“Oppression spares no body. Injustices are both systemic and intimate, taking root in the flesh.”–Mary Watkins
You’re thinking it’s time to begin overcoming negative body image and eating disorders. But you aren’t 100 percent certain. And you’re not even sure it is possible. That’s ok. You can still move forward to improve your relationship with your body.
It is normal to want to change, but not want to change, at the same time.
Here is what you’d probably like to change:
- Preoccupation with food, weight, and your body
- Constant comparisons, especially on Instagram and other platforms
- The Groundhog Day way of living your life
First, that’s awesome! Being open to change is not easy.
Especially in our image oriented, Instagram -ridden culture.
Recommendations for overcoming negative body image and eating disorders are nuanced.
“Do this” and “don’t do that” recommendations are oversimplified and generic. And, they tend to focus on personal responsibility and ignore context.
Body image issues and eating disorders are not ‘just a phase’, your way of getting attention, or due to vanity.
So what is the “more to it?” I am talking about the bigger picture. More specifically, the sociology and anthropology of negative body image and eating disorders, which affect us all.
We know now that strong economic, political, environmental, and social forces are at the center of developing and overcoming negative body image and eating disorders.
Racism, sexism, patriarchy weight bias, and other ism’s are key to understanding how/why you developed body image and eating disorder issues. The “isms” need to be recognized in your own healing journey. And not “just” if you identify as a feminist, social justice proponent or political activist.
We can’t heal our relationship with our body with a plan (i.e. diet) to make our body into what dominant culture says it should be.
Healing negative body image and eating disorders is challenging for a lot of reasons. (Remember nuance?). The biggest challenge of all is the backdrop.
An underappreciated force is Diet Culture. Actually, it is more than a force or backdrop. It is the air we breathe.
Diet Culture is everywhere. Because we live in it, we often don’t even know of or recognize its existence. Kind of like fish not knowing they are wet.
What is Diet Culture anyway? Christy Harrison, RD, MPH, is an expert on this topic. (Check out her weekly podcast.)
Her definition of Diet Culture is that it is a system of beliefs that:
- Worships thinness
- Equates weight and morality
- Promises weight loss will lead to higher status
- Demonizes some foods and elevates others
- Oppresses people who don’t match up
Diet culture is the single biggest reason for negative body image and eating disorders.
Remember, Diet Culture refers to an entire system of beliefs. (See above). The beliefs equate body size with worthiness, morality, and health.
The origins of fixation on weight go back to colonialism, racism, and sexism. The purpose of the beliefs has always been – and still is – to establish social hierarchies. And to control people.
Certain groups of people (e.g. women, fat people, people of color) are most vulnerable to internalizing cultural messages. Doing so causes damage. Preoccupation with weight and appearance is a way to keep the focus on meeting “ideals” rather than on more meaningful ambitions, be it political, social, or economic.
How can you eradiate Diet Culture? Or at least diminish its impact? What an excellent question. We have to start somewhere, right? Now is a good time.
Here are some of the things you can do to whittle away at the backdrop known as Diet Culture. To chip away at it, bit by bit, and empowering each of us along the way.
You and everyone else, regardless of size, shape, color, history, background, or anything else, deserves to feel at least neutral about your body. And good enough about yourself not to be detrimentally influenced by Diet Culture.
- Change the way you talk about food, bodies, and weight. Especially the way you speak of these topics to yourself.
- Call out companies who promote diet culture practices. Join influencers who are doing just that, such as Jameela Jamil.
- Join like minded communities to help you unlearn diet culture and relearn body respect. Examples could include Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, podcast communities, or other such groups.
I enjoy working with people of all backgrounds to take down Diet Culture. Join me!
Eating Disorders are serious illnesses that squeeze joy and ease out of your life. They take a huge toll on your body and mind and can shorten life span. Despite how damaging the effects can be, you can heal from (most of) the heartbreaking side effects of eating disorders.
Consequences of eating disorders vary, depending on which eating disorder you have, the duration and severity of the disorder, and a few other factors.
If you have an eating disorder, reading about the side effects is not likely to motivate you to recover. Education alone is not enough.
Upon learning about side effects, you might think “oh, that (side effect) won’t happen to me”. Or “if that happens, I will deal with it then.” Or even “I hope that (side effect) happens because I deserve to suffer.”
Separating the psychological and physical side effects is not completely fair, because the mind and body are connected to one another. One affects the other.
The psychological side effects of eating disorders are what I am going to focus on here.
You can read about the physical side effects here.
How do eating disorders cause psychological side effects?
Well, atypical eating behaviors, such as fasting or chronic dieting, impact your thoughts and emotions. (And, of course, your body.)
Dangerous patterns of compensation, such as self-induced purging or laxative abuse, do too. (And they affect your body as well.)
Even though your body and mind are resilient, the force of eating disorders is fierce and destructive. Withholding nourishment from and inflicting punishment onto yourself cause wounds. And some wounds leave scars.
The psychological impact of eating disorders can be complex. And less obvious than the physical side effects.
The psychological impact is less visible but no less serious.
For example, shame, loss of control, hyper-control, and body image problems are common. So are guilt and anxiety.
Other mental health side effects of eating disorders include:
- major mood swings
- depressive thoughts or actions
- obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- general anxiety
- impulsive behaviors, such as self-harm
- low self-esteem
(Please note: Research has yet to determine exactly which psychological variables are linked to the cause and which are due to the effects of eating disorders.)
Three lesser known heartbreaking psychological side effects of eating disorders include:
- Poor interoception
- Self objectification
- Psychological inflexibility
Let me explain what these fancy sounding concepts mean, why they’re important, and what you can do to heal them.
Interoception tells you what your body feels on the inside. Interoceptive awareness occurs when you recognize you have to empty your bladder (i.e. you have to pee), or that your heart is racing.
Interoception is also knowing when you’re feeling hungry and when you’re feeling full.
By definition, having an eating disorder means not eating when hungry (restriction/fasting), and/or eating beyond fullness (bingeing). Over time, your body’s hunger and fullness signals get dysregulated because they’ve been ignored. They get used to you overriding them.
Recovery involves improving interoceptive awareness by re-regulating your hunger and fullness signals.
Meeting with a registered dietician who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders can help you do this. The basic recommendation is to eat in a structured, consistent, patterned way each day: Meal, snack, meal, snack, meal, snack. And not to go 4 or more waking hours without eating.
As a bonus interesting fact: I have noticed that a lot of people in treatment for an eating disorder also tend to ignore other body signals, including the need to pee.
2. Self-objectification is a body image concept that has to do with seeing yourself as an object first, and a human being second.
Your experience of being female is defined by a culture that sexually objectifies women’s bodies.
So as a girl/woman, you naturally internalize an observer’s view of your body. This leads to ongoing monitoring of your body’s appearance. And of weight especially. It also increases shame, anxiety, and disgust toward yourself. Self objectification leads to eating disorders and remains a side effect.
Eating disorder recovery involves redefining your relationship with your body and seeing it through your own lens. Learning other ways to experience (see, feel, connect with) your body. And honoring your body as part of your human experience.
3. Cognitive inflexibility increases risk for eating disorders and is a side effect that’s hard to change. Especially for people who have Anorexia nervosa.
Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to shift your thinking and/or your plan or strategy.
A lack of cognitive flexibility occurs during eating disorders and continues into recovery.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a useful treatment approach. The focus is on helping you learn how to identify underlying thinking patterns that may be keeping you stuck. Meditation can also help.
Eating disorders are serious yet highly treatable. Yes, you can fully heal from an eating disorder – with treatment with a therapist trained in providing therapy to people with eating disorders.
The sooner you seek specialized help, the sooner you will heal from the symptoms and side effects of eating disorders.
And what a gift to yourself that is!
I am a clinical psychologist specializing in helping people recover from eating disorders. What that looks like is working alongside each person, as they discover true joy and passion in life, live fully embodied, and heal more and more each day.
The world will always be unsettled. One of the best ways to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in a highly unsettled world is to change the way YOU think of the High Sensitivity trait. By thinking of the trait differently, you’ll interact more effectively in the world. And maybe even feel empowered along the way.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person means that your nervous system is innately wired to attune to subtleties.
You’re creative, empathic, inquisitive, and a deep thinker. That’s just how you are. Your eyes are brown, blue, or whatever color, and your nervous system is wired for high sensitivity. That is you.
And you are among the 15 percent of the population born with the High Sensitivity trait.
Learning what being a Highly Sensitive Person means will help you make the most of the trait. And see it as the gift it is.
There are four general categories that comprise High Sensitivity:
- Depth of processing – Whenever you take in information, you really TAKE IT ALL IN. And not just what is on the surface. Nuance and details are on your radar. Feelings, thought, observations, sights, sounds, opinions…..
- Over arousal – As an HSP you take in tons of information, feel what others are feeling, and have senses that are very responsive. So of course you’ re prone to feel overstimulated more quickly and intensely. There is just so darn much to think, feel, do, especially because you’re also linking past, present, and future to the moment. And the practical with the philosophical.
- Empathy – due to more mirror neurons, you easily feel what other people are feeling. You have a deep understanding of people and their emotions.
- Sensory sensitivity – your senses are calibrated in a way that what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch feels ‘extra’. Your senses are extra alive.
The four core features are interrelated.
What makes managing as a Highly Sensitive Person so challenging is the second feature on the list – over arousal. What might feel like a little thing (e.g. crowds, a hectic schedule, loud music) to others can feel like a lot to you.
Makes sense! Especially if you consider how the other three categories naturally promote a sense of over stimulation.
In other words, you take in, analyze, consider, and process a lot. So much more than could be captured by a list. What you take in includes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As well as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Memories, speculations, present moment experiences. All of it. And more.
And, we know that nearly all human traits have advantages and disadvantages, depending on circumstances. High sensitivity included.
Why not optimize your trait? Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King did, and their contributions enhanced meaning in life for us all.
Here are the top five ways to manage as a Highly Sensitive Person in an unsettled world include:
1. Set boundaries
Because of your capacity for empathy, you are inclined to agree to requests. You avoid disappointing or hurting another person, even at your own expense.
You prefer to do what is requested rather than risk the possibility of a conflict. Hence, setting boundaries may not feel ‘right’.
Here’s a tip: When setting boundaries, practice being more direct. Instead of beating around the bush, be clear and to the point. For example, let’s say your friend suggests a movie and asks if you’re interested in seeing that movie. Your inclination may be to go along with his decision, even if you don’t want to see that movie. So rather than saying “I’m not sure I want to see that movie”, you could say “I would prefer to say this movie”.
2. Include daily down time to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person
Your built-in radar is constantly processing a ton of input. That is exhausting! To prevent burn-out, you need a reprieve. So take time each day to replenish your energy. Maybe it’s spending time in nature. Or quiet time with low lighting and a comfy chair. Or just having a few minutes alone and without any demands on you. Do each day what you need to do to recharge your batteries. Even if it is only for a few minutes.
The High Sensitivity trait is real. So are your needs for downtime. Build in breaks during your day will make taking care of yourself easier to do.
3. As a Highly Sensitive Person, please manage your environment AND have a “ME” place
Your environment has a much bigger impact on you as a Highly Sensitive Person than is the case for people without the trait. In fact, Highly Sensitive people are both more likely to become physically ill and to develop depression, and/or anxiety in stressful environments. The fancy term for this is differential susceptibility.
The good news is you also do even better in calm environments than people without the trait.
Your priority in your home and work environments is to reduce overstimulation to the extent possible.
What does a calm environment look like for you? Maybe it is whatever area is most free of clutter? Or wherever your dog happens to be? Or maybe just in your bedroom, alone.
What does a special refuge look like to you?
It could be a designated area in your home or yard, with some of your favorite things. (Hopefully no social media.)
You may think of some exotic getaway when you think of a peaceful place to recharge. Actually, having a reprieve that you can access in your everyday life is more important. Maybe it is the living room recliner. Or a quiet spot near the window overlooking the backyard.
So guess what: Nothing fancy is needed to create an HSP sanctuary of your very own.
4. Get enough sleep
Everyone needs sleep. But Highly Sensitive People more than just ‘need’ sleep to restore mind and body. It is as important as breathing!
Because you feel deeply and absorb so much, your nervous system is primed to feel frazzled and overstimulated. Which then leads to emotional and physical exhaustion.
High quality sleep is the best way to restore and reset your nervous system. It is an essential ingredient to replenish.
Tips to get a good night’s sleep include having a bedtime routine, prioritizing your bedtime, and minimizing screen time and other forms of stimulation at least an hour before bed.
5. Get outside each day to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person
Highly Sensitive People have a sense of connection with nature that defies words.
Walking through a green space can actually facilitate a meditative state – for anyone. This is especially helpful to you as a Highly Sensitive Person because it offsets the inevitable stimulation you feel. AND spending time strolling through green space can facilitate creativity. Which you as an HSP have a lot of.
But the superpower is a superpower only if you think of it that way.
And only then can you deliberately leverage your High Sensitivity as a foundation to launch from.
And it is sooooo easy to instead deem high sensitivity as anything but a source of thriving. Especially because you have probably heard at least a million times that you are “too sensitive” and “need to lighten up.”
You don’t need to do anything. Just be you.
I am a psychologist in the Boston area dedicated to helping people, HSP’s especially, feel empowered to live their best life. Through all the ups and downs that life offers, HSPs have special gifts to make the world a better place for us all. Please contact me with any questions.
To watch someone you love suffer is painful – whether the suffering is physical or mental, or a combination. When someone you love has anxiety and depression, you may feel particularly helpless and wonder how to offer support. Especially because their pain is not visible in the way it would be with a physical wound or injury.
It is natural to wonder if loving someone with anxiety and depression could make you depressed. And to wonder if you’re selfish to even be thinking about how to stay healthy.
The hard reality is that relationships are complicated. And both you and your partner have quirks and problems of different kinds, sizes, and manifestations. You know that everyone struggles in some shape or form.
In the case of anxiety and depression, people’s suffering can be short, medium, or long term. The symptoms can manifest as a single episode or multiple. Regardless, professional help is essential. That includes psychological treatment and possibly medication. (Definitely for your loved one and maybe even for yourself.)
One thing consistently recommended is to be sure you don’t take on your loved one’s problems as if they’re your own. Because they’re not yours. Making them your own will ultimately not be helpful to your loved one. And could make it hard for you to stay healthy. It’s a lose-lose.
So what can you do to help a loved one with anxiety and depression?
Here are 4 general suggestions:
1. DO set boundaries with a loved one with anxiety and depression. If you don’t, your own health will suffer. Mentally AND physically. Instead, discuss the importance of finding a balance between supporting your loved one and carving out time for yourself.
For example, if you’re both planning to join friends for dinner, let your partner know in advance that you’ll still go even if your partner isn’t up to it when the time comes. Remind your loved one that you won’t force him/her to go, and that you want to follow through with plans because it is important to you.
2. DO Listen when a loved one with anxiety and depression talks with you. Sometimes, it is all you can do. Resist the urge to give advice. Also, guilt can be part of depression and anxiety. When your loved one’s anxiety or depression takes hold, it’s not realistic or helpful for them to pretend they’re fine. Avoid making them feel guilty about it. They already feel bad enough. More guilt just adds to their anxiety and depression.
3. DO NOT try to “fix” the anxiety or depression your loved one has. Or try to “fix” your loved one. Your loved one’s therapist and medication provider are the professionals assigned to treating anxiety and depression. After your loved one has established a solid relationship with the therapist, offer to join them for a session to learn more about how to be helpful.
4. DO NOT assume you know what your loved one with anxiety or depression is feeling. Let them know that you care about them and want to be there for them. Ask them how they’re feeling and how you can support them.
There is no one size fits all list for how to help a loved one suffering from anxiety and depression. Educate yourself about anxiety and depression through websites, podcasts, and other sources. Be a good listener. And, for your own well being, make sure you have a life outside of helping your loved one.
For more information, please contact me.