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Valentine's Day-Indulging in Connection, Not Food

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Valentine's Day can be hard in any circumstance, but during a pandemic where we are constantly advised to isolate, it can be particularly lonely. This holiday which comes at a dark time of year, can often heighten the feeling of being alone and unloved. And for people with eating disorders, the feeling of being unloved can often lead us to indulge in excess food. For many people who have eating disorders, when we are feeling lonely or unloved, we tend to turn to food to help soothe those feelings, which gives us a false sense of being loving to ourselves. However, this behavior turns on us, because overindulging often leads to self-flagellation for "breaking our diets," and we often feel bad about our bodies, and just as empty as we had before eating the unhealthy food.

It is important to recognize that our relationship with food is often shaped by unhealthy messages that we received in childhood about food being a source of love. Too often our primary caregivers used food as a symbol of love. As adults, we try to replicate the feeling of being "loved," by engulfing ourselves in sweets, and other rich foods that might remind us of family meals or treats. Unfortunately for people with eating disorders, when the food is over, we are left feeling empty, and plagued by negative feelings and worries about our body image.

According to Geneen Roth in her book, "When Food is Love," many people learn in childhood that love is painful because we will inevitably experience loss or rejections, and it is safer to use food as a shield instead of feeling that pain. Instead of developing healthy, and truly loving relationships which could lead to loss and pain, we "protect" ourselves by engaging in compulsions to eat, work, or shop, among many others. Emotional eating may feel like an act of loving-kindness to ourselves, but in actuality it is the opposite. This attempt to be "loving" to ourselves, just ends up being another way to punish ourselves and reinforce negative feelings about ourselves.

Our relationship with food can feel like a metaphor for our other relationships. Just as we might turn to unhealthy foods which feel good for about three minutes and ultimately leave us feeling empty, so too, we may choose partners who don't satisfy our needs, and leave us feeling empty. Before we can engage in really healthy, satisfying relationships outside of ourselves, it is often useful to work on improving our relationship with ourselves.

As Valentine's day comes, as well as seeking or enjoying an intimate relationship that feels loving and kind, we can also look at the way we relate to ourselves and other people in our lives, and try to do so in a more supportive, loving, and kind way. Instead of speaking harshly to ourselves, it is helpful to make a concerted effort to engage in positive self-talk. We can remind ourselves to be gentle with ourselves and people who we love. Instead of being taskmasters and berating ourselves for not sticking to a diet or a regimen of strict self-control, we can try to eat intuitively, identifying our real hunger and fullness as much as possible. If one is a true food addict, we may need to respect that there are certain foods that may be too stressful to have in our lives, let these foods go, and grieve that loss.

While you are trying to find a relationship, it is wise to work on becoming the person you want to be. When we form healthy and supportive relationships with ourselves, we greatly increase our chances of attracting the person we want to be with.

2021: Moving into Health and Joy

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As we approach 2021, there are many reasons to be hopeful. Change is on the horizon.

Many of us are still struggling to feel positive on a daily basis, and it is tempting to overindulge to try to soothe ourselves. However, binging on anything-TV, food, drink, technology, or online shopping is only a temporary-and usually unsatisfying-solution. What's worse is that these activities are ultimately self-destructive as they usually lead to shame, disappointment, and remorse.

How do we continue to go about our daily lives without using unproductive coping mechanisms that often lower our self-esteem and create new problems? We need to remember that, no matter how dark things seem, nothing lasts forever. Although we may not have the control we would like over many of the externals in our lives, we can control our own internal experiences. It's also important to keep in mind that negative feelings don't last forever, and we can rest-assured that they eventually pass. It is possible to live well, regardless of what is going on in the outside world.

Cultivating joy in the day is a muscle that can be built. We can do many things that bring pleasure. For instance, we can turn on music and dance to raise endorphins, take an exercise class on Zoom, or dust off an old musical instrument from the closet, and check out a "how-to-play" video on YouTube. We can reach out by phone to an elderly relative or friend, and ask how they are doing-it is often easier to be joyful when you are focused on bringing joy to someone else. Many people are enjoying playing tennis and skiing, while socially-distancing. If you unable to incorporate solutions on your own, it is often useful to talk to a counselor or join a support group.

January is a time for new beginnings. As we move into a New Year, I encourage you to look for the joy. Best wishes for 2021.


Tips for Avoiding Binge Eating During The Holiday Season


The Halloween season can cause a spike in anxiety levels for those who are in recovery. Those who struggle with overeating, binging and bulimia may view this time of year as a challenge and may be scared of the many ways that Halloween can trigger someone in recovery. Setting small goals during this time of year will help you stay on track. There is no need to eat a lot of candy just because everyone else is. Listen to your body and eat what you feel comfortable with. Enjoy the candy without focusing on nutritional value and if you are not ready for it, try some fun-shaped snacks. Allow yourself to enjoy the holiday fun. 

If you are planning on going out on Halloween, whether that be to a party or trick-or-treating, go with someone you trust and feel safe around. Do not go anywhere alone to ensure that you are not tempted to break the strides. It is helpful to wear something you feel comfortable in. Do not feel pressured to look or dress a certain way. A Halloween costume can be as simple as your everyday attire with a pair of cat ears. Do not worry about what everyone else is wearing and focus on yourself and what makes you feel confident. If you have parts of your body that you are self-conscious of, wear a long sleeve shirt or colored tights underneath your costume.

If traditional Halloween events are of no interest to you, consider making other plans. There are many different ways you can celebrate without having to sacrifice your recovery. Volunteer at a children’s event or sign up to help with post-Halloween clean up in your neighborhood. Invite some friends over to your house to watch a scary movie to end the night. There is no need to participate in traditional Halloween events if you are uncomfortable. Do what is best for you and your recovery. It is important to celebrate holidays in ways that are best for you. Practice self-care and be mindful of how you are treating yourself during the holiday season.

Halloween can be a difficult holiday for anyone who is in recovery, but that does not mean that it should not be enjoyed. Always remember that you are not alone in your individual recovery journey and there is always help available. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. offers compassionate guidance for those who need to move further along the road to recovery. To join a support group or for individual counseling, call  212-750-8130 or fill out an online form today. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, our New Jersey therapist helps individuals throughout Highland Park, East Brunswick, Manalapan Township, Marlboro, Westfield, and New York City.


How Can I Cope with Isolation During the Pandemic?


COVID-19 has changed daily patterns of life for virtually every human being on this planet. For many, these changes created an elevated sense of anxiety. According to health experts, the experiences of quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing, and wearing masks are triggering increases in depression and loneliness, as well as anxiety, in many people.

We are all social creatures and need to experience personal connection. Many of our friendly interactions with other people are no longer happening, including handshakes, hugs, and just being close. Social isolation induces stress. Those of us who wrestle with poor self-image know the pain that comes with isolation. In the past, we may have built walls and even turned away from friends or family for fear of facing judgment about our eating habits or the way we look.

Many of us have worked hard to break out of those old habits and make healthy connections. We now face new challenges due to this pandemic and the types of social isolation it has imposed upon our community. Relapses are more common during times of stress. This is nothing to feel guilty about. At the same time, it is within our power to get back on track and go forward. Now is the time to expand our coping skills. The following ideas may help:

  • Stay connected with your therapist and support system
  • Maintain a schedule for regular meals and snacks
  • Adjust to a new, healthy routine
  • Practice self-compassion and self-care

With the help of professional therapy and a support system, we can find new ways to overcome the obstacles that COVID-19 has put in our paths. We also need to take time to nourish our entire being with the right balance of sleep, exercise, and healthy nutrition. Building a trusted social support network can help us dismantle the negative perceptions that have accumulated over the years. Connecting and building our community of support is one of the most effective coping skills available to us.

During a pandemic, our community of support may be a combination of in-person interactions and virtual connections. Facetime and Zoom meetings have become the norm. Social media connections may also help. However, we must exercise care in that area. If a social media account causes anxiety, it may be best to turn our attention to avenues that are more uplifting.

Whether we receive support online or in-person, it should come from a place of compassion and acceptance that is free of judgement. Joining a support group is one way to start building a network of connections. Sharing stories and breaking down walls of isolation can provide us with the resilience that we need to get through the pandemic.

In a support group, we are likely to discover that others have experienced difficulties that our similar to our own. Group members may also expose us to different interests or hobbies that we never considered before, thereby opening us up to new, fulfilling experiences. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. offers compassionate guidance to help people build a strong social network and move further along the road to recovery. To join a support group or for individual counseling, call 212-750-8130 or fill out an online form today. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, our New Jersey therapist helps individuals throughout Highland Park, East Brunswick, Manalapan Township, Marlboro, Westfield, and New York City.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

As the days get shorter and outdoor temperatures drop, many of us find ourselves staying indoors more often. Sometimes fatigue sets in and we have trouble concentrating. This may actually be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If we are able to recognize what is happening and get ourselves back in the groove again, all the better. However, for some of us, depressive episodes may set in during the fall and winter months, compromising our ability to develop a more positive body image and nurture a healthier relationship with food.

Researchers believe that SAD is triggered by lack of sunlight. More than half of those who experience SAD are women, and many of them also face challenges with eating. While no one knows what exactly causes SAD, evidence points to the lack of sunlight. The increased amount of darkness from September to May can impact our melatonin levels. When our bodies are in the dark, we produce melatonin, which enables us to sleep. Too much melatonin can affect our mood and energy levels, while less melatonin may affect our body’s production of serotonin, which greatly impacts our mood.

If we recognize how the change in seasons affects our mood and outlook, we can adopt strategies that will help us feel better and be healthier. The following are some suggestions:

    • First and foremost, say no to the guilt trip.  Our genetic propensity, as well as our past experiences and environmental factors, have a lot to do with the challenges we face. Others around us may not be affected by the lack of sunlight or issues involving food. That does not mean we are somehow inferior to them; they likely face other challenges that we may not see.
    • Go outside as much as possible. Find reasons to step outdoors when the sun is shining, whether to do an errand, visit an elderly neighbor, or to take a walk.
    • Consider light therapy. Research indicates that increased exposure to light may help alleviate symptoms up to 50 percent.
    • Volunteer. The world needs you and your unique talents. Election season is upon us; perhaps one can work at a polling station or lend a hand to helping others who have not registered to vote. Other possibilities exist, particularly during the pandemic when many people are in need.

We cannot stop the sun from setting earlier during the fall and winter seasons, but we do have the power to choose how we will respond. Our feelings and concerns are very real, but so is the resilience within our spirits to seek a better way.

When we embrace our uniqueness and open ourselves up to love and acceptance, new possibilities burst forth. Individual therapy and group sessions can also help us navigate the way. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. offers therapy sessions that may help you along in your journey. To join a support group or for individual counseling, call 212-750-8130 or fill out an online form today. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, our New Jersey therapist helps individuals throughout Highland Park, East Brunswick, Manalapan Township, Marlboro, Westfield, and New York City.

Returning to School or Work
During a Pandemic

COVID-19 has changed nearly everything about our daily lives. For many of us, daily routines are a large part of our journey to healthier eating. This past spring, we were faced with the prospect of having our routines disrupted by lockdowns and social distancing. Now, many of us are facing new changes as schools are back in session and some employers are asking workers to return to the office.

If you are feeling a range of emotions about going back to school or work, you are not alone. On the one hand, it can be exciting to finally step into a familiar routine. On the other hand, the routine is probably going to be different. Face masks, social distancing, and other protocols have changed how we interact as human beings. This especially affects those of us with eating issues, as personal interaction is an integral part of our journey toward better health and self-discovery.

When approaching going back to school or work, we need to be open and transparent about our anxieties. Whether we are talking with trusted friends or family, a therapist, or members of a support group, we will undoubtedly discover that we are not the only ones worried about these questions. When we venture back to school or work, some of our questions may remain unanswered. We may not be able to control that. However, we can control how we approach these challenges, such as:

    • Recognizing that everyone around you may be facing similar fears
    • Being respectful of others who are experiencing anxiety
    • Giving yourself time to readjust to the new normal
    • Being grateful for the gift of life and the opportunity to start over
    • Finding new ways to connect to others who understand and support you

If you are feeling anxious at times, you may find comfort in breathing exercises. Visualizing calm scenes or memories in your mind’s eye may also help. Spending time outdoors on a crisp fall day can also be uplifting. Above all try to be patient and kind to your self during this very anxiety provoking time for all.

Discover your unique gifts by seeking the help of a compassionate therapist and a support group. You may be amazed at what you discover. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. offers therapy sessions that may help you rediscover joy and a new way forward. To join a support group or for individual counseling, call 212-750-8130 or fill out an online form today. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, our New Jersey therapist helps individuals throughout Highland Park, East Brunswick, Manalapan Township, Marlboro, Westfield, and New York City.

How Does Appetite Affect My Journey to Resolve Emotional Eating, Overeating, and Bulimia?

Hunger is our body’s natural, biological response to lack of food. Our bodies need nourishment; taking care of that need in a healthy way is a goal that we all share. However, hunger and appetite are two different things. Appetite is our desire to eat food, which may develop even when our bodies are not showing signs of hunger. At other times, our bodies may be telling us that we need to eat when we have no appetite. There are two types of hunger that our bodies are accustomed to; stomach hunger, which is true, physical hunger that our body understands, versus mouth hunger, which is merely food looking good.

When eating, it is helpful to use a hunger scale from zero to 10, with three as a place to begin as slightly hungry. Ideally, people should not wait until they are overly hungry, where they cannot make good decisions, and stop at a seven, which is stopping when your body feels full, but light, knowing there is always food available. Out of all of the factors that influence our appetite, our emotional state tops the list. Feelings of stress, grief, anxiety, and depression can profoundly change our appetites. Food is one way of coping with past trauma, as well as the pressures we are currently facing.

For those of us who wrestle with deep-seated emotional eating challenges, talking openly about our appetite may help us gain new perspective on the road to recovery. In group therapy sessions, members learn to trust each other enough to share experiences that have long been kept inside. Oftentimes, therapy participants are surprised that others are talking about their relationship with food in the same way they do.

Many of us use food as a substitute for coping with what bothers us, then we feel guilty about doing it. We think we are terrible people because no one else does what we do. However, when we join a group, we discover that we are not alone in this experience. There are others with us on this journey fighting many of the same battles. In sharing that commonality, we may find that good things are happening right now to pull us up where we want to be. There are different strategies we can try along the way to recovery. Practicing mindfulness meditation before eating might be one approach to consider, which includes the following:

    • Waiting until you are moderately hungry before eating
    • Taking a few deep breaths before you eat to relax
    • Taking time to enjoy what you eat without watching television, reading, or finding other distractions
    • Stopping when your body says it is enough

Above all, give yourself space. You do not need to have the perfect meal every time. Being mindful is, in itself, a real victory. Try to work on breaking the cycle and remember that you are enjoying the precious gift of life, right now, for a reason. Society needs your skills and personality. Think about the things you would like to explore and make a plan to do them.

You are not alone in your journey. As long as you take a deep breath and look around, you have the opportunity to silence negativity and cultivate the unique insight and ability inside of you. People in your community and our society need you and your unique strengths, and Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. can help you find your way. To join a support group or for individual counseling, call 212-750-8130 or fill out an online form today. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, our New Jersey therapist helps individuals throughout Highland Park, East Brunswick, Manalapan Township, Marlboro, Westfield, and New York City.

Will the Summer Months Affect My Recovery?

Summertime is the best time of the year, but not for everyone. For many, the summer months represent potential obstacles in the path to recovery. As we grapple with deep-rooted emotional eating challenges, summertime can be anything but carefree. The summer months may affect recovery, but it should do so in a positive way.

During recovery, we have learned the value of routine. Staying on schedule with meals, exercise, and other positive activities helps keep us focused. Summer tends to disrupt many routines. We can overcome this challenge by exploring new ways to create or maintain positive ones. Think about taking an early morning walk each day, you may be surprised and energized by what you find.

When it is hot outside, we are unable to obscure our body shape by wearing bulky clothes without drawing attention to ourselves. On the other hand, if we don shorts or a comfortable tank top, we may feel that others are making judgements about how we look. It may be easy to get depressed about this dilemma, which can lead to unhealthy eating episodes, followed by guilt about one’s body image.

However, there is good news. Summer does not have to include another cycle of negativity. There are ways to cope and strategies for continuing on a successful recovery. Put on the shorts or tank top at home first and enjoy the feeling of freedom without thinking that others are making judgements. Next, invite a trusted friend to go outside with you when wearing summer clothes.

Give yourself a little time. Remember you do not need to be perfect to wear summer clothes. No one is perfect. Counteract the negative self-talk and go outside to discover the unique, great person that you are. The world needs you and your talents. If you have the financial means, donate to food banks, follow up with elderly neighbors, or petition elected officials about causes that matter to you.

During the summer months, stop the cycle of guilt and negativity by replacing it with talents that only you can bring to your community. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. has helped many people stay on track on their road to recovery during the summer months. To meet with a Highland Park or Manhattan therapistcontact us online or give us a call at 212-750-8130. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, Joanne helps individuals throughout New York and New Jersey, including Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield.

Transcending Anxiety and

Emotional Eating During the Pandemic  

Now that we are moving into Phase two of coping with the COVID situation, we are all being presented with new as well as continuing challenges. Many of us are feeling burnt out from social distancing. The time away from our regular routine and the fast pace of life, which may have felt novel in the beginning of this crisis, now just feels difficult to many. As Memorial Day approaches, we are confused about an uncertain future, don't know whom to listen to, and we wonder when, if ever, we will see an end to this.

These are challenging times for everyone, but for people with food and emotional eating issues, there are additional stressors. It is easy to get depressed and frustrated about not to be able to go away for Memorial Day, or even plan outings with family and friends. Continuing to be homebound as the weather gets better can also create additional struggles with food and mood.

The ongoing sense of isolation from friends and family as well as the worry that we might not be able to safely enjoy much-needed fun such as vacations and outings to beaches, lakes, and mountains, creates a feeling of deprivation. On top of this, is the confusion about whether it is possible to plan a vacation when the future is so uncertain.

For people with body image issues, we worry about summer and the additional exposure as we shed heavy layers of clothing. In addition, seeing our faces mirrored back to us during Zoom calls multiple times a day, is an opportunity to negatively compare ourselves with others and berate ourselves. Of course, for people with eating issues, this negative self-talk can often trigger the compulsion to overeat, and then we have set off a viscous cycle which generally leads to more self-loathing and more binging. Many of us also feel guilty about overeating, and the guilt is now exacerbated by knowing that many people, including children, are going hungry.

These times aren't easy, and the future is uncertain. But one thing is definite, excess food and worry about body image only makes things worse. This situation demands that we build our tolerance for frustration and ambiguity. We need to accept that many of our supports are going to look different from how they looked in the past. Helpful activities may include:

· Online support groups, educational opportunities, and entertainment.

· Movement-if possible, get out and walk, run, or bicycle (perhaps at a 6-foot distance with a companion).

· Outdoor activity-spend time in nature, take a drive to a pretty location, or simply make time to sit out on your balcony or porch and enjoy a nice breeze.

· If outside is not possible, make use of the many online exercise opportunities that range from meditation sites to Pilates to yoga. Classes can range from 10 minutes to one hour.

One of the things that boosts self-esteem and mood is giving to others. Focusing on helping others get their needs met can often feed our own need for connection, and make us less likely to try to feed ourselves with unnecessary food. There are lots of ways to be of service, including:

· Helping out at a food bank or bagging food for distribution to those in need.

· Volunteering for groups that deliver food to elderly or disabled people.

· Reaching out by phone to underserved populations including the elderly, Holocaust survivors, shut-ins, and immigrants.

· Making a donation (of even five dollars) to an organization that fights hunger, such as City Harvest.

We need to challenge ourselves to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. While we are not out of the woods yet, we can still move forward with cautious optimism. And that includes making sure that we are both taking care of ourselves and giving to others. When this is all over, we want to feel not only that we have survived a difficult time, but that we have grown personally, and have helped change the world for the better.

recognizing the Signs of Emotional Eating

Nearly 30 million people in American struggle with eating issues. We should never shame ourselves about our relationship with food. At the same time, we can only start on a more positive path if we recognize the warning signs that indicate emotional eating. Common signs may include the following:

    • Thinking about food nearly all the time
    • Having an overriding concern about weight and body shape
    • Feeling compelled to look in the mirror to spot flaws in our appearance
    • Experiencing overwhelming feelings of low self-esteem
    • Feeling guilty after eating

Emotional eating reflects underlying struggles that we may have been dealing with for a long time. Life transitions can also trigger unhealthy eating habits, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, the death of a loved one, or ending a romantic relationship. Many other changes are capable of propelling us down a negative path as well. If we are using food as a tool for coping with tough times, it may be time to look for other sources of support. Finding a safe place to share your concerns and anxieties without fear of being mocked or reprimanded is very important.

Therapy can assist in guiding us along a positive path. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. has years of experience helping people find new and better ways of going forward. To meet with a Highland Park or Manhattan therapist, contact us online or give us a call at 212-750-8130. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, Joanne helps people in many walks of life throughout New York and New Jersey, including Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield.

Spring Panic

As springtime approaches, we are presented with new challenges and opportunities. Daylight lingers, which brings comfort to some, but to many of us, the longer days may bring on feelings of loneliness. When that happens, we may try to suppress our lonely thoughts by eating unhealthy foods. This can be a vicious cycle as we berate ourselves for overindulging. On top of that, we may have concerns of wearing warm weather clothing, exposing our bodies more than we like.

However, we still have the power to choose. Instead of allowing ourselves to be consumed by fear, we can embrace the milder temperatures and explore ways to kindle warmth in our hearts. Something as simple as the song of a sparrow or the smell of hyacinth can speak to us in a new way, encouraging us to love ourselves and our bodies and express kindness and empathy toward others.

We can break through old habits by nurturing loving relationships with supportive friends around us. Fortunately, there is no need to travel on this road alone. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. offers therapy sessions that have helped many people move in a more positive direction. She offers group therapy as well in Manhattan, New York and Highland Park, New Jersey. To join group therapy or meet with an experienced therapist, contact us online or call us at 212-750-8130.

Deliverance from fear: freedom from bondage at Passover

As Passover approaches, it may seem difficult to celebrate deliverance from slavery — as many of us are feeling anything but free right now. Whether we are in self-quarantine or simply practicing social distancing, it can feel like bondage. However, there is another kind of bondage that we can control — bondage to fear and negative thinking.

It is absolutely essential to take precautions, follow protocols, and stay aware of current circumstances. Yet, if we spend too much time watching the news, talking about the situation, researching the latest statistics, and ruminating about what may happen, we can become unable function. The challenge is how to be vigilant and responsible without falling into negativity and depression. 

It is possible to avoid becoming a slave to our own fears, but it requires a commitment to self-reflection and deliberate action.

First, it is important to examine the lens through which we view the world. The history of Jewish oppression has created a sense of dis-ease for many of us. Way before the threat of the coronavirus, our people have been on edge, waiting for impending disaster. This mindset is not unreasonable, given our history and the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism. Having said that, many of us have been brought up to believe that the world is unsafe, and catastrophe is likely at any moment. This is especially true for those of us who are children of Holocaust survivors or whose relatives were survivors.

While this fear may be valid in some cases, it is not empowering. An alternative is to step back and reflect on who and what informs our thinking. If we notice that our thinking has been influenced by fear-based family members or even our own personal trauma, then it can be useful to ask ourselves, “Is my fear exacerbated by my assumptions about the world? Am I scaring myself? Do I tend to focus on the negative? Do I miss signs of compassion and hope such as the online communities trying to support one another? Is this negative thought consistent with my own experience or is it colored by the views of someone else who had very little hope?”

Once we examine our assumptions, we can take our cues from the field of Positive Psychology, the “scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive,” founded by psychologist Martin Seligman, emphasizing the power of shifting to a more optimistic outlook. Far from being a Pollyanna approach, research shows that individuals who focus on gratitude, look for signs of hope, and help others experience an increased sense of well-being in many cases are more likely to be welcomed into the lives of others. 

In addition to looking at our thinking, it is important to pay attention to our actions. It is easy to fall into negative behaviors that undermine our ability to stay positive during stressful times. As a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders, I have seen many individuals who choose to overindulge in food, alcohol, or other self-destructive (or addictive) behaviors in order to push down feelings of anxiety. For emotional eaters, externally imposed isolation is the perfect excuse to overeat or eat unhealthy food. This can lead to a negative spiral of self-loathing and hopelessness. 

Even for those of us without a tendency toward self-destructive behaviors, we must take action to stay in the best possible frame of mind. Though outside opportunities are limited, we can look at what is in our power to control. Namely, how can we best take care of ourselves given our circumstances?

    • Consider limiting your exposure to the news. If possible, designate a certain time for news consumption each day — ideally no more than 20 minutes of TV/internet news in the morning and again in the evening, and a maximum of 40 minutes of news in print. Don’t worry about being uninformed — if something big happens, the news will find you. 
    • While practicing physical distancing, it is essential to maintain healthy social connections through all available channels. (Video chats with family, virtual classes, support groups, synagogue services, and entertainment can help break the isolation.)  
    • Think about how to be part of the solution. Is there someone you can help? Perhaps there is an elderly relative who needs a phone call or essential grocery shopping? Ask your synagogue for virtual volunteer opportunities
    • Exercise. Even if that means doing sit-ups on your bedroom floor, following along with an exercise or yoga video, or dancing in your kitchen to rock ’n’ roll music, it is important to keep those endorphins up. 
    • Pay attention to right now. What are you doing now? If you find your mind wandering and catastrophizing, try to pull yourself back to the present, and focus on the task at hand. One day at a time, or even one hour at a time. For meditation resources, try mindfullivingsummit.com or calm.com.
    • Look for virtual entertainment such as zoo, museum, and theme park tours, or broadwayhd.com, a digital media service for live and recorded theatre performances, currently offering a free trial at press time. 
    • Start a gratitude list, possibly focusing on gratitude for many of the things taken for granted in the past. Research shows that gratitude is linked to increased well-being and resilience. 

This year’s Passover will probably look quite different from usual — whether that means small gatherings of our immediate household or virtual seders with extended family, we can still keep the spirit of the holiday in mind. Possibly our work this year is to celebrate the gift of freedom by not enslaving ourselves to our fears, and holding onto a sense of hope. 

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

February 24th to March 1st is National Eating Disorder (NED) Awareness Week. Those of us in recovery are very familiar with the difficult challenges associated with emotional eating. However, many people do not know about the symptoms, health consequences, and types of eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association suggests several ways for participating in NED Awareness Week, including the following:

    • Share your story about your body acceptance journey with group therapy members, trusted friends, or family
    • Know that your story is valid and deserves to be heard, regardless of your body shape, race, gender identity or socioeconomic status
    • Reflect on the positive steps you have taken in your journey

If you feel comfortable about joining the online conversation about eating and body image online, use hashtags #NEDAwareness and #ComeAsYouAre on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Your story may encourage someone else who is struggling with their own recovery journey.

Our Thoughtful Manhattan and Highland Park Therapist Offers Compassionate Help to Those in Recovery

Therapy can open a door to freedom when we are weighed down by eating issues and negative thoughts. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W., has dedicated her career to helping people explore healthy habits and new ways of thinking. We offer confidential consultations in Highland Park, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York. To meet with a Highland Park or Manhattan therapist, contact us online or give us a call at 212-750-8130. Joanne Gerr offers assistance to clients throughout New York and New Jersey including Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield, New Jersey.

Be Your Own Valentine

Holidays have often been tainted by marketing-partially playing on our weaknesses and insecurities. And this is no truer than at Valentines Day. This holiday which comes at a dark time of year, when people are sometimes feeling lonely, can often heighten the feeling of being alone and unloved. And for people with eating disorders, the feeling of being unloved can often lead us to indulge in excess food. For many people who have eating disorders, when we are feeling lonely or unloved, we tend to turn to food to help sooth those feelings, which gives us a false sense of being loving to ourselves. However, this behavior turns on us, because overindulging often leads to self-flagellation for "breaking our diets," and we often feel bad about our bodies, and just as empty as we had before eating the unhealthy food.

It is important to recognize that our relationship with food is often shaped by unhealthy messages that we received in childhood about food being a source of love. Too often our primary caregivers used food as a symbol of love. As adults, we try to replicate the feeling of being "loved," by engulfing ourselves in sweets, and other rich foods that might remind us of family meals or treats. Unfortunately for people with eating disorders, when the food is over, we are left feeling empty, and plagued by negative feelings and worries about our body image.

According to Geneen Roth in her book, "When Food is Love," many people learn in childhood that love is painful because we will inevitably experience loss or rejections, and it is safer to use food as a shield instead of feeling that pain. Instead of developing healthy, and truly loving relationships which could lead to loss and pain, we "protect" ourselves by engaging in compulsions to eat, work, or shop, among many others. Emotional eating may feel like an act of loving-kindness to ourselves, but in actuality it is the opposite. This attempt to be "loving" to ourselves, just ends up being another way to punish ourselves and reinforce negative feelings about ourselves.

Our relationship with food can feel like a metaphor for our other relationships. Just as we might turn to unhealthy foods which feel good for about three minutes and ultimately leave us feeling empty, so too, we may choose partners who don't satisfy our needs, and leave us feeling empty. Before we can engage in really healthy, satisfying relationships outside of ourselves, it is often useful to work on improving our relationship with ourselves.

As Valentine's day comes, as well as seeking or enjoying an intimate relationship that feels loving and kind, we can also look at the way we relate to ourselves and other people in our lives, and try to do so in a more supportive, loving, and kind way. Instead of speaking harshly to ourselves, it is helpful to make a concerted effort to engage in positive self-talk. We can remind ourselves to be gentle with ourselves and people who we love. Instead of being taskmasters and berating ourselves for not sticking to a diet or a regimen of strict self-control, we can try to eat intuitively, identifying our real hunger and fullness as much as possible. If one is a true food addict, we may need to respect that there are certain foods that may be too stressful to have in our lives, let these foods go, and grieve that loss.

Instead of looking outside of ourselves for food, it is useful to look inside of ourselves to build a more loving relationship with ourselves and other people. Happy Valentines' Day.

Getting Out of Isolation and Into Hope

One of the challenges of the winter months is how to get enough light—both literally and figuratively. We are still a long way from spring, and we need to prepare to fight the tendency toward isolation and depression that comes for many in the wintertime. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an issue that many individuals experience in winter. Lack of sunlight and cold weather can bring on deep feelings of depression and hopelessness. Even for those of us who don’t have SAD per see, we can still be negatively affected by the dark winter months. For people with eating and body image issues, the cold weather can have an even bigger impact because it is harder to get out to exercise; we become depressed about how we look, and often turn to excess food to comfort ourselves. Adding to the sense of isolation is our current culture of frequently spending time on social media and other electronic communication instead of having real, human interactions. Too often, we see couples or families in restaurants, enjoying a meal “together,” while each member is busy texting on their own individual cell phone. Societal norms present the myth that all this technology is enabling us to connect faster and have better communication. But it is a fallacy—the more time we spend on social media, the less time we actually spend with friends in real time. The more we text, the less we speak to one another. While it is tempting to use social media and tell ourselves we are in connection, we are actually deluding ourselves and increasing our sense of isolation. So how can we break out of this? The first step is to realize that while isolation often leads to loneliness and depression, connection leads to healing. We need to take deliberate steps to get out of our houses and be with other people—whether that is through socializing or through therapeutic Support Groups. There are many ways to get out of isolation. Some of these include the gym, yoga, travel, restaurants, skiing, or even just meeting a friend for drinks or coffee. Attending church or synagogue, or visiting sick friends or relatives is another way to break the isolation. In the age of Netflix and Hulu, it is easy to fall into the trap of staying at home, but if we make the effort to get out, be with friends or join a dedicated Support Group, we can give ourselves the ammunition to fight societal norms that lead to isolation. NY-NJ Eating Disorder Therapy offers Support Groups for individuals experiencing eating issues. Information is available at 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112.

Gear Up for Success in the New Year

While resolutions are good fodder for New Year's Eve conversations, they are easily forgotten in January when the hectic pace of everyday life hits. By the first full week of January, we are often back in the thick of work stresses, and family responsibilities. It is easy to get overwhelmed and unable to take the new healthy actions we resolved to take just a week before. Before we know it, we are back to the same old behaviors. This can lead to feelings of self-condemnation and shame. For people with eating issues, we may turn to excess food to try to sooth the negative feelings. This can put in motion a cycle of overeating, purging, starving, self-blame, depression, hopelessness, and still more eating. One way to attain more success is to set smaller, more realistic goals, instead of huge resolutions. Rather than telling ourselves that we must get in shape by summertime, we could aim to work out more than in the past. Rather than resolving to be in a relationship by Valentines Day, we might commit to join a dating site within the first few weeks of January. If lack of time gets in the way of pursuing a goal to eat healthier, we might plan to cook on a weekend, and prepare our meals for the week in advance. When we fall short of our attempts to follow through with our resolutions, it is important to move into to a place of compassion for ourselves. Self-recrimination only serves to further entrench the negative behaviors, while self-acceptance and self-forgiveness give us the ability to try again, and become more resilient.

As we move into 2020, I wish you a happier and a healthier New Year.  

Managing Expectations During the Holidays

During the month of December, the bright lights of the holiday season seem ubiquitous. Along with the glitter and glee comes added pressure and stress. Those of us struggling with body image and eating issues may also experience waves of sadness and a sense of loss. We may be thinking that others will be enjoying a great time while we are facing the prospect of spending New Year’s alone.

For those planning to attend holiday parties or family gatherings, additional sources of concern may arise, including the following:

    • At social gatherings, we often worry that people are judging us. This can lead to negative feelings and even a sense of dread.
    • There is an increased emphasis on food. We know that the more people deprive themselves, the more likely they are to binge.

If possible, allow yourself to taste and enjoy reasonable portions of holiday food without guilt or self-condemnation. If you feel that even a bite may trigger overeating, you might want to avoid certain foods, understanding that it is a gift to yourself to avoid self-harm.

As the New Year approaches, advertisements promoting weight loss seem to abound. The emphasis on body image can fuel feelings of low self-esteem and even desperation. We know that people and their bodies do not change with pressure. Rather, lasting changes come from feelings of acceptance, self-care, and acts of kindness to oneself.

If you are experiencing a heightened level of anxiety as Christmas approaches, remember that we can offer you mechanisms for coping. It is always wise to surround yourself with people who want to support you. Some ideas which also may prove helpful include the following:

If you have an eating plan that works, it is best to follow it but perhaps more loosely this time of year. When eating meals, try to leave the table feeling comfortable yet satisfied. Eat in a healthy way without depriving yourself.

Wear clothing that is comfortable and that you enjoy.

Stay centered. You may consider donating your time to help others. Volunteering to assist those less fortunate often reminds us of the parts of our lives for which we feel gratitude.

Lean on your support system. If you find yourself obsessing over particular foods, remember that these obsessions are about other concerns. If you cannot overcome these thoughts on your own, you may want to consider reaching out for professional help. Make peace with emotional eating once and for all this holiday season!

Our Highly Trained Manhattan and New Jersey Therapist Helps Clients Grow into Their True Potential

The Christmas season can be taxing, especially for those struggling with anxiety, depression, body image, and self-esteem issues. Our Manhattan eating disorder therapist understands risks that come with the holiday season and strategies for overcoming them. You do not have to handle these risks alone. Call us at 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112 for an initial consultation or contact us online. Reach out to Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. today and find new ways to grow into your potential. Located in Manhattan, New York and Highland Park, New Jersey, Joanne compassionately serves clients throughout New York and New Jersey, including Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield.  

You Are Not Alone

It is so easy to feel alone in a crowd—especially during the holidays. At holiday parties, it can seem like everyone else is surrounded by loving partners, families, and good friends. Often feelings of envy and longing creep in as we look at others laughing, eating, and drinking, and appearing to have better relationships than we have. Instead of feeling joyous and “part of,” we can feel alone, and isolated. For people with eating and body image issues, these feelings can be exacerbated as we watch people indulging in what we often think of as forbidden foods, seemingly without the consequences we face.

People with eating issues often struggle through these holidays privately, alone in our feelings of frustration, shame about our bodies, and isolation—even when, to outside observers, it might appear that we are having fun. Participation in a psychotherapy and support group at times like this can help alleviate the intense feelings.

In my practice, I facilitate support groups of people challenged by eating and body image issues. These groups of caring individuals, working to overcome mutual challenges, help participants to recover and thrive. If you are seeking a psychotherapy/support group led by a highly experienced, professional psychotherapist, I invite you to call 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112.

Happy holidays and all the best in the New Year,

Joanne  

Shining a Light on Hanukkah and The Miracle of Recovery

Hanukkah commemorates miracles that happened more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of poorly armed Jews boldly reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the reigning Seleucids. While rededicating the Temple, the Jews discovered they only had one night’s worth of oil to light the Menorah. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. Today, Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that includes nightly Menorah lightings, reciting prayers, and for many, spending time with family and friends.

The holiday is often a time for social gatherings which can be happy and festive but may also present challenges for people who struggle with emotional eating. Traditional Hanukkah foods include latkes, doughnuts, and others that commemorate the miracle of oil. There are also a number of healthy food options that are increasingly being incorporated into traditional meals.

You may find it helpful to reflect on the following themes of the Hanukkah story to celebrate the holiday in a hopeful new way:

Against all odds. Judah the Maccabee and his band defied the odds when they confronted a much more powerful army attempting to force them to abandon their faith. You may, at times, feel the odds are stacked against you. Remembering the Maccabees’ victory and their perseverance can inspire your own hope. Focus on strengthening the faith that you have in yourself while actively seeking support from others who believe in you.

Rededication. The Holy Temple had been ruined by unholy practices. The process of rededication meant a new, clean start, and lighting the Menorah was part of that process. Hanukkah can become a celebration of your own personal rededication to healthy living.

Miracles. You may be confronted with a holiday table that includes an abundance of food made with sugar and oil. Manage any negativity that you may associate with food and body image by focusing instead on the miracle of oil, and the many miracles of life itself. List all of your accomplishments, your connections, and all the things you enjoy. Look for the miracles in your own life.

Light. Hanukkah teaches us that a little light can go a long way. May this year’s Festival of Lights spark an inner, glowing strength inside of you that is truly your own. Claim it and enjoy many happy, festive days.

Our Positive, Caring Manhattan and Highland Park Therapist Understands Those Who Struggle with Eating Issues

Body image, self-worth, and eating issues are truly complex. You may feel that no one can possibly understand your situation. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W., has dedicated her practice to untangling complicated problems and guiding clients through recovery. We offer confidential consultations in Highland Park, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York. To meet with a Highland Park or Manhattan therapist, call 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112 today. Joanne Gerr assists people with eating issues throughout New York and New Jersey including Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield, New Jersey. 

Celebrating Thanksgiving Without Food Worries

 Thanksgiving will be celebrated in the U.S. this year on November 28th. This holiday represents an opportunity to give thanks and enjoy a bountiful meal and celebration with others. While it is often enjoyable, the traditional Thanksgiving feast can create a dilemma for those with eating issues. If you struggle with emotional eating, overeating, bulimia or body image concerns, the prospect of facing a large holiday meal may trigger the following responses:

    • Pre-holiday concerns: You may find yourself thinking about how to avoid food before during or after the holiday.  In extreme cases, this turns to dread, sleeplessness or even panic attacks.
    • Holiday gathering pressure: For some people it is often challenging to appear happy in front of your friends and family. This is magnified if you are conflicted over what is being served and how much you will eat.  People with body image -concerns are sometimes preoccupied with how they appear to others and what others are saying or thinking about you.
    • Post-Thanksgiving Day shame: No matter what you ate on Thanksgiving, the next day, your mind may tell you that you did something wrong, triggering you to fast or binge to make the feelings go away.

You may not be able to avoid negative thoughts. However, we know certain things can help you enjoy the holiday with less concern about emotional eating. There are many healthy food options at a traditional thanksgiving feast. The more people deprive themselves, they more likely they are to binge. It is often wiser, if you able, to partake in certain “forbidden” rather than risk overeating later from feeling deprived.

Reach out to your support system. If you have a therapist talk with them before or after Thanksgiving. They will assist you to stay centered.  Show gratitude. If thoughts about food are holding you hostage, turn the tables and remember reasons to be thankful. It can help if you make a list of the things for which you are grateful. When you feel overwhelmed by guilt or obsessive thoughts, remembering your blessing can decrease the tension. Tell others what you are thankful for and show gratitude toward them.

Our Manhattan and Highland Park Disorder Therapist Offers Strategies for Overcoming Eating Problems during Thanksgiving and Throughout the Year

You do not have to let eating and body image problems overshadow your Thanksgiving celebration. Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. can help you help you overcome emotional eating, overeating, bulimia and body image struggles. To arrange a confidential consultation with our New Jersey and Manhattan eating disorder therapist, call 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112 today. You can also fill out an online form. With offices in Highland Park, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York, Joanne Gerr helps clients throughout New York and New Jersey, including East Brunswick, Manalapan, Marlboro, and Westfield.  

Halloween Candy: Trick or Treat?

Halloween is a widely celebrated holiday. Unfortunately, for those who have eating issues, Halloween can be a scary and emotional day. Halloween is among the worst holidays for eating issues and is a challenge for those who face these health problems. The biggest and most well-known part of Halloween is the candy. For people who have eating struggles, especially a binge-eating issue, candy can be a trigger. Binge eating, defined as recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, is a difficult problem to have on a day that has an overwhelming amount of food and candy readily available.

For children, candy is often used as a reward, but for someone with an eating issue, it is viewed as an additional obstacle in overcoming their eating struggles. Managing sugar and food intake is a challenge in general, but on Halloween, the struggle is exasperated. Instead of focusing on how much candy is allowed, focus on celebrating the holiday. 

Some ways to control binge eating or negative feelings toward Halloween is to focus your time and energy on something else. Ideas include:

    • Wearing a costume that makes you feel confident.
    • Enjoying the holiday with friends and family.
    • Giving out treats to children and donating candy that you have left over.
    • Limiting trigger foods in your home and environment.
    • Enjoying snacks that are not traditional, such as pretzels, apples and other healthy seasonal options.

Our Highland Park and Manhattan Eating Disorder Therapist Advocates for Those Suffering from Eating Problems

For more information regarding eating issues, over-eating, bulimia and body image struggles contact Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. today. Joanne, our Highland Park and Manhattan eating disorder therapist can help you find joy and serenity in the holidays.  Call us at 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112 for an initial consultation. You can also contact us online. Located in Manhattan, New York and Highland Park, New Jersey, Joanne offers a personalized approach to assist individuals with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues throughout Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield, New Jersey.

Connection-a Great Antidote to Fall Blues  

As the clocks change, the weather gets colder, and the days get shorter, the tendency to isolate is a strong one for many people. Isolation is often seductive in comparison to going out on a cold fall or winter evening. However this is a dangerous solution because it amplifies anxiety and depression, and can often lead to compulsive overeating, binge eating, and even more negativity.

A much more effective solution is to plan activities with friends or loved ones as the weather starts getting colder. This is important because connections to other people are the key to good moods, good humor, and good health. However, at moments when we're feeling discouraged, it may feel like there is a dearth of friends/loved ones to plan activities with. If that is the case, there are many ways you can still get out and be among people-and maybe even make new friends:

    • Meetup.com is a great way to find people with similar interests and increase companionship. This website is filled with activities, groups, and events for literally any special interest. It provides a built-in community-all you have to do is select an event and show up, and you will be surrounded by other people with similar interests. Use the search bar to find activities in a particular area, ranging from Salsa dancing to book groups-or let the site make suggestions for you based on your location.
    • For things to do in New Jersey, www.princetoninfo.com is a great resource, among other great resources. This site lists activities ranging from science lectures for families to professional theatre or nature hikes in localities stretching from Lambertville to New Brunswick.
    • If you are in Manhattan, you can find lots of activities by visiting the websites of the 92nd Street Y, JCC of Manhattan, TimeOut New York, or by perusing the Friday Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times.

If you need an extra boost to get yourself to do some of these things, you may want to try a professionally led support or psychotherapy group. This understanding group of individuals with similar issues, led by a professional therapist, can support you in reaching out and taking the actions that you need to avoid isolation. If binge eating, bulimia, or body image are among your concerns, it can be especially helpful to find a support group with a focus on these issues-especially around holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and New Years when there is a lot of celebrating with food.

Whether you motivate yourself to take action-or if you do it with the help of a support group-make sure to get out, get active, and connect.

The Seasons are Changing-How's Your Mood?  

As the seasons change, and we get closer to winter, many people notice their mood beginning to ebb along with the daily sunshine. It's easy to feel concerned, as the sunlight starts to wane. Often it can feel like you are losing your sense of well being because sunlight provides a natural mood elevator for many. Melancholy feelings around this time of year are the norm for many people; and for some, it can reach the intensity of a syndrome known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

However, it is not necessary to suffer as natural light diminishes. There are many forms of help available. Here are a few options:

Light Boxes provide a source of light that simulate natural sunlight. Individuals expose themselves to the lamps indirectly (don't look right at a Light Box), for a length of time ranging from minutes to hours, usually first thing in the morning.

Dawn Simulators imitate a sunrise allowing you to wake up more gently than the ordinary alarm clock. Many also have a sunset feature which can help with falling asleep at night.

Strong Daylight Bulbs, found in hardware stores or online, are popular with many people trying to bring a little more light into their homes. When people are struggling with this, counseling can be especially useful to prevent the depression from getting worse or help alleviate it if it's begun. If you notice you are starting to feel low, it is best to get help as soon as possible, to avoid needless suffering. In the meantime, try to spend as much time as possible outdoors-even if just a little bit every day. Bundle up, but get outside, get some exercise, and get your natural endorphins going.

 

Yom Kippur: New Year, New Opportunities

Yom Kippur is an important holiday for many people as it signifies a fresh start to the Jewish new year. This holiday, which is a day of fasting, encourages repentance and inspires each person to cleanse their being. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with an eating problem, Yom Kippur can be a holiday that is quite difficult to celebrate.

Despite being the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur can produce different feelings for those who struggle with body image, eating problems, and anxiety/depression. As a day of complete fasting, this can cause someone with an eating problem to relive old experiences or further enforce their problem.

During the Jewish holidays, individuals who have a negative body image may take drastic measures to be the preferred size. As in all religions, there are many rituals around food, which can be difficult for people with eating problems and body image. People may feel the need to fast more often to feel better about consuming traditional larger meals. These rituals are difficult for eating problems.

People often worry that having eating problems or body image concerns will deter them from finding a significant other. This mentality is very dangerous to the health and wellbeing of those involved. Judaism encourages you to become the best version of yourself. Your religion is intended to inspire you, not encourage harm. If you need to modify traditional activities, talk to your Rabbi, doctor, or therapist about how to partake in experiences in a healthy and safe way.

Healthy Resolutions

As the new year starts, inspire yourself to set healthy resolutions that you can work on throughout the year. Consider it a refreshing start to a replenishing year. The following are tips to achieving health and happiness in this new year:

    • Start your day with a positive quote. Looking at pictures of models and celebrities online only reinforces eating problems. Avoid triggers such as these and replace them with an inspiring quote to motivate yourself and take charge of the day ahead.
    • Write down one thing you are proud of. This could be as simple as playing with your dog to attending a therapy appointment. Writing this down will inspire you to continue to strive toward a positive life.
    • Stop putting pressure on yourself. Accept the fact that no one is perfect and take that as a driving factor to make yourself better and move on from the situation.

Throughout this holiday season, it is important to remember that your religion is there to help you enjoy your life and keep your body and mind healthy. Asking for help when necessary shows your courage. Eating problems can significantly impact the quality of life. This season is about affirming the opportunity for a healthy, happier life.   

Our Highland Park and Manhattan Therapist Works with Those Suffering from Eating and Body Image Challenges

For help and information regarding overeating, binge eating, bulimia, and body image issues, contact Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. today. Our Manhattan eating problem therapist understands the health complications eating problems bestow on a person. Call us at 212-750-8130 or 732-247-5112 for an initial consultation. You can also contact us online. Located in Manhattan, New York and Highland Park, New Jersey, Joanne serves clients throughout New York and New Jersey, including Manalapan Township, Marlboro, and Westfield.

Summertime—Fun in the Sun Or is it?

Summer is one of the hardest times for emotional eaters, overeaters, and people with body image concerns. The need to wear more revealing clothes can be excruciating for people who have issues with body image and weight. Especially for women, the false belief that we have to be a small size in order to be loved often leads to restricting food, which can result in a sense of deprivation and ultimately another binge, increased weight gain, and more self-loathing.

This is especially pronounced as there are increased opportunities for social occasions that bring up feelings of inadequacy. Reunions are plentiful in the summertime, yet they can induce anxiety and ambivalence about attending. Women are often ashamed because they may be heavier than they were in high school or in college. Men often feel embarrassed because the full head of hair they may have once had is thinning and graying and they too have often gained weight.

Weather and climate change also play into the challenges of summertime. Especially this year, with the abundance of rain and cloudiness, people have felt more depressed as they are not able to do the things that summer traditionally promises. Faced with gray skies and thunderstorms, people who visit beach houses are often frustrated and worried that they won’t be able to enjoy their vacations, and people whose moods tend to be affected by weather often feel gloomier. This can frequently lead to using excess food to stuff the feelings of isolation, disappointment, and frustration.

Even on nice days, the weather can have a negative impact on the way we feel about ourselves. For single people, it can seem like everyone walking on the street is holding hands with a loving partner. For married women, it can also bring up discomfort when strolling with their husbands, and noticing their husbands noticing other women—or even worse, berating their wives for not being thin enough.

So with all these challenges, how can we shift the focus from summertime blues to celebration of the season?

    • Incorporate enjoyable movement into your life—The great part about summer is it offers exercise opportunities that are more complicated in winter. Take advantage of walking, biking, water aerobics, running in water, sailing, jet-skiing, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, and gardening  
    • Get nourished by nature—Being surrounded by trees or close to the ocean or mountains is often refreshing, energizing, and mood elevating. An outing in the country or simply visiting an outdoor café, crafts fair, park, or music festival can bring a much-needed sense of rejuvenation. If it is within your budget, consider travel to fresh-air locations like the Berkshires; Park City, Utah; or Jackson Hole, Wyoming  
    • Take advantage of summer’s abundance of healthy fruits/vegetables—This is a great time to enjoy fresh produce and the variety that is less accessible in the wintertime. Fruits and vegetables, filled with vitamins and minerals, are known to have significant health benefits. Plus they are generally lower calorie and higher-energy than many processed foods  
    • Increase human contact and decrease social media—Rather than looking at photos of someone else’s life, and immediately assuming your life is not as exciting, try picking up the phone and reconnecting with a friend. By limiting social media, and increasing our personal connections, we break the sense of isolation that many of us feel—which can often lead to feelings of sadness, followed by overeating

People who have food issues often worry about feeling deprived of food, but the real deprivation comes when we are so focused on food and weight that we deprive ourselves of living fully. Don’t buy into the cultural message that you can’t enjoy the season unless you are very thin. If you engage in life and the summer season you will be more likely to feel good about yourself. You won’t be restricting and starving, and you will be more likely to eat according to physical hunger and stop when full—not stuffed. You won’t be depressed because you won’t be managing your feelings through overeating, starving, purging, and obsessing about body image. When you are being fed by nutritious foods and opportunities of the season, there is a greater likelihood that you will be able to eat intuitively. As you shift the focus away from what you’re eating and how skinny you need to be, you will be able to sink your teeth into the unique pleasures of the summer months.  

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.