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The Body Blues

July 8, 2010

I’ve been promising some of you that I’d write about women’s bodies, but have delayed doing so.  This is not an easy topic to COVER or PENETRATE, especially in words.

How does a woman reclaim her body, love it, communicate through it, poeticize it….how does a woman fully live in herself, occupy her own space, her own chasm, explore and guard her own orifices?  How does a woman feel beautiful…How does a woman show herself, how does she hide, how does she move?  Well, let’s say that if you begin to answer these questions, the answer CANNOT be boiled down to a number or a specific weight.  This is not pounds of meat that we are talking about here, and therefore reaching a certain number is not the answer to feeling good about your body.

Many of you are at war with your bodies.  You yell at your body daily, you hiss at it, you avoid it in the mirror, or you spend countless hours scrutinizing it.  As a result, your body is mad at you and it rebels.  It doesn’t cooperate with you.  It deliberately taunts you with its appetites.  You see a fold, a wrinkle, a cellulite indentation in your thigh and you cringe- your body is offended.  Do women who love their bodies have none of these?  Of course not.   They just find the grace, the power, the irony, the dance in their own flesh.

First off, I like to remind people that it is not only thin women who have lovers or who are married.  No.  Look around you. There are so many factors involved in having a relationship, appearance is only one.  But let’s take appearance. Let’s say that men like beautiful women.  Well what constitutes beauty then?  If we take superficial beauty then we need to look at the contour of a woman’s body, her facial features, her colors, her textures etc.  There are so many factors just on this level that don’t only have to do with weight.  Then there’s how a woman moves her body.  Some women move with poise and grace, others clunk around, others are always moving in a way that hides different parts of their bodies.  Try this trick: close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like to be the most beautiful woman alive.  How would you hold your body, how would you move, how would you walk and talk?  Then compare this to how you move in your body, how you walk and talk.  There are so many things that go into what makes a woman beautiful, and confidence is one of the most attractive traits- I’m sure you’ve heard this before.  Now let’s move to attraction.  People aren’t always just attracted to the most beautiful person around.  Chemistry, like beauty has it’s own mysterious set of requirements.  Have you’ve ever been attracted to someone that you didn’t think was particularly good looking?  YES!  How complex.  Now if you’re fooling yourself into thinking that the only thing you need to do to control this whole attraction mayhem is lose weight, then you’re deluded!

One of my favorite books of poetry that happens to address this topic is Grace Nichol’s Fat Black Women’s Poems.  The poems are sensual, inviting, subversive, all at once.  Grace Nichols truly endows words with flesh and redeems a woman’s body from the realm of misogyny.  Here’s her moving take on the female body.  Enjoy this poem, as you would enjoy pinching a bit of the flesh in your thighs or stomach..with relish….

The Divine Body in Grace Nichols’s The Fat Black Woman’s Poems

I am not your Venus de Milo perfectly sculptured from marble
To be carefully pedestal placed
My name is not Eve
I offer no temptation
I am not your concubine by night
Transformed by memory by day
I am not the milk you thirst for
Now dry in your mother’s breast
. . . I am no slave to a promise written in ink
When there is no master
There are no chains to be broken
Bondage is no glory
I am Woman
Bone of your Bones
Flesh of your Flesh
When I lay sleeping in your rib
You called me no name
I am that I am

— Faybiene, from “I Am”

Feeling Depressed? Don’t know why?

April 18, 2010

Sometimes people feel depressed and they can easily count the ways in which life is not going their way.  They know why they are depressed and can articulate what led to their recent drop in mood.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can pull themselves out of the depression, but at least they are beginning to put words to feelings, which is a good start.

Other people come into therapy and truly have no idea.  They might suspect a possible chemical imbalance that may have led to a change in mood, sudden crying spells, a sense of hopelessness, low self-worth, and difficulty going out and performing  day to day activities.  Perhaps medication is needed to jump start the neurotransmitters once again to produce serotonin to restore mood balance.  Even if medication is indicated, in most cases, therapy can help one begin a process to deepen awareness and slowly lead one out of the doldrums.

Even though the symptoms of depression are similar for all people (since they all meet the diagnostic criteria for this category), everyone has a very different and unique story.   It is in the telling of the story that recovery can begin. Feelings that the person did not have time or courage to experience suddenly resurface.  Reexperiencing the feelings and understanding the events that led to these feelings can be very beneficial.  Also, often times certain negative and faulty beliefs are internalized as a result of life events- these beliefs then lead to a host of negative feelings.  It is helpful to have a clinician guide you to reexamine some of these strongly held beliefs and begin to challenge them. For example, some people very early on internalize the belief “others will reject me” or “I am unloveable” and they continue to operate as though it is true across all situations.  Of course you’re going to be depressed if you walk around thinking that all the time!  Sometimes these beliefs are so strong that the person always looks for the evidence to prove their beliefs true, and they overlook incidents where the belief is actually false.  Does this sound familiar?

Another interesting phenomenon, which I find prevalent in depressed patients is their tendency to blame themselves for everything.  When they begin to explore the nature of their self-blame they often find that in fact they were initially angry at someone else  but were unable to tolerate being angry at this person.  Instead, they opt to take the anger and turn it against themselves.  I can’t tell you how often I see this.  Usually, the person finds anger so threatening that it is easier to hide it from others and even from themselves.  It then comes out in an unexpected way, as an unhealthy or self-destructive behavior.  In these cases, it is important to discuss the role that anger has played in your life, and your relationship to it.  Hopefully, you can have a new appreciation for anger and realize that anger has energy (unlike depression) and purpose  when it is used constructively rather than destructively. Try to understand why you might be angry, and see if there is something constructive that you can do about the anger…

Beyond the erroneous beliefs, and the internalized anger which often accompany depression, remember that depression can deepen,humble, and transform you.  It takes you to the darkest places within yourself, and forces you to confront yourself, your worst fears and anxieties.  If you let it guide you, you will find glints of light that will slowly lead you to a brighter place with a renewed sense of self and an increased sense of mastery.  What I find most fascinating is that the way out of a depression is different for each person, and there is always a sense that the psyche is guiding them wisely to their own unique discoveries and opening doorways into new psychological territories.

What happens to people when they starve their bodies?: Implications for eating disorders

March 10, 2010

During the end of WWII, an important study was conducted to determine the physiological and psychological impact of starvation on the human body.  There were vast implications to the study for the political climate of the times, such as how to rehabilitate those that had been starved by the war conditions.  This study was referred to as the Starvation Study, and it’s findings were published by Ancel Keys and colleagues in 1950.

The study in short

36 young men who met criteria for psychological and physical health standards were selected from a pool of 400.  After a control period in which subjects ate 3200kcal daily, their intake was then cut in half for 12 weeks.  This was considered the semi-starvation phase, in which the subjects were monitored for their behaviors under the starvation conditions.  Finally, they paricipated in an 8 week long rehabilitation stage in which they could eat whatever they wanted.

These are the behaviors they observed among the participants:

preoccupation with food, and eating rituals

increased dysphoria, depression, mood shifts, irritability, apathy

decreased libido

Binge episodes during rehabilitation stage

increased social isolation, less interest in others

impaired concentration and cognitive function

“feeling fat” during rehabilitation phase, as they focused on regaining the 25% weight loss

physiological changes: edema, hair loss, decreased metabolism, decreased hear rate, fatigue, dizziness

Do these symptoms sound familiar?

Yes!  Women who suffer from eating disorders often experience the very same host of symptoms.  They are preoccupied with food, they engage in food rituals that prolong the amount of time that they can eat, they have impaired judgment and other cognitive difficulties, they lose interest in socializing and in sex, and they suffer from the gamut of medical risks mentioned, and more.

So, what can we conclude from this?   What is most striking to me is the fact that the symptoms associated with eating disorders are actual reactions to starvation that would impact any healthy person, male or female, in a state of starvation.  This means that the key to eliminating the symptoms rests in the restoration of healthy, balanced eating.  That’s why nutritional rehabilitation is such an essential part of a good treatment for an eating disorder client.  Many of the symptoms remit as clients begin to feed themselves: they can think more clearly, they are less food obsessed, they are less likely to binge, and some of the depression may lift.  However, obviously, that does no take care of the problem altogether.  Why not?   Because clearly there is a significant difference between a person who is malnourished as a result of the devastation of war and one who chooses to starve herself willingly.  When a person suffers from an eating disorder it is as though she is imposing war conditions on herself.  Or, she may describe it as a euphoric state of absolute control, in which the need for anything is brought under mastery, eliminating the possibility of becoming vulnerable.   There is usually a richly profound story here, a complex explanation as to why this person would choose to starve herself.  And in the telling of this story lies the crux of the therapy.   Each client must tell her unique story and be completely heard and understood in order to begin the recovery process.

Anorexia: My friends tell me I have an eating disorder but I don’t think so…..

March 5, 2010

Dear Reader,

If the above title resonates with you, then you’ve come to the right place.  It is difficult to be in the position of being confronted by friends and family about your eating and weight.  It can bring up many contradictory feelings.  On the one hand, you feel that others care about you and that’s why they’re concerned.   On the other hand you think everyone else is crazy, because if they could only see straight they’d be able to tell that you are NOT skinny.  You may also wish to keep your eating habits a secret, and you feel violated by their over concern.

Many of you might argue that everyone has an eating disorder.  You see your friends drinking a diet snapple or diet coke, they’re all dieting, watching their carb intake, reading about the latest diet fad.  You think you’re no different than anybody else.  But secretly maybe you might admit that the topic is a sensitive one for you, and maybe you wonder if food has taken too central a role in your life.  Maybe you think about food more than anything else in your life?  You plan all your meals in advance, as well as when you’ll exercise next, and you’ve become adept at counting calories, how much you take in and how much you’ve burnt.  You feel good when you’re in control of your caloric intake, and terrible when you’re not.  Does this sound familiar?

As a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, I find it most challenging to appeal to women who are in the beginning stages of anorexia nervosa, those that don’t think they have a problem because they do not see themselves as too thin.  Here’s why.  Often, when in the beginning anorexic phases, some people actually feel high on life.  This term has aptly and simply been dubbed “the anorexic high”.  These young girls, women, or men are feeling great because they feel as though they are in absolute control of their appetite and  body weight.  In some cases, they might feel that they’ve improved their look.  Maybe they’ve even gotten positive feedback from parents or peers when they initially started to lose weight.  This anorexic high, in combination with the compliments can be so utterly confusing. Why would they seek help if all is seemingly going well?

There are many reasons why therapy is actually a smart move, despite this high.  First of all, the earlier you catch an eating disorder the easier it will be to beat it.  Then, it is important to understand that the anorexic high is just as it sounds: it’s like a drug high.  It is based on something that has a negative underbelly.  Like with a drug high, it is hard to sustain and there is withdrawal.  No one can maintain absolute control all of the time!  Here is a basic reality about controlling you food intake and weight:  even though some people control their caloric intake over a period of years, many of them eventually slip into “out of control” bingeing at times.  At some point, their bodies may become so malnourished it’s as if their body is begging  to eat- and then a binge occurs.  They then feel horrible about bingeing.  In fact we know that if you starve any human for a while, when you allow them to eat they will binge!  (see more on the Starvation Study in my next post).  It’s usually after a sustained period of bingeing, and attempts at compensating for the bingeing (through exercise, or vomiting, or laxative use, or fasting) that people eventually show up for therapy.  For instance, many of the women who come in with a diagnosis of bulimia had at one point met the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia!  They find  the bingeing purging rituals more uncomfortable than the controlled restriction so they come to therapy in order to stop bingeing.  And they wince when they learn that the secret to stopping to binge is to stop to restrict!

There are many topics that come up in therapy that can be uncomfortable and contradict a world view that values control over the appetites.  But, your therapist is not just there to contradict your world view.  A good therapist will want to understand how you came to your world view, and why you started to engage in your specific eating patterns.  One thing I learned from my clients is that there is always a very good reason why a person has adopted certain beliefs and habits.  It’s almost always the best possible solution to surviving in their world.  And in fact their eating pattern and their beliefs actually worked for them, and were a viable way to survive and feel better in certain situations!  That’s why it is so hard to give up an eating disorder.    So, to then begin to rework daily eating habits, and beliefs will take some time, patience,  curiosity, and good therapy.

In conclusion, if your friends and family are concerned, it might be worthwhile to visit with an eating disorder specialist in your area to get an objective point of view.  Even if you don’t meet criteria for an eating disorder, you might discuss the pros and cons of starting a course of therapy with a professional.

Best of Luck,


Hello world!

March 5, 2010

Welcome to my new blog, where I address various topics related to therapy:

Therapy Process

Eating Disorders



New Books

Jungian Themes


Random Topics of Interest

As topics become relevant to my clients or in the therapy world in general, I will bring them up here.  Feel free to suggest topics for me to address as well.


Anat Ben-Zvi, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

To learn more about my services:

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