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4 posts from July 2011


Your personalized tool planner

Journaling is one of my favorite tools for self-reflection and increased awareness. I recommend it to all of my clients with eating and weight disorders, and now I'm recommending it to you as well. In a way, journaling is like your personalized tool planner. By writing out your responses and reactions to using specific tools, you can help customize your experience by tweaking whatever's not working. Or bring your journal along to your counseling session or therapy group, and let others help you interpret your words.

spirit of change is a 21-day journaling course that will get you started with a journaling practice and help you explore the benefits and potential of journaling as a therapeutic tool.

Looking for some quick journaling tips? Check out this journaling article by Liz Strong or the free Therapist at Home e-book. Please also watch for more upcoming writing workshops at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center. 


Starting a ripple of recovery from eating disorders

It's my mission to help as many people with eating disorders as possible. I'm only one person, so I concentrate on the ripple effect. For example, by supervising registered interns and graduate interns, I enable more clients to get support and for lower fees. On the other side, we're providing a rich learning experience for those developing therapists, who will take that knowledge into their own practices and help even more people.
Outside of the Center, I start more ripples by speaking to organizations, conferences and students. Recently I spoke about emotional eating at the YMCA, and I gave another talk to Mental Health Counseling students at Nova Southeastern University.
Over the past three years, I've also served as President of the Eating Disorder Network of Central Florida, whose mission is to increase professional training and community awareness so that eating disorders are recognized and treated earlier.
I do these things in order to show what the recovery process holds for people who are struggling with eating disorders. Recovery is possible, and help is out there – please take it.


Tools only work if you're ready to use them

I've noticed a pattern in my therapy practice over the years, where there will be an influx of people flocking to the Center in search of tools – the right food plan, exercise plan, journaling method, etc. that's going to deliver freedom from food addiction and eating disorders.

"Just give me the answer!"

We understand and empathize with the desperation. Sometimes it comes from an imminent physical crisis, such as a doctor warning about diabetes, hip surgery, heart failure or other serious health effects of eating disorder behaviors. Other times there's an internal motivation to change, yet the strong desire for a quick and easy solution.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, food addiction and compulsive overeating, entering into therapy may open up a hidden wound or make you feel a little more vulnerable. Your emotional symptoms can even increase for a little while. This is the nature of recovery – it's an up and down process.

Using tools can bring up feelings or emotions or memories you may not have known were in there. And that can start a destructive cycle of wanting to use your eating disorder behaviors again to shut those feelings down.

Before you can make the best use of any tool, you need to want to and be able to change; there's a readiness level that has to be there. In the therapy process we work on the issues that are blocking that readiness, so we can clear them away and get to that "1st step" (admitting your powerlessness over your problem).

As we mentioned in a previous article about denial, one tool that we use is motivational interviewing. This is a form of questioning that challenges how you're thinking and introduces a new way of thinking. We know how difficult this can be, and we approach the process with much compassion.

When tools are presented as part of a therapy process, we can help people walk through these changes. Because we've had the experience of witnessing many people get through it, we can share those examples with you and reinforce the possibility of recovery.

It's also important that people learn how to apply specifically to their situation, rather than just take a tool and run with it. While one person may find relief by replacing their compulsive overeating with a new habit such as gardening, for someone else that wouldn't work at all.

Joining a therapy group is one of the most helpful ways to learn about tools because you hear other people's experiences and suggestions. And in turn, you can help someone else the same way. Plus, you'll have the support of the therapeutic process to help you address whatever may be blocking your readiness, and then to help personalize the tool to your specific situation.


Seeing The Truth

In previous articles, we've been looking at the issue of denial. Denial is one of several defense mechanisms we all find ourselves using, even if we're not aware of it. When we use a defense mechanism, we are trying to protect ourselves from unpleasant emotions and feelings.
Although on the surface this sounds like a good thing, this tactic works against us by keeping us from seeing things as they truly are, effectively addressing our problems and issues, and moving forward with our lives in a positive way.
Some of the most frequently used defense mechanisms in individuals with eating disorders are rationalization, projection and denial.
When we use rationalization in relation to food, we use a plausible excuse to justify our behavior. ("Although I planned it, I didn’t eat that snack because I knew I was going to eat again in three hours!")
Projection is when we assign our own thoughts, feelings or motives to another person, e.g., accusing a co-worker of being angry at you rather than recognizing your own anger.
Denial, the most common defense mechanism, is when we completely reject that we have a thought or feeling, or that we are engaging in a specific behavior. ("It wasn't me who ate all the ____________”! or “I am training for the triathlon only because I can have structured workouts with a group and not be exercising alone in my house”.)
Reducing the use of defense mechanisms helps us to engage in the process of personal growth. As we rely less on defense mechanisms, we become more in touch with ourselves. We begin to increase our awareness of our thoughts and feelings and develop a healthy acceptance of those thoughts and feelings. We become less critical and judgmental of ourselves, and learn to develop a repertoire of coping strategies that, in the long run, serve us much better than our defense mechanisms. Aside from connecting better with ourselves, we also connect more with others, and that's a very good thing!