Returning to the New Normal: Reinforcing your Body Image as you Return to School and Work

Most of us have spent a lot of time at home this past year, which while isolating, may have been a relief from a constant fixation on body image

Body Image is the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. So, how you think your body looks to others. The primary way we develop our body image is by self objectification through self comparison. We compare the internal image of ourselves to a constant stream of external images of others and rank our bodies based on our own set of internal beliefs about how bodies should look. 

Now, while being at home, our idea of how our body looks didn’t disappear, but the stream of images to compare ourselves to was narrowed to faces on zoom, our social media feed and images on tv. Perhaps you were even able to curate your life and feed to allow you to see more diverse bodies and or less bodies all together and ease some of the self comparison dialogue in your head. 

However, as the world opens up. Kids return to school. Grown ups return to work. The stream is involuntarily widened again due to the increase of bodies you’ll be exposed to, ads on public transportation or the constant socialization around dieting/body discontent that happens at school or at the office. 

So, here are 3 strategies to reinforce your own body image as you reenter a society obsessed with dieting and body alteration:

  1. Remember that your body’s purpose is not to be desirable. Its purpose is to be functional and keep you alive. Write this on a sticky note and put it in as many places as you need, so you have a daily, constant reminder (to combat the stream of messages telling you the opposite). 
  2. Listen to your internal dialogue around self comparison and add self compassion instead. When we compare ourselves to others, particularly our internal body image to curated external images of other bodies, we turn ourselves from active 3 dimensional human beings to passive, stagnant objects, whose sole purpose is to be pleasing to the eye regardless of how debilitating it might be to our daily lives. When we add in self compassion, we ground our internal dialogue to reality in a kind and supportive way. 
  3. Focus on how your body FEELS instead of how it LOOKS. Making choices to support your body and health involve tuning into your own intuition, not looking in the mirror. Try to take time each day to listen to how your body is feeling and make choices to support it. This will also help you remember that your body is an active partner in your life, not a stagnant object. 

Our Body Image can be hard to alter because some self comparison is natural and unavoidable, but the better you can get at undercutting your own self objectification the more connected you’ll feel to your body, who was your first partner in this life and will be with you until the end. It loves you, deeply and unconditionally. 


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Intuition is Your Inner Guide to Self Trust and Healing

Intuition is
Your Inner Guide to Self Trust and Healing

in·tu·i·tion
noun
the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.

Diet culture trains us to distrust our intuition. It teaches us our hunger pangs are false, our sore bodies can handle more exercise, and around every corner our intuition is trying to sabotage our chances at thinness (and therefore our happiness).

Of course all of this is false. There is no such thing as “self sabotage”. Behaviors we often call “self sabotage” are merely old programming and unhealed wounds begging for nonjudgemental attention, so we can begin to heal.

After years of rejecting your intuition it can seem impossible to ever trust it. How do you even begin to heal the rift that has been so fundamental to your core beliefs? How do you begin to trust yourself again?

Steps to Cultivate Self Trust and Healing:

  1. Develop a Curiosity

    When you have been running on core beliefs built out of wounds, it can be hard to see them as anything but true. You have been convinced these beliefs are there for your own safety and that fear prevents you from critically looking at them in the present.
    Become curious. Ask:
    – Do I even need this belief anymore?
    – Do I need this behavior anymore?
    – Is this thought serving me today?
    – Am I truly unsafe?
    Why would this thought/behavior/belief keep me safe?
    When we develop a curious mind, we begin to slow down the process between thought and action, which allows us to truly see our own thoughts. We can’t heal what I don’t see. Curiosity is the gentle beginning. It allows you to identify wounds to be healed.

  2. Practice Acceptance

    Once curiosity has illuminated your wounds, it is time to begin acceptance. You don’t have to love them, you don’t have to be grateful for them, you don’t need to be focused on the “silver lining”. That may come in time, but it is not the priority right now. These wounds have been festering in the dark because you were taught to deny them, exile them. Acceptance is the foundation for rebuilding self trust.
    It is being able to say:
    I see you. You are hurting. I may or may not like that you’re there, but you are me and I’m not going to leave you in the dark anymore.
    Acceptance is a reunion.

  3. Add Compassion to your Wounds

    After you have shed light on all your delicate bits. It is time to begin tending to them and compassion is your first aid kit. Adding compassion to your wounds isn’t about ignoring your pain or giving them an excuse for all the hurt they may have caused. It is about adding understanding. It is about connecting you to the broader human experience.
    Add in phrases like:
    – After what you lived through, it makes sense you react this way.
    – Trust me. I have more tools now. I won’t hurt you again.
    – Ouch, that is a hurtful thought. I know other people probably feel that way about themselves too sometimes.
    – I understand you want to want to protect me, but this behavior/thought/belief isn’t relevant anymore. Can we find another way to meet your needs?
    – Thank you for your help, but I don’t want to make that choice anymore.

  4. Really See Yourself

Once you realize your wounds are a normal part of being human, you can begin to see yourself, in your beautiful entirety, as a human being. Your intuition is your birthright and to truly know yourself you have to begin to really see yourself.
Practice seeing yourself through:
– Journaling
– Meditation
– Poetry
– Movement
– Mirror work
– Naked photos
– Through the eyes of your loved ones
– And any other activity that asks you to live in the present.

Healing is possible. It can be slow. It can be messy. It can be painful. It can be hard. However, coming home to yourself is a worthwhile pursuit. You are worthy of unconditional love, no matter what, especially from yourself.


Grieving your Fantasy Body

Honestly, I have been trying to write this blog for a few weeks. It didn’t seem like a hard topic to confront. I didn’t realize that I still had so much wrapped up in this fantasy that examining my grief around it would be so sad. 

Most children dream and fantasize about becoming a “grown up”. The lure of being in control with no rules, bedtimes and obligations is such a fixation. (Of course the real tragedy is, most kids don’t realize that being a grown up only brings more obligations and rules.) But for most pre-teen girls, another narrative crops up in many of the female “coming of age stories” – the summer your body naturally leans out and you go from child to woman and suddenly the whole town takes notice. 

The seed is planted and waiting begins. 

Pre-teen years are also typically the time most girls* begin or are put on diets, with the same promise: If you diet (thin out), they will come. Cementing the idea of one’s identity and worth with their body size and shape AND beginning the yearly practice of fantasizing about next year’s body, which eventually becomes “the summer body” the cycle continues, infinitum.

Imagining your fantasy future self is as much a ritual-like practice as weighing your food when dieting. If I close my eyes I can see her enjoying her cocktail on the beach in a bikini, taking selfies and pictures without a fuss. I dress her in my mind in all the outfits I will not dress my current body in. I imagine how sexy she is and how desirable. 

AND letting go of this practice feels like a real loss. It is admitting that this person I devoted so much time and energy into becoming a person that will never be realized. So much of my hopes and dreams were put on her narrow, svelte shoulders. Not to mention the very real sunk cost value of this fantasy body. Literally, thousands of dollars. 

So, how do you even begin to grieve this fantasy? 

  1. Remind yourself that everything you have been putting off “until you were thin” can be done now. Ask for that promotion, get on a dating app, ask out that person, start your business, wear the swimsuit, join that soccer league, and the 8 million other things you are waiting to do.
  2. Acknowledge your grief and provide a space to process. It is completely and utterly valid to grieve your “fantasy you” just as you would another person in your life. Acknowledging it goes a long way to starting the healing process. It is also important to develop a space to discuss, write or dump all your feelings about your grief.
  3. Cultivate self compassion and self forgiveness. If you have spent a quarter of your life fantasizing about having a different body, that probably won’t go away overnight. That’s normal and totally ok. Develop a practice (if you don’t already have one) of self-compassion around this space. It can be hard to let go.
  4. You are not a failure. Letting go of your “fantasy you” is not “giving up” or “quitting”. It is pivoting and we praise corporations for changing directions all the time because it is a smart thing to do. You are moving towards goals that truly bring you more wellbeing.

It can be hard to let go of something so interwoven into the fabric of your life. For most people it is part of the rhythm of every year, but it doesn’t have to be. You have the power to build a new reality, where you’re not living for a future you, but taking stock in the current you. The current you is magnificent, strong and resilient AF.


Every Moment is an Opportunity to Return to Center: Using compassion to achieve your goals

At the start of a New Year, most people feel the need to mark it with resolutions, goals, behaviors or attitude changes – whatever they want to label it –  because the New year brings about the feeling of a “fresh start”, which humans love. I mean, who wouldn’t? That “begin again” feeling is nice.

But as January ends and the New Year buzz dwindles, life has typically already stomped in and derailed things OR people have built up a lot of pressure around maintaining and sticking to their goals. It’s understandable. Achieving your goals feels great! However, not achieving your goals feels like a moral failing – especially in a society jammed full of “bootstrapping” rhetoric and diet culture (which is built on the American ideal of “bootstrapping”). 

Bootstrapping is the idea that anyone can get into or out of a situation using existing resources. And I  would add another layer to this definition that we have here in America, “good” people bootstrap through anything because they are strong willed, noble, have integrity and “bad” people fail at it because they are weak willed, morally failing and don’t have integrity.

The bootstrapping rhetoric is everywhere. Diet culture, politicians, the educational system, motivational speakers, manifesting gurus all promote the idea that with enough willpower you can do it too (whatever “it” is).

Now, please do not misinterpret this post. Setting goals and working towards them is a beautiful thing. Wanting to grow, change, build more positive habits, take care of yourself and your body better, these are wonderful things and I fully support you!

The point I’m here to make is, the rhetoric that develops due to the American bootstrapping theory, is toxic to your wellbeing. It is narrow minded and lacks compassion. 

The real truth of life is that every moment is a moment to change behavior, adopt a new attitude, practice self care. You don’t need to wait for Monday, a new month or a New Year to get that “fresh start” feeling. You can cultivate that a minute from now. Now, it does take a little practice, but the dividends are exponential. 

The other truth of life is priorities shift. What we want changes or goals we thought were healthy and helpful turn out to be harmful. And sometimes they are just unrealistic or infeasible and we need to adapt and adjust. You’re not “quitting” you’re pivoting and businesses do this all the time and are NEVER seen as a failure, but as agile. 

In my view,  owning and practicing these two truths is true integrity and nobility – to know your worth doesn’t change and that you always have the power to build back better with a compassionate voice at the heart of it. 

Here are some questions to help you practice adding compassion: 

  • “Will pushing myself to do this make me feel better or worse?” 
  • “Is this approach sustainable?”
  • “Is there a way to break this goal into more manageable steps?”
  • “Why are you taking this approach instead of another one?”
  • “Am I attaching judgement or morality to this goal?”
  • “What would it feel like if I didn’t attach judgement or morality to this goal?”
  • “If/When I achieve this goal will it change how I think about my own worth/desirability or deservingness?”
  • “Can I just complete this task tomorrow and support my mental health with more time/sleep/family time/socialization?”

Radical Self-Love: Eating Disorder Recovery During the COVID Holiday Season

For some the holidays are a joyous time of year which comes with endless chances to come together, celebrate and share food. But for those with disordered eating or in recovery from eating disorders, all of these “celebrations” can be a minefield of triggers. 

Starting with Halloween and rolling through the New Year, America parades out all the food it has denied itself for a year. (Side Note: American culture has a disordered relationship with food due to its obsession with restriction and binging. We classically binge from Halloween ‘til the New Year then everyone goes on a diet as a resolution aka restriction). And for those who struggle with eating disorders, this tension is amplified ten fold because we are already working with our own restrictions, thoughts and beliefs about food, when the holidays turn up the volume. Especially, in the time of Covid since everyone is already taxed with thousands of other worries. 

Holidays can produce intensified feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety and tension with your families and friends. While there is no surefire way to make it through the holidays without these feelings, there are ways to better support yourself. 

 

 Ideas for Support:

  • Talk with your care team or mental health provider: It is a great way to develop a plan, discuss potential stressors and triggers and have a supportive ear. 
  •  Holidays aren’t all about food: This can be hard to remember, but we celebrate for many other reasons, try to shift the focus to other parts of the holidays you enjoy: seeing family and friends, signing, lights, and giving to others. 
  •  Decrease stress by adding structure: Structure is a great way to adhere to your recovery goals while still celebrating the holidays, especially if you currently have structured meal times. Make lists to limit time in the grocery store or out shopping.
  • Give yourself permission to eat: Sometimes I advise people to use Brene Brown’s trick of writing themselves a permission slip to hold in their pockets. 
  • Ask a family member or friend for support: If you get overwhelmed or start to panic, utilize this person for support. Share your structure with them, so they know the plan and can help with any deviations. Knowing you have someone in your corner can be a game changer. 
  • Avoid overbooking yourself: This is one place where Covid-19 might be a helpful ally, but know that there is such a thing as “zoom fatigue”. Lot’s of virtual contact can be draining and is missing the natural hormonal release of face-to-face interactions, so it is less rewarding to our brains. Save some time for you to continue or implement a regime of self-care. 

Finally, remember that an “ideal weight” doesn’t exist. Food isn’t good or bad. There is room for all foods in a healthy diet and your worth doesn’t depend on your weight or the size of your body. Your worth is inalienable. 

Holidays are meant to be celebrations of life and family, so how can you reframe thoughts and actions to make it feel like a true celebration? While food is a big part of them, it is not the only part of them. And these supports might prove to be so helpful, you can continue to use them year round. 

Do you need more support that you didn’t see in this blog? Comment below and I’ll reach out with more ideas! 


Food and Identity: The Social and Cultural Significance of Food

If food wasn’t a part of our cultural and social identity, we wouldn’t label foods ‘ethnic’, ‘traditional’, ‘mexican’, ‘asian’, ‘classic’, ‘indian’, ‘chinese’ or ‘comfort food’. We wouldn’t have ritualistic food like turkey on Thanksgiving, birthday cakes or Christmas ham. We’d simply refer to it with non-emotional and non-descriptive identifiers.

Which, side note, diet culture is always trying to do. Diets or “lifestyle changes” try to condition us to think of food as just ‘calories’ or ‘fuel’ and that our attaching of emotionality to food is the problem that needs to be fixed. There is a concerted effort to strip food of identity and emotionality because homogenization and conformity is the ultimate goal of dieting. Everyone needs to look the same and eat the same in order to be loved.

However, truth is: all eating is emotional because of food’s inextricable role in survival, society and culture.

Imagine, you were unable to eat for an entire day and begin to feel irritable. This is a biological and emotional reaction to food scarcity. It is well known by the fasting community that the longer you fast, the worse your sleep gets, this is a biological panic in your body. Stress hormones are pumping and trying to keep you awake to hunt for food. Thus creating an emotional response in the faster to be on alert.

Food is and always will be emotional because survival is emotional.

Outside of survival, more symbolically food is a cultural expression of love. Our earliest association with food is something most of us don’t remember, but as infants went we became hungry we cried and a caregiver fed us. Along with the soothing of food, they often held you close and potentially rocked you, spoke calmly to you, kissed you. In the human brain, these events repeatedly happening together wires food with love.

“Food is almost always shared,” writes anthropologist Robin Fox in the article Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective. “people eat together; mealtimes are events when the whole family or settlement or village comes together. Food is an occasion for sharing… for the expression of altruism” (2014, pg. 1).

Highlighting that food now and always is inherently social. Sharing food with others has always been an act of peace and good will. Status could and can be ascertained by how food is portioned or distributed.

If we look at diet culture’s rhetoric, all we have to do is ask: Who is allowed to eat without restraint? What status is given to those who can eat without restraint or being shamed for what they eat? And pretty quickly, you stumble onto the concept of thin privilege. Does this mean thin people don’t suffer from the harsh rhetoric and status distribution of diet culture? No. They are often in a perpetual state of weight gain, which underscores the ultimate goal of dieting and diet culture: homogenization and conformity.

If the food you cook can portray the culture you are from, it is more than just calories. If the amount of food you eat or don’t eat can illustrate your status, it is more than just fuel. If what and how you eat can determine if you are accepted or rejected by a society, food is utterly emotional because it securely attaches you to belonging and love.

I’d love to hear from you! What are your cultural traditions around food? What stories did you hear about food, culture, emotions and love as you were growing up? What food makes you feel loved?


The Cost of Caring: The Emotional and Physical Toll of Compassion Fatigue

With everything going on in our country right now, it is hard to not feel stressed, taxed or overwhelmed, especially those in caregiving positions. Our nation, as a community, is struggling with compassion fatigue as we are bombarded daily with one tragedy after another. I hope this can be a resource to remind you this is a normal feeling and we’re all experiencing it right now.  I, myself, have begun to see the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue.

So, I am writing this post to remind myself and support others. Often compassion fatigue can bring up feelings of shame or guilt for “not doing enough”, but I keep returning to this quote:

“I had never been told that empathy is a finite resource. You can run out. As a normal, psychological response, you cannot give of yourself again and again and again without replenishing.” – Emmett Fitzgerld 

Though he names empathy – compassion is empathy in action, so this is very much a description of how compassion fatigue materializes in our lives. 

What is compassion fatigue? 

Compassion fatigue is the phenomenon when the helpers in the world: therapist, teachers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, etc… experience what is called secondary trauma. The persistent demand of caring for others overtime wears on the emotional fabric of those helping. 

Despite what people often think, compassion fatigue is not the same as burnout. Burnout happens over time when the demands on oneself outweigh one’s resources or ability to cope. It is hard to reverse or recover from burnout without the complete cessation of your workload.

However, compassion fatigue happens more suddenly, but can be prevented or reversed through emotional support and structured self-care. 

Signs & Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue: 

It has been noted in research that the signs and symptoms helpers experience often mirror the symptoms of the victims they are caring for. 

  • Sadness, Greif 
  • Depression & anxiety 
  • Dread, horror, fear
  • Shame 
  • Vivid nightmares, trouble sleeping
  • Flashbacks to their own trauma
  • Numbing and avoidance 
  • Viewing the world as unsafe
  • Suspiciousness 
  • Cynicism 
  • Poor self-esteem 
  • Survivors guilt or guilt for enjoying life 

Steps to help prevent or reverse Compassion Fatigue: 

Typically helpers developed their passion to help due to their own experiences with similar traumas. This can make compassion fatigue more likely for those helpers whose own trauma is triggered by those they are caring for. It is especially important that those helpers have structured self-care and are acutely self-aware. 

  1. Structured Self-Care – this means making self-care non-negotiable, like you would a doctor’s appointment. The more routine and consistent it can be, the better. Self-care can look like: hobbies, support groups, yoga classes, alone time, or anything else that helps you recharge. 
  2.  Quality Sleep – this can feel like it is not in your control, but there are things that help improve your sleep quality and quantity. Ritualizing a nighttime routine. This psychologically prepares your body for bed. A hot bath or shower before bed. The drastic drop in temperature when you get out simulates what happens during sleep. Keeping the temperature in your bedroom cool. Bodies sleep more soundly in cooler temperatures. Remove electronics from the bedroom, not only because of the blue light which makes us think it is daytime, but the content on the news can trigger anxiety. Listen to a sleep medication. Humans fall asleep faster to the sound of human voices.
  3. Listening to music – particularly slow, relaxing music, but whatever music relaxes you and helps cue your brain and body that you’re safe. 
  4.  Spend time in nature – research shows that numerous things in nature calm our bodies and brains. Spending time connected to the wider world can give perspective. Taking in the beauty of the natural world often brings up feelings of gratitude or appreciation. The earth’s electromagnetic field has been shown to relax our own energy fields. 

If you are already experiencing compassion fatigue, this list of to-dos might feel like I’m piling onto your already maxed out plate. So, take it slow. Choose the easiest one on the list and try to be consistent. Ask for help from family and friends in keeping to your self-care routine. If you have a therapist, ask them to support you. 

Shameless plug, follow me on IG because every Saturday I post self-care ideas, which can be a helpful reminder that your own care matters.