From Collegiate Athlete to Pregnant Mom, ERIN MANDRAS talks summer body image pressures {Guest Post}

 


mandrassoccer2 Erin Mandras Erin Chooses body positivity

 

 

 


I went to pick a magazine off the rack the other day at the store, and, just like most people, I am automatically drawn to the headlines highlighted in big, bold capital letters on the front covers.

“Flat Abs, Lean Legs, Firm Butt.”
“Drop XX lbs. Fast.”
“Flat Belly Now!”
“Drop A Jeans Size In XX Days.”
“Sexy Abs Fast.”

You get the point. It is only natural for me, or anyone, to assume that these characteristics are being promoted because they depict beauty, and that sexy is defined as thin, lean, flat, and firm. As we are right in the thick of summer season, and attaining a “bikini body” is at the forefront of peoples’ minds, I picked up one of the magazines and skimmed through it. Thankfully, those magazine headlines don’t effect me in the same way they once did.

I suffered from an eating disorder at the age of twenty. My desire to appear attractive, and be physically fit fully dominated my ability to focus on being healthy. My initial attempt at losing “a few pounds” turned into an obsession with food restriction and excessive exercise. And, it all began in the summertime when I knew I would be in a swimsuit with my friends, and my body was more exposed than in the winter season. Little did I know that my drive to be thin and sexy would lead me down a deep, dark path of depression and anxiety.

I am an athlete. I have always been active and competitive in sports, particularly soccer. Short in height, I needed to have strength in my upper and lower body to be successful. At the time of my eating disorder, however, I lacked size, power, and personality–all attributes that had contributed to my successes on the field. I quickly realized these qualities I once possessed had dissipated and what I thought was making me better, sexier and more confident was actually making me weaker and more insecure.

Fast forward thirteen years.

I am now 23-weeks pregnant with my third child, and summer has begun once again. My body is larger than it has ever been in my whole life.  But so is my heart. I have two little Erin Mandras hits the beach with her kidsboys, who love to go swimming at our neighborhood pool. It is in this environment that I am forced to make a decision: embrace my features and my body, and enjoy myself and my children; or turn back to my eating disorder and disengage from life and from my family.

Love, family, and happiness now far outweigh a desire to be a certain body type. And, for me, who is not happy, joyful, or lively when I am dieting or focusing on dissatisfaction with my body, I choose to live life.

Life is too short to focus solely on my appearance or socially constructed beauty ideals. I much prefer to enjoy myself, exercise healthily, and concentrate on being the best person, mom, wife, daughter, and friend I can be. That is far sexier than any number on the scale or what I look like in a bikini.

 

Erin Mandras is a blogger and inspirational speaker at Kick The Scale.  She’s also a youth soccer coach in the Baltimore, MD area, and cares for her two young kids (Levi, 4 1/2 and Austin, 2 1/2). Prior to these roles, Erin was a college soccer coach at Michigan State University, Towson University, and Loyola University Maryland, and a former women’s soccer player at Michigan State University. She was born and raised in West Bloomfield, MI, is now married to her wonderful husband, Jon Mandras, and resides in Baltimore.   


Wondering how can you start to build a body positive summer for yourself and the people you care about?

Put the magazines down.  Better yet, don’t even pick them up. Create your own headlines.

Local Woman chooses body positivity!What do you want your summer headline to be?

Share with us on Twitter using the hashtag #bodypositivesummer and find out more about the campaign here.

 

 

 

 

 

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GLOSSARY of Terms: Body Image. Body Dissatisfaction. Body Shaming. Body Acceptance.

refuse to miss out


Having a #bodypositivesummer may sound relatively straight forward; however some of the accompanying language may require a bit more explanation. This guide is meant to help break down some of the vernacular you come across within the #bodypositivesummer movement and in other similar discussions about body image.

Body image refers to the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. The key word being subjective. In other words, body image is how you see yourself.  Medical definitions of body image extend to include the individual’s emotional beliefs and attitudes about the image they perceive. The same feature might be experienced differently and thus, elicit different emotions from person to person. For example, to one individual, being tall might come with a sense of pride and a belief that his or her height is a strength, while another individual feels embarrassed about being tall and believes that it sets him or her apart in a negative way.  An individual’s body image state – negative or positive –  is shaped by lived experiences, peer groups, media and marketing, family, community and cultural attitudes, as well as other external sources of body ideals and expectations.

The divergence of one’s body image from sociocultural beauty ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction. Grogan (2008) defines body dissatisfaction as a person’s negative thoughts about his or her own body.  Negative feelings about body type, weight, body hair, and skin tone are known to be intensified during summer months due to an increased focus of marketing on these insecurities, greater body exposure due to warmer temperatures, and other socially influenced factors. Beauty standards (also referred to as the thin ideal or body ideal) are often narrow, unhealthy and down-right ridiculous for both women and men. These unattainable “standards” may also lead to dangerous behaviors, such as excess sun exposure, dieting, and potentially by extension, disordered eating. They also set the stage for forms of hurtful interactions such as body shaming.  Body shaming, also referred to as body bashing,  is any form of mocking, bullying, or insults focused on deviations from body or appearance “norms”. This type of bullying behavior can take place in person during face-to-face interactions or online across social media platforms. Body shaming is normalized and encouraged by advertisements that imply certain bodies are not suited for certain places (like the beach) or for specific articles of clothing (like shorts or a bathing suit).

The antidote to body dissatisfaction is body acceptance.  Body Acceptance is approving of and caring for your body despite it’s real or perceived “imperfections”.  This is inclusive of other terms like body positive, body neutrality and size acceptance.  Being body positive or working towards body acceptance, doesn’t mean you absolutely love the way you look all the time. It simply means you accept and honor all bodies – including your own – as good and worthy of care and respect.  It also means you are willing to confront your own internalized weight bias and challenge other stereotypes or assumptions based on a person’s appearance.

We live within a culture that encourages body dissatisfaction. But we have within us individually, the power to be body positive. In doing this for ourselves, we also create space for others, including friends and family members with eating disorders and/or serious body image disturbances, to re-engage in experiences they might be prone to avoid.

Be a part of the #bodypositivesummer movement.  Follow along on Twitter or Facebook for blogs, tips, resources and opportunities to tell us how you are creating a season of body positivity.

Find more info here.

 

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Welcome to a #bodypositivesummer

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How will YOU create a #bodypositivesummerBy now you may have already considered whether you are “beach body ready,” but the seasonal push to pressure individuals into body conformity hasn’t even peaked yet, as it does each summer.  In hopes of increasing revenue, the diet companies, tanning salons and hair removal industries have created a standard bikini body goal they’d like us all to strive for. Typically for women this involves being smaller, thinner, toned, hairless and voluptuous in all the right places.  The same cultural undertow usually promotes height, muscularity, definition, and, increasingly body hair removal for men as well.  Both sexes will be bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to have skin that is “golden” or “bronzed”, or as one indoor tanning company so directly put it in their recent ads, “be a better shade of you”.

In the words of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on SNL, “Really!?”

Help us set a new standard for summer bodies, one that is inclusive and enjoyable. Striving for a #bodypositivesummer is an ideal that involves using your body and brain to enjoy your summer instead of spending your summer and your brainpower trying to change your body. This is an opportunity to encourage yourself and your friends to stop skipping, missing out on, or postponing summer fun due to body dissatisfaction.  It’s also an opportunity to focus on well-being and self-care instead of putting your health at risk to meet narrow and arbitrary goals that include futile weight loss, unsafe tanning or even expensive hair removal procedures.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating a #bodypositivesummer. There are no prerequisites for joining in. Despite what the advertisements depict, bodies of all shapes, sizes, shades and abilities can engage in summer fun.  Being body positive doesn’t mean you absolutely love your body right now.  In this case, being body positive just means you’re interested in helping to override negative body image norms that might otherwise hold you, or your friends, back from fun, important or beneficial moments in your life.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring tips and strategies for establishing a summer Body Dissatisfaction INFOGRAPHICremoved from socially constructed beauty ideals that reinforce body dissatisfaction, self-hatred and disordered eating . We’ve invited some of our body positive friends and colleagues to share what they’re doing to override body anxiety and make the most of summer so you’ll be hearing from them along the way too.

You can help encourage your friends and family to embrace body positivity too by educating them about the widespread impacts of body dissatisfaction. This infographic is an easy shareable way to get the message across. Feeling badly about your body is not just an inconvenience. It can have serious repercussions for a person’s quality of life at any age.

(Download Infographic as a PDF here).

If you are one of the many people who dread summer because of heightened body anxiety or you find yourself getting sucked in to the massive marketing campaigns telling you that your body isn’t good enough, stick around and follow the hashtag #bodypositivesummer on Twitter and Facebook for tips, strategies and stories from people who’ve risen above body shame in order to re-engage with life – even during the summer months!

These are just a few ways to get involved:

  • Educate friends and colleagues about the real scope and impact of body dissatisfaction.
  • Read and comment along with us as we share tips and ideas for maintaining a body positive summer, including upcoming guest posts from Erin Mandras, Dianne Bondy and others!
  • Share about your own summer adventures with the hashtag #bodypositivesummer.  We’ll be sharing helpful prompts along the way to get people thinking about their summer narratives in ways that don’t include body shape/size prerequisites.  At summer’s end we’ll be compiling all of the wonderful body acceptance stories and photos we come across to help keep the body positivity going long after summer is gone.
  • If you see or hear a body acceptance story or idea you think others could benefit from, send it our way. Send via email to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org or tweet us @CEDSheppPratt.

Not sure what it all means?  Find a glossary of body image terms here.


Please note: we manage all of our social media sites from a recovery-focused perspective and try very hard to keep these spaces free from triggering content. When sharing your  posts, pictures, comments or tweets, we ask that you do so in a way that does not include before/after pics, specific weights, clothing sizes or descriptions of eating disorder symptoms. THANK YOU.

 

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Perfectionism: Aiming for an elusive target

archery_by_kongsky


Imagine that you are extremely dedicated to an archery team. You spend day and night in target practice, regardless of the weather conditions and without regard for your own basic needs. You have an unlimited amount of arrows and you continue over and over again to launch the arrows in an attempt to hit the bull’s eye. Day after day, year after year, you never reach that bull’s eye. No matter how hard you train and commit your mind to it, no matter what the conditions are, you always miss what you are aiming for. Sometimes, you get very, very close and think that you just might have reached your goal, but ultimately, you never hit the mark. As a result, you feel that you have failed. In fact, failing becomes part of the way you define yourself.  Fear of failing becomes a constant worry for you.

Now imagine, that one day you realize that this target that you have spent all of these hours and days and years trying to hit is so very small that you can barely even see it. Actually, when you look closely, and assess the situation you find the bull’s eye is not just small and faded, it is nonexistent. Upon realizing this, you see you have spent years and years feeling like you have failed because you were trying to hit a target that wasn’t actually there. This is perfectionism.

In this imagined scenario, perfect is the nonexistent target. A sense of failure results from believing that anything but perfect is not good enough. If you are struggling with perfectionism, or you have in the past, you probably know how exhausting this can be.

 

Perfectionism is an unobtainable illusion guaranteed to make you feel badly.

Under the weight of extreme perfectionism, difficulty with a specific task may be generalized.  This can quickly lead to self-criticism. For example, instead of thinking, “I did not do well on that part of the exam; those must have been really difficult questions,” the perfectionist might think “I am so stupid. How could I have missed both of the multiple choice questions?! I am terrible at math.”

Constantly striving for perfect results can lead to feelings of tension and stress. It can also trigger an avoidance of appropriate challenges and risks. For example, you might find it difficult to connect with new people in social relationships at the risk of appearing flawed or imperfect to someone else. Or you may not apply to a great job because you haven’t mastered every single skill set listed as a prerequisite.

In general, perfectionism can cause you to miss out on opportunities to learn from mistakes and may ultimately get in the way of living a balanced, rewarding life.

 

Addressing perfectionism can aid in eating disorder recovery

Perfectionism is a genetic personality trait that many people are born with. Research has shown this characteristic to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders. Furthermore, once someone has developed an eating disorder, perfectionism can sustain or perpetuate the illness, getting in the way of recovery efforts. For this reason, it can be important to work on perfectionism head on.

With support from a cognitive-behavioral therapist, you can start by making clear, manageable behavioral changes to test out what it would be like to attempt tasks without looking for a perfect outcome. For example, trying to complete tasks “good enough.” It’s usually helpful to start off with very small goals and work your way up to more situations that might be more difficult. Consider these two examples below:

Example 1: If you identify yourself as a “neat freak,” try setting a timer to limit cleaning time to smaller intervals or set a guideline that you will vacuum only 50% of the time that you typically do. Experiment with this and see what the advantages and disadvantages are of approaching this task in a new way. Learn from this experience and make changes accordingly.

Example 2: If you are someone who needs to complete every item on your to-do list before leaving the office (at the expense of family, friends or self), see what happens if you have a couple of items left to work on the next day. Test out how this might affect you. Perhaps you were able to get home on time and enjoy more time with your family or you were able to drive home while it was still light out and enjoy the scenery. See if leaving those items for the next day made much of a difference as you may have approached them more efficiently with a good night’s sleep. Test out if sometimes your perfectionism causes you to put in more effort that will only bring very marginal gains. If so, figure out when is the time to stop and focus on something more profitable.

Starting to make changes on your own is a great first step toward decreasing the amount of influence that perfectionism has in your life. You might also want to consider engaging in a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) group or individual therapy to learn how to change the way in which you interact with your perfectionism.

Committing to decrease your need to be, or appear, perfect will help you to take more and more breaks from target practice and actually enjoy being on the archery team.

 

Do you want to learn more about perfectionism?

when perfect isnt good enough
We recommend the book, When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, written by Drs. Martin Antony and Richard Swinson.

If you are a treatment provider and would like to learn more about cognitive and behavioral treatments for perfectionism, join us on April 9, 2016 at The Center for Eating Disorders’ Annual Professional Symposium where Dr. Antony will be presenting on The Nature & Treatment of Perfectionism.

Online registration and event details are available at www.eatingdisorder.org/events.

You can also download the program brochure (pdf) here.


Written by:
Laura Sproch, PhD
Research Coordinator and Outpatient Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net / kongsky

 

 

Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello, Part II

 

MF 003
In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 (Feb. 21-27), we asked body acceptance activist and eating disorder recovery advocate, Melissa Fabello to share her thoughts on some essential eating disorder awareness topics.  If you missed it, you can find her thoughts on self-care, perfectionism and dieting in Part I.

Below, in part II she opens the door to important conversations about body neutrality and intersectionality, and she also shares the one thing she wants people struggling with eating disorders to know about recovery.

 


Q & A with MELISSA FABELLO: Part II

 

Q: You recently wrote an awesome list of 50 body acceptance resolutions for 2016. In that list you introduce body neutrality as an alternative goal when body positivity feels like too much pressure. What did you mean by that?

MF: There are so many aims of the body acceptance or body positivity movement that I love. I have found so much comfort, joy, and support within those communities, and I am forever grateful to them for that. I’ve also found some missteps that I think need correcting, one of which being the push for everyone to feel beautiful and to love their bodies. I think that’s a lovely goal, and I also think it’s too lofty for reality.

Because the truth is that no one loves their body every single day – no one. Part of how body image works is that it can shift and that we all have good days, and we all have bad days. Mostly, when we have healthy body image, we simply see our body for what it is without ascribing any meaning to it whatsoever, and we exist, full of acceptance, in that body. To me, that’s what body neutrality is about. It’s about acknowledging and accepting our body as is, rather than pushing ourselves to have extreme feelings about it either way.

And I like to think of it as an option – not an alternative to the mainstream body acceptance movement. I like to think of it as something that someone can choose to work toward, if that goal feels more realistic than one of unconditional love. Perhaps, even, I like to think of it as a stop on the train toward a more loving relationship with our bodies. I just think that pushing people to love their bodies can backfire if it creates another standard to live up to.

 

Q: In all of your writing and in advocating for individuals with eating disorders, you take great care to acknowledge the true diversity of those who are impacted. From gender to age to race and socioeconomic status, why is it so important to you to highlight these marginalized voices in your work?

MF: Intersectionality – the understanding that intersecting social identities exist, a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw – is an absolute must in any and all work, I believe, but especially in work that stems from feminism. The ways in which we’re impacted by society differ, based on our identities. As a queer woman, for example, I experience life differently than a straight woman or a queer man. As a white woman, I experience life differently than a woman of color or a white man. Our positionality within the complicated web of identity matters because it affects how we move through this world. This is true in regards to body image and eating disorders, too.

We talk a lot about the thin ideal in our work – and that’s a very real, valid concern. We talk less, though, about how our beauty ideals are also centered on whiteness, on a heteronormative idea of gender roles, on access to money, on youth, and many other intersections. The further that we get away from the ideal, the more suffering we may experience as a result, and the more pressure we may feel to approximate those ideals. And I think that when we center the most marginalized – the people furthest from that ideal – in our work, then we help more people. When our work focuses on white, middle class, cis women, for example, then those are the only people that we help.

The eating disorder field has long focused its efforts on a very specific population, and I think it’s far past time to admit that and to work actively to eradicate the ways that that focus perpetuates systems of oppression like white supremacy and classism, among others. Different voices need to be centered because different 670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12experiences exist and have been ignored.

 

Q: Who do you think could benefit from attending your presentation, Adventures in Self-Care: Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world?

MF: I think that anyone could, honestly! It’s been my experience that conversations around self-care can be difficult to have because so few people practice it. I’m going to talk a lot about what self-care means and why it’s important, but I’m also going to give ideas on how to start cultivating more self-care practices in your life – in ways that are easy and practical. I think that anyone who feels like sometimes life is overwhelming and they need some “me” time could benefit from this conversation – and isn’t that everyone?

 

Q: Lastly, what is the one thing you would want to tell someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and may be feeling ambivalent, hopeless, overwhelmed by or resistant to the prospect of recovery?

MF: I want them to know that those are very real and valid feelings to have. I want them to know that we’ve all come up against that at some point or another. And I want them to know that one of the biggest obstacles to recovery is believing that it’s one huge accomplishment that looks a certain way. It’s not. Recovery is about a whole bunch of tiny successes that lead you to a healthier, happier place – defined by you. Recovery is in your reach because you get to decide what it looks like and how to get there. But first, you need to take the first step of believing (even skeptically!) that it’s a possibility. And it is. I promise you that it is.

 

Continue the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


Many thanks to Melissa Fabello for taking the time to share her passionate and thoughtful responses. If you’d like to hear more from Melissa, join us in Baltimore on February 21 to help kick-off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Don’t forget to RSVP. Space is limited. 

Download an Event Flyer to share or post:
Adventures in Self-Care…Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world (PDF)

You can find Part I of our Q&A with Melissa here.

 



 

Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello: Part 1

 

If you’ve ever seen one of her YouTube videos than you probably already know Melissa Fabello is a talented and passionate activist.  She also writes boldly and beautifully about eating disorder recovery, body image, diet culture and a host of other important issues. In advance of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and her presentation in Baltimore on February 21, we asked Melissa to share her thoughts on why self-care is not self-ish, the intersection of eating disorders and perfectionism, and her experience with recovery in a society obsessed with dieting.  We are honored to share her responses with you below.

 

 


Q&A with MelissA Fabello – Part I

 

Q: A lot of people assume self-care to be synonymous with personal hygiene or the daily chores of living. This can sound like a pretty boring topic. Given that you will be in Baltimore on February 21 to discuss the Adventures in Self-Care as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, can you explain more about what self-care really is and why it’s something we should be talking about?

MF: To start, I would actually argue that self-care should, indeed, be a daily chore of living. It should be an intentional practice that we partake in – every single day – in order to take care of ourselves. It really can be as simple as getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, or eating a meal that fuels your body. It’s finding ways to insert self-care into those daily chores of living, which in turn, creates a life that may feel a bit more adventurous.

And when I say “adventurous,” I don’t necessarily mean thrill-seeking, but rather, simply, more livable. And what is more of an adventure than life itself? Self-care puts you in the position to live life more fully and to experience it more broadly because it cultivates your self-awareness and forces you to consider what makes you the happiest.


Self-care, really, is just any set of practices that are nourishing to you – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Those practices can be preventative (like taking care of your physiological and mental health needs to the best of your ability every day), and they can also be intervention methods (think: calling out sick just to spend the day taking a bubble bath and reading novels). But the point is that they are necessary to all of our lives, but especially necessary when we’re in eating disorder recovery.

 

Q: We often hear from patients who fear that engaging in self-care is a selfish act. How would you respond to someone worried about being, or being perceived as, selfish?

MF: That’s a real concern, and it needs to be validated as such. We live in a culture that’s driven by capitalism, and the number one value held by capitalism is that of productivity. Have you ever slept in because your body needed rest, but then berated yourself for not getting up early enough to start in on your housework? Or have you ever taken a much needed day off to marathon your favorite TV show, but then felt bad that you didn’t work on your school work, even though you hadn’t taken a day off in two weeks? That guilt is the product of believing that our worth is tied up in how productive we are.

670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12 This is especially difficult for women. In our society, men are frequently defined by what they do out in the world. Women, though, are judged by how they take care of others. As such, women’s moral development, according to Carol Gilligan, is all about how we understand ourselves in relation to other people. Women, in particular, are taught that taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first is not only a selfish act, but even an immoral one. And that’s just straight up sexist.


One small shift we can make is to redefine what “productivity” means to us. I have an ex-girlfriend who was a hustler, trying to make it in the music business. As such, every day when we talked, she’d ask me, “What did you do today?” or “What did you accomplish today?” And sometimes that really overwhelmed me – because what if I didn’t “do” or “accomplish” anything? But the truth is that even if what I did that day was laugh while playing with my cat, or if what I accomplished was taking a trip to the bookstore for fun, then I’ve been productive. I’ve produced something: self-care. I think we need to remind ourselves that taking care of ourselves is an accomplishment.

 

Q: Perfectionism is one of several genetic traits that have been identified by research to be associated with an increased risk for the development of eating disorders. From your experience and observation, how does the topic of self-care intersect with tendencies toward perfectionism?

MF: I like to think of myself as a recovering overachiever, although I still fall back into those old habits sometimes. Again, in a culture where we’re taught to value our productivity, it can be hard not to fall into perfectionism as a way to prove our worth. But the truth is that we need to learn to be okay with the fact that none of us is perfect, that we’re all going to make mistakes.

One of the most valuable pieces of self-care advice I’ve received lately is that of learning to be okay with “good enough.” I’m one of those people who, when I give 75%, will feel guilty and ashamed for not giving 100%. What happens that’s interesting, though, is that no one can ever tell that I didn’t give something my all. As far as they can tell, I gave 110% because what I did was absolutely, positively awesome. Learning to be okay with “good enough” means giving something a shot, but not letting it run our lives, and feeling comfortable with the amount of attention that we were able to give something.

Part of self-care is being able to say, “I can’t (or don’t want to) work on this anymore because it’s possible that continuing to do so will damage my mental health. So I’m done now.” And that means letting go of the idea that we – and everything associated with us – has to be perfect.

 

Q: Another risk factor for eating disorders stems from the emotional and physiological consequences of dieting. What other impacts do you see from a culture that markets diets as a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance?

MF: I’ll be honest: The day that I actively decided to go through weight restoration was the day I realized that I could never be both thinner and happy. I could only ever be one of the two. I could spend every second of every day counting, measuring, and restricting in an attempt to achieve self-acceptance through (what I thought was) self-improvement, or I could attempt to apologize to my body and recreate a healthy relationship with food and within that freedom, find happiness. That concrete realization – that I couldn’t work toward a “better” body and experience day to day happiness – was a huge shift for me.

A spoken word poem that I really love, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird, has a line in it that says: “This was the year of eating when I was hungry without punishing myself / And I know it sounds ridiculous, but that sh– is hard.” And it is. It is hard. Because we live in a culture that is so focused on dieting as, like you said, “a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance” that deciding to go against that grain and to seek validation and happiness from elsewhere is a radical act. And make no mistake: Giving up diet culture is a radical act, both personally and politically. Our culture thrives on making us feel small, weak, and less-than. Rebelling against that pressure, declaring that you will not be contained, and saying “no” to everything that our culture and media want us to believe? That is an incredibly courageous act.

 

Be sure to check out Part II of our discussion with Melissa in which she delves into body image and the concept of intersectionality as it relates to eating disorders.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


MF 006Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed. is a body acceptance activist, sexuality scholar, and patriarchy smasher based in Philadelphia. She is currently a managing editor of Everyday Feminism, as well as a doctoral candidate at Widener University, working toward a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies. Melissa has worked closely with The National Eating Disorders Association, The Representation Project, and Adios Barbie on campaigns related to body image, eating disorders, and media literacy. Find out more about Melissa and her work at melissafabello.com.

 

 

 

Improving Body Image: 10 things you probably haven’t tried yet

When we make New Year’s resolutions we tend to think about the definition of the word RESOLUTION as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. However, it might be helpful to remember that resolution can also mean “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict”. Perhaps this year, instead of making a firm to decision to change your appearance, you could resolve to decrease the conflict you experience with your body and see where that takes you instead. Below are ten small things you can do right now to help bring you closer to a resolution with your body. Where will you begin?

10 Steps to Improving Your Relationship with your Body#1 – STOP BLAMING YOUR BODY
Remember that negative body image is an ATTITUDE problem, not a BODY problem. Body image is a thought, perspective, idea, and interpretation that you have about your body. Your thoughts are not facts and they can be distorted. The good news is that the thoughts that aren’t working for us can be modified. Write down the phrase “My body image is a THINKING problem, not a BODY problem” and repeat this to yourself throughout the day.

#2 – BE A SCIENTIST
Monitor shape/weight checking behaviors for two days. Try to pick one work/school day and one home day. What are checking behaviors? They include looking in the mirror, looking down at yourself, weighing yourself, watching your reflection in store fronts/windows, measuring parts of your body with your hands, or feeling for certain anatomy to monitor the size of your body. Notice which of these you do, when, how often and in what context. Once you have this data, ask yourself, what am I trying to find out when I check my body? Is it really necessary to check this often? Is my checking biased or is it an objective way to look at my overall shape and weight? Most importantly, is it helping me? Checking behaviors usually are focused on parts of the body you are most uncomfortable with and tend to deepen insecurities. If you determine that it this is how checking is impacting you and that it is not helpful, start experimenting with decreasing these behaviors to see how it changes your thinking, attention and mood. Act like a scientist trying new formulas to see what the result is.

#3 – QUESTION & RE-LABEL “FEELINGS OF FATNESS”
Many people report that they experience “feeling fat.” Next time you experience this, monitor and observe these feelings. Based on your observations, ask yourself if these are in fact feelings or perhaps these are thoughts associated with certain negative mood states (feeling stressed, bored, guilty) or behavioral or physical sensations (i.e feeling full, bloated, hot). If this is the case, each time it happens, remind yourself to re-frame the experience of “feeling fat” and label it more accurately. For example, tell yourself, “I am feeling full right now” instead of “I am feeling fat right now.”

#4 – REDUCE SOCIAL MEDIA EXPOSURE.
It has been shown in research that exposure to many social media outlets can lead to comparison making- in the population at large and also for individuals struggling with eating disorders. Social media can be very difficult for people to stop cold turkey so if the idea of not being “linked in” sounds like too much, identify a goal that is more doable.

  • Reduce Facebook use to only once per day at a specified time.
  • Remove social media apps from your phone or get rid of all pop-up notifications.
  • If you use multiple social media accounts pick one, like Instagram or Twitter, from which to take a month-long vacation.I will not be defined by my body
  • Make every Thursday a social media free day and note differences in how you feel and how you spend your time as compared to the other days.

#5 – CREATE DAILY AFFIRMATIONS
Collect positive body image quotes or mantras that resonate with you. Place them in areas where you spend a lot of time each day – in your car, by your mirror, at your desk. Focus on one or two that are most meaningful to you. You can even send yourself a couple of alerts from your phone throughout the day as reminders of your positive affirmation. Change your affirmation when you feel the need to mix things up. (Remember, if the idea of loving your body feels too overwhelming as a goal, positive body image mantras don’t have to include messages of complete body adoration. They can, simply focus on body acceptance or even body neutrality.)

#6 – PARTICIPATE IN A JOYFUL MOVEMENT ACTIVITY
Engage in physical activities that interest you and in no way relate to changing your body weight or shape. These activities will be different for everyone based on your own thoughts and preferences. You might need to experiment to find an activity that you can participate in where negative body thoughts aren’t activated. Examples include nature walks, meditative stretching, getting a massage, playing dodge ball on a community team, dancing, or even swinging with your kids on the playground.

#7 – CHALLENGE ONE ASSUMPTION
Our assumptions about beauty and appearance are based on a variety of personal influences but can include society, family, peers, early learning experiences or culture. Examples of assumptions include physically attractive people have it all. If I could look as I wish, my life would be much happier. One’s outward appearance is a sign of the inner person. Pick just one of your assumptions and identify rational thoughts that dispute the assumption. Ask yourself what experiences you have had in your life or that you have noticed others having that do not align with these assumptions all of the time. In other words, work to disprove your own unhealthy theories.

#8 – BE AN ADVOCATE.
If you are trying to shift your own perspective from negative body image to positive body image you might want to start by telling others about body acceptance and working to promote change on a community level. Speak out against photoshopped adsCognitive dissonance refers to a situation in which someone holds attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that contradict one another. Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory suggests that it’s uncomfortable for us to be in s by writing to an editor. Talk to your kids about the functionality of their bodies being more important than weight or size. Tell your friends about the negative consequences of dieting. When you do these things, you are creating cognitive dissonance. Research shows this is helpful in bringing your own thoughts and behaviors into alignment with your new positive message to others. (And yes, it’s totally okay if you aren’t sure that you completely believe everything you’re advocating for yet. You’ll get there.)

#9 – GET UNCOMFORTABLE.
When we make changes in life, usually our anxiety goes up before it starts to decrease. Challenging negative body image causes a great deal of discomfort for most people. Oftentimes this discomfort or anxiety can cause individuals to prefer to avoid working on the issue. That being said, the most effective strategy for working to decrease the effect of fear in our lives is to face our fears. (In therapy, this is called exposure therapy.) So remember that if you are feeling uncomfortable during these challenges, it probably means that the work is working.

#10 – ASK FOR HELP
Choose one or more of the above challenges. If you are able to do it and tolerate your discomfort, it would be worth it to try again, and again and again. If you aren’t able to bear the anxiety of it or your negative body image thoughts are getting in the way of living your life, give yourself the gift of help. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, find a support group and/or call a therapist to set up an appointment. It really is possible to live without body hatred and all-consuming thoughts about weight but it often requires skills and input from other people. This in itself can be uncomfortable, but when you look back on this decision from a place of self-acceptance and body positivity you’ll be glad you didn’t avoid it any longer.


Do you have questions about treatment for negative body image or eating disorders? Call us at (410) 938-5252 or email Eatingdisorderinfo@sheppardpratt.org.
This post was written by Laura Sproch, PhD., Research Coordinator & Outpatient Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

 
 
 

Simple solutions for holiday (and everyday) conversations about food and weight


dining room
As we head into the holidays, it can be helpful to have a very simple plan for responding to family and friends drawn to the very topics that may be most troubling during recovery from an eating disorder.  Depending on how you spend your Thanksgiving this year, one or all of these suggestions may come in handy when the conversation takes a turn toward triggering language regarding bodies, food or weight.


Step 1:
Obstruct or change the conversation if you notice someone is heading into a discussion that makes you uncomfortable.

Remember people generally like to talk about themselves and their interests. If Aunt Marie is pressuring everyone to eat more pie or is gushing over a family member’s weight loss, use that as an opportunity to reflect the attention back to her. So who taught you how to bake? What are you up to at work Aunt Marie? How was that vacation you went on?

If you’re comfortable staying on the topic but exerting your power into the conversation you could try something like this: I’ve actually been learning a lot about how weight is not a good determinant of overall health. I’m focusing on my work-life balance and healthier ways to deal with stress. I’m thinking about meditation…have you ever tried it?


Step 2: Set boundaries
if someone continues to target you with questions or comments about your body or what you’re eating.

Here are some simple examples with varying levels of intensity.  You can choose which ones you think would work well for you, or create your own.

  • I try not to get involved in discussions about dieting and weight loss.
  • I’d prefer not to talk about my weight today.
  • I am so happy to be here with everyone, I don’t want to waste our time together talking about food/weight.
  • Please don’t comment on my body.
  • Let’s find something else to do or talk about.
  • I’d much rather tell you about school / work / hobby
  • It’s really stressful to me when people make comments about what I’m eating.
  • It’s actually not helpful for me to talk about calories or exercise.
  • I’m choosing to focus on other things this year.
  • It is not beneficial for me to feel badly about my body or guilty about what I ate.

The great thing about practicing these responses with other people is that you’ll be more likely to use them when struggling with negative self-talk or eating disorder thoughts in your own head too.


Step 3:
Step away & seek support.

If stressors persist or you find you just need a break from the crowd, locate your holiday ally or text a friend. Take some time to vent about what’s bothering you, take 3 very deep breaths, and then re-focus on the positive parts of the day.  Sounds simple but it can make a big difference.

You are deserving of a happy and healthy holiday. How you choose to create that is up to you.  Just remember that one insensitive comment from one person does not have to ruin your entire Thanksgiving. At anytime, you can choose to re-engage in both the celebration and your recovery.

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Read more about healthy holiday coping…


 Concerned that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder?  Call us at (410) 938-5252 for a free and confidential phone assessment or visit www.eatingdisorder.org for more information about treatment options.

 

Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net / digidreamgrafix

 

 

 

8 ways to take the focus off of food this Thanksgiving


Who’s bringing a dessert?  Can someone help with appetizers?  Here, have some more!  Are you really taking another helping?  I wish I could eat like you.  Ugh, my diet must start tomorrow!

guitarSound familiar? It’s not unusual for pre-Thanksgiving talk between family members to focus on food and food-related tasks. It’s also not uncommon for holiday conversation to revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and, in some cases, criticism or praise regarding weight and size. To be clear, making sure there’s enough food to feed everyone at a gathering is important, but it doesn’t need to be the center of everyone’s day.

When an individual is struggling with an eating disorder, or working hard to maintain recovery from one, these topics can activate disordered thoughts about food, trigger negative body image and impact a person’s ability to be emotionally or physically present at the gathering. Intentionally steering the day towards gratitude and connection instead of food and weight can take a bit of work in our diet-obsessed culture but it stands to benefit many, not just those with eating disorders.


Where to start?
These are just a few suggestions from our therapists and dietitians. Feel free to share your ideas and recommendations on our Facebook page.


1. Offer roles for family and friends who want to contribute something but may not want to bring food.
Not everyone enjoys cooking and some people, especially those with eating disorders, might feel incredibly anxious around food. There are definitely other ways to help and have a meaningful connection to the day that don’t involve preparing food. For example:

  • Planning activities or bringing a craft for the kids (or adults!) to work on.
  • Pet duty. Someone might really love to take the dogs out for a walk while everyone else is distracted in the kitchen or watching the football game.
  • Helping with clean-up and dish-washing (Yes, some people enjoy washing dishes!)
  • Ask the musicians of the family to bring their instruments.
  • See if anyone would be willing to put together a slideshow of past Thanksgiving photos for after-dinner viewing.

Quick Tip: Tap into everyone’s strengths. If your brother has taken up a recent interest in photography ask if he’d be willing to document the day and capture different positive interactions. How great would it be to have a beautiful photograph of a grandparent rocking a new baby or all the cousins playing football outside? These are, after all, the moments you’d choose to remember about a holiday, not how many calories you ate or an offhanded remark someone made about your weight gain/loss.


2. Give in to the gratitude trend.
Gratitude might seem like a big social media gimmick right now but the truth is it does have the power to shift your attitudes and perceptions. The moment dinner is served and everyone sits down to eat can be a moment of peak anxiety if you have an eating disorder. In anticipation of this, Google “gratitude quotes”, pick your favorites and write them on small cards to place at each table setting. Depending on how willing your family is, you could also give everyone a chance to go around and verbally share something for which they are grateful.


3. If you’re hosting, do a quick assessment of reading material around your house.
Put away (or better yet, recycle) any magazines that are overly focused on appearance, diet or beauty. Studies show even just 3 minutes of looking at fashion or “fitness” magazines can negatively impact self-esteem and trigger feelings of sadness and guilt. Do you really want your 7 year-old nephew to practice his reading skills with a fitness magazine full of photoshopped bodies? Do yourself and your guests a favor by instead stocking your coffee table with photo albums, short stories written by your kids, or some photography books by a favorite artist. (If you really want to make a body positive impact, you could leave a copy of Intuitive Eating or Health At Every Size laying around as well.)


4. Identify an ally (or two).
Many of us look forward to holidays with great anticipation because we get to spend time with family members we don’t often see. Some of us experience dread and stress for the very same reason. It’s no secret that family dynamics can be complicated. Instead of focusing on family members who are particularly difficult to handle, focus on the ones who can help. If you have a grandparent, cousin or significant other who knows you’re struggling with recovery, have a conversation with them in advance about the ways in which they can support you at the gathering, at the table, and in specific situations throughout the day.


5. Step away from the bathroom scale.
If you’re hosting and you have a scale in your house, move it out of sight temporarily, or permanently. If you are a guest in someone else’s house, consider asking them if they can stash it in a closet for the day. As a parent, spouse or support person of someone in recovery, this would be a great thing to take care of in advance as a way to advocate for your loved one.


6. Whatever you spend time focusing on will be what you spend time focusing on.
If you’re in recovery you likely going to need to think about meal plans and meeting nutritional needs and that’s okay, but make sure you also have holiday intentions that don’t involve food, eating or weight. Why? Because if all your goals that day revolve around what you’re eating you will be hyper-focused on food just like you were with the eating disorder. Prioritize your nutritional goals, talk them over with your dietitian and then consider adding some non-food goals like these:

  • I will record an interview with a grandparent. (Check out The Great Thanksgiving Listen)
  • I would love to cuddle with a relative’s new baby.
  • I’d like to sneak off to do a 3-minute mindful meditation before dinner
  • I’m going to talk with each family member about their favorite songs, then compile a playlist to share after the holiday.
  • I will give at least 3 non-appearance related compliments to other people on Thanksgiving day.

Quick Tip: Whatever you choose, make sure your goals are easy, achievable and positively worded. Think about adding good things into your experience, instead of avoiding a negative. For example, instead of saying “I won’t go on Facebook during our Thanksgiving get together” say “I look forward to taking a break from social media so I can catch up with my loved ones.” Remember, whatever you focus on will be what you’re focused on.


7. Remember that you cannot control everyone else.
We live in a food and weight-obsessed society, so it’s likely some of this conversation will make it’s way into your holiday despite your best efforts. If and when it does, be prepared with ways you can change the conversation, set boundaries and seek support.


8. Give Back –
Identify a local charity and ask all the Thanksgiving guests to bring a donation for the cause. Even if the day is hard for you and your recovery you will be left with a visual reminder of everyone’s generosity, (even if they couldn’t stop mentioning how many calories were in the appetizer all day).


Thanksgiving can be a truly beautiful holiday that reminds us all to give thanks and reflect upon the positives in life. Taking the focus off food might not only benefit those with an eating disorder but anyone struggling with negative thoughts, low self-esteem or loneliness this holiday season.

When we lift the food frenzy and body angst we are better able to focus on gratitude and authentic connection with others and ourselves.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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You may also be interested in reading:

Simple solutions for holiday (and everyday) conversations about food and weight

 


 

Questions about treatment for an eating disorder? Call us at (410) 427-3886 or visit eatingdisorder.org

 Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net / bugtiger