Shame is an inevitable component of binge eating disorder, so although it’s the most common of eating disorders, it’s rarely discussed.
Binging was a carefully hidden secret for me since my early teen years. I remember getting upset over a running injury and devouring a chocolate cake. Not a piece of cake — a whole chocolate cake — and it was still mostly frozen. Binging was my normal; I didn’t believe change was possible. So even as I got degrees in nutrition and ate more nourishing foods, there were still nights where I’d polish off a can of frosting, and suffer through the inevitable self-loathing hangover.
Most self-help books emphasize will and action. From The Power of Positive Thinking to Skinny Bitch, they sound the same affirmative, even aggressive, bass note. Judith Orloff, a UCLA psychiatrist, appreciates the effort necessary for achievement and its satisfaction. In The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life, she balances this emphasis on doing with a deep understanding of being and the great, transformative blessings of acceptance. Power, she tells us, gains grace when we wear it lightly and peacefully welcome its limitations. It serves us best when we share it with others.
I am facilitating my second Mind-Body Skills Group since completing both the Advanced Mind-Body Medicine and Food As Medicine courses. The first group started with eight members and ended with a core of four, who have since held two reunions with a third on the horizon. During the time between reunions these individuals have no contact except through me and yet they want to keep in touch, so every few months we get together for lunch.
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When I was growing up, my Dad always told me that I could do anything, be anything. You just had to work hard enough for it. Although that put a great deal of pressure on me to strive for excellence (and probably accounted for years of therapy), it also gave me great confidence. For me, there were absolutely no limits in life.
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I was raised as a completely non-religious person. I never learned to meditate, didn’t think much of the mind-body-spirit stuff because I couldn’t wrap my head around the ‘spirit’ part.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. I didn’t know a single living soul with cancer, and folks seemed to go out of their way to tell me about their next door neighbor’s cousin “but she died”, or their co-worker’s sister’s friend – “but she died”. So I had NO doubt that I would die – especially because I met with a surgeon on Thursday and was told they had an opening on Monday. I interpreted that to mean I was doomed.
Several years ago, the Universe forced me to examine the “scar tissue” surrounding my heart, the direct result of a chronic American illness– racism. The multiple re-injuries to this wound affected every aspect of my existence, from family interactions, to childhood friendships, to personal and professional goals. Tragically, it also affected my own self-image.
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Today was the first of eight sessions in a Philadelphia private medical practice where I am implementing an evidenced-based treatment protocol utilizing The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s small group model. The common diagnosis for this group is Morbid Obesity with a BMI of >40 and co-morbidities including Diabetes type II, chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis, hypertensive heart disease, and chronic pain syndrome. All of the group participants have tried multiple diets; some have experienced success then put the weight back on, and then some.
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Sometimes we talk about how the Center’s work at a very broad level is really peace and conflict resolution work: healing trauma in individuals, families and communities, to bring about forgiveness, revitalization, growth, and hope. Perhaps, if you are an alum of our programs, you have experienced this?
Sometimes healing means understanding, sometimes it means letting go. It might mean leaving, or staying; it might mean developing gratitude, awareness, self-compassion, or self-expression. Mind-body medicine allows us to be human, and our group model creates the holding container in which what needs to happen can finally happen, instead of being held in or held back. Again and again, we witness the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.
In the season of light, as the new year approaches, we look forward to continuing this remarkable healing work, bringing comfort to people who are suffering, and doing our part to bring peace on earth.
Sending love and our very best wishes to you and yours!
The Staff of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine
Author: Jo Cooper, Online Communications Editor
It was a tense moment. The phlebotomist had tried drawing blood from both of my arms without success, and had left the room in search of a colleague to take over. I sat, band aids and bruises in the crooks of my arms, curious about how this next attempt would go… when I had a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). It wasn’t all down to the technician — I could help! I just had to riffle through the rolodex in my brain to find the right resources.
I learned to meditate over 20 years ago. It opened the doors to a lifelong practice of meditation techniques, including Vipassana and yoga, and spiritual exploration with wonderful teachers. As I practiced and practiced, I noticed that I was able to listen more deeply to both my patients and myself, and felt less stressed in my daily work as a medical doctor.
It wasn’t until 15 years ago when I began to work with The Center for Mind-Body Medicine that I learned the importance of teaching my patients these skills, too. Stress is a contributing factor for 80% of all chronic illness in our country, and numerous studies have shown the power of meditation and mind-body skills to reduce the effects of stress and even reverse illness. I talk at length about this in my book, The Immune System Recovery Plan, A Doctors 4-Step Program for Treating Autoimmune Disease. At Blum Center for Health we teach these skills in Mind-Body Groups, following the model developed by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.