August 2, 2011

Huffington Post Article: Sexualization of Young Children Linked to Eating Disorder Development

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:18 pm by colleenperry

Sexualization of Young Children Linked to Eating Disorder Development

Posted: 8/2/11 08:29 AM ET
As early exposure to themes of sex becomes the norm, children of younger ages are expressing discontent with their physical appearance. Results from a recent survey suggest that children rank body image among the highest of their concerns, above both self-confidence and social life. Recent research also suggests that nearly 50 percent of females between ages 11 and 16 would consider cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance.

These findings have striking implications about the factors comprising young children’s self-image and esteem. Eating disorders are now presenting in childrenas young as 6 years old, with dieting becoming more common among those under the age of 10.

Such ardent focus on physical appearance also comes in response to overly-sexualized messages from the media. Stars considered favorites among youth (i.e. Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens) have received much press for exploiting their bodies on stage or through images leaked on the Internet.

The media also speaks to the import of sexuality and attractiveness among youth through TV shows such as “Toddlers and Tiaras.” In this week’s most recent episode, 6-year-old beauty pageant star, Eden Wood, can be seen on stage gyrating her pelvis like a professional stripper during the “talent” portion of the pageant. The message that it is important to be sexy is clear, even if you still have your baby teeth!

Actress Gina Davis, is engaging law makers like Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., to support a bill called the “Healthy Media for Youth Act.” Ms. Davis believes that the more hours of television a girl watches the fewer options she believes she has in life. “Of the female characters that were there, the vast majority … were either highly stereotyped or were serving mainly as eye candy. So the concern was clear, what message does this send to young children about the value of girls?” Ms. Davis said.

Girls, more often than boys, recieve the message at an early age that in order to be valued, they must look attractive. Attractiveness in our culture requires one to be thin and to appear sexy. This form of validation is externally driven, which leads young girls to believe that their value lies in the judgements of “others.” Their internal sense of self is not developed adequately, which in many cases, leads to the eating disorder behaviors.

As a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, I am often asked what motivates me to treat this often misunderstood and life threatening disorder. My goal is to help teenagers and young women navigate their way through our culture which, I believe, diminishes the value of women and all of our gifts. We are bombarded with images of unrealistic beauty. Often we are taught to value the feelings and needs of others before our own, restricting our voices and distilling our spirits into a pretty package. I envision a world where women feel joyful about living their lives knowing their beauty and power lies within them.

July 29, 2011

If You Still See Black and White, You Need a New Pair of Glasses!

Posted in Happiness, Political at 12:00 am by colleenperry

If You Still See Black and White, You Need a New Pair of Glasses!

I was standing around Peet’s Coffee in Santa Monica the other day waiting for a friend. While I waited for my coffee to be made a black man, I later found out his name is Carl, turned to me and asked “Are you ready?” I immediately answered back “I’m ready!” He smiled and asked again “Are you ready?” With more enthusiasm I answered “I’m ready to do my part!” He smiled wide and said “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” At this point we were connected. I knew exactly what he was talking about… am I ready for the change indicative of our newly elected president? We both had Obama on the brain!

Then it got really funny… I went in to shake his hand at the same time he gave my the high five hand, so I tried to switch really quickly but didn’t make it so we ended up with one of those spastic looking high fives. I joked “I’m too white to do that right!” He let go a genuine laugh of delight and said “That’s right! Now we can talk about what we’ve all been thinking. We don’t have to be afraid of each other any more.”

That day we were just two strangers connecting over a shared joy… a pride in us as a people for electing a black man for president. Now I could say, a man of color, or an African-American man, or a half-black, half-white man which is more accurate to describe Barack Obama, but that’s the whole point of the story. I don’t have to fear not being politically correct, because I no longer feel a division between us a nation as an untied people. The difference in the color of our skin no longer seems to matter. In fact, making us aware of our differences seems like just another way to keep us apart. In that one shining moment, all of that was thrown away and a real connection was felt, by Carl and by me, and by anyone lucky enough to witness my spasmodic display of hip hand gestures.

The very next day, my dear friend from Texas sent me this quote: “Of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge”– Winston Churchill. I had to think about it for a minute but that pretty much sums up race relations in this country. When we focus on our “outer selves”: skin color, ethnic background, cultural and socio-economic differences, then sure, relationships with one another can appear intensely complex. But when we focus on connections, one human being to another, relationships are simpler. This applies to our relationships to other countries in the world, as well. Why is this?

It’s because we all have the same needs. Let me reiterate this, we all have the same needs. Our first level of needs is basic: food, water, shelter, clothing, and protection from life-threatening illness. Once that is met, we have higher order needs, for example, emotional safety, connection, respect, truth, understanding, acknowledgment, and friendship to name just a few. The terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 were trying to meet their needs for recognition, respect, honor, freedom, truth, and justice. Similarly, when we capture and keep prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for years without “due process” we are trying to meet our needs for safety, truth, justice and freedom. In both cases, the terrorists and the US government were trying to meet similar needs but in a tragic way. To continue to see the world as ‘us’ and ‘them’ will keep us in the same mess as when we have applied the same ‘us’ and ‘them’ viewpoint to our own brother and sister citizens.

My needs for community, truth, consciousness, compassion and connection were all met on Election Day 2008. I have never been more proud to be an American Citizen than on that night and every day since. Bill Clinton once remarked “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America.” Norman Lear described himself as a “Born Again American”. I like that! I understand it. I’ve been yearning to feel a part of something great for a long, long time. I don’t have unrealistic expectations for president-elect Obama. No one man or woman can be all things to all people, but I can tell you this: I am ready. I am ready to ask him “What can I do for my country?” I think that would make John F. Kennedy and Carl very proud!

July 28, 2011

The Way I See It

Posted in Anxiety, Depression, Life Enrichment at 11:59 pm by colleenperry

Be more selfish this holiday season and you will have a better holiday. Many of you doubt my last statement don’t you? But I invite you to answer these questions for yourself:

• Do you give of yourself to others only to be disappointed in what you get back?
• Do you believe that if you put others first that you will be rewarded in some way?
• Do you often feel drained of energy as though you have nothing left to give?
• Do you carry around anger, guilt and resentment?
• Do you often feel “taken for granted” or “taken advantage of” by others?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you will benefit by being more selfish. First, let’s first define the term so that we’re all on the same page, then I will make my case.

Selfish-1. Concerned chiefly or only with oneself. 2. Caring supremely or unduly for one’s self, regarding one’s own comfort, advantage, etc. 3. (Ethics) Believing or teaching that the chief motives of human action are derived from love of self.

I’m writing this because I think the word “selfish” gets a bad rap. What’s wrong with taking care of your own needs first so that you can meet the needs of others with integrity? Do you even know what your needs are? (If you have a hard time answering “yes” to that question, write me and I will happily send you a list of needs that we all share as human beings.)

From the moment we are born we are very in tune with what we need, and we would cry in order to let someone know that a need wasn’t being met. Our very survival depended upon it. So what happened along the way to us that threw us so off course from going after our needs as our top priority? For me, I was taught that being “selfless” was the way to go. Selfless: Having, exhibiting, or motivated by no concern for one’s self, unselfish. There’s a big difference between sacrificing for others, versus benevolence toward others.

Read on and I will show you how getting your needs met will benefit you by giving you more freedom, choice, and integrity in your life.

The concept of Choice is an important part of the Selfish lifestyle. The ability to make choices based on fulfilling one’s needs eliminates the feeling of guilt. The ability to choose and the absence of guilt leads to true freedom, which I believe, are essential to happiness. How often, especially during the holidays, are we trying to make everyone happy, and by doing so, feel we need to put their needs before our own? My mentor, Bill, calls this acting out of duty and obligation.

Everyday we are presented with a myriad of choices. If we are clear about what needs are getting met in any given choice, we can stand firm in our decision. This is the first step to eliminating guilt. Now we are acting from an empowered position of meeting our needs, rather than merely acting on “feeling”.

Making choices based in love of self and not based in duty and obligation leads to true freedom. I propose that is this sense of freedom which is essential to the attainment of happiness in life. If, for instance, we perceive that we are limited in our choices, we will tend to feel frustrated, powerless, and overwhelmed with anxiety about the future. If, on the other hand, we perceive that we have options, choices, we will tend to feel empowered, hopeful, and free to choose the direction of our lives.

I’m not talking only about the “big” choices we all make; I’m talking about the little everyday ones too. Each time you act in your self interest it builds upon itself increasing your sense of freedom. For example, your very good friend asks you to come to her party Saturday night. Instead of saying yes and feeling guilty about the time you spend apart from your husband and children, check in with yourself to see what needs will be met by going to her party, and what needs are met by staying with your family. Make your decision based on your priority of needs.

Each choice you make from this place keeps you in integrity with yourself. Living your life from this place of integrity eliminates resentment. Eliminating resentment is one of the most positive changes you can make. Resentment is poison to mental health. I once heard it described this way: “Resentment is like me taking poison and hoping that you die from it.”

Now you may be thinking that if you always acted in your self interest you wouldn’t have any friends left. Not true! You are modeling for them honesty and integrity. My friends never have to wonder how I really feel. This frees them up to meet their own needs as well. I now notice the people in my life who choose to live in a place of self trust and self love, and those that choose to live in duty and obligation. I can feel the difference in energy between the two. So although you may be spending the holidays with friends and family that are not in touch with their needs and the benefits of selfishness, don’t despair. The way I see it is if you’re going to be called selfish for taking the last piece of pumpkin pie, know that you are simply meeting your need for choice.

The Way I See It: Why Thankfulness and Selfishness Go Hand in Hand

Posted in Anxiety, Depression, Family, Happiness, Life Enrichment at 11:58 pm by colleenperry

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of selfishness, especially to those of us who are people pleasers. I had no way to predict the flood of responses I received from women expressing their gratitude that someone was giving them permission to take care of themselves FIRST. Here’s what Jessica from Texas had to say on the matter:

“I have to say I am thrilled to be coming to the end of the year – it seems like there are a lot of days off, etc. And I would like to think that I have crafted my holidays to meet more of my needs than my imaginary obligations these days, and it most certainly didn’t used to be like that. I remember spending hours, days on hand-crafted gifts for all of my family members and then been totally shocked when I got something incredibly impersonal in return. I once got a hair chamois from my cousin – you do not want to know. Now my family goes gift less, except for the children, and I informed my husband last night that over the holidays we would all be making sandwiches for my synagogue’s sandwich drive and serving them at a homeless shelter. Including him. Because the children need to see the adults in their lives doing these things. In years past we would adopt a family and buy them toys, but you know what? I would rather serve food to homeless people because even buying other kids toys seems a little materialistic to me this year. This is probably way more than you wanted to know, but my point is, I love the fact that being “Selfish” can actually evolve into being more “selfless” since my selfish self actually wants to do things for others this holiday! So there!”

Here’s what Amy from Florida said:

“Such an important reminder in a season when SO much obligation comes up. I would love to receive the needs list if you can send it. PS if anyone ever calls me selfish, I smile and say thank you! It sure has taken practice to become more full of self!”

Now having shared all of that, I’d like to now focus on the Jessica’s experience that having taken care of her own needs; she had the desire and the energy to focus on doing things for others this season. Let’s talk about the importance of volunteering our time. I think it’s wonderful and admirable if you are generously giving money to the myriad of charities and non-profits that need it. They couldn’t do their work without money. But if you’re looking for the ultimate “feel good” experience, there is nothing more potent than volunteering yourself to a worthy cause.

My personal experience is all I have to base this on. For much of my life I have battled depression, and for much of my life I have volunteered to help those that I felt were less fortunate than me. Even in my times of deepest sorrow, volunteering has given me the perspective that I needed to go on. Additionally, it added to my self-respect which was critical at a time when I felt I wasn’t worth very much. I once heard it said that self-esteem comes from doing “esteem-able ” things. I wholeheartedly agree with that.

If you are one of the millions that doesn’t have the ideal family, or the job or relationship of your dreams, please do not despair. Getting “out of yourself” by helping someone else can give you an immeasurable sense of connectedness and gratitude. Case in point: Every year my partner and I load up the Harley with toys and ride on over to the Glendale Harley dealer where we are met with hundreds of other biker enthusiasts. From there we all ride over to skid row downtown where we unload thousands of toys for the children living in the shelters there. Picture the toughest “biker dude” you can imagine with a little girl’s bike, pink tassels on the handle bars, flowered seat and pretty pink basket, bungee-corded to the back of his hog! I’m not joking. It happens every year. Teddy bears of all shapes and sizes strapped to the front of the bikes diligently guide their drivers to the awaiting children. It’s a sight to see. Then we spend hours handing out the precious cargo to chubby little hands and the sparkling eyes of the children, while their grateful parents help them make their choices. Okay, I’m getting a little teary just writing this!

This morning I came across an article about an amazing 11-year old boy named Brenden Foster. For those of you who don’t know the story, Brenden had been told he was dying of Leukemia. On the way home from one of his clinic visits, he spotted a large group of homeless people. He said “I thought I should just do something”, but he was too weak to do it alone. So he and others started a food drive in his town and the story caught on so that many more towns and cities have since gotten involved. Brenden’s one wish in his remaining days was to help others that needed helping. My Lord, what an inspiration! Brenden died last Friday, but his legacy lives on. Sorry, tearful again.

The way I see it is this boy is an inspiration to us all, no matter how much time left we have, no matter how much or how little money we have, we ALL have the choice to give of ourselves in making this crazy, wonderful, broken-down world a much better place. Try it this season. You’ll be very glad you did, and from a selfish point of view, you’ll get back so much more than you gave.

The Way I See It: Let’s Make PTSD a Household Name

Posted in Depression, Trauma at 11:56 pm by colleenperry

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may not be a “household name” yet, but it soon will be. As our combat veterans return from Afghanistan and Iraq, we will be inundated, as a country, with cases of PTSD and TBI, traumatic brain injury. Are we equipped as a nation to meet the mental health needs of our veterans? It doesn’t look good.

Our new president must priorititize the development of programs that address the concerns of this population which are unique to this era. As reported in The Therapist by Terry Nash MFT and Sharon Crane MFT, “Extended military action and the constant redeployment of troops, creating a schedule of limited visits home and continual return to the war zone, disrupts family life in a way not required in previous wartimes…perhaps the most traumatizing aspect for soldiers and their families was when their military contract was due to be complete and an honorable discharge was eminent. Stop-loss was often implemented by the Pentagon and soldiers were required to remain in the war zone.”

I can tell you from personal experience that the symptoms of PTSD affect not only the soldier, but their entire family, their friends and often, their employers. Some of you may remember when the U.S. invaded Panama in the early 1990’s. Most of you have probably forgotten that little skirmish, but select special forces troops like the Army Rangers were sent in. My brother, Jamie, was among them. He and others parachuted under the cover of darkness into the jungle.

After his return, my brother was never the same. He experiences bouts of uncontrollable anger which have contributed to the dissolution of most of his personal relationships, including ours. In addition, he suffered some profound changes to his personality, as though his moral compass went missing. After being lied to and stolen from by him on many occasions, I made the heartbreaking decision to eliminate contact with my brother. My father and the three mothers of his three children have made the same choice. My mother continues to believe in him and tries to help him whenever he is in trouble, which is often. This in and of itself has caused a tremendous strain on my relationship with her. As you can see, there isn’t a member of his family that hasn’t been impacted by his untreated PTSD, including his children. I truly wish that love alone were enough to heal his pain.

Of the concerns relating to veterans and their families, here’s what Nash and Crane report: “One is the emotional impact of regaining family traction and a new homeostasis after the initial joy of reunion. Problems of displacement, unrealistic expectations, children feeling disengaged from their long-absent parent, PTSD symptoms from the stress of combat left untreated, and brain trauma or loss of limbs are some of the immediate distresses. Exacerbating these disturbances is the common trend of returning troops to deny mental and emotional difficulties when processed through re-entry prior to discharge for fear they will be detained. All they want at that point is to go home to be with loved ones…there is a frequent myth in the military that only weak soldiers have mental health issues after combat.” It seems clear to me that in order to effectively evaluate the need for treatment, we need to start right here, the point of de-briefing. Let’s bring in skilled counselors and therapists for this job, working alongside military personnel.

Let us not forget that trauma occurs not only from combat itself, but from sexual assault and sexual harassment while in the military. Current statistics show 23% of women report having been sexually assaulted while in the military, and 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment while in the military. The VA hospitals are overwhelmed and underfunded. Otherwise, I don’t know of any effective government programs that are currently addressing this urgent concern. In the private sector there are wonderful organizations bringing their skills and talents to helping our combat veterans. One of them here in California is called The Soldiers Project of which I am a part. We are therapists, psychologists and social workers specially trained in treating PTSD who volunteer our time to seeing combat veterans in our offices. I am very new to this organization, and there have been many giving freely of their time for years now. But this is not enough.

We need a national commitment with money behind it to develop comprehensive treatment programs and education aimed at erasing the stigma of seeking therapy and treatment upon their return home. In our current state of economic crisis I fear these types of programs will be put on the back burner, but the way I see it is the cost of turning our backs on the needs of our military men and women, we are setting ourselves up for the same fallout that occurred after Vietnam, affecting millions of families and our society as a whole for generations to come. President-elect Obama, are you listening?

In a future blog, we will look at the ways in which life in combat and life at home are totally at odds with one another in order to give you a better understanding of the challenges these men and women face.

The Way I See It: Combat Vets and the Problem With Coming Home

Posted in Depression, Trauma at 11:55 pm by colleenperry

A recent article in People magazine asked the following questions “What’s happening at Fort Bragg?” and “Is the Army doing enough to protect its women?” Three female soldiers from the nation’s largest army base have been murdered in the past six months allegedly by spouses or boyfriends that have served time in Iraq. These homicides echo the Fort Bragg murders of 2002 in which four Army wives were killed by their soldier husbands-three having just returned from Afghanistan. I could focus on how the military fails by not taking domestic violence seriously enough. That’s clearly the case. However, in each of these cases there were warning signs which look eerily similar to symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I believe many of these domestic violence cases are a direct consequence of untreated PTSD.

Violence is inherent in the military culture. If we couldn’t train soldiers to kill, we wouldn’t be in the position to defend ourselves as a nation very effectively. I get that. The problem becomes how do we, as a country, address the issues these brave men and women face upon their return from war, where violence was considered necessary, to home where violence is inappropriate yet still just as lethal? Here are a few examples to illustrate the vast differences between combat life and home life, and why it can be so difficult to adjust to civilian life:

In Combat: Maintaining control of weapons and gear.
At Home: Too controlling. Becoming angry when someone messes with your stuff. Nobody cares about doing things right. Back home, the small details are no longer important. Family decisions are best shared.

In Combat: No one understands your experiences except your buddies who were there (cohesion). Bonds with fellow soldiers that will last a lifetime.
At Home: Withdrawal. Avoiding friends and family. Friends and family changed while you were away; re-establishing these bonds takes time.

In Combat: Targeted aggression involves making split second decisions that are lethal. The enemy is the target.
At Home: Inappropriate aggression e.g. snapping at your kids, buddies, or your NCO; assault or spouse abuse. Back home, there are no enemies.

In Combat: Armed at all times. It’s dangerous to be unarmed.
At Home: Urge to be armed continues. It’s dangerous to be armed.

In Combat: Controlling your emotions is critical for mission success. Controlling emotions is necessary.
At Home: Failing to display emotions (detaching), or only showing anger, hurts relationships. Limiting your emotions lead to relationship failures.

In Combat: Talk about mission only with those who need to know (OPSEC).
At Home: Soldiers may avoid sharing their deployment experiences with loved ones. The need to know now includes friends and family. It is important to share your story with loved ones.

In Combat: Your responsibility in combat is to survive and do your best to keep your buddies alive. Life and death decisions…in the heat of battle.
At Home: Guilt. Feel you have failed your buddies if they were killed or seriously injured. Bothered by memories. Learn from what happened..without second guessing.

In Combat: Unpredictable fast driving to avoid IEDs. Driving fast avoids danger.
At Home: Aggressive driving leads to speeding, accident, fatalities back home, driving fast “feels right” but is dangerous.

In Combat: Survival depends on discipline and obeying orders. Giving and following orders involves a clear chain of command which does not exist in families.
At Home: Too rigid. Trying to order around family and friends causes conflict.

In Combat: Alcohol use was limited.
At Home: Alcohol is now plentiful. Many soldiers use alcohol as a way to cope with deployment experiences, but this is not healthy. Learn to relax without using alcohol. 1

After reviewing this information it was obvious to me why it is inherently difficult for combat vets to return home, not just for some, but for most. They have seen the horrors of war- images most of us cannot even imagine. Add to that exposure to IED’s (improvised explosive device) wherein the soldier is exposed to an explosive device that, if they survive, can leave permanent brain injury.

Then add to that, the suspension of “right and wrong” and the loosening of moral codes. The example I’m thinking of is the systematic torture by US soldiers and other government agents of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Make no mistake, these were not crimes perpetrated by a handful of rogue soldiers. These torture crimes were being committed by and condoned by the highest level of military intelligence. At first glance, I was disgusted by the pictures thinking that these men and women lacked any kind of conscience and morality. But when I heard the conditions of the prison were such that they were being bombed and targeted by enemy shells almost daily inside the prison, my PTSD alarm bells started ringing!

These soldiers will not just miraculously recover once they are returned to “normalcy”. I heard one soldier say that “When we go over there, we consider ourselves already dead. If we return home, then we are lucky, but otherwise, we couldn’t do what we need to do unless we are already gone.”

The way I see it not only do we need more programs to evaluate and treat their PTSD, but in doing so, we need to help them acculturate to what has become a distant and foreign concept- home.

“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind….War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” John F. Kennedy

1 Walter Reed Institute of Research Land Combat Study Team, U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command, Update 13 September 06 (www.battlemind.com)

Tips For Positive Change in the New Year

Posted in Happiness, Life Enrichment at 11:54 pm by colleenperry

With the New Year approaching, I know I’m not the only one thinking about changes I’d like to make in 2009. To do this, I ask myself, what qualities really worked for me this year and what qualities didn’t serve me so well that I can “let go” of.

For instance, I made a commitment to myself in 2007 to “let go” of self-consciousness. The result was that I had to come to terms with my perfectionism and how I view myself. Self-consciousness cannot exist without self-judgment… I have been militant about looking at all my self-judgments and combating them with compassion. (I’m noticing my use of the terms “militant” and “combating” and realize I still have a way to go as far as compassion for self is concerned). Sometimes that compassion comes in the form of positive affirmations or self-talk, and sometimes it means giving up certain behaviors, like working out in order to “deserve” to like myself. This has helped me enormously when trying to prioritize my time. I now ask myself “What feels joyful?” and then I do that! I’ve also chosen to examine where those judgments come from and what parts of me need healing for all my years of self-abuse.

This year I’m focusing on the quality of patience… never my strong suit. I’m finding that by waiting, either to act or to say something that’s bothering me — often situations tend to resolve themselves. That doesn’t mean that I’m passively living my life. On the contrary, I’m usually quite pro-active about things. But sometimes, in my need to express my negative feelings without censoring, I’ll act too quickly when waiting would have been more prudent. This emotionally-laden tight rope that I walk is a direct result of years of “people pleasing” and suppressing negative feelings. Everyone needs to find the balance between patience and expression that is right for them.

So patience is the quality I’m embracing. What I would like to have less of in my life is my need to make my point of view the right point of view. What I’m realizing more and more is that my feelings are always right (feelings don’t lie, they’re automatic, no sense judging them), but that everyone feels that their point of view is the right one. This year it’s my intention not so much to be “right” but to have my needs for understanding and consideration met. And when I’m determining my priorities this year- what to fit into my schedule and what to get rid of, I always consider the following story that was told to me many years ago by my dear friend, Ana…

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things- your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Ride your bike with friends or just feel the breeze. Play another 18.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. The coffee just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

New Year’s Resolution: To Be Happy in 2009, Stop Dieting!

Posted in Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders, Life Enrichment at 11:52 pm by colleenperry

It’s that time of year again folks… time to make that all-important New Year’s resolution. I feel like the odd-one-out by having a different goal for myself than to lose weight. In fact, the phrase “On Monday I’m starting my diet” has become so common place in our culture, no one bats an eye when they hear it… no one but an eating disorder specialist, that is!

When I hear someone say they are “dieting” my skin crawls and I want to shake some sense into them. How can millions of Americans still be lulled into dieting by the promise that “this time it will work?” It’s like a mass delusion we are allowing ourselves to buy into. It truly makes me crazy!!

In order to break out of our delusion, we must acknowledge the crucial fact regarding dieting and weight loss — dieting does not work. At any given moment, some 20 million Americans are actively dieting, and 95% of them will regain that weight and probably more. Most people will blame themselves for their failure to lose weight, without seeing that they were set up to fail by thinking that losing weight by dieting was plausible. Here are two main reasons why dieting doesn’t work:

1. Set Point — The human body has a variety of survival mechanisms designed to maintain its optimal weight. These mechanisms perceive a restriction of food intake as an emergency, like starvation, and make adjustments so that the body holds on to precious pounds instead of letting them go. Everyone’s body has a particular weight range of between 5 to 10 pounds at which our bodies are the healthiest and work the most efficiently. This “set point” can be influenced by diet, heredity, age, health, and activity level; but generally speaking, each of us has a natural weight our bodies want to be. In fact, our bodies fight to maintain this optimal weight (homeostasis).

When we restrict our calories through dieting, this is interpreted as starvation, which causes our metabolism to decrease and our body to slow down to preserve calories. On the flip side, a larger amount of food is a signal to speed up the metabolism to compensate for calories that are not needed. This is the way our bodies are designed to work in order to keep us at a natural, healthy weight. Now this weight might be higher or lower than you think it should be, but it’s the one your body wants to maintain as optimal. As long as you are not starving (dieting) or stuffing (binging) yourself, you can eat a variety of foods — more on some days, less on others — and stay a stable (homeostasis) size. This is the hard part for most of us…this size is not yours to determine, it is only yours to accept and ultimately love. This is where all of your hard work needs to go, self-acceptance and self-love, and not be wasted on dieting.

2. Water Balance — Rapid water loss accounts for almost all of the weight decrease during the early stages of a restrictive diet. When the body is deprived of blood sugar via restrictive carbohydrate consumption, the liver will first break down its own stored sugar (glycogen), and then converts amino acids from muscle protein into sugar. Now, here’s the “science” part; the glycogen and amino acid molecules are both surrounded by water which is released from the cells, passes to the kidneys, and is excreted as urine. This is the reason dieters initially can lose several pounds of (water) weight quickly. However, the kidneys adapt to this loss of water by retaining sodium and consequently, water. It’s this adaptation of the kidneys that causes dieters to experience a weight loss “plateau.”

And so it is that this water-retaining principle combined with a decreased metabolism can cause a weight rebound when you begin to eat normally and your body perceives that it is no longer in danger of starvation. In order for any type of weight loss to be successful, your body needs time to adjust to a new way of life, whether that means incorporating more movement and less overall calories or movement and calories coming from healthier sources, wherein the balancing of water and metabolism are crucial. (Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery)

Oprah’s weight struggles exemplify this principle. The major problem Oprah faces is not obesity, but body-acceptance. It’s clear that Oprah’s body was never meant to be comfortable at a set-point that makes her a size 6. Unfortunately, with each new “failure,” the desire to be this unnatural size consumes her.

I recently read an interview where she states how disappointed she is with herself for gaining back the weight she had lost… and why did she gain it back? Because she was fasting on liquids which her body interpreted as starvation, her metabolism slowed down, so that when she began eating solid foods again, her metabolism wasn’t prepared to make use of them. Oprah has done vigorous exercise and healthy eating regimes to lose weight as well. I suspect this has not worked in the long run for her because of the time commitment to exercise, not prioritizing her life around exercise, and her inability to incorporate her favorite “comfort foods” regularly enough that she doesn’t feel deprived. If she doesn’t have the experience of “deprivation” she most likely will not need to binge on these foods later on. Then comes the work around self-acceptance and love. This is so important to self-worth that unless this is in place, no amount of weight loss is going to make her happy. Clearly this is the challenge before her… not looking for self-esteem through an idealized body image.

Her struggles with weight and dieting must be a cautionary tale for all of us. It’s the dissatisfaction with self that leads so many from dieting to eating disorders. Over the next 12 weeks, I will be laying out a recovery plan that, if followed, may free you from the chains of dieting for good. Originally I called these The 12 Steps of Recovery from an Eating Disorder, but you don’t need to have an eating disorder for them to work for you. You are welcome to write me here at HuffPo or on my website to share how these steps are working in your life. After all, as the famous cat, Garfield once said, “Diet is Die with a T.”

The 12 Steps of Recovery from an Eating Disorder
1. Admit you have needs that haven’t been met.
2. Seek help and support.
3. Look for answers… don’t stop until you’ve found them.
4. Look for solutions… stop submitting, stop rebelling.
5. Practice gratitude daily.
6. Develop a balanced point of view.
7. Share your stories with others… you are not alone.
8. Clear away the wreckage of your past… mourn the lost opportunities.
9. Continuously revise your life story.
10. Practice honesty and compassion for self and others.
11. Meet your needs… communicate honestly and directly.
12. Knowing that you are not powerless, food will fall into its healthful place.

The 12 Steps of Recovery From Chronic Dieting

Posted in Depression, Eating Disorders, Life Enrichment at 11:51 pm by colleenperry

Last week I invited you to welcome in the New Year by stopping your dieting. I gave 2 compelling reasons why diets don’t work for lasting weight loss, set point and water balance. This week I’m going into more detail on the first step toward “diet recovery”: Admit you have needs that haven’t been met.

Every one of us is born with a set of needs that is unique to them. This is called our temperament. We all have the same basic needs, but the priority given to each need and preference varies from person. Much of our temperament is determined by genetics, and some is formed as we live our life… so some is the result of nature and some the result of nurture. To a large extent it is believed that the attunement to our needs by our primary care giver at birth determines our responses when our needs are not met. For example, the woman whose mother or father was emotionally distant may use other sources to get her needs for nurturing, love, and connection met. In time she may discover that food seems to soothe the pain of these needs not being met by her parent(s). Food is constant, non-judgmental, and often, easily available (unlike her parent). Or consider the boy that goes “unseen” by his alcoholic family. He devises a way of using food to numb his rage and pain. Or the little girl who grew up as “the apple of her father’s eye”, whose needs were met until she began puberty when her body began to change, and her father grew distant and uncomfortable around her. She begins to restrict her food, unconsciously thwarting her natural growth into maturity through dieting or anorexia.

Admitting you have needs that have not been met is the first step of 12 for a very good reason; unless you are in touch with the needs that you are currently meeting with food, dieting, or binging, you have very little chance of permanently breaking free of the cycle of weight loss/weight gain. Some of the needs met by food include but are not limited to: autonomy, freedom, choice, comfort, connection, reassurance, predictability, emotional safety, sharing, community, family, and pleasure. Some of the needs met by dieting include: autonomy, freedom, choice, individuality, self-worth, self-respect, purpose, acknowledgment, being liked, respect, friendship, companionship, acceptance, aesthetic, validation, exercise and movement. You can see how some of these needs overlap, but I hope the prevailing point is that there are a lot of needs met by both dieting and not dieting. The goal is to acknowledge first that your needs are legitimate… all of them. For some people this is the most difficult part. Many of us feel undeserving of getting our needs met. Maybe you were told you have too many needs i.e. “Don’t be so needy.” Maybe you were told to submit your needs by putting the needs of others first i.e. “Don’t be so selfish. Help your mother.” Maybe you weren’t even aware that you have needs! That’s not so uncommon.

So, are you nourishing yourself lovingly with healthy foods and healthy relationships? If so, you’re probably not the chronic dieter or someone with an eating disorder. For the rest of us, the challenge becomes twofold: 1) being able to know your needs, 2) figuring out how to get them met. The second part may require trial and error, but trust me; it’s worth putting in the time. Think about all the time, energy, strength (willpower) and money you have invested throughout your life in dieting and weight loss. Imagine investing equal time, energy and strength into getting your needs met! Spend the money too if you need professional assistance. What is stopping you? What scares you about doing this? You are worth it! For all the people you love and for yourself, why not make this investment in you? What would change as a result? Some of you secretly fear that if you were to become healthy (a person that you like, someone whom you admire) your current relationships would no longer serve you, and then where would you be? I understand this fear, but it’s fear that keeps us stuck in old beliefs and old patterns. It is love, love of self, and love for others that is our salvation.

So, to recap, here are the 12 steps to recovery from chronic dieting or eating disorders:

1. Admit you have needs that haven’t been met.
2. Seek help and support.
3. Look for answers… don’t stop until you’ve found them.
4. Look for solutions… stop submitting, stop rebelling.
5. Practice gratitude daily.
6. Develop a balanced point of view.
7. Share your stories with others… you are not alone.
8. Clear away the wreckage of your past… mourn the lost opportunities.
9. Continuously revise your life story.
10. Practice honesty and compassion for self and others.
11. Meet your needs..communicate honestly and directly.
12. Knowing that you are not powerless, food will fall into its healthful place.

Next week we will go into depth on step 2: seeking help and support. Please visit my websitewww.colleenperry.com for last week’s blog and for more information on this subject.

How to Free Yourself From Dieting: Step #2

Posted in Eating Disorders, Life Enrichment at 11:50 pm by colleenperry

Seeking Help and Support is step #2 in ending the battle of chronic dieting. It’s also the second step in recovery from an eating disorder. If you’ve been dieting all of your life in order to attain thinness, then you may not be able to achieve body satisfaction and meet the need for self-acceptance alone. If this is you, the greatest gift you can give to yourself is to enlist others…friends, family or professionals to help you achieve healthy body weight (your body’s natural “set point”) without extreme caloric restriction.

Seeking Help and Support might look like:
• Calling a friend when you’re feeling like restricting food, or the opposite, eating past the point of hunger. Sometimes meeting the need for connection takes the place of binging. www.overcomingovereating.com
• Find a “self acceptance” buddy, someone to remind you of all your wonderful qualities that have nothing to do with your body weight, shape or size.
• Be your own “self acceptance” buddy. Make a list of all your unique gifts and qualities that have nothing to do with your weight. Look at all of the ways that you contribute to the lives of others. Don’t forget to list all of the wonderful things your body accomplishes for you every day despite the years of deprivation or over-indulgences. I.e. carrying and birthing a baby, running a 5K, sitting upright at your computer for hours, fighting off a cold, dancing, singing, hugging, etc. You get the picture? Post these on your bathroom mirror so that when the critical voice of dieting tells you “Your thighs are too big”, you are reminded that you are far more than just a body part. www.nourishingconnections.com
• Remind your family and friends that body “trash talking” is no longer on your agenda. It’s so commonplace to put ourselves down and rip others apart piece by piece, that unless you are conscious of it, you may not even notice it. www.bodypositive.com
• Make up your own body-loving affirmations. You don’t love your body?? No problem, the affirmation can go something like “I am learning to appreciate my body every day.” Pick something that works for you. This is mental support…support from within. www.thedressingroomproject.com
• Recognize all of the ways that thinness and dieting are being marketed to you every day. It’s estimated that as Americans we see 3,000 advertisements a DAY! You can’t honestly believe that you are aware of them all, and what you aren’t consciously aware of gets stored into the sub-conscious. That is why advertising is so powerful. www.campaignforrealbeauty.com 
• Make an appointment with a professional dietician. This is someone who has an RD (registered dietician) after their name. They can help you to understand healthy eating and balanced nutrition, safe weight loss for obesity, the role of hormones and metabolism, and can develop a customized daily food plan until you can begin to eat “intuitively” again. Many people have trouble maintaining a healthy weight due to hormonal dysregulation. Conditions like hypothyroidism, PCOS, and even diabetes can influence your weight. www.understandingnutrition.com
 Consider hypnotherapy for releasing your unconscious blocks to healthy eating and moderate exercise.www.powerjourneys.com
Don’t be afraid to talk to a professional therapist if you need more support. Ingrained patterns can be very difficult to change. www.edreferral.com. With individual or group therapy you can:
Improve upon relationships with self, friends, family and others
Learn new ways of dealing with depression, anxiety and stress
Handle situations and food without feeling out of control
Learn how to have a healthy relationship with food
Explore beliefs about your own body
Eliminate feelings of resentment and guilt

It’s important to ask yourself if there is more going on than just body dissatisfaction. What I mean by that is could you be masking depression with the drive for thinness or by over eating for comfort? Often, chronic dieting or the development of an eating disorder is a mask for feelings in your life over which you sense you have no control; depression, anxiety, or loss. Your body, then, becomes a battleground…something over which you need to exert control. Often by treating the anxiety and depression, or doing grief work resolves the underlying drive for control.

If financial challenges stop you from seeking out a professional, here are several good books to help you overcome your body dissatisfaction and chronic dieting:
Full Lives – Lindsey Hall
Overcoming Overeating: When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies – Hirschmann and Munter
When Food Is Love – Geneen Roth (anything by Geneen Roth!)
Fed Up-Free Yourself From the Diet Trap– Wendy Oliver Pratt
Breaking Free From Food Jail – Jean Antonello
Eating In the Light of the Moon – Anita Johnston
You Can Heal Your Life – Louise Hay (anything by Louise Hay)

For more resources, please email me at www.colleenperry.com. I look forward to contributing to your journey toward health. You don’t have to go through this alone.

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