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Musings

What's in your Easter Basket?

Often people who struggle with overeating and weight control find Easter to be a difficult holiday. The celebration often involves a family meal that brings with it two big stressors-family and food. We are often faced with many opportunities to be around food that may tempt us to waver from healthy eating, and this in combination with increased exposure to family can feel like a recipe for disaster.

We look at the reality of our families and often compare it with our imagination of the great families and holiday celebrations others are experiencing. We worry about our appearance and what people are thinking about us. We look at the tremendous amount of food and want to squash our anxiety and negative feelings with excess food.

Yet Easter is a holiday about renewal. If Easter is part of your tradition, look at this as an opportunity for a new beginning. If your habit in the past has been to focus on the food and overindulge, look at this holiday as an opportunity to do it differently.

Try to connect with people rather than focusing on food. This can be difficult because our family relationships are often so damaged that real connection isn't possible. It is easy to feel the disappointment about our relationships and stuff those feelings with food. The first thing to do is try to come with realistic expectations. Big family gathering are not necessarily the best places to have intimate conversations. Lower your expectations and try to keep the mood light. If you do start to feel sad or disappointed about the reality of your family connections, try to accept the feelings and allow yourself to feel and acknowledge them rather than eating over them.

Before you go, try to think of ways that you can help make this a joyous occasion for the others who will be attending. Offer to bring a dish, help out during the meal, or clean up afterward. In that way you will be helping to relieve the host who is likely stressed and tired from all the preparation. You will also be taking some ownership of the celebration and knowing that you are influencing the mood of the event in a positive way. This can be gratifying.

As you consider the way you are going to approach this holiday, think about who you want to be. In what ways do you want to celebrate this holiday differently from those of the past so that you can enjoy this as a new beginning?

 

We Don't Have to Be Slaves Any Longer

Passover is supposed to be a joyous holiday, but for many people with food issues, the holiday can be anxiety-provoking. First of all, the rituals themselves focus on food-this can be a problem for people who try to avoid putting too much attention on food, or those who try to adhere to a specific food plan. Even for individuals whose seder may not involve all the traditional rituals, the meal is usually characterized by an abundance of food. This is challenging for people who have a tendency to overeat. Instead of enjoying the meal and celebrating the Jews' freedom from slavery in Egypt, those of us who struggle with compulsive overeating or those who restrict our food, may feel enslaved by the food obsession.

For people who are observant, there are additional stressors-having to handle lots of carbohydrates and sweets as we clean out all the leavened products from our cupboards, the involved process of changing dishes, and having to change one's diet for eight days. All of this can throw us into a tizzy if we are trying to avoid tempting food, or if we have specific foods that feel safe, but are off limits because of the holiday.

For most people, regardless of their level of observance, Passover means being with family, and this can bring up many feelings, both good and bad. On the one hand, it may be great to catch up with family members we haven't seen in a while, but it can also bring with it anxiety. Often we think our families are judging us because we are not married, we aren't thin enough, or our children aren't better behaved. We often feel ashamed of how we look, and we worry about not getting approval. The holiday can also bring up sadness as we look around the table and notice who is missing. The challenge for people with eating issues is to manage all of these feelings without trying to squash them with excess food.

So what can we do to turn this holiday into a true celebration of freedom and rather than continuing our enslavement to food? Try to have authentic conversations with those family members you can connect with. If you are feeling sad about a family member who has passed away, perhaps you can mention it to someone who you feel close to. If intimate conversation makes you feel too vulnerable, then it is an opportunity to practice containing feelings without acting out with food. Remind yourself that you are choosing freedom from slavery to food every time you make the choice to feel your feelings rather than eat over them.

Here are some additional strategies that may help:

  • Don't leave for the seder overly hungry-and definitely don't fast the night before
  • Listen to a meditation or relaxation recording before the meal if at all possible
  • During the meal, try to rise above what may just be imagined thoughts of what people are thinking of you
  • Try to focus on the connection between freedom from Egypt and freedom from obsession with food and weight
  • Think of three things you are grateful for

Passover is about liberation from bondage. My hope for you is that you are able to experience this holiday with renewed freedom from body image concerns, food obsession, and weight.

Spring Panic

Spring is here—Let’s not fall into eating disorder/body image panic. While panicking about spring may sound strange to some, people with eating and weight problems know this feeling all too well. There is a tremendous amount of worry, anxiety, and shame. The fact that we only have a short time to get in shape before we have to get into a bathing suit concerns us. And we are often filled with shame about the diet we didn’t adhere to, the fitness regimen we couldn’t keep up with, and the fact that we are not a smaller size.

This can lead to anxiety, self-loathing, or even depression as we ruminate about what we see as our failures. We should be thinner and more muscular, have no obvious cellulite, and be in a happy, loving relationship. It is easy to think everyone is out having more fun than we are. And this is reinforced by the fact that we see couples out and about, walking on the sidewalk holding hands.

Spring often brings up feelings of inadequacy about whom we are and who we think we are supposed to be. We are filled with self-contempt about not being better at controlling our eating. We worry about not having the relationship we want and we tell ourselves we need to find a loving partner before Memorial Day if we don’t want to have a lonely summer. And we look at magazine covers with beautiful people who seem to have it all – and compare ourselves, coming up short.

DON’T PANIC

It is not too late to counteract the negative messages that we may be telling ourselves. For people with eating disorders, one of the best ways to diminish negative thoughts about our body is through movement. It is especially helpful to make exercise a regular part of our day. From my years working with people with eating disorders, I have found that people who incorporate some form of movement first thing in the morning have the most success at being consistent with exercise.

Engaging in exercise is likely to help us be more invested in making wise, healthy food choices. It also helps increase anti-anxiety and anti-depression endorphins so we can start the day with a positive attitude. With this mindset, we are less likely to obsess about food and body image as the day progresses.

Here are a few tips to counteract the panic:

  • Remember that the increased daylight in springtime makes it easier to exercise outdoors safely.
  • Challenge yourself to find a form of movement you enjoy
  • Try out a sport or activity you’ve never done before like tennis, golf, water aerobics, or canoeing
  • Make plans to do things outdoors you enjoy
  • Find comfortable, attractive clothing and don’t worry about the size—clothing sizes are constantly changing anyway

Spring and summer offer us opportunities to rejuvenate ourselves, have fun, and renew our commitment to self care. As the popular saying by Liam Linisong goes, “A year from now, what will you wish you had done?” Whatever that is, make sure you are enjoying it now.

Change of Seasons

Change is hard for anyone, but for people with eating disorders, the transition into spring and summer can be excruciating. As the weather gets warmer and we see signs of spring, we start to get anxious about our weight and how we will look in lighter clothing that exposes more of our bodies. We anticipate upcoming holidays like Easter and Passover, and we often think about these celebrations with anxiety rather than excitement. We sometimes worry about what we will wear and what people will think of us.

It is important to be informed about the tendency to fall into depression as the seasons change. For people with eating disorders who often isolate themselves instead of accepting invitations to social functions, it is easy to spiral downward. All too often we imagine the fun other people having-those who we perceive to be more attractive-and we criticize ourselves for our own unmet aspirations. We often look at the New Year's resolutions or other goals we had set for ourselves earlier in the year and despair about our lives that don't meet up to our often unrealistic expectations. We ruminate about the relationship that didn't materialize, the weight we didn't lose, and the taxes that lie ahead of us. We may compare ourselves to our fantasies of other people's more glamorous lives, and become discouraged.

So how can we start looking toward spring with hopeful anticipation? First of all, be kind and patient with yourself because this can be a challenging transition and transitions of any kind are difficult for most. Many people feel increased anxiety this time of the year; even positive life changes can cause tension. Don't feel ashamed for feeling stressed by what's considered a "happy" or "positive" change. It's normal to feel anxiety during the first few days-even the first few weeks-of increased light. Additionally, many people feel tired because of the lost hour and the challenge to get adjusted to increased daylight. Our bodies don't get used to it immediately.

A helpful strategy is often making a list of things you have enjoyed in the past as the days got longer, even if you're not in touch with the joy now. Remember past positive experiences when you were able to be outdoors-a hike in the country, an outdoor café or concert. Keep in mind that anxiety about increased daylight is often about exposing more of our bodies in the summer months. Counter concerns about body image with a gratitude list. Make a list each day of three things you are grateful for in this season, including your body. Since so much of our anxiety is about our bodies it is important to not take for granted the wonderful ways our bodies are there for us-the legs that enable us to walk in the country; the nose that enables us to smell the flowers, and the ears that help us take in the sound of the waves. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to the perfectionistic worries about our appearance.

While anger turned inward creates depression, anger turned outward can create empowerment. Let yourself feel your healthy anger about the societal norms that expect you to look like a magazine cover. Instead focus on the positives in the season from a strength-based position rather than the need to constantly self-improve. When we are more engaged in life, we tend to be happier and more energetic, and naturally less preoccupied with food and body image. This leaves us free to live our lives with joy.

Tricks for Handling Halloween Treats

Halloween candy seems to be ubiquitous—everywhere we look, it is around us. At the grocery store, pharmacy, or even card store, candy or pictures of candy are everywhere. Now there are even Halloween pop-up stores with many varieties of trick-or-treat baskets, and even more varieties of candy to fill them.

Of course for emotional eaters, and even the vast majority of adults who try to limit their intake of sugar, this can be a festive and fun, but also challenging day. Even the days leading up to Halloween can be difficult as people are often tempted to use the excuse of trick-or-treaters, or an upcoming Halloween party to purchase sweets that they wouldn’t typically indulge in, and then to eat them all before the date actually arrives.

In addition, many people suffer a fair amount of remorse after Halloween when they sneak into their children’s candy bag, or perhaps even the leftover candy that they bought for trick-or-treaters. Many closet eaters, or night eaters find themselves in the awkward and sometimes expensive position of having to return to the store to replace Halloween candy that they ate before, during, or after the holiday that was not their own to eat.

However, Halloween can and should be a fun holiday for children, teens, and adults of all ages. The key to enjoying Halloween is the ability to be honest with oneself and to ask the following questions:

  1. Am I purchasing the candy for myself, that I am telling myself is for others?
  2. Can I “handle” having this candy in my home before, during, and after the holiday?
  3. Am I open to choosing candy or other goodies to offer at Halloween that I will not binge on, and to make the decision of what is “safe food” for me to have for myself and other people?

With all that said, we know that the more some people deprive themselves, the more they binge. If you’re going to feel frustrated and deprived not having any Halloween sweets, choose carefully a treat or two in a contained amount that you can eat, sitting down, slowly, enjoyably, and with self-acceptance, not followed by self-hatred. In this way, you can be part of the holiday celebration, while maintaining a sense of dignity and self-respect.

Managing Fall Anxiety Effectively

People are often nervous about transitions, including the change in seasons. With fall nearly upon us, many of us are thinking about returning to school and work, interviewing or beginning new jobs, or even upcoming business, social, or health-related appointments. While these changes, for the most part, are positive, experiencing so many changes at once can sometimes be stressful. When students go back to college, family dynamics change. Couples who have been busy with parenting obligations suddenly find themselves to be empty nesters. Students who were comforted by home-cooked meals, and sleep-in mornings, find themselves anticipating dorm food and 8 am classes.

If we find anxiety getting in the way of approaching the upcoming changes with positive anticipation, we may want to think about stress management techniques that can be helpful. These may be techniques we have used sporadically in the past, but the impending change of seasons is a good time to make a concerted effort to put these things in place. Often it is helpful to put together a stress prevention Action Plan. Here are some stress-reducing actions that many people find helpful.

  • Meditation

Meditation has been found helpful in terms of relaxation, sleep, and health issues. There are apps such as "Insight Timer," and "Calm," that have seven-, ten-, and twenty-minute mediations. Even if you don't have time to meditate 20 minutes a day and even if you can't do it every day, you can still get benefit from weekly or bi-weekly meditation.

  • Movement

Many studies have shown that exercise is often as effective as some antidepressants. Even if you can't get to the gym, even walking 5 minutes several times a day can make a positive impact on your mood and health. Weight training can feel especially empowering and is easily learned. And even if you can't afford a personal trainer, you can learn from videos or asking the floor manager at the gym. You can even lift weights while doing daily activities like watching TV in the comfort of your own living room.

  • Food preparation

As schedules get busy, it is easy to forget to put aside the time to buy groceries and prepare healthy foods that sustain us physically and emotionally. After a long day at work and school, we often feel too tired to prepare healthy food and may succumb to fast food or other less healthy alternatives. If life is too hectic to get to the grocery store once a week, which is ideal, it can be wise to do a large grocery shopping in person or online once a month. This can be supplemented throughout the week with quick stops for fresh produce and dairy. It is often helpful to prepare meals for a few days on Sundays and again mid-week so that we have healthy alternatives that can be easily reached for and quickly heated up after a long day at work.

With these techniques you should find yourself feeling more positive and hopeful about the upcoming changes. If you find that you are unable or unwilling to execute stress management discussed, it may be useful to seek the aid of a professional counselor to help you move forward.