Holidays can be a dreaded nightmare for people who struggle with their weight. It often feels like there are endless parties and delicious food everywhere enticing us to indulge while tempting us to ruin our intentions to “be good.” Being good means not eating what we want or suffering the consequences by feeling guilt and shame for indulging our “weakness. “
The advertising in women’s magazines are major culprits in perpetrating the mixed messages about food. Around every major holiday, there are hundreds if not thousands of magazine and on-line columns advising women on how to not gain weight. Have you ever tried to follow those well-meaning but often ridiculous suggestions? Here are a few…
- Fill up on water before you go to a party (or out to eat). Really? It’s never worked for me. I just have to excuse myself from an interesting coversation to pee. How about you?
- Eat before the party so you’re not hungry when you get there. Hum… That’s rather like drinking wine before going to a wine tasting. Will you really drink less?
- When it comes to desert, limit yourself to the low calorie kind: Jell-o, shortbread cookies, ginger snaps or angel food cake. In-other-words, deprive yourself! Any time I’ve done this I’ve gone home to scrounge the fridge for something I really craved.
- If you must eat desert, eat something small and only one. The implication is that if you start you can’t stop. It’s just not true. You can — if you let yourself taste and enjoy what you’re eating in the first place.
- If you don’t do any of the above, make sure you exercise the next day to work off the calories. In-other-words, there is something inherently wrong with having what you really want and enjoying your food. You must pay for your pleasure.
In all of these “tips for not gaining weight during the holidays”, there is rarely mention of enjoying and tasting your food; just behaviors to reinforce the obsession over what you put in your mouth.
Weird strategies that make sense
- Tune into your body’s wisdom before, during and after the party so you can know when it’s hungry and when it’s full and feed it accordingly. Going to a party famished is a good way to eat too fast and therefore too much. But going full is no way to enjoy the festivities.
- If you’re really hungry before you get to the party, eat something small before you go. Don’t go to the party famished because it’s a set up to overeat. And when you get to the party, eat and drink what you really want; love what you eat, taste it, smell it and savour it. It’s OK for food to be sensuous. Don’t deprive yourself. This way you maximize your ability to trust your body’s natural knowing. The first few bites are when your taste buds are the most sensitive and the food tastes the best. After that you’re chasing the memory.
- If you’re at a buffet, take your food and move away from the table. It’s easier to notice when you’re satisfied when you’re not constantly reminded of what you didn’t eat.
- Divert your attention. There’s more to a holiday party than eating. When you’re eating, eat. When you’re done focus on something other than food. For example, find some good company and engage in a conversation.
- If you eat because you’re uncomfortable talking to people, take a walk or notice when you’ve had enough socializing and leave. If you came to the party with someone, agree on a signal that says you’re ready to go and then make a bee line for the door. It’s OK to stay only as long as feels good and no longer.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed, food is part of the celebration and the experience doesn’t have to be dreaded or torture. Food isn’t sinful, good or bad. It’s fuel for our body — and it’s supposed to be pleasurable to eat. What these alternative tips are encouraging you to do is tune in rather than tune out and enjoy what you eat. I suggest doing this not only during the holidays but every day. Try it and see what happens. You might like it and I hope you do.
Photoshopping: Altering Images and Our Minds!
Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite, twin sisters have a passion for helping girls and women recognize and reject harmful messages about their bodies and what “beauty” means and looks like. In Beauty Redefined, their website and blog, they write:
“Photoshopping, digital alteration, image manipulation, blah blah blah. Everyone talks about the fact that so many images of women are “perfected” with the help of technology, but do we really understand how serious this issue is? Like exactly HOW MUCH these photos are manipulated and changed to fit some seriously un-human and unrealistic ideals that we view over and over again? And do we understand that it isn’t just fashion magazine covers that feature photoshopped images? It’s everywhere.
While the vast majority of images of women are being digitally altered, so are our perceptions of normal, healthy, beautiful and attainable.” Read more…
Glamour Magazine recently published a photo of and an article about plus size 12-14 model, Lizzie Miller. Almost immediately, over 700 emails poured in from women expressing appreciation for seeing someone who looks like them. This photo is not going to spark a revolution but women’s body image in the media took one step toward normal — and beautiful.
Surgery Not “A Magic Pill” for Obese Patients
After working at a bariatric surgery center in a major Boston hospital and in my private practice, I’ve seen life changing successes and heart breaking disasters. Surgical weight loss is not for everyone but it is right the right people. What makes it right is when the procedure is used only after everything else has been tried and when it becomes a spring board to do the hard work of learning to listen to your body; eat when it ‘s hungry and stop when it’s full and pay attention to the feelings that are no longer being stuffed with food. It’s even possible to learn to love your body exactly the way it is, fat, thin or even with sagging post surgical flesh after weight loss surgery. There are no long term quick fixes. Even after surgery, it takes time and committment and often support from a professional to maintain the weight what has been so hard to achieve and to develop a self image and intimate relationship that is based on love and acceptance rather than the habit of self hate. This article, For Obese, Intimate Lives Often Suffer, explains what happened to a couple and their sex life before and after bariatric surgery.
It’s well known that obesity can lead to a lot of health problems, but what’s rarely talked about is the impact on people’s sexual health. As the obesity rate has soared in the U.S., more and more marriage and family therapists are getting questions from obese clients about problems in the bedroom.
It’s an issue that Dana Englehardt and her husband, Larry Boynton, of Belmont, Calif., know well.
When Englehardt met Boynton more than a decade ago, she was quite heavy. She was a straight-talking nurse, widowed with three kids. He was a local contractor looking to end his swinging bachelor days and get serious. Boynton says he didn’t focus on Englehardt’s size.
“Once I decided to put that out of my mind and allow the relationship to grow with the person I was falling in love with — her personality and how much fun we had together — it just really wasn’t an issue,” Boynton says.
After they married, Englehardt gained another 60 pounds. Her joints ached. She could barely stand during her nursing shifts. Grocery shopping and gardening left her winded. She had terrible sleep apnea and was exhausted all the time. And then there was the sex. The thought of making love to her husband felt like a chore.
“I suffered a lot of guilt because I knew that I wasn’t meeting my husband’s needs. That was the worst part — the guilt,” Englehardt says.
In all this, Englehardt came to see her body as something separate from herself. She wouldn’t look at her reflection in storefront windows. She raised her makeup mirror so she could see only from her nose on up. And when she settled in for the night, she didn’t want Boynton to touch her.
“I just felt kind of hideous. I didn’t like when he would touch me because it reminded me of all the bulk there. And then I just kind of avoided sex for a long time,” Englehardt says.
“At one point it was six months. And I was almost climbing the walls. She would get intimate, kissing and everything, but then it wouldn’t go anywhere, and that makes a guy very frustrated. And so I didn’t want to get frustrated, so therefore, I just shut down,” Boynton says.
All of this went unsaid. The pair didn’t talk about it. They did what so many couples do: They retreated.
A Pattern Emerges
Clearly, there are obese people who are happy, fulfilled and feel deeply connected in their relationships — emotionally and sexually. But in the interviews done for this story with marriage therapists, sexual health doctors and weight researchers, a pattern emerges: Obese people — especially those trying to lose weight — are more dissatisfied with their sexual lives, and obese women seem to suffer the most.
I suffered a lot of guilt because I knew that I wasn’t meeting my husband’s needs. That was the worst part — the guilt. – Dana Englehardt
“Instead of enjoying their sexual intimacy, they’re worried about the size of their stomach or, ‘Oh my god, he’s going to touch my stomach. What’s he going to think about my stomach?’ ” says Ronnie Kolotkin, a psychologist at Duke University Medical Center who designed a widely used survey that measures how obesity affects quality of life.
“Women reported many more problems with sexual functioning than men. And in fact, women’s scores were even lower than a reference group of cancer survivors,” she says. Kolotkin says the problems for men and women are different.
“Women often talk about difficulties with enjoyment, low sexual desire, avoidance of sexual intimacy, as well as some difficulty with sexual performance; whereas men are more apt to tell me in private practice or in group therapy about performance difficulties and embarrassment related to that,” she says. Some of this is biological: As men’s weight increases, testosterone production can plummet, leading to erectile dysfunction. Weight-related diabetes, too, can result in sexual problems.
But sex is not simply desire and arousal. For many long-term couples, emotional closeness and physical intimacy hinge on trust. Eric Leckbee, a tall and friendly 42-year-old software engineer, knows all too well what happens when that trust is broken. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, who didn’t want to be interviewed. At times, he’s reached 300 pounds. But it was when Leckbee’s wife caught him hiding food that his sex life really took a nosedive.
“It causes the question of what else are you hiding? I’m not being honest with her. To be really, truly intimate with someone, sexually and emotionally, you have to be able to trust them. So she puts barriers up, and then I feel defensive and I put barriers up, and then it causes more of a chasm to occur between us,” Leckbee says. “When you start feeling more emotionally distanced from each other, then you’re less likely to want to have sex or even enjoy the sex that you have.”
Leckbee has done a lot of therapy just to talk about all this. Still, he’s often repulsed by his body and has had a hard time imagining that his wife finds him attractive.
Finding A Path To Openness
All of this would crawl around in his head. It still does. When he feels confident, he’s able to maintain his diet, even go on a bike ride. But those periods give way to darker ones when he becomes quiet and distant.
“When I’m feeling fat and depressed, I’m not communicating very well, and that breaks down the intimacy, which breaks down the amount of sex and the frequency of sexual intimacy,” Leckbee says.
Leckbee’s weight still fluctuates. But he and his wife are now trying a new approach: to separate his weight from their sex life.
“My wife, saying to me, ‘I love you and I’m attracted to you regardless of your weight.’ That was something I needed to hear and something I needed to believe, though I still struggle with it,” Leckbee says. “But it’s, now I’m more self-aware, now I understand it, now I’m able to look at it and go, ‘My libido is really low right now because I’ve been eating too much and I’m feeling bad about myself.’ I can express it to my wife and let her know I’m feeling this way.”
This process of recovery — both physical and psychological — is messy and seemingly unending. For Englehardt, her health had become so bad she took the drastic step of getting bariatric surgery.
Post-surgery, Englehardt says she fantasized about a renewed sex life with her husband.
“I think I did have unrealistic expectations that after I got this new body that he was going to suddenly be all over me, and that didn’t happen. And I think he went so long with me being uninterested that when I was interested again, I don’t know if you have trouble believing it, that I was interested again, but you … it took a while for you come around,” she says.
“It took a while for me to realize what the signs were again,” Boynton says.
The couple went to counseling and started figuring out how to communicate — about a lot of things, including sex. Now, Boynton says, he knows the signs.
(In the CBS swries Mike & Molly, Molly Flynn (Melissa McCarthy) and Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell) show a healthy intimate relationship. While many obese people lead happy and healthy sex lives, therapists are seeing more obese people who say their intimate lives are suffering because of their weight.)
“I know it now, and it’s nice. It’s very, very nice,” he says.
Englehardt sought her own counseling to exorcise her deeply held belief that she was an unlikable fat girl. “It’s kind of nice ’cause I can just kind of lose myself in the moment and not be thinking about, you know, ‘Oh God, he’s touching my belly fat again,’ ” she says.
It’s been several years now of hard discipline to keep the weight off and of painful therapy, but finally Englehardt is able to fall into that fugue state — that dreamy abandon — that lovers often inhabit.
Holiday Eating Anxiety
The holidays are here and for many this is the dreaded season of “eating anxiety.” The holiays are a time to share good food with good company. Company parties, family events and celebrations with friends all mean lots of opportunities to wrestle with temptation. I won’t give you a lecture of what to eat and not eat. You’ve heard the list so many times you probably have it memorized, if you’re not totally confused by the contraditions and mixed messages.
The multitude of magazine advertisements for wonderful holiday meals and “sinful” desserts are on the opposite page from the articles on how to keep from gaining those unwanted pounds all that wonderful food will inevitably add to your waiste line. The marketing of the food and diet industry reinforces for many of us, a belief that our desire for the food we want is immoral. This dicotomy sets in motion the desire to crave what we think we “shouldn’t” eat, eat it immediately and eat a lot of it.
What happens when you eat what you think you shouldn’t is that your body/mind doesn’t easily register the pleasure of eating. When you are telling yourself that what you’re eating isn’t OK to eat, you have to eat more to feel satisfied than if you allowed yourself to enjoy the experience from the beginning.
So I encourage you to avoid eating anxiety. Don’t make what you eat a moral dilemma with legalistic rules for what’s allowed and what isn’t. Legalize food this holiday season –and all year long. If there is any other advice, it’s to taste what you eat and savour it so that you really enjoy the experience. You may be surprised to find that the chances of eating just the right amount are greatly increased.
Menopause and Weight Loss
Menopause can be a real kick in the butt when it comes to weight gain. It certainly was to me and adds insult to injury for those women who have always carried more weight than they wanted (or that the culture thought was pretty) prior to going through menopause.
I think my story is reflective of the stories of some other women in this predicament. Prior to menopause, I was not unhappy with my weight until I slowly started gaining when I went through “the change” and gained 25 pounds. In general, I ate well and have for over 20 years. My definition of eating well is organic with a minimum of reduced sugar, flour, grains and dairy. I don’t count calories. I eat as much healthy fat as I want. I drink moderately. But after a year of exercising a 2-4 times a week I still didn’t lose weight. Even after the impulsive parts of me that wanted to binge on a box of cookies or a bag of chips relaxed and didn’t overeat, I didn’t lose a pound.
What I didn’t know is that fat cells produce estrogen. An increase in fat during menopause is the body’s natural resistance to estrogen loss. So it’s natural, normal and even healthly good to gain some weight. It was the 25 pounds that had me baffled.
This is where I believe biology and chemistry come into play. I decided to work with a holistic wellness coach who prescribed supplements targeted to specific organs of my body that needed support. After a month I dropped a couple of pounds. After 5 months I’d lost 15 pounds. My desire for sweets almost disappeared as did my feelings of deprivation. I could easily pass up the cookies at work. My need for caffeine also diminished. It appears that my body needed nutritional support to cleanse, repair, feel satisfied and energized. As I cleansed the toxins, I was able to shed the weight with a great amount of ease. So what I’m saying is that even when we are …
- no longer trying to rigidly control what we eat,
- not yelling at ourselves for eating too much,
- able to eat mindfully; eat when hungry and stop when full
- feel nutured by our food, friends and family
- and still not lose weight …
there may be a bio-chemical issue that needs attention that healthy food choices alone can’t address. This is why, at some point in my work with clients, I recommend they work with a holistic nutritionist. I work with the emotional and psychologicial issues. The nutritionist works with the food. It’s proven to be a highly effective combination of support.
Don’t Believe Diets Don’t Work? Try This…
Many people have heard that diets don’t work but have a hard believing it even though they’ve tried and failed many times. Diets don’t work for all the reasons that I wrote about in my July post called, “It Makes Sense to be Confused About Diets.” Briefly:
- Diets end because they are based on deprivation
- Deprivation is unsustainable
- Willpower fades because it’s an imposition of your determination to restrict your food over a natural desire to eat
Take a really really deep breath. (Think of it as bingeing on air.)
Then blow it out… more,
and even more…
until you have not an ounce of breath left.
Now hold your breath for 10 seconds or until you just can’t hold it anymore.
Now… breathe… finally.
Notice what happened? What kind of breath did you take? If you found yourself taking a really really deep breath in an attempt to replenish what was missing, you just experienced how your body reacts to a diet.
You have to eat just like you have to breathe. Diets end because they are based on deprivation and deprivation is unsustainable — just like depriving yourself of air is unsustainable.
You can’t hold your breath indefinitely no matter how determined – just like when it comes to food, your willpower fades because it’s an attempt to restrict your food over a natural and perfectly normal desire to eat.
So if diets don’t work and weight loss or maintainance is important, what do you do? Read “It Makes Sense to be Confused About Diets” (found under “Mindful Eating”) as a start on your journey to learning how to eat in a way that feeds you body and soul.
Being a Psychotherapist and Costume Designer
I recently read a very interesting blog by Zelik Mintz, a psychoanalyst in NYC. He wrote about the similarities he experienced between being an actor and a psychotherapist. He also discussed the controversial topic of what psychotherapists tell or don’t tell clients about themselves. He got me to thinking (again) about self disclosure and my own transition from being a costume designer to being a psychotherapist.
After 18 years as a theatrical costume designer, I became a psychotherapist in my 40s. When I first thought of changing careers, I saw the connection between the two but others, particularly other therapists and academics, could not.
Costume designers need to ask several questions in order to create costumes that make sense in the show and on the backs of the characters. Some of these are the same types of questions as the ones we ask ourselves and our clients as therapists.
- What is the relationship of the character/client to him or herself?
- What is the relationship of the character/client to the other characters in the play/client’s life?
- What is the relationship of the character/client to his or her environment?
- How did the character/client get in this situation?
- In what direction does the character/client want or need to go?
As a designer, we explore these answers by studying the text, researching the time period and discussing these questions with the director, set designer and actors. We then design the costumes choosing colors, textures, fabrics and all the other design elements to highlight these multi-faceted relationships.
As a psychotherapist, the colors and textures are not of our choosing. These are what the client brings to the “show.” Simply put, our job is to help the client find the relationships between his or her own colors and textures and then choose paths designed to bring more happiness than grief.
Here is where self-disclosure comes in. A client may not know details of our lives but we cannot be a blank slate even if we try to hide all our own design elements. How we dress and decorate our office can speak volumes even in silence. The words we use reflect our education and even perhaps our spiritual beliefs. How we help clients explore their colors and textures is a result of our own world view, life experience and training. I just happened to get some of my training in the costume shop.