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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: Ideas to Consider

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. 

17 Feb

Could a recovery app help you beat an eating disorder?

Ideas to Consider 4 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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When people talk about how hard eating disorder treatment is, it’s not often the actual sessions with a therapist or dietitian or the meal group they’re attending that they’re talking about. It’s usually the time in between session that poses the biggest challenges for individuals working their way into recovery. And while the meetings with providers can help guide someone on the right path, it’s generally the time outside of those meetings that make up the steps to real recovery. That’s when real life happens.

Real life is hard work, and it’s the stuff that challenges all the plans and commitments made in the safety of a therapist’s office. Whether it’s developing a plan to utilize a coping skill or practicing mindful eating at each meal, memory and motivation can easily wane when someone finds himself on his own.

That’s why both professionals and recovered people alike decided that there had to a better way to help people stay connected and committed to their goals. If only there was a device that was nearly always with you that could track data and send alerts… and maybe it could even make calls too? Oh, yes! Your mobile phone!

Many individuals with eating disorders are downloading a secret weapon in their battle against their eating disorder. Tucked between their Instagram account and Candy Crush are mobile apps that are helping these individuals stay on track. There are a number of apps out there, but some of the most popular include Take Control, Recovery Record, and Rise Up + Recover.

How do they work? They harnass several of the factors that we believe are important to recovery and make them completely mobile. They center heavily around the concept of self-monitor, meaning that users can document things like what they ate for each meal, if they engaged in any eating disorder behaviors, and if they were able to practice copings skills. Many of the apps will offer positive reinforcement — a virtual high-five — when, for example, someone practices mindful eating.

Some apps allow that accountability extend to an individuals providers’ as well, allowing their progress and struggles to be seen in real-time by their therapists or dietitians. This can not only save time in the next session, but it gives more accurate and thorough information to the people who need it.

Apps can also help track your moods, eating patterns, and other factors and alert you if you are at high risk to engage in binge eating, for example. Many people with eating disorders report feeling that the time before a binge episode feels like their on “autopilot,” so getting a notification that to proceed with caution and reminder to go engage in some self-care could help stave off the behaviors before they begin.

Most of the app creators caution that they apps are most helpful in conjunction with traditional treatment, at least right now. A team at Drexel University will soon be studying if these apps could replace certain aspects of treatment at some point. In the meantime, though, apps can provide a great avenue of additional and unique support outside of the therapy room.

Nothing is a panacea, of course, and one of the issues that these apps’ developers are facing is that users sometimes abandon them not long after downloading. That’s where, I believe, using them as a tool in your ongoing treatment will help. When your therapist is checking in and helping facilitate the use, retention is likely to improve. And just like in therapy, it’s up to the individual to be honest and open when logging meals or determining the trigger for a purging episode.

But for individuals who are ready and willing and confront their eating disorder, apps can provide an effective, efficient, real-time tool.

Have you ever used a recovery app? If so, what was your experience like? If not, would you ever consider it? 

 

**If you weren’t able to join me for the recent AED TweetChat on recovery apps, you can read the transcript here.

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