When it comes to the topic of body image and eating disorder recovery, much conversation occurs around the concept of body positivity. In recent years, a movement has erupted from beneath the rigid body image expectations perpetuated by our culture to declare that “health” should no longer be automatically synonymized with “thin,” and we have begun to see a greater celebration of the various ways that bodies take size and shape. Instead of enslaving our bodies to harsh diets and punishing workout routines, an alternative approach has been offered to tell us that we can indeed celebrate the feats our bodies are capable of and honor them with nourishing foods and movement that we enjoy.
Many of the leaders in this movement are women who have been brave enough to push back against the unreasonable body image standards to which they have long been held hostage, and often in my work in the field of eating disorder treatment, I have suggested that the rest of us must join the work our sisters have started and begin to cultivate body positivity movements for men, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community, as well.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge, however, that for those of us who have spent significant amounts of time at war with our bodies, the idea of such personal body positivity can seem nearly impossible. The notion may be good in theory, but after years of wrestling with body disgust and hatred, the concept of celebrating and loving our physical selves can feel like nothing more than a pipe dream. To you, my friend, I simply say: I get it. Body positivity does not always feel good and positive, and I know well that the way we feel about our physical selves does not always consist of celebration, warmth, or acceptance. If anything, the expectation that body positivity must be defined by these experiences can lead us into deeper guilt and shame about the actual, darker emotions we sometimes feel when we look in the mirror. The truth is, for some of us, practicing body positivity will at times be the most difficult, and least positive-feeling, thing we ever do.
I recently went through a difficult season in my life, and honestly, I did not feel very positive about my body during any of it. It was a season of hardship, filled with struggle, scarcity, hurt, and grief, and in an attempt to alleviate some of the pain, I turned back to a few of my most reliable and damaging numbing techniques. My body, in turn, adjusted with them.
I am well-practiced at criticizing my body for not being good enough and for changing in ways that I deem to be undesirable and unacceptable, and during this season, it took a lot of my energy to refrain from berating my body and myself for being human and imperfect every time I got dressed in the morning. It took additional energy to then refrain from engaging in even more damaging practices to compensate for its changes. The only body positivity I could muster during that time was an acknowledgement of the ways my body had agreed to hold my pain when the rest of me could not and choose not to actively criticize it or punish it for the way it had done so.
In reality, body positivity doesn’t always, or sometimes ever, look like a celebration for all of the wonderful things our bodies allow us to do. Some days, body positivity instead looks like whispering to our physical selves through gritted teeth and tear-stained cheeks that despite the pain, the fear, or the disgust, we will choose not to do anything we know will cause them harm. Some days, it looks like nothing more than putting in the fight to ride out the wave of body distress without engaging in destructive, quick-fix ways out of the emotion, even if we know those ways will temporarily dull the pain. Some days, body positivity is desperately seeking out a glimmer of gratitude, no matter how small, that our bodies have endured our mistreatment, made space for our pain, and have kept us alive. And on those days, my friend, that is enough.
Body positivity, in its truest form, is not always pretty, and it is certainly not always connected to any actual positive feeling. For some of us, loving our physical selves may feel futile or impossible, and yet, if there is even one small act of physical kindness that can get us through the difficult days, if there is even one time we can show our bodies appreciation instead of harm, the hope that inspires body positivity remains.
My dear friend, if you are afraid that celebrating your physical self is out of reach, I feel you. However, if you are also tired of waging a constant war against your body, I am with you. Let us begin the hard work of making peace with our flesh and bones together, and in doing so, discover that in the moments when we feel like celebrating our bodies least, even the smallest acts of physical kindness are cause for celebration, too.
About the Author:
Zach Verwey, MA, LPC, NCC holds a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from a CACREP accredited program and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. In his clinical practice, Zach has worked extensively with LGBTQ+ concerns, eating disorders, holistic sexual health, values and identity, and grief and loss, and he is Prepare/Enrich certified in working with couples. He is especially passionate about addressing the ways in which body image difficulties impact the LGBTQ+ community and regularly works with clients and provides education through writing and public speaking on this topic. Zach believes deeply in the power of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship work in the therapeutic process, and offers a holistic and integrative approach that honors the mind, body, and spirit. In his spare time, Zach enjoys reading the memoirs of female comedians, experimenting with new bread recipes, and exploring Denver’s latest hot spots with a friend or two.
Are you constantly looking in the mirror to see if you have lost that five pounds yet? Or always thinking about your next meal and whether it will fit in your diet regimen? Do you feel anxious if you haven’t completed your exercise routine? You are certainly not alone. Many women everyday wrestle with body image and obsessive patterns concerning food and exercise. Disordered eating is a very common issue for women.
There is a new trend on social media called “Fitspiration.” Many women will tag themselves after their workout or eating a healthy meal and tag #fitspiration on sites like Instagram and Facebook. Studies have shown that there are over 5.2 million pictures on Instagram with this hashtag (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017). This hashtag highlights women with a certain body type, which is unattainable for lots of women. It also does not highlight the health benefits of diet and exercise, but rather obtaining a certain appearance. This can lead to discouragement for women who don’t feel like they match these women's images and it can send them spiraling into unhealthy eating behaviors.
One study compared a group of women who posted photos of fitspiration with a group of women who posted pictures of travel who were both tested for behaviors of disordered eating and compulsive exercise. Even though the women who posted fitness pictures appeared healthier, they scored higher for patterns of disordered eating (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017). The women posting fitspiration photos also scored higher for compulsive exercise, which is associated with more extreme levels of exercise that can lead to fatigue, injury proneness and social withdrawal (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017). It appears that the women posting about fitness are motivated more by perfectionism (Goodwin, Haycraft, Willis, & Meyer, 2011) and the drive to obtain the ‘socially acceptable’ body image rather for the benefits of health (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017).
Images like these and many other factors in life can encourage unhealthy behaviors of eating and working out. Changing these behaviors is not as simple as finding the will power. There are multiple levels of thought, will, and heart all at play. It takes time to determine where the depths of insecurity have originated and how to work through it. Please check in again as we continue to unpack this complex topic of disordered eating and ways that lead towards true healing and freedom.
continuing the conversation
There is a much needed conversation around women and disordered eating, where the questions of “how do I know when I am falling into patterns of disordered eating?” or “what drives me to habits of disorder eating?
If you or someone you know would like more help to navigate through your relationship with food, I would encourage you to check out our group called “Navigating Your Relationship with Food: From Disordered Eating Towards Recovery.” There will also be a part two of this blog that will delve deeper into the underlying dynamics behind eating disorders.
About The Author:
Amy McCann, RP, Apprentice, is earning her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. She is open to seeing many types of clients of all age ranges. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and desires to help couples strengthen their relationship. Amy earned her Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Vermont, and desires to help her clients in a holistic way. She is passionate about people finding true freedom and healing in every area of life. Amy also has rich cultural experiences with living overseas and enjoys cross-cultural work with clients. Amy is originally from Boston, but loves living in Colorado with her husband. They enjoy hiking, fly fishing, playing games with friends, and eating ice cream.
Words such as “holistic”, “wellness”, and “self care” are tossed around pretty frequently these days, but what do we actually mean when we scribble “self care!!” onto the bottom of our to do lists?
Oftentimes our commitment to “self care” can be connected to some pretty harsh demands, such as: lose 20 pounds ASAP; stop freaking out; or the somewhat meaningless, vague decree: “Be better!”
And yet the longing beneath these self directed pleas, points to the beauty of our very human yearning to become our most whole selves; to tap into an individual wholeness that organically leads to healthier relationships and reciprocal kindness with the people and world around us.
So how do we cultivate more of that without getting bogged down by the shame, guilt, and ineffectiveness of typical resolution making?
The art and practice of yoga lends a bit of wisdom. Sankalpa is the yogic process of intention setting that is typically engaged during the practice of Yoga Nidra, or deeply restorative yogic rest.
The cultivation of intention intrinsically tied to a state of restfulness… that is a change of pace from the typical, frantic New Year’s resolution setting or everyday demand to “calm down and be better!” Sankalpa digs beneath our surface level “to accomplish lists”, helps us put words to what we are truly longing for, and guides the way towards wholeness.
Stanford University professor, Kelly McGonigal, writes, “Discovering your sankalpa is a process of listening. Your heartfelt desire is already present, waiting to be seen, heard, and felt. It’s not something you need to make up, and the mind doesn’t have to go wildly searching for it. (Credit).”
To hear the soft, gentle voice of our own wisdom we need to get still and quiet enough to truly listen. That kind of quiet takes practice. How might you give yourself space in everyday life to practice quiet stillness… to cultivate and engage with your sankalpa?
If you’d like to enjoy this journey in the company of others, we invite you to join us for our weekly [Lunch Break Wellness] that includes trauma sensitive yoga, meditation, and auricular acupuncture. It’s a space to get quiet, still, and experience intentional wellness. You are welcome here!
As the new year approaches many are thinking about their health and fitness goals for 2018. Our guest blogger Deb Ruka who is a personal trainer in Lone Tree writes about the link between physical wellness and mental wellness. We hope this helps to kick off your new year in a holistically healthy way.
Exercise...everyone knows they should be doing it, but most people don’t realize just how beneficial it is. Here are just a few of the advantages to regular exercise: weight control, improved body image, reduced stress, and decreased risk of disease. These benefits are just tip of the iceberg. Hopefully this article will convince and motivate you to prioritize physical fitness.
Exercise is a great way to manage your weight. Think of calories as a savings account: you always want to have some in reserve. Calories in moderation are not a bad thing, just the opposite, calories are in essence heat energy, which means calories increase your energy levels. And burning calories will boost your metabolism, increasing your body's overall efficiency. Exercise and good nutrition are a great recipe for increased energy and weight control.
While weight loss is usually the prime motivator to get people started on a workout regime, don't underestimate the added benefit of improved body image that will result. This can be challenging and frustrating because it usually takes time to notice changes. You will probably notice physical changes, like your clothes fitting differently, before changes on the scale. Don’t be alarmed, this is a good thing because it means you are losing body fat and gaining muscle. Focus on exercising consistently and good nutrition, then the weight loss will come. With the confidence you'll feel from from your improved self-image, you'll notice that feeling will trickle into other aspects of your everyday life improving your mood and your overall mental health!
If that doesn’t inspire you how about the effect exercise has on your stress levels? Exercising prompts your body to excrete endorphins. In layman's terms, these are feel good hormones, so exercise results in the reduction of stress and mood improvements. Exercise: it's the most underutilized antidepressant!
Still not convinced to exercise? Does a decreased risk of disease peak your interest? Regular exercise can improve your cardiovascular health and lessen the possibility of type 2 Diabetes. It can also reduce your prospects of getting some cancers, strengthens your bones, and mitigates your chances of having osteoporosis. When you aren't worried about your physical health, you'll have more time to focus on your mental well-being.
Is it work? Of course, that’s why it’s called working out, but anything worth having is worth working for. Your physical health is directly correlated to your mental health; so go out there and do something, anything, to stay active! There are so many options out there: play a sport, hire a trainer, download workouts on line, go for a brisk walk, jog, bike, join a group fitness class, join a gym, buddy up with a friend, or rent free workout DVDs from a library. So who’s motivated?!
For many of us, the idea of befriending our anxiety would be akin to befriending the quicksand that we feel ourselves sinking into. How can we ever learn to accept and appreciate something like anxiety when all it has ever done is make us feel miserable and out of control?
In my opinion, the first step towards befriending anxiety begins with understanding it. Have you ever wondered why human beings experience anxiety? While anxiety does have a bad reputation it is also a universal human experience that is hardwired into our DNA. Whether we like it or not, our anxiety has a purpose.
Anxiety, at its core, is a biological alarm system designed to notify us of a perceived threat. When we are extremely anxious our brain descends into fight or flight mode. As a part of instinctual survival, when we perceive a threat our best possible options are to fight the danger or to run away from it as fast as possible.
This would all be perfectly fine if human beings were still living in an era where survival was literally dependent on your ability to fight or run. In the modern era however, we are more likely to experience threats like midterm exams or uncomfortable conversations with coworkers. Anxiety has evolved over millennia so that it can be triggered by emotional and existential threats as well as threats of physical danger.
This may seem like a malfunction of evolution, an obsolete system of alarm that is now causing chaos and havoc in our modern lives. However, I believe that anxiety has adapted to the new modern standards of survival and at its best functions to keep us in alignment with our values and beliefs.
This theory of anxiety operates under the assumption that there are at least three unique types of anxiety:
1. Existential Anxiety- This is the anxiety associated with being alive. Our fear of death, our questioning of reality and why things happen. This type of anxiety plays an essential role in our pursuit of meaning in life because without questions we would never seek answers.
2. Motivational/Moral Anxiety- This anxiety identifies when we are behaving in a way that is inconsistent with our values. If being truthful is important to us, this anxiety will arise when we tell a lie. The theory of conscience could be attributed to this type of anxiety as it is foundational the development of our moral code and idealized sense of self.
3. Neurotic Anxiety- This is the type of anxiety that gets the most attention. Neurotic anxiety is attributed to anxiety disorders. This anxiety can develop due to several factors: genetic predispositions, imbalances in brain chemistry, trauma, etc. Unlike the two previous types of anxiety, the anxiety is purely symptomatic and indicates that there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.
Understanding which type of anxiety we are experiencing means that we can respond to them appropriately. Each of the three types expresses a specific and essential need to resolve the anxious feelings and grow from the experience.
- The essential need for Existential Anxiety is to pursue answers and meaning.
- The essential need for Motivational/Moral Anxiety is to change either our values or our behaviors until they are in alignment.
- The essential need for Neurotic Anxiety is to address the underlying causes and to develop healthy coping strategies.
The key to befriending our anxiety lies in our ability to respond to these essential needs. When we give our anxiety what it is asking for we accomplish more than an end to anxious feelings. We grow closer to our idealized selves, we mature and develop resiliency each time we come out on the other side.
To be able to identify which type of anxiety we are experiencing we must learn to listen to what it is telling us. Awareness will follow a willingness to view our anxiety as the messenger rather than the enemy.
Imagine anxiety as the check engine light on a car. If we ignore the light, cover it up, or continue driving we risk causing even more danger to our vehicle. The same is true of our anxiety, if all of our effort is placed on turning off the feeling without discovering the cause, we not only deny ourselves the opportunity for growth, but we risk causing ourselves more damage in the long run.
My hope is that you would be willing to give your anxiety a voice. Allow it the opportunity to express its needs so that you can respond in kind.
The path to friendship can be difficult, but well worth the effort.
The alarm goes off, you roll out of bed, with your eyes barely open you brush your teeth, start your shower. BLINK! You grab your coffee and head to your car. BLINK! Your in your cubicle checking emails. BLINK! Your on your way home.
You're in the drop off lane, kiss your kids goodbye. BLINK! In the checkout line at the supermarket. BLINK! Making dinner and getting homework done. Another day goes by and BLINK! Another goes by.
This is what we refer to as “Auto Pilot.” You move from one activity to the next not fully being present or experiencing it. This is the opposite of mindfulness. Have you taken that coffee to go, instead of enjoying the sweetness of the drink? Have you planned a vacation for your family just to rush through activity to activity to make use of every minute? Do you tell your friends and family that you don’t have time for yourself with all that you have going on? Have you sat in silence and stillness? You may be so busy and distracted while reading this that you think “hurry up and get to the point.” My point is Have you H.E.R.D? Healed, Encountered, Relaxed and Destressed? If your answer to any of those words is No! Keep reading, this blog is for you.
Khesed Wellness are partnering with Promise Ranch to bring this amazing oppurtunity to you. Both Khesed Wellness and Promise Ranch are passionate about helping those in their community and see a need for people to have to opportunity to de stress through the medium of amazing four legged beauties (horses). This is a one of a kind opportunity that is not available anywhere else but with Khesed Wellness and Promise Ranch.
As adults in our fast pace world we are often left rushing from work to soccer practice, to family and friend obligations, to doctors appointments. We eat in our car, we hire people to do things we don’t have the time for. We hear the phrases, “Time is money.” “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” In a society where more is ALWAYS better and putting yourself as a priority is so selfish; where and how are we to find inner peace? I mean come on, the inside of our heads looks like a NASCAR race track or Grand Central Station. What if you were able to trade that NASCAR Track or Grand Central Station for this….
What if you could start the Healing from our fast paced, never stop world? What if you could have an Encounter with something outside of yourself? What if you could Relax and get a road map of how to De-stress yourself? Would you jump at the opportunity to reset your mindset? Well JUMP, that opportunity is here. Have You H.E.R.D?, is a workshop created to help busy people find inner peace in a unique and different setting.
This workshop will be an opportunity to learn more about stress and its effects on us. We will work as a small group with the horses and come to understand what true relaxation means. Each person will get the opportunity to create their own tool box of mindfulness and de stressing activities they will take with them. In a nutshell this workshop is a chance to hit the pause button on two Sunday afternoons and put ourselves first. As I frequently say to moms, those who care for others as part of their career, “It’s not me first!, It’s me too!” It’s important to take scheduled time for ourselves to have that space to hear our inner selves that is often drowned out by facebook, to do lists and our busy world. Let this time be one of retreat for you.
The Nuts and Bolts:
When: Saturday, January 21st
Where: Promise Ranch 6230 E. Highway 86, Franktown, CO 80116
No horse experience is necessary. Due to working with live animals we have only 10 spots available and will be filled on first come first serve basis. This workshop is for persons 18 and older.