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Lifestyle

Community Questions: Grief & Eating Disorder Recovery

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I recently received this DM on Instagram and thought it would make a great question for my new monthly blog series: Community Questions. It’s as straight forward as it sounds - I take your questions and answer in a blog post à la Dear Abby.

I’ll be keeping everyone’s identity anonymous for this column and will default to gender neutral pronouns (they/them/their) if needed.

Question:

“I’d love to hear more about what helped you during recovery from your eating disorder, and I guess the same question for recovering during your (postpartum septic blood) infection. I’m currently working part time, going to school full time, in recovery for an eating disorder, while trying to grieve the loss of my older brother, and my mental health is really really struggling.

I’m in the process of finding a counselor and I got your Redefining Success Journal but I can’t seem to eat enough on any consistent basis despite the best of intentions and I’m experiencing a lot of physical dis-ease symptioms that are creating major anxiety. So I’d really love to see some more blog posts on this or if you have any suggestion for me, I’d be so grateful.

Thank you so so much in advance.
Much love,
-A

Answer:

Dear A,
First, thank you for trusting me with your story & experience. It’s an honor to know that you feel safe enough to reach out to me, and I’m so proud of you for asking for help during this time. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. I know how disorienting grief can be, and I imagine you must be processing a lot. I can imagine you must be feeling really exhausted and overwhelmed. I know personally when I’m feeling those things, missing meals is common and easy. I know how much energy it takes to eat nourishing meals all day during times like this, and even 15 years after my recovery, it’s still hard. You’re definitely not alone there, A.


These are some things I do now to help stay nourished when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m also going to share some things I did to reclaim a sense of pleasure from food while I was recovering from my eating disorder 15 years ago.

  1. Plan Ahead

    Truly the only way I manage to eat enough in the day is by having meals pre-made. This might sound exhausting given how full your schedule already is, but consider just starting small and building slowly. Making a big batch of broth, soup, stew, congee, or dhal requires a bit of prep but it’s mostly time on the stove/crockpot/instantpot. Dishes like this freeze well too which is a great bonus. You could double a batch and freeze half for the coming week.


    You can also check out this post where I talk about food prep instead of meal prep at the start of the week. This would require being home to cook a bit, but it drastically saves time.

    My best tip for planning ahead: pick 1 day per week, which is the same every week, when you handle meal/food prep. In our house, it’s Sunday. We do the bulk of our grocery shopping and make at least 2 dishes for the week and it saves us so much energy during the week ahead.

  2. Sip It

    Broth is my go to when I’m having trouble eating. It’s an easy to consume, easy to digest, nutrient dense option that can travel with you in a thermos. I like to drink broth like a warm tea which makes it feel a lot easier to consume than a full meal. When I don’t have an appetite, it’s easy to get down and keeps my body from being too empty.

    Get my recipe for Humble Luxury Bone Broth here. I share simple ways to scale the recipe up and down based on your budget & needs, plus directions to make it on the stovetop, in the crockpot, or in an instant pot.

  3. Focus on easy to digest meals

    When I don’t have an appetite, the last thing I want is a big plate of food - especially cold food like salad. During times like this, when grief & overwhelm are taking center stage in the body, easy to digest food can help you stay grounded and nourished.

    Foods to avoid:

    • Fried Food

    • Spicy Food

    • Sugar/Artificial Sweeteners

    • Raw/Crunchy Foods

    • Processed Foods

    Focus on slow cooked, warm foods like broth, soup, stew, congee, and dhal.

    Some places to find recipe inspiration for easy to digest meals:

    • Postpartum Foods! This is a time when people need to eat warm & easy to digest meals so if you look for traditional postpartum recipes, you’ll find things that are also great during times of trauma & healing. The First Forty Days by Heng Ou is a great cookbook covering postpartum meals.

    • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Spleen Qi Meals & Foods | These meals will also be easy to digest and warming.


  4. Cook Smarter not harder

    If it’s accessible for you, I’d recommend purchasing some kitchen appliances to make cooking easier. Things like a rice cooker (which you can get for under $20) and a crockpot or instant pot can make the process of preparing easy to digest food a lot easier.


  5. Slow Down & Focus on the essentials

    It’s easy to feel like everything needs to be done now. I’ve come to know that health is #1. Nothing else can happen if we’re not healthy. I mean, it can for awhile, but eventually that road runs out. It’s not sustainable and it feels awful in the process.

    Is it possible to remove something thing or things from your plate, A, to focus on your health right now? Maybe a sabbatical from school? Even 1 semester?

    I know it’s not accessible all the time to make space in a busy schedule, but trade offs are inevitable. If you’re finding it difficult to make space, consider this: By not removing something from your schedule, you’re sacrificing something else.

    What are sacrificing and is it worth it?

    Is it worth it to stay in school at the detriment of your physical & mental health?

    Explore what’s most essential to you, what you’re not willing to sacrifice, then make the difficult decision that will support you in focusing on those essentials.


    If you’re looking for more help understanding and integrating the process of finding what’s essential, I recommend reading or listening to the audiobook of Essentialism by Greg McKeown. He goes deeper into the concept of trade offs and the practical how-to process of living like an essentialist.

  6. Grab every moment of pleasure

    Pleasure can be small and simple. When I was recovering from that infection during postpartum, the small whispers of pleasure saved my life. It was, for me, the smallest things like a fresh flower, the flicker of a candle, the smell of lavender. All of these littles moments gave me a breath of pause to remember the joy of being alive and the beauty thats here, even though I felt so far from that joy and beauty. Every little moment of pleasure reminded me that there’s something to fight for, that there’s a reason I’m working so hard to get better.

    In The Redefining Success Journal, one of the activities is to define what pleasure looks and feels like to you. I recommend doing that exercise, then making space to savor and feel those big and small moments of pleasure. Most often, I find it’s simply about opening our eyes to what is pleasurable to us and remembering to notice it.

Finding Pleasure in Food Post Eating Disorder

  1. Treat Food Like Art

    One of the things I did while I was recovering from my eating disorder was to view food as a form of creative expression. There are so many different colors, textures, and shapes that food can be.

    When I began looking at food as a creative medium like painting or sculpting, it totally changed my experience of interacting with meals. The process of cooking became one of exploration and self expression. It helped me claim my identity and value, which is massive when recovering from an eating disorder.

    Plus, art is subjective. Everyone likes different art and different mediums and, one piece can tell many stories based on who is viewing it. Applying that same mentality to my food totally shifted how I felt about eating. This outlook helped me meet my meals with a sense of curiosity, searching for the inspiration and expression, rather than meeting it with shame and self loathing.

  2. Dig In - Literally

    Another thing that radically shifted how I view and experience food was focusing on growing my own. Tending to a garden felt like tending to my body. As my little baby seeds grew to sprouts, then to flowers, then to food, they reflected to me all the potential inside of my own body. As they grew, so did I. Plus, the process of raising food from seed to table was an experience that made me feel so joyful once it came time to cook.

    If it’s not possible to start a garden right now, consider searching for a way to shop locally. CSA or Community Supported Agriculture is usually an affordable way to buy local produce. It helps farmers plan for the season ahead. Plus, farms are often open to letting you come help harvest once or a few times during the season in exchange for a big box of food. Check out your local farmer’s market and ask around to see who offers CSAs.

    Focusing on local eating was one of the first steps I took during my recovery. When I was a freshman in High School, I read a book called Plenty : One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith and it cracked my mind open to what’s possible in the kitchen. This was the inspiration that lead me to view food as a form of art and it showed me how interconnected food is to the Earth. It made me feel less alone and reminded me of all the many lives that have lived, and cooked, on this planet.

  3. Learn to Cook Something New

    Learning to cook something new is a great way to shift your focus from shame & loathing to value & pride. It may take some time to master your skill, but once you do, wow! What a feeling! This is great way to build self esteem and joy in the kitchen. From simple skills like proper knife skills to more complex things like tempering chocolate, learning a new skill can be a huge boost to your confidence. That’s really how I learned to bake, which lead to do it professionally for quite a few years. You may be surprised what your skill brings into your life!

    And, if you don’t have time to learn a new skill, consider just watching some food shows. I’ve found a lot of inspiration watching other people use food as art. The Great British Baking Show is a great option since it’s so kind and sweet (pun intended).

Hope that helps your recovery, A, and anyone else who may find value in these words.

Have a question that you’d like answered in this monthly column? email me at vyana@vyanama.com with subject, ‘Entry for Community Questions.’

8 Blockages That Keep You From Reading + Advice to Break the Barrier

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People often ask me where I get my inspiration from and how I stay inspired when I’m feeling so exhausted. The best answer I can find these days is reading.

As I prepare to launch the first month of the VNM Virtual Book Club, I took a moment to check in with the community to see what blocks are holding you all back from picking up a book.

Here’s what you had to say with some advice to break through the blockages.


1.“My phone distracts me.”

Try This: Leave your book in the bathroom and don’t bring your phone with you when you go to the bathroom. Read while you’re on the toilet, while you’re brushing your teeth, or if you manage the space - while you’re in the tub.

or Try This:
Think of this as an opportunity to practice boundary setting with yourself. The more fluent & efficient you become with setting boundaries with yourself, the easier it become to set boundaries with others. So, if setting boundaries feels important and valuable to you, this is where you can start. Try 5 minutes of reading without looking at your phone, then increase after a few days. Set a timer if you feel uneasy & distracted.


2.“I never know what to read.”

Try This: Join the book club! I’ll pick the books for you so you don’t have to worry about that. If a particular topic doesn’t interest you, you can choose from the ‘additional books’ list at the bottom of the 2019 tentative reading list outline.

3.“I don’t have the time.”

Try This: As a new parent, I feeeelll you! Try setting a daily page goal for yourself and set it low - even 1 page! Then leave your book in the bathroom and read while you’re in there.
I set my daily reading goal at 2 pages so I feel I can actually accomplish it. This simple goal helps me get the book in my hand. Some days those 2 pages are a struggle, but other days I cruise through a whole chapter. For me, it all tends to even out to about 1 book per month. And in the book club, I’ve even mapped out some daily page goals to help you finish!

4.“I can’t get time away from my kids.”

Try This: Include your kids! Depending on their age, you can make reading time either quiet solo play time (if they’re not reading on their own yet) or family reading time. Set an appropriate time for reading/solo play based on your child’s age. And to help the kids feel empowered in understanding the boundary, use a kitchen time to let them see and hear how long reading time lasts. Pair this with a low daily page goal and I think you might surprise yourself! With my babe, who is still too young for independent reading and would be immediately interested in chewing on my book, I typically read while they nap.

(If you’re thinking, “no way, not my kids. my kids are maniacs and never stop moving.” consider just giving it a shot for 10 minutes a day for one month. Kids may not take to a new habit after 1 day or even 1 week, but after a month they’ll likely settle in. If not, it may be worth considering asking a professional in your area for some boundary setting tips or heading to an early literature story circle at your local library.)

5.“I feel like there’s something more valuable/productive for me to be doing and/or feel guilty not working or doing housework.”

Try This: Try reframing the dialogue. What do you receive from reading? Inspiration? Creative energy? A relaxing moment away from the stress of the day? And what does that give to you? Does it help you become more present? Does it make you a more focused parent? Does it help you create greater impact in your life?

If you bring your focus to what you’re receiving from reading, prioritizing it will be easy if that thing is important to you.

I personally also prefer to read books that offer tangible skills that I can implement immediately in my life. That helps me stay focused because I know 5 minutes spent reading is an investment in myself, my home, my family, and my business.

6.“I have trouble staying focused/I think too much while I read.”

Try This: Find a better book. If you constantly find yourself drifting away from the page, put that book down and find one that captivates you. Once you have a book that really pulls you in, if you find yourself occasionally drifting, that’s likely a sign that what you’ve read feels important to you. Take a minute to close the book and let yourself think about what was introduced. Explore how it relates to your life and how you could use the words to create impact. Then dive on back into the pages.

(A little example of this: I started and stopped 5 books last year because they just weren’t the right books for me to read at that particular moment time. The books were good, interesting, well written, well researched, and still I struggled to get through a page. That was a sign that the book just wasn’t the right fit for my current situation. Once I found a good fit, I easily read my page goal each day and even surpassed it most of the time.)

7.“I’m tapped out from mental and emotional output and can’t seem to absorb/focus on a book.”

Try This: Prioritize rest and then find a different book.
Regarding rest: hey, I’ve got you covered here! I’ve created a free 5 day rest reclamation workshop that takes only 10 minutes per day - and it’s emailed right to you!
Now, if a book is draining you mentally and emotionally, it’s not the best book to be reading right now. When you find the book that’s right for you right now, it’ll energize you, excite you, fill you up. And on days when you’re feeling scraped out, that book can be just the battery charge you need to get through the day. (And of course, somedays, nothing beats a nap.)

8.“I have Depression/anxiety/PTSD”

Try This: I understand this one well. My best offering here is to focus on reading books that inspire you and spark joy. Avoid books that are triggering or talk about topics that are deeply charged without offering solutions. Once you’re feeling more centered, you could always circle around to a more challenging topic. But honestly, I say, focus on your joy while reading and you may find a new tool to help you navigate this heaviness.

Now I want to hear from you! What blockages do you face when trying to read and how do you navigate them?

6 Ways to Find Time to Journal

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1. Stay Committed not attached to the process.

If you miss a day, you miss a day. Don’t let it slow you down. Your success isn’t in the doing itself but rather in the feelings you’ll get from the time spent reflection.

2. Set accessible goals

Set your goals low so you can actually reach them. Explore what would be a realistic goal for you, and try setting your initial goal a bit lower than that so you can build trust and momentum.

3. Don’t Find Time, Prioritize time

If taking time to reflect is a priority for you, ask yourself daily, “what am I willing to sacrifice to journal today?” This question will help you stay present each day with your needs and capacity. And some days journaling won’t be a priority. On those days, it’ll be easy to step away with this perspective. Rather than becoming a point of shame and failure, this will be a clear reflection that you’re taking care of yourself and prioritizing your needs appropriately.

4. Write in the In Between Moments

If you find it difficult to sit down in the midst of parenting, working, creating, processing, healing, etc., try scattering your journal(s) around the house. Engage with them randomly throughout the day in short spurts. Leave one in your living room where you can write a sentence or two at a time. Leave one in your bathroom, one year your bed, one at your desk. Let your journals live in a place where you find yourself making a regular, effortless, and consistent imprint in your life. Then use the whispers of time you may otherwise scroll away to reflect.

5. Get Inspired by your own experience

Go back & read your old writings every now and then when you’re feeling uninspired. This will remind you how powerful it is to capture the fullness of your feelings when you’re feeling them, and can act as a great source of fuel to your process.

6. Use the golden minutes of the day to write

These are the moments before everyone in your home wakes up, and the moments after everyone has gone to bed. Even if it’s just 1 or 2 minutes spent writing before you head off to bed yourself, use that golden silence!

Now it’s your turn! Share how you find time to journal below.

Journals & Planners for a Focused & Creative 2019

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These are the journals & planers I’m using to kick start and focus my 2019 goals:

PLANNERS:

The Passion Planner
I’ve been using this planner for the past 5 years and I absolutely love it! This year I’ve opted for the larger version which lives at my desk for internal business planning.

The Unsolicited Advice Planner by Adam JK
This is a new one I’m working into the rotation. It’s smaller than my passion planner and a bit more casual. I’m keeping this one tucked into my person for personal planning.

PRIVATE JOURNALS:

The Redefining Success Journal by me!
This is the journal I created after my experience postpartum and it’s a system I genuinely love. The daily prompts help me feel inspired and push me to center my joy, even on tough days.

Today I Affirm by Alexandra Elle
I love everything Alex Elle creates and I’m so excited for the release of this new journal in January. I’ll be weaving it into my rotation once my copy arrives!

These Three Things by Lisa Anderson Shaffer
I love to reflect at the end of the day on what lessons I learned. I think this is a really unique perspective on daily journaling and while some days it’s challenge, I love that it pushes me to really inspect & dissect my daily experiences.

FAMILY JOURNALS:

The Kinship Family Journal by Summer Robertson
This is a new journal I’m trying for the first time this year. I received a copy after backing their Kickstarter and I look forward to seeing how this linen hardcover journal captures us as a whole family.

Blank Leather Bound for Daelu
Since I was 36 weeks pregnant (minus 6 weeks postpartum) I’ve been keeping a journal for Daelu. It’s a simple leather bound journal that I try to write in at least once a week.

Monthly Family Journal
Since 2016 Daren and I have been keeping a joint journal. At the start of the year we write our word of the year and pick words to anchor each month. We casually come to the journal whenever we remember to free write and always sit down once a month on the New Moon to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, what our goals are for the next month, what we’re dreaming about, and how our anchor word is/isn’t guiding us. In 2018 we fell off the wagon a bit as we settled into parenthood, but I’m excited to recenter into the practice as we enter 2019. We’re still using the same book we got in 2016 so it feels like a living time capsule.
The journal we’re using is one from Shorthand based in LA.

WHERE MY JOURNALS LIVE:

  • I leave Daelu’s leather journal & These Three Things in the bathroom to write in at the end of the day after I brush my teeth. I keep this reflection to maybe 5 minutes and don’t feel so attached to completing them both everyday.

  • My Passion Planner and The Redefining Success Journal live at my desk for focused business work, creative goal scoping, and to fuel my sense of accomplishment when I sit down to work.

  • The Unsolicited Advice Planner lives in my purse for life planning.

  • The Kinship Family Journal lives on the living room credenza.

  • Our Monthly Family Journal lives in the kitchen.

  • Today I Affirm will go next to my bed to do first thing in the morning once it arrives in January!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What journal/planner are you using this year? How do you come to your practice of reflection?

From the Community: I love to be reminded of...

The ‘From the Community’ series of posts is a compilation of everything you have to say. The first post comes as a poetic reflection of what brings us comfort, joy, and strength.

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I asked all of you on Instagram, ‘what do you love to be reminded of?’

Here’s what you said:

Mountains 

How far I’ve come

Drink water

I am enough

There is enough 

The only moment is now 

I am protected

I will always land on my feet

Other people have the same struggles as me 

I’m not broken, I’m simply feeling

The human experiences includes suffering 

Gratitude 

I am included 

Slow down 

I am loved

I am a great mother 

Friendship 

I will be ok even when things in my life aren’t ok 

What it feels like to fall in love

How I was when I was a kid

My kindness

My creativity

To breathe

We’re all in this together 

I’m capable

My life is guided

Everything will always be okay

Slow down

I am appreciated

My true self can be shown because it’s always loved

Times of happiness

Gratitude

I am loved

I matter

Magical moments from childhood

Everything is energy and I’m connected to it all

Gratitude for this beautiful life

My childhood 

My grandmother

That caterpillars liquify in their cocoons and then transform from cellular sludge

I am enough

I am worthy

It’s okay to not be okay

The people I care about are proud of me

I can do anything I put my mind to

Happy times with family

Don’t take things so seriously

B r e a t h

Divine love - sometimes hard to see, hard to feel, but always there

Breath

Be gentle with myself

I’m not alone 

all human emotions bond us

I bring joy to others

Magic

My “big problems” are insignificant to the universe

True joy to come

My strength

I am loved, valued, and respected

To believe in myself 

Thoughts become things

How someone else sees me.

It’s okay to rest.

Poem Freewrite | 23 November 2018

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Sometimes I feel
like I want to crawl
inside of you,
as if you were the one
to carry me,
grow my form,
shape my body.
I suppose,
in many ways,
you did.
You have turned my body
inside out,
revealed layers of myself
tucked deep in my bones.
I made your body
from my flesh and milk,
You made me
with your trust and love.
And sometimes I crave
the days when I
was wrapped in your skin.