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  1. Do You Have a Safe House? By Stacey Nye, PhD

    I recently presented a workshop at a local spa on healing disconnected eating. As a guest presenter my husband and I were treated to a weekend of complimentary food, exercise classes and other presentations by the spa’s staff.  He attended a workshop given by the staff nutritionist on eating healthy.  I was having my complimentary massage at this time, so had to come late. By the time I arrived, he was incensed.  “She’s teaching people to have a “safe house!” he exclaimed under his breadth.  “And they are all smiling, asking questions and shaking their heads in agreement!” After living with me for over 15 years, he knows better. He’s been educated about the dangers of dieting and the alternative wisdom of the Intuitive Eating* process.

    I was raised in a safe house.  There was simply no candy, chips, or junk food of any kind. My mother was a chronic dieter and did not allow it into the house. As a result, whenever I went out and this food was available, I ate it. Friend’s houses who kept Frito’s, Cheeto’s and Oreo’s in their pantry were treasure havens to me. The families of the children I babysat for likely had far fewer candy bars after I was there than before. If there were M&M’s at a party I attended, I parked myself right next to the bowl.  Obviously, growing up in a safe house did not teach me to no longer crave junk food; it just taught me that I had to get it elsewhere. And eat as much as I could while I was there, because who knew when I would be invited over again. I do not blame my mother.  Her intentions were good. The prevailing wisdom at the time (and unfortunately still today) was that fat people are unattractive, unhealthy, and need to stop eating food that they enjoy in order to lose weight. So, my mother took my sister and me with her to Weight Watchers, and cleaned out the house of its goodies. The irony is that it never really worked. Oh sure, we lost weight on Weight Watchers.  Lots of times.  Lost 10 pounds, gained 15. Lost 20 pounds, gained 25. Lost 30 pounds, gained 40. Most dieters can attest to the fact that they weigh more now than when they started dieting.  This is called yo-yo dieting, and research has shown that chronic weight fluctuations are unhealthier than simply maintaining a higher weight.  The nature of dieting is the problem. People go on a diet, stop eating the food they love, lose weight, and either then go off the diet, returning to their old habits, or have breakthroughs while on the diet of binge eating, secondary to hunger and feelings of deprivation. Studies show that only 5% of people who go on diets are able to maintain their weight loss long term.  Plus, despite a booming multi-billion dollar diet industry, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. So obviously, safe houses aren’t keeping anyone safe from getting fat. So what, you may wonder, is the alternative? C’mon, let’s take a peek inside my kitchen.  The refrigerator is stocked with common items such as cheese, yogurt, bread, fruit, lettuce, condiments, leftovers, etc.  Except for diet soda (which my husband is addicted to, but that’s a story for another day), you won’t find any non-fat, low-carb, sugar-free items.  Yuk!  Again, people buy these things with good intentions.  They think that they are improving their health and increasing the likelihood that they will lose weight.  Wrong!  Wrong!  Take a good look at the ingredient list on any one of these products. Is it long?  Are there things on the list that you don’t recognize as food? How can eating something that contains ingredients that you don’t even recognize as food improve your health?  And, they certainly don’t increase the likelihood that you will lose weight, either.  What they take out of items like these are the very things that contribute to how satisfying they are, usually the fat. Substituting Baked Lays for real chips fools no one. In fact, when you are craving chips, you may have noticed that you are liable to eat twice as many Baked Lays.  You likely reason that you can have more, since it has fewer calories. Also, people don’t feel satisfied eating low fat foods, and usually end up overeating them (and often then move on to the real stuff, anyway). Let’s move onto my cabinets. My husband thinks that they look like the inside of a 7-11.  Nuts, peanut butter, Kettle chips, rice crackers, cereal and candy.  Lots of candy.  Chocolate, even.  We just had a Bar Mitzvah, and there is a lot of leftover candy.  In fact, I bet my family forgot it’s there and it probably hasn’t even been touched in a week or two. How can that be, you might wonder?  You are probably convinced that you would never forget about 5 lbs of Hershey’s chocolate in your cabinets.  Well, let’s do an experiment. Think of your favorite food.  A forbidden food, one that you don’t allow yourself to eat very often.  Now imagine that this food suddenly has no calories. Imagine that they found a way to remove the calories while not altering its chemistry, and now you can eat as much as you want without gaining weight.  As an example, let’s say you choose potato chips (one of my favorite foods).  How many potato chips do you think you could eat?  A whole bag you say?  How often could you eat a whole bag of potato chips? Once a day, twice a day? How many days in a row do you think you could eat a whole bag of potato chips? How many days in a row do you think you would want to eat a whole bag of potato chips?   Probably not many.  Eventually, you would probably get pretty sick of potato chips.  Not that you would never want to eat potato chips again, but as soon as the power was taken away from them, the threat of eventual deprivation gone, they would become like any other food in the house.  I just had lunch. I didn’t eat any chips. I took them out, because usually I love potato chips with tuna salad.  But, I just did not feel like eating them today. Not because I am dieting, or restricting, or care about fat content, I just did not feel like eating potato chips today. Don’t believe me?  It’s true.  If we listen to our bodies, it will tell us what we need. Like in the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come”; if we listen, our bodies will tell us.  The problem is that no one is listening.  We’re too busy listening to Oprah, or Dr. Phil, or Suzanne Sommers, or Dr. Atkins. When we rely on external cues to tell us what and when and how much to eat, we lose touch with our internal cues, cues that we were born with, and that work pretty well until someone comes along and takes us to Weight Watchers. Can you think of a time that you have gone off your diet, really splurged, like on vacation, and came home and just want a salad and a chicken breast? This is an example of our body telling us what we need.  And what we need is to eat of variety of foods, not to eliminate any food groups, and to eat food that is not chemically processed. As proof, look at some kids eat. Unless they are in a safe house, kids eat completely based on their internal cues, and research shows that they usually get all of their nutritional needs met within the course of a week. They eat when they’re hungry, stop when they’re full, and eat exactly what they want.  They don’t rely on the clock on the wall, or the calories listed on the label or the article in SELF magazine to tell them when or what to eat.  If it doesn’t taste good, they simply won’t eat it.  And they could leave one chocolate chip on the plate because when they are full they are done eating. Can someone who lives in a safe house do that? I never could, at least not until I opened my house up to formerly forbidden foods, that is. Now, I can leave one bite on my plate, and it drives my mother crazy. Well, my family must be fat, you reason. Those of you who know my family know this is not true.  My husband and 2 sons are athletes. They run, play soccer, hockey, bike, swim, etc.  While they all enjoy candy, soda and pizza as much as anyone, they are extremely healthy eaters.  I shop for fruit multiple times a week and can’t keep leftovers in the fridge for more than a day.  My children include sushi, hummus, and salmon among their favorite foods. They order a salad with dinner whenever we go out. I myself am not thin.  My genetics predispose me to have a round, pear-shaped figure, and all the dieting in the world won’t change my genetics. I maintain my weight within a range that is healthy for me-my cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and pulse are all normal. My doctor has never once prescribed weight loss (he knows better not to). I exercise regularly, but would be hard-pressed to call myself an athlete. I often eat less than those at the table with me. I am healthy, happy and find plenty of clothes to buy. So, do you have a safe house?  And if yes, what do you really think you are keeping yourself safe from? * – The book, Intuitive Eating, is written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, was recently quoted in People magazine’s story about Katherine McPhee, the American Idol contestant who disclosed that she had an eating disorder.

    – Dr. Stacey Nye, Ph.D., FAED American Behavioral Clinics (262) 241-3231

      Stacey Nye is a Clinical Psychologist and Founding Fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorders. She does individual and group psychotherapy specializing in eating disorders, body image, depression, anxiety and women’s issues.  Her practice is in Mequon.  
  2. Shopping Therapy By Stacey Nye, PhD

    I love to shop.  I love clothes, jewelry, and makeup.  I read InStyle magazine and the Sephora cosmetics catalogue from cover to cover, pouring over every detail about the colors, fabrics, designers and cost. Style and fashion is one of my hobbies, and I love a good designer bargain, wearing bright colors, and layering on the bracelets. I have been like this ever since I was a little girl.  I can remember spending hours with my Barbie dolls, just changing their clothes. I had a HUGE bag of Barbie doll clothes. My mother should have realized then that this was a foreshadowing of things to come. I have never given up an opportunity to shop.  I remember being very sick on a family vacation to Toronto, where they are known for their haute couture.  I dragged myself out of bed (I was later diagnosed with mono) to accompany my mother and grandmother to Holt-Renfrew, the upscale department store downtown.  I got the cutest tartan-plaid dirndl skirt that day. I could barely stay awake and keep food down, but there I was trying on clothes in the dressing room. As I got older, fashion became a way for me to cope with my negative body image. Because of my pear-shaped figure, I had a difficult time finding clothes that fit, especially pants. I didn’t look like the other girls at my suburban Chicago high school who wore boy’s Levi’s to school.  I wore “outfits”, matching pants and jackets or vests, and even skirts and high heels on occasion.  Although this may not have helped me to fit in with my peers, it did help me to feel attractive and well put together. I would also buy a lot of tops-sweaters, t-shirts, blouses.  Whenever I wanted to buy a new one, my mother would order me to “go into my closet and count how many sweaters” I owned already.  It was never enough, really.  As many members of my gender would agree, buying new clothes, or a lipstick, or an inexpensive pair of earrings can be a way of treating ourselves-a reward for a job well done, or a small comfort for a disappointment or loss. In all probability, I spend more money than I should on clothes (my husband would certainly agree with that).  I likely spend more time than I ought to in stores. Perhaps I even place too much emphasis on my appearance, despite my feminist, therapeutic, “everyone deserves to have a positive body image” reputation. I do have a positive body image, and I think my shopping helps. If something makes you feel good, it will make you feel good. Within reason, of course.  But if something makes you feel good, and it doesn’t interfere with your job, health, finances or relationships, then it’s a good thing. However, some people (maybe you?) live by different rules. Some people don’t want to draw attention to themselves with their attire.  They attempt to conceal their undesirable bodies by sticking to a safe range of colors (black) or styles (loose) to camouflage themselves, much like a hunter wears special gear in order to blend in with his surroundings. These people won’t wear shorts, bathing suits or sleeveless tops in summer.  They avoid bright colors, horizontal stripes, shirts tucked in and belts. These people wear their negative body image on their sleeves, if you ask me. I remember when really long sweaters and leggings were in. The bigger and longer the sweater, the better, right?  It seemed like the perfect way to hide a big stomach, fat thighs or wide butt. Until one day my husband looked at me and asked “What do you think you are hiding under those clothes? Do you think that people can’t see that you’re fat?”  Some people might have been insulted by this remark.  But he was right! He blew my eyes wide open. Think about it.  Loose baggy clothes just look sloppy.  Most people, no matter what the size, look better in tailored, fitted clothing. Not tight, just fitted.  Plus, with all the advances in fabrics (Lycra, for example), there is no reason to be uncomfortable in a pair of blue jeans again. Other people live with the opinion that they should not buy any new clothes until they reach their desired weight. They will wear the same old, ratty, unstylish or even ill-fitting clothing, until some far away time when they consider themselves worthy. It’s almost like a punishment for not having the body that they desire.  That attitude just strengthens negative body image by reinforcing the notion that you are undeserving of new, pretty clothes.  You probably assume that this is a very effective way to get someone to actually change their eating or exercise habits, but it’s not.  Research shows that our thoughts and feelings manufacture our reality.  So if our thoughts and feelings about ourselves are negative, we never learn to take good care of ourselves.  The best way to accomplish a positive long term goal is by positive thinking and positive reinforcement, not by punitive self-sacrifice, deprivation, negativity and guilt. I told my body image group the other day that I walk around my life as if I looked like Elle McPhearson. Now, those of you who know me know I look nothing like Elle McPhearson. But, I walk with my head held high, my chest out, and my size 16 pants swinging around my hips.  And, it works!!!  I eat healthy and I stay active, much more so now than when I hated my body.  Plus, my doctor just said to me last month when we were discussing my weight- “You always look thin to me”.  So either he needs to get his eyeglass prescription checked (he should probably do this anyway), or I have internalized a positive body image so well that I actually look how I feel.  Besides, John Lennon once said “life is what happens when we’re making other plans”, and he was right. Live for today, and make the most of each and every moment.  Sure, set goals and work towards them.  But there is no good reason to deprive yourself in the process. So, go shopping. Buy some new clothes.  Don’t wait until you lose weight, go to the gym, or have your varicose veins lasered before you allow yourself to show some skin or try on the newest look. Celebrate summer with a few new things that will actually reinforce your health and well being and rejoice in the uniqueness of you. And, if you need some help figuring out what to buy, let me know.  I love to shop…
    American Behavioral Clinics
    (262) 241-3231

    – Stacey Nye is a clinical psychologist specializing in the individual and group treatment of eating disorders, body image and women’s issues.

  3. Saving Our Daughters By Dr. Stacey Nye, PhD, FAED

    I am often asked how to prevent eating disorders in our children, for it is quite common that weight and body image issues plague our kids, especially girls, at a younger and younger age. The ever-growing exposure to media images of thin, beautiful, perfect-looking women set a standard that most women cannot achieve, and all our girls should not strive for. Below you will find a list of suggestions of how you can help prevent these issues from hurting a girl that you love.
    1. Be aware of your own weight issues. Kids learn by modeling, and if they see a parent dieting, whether or not they are told directly, they will get the message that one needs to lose weight to be beautiful or accepted. Stop weighing yourself and get rid of the scale if you have one.
    2. Help your daughter develop criteria for self esteem that go beyond appearance, such as relationships, academic successes, or hobbies. If she has a solid sense of self (identity) and a stable self-esteem, research shows she will be more resilient to society’s destructive influences to conform.
    3. Reduce exposure to negative media images. Research shows that looking at pictures of emaciated fashion models results in lowered self esteem among girls and women. Look for magazines or television shows with more realistic images. When this is not possible, help your daughter to discern the difference between fantasy (few people look like Jennifer Aniston; most magazine photos are airbrushed or digitally perfected) and reality (the average women is 5’4″ and weighs 145lbs).
    4. Teach your daughter how to exercise for strength, fitness and health, not just weight control.  Help her to find team sports, yoga classes or self-defense training as a way to have fun, feel good and take care of herself.
    5. Help your daughter to expand her definition of beauty and accept differences amongst people in general. Being unique is special and diversity is necessary for survival.
    6. If there are weight issues, review the family tree. Weight is 3/4 genetics, and it would be unrealistic to expect a child to be significantly thinner than most of her family. Otherwise, try to evaluate if your child is eating for more reasons than just hunger. While it is common to occasionally overeat at holidays or special occasions, normal eaters tend to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. If she is not doing this, she may have a problem with emotional eating.
    7. Familiarize yourself with the risk factors and warning signs of negative body image and eating disorders. Perfectionistic, people-pleasing girls are at risk for demanding perfection in their appearance and swallowing their negative feelings, resulting in obsessing about food and weight as a way to feel in control.  Watch for preoccupation with food and/or weight, avoidance of eating, binge eating, disappearing after meals, or extreme weight loss as potential indicators of an eating disorder.
    8. Finally, if your daughter shows signs of depression, emotional eating or extreme dieting or weight loss, seek professional help.  Eating disorders and body image issues are easier to treat in the early stages, before they develop into long-standing, fixed patterns of coping that are resistant to intervention.
    American Behavioral Clinics
    (262) 241-3231
    Recommended reading: Reviving Ophelia. Saving The Selves of Adolescent Girls. Mary Pipher, Ballantine Books, 1994. The Body Project. An Intimate History of American Girls. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Random House, 1997. Am I Fat?  Helping Young Children Accept Differences in Body Size. Joanne Ikeda & Priscilla Naworski, ETR Associates, 199 “Treatment will make you “weller than well”.  It will not cure all of life’s ills.  Instead, it helps one deal with issues so adaptively and constructively that the improved functioning is even better than what is considered normal” – Karl Menninger

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