Monthly Archives: December, 2014

The Diet Trap and Surviving the Holidays

Santa on a diet

“When you focus on your weight and the rules you must follow to lose weight, something very important is lost: your life!” – The Diet Trap

Christmas cookies, Christmas cakes, Christmas turkey, egg nog, …I’ve been thinking about how the stress of compulsive eating, emotional eating, dieting, and disordered eating affect so many people this time of year. I always feel sad when I hear Karen Carpenter singing Christmas carols, how her dying of an eating disorder was such a tragic backdrop to the gift of her voice. That is what happens in an eating disorder: your voice is lost.

It can be so tempting, during this time of year, to use food as a comfort for unmet feelings or to to diet/restrict food as a way to avoid or control uncomfortable feelings. However, it has been proven, again and again, that diets don’t work.

Diets don’t work

Here’s are some by now well-researched facts about how diets don’t work and yet how prevalent dieting and disordered eating continue to be:

  • 95% of diets fail and most will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years
    (Statistics on Weight Discrimination: A Waste of Talent, The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, 2011).

And yet:

  • 75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies (Three Out Of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating, Survey Suggests, Science News, 2008).

In the book The Diet Trap (Lillis, Dahl, and Weineland, 2014), it is reiterated that our brains and bodies are set up to crave certain foods. We crave them whether we eat too much or them or avoid them. People experience food as being pleasurable, and when you deprive yourself of certain foods, they may actually become more rewarding (Saelens and Epstein, 1996). Eating sugary and fatty foods changes our brain chemistry in ways similar to taking addictive drugs (Volkow and Wise, 2005). 

Myth: There is something wrong inside of you and once you fix it your life will be better. *

Have you ever told yourself that you’d initiate sex with your partner only if you felt freedom from all negative body image thoughts? Or what about that you’d go to a dance class once you lost weight? How about you’d eat dessert only if you were guaranteed to not feel anxious and completely free of guilt? What about, after eating dessert, thinking “I shouldn’t have done that. Now I have to start training for a marathon this January to make up for it.”

What I love about the “acceptance and commitment therapy” approach that The Diet Trap uses is that it really nails your mind into acknowledging its own craziness without trying to “fix” it. Like Buddhism, it closes the option on the fantasy that you will reach a point of no suffering. It also holds the perspective that you are completely whole and do not need to continue to suffer, fix, or be fixed. Though this may sound like the bad news, it can also be quite relieving to realize what some part of you has known all along. Diets don’t work, your mind as actually the source of where the suffering is, there is no escape from your mind, and also there is nothing wrong with you.

Let’s look at a few more myths:

  • If you lose weight you will be happy.
  • If you lose weight, your life will be better.
  • The more disgusted you are with yourself, the more motivated you will be to change.

Nope. I can reliably say from my own 20 years of recovery experience, and 15 years of working with recovering women, that these truly are myths, not reality.

You may ask, but how can I survive the holidays without resorting to using food (overeating, bingeing, purging, dieting, restricting, obsessing about food)?

Here are some tips for navigating the holidays:

1) Breathe diaphragmatically

This sounds like a simple thing, but is not always easy to remember. By breathing intoyour belly (think Santa NOT on a diet) and expanding it like a balloon on the inhalation deflating it on the exhalation you shift from sympathetic (fight or flight) into parasympathetic nervous system. This allows you to relax, get a bit more perspective, digest food more easily, pause on impulsive urges, and decrease anxiety.

2) Detach with Love

If you notice your mind obsessing about food – (or shopping, or alcohol, or your romantic relationship or lack of romantic relationship, or the exact right present for your child, or whether your in laws are going to talk about politics) – breathe and detach for a moment. Imagine that most outcomes about things the mind obsesses on turn out to be ok, even if they are not the scenarios your mind wanted. If you obsess about your mother making triggering food, your father making comments about needing to “exercise away his belly” after a meal, or you getting the wrong present for your mother in law, detach with love. You are powerless over changing other people. You can change you, not them. Practice distress tolerance for 24 hours, and know this, too, shall pass.


3) Do something you love that reminds you of contentedness or joy.

Whatever that something is, playing music, journaling, making a collage, practicing yoga, dancing, going to nature, do it! Even if it is just for a few minutes. Do it to remember the experience of peace and joy. If you have a part of the holiday, that you truly love

IMG_1544(singing carols in candlelight, seeing the lights, helping others) then make an effort to do that yourself or invite others to do that with you.

4) Practice Meta

Metta is a Buddhist practice of lovingkindness. You can practice sending lovingkindness to others as a way to help your own self. If you are feeling lonely, you can imagine all the other people in exactly the same feeling as you experiencing loneliness during this time. If you are with people but feeling not-belonging, you can imagine all the other people in exactly the same situation. If you are struggling with your eating disorder or alcohol, imagine all the other people that are struggling with this obsession. Practice sending lovingkindness to them as a way to bring compassion to yourself. You are not alone.


The Diet Trap: Feed Your psychological Needs and End the Weight Loss Struggle Uisng Acceptance and Commitment Therapy By Jason Lillis, PhD, Joanne Dahl, PhD, and Sandra M Weinland, PhD (New Harbinger Publications, 2014)

“You must give birth to your visions…”


“You must give birth to your visions. They are the future waiting to be born. Fear not the strangeness you feel. Just wait for the birth, for the hour of the new clarity. ” -Rainer Maria Rilke


1. the act or power of seeing something with the eyes
2. the act or power of seeing or anticipating that which will or may come to be “prophetic vision, the vision of an entrepreneur”

     Every year I make, and then facilitate others making, vision collages. What is a vision collage? It is just as it sounds- a collage of your vision. It is a visual representation of what you would like to live your way into.  It can be as literal and/or non literal as you would like. It may include very specific items (a new car or job) or how you would like to feel (safe, loved, free from anxiety). I usually focus on the year ahead to ground it: What is your vision for the next year? However, the Soul works in its own way and its own timeline. There is a 12-step saying about spirituality, which goes like this: God has three answers: Yes; Yes, but not now; and No, I have something better in mind.


Although this may sound easy, it isn’t always easy to live your way into the yes of your vision. I often think of vision collages as a map of where-you-will-arrive-after-clearing-the-obstacles-to-where-and-who-you-already-are. For example, four years ago, I put on my vipriussion collage a brand new prius. That year, when my toyota corolla, (which had been going and going and going), died, I went to the car dealer and looked at possibilities. I looked at many cars, including brand new prius-es and another used toyota corolla. That night, when went home to think about it, sleep on it, and talk with financial advisors, I still couldn’t make up my mind. Finally, my husband who who had been talking about how much more long term financially feasible it would be to get the new prius when I was whining about “maybe I should just get another used corolla,” brought me over to my vision collage and said “IS THAT A COROLLA UP THERE OR A PRIUS?!” Suddenly, I realized it was my own fear of stepping into my vision that was the obstacle. The next day I got my prius.
Many years prior to the prius, I put a pregnant woman on my vision collage. At the time I was not in a romantic relationship and was a No-or-ambivalent-at-best on the question of having children.  I didn’t even know if I could have children due to having an eating disorder and the possibility of damaging my fertility earlier in my life. I wasn’t sure why the pregnant lady appealed to me and appeared on my collage, but I went with the intuitive process of putting the image on there without needing to know what it meant. I thought this was more about birthing myself in recovery and my career, which was true at the time and did occur that year.

Yes, but not now:

However, many years later, the pregnancy became literal. I am now happily a mom when I thought I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be.
Another Yes,-but-not-now expeIMG_2066rience was putting “Licensure as a Clinical Psychologist” on my vision collages. All through working at substance abuse rehabs, eating disorder rehabs, hospitals, graduate school, pre-doc, finishing the dissertation process, post-doc, post-baby, post postponing the first licensure exam, post passing the first licensure exam, post starting a private practice, and FINALLY passing the second exam, this was on my vision collages. There were many times I lost faith in the process, but just kept putting 1 foot in front of the other toward the vision and finally manifested it.

I have something better (or different) in mind:

Even before the pregnant woman, a blue-eyed “ideal partner” was on my vision collage. This never came true. I was ok with that. My husband has crinkly brown eyes full of depth. I had actually forgotten this was even part of my vision until a friend and colleague pointed out years later that my child has beautiful blue eyes. When I realized that, tears came to mine because of the mysterious ways that spirit brings our visions true. I never would have imagined that I was to become a mom, nor that my “blue eyed partner” was going to be created inside of me from two brown eyed parents.
Just in case you think visions always come true in exactly the way you wish they would, here is what I had on my vision collage the year I was pregnant:
Well, he was comfy and dry for the most part, but “like a champion”is most definitely not how I would describe my baby’s sleep patterns the first year!
The next year I was a bit more realistic about affirming the shadow side, difficulties, and imperfections of mothering (while still loving the miracle and privilege of it).
I didn’t go to Hawaii that first year, but this year we are going as a family.

     For 2014,  I had “Recovery Mama’s” vision statement on my collage. It included guest blogging, creating affirmation cards for new moms, writing my book, and supporting moms recovering from eating disorders in my psychotherapy practice.
The book proposal is being edited, and stay tuned for my newly coming guest blog next month!
Here are the affirmation cards:
I feel truly blessed to work with the clients I see and witness their growth in recovery and motherhood. It is literally a labor of love and the work I feel called and honored to do.

What are your visions for 2015? There is no wrong way to make a vision collage. Sometimes people I work with use all words, sometimes they use all pictures, sometimes they use a board and sometimes colored paper. Often they will choose magazine images that speak to them intuitively that they don’t necessarily know why. And sometimes they will choose very specific images. One of my favorite quotes is from Meister Eckart and says:

“When the Soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.” 
That is my wish for you!
To learn more about vision collage workshops, go to:
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