Sunday, November 23, 2008

That Awful "Fat" Feeling

Hi, Everyone,

This past month has been a whirlwind of activity for me. I've had the distinct honor of being on the CBS Early Show, featured in the New York Times, and just this week the 10:00 p.m. news on a local TV station. All can be viewed by clicking on the addresses below.

CBS Early Show:

NY Times:

WFRV Channel 5 News:

Since then, I've been contacted by many people with questions and looking for hope. Hope is available, and I encourage anyone struggling with and ED to seek it out. It will not likely fall in your lap, though I believe God does toss an unexpected gem our way every blue moon. Enough of that for now.

The topic I wanted to talk about today goes hand in hand with the Thanksgiving holiday coming to a dinner table near you next week. Hands down, Thanksgiving is probably one of (if not the) most difficult time of year for someone with an ED. The topic I'm referring to is that pesky, irritating sensation of feeling "fat" that just doesn't want to go away. I know how you feel when you talk about feeling fat. Most of the time it didn't matter what I ate or how much I exercised or dieted. It was a contant battle with this feeling, and it got old really fast. When I was in therapy for my anorexia, I learned that my fat feeling, though strong and real, was my brain's way of anxiously snatching up some some morsel to control, other than the real issues that lead to me having an ED in the first place. These issues were vague and cloudy to me, and I wanted to keep them that way. I didn't want to touch the parts of my life that were too painful.

Keep in mind that feelings, though very real and okay, can be extremely deceptive. Just because you feel fat does not mean you are fat. Feelings do not always reflect reality. They are a by product of our thought life. Once I began to tackle my thought life and confronted irrational beliefs, my feelings were a bit easier to handle.

In my experience and those of others I've spoken with who have overcome EDs, the fat feeling will eventually go away. For me, it didn't totally disappear (it did to some degree); it's more like it doesn't matter to me any more. I've accepted that it's a normal feeling for a body to have, just like hunger and the feeling of being satisfied after a meal. The fat feeling was just more noticeable when I had my ED and gave my brain something to play with, to control. My mind perceived my body as being fat when in reality it was only skin, body parts, and the ordinary internal workings of my body at work. Once I worked in therapy and started developing a new me, and my weight increased at a slow steady pace, I began to accept that I was at a normal body weight for my height and bone structure. The fat feeling monster was reduced to a mouse.

So, when you're sitting at the dinner table next week with all that food staring back at you and "scolding" you with: "You swallow me and you swallow a balloon" or "It may taste scrumptious for a few minutes but oh! how you'll suffer for it the rest of the day" or "You're too weak and defective to be like the rest of your family, who can eat and eat and shrug it off as no big deal" or "You will feel so fat ten minutes from now. Is it worth it?" and the indictments went on and on to infinity. I used to think I could almost hear the voices audibly.

Tips for the battle:

1) Resign yourself to eating small portions, ones where you'll not invite the stares and attention from family but also not have to needlessly suffer the rest of the day. Enjoy Thanksgiving. I don't recommend using this day to test yourself. Pick another day to do that. Work on transforming Thanksgiving's notorious reputation of battling with food into a holiday of relaxation and being with family and friends.

2) Make a plan before you enter the home with the big meal. Decide ahead of time what you'll eat, who you'll converse with (as much as possible anyway), and when you'll leave. Stick to the mission and do your best to make it work. It will help keep your anxiety in check and provide you a sense of more control.

3) Reward yourself after the day is complete. This helps put closure on your day and build your sense of worth. It reinforces the fact that you deserve to enjoy life and have "good" things.

4) Take at least two small breaks during your day to get alone and rest from all the "people pleasing" and looking "all put together." Journal what you feel. Talk to yourself quietly. Pray. Reflect on what you are doing succesfully during the day so far.

5) If you get yourself in a tight situation, like you ended up bingeing/purging or just ate a little too much and now it's too late, do your best to find a quiet space and reflect on what just happened. Journal your thoughts and especially your feelings immediately. Or, better yet, find a trusted person to confide in. "Yell" at God. Get your hurt out. He can handle it. The Bible says He won't chastise you for it, and actually wants you to do it (I Peter 5:7; Phil. 4:6). It's important not to stuff this anxiety, defeat, shame, guilt, anger, and other emotions. Start to work on forgiving yourself. Remind yourself once again that you are not perfect, and that you don't need to go through it alone. Try to remember all the times you've slipped up in the past and how you worked through them okay. You will this time, too.

God's speed to you next Thursday.

As my high school chemistry teacher used to say at the end of every class: "Okay, any questions, comments, criticisms, remarks?"

Send them my way. I'd enjoy hearing from you.

Till next time,


Friday, October 24, 2008

Comparison Game


A potentially destructive characteristic in someone with an eating disorders is the undeniable need to compare oneself to others. I used to spend an enormous amount of energy every day trying to match up a host of my mannerisms, potential, food intake, exercise patterns, and a host of other things with other people's daily lifestyles. For some reason, I always considered other people to be "right" or "normal". I used to ask myself, "How can they eat that amount of food and not feel guilty afterward?" or "How do they feel so comfortable in their body?" or "I wish I could be spontaneous and just let go and have fun like they can."

They, they, they. Why couldn't I be happy like everyone else?

But after going through therapy, I learned that other people who appeared "all put together" weren't so happy and problem free as I imagined. I learned that they were also comparing themselves to me and wishing they could have my self-discipline, or my thin body, or my drive to exercise. They wished they had my loving family or my athletic ability or my future career potential.

After a while, I began to accept that no matter how talented or incredible other people appear to be, they are just as fragile, imperfect, and vulnerable as I was to pain in life. No one is immune to hardship or hurt feelings, just as no one is immune to enjoying excitement or other more pleasurable emotions. The more I accepted this fact, the less alone I felt in my depressed state. I needed to understand that what a person sees on the outside is not always what's on the inside.

Be yourself. If you don't know who that is, take the steps to discover this person. I believe God already knows me better than anyone. So logic says, I need His help to find the real me. It's the only way.

Till next time,


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Amusement Park Attendant Philosophy


It's hard to believe another month has flown by since my last blog. Seriously, where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that my family and I were hitting the waves at Wisconsin Dells, a popular Wisconsin tourist hot spot with LARGE, exciting water parks.

As my six-year-old son and I were waiting in line for the go-carts, I noticed how slowly the amusement part attendants were strapping the kids into seat belts, shooing them in and out of the gate, and walking back to their umbrella that shields their golden skin from yet more sun. It struck me that of all the hundreds of amusement rides I've lived through over the years, every single one featured a poky attendant. Not one seemed the least bit anxious to rush through their work. I kept wanting to jump the gait and wind them up so they'd function faster.

Then I was reminded of all the times in therapy that I was encouraged to slow down, take my time, relax, take it easy, and so on. I'm not a type A personality, but I have been known to rush, rush, rush. I'm klutzy at times, too, mainly due to my impatient engine--at least I think.

Now that I look back on my forty years, I have learned that when I resisted the urge to rush through a project and subscribed to the amusement park attendant philosophy, I was able to think more clearly and wasn't so stressed. It also came to a great surprise to me that I was able to accomplish the same amount of project and even completed it more thoroughly.

I believe eating disorders are "rushy" disorders. They require a person to complete tons of work in a short period of time, whether that be exercise, obsessive thoughts about calories, weight, fat grams, or other non essentials, energy spent on beating oneself up emotionally, the exact routine completed to perfection, and countless other "garbage" that soon gets forgotten. If I didn't complete my exercises in the same amount of time everyday, I rushed through them the next day even faster to insure timely completion. If not, the rest of my day was ruined.

Therapy taught (forced me, really) to slow down, which was a huge burden for me. But as I practiced it consistently, I learned it wasn't as bad as I thought. I pushed through the uncomfortableness of it all and came through with new insights. I was okay. I didn't balloon up like a blow fish. My stomach didn't feel bloated. My life wasn't as overwhelming as I thought it would be. In fact, it was easier to manage, and that felt refreshing.

I believe God puts these amusement park attendant moments in my life to teach me that my way of thinking isn't always the best way of thinking. Change is hard at times, but it can bring growth and a better frame of mind.

So the next time you're waiting for the roller coaster, observe the calm, often bored demeanor of the attendant. Wisdom is found in the strangest places.

Try something different today.

Till next time,


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Do-It-Yourself Recovery

Hello again,

Summer is almost complete, which I'm not ready for at this point. Even though I'm looking forward to venturing back into the jungle of counseling at Sturgeon Bay High School, I'm in the midst of major remodeling and wiring on our house, which I'm doing myself.

For years I've complained to my patient wife, Jeanna, "I can't do wiring; I'll electrocute myself!" or "Tearing our the kitchen wall? I don't know about this. What if I..." and the list went on and on. But after discovering what our fantastic local library had available for home improvement resources, with lots of large glossy pictures (visual learner), and dogged encouragement from Jeanna, I finally decided to get my feet wet on a small project (changing the oil in my car) many years ago, and I did it! Taking the risk and being successful built my confidence tremendously. I discovered I could save a boat load of money by doing things myself around the house. My fear of failure was only that--a fear. It had no basis in fact to my problem solving ability and handyman resourcefulness I inherited from my father.

Recovering from an eating disorder is like that. The fear of failure and those dreaded excuses "I can't do that. It will be too hard. It will be..." keeps a person in check from making progress that, in reality, is only at an arm's length to reach out and grab. When a person refuses to listen to their fear of failure or thoughts of being incompetent or unworthy, and instead grits their teeth and pushes ahead to take a risk and try something new, the door to a grand new world of confidence can open up. The IT (degrading "voice" in our head) will continue to badger a person with "I can'ts" or "You don't deserve tos". This will not change. So many people keep holding onto the irrational idea that a magic word from their therapist, a book, or whatever will (without any difficult changes on their part) automatically switch their ED lifestyle for the magic land of happiness. What needs to change is a person's choice--a direct act of the will--not to listen or believe IT, and learn to substitute IT for another motivation.

For example, when I had my ED, my motivation came from the comfort of controlling my ED lifestyle. Today, my source of self-esteem rests in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I must admit, in this politically correct driven society, I've often been scared to publically acknowledge my faith for fear of what others would think. But it's a reality I've learned I can't deny. Knowing that I'm dearly loved by God, despite my failures and shortcomings, is a comforting feeling and sure-footed reality unmatched by anything else I've ever known.

Even so, this just didn't happen out of the blue. There was a time when God didn't mean much to me, and was exemplified by a policeman looking down from heaven and shaking His finger at everything I did wrong. But certain experiences happened that forced me to take a strong look at what I truely believed about God. I took the risk and made the choice to do some heavy soul searching, which was different than my routine, uncomfortable at times, and challenged me to go out of my comfort zone. The more research I did, I was humbled and my mind was pried open. Now I continue to build this relationship with hard work and keep it alive.

I hope your summer is coming to a pleasant close. Feel free to say "hey" if you get the chance.

Well, back to wiring our new over-the-range microwave with 12-2 wire on its own 20 amp circuit...

Till next time,


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Transitioning Back Home from Inpatient Care

Hello, again,

I recently wrote some feedback to a parent whose son will be returning home soon from being hospitalized for anorexia. I thought I'd share it--without identifying names, places, etc.. Transitioning back home from treatment is one of the more difficult parts of recovery. It's so for the ED "voice" to tempt a person back into old ED patterns. The key is to focus--even carry important tidbits around on a note card in your back pocket if that helps--on what was learned as an inpatient and developing a whole new lifestyle.

Thoughts to consider...

1) "Talk up" his return and welcome him home, but maintain your regular lifestyle. Keep in mind this is his illness and his responsibility to recover, even though you'd give your right arm to take away that "IT voice" from him. ED clientele love to be taken care of and coddled, even though they sometimes say or tell you otherwise. There's this "come here, Mom, I need you..." attitude and on the same token he'll say "Get away from me, Mom and leave me alone...". This is him exploring his identity and figuring out who he is, what he wants, how he "should" act compared to how he "wants" to act, and other issues. Continue to set boundaries with yourself and with him, be flexible when things get insane, keep separate (don't blame yourself) for his actions and attitude, display compassion, express your feelings appropriately, and basically let him know that you'll never give up on him, no matter how much it hurts.

2) If family therapy has enlightened you to how you can change to make his life better, consider the changes you need to make. This may be how you share you feelings with him, what your underlying expectations are for him, how you communicate with him, and other things.

3) ED recovery is a process--unfortunately a looooooong process. It's comparable to a marathon, not a sprint. But it is a process and a growing experience that can be invaluable to making his personal life and your relationship with him thrive. I always said that my ED experience was a blessing in disguise. It was hell to go through, and my folks were at their wit's end, but after I matured and made the changes necessary for recovery, our relationship has never been better. For example, we weren't a "touchy, feely" family. We rarely if ever gave hugs, pats on the back, said "I love you," or show other types of similar affection. Today we will not leave each other without hugs and "I love yous." When I was a kid, I didn't realize until I got into therapy that this was very important to me, but I just didn't know how to get the ball rolling and take action.

Feel free to contact me with questions or concerns. I'd be happy to lend support.

Till next time,


Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Other Side of the Fence

Hi, Again,

This past week I had the distinct honor of speaking to a group of male eating disorder inpatients at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. It's hard to describe the emotions that zipped through me like electricity as I entered the room. All of them stared at me with inquisitive expressions, eager with anticipation over what I'd say. I wanted to say the "right" words, to describe my story in such a way that would spark them on towards full and immediate recovery. But I knew very well that I had no control over their perceptions of me or how they would interpret the words that came from my mouth. I had a hard time accepting that.

The experience reminded me of how my parents and friends must have felt when I was "chained" to my own anorexia over eighteen years ago. How helpless and useless they must have felt. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the comments, "Can't you see, Gary, what you're doing to yourself? Why don't you just eat and be done with it?" I'd be comfortable well off financially. They simply could not understand what I was going through, no matter how sympathetic they were to my plight.

Recovery is a process. It doesn't and will not happen without each individual making radical changes in his or her lifestyle. Others can encourage, send flowers, lend listening ears, give the most sound advice in the wolrd, plead and beg, bribe, compromise, or do any number of creative things to purge their loved one from the eating disorder. But all is for naught without a direct decision by their loved one to take the risks necessary to slowly let go of the eating disorder lifestyle.

The best friends and family can do is take care of thier own selves, and not try to "fix" their loved one. This sounds almost counterproductive or selfish at first glance, but it's not. When we try to bend and twist our loved ones into our own agendas, we end up frustrated when it doesn't work, which only incites more anger and frustration for everyone. We can do our best to "be there" for our loved ones and stay by their sides while they struggle and work through their own issues and process, but that's where the road ends for us. We need to let go and allow our loved ones to press on ahead and develop the tools necessary for healthy living. The quicker we accept this, the less stress will be felt on the shoulders of both parties.

As an elementary counselor, I witnessed many parents of kindergarteners struggle with finally letting go of their child for their first day of school. They wanted to stay there the whole day and make sure thier son or daughter wouldn't be exposed to uncomfortable situations, or bullying, or being picked last for a game, or not being able to write their name correctly. But unless the kids were given the chance to struggle and work through these normal tasks, they would not develop the self-confidence and skills needed to go through school successfully. It's called being responsible TO a loved one and not FOR them. It's trusting in your loved one's ability to work through tasks on his or her own. It's allowing them opportunity to feel the pain of their poor decisions and pride in their wise ones. When they stumble and fall, it's helping them back on their feet, dusting them off, and letting them try again. This takes an indescribable amount of patience, but it pays off handsomely over time.

I hope the young men (and women) at Rogers Memorial Hospital will work hard at their own processes, to talk, to feel, to think, to gather the strength within themselves and apply it to thier change process. It feels satisfying on the other side of the fence.

I hope your summer is kicking off to a pleasant start.

'Till next time,


Sunday, May 11, 2008

An Indiana Jones Adventure Awaits You

Hi, Again,

It's been a busy month. Lots of speaking engagement; work is hectic but rewarding, toting kids to the "Y" activities, play performances, church youth group, and other events; clients for therapy, and the list goes on and on. I know most who read this can identify. It feels like an adventure, doesn't it?

Speaking of adventure...the new Indiana Jones movie will hit theaters in two weeks. I'm excited about viewing Harrison Ford's last epic adventure as the zealous yet affable archaeologist in search of legendary relics.

Recovering from an eating disorder is a lot like this--an adventure with lots of unexpected twists and turns, and ample amounts of risk. But it must be this way. Nothing of value comes with a easy cheap price tag. Otherwise it wouldn't be appreciated. To learn anything of value takes courage and humility, realizing that you don't know everything. To be willing to go beyond your comfort zone and try new things, like new ways of thinking and behaving, will never be comfortable and smooth.

But those who endure past the cob webs, booby traps, and slithering snakes (Indiana Jones HATES snakes), a treasure of imcomparable worth can be found. It's not a material treasure that gets old or loses its lustery allure over time. The treasure is a new you. And a new you cannot be discovered without risk, which involves accepting help from "sidekicks" or friends and family, and influences from our LORD, Jesus Christ. He created us and knows how we tick. Only he can provide a peace that surpasses all undestanding, an ultimate treasure.

So when you're sitting in the movie theater enjoying the many adventures of Indiana Jones, remember that you're own adventure awaits, an adventure of healing from the inside out.

Till next time,


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Living Simply Again

Hello again,

I walked into the Counseling Associates of Door County main office, or "bubble" as we therapists call it, to ready myself for another evening of clients when I saw a newspaper clipping taped to the edge of my mailbox. It was from an "Unknown" author:

I am hereby officially tendering my resignation as an adult. I have decided I would like to accept the responsibilities of an 8-year-old again.

I want to go to McDonald's and think that it's a four-star restaurant. I want to sail sticks across a fresh mud puddle and make a sidewalk with rocks. I want to think M & M's are better than money because you can eat them.

I want to lie under a big oak tree and run a lemonade stand with my friends on a hot summer's day. I want to return to a time when life was simple. When all you knew were colors, multiplication tables and nursery rhymes, but that didn't bother you, because you didn't know what you didn't know and you didn't care. All you knew was to be happy because you were blissfully unaware of all the things that should make you worried or upset.

I want to think the world is fair. That everyone is honest and good. I want to believe that anything is possible.

I want to be oblivious to the complexities of life and be overly excited by the little things again. I want to live simple again.

I don't want my day to consist of computer crashes, mountains of paperwork, depressing news, how to survive more days in the month than there is money in the bank, doctor bills, gossip, illness, and loss of loved ones.

I want to believe in the power of smiles, hugs, a kind word, truth, justice, peace, dreams, the imagination, mankind, and making angels in the snow.'s my checkbook and my car keys, my credit card bills, and my 401K statements.

I want to live simple again.

Apply this to your own life in any shape or form possible. You will be blessed by it.

Bye for now,


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Just Like the Movies

Hello again,

Sorry for the long pause in writing. Time slipped away after being sick for nearly two weeks straight (still recovering), computer woes, and something reminiscent of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This has been probably the longest, snowiest, coldest, gloomiest winter in memory for the Grahl clan. Sickness everywhere. Ice everywhere. Cabin fever everywhere. And nowhere to escape. Reminds me of a movie when a distraught family goes on an adventure but comes out hugging each other in the end...of course. Not much hugging going on around here these days. Germs rule. They're flexing their muscles and showing they're stronger than any superhero. In the movies, they'd be wiped out with the flick of a switch. Problem solved. Everyone goes home happy.

Let's be realistic. Real life has consequences, unlike the movies. I didn't want to believe that while growing up in my little anorexia world. I studied movies and how actors/actresses experienced their feelings, made their choices, and survived some gruesome encounter with an alien, wild animal, wild human, robot, underground world, or whatever Hollywood thought we'd like. I'd envy these big-screen heroes who stuck up to the villians and came out better people for it. After the flick, I'd always be riding a high emotional wave that made me want to jump out the window, into a tree, pounce onto the ground, and race off to save something. But then I'd wake up the next morning and be right back to square one, being boring old me. I did this often, and spiced it up with pretending walk, talk, think, dress, and comb my hair like my Hollywood idols. Sylvester Stallone was probably my favorite. I'd study him better than his own mother, and did all I could to chisel my body into his rock hard statue. But I'd always wake up the next morning being and feeling like unsensational old me. Again and again. Pretty soon I began taking the hint. I wasn't meant to be Sly Stallone, Cal Ripken Jr., or George Brett. But it took years for me to accept this fact. I liked the control I felt I had with wanting to be like anyone else but me. Just like the control I relished with eating/not eating whatever I wanted, exercising/not exercising whenever or however I wanted, and molding my daily dieting and exercise routine into the best it could be, unmatched by no other. It took pride. It took guts and self-discipline. It took...well, nearly my life.

Overcoming an eating disorder is like that. It takes a large gulping of pride, of giving in to the ED and saying "Fine, you win. Enjoy. I've got better things to do now." This is not a one-time event or even something that can be willed into being. It came for me after numerous trial and errors with making mistakes. Of experimenting with the wrong ways in order to discover that they weren't right for me. It meant taking care of myself and choosing to be good to my body and mind. I had to accept it wasn't selfish or greedy of me to think this way. You can do it, too.

Winter's going to last about another strong month here in weather wicked Wisconsin. We'll get through. We always do. Life will once again balance out to sunshine and warm weather, like health without an ED.

Till next time...


Friday, January 18, 2008

A New Look

Hello again,

I've got a new look and a new e-mail address. I've decided to go dark for awhile. Not because of surprised drop into depression, but it seems mysterious and bold--and a change of pace.
I learned this in therapy over the years--switch things up a bit; snap out of the ol' routine once in awhile; cross the fence into unfamiliar territory. It's risky but it's adventurous and even fun at times. It all depends on perspective, and we all can control our own perspective.
So, here we go...


Stop by and say "hi" soon.