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How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Physical Appearance

How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Physical Appearance

As I reflect on past years and growing up with unrealistic expectations regarding my body, I have realized how much time we as women often spend thinking about our physical appearance. Thinking about what we could change, how to be “prettier,” or how to be valued by a society that objectifies our bodies on an extreme level. Many of us allow our physical appearance to impact our worth, both positively and negatively. We are consumed with being only a body to be viewed rather than holistic individuals worthy of love and success without having to meet unrealistic beauty standards to do so.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How often do I allow my energy to be focused on how others perceive me? 
  • How much energy am I putting into my physical appearance or allowing that to take from other aspects in my life? 
  • How often do I conform to societal expectations so that I can be more physically pleasing to others?

If we could let go of this recurring, unrealistic pattern, what would we spend our time doing instead? Who would we be able to connect with, serve, or inspire? Where would we travel, learn, and grow? What if we could allow ourselves to be as we are, without expectations of physical change what-so-ever? 

One of my favorite ways to challenge unrealistic expectations regarding my physical appearance is to identify a list of things that I am drawn to about my friends and family. Do I spend time with these individuals because of their clothing size, hair color, or height? Absolutely not. I spend time with my circle of people because of their values, sense of humor, our ability to connect, etc. With this in mind, it becomes clear how redundant focusing on my own physical appearance is, when it is such an afterthought to anybody who truly loves me unconditionally.

If you are constantly aware of your own physical appearance, I challenge you to identify what characteristics you are drawn to when connecting with others. Reflect on the difference between what you assume others value, such as physical appearance, vs. what they actually value. Regardless of where you are with your relationship with your body, we have all been in the position to fall victim of this mindset. As we move towards living a life that is focused less on physical appearance and more on the qualities that we value within our relationships, the quality of our lives and our relationships will dramatically improve.

My Body Is a Wonder, and So Is Yours

My Body Is a Wonder, and So Is Yours

Recently, I was watching my 9-month-old baby as he played on the floor. Laying on his back, he held his hands up in front of his face, staring at them intently. I watched him clasp and unclasp his hands, clap, stretch his tiny fingers, twist and turn his pudgy wrists, seeming captivated by the movement of his own little body.

What would it be like for each of us to notice our bodies with wonder and curiosity? What would change if we could see our bodies with fascination and awe, instead of with criticism and disdain?

There have been some monumental moments in my life in which I’ve felt profound wonder towards my body. Seeing my body change through pregnancy, witnessing its power through childbirth, and feeling it heal from significant injuries have all been experiences that have made me acknowledge how astounding my body is. There are also many, many everyday moments in which I can’t help but be fascinated by my body. Over the years, I’ve tried to develop a habit of paying more attention to my body as it does everyday things. As I’ve done so, I’ve connected with a truth about my body that grows more meaningful and deeply felt as time goes on: my body is a wonder. 

I find wonder in my body as I sit on the floor and stretch before bed. Each movement of my limbs is the result of the complex mechanics of muscles, tendons, and ligaments working together.

I find wonder in my body as my fingers type this blog post. My fingers tap the keyboard with rapid, reflexive, fine-tuned movements that I create consciously but that also feel automatic and intuitive. How many neural pathways in my brain are firing at once as my fingers type?

I find wonder in my body as I stare out the window. There are six extraocular muscles that surround each of my eyes and control their movement. Those muscles contract and relax automatically, letting my eyes move and change focus from the window pane in front of me to the tree across the street. I don’t tell my pupils when to dilate, but they do, responding seamlessly to changes in the light around me. As my pupils allow in light from the outside world, photoreceptor cells on my retina turn that light into electrical signals, which travel through my optic nerve and to my brain, where my brain creates and interprets images. And that, somehow, is how sight works. (I had to look all this up, by the way. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/healthy-vision/how-eyes-work)

I am fascinated and amazed by my body! Even as she ages, and even with her weaknesses, she is a wonder. 

Not all moments in our bodies are filled with awe and amazement. Sometimes, having a body can be difficult, painful, frustrating, or embarrassing. Regardless, I believe there is healing to be found in acknowledging the truly amazing things our bodies–of all ages, sizes, and abilities–are constantly doing for us. Noticing the wonders your body is working can be a piece of finding greater peace in your relationship with your body.

Lessons for Fall

Lessons for Fall

  1. Change is the constant. Did you just roll your eyes? Honestly, I roll my eyes at the cliched memes, “Fall reminds us how beautiful it is to let go.” And it’s not wrong. I love how the earth goes out in a fiery blaze of glory before settling in for a long winter sleep. The earth models for us that change, whether subtle or explosive, is our life constant. I can rage against this natural order, as I often want to, or I can try to take a note from the celestial goddess that is the earth and breathe into change.
  2. There is another cliched meme associated with fall, but this time, it doesn’t make me roll my eyes. It is that fall reminds us that we aren’t made to bloom in every season. The earth unapologetically models this as she stops her work, slows her growth, and settles into rest. Why do we chronically expect ourselves to grow, perform, excel, or “have it all together?!” The earth embraces her own chaos and models that there are seasons for growth and seasons for slowing down and resting. 
  3. Speaking of resting, hibernation isn’t just for bears. As fall invites us to have more psychological flexibility with ourselves, it also invites us to have more physical flexibility. The longer nights and colder days invite us to slow down and collect ourselves from the frenetic, energized experiences that were spring and summer. Just as we are programmed to have daily rhythms, it makes sense to me that we have annual rhythms. I believe there is beautiful intuition to noticing how the foods we crave change throughout the year, turning in the winter towards more hearty, comforting, and warm foods. I also organically want to sleep longer, which makes sense with less sunlight, but I also think holds an intuitive piece to it. I mean, honestly, who of us wouldn’t benefit from more sleep?! This is a time of year when the invitation is really clear to tune into what our bodies need and honor the soft call towards more rest.
  4. Changing seasons bring changing moods. We can be gentle about changing moods that accompany changing seasons. I have a repetitive conversation about fall that mostly goes like this, “Fall is my favorite season! I just hate how short it is before such a long winter!” Winter is the season that shows up most disruptively and abruptly. And then it is long, dark, and hard. I have to psychologically prepare myself for it every year. And in anticipatory dread, I often notice my moods feel erratic and unpredictable in fall. My moods spike with profound feelings of happiness, joy, and aw, and then plummet to sadness and a sense of ambiguous grief. And I am going to offer myself compassion for an internal roller coaster that shows up right now. It just is what it is, and that’s ok. The earth doesn’t apologize for her big moods. She just lets them wash over her and around her and holds them as they do their work before moving on and changing yet again. 

I hope to continue to soak up all that is fall for as long as I can and to be open to all its wisdom. 

Eating Recovery: Learning About Grief

Eating Recovery: Learning About Grief

Have you ever heard of the term disenfranchised grief? Disenfranchised grief is the act of grieving something that is not socially acceptable. This applies to the loss of relationships, jobs, dreams, or even an idea. The quote, “It’s okay to grieve the life that you thought you would live,” stands out to me as I have worked with many individuals who grieve aspects of their life before eating concerns were present. Grief symptoms can be heavy, surprising, and potentially isolating at times. However, knowing the grief process can bring awareness and normalcy through the course. 

The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle consists of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although many people experience all five stages as they process through their grief, there is no specific route to take in effort to grieve the “right” way. I often refer to the grief process as a rollercoaster ride, full of sharp turns, unexpected loops, and seemingly ongoing without end. With awareness of how disenfranchised grief can impact recovery, we can choose to honor the process, and disempower the symptoms that continually show up. 

As you navigate recovery, you may grieve life before feeling as if your relationships revolved around recovery needs, how it felt to connect with friends when food was present, the ability to engage in meals without feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, or what it felt like to be comfortable in your body without always identifying ways that you wish it could be altered. It is essential to allow yourself time and space to grieve and seek support from family, friends, or a therapist. Over time, as you come to terms with the changes, you can begin to adapt to your new circumstances and find meaning and purpose in your current life. 

How to Stop Binge Eating: A Place to Start

How to Stop Binge Eating: A Place to Start

Being stuck in binge eating can feel like torture. The physical discomfort and pain, the guilt, shame, and frustration, and the dread of the aftermath of a binge can feel awful. The good news is it’s possible to stop binge eating and start feeling more at peace with food. If you’re struggling with binge eating, this blog post is for you.

First, a little bit of transparency. Our integration team at Balance Health and Healing does a lot of research to help the information we share get to the people who could benefit from it. As part of that research, they found that one of the most searched-for phrases from our audience is “How to stop binge eating at night.” I share that so that if you’re reading this post looking for support on how to stop binge eating, you’ll know that you’re not alone. Binge eating is a struggle that many, many people are trying to overcome. Even though binge eating is a common struggle, it still carries a lot of stigma. Many who are dealing with binge eating feel shame talking about their behaviors, even within the eating disorder recovery community. I hope we can change that by shedding light on some of the reasons why binge eating happens and how to find healing.

Let’s dive right in. My primary recommendation if you are struggling with binge eating:

Eat more food.

That seems VERY counterintuitive, right? I know. But hear me out. If you are struggling with binge eating, there is a high likelihood that you actually need to eat more regularly and consistently in order to stop binge eating. One of the most common cycles of binge eating I hear about as a therapist is the binge-restrict cycle. If you binge, you might feel guilty or panicked and start trying to eat less to “make up” for the binge. In reality, that restriction primes your body for more bingeing. Your body is wired to protect you from starvation. If you restrict your eating, your body will sense that it needs to eat more food more quickly than usual the next time food is accessible. Even though it can feel very difficult to eat consistently after a binge, one of the most helpful things you can do is continue eating meals and snacks and include a variety of foods. Eating enough and eating consistently might feel overwhelming when you are already feeling guilty about bingeing, but feeding your body adequately throughout the day is key if you want to break out of the binge-restrict cycle.

Another recommendation for stopping binges:

Actively manage your stress.

Even though binge eating ends up feeling awful, it often starts off as a way to try to feel better. Eating is soothing, and it’s supposed to be. From the time we are infants, eating is a source of physiological soothing and comfort. If binge eating is serving as a coping mechanism for stress, it makes sense why! Bingeing is not about lacking self-control. It’s more likely about not having adequate ways to cope with distress. Finding other ways to help your body manage stress can help you stop bingeing. Make a list of three to four simple, easy-to-do coping strategies that you can use when you notice yourself feeling stressed. Having this list ready to go before you need it can help you choose a different way to manage your stress when you’re feeling the urge to binge. Here’s an example of the kind of coping skills list I mean:

  1. Dance in my room to a high-energy song
  2. Step outside my apartment and spend 5 minutes looking at the sky and breathing
  3. Lay on the floor in my room and stretch

Binge eating, whether on its own or in combination with other symptoms of disordered eating or body image distress, is complex. The suggestions in this post represent just a small piece of things that might help you find healing from binge eating. Working with a therapist and a dietitian to explore other factors in your binge eating (like nutrition, metabolic factors, trauma, mood disorders, relationship struggles, and other factors) can also be helpful. Wherever you are on your path to healing, I hope you’ll know that it is possible to stop binge eating, and there is hope for things to feel better!

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. 

Parenting a Child with an Eating Disorder: A Beginning Checklist

Parenting a Child with an Eating Disorder: A Beginning Checklist

If you are a parent, you already know that the role can be incredibly challenging AND rewarding.  Many parents find themselves searching for a handbook or parenting manual, but as we know, newborns do not come with an instruction booklet attached!  Most of the time, our intuition and some advice from well-meaning loved ones can suffice.  But when you find yourself parenting a child with an eating disorder- when it feels like the parenting difficulty just ratcheted up to an overwhelmingly difficult new level- it can be hard to know where to turn for support and answers. As a parent, you know you play a crucial role in supporting your child on the path to recovery. But how do you best achieve that? 

Seek Professional Help

If you are parenting a child with an eating disorder,  find qualified professionals who can help. Connect with a specialized therapist, dietician, and medical doctor who is knowledgeable and skilled in the treatment of eating disorders. They will help create a tailored treatment plan for your child and can offer wrap-around support for the questions and concerns you have. 

Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power. By taking the time to educate yourself about eating disorders, you will learn how to support your child as they work in recovery.  The Balance Health and Healing blog is a wealth of knowledge!  Here, you can learn about eating disorders and available treatment options.  The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to support your child effectively.

Foster Open Communication & Be a Role Model

Encourage open and non-judgmental communication with your child, creating a safe and comfortable space to discuss their thoughts and feelings with you. Be patient and actively listen, avoiding criticism or shaming.  Be a recovery role model.  Children are watching their parents… even when we think they aren’t! Exemplify a healthy relationship with food and body image within your household. Avoid diet talk or negative comments about your own body. Show your child that self-worth is not defined by appearance.  Ensure your home environment is conducive to recovery by removing triggers such as diet foods, fashion magazines promoting unrealistic body ideals, and negative influences on social media. Cultivate a supportive and nurturing atmosphere for recovery.

Collaborate with the Treatment Team

Work with your child’s treatment team- attend therapy sessions, family counseling, medical and dietary appointments as recommended. Collaborative efforts between you, your child, and professionals are vital for recovery.

Monitor Progress, Not Perfection

Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear process- there will be ups and downs along the way. Focus on your child’s progress rather than expecting perfection. Celebrate small victories and provide unwavering love and support during setbacks.

Self-Care for Parents

Remember that parenting a child with an eating disorder is a new and challenging task. Don’t neglect your own well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to help you cope with the stress and emotions that arise.  As you model healthy behaviors, your child will continue to be strengthened by your example. 

Parenting a child with an eating disorder is undoubtedly one of the more challenging experiences a parent can face. However, with the right support and professional guidance, recovery is possible for your child. Your role in that process takes patience and unwavering love. You- and your child- are not defined by the eating disorder, and with support, you can play a vital role in helping them find their way to a healthier, happier life.

Navigating Recovery While In a Relationship: Part 2

Navigating Recovery While In a Relationship: Part 2

Welcome to part 2! Here are some more answers to common questions I get about navigating eating disorder recovery while in a relationship. While these answers probably won’t feel like a perfect fit for your individual situation, I hope you’ll be able to draw some ideas and support from this post!

Q: How do we keep the eating disorder/recovery from taking over our lives? It feels like that’s all we talk about!

A: Eating recovery should be a big priority in your relationship, but it can’t be the only priority!

  • Have fun together, go on dates often, and make some time for some activities that don’t involve food. Recovery can be hard work for both of you and setting aside time for fun is important.
  • Commit to keeping your partner in the loop. More consistency in communication will help your partner feel they don’t have to check on you all the time.
  • Keep getting to know each other outside of the emotional work of recovery. Ask each other questions about your hopes and dreams for the future. Ask specific questions about successes and struggles in each others’ lives that aren’t connected to the eating disorder. Whether you’ve been together a short time or a long time, it’s important to keep deepening your connection by being a part of each others’ inner worlds!

Q: How do I ask my significant other for help when I’m struggling with my eating disorder? I feel ashamed, and I don’t know how to bring up the fact that I’m having a hard time.

A: Reaching out for help can feel intimidating for a lot of reasons. Some practical ways to get the conversation started:

  • Write out what you want to say before you say it. It’s okay to lean on a script for support. Try to be specific about what the struggle is, and give an example of what might help. Your therapist can support you in finding what you need to express. For example, “I need your support. I’m struggling with ____ (eating disorder behavior or thought). One way you could help me is ____.”
  • Remember that struggling sometimes is normal! There are zero people who go through recovery without needing extra support sometimes. Asking for help when you need it is a good thing for both your relationship and your recovery. It’s healthy to be direct about what you need.

Q: I’ve been secretive about my eating disorder, and now my partner has a hard time trusting me. How can we rebuild trust?

A: Acknowledging that trust has been broken is the first step. Now you can set the intention to rebuild trust.

  • Rebuilding trust takes specific, deliberate action. It won’t just happen on its own. If you can make a structured plan for accountability and honesty moving forward, you can take steps toward rebuilding trust. See my other blog post (part 1) for details about making a specific plan for checking in with each other.
  • Allow your partner space to talk about their feelings. If they’re feeling hurt, angry, or frustrated about an aspect of your recovery, the best way through those difficult emotions is to talk about them together. These conversations might be heavy and will require significant courage and trust from both of you. Getting support from a couples therapist can help you as you work through the emotional aspects of recovery. 

I know we haven’t even scratched the surface on how complex recovery and relationships can be, but hopefully, this can be a place for you to begin. I hope you’ll remember this: asking for support in your relationship and FOR your relationship is an important part of moving forward in recovery.