Author Archives: awachter

The Many Faces and Phases of Addictive Behaviors

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Humans have been using drugs, alcohol, tobacco, excess food and other substances for centuries. When taken to extreme levels, such behaviors can adversely affect physical health, emotional well-being, relationships, work, school, finances and future goals.

In recent years, excessive use of screens, sex, porn, gambling, shopping and exercise have been added to the list of compulsive possibilities.

In addition to the more commonly known eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, lesser known compulsions are also on the rise. Orthorexia, a more recent diagnosis, is when someone becomes obsessed with eating only foods they deem as “healthy.” But taken to extremes, even “healthy eating” can become unhealthy.

Another trend that has unfortunately been gaining popularity is known as Drunkorexia (or Alcorexia). These terms describe someone who severely restricts their food intake so they can both save their calories for liquor and get more drunk when they drink. This combination of starvation and excessive alcohol can lead to extremely dangerous, if not deadly, consequences. It appears that “partying” for many, continues to be anything but a party.

To make matters even more complex, many people struggle with more than one issue or substance at a time. Others overcome one habit, only to pick up another in its place, often described as “switching seats on the Titanic.”

Regardless of the means or methods that somebody uses to numb, distract, harm or comfort themselves, the bottom line is that in order for someone to get better, they need to want to get better. The negative effects of their actions need to outweigh the positive because as much harm as some habits can cause, we always get (or attempt to get) something from everything we do.

If you are one of the millions who struggles with an addiction or a chronic habit that has more of a hold on you than you have on it, consider some of the following stages and phases.

Denial is the earliest and sometimes longest stage of an addiction or a chronic pattern. Denial is when someone holds the belief that there really isn’t a problem. Or maybe they think there’s a problem but it’s “not that bad.” Sadly, this stage can last for a long time, sometimes years, sometimes a lifetime.

Breaking out of denial is the moment of truth when someone admits they have a problem. This is often spurred by negative consequences like job loss, legal troubles or ruined relationships. Some people hit bottom and break their denial for more internal reasons; they decide they’ve had enough and they need help. People can seek more light in their lives because the dark is too scary and painful, or they can seek light because they simply want more light in their lives. Regardless of the circumstances that lead someone to break their denial, admit they need help and actually seek help, it is a crucial turning point for anyone who struggles with an addiction or a chronic and painful habit.

Once the veil of denial has been lifted and there is motivation for change, it can be helpful to have an understanding of the stages of recovery. While there are various clinical terms that are used in the health field to describe these stages, I will share my own user-friendly terms here.

I initially developed these metaphors to help clients in my therapy practice find practical ways to describe the strength of their cravings as they traversed the road of recovery. If you are on the path of overcoming an addiction or unhealthy habit, see if you recognize your current level of cravings in any of these stages.

Wild Horses: This is when the cravings to use substances or self-destructive behaviors feel incredibly strong or even impossible to resist. The urge to partake in behaviors and intake substances is stronger than your ability to say no. This is obviously an extremely painful and frustrating stage, both for sufferers and their loved ones.

Buzzing Bees: Once someone begins to learn new coping mechanisms, they are likely to continue having urges to do their old behaviors, but in this stage, the pull to partake starts to diminish at times. It’s still really hard to ignore these cravings, but they begin to hold less power than the Wild Horses had.

Flittering Flies: This is when the cravings to use or abuse something are even less powerful and less frequent. In this stage of healing, people experience more and more choice about whether or not they pay attention to and obey their cravings.

Nasty Gnats: In this stage, urges are very infrequent, mostly arising when life gets extra challenging. Someone in this stage of recovery spends the majority of their time in freedom. They still have to deal with the hard parts of life, including painful thoughts, emotions and situations but they turn to outer and inner resources for support, rather than old behaviors. Very occasionally, an urge might return, but it doesn’t have much power. They can just ignore it, or decode what triggered it and continue to make healthy choices.

Freedom: This is when a person is free from the desire to use harmful substances or behaviors. They have many healthy ways to handle difficult emotions, and many means of getting fulfilment and comfort in their life. This does not mean by any means that life is perfect, it means they have many healthy ways to cope with life when it isn’t.

Of course traveling through these stages is not always linear or smooth sailing. It also doesn’t take the same amount of time for everyone. Much depends on what events contributed to someone’s need to use, how long they’ve been using, how willing and ready they are to change, and how much support they have and utilize.

If you are feeling stuck in the grips of a painful pattern or an addiction and you’d like to move one step closer to freedom, the following list highlights some important areas and life skills that need attention in order to do so. The good news is that you don’t have to learn these all on your own, or all at once. You also don’t have to do them all perfectly in order to make progress. This is your course curriculum for life and even small steps can move you forward in significant ways. As you read through the list, perhaps you can write down any areas in your life that you feel are already being attended to, as well as any that you would like to give more attention.

  • Make self-care a priority.
  • Learn to identity and tolerate your emotions and find new ways to cope with them.
  • Practice challenging, quieting and upgrading your unkind thoughts and replacing them with kind thoughts as often as possible.
  • Practice being present more of the time rather than lost in past and future thoughts.
  • Build a safe, compassionate support system.
  • Practice communicating your thoughts, feelings and needs in healthy, respectful, mature ways.
  • Find healthy distractions and learn ways to take breaks that leave you feeling uplifted.
  • Seek balance between rest and movement.
  • Nourish your body with the same care you would nourish a child you love.
  • Understand the deeper needs that your harmful habits have been attempting to meet and find new, healthy ways to get those important needs met.
  • Find comfort and fulfillment in life-affirming, rather than life-numbing ways.
  • Develop a regular practice of expressing gratitude and appreciation. (Even if things are really hard, there’s always something we can be grateful for!)
  • Let go of the notion of perfection and give yourself lots of credit for the progress and efforts you are making.

So if you feel like you have lost the power to choose whether you use some substance or partake in certain activities, consider taking one step that can help you move one step closer to freedom. And remember, you are not alone in this. There are countless therapists, support groups, books, blogs, podcasts, workshops and treatment centers that are here to help you heal.

This blog was previously published in Recovery Today Magazine. To subscribe to this free online app, click here:

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How to Step Off the Diet/Riot Roller Coaster

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I started my first diet as a teenager in the 70’s. Little did I know where this innocent action would lead me. I had unknowingly stepped on the diet/riot roller coaster and it would be many years and tears before I would learn how to step off.

By the time the 80’s hit, I was off to college. In addition to my school books and belongings, I brought along a full-time, secretive cycle of obsessing, restricting and bingeing. In front of others, I ate what were considered to be “good” foods. But behind the scenes, I gorged on everything I never let myself have in public. I was as sick with food as a drug addict is with drugs (which I abused as well).

Looking back now, I know that all of these behaviors were fueled by my intense self-hatred and lack of acceptance. And all of that was fueled by the cultural messages of perfection, my personal painful experiences, and my individual level of sensitivity.

Like millions, I suffered in silence. On the outside, I looked like a student, friend and daughter. On the inside, I lived with a secret life of calorie counting, comparing and compulsivity. Ironically it was some of my sickest behaviors (quick weight loss) that were often complimented and praised by others. Little did I know at the time, our culture has an eating disorder!

I had no clue that underneath my daily food and weight obsession was a well of emotional pain, unmet needs and important issues that needed to be addressed. Thankfully after finally finding help that actually helped, I began discovering what I was truly hungry for and what I really needed. And now I have the honor of teaching others all of the things that I have so generously been taught.

Even though the word is out on the street that diets really don’t work, many people are still seduced by them. Whether they get their diet from some trendy book or magazine, or the advice of a doctor or friend, the bottom line is that restricting leads to rebelling—not to mention obsessing and isolating. Despite what the glossy photos and fad diets promise, if you consistently deprive yourself of delicious, nutritious foods, you are going to end up either malnourished or overeating (or both!)

So if you have been riding the diet/riot roller coaster and are ready to step off, here’s some food for thought and thoughts on food:

Challenge Your Food Rules

Whether you are on an official diet or you just judge certain foods as “good” or “bad,” you are setting yourself up for obsession and/or rebellion. Instead of restricting (in reality or mentality), try making your food choices from a place of self-love and self-care.

Rather than asking yourself if a food is low-fat, low-carb or low-calorie, try asking yourself these questions: Am I truly physically hungry? What is my body really hungry for? Is eating this a loving way to treat my body? What seems like a loving, respectful amount? Is this what I would serve someone else who does not diet or overeat? Is this how I would feed someone I love?

Back in the day, when I made my food choices with weight loss in mind, it would lead to one of two things: a restrictive meal that would lead me to binge later on, or a rebellious binge. But, when I began to approach my meals with love, kindness, self-care and honesty, I found that there was nothing to rebel from. And I began to feel truly satisfied from a reasonable portion, rather than unsatisfied after a restrictive meal or stuffed after a rebellious binge.

Aim for Comfortable Satisfaction

Once you start eating what your body truly wants, the next step is learning when to stop eating. It takes a lot of awareness, willingness and courage to stop when you are comfortably satisfied rather than stuffed or still hungry. Eating moderately and intuitively means we have to feel emotions that we may have previously attempted to numb with excess food or restricting. It means we will have to find other ways to fill our time, our minds and our unmet needs.

Additionally, moderate non-diet eating means we will sometimes have to deal with social pressure, whether it’s subtle or spoken. It takes clarity, courage and conviction to eat differently than others are, especially if they are strongly encouraging us to go along with what or how much they are eating. Of course there are times when we will choose to eat when and what others are eating because that feels like the most loving choice to make at that time, but there will be times that listening to our own internal signals means we don’t go along with the flock or the clock.

I remember a recent family visit when I wanted leftovers and a cookie for breakfast rather than the eggs and toast everyone else was having. Oftentimes I eat what others are having but sometimes, my cravings are strong and it feels more loving to listen to my body than to my fear of what others might think or say.

It takes courage to stop eating when we are politely full even though everyone else is still eating (and encouraging us to also). But we don’t always go to the bathroom when others do, or sleep or shower when they do. Honest, loving, intuitive eating means that sometimes we do things differently than others but our choices are not fueled by body hate or attempts to control our weight.

Improve the Way You Move

 Many people have a relationship with exercise that is similar to their relationship to food: they either avoid it or overdo it.  Learning to move your body in ways that feel good, and rest without feeling guilty, is a challenge in our “go for the burn” culture, but meeting that challenge will help your body find its natural way.

Instead of telling yourself you should exercise or rebelling and avoiding exercise altogether, try these questions on for size: If you could never lose or gain another pound no matter how much you exercised, how would you choose to move your body? How did you enjoy moving your body prior to becoming obsessed with diets, weight loss or eating? What types of movement do you think your body might enjoy at this stage of your life?

When you take self-berating, calorie burning and body sculpting out of the equation, you will be able to honor your body’s natural desires to move and rest.

Find New Ways to Fill Up

 In order to alleviate the need to overeat sweets and comfort foods, we need to make sure that we are getting enough sweetness and comfort in our lives. I encourage my clients to come up with a list of Spirit Fillers. These are ways that you can truly fill up without having any negative or unhealthy consequences.

When we turn to overeating or restricting, we might feel temporarily high but it is most often followed by a profound low. When we feed our spirits, we feel good while we are doing so and we also feel good afterwards. Of course a bath, a walk in nature, journaling or a cup of tea doesn’t pack the same punch as a box of cookies or a carton of ice-cream, but they also don’t leave the same bruises.

Back in my bingeing days, I definitely felt numb after a binge but I always, without exception, ended up feeling intense shame, remorse and hopelessness. Once I learned how to truly fill myself up, there were no shameful hangovers and nothing to “start over.”

Try writing a list of ways you might get more sweetness and comfort in your life and start integrating a few of these into your weekly routine. In addition to external ideas, consider adding some internal ones too. The more sweet and comforting your self-talk is, the less you will need old behaviors to attempt to meet your needs.

Heal What You Feel

As you let go of restricting and rebelling, the feelings that you may have been avoiding with these behaviors will begin to surface. If we are not distracted by the fantasy of weight loss, white knuckling at mealtimes, or rebellious binges, we are left with an array of emotions that are natural and necessary to feel in order to heal. Learning to tolerate and compassionately welcome difficult emotions until they pass is a skill, just like learning to ride a bike up a steep hill.

The good news is that you can get better at dealing with feeling and you can learn from experience that once your painful emotions pass naturally, you do not have to stuff them down unnaturally. You will begin to experience what it’s like to get to the other side of the “hill” and coast for a while until the next uphill challenge that life brings.

Becoming willing to tolerate and cope with painful emotions until they pass naturally will help you release the need for dieting and/or overeating. And just like learning any new skill, you will get stronger and better at it over time. As challenging as emotional pain is, the lovely parting gift of welcoming feelings is that you will experience firsthand that all feelings and cravings will eventually pass. You will also get to reap the many benefits of an eating disorder-free life!

Upgrade Your Unkind Mind

Most people who restrict and/or overeat have what I refer to as a very loud Unkind Mind. After all, it’s usually body hatred that leads us to diet in the first place. We are essentially promised by the diet industry that if we lose weight, we will like ourselves. But if that were true, most dieters would lose weight and live happily ever after—and the diet industry would shrink as satisfied customers went off on their merry way. What usually happens to dieters who lose weight is they either remain obsessed with food, or they gain the weight back since it was lost in an unnatural manner. And the unkind thoughts remain..

So what do you say we do a little upgrade and start inserting some Kind Mind thoughts into your internal computer? Instead of the chronic pop-up thought that says, I will like myself when my body changes, how about something like this: I will try to like myself right now and as a result of self-kindness and self-care, see how my relationship with food changes.

 If you can work on liking yourself or at least being kinder to yourself, you are already one step closer to what you think you would get if you had the body you wanted. Of course it’s fine to want a healthy body but the main reason people want to lose weight or change their shape is because of how they think they will feel if they did so. So the key here is beginning to go for that feeling now. And not only does self-care and self-kindness feel better but it will lead you to treat yourself better which will mean less restricting, less overeating and a Kind Mind!

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

In a recent session with a client, we both had the beautiful opportunity to witness that it is our thoughts that bring us misery, not our bodies! This precious woman was simply convinced that her body was her problem. She sat in my office in tears about how much she hated her body, how convinced she was that weight loss would bring her happiness and how “fat” she felt (despite my frequent reminders that “fat” is not a feeling!) I even whipped out my handy dandy emotions list along with a gentle reminder that “fat” was not on it and encouraged her to go deeper. She remained truly convinced that her body was the problem.

A week later, this very same woman, with the very same body, returned to my office and reported how much better she was doing. She told me about a few sweet events that took place during the week and how good she was feeling about some new opportunities in her life.

These two consecutive sessions revealed to her that, as convincing as it can seem that changing her body will surely be her key to happiness, it is not so. Of course treating our bodies with love and kindness will certainly help us feel better overall, but changing our size will not magically change our life; changing our thinking will.

 Speak Your Part from Your Heart

 Another essential piece of the of recovery puzzle is learning how to speak, rather than stuff, our truth. For many people, overeating, restricting and body obsessing are ways of avoiding our truth; so learning the language of respectful, clear communication is a big part of healing.

For me this was no easy deal given that I had a black belt in people-pleasing. I came to realize though, that I had a choice: I could stuff my truth down (or attempt to anyway) with cookies, ice cream and restricting, or I could learn how to say what I’m feeling and ask for what I’m needing. (Gulp!) I also had to learn how to receive feedback without crumbling or retaliating, and how to accept the humanness and imperfection in us all, myself included. No easy task, I know, but neither is over-and undereating!

I also learned that it’s okay to be scared to speak up and to do it anyway. And that I could get help learning the language of safe, respectful communication. A friend of mine often says, “If speaking your truth with someone is a deal breaker, it wasn’t a very good deal in the first place!”
So see if you can learn and practice the language of healthy communication. There are a ton of books and blogs on this important topic and just like any language, the more you practice, the better you become and the more rewarding it is when you meet others who speak fluently too!

Warning: Self-Care Can Be Habit Forming

 Many people who struggle with dieting and overeating also struggle with creating a new routine of non-diet, moderate eating. They vow to eat moderately and then forget that vow. They continue to restrict even though it leads them to overeat. Creating a new habit takes conscious effort at first, until it becomes automatic.

A client of mine who has been a vegetarian for decades told me, “I would never in a million years forget that I don’t eat meat and yet I often forget that restricting leads to overeating, which only leads to shame and more restricting.”

Most of our minds are filled with food rules. And those rules are hard to strike from the record. But our animal bodies will rebel from those rules, whether this means they binge or they break down.

Your body knows what to eat. Your body knows when and how much to eat. You were born with that wisdom until it was taken over by the cultural virus that made you forget and forge a well-worn path.

Deep inside you, beneath all the rules and rebellion is your body’s natural wisdom. It takes support, practice, courage and willingness to forge that path until the new path becomes habitual. Then your new normal will be to eat intuitively and moderately.

See if you can put moderate, non-diet eating in the same category as brushing your teeth or gassing up your car, activities you (hopefully) never forget to do. Feeding your body what it truly wants and needs can become as important as all your other top priorities in life.

So here’s to practicing excellent self-care until your new habits are fully formed. Here’s to stepping off the diet/riot roller coaster and coasting along the path of kindness, compassion and clarity.

This blog was originally published on and can be found here.

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Dealing With Feelings About Healing

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Chances are, you came to this site because you’ve been struggling with an eating disorder. And chances are you are here because you have a desire to heal. If you are anything like I was, you might even have mixed feelings about healing; part of you wanting to get better and part of you that’s really scared about what that will entail. The good news is that all you need is some desire to get well in order to begin getting well.

You may already know that beating yourself up about your behaviors is not going to help heal them. Neither is ignoring them and letting them run or ruin your life. But adopting a curious, compassionate, kind tone and really trying to understand the purpose of your eating disorder, will help you reveal what you feel, and heal, for real!

I remember when I began to contemplate the possibility of letting go of my eating disorder. I had joined a support group in my early years of recovery and I heard someone say, “It’s really hard having an eating disorder and it’s really hard letting it go.” I thought, Oh, great… Isn’t there a door number three here? Isn’t there an easier route that’s not so hard? It turns out there isn’t. Living with an eating disorder is really hard and letting it go is really hard. But with the eating disorder, things usually get worse over time, whereas with recovery, life gets better over time… and better…. and better. And getting better doesn’t mean you don’t have pain or struggles in life, it just means you don’t use restricting, bingeing, purging, exercise, body obsession or self-harm to deal with the hard parts of life; you use inner and outer resources.

So how do you feel about letting go of your eating disorder? Do you tell yourself it’s not that bad? Is there a part of you that wants to heal and a part of you that is scared to let go of your habitual behaviors and thoughts? Do you have any desire to stop? Are you ready to stop now?

The following ideas can help you gain some clarity into what purpose your eating disorder has been trying to serve. Feel free to pick and choose from the menu and remember, being hard on yourself got you into this, being kind to yourself is what will help you get out.

Write for Insight

When you are in pain from the consequences of your eating disorder, it’s common to think, I am so ready to give this up. But how about later, or the next day, when the shame and pain wear off and you want to return to your habitual patterns? It’s not so easy to remember. Consider one of more of these writing exercises to help you gain some insight and strengthen your healthy internal soundtrack:

Write a Pro’s and Con’s list and take an honest look at what you are getting from your eating disorder and what it is robbing you of.

Write a specific list of all the areas in your life that have been affected by your eating disorder, including physical health, emotional health, relationships, work, finances, school, self-care, and future goals.

The next time you’re experiencing the painful consequences of your eating disorder, write a letter to yourself that you can read when you are considering turning back to your familiar unhealthy behaviors.

Write a goodbye letter to your eating disorder and include all the reasons you want to stop. Put it where you will see it every day.

Art Smart

 Creating art can be a really useful addition to your healing toolkit. See if this activity can help you along your road of recovery. The first step is to get a piece of paper and a pen. You can also use markers or pictures from magazines or online to collage rather than draw. And by the way, there are zero artistic skills necessary here; just paper, pen and an open mind!

So, once you have your paper and whatever ways you choose to express yourself, close your eyes and see if you can get an image of what your eating disorder voice looks like. It’s okay if nothing comes right away but see if an image pops up for you. Then, using paper and pen or images you gather, create what came to you on your paper.

Now take a moment and see if you can get an image of your healthy self and then put that on paper in whatever way feels right to you.

See if you can give each part a name and an age.

Imagine that each part could take a turn and speak. Write down what each part would say. Then write what they would each say to each other.

Have each part finish the following sentences:

I feel…

I think…

I need…

If you are in counseling or have another safe person in your life, you might consider sharing this with them. If not, hopefully you can continue this two-part dialogue rather than having the eating disorder do a daily monologue!

Reveal and Heal What You Feel

One of the reasons eating disorders develop in the first place is to mask painful emotions. Even though eating disorders themselves cause painful feelings, our behaviors and obsessions are often an attempt to numb or distract from deeper pain. Learning how to tolerate and express our emotions in healthy ways can be challenging but extremely rewarding. You will learn that all feelings pass, especially if we are kind to ourselves in thought and action!

Here are a few practical steps that will help you reveal and heal what you feel:

Practice making a distinction between your thoughts and your feelings.

As you become aware of a strong feeling, see if you can name it and locate the sensation of it in your body.

Imagine that your breath is like a warm tropical breeze blowing through that sensation and soothing it.

Remind yourself that you can learn to ride out painful feelings like you might ride out a physical pain. Chances are if you have a cramp or a headache, you know it will pass. So will our emotions. Especially if we are kind to ourselves. (Starting to see a theme here?)

Remind yourself that the last time you had huge feelings, they eventually passed.

Speak to yourself and treat yourself the way you would speak to someone else you truly care about.

Retrain Your Brain

 The internal soundtrack of someone with an eating disorder is not usually the kindest playlist on the pad. Most people who struggle with an eating disorder have a very unkind mind. Oftentimes people turn to their disordered behaviors to try to distract from their unkind mind for a while. Others turn to their unhealthy patterns because they are believing the unkind messages their minds are dishing out. In order to heal, we need to upgrade the unkind mind and learn how to be on our own side instead of on our own back. Consider listening to a podcast on mindfulness. Fortunately, there are now millions to choose from. We are not responsible for the recordings that got put into our minds or what unkind thoughts pop up every day. But we can learn how to disagree with them, delete them, and upload new ones!

Meet the Need You’re Trying to Feed

Eating disorder behaviors are often attempts to meet some type of valid need. While they don’t usually work, we can find out what those important needs are and find healthy ways to get them met. Some people are deeply lonely and need more companionship and to learn how to be better company for themselves. Some people are filled with self-hate and need to learn how to retrain their brain. Some people are living in the past and need to learn how to forgive themselves and let go of old hurts. Some people are extremely dissatisfied with their lives and need to make some changes or work on more acceptance and gratitude. Some people are unsatisfied in their relationships and need to renegotiate old agreements and see if change is possible.

There are countless needs that an eating disorder may be attempting to meet. Once you uncover yours and discover other ways to meet your needs, you will no longer need your eating disorder. When we turn to eating disorder behaviors, we might temporarily feel some relief or distraction but then we usually feel worse afterward. When you truly get a need met, there are no negative or harmful consequences.

So, if part of you is wanting to give up your eating disorder and part of you is not quite ready yet, there is still so much hope. With support, willingness and positive changes, you can learn to feel your emotions fully until they pass and retrain your brain until it’s filled with kinder thoughts. You can learn to feed the needs that your eating disorder has been attempting to feed, and dialogue with your disorder until your healthy self is running the show!

This blog was originally published on and can be found here

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Trump’s Fat Chat and its Toxic Consequences: A Q&A

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

In a recent text-ersation with my sister-in law, journalist Katie Hafner, we began discussing the recent story about Trump body bashing Alicia Machado. When we realized our texts had turned into a full-blown Q and A (thanks to voice recognition and my soap box!), we decided to share it in the hopes of keeping this important conversation going. May we all take a good look and a solid stand against body discrimination.

KH: Was the debate the other night the first you had heard about the Miss Universe incident?

AW: I’ve heard of Trump insulting people for years and I’d read about his shaming Alicia Machado about her weight in the past. I call it “fat chat” and he is one of the leaders of fat chatting in our culture.

KH: How do you define “fat chat?”

AW: I define fat chat as speaking negatively about one’s own or someone else’s body or eating. This can include comments about certain foods being deemed “good” or “bad,” even “evil.” Or someone being “good” or “bad” according to how they look, ate or exercised.

KH: What were your thoughts when you heard about this story from the viewpoint of a therapist who specializes in body image issues? 

AW: My thoughts were that this is despicable and sad. In my line of work (and personally), I try hard to have empathy for everyone, but I have to say, Trump isn’t making it easy. I realize that he comes from the same lookist, sexist culture that we all do, but to think that this man is attempting to be a leader and a role model and is actually perpetuating such archaic and damaging beliefs is incomprehensible.

Every day I work with people in my practice who hate their bodies, purge their food, restrict their eating and spend massive amounts of time and money in pursuit of a different shape and weight. Millions of people in our country are tortured about the size of their bodies. And this insanity has no age limit. I have seen kids as young as six-years old and adults in their 80’s. And nearly every age in between. It’s comments like the ones Trump has been making that contribute to this insanity. It’s hard enough for people to stop body shaming themselves, but to think they are hearing it from a “politician,” someone claiming to be fair enough and fit to run our country?

KH: What did you think after watching the video in which she speaks about the entire incident? 

AW: I think it’s tragic that the incident took place at all but equally important that the conversation about it in the media caught on so quickly and so many people are speaking out about the importance of body appreciation and acceptance. There’s been a lot of forward movement in recent years with more and more awareness and education on eating disorders, and the Health at Every Size movement. I know we still have a long way to go, but body image activists are speaking out more and the movement toward body acceptance and body love is becoming more mainstream than ever before. I hope Alicia found it empowering and healing to share some of her story and I hope she can see how it sparked an important public conversation.

KH: Were you surprised when she said that the entire episode gave her an eating disorder?

AW: Not at all. While we are all at risk, given the extremely perfectionistic, image-obsessed culture we live in, every single person I have treated with an eating disorder has had personal experiences that led them astray. Most people who suffer from an eating disorder can tell you the specific moment or moments when someone called them a name or told them to lose weight or commented negatively on their shape, weight, athletic ability or food intake. I call it a “dart in the heart moment.” Someone says or does something cruel (in this case body shaming) and the comment goes in like a dart in the heart. This can trigger unhealthy decisions about our own worth along the lines of, “Uh oh, I am not okay, I better eat less, or get rid of what I eat or work out more.” And the die is cast. A full or part-time job often ensues, of trying to make oneself okay when ironically, they were okay all along; it was the initial comments that weren’t.

KH: What about his comment, “this is somebody that likes to eat,” as if enjoying food were a crime?

AW: Depending on the tone and context, that could be an innocent comment or even a compliment. What’s not to love? Food is wonderful. In this case, on top of calling her “Miss Piggy” and an “eating machine” and commenting on her weight, it was yet another outlandish comment that was at best, extremely rude and at worst, a contributing factor to her developing an eating disorder. Of course we all have to take responsibility for the way we react and respond to what is said to us but if we can use this as an opportunity to raise awareness and continue the conversation on lookism and body discrimination, then something positive will have come from her painful journey. Millions of people have joined together to try to put a stop to racism, homophobia and other forms of abuse, discrimination and cruelty. We can continue to do the same with body shaming.

KH: If you were to give her advice, what would it be?

AW: Speak to yourself the way you wish you were spoken to. Treat yourself and feed yourself the same way you would a loved one. See if this can catapult you into deeply accepting and loving yourself.

KH: What advice would you give Donald Trump about the way he speaks about women and their bodies?

AW: If I thought he’d be open minded enough to heed it, I’d ask him to consider the miracle of the human body, the body that birthed him or his daughter; to think about how he would want someone to speak to his daughter or his wife. I would suggest he take a moment and ask himself, really ask himself what is it that leads him to critique or criticize someone else’s body? What need is he trying to meet by giving someone an unkind label? How does he stand to benefit if someone else on the planet changes their shape?

KH: What can each of us do differently to help turn the tide of body obsession and body bashing? 

AW: Stop Fat Chat. Let’s all make an effort to stop talking about how “fat” we feel or how “good” or “bad” we are according to how much we ate or exercised. Stop commenting on other people’s bodies and insulting our own. Try saying things like “It’s great to see you,” instead of “You lost weight. You look great!” Stop dieting (in reality or mentality). If we all change the club rules to eating real food when we are really hungry (to the best of our ability), we can turn the tide of thinking that certain foods are morally good or bad. Make a true attempt to listen to your bodies’ natural needs for movement and rest. Refuse to buy magazines and go to sites that feature emaciated models. If you see your child restricting their food intake due to fear of food, over-exercising or fat chatting, take action and intervene the same way you would if they started using drugs. Stop telling and laughing at fat jokes. Fat jokes and fat chat cause shame for people that are large and fear for people that are not. Let’s all commit to finding sweetness and fulfillment in our lives, even in the smallest of ways, rather than only from excess food or the fantasy of weight loss and let’s teach this to our kids. May we all live healthily after.

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Getting Over Overeating for Teens: Talking with the Author

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Janice Bremis

I was recently interviewed by Janice Bremis, founder of Eating Disorders Resource Services, to discuss my new book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens. I’m posting our discussion in the hopes of reaching any teens, parents and health professionals who might benefit from this resource. Please help spread the word by forwarding or sharing this interview on social media.

Janice: What sparked the idea for this book? 

Andrea: Overeating, binge eating and body hatred are epidemic in our culture, and I’m passionate about trying to help people who are struggling with these painful issues. I began hating my body as a teen and was given the only tips the crazy culture had up its sleeve: diet and exercise. These were definitely not the solutions I needed, and like millions of others, I began a downward spiral of overeating, bingeing, sneak eating and yo-yo weight fluctuations, not to mention decades of body obsession and self-hatred.

I also know how important early prevention is; helping someone dismantle their unhealthy beliefs about food, fitness and feelings when they’ve been struggling for a few years (as opposed to a few decades) is likely to be that much more successful. While there’s always hope for change regardless of how long a pattern has gone on, guiding someone onto a healthier path in their teens, rather than starting when they are more entrenched in their beliefs and behaviors, can really make a difference, both in prognosis as well as quality of life.

Janice: Who is the target audience for your book?

Andrea: The book was written for adolescents who struggle with overeating, binge eating and body image. It can also help parents and health professionals to better understand and guide the kids they are concerned about.

Janice: Can you clarify for me and our readers, the difference between overeating and binge eating?

Andrea: Yes, this is a very common question. Overeating is when you eat more than your body needs. It’s important to know that even people who have a totally healthy relationship with food will overeat on occasion. It only becomes problematic if they do it too often or if it has negative consequences.

Binge eating is when someone eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time. They usually eat fast, and until they are stuffed and ashamed. And they usually eat over painful emotions and thoughts, rather than true physical hunger. Someone who binge eats can also be considered an overeater but someone can struggle with overeating and not necessarily binge on large amounts of food.

Janice: In your introduction, you describe the importance of building a “Stable Table.” Can you explain this concept? 

Andrea: The book is divided into four sections that each represent one leg of a metaphorical table: feelings, thoughts, body, and filling up. The idea is that in order to get over overeating (to have a “stable table”), all four areas need to be addressed.

Building only one leg, which is what most diets do, results in an “unstable table.” So, for example, when someone focuses solely on eating less and exercising more but doesn’t learn how to identify and cope with the emotions they are eating over, they will likely turn to overeating in an attempt to soothe their intolerable emotions and unmet needs. Or if someone is trying to do more fulfilling things in their life but is filled with unkind thoughts and an internal soundtrack of self-hatred (what I call the “unkind mind”), they are likely to pick up extra food in an attempt to quiet that mind, get a break from it, or confirm its critical messages. If someone goes to therapy to get help with their emotions but does nothing to address their restricting and overeating habits, they are not likely to feel better in their body. So working on all four areas—feelings, thoughts, body and filling up—which the book addresses in detail, is how someone can get over overeating and gain so many more necessary life skills in the process.

Janice: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the four sections of the book? 

Andrea: Gladly! Section one is what I call “Healing What You’re Feeling.” In the same way our culture teaches us that there are acceptable and unacceptable foods, many of us are also taught that there are acceptable and unacceptable emotions. Namely, happy is good; sad, mad and scared are not so good. I think this is a large part of why our culture is more depressed, anxious, addicted and medicated than ever. So this section helps teens learn everything they need to know about emotions: where they live inside of us, how to name them, what their purpose is, what to do with them, and how to welcome and tolerate them rather than eat over them. I write that “we either deal with the feelings we are eating over or we deal with the feelings we have from overeating.” Personally, I always wished there was a door number three, but no such luck. As they say, “The only way out is through!” So section one arms readers with many tools that will help them not only get over overeating but also with life in general. Over the years, I’ve received many calls and emails from clients who originally came to me for eating and body issues in their teens. They report back from college or adulthood that they feel so much more equipped to deal with stress, emotional ups and downs, and relationship issues as a result of the early work they did.

Section two is about our thinking. I call it “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind.” An overeating problem is, in large part, a thinking problem. Most overeaters have a very strong internal program running (the unkind mind). Unkind thoughts lead us to have painful feelings, and painful feelings lead many people to crave extra food in order to comfort themselves or numb out. So learning how to challenge our unkind minds and upgrade to kinder ones is a huge part of getting over overeating. This section of the book, in large part, uses teen-friendly language to teach mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Section three is titled “Befriending Your Body.” I liken it to taking care of your electronic gadgets. You don’t want to overcharge them, and you don’t want to run them down too low. So I encourage readers to “take care of their body battery,” and this section teaches them many ways to do this. Readers will learn about the ineffectiveness of dieting and how restricting (either in reality or mentality) most often leads to rebelling. (I call it “diet or riot.”) They can learn how to access an intuitive inner voice that will help them make their food choices and step off the diet/riot roller coaster. Other related topics include “Finding Your Natural Weight in a Natural Way” and “Beating the Body Image Blues.”

Finally, the fourth section is what I call “Filling Up Without Feeling Down.” It’s filled with stories, teachings and tips about how to nurture the deeper parts of ourselves. Teen readers will learn many ways that they can get support, connect with their own innate intuition and feel truly filled up without feeling bloated and ashamed afterward.

Janice: I noticed that out of the forty activities in your book, only five are actually about food. Can you say something about this? 

Andrea: While overeating is certainly about healing one’s relationship with food, it’s also about so much more: learning how to cope with painful emotions; communicate difficult thoughts, feelings and needs; quiet your mind; treat your body with respect; and find more sweetness and comfort in life, just to name a few. The reason traditional diets have such a high failure rate is that they usually neglect to address all the important underlying issues that need to be revealed and healed. Once people understand and resolve the deeper issues that caused them to turn to excess food and diets in the first place, they’ll no longer need to use food and body obsession as distractions or numbing agents. Food can take its proper place and serve the purpose nature intended it to: nutrition and pleasure. Then new healthy coping skills can replace unhealthy over- and undereating.

JaniceHow does a parent, counselor or doctor touch on such sensitive topics like overeating and body image if they want to recommend your book to a teen they are concerned about?

Andrea: Very compassionately, very nonjudgmentally—and definitely not while the teen is eating! You are right; eating, weight, body image and exercise can all be extremely sensitive and charged topics for anyone who is struggling with these areas. Our culture bombards us with so many messages about how we are supposed to look and what we are supposed to eat and how we are supposed to exercise that it’s no wonder eating disorders and body obsession are rampant.

If a teenager has previously shared their body or eating distress with their parent, that could be a good lead-in for the parent to open the topic. For example, “You’ve mentioned lately that you’ve been struggling with your body image and wanting to go on a diet. I recently heard about this book for teens who are dealing with dieting, overeating and body image. Are you are interested in taking a look at it?” (This could be spoken or written, by the way. Sometimes a note or an email can give teens a little time to process a sensitive topic.)

If the parent has similar issues, that can be another good way to start. For example, “You know that I’ve been struggling with dieting and overeating since I was a teenager. I know that you’ve said that you are too. It’s so hard, and I know that strict dieting is not the answer, and neither is overeating and feeling bad about ourselves. I heard about this book and wonder how you would feel about reading it together, or reading it on your own if you prefer? I’m going to work on this stuff too and I thought it might be cool if we did it together.”

Although it sometimes reduces shame when a parent who has similar struggles lets their child know this, it’s important not to get too into your own issues, eliciting the classic glazed-over eyes that often follow the classic “When I was your age…” line! Keeping it brief and planting a seed is ideal.

Counselors, dietitians and nutritionists who are working with an individual (or a group) might consider recommending the book or offering a no-obligation invitation for the teen to share anything they write or learn from it. You could also consider going through one activity each time you meet.

I often let my young clients know that I’m recommending the book to several other clients as well, in the hopes of diminishing shame and letting them know they aren’t the only ones who are struggling in this area.

Doctors and other health professionals who want to recommend the book to teens and parents might let them know that they work with many teenagers who struggle with overeating, that strict dieting is not the answer, and that there is hope and help for anyone struggling with food or body-image issues.

Hopefully you can see a theme here: being kind and nonjudgmental, and trying to remain neutral about whether they read it, steering you clear of the ever-so-popular parental power struggle!

 Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell and The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. An inspirational counselor, author and speaker, Andrea uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, her Huffington Post blogs, or other services, please visit

Janice Bremis is the founding member and Executive Director of the Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC). She graduated from San Jose State University with a BA in Liberal Arts and has worked in the healthcare community for most of her career. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 1975 and is well aware of the stigma associated with the disease, as well as the importance of emotional support and access to quality treatment. She is very passionate about advocating for people who have eating disorders. For more information, visit:

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9 Ways To Upgrade Your Relationship

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It seems like it should be the most natural thing in the world to treat your partner with kindness, consideration and respect. After all, this is the person you’ve chosen to share your life, heart and in most cases, bed with. Yet for many people in committed relationships, the respect, kindness and admiration that were present at first tend to fade over time.

As a family therapist, I frequently hear about this unfortunate dynamic from both perspectives. Some people tell me they’re aware of how poorly they treat their partners at times. They even express surprise at how often they find themselves speaking to their partners in ways they would never think of doing with their bosses, coworkers or friends. Others tell me about how their partners treat them, and how they wish it were kinder and more like the early days of dating.

Most people treat their partners with the utmost respect and kindness in the dating and courting stages. After all, the relationship would not have likely progressed if that weren’t the case. So, why do so many people start out presenting the best version of themselves and then over time, begin to treat their beloved partners with disrespect or disregard—and sometimes even disdain?

In some cases, it’s simply because many of us have not been taught to treat our significant others with deep and daily respect. It’s what I call passing the dysfunctional baton. We basically learn how to be in relationships from the role models we witnessed as children. By the time we reach young adulthood, we pretty much have a master’s degree in relationships and, whether we like it or not, our parents were our professors. And depending on how our parents were taught by our grandparents, this may or may not be good news. I’m in no way casting blame here. Our parents and grandparents received their relationship education from their caregivers too. So, we all get what we get, and what we get depends on circumstances beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find tutors or new teachers, and it doesn’t mean we can’t learn and improve if our original role models were less than ideal.

An additional source of relationship role-modeling comes from the unhealthy messages we absorb in the media. Most movies and TV shows depict couples who are in conflict, from bickering to arguing to outright fighting. A client once asked if I could recommend a movie whose characters exhibited healthy, loving, respectful communication. I couldn’t, and the likely reason is that it probably wouldn’t sell. Drama sells. So even if your parents or early caregivers were loving, kind and friendly to each other, and even if they worked through rough spots with respect, you still may have gotten a good dose of unhealthy communication lessons from the media.

Another factor that can contribute to how we treat our partners is simply our inborn temperament. I call it our “breed.” We all have various moods, but you can usually see early on that some of us are naturally more light-hearted, and some of us are more serious. Others are a bit rougher around the edges. And on top of that, we have our life circumstances, which can enhance our natural breed or sometimes change it. We all have issues, but either we work on them or they work on us.

Author Eckhart Tolle talks about people having a “pain-body,” which he defines as an accumulation of old emotional pain. Some people have a significantly depressed pain-body and live with a lot of sadness. Others have an angry pain-body and walk around mad at the world. Some people’s pain-body shows itself through a lot of anxiety. Pain-bodies like these can definitely factor into how people treat their partners if they don’t work on healing their wounds from the past. And some people, either through life circumstances, or perhaps self-improvement, seem to have a light pain-body and live life with a bit of a skip in their step.

If you’re someone who finds yourself treating your partner with less respect and kindness than you would like, you can do an upgrade. You can dedicate yourself to healing. You can commit to increasing the respect, kindness and consideration that you probably once treated your partner with. We all deserve to be in relationships that are safe, loving, intimate and friendly, and we can all learn to work through challenges with respect, openness and maturity. Of course it takes two, and you can only work on your end of the deal. But even if one person changes, the whole dynamic can improve.

And, like anything we want to improve, it takes work. You wouldn’t expect to get good at a sport, hobby, instrument or language without learning and practicing. The same goes for relationship and communication skills.

A few important side notes: Being nice doesn’t mean being phony. We all have feelings, moods, thoughts and needs. The upgrade I’m speaking of is about being respectful, no matter what you’re feeling. And if you slip and say or do something disrespectful, you clear it up as soon as possible, the same way you would clean up an accidental spill.

Additionally, if your relationship is unsafe — physically or emotionally — it might be time to get out or, at the very least, get professional help. But if you feel like you are with the one you love (and hopefully like) and you are ready to make some improvements in the way you treat your partner, here are some tips for you:

1. Nourish your relationship.
Just like our plants need food and water, our relationships do too. It’s way too easy in our fast-paced, plugged-in culture to take our significant other for granted, so it’s important to make regular efforts to initiate dates with your partner and plan some fun things to do together. It could be an activity you used to enjoy as a couple, or it could be something new and out of the box. I often ask partners to each write a list of things they might like to do as a couple—anything from a trip to going out for a cup of coffee or an evening walk. Then they trade lists, and each partner marks off the things on the other person’s list that sound good to them. Together they have a new list of fun ideas!

2. Be present when you are present.
Connecting is more than simply being in the same house, room or restaurant, though that’s a good start! It’s about being truly present, making eye contact and showing genuine interest in your partner. Try putting down your tablet, phone or remote control on a regular basis and really take the time to connect with your partner, even for a few minutes. Be sincere when you ask about their thoughts, feelings and experiences, and then really listen and respond from your heart.

3. Foster a balance between friendship and intimacy.
A loving relationship is about being good friends and being intimate. Many relationships begin with a spark of chemistry but fade over time without the foundation of a true friendship, while others may have a solid friendship but lack that romantic spark. See if you can foster a friendship with some kindness and play, and then make regular efforts to fan the flames of intimacy. You might have to abandon your usual mode of sweat pants and sitcoms, but it will hopefully be worth it!

4. Increase tolerance and acceptance.
It’s so easy to gather up resentments about the little things your partner does that bother you, so make working on tolerance, perspective and acceptance a daily practice. Being less judgmental also increases our own level of peace. Try to distinguish between behaviors you’d like to work on accepting and reasonable changes you’d like to request. For example, you might be able to accept the cap being left off the toothpaste, or it might be important enough to respectfully request that your honey try to remember to put it back on. And when your partner makes requests of you, see if you can consider honoring those as well.

5. Give what you’d like to get.
Most people want to be heard, understood, seen and validated. And unfortunately many people want their partner to go first. Since we have zero control over how our partner acts and hopefully some control over how we act, if we want things to change in our relationship, the best chance of success is to give what we would like to get. So if you want to be heard, try becoming a better listener and see what happens. If you want your partner to meet some of your needs, try meeting some of theirs. Of course this doesn’t guarantee anything. Some people won’t be able to meet our needs regardless of what we do, but it’s worth a try, especially if what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working.

6. Act with kindness and compassion.
Here’s some good news: Not only can being kinder and more compassionate improve your relationship, it can also improve your health! Strong emotions such as anger, resentment and hostility increase our stress hormones, causing an elevation in our heart rate and blood pressure, a tightening of our muscles and blood vessels and a shortening of breath.

On the flip side, being kind can set off a series of healthy reactions. According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness create an emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of nitric oxide, a chemical that dilates the blood vessels and so reduces blood pressure. Oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone; it protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.

So besides the fact that kindness and compassion simply feel better, they are better for us too!

7. Assume that we are all doing the best we can.
It can be very tempting to look at what our partners are doing and think that we would be doing it differently, or that they should be doing it differently. But is that true? If you had the exact same personality characteristics, birth order, parenting and life circumstances as your partner, you would likely be doing things exactly as they are. Is it always what you’d like? Probably not. Is it always easy? Probably not. But then I’m sure we’re not always fulfilling our partners’ wildest dreams either.

Author Brené Brown shares how her husband, Steve, summed up compassion beautifully. When Brené asked Steve if people are doing the best they can, he answered, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” Brené goes on to say, “It doesn’t mean people were doing the best there was to do, but rather the best we can with the tools that are available to us.”

So, see if you can try on this approach. See what it would feel like to assume that your partner is doing the best they can with the tools they have been given.

8. When emotions are high, take a breather.
In general, the higher our stress level, the harder it is to think clearly, calmly and maturely. So sometimes, in order to keep the respect level high, we need to take a breather. If you feel like things are getting heated or a charged topic is on the table, practice asking for a breather—literally taking a time-out and literally taking some deep breaths. Some people find it helps to take a walk and get some fresh air when things heat up. Some find it helps to journal or listen to a mindfulness podcast or meditate or talk to an unbiased person who is skilled at listening and staying neutral. Do whatever you need to do to minimize potential damage and help yourself get grounded. Then you can return to clear, mature thinking and resume the conversation.

9. Imagine the future if nothing changes in the present.
Change is hard for many of us. Perpetuating our habitual patterns is often the path of least resistance. Even if some of our habits are not even fun or fulfilling, they’re what we know and are used to, and we humans tend to be creatures of habit. If you have habitually been treating your partner in ways you aren’t proud of (and wouldn’t want to see on YouTube), you might find it helpful to think toward the future. I sometimes ask clients to imagine themselves in the distant future, having made no significant changes in their relationship. For some people, this is a pleasant image. But for many, it’s a sad one. They imagine feeling a deep sense of regret about not spending more quality time with their partner, listening more, slowing down more, criticizing less, appreciating more, being more kind.

A dear friend of mine works with people at the end of their lives. She has sat with many people on their deathbeds, and I once asked her if she noticed any themes among the dying. Were there common regrets? Common wishes? She said, “For sure, nobody ever said they wished they had worked more. And many people said they wished they had been kinder and loved their loved ones better.” She said if she could sum up what she most often heard, it was about love, simply loving the people you love—and letting them know it.

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Breaking the Bad Body Image Legacy

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I was raised by a mom who was extremely dissatisfied with her body. Sadly, and statistically, there is a good chance that you were too. It’s nobody’s fault. Most of our mothers were handed the same bad body image baton that we were, leaving far too many of us competing in the never ending race of trying to eat a certain way, exercise a certain way and look a certain way in order to feel attractive and loveable.

Fortunately, there is a movement toward health and healing. My hope is that someday, a woman who dislikes or despises her body will be as rare as one who thinks that washing her child’s mouth out with soap is a wise parenting tool. As a culture, we need a massive update on our body image programming and if you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are up for the task.

Whether someone inherited a bad body image from their family, or learned it from our crazy culture, it is possible to heal. In my therapy practice, I have worked with women of all ages and from all walks of life and I have found that if there is desire and willingness, there is hope to break the legacy of bad body image.

My earliest memory of body image awareness was when I was about eight years old. I innocently walked into the bathroom and saw my mom soaking in the tub. While I don’t remember her exact words, I do recall her saying something negative and unkind about her body. I silently wondered why she didn’t like her body. And the programming went on from there: negative comments she made about feeling or being fat; certain foods being deemed “good” or “bad;” needing to diet or exercise to make up for what she ate.

Then came the painfully memorable shift when the focus turned to my body: Being told I was “getting a little chubby;” getting served the tasteless diet foods that were kept in a special freezer in the garage, while my dad and brother ate the regular foods from the kitchen; my dad telling me I have “such a pretty face,” if only I would “lose a few pounds;” paying my sister and me to lose weight.

I harbor not an ounce of blame or resentment toward these precious people. They received the same mixed-up messages we all have: If you lose weight, you will be more attractive and loveable. If you exercise, eat lean proteins, vegetables and fruits, you will be “good.” If you eat what have been deemed “bad” foods, you will be out of control and lose the praise and love you so hunger for.

Being a sensitive child who was desperately eager to please, I took my parents’ early teachings to heart. My dieting turned to sneak eating which led to periods of serious restricting which led to major binges which eventually morphed into a hard core case of bulimia. I added massive amounts of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes into the mix and spent decades completely lost in food, weight and body obsession. My self-worth, my social life, my love life, my health and my schooling were all greatly and negatively impacted by my painful and insidious relationship with food and my constant attempts to lose weight. And even when I did manage (countless times) to lose weight, it never once brought the peace of mind and happiness that I was told it would. Instead, my weight losses came with terror of weight gain and the animal-like hunger that accompanies and follows starvation.

I once asked my mom how she became so obsessed with dieting and so unhappy with her body. She told me that her mom and grandmother were both heavy but really didn’t seem to give it a second thought. It was only when she moved out of her poor Brooklyn neighborhood and into a “nice neighborhood filled with thin women” that she began to diet. She said, “I think I learned it from friends and it probably came from watching TV. Plus, your father was always so obsessed with my being thin.”

I then asked my dad how he came to be so obsessed with thinness. His answer was honest and it actually made sense to me. My dad ran a ladies clothing company in Manhattan. He worked tirelessly in the factory and he explained, “I guess I saw that the sewers in the factory were all fat and poor and seemed pretty unhappy. They had hard lives. The models who worked for us in the showroom were all thin, rich and glamourous and they seemed to be so happy.” Seemed being the operative word here. My precious papa took a small segment of the population, made some big assumptions, and based on his profound love for me, led me down a road he thought would bring me goodness. As did my mom. We were all given the same faulty programs.

The great news is that I eventually found my way out. And even better news is that I made a career out of it. My life’s work is now about helping others overcome their battles with food, weight and body issues as well as doing early prevention for kids who are showing signs of body dissatisfaction. Much like drugs, the earlier you intervene, the less entrenched the patterns are and all the more hope there is to change.

I was not a light-weight dieter, binger and body hater. (Pardon the pun!) I went hard core. Fortunately, I dove hard core into healing too. It takes hard core dedication to break the legacy that so many of us have been handed, to eat exactly what we want when we are physically hungry, to tend to our feelings when we are emotionally hungry, to move our bodies in ways we love, to rest when we are tired, to speak our truth rather than stuff it down, to release the pursuit of unachievable perfection, to accept and appreciate the bodies we were given, the age we are, the aging process.

Healing from food and body issues is not for the faint of heart, but then neither is starving ourselves, overeating, bingeing, body hatred or constant comparing. Both paths are challenging but thankfully one road leads to freedom and peace. I wish this for you.

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9 Ways to Improve Body Image

By Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus

Body dissatisfaction is an epidemic in our image-obsessed culture. If you are a member of the unofficial “club” of women who dislike or despise their bodies, you may have discovered that the daily dues are high and the long-term benefits are low. But membership in this body-bashing club is hard to avoid, with people speaking the club’s not-so-secret language and recruiting new members just about everywhere you turn.

We call this club’s language “Fat Chat.” Fat Chat is when people talk about food, fat, or other peoples’ bodies in a negative way. Even positive comments about bodies can sometimes be Fat Chat because of the focus on looks and the pressure it causes people to think they need to look a certain way.

Club doctrine dictates that there are “good foods” and “bad foods” (though this changes, depending on the year). Club status is determined by how much or how little a person eats, weighs and exercises. Club members assess their own rank on a daily basis, rarely feeling good about their status. Although members regularly bond over Fat Chat, they often end up feeling bad as a result of it.

While some club members can dabble in occasional dieting without negative consequences, others are not so lucky. Many people find that dieting leads to sneak eating, overeating, bingeing and weight fluctuations, not to mention the full or part-time (unpaid) job of “feeling fat.”

As women who have each spent decades lost in these painful patterns, we know all too well what it’s like to battle with your body on a daily basis. We also know what it’s like to overcome that battle. And you can too!

If you are one of the millions who are plagued with a bad body image, here are some tips for you:

1. Broaden Your Perspective
For many people, body dissatisfaction is front and center in their lives, causing their peace of mind and relationships great damage. For others, it’s a background noise that distracts and disturbs them as they go about their days. Either way, body hatred causes many people to miss out on their actual lives. It’s what they spend the majority of their time thinking about. But is the size of your body really more important than your health, your life or what you do with your day?

Other than your body size, what really matters to you in life? If this was your last month on earth, and you had no hope of changing your weight, how would you want to spend your time? What would you want to think about?

2. Become a Body Buddy
Our bodies are working constantly for us, providing countless complex tasks and non-stop assistance to live our lives. Yet most people not only forget to thank and appreciate their bodies for all they do, they also walk around abusing or ignoring the amazing bodies they live in. In our children’s body image book, we teach kids to be a Body Buddy, as opposed to a Body Bully. If you are someone who walks around bullying your body, critiquing, criticizing and negatively comparing it to others, try taking some time to appreciate and thank your body for all the amazing things it does for you.

Practice thanking your body on a regular basis. Consider all your organs and limbs and miraculous systems that are at work, 24/7. Practice appreciating your amazing senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste.

3. Practice Radical Acceptance
Many people spend their lives trying to change their natural shape. This is like wishing your feet were smaller or your eyes were a different color. But when it comes to a body part we don’t like, we often think it makes sense that we should try to change it, rather than try to accept it. Radical Acceptance is about letting go of arguing with nature and being willing to accept your natural weight and shape. If you are overeating, under-eating, over-exercising or avoiding movement, you are probably not at your natural body size. But hating yourself won’t help you get there. Self-love, self-care and Radical Acceptance will.

Imagine accepting your body or some part of your body. What would you stand to gain if you practiced Radical Acceptance?

4. Combat Your Thoughts, Not Your Body
Think of some recent times when you were laughing or feeling free, times when you were not thinking about your body. In those moments you had the same exact body that you do now, but you were able to be happy because you were not focused on your bad body thoughts. It’s so easy to think your body is the problem. But if you can feel happy in your body one moment and horrible in your body the next moment, then the problem is not your body, it’s your thinking. Of course if your body is not healthy and you need to make some changes to heal it, that’s fine, but the root of most suffering comes from our thinking. That’s why some people can have what seems to many like the “perfect body” and still feel miserable, while others can be larger than the cultural ideal and feel free and comfortable in their bodies.

Notice some times in the next few weeks when you experience joy or peace. Then, when you find yourself lost in bad body thoughts, remind yourself that the reason you are in pain is because of your thoughts, not solely because of your body.

5. See if Self-Hate Is Helping
Self-hate is like a virus that takes over your computer and causes all kinds of problems. Then other things act up and it’s easy to get caught up in the new problems and get even further from fixing the original virus. Self-hate pretends to help. It pretends to “whip us into shape” and motivate us. But if self-hatred was going to help you achieve happiness and peace, you probably would have by now.

Ask yourself: If hating myself was going to help me feel better, wouldn’t it have done so by now? See if you can motivate yourself with kindness, care, self-love and honesty. Try talking to yourself like you would a dear friend or a child you adore.

6. Challenge the Idea that Thin People Are Happier
The multi-billion dollar diet industry is dependent on the myth that thin people are happier. But don’t you know thin people who are very unhappy and fat people who are quite content? The idea that thinness brings happiness is challenged every single time someone loses weight on a diet and then proceeds to gain it back. If thinness actually brought happiness, people would lose weight on a diet and live happily ever after. But that is not what happens. The truth is, people can be happy or unhappy at any size. Happiness has more to do with our thinking than anything else.

Can you find something in your life to be happy about right now, regardless of your weight? Can you see that on some level, people are all the same? We are all afraid of some things; we all want love; we are all here temporarily; we all have problems; we all have good times and hard times. The next time you compare yourself to someone who is thinner than you, tell yourself you are making up a story about this person’s happiness and you really have no idea what they are going through, have gone through or will go through.

7. First Thought Theirs, Second Thought Yours
We are not responsible for the thoughts that got downloaded into our minds. It’s not our fault that we were born into a culture that is obsessed with thinness, fitness and perfection. When a painful body image thought pops up in your mind, you are not to blame. Nobody decides: five minutes from now, I am going to compare myself to someone else, think I am unacceptable and feel horrible the rest of the afternoon. Bad body image thoughts are like the automatic pop-ups on a computer. We are not responsible for them. But we can get better at catching and deleting them, rather than getting lost in them. This part is your responsibility. You can’t necessarily stop negative body thoughts from popping up, but you get to decide what to do once you become aware of them.

Stay on the lookout for your automatic bad body thoughts. When you catch one, praise yourself for catching it. Then practice disagreeing with it or deleting it. Remind yourself that if negative body thoughts were going to help you, you would certainly feel better by now.

8. Separate Self-Image from Body Image
Healthy people have an identity that is about many things. For some, it’s based on who they are, knowing they are kind, good and loveable. Someone might value being a parent, a student or a good friend. Others might value a talent or a skill they have, or a hobby or interest they feel passionate about. There are many things that make up a person’s identity that can contribute to them feeling a sense of value. And on top of all that, they have a body that they take care of and live in. When someone has a bad body image, they generally don’t have a sense of worthiness so they latch onto being thin as something they can, or should do and be good at. Their self-image and their body image get twisted up together and they think they are only as good as their body looks to them.

Think of some things that make you special or valuable that have nothing to do with your looks. Imagine what it would feel like to know you are good enough as you are.

9. Reveal and Heal Your Underlying Issues
Body obsession is extremely painful, but it works as a distraction from deeper issues. Healing from body image issues requires a willingness to work on your other problems, the problems that go much deeper than the size of your abs, how many carbs or fat grams you ate that day, or how much cardio you did. Revealing and healing your feelings, thoughts and relationship issues is hard work, but so is hating your body and never feeling good enough. Rarely do people come to our office and say, “I want to work on feeling my unresolved pain, learn how to challenge my thinking and speak more authentically to the people in my life.” It is usually their weight or body obsession that brings them to our door, and what they want is to learn better ways to get the body they want. The good news is that when they gain better emotional coping skills, they start to feel better, and they no longer need their bad body image as a decoy.

What deeper issues do you suspect your bad body image might be distracting you from? The next time you find yourself obsessing on your body, ask yourself: What would I be feeling or thinking if I wasn’t thinking about my body?

Healing body image is an ongoing process. Nobody moves quickly from self-hate to self-love. It takes a lot of patience and practice to delete all the unkind messages you have been taught and to upload new, kinder messages into your brain. But it is possible. Body hatred used to be a full-time job for each of us. And then we decided we wanted peace and freedom more than we wanted bodies that looked like someone else; bodies we were never meant to have no matter how much we starved, exercised or obsessed.

It is possible to break free from the chains of body and food obsession. It is possible to allow, feel and express painful emotions and experience a deep sense of relief and peace. It is possible to catch and delete your painful thoughts and learn to think in a whole new way. It is possible to challenge your internal rules and find other ways to feel safe in the world. It is possible to live a full life that is about so much more than your appearance. I wish this for you.

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Helping Kids Break the “I Feel Fat” Spell

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Most people in our thin-obsessed, fitness-crazed culture are battling with their bodies. For some it’s an occasional pastime, for others it’s a full-time job. It used to be mainly adults and teens who were struck by what I call the “I Feel Fat” Spell. But these days, even young kids are hating their precious bodies.

We are all surrounded by unrealistic, perfectionistic messages about how we should look. And while we may not be able to shield our kids from all the diet talk, fat chat and photoshopped images that surround us, we can certainly clean up what happens in our homes. If your child is struggling with body image issues, here are some tips for you:

How to Help Your Child Break the “I Feel Fat” Spell

Stop Fat Chat – Refrain from talking about how “fat” you feel or how “good” or “bad” you are according to how much you ate or exercised. Stop commenting on or criticizing your own or other peoples’ bodies. We can tell our kids all day long that all bodies are beautiful and that all food groups are essential, but if we are trash talking our own bodies or certain foods, these are the messages our children will soak up.

Stop telling and laughing at fat jokes. Laughing at the expense of someone’s size shames people who are large and scares people who are not. If everyone stops laughing at fat jokes, people will stop telling them.

Ban Body Bias – People are either genetically predisposed to look the way they do, or they have medical factors that contribute to their size, or their size is a sign of emotional pain and unmet needs. No matter the case, we all need compassion and kindness, not criticism and judgment. When you see someone who is larger, smaller or simply different than the cultural ideal, refrain from making judgments in front of your child (or better yet, at all!).

Love The One You’re With – Help your child to foster love for themselves when they look in the mirror. One of the best ways to do this is to role-model it. This means making positive comments when you look at yourself, or at least, remaining neutral and non-judgmental. Teach your child that weight fluctuations are normal and healthy and that we all have a natural weight range, just like we have a natural eye color and a natural height.

Avoid Strict Restrictions – Strict dieting is a set up for obsession and rebellion. It leads many people to bounce back and forth between the prison of restriction and the rioting of supersizing. If you eat a wide variety of foods, in moderation, and honor your physical hunger and fullness cues, your child will be more likely to do the same.

Manage Media – Refuse to buy magazines that feature emaciated, unrealistic-looking models. Let’s all stop reading articles, and buying from companies, that teach and preach extreme and unhealthy ideas about food, fitness and physiques. And while you’re at it, how about writing to the editors and letting them know that you are signing off until they make a change? Screen the programs, websites and magazines your kids are looking at and treat dieting, extreme fitness and pro-anorexia sites the same way you would porn sites.

Dealing With Feeling – It’s essential to teach your child that there are no good or bad feelings. Many of us are taught that happy is good, and sad, mad and scared are bad. Though some feelings are certainly more pleasant than others, they are all natural and necessary. When people stuff their emotions down, they end up using unhealthy coping strategies to manage their distress. Dieting, overeating and body obsession are among the most common means of distracting and coping; depression and anxiety are the most common results. Teach your child that emotions are healthy, and are not to be “stuffed” or “starved” away.

Early Prevention – If your child starts hating their body, dieting, overeating or engaging in fear-based exercise, take action in the same way you would if they started using drugs. The earlier you catch and treat body image disturbances and disordered eating, the lower the chances are of them blooming into full-blown eating disorders.

Food For Thought – Even if you have a healthy and peaceful relationship with food and your body, it’s entirely possible that your child can still catch the “I Feel Fat” Spell from someone or someplace else. After all, we live in culture that is obsessed with thinness, fitness and perfection.

If it so happens that you, too, have caught the “I Feel Fat” Spell and innocently passed it on, there is no blame or shame here. You can heal and start role-modeling healthier behavior. We can turn the tide. If we can say no to racism, child abuse and animal cruelty we can say no to body hatred.

We are all listening and learning from each other. So can we agree to stop berating our bodies and start appreciating them for what they do for us? Can we stop dieting and restricting and learn how to eat real, delicious food in moderation? Can we learn to move our bodies in ways we love and rest when we need to? Can we learn to reach out for support when we are filled with emotions, rather than stuff them down or use substances or excessive behaviors to distract from them? Can we upgrade the soundtracks in our minds and speak more kindly to ourselves? Can we change the conversations we are having with each other about fats, carbs, calories and weight, to what truly matters and what we hope our kids will talk about? Can we commit to finding sweetness and fulfillment in our lives, even in the smallest of ways, rather than only from excess food or the fantasy of weight loss?

May we all learn these things and teach them to the children in our lives and may we all live healthily ever after.

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Healing Body Image: Pulling Mental Weeds and Planting New Seeds

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

In a recent session with a client, we discussed the painful, insidious, incessant, and automatic nature of her bad body image thoughts. Since this particular woman loves to garden, I chose a metaphor I knew she would relate to. I told her that she is not responsible for the demeaning thoughts she has about her body because she did not plant the seeds in which those thoughts took root. Our culture did.  And she doesn’t choose to have such hurtful thoughts sprout up on a regular basis; nobody would consciously decide to have such painful thoughts. I suggested that her negative body image thoughts are like weeds; they just pop up. It’s not her fault.

But there is something that she—and all of us who find such thoughts popping into our heads—can do to rid ourselves of these mental “weeds.” We can pull the weeds and then plant and nourish new thoughts that are self-loving and healthy.

When I suggested this remedy to my client, she replied, “It’s so hard! It’s just too much work to try to catch my thoughts and change them!” This from a woman who pushed human beings out of her body, is raising said beings, has a self-made business, a marriage, and elderly parents she often takes care of. This woman knows how to do hard!

Yes, weeding out self-critical thoughts and planting nurturing ones is hard. But so is walking around hating our precious bodies all the time. And so is dieting, overeating and all the behaviors we do as a result of that self-hatred. “You are already doing hard,” I told my client. “The self-hating hard is familiar; the unfamiliar challenge is to be aware of your automatic thoughts and choose ones that are kinder and more supportive.” It takes effort and practice to weed out deeply rooted beliefs that tell us: You are unworthy, unattractive and unlovable. You must do more, be more and try harder. You have to change the shape of your body in order to be okay.  But we all have the power to pull the mental weeds that inhibit our growth and our health. And we all have it within us to plant new seeds.

So I asked this amazing woman, “When you are gardening and find yourself in an uncomfortable position—like maybe your knee is on a pebble or your back is aching—do you shift your body?”  “Yes, of course.” she replied. I explained that she could treat her negative body image thoughts similarly. When she becomes aware of a bad body image thought, she can shift her position and choose thoughts that are kinder and more inspiring. Will it be challenging to make this shift? Sure. But think of how much stronger and better she’ll feel when she’s no longer beating herself up all the time.

The next time you notice a bad body image thought sprouting up, see if you can pull that mental weed and plant a new seed. One of kindness, compassion, acceptance, and dare I say, love.

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