The Size of Your Body is Not Your Business

This month Tara and I are talking body image. We spend a good deal of talking talking about how body image develops and ways to challenge the thin ideal. I realized after the fact that we didn't lay down some basics about what body image actually IS, so here is my definition:

Body image includes what you believe and feel about your body as it relates to beliefs about a body ideal, for sure, but also how you feel in your body, how you sense yourself in space, multisensory messages, and how you interpret and respond to those messages. Under this expanded definition, body acceptance and body love can often come not just by challenging harmful body beliefs, but also by learning to interpret body signals accurately and respond to your body and meet its needs with compassion and love.

I can think of no better New Year's resolution to replace the old paradigm of "lose weight" than "meet my body's needs with compassion and love."

You deserve it, dear hearts.

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Is it *really* about control?

"My eating disorder gives me a sense of control."
"I feel totally out of control around food."
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Today I want to address some of the most common things I hear in eating disorder recovery: that the eating disorder has taken your control and used it against you, by giving you a sense of control or a sense that you have none. I also hear how powerless many of you feel to battle the eating disorder, and often power and control are muddled and confused as synonyms.

Let’s clarify. Power is your ability to act. Control is your ability to create or dictate outcomes. Control is a tool of power, but having power is not dependent on having control. You can’t use control, the same tool of the eating disorder, to gain power over it. You have to regain a sense of your inherent power.

You were not powerless at birth. While it’s true you were dependent on others for survival, for comfort, and for love, you used what power you did have to get your needs met. You cried. You demanded attention. You definitely influenced the people caring for you. This was your power.

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Whether you call it a need, drive, instinct, or even a value, we are wired to seek power, to be powerful. In our developing years, our power, our ability to act and to influence others, serves our survival. As you began to walk and talk, you exercised or practiced your power through tantrums, saying “no,” and through crying. Again, you did this to get your needs met, to get comfort and loving attention. This personal power becomes the basis of your autonomy. In fact, as adults, having more autonomy seems to satisfy this need for power. Studies have shown we actually seek less influence over others when we have more autonomy. I think this is because power needs an object, and in healthy power, the object is you.

Unfortunately, personal power can be abused and distorted in a myriad of ways. Maybe the grownups who were supposed to take care of you didn’t do such a great job. Maybe they ignored your needs, made fun of your needs, or met your basic needs but without any love or comfort. So many of you have grown up feeling powerless because those around you could not or would not meet your needs for love and belonging. So, you started to seek power through control: control over others, control over emotions, control over food and/or body, control over your home, your routine, you name it! Again, this is because power needs an object, and in unhealthy power, the object is control.

Let’s look at a few domains of power and their interplay with disordered eating (this by no means is a complete list):

Ownership

When you own something, you can do with it what you like. Some of you may not have ever felt like you own your body, like it truly belongs to you. Control over eating or body size can become a substitute for your true power to attend to and respond kindly to your body.

Attention

Power needs an object, but it also needs an audience. Sometimes these are one and the same. Sadly, all attention is not created equal. Punitive attention, violent attention, or no attention at all are forms of invalidation and can drain your personal power, giving you the message that your needs are foolish, an intrusion, wrong, or unimportant. Think of attention from its root, to attend. This means to be present, to be helpful, to look after, to manage (you get the drift). Maybe you didn’t have the best examples of healthy attention while growing up, and the eating disorder was there, was trying to help, and took on the management of your emotions (albeit in a way that has cost you your physical and emotional health).

Position

Most people see a position of authority as a position of power. These power positions include the ability to make a request knowing it will be respected and followed. Some power is clearly bestowed – like a job title of CEO in the work place – and some power positioning is more implicit or dictated by culture – like family and gender roles. When you encounter this form of power, you usually respond with deference or dominance. Yielding control, or attempting to yank it back. You may have given the eating disorder a position of authority on all things food and body, and you go back and forth between listening and following its orders and fighting for control. My answer is to unseat that eating disorder voice from the position of authority and give the power back to you.

Gatekeeping

Another form of power is controlling access to something. Bouncers, receptionists, specialists, and librarians are all examples of roles involving control of access to something: the club, the manager, the knowledge. In healthy personal power, you are the gatekeeper to your body, your time, your energy, and your other resources. When this is abused, you instead become the gatekeeper of your secrets and of your vulnerability.  

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What is necessary for recovery is empowerment.

What you need isn’t more self-control, but more autonomy. More personal power. More freedom to discover your own values, to set your own boundaries, to make your own meaning, to respond to your body with kindness. Where you feel out of control, you need MORE autonomy, not less.

I hope you are taking steps to increase your power.

For the record, getting help in your recovery is a major step in increasing your power.

Ready to feel more powerful? Contact us for more information about our services.

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What the Hunger?

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So many of us have no idea what hunger *really* feels like. Above are some distinctions between physical and emotional hunger. This is very useful if you tend toward eating when struggling with a tough emotion. However, I think there is a third kind of hunger we don't give much lip service to. This is a type of hunger that occurs when you have been restricting. 

"Wait!," you say, "My problem is binge eating! I don't restrict!" Not so fast. Do you swear off sweets (or chips) the day after a binge? Do you resolve to "eat right" and thus hardly eat at all? Are you eating fewer than 2000-2500 calories per day on a "good day?" Then you are restricting. In fact, this restriction (no matter how severe or mild) is what creates this third type of hunger.

I call it "Survivor Hunger." This is the hunger that flips on when you are around food or start eating after several hours (or days or weeks) of restricting. The tricky thing is, it ALSO can feel urgent and overwhelming and can leave you feeling guilty or out of control (even though it is your body kicking into survivor mode. "There's food! We're allowed to eat?! Eat it ALLLLLL, it may never come again!!")

The unfortunate reality is that many restrictive eaters and binge eaters alike will misinterpret this as "emotional hunger," ignore or otherwise distract themselves from it, shame themselves for it, and continue to deepen disordered eating. 

The answer? Before you check for physical vs. emotional hunger, ask yourself if you're eating enough and eating regularly throughout the day. If not, fix that first. You won't be able to listen and follow your hunger cues any other way. 

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Hell-a-daze vs. Holidays

It may not be a shocker for me to tell you that the holidays are a time of intense anxiety and stress for all of us, but particularly for those suffering from eating disorders. Work parties, family gatherings, and holidays traditions seem cruelly centered around food and eating, so it's not surprising that many people in recovery relapse during or immediately after the holidays. 

For this month's podcast, Tara and I are tackling holiday survival: pet peeves, planning, and picking yourself back up. (I know, I know, we were supposed to talk about body image... next time!)

 

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EDulting: Calories Count

In this month's podcast, Tara and I are talking calories. Your body needs energy to recover, and that energy doesn't come from yoga or rest or a great massage. It comes from food. From calories. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where dieting is so pervasive, we don't even know we're dieting. I had a client tell me yesterday, "I don't diet. I eat 1100 calories a day." You guys. Anything below your body's recovery/ongoing requirements (generally speaking, 2500/day for an adult 5' and taller) IS dieting and will only suppress your metabolism. Our bodies are far more complex than a simple equation of calories in vs. calories out. In this episode of EDulting, we attempt to explain this complexity, as well as the struggle to accept it in recovery. 

If you find this podcast helpful, please rate it on iTunes. Thank you for listening.

In Praise of Despair

Bear with me here. When I look back on the changes that have helped me become a better person (still a work in progress), nearly every period of growth was preceded by a period of despair. I'm using despair here as an umbrella term to cover a range from unpleasantness to utter destruction. That despair can manifest in a myriad of ways: a gnawing loneliness, existential anxiety, destructive relationships, disordered eating, overspending, or other self-harmful behaviors. These are the symptoms of despair, the ways it demands to be seen or, more often, attempts to relieve it. It was only in eventually turning to face the despair, to explore it, to excavate it that I was able to change. This is why one of my favorite quotes is from Carl Rogers, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as just I am, then I can change.”

The trick here is not to confuse acceptance with affinity. I can accept things I don’t like. When I accept my role in creating some sources of that despair as well as my role in rising above it (or at least learning to live with it more peacefully), then I can make steps toward change. I see this play out in big and small ways in my life and in the lives of the brave souls I have the privilege to explore this with. Despair, like pain in the body, is a signal, a helper, telling us things are not right. If we listen, we have an opportunity to give ourselves what we need to heal. Like knee pain can drive us to the couch to rest and avoid further injury, emotional pain can drive us to retreat, reduce stress, reevaluate, and repair.

As we surrender, whether willingly or kicking and screaming, to this process, despair can somewhat be welcomed as a friend, a signal to pause, to take stock, and empowers us to change. After all, if something caused me no distress or despair whatsoever, why would I be motivated to change? In this way, despair is a catalyst for growth and healing, a part of the process. Now, that’s not to say you will magically start loving being in despair or the unexpected destruction that befalls us all from time to time, but it can provide it some much needed balance. If in the midst of my lament I remember that I can grow grit, self knowledge, or have a chance to treat myself more kindly through it, then it is not all destruction. 

In what ways have your struggles made you more resilient?