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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: relationships

02 Dec

When Couples Face an Eating Disorder

Ideas to Consider 1 Comment by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


{via Creative Commons}

I read a disturbing piece a few weeks ago about a man in the U.K. who became so enraged at his girlfriend for failing to eat his mother’s cooking that he ended up stabbing her with a fork and knife. The injuries resulted in the woman suffering a collapsed lung. The woman reportedly had an eating disorder.

Andrew Auwkit, the attacker, called the woman a “fussy eater,” according to court reports, and lunged at her chest with the cutlery. The judge in the case described Auwkit as losing his temper when his girlfriend did not “appreciate” the meal.

While obviously extreme, this horrendous event made me think about all of the couples out there in which one partner struggles with an eating disorder. It’s not often that you hear of an eating disorder spurring physical violence, but I most certainly hear often of the immense stress the eating disorder puts on a relationship. In a situation in which a partner has a propensity for violence, I can easily see how someone can end up hurt.

What about those couples in which a partner might not resort to physical aggression, but still lacks the capacity to deal with the stress and strain a challenging mental condition puts on a relationship? The result might not be a collapsed lung or even any mark that can be seen by the naked eye, but that doesn’t mean that harm is not the outcome.

That harm can manifest as vicious insults or verbal slaps in the face, nasty threats or exasperated shakes of the head. Perhaps more often than not, it looks like nothing at all: partners living on opposite ends of the house, speaking infrequently in a deafening silence. It’s the kind of harm that someone walking in doesn’t see, but they certainly feel.

Couples dealing with eating disorders contend with a third member of their relationship: an insidious disease that can occupy their home and hearts. To borrow from Jenni Schaefer’s description of the eating disorder as a nasty ex-boyfriend cleverly named Ed, the “other man” (or “other woman,” as the case may be) isn’t just seen on the sly. Over time, he moves himself on in and becomes part of the fabric of the relationship.

Another recovery-advocate and writer, Shannon Cutts, has a quote I love. She says that “relationships replace eating disorders.” I think that this goes both ways. Eating disorders, if left untreated, begin to replace and erode relationships. People will come to my office and swear that despite their eating concerns, their relationships have been left unscathed. Sadly, with just a bit of minor digging, serious cracks are revealed. I hate to overgeneralize, but I feel confident in this case in saying: eating disorders destroy relationships.

It might not mean violence or threats or verbal lashings, but eating disorders prevent true intimacy. One cannot be preoccupied by something (food, weight, etc.), hiding something, and caught in a shame spiral, and have a healthy relationship.  It doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, partners (like caregivers) only rarely get the support they need to learn how to manage their own feelings about the intruder in their relationship. Dr. Cynthia Bulik and her team at the University of North Carolina have tried to address this with their UCAN (Uniting Couples in the treatment of Anorexia Nervosa) study. The program evaluates treatments to so that we can determine what approaches help couples best face these illnesses.

We need more programs like this. We need to support not only individuals in addressing their eating disorders, but couples and families in doing the same. If partners want to be involved, they should be. If they don’t want to be involved in treatment, that should be explored. Often there’s fear or denial behind that stance, and it might take time and education to help them understand that their participation is

Do I think that support could have prevented the tragedy that happened in the UK? Considering Auwtik was released from prison the day the attack occurred, maybe not. But could other harm, the more subtle, but also toxic kind of harm that so many couples face, be avoided with supported? I think so.

Do you think it’s helpful to include partners and other family members in treatment? Should they receive their own counseling? 

08 Jul

Who’s on Your Personal Board of Directors?

Ideas to Consider 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


Your BOD may look like this — or not…

{image source}

I’ve discovered over the past few months that the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” is spot on. But I’ve also learned that all the villagers do not get equal voting privileges.

Becoming a new mother has meant relying heavily on a community of support, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have it available. If you’ve had a child or gotten married or been in a job search — you’re familiar with the fact that everyone seems to have an opinion about the right way to do things.

Swaddling helps babies hem feel safe and sleep soundly.

But swaddling will kill your child! 

Just invite your closest friends and family. Weddings are sacred events. 

A big wedding is so much fun. Everyone wants to celebrate with you! And you don’t want to offend your grandmother’s neighbor, Berta.

Send as many resumes as you can out. Litter the streets!

It’s a waste of time to even apply to jobs. Just network!

Arrrgh! It’s enough to make your head spin, particularly when you’re in high stress situation. It’s easy to get caught up in the tornado of advice and feel spit out just as confused in the end, but now even more stressed.

So, where’s the balance between support and total overload? How do you know who to listen to? And what about listening to yourself? Where do you come in?

I like to think about electing a personal Board of Directors. From major corporations to tiny non-profits, Boards of Directors are relied upon to be the voices of authority and reason when it comes to decisions. They are made up of a group of specially equipped individuals who each bring a unique and important viewpoint to the table.

My friend Rachel, for example, is my own Chief Career Officer. While she’s in a totally different field than I am, she’s always been a model to me of someone who can advocate for themselves in the workplace and balance home and office life. When I’m stuck about something like how to ask for more vacation days, I turn to her.

Sure, I could post on Facebook that I need help figuring out how to talk to my boss. And maybe crowdsourcing my issue will generate some creative ideas. But what if my boss – or someone else at work – sees my status? Would I be cool with that? And what if (and this is likely) I get fifteen different opinions? How the heck will I know what to do then?

So that’s where Rachel comes in. She’s smart, trust-worthy, and most importantly, she knows ME.

Anyone can dish out advice on whether white peonies make the best bouquet, but only your those on your personal BOD will know that they are special to you because they were your grandmother’s favorite flower.

Take a few minutes and think about who you might elect. You might want someone for financial advice, someone for family issues. There might be someone else who you can count on to keep you sane on body issues, while another friend is your relationship guru.

The important thing is that these are people you trust and who will keep your best interest in mind. They remember that you hate kale despite the hype and that your relationship with your mom has always been complicated.

But the most important person on your BOD? The CEO. And that’s you! Ultimately, you’ll have the make the important calls. Even after being advised by your trusted group, you’ll need to do some soul searching, especially with the tough stuff. And sometimes you’ll also have to make the call to replace someone on your BOD.

So who would you appoint to your Board of Directors?


28 May

June: A Month of Spreading Kindness

Ideas to Consider 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

What if I told you that there was a simple thing that you could do for yourself to help boost your social life, increase your positive feelings, improve your relationships? What if I told you that you wouldn’t really be doing something for yourself at all? At least not directly…


{image via pinterest}

Research is emerging demonstrating that random acts of kindness – those sweet gestures you do for the guy passing by, just because – not only benefit the recipient, but also the doer. Maybe it’s intuitive. I know I personally feel a surge of positive feelings when I help someone out and expect nothing in return. But now we have some solid evidence to back up the idea that spreading kindness changes us all.

In one recent study, University of British Columbia researchers asked socially anxious participants to complete “kind acts” on two days per week for a month. Simple enough, right? It could be anything from saying thank you to someone who normally doesn’t get acknowledged to buying someone a cup of coffee. They found that this group, as compared to a “neutral” group, demonstrated an increase in positive affect and better social functioning.

It makes sense, right? Performing random acts of kindness puts us out there and gives us reason to engage and pay attention to others. It’s these things factors exactly that make me believe that this could have really helpful effects for individuals struggling with eating concerns.

So often, disordered eating evolves into an angry little monster who keeps those struggling from truly engaging with others and the world. People start to hide away because of guilt, shame, and negative feelings about their bodies and themselves. Even when they are physically “out there,” they might not truly be engaged and present.

Doing small kind acts for others could totally shift that. It gets us out of our own heads — dangerous places to be sometimes — and back into connecting with others. It also gives us a surge of pride and satisfaction to know that we’ve brought a moment of joy into someone else’s life.

So, in that spirit, I’m committing to making June a month of random acts of kindness. My goal will be, like the researchers suggested, to perform acts on at least two days per week. If I do more, great! If anyone else would like to commit, I’d love to know about it in the comments below. It would also be great to hear about what kinds of acts of which you’ve been the doer/giver or the recipient. I need some ideas for the next thirty days!

So, what do you think?


let’s generate a list of random of acts of kindness that we might be willing to try.

26 Feb

10 Tips on Accepting a Compliment

Ideas to Consider 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

As my belly has expanded over the past nine months, I’ve experienced total wonderment looking at my changing body. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Pregnancy has brought with it an attention that I never would have imagined. With pregnancy, I’ve learned, everyone feels particularly compelled to comment on your  physical state. Let it be known that I’m not complaining about this – I just find it fascinating. In a culture that tends to be so uncomfortable with the idea of weight gain and so quick to bash the belly, pregnancy is a totally different story.

If I added up the number of times I’ve been told I look “cute” in the past week, it would certainly be larger the sum total of the times I’ve been told that across the course of my life. Meanwhile, while I adore the experience of pregnancy, as a full term pregnant woman, I can’t say I always feel cute (though sometimes I certainly do!).

While my inclination at times is to tell the complimenter how I really feel (be it swollen, icky, sore, etc.), I’ve been using this experience to master the art of accepting a compliment. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned that rejecting someone’s expression of praise hurts the person, me, and the relationship. Who wants to be told their wrong (directly or indirectly) when trying to be nice?

I’ve come up with the following tips for accepting a compliment, and they’ve made the art of graciousness much easier.

1. Say, ”Thank you.” Then stop. That’s it. With accepting compliments, less is often more. This is particularly useful when you have a strong urge to negate what the person has just said.

2. Say, “Wow, aren’t you kind! I appreciate that.” This response expresses three things, all of which help in further developing a relationship. It accepts the compliment. It reciprocates the compliment (telling the person they are kind). And it communicates how you feel to receive it (appreciative).

3. Practice with people close to you. Sometimes it’s easier to challenge yourself to accept compliments from those close to you, before moving on to the cashier at the pharmacy or your c0-worker. Let your family or close friends know that you’re working on accepting compliments so that they can call you out when you slip (or, hopefully, praise you further when succeed!).

4. Clue the person in to the details. If someone says that she loves your belt, spread the love by telling her about the great thrift store in your neighborhood where you picked it up. If someone compliments how you incorporated humor in the presentation you just gave, let him know how you were inspired by a particularly great speaker you saw last year. This kind of response helps establish a nice connection.

5. Respond by saying, “That makes me feel _______.” Possible emotions could be appreciated, understood, happy, honored, touched,  and so on. Letting the person know how their words made you feel will make them feel better. And who doesn’t love that kind of feel-good loop!

6. Acknowledge others if appropriate. If other people were involved in what you are getting praised for, share that! First, thank the person, and then clue them in to who helped out. For example, “I really appreciate you saying that! I worked hard, and I also couldn’t have done it without my team.”

7. Practice in the mirror. Cheesy? Totally. Useful? Totally again. Some people I’ve worked with didn’t realize that they actually cringe when given a compliment until they started watching their own reactions in a mirror. Once they were more aware, practicing their responses while having to face themselves only made them that much more comfortable.

8. Compliment the other person. But don’t overdo it. It’s great to turn the love around, but just make sure you’re not doing it at your own expense or being over the top. Do not respond with a comparison (e.g. “Thanks for saying you like my haircut, but yours is honestly so much cuter!”). It diminishes their compliment (it’s almost a way of one-upping, actually) and makes you look uncomfortable and potentially ungrateful.

9. Say, “It’s great to hear that because I respect you so much.” When it’s appropriate, and true, this is a great response. It offers a reciprocal compliment, but doesn’t negate what the person is saying nor take the focus off of you.

10. Focus on the body language. Accepting a compliment doesn’t stop at the words — body language is especially important too. Notice your stance and facial expressions when you receive praise. If you’re crossing your arms, folding yourself smaller, looking down, or (please no!) rolling your eyes, your body is not accepting the compliment, even if you’re mouth is.

What is it like for you to accept compliments? What other tips can you share?


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