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Time to grab the toys and treats….May is National Pet Month! According to its founders, this month-long celebration is intended to acknowledge the positive impact that pets have on our lives. The affection we receive from our furry pals does more than put a smile on our faces—it also benefits us physically and psychologically. Here are just a few of the many ways pets have a positive impact on our health:

1.    They dampen depression and boost mood. Pets offer up great way to beat the blues. Not only do they offer unconditional love, but they also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial when you’re feeling down in the dumps. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and elicit feelings of happiness. Research indicates that that animal-assisted therapy is potent in deterring depression and other mood disorders.

2.    Pets dial down stress.  When stress comes your way, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones like cortisol to crank out more energy-boosting blood sugar and epinephrine to get your heart and blood pumping. But when we live in a constant state of fight-or-flight from ongoing stress, these physical changes take their toll on our bodies, including raising the risk of heart disease and other dangerous conditions. Contact with pets counteracts this stress response by lowering stress hormones and heart rate. Pets also lower our anxiety levels and elevate feelings of calmness.

3.    They boost heart health. Pets shower us with love so it’s not surprising they have a big impact on the heart. Time spent with a cherished critter is linked to better cardiovascular health, possibly due to the stress-busting effect mentioned above. Studies show that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs also benefit patients who already have cardiovascular disease: they’re four time more likely to be alive after a year if they own a dog and more likely to survive a heart attack. But don’t worry, cat owners—feline affection has been shown to create a similar beneficial effect.

4.    Pets boost our socialization. One of the fringe benefits of taking on the responsibility of pet ownership is that animals can be an instant icebreaker. People sometimes have a hard time getting to know each other, but pets can be the common denominator that helps them connect.

5.    They get us moving. Need some motivation in the exercise department? Dogs can be great personal trainers simply because they need to be walked several times per day. Not only do dog walkers get more exercise, they also get better quality exercise than people who simply walk or run on their own. Dog walkers are also more likely to stick to their fitness plans than those who walk alone.

At TBITC, we know how important pets are when it comes to treatment. So, our Partial Hospitalization Program includes pet therapy on Fridays to help our clients transition successfully into the weekend with the help of our canine co-therapists.

The benefits of having a pet extend well beyond companionship, and sometimes our furry friends don’t receive the credit that’s due. Why not give Fido an extra bone for being such a great dose of natural medicine for your mind and body?

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.  For help call 877-674-2843 or email info@thebodyimagecenter.com.

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After 20 years of counseling individuals and couples, as well as doing my own inner work, I’ve come to believe that perhaps our greatest life lesson is learning how to fully accept and love ourselves. We must learn to turn down the volume of our Inner Critic, the voice in our head that speaks to us as nobody should and in ways we would probably never speak to another. We must instead choose to become our own best friend, good parent, and compassionate advocate as we move through our unique journey of recovery and self-actualization.

Please take a moment to reflect about how you treat yourself daily as if you were another person, in a relationship with you. Are you good to yourself? Is your mind kind to your body and soul?

In my practice and my own psycho-spiritual journey, I see that as part of the human condition there are times that we all:

  • Beat ourselves up with cruel self-talk
  • Set ourselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations
  • Deprive ourselves of things we deserve through self-sabotaging behaviors
  • Abuse our bodies through neglect or harmful choices

These behaviors wreak havoc on our mental and physical health, our relationships, and our careers. We must choose a different path. The following are four tips to learn to treat yourself with the loving kindness you deserve:

  1. Identify & unplug from your Inner Critic.

a. You know that harsh, judgmental voice in your head? That is not you. That is your Inner Critic, a combination of voices from the past (perhaps parents, religious teaching, cultural expectations, etc.) and perceived expectations that tell you how you “should” be. The Inner Critic is an aspect of the ego, the false sense of self developed by the mind.

b.You are not your Inner Critic or your ego, you are the spirit of light and love that lies deep within you. Learn to connect with that authentic, inner self and observe your Inner Critic from a place of neutrality, separation and detachment. This can be achieved through mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga, which is meditation with movement.

c. While hanging onto your moral compass, notice your Inner Critic and consciously choose to separate yourself from it, for it is not serving you.

2. Practice self-compassion and forgiveness.

a. Instead of viewing yourself from a place of judgement, shift to empathy. Understand that the way you are (emotionally, physically, relationally, etc.) is a normal response to your nature and your nurture. Extend yourself the same compassion you so easily show others.

b. Know that our challenges are opportunities for growth and learning. Understand life is a process–an evolution of self. All is exactly as it should be.

c. Honor your feelings and learn to “surf” them as waves, rather than becoming engulfed by them. This can be done by developing awareness of feelings in the body and learning to breathe them out or release them through movement, writing, talking, journaling or handing them over to your “higher power” in a moment of prayer or reflection.

d. Because resentment keeps us tethered to the past, free yourself by forgiving yourself and others for any wrongdoings. This can be done by thanking yourself or others who have harmed you for the lessons and blessings in the experience, wishing them well and releasing yourself from those binds.

  1. Develop resiliency by detaching from perfectionism.

a. Learn to cut yourself some slack and acknowledge setbacks such as relapses or “mistakes” as a normal aspect of the road to recovery. Look at the good parts by practicing gratitude.

b. Stop obsessing about the past or worrying about the future by bringing your attention to the present moment, where peace can be found. This can be achieved by bringing your attention to the breath.

c. Practice the power of mantra and in a moment of reflection, repeat sentiments such, “I am a human being and I am doing the best that I can” or “I am not my issues, I am the perfectly divine self that lies within.”

  1. Practice self-love.

a. Speak to yourself with kindness, compassion and support.

b. Take care of yourself with care and concern with regard to sleep, nutrition, exercise, and promoting leisure, fun, connection and work/life balance.

c. Advocate for yourself at home and at work the way that you would somebody you love very much with communication that is assertive and clear, demonstrating respect for self and others.

d. Access support through positive friends and family, counseling, therapy, 12-step support and spiritual practices.

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

 

By Joyce Marter, LCPC, VP of Marketing and PR at Refresh Mental Health

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We know it’s important to eat nourishing foods.  Sure, it better to consume fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead of processed snacks and TV dinners. But for some people, it evolves into a dangerous obsession. This fixation with eating healthy is called “orthorexia”, a fast-growing eating disorder characterized by the need to eat only healthy, clean, or pure foods.  It’s not usually driven by body-image concerns, but rather by the need to eat the right things to maintain a good health image by focusing on food quality.  On the surface, that sounds like a smart way to go.  But people struggling with orthorexia go overboard—they can’t handle if they are not able to eat in the “pure” way they believe they should.

Being conscious about what you eat doesn’t mean you have orthorexia.  Being cognizant of what you put into your body is important for feeling well and living a healthy life. But for those with an underlying anxiety disorder, a predisposition to an eating disorder, or an obsessive-compulsive personality, this hyperawareness of what’s healthy and what’s not can foster ritualistic eating habits, ultimately leading to malnourishment, loss of relationships, and a poor quality of life.

What are the signs and symptoms of orthorexia?

Orthorexia often begins with individuals who follow very restrictive diets such as vegans and raw food regimens. They may begin only to eat organic foods, and then cut out food groups that may contain too many chemicals, sugar, or pesticides, with the goal of optimal health. In many instances, they exhibit behaviors that extend beyond the norm in terms of living a healthy life, and instead cause them to suffer from a number of physical, mental, and emotional effects. Some of these behaviors can include:

  • Self-esteem based on eating healthy foods
  • Increasingly critical and more rigid about eating
  • Feeling as if certain foods are dangerous
  • Feeling guilt or shame when unable to maintain diet standards
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed because they are solely involved in eating healthy
  • Thinking critically of others who don’t follow a strict diet
  • Spending extreme amounts of time and money in meal planning and food preparation
  • Avoidance of social events involving food due to fear of being unable to comply with diet
  • Exhibit traits of perfectionism, high anxiety, and a need for control.

Orthorexia is typically initiated by a fixation on health, and in our health-obsessed world, those triggers are everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat more healthfully, but it’s a problem if you can’t be flexible with it.  If ‘healthy’ food is consuming your life, it’s time to seek help. Effective treatments are available to help your or your loved one restore your life and face a happy, healthy future.

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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”You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”  – Louise Hay

Experiencing feelings of shame and worthlessness can have a huge impact on our lives. It can create anxieties and hold us back from pursuing opportunities, relationships, and happiness. Many of our worries stem from trying to meet unrealistic expectations. It might be the need to be perfect, to ‘achieve’ all the time, or to look a certain way. Cultivating self-acceptance is one of the most important and worthwhile things we can do for ourselves. Fortunately, self-acceptance is something we can nurture. Here are eight simple things that will help you to embrace every facet of yourself:

  1. Forgive yourself. Past regrets can prevent us from practicing self-acceptance. When you make a mistake or don’t succeed at something, instead of berating yourself, remember that you did your best with the information you had at the time. In fact, we are all doing the best with what we know and the resources we have. Recognizing that can help you be more accepting of yourself and of others, too.
  2. Celebrate your strengths and put them in writing. We are often much better collectors of our shortcomings than our strengths. Hone in on your strengths and remind yourself of them by keeping a list. Add to it each day and review it often. You’ll soon see that you are an amazing person with many remarkable, lovable qualities.
  3. Believe in yourself. You are capable of accomplishing great things. Believe that you can do anything because you can. You are a strong and powerful being, and you can deal with any challenge that comes your way.
  4. Perform acts of kindness. When you sacrifice something for someone in need, whether it be time, money, personal belongings, expertise, or whatever you have to give, it’s hard not to feel good about the wonderful person you are inside.
  5. Realize that acceptance is not Think of acceptance as letting go of the past and the things you cannot control. This allows you to focus your energies on that which you can control, which can be very empowering.
  6. Surround yourself with support. Distance yourself from negativity—anyone who puts you down and doesn’t support your journey to self-acceptance. Replace them with people who have generally positive personalities and are in your corner.
  7. Practice gratitude. When you wake up each morning, identify three things that you feel grateful for and appreciate about your life. These things can be based on the past, present, or future. No category or thing is too big or small to appreciate,
  8. Be a friend to yourself. When your little voice begins to say unkind things, ask, “Would I say these things to a friend?” If you wouldn’t, then don’t say them to yourself either.

Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand—your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. Take time to appreciate yourself and to acknowledge your value. The rewards you reap will be well worth the effort.

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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Poor body image can have a range of negative social effects. Body image is how we think and feel about our bodies and how we imagine we look. Our image may have nothing to do with our actual appearance; it’s all about our self-perceptions. Poor body image can lead to disordered eating, compulsive exercise, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Relationships, social functioning, and mood can all be seriously affected by low self-esteem. It can cause some people to decrease social interactions, creating feelings of loneliness and isolation.

We’re bombarded with the negative messages. Today, there’s a steady stream of media messages and images working to distort our view of how our bodies should look. That’s why it’s especially important for parents and adult influencers to help shape a healthy body image for children from an early age. We hold tremendous power in what we do and say, especially when it comes to young eyes and ears.

The most influential role model in your children’s lives is you. You can encourage your kids to feel good about themselves by showing them how it’s done. Try these strategies for being a positive body image role model:

  • Examine your own relationship with food and exercise. Eating disorders often run in families. If you’ve had a disordered relationship with food, it’s especially important to be vigilant about the impact your attitudes and behaviors can have on your kids.
  • Practice the rules of “normal” eating. Children learn eating behaviors from their parents, so make sure you include plenty of variety in your family’s meals. Everything under the sun has value, so practice the classic rule of everything in moderation, including moderation!
  • Stop the negative body talk. Be aware of the impact of negative body talk around your children, whether it’s about your own body or someone else’s. Work on modeling a healthy acceptance of your body shape and size. Don’t complain about ‘ugly’ body parts, especially in front of your children.
  • Avoid dieting and don’t encourage your children to diet, either. Dieting can be dangerous, as it can cause dehydration, weakness, fatigue, nausea, and headaches, and can lead to inadequate vitamin and mineral intake. It’s also a key risk factor in developing an eating disorder. Instead, focus on being healthy and happy.
  • Make teasing off-limits. Don’t tease about weight, body shape, or looks. Even seemingly innocent nicknames can be hurtful if they focus on some aspect of one’s appearance.
  • Listen to your children’s’ concerns about their body shape and appearance. Puberty, in particular, can be a distressing time. Reassure your children that their physical changes are normal and that everyone develops at different times and rates.
  • Don’t focus on the physical. If you put a lot of emphasis on appearances, your child will too. Instead, talk to your children about all the different aspects that make up a person, such as personality traits, skills, and abilities.

Children are sensitive to what they hear about bodies—whether it’s about someone else’s or their own. By making sure your home environment is free of any kind of body shaming, you’ll help your kids to feel confident about themselves and be accepting of their bodies.

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Fattitude the Movie Comes to Baltimore, Thanks to The Body Image Therapy Center

Public Screening May 3, 2018 at Creative Alliance

Baltimore, MD – April 3, 2018: Fattitude is a new film that examines how popular culture perpetuates the fat hatred and fat-shaming that results in a very real cultural bias and a civil rights issue for people who are living in fat bodies. The Baltimore screening is sponsored by The Body Image Therapy Center and is a one night event — Thursday, May 3, 2018 at Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21224.

Fattitude is the brain-child of filmmakers Lindsey Averill and Viridiana Lieberman. Informed by a social justice background, Fattitude is very conscious and attentive to the idea that fat hatred crosses the lines of race, class, sexuality and gender. The film features a diverse variety of voices such as academic scholars, activists, Hollywood types (directors, writers and actors) and psychologists – including the likes of Ricki Lake, Rebecca Phul, Jackson Katz, Marilyn Wann, Sonya Renee Taylor, Virgie Tovar, Jen Posner, Lindy West, Winne Holzman, Guy Branum, Tess Holliday, Andrew Walen and others.

“Living in a society obsessed with thinness, beauty, muscularity and health has only led to greater mental and physical illness,” states Andrew Walen, founder and executive director of The Body Image Therapy Center. “We need to re-think our definition of health to make it inclusive of body diversity. Fat-shaming is the last acceptable prejudice. It leads to bullying, self-loathing, and self-harm. And worse it is the primary precursor to the development of an eating disorder, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.”

Ultimately, Fattitude’s goal is to change the national conversation about body image so that it focuses not only on issues of self-acceptance, but also on legitimate questions of systemic cultural prejudice.

Check out the trailer at Fattitudethemovie.com.

Tickets are $25 each and can be ordered online: Get Tickets

About The Body Image Therapy Center (TBITC): The Body Image Therapy Center is Maryland and D.C.’s premier outpatient treatment center offering comprehensive and compassionate care for those with eating disorders, body image disturbance, and co-occurring disorders like self-harm behaviors or other destructive habits. We’ll help you learn to accept your body and love yourself from the inside out.

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Springtime can be a catalyst for body image issues and eating disorders. As the weather warms up, many people find themselves stuck in the rut of harsh self-scrutiny and poor body image. Behaviors that can develop into full-blown eating disorders also seem to be everywhere you look: strict dieting, excessive workout routines, and other strategies for quickly losing weight can lead people down a dangerous path. What starts as a goal to lose weight for a spring break trip or swimsuit season can become a harmful preoccupation that turns into bulimia, anorexia, or other eating disorders. Follow these tips to avoid the risky springtime weight loss obsession:

Keep health in mind, not weight loss. Forget fad diets. Weight loss should never be a goal. Instead, if you feel it’s time to focus on your health, make small changes that are thoughtful in nature. Work with a registered dietitian to learn how to incorporate sensible strategies that are focused on feeling better. Remember, health comes in all shapes and sizes.

Strengthen your self-worth. Begin by practicing awareness of negative thoughts you may have about yourself throughout the day. Whenever a destructive thought arises, challenge it by focusing on something you appreciate about yourself, whether it’s your sharp wit, your captivating smile, or your integrity. There are many other ways you can boost your self-confidence, too, such as nurturing yourself, serving others, and writing positive affirmations.

Surround yourself with positivity. Choose the company you keep wisely. You don’t have the ability to change other people and what they focus on but you can decide which relationships you want to be invested in. Consciously surround yourself with people who aren’t caught up in perfecting their bodies. Spend time with those who appreciate their unique attributes and yours.

Become a critical viewer of the media. Media messages about body shape and size affect the way we feel about ourselves and our bodies only if we let them. Don’t accept that the images you see are the ideals you should try to attain. It’s important to remember that media images and messages are constructions, not reflections of reality.

Value yourself and others based on talents, accomplishments, and character. Turn off the voices in your head that tell you that a person’s weight is an indicator of their value as a person. Get rid of the notion that a particular weight or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment. Celebrate your unique shape and size and embrace the natural diversity of human bodies.

Spring can be a challenging time for anyone struggling with poor body image. Take this opportunity to strengthen yourself, go against the grain, and reject the body images that are often promoted in our culture.  Celebrate your individuality and rejoice in the knowledge that you are precious and valuable just the way you are.

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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Self-care isn’t just important, it’s crucial for our well-being. You’re overwhelmed at work and at home.  A ton of projects are piling up and your calendar is packed with overdue tasks. In an effort to make time for all of these obligations, you work through lunch, skip the gym, and bag your social life. Does that sound familiar? To keep up with this mad pace, most of us don’t think twice about putting self-care on the back burner. More often than not, it takes a wake-up call to notice the toll this kind of lifestyle takes on our lives.

Our physical, emotional, and mental welfare are all reliant on our self-care practices. Here are just a few of the many reasons why self-care should never be neglected:

  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance: Contrary to what societal pressures may lead us to believe, being a workaholic isn’t a virtue. Overwork, and stress and exhaustion that come with it, can make you disorganized and emotionally depleted. It can also lead to a host of health problems, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and heart diseases. By following professional self-care habits like taking intermittent breaks, setting boundaries, and avoiding overextending yourself, you can ensure that you stay sharp, productive, and healthy.
  • Manage your stress levels: While a little dose of stress can give you the nudge you need finish that task you’re not crazy about or meet impending deadlines, constant stress and anxiety can have an adverse effect on your mental and physical health. Smart self-care habits like eating healthy, connecting with loved ones, or practicing meditation reduce the toxic effects of stress by improving your mood and boosting your energy levels.
  • Know your value: Self-care is important to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself. It produces positive feelings and enhances your confidence and self-esteem. Self-care also reminds yourself (and others) that your needs are important, too.
  • Improve your physical health: Self-care is not just about your mental health. It’s also about caring for your physical self by eating mindfully and intuitively, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, etc.

The truth is, sometimes being busy feels good. You may feel successful because you’re constantly working but are you really getting anywhere? We often get caught up in the illusion of progress. In reality, there are plenty of times when we make the most real progress while we’re boing unproductive. It can be hard to put your obligations on hold, but sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do in the spirit of self-care.

Are you ready to jump on the self-care bandwagon? Get started with these fifteen simple self-care habits:

  1. Go for a walk or jog.
  2. Meditate or do deep breathing for five minutes.
  3. Take a break when you need it.
  4. Choose who you spend time with.
  5. Laugh heartily at least once a day.
  6. Eat for joy as well as health
  7. Listen to some great music.
  8. Start a journal.
  9. Take a five-minute visual break by simply closing your eyes.
  10. Learn to say ‘no.’
  11. Try not to overthink.
  12. Play with your kids and/or pets.
  13. Take a long morning stretch.
  14. Practice gratitude.
  15. Sit quietly in nature.

Think of self-care as a necessary form of scheduled maintenance rather than an indulgence. It won’t take long before you see a very positive difference!

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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An estimated 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, while tens of millions more are plagued by distorted images of their bodies. Those who struggle with body image and eating disorders need to find ways to move from a judgmental approach to one rooted in compassion. How can we foster a more positive accepting attitude toward our bodies? Research suggests that a regular dose of mindfulness may be a very effective remedy.

It’s all about awareness and acceptance. Mindfulness is the energy of being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment—both within and around us. It involves maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the surrounding environment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing right now rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Mindfulness also involves acceptance: we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them, without believing that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. Practicing mindfulness involves returning to this awareness again and again when our attention drifts or gets caught up in conditioned mental habits and behaviors.

You can be mindful anytime, anywhere. This simple practice doesn’t require you to subscribe to any particular set of beliefs, and it can be practiced at any time and in any situation. You can practice being mindful while driving to work, washing the dishes, during an important business meeting, or watching TV. It’s not about what you’re doing but rather about how you are doing it—with undivided attention and awareness of your experience in the present moment.

Mindfulness to the rescue. The practice is particularly helpful when you’re experiencing some kind of pain, anxiety, impulse, or insecurity. Instead of running away from unpleasant feelings, practice being mindful of them. By staying present to these feelings and observing them without judgment, you can begin to accept them and you will find that they eventually dissolve. We often take emotions (especially negative ones) very personally. But mindfulness invites us to view them as simply mental events passing through, like temporary waves in our ocean of awareness.

Practicing mindfulness can be particularly helpful if you struggle with body image and eating disorders:

  • It shifts your attention away from your outward appearance towards how your body feels from the inside.
  • It helps you recognize mental and behavioral habits and how you’ve been conditioned to think, feel, and act in response to various stimuli. It then opens your ability to make more conscious, deliberate choices with your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • By learning to recognize internal thoughts and feelings instead of being carried away by them, it creates new habits that counteract obstructive coping strategies.
  • Mindfulness teaches the value of having a spiritual practice: a consistent method for transforming pain and allowing you to find the strength to heal.

Mindfulness can be tremendously helpful in improving our body image. It prompts us to relish the here and now and to stop chasing thinness. It reminds us to tune out the noise of destructive societal pressures, and to tune into ourselves instead. It teaches us to savor each minute and to observe our bodies, thoughts, and feelings without judgment. Through mindfulness, we can turn our negative emotions into our greatest sources of strength.

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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Almost everyone has some self-image issues. Maybe you feel your thighs are too big, your hair is too frizzy, your waist isn’t small enough, or your muscles have no definition. In our culture that seems fixated on appearances, it can be hard to love your body and easy to find fault with it. But for those who suffer from body image disorder, a distorted internal perception of their body can make it virtually impossible to live a normal life. Thoughts about their physical imperfections can be persistent and intrusive, even when the perceived flaw is nonexistent. They believe their body is unacceptable, and that it should be hated and hidden. These feelings can grow and fester, interfering with social and/or occupational functioning and causing elevated levels of anxiety and depression, or the development of eating disorder behaviors.

Many people suffer from the condition without even realizing it. Body image disorder is equally prevalent among men and women, and it occurs all around the world.  If you believe that you or someone you love may have body image disorder, it’s important to recognize the signs:

  • Preoccupation with physical appearance
  • Obsessively looking in the mirror  or other reflective surfaces
  • Grooming excessively
  • Showing reduced or poor performance at work or school
  • Utilizing extreme diet and exercise behaviors
  • Undergoing numerous cosmetic surgery operations without satisfaction
  • Avoiding social gatherings and social situations
  • Comparing one’s physical appearance with others
  • Feelings of extreme self-consciousness
  • Spending a large percentage of  time and thought on exercise, food, calories, and weight
  • Wearing excessive makeup or clothing to camouflage perceived flaws

If you think you have body image disorder, don’t hesitate to seek help. There are effective treatment options that improve functioning and adaptability for people with body distortions to change faulty appearance-related beliefs. With the willingness to work toward a positive life again, it’s entirely possible to overcome body image disorder and have a healthy self-image.

So, how does this body image disorder thing get fixed?  There are both therapy- and medication-based treatment options to help those with body image disorder. The goal of these treatments is to improve quality of life and overall day-to-day functioning, while also decreasing the distress associated with appearance concerns. Other treatments, such as nutrition counseling, exercise, and massage can all be helpful in forming a loving relationship with the body. In addition, there are a number of self-help behaviors that can bring significant symptom relief:

  • Educate yourself. Learn all you can about body image disorder. Knowledge truly is power and it can motivate you to do whatever it takes to get better.
  • Know your triggers. Talk to your medical professional about what situations or events may elicit your individual signs and symptoms. Ask him or her to help you formulate a plan of action if symptoms return.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. They can worsen your symptoms and counteract the progress you’ve made in therapy.
  • Stick to your treatment strategy. If you’re prescribed medication, take it as directed and don’t skip therapy sessions, even when you’re feeling better.
  • Keep a journal. Write about obsessive thoughts associated with your body image disorder and share them with your medical professional. Don’t forget to record when you’ve successfully overcome the urges and negative thoughts, as well.
  • Eat and rest. It’s important that you get enough sleep and that you maintain a healthy diet, as they contribute to both physical and mental health.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Take time to participate in activities you enjoy and to get together with friends and family.
  • Learn stress reduction techniques. Ask your therapist to recommend stress management techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises.

If you think you have body image disorder, the best thing you can do is open up and talk about it with a friend, loved one, or medical professional. Bringing light to body image struggles is the best way to find freedom from them.

By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center.

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