5 STEPS TO OVERCOMING BODY IMAGE ISSUES

staying-motivated-to-lose-weightAs a therapist, I work with a lot of people who struggle with compulsive eating and body image issues.   Many of my clients have been on many different diets, and have lost the same 10, 30, 50 lbs. over and over again.

We are a culture that is obsessed with appearance, and many people set out to lose weight so that they can look better.  The diet industry is a $60 billion per year industry because it targets emphasis on food and weight as the problem.  As a result, millions of people are literally at war with themselves, struggling to deal with their food compulsions, beating themselves up on a daily basis for “having no willpower.”  It is this ongoing war, strengthened by images in the media and cultural messages, that produces a culture of self-loathing people.  

For most, the belief behind the war is “once I am thinner, I will feel the way that I want to feel about myself and my life.”  What most people fail to recognize is that our relationship to food and to our bodies is a microcosm of our relationship with ourselves.   To be human is to struggle with some feelings of inadequacy and fears that we are not good enough.  Yet in our culture, we are not taught to examine these deeper feelings.  In fact, most people try to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions by either attempting to overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy, or in some way numbing themselves to the feelings.  For many, the choice to numb lies in their relationship to food.  In order to deal with eating and body image issues, one must be willing to directly address their uncomfortable feelings, rather than using food as a way to mask the discomfort. 

Here are 5 steps to help combat eating and body image issues:

1.     Ask yourself What are you really hungry for?  When you sit down to eat anything, get yourself present by taking 5 deep breaths.  When you are present, notice if you are hungry.  If you are not hungry, ask yourself what it is that you are really using food to soothe.  Allow yourself to really look at the answer, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
2.    Stop punishing yourself:   Over eating can be a way to punish oneself.  Be willing to examine your beliefs about your limitations and inadequacies.  Do you have beliefs about yourself that are keeping you stuck in your life?  Be willing to question the validity of these beliefs.
3.    Stop buying into the belief that you can’t be happy until you reach your goal, whatever that goal may be.  When you are always focused on the future and “getting there”, you miss your actual life, because your life only occurs in the moment you are in.  When you are focused on the past or the future, you are in your mind, not in your life.
4.    Stop focusing on what’s broken:  Everyday we experience aspects of our lives that are not broken, but we are so focused on the parts of our lives that don’t fit our exact picture of the way it should look, that we miss those parts of life that are actually working very well!  Focusing on what is broken causes chaos in our minds, and robs us of the peace and contentment that we crave.
5.    Practice self respect right now!  When you wait until you have reached your goal to show respect to yourself in your thoughts, beliefs and actions, you will never learn to show yourself respect because there will always be the next life goal you need to achieve before you can respect yourself.  Pay attention to your thoughts, beliefs and actions and ask yourself whether they are reflective of being self respectful.  If they’re not, CUT IT OUT!!!

The bottom line here is a willingness to examine your emotional pain, rather than avoiding it, this is the key to coping with overeating and body image issues.

4 HARMFUL MESSAGES FROM FAVORITE DISNEY MOVIES

by Joanna Kleinman

braveMy 7 year- old daughter loves all things Disney. As a psychotherapist and a mom, I am always aware of the cultural messages that my daughter is surrounded by regarding beauty standards and body image.  So, when I was recently interviewed by HowStuffWorks.com for an article about how the Princess Culture affects young girls, I started to wonder whether enough is being done to change the cultural messages we are delivering to our young girls. When the image of a Disney princess comes to mind, the image is of a beautiful, thin, perfectly proportioned young woman, who depicts the “ideal” female qualities such as kind-heartedness and compassion and who always ends up living happily ever after by marrying a prince.  The happy ending always relies on someone else providing the happiness.

This depiction has an immense impact on the minds of young girls, including unrealistic and idealistic representations of the female body, of marriage, and the notion that the ideal woman’s future should be falling in love with a powerful, supportive man.

The hidden messages that start at a very young age can impact a girl’s sense of self throughout her life.  Here are four harmful messages young girls can be getting from Disney movies:

1.    You need to become the “Ideal” version of yourself.

Throughout their lives, girls and women are bombarded with messages in movies, on television, in magazines, and through social media about what is the “Ideal Woman.” The message is that women should be smart, fit and fashionable, interesting, successful, and sexy.  The suffering that many girls and women feel throughout their lives stems from comparing themselves to their ideal version of themselves.  The perfection of the princess perpetuates the belief that if we don’t fit our ideal picture of ourselves or our lives, we are in some way inadequate.  Princesses look perfect, are in some way special, and always win in the end. The messages in movies, television, magazines, and on the Internet set up young girls and women to have an ideal, unrealistic, fantasy expectation of who they should be and what they should look like.

In my Dethroning Your Inner Critic workshops I address issues related to our own version of how the “Ideal Woman” impacts our emotional well being and devote an entire workshop to Dethroning Your Inner Critic specific to your body image and emotional eating.

2.    Life should always go exactly as we want it to go.

When young girls develop an expectation that to feel good about yourself, you need to be as “pretty as a princess,” never fail, and that life should always work out the way we want it to,  is a set up for a lifetime of feeling like no matter who we are and what we look like, it is just not good enough.

The desire for girls and women to meet these “perfectionistic” expectation leads to a habit of harsh self-criticisms when the unrealistic expectations are not met, a perfect breeding ground for the Inner Critic, who will perpetuate insecurity and feelings of inadequacy, which could eventually lead to anxiety, depression, or eating disorders.

Young girls need to be shown that being a human being means that in many ways you are only average.  You are not the best, and you have faults and flaws just like everyone else.   However, beginning with the depiction of the princess, young girls are given the message that they need to measure up to unattainable expectations of who they should be, what they should look like, and how their lives should go, otherwise they are in some way flawed, and have to fix themselves in order to find this perfection.  This can be a life long pattern in which girls believe that if they try hard enough, and find a way to fix and perfect themselves, eventually, they will reach that ideal expectation that they are looking for, and will finally feel that they are good enough.  This becomes an unending race to no where, because no matter how good they feel, there will be always someone who is prettier, smarter, and more accomplished.  This feeds the desire of young girls to be perfect, or at least better than others.

3.    You need to make sure that you will never be judged or criticized.

Young girls are not taught to look within themselves to find their sense of self but instead are taught to look outside of themselves to gain their sense of self through looks, accomplishments, and whether they are desired by a man. Their self worth is determined by their perceptions of how they appear through the eyes of others, as well as assumptions they make that others have mastered this ideal. This creates a habitual pattern of comparing themselves to their own perceptions of the perfection they erroneously see in others, a perfection that is not ever attainable.

4.    What you see on social media and traditional media is real.

As Parents, we need to talk to our young daughters about the idealized images that they are exposed to in the media and to encourage them to not define themselves through beauty, their body, or what others think of them.  Parents need to help their daughters learn to question the princess culture and guide them to listen to themselves about what makes them happy rather than trying to attain happiness from external sources such as beauty, body image, or the judgments and perceptions of others.

The Disney Empire is becoming more aware of the gender stereotypes that are depicted by the Princess culture and are trying to change some of the messages they are sending to young girls by introducing modern princesses such as Merida from Brave, or Elsa from Frozen.

These characters depict strong, courageous princesses who are no longer dependent on marrying a prince to find their happiness, but instead learn to fight their own battles and who are themselves the hero.  If the Disney company continues to be more aware of the messages they are sending to young girls, and continues to try to foster a more self empowering depiction of princesses, where girls are taught to love who they are, and to love their bodies as they are, this could be very beneficial to help change a pervasive problem in our culture in which girls are given messages that they have to meet a perfectionistic ideal in order to feel good about themselves.

5 Steps to Be Less Judgmental

by Joanna Kleinman

I will admit it. I hate how judgmental I can be. But, the truth is that human beings are judgment making machines.

judgementalEven those human beings who proclaim they are not at all judgmental, they too have judgments. How many times have you formed an opinion of someone before you really got to know them? How many times have you felt judged by someone who doesn’t really know or understand you?

Most of our judgments of others come from fear. You see, the judgments that we have are all connected to what we have determined is the right way to be, the right way to live life, and the right things in life to value. Therefore, all of our judgments are somehow attempts to reinforce that we are “right” about the way we live.

We need to be “right”, because if we are wrong, it makes us feel like we are flawed in some way. And because it is difficult and scary to look at your flaws, and easier to find flaws in others, we automatically try to feel good by finding flaws in others. For example, if I pride myself on being a “free spirit”, I may have a judgment about someone who is very organized and methodical in her life. Even though being a “free spirit” might come with the price of disorganization, I might say to myself, “she needs to loosen up and have a little spontaneity!” Someone who prides themselves on being organized and methodical might say, “how can she live her life being so disorganized and unprepared?” Even though her organization might come with the price of anxiety, she will continue to have a negative opinion of others who don’t value what she values. The judgments that we have can teach us a lot about ourselves. In order to be less judgmental, we have to have a willingness to examine ourselves.

Here are 5 steps to being less judgmental:

1.  Be willing to admit that you have an ideal version of yourself and your world that is YOUR creation, and your judgments of yourself and others are reflections of trying to live up to your ideal standards. Your ideal version of yourself may not have to be “perfect”, but somehow your ideal is different than who you are now and the life you are currently leading. We judge others because we feel so much better when we project our flaws and short comings onto someone else. But the reality is If I have to feel better than you to feel good about myself than how can I really see myself? If I am so busy judging others in order to find peace and happiness, is that really going to make me feel the way that I want to feel, or will I just continue in the spiral of judgment, fluctuating between judging myself and feeling badly, and judging others to make myself feel better.

2.  Remember that ALL human beings are judgment making machines, and stop trying to control others’ judgments of you. What percentage of the day are you in your head thinking about you and your life? 95%? 97%? It may even be as high as 99.9%. And when you are judging someone else, how long do you think your judgment stays in your mind before you are right back to thinking about yourself? A few seconds? That is what everyone else is doing too: Focusing on themselves 99% of the time, and perhaps having a fleeting judgment that may occupy their mind for ½ a second. It is these judgments that we spend a great deal of emotional energy trying desperately and mercilessly to control: the ones that someone MAY have about us for ½ a second before they are back to focusing on themselves. We spend most of our emotional energy trying to become our ideal self because we think that this will prevent us from experiencing judgment and criticism, and will finally give us the inner peace we crave. It is literally a complete waste of energy, but unfortunately what occupies most of our mind is attempts to fix, control, or improve ourselves. If you didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, and there was nothing that you needed to change about yourself and your life, would you find it easier to not judge others? Is it possible that if you look deep enough, that all your judgment is connected to yourself, your life, and feeling things don’t look exactly the way that you want them to?

3. Stop comparing yourself to others: Insecurity, anxiety and depression are common in our society, and most of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t “winning” the game of life, but this whole notion of what it means to win is a product of what and who we say we need to be. Therefore, we often compare ourselves to how others are living their lives, to see if we are actually “winning.” The result of this comparison thinking is that millions of people need pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with life. We think if we achieve our ideal standards, we will feel how we want to feel. But, the truth is that our self judgments cause a war within our minds. We don’t make ourselves feel better by judging others. Instead, our judgments of others feed our judgments of ourselves. We make ourselves feel insecure and inadequate, and then we judge others to lessen the inner discomfort that we feel.

4. Don’t expect life to go the way you always want it to go. We are a culture obsessed with “feeling good”. But this desire to always feel good breeds a habit of criticizing ourselves harshly when we do not feel the way we want to feel. Why do we have this unrealistic expectation that we should always feel good and that life should always go the way that we want it to? The truth about life is that it is unrealistic to expect that life should always go how we want it to. The more we can embrace the unpredictability of life, not get down on ourselves for our where our life doesn’t look like the ideal, and learn to accept who we are, the less self judgment we will inflict upon ourselves. When we are less judgmental of ourselves, we have more of an ability to accept other people’s flaws as well.

5. Practice self compassion: Having self compassion means understanding that being human is to struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and trying to feel better by finding the faults and flaws of others to feel better about ourselves may work momentarily, but is not a permanent solution to feel good about ourselves. People are afraid to be self compassionate because they are afraid that they need an inner critic to keep them strong or on track. If they listen to the criticisms of the inner critic, this will help them to fix their shortcomings and ensure that they will feel good about themselves. But instead, this only leads to more emotional suffering. When we practice self compassion, we feel more at peace within ourselves, and can have more compassion for others who may be struggling with inadequacy too, rather than finding fault with them.