Studies conducted in the last three decades have repeatedly shown that psychotherapy is more effective in treating bulimia than antidepressants, placebos, or control conditions where people do not receive treatment (e.g. Lindardon et al., 2017). However, most people who are seeking treatment want to know more than just whether therapy is better than taking a pill-- they also want to know what the odds are that they will recover fully and what they can do to maximize their chances of completely beating bulimia.
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? --Neff, 2018 (1)
If you are like most Americans, you often view your body as an object, rather than as an aspect of your whole self. Most of your body focused thoughts may revolve around changing, depriving, comparing, cajoling, punishing, or improving. The problem is that self-criticism is seen in a variety of psychological problems such as panic, social phobia, PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety, and eating disorders. (2) Take a moment to notice your thoughts. How often are your they based on appreciating and accepting the body that carries you through each day? How often are they gentle? While there is nothing wrong with seeking improvement, when change is paired with acceptance and kindness rather than disdain it is more likely to improve your mental health as well. That is, adding in self-compassion on the path to reaching your body based goals can make you feel better even if you choose to continue striving.
In an ideal world, our eating would be determined only by our hunger. In reality, however, eating is often related to our emotions-- that’s why we call some foods “comfort foods” or talk about “stress eating.” In fact, negative emotions like sadness, anger, or stress are common triggers for a binge (Leehr et al., 2015). When moods go beyond normal day-to-day fluctuations and cross into the territory of depression or mania, we often see that eating patterns also get disrupted and can morph into binge eating. As many as 10%- 28% of people with bipolar disorder also have binge eating disorder (McElroy et al., 2013; Schoofs, et al., 2011).
“Darwin argued that we are a profoundly social and caring species. This idea... that our tendencies toward sympathy are instinctual and evolved (and not some cultural construct as so many have assumed), and even stronger than the instinct for self-preservation.” --Keltner 2017
People tend to want to relieve the suffering of others. However, when the other is a member of an outgroup, empathy may fail as a result of non-altruistic motivations. Love, Simon isn’t just another a rom-com set in a suburban high school. The themes -- of inclusion, bullying and coming out-- are especially relevant to teens, young adults, parents, schools and mental health professionals. If it is considered a critical and box office success it may be evidence to those struggling with oppression, suicidal thoughts, and the closet that they are not alone. It may even inspire other similarly themed films. It may inspire some of us to be kinder. It may reduce shame.
As I enter my third trimester, very visibly pregnant, I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges moms-to-be face in maintaining a body positive attitude. First off, it’s astounding the number of people-- friends, coworkers, family members, and strangers-- who feel emboldened to comment on the size of a pregnant woman’s body. Is her stomach too big? Not big enough? Is she really as pregnant as she says she is? Is she “about to pop”? Whoa! And many people continue lean even harder into the common mistake of thinking that a woman’s weight or shape is an indicator of her health or the health of the baby. The constant weigh-ins at the doctor’s office can also be a trigger for body insecurity for many women. Negative media chatter about pregnant or postpartum celebrities also contributes to negative body image for women, even those who are not yet pregnant (1). Plus, there’s no way around the challenge of adjusting to an entirely new figure confronting you in the mirror (and sometimes seeming to change from day to day!).
Most of us have found ourselves looking to food as a way to soothe a negative mood. Although it can work, hopefully it is not your go-to or only strategy to make yourself feel better. You’re better off if you can rely on it as only one of many ways of coping with feeling down. Some alternative possibilities include feeling and accepting the emotion, reaching out for support, problem-solving, exercising, taking time in nature, meditating, completing a task, or distracting yourself. The options are nearly endless. But, some people use eating as a primary means of dealing with feeling bad which can cause even more upset later. Does this describe you? A new study provides hope for interrupting this cycle.
From an early age, we’re taught by parents and teachers to “try our best”, and many of us carry this lesson with us as we grow older. Intuitively, focusing on doing the best we can with the skills we have makes a lot of sense. The problem with trying your best, however, is that it can actually leads you to accomplish less and feel less satisfied than you would if you set a more concrete goal. In fact, the failure of “try your best” goals has been proven in studies of more than 40,000 people working on 88 different types of goals.
For people trying to recover from eating disorders, the pervasive, socially acceptable increase in diet talk --as spring break and summer vacations approach-- can be very stressful and risky. Additionally, listening to the weight loss compliments bestowed upon family and friends who embark on fad diets and quick weight loss can lead them to idealize aspects of these illnesses, minimizing the potentially devastating consequences.
We are all potential helpers and healers. In every interaction and conversation with family, friends, partners, and strangers, we can either increase light or cast shadows. Yet, sometimes we are unaware of the impact of our actions, especially when cultural norms unintentionally lead us to do harm. We have settled into a destructive normalcy around conversations focused on cutting out food groups, weight loss goals and body size & shape comparisons. Complimenting someone's adherence to strict food rules or weight loss may seem kind and supportive, but it is not.
Negative thoughts about one’s weight, shape, and body size are a common thread across eating disorders. For anorexia and bulimia, placing excess importance on one’s appearance is an essential component of diagnosis. Although overvaluation of weight and shape are not required in binge eating, placing a lot of value on one’s physical appearance is associated with more severe binge eating patterns, along with depression and lower self-esteem (1). One key to overcoming eating disorders may be body image flexibility, the ability to experience and tolerate a wide range of thoughts and feelings about one’s body without letting body image get in the way of engaging in important life activities (2).
Did you hear the recent announcement that Weight Watchers will be offering free services to teens (ages 13-17) starting this summer? They have cloaked the program in a language of wellness, calling it a way to guide healthy behaviors. (1) The primary problem is they are a for profit company trying to sell their product … and their product is weight loss, otherwise known as dieting. At weekly meetings and check-ins, Weight Watchers does not check glucose levels, blood pressure, vitamin deficiency or other health markers. They check, track, validate, and celebrate weight loss.
This move has struck a chord with the National Eating Disorder Association and with medical/psychological/dietetic professionals in the world of eating disorders who recognize it as potentially getting teens hooked on dieting, body shaming, internalized self-criticism, calorie counting and scales during critical years of self-development. Even after the immediate outpouring of concern, Weight Watchers maintained their position with a tweet saying “they take their responsibility seriously” and that the program “is not a diet.” (2)