Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy, is a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders. In recovery herself, Jennifer is exceedingly passionate about helping others connect with their natural gift of resilience through yoga. In addition to her private practice, Jennifer is also a yoga therapist at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She works with individuals one on one and leads yoga therapy groups and seminars. Jennifer shares about the importance of checking in with yourself and being aware of your feelings in her writing.
Like you, over the course of my healing journey I’ve been told countless times that my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors serve to distract me from painful feelings. Years in, I’ve come to understand my illness is a silent temper tantrum, a quiet way to express unhappiness, sadness, anger, hurt, pain, and disappointment. Recovery, then, is the process of learning how to use our voices instead of our bodies to express feelings and emotions.
I know, you’ve heard it 1,000 times: It’s about the feelings, feelings, feelings!
I went through a phase of questioning how much of my thoughts and behaviors served to numb feelings or were simply habit. Let’s face it, if you do something repetitiously over and over again, it becomes a habitual way of life. Research has shown that the brain physically changes as a result of an eating disorder. In the simplest of terms, prolonged symptom use paves new neural pathways in the brain, essentially hardwiring in those thoughts and behaviors, which is why they feel natural and habitual. Luckily, “pro recovery pathways” can form, and as a result of a strong commitment to new behaviors, the “eating disorder pathways” eventually become less and less traveled.
After a few slips and backslides, I came to the hard truth that it was dangerous to call my eating disorder a habit. Doing so let me off the hook. It allowed me to disconnect from my feelings and became an easy excuse for restricting or obsessive bodychecking. It also allowed me to settle for a life as a functioning anorexic. But that was not the life I really wanted. Not at all.
The only way to rise above this new habit of mine, was to get back to the feelings. Ugh…the feelings, feelings, feelings! But I needed a new way to decode my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors–one that allowed me to look at my feelings but that didn’t smack of the trillions of times I was asked about my feelings in treatment or therapy.
This is what I came up with: WTF. Or, “What’s the Feeling?” WTF is a catchy acronym (for obvious reasons), so why not put it to work in a very productive and helpful way?
I use WTF to check in with myself and keep on top of the feelings bubbling under the surface. I say WTF to myself when I am arguing with myself about what to eat for lunch or what I see in the mirror. I also say it to myself when I am avoiding a hard conversation or feel drawn to isolate.
I know it’s hard, painful, tiring work, this healing journey. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we can’t smile or even chuckle to ourselves once in awhile. So ask yourself, WTF. Say it over and over until you feel what you have to feel. Let “WTF” become a positive and lasting habit for your recovery.
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