Category Archives: empowerment

You’re pregnant?!?! Seriously?!?!

I have contemplated writing this blog post for months. At nearly 7 months pregnant, people continue to be in disbelief that I’m pregnant. In person, on Facebook and wherever else people have told me how great it is that I’m carrying so small, I’ve been gracious and said “thank you” while internally, these questions began making me feel badly about the size and shape of my belly. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with my pregnancy or the baby (everything is fine) and wondered why the tone in saying I am so small was one that seemed complimentary.

I’ve had many private conversations about my frustrations with people’s reactions and the comments that are made. However, I have to admit that I’ve done a poor job at expressing this more publicly because I didn’t want to make anyone feel badly for trying to be so sweet. I’ve also tried to be playful about it, thus not in any way addressing the issue at hand. Somehow my very strong stance in being person-focused instead of body-focused was derailed. I honestly didn’t know how to handle all of this commentary and so I didn’t. Very interesting, in hindsight, for someone who specializes in body image and eating disorders!

Undoubtedly, there is an enormous amount of pressure on women and body image (men, too) and this pressure does not abate during pregnancy. Are women supposed to carry small? Large? Elsewhere on their bodies besides their bellies? The truth is that everyone carries differently, just like everyone’s natural bodies are their own individual shapes and sizes. It’s not better to show sooner rather than later or vice versa. I’ve heard countless women express concern about how their pregnant bodies will look instead of enjoying the true beauty and amazement that is pregnancy.

The door to comment on women’s bodies seems to get blown wide open during pregnancy. Not only have I had comments about my belly, I’ve had many comment on my legs, my butt, my breasts, my face, etc. and have had many reach out and touch my belly without asking. Nothing is off limits. It seems that because the body is changing, it becomes free rein.

Consider this, saying “Wow! You’re so huge!” is no different from saying “Wow! You’re so tiny!” I can completely understand how more likely than not the intention of both is a good one. But both are a judgment and send unhealthy messages about body image. The best compliments I’ve received thus far have had nothing to do with my body. I’ve been told about my pregnancy glow, how happy I seem, etc.

I’ve spent months wishing I were bigger and looking forward to the day when someone offers me their seat on a crowded subway – wishing I were bigger instead of just allowing myself to be the shape that I am. But the truth is that I feel great, so far things have been smooth and I couldn’t ask for more than that. I love my belly (at whatever size it needs to be) and I don’t take for granted that my body can create this miracle.

This blog post is a step forward in addressing this issue more publicly. I hope that we can all make an effort to be as sensitive and respectful of pregnant bodies as we try to be (I hope) of bodies in general.

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How has my work with eating disorders impacted me personally?

About 7 years ago I created the curriculum on Eating Disorders for New York University’s Graduate School of Social Work. I LOVE teaching this course and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the opportunity to teach such eager men and women something that I feel so passionately about.

Someone in this past class asked me something that no one has asked me yet – How has my work with eating disorders affected my own relationship with food, my body and myself? I didn’t have a quick answer. I really had to think about it. Am I negatively affected in some ways? Am I positively affected in some ways? Do I eat more, as many people describe as a common “side effect” of working with eating disorders?

I gave it some thought and then very genuinely talked my way through my answer. It’s true that on days when the topic of actual food arises, I tend to leave craving foods I wasn’t otherwise thinking about. But I can generally get back in touch with what I really want and satisfy myself. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and the craving is really strong. I’m okay with that, too!

Regarding my body, I spend a lot of time with my patients discussing and exploring body acceptance, honoring ones body and doing all of this in the face of familial and societal pressures. I truly feel that body dissatisfaction, to some degree, has become almost a rite of passage for everyone, both men and women. Doing this work has offered me a daily reminder of the choice I have (we all have) to either reject or to succumb to these pressures and fall into the “I’m not good enough” thinking that lives in tandem with the “thin ideal.” Even in moments when I have a tinge of “not good enough,” I quickly find myself automatically catapulted into some sort of anger or frustration about being told that I have to look a certain way in order to be acceptable.

I shared the above and then continued, “Overall, it has made me more empowered! I never feel so healthy and empowered as I do when I leave my office at the end of the day – most of the time.” WOW! I was a little surprised to hear myself say this with such gusto but it’s true! Working with both men and women struggling with eating disorders has empowered me! Of course, it can be difficult, frustrating, devastating and many other things but what I feel the most is EMPOWERED! Why? I think it’s quite simple. Life in general, as well as doing this work genuinely and authentically, as I hold myself accountable to do, has forced me to develop my own personal ethos and it is from there that I try every day to live both personally and professionally. My ethos includes things like empowerment, authenticity, direct communication, vulnerability and compassion for myself and others.

Today I would like to invite you to consciously consider your own personal ethos and if it matches how you are living most of the time (and let’s face it, none of us are perfect – that’s not what this is about). If you don’t have a personal ethos, then I’d like to invite you to create one for yourself!


eating disorders, fitness, thinspo, fitspo and the lesson i learned talking about all of it

I’ve been lecturing and teaching for the past 15 years and aside from a healthy dose of nervous energy that quickly passes, I couldn’t be more comfortable in those roles. Being interviewed, however, is an entirely different story. I get incredibly nervous nearly every time and while I can calm myself down for the most part, the live and/or recorded interviews get me every time! Most notably (and I can’t even believe I’m drawing attention to it) was my television appearance. As soon as the camera began to roll, my brain fell out of my head and I felt like a deer in headlights – completely stunned and trying to remember what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.

Most recently, I did my very first podcast with Kaila Prins for her Finding Our Hunger podcast series. When she asked me to do this podcast I desperately wanted to say “no.” But I said “yes” because I knew it was the right thing to do. I wanted to get the word out about Destructively Fit and saying “no” to an opportunity just seemed counterintuitive.

My podcast date was set and as it got closer, my anxiety grew and grew and grew. I made sure to tell Kaila how nervous I was, that this was my first podcast, and that I needed her help to keep the conversation going. Obviously Kaila was a pro and this was her plan anyway. So if I’m being completely honest with you (and myself), I think I was also telling her how nervous I was so that it could be my excuse if i completely blew it!

The dreaded day arrived and there I was, headphones on in the comfort of my own home. I was so nervous that I couldn’t sit down! I watched the clock and it seemed it was going backwards – this podcast was going to take forever! But we began and Kaila kicked off the podcast. She had a little (read: a lot) of an edge since this was her gig but I have to hand it to her, she was a natural! She was interested, interesting and spontaneous. I was even able to sit down! The podcast was easy, fun and the time flew. Wow! In fact, I’ve gotten lots of (unsolicited) feedback about it and I’m told that it’s my best, most natural and engaging interview yet!

I’m actually very proud of myself for saying “yes” to this opportunity but even more so for being open, vulnerable and compassionate with myself.

It’s funny, as soon as I got out of my own way things were great! I shut down that negative self-talk reminding me that I froze on television and that I have to choose my words carefully so that I sound intelligent enough. I just allowed myself to be present and engaged and that was all I needed to do! What a great reminder for me to trust myself!

I hope that you can learn from my experience, even reflect upon your own past experiences, and realize that your best self is your most authentic self!

Oh… and if you want to listen to my podcast, I’d love you to! Any and all feedback is welcome 🙂
Here it is http://findingourhunger.com/2014/07/30/undestructive/


challenging negative self-perception… in your boudoir!

Photo courtesy of Lori Berkowitz

by guest blogger Lori Berkowitz, of Lori Berkowitz Photography!

At 43 I am more comfortable in my body today than I have ever been. It’s been a 25 year process to get to this place but here I am. Today I can easily quiet the voices that insist something about my body needs to change for me to be truly happy, and those awful comparisons to other women don’t happen quite as often.

In addition to decades of therapy, my work with women as a boudoir photographer has been a tremendous part of healing my relationship with my body. As clients have come in over the years I began to see how distorted our image of ourselves often is. Here is one example of story I hear almost daily.

When Dawn, a vivacious mother and business owner, arrived for a boudoir shoot a few weeks ago it was easy to think at first glance that she was thin, toned and had no body issues. As we started working together and I wanted to take some pictures of her back, she explained that she always hated her back and believed it to be fat. Somehow she had gotten this in her head and now it became her truth, regardless of reality. She couldn’t even remember when it started.

When I took these images and showed them to her in the back of my camera she cried. Dawn could see that her back was beautiful and the healing of her constant negative self talk began.

Photo courtesy of Lori Berkowitz

Clients having an “aha” moment about their bodies when they see their images is part of my passion and joy as an artist. It’s also a daily practice of self love, I heal my own body image issues as I help other women do the same. It’s my small contribution to showing women how beautiful we all are. Everyone has their body issues no matter their size and I want every woman to feel confident in her own skin. Without comparison. I’m thrilled to have found my calling in helping women feel incredible about themselves.


the secret to the perfect bikini body

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The weather is getting warmer! Talk and anxieties of the perfect “bikini body” are in the air!
Do this exercise, spot train this area, don’t exercise this area, don’t eat this food, definitely eat this food, only eat these foods, blah, blah, blah.

I have a secret – I know how to get the perfect bikini body! Are you ready?

Okay, here we go… grab your favorite bikini – or any swimsuit for that matter.
Put it on and stand in front of the mirror.
Stand up tall and proud with your shoulders back and your chest open.
Throw your hands in the air and gleefully shout “WOO HOO!” with a smile on your face. That’s it!
Yep, you already have the perfect bikini body!
Now it’s up to you to honor and love love love it!!!

Go on with your life and stop worrying so much! You’re already fabulous and you’ll be even more fabulous once you realize how awesome you are!

OH! That reminds me of one more thing. The other thing that makes for an amazing bikini body is confidence! Own it, flaunt it and shake what your mama gave ya!

Now get out there and enjoy yourself!


What do you love about your body?

Men and women spend an enormous amount of time using negative self-talk to minimize, judge and criticize themselves. Most people aren’t even aware of how incessantly this internal tyrannical tape plays. Think about it in your own life – how much negative self-talk to you engage in? If you engage in any, it’s already too much!

I decided to reach out to a bunch of women and ask them what they love about their bodies and why. While this question was easy for some, it posed a challenge for others.

Here are their unedited responses. After you read them, I encourage you to take a moment to pause, reflect, answer the same question and give yourself some love! Feel free to share your love in the “comments” section below!

What do you love about your body and why?

Wow. My gut response was so overwhelmingly negative – I love NOTHING! – that now I have to do this and come up with a list, not just for you, but for me. 

I have always wanted to be able to fold over and touch my toes… I have discovered ballet barre and now I can!!!

Today I love my legs because they are strong and powerful and look super cute in my patterned tights right now!

I love that my body carried my children and gave them life. When I see my stretch marks and scars I try to remind myself of that rather than pick my body apart.

I love my body because it is made of the same stuff as the stars we wish on. It allows me to dance and move out into the world with you. My female body is so beautifully complex it reminds me that it has allowed for all human life to exist. Now how could I hate on that?

This is a really hard task and cause for a great deal of reflection. I think it has different meanings for each age and stage and for me causes me to look around and internalize all that is happening around me. I love my body because (so far) it is keeping me healthy and whole. It is allowing me to maintain my family and home, and giving me the opportunity to actively engage with those I love. My body is giving me the gifts of running in the park with my grandchildren and taking an 11 mile walk with my daughter, when we thought we were going for a stroll. How lucky I am. Thanks for affording me this wonderful time for reflection. Yes we take so much time in our lives using “fat talk” and hating our bodies….but rarely do we hug ourselves to say thank you.

I love that my body is so strong and resilient. It really doesn’t fail me and I feel blessed. I love that it’s petite but still womanly, not skinny. On a more superficial level I love my flat stomach.

My instinctual answer would be my smile and laugh because that is what most people recognize about me which I find is a really nice thing, actually cause it exudes more than an exterior appearance.

I love that my body is strong and healthy!

I love that my body can dance because I am never happier than when I am dancing.

I can touch and feel and love up my babies.

What I love about my body is that it has/had the miraculous ability to grow a child! Despite the changes from my pre-baby body, every time I see the differences in my body now, as a mother, I look at those changes with gratitude. I think about my body as having the ability to grow an adorable and wonderful little boy! What a wonderful thing!

I love my legs because they are strong, take me to places, let me dance, and keep me grounded.

As a mother of two daughters that mean the world to me, I am blessed to have a body (regardless of what it looks like) that has allowed me to produce and care for my two precious girls.

My cleavage.

I love my lats! I used to be upset that they make it tough for me to find dresses that zip up all the way. But, then I realized that without them I couldn’t do pull ups. I don’t know a lot of women who can do pull ups so I will keep my lats and stick to skirts, woo!

I love my body because it’s strong and unique, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

One thing that I really love about my body is that it is strong.  I like to feel the muscle tone in my legs and ass.  It feels good to think about our assets for a change.

I love that my body could still support me in a headstand when I was 8½ months pregnant! I feel so healthy and strong knowing I can support myself and my little guy now whether he’s inside or outside of me because of all my years of yoga and Pilates training.

I love that my body is able to move and engage in activities that I love to do.

I actually do love how it can grow in strength and stamina, even sometimes when I am not initially convinced that it can.

The one thing I love about my body are my legs, because they are long and somewhat fit. 

This feels weird but here goes: I like my feet. I was always too klutzy to wear heels, but as a result nothing is misshapen or bent or bony growth where it shouldn’t be. I actually like my rear. A little dimply now but still shapely. Collarbone — nicely defined. Veiny hands and arms like my dad’s, so I’m partial to them.

Right now, I LOVE my belly!!  It’s huge but I’m growing another little person inside. And yes, with the big belly comes some extra cushioning, which can be, at times, harder to accept, but I know that all of it is for a higher purpose – to create a healthy, happy and strong baby!

I’m learning to love that my body is mine and unique to me.. comparisons need not apply!!!

I have loved my body most when it was doing something–skiing, surfing, yoga, Zumba…..having a BABY.  That is when I am grateful not critical.

I love my collar bones. They make me feel sexy.

When I stop and think about it, what I truly love about this body that has carried me through this life so far for better or worse for the last 40 years is that it is absolutely uniquely mine with all of its quirks, beauty and perfect imperfections. It’s been the vehicle through which my persona, spirit and soul has had the good fortune to experience everything from the extraordinarily mundane to the awe and the profound and I am utterly grateful for its functionality and intuition and guidance as well as all of its strength, exhaustion, muscle and flab, power and flexibility, aches, pains, tension and the relaxing, the calming, the sheen and the freckles and wrinkles, and yes even the wrinkles… ok well im still practicing with those 😉 

At the age of 36 I now love more than anything else that my body has the capability of growing life. When I was younger loved the freedom of movement, and ability to fully control my actions. While I still love those things, giving up control to let someone else grow is my amazement.

A few years ago I probably said I love my arms, abs, legs, butt, strength. Since not being as active and able to workout like I used to, not eat the same as I used to and with the medication I am on….my body has changed. I am feeling better mentally than I was last year as I am learning to love me and my body again… but it has been a struggle. I was so mad at ‘my body’ for failing me. I was so angry and felt like my healthy lifestyle was a total waste. I am thankful now, and think differently. If I didn’t have the healthy lifestyle I would have been more ill and unable to deal with this darn Lupus. I loved the body I created from working out and eating well. To be honest, I feel like I have lost my identity as a trainer. My body was proof of my lifestyle. Sounds crazy but this is how I feel. In the last few months I have made some mental breakthroughs and am learning that I am just as strong (even stronger) than I ever was. I work out daily and do what I can. I always eat healthy and that is all I can do.
What do I love about my body? My smile and positive outlook.

I love my body because it carried and delivered my children with such health and perfection, and it now allows me to hug them and chase them and carry them and love them. I am so grateful to my body for allowing me to do this that I feel like I owe my body lots of love and, in return for all it has done for me, I always really try to take very good care of it.

I love that my body has survived two major surgeries, adapted to the complications, and ultimately healed itself. I am truly amazed at its response to trauma and feel blessed that my body didn’t fail me and gave me second chances.


thanksgiving

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As Thanksgiving approaches, now is a good time to increase your mindfulness in taking care of yourself daily and especially through the holiday season.

Some experience holidays as joyous, cheerful times to connect with family and friends. Others experience the holiday time as tense, sad and depressing. And of course, there is the huge spectrum that exists between those two experiences. But generally speaking, holiday times are usually replete with emotion. Likely, a mix of emotions.

Whatever your experience is, it is up to you to honor it. Absent of judgment. With connection and with consciousness.

And the food… when thinking of Thanksgiving food, we oftentimes conjure up images of large tables overflowing with food. For those struggling with eating disorders, or who have a more complicated relationship with food, it will undoubtedly trigger anxiety, fear and overwhelm.

When you approach this holiday season, and the many mealtimes throughout, slow down. Become mindful. Check in with yourself and notice how you are feeling both emotionally and physically. Continue to check in with yourself throughout the day, the meal, the holiday. Take a time-out if you are feeling overwhelmed. Confide in a family member, significant other or a friend. Text someone. Stay in touch with someone who knows what is going on for you and assure yourself that you are not alone.

Become curious about which emotions you honor and which you tend not to. Become curious about when you choose to honor your hunger and satiety and when you choose not to. And above all, have a meaningful Thanksgiving and make sure to give gratitude to yourself!


awareness

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It is said that ignorance is bliss. Perhaps this can be true for the short term, but for the long term, I respectfully disagree.

Awareness affords us the opportunity of choice. Choice offers us agency in our lives. Increasing self-awareness allows for more choice and more influence in your life. It’s as simple as that!

So why does it become more complicated? The type of active awareness that I am talking about is not discretionary. While it is fun and exciting to stay aware during times of opportunity, pleasure and peaceful times, it can be more difficult to continue this awareness during times of distress.

Now it’s up to you to practice awareness. How you feel, think, see, smell, taste and sense are all part of mindfulness and these things change every minute. You can sharpen your senses enough to notice internal shifts, the dance between external happenings and your internal experiences.

Why should you? Because when we are aware of how we are doing, then we are also aware of what we need more or less of and with this awareness, we can respond accurately to promote an internal sense of soothing and satisfaction.

I’ll leave it to you. Take this moment, right now as you are reading this. Notice what you see and then notice your surroundings beyond your computer screen. What do you smell and taste? How is the temperature in the room and how does your body feel? What noises do you hear around you? What else do you notice?

Now notice how you are feeling emotionally. Are you feeling calm? Anxious? Is your heart beating quickly or does your body feel relaxed? How are your surroundings affecting you this minute?

Keep practicing and check in with yourself throughout the day (yep, every day!) and you will cultivate a healthier, more connected relationship with yourself!


no pain, no gain?

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The idea of “fitspo” (short for fitspiration / fitness inspiration) has been on my radar for a while and I’m glad that it has received increased attention over the past few months! A huge part of my attempt to address this issue, and the issue of destructive behavior in the fitness world has been the creation of Destructively Fit®. Check out the recent press and more articles about Fitspo!

For me, it’s difficult to discuss “Fitspo” without first saying something about “Thinspo” (short for thinspiration / thin inspiration). Thinspo was first found on pro-ana and pro-mia (pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia) websites that shared eating disorder tips and tricks, blogs, journals and photos of emaciated women and men reinforcing destructive ideals and behaviors, particularly eating disorders. Oftentimes, the men and women who were engaged in these websites were those with an incredibly strong link between their identity and their eating disorder and demonstrated a significant denial of self.
(note: due to the efforts of media watchdogs, most of these websites have been removed from the internet)

While some Fitspo is truly healthy and inspiring, plenty of it is unhealthy and hauntingly similar to Thinspo, offering unrealistic and damaging expectations and fitness ideals. Many of the photos are of uber-cut scantily clad men and women.

Just to give you an idea, I’ve seen many messages like these:
“do it for the thigh gap”
“eat wise, drop a size”
“do it so you don’t have to untag yourself in pictures because you look fat”

I’ve seen an abundance of these types of Fitspo tweets:
“you can’t be small if you eat it all”
lists of foods that make you less hungry
how to have a “flatter stomach”
“diet mistakes”
lots of tips + tricks that have nothing to do with fitness – at least in my opinion!

No pain, no gain? Healthy exercise is not about getting hurt. It’s about paying attention to your body. While it has always been important to maintain a balance and groundedness in your own self and your own personal health and fitness goals, it seems more important than ever to keep these things in mind and also, to manage your expectations!

Learn to recognize healthy and unhealthy messages and ALWAYS #HonorYourBody!


the proven benefit of writing

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Maybe there is something to this journaling thing!

For nearly the past 15 years, I have encouraged many of my patients to try engaging in some sort of creative expression in order to engage with themselves in a less inhibited way. Some jumped right on board, some were resistant. But almost invariably, those who gave it a wholehearted go eventually felt that it was useful and even cathartic.

I was excited to read about a new study, the first of its kind, that explored the power, and sometimes healing powers, of writing. While pushing generally inexpressive people to write about traumatic events can be counter-therapeutic, writing can be an effective outlet for those who are more expressive. For this group of people, writing can significantly speed up healing time, reduce stress, improve sleep and decrease stress hormones.

If you are a less expressive person, journaling may be something to work towards. But for those of you who are somewhat expressive, if shorter healing times, less stress and better sleep sound good to you, it may be worth trying!