Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cultivate Self Love (Body Positive Psychology Part 3)

For the past few weeks, we have been looking at what it takes to be Body Positive.  Embracing body positivity leads you to a better relationship with yourself and others.  It drastically lessens your inner struggles and increases your joy for life. This week I'm delving into Developing a Practice of Self-Love, the third of these five competencies:

      Reclaim Health (Check out my blog post on reclaiming health here.)
      Practice Intuitive Self-Care (Check out my blog post on intuitive self-care here.)
      Cultivate Self-Love
      Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty
      Create Community

Does Self-Love sound scary or ridiculous to you?  Somehow we've become a society where treating ourselves with love or kindness can be seen as weakness.  We are one of the only (if not the only) countries in the world where people brag about how many hours they've worked and how little sleep they've gotten.  Getting physically active isn't respected unless we are 'working out' - no pain, no gain.  I once dated a man who said that the sign of a great bike ride was how many times he threw up!  A hike is considered recreational but if you don't  go to the gym that day you're slacking.  Enough already!! 

“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves,
 to treat ourselves with respect,
and to be kind and affectionate towards ourselves.”
Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, The Gifts of Imperfection

Do you need to feel 'perfect' in order to be worthy of love from others or even from yourself? People often mistakenly feel that being or acting perfect can protect them from suffering the pain of judgement, loss and other distresses. Of course, we all rationally know it doesn't work this way but this kind of thinking leads to unhealthy self-criticism and the inability to love and appreciate ourselves.  Practicing Self-Love is about embracing our fears, learning to engage with our critical, perfectionist parts and appreciating that our self-destructive behaviors may be an effort to protect us from pain and loss.

With self-love we can learn to take action to make positive choices when we are in distress. We learn to choose between beating ourselves up and replacing our nasty voice with one that is kind and forgiving—and more practical. Here's a bonus, when we are kind to ourselves we are better at ignoring or deflecting the negativity others send our way.  Those nasty comments or perceived judgements no longer hold much power because we know we are deserving of more.  It no longer sends us deeper into self-criticism.  Double Bonus, cultivating self-love will improve your self-care behaviors. Since your capacity to receive physical nourishment is tied to your ability to allow self-love, the more you love and respect yourself the better you will care for your body. Eating in a balanced manner and exercising regularly become activities you want to do because they enhance the good feelings you experience from being kind to yourself.  Instead of feeling like you need "whip yourself into shape," you will have  a loving, respectful relationship with your body.  Then you will be comfortable, even excited to trust your inner voice to lead you to good self-care choices.  

Next week I'll be talking about the fourth part  of being Body Positive, Declaring Your Own Authentic Beauty.  This is my favorite one!  Until then, don't forget to be kind to yourself.

“Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line.
You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
Lucille Ball
Love ya,

PS. For more information about BP check out Embody, Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and Quiet thatCritical Voice) by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott (I am not an affiliate and profit in no way by your purchase of this book).


Photo: Bart

Monday, September 21, 2015

Listen to Your Body (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Rachel Dhanya Smith crossposted from her blog.


Early in my body positive journey, I latched on to the phrase, "listen to your body." To me, this phrase was a powerful reminder to take back the wisdom and intuition held in my body. I didn't have to listen to some external rule or diet book or "expert." I reclaimed my body as the authority. I took back my right to eat when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and move my body in ways that felt joyful, caring, and kind. I suddenly had permission to work hard AND to rest. I could focus on how fun it was to hit the bag at the boxing gym, rather than how many calories I was burning. I could do yoga and actually feel the body I was in, rather than constantly wondering what I looked like from the outside. Foods were no longer forbidden, which meant I didn't secretly long for them, or even more secretly devour them. I wasn't condemned to a life of carrot sticks, so suddenly (and paradoxically) I could eat carrots with abandon and enjoy them. Raw or baked or even in cake! It didn't matter what I was "supposed" to eat because I was the final authority on what I put (or did not put) in my body. "Listen to your body" became my battle cry of empowerment and choice around my own body. And guess what? I discovered that bodies are pretty smart, after all, and will tell us a lot about ourselves and the world, if we learn how to listen.

But how do you listen to your body? What does this mean, in practice? The phrase is thrown around with an easy, breezy attitude which belies how hard learning to listen to one's body actually is. We are not taught how to do this in our culture. What is natural as babies and children quickly becomes very complicated and confusing. We are told that our bodies will fail us if we listen to them. The "tsk-tsk" of a grandmother as we fill our plate at a family dinner, the constant loop of weight loss commercials on TV, and the water-cooler diet talk all tell us that our bodies are not to be trusted. For a lot of people the idea of listening to their bodies is terrifying. We internalize messages like, "If you listen to your body, you'll eat cookies all day." Or, "listening to your body means you're going to gain a bunch of weight because nobody really wants to exercise." The subtext of these assumptions is that bodies (and their people) are basically untrustworthy. The assumption is that bodies need to be controlled, our ravenous hungers need to be controlled, and our deep-down core laziness needs to be controlled. If we don't, we are doomed to a life of depression, loneliness, rejection, and shame.

I call bullshit on that. Did you know that we have more brain cells in our bodies than in our heads? Did you know that there is a whole phase of digestion called "the cephalic phase," in which our pleasure in and awareness of the food we are eating actually helps our bodies to absorb more nutrients? Did you know our bodies have a set-point for our own natural weight, and did you know that we screw with this every time we go on a diet? Did you know that exercise ACTUALLY FEELS GOOD? And that we can tell when we're eating well because our bodies FEEL GOOD? It is ok to feel good. It is ok to relax and enjoy the bodies we are in. It is OK to listen.

And, it is OK that listening to your body is complicated and sometimes challenging to learn. It is common that people with poor body image and disordered eating experience disconnection with their bodies. What does a hunger cue even feel like? Does "feeling fat" actually feel like something in the body, or is it an uncomfortable mental state associated with judgement on what you see in the mirror? How do you stop seeing exercise as punishment and start seeing it as fun? What if you really do just want to eat cookies one day? What if your body has conflicting messages? Reactions? Stress? Illness? Wrestling with these questions for yourself is part and parcel of learning to listen to your body. There is a lot of work to do with the mind in order to actually listen to the body! Becoming consciously re-connected with yourself and your body is not a linear path, and it is not an overnight change. It takes time and effort and hits and misses. It takes courage and mindfulness and tolerance of your own imperfection along the way. It takes repeated, radical, unconditional acceptance every day, to the best of your ability.

Listening to your body and your self is a learned skill. Just like we wouldn't expect ourselves to become a master violin player overnight, we can't expect ourselves to be expert at listening to our bodies overnight. We have to hit some missed notes and keep going. We have to practice - and not just here and there but regularly, over a long period of time. Eventually, with practice, we really can become more versed in the language of the body. We begin to understand the body's signals, and we get better at following through and meeting our own needs. I know there have been times in my life when I doubted that I would ever get to that place, and there are (and probably always will be) times of struggle because bodies change and their needs change and we change. But, to me, it is worth the struggle for those times when I can be truly present to myself, which is ultimately at the heart of listening to my body and to my whole self.

Rachel Dhanya Smith a body positive psychotherapist, meditation teacher, and yoga teacher specializing in helping women transform their relationships with food, their bodies, and themselves. She offers individual counseling, body image coaching, and private yoga classes in person and online. She also offers group meditation, yoga, and body image classes and workshops in Colorado and across the U.S. You can learn more about her work and find her original post at www.imaginativecounseling.com.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Body Positive Psychology (Part 2): Intuitive Self-Care

Hello again.  

Last week I introduced you to the Body Positive model and Body PositivePsychology.  A quick recap: The Body Positivity approach has five core components:

      Reclaim Health
      Practice Intuitive Self-Care
      Cultivate Self-Love
      Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty
      Create Community

Practicing these components lead to increased self-love, self-acceptance, better relationships, better choices and better health.  Last week I talked about Reclaiming Your Health. This week I'll go over the second competency, Practicing Intuitive Self Care.  

In order to Practice Intuitive Self-Care you need to learn to listen to and follow your body's wisdom.  I'm finding with myself and almost all of my clients (whether they're seeing me for Body Positive work or not) that we have forgotten how to listen to ourselves.  As babies we innately knew when we were hungry and when we weren't.  We ate if we were, and when we weren't we refused to open our mouths or spit our food out when we were being fed.  

As we grew we heard things like "this is when I'm serving dinner, if you want dinner you better eat now" or "we don't waste food in this house." Maybe you grew up in a big family and if you didn't eat everything you could as fast as you could, your siblings would beat you to it and there wouldn't be enough left for you.  Everybody has their own story and these stories have formed us into the kind of eaters we've become.  

It's time to become introspective.  Ask yourself how you feel and what your body needs and listen closely.  You'll hear the right answers!  If you need help with this, find a counselor who can help you get back in touch with your inner voice.

We all have  the wisdom necessary to create and sustain self-care behaviors that provide nourishment, fitness, and pleasure. When you listen to, and act on this wisdom you innately possess to meet your body's’ specific needs and desires for certain foods, types of movement, and rest, you are practicing self-care! 

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past,
worry about the future, or anticipate troubles,
but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
The Buddha

Slow down, get quiet for a moment and ask yourself "Am I hungry? What is my body craving? Do I feel like I need protein? I'm craving a banana.  I must need potassium."  or "I'm feeling restless.  I must need to move this body.  What would I enjoy doing, a walk or a bike ride?" 

Your body is wise, and it knows what you need.  Do you feel like you need something sweet? As if nothing else will satisfy you? Then allow yourself to have that leftover piece of cake but pay attention to your body when it says you've had enough.  One of my favorite tenants of the Health at Every Size® (HAES) model, a practical and research-based health model that honors the genetic diversity of human size and shape, is that no food is off limits! 

I have tried everything from being a vegetarian for two years to following Paleo for three years. This and every other weight loss plan is based on restriction.  Here is a fact, we want what we forbid ourselves to have. It's true that we get over cravings after we detox, but unless you are one of those rare breeds that actually doesn't like sweets, living a life of never being able to have something that you enjoy leads to frustration, unhappiness, and cheating.  And of course, cheating leads us to being disappointed in ourselves, self-hate, and bingeing.  It's a vicious cycle. 

“If [diets] really worked, we’d be running out of dieters.”

When nothing is off limits you allow yourself to experience everything you enjoy with control.  You don't need to eat half the cake thinking that you can't allow yourself this treat again.  Perhaps you will eat the whole piece.  Perhaps after a couple of bites you'll feel that you've had enough because you know that if you feel that you must have this again, you can!  

As you get better and better at listening to your body and acting on its needs you will find that you can experience everything you enjoy and maintain and even lose weight!  You will learn you can trust what you know in your gut (pun may be intended). This new way of thinking will be an enormous relief,  being free of the depletion and confusion that result from trying to respond to all of the conflicting messages that come from others. 

When you're able to figure out what you need in regards to food, movement and rest on your own, you'll find yourself gaining self-esteem and confidence naturally.  Speaking from my own experience, you will feel more content, peaceful and happy and you will enjoy what you are doing and eating on a whole new level.

Stay tuned, next week I'll be talking about Developing a Practice of Self-Love. In the meantime if you'd like to skip ahead, check out

Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and Quiet that Critical Voice) by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott (I am not an affiliate and profit in no way by your purchase of this book).

Don't forget to be kind to yourself.  It shows others how you expect to be treated.

Peace Out,