From my Inbox:

I subscribe to emails from Jen Comas Keck of http://www.beautyliesinstrength.com because I have found that witnessing the journeys of other women who are trying to figure out the whole food/body/soul/self equation in a multitude of ways is super helpful. This was a recent offering of hers. Note that Jen is a nutrition coach, former figure competitor and power lifter, which is not my context or perspective, and likely isn’t yours either, and that she’s not addressing eating disorders per se, but rather the low grade body image concerns and disordered relationships women often have with food regardless of diagnosis. Her words follow:

“Should I Lose Weight?”

“Should I try to lose weight? Sometimes I wonder if I should try to get leaner.”

I was at Sushi Samba in the Palazzo in Vegas a couple of weeks ago with an amazing group of people. There was never a lull in the conversation, which ranged from business, to religion, and then training, and on to food, which inevitably led to …

Body composition.

Dieting.

Fat loss.

It seems to be a hot topic when I’m around, and with both Molly and I sitting there, it wasn’t a surprise that it came up. Helping women become healthier, stronger, and feel better is our jam. While we never initiate these types of conversations, people often want to talk to us about our work, and are interested in hearing our opinions.

But, back to our girlfriend.

Let me tell you a little bit about her, because as you know, context always matters, and this scenario is no different.

First off, she is a beautiful woman both inside and out.

She is a Professor for not one, but two, Master’s courses at a University, all while working on her thesis for her PhD that is due later this year.

She is married, very involved with her community, and cherishes her social life.

To say she is busy would be putting it mildly.

She consistently makes time for exercise, and makes really solid nutrition choices the overwhelming majority of the time. She is healthy, radiant, and fit.

Even though she is healthy, she still had that niggling question in the back of her mind that so many women do:

Should I try to lose some weight?

I followed up to her question with one of my own, “Why?”

“I don’t know…” she told me. “I just feel like maybe I’m supposed to. But the thing is, I’m already eating pretty well, and I exercise consistently.”

“What kind of changes do you think you could make to get results?” I asked her.

She paused for a moment, and then, with the saddest face I’ve ever seen, said, “I guess I could give up my weekly dinner and wine night with the girls. And I suppose I could stop going to breakfast with my husband on the weekends….”

Stop. Stop. Stop.

We are talking about a woman who is healthy and fit. One that is so richly scheduled that her weekly dinner and wine night with her girlfriends, and weekend breakfasts with her husband are the highlight of her week. Are we seriously going to pull the plug on those things so she can lose – maybe – four or five pounds?

NO.

Instead of voicing my opinion as strongly as I did above, I asked her the following question:

“What is going to bring you more overall happiness? Continuing to have dinner and wine with your girls once a week, and breakfasts out with your husband on the weekend, or really having to buckle down to lose a few measly pounds?”

“Well, the dinners and breakfasts, for sure.” she said. “Thank you. I had never looked at it that way.”

When it comes to setting our goals, it’s important to figure out the why.

Do you need to lose fat to feel better and improve your health? If so, that is completely understandable, and you know that I’m an ardent supporter of improving quality of life.

But… if you’re trying to lose a bit of body fat just because it’s what you think you’re “supposed” to do, or that is what society thinks you should be doing, eff that.

Shooting you straight,

always and forever,

Jen

PS. Go to Happy Hour at Sushi Samba next time you’re in Vegas. Trust me.

 

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Answering this Question is Key to Recovery

Today’s Food for Thought, from Anne Cuthbert, M.A. of http://www.foodisnottheenemy.com

“What does disordered eating and body image protect you from? Do the constant thoughts distract you from thinking about or feeling about other parts of your life? Does it keep you in a safe world that you can control? Does it give you a good excuse to not go somewhere or be with someone in which you feel uncomfortable? There is always a reason for it. What is it for you?”

Here’s What Happens When A Man Spends Two Weeks Eating Nothing But Food Made For Women

“Why is this strategy (or, as my wife calls it, “the bullshit I’m subjected to”) so dumb? Because at best, even when these food products are fortified, the nutrients are seldom present in “enough quantity to actually do anything,” an expert said recently. And at worst, they minimize half the population by constantly calling them fat and turning them into a species that requires its own type of food.”

via Here’s What Happens When A Man Spends Two Weeks Eating Nothing But Food Made For Women.

Perfect.

This may very well be my last blog post before I head off on maternity leave, so I thought I’d address something I need to be reminded of myself – the absolute fallacy of perfectionism, which is a trap many people who struggle with disordered eating fall into (as well as many mothers).

When we approach our lives from the perfectionist perspective, anything that is not “perfect” is a failure. This eliminates the vast majority of how most people function from day to day from the success category. For example, it’s an important goal of mine not to snap at my son. If he’s having a very mischievous morning, and I make it through almost the whole thing using the kind of measured tone I’m aiming for, but eventually get so exasperated that I bark at him about putting his boots on, what kind of mother am I? Perfectionism suggests I have failed. A more balanced perspective notes that if I said 100 things to him, and 99 of them were on target, I’ve just gotten a very good Mama grade.

This isn’t just semantics – our emotional health and efficacy as people in the world are at stake when we choose the perspective from which to view and experience our actions. In the above example, if I take the perfectionist route and castigate myself for failing as a mother that morning, a number of nasty things will happen. First, my self esteem will tank, and so then I’ll be in a lousy mood, which means my temper will be rubbish and I’ll actually be far more vulnerable to engaging in exactly the sort of behavior I’m trying to avoid – snapping at my son.

When perfectionism is a part of disordered eating, it often plays strongly into a vicious cycle of restricting and binge eating. “I don’t know what happened, I was doing so well” is a phrase I hear often, and it usually comes from an individual who has set themselves up with an unrealistic and/or inflexible eating plan. If I’m “supposed” to eat only whole grains, and at a work breakfast, the only options are more processed, and I function best when I don’t skip breakfast, and have a bagel with cream cheese, how am I doing? Perfectionism says I’ve failed (and if you’re a failure today, you might as well go ahead and have a muffin and a Danish and…), but a more balanced perspective means I can pat myself on the back for making the best of the choices in front of me and move the heck on with my self esteem and motivation intact, far more likely to continue to be successful-ish for the rest of my day.

This is the important part, which is why it is in capital letters: YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE MORE COMPLIANT AND CONSISTENT IF YOU’RE NOT TRYING TO BE PERFECT.

Perfectionism is the enemy of success because it is demoralizing and leaves no room for learning from mistakes, or even making them. I’m not suggesting you adopt a sloppy, anything goes attitude. Goals and setting expectations for oneself are very useful tools, but only if wielded with some sanity. If my goal is to exercise 4 times a week, and I exercise 3 times, have I failed? (Hint: NO.) No. How can that be a failure if 3/4 of the time I did what I set out to do? If I reject this as a failure, I also lose the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on what made my success happen the 3/4 of the time that I did meet my goal, or to explore what the obstacles were on the day when I wasn’t as successful.

This stands out in the article I linked to above: “Wouldn’t it be good if your surgeon, or your lawyer or financial advisor, is a perfectionist?” said Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism,” published in Psychology in the Schools. “Actually, no. Research confirms that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic, because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in your way,” he continued. “Waiting for the surgeon to be absolutely sure the correct decision is being made could allow me to bleed to death.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a baby. She’ll probably be perfect.

We’re clean eating our way to new eating disorders – Salon.com

“Because overdoing it is the American way, we’ve now managed to warp even healthy habits into a new form of eating disorders. Welcome to the era of orthorexia.

As Heather Hansman notes this week in Fast Company, orthorexia differs from other forms of disorders in that the obsessive focus is not on how much or how little one consumes, but the perceived virtue of the food itself. As she reports, “Nutritionists and psychologists say that they’re seeing it more often, especially in the face of restrictive food trends, like gluten-free, and growing information about where food comes from, and how it’s grown and processed.” Though the term has been in use since Dr. Steven Bratman coined it in 1997, the uptick in cases is leading to a new push to formally include it in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – aka the DSM 5.

Along with “gluten-free,” “juice fast” and other phrases, you may have been hearing “orthorexia” a lot more lately. Last summer, popular health and food blogger Jordan Younger made headlines – and faced intense criticism – when she announced that she was “transitioning away from veganism” as she realized that she had “started fearing a LOT of things when it came to food,” and had been struggling with orthorexia.”

via We’re clean eating our way to new eating disorders – Salon.com.

You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. Just, ya know, fyi.

“Whether it’s cucumbers splashing into water or models sitting smugly next to a pile of vegetables, it’s tough not to be sucked in by the detox industry. The idea that you can wash away your calorific sins is the perfect antidote to our fast-food lifestyles and alcohol-lubricated social lives. But before you dust off that juicer or take the first tentative steps towards a colonic irrigation clinic, there’s something you should know: detoxing – the idea that you can flush your system of impurities and leave your organs squeaky clean and raring to go – is a scam. It’s a pseudo-medical concept designed to sell you things.

“Let’s be clear,” says Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, “there are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t.” The respectable one, he says, is the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions. “The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.”

If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, he says, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. “The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” he says. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”

via You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy? | Life and style | The Guardian.

All or Nothing.

In case my clients hadn’t mentioned it enough this month, an excellent article about “All or Nothing” thinking showed up in my inbox a few days ago that sealed the deal on me writing about this topic.

For the uninitiated, All or Nothing thinking goes something like this: “I just ate x, which was not on my strict list of safe foods for my special and restrictive New Year’s resolution diet, and therefore I have ruined my day and I’m going to eat several more servings of x, as well as anything else I happen to encounter that is off-limits.” Other variants include the belief that an A minus is a bad grade, and since you just got one, you’re never going to do your homework again because what’s the point if you’re just going to fail, or that because you did not get this particular job, you are clearly unemployable and are never putting yourself through the humiliation of sending out a resume again.

There are a lot of problems with this kind of thinking. As my handy-dandy examples suggest, one of the most significant is that it tends to lead to quitting, inertia, anxiety, depressive thoughts and other totally fun experiences. The actions that flow from All or Nothing thinking are usually the opposite of effective. Otherwise known as ineffective.

Let’s take our poor sad friend on the All or Nothing diet who has “cheated” or “failed”: she’s really extra screwed because the rules of her diet were written by All or Nothing thinkers to start with, but beyond that, if the goal of the diet was to, for example, eat fewer treats, then responding to eating a treat by deciding she has failed and eating a whole bunch more treats is pretty counter-productive.

Here’s an alternative. (And for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s reasonable that the dieter has decided her health or self esteem or chronic headaches or whatever it is would be ameliorated if she ate fewer treats.) Rather than taking the All or Nothing path of deciding that all treats are off limits at all times forever (and therefore if she has one, she is a failure, and off the diet, and should “take advantage” of already having “ruined the day” and squash in as many treats as possible), she could think a more helpful, more effective thought. Something like “I’m going to pick one treat per day to really savor and enjoy to support myself in eating fewer treats overall. If I have a moment or day where I eat more treats, I’ll use that as a learning experience to see if there are any ways my plan needs to be adjusted.”

Now, if she eats an extra treat, she hasn’t failed, she has stumbled upon a piece of data that is a total gem because it’s going to help her figure out a more effective plan e.g. “Oh, I see that it’s not a good idea to eat my special treat when I’m distracted by paperwork because I won’t really savor it and I’ll be more likely to want more. Excellent! Good to know.” (Her therapist might have had to support her in re-framing things that way, but hey, it’s cool to ask for help.)

Similarly, with the A minus, and the job that doesn’t pan out, if the goals are academic success and employment, and the disappointment is a perception that these outcomes might not work out, quitting all together is only going to take our All or Nothing thinkers farther away from their goals. (Also, an A minus is a really good grade, and perfectionism is very All or Nothing.)

All or Nothing thinking isn’t logical by it’s nature because it’s usually driven by a strong emotion (shame, fear, remorse, despair, euphoria), which is the primary way to identify that you might be in the throes of it. Any action that you’re drawn to while experiencing a strong emotion is suspect, and worth putting through the All or Nothing test. And wouldn’t you know it: Mindfulness helps here. Holding awareness of your emotional state provides the opportunity to catch yourself in those heightened moments when you’re vulnerable to distorted thinking, which provides you with the opportunity to review your thoughts and action plans before tumbling down the All or Nothing rabbit hole.

Like so much of what I recommend to folks, this is hard work, but it’s a way easier path than holding yourself hostage to a cycle of unrealistic standards and constant feelings of failure. At least, I think so.