On Being Superwoman

In about a month, I’ll be leaving my job of almost six years and starting two new part-time jobs. The intensity of my current job has increased recently and I’m finding it difficult to simultaneously keep up with all of the paperwork and training requirements of signing on to my new jobs.

“You’ve got this, Meg! You’re superwoman! Just sleep a little less, work a little harder. Don’t let anything slip. Show your new bosses how much you can handle!”, says an insidious voice within me.

The voice is very familiar. It’s a cousin of “Ed”, the former voice of my eating disorder. Ed’s comments were always focused on calories, food, weight, shape, and exercise. Ed’s underlying fear was gaining weight; gaining weight to Ed meant I was a “failure” or “unworthy” or “unlikable”.

This voice, which seems encouraging at first, is anything but. It pushes me to ignore my emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Just like Ed. It tries to manage anxiety for me by dictating my behavior. Just like Ed. It puts conditions on my worth and likability. Just like Ed.

This Superwoman voice is just another manifestation of my False Self, my ego. But tonight I recognize it and am speaking words of compassion to it from my True Self:

“Superwoman, I know you’re scared. I know you think you won’t measure up in your new jobs. I know you’re sad to leave beloved co-workers and clients. I know you’re unsure about how you’ll connect with your new clients in this new setting. I know your way of managing that fear, sadness and uncertainty is by telling me to stay busy, to try harder, to get things done a week before the deadline, to prove myself worthy of these new roles. But your way is not helpful to me. Your way wears me down. It causes me to ignore my needs until I’m exhausted and depleted. So, tonight I choose a different way. I choose to sit in stillness and listen to my needs. I choose to respond to my needs. I choose to communicate to my new employers about my need for more time. I choose to remind myself that I was hired because they believe I’m a good fit for the role. I choose to believe that God wants me to be still. I choose to believe that I am already beloved: just as I am without having to do or change or prove a single thing. So, thank you for trying to protect me, Superwoman, but I know how to protect myself…with self-compassion, self-awareness, humility, and love.”

How are your inner voices (Perfectionism, Superhero, Ed, Victim, etc) dictating how you behave? Are you willing to practice self-compassion and speak kindly to that voice? What False Self need (esteem/affection, safety/security, or power/control) is driving you today? Are you willing to take time to tune into the immutable True Self which already knows your needs and how to meet them?

Peace to you on your journey,

Megan

Facing Abundance When Others Face Scarcity

On March 10th, Time Magazine ran an article about the U.N.’s dreadful report that 20 million people around the world face scarcity and starvation. They’ve declared it the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. I read the article (read it here) and it sickened me.

Then Monday night, as I sat in my warm, safe apartment eating a home-cooked meal, BBC America News continued their coverage of that story, showing “images which may be upsetting to some viewers”. I sobbed as I saw mothers in Nigeria holding babies who were struggling to breathe due to malnourishment and one mother’s desperate words, “I just want my child to live.” Good God! What a simple request! I put my fork down and wondered, “How can I take comfort in my abundance when 20 million people (in the U.S. and across the globe) are at risk of starvation?”

As a human who believes in the interconnection of all Creation, I feel called to do something about this crisis. As a woman who is in recovery from disordered eating, I’m well aware of my old habits and that my former eating disordered self would see this as an opportunity to restrict calories — as if eating less would somehow make me more virtuous or one with those who are starving. My healthy self can hear how ridiculous that sounds. So what CAN I do?

After prayerful consideration, here’s a brief list of actions I came up with, small though they may seem:

  1. Keep my heart open. By remaining open to the suffering of others, I am emotionally vulnerable. But I am also saying, “We’re connected. Your suffering is my suffering.” Of course the impact of that suffering is vastly different, but spiritually, I am connected to everyone across the globe. So, I vow to keep my heart open to the suffering of others.
  2. Pray. I’ve always told myself, “I can’t change the world. I can only impact those around me.” But God can change the world. God can stir us into action to overcome enormous obstacles. So, I commit myself to praying for those who are starving or food insecure and for those who are already offering them medical, financial, and physical aid.
  3. Eat mindfully and sustainably. Mindful or intuitive eating has been a big part of my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder. Lately, though, I’ve begun to think of eating as an act of stewardship. No matter what’s on my plate, I can recognize it as a gift, be thankful for it, and savor it, or I can mindlessly “down it”, thereby ignoring my connection with those who grew it, harvested it, and made it. So, I commit myself to being mindful that I am eating foods that are grown sustainably and with as little impact on the earth as possible.
  4. Contribute locally. CityTeam Philadelphia is a homeless shelter and food pantry located in Chester, PA. I used to live two blocks from the site and often saw the long lines of people waiting for a meal or some groceries. For almost ten years, I’ve given money to the organization whenever I could. It’s a small way to connect with my neighbors in need. Just as helpful would be for me to volunteer. So, I commit myself to volunteering and giving locally.
  5. Contribute globally. There are many international aid organizations that offer food to the hungry and medical aid to those suffering from the complications of malnourishment. I need to do some research to determine which organizations are best to contribute to, but I commit myself to contributing globally.

This list is just a beginning. I pray for the wisdom to know how to act in more impactful ways in the future. If you have some ideas, please share them with me in the comments section.

Peace, joy, and wisdom,

Megan

 

NEDA Week – Let’s Keep the Conversation Going

It’s the last day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017. I’ve enjoyed the conversations and activities happening on the college campus where I work. The topics have ranged from signs and symptoms of eating disorders to mental health stigma to eating disorders among athletes to cultivating cultural criticism in order to combat the negative messages we receive from the media. This week’s theme (“It’s Time to Talk About It”) has reinvigorated my interest in advocacy and reminded me of the power of sharing our stories…the power of connection with one another.

So, how can we keep the conversation going? How can we ensure that fewer people feel stigmatized, fewer people are impacted by the insidious body-hating messages promoted by the diet/fitness industry, and more people seek treatment? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. When you notice friends or family members talking negatively about their bodies or shaming someone else, draw their attention to it. Your way of doing so may not be my way, but I might say something like, “I notice you’re so hard on yourself. What do you like about your body?” Or, for someone who’s shaming someone else: “Hey. Everyone deserves respect. Appearance-based comments hurt all of us.” (This goes for commenting on any aspect of another person’s appearance — the recent barrage of appearance based insults about our President are no better than his own comments about women’s bodies!)
  2. Become critical of the media, especially the diet and fitness industry. Notice the overt and covert messages: thinness = happiness/success; fat is bad; healthy looks a certain size, etc. When you recognize the absurdity of the messages and talk about that with others, more people’s eyes will be opened. The capital t Truth is that true joy comes from within and can only be cultivated by being present to each moment as it unfolds. It has nothing to do with size, weight, or shape.
  3. Practice mindful eating by yourself or with others. Take note of the sensations of eating and the feelings it evokes for you. Talk about this experience with others. Check out The Center for Mindful Eating for more on the principles of mindful eating.
  4. Before eating a meal with a friend, imagine and discuss the many people who were involved in bringing that food to your plate. For example, take a simple slice of bread: the farmer who planted the seed, the person who invented the harvester that harvested the fully grown grain, the people involved in processing the grain into flour, those who baked and packaged the bread, the person who stocked the bread on the shelf, and the cashier who sold it to you — so many people involved in bringing this bite of food to you. It’s so important to take time to notice our connection to one another as it cultivates gratitude.

These are just a few ways to keep the conversation going as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week draws to a close. Best wishes as you continue your journey of awareness.

Peace, joy, and good conversation,

Megan

5 Ways to Reconnect With Yourself

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Today is the fifth day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017. This morning I was reflecting on an experience that is commonly reported to me by clients in recovery from disordered eating: mental disconnection from their bodies. This can develop due to physical abuse or sexual trauma, such that living in one’s head is much safer and less fearful than being connected to one’s physical self. Or it can develop because of a growing dissatisfaction with one’s physical body, a feeling of betrayal by the body, such that thinking or doing feels better than being.

Before and during my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, I, too, experienced disconnection from my physical body. It was as if my thoughts controlled the show; I was very aware of the barrage of negative self-talk running through my head all day, but not at all in tune with my body’s actual needs and sensations. Part of my recovery from B.E.D. was to engage in the process of “embodiment”, reconnecting with my physical self. So, on this 5th day of NEDA Week, I thought I’d share with you 5 ways to reconnect with your physical self:

  1. Mindful breathing – Sit in a comfortable position, in a quiet place, and close your eyes. Direct your attention to the flow of air in and out as you breathe naturally. Don’t try to change the quality of your breathing, just allow breathing to happen. Notice any physical sensations as you breathe. Notice where you feel the air (your nose, your throat, the rise and fall of your chest). Sit quietly noticing your breath for a few minutes, just to reconnect with your breath…to remind yourself you are alive and connected to all other living things.
  2. Mindful hand-washing – The next time you wash your hands, turn your full attention to that process. Notice the temperature of the water on your hands. Notice the sound of the water. Notice the sensation of the soap on your hands. Notice how one hand feels while the other washes it and vice versa. When you rinse and dry your hands, attend to the feel of the fabric of the towel.
  3. Gentle stretching – There are many wonderful gentle stretching videos on YouTube. Whether you try a seated stretch from your chair or something from a standing position, stretching increases our awareness of the breath and the flow of oxygen throughout the body.
  4. Self-massage – Self-massage is a great way to reconnect with our physical self. However, if you have a strong aversion to your body, the thought of touching yourself may be uncomfortable. I suggest starting with a relatively neutral body part, perhaps the hands or neck & shoulders. Gently rub (instead of vigorously squeezing) the area and notice any physical sensations: coolness, warmth, tightness, tension, pain. Even if you do this for just 60 seconds, you are taking time to compassionately reconnect with your physical self. Gradually increase your time, or massage other body parts.
  5. Massage by someone else – It took me several years to feel comfortable enough with my body to pay a massage therapist for a massage. Maybe this is a longer term goal. Whenever you do try it, be sure to do so mindfully — noticing times when your mind wanders and returning your attention to the physical sensation of the massage in order to stay connected with yourself.

With all of these exercises, it is normal for the mind to wander. We’ve spent a lot of time in our heads/thoughts and less time connected to our bodies. Be gentle with yourself. When you notice yourself thinking, simply say the word to yourself: “Thinking”. And then return your attention to the physical body.

Reconnecting with the body is a process. It will become easier with time. For more information on embodiment and mindful body awareness, use the search terms “embodiment in eating disorder recovery” and you’ll find many resources and blog posts.

Peace, joy, and reconnection,

Megan

Body Positivity

It’s the third day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (2/26-3/4/17) and today I want to focus on body image. *sigh* I don’t even know where to start. I could start with the lies sold to us by the diet and fitness industry. Lies that suggest we will gain happiness, success, money, or health if we lose weight or tone up. Here are just a few of the seemingly innocuous slogans of the multi-billion dollar business:

“What will you gain when you lose?” (Special K cereal)

“It’s all about being a better you” (L.A. Fitness)

“Get paid to lose weight” (Weight Watchers)

These lies suggest that dieting will lead to bigger and better things. For years, I thought dieting was a good thing. My parents dieted. My friends (even at age 14, 15) were dieting. My professors talked about dieting. Church members dieted. I thought, “If I don’t like something about my body, I can change it. I can diet to lose weight or I can exercise to change my shape.” What happened, however, was that dieting didn’t make me lose weight. It made me lose connection with my body’s own ability to regulate itself. Exercising 2+ hours a day 5 days a week changed my shape at first, but it also changed my mind, so that thoughts of exercise and calorie-burning left little space in my head for anything else. The more I dieted and exercised, the more self-conscious I was about my body and the less I liked my body.

So, during this week of raising awareness, I want to point out a website (one of many) that promotes body positivity: Proud 2 Be Me. Proud2Bme.org is a partner of the National Eating Disorders Association, but it was created by and for teens (or 39-year-olds like me!) to increase body confidence and positive body image. I was especially moved by this recent blog post: Let’s Change Our Mindsets, Not Our Bodies.

Take some time this week to notice the self-talk that runs through your head and listen to the body talk you hear from friends and family. Consider saying something more positive instead. Things like, “You’re amazing just the way you are.” “You’re beautiful.” “Beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes.” “You are unique. Don’t change.”

These types of messages won’t sell diet plans, power bars, personal trainers, or make-up. But positive messages like this WILL change your life, one phrase at a time.

Peace, joy, and body positivity,

Megan

“It’s Time to Talk About It”

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week began yesterday and continues until 3/4/17. The goal of the awareness campaign this year is to get the word out: eating disorders affect people of different races, ages, cultures, incomes, and body types. We can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder based on their appearance. As a result, all are encouraged to complete this anonymous screening tool and learn about online and telephone resources: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool

Whether you complete the screening or not, I hope you’ll join me in sharing accurate information through word-of-mouth and social media platforms this week. The National Eating Disorders Association is a good place to start for accurate and helpful information: http://nedawareness.org/

One topic that may help you start a conversation among friends or acquaintances is the relatively recent push for “clean eating”. You’ve probably seen the Panera Bread Company commercials advertising “clean foods”: https://www.panerabread.com/en-us/our-beliefs/our-food-policy/clean-ingredients.html But when does “clean eating” become “dieting”? Is it ever helpful to label foods as “good” or “bad” or “clean” or “dirty”? I don’t have the definitive answers, but posing that question to your peers is a great place to start the conversation.

Also, be sure to check out this infographic from the National Eating Disorder Association to increase your knowledge about who is impacted by dieting and how dieting contributes to the development of eating disorders.

Peace, joy, and good conversation,

Megan

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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26 – March 4) and the theme this year is “It’s Time to Talk About It”.

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At the college where I work, we’ll be posting body-positive messages around campus, providing screenings and resources, offering a workshop on mindfulness, and doing whatever we can to get the conversation started. Although individuals are seeking treatment for eating disorders more frequently now than in past decades, they are still under-diagnosed and under-treated. I believe this has a lot to do with the continued stigma and shame.

I know that providing information about eating disorders will help some students feel validated and will encourage them to seek more support. I also know that efforts to teach healthy self-care will have an impact. But I often feel overwhelmed by the mountain of toxic body messages that stands in the way of all people loving themselves as they are right now. This mountain gets bigger every day as the (well-meaning?) American Medical Association pushes their research on the link between obesity and poor health and as the fitness, fashion, and diet industries preach at us about the religion of thinness. “Being thin/fit/ripped won’t just make you happy, it will save your life!”

Reminding ourselves of the great progress we’ve made in affirming all people of all body types is important, but we must look ahead and tackle the work that still needs to be done. I hope you’ll join me next week in posting something on social media or talking with your friends. And be sure to check back with my blog next week when I’ll share some ideas about how to chip away at that mountain of negativity and build up your own (and others’) body esteem.

Peace and joy,

Megan