Hit the Garden and Get some D

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Maybe it's the new Spring sun and crocuses popping here in Boston, but a lot of my clients are talking about vitamin D this week. As if she knew, a colleague just sent me this very comprehensive article about the vitamin. I suggest anyone with questions about this much-talked-about sunshine vite read it. The article discusses how much sun we need in order to get that vital dose of D and the factors that affect absorption of  D from sunlight: skin color, season, where you live on the planet, and on....

Today, we understand vitamin D to have a major role in mental and physical health, particularly our bones. Health care providers here on the east coast are discovering that many of their patients are deficient. Ask your health care provider or registered dietitian about whether it makes sense to test your vitamin D levels or to supplement. And note the guidelines for supplementation in the article below. (Keep in mind that it's published by the non-profit Vitamin D Council; however, they do put other organizations' recommendations for supplementation in the article, as well as their own.)

The second article that's referenced below is a fabulous review article by Jenn Miller that lists the many benefits of vitamin D as well as the most D-rich foods. Enjoy!

In addition to vitamin D, remember that sunshine nourishes us on many levels. The Spring sunshine we experience here in the east, after a long snowy winter, reminds us of rhythm and rebirth. Take in sunshine's nourishment this week. And, on that note, I'm off to weed and soak up some vitamin D...

https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/

https://www.jenreviews.com/vitamin-d/

Full Disclosure

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I haven’t blogged in awhile and I apologize for that. Several of you have asked if I could post more frequently. Please know that I’m not responding to your requests by blogging less. Honestly, I have been preoccupied with life, work, and a presentation that my colleague Charles Strauss and I are presenting at the Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association’s conference. We are speaking about the intersection of eating disorders, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It’s an important topic and I’m excited about it, but the preparations have definitely taken me away from the blog. I’m happy to be back.

In fact, I’m learning a lot from my friend Charlie about how to be sensitive to people who identify themselves as L, G, B, or T. I’m learning about the concept of “diverse gender and sexuality” and thinking about people being on a continuum. I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity, too. Living out who we really are, in our hearts, minds, bodies, souls...

Along these lines, I have a story and a confession to make. I guess it’s a bit of a “coming out” of sorts, although it’s not about my gender or sexual preferences.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first session of the Non-Diet Book Club, a new group that I started in which the participants read books on mindful eating together. We are starting with Evelyn Tribole’s Intuitive Eating, which I highly recommend. I sat with five remarkable and strong women who came together to share their experiences of trying to give up dieting and disordered eating. They were all working toward building a better relationship with food. Their stories and supportive words to one another were truly inspiring.

To kick off the group, I asked everyone to go around the room and share something about themselves, why they were interested in the book club, and what they wanted to get out of it. They shared their stories of struggle with food and their bodies. They spoke of the challenges they’ve overcome and have yet to overcome. Within each one of them was a sense of hope and belief that things could be better, as well as fear about how to get there.

When the five had finished sharing, I explained how I’d developed the group (the original idea came from a client) and why I do the work that I do. I gave the same response that I always give when someone asks me why I decided to help people heal their relationships with food. I talked about my interest in science and psychology and my graduate school paper on childhood developmental feeding problems. I mentioned the fellowship in adolescent nutrition that I completed at Children’s Hospital Boston, and my first job at the hospital’s psych unit that taught me much that I needed to know about eating disorders. All this is true and brought me to the place that I am today in my work.

But, in the end, I left the group feeling like my sharing was only a half-truth. Here these women had poured their hearts out and I had kept it safe. Part of my hesitation in sharing more of the story had to do with what I have learned about therapeutic boundaries. As the nutrition therapist, like any therapist, I have to make sure that I am not taking up too much space in the room. The time is for my clients and group participants to share, and I’m there to hold that safe space. Still, something didn’t really sit well with me. It felt like I’d put up a barrier to openness by not being real myself.

So, I am going out on a bit of a limb here in this blog post. I have done much soul-searching and feel that it is time in my career to just be honest. Rigid Bostonian boundaries and the belief that I shouldn’t take up too much space have kept me quiet for a long time. But these “shoulds” also kept me from letting my group members know in a more authentic way that I really could appreciate their feelings.

This is what I wished I had said in that first group...

I recovered from bulimia, food restriction, and binge-eating, which I struggled with in my late teens and early twenties. I had a therapist for awhile, but I recovered mainly through a lot of my own work and with love from others. I was a dancer and I did not know how to feed my active, developing body. That left me feeling very confused. I eventually studied nutrition in college because I wanted to help other young people to be less in the dark, and (probably at first) to do the last little bit of healing of my own relationship with food.

Now that I am in my 40s and have been eating disorder free for two decades, I love being in my body and in my life, and I want to help others to get past obsessions with food, self-criticism, and negative body image. I enjoy eating, feeding others, cooking, gardening, and being a nutritionist; but even for a born "foodie," eating is still only one way that I nourish myself. I do this work because I want to help my clients find their own ways to nourish body, mind, and spirit.

If I’d had the courage to say this in that first group, the women might have felt even more held and connected to. Instead of feeling like the nutritionist leading their group can’t possibly know what it feels like to struggle with overeating, they could have felt that their group leader has truly been there, can relate, and has come out the other end. After all, by admitting that we have real human struggles in common, we acknowledge our connectedness. In doing so, we help each other feel less alone, encourage self-respect, and make our time here on this planet more meaningful.

Now, I have no interest in sharing my own journey to recovery from disordered eating. That’s not important, and would only take away from my clients’ and group participants’ journeys. There are many roads to recovery. I don’t presume to have the answers for how to do that for any one person. In fact, I bumbled along because I needed to find my own way. That was how I grew, learned about myself and my needs, and found peace with food, my body, and my self. It just feels right for me to tell the whole truth.

Eating disorders suck. In fact, they suck the life blood out of relationships, among other things. And the road to recovery is bumpy but worth it. Life without so much focus on food and weight is rich and wonderful. It’s not perfect, of course. It’s gritty and challenging and growth-inducing and... real. I want you to enjoy eating, to love taking good care of your body, and to have a full, rich, happy life -- your life, your recovery, your journey. And I am honored and privileged to help you get there, and to help you find ways to nourish your body, mind, and spirit.

And, this, dear Non-Diet Book Club, clients, colleagues, readers, friends, is the real reason that I feel called to do this work.

Body Love

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I recently talked with a client about the dog that is a very special part of her life.  She described how much she loves the dog’s body. With keen sensory awareness, she talked about the way the dog feels, her warmth, and the soft pressure as her pooch curls up next to her.  It blew my client’s mind when I replied, “It’s mutual. The dog loves your body, too!”

At first, my client looked at me like I had three heads. Then she felt the revelation. This body, the one that she has hated for many decades as she battled anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, is actually lovable! In fact, there is a sweet little pup who loves her warmth and softness and cuddliness, who jumps up and down when she sees her. And this little dog doesn’t just love the idea of her or who she represents, this little dog loves her feel, her smell, her actual physical body just as it is.

It was so helpful for my client to see just how relative our feelings about our bodies can be. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines body image is as “the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body.” The way that we “see” our bodies can be very different from what others see, especially other beings that love us.

Let’s take a look at ways in which you might be promoting either a negative, critical or a more accepting, nurturing body image -- and how you might move closer to the latter.

  • Do you measure your self with a one-dimensional surface? Notice how often you check your body -- or parts of your body --  in the mirror. How often do you step on a scale? How does this make you feel about yourself? 

One way to decrease negative feelings about your body is to vow to only observe your body in the mirror with a trusted friend or therapist present, so that you always get a more objective person’s view. The rest of the time, make a conscious effort to not check out your stomach (or whatever part of your body is a target for negative feelings) in the mirror. Decreasing scale-checking and mirror-checking will positively effect your self-esteem. It will also help you shift away from focusing on the body as the most important part of your self.

  • Do you wear clothes that are comfortable and fit well -- or do you squeeze your body into too-tight clothes so that you feel forced to eat less -- or reminded all day about how much you don’t feel good in your body? 

If you want to feel better in your body all day, then find the clothes in your wardrobe (or treat yourself to some new ones) that fit well, make you feel good, and allow for flexibility with your own body fluctuations.

  • Do you displace negative feelings onto your body by focusing on particular body parts? 

Some things to explore: Do you focus on your tummy when there are “core” issues that you really want to work on? Do you focus on your hair when issues of control are on the front burner? Think about your particular body angst and what it could be telling you are the real concerns underneath. Journal about this or talk to a trusted friend or therapist about these feelings. We can begin to let go of negative feelings that we contain in our bodies if we acknowledge first that they are there.

  • Do you wake up in the morning scrutinizing your body and focusing on every ache and pain and defect -- or do you wake up with self-care and acknowledgement of the miracle that having this body really is? 

If you want to start the day feeling more positive about your body, then remember that those negative thoughts and feelings are just what they are (thoughts and feelings) and they can be changed. We say “fake it until you make it.” Even if you don’t quite believe them, vow to give yourself positive messages every morning, until it becomes a habit to wake up this way. For example, try “I feel vital and strong and I am going to be effective today” or “I am unique and lovable just the way that I am.” Or write your own valentine.

One of my wise clients recently shared with me something that she read: “What if everyone woke up in the morning and asked, ‘How can I bring more love into the world today?’ How would our days be different?”  Let’s start making our days different by first loving ourselves: body, mind, and spirit. If you don’t really believe you have a lovable body, then spend some time with a dog, like my client did. You’ll soon know how irresistible that sweet body of yours can be!

Shades of Grey in the New Year

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I often talk to my clients about “finding the gray” when it comes to food, since many are used to thinking in very black-and-white terms. Foods are seen as either good or bad, virtuous or decadent, on their list or off of it. The idea that there are no wrong foods, just more or less health-giving ways of eating, is a hard concept to digest. In fact, what feels like a health-giving way to eat for one person may not work for another. Look around and observe all the diverse body types out there. You can’t tell me that all those unique bodies need the same kinds of food all the time! Now, I studied nutrition science extensively and I know a thing or two about how the body’s physiology works. But I also know that bodies all over the world have lived on so many different types of diets. I believe that we are what we eat, in a sense, but I also believe that our bodies are quite resilient. When I work with clients to really listen within to their own internal wisdom about what to eat (and how much of it) at any given moment, a wonderful trusting relationship with one’s own body -- and eventually with food -- develops. But this process requires letting go of “rules” and being comfortable with gray.

Let’s think for a moment about the softness of the color gray. I happen to really like this color, but it’s not just because I’m discovering more of it on my head as I move through my 40s. I like gray because it is not too perfectly clean or rigid like black or white. It’s flexible and shifting like fog, which means it requires a leap of faith to perceive what is behind it. Think fluffy clouds or soft gray animal fur or smooth stones at the beach... Embrace the not-so-perfect weather, the softness, the unknowing... Once your thinking allows for more gray, there are more possibilities, and you just might not want to go back to black and white again.

I was recently talking with a client about the part of her that she described as feeling like an impulsive young child when she binge-eats sugary foods. Although some people may find that avoiding the substance that they crave (like sugar) works for them, I generally see that most people don’t find that avoidance sustainable. Instead, the work is about caring for that impulsive young child within and giving her some of the limits that perhaps were not given in a secure, loving way. I encourage clients to work toward an inner impulse control that is neither rigid and authoritarian nor overly permissive and self-destructive. Gray again. Somewhere between the no-sugar-ever and the eat-whatever-I-want-whenever-I-want-to is this inner parent-like force of loving, self-care that says, "You may have a piece of chocolate, but after you first give your body a healthy snack."

The reality is that we make choices. There is no right or wrong way to eat. But there are consequences for every choice, and there are some choices that are physically and mentally more aligned with self-care. Sometimes it's having dessert. Sometimes it's not having dessert. When we are feelings connected to our core self, we don't have to work so hard to make these choices. And then we choose and let go of the outcome, noticing how we feel and what happens over time, and learn from the choices that we make.

Attuned eating is good self-care. But it's not a prescription or a diet or an outside force that decides what attuned eating should be like. Your own internal wisdom really does know what is best for you. Attuned eating is also not perfect, but it is often aware and open to learning. It’s a real practice. In 2013, take time to pause and listen and embrace the gray... There is no need for resolutions, just a resoluteness to tune in and take good care.

Many blessings to all of you in the New Year! May you find more peace, love, and joy in your living...

Comfort and Joy

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Today both of my daughters were home sick from school. I cancelled my work for the day, slowed down, focused on comforting, and tried to dodge the bug that zoomed around the second grade as much as possible. One of my girls was sicker and needed to rest and the other was a bit activated; she was not well enough to go to school, but still with a fair amount of energy. So, she and I started the holiday granola gift production (after adequate hand-washing, of course). Her sister even joined in the fun eventually, sitting on the floor and shelling pistachios. The house soon smelled like cinnamon, maple, nutmeg, and orange zest. My girls were so delightfully invested in their shelling and measuring. The look on my daughter’s face when she used her hands to mix the warm sunflower oil and maple syrup with the oat and rye flakes was just delightful. “It’s soooo warm… This feels awesome.”

I thought about what a sensory experience it was to create food together like that. I thought about how blessed I was to have this break in my work schedule so that we could have moments together that reinforce the work that I do. Creating positive food memories and traditions like this one – and allowing the food to truly feed our senses (before we even take a bite of it) – makes me feel like I am actually practicing what I preach. I’ll admit to eating mindlessly sometimes, lunching while I check my email so that I barely taste my food. But today, in the kitchen with my sweet helpers, I experienced food the way I want to experience food, with all of my senses and with a sense of creativity and giving.

I have a feeling that this tradition will continue for years to come, and I plan to make time for it so that it can happen without needing a major illness to slow us down. My now-seven-year-old daughters may not want to help me in the kitchen with such gusto in the future, but I hope that the familiar smell of cinnamon, maple, nutmeg, and orange zest will bring a warm, sensory reminder that winter is here.

Here is the recipe, adapted from Shannon’s Kitchen, the blog of Farmers to You, a Vermont-based company that brings food from local farms to the greater Boston area. Just promise me that you will allow yourself to use your hands to mix the warm cinnamon-oil-maple-syrup mixture with the oats. My daughter was right; it really does feel awesome.

May all of your senses be fed this holiday season…

Recipe for Holiday Granola

4 cups rye flakes

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/3 cup sunflower oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

zest of one large orange

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup raw almonds

½ cup walnuts

½ cup shelled pistachios

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

½ cup pecans

½ cup sunflower seeds

1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the orange and zest the entire rind.

Put the sunflower oil and maple syrup on low heat. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest.

When all the ingredients are well-combined, pour over the rye flakes, rolled oats, and shredded coconut. Stir well.

Put rye/oats mixture on 2 baking sheets and bake for 15-20 minutes. Open the oven, stir well and bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Time varies depending on your oven.

While the rye/oats are baking, roughly chop (or choose to leave whole) the nuts, seeds, and cranberries. Combine them all in a large bowl.

Once the oats/rye have cooled, combine with the rest of the ingredients and enjoy!

The green pistachios, green pepitas, and red cranberries look particularly festive for a holiday gift, but play with whatever ingredients you have at home. Ask yourself what yourfavorite granola would contain... Nourish yourself and the people you love. Serve over milk-of-choice or yogurt or just eat right out of the jar.

Recovery Often Sprouts from Suffering

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In the past few weeks, many of my nutrition therapy clients have been talking about just how challenging this back-and-forth New England weather has been. We experienced several warm Indian Summer afternoons, crisp cold winds that made us hunt for our gloves, a surprise hurricane, and a snowstorm or two. Today it's back to 50 degrees and bright sunshine again. For those of us who need time to transition into change in order to feel settled, mother nature's bumpy road can feel challenging. I suppose the plant life becomes equally confused. Regardless, the autumn leaves drop and the spring flowers bloom. The cycle of life continues on, despite the not-so-smooth ebb and flow of the seasonal change. Recovery and growth are like that, and the path is rarely linear. In fact, I don't love those pediatric growth charts, even though I admit to finding them useful at times in my work. Although they are a great framework for noticing changes that are out of the ordinary in someone's growth and development, they give us the mistaken notion that growth is smooth. In reality, physical growth comes in spurts. I remember picking up my baby daughter years ago after a nap and saying, "Wow, did you just get longer in your sleep…?"

Our emotional growth is perhaps even more choppy, particularly during the teen years. This explains the mood swings and drama. I have been working with a young adult client in her twenties who is still going through the separation and individuation that is a part of adolescence because she is living with her parents. Her eating disorder, a major part of her teen years, had been a way to cope during this challenging time. Now she is learning to use other ways to cope with her strong emotions and her ambivalent desire to be in charge and independent. She is writing instead of binging and purging. She is crying and learning to tolerate the pain and hurt and angry feelings instead of harming her body. She is allowing herself to suffer, and seeing the value and maturity in tolerating and working through that suffering, instead of going around it with her eating disorder.

Eating disorders are satisfying to the young person who feels the chaos of change. They are black and white; there are good ways to eat and bad ways. Some of the very challenging work in recovery is deciding just how one feels about things. It's far easier if it's black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, and "this is just how it's done in our house."  It's far more challenging to find the grey areas. My client has to non-judgmentally figure out how she really feels about religion, politics, food, sex, tattoos. She notices that some people might judge her, "How could you think about such a thing?!" while others will just kind of shrug off her question as if it's no big deal. It's confusing…

How do I really feel about this? Where do I stand?  What is best for me? What do I want to eat right now? These are hard questions, and it can be easier to go back to the eating disorder to cope with the confusion and indecision that comes up. It's easier to go back to the diet as a focus than to face the bigger questions about ourselves and our purpose on this planet. If I just lose those 10 pounds, or cut out all the gluten and sugar, or become a vegetarian, then all will be well. We use food to distract us from the real struggles, whatever they may be. And in the process, we lose the pleasure of eating and the nurturing force that feeding ourselves can be.

Spring will bring green and Summer will bring harvest again, despite the erratic weather we're experiencing here in the Northeast right now. Similarly, our adult selves spring forth as a result of this challenge and chaos and questioning. Feeling our feelings and then letting them go, even the hard ones, often opens up space for change and possibility and clarity. From this suffering and confusion springs growth and recovery. My clients work through and learn from the challenges and traumas in their lives, instead of running from them or hiding behind the eating disorder. When they do this, they are like the trees that survive the winter and blossom fully in the springtime.

Welcome and Gratitude

Welcome to Nourishing Words.  My clients -- and their triumphs and struggles as they work to improve their relationships with food -- are the inspiration for this blog. I hope to honor their journeys and encourage others on their own journeys towards peace, happiness, and health. Thank you for reading and please come back soon. May food and eating become and remain a way to nourish, balance, and take good care of your body and your Self. (Something that we do several times per day should, after all, be a gesture of kindness and self-love.) In the meantime, I hope your Thanksgiving is a nourishing day of gratitude.

"We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water. We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of diseases. We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun was gone. We return thanks to the sun, that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye. We give thanks to that Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness."    ~ Iroquois Prayer