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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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Category: Guest Post

13 Feb

I eat because…

Guest Post 1 Comment by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

I first stumbled upon The Eater’s Agreement a few years ago and it’s left an indelible mark on my soul. I like to share it with others from time to time, and to use it as a springboard for discussion about what it means to be an eater on this planet. I wanted to share with one of the responses to the agreement, that I think is simply beautiful. The author is a courageous young woman I’m privileged  to know who will give you a glimpse into her own eating disorder and into a powerful transition.

This eater feels shaken. Feels jolted. I can intellectualize my body’s need for food — its inability to go on without nourishment. But I don’t like to admit it. I didn’t want to be reminded of my humanness — my weakness and fragility. So I manipulated it.

I used food to prove that my life was in my hands. I could choose to sustain it or to starve it away. And so I chose to waste. Waste my resources, my body, my relationship. Deprive them all as I watched them dwindle away. I learned that starvation takes away all ability — steals my capacity to move, think, sleep, love.

I can’t starve my body without starving my soul. I starve and I quickly whittle away my logic, my passion, my desire. I believe that I am mighty. That I don’t need the things that all others need — I am the exception in a scenario of no exceptions. I believe that I am not an eater, a feeler, a bearer of life, until I don’t want to be the exception anymore. I want to need food to live, but I don’t want to live.

And then I am re-introduced to life, and curiosity, and pain. To humanity, to weakness, and to strength. To the overwhelming world of eaters. My brain still battles my body. Once a month I am reminded that I somehow came to sustain my life again, and I feel simultaneous joy and suffering. Relief and fear. My heart beats, my hair grows, my body offers to house another. I am alive because I am an eater — or I am an eater because I am alive.

Perhaps the choice is not about eating or not eating, but about living or not living. Embracing life or rejecting it. itching in a basement, all sources of light blocked out by opaque bags installed, but failing to keep the bugs off of my skin, or stepping out into a lawn of weeds and blooms to feel the sun warm my skin.

I eat for that warmth. I eat to experience the sunrise reflected on the Rocky Mountains outside my window. I eat to stand at the tops of those mountains, and to rest peacefully in my bed afterwards. I eat to embrace my mother and connect with my father. I eat to laugh with my brother. I eat to accept I am imperfect, and to acknowledge the beauty of that. I eat to enjoy a moment. I eat to solve a puzzle, read a book, write a poem. I eat to be curious, eat to learn, eat to inquire and desire. I eat to believe, I eat to breathe. I eat to live.

I eat because I am an eater.

I eat because I have a soul, and I have come to learn that I can’t be a soul without a body.

I eat because I want to learn to celebrate my existence. I eat because it doesn’t matter who I was yesterday, and I want to discover who I will be tomorrow. I eat because some days, some moments I hunger for life. I eat to give the hunger space to grown until it’s satisfied. Reappear and be satiated once again.

And again. And again.

I eat to ay that I am okay with this hunger.

I eat to say I am okay.

31 Jan

Coping with the death of a friend {Guest Post}

Guest Post 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Losing a friend at a young age can be devastating. I had the unfortunate experience of losing two friends as a teenager, and both experiences left me feeling like my world was turned upside down. It’s not something we expect to happen, so there’s not a lot of information out there on how to handle it if does happen. That’s why I wanted to feature the post below by Dr. Jesse Viner, an expert who specializes in working with young adults going through life’s most challenging times. Like Dr. Viner says below, peers can be an invaluable source of support when going through this difficult time. While I hope for you that you never encounter this kind of tragedy, if you do, please know hope and healing is possible. 

For young adults, the loss of a friend can make it hard to relate to family, as they might not understand the impact or grasp what you are going through. Sometimes, it simply feels better to turn to friends for support.  In fact, friends can be more than that, seeming more like our family at times.

Talking with peers after experiencing loss can help with the healing process.  By taking time first to determine your own feelings and needs, you will be able to get in touch with your emotions and better communicate the help you are looking for as you mourn the loss of your friend. Be direct and ask your friends what you need for support. If your friends are also mourning, you may find that your friends have different needs themselves.

Self-check

After losing a friend, mixed emotions make it difficult to feel like yourself. When this happens, take a step back and check yourself.  Find a quiet, comfortable, and private space to explore your emotions. You may want to journal, listen to music or meditate when considering the following questions.

How will my life be different?

What memories will I hold onto, how can I remember my friend?

Am I able to talk with someone or do I keep everything bottled up?

Do I feel overwhelmed, angry, sad, confused, ashamed, guilty, fearful, or lonely?

Am I holding onto feelings of blame or have a hard time forgiving?

Who can I turn to for support?

Will I feel better spending time alone or taking comfort with my group of friends?

What can I do for myself to move forward?

What activities can I do to cope with my feelings?

How have I been caring for my body after the loss?

Am I giving my body adequate nutrition and sleep?

Connect with companions

Once you get in touch with your feelings and needs, it’s time to share with peers

Let your peers know what you need.  Whether its time alone to work on art, a walk through the park with your closest friends, being able to discuss the details of the loss, or taking on a new distraction, communicate to your peers what is going on with you.  They might not pick-up on indirect clues or cues, so be upfront with your friends.  Tell them how sad or shocked you are.  Open up to your peers and ask them for help. They will want to give you the support you truly need.

Ask your peers what they need, too.  When something major goes down, like losing a friend, everyone experiences feelings differently.  While you may need to talk it over, time and time again, your friends might cope by changing the subject.  When this happens, without being clearly communicated, feelings of being ignored, annoyed, or misunderstood arise, adding stress to an already tense situation.  To keep friendships going strong, figure out what your friends need in order to process the loss.

Find a balance to meet everyone’s needs. You’ve let your peers know how you need to cope, they have shared their styles with you.  If coping styles fall on the opposite ends of a spectrum, meet in the middle with compromise.  For example, Sara feels better when she can talk about the loss with her best friend, Stephanie. Yet Stephanie prefers to be alone, even though she normally hangs out with Sara five days out of the week.  Sara and Stephanie meet to share their feelings, letting each other know their needs.  They decide, in all fairness to both sets of feelings, to spend two days a week together. Stephanie agrees to give Sara reasonable time to talk about the loss, and Sara respects the time that Stephanie needs to herself.

Have you experienced the loss of a friend? What helped you cope? What advice might you share with others?

Jesse Viner, MD, Executive Medical Director of Yellowbrick, is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder, Dr. Viner has three decades of experience applying the knowledge of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the challenge of creating meaningful and pragmatically effective treatment programs. Dr. Viner has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. He is on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Viner is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

27 Dec

Rip off that label – it’s bad for your health!

Guest Post 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

My patients frequently come in to my office and tell me that they are an “anxious person” or a “bulimic.” I cringe hearing these labels, because I believe that we begin to embody and become the identifiers we put on ourselves. I try to remind patients that they are not their illnesses — they are complex beings with so many facets! Below, Dr. Aarti Patel encourages us to drop the labels that we’ve been using to define ourselves and refocus on what it means to be healthy. 

Labels look good on canned soup, but not on people. Whether you’re labeling yourself or someone is doing it to you, labels feel wrong, unfair, and confining. Health is an area where we may unfairly label ourselves without even realizing it, and the labels can get in the way of getting healthy and feeling better.

The medical world is already full of labels in the form of diagnoses. On top of that, it can be tempting to use words such as “unhealthy” or “unfit” to describe ourselves when we’re not feeling our best. Those who feel uncomfortable with their weight may label themselves as “fat” when stepping on a scale. People who are experiencing hormone fluctuations or imbalance may wonder if they’re just being “hormonal.” All of these words and labels can trigger feelings of inadequacy and may actually be discouraging when you’re trying to improve your health.

Health happens on both physical and mental-emotional levels, so the words that we use to describe ourselves and our health do matter. It’s okay to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses in health without using labels that make us feel stuck where we’re at. Making healthy changes involves ups and downs, just like in life. It’s a process of growth and learning, and discouraging labels don’t respect the journey that it takes to get better health.

Re-framing the words you use to describe your body and your health is just as important as the treatments that you try to improve your well-being. Even if you’re taking all the “right” steps in treatment, pushing yourself forward with punishing words and labels can block or reverse healing and recovery. A healthy mindset involves supporting yourself with the right kind of encouragement and motivation.

When seeking better health, it’s also helpful to avoid the canned soup label that reads:  “New and Improved!” There’s no need to transform into a brand new person in order to be healthier. Who you are is where health starts, and getting in touch with yourself helps spark health naturally. You’re not perfect, and your health doesn’t have to be either for you to feel and look good.

What labels have you been grappling with while trying to get healthy? Try ripping the labels off! It may burn for a moment, but afterward you’ll be able to see more clearly what your body and mind are asking for to get healthy.

Do you define yourself with labels? What kind of impact might it have on you?

Aarti Patel is a naturopathic doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in women’s health, hormone balance, stress relief, and skin health. Check out her Inner Balance Blog

09 Nov

Learning to Live Again After a Tragedy {Guest Post}

Guest Post 14 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

If you’ve encountered a trauma or tragedy, you’ve likely wondered how it would be possible to bounce back and live the same life. Maybe you couldn’t or wouldn’t be living the same life. But could you still live a life worth living? The following guest post offers some practical tips on how to regain a sense of normalcy. 

Tragedy can strike anyone at any time, which quickly derails even the strongest person. For instance, when I lost my best friend in high school, I thought my world would never rebound. Every death is sudden, and it takes time to recover from any tragedy. I couldn’t have recovered if I hadn’t taken the time to gather my strength. At times, you may think your life has been shattered, and you’ll never catch your breath again. However, there are ways for everyone to move forward, even in face of the most difficult losses.

Talk to Someone

Take time out to vocally express what you’re feeling to another person. This will help you release feelings, while at the same time, allow you to work through the issues preventing you from moving forward with your life. Talking can be as simple as discussing the event or feelings surrounding the event with a loved one, or talking to a professional. Licensed counselors or psychologists are trained to listen, as well as provide methods for overcoming loss.

Hobbies and Experiences

Keep your mind busy on other subjects outside of your tragedy through the hobbies you love or experiences that will impact you, like travel, sports or music. Hobbies like scrap booking, playing a musical instrument, rock climbing, golfing or gardening have both a mental and physical aspect, which keep your mind and hands busy, leaving less time to dwell on negative thoughts. For even greater effects, take time to learn a new hobby to further occupy your mind with learning or developing a new skill. A semester of a new language like Japanese, followed by a three-week trip to Japan can be extremely lightening, rejuvenating and constructive.

Exercise

Regular exercise, whether in a gym, at home or through physical activities like sports is important when facing tragedy, especially when you have feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, a natural mood elevator and stabilizer. Exercise can also help you sleep, offer distraction and provide an outlet for anger or frustration.

Laugh

Find time to laugh. Rent a comedy movie, go see a stand up comic! Play games that cause laughter with friends or family, whatever it takes to force a smile. Laughing has proven health benefits, including natural relief from stress and depression. Laughing creates a physical response in the body that stimulates muscles, releases endorphins and improves circulation. All of these effects impact the body’s stress response by soothing tension, improving mood and relieving pain.

Volunteer

Take time to volunteer for others in need, or for causes that you believe in like education or the environment. Your efforts helps you focus on the good work you’re doing, rather than yourself and your current situation. They remind you of, honestly, how much worse it could be, and that everyone goes through challenges. Ideas include volunteering at a homeless shelter, working with youth in need as a big brother or big sister, working at an animal shelter, volunteering time at a local theater or music organization or even volunteering abroad. Organizations need a wide range of volunteers, which provides opportunities that can both interest you and utilize your talents and skills.

Tragedy can be life-altering but it’s up to you to determine whether the ensuing changes destroy you or strengthen you. You can and should choose to follow the steps above, or other steps of your own that bring joy back to your life. While the past may have been hard, you can now open your life up to a bright new future.

Joan Mariska writes all about self-help. Her recent work is on the Top Online Masters in Counseling Programs.

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