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

cleaneating

 

 

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

A Different Kind of New Year Resolution

I’m sure you’ve noticed the recent increase in TV, internet, and radio ads promising a “new year, new you”…as long as you shell out big bucks for a patented weight loss program that tells you how much to eat, what to eat, and when…or as long as you buy the latest extreme exercise program designed to force you to mindlessly push through pain and physical distress. As someone who often made (and failed at) resolutions to lose weight or tone up, let me urge you to see these types of resolutions for what they are: one-way tickets to disconnection from your True Self. The True Self — that is, the divine spark in all of us — is not nurtured by losing weight or changing shape. Your True Self is nurtured through connection with self, others, the natural world, and God.

When I began my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder in 2005, I didn’t understand the importance of connection. At that point, I thought I was just changing my behaviors. I was trying to binge less often, exercise less compulsively, and eat more regularly and less restrictively after a binge. I didn’t realize that the steps I took to change those behaviors involved increasing my connections — first to myself, by noticing the difference between emotional/spiritual hunger and physical hunger; then to others, by opening up about my struggles instead of hiding behind a veil of secrecy and shame; then to the natural world, by widening my view from the circumference of a dinner plate to the infinity of the universe; and finally to God, by reengaging in worship, prayer and other spiritual practices.

The more we connect with self, others, nature, and God, the more at peace we are. The more at peace we are, the less worried we become about the values of the world: thinness, lean muscles, or the ability to run a marathon. Sometimes, when we’re at peace, changes in body size or shape or ability do happen. But if they do, they happen at their own pace, not one designated by the diet and exercise industry.

So, as you consider changes to make in 2017, consider making a different kind of resolution: Resolve to be gentle with yourself. Resolve to be vulnerable with others. Resolve to engage with the natural world. Resolve to open yourself up to the goodness of God, Spirit, or a Higher Power. Choose connection.

Peace, joy, and health in 2017,

Megan

The Gift of Freedom

Two years ago, my counselor recommended I buy a little book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh called “Gift from the Sea”. She believed its wisdom, though written over 60 years ago, would benefit me on my journey. I ignored her suggestion and forgot about the book.

A year later she again mentioned the book. That time I wrote it down on a notepad…and promptly forgot about the notepad and the suggestion.

A month ago, I cleaned out my purse and the little notepad fell out and opened to the page with the reference to “Gift from the Sea”. I made a mental note to stop at Barnes and Noble to pick it up…and then forgot to do so.

Last week I went out with my best friend, someone with whom I can talk about all things personal, professional, and spiritual. We exchanged Christmas gifts and as I opened the bag she handed me, I saw “Gift from the Sea” nestled in there among the tissue paper. My jaw dropped and I put my hand over my heart. I told her the story and added, “It seems I am meant to read this book!” She was delighted. She had no idea the book had ever been suggested to me.

I started it two nights ago and find myself wanting to savor it instead of devour it. Its wisdom is both comforting and disturbing, a simultaneous confirmation that the spiritual path I’m walking is the “right” one for me and a call to further conversion and deeper commitment to my faith.

Perhaps what was most striking was that the first chapter of Lindbergh’s book speaks of freedom or “indifference” to the outcomes of life, a topic that I’ve studied in grad school and one that came up in my spiritual direction session a week ago. My spiritual director encouraged me to consider my attachment to one outcome over another and how that may be impeding my spiritual growth.

In this first chapter, Lindbergh writes of the myriad gifts of the sea, but the need to wait patiently and with indifference for what may be deposited by the waves at our feet. As she so eloquently puts it:

“[These treasures] must not be sought for or — heaven forbid! — dug for. No, no dredging of the sea bottom here. That would defeat one’s purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.” (Lindbergh, 1955, p.11)

I read that passage over and over again Sunday night. I reflected on how my desire for certain outcomes in my life (marriage over singleness; a higher paying job over my current job; a house instead of an apartment) may be an indication of “not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith”. This is the essence of the spiritual concept of “indifference”. Remaining “empty, open, choiceless” allows us to go where God leads when God calls. My attachments to certain outcomes make it difficult for me to be truly free to respond to God’s call and belie my lack of faith; as if any outcome I can think of is better than what God has planned.

I’m not sure yet what this means for me personally, professionally, or spiritually, but I am in awe of the God whose perfect timing and orchestration allowed for this little book of wisdom to come into my hands this Christmas. And I’m grateful for the gift of my counselor who suggested the book, my friend who gave me the book, and my spiritual director who guided me to these new questions. Gifts are all around us. May we all be truly free to see them and embrace them.

Peace, joy, and health,

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