Thursday, March 30, 2017

Renewing Once Enjoyed Traditions

Italian Still Life, 1981, Irving Penn

By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

All through grammar and high schools, history was my least favorite subject. However, one piece of history I can never get enough of relates to my family. Of particular interest was my great-grandfather Sebastian, who immigrated to the United States from Italy as a teenager. He passed away before I was born, but he left behind a culinary footprint that was handed to my grandmother, then my mother, and me! One of his recipes, calzone, continues on as a Christmas tradition every year. Mind you, this is not the generic calzone sold in the frozen section of the grocery store or on the Americanized Italian restaurant menu. Think of a mixture of ground beef, green onions, chopped green olives, and slices of brick cheese, wrapped in a sheet-pan sized layer of dough on the top and bottom. We used to have a typical seafood dinner on Christmas Eve, and my grandmother would serve the calzone after midnight to start off Christmas Day. While the whole family cannot be together for logistical reasons, on Christmas, the calzone always gets made. Other memories of my great-grandfather have been shared by Great-Grandmother Rose, Grandmother Florence, and Great-Aunt Josephine.

My grandmother's recipe box also holds a lot of history. I never get tired of looking at each of the filed cards, even though nothing has changed since I first started reading recipes. The box is a plain wooden one with a hinged top and cards with tabs for each category. Each recipe in that box has special memories. There's the summer spaghetti recipe we always had at our annual barbecue in July. The numerous cookies that decorated the big silver platter every Christmas. And many others. Outside of the box, I can recall several rituals Grandma and I had on the weekends that were carried over from Great-Grandpa. Making homemade bread early in the morning, preparing for Saturday night family dinner, and mixing batter for any of the countless cookie recipes.

For many of my clients with eating disorders, food-related traditions are no longer enjoyed. The warm memories may be there, but they are over-ridden by thoughts of calories and how one bite can lead to a binge. At The Awakening Center, we are wrapping up our March theme of celebrating immigration stories. If you have any stories related to food, I challenge you to think about what they meant before the onset of your eating disorder. Just like the recovery process, enjoying these traditions again will probably be a slow, step-by-step journey. I consider it one of my responsibilities to carry on my great-grandfather's immigration story to my son. Wouldn't it be nice if your recovery plan included carrying on a culinary tradition from your family? Even better, partaking in these traditions without negative thoughts enhances this process!

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.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Recognizing Immigration Stories: An Italian Family’s Story

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC
At The Awakening Center, the Awaken to Action theme for March is Recognizing Immigration Stories, so I thought I would use this time to tell you a really good one! 

Once upon a time, a long time ago, (the late 1930s to be more specific), two men, independent of one another, left their families in Italy to travel to the United States for a chance at a better life. Corrado and Alfonso would eventually become roommates and then so much more. Corrado came to the US many years before Alfonso, and he began working at a butcher shop. Corrado would stay in New York for a time, sending money back to his family. He would also travel back to Italy for periods of time when he had enough money to do so.

Eventually, he came to co-own the butcher shop and stayed in New York. He lived with three other Italian men at the time. When Alfonso arrived in New York, he took over one of the rooms where Corrado lived. He worked as a barber by day and washed dishes at a diner by night. Each man left behind a wife and two kids. Corrado’s wife would die of an illness during the war. His daughter, Irma, would marry an Italian man and stay there. However, in 1946—when the war was over—Corrado’s 19-year-old son, Vito, came to New York to join his dad. Around that same time, Alfonso’s wife, Pasqualena; their 14-year-old daughter, Flora; and their 9-year old son, Mario left everything they knew behind to join him in New York. As they arrived to the US—with the Statue of Liberty welcoming them warmly—none of them knew any English. 

Upon arrival, Vito went to work with his dad at the butcher shop and eventually enrolled in night school, where he met some of his lifelong friends. He took notice of Flora early on, but recognized that she was too young for him. However, he told himself that when she “developed” he would ask her out. Flora wanted to attend school when she came to the US; however, without knowing the language, it was a futile effort. Instead, she got a job at a factory sewing.

Time passed, and sure enough, Flora developed into a beautiful woman, who had many eligible suitors. None, however, were a match for Vito’s charm. He won her hand in marriage when she was 18. Their first child arrived not long after. Her second child, Lorraine, was born when Flora was 20. Two years later, she gave birth to Victor.

By this time, Corrado and his partner were ready to sell the butcher shop, so they passed it down to Vito and Flora. Early on in this endeavor, they didn’t have a car, so Vito would get up every morning and take the bus to the meat market, where he would buy a whole side of beef, among other items. He would hop back on the bus and take it to the shop. (Can you imagine sitting next to someone on the bus carrying a whole side of beef?!) Flora would go ahead of him to the shop to open up. They did this year round—in the heat of summer and in the brutally cold winter months.

Many years later, Flora wanted another baby, so they had one—Michael. By this time, they had a truck, making the commute to the shop much easier. They all lived in Far Rockaway, New York, two houses down from Pasqualena and Alfonso, who helped take care of the kids. Vito and Flora discouraged the kids from learning Italian because they wanted everyone to fit into American society. Every Sunday, they would have family and friends over for elaborate dinners set by Flora. They all lived a happy life that they worked very hard to have. The End. 

This is the immigration story of my family. I was lucky enough to grow up knowing Pasqualena, Alfonso, Vito, Irma, Flora and Mario. This past year, my mom, Lorraine finally bought a tape recorder to record all of Flora’s stories. Like, how when she was a brand new baby, Pasqualena’s breasts were infected. But they had Flora drink the breast milk anyways to extract the disease. Flora lived with an upset stomach for the first 10 years of her life, perhaps a small price to pay to save her mother.

Another story recounts how time Flora was working on her family’s farm in Italy and one of the chicken’s wattles tore open and all the corn it had been storing there fell onto the ground. The chicken was none the wiser, so it just kept eating the corn, and it continued to fall to the ground. Flora had to stitch the chicken up! I digress. Not many of us are lucky enough to grow up, into adulthood, with our parents or grandparents who can share these stories. Mine carried with them true immigration stories of courage, resilience, and determination.

The chefs and dishwashers at the restaurant I work at tell me similar stories all the time, except it is happening to them right now, in 2017. I encourage each of you to find out if your family holds an immigration story. Take the time to ask about it. Ask your friends about their family stories. Knowing about America’s rich history of diversity opens us up to empathy and acceptance of those who come from different backgrounds than our own. 

Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or

Friday, March 3, 2017

Awaken to Action: Recognizing Immigration Stories

By Nancy G. Hall, MA, LPC
Spring is in the air! And The Awakening Center’s advocacy mission continues.

March marks the start of our focus on immigration stories. 

Unless you are 100 percent Native American, your ancestors came from someplace else. Some of you might be new to the United States yourself; while others can their trace forefathers’ and –mothers’ journeys back many generations.

And we can’t talk about immigration stories without acknowledging that many African-Americans don’t have immigration stories in their family history. Instead, there is the reality of enslavement and kidnapping.

Nearly all of us have roots elsewhere. And even for recent immigrants, the journeys aren’t easy. There is something different about a person who decides to leave everything behind and venture off to a new country. There is an internal optimism needed to take that leap of faith. And those whose families survived enslavement or indentured servitude have a strength that is awe-inspiring.

This month we Recognize Immigration Stories. The richness of all of our histories and cultures. The “tossed salad” that is the United States.

Throughout the month, visit our Facebook page (“Like” us if you haven’t already) and participate in the challenges that will be posted. Stop by our office and look for more information on the bulletin board along the stairway.

Most importantly, connect to your curiosity and explore the stories around you. What are your family stories? What about your friends? Do some reading and reflecting. Share your stories with us!

If you have an immigration story you’d like to share on our blog, email me at We’d love to hear from you!

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.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Celebrating Black History: Soul Food

Photo courtesy of Pearl's Place Restaurant website
By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
This month, The Awakening Center has invited its clientele and followers (and future clientele and followers) to celebrate Black History Month, as we continue on our “Awaken to Action” mission. Originally, this recognition of achievements by black Americans spanned one selected week in February but was fittingly expanded to the whole month in 1970. Official recognition came in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, and soul food feasts are very popular as part of the celebration. Many of my clients find soul food challenging because of the cooking methods used to prepare several of the popular menu items and the plethora of side dishes and desserts. 

While soul food usually conjures up thoughts of fried chicken, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie, I first challenge all of you to learn more about the origins of this cuisine! Currently, most of us live in a world in which food choices are vast and unlimited. When traced back to slavery, and the period of time after it was abolished, soul food represents what African Americans did to make the best of what was available. This included the leftover, undesirable cuts of meat from their plantation masters, and later on, vegetables from home gardens and items obtained via farming, hunting, and fishing. Black-eyed peas, various types of beans and green vegetables, and sweet potatoes serve as ingredients in many soul food recipes. Red pepper flakes, garlic and onion and chili powders, paprika, and thyme are typically used to season soul food.

Now, for the second challenge, find a soul food restaurant or prepare some recipes at home for a special themed lunch or dinner to celebrate Black History Month. Recommended restaurants in the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs include
  • Buck’s (1700 West Division Street)
  • Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles (3947 South King Drive)
  • Luella’s Southern Kitchen (4609 North Lincoln Avenue)
  • Pearl’s (5352 North Broadway Street)
  • Pearl’s Place (3901 South Michigan Avenue)
  • 6978 Soul Food (6978 North Avenue)
  • Wishbone Restaurant (1001 West Washington Boulevard)
  • Wishbone North (3300 North Lincoln Avenue)

If you want to prepare your own feast, the website Soul Food & Southern Cooking has numerous recipes or find a cookbook at your local library. Deviled eggs, fried or blackened fish or chicken, gumbo, jambalaya, greens, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and fruit cobblers are just a few of the delicious options. 

Keep in mind that most ethnic cuisines are a mix of foods with different nutrient profiles. Acceptance of all foods makes for a healthy relationship with food!

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 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.