About 7 years ago I created the curriculum on Eating Disorders for New York University’s Graduate School of Social Work. I LOVE teaching this course and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the opportunity to teach such eager men and women something that I feel so passionately about.
Someone in this past class asked me something that no one has asked me yet – How has my work with eating disorders affected my own relationship with food, my body and myself? I didn’t have a quick answer. I really had to think about it. Am I negatively affected in some ways? Am I positively affected in some ways? Do I eat more, as many people describe as a common “side effect” of working with eating disorders?
I gave it some thought and then very genuinely talked my way through my answer. It’s true that on days when the topic of actual food arises, I tend to leave craving foods I wasn’t otherwise thinking about. But I can generally get back in touch with what I really want and satisfy myself. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and the craving is really strong. I’m okay with that, too!
Regarding my body, I spend a lot of time with my patients discussing and exploring body acceptance, honoring ones body and doing all of this in the face of familial and societal pressures. I truly feel that body dissatisfaction, to some degree, has become almost a rite of passage for everyone, both men and women. Doing this work has offered me a daily reminder of the choice I have (we all have) to either reject or to succumb to these pressures and fall into the “I’m not good enough” thinking that lives in tandem with the “thin ideal.” Even in moments when I have a tinge of “not good enough,” I quickly find myself automatically catapulted into some sort of anger or frustration about being told that I have to look a certain way in order to be acceptable.
I shared the above and then continued, “Overall, it has made me more empowered! I never feel so healthy and empowered as I do when I leave my office at the end of the day – most of the time.” WOW! I was a little surprised to hear myself say this with such gusto but it’s true! Working with both men and women struggling with eating disorders has empowered me! Of course, it can be difficult, frustrating, devastating and many other things but what I feel the most is EMPOWERED! Why? I think it’s quite simple. Life in general, as well as doing this work genuinely and authentically, as I hold myself accountable to do, has forced me to develop my own personal ethos and it is from there that I try every day to live both personally and professionally. My ethos includes things like empowerment, authenticity, direct communication, vulnerability and compassion for myself and others.
Today I would like to invite you to consciously consider your own personal ethos and if it matches how you are living most of the time (and let’s face it, none of us are perfect – that’s not what this is about). If you don’t have a personal ethos, then I’d like to invite you to create one for yourself!