Nourish Your Soul

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No matter where you are in your journey to recovery, you can always be getting healthier in small, simple ways. We recommend a variety of tools to our clients. We find it important to use as many modalities as needed, since each client can benefit from a unique combination of these complementary approaches.

Of all the tools we recommend to clients, certain ones stand out. We recently put together our favorites in a workshop series for our Winter Park and Clearwater locations. Workshops are a great setting for people who like to discuss what they’re learning, not just listen and/or take notes. They can integrate the lessons into their being even more that way.

Here are some of my most-recommended ways to nourish your soul:

  • Reading. We have a vast collection of books we can recommend on virtually every subject to do with recovery from an eating disorder and body image issues.
     
  • Writing. I’ve seen the power of writing in my own life and in the lives of many clients. I often recommend workbooks, but you can use a blank journal to take notes on any book by simply reflecting on what you’re reading. Most people who come to me have never written in a journal before, so having a place to start is really helpful. You can log your food, or even better you can track your food and your emotions. Writing done what you’re grateful for is a wonderful way to shift any negative thinking or bring a more spiritual focus
     
  • Mindfulness. There are plenty of opportunities in your day to apply mindfulness and get yourself back into the present moment without judgment, including mindful eating. We also help our clients learn to practice mindfulness in relationships. This is important because a lot of times people will abuse foods or other substances or behaviors because of some problem in a relationship. It’s one of the topics that we see most often weaving through someone’s recovery journey.
     
  • Groups. It’s valuable to spend time one-on-one with a counselor, however sometimes group work can really enhance the effectiveness of that work. It’s a chance for people to be with other people who are in a similar place with problem eating or body image, or who are having trouble identifying the obstacles that are keeping them from living the healthy life they want to.
     
  • Yoga. There are several different types of yoga that can support recovery from eating disorders and body image issues. And there just as many ways to take yoga “off the mat” by applying yoga principles to your whole life. When you practice kindness towards yourself and others, it helps you feel better about yourself so you don’t have to hurt yourself with food.
     
  • Expressive arts. Therapy is about so much more than talk. Music therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, drama therapy, and play therapy let you express yourself creatively while working through different issues in your life. SoulCollage® is another creative tool for self-discovery. These artistic pursuits don’t need to happen in a therapist’s office. They may be prescribed by your therapist, but you can find programs in your local community center, library, or other settings.

How will you nourish your soul today?

From High School Athlete to Beacon of Nutrition

© Georgeanne Little

Welcome to the next installment of our “More About Me” series. Today’s post is by Georgeanne Little, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Therapist.

As a high school athlete I always knew the importance of nutrition and hydration and the role they played in sports. I always carried a large water bottle, ate snacks during most of my classes leading up to lunch, and of course the whole cross country team would have a pasta dinner at our coach’s house before our district race to make sure we had enough energy to perform our best.

Yet I wasn’t aware of just how complex the whole process was, or how fascinating nutrition could be. I remember when I first decided my major, in my senior year of high school, I’d never even heard of a dietitian.

When I wasn’t running or playing soccer you could often find me watching some new documentary, whether it was about electric cars, the cosmos, or health care in our country. I have a deep passion for science and it’s ever-evolving information. If someone were to ask about my favorite things to do, learning would be right at the top.

Even today, when I’m not working I’m often curled up on my couch watching the latest documentary on some kind of science or history. I’m so fascinated by new emerging information. I think that is the beauty of being a dietitian; we get to take complex things like metabolism and break them down into something better understood by all.

Nutrition includes many different areas of study from chemistry to biology and even statistics. Nutrition itself is the study of the effects of food components on the metabolism, health, performance, and disease resistance in human and animals. It also includes human behaviors related to food choice. This is an important aspect of our survival as individuals and as a species.

One of my favorite things about being a registered dietitian is our emphasis on science and evidence-based information. With nutrition being such a relatively new science there is so much that is still being uncovered today, and it can be easy to misinterpret the vast amount of data that is at our fingertips. That is where I can play a role for my clients, by being a beacon to help them navigate through the vast sea of nutrition information and applying it to their lives to make long-term healthy changes.

How to Write Out Your Worry

Close up of woman hands writing in notepad placed on office desktop with various stationery items, coffee cup and other stuff. Paperwork concept

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I used to think that when I was worrying, I was helping to resolve whatever I was worried about. But in reality, worrying only seems like we’re doing something; we actually just get stuck in this over-thinking mode and never move into action.

In the meantime, whatever we’re worrying over either happens or doesn’t happen, or something entirely different takes place, and we’ve spent so much energy and time worrying that we missed out on what’s actually happening in our lives.

Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree – thoughts, worries and concerns about the future. “Stay in the moment” sounds like an easy alternative, but how realistic is that when you have something big on your mind?

Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m worrying until I tune in and notice my thoughts coming back to the same topic. For example, I recently had a trip booked with a very short layover between connecting flights. My mind kept circling back to my concern that I wouldn’t make the second flight because I’d have to run from one end of the airport to the other. Once I realized this was causing me stress, I could switch into more productive thoughts, like how to pack lighter, wear more comfortable shoes, or even call to see if I could change my flight times.

Most of the worries we hear from our clients are about food: How will I stick to my food plan if I go out with friends for dinner? How will I be able to eat in front of people? How can I avoid my binge triggers at a party? What if I’m so self-conscious about my body that I can’t show confidence in my job interview?

Worrying keeps us stuck and not able to do anything to help ourselves. So how can we get out of worry and make more focused decisions about how to move forward?

Writing about worries puts them in their place

What works best for me is making lists. In a paper planner, I make three columns:

  1. Places I need to go (e.g., return library book, shop for groceries)
  2. Things I need to do (e.g., create workshop curriculum, gather tax information)
  3. People I need to call (e.g., change dental appointment, call colleague)

This puts things in perspective so they are clear. I can then check things off, see what I’ve accomplished, and change or add things as needed. They’re out of my head, but still at my fingertips.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can even wake up with a worried thought, if something pops into my head during the night. That’s why I keep a journal and post-it notepad by my bed. If I do wake up, I can jot down the details to add to the next day’s list.

You can also be proactive and do some writing before you go to sleep. This is one way to apply the 10th step of 12-step recovery – “taking a daily inventory.” The idea is to examine your day and make a note of anything that came up in your relationships that you might need to clean up with an apology or by handling differently the next time.

Writing about what’s on my mind before I go to sleep helps me sleep better, because I’m not trying to work out the day’s details all night in my mind. Instead of feeling like my brain has run a marathon all night, I wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

You can write out your worries in professional settings as well. As focused as therapists are when present with clients, other thoughts are bound to pop into our thoughts. Instead of fighting them or losing concentration, we can simply jot down a word or two on a notepad, let the thought go, and stay fully focused in sessions.

We use this technique in workshops as well, to manage the time and keep discussions centered around the topic at hand. If other questions come up, we jot them down on a whiteboard as a sort of parking lot we can come back to later.

The key is to not let worries turn into obsession, which is uncomfortable at best and counterproductive at worst, and can lead to serious problems with anxiety. By clearing your mind of cluttered thoughts and repetitive scenarios, you’re making room for creative thinking and clarity.

You can get thoughts out of your head in other ways as well. You can create your own soothing rituals, such as carrying a special stone, ring or another item that comforts you and reminds you of your strength and perseverance. Some people look for spiritual solace, others turn to therapy, and many seek both.

There are many forms of therapy that use creativity and movement, such as SoulCollage® and yoga therapy. Ask for support and keep trying until you find something that keeps worried thoughts from taking over your life.

What Happens to Our Plans

Sad young woman posing with hand on chin, she is depressed and pensive

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A lot of people call our offices in March, looking for counseling to help them have a healthier relationship with their food and body. Maybe it was one of the resolutions they set in January, but by now they’re feeling frustrated about many of their goals, not just this one.

Can you relate? Did you have big plans for 2017? How are they going? Did life get in your way?

It’s very common for us to be enthusiastic at the start, but then hit a plateau or bump in the road. As therapists we see this in our workshops and courses. We may have a full house for the first session – with people even sitting on the floor because we’ve run out of chairs – but as the weeks progress that crowd thins.

So how do you stay motivated, committed, and true to yourself – your true heart and soul ideals, and the things that you want to do? Not just about food and weight, but whatever desires you have to organize your home or office, create more time for self-care or relationships, or other important goals.

Check your thinking

Is your brain tricking you into thinking that if you missed one class, ate a less healthy meal, or procrastinated on a project that you might as well give up on it all? This all-or-nothing thinking is just one of many cognitive distortions that may be at work under the surface.

Someone told me a long time ago that to be perfect is boring. Who wants that? Just because you can’t do something perfectly – and none of us can!I – doesn’t mean you should stop. Imagine one of your friends or children needed your help getting back up after losing a step. Chances are you’d be there for them, but somehow it’s different when it’s for ourselves.

I recently committed to 90 days of breathwork and meditation. I’ve missed some days, and other days I’ve spent less time than the 24 minutes I intended, but I’m trying to follow through and explore what it feels like to do it imperfectly.

Change can be hard

Eating is a big thing to change, whether you’re trying to not eat certain things or to eat more of other things. Food is a very personal choice and you’ve probably been eating the way you eat for a long time.

Then, if you slip and go back to familiar ways, you may get trapped in perfectionism (I messed up so why bother trying?), mind reading (he/she/they will think I’m a failure) or catastrophizing (I’m doomed to damage my health beyond repair).

One of the best ways to resist these distorted thoughts is to check them out with someone else. At White Picket Fence Counseling Center we offer “booster sessions” where you can talk to someone who will be objective about your hopes, dreams and plans, and help you get back on track.

So come on in. Therapists are the least judgemental group of people and can work with you on ways to help you recommit to yourself. And this is the absolute best time to do this work. We don’t have to wait until Monday or next January 1st. The time will pass anyway, so why not spend it working towards something?

Run Towards The Roar – More About Jaki Hitzelberger

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Welcome to the next installment of our “More About Me” series. Today’s post is by Jaki Hitzelberger, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Primary Therapist. 

Almost every time I leave work to go home, I think to myself, “I have the best job in the world.” As a counselor, I get to go on the most amazing journeys and witness incredible courage and strength. I always wish my clients knew just how inspiring they are to me. Being in counseling, going towards your pain, is really hard… and I know this firsthand.

Growing up, I was definitely more of an introverted observer. I loved watching and listening to people, trying to understand why they did what they did. I enjoyed being a sounding board for my friends and someone they could trust with their problems. The key word here is their problems. When it came to how I felt and what I thought, no one ever really knew, and I made sure to keep it that way. While this approach works in some ways, I experienced a lot of anxiety and insecurities because I was never able to release my feelings and fears. 

It was safe to focus on other people’s problems and I really enjoyed it, so it only made sense to study psychology in college. Everything changed when I made the decision to continue on and get my Master’s degree in counseling at Rollins College. The tables turned when I was suddenly asked to share more about myself than ever before. In addition, we were required to attend 10 counseling sessions while in the program. The horror!

I remember my first counseling session, sitting in front of the therapist, silently waiting for her to “do her thing.” Much to my dismay, she just sat silently as well, kindly smiling at me, waiting for me to begin. Little by little I began to do what was very foreign and uncomfortable for me, share about myself. While this was very challenging, I started to feel my anxiety slowly fade. A sense of peace and acceptance took its place with each passing session. 

While so beneficial, it can feel counterintuitive to go towards your pain or negative feelings. One of my favorite metaphors to illustrate this is a concept called “running towards the roar.” When lions hunt, it’s actually the lionesses who do most of the dirty work, though the male lions do play an important role. How it works is the male lions creep up onto one side of a watering hole where their prey is gathered, but they don’t attack; they simply roar very loudly. Meanwhile, the lionesses are waiting on the other side, ready to attack when the herd runs away from the loud roar and straight into their path.

In a similar way, people tend to run away from the roar, or their own negative feelings and pain. And can you really blame them? It can be scary and uncomfortable to talk about hurtful experiences. The problem is, running away from these feelings is not a safer option. You end up running straight into something much more harmful such as alcoholism, abusive relationships, over-exercising, or an eating disorder. All of these may provide a momentary distraction from your pain, but clearly cause many more additional problems along the way.

When you run towards the roar by talking to a family member or friend, going to counseling, or writing your feelings in a journal, you can actually begin to heal and address the real issue. This isn’t easy by any means and it’s why I am so inspired by my clients as I witness their strength and courage session after session. It’s why I have the best job in the world. I encourage you to think about what the roar is in your life that you might be running from, and what you might be running towards instead. Consider trying something different… run towards the roar.

How Yoga Can Heal Binge Eating Disorder

Woman meditating at the beach and drink tea

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What is binge eating disorder? In an earlier post about where compulsive overeating crosses the line into binge eating disorder, I shared this quote from the American Psychiatric Association, publishers of the DSM-5: “While overeating is a challenge for many Americans, recurrent binge eating is much less common, far more severe, and is associated with significant physical and psychological problems.”

Mindless eating is usually a major component of binge eating disorder, where a person may eat in a frenzied or unconscious way and then feel regret and low self-esteem later. This can also impact interpersonal relationships, when the person wants to hide and isolate in order to overeat.

Because mindfulness is such an integral part of yoga practice, I’m finding yoga to be particularly helpful for binge eating and overeating. I’m currently offering and developing a variety of group classes and workshops in both my Clearwater and Winter Park locations, and I also see people one-on-one for yoga-based therapy.

Recovery from disordered eating always starts with awareness of why you may have developed unhealthy eating patterns, and how the eating has served an adaptive function in your life. It’s human nature for people to want to know why.

Once we have some understanding of the awareness of maybe the reasons how and why this particular problematic eating, then we can start looking towards creating healthy mindset and lifestyle practices.

We need to know what we can do with that awareness – how it can relate to making changes along the way. We work at the relationship between the mind and the body, the emotions – what we call in yoga the heart center, and how these connections have influenced your eating.

We look at how your patterns of eating have not only served you, but have formed some kind of impairment in your life. Then we want to know how a mind-body-heart practice can work towards healing this.

Mindless eating is a disconnect; a mindful yoga practice restores that connection gently and slowly. Yoga is more than just postures or asanas, it is about how to connect with inner peace through imagery and meditation; how mindful tasks can help with even behaviors and staying motivated; how self-compassion heals self-contempt; and how relaxation, along with mindfulness, helps with recognizing stressors and knowing what to do about them.

Relaxation is woven through all types of yoga practices, such as restorative, meditative and yin. The yoga we do depends solely on you and what your body needs. If it is challenging for you to move up and down from the mat, for example, we may do a session that uses only standing and grounding and empowerment postures.

Or we may stay close to the floor with yin yoga poses, possibly exploring our dark sides. Yoga uses the tool of gentle discomfort as a tool that teaches us how to tolerate discomfort. That is when we begin to change in a therapeutic way and take our practice “off the mat.”

So how does that relate to eating? Well, there are many situations throughout our day and lives that are uncomfortable, that we would like to avoid dealing with. Instead of retreating into mindless eating as a way to cope, we can bring forward the gentle perspectives we learn from yoga.

Taking yoga off the mat and into life gives us ways to handle these situations that don’t involve cutting ourselves off from relationships or reacting. We learn to respond instead of react, and make decisions we feel good and calm about. In turn, this boosts how we feel about ourselves.

Often my clients leave a session with a few prescriptive postures that are customized for their issues. They’re doable for them to practice at home and weave into their life, to integrate into their being as a way of pushing out the desire to emotionally eat or binge eat.

While talk therapy can be a very slow process, yoga-based therapy can give people grounding – literally – right from the start. Any body shape or level of health can benefit from yoga-based therapy, which is of course applied with caution  and by a trained practitioner.

Binge eating is numbing out and disconnecting from uncomfortable emotions, which then become repressed in the body, bringing additional pain. In yoga we’re reconnecting – from the mat to the plate, from the yoga studio to the dinner table.

A New Approach to New Beginnings – More About Lori Hernberg

Photo of Lori as a child

© Lori Hernberg

Welcome to the next installment of our “More About Me” series. Today’s post is by Lori Hernberg, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern.

Happy New Year, everyone! January 1st not only marks a new month, but also a new year for all of us. For some, it also marks a time for new beginnings and resolutions with promises made to oneself, such as to lose or gain weight, eat nutrient-dense foods, exercise daily, quit smoking, or reduce alcohol consumption.

Personally, I have never been too enthusiastic about making such a pledge just because it’s a new year. Instead, I have found more success and happiness in making small, yet achievable goals set in place throughout the year. As a result, my goals become much more manageable and sustainable, especially when paired with a detailed plan.

My new goal is to be more present in both my personal and professional life. I am in the midst of planning my wedding and I have to constantly keep myself in check to avoid multi-tasking and be more present with everything and everyone. Although it is not a quantifiable goal (nor an easy one!), it is attainable. My tool is mindfulness, and I strive to weave this into day, my thoughts, and my actions.

According to experts, people often make resolutions that include habits and behaviors that are difficult to instantaneously change without a well-thought-out plan. A “quick fix” change will not work! Simply saying “I want to address my weight and exercise” is not enough to set yourself up for success and achieve goals. Even with a well-thought-out plan, it can still be nearly impossible to achieve goals if you are not realistic with yourself.

For example, if you have never worked out a day in your life and attempt to run for one hour on the treadmill, you are setting yourself up for failure mentally and physically. Therefore, when implementing changes, it is important to be realistic and practical with your goals. Think about the process as a journey or in exercise language, “a marathon and not a sprint.”  Perhaps consider setting up mini-goals so that the goal itself is not overly daunting and ultimately unachievable.

Whether you are making a New Year’s resolution or implementing change at any point during 2017, it is crucial to be gentle, kind and forgiving with yourself if you happen to slip up. Some resolutioners may want to throw in the towel and give up altogether; however, setbacks are inevitable. After all, we are all humans and nobody is perfect. Use these slipups and setbacks as learning experiences and motivation to help to get you back on track with your goal(s).

I will leave you with this question for further reflection:

What can you do today that you were not capable of 12 months ago?

The Art of Saying No During the Holiday Season

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During the holiday season, we are given many opportunities to practice the art of saying “No.”

Here are just a few examples:

  1. Parties and holiday gatherings – when there is an excessive number of these they can conflict with each other or breach our precious self-care time.
  2. Food – when we don’t like a particular food, or eating it would cause us harm due to physical or emotional health issues (e.g., gluten, sugar or sodium), or when “food pushers” urge us to eat more or differently.
  3. Gift buying – when we feel obligated to give or overspend.
  4. Isolating – when we need to say no to ourselves and choose social support over harmful isolation, while still allowing quiet restorative time in balance.

The art of saying no is outlined very clearly in Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No, by one of my mentors, Anne Brown, PhD. I love how Anne puts it in the science perspective and how I can also see it as an art!

In her introduction she talks about how we so often say yes when we mean no, such as:

  • Saying yes to things we can’t afford
  • Saying yes to things we know feel good at the time and cost us our self-esteem later
  • Saying yes to numbing ourselves with food, alcohol, and drugs
  • Saying yes to “putting up with” and “doing more than others”
  • Saying yes to any request from anyone because we want to avoid conflict

She goes on to say how “then we wonder why we feel controlled, bullied, used, and abused.” Her brilliant solutions are so clear, yet we need practice in applying them. Dr. Brown says it all comes down to learning how to say no, how to make requests, and how to speak authentically.

The trained psychotherapists at White Picket Fence Counseling Center offer the following strategies for saying no during the holiday season – or any time of year. We invite our clients – and you – to explore these skills with a curious and mindful perspective. Place your own personal filter on these skills and practice them as your own. Notice without judgment and continue the practice.

You may want to record your experiences in a journal to review later as you master the art and science of saying no. Counseling can also help, using more of a coaching approach by offering encouragement, suggestions for advancement, and accountability.

  • Create a list of your values, likes and dislikes – being clear about these helps you be clear when a request is not in alignment with what you really want.
  • Explore your spiritual perspective and beliefs as an extension of your values – notice where they are woven together.
  • Develop a practice for grounding – try yoga and guided imagery, time in nature, or time with pet.
  • Practice saying no to little things – “No, I don’t want that flyer/coupon/sample” is a good start.
  • Keep track of when you say yes but mean no. Don’t do anything with it, just start noticing.
  • Tell the truth and keep it brief when saying no. Often we lie or make excuses. Just say no, or more politely, “No, thank you.”
  • Buy yourself some times – this is a technique I often recommend and use personally. Tell the person, “I’ll get back to you,” then sit for a moment or longer to check in with yourself about if it feels like the right thing to do. See whether saying yes will create resentment of the person asking, the situation, or ESPECIALLY yourself. If there is even a small inkling of one, I explore further and will likely say no or change the terms.
  • Practice affirmations – this is an ideal time to affirm your decisions and your values.
  • Create new rituals – choose the things that best fit your values and beliefs.

When do you need to say no this holiday season?

The Grandparent Connection – Holiday Reflections by Shawn Johnson

Welcome to the next installment of our “More About Me” series. Today we’ll hear from Shawn Johnson.

© Shawn Johnson

As the holidays are upon us, we think of times with loved ones, especially memories of ones we have lost. Close your eyes for a moment and open your treasure trove of memories, taking a step back in time to your childhood. Do you remember your grandfather gently scooping you up into his warm and comforting embrace? Or sitting by your grandmother’s side as she lovingly shared her words of love to you?

This story is about how I remember the ones that I have lost in my life during the holidays.

On October 3, 2016, my birthday of this year, my last grandparent passed away. What is supposed to be a day of celebrating being “another year older and wiser,” felt entirely different. October 3rd is no longer just a birthday for me, it’s a day I will always share in memory of the day my Nana left this world.

A connection with a grandparent is one that cannot be described. It is a love so innocent, pure, deep and strong, that the pain of their loss is more powerful than that of any other loss in life. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that many children view their grandparent as a confidant. As well, having a grandparent around to talk to when your parents are too busy helps encourage better behavior and social skills in children.

Every summer up until I was about 13 years old, my sister and I would spend with our grandparents in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This is the place where my love of my grandmother began. Grandma Lee (also my middle name) was to me, in my life, the definition of unconditional love and happiness.

Even as a child, I was always curious to hear people’s stories, to know and understand them. When I was 7 years old, after a long day on the Cape, I remember so vividly sitting outside with my grandmother on her back porch, helping her set the table for dinner, and smelling her homemade banana bread outside the kitchen window facing the porch. We sat for a few hours and she shared with me all the reasons she loved her family, the importance of love, and why everyone deserves to be heard.

Next, I learned why and how to make a beautiful table for dinner. As we made the table together, my grandmother shared why having a comforting place to eat together helps you feel connected with yourself and others. It took many years to fully understand what my grandmother meant.

To this day, I find myself whispering “F-O-R-K, L-E-F-T” “K-N-I-F-E, R-I-G-H-T,” when I set the table in my home, the oddly invaluable trick my grandmother taught me that summer day.

On the day of my grandmother’s funeral services, dozens of ladybugs – my grandmother’s favorite – surrounded the flowers. In all of our grief, my family and I memorialized her in unity and peace amongst these colorful winged creatures. Ladybugs constantly show up when I need to be reminded to stay present, grateful and connected, reminded of her love. During the holiday time, when I am in a place of needing hope, connection or some sort of love, I more often than not will fall upon a ladybug, whether landing on my hand or windshield, or sitting on a shelf as a stuffed animal right by the entrance of a store I happened to visit.

Even though it is rare to see ladybugs during the colder months, a couple of weeks ago I was up north in a cabin deep in the mountains. The temperature was about 35 degrees. As I walked into the cabin and looked around, I discovered that one of the room was full of thousands of ladybugs.

Evidently, certain types of ladybugs travel to and migrate to the mountains for winter. Where some people may have been upset or disturbed by all these “bugs” on the picturesque wooden planked ceilings, I sat in awe, beauty and deep connection, reminded again of all Grandma Lee left for me to carry on into my life and especially into my growing career as a clinician.

By choosing to share this particular chapter of my life, I wanted to discuss the impact of family. I am a firm believer in working not only with individuals of all ages struggling with eating disorders and their mental health, but also in empowering families.

I work with families to understand how to effectively intervene, especially with adolescents and younger age groups who may be struggling with such issues, as well as managing the myriad of other dynamics often associated with helping any family member overcome the many challenges that come with supporting a loved one during this time.

I have grown in my expertise of incorporating family into patient care. Working with parents, grandparents, friends and other loved ones has been a fundamental component in helping prevent relapses by resolving interpersonal issues related to the eating disorder. I am very passionate about being able to work with and guide family members in understanding the disorder and learning how to cope.

I am continuing to share my passion for family support with a family support group I will be leading at White Picket Fence Counseling Center in January 2017.

Someone shared this quote to honor my grandmother’s life, and I continue to use it as I reflect daily on my passion for my work:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate internal beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gratitude is Beauty, Beauty is Love

© Sandee Nebel

© Sandee Nebel

During the month of November we see many blog writers open the dialogue about gratitude. They write about how adopting a mindset of being thankful and living in a place of gratefulness and kindness is especially appropriate around this time of year.

We have done the same thing on our blog in November over the years, focusing on gratitude and kindness to others. We have also shared the importance of finding gratitude in our own lives and how to be kind to oneself. This is a principle that deeply supports healing.

This post transcends beyond gratitude and into love. Love is what bubbles up when we have truly embraced gratitude. Love in its purest form is one of the hardest concepts to comprehend. We think we know love or when we need it, want it, or even think we may have it. And we very well may have love in our life. But how do we know for certain? I have an idea how: Beauty = Love.

In our work at White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we often help our clients realign their definition of beauty. We turn away from the media that portrays clothing, food and exercise in ways that promote objectification, disordered eating and harmful movement.

How can we change these concepts, and see that love and beauty are one and the same? We start by noticing beauty in the most simple ways. Do you notice beauty throughout your day? With a mindful awareness practice, also known as mindfulness, we can train ourselves to notice without judgment. We can see people, nature, architecture, and colors all around us, giving us the opportunity to see beauty in it all. The feeling I get inside when I notice beauty  is what I secretly call love. Notice the beauty for yourself, and notice the feeling when you let that in, when you appreciate it, and when you absolutely do not judge any of it.

People say you need to love yourself or love your body or love mankind, but how do we get there? I suggest we begin with seeing beauty — look for it. Look at your pet. Watch a sunset — the beauty of watching the sun go down lasts long after it disappears from view. Gaze at your supportive friends, or a photo of a caring grandparent. Let your feelings of love intertwine with the beauty you see. Weave these together and they become one. We may start with a grateful heart, but when this deepens it becomes love. It is in there and whether you get there through looking, experiencing, or writing (a gratitude list), let’s all enjoy this journey.