Friday, June 10, 2016

5 Questions & Answers About Anorexia

I'm pleased to re-introduce today's guest blogger, Dana Lise Shavin, author of The Body Tourist, a memoir about the six years following her recovery from anorexia nervosa.   Last year she wrote a guest post about her experience and it was so well-received that I'm thrilled to have her back.  

5 Questions for the Anorexic—and Answers

by Dana Lise Shavin

If you’ve been told you’re anorexic, then you’re familiar with the questions below.

Aren’t you hungry?

Yes. I’m starving—literally and literally. It is excruciatingly difficult to severely restrict calories and at the same time maintain an exercise regime designed to burn off what little I still allow myself, so that I can continue to lose weight.

I am never “not hungry” except for in the minutes just after I (guiltily) ingested a few calories. I have never lost my appetite, only my ability to appease it. Because malnutrition interferes with the brain’s pleasure sensors, what I feel in the presence of food is powerful hunger wrapped up inexorably with extreme anxiety about eating it.

Can’t you see how thin you are?

No, I can’t. The reason for this lies partly in the realm of physiology and partly in the realm of psychology.

Physiologically my body, having used up its reserve of excess fat, turned to my muscles and connective tissues for fuel, and once those reserves were gone, it went after the neurons in my brain. Compromised (read: shrunken) brain capacity means I have serious problems with concentration, emotional lability (this is why I cry a lot or am otherwise moody), and difficulty remembering facts and events.

It has also thrown off my judgment, impaired my insight, deregulated my impulse control, and even interfered with my understanding of consequences.

Psychologically, I can’t see how thin I am because I have linked being happy with being thin, and although the number on the scale shows that I am extremely thin, I don’t believe it because I’m not happy yet.

And rather than question my hypothesis, I conclude I haven’t lost enough weight. I also can’t see myself clearly because I am emotionally unstable and wrapped up in control issues centering around my family, my body, and my independence, all weighty issues (if you will) that are causing me tremendous anxiety.

Also, look at our culture’s celebrities and models! Thin is in, and the thinner the better, right?  In short, I can’t see how thin I am because my brain is not processing information correctly anymore, I am anxious and emotionally unstable, I have erroneously linked happiness and thinness, and celebrities are modeling extreme thinness as desirable. All of this is why you telling me I’m sick and holding up a mirror to prove it just doesn’t work.

I dieted and I didn’t become anorexic. Why did you?
The short answer is that dieting alone didn’t lead to my eating disorder. Anorexia is a complex disorder that arranges itself around the seemingly innocuous behavior of dieting to lose a few pounds.

While most people will not become anorexic as a result of dieting, those who, like me, are also struggling with depression (50% of those with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression) (source: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: ANAD), familial instability, a history of physical or sexual abuse, and/or who have absentee or weight-focused parents, are at a much greater risk for eating disorders.

Magical thinking also plays a role in the development of anorexia, whereby individuals who will become anorexic erroneously believe that weight loss insulates against pain, disappointment, and even death.

What will help you recover?

This is such a wonderful question, and one that will figure prominently in my treatment. First and foremost what must happen is I must be restored to a non-starvation weight, so that my brain can begin to function properly again. Without this, I cannot know that I am ill, and thus cannot begin to do the emotional work of recovery.
The second most important thing that will help me recover is posing this question to myself: Do I want to do this (i.e. starve, exercise myself into oblivion, live in the hospital or in my parents’ home) for the rest of my life? At twenty, despite my illness, what I know is this: I am unrelentingly hungry, always cold, and very lonely.

Losing weight has not dispelled my depression or won me more friends or a boyfriend, like I thought it would; in fact, it has pushed people away, isolated me, and made me MORE dependent on my parents: I’m unable to live independently because I’m a danger to myself.

Is this what I was going for when I set out to lose ten pounds? No. Is this what I want for the rest of my life? No. Is this what I’ll have if I don’t do the work of recovery? Yes, if I don’t die first. Because here’s a fact: eating disorders have the highest rate of mortality of any of the mental illnesses (source: ANAD).

What should I do if I think I, or someone I know, is in danger of becoming anorexic (or having any kind of eating disorder)?  

When I was 16, a friend confided that she had lost twenty pounds and couldn’t stop dieting, although ten pounds had been her goal. I called her mother. My friend was furious. But she got help.

There are professionals specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, and inpatient, outpatient and day treatment centers across the US. Getting help—for yourself or someone else—begins with your understanding that disordered eating can consume years of your life (at best) or, if allowed to go unchecked, can take your life.

If you are struggling with anorexic thinking—even if you’re of normal weight—make an appointment to talk to a professional. If it’s a friend or family member who’s suffering, don’t get into in a power struggle around food, eating, or weight loss.

You won’t get her (or him) to see herself clearly no matter how many mirrors you hold up. You will be of the most help if you invite her to talk, are supportive, and offer to make an appointment and go with her to speak to a professional. If it’s a friend and she refuses your help, tell someone else close to her (a parent, teacher, or spouse) what you suspect. If it’s your child, you must insist on treatment. Look into ANAD or the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) for help about how to proceed.

Dana Shavin, M.S., CPCC, is a certified professional life coach, speaker, and author of the memoir, The Body Tourist, about the intersection of her struggle with anorexia with her mental health career. 

Her book has been featured on the Remuda Ranch treatment center website, on, and on the San Francisco Review of Books list. New York Times best-selling author Jacqueline Mitchard called The Body Tourist “…riveting reading, the biography of an illness as stubborn as the woman determined to kill it. Dana Lise Shavin can write with both hands, by turns comic and tragic, and always fiercely honest.” 

In addition to her long-running personal column in the Chattanooga Times Free PressDana speaks often about recovery and best life practices at both nondenominational and religious institutions and universities. She was a guest educator this past fall at the Meacham Writers Conference at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines including Oxford American, The Sun, and The Writer.  Her website is

Saturday, May 28, 2016

How To Get Through The Summer Without Food Issues

Summer is coming.  That means barbecues, pool parties, beach parties, and more. 
Just thinking about it might make you nervous.  Here's how to get through the summer without focusing on food, weight or diet:

How to deal with food

The anticipation of deprivation only makes you want something more.  If you're trying to be "good" and NOT eat hamburgers, chips, ice cream or whatever, then you're constantly thinking about food while you're at parties, instead of connecting with people and having fun!

When you think you can't have something, you'll just want it more.

What to do?  Give yourself permission to have whatever you think is forbidden.  

Yes.  Have what you want!

You may be afraid that you'll start eating and never stop.  That won't happen if you consistently allow yourself to eat what you want.  If you "can" have it, sometimes you'll have it and sometimes you can decide not to have it.  

How has dieting and restricting yourself from having certain foods worked so far?  I'm guessing, not too much.  Give this new way a try!

How to deal with people

Do you get mixed messages from your friends and family?   Someone might say, "Oh, one bite won't hurt you.

And someone else may say, disapprovingly, "Do you think you should eat that?"

If you think everyone's watching what you eat, it's enough to make you hide from people and turn to food.  
Also, people often talk about food at parties.  Again, this puts the focus on food instead of on... well, other things in life.

What to do?  Say you're on a diet.  A word diet.  Announce that you're not talking about food or dieting or losing weight (yours or anyone else's).   There are lots of other topics of conversation - suggest one! 

How to enjoy yourself
Focus on your senses:  sight, smell, touch, listen, taste.  Look around the party and notice what you see.  Is it a beautiful day?  Does it make you happy to see friends and loved ones?  Do you see the sand, the sea, a pool, a grassy yard?
What are you hearing?  Laughter?  Music?  Conversation.
What does the water feel like?  Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.  

Keep in mind that the sun and water won't feel better if you are thinner.

When you find new ways of relating to yourself and your world, you stop using food for comfort or distraction. And that's how you make peace with food!

Want even more support on your journey?  I can help!  Imagine feeling FREE of food cravings and being at peace, all without dieting (yes, it is possible)!

Sign up for my FREE 3 Day Challenge to crack the code of emotional eating.  CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Crack The Code To Emotional Eating

How do you crack the code of emotional eating?  By changing the way you respond to your emotions!

Last weekend I had the honor of speaking at an uplifting, fabulous event in Santa Monica, celebrating self-acceptance and honoring Mental Health Awareness Month.  For those of you who couldn't be there, I wanted to bring the event to you!

Click my photo or click HERE to watch the video!  

For those of you who'd rather read the speech, here's what I said:

"I want to tell you this thing that happened...  I’m in the park and there are these two toddlers – a little girl and a little boy – and they’re playing in the sand, digging, sifting, eating sand, having a great time. 

All of a sudden the boy gets up and runs off.  He just takes off - with the shovel.  

The little girl bursts into tears.  She’s upset – her friend took off and she’s sad.  And here comes mom, running up, “Don’t cry!  Don’t cry!  It’s okay!”

Of course she keeps crying, because... well, we've all been there, right?  You're hanging out with someone, thinking everything is going great, you're getting along, and then suddenly they're gone.  So she's upset.

And mom’s digging in her diaper bag, saying, “Stop crying, it’s okay,” and then she says, “Here, have a cookie.”


What did that little girl learn?  She learned that feelings cause other people to be anxious and upset and she should not cry.  But if she absolutely can’t stop herself, a cookie will do the trick. 

Hello, disordered eating in the future. 

So what does this have to do with self-acceptance and mental health?  Well, when we talk about mental health, we’re often talking about emotional health.  Only we’ve got a problem in this country, because we make emotions into a bad, scary thing.

You’re considered weak if you feel your emotions and strong if you don’t.  How does that even make sense?  Doesn’t it take a lot of strength to deal with painful, difficult emotions?

Here’s the thing:  cookies don’t take away feelings.   You can’t stuff feelings down, you can’t starve them away, purge them, drink them away, gamble them away, work them away, let them go, or use positive thinking to get rid of them.  

There’s only ONE WAY to get rid of feelings.  

That little girl in the sandbox?   If her mother had just said, “Yeah, honey, that hurts.  It’s hard when people leave you and take your stuff.”  If she’d said that, then the girl would have had a good cry and felt better.

That’s how you get rid of feelings.  As counterintuitive as it may seem, the only way to get rid of feelings is to actually FEEL them.

We need to accept that feelings are reactions to situations and not character flaws.   If you get mad, you’re not an angry person; you’re a person who’s angry.

We need to accept our emotions and give them our attention, not our condemnation.

We must accept tears.

Accept our fears.

Accept everything we feel, today and every day, because ultimately emotions are NOT a sign that you are weak. They are a sign that you are human. 

By accepting your feeling, you accept your humanity.  And that’s a healthy outlook!"

What are you going to do today to accept yourself?   Share by replying to this post!

Once again, here's the link to the speech:

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Want even more support on your journey?  I can help!  Imagine feeling FREE of food cravings and being at peace, all without dieting (yes, it is possible)!

Sign up for my FREE 3 Day Challenge to crack the code of emotional eating.  CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ever feel like something's gotta give?

Ever feel like there's just not enough time in the day (or week, month, year) to do everything you have to do?

Often we wear too many "hats" in the day.  Maybe you can relate to some of mine:
  • Author
  • Chauffeur (got kids? then you know what I mean)
  • Commuter
  • Dog walker
  • Event planner (kids birthday parties need serious planning!)
  • Mentor
  • Parent
  • Partner/Wife
  • Psychoanalyst
  • Referee (see above of you've got more than one kid)
  • Speaker

And that's just the short list!  Add on more and something's gotta give, right?

You may have noticed that I haven't written blog posts or sent emails as frequently as before.  Nor have I produced new podcasts or videos.  

What's up with that?  

I've been busy finishing the manuscript for my upcoming book, speaking at three online summits, remodeling my house, and making updates to the Kick The Diet Program (details coming soon!).

I realized I couldn't do everything on my very long list unless I cloned myself - and that's not an option.

At first I was worried about not sending those weekly emails with "food for thought."  What would people think?  What if I let people down?  I don't want to disappoint you!

Then I realized the best thing I can do is set the example of being human.  We can only do so much, and if we push ourselves too hard, there are consequences to our health and wellbeing.  

Self-care is knowing your limits and honoring yourself.

I had to give up my idea of being superwoman.  Which is fine, as lycra capes are not my thing.

Seriously, I want to pass on what I learned the last few months...

If you ever stress about not doing enough, take some time to breathe.  You won't have this time again, so don't rush your life working towards future goals.  

Make each day count!!


Dr. Nina

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Want even more support on your journey?  I can help!  

Imagine feeling FREE of food cravings and being at peace, all without dieting (yes, it is possible)!

Sign up for my FREE 3 Day Challenge to crack the code of emotional eating:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Body Apology

I'm so excited to introduce today's guest blogger, Andrea Wachter, a psychotherapist, author and motivational speaker who will inspire you with her thoughtful and humorous views on body image, disordered eating and recovery.  

Take it away, Andrea!

A Body Apology

Imagine you had a friend, and 24 hours a day, this friend was working for you, doing all kinds of really important things. Imagine your friend was holding you up, helping you walk, breathe, laugh, sleep, read, see, dream, hear sounds, touch things, feel love, pump blood into your veins, digest food, and countless other miracles.

Imagine after all that help and non-stop work, your response was to criticize this friend, call them names, and tell them you don’t like them or even that you hate them. 

Can you imagine that?

Well this is what many people do to their bodies. 

Our bodies work constantly for us, 24/7; and thanks to the media injecting unhealthy, unrealistic messages into our minds, every single day, most of us are not only forgetting to thank and appreciate our bodies for all that they do, but walking around hating the amazing bodies we live in. Some kind of thanks that is!

I began hating my body when I was a teenager. This led me to a decades- long, unpaid career of dieting, overeating and obsessing on my poor, unappreciated body. 

Thankfully, after many years and tears, I found the help I needed. I learned over time, how to treat myself with kindness and compassion, and I learned how to eat real food in moderate amounts. And now I have the honor of helping others do the same.

I realized recently that while my body must be infinitely more content with the treatment it receives from me now, I felt like I owed it an apology for all the decades that was not the case. So, I wrote a Body Apology. I thought I would share it with you in the hopes that you might join me in one of your own.

Dear Body,

v I am sorry for ignoring your hunger signals for so many years.

v I am sorry for making you drink disgusting diet shakes and eat tasteless diet foods.

v I am sorry for stuffing you with excess food and then shaming you when you were only responding to the starvation and self-hate that I was inflicting on you.

v I am sorry for comparing you to other women I knew nothing about and thinking you were supposed to look like them.

v I am sorry I thought of you as an object to gain approval and attention, rather than the amazing miracle that you are. 

v I am sorry for hating every freckle, lump and bump on your skin.

v I am sorry for stuffing you into clothes that felt too tight and hating you when things no longer fit.

v I am sorry for making you wear high-heeled shoes that felt way too cramped and uncomfortable.

v I am sorry for criticizing you every time I saw your reflection in a mirror or a window.

v I am sorry for thinking you could not leave the house without wearing make-up.

v I am sorry for depriving you of rest when you were tired.

v I am sorry for pumping you with caffeine instead of listening to your natural rhythms.

v I am sorry you had to ingest dangerous substances because I wanted to fit in and look cool.

v I am sorry I made you exercise in ways you didn't even like.

v I am sorry I put you in situations you did not really want to be in.

v I am sorry I ignored your wise intuition and said “yes” when you clearly felt “no.”

v I am sorry I avoided your natural emotions and instead, turned to unhealthy behaviors and unkind thoughts.

v I am sorry I stayed silent when you nudged me to speak up, because I feared the disapproval and rejection of others.

v I am sorry I put countless cigarettes into your lungs because I didn't yet know how to handle stress or pauses in the day.

v I am sorry I spent so much time criticizing you that I forgot to say thank you and acknowledge your amazing senses, systems, limbs and organs.

v I am sorry I thought my value as a human being was entirely dependent on you.

v Oh, and I am sorry about those leg warmers and shoulder pads in the 80’s!

Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell as well as The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. She is also author ofthe upcoming book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, blogs and other services, please visit

Click here to check out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell by Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus.

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Thanks, Andrea Wachter, for such a thought-provoking post.
What is YOUR body apology?  Share now!