Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fad Diets: Are They Healthful, Helpful, and Honest?

By Hallie Schwartz
I recently met with our staff nutritionist, Michel Harris. While engaging in a lively discussion about the misconceptions in nutrition, Michel exclaimed, “Fad diets are not put out by the scientific community!” This sparked my interest, and I began doing some of my own research on fad diets.  
            “Today’s high prevalence of obesity, combined with less than satisfactory results using traditional weight-control methods, has helped foster the popularity of fad diets” (Saltzman, Thomason & Roberts, 2001). But, how healthful, helpful, and honest are fad diets?
            The high satiety value of eggs is well documented, and, additionally, eggs are truthfully a great source of protein. As such, the Egg Diet has become quite the fad. The plan is simple: you eat eggs with every meal. In the short term, if you’re eating mostly eggs, you are likely to lose weight. However, any weight lost could easily be put back on after returning to a less egg-centered eating plan. In the long term, it is not realistic for an individual to stay interested in such a singular eating plan. Further, an extremely limiting diet, such as the Egg Diet, could likely lead to bingeing. Additionally, eggs are also very high in cholesterol. Finally, according to the “Egg Diet Review” on, “Eating too many eggs can cause flatulence and bad gas, which is negative for everyone.”
            Like the Egg Diet, many other plans promote low-carbohydrate, high-protein intake. Researchers Saltzman, Thomason, and Roberts assert that while these diets may lead to weight loss, the potential effects on cardiovascular, bone, and renal health are concerning (2001). These diets vilify carbohydrates. Yet, carbs are the body’s—and specifically the brain’s—main source of energy! The take-home message here is that CARBS ARE NOT BAD! Quite the contrary, actually—carbs are necessary. 
            Environmental Nutrition is an awared-winning, independent newsletter on food, nutrition, and health. In the July 2017 issue, they described diet trends and popular fad diets as “mostly hype.” Based on studies over the past 40 years:
1. Juicing leaves out much of the fiber and nutrients of whole fruits and vegetables and is high in calories and low in satiety.
2. Tropical oils (such as coconut and palm) are high in saturated fats and raise blood cholesterol levels.
3. Gluten-free foods are often highly processed, over-priced substitutions for whole grains, which are high in nutrients and fiber.
            According to Michel, with new and trendy fad diets surfacing, it is more important than ever to be aware of the sources from which you are getting your diet-related information. Websites ending in .com are often unreliable. Consider visiting, the official website for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Make sure you have all the info you need to know how healthful, helpful, and honest your diet truly is.
Hallie is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center and currently finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Roosevelt University. Hallie is passionate about working with clients who are in recovery. She has worked with clients in recovery from domestic violence, substance dependency, and eating disorders.


Egg diet review. (2017). Retrieved from 
Diet trends are mostly hype. (Cover story). (2017). Environmental Nutrition, 40(7), 1.

Saltzman, E., Thomason, P., & Roberts, S. B. (2001). Fad diets: A review for the primary care provider. Nutrition In Clinical Care, 4(5), 235-242. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Putting the Cleanse Fads in Perspective: An interview with Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN

By Lily Bowen

Recently, I walked into a new juice bar that opened on my street. The menu board claimed that some of the juice options could “cleanse” my body of “toxins.” I was curious about what this meant, so I asked the cashier. Far from providing answers, our conversation left me more intrigued. I decided to interview The Awakening Center’s Staff Nutritionist, Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, to learn more about the research behind these cleanse fads.

Let’s start with the basics. Michel explained that our bodies already have a built-in cleanse system: a bowel movement. Seriously! It’s not any more complicated than that. In other words, your body doesn’t need any extra help to detox. Other organs (like the liver) also sift out anything your body can’t use, and your bowel movement does the actual cleansing. So any company (or infomercial) that claims to eliminate the toxins that hide in your colon has no medical research supporting it. Michel emphasized that those claims are false.

Although your body doesn’t need any extra help to cleanse itself (you don’t need to train your body to have a bowel movement) some do experience constipation. Michel noted that moderately increasing fiber in a diet will support your body’s built-in process. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber—found in foods such as wheat bread, fruits, and vegetables—helps move food and waste through the digestive track. Soluble fiber—found in oatmeal, beans, and other foods—actually binds with cholesterol, and helps remove it from the body.

All the talk about “cleansing” suggests that eating any diet will leave behind something “bad” (or toxic). Recently, I spoke with someone who had completed a 14-day cleanse that involved eliminating a few food groups. I asked Michel if there are any possible nutritional benefits to this practice. Short answer? No! There are no benefits from removing a food group from your diet, even temporarily. All foods are OK, and our bodies require variety. Now some folks actually experience allergic reactions to certain foods. Or might display sensitivities. If you suspect that might be your situation, then consult with your physician and a nutritionist.

I asked Michel if there are any harmful side effects from completing one of these cleanses. She emphasized that even for those without a history of an eating disorder, eliminating food groups can increase the risk to developing one. Many experience temporary water weight loss from a cleanse, which can trigger additional ED behaviors for someone who might be vulnerable. And the individual who chooses to complete a cleanse is more likely to set up the body for a nutritional deficiency. Michel emphasized that eating a variety of foods from all the food groups is nutritionally valuable. For example, a person completing a cleanse might cut out dairy suddenly and leave them vulnerable to calcium deficiency. Ironically, following a “cleanse” diet may make it more difficult to stay healthy.

So let’s put the current cleanse fads (Whole 30, juicing, etc.) in perspective. These are simply dressed-up versions of old trends. Remember the grapefruit diet? Or the cabbage soup diet? These days we laugh at these fads—who in their right mind thinks eating just cabbage soup is sustainable? We should be just as critical and dismissive of current cleanse fads. Resist the temptation for an easy fix, educate yourself and others, and remember to trust your body. It knows how to take care of itself.

Lily is a graduate intern therapist at The Awakening Center, finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health at Roosevelt University. In her free time, Lily enjoys reading poetry and playing the harp.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

“One Word: Plastics”

By Nancy Hall, MA, LPC
So says Mr. McGuire to Benjamin Braddock at the beginning of The Graduate. “There’s a great future in plastics,” Mr. McGuire goes on to say. And this 1967 observation wasn’t wrong. According to The New York Times, 8.3 metric tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Half of that since 2004. And while there are certainly benefits that come from plastic—lighter and easier to transport—it does not biodegrade. Once it’s made, it’s forever. And that has become a problem.
            According to a July 2017 article published in Science Advances, by 2050, “roughly 12,000 metric tons of plastic will be in landfills or in the natural environment.” That mind-boggling figure makes me want to curl up in my bed and pretend I never even saw The Graduate or heard of The New York Times. Don’t even get me started on Science Advances! How do we even begin to address this problem that seems bigger than impossible?
            Well, we can tackle the problem of single-use plastics. In December 2016, the National Green Tribunal in India banned disposable plastic in Delhi and its surrounding region. The ban was enacted in response to the tremendous amount of waste and illegal burning of plastics creating an environmental crisis. Many US cities are banning or taxing disposable plastic shopping bags. In 2016, France passed a law banning plastic cutlery, plates, and cups that do not contain at least 50 percent “biologically sourced” materials. This law will take effect in 2020 as part the Energy Transition and Green Growth Act.
            Unfortunately, our current president has opted the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. However, many businesses and manufacturers are looking to reduce their global footprint and there are things we can do as individuals. Who would have thought tending and caring for the earth would become an act of resistance?
            The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends the following 10 actions to reduce our use of disposable plastics:
            1. Wean yourself off disposable plastics.
            2. Don’t buy water.
            3. Don’t use any product that contains microbeads.
            4. Eat out less.
            5. Purchase items secondhand.
            6. Recycle.
            7. Support bag tax or ban.
            8. Buy in bulk.
            9. Bring your own garment bag to the dry cleaner.
            10. Pressure manufacturers to be conscientious in their packaging practices.
While the statistics are overwhelming and—quite honestly—terrifying, that’s no reason to become paralyzed or give up.
            And being a good steward of the earth supports personal growth. Recovery comes from compassion and love—and that is a bi-directional process. If we make decisions that are kind to the earth, then we better able turn that kindness inward as well. We come from the earth and when it suffers, we suffer too. So connect to your compassion and take care of Mother Earth.

Nancy is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she also leads the adult Dialectical Behavior Therapy Group and the Eating Disorder Therapy Group. You can contact her at

Monday, August 14, 2017

Finding What Makes You Come Alive

Photo courtesy of Nancy Hall

By Rachel Baker, MA, LPC
In recent months, many of us have felt the desire to give back, to stand up for what we believe in, to become politically active--in short, to make the world a better place. Watching the news and reading our social media feeds, it is clear that there is a lot of work to be done. This can feel like an incredibly daunting task! So, how do we begin?
            First, it’s important to remind ourselves, we are each just one person, and we only have to do our share of the work. Phew! Now the task is to figure out what MY share of the work is going to look like. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The world needs us to hone in on the issues that makes us feel most alive, most energized, most ourselves.
            A great place to start is to really explore what makes you come alive. Do you feel energized while creating art? Do you feel most alive playing pick-up softball with friends? Do you feel most yourself while giving a speech on a topic that excites you, or do you prefer one-on-one conversation? Maybe you love being around animals. Whatever it is, it’s helpful to get clear about the things that light you up.
            Second, get curious about the world issues that you care about most. Which articles to do stop scrolling through your newsfeed to read? Do you turn up the volume on news stories about environmental issues, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, education, religious freedom, education, or something else entirely? It’s likely that you care about many issues, and getting clear about one or two that you care about most will help inform how you decide to take action.
            Now it’s time to put it all together. How can you use what makes you come alive to support issues and organizations that you care about? If hanging out with your friends on a Friday night feels awesome, why not start the night by writing letters to your House Representative regarding an issue you all feel passionate about? If you love to perform, could you present a concert to benefit an organization you care about? If you love animals, volunteering at an animal shelter might be right for you. Don’t be afraid to get creative! The world need to you to “come alive.”

Volunteering Websites
Rachel is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she co-leads the Yoga-Informed Therapy Group. You can reach Rachel at 773.929.6262.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lots of Progress, But Still Far To Go

By Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

For The Awakening Center’s #awakentoaction, we are celebrating LGBTQ Pride this month! 

I was thinking back to the mid 1980s when I took a graduate school course “Abnormal Psychology.” The way the professor taught the course makes it my favorite class, to this day! As we worked our way thru all the various mental illness diagnoses, she taught us that every diagnosis was on a continuum, and we (the students in her class) were on the same continuum too. She wanted to eliminate “them” versus “us” mentality. Rather than “Those people who have Schizophrenia” we could feel empathy for our clients whose symptoms were more profound than what we ourselves experienced. 

One day, the professor stopped the class and said, “I am supposed to teach you that homosexuality is a mental illness, but I refuse to do so!” She gave us an assignment. For the following week, we were supposed to pretend that we were gay and we had to hide this from everyone we knew. Some of us who were married, and since same sex marriage was not legal way back in 1984, we had to pretend that we were not allowed to marry our current partners. We were not allowed to hold our partner’s hand in public for fear of getting harassed or arrested. We were to remove pictures of our partners from our workplace, for fear of getting fired! We had to hide who we lived with for fear that we would be evicted from apartments or would not be allowed to purchase a house with our partner. 

The next week, the class discussed what it was like to hide something fundamental about who you were deep inside. The reactions ranged from humiliation and shame, to rage and indignation. This experience has stayed with me to this day. And I was relieved that soon afterward homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  

If we zoom to the current decade, many changes are in place. In many states (but not all), tt is no longer legal to discriminate against a person because of their sexual orientation in housing or employment. LGB individuals can now join the US military. It is legal for same sex couples to marry. Gay pride flags and banners wave in stores and windows throughout our city. The Gay Pride Parade just took place here in Chicago and has become a big summer event. 

However this is not enough. We need to continue to move forward with progress in our society to the point that every person, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, is treated with respect, worth, and dignity. Every person should be able to live their life without constant vigilance for harassment and persecution. Every religion of the world has a version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; and I would love to see every person of every religion, or of no religion at all, live by this rule.

So how can we help make this change happen?  It starts with ourselves. Those of us outside the LGBTQ community can become allies. A true ally actively combats anti-LGBT bullying and harassment while uplifting the voices of LGBT people. Allyship is more than broadly supporting LGBT people; it's an active, ongoing process of advocating for LGBT individuals (and other marginalized groups) without speaking for them or over them. ( )

Just as it takes courage for LGBT people to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support your LGBT friends or loved ones. We live in a society where prejudice still exists and where discrimination is still far too common. Recognizing these facts and giving your support to that person will take your relationship to a higher level and is a small step toward a better and more accepting world. ( )

Here are 10 Ways to Be an Ally & a Friend (from:
  1. Be a listener.
  2. Be open-minded.
  3. Be willing to talk.
  4. Be inclusive and invite LGBT friends to hang out with your friends and family.
  5. Don't assume that all your friends and co-workers are straight. Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process. Not making assumptions will give them the space they need.
  6. Anti-LGBT comments and jokes are harmful. Let your friends, family and co-workers know that you find them offensive.
  7. Confront your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
  8. Defend your LGBT friends against discrimination.
  9. Believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.
  10. If you see LGBT people being misrepresented in the media, contact us at
It starts with me. And you! And if we tell two people, and they tell two people, and they tell two people, and so on and so on and so on…. Hopefully, we can help change the world to be a much more loving and accepting place for all!


Amy is proud to be a LGBTQ Ally!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Does Culture Affect Body Image?

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC
How much does culture effect body image? Studies consistently support that there is a strong connection between culture and how women view their bodies, both positively and negatively. This can have a profound effect on one’s self-esteem over time.
            If we look at African American culture, women and men tend to value a “thicker” body shape. One can see this in Black actresses and role models. Black women tend to not endorse the thin-body ideal and have less body dissatisfaction. Even if a Black woman has a higher BMI she tends to still have higher self-esteem then other cultural groups. Studies show that Black mothers tend to convey their positive weight-related views and, in turn, these views are shared among peers. Overall, Black women take pride in their bodies which sets them apart from some other cultures.
            Women in Asian countries encounter body image issues as well. A September 2016 article in Japan Times noted that eating disorders among women 30 to 50 years old has been increasing because of the pressure to be “skinny.” However, some are challenging this norm, including Japanese artist Naomi Watanabe who helped create the “pochakawaii” (chubby and cute) movement.
            Young people in Iran are running into pressure to be thin as well as noted in an article published in the Archives of Medical Science in 2013. The researchers found that both high school boys and girls tended to describe themselves as either “overweight” or “obese” even when their weight fell within what was considered to be normal parameters.
            Generally, Latin-American women tend to view larger hips, thighs, and butt as a sign of good health. This culture views size 2, 8, or 12 all the same and curvy as good. Jennifer Lopez is a good example of someone considered be a role model for beauty among many Hispanic women and men. Family gatherings tend to be around traditional foods, there is a focus on eating and care giving as a ritual not discussions around body weight and dieting.
            A global study of body image found that Mexico is the most “body-confident” country in the world, followed closely by Turkey and Ukraine. A study of Puerto Rican immigrant women found that weight gain was looked on with favor and as a sign of prosperity.
            Among women of European origin, especially young ones, there appears to be a strong drive towards being thin. The media has had a strong impact on women and how they view themselves by comparison. This group tends to have the highest rates when it comes to having eating disorders among all the ethnic groups.
            There are of course many other cultures in the United States that impact women and how they see themselves however, there has not been a lot of research to establish a relationship between body image and culture. As you can see, culture can have a positive or negative effect on how women view themselves so we can only assume this most likely has an impact among all cultures. Communicating early and often with your children on how they feel and view the way they look is important in any culture and may have the biggest impact and effect on how women see themselves as an adult later in life.

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. She can be reached at 773.929.6262 ext. 20 or by email at

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reconnecting the Mind and Body

A, 2007 Neil Winokur
By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

I will admit that I was hard-pressed to find a relationship between nutrition and this month's focus on sexual assault survivor's stories. So I was very appreciative of my colleagues Nancy Hall and Amy Grabowski for assisting me. Nancy told me that victims of sexual assault tend to disconnect from their bodies, similar to how an eating disorder can cause one to disconnect from his or her body while eating.

This disconnection between the mind and body during eating could also be thought of as a mindless process. One of my clients told me that there are many times in which she cannot remember tasting her food once the meal or snack is over. Which leads to the article Amy left me in my mailbox addressing how eating behaviors are changing; individuals are leaning more towards snacking multiple times per day, instead of three meals. While each of us has a preferred pattern of snacks and/or meals throughout the day, most of my client's equate snacking with mindless eating; but truthfully, it does not matter if the occasion is a meal or snack. Mindless eating could occur anytime, anywhere, and in any amount!

So how do you know when you are mindlessly eating? To start, you need to be mindful before the first bite goes into your mouth. The hunger-satiety scale, with 0 being completely empty and having physical symptoms of hunger (headache, dizziness), and 10 feeling uncomfortably full (cramps, bloating), often comes in handy when determining if you are physically hungry. A 0–4 usually indicates the need to fuel-up; you want to avoid reaching the 0–3 levels since extreme hunger could lead to bingeing. Eating until you reach 7–8 usually provides satisfaction without discomfort.

While the hunger-satiety scale works well for some, several of my clients with long-term eating issues are unable to identify these cues. If you struggle with this, ask yourself if there are feelings associated with the food you are about to eat. Are you feeling tense because a coworker made your day miserable and that candy bar in the vending machine looks appealing? Also, when did you last eat, and was it enough? If you ate more than four hours ago or ate lightly, physical hunger is probably setting in.

To summarize, here are some guidelines for mindful eating...
  1. Eat something every three to four hours.
  2. When possible, eat without distractions. 
  3. During your meal or snack, check in with yourself every five minutes and focus on how your food tastes and feels in your mouth.
  4. Before taking seconds, wait five to ten minutes; it takes your body a bit longer to let you know it has had enough.
  5. As you eat, try to focus on how your stomach feels. 
I know all of this sounds overwhelming, but with practice and patience, you will re-connect mind and body during meals and snacks. If you find that emotional eating occurs too often, find another activity besides eating to help cope. Several of my clients have found new hobbies, as well as a sense of accomplishment when they conquer their emotional eating struggles!

Michel Harris is 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 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.