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73 posts categorized "Self-Care"

11/20/2012

Open Your Mind to Meditation

I don't have a perfect meditation practice and you'll rarely find me sitting cross-legged or chanting. Yet I do have a regular spiritual practice that incorporates mindfulness and meditation. For example, I center myself each morning, and sometimes again in between clients or in between work and going home. Sometimes I take a moment for myself before making a phone call, to release whatever I might be thinking about and focus my attention on the present moment.

Meditation doesn't have to look like what you think it will. Open your mind to your own style and examine different resources and classes. At the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we often hold free introductory classes where you can try things out before you commit.

A lot of people come to our Center to reconnect with themselves, and are surprised to realize that we incorporate so many physical modalities. As we discussed in a previous post, these physical activities can actually improve your brain chemistry, helping you to manage the stress of recovering from an eating disorder.  

You can practice mindfulness by sitting still, but you can also practice it when you're moving around, when you're having a conversation with someone. Imagine mindfully listening to another person! When is the last time you listened that way, concentrating on hearing their words and nuances, witnessing their body language, all without any inner dialogue going on about what you think or what you're going to say next?

There are different levels of mindfulness – you may need to work your up to the more traditional forms of meditation. Some stepping stones might include:

  • Guided imagery
  • Journaling
  • Drawing
  • Singing or playing music
  • Stretching
  • Making a collage
  • Doing crafts
  • Taking a walk
  • Sitting quietly on a bench and watching people
  • Experiencing something in beautiful in nature
  • Taking a quiet moment
  • Looking at art

For more suggestions, please see these previous articles:

Stillness Suggestions

How I Incorporate Spirituality into my Life

Some guided meditations instruct you to connect, mentally, with different parts of your body, for example to imagine your muscles clenching and then relaxing. For those with an eating disorder, it may feel too threatening or uncomfortable to connect with certain body parts. My advice? Start with your feet.

Most people find it safest to connect with the feet – though it's not always easy. At a recent training for MY Therapy (a combination of mindfulness and yoga therapy), when the instructor asked us to connect with our feet, we all laughed when we realized we had all looked down instead of just imagining our feet.

So open your mind to the idea of mindfulness, and find a gentle way to introduce this powerful practice into your life. You'll be amazed at the gifts you may find inside your mind.

11/13/2012

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation? (Video)

Meditation can help you get in touch with your feelings and gain awareness of things that are going on that may be causing you stress and leading you to restrict or overeat. Therapy and meditation can both be catalysts that clear away stuff so people can resolve things themselves and self-activate.

As you'll see in this video, meditation may reveal things you don't like or aren't ready to deal with. That's why it can be helpful to have the support of a therapist, therapy group, 12-step group, sponsor or trusted friend who can help you process your experiences and feelings.

Watch the Benefits of Meditation, by Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace

 

Meditation can help you uncover what's going on, and talking that out in therapy or other safe settings can help you get centered and clear to make healing changes. And maybe even reach enlightenment along the way.

11/06/2012

A Few Mindful Moments Can Bring Powerful Healing

Whether you're someone who's not ready or interested to pursue a spiritual life, or someone who's looking for the way to strengthen a connection, mindfulness is an approach that is accessible to everyone.

At White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we hear a lot of people say things like, "I'm so bright in other areas of my life – why can't I get this?" or, "I've been so successful in my career, but I just can't get control of my eating or food issues."

The simple truth is that eating disorders don't make sense. We need to make sense of them. And the only way to do that is to tune in to what's going on inside. Not just in our minds (we're so used to living "from the neck up") but in our whole bodies.

Last month on the blog we talked about the mind-body disconnect of eating disorders, and how yoga is one very effective way to reconnect. A big part of yoga is an invitation to be still and look inwards, listening to your body (on and off the mat) and listening to your mind.

In yoga we call it meditation, but if that doesn't feel right for you, call it mindfulness. Being mindful of who you are, where you are, what you feel, what you know and what you want.

Some people have used the analogy of plugging yourself in, the way you would your cell phone. Whether you're re-charging, or even charging up for the first time, getting quiet and practicing mindfulness can help you achieve the feeling of being centered, or grounded.

When you're lost in the compulsion, obsession, discomfort and unease of an eating disorder, you can feel pretty out of control and out of reach. That's why virtually every recovery and treatment method recommends some form of mindfulness as a way of reconnecting the body and mind.

If you're still not convinced that mindfulness is worth the time or effort, consider this:

Imagine that you're driving along the road and all of a sudden someone pulls out in front of you and you're forced to slam on your brakes to avoid an accident. What's going on in your body at that point? Your muscles are probably clenched, as is your stomach (where digestion has actually stopped, so that the rest of your body's systems will be ready for whatever stressor you're facing). Your heart is probably racing from the urge of adrenalin.

In psychological terms that's called the fight or flight response, and it's a really good illustration of the mind-body connection. The good news is that just as anxious thoughts can cause stressful reactions in the body, so can relaxing thoughts cause healing reactions in the body.

And just as good news, relaxing bodywork can soothe the mind from anxious thinking to more positive and hopeful, actually altering your brain chemistry in the process. So we can see how mindfulness helps to heal both physical and emotional pain. Here is an article from Psychology Today about a research study that demonstrates how meditation positively alters the brain: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/choke/201110/meditation-small-dose-big-effect.

Over the next few weeks on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog, we'll explore the benefits of mindfulness, as well some methods and tools that you can start using right away – even just a few minutes per day could make a big difference to your mind, body and yes, your soul.

10/30/2012

Yoga Resources for Recovery from Eating Disorders

If you would like a very gentle start to your yoga practice, I recommend the book yoganap: Restorative Poses for Deep Relaxation by Kristen Rentz. It contains restorative yoga poses, designed for complete relaxation. The author is a professional during the week and a yoga instructor on the weekend. Her instructions are easy to understand and the exercises are totally doable. There are even some poses you can do from your desk at work!

For further reading, you can explore the Yoga Journal website at http://www.yogajournal.com/.

10/23/2012

How the Principles of Yoga Can Help Heal Food Issues

Though I've been practicing yoga for years, it was in my recent yoga teacher training program when I started to realize the broad implications of the benefits of yoga. Just as the book Living Your Yoga implies, there are many places in our everyday life where yoga can apply.

Here are some of the yoga principles that have come up most often as I have counseled people with eating disorders and food addiction to "live their yoga."

  • Letting go – instead of using food behaviors to bury uncomfortable feelings, let them go
  • Getting centered – instead of feeling pressured and anxious, pause and come back to the present moment where you can make more self-compassionate choices
  • Connecting to other people and to a higher power – food has been barrier between you and other people
  • Tolerating discomfort – learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings will give you the power to move through them without using food or food behaviors
  • Taking time to relax and regenerate – instead of feeling intimidated by silence and stillness as they compete with your busy mind, let it all go and give your body and mind the break they need
  • Being grounded – feel a sense of support and connection to the earth below
  • Soothing yourself – instead of reaching for food or other harmful behaviors, learn to self-soothe in healthy ways
  • Surrounding yoursef with beauty – empower your sense of self-worth by choosing to indulge in healthy forms of joy and pleasure
  • Witnessing without reacting – let go of judgment and practice accepting things as they come

If you're interested in learning how to apply these principles in your own life in recovery, watch for more details about our yoga classes. For those who want to go deeper, we will offer small yoga therapy groups and private yoga therapy.

Yoga practice is a safe place where you can feel both relaxed and energized. Through yoga you can learn to use these principles and apply them to your whole life, gaining clarity and a sense of rejuvenation, and freedom from the stressors of an eating disorder.

10/12/2012

The Mind-Body Disconnect of Eating Disorders

For people with eating disorders, there's a clear disconnect between body and mind – it's like living from the neck up. Because that reconnection is so vital to recovery, many treatment methods are designed to realign the mind, body and spirit.

Getting back that connection helps people find acceptance, awareness and appreciation for their bodies, which naturally leads to wanting to take better care of themselves.

Drawing on my recent experience with yoga teacher training, and in partnership with some of my colleagues who are already registered yoga teachers and yoga therapists, we now have yoga and yoga therapy at the White Picket Fence Foundation.

Yoga is much more than just postures. In fact, some of my therapy clients have been benefiting from my yoga experience for years, as I've incorporated relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, guided imagery and meditation.

The benefits of yoga are well researched, and it is a natural fit to help with food issues. For example, many people have a problem with overeating or restricting during stressful times.Yoga works directly upon the nervous system to evoke relaxation and diminish stress. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system that promotes rest and regeneration and reduces the fight or flight response that brings anxious, stressful feelings.

In the next article, we'll explore some of the principles of yoga and how they can be applied to recovery from eating disorders.

10/02/2012

Yoga Therapy – A Personal Note from Sandee

Clients are often curious about what I do when I'm not working at the Center. Like most of you, there are many things that keep me busy – sometimes I joke that I have to go pay to relax. My favorite method of relaxation is yoga, and it's one of the main ways I incorporate spirituality into my life.

As part of a recent yoga teacher training, I wrote a paper called "Better Body Esteem," about how a yoga program I designed can address so many of the body image issues that accompany eating disorders and food addiction.

On the cover of my paper is a photo of my mother in a red one-piece leotard, upside down in a headstand. It was my mother who instilled my love of yoga, and now that she is no longer living, I dedicated the paper to her.

The teacher training was an amazing experience. I met wonderful people I wouldn't have met otherwise (here is a photo of me with some of my classmates), including some that you will be seeing around the White Picket Fence Counseling Center in the coming weeks and months, as we create new programs to bring you the benefits of yoga.

Some people object to the idea of yoga because they feel it conflicts with their religious practice. Our approach will be completely non-religious, and while we believe that spirituality is a key part of the recovery journey, it will be up to you to decide how deep you want to go.

With our limited space, we're going to focus on one-on-one yoga therapy and small yoga groups – including some classes that will be free for the community. So please stay tuned!

For the rest of this month, I'll be presenting more information about how yoga and yoga therapy are uniquely suited to assist people recovering from eating disorders and food addiction.

09/26/2012

Books and Resources for the Recovery Stage

Life Without Ed is a book that I recommend to anyone who struggles with anorexia or bulimia. By creating a persona named Ed, representing the eating disorder, author Jenni Schaefer teaches the reader how to separate the person from the problem. I heard Jenni speak at a conference of the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP) and what a gift it was to be in her presence – she's like a guru in this field and has helped so many people.

At the conference, Schaefer and co-presenter Michael Berrett, PhD spoke about how finding reasons to change helps eating disorder clients to reclaim their lives. Jenni also spoke more about the life she is continuing to build now that she is free of her own eating disorder, including writing a second book called, goodbye ed, hello me.

I also recommend Regaining Your Self, by Ira M. Sacker, M.D. Sacker is Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, New York University Medical Center and Bellevue Medical Center. He is also the Founder, President and Medical Director of HEED Foundation, Inc. (Helping End Eating Disorders), a not-for-profit organization, and the co-author of Dying to Be Thin. This book helps explain how an eating disorder can be your identity, and so recovery must include a grieving process for the loss of that identity. 

09/19/2012

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.

09/12/2012

Tools for the Recovery Stage of Life

A major part of your recovery will be gaining comfort and acceptance of your body. Whether or not your body size has changed in recovery, you can learn to love and be grateful for who you see in the mirror.

A distorted body image can be deeply embedded in people who are recovering from an eating disorder, whether that's compulsive eating, anorexia or bulimia. The food behaviors they reach for are used to disconnect from the body.

Recovery brings the opportunity – and the challenge – to be present in the body, perhaps for the first time.

To begin, you can use the following tools to discover your personal image and your connection to your body. Then you can start to learn where this story has come from. That way you can release any hurtful or unhealthy perceptions, and move into compassion and full acceptance.

I teach a model called "The Five A's" to guide people through this process:

  1. Awareness (includes acknowledgement and anticipation) – Build your awareness of your current body image beliefs by journaling, meditating and talking about what you discover. Acknowledge your positive, healthy perceptions and anticipate the benefits of moving more and more into this new perspective.
  2. Appreciation (includes achievement and abundance) – Practice self-caring and self-loving rituals that celebrate your body and all of its gifts.
  3. Action (includes attention, amends, aspiration and accountability) – Take the necessary steps to care for and heal your body. You may have spent many years making unhealthy choices, but you can repair that damage one day at a time. Build and use a support team for this process (e.g., therapist, dietician, exercise buddy, therapy group).
  4. Acceptance – The sooner you can accept yourself and your body as you are right now, the sooner you will be able to evolve into the next stages of recovery.
  5. Affirmations – Talk to yourself kindly and positively, always choosing the perspective that everything you want is already on its way.

09/06/2012

Learning to Live in Recovery

According to the Transtheoretical (Stages of Change) Model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente, once someone has passed through the active stage of recovery they enter a maintenance phase. As I wrote about in 2009, a big area of focus in this stage is on how to prevent relapse.

But there has to be more to life than just the absence of your eating disorder. Otherwise it's still controlling you and your life. I encourage people to learn how to live in recovery, to build a life where you're dealing with the realities of preventing relapse, but also open to new discoveries and growth beyond what you've ever imagined for yourself.

The truth is that the stages of change and recovery are fluid, and you will move back and forth between them. Part of the challenge is that life will continue to throw stressors and unpredictable things at you – the difference is that now you're not using food or eating behaviors to deal with them. That may seem scary, but it's actually really great.

Imagine just how proud you'll feel the first time get through a tough time on your own – without the old crutches that you used to use. It doesn't mean you're doing it alone, it means you're reaching out for help in a healthy way, from healthy people, and you're receiving and using that help.

Living in recovery requires a totally different way of being. At the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we talk about this with our clients right from the beginning, so they can practice the tools they can tap into later. Otherwise, they may not know how to handle it when, let's say, people stop noticing or commenting on their new healthy body weight, or when it's time to replace their mealtime habits of calorie counting or deprivation.

We pride ourselves on equipping our clients with the tools, confidence and self-assurance to be strong in their recovery, and to be aware of potential issues so they can talk about them instead of reaching for old, unhealthy behaviors. We remind them, "This too shall pass," and it always does!

Life in recovery brings the chance to develop healthy relationships with food, with your body, with yourself, and with others. When you're using food behaviors, if you have a problem, then automatically you have two problems. In recovery, when you have a problem, you have one problem, and infinite tools and resources to solve it. That is true freedom.

At the White Picket Fence Counseling, we will be continuing our series of Recovery Stories in the Living Room events, where clients share about their journey to recovery. We're looking for volunteer speakers for this series. Please contact us today if you would you like to share your story. We'll also be doing some specialized workshops on this topic, so stay tuned for details. In the meantime, watch the blog and newsletter for additional articles about tools, resources and relationship guidance for the recovery stage.

08/28/2012

The Evolution of Compassion

Once you have gotten more comfortable with having compassion for yourself, having compassion for others and accepting compassion from others, your self-care can evolve to the level where you create your own source of compassion.

This is the ultimate in self-care, because these positive feelings come from within, rather than being dependent on what anyone else does or says. By making the commitment to self-activate, you can create a beautiful sense of balance between your physical, emotional mental and spiritual health. You will let go of harmful thought patterns, food and exercise behaviors, or alcohol and drug use.

You can activate this soothing system within the body through practices such as deep breathing, singing or humming. You can use visualization by developing the image of a place where you feel safe, emotionally, mentally and physically. Then visualize yourself in that place.

You can also visualize yourself as a compassionate self, or use a vision board to create a physical reminder of what you're working towards.

Looking within for compassion won't come naturally at first. You can develop your sense of self-trust by making a list of your successes and accomplishments; this is evidence that you can be trusted – you can achieve your goals and overcome your challenges. Write these things down every day until this self-trust becomes a part of you. You can also write about the times when you felt most compassionate towards yourself or others, or when you felt the most compassion from someone else – and you were able to receive that compassion.

Through journaling you can develop an ideal of what you're looking for in yourself or someone else. Then you can use imagery and even affirmations to call forward these ideals. 

08/21/2012

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:

Compassionate
Non-judgmental
Challenges in a gentle way
Dedicated
Patient
Present
Supportive
Trustworthy
Encouraging
Intuitive
Feels safe
Reliable
Straightforward
Respectful
Funny

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

Distant
Cold
Suffocating
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.

08/14/2012

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? 

08/07/2012

Three Ways to Have More Compassion for Yourself

The world can be a harsh and confusing place for people who are dealing with an eating disorder. What might be a simple task for other people, such as a trip to the grocery store, can be daunting when you are surrounded by mixed messages.

Standing at the checkout counter, a quick glance at the magazine rack shows photos of celebrities caught in unflattering poses, details of the latest quick-fix diet, while on the same cover there is a photo of a decadent dessert with the promise of the recipe inside. Every aisle is adorned with displays meant to entice us into buying things we weren’t planning to buy or to eat. This type of temptation can lead to unhealthy behaviors, which then set into motion a cycle of self-blaming and self-loathing.

When it seems like everything in the grocery store is against you, it becomes even more important to cultivate an ongoing sense of compassion for yourself. When you can acknowledge what you’re going through and every small victory you accomplish, you can help yourself heal and grow.

While I disagree with how Dictionary.com defines compassion as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering," I do appreciate these synonyms they offered: "tenderness" and "heart".

Compassion is more about validation than pity; "I see how challenging this is for you," rather than, "You poor thing." Feeling compassion is not about feeling sorry for oneself or someone else. It's about looking at self and others through a tender heart.

Here are three ways you can add compassion into your life: 

  1. HALT – This powerful slogan stands for "Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired," which are feelings that can make people more vulnerable to act out in their addictions. When you become more aware of whether you are feeling one of those things, you can choose to act on that feeling, or address it using a healthier tool. It takes courage to look with integrity and truth at what’s really happening within yourself. This awareness gives you the compassion and perspective to see why you might be feeling or acting a certain way, and ask what you need to do to take care of yourself in that moment.
  2. Think twice about giving in to your compulsive behavior – It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when you focus on the list of things that may not be going your way, "My friend isn't talking to me," "I had a struggle at work," "I'm not talking to anyone in my family," etc. The next thought might be to "treat" yourself or repeat a harmful behavior. Yet is it really a treat if it will damage your health and you'll feel bad about it later?
  3. Question your self-talk – Notice the mixed messages and give yourself compassion for reacting to them. Release the self-criticism, shame and self-loathing that undermine your self-esteem and confidence and make you feel bad. This all just leads to wanting to eat more or restrict more.

Compassion is about being fully present with yourself, just as you are, without condemning or judging any part of your whole self. Compassion isn't a free pass or letting yourself off the hook; it's a way to focus on the solution and get yourself to the physical recovery that is so important.

The compassionate choice isn't always the easiest one. Another 12-step axiom is that "the first thought is a freebie." You don't have to act on that first thought, which will often take you back into old, unhealthy patterns and habits. You can let that first thought go and revise it into one that will lead you towards recovery.

For some, compassion can be love. For others it can be grace. What is compassion for you?