You already know that eating together as a family is a good idea. Most people hope to share happy mealtimes with their children and build memories together. Research also shows that there are many benefits to eating together:
Yet, today it can feel harder than ever to get everyone around the table, phones/tablets down, at the same time. Then, mealtime can become a battle of the tastes with everyone expecting foods that they like and will eat. But, with a little creative planning, mealtime can go more smoothly for everyone, whether it’s a group of ten or two, family meal time can be enjoyable.
You might be wondering: What should I make? When can I get to the store? What should I do with all the leftovers?
To help you on your way, I have put together six straightforward strategies that you can try, no matter what size your family and how crazy your schedule might be.
Keep it simple: Do what works. This might be breakfast for dinner, peanut butter and jelly, or a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Recently, the idea of snack trays has become an easy, popular dinner idea. Create a big tray of veggies, fruits, nuts, precooked meats, cut up cheese, and dips to create a tapas style experience. Know that it doesn’t have to be an elaborate or even a cooked meal. Smoothies and sandwiches are totally okay, too. As are eggs and toast!
For some no-brainer structure, try theme nights. Think meatless Mondays, taco Tuesdays, kids cook night (Raddish is a cooking club for kids raddishkids.com), Mediterranean, Asian, create your own/bar style options: pasta or baked potato bars, nacho bar, and even breakfast for dinner night
Something for everyone: For kids/not yet adventurous eaters, try to pair the unfamiliar with the familiar. For example, if you are making your favorite coconut curry but worry that the kids won’t touch it, serve their favorite fruit and have bread and butter on the table so they will be able to find something to fill up on, while being exposed to the other flavors. You never know when they might be ready to try it. Conversely, when serving the kids’ favorite entrée, ie. Spaghetti or chicken nuggets the adults may appreciate special flavor additions such as crushed red pepper or fun dipping sauces like zhoug, sriracha, or tahini.
Cook once eat twice. Batch cook pasta, rice, other grains when you do have more time, and freezing them for future time-limited evenings. When making entrees in the instant pot or slow cooker, double it and freeze for a delicious home cooked meal next month.
There are apps for that! Apps such as Paprika and Wanderlist (or simply the note section on your phone) can help with scheduling, making grocery lists, and keeping everything organized.
Lastly, be flexible! Even though you may have thoughtfully planned the night’s dinner, sometimes it doesn’t always work out whether there’s a traffic jam or mom is feeling sick. In these instances, it’s helpful to have a backup plan such as steam able veggies in the bag or bagged salad kits and frozen precooked brown rice or other grain. Pair these with a can of beans or canned salmon or tuna and a yummy premade sauce such as pesto or Thai peanut and it’s a meal in less than 10 minutes. Or, just order a pizza and place the fruit basket on the table and call it a day!
Here’s last weeks‘ mealplan for my family of five:
Monday: leftover frozen baked ziti, salad, fruit
Tuesday: shrimp tacos (make your own) with all the fixins + rugala (Jewish cookies)
Wednesday: grilled balsamic chicken (pre-made from store) with air fried tater tots and baby cauliflower
Thursday: leftover frozen pizza, cut up veggies with dip
Friday: date night! Kids have pizza again! Oh well, it works!
Saturday: French Onion Soup and baked potatoes, salad, and fruit
Sunday: Veggie chili cornbread muffins, salad
Katrina Seidman, MS RDN LDN
Click here to learn more about how to work with me!
When you finally decide to reject diet culture and begin nourishing your body, weight gain becomes a very real possibility, especially if you’ve been maintaining an artificially lower weight.
And, if you are living in a culture that highly values a photo-shopped, excessively thin aesthetic, it is likely that weight gain doesn’t sound like cause for celebration. I get it.
Just know that any weight gain associated with nourishing your body is totally okay and not cause for concern. But what about health, you ask? The truth is that many health concerns that are often attributed to weight, are in fact, not weight related. True story.
You are not doing anything wrong when you honor your body’s cues for food and rest.
Regardless of these truths, you may need some support and strategies to get you through the process. Afterall, when you’ve spent (maybe) years chasing an ideal that seemed to make sense, you’ve invested A LOT if yourself in the process and the dream of an artificially thin body and all of the acceptance and privilege we are promised if we just get thin enough.Most people need support if they experience body changes due to no longer dieting.
Here are some tips to make the journey a little easier.
Don’t weigh yourself, obviously. And not only that, but just get rid of the scale for good. And when you go to the doc, you have the right to refuse the scale. Weigh-ins are not mandatory; your body, your choice. Check out fat activist Ragan Chastain’s blog post on tips for surviving this encounter at your next doctor’s visit.
Fat positive your feeds. Clean it up, people. There is way too much thin ideal imagery out there. Follow body positive accounts such as Ragan Chastain, BeNourished,Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology, Tess Holliday, Virgie Tovar, and others for some real body examples. We can change our ideals and vision of beauty when we give ourselves a variety of different images of beautiful bodies.
Buy new clothes (if you have the resources) that fit or that are at least stretchy. Wearing clothes that you are growing out of is just plain uncomfortable, and a constant reminder that your body is changing. Also important: get rid of those items that are too small so there are no reminders of your unhealthier restrictive self. Try Poshmark or other second hand shops for deals on styles you love. You are not alone. As mentioned above, increasing body size as a result of intuitive eating is to be expected. There is no right or wrong way for your weight to go. Your body is going to do what it does, which for many means weight gain. Be kind to yourself; cut yourself some slack. Now is the time for deep self-compassion. Get a therapist; seek a weight-inclusive dietitian, and join a body positive facebook group to connect with others going through similar experiences.
Lastly, think of what else you have gained. Freedom with food? Brain power for more important thoughts? More time to do fun things? Christy Harrison, anti-diet dietitian and author, proclaims that dieting and diet culture is The Life Thief that steals our joy and purpose in the world and how we must take back our right to do what we were meant to do in this world and live or lives full of pleasure, vitality, and peace.
Remember, being happy and fabulous on your terms is it’s own kind of powerful.
Who wants to put less effort in when it comes to meal times?
Who wants to just sit and enjoy their meal and talk about their day or plans for the weekend?
Who wants to focus on connecting with their families at the table instead of fighting over food?
Well, I’m here to tell you that you can do all of these things! As long as you do your job of getting the food on the table, you can clock out and turn the shift over to the kids. Pat yourself on the back as a job well done.
Now, it’s up to them to decide how much to eat (even if that’s nothing at all) of what is on the table, no if’s, ands, or buts! This is known as the Division of Responsibility (DOR) in feeding and there is a large body of research showing that this feeding style helps kids listen to their bodies for what they are hungry for and how much they need. And as an added bonus, you get to dig in to enjoy your own meal.
Set it and forget it. When it comes to feeding kids, parents decide when and what (when mealtime is and what’s being served). Kids decide how. This means that once children can feed themselves, they are supported in choosing what they will eat from what is offered, how much, and in what combination. No more fighting over vegetables, or whether or not they will eat only bread. We really can support children in listening to their own bodies and trusting that what they want is the right thing. This takes all of the power struggle out of mealtime and puts parents and kids in control of the right things. It may feel hard at first to let them forego vegetables, but still have dessert, but, in the long run, this will help them stay in tough with their innate hunger/fullness cues.
Try saying these 6 little words: “you don’t have to eat it.” Take the pressure off of your kids to eat a certain food or number of bites to help everyone feel more relaxed and happy at the table. This also allows kids the freedom to organically try foods when they are ready. Forcing foods or bites can create a stressful environment which can easily backfire and cause some kids to resist eating anything at all, let alone to try a new food. When you model eating a variety of foods, your kids will naturally want to do the same, when they are ready.
Serve dessert with the meal. (What??!!!) yes, Serve. Dessert. With. The. Meal. Why? There are a few compelling reasons. First, When we decide we are full from dinner but then are presented with a yummy dessert, it can be tough to turn down. We are tempted to eat beyond our body’s fullness cues. Or, we might eat less dinner in an attempt to save room for dessert, only to be hungry an hour later. And lastly,, if we are rewarded with dessert when we finish our veggies, it can set up a negative association with eating vegetables and can heighten the appeal of dessert. Instead, let’s give all foods a level playing field. After all, food is food. When we are presented with a variety of foods at the same time, possibly including a moderate serving of dessert, it gives us the opportunity to decide what our body needs and wants, without the confusion. At first, children might be super excited and eat their dessert first, but give it some time and the novelty will wear off. They may even (gasp!) leave some on their plate.
Diets don’t work; if they did, we would all be our perfect ideal weight/size/shape. We wouldn’t be jumping on the next fad diet come January 1, and we wouldn’t be spending $60 billion per year on trying to shrink our bodies.
We believe that our diets don’t work, or don’t work forever, because we don’t have enough will-power, or character, or we’re too addicted, have too many emotions, or our bodies just won’t stop being hungry.
But, what if it’s not us?
What if, it’s that dieting doesn’t work?
What if our bodies don’t understand dieting as “dieting” and instead respond to “famine” and “food scarcity?”
What if our bodies actually work by trying to keep weight on us if they get the message (through dieting) that there isn’t enought food, so they send us MORE hunger signals, slow our metabolism, and otherwise do whatever they can to ensure that we EAT?
The weight loss industry has a vested interest in keeping us believing that weight loss is the holy grail of all things worth living for. What if there is a name for this and it’s “diet culture?”
But what if so much of what we are taught is just…wrong?
What if diets are actually the problem and not the solution?
But how do we actually stop dieting? What does eating and living even look like when we decide to toss aside food rules and leave diet culture behind? Is that even possible?
Yes, it’s possible. And some may say it even sounds simple. But, it’s likely not an easy or quick process, especially if you have been dieting or trying to control your eating for many years. In fact, it’s possible that the longer you have been dieting, and the younger you were when you started your first diet (yes, WW is and always has been a diet), the longer, slower, and messier the the process may be. But, the good news is, you will probably start to feel better as soon as you take even one small step. Here are 10 ways that you can start to ditch your diet and experience food freedom and better health for the long term.
Smash that scale! Or, just put it in the back of your closet and see how your day or week is not dictated by such meaningless numbers.
Delete the fitness and food tracker apps! Think about how these apps actually help you. How do you feel and what do you do when you go over your crudely calculated “calorie budget?” And how does this app know what you should Unsurprisingly, Research shows that the use of these tools can lead to restrictive, unbalanced eating and also increase risk of developing an eating disorder. Just get rid of them!
Unfollow those accounts that make you feel like your body is wrong. Take control of your own feed and selectively choose which accounts make you feel good and get rid of those that don’t. Ain’t got no time for that!
Wear clothes you like, that fit, and that make you feel good. How do you feel when you try to squeeze into too tight jeans? Be kind to yourself and get rid of any items that don’t fit or that you are saving for “when you lose weight.”
Move your body in ways that are pleasurable, whatever that is for you. Gone are the days of “no pain, no gain.” If it hurts and you don’t like it, do something else that doesn’t. This includes sex, too!
Listen to your body. Like, really listen. What is it saying? Is it hungry? Is it full? Is it tired? Then, act on what you need whether it’s a sandwich, a cookie, a nap, or maybe all three.
Break all the food rules. Or just one to start. For example, did someone once tell you that eating late at night causes weight gain? Or to eat your carbs in the morning but not at night? Sadly, many of the food rules we follow are simply unfounded. I challenge you to see what it’s like when you go against these bogus beliefs about food and body.
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat, enjoy, and get your fill of your favorite foods whenever you want them. When we lift the restrictions and relinquish our control over food, we are then able to begin the process of making peace with food.
Give up fighting against your body. Trust it! Use all of that energy and space for something truly special.
Get support-for many, ending dieting means ending a whole way of life and way of being in relationship with food, body, self, and life. Professional support is critical. An Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size focused nutritionist and therapist can help you work through the complex emotions and challenges that arise from letting go of dieting.
We need a different conversation about food and weight. We need a conversation about food and weight that is not focused on the outcome being about food and weight.
We need a conversation that recognizes and centers two critical aspects of our difficulties:
Our relationship with food is happening within the context of a larger food creation and distribution system that maximizes profits at the expense of public health, and;
Our relationship with food is not about food and weight, but about deep relational wounds that often begin in childhood and for which food, eating, and weight control or chaos are symptoms.
There is an intersection where we find ourselves starved for the core sense of love, acceptance, belonging, and security, all of which evoke embodied feelings of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm; and the prevalence of cheap, readily accessible foods that have little nutritional value, but also evoke a temporary sense of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm.
Yet, because these very real sensations are not love, acceptance, belonging, and security, so many people find themselves driven to return to food as the source of the sensations over and over as we attempt to regulate our nervous systems in the face of very real unmet human need for deep connection.
This is the why when diets “don’t work.” Food restriction is incompatible with our physiology AND our neurobiology. When food is the solution to the problem, removing that solution still leaves the underlying problem.
This is true for all addictive patterns.
The solution must acknowledge the deep truth that we eat within a complex, economically driven, and politically protected food system that needs the population to eat and eat and eat.
We are provided a rich abundance of highly rewarding food products that keep us coming back for more.
All the while we are starved for the love and human connection we so desperately need for physical and psychological survival.
Nourishment, which is our very first experience of warmth, love, and safety moments after we are born is deeply wired into our beings to be associated with the core experience of love.
We have to stop demanding that people somehow eat normally in a very abnormal environment.
We have to end the suffering of shame and blame and daily private wars being waged with food in the battlefield of our bodies.
We have to reframe the discussion and help individuals and communities understand the problem is not will-power. It is not self-discipline. Is not that people are lazy or gluttonous.
It is that, as human beings, we are desperate for deep connection, yet we find ourselves deeply disconnected, not only from each other, but from ourselves.
We are not bad for seeking satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm in the face of constant discomfort, fear, distress, worry, and the terrible lie that we come to believe in childhood that we are fearfully and irreparably not enough. We are not bad for reaching for the thing that evokes the same embodied sense as that for which we so deeply long that is provided in such pervasive supply.
We must frame this conversation around removing the suffering of misunderstanding and blame for the individual and shifting the focus to empowering the individual and demanding that, as a society, we recognize the incredible harm our systems are doing to us as individuals and as a collective, as well as the planet we inhabit.
We must demand that health and mental health professionals divorce themselves from the “blame the individual” narrative around eating and weight. We must demand that professionals learn the available science of interpersonal neurobiology and addiction. We must demand that helping professionals honor the dignity of every human, trusting that each is doing the best they can within the context of their experience.
We must step beyond the false duality of fat/thin, healthy/unhealthy, good/bad, all/nothing narrative about food, weight, and eating disorders and compassionately recognize the profound need for human attachment – to ourselves and each other.
We must recognize that we are not eating in a normal environment for humans. We need complex solutions that compassionately recognize the complexity of our relationship with food as a species and its inherent link to our very nature as social beings.
Ok, moms, whether we
work as a stay-at-home-mom or a go-to-work-mom, we all have more on our to-do
list than can ever be done. I feel it. The women I support in my office feel
it. The women of the internet who comment, blog, and video feel it.
feeling angry, not good-enough, and that what we are able to get done, we’re
doing none of it well. The constant
stress of always overwhelmed and never caught up can be crushing and we lose
There are many
reasons for this stress.
Is it because of an
economic system that doesn’t value families and children?
Is it because of
that, and a system of patriarchy that teaches women from birth to strongly
associate skilled motherhood and homemaking with our worth as women while men
have no such association and therefore are often oblivious to the work and
attention to detail required to run a family smoothly?
Of course the answer
is yes, but on any given day, it’s the reality we have to navigate, and for
many women, the added burden of trying to change these systems is just beyond.
Usually, we just
look at our list and try to pack in as much as we can and feel just as stressed
and overwhelmed as when we started. Angry and frustrated we feel ineffective
and deficient, certain that “everyone else” has it all together.
(They don’t. I know. I hear the truth in my office.)
So what’s a girl to
Just turn it around.
Look at the reality of the time you have
and then look
at what needs to be done. It’s simple, seemingly too simple, but trust me, it
Now, there’s one
more thing that’s also simple, but super important: Look for the item or items
on your list that are stressing you out the most.
Take the time to
check in with yourself and get curious about what it is about this task that is
so stressful. Try to dig underneath the stress and worry to the underlying
fear, like the deeper underlying fear.
The TL;DR version
is: people will think ____________ about me if I don’t _____________.
Now that we
recognize this underlying fear, we can ask a couple questions:
Do I really need to care about what other people think about this?
If I do, then I need to do this first.
Always do the thing
that is stressing you out the most first. The rest of the list will feel
lighter, easier, less urgent.
You will have
triggered your nervous system to relax because you’ve removed the threat. The better you get at this, the easier it
will be to prioritize your list for less stress and even start to recognize
things you really can let go of.
Maybe there will
even be a little energy left for smashing the patriarchy.
Happy. In our modern, western culture, we want to be happy. It is our highest pursuit. Our entire economy is built around the pursuit of this feeling, this experience of…happy. We expect everything to serve this goal. Our entertainment should make us happy. Our clothes, cars, homes, devices, and other things should make us happy. Our relationships should make us happy. Our therapy and our medications should make us happy. Our jobs and our money should make us happy. Our food and our diet should make us happy. Our exercise and our yoga should make us happy. Our religion, our community, our spiritual practices should make us happy.
Then we are told that these things can’t make us happy. “Happiness is an inside job,” they say. You are responsible for your own happiness, they say. So we go to therapy and say there is something wrong with us that we aren’t happy. Maybe we have always had access to resources and we “checked all the boxes” and did what we were supposed to do and now we have the house and the spouse and kids and the career, but we are still not happy. Or we did not have resources and we struggled and scratched and clawed and we made some kind of life for ourselves, but still we are not happy. Or maybe we have wildly abundant resources, we live a 1% life and there’s an emptiness in our abundant existence and still we are not happy.
We live in a culture that teaches us to pursue happiness, but not how to be happy. If we were happy, why would be buy shit? We are raised from infancy to believe in the primitive recesses of our brains that happiness lies just around the corner is the next car, the next outfit, the next degree, the next job, the next gadget, the next class or book or program or diet. We love to believe that happiness is in the perfect body. And in the rush to do whatever we have to do to acquire this happiness, we don’t have time to stop and ask ourselves what it is that we are really seeking? What is happiness?
I think happiness is simply a balance between safety and risk. Our nervous systems are always on a pendulum swinging back and forth between seeking safety and seeking challenge. When we feel safe, we want to venture out, explore, play, build, climb, push limits. And we feel Joy, excitement, accomplishment, fear (the good kind). When we find those limits, we want to know safety, comfort, holding, care, and love are within reach. We want to wrap ourselves up in this cocoon until we are back to calm. We feel Love. Then we want to venture out again. We readily observe this in young children who venture out to play, become overstimulated, and run back to mom for comfort. When the child feels calm again, off he or she goes to play again. The truth is we do this throughout life only we seek comfort with partners, friends, pets, and other trusted relationships. Happiness is the delicate dance of calm and risk, rest and creation, connection and expansion.
Through this lens, we can start to see the way we pursue happiness, in all of its complexities, very differently. When we begin to use this lens to show up with intention, we can craft our pursuit of happiness more effectively and build lives we love.
It’s extra tough when it’s the second (or third) go around and one or both of you already have children and an ex- who comes along with the package. Each family is unique and there are few resources for navigating this sometimes treacherous terrain.
However, with A LOT of patience, listening, and compassion, families can successfully blend.
Here are five ways you can help your blended family become a family.
Slow down. Blended families become families in a slow-cooker, not a pressure cooker. Whatever your situation, it’s complex. There are several different people each with their own perception of what’s happening and their own feelings about it. Don’t expect that everyone will be excited about becoming a family. Children are often still grieving the loss of their first family. They may resent a new step-parent. They may fear the changes in routine and rules. Be aware of your own expectations for how things “should be.” Families grow and become over time, so it’s important to give each member time and space to have their feelings and grow into this new set of relationships.
Focus on relationship first. In all relationships, we just want to know: Can I trust you? Can I trust you to care about how I feel? Can I trust you to listen? Can I trust you to protect me? Can I trust you to understand? In marriage, this is the fundamental question, especially early on. However, our children want to know the same thing, especially when their family goes through such big changes. By focusing on communication and connection first, it is possible to turn down the volume on family member fear and anxiety and build up trust and openness. Check in with each other. A lot.
Make sure your current spouse knows and feels like they’re the priority.This can be especially tricky for men who feel that their spouse is the priority in their heart, but complicated dynamics with his ex-wife, and fear of separation from his children, may drive him to feel he has to appease his ex-wife, inadvertently making his current wife feel deprioritized. It is critical that spouses communicate regularly and thoroughly about these issues. Really try to understand what this is like for your spouse and what they need. When both of you feel heard and it’s all out on the table, then you can work as a team to decide how to meet each other’s needs – often hers to know her time and family is protected, and his to know that he is supported around making difficult choices to protect his relationship with his children.
Keep some old traditions and make new ones. Families become families over time due to shared experiences and traditions. Children will need to know that important things from their first family will still happen. It’s ok, especially in the beginning, to have special time between parent and child(ren) without the steps-. Create opportunities for time that is separate and together. New experiences will create new memories and shared meaning. This is about the long-game – investing in the family of the future now, even if everyone isn’t feeling like a family today.
Don’t wait to get help. If things are really tough, don’t wait to get help. Individual, couples, or family therapy can help. Sometimes one or more children are really hurt and angry and make sure everyone knows it. Sometimes the actions of an ex-spouse are very disruptive and sabotaging to a current marriage. Sometimes we want help for ourselves in learning how to best navigate the blended family situation. By proactively seeking help, families can better ensure their success and everyone’s well-being.
Remember: you don’t have to have all of the answers. It’s OK for things to be messy. How it is right now is not how it will always be. You won’t go wrong by focusing on relationship and connection over behavior.
If I could tell you one thing, it’s that you desperately need your own love more than anything and I’m being serious and not “woo-woo” at all.
Loving ourselves is not about thinking about how great we are (but you are pretty great). It’s not about buying ourselves flowers and mani/pedis (although you deserve a massive bouquet and that paraffin wax thing). It’s not about trying to decide if loving yourself right now means eating a piece (or two) of chocolate cake because here’s a finger to the body image patriarchy or if it’s going to the gym instead because here’s a finger to glutton.
Loving ourselves is something deeper.
Anyone can bring you flowers and gifts. Anyone can say nice things to you and tell you how great you are. However, when we think about a truly loving partnership, love isn’t about flowers and gifts and dinners. It’s about the small acts of courtesy and thoughtfulness. It’s about how someone has your back. It’s about being loved and cared for when you haven’t showered in two days and just threw up again with a stomach flu. It’s about being supported and encouraged when you are full of doubt about the interview. It’s about being handed a cup of coffee made just how you like it, or a compassionate hug at the end of a terrible day letting you know that you are still worthy even though you really f-ed up. Self-love is about deeply caring for ourselves.
Here are 5 ways to cultivate self-love:
Deliberately, consistently, fiercely take care of basic needs. Keep it simple. Are you hungry? Do you need a nap? Do you need to go to the bathroom? Do you need to stop and stretch? Would it be good to put yourself to bed early? Spend some time really exploring what your basic needs are and what may be getting in the way of taking care of them. This is a simple, but powerful, way over time to change how you feel about yourself.
Have your own back. Everyone I work with in therapy comes in with a negative view of themselves and regularly responds to challenges by beating themselves up. Believe it or not, this is a part of you that is actually trying to keep you safe from rejection in one form or another. We spend a lot of time growing another part that has your back. This is a part that is on your team and sees the best in you all the time. This is a caring, compassionate voice and fiercely loyal defender who says that you are worthy. No. Matter. What.
Allow your vulnerability. You know what? We are all carrying young parts of ourselves around in these big grown up bodies who are just trying to do the best they can. And it’s too much. There’s too much to do. Too many people to please. Too much responsibility. These young parts are scared and overwhelmed and they have legitimate needs. They need to be acknowledged. They need to be seen. They need to be heard. They need to be met with comfort and kindness. As actual children, we needed these things from others. As adults, we need these things first from ourselves. We can do that now. We can pause, notice our fear, our sadness, our anger, our giddy excitement, our envy, our longing, our grief. We can acknowledge all of these feelings and provide a caring holding space for them.
Practice setting boundaries. We can say no. We can ask for what we need and want. We can be honest about how we really feel. Healthy boundaries decrease anxiety and increase self-confidence and trust. As adults, we are responsible for taking good care of ourselves, our feelings, and our safety. Setting boundaries allows us to belong to ourselves.
Practice self-compassion. This is the mother of all self-love practices. By giving kindness and comfort to ourselves we become less dependent upon imperfect others. We become able to create an inner world that is calm and kind and loving. We become able to know that we are worthy and always have been. We see our own goodness and no longer seek to demand this from others. We live from a deep inner well of gentle caring that empowers us to go out in the world and flourish.
So much of our suffering germinates and spreads through self-aggression and the unmet needs it tends. By learning to deeply love ourselves through habits of self-care (physical and emotional), we return to our true selves, our true, unshakable worthy, and we are afraid less and courageous more. You, my dear, are worthy of your own love, care, and protection.
If there’s one thing I could tell you, it’s that the answer to healing our mind is in our body.
Imagine going to the movies. Overpriced popcorn. Gallon of soda. Sticky floor. Surround sound. America’s favorite pastime. The theater goes dark and we are quickly immersed in the world on the screen. A world made up of intentional visual content and dialogue that tell a particular story. Yet, often the most powerful aspect of storytelling is the least recognized: sound. In film and television, sound effects and musical score are critical to creating the emotional experience of the film for the viewer. The music tells us when to be scared. The music tells us when to cry. The music tells us when to feel happy or hopeful.
Imagine being in a pool right now. Now imagine someone starts playing the theme from Jaws. I bet you’d get out.
At every moment we experiencing our world in our thoughts, emotions, five senses, and our embodied, or “felt sense” experience. Our “felt sense” is the physical response that our bodies experience when we experience emotion. Some people are very tuned into this sense, others feel less aware of it. But for all of us, it functions much the way a music score does for a scene in a film. Emotional content that is not or cannot be conveyed with words stirs and pours through us. And, just like the music in a movie scene, if you change the felt sense, you change the emotional reality of the moment.
A lovely example of the power of music in film is the movie, Dunkirk. The filmmakers deliberately chose to tell the story through the music rather than the plot (there’s a way in which not a lot actually happens – very little character development, but not an action movie either). Yet, viewers feel like something intense and dramaticishappening because of the score in every scene.
What does this have to do with therapy and mental health? Everything. Depression, anxiety, grief, insecurity, addiction, all of it includes, and if often fundamentally located, in sensations in the body and these sensations form the emotional foundation for the stories we believe about ourselves, our lives, and what’s happening right now. Remember, you know there’s no shark in that pool, but it is your body that insists that you get out when that music starts playing.
I often see clients who experience anxiety (which is a thought word for the emotion of fear or scared). For anyone with anxiety, when you think about it, the distress is not about the thoughts. It’s the physical sensations of rapid heart-rate, tightening chest, electricity in the chest and arms, agitation (feeling the need to move), and heat that make it so uncomfortable. If it was just the thoughts, we’d simply think something else and all would be fine. We can, in fact, change our thoughts, but if our body doesn’t come with us, if the music doesn’t change, we are all but powerless to change it.
Body-centered therapies offer ways to learn to change the music. By slowing down our noticing and working mindfully in real time in a session, we can shift from focusing on thoughts to working with what is arising in the body right now. We often find that the body is carrying old hurts and protective-yet-harmful beliefs about ourselves that are longing to be acknowledged and healed. We find that when we do so, it isn’t that we let go of them, but they let go of us.
Next time you are watching a film, notice the music. Is there an invitation to hear the music playing in your own being?