Am I Recovered from My Eating Disorder?

design (18)Dear Kimber,

How do you know if you ARE recovered from an ED [eating disorder]?

It’s hard for me to tell if I’m healthy or not. I eat three significant meals a day, with all the foods and no specific restrictions. I have snacks when I want and work out three times a week. I still weigh less than I probably should and I don’t want to worry about trying to “gain.” My weight is stable so I just leave it alone. I just don’t want to put a lot of sugary buttery junk in my body. I do eat cake but not very often. It’s hard for me to know if I am still disordered or not. I also LIKE being thin and I don’t really want to gain more. I guess that’s the catch.

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering,

It sounds like even though you’re not worried about anything specific and you feel like your eating is fine, you’re a little worried that you’re slightly underweight.

First off, that’s a normal and reasonable concern, and it’s good that you’re asking yourself about it. Some days I think about myself as recovered (Yay, my body and I get along great!) and other days my spidey senses remind me that recovery is a lifelong process and I’ll always have to be aware of my relationship to what’s on the plate in front of me and what I see in the mirror.

I have some questions for you to chew on (because eating puns):

Do you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full? Do you listen to what your body is hungry for? Do you respond generously to what your body needs? Do you let your body have ‘treats’ without guilt or repercussions? Make sure you’re listening closely to your body’s signals and not judging what it wants.

And check in with your body about the sugary, buttery treats thing. Does your body genuinely not like these things? Or does it like them in moderation?

I could be wrong but it sounds like your behaviors are recovered, but your thinking still has little shades of ED that come creeping in. Experiment with removing the labels “good” and “bad” from food. Let all food be judged solely on whether your body is interested in eating it right now or not. A cupcake isn’t good or bad, not “fattening” or anything else. It’s just something that sounds good to your body or not.

Whatever you DO eat, enjoy it!

Notice if any feelings of guilt or worry come up about something you’ve eaten and reassure yourself that you don’t have to do anything to counterbalance it. You’re fine. You’ve got this.

The other thing is to examine what it means that you “like being thin.” Does seeing a thin reflection in the mirror mean you’ve got it together? That you feel more attractive? That you get social approval? All of these things are definitely benefits of being thinner. So what would happen if by chance something happened where one week you gained 5 pounds, and another 5 the week after that, and so on for several weeks? Would you panic? What if you discovered that your body needed the extra weight in order to be healthy? Would you try to lose the weight anyway?

The answers to these questions will help you figure out how much fat phobia you are carrying around with you.

Personally, I found that until I could let go of the fear that I “might get fat,” I wasn’t fully recovered, because that fear lurked underneath everything I did, how I ate, exercised, and rested. Looking in the mirror I’d be checking to see if there was more cellulite than yesterday… it was crazy-making. I had to decide that my love for my body was no longer conditional on the size of my jeans, and I could give my constant vigilance a rest.

I think letting go of fat phobia might be the final frontier of eating disorder recovery.

Congratulations… you’ve made it this far. Why not take the last step? See if you can open yourself to love towards your body no matter what: thin, fat, and all the spots in between, young and old, abled and disabled. Invite in the possibility that a number on the scale has zero to do with whether your body deserves your caring and attention.

With love to you and your body, Kimber

Check out my disclaimer here: Hey, I’m not a doctor or therapist or nutritionist, so if you need professional help, I lovingly urge you to reach out for more than the few paragraphs of radical compassion I have to offer. There are thousands of amazing beings out there who go to sleep at night thinking about how to help people find peace in their bodies, who wake up committed to using all of their resources to support their patients, and then go off on their long day of service to help folks just like you find relief in how they relate to their bodies and food. Talk to them. Go see them. Love yourself enough to reach out your hand and let them show you the way.

Go Sit in Your Love Bubble

Dear Kidesign (16)mber,

I am so scared right now. Of myself, of gaining weight…of letting go.

I know what my body needs and craves. It craves to be loved and taken care of. But somehow my brain has convinced my body that I don’t deserve love, food, or any combination of both.

A few years ago I got “help” from doctors, but they were never able to get to the bottom of my issues. I can stuff food in my mouth, but my mind and my feelings aren’t on board. And if I don’t feel good about what I’m doing to myself, why continue doing it?
On one hand, it’s uncomfortable to eat and feel full. On the other, it makes me tired, weak, and thin to not eat.

My mind is playing tricks on me, and has been for as long as I can remember.

Once, early on in “discovering” my eating disorder, I ended up in the hospital with pancreatitis and was hooked up to an IV. When I was released, I ate like a normal teen. When I saw something that looked good and I was hungry, I ate. But slowly I slipped back into my old habits. Soon I was restricting like before, and maybe even worse.

Several years later I’m still struggling.

I long for the freedom of allowing myself to eat whatever I want. I mull over the reasons why I don’t eat the things my body needs…why am I so afraid? Why does my weight bother me? I know I’m too thin, so shouldn’t that spur me towards my so-called goal of gaining weight? I wish I could learn to love my body and give it what it needs, but I don’t know how. I am stuck in the little rituals I find comfort in. Even thinking about changing fills me with anxiety. Thank you for listening and caring.

Lydia

Dear Lydia,

Your fear and confusion come right off the page. I see you and the pain and the sadness your seeming inability to feed and love yourself is causing. I know what it’s like to be in that place where you don’t love yourself enough to take care of yourself, and in not caring for yourself, you love yourself even less.

I want to send you a big love bubble to crawl into, a place where you can see yourself the way I see you. A place where you can feel total relief. Sitting curled inside its iridescent walls, you’d feel the truth of who you are: beautiful to your core, wise deep in your cells, and loved down to the marrow. Held like this, you hear the thump of your heart and realize the soft animal of your body is crying for you. You are its mother, its partner, its sister, its beloved. You are the one who holds the key to its happiness and to its very life. It knows your sadness and your pain. It’s been with you all along. It knows why you’re here, how you got here. And no matter what you’ve put it through so far, it loves you. It’s always loved you. Its whole life is about loving and caring for and tending you. It wants to live. And hearing this, you want it to live too. You answer the tender aliveness of your body with a reassuring yes. Yes, show me how to love you the way you love me. Without restraint. Without fear. Without conditions. Yes.

And maybe as you read this you can feel yourself inside it, right now for a few breaths. Let yourself sit there for as long as you need, feeling how loved you are, feeling your ability to say yes to yourself. Imagine this love bubble can shrink and grow as needed. You can sit inside it when you need to, and you can carry it around with you in your heart.

It can be hard to feel like you and your body are worthy of the love you’re both craving. I remember wishing my body would disappear and trying not to let myself feel its needs… and sensing the whole time that my body desperately wanted my attention even while I wanted nothing more than to avoid it completely. I got so used to turning away from my body, it felt impossible to turn towards it.

It feels like a huge leap to respond to your body the way it needs you to respond. And yet, it’s a leap towards yourself, and away from isolation and pain.

You are turning towards yourself. You are listening to your body. You know what it needs and what it longs for: your love. You are asking for help–from me and from others. Give yourself full credit for how much more aware you are now than you used to be, and how even though it feels like you’ve taken steps backwards, there’s no “unknowing” what you know about yourself. Keep listening to your body, keep asking for help, keep going, keep trusting, keep leaping. That little voice that tells you that your body is worth listening to? Keep turning towards it, ask it to guide you back to yourself, back home.

And when it feels too scary, go sit in your love bubble, and let yourself feel held in the reminder of your own worthiness. You are worth loving. You deserve your own caring and attention. Even when you fall short. Especially then. Practice holding your fearful self with love and see what happens.

With love to you and your body, Kimber

Mothers and Daughters

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Introducing “I Love Your Body”: A radically compassionate body-image advice column for humans with love-hungry bodies

Dear Kimber,

How do I teach my 6 year old daughter to love her body? My mother still openly criticizes her body, so I never had a good role model for body love. My response has been to say nothing about my own body, even though I struggle to accept it. Nothing is better than insults, right? But I’m realizing that my daughter needs more than silence. What can I do to help her love her body the way I wish I could love mine?

Mom Needs Love Too

Dear Mom Needs Love Too,

I want to give you big kudos. You’ve done something amazing.

You’ve interrupted the cycle of body hatred that we tend to pass on generation through generation, grandmother to daughter to grandchild. My mother, now in her 70s, just compared herself to a barnyard animal in front of me at dinner the other night. It’s a lifelong habit she may never break. Not everyone gets caught up in intergenerational body shame, but many of us do, and instead of passing on this painful legacy to your child, you’re stepping out of it. And that’s a big freaking deal. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to NOT say out loud the insult that wells up when we stand naked in front of the mirror. You’re doing it, and that’s huge. And you’re right: saying nothing IS better than letting body shame fill the space between you and your daughter.

And your instincts are good. Your daughter does need more than silence.

Kids are sponges and they pick up on how we feel about ourselves without us realizing it. One of my students told me about her friend, a woman who was super careful to never say anything bad about her body in front of her child. One morning when she stepped off the scale and walked into her closet to dress, she watched as her three year old daughter hopped up on the scale, and without saying a word, started frowning and shaking her head, mirroring the same silent dismay the mom realized she’d just shown on her own face.

Oh crap.

The point of this story is something you already know: silence is not enough. The point is not that from the moment that baby pops its head from between our legs we’ve somehow magically healed all of our own hang-ups. It’s fine that you feel ambivalently about your body.

The trick to being a good mom around body image isn’t that we are somehow perfectly at peace with our bodies to begin with, but that we share with our kids how we grapple with and overcome our issues, adding big doses of self-compassion and patience.

You get that teaching your daughter to love her body and learning to accept your own are not entirely separate problems. They’re intertwined.The more you can model self acceptance towards your body, the more likely it is she’ll be able to muster up some for herself. Together you can make it fun to support each other around taking care of your bodies with kindness and love.

The good news is that little kids often have a natural sense of how amazing their bodies are.

One of my body love heroes has long been a girl named Emily, my son’s preschool friend, who once said six magic words that inspired me to change how I treated my body for good. She said, “My body is my best friend.” Your daughter may not be able to say the same thing, but there’s probably some spark of it in her, and your job is to feed it more kindling and fuel and keep it from being smothered out.

Here’s one way to do that: try weekly (or daily) “I Love/Like My Body” parties. You can do it while getting ready in the morning, playing,resting, driving, waiting somewhere, before bedtime, anytime you have a few minutes together to talk and think. You start with something you like or love about your body: maybe “I like how strong my arms are,” or “I like that my belly helps keep me upright.” Let it be simple, or even silly, and true. Then ask her, “What do you like about your body?” You can prompt her with questions like, “What does your body help you do? What does your body like to do? When do you and your body have the most fun?”

It might be kind of awkward at first, but keep trying. Notice things that your body does during the day that you feel grateful for, and make a mental note to mention them during your next body love party. Notice when your daughter does things too, “Hey,your body let you climb that tree, that’s awesome!” And be ready for some spur of the moment body celebration.

You’re trying to make a habit of noticing good things about your body, which takes time and practice. I’m imagining a day not too long from now when your daughter turns to you and says, “Mommy, my body and I did something super cool today!” It’s gonna feel so good.

And one last thing… you’re doing a good job. Give yourself all the credit in the world for being conscious and kind in how you’re trying to parent this female child in a not entirely welcoming world, especially if and when you fall short. I see you. I acknowledge you. I thank you.

Yours in body love, Kimber Simpkins

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I Love Your Body

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A radically compassionate body-image advice column for all bodies with Kimber Simpkins, the author of Full.

I started the “I Love Your Body Column” because I see your body as lovable and worthy no matter what.  From my own struggle I know what it’s like to feel like your body doesn’t deserve to take up space.

I know that sometimes we don’t have enough self love to get the help we need most… and that sometimes we believe we don’t deserve help or happiness. 

I know from my own healing that when we feel at home in our bodies we feel at home in the world.  I’m here to help you feel at home within your own body. I want to remind you how to enjoy being alive, feeling the breeze on your skin and the spread of your toes in the sand.  This is a big deal.

Learning to love—or even like—your body can be a lifetime of work.

Here are some reasons why you might write me:

  • Because sometimes you need to be held with more compassion than you can give yourself.
  • Because you need someone to remind you that no one has the right to tell you your body isn’t lovable… not even yourself.
  • Because you want to spend your life doing something other than hating yourself.
  • Because you don’t love yourself enough to treat yourself well.
  • Because you’re told to love yourself but you don’t know where to start.

Write me a letter. Ask me a question. And then ask me the question underneath the question. Share your story with me and I’ll answer it with the love you find hard to offer yourself. 

And hey, I’m not a doctor or therapist, so if you need professional help, I lovingly urge you to reach out for more than the few paragraphs of radical compassion I have to offer. There are thousands of amazing beings out there who go to sleep at night thinking about how to help people find peace in their bodies, who wake up committed to using all of their resources to support their patients, and then go off on their long day of service to help folks just like you find relief in how they relate to their bodies and food. Talk to them. Go see them. Love yourself enough to reach out your hand and let them show you the way.

Email me your question here.

Eating disorder and body image resources to get you started:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

http://www.anad.org/my-recovery-story/

http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/recovery/self-help-tools-skills-tips

https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/

http://www.lindabacon.org/BaconLiveWellPledge.pdf

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/body-image

 

What I Learned From Asking Strangers If I Looked Fat

KimberSimpkinsInPark2-850x400On a recent sunny afternoon, a group of friends and I gathered at the park and began asking women how they felt about their bodies, first by asking them, “Do these pants make me look fat?”

I didn’t know what would happen. Would they say no … or yes? Would they be willing to talk to me about their own body image or would they back away slowly?

Going into this experiment, I knew the word “fat” was loaded — it’s used as a proxy for everything from ugly to unhappy and more. In fact, the threat of that one little word led me to starve myself through my second year of high school. It took me many years into adulthood to disarm my inner critic, who had sharpened the word “fat” into a pointed stick to motivate me to exercise to the point of injury and deprive myself of nourishment.

Given my own history, I knew talking about “feeling fat”, and what it means when we ask, “Do you think I’m fat?” could trigger major responses in us, including shame and fear. But I found in our interviews that asking the question creates a little oasis of vulnerability between the questioner and the listener, and we learned a lot about how we understand concepts like self-worth, belonging, confidence and more.

To continue reading and view the video, click here:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18311/what-i-learned-from-asking-strangers-if-i-looked-fat-video.htmlg

This article was originally published in its entirety on mindbodygreen.com on Apr 14, 2015.

Always Hungry? 5 Ways to Satisfy Your Inner Hunger

K26“The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but that, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” ~Simone Weil

For most of my life, I was hungry all the time. My belly only ever felt full for a few precious seconds while eating the last few bites on my plate.

One night after having dinner with friends, we stood outside the restaurant on the sidewalk, chatting and saying our goodbyes. I launched into an enthusiastic description of the next restaurant where we should eat, how fantastic their desserts were, what tasty little appetizers they served…

“How can you talk about food right now?” my friend Pete laughed. “I’m stuffed full!”

He held onto his stomach like it might burst open.

“I don’t know,” I stammered. “I’m still kinda hungry, I guess.”

Avoiding his glance, I stared down at the cracks in the sidewalk. In that moment I realized that even with all the yummy Ethiopian food we’d consumed over the last hour or so, some corner of my belly still wanted more. Even worse, I realized I could sit right down and eat the entire meal over again, from start to finish.

Later at home, when the initial feeling of shame passed, a sense of amazement crept over me. Pete was genuinely full—in fact, he was surprised I wasn’t!

He didn’t feel hungry all the time, especially not right after a meal. Did this mean that the bottomless hunger I felt wasn’t the human condition after all? Could I sit down at a meal and push away my plate, full and satisfied, without the wish that I could just repeat the whole experience of eating over again?

I could, but only after I figured out that I wasn’t only hungry for food. I was hungry for enjoyment and satisfaction, and not just in my belly, but in my whole life.

Somewhere as a kid, between dressing Barbie for her date with Ken and going on my first diet, I lost track of the idea that I was allowed to enjoy my body, my food, and just being alive. I decided that always feeling hungry and vaguely dissatisfied was part of growing up.

But thanks to Pete, once I knew that everyone wasn’t always hungry, there was no going back. I had to learn the bigger lesson—that hunger isn’t simply about filling our bellies (though feeling physically contented matters), but about something deeper: a hunger for connection, enjoyment, and love.

From my own experience of learning to feel full, body and heart, here are five ways to satisfy your inner hunger.

[To continue reading, click here http://tinybuddha.com/blog/always-hungry-5-ways-to-satisfy-your-inner-hunger/]

This post was originally published in its entirety at tinybuddha.com on Apr 13, 2015.

So Your Diet Crashed and Burned, Now What?

K32It’s frustrating. The diet your coworker shared with you over celery sticks — maybe it worked at first. You followed it perfectly — except for the champagne and cake at your sister’s wedding, and that late night when you ate candy bars from the vending machine for dinner. The scale more or less obediently clicked down in response to your willpower-fueled meals and workouts. But then one or two, or five years later, you find yourself among the nearly 95 percent of Americans who discover that not only did they gain back the weight they worked so hard to take off, but they had to start shopping for pants a size bigger than before they’d started.

At least you know you’re not alone. That 95 percent represents a lot of us, including me. But diet-cycling is a kind of misery that avoids company: we don’t like to share our diet failures. It’s never the diet’s fault, right? It must be the diabolical goodness of dulce de leche ice cream or the dust we let gather on the stationary bike or our own lack of willpower.

Writer Anne Lamott says that when she told her therapist about her latest diet plan, her therapist responded, “Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

So here’s the question: If you knew before you started dieting that there’s a 95 percent chance of going up a dress size after five years instead of down, would you still do it? Most Americans would. Most Americans do.

If you’re still hoping to win the magical jackpot diet in the sky, feel free to stop reading here and resume your search for the next fad weight loss plan. May I suggest the Cold Diet, where you freeze your ass off in a cryogenic container to burn extra calories? Or the Food Babe, where you become so paranoid about chemical contaminants you can hardly eat anything?

If you’ve already tried those diets or their not-so-distant cousins, if you’ve already yo-yo dieted through enough poundage to make a whole new you, then maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ve reached that critical moment my friend, dietician, and nutrition therapist Karen Scheuner calls “Diet Bottom.” And I’m here to say, “Congratulations.”

Diet bottom happens when we’ve tried it all, when we’ve suffered nights of self-induced hunger pangs and injured our knees from too much Stairmaster, and we finally say, “What the hell am I doing to myself? I hate every single freaking minute of dieting and it never lands me anywhere except on my ass.”

To hit diet bottom, you gotta have the moment when you yell, “As God is my witness, I’ll never eat another 200-calorie microwave meal again!”

Savor this moment. It’s the turning point, the event horizon, the instant you reach for the red pill instead of the blue one. You don’t have to diet again. Ever. You can call a truce with your body and with food and never look back.

My moment happened when at 33, I was the mother of a pre-schooler and the survivor of yearly diet crashes — the Grapefruit Diet, the juice cleanse, and multiple variations of low-fat, low-sugar, low-taste diets. One particular day I caught yet another glimpse of myself in the mirror, triggering the usual explosion of self-criticism and low-fat fantasies — an event that happened at least 20 times a day — and I thought, I can’t go on like this.

To continue reading, click here.

This article was originally published in its entirety on the Huffington Post on 3/06/15.