Monday, January 2, 2017

You Can Call Me ... PROFESSOR Gruys!

Hello Everyone and Happy New Year!

I have an exciting announcement to share: I've joined the Wolf Pack! As of January 1st, 2017 I've OFFICIALLY begun my new position as Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Yes, it's really happened! My graduate years (thanks UCLA!) and my post-doc years (thanks Stanford!) are behind me, and from this point forward you can call me ... PROFESSOR Gruys!

Over the next few weeks I'll be moving into my office at UNR and on January 24th I'll start teaching "Introduction to Sociology" and "Sociology of Gender." Next semester (Fall 2017) I'll teach a brand new graduate course on "Qualitative Research Methods." In this tough academic market I feel so blessed to have been hired to teach courses on topics I'm passionate about. And did I mention that my colleagues at UNR are some of the nicest (and smartest) folks I could have hoped to work with? Yes, indeed, life is good.

Come find me in my new OFFICE (not cubicle!) in Lincoln Hall.

So, yes, Michael and I have up and moved to Reno. It was hard to leave San Francisco, but we're close enough to visit when we want to, and we're enjoying settling into our new home here (twice as big as our SF place and half the price!).  The snowy winter weather is taking a little getting used to, but the ski slopes are helping with that adjustment.

As for the boring practical stuff, my new work email is, though you can still reach me at as well. My Stanford and UCLA email addresses, however, are no longer in service. If you want to snail mail anything to me (congratulatory chocolate bars, etc.), here's my work address:

Dr. Kjerstin Gruys
Department of Sociology
Mail Stop 300
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557

And with that, I've got to get back to writing the manuscript proposal for my next book (more details forthcoming). I am, after all, officially on the "tenure track" so there's no time to waste.  In the meantime.... Go Pack!!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dear KJ: How Can I Overcome My Fear of Eating in Public?

Dear KJ: How do you get over your fear of eating in front of other people (at a restaurant or cafeteria, for example) after recovering from an eating disorder? (Originally posted HERE)
Image found HERE.
The experience of having—and recovering from—an eating disorder takes many forms, because many different kinds of people experience EDs. Many eating disorder sufferers experience crippling phobias and obsessive thoughts related to eating and body image. One phobia many people have heard of is having extreme fear of certain foods, or food groups. Another commonly known experience is one of obsessive counting, whether counting calories, carbs or minutes exercising.
Some less well-known fears, however, have to do with the social aspects of eating, which add an additional layer to an individual's struggles managing food or exercise-related symptoms. Eating is a social experience in most cultures, including in American culture. We see advertisements depicting big family meals as a time when people connect with each other at the end of the day. One of Normal Rockwell's most famous pieces features Thanksgiving dinner in this way. The common dating phrase "dinner and a movie" similarly links food with social connection, and pretty much every high school movie depicts the school cafeteria as a modern day Roman Forum! Suffice it to say, most of us associate eating with spending time with friends and family.
But eating socially can be a huge challenge for people who are suffering from or in recovery from eating disorders. Sometimes, this challenge is due to attempts to hide disordered eating habits from friends and family. Sometimes, those struggling eat in isolation not only to be secretive, but also to avoid scrutiny, critique or feeling freakish. It's also common for individuals with eating disorders to experience exaggerated feelings of being watched or judged while eating.
Once a pattern of eating in isolation has become a habit, the prospect of eating socially, or even of eating alone but in a public place, can trigger major anxiety, sometimes leading to panic attacks. Not everyone experiences this, but it's more common than most people think.
There are many well-researched approaches to overcoming fearful experiences. In extreme cases, such as when a person experiences panic attacks or if the social phobia begins to extend beyond just eating situations, it's almost always necessary to work with a therapist with special training on managing phobias. For cases that are less extreme but still distressing, here are some tips.  First, when in recovery from an eating disorder, your first priority must be to take care of your body, even if this sometimes means neglecting social experiences. If your body isn't properly nourished and rested, your brain can't work effectively. If your brain isn't working effectively, your efforts on the psychological side of recovery will be even more difficult.
So, if nourishing yourself properly means missing out on a slumber party or two, so what? However, this only makes sense if you are actually able to nourish yourself in less social contexts. And it can't go on forever. At some point, whether it takes days or weeks or months, it's important to rejoin the social world of eating.
There are two strategies I've used when facing a fear. The first one is to deliberately—and in all seriousness—ask yourself, "realistically, what's the absolute worst thing that could happen? How would I survive that?" (Note the choice of the word "realistically." That means you should avoid imagining scenarios of an asteroid falling on the restaurant, okay?)
Once you've answered this question to yourself, come up with a plan to survive it. Notice I did not say "come up with a plan to guarantee that this never happens!" Facing fears by avoiding them is what trapped in this situation in the first place. So let's try it: maybe your worst case scenario is that somebody comments on your eating in a way that is upsetting, whether it's a difficult relative or a nosy stranger. What would you do to survive it? Is there a phrase you could prepare in response, like "I know you think that commenting on my eating is helpful, but it isn't. Please give me some space." 
Afraid that could be too difficult or awkward? What if your plan was to burst into tears and run out of the room? That doesn't sound fun, but could you survive it? Think to yourself, "Well, if I burst into tears and run out of the room I will probably feel really embarrassed, but I will survive. I will not actually be in any real physical danger." When I describe this strategy, some of my friends find it incredibly useful and calming to be so specific and methodological in their planning, but others find that it increases their anxiety to imagine possible worst-case scenarios. Only use it if it works for you!
The second strategy I've used is to convince myself that I'm just conducting a tiny little experiment, just to see what happens. To do this, ask yourself to take a baby step but nothing more. Perhaps you hope to someday go to a pizza party with your friends, but everything about it terrifies you (the pizza! the chaos! people seeing me eat! food decisions! strangers! ack!). 
So, start really, really small, by just looking at the menu of a local pizza place and asking yourself what your favorite kind of pizza is. You don't have to go there. You don't have to order it. You don't have to eat it. You just have to take one small step toward these other things. If you can get through that first baby step, stop and observe the result of your experiment. Are you okay? Were you able to identify what kind of pizza you would like the most? Great! Now, the next step might be to go to the pizza place with no intention of eating there. Just walk by outside and look into a window. Still okay? Great. Next time you can go in, ask to see a menu (so you have something to say), and then turn around and leave.
The next step might be to go there with a very close friend or family member, but eat ahead of time, so all you have to do is sit in the pizza place while the other person has a slice. Or maybe the next step would be to go in by yourself to eat a slice of pizza on your own. Or maybe you'll ask for a slice of pizza "to go" and then eat it at home. Either way, the point here is to take very small steps without any expectation of doing more than that one step at any time. Then you take the next one, and then the next, and eventually you'll have "tested" each step of the way. This may sound excruciatingly slow or drawn out, but if it works, who cares, right?
You can do it!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dear KJ: My Mother is Urging Me to Lose Weight for My Wedding. Help!

Dear KJ: I’m planning a wedding and my mother keeps telling me to lose weight to look better in the photos. How can I confront her about this without starting a fight? (Posted first HERE)

Image originally posted HERE.

Wow. I completely understand how you feel. In fact, the anxiety I felt about my body when I was planning my wedding was so intense that I ended up writing a book about it! I wasn't getting pressure from my mom to lose weight, but I was pressuring myself. You can read all about that in my book, or in this op-ed I wrote, but to answer your question I asked one of my sociology colleagues, Maddie Jo Evans, who is not only doing a research project on the wedding industry, but is also a wedding photographer on the side! Here's what Maddie had to say:
From what I have seen in my field work, in my interviews and as a wedding photographer, mothers and mother-in-laws seem to be the most likely to put pressure on their daughters/in-laws to lose weight. Many of the women I've spoken with have said that their mothers were the first to mention or "hint" that they ought to drop some weight for their wedding day. Most of them say that it is difficult for them to push back because their mothers are helping to pay for the wedding and the dress. Some brides even feel pressure to buy a dress in a smaller size than their current body.
Many brides say that their mothers have always been their biggest critics and many have dealt with their moms making remarks about their bodies throughout their entire lives, but things become amplified by the wedding. Being exposed to messages from bridal media, mothers, family members and partners make the idea of losing weight for your wedding a normalized and expected thing. Even women who were satisfied with their bodies on any normal day worried that their current body would not be good enough for their wedding day. This pressure can push brides into unhealthy eating and workout patterns. 
My advice is to explain to your mother that you're is happy with the way that you look, and that you feel beautiful in your own skin. If you feel that you will be happy on your wedding day without losing any weight, then I hope you can respectfully tell your mother that and make it known that you aren't willing to change yourself for the expectations of others, even your mom. 
Our culture teaches us that the only way to be a beautiful bride is to be a thin bride, and this simply is NOT TRUE! As a wedding photographer I can promise you that it is not weight loss, but happiness and confidence that make for the most beautiful wedding photos. Have a wonderful time!
Maddie Jo Evans
P.S. (from KJ) - Also, it might not hurt to remind your mother that all of this pressure for brides to lose weight is part of a huge wedding "industry" that makes gazillions of dollars by convincing brides AND their families that the only way to have a good-enough wedding is for everything to be perfect, from the dress to the decorations to the bodies of the people on display. This pressure is SO gendered. We assume that brides and their mothers are totally responsible for making sure everything is perfect, which is really sexist and stupid. But, given this, maybe your mom is feeling pressure from these cultural ideals, rather than from her own heart. She might even feel a sense of relief if you show her that your priorities are not about keeping up appearances, but about celebrating with your soon-to-be-spouse and family and friends. Assure her that she can help you have your dream wedding by worrying about what's best for you rather than striving for an impossible and expensive standard of perfection! - KJ

Monday, September 5, 2016

Dear KJ: How I keep college classes from unraveling my recovery?

Dear KJ: How I keep college classes from unraveling my recovery? 
You may have heard the phrase “knowledge is power.” Usually, this is a true statement, but not always. SELF-knowledge, I would argue, is almost always empowering, but school learnin’ can occasionally push you in the opposite direction. I should know—between kindergarten and finishing my PhD I’ve spent about 25 years (!) of my life taking classes. Out of those years, over half were shared with an eating disorder, in recovery or post-recovery. Here are a few things that have been challenging to me along the way, specifically in relation to recovery, and how you might be able to address them.
Some classes can be triggering. Remember what I wrote above about SELF-knowledge being the most empowering? It’s self-knowledge that will help you avoid or at least disengage from classroom experiences (or entire courses!) that are triggering. While you’re still in active recovery, be wary of courses on topics that overlap with your eating disorder experiences. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t ever take a course on, say, nutrition, but having an honest conversation with yourself (or your therapist) might reveal that some courses appeal to you precisely because they allow you to continue obsessing about food, exercise and body size stuff. I remember buying nutrition textbooks, thinking, “I’ll just replace my eating disorder with a 110% perfect ‘normal’ way of eating,” not realizing that in order for eating to be normal it cannot be anywhere near 110% perfect!
But here’s the thing—it’s rarely the course topic itself that is inherently problematic, but the style in which it is taught. If you’re interested in taking a course or two with triggering potential, it might be a good idea to get your hands on a syllabus.  Some professors will provide "trigger warnings" to draw attention to course material that might be triggering to students who have had traumatic experiences, but don't depend on this. Many instructors strongly prefer to not provide them. Ultimately it is your responsibility to know the difference between course material that is challenging (good!) and course material that is triggering (not so good!). If you have concerns, speak with the professor to ask her/him whether or not any of their course material could be difficult for a person in recovery from an eating disorder. Even without specific training in body-positive teaching styles, most instructors will have a sense for how to answer this question.
Depending on the answer, you may opt to avoid the course, or you may become even more excited about it. You may also decide that most of the course sounds great, but that you’ll need to skip a day or two of class (I give you my permission!) if the lecture or readings seem triggering. Again, best to have a good conversation with yourself and/or your therapist.
The second challenge that classes present to recovery is simply that going to school, whether part time or full time, adds stress to your life. You’ll be managing lectures, homework, deadlines, grading, as well as the social elements of school. Having some stress in your life is normal and usually healthy, but this is not the best time to overwhelm yourself. Start out with what you think is a realistic course load, but don’t hesitate to drop a class if you notice that you aren’t able to keep up with your classes and also take care of yourself. Don’t forget to have some fun, too!