Self-Esteem is a Process

Strong confident woman
© kieferpix –

Self-esteem is such a common term that it can start to lose its meaning. I think of self-esteem as a sense of self, and a vital building block for recovery and growth. It’s hard to start trusting our inner wisdom until we have a sense of self. But once it’s there, that intuitive voice can become a regular source we can go to for guidance.

One of the first steps in building that foundation is to heal old wounds and grieve losses. This helps us start to understand ourselves, practice acceptance, and form a connection with ourselves. Then we can start feeling capable of respecting and honoring ourselves.

If we don’t truly care about ourselves, or even feel some self-loathing, we’re going to find it practically impossible to make healthier choices. People wonder why they can’t make some of these changes, and it’s because this piece is missing.

When you have issues with food, or anything else for that matter, it’s essential to meet your basic physiological needs first before addressing higher-level needs like self-esteem. This is the fundamental idea behind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which can be used as building blocks of recovery.

So how do you know which level you’re on, and where to start your recovery journey? That’s what we help people decide at White Picket Fence Counseling Center. As therapists we help guide that process and give it a sense of order.

People may come to therapy wanting relief from a specific source of pain. “I need better self-esteem so I can succeed at work,” they may say, or “Let’s work on anger because I want to stop destroying my relationships,” or maybe it’s, “Please help me lose [or gain] weight so I can finally be happy!” But in all of these examples there is probably some other healing that needs to happen first, as a foundation to meet those goals.

This process isn’t a quick fix, and change takes time. While I can rhyme off a list of tools that I know have worked for other people, if they don’t fit where you are in your recovery, they’re not likely to work for you.

Recovery is a process, whether you’re in counseling, yoga-based therapy, art therapy, couples therapy, residential treatment, a 12-step program, or something else. The inner work of recovery is like a master’s program, so you have to first get your high school diploma, associate’s degree, and bachelor’s degree.

It is definitely possible to achieve inner peace and self-esteem, so you can also feel good about what’s outside yourself. This peace can extend to your relationships, which can grow stronger with healthy communication. But we do all of this layer by layer, step by step.

How to Write Out Your Worry

Close up of woman hands writing in notepad placed on office desktop with various stationery items, coffee cup and other stuff. Paperwork concept
© peshkova –

I used to think that when I was worrying, I was helping to resolve whatever I was worried about. But in reality, worrying only seems like we’re doing something; we actually just get stuck in this over-thinking mode and never move into action.

In the meantime, whatever we’re worrying over either happens or doesn’t happen, or something entirely different takes place, and we’ve spent so much energy and time worrying that we missed out on what’s actually happening in our lives.

Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree – thoughts, worries and concerns about the future. “Stay in the moment” sounds like an easy alternative, but how realistic is that when you have something big on your mind?

Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m worrying until I tune in and notice my thoughts coming back to the same topic. For example, I recently had a trip booked with a very short layover between connecting flights. My mind kept circling back to my concern that I wouldn’t make the second flight because I’d have to run from one end of the airport to the other. Once I realized this was causing me stress, I could switch into more productive thoughts, like how to pack lighter, wear more comfortable shoes, or even call to see if I could change my flight times.

Most of the worries we hear from our clients are about food: How will I stick to my food plan if I go out with friends for dinner? How will I be able to eat in front of people? How can I avoid my binge triggers at a party? What if I’m so self-conscious about my body that I can’t show confidence in my job interview?

Worrying keeps us stuck and not able to do anything to help ourselves. So how can we get out of worry and make more focused decisions about how to move forward?

Writing about worries puts them in their place

What works best for me is making lists. In a paper planner, I make three columns:

  1. Places I need to go (e.g., return library book, shop for groceries)
  2. Things I need to do (e.g., create workshop curriculum, gather tax information)
  3. People I need to call (e.g., change dental appointment, call colleague)

This puts things in perspective so they are clear. I can then check things off, see what I’ve accomplished, and change or add things as needed. They’re out of my head, but still at my fingertips.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can even wake up with a worried thought, if something pops into my head during the night. That’s why I keep a journal and post-it notepad by my bed. If I do wake up, I can jot down the details to add to the next day’s list.

You can also be proactive and do some writing before you go to sleep. This is one way to apply the 10th step of 12-step recovery – “taking a daily inventory.” The idea is to examine your day and make a note of anything that came up in your relationships that you might need to clean up with an apology or by handling differently the next time.

Writing about what’s on my mind before I go to sleep helps me sleep better, because I’m not trying to work out the day’s details all night in my mind. Instead of feeling like my brain has run a marathon all night, I wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

You can write out your worries in professional settings as well. As focused as therapists are when present with clients, other thoughts are bound to pop into our thoughts. Instead of fighting them or losing concentration, we can simply jot down a word or two on a notepad, let the thought go, and stay fully focused in sessions.

We use this technique in workshops as well, to manage the time and keep discussions centered around the topic at hand. If other questions come up, we jot them down on a whiteboard as a sort of parking lot we can come back to later.

The key is to not let worries turn into obsession, which is uncomfortable at best and counterproductive at worst, and can lead to serious problems with anxiety. By clearing your mind of cluttered thoughts and repetitive scenarios, you’re making room for creative thinking and clarity.

You can get thoughts out of your head in other ways as well. You can create your own soothing rituals, such as carrying a special stone, ring or another item that comforts you and reminds you of your strength and perseverance. Some people look for spiritual solace, others turn to therapy, and many seek both.

There are many forms of therapy that use creativity and movement, such as SoulCollage® and yoga therapy. Ask for support and keep trying until you find something that keeps worried thoughts from taking over your life.


This post originally appeared on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog

How to Write Out Your Worry

What Happens to Our Plans

Sad young woman posing with hand on chin, she is depressed and pensive
© stokkete –

A lot of people call our offices in March, looking for counseling to help them have a healthier relationship with their food and body. Maybe it was one of the resolutions they set in January, but by now they’re feeling frustrated about many of their goals, not just this one.

Can you relate? Did you have big plans for 2017? How are they going? Did life get in your way?

It’s very common for us to be enthusiastic at the start, but then hit a plateau or bump in the road. As therapists we see this in our workshops and courses. We may have a full house for the first session – with people even sitting on the floor because we’ve run out of chairs – but as the weeks progress that crowd thins.

So how do you stay motivated, committed, and true to yourself – your true heart and soul ideals, and the things that you want to do? Not just about food and weight, but whatever desires you have to organize your home or office, create more time for self-care or relationships, or other important goals.

Check your thinking

Is your brain tricking you into thinking that if you missed one class, ate a less healthy meal, or procrastinated on a project that you might as well give up on it all? This all-or-nothing thinking is just one of many cognitive distortions that may be at work under the surface.

Someone told me a long time ago that to be perfect is boring. Who wants that? Just because you can’t do something perfectly – and none of us can!I – doesn’t mean you should stop. Imagine one of your friends or children needed your help getting back up after losing a step. Chances are you’d be there for them, but somehow it’s different when it’s for ourselves.

I recently committed to 90 days of breathwork and meditation. I’ve missed some days, and other days I’ve spent less time than the 24 minutes I intended, but I’m trying to follow through and explore what it feels like to do it imperfectly.

Change can be hard

Eating is a big thing to change, whether you’re trying to not eat certain things or to eat more of other things. Food is a very personal choice and you’ve probably been eating the way you eat for a long time.

Then, if you slip and go back to familiar ways, you may get trapped in perfectionism (I messed up so why bother trying?), mind reading (he/she/they will think I’m a failure) or catastrophizing (I’m doomed to damage my health beyond repair).

One of the best ways to resist these distorted thoughts is to check them out with someone else. At White Picket Fence Counseling Center we offer “booster sessions” where you can talk to someone who will be objective about your hopes, dreams and plans, and help you get back on track.

So come on in. Therapists are the least judgemental group of people and can work with you on ways to help you recommit to yourself. And this is the absolute best time to do this work. We don’t have to wait until Monday or next January 1st. The time will pass anyway, so why not spend it working towards something?


This post originally appeared on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog

How Yoga Can Heal Binge Eating Disorder

Woman meditating at the beach and drink tea
© MediablitzImages –

What is binge eating disorder? In an earlier post about where compulsive overeating crosses the line into binge eating disorder, I shared this quote from the American Psychiatric Association, publishers of the DSM-5: “While overeating is a challenge for many Americans, recurrent binge eating is much less common, far more severe, and is associated with significant physical and psychological problems.”

Mindless eating is usually a major component of binge eating disorder, where a person may eat in a frenzied or unconscious way and then feel regret and low self-esteem later. This can also impact interpersonal relationships, when the person wants to hide and isolate in order to overeat.

Because mindfulness is such an integral part of yoga practice, I’m finding yoga to be particularly helpful for binge eating and overeating. I’m currently offering and developing a variety of group classes and workshops in both my Clearwater and Winter Park locations, and I also see people one-on-one for yoga-based therapy.

Recovery from disordered eating always starts with awareness of why you may have developed unhealthy eating patterns, and how the eating has served an adaptive function in your life. It’s human nature for people to want to know why.

Once we have some understanding of the awareness of maybe the reasons how and why this particular problematic eating, then we can start looking towards creating healthy mindset and lifestyle practices.

We need to know what we can do with that awareness – how it can relate to making changes along the way. We work at the relationship between the mind and the body, the emotions – what we call in yoga the heart center, and how these connections have influenced your eating.

We look at how your patterns of eating have not only served you, but have formed some kind of impairment in your life. Then we want to know how a mind-body-heart practice can work towards healing this.

Mindless eating is a disconnect; a mindful yoga practice restores that connection gently and slowly. Yoga is more than just postures or asanas, it is about how to connect with inner peace through imagery and meditation; how mindful tasks can help with even behaviors and staying motivated; how self-compassion heals self-contempt; and how relaxation, along with mindfulness, helps with recognizing stressors and knowing what to do about them.

Relaxation is woven through all types of yoga practices, such as restorative, meditative and yin. The yoga we do depends solely on you and what your body needs. If it is challenging for you to move up and down from the mat, for example, we may do a session that uses only standing and grounding and empowerment postures.

Or we may stay close to the floor with yin yoga poses, possibly exploring our dark sides. Yoga uses the tool of gentle discomfort as a tool that teaches us how to tolerate discomfort. That is when we begin to change in a therapeutic way and take our practice “off the mat.”

So how does that relate to eating? Well, there are many situations throughout our day and lives that are uncomfortable, that we would like to avoid dealing with. Instead of retreating into mindless eating as a way to cope, we can bring forward the gentle perspectives we learn from yoga.

Taking yoga off the mat and into life gives us ways to handle these situations that don’t involve cutting ourselves off from relationships or reacting. We learn to respond instead of react, and make decisions we feel good and calm about. In turn, this boosts how we feel about ourselves.

Often my clients leave a session with a few prescriptive postures that are customized for their issues. They’re doable for them to practice at home and weave into their life, to integrate into their being as a way of pushing out the desire to emotionally eat or binge eat.

While talk therapy can be a very slow process, yoga-based therapy can give people grounding – literally – right from the start. Any body shape or level of health can benefit from yoga-based therapy, which is of course applied with caution  and by a trained practitioner.

Binge eating is numbing out and disconnecting from uncomfortable emotions, which then become repressed in the body, bringing additional pain. In yoga we’re reconnecting – from the mat to the plate, from the yoga studio to the dinner table.

This post originally appeared on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog

How Yoga Can Heal Binge Eating Disorder

Gratitude is Beauty, Beauty is Love

© Sandee Nebel
© Sandee Nebel

During the month of November we see many blog writers open the dialogue about gratitude. They write about how adopting a mindset of being thankful and living in a place of gratefulness and kindness is especially appropriate around this time of year.

I have written about the same things in November over the years, focusing on gratitude and kindness to others. I’ve also shared the importance of finding gratitude in our own lives and how to be kind to oneself. This is a principle that deeply supports healing.

This post transcends beyond gratitude and into love. Love is what bubbles up when we have truly embraced gratitude. Love in its purest form is one of the hardest concepts to comprehend. We think we know love or when we need it, want it, or even think we may have it. And we very well may have love in our life. But how do we know for certain? I have an idea how: Beauty = Love.

In my work as a licensed mental health counselor, certified eating disorder specialist, and registered yoga teacher and educator, I often help our clients realign their definition of beauty. I help them turn away from the media that portrays clothing, food and exercise in ways that promote objectification, disordered eating and harmful movement.

How can we all change these concepts, and see that love and beauty are one and the same? We can start by noticing beauty in the most simple ways. Do you notice beauty throughout your day? With a mindful awareness practice, also known as mindfulness, we can train ourselves to notice without judgment. We can see people, nature, architecture, and colors all around us, giving us the opportunity to see beauty in it all.

The feeling I get inside when I notice beauty  is what I secretly call love. Notice the beauty for yourself, and notice the feeling when you let that in, when you appreciate it, and when you absolutely do not judge any of it.

People say you need to love yourself or love your body or love mankind, but how do we get there? I suggest we begin with seeing beauty — look for it. Look at your pet. Watch a sunset — the beauty of watching the sun go down lasts long after it disappears from view. Gaze at your supportive friends, or a photo of a caring grandparent. Let your feelings of love intertwine with the beauty you see. Weave these together and they become one. We may start with a grateful heart, but when this deepens it becomes love. It is in there and whether you get there through looking, experiencing, or writing (a gratitude list), let’s all enjoy this journey.

This post originally appeared on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog at

A Few Mindful Moments Can Bring Powerful Healing

Whether you’re someone who’s not ready or interested to pursue a spiritual life, or someone who’s looking for the way to strengthen a connection, mindfulness is an approach that is accessible to everyone.

At White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we hear a lot of people say things like, “I’m so bright in other areas of my life – why can’t I get this?” or, “I’ve been so successful in my career, but I just can’t get control of my eating or food issues.”

The simple truth is that eating disorders don’t make sense. We need to make sense of them. And the only way to do that is to tune in to what’s going on inside. Not just in our minds (we’re so used to living “from the neck up”) but in our whole bodies.

Last month on the blog we talked about the mind-body disconnect of eating disorders, and how yoga is one very effective way to reconnect. A big part of yoga is an invitation to be still and look inwards, listening to your body (on and off the mat) and listening to your mind.

In yoga we call it meditation, but if that doesn’t feel right for you, call it mindfulness. Being mindful of who you are, where you are, what you feel, what you know and what you want.

Some people have used the analogy of plugging yourself in, the way you would your cell phone. Whether you’re re-charging, or even charging up for the first time, getting quiet and practicing mindfulness can help you achieve the feeling of being centered, or grounded.

When you’re lost in the compulsion, obsession, discomfort and unease of an eating disorder, you can feel pretty out of control and out of reach. That’s why virtually every recovery and treatment method recommends some form of mindfulness as a way of reconnecting the body and mind.

If you’re still not convinced that mindfulness is worth the time or effort, consider this:

Imagine that you’re driving along the road and all of a sudden someone pulls out in front of you and you’re forced to slam on your brakes to avoid an accident. What’s going on in your body at that point? Your muscles are probably clenched, as is your stomach (where digestion has actually stopped, so that the rest of your body’s systems will be ready for whatever stressor you’re facing). Your heart is probably racing from the urge of adrenalin.

In psychological terms that’s called the fight or flight response, and it’s a really good illustration of the mind-body connection. The good news is that just as anxious thoughts can cause stressful reactions in the body, so can relaxing thoughts cause healing reactions in the body.

And just as good news, relaxing bodywork can soothe the mind from anxious thinking to more positive and hopeful, actually altering your brain chemistry in the process. So we can see how mindfulness helps to heal both physical and emotional pain. Here is an article from Psychology Today about a research study that demonstrates how meditation positively alters the brain.

Even just a few minutes of mindfulness per day could make a big difference to your mind, body and yes, your soul.

This post was originally published on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog at

The Mind-Body Disconnect of Eating Disorders

For people with eating disorders, there’s a clear disconnect between body and mind – it’s like living from the neck up. Because that reconnection is so vital to recovery, many treatment methods are designed to realign the mind, body and spirit.

Getting back that connection helps people find acceptance, awareness and appreciation for their bodies, which naturally leads to wanting to take better care of themselves.

Drawing on my recent experience with yoga teacher training, and in partnership with some of my colleagues who are already registered yoga teachers and yoga therapists, we now have yoga and yoga therapy at the White Picket Fence Foundation.

Yoga is much more than just postures. In fact, some of my therapy clients have been benefiting from my yoga experience for years, as I’ve incorporated relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, guided imagery and meditation.

The benefits of yoga are well researched, and it is a natural fit to help with food issues. For example, many people have a problem with overeating or restricting during stressful times.Yoga works directly upon the nervous system to evoke relaxation and diminish stress. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system that promotes rest and regeneration and reduces the fight or flight response that brings anxious, stressful feelings.

In the next article, we’ll explore some of the principles of yoga and how they can be applied to recovery from eating disorders.

This post was originally published on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog at

Three Ways to Have More Compassion for Yourself

The world can be a harsh and confusing place for people who are dealing with an eating disorder. What might be a simple task for other people, such as a trip to the grocery store, can be daunting when you are surrounded by mixed messages.

Standing at the checkout counter, a quick glance at the magazine rack shows photos of celebrities caught in unflattering poses, details of the latest quick-fix diet, while on the same cover there is a photo of a decadent dessert with the promise of the recipe inside. Every aisle is adorned with displays meant to entice us into buying things we weren’t planning to buy or to eat. This type of temptation can lead to unhealthy behaviors, which then set into motion a cycle of self-blaming and self-loathing.

When it seems like everything in the grocery store is against you, it becomes even more important to cultivate an ongoing sense of compassion for yourself. When you can acknowledge what you’re going through and every small victory you accomplish, you can help yourself heal and grow.

While I disagree with how defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering,” I do appreciate these synonyms they offered: “tenderness” and “heart”.

Compassion is more about validation than pity; “I see how challenging this is for you,” rather than, “You poor thing.” Feeling compassion is not about feeling sorry for oneself or someone else. It’s about looking at self and others through a tender heart.

Here are three ways you can add compassion into your life:

  1. HALT – This powerful slogan stands for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired,” which are feelings that can make people more vulnerable to act out in their addictions. When you become more aware of whether you are feeling one of those things, you can choose to act on that feeling, or address it using a healthier tool. It takes courage to look with integrity and truth at what’s really happening within yourself. This awareness gives you the compassion and perspective to see why you might be feeling or acting a certain way, and ask what you need to do to take care of yourself in that moment.
  2. Think twice about giving in to your compulsive behavior – It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you focus on the list of things that may not be going your way, “My friend isn’t talking to me,” “I had a struggle at work,” “I’m not talking to anyone in my family,” etc. The next thought might be to “treat” yourself or repeat a harmful behavior. Yet is it really a treat if it will damage your health and you’ll feel bad about it later?
  3. Question your self-talk – Notice the mixed messages and give yourself compassion for reacting to them. Release the self-criticism, shame and self-loathing that undermine your self-esteem and confidence and make you feel bad. This all just leads to wanting to eat more or restrict more.

Compassion is about being fully present with yourself, just as you are, without condemning or judging any part of your whole self. Compassion isn’t a free pass or letting yourself off the hook; it’s a way to focus on the solution and get yourself to the physical recovery that is so important.

The compassionate choice isn’t always the easiest one. Another 12-step axiom is that “the first thought is a freebie.” You don’t have to act on that first thought, which will often take you back into old, unhealthy patterns and habits. You can let that first thought go and revise it into one that will lead you towards recovery.

For some, compassion can be love. For others it can be grace. What is compassion for you?

This post was originally published on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog at

Your Body is Your Friend

When you have a distorted or unhealthy body image, it can cause you to want to harm yourself instead of love yourself. So before we move on to look at how to be a better friend to yourself and others, let’s talk about how to understand and start to heal your body image issues.

One of my favorite tools for self-awareness is journaling. When you put pen to paper, no one will see what you’ve written unless you choose to show them. This creates an atmosphere of safety and honesty that can lead to some powerful insights and discoveries about yourself.

You can find ready-made workbooks or journaling prompts about many different topics, or you can simply ask yourself a question at the top of the page and write down your answer.

If you really want to get to know yourself, join a 12-step program. It doesn’t need to be one related to food – choosing a group like Al-Anon or Clutterers Anonymous may be less intimidating, while still giving you access to the self-awareness and growth that come from working the 12 steps.

Therapy is another useful tool for understanding the body image issues that are affecting your relationships with yourself and others.

Gentle movement choices like we discussed recently on the blog are important forms of self-care that can create a self-nurturing relationship with your body. Things like yoga, relaxation and massage can all help you feel better in your body.

Choose your clothes carefully. Do the fabrics feels good against your skin, or is anything constricting or irritating you? Do your shoes support you in comfort as you move around, or are they too tight or worn down?

Do you make an effort to feel good about your appearance, choosing clothing and accessories in flattering colors and shapes? Do you practice good hygiene and take an extra few minutes to brush your hair?

In that same article about movement choices, I also mentioned my father’s advice about putting on my “tennis whites” – looking the part really did make me feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin – and as a tennis player!

When you can learn to treat yourself better at the most fundamental level of body care and awareness, you’re well on your to being your own best friend. We’ll talk more about that next week.

This post was originally published on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog at

Getting Physical – What to Do and What Not to Do

Getting physical isn’t about making a resolution, it’s about making a plan that fits you and your lifestyle. If you’re ready to get into action with more physical activity in your life, start with a plan.

Unlike a resolution, this is something you can start any day of the week, any month of the year. Or at this very moment. Then commit to try it for a few weeks to see how it feels.

A lot of people don’t stick with their programs because they try to do too much, too soon because they have an all-or-nothing mentality. This is a recipe for discouragement at best, injury at worst.

Healthy movement can heal body image issues by giving you ways to nurture the body and treat it kindly. When that is your focus, you’re less likely to do the things that harm your body, such as over-eating, under-eating or over-exercising.

Some of the most nurturing movement options include:

  • Gentle yoga
  • Walking outdoors
  • Moving to music (dancing)
  • Swimming
  • Relaxation
  • Simple stretching

To choose the right activities for you, consider your health issues, how much time you have, how motivated you are and what appeals to you. Once I worked at an agency and a lot of my co-workers were running 5Ks. One of them said, “C’mon, you can do it with me!” I jogged, but I’d never done a 5K before. When she told me she had placed first for her age category in her first event so I figured, “Hey, I can do this. Maybe I’ll even win!”

Well, it was a humbling experience. Not only didn’t I win, I didn’t even place. And it was an agonizing effort – I was so sore it took a week to recover. Running – and winning – a 5K wasn’t an appropriate goal for me. So please, learn from my mistake and consider your activity goals carefully!

To find time for physical activity, start small. If you’re already doing something, add a little more. Or to start, find 15 minutes – take away some TV time, reading time or even a little sleep time. Some find early mornings are best, so it’s out of the way, but anytime is fine.

I remember when I got my dog. Soleil is a BIG dog who needs to be walked a lot. It was too hard to plan long walks, so we did a lot of 10-minute walks. It wasn’t long before I noticed that I felt much fitter.

Little things add up. You may think that spending time in the garden is nothing, but it’s something. Not all of your physical activities need to have measurable outcomes. If you’re up and moving around, it counts! And when you add a little walk here and a game of catch with the kids there, you’ve got some significant activity! You can call yourself the ultimate cross-trainer.

Don’t underestimate the importance of clothing. I played tennis as a kid, and I remember my father saying, “You’re halfway there if you’re wearing the right clothes.” Just by putting on those tennis whites, I felt empowered and more confident in my skills. I hated to admit it, but my father was right.

Here are some things I don’t typically endorse, and why:

  • Intense activities such as running, ultra-long workouts, boot camps and hot yoga – we advocate for a more balance, nurturing approach to physical activity
  • Exercising outdoors by yourself after dark – we want you to be safe and not put yourself at risk
  • Improper footwear such as flip-flops or worn-out sneakers – these won’t provide the support you need and may lead to injury

As I wrote in a previous post, doing something – anything – is something. Just make sure it’s something that appeals to you and feels like you can keep up with.

This post was originally published on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog at