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Tips to Support Conscious and Balanced Screen Use

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

The average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes a day looking at a screen. Digital burnout is a growing problem that’s taking a toll on people’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

If your screen use habits could use an upgrade, consider the following menu of tips. Perhaps one or more can provide you with a realistic and helpful opportunity.

  • Postpone picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You can use this time to envision how you’d like your day to go, practice mindfulness, or recite or do a gratitude list.
  • Turn off any unnecessary notifications and alerts.
  • Postpone checking a text immediately. You can even use the text chime as a reminder to take a deep breath or have a mindful moment.
  • Leave a room without your phone.
  • If you always take a device outside with you, consider going out without a screen, or taking it but turning it off for a little while. You can use the opportunity to practice being present with your body and your surroundings.
  • Set reminders, alarms, or an intention to check in with your body when you’re screening or scrolling. See if your posture needs adjusting or if your body is ready for food, water, movement, or fresh air. Notice if your brain is feeling foggy. Our bodies and our intuition will tell us what we need if we pay attention.
  • Look for opportunities to put your devices on airplane mode with wifi off. These windows of time can help you practice getting comfortable with unstimulated moments.
  • Avoid multitasking. Although doing more than one thing at a time can appear to be productive, it can actually do more harm than good. Multitasking can lead to excess stress, memory problems, and ironically, decreased productivity. Stay on the lookout for double or triple screening and know that your nervous system will benefit from you slowing down and doing one thing at a time.
  • Consider deleting any apps that you find depressing or depleting.
  • Move apps that you consider time killers to the second or third page on your devices so you don’t see them as frequently.
  • Set digital limits with yourself. Some devices have settings that allow you to choose when certain apps will automatically close. This can help if you tend to get caught up screening and scrolling and lose track of time.
  • Set a timer to be online for a certain amount of time and then take a screen break.
  • Set a timer to be offline a certain amount of time before you go back on. You can use these breaks to check in with yourself, sit in silence, connect with someone in-person, get some fresh air, or allow for creative ideas.
  • Browse in a craft or hobby store and see if anything looks like something you might want to try. It could be an old hobby you used to enjoy, or a new hobby, craft, or project.
  • Purchase a book or workbook on a topic of interest.
  • If you always eat with a screen, try a screen-less meal, or even part of a meal.
  • If you use screens at night, the blue light can disturb your sleep so consider changing the light on your devices to a different color and reducing the brightness.
  • If you use screens right up until you fall asleep, try turning them off earlier than you normally would. Consider reading a book, journaling, listening to soothing music, meditating, mindful breathing, reciting a calming word or phrase, writing or thinking about things you appreciate or feel grateful for, or imagining yourself accomplishing a goal or a dream. (Right before sleep is a wonderful time to plant seeds into our subconscious minds.)
  • Set reminders to ask yourself if you are time killing or spirit filling. Of course, we get to play or check out sometimes. It’s just helpful to check in about how often we are checking out so it doesn’t contribute to depressionanxiety, depletion, or sleep disturbances.
  • Create a list of healthy non-screen activities that might fill your spirits. Here are some ideas from clients who’ve created spirit filler lists to support themselves having more off-screen time: getting into nature, listening to music, reading a good book, taking a bath or a foot bath, walking, swimming, biking, dancing at home or taking a dance class, playing cards or a board game, meditating or practicing mindfulness, gentle stretching, qigong, playing or learning an instrument, crafting or starting a hobby, resting, visiting with friends and family, laughter yoga, writing or reciting a gratitude list.

Creating an easily accessible list of potentially fulfilling activities can really help since it tends to be easier to start a behavior rather than stop one. So if you’re wanting or needing a screen break, you can try doing something on your list.

If you do decide to cut back on screens, it’s important to know that some feelings might come up, feelings that will definitely need compassion and may need support. Screens might appear to be innocent little devices but they can have an incredibly strong pull on us, and our use of them can sometimes be attempting to distract us from deeper issues. What’s most important is to stay conscious about how and how often you are using screens so you don’t feel used or used up by them.

View on Psychology Today

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Conscious and Balanced Screen Use

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Screens and devices can be incredible. They give us access to an endless stream of information, enable us to work from home, attend virtual classes and groups, visit with long distance loved ones, play fun games, watch movies, even read articles about screens!

Screens can also be incredibly draining, leading many people to feel isolated, disconnected, anxioussleep-deprived, and depressed. So, how can we use screens and devices in a conscious and balanced manner that doesn’t zap us of our vital life force energy?

Here are five points to consider if your screen-use habits could benefit from an upgrade.

Conscious Awareness

Screens can absorb our attention like sponges. Most of us can easily become engrossed in computer games, social media feeds, endless videos, and TV shows while countless hours pass by. It’s extremely important to stay aware of how much time we are spending on screens and if we are consciously choosing the time and content or if we are simply getting caught up in the online whirlpool.

In addition to how often we’re using screens, it’s also really important to be conscious about when we are screening and scrolling. I often see people driving cars or riding bikes while looking down at their phones or taking care of children with their eyes fixed on a screen. I wonder if that behavior is a conscious choice that’s aligned with their values, or if they’ve just gotten sucked into the seductive pull of screens.

Of course, I have no idea what’s going on for strangers I see in passing. I need to stay aware of my own screen use and support my clients to be conscious about theirs. And, if you’d like, let’s take a look at your screen use as well.

Reflective Questions: Are you using screens in the manner and amount that is aligned with your values? Do you stay aware of your self-care and other aspects of your life when you’re screening and scrolling, or do you tend to get “lost” in screen activities and neglect your body and other important needs and commitments? Is your screen use similar to what you would advise a young person to have?

My hope is that you will ponder these questions with curiosity and compassion, not with self-criticism or defeat.

The Power of Choice 

Many people feel compelled to screen and scroll, like they have truly lost the power of choice. Many people spend several hours a day on their devices without even considering how the content is affecting them, or what else they might be doing with their time.

We can begin to regain our power by weaning ourselves off screens, even a little bit.

For some, this might mean turning their phone off for a few minutes a day. For others it might mean one screen-less meal. For some, it might mean a full day off screens. (Challenging, I know!)

Reflective Questions: Is it easy for you to turn off your screens and spend time in other ways? Separate from work obligations and other commitments, do you feel like you have a choice about picking up (or not picking up) your screens? Do you feel compelled to watch programs or look at sites that contribute to insecurity, depression, anxiety, or exhaustion?

If you are constantly picking up a device or remote control, consider choosing one behavior that would feel like a healthy step towards regaining your power of choice.

Conscious Etiquette

Depending on your age, you might not even remember a world without computers, tablets, and phones. The digital age came upon us so rapidly that many of us have not been able or taught to adjust to the rapid changes, particularly in the area of etiquette.

My husband and I made a few agreements when devices came into our lives. One is that if we are hanging out together, we decide together how the screen use will go. We might decide to each be on our individual screens while we’re next to each other. Or we might do something together on one screen, like play a game or watch a movie. Or we go screenless! If one of us is on a screen and the other one wants to say something, as long as we’re not in the middle of work or something essential, we put down our screens and make eye contact. It’s a new day when people have to agree on eye contact and undivided attention, but this is the world we live in. Of course, we can all make our own agreements with the people we spend time with, but it really helps to communicate and make respectful requests when needed.

Reflective Questions: If you are using a screen for non-essential purposes and someone in your life speaks to you, do you typically pause and make eye contact? When spending time with people, do you decide together how the screen use will go? If you are with someone and you need or want to do something on a screen, do you let the other person know when you’ll be present with them again? Do you think your relationships could benefit from a few respectful agreements in the area of screen etiquette?

Seek Balance

In many areas of life, when we become aware of doing a little too much or not enough of something, we have the opportunity to recalculate back to center. Of course, this is much easier said than done if we are compelled to do something, or if there are deeper issues we’re attempting to avoid, numb, or distract ourselves from.

Since the pull of screens can be extremely strong and tempting, it can help to stay compassionate and consistent about how balanced you feel in your life and if screen use may be contributing to you feeling imbalanced.

Reflective Questions: Do you feel well-balanced between your on-screen and off-screen time? How about your alone time vs. connecting with others? Do you have a healthy balance between work and play? Rest and movement?

If you suspect your screen use is contributing to a state of imbalance, consider some gentle recalculating towards center. Even small changes can make a positive difference.

Time Killer or Spirit Filler

Screens can definitely help us fill our spirits. We can listen to uplifting talks on screens, access calming meditations, attend virtual gatherings, listen to inspiring podcasts, read engaging books, just to name a few. And screens can be serious time killers and energy zappers.

Pay attention to how you feel, both during screen use, and afterwards. When we truly fill our spirits, we generally feel good during an activity as well as afterwards.

Some screen activities might fill our spirits every time, like meditation or watching a lighthearted movie, while others might feel good for a little while but can then feel depleting. For example, it might be enjoyable to play a computer game for a half an hour, but after two hours it might be time to eat something and get some fresh air. It might be enjoyable to watch a new comedy series, but five episodes later we might feel zapped of energy rather than uplifted and entertained.

Reflective Questions: How do you feel while you’re using screens? How do you tend to feel afterwards? Does your screen use feel depleting or fulfilling? Disconnecting or connecting? Depressing or uplifting?

Some final questions to ponder: What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? What do you typically do when you eat your meals? What do you do if you have a break in between scheduled events or a few free hours? What do you do when you transition from day to evening or wind down before bed? What do you do right before you fall asleep at night? How do spend your weekends or days off?

If screen use is involved in the majority of your responses, consider the percentage of time they feel like time killers or spirit fillers.

These questions are not about self-berating, rather they’re about increasing your awareness and seeing if you are finding enough opportunities to use screens in fulfilling ways, as well as getting sufficient off-screen time. Excessive screen use is a global problem but it’s up to each one of us to integrate changes in our lives that will make our screen use more balanced.

View on Psychology Today

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The Path of Anxiety Relief

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you struggle with anxiety, perhaps you will relate to the following scenario:

Imagine you are on a path. I will call it the path of anxiety. One of the most common experiences on this path is anxious physical sensations, a chemical cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline that can bring on a knotted stomach, a racing heart, trembling, fatigue, headache, brain fog, or nausea.

In addition to anxious sensations, many people experience worrisome thoughts on the path of anxiety. I call them the “What ifs.” What if this happens? What if that happens again? What if it doesn’t happen?

Usually, anxious thoughts lead to anxious sensations, but sometimes people have anxious sensations, and they’re not aware of any prior worries. Of course, there may have been unconscious thoughts. It’s also important to rule out any medical conditions or medications that could be causing fight or flight sensations. Still, some people with a clean bill of health find themselves feeling regular rushes of anxious sensations with no anxious thoughts. Then, what often occurs is that they have anxious thoughts about the anxious sensations. Why is this happening? What if this never ends? What if I feel this way at work?

So, we can have anxious thoughts that trigger anxious sensations, or we can have anxious thoughts about anxious sensations.

Next on the path of anxiety, many people experience self-blame. What’s wrong with me? I can’t believe I’m still so anxious with how much therapy I’ve done. I’m going to ruin my health or my relationships if I don’t get it together.

Not only is self-blame unhelpful, it’s also unfortunate, because if you struggle with anxiety, it’s not your fault. Anxious sensations and thoughts are automatic, unconscious reactions that occur for a variety of reasons, none of which are your fault. Nobody decides to worry or wake up with a pit in their stomach. We need compassion when we’re anxious, not blame.

Finally, on the path of anxiety, many people disapprove of the anxiety itself. I hate this feeling. I can’t stand feeling this way. I’m so sick of being anxious. Believe me, I get it. Anxiety can feel extremely unpleasant. It makes perfect sense that we would disapprove of it and want it gone. But disapproving of a feeling is simply not helpful. Disapproval leads most people to feel more stressed and constricted, not less.

Let’s say you are on the path of anxiety, and you come to a fork in the road. I will call this the fork of awareness. At this fork, you see that there is an alternate path, the path of anxiety relief tools.

Every change is preceded by awareness. So, every time you arrive at the fork of awareness and you realize you’ve been on the path of anxiety, you have the opportunity to choose an anxiety relief tool. You can choose a tool that will help you calm your nervous system. You can choose a tool that will guide you to question, quiet, or upgrade worried thoughts. Or you can shift your focus to something present, pleasant, or peaceful. Eventually, the path of anxiety relief becomes your most well-worn path, leading you to experience more moments of calm and presence.

Let’s shift now to the path of anxiety relief tools. I like to teach a wide variety of tools to increase the chances that students and clients will find at least a few that resonate.

First, one of my favorites, Compassionate Connection.

Become aware of the anxious sensations like a curious observer. Try letting go of the idea that the sensations should be gone. Notice what happens when you become aware of anxious sensations without having any judgment or stories about them.

The part of you that is observing anxiety is not the anxiety. This can give you a bit of separation from the sensations, like you are the open sky, and the sensations are clouds. They can simply exist, and in time, pass right on by.

Practice offering the sensations compassion, like you might offer an anxious child. You can place your hand over the body part where you feel anxious sensations, and imagine sending them warmth and comfort with your own touch.

Tell yourself, or remind yourself, that this will pass, that all sensations, thoughts, feelings, and situations eventually pass.

As you breathe, imagine that your breath is like a relaxing tropical breeze, soothing any sensations or tension it passes by.

You can have a compassionate dialogue with anxiety, either in writing, in your imagination, or even aloud if you have privacy. Allow the anxiety to express itself and then respond back in a compassionate manner. If you have difficulty fostering compassion, you can think about how someone else compassionate and wise might respond.

The main themes here are compassion, warmth, and kindness, however that might look or feel to you in any given moment.

It’s like the anxious sensations are your child, and your compassionate responses and respectful actions are the parents.

Additional Anxiety Relief Tools:

Mindfulness: Practice bringing yourself back to actual, factual reality. You can do this anytime by focusing on your senses: notice any shapes or colors you see, sounds you hear, what you’re touching or sensing, or your body breathing.

MeditationThis could be a mindfulness meditation, repeating a mantra (a soothing or healing word, phrase, or sound), a calming visualization, loving-kindness meditation, or yoga nidra, to name a few.

Breathing Practices:  Bringing your focused attention to your breathing, as well as deepening your breath can have calming effects on the nervous system. Deep breathing allows more air flow into our bodies and can help reduce anxiety.

Channel Changing: When it feels appropriate, you can shift your focus off of anxiety and onto something that is uplifting, soothing, inspiring, or engaging.

The Work: A powerful thought-questioning process.

Internal Family Systems (IFS): A therapeutic model that guides people to identify and compassionately connect with various internal “parts”.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): Tapping specific points on your body to reduce anxiety.

Self-Havening: Using your own touch to signal the brain to boost serotonin and calm your system.

Voo Chanting: A powerful chant that helps stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation.

Trauma Release Exercises (TRE): A simple series of shaking exercises that helps the body release stress.

May the path of anxiety relief tools be your most well-traveled path and may you have many moments of peace and presence.

View on Psychology Today

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3 Essential Steps to My Recovery

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It’s pretty safe (and sad) to say that when I reflect back on how I spent the first half of my life, the majority of moments were lost to food and body obsession. What is even sadder is that I am so not alone. Millions of people lose millions of moments to the pursuit of perfecting their appearance.

Fortunately, as I healed, I felt inspired, as many do, to pass along what I had learned, and it has been an honor to spend the last three decades helping others overcome their food and body battles.

While many factors led me down the path of disorder, there were some significant steps that led me back home. Whether you are on your own path of healing, fully recovered, or guiding someone else along their way, may these steps be, or become, your new normal.

1. Out with Outcomes, In with Intuition

One of my most significant steps toward healing was when I began to take my focus off my appearance and into my intuition. After decades of calorie counting, point calculating, excessive exercise, and massive rebellion, my new vow was to turn inward for clarity instead of outward for results.

So instead of focusing on the lists of culturally deemed “good” and “bad” foods, I began to ask myself what I truly felt like eating. Then, I would stay tuned for the amount that felt loving to my body. It was literally the biggest do-over of my life.

Prior to my do-over, I would wake up most mornings, having already decided what I “should” eat for the day, or go on a bender of rebellion from my previously planned menu.

My new vows morphed into something like this:

When preparing to feed myself, I will tune into my body and ask it what it truly wants. I will feed myself like I would feed someone I love, someone who does not diet or binge. There are no longer any good or bad foods. There are simply foods, and my body will tell me what it wants, needs, likes, and loves.

And somehow, after years of restricting and rebelling, this new voice began to emerge from the brambles of my previously disordered thoughts.

Sometimes, when I tuned inside, I got crystal clear clarity on what and how much to eat. Other times, I was not so sure. I would then try to imagine that I was choosing foods for someone I love. When my mind would bark its terrified cries about how out of control it all felt, I would remind my mind that we were trying things a new way. Our previous system had gotten us nowhere but obsessing, starving, and binging. There was a new sheriff in town. My weight was no longer any of my business. What became my business was how to respectfully and lovingly feed, treat, and speak to my body in any given moment.

So, instead of entering the kitchen or opening up a restaurant menu, already knowing what I “should” have, or “better have cause I never get to have,” I would ask my body what it truly wanted and then stay tuned for the amount that felt truly loving. And for the first time in my adult life, I began to eat what my body and my wise intuition guided me to eat. And a loving amount became satisfying.

Next, I had to wash my brain from the brainwashing it had received from the fitness industry. So instead of telling myself I “should work-out,” or go for a run, or walk a certain distance, I began to ask myself if I felt like moving, and if so, how? Then, I’d stay tuned for how the movement felt in my body, not what I thought it would do to my body.

If I was out for a walk or a bike ride and I got an inkling to stop or turn towards home, I would, regardless of how long I’d been going. If I had a few free hours and thought I “should” get some exercise but really, I felt like resting, I rested. I began to go in for my answers, in the moment, rather than out toward some falsely promised results. Results no longer had a seat at my table.

2. Releasing the Notion of Perfection

I had taken my internal vows to let go of dieting, rioting, and compulsive exercise. But there were still times when I just wasn’t sure what to eat, how much to eat, how much to move, or when to rest. I’d ask myself my usual list of questions in an attempt to tune into my physical and emotional needs. I’d ask myself how I would feed or treat someone I love. And still, there were many times when I felt unsure of how to feed, treat, and care for myself. This brings us to essential step number two… releasing the notion of perfection.

May I just say, Phew!

While some internal dialogue is necessary for clarity, I realized (surprise, surprise!) that I was trying to intuitively eat, intuitively move, and intuitively live, perfectly. And since perfection was part of what got me into my eating disorder in the first place, it certainly was not going to help me climb out! Deciding and reminding myself that I didn’t have to eat, feel, or be perfect, was a huge relief. I just needed to continue inquiring with my body to see what it needed, wanted, liked, and loved. And just like any relationship, it didn’t have to be (nor would it ever be) perfect. Ironically, loosening the reigns of perfection would often help me get clarity, and even when it didn’t, with perfection off the table, I was off the hook!

With the volume of perfectionistic thinking turned down, I was often left with some spaces in my day, or my mind. I had been quite used to filling my spaces with food and body obsession, so what to do with space? Sometimes it meant I had some deeper feelings to feel— the ones that fed into my eating disorder in the first place. Sometimes it meant I had to tolerate being full until my food digested. Sometimes I needed a healthy distraction. Sometimes I had to get creative and try to find new ways to fill up. Sometimes I needed to work with my unkind mind when it would try to have its perfectionistic way with me. But with a compassionate internal dialogue replacing an unkind monologue, I learned how to fill, or be with the spaces that mind quieting created.

My responses to perfectionistic pop-up thoughts sounded something like this:

I do not have be perfect. I do not have to eat what the diet industry tells us to eat. I do not have to exercise if I don’t feel like it. I do not have to look or be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have relationship glitches. We are not supposed to be happy all the time. I do not have to be perfect. I repeat, I do not have to be perfect!

And for the first time in my personal history of life on planet earth, my new mantra became, and remains: I do not have to be perfect.

Mic drop!

3. Change Your Mind, Not Your Body

Until I discovered concepts like mindfulness, spirituality, and ummm, reality, nobody could’ve convinced me that my thoughts were not real. Until they did. And when I began to learn that my thoughts were simply recycled ideas that I’d learned from other people’s recycled ideas, I was floored. My thoughts had always seemed and felt so real. But I learned that thoughts were not the same as truth. After all, I could not see, touch, hold, or show someone else my thoughts, so how could they be actual, factual reality? And since it was my thoughts that led me to restrict, binge, and hate my body, this new development was very good news! It also led me to my third (and continual) essential step in my recovery process: Changing my mind, not my body.

I have often said that an eating disorder could equally be considered a thinking disorder. Once I became a therapist, I knew this to be even more true. I have countless examples of clients over the years, coming into my office one week, convinced that their bodies were unacceptable, unlovable, and their biggest problem, only to come back the following week, feeling great about how things were going in their lives. The difference being, in the first session, they were believing their unkind mind and in the next, they were not. In both sessions, they had the same exact body. What changed were their thoughts. Different thoughts. Different reality.

Believe me, I understand that changing our mind movies is not easy. When a person gets told enough times that something will bring them love, approval, and happily ever-after-ness, they believe it and naturally seek it. It’s human nature to seek approval and avoid criticism. Far too many of us have been taught that changing our appearance will change our lives for the better. And unfortunately, the vast majority of those messages tend not to include that the pursuit of perfecting our appearance robs us of the very happiness we are seeking.

I always thought that my biggest problem was my body, but I came to understand that my biggest problem was my thoughts. I needed to learn how to question, challenge, and upgrade my unkind mind. I needed to learn how to give myself the love and approval I had been seeking so I would always have it. We don’t go looking for what we already have and since love and approval are human needs, once we begin to give them to ourselves, we have them. Then anything else is simply an added bonus.

It’s pretty common practice to upgrade our computers and devices on a regular basis but how often do we upgrade our outdated thoughts? Thoughts that have been passed down for generations: “Good” and “bad” food rules, “good” and “bad” ways to look, feel, move, speak, and live. It’s no wonder disordered eating, substance abuse, excessive screen use, anxiety, and depression are at all-time highs. Our culture convinces far too many of us that changing our bodies will change our sense of ourselves. In truth, the only way to change our sense of ourselves is to change our sense of ourselves.

It takes awareness, dedication, and courage to change our minds, to eat what we want instead of what the diet industry tells us to eat, to move and rest in the ways our bodies want, instead of what the fitness industry says, to welcome our emotions, and to speak our truth. Healing from food and body issues is not an easy endeavor, but then neither is body hatred, restricting, binging, excessive exercise, depression, anxiety, or constant comparing. It takes a roll-up-your-sleeves
commitment to overcome body hatred and disordered eating in a culture that is swimming in unkind, unrealistic, untrue rules. But thankfully, it is worth the work.

May you not lose an ounce more of your precious time on this planet to body hatred. May you feed and treat your body with deep respect. May you move your body in ways that you love, and then rest, a lot. May you challenge any unkind thoughts that pop up on your internal screen. May you speak your truth. May you spend your time with people who want to hear your truth and respectfully tell you theirs. May you seek to know your hearts desires. May you live a balanced life overflowing with self-love.

View on The Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue

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Tendency for Codependency?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Marsea Marcus, LMFT

Do you often focus on the needs of others but ignore your own?

Do you find yourself preoccupied by how your loved ones are doing?

Do you have difficulty expressing your feelings and needs in your relationships?

Do you feel compelled to jump in and try to fix others when they’re struggling?

Do you regularly sacrifice your own self-care for the sake of others?

Do you offer support to others without even checking in with your own needs?

All of the above questions are indicators of codependency. Codependency is when somebody consistently focuses on the feelings and needs of others, at the expense of their own. This behavioral pattern hurts not only the codependent, but it also hinders the other person’s growth.

Codependency is sometimes referred to as a relationship addiction. But unlike addictions to substances like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, where recovery involves complete abstinence, when someone struggles with codependency, the path to wellness is not as clear-cut. You can’t simply stop “the symptoms” of loving, supporting and helping the people you care about. And even if you could, that does not necessarily constitute health either.

It’s healthy and appropriate to help others at times, to feel concerned about our loved ones, or to offer support to the people we care about. It’s only when these things are taken to extremes that they can be harmful rather than helpful.

A codependent person has an extreme need to take care of others and to focus on other people, while ignoring their own needs, problems and desires. In a codependent relationship, one person loses their own identity and orbits around another person. Often, that other person is an addict of some kind, but not always.

The poblem for the recipient of codependent behavior is that they become used to having their problems attended to by someone else. They can stay stuck in a lifestyle that may be ruining their lives or even killing them and, partly as a result of the codependents in their lives, they don’t have the motivation to do anything about their problems; they can leave that to others.

It is important to note that, on the positive side, most codependents are very caring people with very big hearts. Codependency can even look and seem saintly. After all, many codependent people would do almost anything for their friends, children or spouses, including putting their own life on hold. They are loyal! But they tend to be overly loyal, not knowing when (or how) to stop. They over-care, feel overly responsible for others, and are overly focused on the needs of others.

In healthy relationships, each person factors their own needs into their decision-making process, it’s not all about the other person. (Especially when that other person is an addict and not making good decisions for themselves.) In healthy relationships there is a balance between giving and receiving, talking and listening.

Often, a person caught in the grips of codependency feels that their own needs are unimportant. Even though they may look like the “healthier” person of the two, they have their own issues that cause them to think other people are more important than they are, that their own feelings don’t matter, and that they are responsible for saving people. Their desperate need for approval trumps all other needs. When somebody consistently diminishes their own feelings and needs and looks to others for approval and identity, this results in an unhealthy dynamic (for both people). Codependency really isn’t good for anyone, despite the accolades that a codependent person might receive for being so “good” or “helpful.”

Healing from codependency involves subtle and deep self-inquiry. For example, it might feel healthy and appropriate to give your adult child some money in one instance, but at another time, your gut is telling you it’s not a good idea, that they have not been making wise choices with money lately, and that giving them money may only help to perpetuate their bad choices. Healing requires thinking these things through instead of simply reacting to impulses to help.

There are certainly times when doing something for someone else feels like the right thing to do and there are times when that very same offer could be codependent. To know which is which, a person has to be able to tap into their internal wisdom. If someone is unable to do this, it’s important they seek help (i.e. therapy or a trusted friend) to look at the underlying issues that caused them to separate from their internal wisdom in the first place.

For example, if our early caregivers were unhealthy or had a lot of unmet needs themselves, we may have ended up taking on the role of caregiver, rather than the adult being the caregiver, as nature intended it. When this happens, we often lose our connection to our own developmental needs and develop an overactive attunement to our caregiver, and then others. This can cause an internal disconnection from our innate wisdom. Also, some children are naturally wired to be highly empathetic. They tend to over-care about approval, leading them to focus on making other people happy, and under-care about their own feelings and needs. These kids need their caretakers to be in charge and not let them caretake their caretakers.

You may remember a book that was popular back in the 70’s called I’m OK – You’re OK. Think of the codependent version as: I’m OK – If You’re OK. But, in all seriousness, when someone struggles with codependency, it can be very painful business. The constant efforts to fix someone are stressful and, combined with a lack of self-care, can lead to many emotional and physical problems, as well as impede the other person’s growth.

Signs of Codependency

It can be difficult to distinguish healthy caring behaviors from codependent behaviors. In some situations, like when raising a child or helping an elderly person, putting someone else’s needs above one’s own might be necessary and appropriate. Children and some elderly people actually are dependent in a way that another adult should not be.

Here are some signs to look out for:

Consitently putting others’ needs first, at the expense of your own.

Neglecting to check in with your own feelings and needs. 

Doing things out of obligation rather than true desire. 

Not being able to separate out your own needs from what you think are the needs of others. 

Regularly compromising, minimizing or ignoring your own needs. 

Frequent ruminating or obsessing about other people’s feelings, life situations and needs. 

Having difficulty saying no, setting limits, or making requests on your own behalf. 

Feeling like you don’t have a choice if someone asks you to do something for them.

Neglecting your own self-care because you’re too busy taking care of others. 

Feeling guilty if you say no to someone. 

Having difficulty tolerating someone else’s response if your desires or preferences differ from theirs. 

Having a hard time tolerating glitches or rough spots in your relationships and always needing things to be okay in order for you to feel okay. 

Holding in or denying your true feelings, thoughts and needs because you’re too afraid to voice them.

Feeling resentful because you do too much for others and don’t realize you have choices. 

Jumping at other peoples’ needs without even factoring in your own. 

Thinking it’s your job to help someone when they are struggling.

A Codependent Friendship:

Let’s meet Callie and her friend Lisa. Lisa asks Callie if she can drive her to the airport. Immediately in Callie’s body, she gets a clear sense of “no.” She has been working overtime, while sick with a cold. Her laundry is piled up. The day of Lisa’s flight will be the first day Callie will have time to rest and catch up on her life. This just isn’t going to work for her. But barely tuning into her inner voice about this, Callie immediately thinks about how much Lisa has been struggling lately. She lost her car in a bad accident (yes, she was drunk, but still, she’s really inconvenienced now without a car). And Lisa has been trying really hard to get sober, but everything has seemed to go against her. This ride is one thing Callie can do to make life a little easier for her friend. Callie thinks, “If I don’t do this, Lisa might end up drinking. I can still find time to rest and do my laundry. How can I not help my friend out? I’m lucky to have a car and the time to help her. I feel like I have to give her this ride.”

We all have an inner voice that tells us when something is a no, a yes or a maybe. Someone who struggles with codependency is often not in touch with that knowing, or they are but they ignore it.

So, Callie gets a negative feeling inside that tells her the airport ride does not work for her. The codependent response she chose was to say “yes” anyway. One result will probably be that Callie feels even more exhausted, stressed and, on top of that, resentful.

The healthy response might be for Callie to kindly tell Lisa that she is unable to give her a ride and trust that honoring her gut will be best for both of them, even if it’s difficult. Callie might even realize that she wouldn’t want someone doing a favor for her when it really didn’t work for them, and that Lisa deserves authenticity from her friend.

Again, this does not mean that healthy friends never sacrifice, flex, or go out of their way for each other. It means they regularly tune-in to their inner guidance, their internal GPS, if you will. And that’s where they get their answers. They feel that they have a choice about whether to say “yes” or “no” to the requests of others. They can weigh out the pros and cons honestly and make decisions that respect both the other person and themselves. They can sacrifice their own needs at times, but they can also say “no”, negotiate other options and voice their own feelings, thoughts and needs.

Tips for Healing Codependency:

Take time to think about what you are feeling and needing and how you can best take care of yourself each day.

Remind yourself that you have choices. Practice saying “No”, even if it’s really hard.

Remember that you are not responsible for another adult’s feelings or life.

Practice pausing before you say “yes” to any request someone makes of you. Tell the requestor you have to think about what they’re asking and get back to them.

Ask yourself what you might do in the situation if you did not feel obligated or afraid.

Tune into your own needs before you jump in to offer support.

Begin expressing your preferences on smaller things, like restaurant or movie choices. This will help you prepare for the bigger things like relationship needs and limit setting.

Take time each day to inquire within. Make it a regular practice to drop down from your mind (where codependent decisions and beliefs are born), into your heart (where you will discover your truth). Spiritual activities like meditation, prayer or quiet contemplation, journaling or connecting with nature can help you do this.

Start asking yourself what you truly love to do. Aside from the family and friends you care about, what other interests do you have? What did you used to be passionate about but gave up?Practice allowing others to experience their hardships and figure out their own solutions, rather than jumping in to save them.

Learn to tolerate someone else having feelings (other than happy)!

If you think a friend is codependent with you, encourage them to take care of themselves, hear them when they express doubt about doing something, respect their answer when they say, “No”, insist they make some choices (like which movie or restaurant to go to) and make space for them to talk about themselves.

Tell yourself (until you believe it) that your feelings, needs and preferences matter too. 

Make it a habit to treat yourself as kindly and importantly as you treat everyone else!

If this list seems challenging to impossible for you, consider getting professional help from a therapist who specializes in codependency. Also, check out some books, blogs or podcasts on the topic.

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6 Turning Points That Were Essential To My Recovery

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

As an eating disorders therapist and survivor, I am often asked if there were certain turning points along my personal journey of recovery. You know, those fork in the road, “Aha” moments when things began to turn around, really turn around for the better?

While I have countless memories of disordered behaviors and thoughts: fad diets, isolated binges, and shamefully sneak eating, just to name a few, I have also had a handful of “Aha” moments that stand out as beacons along the path.

If you are deep in the throes of an eating disorder, or in the midst of climbing your way out, may you begin to gather some healthy turning points of your own.

Before I dive in, I want to note that each and every one of these significant crossroads was preceded by many moments of striving, glimpses of hope, and big bumps along the way. When they say (whoever “they” is!) that recovery is a process and not an event, they weren’t kidding. So if you have been feeling like recovery is hopeless for you, I am here to tell you it’s not. I spent years in the grips of food and weight obsession, daily restricting, and out of control eating. But I never gave up, and if you keep going and don’t give up, your awareness will deepen and your progress will reveal itself, often when you least expect it.

1. All foods shall remain equal

One of the most significant turning points for me came when I decided, after decades of restricting and binging, to take a new vow with food. After years of calorie counting, point calculating, and massive rebellion, my new vow was this:

All foods shall remain equal. There are no longer any good or bad foods. When preparing to make a food choice, I will tune into my body and ask what it truly wants. I now pronounce heart, mind and body as one.

I was terrified to take the leap. I’d tried countless times to let go of dieting only to end up bingeing. But what did I have to lose except constant obsession and dizzying rides on the diet/binge roller coaster? So I gave it yet another try, a deeper try. And unbeknownst to me, this time turned out to be a critical turning point, because I never went back.

So, instead of entering the kitchen or opening a menu already knowing what I “should” have, or will-have-cause-I never-get-to-have, my new vow was to truly ask my body what it truly wanted and then stay tuned for the amount that felt truly loving.

And for the first time in my adult life, I ate whatever my body guided me to eat and a sane amount was totally satisfying.

2. Intuitive eating does not equal perfection

At times, I knew exactly what and how much my body wanted, and the clarity felt fantastic. But other times, I still wasn’t crystal clear. I’d taken my vow to let go of dieting and rioting, but there were still times when I just wasn’t totally sure what or how much to eat.

My internal dialogue during those moments sounded something like this:

Is this craving physical or emotional? Is this my body or my mind that’s telling me to have dessert? Am I really still hungry or am I just having feelings? If I skip dessert, am I restricting? Is this my intuition or my eating disorder I’m hearing?

While some internal dialogue is necessary for clarity, I realized (surprise, surprise!) that I was trying to intuitively eat, perfectly. And since perfection was part of what got me into my eating disorder in the first place, it certainly was not going to help me climb out!

So, telling myself I didn’t have to do this perfectly was quite a relief. I just needed to continue inquiring with my body to see what it needed, wanted, liked, and loved. And just like any relationship, it didn’t have to be (nor would it ever be) perfect. Phew!

Loosening the reigns of perfection would often help me get clarity, and even when I wasn’t crystal clear, with perfection off the table, I was off the hook!

3. How would I feed a loved one?

Another turning point along the path of non-perfection came when I was trying to distinguish my intuition from the rubble of old food rules and I still, at times, did not know what to eat. Perhaps I was too filled with feelings or thoughts to gain clarity. Perhaps I was still making too much of the decision. In any case, when I couldn’t figure out how to feed myself lovingly, I asked myself this simple question: How would I feed someone I love?

Somehow, imagining how I would feed someone else, freed my intuition loose from the brambles of rules and rebellion. Sometimes I would even imagine a beautiful tray of food that I was bringing to someone I love, someone who does not diet or overeat. Then I would allow an image to come to mind. I’d spent so long dieting and rebelling, that at times it felt impossible for me to know how to lovingly feed myself, so imagining how I’d feed someone else helped elicit a menu of options until the new way of feeding myself became more second nature.

So sometimes I had crystal clear clarity on what and how much my body needed and wanted. Other times, I’d ask myself how I would feed another body who I truly loved and cared for. And all the while, the freedom of not having to do either one perfectly kept me going and growing.

4. Swerving isn’t rolling

There are many factors that can lead someone to a binge. My top contenders were: feelings I didn’t want to feel, thoughts I didn’t want to think, restrictive eating, diet mentality, and believe it or not, overeating. I would actually overeat because I overate! You may have driven down this old road a time or two thousand: I blew it. May as well go all the way and start again tomorrow

I recall the turning point that turned this illogical logic on its heels. I realized, for the first time that just because I started to binge, it did not mean I had to keep going. If I’m driving a car and swerve, I (hopefully) wouldn’t just roll the car.

So, I stopped. Mid-binge. This had never happened before. I swerved, but I didn’t have to roll the car. Did this mean I had to feel my feelings? You bet. Did it mean I had to tolerate being full till the food digested? Yup. Did this mean my unkind mind would try to have it’s all or nothing way with me? Perhaps. But this time, I responded back.

I do not have to overeat just because I overate! I can stop now. Yes, it’s super uncomfortable but so will more bingeing be. I can turn in and out for support and figure out what led me to the overeat in the first place.

And for the first time in my personal history, I was able to steer myself back to center rather than roll my vehicle in the muck of all-or-nothing hopelessness.

5. Change your mind – not your body

Wanting to lose weight had been a goal of mine for as far back as I can remember. In fact, if I’d had a pie chart (pardon the pun!) of the different ways I’d spent my time on the planet, trying to lose weight would have been the biggest slice. I don’t blame myself. You get told enough times that something will bring you love, approval and happily ever-after-ness, you seek that sucker and you seek it hard. And sought I did. Starting in early adolescence, losing weight became my main mission in life.

Until I changed my mind. (Not my body, my mind!) I remember many years ago, walking on the beach with a dear friend. I had been telling her how absolutely sick and tired I was of trying to lose weight and she lovingly said four simple words that somehow set me straight: “Well knock it off!”

Prior to that time, I would not have been able to heed her sage and simple suggestion. But given that this turned out to be a turning point, I could. So, I knocked it off.

She meant it playfully of course, but having spent the prior several decades in the grips of weight loss obsession, I was somewhat shocked by my ability to say, “Okay,” and then proceed on with some new life goals: self-love, self-acceptance and peace, leading the pack.

It was as if I’d spent years trying to fit the pieces of a puzzle together: welcome feelings, self-compassion, speak authentically, release perfection, reach out, ditch diets… And then one day, out of the clear blue visit with a friend, a puzzle piece found its way into place.

6. Move for fun

Another turning point that stands out took place in a gym of all places. I was doing my sets and reps of whatever I had been told by someone to do, and something occurred to me. It sounded something along the lines of: I am not having fun! 

In the same way I’d taken a vow to eat what and how much sounded really good to me, it was time to take the same vow with movement. That turning point led me down the road of deep rest and enjoyable movement that I am still on today. I sincerely hope you will join me!

I know these ideas and concepts may seem way easier typed than done, and I know we all have to do our emotional work before our demons lose their grip. But, if you stay committed to the path of recovery, whatever juncture you may be facing, you too can have turning points right around the corner!

View on Recovery Warriors

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Exercising Intuitively

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I don’t know about you, but I spent years under the “No pain, no gain” spell. I exercised and “worked out” regardless of my internal or external conditions. I often felt those uplifting endorphins, but the high always faded. I never felt much peace, calm, or confidence in its wake because I was terrified to skip a day, rest, or modify according to my body’s messages.

It wasn’t about what I loved to do or how my body wanted to move. It was about trying to fit into the culture and whatever size clothing I deemed acceptable at the time. It wasn’t about communing with nature or connecting with my body. It was about burning calories, carbs, and fat.

Then I would reap what I’d been promised: happiness, confidence, health, love, and approval. The only problem was that the promises were never delivered. Maybe for a minute as I soaked up all the compliments about having so much “willpower” and “discipline.” But I lived in constant fear of veering off my rigid schedule.

Eventually, I learned that the cultural programming around movement and rest was seriously faulty and outdated. With help, readiness, and willingness, I made a major upgrade. I began to ask my body, rather than my mind, how it wanted to move and rest. And I listened.

I couldn’t decipher my answers at first because asking my body what it wanted was so new. Plus, the soft inner knowing was drowned out by my internal drill sergeants’ regimens and rules. If our minds are congested with traffic, we’re not likely to hear our hearts grounded wisdom. It takes courage and lots of practice to weed through the brambles of our brainwashed minds and decipher our body’s wisdom. But it’s in there. We are born with it.

One day, while I was on a lovely walk in the forest, I was sadly reminded of our cultural brainwashing. The trail I was on was virtually silent, so it was impossible to miss the conversation of two joggers passing by. They were in the midst of a conversation that went something like this:

Jogger one: “I hate running. Every part of my body hurts.”

(Just to be crystal clear, this was said while running!)

Jogger two: “I know. I feel so much better when I walk, but I’m afraid I’ll end up looking like my mother if I don’t run.”

Jogger one: “I feel great when I walk, too. Nothing hurts. When I run, my knees hurt, my hips hurt, my back hurts, everything hurts.”

And then they were gone. I could almost see the invisible whip at their dusty heels.

Wait! I wanted to call after them. If you hate running, you don’t have to run. You need love and reassurance not cardio you hate. You can slow down. You can listen to your body’s wisdom. That’s what intuition is. That’s why we have it. 

So, how about you? Are you adhering to the cultural rules at the expense of your body’s needs and desires? Are you forcing yourself to exercise in ways you don’t even like or ways that actually cause your body harm? Are you rebelling from all the pressure and finding it hard to move at all? Are you ready for an internal upgrade?

How about asking your body how and when it wants to move and rest? After years of being ignored, your intuition might be timid, but the more you ask, the clearer it gets. As you experiment with listening, you may experience some fear. There’s an element of unknown prior to change. You can welcome and tolerate being emotionally uncomfortable and still treat yourself with kindness and respect. You can learn first-hand that emotions pass and old beliefs can be updated. You can get support from someone who understands. You can learn how to befriend your body and have a healthy relationship with pleasurable movement and fulfilling rest. You do not have to forsake your body in order to get love. You can learn how to love yourself and get what you were looking for all along.

View on Psychology Today

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Helping Teens Get Over Overeating

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Parenting a teen can be a bumpy ride—they need you around, but often don’t want you around as they navigate friendships, love interests, school, homework, hormones and future goals. And as if all that wasn’t enough, today’s teens also have to contend with the constant images and messages they see on social media, telling them how they should look, eat, exercise and feel. Many teens simply aren’t equipped to handle the traditional pressures of adolescence, as well as the additional pressures of being a “screenager.”

As a society, we’re all given endless rules about food and fitness. It’s hard enough for adults to navigate all of this in our perfectionistic, plugged-in, fast-paced, image-obsessed culture. For teens, it can be really easy to slip into body hatred, depression, anxiety, addiction, food restriction or overeating—and sometimes all of these.

With diet ads, fad fear foods and air-brushed images enticing them on one end of the spectrum and supersized portions, big gulps and carb-laden drive-thru meals on the other, our culture sets up many teenagers to ride the diet/riot roller coaster. Then they have the constant “shoulds” and rules about exercise, which break down their natural rhythms of movement and rest. Here, one end of the spectrum beckons them with cardio calculations and images of six-pack abs, while the magnetic pull of their screens and a good dose of hopelessness beckon them toward the couch. Constant images of perfectionistic bodies have most teens anxiously striving to look a certain way, leaving a wake of millions feeling depressed and ashamed about looking the way they do.

I started hating my body and yo-yo dieting when I was a teenager, and because the only solutions I sought were fad diets or Jane Fonda Feel the Burn workouts, my struggles escalated from there. It would be many years before I would finally unlearn the cultural craziness and relearn the natural wisdom we are all born with. I then decided to devote myself to helping others—the ol’ lemonade out of lemons deal.

Having spent the last twenty-five years counseling people who struggle with eating and body image, I’ve recently become dedicated to early prevention. The sooner someone gets help with disordered eating and body hatred, the higher the rate of success in overcoming them. While there is certainly hope for improvement at any age, an early start can save someone years of futile dieting and painful overeating. My latest book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens, is geared toward just that: helping adolescents who are struggling with overeating, binge eating, ineffective dieting and body-image issues. Parents and health professionals can also utilize the tools and activities to help the adolescents they are concerned about.

In this book, I teach readers about four important areas that need to be addressed in order to get over overeating: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Of course, I use much more teen-friendly language but knowing that all four areas need to be addressed in order to create what I call a “Stable Table” will help teens, parents and health professionals heal the pervasive problem of overeating in our diet-crazed, supersized culture.

In section one, “Healing What You’re Feeling,” I help teens learn how to identify their emotions and exactly what to do with them other than turning to excess food. I write that “one of the biggest reasons people overeat is to try to stuff down their painful feelings. Overeating is like saying ‘go away’ to your feelings, especially painful ones. The only problem is that when we overeat to try to make our pain go away, it ends up causing more pain. This is because once we finish eating, we still have the original feelings we ate over, plus all the feelings we have from overeating. It’s a good try, though. Food does give us some comfort and distraction—for a little while anyway. Once you learn healthy ways to deal with your feelings, you’ll no longer need to use food like a drug, to try to make your feelings go away, and you can eat what you really like, in healthy amounts.”

So the emotional aspect of getting over overeating entails learning how to cope with difficult emotions rather than eat over them. Most of us have been taught that we are supposed to feel happy all the time, so feelings like sadness, anger, loneliness and fear get a bad reputation. Ironically, this has contributed to an epidemic of depression and anxiety. So learning to identify, tolerate and even welcome our uncomfortable emotions is a huge part of healing overeating. One metaphor I use is riding a wave. I write that “we can learn to ride a wave of emotion just like a wave in the ocean.”  I teach teens that happy people are not always happy and that just like the weather has patterns, so do we. This will arm them, not only to get over overeating but to be much more equipped for healthy living in general.

Section two, titled “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind,” is all about our thinking. I write that “we all have automatic thoughts that pop up in our minds, just like we have automatic pop-up ads on our computer screens. It’s so easy to believe our thoughts. After all, they are our thoughts! They seem and feel so real, but the truth is, our thoughts aren’t always real, and they sure aren’t always helpful, kind, or true. The good news is that, just like we can close those unwanted pop-up ads on our computers with a simple click, we can learn to close the pop-ups in our minds.”

Readers will learn the concept of having different “mind moods.” We can have an “unkind mind, kind mind or quiet mind.” Oftentimes, people who turn to excess food have loud unkind minds and they use food in an attempt to soothe, quiet or even confirm their unkind thoughts. Teens will also learn about different ways to combat their unkind minds. “Strong, soft, silly or silent” is one chapter that gives them a menu of different tones they can take with their unkind thoughts.

The third section of the book, “Befriending Your Body,” teaches readers how to take care of what I refer to as their “body battery.” Many adolescents who struggle with overeating are disconnected from their bodies’ natural signals. They, like many adults, turn to the only solutions our diet-crazed culture has up its sleeve—eat less and exercise more. But if this simple advice worked, most people would have a healthy, peaceful and natural relationship with food and movement (something we certainly cannot accuse our culture of having!).

In this section of the book, I teach readers how to “step off the diet/riot roller coaster”; how to identify their “hunger number”; how to “find their natural weight in a natural way,” and much more.

Teens will learn to “follow the clues of the foods that they choose.” This will help them see that the foods they overeat hold important clues as to what need they are trying to meet. For example, excess sugar may mean they need more sweetness in their lives (externally and internally). Turning to comfort foods might mean they need more comfort, and so on. They also might be choosing a certain food because it reminds them of when they were little and felt more taken care of and less pressure; or a certain food reminds them of someone they miss or resent. It’s so important to know that overeating is not about being weak but about important feelings and unmet needs. And as those get addressed, food will take its proper place.

In the final section, “Filling Up Without Feeling Down,” I teach readers many ways to feed their spirits. I write that “it’s pretty easy in our fast-paced world to focus on feeding our bodies and feeding our minds. But if we want to get over overeating, we also have to feed the deeper parts of ourselves that can’t be seen, the parts of us that have nothing to do with the material world—our hearts and our souls. These are places that food won’t fill. If we overfeed our bodies, we might be full, but not truly fulfilled. If we feed only our minds, we might think and learn a lot, but we won’t be really satisfied. We all need to fill our spirits too, on a regular basis. When you truly feed your spirit, you feel better afterward. You feel truly filled up, and there are no negative or harmful consequences.” It’s essential for us all to find healthy, inspiring, satisfying ways to fill up. What fills you up?

If you love, work with or care about a teen (or tween) who is struggling with overeating, binge eating or body image, I hope you will consider this new read.

The above book excerpts from Getting Over Overeating for Teens have been reprinted with permission from New Harbinger Publications, Inc. copyright © 2016 Andrea Wachter

The term screenagers, coined in 1997 by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, refers to techno-savvy young people, who have been reared on television and computers.

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Dealing With Feelings About Healing

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Chances are, you came to this site because you’ve been struggling with an eating disorder. And chances are you are here because you have a desire to heal. If you are anything like I was, you might even have mixed feelings about healing; part of you wanting to get better and part of you that’s really scared about what that will entail. The good news is that all you need is some desire to get well in order to begin getting well.

You may already know that beating yourself up about your behaviors is not going to help heal them. Neither is ignoring them and letting them run or ruin your life. But adopting a curious, compassionate, kind tone and really trying to understand the purpose of your eating disorder, will help you reveal what you feel, and heal, for real!

I remember when I began to contemplate the possibility of letting go of my eating disorder. I had joined a support group in my early years of recovery and I heard someone say, “It’s really hard having an eating disorder and it’s really hard letting it go.” I thought, Oh, great… Isn’t there a door number three here? Isn’t there an easier route that’s not so hard? It turns out there isn’t. Living with an eating disorder is really hard and letting it go is really hard. But with the eating disorder, things usually get worse over time, whereas with recovery, life gets better over time… and better…. and better. And getting better doesn’t mean you don’t have pain or struggles in life, it just means you don’t use restricting, bingeing, purging, exercise, body obsession or self-harm to deal with the hard parts of life; you use inner and outer resources.

So how do you feel about letting go of your eating disorder? Do you tell yourself it’s not that bad? Is there a part of you that wants to heal and a part of you that is scared to let go of your habitual behaviors and thoughts? Do you have any desire to stop? Are you ready to stop now?

The following ideas can help you gain some clarity into what purpose your eating disorder has been trying to serve. Feel free to pick and choose from the menu and remember, being hard on yourself got you into this, being kind to yourself is what will help you get out.

Write for Insight

When you are in pain from the consequences of your eating disorder, it’s common to think, I am so ready to give this up. But how about later, or the next day, when the shame and pain wear off and you want to return to your habitual patterns? It’s not so easy to remember. Consider one of more of these writing exercises to help you gain some insight and strengthen your healthy internal soundtrack:

Write a Pro’s and Con’s list and take an honest look at what you are getting from your eating disorder and what it is robbing you of.

Write a specific list of all the areas in your life that have been affected by your eating disorder, including physical health, emotional health, relationships, work, finances, school, self-care, and future goals.

The next time you’re experiencing the painful consequences of your eating disorder, write a letter to yourself that you can read when you are considering turning back to your familiar unhealthy behaviors.

Write a goodbye letter to your eating disorder and include all the reasons you want to stop. Put it where you will see it every day.

Art Smart

 Creating art can be a really useful addition to your healing toolkit. See if this activity can help you along your road of recovery. The first step is to get a piece of paper and a pen. You can also use markers or pictures from magazines or online to collage rather than draw. And by the way, there are zero artistic skills necessary here; just paper, pen and an open mind!

So, once you have your paper and whatever ways you choose to express yourself, close your eyes and see if you can get an image of what your eating disorder voice looks like. It’s okay if nothing comes right away but see if an image pops up for you. Then, using paper and pen or images you gather, create what came to you on your paper.

Now take a moment and see if you can get an image of your healthy self and then put that on paper in whatever way feels right to you.

See if you can give each part a name and an age.

Imagine that each part could take a turn and speak. Write down what each part would say. Then write what they would each say to each other.

Have each part finish the following sentences:

I feel…

I think…

I need…

If you are in counseling or have another safe person in your life, you might consider sharing this with them. If not, hopefully you can continue this two-part dialogue rather than having the eating disorder do a daily monologue!

Reveal and Heal What You Feel

One of the reasons eating disorders develop in the first place is to mask painful emotions. Even though eating disorders themselves cause painful feelings, our behaviors and obsessions are often an attempt to numb or distract from deeper pain. Learning how to tolerate and express our emotions in healthy ways can be challenging but extremely rewarding. You will learn that all feelings pass, especially if we are kind to ourselves in thought and action!

Here are a few practical steps that will help you reveal and heal what you feel:

Practice making a distinction between your thoughts and your feelings.

As you become aware of a strong feeling, see if you can name it and locate the sensation of it in your body.

Imagine that your breath is like a warm tropical breeze blowing through that sensation and soothing it.

Remind yourself that you can learn to ride out painful feelings like you might ride out a physical pain. Chances are if you have a cramp or a headache, you know it will pass. So will our emotions. Especially if we are kind to ourselves. (Starting to see a theme here?)

Remind yourself that the last time you had huge feelings, they eventually passed.

Speak to yourself and treat yourself the way you would speak to someone else you truly care about.

Retrain Your Brain

 The internal soundtrack of someone with an eating disorder is not usually the kindest playlist on the pad. Most people who struggle with an eating disorder have a very unkind mind. Oftentimes people turn to their disordered behaviors to try to distract from their unkind mind for a while. Others turn to their unhealthy patterns because they are believing the unkind messages their minds are dishing out. In order to heal, we need to upgrade the unkind mind and learn how to be on our own side instead of on our own back. Consider listening to a podcast on mindfulness. Fortunately, there are now millions to choose from. We are not responsible for the recordings that got put into our minds or what unkind thoughts pop up every day. But we can learn how to disagree with them, delete them, and upload new ones!

Meet the Need You’re Trying to Feed

Eating disorder behaviors are often attempts to meet some type of valid need. While they don’t usually work, we can find out what those important needs are and find healthy ways to get them met. Some people are deeply lonely and need more companionship and to learn how to be better company for themselves. Some people are filled with self-hate and need to learn how to retrain their brain. Some people are living in the past and need to learn how to forgive themselves and let go of old hurts. Some people are extremely dissatisfied with their lives and need to make some changes or work on more acceptance and gratitude. Some people are unsatisfied in their relationships and need to renegotiate old agreements and see if change is possible.

There are countless needs that an eating disorder may be attempting to meet. Once you uncover yours and discover other ways to meet your needs, you will no longer need your eating disorder. When we turn to eating disorder behaviors, we might temporarily feel some relief or distraction but then we usually feel worse afterward. When you truly get a need met, there are no negative or harmful consequences.

So, if part of you is wanting to give up your eating disorder and part of you is not quite ready yet, there is still so much hope. With support, willingness and positive changes, you can learn to feel your emotions fully until they pass and retrain your brain until it’s filled with kinder thoughts. You can learn to feed the needs that your eating disorder has been attempting to feed, and dialogue with your disorder until your healthy self is running the show!

This blog was originally published on and can be found here

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Getting Over Overeating for Teens: Talking with the Author

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Janice Bremis

I was recently interviewed by Janice Bremis, founder of Eating Disorders Resource Services, to discuss my new book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens. I’m posting our discussion in the hopes of reaching any teens, parents and health professionals who might benefit from this resource. Please help spread the word by forwarding or sharing this interview on social media.

Janice: What sparked the idea for this book? 

Andrea: Overeating, binge eating and body hatred are epidemic in our culture, and I’m passionate about trying to help people who are struggling with these painful issues. I began hating my body as a teen and was given the only tips the crazy culture had up its sleeve: diet and exercise. These were definitely not the solutions I needed, and like millions of others, I began a downward spiral of overeating, bingeing, sneak eating and yo-yo weight fluctuations, not to mention decades of body obsession and self-hatred.

I also know how important early prevention is; helping someone dismantle their unhealthy beliefs about food, fitness and feelings when they’ve been struggling for a few years (as opposed to a few decades) is likely to be that much more successful. While there’s always hope for change regardless of how long a pattern has gone on, guiding someone onto a healthier path in their teens, rather than starting when they are more entrenched in their beliefs and behaviors, can really make a difference, both in prognosis as well as quality of life.

Janice: Who is the target audience for your book?

Andrea: The book was written for adolescents who struggle with overeating, binge eating and body image. It can also help parents and health professionals to better understand and guide the kids they are concerned about.

Janice: Can you clarify for me and our readers, the difference between overeating and binge eating?

Andrea: Yes, this is a very common question. Overeating is when you eat more than your body needs. It’s important to know that even people who have a totally healthy relationship with food will overeat on occasion. It only becomes problematic if they do it too often or if it has negative consequences.

Binge eating is when someone eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time. They usually eat fast, and until they are stuffed and ashamed. And they usually eat over painful emotions and thoughts, rather than true physical hunger. Someone who binge eats can also be considered an overeater but someone can struggle with overeating and not necessarily binge on large amounts of food.

Janice: In your introduction, you describe the importance of building a “Stable Table.” Can you explain this concept? 

Andrea: The book is divided into four sections that each represent one leg of a metaphorical table: feelings, thoughts, body, and filling up. The idea is that in order to get over overeating (to have a “stable table”), all four areas need to be addressed.

Building only one leg, which is what most diets do, results in an “unstable table.” So, for example, when someone focuses solely on eating less and exercising more but doesn’t learn how to identify and cope with the emotions they are eating over, they will likely turn to overeating in an attempt to soothe their intolerable emotions and unmet needs. Or if someone is trying to do more fulfilling things in their life but is filled with unkind thoughts and an internal soundtrack of self-hatred (what I call the “unkind mind”), they are likely to pick up extra food in an attempt to quiet that mind, get a break from it, or confirm its critical messages. If someone goes to therapy to get help with their emotions but does nothing to address their restricting and overeating habits, they are not likely to feel better in their body. So working on all four areas—feelings, thoughts, body and filling up—which the book addresses in detail, is how someone can get over overeating and gain so many more necessary life skills in the process.

Janice: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the four sections of the book? 

Andrea: Gladly! Section one is what I call “Healing What You’re Feeling.” In the same way our culture teaches us that there are acceptable and unacceptable foods, many of us are also taught that there are acceptable and unacceptable emotions. Namely, happy is good; sad, mad and scared are not so good. I think this is a large part of why our culture is more depressed, anxious, addicted and medicated than ever. So this section helps teens learn everything they need to know about emotions: where they live inside of us, how to name them, what their purpose is, what to do with them, and how to welcome and tolerate them rather than eat over them. I write that “we either deal with the feelings we are eating over or we deal with the feelings we have from overeating.” Personally, I always wished there was a door number three, but no such luck. As they say, “The only way out is through!” So section one arms readers with many tools that will help them not only get over overeating but also with life in general. Over the years, I’ve received many calls and emails from clients who originally came to me for eating and body issues in their teens. They report back from college or adulthood that they feel so much more equipped to deal with stress, emotional ups and downs, and relationship issues as a result of the early work they did.

Section two is about our thinking. I call it “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind.” An overeating problem is, in large part, a thinking problem. Most overeaters have a very strong internal program running (the unkind mind). Unkind thoughts lead us to have painful feelings, and painful feelings lead many people to crave extra food in order to comfort themselves or numb out. So learning how to challenge our unkind minds and upgrade to kinder ones is a huge part of getting over overeating. This section of the book, in large part, uses teen-friendly language to teach mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Section three is titled “Befriending Your Body.” I liken it to taking care of your electronic gadgets. You don’t want to overcharge them, and you don’t want to run them down too low. So I encourage readers to “take care of their body battery,” and this section teaches them many ways to do this. Readers will learn about the ineffectiveness of dieting and how restricting (either in reality or mentality) most often leads to rebelling. (I call it “diet or riot.”) They can learn how to access an intuitive inner voice that will help them make their food choices and step off the diet/riot roller coaster. Other related topics include “Finding Your Natural Weight in a Natural Way” and “Beating the Body Image Blues.”

Finally, the fourth section is what I call “Filling Up Without Feeling Down.” It’s filled with stories, teachings and tips about how to nurture the deeper parts of ourselves. Teen readers will learn many ways that they can get support, connect with their own innate intuition and feel truly filled up without feeling bloated and ashamed afterward.

Janice: I noticed that out of the forty activities in your book, only five are actually about food. Can you say something about this? 

Andrea: While overeating is certainly about healing one’s relationship with food, it’s also about so much more: learning how to cope with painful emotions; communicate difficult thoughts, feelings and needs; quiet your mind; treat your body with respect; and find more sweetness and comfort in life, just to name a few. The reason traditional diets have such a high failure rate is that they usually neglect to address all the important underlying issues that need to be revealed and healed. Once people understand and resolve the deeper issues that caused them to turn to excess food and diets in the first place, they’ll no longer need to use food and body obsession as distractions or numbing agents. Food can take its proper place and serve the purpose nature intended it to: nutrition and pleasure. Then new healthy coping skills can replace unhealthy over- and undereating.

JaniceHow does a parent, counselor or doctor touch on such sensitive topics like overeating and body image if they want to recommend your book to a teen they are concerned about?

Andrea: Very compassionately, very nonjudgmentally—and definitely not while the teen is eating! You are right; eating, weight, body image and exercise can all be extremely sensitive and charged topics for anyone who is struggling with these areas. Our culture bombards us with so many messages about how we are supposed to look and what we are supposed to eat and how we are supposed to exercise that it’s no wonder eating disorders and body obsession are rampant.

If a teenager has previously shared their body or eating distress with their parent, that could be a good lead-in for the parent to open the topic. For example, “You’ve mentioned lately that you’ve been struggling with your body image and wanting to go on a diet. I recently heard about this book for teens who are dealing with dieting, overeating and body image. Are you are interested in taking a look at it?” (This could be spoken or written, by the way. Sometimes a note or an email can give teens a little time to process a sensitive topic.)

If the parent has similar issues, that can be another good way to start. For example, “You know that I’ve been struggling with dieting and overeating since I was a teenager. I know that you’ve said that you are too. It’s so hard, and I know that strict dieting is not the answer, and neither is overeating and feeling bad about ourselves. I heard about this book and wonder how you would feel about reading it together, or reading it on your own if you prefer? I’m going to work on this stuff too and I thought it might be cool if we did it together.”

Although it sometimes reduces shame when a parent who has similar struggles lets their child know this, it’s important not to get too into your own issues, eliciting the classic glazed-over eyes that often follow the classic “When I was your age…” line! Keeping it brief and planting a seed is ideal.

Counselors, dietitians and nutritionists who are working with an individual (or a group) might consider recommending the book or offering a no-obligation invitation for the teen to share anything they write or learn from it. You could also consider going through one activity each time you meet.

I often let my young clients know that I’m recommending the book to several other clients as well, in the hopes of diminishing shame and letting them know they aren’t the only ones who are struggling in this area.

Doctors and other health professionals who want to recommend the book to teens and parents might let them know that they work with many teenagers who struggle with overeating, that strict dieting is not the answer, and that there is hope and help for anyone struggling with food or body-image issues.

Hopefully you can see a theme here: being kind and nonjudgmental, and trying to remain neutral about whether they read it, steering you clear of the ever-so-popular parental power struggle!

 Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell and The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. An inspirational counselor, author and speaker, Andrea uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, her Huffington Post blogs, or other services, please visit

Janice Bremis is the founding member and Executive Director of the Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC). She graduated from San Jose State University with a BA in Liberal Arts and has worked in the healthcare community for most of her career. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 1975 and is well aware of the stigma associated with the disease, as well as the importance of emotional support and access to quality treatment. She is very passionate about advocating for people who have eating disorders. For more information, visit:

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