Dani’s Doodles

Hey, Boenvenidos-Welcome!

I am  Daniela Stephanou a sophomore psychology student at Duke University. I was born in Colombia, a country I love. I am I enjoy writing and drawing and this column will be a reflection of my life through doodles and letters talking about my recovery from anorexia in high school, body image related topics and just random creative posts. Hope you enjoy and let your mind wander through my posts.

Have comments or questions about my column? Let me know below! :)

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Feed up - literally

 Have you ever seen a fat lion overindulging at a zebra burger with a side of gazelle fries? I don’t think so... Wild animals in their natural environment eat for survival; human beings in their natural environment eat ,at the beginning as a physiological necessity, but after certain threshold eat for pleasure.

So a little bit of science... what does an organism need to survive? Cardinal factors include oxygen, sunshine, water, food and shelter. Talking about hierarchical needs when this basic human needs are met usually we would escalate to peruse other needs such as psychological needs (love and sense of belonging for instance); but instead we continue to use a primary need (food) to satisfy secondary or tertiary psychological needs. We do not find love in oxygen or water, but we do seek love in food. That’s why they call comfort foods “comfort” they serve as coping mechanisms to fulfill psychological needs instead of physiological needs. 

I guess food is more than a primarily survival component for humans. Simple associations as laughter over sharing a thanksgiving meal, sadness resulting in a pint of ice cream, comfort over a rainy day a cozy blanket and a cup hit chocolate shift food from a necessity to a desire and craving. I mean I go to the movie theater and I start salivating over popcorn just like one of Palov’s dogs.

Human beings are maladapted when it comes to food. Why do we lose control in front of a bowl of pasta? This has nothing to do with self control - rather it deals with learning principles.Social conventional structures have changed the way we eat. Dinner is at seven pm instead of dinner is eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Supper is over when the plate is empty, Clean plate club, instead of finishing the meal when physiological signals tell you to finish the meal. Eating disorders are basically just disordered eating; not tuning in to hear our own body signals to know when to eat and when to stop eating. 

I know this because I struggle with this. 
Sometimes I feel I could devour a bottomless platter when the person next to me felt stuffed with an apple. I sometimes use food as an emotional coping mechanism when I feel lonely. 
At a point in my life I my mind just repeatedly came coming back to ask the question: What amount of food is it “normal” to eat? 
Actually I am a very terrible bodily sensation forecaster. I struggle soooo hard to know when I’m hungry and when I’m full. 

Re-educating our bodies is not easy but is possible.

Mindful eating is the key. Feeling the crunch of food in my molars,  chewing and tasting sweetness with my papillae, swallowing the food and feeling it go down my throat. Noticing small sensations help us be more aware of when we are actually hungry and when we are actually emotionally eating. 

In my own personal experience relying on social cues for eating was not helpful. People eat different quantities of foods and judging my nutritional needs based on what others ate was not helpful.

Am I full or is it a gut feeling?
Am I hungry or is my stomach busy chasing butterflies? 

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a big fan of comfort food. I love food - in fact, breakfast, lunch and dinner are one of my favorite moments of the day. What I’m trying to say in this post is that we shouldn’t stop sharing an extra piece of cake with your friends or getting an ice cream on a sunny day. What I’m proposing it’s just remembering to tune in once in a while with our inner self and ask our bodies what they want.

Reconnecting body mind and soul one bite at a time. 
Don’t overthink it, just be a little bit more aware to fill up our plates with kindness and nurture our bodies with love

So stomach are you hungry yet?

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Grammar for Dummies: I come first, my disorder comes second


Dear Reader,

If mental health is related to health, then why do I feel that psychological disorders are more closely related to fairy tales and fables than physiological conditions? How is depression different from a broken leg or anxiety different from diabetes? Why is it ok to talk about appointments with a physician, endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, surgeon etc, but taboo to talk about an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist? Why is the brain’s health and different from the stomach’s health or the heart’s health?  Why do we have to feel ashamed about our mental health as if it were something we must hide?

Let’s talk about simple grammar. Basic grammatical structure in sentences goes as follows: adjective noun verb. When talking about diseases we say “A person with diabetes” or “That woman with cancer” or, “The boy with asthma.” We never say “A diabetic person” or a “cancerous woman” or an “asthmatic boy”. However, when we transition to write or talk about mental health disorders we often say “An anxious person,” “An anorexic girl” or “A depressed man.” As it is evident, when talking about mental health, the disorder is an adjective of the person rather than a separate noun.

We are all human beings vulnerable of both physical and mental problems. The difference is that society treats physiological conditions as a separate noun from the person, as a condition the subject is living, rather than an adjective of that person. My disorder doesn’t go first, I as a human being go fist. Even though dialect is difficult to change we must become more conscious of this simple misusage of words that can ultimately reduce stigma about mental health problems. Let’s start changing our word sentence order to say “A person with anxiety,” “A person with anorexia” or “A man with depression”. The person comes first, the disorder comes second. 

Changing the way we refer to people with mental health issues will internalize our understanding of how we view mental health disorders to stop viewing them as “taboo” topics and rather ordinary parts of our lives. 

Changing the way we view mental health and how people respond towards psychological disorders still has a long journey before they are viewed as in the same level as a physiological disease; but if we start changing the way we speak we will starts bringing confidence towards those individuals who feel shame to speak openly about their mental issues. 

I am the subject, the noun of my life. I won’t be tolerable of erroneous adjectives mischaracterizing my existence. My self is independent from by my disorder. My disorder is a separate noun. I take possession of the verbs of my life and I decide to act with tolerance and respect towards humanity. 



Daniela Stephanou- the girl who is studying psychology, the girl who likes to draw, the girl who had asthma as a child, the girl who has emotions, the girl who sometimes feels anxiety, the girl who loves her family, the girl who had anorexia, the girl who is trying to change the way others view mental health.