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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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Tag: ACT

06 Jan

Is it okay to not love your body?

Ideas to Consider 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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{image credit: identity photogr@phy

I keep a digital post-it on my desk-top with interesting articles I come across and topics that I want to be sure to blog about when I have the time.

This post caught my attention way back in March, a couple days after my son was born, and since then the URL has been staring back at me each time I open my laptop. While the delay is certainly due to not being able to remember what it was about in my post-partum haze, it’s also due to the fact that the piece left me feeling conflicted.

First, I’ll tell you that on the whole, I love the post. Be warned that the author, Elyse Anders, is passionate about this topic and expresses that through the liberal use of expletives to show you just how much she believes what she’s saying. She’s a talented writer and got me thinking (for nine months apparently), so my hat goes off to her. But back to the post itself…

Elyse suggests that people should get off her freaking back about loving her body so much and mind their own damn business(es). She tells us she doesn’t like her body…

I don’t love my body. My body is awful. I will never love my body. I never have. And I’m 35 and maybe you think that’s too old to have real hang ups about my body. But I do. And I always will. And maybe you think that because I’ve lost a bunch of weight I should feel great about my body. But I don’t. And I won’t.

…and makes a fairly compelling case for why that should be A-OK to do so, pointing out the double-standards inherent in this instance on women embracing their bodies:

The problem is someone else telling me how to feel. The problem is being told that there is a standard of beauty, and I should ignore it. I should ignore it despite the fact that everyone is still holding me to it. I should ignore it and create my own. As long as it makes me feel pseudo-good, and makes other people feel okay with how I pretend to feel about me.

Really, just to read the post. I can’t copy and paste the whole thing for you. I’m not you’re assistant over here!

Okay, so you read it now, right?

So here’s the thing, I agree with Elyse on most of her points. We live in a world where women (and men) face impossible demands at every turn. Run six miles before dropping your kid off at school in your four-inch heels  with your perfectly blown out hair and don’t forget the holiday pot-luck at work! You did make that Pinterest recipe, didn’t you? So the idea that not only are we supposed to appear perfect, but we’re also supposed to appear as though we don’t care? It simply saddles us with more potentially impossible demands.

We don’t all love our bodies, and I get downright tired of hearing people say that we all should. In fact, some of us have been engaged in decades-long battles with our physical selves, for which there are all sorts of reasons. We’ve internalized the critical messages of our family. We’ve been the victim of sexual abuse. Our bodies have let us down when we needed them the most. To offer a blanket directive to love and adore our bodies doesn’t seem to adequately acknowledge the complexity of these relationships.

It can feel a little Pollyanna-ish, to be honest. And perhaps most importantly, I don’t know that it’s totally necessary. Hear me out…

If my goal in working with people was to change their feelings about their bodies from hatred to love, I could be stuck in my chair for a lifetime, and meanwhile, they’d be miserable. It would be like me trying to get my friend Lisa to like peanut butter when the stuff repulses her.

Instead, my goal is to help someone develop a sense of body neutrality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have any feelings about their bodies — that’s just unrealistic. Rather, it means they have whatever feelings they are going to have about their bodies and they can still choose to make decisions about their bodies in a values-directed and educated way. For example, they can hate their belly with a vengeance but choose not to punish themselves with a ridiculous diet because they a.) know that it won’t work and b.) have more important things to do with their time and energy.

So I agree with Elyse that loving one’s body isn’t necessary, and it’s not helpful to others to put that expectation upon us. Where I start to bite my lip is here:

Stop telling women that we should find ourselves beautiful and that we should love ourselves when you are standing right there, judging us on how our knees look in short skirts and how prominent our boobs are in a sweater and how much makeup we are or are not wearing.

While we’re all part of the machine of culture, I find myself thinking of the many “body-love advocates” out there who are so often proclaiming to others to embrace their imperfections. These aren’t, on the whole, brazen hypocrites. They are people who who have found a true and deep appreciation for their own bodies and know that love is possible. I wonder if it can feel to some like that annoying friend who just got married and keeps telling you that true love is waiting for you! You just have to get out off your couch. But Prince Charming is out there!

It can be hard to swallow. And you may want to punch her in the face. But that doesn’t mean she’s judging your singledom, at least not intentionally.

The other thing I found myself thinking about is the fact that there’s a difference, to me, between love and gratitude. It may be a subtle distinction, but I think it’s important. I don’t have to love every line, every sag, every bulge, every soft spot. But I can still appreciate my body on the whole. I can wish to the heavens that my legs were more svelte while also feeling grateful that they allow me to dance until 2 a.m. with my girlfriends. If we don’t have a sense of our bodies playing a role in helping us to do the things we love and be the people we want to be, we won’t be motivated to take care of them.

I don’t think it’s a particularly helpful goal to set out to love your body (if you do, that’s great!), but I do think it’s worth aiming for neutrality and gratitude.

So what about you? Do you think we should try to love our bodies? And what place (or responsibility) do we have in the body-love of others?

 

01 Jan

What if this is the year?

Ideas to Consider 1 Comment by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

What if this is the year?

What if this is the year that you decide that the tug-of-war you’ve been engaged in with your body will never, can never, be won?

What if this is the year that you decide that even if it could be won, the toll is too high? That you’re battered and exhausted and your arms are tired?

What if this is the year that you realize that if you keep tugging, you can’t do anything else? That those are arms have been tied up for years in this war?

What if this is the year that you decide you want more than an endless tug-of-war?

What if this is the year that you decide that everyone else not in this tug-of-war seems to be having a good time?

What if this is the year that you decide you’ve had enough with diet gimmicks and all those false promises that make you feel like you’ve got more ammo, but really just leave you depleted?

What if this is the year that you realize your self-hatred isn’t changing your body or your mind any faster?

What if this is the year that you decide to drop the rope?

What then?

28 Oct

Is fear running your show?

Ideas to Consider 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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{image via pinterest}

Dr. Phil isn’t my favorite former-psychologist on earth, but once in a while his O Magazine articles get me thinking. A recent column asked readers to consider how many of their life decisions have been based in fear. For example, how many of us stay stagnant in dead-end jobs because we’re scared we won’t be able to pursue our true passions? Or stay in stuck in lack-luster relationships because of the fear of breaking another’s heart or sitting alone in the assisted living center rocking chair?

I found myself nodding along with the article, despite the fact that I love my job and feel really happy in my relationships. If I’ve made these decisions out of fear, I suppose I’ve gotten really lucky that they’ve led me on a satisfying path.

But I definitely connected with the notion of fear running the show. While the article focused on those big decisions – the ones that turn your life in significantly different directions — I started to think about all the little day-to-day decisions that are borne out of fear.

Am I going to respond to those last five emails or leave work in time for yoga? Ahhh! What if the emails are Important? Should I call my brother tonight even though I really don’t feel like talking? But he’ll think I don’t care about him if I don’t! Will I leave the presentation as is or spend two more hour perfecting the ending? What if people leave uninspired because the ending falls flat?

When I started doing the math, I realized that amount of fear-based decisions that I make in a day really start to add up.  Honestly, it made me cringe.

I didn’t want to be so afraid all the time.

Fear is a tricky little (or big!) feeling because it’s so necessary. It helps us stay alive and relatively healthy (e.g. if we didn’t fear predators once upon a time, we would have never evolved to doing things like writing blogs about fear).

But when fear moves from back stage to center stage, things can get a little out of whack.

For those with eating issues, every encounter with food can reflect a fear-based decision. The choice between soy or dairy milk in your latte can trigger the same response system that helps us get out of real danger. Talk about making decisions about eating in front of strangers or whether to have dessert at the restaurant and some of us have full-blown panic attacks.

It’s okay for fear to be part of the picture. I don’t need to banish fear in order to be happy – that would never work anyway. But when we notice that fear is the decision factor in the majority of decisions, big and small, then it might be time to put something else front and center – our values.

Our values aren’t exactly the antidote to fear, but they give us something else to consider when fear strikes. Do these five emails right now reflect my values more or less than getting on my zen at yoga? Suddenly, the situation feels clearer. It doesn’t mean that I won’t feel a little anxious about letting those messages sit idle, but it does mean that I don’t have to shape my life around that anxiety.

How many of your decisions day-to-day do you think are based in fear? What do imagine might happen if you shifted your attention from fear to your values?

11 Apr

Body Love: Perfectly Imperfect

Guest Post 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Can we love our bodies while still feeling imperfect or dissatisfied? Becca Clegg, a therapist, educator, and coach, tackles this important question in today’s guest post. If you like what you read, go check out more of her insightful musings at Life Beyond the Diet.

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This week, I did a talk for a group of mental health clinicians on Eating Disorders.  The talk went great, and I was feeling really pleased with myself for being able to help other therapists learn more about a topic that I am so passionate about.

As I was packing up my stuff to head out, one of the therapists stopped and asked me a question.

“So, you talk about all this stuff, but you are slim.  Do your client’s ever ask you how you can talk about struggling with your body when you don’t look like you do?”

I answered her as honestly as I could, telling her that you can’t look at someone’s body and know what their own struggle is, as the relationship we have with food is truly internal, and doesn’t really have to do with how the body looks anyway.

I left and didn’t really give her question much thought, but later that day, her question came back to me & stated to morph into self-doubt.

I have been at peace with my body for a long time, but how would I feel if my body changed drastically?  Would I still love myself the way I do now if something external shifted?

Does the peace I feel about my body come from within, or is it more related to a judgment that things on the outside are “ok”?

Could I practice what I preach if I lost this sense of peace? 

One thing I know deeply is that every part of me is devoted to the idea of self-love and body acceptance.  I have a deep knowing that to help women learn to find acceptance is my passion.  So to be in this space of questioning was extremely unnerving, and I’ll admit that it hit me between the eyes.

As I started to think about how I relate to my own body, it dawned on me that I don’t actually think everything about my body is ok.  In fact, I still judge plenty of things that I see in my body as “wrong” or “not good enough”.

I break out.  I have awful hair days that even a hat can’t fix.  I am aging, and I am starting to see the laws of gravity demonstrating themselves.  I have flab here, and wrinkles there, and if I’m looking for it, I can usually find something that is “out of place”.

At first these thoughts jumped out at me as evidence that I must be an imposter. “Oh crap!”, I thought,  “How can I think those things and have the nerve to write blog articles about loving your body?”

And then I remembered a concept that I have been following for some time.  It’s the basis of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which basically espouses the following:  We are culturally indoctrinated with certain thoughts.  To try and change those thoughts is nearly impossible.  It is much kinder, loving, and quite frankly, easier, to accept those thoughts as what they are, old cultural ideas that have just gotten in your head.  Then you move on to commitment to change.  Commitment to living from a kinder, gentler thought that is more aligned with what you want to believe.

When I realized this, it gave me a sense of peace.  Quite the contrary to feeling like an imposter, it made me realize that of course I still have the judgments about my body that are less than loving.  I am human.

I am also, however, fortunate enough to realize that my judgment about my body is the cultural lie, social conditioning left over from being raised in a society that taught me that there is a boiler plate standard for what it means to be “good enough” as a woman in this world.  I also realized that the deepest part of me absolutely knows that this is a pile of B.S.

I can be committed to loving my body and have wonderful, blissful days where I am 100% full of gratitude for everything about it.

I can still be committed to loving my body and have days where I question and doubt and think thoughts that are less than ideal. Body love, like everything else in life, it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.

I remind people all the time that they should avoid black and white thinking, and search for the middle ground.  I came out of this realizing that I needed a dose of my own medicine.

The lesson I took away was that trying to be ‘perfect’ at love, be it self-love or body-love, is as unrealistic and as stressful as trying to be ‘perfect’ in our bodies themselves.   I choose to ignore the thoughts that I know aren’t kind, and align with the thoughts that are kind and quite frankly, feel better.  That is my daily commitment.  And the biggest lesson of all is that that is enough.

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Rebecca Clegg, LPC (www.rebeccaclegg.com), is a therapist, writer and speaker specializing in helping women overcome unhealthy eating patterns and body image issues.  For the last decade, Rebecca has worked in both hospital and outpatient settings, and has worked extensively with a variety mental health issues. She is the President and founder of Authentic Living, LLC, and creator of the blog, www.lifebeyondthediet.com, both committed to the growth and empowerment of women everywhere. 

 

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