Body Image and Size: My Life Will be Perfect when I’m a Size ___ (Yeah, right!)

Want to be Skinny

(Note:  All names and identifying information throughout my blog have been changed to protect individuals.)

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  A physician came in for help with anxiety and depression, and told me during one of our sessions he was going on a chicken diet.

“A chicken diet?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  Chicken is the perfect food.

If I eat mostly chicken and drink water, I can lose some of this.”  He grabbed some excess fat around his middle.

“I’ve researched it, and I can hit my goal in three months at the normal recommended 2 pounds a week pace.   I’ll have chicken for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I’ll drop the extra weight.  Then I can wear cool, manly clothes.  And the best part is women will be really into me.”

He smiled and looked out the window as though he’d discovered the answer to all life’s problems.

“So then you’ll have a perfect life?”  I asked.  I’ve heard this magical thinking from many people.  Countless women mentioned that when they became “skinny,” they would buy cute clothes.  I usually asked why they couldn’t buy them now, but they generally scrunched up their noses and thought that was crazy.  They insisted they had to wait until they were “skinny” to buy fun clothes.

In fact, many people use the word “skinny” as a magical word.  Once they are “skinny,” their lives will become enjoyable, but not one minute sooner.   They realized they can find attractive  clothes in larger sizes now, but had no interest until they were – drum roll please – skinny.

The magical thinking continues: Once they get skinny, they can dress better.  Then guys will want to date them, which will lead to a perfect  boyfriend, which will open the golden door to the perfect life.  Once the door opens, they get the successful, attractive boyfriend, the perfect wedding, and then buy a beautiful home.

Finally they have children, and as long as they stayed skinny, their lives will be flawless, dreamy, and perfect.  So goes the beast of

Magical thinking comes in many flavors:  Once I get a college degree, life will be perfect.  Or once I get married, life will be perfect.  Or once I have a house or a larger house, life will be perfect.  Or a very popular version:  Once I move to _______, life will be perfect.  But the truth is, once we rid ourselves of such magical thinking, we will be much more comfortable in our own skin. Life won’t be perfect this side of glory, but once we can rid ourselves of magical thinking, we will be much more at peace.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2017. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA,  LMHC appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Body Image and Eating Disorders: My friend says she doesn’t have an eating disorder, but I think she does

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A few mornings ago it happened again.  While staring at the TV in my “I desperately need more coffee” stupor, another ultra thin, bony movie star denied that she has an eating disorder.  I almost flipped channels on her because I am very tired of all the denial in Eatingdisorderville.  I don’t keep up on celebrity tidbits, but my morning wake-up show interviewed this woman.

This is not an uncommon denial.  I know several people who deny that their thinness is the result of an eating disorder.  Yet I sense they are extremely uncomfortable around food and are hyper-critical of their bodies.  On the other hand, I have a beautiful friend in her fifties who is thin yet does not have an eating disorder.  People have been quick to accuse her, yet I have been with her on several long trips and could not help but notice her relationship with food.  She definitely does not have an eating disorder.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit around and observe what people are eating and not eating.  Yet at the same time, due to my training and experience, I have noticed how many thin women meet the criteria for anorexia yet deny having an eating disorder.

From Behavenet:

“Early signs may include withdrawal from family and friends, increased sensitivity to criticism, sudden increased interest in physical activity, anxiety or depressive symptoms.

  1. Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (e.g., weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight less than 85% of that expected; or failure to make expected weight gain during period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected).
  2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
  3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
  4. In postmenarcheal females, amenorrhea, i.e., the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles. (A woman is considered to have amenorrhea if her periods occur only following hormone, e.g., estrogen, administration.)

Specify if:

  • Restricting Type: during the current episode of Anorexia Nervosa, the person has not regularly engaged in binge-eating or purging behavior (i.e., self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas)
  • Binge-Eating/Purging Type: during the current episode of Anorexia Nervosa, the person has regularly engaged in binge-eating or purging behavior (i.e., self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas)”

If you think a friend or relative may have an eating disorder and is denying it, research the subject carefully and proceed with love.  In my experience, the majority of women who are excessively thin do have eating disorders.  Obviously this is a tough call because sometimes it is difficult to know.  Yet if you sense an extreme fear of fat, and/or a magnified fear of food, you may be on to something.  At that point, it is best to educate yourself and to proceed carefully in loving her and calling her (or him) to glory.  Normally the first place to start is to learn all you can about the eating disorder.  And then tread lightly, remembering that to engage her in a power struggle about her denial is generally not a good idea.  Sometimes interventions work well, but before you proceed, study the subject from good sources.  I recommend www.aplaceofhope.com.  Then you can begin the process of calling your friend or relative to glory.  After all, that’s what friends and family are for.   Because if you don’t, she may end up robbing herself in terms of life expectancy.  The prognosis for untreated eating disorders are dark, yet  the glimmer of hope abounds with experienced eating disorder specialists.

Statistics:

  • 5-10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease and 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years.
  • Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness (including major depression).
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
  • Without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%

Body Image: Getting Work Done to Meet the Standard

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I hadn’t seen my friend Rebecca in over a year, and as we sat sipping coffee, I prayed that I wouldn’t stare at her lips, which had quadrupled in size since the last time I saw her.  I could feel my gaze slipping from her eyes onto the pair of pink slugs.

Some people are born with full, beautiful lips.  But not Rebecca.  She always had thin little lipettes until today.  They used to just sit on her face, but now they had their own reality show.  Every so often I had to force my eyes up to meet hers, as mine kept getting hung up on the big shiny blobs that sat where her lips used to reside.  They looked swollen and took up about a third of her face.

Cotton candy colored sparkly lip gloss gave The Lips a larger-than-life look.  I noticed people shielding their eyes from the glare.  Bubble-gum pink lip liner gave The Lips a multi-dimensional reality.   Apparently she had slapped on a jar of Vaseline to finish off the look.  I could not believe that she could talk with all the gunk on her lips.  It was a miracle.  I half expected The Lips to get stuck together, and then I would have to call 911.  I slipped into a daydream…

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

“Emergency Services.  How can I help you?”

Breathing heavily, I gasped for air.  “It’s my friend Rebecca,” I sputtered.

“What’s the problem, ma’am?”

“It’s her lips.”  There.  I managed to get it out.

“Her lips?”

“Yes, that’s right.  Her lips are stuck together, and …”

“Did she accidentally swallow Elmer’s glue?  That happens to a lot of first graders.”

“No, I think she wanted to have voluminous, movie-star lips, and had a lip job, then piled on truckloads of lip gloss, lip liner, and Vaseline to get the fullest look possible.  And now she can’t pry her lips apart.”

“Okay, this is obviously a prank call, and I’m gonna have to report you.”  Click.

“Cherrie, hello, are you listening?”  Rebecca rolled her eyes at me. “For a minute it looked like you were off in your own little world.”

Oops.  I guess she could talk after all.  I could barely track with Rebecca, even though I’m usually present with people nowadays.  I used to be off in my own head during conversations – thinking about what to make for dinner, where to go kayaking, or what color to paint my bathroom.   All the while people thought I was really tracking with them.  Then I went to graduate school where I learned the importance of being present with all people as much as possible.  Actually it’s a great idea, as Jesus was always present.  He wasn’t thinking about what color to paint his bathroom (oh yeah, I just remembered he didn’t have one), or what to build next while he was interacting with people.  Bummer I had to spend $60,000 to find that out. But it was well worth it, and I wouldn’t trade what I learned for all the Sweet Caroline’s truffles in the world.

I figured Rebecca had her lips inflated with collagen or whatever people do to fluff them up.  I admit I have tried to get fuller lips on several occasions using various over-the-counter products.  They worked well and made my lips dazzle.  The problem is it is impossible to eat or drink anything without the globby lip goo getting all over the place.   I couldn’t talk very well either without having the goop slide out the corners of my mouth.  So I could wear the lip fattener as long as I was not going anywhere that I would need to eat, drink, or talk.  My lips would look movie starrish, but I wouldn’t be able to talk!

The other problem I encountered after wearing lip fattener was that the next day I always would wake up with a big zit on the line between my lip and skin.  Ugh.  I usually refer to it as a “cold sore,” but everyone knows it is a lip zit.

Driving home from the coffee shop, I thought about the hundreds of conversations about body image that came up while I counseled women.  No matter why they initially came in, almost all women eventually expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies.  Only a few had issues with their lips, as in Rebecca’s case.  Some of them told of dissatisfaction with their hips or waists.  But many believed that if they attained a certain size or weight, they would finally achieve happiness and most – if not all – of their problems would dissolve.   Some of them exercised until their joints ached every waking moment as well as when they tried to sleep.  They fit our society’s standard of beauty, but their joints ached like a hundred-year-old woman’s from working out hours upon hours for years on end.

Still others had gained lots of weight.  Usually the weight gain started when they endured difficult life situations, and they had been roller coaster dieting for years and never addressing the underlying issues in their hearts that led them to food addiction.  They continued to wonder why they could sometimes lose weight, but could never keep the weight off. They were often shocked as they slowly lost weight during the counseling process.  This often happened even though we hardly ever not talked about food, eating, or exercising.  Instead, we focused on the roots of their issues and why they always went to food as their drug of choice for self-medication.  Issues with weight are much more about the heart than food.  People often try diet after diet after diet, losing weight, then gaining weight, then losing and gaining again until they feel dizzy.  But of course the weight almost never stays off because they are treating the symptoms only and not the underlying issues.

Some of my clients have lost weight and kept it off due to working through the issues of the heart that I am talking about.  I ran into a former client a few years ago at a grocery store, and noticed she had lost a significant amount of weight.  We started talking about it, and she said she had lost about eighty pounds.  I asked her how she did it, and she told me that most of her weight loss came from working on her issues in our counseling sessions.  This happened even though we had rarely devoted counseling time to food or weight issues.  The weight just gradually melted away as she worked the underlying issues which had brought her through the door in the first place.

Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, that’s the answer.  I’ll just go into therapy and work on my issues, then I’ll lose the weight I need to lose.”  While I am glad that some of you are considering this, I would like to tell you this a great start, but at the same time tell you that it will be hard work – something like climbing a mountain.   Some days you will get exhausted and feel as though you are walking in circles, covering the same ground.  Other times the therapy sessions will be exhausting and you will want to call a helicopter to get you off of the blizzardy mountain because it is so grueling.  Those are the times you will drive to Dairy Queen and order a gigantic blizzard, then  pull over to a lonely spot in the parking lot.  You will gorge yourself, shoving in the food as though you had not eaten in a week.  When you finish your last bite, you will feel a flood of shame drowning you in despair.

At this point, instead of giving up, my hope is that you will consider telling your therapist exactly what happened, as well as the fact that you want to pull out of therapy.  Then the two of you can process through the obstacles so you can recalibrate, just like your GPS says.  Notice that when the computer lady from your GPS says, “Recalibrating…” she does not say, “Recalibrating, you idiot!  I can’t believe you loused up yet AGAIN!  What is wrong with you, jerk?!”  She is always firm, yet gentle.  She is never shaming.  What would happen if you could take a lesson from her and be gentle and kind to yourself?

Body Image and Size: My Life Will be Perfect when I’m a Size ___ (Yeah, right!)

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Want to be Skinny

(Note:  all names and identifying information throughout my blog have been changed to protect individuals.)

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  A physician came in for help with anxiety and depression, and told me during one of our sessions he was going on a chicken diet.

“A chicken diet?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  Chicken is the perfect food.

If I eat mostly chicken and drink water, I can lose some of this.”  He grabbed some excess fat around his middle.

“I’ve researched it, and I can hit my goal in three months at the normal recommended 2 pounds a week pace.   I’ll have chicken for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I’ll drop the extra weight.  Then I can wear cool, manly clothes.  And the best part is women will be really into me.”

He smiled and looked out the window as though he’d discovered the answer to all life’s problems.

“So then you’ll have a perfect life?”  I asked.  I’ve heard this magical thinking from many people.  Countless women mentioned that when they became “skinny,” they would buy cute clothes.  I usually asked why they couldn’t buy them now, but they generally scrunched up their noses and thought that was crazy.  They insisted they had to wait until they were “skinny” to buy fun clothes.

In fact, many people use the word “skinny” as a magical word.  Once they are “skinny,” their lives will become enjoyable, but not one minute sooner.   They realized they can find attractive  clothes in larger sizes now, but had no interest until they were – drum roll please – skinny.

The magical thinking continues: Once they get skinny, they can dress better.  Then guys will want to date them, which will lead to a perfect  boyfriend, which will open the golden door to the perfect life.  Once the door opens, they get the successful, attractive boyfriend, the perfect wedding, and then buy a beautiful home.

Finally they have children, and as long as they stayed skinny, their lives will be flawless, dreamy, and perfect.  So goes the beast of

Magical thinking comes in many flavors:  Once I get a college degree, life will be perfect.  Or once I get married, life will be perfect.  Or once I have a house or a larger house, life will be perfect.  Or a very popular version:  Once I move to _______, life will be perfect.  But the truth is, once we rid ourselves of such magical thinking, we will be much more comfortable in our own skin. Life won’t be perfect this side of glory, but once we can rid ourselves of magical thinking, we will be much more at peace.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2017. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA,  LMHC appropriate and specific direction to the original content.