Category Archives: Food, Weight and Body Image

3 Essential Steps to My Recovery

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It’s pretty safe (and sad) to say that when I reflect back on how I spent the first half of my life, the majority of moments were lost to food and body obsession. What is even sadder is that I am so not alone. Millions of people lose millions of moments to the pursuit of perfecting their appearance.

Fortunately, as I healed, I felt inspired, as many do, to pass along what I had learned, and it has been an honor to spend the last three decades helping others overcome their food and body battles.

While many factors led me down the path of disorder, there were some significant steps that led me back home. Whether you are on your own path of healing, fully recovered, or guiding someone else along their way, may these steps be, or become, your new normal.

1. Out with Outcomes, In with Intuition

One of my most significant steps toward healing was when I began to take my focus off my appearance and into my intuition. After decades of calorie counting, point calculating, excessive exercise, and massive rebellion, my new vow was to turn inward for clarity instead of outward for results.

So instead of focusing on the lists of culturally deemed “good” and “bad” foods, I began to ask myself what I truly felt like eating. Then, I would stay tuned for the amount that felt loving to my body. It was literally the biggest do-over of my life.

Prior to my do-over, I would wake up most mornings, having already decided what I “should” eat for the day, or go on a bender of rebellion from my previously planned menu.

My new vows morphed into something like this:

When preparing to feed myself, I will tune into my body and ask it what it truly wants. I will feed myself like I would feed someone I love, someone who does not diet or binge. There are no longer any good or bad foods. There are simply foods, and my body will tell me what it wants, needs, likes, and loves.

And somehow, after years of restricting and rebelling, this new voice began to emerge from the brambles of my previously disordered thoughts.

Sometimes, when I tuned inside, I got crystal clear clarity on what and how much to eat. Other times, I was not so sure. I would then try to imagine that I was choosing foods for someone I love. When my mind would bark its terrified cries about how out of control it all felt, I would remind my mind that we were trying things a new way. Our previous system had gotten us nowhere but obsessing, starving, and binging. There was a new sheriff in town. My weight was no longer any of my business. What became my business was how to respectfully and lovingly feed, treat, and speak to my body in any given moment.

So, instead of entering the kitchen or opening up a restaurant menu, already knowing what I “should” have, or “better have cause I never get to have,” I would ask my body what it truly wanted and then stay tuned for the amount that felt truly loving. And for the first time in my adult life, I began to eat what my body and my wise intuition guided me to eat. And a loving amount became satisfying.

Next, I had to wash my brain from the brainwashing it had received from the fitness industry. So instead of telling myself I “should work-out,” or go for a run, or walk a certain distance, I began to ask myself if I felt like moving, and if so, how? Then, I’d stay tuned for how the movement felt in my body, not what I thought it would do to my body.

If I was out for a walk or a bike ride and I got an inkling to stop or turn towards home, I would, regardless of how long I’d been going. If I had a few free hours and thought I “should” get some exercise but really, I felt like resting, I rested. I began to go in for my answers, in the moment, rather than out toward some falsely promised results. Results no longer had a seat at my table.

2. Releasing the Notion of Perfection

I had taken my internal vows to let go of dieting, rioting, and compulsive exercise. But there were still times when I just wasn’t sure what to eat, how much to eat, how much to move, or when to rest. I’d ask myself my usual list of questions in an attempt to tune into my physical and emotional needs. I’d ask myself how I would feed or treat someone I love. And still, there were many times when I felt unsure of how to feed, treat, and care for myself. This brings us to essential step number two… releasing the notion of perfection.

May I just say, Phew!

While some internal dialogue is necessary for clarity, I realized (surprise, surprise!) that I was trying to intuitively eat, intuitively move, and intuitively live, perfectly. And since perfection was part of what got me into my eating disorder in the first place, it certainly was not going to help me climb out! Deciding and reminding myself that I didn’t have to eat, feel, or be perfect, was a huge relief. I just needed to continue inquiring with my body to see what it needed, wanted, liked, and loved. And just like any relationship, it didn’t have to be (nor would it ever be) perfect. Ironically, loosening the reigns of perfection would often help me get clarity, and even when it didn’t, with perfection off the table, I was off the hook! 

With the volume of perfectionistic thinking turned down, I was often left with some spaces in my day, or my mind. I had been quite used to filling my spaces with food and body obsession, so what to do with space? Sometimes it meant I had some deeper feelings to feel— the ones that fed into my eating disorder in the first place. Sometimes it meant I had to tolerate being full until my food digested. Sometimes I needed a healthy distraction. Sometimes I had to get creative and try to find new ways to fill up. Sometimes I needed to work with my unkind mind when it would try to have its perfectionistic way with me. But with a compassionate internal dialogue replacing an unkind monologue, I learned how to fill, or be with the spaces that mind quieting created.

My responses to perfectionistic pop-up thoughts sounded something like this:

I do not have be perfect. I do not have to eat what the diet industry tells us to eat. I do not have to exercise if I don’t feel like it. I do not have to look or be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have relationship glitches. We are not supposed to be happy all the time. I do not have to be perfect. I repeat, I do not have to be perfect!

And for the first time in my personal history of life on planet earth, my new mantra became, and remains: I do not have to be perfect.

Mic drop!

3. Change Your Mind, Not Your Body

Until I discovered concepts like mindfulness, spirituality, and ummm, reality, nobody could’ve convinced me that my thoughts were not real. Until they did. And when I began to learn that my thoughts were simply recycled ideas that I’d learned from other people’s recycled ideas, I was floored. My thoughts had always seemed and felt so real. But I learned that thoughts were not the same as truth. After all, I could not see, touch, hold, or show someone else my thoughts, so how could they be actual, factual reality? And since it was my thoughts that led me to restrict, binge, and hate my body, this new development was very good news! It also led me to my third (and continual) essential step in my recovery process: Changing my mind, not my body.

I have often said that an eating disorder could equally be considered a thinking disorder. Once I became a therapist, I knew this to be even more true. I have countless examples of clients over the years, coming into my office one week, convinced that their bodies were unacceptable, unlovable, and their biggest problem, only to come back the following week, feeling great about how things were going in their lives. The difference being, in the first session, they were believing their unkind mind and in the next, they were not. In both sessions, they had the same exact body. What changed were their thoughts. Different thoughts. Different reality.

Believe me, I understand that changing our mind movies is not easy. When a person gets told enough times that something will bring them love, approval, and happily ever-after-ness, they believe it and naturally seek it. It’s human nature to seek approval and avoid criticism. Far too many of us have been taught that changing our appearance will change our lives for the better. And unfortunately, the vast majority of those messages tend not to include that the pursuit of perfecting our appearance robs us of the very happiness we are seeking.

I always thought that my biggest problem was my body, but I came to understand that my biggest problem was my thoughts. I needed to learn how to question, challenge, and upgrade my unkind mind. I needed to learn how to give myself the love and approval I had been seeking so I would always have it. We don’t go looking for what we already have and since love and approval are human needs, once we begin to give them to ourselves, we have them. Then anything else is simply an added bonus.

It’s pretty common practice to upgrade our computers and devices on a regular basis but how often do we upgrade our outdated thoughts? Thoughts that have been passed down for generations: “Good” and “bad” food rules, “good” and “bad” ways to look, feel, move, speak, and live. It’s no wonder disordered eating, substance abuse, excessive screen use, anxiety, and depression are at all-time highs. Our culture convinces far too many of us that changing our bodies will change our sense of ourselves. In truth, the only way to change our sense of ourselves is to change our sense of ourselves.

It takes awareness, dedication, and courage to change our minds, to eat what we want instead of what the diet industry tells us to eat, to move and rest in the ways our bodies want, instead of what the fitness industry says, to welcome our emotions, and to speak our truth. Healing from food and body issues is not an easy endeavor, but then neither is body hatred, restricting, binging, excessive exercise, depression, anxiety, or constant comparing. It takes a roll-up-your-sleeves
commitment to overcome body hatred and disordered eating in a culture that is swimming in unkind, unrealistic, untrue rules. But thankfully, it is worth the work.

May you not lose an ounce more of your precious time on this planet to body hatred. May you feed and treat your body with deep respect. May you move your body in ways that you love, and then rest, a lot. May you challenge any unkind thoughts that pop up on your internal screen. May you speak your truth. May you spend your time with people who want to hear your truth and respectfully tell you theirs. May you seek to know your hearts desires. May you live a balanced life overflowing with self-love.

View on The Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue

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6 Turning Points That Were Essential To My Recovery

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

As an eating disorders therapist and survivor, I am often asked if there were certain turning points along my personal journey of recovery. You know, those fork in the road, “Aha” moments when things began to turn around, really turn around for the better?

While I have countless memories of disordered behaviors and thoughts: fad diets, isolated binges, and shamefully sneak eating, just to name a few, I have also had a handful of “Aha” moments that stand out as beacons along the path.

If you are deep in the throes of an eating disorder, or in the midst of climbing your way out, may you begin to gather some healthy turning points of your own.

Before I dive in, I want to note that each and every one of these significant crossroads was preceded by many moments of striving, glimpses of hope, and big bumps along the way. When they say (whoever “they” is!) that recovery is a process and not an event, they weren’t kidding. So if you have been feeling like recovery is hopeless for you, I am here to tell you it’s not. I spent years in the grips of food and weight obsession, daily restricting, and out of control eating. But I never gave up, and if you keep going and don’t give up, your awareness will deepen and your progress will reveal itself, often when you least expect it.

1. All foods shall remain equal

One of the most significant turning points for me came when I decided, after decades of restricting and binging, to take a new vow with food. After years of calorie counting, point calculating, and massive rebellion, my new vow was this:

All foods shall remain equal. There are no longer any good or bad foods. When preparing to make a food choice, I will tune into my body and ask what it truly wants. I now pronounce heart, mind and body as one.

I was terrified to take the leap. I’d tried countless times to let go of dieting only to end up bingeing. But what did I have to lose except constant obsession and dizzying rides on the diet/binge roller coaster? So I gave it yet another try, a deeper try. And unbeknownst to me, this time turned out to be a critical turning point, because I never went back.

So, instead of entering the kitchen or opening a menu already knowing what I “should” have, or will-have-cause-I never-get-to-have, my new vow was to truly ask my body what it truly wanted and then stay tuned for the amount that felt truly loving.

And for the first time in my adult life, I ate whatever my body guided me to eat and a sane amount was totally satisfying.

2. Intuitive eating does not equal perfection

At times, I knew exactly what and how much my body wanted, and the clarity felt fantastic. But other times, I still wasn’t crystal clear. I’d taken my vow to let go of dieting and rioting, but there were still times when I just wasn’t totally sure what or how much to eat.

My internal dialogue during those moments sounded something like this:

Is this craving physical or emotional? Is this my body or my mind that’s telling me to have dessert? Am I really still hungry or am I just having feelings? If I skip dessert, am I restricting? Is this my intuition or my eating disorder I’m hearing?

While some internal dialogue is necessary for clarity, I realized (surprise, surprise!) that I was trying to intuitively eat, perfectly. And since perfection was part of what got me into my eating disorder in the first place, it certainly was not going to help me climb out!

So, telling myself I didn’t have to do this perfectly was quite a relief. I just needed to continue inquiring with my body to see what it needed, wanted, liked, and loved. And just like any relationship, it didn’t have to be (nor would it ever be) perfect. Phew!

Loosening the reigns of perfection would often help me get clarity, and even when I wasn’t crystal clear, with perfection off the table, I was off the hook!

3. How would I feed a loved one?

Another turning point along the path of non-perfection came when I was trying to distinguish my intuition from the rubble of old food rules and I still, at times, did not know what to eat. Perhaps I was too filled with feelings or thoughts to gain clarity. Perhaps I was still making too much of the decision. In any case, when I couldn’t figure out how to feed myself lovingly, I asked myself this simple question: How would I feed someone I love?

Somehow, imagining how I would feed someone else, freed my intuition loose from the brambles of rules and rebellion. Sometimes I would even imagine a beautiful tray of food that I was bringing to someone I love, someone who does not diet or overeat. Then I would allow an image to come to mind. I’d spent so long dieting and rebelling, that at times it felt impossible for me to know how to lovingly feed myself, so imagining how I’d feed someone else helped elicit a menu of options until the new way of feeding myself became more second nature.

So sometimes I had crystal clear clarity on what and how much my body needed and wanted. Other times, I’d ask myself how I would feed another body who I truly loved and cared for. And all the while, the freedom of not having to do either one perfectly kept me going and growing.

4. Swerving isn’t rolling

There are many factors that can lead someone to a binge. My top contenders were: feelings I didn’t want to feel, thoughts I didn’t want to think, restrictive eating, diet mentality, and believe it or not, overeating. I would actually overeat because I overate! You may have driven down this old road a time or two thousand: I blew it. May as well go all the way and start again tomorrow

I recall the turning point that turned this illogical logic on its heels. I realized, for the first time that just because I started to binge, it did not mean I had to keep going. If I’m driving a car and swerve, I (hopefully) wouldn’t just roll the car.

So, I stopped. Mid-binge. This had never happened before. I swerved, but I didn’t have to roll the car. Did this mean I had to feel my feelings? You bet. Did it mean I had to tolerate being full till the food digested? Yup. Did this mean my unkind mind would try to have it’s all or nothing way with me? Perhaps. But this time, I responded back.

I do not have to overeat just because I overate! I can stop now. Yes, it’s super uncomfortable but so will more bingeing be. I can turn in and out for support and figure out what led me to the overeat in the first place.

And for the first time in my personal history, I was able to steer myself back to center rather than roll my vehicle in the muck of all-or-nothing hopelessness.

5. Change your mind – not your body

Wanting to lose weight had been a goal of mine for as far back as I can remember. In fact, if I’d had a pie chart (pardon the pun!) of the different ways I’d spent my time on the planet, trying to lose weight would have been the biggest slice. I don’t blame myself. You get told enough times that something will bring you love, approval and happily ever-after-ness, you seek that sucker and you seek it hard. And sought I did. Starting in early adolescence, losing weight became my main mission in life.

Until I changed my mind. (Not my body, my mind!) I remember many years ago, walking on the beach with a dear friend. I had been telling her how absolutely sick and tired I was of trying to lose weight and she lovingly said four simple words that somehow set me straight: “Well knock it off!”

Prior to that time, I would not have been able to heed her sage and simple suggestion. But given that this turned out to be a turning point, I could. So, I knocked it off.

She meant it playfully of course, but having spent the prior several decades in the grips of weight loss obsession, I was somewhat shocked by my ability to say, “Okay,” and then proceed on with some new life goals: self-love, self-acceptance and peace, leading the pack.

It was as if I’d spent years trying to fit the pieces of a puzzle together: welcome feelings, self-compassion, speak authentically, release perfection, reach out, ditch diets… And then one day, out of the clear blue visit with a friend, a puzzle piece found its way into place.

6. Move for fun

Another turning point that stands out took place in a gym of all places. I was doing my sets and reps of whatever I had been told by someone to do, and something occurred to me. It sounded something along the lines of: I am not having fun! 

In the same way I’d taken a vow to eat what and how much sounded really good to me, it was time to take the same vow with movement. That turning point led me down the road of deep rest and enjoyable movement that I am still on today. I sincerely hope you will join me!

I know these ideas and concepts may seem way easier typed than done, and I know we all have to do our emotional work before our demons lose their grip. But, if you stay committed to the path of recovery, whatever juncture you may be facing, you too can have turning points right around the corner!

View on Recovery Warriors

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No Pain, No Gain? Think Again

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I don’t know about you, but I bought that “No pain, no gain” philosophy hook, line and sinker. And boy did I sink. I knew how I was going to “work out” my body before my feet even hit the floor every morning. Regardless of seasons, soreness or sickness, I was going to abide by the “fitness rules” and earn my right to eat and exist. It wasn’t about what I loved to do or how my body wanted to move or rest, it was about fitting into the culture and fitting into whatever size jeans I deemed acceptable at the time. It wasn’t about communing with nature or connecting with my body, it was about burning calories and carbs.

I knew what our culture valued and, by gosh, I was going to fit in. I was going to eat the foods that had been deemed saintly and avoid any foods that had been deemed sinful. And then I was going to reap all that I had been promised: happiness, confidence, love and approval. The only problem was, the system was faulty. The promises were never delivered. Maybe for a minute, as I soaked up all the compliments about having so much “willpower” and “discipline.” But I lived in constant fear of never being enough, veering off my rigid schedule, or when the willful wall would come tumbling down and I’d start binging again.

These days, I’m operating on a different internal program. I actually ask my body, rather than my mind, how it wants to move, rest and eat. And I listen. I couldn’t decipher my answers at first because it was so new to ask my body what it wanted. Plus, the answers terrified me if they were anything other than my internal drill sergeant’s regimens and rules.

If our minds are congested with traffic, we are not likely to hear a response that is grounded in wisdom. Most of us have ingested the diet and fitness industry’s bylaws. And while those rules certainly promise we will live happily-ever-after, they rarely deliver. It takes courage, willingness and lots of practice to weed through the brambles of our brainwashed minds and decipher our body’s wisdom. But it’s in there. You were born with it and you can find it again.

Recently, I was sadly reminded of our cultural brainwashing while on a lovely walk in the forest. The trail I was on was virtually silent, so it was impossible to miss the conversation of two joggers passing me by. The women were in the midst of a conversation that went something like this:

Jogger one: “I hate running. Every part of my body hurts.”

(Just to be crystal clear, this conversation was taking place while she was running!)

Jogger two: “I know. I feel so much better when I walk but I’m afraid I’ll end up looking like my mother if I don’t run.”

Jogger one: “I feel great when I walk too. Nothing hurts. When I run, my knees hurt, my hips hurt, my back hurts, everything hurts.”

And then they were gone. I could almost see the invisible whip at their dusty heels.

Wait! I wanted to call after them! If you hate running, you don’t have to run. You’re scared; and fear needs love and reassurance, not cardio and steamed vegetables. Wait, sisters. You can slow down. You can listen to your bodies. That’s what intuition is. That’s why we have it. 

But I get it. I spent decades under the No-Pain-No-Gain Spell. I worked out, regardless of the conditions outside or inside. And while I often felt that endorphin-induced high, the high always went away. I never felt much peace, calm or confidence. I was terrified to skip a day, rest, or modify according to my body’s messages.

Nowadays, I ask my body how it wants to move, rest and eat. Of course, it’s not a perfect system. There are times I have a plan with someone that involves movement or a certain type of food that may not have been my body’s number one choice, and I choose to keep my commitment. But if a plan with another person conflicts with my body’s true needs, I will cancel, reschedule or propose a modification. My intuition runs the show now, and I listen. My mind used to run the show, until I learned that its programming was largely faulty and seriously outdated.

So how about you? Are you adhering to the cultural rules at the expense of your body’s needs? Are you forcing yourself to exercise in ways you don’t even like, or ways that actually cause your body harm? Are you ready for an internal upgrade?

How about asking your body how and when it wants to move, rest and eat? Your intuition might be timid after years of being ignored, but the more you ask, the clearer it will get. As you experiment with listening, you may have some anxiety, possibly the same anxiety that led you to abandon your body in the first place. But this time, you can get support from people who understand. This time, you can learn how to tolerate being emotionally uncomfortable and treat yourself with love and kindness. This time, you can see that emotions pass and old beliefs can be updated. You do not have to forsake your body in order to get love. You can learn how to love yourself and get what you were looking for all along.

I promise.

View on The Huffington Post

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Upgrading Your Body Image Soundtracks

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

While recently preparing to speak on a panel about body image, I began to reflect on the origins of my own body battle and the winding road I traveled in search of peace. I always thought that my body hatred was solely about weight; and while weight was certainly my main concern, I began recalling another reason for my body hatred.

Not only did I spend many torturous years comparing the size, shape and weight of my body to the women around me, I also compared my skin, hair, height, and other features. There were years when I either refused to wear, or felt extremely uncomfortable wearing, sleeveless shirts or open-toed shoes. This was because I had freckles on my arms and a beauty mark on one of my toes. So, my full-time inner war was not only about weight, it was also about being what I perceived as flawless. Any spot, blemish or freckle was simply unacceptable. I even recall attempting to cut that beauty mark (which I referred to as an “ugly mark”) off my toe. I actually took a knife to my skin in an attempt to remove it. I had caught the cultural spell of body hatred and I had caught it big time. Sadly, I know that millions of others have too.

It’s clear to me that out of all the moments I have spent on this planet, the majority of them have been spent thinking negatively about my body. I suppose, since the tide has turned for me and more peaceful years have continued to add up, this sad ratio will change. And now my deep devotion is helping others change their ratios and free up many more moments to enjoy their lives.

Before I knew that there were other issues beneath my body obsession and before I knew what those issues were, I don’t think I had a choice about stopping or upgrading my bad body image soundtracks. The thoughts popped up and I was unable to delete them, let alone even know there was a delete option. I wholeheartedly believed my thoughts were the truth.

Nearly every moment, my mind played a repeat loop of body hatred and dissatisfaction, coupled with a desperate desire to mold my body into something that I was convinced would bring me attention, worthiness and love. My thoughts held me in their grip and led me into addictive behaviors that would then grip me for decades. A simple suggestion or article on body love was not about to loosen that grip. I needed major help in order to heal the deeper issues that sparked both my body obsession and the secondary issues that obsession was fueling.

I didn’t know back then that body hatred was an indication that I needed help. And I certainly didn’t know that the only way to truly feel loved and valued by others is to truly feel lovable and valuable, period. In our image-crazed culture, that’s not easy to achieve. But it is possible. It’s possible to change your mind and get your life back on track. It’s possible to regain your choice about how you view and verbalize your thoughts about your body. It’s possible to heal your relationship with food, learn how to deal with difficult emotions, communicate your feelings and needs, quiet your negative mind and find healthy ways to fill up and feel lovable.

It took me many years to upgrade my body image soundtracks. The old playlist had well-worn grooves: I hate you, you’re ugly, you’re disgusting. You need to change, you’re unacceptable. If you perfect your body, you will be more lovable.

Those were pretty much the main tracks my mind played and replayedNot only were those messages deeply ingrained, but I was surrounded by others who were repeating the same sad soundtracks too. And for us older folks, we can now throw wrinkles, spots and sagging skin into the mix.

But we have a choice. We have a choice about how we speak to ourselves. Every single time we see, speak about, or think about our bodies, we have a choice about what soundtracks we play in our minds. And if you don’t yet feel like you have a choice, you can get help to clear your path until you regain your power to choose.

These days when I look in the mirror and I notice new signs of life on earth– a new curve or line here, a new spot there– I automatically remember my options: hateful or grateful. What’s it gonna be, girl? Regardless of the soundtracks I play, my body remains my body. It’s only my misery on the line here. So, there’s a new sheriff in town. I choose to hit play on the upgraded soundtrack: I love you, I’m grateful for you, I accept you. 

May you upgrade your own soundtracks and enjoy many more of your precious moments on earth.

View on The Huffington Post

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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 recoverywarriors.com 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 recoverywarriors.com 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.

View on The Huffington Post

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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.

View on The Huffington Post

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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.

View on The Huffington Post

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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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