Seeking True Health in a Health Obsessed Culture

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True Health

Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I recommend taking a critical look at how you define health in your life and to reflect on how your definition of health is impacting your overall wellness.

When you say something or someone is healthy, what drives your sentiment?

I usually hear the following impacting this statement the most:

  • Looks
  • Weight
  • Fashion
  • Food choices
  • Fitness routines

And by the frenzy of advertisements everywhere about all of the above, the definition of health in our culture has been skewed to meet the needs of for-profit industries while also fueling disconnection and shame about the food we eat, our bodies, and our stories.

It is time to start thinking critically about the messages we are integrating into our definition of health.

Any person, book, or program that touts drastic weight loss, cutting out major food groups, or specific results is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. None of these diets or “lifestyle choices” are sustaining after 1-2 years. The facts show weight cycling from dieting, disordered eating, and serious eating disorders are continuing to wreak havoc on our health.

I respect and totally get the desire to look good and feel good. Yet, there is a dark side to these pursuits when the meaning and motivations are based on fear, obsession, and untruths.

I am troubled by the loud chorus of people in the medical and wellness fields that are getting on the bandwagon of fear of fat and an over-focus on the number on the scale as a measure of true health.

And I am even hearing health preached from the pulpit. Yet when people in faith communities are equating virtue with the number on the scale or whether you eat certain foods, it only results in more anxiety, confusion, and discontent. Shaming people to lose weight or eat well in the name of God hits below the belt and increases psychological and spiritual wounds.

I am surprised how many people are still using the archaic BMI (Body Mass Index) as an indicator of health. It is simplistic, formulaic, and reductive. The BMI does not take into account your genetics, unique physical makeup, and lifestyle. Yet it is still used as the gold standard for whether someone needs to lose or gain weight.

And I am still skeptical of the FDA standards of the BMI knowing that many of the people on the board have or have had connections to the diet industry. If the BMI is a part of your definition of health, I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider its role.

We do have some serious issues to address regarding wellness in our country, but the myopic focus on weight + good food/bad food is missing so many other factors that contribute towards true health. And until we have a multidimensional view of health, we will keep spinning.

I talk a lot about what health is NOT.

I believe health is not:

  • determined only by the number on the scale;
  • achieving the “perfect” body or striving for unhealthy perfection;
  • eating food restrictively or based on a “good” food or “bad” food mentality;
  • unsafe relationships;
  • an obsession with eating healthy where there is no room for flexibility;
  • dieting and demonizing foods and food groups;
  • shaming, blaming, or judging self or others.

I also talk a lot about how I define health.

I believe true health is:

  • finding something you are passionate about and striving to spend most of your waking hours in this space. When people are bored or feel trapped in jobs or situations that drain them of their creativity, their motivation, and ability to sit in vulnerability, this has a negative impact on mental and spiritual health which in turn can develop into physical ailments.
  • having a relationship with money where you are living within in your means and have enough to give and save. Leaning too heavily on finances as a means of control or comfort gives money way too much power over your peace of mind. And using money as a means to medicate can create chaos and a cycle of stress that negatively impacts mental, physical, and spiritual health.
  • involvement in your local community. So many people are disconnected from the places they live, but emotional wellness comes when we feel safe, have purpose, and community.
  • having a faith + regular spiritual practice. Understanding we are loved beyond measure and there is a greater purpose for your life gives perspective and meaning in all circumstances.
  • having a deep soul connection with a special few individuals who you can be real with, share your fears, mistakes, dreams, and hopes. Feeling heard and understood creates connection. Connection breeds empathy and gratitude. Gratitude impacts how our brains fires and improves our well-being, body, and soul.
  • living in a body that has energy, its needs met, is rested, moves well, and is free from pain. And when many are living in chronic pain or have chronic illness, practicing the previous five points can actually help improve their physical health. The only numbers of real concern are on your labs checking your bloodwork and other internal functions.

In the days and weeks to come, I will dig even deeper into these components of true health.

I am curious: How do you define health in your life? What do you think of my definition of health?  I look forward to and value your thoughts and feedback on this important and controversial topic.

Rebecca

 

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Doing the Work: We are in it Together

 

When it comes to shame, we are all in it together — it levels the playing field.

There is no “us and them” with shame.

Shame just levels.

Like thousands upon thousands, I deeply resonate with Brené Brown’s research, books and Ted Talks.  I have been integrating her definitions and theoretical orientation into my work with clients, in my own life and faith walk over the last few years.

And I longed to do this work on a deeper level.

So when the opportunity to train with Brené and her team came up – I was in.

And I found out how much I was in last weekend during the second of two weekend trainings.

As Brené writes in her psychoeducational Shame Resilience Curriculum, Connections:

There is no getting around it: You must do your own shame work in order to facilitate this material Wholeheartedly.  In my research I have found shame to be a difficult and painful topic for both laypeople and mental health professionals.  Unlike many of the other topics that professionals study, when it comes to shame, there is no “us and them”.  As professionals, we don’t have the luxury of thinking, “Let me learn about this topic that affects my clients so I can help them.”  Shame is universal – no one is exempt.  If we can’t talk about shame and examine the impact it has on our own lives, we certainly can’t be helpful to others.

Driven by my own professional standards and ethics, my heart sang as I read further:

Our most basic ethic as mental health professionals is “to do no harm”. I believe we risk violating that ethic when we examine issues with clients we have not examined in our own lives.

Here’s the bottom line: You should not do this work with others until you have done this work yourself.”

Game on.

Since I started this training last July, I realized it is one thing to read the books, listen to the Ted talks and seminars, and recite the definitions in talks and in my sessions with clients.

And it is a whole other thing to live. this. work.

I had originally planned to have my husband come with me on this weekend away.  I knew this work was going to be hard.  Getting personal with a bunch of professional people I did not know sounded like a mild form of torture. But my husband had to cancel at the last minute.

So I went into this experience way more vulnerable then I intended.

I realized quickly true vulnerability makes my skin crawl.  Sure, I share deeply and authentically with MY people.  But with strangers, mental health people at that, heck no!  Everything inside my head said, “Zip it.  Walk Away.  Do not let these parts of you be seen. Stop now!”

I was still under the impression I could avoid vulnerability while still meeting my desire for connection.

And I began to build up my armor. I made commitments to myself to only share “this” much.  I was going to just have a toe-in-the-water experience, check the box and then get on a plane to go home. Stat!

Best laid plans…

After I arrived at the training site, I had some precious quiet time.

I felt this quiet nudge that said, “Go deep.  I am here with you.  Allow yourself to really be seen.”  I pushed back.

“Are you (bleeping) kidding me?  These are a bunch of strangers.  Therapist strangers.  It will not be professional to do the Oprah-ugly-cry in front of them let alone have certain parts of my story seen. And (bleep), I do not want to talk about THAT stuff. This dark stuff in MINE.  I think about it, pray about it. But you have to be a really special person to me if I am going to talk about THAT stuff with you.”

Yeah, it was a scrappy prayer time.

But I trusted where I was being led and the leadership team. I pushed through the resistance and leaned into the experience.  I shared.  And was seen. I cried at times — in public. I did not share the deep soul dark stuff in full detail but I pushed myself to touch on it.  I was vulnerable in all its glory.

At one point, I dropped into the shame zone.

I began to hand over my worth to others.  I worried what the other participants and leaders thought. Surely, I was going to be the first person they denied certification.  I was too much. A burden. Not fit to be a clinician. I blamed, judged, and thought things that were pretty ridiculous in hind site but at the time seemed completely reasonable. I had tunnel vision.

And then I remembered to pull my worth off the table and not leave it open for discussion or debate.

I practiced the skills of shame resilience. I drew from courage and spoke with a new friend.  I named my shame.  I connected.

And I felt clear again.  Still raw, but grounded in Truth because I reclaimed my worth and value from the collective other. I felt empowered because I was able to reboot and get grounded so quickly.

Yes, I still struggle with the discomfort of vulnerability, but I have a new-found respect for it after this experience.  I am exhaling into the growth, catharsis, and healing that comes on this  side of experiencing vulnerability along with a deeper sense of connection and intimacy with those in my life.

And I know this process will continue for the rest of my life.  But I now am better equipped when I see shame a-comin’.

Empathy, Authenticity, Vulnerability, Courage, Shame — they are no longer trendy jargon to me.  They have three dimensional meaning and depth that has come from doing this work. Living this work.

And my commitment to scaling this work is more impassioned then ever.

This week, we are wrapping up two cohorts of our Cultivating Courage Workshop at Potentia.  I am still in awe of what I witnessed from the 20 people who went through this experience.

We will be launching mini workshops on topics that support this work in addition to weekend Cultivating Courage Intensives and more weekly workshops.

Even if you do not live in San Diego, there is an opportunity for you to dig deep and start the journey towards building shame resilience. I would love to walk with you on this journey.

It is hard and important work.

But never forget, we are all in it together.

Rebecca

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Dividing the Pain

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I received an email last week from a dear high school friend detailing the failing health of her mother.  I immediately picked up the phone and called her.  My plan was to let her know she is in my thoughts and prayers + how much I love her and her family.

But as soon as I started to speak, my words turned into a hot mess of jumbled words and tears.  I choked up as I realized the depth of my love for my friend, her family and the role they all played during such an important season of my life.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in myself for my ramble as I had wanted to be “strong” and a rock for her during this tough time. I felt a bit like my message was a burden and that did not sit well with me.  A few days later, I wrote my friend and apologized for my hot mess of a voice mail message and more coherently articulated my sentiments.

Minutes after I fired off my apologetic email, I received a voice mail message from my friend.  She was so gracious and noted how touched she was by my expression of emotion in addition to being encouraged knowing how her mom had impacted me.

(Note to self: authentic and sincerely expressed sentiments are ok.  Lighten up on yourself for not being “perfect”.  Yes, I am a recovering perfectionist.)

And then my friend said something so beautiful and brilliant.

“When you have things like this happen, you just want to divide the pain.  When I sent the email message to those I love sharing the bad news, there is some comfort I received in dividing that pain and having others hold it with me.  So, thank you.”

My friend shared more about the path that was ahead of her and her family as they seek to make her mom comfortable while her body slowly shuts down.  This led my mind to race with memories of how our lives and families intersected over the years:

  • time at her childhood house;
  • getting ready for homecoming;
  • sleep overs;
  • sneaking out and skipping school during state tournament season;
  • late-night swims;
  • eating at their kitchen counter;
  • getting in trouble at their kitchen counter;
  • practicing our cheer routines;
  • going to her cabin;
  • flying to California for my sweet sixteen/golden birthday birthday;
  • double dates;
  • mean girl drama;
  • jerky boy drama;
  • family weddings;
  • and few other memories that are best to remain private. 🙂

I love my friend’s statement about dividing our pain and am very aware of how so many people I know personally and professionally keep their pain silent within themselves, often for fear of being rejected or a ridiculed.  And some do not feel like they can manage the vulnerability of being seen in their pain.  Then there are those who do not have safe community they can reach out to and trust when they are struggling.

I really believe lasting healing happens when we divide the pain by giving witness to our hurts and invite others into our experience to share our load, our burden.

And for many of those I work with at Potentia, I have had the honor of giving witness to their pain, struggles, shame and fears.

The power of sharing your story, receiving support + respect instead of shame + judgements is medicine for your soul.

Let’s be honest, it is risky to be open about your heart struggles. To allow yourself to be seen – with safe and boundried people –  as not strong enough, tough enough, perfect enough allows the lies of these negative beliefs to dissipate.

I really think we miss out on incredible healing opportunities when we do not divide the pain and instead put on masks telling people, “It’s all good.”  or  “It is meant to be.” or  “It could be worse.”  My friend could have minimized things but instead she leaned into her safe and loving support system.

I wonder, what are the negative beliefs that are keeping you from reaching out?

What one risk can you take today to reach out and divide the pain?

Never forget: Real+Safe relationships heal.

Having a safe and sincere relationship with God, yourself  and others is crucial to managing the curve balls of life + experiencing the blessings in life to the fullest.  Shame says, “stay hidden”.  Truth says, “You are worthy to be seen”.

Dividing+Conquering  –

Rebecca

PS – Thank you Mrs. A for raising an amazing daughter who blessed my life richly and for loving me – along with the rest of the young women in your world of influence  –  as one of your own.

 

 

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The ABC’s of Self-Love: B is for Beauty

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I am excited to participate in my first ever Blog Crawl (find out more about The ABC’s of Self Love Blog Crawl + Treasure Hunt here), hosted by Molly Mahar of Stratejoy  celebrating the upcoming launch of her Fierce Love program.   I really appreciate Molly’s commitment to helping others discover the power of truly healing your relationship with your body and your story.  Molly would say how important it is to “adore yourself” in such an infectious and genuine way that you can’t help but take pause and believe she is on to something.   So when she tapped me to be the writer for the letter “B” with the topic of Beauty in her Fierce Love blog crawl, I was humbled and excited

Beauty. It is a tricky word and hard to define.  Defining beauty is very subjective, personal, intimate.

There is also a narrow standard of beauty, dispensed by the multi-billion dollar advertising industry, which has left those who believe this definition with intense body hatred, low sense of of worth, depression, depleted bank accounts, anxiety, fear of intimacy and dangerous food and body issues.

Some of the many lies perpetuated from this narrow definition of beauty state that you will be loveable, feel more confident, life will be more tolerable: if you weigh a certain amount, your body looks a certain way, you dress a certain way, you play by everyone’s rules and act a certain way, your (fill in the blank) is (fill in the blank).

It is time to stop the crazy-making, take back the power that has been externalized to the opinions of the “collective other” and (re)claim how you define beauty.

How do you define beauty?

I must confess, I spent years believing a flawed definition of beauty.  I was a slave to what other people thought of me.  I worked my body hard and rested little.  I hated what I saw in the mirror and was an approval junkie.  I was unsatisfied, frustrated, disconnected from God and my own values and dreams. I was lost.  And really tired.  All because I wanted to be beautiful in the eyes of others with the hopes I would then in fact be beautiful.

I thought the world’s definition of beauty = being enough.  I was just drinking the Kool-aid.

But thankfully, I healed some infected wounds, fought some battles, had a gun held to my head (twice – that is another story) and experienced some fierce love from myself, God and some incredible people.  I woke up to the lies I was telling myself about my worth and value and regularly fight back the desire to play the lose–lose game of comparing myself to others.

I now revel in the awe-inspiring beauty of courage, generosity, gentleness, kindness, sacrificial love, compassion, vulnerability, motherhood and respect.

I discovered confidence, the power and importance of surrounding myself with safe people. I say, “No thank you,” a lot and “yes” to my calling on this planet therefore putting the “shoulds” and “have-tos” in permanent time out.

I regularly push back on the lies shame tells me and now know that being perfectly imperfect is a whole lot more life-giving than striving for perfection. (This one can be tough on some days…)

I believe the state of my heart, character, integrity are more powerful indicators of beauty verses my outside image.

How do you define beauty? Is your definition is keeping you stuck, in pain and shame or is it is life-giving and freeing?

What changes are you going to make in how you talk about beauty so you do not inadvertently collude with the world’s definition of beauty?

With fierce love –

Rebecca

 

 

Find out more about  Molly’s “The ABC’s of Self Love Blog Crawl + Treasure Hunt” here.

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Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?

I had the chance last weekend to meet Jess Weiner, a self-esteem and body-acceptance expert.  It was a real treat to meet her as I have been aware of her advocacy work for some time and I have come to really respect her voice on issues dear to my heart.   She authored an article published in Glamour that hit the stands on Monday in the states that is bold, courageous and honest.  I encourage you to check it out.

Jess expressed some trepidation with being so transparent about her shift in ideology that involved a newly focused attention to her weight and her labs.   I could see she was bracing for criticism and comments of betrayal by many as she boldly stated her previous definition of health was keeping her very unhealthy.  Personally,  I think Jess’s story brings up some important issues around health and numbers.

As an eating disorder treatment expert, I have worked for years helping men and women detox from the diet mentality and the shaming effect of our “thin” obsessed culture.  Part of their recovery journey is the process of letting go of the stronghold of numbers (on the scale, sizes on their clothes, calorie counting) which have become entrenched in their identity.  For many, the Healthy at any Size movement created a space to seek true health while not focusing exclusively on scales and charts, such as the antiquated BMI.

I speak and advocate to my clients and large groups on theses principles of the HAES model:

1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes.
2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include
physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects.
3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.
4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger,
satiety, appetite, and pleasure.
5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather
than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss.

Yet, discussing numbers is a touchy zone for those of us treating those struggling food and body issues.  On one hand, there is an importance to letting go of the numbers that can plague us and rob us of our peace and true worth.  But for many, if and when the individual is ready to manage this information appropriately, gaining awareness of how one’s body is functioning and performing ( ie: knowing labs and weight) can often be an important part of recovery in healing one’s relationship with food and their body. Truly empowered body acceptance involves making sure your body is operating at it’s best.

This can be a scary place for many who spent years obsessing about the number of calories they ate or burned at the gym. Many people, like Jess, who are in recovery from an eating disorder, understandably swing to the other direction and want to avoid numbers and doctors as they were a significant trigger and source of shame. It comes as a welcome break to not think about the numbers and many end up avoiding good health care for fear their brain will grab onto the numbers like the jaws of life if they go there.

Yet, denial is not a part of true health.

Neglecting your health is not true health. It may take a while, but finding the right doctor, as Jess did, who is knowledgeable and not shame based about such matters may be an effort but is necessary.

I remember when I was first asked by a client, “Is it ok for me to want to lose weight?”. I have since heard this question frequently in my office from women and men of all shapes and sizes. I respond by asking “What are your motivations and what is the meaning for you if you lost some weight?” Flushing through the answers to these questions is important to assess as you seek to make sure your definition of health is not going to keep you stuck or do your body harm.

The sole focus on weight in regards to health has and continues to be harmful. Shaming someone for being overweight does not motivate someone to make true change and reduces the chance of someone hearing important information about their body.

I still despise the scale. It really is a trap. Yet, totally neglecting our physical health in the name of health is not wise or recommended. For many, if their labs are ok, it gives them a reason to still engage in their eating disorder behavior. I see this a lot. If an individual is using numbers as a reason to avoid doing important deep soul work, than it is time to re-think this approach to living life because it will eventually spiral to a dark place.

I believe Jess is adding an important and much needed dynamic to the size-acceptance discussion. She is taking ownership of her choices and putting herself out there sharing what she has learned. I also believe she is doing this responsibly by giving out information with full disclosure and context. I am excited for a provocative discussion to follow up as a result of her leadership.

This is a nuanced and highly personal topic for many.  I am always inspired when I meet someone who walks their talk.  I especially admire those who have put themselves out there and adjust previous held beliefs while holding their head high and standing strong.  The journey towards true health in the public eye is a gutsy one and I thank you, Jess, for being you.

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