Can’t You See These Flaws

woman-s-bare-back-633984

There’s a shaky feeling. I should be taller. I should be thinner. Everyone else has the body I wish I had. I’ll never be quite as attractive as that. I mean, it’s fine I guess.

I just know if I were a little more __________ then I’d be more loveable, too. More deserving.

Can we talk about body dysmorphia?

It’s been coming up a lot lately. There is this thin veil of “it’s no big deal,” and beneath it a quivering, painful fear. Hate or disgust. It hurts down to the bone, and we make passing jokes about it. Yet we don’t share just how deep this hurt goes.

I’ve fallen prey to it, myself. It wasn’t long ago I realized a pattern I had. I’d look back at younger pictures of myself and think, “my goodness, I was so _____ back then.” Insert whichever wishful adjective you’d like. Over time, I realized that I felt poorly about my body at the time the picture was taken, just to be wistful at having lost the beauty a few years later. Pictures became mirrors I couldn’t ignore. Maybe, just maybe, I never looked as bad as I felt I did at the time, and only with some years of separation from that body could I see it for what it was: beautiful.

We learn a lot about how we feel about our bodies from our families growing up. We hear our parents, who we initially idolize, judging their own bodies, ours, or strangers on the street. We learn what beauty is supposed to look like, and then we measure ourselves against that standard as we grow into our adult bodies. If we don’t quite measure up, we hate ourselves. If we gain too much weight, we skip meals, restrict calories, or exercise too much. It begs a question: can you hate and/or punish yourself into being attractive?

As a kid, I remember my mom saying how old her hands looked. Now when I look down, the same age she was, I see my mom’s hands in place of my own. I hear the words she spoke and have to be intentional about not buying into that, myself. When I see my hands and notice their age, I try to feel gratitude for having made it this far. For having a daughter who will love these hands like I loved my mom’s.

Culture feeds into it, too, right? With all the airbrushing, photoshopping, and filters, we forget what real humans look like. There’s a reason I’m not often keen on following back those fitness moms who post endless “before and after” pictures of their bodies. Those folks who are always DMing me asking if I’d like to lose weight or get more fit. I’m so glad for them that they are working on themselves. And yet, it doesn’t suit everyone to see so many pictures day in and day out of bodies, with the intention to idealize, improve, or boost sex appeal. It can become obsessive, and it concerns me for the dozens of folx I know who still struggle with loving their bodies. The constant suggestion that there might be an ideal body can be vexatious to the spirit. Confused, the spirit starts to ask, “why can’t I look like that?” The answer is simple: because you’re not them. It can be painful when you feel like culture, family, or your own ideals don’t align with the body you were given.

Body dysmorphia wants you to think you’re flawed. That there is some piece of you that is wrong when in reality, there’s not. But saying that is like saying, “don’t be sad” to someone with depression. In fact, it’s closely tied to anxiety, depression, trauma, and OCD. They share a common struggle: believing that happiness, peace, or worth is something that comes from the outside. Each struggle forgets that worth is inherent and happiness comes from within.

Here’s my thought: Why not love yourself into being healthier?

How about instead of hating, obsessing in the mirror, and shaming ourselves for rolls, wrinkles, or too big/too small of something, why don’t we just love ourselves and show it by being gentle, kind, and tending to ourselves? Eat food that makes your body feel healthy. Get restful sleep. Engage in supportive relationships. Take walks. Enjoy the fresh air. Unplug. Drink water. Wear clothes that match your spirit. Laugh. And under no circumstances, stress yourself out doing any of the above.

Perhaps we’ve had it backward all along. Perhaps it isn’t “once I look this way, I’ll be able to love myself.” Maybe we get further by loving ourselves first, respecting and honoring our bodies, and allowing them to rest in their happy place. Then we think, “I love myself, so I love what my body is.”

There are so many ways to start down this road. Here are a few places to start:

  1. Meditation and Mindfulness.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  3. Radical Acceptance.

There’s something to be said for an attitude of gratitude. Your body will never be “perfect” by any standard other than your own. And sure, walks and happy thoughts won’t make you taller, have different genitals, or re-grow hair. But that’s not the point.

This is the body you have. You won’t ever have another body in this life. This is it. Hating your body is like cooking angry. Your anger taints the food and robs it of its brilliance. Hating your body taints your life and robs it of its brilliance, too.

Think of it this way. Does your body generally work? Try to remember that it’s a miracle you exist. The fact that you can think, that you can breathe, that your heart beats. Maybe you’re missing some digits, or maybe you have a degenerative disease. That’s okay- you still have so many other blessings that many people don’t have. Do you have the disorder where your brain forgets to breathe while you sleep? Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night because you could forget to breathe and not wake up. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have that we consider basic. What we take for granted. Accepting what we have and being grateful can help us see the bigger picture.

Note: Acceptance is not the same as being okay with or giving up. Acceptance simply acknowledges what is. I have a body. It’s not attachment (“I wish I could have a body like that”) or aversion (“I hate that my ____ is so ____”). Acceptance likes facts. This is my body. This is the only body I have. This body allows me to move, speak, breathe, love, and experience pleasure and pain. This is my body. 

Once you can acknowledge your body as it is, you can work toward loving it as it is.

You can do this. If you need help, reach out.

I see your beauty,

D

 

If you’re looking for some body positive insta’s, try: @thebirdspapaya or @lizzobeeating.

What Depression Eats

pexels-photo-196668

There are a few topics in our culture that seem to beg an exorbitant amount of attention for the wrong reasons. One of those topics is diet. There are so many ideas about what a *right* diet is. Paleo? Atkins? Vegan? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Keto? Jenny Craig? Low Fat? Gluten Free? South Beach? Weight Watchers? Blood Type Diet? Histamine Intolerance? Dairy Free? Or perhaps you’ve been looking into a Master Cleanse…

I can’t tell you which of the above diets is good for you. Or which are a little outdated (Does anyone still do Jenny Craig?). I’m not a nutritionist. There are people for that.

What I’m here to tell you is about the connection between what we put in our bodies and how that affects our mental health. When it comes to recommending diet, you’ll most likely hear me recommend something that meets the following criteria:

  1. It doesn’t stress you out, bring up anxiety, or create an obsessive behavior to do (though sometimes changes can be emotionally trying at first).
  2. It consists of real food.
  3. Eating isn’t a way of numbing out difficult feelings (though small amounts of dark chocolate can help regulate hormones) or a means to control or punish oneself.

Our eating habits are learned young, based on how our parents ate, the culture of food in our family, and our own relationship with it. If you want to know more, try the book First Bite. Just because they’re learned young, though, doesn’t mean they’re out of our control.

We can learn to take back our relationship to food.

Too often we don’t pay attention when we eat. Perhaps we zone out on our phones, computers over “lunch break,” or sit in front of the TV (we’ll talk about electronics next week). Rarely do we really taste our food.

When was the last time you intentionally and mindfully consumed a food, pausing before eating, during chewing, after swallowing, 20 minutes later, 4 hours later, and two days later to notice the various responses your body had to the food?

Some food might feel amazing during the tasting/chewing part, and the satisfaction might even continue 20 minutes later. But what about later that day, or a couple days later? Does that food contribute to your body feeling healthy, energized, nourished, and strong? Did that food’s benefits disappear once the sugar high subsided? Or worse, did it contribute to worsening depressive symptoms?

*Body Scan Meditations can be helpful in learning how your body responds to food*

It’s true, there is a link between worsening depressive symptoms and high refined sugars. Here’s a quick and dirty list of foods that may deserve a closer look at how they might negatively impact your mood:

  1. Sugar. Some research suggests that it can increase depression, as well as risks for diabetes and dementia. Remember how earlier we talked about how depression wants you to do what makes depression stronger? Ever crave sweets to try and stamp out a bad mood? Sugar is in way more than you think. Even “healthy” cereals can have too much! Try and stay under 5g of sugar, to start.
    • *Note: this includes artificial sweeteners.
  2. Fast and Fried food. The Journal of Public Health Nutrition states that eating these foods can increase your risk for developing depression. It’s also thought that clogging of arteries can reduce blood flow to the brain, which impedes function.
  3. Caffeine. Too much caffeine can impact your sleep and create the jitters, which could trick your brain into thinking it’s anxious. Try to cut down to one cup of coffee or tea each morning if you’re a heavy user.
  4. High Sodium and Highly Processed foods. They take a lot more energy for your body to process and can contribute to fatigue: a symptom of depression. There is also a lot out there about how preservatives, food dyes, and additives could contribute to mental health and behavior disruption. I’ll let you do the research on that one.

What about foods that are good for you and your fight against depression? Here are some foods thought to boost mood:

  1. Dark Leafy Greens – Nutrient Dense and Inflammation Fighting
  2. Berries – Antioxidants have been shown in some studies to reduce depressive symptoms.
  3. Foods containing Folic Acid
    • Broccoli, Beans, Tomatoes, Bananas, etc.
  4. Foods high in Omega 3s – supports brain function
    • Flax, Chia, Edamame, Walnuts, etc.
  5. Avocados – They’re just a powerhouse.
  6. Protein Rich Foods Boost Energy & Alertness
  7. Complex Carbs can help boost mood, too. There is some thought that carb cravings come from low serotonin. But reach for whole grains! (If your bread responds like tempurpedic, it’s probably not whole grains).
  8. Drink A LOT OF WATER. I like to drink as many ounces as I am pounds. Pretending I’m 100lbs (I’m not), I’d strive for 100 oz. That’s just me. The big guys recommend about 100 oz for women and 120 oz for men each day.

dont-forget-youre-basically-a-drink-water-get-sunlight-house-28887210

Okay, Danielle. Enough lists. What is the point?

My point is that your body deserves your respect. It’s worth honoring and loving your body by fueling it with what it needs to function at its best. If your body is suffering, how can your mind feel good? They’re connected.

You might notice I didn’t recommend that you increase your consumption of frozen goods like taquitos, hotpockets, or veggies in cheese sauce. Or maybe that’s just what my depression ate. I also didn’t recommend you eat more potato chips, french fries, or soda. Are you surprised?

Of course not. You know what is good for you, and you still don’t always eat it. My husband is a big fan of the “I’d rather die early and be happy eating what I want” mantra. If you want to tell yourself this, that’s fine. But I’m going to just leave this one question here…

are you really happy?

Since we’re talking about what we put in our bodies, let’s just throw one more thing out there. We all know alcohol is a depressant, right? And that when we’re depressed, drinking only increases symptoms. But did you know that you have to be careful with any recreational drugs, including marijuana? Marijuana has been shown to play a role in the onset of schizophrenia in those with predispositions or other mental health issues. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms from marijuana include anxiety, depression, and irritability that can last months.

In the name of not using food to numb out our feelings, being mindful about the good things we put into our bodies, and dedicating ourselves to honoring our bodies… until depression is a thing in the (distant) past for you, probably best to steer clear of alcohol, marijuana, and the like.

 

The goal with all of this is simple: consume more of what feels good because it is actually good for your body. Consume less of what feels good because it helps you numb out difficult emotions. Honor your body by feeding it fresh fruits, veggies, lean means, and whole grains. Make little adjustments that feel sustainable and aren’t painful. Uncomfortable, fine. That indicates growth. Painful? Pull back a little.

It’s important that you don’t go into this like a crash diet. We’re not trying to operate under extremes. We’re wanting to make lasting change. Your taste buds can change to appreciate real food, but that takes time. If you want a little treat here or there, it’s not a problem. It’s only a problem when you can either feel the urge to keep eating it or want it when you’re having a rough day.

If you find yourself several days or weeks into a food relapse, it’s not too late to re-commit yourself to living healthier. You also don’t have to drop a ton of money on organics if that isn’t feasible or important to you. Start with limiting your time in the aisles at the middle of the store.

Just like we don’t want to extreme crash diet, we don’t want to extreme calorie count either. Love your body in moderation. As a woman, if your caloric intake is at the bare minimum of 1,200 per day, your brain is operating in survival mode. It can’t thrive and recover from depression when it’s worried about whether it’ll live the day. Recommended calories for women are in the 1,600-2,400 per day range, whereas men are in the 2,000-3,000 range.

Let’s work on worrying less about calories and more about feeding your body what it needs to be healthy.

As always, if you’re wanting to make big changes or are worried about your health, consult a doctor.

Phew!

Does that feel like a lot?

Take care of yourself out there. We’ll see you next week. And remember, keep up with your exercise, meditation, sh*t owning, and healthy foods.

D