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

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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.

Click to tweet.

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.

Click to tweet.

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

 

 

 

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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.”

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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

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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

 

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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

 

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Show Up + Be Seen

IMG_2142
I love this cute bag came that came with my Daring Greatly t-shirts.

 

Show Up + Be Seen

in your pain, your brokenness, as you nurse your scars. You are not alone.  We need to hear your story and give witness to your healing journey. Because then we do not feel as alone in our own pain and brokenness, garnering inspiration to start/continue our own healing journey.

Show Up + Be Seen

as you celebrate your victories, true love, accolades and promotions.  Stand firm, do not shrink and do not shout. Just. stand. firm. as you share all the good things happening in your life with your circle of support who will gladly do a happy dance with you.

Show Up + Be Seen

look fear in the eye and speak your truth.  We need to see you live a life of courage. It is contagious and our world needs to catch more courage.

Show Up + Be Seen

as you forgive, are forgiven, and begin the marathon healing process involved with forgiveness.  Whether you have been betrayed, been the betrayer or both — the complex path of forgiveness is a winding but so important path to stay on for as long as you are alive.

Show up + Be Seen

as you find your voice, push back the lies and lean in to your dreams.  Edit the naysayers out of your life and mute the drill sergeant between your ears.  Our dreams are inspired by the One who has a plan for you and me beyond our comprehension. Go big. Go small.  Just keep going for the dreams oozing out of your heart to help make this planet a better place.

Show up + Be Seen

when you mess up, make up, feel emotions in all their glory.  We need more people who shed the mask of “I have it all together” to reveal their humanity.  Wholehearted living is scary but it is truly living.

Show up + Be Seen

on your best side, your worst side — without the screens.  Vulnerability and authenticity are gorgeous; though they may not feel safe, they sure provide the best light to showcase your precious story.

Show up and Be Seen

as you let go of cool, sophisticated, and polished so your inner goof ball can get some air time.  Laughter, lightheartedness, and silliness are good for your soul.

Show Up + Be Seen

when others are scoffing, judging, disconnecting.  Hold your head high, give grace, receive grace, and rally around your safe people as you regroup from the mean, unjust aspects of the world we live in.

Show up + Be Seen

because your life matters. Your voice matters. And the world needs you to live the life you are called to live.

Show up + Be Seen

reaching out, asking for help, digging deep. Stay steadfast. Do not give up but make sure you come up for air from time to time as this healing+growing process can be all consuming.

Show up + Be Seen

as you set boundaries, not walls. Say yes and no with purpose, clarity, and intention instead of people pleasing, conflict avoiding, and reactionary fear.

Show up + Be Seen

as you fight the slippery slope of “group think” and “going along to get along.”  The spotlight can be intense as you step away from living life based on what others think you “should” do, say, think.  You are up for the challenge.

Show Up + Be Seen

as imperfect, true, glorious you. There is no one else on the planet just like you. Amazing.  Simply Amazing.

———

How are you wanting to show up + be seen today as you seek to live the life you are called to live?  What scares you the most about being seen?

Rebecca

PS – This post deserves inspiration thank you’s to:

  • the many men and women who have entrusted me with their hearts over the years who continually come to my office to show up and be seen no matter the challenges they were facing.

  • Brené Brown and Connections Partner Robert Hilliker. Thank you for being the Spark and the Torch Bearer, respectively, of this amazing work.

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Holding the Numbers Lightly

lifetooshort

 

Numbers.

I have a lot of conversations about numbers in my line of work. And not the numbers that my accountant or financial planner talk with me about (ugh) but the numbers that are used to help us measure our physical health.

My clients over the last decade have taught me that these numbers can be destructive, shaming, and spike their inner drill sergeant to start screaming awful things about their worth + value.

Working with those who struggle with eating disorders, negative body image, and disordered eating has taught me a lot about some numbers and how they can be draining and all-consuming.

I am referring to the number:

on your scale
of the size of your pants
of calories or points of a food item
on your labs (I like these numbers but they can often be used incorrectly)
of calories burned

While I believe our emotional, relational, and spiritual health are deeply enmeshed with our physical health, I want to address these numbers — particularly the number on your scale — and how you use them as you seek to make changes in your physical well-being.

When it becomes clear to me that these numbers are toxic to my clients and are preventing any real change from happening, I often ask them to take a big risk and leap of faith.

I ask them to get rid of their scale.

Sometimes they are not ready to get rid of it, so I hold it at my office (you should see the space under my couch) or they put it in the trunk of their car or have a trusted friend hold it or hide it.

Afraid of losing control without their scale, my clients ask:

What if I gain a ton of weight?
How will I know if I am making progress?
What will motivate me for change without the scale?

I always respect this resistance. I get it.

It’s a frightening idea to let go of this measure that helps them manage their anxiety + fear and has been serving as an emotional container for some time. But if they are in my office, I suspect this means of containing has reached capacity.

The scale simply does not serve as an effective means of control and in fact spikes obsessive thoughts about weight, food, numbers, and what other people think.

Stepping on the scale fuels the “never enough” crazy-making because:

  • If it is higher than you would like, you feel anxious, depressed, ashamed.
  • If it is right where you want it to be, you are excited but also paralyzed by fear of doing anything that will change that number in the wrong direction.
  • Even If you have achieved a weight in the range that is best for your body, sometimes the desire to go even lower gives a rush that is hard to resist.

Contrary to the many messages we are inundated with in our culture, weight is not a direct correlation to our health.  Last week, the results of a meta-analysis study of weight and mortality revealed those deemed overweight were associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.

This study is more indication of the need to rethink how we define overweight and obese. I want to be clear, the results of this study are not a pass for those who need to make changes in how they care for their body. But shaming people to make changes to better their well-being is not effective and is destructive.

Determining our well-being is way more complex than a number on a scale or an antiquated formula or chart. These faulty formulas are pervasive in our culture and prey on those who are feeling pretty crappy about themselves, who are desperate for change and relief.

When the number on the scale is the primary measure of your success in achieving your goals, you are vulnerable to a shame spiral.

When this number has power over your worth and value, it is time to get off the scale until you can recalibrate that way of thinking and learn how to bench negative emotion so you respond to your pain in ways that are not harmful to yourself and others.

Many clients report a positive emotional benefit after taking a break from the scale. They report less anxiety and that their inner drill sergeant has dialed back the volume.

Let me be clear: I think it is important to own all of these numbers…

…at the right time in your healing journey.

At the wrong time, shame, perfectionism, impatience, and fear can take these numbers and wreak havoc on your sense of worth, your mood, your focus.

Megan Holt, Potentia’s Coordinator of Nutrition + Wellness, often monitors the numbers on the scale for our clients while working with them on strategies towards true health that are customized for each individual. (Note: We all need a Megan in this culture!)

When our worth gets tied up in numbers, we make changes — often needed changes — for reasons that do not support sustaining change.

Our goal is to help people really discover where their bodies have the most energy and function the best. We support people discovering their food preferences and moving away from calling food good or bad. It is so amazing to see people find a way to enjoy food while still nourishing well.

When we use eating, restricting, or eliminating food in unsafe ways to take away the pain or to numb, dull, and repel, we do not allow ourselves to develop the emotional muscle to bench the hard stuff in life.

Food — eating it or restricting it — is powerful. It can be fun + enjoyable, too.

But for many, tolerating joy is very triggering and even less tolerable than shame and fear. Going back to the dark space, albeit uncomfortable, is known. And our brains like known.

So, if you are starting off this new year and food + body issues are one of your primary goals to tackle this year, awesome.

But please hold the numbers lightly.

And if you notice the numbers on your scale or on food items you are eating or the size of clothes giving fuel to your inner drill sergeant, then take a pause.

Ask your dietician, your nurse, or doctor to do blind weigh-ins for a while and not to talk about numbers for a bit as you seek to recalibrate your thinking.

These numbers are one of many factors that measure your progress on the journey towards true health, but they are not the sole indicator of progress as they may fluctuate for a variety of reasons.

Hold the numbers lightly as you seek true health in your life, and fiercely guard your heart from believing your worth is tied into a number.

Cheering you on —

Rebecca

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New Year’s Eve Soap Box (and good tidings, too)

 

I am a big fan of this time of year.  There is something about the beginning of a new year that brings with it rejuvenated hope, a fresh start, space to dream.

This time of year is also when everything media is saturated with promises to help you with your resolutions about exercise, weight loss, nutrition + wellness, relationships and more.

In particular, the diet industry along with fitness, health and personal improvement gurus are promoting the heck out of their various programs to help you make 2013 your best. year. ever.

So much of this hype genuinely speaks to many of you who are uncomfortable in your skin.  Food, family, fat, and other f-bombs get thrown around out of frustration a lot at this time of year.

And for those of you who have be on the diet, weight cycling, body hatred, I am not enough, scale-obsessed train for some time now, promises of quick relief to real pain are seductive and haunting.

Clicking “buy now” brings promise of solutions to real concerns and serious pain points in your life.

But this incessant talk about weight, body and food is like adding fuel to a dangerous fire burning in the hearts and minds of many who are crushing against the emotional pain of serious food+body issues, anxiety, depression, unhealthy perfectionism, loneliness+disconnection.

To be honest, there are some quality people and quality programs out there that can help you on your way to true health. And then here are some that frustrate the heck out of me as they exploit, are unsafe and make promises that are not based on sound research or true health.

While I believe there is room for a variety of definitions of health, I am fed up with definitions of health being reduced to the number on the scale and the fear of everything fat. Good intentions to help improve wellness are creating more anxiety+depression around food+body issues.  This deeply concerns me.

Restricting, denying, punishing, shaming are not sustaining change agents.

There is a whole host of struggles we have to tackle as we seek to improve the quality of life for all. We do need to move more and strive to make whole, fresh, organic food affordable + accessible to all.  We need to play more, laugh more, rest more. And improving our support of those with mental illness is a non-negotiable.

Seeking change is important.  It is a natural part of growth.  But when desired change is motivated by a numbers on scales, fear, people pleasing or performance – it will wreak havoc on your mind and soul.

Change is hard, change is messy; change is an ebb and flow.
Change is often needed, demanded.
Change is uncomfortable; change is frustrating; change is important.
Change is about showing up, fighting through fear and shame.
Change involves trusting like you have never trusted before.  Once step at a time.

Never forgot, homeostasis will fight to the death to maintain status quo.  That is why change is so difficult.  Especially when we avoid doing our own deep soul work.

I love Donald Miller’s recent post on resolutions.  He states they do not work when:

  • Our resolutions are not meaningful
  • We failed to make a plan
  • We forget our resolutions.
  • They just were not for us.

Donald Miller went on to say when resolutions do end up working is when we:

  • Choose a meaningful ambition
  • Create a plan for our meaningful ambition
  • Engage in conflict
  • Share our story with the world

If we are seeking changes that fuel deep soul meaning in our lives; if we have the emotional muscle to handle conflict internally and externally and own our story instead of shrink from it, well, look out 2013.

Suddenly obsessing about numbers+other people’s opinions do not have as much power with this new lens.

What do you desire to change this year?  How are you going to go about making these changes?

Are you trying to do it all at once or can you tolerate a step, a shift in direction, a phone call or email to start the process?

Are in this alone?  You may feel that way but my faith informs me differently.

Get clear on the changes you are seeking. Be specific.

  • Check your motivations for change. Are your desired changes life-giving or fear-based?
  • Check your expectations and desired results. Are they realistic for you, your body, your current life situation?
  • Check your beliefs about change. Do you have hope you can change?
  • Check the source of doubt, fear and shame against your faith.

And then turn towards lasting change and away from diets + shame-based expectations.

Happy 2013!

Rebecca

PS – And for those of you in the San Diego area who want to work on creating sustaining change in your life, check out our Cultivating Courage Workshop series launching in a few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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Slowing Down + Feeding Ourselves Well.

Source: potentiatherapy.com via Rebecca on Pinterest

Today is National Food Day.

The effort behind this movement is a “nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.”

We believe there is room for all foods in how we feed ourselves.  We also believe food is medicine.  When we nourish well, we feel well.

So many we work with have:

  • an obsessive;
  • a fearful;
  • a love/hate;
  • a distant
  • a frustrating

relationship with food.  Food does not have to take away your power.  Instead, it can empower you to live, be, and serve well.

When our clients begin to heal their relationship with food, they discover their food preferences, the joy of caring for their bodies and, yes, the joy of eating.

Eating well = fun + freeing.

Eating well = freedom from the loud voices in your head that shame you for eating a food deemed “bad”.

Eating well = energy, clarity, slowing down, enjoyment, community, connection.

The grassroots effort of the Slow Food Movement to maintain the diversity + quality in our food supply while supporting farmers through purchasing locally grown whole foods is exciting because it brings home the fact that how you feed yourself not only impacts you but those in your community.

Slowing down and feeding ourselves well: It’s good for our bodies, our community and our planet.  AND it’s totally affordable. (Seriously!)

Wow! A big part of healing your relationship with food, your body and your story involves being a part of something bigger in your life.  One simple way you can jump start that process is by checking out your local farmer’s market and connecting with those who grow/raise your food.

Several venues here in San Diego County will be hosting events in honor of National Food Day. Visit www.foodday.org to find an event near you.

Also, check out the San Diego Farm Bureau’s website to find your local farmer’s market. (or the FB in your local area.)

Go get some farm fresh tomatoes for your tomato sauce.  Or grab some fresh apples and free-range eggs for your apple spice cake.  Pick up some freshly harvested greens for your dinner salad tonight.

And if you see us at the market, please say hello!  We are honored to be a part of your community.

Slowing down and eating well –

Rebecca + Megan

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Dividing the Pain

Source: bdbhbe.blogspot.com via Rebecca on Pinterest

I received an email last week from a dear high school friend detailing the failing health of her mother.  I immediately picked up the phone and called her.  My plan was to let her know she is in my thoughts and prayers + how much I love her and her family.

But as soon as I started to speak, my words turned into a hot mess of jumbled words and tears.  I choked up as I realized the depth of my love for my friend, her family and the role they all played during such an important season of my life.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in myself for my ramble as I had wanted to be “strong” and a rock for her during this tough time. I felt a bit like my message was a burden and that did not sit well with me.  A few days later, I wrote my friend and apologized for my hot mess of a voice mail message and more coherently articulated my sentiments.

Minutes after I fired off my apologetic email, I received a voice mail message from my friend.  She was so gracious and noted how touched she was by my expression of emotion in addition to being encouraged knowing how her mom had impacted me.

(Note to self: authentic and sincerely expressed sentiments are ok.  Lighten up on yourself for not being “perfect”.  Yes, I am a recovering perfectionist.)

And then my friend said something so beautiful and brilliant.

“When you have things like this happen, you just want to divide the pain.  When I sent the email message to those I love sharing the bad news, there is some comfort I received in dividing that pain and having others hold it with me.  So, thank you.”

My friend shared more about the path that was ahead of her and her family as they seek to make her mom comfortable while her body slowly shuts down.  This led my mind to race with memories of how our lives and families intersected over the years:

  • time at her childhood house;
  • getting ready for homecoming;
  • sleep overs;
  • sneaking out and skipping school during state tournament season;
  • late-night swims;
  • eating at their kitchen counter;
  • getting in trouble at their kitchen counter;
  • practicing our cheer routines;
  • going to her cabin;
  • flying to California for my sweet sixteen/golden birthday birthday;
  • double dates;
  • mean girl drama;
  • jerky boy drama;
  • family weddings;
  • and few other memories that are best to remain private. 🙂

I love my friend’s statement about dividing our pain and am very aware of how so many people I know personally and professionally keep their pain silent within themselves, often for fear of being rejected or a ridiculed.  And some do not feel like they can manage the vulnerability of being seen in their pain.  Then there are those who do not have safe community they can reach out to and trust when they are struggling.

I really believe lasting healing happens when we divide the pain by giving witness to our hurts and invite others into our experience to share our load, our burden.

And for many of those I work with at Potentia, I have had the honor of giving witness to their pain, struggles, shame and fears.

The power of sharing your story, receiving support + respect instead of shame + judgements is medicine for your soul.

Let’s be honest, it is risky to be open about your heart struggles. To allow yourself to be seen – with safe and boundried people –  as not strong enough, tough enough, perfect enough allows the lies of these negative beliefs to dissipate.

I really think we miss out on incredible healing opportunities when we do not divide the pain and instead put on masks telling people, “It’s all good.”  or  “It is meant to be.” or  “It could be worse.”  My friend could have minimized things but instead she leaned into her safe and loving support system.

I wonder, what are the negative beliefs that are keeping you from reaching out?

What one risk can you take today to reach out and divide the pain?

Never forget: Real+Safe relationships heal.

Having a safe and sincere relationship with God, yourself  and others is crucial to managing the curve balls of life + experiencing the blessings in life to the fullest.  Shame says, “stay hidden”.  Truth says, “You are worthy to be seen”.

Dividing+Conquering  –

Rebecca

PS – Thank you Mrs. A for raising an amazing daughter who blessed my life richly and for loving me – along with the rest of the young women in your world of influence  –  as one of your own.

 

 

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