Tag Archive | Love

Taking Risks

A week ago I attended a memorial service for a very dear friend who passed away at a young age from a terrible disease. She was 55 years old. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend. She was full of life until her disease took her. As I sat in the church and witnessed the wonderful tribute to her life, I thought “I know she had a wonderful life and took advantage of all the fantastic opportunities she could. She died way too young, but she was loved immensely and lived life to its fullest.”

My friend’s death prompted this post.

Too many of us live life in a safe, predictable way. We don’t take risks because they are scary and we fear that we won’t be able to control all the circumstances around them. We don’t challenge our food behaviors beyond a safe amount because it is very hard to take the risks we know will make us “feel” uncomfortable – physically and/or emotionally. We don’t take the risk to speak up for our needs because we are afraid that others will get angry or upset with us and because we are people pleasers. We don’t take the risk to be vulnerable with others because we want to “fix” everything ourselves and not burden others. We don’t like to be vulnerable because it is terrifying to open up, so we don’t take risks and ask for help. We are so afraid to be “needy” that we pretend we are “fine.” Sometimes we are so tired from working hard at playing it safe and avoiding risks, that we isolate ourselves and our worlds become smaller and smaller. We devote a tremendous amount of effort in attempts to avoid risks and have a safe, predictable life.

Taking risks is scary, but we cannot allow fear to be an obstacle to emotional growth and well-being. Obviously I am not encouraging people to put themselves in unsafe circumstances where their safety and well-being are jeopardized. I am suggesting that we all evaluate our commitment to ourselves and the recovery process and determine which risks are necessary to further recovery and overall physical and emotional health and well-being.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, what are some risks that you are avoiding taking? Are you avoiding adding food to your meal plan because you are afraid of feeling full or because you know your eating disorder voice will make you feel guilty? Are you avoiding giving yourself more self-care time because it is too hard to figure out how to make it work or worried that it will necessitate other people’s help? Are you avoiding reaching out for others’ help because you don’t want to “burden” others or because you simply want your eating disorder more than you want to be free of it and you can use the excuse that you don’t want to bother others as a way to stay stuck? Are you avoiding going out with friends because it requires you to go outside of your emotional and eating comfort zones? Are you avoiding reaching for your dreams because you have convinced yourself that you will never get there or that you will fail once you do?

Try to evaluate how your recovery is going and understand which risks are needed to move forward. Once you do this, choose to take one “risky” step at a time. Understand that you will be scared. You will have doubt. That doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. It means that it is worth doing! There is no better feeling than to look back at the risks in recovery and in life that have paid off! I have never met someone who has taken risks to recover and has regretted the process. And, if by taking a risk, it fails, try again or try a different one. There is no magic pill you can take or magic wand that you can wave to make a full recovery or enrich your life. It is all hard work that eventually pays off.

Below are some quotes I found that may help you take some risks…

Yes, risk taking is inherently failure-prone.  Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking.  ~Tim McMahon

A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are for.  ~John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided.  It is sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.  ~Napoleon Bonaparte

Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.  ~Author Unknown

Often we… expect and want every day to be just like today.  Even though we’re not satisfied with today, we settle for security instead of discovery.  ~Stephen G. Scalese, The Whisper in Your Heart

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  ~Ambrose Redmoon

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.  ~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker


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Back to School: Recovery Focused!

For all of you who are going back to school – middle school, high school, college – there are some challenges that you may face. You want to be “armed” for these challenges and not let them hurt your recovery. For those of you who are parents of children, adolescents, or young adults with eating disorders, the following information will be helpful for you as well.

Summer, for many individuals, is a time of less structure, less pressure, and less exposure to the stress from peers. For students, it may involve a summer job, camp, vacation, a summer class or two, or just relaxing with friends and family.  Then, toward the end of August and the beginning of September, all that swiftly changes. Academic and social pressures begin again. Perhaps there is a change of school entirely, such as the change from middle school to high school, or high school to college. College students may leave home for the first time or begin living in an apartment, dorm, fraternity or sorority house.

Whichever the case is, transition back to school is a time of challenges for many students. It is especially challenging for those with eating disorders.

Structure, on the one hand, is very good for people with eating disorders. Getting back to the structure of a school day where there are specific times for specific academic and extracurricular activities, can be very comforting. The distractions that school provides, as well as the focus on new subjects, sports, and other skills, can also take the focus off the eating disorder and provide the sufferer with some relief.

On the other hand, going back to school can elicit some unforeseen stressors that can exacerbate an existing eating disorder. First and foremost, the anticipation of school (or leaving home to go away to college) will undoubtedly create anxiety. The fear of the unknown is a powerful source of anxiety. Social anxiety can also escalate. Anxiety can also relate to academics, lockers, teachers, making friends, and  living arrangements (at college). And, of course, there is tremendous anxiety related to body image, clothing, and food. I’ll highlight some of the specific stressors in my next few posts, and try to offer some solutions. Ultimately, it is important to be acutely aware that “back to school” time is a transition that individuals with eating disorders may struggle with. The issues are very real and must be handled with care and sensitivity.

The first topic I will discuss is “the lunch table” at school.

A number of my student clients are fearful of the lunch table. If you are a parent, you may be thinking “What types of stress could the lunch table create?”

Stressors that middle school and high school clients experience at the lunch table are:

  1. What should they put their lunch in – paper bag or lunch box (more typical in middle school)? Believe it or not, this decision causes an enormous amount of stress. They fear that if they put their lunch in the “wrong” container, they will get made fun of.
  2. Should they bring lunch, or buy lunch? This decision is stressful because they want to feel comfortable with what they eat for lunch, yet if their friends are buying lunch, they want to fit in. Also, there are usually lines of students waiting to buy lunch. Standing on line may be uncomfortable for the eating disordered student, as well as waiting on line creates a shorter amount of actual eating time. This can be challenging for the student who takes a bit longer to eat.
  3. If they bring lunch, what should it be and how much should they bring? Many individuals in recovery are on a meal plan that requires specific amounts of food that must be eaten at each meal. There is an enormous amount of conversation that occurs at the lunch table regarding what everyone eats. When a student eats anything that appears “different” in the eyes of anyone else at the lunch table, there is the potential for unwelcomed attention on the sufferer and their food choices. This is especially challenging when the sufferer is eating “more” than the others at the table.
  4. For female students especially, there is excessive “diet talk” at the lunch table. Comments such as “I am not eating carbs anymore.” Or “I only eat XX amount of calories a day.” Or “I have to lose XX pounds by Thanksgiving.” Or “I only eat pretzels at lunch.” This talk can trigger someone with an eating disorder, even when they are doing well.
  5. During the first few days of school, one of the biggest stressors my student clients experience regarding the lunch table is “where do I sit?” When an individual with an eating disorder has social anxiety and/or has only a few friends, and there is no comfortable person for him/her to sit with at lunch, he/she may experience an enormous amount of anxiety and may try to skip the lunch room altogether.

What are the ways to cope with these lunch table stressors?

  1. As far as the container you bring your food in, for the first few days, bring it in a paper bag (unless you know that the other students are using lunch boxes). Look around and see what everyone else brings their lunch in, and then you can re-assess whether the bag is the best choice or a lunch box. I’ve never heard of anyone getting teased about bringing lunch in a plain brown bag. Remember though, if you don’t have an ice pack in the bag, you shouldn’t bring anything that is perishable (lunch meats, fish, dairy, etc).
  2. Regarding bringing or buying lunch is concerned, keep your recovery at the top of your priority list when making this decision. If you feel most comfortable bringing lunch in order to meet your recovery goals, then bring lunch. As time goes by, and you can see what is on the school lunch menu, and you have seen how long it takes other students to get their lunch, then you can decide if you want to change your mind and buy lunch.
  3. You need to bring to lunch the amount of food that will carry you through until the next time you can eat (after school snack), or the amount of food that you and your treatment team have deemed necessary for your recovery. If you bring too little, you may struggle later, as you will be too hungry. This is true, no matter what type of eating disorder you have. In terms of what to bring for lunch, you want to bring the types of food that meet your nutritional requirements and foods that you like. If you need a supplement at lunch, you can bring it in a sports-type of bottle so that it appears like a sports drink. Try to bring foods that are “common” so as not to draw attention to your eating. I want to add here, that I understand this advice may cause some controversy. I’d love to say to my student clients to bring whatever they want to the lunch room regardless of what anyone might say, but I also want to protect them from any unwanted attention and comments. I had a male middle school client who brought tuna for lunch once and everyone at the table said “Ewww! That smells!” He threw his lunch away and ate none of it. A female high school client brought stuffed grape leaves to lunch and the others at the table commented on how “gross” they looked. She didn’t eat them and was too uncomfortable to sit at the lunch table again. Instead she ate in the nurse’s office.  You have to bring foods you like, but if there are foods that are pretty common looking, you will go unnoticed. These might be foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or other sandwiches, yogurt, cheese sticks, pretzels, fruit, cookies, salads with chicken and cheese, granola bars, etc.
  4. When other girls start talking about their diets, you can try your best to ignore the conversation, start a separate conversation with the person sitting next to you, or change the topic altogether. Try to sit next to a “safe” person that you can rely on to help you out. If you are being too triggered, find an excuse to leave the lunch table (and take your remaining food with you). Unfortunately, diet talk is a pastime for so many people. You will likely not be able to escape it very easily. Also, many teens “talk” about their latest and greatest diets, but most of them don’t act on them. You must do your best to tune the “diet talk” out. Remember, in recovery, you have to stay focused on your needs, not the behaviors of others.
  5. Get as much information as possible in advance of the first day of school about who you know that will be in your lunch period. Ask them to meet you outside the lunch room before lunch starts so you can walk in together. Ask them to sit next to you as well. If you don’t know who will be in your lunch period, try to find a fairly empty table and bring a book with you. If you have a book to read, you might feel a bit more comfortable. While you are sitting there, try to look around for someone you know and then move to their table if there are empty seats. If there is someone else in the lunch room that seems like they are sitting by him/herself, you could try sitting at that table. He/she might be relieved to have someone sit with him/her. Or, if you are feeling courageous, you might try to use the lunch period to meet new people and sit with people you don’t know.

Remember also to talk to your family, friends, and/or treatment team about the anxiety you might feel about “back to school”. They will surely understand and might offer some great support.

Stay tuned for more posts regarding “back to school.”


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Well-Intentioned Mothers and Fathers

Several conversations I have had lately with mothers prompted me to write this post regarding parenting around food. There is an extensive amount of controversy over how to handle food and weight with children. The following opinions are based on the extensive experience I have had with parents, children, adolescents, and older teens. Since I am a nutrition therapist specializing in eating disorders, I see those individuals who have had a multitude of negative experiences around the issues of food and weight.

I’ll begin by recounting a story from the first mom I spoke with this past week. Her 13 year old daughter, “Abby”, came to her and said she was unhappy with her weight and wanted to lose a few pounds. Abby would be described as a normal weight girl by “normal” standards, but as a slightly overweight girl by the media’s unrealistic standards. Her mother said she approved of Abby’s plan to lose weight and would help Abby accomplish her goals. She told Abby to write down everything she ate so Abby could assess her portions sizes, and also recommended that she cut out “junk food”. This all seems innocent enough…except for a couple problems.

  1. Abby is 13 years old, which is right in the middle of growth and development. During growth and development, a girl’s body often gets a little larger prior to a growth period. It also gets larger prior to the onset of menstruation. This is normal and should not be interrupted.
  2. Abby is influenced by an array of negative, misguided and often inaccurate influences such as dieting peers, magazines and other forms of media that present a constant unrealistic source for body and weight comparison and dissatisfaction, and a constant barrage of internet sources that tout all types of unhealthy forms of dieting.  All these sources of misinformation may cause Abby to take her innocent diet too far or in a direction that could be harmful.
  3. Abby is not going to be under the supervision of a qualified nutrition professional that can help her through the process, therefore all her decisions will be made by herself and as a result of all the “outside influences”. This is a breeding ground for arbitrary, unhealthy rule-making.
  4. Dieting at any age is the number one behavior that leads to an eating disorder. Dieting at age 13 is tremendously risky.

The second mother I encountered this past week did some research on a particular method of eating that has been shown to have value in certain populations such as those with learning and developmental disabilities such as autism-spectrum disorders. As far as I know (I do not have all the information regarding her children), none of her four children have any type of learning or developmental issue. The reason I tell this story is because I have encountered many mothers who change their children’s diets drastically for one “good” reason or another and many (not all) children react in a very negative, adaptive way.   This mother restricted all breads and other wheat products, as well as all other grains from her children’s diets. I reiterate that I am not writing this post to discuss the pros and cons of any type of eating plan, just to illustrate the effect on children of drastic eating changes. These children frequently come over to my house to visit, and the family dines with ours a couple times a month.  The mother made me aware of the changes she was making to her children’s diet so I prepared meals that included a number of options that they were permitted by their mother to eat. I also included grains and breads for my family to eat, if they desired. On every single occasion the children have been at my house, they have “snuck” some type of bread or other grain while their mother wasn’t looking. I hadn’t been paying much attention at first, but my children pointed it out to me because they were worried the other children would get reprimanded by their mother and wanted to let me know that they were not encouraging nor discouraging the other children to eat any of the “forbidden” foods. They would sneak bread at meal time and would “raid” the cabinets for cookies and other snack foods. Whenever my children would notice, the other children would say “shhhh…don’t tell my mom.”

This mother’s intentions are to help her children but unknowingly, she is helping create a disordered relationship between her children and food. It would be my assumption that they are “sneaking” food in other places as well as my house. They may be feeling deprived of the foods they are not permitted to have in their home. The mother thinks her children are eating in one way when in fact they are eating in another.

I see another phenomenon over and over in my practice. Parents call me to tell me that their child is sneaking food. They find wrappers and all sorts of food paraphernalia hidden in couch cushions, dresser drawers, backpacks, garbage cans, etc. Their solution is to make the food environment even more restrictive, their child becomes even more creative in finding ways to get food, and the disordered relationship between the child and food worsens. If the child has the tendency to appear to the parents as “overweight”, the parents often become overly restrictive with food, reprimand the child for eating “too much”, criticize the child for his/her weight, and create unfair food rules for the child that the other children in the family don’t have to follow (if they are perceived to be of normal weight). An enormous amount of energy is spent by the parents trying to “control” the child’s eating, creating a stressful environment for all, especially for the child. The child ends up feeling deprived and becomes obsessed with food leading to a non-intuitive dysregulated relationship with food.

A (well intentioned) dad once said to me that he was demanding  his 9 year old daughter spend at least 45 minutes on the treadmill each day because she was developing a “stomach”. He was so concerned that she would become an overweight teen and then an overweight adult. He insisted that if he didn’t “help” her, she would be bullied and have no friends.   I met this little girl. She looked like a beautiful 9 year old girl. She had a little roundness to her stomach, as many little pre-pubescent girls do. There was nothing noteworthy about her appearance. I later found out that the dad had been bullied as a child and became an avid exerciser to cope with his negative experiences.  I expressed my concerns to the dad. I explained to him that it was my opinion that his daughter was just fine and did not need to be on the treadmill  to “get rid of her stomach”. I explained that she was perfectly normal. She was probably going to get a little wider before she grew taller and experienced puberty. If allowed to eat a wide variety of foods and experience movement in a way that she enjoyed, she would not be doomed to a life of being bullied and having no friends. She would hopefully develop a healthy relationship with herself and food and he would be better off supporting her in all ways, instead of worrying excessively about her physical appearance.

A dad came to see me to discuss his picky eater. This dad was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. He had numerous degrees and was very well respected among his peers. He said his daughter ate only a few foods and he was desperate to improve her variety of choices and help her develop a more “sophisticated palate”. I asked him what methods he had already tried to help his daughter. He had only tried two…force feeding and bribery. For every new food she tried and liked, he would give her money. If she tried it and didn’t like it, she’d get no money. If she didn’t try it, she’d get no money. If it was put in front of her and she didn’t want to try it, he would force her to eat a bite by actually forcing it in her mouth. My first thought was “Oh my goodness. This poor child is in a bad situation.” My second thought was “Intelligence sure doesn’t equate to good parenting with food.” He was shocked that I disagreed with his methods.  I gave him some helpful suggestions, mostly regarding giving his daughter the power to make her own choices, not making them for her. I also told him not to pressure her in any way. She would not develop a “sophisticated palate” via any of his methods. The only things that these methods would create would be disordered feelings about food, and food aversions. I informed him that the worst thing that might happen if he gave her more freedom and less pressure would be that she would continue to be a picky eater. I also suggested that he invest some of the “bribe money” in a good full-spectrum multivitamin for her so that she wouldn’t develop any vitamin/mineral deficiencies.

None of these parents are bad people. They clearly love their children and want them to be healthy and happy. They are possibly misguided or ill-advised. Perhaps their own issues have clouded their judgment regarding parenting around food.

It is always important, as a parent, to put extensive thought into the actions you take regarding your children’s diet. Bear in mind that a child’s perception is his/her reality. If the child feels deprived or hungry, he/she will take strong measures to meet his/her needs.  If a child is receiving negative or mixed messages at home and in his/her outside environment, he/she may not have the skills to decipher between what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Messages may be internalized and create distorted thoughts and feelings about his/herself.

Force feeding creates long term food aversions. Deprivation creates powerful cravings and rebound overeating.  Try to remove your own food/weight issues from the decisions you impose upon your children. If you are on any type of diet, be careful how you speak about food around your children. Be especially careful about the language you use about your own body and the bodies of others. I treated a 5 year old girl once who was convinced that her thighs were fat because she heard her mother repeatedly say that her thighs were fat. If you are constantly popping on the bathroom scale and commenting negatively about your weight, you are teaching your child that it is normal to base his/her self-worth on the number on the scale.

A great resource for parents is http://www.ellynsatter.com/. Ellyn Satter is a pioneer in the topic of parenting with food. She has written several books that are very informative and helpful. On her website are informative handouts for all types of issues around parenting with food.

Ultimately, when parents lay the groundwork  for their children’s  relationship with food and relationship with themselves, they need to use extreme caution, insight and sensitivity.

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I AM ME – self esteem affirmations

Saying positive affirmations each day can help to shift your thinking from negative to positive and can provide you with hope. Perhaps you could write down a few affirmations that you can read to yourself every day and watch them manifest into positive life changes! Below are some wonderful positive affirmations written by Virginia Satir, an author and therapist (1916 – 1988) who was especially known for her approach to family therapy.

In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically me. Because I alone chose it. I own everything about me…my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions.

Whether they be to others or to myself, I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes.

Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know. But as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me – If later, some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded.

I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore I can engineer me – I am me and I am ok. © Virginia Satir, 1975

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“With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”  

This is the last line from a quote in a New York Times article that discusses a new area of psychological research called “self-compassion” and a new book on the topic by Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.

The first thing I tell a client that comes into my office with an eating disorder is “This illness is not your fault.” The second thing I tell my clients is that “You need to be kind to yourself in order to heal from this illness.”

People who suffer from eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder, are extraordinarily sensitive, kind-hearted individuals. They are the types of people who make others feel good about themselves with their compliments, love, unending ability to listen and empathize.  Unfortunately, these sufferers reserve their adoring ways for others, and when it comes to themselves, they are self-critical, self-loathing, unforgiving, and merciless. They overinflate their flaws and minimize their attributes. They beat themselves up for the most insignificant “mistakes” and struggle to see their strengths and successes – in the food arena as well as in other areas.

This article emphasizes that negativity and self-criticism are not motivators for change, whether they come from others or from within. These tactics breed negativity and helplessness, two states of being that reinforce sickness, depression and lack of motivation for positive change. 

Self-compassion is not only the first step in healing, it is an essential step. If you suffer from an eating disorder, remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and respect you would bestow upon your friends, family and other loved ones. You will be pleasantly surprised at the power a little compassion can have in the recovery process.

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Kids and “Weight Management”

I will precede my comments in this post by saying that in my practice I see the individuals who are the “casualties” of confrontational combative discussions and treatment of weight issues. I am unquestionably biased about the issue as a result of seeing the emotional pain and scars that result from the mishandling of this issue, especially with children.

In my opinion, there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to deal with a child who is “overweight”. First of all, when a child is young, especially during the growth and development years, their bodies are supposed to get wider before they get taller. If weight is made in to a big issue at this life stage, and a child is restricted to too few calories and essential nutrients, there could potentially be a stunting of his/her growth and development.

It’s not only the physical complications associated with restricting a child’s intake or putting a child on a diet that are bad enough, but also the psychological ramifications that can leave a child with lifelong emotional scars and weight and disordered eating issues.

I want to share with you a few stories that I have encountered during my years as a nutrition therapist. I am only one person and if I’ve seen a number of cases like the ones I will describe, imagine how many others there are.

Several years ago, a family of four came in as clients. There was a mom, a dad, and twin 9 year old girls. One of the girls was “skinny” and the other one was ‘fat”, according to the parents. The parents wanted to bring all of them in to discuss making changes in their eating but actually the visit was an attempt to make the “fat” daughter lose weight without her feeling singled it. On the first visit, the father called me aside and said he was concerned that his overweight daughter was going to be bullied in school, was going to grow up having no friends and lead a life of misery and loneliness like he did because he was a “fat kid”. So, after hearing his plea for me to “fix” his daughter, I met the four of them and discussed life in their household with the food. The daughters were quiet and the dad did most of the talking. I asked if I could meet with the daughters separately and we agreed. When I got the “fat” daughter alone in the room for a short session, she said “I don’t think my father loves me as much as my sister. He always lets her have anything she wants and he yells at me for my eating. At Easter, she got a big chocolate bunny and I got a small one. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Another little girl was brought in to see me because her father wanted her to lose weight. He was a very intelligent thoracic surgeon. He was so anxious to get her to lose weight, he demanded she go on the treadmill for 45 minutes each day. She was 7 years old. He said it was because he wanted her to be healthy and prevent all types of diseases like heart disease but also so that she looked good and was able to like herself better. She never complained to me that her weight was causing her to dislike herself. She actually seemed pretty secure in her skin.

A mom brought her 13 year old daughter in because she had just come from a pediatrician visit where the doctor berated the mother (in front of the daughter) for “allowing” her daughter to gain 20 pounds in a year. The mother cried when she told me the story. She said she felt like such a terrible mother and said she felt like she should lock her daughter in a closet and starve her until she lost the weight. Obviously this brutal tactic didn’t take place.

A beautiful 12 year old girl came to me to “learn” how to like healthy foods. When I asked her what types of food she liked and didn’t like, and why she was so interested in “learning” how to eat healthy foods, she told me that she liked pop tarts, sugared cereal, cookies and pasta but she wanted her father to stop forcing food (literally) into her mouth. She told me that her father would stuff peas into her mouth and hold her mouth shut until she would chew and swallow them to teach her how to like vegetables. She HATED vegetables as a result.

I could list story after story like these, representative of the “wrong” ways to parent children with food.  I wish I could tell you that stories like this are uncommon. But they are not. In fact, even the most well intentioned parents are apt to make significant mistakes in the treatment of food and weight issues.  Much of the parenting of children in the food arena comes from the parents’ own weight and food issues. Sometimes it comes from a genuine concern about health but that concern is significantly overshadowed by “fat phobia”. When “fat phobia” begins to rear its ugly head, food rules change and parents tend to become more emotional about food and much more controlling and rigid with food.

Children that experience food withholding or restriction or overt dieting at a very young age often become very “resourceful” in getting their food needs met. Restriction is scary because hunger is scary if it cannot be satiated. They will beg for food, whine, and cry, throw tantrums and yell at their parents that they are hungry. If that doesn’t work, they will go to greater lengths to not feel deprived. They will ask peers at school for food and sneak food at home. When they are at friends’ houses they will eat more than their friends because they know they won’t get the food at home. At parties, they will take advantage of the opportunity to drink large amounts of soda and eat excessive sweets and other foods they aren’t allowed at home. They will go to great lengths to not feel deprived.

So, how do early childhood eating/withholding patterns, parental control and overt dissatisfaction affect a child’s eating patterns, their instinctive ability to self-regulate and their overall love for a variety of food? How does it affect their body image and self-image? I think it is easy to see that all these factors can affect a child very negatively in the short-term and in the long term. It can set the child up for a disordered view of food and themselves. It may create aversions for certain foods as well as strong cravings for others. It also can cause weight gain, the very thing that is being focused on so strongly.

Most of the “overweight” children that I have treated have not been overweight because of a thyroid or other medical issue. They have been overweight because of excessive control being exerted over their food by parents, excessive focus placed on the size and shape of their body by others, the unhealthy role modeling of food by their parents, underactivity, because they are using food to cope with their stress, or a combination of these factors.

So what is the answer to the question “how do I parent my ‘overweight’ child with food? “For great detailed solutions, you can read Ellyn Satter’s book called How to Get Your Child to Eat…But Not Too Much. But, the premise of her work is to practice a division of responsibility. The parent is responsible for what is served, when it is served and where it is served. The child is ultimately responsible for how much they eat.

Also, if a child is given access to more variety of foods, with no emotion attached, they will be more apt to choose a wider array of choices. This is by no means a quick process but the more abundant the food choices and the less pressure experienced around food, the more natural the food relationship can become. Keeping the house free of “fun” foods will only cause the child to seek them out elsewhere.

Positive healthy parental role modeling with food and body image is also an essential component in the fostering of a child’s good relationship with food. “Do as I say, not as I do” will not work! Children will imitate their parents. If there is excessive negative talk about food, dieting, or anyone’s body in the house, no matter how innocent it may seem, it can exacerbate negative feelings and unhealthy food behaviors. Using derogatory words as a motivator for healthy eating NEVER works. The focus must always be kept positive.

Fun movement can help a child feel better about him/herself because movement brings pleasure. Movement cannot be tied into weight though because it won’t feel pleasurable or natural and will be short-lived. Getting on a treadmill is not pleasurable for many people, especially not for a child. Ice skating, sledding, and building a snowman are fun winter activities. Other times of the year they can walk, play ball, kayak, swim, hike, dance, jump rope, climb, skip, throw the Frisbee, walk the dog, climb trees, go to the batting cages, go bowling, biking, or skateboarding.

And, lastly, if the child is using food to cope with their feelings because they aren’t able to comfortably express them, or if the household is chaotic or stressful and the child is impacted by the stress, the issues and the child’s feelings need to be directly, openly and honestly addressed and supported. If a child uses food to cope, beginning at an early age, they are more apt to continue to use it rather than look for other healthier coping mechanisms (especially if they are not taught them by their parents).

So, as you can see, the food and weight issues of a child cannot be managed through withholding of food, dieting, negative body talk and “do as I say” tactics. They are complex and need to be treated seriously, compassionately, creatively and ultimately in a positive supportive way. When a child is able to learn how to self-regulate their food, their body will, in turn, become the body that is the healthiest for them, NO MATTER WHAT SIZE IT IS.

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What Can Body Acceptance Get You? Plenty!

The following  is an article by Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, an expert in the treatment of eating disorders:

If being told to lose weight actually helped people to lose weight, there would be no fat people.

If being told they “will die if they do not lose weight” by a medical doctor (as was told to one of my clients only 40 pounds above “ideal”) or that they “are unsightly” (as Ann Landers has done) helped people get thin, everyone would be thin.

Few people would elect to be fat in a culture that so flagrantly hates fat people. This hatred of body fat ensures we evaluate other bodies. But it also keeps us, on some level, worried about our own— always checking the mirror to make sure no on else will think we are fat. Even thin people!

Fat hatred keeps people keeps people hyper-aware of food, focused on food, and sometimes even afraid of food—exactly the opposite of what we want.

Fat hatred keeps people counting calories or carbs, skipping dessert and/or trying to burn off calories. But it does not necessarily motivate them to adopt healthier lifestyles—lifestyles that could help them reach and maintain their natural, healthy weight.

Body hatred creates fear, anxiety, and chronic body dissatisfaction. It keeps people monitoring their bodies and continually trying to change them,. If monitoring the body like this made us thin, most of us would be thin! This focus does little to make a person feel good about themselves. It also does little to motivate them to take care of themselves.

To better understand this, consider how you take care of something you really love. Maybe a child, or pet, or favorite object—say a car. You probably nurture them, watch over them in a caring way. If it is a car, I bet it runs really well. If it is a pet, she probably eats well and gets plenty of exercise (the result of your love), she is probably very healthy.

So why do people believe they have to hate themselves to get thin? To get healthy? 

Since body hatred doesn’t work, why not try the opposite? Try liking yourself. Well, okay, then what about accepting yourself?

Admittedly, accepting yourself if you are a woman is a radical concept in this culture. Sadly.

 But people who accept their bodies (or even like them!) take better care of themselves. They do not wait until they are at XXX weight to take care of themselves (as most people who want to lose weight do).

Liking the self means taking better care of the self, which means more health enhancing behaviors—probably one of the best paths to reaching and maintaining a healthy, natural weight.

So, be radical! Decide to accept your body and yourself ! And then treat yourself as if you did!

About the Author:

Karin Kratina, PhD, RD helps women and men escape diet prison and learn to manage their weight naturally. She co-authored “It’s the Calories, Not the Carbs” and “Moving Away From Diets.” Get the complimentary e-zine, Stay Attuned,™ for inspirational eating, body image and weight tips. Send an email to subscribe@nourishingconnections.com and put “Subscribe” in the subject line.  Visit at www.nourishingconnections.com.

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Love the Skin You’re In – Change the Way You Feel Inside Your Body

What could be more wonderful than to relax and be comfortable in your own body? Yet few of us have truly reached a place of peace, security, and joy to have created a balance between who we are and our physical bodies. Loving your body is not about how you look, but about how you feel about having a body and living in your body.

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann succinctly stated our dilemma when they wrote the following words, “On the one hand, man is a body, in the same way that this may be said of every other animal organism. On the other hand, man has a body. That is, man experiences himself as an entity that is not identical with his body, but that, on the contrary, has that body at its disposal. In other words, man’s experience of himself always hovers in a balance between being and having a body, a balance that must be redressed again and again.(1967, The social construction of reality. A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Harmondsworth. Penguin).

Why We Disconnect From Our Body

Instead of creating an ongoing balance between self and body, many of us despise, hate, or distrust our body. Because of this distrust, we end up disconnecting not only from our body, abut also from our true selves. We dislike the body, fear our emotions, fail to listen to our inner wisdom, and live life from our head instead of from our heart.

The reasons for a body disconnect are many. Some of the more obvious reasons include:

  • We blame our bodies for the emotional or physical pain we feel.
  • We feel trapped and confined in a body.
  • We feel out of the norm: too thin, too fat, too ethnic, too different.
  • We feel fat or ugly and blame our body for betraying us.
  • We feel the body is abnormal, unpredictable, untidy.
  • We see our bodies as an object and push it around with diets and exercise.
  • We may have been physically abused.
  • We fail to value emotions as a source of wisdom, fail to follow inner wisdom, and inadvertently end up creating a more painful life.
  • We don’t want to “feel” certain experiences of living.
  • In addition, many of us don’t like to breathe too deeply because we haven’t consciously decided we actually want to be alive. Another way of saying it is that we don’t like the experience of being human.

How to Love Living In Your Skin

Learning to develop a new balanced relationship between self and body can be a tough concept to grasp and even tougher to incorporate. The degree of difficulty doesn’t seem to matter if you’re thin or very large or even somewhere in-between. It takes time and persistence to create a love of being human.

In a way, it’s a little like creating a homemade tapered candle. You dip the wick into a vat of wax, pull it out, and wait for it to dry, and continue the process repeatedly until the candle is perfectly formed. Like the gradual layering of the wax upon the wick, you can create a positive, life-affirming relationship with the body you live in. Loving your body can be hard, but it is work every ounce of effort you put into it.

Several quick ideas I might suggest for learning to live with your body and in your body:

1. Talk to your body.

Look in the mirror and tell it what a great job it has done for you. Shower your body with appreciation and gratitude.

2. Tell your body of your plans, dreams, and goals.

How alive do you want to be? How much are you willing to feel your own life? How much energy do you want to have? How much joy do you want to receive? Are you willing to be loved and to love? Are you willing to feel?

3. Share your goals with your body.

Instead of forcing your body to lose weight, get in shape, or be more flexible, share your goals with your body. Form a relationship between the idea of what you want and the physical you (your body) that will carry that idea. Create a win-win relationship based on mutual respect and love.

4. Listen to your body.

All those emotions, aches, pains, tensions, and heaviness…they are all forms of communication from you to you. Without trying to get rid of your physical forms of communication, say hello. Bring a sense of interest and curiosity. Consider assuming the perspective that your body is a reflection of your beliefs and thoughts; therefore, what are you saying to yourself when you feel tightness in your shoulders, neck and jaw? What are you saying to yourself when your knees constantly ache, or your stomach is always in a knot? The key to listening is to allow your tension, tightness, pain, or emotion do the speaking. Don’t go above the feeling and analyze your situation from your head, but allow your feelings to speak directly to you.

5. Breathe.

When you breathe consciously and deeply you are saying yes to life, yes to your own physical experience. Breathing settles the body by reducing anger, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, muscular tension, and stress. It can also help quiet the chaos of your mind. Now you can have more energy, access your spirit, and decide for yourself what direction you want to move towards. Instead of reacting, you can choose what actions would bring you one step closer to a life that you love living.

Copyright 1997–2010 Annette Colby, PhD. All rights reserved in all media.

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