The Mirror and Assertiveness

Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston here. I’m here on Maui, the island of Maui, at Ai Pono Maui, which is our residential treatment center. I wanted to share with you a really inspiring talk that we had today in our group.

I talk a lot about a type of communication, Assertiveness, and how important that is to the process of recovery — how important it is in order to really being free from struggles with food and fat. And eating. And all of that.

But there’s another piece that goes hand and glove with the assertive formula, the assertive form of communicating, and that’s the mirror.

And once you start to get the handle of assertive communication sooner or later you’re going to come up against the mirror. The mirror is this: Whenever we feel a strong emotional charge, that’s when we know the mirror is operating. Now, if it’s a strong positive charge — like when you fall in love — all those qualities that you see in the other person that are so attractive, are actually qualities within yourself that maybe you haven’t ever really identified or acknowledged, or appreciated, or cultivated or developed.

When it is mutual, when the love is mutual, you get a double mirror effect. So, not only do you get to see in the other person all those positive qualities that you have yet to develop, but you also get to see through their eyes, the positive qualities that you already have developed. That’s what’s happening when you have a positive emotional charge.

That’s what it looks like in the mirror.

Now, when there’s a strong negative charge, what’s going on is that person is reflecting back to you aspects of yourself, […]

Understanding How Important the Sense of Belonging Really Is


Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston again. And I’m here on the Big Island of Hawaii. And what is behind me that you can’t see (because the fog is rolling in) is Kamalala.  I am at the site of our new intensive outpatient program for ‘Ai Pono that we’re getting ready to launch.

I’ve been here meeting with the team and everyone’s been getting to know each other. The thing that really came up as the theme of our meeting was this whole sense of connection.  And even more than that, a deep sense of belonging.
Understanding How Important the Sense of Belonging Really Is
The thing that really came up as the theme of our meeting was this whole sense of connection.  And even more than that, a deep sense of belonging. Because when you meet the people that are your Tribe, what comes into mind is an understanding of how important that sense of belonging really is.  You feel it. You know it. I think one of the things that happens to most of us is we all hunger for a sense of belonging. I think that’s one of the deepest longings that any of us have — to feel that deep, deep sense of connection.

What happens, mostly because of the culture we grew up in, is we’re really not taught the difference between belonging and fitting in. We feel the hunger for belonging but we confuse that with fitting in.  A sense of belonging comes when you stay connected to your authentic self, the uniqueness of your very being. We are all as unique as our thumbprints. There’s never been another Anita on the planet like me. And there never will be. And that’s the same for […]

Using Your Imagination as Part of the Recovery Process

Here’s a part of a talk that I gave in Kamuela on the Big Island of Hawaii for the launching of our new treatment program, ‘Ai Pono Kamuela. I thought you might enjoy it.
Using Your Imagination as Part of the Recovery Process
When somebody can get an understanding of the meaning behind their eating behaviors, I see the lights go on in their eyes. I used to call it that, I actually would see it, a little spark. Now because neuroscientists can now map the brain, they know what is going on. There’s a part of your brain, and its right above your right ear called the anterior superior temporal gyrus. What the neuroscientists have discovered, is when somebody gets an insight, when they “get” a metaphor, this part of your brain sends out a burst of gamma waves — 30 milliseconds before you even are conscious of “getting it.”  And Gamma waves are the highest frequency that the brain emits.

I’ve been doing this for years and years, and now the scientists are mapping and able to say yeah, that’s really what’s going on. So the light that I’m seeing is the electrical charge that comes from the anterior superior temporal gyrus. That’s so exciting for me!

I use metaphor because often when somebody is struggling, they have developed the left side of their brain profoundly/ They are so smart and rational and analytical. So, the part of themselves that is hanging onto this eating disorder like nobody’s business has got a gazillion defenses all ready. But if I come in with a story, if I come in with imagery, I’m coming into the right side of the brain. And this is the side of the brain […]

Eating Disorders Fate or Destiny?

There’s a saying that says, don’t get stuck looking at the finger pointing to the moon. Keep your gaze going. Look at the moon.

I love dogs. But dogs don’t typically understand symbolic language. So they’ll look at the finger. Is there a treat? What’s on that finger? They don’t know that this means something. It has meaning. It’s pointing you towards something. We understand that the disorder eating behaviors, they are the finger. And of course, you have to look at it. But, you don’t stop your gaze there, you just keep on going, keep on going, keep on going.

It’s pointing you towards something.
We understand that the disorder eating behaviors, they are the finger.
And of course, you have to look at it.
But, you don’t stop your gaze there, you just keep on going, keep on going, keep on going.

So that you can find out what it’s really pointing you towards. I have discovered after all these years working with folks who struggle, what their eating disorder is truly pointing them towards is their destiny. But, as all the ancient stories and myths tell us, in order to reach your destiny, you first have to face your fate.

Fate is all those things that life gives you that you didn’t ask for: These are your parents. This is your ethnicity; this is your socio-economic group. This is the car accident you had. This is the disease you caught. This is the eating disorder. All these things, that’s your fate.

If you don’t face your fate, you can’t live your destiny. You face your fate, like when somebody goes into recovery for eating disorders, they are raising their hand and saying, I’m facing my fate.

All this stuff […]

The difference between belonging and fitting in.

Here’s part of a talk I gave on the Big Island of Hawaii for the opening of our new ‘Ai Pono treatment program in Kamuela. I hope you enjoy it.

When I first started working with eating disorders, in 1982 in Honolulu, I was supervising a psychology intern who was doing research on the incidence of eating disorders in Hawaii. The two of us would get together, and we would talk about what we were seeing. And a third woman joined us, and she was a social worker who had her own recovery, but she had to figure it out herself. There was nobody to help her. So the three of us would get together and talk about what we were seeing. And every time we got together, we’d say, there is a real problem here. There should be a center for this.

After we had said it for about the fifth time, we looked at each other and laughed — okay, here we are. It was one of those; you build it and they come. And they came. Girls and women of all ages, all sizes, all ethnicities, all different kinds of struggles with eating and their bodies. No guys back in those days. Now, that is starting to change. But back then, no guys showed up.

I was intrigued as we were just trying to figure this out … Now, remember, bulimia didn’t even get diagnosed until 1980. So the field was really quite new.

What I wanted to know was, first of all, why is it females showing up?

Second, of all, why is it these girls and women?

And third, why is there a struggle around food, eating and their bodies?

I’m a storyteller; […]

When no one can understand

Here’s part of a talk I gave on the Big Island of Hawaii for the opening of our new Ai Pono treatment program in Kamuela. I hope you enjoy it.
“Invisible Forces” When no one can understand your eating disorder.
There was once this man, who had black and white cattle. And he loved his cattle so much that he treated them like his own children. Every morning he would go out and he would milk his black and white cattle, and they would give him white frothy milk.

Well, one day, he went out to milk his black and white cattle, and there was no milk. He thought, well that’s weird. The next morning, he went out to milk his black and white cattle again.

Still no milk. So he moved the cattle to a place where the grass is greener, thinking this will solve the problem. Third morning, he goes out to milk his black and white cattle. No milk.

So he says to himself, you know, something is wrong here. I’m going to stay up all night until I can see what it is. And that’s what he did. In the wee hours of the morning, he saw the most amazing site: The heavens opened! And down from the heavens came this huge rope. And climbing down the rope were the most amazing women he’d ever seen. They were carrying calabashes and they took the calabashes and went over to his black and white cattle where they milked the white frothy milk.

Well, the man didn’t care about the milk. These women were the most amazing women he’d ever seen. So he ran towards them and he grabbed one. She shrieked. Calabashes and milk went flying all over […]

Finding Meaning within the Eating Disorder

Here’s part of a talk I gave on the Big Island of Hawaii for the opening of our new Ai Pono treatment program in Kamuela. I hope you enjoy it.

“Finding Meaning within the Eating Disorder”

What I’ve come to really understand about eating disorders is that there’s such deep profound meaning in what a person struggles with and how it relates to their struggle of food.

Once you discover that disordered eating behaviors, whatever they may be, whether its restricting your food, or binging and purging or even exercise addiction or exercise resistance. Or whatever form it takes for somebody, the behaviors are speaking, but they are speaking in a language that is coded.

Once you can see these behaviors as a code, it really gets to be a lot of fun as you decipher the code. Through the language of metaphor, you can crack the code.

Metaphor is the language of our stories, the language of our art, songs and poetry. It is the language of our dreams. And I believe it’s the language of disordered eating.

So for example, if I’m working with somebody and they are telling me about a dream.

They say, oh, well, “I was driving down a freeway”.
I say, “wait, you were what?”
“ I was driving down the freeway.”
“ The freeway? “

If you’re driving down a freeway, it would be a good idea to look at where you were coming from and where you were headed.

Because you see, in dreams, freeway doesn’t just mean freeway.

It means the freeway.

To get from our unconscious mind into our little pea brain consciousness, it’s sort of like taking all this information from a vast ocean, and compacting it so tight that it can get in. The way it’s […]

Both the Masculine and Feminine Principles are Important for Healing


Aloha. This is Dr. Anita Johnston. And I am down at the beach in front of the ‘Ai Pono Maui eating disorder treatment facility. And right behind me is the Io Valley. And for the ancient Hawaiians this was a very, very, very sacred place. And when we did our blessing at our facility, the Kapuna came and I was in awe as she talked about how both the masculine and the feminine energies of the land could come through this valley. And anchor right where our facility was. On the grounds of ‘Ai Pono Maui

Now, for me, it’s necessary to understand how both the masculine and feminine principles are important for healing. Now, mind you I’m not talking about genders. And it’s unfortunate that these are the terms we have. But they are the terms we have.

And in Asian cultures, it might be called Yin and Yang. In the Jungian tradition, it’s called masculine and feminine. And the reason for that is because when you are working with dreams, those energies show up in the form of males and females. But all of us, all of us have masculine and feminine energies within us. Whether we’re male or female. Or trans. Those are principles. It’s a duality that exists in all of us. And in many, many cultures and many indigenous cultures, they exist in the land, and in the sea. And they’re principles in all that there is in life.

When I think about the masculine principle, that’s that logical, linear goal, achievement oriented aspect of ourselves that helps us maneuver through the world safely.

And deliberately.
This is how we set our goals.
And this is how we accomplish what we want to accomplish […]

How do you express your truth?

Hello, I’m Dr. Anita Johnston. And I am here in Hawaii listening to the bird song of the morning. It’s one of the most spectacular things — to listen to these birds singing and singing and singing. It reminds me about the story about the Nightingale.

There was once this nightingale, who was in the forest. And she was singing and singing and singing, really enjoying the sound of her song reverberating through the tree tops. Along came a crow. And the crow said, oh my gosh, would you cut that racket? That’s just the worst thing I’ve ever heard. You’re polluting the forest. And the nightingale said, no, no, no, we nightingales, we are known for our beautiful song.

And the crow said, I don’t think so. That’s just the worst thing I’ve ever heard. And they began to argue. Along came a pig. The pig said, listen, I’m a connoisseur of fine music. Why don’t we have a contest and I’ll be the judge?

So the nightingale sang her song. And the crow cawed. And then, the pig immediately declared the crow the winner. At which point the nightingale burst into tears. The crow said, I can’t believe you. Not only are you a horrible singer, but you’re a lousy loser.

And the nightingale said, oh, I’m not crying because I lost. I’m crying because a pig was my judge.

You see, what does a pig know about music? So, consider the source. You see, because a woman’s song is her truth. In order to be free from disordered eating, a woman must realize the beauty of her song. And refuse to sacrifice it.

Even in times of scarcity. Even when others insist that she be silent. Because […]

Thoughts Are Like Clouds

I am here at Kalua Beach in Hawaii. And I’ve been sitting here, listening to the waves and watching the people and the dogs strolling down the beach. And watching the clouds as they float on by.

I’ve also been watching my own inner landscape, noticing how much my thoughts are like the clouds in the sky and how they appear, taking many different shapes and many different forms. Sometimes the clouds give me the indication that oh, it’s going to rain. Or oh, look, it just stopped raining and there’s a rainbow. I notice, these thoughts come and go like clouds come and go. And I can have all kinds of thoughts. Sometimes they are scary thoughts. Sometimes they are funny thoughts. Sometimes they are peaceful thoughts. Sometimes they are curious thoughts. There are thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts. Because I have a mind, like we all have. And the mind is designed to contain our thoughts. They come up, regardless of what’s going on. We can have all different kinds of thoughts.

But here’s where things get tricky.
We start to believe our thoughts.
We stop questioning them and start believing any thought that pops up into our head.

So, for example, you can wake up in the morning with a fat attack — that’s when you feel like you’ve gained 20 pounds overnight. Now, if you were to pause for a moment, you would notice that it’s not possible to gain 20 pounds overnight. But every fiber in your being feels like you gained 20 pounds overnight.

So what has to happen is — you have to get curious and ask the question, and is that true? Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not true. What’s more […]