As a part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2019, I wanted to bring you all an intimate look at the transformative power body positivity, self-compassion, and hard work and determination can bring to survivors of eating disorders.
I had the pleasure of interviewing good friend and coworker, Amanda Burch, aspiring counselor and body-positive influencer, on her own intimate journey through eating disorder recovery.
Arianna Tong is a female powerlifter that shared with me some of her own tips and words of advice for women looking to make powerlifting and/or resistance training a part of their routine.
1. Exercise - do it for YOU (and only you).
When I first started my fitness journey, I started it under the guise of getting slim for my ex boyfriend. Unfortunately, this was toxic . It has took me three years to learn that when it comes to your journey- YOU are your biggest motivator, cheerleader, and champion. Everyone has a journey and it's important to keep the focus on yourself. By relying on external motivators, you're setting yourself up for failure. Instead, motivate yourself in healthy and meaningful ways that inspire, uplift and motivate YOU (and... we'll say it again - ONLY you). Exercise should be a treat you give yourself - not a punishment for food and/or labor used to please someone else.
2. Ask for help!
Oftentimes, we psych ourselves out at the gym because everyone looks like they're a veteran lifter. However, everyone started somewhere. It's okay if you don't know how to do a lift or if you're brand new to the gains-train! Chances are, someone is willing to help you! Not only does that make you a better lifter and avoid injury, but the person teaching you will probably learn something new, too! Meaningful exercise transcends a pursuit for aesthetics; challenge yourself to build community, support and love for your movement program that fosters physical, mental and social wellbeing practices that benefit your overall health and wellness. It's a daunting task, but I challenge you to enter the new year with intention to foster community and support with your fellow gym-friends. You might surprise yourself!
3. Consistency. Is. Key.
Gains don't happen over night, so don't get discouraged. They're also slow and often hard to notice without someone else pointing them out to you. Try focusing on a host of results instead of relying strictly on the scale and/or some other measurement of success. How are you feeling after your workouts? How are. your relationships going since implementing movement into your life? How's your body image and sense of self-worth going? These are all equally important measurements of success that should be considered in addition to any aesthetically-based measures you may already be tracking.
When it gets tough, go back to pointer #1: why are you on this journey? If it's to boost self-esteem, feel good, establish community and fall in love with yourself in the interim, the scale, your body, and the weight you lift aren't the only indicators of success. Keep that in mind! Slow and steady wins the race!
How can you motivate the women in your life to seek out healthy movement and exercise that meets their fitness and exercise goals? In what ways can you foster gym etiquette that welcomes people of all shapes, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, etc.? Let's continue to lift one another up; we're all stronger that way.
You can see more of Arianna on her social media: @arilikestolift
How to take care of your body
It’s a common practice in today’s delicately body-obsessed society to tell women that they are beautiful or deserving of self-love just the way they look. In a world that increasingly attacks body-shaming of women and turns to tell women “no, you are beautiful!” some psychologists have sought to test the efficacy of this practice.
Renee Engein is one such psychologist who sought to answer this question and discovered that reminding women that they are beautiful lacks substance or efficacy in really empowering the said woman is feeling better. Rather, Renee conducted a study in which women participated in writing exercises that offered “different frameworks for thinking about one’s body — frameworks based on showing kindness and gratitude toward your body, even if you find it imperfect or disappointing.” In this study, women were assigned various writing tasks, some of which included self-compassion and gratitude while others simply wrote neutral responses and served as the study’s control. One of the self-compassion letters used in this study prompted women to write a letter to themselves from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend. Women in this group left feeling more positive and feeling better about the way they looked. A similar group was tasked to write about all the ways in which the body functions to successfully perform daily tasks. One woman, for example, thanked her hands for permitting her the ability to paint. Rather than focus on her imperfections, this woman thanked her body for its contribution in allowing her to lead a life that brings her happiness and joy. Like the group before it, women left feeling more appreciative, grateful, and more loving towards their body.
The next time you want to take care of your body, forget social media or television screens that harken to body sizes, products that cover and conceal, or advertisements that beg for your consumption. Instead, consider equipping yourself with pen and paper: write how your body serves you, or from the perspective of an unconditional love. Show kindness to your body; I promise it will show it back.
What does self-care mean to you? How do you practice self-care?
The meaning of self-care, I think, has been convoluted. Self-care, to me, has always been carving out time in my day to unapologetically spend time on myself, regardless of what’s going on with the rest of my world. During the last four years, my self-care has been weightlifting. There is something motivating about setting a personal goal with myself, spending a few hours a day feeling intimately connected with my body and pushing myself beyond boundaries I thought were unachievable. The best part is that these benefits all transfer to other components of my life, making me more resilient and, most importantly, overall healthier and happier. I am my best version of myself after I spend a few hours each morning taking care of my body and introducing it to new, exciting challenges while putting aside anything else on my mind. It’s only me, music, and the weights. This way, I can spend my energy giving to others but only after I have first given to myself.
What does self-care mean to you? How do you implement it in your daily life? If you don't, I challenge you to try it and let me know how it changes your life!
Kelly Brogan is a women’s health psychiatrist based in Manhattan, who covers - among many other things - how diet and exercise affect your mental wellbeing. Inflammation is one biomarker that may potentially influence the risk of depression.
The prospect that the way we eat and consequential eating complications having a bi-directional interaction with mental health disorders is a relatively new topic of conversation. John Hopkins writes, “The gut doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our..brain—with profound results. For decades, we thought that anxiety and depression contributed to digestive disorders, such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, etc. But…studies show that it may also be the other way around.”
Ever hear the saying, “listen to your gut?” While commonly used, its legitimacy in identifying the gut as a potentially intelligent, interconnected pathway with your brain and the neurochemistry of it are much less commonplace in conversation or fields of study. But, as research seems to indicate, might have more grounds than a simple common-saying. Our guts and brain interact significantly, suggesting what we put into our body (i.e. the food we eat) may have significant complications on our mental health and wellbeing.
As if eating for physical health benefits (like a better body composition, for example) wasn’t influencing enough! Now there’s reason to believe that exercise and proper diet may actually improve mental health disorders and the consequential symptoms associated with them.
My child is always angry!Dealing with a tantruming child that struggles with intense bouts of anger management is a difficult hurdle, among a laundry-list of other hurdles, that some parents struggle to maneuver.
And, in a world where anger-induced children seem to be steadily taking control of our universe via shouting at television screens and demanding more screen-time, you, as a new or veteran parent, may rely on tactics you experienced growing up to regulate these behaviors. Telling your child to scream into a pillow, for example, has been well-practiced by exhausted parents but has been shown in research to provide little assistance with emotional regulation of children (Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 2001). In that same breath, expressing or "venting" anger has actually demonstrated heightened feelings of anger and aggressiveness.
Author Eileen Kennedy-Moore covers "Children's Anger Management Strategies That Work" and introduces emotional regulation by highlighting the earlier work of James Gross, who outlined five points at which people can change their emotional response to a situation:
With this framework of emotional regulation in mind, it is easier to see that screaming into a pillow, as one example often employed by parents of frustrated children, does little to manage troubled behaviors. That is because it does little to alter the situation or manage the child's perspective of the situation after the problem behavior has already occurred.
So, what can we do?
Thankfully, research does indicate possible interventions for children with emotional regulation difficulty and/or anger management challenges.
Talk it out
A recent study conducted by Wainryb and colleagues (2018) demonstrated that the act of just telling a narrative of an anger-inducing event shows potential to help children and teens feel less angry both immediately and up to one week later. By detailing the sequence of events, a child's brain is permitted to slow down and stop, think and process the situation. Be sure to validate and empathize with your child when he or she is exclaiming an anger narrative. Meet your child with compassion and gentleness to promote future expression of emotion.
As their primary role model in the lives of maturing, young brains, your role as a parent and modeling appropriate expression is absolutely imperative. Every action you make that your child witnesses is potential for modeling, so it's important to carefully act out appropriate behaviors and expressions when around them. We can't expect our children to be freely expressive with their feelings and emotions if we do not first provide them modeling opportunities to demonstrate it. With that said, demonstrating to your child that yelling, throwing objects, hitting or other are appropriate behaviors when feeling mad will only elevate the chances your child will demonstrate these behaviors instead. Rather, consider modeling more healthy responses when feeling angry or upset by stopping to think about the why's of your anger feelings. What's causing your anger (e.g. think about the time of day, who might be causing your anger, what you're wearing, smelling, etc. There is no detail too small when looking for anger-provoking cues)? How do you feel as you start to get angry? And what are self-soothing techniques you can employ to calm yourself down? Be sure to model this cognitive approach to dealing with anger to your children. Rather than screaming into a pillow or saying and/or doing something that harms yourself or others, consider reflecting on your anger as a source of information to use rather than something you need to immediately get rid of. By examining the why's, how's, who's and when's of your anger, you just might feel lesser angry! And by modeling it with your children, you just might equip them with the skill set to be less angry themselves.
While hypotheses have been synthesized regarding the power of nutrition on an individual’s mental health, clear evidence outlining the power of what some refer to as ‘nutritional psychiatry’ is largely unknown. In a recent randomized clinical trial, a team of researchers sought out to investigate “the efficacy of a dietary improvement program for the treatment of major depressive episodes.”
67 individuals were enrolled in a nutritional counseling program that emphasized healthier eating habits, including foods consisting of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, low-fat, unsweetened dairy, raw and unsalted nuts, fish, lean red meats, chicken, eggs and olive oils. It’s important to note, however, that most individuals enrolled in this program were not eating traditionally ‘healthy’ foods to begin with, and their significant reduction in depressive symptoms may not be reflected in an individual who does already eat a relatively healthy diet. On that same note, the mechanism by which introducing these foods on reducing depressive symptoms have been clearly identified, so one should tread cautiously when glorifying the specific foods or nutritional counseling introduced in this study until future research teases this mechanism out more vividly.
It is an impressive finding, however, and will undoubtedly contribute to future studies seeking to bridge the gap between psychiatry and nutrition. This study - among others - helps us clarify the interconnectedness of nutrition, mental health and wellbeing, and our physical health. The premise that everything we put into our bodies affects our physical shape and biological capacity to live well in addition to potentially mediating factors that affect our mental health is reasons for a change in dietary behavior, more than ever before. Not sure where to start with changing these behaviors? Let's get in contact!
What do you think of this study? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
In a recent (May 2018) meta-analysis and meta-regression analysis of randomized clinical trials comprising of nearly 2,000 unique cases, “resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status, a total prescribed volume of RET, or significant improvements in strength.”
While exercise has been well-described as a therapeutic intervention for several mental health disorders, resistance training has not been as clearly defined by the literature. The findings of this study suggest that exercise training may provide “alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms.”
Weightlifting isn’t just for your bicep muscles; it can similarly - and effectively - be used to reduce depressive symptoms. Consider implementing resistance training within your current or formulating treatment for a diagnosis of depression. The benefits? There are nearly no ill side-effects, unlike many current treatment options with potentially adverse side-effects.
"Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status, a total prescribed volume of RET, or significant improvements in strength."
What is a gaming disorder?
Did you know? As of January 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO), whose primary goal is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations systems, now officially recognizes Gaming as an addictive mental health disorder.
WHO’s official webpage detailing this disorder describes gaming as a disorder “characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” For an official diagnosis, someone must have severe functional impairment due to this unhealthy gaming behavior for at least 12 months of time.
And, while ‘gaming’ sitting alongside long-standing addictive behaviors like alcoholism, narcotic use, or sexual addiction may read a bit silly to some, WHO’s collaboration with several prolific healthcare providers, researchers, and experts have demonstrated significant consequences of over-gaming during the last four years. WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse has hosted four meetings between 2014 and now, analyzing the epidemiology, nature, public health implications, clinical cases, health promotion, treatment policies and other relevant important aspects of internet use, computers, smartphones and other communication and gaming platforms that have been on a steady rise during recent years.
So… Do I have a gaming disorder?
According to the WHO, here are six signs of gaming disorder:
For full diagnosis of a gaming disorder, one must have significant impairments in imperative facets of one’s life, including one’s family life, social life, personal life, education and/or work for the last 12 months.
While worried parents might be quick to jump on the “my kid has a gaming disorder!” train, data suggests otherwise. In a 2013 study, researchers found that gaming was most common in males between the ages of 12 and 20 and that, in the United States, only 1 to 2 percent of kids and teens were affected by internet gaming disorder.
"Video game addiction might be a real thing... but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be."
The WashingtonPost recently reported on an even more recent article release from the American Journal of Psychiatry. In the study, an analysis of nearly 19,000 internet users from the United States, Canada, Britain, and Germany found that among those who play games, just under 1 in 3 reported at least one symptom of Internet gaming disorder. But even smaller than that, between 0.3 percent and 1.0 percent of the general population “might qualify for a diagnosis of the disorder.” That’s a relatively small number of kids who qualify for the comprehensive criteria. Given the small percentage of individuals affected by this disorder, psychologists Patrick M. Markey and Christopher J. Ferguson who took part in the aforementioned study commented: "video game addiction might be a real thing... but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be."
Unfortunately, due to gaming disorder’s recent classification, little headway has been made in developing evidence-based treatments for the addictive diagnosis. “There really hasn’t been a good study of what kind of treatment works,” said Andrew Saxon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and chair of the APA’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry. “We’re in the realm of semi-experts giving recommendations.”
But we also know that more and more children, as gaming becomes a larger component of our everyday lives, are seeking out psychological intervention for their addictive gaming behaviors. In one 2017 paper by Torres-Rodriguez et al., researchers combined psycho=education, treatment as usual, intrapersonal, interpersonal, family intervention, and the development of a new lifestyle as having “positive and encouraging effects” in treating gaming disorder of those enrolled in the study.
In a world of ever-growing mental health disorders, it can feel like we need to bubble-wrap our children and loved ones from developing conditions that impair their activities of daily living. And, while treatment and diagnostic criteria are still being fleshed out for this relatively new classification, the epidemiology of internet gaming disorder suggests few children are legitimately characterized with the disease.
More than ever, emphasize playing outside, with peers, in nature! Take your child out for a walk around the neighborhood; talk to them about their feelings, wants and desires. Inquire how they’re doing at school, or tell them a story about your life from work. As with most behavior, children learn from modeling. Model what you want to see from your children by introducing them to healthier activities - like walking, seeing nature, or engaging in an artistic outlet that they enjoy.
We live in a technologically-consuming world - there’s no avoiding that. But we can teach our children, friends and close loved ones other behaviors needed to break up the screen-time to optimize health and wellbeing.
I get a lot of questions pertaining to the amount of protein someone should consume each day but the answer largely depends on sex, activity level, and your own body weight or goals. While the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is set at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, it's also standard amongst the bodybuilding world to recommend at least 1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Those are two very different numbers - what's the deal?
Dr. Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon, leading experts in the field of exercise physiology and nutrition, recently summarized the “upper anabolic threshold for per-meal protein intake” and to “draw conclusions based on current data so as to elucidate guidelines for per-meal daily protein distribution to optimize lean tissue accretion.”
Take away point: according to the authors, the research suggests a minimum of 1.6g/kg/day of protein and a maximum of 2.2 g/kg/day. The authors write “while distribution over a specific number of courses is still being debated, daily intake of protein seems to be of leading importance and far more instrumental in hypertrophy and/or strength gains compared to the specific distribution over a certain number of meals. With that said, it is far less important how you distribute this number of daily protein intake and rather that you simply manage to consume this number throughout the day . Research efforts are still being made to identify specific timing distribution throughout the day but do not currently suggest enough influence for it to be a primary concern.
To read the full article: how much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. Brad Jon Schoenfeld and Alan Albert Aragon
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition201815:10
It is therefore a relatively simple and elegant solution to consume protein at a target intake of 0.4 g/kg/meal across a minimum of four meals in order to reach a minimum of 1.6 g/kg/day – if indeed the primary goal is to build muscle. Using the upper CI daily intake of 2.2 g/kg/day over the same four meals would necessitate a maximum of 0.55 g/kg/meal.
Justin writes about ways to optimize your health and well-being by cultivating resiliency and self-compassion through sustainable movement and exercise habits that lift you and those around you up..