Body Image and the Perfect Size

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img_1771I finally began to understand that dieting becomes an undertow like the momentum of the ocean when it decides to roll out another glorious wave.  First it gets psyched up by gathering thousands of gallons of water.  Once it has collected bountiful rows of water, the wave curls upon itself and throws the water back to shore with magnificent power.

The same holds true with dieting.  You invest a great deal of time and energy into counting calories or carbohydrates and studying information about food.  On a Monday you start the diet that is going to make you “skinny” and have the perfect life.  So you pork out until you’ve almost outgrown all of your jeans because you’re a free woman or man until Monday.  Then on Monday your all-or-nothing thinking kicks into turbo mode and you have a “good” (perfect or close to perfect) dieting day.  You think you’re on your way to skinnihood, and you will have the perfect life because of your new skinny body.

But by Thursday or Friday, the cravings build up until you crave and eat everything not nailed down.  You pack your gut with all the foods you craved.  The binge is a violent experience in which you shove the food in like an abandoned dog that hasn’t eaten in a week.  You do this either alone or with one or more of your dieting buddies who have also bought into the cultural lie:  “If I am skinny, I will have the perfect life.”  Once again, you are scared that if you don’t stop this pattern, your weight will double and you will grow sad and lonely.

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And so you hop back on the diet train, but all you can think about is food and the tiny jeans you will buy.  Once again, your brain gets saturated with thoughts about food, fat, and rearends.   You go to stores, restaurants, your cupboards, and graze your way through Costco again and again until they figure out you’ve devoured all the samples and kick your rear end out.

Body Image and Children: Five and Feeling Fat in a Normal Body

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“Mommy, do these jeans make my butt look big?” my friend’s daughter asked her.  After assuring her five year old that she was exactly the way God wanted her to be, Sandy (not her real name) called to tell me.  She knows I’m writing a book on body image, and thought I would be very interested in the comment although it certainly created a wave of guilt and confusion in Sandy’s heart.

“Where on earth did Cassandra (not her real name) get this kind of thinking?  I’ve tried so hard not to verbally bash my body in front of her, and I try to praise her on what she does instead of what she looks like.  What on earth is going on?”  I could tell Sandra strained to hold back a floodgate of tears.

After letting Sandy vent, we talked about the fallout of living in a culture in which we see over 250,000 ads before the age of 17.  The ads, for the most part, scream out to women, “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is almost everything.”  That lie infiltrates our thinking and invades our souls to the point that we feel that a great deal of our value comes from how thin we are.  Due to this environment, women often talk about the triad of subjects that can easily lead to self-contempt.  Those are food, fat, and fannies.  Women are easily swept into the whirlpool of stinking thinking about their bodies.  If we are not careful, we can get pulled into the undercurrent of negativity.  Comparing ourselves with mannequins who appear to have such a low percentage of body fat that they would not menstruate if they were real people is certainly stinking thinking.

What would happen if women supported each other in stamping out stinking thinking concerning body image?  No more complaints about our fannies and other unassorted body parts.  No more talking about diets and fat and saggy, baggy eyes and breasts that hang to your knees.  No more stinking thinking, period!  (For more on this subject, check out my blog entitled, “7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter or Son from Eating Disorders.”Let us focus on the positive, and lightly sprinkle our conversations with a focus on health rather than obsessing about our various body parts that gravity is gobbling up.  After all, God knows our hearts and tells us to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).  So let us focus on using our gifts, talents and stories to help create beauty in the world instead of focusing on our so-called body imperfections. Be thankful you can walk and move and breathe without pain. I know what it’s like not to be able to do those things, even though I used to run six miles a day and swam competitively for years. (See “My Story “at the top.) The greatest beauty lies in giving thanks for what you have instead of focusing on our society’s insatiable hunger for the so-called perfect body. After all, the perfect body is the one God gave you.~

Want more? Read my book, Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit.

 

 

Confessions of a Purging Flunky

I was a purging flunky.  I remember back in high school when I first got whirled onto the merry-go-round called the Ferocious Foursome.  I had been on a diet (even though looking back I didn’t need to lose weight) and of course the feelings of deprivation consumed me.  This led to an all-out binge, in which I ate everything except the TV.  (You’ve probably been there, done that, and got the tee-shirt.)  So I figured there was only one thing I could do –  throw up.  Of course!  The perfect cure-all.  I tried, but was unable able to accomplish the mighty feat.  So I tried again, and instantly remembered why I hated getting sick. 

At first I got mad at myself for not being able to hack the act of hacking up.  It seemed like quite a few people were doing it.  At the time I did not know that 18-20% of people with eating disorders would die within twenty years.  I thought purging was the new ‘magic weight-loss answer’. I had no idea that years later statistics would flood in about the life-threatening health concerns associated with bulimia.  Many would end up accidentally killing themselves due to the horrific damage on their bodies.  Bulimia would eat up the lives of many girls and women, leaving behind families who were drowning in their tears. 

As a purging flunky, I skipped level three of the Ferocious Foursome and went on to the final four.  I ended up getting addicted to exercise for a few years.   Maybe you are wondering how anyone could possibly get addicted to exercise.  The biggest reason is that endorphins are produced.  Endorphins are similar to opiates, and provide a natural high.  Another definition describes endorphins as morphine-like substances originating from within the body.  The endorphins, combined with the payoff of looking and feeling superb, attract people into exercising more and more.   If you think of over-exercising in those terms, you may begin to understand how people get addicted.  

Bulimia of the purging or over-exercising type often emerges after a young woman’s boyfriend breaks up with her. ( To be more precise, one form of bulimia does not involve throwing up, but is based on over-exercising.)  A young woman compares herself to other young women, and starts to believe it was all about the size of her hips.  Comparing and coveting is an ugly animal, so it is no wonder that God commanded us not to go there.  He  knows that comparing and coveting poisons our hearts.  Even so, we have all driven in the fast lane of Coveting Road, probably more often than we realize.  The type of coveting I am speaking about in this case is when you see a beautiful, thin woman and you really wish you had her body.  Part of you believes this would give you the perfect life.  The problem is that because we live in a fallen world, there is no perfect life this side of heaven.

The “stinking thinking” (this is a twelve-step phrase) that if only I were skinny, then my boyfriend would not have left me gets programmed into her heart.  So she kicks her dieting into high gear, but later on blows her diet and binges.  So she resorts to purging or over-exercising.  Either one of the two meet the criteria of bulimia if they are entrenched enough, according to the DSM-IV TR, which is the official manual of diagnoses. 

Once the stinking thinking takes root in her heart, she feels that if she were thinner, then she could have kept her boyfriend.  Sometimes the guys throw darts of violent words about their girlfriends’ bodies, but even if they don’t, the girls are often spurred into bulimia.  (By the way, that is called abuse.)  The hundreds of thousands of messages in the media that endlessly echo “to be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is almost everything” shoot darts into her heart until it bleeds tears. 

Since they cannot stay on the diet wagon forever, girls and women (as well as a growing number of  boys and men) quickly grasp the idea that they can throw up their food and get away with it.  On the surface, it seems like the only solution, but decades of research shows that throwing up quickly morphs into an addiction.  Bulimia is profoundly more damaging than once thought.  Those of us who were “too sissy” to purge finally realized that it was a blessing in disguise.  My heart cries oceans of tears for those who are entangled with the beast of bulimia.  Bulimia is certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as it seems so innocent in the beginning.

What if you could get off the dieting/bingeing merry-go-round forever?  What if you could celebrate the body that God has given you, and say goodbye to the Body Image Bandit?  Continue in this voyage of healing as we share in the celebration of kicking the Body Image Bandit out of our lives.

Body Image and Healthy Eating: The Good Food/Bad Food Trap

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Have you been pulled into the good food/bad food trap? Do you find yourself putting all foods into the categories of “good” or “bad”? This thinking is quicksand that pulls you into the sick cycle of dieting, bingeing, purging (for some) and over-exercising (for some).

I remember a woman in her late twenties explaining her list of bad foods. Due to her fear of eating foods with excessive fat or sugar, she suffered from stinkin’ thinkin’ (as the 12 step programs say) in regards to foods. The problem with this all-or-nothing thinking is that we live in a world of gray. Obviously, if we eat high amounts of sugar and fat on a regular basis, our health suffers and we are more likely to become obese.

But the dangers of this black and white (also called “all-or-nothing”) thinking is that it creates a monster within that wants to devour so-called “bad” foods. It starts with deprivation. The first step of the stinkin’ thinkin’ involves trying to avoid the food. The second step is that we begin to crave them like a pack of starving wolves craves meat. This leads to the third step, which is bingeing. Once we binge, we feel ashamed and we drown in shame and get pulled into the cycle of addiction. We feel so bad, we vow to change and therefore elevate to the next step, which is dieting. But once again dieting makes us develop horrendous cravings for “bad” foods. So we give in to our cravings again due to feeling deprived. The deprivation is the ugliest part of this beast. Due to this sick cycle, it is no wonder that dieters usually gain back every pound they lost – plus more.

Deprivation creates an insatiable hunger. Normal people sometimes overeat and eat “bad” foods. So in order to get back onto the train of normal eating instead of dieting and bingeing and feeling shame, we would be wise to stop the stinkin’ thinking’. That means to stop labeling foods as “bad” or “good.” Say no to deprivation, and hop off the dieting/bingeing train that eats away at your body image.

What if you could learn to enjoy foods you used to label as “bad” in moderation? If you could kiss the dieting/bingeing train goodbye forever, you could reclaim much of the plunder of the Body Image Bandit. So go ahead…kiss the train goodbye and let yourself enjoy the peace of thinking gray instead of stinkin’ thinkin’. This will give the Body Image Bandit much less power in your life.

7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter (or Son) from Eating Disorders

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After her brother said she was fat, Karen (not her real name) vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans.  Most women who struggle with eating disorders remember this type of significant moment in their stories.  This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach.

When she regained consciousness, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?”  With tears in her eyes, she answered, “You can love her unconditionally.” 

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“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these elephant thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new pair of jeans.

“Maybe I have elephantitis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed me yet.”  Your daughter hears this, and you both laugh.

But the problem with these types of negative body image statements is that they cut deeply into her soul, doing much more harm than you realize.  Such comments, even if said in jest, reinforce the belief in our culture which screams, “If you’re not toothpick thin, you are ugly.”

This spurs girls, sometimes starting before age five, into dieting.  Then they begin the roller coaster ride of dieting and later bingeing because they feel so starved.

This leads to shame, which leads back to dieting again.  Even if they get down to a normal size, they still feel fat.  If they have people-pleasing, perfectionistic personalities, they often get swallowed up with anorexia.

If they are not people-pleasers, they often flirt with throwing up until it develops into full-blown bulimia.  But when they throw up, they are actually trying to purge all the hurtful feelings stored in their hearts.

This is why learning to express true feelings is so important.  (I will write more about this in another blog.)

Here are some ways you can protect your daughter (or son, as more and more boys are developing eating disorders) from eating disorders:

  • Avoid talking about dieting, fat, or your fanny.  Whenever you do this, your daughter is getting the message that her value rests on how thin she is
  • Discourage dieting, as it usually leads to a lifelong obsession with black-and-white thinking in regards to food
  • Discourage your daughter from looking at beauty and fashion magazines.  Research shows this leads to depression
  • Stop praising girls for their beauty.  Instead, focus on their other strengths and accomplishments, When we praise girls for their appearance, we reinforce the cultural tsunami of lies that drown girls in feelings that they are only valued for their appearance.
  • Be aware that certain activities such as ballet, modeling, gymnastics, and wrestling often emphasize thinness, which puts your child more at risk for developing an eating disorder
  • Encourage your child find out which physical activities he or she enjoys, so they can have fun while getting exercise
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle.  Research shows that kids tend to pick up their parents’ lifestyle habits, whether they are smoking, exercising, obsessing about dieting, or eating lots of sweets.  Work toward moderation so that they don’t feel deprived, yet get the benefits of a well-rounded eating pattern

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Of course there are no guarantees, but these suggestions will help your child to feel good about himself or herself, appreciating the unique characteristics that God has given them.   Also keep in mind that many more boys and men are now falling prey to eating disorders.

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© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This article is taken from a newsletter on my web site:  www.notjustsymptoms.com.  Click on Newsletters on the right side of the home page.

My Body Image Story, Part 2: The Magic Number

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About two years after moving to Maui, my family moved back to the Mainland. But the bubbly, outgoing teen that landed back at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had changed forever. The new version had been ravaged by daily harassment until she grew into a shy, depressed young woman who had only a fraction of the confidence she had two years prior. Stepping out of the plane that blustery November day, we drove to Southcenter first to buy some warm coats. We no longer owned any. All we had were windbreakers, and the Pacific Northwest weather laughed at our flimsy attempts at warmth.

The first days of school are somewhat of a blur. All I wanted was to fit in. I was certain I would be able to find my place in the middle school, and greatly looked forward to belonging, just like in the days before moving to so-called “Paradise.” Belonging is something all people crave, but young teens crave more than other age groups. Our hearts long to be assured that we are connected and loved. I had always been very well-liked, and a leader. So I assumed I would pick up where I had left off.

But I had forgotten one important detail. That is, my skin now glowed with a deep golden bronze tan, and my hair had been painted white-blonde by the paintbrush of the Hawaiian sun. Just as I did not fit in living on Maui as a haole in a school with only a handful of white students, I now did not blend in because of my deep, dark tan and white-blonde hair. Since it was November and tanning salons had not been invented, most people were very pale – kind of like my legs right now, which almost glow in the dark! Also, my body had blossomed and now appeared athletic but full-figured. This sparked interest by the boys, and jealousy in the girls, even though I didn’t want a boyfriend. All I wanted was to fit in like I used to do so well, before we moved to Maui. Thankfully, another girl moved from southern California at about the same time, which took some of the pressure off.

Over time, the tan faded and my hair darkened until it reached “dish blonde” color. (That’s such a weird phrase. I think of after Thanksgiving, when the dish water looks grody and gross, with little food particles water-skiing on top of the muck!) Even so, my soul had been changed forever and now felt heavy and dark. But my entire Maui experience is another book for another time. I have several parts written, but for now it hangs out under my bed with the dust bunnies. Overall, I felt good about my body. I liked the fact that I was strong and able to swim and run. I didn’t worry too much about what to eat until I started looking at a lot of beauty and fashion magazines, such as Seventeen. How could I help but notice the tall, thin models? Not one of them had a curvy figure like mine, and not one was under 5’9. So I decided, for the first time, I needed to lose weight. I was fat, I thought, and baffled because I had never realized it.

I told my dad I was going to go “on a diet,” and he said he thought I didn’t need to. “If you want to lose 5 pounds or so, why don’t you just cut down a little each time you eat?” I could not believe how out-of-the loop he was. I looked at him as if he had three heads, and told him, ”Dad, I have to go on a diet. Nobody just cuts back a little – dieting is how everybody does it.” I sighed at his ignorance on the subject of beauty. He definitely needed to spend more time reading beauty and fashion magazines, and less time working, hunting, and fishing. I wondered if he would ever get a clue. How could he be in his late thirties and be ignorant to one of the best inventions of mankind – dieting?

I decided to start my diet on – drum roll please- Monday. Of course you already knew that, because after all, isn’t that the way the cookie always crumbles? I think there is an unwritten eleventh commandment, “You shall start all diets on Mondays.” But as soon as I began to even think about my first diet, I started to crave almost everything. Except Brussels sprouts. Food, food, food was on my mind what seemed like 24/7. I craved chocolate, chips, hamburgers, donuts, and even white cake. And the weird thing is that I had never really liked donuts or white cake much. So why was I craving it? Because as soon as I limited the foods and categorized them into “good” and “bad,” the cravings began. And that is how I started a cycle of going on and off diets, throwing my poor body into a tailspin. (Years later I realized that God doesn’t even categorize foods as good and bad. So if he doesn’t, why should I?)

During high school, my family moved once again (we moved about every two years, so I never had the chance to establish roots)and I became good friends with Diane. She had a lot of friends and had been elected ASB president. Diane was athletic and brilliant, but she continued to get gnawed on by the Body Image Bandit because her brother and sister were models. Not long after we met, she did some number crunching and informed me that I should weigh 105, based on a chart she had discovered in one of her beauty and fashion magazines. Because I had been brainwashed by the fashion and beauty magazines, I believed she was right. And so I hyper focused on food, fat, and my fanny. Day in and day out, I thought, read, and studied about food, calories, and how to look good. I started to believe that my value was mostly in my packaging, and based my value on whether or not I could weigh 105. I had a new formula for a perfect life- 105. The magic number.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.