inner critic

How to Raise Your Self Esteem in 10 Easy Steps

how to raise your self esteem

Last week, one of my clients said to me, “Leora, can you just teach me how to gain self-esteem? If I just had some self esteem my life would be so different…”  I knew what she meant. She tries to use her eating disorder to give her self confidence. She believes that if she were thin enough that she would be worthwhile and important, but if she is not thin enough, she is a worthless human being with no value. But she is never thin enough. And so her life has been spent waiting to feel valuable and trying to be good enough. Her focus is always on her weight and never on anything else. Her critic is always telling her that she will be better, more people will like her and she will be happier when she is thinner. She is already very, very thin.

What she thought was that she could “get self esteem,” like gain something that she’s never had before, something new.  The truth is, having self esteem isn’t about harnessing some mystical force or  acquiring something new- it’s about letting go of something old– old messages that tell you that you’re not okay, that you have to be better than you are, that there is something wrong with you. Self esteem is about being kind to yourself, accepting and loving yourself even if you’re not perfect.  Self acceptance can often become confused with settling for something that you don’t like. But that’s not what self esteem is about. It’s about accepting who you are in the moment and accepting that it’s okay to be who you are as you go toward  greatness (even more greatness!) and allowing yourself to evolve, but caring for yourself and being kind to yourself and even loving yourself in that process. It’s about holding yourself with integrity to the best of your ability, always being kind, thoughtful, compassionate and loving to the people around you and to yourself.  It’s about knowing what your values are and doing your best to uphold those values. So, when you hear the voices telling you that you’re not okay and that you won’t be okay until you… CLIMB MT. EVEREST, RUN A MARATHON, LOSE WEIGHT, FIT INTO A SIZE XX JEANS, READ WAR & PEACE, WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL, BECOME A BEST SELLING AUTHOR, MAKE 6 FIGURES, GET MARRIED, HAVE A BABY, QUIT DRINKING,  QUIT SMOKING, QUIT EATING CARBS, EAT NOTHING BUT KALE SMOOTHIES AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS, BECOME A VEGAN, HAVE CLEAR SKIN, GET YOUR MBA… Or whatever those voices are telling you, remember that you don’t have to engage with those thoughts. It’s not true and it’s not real. It’s okay to be okay with who you are in the moment instead of after you’ve done these things. People confuse acceptance with resignation and defeat.  Acceptance doesn’t mean resigning yourself to being stuck in your circumstances. It means accepting that you are in the place that you’re in now and you don’t have to wait to be who your are until after you’ve changed your circumstances. It means that you can be yourself now and thrive and be in the world while at the same time improving your circumstances. We all have goals to achieve, that’s part of what makes us psychologically healthy and what helps us move forward in life. But when you get into the cycle of “I won’t be okay until…” you set yourself to be unhappy and you have a very hard time finding happiness… because it’s never enough.

So, how do you do this? I’ve created 10 tangible steps to achieving self-esteem. You don’t have to do all of them right now. But just try one this week and see how it goes. When you start to feel a difference, try another one. I know that doing these exercises will be life-changing for you.  

1. Make a List of What your Values Are 

Think about what is fundamentally important to you and write it down. This could be being a kind and compassionate person, being the kind of person people turn to when they are having troubles, not judging or criticizing other people, living with integrity, having positive intentions. Knowing that you are never going to be 100% at all these things, when you are feeling badly about yourself, check in and ask yourself if you are doing your best to live in accordance with your values. If you are, then you can fall back on that foundation of strong values and strength. If you are not, give yourself a reminder of what your values are and try to live according to them. So, if someone does or says something to you that hurts your feelings or if you yourself say or do something to yourself that hurts your feelings, check in with yourself and ask, “am I living according to my values? Am I behaving and acting in a way that I can feel good about? Am I acting like the kind of person that I would want to have as a friend?”  And remember, we always forget to do these things and fail at them sometimes, and that’s normal, but having your values written down in a list form can be a great reference for you to come back to. It will help you remember what is truly important to you and when you remember and when you live according to those values, you find self-efficacy.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself To Other People

Your values and your dharma (path) are different than anyone else’s, so you just can’t compare. You can’t compare your money situation to anyone else’s, your relationships, your jean size… we were all born with our own individual paths. When you begin to look at other people’s paths and think that you should be like them or different from who you are, you fail to move along your own, or you reject your path. This inherently makes you feel bad. This keeps you from moving forward.  You also shouldn’t be comparing your backend to anyone else’s front end. Meaning, you can’t compare the knowledge that you have about your own situation to what someone else is outwardly showing you about their own. You never know what is going on with someone else. As M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, life is hard for everyone, not just you. And once you remember that life is hard across the board, you can transcend the existential angst and pain that comes with the difficulties of life. You can understand that when things happen (you get a parking ticket, break your arm, get into a car accident, lose a parent) that it’s painful and it’s difficult- but you are not alone, that bad and difficult things happen to everyone who chooses a life of being human.

3. Do Things for other People Often

Performing acts of kindness actually makes you happier and boosts your self esteem, making you feel more valuable and more at peace. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology showed that participants who performed directed acts of kindness every day for 10 days in a row showed an increased level of life satisfaction. Self-esteem comes from life satisfaction and feeling your value in the world. Doing things for other people can be as small as smiling at someone when you are walking down the street or as big as volunteering your time to help someone out. It can also be remembering to give loved ones around you big hugs, kisses and compliments and reminding them why you love them so much and telling them how proud you are of them.

4. Live Mindfully  – Mindful living is about being aware of your body, being aware of your choices, your environment, being mindful or your choices, your environment, your bodily sensations, your thoughts, your actions and your fears. Often, people who are suffering with eating disorders have a really rough time living mindfully. They reject their true needs to focus on the goal of weight loss or looking better and  either binge or starve themselves, they don’t honor their appetites, they hate their bodies because they believe that there is something wrong with them. They completely reject themselves. When you are living mindfully, you are working to honor the needs of your body.

If you are signed up for the newsletter, you should have received your free mindful eating meditation. If not, sign up here to get it. You might also like the loving your body and letting go of negative body image meditation.  

Do check out this article on mindful living. 

5. Learn Self Acceptance:  Part of self acceptance is knowing what your strengths are and honing in on those and not punishing yourself for things that you are still working on. Make a list of things that you are good at and that you like about yourself. Be with that list and do more of those things. Make another list of things that you are not so happy with and that you want to change. Tell yourself that it is okay that you are where you are. And that it doesn’t make you bad and you can still like yourself and care for yourself as you are working to change those things. Get love and support and help for changing the things that you want to change. Change and healing is difficult all alone and in a void. But when you find other people who are working on the same change together, you have a group of encouraging, loving folks to keep you accountable and to be kind to you when you fall down. You can also do the same for others which will help you (see #3!)

6. Taking Responsibility for Yourself: This is about not blaming other people for choices you made. Understanding that you have power and that you are not stuck and that just because you made a bad choice, you are not stuck in it because you have the power to constantly be rethinking and recreating your life. If you make a mistake, don’t shift the blame. Don’t say that you did this thing or said this thing because someone made you. For example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but if you weren’t acting so irrational, I wouldn’t have.” You have just negated your apology and given away your power. Always take ownership for your actions. Knowing that you have it in you to make your own decisions based on your own values (see #1) is part of what gives you self efficacy and self-esteem. Saying that someone else made you yell or act mean or say something wrong basically says that you have no power to make your own decisions about how you behave. Remember that you almost always have the power to undo a decision that you made. 

7. Be an Advocate for Yourself:  When you have self-advocacy, you always treat other people with respect and you do not allow other people to talk down to you or to treat you poorly. If you have a boss, for instance who is verbally abusing you or yelling at you, it’s okay to look at them and say, “it’s not okay to talk to me that way.” You also stand up for others who might not have the ability to voice their own needs. If you are unable to stand up for your own needs and have your own voice, you find someone who can be an advocate for you. 

8. Live with Purpose: 

Consider your life’s purpose. When you begin to live with purpose, you take care of yourself, but your main purpose in life isn’t about getting thin or getting pretty or making money or trying to impress or look good to other people. It’s about having goals that long term feel important and meaningful to you and using your life to work on these goals that help the world at large. 

9. Have Lots of Integrity: 

What is it to live with integrity? In my opinion, it’s to be as honest as you can without being hurtful. Being honest doesn’t mean telling someone that they look fat in their new dress or that they’re acting like a jerk. That’s not honest, that’s your subjective opinion. Being honest is more like telling someone that your feelings were hurt when they didn’t answer your phone calls or respond to your messages. Being honest is not stealing, not lying, not purposely saying things to hurt people, not spreading hurtful rumors, and not using other people to achieve your own means. It’s about being kind, being helpful, but also not sacrificing yourself or your own needs for the sake of others. Personal integrity is about knowing what your values are trying to live up to them.  (See #1). When you identify your values and do your best to live up to them, you will always know that you are okay and you won’t have to worry about what other people think about you.

10. Challenge Your Inner Critic- 

What would it be like to gently let go of the old thought patterns that you are so intensely holding onto? As I said earlier, self-esteem isn’t about gaining or building and changing, it’s about letting go. Imagine the beliefs that you have that plague you and make you feel bad,  (ie: “I have to be thinner, I have to be smarter, I have to be cleaner, I have to be richer, I have to be prettier…) and just choosing to disengage with them. Choosing instead to engage with the above ideas that are helpful and help you to feel better about yourself than the thoughts that intrude into your mind and keep you from living your life with zest and enjoyment.  That doesn’t mean you won’t have these thoughts pop up. They are old and part of old patterns. However, what about trying to hear them like background noise (like a fire engine siren outside) but not follow them. Let them fly through your mind, notice them and rather than grasping onto them, think about doing things that align with what makes you feel good about yourself. 

For more help on improving self esteem, check out some of Nathaniel Branden’s sentence completion exercises. 

What about you? What are some things that you have done that helped you feel into your self esteem? 

 

How to Raise Your Self Worth

raise your self worthWhen we were in our very early 20’s, my friend Catherine and I were working together as tech journalists in Silicon Valley. It was the first tech boom, we were recently out of college and people around us had lots and lots of money. People who were 24 years old were worth many millions of dollars, but we, two grammar geeks who worked as reporters for an online dot com journal were worth much, much less. At least on paper.

One day, while we were working together on an article about the Diamond Rio Mp3 player (you could listen to 14 songs straight! No tape! No CD!)  Catherine, who had been the valedictorian at both her high school and her college just broke down crying. As I said, we were in our early 20’s and breaking down crying at work at that age is socially acceptable as it’s always okay to have an existential crisis. I asked her why she was crying and she said, “I have no idea what I’m worth.”
“What does that mean?” I asked her.
“Well, I used to know exactly what I was worth. Somewhere between 4.2 and 4.4. But now, I’m not graded on life and I only make $2,000 a month. So what am I worth? How will I know? How will I know how I’m doing in life without grades?”
“I think,” I told her, “I think we’re supposed to know how we’re doing by how happy we are, I think we’re supposed to let our happiness be a barometer of how things are going.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” she said.

And I guess that’s the thing. I guess that we all start out being graded and we just keep going with it. We let numbers dictate how we feel.  Whether it’s the number on the scale, the size of our jeans, the amount of calories or carbs we ate, the size of our paychecks, the number of men or women we’ve slept with, the square footage of our house, the cost of our car, the number of carats in our engagement rings, what kinds of grades our kids our getting, how fast our most recent marathon time is…

After healing from my food and body image issues, I had really felt that I stopped allowing numbers to dictate my life. But I realized that I hadn’t. A few weeks ago, I checked my amazon stats to see how my book was selling. For whatever reason, it happened to be a bad week for book sales.  I was crushed. I started to tie up my self-worth to my book sales, thinking that not only did my book suck, but I sucked. I really let myself get down in the dumps about information totally unrelated to who I was as a person, how I lived my life and what my values were. Later that evening, I got a beautiful email from a reader telling me that my book had changed her life. And then I remembered. I remembered that I wasn’t about sales or numbers or stats, I was a person. And that I do what I do because I care about other people. But I’d forgotten and I’d tied up my self-worth to silly things like book sales and blog stats. Then I realized the irony of it. I tell people all the time that their self-worth is not tied to some arbitrary number on a machine based on nothing and yet, I allowed my own self-worth to be tied up in that. It was a huge reality check for me.  So I asked myself a few questions.

1. What are your values?
2. Are you living up to your values?
3. What more could you be doing to be more of who you want to be?

I remembered that my values were about my husband, my children, my family and helping people, and that numbers had nothing to do with any of this. I remembered that I was living up to my values and that I didn’t need to be graded on this and I remembered that I wanted to do more of this. So I chose to stop looking at my book stats unless my kids were asleep and to make sure that my time with my kids was valuable and loving. That felt good and it felt right and it helped me to get out of the slump of numbers.

Your self worth is also not tied up in numbers.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. What are your values? Name the most important values in your life.

2. Where do you find your value?

3. What do you value in others? What makes others worthy and valuable in your mind.

4. Where do you find your worth?

5. What are things that you do or can do every day to help you feel your true and authentic value?

Write them down and answer them one by one, thoughtfully. Then, each day, ask yourself, “How am I being true to myself? How am I living in alignment with my value system? How am I being who I want to be? What can I do to be more in line with my authentic self? What is the one thing I can do today to help me really be me, the one thing that it is not number based….” Then do that thing, even if it is as simple as calling your Grandma, or hugging your kids or picking up a piece of litter in the street. When you define your intrinsic values and live according to them, you begin to really feel your self worth and you also let go of jealousy and trying to measure up. Try it!

Recovery Is Not Linear

how to recover from binge eating

I talk to lots of people every day who are really anxious to recover from their binge eating. They want to do it now. They want to do it yesterday. They are so angry at themselves. And they keep getting into a place of, “oh I messed up. Oh I ate the wrong thing. Oh I binged…” and feeling like they are no longer in recovery if they binged.  This is not recovery. This is diet mentality. When you diet you are on a rigid plan and if you eat off plan, you’ve messed up your diet. You’ve cheated. You can’t cheat on recovery. Because you are part of recovery. Recovery is not a boyfriend that you cheat on and then hate yourself for. Recovery is not a diet that you go on and then mess up and hate yourself. Recovery is not about food. Recovery is about healing. That’s it.  And healing includes not beating yourself up when you eat something that you didn’t plan to or if you binge. Recovery is not about losing weight, obsessing on numbers on the scale or on your jeans. Recovery is about bringing light to yourself. It’s about becoming expansive. It’s about looking away from food and bringing joy back to your life. It’s about becoming lighter emotionally and not carrying so many burdens. It’s about loving yourself and not hating yourself. It’s about being your own best friend.

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, another eating disorder therapist who trained at the same ED clinic that I did. We discussed how the focus of losing weight will keep you in the disorder.  The focus has to change to recovery. The focus has to change on gaining, not losing. Gaining strength, gaining health, gaining peace. What would that be like? Can you stop for a moment and imagine what it would be like feel lighter? And by lighter I mean to drop all of those negative beliefs that you have about yourself? Like, “I have to lose weight, I’m bad, I’m fat, I’m disgusting, I’m shameful, I’m a pig…” etc. All those really mean thoughts you have about yourself. Can you imagine what it would be like to just drop them? To take them out of your head for just one minute and be with, “who I am right now in this very moment is fine…” and then just see yourself walking down the street with a glow? Smiling? Feeling good about who you are without having to change first?   Because you know what… that’s what recovery is. It’s about feeling strong and loving who you are.

And the irony is, that when that happens, you will find that you are bingeing less. Why? Because you’re not sitting there and beating yourself up. Because your inner critic isn’t driving you to eat. Because you will have better things to do with yourself than obsess on your calorie count.

When you treat recovery like a diet, each “failure” feels catastrophic and painful and you feel like you slip backward with every indiscretion around food. But when you just keep going forward and continue with recovery activities, which have to be centered around self-kindness, you will find recovery just sneaking up on you. One day you will wake up and say, “Oh, I really want to go out and binge. Interesting…” but you won’t have the drive or motivation to act on that urge because you will have too much love and respect for yourself to harm yourself with food. know that this is the truth. I know because I’ve seen it again and again and I’ve been there.  When you are in recovery, your compulsions are like noise, but not noise that you have to pay attention to, background noise that eventually fades.

Pick one kind thing to do for yourself tonight.
Choose some kind words for yourself.
And if you binge, forgive yourself and move forward. Recovery is one foot in front of the other. Moving slowly, moving kindly and moving with support and love. You are not alone.

Dealing with Deeply Ingrained Beliefs

why do i feel so worthless

I was talking to one of my long-term clients yesterday who is just SO. DAMN. TIRED. And she feels like the only thing she can do is stand in front of her refrigerator and binge eat. Of course she is tired, she has a part-time job in the healthcare field and she has a 6-month old baby at home. In discussing ways that she can delegate and get some rest sometimes, what came out is that she is afraid to delegate. She doesn’t want anyone holding her baby, doing her charting, washing the dishes, cleaning her house, anything else. Why? Not because she has control issues, but because she wants to be seen as indispensable. She is afraid that if she were not “pulling her weight” and being the best she could be, that she would be replaced. That she would be fired and replaced at work, that she would be left and replaced by her partner and that she would be rejected and replaced by her baby.  Meanwhile she’s in so much physical pain that she can’t walk and she’s so stressed out that she finds herself bingeing constantly. It’s not rational, right? Obviously her baby isn’t going to find a new Mommy if she lets someone hold him and rock him while she takes a bath. Obviously her partner is not going to leave her if the house isn’t perfectly clean. Obviously as a top provider in her field, she’s not going to be fired if she takes a lunch break.  But core wounds are not rational. This woman’s Dad left her and her Mom, and replaced them with a new family. He did that again to his new family, and he did that one more time. So, somewhere in her brain she felt that she was easily replaced. Clearly this was her Dad’s issue, he was the problem- he was nomadic, didn’t know how to stay put, didn’t know how to be close to those who loved him. But it’s incredible how one person’s problems set off a chain reaction, isn’t it? Even though him being a chronic abandoner had nothing to do with her, in her little girl brain, she believed that it was her fault which somehow made her into a hyperfunctioning adult who has a million balls in the air and never allows one to drop. To the detriment of everything inside her. And obviously this takes a toll not just on herself but on those around her. No one wants a stressed out Mama or wife. Even though she felt like getting a massage would be selfish and taking care of herself and delegating responsibility to others  would be selfish and risky, she has come to understand that it’s not true. It’s her core wound that is telling her that. In reality, if she were to have some self-care rituals, she might alleviate the stress and have more ease to her life. The people around her might also feel more ease. 

So what about you? What core issues do you have that are keeping you from living your life in a more comfortable way? What is your “original myth?” Hers was “I am replaceable…”  
or “I have to be better than everybody else so that I’m not abandoned…” Other original myths I’ve heard are:
“Who I am is not loveable, so I always have to do more. I can’t be a human being, I have to be a human doing…” or
“I am worthless…”
“I don’t have the kind of money that other people have and never will…” 
“No one will ever love me…”
“I am too needy…”
“I am too much for people…”


What we have to remember is that these original myths were formed when we were children because of something that was going on around us that had nothing to do with us. But as children, we can’t step outside ourselves and analyze our world. We see everything as an extension of ourselves and then the stories become ingrained. 

Questions to ask yourself:

“What around me stressful when I was a child?” 
“Who was anxious?”
“Who was angry?” 
“Who said or did hurtful things?” 
“How did that stay with me?”
“How did that create my original myth?”
“How is this still with me?”
“How can I remind myself that it’s not real?”

As you ask yourself these questions, you might come to find that you are able to loosen your grip on certain behaviors that keep you tired and stressed out. 

How To Be a Better Person

You don't have to run yourself into the ground to be a good person. Save some life for you!

You don’t have to run yourself into the ground to be a good person. Save some life for you!

I have this client who is really afraid that she’s not a good enough person. But here’s the thing, she’s a really good person. But she’s always afraid that she’s not good enough. She’s almost “too good,” she does everything for everyone else,  she covers other people’s shifts when she’s tired, she cooks dinner for her family every night despite having been on her feet for 12 hours (she’s an ER nurse) she takes in strays (people, pets, and projects), she listens for hours on the phone while her friends cry about the pain of life. She’s a perfect mom, friend and wife. She never says no to anyone. She is the President of the PTA, she does every cancer walk, AIDS run, she heads every committee, has big glorious parties, belongs to three different book clubs and she sacrifices her own needs for the sake of others constantly. She’s really that good. And she’s exhausted. She has explained to me several times that she’s not this good out of an altruistic sense. It doesn’t come easily to her. She feels that she has to be that good otherwise she’ll be abandoned, fired, divorced, rejected, cast aside. She wants people to like her and she believes that who she inherently is has no value so she has to constantly do and be better than everyone else to make herself invaluable and indispensable. She fears that without this quality, she would be nothing.

The title of my blog post is more irony, because I have seen in my practice that many people suffering from eating disorders have the co-occurring obsessive desire to be be good. To be better. To be better than anyone else. To be a precious commodity.

It is possible to be a really, really, really good person while still holding yourself and your health in highest regard. So how do you do that? How do you choose to be a good person without sacrificing your own self?

1. Set boundaries. Rather than saying “yes” right away, whenever you are asked to do something let people know that you will see and you’ll get back to them in 24 hours. Then, in those 24 hours, ask yourself the following questions.

a. Do I really want to do this?

b. If so, why do I want to do this? Do I want to do this for the accolades that I will get or for my own personal enjoyment? If it’s for the accolade, if you are trying to control or manipulate what other people are thinking about you, you should experiment with saying “no.”

 

2. Ask yourself this, “If I don’t do it will I feel guilty? If I do do it, will I feel resentful?” If it is a choice between guilt and resentment, go with the guilt. There’s no reason to do something for someone just to resent them afterwards. Sit with and work through your own guilt. This is about you and your need to be better.

 

3. Do things that are in line with your goals and desires for who you want to be. For instance, if you feel as though being kind and non-judgmental and holding yourself with integrity is important, then know that as long as you stick to that goal, you’ll be fine. Getting angry at someone and talking about them behind their back while still driving them to the airport won’t necessarily make you a better person. Telling them that you’re not able to and being an advocate for yourself will. Don’t worry, they will find another way to get to the airport. I promise!   You are invaluable and indispensable for who you are, not for what you do, so when you choose to be aligned with the qualities of high integrity, you just feel strong within yourself. You don’t need to constantly do for others to be better.

 

4. Always be kind. That doesn’t mean always do everything that people ask you to. It means being okay with people’s requests and being kind and compassionate when you tell them you cannot.

How to Stop Caring What Other People Think of You

taken from http://www.happyologist.co.uk/

taken from http://www.happyologist.co.uk/

A lot of women think that they can control what other people think of them by controlling what their bodies look like. They believe that if they look a certain way, people will think of them in a certain way. Sadly, the media reinforces this belief for us. A few years ago, Hillary Clinton was asked who her favorite designer was. Her reply- “Would you ask a man that question?”  My sentiments exactly. I throw that example right in the beginning because I cannot think of a more poignant example of the media’s portrayal of women. HIllary Clinton, a Yale educated attorney, a former US Senator, the former Secretary of State– all these crucially important positions held and we question her taste in designers. Is that necessary? No.  Is that ridiculous? Yes, it’s more than that, it’s insulting, it’s disgusting, and it’s a terrible commentary on how American society views the whole gender.

 

There is only one way to put an end to this stupidity, and it’s to not buy into it. It’s to avoid and ignore it. It’s to not worry too much about being what society (currently) deems is right for a woman to be. We don’t have to walk around in Lululemon eating just sprouts and coconut water all the time trying to get thin. It keeps women in a box. It keeps women from taking over the world. But not Hillary.  Unfortunately, not buying into these things is probably not going to have a huge affect right this moment, but the more you choose your own path, not the path that popular American culture has mapped out, the more people will learn by your example and new road maps will be formed. Just think, less than 100 years ago, women didn’t even have the right to vote, or wear pants!  But the suffragettes helped change that. Just think what you could do for the future of this society by choosing to cast your own net and do what you wanted to do without worrying about other people’s opinions. It starts with you.

You can never control what other people think of you, but you can control what you think of yourself. And you can do everything that you need to do to hold yourself in integrity. You can be the kind of person that you like. You can be the kind of person that you respect and admire. Rather than thinking about how to be the kind of person who other people would like, think about the person who you would admire and respect—that’s the person you can be. Life is too short to waste time trying to make people like you. If they don’t, keep being the good person that you are, and move on. You are perfect, whole, and complete just being you! And each day, each moment, you can evolve more and more deeply into that being.

So how do you do this?

1. Write down what your values are.

For example: I value integrity, kindness, intelligence and compassion.

Keep that list close to you, so that when you are confused as to how you should behave in comparison to what you think someone else expects of you, you can look to see if you are behaving in line with your value system.

2. Write down some of what your goals are for want to do in this lifetime.

For example: I want to read a lot of Dostoyevsky and write a historical fiction romance novel about the French Revolution and travel to Haiti and work with sick babies.

Then, if you hate yourself because you ate chocolate cake or if you feel that you’re not good enough because you haven’t gone to Bikram class, then you realize that being skinny isn’t your actual lifelong goal, you have other things that you’re focusing on. You can then refocus on who you are and what you want to be doing. Sadly, being skinny can be a lifelong goal for a lot of women and it prevents them from seeing more of what they want.

3. Stop analyzing other people’s thoughts.

For example: If you find yourself at a party thinking, Oh, he thinks I said something stupid, she thinks I’m fat… etc. You are projecting your own thoughts about yourself onto other people. You have no idea what other people are thinking about you. And, as they say, what other people think of you is none of your business. The only thoughts that you know for sure and they only ones that matter are what you think of yourself, so it’s important to do things that make you like yourself. And, the truth of the matter is, people are too busy thinking about themselves to worry too much about others. And if they are sitting around thinking about others– well then what a boring life they must have!

4. Don’t second guess yourself, it can make you paralyzed and unable to move forward. Even if you make the wrong decision, know that you have the ability to take care of the situation, no matter what. You can persevere. Life is never straight forward, there are so many ups and downs. Expect them and welcome them.

5. Go forward on your own path. Accept who you are instead of wishing you were like someone else. Everyone is given their own journey on this lifetime. Instead of looking at other people’s paths and journeys, keep to your own. When you spend time wishing you were like others or thinking you should be more like them, you stop growing on your own path.

6. Don’t be snarky. Just as you are following your own path, allow other’s the freedom to follow their own too. Let go of judgment of others, it will just keep you down and stuck.

 

For some guided visualization on raising self esteem and letting go of jealousy, check out this download and this download. 

Power to the What?

Before I had my son last fall I was petite but also strong  and healthy. I ate my three healthy meals a day, I ran  3-4 miles 3-4 times a week, I meditated daily, had a pretty good Vinyasa Yoga practice going, I ate ice cream, drank wine, and ate chocolate in moderate amounts.  I had a solid psychotherapy practice, a solid marriage and was enjoying a pleasant rhythm of life. I liked my body, I liked my routine and things felt relatively comfortable and easy. And then, after a few years of false starts, I finally got pregnant. and we were happy, my husband and I.

But pregnancy is not easy on a woman’s body. I developed a condition very early in my pregnancy called a subchorionic hematoma, which put me on moderate bedrest for the first half of my pregnancy. Which meant no running, no yoga (not even gentle restorative yoga), and pretty much doing nothing when I wasn’t at work other than laying in my bed. And I was hungry. I mean, I was really, really, really hungry. I was so hungry that I would be hungry while I was eating, I would be hungry after I finished a meal. The portions that I was used to eating were no match for my intense hunger. And forget eating fish, turkey, lean meats and vegetables. All I could stomach was fruit, pasta, grains, bread, juice and more fruit. I would sit down and ravage two whole mangoes in a few minutes. I would chug down watermelon juice. My body was totally rejecting protein and just begging for intensely sweet fruit. The only protein that I could manage to choke down was tofu. I would wake up in the middle of the night in agony because I was so hungry. The only way I’d fall back to sleep was by drinking milk and eating peanut butter. I was so hungry that I would sometimes cry because I just couldn’t quell this hunger. As he got bigger, there was less and less room. So I’d be ravenously hungry and uncomfortably full all at the same time.  I felt so different than I ever had in my body. It wasn’t like I was binge eating or restricting, it was like I was no longer driving the car. I just was not in charge. And, I gained weight. Because that is what happens when you get pregnant. You gain weight. And sometimes, a lot of weight.

My baby was born via C-Section at a whopping 8 pounds 8 oz and 21 inches long. And everything was great. But we were tired. Really, really, really tired. And the only thing I could get myself to eat was pasta and chocolate. It was easy, it was quick energy and it was all that I was craving. Really? Me, after years of eating a very balanced diet of mostly high quality proteins and unprocessed carbohydrates, I was all about spaghetti and chocolate.  I just couldn’t help it. I couldn’t be mindful about my eating, I was trying to keep this very demanding creature alive by using nothing more than my body. I fed him with my body all day long. And if he didn’t eat every two hours for an hour at a time, day or night, he would scream. I had no time to cut vegetables. I had no time to cook meat. I had no time to go to the farmer’s market and pour over beautiful organic produce. All I could do was breastfeed my baby, eat chocolate, eat spaghetti, change diapers, and if I was lucky, every once in a while, I’d get an hour of sleep. But that was rare.

So, let’s get back to my body. My stomach, which was once  tight and taught was  now completely stretched out. There was lots of loose skin, And, because I am a small woman who had a large baby,   my stomach muscles had split in half and my intestines were hanging out and pushing through the flesh of my stomach. And let’s not even mention the gigantic incision from my C-Section.  I also wound up having to have surgery to fix two hernias and now have three scars between my belly-button and pelvis. All just from becoming a Mom. Gross, right? Totally gross.

But not really.

To tell you the truth, I have never loved and been as proud of my body as I am today. I’m kind of in awe of it actually. It’s a workhorse. I can’t believe that my body managed to not only create a whole human being, but I’ve been able to make food for this baby in my body and keep building him for the past 11 months. I can’t believe that my body can create and grow and sustain a whole person! It’s amazing to me. To that end, I can’t believe that women’s bodies are exploited the way they are. Mens’ bodies should really be the display pieces, I mean, their nipples are vestigial.

So, do I still run several days a week and do yoga and have a great deal of consciousness about everything I eat? No. No. and No. But I’m not concerned. I imagine that when my baby isn’t a baby and longer, I’ll have time to do those things. Right now he is bringing me pleasure. He is my workout. He is my downtime and my fulltime job. My meditation and mindfulness practice still exists, though, not to the extent that it did. My baby is what I’m mindful of. I’ve definitely had to cut down my Psychotherapy practice a great deal, as I run home to nurse my baby between patients, and have to be home in the evenings to feed, bathe, and nurse him to sleep. And I’m happy. And very, very, very tired. But happy.

So what spurred me to write all this? It was this ad that I came across the other day: If you can’t read it, it says: Kick-start your day. Focus. Hit your stride. Breath. Change your pace. Change the oil. Make a difference. Make a home. Be courageous. Encourage others. Stay fit. Fit it all in. Breathe. Hug a kid. Kid around. Run your life. Run your heart out. Power to the She.

I know it’s supposed to be inspiring, but this ad made me really, really angry. It’s not new news that the media is detrimental to women, but this particular ad really rubbed me the wrong way. More than the ancient herion chic Calvin Klein ads with waifish Kate Moss, more than the diet pill ads, more than the Chanel ads of tiny women weighed down by big jewelry– I’ve become immune to all those ads and the messages they send. This one however, it really got to me, because it sends the message to women that not only do we have to be skinny, not only to we have to be perfect, but we have to be everything to everyone and nothing less is acceptable. We have to be to be Real Women.

What happened to us as women that we are expected to do all this? I mean, that is a lot to do in a day. When do I get to take a bath? When do I get to sit and eat a meal? When do I get to go to the bathroom? When do I get to check my email? Talk on the phone to my girlfriends? When do I get to relax with a glass of wine and watch reruns of Sex & the City on E!?   Obviously I don’t, because I’m busy running, doing laundry, cooking dinner for my husband, taking care of my kid, making sure that I don’t “lose my figure,” taking care of people around me, doing volunteer work, and being in complete control of everything around me– Running my life. But rejecting myself.

It’s just not okay. We as women have always been the ones who take care of everything. And we are expected to. This ad sends a message not  that we can have it all, but that we should be everyone to everything and still manage to workout all the time.  It sends a message to women that they have to be on top of things all the time, they can’t stop for themselves, it’s not okay to be tired, to be run down, to relax, to lose their shit, to freak out, to be sad, angry, lazy, or to be messy. This ad tells me that the “Power to the She”– Being a woman, is about being totally perfect, being in control all the time, and sacrificing my needs so that I can spend my days being everything to everyone. And skinny.

I call bullshit. I don’t think that these are feminist beliefs. I don’t think that men are held to these standards. My husband goes to work everyday, he’s a wonderful man and he’s a great Dad, but he’s not up three times each night breast feeding our son. He doesn’t run home several times during the day to nurse him and play with him and to make sure that he’s feeling safe and secure. Yet, because I’m the woman, I’m still expected to keep our house clean and cared for,  maintain my career and still go out for a run? No not in our house. Not ever.  I think that women are held to much, much higher standards, nearly impossible standards, lest they be judged. Women who stay home are lazy, women who work are neglectful, women who don’t exercise are lazy, woman should bear children, then still stay in shape to be sex symbols for their husbands, go to work, and still do the laundry.

No. That is not power to the she. Power to the she is responsibility to self first.  And that means not beating yourself up if you can’t be everything to everyone and still have a hot bod. It means splitting up your responsibility with your husband or partner.   It means taking care of your kids if you have them, taking care of your needs and asking for help if you need it. It’s not about being an island. It’s not about being perfect. That’s just a dangerous message. That’s just a woman trying to control herself and her environment to such an extreme extent that she’s not left anymore. She becomes what she does rather than who she is.

My feelings? As a woman, power to the she is taking care of what you need to and taking care of yourself first. Eating real food and honoring your hunger and your nutritional needs when you are pregnant and breastfeeding. Having integrity, being kind, and saying no to things that are too much. Knowing what is too much and being able to create boundaries. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to beat yourself up if you can’t.

A lot of my clients feel so driven to be everything, that they wind up having these secret binge or binge and purge episodes or starving themselves, or exercising themselves into the ground. This isn’t okay. Women are being given the message that they have to be everything and they are hurting themselves to be so.

Power to the She? I’m rewriting this ad.

Be powerful, be strong, be good to yourself,  be everything that you can be, be proud of yourself, be encouraging to yourself and others, be loving to yourself, be loving to people around you, be kind to yourself, be compassionate to yourself, be calm, be bitchy, be happy, be sad, surrender control, honor your appetite, be in the moment, laugh, cry, let go, smell the roses, eat ice cream, drink wine, exercise when you can and try to relax and be you. 

 

 

 

Friday Q&A– I went from calorie counting to binge eating

i went from dieting to binge eatingThis question comes from Elizabeth in New York City.

Q:  I went on a diet last summer. I lost 40 pounds from June to November by eating exactly 1200 calories each day and running on the treadmill for 45 minutes every morning. Starting around Thanksgiving, I lost it all. I started bingeing at the Thanksgiving meal, and I tried to get back to calorie counting, but I haven’t been able to. I’ll go like one day but then I’ll binge again. I’ve gained back most of the weight that I’ve lost and I can’t seem to get a hold of my eating, and I’m barely even exercising anymore. Can you help me? I feel so out of control. How can I stop bingeing and get  back to my goal weight again? I’m miserable.

A: Hi Elizabeth,

First off, I’m so sorry that you’re on this roller coaster ride. I know how awful and out of control it feels.  Unfortunately, your case is pretty classic. Binge eating disorder almost always starts with a diet. Ironic, huh? I would encourage you to:

1.)Stop counting calories immediately.

2.)Eat at least three healthy meals each day.

3.)Learn your cues for hunger and satiety. Check in with your body and understand if it’s hungry, full, satisfied, neutral.

4.)Eat slowly and mindfully and as you’re eating, continue to check in with your body and see what it needs.

5.)Don’t let yourself get too hungry, don’t let yourself get too full. Try to satisfy your hunger gently.

6.)Bingeing and restricting are both very harsh, almost violent acts that you commit toward your body. Try to be very gentle and give it what it needs.

7.)Don’t restrict any particular food. This doesn’t mean that if you can’t figure out if you want pizza, or tuna fish, or a hamburger for dinner that you should have all three. Remember that there is always a next meal, and always another opportunity to eat. Often, the impetus behind a binge can be the rational, “I’m starting a diet tomorrow, so I’m not going to be able to eat this for a long time…” if you take that out of the equation and remind yourself that you can eat what you want to eat in a moderate and healthy way, you will find that the temptation to binge, the all or nothing mentality can shift a bit.

8.)As with your food, don’t let your exercise be black and white. Allow yourself to exercise 3-5 days per week even if you’ve had a challenging or a bad day with food. If you don’t feel good or are injured, let yourself rest.

9.)Recovering from an eating disorder is all about giving your body what it needs. That can be so hard. Self love and body respect are integral parts of recovery. Even if you don’t feel it at first, that’s okay and that’s normal. But that’s what you’re working toward. So even asking yourself, “if I loved myself and respected my body, how would I honor it right now? How would I treat it? What would I feed it?”

10.)Stop weighing yourself! Don’t let the scale dictate the way you feel about yourself. It’s incredible that we can allow arbitrary numbers (ie: 1200 calories, 120 pounds, size 2) tell us how we’re supposed to feel about ourselves. I blame the school system. But that’s another story…

As you find a middle ground between bingeing, restricting, and exercise, your body will find it’s healthy weight which will be comfortable and pleasing to you. I hope that this answered your question. Good Luck.

If anyone has any other answers, please do feel free to contribute in the comments.

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

 

Letting go of perfection…

One of the motivating forces behind eating disorders is the drive to be perfect. People hope for a perfect body, perfect eating habits, flawless skin,  trying to act perfect by always saying the right thing, they try to keep a perfectly clean home and car, and  on and on and on– whatever the individual definition of perfection is . The problem is of course, that nobody is perfect so in the strive for perfection, failure is inevitable.  Often, because of that, trying becomes a frustrating let down, as well as a horrible blow to self esteem. “I messed up, therefore I’m a failure, I suck, I’m a horrible person…” and descent into depression or further into eating disorder behavior, or other compulsive behaviors follow.  Some people have such high expectations of themselves that they feel paralyzed. They can barely function because their belief of what they have to be is unattainable so they figure “why bother?”and live in a stuck place where they are unable to go forward with their lives because they hate themselves so much for what they are not. Other people are not so dichotomous and strive toward perfection, but punish themselves when they fail. Like people who have very rigid eating regimens and so if they eat something off their plan they binge, and figure they’ll start all over again the next day. Or they might punish themselves by purging or doing excruciating exercise.

Letting go of the myth of perfection is not easy. So many folks have their heads wrapped around that goal that they believe their lives will be meaningless without it.

  • Remember that perfection is a myth. No one is meant to be perfect, that’s not the way life is. We evolve, learn and grow. Nobody can sit down having never played the piano before and play a perfect concerto. You must start from scratch, learn, practice, and make mistakes.
  • If you never made any mistakes, you would never learn anything. Mistakes are the way we learn. If you can learn from your mistakes rather than making the same mistake over and over again without learning anything, you are evolving.
  • Perfection is not a human or even animal trait. There is no such thing as perfection. That’s not why we exist on this planet. Of course  I don’t know why we exist, but I’m betting that being perfect is not at the top of the list. Especially considering that it’s so subjective.
  • Life is not exciting when our goal is to be perfect because we are unable to take in the intricacies of life. We become so stressed out when we “mess up” that we aren’t able to appreciate what is happening in the moment.
  • Having personal goals and striving toward them is crucial for happiness and joy. However, if the end goal is so rigid, the journey there won’t be enjoyable. The end goal might not even be attained, but what you can learn as you travel through can be more enlightening than what you even set out to achieve.
  • If you find yourself paralyzed, try to take one small step forward. Rather than thinking that you can’t do this overwhelming task perfectly, make small goals that will enable you to move forward.  For example, If you think that you have 200 pounds to lose, that’s very daunting and probably very difficult to begin. However, if your goal is something less daunting, like “try a new vegetable once a week” or “try and get some movement in every day” or “eat at least one fresh fruit and one fresh vegetable each day,” or “make an appointment with a nutritionist” you will find that it’s not too daunting. And if you go a day without getting movement or without eating a fresh fruit, you can always make up for it the next day, rather than thinking, “this is too hard, I can’t do it, I’ll just have to give up.”  It’s possible that you might not reach your end goal, but that’s okay. Your end goal is really health and by integrating changes, you will find improved health.  If you have a very messy house that seems overwhelming to clean, just do one drawer or one surface at a time. It might take you many weeks or months to complete the task, but cleaning one drawer or one section of your closet, or one corner of a room is a lot more doable than cleaning a whole house.
  • Rather than striving for perfection, think about what you can do each day that helps you to be the person that you like. Think about the things that you do that make you like yourself and try to do more of it.  You don’t want to do an overhaul and completely change the person you are, that’s a recipe for self defeatism and self deprecation, not to mention a complete self esteem killer.

Being who you are is what makes you perfect. No one can be a more perfect version of you than you.

The inner critic part II

Often, we become so bogged down by the critic inside of us, that we are unable to separate ourselves from that voice, the voice that feels like it is us, but really is not us. It’s the little judge inside of us that is a perpetual teenage girl telling us things like “you’re so fat, you’re so ugly, you’re so stupid, no one likes you…” blah blah blah. This voice isn’t real. This feels like it’s you, but it’s the part of you that criticizes yourself needlessly. This critic is not helpful. Sometimes we feel like it’s helpful, like it will help you to be a better person, but it won’t. Think about a child. Does a child feel good about herself and try harder when the parent tells them that they are stupid, bad children? No, the child feels terribly about herself. She eventually acts out as a bad child because this is what is expected of her. But what if a child is loved and encouraged. She is then more likely to feel good about herself and achieve more in life.  One of the ways to challenge your critic is to first notice it. When you feel yourself hearing things in your head like “fat, stupid, ugly… no one likes you,” blah blah, the teenage girl mantra.. first notice it, notice that this is not real, this is your critic. No one else is saying these things about you, just you are. And what if they are thinking these things about you?  First off, they probably aren’t, most people are too self absorbed to think too much about other people. Chances are if they are thinking these things about you that they themselves are very critical to self as well. If they are having critical thoughts about you it doesn’t matter. The only thoughts that can hurt you are your own. So having loving, peaceful thoughts about yourself will just feel better. To do this you must actively challenge those critical thoughts and then find your inner nurturer.  So, you’re at a party or even just at the grocery store and you’re looking down and feeling as though everyone is thinking bad thoughts about you and you are thinking bad thoughts about yourself. Notice that this is not real, that this is your critic. Tell your critic to leave you alone. Take a deep breath, look up and smile at someone, anyone. If they don’t smile back, find someone else to smile at. Try to get out from under your critic by connecting with other people. If love and peace and happiness is put out and mirrored back to you, your feelings will begin to transform. If you are submerged by your critic, you will feel trapped under its crushing weight, only to find yourself angry, sad, and lonely. Give yourself love and try to let it in as well.  Next… finding your inner nurturer.