5 Things You Need To Know About Treatment Options For Eating Disorders

Two women are seated, one with a stethoscope, appearing as if she may be explaining different treatment options for eating disorders

Looking into treatment options for eating disorders for yourself or someone you love can be overwhelming. Even knowing where to start is challenging. In fact, a recent Google search for “treatment options for eating disorders” yielded 11,800,000 results. You read that correctly – over 11 million results.

As hard as it has been for you to get to this point, there are a few things to know about eating disorders before you start looking into treatment options.

1. Eating disorder treatment should not be delayed.

If you have an eating disorder, chances are you’ve had it for a while. People with eating disorders have symptoms for an average of six years before seeking treatment. That’s six years for your mind and body to be at odds with one another.

2. A correct diagnosis is important for treatment.

A correct diagnosis sounds straightforward. It is not.

In fact, it’s common to downplay, overlook, or even dismiss eating disorder signs. (A huge reason eating disorder signs and symptoms are ignored is Diet Culture.)

Symptoms that are easily overlooked include negative self-talk, which by definition is private and not shared with others. That’s what makes identifying when thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are part of an eating disorder so difficult to recognize for what they are. The same kind of thinking is also a part of our weight-focused culture.

Society’s (diet culture’s) messages are super glue strong. And harmful. A person’s weight does not define worth. Even though diet culture insists it does.

You can see how easily the blurry line between ‘normal’ and ‘disordered’ delays diagnosis and treatment. It makes you believe that everything is fine, when in reality everything is not fine.

So how do you even know if you or someone you love may have an eating disorder?

A great place to start is to fill out an online screening questionnaire.

Eating disorder diagnoses: What are they?

Eating disorders are not about weight, vanity, or attention seeking. They’re a way of coping with emotions that would otherwise feel too overwhelming.

Anxiety and/or depression often exist before eating disorder symptoms begin and can delay getting an accurate etig disorder diagnosis.

The category of eating disorders includes:

3. Have a treatment team

A typical eating disorder treatment team includes a therapist, dietician, and medical doctor.

All providers should have expertise in eating disorder treatment. Treating a person with an eating disorder is complicated.

Treatment with a therapist and dietician specializing in eating disorders makes treatment success much more likely.

Your treatment team helps with goals and guidelines and is there to support you every step of the way.

You may be familiar with referral websites such as Psychology Today. But did you know there are also places online to look for eating disorder experts, such as the National Eating Disorders Association?

The same applies to finding a registered dietician with an eating disorder specialty. Nutrition therapy for eating disorders is different from general nutrition therapy.

A family therapist may be recommended as well if the patient is living at home and/or is a minor.

Family-based treatment, also known as the Maudsley Model, may be helpful for families of teens with an eating disorder.

By the way

Many PCPs and pediatricians lack proper training in and knowledge of eating disorders. They too are a part of diet culture. Without even knowing it, they spread harmful myths and stereotypes about weight and well being. They mean no ill intent, certainly, However, you can not assume a medical provider is eating disorder savvy.

The person in need of treatment may downplay symptoms and/or refuse help. Partly because of the strong forces of diet culture. And, because an eating disorder always provides some benefit. Or it would not exist in the first place. Doing away with something that has brought relief is scary.

Denial and secrecy often go hand-in-hand with an eating disorder. Sufferers deny they have a problem and are secretive about their symptoms.

Matching treatment intensity to symptom intensity makes for a faster recovery. And, a greater chance of a successful outcome.

Higher levels of care

More intensive treatment is called a higher level of care (HLOC). There are 4 main forms.

Medical stabilization, including refeeding, requires an inpatient level of care. Length of stay is usually a few days to a couple of weeks.

Residential treatment is for people who would benefit from round the clock support and structure but are not medically compromised. Residential programs typically last for up to 3 or so months.

A third level of care is partial hospitalization. Structured group therapy for 6-8 hours/day occurs, and patients then go home to sleep. Meals are included as part of treatment.

The lowest level of care is intensive outpatient. These programs are held for three or so hours, three or so times per week. Length of stay is typically a couple of months. Usually patients have a meal and snack together.

Sometimes people start at the lowest level of care and then return to their outpatient team. Others may need higher levels of care. Sometimes treatment involves cycling through different levels of care. There is no standard sequence of treatment levels.

The recommended level of care is mostly based on severity of symptoms. Within each program, treatment is tailored to the person’s needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’.

Some higher levels of care include additional treatment programming. For example, there may be a trauma specialization track, a substance abuse track, or a specialized program for athletes. The tracks are for people who have an eating disorder along with concerns related to one of the areas of special focus.

It’s best if everyone involved in the treatment communicates with each other as a team. That way, adjustments can be made to treatment as needed. And to minimize the ‘he said she said’ that can happen when direct communication is missing.

4. Treatment planning

A comprehensive approach to treatment is ideal. Eating disorders are complex and require several specialists.

Make a plan for eating disorder treatment. This may include settings goals, providing some education, creating parameters for safety, and coming up with a crisis plan.

Treat physical complications. Health and medical issues need attention. That being said, often the sufferers’ lab results are normal. Normal lab results DO NOT mean everything is fine.

Identify resources. Find out what resources are available. Are there support groups, for example, either online or in person? How about specialized movement classes, such as yoga for eating disorders?

Make sure resources are eating disorder sensitive. For example, taking a rigorous yoga class is not a good idea. However, a gentle class taught by an instructor who’s eating disorder informed could be helpful.

Speak with your insurance company to discuss coverage for treatment, regardless of the level of care needed. The insurance company will pay more over time for someone with an untreated or partially treated eating disorder.

Medications don’t and can’t cure an eating disorder. They work best when combined with therapy.

The most common medications used to treat eating disorders are antidepressants. Especially the eating disorders that involve binge-eating or purging behaviors. Antidepressants may help reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety. These symptoms often co- occur with eating disorders.

Medications for physical health problems caused by the eating disorder may also be required. For example, co-occurring gastrointestinal symptoms (constipation, diarrhea, reflux) are commonly treated with medications.

Therapy is a must to successfully treat an eating disorder. The psychological aspects of an eating disorder can be as difficult or even harder than the physical recovery.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and effective treatment for eating disorders. CBT improves attitudes about body shape and weight, replaces dieting with Intuitive Eating, and helps develop coping skills.

5. Have hope

Treatment works! Healing happens!

Generally, treatment is more effective before the disorder becomes chronic. However, even people who have had an eating disorder for many years can and do recover.

Eating disorders rarely, if ever, just go away on their own.

It’s OK if you “slip-up” during treatment. It’s normal. With each relapse comes opportunity to fine tune treatment and re-commit to recovery.

The most important takeaway message: People recover. Fully.

Your loved one (including if it’s you) with an eating disorder can too. The key to healing is being in the right level of treatment as early as possible. And staying hopeful along the way.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a MA-based, anti-diet, certified Intuitive Eating psychologist. My passion is helping people conquer eating disorders, feel comfortable in their body, and live a life of meaning. Contact me here for more information.

11 Empowering and Inspirational Quotes for Depression and Anxiety

A painting of a woman in an orange dress who appears to be suffering from depression or anxiety and who could benefit from inspirational quotes

If you have depression and anxiety you’re probably looking for ways to feel less alone. While there is no magic quote that will make depression and anxiety vanish, sometimes quotes can shift your perspective enough that you start to feel better. With that in mind, these empowering and inspirational quotes for depression and anxiety can give you that emotional boost you’re looking for.

Everyone has a different response when they read a quote. Maybe, just maybe there are quotes that help you feel understood. Or that provide hope. Maybe even a shift in perspective. Or how about a smile or chuckle?

Pay attention as you read this collection of 11 empowering and inspirational quotes. Notice which ones make you feel understood or hopeful. Be mindful of any other way your perspective shifts even a smidge.

1.“The way you tell your story to yourself matters.”

– Amy Cuddy

2.”What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

– Lao Tzu

A photo of a butterfly representing an inspirational quote for anxiety and depression

3.“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

–Dalai Lama

4.“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”

― C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

5.“Slow breathing is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t make the storm goes away, but it will hold you steady until it passes.”

-Russ Harris

Take a breath. Diaphragmatic breathing is one way to feel better fast. Try it before and after repeating inspirational and empowering quotes for Depression and Anxiety.

6.”Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

—Leonard Cohen

7. “Imagine you’re 90 years old. You’re looking back on your life, as it is today. Finish the following sentences:

–Russ Harris

  • I spent too much time worrying about…
  • I spent too little time doing things such as…
  • If I could go back in time, I would…”

Find inspiration and empowerment in recognizing that in this very moment, even with Depression and Anxiety, you have the power to choose.. to look back, look ahead, and/or be where you are, now.

8.“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”


Og Mandino

9. “When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so regretfully upon the closed door that we don’t see the one that has opened for us.”

Alexander Graham Bell

Every ending also means a new beginning. The beginning may emerge by navigating Depression or Anxiety.

10. Acceptance doesn’t mean putting up with or resigning yourself to something. It (acceptance) is about embracing life, not merely tolerating it. Acceptance literally means “taking what is offered”. It doesn’t mean giving up or admitting defeat. (Nor does it) mean just gritting your teeth and bearing it.

It means fully opening yourself to your present reality – acknowledging how it is, right here and now, and letting go of of the struggle with life as it is in this moment.”

–Russ Harris

11. “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.”

–The Buddha

Experiencing joy and suffering, and everything in between, is what being human means.

Along the way, there may be bumps in the road. When those bumps are in the form of depression or anxiety, remember to pause and become conscious of your breathing.

And, remember Dalai Lama’s words and be sure there is no mosquito in your bed.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a licensed psychologist practicing in the Boston, MA area. I integrate eastern and western tradition with traditional forms of psychotherapy to help people live a life they enjoy.

If you need immediate help, consider these resources:

How to Overcome Poor Body Image and Body Dissatisfaction

Tips for how to overcome poor body image and body dissatisfaction tend to be generic. Or at least limited.

Suggestions such as valuing what is inside and not just what you look like on the outside. Focusing on what your body can do instead of how it looks. Or that how you look is not that important.

These ideas can feel oversimplified. Like “just do this and you will feel better.”

Except it is not that easy or simple.

What I’ve found helpful to overcome poor body image and body dissatisfaction is to widen the lens.

Widening the lens is about taking a step back to shift perspective. A pivot of this sort can help create more flexibility in how you think and feel about your body.

Let’s talk first about why poor body image and body dissatisfaction are important.

And why overcoming them is actually one of the most powerful, revolutionary declarations of (your) worth.

Even just thinking about these ideas can be helpful in the process of overcoming poor body image and body dissatisfaction.

What is body image?

We all have a body and therefore a body image.

Body image is the relationship you have with your body. It includes thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors. In other words, body image is how you see, feel, think about and perceive your body. Appearance has a lot to do with body image. Especially in Diet Culture. (Don’t know what Diet Culture is? Check this out.)

Body image ranges from negative to positive.

Body image concerns can affect every one of us – regardless of age, gender, or culture. The concerns often begin at a young age and continue throughout life. Especially in Diet Culture.

Most people’s body image is either positive or negative. Rarely is body image somewhere in the middle, especially for females, and increasingly for people of all genders. Particularly in Diet Culture. (Are you starting to see a trend here with the impact of Diet Culture?)

Positive body image is when you feel comfortable in your body, accept your body and weight, and know that weight and appearance don’t define your worth as a person.

Negative body image includes evaluating your body critically and emphasizing what you consider to be flaws. Depression, shame, sadness, and jealousy often accompany negative body image.

Poor body image is one of the best predictors of anorexia or bulimia.

One of the main causes of poor body image is comparing your body to someone else’s.

Body image can be viewed as a state or trait.

Body image as a state refers to the idea that a person’s relationship with her body changes across contexts. As in depending on the situation. A person may have negative body image, for example, at the beach in a bathing suit. Her body image may be better when she is wearing an oversized sweat shirt and yoga pants.

Body image as a trait refers to body image as a consistent, stable quality across situations. Whether a person is at a beach in a bathing suit or in an oversized sweatshirt and jeans at school, body image is similar.

Most people think of body image as a trait. However, it can be state dependent. Meaning how a person feels about their body may depend on the context. There are even questionnaires that specifically focus on body image in a variety or situations. Examples are the Situational Inventory of Body Image (SIBID) or the Body Exposure during Sexual Activities Questionnaire (BESAQ).

Efforts to improve body image affect mental health and well being

The Body Positive movement (aka BoPo)

BoPo promotes size diversity, body love, and improved body image, regardless of age, form, gender, race, or abilities. Its tagline is “all bodies are good bodies”, while challenging the ways society presents and views the physical body.

A criticism of the BoPo movement is that emphasis remains on appearance. And on the ‘how you look =self worth’ link.

Maybe we do not have to love our bodies in order to improve body satisfaction?

There are other options for navigating poor body image and diet culture without introducing a new standard of beauty.


Say what? Well, how about taking less of a leap. Instead of BoPo, what if the goal were Body Neutrality.

The Body Neutrality movement

Why continue to feed into society’s obsession with beauty?

The concept of body neutrality is that you don’t have to like how you look in order to honor your needs. That there is more to your body and to you than just how your body looks.

What if you weren’t as concerned about your body size or shape?

In a paper published in the 1990s, I asked the same question. There’s no denying that culture has taught us to obsess over our appearance in all ways – whether it’s telling us we need to be photoshopped, that our booty should be more lifted, or that stretch marks and curves are what makes a “real woman.”

Frankly, it can be a relief to duck out of the obsessively body-centric conversation altogether.

Just think – how much more brain power and energy we could devote to other worthy causes. How much more could we just plain relax and find inner peace, if our appearance wasn’t constantly taking up center stage?

When you approach your worth from a different lens you become closer to unconditionally accepting who you are. Inside AND out.

You are more than flesh and bones. See yourself as the entire, soul-filled wonder you are.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist and coach specializing in helping people transform their relationship with their own body. Please join me – and be a part of this revolution!

What It REALLY Means If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Anxiety or Depression

A woman peering through leaves of a branch appears depressed and anxious, as if looking to better understand what her diagnoses mean.

By Dr. Elayne Daniels | August 19, 2021 |

Have you been diagnosed with anxiety or depression? If so, do you know what it really means?

For starters, you now know that what you’re feeling has a name. You also know you aren’t alone. It is an actual ‘thing.’ And maybe, just maybe, there is a silver lining.

A diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression is increasingly common, especially post-global pandemic.

But what does it really mean to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression?

One thing it might mean is that you recognize you haven’t been feeling ‘yourself.’ It could also reflect observations from  family and friends that you don’t seem like your (regular) self.

Perhaps you’ve met with your primary care doctor and/or a mental health professional; perhaps a psychiatrist, social worker, or psychologist. And perhaps that person has diagnosed you with anxiety or depression.

A diagnosis puts you one step closer to healing.

How can you ‘fix’ a problem if you don’t know what the problem is? 

A diagnosis can be clarifying.

Thank goodness you asked for help. That in and of itself is a win!

As the saying goes, you gotta name it to tame it.

Being diagnosed with anxiety or depression can be the start of actually feeling better than you have in a long time. (Hello, silver lining.)

A diagnosis helps you know what you need to feel better. More emotional support? Therapy? Medication? Perhaps some combination?

This video clip speaks to the value of treatment.

There are treatments available for anxiety and depression.

Providers of a variety of disciplines are available to offer you their expertise and recommendations.

We’re definitely not talking about a “one size fits all” approach.

Some interventions target both disorders. 

For example, many different forms of psychotherapy are available to treat anyone diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. 

For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method of treatment with high success rates for people with both anxiety and depression or with symptoms of one or the other. 

Certain medications, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), have antidepressant and antianxiety effects.

People diagnosed with anxiety or depression are more likely to have first-degree relatives with mental health challenges. 

Whether or not those mental health problems were identified ‘back then’ is a different story. 

At least in modern day, people are generally more comfortable seeking help than were their predecessors.

Fortunately, stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lessen, especially post-COVID. (You’re part of a stigma-reducing force, effecting change in the world.)

Bottom line: Treatment improves prognosis.

That said, sometimes successful treatment is a bit of “trial and error”. For instance, maybe the therapist you meet with is not a good match for you. 

The chemistry isn’t there. Or the therapy approach doesn’t jive with your style. 

Perhaps the therapist’s office or mannerisms make it hard for you to feel comfortable.

Medication may be another source of “trial and error”. 

Neurochemical advances make the selection of medication a bit less daunting. 

Tests are available in which you send saliva to a lab, and a report comes back, indicating which medications are likely a good match for your particular brain chemistry

Regardless of the type of formal treatment, you can try lots of things on your own to help yourself. The hardest part can be finding the wherewithal to try them.

Ironically, the very things you know would help can be just too hard to motivate yourself to do. Perhaps you don’t have the motivation (in the case of depression) or are too stressed-out (in the case of anxiety).

Additional suggestions if you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression:

  1. Attend to the basics: sleep, nourishment, movement, and emotional support.
  2. Practice doing experiments: Check in with yourself just before and then after an activity (e.g. a 10 minute walk). Chances are you will feel better after than before the activity.
  3. Self-validate: Recognize your efforts and give yourself credit. Be on your own side.
  4. Remind yourself you are not alone: Anxiety and depression are part of shared humanity.

Building blocks of physical and emotional health really do matter. Depression or anxiety can be a nudge to strengthen your self-care.

Pursuing help for an anxiety or depression diagnosis is an empowering form of taking charge of your life. Maybe even a wake-up call to enhance meaning and quality. 

Take some breaths and just one step at a time, remembering that every step in the right direction is progress. 

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in the Boston area who helps HSPs, people with eating disorders, and/or those with anxiety or depression to move forward in their lives and THRIVE!

4 Tips For Highly Sensitive People To Be Less Reactive To Life’s Ups & Downs

A roller coaster, representing the ups and downs of life that can be hard for a Highly Sensitive Person to manage
A roller coaster, representing the ups and downs of life that can be hard for a Highly Sensitive Person to manage

By Dr. Elayne Daniels | July 25, 2021 |

Life is filled with ups and downs for everyone. Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) tend to feel ups and downs even more intensely than people who are not Highly Sensitive. Tips to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs can help.

Reactivity isn’t a bad thing. It can make life more stressful, though, and is a core challenge to being an HSP.

For anyone, reactivity is especially common when feeling overstimulated. Too many things are happening at once, and your whole system is overloaded. 

It makes sense why you may respond by reacting quickly or in a way you’d not otherwise if you were in a state of calm.

Highly Sensitive People have stronger reactivity to external and internal stimuli. 

Examples of external stimuli include noise, light, and coarse fabric. Internal stimuli include things like hunger, fatigue, and pain.

The tips to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs are definitely not a suggestion that there is something wrong with being a Highly Sensitive Person. They’re also not an implication that something about you is broken and needs fixing. 

You’ve probably heard messages like “you’re too sensitive” for years. People may insinuate or outright drop their unsolicited judgment about something they don’t even understand. 

That’s not what these tips are about.

Bottom line: As a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re genetically predisposed toward overstimulation and reactivity. As a result, you’re prone to have strong reactions to things. That’s just what it means to be Highly Sensitive. 

And there is definitely a silver lining.

First, an Example of Reactivity:

Let’s say you and a friend are wading in the ocean. The water is cold, so it takes you a little longer than your friend to walk in up to your knees. 

You’re enjoying the sound of gulls and happy children. The warm sun on your skin feels phenomenal, and you’re in the here-and-now — deep in thought, feeling calm and centered. Ahhhhh, it’s great to be alive!

You peer into the clear ocean water to look for sea creatures. There are hermit crabs, starfish, and minnows swimming by. You start writing a book in your mind about hermit crabs and the way they go about choosing the shell they call home.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, your friend splashes the cold salt water into your face and laughs. 

You freeze momentarily. Then anger surges through your body. 

You have an impulse to scream, but you squelch it and leave the water, ignoring your apologetic friend. 

You may even notice tears in your eyes while you simultaneously stomp to shore.

Your non-HSP friend is perplexed by what she considers to be your overreaction. She was only being playful, after all, and being splashed is ‘no big deal.’ 

You, on the other hand, need to sit in the shade by yourself and ‘chill’ for a few minutes. 

Your entire nervous system feels out of sorts. Doing anything else feels non-negotiable. There is no faking it ‘til you make it.

The hardest part of having the High Sensitivity trait is managing emotional reactivity, especially when your mind becomes so overstimulated with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

But there are ways to manage and ride the roller coaster. 

Here are other examples of reactivity/overstimulation triggers for HSPs:

  • chemical smells
  • too many items on the to-do list
  • being late
  • unexpected traffic
  • cancellation of a planned event/appointment
  • an appliance, mobile device, or vehicle malfunctioning
  • a dripping faucet
  • being observed
  • hearing people chew
  • unexpected visitors
  • favorite food/drink being discontinued
  • a task taking much longer than expected
  • transportation delays
  • lights that are too bright
  • doing a task under time pressure
  • a loud or gross-smelling hotel room
  • the hum of a fan

These examples seem benign. And they can be. 

But they can also be a source of ‘too muchness’ for HSPs, especially if the stimuli accumulate. 

For HSPs, the straw usually breaks the camel’s back sooner than it does for non-HSPs.

Whether the stimulus is a last-minute change in plans or cold, salty water in your face, reactivity is your system’s default mode.

While you can’t alter your DNA and change this about your nervous system, there are other ways to navigate.

This is where tips come in handy for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs.

Consider these 4 tips:

1. Tip #1 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive: Awareness: Be familiar with your Reactivity/Overstimulation triggers.

Pay attention to how being an HSP affects you and your day-to-day experience of life.

The more self-aware you are, the more agency you’ll have over choices available to you.

As you become familiar with how you roll, you’ll have a sense of what sets you off, and why and when.

Self–awareness puts you more in the driver’s seat. You can choose to head off overstimulating situations before you become reactive. 

Remember that knowledge is power. Sometimes just knowing what could set you off can be helpful. (This doesn’t mean you should be on edge all the time.)

2. Tip #2 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive: Acceptance: Recognize that the trait has pluses and minuses.

There are so many aspects of being an HSP. 

It can actually be a superpower. Even reactivity can be a superpower. 

For example, if you’re watching a sunrise, your reactivity may cause you to become tearful. You’re “verklempt” by the beauty of the sun’s rays and the start of the day.

Tips for HSPs to manage the ups and downs of life with less reactivity

Accept all facets of being Highly Sensitive. 

The most challenging feature to navigate as an HSP is the reactivity to surprise, novelty, or aversive stimuli. 

Simply knowing that about yourself is helpful.

Embrace all your HSP qualities and traits as an expression of self-compassion.

3. Tip #3 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive:

Anticipate: Certain scenarios, people, and feelings are more likely than others to cause you to be reactive.

Not all HSPs react strongly to the same stimuli. (That’s often due to the way nature and nurture affect development.)

You may, for example, find loud music enjoyable if you’re listening to it on your earbuds. But, at a concert or in the car, it’s too much. 

Someone else may prefer to listen to music at a concert and not just on their earbuds. 

Anticipating the possibility (or equivalent) of nails on the chalkboard can provide you with some cushion (a soft, pleasant-to-the-touch-fabric kind of cushion, of course). 

It may also provide an opportunity to have a conversation in advance to let others know you may be taking breaks. 

Being forthcoming before an anticipated stimulus arises both protects you and lets others know not to worry when you take steps to care for yourself.

4. Tip #4 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive:

Self-care: Self-care is important for everyone but is absolutely essential for HSPs trying to navigate life’s ups and downs with less reactivity.

HSPs feel things intensely. That includes our own or others’ emotions, the beauty of nature, or the stinging pain of a hangnail. Crowds, noises, and small talk can be hard to take.

Because of the extra stress we may be navigating and internalizing every single day, we have to treat our tender sensitivity as if it were a friend or loved one.

Speak in a caring tone to yourself, especially to the part that is prone to reactivity. Allow yourself to take breaks/time-outs. Schedule down time each day. 

Have measures and practices in place to replenish your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy.

Mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, body scans, yoga, and meditation can help.

But always remember: these are practices, not ‘perfects.’

Make note of how any of the tips help. Also note which ones need tweaking. Are any unhelpful?

Reactivity and overstimulation are known to cause stress, and stress contributes to physical ailments, including headaches, back pain, joint pain, insomnia, and GI problems. 

They contribute to a host of psychological challenges, too — anxiety, depression, and low self esteem, for example.

Awareness, acceptance, and anticipation of situations that are more likely than not to cause reactivity is important.

Empower yourself by considering your options for how to proceed.

Do you confide in a friend who will also be there, and ask for their support? 

How about mentioning you may need to leave a social engagement early? 

Or promising yourself to recognize when early signs of reactivity occur, and from there deciding how to proceed?

Understand the indicators that extra rest or self-care is needed.

However you choose to handle the reactivity from life’s ups and downs, simultaneously recognize the many blessings and gifts that go along with being a Highly Sensitive Person.

You have those, too.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA whose passion is to help HSPs thrive.

Why Are Some People Highly Sensitive & Most Aren’t?

A woman who appears to be a Highly Sensitive Person leaning against a fence watching horses

Ever wonder why some people are Highly Sensitive, but most people are not?

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are born that way. Highly Sensitive.

High Sensitivity is not a disorder. Nor is it an attempt to be dramatic or to get attention. It’s a trait in the same way eye color is a trait.

HSPs’ nervous system is calibrated differently than non HSPs’.

The way HSPs process social, environmental, emotional, and physical stimulation is more intense and at a deeper level than people without the trait. It is biological.

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ve likely been called “too sensitive”, at least a thousand times. And advised more than a few times to “have a thicker skin” or to “lighten up.” (If I had a nickel for every time these comments were made to me….)

You may be among the 15-20% of people who is Highly Sensitive if, among other features, you tend to:

  • Notice nuance and details
  • Get stressed out or annoyed in chaotic environments – and need to retreat somewhere quiet to regroup
  • Feel rattled when there’s a lot to do in a short period of time
  • Find that you’re unable to watch violent movies or television shows – it’s just too disturbing
  • Experience peace and awe in nature
  • Need plenty of sleep, consistently, in order to function
  • Are prone to getting hangry

The High Sensitivity trait, which occurs equally in males and females, is a result of a combination of genes. In fact, scientists have discovered at least three different genetic combinations among Highly Sensitive People. The gene variants include different configurations of the following neurotransmitters:

  • Serotonin Transporter
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine

Let’s look at these in more detail.

1. Serotonin Transporter and Highly Sensitive People:

Serotonin transporter is a chemical that transports serotonin out of the brain. HSPs have a variant of this gene (officially called 5-HTTLPR).

The 5-HTTLPR gene variant increases sensitivity to surroundings and is associated with learning from experience. The presence of the gene enhances the effects of both good and adverse childhood experiences.

This may explain why childhood experiences–positive and adverse–impacts wellbeing so much for a Highly Sensitive adult. For better or worse, HSPs’ childhood experiences affect them more than does the childhood of a person without the trait.

2. Dopamine:

This neurotransmitter is known as the reward chemical.

If you have a sensitive nervous system, you don’t need much to feel “rewarded” by external stimuli. Chaotic, noisy, loud environments exhaust rather than excite you.

Let’s just say you don’t exactly get the same kind of dopamine hit that your non Highly Sensitive friends gets at a rock concert or other loud venue.

The same Dopamine variant is also relevant in understanding why HSPs feel more rewarded by positive social or emotional cues.

3. Norepinephrine and Highly Sensitive People:

Norepinephrine helps the body with the stress response.

And there’s one variant, common in HSPs, that boosts emotional vividness. If you have it, you tend to experience emotional aspects of the world intensely. You may also have more going on in parts of the brain that create internal emotional responses to experiences.

Most HSPs respond more strongly to emotions than do non-HSPs. In addition, they often notice emotional nuances where others don’t pick up on anything.

If you’re Highly Sensitive, this gene variant may be at least partly responsible. And it directly drives the level of empathy and awareness you have for others’ feelings.

Evolutionary Benefit

So if 15-20% of a population has something in common, such as High Sensitivity, it is not considered a disorder. The rate is a lot of people in total but still uncommon enough that HSPs often report feeling weird or different.

HS has been found in at least 100 species, including fish, horses, fruit flies, and chimpanzees.

Highly Sensitive People and HS animals pick up on more environmental cues, recognize things that others don’t, and make wise decisions in new settings. They don’t rely on routines, which non HSPs and non HS animals tend to do.

There is definite survival advantage to being keenly aware of your environment.

In general, people who take the time to notice environmental cues before making a decision come out ahead — even with a high cost to doing so. HSPs’ sensitivity means they make better and better decisions over time.

So, here is the key point: If the rate of High Sensitivity were 100%, everyone would notice nuance and details. No one would have any advantage. That could explain why HSPs are about 15-20 percent of the population rather than 90, 95, of 100 %!

No more wondering why no one else thinks things through the way HSPs do. HSPs are able to see things others don’t see and feel emotions others don’t feel, That in and of itself creates value.

Further, HSPs feel positive things and negative things more intensely. Highs can be joyous, and lows can be horrible. For the survival of our species, only a subset with those features could exist.

The world needs diversity of all kinds, including people who are Highly Sensitive. And people who are not.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist in MA who enjoys helping HSPs thrive. Contact her here.

6 Steps for Healing Anxiety and Depression

A woman's torso in a white blouse hopefully benefitting from 5 steps to heal anxiety and depression

Ever wonder what steps to take to heal anxiety and depression?

The kind of anxiety and depression I’m focusing on here is not the everyday type, but the kind that is diagnosable. 

Let’s start with the fundamentals.

Anxiety and depression are feelings. Feelings exist in the body.

As humans, most of us believe we’re cognitive, rational beings who sometimes feel.

However, we’re more like emotional beings who on occasion think.

Feeling emotions can be uncomfortable. Even painful. For many of us, a natural reaction is to turn away from emotion.

There’s at least one problem with the turn-away method. Turning away makes things worse. It will not help heal anxiety and depression.

Even benign attempts at distraction are very limited in effectiveness. If they do help, the relief tends not to last long.

A much better option is to lean into the emotion.

In other words, feel it to heal it.

Keep in mind that emotions have a beginning, middle, and end.

Emotions are like tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you get to the end.

If you get stuck in a tunnel, you don’t reach the end. Maybe you can’t find your way out. Or you get lost.

And so it is with feelings. When you get stuck in them, they stagnate.

A “stuck” feeling doesn’ get to the end of the tunnel. It leaves  you smack in the middle of the anxiety and depression. Yuck!

Anxiety and depression: They’re just feelings.

Not finding your way completely through. Getting lost. That’s one way to think about anxiety and depression.

They are normal human emotions.

Feelings are just that – feelings. They rise from chemical changes in your body, and they’re neither good nor bad. They simply are.

Certain feelings are definitely more pleasant than others. Some feelings are more comfortable to have then others. That’s different than feelings being good or bad.

Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to stress. And stress may be more about what you’re telling yourself than about what actually is.

Your perception of something easily becomes your reality. The ‘what if’s’ and other forms of catastrophizing are good examples of cognitive distortions that lead to beliefs and then anxiety and depression.

If depression and anxiety become chronic, interfere with your life and relationships, and/or cause other problems for you, consider professional help. There is nothing wrong with that! Reaching out for help is courageous and wise.

Let’s say you decide to heal everyday forms of anxiety and depression on your own. Or perhaps you want to work on healing your anxiety and depression at the same time you’re in formal treatment.

Here are 6 steps for healing anxiety and depression:

1. Validate your own feelings.

Whatever you’re feeling is valid. Even if what you’re feeling is different from what others feel (or simply what you perceive they feel). You may prefer to feel some other emotion than what you are feeling. Acknowledge what it is you do feel. You have a right to feel whatever it is you feel.

2. Name it to tame it.

Identify with specificity the emotion(s) you’re feeling. Instead of “I feel bad”, try words that are more descriptive of the actual emotion. Does feeling “bad” mean you feel like you could crawl out of your skin? Or more like a sense of hopelessness? Defeat? Some combination?

The fancy name for this technique is emotional granularity.

Examples of emotional granularity may help clarify this important point. Different aspects and levels exist for both anxiety and depression.

For example, anxiety could be described as angst, apprehension, fear, stress, uneasiness, suffering, nervousness, freaking out, panic, restlessness, uncertainty, or dread.

In fact, a Google search found close to 100 synonyms for anxiety!

Even more synonyms exist for depression (at least according to Google). Examples include melancholy, sadness, gloom, sorrow, unhappiness, defeat, down in the dumps, woe, tiredness, and weariness.

A great strategy for emotional granularity is to use an emotion wheel.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is feelings-wheel.jpg

3. Create new neural pathways, and let other pathways fill in to heal anxiety and depression.

Specifically, the neural pathways that are traveled most often are the ones you’re strengthening.  What the heck does this even mean?

Your old stories (“I’m not good enough,” “I suck”) are literally keeping you stuck. 

Each time you think a particular thought, you deepen that thought’s circuit. So you are always practicing and deepening something.

Rick Hanson puts it succinctly when he says, “Where your attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows.” 

So, whatever you pay attention to, wherever you put effort — that’s what you get more of.

With your thoughts — just by thinking — you are always strengthening something.

So, think negatively, and you’ll get more automatic negative thinking including more anxiety or depression or both.

In contrast, move from a place of strength, gratitude, or competence, and you will see more of your strengths and notice more reasons to be grateful..

Even thinking neutrally can be helpful.

4. Feel the feelings that exist in your body.

Use your body as an instrument to assist with processing the feeling “through the tunnel.” Find what works for you, which may vary depending on the feeling and context.

Mindfulness, defined as nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment, with acceptance of what you feel, may be helpful. “Welcome the feelings in for tea,” some Zen masters suggest.

Notice sensations associated with different emotions, as well as where the sensations are located. Doing so is a practice. The ease of identifying feelings and their location will vary over time and situations.

5. Move it.

Because feelings are located in the body, moving your body can be very helpful in processing feelings. This doesn’t have to be intense or considered “exercise”. Rather, just move around. Doing so activates serotonin neurons.

Why not take a walk in your neighborhood? Or groove to the beat of your favorite tunes?

6. Provide selfcompassion. Give yourself some grace!

You CAN heal from anxiety and depression. Be kind to yourself. Not in a woe-is-me, pity party kind of way., but in a way that reminds you of the shared humanity, the universality, of what you’re experiencing.

Practice using tools that help you personally heal anxiety and depression. If the tools work for others but not so much for you, that’s ok. Keep practicing until you find what feels helpful.

Connect with other people in whose presence you feel supported. Consider yoga,meditation, journaling –something that is you-focused and can easily be a daily practice

Remind yourself that you will not ALWAYS feel anxious or depressed. This moment isn’t all moments. It’s just right now.

You won’t always feel this way,even if it feels in the moment as if you will.

Over time you’ll learn what helps to heal your anxiety and depression. 

When you start to feel early signs of anxiety and depression, you may recognize that as an opportune moment to access your tools.

Include your body in the healing of anxiety and depression. Mind-body-spirit are star players on “Team Heal”.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA specializing in helping people access and strengthen the healing within. You can contact me here.

How Do Eating Disorders Develop?

A school of orange fish representing the idea that fish dont know their wet in the same way as we often dont realize what could be causing an eating disorder

No one thing causes eating disorders to develop. It’s more like a perfect storm of genetics, biology, psychology, culture, and environment. Lots of factors merge together at the same time.

Genetics is one of many factors in how eating disorders develop.

Genetics contribute for sure! In fact, they predispose individuals to eating disorders.

Eating disorders tend to run in families. And the rate of eating disorders is higher in identical twins than in fraternal twins or other siblings.

Biochemistry is a factor in how eating disorders develop.

Certain neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemicals are out of range among people with eating disorders. The levels are either too high or too low. These chemicals in the body are what regulate appetite, stress, mood, and sleep.

Among cis-gender girls, early menarche (compared to peers) can be part of the perfect storm.

Psychology plays a role, too.

Psychological factors contribute to how eating disorders develop. People with an eating disorder often also struggle with depression and/or anxiety. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is particularly common, occurring in 25-69% of women with anorexia. 

Other psychological factors include:

  • Poor self esteem
  • Feeling a sense of hopelessness
  • Perfectionism

Certain personality temperaments put a person at higher risk for an eating disorder. Traits like reward-dependence, harm-avoidance, and sensation-seeking may be part of that perfect storm. Obsessive-compulsiveness too.

Culture is another contributor.

We live in Diet Culture. It’s so pervasive and sneaky. In fact, we often don’t even realize how very much we’re impacted by its toxicity. It’s omnipresent. Ubiquitous. The lens through which we see ourselves and the world.

Dieting, body dissatisfaction and a drive to be thin increase the risk for an eating disorder. Diet Culture encourages all three.

Diet Culture is sneakily disguised as ‘a healthy lifestyle,’ ‘clean eating,’ or a trendy way to eat (like Whole30, Keto, or Noom).

If it has rigid rules or involves math, it’s probably a diet.

Diet Culture contributes to how eating disorders develop in many ways:

  • An over-emphasis on appearance, at the expense of valuing inner qualities like kindness.
  • Societal standards that promote an unrealistically thin body shape.
  • Associating thinness with positive qualities like attractiveness, health, success, and love.
  • Media’s focus on dieting and striving for a slim and toned body for women.
  • Messages that perpetuate a fear of fat and food; viewing fat as undesirable or foods as “good,” “bad,” or “sinful”.

Intuitive Eating is a better alternative on all fronts. Its first of ten guiding principles is to ‘reject Diet Culture’. Mind you, the principles are not mandates. They’re gentle steps, associated with improved physical and psychological well-being. And unlike anything in Diet Culture!

Environment is an important factor in how eating disorders develop.

Your environment also plays a role in how eating disorders develop.

For example, what was your home environment like? How did family members communicate feelings? Did family members diet? Were/are they weight conscious?

What kinds of extracurricular activities did you participate in? How about the kind of friend group you were part of?

Aspects of an environment that may be relevant to how eating disorders develop:

  • Family conflict
  • Physical or sexual abuse history
  • Activities that focus on weight, such as gymnastics, dancing, running, wrestling 
  • Peer pressure
  • Being bullied because of weight or appearance in general

You have agency over some factors associated with how eating disorders develop, but not all.

In the same way that fish don’t know they’re wet, you may not realize the extent to which you’re immersed in Diet Culture.

However, you do have agency over many aspects of recovery.

With support, you can emerge. And you will. Stronger than ever. And as a true power source.

You will be the fish that went to school (pun intended), recognizes Diet Culture, and knows your way out of the storm.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a MA-based psychologist specializing in treating people with eating disorders and negative body image. Join me in ditching Diet Culture! Contact me here for more information.

5 Tips For Happily Navigating Life As A Highly Sensitive Person

A woman siting on the steps of a porch demonstrating ways to happily navigate being a highly sensitive person

What is the #1 most important thing to know about how to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person? That’s an easy one to answer!

To happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) you must first and foremost recognize you have the trait. Dr Elaine Aron, a pioneer in the HSP field, says that knowing you have the trait AND understanding it are absolutely essential to benefitting from it. Pure and simple.

No worries if you’re feeling overwhelmed about this whole HSP thing. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand what it means to be Highly Sensitive. And you will then discover your own joys.

The scientific name for High Sensitivity is sensory processing sensitivity. When you identify that you are in fact one of the 15-20% of people with the High Sensitivity trait, you have the ticket for optimal navigation. The ticket doesn’t mean your navigation will be easy. But it will provide for a richer, more meaningful life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Sensory processing sensitivity is present at birth. You may as well learn to leverage the many benefits of the High Sensitivity trait. After all, like eye color, it’s part of who you are.

The four pillars of High Sensitivity include (aka what it means to live life as a Highly Sensitive Person):

Depth of Processing:

  • You tend to spend time reflecting.
  • And you take your time thinking through decisions.
  • Naturally you take in a lot of information around you and within you – without effort or intent.
  • You’re aware of subtlety and nuance that others simply are not.
  • And have strong intuition.
  • HSPs process everything MORE by relating and comparing present moment to past experiences and observations.
  • And you contemplate all options carefully.
  • You have more brain activation in a part of the brain called the insula.
  • The insula is responsible for our awareness of what is going on inside and outside of us.

Overstimulation:

  • You notice a lot in all situations.
  • You’re aware of details others aren’t.
  • You may feel people’s feelings, even when they don’t feel their own.
  • Because of all the stimulation, you’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed.
  • Because of all you notice, remember, hear, see, manage, and process, of course you’re more likely to feel overwhelm, and sooner.

Emotion responsivity/Empathy:

  • Your positive and negative emotional reactions are strong.
  • You’re in tune with other people’s emotions.
  • Empathy is purely natural for you.
  • You may even feel people’s energy field.
  • HSPs uniquely respond to pictures with a “positive valence” – especially if they had had a good childhood.
  • Vantage sensitivity” is the fancy phrase referring to HSPs’ tendency to benefit a disproportionate amount from positive conditions and interventions.
  • More active mirror neurons explain why HSPs naturally read emotion and have automatic deep empathy.

Sensitivity to subtleties:

  • Your senses are highly attuned because of how you process sensory information.
  • The attunement is not due to “bionic” hearing or sight, but rather to the way you process input from your senses.
  • Brain areas are very active when HSPs perceive things because of complex processing of sensory information.
art news GIF
Remember the 6 Million Dollar Man? Or the Bionic Woman?

What are 5 tips to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person?

1. Recognize you’re an HSP. Understand what being a Highly Sensitive Person means so you can enjoy life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

This is essential so you can reframe certain messages you’ve likely heard a million times. Messages such as being “too sensitive”, needing “to lighten up”, or having your feelings invalidated, downplayed, and dismissed in other ways.

You’re not too sensitive. You’re “just right” sensitive. And/or maybe the other person is not sensitive enough. Or even insensitive. Or how about “too insensitive”?

Total. Game. Changer.

2. Awareness of subtleties means you can access and enjoy simple pleasures in life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

These hydrangeas are my favorite! I took this photo in Chatham, MA. Chatham is known for their Hydrangeas!

For example, see all the gorgeous shades of lavender and pink in each Hydrangea? Beautiful! How about the differences in shape of all the blossoms? What you naturally see, people without the trait do not naturally see.

3. You can use your ability as a Highly Sensitive Person to tune into nonverbal cues strategically. Such as to assess someone’s trustworthiness.

While you don’t exactly have Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) like in the movies, you do have a sixth sense. You are aware of nonverbal cues and all kinds of subtleties. Trust your gut instincts.

4. Incorporate time to unwind after tasks, events, and times of day in your life as a Highly Sensitive Person. Consider downtime as an obligation to your nervous system.

Without sufficient time to recalibrate, your nervous system will be fried. And recalibration time can be as short as 1 minute, but preferably longer.

Downtime is kind of like lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser between courses of a fancy meal. It gives you a break from sensory stimulation, You can refresh in order to enjoy the next course. Just like your taste buds in the sorbet example!

For downtime ideas, you could pick from a hat. Write a bunch on pieces of paper and then close your eyes and pick one. You could choose from coloring in an adult coloring book, doing a word search, listening to a favorite song or track, taking a walk, or just going outside in nature and taking a few cleansing breaths.

5. Pace yourself. Avoid rushing! Savor life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Tune into yourself to determine what you need. Make the time to give yourself whatever that is, to the extent possible.

Try to resist any pressure to go with the pace of a crowd. If you go at the crowd’s pace, you’ll quite possibly become overstimulated. Remember, you take in soooo much more than people who are not Highly Sensitive.

So now you know the number one most important thing about being an HSP is understanding the trait. And allowing the trait to serve you well. Because it will.

Carpe diem!

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a private practice psychologist in MA. One of my passions is teaching HSPs to access their inherent, exquisite ability to thrive. Contact me to learn more!

How Social Media Affects Body Image For People Of All Ages

Two women are looking at social media and their body image is likely affected

There are plenty of articles about the terrible ways social media affects body image for people of all ages. And for good reason. They’re true.

Social media can be a huge body-image killjoy.

You probably already know this, even firsthand— especially if you identify as female. And Diet Culture of the United States and other Western countries just adds to the problem.

Scrolling through images of friends, acquaintances, and influencers can be a real downer, especially if you’re competitive. Who got more ‘likes,’ ‘loves,’ comments? Why did I get a thumbs-up, but she got a red heart?

Scrolling can be particularly tough on self-esteem. The same is true if you’re comparing yourself to determine who’s the hottest, most popular, or other (fill-in-the-blank)est.

Social media provides a 24/7 opportunity to compare yourself to countless others’ highlight reels and to internalize Diet Culture messages. 

Social media spreads toxic Diet Culture themes, such as:

  • Body dissatisfaction (for all genders, especially people who identify as LGBTQ)
  • Internalization of the cultural ideal
  • Disordered eating

A 2019 report suggests that more than 3 billion people are active social media users. That’s nearly half of the world’s population. 

The impact of social media on how we think and behave is mind-blowing.

Keeping up with the Kardashians and with other trends, looking a certain way, and having a particular aesthetic have become a given. And social media posts communicate this loud and clear.

Social media demonstrates beautifully that “comparison is the thief of joy.”

Even though Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t referencing social media, his sage insight is as fitting now as it was then.

How are you using social media?

There are many different ways to use social media.

How you use social media affects body image. For example, how do you consume what other people post? Are you taking, editing, and uploading selfies? Do you follow close friends and family? Or a bunch of celebrities and influencers? Which platform do you prioritize?

Most likely you do some combination of consuming, uploading, and following.

As we said, social media is toxic for body image, largely because of the built-in comparisons  it promotes.

Self-objectification is at the heart of the problem.

What is self-objectification?

Self-objectification occurs when you internalize an observer’s view of your own body. (As if your body is a mound of clay to measure, shape, and control.) By viewing and treating your body as an object, you essentially scrutinize your own body in anticipation of being evaluated by others.

Your body becomes a ‘thing’/object to monitor, manage, and curate rather than a means of  expressing  your life.

Is viewing social media always associated with poor body image?

This is a ‘no, but.’

Social media use is consistently and positively associated with negative body image. (That’s the ‘but.’)

Scrolling through the feed of a Diet Culture-oriented fitness instructor, for example, will likely worsen body image. 

However, researchers have identified some nuance in the effects of social media on body image.

For example, different social media platforms impact body image worse than others. 

In fact, a recent study suggests Instagram users spend more time looking at images of people, while Facebook users spend more time looking at images without people in them. And FB users tend to read and write more content. 

It’s no surprise, then, that Instagram users report more appearance comparisons than Facebook users. 

Women in the study’s Instagram condition also reported thinking about their appearance significantly more than women in either the Facebook or (online game) Bejeweled conditions.

Another example in the ‘yes’ column: time spent on body positivity sites can improve body image.

Do #BoPo images really help people improve body image?

In social media language, #bopo refers to body positivity, The purpose of #bopo images is to encourage acceptance of and appreciation for all body types. 

Viewing body-positive images on social media sites can be associated with improved body image. But not always.

The basic criticism of Body Positivity is that the focus is still on bodies. The ‘love your body at any size’ message of #bopo is lovely. But, again, focus is still on appearance.

Our bodies are more than something to look at. How strongly you identify with that belief system affects the impact #Bopo images have on you.

What about #Fitspo posts?

“Fitspiration,” aka #fitspo in Instagram language, is a popular social media category. #Fitspo images promote exercise and ‘healthy eating’ (aka Diet Culture) as a source of encouragement and inspiration.

(Please pardon the snark here: If the encouragement and inspiration are meant to inspire a nosedive in body image, mission accomplished.)

Exhibit A: In a 2017 study, 160 female undergraduates viewed either #fitspo, self-compassion quotes, or a mix of the two. Here are the findings:

#Fitspo viewers were low on self-compassion.  

“Fitspiration” images were associated with being self-critical.

Compassionate quote viewers (e.g. “You’re perfect just the way you are”) were kinder to themselves AND thought more positively about their bodies.

Good news! For those who viewed #fitspo and self-compassion quotes, the benefits of self-compassion outweighed (pardon the pun) the negatives of #fitspo.

Geek alert: Much of the research on how social media affects body image is based on correlational studies, which means we can’t say that one thing (social media posts) causes another (poor body image). It’s possible that social media and poor body image are linked for other reasons. For example, people with body image issues may be more likely to use social media.

What about posting selfies?

When it comes to posting pictures on social media, selfies prevail.

Selfies are photos taken of oneself or of oneself in a group. They’re often used on social media sites as a way to present oneself.

Modifying selfies so we appear more conventionally attractive (that’s Diet Culture speak for thinner) is an automatic step in posting. We “edit” ourselves to accumulate more followers and boost our social media presence and reputation.

Among female college students (and probably among most people), taking and posting selfies, with and without photo-retouching, worsen mood and body image. This is true even when editing, filtering, or otherwise retouching selfies.

Selfie takers still tend to focus on what they don’t like about their looks.

Retouching photos doesn’t prevent a body image decline. Maybe the anxiety of accumulating “likes” and “loves” interferes with better body image. After all, the likes and loves can only provide temporary boosts or relief. #Reality!

Some experts suggest spending a lot of time perfecting selfies may indicate a person is struggling with body image.

Is this just a female thing?

No.

Negative effects of social media posts on body image extend to people of all ages and genders.

Men are not immune. 

For example, a study found that men who reported looking at male #fitspo content more frequently said they compared their own appearance to others more often and cared about having muscles more. As a result, they had more body dissatisfaction and appearance-oriented motivation to exercise.

Among men, #Fitspo content is linked to concern about being muscular and lean for appearance’s sake.

Body image challenges existed long before selfies and social media were even a twinkle in the eyes of its creators.

Unfortunately, social media offers a stage and forum for users to compare bodies and popularity.The use of filters adds even more pressure to appear perfect. The overall effect of social media, at least as far as body image is concerned, is that of a toxic mirror.

Consider for yourself ways to curate your feed and posts so they align with your own values.  Especially when it comes to YOUR body and YOUR self-esteem.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA specializing in helping people improve their relationship with their body. Life is soooooooo much better when you and your body are on the same side! Contact me here if you would like more information.