Today, I am honored to publish a guest post written by Margarita Tartakovsky. I’ll let her introduce herself:
I’m so excited to contribute this guest post to Coming Out of The Trees! Thanks so much, Marie, for a wonderful opportunity! I hope you and your readers find the post informative and helpful.
So a bit about me: I’m a mental health writer who writes the body image blog Weightless on PsychCentral, and the self-improvement blog Self-ish. I also regularly contribute articles and book reviews to PsychCentral.
I received my B.S. in Psychology from Florida State University and an M.S. in Clinical Psychology from Texas A&M University. At both schools, I focused my research on body image and eating disorders.
I’m originally from Russia, and moved to America when I was seven years old. (We were living in Italy when I turned six – the old-school way of immigrating to America from Russia in the 1980′s was through Italy.) I currently live in sunny-and-very-humid Florida.
I hope you and your readers find the post informative and helpful!
Self-Help Strategies for Healing Body Shame
Experiencing trauma can affect all areas of your life. In particular, it can affect how you view your body. Your body can become a source of shame and blame, an enemy or even a foreign entity. You can start to feel separated and disconnected from the very thing that carries you.
Body shame has many devastating consequences. For one, when you hate your body or see it as an adversary, the last thing you want to do is take good care of it, and treat it well. But when you neglect your body, you also neglect your health — physically, emotionally and mentally —and this can trigger a harmful cycle.
Learning to connect to your body and chip away at the shame you feel takes time. It’s a process, with ups and downs. If you’re not sure you’d like to take the first steps, think about how wonderful it would feel to respect your body, care for it and accept it exactly as it is.
Below are just a few of the practical ways to start the journey.
Practice physical activities mindfully. Spend time walking, biking, running or doing any other physical activity that you genuinely enjoy. As you engage in each activity, pay close attention to the movements your body makes. This can help you connect to the energy bursting throughout your body.
Practice yoga. Yoga can help you heal body shame, “feel your body” in a safe way and develop self-acceptance. According to an article in Yoga Journal, yoga can be “a safe and gentle means of becoming reacquainted with the body.” In fact, because of yoga’s psychological benefits, many therapists are starting to weave it into their treatment practices. But do take it slowly because rediscovering your body can seem intimidating at first. Yoga is also an effective way to cope with stress and help your mind and body relax.
Acknowledge your amazing machine. Your body is an incredibly intricate machine that helps you do so many things. Recognizing this can help you see your body in a positive light. Make a list of the things your body helps you do. On Weightless, I made a list of 50. Skim this list every day or whenever you’re feeling bad about your body.
Let your body talk. This tip comes from eating disorder specialist Sari Shepphird, Ph.D. She says, “What would [your body] say if it could talk? Does it need something; does it want something? What is it feeling?” Tuning in to your body’s needs helps you reconnect to it. If your body is hungry, nourish it with delicious, good-for-you foods. If your body is stressed-out, let it rest. Help it relax by taking a long bath, meditating, praying or reading your favorite book.
Try a new activity. “Engaging your body in a new activity,” is another helpful way to reconnect to it, suggests Shepphird. She says, “Have you always wanted to learn some new talent or skill? Is there some form of exercise or movement that you might enjoy? Allow your body to experience pleasure in a new, safe and enjoyable way. This can help develop a new appreciation for one’s body and what it can do, while encouraging positive feelings of enjoyment that you can experience in your body.”
It can also help to take small steps every day to appreciate and respect your body. The National Eating Disorders Association offers valuable ways to boost your body image in bits: 20 Ways to Love Your Body, 10 Steps to a Positive Body Image, 10 “Will-Powers” for Improving Body Image.
A note on trauma & eating disorders
On Weightless, I also address eating disorders, which I briefly wanted to talk about here, too. While the causes of eating disorders are complex, and include biological and genetic factors, trauma can also play a pivotal role. Trauma sparks a variety of painful emotions that you might not know how to cope with. In turn, “when those feelings become chronic, someone may be suffering from anxiety or depression that compounds the need for the eating disorder behaviors,” says Susan L. Richter, MA, a trauma healing counselor who sees clients at New Beginnings Counseling Center.
According to Amy Armstrong, MS, clinical director at the Multiservice Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders often co-occur with trauma. She says, “Though there is no concrete data, they guestimate it is somewhere between 35-50 percent.” It’s important to note, though, that trauma and eating disorders aren’t any more common than trauma and other mental illness.
“Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the current standard of practice for treatment,” Richter says. Also helpful in combination with CBT, according to Richter, is treatment that focuses on interpersonal relationship skills — such as interpersonal group therapy — and “building tolerance for body awareness and processing trauma out of the nervous system” — with treatments like somatic experiencing and EMDR. Armstrong says that dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) also effectively treats trauma and eating disorders.
When looking for a therapist, Richter suggests the Web site of the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation, where you’ll find certified eating disorder specialists. You can look for individuals who also have certifications in EMDR and/or somatic experiencing. These certifications indicate that a person has “advanced training and education in the treatment of trauma.” Check out credentials, and “most importantly [consider] how you feel about working with your therapist,” she says.
Do you struggle with body shame? What’s helped you in overcoming it? Has trauma played a role in your eating disorder? If you feel comfortable, please feel free to share your story below.