Archive for November, 2014

Gratitude: Antidote to “Not Enough”

November 25, 2014

I didn’t get enough sleep

I don’t have enough money

I need to exercise more

There is never enough time to get everything done

I’m not ___________ (thin, fit, attractive, rich, strong, smart, etc.) enough

Does your day start or end with any of these thoughts? What about throughout your day? Is there enough? Do you do enough? Are you enough?

Regardless of the abundance that surrounds us we often perceive a “culture of scarcity” – a mindset that can lead us to focus on what we lack versus what we have. A couple of years ago I was introduced to the work of Brene Brown, a psychology researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. Through her work she observes ways this “culture of scarcity” plays out in our everyday lives. The observation that struck me most is that people who struggle with emotional eating or binge eating, sometimes use food in response to these feelings of “not enough.” Brene suggests one possible antidote to subconscious and conscious feelings of scarcity and inadequacy: a gratitude practice.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

While it may be naïve to think a simple gratitude practice is the solution to behaviors as complex as binge eating, I am intrigued by the idea that focusing attention on what we have versus what we lack can help us feel more fulfilled in our everyday lives. Many clients struggling with emotional eating issues describe food as a way to “fill” some type of void that has nothing to do with biological hunger. Despite their “knowing” this is a reason they eat, they struggle to stop such behaviors. I often encourage clients to identify what is driving the eating because if it is not physical hunger then no amount of food will “fill” them. The idea behind this strategy is that whatever the real need is that drives this eating cannot be met if it goes unidentified. Unfortunately the process of unraveling underlying needs is not simple and takes time.

Is it possible that focusing more on what we are grateful for may help us feel more “full” in a positive way? Can we “fill up” on gratitude to replace mindless activities that don’t serve us well?

I decided to try a gratitude practice myself, just to see what would happen. Though I don’t currently struggle with eating issues, I definitely fall into that scarcity mindset with respect to time, money, and many other things I wish I had more of. When I learned about the scientific studiesGratitude jar related to gratitude I wondered if this practice could impact other behaviors that distract my daily life and keep me feeling “busy.”

Last fall shortly after my return to Jackson, I was sitting at my desk with Ginny curled up next to my chair. I glanced at my favorite wedding picture propped on my desk beyond my computer, and then out my front window toward Snow King Mountain bathed in afternoon sunlight. Overwhelmed with gratitude, I wanted to freeze that moment. I was home in Wyoming with Dave and Ginny, I re-launched my dream career at Beyond Broccoli, and I was surrounded by mountains, a community I care deeply about, and immediate access to so many of the things I love to do. I knew that at some point the proverbial “honeymoon phase” of this new chapter of my life would fade, so I decided to start a gratitude practice. My hope was that at some point when the mundane aspects of everyday life replaced my bursting enthusiasm for all-things-Jackson, I could retrieve a few of these strips of paper and remind myself of all the aspects of my daily life that provide richness beyond measure.

I already journal regularly so I chose to try a gratitude jar instead. I got a Mason jar from the kitchen and removed the steel lid. I cut a piece of paper into small strips and wrote a few of the things I was grateful for in that moment. I continued to do this daily for a while, savoring simple moments that made me feel joy and contentment. Dog walks and puppy kisses, random acts of kindness, playing in the snow, sunshine on cold winter days, feeling love and support. It didn’t take long to notice moments of gratitude everywhere I went. Now I don’t even have to read my little scraps of paper – I glance at the jar on my desk and am filled with gratitude.

I don’t know if this gratitude strategy can decrease general thoughts and feelings of scarcity for everyone. I do know this has been a powerful practice for me. I am more aware when I start down the scarcity mind set path and can stop myself or at least recognize what is happening. Though things are going pretty well right now, as with most years the past 12 months included moments of fear, pain, and discomfort, and there were losses. I can’t say I felt less of these uncomfortable emotions, but I do think I was a bit more resilient. The way I see it there is no downside to a gratitude practice and for me nurturing resilience following life’s inevitable hardships, is enough.

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Overweight and in Recovery from an Eating Disorder

November 17, 2014
Photo from a client in recovery

Photo from a client in recovery

Last week following a presentation about eating disorders to a group of mental health professionals a participant stood up and shared that a relative of hers had just returned from eating disorder treatment and was overweight. What should she (the relative in recovery) do?

Each time I hear this question my heart sinks. We live in a culture where the primary metric for health is weight. If someone does not meet clinical criteria for a “healthy” weight range she is encouraged by everyone around her, often including her health providers, to “diet.” It astounds me that even when a person has struggled with a full-blown eating disorder the focus remains on weight, and too often “dieting” is the recommendation. Keep in mind that a “diet” for someone with an eating disorder is like a drink for someone addicted to alcohol.

Responding to the question about what to do next is difficult for many reasons. First, I know nothing about this person’s eating disorder journey – how it began, the form it took, the treatment she received, current support, etc. What I do know is that no matter what her journey looks like, working with a combination of outpatient therapist and dietitian with training and experience in eating disorders is the ideal next step. I’d like to say this type of follow up care is essential based on the many stories I’ve heard from my eating disorder clients about working with professionals not experienced with eating disorders. Unfortunately the reality of living in areas where specialized services are not available makes this an ideal scenario rather than an essential one.

The long term nutrition goal is to create a positive relationship with food (body and emotions too but these are more in the psychotherapy realm). Here are my top 3 next steps for nutrition in eating disorder recovery after some type of residential or inpatient treatment:

  • Seek support related to a more intuitive and mindful approach to eating. There are several books and websites on these topics. For Intuitive Eating resources Evelyn Tribole’s website is great http://www.evelyntribole.com/resources/intuitive-eating-articles-studies-support-groups/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating and for Mindful Eating guidance Michelle May, MD has some really good resources http://amihungry.com/resources/about-the-mindful-eating-cycle/
  • Be aware of any type of food restriction – especially if your eating disorder includes binge eating. This is one of the most counter-intuitive aspects of eating disorder recovery for those who struggle with binge eating. This is also commonly ignored among dietitians and other health professionals not experienced in eating disorder treatment. The focus is too often on the binge rather than the food restriction that can begin a cycle of disordered eating. Skipping meals and snacks, avoiding certain foods or food groups, only allowing yourself to eat at certain times, or arbitrarily determining portions sizes rather than relying on your body to tell you what and how much you need, are all forms of food restriction that can be harmful in eating disorder recovery.
  • Watch for “always” and “never” thoughts and statements. These words are red flags for “black-and-white” “all-or-nothing” types of thinking that support disordered eating behaviors of all kinds. These words are rarely true when it comes to food and can help you identify struggles that lurk beneath the surface during your recovery journey.

There are many more issues to address in support of long-term, sustainable eating disorder recovery and a positive relationship with food. If you are overweight as you face the next stage of your recovery these steps can help you stay focused on health and well-being while you support your body’s return to a healthy weight range tailored to your individual needs.

It Takes a Team to Support Eating Disorder Recovery

November 13, 2014
Photo by Fiona Conway Summer 2014

Photo by Fiona Conway Summer 2014

Earlier this week a colleague and I gave a presentation on eating disorders to a group of mental health professionals in Idaho Falls. It was a whirlwind of information crammed into a relatively short span of time but it felt important. I welcome opportunities to share what I’ve learned about eating disorders – including the treatment process and recovery journey, with both the public and other professionals. Each time I engage with a group about this work, I walk away wanting to do more, wishing we had more time and more resources to empower more mental health, nutrition and medical professionals to identify patients and clients who need support around the most basic of human needs: food and connection.

As we prepared for the eating disorder talk I also realized how powerful it is to partner with a colleague with both experience and a deep understanding of this difficult work we do. I have struggled since my return to private practice to recreate some of the magic I experienced as an integral part of a cohesive multi-disciplinary team in an outpatient clinic devoted to eating disorder treatment.

I now realize that what was special about being part of such a team was that in addition to our increased effectiveness in treating our patients in an environment of ongoing team communication and a strong foundation of knowledge surrounding these complex disorders, we knew innately how to support each other in our work. Whether it was tears, laughter (that could seem inappropriate to an outsider at times), a well-placed hug, or a simple nod of understanding, I felt a little less alone in the often tumultuous sea of treatment and recovery we were helping our patients to navigate.

The outpatient setting presents many challenges for both clients and practitioners. The amount of services covered by insurance is often inadequate and there are many environmental factors that make eating, exercise and body image a daily struggle. Though clients who are appropriate for this more minimalistic level of care are less acutely sick, patching together adequate support for them is often difficult. For those of us committed to working with eating disorders in this less-than-ideal outpatient setting, recognizing when we need support ourselves and being good models of self-care for our clients is essential. I am grateful for my new colleague and friend in this work and look forward to what we can offer our community as a team.