The Mind-Body Connection

“I think; therefore I am” – we’ve all heard this powerful quote by Descartes. But how many of us stop to think about what it actually means?  Is it possible not only that our thoughts are who we “are” inside our minds, but can actually influence who we “are” in our bodies as well?  And if so, should we be paying closer attention to what our minds, and bodies, are trying to tell us?  This month’s article focuses on how the body and mind are connected, and, some might say, inseparable.

Somatization

Just today a client came in describing an unpleasant odor she came across while on the bus (N.B.: I had her permission to share this anecdote).  The more she thought about feeling nauseous, the more nauseous she felt. She was surprised at how easily she became nauseous just by thinking about it.  And while relating this story to me, she made the powerful insight that if it was so easy for something as physical as nausea to be evoked by her mind, imagine what else she might be experiencing needlessly by over-focusing on it.  This is a great example of the mind-body connection.

A more extreme version of this is somatization, or the expression of emotional/psychological issues through the body. Psychosomatic conditions present real, measurable physical symptoms, yet they are not entirely the result of a physical problem. Although the symptoms and experiences are caused by the “mind,” the symptoms are in fact quite real, not “imagined.”

Typical psychosomatic symptoms include:

* Getting (and staying) sick while under high levels of stress

* Stomach aches before giving a presentation

* Rashes that break out in response to emotional abandonment

* Aches and pains when feeling tense or anxious

* […]

By |October 1st, 2009|Emotional Eating|0 Comments

How to Be a Food Snob

I’ll never forget the day I figured out I was a food snob. There I was, sitting in a graduate seminar chatting with a colleague, when she pulled out a granola bar that looked interesting.  I said, “Wow, I’ve never seen that kind before, but then again I never buy granola bars.” And when she replied, “Of course you don’t, you’re a total food snob!”, I was taken aback.  Was this an insult? After a few seconds, I thought, “Yes, yes I am a food snob!” and thanked her for her compliment.

What is a Food Snob?

What the heck is a food snob, you might ask, and why should you be proud to be one? Good question!  A food snob is someone who has an epicurean zeal for high quality, fresh and fancy food.

Here are some of the traits and behaviour patterns of a food snob:

* They prefer to buy their food from specialty shops; bread from bakeries, meat from butcher shops, and nuts and grains from bulk food stores.

* When in a suburban-style mega-grocery store, they mostly avoid the centre aisles, opting instead for fresh produce and dairy.

* They don’t buy things that come in crinkly bags or brightly coloured boxes with cartoon characters on them.

* Whatever they do buy from centre aisles has to be imported from some foreign country and in a glass bottle with a fancy label, thank you very much.

* They love to visit farmer’s markets, and pick out local produce with the eye of a jeweller choosing the finest gems.

* They also love to try new things; the more exotic and unpronounceable, the better.

* When eating out, they get excited by hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve […]

By |September 3rd, 2009|Emotional Eating, Food, Lessons in Living, Mindful Eating, Tips|0 Comments

How to Be Less of a Perfectionist and Enjoy Life More

This is the second of a series of two articles that explore the dynamics of perfectionism. In my last article, you learned what perfectionism is and why people develop the need to do things perfectly. In this one, you will learn how to change your perfectionist behaviors and enable yourself to be more satisfied with yourself and your life.

You will have the greatest success if you read the first article and take some time to observe your own perfectionist patterns. Once you have accomplished that, choose a few of the strategies outlined here. Keep working at it until you understand what you need to do to accept your imperfections and humanness.

Create a Support Network for Yourself
Seek out people who are not perfectionists. Encourage your support network to not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course. Look for people who forgive and forget when mistakes, failures, offenses, or backsliding occur. Ask them to tell you when they think you are being rigid, unrealistic, or idealistic in your behavior. Ask them to give you positive reinforcement for any positive change, no matter how small. Seek out people who have a sincere interest in your personal growth.

Do Some Self-Exploration
Explore the following questions in your journal, print this out and make some notes here, or discuss them with a trusted friend or professional counselor:

1. Where do you see perfectionististic behavior in your life?

2. How do these behaviors create problems for you?

3. What perfectionistic beliefs do you have?

4. How do you think these beliefs will affect your ability to change your behavior?

5. What do you need to do to become less of a perfectionist and be more relaxed about things?

6. How can […]

By |August 6th, 2009|Beliefs, Tips|0 Comments

Managing Perfectionism

This is the first of two articles that address perfectionism. In this one, we will explore what perfectionism is and why it is destructive. In the second one, we will take a look at some strategies for both controlling the need to be perfect and living a more relaxed, satisfying life.

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionists aspire to be top achievers and do not allow themselves to make even a single mistake. They are always on the alert for imperfections and weaknesses in themselves and others. They tend to be rigid thinkers who are on the lookout for deviations from the rules or the norm.

Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. People who pursue excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in working to meet high standards. Perfectionists are motivated by self-doubt and fears of disapproval, ridicule, and rejection. The high producer has drive, while the perfectionist is driven.

Causes and Characteristics

* Fear of failure and rejection. The perfectionist believes that she will be rejected or fail if she is not always perfect, so she becomes paralyzed and unable to produce or perform at all.

* Fear of success. The perfectionist believes that if he is successful in what he undertakes, he will have to keep it up. This becomes a heavy burden–who wants to operate at such a high level all of the time?

* Low self-esteem. A perfectionists need for love and approval tend to blind her to the needs and wishes of others. This makes it difficult or impossible to have healthy relationships with others.

* Black-and-white thinking. Perfectionists see most experiences as either good or bad, perfect or imperfect. There is nothing in between. The perfectionist believes that the flawless product or superb performance […]

By |July 2nd, 2009|Beliefs, Depression, Tips|0 Comments

The Straight Facts on Body Image

Although most of us have parts of ourselves that we don’t like (“my nose could be smaller,” “my thighs could be thinner”), for some people, dealing a negative body image is a part of daily life.  The media’s obsession with dieting, and with thin, rich celebrities, certainly contributes to the problem.  However, each of us is ultimately responsible for refusing to participate in this superficial obsession and learning to love ourselves the way we are. Read on to learn more about body image problems and how to overcome them.

What is Body Image?

The scientist in me wants to say that the true definition of body image is the brain’s representation of of the body’s sensory system and internal sense of having a body.  This internal “body image” changes as we grow, especially in childhood and adolescence.  That partly explains why teenagers can be so klutzy and awkward, because their bodies are growing faster than their brains can keep up with.

However, most of us define body image as how we evaluate ourselves. Aside from feeling like we have a body, most of us have an opinion about our bodies.  Those with a healthy body image may have a couple of areas they think need improvement, but generally, they feel good about the way they look and are able to enjoy and appreciate their bodies.  Those who struggle with their weight very often have a negative body image. They feel fat, ugly, and unloveable.  They think others judge them harshly, and they shy away from certain social situations.

In extreme cases, a person’s body image can be so distorted that it can lead to serious problems. Here, the negative self-evaluation reaches painful levels, and […]

By |April 3rd, 2009|Body Image, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

Stretch Out of Your Comfort Zone and Try Something New

When’s the last time you tried something new?  I mean really tried something new: a new haircut, a new way of doing something, a new hobby, or even something as simple as a new restaurant. We often get stuck in our habits and routines.  A grocery store commercial comes to mind, where a woman is shopping the aisles with her eyes closed, having picked the same products off the shelves for so long she knows exactly where they are through muscle memory alone.

Often habits go beyond the simple daily routines we keep.  They can apply to ways of thinking, feeling and behaving on a more serious level. Staying stuck in an unhealthy or dysfunctional pattern not only prevents you from living your best life, but can be self-destructive too.  For those of you who are stuck in health habits that keep you overweight and unhappy, you know all too well how hard it can be to break free from these patterns.

Why People Stay Stuck

One big reason people stay stuck is the comfort that comes from force of habit.  Better to stick with the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know, right?  Well, maybe not.  Comfort zones are limiting, preventing you from venturing out into new, unexplored territory.

Fear of change is another big reason. With fear come all the questions: what do I have to lose by changing?  What will I be giving up?  How hard will it be to try something new?  What if I fail?  What if it doesn’t last?  How do I know things will be better the new way, anyway?

There are no ready answers for these questions. But know that anything worth having usually comes through hard work, […]

By |March 5th, 2009|Change, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

20 Tips for Assertive Communication

Most of us know that assertiveness will get us further in life than being passive or aggressive. But few of us were actually taught how to be assertive. Here are some helpful tips.

1. Choose the right time. Imagine you’re dashing down the hall on your way to a meeting. Lisa passes by. You call out, “Can you have the Acme Inc. project out by Tuesday?” Because you haven’t scheduled a special time to bring up the issue, Lisa has no reason to think your request deserves high priority.

2. Choose the right place. Discuss important issues in a private, neutral location.

3. Be direct. For example, “Lisa, I would like you to work overtime on the Acme Inc. project.” Whether or not Lisa likes your request, she will respect you for your directness.

4. Say “I,” not “we.” Instead of saying, “We need the project by Tuesday,” say, “I would like you to finish the project by Tuesday.”

5. Be specific. Instead of, “Put a rush on the Acme Inc. project,” say, “I would like the Acme Inc. project finished and on Joe’s desk by 9:00 Tuesday morning.”

6. Use body language to emphasize your words. ”Lisa, I need that report Tuesday morning,” is an assertive statement. But if you mumble this statement while staring at the floor, you undermine your message.

7. Confirm your request. Ask your staff to take notes at meetings. At the end of each meeting, ask your group to repeat back the specifics that were agreed upon. This minimizes miscommunication. This also works at home; when you and a family have a disagreement or important discussion; be sure to ask them to repeat back what you’ve asked of them.  Do the same for them.

8. Stand […]

By |February 5th, 2009|Anger, Change, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

Setting New Year’s Resolutions That Work

It’s January 1st.  Karen wakes up past noon, feeling groggy and bloated from too much drinking and eating at last night’s party.  As she slowly gets up, she stares at her pudge, feeling that it has ballooned exponentially over the holidays.  Disgusted with herself, she vows that THIS will be the year that she finally loses weight, gets back into her skinny jeans (which have long since gone out of fashion) and becomes a fitness buff.

Full of resolve, she vows to eat nothing but celery sticks and carrots when she gets the munchies, to prepare the elaborate meals from that diet book she bought for New Year’s Resolution 2001, and to get to the gym 5 days a week.

That very night, she slips up and finishes the box of Christmas cookies from her mother.  A week later, she finally gets up the courage to go to the gym, which is crowded with other Resolvers.  After waiting 15 minutes for a machine, she feels exhausted after her 10 minute workout (with the machine set to Level 1!).  Defeated, discouraged, and without energy, she goes home to a bucket of ice cream; things were fine just the way they were.

Sound familiar?

What went wrong?

* Her motivation to lose weight was motivated by disgust and fear, not a desire to take care of herself.  This always leads to guilty failure, a sense of disappointing yourself or someone else.

* She didn’t have a specific plan; rather, she went about willy-nilly doing things she thought you’re supposed to do when you’re on a “diet” (my most loathed four-letter word).

* Whatever meagre goals she did have were completely unrealistic; one cannot subsist on carrots and celery, nor can one realistically expect […]

By |January 8th, 2009|Dieting, Emotional Eating, Exercise, Fitness, Tips|0 Comments

What to do About the Holiday Blues

Not everyone shares in the celebration and joy associated with the holidays. Many people feel stressed and unhappy in response to the demands of shopping for gifts, spending large amounts of money, attending parties and family gatherings, and entertaining house guests. It is not uncommon to react to these stresses with excessive drinking and eating, difficulty sleeping, and physical complaints. The holiday blues are a common result. If you experience reactions like these during the holidays, you are not alone. Let’s take a look at what causes the holiday blues and what you can do about them.

What Causes the Holiday Blues?

* Fear of disappointing others. Some people fear disappointing their loved ones during the holidays. Even though they can’t afford to spend a lot of money on gifts, some people feel so obligated to come through with a fancy gift that they spend more than they can afford.

* Expecting gifts to improve relationships. Giving someone a nice present won’t necessarily strengthen a friendship or romantic relationship. When your gifts don’t produce the reactions you had hoped for, you may feel let down.

* Anniversary reactions. If someone important to you passed away or left you during a past holiday season, you may become depressed as the anniversary approaches.

* Bad memories. For some families, the holidays are times of chaos and confusion. This is especially true in families where people have substance abuse problems or dysfunctional ways of relating to each other. If this was true in your family in past years, you may always carry memories of the disappointment and upheaval that came with the holidays. Even though things may be better now, it is difficult to forget the times when your holidays were ruined […]

By |December 4th, 2008|Depression, Tips|0 Comments

Managing the Stress in Your Life

Stress.  We all have it, some more than others.  A little bit of stress keeps you on your toes, but too much of it can leave you feeling depleted and helpless.  Some are better able to manage the negative effects of stress, buffering themselves against future health problems.  This article is all about learning to deal with stress in a healthy, constructive way.

Learn to Have Healthy Relationships

This subject could fill an entire book. In the limited space of this newsletter, let’s look at the key components of this stress-reducing strategy.

1.  Identify the sources of stress in your relationships. Write about them in a journal. Make a list of people who cause you stress and explore what the issues are.

2.  Resolve the underlying issues. For each of the situations identified in step 1, assess what needs to happen to resolve it. Make a list and design a plan to improve the situation.

3.  Learn skills to improve relationships. Relationship skills are learned. We are not born knowing how to get along well with others, and most of us learned only limited skills from our parents. Identify the skills you need to develop, and make a plan for yourself. You can learn these skills by reading books, taking classes, or working with a therapist.

4.  Avoid toxic people and situations. Some people have a toxic effect on you. If you can, limit the amount of time you spend with them. Look for opportunities to decline their invitations. When these people are family members, remind yourself that you don’t have to feel guilty about avoiding anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. In work situations, look for ways to rearrange […]

By |November 11th, 2008|Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments