Annina Schmid (M.A.) is a feminist counsellor who helps women recover from binge drinking and disordered eating, as well as families with young adults who "failed to launch". Annina employs Solution Focused Dialogue to support and empower her clients in making lasting life changes. She works from a strengths-based harm reduction approach. Annina works with all genders and people on the LGBTTIQQ+ spectrum.
As a counsellor who works mostly with women who struggle with disordered eating and binge drinking, I have started running monthly online support groups at the beginning of the year. Here are the four most important things I have learned from my participants:
1. Recovery is really possible
First and foremost, I want to stress that recovery from an eating disorder or problematic substance really is possible. Participating in an online support group can be a great reminder of this fact, as group members constantly share their successes and recovery wins. In my groups, I make it a point to focus on what is going well for my group members. As everybody is already beating themselves up enough about what's not going well anyways, people have found it beneficial to be reminded of the many ways their recovery is already happening. Group members are explicitly encouraged to share recovery strategies that work for them personally, in the hopes that others who can relate can draw some inspiration from their achievements. Group members bear witness, encourage, celebrate and support each other every step of the way.
2. Rejecting the diet mentality is the first step to getting better
When it comes to eating disorders in particular, recovery is tough: wherever we go, we are bombarded with diet messages. "Eat this!" "Don't eat that!" "Work out!" "Join this useless cleanse, diet or health trend!" We have to be really strong and secure in our desire to get better in order to actually get better, and often the first step is debunking popular diet myths and unfollowing people who make money off of making us feel bad. As you might know, research shows that diets don't work: 95 out of 100 people who lose weight will gain it back within two years, and the five that don't usually keep it down by means of disordered eating. Therefore, one of the first suggestions I make to anyone struggling with their body image is to unfollow social media accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and look for body positive messaging instead. Great places to start are @bodyposipanda, @jenniferrollin and @immaeatthat who will all tell you that your life truly begins once you realize that you don't need a special occasion to enjoy cake.
3. Sharing your feelings is healing
Providing a supportive environment conducive to healing is my number one goal with these groups, and time and time again I get to witness how even just being in the presence of others who "get it" is a healing experience for my participants, who often struggled in shame and silence for years - and all by themselves. While group members usually live many thousand kilometres apart from each other, there is great comfort in knowing that their eating disorder is not due to a personal character flaw, and that there are many relatable elements between them; even across age groups, income levels, and ethnic backgrounds. For the purpose of healing, I would strongly encourage anyone whose thoughts are consumed by food to share their secrets with their family, friends, a professional, and/or in an in-person or online support group, because keeping them to yourself will perpetuate, and over time most likely worsen, your condition.
4. Food is supposed to taste and feel good
There is absolutely nothing wrong with liking to eat food! On the contrary, we are biologically programmed to do so. Food is supposed to make you feel better, and our tendency to seek solace from it is therefore perfectly understandable. We all eat emotionally sometimes and that is more than ok. Taking up less space in the world does not make you a more worthy or loveable person, and you deserve happiness and freedom from your eating disorder no matter what size of clothes you are wearing! Realizing that we often apply harsher standards to ourselves than others is another big learning. Those group members who are diligently practicing being kinder to themselves will often recover faster.
(And for those of you who have more technical questions: I run my online groups via Zoom and use Acuity Scheduling and Stripe as booking and payment tools. The groups work very well in adjunct to individual therapy or counselling sessions, and if you could benefit from participating or have a client who might, here is more information and this is where one signs up.)
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.