Emotional Well-Being Blog

Is My Eating Disordered

By: Robin Hornstein, PH.D.

It is likely that you or someone you know has a “weird” obsession with food or their body. These days, the culture of beauty and perfection is understood even when we are young girls watching the world around us. Three year olds more commonly ask their moms if they are fat. You probably can give a lecture yourself on the media ruining the lives of many girls with standards of beauty that most of us won’t meet in our lifetimes. Most women also have been on some diet by the time they are 25 and have their own diets in their heads (cheat days, no carbs if you eat cake at a party, Paleo, Weight Watchers points, healthy eating, juice cleanses, calorie counting). The list is long and the demand on our psyches is high.  

I would argue that if more than 10% of your day is spent worrying about what you will or won’t eat and you are upset with yourself for losing the battle of these rules, you may have disordered eating or thinking about food. And if that time spent fretting is full of self-loathing, punishments, make-up time at the gym or other compensatory behaviors, you are headed for the emotional and physical suffering that can become an eating disorder. Further, if your worry interferes with socializing and intimacy with others on any level you are showing more signs of an eating disorder than you might want to live with day to day.

What crosses the line to an eating disorder? Well, first we need to know that the number one mental health disorder that leads to death is Anorexia.  It beats out suicide, which is quite alarming and perhaps should be classified as a suicidal illness. I imagine that most of you reading this can define the major diagnoses in the Eating Disorder list:  Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and Orthorexia may be familiar to you as you probably have read about these or have known someone who has struggled. Orthorexia is the least known and is actually best defined as a systematic elimination of foods one won’t eat as they are defined as unhealthy. The list is obsessive and ends up limiting many enjoyable life moments and affects mood and health. This disorder is not someone who says they don’t want to eat sugar – this is more a disorder where the body image and mood are affected by the choices that one will eat due to many factors. The underlying obsession leads to much anxiety, and Steven Bratmas, MD calls people with this disorder “health food junkies”.

In reality, if you see yourself in these descriptions and feel that you have any behaviors that you hide or get angry when you are confronted with them (bingeing, eating too few calories a day, exercising to excess, only eating certain foods, purging via vomiting or other methods etc.) you may require help to overcome these behaviors. And, it is not only our body that suffers. Living with an eating disorder is a disruption in your life.  It is a mental health issue and not just a will-powered choice. Most women with an ED (Eating Disorder) also have other mental health issues that accompany the ED behaviors.  

Depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder are some of the illnesses that lead to or are caused by having an eating disorder. It affects all areas of one’s life. These disorders harm our bodies, careers, relationships, make us lonely, erode creativity and fun and hamper being a full and successful person in the world. What to do? Seek help. Tell someone and leave the secrets behind.

What I have learned as a therapist for the past 33 years is that secrets can lead to severe illness constricting our happiness and functioning. Tell your physician, a friend, anyone you trust and start to unwind how you got to this place. There are many types and levels of care and your people, as you trust them, can help guide you. One of my clients told me the other day that she goes to the gym and spends her time seeing who she is thinner or heavier than, who has greater endurance than her and how she will beat them next time. When I asked if this was an enjoyable use of her time or if she ever talked to anyone, she looked at me like I had three heads. Body image issues and eating disorders are issues of loneliness and a feeling of being less than everyone else. If this is part of your story, or someone you know, reach out for help. It is everywhere around you. A good team of a physician, nutritionist and therapist can help you untangle the web you are stuck in and find a full and rich life.

The Psychological Impact of Laughter

By: Courtney Liggera, Psy. D.

I was wondering why the ball was getting bigger.

Then it hit me.

We have all heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine” – and there is more than a nugget of truth in it.

Laughter has a significant effect on our bodies and our minds. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, which creates feelings of happiness, love, and euphoria.  Laughter also initiates a psychological phenomenon called “facial feedback,” whereby a certain expression can cause a person to have the corresponding emotion. Just the simple act of smiling from laughing can improve one’s mood.

As a result, laughter can be a powerful tool in everyone’s lives. It makes people feel good, and that good feeling remains even after the laughter stops. Laughter helps people maintain positive and optimistic outlooks even through difficult situations, disappointments, and losses.  Even more significant and powerful than getting relief from sadness and pain, laughter gives people courage to find hope in difficult times.  A laugh, or even just a smile, can help a person overcome significant obstacles.

There are several links between laughter and mental health.  Laughter helps to temper distressing emotions like anxiety, sadness, and anger.  Laughter helps you relax and recharge by decreasing stress, increasing energy, and helping you stay focused and accomplish more.  Laughter also helps change perspective by permitting people to see situations in more realistic and healthy ways.  It creates psychological distance which in turn, helps people avoid becoming overwhelmed.

We all can benefit from incorporating more laughter in our lives.  Here are some simple ways bring it on home:

1. Smile. A smile is the beginning of laughter and like laughter, it is contagious.
2. Count your blessings. Make a list of good things in life which will distance you from negative thoughts which can be a barrier to laughter.
3. When you hear laughter, go to it. People are often more than happy to share something funny because it gives them a chance to laugh again.
4. Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily, both at themselves and at life and find humor in everyday things. Their happy points of view and laughter are contagious.

By focusing on a few small changes and welcoming laughter into your life, you can make significant steps towards improving your overall mental health.

Coping with Holiday Stress

By: Randi Platt, M.Ed.

Shopping, baking, cooking, visiting, feasting, attending parties, drinking alcohol, money woes, loneliness, expectations for connection and fulfillment. What do these words all have in common? They are descriptors of our daily lives during the holiday season.

These words and the following video give a great summary of what usually causes stress around the holidays. "Stress" is the body's reaction to being overstimulated for extended periods of time. While our bodies are designed to withstand short bursts of mobilization, days on end of late hours, overeating, worry or a feeling of isolation can produce symptoms of moodiness, fatigue, pain, headaches and more.

Luckily, this video also gives some great tips going through the holidays and minimizing wear and tear on our brains, our bodies and our emotions. As a psychologist, I would also like to add a couple of tips gained from talking to people about their stress for the 33 holiday seasons of my career:

1) Take breaks from group and chronic activities. Allowing time for your body to recuperate from chronic stimulation will help it respond to stress with more resilience.

2) Consider staying in a nearby hotel if possible instead of staying with your family. This will provide natural breaks for rest and to maintain perspective.

3) Hydrate well. This helps to keep your energy up, maximize a feeling of fullness that helps curb overeating, and counteracts the possibility of overindulging with alcohol.

4) Make aspirations BEFORE the holiday season as to what values are most important for you to live out during this time (for example generosity, connection, being even tempered, demonstrating love or thoughtfulness). Write down your aspirations where you can see them each morning, to remind you of what you are striving for.

5) Be realistic. None of us live the lives of people in T.V. shows or novels. Each of us have quirks and imperfections, and most days are highly imperfect! Expect some stress and imperfection each day to decrease your possible disappointment.

Randi Platt, M.Ed. is a Psychologist, the head of psychology services at the Rittenhouse Women's Wellness Center, the Executive Director of Hornstein, Platt and Associates Counseling Centers, and a teacher of meditation at Thomas Jefferson University who has enjoyed being a healer in Philadelphia for the last 33 years.

How to Achieve Happiness

By: Randi Platt, M.Ed.

With the science of Psychology turning towards everyday experience, research is helping us understand how to achieve happiness and emotional well being with greater consistency. Contrary to popular belief, it is not important to build self-esteem.  The surprising news is that it is important to learn to feel compassion for self and others.  Those who regularly spend even brief amounts of time feeling gratitude, sending good wishes to others or being a good friend to themselves report greater happiness, connectedness and health. 

Tis' the Season

By: Joanne Perilstein, Ph.D.

Many people  feel excited about the  coming  holiday season and begin planning, and remembering past celebrations and  good family times together.  The media  and ads often hype the coming season  both because it is a shared  experience in the mass market and also  because it is a productive way to  encourage  shopping to boost sales and business.  The  festive lights and special events are also  ways to increase excitement and celebration.  So what’s wrong with it all?

The thing that can go wrong is that  people  build up their  expectations and typically remember only the  positive aspects of previous family experiences.  Then when reality strikes and there is conflict  at the dinner table among family members, or rekindling of old  strains and resentments and jealousies, people become greatly disappointed and dispirited. 

What to do?  Manage your expectations.  Try to be realistic when  imagining your family visits.  Keep in mind that it is very difficult for us mere mortals to live up to Norman Rockwell paintings.  Realize that family members  have flaws  and  try to concentrate on giving rather than getting.  Contemplating  what you are grateful for and trying to create meaningful experiences with loved ones  can counteract  some of the inevitable  disappointments that might occur.  Then if things go well, it will serve as an added benefit to the gratefulness and meaningfulness you are working on constructing. 

Here’s hoping you have an enjoyable  and meaningful holiday season!  

Spring Fever

We are approaching that time of year when many of us experience spring fever….a time when we feel energized and want to do many things from outdoor activities to spring cleaning within the home. At the Rittenhouse Women’s Wellness Center, I work with two groups of people: those wanting to pursue weight management and those wanting psychotherapy. From the weight management point of view, spring is a time when many of us prefer to exercise through outdoor activities which can nicely complement a healthy diet in pursuit of weight loss. Physical exercise is very helpful in maintaining a positive mood and outlook on life, so much so that the American Psychiatric Association is now recommending exercise as a strong treatment for the reduction of depression. An increase in social activities, which also may occur in the spring, is also useful in combating depression, or simply emerging from the winter blues! However, individuals who suffer from depression or bipolar illness are best advised to avoid excessive activity which might interfere with regular sleep patterns. Both individuals troubled by depression or bipolar illness are best served when they respect their need for regular sleep patterns. So the solution is simple: enjoy the springtime and the expanded activities that it often offers. If you want to begin an exercise program, this is the right time to start. Just remember to pursue your activities in moderation to avoid physical or emotional strain.

Overcoming the Winter Blues

Ever notice that in the winter, perhaps between November and March, you just feel sort of in the dumps? Maybe your motivation is lowered, you feel sad, things don’t seem as pleasurable as usual and your interest in work, socializing and entertainment seem to lose steam? Perhaps you also feel more moody, sad or irritable and even want to cry at times? If so, maybe you are having a bout of S.A.D… or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It isn’t totally clear what causes this, but there are several ways to treat it.

First of all, realizing your own vulnerability towards depression at this time of year is a good first step to solving the problem.

Some interventions that may help include the following:

Buy a full spectrum light. These can be found online (Northern Lights is a great brand). Try to use it in the morning before dawn. This can help extend the daylight so that your spirits lift.

Increase exercise. Often the cold weather discourages us from exercising. However, if we actively combat this tendency by self consciously increasing our exercise, we might find that the depression lifts.

Psychotherapy. If the depression really begins to interfere with work or socializing, psychotherapy can be helpful.

Medication. In some instances using anti depressants in combination with  some of the other interventions listed will also be helpful, especially if initiated at the beginning of the winter in November.

Nutrition. There is evidence that proves that good nutrition can also improve your mood.

In any event, don’t despair too much because inevitably winter ends and spring will emerge once again!

For more information on our psychologist, click here.

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