A Love Letter To My Body

“One of the last things to go with an eating disorder is body image issues, ” my treatment team used to tell me often. I didn’t know what that meant until now. Body shaming and general body image issues hang on tight, even when you feel like you have the food relationship mostly healed. You may no longer compare what’s on your plate to what’s on the plate of your friends or loved ones, and yet you still size up your body with them in subtle ways. It’s almost like an unconscious thing that happens. You suddenly feel icky and you don’t know why. Then you remember that you were looking at your social media feed hours earlier and saw your friend who you think looks thinner in the face than you do. Then it clicks. The lightbulb goes off. I feel icky because I was comparing my face to my friend’s face only a few hours ago, which is leading me to fat shame myself while I stand in front of the mirror after a shower and I notice all the curves of my body. Suddenly, it dawns on you. You are hanging on to comparing your body to others still.

This relationship with your body remains tumultuous until you are willing to let go. Let go of what other people think. Let go of what society deems as beautiful. Let go of what society believes is an acceptable body. Let go of your own biases against size and shape of a body. And let go of comparing yourself to superstars and your own friends! Once you start practicing this, it becomes a little easier to stay in your own body while others around you are hell-bent on changing theirs. Is it easy? Hell no. Is it rewarding? Hell YES!!

One way I have done my own work in this space was to write a love letter to my body. My body has endured a lot and it is the only body I will ever get here on earth. I can love it or continue to ostracize it, which will start a shaming fest, which will trigger my old wounds to eat for comfort. Here’s my love letter to my body. I encourage you to write one yourself, even if you are not ready to love every bone in your body, because you have to start somewhere before you can heal inside.

Dear Body,

You sure have endured a lot over the years. You’ve given birth to two beautiful children. You’ve attempted to pass three kidney stones on your own. You’ve successfully reworked the gallbladder’s job when it had to be removed. You recovered from chicken pox, diverticulosis, a sprained wrist, an ankle run over by a vehicle, vertigo, an ulcer, a fissure, extraction of wisdom teeth, and a swollen leg (that was not a blood clot thank goodness!).  You are gracefully recovering from an eating disorder in mid-life, which mostly likely started after years of putting you through diet after diet.  You continue to work your best through bouts of occasional headaches and migraines, plantar fasciitis, anxiety, depression, asthma, menopause and arthritis.  And you allow me to take nearly 20,000 breaths of air each day. That is simply amazing!

I want you to know how much I appreciate you. You have endured a lot. From the moment you were teased on the playground in the 5th grade, you started to be something that needed to be changed. I didn’t know how to offer self-compassion to you when those boys teased me. It turned in to years of putting you down and trying to change you. I called you names. I pinched you in places I hated. I shamed you in the mirror. And some days, I could not even look at you in the mirror. I covered you with a washcloth whenever naked in the tub. I didn’t think you were good enough. I thought the more I criticized you, the more you’d work to shed the weight. I was never happy with you. At the height of my eating disorder, I was completely ashamed of you.  I allowed others to determine what beauty looked like.

And for all of this, I am truly and deeply sorry. You didn’t deserve any of this. You simply deserved my utmost respect. You are the vessel that is getting me through this life on earth. That is a huge job with so many external factors outside of your control. You’ve endured much and I’ve not been grateful for any of it. Until now. From now on, I vow to give you nothing but respect. And compassion. I want to smoother you with respect and compassion because this might help erase an ounce of the harm I’ve caused you. 

Thank you for all you’ve done for me. With much love and gratitude for you, XOXO Teresa.

What would you tell other women?

I was recently invited to share my eating disorder recovery story on The Emily Program’s podcast “Peace Meal” (it will be posting shortly, so make sure to be on the lookout wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts). I was both nervous and excited. Nervous because I’d not shared my specific story details publicly before. Excited because I wanted other women who may be experiencing disordered eating or an actual eating disorder in mid-life to have an ounce of hope. It would be best if it was more like an overflowing cup of hope and yet, I’d take an ounce.

On the day of the recording, Jillian and Angie both put me at ease from the moment they said hello. It felt like I’d known these ladies since my journey began at The Emily Program some 2 1/2 years earlier, and yet I’d only met Angie a few weeks prior and Jillian earlier in the day when we talked about my ideas around the coaching space for those in eating disorder recovery.

The recording of the podcast could not have gone better. For starters, my pooch did not bark once during the recording! On top of that, I wasn’t nervous or anxious. I was confident. I was excited. I was beyond ready to share and say no to shame. It wasn’t long before, that all of this would have seemed impossible. One of the last questions Jillian asked me before we called it a wrap was what I would tell other women in mid-life who may be struggling and just think they don’t have the time to commit to treatment right now.

Such a beautiful question. I thought about how I wished I had someone like me to share their story with me when I was first diagnosed. I didn’t know anyone or have anyone else who had paved the way before me who was sharing their story with me. Since I like to read and learn from others, I tried to find books and didn’t find much at the time of my diagnosis. I could only take the words of my treatment team. It hit me hard. I remember hearing the intake therapist tell me that I needed to start IOP (Intensive Outpatient Programming) which meant 4 nights a week from 5-8 pm. Say what? You know I have a full time job, a new puppy at home, a husband who works an opposite shift as me, a daughter away at college and a teenage son at home, right? Committing to three hours a night for four nights a week is a lot. It’s like having an extra part time job.

And yet, I decided it was my turn to focus on my health once and for all. I needed it. My health was important enough to me that I was going to do this. I’d spent years focusing on everything else but myself. I took a back-burner to my marriage, my parenting, and my career. When I looked in the mirror, I hated the body I saw. My soul was quickly dying and I knew it. I knew I could only keep going on fumes for so much longer before I collapsed from complete exhaustion of maintaining an eating disorder. I knew this was a gift and I needed to accept it as such. In that moment, everything else became minor in comparison. This was what the doctors were ordering for me. If not now, when I thought. I gave in to all the negative emotions going on at the time and all the eating disorder voices to give myself a gift, a gift I had no idea would be as wonderful as it was.

So, for all you middle-aged women out there who are faced with an eating disorder diagnosis at mid-life, I’d tell you that your future self will thank you for prioritizing yourself above everyone and everything else. You will gain so much freedom by prioritizing your health. Your body will finally breathe after the years of shame that had been previously associated with it. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. If you were diagnosed with cancer and your doctor told you chemotherapy once a week for 12 weeks would save your live, would you do it? Treat your mental health no different than your physical health. Treat your eating disorder diagnosis no different. Your future self will thank you profusely. And an added bonus is that you will show up as a better mom, friend, wife/partner, daughter, sister, aunt, and worker because of it. Who doesn’t want that?

This journey will be hard, no doubt. You will uncover things about your past and yourself that might be shameful to admit at first. And yet, it’s the only way towards true freedom. Taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, will all add up in the end. Keep track of your progress in a journal. You’ll be happy you did when you look back in a year or two and celebrate how far you have come (it will also come in handy when you too want to share your story in a podcast or book).

Once you get yourself into a specialized eating disorder treatment program, like The Emily Program, and on a path towards recovery, a compliment to your treatment team of therapists and dietician is a life coach. When I connected with a life coach and focused on my life goals, I saw such tremendous progress in creating a life I wanted to thrive in. Let’s connect for a free complimentary discovery call to talk about your life goals.

Letting Go is Hard, Yet Necessary

Letting Go. Those two words sound so carefree, yet getting there can be hard. And then there is that fact that you’ll have to do it again and again and again because letting go is not a once and done kind of thing. Quite the opposite. It’s something you might have to do multiple times a day. And it’s so important for your mental health. 

I had to remind myself of all of this recently.  I had been looking forward to our third annual trip up north to a cabin with my family and my sister’s family since we booked it in early January. We would be trying out a new place this year, so this was an exciting year.  It was a nice place. I was dreaming up all the stuff we would do together, all the time we’d spend together, plus the memories we would be creating.  This was gonna be so much fun I thought. 

Then, the coronavirus hit us in March. We thought the virus and precautions would be long gone by the time our vacation rolled around. Yet, they weren’t. We had to decide back in late April whether to keep our plans or postpone them this year. Since things were looking grim back then, we made the decision to postpone our plans until next year. Talk about disappointment. We wouldn’t be on the pontoon. We wouldn’t be paddle boarding. We wouldn’t be grilling together. We wouldn’t be at the beach first thing each morning. We wouldn’t be staying up until midnight laughing until our sides hurt, hoping someone would win the game of Uno we started two hours before just so we could get a little sleep before the next day’s lake-time agenda. So much disappointment. 

I was ruminating with all of the disappointment for weeks, to the point I was becoming resentful and not enjoying anything that was in front of me at the moment. If only thoughts started to pop up, followed by dreams of the memories from last year’s trip. This continued for days, which turned into a few weeks, until I was snapped back to reality. I remembered something my DBT therapist had said during my treatment. She said something like, “You need to radically accept what is to let go.  It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to like what is. You just need to accept what is.” 

So powerful and so very true. Accepting what is really is the way to letting go. We spend too much time trying to control the outcome that we miss everything before us.  I missed precious moments in time that I will not get back because I was too busy holding on to the memories I so desperately wanted to have. 

As you think about your own life, what do you need to accept so as to let go? How will you incorporate this practice of letting go into your day to day life?    Let’s work together to identify what life will look like when you accept what is and chose to let go.

The Gift of 30 Minutes of Stillness

I recently found myself reflecting back on a time when I was in the middle of my own life transformation. I was about 5 months into my recovery journey, which meant I was somewhere between the awful beginning and the messy middle, trying to figure out who I was, what I stood for and where I wanted to go next. It was messy and yet it was beautiful.

During this time, which was about 3 months into my now daily meditation practice, I was called to complete an exercise that moved me. An executive leader at my work, who I really respected and admired, challenged me to get quiet because she said, “You know what it is you want, Teresa.” Since I was new to meditating, being quiet and still for even 10 minutes felt like an eternity when she said that, yet I knew she was wise beyond her years and was on to something, so I did it.

I spent 30 minutes on a Saturday morning getting quiet with myself. I meditated briefly beforehand to some music on Insight Timer (my favorite free meditation app) and then sat for 30 minutes in the stillness of the morning. I noted every thought that came up and every noise that caught my attention in my journal. After capturing those thoughts and noises in my journal, I did some further journaling. In those moments of silence, I realized my biggest dreams and what was holding me back, and I also found a sense of freedom. I could exhale deeply after this exercise because I had been holding it all in for years.

Some of the thoughts that came up were lifting weights, coaching, transforming myself, bright light, speaking of some sort, deep breath, slow down, summer, a lake, jumping off a raft in the lake, acupuncture, needles in my face, a road, beautiful landscape in front of me, a pasture, and dark clouds. The actual sounds I noted over the 30 minutes were the sounds of an actual blue jay outside my window, airplane noise in the background, more cries from the blue jay outside, a train horn in the distance, and dogs barking outside.

In my journaling after this silence, I realized the following:

Lifting weights meant that I had already done the heavy lifting and didn’t need to keep searching for answers. I recalled something someone had said to me about how God was knocking and I wasn’t answering the door! I then saw coaching right after the lifting weights thought came up, which signified that this was my next move (I had been contemplating this for several months by this time ever since I was impacted by my own coach in 2016). The bright light meant I was a bright light in the darkness for others. There is hope. There is a way forward, out of the dark.

Being on the raft and jumping into the lake in the middle of a summer day signified freedom for me. I had gained my life back and so much more. The acupuncture and needles in my face signified the pain I had caused myself internally by not believing in myself and not taking action to lead to the beautiful pasture in front of me. Because of this, the dark clouds loomed over me and wouldn’t be released until I took a step forward. I will feel like a maddened train plowing forward, full stream ahead, marching towards more madness. I will blow my own gasket if I am not careful and don’t follow my gut. This reality will cause me fear. Fear because I am not following my dreams and will have nothing but regrets.

I would come out of this quiet reflection time feeling like I got to know myself more and what it is I wanted to do. I had been holding on to too many dreams and not following them. The very next week, I signed up for my second phase of coach training and completed it 3 months later. In this exercise, I began the journey I had been waiting for the perfect time to start.

From time to time, I give myself the gift of 30 minutes in the quiet stillness of a morning or evening to help me see what comes up for me and where it will lead me next. I encourage you to do the same because your truth can be discovered in 30 minutes of stillness too. If you want to further explore those dreams that came up, let’s partner together on making those dreams a reality!

Are You Measuring Productivity on Someone Else’s Stick?

Productivity. What does that really mean anyway? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to be productive means “yielding results, benefits or profits.”

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It does not mean yielding results, benefits our profits according to your mother, your boss, your best friend, your partner, your (fill in the blank). None of the above! It simply says that you are yielding them. So why do we spend all kinds of time comparing our productivity – our results, benefits, or profits – to anyone else’s? Doesn’t it just get us feeling like we are a complete failure and that we somehow fall short?

Case in point. Back in March, when we were all in the middle of adjusting to a global pandemic, I was still trying to adjust when it all started – the little productivity comparison started to creep in. I’d get a text from my friend who would say, “I was so productive at work today,” or I’d log in to Facebook or Instagram to see someone’s newly found “time” to be productive posting. “I’m so grateful for all this time that I have to spend with my family, and picking up this new craft. I even joined an online yoga class thru Zoom,” I saw on her post. Oh my gosh. What had I done? I was still kicking and screaming about having to work from home (vs. the office). I was still trying to wake up from the fear and anxiety of seeing empty grocery store shelves and freezers. Who had time to pick up crafting again, let alone an online yoga class? It took all of me to show up in those early days of the pandemic. I didn’t have time to be productive I thought.

Then my life coach asked me a very good question in the middle of it all early one week. She asked,

“What does being productive mean to you?”

It means taking a walk in the morning to help ground me and get ready to face the day I told her. It means doing the best I can working from home without all the equipment I would have in the office. It means taking a nap during the middle of the work day because my body needed rest. It means calling a friend and connecting with her over our commonalities and differences. The list went on and on. It means so many things I soon realized.

In this moment, I learned something that I had known before. Comparison kills your joy. It wasn’t until I was brought back to the reality of this fact by that one simple question that I realized I was comparing my own productivity to my friends and neighbors and colleagues at work. This was stealing my joy. What is productive to me is completely different to someone else. And that’s ok. That’s what makes us unique.

If you have been feeling like you are not measuring up to your friends, your neighbors, your partner, my challenge to you is to get out your own measuring stick and start measuring your own productivity according to your own standards. To take it even further, start a conversation with someone when they say, “I was so productive today,” by asking them what that means. You will soon learn what productive results, benefits or profits they achieved and how they define productivity. You may be surprised by what you learn. If anything, your mental health will thank you for asking this one simple question!

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How Trying To Be Perfect is Holding You Back

Standing up a website for my coaching practice has been on a list of to-do’s for a while and blogging has been a pipe dream of mine for so long. When I have time, when I have enough to say, when I have my first client, when I have…. The list of “when I’s” went on and on. It turns out, I was the one holding myself back. I did not need to wait for all those conditions to align with the stars. And in fact, if I was honest with myself, most of them had already come true, yet I was busy trying to find another “when I” statement to add to the list. My dreams were slipping away right before my own eyes. And then….I just did it. I hit “Publish.”

Once I hit “Publish,” my site was public – out in the world of cyberspace somewhere. Anyone could find my site. Not long after publishing, the “what if’s” started buzzing in my mind now that the “when I” statements had been put to rest with the click of the publish button. “What if someone does not like my site?” “What if no one contacts me?” “What if I don’t have the ‘right’ words to say?” These “what if” statements kept getting in the way of me seeing the endless possibilities this blog and website were giving me.

You know where these “when I” and “what if” statements come from? Perfectionism. Yeah, that’s right. The big old “P” word (the other “P” word we will talk about in a future blog is “Productivity”). If you strive for things to be perfect, rather than strive for good enough and continuous improvement, you are getting in your own way. Yes, that’s right. You are getting in the way of you and the fantastic person you can BE.

The world will not come to know you if you are waiting for the “when I” moments to happen or the “what if” statements to come true.

There is no such thing as perfect or perfect timing. You are wasting valuable time here on earth waiting for the perfect moment to live your best self yet.

What dreams have you been putting on hold, waiting for the perfect timing or perfect conditions, that would lead to endless possibilities if you hit “publish” yourself? Let’s brainstorm together and help you start moving forward to reaching your dreams and a life of thriving!

Life Lessons on the Walking Trail

Life Lessons. Sometimes they come in the strangest of places. Sometimes in the most common. And sometimes when we least expect it.

I was out on a walk with my dog admiring the clouds in the sky, the way the sun shone thru them, and the flowering purple thistle weeds in the fields on the side of the walking path. What beauty I thought to myself as my dog stopped to smell his own set of beauty (in this case another dog that had been on the trail)! I was soon greeted by a young boy out on a bike ride. The boy whizzed by, seemingly on a mission. A short way behind him, I could see what appeared to be his mom and younger sister approaching. Suddenly, I heard the mom holler,

“You know why that happened? Because you weren’t looking forward. You were looking behind you.”

I was not sure what she was referring to until I got around the bend in the path and could see the spillage. The young girl had seemingly fell off her bike and the mom was attempting to get her back up on her bike. Not the most compassionate thing to say to her young daughter who was sprawled out on the pavement, and starting to cry. The young girl soon recovered and got off the ground and back on her bike with a little encouragement (and compassion) from her mom. Soon the mom was hollering again. This time it was a little more encouraging as the girl confidently pedaled ahead of her mom en route to catch up with her brother.

As I continued my walk, I pondered what this mom had said. While it was not the most compassionate thing to say to a five year old who had just fell off her bike, the words spoken were so true to many reasons why we struggle. We are spending too much time looking behind us at the past that we miss what is right in front of us or coming in our path in the near future. How many times have you spent wondering why something happened the way it did instead of determining your path forward or the endless possibilities that await you? How many times have you gone searching for something from someone else when it was right there within you all along?

That’s what I love about coaching. You spend time focusing on the future you want to see and how you want to show up and feel, rather than how you got where you are or why you did what you did. Sure, retrospection can be helpful at times, yet it can be a significant barrier to moving forward. What would you do to live your best self yet if you focused forward? What are the possibilities?

Self-Care is Good For You

What comes to mind when you hear the word self-care? People practicing yoga in the middle of the woods somewhere like those in the photos above? A pedicure? A selfish person spending valuable time on themselves when others need them? Something you think you don’t have time for? All of the above? None of the above? Something in between?

If you do a Google search on “self care” you get back 3.22 billion results in just .74 seconds! Wow! That’s a lot of information on a little eight letter, hyphenated word. In fact, the Oxford dictionary defines self-care as:

“the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.”

Oxford Dictionary

Taking action. Preserving or improving your health. Nowhere does it say it’s about being a selfish person at all. I like to think of self-care as a matter of life or death. If you cannot take care of your own needs and health, then you can not show up as your best self yet nor can you take care of others who may need you. It’s like what the flight attendants remind you when covering the safety moments at the beginning of your flight (they still do this, even though you most likely tune them out) – put on your own oxygen mask first.

Eventually, if you partake in little or no self-care, you will quickly burn out and run on empty. Case in point. Recently, I was deeply engrossed in following the news coverage about a current event unfolding. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching the coverage, getting just 4 hours of sleep one night and 5 the next night. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted by the middle of the second day. I felt like a train had hit me. I was not able to function. I was missing out on important daily practices that were critical to my well-being. I was short with people at work and at home. I could not show up and be the best version of myself in these conditions. I had not practiced good self-care, so I could not help a single soul, including myself, who may have needed it at the time.

After talking to a friend, who also happens to be a coach, I realized that staying up that late into the wee hours of the morning was not helping me nor was it serving any purpose. There was nothing that was helpful about getting such little sleep. I could get a recap of the “news” the following morning.

This is just one example. Good self-care in this case meant a good night’s sleep (for me that is at least 7 hours of sleep and sometimes more). In other times, it means having a critical conversation with someone about a situation that has festered for too long. And yet in other times, it means offering myself self-compassion, as I would a friend in need, when something has happened that did not go as I had planned. The list goes on and on about what self-care means to me. And it will look different for every person.

Over time, offering up your time for self-care becomes a habit. You start small on one area and set a timer, say 5 minutes. You keep doing that over and over, each day and you eventually get to developing a good habit of self-care in that area of your life. For example, I started with mediating just 5 minutes every day. My mind raced everywhere and I had no idea how anyone could sit still for 5 minutes out of their day and do nothing but breathe. What value was this bringing me, I would think as my mind ran thru my to-do list that was as long as both of my arms put together! Fast forward two years and now I meditate for 20 minutes each morning because I know I am better off with it than without. My mind still takes over from time to time, as that is the brilliant thing about the mind. What’s different now is that I know that I just need to bring my mind back to my breath and not judge where my mind took me.

How will you begin to take back your time and schedule in self-care today? If you too want to develop a daily meditation practice, I recommend you head over to Insight Timer. A few of my favorite teachers are Sarah Blondin, Lou Redmond, Pablo Areliano (great piano music to journal to) and Fleur Chambers. There are so many good ones on there. The free version of the app gives you access to thousands of meditation genres. And just think, your body will thank you for those 5 minutes you spend!

How Body Image Was Defined on the School Playground

Words. They can have so much power over us and we don’t even realize it. Where were you when you first heard someone say something about your body? What words were said? How old were you?

I was on the playground, participating in track and field day, in the spring of the fifth grade. I had already gone through puberty about a year prior and had a very budding chest. Maybe I wasn’t wearing the most supportive bra on the planet. Or maybe I was. Those details are in the shadows compared to what was said. Although it’s much quieter than it once was, what was said sticks with me to this day. It even out shadows the ribbon I won for kicking the ball the farthest that day.

“Here comes Tick Tock Titty,” the boys hollered as I came up to kick the ball on the kickball field. All the boys laughed and a few girls too.

I was devastated. I wanted to crawl in a hole at that very instant. No one had teased me about my body up to that point that I could remember.

And here were two boys that I had a crush on calling me names due to my budding chest. The name would stick for the rest of fifth grade and into the last year of my elementary school days in the sixth grade.

By the seventh grade, I would go on my first diet. Those words said on the playground a year and a half prior were still haunting me. Add in the fact that I was at a bigger school, with even more kids, all trying to manage the transition to junior high school, puberty and acne at once. In elementary school we played in the gym or outside in the clothes we wore to school for physical ed time. In junior high, things were more “serious” with physical ed. It was it’s own full hour-long period in the day. It was all about old-fashion physical activity and endurance – many times with an audience watching you attempt to do at least one pull up on the steel bar hanging in the corner of the gym. How humiliating it was when you could barely do it.

There was no such thing as yoga or meditation taught in gym back then. Each day, we had to change into a gym uniform in front of the others right there at our locker. In those instances, I began to really see my body as different. My body was different from the others girls – the popular girls, the girls in the magazines, on TV, in the “Sweet Valley High” books I had once read, on billboards. Somehow, I felt different. I felt ashamed of my own body. And I was only in the seventh grade!

I would only come to fully understand the impact those five words spoken on the playground in the fifth grade had on shaping my own body image and sense of self years later when I was in therapy for an eating disorder diagnosis in middle age. When I hear the words today they no longer define me or cause me as much pain. I don’t know where those two boys are today as 48 year old men, and yet I have forgiven them in my own way to allow myself to heal. My hope is that if they have daughters or wives or partners that they treat them with the utmost respect because no person, young, old or in between, deserves to be taunted or treated differently because of their body size or shape.

Today, I am focusing on loving my body no matter its size or shape. I no longer wish my thighs were smaller or I could fit into a smaller size. Gone are the days of dieting and trying so hard to change the shape or size of my body. My body has endured much for me and is a vessel for me in this life on earth. For that reason alone, I am practicing being my best self yet, in all ways, to my body.

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