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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: mothers

21 Oct

The Impossible Task of Being a Post-Partum Princess

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Before my feminist leanings were in full swing and I wanted to grow up to be Margaret Thatcher, I, like many of the hopeful girls of my generation, fancied myself as a pretty rad princess wife to Prince William. I dreamt of charity work in remote villages during the day and donning my tiara at the state dinner in the evening (I’d transport between the two in my flying horse-drawn carriage, of course).

What didn’t make it into my pre-pubescent fantasy was hundreds of thousands of people commenting on Facebook images of my post-baby baby. Ms. Thatcher might have looked more appealing earlier on.

Right after the birth of the most anticipated baby since… Jesus?… Kate was lauded by mothers around the globe for donning her “real body” in public. Those first iconic images of Kate and Will with their bundle of joy showed an “imperfect” princess, one with a pronounced bump. She looked gorgeous, nonetheless.

I was among those who let out a celebratory cheer upon seeing Kate’s post-partum body. Having given birth just two months prior to Kate (also long-awaited, yet with comparatively less fanfare), I was both personally and socially relieved to see another new mom leave the hospital without six-pack abs.

Yes! I thought. Now that’s what a new mom looks like! That wasn’t entirely accurate, of course. For one, she looked awake. More than that, she was dressed and had her hair combed. So she was sort of what a new mom looks like.

Regardless, it was a refreshing image of semi-reality when we’re normally fed the media’s steady diet of airbrushed mamas and “banish the baby fat!” headlines.

This week we got a new slew of images of post-partum Kate, just three months out from George’s birth.  The pictures show a svelte princess playing volleyball in wedge heels at a charity event.

The Today Show posted the photo to Facebook and by the time I saw it, it had over a thousand comments. They ranged in tone from lauding Kate for the determination and commitment [the viewer assumed] it must take to return to her pre-baby size to decrying her thin physique for betraying millions of moms.

And in that moment, maybe for the first time, I felt sorry for the Princess. Now, sure, when you decide to marry Prince William, you sign on for your life to be played out in the public eye. But I have to wonder if you expect that your experience of bringing your child into the world will be so incredibly fraught with judgment about your body.

Kate’s body, vessel of her son’s beginnings and (reportedly) supplier of his nutrition, is now also subject to the world’s constant scrutiny. It begs the question, how much more can a woman’s body be to everyone? When does it stop belonging to the woman herself?

We love that she’s got pudge. Now we love that she doesn’t. Or we hate it. We are inspired or we are disappointed. We are proud of her or we are ashamed. We admire. We are jealous. We are skeptical.

And then maybe there are some of us who are indifferent. Thankfully. I imagine Kate likes people like that. But what do I know? We’re not in the same play group or anything.

The truth is that Kate’s body is and will continue to be the subject of thousands of articles, tweets, and lunch break conversations. And in the meantime, her body will continue to change, as our bodies do. Her breasts will stretch and shift and sleepless nights will add subtle lines and things just won’t feel the same as they used to.

And while I’d love to prance around the palace and get invitations to fancy parties, I’m happy to do without the world’s judgment about my body. I’m quite content to try to zip my old jeans in my own private little corner of the universe. It’s hard enough to do the work of mothering.

My wish for Kate, and for all mothers like and unlike her, is that she can go about the business, her business, of being a mama without Facebook commenters telling her if her post-partum body satisfies them or not.

09 Sep

Hey Schools, Quit Sending ‘Fat Letters’ and Mind Your Own Darn Business

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

With that introduction out of the way, let me back up a second to say that I think you have our children’s very best intentions at heart. I really do. I honestly commend you for the incredible work you do for our youth, often with very few resources.

But speaking of resources, I wish you’d use the limited ones at your disposal to focus on the important mission you have — educating and nurturing our future leaders.

In 19 states, children of higher weights not only had to worry about trying to find back-to-school clothes in larger sizes, but they had to face potentially demoralizing letters sent home to their parents about their weights. As if the standardized academic tests, gym class fitness tests, and, heck, the lunchroom, weren’t stressful enough for our kids, now you’re printing out their BMIs on letterhead and sending it home like a demerit.

Let’s first start with the fact that BMI is flawed. It never has, nor will it ever be, a great measure of an individual’s specific health status. For one, it does not differentiate between the sources or distribution of weight. We know, for example, that body fat around a mid-section tends to be more problematic, but BMI can’t tell you this information. Research tells us too that BMI does not need to necessarily be reduced in order to improve health outcomes. So if it’s not a good measure of illness – or health – why are we so obsessed with it?

There are plenty of kids in our educational system who could benefit from less time in front of their laptops and more time on the playground. But those kids come in all shapes and sizes. If we are so concerned with the health of our children, we could put our resources toward addressing barriers to physical activity — like lack of safety in communities and availability of parks and play spaces. We could provide educational initiatives directed at parents on how to engage children in a healthy and varied approach to eating.

Parents have a lot on their plates – pun totally intended. You may think that sending letters to them telling them their kid is fat is helpful, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. A letter doesn’t give parents the tools they need to inspire family changes toward health. It feels shaming, and shame leads to inaction, not action.

Finally, your however well-intentioned but misguided attempts to quell this obesity panic may have some unexpected consequences. By age 10, a third of girls and a fifth of boys say their weight is their number one worry. Number one! Not how they are going to get to Jamie’s house after school or even whether their parents are going to stay married, but their own weight. This anxiety about weigh can have dire results. Specifically, huge numbers of children are turning to dieting, which presents a big risk factor for children in developing unhealthy and dangerous eating behaviors, and sometimes eating disorders.

So we know that BMI is a poor indicator or health, all kids need help in creating healthy lifestyles, and a focus on BMI can lead to dangerous eating habits. So can we please rethink our focus here and start building playgrounds and improving the cafeteria fare instead of sending ‘fat letters’ home to vulnerable kids?

18 Feb

When Eating Disorder Treatment Fails

Guest Post 5 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Loved ones of those with eating disorders can find themselves feeling confused and helpless when treatment just doesn’t seem to be working, A psychologist, eating disorder expert, and a personal role model, Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner shares a bit of her wisdom here on NTS today about this difficult juncture in the recovery process.

When family members first learn that their loved one has an eating disorder, most are quick to ask an obvious question:  What’s the treatment?   Which is usually followed by another obvious question:  How long will it take?

Given that we’re talking about conditions with intimidating, Greek-derived names like Anorexia, it’d be easy to assume that medical and mental health professionals have this whole treatment thing figured out.  You’d think that all that data would lead us to a well-established treatment protocol—one administered consistently, reliably, invariably to patients around the world.  Something like an antibiotic for the food-impaired psyche.

Yet the reality is less constant and less comforting: Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder are conceptualized and treated in various ways.  In the story of eating disorder treatment, there is a loosely organized narrative, with many disparate threads.

You can imagine the disappointment and frustration most people feel when they learn this stark fact.  You may have felt that way, too.

Though we’re learning more all the time, eating disorder research is still in its infancy.

Here’s what we know:  Eating disorders most likely develop due to a multitude of factors which include genetics, ongoing biological processes, and environmental influences.  They are not “caused” by mom’s poor body image or dad’s vegetarianism; they are not inevitable in the children of adults who meet diagnostic criteria.  But there is evidence for heritability:  People are more likely to develop an eating disorder when a first-degree relative has one.  And we know that parental eating patterns, as well as attitudes about weight, impact children—for better or worse.

Here’s the good news:  There are some treatments that seem to be relatively good at reducing eating disorder symptoms.  But the most important word in that sentence is relatively.  Relative to other treatments, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is fairly effective for Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder.  Relative to other treatments, Family-Based Therapy is fairly effective for adolescents with Anorexia.

Sadly, this tells you very little about your loved one, and how he or she will respond to treatment.   And that’s the bad news.

During treatment, some individuals very quickly gain insight about why their difficulties began.  For example, many Anorexics will tell you that they actually didn’t feel particularly fat before the eating disorder began to eat away at their lives; rather, they were experiencing something overwhelming—either external circumstances or their own internal response–which seemed impossible to tolerate or control.  The answer, they found, was to restrict their caloric intake; this, at least, seemed to grant them a sense of mastery over their bodies (and lives).  But even an insight as profound as this does not guarantee weight restoration or recovery; for this, the individual actually needs to eat.

The act of eating, however, is never as simple as piling food on a fork and directing it toward a waiting mouth, just as refraining from vomiting is never as simple as avoiding a toilet.  These behaviors have meaning, and they become part of a set of behaviors around which the individual organizes her life.

So why isn’t treatment more successful at getting people to abandon these worn out patterns?

Treatment can stall for a laundry-list of reasons which include: physiological factors (either associated with the eating disorder, or co-occurring and unrelated); psychological factors, including undiagnosed or untreated conditions; attitudes and beliefs about recovery; therapeutic factors that relate to the type of treatment being conducted, the setting in which it takes place, or to the therapist; and environmental factors, which include things like family influence and the media.

But regardless of why your loved one may have plateaued in treatment (or even failed to leave the starting gate), you can take important steps like these to right her course and encourage recovery:

  1. Learn all you can about eating disorder treatment in order to determine whether your expectations are realistic.
  2. Share your concerns with the treatment team and ask how they think things are going.
  3. If necessary, get a second opinion; consult with another medical or mental health professional to get feedback about whether your loved one’s experience is typical or cause for alarm.
  4. Think about whether environmental factors might be reinforcing the eating disorder.  Some things to consider:  Is your loved one participating in activities—such as ballet or gymnastics—in which a thin body is idealized?  Is she benefiting from the eating disorder in any way, such as getting attention from parents or increased respect from peers?
  5. Talk with her directly to see whether or not she thinks she’s making good progress; it could be that her decision to refrain from “fat talk” with friends represents a major accomplishment in her eyes, even if she’s made little progress in changing her eating patterns.
  6.  Educate yourself about which eating disorder symptoms are most dangerous, so that you can assess how she’s doing, make informed decisions about her care, and accurately communicate your concerns with her treatment team.  For example, poor body image is generally less worrisome than vomiting after meals.

In some ways, eating disorder treatment can feel like the Wild West—vast, loosely mapped, and ruled by contending factions who each want to stake their claim.  But even on stretches of unmarked trail, we generally know how to steer (willing) people toward health and wholeness.

It is not enough.  It is what we have.  And with additional years of ongoing research, our cartography skills will only improve.

If you’d like to learn the specifics about why treatment fails, as well as why research findings don’t always apply to your child, please watch my video, “When Treatment Stalls or Fails: Why Your Child May Not Be Getting Better.”  You can find it on my website, ED Educate, (www.EDEducate.com). 

18 Dec

If You Really Knew Me: A ‘Full’ Lunch Does Not Equal a Full Life

If You Really Knew Me 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Below is one in the series of reader submissions called “If You Really Knew Me.” This moving post comes from a strong anonymous reader (and gifted writer, don’t you think?). If you are interested in participating, check out the details.

I watched my mom look over the dinner menu written on the refrigerator’s dry erase board. (The routine of outlining each week’s dinners is not just one of her compulsions. It’s a reminder for my dad, the house chef.)

It was Monday. According to the menu, dinner was “french toast.” My mom made, what I like to call, her “I’m-not-happy-about-this-but-don’t-want-to-offend-anyone” face.

A sigh.

“I don’t really want french toast for dinner. I had a ‘full’ lunch.”

“A ‘full’ lunch? What does that mean?” my dad asked.

“I had two pieces of bread with peanut butter instead of just one.”

“Oh.”

A pause.

“Well, what would you like instead of french toast?”

“I was thinking I’d make myself a salad,” my mom said.

A second pause.

“Whatever you want, my love.”

When I found out I’d be living with my parents for five weeks, I became incredibly anxious. Butterflies in my stomach fluttered furiously—and not just because I wanted to avoid awkward conversations like this one. My mom and I have serious issues with food, and serious issues with each other’s issues with food. (Hers represented pretty perfectly by the full lunch/french toast conversation.)

I was scared—and rightfully so. The last thing I wanted was to experience five weeks of binging, purging, and hating myself. Being home is one of my biggest triggers.

Instead of obsessing over my own intake of food, though, I spent my time in my childhood home observing my mother at mealtime. Watching her function around food was like watching an alcoholic surrounded by liquor. I realize this may not seem like a very healthy activity for a recovering anorexic; but actually, my mom’s disordered eating helped me continue to overcome my struggles. Her fear of food reminded me of a life I never wanted to return to.

I watched as she studied the calorie count and nutritional information printed on a bag of rolls; as she stood in front of the food cabinet debating what she’d like for dinner (this occurring when my dad, for the second night in a row, suggested french toast for dinner, and she, once again, refused); or as she expressed surprise—no, shock really—when I wanted pizza, and not a salad, one night for dinner.

My mom’s shock was warranted, though not exactly the response I wanted. For three years I battled severe anorexia—and for the next three, a bout with both anorexia and bulimia. Pizza was the last meal I’d ever suggest.

I realize it is nearly impossible for a person to understand what recovery looks like when engulfed in the throes of an eating disorder. But it would still be nice if my mother were to acknowledge my efforts at recovery—if she were to recognize that, actually, I’ve been eating pizza for a while now.

During those five weeks at home, I tried to mimic my dad’s eating habits rather than my mom’s. My dad eats joyfully. He’ll generously slather butter atop dinner rolls, eat fist-sized scoops of ice cream without a second thought, and inhale movie theater popcorn before the previews end. My dad has even been known to coat potato chips with margarine. (His excuse: He’s from a small town in Minnesota where such treats were considered “gourmet.”) Though I don’t necessarily enjoy each of my father’s favorite snacks—and I recognize they are not always very healthy—I do sometimes butter my dinner roll, a huge accomplishment for a recovering anorexic.

Mom, I realize that for you restriction equals fulfillment. But life is so much more than a “full” lunch. While I’m sure you’ve heard something to that effect before, I hope one day you’ll believe it. (You are, after all, nearly 60.)

And I hope you’ll listen as I tell you a few things I’ve learned from watching your food obsessions and compulsions over these past 25 years:

  1. Eating eight pretzels instead of seven won’t kill you, no matter what the serving size is.
  2. A half cup of frozen yogurt and five animal crackers isn’t an indulgent dessert.
  3. Weighing the same amount on my wedding day as you did on your own is not an achievement. And telling me this fact on my wedding day—just 30 minutes before I said my vows—wasn’t cool. And it was kind of weird.
  4. When you’re hungry, a few carrot sticks aren’t going to cut it.
  5. Asking a recovering anorexic if three pounds of weight gain “look okay” on you doesn’t help my recovery. In fact, it does the opposite.
  6. Two slices of bread with peanut butter isn’t a “full” lunch. It’s called a sandwich. And one sandwich doesn’t warrant eating a few pieces of lettuce for dinner.

You have an eating disorder, mom. I know I’ve told you this before, but it’s up to you to acknowledge and accept it and learn to live otherwise. I hope you do. And though I realize I sound bitter, cynical—and frankly, just pissed off—know that I’m here to support and love you.

And please, eat a piece of french toast once in a while.

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