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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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20 Mar

If You Really Knew Me: On the Road to Recovery

If You Really Knew Me No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Below is one in the series of reader submissions called “If You Really Knew Me.” This brave post comes from a woman named Linda who reached out to me and totally inspired me with her will to recover after decades of an eating disorder. I’m cheering you on, Linda! If you are interested in participating in the series, check out the details.

If you really new me, you would know that I’ve been struggling with anorexia for 3 decades.

I was born into a family with many dysfunctional issues. On the outside everything looked perfect and from an early age I did my best to make it look that way. It was a secret that my mother was an alcoholic and abusive in many ways. It was also a secret that my father was never around emotionally or physically. My parents divorced when I was 7 years old so my 2 sisters and I went to live with my mother. As the eldest I grew up trying to take care of my sisters, making sure they “looked ok” to the outside world so no one would find out what was going on inside my world.

The pain still lives within me. My mothers unpredictability. When I come home from school would there be yelling, put downs, emptying hidden vodka bottles? Maybe a slap here and there? Should I close the windows on a hot summer day so the neighbors won’t hear what’s going on inside our household? Would my father ever call and say “Hi”? Would he ever see our school events or come pick us up to visit him?  Yes he would pick us up every 3 months but it just wasn’t the same.

I left home on my 18th birthday and moved in with my best friend’s family. Her mother showed me what it was like to have a household with love and caring. To this day I will always be grateful to her and my friend who have been with me through this anorexia struggle. Anorexia came into my life at 19 years old. I was on my own and my boyfriend broke up with me. Thoughts went through my head, if I was only thinner maybe he will take me back? Maybe I will be good enough? I never heard of anorexia back then, it wasn’t talked about and there weren’t treatment centers that I knew of. The first time I heard of anorexia was when the singer Karen Carpenter died. I ended up going down to a dangerous weight and slowly tried to recover on my own. There wasn’t internet or a lot of books written so I just tried to do it by myself. This trying to get well on my own lasted until I was 51 years old. I always thought I would be over my eating disorder at a younger age and it would “Just go away”

Through the years I raised a daughter to love herself as she is. There was no “fat talk” in our house. No diet foods or scale. She was allowed to eat when she was hungry and stop when she was full. She could voice her opinion with respect and come to me with any concerns. I was there for her unconditionally. I was so committed to raising a daughter without an eating disorder. In the mean time my struggle was still within me. I also ran a business for 20 years. It was a small company and I loved it. I had 5 employees and again I enforced, no “Fat talk” and no diet talk!  Still the struggle was within me. It was my secret. I did have friends, family, clients voice concern about my weight. I never took it seriously, they don’t really know me. I always had an excuse.

Then came the year my daughter married, moved out of the country and I had to close my business because of the economy. My world slowly fell apart. My eating disorder was on my shoulders to comfort  me till I became sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’ve been in therapy for almost 3 years now. What I do know for sure is that you can’t do it on your own. Reach out for help in any way you can. Recovery can happen at any age.

I challenge myself every day with self care. I read blogs to move through challenging days. I work very hard to stop a relapse knowing how long it takes me to get back on track to recovery. Yes I’ve had relapses but I know it’s ok. Every day I’m one day closer to recovery. I’m moving forward and it feels so good! To eat a meal without anxiety, to enjoy life is so worth it.

If you really new me, you would know that I’m on the road to recovery and I will do it!

17 Mar

So here’s what concerns me about CrossFit

Ideas to Consider 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

crossfit

{image credit :: KaneStr}

When a good friend of mine told me several years ago that she had decided to join her husband at the “box” for a CrossFit session, I was admittedly incredulous. A swimmer in her youth and moderately athletic, it wasn’t that I didn’t think she had the guts to do an intensive workout. But CrossFit? Wasn’t that the place where runners go to die and Navy troops end up disabled?

It was, but she loved it. And she realized it wasn’t about weight loss, but getting stronger. Soon, she was going to the box several times per week, crafting her schedule around the class times and speaking the lingo like a veteran. She humble-bragged about the WOD (“Workout of the Day,” which CrossFitters can find online), which might be a six-minute AMRAP (“As Many Reps As Possible”) of pull-ups, push-ups, and squats.

As I learned more about the world of CrossFit, I was reassured in my belief that it was not a world for me. I’ll admit, I was scared of the intensity of the workouts. But I also found myself anxious about the community itself. As someone relatively averse to competition, it seemed to me that the CrossFit culture would emphasize the very part of exercise that I most disliked.

While I openly admit that I’ve thus never tried CrossFit myself and am likewise no expert on the practice itself, as an observer, a therapist, a friend, and an eating disorder psychologist, I have a few concerns.

A few caveats before I “bash” something I’ve never tried: I fully recognize that each box (“gym” for CrossFitters) has its own individual style and culture as established by the franchise owners, the staff, and the people attending classes. I’m going to be painting CrossFit with a bit of a broad stroke, so I acknowledge the limitations of doing so.

Okay. So here’s the thing –

CrossFit can seem a bit cult-like to me at times. Now, I acknowledge that any time a group of people spends a large amount of time together doing something they truly love and value, a subculture develops. What gives me the heebie jeebies about the whole thing though is the mentality I’ve observed among many CrossFitters that CrossFit is superior to all else and that other ways of exercising are for the a.) uninformed or b.) weak. Another friend of mine who dipped her foot into the CrossFit craze pulled it back out again when she was told that she was “stupid” for running. While the principles of CrossFit may be different and – who knows – maybe running is silly – I don’t respond well to things that seem to put other things down to advance their own agenda.

For some, the culture of CrossFit is the perfect breeding ground for their own insecurities and harmful beliefs that we must push ourselves to our absolute limits. While this may never be something that a CrossFit instructor says explicitly, my observations have been that this is interwoven into the fabric of Crossift. If we’re not pushing ourselves, what’s the point?

Unfortunately, a growing number of individuals have seen just where this mentality can lead – potentially fatal health complications resulting from over-exertion. The issue that has gotten the most publicity is an ugly little condition called rhabdomyolysis. “Rhabdo” for short, this is a life-threatening issue that can develop when the muscle cells break down from over-use, spilling myoglobin, a protein that can easily overwhelm the kidneys, leading to significant illness, kidney failure, or death.  And it’s not just a condition that affects the unfit. Military and police personnel and football players doing CrossFit are among those reporting Rhabdo.

Sure, any workout is going to pose potential risks. Cycling can lead to getting hit by cars or other serious injuries, for example. What concerns me though is the attitude with which CrossFit and its leadership have approach rhabdomyolysis. You might imagine they would disseminate information and put safeguards in place, but instead they simply created a cartoon named “Uncle Rhabdo,” a jacked-up clown with blood and sweat spilling out and hooked up to a dialysis machine.  The response to a 2005 lawsuit in which a CrossFitter claimed that he was permanently disabled due to Rhabdo caused by his workouts? A children’s workout was named after him, the obvious implication that this gentleman was clearly weak.

The dangerousness of the practice wasn’t downplayed. Rather, it seems to have been used to inspire its followers and create a culture in which “only the strong survive.” CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman, was quoted in the New York Times saying, “It can kill you… I’ve always been completely honest about that.”

Um… okay.

Do I feel that CrossFit itself is responsible for its members who end up hurt, either psychologically or physically? I suppose that depends on how we define responsible. What I will say is that a culture has developed in many CrossFit communities in which limits are not observed, pain is lauded, and danger is ignored. For someone vulnerable to over-exercise or extreme behaviors, CrossFit could create the perfect environment for dangerous behavior to thrive.

Have you ever tried CrossFit? What has been your experience? What kinds of physical activity do you enjoy? 

24 Feb

Five Tips to Getting Out of the Mobile Device Time/Energy/Life Suck

Ideas to Consider 1 Comment by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

cellphone

{image credit :: MTSOfan}

Sometimes I worry that my son is going to grow up thinking that the iPhone is another appendage. At the rate we’re going, he may soon be able to point to his nose, his ears, and his baby cellular device. It’s not an achievement that will make be proud…

In the beginning, I used reading blogs or scrolling through Instagram on my phone to keep myself awake during those exhausting nighttime feedings. I kept track of his eating and sleeping and diapers on a fancy-schmancy app on my phone. I took countless pictures and videos with it, scrolling through them over and over again while he was sleeping (because, obviously, I had forgotten what he looked like). I’m ashamed to admit it, but my phone became a lifeline over the past year.

I’m willing to write it, however, because I know that so many of you can relate. I don’t have to look far to see our collective addition to our technology. I ride the train each morning and question whether anyone would even look up if I was being attacked. In meetings my coworkers and I will keep glancing at our phones, awaiting a beep or a vibration or flashing lights, something to alert us that someone in the world knows we exist and need us.

And really, that’s what I think it all boils down to. It’s not so much an addiction to the technology itself, but rather to our drive for connection. Even if that connection exists in the realm of Facebook posts about your friend’s pasta dinner last night.

If you realize your cell phone addiction is interfering in your life, I suggest start with the following:

1. Recognize the costs of your habit. We don’t have to look far to recognize what we’re losing by focusing more on our phone than our life — but we do have to look. I once (okay, more than once) started to cross a busy street on my walk to work while immersed in a text on my phone — on a “Don’t Walk.” The cost of that message could have literally been my life (instead it was just an angry driver honking and yelling at me to pay attention — point taken!). While we might not always be risking out lives, we could be putting the quality of those lives in jeopardy. When our eyes are fixated on a screen, we miss out on the body language of those around us, real engagement in the things we are doing, and the opportunity to truly rest and restore ourselves.

2. Acknowledge the need for connection — or whatever might be behind the curtain. As I mentioned above, my hunch is that most of us use our phones to binge on connection. We are all wired for connection and crave it when it’s lacking. But I think what’s happened over this generation is that we are so used to being in constant connection that we can’t hold on to the sense of connection in moments of aloneness. And that ability is crucial. It’s important to being okay in our solitude. Instead, those moments seem to bring us anxiety and the undeniable urge to grab for our phone.

3. Pursue connection IRL. We do need that connection, but we need it to be tangible as much as virtual. Research over the past century has demonstrated the importance of touch for animals, including humans. A Facebook “poke” simply cannot replace a real hug. A key to overcoming a technology addiction is to replace some of that interaction with human contact. When you get the urge to scroll through your Instagram feed, go for a walk to the local coffee shop and talk to the barista. It feels – and tastes – better than any photo of coffee, I promise.

4. Schedule technology-vacations. That doesn’t mean an all-inclusive in Silicon Valley. That means planning time away from all devices that make artificial noises designed to spring you to action. Sometimes the best approach is to go cold turkey in order to see that you can survive time away from your phone — and to demonstrate to yourself that others will survive as well not being able to reach you. If a weekend seems unrealistic (let’s be honest, for most of us, it would be), start with just taking breaks at certain times during the day — say, during your morning commute, or during your lunch hour.

5. Teach others what they can expect from you. Nothing reinforces our addiction like others who come to expect certain behavior from us. If your friends are used to getting an instant response to their text or an instant “like” on the photo they post, you might worry about how others are going to react to your new, more balanced technology regimen. Remember that we teach others what to expect. Once you stop replying to every work email within 30 seconds, your boss will realize that she can’t expect you to do so. They might even get inspired and put down their phones for a few minutes themselves.

Are you addicted to your phone? Do you think you could take a technology-vacation?

21 Feb

Supported Meals — What’s Your Take?

Ideas to Consider 4 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

The lovely readers here were oh-so-helpful a couple months ago with sharing your perspectives on what recovery means (the presentation based on some of those responses I’m giving in just over a week – wish me luck!), so I thought I’d turn to all of you again.

I’m doing another presentation at a conference in a couple months and my colleague and I will be talking about supported meals in the treatment of eating disorders, in particular binge eating disorder. We’ll be talking about all kinds of interesting things, like mindfulness at meals, intuitive vs. structured eating, the role of peers in support, portioning meals, and more. One thing we’ll also be discussing is the “controversy” surrounding whether staff (therapist, dietitians, whoever is facilitating the meal) should eat alongside the patients in the meal.

I’ll share my own thoughts with you soon, but so as not to bias, I’ll leave it at that. If you have ever been involved in a supported meal as part of treatment, I’d love to hear from you about your experience. Let me know what was helpful and what wasn’t. And tell me what role staff played in the meal and what that experience was like for you. If you’re a clinician, let me know what your thoughts on are on this topic. Do you think it’s more helpful to eat or not eat with a patient? Why?

Thanks in advance. You are all wonderful! (regardless of whether you respond to my plea this is true!)

**If you don’t want to leave your thoughts as a comment, email me at nourishingthesoulblog@gmail.com. 

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