You Don't Have to Value Health

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My official title is “Licensed Mental Health Counselor.” By definition, my job is to help people improve their mental health. Health is in the definition, and therefore I *should* value health for all people.

And let me say that I DO value health for everyone. But we need to unpack this, because I firmly believe that you personally do not HAVE to value health. You do not have to believe that health is the utmost important thing. In addition, health is simply not accessible to everyone, and if we want to improve societal health, we have to improve access for folks who embody all sorts of identities and have all sorts of different situations.

When I talk to people about body positivity fat acceptance, body acceptance, positive body image (whatever you’d like to call “loving your body!”) one of the most common responses is “yes, yes, I TOTALLY agree that people need to feel good about their bodies, BUT HEALTH is the most important thing!! And if you aren’t HEALTHY then you can’t really accept your body...”

Here are the faulty assumptions underneath statements like that:

  • In order to love your body, you must be healthy.

  • There are certain weights/body shapes/sizes that represent health.

  • Everyone must always be working on their health.

  • Individual choices make people healthy.

  • Health is achievable for everyone

I would love debunk these faulty assumptions for you, so let’s get on it!

1. Faulty Assumption #1: In order to love your body, you must be healthy.

I say this to everyone: you are allowed to accept your body, right here, right now, no matter what condition it is in. You can say “yep, this is it. This is my body,” and incorporate kind, loving, and friendly behaviors toward it simply because it is your body. People often believe that they need to lose weight or achieve a certain health marker and THEN they can accept their body. The problem with this logic is that there is no way to hate your body into health. People who chronically diet, yo-yo exercise, or constantly beat themselves up about their body shape and size don’t actually end up healthier in the long run. People who accept themselves wholly are much more free to make choices that are in line with their values and with what their body actually needs.

Faulty Assumption #1 also leaves a lot of people out. If you can’t love your body unless you’re healthy, what does it mean for people with chronic medical conditions? What does it mean for folks with disabilities? Are folks who are not “healthy” by definition not allowed to love their bodies? In reality, we do not really have total control over our health, and that should not prevent us from moving toward body acceptance.

2. Faulty Assumption #2: There are certain weights/body shapes/sizes that represent health.

Y’all. You can never tell if someone is healthy by looking at them. There is literally no “eye test” to say that someone in a certain body size or shape is “healthy.” To that end, what does “health” mean? What health markers are we actually measuring when looking at someone?

Many folks use the BMI as a marker of health, and yet it was developed by a mathematician, not a physician, in the 1800s (who wasn’t even looking at health by the way!). If you ask any medical doctor if they continue to use any other instrument or test that is over 200 years old as a marker of health, they would laugh in your face. And yet doctors, laypeople, and well-meaning folks continue to use the BMI to tell us if we are healthy or not. It doesn’t take into account anything important, like physical fitness, environment, trauma history, genetic makeup, NONE OF IT.

3. Faulty Assumption #3: Everyone must always be working on their health.

Why must everyone be working toward being healthy? If health is never guaranteed, why must we always be pursuing it?

Some people will tell me “because it’s expensive for all of us taxpayers!” Listen: we will always be supporting people with all types of health conditions (including yours!). That’s a part of being a citizen. In addition, individual behaviors actually do very little for our actual health markers. Eating salads and working out do much less than not being stigmatized, having enough money in the bank to take care of basic needs, having access to safe places to move, etc.

You do not owe anyone health, nor does anyone owe you health. Health is not a moral obligation.

4. Faulty Assumption #4: Individual choices make people healthy.

More and more research indicates that social determinants of health, including oppression, stigma, SES, racism, etc. actually has a much larger impact than any individual choices people are making. In fact, the numbers demonstrate that individual choices actually account for less than ⅓ of health markers (for example, your insulin levels, cholesterol, HDL/LDL triglycerides, etc.) We get so concerned about people exercising and eating vegetables that we ignore the vast majority of what actually affects people’s health. It is lovely to be able to be able to move your body in a way that feels good and eat foods that feel good too. But if we want to improve health, we actually need to look at the ways in which society continues to oppress, stigmatize, and traumatize people.

5. Assumption #5: “Health” is achievable for everyone.

Nope. Sorry to be harsh, but the only guarantee we have in this life is that we will die. The “healthiest” people, including extreme athletes, still get cancer, still have their joints break down, still get unavoidable diseases. Again, individual choices do not make people healthy.

We need to back off this healthist stuff. Say it with me: you do not owe anyone health. You do not have to value health. There are about a million other things to value, including relationships, career, independence, love, compassion, you name it, and health does not have to be on that list for you.

The pressure on being “healthy” is ridiculous, and serves to continue to disconnect us from our bodies. Instead, I am all for finding ways to relate to food and exercise that feel wholesome and connecting and lovely for you and improving access to those ways for all folks in all bodies.


Binge Eating Disorder: Too Much Willpower?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) took a big step in 2013 when they released the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They included Binge Eating Disorder (BED) as a diagnosis for the first time. Thank goodness they did, as it is the most common eating disorder, more than three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. Since 2013, folks have been able to seek treatment for BED and have their treatment covered by insurance.

When I talk to folks about BED, however, I find that there are a lot of misunderstandings around what it is. BED is not overeating, although overeating can happen in the context of BED. Overeating is honestly a very normal part of eating in general, and we all do it from time to time. BED is also not a lack of willpower, and it is not gluttony. BED is a serious psychological disorder that requires good, evidenced based treatment.

What is Binge Eating Disorder, then? BED, as defined by the APA, is characterized by eating large amounts of food in a discrete period of time AND a sense of lack of control during an eating episode.

I think that most people view anorexia and BED as two opposite ends of the spectrum. I’d like to take a moment emphasize here that you cannot ever tell how or how much people are eating by looking at body size.  People believe that folks with anorexia have too much control and folks with BED have too little. However, BED and anorexia actually share a lot of features. What the diagnosis in the DSM-5 fails to capture is that there is actually a restrictive component to BED. In fact, restriction, either mental or physical, is often what drives binge eating in the first place.

Many folks who come into my office with binge eating disorder describe their lack of control, their lack of willpower, their difficulty just “sticking to the plan.” They say they “know exactly what to do, so why can’t they just do it?” When I ask them what they know, they typically tell me about portion sizes, fruits and vegetables, “lifestyle changes,” exercise, and diets. In fact, they tell me that food and dieting are on their mind 50-90% of the time!

Almost everyone who comes into my office with BED has been on a diet. Or countless diets. Or they’ve attempted a “lifestyle change” (a diet in sheep’s clothing). Almost everyone feels extreme shame about their eating. In fact, my clients don’t lack willpower. It takes incredible willpower to continue to try another diet, go back to the gym and engage in boring or unbearable exercise, and deny themselves food they really like to eat. It takes incredible willpower to think about food for over half the day in an effort to stop bingeing.

Here’s why binge eating is directly correlated to restriction and so-called “willpower:”

Imagine you go on a diet. What do you feel first? Typically feelings of hope, euphoria. The first day goes really “well” (meaning that you’re being “good” at restricting). You imagine you can do this for awhile, it’s not that hard. A few days pass. You post a few things to social media about how you feel great. You get a week into your diet or lifestyle change, and you begin to feel hungry, tired, or deprived. You don’t get to enjoy Taco Tuesday with your friends because everyone else gets tacos and you get...boring food or no food at all or food that doesn’t actually taste good. You start to get cranky because you’re hungry. You start thinking about all the foods you actually want. And then all of a sudden, the pendulum swings and you find yourself in a binge, feeling out of control, wanting to eat everything. You believe that it is your own fault, your own willpower, or lack thereof, that is the problem.

And so most people say to me, why can’t I just STAY ON IT though??? When I want tacos on Taco Tuesday with my friends WHY CAN’T I SAY NO??

Listen to me: because your body does not know the difference between you going on a diet and going through a famine. Your body is carefully designed to make sure you do not starve (also, isn’t that wonderful?! Thanks body!) The fact that you salivate or start thinking about food as soon as you feel deprived is your brain and your body communicating together: Please please please don’t let her put us through starvation mode again.

There is literally no research that indicates diets work in the long term. To expect yourself to stay on something that pretty much everyone cannot stay on is a ridiculous standard. We keep pointing the finger at ourselves, when in reality we need to be pointing our fingers at the diet, the diet industry, and our cultural obsession with weight loss.

Healing from BED feels counter-intuitive because in order to end the restrict/binge cycle, one has to stop restricting. People feel terrified about this because they believe that if they stop restricting, take away their food rules, and allow themselves to eat what they want that they will only eat “bad” foods and never stop. In reality, ending restriction means actually trusting your body and it’s inherent cues to let you know what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, and when to stop instead of following an arbitrary plan designed by someone else. It also means stopping the shame cycle when a binge does occur, and refusing to put yourself on another diet.

Binge Eating Disorder often develops out of deprivation and rules that are arbitrary. Your body and mind are complex and wonderful and designed to make sure that you nourish yourself. You can trust your body. 

Warmly,

Chelsea

Tom Brady Doesn't Know What You Need

 Photo by  Adrian Curiel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash

I was half-listening to the news a few months ago while drinking my coffee, when someone started interviewing Tom Brady about his new book. Apparently, based on the interview, his book is about how much water he drinks and what types of foods he eats in order to achieve “longevity.” His book is a self-help book, so I assume that it is geared toward the general population.

And I sighed, again. I’m disappointed, irritated, and frustrated, again.

It seems like everywhere we turn, there is something or someone telling us what to eat, how much to eat, how to exercise, how much water to drink, what times to eat, what foods to avoid, what foods count as “superfoods,” blah blah blah, etc.

I mostly turn on the news  for background noise because it’s something my parents used to do in the mornings and it’s comforting for me to have it on. But over the past 10 years, as I have become more aware of how much anxiety and shame we have about food and our bodies, I can’t help but notice how often the NEWS brings up yet another boring diet conversation or promotes even more body shame.

It’s not just the news or TV, of course. I scroll through Instagram and find ads promoting diets and exercise, even though I have carefully curated my feed to be really body positive and fat affirming. I go to my own gym to enjoy a short run or weight lifting session, and hear both men and women discussing their diets, how much weight they’ve gained or lost, and how they plan on changing their bodies next. Somehow people still try to sell me Advocare or Shakeology products telling me that I will “feel so much better” and that I can “lose a little weight.” I try as best as possible to not rip my hair out as I gently remind people that I don’t believe in diet products that continue to focus on weight loss.

My point is that it seems like we can’t go anywhere in this world without being bombarded with celebrities, products, government programs, or our own friends pitching diets, “lifestyle changes,” and rules promising not only a change in our bodies but also happiness, “longevity,” and ultimate health.

So there are two things that I must remind you of:

  1. Your body does not need to change. You can accept it how it is, right here, right now. Period.

  2. Your body ALREADY KNOWS what it needs. You don’t need Tom Brady or Whole30 or Fitness Expert Susie to tell you what to do.

Many of my clients tell me that every single one of these conversations about diet and weight loss is incredibly triggering. They want to do the “right” thing to be healthy and to live a long life. And yet as we talk, they notice that these conversations contain contradictory information. Underneath that, when we really get down to it, they admit that there is such an allure to these diet and fitness programs because the promise is that they will finally have a body they feel comfortable in.

Unfortunately, there is no plan that works for someone else that will help you feel good in your own skin. There may be a temporary “high” from following a diet or program, but eventually it always fades.

Tom Brady is a specific person who has specific needs. He can promise “longevity” all he wants, but the reality is that he is a 40 year old football player with super athletic genes. You too are an individual, with your own personality, background, relationship with food, relationship to exercise, and oppression/trauma history. No diet, “lifestyle change,” or person can tell you how to care for your own body.

The good news is, your body can! The beautiful and wonderful thing about our bodies is that they have the wisdom to tell us when we are hungry, and when we are full. They have the wisdom to tell us that a little bit of stretching may feel nice, or curling up on the couch would really feel better. They have the wisdom to give us sensations such as butterflies or tears when we feel strong emotions so that we can take steps to care for ourselves.

You may not feel like your body has this wisdom, or right now you may not feel connected to it. That’s okay! It may take some time, risk-taking, compassion, and messing up in order to come to a place where you really trust your body. It’s a wonderful and difficult journey, and I encourage all of you to hop on it.

In the meantime, however, I encourage you to be wary of yet another self-help book or celebrity endorsed plan promising health, longevity, or a great body. Look at it critically. Explore your own experiences and wisdom about diets and exercise plans, and be honest with yourself. You are not Tom Brady, and neither am I. And let’s be doubly honest, we don’t need any more Tom Brady’s in this world, ok?

From "No Pain, No Gain" to Joyful Movement: Thoughts on Exercise

What do you immediately think about when you consider the word “exercise?”

Chances are, you may have thought: pain, exhaustion, boring, gross, “good” for me, terrible, difficult.

What types of activities immediately come to mind when you consider the word “exercise?”

Chances are, you may have thought: running, going to the gym, spending a long time on a machine like an elliptical, doing intense exercise classes.

It’s interesting that in our society exercise has become so laudable and praise-worthy, and yet many people find it unbearable. In fact, we believe that in order for exercise to “count” it has to be difficult and painful.

As the New Year began, many people rushed out to get gym memberships, vowed to get “in shape,” and pursued exercise in a way that brings to mind the words above. However, it’s about around this time where people stop going to the gym and stop their exercise routines.

Slogans like “no pain, no gain” are supposed to motivate us to work harder. And yet, in my experience, these slogans and associations we have around exercise, defining it as difficult, painful, and hard, generally motivate no one to continue to do it.

Here’s a small nugget of truth: movement is helpful for our bodies. It is true that activity is correlated with better health outcomes. When I say health, I truly mean HEALTH and not weight loss or physical appearance. I also want to be careful about this because no one has to be healthy, and health doesn’t have to be anyone’s goal. You don’t have to be healthy, and you certainly don’t have to meet unrealistic appearance standards.

So, let’s be clear, movement is simply helpful, not the end-all-be-all to someone’s health status. This deserves another blog post, but health is impacted and defined by a million things, many of which are out of our individual control.

If movement is helpful, doesn’t that mean that everyone should be exercising? My simple answer is NO! The way in which we have culturally shaped exercise means that it is inaccessible, boring, un-enjoyable, and PAINFUL, so why the heck would anyone do it?

I invite everyone to consider your movement history, starting when you are a kiddo. Did you enjoy moving your body? I don’t mean organized sports or gym class, although you may have enjoyed those. I mean playing tag with friends, jumping for joy, shaking your booty to your favorite song, moving without self-consciousness and with abandon. When did that start to change for you? When did you begin to see movement differently?

Each of us has unique movement needs, just like we have unique nutrition needs. Many of us are struggling with injury, illness, or physical limitations which further impact our unique movement needs. When exercise becomes defined by “no pain, no gain,” boy can we get caught in a shame spiral about how we are moving or how much we are moving. Basically we are beating ourselves up for not meeting an unrealistic standard.

Shame is NEVER a good motivator, by the way.

I invite you to look at your current movement with curiosity and compassion. I invite you to check-in with your physical sensations, your current context, and your current limitations. I invite you to reframe exercise in a radical way. In fact, I don’t want you to do that, even. I want you to throw away the term “exercise” and all it’s ridiculous associations, and instead consider what movement you may want in your life. On the other end, I invite you to consider what movement/exercise is no longer serving you.

Happy moving, or not!

Warmly,

Chelsea

Surviving and Thriving During the Holidays: Let's Get Real About the Food

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It’s that time of year again. It seems that as soon as November rolls around, we get thrown into full on holiday mode.

I’m not sure what the holidays mean or signify for you. Sometimes it means spending time with family and friends, enjoying delicious food, reveling in the lights and decorations, and cozying up by the fire. Unfortunately, that’s often not that case for a lot of people around the holidays. Even if you get to enjoy some part of “the holiday spirit” so to speak, most often I hear about how the holidays bring up painful memories, difficult experiences, and overwhelming anxiety.

Holidays sometimes mean dealing with pain surrounding family dynamics; experiencing burnout from throwing too many parties, buying too many gifts, and taking care of everyone around else;  longing for departed family members or friends; and of course, worrying about food.

I’ve already seen the barrage of articles and TV segments talking about what to eat at holiday parties, how to avoid holiday weight gain, how to cook things so that they are “healthy,” etc. etc.,  blah blah blah.

So, I want to get real about the holidays in a few blog posts.  I want to give you some perspective and ways to think about how you can best care for yourself during this season, survive the painful parts, and maybe even enjoy some of it (if accessible to you at this time).

Today, I want to get real about the food.

There are SO MANY holiday parties and gatherings. You have work parties, family gatherings, parties with friends and acquaintances, school parties, etc. There are holiday cookies galore, holiday desserts, appetizers, beautiful spreads of warm yummy food. There are leftovers and favorites.

Here are my 10 best tips for dealing with these holiday gatherings, decreasing panic around food, and actually enjoying yourself:

#1: Legalize ALL the food

I can’t say this enough: ALL FOOD IS GOOD FOOD. This means that ALL HOLIDAY FOOD IS GOOD FOOD!  You don’t have to follow any rules this holiday season. You don’t have to eat “healthy.” You don’t have to watch your weight. You don’t have to buckle down and watch every bite. You don’t have to make “healthier” versions of food you actually like. You can eat holiday food. You have my permission. No food is good or bad.

When we put food in categories such as “healthy” and “unhealthy” or “good” and “bad” we create a dangerous deprivation zone. The wonderful and powerful thing about our bodies and minds is that when we are deprived, we are driven, well, to not be deprived.  Our minds start dispensing unrelenting thoughts about food. The entire menu starts to look good. We experience increased hunger, and our bodies actually help us binge so that we aren't deprived. This isn't a "willpower" thing. Our incredible bodies are trying to protect us from restriction and deprivation! 

When we make food illegal, we become panicked, resentful, and hungry. Food is not illegal. Food is not a moral issue. Food is not “sinful.” Food is just food, so consider reevaluating your laws about it.

#2 Let go of shame and guilt surrounding what you eat, no matter how much you eat

If shaming ourselves worked to help us change, I believe we would all be perfect human specimens. So many of my clients tell me how much they beat themselves up after eating a particular food, or after they have eaten a certain amount of food. The problem is that shaming ourselves, beating ourselves up, or telling ourselves how we’ve messed up doesn’t really help us develop a friendly relationship with ourselves and food. Consider how you can let go of that shame spiral following eating. What is your compassionate response to yourself?

#3 Expect to overeat sometimes

This is true all the time, but maybe more true around the holidays. Overeating is a part of normal eating! Feeding ourselves in a way that is intuitive, loving, and kind is not a perfect science and sometimes we’ll feel too full. Trust that your body is very capable of recalibrating, and that it will get hungry again. You don’t have to control that.

#4 Watch your self-talk

I often ask my clients what they say to themselves before, during and after they eat. What I most frequently hear is comments such as “I shouldn’t be eating this.” “I need to choose something ‘healthy.” “I’ve been so bad today.”

I want you to try a few different phrases:

  • “I am hungry. What do I want to eat? What sounds good?”
  • “This food is SO delicious! I’m so glad I chose to eat it!”
  • “This food isn’t hitting the spot for me. What do I really want?”
  • “That meal was awesome! What else is going on today?”

#5 Eat regularly

Do not fall into the trap of restricting your food intake so you can eat more of the holiday meal later. This rarely works, and results in the dangerous deprivation zone mentioned in tip #1. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Eat snacks. And eat the holiday meal!

#6: If a food is calling to you, EAT IT!

In our culture, we seem to have such a penchant for taking the pleasure out of eating. We believe that if we want or crave a certain food (be it that yummy cheesecake or those creamy mashed potatoes) that we have to squash that desire. It's like saying "ok, you can enjoy your cake but not too much." I find that ridiculous. Food tastes good for a reason, and we are allowed to make full use of our taste buds. If you want that cookie, just eat that cookie. Enjoy the cookie, or the 2,3, 10 cookies. Taste the chocolate chips, the buttery texture, the crunch when you bite into it. Try saying to yourself “this cookie tastes SO good! Yummy!”

#7 If you have a special and yummy dish in mind that you had growing up, or one that you’re looking forward to, make sure you get it during the holidays.

This is a part of reclaiming pleasure when eating, and is a part of enjoying the holidays! Make sure this dish will be at a party or gathering, bring it yourself, or just make it for yourself on a Sunday afternoon! You don’t have to have a party to eat it. I strongly recommend avoiding trying to "make it healthier" either, unless switching the recipe will actually help it taste better to you. This is about relaxing and enjoying ALL the food the holidays have to offer.

#8: Remember, it’s about the food and it’s not about the food

Food is a wonderful part of the holiday season. Absolutely cherish that and enjoy it. And also remember that there may be wonderful conversations happening around you. Enjoy the party games. If the party sucks, leave the party. You get to choose what you enjoy and what no longer serves you.

#9: If you’re up to it, challenge diet talk and family commentary

When your Aunt Martha says that she “shouldn’t be eating this pumpkin pie” how do you respond? What if you told her simply that she SHOULD enjoy that cheesecake? What if you asked her politely to keep her opinions about food morality to herself? What if you told her any number of things that challenged the status quo?

Challenging diet talk and body talk at the holidays can be incredibly empowering and/or incredibly exhausting. Check-in with yourself, and see if you might be up for it. Know too that simply eating the food you want and refusing to engage in diet talk is quite challenging and empowering in of itself.

#10: Don’t go on a New Year’s Resolution Diet

You’ve heard it and seen it: “Ugh I’ve gained x amount of weight, and my New Year’s Resolution is to lose it!” Unfortunately, New Year’s Resolutions rarely result in lasting change. In addition, they create the “Last Supper Mentality.” Many of my clients describe this as a time where they eat everything and anything because they know they won’t be able to have it come January 1st. What if you knew that you could still have Pecan Pie on January 1st? And as much as you want? Let’s take the deprivation mindset out of our New Year, and maybe instead commit to treating ourselves with compassion, respect, and understanding.

My last reminder is this: it's totally okay if you gain weight during the holidays. Truly. It’s okay. Relax. Tune into your body, trust that it will settle where it needs to settle. Recalibrate, take a breath, and again, relax.

 

How to Help Your Kids Feel Good About Their Bodies

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Recently a concerned mother wrote to columnist Carolyn Hax, worried and sad that her daughter had gained weight and was struggling to find clothes that fit her. She wanted to know what she could do to help her daughter lose weight and be more active.

Carolyn had some excellent advice for this mother:

“It appears to me there’s one thing you haven’t yet tried: accepting her weight.
As a crucial element of accepting her.
As a crucial element of her accepting herself.
As a crucial element of not layering an emotional struggle on top of physical and societal ones.
In your careful and well-intentioned way, you have drawn thinness as the only path to a good life.
So what is your daughter to think when her body won’t take her there? Her life is bad?”

Carolyn Hax reflects that for this mother, accepting her daughter’s weight is not only an element in helping her daughter, but a CRUCIAL element. She also understands where mom is coming from. In our weight obsessed society, in which there are very real and unjust consequences for being a person of size, it is difficult for parents to not become worried about their children when they seem to be outside what is considered “acceptable.”

Yet, in a world where five year old children are already concerned about the size of their bodies, and in and world where 80% of 10 year old girls have already gone on a diet, what else can parents do to help their children foster a loving and healthy relationship with their bodies? How do parents navigate this culture, their children’s individual sizes, and prevent disordered eating and negative body image?

Besides the crucial element of accepting your child's weight and size as Carolyn suggests here are my top 3 tips:

1. Be a good role model.

Kids are surprisingly adept at seeing and knowing how their parents relate to and perceive their own bodies. Many of my adult clients say they knew that it was not okay to accept their bodies after watching their parents pinch and poke themselves in the mirror saying “I’ve got to lose weight,” or trying yet another Atkins or Weight Watchers diet. Children, who often see their parents as the most wonderful people in the world, reflect that if even their incredible parents hate their bodies, how can they possibly love theirs?

You can be a good role model by accepting your own weight and size, here and now. Doing so sends the message that all bodies are good bodies and your child is much more likely to relax into theirs. You can refuse to diet, eat what you crave and enjoy your food, and you can move your body (if you wish) in a way that is enjoyable and comfortable for you.

2. Avoid making comments about your child’s body or other people’s bodies.

As you know, being a parent often means having difficult conversations with your children. Discussing how your child feels about their body, if your kiddo WANTS to talk about it, can be powerful and important. You have the opportunity to talk about how culture shapes our view of our bodies, how your child’s body can be trusted, and you can help your child process hurtful or confusing comments about theirs or other people’s bodies.

But, it is important to be cautious about any comments you make about your child’s body. Remember, children are incredibly perceptive. There’s no need to point out weight gain, tell your child to suck in their stomachs, or encourage activity in order to “help” your kiddo change their bodies. Doing so reinforces the notion that your child’s body needs to change, and is therefore unacceptable as it currently is.

It’s also important to avoid making any comments about other people’s bodies. It’s really none of your business if someone’s body has changed or what clothes they decide to wear. And in order to reinforce body positivity and acceptance for your child, they need to know that all bodies are acceptable and worthy of respect. Making comments about others reinforces the exact opposite.

 3. Encourage intuitive eating and joyful movement.

Remember when your child was a baby? They knew exactly how much milk to drink. They didn’t have to think about food, what was “healthy” or when to stop eating. The lovely thing is that all of us have innate wisdom about how much to eat and what to eat. Stock your pantry with all types of foods, including ones that may seem “unhealthy” to you. Doing so sends your child the message that their body can be trusted, and greatly diminishes feelings of deprivation that lead to bingeing, sneaking food, or guilt/shame after eating. Allow your child to eat when they are hungry, and continue to feed them until they say they are full and satisfied.

In addition, what activities sound fun to your child? Is a short walk fun? A bike ride together? Shooting hoops in the driveway? Participate with your child in moving their body that is not about losing weight, but rather about enjoying their bodies and moving them in a way that feels good. And if your child is not that into exercise, don’t sweat it (no pun intended)! Remember that your children have innate and intuitive wisdom that can guide their activity levels.

Being a parent is difficult work! Knowing what to say and when to say it is hard enough as it is. Remember to be gentle with yourself. There's no need to be perfect.  For more resources on helping your child develop a kind and healthy relationship with food and their bodies, I encourage you to visit the Ellen Satter Institute, which has resources on how to feed children in a way that is intuitive and non-shaming.

 

 

On Wanting to be Comfortable in Your Body

In most of my sessions, I take time to ask about what my client’s goals are. It follows that because I am an eating disorder therapist, that many, if not most, of my clients say that they really want feel comfortable in their bodies.

This typically takes time to unpack. I ask about what being comfortable means to my clients, what this would look like, and what this would feel like. And usually we don’t talk about this just in the first session. I find that most people stare back at me when I ask them more about it, and say “I’m just not comfortable now, and I want to be comfortable.” They expect me to know what they mean.

And, I DO know what they mean. As a recovered therapist myself, I too experienced years of feeling uncomfortable, in pain, or completely disconnected from my own body. Because we live in a society that continues to warn us about weight gain and continues to advocate weight loss by any means necessary, it’s hard to imagine that many people actually feel totally comfortable in their bodies at all times.

The problem is not that we all want to be comfortable in our bodies. Instead, it’s that the tools we have been given, including diets, exercise plans, apps that monitor food intake, you name it… serve to disconnect us from our bodies rather than help us actually LIVE in our bodies.

You cannot be comfortable when you are disconnected. There is no comfort in self-hate. There is no comfort in constantly beating yourself up.

And, of course  I take that back a teensy bit.  Many of my clients have found comfort in their disordered eating patterns. Disordered eating is familiar and keeps things (seemingly) in control. And yet as soon as something goes awry, be it the diet, an emotion, or a trigger,  the discomfort, panic, and even disgust/self hate comes FLOODING in. So, that’s not real comfortable either.

Instead, I see meeting the goal of being “comfortable” in your body as a bit paradoxical. In order to be comfortable, I believe the first step is being willing to be uncomfortable. In order to feel in charge and at peace, you may consider being willing to begin to experience and feel what your body actually feels.

It means experiencing your body, right here right now, no matter what your size or shape.

There is no body weight, body shape, or body size that anyone arrives at that suddenly makes them feel “comfortable.” If you have dieted your way there, you are likely pretty hungry/deprived, which doesn’t sound very comfortable to me. If you have spent hours and hours at the gym sculpting those muscles, you’ve likely missed out on important relationships or other fun things, which also doesn’t sound very comfortable. You may be constantly sore, constantly thinking about food, or your body may be breaking down. All not very comfortable.

And again, I say the above with a caveat. Weight stigma is SO INCREDIBLY REAL. I understand that our messed up culture somehow cannot seem to create airline seats that fit a variety of sizes. Chair arms that dig into your sides is not comfortable. People saying hurtful comments about your size is not comfortable. Having to pay more for clothing because many stores don’t sell your size is not comfortable.

And yet, the problem is not you nor your body.

In order to feel more comfortable, you may consider pausing and recognizing that your clothes feel too tight right now, and (money permitting) buy a few pieces that are soft and fit well, rather than vowing to lose weight! In order to feel more comfortable you may consider being willing to feel anxiety or fear as you eat a nourishing and delicious meal. In order to feel more comfortable you may consider apologizing to yourself for all of the mean comments you’ve said about your body, and take the “risk” of saying something nice. In order to feel more comfortable, you may consider feeling your anger about how society actually treats fat people, and do some advocacy work. You may consider moving your body in a way that feels absolutely joyful rather than punishing yourself or for weight loss. You may consider having a really good cry because you’ve had a hard week. You may consider patting yourself on the back for simply surviving a really shitty time. You may consider speaking up and telling your family member that no, they don’t need to comment on your weight or your body.

There’s no right plan or formula that helps us feel comfortable in our bodies. We never “arrive” at feeling comfortable for ever and ever for the rest of our lives. It’s a practice of coming back to being willing to feel the discomfort, being willing to take care of ourselves as best we can in that moment given the constraints, and being kind kind kind to ourselves.

As a final thought, I recognize that traumatic, oppressive, and stigmatizing experiences, can make it not only difficult but actually impossible for people to connect with their bodies. Feeling your feelings, including the pain of trauma, is not always a good, helpful, or even accessible option. Making a choice to continue distracting, avoid those experiences, and help yourself as best you can is also a major self-care win. You and only you get to decide when it is safe enough to begin to move in the direction of experiencing.

Sending love to you all.

Chelsea