National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

February is usually the most hectic month for me – more hectic than even the holiday season! Between my husband’s birthday, my birthday, AND our wedding anniversary, there’s plenty of celebration to be planned (and enjoyed), but it’s also the time of the year when perhaps the gusto with which I attack each January starts to catch up with me. Like, tell me again why I planned to start training for a half marathon while juggling a half dozen private clients, a brand new nutrition group, five public yoga classes a week, two non-profit jobs, and the mounting of a cabaret? In the dead of winter?!

No complaining here though. I feel invigorated, if a little frazzled, and I’m taking it one day at a time, one breath at a time, one break from the computer at a time — and always keeping an eye out for my MBP Daily Three.

NEDAwareness_2015_Shareable_IllusionsFebruary 22nd through the 28th is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, in which people across the country come together to “put the spotlight on the seriousness of eating disorders and to improve public understanding of their causes, triggers and treatments.”

One of my favorite offerings from NEDA so far this week is this Media Literacy Toolkit, which includes, among other awesome info, a quiz to help you determine your digital body image and examples of how to send your feedback to advertisers.

Also included in the toolkit is a pledge designed to “let people know where you stand on picture-perfect body images in the media.”

What do you think — would you take the pledge?

NEDA’s Body Positive Pledge:

  • I promise to move beyond society’s ideal body standards and embrace my own body.
  • I promise to tell myself one positive thing about my body every time I look in the mirror and appreciate that I am original and there’s only one me.
  • I pledge to respect my body and not try to fit media’s image of attractiveness.
  • I promise to keep a healthy and active lifestyle for myself and no one else.
  • I pledge not to judge people based on their body shape and size, especially if they do not fit the cultural body ideal.
  • I pledge to be proactive about negative body images and challenge unrealistic and demeaning body talk.
  • I pledge to advocate for positive body image messages—that includes not to buy from companies or support organizations that use unrealistic and unattainable body ideals to sell a product or promote a cause.
  • I pledge not to retouch my photos in order to enhance my appearance online.
  • I pledge to become more media literate and think critically about what I see, hear and read, especially on social media.
  • Finally, I pledge to love my body unconditionally.

If I’m totally honest with myself, holding to this pledge in its entirety would be a serious challenge. This is not easy stuff here, folks; we’re talking about reversing years of negative conditioning. But what a goal to work towards! Which of the above pledges will you work towards this Eating Disorder Awareness Week? Let me know in the comments below.

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6 Years Recovered

Practice self-care, loves; this post may be triggering to some.

six candles recovery anniversary | MindBodyPlate

Today is a special day for me – one of my favorite days of the year. September 3rd is my recovery anniversary, and today marks 6 years since the last time I binged and purged.

I blogged about my recovery anniversary last year, but a lot has changed since then. Last year I started the day by taking my favorite yoga class; this year I woke up at 5:30 AM to teach a yoga class.

Last year I thought that self-care was something extra you made time for every day; this year I’ve learned that every facet of life and every choice you make is an opportunity for self-care (self-care isn’t the frosting on the cake, it’s the cake itself).

Last year my ideas about what I should be doing with my life were getting in the way of the actual doing; this year I have a private practice which offers nutritional coaching, private yoga sessions, and peer coaching for those in recovery from eating disorders, and I’m in the early stages of planning the New York City debut of my one woman show about food and body image.

The long view almost always highlights growth — I think that’s why I like anniversaries. Because, individually, most of the last 365 days felt like nothing was happening, like I was getting nowhere. But the sum is greater than its parts, as they say.

peanut loves maple syrup | MindBodyPlate

I want you to know that ‘6 years recovered’ does not mean I have a perfect relationship with food. Just yesterday, for example, I was so frustrated with the logistics of setting up my new laptop that I ended up eating a ramekin full of peanut butter mixed with maple syrup… with a spoon.

…and then I went back for seconds.

Emotional eating at its finest, folks. Were there elements of a binge there, where I felt out of control? Sure. The difference is that after it was done I didn’t throw up my hands and say, “Well, now that I’ve totally blown it, I better eat everything else in the kitchen.” The difference is that I didn’t want to purge or punish myself at the gym. The difference is that I knew a little bit too much peanut butter would not send my weight or my body image spiraling out of control. The difference is that I didn’t beat myself up.

Sarah Kit Farrell laughing | MindBodyPlate

Squished on the subway and loving it!

Actually, I had a bit of a chuckle. I mean, we all get frustrated sometimes — let’s be real, especially when setting up new electronics. Of course I lost a bit of control as my brain became overwhelmed. Of course my body tried to comfort itself. And of course it chose the path of least resistance (dietary fat and sugar!!!).

That I can hold yesterday’s mini-binge with empathy, love, and a bit of humor is the real sign that I am recovered.

Just as all of the changes in one year may not be apparent until the year is over, the hundreds and thousands of mini-steps towards recovery may not be apparent day-to-day. That’s how it is with overcoming anything, I think. We relish when we can look back and feel pride in our accomplishment, now abundantly clear. But the good stuff is happening with every mini-step, every choice to incorporate self-care, every day, every moment, every bite.

MBP VIP: Renee Engeln on Beauty Sickness

Hey, are you feeling okay? Are you struggling to engage with the rest of the world? Feeling tired and defeated? Unable to direct your energy toward the things that really matter?

Do you have Beauty Sickness?

For most of my life, particularly when I was struggling with my eating disorder, I found social situations unbearable – though you may never have noticed. I liked people, and I knew that I was good at talking to them. I had a talent for engaging groups and entertaining crowds. By all accounts, I was the consummate extrovert.

But somehow, such activities always left me feeling drained, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes they made me feel downright miserable. I could never seem to let go and enjoy myself the way other people did. I knew objectively if I was “having fun”, but I didn’t necessarily feel it. Much of the time it felt forced, and all I really wanted was to be alone.

So when Renee Engeln started talking about Objectification Theory around the 9:30 minute mark, I felt like she was describing my experience exactly. Renee explained, “You cannot chronically monitor your body’s appearance and be engaged with the world. When you are Beauty Sick, you cannot engage with the world, because between you and the world is a mirror, and it’s a mirror that travels with you everywhere. You cannot seem to put it down.”

Yeah, that would pretty much explain why I was so exhausted after socializing. I was so preoccupied with how any person might be perceiving me at any moment that it was nearly impossible for me to do anything but go through the motions. I was on guard at each and every moment, hyper-aware of my body in space, constantly searching the reactions of those around me for signs that I was either succeeding or failing.

This also explains why it’s become more and more enjoyable for me to spend time with friends as I’ve gotten older. The more secure I feel in my own body, my own person, the more I’ve been able to fall in love with myself, the more I can relax into social situations. As that hyper-vigilance has faded away, I’ve found more energy to be present in the exciting and inspiring conversations of those around me. As I’ve let go of the fear that I’m being constantly judged, I’ve been able to taste the fruits of companionship and loyalty in a whole new way. And yes, I’ve felt what it’s like to have fun.

More of that, please.

Imagine the power we women could yield were we to be relieved of this ailment, this Beauty Sickness. Imagine all of that energy, all of that focus, being directed toward something more lasting, more loving. The thought gives me goosebumps.

What’s the simplest way to start? I for one will take Renee’s advice: I’m a new “Auntie” to a beautiful baby girl.  And yes, she is a thing of beauty. But whenever I get the impulse to tell her so, I’ll instead tell her she’s smart / strong / active / capable / friendly / happy / curious / courageous / persistant / generous / kind…

What do you think? Do you have the sickness? How will you work towards getting better?

B.K.S. Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar passed away today. His influence on the practice of yoga, especially as we know it in the West, is truly immeasurable. If you don’t know him too well and you have the time, I highly recommend Google searching his most memorable quotes to get a feel for his immense wisdom. There’s also a mini documentary about him here.

A great teacher has departed, but he hasn’t truly left us. As Iyengar himself said, “Life moves. There’s no death. There’s no birth. Life is like a river… moving without any stop.”

BKS Iyengar on yoga | MindBodyPlate

I Wear Purple

I wear purple because

February draws to a close this evening, and with it, Eating Disorder Awareness Month. If you’re looking for some inspiration, head on over to the facebook page for The Purple Project, a month-long event beautifully orchestrated by an organization called Where I Stand. All month, people from all over the world have been submitting pictures of themselves wearing purple, standing up for eating disorder awareness, recovery, and prevention. The whole project has been quite moving, and I’d like to congratulate Where I Stand for such a successful endeavor!

When Full Means Fat and Fat Means Bad

Bowl of Almonds

When full means fat and fat means bad,
nourishing your body is a treacherous task.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
an extra helping can make you feel like your own worst enemy.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
Thanksgiving dinner is like navigating a minefield.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
you’d rather miss your best friend’s birthday party than feel bloated in public.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
you can never truly appreciate a shared meal with loved ones.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
the world is a dark, scary place, and recovery seems nearly impossible.

But full is not fat. And fat is not bad.

Full is a signal: my body has had enough. How grateful I am for that satiety cue! How miraculous that I can communicate with my own body in this way, with the trillions of cells which comprise its form. Full can be uncomfortable, but full goes away. So I sit with it. I give it time. I say, “Thank you for the message; I hear you loud and clear.”

Fat is a macronutrient essential to my body’s functioning. It helps me digest and absorb many important vitamins and delivers essential fatty acids that my body can’t make by itself. It helps my cells do their various jobs, promotes healthy skin and hair, maintains my body temperature, allows my neurons to communicate, protects my organs, and helps combat disease.

My body also creates fat as a form of emergency energy storage. What a blessing that my body knows how to care for itself in this way! Sometimes, my body may go a little overboard, but I will never remedy this by depriving myself. Instead, I will help my body feel nourished and balanced. Only then will my body stop preparing for the worst case scenario. So I accept it for what it is. I say, “Thank you for protecting me in this way; there’s no emergency here.”

Sometimes I need to be reminded that being full isn’t the same as being fat, and that “fat” is a term which has been demonized beyond recognition. After all, these are ideas that I learned a long time ago, and those kinds of ideas can be the hardest to change. But if I’ve proven anything to myself it’s that I am capable of remarkable change. So thank you, Fullness. Thank you, Fat. I hear you loud and clear, but there’s no emergency here.

SKF at Window

Dare to Be Scrumptious

Macaroons

“Dare to be scrumptious in your body. It will affect everyone around you.” -J.M.

When my yoga mentor casually declared the above to a class full of eager yogis the other day, she was in the midst of discussing the yogic principle of ahimsa, or “non-harming.” Ultimately, the practice of yoga and ahimsa are one in the same. Though we often challenge our bodies to persevere through uncomfortable poses, our time on the mat is always about ahimsa, never about pushing ourselves to the point of injury. Even amidst challenging poses, says my teacher, it should all feel “yummy” …scrumptious, even.

So when my teacher dared me to be scrumptious in my body, I imagine she was daring me to respect my body’s limitations. To honor what felt good to me, in my body, in that particular moment.

But I couldn’t help interpreting the directive on a much deeper level. Scrumptious, huh? What would it take for me to truly “be scrumptious” in my own body, I wondered. What would that feel like?

I mean, it’s been a major victory just to get to a place of love and acceptance with my body. But I can’t remember the last time I was unabashedly proud of it, like it was the most appealing, appetizing, delicious human form ever. It sounded nice.

Be Scrumptious in Your Body

And then there was that intriguing append: It will affect everyone around you. This made my brain explode a little. I’ve never thought about how my self-image is affecting everyone else – HELLO: I’m too wrapped up in how it makes ME feel! But of course our self-perception affects those around us; we carry it with us everywhere, and it colors our every interaction.Feeling Scrumptious in Your Own Body

When we put ourselves down for not looking or feeling a certain way, we’re unwittingly signaling to those around us that we expect the same from them. On the other hand, feeling scrumptious in your own body gives other people permission to feel the same. It’s the exact opposite of the oppressive monoculture of high fashion and plastic beauty – an all-inclusive celebration of form!

Feeling scrumptious in your body takes guts. Many of us have no practice (80% of American women and up to 97% of women in the UK are dissatisfied with their bodies; somewhat ironically, even Glamour magazine has taken note). And if, like me, you suffer from overvaluing the opinions of others, the prospect of showcasing self-esteem can sometimes paradoxically make you feel more vulnerable, not less (What if someone disagrees with me? Challenges me? Calls me out?).

But you guys… we got this. And once we get started it’ll feel so good, so yummy, so delectable, that it’ll be hard to stop. Remember to start small:

  • When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, start showering yourself with luxurious praise. Yes, out loud if you have to. Yes, even if you don’t believe it.
  • Write yourself a compliment and set it as an alert in your iPhone for some random time in the next week – a delicious surprise for a rainy day.
  • Try experimenting with some self-massage – that coconut oil is good for more than just cooking, ya know.
  • Set a date with your best friend and exchange lists of what you love about each other’s bodies. Declare it a “no negative self-talk zone,” and hold each other to it.

What would it take for you to feel scrumptious in your body today? Do you think anyone would notice? How might it affect those around you – your family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers?

 

 

5 Years Recovered

Practice self-care, my friends; this post may be triggering to some.

Journal Entry on Recovery

When I wrote the above journal entry I had been in recovery for two years. It would be another two years and 8 months before I binged and purged for the last time. The road was long, grueling, messy, and confusing, but I made it, and today I celebrate five years recovered from an eating disorder that took 12 years of my life.

This old journal entry really captured my attention, because it sums up what was most challenging about my recovery process: sitting with the discomfort. Of course, at times, “discomfort” couldn’t begin to describe what I was feeling, the skin-crawling, nail-biting, heart-wrenching, head-pounding agony of living in my own skin after eating. I used to imagine digging my fingernails into the couch cushions, into the walls, into anything that would anchor me down and keep me out of the bathroom. There were times when I wanted to die, because it all seemed too painful to bear.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that I had trouble sitting with discomfort, with distress. Studies show that low levels of distress tolerance paired with high levels of urgency can predict bulimia nervosa (Anestis et al., 2007). The paradox of this life-threatening disease is that immediately following a binge/purge episode, bulimics experience a rapid drop in stress and other negative emotions along with a corresponding increase in positive emotions (Smyth et al., 2007). In other words, purging is an effective coping mechanism that makes sense… in the short-term. These reinforcing factors are part of what makes it so hard to beat.

And yet, it’s possible. I’m living proof.

This is not to say that my day-to-day is without struggle. A better marker than years for recovery would be the number of times I’ve felt physical discomfort or emotional pain and chosen to do something other than binge, purge, or restrict my food intake. What a number that would be! That’s how ‘five years recovered’ happens: sitting with one uncomfortable urge at a time.

Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, who was the director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, called this practice “urge surfing,” and he used it with patients suffering from all kinds of addiction, from drugs, to sex, to food (Taitz, 2012). But you don’t need an addiction to use urge surfing; everyone can benefit from mindfully observing the rise and fall of a craving. We all struggle with urges that satisfy us in the short-term but might not be in line with our long-term goals. That makes us human.

Luckily, the intensity of my struggle has diminished with time and practice. I’ve gained a great deal of insight studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and yoga. Each in their own way has helped me cultivate self-empathy and nonjudgmental awareness. I find when I’m able to slow down, notice what’s happening in the present moment, and accept the moment for what it is, I am free to create more beneficial patterns of thinking and behaving. And that is what recovery is all about.

So how do I plan on spending my big day? Well, I’ll start with my favorite yoga class, and I’ll probably end with a meal at my favorite New York City restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. A massage might be in order. More importantly, I’m dedicating this day to embracing each emotion as it comes, the good, the bad, and the not-conventionally-beautiful. Because if I can embrace those emotional waves and ride them with loving kindness, there’s nothing that can stop me.

5 Years of Recovery

References:

  • Anestis, M. D., Selby, E. A., Fink, E. L. and Joiner, T. E. (2007), The multifaceted role of distress tolerance in dysregulated eating behaviors. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 40: 718–726. doi: 10.1002/eat.20471
  • Smyth, J., Wonderlich, S., Heron, K., Sliwinski, M., Crosby, R., Mitchell, J., & Engel, S. (2007). Daily and momentary mood and stress are associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the natural environment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (4), 629-638 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.4.629
  • Taitz, J. L. (2012). End emotional eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills to cope with difficult emotions and develop a healthy relationship to food. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.