Whatever your age or relationship status, living with another person has its ups and downs. For Highly Sensitive People, living with anyone can be especially challenging – for either or both parties. You may think that you would automatically know how to live with a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) when you’re sensitive too. That may be true — sometimes. But it is a big assumption. Let’s unpack it.
As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you were born with a unique inherited trait.
The genetic trait causes you to feel emotions intensely and to think deeply. You absorb more information than other people do, and you process it in a more complex manner. You’re also highly attuned to your physical environment, including sounds, sights, air temperature, and tactile sensations. You naturally notice more quickly than others do when something changes or is askew. Details that are not even on anyone else’s radar are blaring to you. Another thing you automatically pick up on are people’s feelings. Even when they themselves may not recognize their own feelings.
As an HSP, you are more easily stimulated. At times this translates to feeling overwhelmed, either in a positive way (e.g. awed) or not so much (e.g. prone to tears). Your nervous system is calibrated in the same way as the other 15% of the population who are born with the High Sensitive trait.
And that calibration means your system is more finely tuned and responsive at lower levels of stimulation.
If you are a Highly Sensitive Person and live with someone else who is sensitive, you two likely ‘get’ each other. Especially if you are both familiar with the trait. But to assume rainbow-and-butterflies-roommate bliss when you are a Highly Sensitive Person and live with someone who is also Highly Sensitive is quite possibly a setup for storms – with no rainbow.
What are the challenges of living with a Highly Sensitive Person when you’re sensitive too?
4. Families with a mixture of HSP and non HSP family members should keep all temperments in mind.
Among families there are different configurations of High Sensitivity. For example, a child who is a Highly Sensitive Person may live with family members who are also sensitive, and with some who aren’t. In such a situation, making sure everyone respects each other’s quirks, temperament, and preferences is an ongoing process.
How to live with a Highly Sensitive Person when you are highly sensitive too is no different from when any two people living together. The same codes of conduct apply: Respect each other; Be kind; Cooperate/Share; Don’t hold a grudge; and Keep communication open.
The good ol’ Golden Rule applies whether you are a Highly Sensitive Person or not.
I enjoy helping Highly Sensitive People create a life of balance and joy – Especially people who have been told over and over again that they are just too sensitive.
Someone you love has been diagnosed with an eating disorder. You Monday morning quarterback and rack your brain. Would your loved one even have an eating disorder if you had known about subtle warning signs of eating disorders? Maybe. Maybe not. In any event, please do not take on the eating disorder as your fault. Because it is not your — or any one person’s — fault.
One of the hard things when it comes to eating disorders is how to differentiate — in people of any sex, sexual orientation, age, or demographic — what’s normal and what’s considered clinical. You may wonder “is this part of being a fill-in-the-blank (teenager/woman/athlete)? Or, is it a sign of a problem?” The “this” could be just about anything – negative body image, certain eating behaviors, or various exercise patterns.
Diet Culture makes differentiating warning signs of eating disorder behaviors hard to evaluate. Especially when disguised as ‘clean eating’, ‘healthy lifestyle’, or ‘wellness.’ They all mean the same thing.
Remember, eating disorders are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural risk factors — including genetics. In people who are genetically predisposed, subtle warning signs add up quickly and create the perfect storm.
Here are 10 subtle warning signs of eating disorders:
1. Bathroom use Discretely going to the bathroom after eating something is a common warning sign of eating disorders. Often the reason is to induce purging. Notice if you hear the water faucet running for an unusually long period of time. The running water sound is to drown out any evidence you might otherwise be able to hear.
2. Food rules This could be an entire book! There are so many. Here are some examples:
- not eating after a certain time of day
- waiting until a certain time of day before eating anything
- eating only a certain number of calories or grams of a nutrient like fat
- insisting that food can’t touch on the plate
- at restaurants only ordering salad, with dressing on the side
- declining any invitations that involve food, even with friends
3. Inflexible routines The eating disorder becomes the center, around which everything else revolves. This focus influences anything and everything else a person does or thinks during the day.
4. Unusual interest in what other people eat. Vicarious eating is common. In other words, eating ‘through’ watching or talking about what other people are eating.
5. Sudden interest in nutrition, food labels, additives/preservatives. And spending time scouring the nutrition information on products. Looking up nutrition information online before eating is another example.
6. Preoccupation with ‘clean’ eating, Aka dieting, ‘just being healthy’, or some other word that is a stand in for restriction.
7. Viewing Cooking shows, food related videos, or recipes on the internet becomes a regular part of the day.
8. Irritability, whether from the effects of restriction or due to having binged, she has mood fluctuations that are somewhat new.
10. Sneaking exercise, to compensate for what she’s eaten.
And 10 more….
11. Lying about food, exercise, and eating disorder behaviors. Denial of having a problem is common too.
12. Sudden decision to become a vegetarian/vegan, and the decision does not come from a place of animal rights.
13. Frequent use of scale to weigh self, or starting to use a food scale to measure the amount of food before eating it.
14. Excuses to avoid meals with family/friends, such as “Oh I already ate at Megan’s house”,
15. Wearing oversized/baggy clothing to camouflage body.
16. Monitors and compares own intake with others; “the rule” is to consume less than other people at the table.
17. Zoned out expression, due to hunger/malnutrition or preoccupation with eating disorder symptoms.
18. Strange combinations of food, including certain condiments.
19. Insistence on preparing all food herself in order to have complete control over ingredients and quantity.
20. Unusual forms of eating behavior, such as pulling food apart with fingers.
There are many other early warning signs, and the presence of any of the above does not mean the the person is necessarily destined to have an eating disorder.
Plus, the early warning signs for eating disorders vary depending on the type of eating disorder. Early signs of anorexia nervosa, for example, may be different from those of Binge Eating Disorder.
Regardless of the specific thoughts and behaviors, all disordered eating and eating disorders begin with some form of a diet. Or a decision ‘to eat healthy’. Or ‘to lose weight and get in better shape.” The diet could be recommended by a physician, family member, or friend. Even by a Health Education teacher. Or a coach.
Eating disorders are serious conditions, even at times deadly. The symptoms don’t go away on their own. Early recognition of subtle waring signs of eating disorders will shorten the duration of the disorder. And, early treatment is key in full recovery.
And with treatment, full recovery is absolutely possible.
I have specialized in treating people with eating disorders for over twenty years and know personally and professionally that recognizing warning signs can make a huge difference in whether a full blown eating disorder develops. Please contact me if you would like to know more.
Most of us judge people by their appearance. And more specifically, by their weight. Weight stigma, weight bias, and weight discrimination are real. Even though we know we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover”, we often do. Judgments can be so automatic that breaking free from idolizing body image ideals is challenging. Or maybe not even on our radar as something worth doing.
But, breaking free from idolizing an ideal body image is totally worth doing. That is, if you want to have a better relationship with your own body, improved self esteem, and a sense of worth based more on who you are than on your weight.
So where do you start? Let’s start with the concept of judgment.
Judgments are based on a reference point.
Most of us automatically judge attractiveness and worth using the culturally defined reference point of the” ideal body”. Culture values thinness at all costs and automatically equates it with beauty and worth. We tend to accept and even idolize the cultural definition of the ideal body image. No questions asked.
But questioning the cultural ideal body image is exactly what we must do in order to break free from it.
Otherwise, we buy into idolizing unrealistic cultural standards of body image ideals. Colluding with culturally defined standards contributes to chronic dieting, negative body image, eating disorders, and overall disempowerment. Hence, buying into this system is known as colluding with “the Life Thief.“
The cultural definition of the ideal body image changes over time. The idolization of it, however, does not. Beauty standards are typically based on whatever is most difficult to achieve in that time in history.
There are lots of reasons breaking free from idolizing the body image ideal is hard to do. For one, it means you must distance yourself from the culturally defined reference point. And rejecting Diet Culture makes you a rebel who risks being viewed in a negative light. Another reason breaking free from idolizing the body image ideal is challenging is because you then have to find other ways to feel worthy.
We live in a society where looks and first impressions matter. And define worth.
So do the number of Facebook/Instagram ‘likes’ we receive. The ‘likes’ are considered evidence that we’re attractive, liked, and worthy. Even though the images are altered. And the likes are not based on much substance beyond what meets the eye.
To get more social media likes, we use filters to make us look more “attractive”. Usually more “attractive” means editing selfies so we look thinner or more toned. More attractive. Sexier.
All of this sheds light on why resilience in the world of the powerful beauty/body image ideal is such a big ask.
So much of an ask that you may wonder if it’s really possible to break free from idolizing an ideal body image.
In our visual and virtual culture, our bodies are ourselves.
We define ourselves in a culturally prescribed way. The cultural prescription says “thin is good. Fat is bad”. If you’re not thin, then you’re fat. If you’re fat, you’re ugly, bad, and destined for misery. Or so says Diet Culture and its idealized body image.
Feeling ashamed of our bodies translates to being ashamed of our selves.
If you’re feeling shame about your body, telling yourself you shouldn’t feel shame makes it worse. Or at least does not help.
So how do you reject, rather than idolize, a prescribed ideal body image?
Consider these three suggestions for how to break free from idolizing an idealized body image:
1. Remind yourself of the historical, socio-cultural, and environmental roots of the idealized body image. Recognize that you have a choice in the degree to which you drink that Kool-aid.
2. Remember the quote attributed to Ghandi’? “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Why not? If not you, then whom? If not now, then when?
3. Another person in history to keep in mind is the anthropologist Margaret Mead. She is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.” YOU can be part of such a group.
You are free to choose to idolize culturally defined body image ideals as the way to define your worth.
You have other options, though. Including the option to find your own unique values to define your worth. Especially values that come from the inside. As opposed to values based on appearance, weight, and the number of likes on your Instagram posts.
Explore, discover, and be curious about your Authentic Self.
Living authentically is more rewarding than living your life based on cultural values about ideal body image will ever be. At least give it a try!
I love working with people as they discover the choices available to them, especially when their relationship with their body and self is involved. Begin within! Please contact me to learn more.
Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in America? About 40 million Americans have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Depression is also common, affecting about 20 million adults in this country. Despite being so common, anxiety and depression aren’t often talked about. Here are some inspiring and surprising facts about anxiety and depression you may not know.
1. Both anxiety and depression affect how you feel and think. And how you handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.
Most of us feel overwhelmed and even panicky at times. Especially lately, with the global pandemic.
Uncertainty tends to cause unsettling feelings. So does focusing on bad things that could happen in the future. I call future oriented thinking “What if’ing”. “What if’ing” easily leads down a rabbit hole of negative, catastrophic thoughts. And can cause anxiety or depression to skyrocket.
For our cavemen and cavewomen ancestors, “what if’ing” had major survival benefits though. It allowed our species to continue! Assuming or predicting the worse possible outcome kept our ancestors safe. As in better safe than sorry.
2. For some of us, anxiety or depression is temporary. For others, episodic or constant.
Another fact about anxiety and depression is that they show up in different forms. Examples of anxiety disorders include OCD, Phobias, Post traumatic Stress, Generalized Anxiety, Social anxiety, or some combination of any of them. Depression can be chronic and low grade, intense and episodic, related to a medical condition, or some combination thereof.
3. The good news is anxiety disorders and depression are completely treatable. Unfortunately, only about a third of people receive treatment.
Depression and anxiety are different, but symptoms of both can easily overlap. Feeling irritable, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, and being nervous are common in both.
Depression or anxiety don’t cause the other, but many people suffer from both.
Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both are effective ways to treat anxiety and/or depression. Certain lifestyle behaviors, such as spending time in nature, help with anxiety or depression.
4. So what are the facts about anxiety or depression that are surprising or inspiring?
Well, anxiety can actually help to keep you safe. (Kind of like it did for our ancestors.) For example, say you go for a run alone in the park. Anxiety helps keep you alert to any threat in your surroundings. So if a large, unleashed dog were to run toward you, for example, anxiety would kick in and help you stay safe. Another example is when you are preparing for a presentation, exam, or concert, feeling anxious motivates you to prepare.
As for depression, a benefit may be in what it is communicating to you. For example, maybe it is telling you that something in your life needs to change. Feeling miserable due to work or in your relationship alerts you that it’s time to make some changes.
Be aware though that there is no such thing as a geographic cure. Sometimes the cause of depression is not due to something outside of you, like a job or relationship, but due to pent up feelings.
Anxiety and/or depression are also a normal, understandable response to stressful events – like with what is happening in the world right now with the global pandemic. Anxiety doesn’t have to take over though. Nor does depression. Healthy outlets to express anxiety and depression keep them from festering.
5. Is it anxiety or ‘just stress’? Is it depression or ‘just sadness’?
Distinguishing between normal, everyday feelings and more serious conditions is not easy. Especially if feeling anxious or depressed seems like it’s just who you are.
One way to tell the difference is to keep a feelings journal for at least two weeks. Look back on it and see if there are any themes or indicators to help you recognize patterns.
If you have a family history of anxiety or depression, you’re more likely to experience either or both. However, you don’t necessarily have these conditions, nor are you are destined to suffer.
There are things you can do if you have anxiety and/or depression to help yourself feel better. Exercise, yoga, having a pet, time in nature, and being in therapy are ways people help themselves out of the abyss of depression or the whirlwind of anxiety.
Finding the balance between recognizing all feelings are normal and welcome can be tricky. Feeling anxious or depressed is a natural reaction to what life has in store at times. If however the anxiety or depression last more than two weeks, cause problems in your relationships, health, and/or career, please seek professional help.
You deserve to feel better and live a higher quality of life.
For more information about anxiety or depression, please contact me.
Parents often blame themselves when their child has an eating disorder. Or they blame the child. The cause of eating disorders is way more complicated than faulting parents or the child. When parents know about risk factors for eating disorders, they recognize just how complex these disorders are.
Risk factors for eating disorders come from both Nature (genetics, biology) and Nurture (environment, culture).
The factors combine in a particular way that then leads to eating disorders.
So, the cause of an eating disorder is never just one thing. It is way more complicated than that.
That means there is no single gene that CAUSES eating disorders, nor are cultural pressures for thinness THE cause of eating disorders.
The three categories of risk factors for eating disorders that every parent needs to know come from:
1. Biology/Genetics (Nature)
2. Psychology (Nurture) and
3. Culture (Nurture)
Factors from all three categories combine and result in an eating disorder.
Triggering events distinguish why some people with risk factors from the three categories develop eating disorders and some don’t.
What’s a triggering event? Well, it could be something like a loss, such as the death of family member, friend, or pet. Or a parents’ divorce. Maybe a geographic move of a best friend. Or some other transition, such as to a new school. Even a medical problem, be it a chronic disease diagnosis, surgery, or an injury, can be a trigger.
BIOLOGICAL/GENETIC risk factors for eating disorders:
Biological risks predispose people to eating disorders. Genetics account for 40-60% of liability for eating disorders.
- Genetic relative: Having a first degree relative (e.g. parents, sibling) with an eating disorder is a risk factor.
2. Relative with a mental health condition: Having a relative with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or other psychiatric illness increases risk.
3. Early menarche: Girls whose first period is earlier than their peers’ are at higher risk.
PSYCHOLOGICAL risk factors for eating disorders include:
SOCIAL/CULTURAL risk factors for eating disorders include:
- Diet Culture: The number one risk factor in this category is the societal pressure to be thin. Diet Culture is the toxic system of beliefs that idealizes thinness and connects weight and morality.
Weight discrimination is the norm in Diet Culture. So is categorizing food as good or bad.
Living in Diet Culture negatively affects your relationship to your own body and your children’s relationship with their body.
Dieting is ineffective for sustained weight loss in almost 100 percent of people. When dieting no longer works, eating disorder behaviors such as fasting, restricting, and purging can easily develop.
2. Teasing: Approximately 60% of people report a history of being teased.
3. Appearance ideal internalization. Striving to have the socially-defined “ideal body” is harmful. Dieting becomes normalized as a ticket to success.
Eating disorders develop for lots of reasons. Biological, psychological, and cultural factors, along with a triggering event, create a perfect storm.
There are little, everyday things you can do to decrease the risk of an eating disorder for your child. For example, don’t comment on your own or other people’s weight. Focus instead on non-appearance related qualities. Don’t label food as good or bad. Food is just food. Food doesn’t have morals attached to it. Eat a full range and variety of food, and enjoy it! Encourage your child to do so too.
If you yourself have an eating disorder, please get treatment. You deserve that, and so does your child.
While eating disorders may not be 100% preventable, you can absolutely decrease the risk for your child. And for yourself.
For more information, please contact me.
What it’s like for Highly Sensitive People (HSP) in an insensitive world varies, from painful to blissful.
One unfortunate commonality for Highly Sensitive People in an insensitive world is that big things and little things easily and often feel like “too much.”
Western Culture in particular causes and reinforces that High Sensitivity is a bad thing to be born with.
Why? Because you notice “little things”– such as a shirt tag grazing against the base of your neck, the muted sound of sirens in the distance, or subtle disapproval in a friend’s tone. And your nervous system alerts you. Kind of like when a smoke detector activates. (But the same kinds of things don’t activate the smoke detectors of the 85% of people who do not have the High Sensitivity trait.)
And boy oh boy, life sure can feel like “too much” – because you REALLY NOTICE and REALLY FEEL the impact of your senses, of your empathy, of your way of deep thinking.
And those ‘really’s’, especially in this culture, easily lead you to feel as if something is wrong with YOU.
Sensitivity is typically considered a weakness or flaw – or at best, not a strength. At least in Western culture. (In Asian cultures, for example, high sensitivity is considered a strength and is admired.) As a result, there is lots of ‘proof’ from those around you that your (HSP) response is not normal. And that the culturally normative (insensitive?!) response IS normal.
The 85% or so of the population who do not have the HSP trait may not even notice or only be slightly put off by whatever has catapulted you into system overload.
People who are not Highly Sensitive ask, “why must you be so dramatic?”
And then you, as a Highly Sensitive Person, eventually collude with the majority and come to see your innate hard wiring as bad. Wrong. Too much. And you believe you need to find a way to be less sensitive.
Plot twist: You don’t need to find a way to be less sensitive.
Reminder: Traits are hard wired and can not be transformed. If your eyes are blue, you can’t wish them to be brown. Your foot size is your foot size, even if you wish your feet were a different size.
Highly Sensitive People living in an insensitive world experience a lot of “extra’s”.
The extra’s can be delightful (e.g. noticing two cardinals playfully chirping as they fly from branch to branch) or intolerable (e.g. bright lights shining in your eyes). Package deal.
When you deem something in your environment to be extra loud, extra sharp, extra warm/cold, or extra anything, people around you may pejoratively label you as ‘extra sensitive’.
What for others are at most minor annoyances, for you are energy zaps.
You can’t ignore the shrill beeping of the symbolic smoke detector. People in close proximity hardly notice. Some do not even hear/smell/feel/see it. But it causes you to want/need to escape. The sensory stimulation of whatever type from whatever source deluges your nervous system.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world can be lonely.
Knowing about and recognizing the trait is an invitation to make friends with it. When you do, your ‘weakness’ becomes a source of strength and vitality.
Just about everything you process is intense because you were born with a biological difference in your nervous system. The high sensitivity trait means what you see, hear, touch, taste, and experience are deeply processed and can naturally lead to feeling depleted.
As if you have nothing left.
Fortunately, you can replenish in a quiet, low stimulating setting, and give your nervous system some time to recalibrate.
Highlights of what it is like for a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world include:
1. Emotion Hangovers:
2. Bumpier Transitions:
Even if the change is positive, such as going on a vacation, you take longer to adapt. Acclimating to changes throughout the day can also take extra time and effort. You probably aren’t a huge fan of change, nor do you likely adapt easily or quickly.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world can feel like you ‘should’ be more adept at adapting to the next thing, whatever that may be.
3. Cry readily:
Because of your innate deep processing, empathy, and intensity of feelings, you are more prone to cry. Your threshold for what is considered crying-worthy is considered low. But only because of how deeply you process and feel, and how misunderstood your style of processing is in this culture.
As a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world, you may be called a crybaby. Or have been shamed for crying.
You tend to be more reactive to blood sugar ups and downs. Low blood sugar impacts you more negatively and suddenly. Irritability, intolerance, and cognitive fuzziness are signs that your blood sugar needs tending to. (As in, Eat!)
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you are more prone to becoming hangry. Especially because other people may not realize how quickly and intensely you react to low blood sugar. And you may not feel comfortable advocating for food in certain settings, such as in a work meeting.
5. Deemed shy, weird, anxious, or something else inaccurate:
Our culture that has strong views on what is normal and of value. Nonconformists of any type are misunderstood. As if there is something fundamentally wrong – with them, rather than with the standards for reference.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world can render you to feel like a misfit.
Sensitivity is thought of as ‘girly’, feminine, and a flaw. Standards that tend to be valued are patriarchal: Stoic, conventional, strong, unwavering.
Your nervous system is wired to readily respond to subtle stimuli. You are more likely to startle when you hear an unexpected sound (even music) or are in an unfamiliar environment – even if both are considered benign.
As a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world you’re more often on edge or distracted. Rather than others recognizing you have a nervous system that is highly attuned to what is going on around you.
To you, there is nothing “over” about “overanalyzing”. Your brain is wired that way.
You are just thinking. And when you think, you process many facets and angles, many of which are not even remotely on others’ radar.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an unsensitive world means you are more likely than not used to be told you are “overthinking this” or “belaboring the point.”
8. Strong reaction to criticism
Because of the way you are wired, you react to criticism with deep processing and feeling. Add to this what is reinforced from culture, family, friends– that there is something de facto wrong with you at your core. Criticism intensifies the hurt.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you are often misunderstood and considered high maintenance.
9. “Can’t take a joke“:
Even though people making the ‘joke’ may not mean to be hurtful, the jokes may be hurtful. Especially because you naturally process comments multidimensionally.
People making the joke may actually not recognize that the joke is hurtful; their mind works more uni-dimensionally. Your genuine empathy translates to easily recognizing what could hurt someone else’s (or your own) feelings.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you may have to remind yourself that you find funny jokes funny, and other jokes not so much.
If the joke were funny to you, you would laugh.
10. People pleasing:
Being a Highly Sensitive Person in an insensitive world means you may face temptation to pretend. To pretend that you want to do what everyone else is doing (e.g. going to church/synagogue as a family) or feel the way others feel (e.g. excited about a concert).
Educating yourself about the high sensitivity trait can make all the difference in the world.
The trait, with you from birth, can transform into one of your biggest assets.
Learning about the High Sensitivity trait allows you to appreciate it more. Especially when you use the knowledge to support your highly attuned nervous system.
The way you experience the warm sunlight reflecting off the beautifully heart shaped leaf on the tree by the lake is something you wouldn’t trade for the world.
There is nothing “too …..” about you. You are just right.
And that, my Fellow HSP, is extra awesome.
If you would like more information about how to thrive alongside your HSP tribe, please contact me.
Negative body image has some surprising effects. For the sake of this discussion, “body image” refers to the relationship you have with your body.
The relationship I’m talking about includes your thoughts and feelings about your body, your perception of its size and shape, and behaviors you engage in or avoid as a result of this relationship.
So, if you have a body, you have a body image.
Body image also includes your own history with your body, and even your family tree.
How, you ask, is your family tree part of the mix? Well, genetics are passed on from generation to generation and represent your family tree.
Much of body size and shape is determined by genes.
Maybe, for example, you have a similar body shape as your maternal grandmother when she was your age? Or muscular legs like your paternal aunt’s? Or your great grandfather’s height? Your body represents your family’s lineage. Thinking of your body that way is kind of cool.
A conversation about negative body image would be incomplete if we did not talk about diet culture.
What is diet culture? It is the lens through which we evaluate our worth, based on weight. Diet culture is the air we breathe, the world we inhabit. Often disguised as ‘healthy lifestyle’, ‘clean living’, or ‘being good’, diet culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness, demonizes certain foods, and equates food and weight with personal worth.
If you are like the majority of American girls and women, you chronically diet in order to feel more comfortable/attractive in your body. Or you’re planning to diet – on Monday. Or you have just come off a diet, temporarily, because it is the weekend.
Diet culture promises that if you just try hard enough, you will lose weight and be happier.
The truth? Research shows over and over again (and has since 1959) that long term weight loss is possible for a mere 2-5% of people.
So, because of diet culture, negative body image is more common than not.
In fact, it is considered normative. Especially among girls and women.
You are led to believe that thinness is worthiness, and that thinness is attainable if only you try hard enough. This is not true.
Clearly, negative body image is not just something among people with an eating disorder. Diet culture’s dirty secret is that it profits off your vulnerability, your desire to be slimmer. The result is diet culture’s $72 BILLION/year in sales. And for you, negative body image.
If your body, the very place you live, is a source of dislike, distress, disgust, or hatred, then all areas of your life are affected.
And in a way that makes happiness elusive and life more of a struggle.
Hence, negative body image is hardly benign, even if it’s considered normative.
Here is a list of 10 most surprising effects of negative body image:
Increased risk of health problems:
Examples of health problems more likely to occur among people with negative body image include eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and nutritional deficiencies. There is also an increased risk of medical problems due to avoiding health behaviors that expose your body, such as going to the doctor. Another increased health risk is drug abuse, such as steroids or diet pills.
Decreased self esteem/confidence:
Body image and self-esteem go hand in hand. You’re unlikely to have high self esteem if you have negative body image. Similarly, you aren’t going to have solid confidence if your body image is poor.
Difficulty appreciating yourself:
If you have negative body image, you likely dwell on feeling dissatisfied with your body. Then there is no room to recognize and honor how awesome you are. Having trouble appreciating who you are affects your relationships, academics, hobbies/interests, and career.
Jealousy toward other women and constant comparisons:
Negative body image creates a dynamic of competition and comparison among women. As if there is a contest of who is the thinnest, prettiest, hottest, or whatever-ist.
Jealousy of others you deem thinner, prettier, hotter or whatever-er is a natural consequence of comparing and competing. As women, we need to be on each other’s side. Negative body image divides women and prevents camaraderie. This dilutes “Girl Power”!
Social withdrawal; avoiding activities, events, certain places:
One of the inevitable effects of negative body image is self-consciousness and despair. Especially when you are getting ready for a party, going to the beach or on a date, or deciding on other social plans. Not knowing what to wear, ‘feeling fat’ or as if ‘nothing looks good’ may lead to a decision to withdraw from certain friends or family.
Engaging in activities that are not good for you:
A negative body image means you are more likely to pursue diets, buy weight loss products, and engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking cigarettes (to promote weight loss). This links back to the first risk pertaining to health problems.
Increased mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety:
Especially among teens, negative body image is associated with worse mental health. (Even when compared to people with other mental health problems.) More specifically, increased depression, anxiety, and suicidality occur alongside negative body image.
Furthermore, if you are critical of your body, you are more likely to have cognitive distortions that worsen your relationship with your body. The same distortions (e.g. dichotomous thinking) that contribute to negative body image are also associated with depression and anxiety.
Diminished sexual satisfaction:
How you think of, feel about, and perceive your body affects sexual desire and arousal. The more critical you are of your body, the more anxiety you feel in bed with your partner, and the less easily aroused you will be.
Self-criticism and anxiety make it impossible to ‘let go’ and delight in the moment!
In fact, negative body image is the second most common obstacle to sexual enjoyment, desire, and responsiveness. (Relationship distress is first.) Critical, mean self talk about your body, such as the size of your stomach or overall body, can even prevent orgasms. The worse you feel about your body, the less likely you will be in the moment enough to have the big O. (Or big O’s!)
Another way sex is impacted adversely is if you assume your partner sees your body in a similar negative way as you do.
Creating/continuing a legacy of body shame to future generations:
We inherit beliefs from family. Children learn how to be in their body, and in the world, from their parents.
Parents struggle with their own body image. And many have for a long time, even since childhood. Their struggle may have to do with events that have happened to them, or not. They too live in diet culture, after all. Regardless, parents who emphasize their own weight concerns often pass that on to their children, with no harm intended. But harm occurs.
Comments about weight gain and compliments for weight loss communicate that weight is under scrutiny and something to ‘keep an eye on.” And that worth as a human being is tied into weight.
Interoception is a sense that helps you to know and feel what is going on inside your body. Because of interoception, you can identify hunger, fullness, pain, tiredness, thirst, digestion, bathroom needs, the urge to itch, and other internal sensations.
The way this works is interoceptive receptors send information about what is going on inside of your body to your brain. As a result, you can identify if your heart is beating fast or slowly. Or if you need to use the bathroom. Or how hungry or full you are.
Interoceptive awareness also allows you to know what emotions you are feeling. Every emotion has a corresponding sensation in your body.
Dieting messes with interoceptive awareness. Being on a diet means following external rules rather than natural, intuitive, internal cues for when, what, and how much to eat.
Negative body image is associated with disconnecting from your body, worsening interoception.
Negative body image is widespread and has serious repercussions, even beyond the ten listed.
Soooo much energy is wrapped up in negative body image. Consider all the other ways your energy could be channeled. A much better quality of life is practically guaranteed when you improve body image.
Even neutral body image is better than a negative one.
Your worth is not your weight. Resist diet culture’s messages. End the family legacy of negative body image.
Your birthright is to feel at home in your own body.
When you improve your relationship with your body, the world becomes so much more pleasure filled! Please contact me if you would like to learn more information about treating negative body image.
How do you know if it’s time for you to seek psychotherapy for depression and anxiety?
What are key signs for you that it’s time to get help for depression and anxiety?
If you want to be in therapy, go ahead! For any reason! Just think about what you are looking for from therapy, and find a therapist!
You don’t need to be in dire straits to seek psychotherapy.
People are in psychotherapy for tons of different reasons, from personal development and growth to addressing an acute or ongoing problem.
Psychotherapy, by the way, includes many different approaches. Some are more effective than others, depending on the kind of depression and anxiety you have.
But what if the question is how do you know you should seek psychotherapy for depression and anxiety?
Mental health professionals refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — the ‘Bible’ of psychiatric disorders — to distinguish between feeling sad or stressed on occasion to having symptoms of a clinical disorder such as depression or anxiety.
3. Impair how you function.
So taking these three criteria into account, how do you know if it is time for you to seek psychotherapy for depression and anxiety?
First, keep in mind that symptoms of depression vary from person to person, and even over time in one person.
No two people have exactly the same symptoms or severity of depression. This fact makes it impossible to say specifically when it is time for you to seek psychotherapy for depression and anxiety.
There is no blood test or other objective marker that it is time to seek psychotherapy for depression and anxiety.
The diagnosis of depression is based on self-report and on what other people may notice/comment about your thoughts, feelings, and day to day decisions.
There are different kinds of depression, some associated with other situations. Postpartum depression is an example. So are dysthymia (a two plus year, low grade depression with a couple of other symptoms) and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD occurs during winter months, when there is less sunlight, and naturally lifts around spring time, year after year.
Symptoms of depression, according to the DSM, include:
- Persistently sad or “empty” mood. Irritability is also common in children/teens
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and things you used to enjoy
- Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless
- Decreased energy
- Moving or talking more slowly than usual
- Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, such as disrupted sleep, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes (up or down)
- Aches or pains, headaches, or digestive problems with no physical cause
Remember, the diagnosis of depression means symptoms have lasted at least two weeks, have caused additional problems, and interfere with how you function.
Here are some important facts in considering psychotherapy for depression and anxiety:
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S and is highly treatable.
Ongoing research suggests depression is caused by genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Depending on the cause, different treatments may be more helpful than other treatments.
There is no one size fits all treatment for depression, for adults or children. As more is learned about depression, the better we will be able to match the treatment with the symptoms.
So now what about Anxiety?
Anxiety, like depression, varies in form and severity from person to person, and even over time in the same person.
As is true for depression, anxiety can occur for many different reasons, and it can present in different ways. It can also happen alongside other conditions.
Many forms of anxiety are described in the DSM.
Examples include Post traumatic stress, panic, phobias, obsessions, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety. Each anxiety based condition in the Anxiety Disorders chapter is unique, except some form of anxiety is part of each of them.
The common threads of anxiety of various forms include:
- Worrying about the future, such as focusing on negative ‘what if”s
- Bodily tension, such as fidgeting
- Autonomic reactivity, including dry mouth, lightheadedness, sweating, rapid heart rate
Like depression, anxiety is an expected part of life. Whether before an interview, or while having a medical procedure done, feeling anxious at times is normal.
However, an anxiety disorder is so much more than temporary worry or fear.
With an anxiety disorder, anxiety does not go away easily. It may worsen over time, and can get in the way of living your life.
Psychotherapy for depression and anxiety can provide a very useful way to understand yourself. Especially your moods, coping style, and ways of thinking. The duration of therapy varies and works best the more you apply what you learn.
Think of therapy as an investment in yourself. And if depression and anxiety are what led you to therapy, you have firsthand experience of a silver lining!
I work with men and women from adolescence through adulthood who have different levels of depression and anxiety, for different reasons, and in different forms. My bias is that psychotherapy is super powerful and something to consider even if you don’t ‘have to’.
PLEASE NOTE: If at any time you are in acute distress and need to speak with someone, please contact:
If you are concerned about someone’s safety, please contact:
NIMH » Suicide Prevention (nih.gov); 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).
Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.