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Body Dynamics

Body Dynamics

This week a client shared her distress and self-judgment around body image concerns rearing their head after years of solid eating recovery and body peace. First, I tried to reassure her that body image concerns does not negate her progress and stability in eating recovery. Then we talked about how (sadly) normal it is to have a resurgence of negative thoughts and fears about our bodies. Our relationships with our bodies are dynamic and ongoing. Sometimes these relationships are harder than other times. When new or familiar body image concerns arise, I try to practice self-compassion and frame this as an opportunity for growth.

In our body acceptance group, Embodied, I invited group members to write themselves a letter from the perspective of their own bodies. If your body could speak to you, what would it say? While I did not share it with the group, I also wrote a letter to myself from the perspective of my body. I will share this letter here in hopes that you may know our journeys with our bodies are always dynamic and growing.

Dear Anna,

I am so grateful for our decades of life and adventure together. I really appreciate all the work you have done to see me, respect me, and love me. It’s meant so much to feel your care back, as I continue to take care of you. I love when you invite me to play. I love how much joy I bring you. I love scaling mountains together and drinking in all the beauty our mother earth offers. I love how you see me as more than your earthly companion; you hold me with so much love and see me as a source of wisdom and growth for you. 

Speaking of growth, I have a wish for you. As we have officially entered middle age, you notice how I am continuing to change. I know you tell me that this change is fine and expected. I also know you say this partly to reassure yourself that we’ll be ok. I know some of my health concerns are hard for you to accept but I appreciate your compassion as you try to be gentle with me and some new limitations. We’ve had to settle into a softer way of being in the world. I can’t operate with fearless abandon anymore and more is required for my recoveries. In this new space, you have noticed I have softened even more around all my edges. 

This is what I want from you at this point in our journey together. I want you to see and recognize that I am your soft place. 

We don’t need a world with more angles and edges. I offer you softness. We have done so many hard things together. And I am sure we will do even more. And now I want to invite you to find respite and comfort in the softness I offer you. 

Consider how your children love my softness. I am their soft home. They gravitate toward me, snuggling into me, sitting on top of me, and smashing their noses into my soft stomach, breathing in the smell of their mother. 

I am your soft home too. 

I know there are parts of my aging that are unwelcome. Like the grey hair you try to hide under blonde highlights. And the annoying paradox of middle age acne. I know as we age and move away from the arbitrary cultural ideal of youth, paired with my increased needs and limitations, it is harder for you to love me as fiercely as you have. 

I want to reassure you that I am still doing my best for us. I am navigating these new changes right along with you. I also want to remind you of what a privilege it is for us to grow older. Aging is a sacred gift and I am offering it to you. Let us age and understand that I continue to be strong for you, not in spite of, but actually IN my softness. 

I look forward to many beautiful years ahead together. 

Always yours,

Your body

If you feel you could benefit from more concentrated relational work with your body, I hope you will join me for our next session of Embodied: A body Acceptance Group. In this community, you will grow in your relationship to your own body as well as connect in healing ways with others who are on similar journeys! I am taking group sign ups this month and hope to hear from you! 

Lessons From My Mental Health Journey

Lessons From My Mental Health Journey


I was so grumpy. I hated the world and everyone in it. It was grey, and dark outside and I felt the same inside. My children were grating my nerves, and my husband couldn’t do anything right. I wanted everyone to go away and be left alone with my self-loathing.

I knew I could turn to my “toolkit” for help with my mood, but I resisted. Sometimes I just want to let the storm rage rather than rally the strength required to quell it.  

Hours later, reluctantly, and almost angrily, I decided to try one the strategies that had helped me in the past. I started looking through my camera roll at happy memories from the last year and started writing a gratitude list. It took about 30 minutes, but I felt better. 

I’m NOT about to give you an advertisement on the power of coping strategies. I have a love -hate relationship with coping strategies as much as my clients do. I share this experience because I want you to know I was surprised at how well this strategy worked for me in this moment. This usually isn’t the case. Coping strategies are important elements in our wellness toolkits but they are often disappointing. Coping strategies are exactly that…ways to cope. They aren’t strategies to produce miracles. 

Because mental illness doesn’t like to play by rules or respond perfectly to “formulas.” We can always do things to help ourselves in difficult emotional spaces…but the degree to which those emotional spaces change in response to our efforts, varies from time to time.

Sometimes we can overcome mental illness. And sometimes, perhaps more often than we want to talk about, mental illness is something we manage

For me, this is my on-again, off-again relationship with depression. 

Depression entered my life when I was a young teenager, but I would not understand it as depression until much later. I interpreted it as teenage heartbreak and body self-loathing. It wasn’t until I recovered from my eating disorder that I saw depression quietly abiding beneath and I was able to name it.

Medication and therapy changed everything. Later, in graduate school, I successfully went off my antidepressants and sustained my “recovery” from depression. I was doing well. I was hopeful that depression was a thing of my past, part of my broody teenage, young adult life. I believed the dogged optimism I inherited from my father, paired with the valuable skills I learned training as a psychologist, was everything I needed to leave depression behind. 

That’s not how my life progressed. At this point, I honestly can’t count the number of depressive episodes I’ve had. Sometimes they last months and months. One episode, postpartum, lasted two years. And then sometimes depression visits only for days, which technically means it doesn’t qualify as an “episode” but is painful nonetheless.

Each experience with depression varies by degree and intensity. Sometimes the episode is so subtle that it’s not until the depression lifts that I realize I was depressed at all. Other times the darkness is so visceral and consuming it is physically painful.

I have done a lot of work to understand my experience with depression and my relationship to it. In my 20s, when I was between depressive episodes, I lived in constant fear, wondering when the next episode would come. That is no longer my experience. 

I am not afraid of my depression anymore. I still hate it, but I know how to manage it. I know how to take care of myself when it comes knocking and decides to stay for a while. 

When I recognize it, I let depression help me grow. It stretches me, and it increases my compassion for others. It connects me to the humanity all around me as we each fight our own battles. Depression forces me to slow down, prioritize, and live more gently in this chaotic world. It forces me to plunge depths I don’t want to explore, but when I emerge, I am more deeply appreciative of the light. If I let depression be my teacher, it sure helps the visit pass more tolerably. 

Sometimes, depression just sucks. Part of managing mental illness can be letting myself ride the waves without having to tell myself “This is great because I’m learning to swim!” Sometimes I just feel dark, alone, scared, and broken. And that’s ok too. Those feelings, like all, will ebb and flow and I don’t always have to paint them pretty or make them meaningful. 

In summary, here’s what I’ve learned from my personal experience: Mental health matters. But mental health doesn’t always look or feel like what we expect. Sometimes mental health is full recovery. Sometimes mental health is resiliency. Sometimes mental health is growing through pain. Sometimes mental health is being gentle with ourselves in the torment.

When Do I Earn the Right to Lose Weight?

When Do I Earn the Right to Lose Weight?

A client recently said, “Anna, I’ve been working on my relationship with food and my body for a long time. I feel pretty confident and stable in recovery. When do I get to work on changing my body?” And I replied, “You mean, when do you earn the right to lose weight?” To which she responded, “Exactly.” 

This may resonate with you on your own journey with body and food. I’ve heard similar versions of this dialogue from several clients. A rendition of, “Now can I lose weight the ‘right’ way?” 

First, what is always true is you have body autonomy. You have every right to claim your body in whatever ways feels true to you. 

With that said, if weight loss feels true to you, I would want to understand why.

Why do you want to lose weight? What do you believe would be different for you if you lost weight? What is unacceptable about your current shape and size? 

Almost universally, I hear clients say they will “feel more confident” if they lose weight. When I hear that, I interpret that to mean, “I believe I am more likely to be accepted and loved by others. Even admired. I can show up in my body in spaces and not worry about rejection. I will also find myself more acceptable and loveable; therefore, I won’t reject myself.” 

It is true that our society reinforces weight loss, admires weight loss, and gives more respect and admiration to people in smaller sizes. It then follows that it makes sense that you may believe you would feel more confident by also being in a smaller size. You may even experience, in your history of weight change, an increased sense of confidence in a smaller size.  

But what is that confidence based on? It is based on something external to you. It is based on perception. And something external is never sustainable. True confidence is an inside job. 

And true belonging is not a size. The diet industry thrives on our fears of rejection and loneliness and perpetuates the lie that diverse bodies are unacceptable. People of every shape and size belong. They are found in communities, marriages, families, and every type of relationship available to our species. If we take the time to notice all the humans around us in all their diversity, we will know this to be true. 

Therefore confidence and belonging is not size dependent. 

Another common reason to want to lose weight is for “health.” 

It is also a fallacy that size is an indicator of health. If health was really your truth, weight loss would likely be counterproductive to this goal. In pursuit of health, some people find organic weight change to be a byproduct. But this is by no means universal, nor is it the goal. Health is about nourishing and moving your body appropriately. It is about taking care of your body and yourself. Deprivation in service of weight loss is not health. 

The “health” reason to pursue weight loss is almost universally a cover-up for continued body dissatisfaction.

Ok, so obviously, based on my profession, training, and experience, you know I’m biased. So this is where I will say weight loss, or even pursuing it, isn’t inherently bad. 

What matters is the why underneath the what. Why do you want to lose weight? 

I am chronically and deeply saddened by our culture’s obsession with weight and weight loss. In my experience, there are very few whys for the pursuit of weight loss that aren’t based on false premises or cultural lies. I desperately want to live in a world where our mental and physical energies are spent pursuing our actual truths. In pursuit of our true passions. In pursuit of our contributions. Not in pursuit of how much (or little) space we believe we should occupy in our bodies. 

We all deserve to take up space. Body acceptance and true confidence are not earned through body change. Our bodies, as they are, are acceptable and worthy of love and belonging. Peace with our bodies can be found in any size. 

The AND in Body Acceptance

The AND in Body Acceptance

As a woman, my relationship with my body is ever changing. Each new decade brings new experiences and new ways my body asks me to accept her.

In my early 20s, in recovery from my eating disorder, I worked proactively to accept my body for who and how she is. This journey continued through pregnancies and postpartum, and the chaos of raising little kids, and now in my wisened 40 years on earth, I am confronting the “joys“ of aging and perimenopause.

I know my clients have wondered if true body acceptance is actually a “thing.” I am here to say emphatically, “Yes! It is!”


That doesn’t mean the work is over for me.

Sometimes body acceptance is a soft landing spot where I enjoy months, or even years, of emotional freedom to live my life according to my values, enjoying my body as a companion along the way. And sometimes my body acceptance slips and old, critical patterns rear their heads. Yes, sometimes I am “triggered” and have to re-commit myself and put in deliberate work to accept my ever-changing-body.

This happened to me just a few months ago.

This summer, my best friend and I went on an epic trip to Switzerland to celebrate our 40th birthdays. We filled this trip with incredible adventures. Our craziest adventure was jumping off a 295-foot cliff, free falling until we were caught by the rope that swung us over 70 miles per hour above a white-capped river between narrow canyon walls.

We began this adventure meeting with our guides and about 14 other humans, who were just as crazy and excited as we were, to make this jump. Before we drove to the jump site, we had to get our harnesses secured. Unexpectedly, we all also lined up to get weighed. I should say here and I have not weighed myself in years as I do not own a scale. This has been part of protecting my long-term eating recovery, as well as my larger stand against diet culture.

I was initially more confused than bothered about why we were each getting weighed. My confusion became annoyance when, after weighing us, the guide wrote our weights on the back of our hands in large black marker. Our numbers were all easily visible to each other.

I made a point not to look the weights on everyone’s hands but couldn’t help but notice the number on my friend’s hand. Her number was significantly less than mine. I knew my friend was smaller (and taller) than me, but that size difference had never been overtly quantified before. I was surprised at how big the discrepancy was between our weights. I immediately felt uncomfortable in my body.

I tried not to think anymore about this and instead focused on the adventure ahead. Our group drove up to the cliff and walked to the platform where we would throw ourselves off. Upon arrival and after instructions, our guide asked a volunteer to go first. This volunteer needed to be in a certain weight range. Only myself and one other group member (a male) qualified. I asked for her rationale and our guide told us someone in the “mid-weight” range needed to jump first to test the rope. I made a joke about the first jumper being a sacrificial offering and was glad that, between the two of us, the male was happy to jump first. As I got back in line, I reflexively started looking at all the weights marked on everyone’s hands. I felt even more uncomfortable in my body as I realized I was the heaviest female in the group.

My mind began warring against itself. I was upset for how uncomfortable I felt. I was embarrassed that I was singled out as different from the other women in the group. I felt embarrassed that I was different, even in such an inconsequential way as weight. I felt less than by being bigger than all the women. I also hated that this derailed me in such a moment as a once-in-a-lifetime jump into a beautiful canyon. I told myself things I know to be true, which include, “Weight and size don’t matter. That isn’t what gives me worth,” and my favorite grounding mantra, “This isn’t how I want to spend my energy.” While these thoughts were helpful, this moment was still really hard and painful for me.

Before jumping off the cliff, I was able to reground myself in the present moment. But honestly, I think standing on the precipice of such a high cliff, knowing I was about to jump, would clear anyone’s thoughts, as my legs felt weak and my heart raced with adrenaline. The jump, fall, and swing, was the most thrilling thing I’ve done in my life. It was so crazy that my brain struggled to process it in the moment and I didn’t fully catch my breath until long after my feet were back on solid ground. My friend and I giggled uncontrollably at our own insanity and had huge smiles on our faces for the rest of the day. I want to tell you, that was the end of that trigger, and I went on my merry way. 

But it wasn’t. 

I wrestled with discomfort in my body and negative thoughts for several weeks afterwards. I also felt ashamed for struggling with my body image after so many years of acceptance and resiliency.

There was no magic bullet that made this experience better overnight. For several weeks I worked hard to regain peace in my body. I had to dust off and use more tools in my toolkit than I have had to in years. I was intentional and practiced mindfulness, grounded myself in my values and personal truths, distracted myself when necessary, and practiced self-care. I also extended myself compassion for being so thrown off balance by this experience. Slowly and deliberately, this burden lifted and I am re-grounded in my own body acceptance. So here in my truth: I have peace and acceptance in my body. AND sometimes this peace needs to be actively fought for.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that while my own body acceptance has been hard fought, I also enjoy body privilege. The experience I had at the canyon swing raised my own awareness at how I never experience weight stigma because I live in a “normal” sized body.

This experience was so benign compared to the experiences others face on a regular basis and knowing how much this distressed me, raises my anger and advocacy. I want to live in a world where everyone enjoys body privilege because every body is valued and seen as good and I commit to doing my part to making such a world a reality.

A voice From the Circle

A voice From the Circle

Anna Packard PhD and contribution from a group psychotherapy client

When my clients graduate therapy, I always ask them to write a “This I believe essay” as a final assignment. The purpose of this assignment is to put into words their healing transformations or pivotal changes in their journey. I want them to explore what they now believe about themselves, in recovery, as they move forward with their lives. One of my former group clients gave me permission to share her, This I believe Essay, on our blog. I hope you will take a few minutes to read this journey in her words:

I Believe in the Power of My Voice

Being diagnosed with an eating disorder was one of the most painful moments of my life. With the diagnosis came an end to my life as I knew it. Within a few days I was on a plane headed home and sent right to therapy. “My mind was sick,” they said. My voice was drowned out by the competing voices of my therapist and my eating disorder. I felt broken, shameful, and alone.

As part of my treatment, I joined an eating disorder process group. My first day of group was overwhelming, to say the least. I did my best to memorize names and piece together the lives of my new friends. They all looked so comfortable, and I felt terrified. I didn’t want to speak. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to do it wrong. The words that came out of my mouth felt insincere and forced.

That feeling lingered for a while as I adjusted to life with therapy.

As the weeks went by I settled into my new group persona. I sat on the edge of the circle and listened intently. I’ve always been told that I’m a good listener. I could easily spend most of the time silent, and that didn’t bother me. While my mouth might have been quiet, my mind was always racing. I think deeply and I feel deeply, but that’s a side of me many aren’t privileged enough to see.

Whenever I would share something, everyone seemed so interested. I remember one of my first groups I broke down in tears, and when I looked up I saw faces full of emotion and love staring back at me. These people really cared. I knew this was a safe place if I wanted to open up. Although, it would usually take others asking me questions and pushing me to share more before I would tell my story. To be honest I was usually surprised that people wanted to hear more from me. I wasn’t sure I had much more to give.

Years later I sat in my same chair on the edge of the circle. We were processing something, I don’t even remember what, and soon it was my turn to share. I had been reflecting on my experience in group and I found myself saying, “I’m just not comfortable staying quiet anymore.” It wasn’t until someone pointed it out that I saw the power in my statement. I repeated, “I just don’t want to sit here silent.”

Of all the powerful moments I’ve had in therapy this was one of the most profound. I had found my voice. I didn’t want to be the quiet one all the time. I had learned that there was value in what I was feeling and there was power when I spoke about it. I could express love and compassion, sadness and pain, or happiness and excitement. It was freeing. Finding my voice didn’t change who I was. I still listened deeply, and thought intently, but I didn’t have to do it all alone. Group gave me belonging, and with that belonging I found my voice. I believe in the power of my voice.

From Anna: As a group psychotherapist, I love how group helped facilitate her healing journey and also served as a bigger metaphor on her path. I love how her healing involved showing up for herself, taking up more space, and finding her voice, inside and outside of group.

Group is a passionate part of my work as a clinician and at Balance Health and Healing. We currently offer three eating disorder process groups for those seeking recovery from ages 14 to 60+. I am excited to announce that we will soon offer a new experiential group focused on body acceptance! This group will start this fall. If you have questions about group or believe group may help facilitate your journey, please contact us! I am happy to geek out about all things group and hope I and group can join you on your journey.

Reference link: https://thisibelieve.org/guidelines/