Archive for ‘Parenting’

August 18, 2010

People, places, things :: Identifying triggers

by Ashley Solomon

I can already tell you that my mother is going to be none too happy about this post. But the inevitable phone call I will receive tonight will be the price I pay to address a topic I think is extremely important: triggers, specifically ones that are difficult to recognize and confront. And hopefully she’ll forgive me by the time she gets to the end!

My brothers, Justin, and I - Photo by Gabi + Jeremy Photography

I say that Mama Neu, as my friends and I lovingly refer to her, will not be happy with this post because she herself is one of my biggest triggers for unhealthy eating. Well, her and the rest of my immediate family (but mom’s get blamed for everything, so why stop now? 🙂 ). Growing up in Cincinnati, my family didn’t exactly have an active or healthy lifestyle. In fairness, my mom was for a brief time a single parent, and then quickly a married mother of three, working full-time with a husband who often worked late or out-of-town. In addition, my mom is not the most open-minded of eaters herself. This meant that my brothers and I tended to eat fairly simple meals that lacked a bit in nutritional value (okay, yes, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese does have calcium…). We always had “junk food” (a term I really don’t like to use, but for the sake of simplicity will use it in this post) around the house. Breakfast was not a priority, and if eaten was often a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru or an Entenmanns donut (I still crave those chocolate pieces of heaven…). Vegetables were optional and not particularly varied (green beans, again!?).

I want to emphasize here that this post is not intended to demonize my parents for how they nourished their children. I’m quite sure that many, many parents out there have struggled with feeding their children in a balanced way, particularly twenty years ago when there was a much more limited focus on these issues and less information available.

But, this was where I learned, at least initially, about nourishing my body. The home is the primary source of learning for children about the meaning of food. I’m not addressing the science of developing “taste” for foods here, but rather the cultural and psychological significance of food. The things that I learned as a child were that food should be simple, taste is the most important factor, and that food is an integral part of connection. These are not all bad lessons, but taken to the extreme, as I do with most things, they can lead to some pretty unhealthy habits.

While I have branched out from my family’s more limited palate and have begun to value how foods make me feel physically and mentally (in addition to how they taste), I still struggle with the third “lesson” I learned, the one about food equaling connection. My family, like many others, bonded over food. Meal time was family time and every celebration or event was marked with some edible decadence. This is not inherently a problem. In fact, I think the cultural significance of sharing meals is incredibly beautiful. However, going back to the issue of extremes, problems arise when connection relies solely on food.

I began early on to equate food with love. And when I didn’t feel this love externally and internally (for reasons only my old therapists know!), I fed myself (a lot) to try to achieve the feeling of love and connection. As you of course already know, this does. not. work. I was left feeling very full and very alone.

Fast forward to today and I am a fairly healthy eater, have wide culinary interests, and have learned to receive love and give love to myself. But then I make a visit home…

As soon as I walk into the house, the urge to eat comes rushing back to me. No matter if I’ve just stopped at Skyline Chili and had a three-way or I’ve finished a big breakfast, I walk into my parent’s home and I want JUNK FOOD!!!! Seriously, you’d think I was one of Pavlov’s dogs the way my mouth salivates when I enter that old kitchen. I start dreaming of donuts and ice cream and potato chips (and I don’t even really like potato chips!). I feel like my ability to reign in this insatiable hunger has been left safely back in my apartment. So, my Cincinnati home is a trigger. I now know this.

What’s perhaps scarier is that this same thing happens when I’m around my parents, even in a different location, like, say, when they come to visit me in Philadelphia. Granted, some of this related to the fact that it’s like a mini-vacation when they are visiting us – all about doing fun things, eating at new restaurants, and relaxing. But for me it’s more than that. It’s an urge to not just eat, but to overeat and completely indulge. I have more difficulty gauging my body’s cues and feel more compelled to eat emotionally. So I now know that, unfortunately, my family is also a trigger.

My parents, Justin, and I in Atlantic City over the 4th

So… how do we deal with triggers? Well, that’s for another post due to the extensiveness of the topic. The first step, however, is figuring out what your triggers are. In AA and other recovery programs, a lot of emphasis is put on identifying PEOPLE, PLACES, and THINGS that trigger you to use alcohol or other substances. (For most of us, PEOPLE are the hardest to identify and change). This is a great principle for whatever your issue may be – emotional eating, compulsive gambling, intense anxiety – and requires some deep investigative work. It’s not easy work – I’ll give you that. But it’s important work in the journey to leading a new and different and healthier life.

So, have you figured out what your own triggers are? How you determined what have triggers you? How do you cope with triggers you can’t avoid or are hard to admit?


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June 20, 2010

A Father’s Role in Developing a Healthy Self-Image

by Ashley Solomon

I don’t like to limit my aspirations, but I have accepted that I will never be a father. And thank goodness for small blessings – they have quite a job. Just like mothers, fathers are responsible for helping their children develop into educated, respectful, and self-sufficient adults while balancing demanding careers, potentially challenging marriages, and (hopefully) personal growth needs (read: achieving the highest score in Wii bowling). Meanwhile, a father has the added burden of knowing just what the just a bit too suave sixteen-year-old guy is thinking as he puts his hand dangerously close to his daughter’s bottom… Fatherhood is clearly complicated business.

One of the many tasks with which dads are charged, a challenging one at best, is to help their children develop a healthy relationship with their bodies and selves. In a culture consumed with the Keira Knightlys and Adrian Petersons of the world (and of them there are few…), this task can feel Sisyphean – reminiscent of Greek mythology’s king who was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to repeatedly watch it roll back down. For eternity.

Fortunately, experts on such matters can provide some guidance. One of these experts is Margo Maine, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who has studied father-daughter relationships extensively and written my hands-down favorite eating disorder-related book (and that, my friend, is quite an endorsement!), Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness. While Dr. Maine focuses particularly on girls and dads, I am going to try to generalize her guidance for fathers of both genders. Here are a few of her main points (and my explanations):

1. Teach your child to say no and set limits. In my opinion, no lesson is more important than that of respecting one’s self. When you are no longer around to protect your children from the pressures that be, a healthy sense of their own rights and boundaries will be the key. This means helping children understand what belongs to them – their bodies, their ideas, their passions – and that they have the right to assert themselves when someone attempts to violate or belittle these.

2. Help your child develop values other than consumerism. Not to sound like a grandma here, but today’s world is just little bit different. Getting caught up in the newest, flashiest, and trendiest is hard to avoid. Help your child see beyond the surface by demonstrating the value you place on what’s deeper – things like nature, friendship, volunteering, and real-time (and real person) communication

3. Show interest in his/her activities. So maybe your child doesn’t share your fondness for all that is Meatloaf. Or you just can’t understand what’s so appealing about vampires. To close the gap, push yourself to step into his or her world and keep an open mind (isn’t open-mindedness another value you want to promote?). You may discover your beloved 80’s rock bands are now center stage on Glee.

4. Show respect for real people of substance. Instead of discussing the latest multi-million dollar contract of the NBA rookie or how many plastic surgeries Heidi has really had, spend some time talking about real role models – Lisa Ling, Blake Mycoskie (founder and CEO of TOMS Shoes) , or your grandmother who marched for civil rights. And have open discussions when former role models (ahem, Tiger…) fall from grace.

5. Watch what you say about others’ bodies. This applies to celebrities, strangers, and those close to you (this includes your wife). I can’t tell you how many times I have overheard fathers making comments about the “chick with the nice butt” (or worse – use your imagination) across the room with their children in earshot. Even if it’s your son, remember that your daughter could be dating a guy like him one day. Consider what such messages communicate. Do you really want your daughter’s boyfriend speaking like that?

6. Examine your own weight, eating, or body image issues. Yes, fathers have issues too. Are you critical of your lack of locks up top? Feeling pressure to lose the gut? Take note of the thoughts and feelings you have about your own appearance and then consider how these might be being relayed to your children. Work on making peace with your looks so that they can be at peace with theirs.

7. Become more media-literate. And my favorite… Help your child understand the fantasy world that is the media. Young people (and old, for that matter) often have a hard time separating reality from the “truth” of the image in front of them. Remind your child that images (s)he sees on the billboard or movie trailer are retouched, airbrushed, or sometimes even completely computer generated. Help make your child a more critical consumer

And one last note… Remember that you are up against incredible forces – jealous peers, the weight loss and fitness industries, and Hollywood, to name a few. Expect that your children will struggle with seeing themselves as quite as beautiful and amazing as you see them. Just keep reminding them every day. Even if they forget, they won’t.

June 20, 2010

A Father's Role in Developing a Healthy Self-Image

by Ashley Solomon

I don’t like to limit my aspirations, but I have accepted that I will never be a father. And thank goodness for small blessings – they have quite a job. Just like mothers, fathers are responsible for helping their children develop into educated, respectful, and self-sufficient adults while balancing demanding careers, potentially challenging marriages, and (hopefully) personal growth needs (read: achieving the highest score in Wii bowling). Meanwhile, a father has the added burden of knowing just what the just a bit too suave sixteen-year-old guy is thinking as he puts his hand dangerously close to his daughter’s bottom… Fatherhood is clearly complicated business.

One of the many tasks with which dads are charged, a challenging one at best, is to help their children develop a healthy relationship with their bodies and selves. In a culture consumed with the Keira Knightlys and Adrian Petersons of the world (and of them there are few…), this task can feel Sisyphean – reminiscent of Greek mythology’s king who was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to repeatedly watch it roll back down. For eternity.

Fortunately, experts on such matters can provide some guidance. One of these experts is Margo Maine, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who has studied father-daughter relationships extensively and written my hands-down favorite eating disorder-related book (and that, my friend, is quite an endorsement!), Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness. While Dr. Maine focuses particularly on girls and dads, I am going to try to generalize her guidance for fathers of both genders. Here are a few of her main points (and my explanations):

1. Teach your child to say no and set limits. In my opinion, no lesson is more important than that of respecting one’s self. When you are no longer around to protect your children from the pressures that be, a healthy sense of their own rights and boundaries will be the key. This means helping children understand what belongs to them – their bodies, their ideas, their passions – and that they have the right to assert themselves when someone attempts to violate or belittle these.

2. Help your child develop values other than consumerism. Not to sound like a grandma here, but today’s world is just little bit different. Getting caught up in the newest, flashiest, and trendiest is hard to avoid. Help your child see beyond the surface by demonstrating the value you place on what’s deeper – things like nature, friendship, volunteering, and real-time (and real person) communication

3. Show interest in his/her activities. So maybe your child doesn’t share your fondness for all that is Meatloaf. Or you just can’t understand what’s so appealing about vampires. To close the gap, push yourself to step into his or her world and keep an open mind (isn’t open-mindedness another value you want to promote?). You may discover your beloved 80’s rock bands are now center stage on Glee.

4. Show respect for real people of substance. Instead of discussing the latest multi-million dollar contract of the NBA rookie or how many plastic surgeries Heidi has really had, spend some time talking about real role models – Lisa Ling, Blake Mycoskie (founder and CEO of TOMS Shoes) , or your grandmother who marched for civil rights. And have open discussions when former role models (ahem, Tiger…) fall from grace.

5. Watch what you say about others’ bodies. This applies to celebrities, strangers, and those close to you (this includes your wife). I can’t tell you how many times I have overheard fathers making comments about the “chick with the nice butt” (or worse – use your imagination) across the room with their children in earshot. Even if it’s your son, remember that your daughter could be dating a guy like him one day. Consider what such messages communicate. Do you really want your daughter’s boyfriend speaking like that?

6. Examine your own weight, eating, or body image issues. Yes, fathers have issues too. Are you critical of your lack of locks up top? Feeling pressure to lose the gut? Take note of the thoughts and feelings you have about your own appearance and then consider how these might be being relayed to your children. Work on making peace with your looks so that they can be at peace with theirs.

7. Become more media-literate. And my favorite… Help your child understand the fantasy world that is the media. Young people (and old, for that matter) often have a hard time separating reality from the “truth” of the image in front of them. Remind your child that images (s)he sees on the billboard or movie trailer are retouched, airbrushed, or sometimes even completely computer generated. Help make your child a more critical consumer

And one last note… Remember that you are up against incredible forces – jealous peers, the weight loss and fitness industries, and Hollywood, to name a few. Expect that your children will struggle with seeing themselves as quite as beautiful and amazing as you see them. Just keep reminding them every day. Even if they forget, they won’t.