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Somatic Healing, Social Media, & More: Redefining ED Recovery with Mimi Cole

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Three Things We Dive Into In This Episode:

  1. The importance of the mind-body connection for your healing (from all things)

  2. The balance between naming your mental health struggles and not over-identifying with them.

  3. Navigating the messy world of social media without letting it overwhelm you


📌Episode Highlights

[05:11] Who Is Mimi Cole?

  • Mimi enjoys quiet time by herself. She prefers creating deeper connections with small groups of people.

  • She loves to read and is interested in language and communication. Mimi also enjoys food and mocktails.

  • Despite growing up in Northern Virginia, she considers Nashville her home.

  • She works as a licensed therapist in Franklin, Tennessee, specializing in disordered eating and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Mimi is also a speaker, podcaster, and the co-author of a body image workbook.

[09:54] A Body Image Workbook for Every Body

  • Mimi and Rachel wrote the book after realizing there were only a few patient resources about body image.

  • You can find a lot of social media posts and online articles, but the workbook is a comprehensive resource for all.

  • A Body Image Workbook for Every Body talks about nuances and marginalized identities.

  • Mimi and Rachel are now working on a revision. They want to include eating disorder recovery and more helpful content.

[14:05] What Is Your Body Telling You?

  • The polyvagal theory talks about how the body wants to feel safe and secure.

  • People often over-intellectualize body image. However, you can’t always think your way to healing.

  • A deeper understanding of your body and its nervous system can help you heal better.

  • Be aware of your body. What’s going on internally?

Mimi: “[The nervous system] gives voice to what’s going on internally when we feel like we’ve either reached a limit on what we can talk ourselves through, or when we understand that trauma lives in the body and we have to move through it in certain ways in order to heal.”

[16:45] What Mimi Struggles to Overcome

  • Mimi feels like she hasn’t truly overcome anything. She still does her best to help her body feel safe.

  • She loves her work as a therapist. However, Mimi notices feeling agitated as she works with people.

  • Listening to her body, Mimi realized this feeling was telling her to take a step back from work.

  • She has a tendency to label what she feels. Mimi walks the thin line between validating herself and over-identifying with her struggles.

  • Nonetheless, people can ground themselves in validation without over-identifying with their disorders.

Mimi: “It’s a very thin line between when we’re seeking validation and when we are over-identifying. We can ground ourselves in the fact that it was still valid and real. We don’t have to have this identification so closely with the disorder.”

[21:15] Giving and Seeking Validation

  • Mimi has caveats for those recovering. Your eating disorder is valid, and you don’t have to be stringent about the care you receive.

  • Recovering from your eating disorder doesn’t make it any easier or less valid.

  • In her practice, Mimi makes space for nuances in their conversations. She considers what her clients need and asks how they feel about her words.

  • Social media makes having these conversations more difficult. There’s no space for connection and individualization.

[29:23] Navigating the Chaos of Social Media

  • Pay attention to how you feel and what you see online.

  • Social media can overwhelm you with perspectives and information about eating disorders. Minimize the content to what you feel can help you the best.

  • Remember that you are your key to healing. While you may learn a lot from another person, you can still heal without them.

  • People are not made for the chaos social media can bring.

  • The thousands of people online cannot know and connect with you personally, and this can lead to misunderstandings.

[33:21] Looking Within Your Body

  • It takes time and the feeling of safety to be able to connect with your body.

  • Many people feel safe in a state of activation because it feels familiar, especially with the prevalence of social media in our lives.

  • They end up feeling unsafe when they move and look into their bodies.

  • When you’re looking at posts online, be aware of how they are affecting you both mentally and physically.

  • Your body is telling you how you feel. Learn to listen to it, even in small ways.

Mimi: “Recognize those other ways that you are listening to your body, which can also be helpful for recovery, where you’re like, ‘I can’t listen to my body. I can’t feel it.’ That’s true in this realm. But what other ways are you already accessing that knowledge?”

[36:07] Mimi’s Prompt and Experiment For You This Week

  • Processing prompt: Ask yourself about your experience as you go through social media and mental health content.

  • Action experiment: As you scroll through social media, notice how your body feels. Be aware of the jumps of emotions that you go through.

  • The sudden changes of emotion from sad to happy to mad and back again can be chaotic for your body.

[39:43] Staying Grounded

  • Mimi doesn’t truly have a routine she follows every day. She shares that no one actually does their morning and evening rituals every single day.

  • Instead, Mimi has activities that keep her grounded.

  • It’s okay to have simple, small practices.

  • Be flexible, not rigid, as you go through your own routine.

About Mimi

Mimi is a therapist, author, and speaker. She is currently an Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor specializing in disordered eating/eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She has previously worked in a residential eating disorder treatment center as a Resident Patient Associate (RPA) and currently works with individual clients at a group private practice in Franklin, TN. For more from Mimi, check out her podcast, The Lovely Becoming, and her book, The Body Image Workbook for Every Body.

Learn more about Mimi and her work on her website and Instagram.

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Mimi: Everything in our bodies is searching for safety. And it really brings this compassionate, non-pathologizing approach, and like you talked about, this mind-body connection where it's like, we are always trying to feel safe.

Caitie: Welcome to Whole, Full, and Alive, a podcast exploring the art and science of falling in love with your life, with your story and with who you truly are underneath your titles, your resume, your relationship status, and your bank account. I'm Caitie Corradino, a registered dietician and nutritionist, certified fitness and yoga instructor, eating disorder recovery coach, Reiki healer, and founder of Full Soul Nutrition.

Underneath my titles and resume, I’m a big fan of kitchen dance breaks, early mornings, all things chocolate truffles, world traveling, and serendipity. I'm here to share no bullshit stories and actionable tools to help you feel unshakably worthy. You have everything you need within you to feel whole, full and alive. Right here. Right now. Let's get into it.

Hi, welcome back to another episode of Whole, Full, and Alive. I am coming to you from Denver in the first week of October, although I know this is going to be published a few weeks from now. It's very brisk outside and starting to get cold. The season is starting to officially transition here, and it is just a funky time of year. I feel, in October, I always kind of want to rest and relax and slow down a little bit more. I don't have the same sort of gusto that I have in the summer in the warmer months. And I don't know. I guess I'm just opening this episode with a little bit of a rant.

Sometimes I feel ashamed about that. Sometimes I feel ashamed for wanting to slow down and cozy and a little bit more. But I am here to tell myself and to tell you that it makes a lot of sense if you're feeling like you want to slow down and be cozier during this transition period. And focus on yourself and check in on yourself and come back to you. And today's guests couldn't be a better resource for coming back to you.

Today's guest is Mimi Cole. She is a mental health counselor. She specializes in disordered eating and eating disorders and obsessive-disorder. She is also the author of a Body Image book that was published late last year and is getting a new edition published in a few months. She's going to talk a little bit more about that book. I don't want to give too much of the episode away. Mimi is also the host of her own podcast called The Lovely Becoming podcast.

Mimi is also a speaker. She has spoken for various organizations like the National Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness, the International OCD Foundation, and of course, on a bunch of podcasts. She really has made an impact in the mental health field. And she's made an impact in the eating disorder recovery field. I'm so grateful to be here talking with her today. On the onset here I actually want to say that we don't just talk about eating disorder recovery.

Mimi is going to share a little bit more about her body image book and the unique perspective that it brings. I think it's an incredible resource for working on body image, definitely go check it out. But we also actually are going to talk a little bit about social media, nervous system regulation, and about navigating all of the noise that's out there on social media related to mental health and related to regulating your nervous system.

It's so ironic, right? Like social media, dysregulated nervous systems, but there's so much information on there about regulating your nervous system. We're gonna dive into that, and I think Mimi provides a lot of tangible tools and specific questions that you can ask yourself to really start navigating your relationship with this stuff and start thinking about this in a different way. I am so excited to have her voice on this podcast. I know I'm definitely going to have her back for more than one episode. But for today, here is my conversation with Mimi Cole.

I am so grateful to be here on a lovely Wednesday evening, first week in October. This will probably published in like a month after but with Mimi Cole, an amazing human being. Mimi, thank you so much for being here.

Mimi Cole: Thank you so much for having me. I'm glad we can reconnect.

Caitie: Yeah, so you can reconnect after a year and a half when you were on my old podcast. It's just as amazing then as you are now but there's a lot of things that are new and exciting. A lot of new projects, you've been working on a lot of new research, you've done a lot of things I'm so excited to ask you about. You have such a beautiful brain, and it's such a privilege to have you here on the show. So tell everyone first, who are you? And not what you do, but who you are.

Mimi: Oh, that is a good question. These days, it is hard to figure out who I am, apart from the work that I do, which I think we'll get to a little bit in this conversation. But who am I? I am someone who is learning that I really love quiet, deep, impactful energy. And I don't know that I really like high energy situations. So I'm kind of figuring that out and what recharges me. I like being by myself. I really like deep connections with small groups of people.

Basically an introvert but just some details there. I love to say that the Nashville area is kind of my home, even though I grew up in Northern Virginia, for the first almost two decades of my life. I love to read; I love fiction, and I also love a good self help toward a sort of genre. I really like communication, not in the sense of like boundaries, although that is really helpful. But I really liked the way that words and language describe different things.

I love food — big foodie. That's been really fun to discover about myself, but also really hard because I've been pretty sick with some GI issues. And so it is very interesting. And yeah, I love soft colors. I really like aesthetics, like that makes me feel very grounded. I love mocktails so much, just so much.

Caitie: Thank you so much for all of that. I mean, yeah, how beautiful, first of all, that you described the type of energy that you like, the type of energy that you like to be in. Introvert is kind of getting tossed around nowadays, like it's really getting tossed around. It's really starting to lose its meaning and more so than extroverts for some reason. But that said, I really loved that intro to who you are. And now tell us what you do.

Mimi: Yes. So I am a therapist, which is really fun to be able to say now because I think I've been doing sort of therapeutic emotional, connecting work with people for a long time, but felt like, I don't want to like overstep and say I'm a therapist, even as an intern was a little bit hard for me. But I am a therapist in Franklin, Tennessee. So just outside of Nashville. I also am an author, I got to co-author a body image workbook with my lovely colleague and friend, Rachel Sellers.

That's been a really cool project that we've been working on revising and recreating and reworking. In terms of work as well, I've gotten to speak and collaborate with various organizations in advocacy for eating disorders. I've learned a ton about OCD through my own lived experience through research through clinical work.

I spent a lot of time researching something called atypical anorexia, thinking about weight-inclusive care, and anorexia in all-size bodies. And yeah, I do some training, some social media, podcasting, all that good stuff.

Caitie: You've had such an impact on the field that you're in for such a young age. I am just blown away by you and your ideas and your wisdom and all the things that you have your hands in. It's just so amazing to watch you. As someone who provides care for people recovering from eating disorders, I love looking to you.

You've thought about so many intersections that no one else talks about. You've thought about so many untouched topics, I think, that a lot of other people aren't talking about, especially on social media, in the world of eating disorders, and all of that. And I just want to say that I'm so excited to see all of the things that you continue to do. I love that you're claiming that you're a therapist, and I love that you're claiming that you're an author because I've seen you that way for years now.

Mimi: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Caitie: Before I dive into the next question and kind of the meat of this episode, I actually want to ask you a little bit about the body image book because there's so few resources out there for body image. For as much as it's talked about, there are so few resources. I feel like it's because there's not enough research and because so many people are scared to touch the topic and there's so many layers there. So tell me a little bit about your body image project.

Mimi: Oh my gosh, I love it so much. So Rachel and I, we connected a while back. She had been working with teens in her practice. She was like, “I don't know of a resource for body image for my clients,” and she reached out to me and was like, “You want to write this book?” I was like, “Yeah, that sounds really amazing.” Which is how I approach so many projects. And the ones that get done are so fun. The ones in my toolbox of ideas, so we'll see where they go.

We started meeting every Sunday for about a year, and we just kept adding topics like every couple of weeks, we'd be like, “It would be really great to add to this and make it more comprehensive.” And then both of us would be like, “Oh, but there's a lot more effort to bring this into the world.” Until November, when we decided, let's just go for it and put this out. And we loved it. The part of the heart behind it was that we noticed there wasn't, again, like you said, a lot of resources for body image.

We also noticed there were so many things that we would learn from different sections of social media that I feel like when you're in the world of weight inclusive carrier, like, “I know that from that post,” and “I know that from this article,” but there wasn't like one resource to help people understand things like intuitive eating, etc. So we really wanted to make this workbook something comprehensive that we could give to people and be like, “Here's what we're talking about,” like, “Here's how to get clear on it.”

We also really thought about how the other body image workbooks were typically pretty dense, boring, didn't have color, or they were really clinical, and had a lot of platitudes like “love your body”. “The goal is to be like, I love it, and I'm so happy in it.” But we really wanted to talk about nuanced and marginalized identities because that's really important to body image. We published that first edition in November.

What we've been working on that I'm really excited to share at some point is a complete revision and addition, that includes eating disorders, recovery content. It includes a lot deeper reflection from more intersectional and anti-oppressive ones. There's stuff about neurodivergency. There's stuff about neurodiversity, not neurodivergency. There's different perspectives on body image and considerations for trans, non-binary folks, and intersex folks.

There's just so much good content, not only written by my colleague and I, but also through guest articles with people who hold various identities, and talking about our positionality when it comes to this work. So I love that project, and I'm really excited to be able to help put out some tangible, therapeutic tools.

The last thing I'll say about it is just that it's very trauma-informed and rooted in a nervous system approach, which my friend Rachel is such an expert at in terms of the field of eating disorders in polyvagal theory, expert, and that word is so charged, but I think just like brings a lot of valuable connections and thinks about it in a really beautiful way.

Caitie: I feel like we're just gonna have to pull over and talk about this for 90 minutes. But we're not going to but I do want to ask you one more question about it. So I'm so excited. So this is a resource for providers and/or people in recovery, or people recovering from body image challenges, things like that.

Mimi: Yeah, definitely.

Caitie: This nervous system approach, oh, my goodness, I couldn't be more passionate about this at the moment. I do just want to hear a little bit more about that, and how it differs from body image resources that have been created in the past. Because it's so true, that you do need to integrate that knowledge and awareness regarding the nervous system when it comes to healing your body image because the two are not separate.

I see so much over-intellectualizing of body image healing versus somatic body image healing. And so I really just want to hear a little bit about that because I'm just selfishly so excited.

Mimi: I love it. I'm loving it. Yeah, it's really cool. Though a couple maybe like a year and a half ago, Rachel taught me about something called Polyvagal theory. I love it so much. And kind of putting it in like a box, in a nutshell, is this idea that everything in our bodies is searching for safety. It really brings this compassionate, non-pathologizing approach, and like you talked about, this mind-body connection where it's like, we are always trying to feel safe.

When it comes to body image, I think that's really apt about over-intellectualizing because we really need to drop down and that's where exposure therapy and things come in as well sometimes into our bodies. We can't just heal our way through thinking through things. With the nervous system in our bodies, I think that offers a really good, deeper understanding that it's not just about, like these recovery and exciting phrases where it's like, “I love my body now,” and “I'm happy with my body.”

It's like how has your body held in stored trauma? And how is that impacted differently by intergenerational trauma? Or by racial trauma and marginalized identities? And how is it more difficult— I don't want to say more difficult because that can be really invalidating sometimes, but what different impacts does it have if your body is subjected to holding various traumas, holding various attacks?

Thinking about the nervous system, I feel like that's been a little bit more of a topic in therapeutic circles, “Oh, your nervous system must feel really overwhelmed, or you must be really dysregulated.” I think that really is important because it gives voice to what's going on internally when we feel like we've either reached a limit on what we can talk ourselves through, or when we understand that trauma lives in the body, and that we do have to move through it in certain ways in order to heal.

Caitie: Yes, thank you so much. That idea of reaching the limit on what you can talk yourself through. That has been one of my biggest learnings with clients over the past few years has just been recognizing that, at some point, we cannot continue to think our way through things. We've got to do something else that is related to sourcing that sense of internal somatic safety.

That also relates to nutrition, right? Kind of just doing the thing, just nourishing your body rather than trying to think, “Okay, carbs are this, and I need them because of this and all of that.” So that's such a beautiful point. I'm so glad that you're creating this resource that speaks to that. I'm super jazzed about it. And I'm gonna Google it up right after this, because I don't know all the details of that. But anyway, back to you, Mimi, what is the challenge that you have overcome in your life that has brought you to do the work that you do today?

Mimi: Hmm, that's a good question. I'd say it's interesting. I feel like I haven't overcome anything. And it's interesting, Rachel and I were going over our work and someone had said, like teaching you how to overcome your body image struggles. And we were like, “Ah, that's a really strong thing to say about the work that we're doing.”

Not that it's not beautiful and amazing and helpful, but I think I still struggle with a lot of the things that at some times in my life, I've been like, “I recovered from that, and I am over that.” And I think bringing in also that trauma lens, where it's like, “I don't know, when something is going to come up in a different way. I don't know how I'm going to cope.”

I really like thinking about disordered sort of labels as adaptive, and again, how are you trying to keep yourself safe. So I think there's been a little bit of this dance for me going back and forth between feeling validated in naming something and being like, that's real, and I need to work on it. And also being like, okay, like, we don't have to over identify with that, especially because my work has been so central around OCD and eating disorders.

I was looking back the other day, as I was trying to figure out some work boundaries and I realized that for the past five years, I don't think there's been one day where I didn't intentionally do some sort of thing around OCD and eating disorders, which is kind of wild to think about for me. I'm like, “Wow, I really need to take a step back.” And I was talking about it recently with my therapist, and I thought it was interesting.

I was like, “I'm feeling this sort of dissonance, because part of me is like, I really love being in the moment processing with people about their eating disorders, and like holding space and figuring out different things.” But I also feel this sense of almost like, agitation, and I don't like using that word or irritated because then I feel almost guilty. And it's like, “You shouldn't say that as an eating disorder provider, like, how can you be annoyed?”

But she kind of gave me this internal family systems lens or is like, what does that part need? And like, what is that part telling you? I think it was kind of telling me that, like, “You've been doing this everyday for a long time, and maybe you need some separation, and some like, putting it down.” I think it's interesting to consider the ways that we sometimes need validation because we get invalidated, whether it's because you hold an identity that doesn't fit the stereotype.

But I think there sometimes comes this shift where it's like, that is everything, like my name is tied to that I'm the one who needs to have a voice in that conversation about eating disorders. And I felt this way a lot where if some group of people was talking about eating disorders, I'd be like, “I need to talk to them about it.” Like I need to add my perspective.

Or at the doctor's office, it's like, the only way I felt I could communicate not wanting to be weighed or wanting a certain set of care was like, “I have to tell them I have an eating disorder.” I think that becomes over identification with it, but it's a very thin line between when we're validating seeking and when we are over identifying and can ground ourselves in the fact that like, it was still valid and real, and we don't have to have this identification so closely with disorder.

Caitie: The challenges you're describing are over-identification with your work and kind of struggling to put it down and be just a person in the world some days. Then also this period of kind of over-identifying with recovering from an eating disorder. That's something that I see a lot of people struggle with in my work because it is so important to validate people's experiences and validate people's suffering with disordered eating. And that's such a problem.

That's something I want to hear a little more about from you, because you've done so much work on air quotes, atypical anorexia, and you'll understand why I'm putting air quotes around that in a moment. But also not putting that label on people in a way that makes them feel like this is like a life sentence.

This is something that they need to be working out every single day for the rest of their life and identifying as a recovered person in every single room that they walk into. Can you speak a little more on that?

Mimi: Yeah, I love that. I think there's always a caveat. So I'm going to name a few caveats and then go from there. So the first caveat I can think of is that your eating disorder is valid, and do you always need to be in different recovery support sources?

It's like, “Okay, if you need the care, that's really important, and not being really stringent about it.” Like, “Okay, I need to have the exact amount of care that validates my eating disorder and supports my needs. But then not one inch more, that makes me feel like I'm stuck in this eating disorder label.”

Or another caveat I can think of is, I had an eating disorder. And that was really valid. And I don't meet the criteria anymore, and I don't have one anymore. But that doesn't mean that my eating disorder was easier or less valid, because I don't have it anymore, which I think can be really tricky with people. I really struggle with the phrasing of wanting to stay sick, quote, unquote, because I think that's such a cringe statement. And I think a lot of people do, but I think it also has some information for us on what we're wanting in terms of, “I want to feel cared for,” “I want to feel connected.” And we're instead saying like, “Okay, the eating disorder is the way to get that.”

Again, that doesn't mean that you are pretending to have an eating disorder, but that's a bad thing. It gets really bad pathologizing. But how are we holding on to, and again, that really seeps into like you're choosing but it's not a bad choice or a choice in the sense that you're choosing your eating disorder.

There's a lot of interesting language difficulties that get in the way there, if that makes sense, kind of even in the way that I'm trying to explain one thing. And then I can think of a million ways that I'm like, wait, don't don't take that part that way.

I think it's a really interesting conundrum, to want to validate people in their eating disorders but also not make it your whole life and not be like you are your eating disorder. You're always going to be treated like a sick patient. And balancing your right to autonomy. And feeling like you have a voice apart from people's views of you as ill or sick or not being able to make decisions for yourself. Part of that is the context because in treatment centers and higher levels of care, a lot of times, it's this idea that like you are the eating disorder, which is sneaky.

You can't make decisions for yourself. You can't trust yourself, which is ironic, because we're often trying to teach clients like trust yourself, but at the same time taking away agency and voice. But you also want to balance that a lot of people get invalidated and viewed as choosing the eating disorder, and having bad intentions, and wanting to be vain and things like that.

I think the tricky part and the important part about this is really taking the time to listen to what is said next, and the explanation, the context, and offering space for people to say “that fits for me right now” or “that doesn't fit for me right now.” And that being okay, because you can say one or the other thing to someone and it may or may not speak to their needs.

In therapy, sometimes we talk about someone's capacity or like the rapport that we have with someone which I think is really apt to consider like is that what that person needs to here right now, considering where they are in their journey, and what do they need right now? That might change, and that's a good thing.

Caitie: How does myour kind of grappling with that conundrum lead you to the work that you do today? How does that inform the work that you do today? How do you operate as a clinician? That’s weird thing to say, operate, sounds like… How do you counsel people, given this awareness that you have around how important it is to validate people? And we keep saying eating disorders, but it really applies to OCD. It applies to anxiety, I think it applies to PTSD, I think it applies to a lot of things that we can be healing from. How do you validate people in their suffering in that way, while also opening them up to a wider life?

Mimi: I love that question. And I think that's one of the things I love most about clinical work, is that there's space for nuance in conversations. When I say something to apply it, I really well, from my perspective, I'll say the clients are the ones who can tell if this is how it feels for them. But I think I really try to make space for how did that land for you? And what pushback do you want to bring to me? And did that resonate? Or did that not resonate? And what's coming up for you?

A really beautiful thing about it is there's no insistence, I hope, on my end, I never want it to be like, “This is how you need to change, and this is the problem.” I really like to ask again, like, “How did that feel for you?” Like, “What did you hear from me?” Is another question I like to ask because sometimes what we say is not what's heard, because of our life experiences and the places that we're in.

Interestingly, I think that's one of the difficult parts about social media, and saying something like you're over identifying with your eating disorder, because you're casting that to a broad net. And not everyone has the capacity or the space to say, that didn't fit right for me. And I can't hold space for 100 people who say that didn't sit right for me, because I don't know their stories, and I don't know what they need.

I really liked that one-on-one engagement. And I think sometimes, it's really nice to go back to real life and ask those questions.