoodisLoveHeartNourishBook

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.

NourishBookMindfulness

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.

NourishBookDisorderedEating

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. 

NourishBookEatingDisordersMindfulness

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.

NourishBookIntuitiveEatingHAES

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.

NourishBookMindfulEating

 

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

HolidayEatingNourish.jpg

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.

MindfulnessWinter

If you liked this article and you'd like to read more, then click on the green button and...

Feeding the Soul

SlowingDownOnVacation.jpg

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

TurksCapLilies.jpg

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, 

MossyInspiration.jpg

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. 

AwakeningPoemSetting.jpg

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. 

FlowerSoulFeeding.jpg

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, 

SoulFoodFlowers.jpg

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. 

ForsythiaInSnowRecoveryFromDisorderedEating

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.