Treating the Whole Person:
A Personal User’s Guide
By Renae M. Reinardy, PsyD., LP
There are many different ways for us to understand our experiences in life. I have not found it helpful for clients to be overly harsh or punishing in their efforts to produce the changes they want to make. Rather, it is good practice to take a comprehensive, wise and compassionate approach toward getting unstuck on the path to change. Everyone’s path is different, so I want to offer a few tips that might help you to write your own Personal User’s Guide. This includes taking care of your mind, body and spirit in a comprehensive manner, which I will briefly outline in this article. Please have a pen and paper handy for taking notes as we go along.
Before reading on, take a few minutes to write down what your pulling or picking means to you. Questions to help you start include: How did this journey start, what directions has it taken you in, what have you gained and what do you feel like you have lost, what works, what doesn’t, when did the behavior start, and what function does it serve?
The way that I conceptualize BFRBs is that they are like a friend who is trying really hard to make a person feel better, but they do not offer the best advice. Pulling and picking are often ways for one’s body to sort out sensory, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and physical deregulation. This friend may offer some quick relief or distraction from these experiences, but often there are no lasting gains. Rather, it can lead to a vicious cycle of behavior which can feel out of control.
Somewhere along the way, many people lose track of what they need and have stopped listening to their inner core. Instead, they tried to quiet it with distracting and impermanent forms of relief or pleasure. Let’s look at a few components of the Personal User’s Guide to see if it is helpful in hearing one’s self better.
One of the first things that I work on with my clients is the “pillars of health”. This is learning how to take care of one’s body through proper nutrition, sleep, exercise and general self-care. Again, if a person has any deregulation in their body, there is a good chance that the BFRBs will pick up on that imbalance and try to fix the problem. Let’s try in a new way, by looking at what might be contributing to the problem in the first place. Please ask yourself to honestly answer the following questions:
Nutrition: What do I eat?
List some typical items you consume on a daily basis for the following meals:
Exercise: How and when do you exercise?
Sleep: What time do you wrap up your day?
How long does it take to fall asleep?
Do you wake up at night?
What time do I wake up in the morning?
Well, how does it look?
If you are like most of us, at least some improvement can be made in how we care for our bodies. Perhaps there are one or two things from the lists above you’ve always wanted to change, or believe if you COULD change, it would help with your BFRB management. Can you identify one small difference you could make to begin?
Over the past few years, there has been more research to support the role of nutrition in BFRBs, including sugar intake, and dietary supplements. Some people have had great success with the supplements N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and/orInositol (B- vitamin) decreasing urges to pick or pull. Work with your healthcare provider to determine if these might be appropriate for you. I have also found that my clients experience great benefit when sugar intake is reduced.
In our typical diet, we are often starving for good nutrients. Our diet must contain 5 essential items to be truly healthy: carbohydrates, proteins (1/5 of our calories), fats, water and minerals. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which plays a role in every cellular function of the body. Out of 20 amino acids present in the body, 9 are essential, meaning that they must come from diet. Clinical nutritionists have found that deficiencies in B1, B2, B6, folate, B12, C, magnesium and zinc are related to a number of mental health conditions. Since many people do not get what they need from their diet, vitamin supplements are often needed in addition to dietary changes. Be sure to get a good natural vitamin that your doctor approves.
The “E” word. Research has proven the mental health benefits of exercise. It is believed that exercise stimulates the production of endorphins—the feel good hormone. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are also released during exercise. (Do these sound familiar? Yep, these are same chemicals that are targeted with many psychotropic medications.) Other benefits of exercise include improved blood flow, increased brain function, increased oxygen, and removal of toxins through breathing and sweat. Time to dust off those shoes with the laces. Start gradually and set realistic goals. For example, if you’d like to exercise more, maybe start with just ten minutes of exercise every day. Ten minutes of walking at a faster pace, ten minutes of jogging, ten minutes on the treadmill or the elliptical….then when that gets easy, add five more minutes. Before you know it, you are exercising for an hour. Talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions that would restrict exercise.
Sleep is another thing we all know is important, yet is one of the first things to go in our busy schedules. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Research suggests that people who do not get adequate sleep tend to live shorter lives than those who do. Chronic sleep deprivation also leads to increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. When we sleep, we produce extra protein molecules to help us fight off infection, stress and toxins by helping the immune system mend our bodies. Take good care of your body and your body will take good care of you. Again, remember that picking and pulling serve a function. If any of these areas are out of whack, you may notice urges on the rise in attempts to self regulate.
Take the time to evaluate your pillars of health. When we rush things, they tend not to be effective. In working with my clients, I’ve found that focusing on the pillars of health can be a big factor in getting someone unstuck when a traditional behavioral and cognitive plan are not enough.
How I Live My Life
Another piece of the Personal User’s Guide that I want to cover in Part One is how we live our life. So many times people plow through the day, just to work toward another goal—the weekend, a long-awaited vacation, or milestones such as graduation, retirement, etc. Yikes! There is often quite a bit of time spent waiting for something good to happen!
Draw two circles in your notebook. Label one circle “real Life” and the other circle “Ideal Life.” In each circle complete a pie chart: one on how you spend your typical day and the other on how you would like to spend your day.
How do they compare? Is there anything that you can take from your ideal and build into your everyday/real life? It is important to take time now to spoil yourself a bit—listen to music, get and receive hugs, sing, pet an animal, smile, pray, make good wishes for others, take a nap, get a massage, acknowledge yourself and your accomplishments, or try to find a quiet place to rejuvenate. We often cannot live every moment in the ideal, but it is good to not get stuck in long patterns of unfulfillment.
Can you think of a few ways you can incorporate goals from your ideal life into your real life? Write them in your notebook.
Okay, one more thing to think about in Part One of your Personal User’s Guide: Spirituality.
Pretty big topic and I am not talking about religion, although that can fall into this category. Focusing on one’s spirituality involves developing an inner life to experience greater connectedness through practices such as prayer, meditation and contemplation. These practices help us to experience a more comprehensive sense of self and the interrelatedness to others, nature and/or religious experiences. Recent research has shown the medical and emotional benefits of these practices including a more complex range of brain activity, stress relief, decreased heart rate, improved lung capacity, and decreased anxiety, to name a few. Please take a few moments and think of how you might summarize your spiritual life.
My Spirit: Take some notes on the following questions
What gives me inner strength and connectedness to things outside of myself ?
How can I build on this?
In Part Two of the Personal User’s Guide, we will discuss emotions, thoughts, and behavioral strategies that can help give your body what it needs. By learning and listening to ourselves it is possible to improve one’s overall well-being and decrease undesirable behaviors and patterns. In the meantime, best wishes in reinforcing or changing any experiences that you may have realized in completing.
Dr. Renae Reinardy is the founder of the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Fargo, ND. Prior to opening her own practice, Dr. Reinardy worked as a psychologist at the Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Maryland. Dr. Reinardy specializes in the treatment of hair pulling and skin picking disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, compulsive hoarding, and related conditions. She has been an adjunct professor at the doctoral level and has presented numerous times at national conferences and at local meetings and trainings, including The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors’ Annual Conferences and Retreats. Dr. Reinardy has been interviewed on Good Morning America, the Joy Behar Show, Dateline NBC, and A&E’s Hoarders. For more information, visit http://www.lakesidecenter.org.