Mind-Body Connection

Good Morning

Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Body, Mind-Body Connection | Leave a comment

I picked my mom up from the airport last night.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and I went to yoga, even after getting only ~3 hours of sleep because I woke up at 3 a.m. elbowed by Jesse with a full bladder. By the time I got back to bed, I was too excited about potentially getting up in 2.5 hours that I just kind of zenned in and out of consciousness.

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I’m getting my hair done today with my favorite hairdresser.

I’m going to take my mom to the most delicious vegan restaurants in town.

I’m going to by warm socks this weekend so I stop stealing all of Jesse’s. Bad Jen. Bad.

I’m going to practice self-care, starting with really paying attention to the things that serve me, instead of simply working towards something because I feel like I should.

You see, I’m coming to the realization that I’ve gotten lazy about what is right for me. I have been so caught up in what is immediately gratifying lately – like sleeping in – that I’ve lost site of the big picture. I’ve lost sight of what makes me feel like myself, what’s good for me, and what I need to be doing to feel fulfilled and productive.

It’s life. These things happen.

But now, I’m back on track. Even one tiny step, one little forward fold, made me feel more grateful, more at-peace, and more congruent than I’ve felt in weeks. I did something good for myself this morning and now I know the rest of my day will be a clean slate, unmarked by guilt that I should have gone to yoga. I did. It made me feel good. I’m glad I went.

Have a good Thursday, friends. Thanks for all the suggestions for getting out of bed, they honestly helped a million times over.

Share Your Story: Ashley

Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Body Image, Mind, Mind-Body Connection, Share Your Story | Leave a comment

I knew I had an eating disorder before anyone else did. I started obsessing over my weight from the time I was about seven or eight. I would mark on my calendar the days I was allowed to eat junk food and the days I wasn’t. By nine, I was binge eating and hiding food from my parents. I exercised in my room to the tune of Disney tapes in hopes I would become thinner. I’d learned about anorexia and bulimia in school for years, but no one ever talked about people like me. The only outward sign that there was a problem was the weight gain that never seemed to stop. Since I ate normally in front of other people and binged in private, the cause was a mystery. Today my dad will say to me, “I had no idea that was going on.” My response is always, “That’s because I never wanted anyone to know.”

While I spent years in and out of therapy for clinical depression, my weight and my relationship with food were issues I never wanted to discuss. I couldn’t even talk about my body without weeping uncontrollably. I had countless therapists, and no one ever even touched the surface of my relationship with food. What broke through that concrete wall I had built so carefully in my mind was a simple class assignment: give up something that you really like for six weeks, write about the experience, and participate in “support groups” with peers who gave up similar items.

I decided to give up meat. Not only would it be a challenge, I was secretly hoping that this assignment would combine my two greatest obsessions: losing weight, and perfect grades. I had been dieting almost my entire life to control my weight, and I saw this assignment as just another opportunity to diet. Plus, I could get an “A” at the same time! I fantasized that at the end of the six weeks, I would be able to proudly say that not only had I stuck to my commitment to give up meat, I’d lost ten pounds (no, FIFTEEN!) in the process and felt lighter and better than ever. Clearly, I’d totally missed the point the professor was trying to make. I was too busy imagining my slimmer figure.  The assignment started out as a challenge but quickly grew to resemble my own personal hell. Journaling about the process was like holding up a mirror to my eating disorder. I finally saw it in all of its sick, twisted glory. I saw how much I hated my body and my relationship with food. How I never felt good, pretty, worthy enough. I never felt enough. I’d spent my whole life trying to be perfect, and my body would not cooperate by molding itself into a size 2. Therefore, my mind told me I was worthless.

Clearly, I needed help. I was depressed and miserable, all for a class assignment (or so I thought). I found an eating disorders specialist in town and made an appointment. I didn’t pick her because I thought I had an eating disorder, but because I thought if she could deal with people who had serious problems, surely she could deal with my “food issues”. The joke was on me, because she knew from day one I had Binge Eating Disorder. From the first few sessions, it was clear I had a decision to make: I could keep going on diets that didn’t work, or I could try something I had never tried before.

Recovery was a revolutionary concept to me.  I kept seeing my therapists and added a dietician who specialized in ED to my treatment team. I quit dieting (frightening) and got rid of my scale. I started using a food journal to write down what I ate, my hunger and satiety levels, and my own emotions during each meal. I’ll admit, I hate food journals. Asking to see my food journal is like asking me to take my clothes off. I won’t do it for just anyone, and if I’m doing it for you, you’d better feel damn special. It requires me to be vulnerable and talk about something that has always been so private to me. But I see how necessary it is, because it helps my dietician talk to me about the connection between my emotions and food, between types of food and feeling full or hungry. I’d spent years disconnected from my body, and these techniques helped me come home to my physical being.

It wasn’t long before the bingeing stopped. Yes, it still happens occasionally, but it’s rare and I have insight into why it occurs. I avoid triggers as much as possible and set myself up to succeed. I’ve learned to put my recovery first, and to start prioritizing myself. I have come along way in almost two years, and I have never felt better. If you’d told me there would come a day where I would only think about food when I was hungry, or when I could eat whatever food I liked as part of my lifestyle, I would have laughed in your face. I never imagined that a life existed where food could not hold me prisoner.

My recovery is the best and most difficult decision I have ever made for myself. I am so proud of everything I’ve accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what is yet to come. I struggle a lot with my relationship with food, but I am finding peace that balances out the days when ED overwhelms me. I am finding the positive voice in my head that is becoming powerful enough to talk back to the voice of my eating disorder. I rejoice in every tiny speck of progress, even when it might be invisible to everyone else. I have confidence that I will recover someday, and until then, I am happy to be on the road that leads to a life free from Binge Eating Disorder.

Big thanks to Ashley for putting a voice behind this issue and sharing your story with us. To read more of Ashley’s journey, visit her blog called A Recipe for Sanity.

Share Your Story is a series intended to remove the stigma associated with mental health topics and allow courageous souls to share their inspiring journeys to mental wellness and connect with anyone who is reading. To read more about this series, visit the original post here. To share your own story, e-mail Jen at jen [at] thepursuitofsassiness [dot] com. No topic is off limits.

Pain and Emotion

Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Addiction, Body, Geeking Out, Individual, Mind, Mind-Body Connection, Spirituality, Theory | Leave a comment

I’m a full-throttle believer of the mind-body connection. I’m reaffirmed in this belief day after day in my work with clients and in my own life. Occasionally, I’ll read a bit of news which causes me to recalibrate or reassess this belief, but I find what I know to triumph in the end. Sometimes, I find news which just completely reinforces my belief system. Today is one of those days.

In a study published in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers discovered an interesting connection between the brain’s physiology, our emotional reactions, and the evolution of chronic pain. The researchers followed 40 volunteers with newly developed back pain for one year, scanning the brains of these individuals and monitoring the excitability of two regions known for emotional reactivity – the frontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens. Based on the activity of these regions, researchers were able to predict with 85 percent accuracy which volunteers would develop chronic pain.

Now, the study didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship, but it did suggest an association. The study author, Professor A. Vania Apkarian noted there could be several reasons for this association. Maybe those who developed chronic pain were predisposed to the development because their brains were already more active in those regions than their peers’. There could also be genetic and environmental influences.

Either way, it’s a wonderful new step in understanding physical pain and emotional pain. I have long believed and experienced this connection in my own life. I also see the effect physical pain has on our emotional pain. A huge number of our clients come into treatment asserting that they have chronic pain issues (generally back and/or knees) and that they legitimately need to take all of the addictive pain medications they have been using. In my own work with chronic pain issues and addiction, there is almost always emotional pain under the physical pain. Very often when we address the emotional pain, the physical pain doesn’t always subside (although it very often does!), but the client at least finds themselves more capable of managing it.

The nucleus accumbens – also known as “the pleasure center” of the brain – is responsible for many of our most intense emotions. We derive laughter, reward, pleasure, addiction, aggression, fear, and the placebo effect from this tiny region in our brains. No surprise that if we believe something will make us feel better (the placebo effect), it also hits on all of these areas. This is the effect we see with antidepressants, pain medications, alcohol and other drugs, and even sexual addiction. If something lights up our nucleus accumbens, for example intense fear from an injury associated with emotions surrounding the injury, then that pain intensifies. We’re throwing our brain into overdrive.

Which circles back into my belief that if we can learn to rule our minds instead of allowing them to rule us, then we stand a chance at changing our healthcare system and addressing raging problems in our society like addiction, obesity, etc. No amount of pills or external phenomena will fix what is essentially an internal problem. We must look at changing who we are as people. We are not just walking bags of skin and bones, we have something deeper – call it a soul or a higher consciousness, whatever. We’re not going to get there by addressing the things we can only see with our eyes.

That’s my opinion. Happy Monday, kiddos. I hope it’s a great week.



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