Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Celebrating Religious Freedom: How Do Food Practices Fit Into Recovery?

By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
I was raised in a Catholic household that practiced several food-related restrictions during the holidays. Even though the symbolism behind these practices was discussed in religious education classes, this was skewed by the weight loss talk of the adults around me. At the beginning of every Lent season, there were discussions about who was giving up certain foods during those forty days, with the hopes of losing some weight. Once those forty days were over, everyone binged on those forbidden foods. When I was in high school, several of my friends who fasted for Ramadan would continue this practice once the celebration was over because they had lost weight. Most of my friends following Jewish practices fasted on Yom Kippur and numerous other days that were days of religious observance. 

Maybe these scenarios sound familiar to you or perhaps there are other food-related practices unique to your religion. For those with eating disorders, participating in these meaningful, but sometimes restrictive practices, may pose a threat to the recovery process. This month at The Awakening Center, religious freedom is being celebrated. Food restrictions are often a part of one’s religious beliefs, but what should one do when recovering from an eating disorder?

First, I challenge you to look at all the food-related practices of your religion, and consider the symbolism behind each. If you honestly do not know why these practices are important, do some research! For most of my clients, the true meaning behind their religious practices are lost because they are followed with the intent of controlling one’s weight and/or intake.

Second, consider where you are in your recovery. If you are thinking about participating in celebrations that involve fasting or restrictions, would you be able to resume your recovery eating plan upon the conclusion of the event? For my clients who are in the beginning stages of recovery, they usually are not ready to partake in this part of a religious celebration because of struggles with their meal plan.

Unfortunately, whether self-imposed or from others, guilt for not following these practices often sets in. One of my clients verbalized that her parents were upset with her for choosing not to eliminate meat from her meal plan during Lent. Keep in mind that others who are not going through the challenge of restoring mindful eating and behaviors may not understand why you cannot risk relapsing.

When deciding if you are ready to participate in food-related religious practices, discuss the pros and cons with your therapist and nutritionist (if you are seeing one!). Also, speaking with an empathetic leader of your place of worship may be helpful. In most cases, those with medical conditions are pardoned from these practices.

Most importantly, do what’s best for your health and recovery! There are other fulfilling things you can do during a season of celebration to honor your beliefs. I myself no longer “give up” something during Lent. Instead, I try to do at least one act of kindness towards another person every day of the season. So celebrate your religion, and honor the religions of others with an open mind!

Michel Harris a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and serves on the staff of The Awakening Center. She believes in the mindful approach to develop a peaceful relationship with food and exercise in the recovery process of eating disorders. To find out more or to set up an appointment with Michel, call 773.929.6262.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Written by an Awakening Center client who wishes to remain anonymous. We thank you for your vulnerability and admire your creativity.

I know what it’s like.

To run, to hide, and be full of shame, and you think you’re the only one to blame.

I know what it’s like, to hit rock bottom and spiral back into the pit of fire that you’ve been trying so hard to drag yourself out of.

You’re empty and cold.

You think that there’s nothing left, so you sink—deeper and deeper.

But soon, things won’t be the same. I can see it.

I know what it’s like, to crawl out of the embers, even as the walls get steeper and steeper.

The only choice that’s left is to pick yourself up, and watch as the fire dismembers.

The fire’s crying for your oxygen, but you’re finally breathing for yourself.

I know what it’s like, finally, to become a phoenix.

I’m renewed and I’m burning like a fire. I refuse to be consumed. I will no longer be misunderstood, misused, and abused.

So, trust me. I know what it’s like when I say that you too, can finally become a phoenix.

There’s fire in your eyes, waiting to escape. Let your wings be free.

Let your voice be heard.

Don’t let your heart be tamed in times of pain and tricks.

People are waiting to see the magic that has yet to unfold, because, you too, can become a phoenix. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance--Not the Same Thing

By Julia A. Maher, LCSW
“We have to respect others and we have to understand and not discriminate on the basis of faith. … When you mix politics and religion, you get the worst of everything.”

--Zainab Al-Suwaij, co-founder of The American Islamic Congress
One of the values that makes the United States such a beacon of hope to those living outside our borders is our commitment to religious freedom. In fact, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees our right to the “free exercise” of whatever religion (or lack thereof) we choose. Although anyone residing in the United States is protected by this right, our religious freedom is not always respected or even tolerated.

Religious tolerance--the idea of which would seem to be embedded in the text of the First Amendment--is an ideal that we continue to have to strive for. In today’s fractured political environment, candidates are often identified by their faith and not necessarily their experience. As we saw in our last election cycle, there are divisions--even within faith traditions--as to what is “right” and what is “wrong.” When people’s beliefs are challenged in a way that is not respectful, it can become hard to listen to an opposing view.

The first step towards religious tolerance is to remove the idea of “the other.” At times, we can be afraid or suspicious of someone who is not like us--whether it is their religious faith, the color of their skin, or the person that they love. And when you think about it, this “othering” creates many of the obstacles we face as we try to be tolerant. If we can think of our differences as qualities that make us unique (and not “the other”), then we will have demonstrated respect and civility.

The second step toward religious tolerance is to remember those “red flag” words that Sheana described in a previous post. Avoid using always, never, and should (with the exception of “I will always love you”). We can be certain of some things; however the vast majority of our experience here on earth is not that assured. For example, we may decide to have oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow morning--although we told a friend we always have cereal.

And finally, remember that saying, “walk a mile in their shoes”? Try it! Every human being here on earth has challenges that we may know nothing about. When someone wants to talk to you about how their religious faith is the “real” one, suspend your “other” thinking and give them a listen. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Julia is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She works with individuals and families and is fluent in Spanish.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Awaken to Action: Celebrating Religious Freedom

By Nancy G. Hall, MA, LPC

Happy New Year! Last month, our director introduced The Awakening Center’s commitment to becoming the change we wish to see in the world. As she explained, each month we will focus on a particular topic and explore how to create understanding and acceptance about this quality. January’s theme is Religious Freedom.

Such a complicated issue. Religious organizations have and continue to do so much good work in the world. Many of the most significant responses to oppression have started within religious organizations. However, many use religion to commit unspeakable atrocities. They cherry pick lines of holy texts to embolden others. Amid the suffering that this causes, there is backlash.

As humans, we’re all capable of marginalizing others. When scared or threatened, we hunker down with what we think of as “our own kind.” We start to believe the worst about “other” faith practices. Walls are built. Division and suspicion rise.

Hate-speech against religions have reached new heights in recent years:
  • Last March, then-candidate Donald Trump told Anderson Cooper “I think Islam hates us.” Throughout the campaign we heard his hateful speech against the Muslim community. Even before he declared his candidacy, he continuously made the false claim that Muslims in New Jersey were “celebrating” the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
  • Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, ran a website known for its anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic rhetoric. In a 2007 sworn statement, Bannon’s ex-wife claimed he didn’t want their children to attend The Archer School for Girls because of “…the number of Jews that attend.” She claimed that he said he didn’t “like the way they [Jews] raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats.’”
  • Pew Research found that some of the most populous countries throughout the world are increasing restrictions on religion. For example, in Egypt in 2014, a Christian woman was attacked after she was seen with a Crucifix in her car.
  • Last month, in Shelton, Connecticut, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) won the right to place a sign celebrating the Winter Solstice. The sign also included Atheist language, such as “There are not gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.” Two weeks later, the sign was slashed by vandals.
So let’s join together to push back against intolerance. At our core, we all just want to live our lives in peace. We want our loved ones safe, and we want to feel that our presence on this planet matters. For some, faith practices are inextricably linked to their core values. Others create a life credo and sense of morality without organized religion or even a deity. For them, morality and order are found in nature, the goodness of people, and the importance of the here and now.

During January, here’s how you can take action:
  • Look to our Facebook page for challenges that relate to celebrating religious freedom. Whether you have a faith practice or not, we can all grow from learning about the beliefs and practices of others.
  • Challenge your preconceived notions. Look deeply within to begin to reckon with your own biases. Do you believe all Christians are anti-LGBTQ? Do you flinch when you see a woman wearing a Hijab? What goes through your mind when you see an Orthodox Jewish man walking to Temple on the Sabbath? Do you believe Atheists are bitter and hopeless? Do you think Buddhism is just about sitting around and chanting?
  • Visit The Awakening Center in Lakeview and pick up Celebrate Religious Freedom resource sheets.Learn about and observe various holidays throughout the month:
                    Jan. 6: Epiphany (Christian)
                    Jan. 12: Mahayana New Year (Buddhism)
                    Jan. 14: Pongal (Hinduism)
                    Jan. 28: Chinese New Year (Confucianism)

Learning about other belief systems does not undermine your own. In fact, it enriches it. Open your mind and heart! Challenge yourself to celebrate religious freedom!

Nancy is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she facilitates the adult DBT group and the Eating Disorder Therapy Group. Like her on Facebook and subscribe to her personal blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celebrating Acceptance: Dealing with Uncertainty

Photo courtesy of Nancy Hall

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly she states: 
I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.
This notion of uncertainty often trips us up. While intellectually we know we can’t foresee every risk or predict every outcome, we continue to armor ourselves against hurt. We keep our defenses fortified so that we can be protected from the sneak attack of hurt or rejection. We avoid vulnerability until we feel certain that we won’t get hurt—until we’ve collected enough evidence and data.

Sounds logical, right? After all, we’re not going to offer up our hearts without evaluating the risks. And that’s important—to a point.

The problem with looking for certainty is that it doesn’t exist. We can never know for sure that we won’t be hurt or rejected. We can play the odds, consider other people’s past behavior, and pay attention to our gut. But certainty in relationships doesn’t exist. But that’s not all bad news.

Uncertainty allows us to learn and grow; it challenges us and is the avenue for deeper relationships. Uncertainty spurs us to learn to trust ourselves. To believe that even if the worst were to happen, that we’ll be OK. When (not if) hurt and rejection occur, we can find our inner resilience and grow from the experience.

The Awaken to Action theme at The Awakening Center for December is Acceptance. So I challenge you to accept uncertainty—to notice where you’re clinging to or desperately seeking certainty. Notice how accepting uncertainty can create opportunities for closeness and vulnerability. Remember, acceptance doesn’t mean approval—it’s merely acknowledging the reality of the situation.

So when you’re grasping for certainty that is elusive—try saying to yourself, “this is how it is right now.” That phrase alone creates acceptance in your heart.

Like us on Facebook to keep track of the Celebrate Acceptance challenges for December.

Nancy is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she facilitates the adult DBT group and the Eating Disorder Therapy Group. Like her on Facebook and subscribe to her personal blog

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tummy Turmoil

"Frozen Foods with String Beans," Irving Penn {c} Irving Penn Foundation
By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
A significant part of the recovery process from an eating disorder involves adapting to a “normalized” eating pattern. However, many individuals experience one or more of the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms when they start the refeeding process: abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and feeling uncomfortable full. Sometimes, healthy behavior changes make one feel worse in comparison to when he or she was practicing disordered behaviors like food restriction, binging, and purging.
            There are several reasons why these unwanted symptoms occur, and all relate to the physiological changes that occur with continuous disordered behaviors. The entire GI is composed of muscles that are stimulated to contract when one starts eating. Similar to the muscles in your arms and legs, if there is nothing to promote movement, these muscles become sluggish and weak. If one restricts his or her intake, either by eating very small amounts of food or going for long periods of time without eating, the muscles remain “under-exercised.” Laxative use for purging may cause diarrhea, constipation, and/or diarrhea. These symptoms tend to persist, even after discontinuing the use of a laxative.
            Unfortunately, these unwanted symptoms tend to encourage individuals to resume disordered behaviors because the mind-set of “why bother, when I am try so hard” sets in. However, these symptoms will resolve after a few weeks of consistent refeeding. In the meantime, the tips below can help reduce GI discomfort from refeeding.
·                 The refeeding process needs to occur gradually. One should never drastically increase his or her daily calorie intake because it could lead to serious medical complications (heart failure). If you are not in a medically supervised program, seek the help of a Registered and Licensed Dietitian (RDN) who can help with meal planning.
·                 An RDN will assist in creating a meal plan that includes foods from all groups. Avoid the inclination to fill up on high-fiber, low-calorie foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat products); excessive amounts of fiber may contribute to diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, or constipation (if fluid intake is not adequate). Plus, you may feel too full to consume other nutrient-dense foods from the other groups.
·                 Eat smaller, more frequent meals to reduce the load on your GI system. This will gradually get an under-used GI system back into shape! The general recommendation is to eat something every three to four hours.
·                 Stay hydrated but don’t fill up on water. Fluid intake is important, but try not to drink too much with meals to avoid early satiety.
·                 Find options to ease your symptoms. There are over-the-counter medications to help with some of these GI symptoms, but you should consult with you medical doctor (MD) before purchasing any.
            No one needs to tell you that recovery is difficult! Keep in mind that your decision to seek treatment deserves much praise and continual encouragement. The discomfort felt at the beginning pays off in the future.
            On a final note, if after several weeks of following a recommended meal plan, persistent signs of abdominal pain, unintentional vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and/or early nausea warrants a follow-up visit with your MD. He or she can assess your condition, and determine if a referral to a GI doctor is necessary.
Michel Harris a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and serves on the staff of The Awakening Center. She believes in the mindful approach to develop a peaceful relationship with food and exercise in the recovery process of eating disorders. To find out more or to set up an appointment with Michel, call 773.929.6262.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Couples on the Brink

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC

Nearly everyone enters marriage or a committed relationship with the dream of a lifelong union. But many couples reach a crisis point where breakup is on the table. Usually there is one “leaning-out” partner, who thinks that splitting up might be the best way to move forward, and one “leaning-in” partner, who wants to preserve the relationship and make things better.
            If this is your situation—one of you leaning out and the other leaning in—it’s a tough place to be. Traditional couple’s counseling may not be helpful if one of you is not sure you want to work on the relationship at this point.            
            Fortunately, there is a new way of helping you. Discernment Counseling can help you find clarity and confidence about next steps. It can help you find a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your relationship and each person’s contributions to the problems. It’s not couple’s counseling aiming to solve your problems or bring you closer. Instead, Discernment Counseling helps you figure out whether your problems can be solved and whether you both want to try.
           Discernment Counseling focuses on three paths:
  1. Staying married or partnered as you have been
  2. Separating or divorcing
  3. Making a six-month, all-out effort in couple’s therapy to see if you can make your relationship healthy and good for both of you.

           As you consider these paths in Discernment Counseling, you will learn more about your relationship and about yourselves as individuals—information that will help you make a good decision about the future.
         Discernment Counseling sessions involve mostly conversations between each individual partner and the counselor, along with some therapy time as a couple. The counselor respects each person’s perspective—reasons to end the relationship and reasons to preserve it.
         Discernment Counseling is short-term work, as brief as one session and as long as five. You are committing yourselves to only one session at the outset; then each time, you decide whether to return, for up to a maximum of five sessions. The first session is two-hours long and any subsequent sessions are one-and-one-half hours.
         Confronting problems in a partnership can be painful. But Discernment Counseling can help you clarify your intentions in an accepting and nonjudgmental setting. When each person feels validated, the pressure can lift, and decisions about the future of the relationship can be made with compassion and clarity.
Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. To find out more about Discernment Counseling or to get in touch with Susan, call 773-929-6262 x 20 or email morlocksusan@yahoo.com. www.theawakeningcenter.net.