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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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15 May

Would you wish your life on someone else?

Ideas to Consider 10 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

A few months ago, my mindless scrolling through social media brought me upon an article urging me to ask myself if I would wish my life on my children. The post addressed why so many parents tie so much of their own happiness and self-worth to their children’s success. It was an interesting read, but what stuck with me was not the content but the question itself.

Would I wish my life on someone else? 

Truly, this question has followed me around like a basset hound for the last few months, nipping at my heels when I least expect it.

To me this question isn’t about the details of my life — my condo in little urban neighborhood, my daily commute to work, the amount of money I have to spend on groceries — but rather it’s about the way that I’m living my life. If I could unzip my shell and let someone else step into my world, would I let them? Would I feel proud of the way that I’m treating myself and my loved ones? Would I feel that I’m being kind to allow someone to live my existence and assume my habits? Would I want the other person to share the goals and values towards which my actions are pointing me?

The busyness of life sweeps us up in its torrent and before we realize it we’re miles from where we started. In its wake is sometimes left the remnants of the life we thought we would be living. For me this question is a compass. It’s asking me to recalibrate. The road back to where I veered off might be long, but with my feet pointed in the right direction, I can get there.

Would you wish your life – the way that you’re living your life today – on someone else? What might you change? Would you be kinder to yourself? Engage in things that make you happy more often? Slow down the pace?

12 May

The Chocolate Milk Monster

Ideas to Consider 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

choc milk

{image credit :: maria pontikis via flikr creative commons}

I get it. I really do. Get the sugar-laden milk out of the schools so that we can get our kids to drink more water and kale juice and we can curb the tide of the childhood obesity epidemic and we can all pat ourselves on the back while eating our bowls of ice cream on the couch at home.

Okay, so maybe I don’t get it.

I’m not arguing that chocolate milk is the prima beverage for kids or adults. It can add a significant amount of sugar to a child’s daily intake and potentially unnecessary calories. There are plenty of other foods and beverages that can pack a more nutritious punch ounce for ounce.

But recent research is showing that banning chocolate milk in schools leads to overall less milk consumption — in one study, approximately 10%. In 11 Oregon schools where Cornell researchers examined what happened after the ban, they found that while some kids did replace the chocolate version with white milk, they ended up throwing away 30% of it. And thus down the drain goes healthy protein, calcium, and Vitamin D.

Despite my mini-rant above, I do understand the urge on the part of schools to weigh the benefit of reducing sugar consumption heavier than the consumption of the nutrients in the chocolate milk. However, I worry that this reflects our greater cultural focus on eliminating the “bad” versus introducing and promoting the “good.” (Ugh, I hate labeling foods and bad and good and am only doing so here to reflect the way society tends to view certain items.) We’re so concerned with getting rid of trans-fats and pop and white bread and spend such comparatively little effort teaching kids to enjoy nutrient-dense foods.

To really know the net “benefit” of eliminating chocolate milk, we also have to better understand how kids are reacting to the change. Are they bringing cans of pop to school as their beverage instead? Are they replacing the sugar and chocolatey goodness they would have gotten from the milk with cookies or another slice of pizza? We have to consider what the compensatory behaviors are.

And perhaps most importantly, I worry about setting up a feeling of deprivation and restriction for kids around any food or beverage. These are kids… when you tell them they can’t have something, they’re going to react, rebel, and potentially even sneak and binge. For example, an important study showed that kids that had parents with more restrictive eating tended to eat many more marshmallows when offered. They didn’t know how to regulate themselves because they were always being denied.

In a few years when my son goes off to kindergarten, perhaps chocolate milk will be as ancient as pop rocks. (And maybe part of my reaction is born out of my particular fondness for the chocolate milk of my youth.) We could all be so glad that our kids have switched to kale juice and have lower glycemic indices. Who knows… But for now, I hope that schools work to truly better understand the implications of banning an item before doing so.

Do you think schools should stop selling chocolate milk?

08 May

If You Really Knew Me: Hope is a Tiny Seed

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 piece is shared by Britta, a clearly introspective and gifted writer. I hope her story touches you as it did me. If you are interested in participating in the series, check out the details.

If you really knew me…. you would know that I’ve been struggling to love my body for 22 years. You’d know that beneath my calm countenance rages a storm of stress hormones, a warzone of nerve misfirings and shortages. Through years of therapy and self-conducted research, I’ve learned that individuals with severe anxiety often present in this way – as collected, grounded. It’s a mask we put on unconsciously to manage the reactions of people around us. No one will know notice that the world inside is imploding if you appear meditative or, rather, detached.

If you knew me, you’d know that I’m still working to navigate my path to self-love. The course is circuitous. These last few weeks, for example, the steadily growing number of hash marks on my face taunts me, trying to persuade me into believing that growing older is growing ugly. My 36th birthday is coming up and I’m ready to sell my soul for a minute or two, buying into the chance to punish my body for its betrayal. My body has never really met my demands aesthetically; even its basic functions have quirks. I receive treatment for hypothyroidism, insomnia, osteopenia, mood disorder and anxiety. My body is aging. The lines pronounce themselves boldly across my forehead and at the corners of my eyes. My smile lines, at least a mile deeper than last year, frame my mouth so clearly that one might image a highly skilled construction worker had excavated them. I look like a freaking elephant!

Ahhhh…But then I catch myself. There goes that mind of mine again. Those thoughts. That punishment. I have been marked. I’ve marked myself. My body, my beloved me. I love my body; it’s an expression of my being in the world. If you really knew me, you would see.

I could write a book on the battle I’ve waged with my body from age 13 to the present. Perhaps I should. But what I want to tell you now is that  – if you really knew me – you would feel in yourself my total belief that love conquers all. I know you’ve heard that a thousand times, but the message is not undermined by its repetition. When you love yourself for the first time, the feeling, knowing, that you are worthwhile just as you are, will likely occur in your body. At least it did, does, for me. But first I had to deal with the trauma that came with running 50 miles and biking 60 every week without taking a day off in … years. The consequences of my lifestyle are both unsurprising and startling. I faced injuries, illnesses, lost relationships, all-consuming horror at every minute change in my body – any increase or decrease in size or shape – and the belief that cycle would never ever stop. I grew into womanhood in the body of a malnourished, scared little girl. Later, I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure (POF). I had to drop out of graduate school. I’m still working on finding my core self, that part of me that knows that no matter what happens, I’m OK.

It all started when I was 13 years old when my relationship with food, body and exercise took a sharp turn the summer before my first year in high school. It was as if a light bulb went on in my head: I stumbled upon a way to manage the chaos around me. I was vacationing my dad and stepmother at the beach. We’d rented a condo with my uncle’s family. After a week of spending hours in the ocean I realized that my clothes hung a tiny bit looser and I felt lighter, freer, lovelier. It was a natural, seasonal change, but the transformation set off a ticking time bomb. Returning to my mom’s house, the house from hell.

Mom would say she could never feel full. I believe her. For much of my life she’s been obese, though I think the disease had its onset not long after she remarried. She would go on these diets back in the 80s and 90s, the era where fat-free was the rage. We’d have fat-free cookies, butter (!), Cool Whip, TV dinners, everything. My stepdad would try to follow a diet too, but he would only last a week or so. And my mom would criticism his weakness. He’d yell back, and I’d run to my room to hide. She strove to achieve a level of scarcity – less food, less fat, less body, less of herself. And she began hoarding, spending untold amounts of money on everything from hats to books, CDs, pets, plants and collectibles. You name it, she bought it. And my stepdad, well he supported the behavior, accompanying her on these spending sprees to purchase LPs, books and clothes, their savings. In hindsight, I suspect he did so to be closer to my mom. I’ll never know for sure. As their marriage worsened, the piles of crap grew, filling the house from top to bottom. It was filthy with pet hair, dirty litter boxes, towers of stuff too tall and mounds too wide to sort through. The more crap that accumulated and bigger my parents’ bodies grew, the smaller I wanted to become.

I reacted with precision, as if I had been working for years on a plan of defense. I started running. I cut down on my food. The changes were slow. It took a while before I could run two miles without stopping, and some time before I mastered a method to restrict my food in such a way that gave me the results I desired. For the first time in my lift my thighs didn’t brush each other when I walked. My collarbones became more visible as did my pelvic bones, and my period – gone! Even better, I got attention from my mom. She was as impressed with my discipline and restraint as she was worried about my health. We’d go for walks together like we did when I was little. I was getting my mom back – losing my body, finally getting some attention. I felt more confident, stronger physically and emotionally. My room was my sanctuary, but I still ate my tiny fat-free dinners at the dining room table. The other two ate separately, both in front of the TV in different rooms.

One aspect of my past which truly fascinates me is that I maintained a true love for exercise, specifically intense exertion – interval running and heavy weight lifting, the challenge and release – but also learning new lifts, workouts, running routes. Such a double-edged sword. These activities bring me joy, but I use them against myself, to control anxiety and my body, the battleground on which I waged my bet against reality.

My body is a curious thing. While my bones developed osteopenia and my thyroid rebelled, my muscles were used as fuel. Even so, I looked ‘normal’ on the outside. No one really knew that I had an eating disorder. For me, it took reaching the very bottom of the deepest pit, alone, a place where fear for my health outweighed my fear of the changes that healing would undoubtedly involve.

Decades later and with greater knowledge of the physical impacts my actions and thoughts have imprinted body, with years of therapy, reflection, and effort to change – I have hope. It’s still a tiny seed that I often lose, but I’ve felt its glow often enough to recognize it. I’ve actually experienced my body relax in Savasana (‘corpse’ pose in yoga). A miracle for me!  I’ve stopped in the middle of a run and walked home crying because something inside saying ‘no more!’ was too loud to ignore. I’ve even dared to take baths, facing one of my ultimate fears  – being still with my naked body to soothe the parts I’ve mistreated and loathed. I’ve given my body permission to be. So hard. And soooo wonderful with Epsom salts!

At this point in my life, I feel that learning to love my body will be a life-long course. But this realization is no where near as terrifying as the fear of having to run endlessly from my body, losing my mind and my dreams as I flee. I’m still standing at the doorsill to healing. The door’s open a crack and I sense a warmth and lightness on the other side. I accept that I’ll teeter back and forth there, falling to the one then the other side. I have a hundred times before, but now I’m better friends with that speck of light inside me. It’s love.

30 Apr

A Programming Note

Ideas to Consider 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

I thought having an infant was the best excuse ever for why I couldn’t manage to get anything done, but the last several months have proven me dead wrong on that front. In fact, having a toddler makes it much more impossible to accomplish anything  outside of, well, caring for said toddler. At least when my son was an infant he slept for more than 30 minutes per day and stayed put when I set him in one place. I now am the proud mama of a rambunctious one-year-old who loves to run (waddle-run to be more precise), climb, nose dive into toy boxes, and open and close every drawer in the house. I kid you not… in a room full (full!) of toys, he will find the one thing he shouldn’t touch and that is the only thing that can possibly satisfy him, and it had better be rightthisverysecond that he gets his tiny little hands on it. Or we will melt down into a heaping pile of tears because, well, life as we know it is over.

So, there’s that.

In my professional life, things haven’t been any slower. I’ve been busy opening a new residential treatment center in the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s been a labor of love, the culmination of our center’s years of imagination, dedication, and hard work. I feel so humbled to be part of this amazing process and so proud of what my colleagues and I have developed. We officially opened our doors just a few weeks ago and have been busy getting everything settled. It’s been truly exhausting and totally great.

So, there’s that too.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m expecting a little one in October! Our little family is continuing to grow, which makes me simultaneously thrilled and apprehensive at how our lives will evolve. My pregnancy has been such a gift, but it sure has wiped me out. I’m finally feeling more like myself over the past couple of weeks, but prior to that felt a bit like a train had run me over by 1:00pm each day. Now I feel fairly human until about 8:30pm, so that’s progress.

So there’s that as well.

All in all, life today hasn’t left me much time to cultivate this space. Not being able to tend to my little part of the internet has left me feeling a hole in my heart. I love being able to use this space as a creative outlet and I love being able to connect with others who are passionate about creating more balanced selves.

I just wanted to drop a note to say that I’m missing being here and that I hope to find a way to be here more often. Know that I continue to read every email (even though it’s taking me a little longer to reply) and every comment. If you’re reading this, let me say thank you for sticking around and bearing with me as life takes its crazy twists and turns.

Nourishing the Soul is four years old this month. I’m completely humbled by that. I’d like to say that if no one was reading, I’d have kept on writing anyway, but I don’t know that that’s true. It’s because you all have kept me inspired with your stories, challenged me with your opinions, and just generally helped me feel a sense of community that I’ve kept plugging away for this last several years. I know that this space will evolve as I do – as we do.

So thank you, and keep reading and writing when you can. I’ll do the same.

 

Much love and nourishment,

Ashley

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