Category Archives: self care

Happy Thanksgiving!

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As Thanksgiving approaches, now is a good time to increase your mindfulness in taking care of yourself daily and especially through the holiday season.

Some experience holidays as joyous, cheerful times to connect with family and friends. Others experience the holiday time as tense, sad and depressing. And of course, there is the huge spectrum that exists between those two experiences. But generally speaking, holiday times are usually replete with emotion. Likely, a mix of emotions.

Whatever your experience is, it is up to you to honor it. Absent of judgment. With connection and with consciousness.

And the food… when thinking of Thanksgiving food, we oftentimes conjure up images of large tables overflowing with food. For those struggling with eating disorders, or who have a more complicated relationship with food, it will undoubtedly trigger anxiety, fear and overwhelm.

When you approach this holiday season, and the many mealtimes throughout, slow down. Become mindful. Check in with yourself and notice how you are feeling both emotionally and physically. Continue to check in with yourself throughout the day, the meal, the holiday. Take a time-out if you are feeling overwhelmed. Confide in a family member, significant other or a friend. Text someone. Stay in touch with someone who knows what is going on for you and assure yourself that you are not alone.

Become curious about which emotions you honor and which you tend not to. Become curious about when you choose to honor your hunger and satiety and when you choose not to. And above all, have a meaningful Thanksgiving and make sure to give gratitude to yourself!

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How has my work with eating disorders impacted me personally?

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!


The Holiday Stress of a Guy with an Eating Disorder

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Photo by James Bland
(courtesy of Brian Cuban)

by guest blogger Brian Cuban!
Brian Cuban is an author whose best-selling book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” chronicles his first-hand experiences living with, and recovering from eating disorders, addiction and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD). Brian speaks regularly about his recovery and breaking the male eating disorder stigma.

Anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder is probably skilled in the art of hiding it from his/her loved ones and friends. Such deception is an integral part of the disorder, a part of dealing with the shame of self and fear of being discovered. For me, this caused extra stress and increased depression during the holidays. While everyone else was celebrating the love of family and the anticipation of the new year, I was worried about my disordered eating behaviors being discovered. Ashamed that I felt I had to hide my “dirty secret.” That’s what it was to me. For many years, I had no idea there were words such as “anorexia” or “bulimia.” It was just a routine I engaged in like breathing. I also knew it was not something guys were supposed to experience. It was a “girl thing.” Guys are leaders. Guys watch football on holidays. Guys don’t stick their fingers down their throat or starve themselves. This was 1979, before Karen Carpenter tragically passed away from complications related to anorexia, putting eating disorders into the national spotlight but also solidified the stereotypes of eating disorders being a female issue.

While there has been some progress since then, for the most part that perception remains unchanged. It is the perception of many men going through it. The perception of those who have heard about it and read about it. The perception of the media who report on it. The hard reality? I was anorexic, then bulimic for twenty-seven years staring in 1979. More hard reality? Depending on which study you look at, 15-25 percent of those diagnosed with eating disorders are male and recent studies have indicated that that percentage could be even higher.

For me and most other sufferers it was not about percentages. It was about loneliness and shame. I thought I was the only male suffering, especially during the holiday season. How could I feign a normal relationship with self-image and food during a time when it was deemed acceptable to not eat “normally?”

Fortunately, in 2007, I was able to begin recovery and gain control of the thoughts that led me to believe that the only normal relationship with food was through eating disorder behaviors. Through considerable amounts of therapy and self-discovery of how my childhood filled with fat shaming and bullying over my weight led to those feelings, I became able to channel them in to positive thoughts about myself and the reality of how I deal with food and self-image.

A positive thought for me is the realization that even if I eat a little too much or way too much holiday food, it’s only one or two days out of a long life filled with other days of a relatively healthy eating routine. It has no effect on what people think of me, and their thoughts are none of my business regardless. I still have tough days. Recovery is a process. During the process I have found that the following mental exercises help me avoid extra eating related stress during the holidays. Stress that can trigger unhealthy disordered eating thoughts:

  1. Going into the season I plan to have a regular exercise and eating schedule. I force myself to eat regular meals during the day. This prevents me from easing into thoughts of binging and excessive exercise. I am aware that the binging can lead to thoughts of purging. I am also aware that trying to make up for a binging session with extreme exercise routines can trigger me into an exercise anorexia mindset.
  2. I rely on the support of family, friends and my shrink. They are the primary system of trust that I developed once I realized that there is no shame in seeking treatment and speaking out about my disorder. I allow them to support me and listen to my fears without judgment. This has been one of the biggest tools of my recovery.

But the realization that it’s okay to plan for the thoughts that have plagued my past and realize they are not me is reassuring and should be for all of us who have an eating disorder. We’re all loved as individuals and there is plenty of support to be found during the holidays. If you are ashamed and worried about the stress and guilt of this time of year, seek out those who love you. Seek out those who have been where you are. We are out here. And we are ready and willing to help. You just have to step forward, even just a little one.


optimists remain more stable in the face of stress

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Is the glass half empty or half full? You decide. But a new study has revealed that your disposition can predict your experience of stress.

For six years, Joelle Jobin, et. al. tracked dispositional optimism and stress in 135 community dwellers over the age of 60. Their study, recently published in Health Psychology, assessed the participants’ self-assessments of their stress alongside their cortisol levels (a stress hormone). The researchers wondered if optimism could be associated with a buffering of the stress–cortisol link.

The participants were asked to place themselves along a continuum as optimists or pessimists based upon their own subjective experience of their daily lives. For three non-consecutive and typical days of the week, participants completed questionnaires and collected saliva (from which cortisol levels were measured). These levels were compared to each participant’s own baseline averages.

The study reports that, “A large body of research has shown that optimism ameliorates the adverse consequences of stressful life experiences on individuals’ well-being and health.” In this study, Jobin and the rest of her team found that, “…pessimists’ absolute stress levels were higher than their optimistic counterparts’…,” and, “… dispositional optimism can moderate the associations between psychological perceptions of stress and increased cortisol secretion in a community sample of older adults.”

What this means is, as Jobin explained to Concordia University, “On days where they experience higher than average stress, that’s when we see that the pessimists’ stress response is much elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down. Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances.”

What does this mean for us? Similar to studies on luck, the mind is a powerful thing. The way you view yourself and the way your view the world has great impact upon your sense of well-being. So try to look on the bright side! It has high potential to help you, body + soul!