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

Person of the Year

Time Magazine named Donald Trump its “Person of the Year”. I understand their decision to do so. He has captured our nation’s attention for the entirety of 2016, for better or for worse, and thus has had a big impact.

But Donald Trump is most certainly NOT my “Person of the Year”. As 2016 draws to a rapid close, I reflect on the people who have had the biggest influence on my life. And the first person who comes to mind is my spiritual director, Sister Julia (“Julie”) Grey.

I can easily label 2016 “The Year of Spiritual Growth”. From discerning a call to become a spiritual director, to beginning my own spiritual direction sessions, to maintaining a mindfulness practice, to being stretched and challenged through participation in the parish profile committee at my church, to starting a new practice of daily centering prayer…this year has opened my heart to receiving God’s immense love which has allowed me to give more love to others than I thought I had in me to give.

By living the “little virtues” of gentleness, kindness, humility, and patience, Sister Julie has allowed me to grow and flourish. The light and love of God are evident in her quiet presence and her desire to help me see God’s involvement in my daily life. I’m so grateful for the doors that opened and drew us together as director and directee, and I look forward to continue my spiritual growth in 2017.

On my facebook page yesterday I encouraged my friends to share with each other the person who has had the greatest impact on their personal or professional life this year. I hope you’ll take some time to do so, as well. Share your thoughts with that person, if you can, or with others. Focusing on those positive people in our lives is like throwing water on the wildfire of negative self-talk that otherwise might consume those of us who struggle with disordered eating. Eating disorders thrive on disconnection from others. So take some time to notice and thank those positive people who have made a difference in your life this year. (And share your thoughts with me by commenting below!)

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

Thriving and Giving Thanks

Last week I facilitated a workshop for students with disordered eating called “Thrive! Don’t Just Survive Thanksgiving”. Attendees were invited to anticipate stressors that could make them more vulnerable to relapse in their recovery. Then each individual created a list of coping skills to deal with those stressors. I was in awe of the number of skills they identified: walk away from the table; take some mindful breaths; text a supportive friend; watch a funny movie; have a discussion with family ahead of time about feelings and needs; listen to uplifting music; and self-soothe in healthy ways.

I enjoyed leading the workshop because I can easily recall a time when holiday meals were agonizing. Food was “the enemy”. I told myself I had “no self-control” and believed if I was around foods I enjoyed (pretty much everything on the Thanksgiving table), I wouldn’t be able to stop eating. I would gain weight. And, to my warped mind, fat was the biggest enemy of all.

It has been eleven years since I began my recovery journey. I still have some fear-based thoughts about food: Am I eating too much? Have I eaten enough variety of nutrients? Did I exercise this morning? Should I eat fewer calories tomorrow? But, thankfully, those thoughts are fleeting. At this point, I’m able to mindfully notice them and gently send them on their way. They are a remnant of my former way of thinking, my former behaviors. They do not consume me now.

One thing that has really helped me thrive, at Thanksgiving and every day, is being grateful. It’s easy to be thankful for the obvious blessings of family, friends, freedom, food, shelter, and companionship with my cat. But I’m also learning (slowly) how to be grateful for even the pain and difficulties in my life.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll start (or continue) a routine of gratitude. There are many small ways to give thanks — a thought, word, or written note; a gesture of kindness; a pay-it-forward moment; or even by contributing your time, talent, or treasure to a charity of your choice. However you choose to give thanks, take the time to do so. Eating disorders thrive on fear and secrecy. Open-hearted gratitude is the cure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

“Wise Self Advice to Younger Self”

Today, in this ten day long “Recovery Roundup” (in anticipation of Eating Recovery Center’s Eating Recovery Day – May 3rd), I share with you this link to a post by Nancy, the mother of someone who struggles with an eating disorder. Click here to read her reflections and wisdom regarding self-care when caring for a loved one with an eating disorder: Wise Self Advice to Younger Self. She reminds us that eating disorders affect the whole family, not just the individual.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

“Dear Megan”: A Letter to Myself About Recovery

Dear Megan,

It has been twelve years since you began your journey to recovery from Binge Eating Disorder. Of course, it was a few years before that when you became aware that you were trapped in the cycle of bingeing, restricting, and self-loathing. I know how ashamed you felt and how hard you worked to break the cycle on your own, without anyone knowing and without any help. I’m proud of the way you faced your fear and shame in 2004 and told your therapist, “I think I have an eating disorder.” I’m also in awe of the way you opened up to others after that — telling Mom and Dad, your partner, and your trusted friends. I’m inspired by the way you used your love of writing to start a journal that eventually became a published book. I’m thrilled that you continue to advocate for those who are still on their journeys to recovery.

Since the beginning of your journey, you have learned so much. If I could go back in time and speak to you early on in recovery, I would tell you…

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Be gentle with yourself. Self-compassion will be one of the most important parts of your journey. There will be setbacks and times when you want to give up. No matter what you do or don’t do, eat or don’t eat, say or don’t say, be gentle with yourself. Don’t let that harsh inner critic have the last word anymore.

 

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Your emotions are a gift. Allow yourself to feel them. Bingeing is a way of numbing out when your feelings are too intense. Take a deep breath. The emotions will not overwhelm you. They will help you identify areas in your life that need attention. Talk to someone who can help you learn to “sit with” your feelings instead of avoiding them.

 

IMG_1957Embrace your inner child. Years of perfectionism and rigid thinking have led you to believe that you must be “proper”, “poised”, and “serious” at all times. It’s okay to be silly and childlike and curious. Your inner child is an extension of the True Self, the Divine Spirit within. Give in to those urges to do a cartwheel. Get down on your knees and marvel at the insects crawling in the grass. Draw with chalk on the sidewalk. Sit unabashedly on a swing at the playground.

 

IMG_1962Feed your spirit. One of the greatest realizations you’ll come to is that disordered eating is NOT about food, weight, and willpower. It is about emotional and spiritual hunger that physical food can never satisfy. So, feed your spirit. Pray, sing, join a worship community, meditate, practice yoga, take nature walks, write poetry, dance in the living room, sit still and just notice your breath, open yourself to the presence of the Divine. All of these things will curb the real cravings.

 

And again, be gentle with yourself. You’ve come a long way, dear one. I’m proud of you.

Love,

Megan