"It's O.K. to eat when you are hungry and to cry when you are sad. But ice cream won't ever alleviate sadness, and potato chips will not subdue anger."
"There is no food that will fill emotional hunger and no diet that will curb it."
"Physical hunger is when your body needs nourishment. Emotional hunger is when your soul needs nourishment. Find out what it is you are truly hungry for."
There are important reasons why you over or under eat.Every single time you eat when you are not hungry, obsess about food or your body or don't eat when you are hungry, you are crying for help.
If diets worked most Americans would be thin and happy by now.
"Safely expressing your feelings is the opposite of bingeing."
"As you begin to stop over and under eating, you'll also begin to understand why you did so in the first place."
On any given day 48 million Americans are dieting.
Every year, 65 million Americans choose from 30,000 diet plans.In 1992, the National Institutes of Health held investigatory hearings and concluded that diets do not work and may even be dangerous to one's health. They also concluded that 98% of those who lose weight on diets gain it back within 5 years and 90% of those gain back more than they lost!
Conservative figures show that 150,000 women die each year from dieting-related causes.The average fashion model is 5'9" to 6' tall. The average American woman is 5'4" tall. The average fashion model weighs 110-118 pounds. The average American woman weighs 142 pounds.
More than 75% of American women claim they "feel fat."
Statistics taken from: Overcoming Overeating newsletter
Can Our Connections Last If We Multitask and Move Too Fast?
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
At the risk of sounding like my great-grandmother, longing for the good ol' days, I can't help but think back on simpler times when people would come home from work, throw their mail down on the counter, check their answering machine for messages and call it a day. These days it's more like checking voicemails while driving home, checking emails and Facebook once we arrive, Tweeting out something clever, and Instagramming some selfies while checking the queue on the DVR!
Now I have nothing against modern technology. I think it's miraculous and revolutionary. Yet I often find myself wondering, can we be connected to our devices all the time and still be connected to each other and ourselves?
Recently, while driving home from my office I was stopped at a crosswalk waiting for some kids to pass by on their way out of school. I saw what I considered to be a very sad sight. A mother (or some type of caregiver) was walking several feet in front of a young boy who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old. The woman, engrossed in her handheld phone, was looking straight down as she walked. She was busy texting, Tweeting, Instagramming or who-knows- what-ing. The kid, walking a few feet behind her, hung his head low, shuffled his little feet in an attempt to keep up, and even stopped a few times to readjust his overstuffed backpack and his oversized baseball cap. The woman never even noticed.
My heart broke. I couldn't help but wonder what happened to picking up kids after school and asking about their day? So, I turned off my radio, put down my sandwich and promptly told my sister I needed to hang up the phone! I'm exaggerating here to make a point -- I merely turned my radio down! All kidding aside, I am as guilty as the next multitasker. I often do more than one thing at a time, and I too have several devices I ritualistically check every day. I am as plugged in as the next person.
But I wonder, can we be so connected to the Internet, Facebook and our smart phones and still be really connected to ourselves and to others?
So, as I waited in front of the crosswalk for the rest of the students to pass, I flashed back to some recent memories: an entire family at dinner in a restaurant, all of them on their smart phones, looking straight down while they waited for their food; a couple walking together on the beach, both talking on their phones; people driving next to me, looking down and presumably texting! These images are now commonplace. Believe me, I am not judging here. I recently lay down for a few minutes to watch TV and received a call on my landline. Shortly after, while on the phone with my TV on pause, I heard an email come in, followed by a text ding on my cell phone. I practically had to restrain my own hand to keep myself from checking my devices while on the call! I comically imagined a cartoon pop up in my mind. Me, juggling my remote and handheld devices while a police officer with a megaphone called out, "Put the remote and the mouse down and put your hands where I can see em', ma'am."
Can we find a middle ground here? Maybe not so far back as kicking tumbleweed down Main Street, but at least spending some quality time with the people in our lives and putting down our devices sometimes so we can be present with them and ourselves? And at the very least walking across the street with our kids, together? Sharing a family meal together? Perhaps occasionally doing one thing at a time?
I'll try it if you will! The next time I walk my dog, I will resist the urge to call my sister, check my emails and return texts, and I will simply just walk with my dog! Maybe we can all experiment and make an effort to slow down and, on occasion, stop and smell the decaf. If you do, let me know how it goes. If you email me, Facebook me or Tweet it out, I promise not to read it while I'm talking on the phone!
Reprinted from: HuffingtonPost May 2013
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 it’s 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. 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 learn 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 pouring 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 hard-core, 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 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.
Reprinted from: HuffingtonPost May 2013
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
Having been around the spiritual book block a time or two… (umm, make that more like two-thousand!), I am no stranger to the concept of surrender. If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard it and read it a thousand times too—“What you resist will persist.” “Let it go and see if it flies back,” etc. I don’t know about you, but when I want something, the last thing I am inclined to do is let it go and see if it comes back. And yet, everything I have ever read regarding the Laws of Attraction and the foundation of spiritual principles has led me back again and again to this: Obsessing and excessive efforting equals misery and usually does not help in attaining my goals. Whereas, letting go and surrendering brings peace and is often accompanied by some pretty magical experiences. (And if nothing magical happens to occur, if there has truly been a genuine surrender, then peace ensues anyway, which is really the end goal of any goal in the first place!)
Case in point: I spent decades obsessing about relationships. You know, finding Mr. Right, my significant other, my life partner. I dabbled on Internet dating sites, I dabbled with blind date set-ups, I dabbled at parties and gatherings with my mate-matching antennae up high. And not once did anything akin to magic occur. What did happen was a lot of frustration, a lot of feeling unlovable, a lot of mismatches and a lot of painful comparing myself to couples who appeared to be so content.
Eventually came my genuine surrender. I was about a decade into my fruitless search. I remember complaining to a dear friend about a recent dating fiasco and she said, “You know, as long as I have known you, you have been trying to find a partner. What about letting go of trying and just enjoying your life as it is?” Well, I never! I thought I was enjoying my life. I thought I needed to seek a partner in order to deem myself worthy. But, I realized, she did have a point. I had been quite the little “trier”. So, I decided to try to let go of trying. Oh this being human stuff is so complicated, isn’t it?
So, I surrendered. Not the pray with clasped hands and one eye closed while peeking with the other eye to see if my prayer is getting answered kind of prayer. It was a genuine surrender. I truly let go. I decided that my life really was wonderful. That I really was enough, with or without a partner. I decided to just live my life and focus on what I already had instead of what I thought was missing.
My favorite definition of unhappiness is this: “Unhappiness is the exact distance between where we are and where we think we should be.”
I think the opposite is true as well. The definition of happiness is, “Wanting to be where you are.” (After all, we are right where we are anyway, why not enjoy or at least accept it!) Now, I have nothing against a good ol’ goal or two but when we think we are not okay now and will be okay “when,” it is a set up for never feeling okay!
So, back to my story. I truly let go of looking for a partner. I decided to love my life and myself and let go of the idea that I would only be okay if I was partnered. It wasn’t a fake it till you make it kind of let go. It was the real thing.
And about a year or two into my genuine surrender, I accepted an invitation to go a beach bonfire with a friend. I had no intention of meeting anyone special. I simply had the intention of going to the beach for a bonfire. Period. I didn’t even try to dress cute. I went with my black hoodie, black hat, Unabomber look. And it was there that I ran into an old friend who I hadn’t seen in decades. We learned that we were both divorced. We learned that we had a lot in common and the rest shall I say is genuine surrender history! The main point here is not that I met my wonderful husband at the beach. It’s that I would have been fine if I hadn’t.
I always wonder why the universe gives us these gifts when we let go. Don’t we need them a tad more when we are desperately searching and in need? Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of teaching us the lesson of letting go, but I can’t begin to speak for the universe! I can only speak to my own and countless clients’ experiences. Genuine surrender leads to genuine peace. And it’s often followed by some genuinely cool things. If it’s not though, you are already at peace, which is pretty cool in and of itself!
A similar thing happened around my weight. I spent decades on one diet or another. Each one eventually led me back to bingeing and I was pretty lost in a life of hellish weight fluctuations. I was convinced that losing weight would make me happy. Not only did it not make me happy, I was so starved, deprived and obsessed, I always rebelled from each diet and gained back the weight I lost-- plus a rebate. Also not bringing said happiness. (See definition above!)
Then one day out of the clear blue internal insanity of a chronic dieter, it occurred to me. What if I let go of trying to lose weight and just try to eat what I truly love in moderate amounts? What if I genuinely surrender? What if I am heavier than I want to be but saner with food? Wouldn’t that be worth a few pounds or 20? And for the first time in my memory, I let go of wanting to lose weight. I didn’t go to the extreme of bingeing and giving up on myself, I simply decided I would eat lovingly, let go of dieting and let my poor body finally do what it wanted to do. I figured if I could have butter on my bread instead of no bread followed by bingeing on a whole loaf, it would be worth some extra weight.
And, for the first time in my entire life, I lost weight without trying. I truly let go and I truly got what I had been desperately and unsuccessfully seeking for decades. And, even if I hadn’t lost weight, I still would have had peace, since I had let go for real.
I could go on and on with examples but you hopefully get my point here. See if there is something in your life you can genuinely surrender. See if there is something you can make a peace treaty with. See what happens. If something magical occurs, great. If not, peace is pretty magical in and of itself.
Reprinted from: HuffingtonPost April 2013
Emotions 101: How To Reveal and Heal What You Feel
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
One of the most important aspects of being human is the fact that we have feelings... all day long. And yet, rarely are we taught healthy ways to cope with them. Who among us learned about coping with emotions in school? And how on earth did such an important lesson get glossed over? How many of us were taught in our families that it’s healthy and healing to cry or safely express our anger? (And this is not because our parents or teachers were bad people. In most cases it’s because they were not taught how to deal with emotions themselves!) Sure, some fortunate people had an amazing relative or teacher who was really safe and welcoming of feelings, but for the most part, that is not the common case.
Most of us were raised with well-intentioned messages to stop crying immediately (presumably so that we would feel better). Little did our innocent caregivers know that telling us not to cry or giving us a cookie or a bottle every time we were sad might give our little brains the message that expressing sadness is not okay and we should keep it down.
As for anger, most of us were told to go to our rooms and come out when we were ready to behave. Again, well-intentioned and likely meant to help us be good rather than what it really did which was teach us to hold in our anger (which then leaks out later in inappropriate ways or “leaks in” on ourselves in the form of self-criticism, depression or addiction).
So what do we do with feelings if we are not going to stuff them down or blast them out in hurtful or destructive ways? How do we cope with emotions so they do not transform and manifest into addictions, anxiety or depression? Well, I’m glad you asked!
For those of you who never got the lesson on Emotions 101, here are the basics:
In the same way that there are primary colors and secondary colors, human beings have four primary emotions and many secondary ones.
The four primary emotions are: Sadness, Anger, Fear and Happiness (with an array of variations on each, for example irritation and rage are lesser and greater degrees of anger.)
Our natural state is to be present and at peace. Then when a feeling arises, if we are healthy and not lost in depression, obsession or addiction, we experience and express that feeling and then return to peace and presence. Just look at children. They are in the present moment. When a feeling is triggered they may need to cry or have a tantrum. If their feelings are welcomed, acknowledged and validated and they are done fully expressing their emotions, they move back to being present again.
Sounds simple enough, right? But coming from a culture that is addicted to the pursuit of happiness and avoidant of the more challenging emotions, most of us are taught at a very young age, to stuff down our feelings. We are too often fed or given a pacifier when we are sad or scolded and sent to our rooms when we are mad. So many of us have been taught that there are good and bad feelings when in truth, all feelings are natural and need to be expressed safely. And when they are, they naturally move through us. It’s when we stuff them down and/or blast them out that we end up getting into trouble. (And by trouble I mean depressed, obsessed or addicted to something.)
Depression, anxiety, addiction and obsessive thinking are all good attempts to avoid and distract from feelings but in the long run, they don’t work. Letting out our feelings in a safe manner is what helps us move through them and return to peace. It is healing and natural to express our feelings. In fact, crying has proven health benefits. Scientists have examined and compared the tears that are produced by onions with the tears that are produced by emotions. While the tears caused by onions were made of 98 percent water, the tears that were caused by emotions contained actual toxins. So crying is actually one way the body has of healing itself. When you allow yourself to cry, you are releasing and relieving yourself of toxins! Crying also helps to remove chemicals and hormones that are stored in our body from stress. That’s why people will sometimes say they feel relieved after letting themselves cry.
Of course it’s not easy or fun to cry or to be angry but it is essential in order to achieve emotional health. The need to express feelings is as natural as having to go to the bathroom. If we have a feeling and we hold it in then we are not going to feel well or be well. Many of us treat our feelings as if they need to be figured out or fixed. What they really need is to be welcomed and felt.
We basically have three options once we identify that we are having a feeling:
- We can implode (i.e. stuff it down, avoid it or pretend it’s not there.)
- We can explode (i.e. blast it out disrespectfully or destructively.)
- We can express it safely and appropriately.
Too often, we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t have our feelings or that we shouldn’t bother anyone with them. We judge ourselves as weak. We tell ourselves we can’t talk about it or that we don’t know how. So many of us then end up using substances or obsessing on something or going into a dark place of depression in attempt to distract and numb ourselves from the feeling or in attempt to get some comfort for it. This might work temporarily, as most distractions do, but then we end up with the same original feelings inside, plus, on top of that, feeling badly about ourselves or our behavior (or lack of behavior in the case of depression).
So let’s say you decide you want to learn how to have a healthier relationship to your emotions. What to do next? There are basically two parts: One part is about is how you let them out and the other part is about what you put back in.
In order to let your feelings out, it is important to find safe people to take your feelings to. A safe person is someone you feel accepted by and comforted from, whether that is a professional, a friend or a family member... and eventually yourself!
The second part is learning to receive kindness, compassion and comfort for your feelings. We need to receive comfort not only from others but from ourselves as well.
It’s important to know that all emotions come in waves. Sometimes small, manageable waves. Sometimes medium-sized, and sometimes, big tidal waves. The next time you experience a wave of emotion, see if you can tell yourself that it will pass. Try saying something soothing, nurturing and comforting to yourself and/or doing something soothing (and non-harmful) for yourself. This could be talking with someone you feel safe with, journaling, drawing or creating some art to express how you feel. The key here is to find the emotion inside of you and see how it would want to come out (safely).
The more compassionate and kind you are towards yourself when you are having feelings, the sooner and more successfully those feelings will move through you. And once you are comfortable with all your emotions, there is no longer anything to avoid or fear. Whatever the feeling is, you welcome it up and return to peace and presence until the next wave comes.
We all need a safe port in a storm so that when life gets hard, we have someplace to land. For many, their “safe” place to land is obsessive thinking or checking out in some way. When you can turn to internal soothing and external support, then you always have truly safe places to land that do not leave you feeling worse afterwards. And you will have learned the most important lesson in life: how to reveal and heal what you feel.
Reprinted from: HuffingtonPost March 2013
Stop 'Shoulding' On Yourself!
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
"I shouldn’t have said that.” “I shouldn’t have done that.” “I shouldn’t have eaten that.” These are common phrases I hear from clients in my counseling practice. So many people are so hard on themselves so much of the time, believing that self-criticism will help them attain their goals! After all, many of us have all been raised with a “no pain, no gain” attitude. Our culture expects so much of us and requires us to live at such an unnaturally fast pace that it has caused an epidemic of perfectionistic, stressed out, medicated people. Who could possibly keep up with the unrealistic expectations of our culture without having it take a toll on our mental or physical health?
Many of my clients think that their self-berating will get them in line or keep them in line. I often ask (rhetorically of course) how that is working out for them, knowing full well if it was working, they would probably not be sitting in my office! Many people fear that if they stopped beating themselves up or being really hard on themselves that they would never get anything done. Is self-hate really an effective motivator? Can’t we motivate ourselves with kindness, passion or encouragement?
I work with people in all walks of life-- nurses, doctors, personal trainers, teachers, etc. -- and I often ask them if they speak to their patients, clients or students the way they speak to themselves. They wouldn’t dare. They would likely be fired if they did, not to mention that they often view others with such different standards and with so much more compassion than they do themselves. Why do so many of us feel compassion and kindness toward others but then turn inward with a whip of self-criticism and perfectionism?
Many of us were raised with the belief that if we were kind to ourselves and liked or even loved ourselves, we would be conceited. But is that true? Can we upgrade the program on that one and all agree that self-care and kindness is not necessarily self-grandiosity and entitlement?
When someone lives with the internal program of “shoulding” or self-criticism and perfectionism, what usually ends up happening is that they are either very anxious about getting things done and getting them done perfectly, (a thankless, never-ending job since none of us is perfect!) or they end up burning out or rebelling and are unable to get things done at all. This often leads to feeling depressed because they can’t keep up with their self-imposed rules, regulations and expectations.
So where does all this “shoulding” leave us? For many the answer is depressed and anxious. For millions it leads to taking meds to control their anxiety instead of changing the thinking patterns that cause the anxiety in the first place. So many people “should” on themselves regularly with high, unrealistic expectations. They are very driven, perfectionistic, achievement-oriented and outer goal-focused. I call this being a human doing rather than a human being.
Others fall into the opposite extreme of the spectrum and find it hard to get much of anything done. They struggle with procrastination and then beat themselves up about it. They struggle with depression and feel badly because they can’t get themselves to do what they set out to do.
Then there are those who bounce back and forth between shoulding and rebelling (anxiety and depression). They may also “should” on themselves but then rebel and can’t seem to get themselves motivated. I used to be a “bouncer.” I was either gung ho on some new diet or completely blowing it off and bingeing. I was either totally into some new Jane Fonda workout or I couldn’t get myself off the couch. I was swearing off alcohol or all-out partying. (Not a big fan of moderation, you might say!)
So, if listening to your harsh mind messages is one choice and rebelling and feeling badly about yourself is the other, you may not realize there is a door number three. Door number three is following your heart. It’s making your choices out of love and kindness and what feels the most right to you, rather than making your choices because of a self imposed whip or rebelling from the beating and going on strike.
I have heard it said that the longest 12 inches is from the head to the heart. The heart is a loving voice. It’s our intuition, the part of us that is compassionate and kind. But it’s hard to hear that voice when it is being drowned out by the megaphone of the mind. A kind voice is in there though-- we all have it.
We were not born shoulding on ourselves. We learned every internal rule we have. And fortunately we can unlearn them. We can learn to delete the harsh messages in our mind in the same way we can delete a virus from our computer. And we can upload new, kinder messages. We can get things done from a place of moderation and sanity. We can rest in a place of peace, relaxation and self-worth.
So see if you can take a few moments now and then, and ask your heart rather than your head: What feels right for you? I promise you will still get things done. It just won’t be from an anxious place of trying to prove you are worthy or a depressed place of thinking you aren’t.
Reprinted from: HuffingtonPost March 2013
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 our book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook and our Defeating Overeating online course, 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 it is an essential part 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 many rules from our culture and from 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:
Empty Neutral Stuffed
The goal is to eat when you are about a 3 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 7 on the scale. This is what I call "satisfied" or "politely full."
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:
- What does the dieter in me think I SHOULD eat?
- What does the overeater in me WANT to eat?
- 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- Cup both hands together to make a bowl out of your palms. This bowl is approximately the size of your stomach. So your meal, once digested, will fill that bowl, making a moderately sized meal. Prior to ingesting, most meals will overflow your cupped hands. Keep in mind that denser foods like pasta and dessert will fill your stomach faster than water-based foods like salad and fruit, like the difference between filling a jar with rocks vs. sand. So, to get a visual, a moderate meal, prior to being eaten would slightly overflow your cupped hands.
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 it NOW...
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 after you 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 better (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, checking out my website for free articles or podcasts at: www.innersolutions.net 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 to calm down and to 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 help your body better 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!)
Consider making a list of the foods that you find most difficult to eat moderately. See what would feel like the most supportive way for you to handle these trigger foods—e.g., not buying them, only buying them in small quantities, only eating them when out, or temporarily keeping them out of the house. Ask yourself what would be the most supportive in letting go of both dieting and overeating, keeping in mind that it will likely change as you heal your patterns with food.
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.
Reprinted from: HuffingtonPost March 2013
A Letter: For Your Isolated and Hard to Reach Teen
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Steve Legallet, LMFT
As family therapists, we are seeing more and more young people who are suffering from various degrees of depression, anxiety, addictions and social isolation as they try to mask all of the emotions and negative consequences associated with theses self-defeating behaviors. We also see many concerned and baffled parents who struggle with trying to find ways to help their wounded and isolated kids.
If you have a son or daughter who is suffering, addicted, depressed, anxious, isolated, angry and/or shut down, here are some words that you might consider writing or saying to open the door to a new avenue of communication:
Dear Son or Daughter,
We see that you are struggling and suffering. We imagine that there are many thoughts and feelings underneath your anger including confusion, fear, hopelessness, and pain.
We understand that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and that coping with your emotions can be very challenging. What we want more than anything else is to help you find ways to let people into your life and for you to stop pushing us away. What we want is for all of us to talk more and spend more time together, which may involve talking or being quiet sometimes. We would like to know more about you and your world too. Maybe you could tell us more about your interests, including the computer games you play, the movies you watch, the music you like, the websites you look at. Will you consider this?
Will you consider spending time with us, and the rest of the family? Will you consider having at least a day or two a week where we do something together? Bike, walk, a movie, a game? Will you consider for a moment that your life can improve if we work at this together?
It is important you know that even though you feel bad and even though at times your behavior has been bad, we know that you are not a bad person, and that you have a good heart. Good people can make bad decisions and good people can make mistakes. The question is, do you have what it takes to learn from those mistakes and become a better person for it? Are you willing to learn how to manage your emotions without exploding on others or imploding with self-hate?
We hope you will give yourself a chance to have a good life, which means being willing to change and improve your behavior. It takes maturity and strength to be open and willing to accept help from others. We hope you will choose that.
We know that many times we have reacted to your anger by acting out our own anger in ways that have not been helpful. We know there are so many times when we went on talking when we should have just listened. These are the things that we will continue to work on.
We know that a lot of things have happened, both in the world and in our family that have contributed to your pain. We want to hear about your feelings and really have the opportunity to hear you, to apologize, and to acknowledge your pain.
What we are asking for you to do is to trust in our love for you and the loving intentions behind our efforts to help you. We ask that you trust us by letting down your wall just enough to see the love we have for you. We know it is hard to trust and we all have our work to do, but we hope you will stay open to change. Again, it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to let others help you through the dark times and to help you to see a glimmer of light. We hope you will do this.
Will you consider that things can change and improve, even if you don’t believe it now? Will you consider the possibility that you are lovable and valuable and that your life can have meaning and purpose?
Mom and Dad (or other caregivers and loved ones)
Reprinted from: HealthyPlace Mental Health Jan 2013
Before and After
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
Here's how it went:
I was teased about my body for the first time, so I went on a diet.
I felt starving and obsessed, so I binged.
I felt shame and socially awkward, so I drank.
I wanted desperately to fit in, so I smoked.
I felt totally alone, so I isolated.
I constantly compared myself to skinnier girls, so I started purging.
I felt like I was never good enough, so I stayed lost in my thoughts and obsessed on my perceived flaws.
I thought I was supposed to be perfect, so I obsessed on my imperfections.
I made mistakes, so I beat myself up relentlessly.
I had glitches and conflicts with others at times, so I told myself we must be over and done.
I experienced pain and loss in life, so I told myself I was too sensitive and weak to handle them without checking out in some way.
And so went the first several decades of my life. I somehow managed to have other experiences in there too. I went to school. I traveled. I had jobs. But the constant internal message of feeling like I wasn't okay played on a repeat loop in my head.
Here’s what I did:
I found a great therapist who really understood me.
I joined a support group and found accepting, safe people who regularly challenged my self-critical thoughts.
I kept going until I believed them.
I took direction and did many of the things that were suggested to me.
I began to legalize all food and really ask myself what my body wanted and what seemed like a moderate amount.
I got better and better at picking up the phone instead of the fork.
I wrote in my journal and read many books on spirituality and self-acceptance.
I learned how to meditate and let myself be a beginner.
I reached out when I wanted to isolate.
I challenged my stories about how perfect other people’s lives were and began to believe that we all struggle.
I learned that all feelings pass if I truly welcome them.
I learned that all compulsive cravings pass if I do not succumb to them.
I learned how to follow my intuition and let ideas come to me.
I began to believe in my self-worth.
I began to believe that there is no place to “get” but rather a present moment to learn how to “be” in.
I began to forgive myself when I backslid and vowed to keep trying.
I never gave up.
Here's how it is now:
I get hungry and I eat whatever I want, in moderation.
I feel satisfied and I stop no matter what other people are eating or saying.
I get sad sometimes and I let myself cry or sob.
I get mad at times and I feel it until it passes.
I get scared sometimes and I reach out for support and in for faith.
I make a mistake or do something I wish I didn't and I immediately tell myself I don't have to be perfect.
I feel awkward sometimes at social events and I tolerate the feeling, assume many others feel the same way and I leave when I am ready.
I rest a lot without an ounce of guilt and move in ways that I love.
I speak kindly to myself almost all of the time.
I speak my truth to others and spend time with people who do the same.
I look at others and I know they're doing the best they can with the resources and history they have had.
I have many moments of peace.
When hard things happen I tell myself I can handle them and that they will pass.
Here’s what I wish for you:
The willingness to tolerate and safely express difficult emotions until they pass.
The willingness to speak to yourself in the ways you always wish others had spoken to you.
The willingness to feed yourself lovingly.
The willingness to move and rest in exactly the ways your body longs to.
The willingness to surround yourself with people you feel safe with and to be safe company for yourself.
The willingness to fill up in ways that leave you feeling better afterwards.
The willingness to find balance between doing and simply being.
The willingness to follow your heart and treat yourself with respect and kindness.
The willingness to forgive yourself and try again when you don’t.
Reprinted from: Eating Disorder Today Jan 2013
When Gaming Is No Longer a Game
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
In a culture that has created a generation of screen surfers, I find myself treating more and more people who are addicted to video games. It starts out innocent enough; your kid gets a new game. They seem to enjoy their newfound pastime. You love when they seem to be enjoying something, and so everybody's happy, right? What starts out as an innocent hobby can turn into a destructive habit that becomes extremely hard to break. So when does a fun hobby become an addictive habit?
By definition, an addiction is something that the user has no control over. They also continue the behavior even though there are negative consequences.
Someone who has a fun hobby can do it or not do it. They can set out to play something for a half an hour or an hour and then stop without a problem. But when a hobby turns to a habit, stopping is not so simple or easy. Hours upon hours can go by without even an awareness of the time passing. Self-care and basic needs are often ignored. Daily responsibilities are often neglected. This is when gaming is no longer a game.
Is your child using a game control in moderation? Or have you lost control of your gaming child? Here are some tips to help you both if you suspect a gaming addiction is at play:
"Care-fronting" the problem- Confronting anyone about their addiction is likely to trigger defensiveness and denial. It helps to be as non-judgmental and understanding as possible when you speak to your child about their gaming. Let them know what you have been observing in regards to their gaming and the negative impact you have seen it take on their health, their relationships, their responsibilities, and their life in general. See if they are willing to admit that there is a problem with their game usage. Explain to them that if they can participate and cooperate in making some healthy changes, it is likely to be a smoother and more successful process. If, however, they are in denial of having a problem or unwilling to make any positive changes, then you will have to take more control. If at any point in the process they want to give input and make suggestions that are healthy and reasonable, then by all means have them be a part of the negotiating process.
Set clear limits and consequences- Create a moderate structure of time per day or week that they will be able to game. Decide ahead of time what these limits and consequences (if not kept) will be. For example, one client agreed with her son that, after homework is completed and family dinner is finished, he can play a game for one hour. If he stops after an hour without a fight, he can do the same thing the following day. If, however, it becomes a power struggle, then he loses the privilege to play the following day.
Be prepared for big feelings- Of course this is all easier said than done, particularly if your child is young, immature, or seriously addicted. You might have to deal with withdrawals that are similar to any drug or substance withdrawal. When we are doing something that has been serving the purpose of avoiding feelings, then big feelings are going to come up when we stop doing that thing. See if you can empathize with how hard it is for them to stop and at the same time remain clear and kind about the limits you have set.
Find the hidden purpose- Have some discussions about what they like about their games. After all, they might not be all bad. You might be able to get some clues about the purpose that the excessiveness is serving. Some kids say it gives them something to do. So, they might need help with other ways to spend their time or deal with boredom and dissatisfaction. Some say they have nobody to hang out with and that their “virtual friends” are all they have. They might need help with social issues, social interacting and taking a look at how they may be doing things to push people away. Some kids say it gives them a break. They might need other ways to get a break where they end up feeling good about themselves and refreshed, rather than spaced out and tired.
Compare and contrast post-game feelings- See if they can agree that there is a different feeling after playing a sport or an instrument than there is after gaming for several hours. Most of my clients report feeling energized and good about themselves after a few hours of a sport they enjoy or playing an instrument or working on a creative project. This is in contrast to feeling zoned out after a few hours of gaming.
Create a list of alternative hobbies, interests and activities- Once you (hopefully) get their buy-in that there are positive reasons to do other things with their time sometimes, see if you can both create a list of ideas. Here are a few to get you started: Learning a new instrument, hiking or biking, playing a new or past sport, watching a movie, reading a good book, working on a puzzle together, playing a board game with you or the rest of the family. (Yes this too is a game but it entails real-life, social interaction and I have yet to see someone addicted to Monopoly!)
Help resolve the underlying issues- See if your child is willing to take a look at some of the underlying issues beneath their excessive gaming. (You can also take some guesses if they are not sure.) It might be an attempt to avoid depression, social challenges, low self-worth, family problems, difficulty dealing with emotions, fear and resistance about the future, or all of the above. Either with you, if you feel equipped, or with a professional, see if you can help your child deal with and heal some of these underlying, unresolved issues. See if your child would be willing to address some of the things they might be avoiding, either by talking to you or a professional counselor who understands gaming addiction.
Improve negative self-talk- Help your child with their negative self-talk. We all have a soundtrack of internal messages playing in our head. In many cases it sounds like, “I'm not good enough, I'll never be able to get a job, growing up is too hard, nobody likes me, I'm a loser.” When we play this internal recording and/or check out on games in an attempt to avoid it, it never gets to be challenged or replaced. So see if your child would be willing to talk to you about the way they feel about themselves and the way they speak to themselves. We can retrain our brain but it takes support from the outside and willingness on the inside to upload new messages. Left to its own devices, our minds will replay what they have been playing, on a repeat loop. And for many kids this recording is not very kind, hopeful, or helpful. The same brain that got you into this cannot get you out. We need new brains with new ideas to help us change.
Home safe home- Make sure your house is a safe place so that your child doesn't have additional reasons to want to escape when they get home. Try to have peaceful times when everybody is pleasant and present. And of course always try to role model healthy and balanced behavior. The most effective way to teach your kids how to be is to be that way yourself!
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post January 2013
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
As a therapist who loves working with young girls, I see so many who struggle with all of the typical issues that adolescents face: low self- worth, body image issues and friendship insecurities, just to name a few.
I try to be creative and speak in ways they can relate to, and frankly, terms like "self-love" and "self-acceptance" just don't always seem to cut it. So that's how I started "dog talk." When I ask my young clients if they have or love a dog, most of the time, their faces light up. I mean, who doesn't love a dog? Aside from the occasional person who has been bitten and may prefer cats, I find that it is easy for my clients to relate to dog talk.
Ask almost any young girl how she would speak to her dog if it were hurt. How would she treat it if it were tired or hungry? "If your dog was whining for food, would you ever in a million years think of depriving it or making it go hungry?" I ask them. "If your dog had a roll on her tummy would you judge or hate her? If another dog snarled at her, would you think your dog was unworthy or unlovable?"
"Of course not," they respond, horrified to even imagine such a thing. Their answers are no surprise. It is much easier for young girls to access their heart, their compassion and their common sense when it comes to an animal they love, and I find it can frequently be transferred to the way they view themselves.
I often ask girls to conjure the feeling they have inside when they think of their dog. I ask them to notice how loving they feel and then to imagine seeing themselves that way. It might not always take at first, but with some practice, they can access feelings that are usually reserved for their beloved pet.
I also teach my clients about what I refer to as, "dog breed theory." So many of the young girls I see think they should look or be like someone else. If only they looked like Olivia, or had a body like Rebecca, or played sports like Chloe or were more outgoing like Jasmine. I explain to them that we are all different breeds. Just like there are shy Chihuahuas, tough bulldogs and outgoing labs, we are all supposed to be different from one another. (I know I am generalizing here to make a point. There are tough little Chihuahuas and soft, sweet bulldogs but bear with me if you will!) My point is, we need shy people and we need outgoing people and it all balances out in the end. And we all need different things, being the breeds that we are.
Being a sensitive, hide-under-the-bed breed myself, I always found that I took things much more to heart than my tougher-skinned siblings. (And heaven help the trembling puppies with siblings of the growling variety!) It took me a long time to learn that there are no "good" or "bad" breeds. We all simply need different things. As a youngster (prior to knowing my breed theory!), when someone called me "too sensitive," I often walked away in shame (dare I say with my tail between my legs!) But as I got older and more accepting of my breed, when someone commented on my sensitivity, I merely agreed and went on with my day.
Helping my clients learn to accept who they are -- and who they aren't -- is essential, and it is so liberating for them when they finally do.
I also use dog talk to help young girls navigate the ever-so-painful process of "friend-shifts". You know, best friends with Julie for four years and now she won't even speak to her? Grew up and played sports with Madison since second grade and now she's hanging with a bad crowd? Hard not to take it personally, I know. I think we all know. But when I talk to them about walking their dog and noticing how their pet ignores some dogs, stops to sniff others and might even attack another, this has no bearing on whether any of the dogs are worthy or lovable. We simply have chemistry and connection or we don't, and it is not personal.
So, lets teach our kids to love themselves as much, or even half as much as they love their dogs. Cats if they are cat lovers!)
Let's remind them that we are all supposed to be different. We are all meant to be different breeds.
And let's help our girls to see friendships as friend-shifts that are ever changing and nothing personal. Easier said than done? You bet. But we can find a way in, to help our girls be kinder to themselves, and what better way than dog talk.
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post December 2012
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
We live in such a competitive culture that many of us are still trying to keep up with the Joneses. But do we ever ask ourselves: Who are these idealized Joneses and do they really have such peaceful and balanced lives? Do they suffer from chronic anxiety and stress? Are they taking antidepressants just to try and keep up? Are their kids abusing drugs, alcohol or food, or taking antidepressants themselves?
In my work as a psychotherapist, I consistently hear people tell me how much happier they think someone else is because of their relationship, their looks, their finances, etc., when in reality, we really have no idea how happy someone else is unless we truly know them. And if we truly knew them, we would know that they have issues and struggles just like everyone else!
When we are comparing ourselves to someone else, we are comparing our made-up story about them to our made-up story about ourselves. And in our version, we usually come up short. The truth is, we are all the same on some level. We all experience loss. We all want love. We are all scared of some things. We all want peace of mind.
When clients tell me they want to be "happy" and that other people look so happy, I ask them how often they think a "happy" person is actually happy? I remind them that nobody on the planet is happy all the time (and if they tell you otherwise, I would suspect they are either dishonest, highly medicated, or a rare enlightened being!). The best we can hope for is healthy. Healthy people are happy some of the time, and at other times feel the range of emotions that all human beings experience: happy, scared, angry and sad, including the variations within each of those.
When we are healthy, balanced, and unaltered by substances, we go about our day and feel mostly present and peaceful. Then things happen to trigger an emotion, and if we express it in a healthy way or tolerate it without stuffing it down, blasting it out or hurting ourselves in any way, these natural emotions move through us and we return to peace and presence. But in our culture, which is addicted to happiness and generally shuns the less pleasant of human emotions, we often end up beating ourselves up, stuffing down our feelings, or using something to avoid them -- thus increasing the pain.
When we acknowledge that everyone experiences pain, that every person struggles with difficult issues, and that most everyone is making up stories too, we can let go of comparing and contrasting and simply see us as all in this together.
I often tell a story of some neighbors that I used to live across the street from. From the vantage point of my kitchen window, they seemed to have a perfect life. ("Seemed" being the operative word here!) I compared myself to them constantly. The wife was thin and I was not. The wife seemed so happy all the time and I was not. The couple seemed so happily married and I was not. The family did all kinds of fun activities all the time and I did not. You see where this is going. I obsessed about this happy, all-American family a lot over my stint in this particular neighborhood. And somehow I always came up short and they always came out looking like a Mountain Dew commercial!
Then I began learning about "story-busting". I was in the early years of training to become a therapist, and I was embarking on my own journey of health -- physical, emotional, spiritual and, in this case, mental. I began learning about thoughts, and how all thoughts are not real, and how to challenge rather than believe every thought my mind conjured up. Needless to say, it was life-changing. The years passed, and my thinking got healthier. I tried to keep my own storytelling to a minimum and focus literally and figuratively on my own side of the street.
Alas, there came the day that one of my ideal (in my mind only!) neighbors came to my front door. It was the husband of the previously presumed-to-be-perfect couple. He explained that he knew I was studying to become a counselor and that he really needed my help. He went on to tell me about the addictions that he and his wife had been struggling with, the adultery that had been part of their lives for the last year or so, the many ways that their kids were acting out as a result, and the desperate need they had for referrals and recommendations for help. Talk about story-busting. Sheesh! Those scenarios certainly had not been part of my special story time. I read once that the seven most damaging words on the planet are, "And they all lived happily ever after..."
We all struggle. We all have some sweet moments. (Some more than others, and if I ever get a chance to speak to the distributor, I will check this mystery out and get back to you.) But for now, see if you can begin catching yourself the next time you make up a story about someone else and compare it to the story you have made up about yourself. See if you can tell yourself that you really have no idea how that person truly is on the inside, what they have gone through or what they will go through. And if you do happen to truly know them, then you know they have pain and problems like the rest of us!
So the next time you make up a fantasy about someone else and compare it to a nightmare about you, consider telling yourself this: "That's my story and I am not sticking to it!"
And we all live healthily ever after...
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post December 2012
B is For Balance
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
We live in such a fast-paced culture with such high expectations that it’s no wonder so many people are struggling to find balance. I often ask clients in my psychotherapy practice to take a realistic look at their schedules and see what can be deleted, shortened, or shifted, and we laugh at the irony of them having to find the time to even look! It’s an art this finding balance thing… Not too busy, not to idle. Not too full, not too empty. The good news is: we don’t have to do it perfectly, and a little change can make a big difference.
I find myself more and more frequently working with people who are overworked, overstressed, overly unhappy, and overly medicated. When I dive into the reality of their day-to-day schedules and expectations, their distress makes perfect sense. Students who are overburdened by demanding class schedules, homework assignments, and after school commitments are very often struggling with substance-abuse, chronic depression, and anxiety. And many of the adults I treat are overworked, overstressed, and overmedicated as well.
I have many young clients who are straight A students but who live such a stressed existence that their lives and bodies are out of balance. I have no problem with striving for A’s on a report card, but when did a B become unacceptable? And if achieving straight A’s is causing someone to pay the price of poor health and a lack of wellbeing, it might be worth a look.
On the other end of the spectrum are the clients I see who are chronically depressed and can’t seem to get motivated or passionate about anything. Often this is a result of so much pressure and so much hopelessness about ever catching up or keeping up, it seems easier to not even try. Surrounded by screens to zone-out on, it’s easier and way more seductive to spend their days with a remote control or a keyboard in hand than to face the pressures that kids (and adults) are faced with today.
We have been set up in our culture to race each other to the end. At the head of the line are those who are: thin, young, attractive, educated, rich, and coupled. Most people are either striving to keep up or giving up. The key to good health is to step out of the race altogether and find a place of balance: Some doing, some being. Some structure, some free time. Some accomplishing, some relaxing. Some indoor time, some outdoor time. Some work, some play. Some alone time, some connecting.
Take a good look at your schedule (if you have time!). How much down time do you have? Do you feel guilty for relaxing? Do your kids? Is it all about work, chores, errands, doing, trying, after school commitments, homework, and prepping for the next day? Do you and your kids have time to relax? Is there time for sit down dinners and relaxed conversations that have nothing to do with school or achievements? Do you ever play a game with your kids or your friends or take a walk or a bike ride and just be present and pleasant with no talk about heavy topics? Do your kids have time to simply hang out? If your kids are addicted and depressed, do you focus more on the pain they are in underneath it all rather than the symptoms they are showing you on the outside?
If overdoing and constant achieving are on one end of the spectrum and underdoing, escaping, and procrastination are on the other end, balance is that healthy range in the middle. When we achieve a balance on the outside with our schedules, we can make time and room to strive for an internal balance with kind self-talk and learning how to be more relaxed, accepting, content, and present.
Achieving balance is much like driving a car. If you veer a bit to the right, you simply self-correct to the left. You don’t have to roll the car over. For some people, a push to do one small thing is all they need to take a step toward balance. For someone else, their step might be to not do something. (For some people doing nothing is doing something!)
So try starting out with a small, manageable change that will help bring you or your child into balance. The next time your depressed kid says he (or she) doesn’t want to do something (or anything), try asking him what is one thing that would help him feel loved and supported? Encourage him to guess or make something up if he says, “I don’t know.”
The next time your high achieving, perfectionistic kid brings home a B, try celebrating it, and talk about what might be valuable about her experience in that particular class. Reframe for her that a B can also mean balance, not bad!
Try asking yourself:
Am I a human doing or a human being? Would you say you are more often doing things and accomplishing things than simply being? Do you think that being yourself is valuable enough or do you tell yourself you have to earn the right to be valuable?
Is my life more full of “shoulds” than wants? Are your days filled with “shoulds,” chores, and expectations or do you often ask yourself what you want to do? Do you give yourself down time and relaxation time without guilt or self-harmful behaviors?
Am I treating myself and my body with respect and kindness? What is your relationship with food, drugs, alcohol, screen surfing, sleep and exercise? Is it moderate and loving? Is it overdoing or underdoing? Are you checking out or checking in with yourself and your body’s needs? Are you speaking to yourself kindly?
Am I treating my kids with respect and kindness? It’s hard to treat others with kindness and respect if we are out of balance and overly stressed or depressed ourselves. Are you speaking to and treating your kids the way you wish you had been treated and spoken to as a child?
What is one thing I can do to move in the direction of balance? It does not have to be a huge change. Starting with one manageable change in the direction of health and balance is a great place to begin. Then try being proud of yourself for that rather than beating yourself up for not doing more. Self-criticism probably got you into this overdoing or underdoing imbalance in the first place—and it won’t be what gets you out. Consistent small steps in a healthy direction will!
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post December 2012
Speaking vs. Stuffing Your Truth
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
Most of us do not easily speak our truth. Our behavior is determined by years of conditioning. We are told: "Be nice and polite;" and "Don't hurt anyone's feelings." We may be so bogged down with "should's" and "shouldn'ts" that we find it hard to identfy our true feelings and needs, much less respectfully and responsibly communicate them to others.
There are basically four options when it comes to speaking vs. stuffing your truth:
Option number one is to Stuff our truth down (also known as Passivity and this usually leads to addiction and/or depression.)
Option number two is to Blast our truth out (also known as Aggression. This can be seen as road rage, violence, yelling, or even being sarcastic or mean.)
Option three is a combo plate, which is known as Passive/Aggressive. It might seem kind but it is really aggressive. For example, someone smiles and agrees to do something for you but then makes sarcastic comments while they do it.
And option number four is Assertiveness. This is when you express your truth safely and responsibly and from the heart.
Whether you are enraged, sad, hurt, terrified or in need, there is always (and I have never found an exception to this!) a way to say it with respect.
I was once coaching a client in speaking her truth to an intimidating neighbor. She got clear on what she wanted to say, and she even practiced with me a few times. The following week she came in and said, "I spoke my truth but it didn't work. He was rude back to me."
But the definition of it "working" has nothing to do with how the other person responds. Of course it's great if they calmly hear you and then negotiate or apologize till you both feel clear, but that's the ideal situation and will not always be the case. It takes two people speaking this language in order for that to happen. You can only be in charge of the language you speak.
So whether you speak your truth aloud, email it, text it or write it down and send it in an envelope with a stamp on it, what matters most is that you honor it. The less you stuff down your truth, the less likely it will come blasting out unkindly and the less need you will have to keep it down in unhealthy ways like overeating, drug use, alcoholism, smoking, or excessive screen time.
Here are some tips to improve your truth telling:
- Ask yourself how you really feel and what you really want and need
Sometimes we need to get quiet and sift through resentment, blame, defensiveness and made-up stories in order to get to the innocent truth inside of us. Even if the other person can't give you what you ask for, you still benefit by improving your communication skills.
- Ask the other person if it's a good time to talk
It's always a good idea to check in with the other person if you are going to say something difficult and make sure it's a good time for them, or to set up a time that works for you both.
Speak your truth, respectfully and non-judgmentally
If you are used to stuffing your truth down, it might come out harshly at first. It takes practice to say what you mean but not in a mean way.
Be non-blaming and non-defensive
Stay open to understanding their side as well. If you don't get aggressive or defensive, it is really hard for things to escalate. They might not go smoothly and respectfully but it will only turn into a full-blown war if you both participate in fighting. It's a skill to take in feedback without crumbling, defending or blaming.
Stick to the facts rather than interpretations, assumptions and stories
It's so easy to make up stories about why someone did or said something. You might even try checking out your stories and find that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for someone's actions.
Use "I" statements
Try to speak about how you feel. It's very different when we say, "I feel hurt about what you said," as opposed to, "You always speak to me that way."
Using "I" statements is not just about literally starting a sentence with the word "I". It's important to watch out for sneaking in a "You" statement disguised as an "I" statement! This can sound like, "I really feel like you are being an unreasonable jerk!"
Keep it brief
Sometimes what we have to say gets lost if we use too many words. It helps to stay brief and allow the other person to respond before going on too long.
Stick to one subject at a time
Many people have stifled their unresolved issues to the point that when we bring up something, they realize that they too have some things they want to throw into the mix. It can help to agree to get back to that later but to resolve one issue at a time.
Allow the other person to have their response and feelings
Allowing someone the freedom to respond the way they do can be very challenging. It doesn't mean you can't ask for what you want but we are simply not in charge of how they respond.
Don't take it personally
Remind yourself that however the other person responds, it is not about you, even if you did something that made them mad or hurt. You could do the same exact thing to five different people and they would all respond based on their history and communication skills.
Keep Speaking Your Truth
No matter how the other person responds, even if they are defensive, aggressive or even passive, you can still continue speaking your truth, respectfully!
Own your part
Be open to learning where you may have contributed to the conflict. Be open to apologizing. Sometimes, a simple misunderstanding can be cleared up in an instant if we are willing to say we are sorry.
Ask for what you want and need and be open to negotiating
This may sound simple but it's not always easy for people to ask for what they want. Sometimes the other person will say yes, sometimes no and sometimes we need to negotiate but you can continue to practice the language of respectful communication.
Accept that the other person's needs and wants are as important as yours
Most of us want the other person to see it our way. But when we truly care about someone, we need to know what they feel and need, even if it's not the viewpoint we were hoping for.
So if it's scary and hard and the other person's response is unknown, why bother speaking up? One of the main reasons is that when we are stuffed with unresolved issues we often use substances over them, feel depressed over them and cannot get our needs met because of them. And it is not possible to have intimate and healthy relationships without there being some glitches. It's just not real. It's not real for it to be 70 degrees with a light breeze everyday and it's not real for relationships to go smoothly all the time. There are going to be glitches and we can get better at dealing with them. The key is to look at your part without being a doormat, and to speak your truth without being aggressive.
Now this doesn't mean we must express our every thought. Sometimes we express what we are feeling to someone else who makes us feel safe, and not the person directly. Sometimes we are able to work through it and truly let it go, and sometimes we need to find a way to say it or to write it in order to be clear and resolved.
It can help if you are new at this to let the person know and ask them to please be patient with you. Fortunately we don't have to do it perfectly and we can always ask for a do-over or come back to something if we need to. That's why we call it ongoing communication.
Therapist and author Dan Wile writes, "A fight is never more than a sentence away. By the same token, intimacy is never more than a sentence away."
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post October 2012
What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say
By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
In a recent blog, I wrote about speaking your truth when you are upset with someone, rather than stuffing it down or blasting it out. To that end, I wanted to share some practical one-liners for those times when you are caught off guard. Many of us feel like a deer in headlights when someone says something insulting, hurtful, or presumptuous and we have no comeback prepared. Like learning any new language, the language of assertive yet respectful communication takes practice. So here are some ideas for you...
~What makes you ask that?
~What makes you say that?
~I'll have to get back to you on that.
~I need to take some time and think about it.
~That's not going to work for me.
~I know I agreed to do that, but I changed my mind. I'm very sorry.
~I understand that's how you feel. And this is how I feel.
~It's okay if we disagree.
~What do you need from me right now?
~It's okay for you to be mad, but it's not okay for you to be mean.
~I am wondering if you would be willing to lower your voice because it is upsetting me and I really want to hear what you have to say.
~If you can't lower your voice, I am going to have to take a break from this conversation even though I really do want to hear what you have to say.
~I feel a lot of strong emotions over what you just said, and I don't want to react harshly; so I would like to take some time before I respond.
~I am curious: what your intention is in saying that?
~I will totally take a look at that.
~This feels awkward but I need to tell you that __________________.
~I am making up a story about what you are thinking. Can I check it out with you and see if it's true?
~I want to hear what you have to say but the way you are saying it is scaring me.
~What you have to say is important to me but it's getting lost in the way you are saying it.
~I am so sorry that I hurt your feelings. That was truly not my intention.
~I have a request to make. If you can do it, that's great and if you can't, that's fine too. I am just going to ask.
~I know you love me and I don't think you are intending to be hurtful so I need to tell you that when you say ____________to me, it is very hurtful and I would so appreciate it if you would try to stop.
~I would really appreciate it if you would stop commenting on my ______________.
~I would really appreciate it if you would stop _____________________.
~I am not sure what to do at this point because I have asked you to stop ___________ and you continue to do it so something needs to change here.
~I need to ask for a change in the way we talk or are with each other and I am hoping you are willing to hear me out.
~I am not sure how to respond to that. Give me a minute if you would.
~I realize I have been holding something inside for a while that I would like to tell you. I needed to take the time to figure out how to say it in a responsible way.
~I have something hard to say and I am wondering if you would be willing to just listen and hear me out?
~I have something to tell you that feels really hard to say. What I would most appreciate from you after I tell you is ____________________.
~I am wondering if there is a way that I could have worded that that would have made it easier for you to hear?
~I don't necessarily need you to agree or understand what I am saying but I would really appreciate it if you would try to accept it.
~It seems like from your response that I may not have communicated clearly or that you may have misunderstood what I said (or did) I would like to try again if you are up for it.
~That really makes sense to me how you would feel that way.
~Thank you for telling me your perspective on what happened. I really want to try to understand how you feel.
~Thank you for telling me what you feel and need. I will, to the best of my ability try never to do or say that again.
~Thank you for telling me what you feel and need. I will never to do or say that again.
~That makes me very uncomfortable and I need to ask you to stop.
~I want us both to be able to share our thoughts and feelings but in order to do that, we need to take turns. Do you want to go first or second?
~I wasn't done speaking yet. Can I continue?
~I am wondering if I can express something and just ask you to listen until I am totally finished?
~When you say (or do) _____________ I feel ______________ (preferably one word here, for ex. sad, angry, hurt, judged, etc.) and I would very much prefer it if you _____________.
~This is scary for me to say so I am hoping you can really hear me and try not to judge me or give me any advice.
~I know we already spoke about _________ but it doesn't feel complete to me. Would you be open to talking about it some more?
~ I wish I had said that differently. Can I get a do-over?
~What are you wanting to have happen right now?
~What do you need in order for this to feel complete?
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post October 2012
Helping Your Teen With Eating and Body Image
by Andrea Wachter, LMFT
As an eating disorders counselor and author, I have spent decades working with clients of all ages who are struggling with their food and weight. My experience comes not only from my schooling and my counseling practice, but from the trenches. I too, spent the majority of my life hating my body, dieting and overeating. Like many adolescent girls, I started my body battle at about 12 years old. Unfortunately for many women, body image struggles seem almost like a rite of passage. It is way more radical (and very rare) to like one's body in our image-obsessed culture. So, as a teen, I fit right in with most of the females around me, and my dieting and overeating went mostly unnoticed.
Like most people, the dieting I did led to overeating and the overeating led straight back to dieting and the rest, shall I say, is history. Although I certainly managed to have a life -- school, summer camp, jobs, relationships, etc. -- it was all colored and clouded by my constant self-hate, self-obsession and loss of control with food. I was either in diet/weight loss mode or I was in rebellion/weight gain mode. Needless to say, I was not very present or at peace.
Fortunately, I eventually found help and am extremely passionate about teaching others how to avoid or climb out of the pit I once lived in.
Most young girls struggle with their growing bodies. Many young girls struggle with food and weight issues and too many young girls develop full-blown eating disorders. There are things you can do to help your child, though, with whatever level of challenge she may be facing with her body.
Here are some tips for you:
Teach your daughter that weight fluctuations are a natural part of adolescence. A young girl's body begins to change at this age and rather than trusting the changes and eating naturally, she can take the diet ball and start running. Or, the flip side of the pattern, perhaps she feels horrible about her changing body and starts overeating for comfort. Early adolescence is a great time to start talking about normal body changes and how the best way to navigate it is not to panic, diet or binge.
Teach and practice listening to your natural hunger and fullness. I give clients a hunger and fullness scale that looks much like a gas gauge, where 0 is starving, 10 is stuffed and 5 is neutral. I encourage them to try to eat when they are about a 3 and stop when they are about a 7, which is satisfied, or politely full. This way they are never getting overly hungry or overly full. It's great if families can practice this together.
Try to let go of labeling foods as, "good or bad." Teach kids that all foods are fine in moderation. They may not be nutritionally equal, but when we really listen to our bodies, we usually end up eating a variety of foods and food groups and our body's wisdom leads the way.
Practice listening to what your body truly wants, rather than basing your decisions on the diet culture's rules. Diet rules, even if you just think them and don't follow them, set us up to rebel by overeating. If you find that you are obsessed with your food or weight, do get help. It is hard to teach our kids what we have not yet learned for ourselves.
In the same way that it is important to teach your child moderate eating, it's important to teach and role model moderate movement. Many people in our culture are either obsessed with working out or resistant to moving at all. It is important to find a balance between exercise and rest. If your child is resistant to movement, try finding some fun activities to do together that have nothing to do with weight loss. If your child is already linking up exercise with self-worth, have some talks about other ways people feel good about themselves and how sometimes doing nothing is doing something!
Teach your daughter to foster a sense of self-love and kindness for herself. This takes practice as our culture much more readily supports self-criticism and self-hate. I often use what I call, "Dog Talk" with my clients. If they have a dog (or a beloved pet) I ask them to notice how they talk to their pet. See if they can foster that same sense of sweetness and love for themselves. Even half as much will be a good start for many!
Create a "Bored Box" or a list of things that your daughter can do (some with you and some without), that are non food-related and non screen-related when she is bored. Examples could be playing a board game, crafting, playing an instrument, reading a book, doing something in nature, working on a puzzle or working on an outdoor project. I often suggest that parents take their kids to a craft store and just browse until their child finds something that looks interesting and fun to them.
Initiate conversations about emotions and the important role they play in our lives. Teach your kids that if they are wanting food and are not physically hungry, they may be emotionally hungry. They may need to share or write about anger, sadness or fear and receive some compassion, comfort and genuine listening. Teach them that all feelings are welcome and need to be expressed, not necessarily fixed or advised.
Have ongoing conversations about the reality of modeling and photo editing and how most models, actresses and singers do not look like the images that we see. Along these lines, talk to your kids about how often we make up stories about people having happiness or love because of the way that they look and how everyone has problems and struggles and sweet moments, no matter their body shape. See if they can give you examples of people they love of various weights and sizes or people they think have a perfect life but know well enough to know it's not true.
Try to avoid "lookism," where you make comments about other people's or your own looks. It sets up a fear in kids that they better look a certain way or they might get gossiped about too.
If you suspect that your daughter is struggling with body image, get professional help to rule out an eating disorder before it becomes one. It is much easier to prevent one than to treat one.
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post September 2012
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 wasn’t aware of my body as being too big, I was simply in my body. So, I started my first diet. Little did I know this would lead to a career of sneak eating, a cycle of weight fluctuations and a full-time job -- no matter my weight -- of feeling fat. I joined the “club” of American women who partake in what I call “fat chat.” This is where you talk about how fat you feel or how good or bad you are according to what you eat or weigh.
Like many people, I look back at pictures and see that I was a normal, healthy adolescent but, alas, the dieting/overeating cycle was set in motion. Eventually I got 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 had six-year-old clients who are already counting calories and feeling fat. I’ve counseled seniors who have no memory of taking a guilt-free bite of food. Ever. And I work with 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:
- Broadening your Perspective- Shift 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 think that their size is so important, they miss out on what they actually have in their lives. People have told me that they would rather die or get cancer than gain five pounds. I recently asked a young client who is very thin whether she would choose what she considers the perfect body (and the self-torture and obsession that haunt her daily) or a healthy body that’s within the range her doctor wants her (which is about 5 pounds more than she is now) and be free of the torment. She chose the “perfect body.” People in our culture are hypnotized and possessed. We have had a spell cast upon us -- from our first fairy tale to the current magazine on the checkout aisle. It says this: If you are thin and pretty, 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. Other cultures have rituals that center around nature and the seasons and following your inspiration. Our rituals center on diet and exercise regimens, and applying wrinkle removal crèmes. Our mantra is: Thin, Rich, Attractive and Coupled. Most people spend their lives striving to become one or more of those things. 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?
- Radical Acceptance- Be willing to accept the size and shape that nature intended you to be rather than spend your life fighting it. So many people spend their lives fighting against their natural shape. Radical acceptance is about letting go of that fight and being willing to find your natural weight range. I tell people all the time that it’s like spending your time wishing your feet were smaller. It’s about changing 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 is what we might call, “pear shaped” and no matter how emaciated she got, she still had her shape. She spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to change her thighs – it nearly killed her. Eventually after countless sessions and a lot of hard work on her part, she challenged her thinking and realized it was her thinking far more than her thighs that was causing the agony. She let go of the fight and she won. She is now free of obsession, eats “real” food and has a rich and 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?
- Challenging the myth that thinner people are happier- Break the spell that has been cast upon us that says thin means happy, more worthy and more lovable. In our culture we’re taught that thinner people are happier. I’m guessing you know thin people who are unhappy and people of all sizes who are content, just as they are. This doesn’t mean that some people don’t need to make changes toward health, but 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. In fact 98 percent of the people who lose weight on diets gain it back, and then some. In our book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook, my co-author and I wrote that, “Trying to solve a weight problem with a diet alone is like trying to fix a major engine problem in your car by giving it a new paint job.” If losing weight made you happy, then most of America would be thin and happy by now, 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 weight did not change an ounce? 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 all want love. We are all here temporarily. We all have problems. How would it feel if the next time you compared yourself to someone who was thinner than you, you told yourself that you were making up a story about this person’s happiness and you really have no idea how they are on the inside, what they have gone through or will go through.
- Separating Self-image from body image- Finding 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 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 it all -- they have a body that they take care of and live in. When someone has a bad body image, they generally do not feel special and they don’t have a strong sense of identity and worth. They latch onto being thin 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 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? What are some other ways you might separate your body image from your self-image?
- Dealing with the underlying issues- Become 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 the problems go deeper than the size of a person’s abs, or how many carbs or fat grams they ate that day. Be willing to go deeper into the feelings, thoughts and relationship issues that the body obsession distracts you 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.” It is more often that their weight or body obsession is what brings them to my door. The good news is that when they learn these things, they find a way out because they start to feel better over time, and they 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? Try asking yourself the next time you find yourself obsessing on your body, what would I be feeling or thinking about if I wasn’t thinking about my size?
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 the 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 or shape or number on the scale.
It is possible to break free from the chains of food and weight obsession. It is possible to eat delicious, satisfying, moderate meals and not gain weight. 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 more than the size of your thighs or the amount of carbs in your day. I wish this for you…
Reprinted from: The Huffington Post June 2012
Fat Chat is No Light Matter
by Andrea Wachter, LMFT
As an eating disorders therapist and a woman who spent the majority of my life in the grip of a weight and food obsession, I walk around with my antennae tuned in to whatever might help me understand how we got ourselves into this mess. Obesity is now considered an epidemic. When I talk to people about the dangers of their self-inflicted vomiting, my young bulimic clients tell me, "It's no big deal. Everyone does it." Every day, people die from anorexia-related complications. And let's face it folks: even many Americans of average weight are preoccupied with food and body image.
While waiting recently at a grocery store check-out line, I stood behind a thirty-something mom and her little girl. The mother was chatting on her cell phone while the daughter clung to her mom's leg with one hand, sucking on the thumb of the other.
This is how the mother's side of the conversation went: "Oh, I was so bad yesterday. I had a whole piece of chocolate cake at the party. I am not eating any carbs today. I feel as big as a house."
I wanted to hand the daughter my business card right then and there! I refrained, though, since the kid, still in diapers, was a little too young for therapy.
Your children are listening. They are listening when you partake in what I call "fat chat." They are listening when you say you feel "fat" (which by the way is not a feeling). They are listening when you say you were "bad" or "good" or "evil" or "sinned" because of a food you ingested or passed up. They are listening when you say you need to go to the gym to work off your dessert. They are listening when you comment on other people's bodies or your own. Your children are listening and learning and following suit. And what they often end up thinking is: "I better watch out. I might get fat. Maybe I am fat. I'm fat and people are judging me. I better control my eating. Uh oh, I can't stop eating. Hunger is bad. Fullness is worse."
This is how an eating disorder is born and I spend my days trying to unravel the damage that our culture continues to wreak. Every year, my clients get younger. I have seen six-year-olds who are already dieting and know what carbs, fats and calories are. I worked with a seven-year-old girl who was spitting up her food because she was convinced that calories were bad for her. Last year, I had a nine year old client who had to change her school clothes several times each morning till she found something she didn't feel "fat" in.
Most often, though, people don't get to my door until they have been entrenched in food and weight struggles for many years. While an eating disorder is possible to overcome (if I did it, anyone can, and I don't say that lightly), the longer it goes on, the harder it is to heal. We need to stop it at the ground level. I can't change our media and culture, but I can influence the parents and adult role models who are teaching our children every single day. We can teach our children to relax, listen to their bodies and love themselves, or we can teach them to be anxious, controlling and out of touch with their own hunger and fullness.
I know that it is not the fault of parents for unconsciously passing on unnatural messages about food, exercise and body image. We pass along what we have learned from our crazy culture. I refer to this as "passing the dysfunctional baton".
My message here is not to blame or to shame but merely to highlight the fact that unless we model a healthy, balanced and loving relationship with food and our own bodies, children are at risk for developing disordered eating, poor body image and/or weight problems.
Most of us have been raised to think that loving one's body is "conceited." But what is the alternative? Hating your body? How can that be better?
Take a look at the messages you are teaching. Learn to enjoy food again. Stay conscious of your body's hunger and fullness levels and act on them. Get help if you can't. Treat your body with respect and appreciation. After all, isn't this what we want our kids to do?
Reprinted from: Eating Disorders Review 2012 and The Huffington Post June 2012
by Andrea Wachter, LMFT
From eating disorders to body image issues and dietingand beyondtwo local authors explore what lurks beneath the actions we take around eating. (And not.)
Don't Diet, Live-It!
I often say that trying to overcome food and weight issues in our culture is like trying to recover from the flu while you are living in a petri dish of germs. 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. It's no wonder that disordered eating has reached epidemic proportions. In my psychotherapy practice as an eating disorders counselor, I treat clients as young as 6 years old who are already dieting and hating their precious bodies. I also work with seniors who have no memory of taking a guilt-free bite of food in their lives, and I treat every age in between. Food and weight issues have no age limit in our crazy culture.
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 secret years of 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.
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:
PhysicalWe 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!
EmotionalIn 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.
IntellectualThink about how many silent, self-critical thoughts can take place in the course of five minutes: I feel fat. I hate my thighs. She's so much happier than I am. I shouldn't have eaten that. I shouldn't have said 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:
- FUTURE: Fantasy or Hope
- FUTURE: Fear, Worry or Dread
- PAST: Longing or Wishing
- PAST: Resentment, Rehashing or Regret
- The Present Moment
And now, drum roll here -
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.
SpiritualCultures 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 around weight loss schemes and anti-aging creams.
Imagine if we lived 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?
It is possible to live a full life that is about more than the size of your thighs or the amount of carbs in your day. I wish this for you ...
Reprinted from: Good Times Santa Cruz - February 17, 2011
To Move Or Not To Move, That Is The Question
Having spent the majority of my life in the grips of exercise addiction, I am happy to report that yesterday I spent the morning in bed reading...
GUILT FREE!! I then went to work, ate delicious, non-diet meals throughout the day and went to bed without a trace of shame or remorse.
Today I took a slow walk in the woods and the only reason I looked at my watch at all was to make sure I would know how much time I had left before
I needed to get back. Not because I was calculating my cardio, my calories or my credibility as a human being!
by Andrea Wachter, LMFT
In the same way that the diet industry taught me that there were good and bad foods and my well intentioned family taught me that there were good and bad feelings, the fitness industry did a number on me (and so many of us), with exercise.We are all born with a natural desire to move, play and rest in our bodies. Thanks to the messages we are surrounded by (but only everyday!) this innate knowing is transformed into an unnatural relationship to cardio counting, sets and reps of weight lifting and a myriad of fitness classes that you may or may not even enjoy. Or perhaps you are on the other end of the pattern and you can barely get yourself to exercise at all.
I hear countless clients telling me about how they "should" get themselves to the gym, they "should" go for a walk, they "should" join that yoga class. What they want to do has gotten so lost in a world of "shoulds" that they can barely even feel what their body is desiring and needing.I often ask my clients, "If you knew that you could never gain or lose a single pound till the day you die, how much would you exercise? How would you move?" It really changes the playing field, so to speak. So often, faces will soften, deep breaths will be taken. Responses will frequently include: walking slower, moving slower, resting more, stretching more, dancing some. When "exercise" is no longer linked to weight loss or weight maintenance (a.k.a. Self worth) then a person can truly move how they want to move and rest without a shred of guilt.
I remember the day that I took a vow to only move how I wanted. I remember telling a friend how terrified I was. I said, "If I go from running 5 miles a day (which at that point I was whether I wanted to or not!) to only doing what I feel like, how am I not going to blow up? I mean, do the math!" She gently and knowingly replied, "It's not about math, sweetie."
So I decided I would take one week and only do what I truly wanted to do and if after one week, I couldn't fit through the door or my jeans, I would reevaluate the plan. I have never looked back. I look in for my answers now. I rest when I want to. I walk slowly when I want to. I walk fast when that feels right. I do yoga when I want to and if I am planning to do yoga and my body doesn't feel into it, I often end up in the bathtub with a novel. What a concept.
Incidentally, I do the same thing with food and feelings now too! I no longer see foods as good or bad. Every food is created equal to me. Not nutritionally of course, but morally. I approach my meals with only these questions in mind: Is it exactly what my body wants? Is it nutritious and delicious? Is this a loving and honest amount?
As for feelings, well they are the guideposts to it all. So many of us have been raised with well meaning phrases like, "Shhhh, don't cry. Here's your pacifier, or here's a cookie." Or, "Go to your room and come out when you have stopped your tantrum." Recovering from an addiction- be it food, exercise or any one of the many ways we humans can attempt to fill our internal emptiness- means recovering your natural relationship to emotions. Learning to cry when you are sad and safely express anger when you are mad.
The diet and fitness industries and our culture may not have taught us how to eat, move and cry without guilt or shame but fortunately there are many safe places out here where we can learn. Wishing you sweet rest, joyous movement and a peaceful relationship with food and feelings.
Reprinted from: The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Newsletter - Sept. 2009
'Manorexia' hits home
At 13, the shaggy-haired Santa Cruz boy basically stopped eating. In the morning, he would eat half a low-fat bagel with a trace of
fat-free cream cheese scraped across the top. At lunch, he would eat half a sandwich. For dinner, he would push his food around his plate but
eat almost nothing. Always a little chubby, he watched in satisfaction as the pounds slid off. "I was just trying some self-improvement,
some self-discipline," he says sitting in the living room of his comfortable, ranch-style home. "I was just trying to be healthy."
Peggy Townsend, Sentinel staff writer
It wasn't long before the boy who loves to skateboard and play video games, weighed only 100 pounds 45 less than when he started. Alarmed, his mother took him to Stanford Hospital where doctors gave her the news. Her quiet and studious son was anorexic a diagnosis that most associate with women but is now creeping into the lives of men as well.
Therapist Andrea Wachter, who specializes in eating disorders, has seen it in her Soquel practice as boys as young as 11 have begun to come in for treatment. "In earlier days, boys wanted to look like Brad Pitt," she says. "Now there is such emphasis on weight loss and body-fat count, boys are getting carried away. "They want to look like Lance Armstrong." The boy, whose name is being withheld at his request, shrugs. "I was happy," he says of his self-imposed starvation. "I thought I was doing really well. "I thought not eating was healthy."
A silent problem
This year, actor Dennis Quaid admitted he suffered from the problem in a magazine interview, and the National Institutes of Mental Health says about 10 percent of those with eating disorders are now males. But the number may be even higher because males are generally less open about being anorexic or bulimic, experts say. "I think boys are ashamed to admit they have an eating disorder," Wachter says, sitting in her office with its view of a small wooded arroyo. "They don't want to ask for help." For boys and young men, the seed for an eating disorder is often planted by a coach or schoolmates who may comment about him being fat or slow, Wachter says.
While many may simply shrug off the comment, there are some more sensitive kids who are often perfectionists and highly motivated who may take the comments to heart and begin a rigorous diet or start exercising excessively. Even as they lose weight, they see themselves as overweight. They obsess over eating.
For the Santa Cruz boy, counting calories became almost a religion. He studied nutrition labels, went on the Internet to find the caloric value of every food he ate, and dreaded eating at restaurants because he didn't know how to figure out how many calories he had consumed.
"I ignored it pretty much," he said. After awhile he stopped being hungry at all.
"For many," says Wachter who has written a book on body issues, "there is a physiological aspect to anorexia." Its sufferers obtain "a euphoria" from not eating, she says, and then a sense of power because they are often praised for losing weight. "We are the only culture that compliments an addiction," she says.
Catch it early
In the boy's case, it was his mother who noticed her son's dwindling weight despite the baggy clothes he wore and the tricks he used so it looked like he was eating making a breakfast smoothie but only pouring part of it in his glass and then swirling the thick liquid so it looked like the glass was full. "He got very angry with me when I tried to address the problem with him," she says. "It became a huge control issue." Finally, she took him to Stanford Hospital where doctors promptly hospitalized her son. "I thought they were overreacting," says her son. But they weren't. Complications from anorexia include heart problems, kidney failure and even death, according to the National Institutes of Health. Recently, a 21-year-old Brazilian fashion model died from an infection brought on by anorexia, according to Reuters. She was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 88 pounds. The boy spent two weeks in the hospital, being fed nutritional supplements. It was that experience, says the boy, that actually started his recovery.
"You have to find a reason to get well," Wachter says. "For me," says the boy, "the incentive was not to go to the hospital again." Working with a therapist and nutritionist, the boy learned to eat in moderation and address the issues that brought on the eating disorder in the first place. In addition, the boy's family and a select group of friends rallied around him, avoided blame and dealt with the issue head on. He is now at a healthy weight.
"I think the difference was that we caught it early and addressed it right away," says his mom. The boy kicks his feet against the base of the recliner where he sits. "I guess I would say the best thing is to know that your parents are probably right," he says, "They can help you get through the problem a lot faster."
Warning signs of male anorexia
- A significant weight loss.
- A preoccupation with food and calories.
- Odd food behaviors like cutting out certain food groups.
- Making excuses for not being hungry.
- Disappearing after meals.
- Excessive exercise.
Reprinted from: Santa Cruz Sentinel - December 30, 2006
Getting Out of the Diet Paradigm
It is sad to say that food and weight obsession has reached epidemic proportions in our culture. We are seeing clients as young as 6 years old who
are dieting, and women and men in their 70's who have been emotionally eating for most of their lives, and all ages and types of food and weight
issues in between. What a tragedy, and at the same time, what a gift for us to be able to share with our clients, the tools and concepts needed
to learn to heal from the prison of disordered eating. Each of the therapists at InnerSolutions have struggled with, and conquered, their own food
and weight issues, and so we bring to you, not only our professional expertise, but our personal experience as well.
by Marsea Marcus, LMFT and Andrea Wachter, LMFT
The diet paradigm teaches us that there are "good and bad" foods. You know the drill: Good equals salad, fruit, fat-free, low-carb. Bad is... everything else! At InnerSolutions, we teach people how to listen to their bodies rather than their diet-filled minds when making food choices. This takes time, courage and support. It is critical to learn how to stop restricting and dieting because this only leads to overeating and a preoccupation with food. If dieting worked, most Americans would be thin by now. Additionally, the multi-billion dollar diet industry would be shrinking rather than growing. Dieting leads to overeating and overeating leads most people right back to restriction. The way out of this unending cycle is to reveal and heal the unconscious issues and problems that you have been eating over. It is possible to break free from the chains of food and weight obsession. It is possible to eat delicious, satisfying, moderate meals and not gain weight (unless you are underweight and need to). It is possible to learn to safely express difficult emotions and feel a sense of relief and peace afterwards. It is possible to feel a sense of connectedness and live more in the present moment. It is possible to change some of your internal rules and still be safe in the world. It is possible to live a life that is about more than the size of your thighs or the amount of carbs in your day. We wish this for you...