Category Archives: Food, Weight and Body Image

Do You Hate Your Body?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Imagine you had a friend, and 24 hours a day, this friend was working for you, doing all kinds of really important things. Imagine your friend was holding you up, helping you walk, breathe, laugh, sleep, read, see, dream, hear sounds, touch things, feel love, pump blood into your veins, digest food, and countless other miracles.

Imagine after all that help and non-stop work, your response was to criticize this friend, call them names, and tell them you don’t like them or even that you hate them. Can you imagine that?

Well this is what many people do to their bodies. Our bodies work constantly for us, 24/7. Thanks to the media injecting unhealthy, unrealistic messages into our minds, every single day, most of us are not only forgetting to thank and appreciate our bodies for all that they do, but are walking around hating the amazing bodies we live in. Some kind of thanks that is!

I began hating my body when I was a teenager. I was basically a busy mind with limbs (and an unkind mind at that). I spent the majority of my time lost in self-critical thoughts, despising my body and comparing myself unfavorably to others. Of course drugs and alcohol attempted to help. At least they distracted me from my painful internal messages. I suppose, looking back, that my overactive unkind mind was really just trying to help. I truly believed that if I hated myself enough, I would do what I needed to attain the body I thought I needed in order to get the love and approval I so desperately needed. Sheesh. What a faulty system that was!

So year after year I went, obsessing, restricting, overeating, obsessing, restricting, over exercising, and repeat… I did manage to have a life in there. I somehow got through school, had many friends, had some slightly (make that excessively) dysfunctional relationships, and even did some traveling. On the outside, I’m sure people thought I was the life of the party. But on the inside, I suffered severely. Even when I was enjoying myself, a constant internal soundtrack played in the background that told me I was not good enough and that if I perfected my body, I would be.

Thankfully, after many years, I began to find help that actually helped. Only this time it wasn’t a new diet or exercise regime. It was deeper help for my emotions, my thinking, my endless food and fitness rules, my language of communication and my relationship with my heart and soul. And slowly I began to change. I began to challenge my unkind mind. I began to see that I could motivate myself with kindness instead of self-hatred. I began to include self-care and peace of mind in my top priorities instead of only trying to look (or be) a certain way in order to get loved. And, I began to love myself, which greatly reduced my desperation to receive it from others.

I always thought if I truly ate what I wanted, I would never stop eating but that was only the case when I never let myself eat what I wanted. I always thought if I treated myself kindly, I would never get anything done but that was before I tested out kindness as my home base. I always thought that self-love meant conceit but that was only because I hated myself so much and thought the only alternative was grandiosity rather than equality. I always thought that if someone was thin and attractive, they must have a perfect life, but that was only because I was lost in the cultural programing and didn’t know how to question its faultiness. I always thought I needed to change my body in order to be lovable but I realized what I needed to change was my thinking.

I have learned, over time, how to treat myself with kindness and compassion, how to question my ingrained beliefs, how to live a more balanced life, and how to eat real food in moderate amounts. I have learned that changing my body will not make me feel loved, loving myself will. As will being with people I love and feel safe with. And now I have the absolute honor of passing along all that I have so graciously been taught.

Occasionally I look back on old pictures of myself as a teen. And I remember that girl in those pictures. She felt dreadfully uncomfortable in her skin, in a bathing suit, at parties. I can see now that I was a precious adolescent with a changing, healthy body. If I could only tell her: You are fine. Eat all foods in moderation. Don’t believe everything you think or what others tell you they think. Move your body in ways that feel good and then rest, a lot. Speak your truth. Hang with others that hear your truth and want to tell you theirs. Seek to know your hearts desires and not just the desires of the world around you. Go for balance. Go for self-love.

I know I can’t save her from the years ahead of suffering, dieting, bingeing, comparing and despairing. But I can prevent myself from looking back on pictures 20 years from now and having to say: Oh honey, you are a lovely middle-aged woman. Welcome aging, wrinkles, sagging skin and spots. Don’t lose an ounce of precious time hating your body. Thank it for all it does for you, every single minute. Thank those limbs and systems. Thank those lungs. Thank that heart. Thank those miraculous senses that enable you to see and feel and write. Don’t waste another minute hating your body. Feed it, move it, rest it, love it. And help others do the same.

Click here to check out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell by Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus.

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What Would Your Last Meal Be?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

On a recent road trip with my husband, we listened to a radio program about the last meal of a death row prisoner. While I can’t remember the exact food items that the prisoner requested, his menu was something along the lines of: three Big Macs, two large fries, a large pizza, two pieces of cake, macaroni and cheese and more. The inmate’s last meal of essentially carbs and fats brought me back to my eating disorder days when I likely would have ordered the same things if I were about to die.

I used to fantasize that if I was about to have my last meal, I would eat everything I never let myself have. Back in my dieting decades, that would have been a lot! I spent years bouncing back and forth between the prison of restriction and the diet riot of all out binges. So the idea of being able to have anything I wanted as a last meal conjured up a feast of treats. (Although by the time I was done bingeing, I never felt like I had treated myself to much of anything!)

As my husband and I drove along, we proceeded to tell each other what we might each order if we knew that we were approaching our last meal. “Grilled chicken and gorgonzola salad with some yummy dressing,” I said. “With a warm bran muffin topped with some of my favorite ice cream. Oh, and some perfectly ripe strawberries with a few bites of my favorite chocolate cake.” We looked at each other and laughed as we simultaneously agreed that these are the kinds of foods that I usually eat every day!

I spent most of my life eating salads with low-fat dressing, lean protein, fruit and a small list of what I considered to be acceptable carbs. I would then proceed (sometimes weeks, days, hours or minutes later) to binge on all the stuff I never let myself have. It took me many years and many pounds to gain the courage to break that crazy cycle. I eventually learned that if I ate what I truly wanted — in moderate amounts — there would be nothing to rebel from; I would be genuinely satisfied and I could go on with my day until the next time my body needed food. I thought when I first began this radical experiment that I would only want carbs and fats but that was only the case when I never let myself have them (or told myself they were “bad” when I did.) But when all foods became equal options on the menu, the deprived beast inside of me eventually began to tame. I began to eat what were previously forbidden foods, and a moderate amount began to satisfy me. When I truly listened to my body rather than the starving rebellious beast within, I began to crave what turned out to be pretty balanced meals.

What I also realized during our little “last meal” game was that not only is there no longer anything to rebel from but I also would want to feel good, even if, or perhaps especially if it were my last moments on earth. I wouldn’t want to stuff myself till I was sick. I would want a moderate amount of the foods that I love. Just like I now do every day.

Of course everyone has to find out what they truly love, what foods make them feel well, and what “moderate” is for them. Everyone also needs to find the courage to distinguish between their various hungers in order to nourish themselves with what they really need. When we eat, in moderate amounts, what we truly love and what our bodies love, we are eating to satisfy our physical hunger — rather than our emotional and spiritual hungers. But those other hungers are still there, and no amount of carbs or fats will ever satisfy them. When we no longer stuff down our feelings with food, we’re left with… our feelings.

A client of mine who has been striving to eat what she truly wants in moderate amounts has been facing this dilemma. As we spoke about food and feelings one day, she told me, “For years, when I am filled with really big feelings, I head to the nearest drive-thru or donut shop. That’s just what I have always done.” So, I asked her, “What if food was not an option? What if you were filled with feelings and could not get food?” She said, “I’d probably have to cry or scream or maybe hit something!”

Bingo! So we talked about the pros and cons of doing just that. She expressed her fears about crying or screaming or hitting something (not someone and preferably something soft!) We talked about what she would need in order to do those things and what it might be like to let her feelings out naturally so she wouldn’t have to stuff them down unnaturally. Easier said than done, I know. But it really does become easier once we learn to compassionately feel and safely express our emotional pain and see that it passes. And when we are moderately eating the foods that we love, when the tidal waves of emotion pass, we are no longer left with the additional pain caused by overeating. We no longer want or crave more than our body needs. Once we begin to feed ourselves lovingly and moderately, we can know that if we still want food then some other part of us is hungry; a part that food will never touch. Food might sedate those cravings for a little while but it will never fully satisfy them.

So what would your last meal on earth consist of? Would it be large quantities of the foods you often tell yourself you “shouldn’t” have? Or a delicious meal that truly satisfies you? As for me, I’m off to have my heavenly, moderate last meal… of the day. I hope you will join me.

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How to Let Go of Dieting and Find True Fulfillment

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I started my first diet as a teenager in the 70s. This was before word got out that diets don’t work. It was also before we got the warning on sunbathing, so every sunny weekend, my friends and I took our starving little bodies to the beach, slathered on baby oil and waited till it was time to eat our next low-fat, low-carb, low-flavor meal.

Little did I know at the time that I would live like this for decades — well, not the baby oil part. I got the scoop on sunscreen somewhere along the line. But I kept up the food restricting, which was always followed by food rebellion: eating massive quantities of all the things my latest diet instructed me not to eat.

By the time the 80s hit, I was off to college and what had begun as an innocent dabbling with diets, evolved into a full-time, painful routine. My family and friends never knew which version of me would show up when I arrived home on holiday breaks — the obsessive, skinny, starving, controlling, snippy but “You look great!” version; or the out of control, blown-up, ashamed, sneak-eating, “Who ate all the cookies?” version. The truth is, I never knew who would show up either. I had no idea that I was caught in a vicious cycle or that there were many underlying factors that needed to be addressed (some that had to do with food and many that didn’t). I had no idea that dieting was not the solution to my out-of-control binges and constant weight gains. And I had no clue that dieting was part of what was causing them.

Many years and tears later, after finally learning what I was truly hungry for and what I really needed, I began teaching others how to break the painful cycle of dieting and overeating. Even though the word is out now that diets don’t work, I find that many people are still seduced by them. And whether it’s an “official” diet from some trendy book or magazine, or the advice of a doctor or friend, the bottom line is this: restricting leads to rebelling — as well as obsession, misery and isolation. Despite what the glossy photos and fad diets promise, if you consistently deprive yourself of delicious, nutritious food, you are going to end up either malnourished or overeating. If I told you not to think about the color red, that is exactly what you would think about. And if I tell you to stay away from carbs, fats or desserts, those are the foods you will likely yearn for!

So, if you have caught the dieting bug and find yourself obsessed with food and still not at peace with your body, here is some food for thought:

Let go of dieting: Whether you are on an official diet or you just think about foods in terms of “good” or “bad,” you are setting yourself up to rebel. Instead of restricting (whether it be in reality or mentality), try being honest with yourself and 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: Am I truly physically hungry? What sounds delicious to me right now? Is eating this food being loving to my body? What seems like a loving, moderate amount? Is this what I would serve someone else who does not diet or overeat?

Back in the day, when I approached food thinking about how much I wanted to lose weight, it would lead to one of two things: I would eat a restrictive meal that would lead me to binge later on; or I would rebel and overeat. But, when I began to approach meals with the above questions in mind, I found that there was nothing to rebel from. I began to feel satisfied after a reasonable portion rather than feeling unsatisfied after a restrictive meal or stuffed after a rebellious binge.

Be willing to stop at polite satisfaction: This one is a biggie. It takes a lot of courage to stop eating when you are comfortably satisfied rather than waiting until you feel overly full or stuffed. This means you might have to feel the emotions that you have been attempting to numb with excess food. It means you will have to find other ways to fill your time, your mind and your unmet needs. The good news is that when you eat what you truly want (when you are physically hungry) and stop when you feel comfortably satisfied, you will no longer wake up in the morning, ashamed and bloated and ready to embark on yet another ineffective diet. Easier typed than done but this is possible to learn!

Someone asked me once if I ever think about dieting or bingeing anymore and I said, “I would no more skip or restrict a meal than I would ignore my bladder when I need to go to the bathroom. And I would no more binge than I would take my car to the gas station if the tank was already full.”

Find sweetness, comfort and fulfillment in other ways: In order to alleviate the need to binge on sweets and comfort foods, we need to make sure that we are getting enough of those qualities in our lives. Write down all the ways you might get more sweetness and comfort in your life and start integrating a few into your daily routine. Additionally, see if you can also integrate your favorite comfort foods into your daily meals and snacks. This can be challenging if you are used to depriving yourself of your favorite foods and then bingeing on them later. But one way to stop the vicious cycle is to experiment with moderation. There is a middle ground between restriction prison and diet riot. The first step is admitting that dieting is not the solution to your overeating problem; it is part of the cause.

Feel feelings instead of fullness: Once you let go of dieting and rebelling, the feelings that you may have been avoiding will begin to surface. If you are not distracted white knuckling at mealtimes, or rebellious binges, you are left with an array of human emotions that we all have. Learning to tolerate and compassionately welcome difficult emotions until they pass is a skill, just like learning to bike up a steep hill. But the good news is you can get better at it and you will learn that when your emotions pass naturally, you have made it up yet another hill and can then coast for a while until the next uphill challenge arises. Becoming willing to be uncomfortable and feel your emotions until they pass will help you release the need for dieting and/or overeating. You can acknowledge the source of your pain until it passes naturally.

Upgrade your unkind mind: Most people who live on chronic diets also live with an unkind mind. After all, it is usually body dissatisfaction or hatred that leads us to diet in the first place. We are promised that if we lose weight, we will like ourselves. But if that were true, most dieters who lose weight would live happily ever after — and the diet industry would shrink as satisfied customers went on their merry way. But what usually happens is that dieters who lose weight live in terror of breaking their diet and remain obsessed with food, or they overeat and gain the weight back. And the unkind thoughts remain.

So instead of thinking I will like myself if I lose weight, how about trying to like yourself now? And how about ditching the unkind thoughts? What if you were to think along these lines: 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 the diet actually worked long-term. You’ll not only like yourself, but the self-love and self-kindness you demonstrate will lead to better self-care, less overeating, and less dieting!

Speak your truth instead of stuff it: One of the things I needed to learn to do in order to stop overeating was to speak my truth. This was no easy deal given that I have a black belt in people-pleasing. But I realized I had a choice: I could stuff my truth down (or attempt to anyway) with cookies and ice cream, or I could learn how to say what I am feeling and ask for what I need. I also had to learn how to take in feedback without crumbling or retaliating and how to accept the humanness in us all, myself included. No easy task, I know, but neither is over and undereating!

Make non-diet, moderate eating automatic: Many people who struggle with dieting and bingeing also struggle with creating a new routine of non-diet, respectful eating. They vow to eat moderately and then ignore 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 who has been committed to vegetarianism 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 restriction.”

See if you can put moderate eating in the same category as brushing your teeth or gassing up your car, activities you never forget to do. I used to forget that dieting would lead back to overeating and that overeating would lead me right back to despair and restricting. A time came, though, when I no longer forgot. Feeding my body what it needed became as important as all the other priorities in my life. Today, someone would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to undereat or binge. It is simply not worth the consequences. But it took getting in the habit until the habit became second nature.

Make peace with movement: 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 to rest without feeling guilty, is a challenge in our “go for it” culture but meeting that challenge will help your body relax and find settle into its natural state. I often ask clients these questions: If you could never lose or gain another pound no matter what exercise you engaged in, how would you choose to move your body? What form of exercise would you still enjoy? When you take calorie burning and body sculpting out of the equation, you will be able to honor your body’s natural desire to move and rest.

Release the need to please: We live in a culture that constantly links eating with socializing. This can add an additional challenge to someone who is trying to listen to their internal hunger and fullness cues. Many people eat when the clock says it’s time, or when others are eating. Some people don’t eat when they are hungry because their family or friends don’t feel like eating yet. Or they pass on dessert because others aren’t having any and they are afraid of being judged. Or they eat dessert, even though they are perfectly satisfied with their meal and more food would lead to uncomfortable fullness. Learning to honestly assess your hunger and fullness rather than giving in to the clock or the flock, is a practice that takes courage. But when you release your need to please and eat only when you want to, your body will thank you and you will have fewer reasons to rebel.

Here’s to letting go of dieting — and choosing from the menu of respect, love, and peace of mind.

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A Body Apology

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Having spent the first half of my life trying to lose weight, I decided some time ago that I refuse to spend the second half of my life trying to lose wrinkles. All day long, our bodies work diligently for us, yet most people walk around lost in thought, ignoring, criticizing and often times even despising their bodies.

I used to be an extreme body hater. After decades of working on cultivating self-kindness and self-care, I am now extremely devoted to loving and appreciating the body I live in. I also have the good fortune of being able to teach others how to do the same.

It occurred to me recently that while my body must be infinitely more content with the treatment it receives from me now (both externally and internally), I felt like I owed it an apology. After all, if I had abused someone else for decades and decided to make peace, I would surely extend my sincerest apologies to them. So, I thought I would post my letter here in the hopes that some of you will join me in a Body Apology of your own.

Dear Body,

— I am sorry for ignoring your hunger signals for so many years.

— I am sorry for making you drink disgusting diet shakes and eat tasteless diet foods.

— I am sorry for stuffing you with excess food and then shaming you when you were only responding to the starvation and self-hate that I was inflicting on you.

— I am sorry for comparing you to other women I knew nothing about and thinking you were supposed to look like them.

— I am sorry I thought of you as an object to gain approval and attention, rather than the amazing miracle that you are.

— I am sorry for hating every freckle, lump and bump on your skin.

— I am sorry for stuffing you into clothes that felt too tight and hating you when things no longer fit.

— I am sorry for making you wear high-heeled shoes that felt way too cramped and uncomfortable.

— I am sorry for criticizing you every time I saw your reflection in a mirror or a window.

— I am sorry for thinking you could not leave the house without wearing make-up.

— I am sorry for depriving you of rest when you were tired.

— I am sorry for pumping you with caffeine instead of listening to your natural rhythms.

— I am sorry you had to ingest dangerous substances because I wanted to fit in and look cool.

— I am sorry I made you exercise in ways you didn’t even like.

— I am sorry I put you in situations you did not really want to be in.

— I am sorry I ignored your wise intuition and said “yes” when you clearly felt “no.”

— I am sorry I stayed silent when you nudged me to speak up, because I feared the disapproval and rejection of others.

— I am sorry I put countless cigarettes into your lungs because I didn’t yet know how to handle stress or pauses in the day.

— I am sorry I spent so much time criticizing you that I forgot to say thank you and acknowledge your amazing senses, systems, limbs and organs.

— I am sorry I thought my value as a human being was entirely dependent on you.

— Oh, and I am sorry about those leg warmers and shoulder pads in the ’80s!

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An Improvement on Movement: Healing Your Relationship with Exercise

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

We are all born with the natural desire to move, play, and rest. But thanks to the fear-based messages that the fitness industry and our culture bombard us with, many of us lose our innate inclination to move pleasurably and rest plentifully.

What most of us naturally engage in as kids—playing, climbing, biking, dancing…and napping—becomes either constant cardio counting and fitness classes, or barely exercising at all. Others bounce back and forth between the two extremes: “I must exercise in order to be a valuable person and earn my right to eat,” or “I hate exercise, I have no energy, what’s the point?”

Many years ago, I took up running and innocently got caught in the web of fear-based exercise. I loved running when I first started. I felt free while I was on a run and happy when I finished. My body felt strong, alert and pleasantly tired. At a certain point, however, my motives shifted and I became obsessed with running every day, regardless of the weather or my energy level. Simply put, my motivation was fear. I had to run in order to feel that I was entitled to eat. Not only that, I’d learned from endless articles and “experts” that daily exercise was good for me, and the more the better.

What began as wanting to take a run turned into having to. I fanatically started calculating my running times and disallowing myself a day off. I began fearing and refusing situations where I might possibly have to skip a day of exercise. I realized I was no longer running for the pleasure of feeling my body in motion; I was fueled by fear and running for a sense of self-worth.

I remember the day I admitted to myself that running was no longer fun and that I actually wanted to stop. But then the fear kicked in: What will happen if I quit running? What will happen to my body? How will I get that energy boost for the day? How will I know what to eat?

I shared my feelings with a dear friend who had traversed a similar path. She told me about her journey from fear-based exercise to peaceful movement and guilt-free rest. I asked her, “If I go from running 5 miles a day to only exercising when I feel like it, how will I know what to eat or how much to move? What if I never want to exercise again?” She smiled lovingly and told me to follow my intuition, that I could trust it, and that I didn’t need to calculate or count anything. I just needed to listen to my body and reach out for support when the anxious feelings and thoughts took hold.

Somewhat skeptically and extremely scared, I decided to give it a try. I told her I would take one week and only move how I truly wanted to; if after that week, something unforeseen and terrible happened, I would reevaluate the plan. I have never looked back. Aside from running across the street if the light changes, I have not run in many years. I would if I felt like it, but that urge has simply not come. I walk slowly when I want to. I walk fast when that feels right. I bike or do yoga when I’m in the mood, but if I’m planning to exercise and my body doesn’t feel like it, I often end up in the bathtub with a book. I look inward for guidance now. I ask my body how it wants to move. And I rest, a lot.

Yesterday, I thought I might take a walk but ended up spending that time in bed reading—guilt free! I then went to work, ate delicious, non-diet meals and snacks throughout the day, and went to bed without a trace of shame or remorse. Today I plan to take a walk in the forest with a dear friend and I will not be calculating my cardio, my calories, or my credibility as a human being!

Along my journey from fear-based running to peaceful movement and guilt-free rest, I had to face and feel a lot of feelings. I had to challenge and change a lot of outdated beliefs. I got a lot of support and I had a lot of motivation. I wanted peace. I thought I would get it from all the running and “clean” eating, but what I really got from that path was stressed and scared. When I expressed my emotions and challenged my beliefs, I discovered what I was really hungry for and there was no longer anything to run from.

I often ask my clients, “If you knew that you could never gain or lose a single pound until the day you die, how much would you exercise? How often would you rest?” Faces soften, deep breaths are taken. I hear responses like this: “I’d walk slower.” “I’d go for a swim.” “I’d rest when I didn’t feel like exercising.” “I’d stretch and dance—and nap.”

When exercise is no longer linked to self-hate and weight, we can begin to follow our body’s natural cues, move how we want, and rest without a shred of shame. The diet and fitness industries may not have taught us how to eat, move, and rest without guilt or fear, but we can learn to do so when we trust our body and our intuition.

So, here’s to joyous movement, sweet rest, and a peaceful relationship with your body!

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Beating the Body Image Blues

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I had my first “dart in the heart” moment at age 12, when a kid at school called me “thunder thighs.” Until then, I hadn’t thought of my body as being too big, I was simply in my body. So, I did what many people do, I started my first diet. Little did I know that this would lead to a full-time, unpaid job of sneak eating, dieting, binging and hating my body.

Like many people, I look back at pictures and see that I was a normal, healthy adolescent but, alas, I had hopped on the dieting/riot roller coaster and it would be decades before I would climb off. Eventually, I found help, and I learned to go deeper than the size of my thighs or the grams of fat on my plate. I learned that there are no “good” or “bad” foods and I learned to challenge, rather than believe every thought in my head.

Bad body image is an epidemic. I’ve counseled six-year-olds who are already counting calories and “feeling fat.” I’ve worked with seniors who have no memory of taking a guilt-free bite of food. Ever. And I’ve worked with nearly every age in between. I often say that trying to overcome disordered eating and bad body image in our culture is like trying to recover from the flu while you are living in a Petri dish of flu germs. We’re surrounded by unnatural and unkind messages of what we are supposed to look like and how we are supposed to eat and move. But it is possible to recover and if you are one of the millions of people who are plagued with the body image blues, here are some tips for you:

Tips for Beating the Body Image Blues:

  1. Broaden your perspectiveShift from viewing your body size as the most important focus in life to seeing that there are many other important aspects of life.

    Many of my clients spend so much time and energy trying to change their bodies that they miss out on what they actually have in their lives. Our culture has hypnotized far too many of us. Most of us have had a spell cast upon us — from our first fairy tale to the current magazine on the checkout aisle that says this: If you perfect your body, you will feel happy and special. Cultures with no disordered eating teach children that they are worthy and special no matter what. Here, we have to earn our worth. Some cultures have rituals that center around nature, the seasons, and following your inspiration. Our rituals center more on diet and exercise regimens and applying wrinkle removal crèmes. When we spend massive amounts of time striving to change our appearance, we miss out on what else we have in our lives and what our bodies actually do for us.

    Can you create a ritual that has a deeper meaning to you? Can you find something to be grateful about in your life? Can you find something to appreciate about your body?

  2. Radical AcceptanceTry on the notion of accepting the size and shape that nature intended you to be.

    So many people spend their lives rejecting their natural shape and size. Radical acceptance is about letting go of that fight and being willing to discover and accept your natural weight range. Arguing with Your natural body size is like spending your time wishing our feet were smaller. Radical acceptance is about upgrading Your mindset from thinking that there’s something wrong with your body, to understanding that there is something wrong with your thinking. I had a client years ago who was obsessed with the size of her thighs. She referred to herself as, “pear-shaped,” and she literally despised her thighs. No matter how emaciated she got, she still had her natural shape. The efforts and actions she took to try to change the size of her thighs nearly killed her. Eventually, after a lot of hard work on her part, she decided to change her thinking. She realized it was her thinking, far more than her thighs, that was causing her agony. She let go of the fight and she won. She is now free of obsession, eats “real” food and has a rich, full life.

    Can you imagine accepting yourself, or even some part of yourself? What would you think about all day if you weren’t thinking about your body size? What would you stand to gain if you practiced radical acceptance?

  3. Challenge the myth that thinner people are happierBreak the spell that has been cast upon us that says thin means happy, more worthy and more lovable.

    The diet industry leads us to believe that that thinness leads to happiness. I bet you know some thin people who are unhappy. The idea that if someone is thinner, they will be happier is challenged every single time someone loses weight on a diet and rather than saying, “Okay, I’m happy now,” they gain it all back and/or remain obsessed. If thinness brought happiness, then the billions of people who have lost weight on diets would be happy, and the multi-billion-dollar diet industry would be shrinking, not growing!

    Can you find something or some things to be happy about today, even if your body did not change? Can you take a look around and see that on some level, we are all the same? We are all afraid of some things. We are all here temporarily. We all have problems. We all want love.

  4. Separate Self-image from body imageFind other ways to see yourself in the world that have nothing to do with your body.

    Healthy people have a self-image that is separate from their body image. They have an identity that is about many things. Perhaps their identity centers on being a friend, a student, a parent or loving nature. Maybe their focus is on a hobby, an instrument or an animal. There are many things that go into a person’s identity or feelings of specialness and self-worth. 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 feel special and don’t have a strong sense of worth. They latch onto changing their body as something they can do and control and be good at. Then their self-image and their body image get twisted up and they think they are only as good as their body looks to them.

    Can you find some other ways that you might feel or be special that have nothing to do with your looks? Can you imagine what it would feel like if you felt worthy now? What are some other ways you might separate your body image from your self-image?

  5. Deal with your underlying issuesBecome willing to go deeper, beneath body image distraction, and heal the original wounds that started you down this path in the first place.

    Body obsession is very painful, but it also works as a distraction and sometimes a full, or part-time job. Part of healing is becoming willing to see that our problems go much deeper than the size of our bodies or how many carbs or fat grams we’ve eaten. Becoming willing to go deeper means finding the support and the courage to explore the feelings, thoughts and relationship issues that the body obsession has been distracting us from. This is hard work. Rarely do people come to me and say, “I want to work on feeling my painful, unresolved feelings and learn how to challenge my thinking and speak up more to the people in my life.” Usually what brings them to my door is their food and body obsession. The good news is that as we uncover and heal our deeper issues, we find a way out because we start to feel better over time, and we no longer need the 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, try asking yourself this: What would I be feeling or thinking about if I wasn’t thinking about my body right now?

Healing body image is an ongoing process. Nobody goes from self-hate to self-love overnight. It takes a lot of patience and practice to unravel all the unnatural messages you may have learned. It takes willingness and courage to listen to your natural hunger and fullness and your body’s natural need for movement and rest. It takes finding the right teachers or role models to show you the way. And it takes the desire to want peace more than a certain size, shape or number on the scale.

It is possible to break free from the chains of food and body obsession. It is possible to eat delicious, satisfying meals and make peace with the body you live in. It is possible to express difficult emotions and feel a sense of relief and peace afterwards. It is possible to feel a sense of connectedness and live more and more in the present. It is possible to change some of your internal rules and still feel safe in the world. It is possible to live a full life that is about so much more than the size of your body or the amount of carbs in your day. I wish this for you…

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When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It starts out healthy enough — or, seemingly so. Maybe you started by cutting out processed foods. Then desserts. Then sugar. Then meat. Maybe you switched to all organic and while you were at it, went gluten-free and wheat-free. In a culture that has gone health-food crazy, it’s easy to see how some people can take a “healthy” diet to an unhealthy extreme.

For some, it’s a short-lived stage that ricochets into a junk food rebellion. Others find their way back to the middle of the road. But for many, this so-called “healthy” way of eating can become a true obsession and, at its most extreme, an eating disorder known as orthorexia. Derived from the Greek words, orthos, meaning “correct,” and orexis, meaning “appetite,” people who suffer from orthorexia become obsessed with eating foods they deem healthy, safe or pure.

Whether someone has a full-blown disorder or a lesser-degree preoccupation, what is unhealthy about being too healthy is that it is extremely limiting, very time-consuming and can ironically lead to malnutrition. It can also become a replacement and a distraction for finding healthy ways of dealing with anxiety or grief.

In my opinion, the definition of a healthy eater is someone who eats healthy approximately 80 percent of the time and with the other 20 percent, has desserts, snacks or quick meals. I always say, moderation in all things (except murder!).

When recipe browsing, meal preparation, food shopping, and thinking about eating become an obsession and/or a part-time (unpaid!) job, it might be time to ask yourself if your healthy eating is really healthy. When a slice of pizza with friends or an occasional piece of birthday cake are unthinkable, it might be time to take a closer look at your patterns with food. When taking a day off from exercise feels terrifying or unacceptable, it might be time to examine your so-called “healthy lifestyle.” When the list of what feels safe to eat becomes smaller than the list of what is off-limits, it might be time to admit there is a problem.

So what do you do if you suspect that you have orthorexia? First, take a look at when it all started. What was going on for you at the time? Many of the people I have treated in my counseling practice have discovered that they started when something painful happened, perhaps a loss, trauma or difficult situation in their lives. Feeling out of control with their painful life situation, they turned to perfecting and purifying their eating. Throw in a crazy culture that glorifies sugar-free, wheat-free, gluten-free and meat-free diets, throw in a sensitive person who has difficulty tolerating and expressing emotions, and the recipe for orthorexia is created, featuring perfectionism, food-obsession and emotional avoidance.

Many people who feel out of control with life will latch onto food, exercise and weight control in an attempt to try to control something. It’s easy enough to do in a culture that promises us nirvana if we eat, exercise or look a certain way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true? If we could purify our eating, exercise rigorously, attain the perfect body and everything in our lives would magically be okay! It’s a great idea in theory, but the real power in life comes from learning how to manage and communicate difficult emotions, and learning how to face life’s challenges rather than avoid them with food preoccupation and body obsession.

One client in my counseling practice got teased about her looks when she was young. Rather than deal with her emotions and learn how to strengthen her sense of self, she embarked on a health-food diet she read about online. It started out innocently enough and she received a lot of praise for how “good” she was and how much weight she lost. But her healthy lifestyle took an unhealthy turn when it became more and more rigid and limiting. No longer willing to go out to eat with friends, she began to turn down more and more social invitations. No longer willing to eat what her family ate, she began to spend more and more time poring through recipe books and watching The Food Network. No longer casual about exercise, she stopped doing the walks and bike rides she had previously enjoyed with her family, replacing them with hardcore, rigidly timed runs.

Another client had a death in her family and turned to so-called healthy eating and “getting in shape” rather than dealing with her grief. It took a near-death experience from malnutrition to get her to turn inward and face the original grief she was literally and figuratively running from. Once she did, she learned it was necessary and healing to cry and that grieving (and eating some foods that were not on her “safe” list) was not going to kill her. It was a shock to her that her so-called “healthy” lifestyle is what almost killed her.

Imagine food, weight and exercise as the tip of an iceberg above the surface of the water. That’s all you can see and it’s what becomes easiest to focus on. But if you go deeper underneath the water and take a look at what you’re avoiding, you will find the real issues. For most people it’s good old human emotions that they’re afraid to face. Whenever an obsession is running the show, it’s easier to focus on the tip of the iceberg (in this case, food and eating) and ignore the emotions floating underneath the surface.

Oftentimes it’s only when the problems caused by food and body obsession get big enough or difficult enough in and of themselves that some people become willing to go deeper to feel and heal their pain.

The good news is you can heal your unresolved pain, make peace with difficult life situations and learn how to effectively cope with emotions. Obsessing on recipes, food, cooking, and exercise is a never-ending cul-de-sac since we still have difficult life situations occurring while we are cooking, baking and running! The only real solution is to gain emotional coping skills.

The next time you find yourself obsessing on food or exercise, try asking yourself what you might be thinking or how you might be feeling if you weren’t thinking about food or exercise.

If you have orthorexia, take a look at how isolated and limited your life has become. See if you would be willing to step out of your comfort zone just a little bit. Consider taking a class you have been interested in (one that has nothing to do with food or exercise). Try connecting with an old friend, reaching out to someone new or seeking professional help.

Consider challenging yourself to eat a food that is not on your “safe” list and see that nothing bad will happen if you do. (You might have some big feelings, but you will not get big from one food item!) You can learn to ride your emotions out until they pass, and you’ll become stronger and more equipped as a result.

You might start by adding one food item a week, continually testing the safety of the water. If you are having a free-range burger with organic aioli, try adding a few fries. The next time your friends are going out for pizza, try one slice with your salad instead of a salad only or staying home. Afterwards, you can try journaling out all your thoughts and feelings and reassure yourself that you are not unsafe, just emotionally full of feelings. The next time you are at a birthday party, consider having one piece of cake, even if it’s not organic.

See if you can begin to speak more kindly to yourself. Your unkind thoughts led you into these rigid patterns in the first place, they will not be what gets you out. Just like a child who is afraid to go to her first day of school, you will need a lot of kindness and compassion as you step out of your seemingly comforting rules. You can begin to find safety, value and worth in yourself that is unrelated to your exercise output or your food intake.

A question I love asking my clients is, “Ships are safe inside the harbor, but is that what ships are for?” It is safe to venture out. You don’t have to set sail for months. Simply taking one small step outside your safe, self-made comfort zone can help you develop new skills and prove to yourself that your safety does not lie in food control but in self-care and self-soothing.

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Poem written by a client who is overcoming Orthorexia
The sense of control over food
Strongly affects my mood
From gluten-free eats
To vegan no meats
To strictly organic
Or I will panic
To sugar-free desserts
Oh how it hurts
Eating clean
Becomes my mean
For purpose in life
and to boost self esteem

Anxiety over ingredients
I wish to be lenient

Counting each calorie
Obsessing on my salary
Is not the answer
To if I’ll get cancer
If I’ll stay thin
Or get a double chin

Money will not define
To what is the fine line
Between happy and sad
Teary and glad

We are who we are
Each a unique star
Not by our type of diet
I need to train my mind to be quiet

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Breaking the Diet/Binge Cycle

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Having spent decades bouncing back and forth between my strict diet du jour and the “I blew it, screw it, eat everything in sight and start again on Monday” program, I am honored to share with others the tips and tools that helped me crack the diet/binge code once and for all.

In my book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook and my online course, Getting Over Overeating, my coauthor and I teach readers all the things that helped us step off the diet/binge roller coaster and find what we call a “Live-It.”

There are several components to a Live-It. The first is learning to challenge rather than believe every thought you think. Learning how to cope with emotions is another important component (coming soon to a blog near you!) And, of course, learning how to live with food and make peace with your body are essential parts of a Live-It.

It took many years of trial and error (heavy on the error!) to learn that dieting was not the solution to my weight problems. It was in fact, one of the contributors. Changing rules with food, exercise and body image requires a huge do-over. We have all learned so many rules from our culture and our families that we may have thought were helpful. Some rules you might not even be aware of. But you will need to identify them and let go of them in order to find a loving, honest relationship with both food and feelings. This is a process, and fortunately you do not have to do it perfectly. You can start (and start again) any moment!

So if you are one of the millions who battle with your body and food, here are some tips to help you learn how to Live-It!

Shame-Free Zone: Try to be really curious about why you are turning to food when you are not hungry. Try speaking to yourself the way a really loving parent would speak to a hurt child. You need compassion, kindness and curiosity as you work on these issues and examine your patterns, not self-criticism. (If self-criticism worked, you would probably have all your goals met by now!)

Hunger and Fullness Scale: Most of us were taught to eat according to the external clock rather than our internal body cues. Here is a scale that can help you check in with your physical hunger rather than check out with excess food or diet rules.

Try using the following hunger and fullness scale anytime to get better at knowing your body’s needs. It is similar to a gas gauge:

fullnessGauge

The goal is to eat when you are about a three on the scale. This is where you are not yet “starving” but do feel some physical signs of hunger. Then, try to eat until you are about a seven on the scale. This is what I call “satisfied” or “politely full.” If you use this scale, it’s really important not to turn it into yet another diet. This is simply a tool to help you get more in touch with your hunger and fullness cues.

In many cases, people have been so cut off from their hunger and fullness, they do not know when they are truly physically hungry and when they are satisfied or politely full. If this is the case for you, try asking yourself how you would feed someone else who does not diet and does not overeat.

Diet-Busting Questions: These questions are adapted from our online course “Defeating Overeating,” and can help you to tune into your body’s natural needs rather than the restricting-and-rebelling pattern that so many people vacillate between.

Try asking yourself the following three questions when you are approaching a food choice:

  1. What does the dieter in me think I should eat?
  2. What does the overeater in me want to eat?
  3. What does my “healthy voice” or my “body wisdom” say?

Again, you might not be used to checking in with your healthy voice or your body wisdom, so ask yourself how you would feed someone else who does not diet and does not overeat (until you are one of them!)

Culture-Busting Checklist: Our culture has so many rules about food that steer us away from what our bodies really like, want and need. This checklist can help you get better at tuning into your body. When you are getting ready to eat, consider asking yourself the following:

Is this nutritious, delicious and moderate?

Nutritious: Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates and fats for different and important bodily functions.

Delicious: We need to eat things we really like and love so our bodies will feel satisfied.

Moderate: The word “moderate” means reasonable, not extreme or excessive. In order to be healthy, we need to eat moderate amounts of nutritious, delicious foods. Eating moderately means eating more than the restrictor part of you thinks you should eat and less than the overeater/binger wants. It’s somewhere in that middle, reasonable, wise, loving, respectful, healthy range.

Learning what a moderate amount is will take some practice, especially if you’re used to thinking you should only eat small amounts of diet food and then overeating large amounts of your forbidden foods. And moderate is a range. It’s not a set amount. It varies depending on your hunger level, your physical needs, and the density of the foods we’re eating. And just like everything, we can use our wise intuition to help us know what that is for our bodies in any given moment.

And since we get better at what we practice, this will all get easier over time.

Flash Forward: When people are in a compulsive eating mode, they usually don’t think about how they are going to feel later. They want the food and they want itnow

Consider trying a “Flash Forward.” This is when you take the time to think about how you are going to feel later if you eat this food now. You can still decide to eat afteryou do this exercise, if you choose to, but this pattern interruption can help you to make a more informed decision — and build up the capacity to tolerate anxiety (which is often one of the emotions people eat over).

When we overeat, there’s usually a short-term feeling of good followed by a long-term feeling of bad. When we Flash Forward and decide to refrain from overeating, there are more short-term difficult feelings, but in the long-term, we end up feeling so much better in our body. We also train our system to understand that we do not have to succumb to its every whim, and to see that all cravings pass! Consider creating a list of things you can do to ride out the craving. For example: Journaling, reaching out to a safe person, taking a walk, doing a craft or project, reading, listening to music, searching the web for recovery-oriented websites (check out my website for free articles or podcasts here), checking out YouTube for meditations or mindfulness exercises, doing something in nature or something that fills your spirit, etc.

Food For Thought: See if you would be willing to slow down while you are eating. Pausing between bites, even if it’s just for a second or one deep breath, will help slow the mealtime down, which will help your body calm down and better register fullness and satisfaction.

It’s also important to try to eat most of your meals while sitting down to encourage more mindfulness and to help your body register what it is taking in. (Remember, you do not have to be perfect with these tips; simply trying to integrate them in a bit is a great start!)

Take note of your most high-risk times to overeat and consider making a supportive plan for those times. For example, some people have the hardest time after work, so they plan a supportive phone call or a nighttime ritual when they get home. One client created a sweet ritual with a candle, a cup of tea and a few minutes of journaling when she got home, as opposed to her previous ritual of TV and bingeing when she transitioned from the day to the evening.

Food and Feelings: Overeating is often an attempt to give ourselves comfort and sweetness and to numb intolerable emotions. So you can now begin to use the desire to overeat as a “doorbell” to mean that you are probably having big feelings. (Or you might be truly hungry if you have been dieting and restricting, which will get addressed as you practice the previous tips!)

See if you would be willing to wonder about and take guesses about what you might be feeling when you want to overeat. (Or after you overeat. It’s never too late to inquire with compassion, kindness and curiosity!)

Take a moment whenever possible (before, during or after overeating) and try writing, asking yourself or sharing with someone safe how you are truly feeling and what you think you are truly hungry for.

Some Final Thoughts: Don’t give up! It is possible to learn how to eat when you are physically hungry and stop when you are politely satisfied. It is possible to unlearn all the insane food rules our culture has taught us, and to enjoy a variety of foods in moderation. It is possible to find healthy ways to comfort yourself and sweeten your day. It is possible to tolerate difficult emotions and ride them out until they pass. It is possible to have a full life rather than a full stomach. It is possible to learn how to spend your precious time on this planet thinking about more than just the size of your body.

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Don’t Diet, Live It!

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I started my first diet when I was 12, and this began a full-time career of yo-yo dieting, sneak eating, and eventually 10 years of secret bulimia. It’s tragic to say that I thought about food and weight more than anything else. I was painfully self-conscious about my body and even when I briefly landed at a weight that was considered healthy, I never felt good enough, attractive enough, or enough of anything.

Today, I no longer diet or overeat. I no longer have several sizes of clothes in my closet, and I can honestly say that I feel comfortable in my body. And if I can do it, you can too.

Disordered eating has reached epidemic proportions and it’s no wonder. We are surrounded by unnatural messages about food and unrealistic images of what we should look like and the happiness it would bring if we could only achieve that look. We are encouraged to restrict our food, eat huge portions, and listen to diet books and diet doctors rather than our own bodies.

In our book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook, my coauthor and I teach the four components of a “live-it,” our alternative to a diet. Here is a brief summary of each:

Physical — We were all born with the ability to know when we are hungry, what we like to eat, and when we have had enough. We were all born with natural desires to move our bodies in ways that feel good and to rest when we are tired.

But here, in our culture, those natural connections are stolen from us. We are taught that certain foods are good and bad, we are encouraged to drink caffeine if we are tired, and we are told how many sets and reps and minutes of cardio we are supposed to do. It is not easy to strike all this from the record, but it is possible!

Emotional — In the same way we are taught that there are good and bad foods, many of us are taught that there are good and bad feelings. We are generally not encouraged to accept and express what we feel.

Over time, you can learn how to better identify what you are feeling and what you need when you are in distress, and eventually all that excess food and dieting will no longer be needed.

Intellectual — Think about the silent self-critical thoughts that can take place in the course of a day: “I hate my body.” “I shouldn’t have eaten that.” “I shouldn’t have said that.” “I shouldn’t have done that.”

It’s no wonder so many people try to comfort themselves with food and dieting. We have no choice about the fact that our mind will think thoughts all day long. That’s its job. It’s not always a problem. It’s only when we camp out on the unhealthy ones or believe the cruel ones that we get into trouble and misery.

We basically have five possible places where our thoughts can land at any given moment:

  1. Future: fantasy or hope
  2. Future: fear, worry or dread
  3. Past: longing or wishing
  4. Past: resentment, rehashing or regret. And now, drum roll here…
  5. The present moment

The present moment entails what is actually and factually here. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the future or the past. It’s like living in a dream or a nightmare rather than in the here and now. Luckily, we do not have to believe everything we think. We can retrain our brain and learn to live more in the present moment.

Spiritual — Cultures where there is little or no evidence of disordered eating have spiritual practice and meaningful rituals built into their daily lives. Our rituals seem to center less around spiritual matters and more on weight loss schemes and anti-aging creams.

Imagine living in a culture that teaches us we are worthy, no matter what we look like. Imagine a culture that values compassion and kindness more than the number on a scale. Imagine a culture without scales, clothing sizes and mirrors, but rather with the goal of connecting to what is around you and within you. Imagine spending the rest of today (or even a few moments) being kind to yourself and your body. I double dare you!

View on The Huffington Post

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A Cultural Look at Body Bashing

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Unfortunately, I think it’s pretty accurate to say that most people in our culture are dissatisfied with their body. Many people even despise their body (or certain parts). And this epidemic has no age limit. In my psychotherapy practice I have worked with clients as young as 6 years old, who are already obsessed with calories, carbs and getting fat. I have treated people in their 70s who have no memories of eating bread or dessert without guilt. And I have seen people of nearly every age in between who battle their body on some level. It’s like being a member of a club to trash and bash your body in our image-obsessed culture. Many people bond over what I call “fat chat,” and many people spend enormous amounts of time trying to change their bodies.

Thanks to the media and the diet industry, we have all been set up to dislike our bodies. We are surrounded by unnatural images and unkind messages about how we should look, eat, exercise, think and feel. We are basically taught that if we alter our bodies and achieve the image we have been sold, we will be happy, loved and special.

But how did we get here? How did we get to where being thin is often valued more than being healthy? How did we get to a place where young children are counting calories and feeling fat? Why do we have senior citizens who have spent decades and sometimes their entire lives avoiding and fearing fats and carbs? Why are people of all ages devoting more of their precious lives to the pursuit of thinness than to all the other meaningful things they could be doing? Well, I’m glad you asked!

When we compare our culture to cultures that do not have an epidemic of body obsession, there are some significant differences. One difference is about inherent worthiness. There are Eastern and tribal cultures that teach children that they are born with worth. They don’t need to earn it, they already have it. They teach children about having a spirit and being connected to themselves, to others and to nature. They have daily rituals that involve prayer and meditation, dance and the seasons. In our culture, where body obsession is rampant, we are largely taught that our worth comes from how we look and how much money and “stuff” we have. Many children believe that they have to be wealthy, smart, attractive, or athletic in order to feel or be special. For many people in our culture, daily rituals consist of weight loss schemes, exercise regimes and checking email or Facebook. To a large extent, we are more interested in being connected electronically than spiritually.

We have been programmed here to think that fat is bad and thin is good. But it is a program, not reality! Believe it or not, there are actual societies where being fat is a status symbol. In some African tribes, the rich members pay to put on extra weight in special “fattening rooms.” In the Hima tribe in Uganda, a woman who is about to marry gets sent off to what they call a fattening hut so she can gain enough weight to be deemed attractive to her husband! Here, when a woman is preparing to marry, she is usually starving herself to get as thin as possible.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, feminine, soft curves were valued and seen as the standard of beauty, and as the industrial revolution took place and clothing manufacturing drastically increased, things began to change. Fad diets became popular and eventually a voluptuous body became a symbol of a lack of willpower and weakness rather than abundance of wealth and attractiveness. There are many theories on why this occurred but one theory is that clothing advertisers felt that the models’ voluptuous, curvy bodies distracted the buyers’ attention from the clothes they were viewing. The advertisers and sellers wanted the bodies to look more like hangers so they would be less distracting. So they began reducing the size of their mannequins and demanding smaller models. This mistakenly became the new standard of how women were supposed to look.

We also have the television, film and advertising industries to thank for the constant barrage of unnaturally thin people who appear to have unrealistically perfect lives. Years ago, a study was done in Fiji showing the effects that the media has on young girls. Prior to the study, it was considered a traditional compliment on the Pacific Island to tell someone they looked like they had gained weight. “Going thin” was actually a term that expressed concern. Up until the time of the study, Fijians did not have television and they also did not have reports of disordered eating or bad body image. Then, in the late 90s, they got one TV station and it began to broadcast some of our popular shows. Within two years, a survey revealed that 75 percent of young girls were feeling fat or too big and 15 percent had begun self-induced vomiting. (I am assuming it is even higher by now.)

Studies have been done comparing the journal entries of young girls in the early 18th and 19th centuries to young girls today. The comparisons showed that young girls back in the day wrote about being kind and the importance of being a good friend, family member and community member. Their focus was on “good deeds and a pure heart.” Today, girls write about being fat or skinny, about throwing up or dieting and about being popular and cool. As author Joan Jacobs of The Body Project writes, “We have shifted from inner beauty to outer beauty.”

Okay, I know that’s a lot of bad news. Here’s some good news. Fortunately, there is a movement that is teaching a different approach. There are more and more books and articles about the dangers and ineffectiveness of dieting as well as the importance of self-love and body acceptance. (Unfortunately, these are often followed on the next page by the latest diet but we are inching our way in the right direction!) There is also a movement to expose photoshopping and airbrushing on magazine models. (A law has already been passed in Israel known as The Photoshop Law. This requires all models to maintain a certain weight, as well as all designers to disclose when they’ve photoshopped their models.) We still have a long way to go but there are a lot of people and organizations that are passionate about teaching the message of body-acceptance and moderate, non-diet eating.

Making peace with your body does not mean giving up self-care and good health. It means giving up perfectionism and self-hatred. It means treating your body with kindness and respect and learning to like and accept who you are. It means recognizing that you can’t fix self-hatred with more self-hatred (or through dieting.) It means understanding that overeating does not truly comfort us in the long run. It means deleting the program of self-hatred altogether.

It is not easy to overcome a bad body image in a culture that is obsessed with body size and appearance. We have all had a massive hypnotic spell cast upon us that tells us how we should look. But we can break the spell. We can say no to the unrealistic images and remind ourselves that they are just that… unreal. We can disagree with the cultural messages about perfection in the same way we would disagree with a racial slur or cruelty against animals. We can come to believe that a good life, including love and success, is possible for all body types. We can put our focus on who we are rather than only on how we look. And we can encourage our friends and families to do the same. We can ask ourselves, what is more important: Attaining peace of mind or attaining a certain number on the scale?

Having seen many unhappy thin people in my office, I can say with certainty that a low number on the scale does not guarantee peace of mind. It is our thinking far more than our body that causes us pain. And it is changing our thinking that will bring us more peace. Fortunately, we can retrain our brain and upgrade our unkind mind to a newer, kinder version. Think of all the outdated documents you delete on your computer all the time. Or the pop-up windows you close without a second thought. The next time a bad body image thought pops up like a window on the screen of your mind, try simply closing it! In spite of how real they can feel, bad body image thoughts are not reality. They are made-up thoughts that can be deleted just like pop-up windows!

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