Q&A Series: Gluten-Free Diet Unpacked

Unpacking Gluten-Free Diet
Unpacking Gluten-Free Diet

After getting the scoop on the Paleo Diet, I sat down with Megan Holt, DrPh(c), MPH and Registered Dietitian, to get more information about another popular diet craze–the gluten-free diet.  –Kayla

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Kayla: So, what exactly is gluten, and what is the gluten-free diet?

Megan: Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, but it has been incorporated into a lot of different food products.  Rye, barley, bulgur, triticale, some oats (due to cross contamination), and wheat products, of course, contain gluten, as do many sauces and meat tenderizers or seasonings.  Gluten tends to slip its way into many products because of its elastic structure and ability to act as a thickener. A gluten-free diet is simply an exclusion of gluten, which means the diet rules out all of the pastas, breads, pastries, and cookies that are gluten-containing, but also many other sauces and seasonings.

Kayla: I know that I’ve heard a lot about gluten-free products and the gluten-free diet within the last year or two, but how long has this diet been around?

Megan: The idea of a gluten-free diet gained popularity about 5 years ago, but it really exploded about two years ago in conjunction with the Paleo diet.  A number of studies have supported benefits of a gluten-free diet for certain subsets of the population, and largely as a result of the popularity, we have an increased awareness (and an increase in the number of people being tested).  We are now more aware of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity, and, given the availability of gluten-free products on menus in stores, sticking to a gluten-free diet is far less stigmatizing and isolating than it was in the past.  These are real benefits for people who are genuinely gluten-sensitive.

Kayla: What are the benefits of gluten?

Megan: There are decades of research that supports the use of whole grains in our diet.  High intake of whole grains are protective in terms of lowering risk of major causes of death in the United States:  cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome (in part due to the fact that low intake of whole grains is associated with higher abdominal fat and obesity).  Breads, grains, and pastas make up the bulk of the western diet (for better or worse), so one benefit of gluten intake in the US is that many of our grain products (which are gluten containing) are vitamin-fortified.  So, we tend to get a lot of vitamins and minerals, like folate, fiber, iron, and zinc, from gluten-containing products.  Of course, there are other, sometimes better sources for these vitamins, but gluten-containing products are a really common accessible source in the US.  Finally, whole grains themselves are very satiating, and they contribute to sustaining normal levels of blood sugar, even more so than a lot of the gluten-free counterparts.  One example would be whole wheat pasta versus (gluten-free) brown rice pasta.  Whole wheat pasta is a little more stabilizing and has more fiber and protein than brown rice pasta.  That’s just one example of a not-necessarily-healthier gluten alternative.

Kayla: Can you explain gluten sensitivity? What is the difference between that and celiac disease?

Megan: So, with the explosion of the gluten-free fad, we’ve become better at recognizing the symptoms of gluten sensitivity, which is milder than celiac disease and usually characterized by physical symptoms, with no damage to the small intestine.  Symptoms can include: diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, rashes, joint pain, and other inflammatory symptoms.  Celiac disease is characterized by an immune response to gluten, which can lead to the destruction of the villi in the small intestine, which can be severe and debilitating.  Many of these folks suffer from serious nutrient deficiencies just because they can’t absorb what they’re eating, so the removal of gluten from their diets is imperative.  But true celiac disease affects less than 1% of the population.

Kayla: How does one confirm gluten sensitivity or celiac disease?

Megan: Well, the gold standard to check for celiac disease is a biopsy of the small intestine to look for flattening of the villi.  Some doctors will perform an endoscopy to actually look for damage to the small intestine, but some look to blood tests that reveal the level of antibodies that have developed.  If these antibodies are outside a normal range (high), it may indicate a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.  But usually people will just try an elimination diet–eliminating gluten and then reintroducing it and looking for symptoms.

Kayla: But that only works if you’re only eliminating gluten, not adding in other things, or completely changing your diet…

Megan: Exactly.  Most of the people I see are just starting to pay attention to quality of diet or trying to improve their quality of diet and may feel like one the markers of improving their diet would be excluding gluten.  When I see people who want to follow a gluten-free diet, what I typically ask them to do is see their physician to check if they can get a test to confirm non-celiac gluten sensitivity or celiac disease if that’s what they suspect.  If there’s no confirmation, we work for a few weeks to clean up the overall quality of diet and I ask them to pay attention to the appreciable benefits they experience from simply improving the quality of diet.  Then, we can exclude the gluten-containing foods, substituting them for something comparable for a month or so before reintroducing gluten and noting any symptoms.  Changing the overall diet while excluding gluten is not ideal.

Kayla: Are there any benefits of a gluten-free diet for people without gluten sensitivity?

Megan: None that are evidence-based.  If we’re just excluding gluten or substituting whole grains for gluten-free grains, then no, there’s no benefit.  Moving away from genetically-modified foods and toward organic foods is beneficial, and this is a shift that is often made at the same time as one decides to go gluten-free.  But generally, gluten-free products tend to be more highly processed and are not fortified, compared to many gluten-containing grains, so you actually get less fiber and have a higher intake of processed foods when you’re just swapping out whole grains for gluten-free grains–unless you have legitimate gluten sensitivity.  That’s always the exception to the rule.  For most of the clients I see, those who don’t have gluten sensitivity, reintroducing gluten after elimination brings on no symptoms, other than perhaps a bit of an adjustment to a higher intake of fiber.

Kayla: So how can someone going gluten-free for a legitimate reason do so in a healthy way?

Megan: There are ways to be gluten-free more healthfully, that are more than just swapping out the gluten-containing grains for gluten-free ones.  For example, someone can get a lot of nutrients from beans, lentils, and other whole grains that are gluten-free like brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, and gluten free oats, or from fruits and vegetables.  Using these foods as staples is very healthy.  I’m a firm believer that you can have a balanced diet that excludes things you don’t want to eat or things that don’t make you feel well, but you have to be intentional about adding other food sources to make up for what you’re losing.  You have to take a balanced approach.

Kayla: How can I tell if someone going gluten-free is really struggling with disordered eating?

Megan: Unfortunately, I often see people using the gluten-free diet in the service of disordered eating, that is, as a reason for restricting their eating.  Then, if weight loss happens, it’s because of the restriction, not because their diet is gluten-free.  If you’re concerned about someone going gluten-free, you can always suggest that they see their physician for confirmatory testing.  Other red flags:  Is he/she restricting food /calories outside of those that are gluten containing? Has there been an undue or unnecessary weight loss? Is he/she unable to enjoy food or participate in activities involving food?

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We would love your thoughts on our conversation about the gluten-free diet. Post your thoughts and any additional questions for us in the comments section below. Also, let us know if there are any other diet or wellness trends you would like unpacked in future Q&A blog posts.

In good health –Megan and Kayla

It is so hard…

Some days...
Some days…

On my way to Potentia earlier this week, I listened to an interview on NPR with Dr. T Berry Brazelton.  He is known as the “baby whisperer” and has been a go-to resource for parents for six decades.  You can catch the whole interview here.

Towards the end of the interview, Dr. Brazelton shared about an encounter with a women in a grocery store.

It took my breathe away.

Dr. Brazelton saw a women struggling with her 2 year old while grocery shopping.  The mother then began hitting her screaming child.  In seeing this, Dr. Brazelton walked up to the mother and said, “It is so hard… to take a two year old to the grocery store.”

After those words, the mother immediately started to cry.  She held her toddler and they began to reconnect and repair.  The child even started to wipe the tears off of his mother’s face.

Whoa.

“It is so hard…”

This story gripped me in so many ways.

Spoken words in time of vulnerability, fatigue and overwhelm were medicine for this mom.

Instead of judgement, she received compassion.
Instead of chastising, she received kindness.

And healing began immediately between mother and child.

I was so touched and convicted listening to the recollection of this story  – as I have been judged and can also be the judger.

I have felt the judgements, seen the eye rolls and heard the whispers of critique about me or my children.

I have also stepped on my high-horse of “I am right. You are wrong.” when all someone needed was a hug and to be heard.

At Potentia, I regularly hear about experiences of condemnation, self-loathing, rejection, isolation, abandonment and the aftershocks these experiences have left on their hearts – rocking their souls.

It takes immense courage to speak of such pain.  It is so hard…

  • being a parent
  • recovering from food and body issues
  • sitting in the aftermath of a failed marriage or relationship
  • feeling lonely and disconnected
  • trying to heal from depression, anxiety
  • being the person you are called to be
  • taking a stand
  • feeling like no one understands
  • asking for help
  • giving the undeserved gift of grace
  • receiving the undeserved gift of grace
  • believing you not an exception to God’s grace, love and sacrifice
  • not letting shame corrode your sense of worth and purpose
  • healing from sexual, emotional, physical abuse
  • forgiving yourself for being relentless in beating yourself up.

It is so hard to be human.

When times are tough, self care is down and the worst parts of ourselves come to the surface – we can feel unlovable, make bad choices, do harm to self or others.

And in those moments, we can choose to add to someone’s pain or help relieve it.

When we find ourselves in the dark zone of the messiness of life and are offered the hand of grace through kind words or gestures, we can choose to receive it instead of shutting down.

I think what made Dr. Brazelton’s words so powerful and able to penetrate this woman’s heart was his sincerity and the tone of his voice.  He was disarming and genuine. Not condescending or patronizing.

But by the grace of God can I strive to live a life that facilitates healing and forgive myself promptly when my quick tongue rises up to judge someone or myself. 

These words: grace, compassion, kindness – are words we are all drawn too.  But to really live these words and put them into action takes guts. And tenacity.  And the willingness to mess up and not be perfect.

I see this courage and determination in my office everyday.  I see it in my kids and in my husband.

Just imagine someone approaching you with respect and kindness during a time of exposed “raw and real”.

Double Whoa.

And what if we stopped the eye-rolling, the judgemental thoughts, the whispers under our breathe but still loud enough to be heard?

And think of what our little worlds of influence would be like if we REALLY lived grace instead of judging and the distancing “tsk tsks”.

Whoa explosion.

We judge in the areas we are most vulnerable. Fear drives these kinds of judgements.  Getting clear on your vulnerabilities can help you be a vessel for healing in your own life and in the lives of those around you.

Giving compassion to self and others+receiving the undeserved gift of grace is like a cool glass of water on a hot day.

We are all in the desert doing the best we can.

It is so hard.  Trust me.  I know.

I may not know your specific experience but I know what it is like to be out there, exposed, afraid and broken.

And I am where I am at today because I have received from others, myself and God the permission to be a hot mess and find redemption in my mistakes.

Self-loathing is culture’s homeostasis and it is simply not sustaining.

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It takes living from a place of love, confidence, selflessness and respect to be the person to give compassion as Dr. Brazelton did.

And love bombs like the one Dr. Brazelton dropped on the mother in the grocery story can create sustaining change in our world.

I have received love bombs this week from my friend Madison who came to help out my family while my husband was on a work trip.  And words of affirmation came my wayvia  emails from Nancy and Lauren and a voice mail message from Marc  – all of which brought tears to my eyes.

I was struck at how their kind word and gestures were difficult to receive.  But I sat with their love bombs – and they quenched my thirst to be seen and understood.

So my challenge to you this week is this: drop some love bombs in your world of influence. At least three.

Your love bomb may be an email to someone, a phone call, a text. You may go old school and write a letter.  Whatever you do, keep these words in mind: It is so hard…  And remember – Less is more.  Tone is key.  Let empathy  – not distancing sympathy – guide you.  And let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

I would also love to know about any love bombs that have been dropped on you lately.  Were they hard to receive?  How did you receive them?

Cheering you on –

Rebecca

PS. Potentia’s cornerstone workshop  – Cultivating Courage – is an incredible place to get clear on your vulnerabilities, work on rewiring judgements and building resilience to shame.  We believe this work is a game-changer in how we do all aspects of life.  I would love to see you at one of our future workshops.  Please email me at rbass@potentiatherapy.com with any questions or post them below.

How are you dealing with your fears and doubts?

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Last week, two women I think the world of personally and professionally, Tara Gentile and Brigitte Lyons, wrote to their list of business owners and thought leaders about how fear, anxiety, and the “not enough” storyline can hold us back from living out our purpose; our calling.  I am grateful for their words on a topic so dear to my heart.

Brigitte took my breathe away when she asked this powerful question in her last email,

“Are you letting fear keeping you from being found?”

And Tara had me saying, “Amen” out loud after I read these words:

“The stories we tell are the stories of the people we serve. But all too often we pay more attention to parroted beliefs and limiting thoughts than the actual, expansive stories that are playing out in front of us, with us.”

I have learned first hand your personal belief about yourself can nourish or kill creativity and the clarity on your calling.

So I am writing this post to all of you who are not writing, creating, launching, leading, speaking, not showing up because fear, anxiety and negative core beliefs are keeping you from living your purpose.  I am writing to all of you who are afraid of being found.

Sometimes it is hard to discern between rationale fear and irrational fear.

  • Rational fear keeps us safe from death or harm.
  • Irrational fear tells us we will die or be greatly harmed but it is not based in fact – even though every brain cell firing tells us to stop, freeze, numb out and hide.

Sure, you can push back on irrational fear and its first cousins: anxiety, worry, stress which feed the “not enough” thoughts.

But changing the narrative of “not enough” is not always a simple switch to flip.  And leaning on sheer willpower is not a sustaining source of change. When the willpower fuel tank runs out, shame and fear are the fumes that run our lives if we are not careful.

Trust me.  I  have lived seasons of my life on sheer willpower and these toxic fumes only to get burned out and crash hard.

Three years ago, I began to make plans to move Potentia from just a website to having a collaborative practice of specialized, highly trained professionals all under one roof in a space that felt safe, homey and inspired healing and creativity.

I had also recently given birth to our second child and had a lot of big dreams burdening my heart but struggled with finding the space and the systems to execute them.

I was full of joy but at the same time I also hit a wall with my own expectations of myself.  Then the green monsters of jealousy, envy and perfectionism took hold and it got pretty ugly in my brain and soul.  Given my season of life, I was tired and did not have the usual freedom to connect with my support system.

Where there is isolation, shame and doubt have a party.

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I was my own worst enemy as God continued to prod at my my heart for me to trust Him and His leading of me and this dream He had given me.

God trusted me with this dream.  I just did not trust myself.

I have found that the “never enough” belief is able to be diminished but if you are driven, desire excellence and have big dreams, then it never really goes away.  This is a vulnerable and tenuous space to hold in your heart and mind.

I saw this tension in my previous careers in politics, advertising, international youth work and see this tension now in my work with my clients – many of which are filled with an entrepreneurial spirit as business owners, corporate executives, ministry leaders, creatives, educators, therapists.

Developing a practice of community, connection and self-care is a non-negotiable for any creative, dreamer, leader, parent, business owner ie: human.

And this is a life long practice.

This practice is one of shame resilience.  A practice cultivating courage so we can all dare to show up, speak truth, ask for help, take a break, write the check, say yes, say no, press publish, send the email.

Managing fear and doubt is still not easy but these emotions sure as heck do not blind-side me like they used to.  Studying disordered eating, trauma/distressing life events and shame resilience have had a profound impact on my own life.

As Brené Brown regularly says, “You study what you need to know.”

Truth.

And I love supporting my clients and those in the Potentia community in their goals to (re) define health in their own life personally and professionally. Healing distressing life events, food and body issues, traumas and family of origin wounds are not indulgent but often necessary in order to have courage to bench leading, loving, dreaming, launching.

Your fears, worries and negative beliefs are not the enemy.  How you respond to them is what jams you up.

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Learning how to bench negative and intense emotions is key so these emotions can help inform you instead of paralyze you.

Potentia is offering three options to attend a Cultivating Courage Weekend Intensives this year so you can improve your ability to manage negative and intense emotions, identify and re-author the narratives of negative core negative beliefs and begin a practice of shame resilience.  We would be honored to help you get unstuck so you can live your life to the fullest.

The world needs you to follow your calling, show up, lead, create and be seen.

What specific fear or belief is holding you back and keeping you stuck?

Cheering you on –

Rebecca

 

 

 

I have a confession to make to you…

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2013 has been full of some serious body image blues.

You know how it goes:

  • not feeling comfortable your skin
  • feeling like none of your clothes fit well
  • not wanting to see your image in a mirror or a picture
  • struggling not to be tempted by the false promises and quick fixes of the diet and so-called “wellness” industry
  • feeling less then, ummm, hubba hubba with your spouse
  • not wanting to be very social
  • playing the compare game

A couple things crept in that started to take away from my New Year’s calm and clarity (my word for 2013): lack of sleep because of all things toddler (winter colds, potty training..) and my newly diagnosed asthma.  I was missing my time with my boot camp buddies – my one-two punch for social and active time.

I hit a wall. Right about the time I was doubling the staff at Potentia.  We just completed two successful cohorts of our 8 week Cultivating Courage workshop and put dates on the calendar for three Cultivating Courage Weekend Intensives.

All good stuff.

I was super pumped about all these happenings but was getting really depleted and disconnected from my social support.  My health was starting to suffer, too.

And in walked my body image blues right through the front door.

Shame said, “You hypocrite.  You are leading these men and women to heal their relationship with their bodies and you do not even feel good about your own.  You are a fraud.”

Ouch.

But here is where things took a different turn.  My discomfort in my skin did not necessarily dissipate but how I responded to these thoughts and feelings took a rather radical detour.

I practiced, practiced and continue to practice my shame resilience skills.  I dug in and wrote my daily gratitudes and read my daily devotions.

I got really clear on my needs and spoke them to my friends and family, not as demands but as requests.

I made my self-care – mind, body and soul – a priority and made sure my schedule reflected these values.

I practiced empathy with myself and others when judgements and crankiness reared their ugly heads.

I re-evaluated my boundaries and made sure I was not setting up walls which protect but also isolate.

I spoke my truth to my really, really safe people.

I now know I am enough even on days I do not feel enough.  I can hold that space while I feel yucky and not attack my core worth. Some days it is a bit of a knock down, drag out fight – but shame resilience has helped me run the marathon of living life reflective of my values and my true worth.

Wow.

Those who work in the eating disorder field are not immune to struggling with their own food and body issues.

And I am no exception.

It was pretty incredible to see how the ongoing practice of shame resilience kept me from dancing in the pit of self-loathing for very long.  It has helped me practice respecting my body even when I do not like it much.

Yeah, I am not immune to these thoughts or feelings.  But how I respond when they hit has truly been, well, awesome.

And as I say every day in my office, “Rarely are bad body image days about food, weight or the aesthetics of a certain body part.”

Negative body image is often the equivalent of that scratchy throat you get when feel you are starting to get sick. If you ignore the symptoms and do not take extra care to build up your immune system, you will get leveled and feel even worse, taking longer to recover.

And instead of going old-school and obsessing over weight, looks and what others think, my shame resilience skills are (almost) my default now and the obsessive tendencies to measure my worth by the number on the scale (if I had one) or how much I have worked out were not nearly as loud as they used to be.

This new response to shame has been so, so, so freeing and healing.  Instead of fearing vulnerability, I have grown to understand and respect its place in my life – though I do not like the feeling of it most of the time.

Reading Brené Brown’s books over the last few years have been so helpful in building my awareness about shame and normalizing the universal experience of shame.  I developed a whole new vocabulary.

But these last 9 months training with Brené, Robert Hilliker and the rest of the Connections team to complete my Certified Connections Facilitator Certification moved me from an intellectual insight of this work to a daily (well, mostly daily) practice.

I have seen the fruits of this practice in my marriage, my work as therapist and in my relationships with God, myself and others.

And this is why I can barely contain how excited I am to offer this work – Potentiafied for you in our Cultivating Courage Workshops and Weekend Intensives.

We have three Cultivating Courage Weekend Intensives scheduled for the remainder of this year: June 14-16, Aug 23-25 and Nov 1-3.  And my colleague, Molly LaCroix, and I will be launching our 8 week Weekly Cultivating Courage Workshop Series in January 2014.

For those who are local, we have some digging deeper workshops which will be launching this summer to give people a chance to freshen their Shame Resilience skills or have a toe-in-the water experience with this powerful work.

And plans are in the works to take this work online so our Potentia friends outside San Diego can have access to this material, too.  Make sure you are signed up to receive email updates so you can get the latest details on all of these happenings.

I would love to know what your questions are about shame and Brené Brown’s shame resilience theory.  Please email me directly at rbass@potentiatherapy.com or post your questions below.  If I feature your question in a future blog post, you will receive a copy of Brené’s most recent book, Daring Greatly.  So don’t hold back, I really want to hear from you.

Working on being my own cheerleader while cheering you on, too!

Rebecca

Q&A Series: Paleo Unpacked

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Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of chatter amongst my friends about the Paleo diet. Naturally, I’ve been a little curious about it, so I thought I’d talk with my fabulous colleague, Megan Holt, Ph(c), MPH and Registered Dietician, to get the scoop on the science behind the Paleo diet and her thoughts on how to eat right and stay safe in our diet-obsessed culture. – Kayla

Kayla: Thanks for taking time to talk with me today, Megan! I have some questions about the Paleo diet.  It seems like half the people I know are on it. Can you talk a little about what the Paleo diet is?

Megan:  So there have been versions of the Paleo diet around for 30-40 years–the idea of eating like our ancestors first surfaced in the 1970’s. Today’s Paleo Diet was coined and popularized by a professor, Dr. Loren Cordain. The idea behind it is that our bodies can’t process some of the foods–grains, for example–that have become staples in our diets since the industrial revolution. So, we are better off eating like our ancestors, the cavemen, with a diet that consists primarily of meat & vegetables with no dairy, grains, or processed foods.

Kayla: Well, that sounds pretty good, in theory.

Megan:  With this diet, as with any of the other fad-type diets, like Zone or South Beach or Atkins, there are always a few really positive and helpful features. A favorable aspect of the Paleo diet, for example, is the suggestion that you take an 85/15 approach to food…that is, you should follow Paleo principles 85% of time and the other 15% of the time non-Paleo foods are allowed. I like the idea of that sort of flexibility, rather than having certain foods be “off limits.”

Kayla:  So, what are the drawbacks?

Megan:  Many of the Paleo principles are far from evidence-based. The cavemen, for example, didn’t suffer from the diseases that we suffer from in the western society like stroke, heart disease, or cancers, but their lifespans were very short. They didn’t tend to live long enough to experience these chronic diseases…so we’re unable to draw strong conclusions or make a fair comparison. Also, the emphasis on animal products like meat, beef, is problematic.

There is the idea that saturated fats aren’t inflammatory or linked with preventable diseases as we once thought they were. The large majority of research suggests otherwise–that saturated fat still is a risk factor for several chronic diseases. There have been some studies that suggest a more mild relationship, but we still have lots of research to support keeping saturated fat to a minimum in our diet. Additionally, quality of animal products and production methods are drastically different in today’s society, and can’t be fairly compared with meat that was consumed by our ancestors.

And the problem with eliminating grains is just that it’s not evidence-based.  There are loads of high quality studies that suggest that whole grains play a supportive role in our health. Paleo diet proponents have been able to cash in on other popular diet trends in our society, such low-carbohydrate diets, gluten-free diets and emphasis on foods with low glycemic index.

Kayla:  So, what’s the rationale for limiting carbohydrates and high-glycemic foods?

Megan:  Blood sugar control. The idea is that if we ingest foods on the lower end of the glycemic index, it helps us maintain energy levels and stabilize blood sugar. Some of that is evidence based–there’s some good in that. Limiting processed foods, added sugars, and high-fat dairy and encouraging vegetable intake is also helpful.

But a high intake of animal fats from meats, beef, sausage, bacon is absolutely not protective, nor is it environmentally responsible. Roughly 10-15 calories of grain is required to produce 1 calorie of meat, and ten times the amount of fossil fuel/energy is required to produce 1 calorie of meat versus 1 calorie of grains.

Kayla:  And what about limiting grains?

Megan:  We have decades of evidence in support of whole grains, unless someone has a legitimate gluten allergy or intolerance. Some really good things have come out from exploring the relationship between gluten intake and inflammation, but it is way overrepresented in our population. When we cut out a lot of processed foods and dairy and peanuts (not allowed on the Paleo diet), we have to remember that these are the most likely culprits of food allergies/intolerances.

So, it makes sense that when someone with an undiagnosed intolerance or allergy removes these foods from the diet, they will tend to feel remarkably better. And when someone without allergies cuts down intake of processed foods and added sugars, and increases intake of fruits and vegetables, they will naturally feel better.

This is nothing new, and it is not unique to the Palo diet. Anytime we improve quality of diet and move away from foods with poor nutrient density, particularly those which are easy to passively over-consume (think milkshakes, frappuccinos, pastries), we will experience improvements in terms of health.

But with nutrition research, it’s hard to tease out which aspects of a diet are resulting in the change…Are we benefiting from the foods we’ve removed or from the foods we’ve reintroduced in place of them? For example, when we cut out gluten, we cut out all the processed grains and many grain-based desserts/pastries.

When we cut out these foods, we’re going to notice some sort of benefit or resulting weight loss. We may substitute our Cocoa Puffs for something much more protective and energizing, such as a greens smoothie.  Of course we’d feel better, but this doesn’t warrant demonizing grains.

There are many factors to consider. If we feel better after cutting out a food, what are we replacing the food with? What other lifestyle factors have changed? Has there been a shift in our activity level? Are we sure we can attribute feeling better to the elimination of a food, like gluten? More often than not, it’s unclear. Roughly 20-30% of people who identify themselves as sensitive to gluten actually are.

Kayla:  Those are good points. So, what is your advice for someone who wants to be healthy, to eat cleanly, and/or to lose weight in a healthy way? How would you advise her to go about making food choices?

Megan:  I support eating styles that are evidence-based and sustainable in terms of how well they support health and lower risk of preventable diseases. What that tends to look like is roughly half, if not 60%, of food intake coming from carbohydrates, mainly whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables. About 15% should derive from lean protein and fatty fish.

We get a lot more protein from plant-based sources than we think (whole, minimally processed grains, legumes, nuts, seeds), so we don’t need to rely on meat. The rest–roughly 30-35% of our calories should come from plant-based fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado, or grapeseed oil, versus saturated or trans fats like butter/dairy fat or lard. A small amount of saturated/trans fats are OK, but they shouldn’t represent the bulk of our intake.

Many of my clients have a long history of dieting and weight cycling, and benefit from a more flexible approach to eating and meal planning. In such cases, we try to identify foods that they enjoy and are drawn to that will also be energizing and health-promoting.

If your morning ritual includes coffee and a donut, then we talk about breakfast staples that appeal that offer more in terms of nutrient density. Surely we can find something that is more energizing, such as oatmeal with almonds and fresh berries. We’re not demonizing donuts here, but we have to acknowledge them as the less supportive choice.  Enjoy them as treats, but perhaps not as a breakfast staple.

Kayla: When I am with my friends who are talking about their Paleo diet, or going gluten-free, how can I tell if what they’re talking about is just normative, fad diet stuff, or if it has crossed the line toward disordered eating?

Megan:  I tend to look for improvements in quality of life when one is following a particular diet.  If they’re feeling better, maintaining weight that is right for their body and showing signs of improved energy levels, then great.  However, if they have to take unreasonable measures to comply with the diet, such as isolating themselves from social engagements that involve food, that might raise a bit of concern. Excess weight loss, even if the person does not appear “underweight” by current standards, is also a red flag.

Kayla:  And for someone in recovery from disordered eating, how can she keep herself safe in the midst of this cultural obsession with dieting?

Megan:  I’d suggest she just voice her concerns as they apply to her and her friends openly & non-judgmentally. If she’s meeting friends for some purpose that doesn’t relate to dieting or exercise, consider setting a limit around food- and weight-related talk (so ask friends to refrain from revolving conversation around dieting/weight loss). Supportive friends will understand and will be able to respect this.

Living in Southern California makes it nearly impossible to avoid diet talk altogether, as at least 2/3 of peer groups, especially female, are going to be dieting or interested in dieting or preoccupied with thoughts of wanting to lose weight. Surrounding oneself with a safe and supportive group of peers is crucial. There are women out there who have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. 🙂

Avoid giving into the pressure of having to identify yourself by the dietary trend you follow (i.e. “vegan, paleo, etc”) as this often results in our feeling badly about our choices when we stray from the diet”s tenants.  Take a more flexible (and sustainable) approach and choose foods that you truly enjoy and make you feel well.

Given the buzz around Paleo, my clients in recovery are naturally curious about the diet:

  • What is with the Paleo diet?
  • Is it safe?
  • Why are so many people talking about it?
  • Would this be good for me?

I tell them, especially those who have been through proper treatment, that they know what foods are going to make them feel well and what their body needs in order to perform well in terms of sleep, hydration, nutrition–and they have to trust that.  I ask them to try to refrain from taking nutrient/diet advice from their peers, most of whom acquire knowledge from media sources without scientific merit.

I remind them, “Refer back to your own experience. You’ve been through numerous diets; you know where that’s taken you. Trust that you know how to meet your body’s needs.”

————
We would love your thoughts on our conversation about the Paleo diet.  Post your thoughts and any additional questions for us in the comments section below. Also, let us know if there are any other diet or wellness trends you would like unpacked in future Q&A blog posts.
In good health – Megan and Kayla

Yoga Buzz Words Part 1: Grounding

kelly_web1Recently, our team was talking about the lingo of all of our various professions and how distancing it can be to those who are not in the loop of our profession’s vocabulary.  For me, this is especially true for the world of Yoga.  Potentia’s Yoga Coordinator, Kelly Schauermann, has taken on the challenge of breaking down the vocabulary of the yoga world in this first part of her series, “Yoga Buzz Words”.  And to experience Kelly’s grounding gifts as a teacher, register here for Kelly’s upcoming yoga workshop on May 18th, 2013.  

“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”        -J.K. Rowling

Wanderlust, angst, confusion.

Ever felt those emotions? I have. And when I do, there’s a sense of just wanting to be still, to have everything stop, and feel balanced again.

The one word that quickly sums up all those things I wanted in my moment of peril is GROUNDED.

Of all the yoga words that fly about incense laden studios, grounded is the first that comes to mind, and appropriately so, as it is the beginning, the postures we commonly practice early in our classes.

How many times have you heard an instructor, or anyone for that matter, say to ground yourself? Have your ever just thought, ‘What the heck does that mean?’ Well, I have. I mean, it’s obvious that it has something to do with the big mass of dirt underneath our feet, but is there something more? I can easily get on the floor and lay down, and take a nap. Is that what it means?

The answer is, yes…and no.

Yoga lingo is confusing to many because it has this enigmatic quality, like we all walk onto the mat thinking we’re supposed to have some transcendent experience because we put our hands at our hearts and say,”Namaste” (I’ll address “namaste” in a separate post). And it’s somewhat true that there’s deeper meaning beyond just the physical postures, but how often do you get that explanation in a 60 minute Flow class? Pretty much, never. So, I’m here to demystify.

When I researched the dictionary definition of grounded, they all referenced something having to do with boats, shores and beaches. Essentially, the dictionary defines grounded as being stuck somewhere, mainly that of being stuck to a solid mass of land, far away from technology and people. It sounds kinda lonely, if you ask me.

I thought about this…and thought. And it hit me, that’s kind of what being grounded is: being anchored to something solid, that solid thing being who you are at your core, no matter how pretty, or ugly that core is. It doesn’t involve anyone else but you.

In that way, it’s kind of like being at rock bottom.

Typically, rock bottom is associated with being in a place where we’ve been stripped of all our distractions and fillers, left with nothing but the truth of who we are. It’s sobering and very real. It’s solid, like the earth. It’s not a place of feeling free and flowing and all hippie like.

It’s just who we are. No one else.

In my own experience, and in the countless sessions, classes and conversations I’ve had with those around me, I’ve found that people start feeling the most grounded and connected with themselves when they are at rock bottom.

Even the term “rock bottom” conjures up an image of being literally on the ground.

Rock bottom also tends to have a negative connotation in our society.  But what if we shifted our thinking and recognized it as a place to start over, a new foundation from which to anchor ourselves and start sailing again?

So, are you ready to experience this IN your body?

Try this GROUNDING EXERCISE:

  • Find a quiet place with a solid surface to rest on. Yoga mat optional.
  • From seated on your knees, bring your forehead to the ground, and rest your arms along side your legs. This is embryo pose (a beginning place). 

Embryo Pose

  • Observe you breath. Can you breathe easily? Is it hard to breathe?
  • Observe your mind. Are your thoughts racing? Do you feel self conscious? Do you feel emotional? What emotions?
  • If you’re being really honest with yourself, right now, what is happening? What are you feeling?
  • Take as much time here as you need, then slowly rise to a seat, take a deep breath, and open your eyes. Journaling optional.

If you’ve ever been in a yoga class and heard this described as a “grounding posture”, here is why: it literally brings you to the ground, in towards yourself, away from distractions. It anchors you to the space that’s right beneath you on your mat.

Being connected physically to the earth mirrors the connection to the core of who you are.

To be grounded does not necessarily mean you’re going to have it all figured out. It doesn’t mean your going to turn into Kathryn Budig and start doing some crazy inversion, naked, with nothing but Toe Sox on (no offense to Kathryn, as she is amazing and I follow her, but that’s her practice…not mine). It doesn’t mean you’ll walk out of the room enlightened, happy or sad.

What it does mean is that you’re consciously choosing to hit the restart button. It’s about having a strong sense of who you are, regardless of who you are.

It can be unnerving sometimes, being left with just you, but it is You.

So, hang out for a bit and see what lives in the space you are.

– Kelly Schauermann

Kelly is the founder of beulahwellness.com, CPRYT, Yoga Coordinator at Potentia Family Therapy, Inc and Yoga Teacher at Core Power

A Twist on Dealing with Negative Body Image

Negative Body Image.

In my tribe of Eating Disorder Treatment Specialists, we often say negative body image is the first to come and the last to leave in the treatment of food and body issues.

And that is a pretty constant truth from the many recovery journeys I have witnessed over the years.

My clients have taught me some more nuanced facts about body image, regardless of whether they have had a full blown eating disorder or not.

Everyone has (at least) a bad body image day.

Depending on where you fall, if at all, on the disordered eating spectrum, dealing with dark, obsessive, and/or negative thoughts and compulsions regarding your body is a part of the gig when dealing with disordered eating.

You may recognize all too well some of these reccurring negative thoughts used to bully and shame yourself – just fill in the blanks with your own words to customize these statements to your experience:

My ____ is so ____.
I feel so ______.
I am so ______.
My _____ looks so ____.
I just need to___.
When I _____ I will be _____.
I hate my_____.
My _____ will always/never be_____.

Ugh.

So many try to manage these thoughts and feelings by stuffing them and putting on their “I love my body” and “It’s all good” masks of virtue, hiding the truth that they are living at war with their body. Others externalize these thoughts and add to the cacophony of negative body talk and diet talk.

And this is where things often spiral.

Many try to manage the pain of being in their skin and their body shame by:

  • over exercising
  • restrictive eating
  • dieting
  • mindless, emotional eating
  • comparing
  • competing
  • shaming
  • all of the above

And this can lead to a dark journey into the world of eating disorders and disordered eating.  Yet, many hover in this place of emotional ickiness where they cannot shake the uneasiness of living in their skin and make genuine, though harmful, attempts to get relief.

For many of you, this battle really is not about your body.

If my client is stable emotionally and physically, and her needs are met nutritionally, then I often look at negative body image as a sign of something bigger.

Like when you get that scratchy throat feeling.  It is a sign you are on the verge of getting really sick; it is not just about the sore throat.  You know you need to rest, to take some extra Vitamin C, drink some tea, ask for help with projects, cut back on your social calendar.

When the yuck of a bad body image moment comes up, it is often a sign of something else going on in your life.  I move my clients away from the laser focus obsessions on what needs to change with their body and pull back the blinders to look at what else is going on in their life.

If you are feeling this way, it is important to asses:

  • if you are you getting enough rest,
  • how you are adjusting to weight restoration or weight loss (yes, weight loss can be very triggering)
  • stressors
  • social support — safe, sustainable, available social support
  • if you daily activities are life giving or draining
  • dieting behaviors
  • traumatic or distressing life events that have gone untreated
  • if your temperament is perfectionistic, obsessive-compulsive, cares big, and feels emotions intensely
  • labs taken within the last month and making sure all physical systems are operating well and your body’s needs are being met

I have learned that setting the expectation to always be comfortable in your skin is a set up for continual frustration and feelings of hopelessness.  (Not helpful…)

The key is not to focus on the goal of eradicating negative body image days (though the parallel process is to decrease the frequency and intensity of those days, for sure)  but instead to respond on those days, weeks, months when you are feeling crappy in your skin DIFFERENTLY.

Instead of defaulting to negative food and body obsessions and action, I work with my clients on how to acknowledge what they are really feeling and what they are really thinking in that moment. 

Then we focus on respecting those thoughts and feelings in the moment.  I also emphasize the truth in how my clients feel.  What they feel is always real but rarely is it ever fact.

Finally, we focus on how to respond differently when body hatred arises.  Instead of stuffing, minimizing or denying — which only fuel the negative thoughts and coping tools — I work with my clients on accessing new tools and strategies when the dreaded body yuck surfaces.

When there is too much focus on feeling better in your body and not looking at the correlation with bad body image to other factors — physical, emotional, social, and spiritual — then I think we are limiting the potential of experiencing true health and true healing.

And it is ok not to love your body all the time.

But I think it is imperative to focus on respecting your body and being grateful for your body — even when you do not like it.

You can actually dislike your body while also showing your body respect and gratitude.  Eventually, respect and gratitude will win if you hang in there.

For example, there are a good handful of people I know that I do not care for but I respect them, treat them with dignity and kindness, and find space for being genuinely grateful for the challenging relationship.

Consider this strategy in your relationship with your body.

With heavy doses of respect and gratitude in addition to responding differently to your bad body image days, the feeling of your body never being enough may dissipate, and an eventual truce with your body may be declared.

And if one of those days surfaces again, the hope is you do not shame yourself for backsliding in your recovery but see your body image woes as a clue, a hint to investigate what is out of sorts in your life.

All the while administering generous doses of respect and gratitude.

How do you deal with your bad body image days?
Do you agree that it is not realistic to achieve a space where you never have a bad body image day?

With respect and gratitude –

Rebecca

 

Seeking True Health in a Health Obsessed Culture

TrueHealth2013 jpeg
True Health

Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I recommend taking a critical look at how you define health in your life and to reflect on how your definition of health is impacting your overall wellness.

When you say something or someone is healthy, what drives your sentiment?

I usually hear the following impacting this statement the most:

  • Looks
  • Weight
  • Fashion
  • Food choices
  • Fitness routines

And by the frenzy of advertisements everywhere about all of the above, the definition of health in our culture has been skewed to meet the needs of for-profit industries while also fueling disconnection and shame about the food we eat, our bodies, and our stories.

It is time to start thinking critically about the messages we are integrating into our definition of health.

Any person, book, or program that touts drastic weight loss, cutting out major food groups, or specific results is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. None of these diets or “lifestyle choices” are sustaining after 1-2 years. The facts show weight cycling from dieting, disordered eating, and serious eating disorders are continuing to wreak havoc on our health.

I respect and totally get the desire to look good and feel good. Yet, there is a dark side to these pursuits when the meaning and motivations are based on fear, obsession, and untruths.

I am troubled by the loud chorus of people in the medical and wellness fields that are getting on the bandwagon of fear of fat and an over-focus on the number on the scale as a measure of true health.

And I am even hearing health preached from the pulpit. Yet when people in faith communities are equating virtue with the number on the scale or whether you eat certain foods, it only results in more anxiety, confusion, and discontent. Shaming people to lose weight or eat well in the name of God hits below the belt and increases psychological and spiritual wounds.

I am surprised how many people are still using the archaic BMI (Body Mass Index) as an indicator of health. It is simplistic, formulaic, and reductive. The BMI does not take into account your genetics, unique physical makeup, and lifestyle. Yet it is still used as the gold standard for whether someone needs to lose or gain weight.

And I am still skeptical of the FDA standards of the BMI knowing that many of the people on the board have or have had connections to the diet industry. If the BMI is a part of your definition of health, I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider its role.

We do have some serious issues to address regarding wellness in our country, but the myopic focus on weight + good food/bad food is missing so many other factors that contribute towards true health. And until we have a multidimensional view of health, we will keep spinning.

I talk a lot about what health is NOT.

I believe health is not:

  • determined only by the number on the scale;
  • achieving the “perfect” body or striving for unhealthy perfection;
  • eating food restrictively or based on a “good” food or “bad” food mentality;
  • unsafe relationships;
  • an obsession with eating healthy where there is no room for flexibility;
  • dieting and demonizing foods and food groups;
  • shaming, blaming, or judging self or others.

I also talk a lot about how I define health.

I believe true health is:

  • finding something you are passionate about and striving to spend most of your waking hours in this space. When people are bored or feel trapped in jobs or situations that drain them of their creativity, their motivation, and ability to sit in vulnerability, this has a negative impact on mental and spiritual health which in turn can develop into physical ailments.
  • having a relationship with money where you are living within in your means and have enough to give and save. Leaning too heavily on finances as a means of control or comfort gives money way too much power over your peace of mind. And using money as a means to medicate can create chaos and a cycle of stress that negatively impacts mental, physical, and spiritual health.
  • involvement in your local community. So many people are disconnected from the places they live, but emotional wellness comes when we feel safe, have purpose, and community.
  • having a faith + regular spiritual practice. Understanding we are loved beyond measure and there is a greater purpose for your life gives perspective and meaning in all circumstances.
  • having a deep soul connection with a special few individuals who you can be real with, share your fears, mistakes, dreams, and hopes. Feeling heard and understood creates connection. Connection breeds empathy and gratitude. Gratitude impacts how our brains fires and improves our well-being, body, and soul.
  • living in a body that has energy, its needs met, is rested, moves well, and is free from pain. And when many are living in chronic pain or have chronic illness, practicing the previous five points can actually help improve their physical health. The only numbers of real concern are on your labs checking your bloodwork and other internal functions.

In the days and weeks to come, I will dig even deeper into these components of true health.

I am curious: How do you define health in your life? What do you think of my definition of health?  I look forward to and value your thoughts and feedback on this important and controversial topic.

Rebecca

 

Doing the Work: We are in it Together

 

When it comes to shame, we are all in it together — it levels the playing field.

There is no “us and them” with shame.

Shame just levels.

Like thousands upon thousands, I deeply resonate with Brené Brown’s research, books and Ted Talks.  I have been integrating her definitions and theoretical orientation into my work with clients, in my own life and faith walk over the last few years.

And I longed to do this work on a deeper level.

So when the opportunity to train with Brené and her team came up – I was in.

And I found out how much I was in last weekend during the second of two weekend trainings.

As Brené writes in her psychoeducational Shame Resilience Curriculum, Connections:

There is no getting around it: You must do your own shame work in order to facilitate this material Wholeheartedly.  In my research I have found shame to be a difficult and painful topic for both laypeople and mental health professionals.  Unlike many of the other topics that professionals study, when it comes to shame, there is no “us and them”.  As professionals, we don’t have the luxury of thinking, “Let me learn about this topic that affects my clients so I can help them.”  Shame is universal – no one is exempt.  If we can’t talk about shame and examine the impact it has on our own lives, we certainly can’t be helpful to others.

Driven by my own professional standards and ethics, my heart sang as I read further:

Our most basic ethic as mental health professionals is “to do no harm”. I believe we risk violating that ethic when we examine issues with clients we have not examined in our own lives.

Here’s the bottom line: You should not do this work with others until you have done this work yourself.”

Game on.

Since I started this training last July, I realized it is one thing to read the books, listen to the Ted talks and seminars, and recite the definitions in talks and in my sessions with clients.

And it is a whole other thing to live. this. work.

I had originally planned to have my husband come with me on this weekend away.  I knew this work was going to be hard.  Getting personal with a bunch of professional people I did not know sounded like a mild form of torture. But my husband had to cancel at the last minute.

So I went into this experience way more vulnerable then I intended.

I realized quickly true vulnerability makes my skin crawl.  Sure, I share deeply and authentically with MY people.  But with strangers, mental health people at that, heck no!  Everything inside my head said, “Zip it.  Walk Away.  Do not let these parts of you be seen. Stop now!”

I was still under the impression I could avoid vulnerability while still meeting my desire for connection.

And I began to build up my armor. I made commitments to myself to only share “this” much.  I was going to just have a toe-in-the-water experience, check the box and then get on a plane to go home. Stat!

Best laid plans…

After I arrived at the training site, I had some precious quiet time.

I felt this quiet nudge that said, “Go deep.  I am here with you.  Allow yourself to really be seen.”  I pushed back.

“Are you (bleeping) kidding me?  These are a bunch of strangers.  Therapist strangers.  It will not be professional to do the Oprah-ugly-cry in front of them let alone have certain parts of my story seen. And (bleep), I do not want to talk about THAT stuff. This dark stuff in MINE.  I think about it, pray about it. But you have to be a really special person to me if I am going to talk about THAT stuff with you.”

Yeah, it was a scrappy prayer time.

But I trusted where I was being led and the leadership team. I pushed through the resistance and leaned into the experience.  I shared.  And was seen. I cried at times — in public. I did not share the deep soul dark stuff in full detail but I pushed myself to touch on it.  I was vulnerable in all its glory.

At one point, I dropped into the shame zone.

I began to hand over my worth to others.  I worried what the other participants and leaders thought. Surely, I was going to be the first person they denied certification.  I was too much. A burden. Not fit to be a clinician. I blamed, judged, and thought things that were pretty ridiculous in hind site but at the time seemed completely reasonable. I had tunnel vision.

And then I remembered to pull my worth off the table and not leave it open for discussion or debate.

I practiced the skills of shame resilience. I drew from courage and spoke with a new friend.  I named my shame.  I connected.

And I felt clear again.  Still raw, but grounded in Truth because I reclaimed my worth and value from the collective other. I felt empowered because I was able to reboot and get grounded so quickly.

Yes, I still struggle with the discomfort of vulnerability, but I have a new-found respect for it after this experience.  I am exhaling into the growth, catharsis, and healing that comes on this  side of experiencing vulnerability along with a deeper sense of connection and intimacy with those in my life.

And I know this process will continue for the rest of my life.  But I now am better equipped when I see shame a-comin’.

Empathy, Authenticity, Vulnerability, Courage, Shame — they are no longer trendy jargon to me.  They have three dimensional meaning and depth that has come from doing this work. Living this work.

And my commitment to scaling this work is more impassioned then ever.

This week, we are wrapping up two cohorts of our Cultivating Courage Workshop at Potentia.  I am still in awe of what I witnessed from the 20 people who went through this experience.

We will be launching mini workshops on topics that support this work in addition to weekend Cultivating Courage Intensives and more weekly workshops.

Even if you do not live in San Diego, there is an opportunity for you to dig deep and start the journey towards building shame resilience. I would love to walk with you on this journey.

It is hard and important work.

But never forget, we are all in it together.

Rebecca

Everybody Knows Somebody: NEDAW 2013

 

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2013 is wrapping up tomorrow.  This year’s theme is a repeat: “Everybody Knows Somebody.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about the people I have had the honor to meet and work with over the last (almost) 10 years. I wish I could share with you the intricate details of their stories of heartbreak, despair, pain, victory, and perseverance.  They have taught me so much about the disordered eating spectrum, grace, humility, and redemption.

What I can do is share with you how many of the people you interact with every single day are hurting inside and masking it so well that you have no idea what is really going on in their minds, hearts, and souls.

You are around people every day who are terrified of being found out, misunderstood, judged:

  • for eating a “bad” food;
  • for binging+purging;
  • for living on caffeine and crumbs;
  • for doing things with food and their body that would make your toes curl;
  • for being overweight and seen as lazy, stupid, a burden to society;
  • for not being able to manage life without their disordered eating thoughts and behaviors;
  • for their life being so chaotic, out of control, unsafe;
  • for hurting and hating their bodies, their lives, their existence.

You see their smile, their amazing work ethic, the kind disposition. You laugh at their jokes and praise them for their faithful service and always being available to help.

Or you may be distracted by their extra weight, their health struggles, their mood swings and think it is just about the food, just a phase, or simply manipulative attention-seeking.

Think again. It is probably so much more.

We live in a culture that is not showing any signs of letting up with the pressure to fit into a certain size, shape, look, way of being.  While there are more and more people desiring authenticity and courage — and stepping up and living it — there are still so many people you know who are terrified of being seen in their pain, their darkness, their cesspool of destructive choices.

I hear many cheer on stories and acts of vulnerability. I deeply admire those sharing their stories while living a life of courage. It is medicine for the collective soul.

But when I step out of the safe zone of my home, my inner circle of support and Potentia, I am up to my eyeballs in snark, criticism, bitterness, cruelty, bullying, and fear. Yes, there is hope and light amidst the toxic culture we live in, but wow. It is intense out there and many are breaking under the pressure.

You may not notice these individuals screaming loudly from inside their minds, but look again.

You may be too busy, overwhelmed, or caught up in your our pain to see that others are struggling, too, right in front of you. Understandable. It is hard to be human.

Or you may think really seeing, sitting with, and empathizing with someone’s pain is too hard, unbearable. Indeed. That kind of connection is a full body commitment and investment. Healthy boundaries (not walls) are needed so you can discern what your limits are on any given day.

But I think we can no longer tolerate looking away from the pain of those around us. This is volatile ground to tread. But when you hear someone speaking poorly about their body, dieting (the gateway drug for eating disorders), negligent with how they nourish and care for themselves, please do not tell them how to change or look away.

Please do slow down and listen. Build a relationship with the person you are concerned about. Ask questions. Seek to understand. Listen some more. That in itself is so life-giving to someone living in emotional isolation.

I hear many people say, “I do not get eating disorders. That is not my struggle.” You may not struggle with food and body issues, but I suspect you know full well what it is like to feel alone, rejected, ashamed, overwhelmed, afraid, and helpless. So yes, you can connect with someone struggling with an eating disorder regardless of whether that is a part of your story.

Eating Disorders, Disordered Eating and all the related issues — obsessions with counting calories + dieting + eating “healthy,” good food/bad food, excessive working out, anxiety, compulsions, depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm behaviors, body shame, unhealthy perfectionism — are attempts for people to chase the ache of the core negative belief, “I am not worthy of love.”

At the heart of a lot of the wellness issues in our country is deep emotional pain. Genetics, family of origin, trauma, temperament, and distressing life events all play intricate roles in this complex and damaging illness, and the reductive solutions offered by many are fueling the pain, not relief.

As this year’s NEDAW wraps up, remember:

  • Everybody knows somebody in the process of recovering from somewhere on the disordered eating spectrum;
  • Everybody knows somebody who is painfully concerned with how she is perceived by others;
  • Everybody knows somebody giving up a food group or going on a diet with the hopes it will cure their emotional pain or physical ailments, only to be left unsatisfied and under-nourished;
  • Everyone knows someone who would rather hurt herself than somebody else;
  • Everybody knows somebody that is deceptively in deep emotional pain screaming out for help behind her smile and put-together demeanor;
  • Everybody knows someone who defines herself solely by the darkness of her story;
  • Everybody knows somebody who repeatedly talks negatively about her body, oozing with self-hatred and disgust when she looks in the mirror;
  • Everybody knows somebody who fears being fat, thinks she is fat, feels fat regardless of the facts;
  • Everyone knows someone who exercised for hours on end to the point of injury;

Everybody Knows Somebody.

You Know Somebody.

If you want to learn more about the disordered eating spectrum, check out the National Eating Disorder Association website. It is an incredible resource for those who are struggling with and those who are learning about eating disorders.

How have you reached out to someone struggling? What was difficult? What went well? Please do share!

Cheering you on –

Rebecca