Archive for May 29, 2014

In Honor of Dr. Maya Angelou

Today’s Love Your Body post comes from acclaimed Dr. Maya Angelou, in honor of her passing yesterday. From her family- “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”

Click the link to hear her reading her poem, “Phenomenal Woman” (apologies about the ad before the video, but it’s worth the wait!):

Dr Maya Angelou

You can find the full text of the poem at Poetry Foundation.

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Today I Will Cherish Every Part of Me

swing with border etc

We hear it on the radio, our favorite song comes on.

“I love this part,” I say.

Why can’t we say this same thing about our bodies?

 –Eman Elbarbary


“I love this part, here, this scar from a summer day when I was too full of my youth

This curve, where a lover presses their lips and whispers ‘Like this, always.’

The crease in my face when I smile that holds in its shadow every smile”

“I love this part,” and I’ll trace my fingers over the ridge of a muscle that rises when I pick up my child and swing her on my hip

Stroking my neck, I’ll say, “I love the vocal chords that let me say to a friend, ‘I am so sorry.’

The slope of my ears that listen and the hair of my eyebrows that crease when her words spill out all night

I love this part- the bulge that makes my knees bend, that gets sore and protests when I spend too long biking in the sun

The part that puckers my lips to kiss

The softness in the palms of my hands that tells people that they are known, seen, loved”

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Mental Illness as Expertise

Obsession with food is not a good thing, Chipotle

Obsession with food is not a good thing, Chipotle

Driving down 94, I was a little taken aback at the Chipotle billboard I saw. Normally, billboards about obsession with food that I see are from our friends at The Emily Program and are about getting help. This one seemed to be using food obsession to prove expertise and as a selling point.

The repetition in this ad seems to be an overt reference to one symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: the repetition of thoughts or rituals. Eating disorders commonly co-occur with anxiety disorders, with OCD being the most common co-occurrence, and frequently people struggling with these disorders manifest ritual and compulsive behavior around food and eating. That means, for many people, compulsive behaviors (such as repetition) around food present a daily struggle. In Minnesota alone, at least 200,000 people (and 14 million nationally) struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, and idealizing symptoms of these disorders does not promote health or foster prevention and recovery. Obsessive behaviors can interfere with a person’s ability to function in their daily life, not to mention that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. These illnesses are not punchlines and they are not marketing tactics. Ignoring the reality of these disorders and folks who live with them is insensitive at best and dangerous at worst.

This ad seems not only to ignore the seriousness of disordered eating and compulsive behavior, but also to embody these symptoms as a claim of authority. We, the viewer of this ad, are meant to feel that because Chipotle (the company? the staff?) exhibit obsessive-compulsive symptoms, they are creating a superior product. Under their website’s “Ingredients Statement”, they say, “Great ingredients make great tasting food, which is why we’ll never stop working to improve each ingredient we prepare and serve.” Hey, that sounds like a lovely sentiment. Over here at the Foundation, we love great tasting food. However, “food with integrity” doesn’t come out of making light of mental illnesses and ignoring their very real consequences.

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Loving Your Chronically Ill Body

me and my body on a walk

I am sick and I will always be sick. That’s what it means to have a chronic illness. My body doesn’t respond well to certain foods, I have less energy than a healthy person, I am in pain most days, and that will be true for the rest of my life. Yet, as contrary as it sounds, this illness helped me love my body in a way I’m not sure I could have without it.

Please remember that this is my experience only, and I would never tell someone else how to respond to their illness. I would be lying if I said there weren’t days when I cursed my body, clenched my fists and told it to act like a normal body, closed my eyes and felt weighed down by limitations. Those have become fewer and farther between. Now I have more days when I feel honestly and deeply thankful for the capabilities my body does have, for its function, and for its ability to take me through the world.

When the symptoms of my chronic illness began to get to the point where they couldn’t be ignored, when they started to interfere with my everyday life, the conversations I had about my body- with myself and with others- started to change. Like most people, I spent the majority of my life focused on my body’s appearance. I confess to engaging in fat talk. I bought creams and washes to change the look of my skin, I bought weights to change the look of my muscles, I bought clothes to change the look of my shape. At the height of my illness, I wasn’t talking about how my legs looked in shorts. I was talking about whether or not they hurt too much to go to the store. When I ate, I didn’t worry if food would make me gain weight, I wondered if it would cause pain that would stop me in my tracks and make it difficult to breathe. How my body felt and what it could do became my primary focus- and I don’t think anything could have better helped me into a positive relationship with my body.

Fighting my illness, being at odds with my body, did not help me get better. An important part of living with chronic illness, for me, has been acceptance. This has meant accepting my limitations realistically by listening to my body and its needs and learning to stand up for those needs. I am now well practiced in saying no. But that doesn’t mean I never challenge myself- how do you know your limits unless you push to find your boundaries?

Redefining the way I thought and talked about my body created so much positive change in my life. I’ve worked, am still working, to silence my criticisms of my body and instead to focus on helping it feel good and thanking it for what it can do. This weekend, I walked miles through a sunny park. That meant I had to sit on a bench (sitting just so, to minimize the pain) when we got to the museum that was our final destination, but I sat there in awe that my body, which once struggled to stand out of bed and go down stairs, now carried me through a beautiful, sunny day so that I could smell the green grass, watch the sun sparkle off the water, chat with my friends and laugh at animals we saw along the way. That was a good day for me. Sometimes the triumphs are smaller- sometimes they are carrying groceries in and out of the car. Sometimes they are pushing my daughter on the swings for 30 minutes (that kid would swing forever if you let her!). Every day, my body gives me something. Being ill has also reminded me that my body can’t give me these lovely gifts unless I nurture it. I drink plenty of water and eat foods that give me nutrients, energy, or maybe just pleasure. My thought process around caring for myself has changed. I know that to get those thankful moments I need to rest when I am tired, eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full.

Transformation is painful and, for me, that meant physical pain. But I wouldn’t change my experience for anything- while, at the same time, I wouldn’t wish chronic illness on anyone. Losing the health of my body forced me to focus on myself, take care of myself, create health where and when I could. Acknowledging the limitations of my capabilities helped me be grateful for those that I do have. Sometimes I take a moment to close my eyes, feel oxygen enter my lungs, feel my blood rushing from my heart, and thank my body for keeping me alive.

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Call for Artwork

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Call for Artwork!

Art and Eating Disorders – Building Community Awareness 2014

If you have ever created artwork inspired by eating disorder recovery, please submit to this very unique show!  Themes include, but are not limited to, eating disorders, body image, and recovery.

The Emily Program Foundation is having our second annual art show at The Art Institutes International Art Gallery to build awareness and education around eating disorders in our community. The art will be on display from July 19th – August 12th 2014.

Don’t wait to take part in this show; space is limited.  Submissions are accepted on a first-come first-serve basis.  Art pieces must be framed and ready to hang on a wire upon submission. Artwork will be displayed anonymously (unless otherwise requested).


Please submit your artwork with submission form to

Emily Monson no later than July 1st, 2014

Submit works to Emily Monson, Community Educator

1295 Bandana Blvd. W., Ste. 210, St. Paul, MN 55108

Contact Emily at or 651-379-6141with questions.