THE GOLD MEDAL: LIFE-LONG DREAM OR LIFE-ENDING OBSESSION?

The Renfrew Center, the nation’s first residential eating disorder facility and largest treatment network, continues to see a disturbing and growing trend among eating disorder patients—obsession with dietary restraint and increased exercise stemming from athletic ambitions.  Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorders and other related behavioral health issues continue to be on the rise, especially among young women and men involved in sports that emphasize the need to be thin and agile, extremely fit, or excessively muscular and strong to excel.

 

“Identifying athletes with eating disorders is not easy because they are often secretive or blame their eating habits and exercise regimen on their training goals,” said Kathleen Fetter, MS, LPC, primary therapist at The Renfrew Center of North Carolina. “The line between ‘fit’ and ‘thin’ slowly begins to blur until they truly believe that the thinner they are, the stronger, faster, better and more celebrated they will be in their respective sports. They cannot see that the obsession to be thin is actually destroying their future in athletics and life. ”

 

Experts at The Renfrew Center stress the need for parents to educate themselves on the dangers of exercise abuse and unhealthy athletic pursuits. They offer the following tips to help parents recognize when healthy training routines turn into an obsession leading the athlete to turn to drastic measures to become thin and succeed in their sport:

 

  • Accompany your child to some training sessions, especially in the beginning, to observe the coach/trainer and their method of training.
  • Discuss the dangers of dieting and the importance of eating properly; stress that strength, agility and endurance are fostered by good nutrition and a healthy diet and not by a weight loss approach.
  • Remind your children that their responsibility towards their bodies is to take care of it nutritionally by eating a well-balanced energy packed diet.
  • Talk about different body types and how they can all be accepted and appreciated.
  • Show your children you love them for who they are inside, not for how they look and perform in sports.
  • Examine your own beliefs and feelings about body image and weight, and consider how these might be communicated to your children in your attitudes, comments or nonverbal responses.

In addition, The Renfrew Center understands the critical role coaches and trainers play in an athlete’s life.  They offer the following tips to help coaches and trainers prevent eating disorders in their athletes:

  • Provide athletes with accurate information regarding body composition, nutrition and sports performance in order to reduce misinformation.
  • De-emphasize weight by not weighing athletes and not focusing on weight. Instead, focus on other areas in which athletes have more control in order to improve performance. There is no risk in improving mental and emotional capacities.
  • Do not assume that reducing body fat or weight will enhance performance, as studies show this does not necessarily apply to all athletes. Some individuals may respond to weight loss attempts with eating disorder symptoms.
  • Explore your own personal values and attitudes regarding weight, dieting and body image, and how these values and attitudes may inadvertently affect your athletes.
  • Refer to a sports psychologist or therapist skilled at treating eating disorders if an athlete is chronically dieting and/or exhibits abnormal eating.  Early detection increases the likelihood of successful treatment.

The Renfrew Center also urges parents and coaches to be aware of and look for these common WARNING SIGNS that indicate that a child may be suffering from an eating disorder:

  • Exercising alone and avoiding interaction with others, especially coaches/trainers
  • Exercising even though they are sick or injured
  • Skipping class, work or other important duties to exercise
  • Exercising beyond their normal training regimen
  • Preoccupation with food and weight
  • Repeatedly expressing concerns about being fat
  • Increasing criticism of one’s body
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Use of laxatives
  • Making trips to the bathroom during or following meals

With athletes, often exercise abuse is the precursor to an eating disorder, as opposed to restricting calories or binge-purge behaviors. Excessive exercise is also often the last behavior to be brought under control when a course of treatment is followed. It begins with a desperate attempt to please the coach, parents and even judges. While no one person can be blamed for an eating disorder, many coaches and parents apply the pressure that leads an athlete to dangerous methods of weight control/weight loss that can do serious physical and emotional damage.

 

About The Renfrew Center
The Renfrew Center has treated more than 60,000 women with eating disorders and other behavioral health issues since its establishment in 1985. The treatment philosophy emphasizes a respect for the unique psychology of women, the importance of a collaborative therapeutic relationship, and the belief that every woman needs to actively participate in her own recovery. The Renfrew Center has facilities in Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. For more information, please visit www.renfrewcenter.com or call 1-800-RENFREW.

Beautiful People Do Not Just Happen

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Grace

I’ve always been a bare-faced girl, only rarely wearing a little lipstick — but I always felt pretty good about it. Living in a small, progressive, mountain town in the west, natural is the norm.  But lately, at 41, I’ve been having a hard time feeling beautiful in my natural skin.

I’ve put back on the thirty pounds I worked hard to lose a couple years ago; I can no longer say I “have a little gray” in my hair — my hair IS gray; I can see the indications, around my eyes and mouth, of wrinkles that will deepen. I’ve been wondering if it’s “too late” to start using anti-aging products, too late to dye my hair, too late to learn how to wear makeup– most of all, I’ve been wondering if it’s too late for me to be beautiful.
This photo of me completely arrested that line of thought, and made me understand something in a different way.
What looks beautiful to me about this photo is the feeling. I look relaxed, happy, glad to be who and where I am. I was on a walk by the river on a beautiful day with my four-year-old and our dogs. I felt at peace with myself, and THAT is a beautiful thing.
What creates beauty is what I do, what I share, how I feel. Not what I do or don’t put on my face, my hair, my body.
The way to be beautiful is to seek out the things, places, people, and experiences that make me shine on the inside – it turns out that’s what shows up on the outside, too.

It Bears Repeating

I don’t know if you have had a chance to read this incredibly well-written post from Ashley Judd‘s blog; however, if you haven’t you need to.  I was both encouraged and convicted, not to mention have welcomed the kick in the pants to use this blog for more than what it has been during the past few months.  Please read the article, original post here, and be encouraged to make a change both in yourself and in society!

The Conversation

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

As an actor and woman who, at times, avails herself of the media, I am painfully aware of both the conversation about women’s bodies, and it frequently migrates to my own body. I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor eighteen years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.

However, the recent speculation and accusations about the unusual fullness of my face in March, 2012, feels different., and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hyper-sexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.

A brief analysis demonstrates that the following “conclusions” were all made on the exact same day, March 20, 2012, about the exact same woman (me), looking the exact same way, based on the exact same television appearance. The following examples are real, and come from a variety of (so-called!) legitimate news outlets (such as HuffPo, MSNBC, etc), tabloid press, and social media:

One: When I am sick for a over a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.

Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too – I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!)

Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed “Double Jeopardy” in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the “F” word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”

Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? And suggests that my husband values me based only my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene in “Missing, the plot stating I am emotionally distressed, have been awake and on the run for days, viewers remarks ranged from “What the f*&^ did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March 2012, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times – I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to indentify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

A case on point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact. (That they are professional friends of mine, and know my character and values, is an additional betrayal.)

News outlets with whom I do serious work, such as publishing Op-Eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in Democratic Republic of Congo, all ran this “story” without checking with my office first for verification, or offering me the dignity of the opportunity to comment. It’s an indictment of them, that they would even consider the content printable, and that they, too, without using time honored journalistic standards, would perpetuate with un-edifying delight such blatantly gendered, ageists, and mean-spirited content.

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?

I ask especially how we can leverage strong female to female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others – and in my case, to the actual public. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).

If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that is a feminist one, because it has been misogynist from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to hetereonormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self image, how we show up our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in – and help change – The Conversation.

Sarah

I, like many women, used to hate my body. My feet were too big, my back too curved, my nose too pointy, my thighs too fat. Going to college for theatre changed all that. In the world of acting, the more different you look from everybody else, the better off you are. No one wants to cast another pretty face who the audience will forget the instant they step out of the theatre. So I learned to look at my flaws as benefits, and it made me question why women are made to feel guilty about our bodies. So my stomach isn’t perfectly flat – why should I be ashamed of that? I’m healthy, and I like myself, so why am I supposed to apologize for myself? Why am I supposed to strive toward some “ideal” physical appearance? That’s just not me, man. So here’s my advice to anyone with low self-esteem about their bodies: Take an acting class. You’ll not only learn to make a complete ass of yourself in front of people and enjoy it, but you’ll come out of it feeling more powerful and beautiful. :)

Clare

I feel beautiful when I receive compliments about my skin when I’m not wearing any makeup, not even eyebrow pencil.
It let’s me know that people can see the core of me. This is important to me, as I was an ‘ugly duckling’ through my teens
and always felt odd about my athletic tomboy figure made me feel inadequate as a young woman and embarrassed about
having smaller breasts. Eating raw food makes me feel beautiful, it’s a way of investing in my health and preserving my future.
I haven’t been ill for over 3yrs, which is a blessing, as a candida albican survivor, the last 7 yrs have played havoc with my immune system. It’s great to feel fit and healthy which enhances your beauty aura.

Pregnant Is Beautiful

I’ve been wrong a lot in my life.  I’ve thought that people I dated were “the one” which was quickly obliterated once I actually did find THE one.  I’ve thought that career paths I’ve gone down would be the thing I want to pursue, only to find out that it’s the opposite of that.  And I used to think that being skinny was the only way that one could be pretty.

And then I got pregnant.

Now it’s been a hard road, one you can read more about here, to getting to 27 weeks pregnant today.  I’ve gone through ups and downs in my weight, in my self-image, and in my confidence.  I’ve fought morning sickness, pregnancy-induced carpel tunnel syndrome, and a slew of other things that (for embarrassment’s sake) I won’t mention here.  And yes, there are times where I want to chop off all my hair, dye it platinum blonde, and go on a long run all in the name of feeling “normal” again.  But once that little boy moves inside of me, once my husband looks at my pregnant body with complete and total admiration, and once I see myself in the mirror with my belly in my hands – it all changes.

I feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.  I feel like a superhero.

And I’m reminded why it’s usually OK for me to be wrong.

Unleash Your Inner Beauty … With The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life!

Swiss cheese is a marvelous ingredient in all types of dishes. Whether it is in a quiche, fondue or in a just plain grilled cheese sandwich, the pungent and distinctive taste of Swiss is only rivaled by it’s distinctive holes.

Have you ever thought how Swiss Cheese is just like life itself? After all, life has holes. It is not smooth and predictable like Cream Cheese or American. Rather, it is more like Swiss and its how you get through the holes that counts! So – rather than wishing the holes in your life away, by embracing them, you can have a complete and full life that makes you beautiful and unique. We are all unique, just like there is no perfect slice of cheese. It is the uniqueness of the Swiss that so many of us love, and just think of how delicious you life could be if you could embrace your own imperfections and “holes” in your life! True inner beauty entails being able to embrace your imperfections, experiencing setbacks and gaining strength from bouncing back from life’s challenges and adversities, and accepting yourself, imperfections and all. Mistakes and even failures are opportunities to grow and learn rather than serve as defining moments of your life that sap your inner confidence of your beauty within.

In a package of Swiss that you buy at the market, have you ever compared one slice of cheese as better or worse than another? I doubt you do! Every slice of Swiss is unique with its holes in all different places. People are like that also! The more we compare ourselves to others, the more we judge our self worth by how we measure up to others, we will find ourselves continually falling short and failing to embrace our own special uniqueness and characteristic beauty. There is no objective cookie cutter image of beauty – we each carry our own type of beauty that makes us who we are – with our own unique imperfections and “holes” that truly makes us unique just like a piece of distinctive swiss!

So – Embrace the holes in your past that are filled with disappointments and regrets, unleash your inner beauty, as you accept that fondue can never turn back into a block of cheese! What is done is done, and instead of reworking the past, use lessons learned as a foundation for paving the way for a beautiful and pungent life now!

Just think how you can unleash your inner beauty as you learn the lessons of the Swiss Cheese Theory of Life!

And don’t forget to Smile And Say CHEESE!

Judy Belmont, M.S. is a psychotherapist and mental health/wellness speaker who has a recently released self-help book with co-author Lora Shor, MSW called, “The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life! How To Get Through The Holes In Your Life Without Getting Stuck In Them! She can be reached at JABelmont@theswisscheesetheoryoflife.com and visit the Swiss cheese web site to download the first two chapters at www.theswisscheesetheoryoflife.com