Thursday, October 12, 2017

From Famine To Feast: My Journey Of Self-Acceptance

body.jpgFor as long as I can remember, I have thought that there was something wrong with my body. I’m sure it started when I was in my mother’s narcissistic womb. Most likely, I was taking too many prenatal nutrients for her liking.

Once I was born, my care fell into the hands of different nurses and nannies, as my mother was experiencing what we now call post-partum depression. Back then, it was called a nervous breakdown. I had literally broken my mother.

When I was 8, my mother left, and I stayed behind to be with my father. He loved me, but he had his issues. He was a male anorexic, before we knew that men had eating disorders. He would eat cucumbers and toothpaste for dinner, and serve me whatever fast food delicacy I craved. Naturally, I started to gain weight.

Upon seeing my growing body, my family had helpful advice. My grandmother told me to stop eating before I got a double chin, and my cousin told me to wait 5 hours between every meal. My father called me “Moon Face,” and a couple of kids on the bus started calling me “Hayl the Whale.” It was not a good year.

food2.jpgAnd so, at the ripe old age of 9, I went on my first diet. I substituted slim-fast for meals, and lost 15lbs. Yes, I was starving between “lunch” and dinner, but at least I lost weight, right? Mind you, when I look back at old pictures of myself, I realize that I was never really big, I was just an easy target for people to project their own insecurities onto.

For the next ten years, I remained weight conscious. I ate only low-fat, low-calorie foods, and I was downright scared of things like pizza or wings. My weight remained relatively stable, but I was never comfortable around food. I always thought that I was one mistake away from being obese, despite the fact that I was actually pretty small.

My next big diet came at the age of 21. I was a senior in college, and I was 5 lbs away from being considered “overweight,” by the ridiculous weight charts that doctors use. At the time, I thought that I was dieting “for my health,” but I now see that I was using restricting as a way to avoid thinking about the fact that I had moved in with my then-boyfriend, who would later become my husband, and then ex-husband. I was also in the midst of applying for graduate programs in psychology, which, you might not know, are actually harder to get into than medical school. It was an intense time. I responded by restricting my intake to 1000 calories a day, and got my weight down to 98 lbs, 2 lbs below “normal” for my 5 foot, frame.

goodenough.pngAlthough a doctor might have said that my weight was fine, I certainly was not. Never wanting to give up sweets, I often substituted real food for frozen yogurt, and walked around in a starving haze most of the time. It was just what I needed to ignore the fact that I was about to make a huge mistake, by marrying someone as narcissistic as my mother.

Through my marriage, graduate school, and divorce, my weight went back up a little bit, and I continued to be consumed by fears of being fat. I remember constantly asking my then-husband for validation, and once, he told me that “50% of people would probably call me fat.” I was a size 4 at the time. He did not help my self-esteem.

For the last 14 years, my weight has steadily gone up, with some intermittent dieting in-between (usually the result of being weighed at the doctor’s office). However, about a year ago, I committed to never dieting again.

beautiful.jpgIt helps that I now have a husband who loves me no matter my size, but the real work has come from within. I finally had to learn to love my body the way that it is, and stop trying to change it. I’ve come to realize that the quickest way to gain weight is to try to lose it, so I refuse to keep riding that roller-coaster. Plus, I have a daughter, and I do not want to pass down the fear of being fat. The cycle stops here.

I’ve also decided that food is not the enemy, being consumed with food is. I no longer count calories, and I think that activity trackers are nuts! We don’t need to know every step that we are taking, nor do we need to know the nutritional value of every single thing that goes into our mouths. Instead, we need to pay attention to how our bodies are feeling, and respond accordingly. At this point, I eat what I want, when I want it, because I trust myself. I’m no longer afraid of certain foods, and I don’t categorize foods as good or bad.


I still exercise, but not for weight loss. I do it because I love it, and because it makes me feel good. My work-out of choice is spinning, and I do it several times a week on my Peloton bike. I love Peloton because I get access to the best NYC instructors, and most of them have very positive messages about loving yourself and your body, while still providing an extremely challenging workout.

bodylove.jpgI wish I could go back and tell myself that I was perfect the way that I was right from the beginning. I wish I had never dieted, or treated my body with disrespect. But, I’m grateful to have finally learned that diets don’t work, and that the body has a way of knowing where it wants to be, if we are brave enough to let that happen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How To Stay Sane In An Insane World

turnoffnews.jpgIf it seems like you can’t turn on the news without seeing something awful, you aren’t alone. Most news outlets, are businesses after all, which means that they count on ratings to succeed. Unfortunately, it seems that bad news garners more ratings for these organizations, because when people see horror stories in the news, they tend to become afraid, and fear only leads to more consumption.
Bad things really do happen in the world. If you are like Jason Aldean, the country singer who was onstage during the recent Las Vegas attack, you might think that the world has gotten worse. However, history disagrees. Violence has always been part of the human condition. It’s only our access to deadlier weapons that has increased.

Be that as it may, it can be hard to find a balance in these scary times between self-care and being an informed citizen. Here are 5 tips to help you stay on track:

Limit Your Media Exposure Directly After An Attack

As outlined in WNYC’s Breaking News Consumer's Handbook, media outlets often get wrong information directly after an attack. Reporters are on deadline to get something out to the public and they often piece information together incorrectly at first. Don’t get caught up in this roller-coaster. Limit checking your devices to once or twice a day at most.

Pay Attention To The Difference Between What You See Online Vs. Your Environment

It’s very easy for people to sit behind a computer screen and make outrageous comments online, and, believe it or not, this is one way that people grieve. Make sure to balance your time online with time spent with real people, who, will undoubtedly offer a better perspective. Plus, as said above, you aren’t supposed to be online all day!

Keep Doing The Things That Make You Feel Sane

Everyone has at least 2 or 3 things that they can do to make them feel like themselves again. Whether it is working out, prayer, meditation, cooking, spending time in nature, or rereading “Harry Potter,” find your things, and do them. You may not feel 100% better, but, we bet you’ll at least feel more grounded.

Realize That You Don’t Have To Know Everything In Real Time

Remember life before facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Maybe, you are even old enough to remember life (gasp), before cell-phones! It may be hard to imagine now, but, we survived without knowing everything the second that it happened. While the news may want you to feel the need to stay tuned in all day for “your safety,” it’s important to tune out for your sanity.

Hold Your Loved Ones, Including Your Inner-Self, A Little Closer

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,


Guns, Men, and Violence: What Can We Do?

candles.jpgSince the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I’ve seen many people saying that this isn’t the time to politicize this tragedy. These are the same people, by the way, who never think it’s the right time to “politicize,” (aka, make sensible gun laws in this country). These people think that those of us who are advocating for stricter gun laws can be silenced by their accusations of disrespect and - what - not being polite? Interestingly, these are also the same people that tell Black people that it’s not the right time to protest when there is a flag present. Or traffic. Or, basically, anyone who can see or hear them.

JFK.jpgSo, to those people, I ask, when is the right time for these things? When is the right time to change gun laws, so that it’s harder to get a gun in this country instead of a chocolate kinder egg? When is the right time to protest police brutality so that Black people aren’t being killed at an alarmingly high rate by police officers? When will it be considered okay to bring these problems into the light?

Of course, for many, the answer will be never. Because bringing these issues into focus means that we have to change the way that things are.

itiswhatitis.jpgOne of the sayings that I, as a therapist, hate when my clients say is, “It is what it is.” No! It isn’t what it is! It is what we as a collective make it, what we allow, what we reinforce, and what we endure. Change happens when the fear of the unknown becomes smaller than the suffering of our current situation. The problem, it seems, is that a certain portion of the country isn’t suffering. Those who feel safer with a gun (which, statistically is just wrong), or those who aren’t targeted by law enforcement, for example.

Sometimes, one of the ones who has never felt threatened before experiences tragedy, and that’s when he changes his mind. This happened to Caleb Keeter, the country guitarist, and lifelong 2nd amendment supporter who has now realized how wrong he was. Sadly, it took country music fans being killed for him to see the error of his thinking.

So, yes, it’s clear that we need gun control in this country. We’ve all heard how Australia had a mass shooting - ONE MASS SHOOTING - in the 90’s, changed their laws, and hasn’t had one since. But, what ELSE do we need to heal the violence that is plaguing our nation?

When it comes to both mass shootings and police brutality, we can’t deny the fact that men, mostly, white men, are the ones committing the crimes, which leads me to wonder:

What are we doing to our boys and men in this country?
Why are so many of them so angry?
Why do they feel the need to use power and force and/or violence over others?
What can we do to reverse this?
How can we give boys and men the space that they need to cry and feel their feelings?

To answer these questions, I look to the research that’s been done on societal gender roles, and their influence on boy’s well-being. Although the majority of studies that we have on the negative impact of societal gender roles focus on women and girls, one study by researcher Maria do Mar Pereira, out of Lisbon, Portugal, showed that gender roles were detrimental to both boy’s and girl’s health.

In the study, Pereira found that male participants faced pressure to be “manly,” by using what she calls “everyday low-level violence,” (slapping/hitting/inflicting pain), and drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol. She also found these males to be experiencing anxiety about proving their manliness, while suppressing their feelings and keeping their issues to themselves. Pereira wrote about her findings in her book, “Doing Gender In The Playground.”

As part of her research, Pereira invited all of the kids involved to talk about their experience afterwards, and many of them shared the same thoughts; that they did not like having to stick to their gender roles. Talking about this pressure led to noticeable change. Girls were more likely to participate in group sports, and boys showed less violent behaviors toward one another.

childrenquote.jpgThe results of this study point to something concrete that we can do with our children, today! Talk to them about gender roles! Help boys see that it is okay to cry, and that emotions are a healthy part of life. Stop believing that “boys will be boys,” and start encouraging young men to express their feelings.

It may be too late for our current members of Congress to remember what is truly important in life, but it’s never too early to start enlightening the next generation.  

And in the words of Crosby, Stills, and Nash:

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye
Teach your children well
Their father's hell
Will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams...
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.