Site moved to, redirecting in 1 second...

40 posts categorized "Relationships"


Our Culture of Food, Weight and Exercise

People who have an eating disorder often want to know why. Even though there is much more to recovery than understanding what’s behind your unhealthy eating behaviors, piecing together the different factors may give you some helpful insights.

On the website of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), they present four sets of factors that may contribute to eating disorders. In previous articles I wrote about the psychological, interpersonal and biological factors, and today we will discuss the social/cultural factors.

Whether you’re glancing at the magazines displayed near the checkout line at the grocery store, listening to commentary about people walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards or just having a casual conversation with friends or work colleagues, you’ll hear people being judged based on their physical appearance.

This is such a small way of looking at things, and doesn’t put any value on all the other more important qualities that make us who we are.

Then there is the family culture. There can be a family of triathletes who are all into sports and value physical coordination. There can be a family who are very tuned in to physical appearance and only appreciate the latest fashions. There can be a family who are very sedentary and watch a lot of TV. Whichever culture you’re raised in has an impact on your views about eating, weight and exercise.

When my father was diagnosed with high blood pressure, the whole family got swept up into his efforts to lose weight and get fit. So my family culture became thinness. I had an aunt who was on a well-known diet program for 45 years. When people greeted each other, the first topic wasn’t always how people were, it was who had lost or gained the most weight, and how.

As you recover from disordered eating, keep in mind that the cultures around you are not necessarily changing. It’s a matter of being able to be present with oneself and finding fulfillment in your vision of recovery, things like being healthy, happy and comfortable in your body.


Relationship Issues Can Contribute to Eating Disorders

People often want to understand the cause of their eating disorder. Even though knowledge alone will not create long-lasting recovery, it can help guide the treatment process and help the person understand why we’re suggesting different things.

NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, spells out the four factors that may contribute to eating disorders. Last week we discussed some of the psychological factors behind eating disorders and how we treat those factors, and today we will discuss the second group of factors – interpersonal factors.

At our center, we work on relationship issues from our clients’ very first therapy session and all the way through their therapy process – partly because your relationships will change while you are recovering from an eating disorder.

We have relationships with many types of people, and some of these interactions can be very complex. We have parents, siblings, children, extended family, in-laws, friends, work colleagues, bosses, teachers, students, neighbors and committee members, not to mention all the strangers we encounter as we move through our day.

Any and all of these relationships can contribute to eating disorders because people can be difficult to deal with. Eating disorder behaviors can seem easier than facing potential confrontations or disagreements with people. People speak through the food when they can’t speak with words.

Interwoven with the psychological factors we discussed last week, relationships can be linked to emotional issues such as low self-esteem (related to a history of being teased about size or weight) or depression and lack of control (as a result of physical, sexual or emotional abuse).   

We work a lot with our clients on how to express themselves and deal with people. As I often say, “the goal is to be able to speak your truth, with kindness and compassion.” At Castlewood they use psychodrama, which we also use in our intensive programs. Psychodrama provides a way to go back and heal the wounds of the past, grieve, put them behind us and move forward, in order to be able to deal with current relationships.

It’s really important to form healthy relationships with others while you’re forming a healthy relationship with self.


Making Friends With the World

When you’re dealing with an eating disorder, you may feel very isolated and separate from the rest of the human race. Relationships can be difficult, and healing some of your patterns may be a central theme in your recovery.

Here’s a different slant on working on your relationships: How can you be more social and friendly when you’re out and about in the world?

Set this as your intention in the morning, and think about the opportunities you may have ahead of you. For example, if you tend to walk by yourself over the lunch hour, ask someone to come along. If you usually keep to yourself, make eye contact with the people you pass, or even say, “Hi!” Practice saying, “Yes,” when someone invites you to do something social.

If you have a serious social phobia or agoraphobia, you can get help for that. If, like many of us, you’re simply feeling hesitant and unsure of how other people will respond to you, start small. I predict that once you’re being friendlier, you’ll get on a roll.

Be a good friend to the world by being an attentive listener – whether it’s two minutes to ask the cashier at the grocery store how her day is going, or half an hour to hear out a co-worker who’s having a hard time with something.

Strive to be an upbeat influence on the conversations you have. Avoid gossiping or talking about other people. Change the subject if a conversation is focused on something negative.

When you make friends with the world, you create positive feelings that ripple forward and come right back to you. You’ll attract more love, friendliness and support from other people, and you’ll boost your self-esteem with the knowledge that you’ve made someone else’s day a little brighter.


Be Your Own Best Friend

Relationships can be challenging, and are often at the root of emotional issues and addictions. While you’re doing some of the work to repair and rebuild your relationships with others, you can start by being your own best friend.

It’s very empowering to know that we can not only take of ourselves, but that we are complete on our own without needing someone else to fill anything in. Being that comfortable with oneself starts from the self-awareness from having looked within. Journaling, therapy and 12-step programs are all excellent ways to accomplish that.

This process will also help build acceptance – first for yourself, and then also for others. It’s a way of validating whatever thoughts or feelings come up, and then working on healing or changing them. This way, nothing – and no one – has to be “wrong.” It just is what it is, until it is something different.

The title of this blog post was inspired by a book I’ve had for many years, called How to Be Your Own Best Friend by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz. They have some really neat suggestions, including:

  • Having a “bedroom slipper day” – my version of this is allowing yourself a day to just be at home, not pushing yourself beyond what is healthy for you
  • Seeing the source of happiness as being within, not outside of ourselves somewhere (a good reminder)
  • Just as the title says: Being  your own best friend is the ultimate friendship; liking yourself, feeling fulfilled and true to yourself


The Love of Friendship

People say love a lot, especially at this time of year when Valentine’s Day is approaching. Instead of focusing on red hearts and romance, let’s instead look at the love of friendship. Friendship requires kindness and compassion, qualities that are also very important in how we relate to ourselves.

The more freely we can express kindness, compassion and friendship, the more harmoniously we can live together as humans, and the better we feel about ourselves.

Relationship problems are commonly an underlying issue behind disordered eating and other substance abuse problems, problems at work, and difficult emotions such as depression, frustration and anger.

If our relationships with self and others are more peaceful, we feel better about ourselves and there are fewer reasons to use an addictive substance or act out.

One approach to improving our relationships is to investigate the “love languages” that the other people in our lives are speaking, and how those compare to the love language we use. The concept of love languages was presented in a book by Gary Chapman, as I described in an earlier blog post about building relationships:

The premise of The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, is that we all have different ways of expressing ourselves in relationships. We learn a love language as we grow up, but then we may learn other ones as we grow a bit older and independent of our families. People will automatically give love in the way they're used to receiving it, or in the way they like to receive it, and that can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.

Chapman's five love languages are: words of affirmation (kind, loving statements about the other person), quality time (spending time together and being attentive to the other person), receiving gifts (small or large, gifts that are meaningful to the person receiving them), acts of service (taking care of things for the other person) and physical touch (small gestures, sexual intimacy, massages or a simple pat on the shoulder).

Do you know which love language you speak? More importantly, do you know how the other people in your life feel loved? Are you being a kind, compassionate friend to yourself and others by using their preferred love language?

Over this month, we’ll look at how being a good friend to yourself and others can enhance your recovery from an eating disorder or unhealthy behaviors around food and exercise.


How to Deal With Jealousy and Sorrow

As we see all the time in our sessions at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, relationship problems are at the heart of most eating disorders. Often the underlying angst that’s causing people to act out with food can be traced back to an interpersonal situation.

I’ve been practicing yoga for much of my life, but I recently discovered just how much yoga can be a gift for those in recovery from food addiction and eating disorders. And this includes giving us a tool for how to handle difficult people.

Last week, I revealed the first two “locks” – two types of people that we deal with, and the corresponding “keys” that we can apply. Today, we’ll talk about the final two.

First are the virtuous people, who want to tell us about all of the good things they’ve done and everything that’s going well in their lives. For some of us, this could trigger feelings of jealousy or contempt, and even thoughts of revenge or sabotage so we can take away some of these good things (and maybe keep them for ourselves, as if that was possible!).

Instead, the key to dealing with virtuous people, according to this yoga philosophy, is with sheer and utter delight – celebrating with them and being glad for their success. As I suggested last week, you might need to use the 12-step slogan of “fake it until you make it,” but I guarantee you’ll feel better about yourself and have a more peaceful day.

The fourth and final lock – the type of person that might be difficult for you to deal with – is the wicked person. Just like with unhappy people, it can be uncomfortable or even painful to be with someone who seems downright evil. You may react and want to fix the person or situation, or get away from the person as soon as possible.

The key is to detach; approach this person with disregard or indifference. It’s the ultimate practice of non-attachment and setting boundaries. Letting someone be where they are without needing to take on the emotions or the problem.

12-steps programs such as Al-Anon and CODA help people who are dealing with co-dependency and boundary issues.

By responding with friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard, we can greatly improve our relationships with others. This simple system of locks and keys can bring the peace we find in yoga and mediation out into the real world of our day-to-day lives.

Maybe it can also help us deal more compassionately with ourselves, when it’s us having the negative thoughts or doing other things we’re not proud of. Maybe today we can detach from our suffering, delight in ourselves, feel proud of ourselves and be happy for ourselves.


How to Deal With Unhappy People

In my recent studies of yoga therapy and the principles of yoga, I’ve discovered a fascinating tool that can help us deal with the difficult people.

According to this yoga concept, all of the people you will meet in your lifetime will fall into one of four categories – what they call “locks.” Each one of these can be challenging to us for different reasons.

Take happy people, for example. If you’ve feeling very unhappy yourself, or if you’re dealing with your own suffering, you may feel very out of sync with a happy person. This can feel uncomfortable and you may express that, either consciously or unconsciously, driving a wedge through the interaction.

The “key” for dealing with happy people is to greet them with joy and friendliness. If you’re not feeling that joy, try pretending. There’s an expression in 12-step recovery that suggests, “fake it until you make it.” There is also plenty of scientific evidence that laughing and smiling – even when you don’t feel it – makes you feel happier. And it definitely has a positive impact on whoever you are smiling at!

So what if you come upon an unhappy person? The temptation may be to react, try to fix the person, or even get angry at the person for being negative. With this lock, the key is compassion. Validate the person and allow them to feel what they’re feeling.

Next week, we’ll talk about the remaining two locks and their corresponding keys. Practicing these keys can help to bring peace into your daily interactions and remove the need to use food and unhealthy behaviors to distance yourself from difficult people.


Dealing With Difficult People

Much of what we deal with in counseling sessions with our clients is healing relationships. When you are recovering from food addiction or an eating disorder, difficult relationships can sometimes trigger the compulsion to relapse.

We can use food or exercise in unhealthy ways, or obsess about body image, as defense mechanisms that help us avoid dealing with people. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t given proper relationship skills growing up.

Maybe some of us learned some resiliency, but for the most part we have to constantly learn and re-learn how to navigate relationships, whether at work, in play, at home or in the community. Each lesson usually comes out of painful conflicts that are the underlying cause of our angst.

Whether you’re back in close quarters with family members over the holiday season, or dealing with difficult people at any time of year, the right tools can help you detach from the drama and stay committed to your recovery.

Though I’ve been practicing yoga for years, I’ve recently ramped up my study of yoga therapy and the principles of yoga. We’ve started a yoga therapy program at the White Picket Fence Foundation building, with more groups and classes planned for the future.

I’ve also discovered a fascinating, simple and effective concept for how to stay peaceful in all of the relationships and interactions in your daily life.

While it can seem as though we’re up against many different kinds of relationship problems, this yoga philosophy teaches that there are actually only four types of people we deal with – called “locks.” The beauty of this concept is that for every lock, there is a key!

Over the next two weeks, I’ll share about these four locks and their corresponding keys. With these four keys in your pocket, you’ll have what you need to navigate any interactions, even challenging ones, over the holidays and beyond.

The most important goal is to find peace, whether that’s through meditation, yoga, journaling, therapy, calling a friend or another tool. If we have a serene mind, we’re not in disorder or dis-ease and we don’t have to use or abuse food or our bodies because we don’t have to change the way we feel.


How Relationships May Change in Recovery

As soon as you take your first steps in recovery from an eating disorder, your relationships will start to change. By the time you enter into the maintenance stage of living in recovery, you may focus more of your efforts to dealing with this. By now, you're feeling more comfortable about your day-to-day eating habits and you have many tools and people to reach for when things come up.

With the people who have been in your life for many years, there will likely be communication and relationships patterns that no longer fit with your new version of self. Now that you are more confident and comfortable speaking your mind, people may not know quite how to handle that.

Perhaps you used to be controlled by people pleasing, doing anything to avoid the guilt associated with letting someone down. Perhaps the people around you aren't ready to accept an inter-dependent relationship, rather than a co-dependent relationship with you. As you change and grow, not everyone in your world may jump on board. This is a big adjustment for everyone.

If you're not paying attention to these relationship issues, other people can easily trigger a "lapse" into unhealthy food behaviors, or even a full-blown relapse. Watch for sure-fire signs of relationship struggles, such as talking about other people's faults or wishing they would change. You will have more peaceful relationships if you remember that you can only change yourself. You are lucky enough to have these recovery tools at your fingertips – others are not as well-equipped. Practice compassion for others and healthy communication strategies that protect your recovery.

Your relationships can grow with you, if you give yourself and others the time and attention that are needed for long-lasting change.


Accepting Compassion is Not Always Easy

For people who are recovering from an eating disorder, compassionate support from others can be unsettling. You may not know how to receive that support, and you may not feel like you deserve it.

Have you ever heard the expression that "we teach people how to treat us"? What happens in this case is that this discomfort can lead you to send out the message that you want to be left alone – and then you will be.

The first step in practicing receiving compassion is to clarify what help you need. Do you need someone to keep you company while you eat a meal? Do you need to talk about something that's bothering you? Or do you need to forget about something that's bothering you by getting out and doing something fun?

Once you have an idea of what you might need, it's time to ask. Before you think about asking specific people, make a list of the qualities you would like them to have, for example:

Challenges in a gentle way
Feels safe

There may also be people with qualities you want to avoid, such as:

Unreliable, untrustworthy (opposites of all the qualities above)

Now, make your list of the people in your life who have the qualities you want, and who don't have the qualities you don't want. Leave off the list anyone who brings up feelings of co-dependence, confusion or anxiety.  Strive for relationships that are interdependent – equal – rather than dependent or co-dependent.

Start with safe people.  Sometimes it's easier to practice with professional supporters, such as a therapist, dietician or clergy, or friends from a more structured setting such as a 12-step program or a therapy group. Over time, if you keep practicing, then receiving compassion will become more familiar. Though it may still be challenging, once something is familiar it usually feels more comfortable as well.


How to Have More Compassion for Others

When you're struggling with your own body image and self-esteem issues, it's common to also be more judgmental of other people (especially people with food and weight issues). The reverse is also true – the more you can love and accept yourself, the more accepting you can be of others.

Stephen R. Covey wrote, "We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior."

A lot of times we judge people's physical appearance or outward actions, without any idea of what's going on underneath. We only see the tip of the iceberg. We don't know their family history or how they've been hurt by other people.

That's why it's really important to suspend judgment of others, and instead practice acceptance and neutrality and compassion. Understand that everybody has their own stuff going on. It's like we discussed in an earlier article, that "your first thought is a freebie." We may have judgmental thoughts about others, or ourselves, but we can revise those into more loving thoughts.

The more we can suspend judgment of others, the more we will learn to do the same for self – peace within extends to peace with-out, and vice versa.

Who can you practice being more compassionate towards today? 


What Your Language is Really Saying

Changing the words you say to yourself and others is a long process that requires time and practice. It also requires you to be focused on the present moment so that you are choosing your words with intention.

Language can also be a barometer – if you learn how to read it. For example, whenever we use the phrase, "I'll try to . . ." what we're really doing is giving ourselves permission to not do something. In other situations we may slip into polarized thinking and use words such as good/bad, right/wrong, all/nothing, always/never, success/failure, either/or. Noticing these words provides the opportunity to change your perspective and choose thoughts and words that grow your recovery and build your self-esteem.

Body language is another important tool for communicating with others. If you can become more aware of the messages your body is sending, it can help you to ensure that you're delivering what you're intending.

The Center for Nonverbal Studies has an online dictionary where you can look up gestures, postures or body parts to learn what studies have shown about what unintentional language you might be using.

Changing your language requires you to tune in and notice your words and gestures, to make sure they're sending out the right messages.


Choosing the Words to Share

"Oh my gosh, I'm so stupid!" 

Self-deprecating statements like this can harm your self-worth and affirm negative beliefs that may have been planted earlier in life. It's a worthwhile goal to begin a practice of using different words that are more self-loving

The words we choose don't just affect us; they affect the people we're speaking to. Harsh statements such as the one above can have different effects. The other person may feel uncomfortable, or may want to rush in and reassure us. Either way, it creates uncomfortable tension in the conversation and in the relationship as a whole. 

Another phrase that can have a troublesome impact on relationships is, "I'm sorry." Ideally, when we make a mistake we recognize it right away, apologize and then move on. 

The difficulty starts when you don't consciously recognize you've made a mistake, or you recognize it but don't feel willing to apologize. Either of those scenarios can damage relationships and create emotional turmoil that can lead to unhealthy body image and eating behaviors. 

Another challenge is when we apologize for something that's not our fault, such as the fact that else is experiencing a loss or struggle. Or we spend too much time apologizing or explaining something that really wasn't a big deal to begin with. (For more insights on this topic you can read the article, Make Amends to Make Your Guilt Disappear.) 

I experienced being on the other end of this, when someone was apologizing repeatedly for a simple mistake that was already dealt with. I'd been double-booked for a radio interview, but everything turned out perfectly because the other person was late anyway. But the host just couldn't seem to move on. When I spoke up and let him know that he didn't need to keep apologizing, he said he really appreciated it because he had no idea how it sounded to the other person when he was doing that. 

I always encourage people to find a way to speak your truth to others in a kind way that feels honorable to you and aligned with your values.


Words Carry Weight

Words are vital to personal growth, recovery and sense of self-worth. It's not only about the words said out loud, but the messages behind the words. Even having those messages in your mind can affect behavior in many situations, years after the messages were implanted. 

In her book Learning to Love Yourself, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruise teachers her readers to recognize some of the "garbage messages" that may have been heard as children, and what is taught through those messages. For example: 

  • "You can do better than that!" (meaning: "What you are doing is not good enough.")
  • "Family business is private business." (meaning: "Don't trust.")
  • "Don't speak unless you're spoken to." (meaning: "Being spontaneous is wrong.")

If you continue to hear those messages or repeat them, it can make you feel bad and unloved, affecting self-esteem and contributing to unhealthy food behaviors. 

On the other hand, there are positive messages that help people feel good about themselves – phrases such as: 

  • "That is a great idea!"
  • "I like you just the way you are."
  • "I'm proud of you." 

Consciously choose to spend more time with supportive people who say these types of things, and also make a habit of saying them to yourself. 

People in 12-step recovery programs often use slogans as a way of reprogramming hurtful self-talk and unhelpful messages. Slogans are short phrases that are easy to remember and can instantly evoke the principles of healthy recovery. There are sample slogans with explanations on this page: 

You can also create your own slogans or mantras. Start by thinking about the values, principles or phrases that you consider important and sacred. Then try on different wordings until you find the ones that feel good. After you've been using them for a while, you may notice that your enthusiasm has faded, or that you've begun saying or thinking the words by rote. If that happens, switch them for some new words in order to stay fresh. 

Also consider which words you want to let go of. For example, we often use violent terminology for everyday activities without even realizing it, such as:  "I'll shoot you an email later." 

Other words may not be violent, but they de-motivate instead of being motivating, such as telling yourself that you need to exercise (exert) or work out (work), instead of inviting more movement into the day. 

Another example is how marketing experts teach business owners to use only positive language in any materials. Instead of, "Please do not hesitate to call me," you'd want to say, "Please feel free to call me." Can you feel the difference? 

Changing your wording is not an overnight project – it takes time and practice. As a much-loved 12-step slogan reminds us, it's about "progress, not perfection."


Why a Team Approach?

JakiBy Jaki Hitzelberger, MA, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

Surrounding yourself with a team of people who are knowledgeable, who support you, who understand and care, and who work towards helping you help yourself to a better, healthier life – that is an important part of our approach at White Picket Fence Counseling Center. 
One of the trainings on the treatment of eating disorders I recently attended featured Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, FAED, Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program. Dr. Bulik has published over 400 scientific papers and chapters on eating disorders. Her new book is The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are (Walker, December 2011). She is also author of Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop (Walker). Her research includes treatment, laboratory, epidemiological, and genetic studies of eating disorders. I found the information presented to be very applicable in my work with clients.
Dr. Bulik touches on many ways to make treatment more effective, including the importance of a team approach for recovery. In addition to meeting with the individual who has eating concerns, it is necessary to include participation of the counselor, physician, psychiatrist, dietician, family and friends in the course of treatment. All members of the team must work together to support the individual through communication and understanding. I believe in Dr. Bulik’s team approach philosophy and think it is important to work closely with the client and other practitioners in the field (my colleagues).
Depending on the individual in therapy, working with the family is another important piece of our team approach atWhite Picket Fence Counseling Center. We understand that the home environment and support from family provides the individual with strength throughout treatment. We also acknowledge that the word “family” is not always meant in the traditional sense. For some, family encompasses different important people in their lives, such as friends, extended family, or mentors.
Dr. Bulik’s research shows that couples counseling is also highly effective in the treatment of individuals who have eating concerns. Part of recovery involves helping couples re-build the connection that may have been damaged due to ongoing and sometimes secretive eating disorders. The UCAN (Uniting Couples in the Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa) approach involves re-teaching the couple relationship skills such as sharing thoughts, expressing feelings, and problem solving. I find it helpful to add working to break through the barriers shame and guilt unduly provide.
Dr. Bulik’s research sheds light on many significant issues with eating concerns. It supports and affirms our approach at White Picket Fence Counseling Center, where our goal is to provide a holistic experience to recovery. We believe in the importance for all individuals with disordered eating patterns to receive the holistic support and treatment that will allow them recovery, both physically and emotionally, as well as socially – with fulfilling relationships.
I invite you to take advantage of our workshops and counseling services and utilize them as part of your support team through your personal journey.  We know that this is YOUR journey and we are honored to be a part of it. 
My best to you,
Jaki Hitzelberger, MA
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern