Fawn was looking for a way to change her relationship with food…and her body. As a mom of 2 kids, working full time, she wasn’t sure how the Cravings Cleanse would work for her:
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I’m so mad and crunching my way through a bowl of popcorn. Not a small individual size either. A full-sized, this-should-be-enough-for-four-people bowl.
I’m angry and want to destroy.
I want to scream and fight back.
But I can’t — or so I think — so I crunch instead.
When I was getting divorced, feeling betrayed and cheated, I spent many nights alone, watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls, ruminating about how unfairly I was treated, stewing in my righteous anger.
I wanted to call him up, and scream his lies back into his face.
I wanted to take out a full page ad in the Hollywood Reporter about his infidelities.
I wanted to tell his family the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
But I didn’t. That wouldn’t be taking “the high road” as I’d been taught to do my whole life. That wouldn’t be responsible.
So I crunched. And crunched.
This is Anger Snacking.
You know what I’m talking about:
- Your boss assumes you’ll work overtime, and you end up putting in more hours than humanly possible, only to find out the project doesn’t get off the ground.
(How many Excel spreadsheets am I going to have to color code and format, while I could be leaving work at a reasonable hour and get to yoga for once? — OH! And isn’t this the same idea we worked on last month that got trashed but we’re now redoing it for the third time? Might as well get another bag of potato chips if I’m going to have to be here another two hours.)
- Your mother-in-law judges your parenting or food choices and makes repeated, small comments that make your blood boil during Thanksgiving, a time you’re supposed to be friendly and thankful.
(Yeah right: SO thankful for this group of emotionally stunted humans and a table filled with food I’d rather not eat. But it’s here, and I can’t say anything, so I’ll overfill my plate and overstuff my belly.)
- Your insurance agent doesn’t listen to your request, costing you time and money, as they constantly try to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do.
(Yeah, I hired you and you’re neither listening to me nor answering my original question. Give me another bag of chocolate-covered almonds.)
Anger snacking is that common, self-destructive habit of eating our anger. It’s the satisfying destruction of food in our mouths, when what we really want to do is rip someone a new *one.*
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Mainly because it’s not cool to be an angry woman.
Have you ever allowed yourself to be truly angry, especially in front of other people? Have you learned to direct your anger in a healthy, productive way, using your indignation and self-respect to get an important point across?
For women, it feels incredibly unsafe to show our anger.
From infancy, we are taught to be nice, be good, be sweet. Make up with people we didn’t want. While boys are encouraged to be, well, boys.
If we get angry, we’re labeled as difficult, bad, mean, ugly, disagreeable, nasty.
And there’s really nothing worse than being labeled as a “not nice girl.”
Our fear is that no one will like us, and no one will stick up for us, and we’ll be alone.
This is an incredibly unsafe way to live. So we play nice. We stuff our feelings down. We airbrush our emotions. We justify other people’s bad behavior and downplay disrespect.
But here’s the stark truth about anger: strong emotions get stuck in the body if they aren’t worked through and moved out of us physically.
Here’s the real, horrible equation keeping women in a vicious cycle of self-harming food behaviors:
Trauma is defined as a deeply disturbing or distressing event. Think about it. We are surrounded by trauma that we aren’t allowed to respond to appropriately. Trauma almost invariably involves not being seen, and not being taken into account. Trauma robs us of the feeling that we are in charge of ourselves. It revs up our adrenals, and represses our immune function.
Yes, this “good girl” culture is truly traumatic for women. We are constantly on guard, reading every experience, friend, and colleague for a hint that we might be stepping over a line.
And this stress and trauma keeps emotion – including anger – stuck and frozen in the body.
We lie to ourselves that the anger and frustration don’t matter much. And these lies we tell ourselves are our greatest source of suffering…
But the body registers the stuck anger, feels the discomfort as a kind of “static,” and must release it in some way.
Thus, anger snacking.
In his masterpiece The Body Keeps The Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains:
“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life. These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, cravings for overall soothing foods. This explains why it is critical for trauma treatment to engage the entire organism, body, mind, and brain.
“Long after the actual traumatic event has passed, the brain may keep sending signals to the body to escape a threat that no longer exists.”
Rather than risk being a bitch, we drown ourselves in jars of crunchy almond butter, mow through acres of buttery popcorn, and numb out with extra large cartons of hot french fries.
We destroy our angry feelings with these foods, rather than acknowledge how we feel or learn how to address our anger appropriately.
How to be angry without destroying the world.
If you haven’t gotten outwardly angry at another person in a while (think decades for some of us, ladies), you’ll want to start practicing.
It’s good to learn your own capacity for rage, and get out the frustration physically if it’s been bottled up for a long time.
It’s time to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind – for yourself. This means feeling free to know what you know, and feel what you feel, without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed.
First, go to your bedroom and shut the door. Grab a pillow and beat the crap out of your bed. Really – smash the pillow into the mattress, grunt, and yell. Get it out.
Ok, how do you feel? Need some more?
BTW, have you ever taken a self-defense class? A model-mugging program where you’re taught to fight off a simulated attack? Try it.
Especially if you didn’t play contact sports growing up, it can feel really empowering to learn it’s ok to protect yourself physically.
Classes are offered around the US by many great organizations – just search for “self defense classes” in your city:
I also love turning on some loud feminist-friendly rock and dancing. I highly recommend:
Here’s a special 25 song playlist I made on Spotify to shake, rock, stomp, and move out the anger.
You may want to keep this practice in rotation for a while, especially if you’ve been a career Nice Girl for decades.
The next practice is to write a letter to the person you’re angry with. Sit yourself down with paper and pen or a blank document… Don’t write this in an email even if you don’t intend to ever send it. We don’t want any technical gremlins to accidentally send this angry email on your behalf.
It feels good to share exactly what you wish you could have said. It’s a release to get the shit out of your head and onto the paper.
Now throw it away. Or burn it. The ritual burning adds a powerful release.
The almost-last-step is to start practicing, regularly, how to become calm and focused in your body.
I created three guided meditations that can help you get started quickly:
When you are able to step back from a stressful, angry situation and maintain that calm, centered awareness of your body, your body will need less outside comforting from food.
Finally, it’s time to start having challenging conversations with people who trigger you:
If you know the person well, be willing to tell the person, face to face, that you’re concerned about your relationship dynamic.
Share your intentions for the conversation, your concerns, how you want to be treated, and your desire for your future relationship or interactions. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s one of the greatest skills we can develop as strong humans. Clear communication leads to clean relationships and stronger respect between people.
And join the conversation over at my private Facebook group.
Share Your Insights! We want to hear how you deal with your righteous anger!
The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming!
For some that brings excitement – for others, panic! Those easy celebrations we dream of may feel out of reach, so I wanted to put together a survival list for your next grocery store trip.
With emotions higher than normal, and possible family minefields to negotiate, I want you to have this handy list of 10 foods you can eat that truly help your body and brain feel focused, calmer, and more resilient.
We have to honor how we feel physically, support our bodies so we can move through our emotions in a healthy way, instead of stuffing them down with handfuls of green and red M&Ms.
These 10 foods are good to help calm anxiety, uncertainty, and stress.
- Water: stay hydrated. Your brain works better and your nervous system is more calm when you’re hydrated. Anxiety may be a result of your mother-in-law’s visit, and dehydration. Take a break outside and drink a big glass, then go back inside refreshed.
- Chamomile Tea: calming for muscle spasms and the entire nervous system, drink all day and before bed.
- Sweet Potatoes: the sweet, dense flavor and texture are calming for upset stomach without the blood-sugar destroying effects of refined sweeteners. Roast up a dozen and store the extra in the fridge. Use leftovers for my favorite easy holiday recipe: Sweet Potato Pudding!
- Coconut Butter: Like peanut butter, but from coconuts. Sweet, high in healthy fats that are soothing and satiating for the stomach and fuel for the brain, coconut butter and oil are helpful for thyroid and overall hormone production. And let’s be honest: the holidays can be a bit of a hormone roller coaster with the family and the travel and the election! 🙂
- Kale, Bok Choy, Collards – ok, any leafy greens: Leafy greens are rich in folate, which helps your body produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. Also a good fiber source, which can help keep our digestive system, rocked by stressed, on track.
- Pumpkin Seeds: a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) that your body converts into serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps promote happiness and relaxation.
- Raw Sauerkraut: The secret to improving your mood is to support your gut. Your digestive system houses and produces most of your serotonin (see above), and unhealthy gut flora (produced by stress and too much sugar) can have a detrimental impact your brain health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression. Beneficial bacteria found in naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut have a direct effect on brain chemistry, transmitting mood- and behavior-regulating signals to your brain via your vagus nerve.
- Wild Salmon (Omega-3 fats ETP and DHA): Found in wild caught salmon, sardines, and anchovies, or supplement form, such as krill oil, the animal-based fats play a big role in your emotional well-being. One study in Brain Behavior and Immunity showed a dramatic 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3.
- Dark Chocolate: Ok, who was I kidding with all the greens and salmon. Chocolate is a proven mood elevator. (But still, eat your greens!) There’s a chemical reason for our love of the dark stuff: it’s called anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression. It’s a derivative of the Sanskrit word “bliss,” and one of the great things about chocolate is that it not only produces this compound, it also contains other chemicals that prolong the “feel-good” aspects of anandamide. Choose an 85% chocolate and kick up your feet with a cup of unsweetened chamomile tea.
- Sunshine: SO, it’s not really a food but hear me out. Sunshine both in your eyes and on your skin helps your body produce serotonin, that neurotransmitter associated with a good mood. Low levels of Vitamin D, also boosted by sun exposure, is associated with anxiety. Get outside and try not to wear sunglasses – get the sunlight in your eyes, without directly looking at the sun, for maximum benefit. Oh, and no sun screen. Just for the next few days. Really. It inhibits your ability to produce Vitamin D through your skin, and the few extra wrinkles will be worth it.
Join me Thursday night for a special no-cost webinar to support your Holiday mindset and plans!
Holiday Prep: Calm, Joyous, Healthy, Grateful!
Thursday, November 17th, 2016
8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT
Join online: https://zoom.us/j/631330220?pwd=jjLrHZZH57f2bbOKt%2FKesA%3D%3D
Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)
Meeting ID: 631 330 220
International numbers available: https://zoom.us/zoomconference?m=HMJV9Cxq2XvPA4PJa_itSBBaHW96doM3
This is a no-cost gathering, and I won’t be selling anything – this is just a chance for me to help you with your emotional, nutritional, and mindset goals.
Put the date in your calendar!
Do you ghost at parties, leaving with no goodbye once you hit your limit for chit-chat, feeling drained?
Do you escape to your hotel room after giving a presentation or lecture at a conference to watch TV while everyone else networks at the bar?
Do you love your kids – yet crave a hidden corner with a book when the rest of the family gathers for a game or karaoke?
Me too. Welcome to introvert-land.
Introverts, long mislabeled as “too shy” or “too quiet” or even “rude party-poopers,” feel drained by overstimulation or being around people for too long. While far from being misanthropes – we love people – we feel pulled to an inner world of quiet and solitary rejuvenation.
The requirement for introverts is simple: spaciousness. Quiet, alone time spent doing whatever fills you up.
But what if you’re a woman and an introvert?
In my experience helping introverted women feel good in their own skin and create lives filled with vitality, the “quest for quiet” is an even bigger challenge.
Because we’re trained to take care of others first (heck we are masters at this!), experts at putting the energetic needs of others over our own, and trained to ignore our inner needs so much that we often can’t even connect to the voice inside telling us “enough is enough.”
Yet, it’s the single most important task we introverted women can accomplish.
A recent example from my own life:
When my husband’s family demanded we all meet up for Thanksgiving in an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, we two introverts balked. While it felt like a step above a cruise, where you’re trapped with 5,000 people you don’t know in a floating amusement park/mall, the idea of being “trapped” in a hotel with no escape still set off our introvert alarms.
For extroverts, being with loads of happy vacationers with all-you-can-eat and drink access seems like a holiday dream. The women in the family gathered to drink, gossip and dine together for every minute of the day.
Because I’ve gotten super clear on my needs for down-time, rest, and quiet, I made spacious time alone on my ocean-view veranda a priority, even when I got the side-eye and non-supportive comments from the family.
Even during vacations with my son, I make it clear to him that “Mommy needs quiet time.” Because I return to him refreshed, calm, and happy, he doesn’t worry that I don’t want to be around him. He accepts my needs. How great is that?
Here’s the truth, women:
Feminine introverts need quiet, freedom, and spaciousness to truly feel rested. Especially when you’re a mom, caregiver, service provider, and/or coach.
My idea of an ideal introvert-centric vacation is either:
a solo camping trip for bird watching in the Joshua Tree desert (like I did in February), or
a quiet long weekend at a wifi-free cabin in the woods with a bicycle and no one else near, except the diner in town, two miles away.
In the last year, I’ve taken two solo vacations. No husband. No child. No work.
“Locker room talk” and the old “boys will be boys” attitude creates and sustains rape culture and body shaming to persist. But how we don’t talk with girls about their bodies is also hurting them.
“You’re so pretty!” the speaker announced, looking directly at her. The 16-year old girl blushed, smiled awkwardly, and shrank down into her seat. Sitting 5 rows behind, I could feel her discomfort as half the room turned to look at her.
A few months ago, I spoke at an event for teen leaders. Waiting at the back of the room for the first speaker to finish, I watched and listened as he walked down the aisle to hand out papers for the co-ed group to take home. As the 60ish man spoke and walked, he came to the last row of students, handed a stack of papers to the young woman on the aisle, and exclaimed, “You’re so pretty!”
Her reaction hit me like a punch in my gut. She shrunk down in her seat and ducked her head down.
“Ick,” I quietly said out loud.
A minute later, realizing the back row didn’t get enough papers, the speaker returned, handed the same young woman a few more copies, and commented again to her, “You really are so pretty!”
The student cringed down in her chair even further, and her friends all turned and whispered something to her. Anyone could see she was hating this unwelcome attention, especially in front of teenage boys.
This time my gut was on fire.
It brought me right back to when I was 13 years old and waiting for my mom in the lobby of the bank. A 30ish man walked up, stopped next to me, told me that I was pretty, and asked me out for a coffee.
I felt fear, out of my depth, and immediately worried that I had done something to attract this uncomfortable, dangerous-feeling attention.
I said “No!” giggled, and looked down with flushed cheeks at my long-sleeved flannel shirt and knee-length cut-offs as I walked towards my mom, wondering, why did he ask me?
My mom didn’t see it happen, and I didn’t tell her. I felt ashamed, somehow.
About a year later my 22 year-old brother got into a fist fight with a 20ish guy who came up to us, asked how I was doing and chucked me under the chin telling me I “looked fine.”
Male attention felt dangerous and troublesome. The “male gaze” isn’t just locker room talk and cat calling. It’s much more damaging than that.
Even though I hadn’t “done anything” I felt like I had done something wrong by getting attention and proceeded to wear bulky, long sweatshirts for most of my teen years. The last thing I wanted was more attention.
This kind of unwelcome attention feels like theft. It steals our ability to feel like we own our bodies. Even when no physical damage is done, these kind of comments damage the free expression of our beauty and full expression of ourselves.
How can we talk to girls about their bodies and the male gaze?
This question, and my anger at myself for not telling that male speaker to be more aware of how he made this young woman feel, has been roiling around in my body and brain for months now.
When it comes down to it, we live in a culture where many men feel like they have the right to comment on, touch without permission, and abuse women of every age.
I’ve asked friends and readers, and posted the query on Facebook and Instagram.
The first thing I’ve realized is we shouldn’t talk TO girls and women about their bodies. We should be talking more WITH them. Sharing. Educating about basic biology, not handing down judgments and approval willy-nilly.
Here are some of the comments and insights women have shared with me via social media:
Terricole: As a therapist I like the idea of figuring out guidelines as opposed to the ALWAYS or NEVER school of thought since we are all just flawed humans trying to do better. When it comes to weight gain or loss I def say no comment is the way to go. My 22-year-old niece just lost quite a bit of weight and her mother (my sister who is and has always been weight obsessed although she is very fit) kept commenting on how great she looked until my niece lost it and said,”Stop looking at my body with that critical eye. Your compliments make me feel exactly as bad as your not so subtle suggestions of how to lose weight when I didn’t ask you. STOP OBJECTIFYING ME MOM PLEASE! ” And when you think about it the flip side of the complement is a criticism and all of it is judgement. I grew up with 3 beautiful older sisters and my mother rarely commented on our looks at all. So although my weight fluctuated no one commented on it Consequently I felt loved the same pretty much all of the time. With my many nieces I would focus on gratitude for their strong healthy bods because not everyone can run, walk or hike etc. Also focusing on positive behavior(that was so kind of you to …) and good intentions is empowering and shows them what you think is important. Modeling a positive relationship to your own body & figuring out your own stuff from your family of origin will help you not hand down toxic stuff. This is really the greatest gift you can give to all of your kids (and yourself too!) ❤️
grace.freshfoodkcI: I love conversations about bodies that wrap up the whole person. Talk about how their body shape, size, etc. reflects their life and passions. I love how your freckles show in summer-it makes me think of all of our fun park dates or I love how your strong legs could hike up this trail. If women grew up appreciating their body’s ability and strength, we’d have a lot less stress about the rest.
Heartenhealthy As a mom of 2 daughters I think about this A LOT. My 4 year old will ask when she gets dressed up for something or I’ve just finished doing her hair if she looks beautiful and I tell her that she looks beautiful all the time. I want her to understand that she is just as beautiful when she first wakes up in the morning as she is when she is dressed up or does something to change her appearance. I make sure we focus a lot on talking about what her body is capable of and the importance of who we are inside. We talk a lot about what it means to be unique and I tell her that it means everyone is special in their own different way. I feel like we are fighting an uphill battle with the current standard of beauty that we see in mainstream media. Thanks @deliciousalex for posting this question. Conversations like this are important in order to determine what we can do differently to raise our daughters to be confident and to reject the notion that appearance matters most.
Karenmeiercoach Completely agree with @terricole ???? – modeling a positive relationship with your body is key. I also think it’s important to discuss the importance and beauty of body diversity – that bodies come in all shapes and sizes! ????
In short, there are a lot of opinions about how we should talk to and with our girls about their bodies. And that’s just the women.
To me, one thing is very clear:
By commenting (repeatedly) on a woman’s appearance, we risk making her feel more self-conscious, more uncomfortable, and less seen for her whole self.
We make a woman’s worth all about how she looks and her body becomes a commodity. Something to be owned or used.
She becomes a thing, rather than a person.
The anger I felt at that older man commenting on the young woman’s looks boils down to this – he wasn’t engaging with her as a whole person, he was, in a few words, patronizingly giving his approval of her, and drawing a lot of uncomfortable attention to her, by reinforcing a patriarchal (Yes, I said it) norm that pretty women are more worthy and deserving of special treatment.
Like my 13 year-old self, many teenaged girls don’t appreciate too much attention. Attention and the male gaze are rife with danger for all women:
- We are taught to crave attention and approval of our appearance, and yet
- If we cross some invisible and ever-moving line of seeking too much attention, we risk being labeled a slut, high and mighty, or worse.
Attention feels like a dangerous, can’t-win proposition for women, and it begins with these seemingly innocuous comments.
I wish I could go back and pull that man aside, tell him the truth – his comments were more damaging than anything – and ask him to refrain from making approving statements about women’s appearance in the future.
I would ask him instead to acknowledge women for their hard work, for their accomplishments, for their strength and resilience.
The conversation about women’s bodies must change. And we have to start changing it amongst ourselves.
Stop buying and investing in the appearance-based celebrity gossip culture that Jennifer Aniston so eloquently spoke out against. Tell young women how strong they are and how their hard work is noticed and appreciated. Have meaningful conversations with them about what they see on television and in magazines, and even on Instagram. Find out how it makes them feel to see models and movie stars be appreciated only for their looks.
Once we allow women to be fully seen, we may finally create a culture of true beauty, one that’s safe for every woman to shine in all of her strength.
How can we talk with girls and women about our bodies?
First, we should be talking more with each other about our bodies.
Not commenting on each other’s bodies, but sharing our experiences and feelings about growing up female.
We should talk about celebrity culture and the impact that social media has on our body image and connectedness.
Recently Playboy Playmate Dani Mathers was at her gym when she used Snapchat to broadcast a picture of a middle-aged woman using the shower in the locker room. Mathers captioned her Snap, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”
Not only was the model and radio host making fun of another woman’s body, she was illegally posting a nude photo of a woman without her permission in a body-shaming way. Mathers’ gym, L.A. Fitness, immediately banned her from ever using any of their outlets again, she was fired from her radio job, and is now under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.
This is a case of woman-on-woman body shaming gone very wrong, but it happens all the time in more subtle ways. Last year, blogger and runner Kathy Sebright shared a story of how two women commented that she had “put on a lot of weight” at a July 4th parade when they thought she couldn’t hear them. Her invisible story of struggling to help her young son and family manage a horrible illness were not visible to the women; they didn’t see her whole story, only her current shape and weight.
Just as the speaker felt it appropriate to comment on the young woman’s beauty, bringing her attention she clearly didn’t want, the female model felt it appropriate to negatively comment about the woman’s body at the gym, bringing her attention she clearly didn’t ask for.
How can we end this cycle of shaming and hurting? Is banning and firing the answer? I felt the anger and understood the immediate reaction to ban and fire Dani Mathers after her shameful and illegal Snapchat fiasco.
But, is this really going to solve the problem?
I believe we need to talk with boys and girls, men and women about what happens when we comment on each other’s appearance. We need to share our experiences with each other and with our children so that they feel entitled to respect their own bodies, and so they respect other people’s bodies just the same.
What if instead of firing Dani Mathers, her radio station had assigned her to both record a conversation with the woman she photographed and to interview a new woman every week for the next year about a personal body-shaming incident and how it affected the woman?
How can we include men in this evolution?
And what about men?
As the mom of a 9 year-old boy, I’ve worried and struggled with what to say and how to raise him so that he’s a “good man” that respects and stands up for women as well as himself.
We look at the progressive sex education books together, learning about anatomy and the differences between men and women, so that he has real knowledge. We call our body parts by their names: penis, vagina, breasts, and vulva, rather than “down there, willy, or nana’s” so that we aren’t making jokes about the human body rather than being factual and easy about it all.
We teach him that his body is his own, and no one may touch him without his permission. The same goes with friends and family: every person is in charge of their own body. You respect theirs, and demand that they respect yours.
We don’t force him or even ask him to hug family if he doesn’t want to. Why force kids to do something physically that they don’t want to do?
I’ve told him it’s nice to comment positively on someone’s clothing, but not on their body. Not because you don’t like how they look, but because people are very sensitive about their bodies and we want people to feel happy in themselves.
We’ve come up with “safe words” so that when any kind of physical play becomes too much for him, he can shout “RED!” and we know it’s time to immediately stop tickling or wrestling.
By teaching young men to respect their own bodies, as well as everyone else’s, we can raise the new generations not to fall into the same shameful traps.
What should I have said to that 60 year old man?
I wish I had pulled him aside, out of view of the students, and told him how his comments actually affected this young woman. I would ask him to not draw attention to young women’s appearance, but instead to comment on their strength and intelligence. And I would beg him NOT to go talk with her about it, even to apologize, because, knowing women’s inclination to shoulder all blame, she would probably end up apologizing to him in the end.
But I didn’t. I may always regret that.
Instead, I took the stage and taught the group about the wisdom of their bodies. I taught them a practice I wish I had learned at a much younger age, but one that any of us can learn to our advantage:
I told them how to feel “YES” and “NO” from their own bodies, and I want to teach you how to do this now too:
Sit with your eyes closed and place a hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Take 5 deep, slow, relaxing breaths.
Feel and say YES out loud. YES. YES, I want this. YES, this is for me! YES, I know this! YES! YES YES!
How did that feel in your body?
Now take 5 more deep, slow, relaxing breaths to settle down again.
Feel and say NO out loud. NO. NO, I don’t want this. NO, this is not for me. NO, I don’t like that. NO NO NO!
How did that feel in your body?
I asked how many in the audience could feel a difference between YES and NO in their bodies, and more than half the room raised their hands.
This practice, I told them, could be used for choices, small and large, throughout their life. What to eat, what to wear, where to go to college, who to date, how they’re being treated…
I shared that, especially for the young women in the room, they were going to need to learn how to tap into this truth in their bodies. Their truth and desires will be squashed again and again by unconscious or uncaring forces in the world.
We all need, men and women alike, to practice feeling what our bodies are telling us, honor and respect ourselves, gather support around us, and continue to speak up for our truth.
I don’t have all the answers.
But I’m a woman with a fiery interest in helping create a world where every young woman feels like she owns her own body, grows up not fearing her own beauty (and honey, we all glow with a divine inner beauty!), and where all women feel free of shame so they can shine their fire freely.
Maybe the best we can do now is share and grow this discussion, talk with each other about how we feel, and share our experiences.
Watching The Karate Kid (the original one, from 1984, of course) the other night, I saw an important psychological mindset come to life through a favorite Hollywood character:
The lead character, Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso, meets a great mentor in the form of the Japanese handyman, Mr. Miyagi. The older man takes Daniel under his wing to teach him how to protect himself from his high-school nemesis, the perfect blonde karate star, Johnny. Mr. Miyagi’s compassionate stance towards self-improvement shone in stark contrast to the punishing training style of Sensei John Kreese from Cobra Kai, Johnny’s competing dojo.
Where Mr. Miyagi coached Ralph Macchio’s character Daniel LaRusso to fight with his brain and heart, evil Sensei Kreese shouted to his militant students:
“Mercy is for the weak…you’re nothing! You lost, you’re a loser!”
“The enemy deserves no mercy.”
Every woman I know, including myself, has had countless conversations with herself like this in the mirror. In our efforts to feel good about ourselves and look our best, we have taken the Cobra Kai path of toughening ourselves up to try and achieve higher self-esteem.
The Cobra Kai students were popular, boastful, and seemingly brimming with self-esteem. They grew their strength and self-regard through fighting. A winner to them was tough, invulnerable, even violent. And yet, in the long run, Daniel-san beat them with the more compassionate tactics taught to him by Miyagi.
Turning the Cobra Kai path on ourselves
Women are especially adept at this type of punishing mindset – except it takes the form of self-flagellation: our perfectionism leads us to overwhelm, overwork, and overload more often than men, and it’s slowly killing us, dimming our spark, and leading to lives filled with disappointment and shame.
This outdated tactic of trying to boost self-esteem through force and violent self-punishment has created generations of women who are trying to beat ourselves into a happy relationship with our bodies, despite overwhelming evidence that these tactics don’t work.
In this study from Purdue, weight loss did not help raise long-term self-esteem, which may point to long-term body image issues for women who defined themselves as overweight.
The all-too-common advice to use positive affirmations can backfire for someone already stuck in the low self-esteem zone: this study from the University of Waterloo showed that the common self-esteem tactic actually made some subjects feel worse about themselves because their brains just didn’t believe statements like: “People like me and I’m smart.”
Feeling better about our lives has to start with how we feel about ourselves. And the path to falling in love with ourselves never begins with self-torture.
Up until recently, we have believed that self-esteem is the goal and the means to get there – what we want to feel and how we try to go about feeling successful.
Self-Esteem: The Cobra Kai way
However, self-esteem, or confidence in one’s own abilities, is the wrong measurement:
We have to compare ourselves to others or measure ourselves by how others view us in order to achieve high self esteem. Self-esteem is based on feeling better than others. Measuring yourself by the norm and coming out ahead in the math.
Comparison has a dark underbelly: we don’t actually feel better about ourselves when we compare ourselves to others because it inherently separates us from the other person as we judge them. Humans like to feel connected to each other, so separating, even to come out “better” than someone else, feels bad.
While we try to see ourselves as better than others, we also tend to turn that lens on ourselves and eviscerate ourselves with self-criticism when we don’t meet our own high standards.
As soon as our feelings of superiority slip — as they always do — our self-worthiness takes a nosedive. We swing wildly between high and low self-esteem — an emotional roller coaster ride whose end result is often insecurity, anxiety, and depression.
(This is why I prescribe to all of my self-worth seeking clients to stop watching reality TV, the black hole for comparison and judgment, for at least 2 weeks. “Watch a documentary instead and call me in the morning.”)
The ways in which we go about achieving self-esteem revolve around comparison, competition, and one-upmanship. (or one-up-woman-ship)
The other main problem with self-esteem is that when you need it, you don’t have it. Just when you need to feel better about yourself because things are going badly, self-esteem deserts you because you aren’t successful and you don’t measure up.
Then you’re stuck with the reality that you’re below average or not doing as well as others, which is when self-esteem vanishes.
Pretty wicked circle, isn’t it?
Compassion: The Mr. Miyagi Way to Self-Love
“No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher” – Mr. Miyagi
The way to feel good about ourselves is actually much more simple, and perhaps not easy:
Self-compassion is the ultimate, healthy, free way to feel better.
When you love yourself, you just love yourself.
When you have self-compassion you treat yourself with the same love and care you would offer to a dear friend.
When you help a toddler learn how to walk and s/he inevitably falls down, do you stand over said child and yell, “Dumb baby! You might as well give up! You’re terrible at walking!”
Of course not! You would kindly offer soothing words, help them back up, and guide them to try again.
We can and must do this for ourselves as we learn the more challenging complexities of negotiating adulthood.
In matters of the heart, purpose, and our ever-changing bodies, self-compassion is truly the best way to enjoy a healthy life.
We think self-compassion is a weak stance, just like Cobra Kai’s Sensei Kreese told us. If we let up on our bodies, aka “the enemy,” we’ll stop driving for achievement. We’ll get lazy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
New positive psychology science on compassion shows us that self-compassion is like Mr. Miyagi teaching us to “wax on, wax off.” When we practice basic precepts of awareness and compassion, and that self-improvement, like karate “is only for defense,” then we can master our mindset and truly make huge leaps forward.
The science of self-compassion
Students do better when they are primed to be more self-compassionate:
In one study, college students who performed worse than desired on an exam then performed better on the next test if they were primed to be higher rather than lower in self-compassion. This may show that students low in self-compassion beat themselves, felt more stressed, and remained in a fixed mindset which did not help them improve on the next test.
Students with lower levels of self-compassion tend to procrastinate more:
This study found that people prone to procrastination had lower levels of self-compassion and higher levels of stress.
Aging adults thrive longer and better with more self-compassion:
This study shows that adults with higher self-compassion scores better handle the challenges of getting older. Self-compassionate people had fewer emotional problems, greater life satisfaction, and felt that they were ageing more successfully.
And self-compassion helps people deal with the innate suffering of life, pain, trauma, and loss. Self-compassion is a core ingredient in post-traumatic growth, where people who experience trauma actually thrive and grow. It also allows us to maintain a “growth mindset” which keeps us open to progressing, learning, and asking for help.
Self-compassion is a teachable skill and you can begin growing this skill-set right now.
3 ways to grow self-compassion, the REAL self-esteem
- Permission to be Human: Notice when you are not being nice to yourself. When you find yourself beating yourself up, remember that you’re human and all humans make mistakes and fail. The trick is to keep going and love yourself through the failure.
- Bring self-kindness to your thoughts as if you were talking to your very best friend. How would you talk to her in the same situation? Imagine you’re talking to her, rather than yourself. Many of us are more likely to feel authentic compassion for a loved one.
- Yet: This little 3-letter word is the most useful way to reframe your thoughts in a moment. When you hear your thoughts making negative declarations, just add YET to the end of the sentence, like a positive psychology fortune cookie. This kind of thinking puts you into growth mindset right away…try it!
“I haven’t lost the weight…YET.”
“I don’t know how to cook kale…YET.”
“I don’t have the partner of my dreams…YET.”
Remember: Mr. Miyagi’s great line: “First must stand. Then learn fly. Nature’s rule, Daniel-san. Not mine.”
It’s important to know that self-compassion is not just some mantra-quoting positive thinking trip. Self-compassion is a reality check: get real with yourself about the situation and your responsibility for your mindset. If you truly desire to create lasting change in your life, body, and health, a compassionate, growth mindset is truly important.
And in the end, the self-worth you develop as a result of self-compassion is more authentic and long-lasting than the fleeting, judgmental variety we touch with self-esteem.
Don’t forget: seemingly tiny, ill-prepared Daniel Larusso won in the end. He had a Mr. Miyagi at his side, whispering compassionate lessons along the way. Now you can, too.
Join my 8-week Cravings Cleanse + Mindset Makeover to get these positive psychology tools to work for you and your body goals:
Today on the Crave Cast I am interviewing Jennifer Grayson. She is an author of a new book called: Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of Controversy. Breastfeeding is certainly a controversy here in the United States. We have an incredibly large international diverse population but her book and the topic it covers is so interesting. Her book really dives into the history of breastfeeding and the trouble that women in America of having with it and the different topics around it.
Jennifer is an environmental journalist, Huffington Post columnist and her work has appeared in several publications. After having her own children, her lifetime commitment to restore the vanishing connection to the natural world led her to her research for Unlatched. Be sure to stay tuned until the end and share this podcast with anyone you know who is pregnant, wants to become pregnant or is having problems with breastfeeding.
Sexualization happens when breastfeeding is not commonly viewed-Jennifer Click To Tweet
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- How much controversy is there around breastfeeding?
- Why are we afraid of boobs?
- Modern society vs not
- What are the rates of breastfeeding in America now?
- What has she learned through the process of writing this book?
- What can be done to support pro-breastfeeding?
- Are all hospitals baby friendly?