The Nature Fix

The Nature Fix

We have entered my absolute favorite season of the year for hiking. This time of year, the earth really likes to show off her colors! If you know me, you know that I have to get into nature at least once a week as a baseline need for my self-care. I have found nothing else in the world provides me the psychological benefits that mother earth provides.

Stress Reduction: I stress out a lot. Too much. Hiking in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, significantly and quickly reduces my stress levels. Research has shown that exposure to nature lowers cortisol. The sounds of birds chirping, the rustling of leaves, and the sight of natural, beautiful landscapes have a calming effect on our overly active brains. 

Enhanced Mood: This is probably my main reason for hiking. As someone who has a history of mental health concerns and a vulnerability to them, I take managing my mental health very seriously. Nature is a space where my mood feels the lightest, most peaceful, and happiest. Hiking triggers the release of endorphins, which can lead to an immediate mood lift. I took my daughter on a hike this weekend, and she commented on how friendly everyone was on the trail. I told her, “Yes, nature just makes people nicer and happier.” 

Improved Mental Clarity and Presence: The simplicity of hiking – putting one foot in front of the other – helps me be more present and work through my life’s demands without constant stimulation and distraction. Being in nature also helps reduce my problems to their “appropriate size.” I am certainly culpable of inflating the importance of my life’s “problems” and demands. Nature reminds me of my space in the world and helps me hold all of these things more lightly.

Connection to Nature: Hiking transports me into a world so much vaster and bigger than myself. Specifically, I feel connected to our incredible Earth and feel so grateful to be on this journey of life. I hold the paradox of feeling a deep sense of belonging while also feeling small and unimportant. This paradox and connection to something so profoundly incredible as our Earth enhances my sense of well-being. 

Social Connection: Sometimes, I hike alone when I need to decompress and work through internal concerns. Other times, I really enjoy hiking in the company of others. Hiking provides a unique space where we aren’t distracted by our phones or anything else in life pulling for our attention. As a result, some of my life’s best conversations and meaningful connections happen hiking with friends. Group hikes offer opportunities for shared experiences, new memories, and meaningful conversations.

Boost in Self-Esteem: When I hike, I have a unique experience of both being completely embodied, and forgetting about my body. I do not hike for specific metrics like distance, or elevation gain, etc. I hike for the experience of beauty and connection. That said, I also feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I arrive at an incredible vista, summit, mountain lake, or waterfall. Hiking provides a sense of accomplishment that can boost self-esteem and self-efficacy. These feelings of accomplishment extend beyond the trail and positively impact self-worth.

Hiking is not merely a leisure activity; it’s a therapeutic journey. Unlike any other therapy, nature offers, in one combination package, the power to reduce stress, improve mood, and connect to ourselves, others, and something profoundly bigger than ourselves. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or new to the trails, I hope you’ll venture into nature to experience these benefits for yourself. Your mental health will thank you. 

Is Embodied: A Body Acceptance Group for you?

Is Embodied: A Body Acceptance Group for you?

Is Embodied: A Body Acceptance Group for you? 

Did you know that in our Western culture, negative body image is so pervasive that researchers call this “normative discontent”? That is, it is considered normal to loathe our bodies!

While this, sadly, may be considered “normal,” it is not a benign experience. 

“Ultimately, what body hatred costs us—individually and collectively—is the fullness of life. We lose out on the goodness that comes through our body. And if we are our body, we miss out on experiencing our own goodness and the presence and wisdom that comes from a deep connection to ourselves. We also lose out on connection with others…There is so much goodness within and between us because of our bodies,” (Hillary McBride, PhD). 

As someone who has transformed my own relationship with my body, I am on a mission to help others transform theirs. I do not believe we should accept “normative discontent” as the landing place for our relationships with our bodies. I believe in our ability to heal and transform, individually and collectively, our experiences with our bodies, and, subsequently, ourselves. 

This fall, I am starting another round of Embodied: A body acceptance group. I honestly believe that group is the most powerful venue to confront and change our experiences with our bodies. There is profound power and beauty in the collective experience that group therapy offers. While group can feel vulnerable, it is also the great unifier that threads our experiences together. Joining a community of fellow life travelers, who also want a different experience for themselves and their bodies, is validating, hopeful, and powerful. In group, you are on your own journey, while also witnessing, supporting, and championing others on theirs. Their stories and experience will impact you, just as yours will impact them. Together the group celebrates victories and offers compassion and perspective for the struggle. You are not alone on your journey, and I hope you will join us as we create something beautiful together.

Embodied is a structured 12-week group that combines experiential activities and group process. The group progresses through different themes, building on previous weeks’ activities to build insight, facilitate healing, and accelerate body acceptance. Through engaging in the group, group members will feel more connected to themselves and each other.  

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is some of what previous group members have said about their experience in the Embodied Group:

“I really enjoyed being in group every Monday evening with a group of amazing ladies! I didn’t miss once and really feel like I gained some clarity of my journey and regained some lost confidence.”

“It has helped me be more appreciative of my body! It’s also helped me realize the lies I’ve believed for so many years.”

“I feel more aware of my self-perceptions and how my body actually feels. There is a growing connection that has started, too, and I’m beginning to be kinder to myself and my body.”

“The work made me want to befriend my body- check in on what she is asking from me and remember that we are a team. I am so willing to give her what she wants rather than what I think the world wants for her.”

“It has given me a whole new perspective.”

If you wish for a better relationship with your body, I hope you will consider joining our Embodied group this fall. The group will start on Monday, September 25th, and run Monday evenings from 5:30 pm-7 pm at Balance Health and Healing. I hope to see you there!

A Summer Body is One Lived Fully

A Summer Body is One Lived Fully

I love summer. Summer invites us to show up differently with ourselves and our bodies. It invites adventure, play, and new memories. For me, summer affords a fullness in my life and with those I love. 

Summer can also be hard for individuals with eating and body image concerns for obvious reasons: more of ourselves are literally revealed in the summer heat. The insecurity and vulnerability of showing up more revealed can feel like too much for many people. For example, it’s not uncommon for me to see clients show up to sessions in July, wearing sweatshirts and sweatpants. I hold a lot of empathy and compassion for the work that shows up in summertime. 

And here is my wish and invitation for individuals struggling with eating and body image concerns this summer: Where possible, show up differently for yourself and your body.

If you know me, you know I can get on a soapbox about how we behaviorally treat our bodies. This is because our actions matter. How you behave in your body reinforces or can change what you believe about your body.

For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with wearing sweatshirts in July except for the discomfort and potential health hazard that entails. And that said, behaviorally, covering our bodies in this way, communicates to our belief systems that our bodies should be hidden and covered. The opposite is also true. If we behave in our bodies as if they are deserving of our love and regard, we will begin to move toward feeling that way about them. 

You behave your way into believing differently. You don’t believe your way into behaving differently. 

I am not going to minimize that this task can feel incredibly vulnerable and difficult. I am cheering for you and all of us to step into more full embodiment. Because 

“Ultimately…body hatred costs us-individually and collectively-the fullness of life. We lose out on the goodness that comes through our body. And if we are our body, we miss out on experiencing our own goodness and the presence and wisdom that comes from deep connection with ourselves. We also lose out on connection with others…There is so much goodness within and between us because of our bodies.”

(Hillary McBride, The wisdom of your body, p. 8). 

This is our one life, and in this life, we live within our bodies. Time is too precious and short to hold ourselves back from living fully because of arbitrary, exclusionary rules about whose bodies are valued, and whose are not. All bodies are unconditionally worthy and I hope for all of us to live within them, fully. 

Weight For It

Weight For It

Last week a client who has been in recovery for several years wanted to discuss her sudden desire to weigh herself. Early in her recovery journey, she “threw away the scale” and got in tune with her body from the inside out. She learned to value her body based on what it offers her and how she feels in it instead of the number on the scale. As a result, it has been several years since she has known her weight, and she suddenly found herself curious about where her body was in this regard. She wanted to work through if weighing herself was a good idea and something that would potentially facilitate her growth; or if it was a bad idea and inviting an old vulnerability.

Whenever I explore a behavior, it feels critical to examine the “why” behind the “what.” Here are some questions to consider regarding the number on the scale. 

Why does the number matter to you? 

What do you hope will happen by learning this number?

 What are your intentions with this information? 

What are you worried about? 

What do you believe or understand about what this number says about your body, health, worth, etc? 

How will you navigate unexpected reactions to this information? 

How will you ground yourself in your values? 

There are three possible outcomes regarding weight. You will either learn that your body 1. Didn’t change, 2. Lost weight, or 3. Gained weight. We can think through potential pros/cons with these outcomes. 

If your body is at a stable point or didn’t change:

Pro: You may experience this data point as a source of reassurance that your body is trustworthy. You see that your body does stabilize at a certain “point” when it is fully nourished and taken care of. This may lead to a sense of predictability and comfort in your body. 

Con: Experiencing your body as trustworthy, based on weight, is a false source of trust. Bodies are trustworthy, and they can be and especially may be, trustworthy with weight fluctuations. Your body’s main job is to take care of you. She knows best how to do this. And how she takes care of you includes a host of factors that are outside of your own awareness. Your body may find it necessary to fluctuate in its weight in service of that care.

If your body weighs less than you thought: 

Pro: If you thought you weighed more, or felt “larger,” than the number the scale revealed, learning the number is smaller than you thought may increase awareness of how distorted you experience your body subjectively. This may be a reality check for you. 

Con: You find reassurance in being “smaller” but this continues to place value on size as a metric of worth and well-being for you. Or at least a source of comfort and reassurance. Either way, it externalizes what is an inside job. 

If your body weighs more than you thought: 

Pro: You may see the number on the scale and find that it is higher than you anticipated and are able to reflect on how you feel in your body doesn’t relate to that number on the scale. This may help you understand that the number doesn’t reflect an embodied, lived reality. You may understand that feeling good in your body is more important than how much gravity pulls on your body (weight). 

Con: This may be incredibly triggering and destabilizing. You may believe that your “worst fear” has come true and understand that nourishing your body leads to unexpected and feared weight gain. You will find yourself comparing this number to either a smaller number you’ve been at before or an idealized number. The number on the scale will increase in its power and influence over you, leading to increased mental energy, anxiety, distress, and potentially disordered eating habits. 

We could flesh out this pro/con list even more, and I think you get the idea. 

Each individual journey in recovery is unique. And what one person does in recovery may look different from someone else’s journey. This is just one example of how recovery may shift over time and look different. While I maintain that part of my own recovery is not to know my own weight, I also acknowledge that there may be value in someone else knowing their weight as part of their journey.  What matters is the “why” behind the “what” and how that continues to align with your values and growth. 

Third Options

Third Options

Let’s call her “Amy.” Amy had come a long way in reclaiming a healthy relationship with her body. In this place, Amy actively sought for balance with healthy movement and living her life values. She navigated this space well. Until she signed up for a race. 

If you are familiar with eating disorders and vulnerability, you might think Amy lost her sense of balance at this point in her journey. You may wonder if her pursuit of a rigorous fitness goal led to a relapse in her eating disorder. Sometimes, this is what happens.  

That is not what happened for Amy. In her ongoing pursuit of balance, living her values, and protecting her recovery, she found herself in a unique situation that was a sharp contrast to her rigid and perfectionistic background. 

As race day approached, Amy found herself under-prepared and under-trained. She also found herself actively struggling with some intense body image concerns as she felt her body didn’t look like the runner she aspired to be. 

In our session, the week of the race, Amy shared her distress and debated her options. “I can either run the race, feel terrible about my time and performance, and feel disgusting in my body, or I can just skip it.”

As we discussed this situation together, we explored, “Is there a third option?”

Amy’s face broke into a smile, and she exclaimed, “I could start the race, and if I hate it, I can simply stop for coffee and walk the rest of the way!” She loved the idea of simply walking off the racecourse and into a nearby coffee shop if she concluded her body or her mind weren’t up for the task of completing the race. 

This third option allowed her to pursue her value around commitment and movement while holding these ideals with flexibility. It also allowed her to challenge her negative body image and show up for herself with compassion in the face of a grueling physical event where comparisons run rampant.    

So often, we trap ourselves in dichotomies, black-and-white thinking, and either/or options. These patterns are limiting and rigid. They diminish our ability to pursue our needs and growth with creativity and flexibility.

Asking ourselves about possible “Third Options” allows for expansion. It allows us to pursue what matters to us while releasing the shackles of perfectionism and rigidity. Sometimes we feel if we can’t do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing at all. Third, options are a way to give ourselves permission to be messy, imperfect, and actively choose growth. I’m a big fan of jumping into the growth that really is only found in the messiness of the pursuit of what matters.

Amy ended up finishing her race. She walked a lot of it and had a fun experience. She did not achieve any time goals, but she pursued her values and challenged herself. She felt good about the result and herself in the process. 

While not the “point” of third options, I also suspect that, more often than not, when we pursue what matters with compassion and flexibility, we succeed better than we anticipate. And regardless of the outcomes, Third Options invite our own self-advocacy and growth. When faced with a dichotomy where neither option is satisfactory, let’s ask ourselves, “Is there a third option?”