Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Circle of Diets

During my past twenty years as a nutrition student and Dietitian, I have witnessed the macronutrient craze go full cycle.  What do I mean by this statement?  Before addressing that question, a macronutrient is a substance that provides calories; carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

So this cycle of macronutrients I speak of relates to the American habit of focusing on one single item as the secret to weight loss, and dare we say, a happier life?

As a nutrition student  in the early to mid-nineties, this cycle started out with the fat-free era.  The mind-set was calories do not matter, as long as everything is fat-free.  I can remember going through boxes of Snack Wells© cookies and cinnamon graham crackers, bags of pretzels and popcorn cakes, and sugar-coated cereals.  About the only thing with some nutritional value was the awful tasting, fluorescent-colored fat-free yogurts that filled my mini fridge.  Hey, I had to get calcium in some form, and cheese and most dairy products contain fat!

In the later nineties, my internship years, there were more reports about the people living in the Mediterranean area.  After years of thinking a fat-free lifestyle was the key to preventing heart disease, Americans felt betrayed when finding out that this area of the world had a lower incidence of heart disease, possibly related to a moderate consumption of foods with unsaturated fat (think olive oil, nuts, salmon).  Keep in mind, they also included fat-free foods in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, not sugary and salty processed foods.  However, how could they enjoy better health eating fat, when fat-free was supposed to be the golden standard?

With the rate of obesity rising every year, those that were fat-free devotees now became Mediterranean followers.  Once again, the focus changed to healthier fats, and people started bathing everything in plant oils, and snacking on nuts with abandon.

Now let’s go to the early part of 2000.  The Atkin’s Diet had been around for several decades by this time, but now, several high protein diets were gaining popularity.  High protein fanatics of the Atkin’s era ate protein without considering the fat content.  One of the newer high protein diets, South Beach, promoted leaner animal proteins, with a pretty strict set of rules regarding allowed carbohydrates.  The days of eating high carb foods were extinct.  Even healthier carbs (several fruits and vegetables), were a big no-no.

Fast forward to today, and the American frame of mind in regards to the ideal distribution of macronutrients.  The US Government has always promoted well-balanced meals with their published educational tools.  The “Basic Four” food groups underwent many modifications over the years, which  is represented today by “My Plate”.  However, many of us choose to lean towards a specific macronutrient when meal and snack planning.  Chances are, no matter what nutrient you support, there is a research study to support and refute what you prefer to follow.

Back in the day, Grandma used to cook meals for her family that included meat, vegetables, potatoes or another starch, and milk as the main beverage.  Have you ever watched a rerun of “Leave It To Beaver?”  His mom always served meals similar to what Grandma thought was best!

Now for my opinion, which you many not care to hear, but I still must represent!  I tend to be old-fashioned and stand by the Government and Grandma.  There is a reason why it is difficult to follow all of these single macronutrient-focused diets (fat-free, low-carb, South Beach, etc.).  Each  macronutrient is needed for the body to function; carbs are the main source of energy, protein maintains muscle, and fat keeps the skin healthy.  When something is missing and eventually becomes deficient, the body can no longer operate effectively.  Failure while on one of these diets is the body’s way of reminding you of what it needs!

In conclusion, the well-balanced meals served up by Grandma provide the body with all it needs to function.  Remember, weight gain occurs with an excess of calories from any source.  The fat-free era is a prime example; too many calories, even from fat-free foods, caused many to gain unwanted pounds.  I will end with something you are probably tired of hearing, but is the simplest piece of advice:  “Everything in Moderation.”

Michel D. Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Acceptance Does Not Mean Resignation

Acceptance Does Not Mean Resignation

Every day, we are bombarded with messages that cultivate dissatisfaction with our lives and selves. Our culture valorizes a particular type of achievement, and we’re told not to “settle” for second best. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and being ambitious. But what do we do with ourselves in the meantime? Are we not OK until we have that prestigious job or perfect body?

We tend to confuse “acceptance” with “resignation.” Acceptance becomes equated with settling for less or giving up. “I’ll never stop eating.” “I’ll never find a partner.” “I’ll be alone forever.”

Acceptance means simply acknowledging the reality of a situation. Accepting the job you have today does not mean that your career has come to a screeching halt. Accepting that you’ve had to downsize to a small apartment does not mean that you’re stuck in your hovel forever. But why, then, does this all become so messy? Why do we resist? And why do we resort to self-blame or judgment?

Acceptance of Relationships

Think about your relationships with your family of origin, partner, friends, or coworkers. How much time do you spend wishing the relationships were different? How often are you disappointed or even heart-broken when the same scripts play over and over. By accepting the relationships as they are, we can calm this inner battle and alleviate some of our suffering. If your parent can be counted on to make a snide comment about your body, then you can plan and respond more effectively.

Acceptance does not mean we’re giving people permission to mistreat or abuse us. In fact, it’s just the opposite--we’re letting go of a fantasy and turning our energy inward toward self-protection and making decisions with clear eyes.

Most of our relationships are a mix of good and bad. Acceptance helps us put the “bad” in context so we can focus on the good aspects. We can also then set realistic expectations of our friends and family. If we accept that our mother loves to boil vegetables to within an inch of their lives, then we won’t be disappointed when she serves us pasty zucchini. Or perhaps we can offer to bring the side dish!

Acceptance of Our Bodies and Emotions

Given the messages we constantly receive about how our bodies “should” look, acceptance of our physical appearance can be tough. But it’s true--we don’t have to hate our bodies. We can accept our curves, our knobby knees, our weird toes no matter what the magazines say. When we don’t--when we tell ourselves we can’t be happy until we look a certain way--then we’re sending ourselves a message of self-hatred. If we need to make changes for our health, self-hatred does not help that process, in fact, it hinders it.

It can be difficult to let go of the fantasy of the “perfect body.” But genetics jumps in with its own plan, often conflicting with our ability to precisely sculpt ourselves. Accepting that our DNA has come together to form us as we are helps us appreciate all the intricacies of our body. Our form is the the visual representation of our family history. We carry the eyes, ears, noses, skin tones, hips, thighs, bellies, and so forth of generations that came before us, so our bodies are precious and deserve our tender loving care.

Emotions can be just as challenging to accept. We’re often told how we should feel and we can then become disconnected with our own emotional experience. We resist the tears that well up; we deny anger when our hands shake. We resist grief when we think we should just “get over” a painful loss.

We’re all born with a range of sensitivities and tender spots. Denying our vulnerabilities does not protect us from being hurt. And negating our strengths diminishes our spirits. The sadness, anger, or fears do not just go away quietly as we white knuckle through a difficult moment. The emotion inevitably returns with more intensity than before.

Accept Acceptance

Acceptance is not a final destination but rather a process. When we connect with our own compassion and curiosity, we’re able to acknowledge an experience, thought, or feeling without judgment. We gain perspective and objectivity to see nuances previously hidden behind self-blame and resistance. Acknowledging that we’re stuck helps pry us loose.

So take a deep breath and dip a toe in the waters of acceptance. Pick something small and see how it feels to say “I accept ____ just as it is.” Once you’ve had some practice, move on to more vulnerable areas. Note emotions that churn and keep breathing. Let the judgmental thoughts float by like clouds, reminding yourself that your value remains constant no matter how much you weigh, where you work, or what your relationship status is.

Acceptance is a gift of kindness; take it in and enjoy!

Nancy Hall

Nancy is in the Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Northeastern IL University in Chicago. She is currently a graduate intern at The Awakening Center.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Less Stress Summer Guide

Less Stress Summer Guide

After a winter of endless snow and subzero temperatures for most of the country, many are eagerly awaiting summer. Consequently, the recent nice weather in Chicago has stirred anticipation for summer festivals, dining al fresco and afternoons at the beach. For someone in recovery though the summer months may also trigger anxiety around body image, and concerns about maintaining recovery while enjoying summer's fun. Just as we prepare for the stresses of the winter holiday season we can examine our recovery toolboxes and plan for the summer ahead.

1. Summer Clothing

Many of us spend winter reveling in the fact that we can use clothes to cover up what we would rather not reveal to others. As the temperatures rise the safety of our cotton layers become uncomfortable, leaving us with what seems like no protection. Add in the pressures of what the media tells us a summer wardrobe is supposed to be like and dressing ourselves feels like a losing battle. But it doesn't have to be. Every morning you have the option to choose: Skirt or pants? Short sleeves or long? Fortunately in 2014 there are many options that can be comfortable both for the temperature and for you. Look through your closet and have a few options that you know you usually feel good in. Know which pieces are more challenging for you and on the days you wear them acknowledge your bravery. And remember, clothes can be fun but they don't speak to your kindness, courage or strength. Listen to what's right for you that day and honor it.

2. The Beach

Whether you're at the beach or not it seems like so much centers around it during the summer. Every gym is certain they can help you achieve a beach body, and dieting products will assert the same. The funny thing is, every time I'm at the beach I see every body there. Every body can go to the beach to enjoy the sun against her skin or sand beneath her toes. What is being advertised to us as a “beach body” has nothing to do with the beach; instead it's just another marketing ploy. Consequently, the bodies advertised to us are photoshopped and the models featured are paid to look a certain way. Reminding ourselves of these things can help us challenge these ads.

Beyond the ads, if you enjoy going to the beach make an effort to focus on the things that drew you there. Dip your toes in the water, run your hands through the sand and laugh with the people you're with. Resist the urge to compare yourself to the person across the way, acknowledging that they are okay the way they are and you are okay the way you are. Being present for the moment can help take your mind off of how you and everyone else looks.

For those that do not enjoy the beach a genuine, kind “no-thanks” is all you need. If you're feeling left out, consider many of the other activities you could invite others to. Fortunately in Chicago there are plenty of opportunities for movies in the park, impromptu trips to the zoo and music in Millennium Park. Create an achievable list of activities you want to do this summer so that when you turn down an invite to the beach you have others options to enjoy the summer months.

3. Vacations and Irregular Schedules

Maybe you're going on vacation this summer or your therapist is. With summer may come a few weeks in your treatment that you or your therapist have to miss an appointment. If you are anticipating a break in your treatment for a week or two, talk to your therapist. Together you can plan for the time away so that you don't feel like you're sitting in a canoe without a paddle. Often we forget about our most obvious tools when we're stressed. In hindsight we remember that we could have used breathing to slow us down or our senses to help ground us in the present. Work with your therapist down to sharpen your tools so that when the moment arises you can more quickly access them. With this, consider activities you can turn to while on vacation that can help you release the thoughts you'd normally share with your therapist. Write down what you may have shared with your therapist or take some time at the end of the day to acknowledge a few of your strengths. This can help keep your mind in recovery mode rather than on vacation of its own.

Summers seems to require a larger degree of flexibility sometimes, which can be difficult when in you're in the thick of treatment. Be gentle with yourself during this time. Speak up about concerns you may have so that your support system can help. Prepare for what you can during the summer and recognize your effort if something does not go as planned. Just because the temperatures are rising doesn't mean your anxiety has to heat up as well.

Katie Infusino

Katie is an intern at The Awakening Center and finishing up her Masters degree in Community Counseling at DePaul University. She has been thrilled to be an intern at The Awakening Center this year and plans to continue specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and trauma.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Reality of Relapse

Relapse can be defined in a variety of ways.  Perception and coming to terms with the reality of relapse is important. These moments are inevitable, but they don’t necessarily mean that a relapse is unavoidable. The key is to recognize when warning signs arise and to take preventive measures. I think that relapse can have a negative connotation at times.  When looking at it through a different lens and honoring that it might be part of your journey or your process, recovery may help you form your own sense of discovery and Self.  As the art therapy intern, I believe this poem can speak visually to the hardships and victories while in recovery.  This poem is written about the journey of recovery.  Becoming aware of our surroundings and emotions that manifest on a daily basis can aid in recovery and trying a new “street.”  The poem is by Portia Nelson and it is from her book, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: Romance of Self-Discovery.

Chapter I 

I walk down the street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk 
I fall in. 
I am lost ... I am helpless. 
It isn't my fault. 
It takes forever to find a way out. 

Chapter II 

I walk down the same street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I pretend I don't see it. 
I fall in again. 
I can't believe I am in the same place. 
But, it isn't my fault. 
It still takes a long time to get out. 

Chapter III 

I walk down the same street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I see it is there. 
I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but, 
my eyes are open. 
I know where I am. 
It is my fault. 
I get out immediately. 

Chapter IV 

I walk down the same street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I walk around it. 

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

Source: http://www.lifetrekcoaching.com/poems/bio.htm
Rachel Olszewski
Art Therapy Intern
The Awakening Center 2013-2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Just Breathe

Sometimes the best place to begin is to breathe.

So I invite you to take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth and I want you to gently notice how you and your body react.

Notice your belly filling, as if it were a balloon being filled, and the gentle pause between inhalation and exhalation.

Are you feeling a little calmer, as if things slowed down a little bit? Is your heart perhaps beating a little bit softer and at a slower rate? Maybe your limbs are feeling lighter or heavier. Is your posture less rigid and more relaxed?

Take one more deep breath and take notice of your body.

Perhaps by this point you've arrived at a more natural breathing pattern and I want you to try to keep with that as you read this post.

We just took a few seconds, maybe 30 max, to pause and just focus on our breath. Breathing can be a valuable tool to not only calm anxiety, but also to invite yourself to connect with your body, even if it is just for a moment. Taking a few deep breaths allows for the opportunity to clear your mind because you're feeling overwhelmed, or possibly giving yourself the space to sit with an emotion for a few moments before you choose to react. We all use it in different ways, but regardless breathing is a very powerful tool and something that can be done anywhere, at virtually anytime.

So maybe the next time you have a few moments to yourself, you can take a few breaths and focus on your breathing and give yourself the opportunity to reconnect with your body, even for just that moment. You can always find time to breathe. In fact you do it everyday! So what better way to develop the skill, than through practice.

-Jessica Huerta is a Clinical Mental Health Intern at The Awakening Center. Jessica is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Roosevelt University.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

For the person supporting a friend or loved one with an eating disorder.

“How May I Help You?”
For the person supporting a friend or loved one with an eating disorder.
Michel D. Harris

After greeting each one of my clients, I always ask them, “How may I help you today?”  This simple, open-ended question is one of the most appreciated because instead of telling someone what they should do, I am offering assistance in achieving what my client perceives as important to reach her individual goals.  However, the limited time I have with each client requires an extension of that help from one or several individuals she trusts.  As a source of support to one recovering from an eating disorder, I encourage you to ask, “What can I do to help you?”  What if her reply is always “nothing” or “I don’t know?”  This article will provide assistance with how you can provide support when given minimal or no guidance.

1.  When recovering from an eating disorder, it is a challenge to be comfortable with weight restoration or accepting one’s current body size.  While you may think comments such as, “your face looks nice and full” or “you’re jeans fit good” are complimentary, the person in recovery may hear this as, “your face looks chubby” or “your jeans are too tight.”  Watching someone transform from a malnourished to healthy state is exciting, but instead of making comments related to body size and image, simply ask, “How are you feeling today?”  This shows you are concerned, yet leaves the chosen topic up to the recipient.  Also, as a source of support, avoid making negative comments about your or someone else’s body.  This is the type of behavior that those in recovery are trying to reverse into positive thoughts, and you can help by verbalizing acceptance of yourself and others.

2.  Have you ever experienced any “bumps in the road” when working towards a goal?  Most likely you have, so why would you expect it to be any different for someone recovering from an eating disorder?  There’s going to be days when she falls short with the meal plan or has a binging episode.  Allow that person to use the set-back as a learning experience, and offer positive feedback.  For example, instead of saying, “You were short two ounces of protein today,” communicate positive thoughts; “You met your exchange goals for four food groups today!”  To follow-up, you may ask, “What is your meal planning goal for tomorrow?”  This rewards the positive behavior, yet challenges the person to take another step forward.

3.  Who wouldn’t want to go out for pizza or ice cream?  Events that used to be enjoyable could be fearful for a person in recovery, and there are many reasons why this is so.  First of all, eating out means loss of control in regards to how food is prepared.  Secondly, the foods usually enjoyed at a restaurant are high calorie/high fat, which are avoided in the case of a person with anorexia or used in binge-purge episodes in those with bulimia.  Even though a person in recovery may have previously enjoyed going to a certain establishment, they will have to re-learn how to eat in social situations.  When presenting an invitation to eat out, ask the person where and when she would prefer to go.  This allows control of the situation, and may increase the person’s comfort level in a challenging situation.  Keep in mind that something basic like coffee or frozen yogurt may seem too safe to you, but serves as a starting point.  Once at the chosen destination, act in a manner that makes the person comfortable; don’t comment on what she orders, the quantity of the food served, or the amount of food she eats or does not eat.  When finished, ask the person how she felt about the event and thank her for her company.

In being supportive, it is also important to recognize when a relapse may or has already occurred.  If you notice that the person you are supporting has gone back to behaviors that were detrimental in the past, offer an ear to listen.  For critical situations in which a person is causing harm to self or others, help her seek medical assistance immediately.


Michel D. Harris is a Registered Dietitian with 14 years of experience as a clinical and outpatient dietitian.  Her areas of practice include eating disorders, weight loss and management, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and food allergies/gluten sensitivity.  As an exercise physiologist, she also assists individuals of all fitness levels in planning exercise programs.

At the Awakening Center, Michel provides individual nutrition consultations, as well as multiple group classes and workshops.  Individual sessions include the development of a comprehensive wellness plan that focuses on establishing a healthy relationship with food and exercise, as well as identifying and changing detrimental eating behaviors/patterns.  The nutrition counseling and mindful eating groups allow individuals to share and receive help with the recovery process via discussion of certain topics and activities.  If you would like to speak with Michel regarding your interest in any of her services, please contact her at 773-929-6262 x24 or meishadivito@yahoo.com.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What's the Deal with Emotions?

If I Google emotions chart I can choose from over 11 million results that will most likely contain more options for happy, sad, angry and scared than most people can wrap their minds around. It makes sense that deciphering the minute differences between fearful and afraid, or elated and overjoyed can be confusing. Keeping them all straight when we have so many options can feel overwhelming. Consequently, when in therapy you may be asked about your feelings so much that you would rather not having emotions at all!

Most often we embark on therapy not because of the emotions that fall under the happy category, but due to those that are associated with sad, scared, or angry. It makes sense when clients wish away their emotions altogether. If one feels melancholy the majority of time, not having emotions may seem like an ideal solution. Life may be easier without the complications that emotions can provide. We could move past struggles without anxiety, depression or having to develop coping mechanisms to numb out the emotions that feel too great to overcome.

Consider life without emotions though. Even in a depressed state many individuals are able to identify that something is not right, that they do not feel well. As I’m writing this I’m trying to imagine what my day would be like without even the most mild emotions. I wouldn’t have felt reluctant for more sleep this morning. I would not have felt content sipping my morning coffee, reading today’s news. I would not have felt. The moments during our days would be purely intellectual with no deeper meaning to them. There would not be that feeling that fills out the thought, action or reason for why. Thinking about this, I can only describe it as robotic, hollow.

So then why do we need the full range of emotions? Couldn’t we just have happiness and forget about the rest? Typically when I ask clients this, they laugh envision a world where everyone would be constantly happy. It may be fun for a bit, but after a while it may become draining or even as drab as a world with no emotions. Without the full range we miss out on the positive things that having a complex set of emotions brings to our lives. We are able to know when we are happy because we are also able to know when we are sad. Having a wide range of emotions provides a comparison point to distinguish one from the other. And from these differences we can then work on uncovering the degrees of an emotion to gain better insight into our lives.

Having a wide range of emotions provides our days with more meaning. It’s why when we remember a moment of elation we can often tap back into how we felt in that moment. Emotions fill out those moments, planting more complex memories deeper in our minds. Additionally, we can become mindful of our emotions to become more insightful about ourselves. Recognizing that certain situations bring hope to our hearts or panicky thoughts are ways we can learn who we are. With this knowledge we can take control of our lives, and supply our toolboxes with the skills we need to manage any moment or emotion.

Still skeptic? Do the Google search I mentioned at the beginning of this post. With over 11 million results surely there is evidence that better articulates the importance of our emotions. And maybe you will discover a new one that resonates with you!

Katie Infusino is currently finishing her Masters work in Community Counseling at DePaul University. As an intern at The Awakening Center she sees clients for individual sessions, co-leads the Monday Narrative Therapy Body Image Group, as well as the Tuesday evening support group. Katie loves sharing the emotions charts she finds and working with clients to better understand the positive intentions behind each emotion.