Spring has finally sprung here in Denver! After several weeks of frigid temperatures and snow, we are melting and the crocuses are poking their sweet heads out of the dirt.
Along with warmer weather comes increased sunlight and a desire to be outside, and with that can come more focused attention on body image. Your friends may be sporting shorts, planning for spring break, shopping for tank tops, and talking about their bodies as we come out from ‘winter hibernation’.
Does this bring up any insecurity for you?
If you have a friend, daughter, son, mother, or loved one who looks at themselves in the mirror, grimaces, pokes their belly, and then mutters “I feel SO fat!!”, then this post is for you.
Five Things to Say to Your Daughter (or son, or loved one) When She/He Tells You She Feels Fat
1.) Fat is not a feeling. Facebook recently removed the “feeling fat” emoticon from their status bar because fat is NOT a feeling and proposing that it is a feeling further adheres to the thin ideal and shaming anyone who has fat on their body. It also can be triggering to those who have eating disorders or body image struggles. Fat is not a feeling — what are you REALLY feeling?
2.) Talk to her about normal things that bodies do, look like, and feel like. Everyone has a different body and whatever the number on the scale says, our bodies are amazing and deserving of respect. Talk with her about what your body went through as you were growing up, normalize some of the uncomfortable things that can occur (i.e.: puberty), and discuss this in an affirming, accepting and empowering way.
3.) Discuss the ‘thin ideal’ and how thinness is glorified in our culture. Explore the effect that the media and society have had on her and on others and what message that sends. Fat is stigmatized in our culture and many people fear being judged, bullied, rejected, or hurt by not fitting into the thin ideal.
Help her get educated and stand up for herself amidst the immense cultural pressure to look a certain way.
4.) Find out what is going on in her life. Chances are, if she is obsessing about
body image, weight, or food, there are other factors affecting her stress level and wellbeing. How are her relationships? How does she feel about school? Is she pushing herself too hard? Does she compare herself with her best friend? Explore the deeper meaning to “fat” and what it is truly trying to express.
5.) Dance. Invite your daughter or loved one to put on a favorite song and to check your judgments at the door. Dance with her and invite yourselves to feel the miraculous, fun, strong things that your body can do for you, and does for you each day. Carve out time each day to focus on what your body DOES, instead of how it looks.
Warmer weather invites the birth of spring, which in turn offers an opportunity for rebirth, renewal, and release. Ask your loved one and yourself: What would you like to release this spring that is not serving you? How can your body help you do it?
It’s the end of February. How’s your New Year’s Resolution going? If it involves weight loss it has probably been thrown out the window by now. How are you feeling about that?
How are you feeling about yourself?
I hope the answer is “great!”, but I am bravely going to dare to suggest that if a weight loss goal is connected with how you feel about yourself and your body, then you’re probably struggling with some self-criticism right about now. You are never ‘perfect’ enough…
You may be one of the thousands of men or women who ‘wants to lose those last five pounds’ and then you’ll feel ‘confident’ in your body.
I get it. That elusive yet seemingly doable goal of weight loss as a way to feel better about yourself and your body is so tantalizing.
The ads on television and in the magazines throw out all the stops to convince you that going on a diet and counting your calories is the solution as to why you don’t feel so great about yourself. (And they make it look so damn easy!) They promise you if you lost five pounds (or more) you will find…wealth…popularity…success…happiness.
I’m not sure about you, but I receive dozens of spam email messages each day. Here are a few of the most delicious titles:
‘Ellen DeGeneres’ Ageless Look! She looks 20 again just by taking this pill!”,; and from GetSkinnyNow: ‘READ THIS OR HATE YOURSELF FOREVER!’; and from BetterThanBotox: ‘[Secret Revealed!] Arctic Glacier Eliminates Wrinkles Forever!’. And good old Dr Oz promises me: ‘#1 Brand New Diet Tip of 2015: This Miracle Pill Will Burn Fat Fast!!’
Since when is deprivation, shaming, and rigidity a path to inner peace and self-love?
Yesterday marked the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2015. The last week of February each year is designated nationally as a time to flood social media and our society with lots of information, resources, and hope for eating disorder recovery. The theme this year is: “I had no idea… “that some of the things we do and say each day to ourselves or to others can trigger an eating disorder to develop.
One of those statements is “I had no idea…that my quest for health was making me sick.”
Not all diets trigger eating disorders, but rigid and perpetual dieting increases the risk of developing disordered eating behaviors like binge eating. Did you know that statistics show that people who consistently diet are thirteen times more likely to binge eat?
And did you know that more than 65% of people who have lost weight on a diet will gain it back (and then some) within the next year? If weight loss is connected to your self-worth, how is that ever going to point you in the direction of feeling better about yourself?
1.) Take yourself out on a date. When you have been dieting and controlling your food and body for so long, you may have lost touch with what your body really needs or wants. Spend an evening listening …and then giving. If it wants a pint of ice cream, yum! If it wants to go salsa dancing, sounds fun! This helps to foster a sense of acceptance and connection, allowing you to build on developing a mutually enjoyable relationship with your body.
2.) Ask yourself what five pounds would really change about your life – and if the dieting is worth it? Is losing weight really the way to get there?
3.) Did you know that muscle weighs more than fat? Those extra five pounds may be comprised of muscle and strength…helping to make your body awesome and capable of doing so many things. Why attach a number to that?
4.) Focus on your strength and capability of your body and not your blemishes. What does your body do for you each day that you are not aware of? For example, did you know how complex our digestive system is and how our body facilitates so many essential daily processes that we are not consciously aware of? Amazing!
5.) Ask your body if it is truly hungry and if so, what would taste good to eat right now. So much of the diet mentality is not listening but formulating what you should eat based on someone else’s guidelines. Somebody who is not in your body and doesn’t know it as well as you do. Your body is wise and when it is well-fed it will shift to a place where it naturally feels healthy. That may be losing weight…it may not.
6.) Let go of that negative, judgmental, critical monster voice in your head. You may never be able to make it go away completely, but you can change your relationship with it and the influence it has over you. Focus on what you love about yourself, your body, and food…not what is ‘wrong’ with those things.
7.) Follow Your Bliss. Life is too short. We don’t get a dress rehearsal for our life— this is it! How do you want to spend your precious time here? How can you invite your body to join the party?
I invite you to attempt to get off the rollercoaster of ‘loving yourself WHEN….I lose five pounds…when I can bench press X amount…when I don’t have wrinkles on my face anymore’….and trying to love and accept yourself as you are today. I have tried it and it is so liberating! See how that feels on your body.
I am honored today to share a guest post to my blog by Annette Sloan, a health coach and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering teens to embrace healthy living through her business, (w)holehearted. She is gifting us today with her story about how yoga helped her offer herself something that is so integral to its essence: compassion. Even when you’re struggling with food or body image issues. Especially then.
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Have you ever been to a bad yoga class? Maybe it was a class where the teacher wasn’t sure of her instructions and kept fumbling over her words.
Or maybe she talked too much, which made it hard for you to quiet your mind, or she talked too little, which made it hard for you to know what you were supposed to be doing.
Bad yoga classes are the worst. You take the time in your day to get to your mat, hoping to move your body and calm your mind – and then the instructor ruins the whole experience.
I am a yoga instructor, and I have a confession to make: I once taught the worst yoga class ever. Ok, maybe not the worst class ever. I didn’t make fun of anyone or tell them their body was wrong. No one got hurt. But, I did do an absolutely terrible job of leading the class. I forgot my sequence, mixed up left and right multiple times, and fumbled over the instructions on pretty much every pose.
Not even halfway through the class, I could tell that my students were just humoring me. They wanted to roll up their mats and leave, but they were too polite. It was my first class out of yoga teacher training, and I was screwing up it, big time.
Even worse, this wasn’t just a regular class – it was an audition. One of the polite yogis in front of me owned a yoga business, and I was supposed to be proving my chops as an instructor.
When the hour finally ended, my students gratefully rolled up their mats and departed. I was left with Bonnie, the yoga business owner. Telling myself that I could cry in my car in a few minutes, I looked her in the eye and waited to hear my fate.
Bless Bonnie. Instead of diving into the long list of everything I had done wrong, she kindly asked, “How do you think it went?”
I was honest and brutal in my self-appraisal. Bonnie waited patiently for me to finish, then nodded.
Without agreeing or disagreeing with me, she said, “But did you see how they stayed around to talk with you at the end? If they hated you, they would have left immediately. They liked your energy.”
Once again, bless Bonnie. Talk about compassion.
I didn’t get hired for the job that night. But I didn’t get dismissed either. Bonnie recognized that my nerves had played a huge role in my less-than-stellar performance. She gave me a list of areas to work on, and suggested that I do another audition in a few weeks. Later, she hired me.
The moral of the story is that on the night of my worst yoga class ever, Bonnie embodied an essential component of yoga: compassion.
In my opinion, when a yogi steps onto his or her mat, everything that takes place is in service to a higher goal: to connect mind and body to the present moment – and to be compassionate with whatever comes up.
Downward-facing dog too rough on your shoulders today? Try table instead. Table isn’t feeling good? Child’s pose is always available. The underlying message is: wherever you are, right now, is valid. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. Honor your journey.
I started practicing yoga in high school, and continued through college and my twenties. During this time, I was struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food. (Learn more about my story here, or here for a more detailed version). Thankfully, I’m now on the other side of the struggle. And I can honestly say that my practice of yoga was essential to my healing.
Yoga connected my mind and body in the present moment. It regularly reminded me to practice self-compassion and to honor my journey. My subconscious received the message that I wherever I was, it was ok for me to be there. I was worthy, just as I was.
Eventually, my journey led me to yoga-teacher training, where I found the courage to share the story of my struggle with food.
It was terrifying to make myself so vulnerable – but in airing my shame, I found healing. I summoned up the courage to share my story with others, and eventually, with everyone I knew. Today, I have my own business, (w)holehearted, which specializes in compassionate health coaching for teen girls.
I have yoga to thank for it all – and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Annette Sloan owns (w)holehearted, a Denver-based business specializing in compassionate health coaching for teen girls. Her work as a coach and speaker empowers teens to discover their happiest, healthiest, most authentic selves. Soon, Annette will also debut a program called Empowered Moms, Empowered Daughters, which will help moms to heal their relationships with food, body, and self so that they can be positive role models for their daughters. In addition, Annette co-leads a workshop called “Yoga, Food, and Love: A Compassionate Journey to Healing your Relationship with Food.” Learn more at www.healthyteengirls.com and www.fb.com/healthyteengirls.
This time of year, I love reading all of the articles and blogs written to help us try to remember what is truly important to us during the busy, bustling holiday season. What are some of your favorites? Share in the comments box at the end of this post!
As the holidays are upon us and we find ourselves getting caught up in the swirl of family gatherings, work potlucks, traffic, holiday music, gift buying, and so much more, I often find my anxiety ramping up too. There seems to be so much “to do”, “to see”, “to prepare”, “to buy”, “to organize”….etc, etc. If you notice, all of those “to’s” are followed by verbs.
We are always moving, always feeling like we “should” be completing or focusing on the next thing that comes during the holiday season. In years past, the calendar has arrived at January 1st and I
can’t fathom for the life of me how in the world we got there. Where did the time go? I was not being mindful; I was letting the busyness of the season keep me disconnected from what really matters to me.
This year I am committed to adopting a different approach. 2014 was a year of ups and downs for me. Professionally, I have seen my business thrive and achieve milestones such as publishing an e-book and doing more public speaking and supervision than in any previous year — activities that I love, that challenge me and that are fulfilling to me as well as to others.
Personally, I have had some great things happen, and I also have experienced more loss in this one year than I have in my entire life. Going through the stages of grief and sadness has catapulted me to a place of self-awareness and depth that I had not experienced before. I have overcome extremely challenging and life-changing experiences before, such as the recovery process of my eating disorder. However, finding yourself at a place where you have absolutely no control over the experience was something I had never grappled with before. Through the depths of my sadness, I have also been able to open myself up to the depths of gratitude that fills up my life as well.
I often use the metaphor of “the well” with my clients — if you can feel that deep sadness, you have the capacity in your well of emotional experience to feel the same depth of joy. So hold on, persevere, and don’t give up hope.
Reflecting back on 2014, I am struck by three concepts that have highlighted my year: resiliency, authenticity, vulnerability.
What is funny to me is that as I notice these concepts as cornerstones of my year, I also recognize that these are traits that many of my clients have embodied this year as well. It is never lost on me how we all are connected and our processes can be parallel in ways that we may not know or recognize.
What are three concepts that highlight your 2014?
So, as I offer myself grace, as I offer my clients hope, as I offer my colleagues, friends and family love and warmth this holiday season, I pledge to adopt the stance of dwelling.I dwell in the depth of gratitude I have for those who have let me walk with them on their journeys to healing. I dwell in gratitude for those who have opened their arms when I needed someone to hold me. I dwell in the light and possibility of continued healing and growth for us all in a vibrant 2015.
Wishing you and your loved ones a very peaceful holiday season and a 2015 bursting with new possibilities.
I’m so excited today to share a post I wrote for the blog of Dr. Lily Zehner. What an honor! Read on…
Please Don’t Turn On The Lights: How Body Image Affects Intimacy
Have you ever looked in the mirror and had negative thoughts or emotions jump out at you about the image reflected back? What about standing in front of the mirror naked? Now try to imagine how it feels to let your partner see you naked. If you ask me, I’d say vulnerable!!! Yikes!
We all have a body, so we all have a body image. Our relationship with our bodies can have a significant impact on our physical and emotional intimacy with our loved ones and with ourselves. Body image is described as a culmination of a person’s internal and external experiences, personality, perception of the world and impact of cultural influences. I also think of it as a person’s perception of their body’s attractiveness and acceptability by others, and it is often influenced by expectations set in the media, in our culture, and by those close to us. Sometimes, our body image is passed down to us as a reflection of our parents’ own relationships with their bodies.
Our culture’s obsession with the “thin ideal” as the standard for beauty can have a detrimental effect on women (and men) whose bodies do not look the way that society says is “beautiful” – ie: thin, yet curvy in the right places, tall, toned, active, strong yet not too strong, etc etc etc. For men the standards are equally as confusing and contradictory.
And when we feel as if we are unattractive based on society’s standards, we can internalize that feeling and become at war with our own selves.
Chasing, yet not meeting this elusive thin-ideal standard can foster feelings of inadequacy in women and men and can support a belief that there is something undesirable about our bodies and thus ourselves. Intimacy, whether physical and/or emotional, is the deep connection and closeness felt between romantic partners that is intended to be a method of communicating love, affection, and acceptance. If we struggle with communicating love and acceptance to ourselves, with our negative body image creating a barrier between us and the world, we can cut ourselves off from this deep, nourishing intimacy with others and create a divide in our relationship.
When we don’t feel emotionally safe and accepting with our own bodies, we may create a self-protecting defensive shield around ourselves which can lead to a disconnection with ourselves and with our partners. As someone who works extensively with people who struggle with body image and disordered eating issues, I can attest to the deep disconnect and loneliness that these struggles can bring to physical and emotional intimacy. What I also know is that healing body image wounds is very possible and it is one of the leading factors to re-establishing a sensual, intimate relationship with your partner(s) and with yourself.
If you struggle with body image issues and you feel that they are affecting your intimacy in your relationship,
Be honest. Open up to your partner(s). Share as much about what you are feeling as you feel comfortable. Sure, this is vulnerable as heck. It also opens the dialogue for understanding and connection and can foster communication between you about how you can feel more comfortable in your body.
Be kind. First to yourself. I know this is hard. I believe that we cannot truly offer to others what we are not able to give to ourselves. Instead of judging yourself for having these struggles, try to be compassionate and gentle.
Be curious. What is really going on for you in your body image struggle? As author Geneen Roth (author of Women, Food and God and When Food is Love) states: “”Every time you sneak food, you give yourself the message that you cannot be seen … [and it] translates into sneaking your desires, sneaking your hungers, and sneaking your heart, because you feel you don’t deserve love.” Try to take a gentle look at what might be feeding your body image struggle including experiences from your past where you have felt judged about your body for some reason.
Try to reconnect to what intimacy feels like to you. When have you felt close with someone? What did that feel like in your body – sensations, emotions, physical touch? How did your body react to that feeling of closeness? What is one small step you could take today to re-initiate that feeling of closeness with your partner or yourself?
Have you had body image struggles which have impacted your intimacy and closeness with loved ones? Leave a comment below about your experience and how you healed that connection with your partner or yourself.
Read more about the amazing work happening at Dr. Lily Zehner’s private practice at their site: www.drlilyzehner.com. Thanks for the opportunity to guest post, and it was an honor to feature owner Lily Zehner’s guest post on my blog last week!
Today I am honored to feature a guest post by friend and amazing colleague Lily Zehner of The Center for Authentic Intimacy. Lily is an inspiration to me in so many ways, and most recently I read this authentic, raw post she created for her blog. Her candor about her recovery from her eating disorder brought tears to my eyes as well as a wry smile as I could relate to so much of what she shared.
I asked if I could share her post on my site because I know my readers will connect to her inner beauty and resiliency. Lily wrote about her involvement in the #RecoveryIs campaign through Project Heal, which is an AMAZING organization that helps to provide funding for patients who cannot afford the cost of eating disorder treatment.
Her #RecoveryIs statement is: Recovery is authenticity in its rawest form!
What’s your statement?
Read on for Lily’s heartfelt words and I share how they impacted me at the end of her post.
Let’s unite together in authenticity to heal and eradicate eating disorders once and for all.
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Last week I learned about a campaign by Project Heal bringing about awareness of the treatment of eating disorders through photos of recovery from those who have survived and the people who supported them using “#RecoveryIs”. It has been something I have continued to think about and question of myself in the days following.
I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was 14 and at nearly 30, this has made up more than half of my life. I have been in true recovery, as defined by me, nearly 4 years. And every day I am grateful for this while fighting with every ounce of my being to continue. I think I can speak for those who have been along for the journey, they are just as relieved and grateful.
My starvation nearly took my life several times. Let that marinate for a moment. I nearly starved myself to death more than once. My childhood of pure chaos and trauma was the perfect recipe for me to find a way to disappear, literally.
I wanted to share what recovery is for me. Below is a stream of consciousness. It’s not perfect and that’s entirely the point.
Recovery is both beautiful and brutal—like Glennon Doyle Melton says, “its brutiful”.
Recovery is shattering the rigidity and allowing for flexibility.
Recovery is being all heart, no longer struggling to beat as I once did at 23 beats per minute.
Recovery is understanding the importance and value in vulnerability.
Recovery is feeling rather than numbing.
Recovery is owning my sexuality, unapologetically.
Recovery is allowing others in, finally.
Recovery is knowing that asking for help is nothing short of heroic.
Recovery is acceptance.
Recovery is asking for what I need while offering what I can give.
Recovery is clawing my way out of a very deep, dark hole with no energy hoping I’ll eventually make it to the top; to the light.
Recovery is no longer trying to shove and starve myself into my once ideal ‘size 2’ box.
Recovery is community rather than isolation.
Recovery is being human every second of every day.
Recovery is no longer obsessively working out for hours on end.
Recovery is working out for sanity, peace, and health.
Recovery is not only surviving or living, it is thriving.
Recovery is allowing the wounds to heal.
Recovery is finding the grey in my once black and white, all or nothing, world.
Recovery is fucking hard.
Recovery is owning my story.
Recovery is knowing where I end and where others begin.
Recovery is knowing that the only way to is through.
Recovery takes every ounce of me some days and comes easy others.
Recovery is consoling my younger self rather than leaving her alone at the bottom of the stairs.
Recovery is showing up every damn day.
Recovery is no longer memorizing the calories of every single thing to enter my mouth.
Recovery is the feeling of standing on my two feet, arms wide open, looking up into the sky saying, “ahhhh”.
Recovery is touch.
Recovery is the integration of my whole body.
Recovery is no longer being consumed with shame.
Recovery is always listening to my intuition.
Recovery is no longer requiring my legs to be removed from my body before my burial upon my death. [Yes, this was a true request during my sickest times in preparation for my passing. The justification? There was no way I was going to spend another moment with them that I didn’t have to; they had caused me enough torment].
Recovery is learning to sit still, really still; this once was impossible.
Recovery is giving myself permission.
Recovery is forgiveness.
Recovery is heartbreaking.
Recovery is knowing my body isn’t what needs to change, but rather, society and its expectations.
Recovery is no longer being limited by the identity of my eating disorder; it is redefining myself.
Recovery was creating the family I always needed and desired.
Recovery is being strict with my boundaries knowing this is the single most important part of my recovery.
Recovery is marrying a partner who validates daily that I am worthy of love.
Recovery is still choosing to be sensitive in this harsh world.
Recovery is being honest; real honest with myself and others.
Recovery is no longer silencing my voice; YOU will hear me LOUD & CLEAR.
Recovery is realizing I never had control in the first place.
Recovery is relief.
Recovery is knowing I still have a long way to go while recognizing I have come a long way.
When I made the intentional choice to recover, I made the choice to be me, ALL of me. I would no longer allow myself to hide in shame or pretend. I wouldn’t be anything other than Lily.
For me, recovery is authenticity in its rawest form!
Until next time,
Ps– the last line is what my sign says in the photo. If you feel compelled to add your “Recovery Is” photo please do. Write what your “recovery is” on a piece of white paper, take a photo with it, and share it on social media using #RecoveryIs and #ProjectHeal. Visit www.theprojectheal.org or their FB page for more information.
Lily A. Zehner is a couples therapist who specializes in sex, intimacy, and relationships. She promotes and helps cultivate healthy sexuality, whatever that may look like for you. She is currently finishing up her EdD program at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Her practice, The Center for Authentic Intimacy, is located in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
Here’s my (Kate’s) own #RecoveryIs statement:
Join us!!! Share your #RecoveryIs statement in the comments below!
I am very excited today to share a guest post by Stephanie Small, a Licensed Social Worker and holistic nutritionist who is one of my favorite and most inspiring local helpers in the field of healing from disordered eating! I met Stephanie several months ago for coffee and we had an invigorating chat about what causes binge eating, what does the process of recovery really look like, and so much more. Stephanie and I have both recovered from eating disorders and share a similar philosophy in helping our clients find their own path to healing and we decided to “guest write” on each other’s blogs (check out my post on her blog “The Surprising Reason You Don’t Feel Confident in Your Body“) Please read on to explore her musings on “The Self-Care Myth”:
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Hands up if you’ve heard repeatedly about the importance of self-care for healing!
Hands up if the thought of fitting in “bubble bath”, “journaling” and “calling a friend” x number of times per week totally stresses you out, and feels like just one more thing to add into an already overwhelmingly busy life!
You’re not alone. And by the way, that’s not what self-care is about. Let me explain:
Last spring, I raised the topic of self-care to a Women’s Emotional Eating group. Instantly, I felt resistance. Members started to shift around in their seats and make reluctant faces.
“What’s the deal?” I asked.
“I think we all know about self-care already,” offered one of the group members.
“….And it feels like just one more thing to do?” I asked.
“YES!” said several of the members. Others nodded vigorously.
“Let me bust a GIANT myth for you,” I said. “Self-care is NOT about taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, indulging in a pedicure, breathing deeply, practicing your piano, or anything else off some list. Well, let me re-phrase that. It CAN be any of those things. Here’s what self-care actually IS, though – It’s giving yourself whatever you need IN THAT MOMENT.”
Some women looked quizzical. Others looked relieved.
“So in other words, it’s not doing thirty minutes of some activity that sounds nice. It doesn’t really have anything to do with that. It has to do with tuning in, sensing what you need, and giving that to yourself. Do you see what I mean?”
Some women started to nod.
“Here’s the thing with this – and this is really important – self-care IS self-care BECAUSE it’s about giving yourself what you need,” I explained. “Say you’re upset. And what you really, really need to do is cry. Or scream! But you’re not used to tuning in to your body and sensing your needs that way. Or maybe you know that you need to cry or scream, but you don’t give yourself permission to do it. So instead, you take a bubble bath. Well, how effective do you think that bubble bath is going to be in helping you to feel better?”
“Not very,” said one woman.
“Right,” I said. “That is why it’s crucial to learn how to listen to your internal experience. If you’re journaling when you really need to be kickboxing and imagining your boss’s face, or if you’re getting a pedicure when your body is just crying out for the relaxation of a bath, it’s not really self-care.”
“That feels so much more manageable, rather than just ticking off items from a list,” another woman said.
“Yeah,” I said, “and the other piece about that is time. If you’re really tuning in and giving yourself what you need, yes, you may need to spend a half an hour or more, or you may find that a few moments of compassionate attention to your insides can be enough to feel relief.”
That particular Women’s Emotional Eating Group lasted for eight weeks. During the last session, each participant spent time talking about what they would take away from the group. And most mentioned this exchange.
Learning to identify your needs, by the way, is not an intellectual process. It comes from developing a relationship with your body’s signals and cues, and then honoring what it has to say.
Here’s a very simple way to start to explore this process:
The next time you’re feeling off – agitated, sad, worried, angry – find somewhere quiet to sit, close your eyes, and take a few slow, deep breaths. Then pose the question “what do I need right now?” Imagine saying it to yourself, rather than thinking about it. If you give it some time (or it may occur very quickly!) an image may arise, or you may feel suddenly drawn to a particular activity. In this case, you’ll know you’re on the right track as long as it’s not a compulsive activity that medicates feelings. If nothing in particular arises, try offering yourself some options, and sense into how your body feels when you imagine each one. If, upon imagining one or more, you get a sense of relaxation or “rightness” or satisfaction, you’ve got a good place to start.
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Stephanie Small is a psychotherapist and holistic nutritionist (and recovering sugar addict) who helps her clients boost their mood and transform their relationship with food. She also offers online programs, writes, blogs and speaks at live events. She received her BA from Yale University, her MSW from Smith College for Social Work, and her Holistic Nutrition Educator Certificate from Bauman College. She is a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Colorado, and has a private practice in Boulder, CO and via Skype. Her website is www.stephaniesmallhealth.com.
Here’s a fun guest post I wrote for nutritionist and counselor Stephanie Small‘s blog. She’s an awesome inspiration in helping women “boost your mood and transform your relationship with food’! Come back next week to read a guest post from Stephanie on my blog! Check it out:
If you have found this post, you probably are someone who has struggled with body image issues in your life. You may have had negative thoughts towards parts or all of your body, like: “Ugh, why do my thighs jiggle and touch each other like that?”, or, “My stomach is so flabby I feel like I’m going to burst out of my pants. How disgusting.” Sit for a moment and really let the effect of hearing those statements ooze into you. Do you feel even more yucky after reading them?
I could feel the tinglings of gloom as I wrote them and they are lingering even as of now.
You may have also experienced behaviors that are violent towards your body as a result of some of the feelings and thoughts that have been directed its way. Perhaps you binge eat to a point of extreme discomfort; perhaps you binge and then purge to get the feelings and the food out of your system; maybe you restrict what you eat to try to sculpt the body you think you’d really love.
I’m here to give you some bad news: you’re never going to feel confident in your body.
What? How could those words come from a therapist who spends every day (in and out of the office) offering support to those struggling with eating disorders, body image struggles or who for various reasons feel disconnected from and not at-home in their bodies?
Bear with me. I’m going to suggest that we can never be confident in our bodies until we detach from our bodies. Just for a little while. And then we can come home to them.
As a society, we are afraid of fat. We value thin. We put thin and people who are thin up on a pedestal. You are bombarded with messages that tell you this directly and indirectly hundreds of time each day. It takes conscious, concerted effort each day to notice these messages before you internalize them. And even if you do, you still will internalize them. They will cause you and others lots of suffering because you can never be “enough” of what society tells you that you should be (thin, rich, popular, funny, smart, etc). The point is not to try to stop them, because we never can, but to change the way that you react to them.
I have had many, many clients come to me and tell me about their struggles with food – perhaps they binge eat, or feel out of control in some way. They just want to stop the behavior and they will feel so much better about themselves. This part I totally empathize with – I know how destructive and painful these eating disordered behaviors can be.
Then usually they slip in – ‘I just want to lose some weight and then I know I will feel more confident to [date] [go out for a new job] [stop isolating] [love my body].
They are fused with the thin-ideal as a surefire way to love themselves more. And they don’t realize it or are in denial. I get it – I have been swayed by that campaign as well.
Sometimes we are able to notice that this is happening and step away from being body-centric for a bit and examine what is truly going on for us – fear of not being accepted unless us look a certain way, deep-seated shame, fear of not knowing who we are without being body-obsessed, discomfort with confrontation, etc. – so that we can sort through it, find healing, and then move back to applying that acceptance to our entire being.
But sometimes we can get so stuck on the thin-ideal that we cannot see out of the ‘I must be thin [or lose some weight] to be self-confident’ blinders. We can get on a rollercoaster ride where self-worth is in the same car as ‘physical appearance’, and we are zooming at a frantic pace with seemingly no way to get off the ride.
That’s where I try to stop us (or slow down at least!) and divorce the body for a moment. What is truly going on inside? What are you truly hungry for that has nothing to do with your body? Without looking at that, you cannot be truly confident in yourself or your body (and you won’t be able to actually stop the eating disordered behaviors).
After some time focused away from the external parts of the body and delving deeper into the inner parts of the self, we may discover what that deeper hunger truly is. And we can feed it – without food being the answer.
Then we can re-enter the body work in a holistic, integrated, authentic way where the focus is not on weight but on being embodied – or “at home in your body and yourself”. As you stand on your own two feet, you will radiate confidence from within your body, a confidence that has nothing to do with what your body physically looks like.
When these pieces are integrated back together, you may have thoughts like “I love the way my knees curve that way as I bend down”, or even “My hips are strong and womanly”. Your body may not actually be at the top of your mind as often because it is now a fully connected part of you and the hunger that your body feels is purely physical, or, if you have emotional hunger, you will have the awareness to decipher the “food” that you’re really craving.
What do you think? Have you noticed yourself getting hijacked by the thin-ideal and getting taken away from what really matters to you? How can you find self-confidence without focusing on your body?
Seasons are changing here in Denver, Colorado — at 10am this morning the temperature was a balmy 32 degrees! Yesterday I frantically covered my garden and pots as best I could and am praying that they pulled through this cold snap. Oh, Colorado weather, you never fail to challenge me! I still have so many tomatoes that need to ripen and pumpkins to turn to orange
It is supposed to be back in the 80s next week, also a typical Colorado weather pattern this time of year. I love fall! The shift of the seasons also brings events like back-to-school time and many other forms of change. Going back to school can be an exciting and anticipatory time — what will I learn this year? Who will I meet? What will be my greatest challenge? Where will I grow the most?
It also can be a time where body image concerns can show up pretty intensely as each student is finding their group of friends, adjusting to the school atmosphere, and embracing the unknown. Thoughts like “How do I measure up? Will I fit in? Am I accepted?” can show up during the first few weeks of school. As we wear less tank tops and sundresses and begin pulling on long pants and coats, so, too, do some of us feel a little more self-conscious about our bodies and how we feel in them.
I thought it would be a helpful exercise today to offer some tips for boosting your body image and embracing the awesome person you are as school starts up and the seasons shift. Whether you sometimes struggle with body image concerns or not, I’m hopeful you can find something to relate to and take with you from the list below.
Top Ten Body-Image Boosts for Back-To-School!
1.) Ask yourself: “How do I feel about my body?” . Remember that you are unique and have so many gifts to offer that only you can! Focus on three body parts that you don’t normally pay attention to (your glands, for example!) and offer them gratitude for the function they serve for you. For example: “I love my spine. Each vertebra is lovingly connected to its neighbors. There is smooth, perfect interaction between them. I am strong and flexible.”
2.) Find a body image boost buddy (BBB). Reach out to someone you trust and talk about body image. Talk about what you love about your body and what you struggle with. Ask them their body image story. Swap tips for embracing and loving the body you were gifted with.
3.) Speak up when you hear someone talking negative about their body or someone else’s. Negativity and judgement can spread like a wildfire and it’s hurtful. If you notice someone putting their body down or criticizing someone else’s, say something to them. They might not even notice what they are doing or the impact it can have. This also can help you feel more positive about yourself, your body, and the messages you are sending about body love.
4.) Create a vision. Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel inside this body? If I felt this way, how would I move differently, how would I interact with others differently, what would this free me to do and experience?” Using guided visualization, to step into and experience this vision, allowing yourself to have a goal to work towards.
5.) Notice your body talk. How do you talk to your body? How do you talk about your body to others? Notice the negative or critical thoughts that you have towards your body and write them down. Then write a counter to each of those thoughts and formulate thoughts that are positive about your body.
6.) Be active. Being active in your body — running, dancing, stretching, playing soccer, or whatever makes you feel good — can help you connect to it in a healthy way and show you the amazing things your body helps you do each day.
7.) Wear clothes that make you feel confident. Wearing clothes that fit your body well can help you feel more comfortable and confident in your body. You may need to buy new clothes or find some oldies but goodies that you love. What’s important is that you enjoy wearing these clothes and therefore are choosing to treat your body with love and respect.
8.) Notice the messages that influence you. Where do you get messages that there is something wrong with the way your body looks? Are there magazines, commercials, television shows, advertisements that try to convince you that you need to change? Before buying into them, try to notice them and ask yourself if you truly believe their message or if they are trying to sell you an unhealthy thought.
10.) Redefine what health, beauty, and happinessmean to you! Maybe your definition doesn’t entirely fit with society’s or your best friend’s. That’s okay! This is your body, your life, and you get to decide what makes you feel wonderful!
Here’s a fun video of a hip new song called “All About That Bass”, which promotes positive body image:
As a young girl, I loved to play in the fields of sunflowers by my home and watch as they reached higher, higher, and higher, always facing the sun. They thrived in the light.
As a teenager, I became disconnected from my love of the earth and as my eating disorder destroyed my life, I barely noticed the neglected tulips outside my window. I hid in the darkness and so did my garden.
As an eating disorder survivor and now a professional counselor, I play in my garden daily to nurture my recovery, to nourish my soul, and to reconnect with my authentic self. While I have been recovered for more than 10 years now and feel very solid in my recovery, gardening is an integral factor in sustaining my recovery.
I am blessed to be able to help others who struggle with eating disorders to find their own light in their recovery process and I often utilize metaphors from mindful gardening practices (and get our hands in the dirt and actuallypractice it!) to help them cultivate their own inner gardens.
Do you like to garden? If you were a plant, which type do you think you’d be? Why?
The earth is a natural source of healing energy for us and if we connect with it, we can soothe our inner hunger and feed our soul in a way that food cannot.
Six Seeds to Sow in your Inner Garden
1. You are the artist of your own garden. There are hundreds of flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs, and other beauties that can make your garden lush and bountiful! Yes, this can be a bit overwhelming, but it can also be fun! It’s up to you to decide what you like, what you don’t, what you want to experiment with, and what is aesthetically pleasing to you. In recovery, it’s so important to learn that you are unique, you are wonderful any way you want to be, and your voice is the one that truly counts when it comes to taking care of yourself.
2. Can you try to embrace your inner weeds instead of pull them all out? Weeds can sometimes be unpleasant, unsightly, unwanted parts of our gardens. They show up when we didn’t plant them and crowd into our beautiful peony plant. You can spend hours upon hours weeding (trust me, I know!) and while it can be therapeutic to do so, you can never get all of the weeds to permanently scram. This is also true of things in our lives that we feel we want to go away — we can spend so much time and energy trying to get rid of them that we don’t have much space left to notice and appreciate what we already have. Also, some weeds are beautiful and can pop up unexpectedly in the most amazing places — kind of like in recovery when we focus on what we’re grateful for and notice that some of our challenges can sometimes be our greatest teachers.
3. Just as any garden does, your inner garden needs tender, loving care. Self care is so integral to eating disorder recovery. Listening to your inner needs, voice, and limits can foster a healthy bed for lasting recovery. Sprinkle in some self-compassion and you’ll have a beautiful recovery garden nurturing inside of you. Just as gardens need water, sun, shade, and fertilizer, for your recovery garden to thrive you will need to actively and regularly tend to it as well.
4. There is no such thing as a “perfect” garden. Sometimes the gardens that are the most quirky, fun, and unconventional are the ones that we gravitate toward. They embrace themselves even if they don’t follow all of the “rules” of gardening. Just as a garden’s uniqueness is refreshing and inspiring, on the road to recovery it’s essential to remember that there is no perfect body, shape, personality, life, family, recovery, etc. We each discover our recovery in its own imperfect and messy way and through acceptance of this, we learn to accept and cherish ourselves just as we are.
5. If it doesn’t work out the first time, try again. There is no such thing as failure, just learning and having fun. In May, I had just planted my little seedlings that I’d been carefully nurturing indoors for two months. They were finally strong enough to go out in the earth and grow! Of course, the next day we got a MASSIVE hail storm that just about drowned all of my little plants in golf-ball sized pieces. I was so upset, worried and frustrated. After some deep breaths I came to realize that I cannot control nature and that my little plants are going to show me how resilient they are. Once I embraced what I could not change or control, I turned my attention to what I was grateful for and my stress oozed out of me.In recovery, trying to embrace what you cannot control is one of the most difficult but also most freeing concepts — I cannot say that I’m always successful, but hey, I’m not perfect.
6. Patience is a virtue. What seeds do you want to nurture in your own inner garden? Take some time to think of several that you would love to grow in your life. Plant them by writing them down or planting your own garden and setting intentions for each seed that you sow. Of course, some seeds may not grow — this is the nature of nature and also the nature of life. Just plant more. Then, have patience. The most beautiful and magical gifts in our lives take time, gentle care, and acceptance for them to thrive.