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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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10 Jul

Where are the fat eating disorder therapists?

Ideas to Consider 5 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

A few weeks ago, a wanted-to-be scientist name Rachel Fox, bravely shared the fat-shaming she’s endured during her years as an undergraduate science major at a prestigious university. The overt and covert discrimination by the scientific community has led her to make the decision to say goodbye to the field altogether.

Her story should make us angry. Not only on her behalf for another human to have to endure insensitivity and harassment based on size, but also for ourselves. We’ve just lost a potential brilliant scientist because our society is so bigoted that we can’t see talent beyond a jean size. She could have been the next scientist to cure a terminal illness or discover a new planet. What if Jonas Salk or Stephen Hawking were told to avoid milkshakes and made to feel less than?

Fox’s op-ed piece left me reflecting on where else larger people are missing. I started to look around at my own field and wondered… how many aspiring therapists have changed course because they didn’t feel welcomed by the community?

In the field of eating disorders, I’d anecdotally suggest that there is a disproportionate number of clinicians with smaller bodies, as compared to the general population. I can take educated guesses as to why this might be. One reason might be that of fields in psychology, those with histories of their own eating disorders are perhaps drawn to working with this population. And while the vast majority of clinicians with their own histories of eating disorders are fully recovered, they may continue to be more aware of their own body size and possibly engage in some weight-control practices. More optimistically, it could be argued that these clinicians may be disproportionately smaller because they tend to be more mindful about their eating, practicing what they preach and not using food in unhealthy ways.

But the cynic in me wonders if there is not something more disheartening going on. Are we losing therapists of larger body sizes because they are not feeling welcomed into this field?

There is some research to suggest that this may have some validity. For starters, patients with eating disorders are often considered to be much more highly attuned to others’ weight and shape, including those of their therapists. While some with eating disorders claim that they “judge” only their own bodies, many others acknowledge feeling hyperaware of others’ bodies and even making assumptions about their therapists based on body size. A recent study (Rance, Clarke, & Moller, 2014) examined patients’ perceptions of therapists bodies and found that some patients assessed a fat therapist as less trust-worthy and more likely to lose control. This study asked patients to report on their experiences, but often the beliefs, assumptions, and feelings are less overt and conscious. It’s not difficult to imagine how a patients’ weight bias, particularly in the midst of an eating disorder in which weight and shape’s importance often gets elevated, can create a seemingly hostile environment for a therapist.

I wonder, though, if more of that hostility and distrust doesn’t actually come from within our own ranks, however. A study by Puhl, Latner, King, and Luedicke (2013) reveled weight bias among eating disorder professionals. In fact, 56% of us reported having observed our colleagues express negative comments about obese individuals. If more than half (and I’d suggest it’s actually much more than half) of us observe these behaviors occurring — and are we addressing them? — it’s easy to imagine how uncomfortable a fat therapist might feel in that setting.

Just as in the STEM field, the eating disorder realm is full of assumptions about what professionals should be doing with food. Insiders and outsides, explicitly and implicitly, seem to assume that someone who treats eating disorders should be of a middle-of-the-road weight, or even thin. If someone deviates from this, the assumption becomes that they must not really know how to manage a relationship with food. Thus, how in the world could they teach or inspire someone else to do the same?

Obviously — or, apparently, maybe not so obviously, these assumptions are unfounded. But they permeate our experience in this field and it’s easy to see why we don’t observe as much diversity in body shape and size among therapists.

Perhaps the best thing that we can do to avoid losing talent and diversity is to become ever more aware of own stereotypes and biases. Once we can acknowledge these, we can take more conscious steps to not allow them to guide our decision making and treatment of others in our field.

Do you think people of larger sizes are underrepresented in the eating disorder field? Why or why not?

 

**Please note that I don’t believe that there are not fat eating disorder therapists. I personally know many. I do believe that there aren’t as many as one might expect and that there are reasons for this…

18 Nov

Hunger

Advocacy No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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{via Creative Commons}

As we look toward the season of abundance to come, there are 47 million Americans who will be faced with some extraordinary challenges. They will lay down at night, in beds or elsewhere, wondering how they will afford to feed their families. The children, 22 million of them, will wonder how much they’ll get to eat tomorrow, and if it will be enough.

Food insecurity is a challenge that more Americans that we realize – or want to realize – face each day. And it’s a challenge that will only become even more acute assome benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federally funded effort, loses five billion dollars in support this November.

The support initially came from the 2009 stimulus package and was intended to assist as so many more of our citizens were faced with food insecurity following the financial crisis. Now, those benefits are ending, but the number of Americans in this situation remains too high.

Hunger plagues them.

Another number that’s far too high: eleven million Americans who struggle with eating disorders. They face challenges this season too: navigating tense family gatherings centered around food, battling a life-threatening illness, and fighting for the treatment that they desperately need.

Many dread the merriment that surrounds the season, knowing that it brings for them more stress and strain. It’s like someone with alcoholism being forced to spend Thanksgiving in bar. If they escape, they face isolation that can be equally painful. And so they stay, surrounded by the thing that tortures them.

And those that want to seek help during the holidays face wait lists for treatment that are far too long. They face insurance companies that deny them the coverage to treat their illness, despite being mandated to do so by law. They face family members and a society who think they need to just “eat a donut” or join Weight Watchers.

Hunger plagues them.

I’ve said before that the issue in this country is not an obesity epidemic but a hunger crisis. And the holiday season can shine a bright light on its many manifestations.

When sitting down to a holiday meal this season, I don’t want you to feel guilt for having food that others don’t or being able to eat it when others can’t. What I do want you to do is to take a moment to reflect upon the ways in which hunger takes root in our country.

Food insecurity and eating disorders share more in common than is obvious at first look. They are endemic issues that are often pushed under the rug because they are less than pleasant to consider. We’d rather ignore them than to face their harsh realities. They both deserve our thoughtful awareness and attention. They people who battle with them deserve our respect and support.

Confronting the truth and facing the stigmas alone goes a long way in creating solutions. If the food insecure and those with eating issues are treated as second-class citizens, we’ll never be able to develop effective ways to make things better.

As we glide into this season, let’s also take time to talk about these hunger crises. Maybe some of the answers to them aren’t as different as we think.

04 Jun

It’s hard to break the glass ceiling when you don’t like to make a mess.

Book Review 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

I just started reading Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s new political commentary/memior/feminist manifesto Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadAnd by started, I mean I read the introduction. But it’s already got me thinking and eager to delve into the rest of the book. So that’s a good thing.

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Unlike a lot of the conversation out there, Sandberg focuses less on the institutional barriers out there (damn men keeping us down! rarrrr!) and more on the internal barriers that prevent women from rising to the top. As a psychologist and someone with lots of internal barriers, this really resonates with me. Or at least I think it will, once I read more.

Sandberg points to some of the statistics out there — like the fact that only 14% of business executives are women and just over 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. What’s most interesting about these numbers is that they start out looking much different. Entry-level business jobs are pretty evenly dispersed among men and women. But as time marches on, women fail to climb the ladder as quickly as men. Or they jump off.

As I was thinking about this, I recognized that there are a myriad of factors contributing to it. There’s the self-confidence and self-determination that are required to move ahead — qualities that are not always made priority in raising girls and women. There’s the fact that new motherhood often occurs at a pivotal point in the career trajectory, leaving many women who try to balance multiple roles in the dust.

But there’s also something else. And that’s the fact that as women, we’re acculturated to make other people happy. I don’t want to paint the female sex with such broad strokes, but I feel pretty safe in stating that most women don’t like to be the bad guy. We are often raised to consider the needs and wants of others, and, in some cases, to be a primary caretaker of those needs and wants. We are taught to keep things tidy and in order. We are taught to make others feel gooooood about themselves. In fact, not doing so can have damaging effects on our careers, relationships, and sense of self, says some research.

I’m going to even go out on a limb here and say that it’s not just a matter of acculturation and gender stereotyping, but maybe… even… evolutionary biology? Since the dawn of (wo)man, we have been relied upon to keep families and communities together. We do this in multiple more modern ways — organizing playdates, preparing meals, and championing safer communities — but the fact remains that part of our biological legacy is in fostering connection. It’s that connection that has kept our world thriving, in my humble opinion.

Business isn’t necessarily anti-community, but it requires some mess-making. It requires being willing to rock the boat and upset Dave in accounts. It sometimes requires laying people off and doing arguably ruthless things to move a company ahead. Okay, so maybe they’re not ruthless things. Perhaps just unpopular. But still.

I’m not for a moment arguing that women are not designed to get ahead in business. Rather, I would argue that: women have to recognize and consider thoughtfully their perhaps instinctual nature. I believe whole-heartedly that women have the capacity to make tough, unpopular decisions. I just think that it’s worth considering that it may be tough, given our biology and acculturation. Women do tough stuff all the time (hello, childbirth!), so I have no doubt that we can (and do, all the time!) this.

The other factor is that perhaps it’s not that women’s psyches struggle to mesh with business, but that business is somehow fundamentally flawed in its philosophy. If we had more women in leadership positions, I venture to say that the nature of business would change dramatically. Companies — and the world — might be run more from a place of cooperation than competition. You know how this line of thinking goes — less war, less famine, more unicorns dancing in the skies. But I think it’s true. Women have an important place at the table — the dinner one and the conference one.

I’ll have to give this all some more thought. And getting past the introduction of Sandberg’s book might be wise too. But for now, I have a load of laundry to finish and 46 emails to read.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced the impact of your sex on your work or career? 

27 Mar

You Should Know :: MissRepresentation’s #NotBuyingIt App

Current Events, Media Literacy, You Should Know No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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In the category with white chocolate M&Ms for things that I wish I had thought of first, MissRepresentation’s #NotBuyingIt app is one of the coolest things I’ve heard of recently. It joins the ranks of other apps I just love.

From the same folks that brought us that eye-opening film a couple years ago comes an app that brings media literacy to your finger tips.

The #NotBuyingIt idea was first made popular as simply a hashtag on Twitter. PolicyMic reports that the hashtag accompanied over 10,000 tweets during this year’s Super Bowl and reached almost four million people. The app takes that kind of grassroots consumer power to the next level.

The app combines the power of social media (Twitter, namely) as a higher tech “complaint department.” Users of the app can slap “#NotBuyingIt” onto an ad that they find offensive or degrading and let the company using the ad know how they feel. The app also allows mapping of where the most offensive ads are originating and which communities are taking the biggest stand.

The app is still in development and the creators are working to raise money to make it available. If it’s something you want to support, check out the fundraising page.

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