Body Image Chat!
Non-Dieting and Healthy Body Image
I loved this book! I am so glad I did because the author is a close personal friend of mine. Alison Ross, LMFT, is the founder of Non-Dieting Health, psychotherapy services for those who struggle with yo-yo dieting, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, anorexia, or any disordered eating state. She asked me to write a review and I am so pleased do so because I learned a lot about myself and about how some of my clients might struggle with body image. I think you will too, even if you don’t personally struggle with eating or body image. Indeed, I answered “no” to all 6 questions she poses on the back cover of her book and believe this book was STILL very much for me!
I didn’t know what body image was until I started college. Before then I was aware that we all differed in appearance, but I suppose I was fairly “Body Positive.” The body positivity movement encourages you to love and feel good about your body, no matter what it looks like. Body positivity emphasizes the idea that “everyone is beautiful.” Body neutrality, on the other hand, simply proclaims that everyone “just is.” My parents raised me to believe I was beautiful. In every way. And they raised me to love to eat!
My friends in middle school and high school were all beautiful and loved to eat too! We had a blast sharing each other’s ethnic foods and I was proud of my friends primarily for their personalities and their souls, not for their looks. But I noticed their external beautiful qualities and sometimes I was jealous. I wanted Koliwe’s smile, Grace’s hips, Mickey’s hair and Kimberly's legs. I didn’t realize that this jealousy could be poisonous. I didn’t realize it could cause one to feel ashamed and to “hustle” to change. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I still felt beautiful.
In high school I had another friend who lost a lot of weight very quickly and in college I made a close friend who later shared with me that she had anorexia in High School. Her stories about exercising to exhaustion and only eating one saltine an entire day reminded me of my old friend and confused and shocked me. It was late in college that I became interested in pursuing psychology and in the following decade I learned more about anorexia as well as many other mental disorders. But it wasn’t until many years after I earned my PhD in Clinical Psychology, when I befriended Alison, that I learned about yo-yo dieting and binge eating (not included in the DSM manual of mood disorders).
“Food is love,” Alison writes in chapter 2 of her book. Isn’t that the truth! When I struggled to breastfeed my first child I learned how upsetting it can be to feel like a failure, to not be able to calm and nourish your very own child. My husband was patient and soothed our crying son (and me), without providing him milk and for that I was thankful. But food is indeed love. And later when my son and I got in sync and I could feed and calm him by myself it felt like a super-power. I was attuned to his hunger and met his needs. I have always been attuned to my own hunger and rarely overate. If I did, I got a stomachache and felt stupid for overdoing it, but never beat myself up about. But there is no need to do so, as Alison quips, “You didn’t kick a puppy, you ate food.” I came to understand that many women (and some men) feel stupid, guilty and ashamed after every meal. If this is your experience, Alison provides incredible advice throughout this book and I am only sharing bits and pieced with you in this post. Alison and I talk more about how I developed my strong positive body image in a recent IG Live. Check it out HERE!
Back to her book...My biggest take home was gratitude – have gratitude for your food and your body. At a young age teach kids to have gratitude for their bodies and their food. I think it helped me tremendously that I said grace after every meal growing up. And that my Dad shared that during and immediately after world war II they didn’t have enough food. I think that ingrained in me a sense of responsibility to myself and my health to eat properly to fuel my body’s needs and not over or under nourish.
The next nugget I gleaned was to connect. Connect with nature, with God (if you are religious), with your community, friends and family. Enjoy every moment and allow the serotonin to flow. In chapter 5 Alison discusses how a dopamine rush (from food) tends to be more exciting when you aren’t connecting with others and having meaningful relationships. So to avoid being manipulated by the rush of food, learn to eat and enjoy in a meaningful way.
I also learned that the concept of “health” isn’t as cut and dry as one might think. When we see someone fit and trim we might immediately assume she or he is so healthy! But this may not be the case at all! I love her approach in chapter 7, reminding us to choose “growth mindset” language instead of a “fixed mindset.” For example, do you ever tell yourself: You’re either eating healthy or, you’re not? Black and white thinking, such as being good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, is a fixed mindset. A healthy eating mindset starts with the mindset that healthy eating is not about being perfect. It’s about making an effort each day. Its about process not perfection!
Alison takes a very practical approach to helping her clients and readers. Some of the skills and tools she shares are from cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT (and mindfulness-based CBT, MBCT, specifically). Mindfulness is a state of being, where one is fully present in the moment and does not judge or react to their thoughts and emotions. The mindfulness practice that is emphasized in MBCT is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is thought to help us understand that thoughts and emotions come and go and that "you are not your thoughts." For example, in Chapter 8, she introduces thought stopping and breathing techniques to help shift awareness from one’s Inner bully. This is incredibly useful when your inner bully is beating you up about your body - or anything else!
At the end of the book, Alison reminds us that our bodies will always come back to our set points, and that fighting our biology is a stressful way to live! She mentions that pregnancy was a strong example of this for her because her body put on the weight she needed to grow her baby, and then lost around the same amount each time. I remember that pregnancy was the first time in my life that I never felt self-conscious about any outfit I chose. I felt amazing in everything I put on and let my baby bump show in all its glory! Even thought I had never been so big, I could trust that my brain and body would know what to do, as long as I didn’t let that inner bully guide the way!
Overall, I really appreciated Alison’s tangible advice, with each chapter ending with “key takeaways,” affirmations and easy to practice exercises. I think this book is a lovely addition to any therapists’ bookshelf and would recommend it to my clients, whether they struggle with body image, or not.
Dr. Accortt in the News
February 2023: Glamour Magazine: Postpartum Anxiety Is More Common Than You Think—Here’s What You Need to Know
December 2022: Cedars-Sinai Newsroom: Immune System Irregularities Found in Women With Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders
October 2022: Verywell Family, Researchers Find Possible Predictor of Postpartum Depression
June 2022: ABC News, Postpartum Depression Screening, Changes to Nurse Training.
August 2021: AirTalk KPCC Radio, The History of C-Sections, The Significance We Put on "Birth Stories" And How It Impacts Mental health
(fast forward to 13 minute mark)
July 2021: AirTalk KPCC Radio, Why Women Have Long Kept Early Parts of Pregnancy a Secret and the Arguments For Moving Away From the 12-week rule
(fast forward to 28 minute mark)
July 2021: Los Angeles Times, Postpartum depression on the rise, especially for women of color, during COVID-19 pandemic
October 2020: The Candidly, PMDD Affects Millions Of Women. So Why Aren’t We Talking About It?
October 2020: Cedars-Sinai Discoveries Magazine, A Real-Life Stress Test
September 2020: Cedars-Sinai Blog, Infertility and Mental Health
July 2020: Cedars-Sinai Newsroom, Reproductive Psychology Program Focuses on Mother and Family Wellness
May 2020: Hawaii News Now, Sunrise, How to Prevent Anxiety & Depression Before and After Giving Birth
April 2020: The Bump, How to Spot Postpartum Depression in Your Partner or Friend
12/3/19: Quartz, Ten questions about mothers’ mental health could promote resilient pregnancies
5/10/19: CGTN America, US comedian uses her act to turn the spotlight on postpartum depression
5/1/19: KTLA News, How One Comedian’s Battle With Postpartum Depression Turned Laughs Into Legislation
3/20/19: KFI News Radio, FDA Approves First Drug for PPD, Brexanolone (Zulresso)
Winter 2019: Cedars-Sinai Discoveries Magazine, Stop The Stigma
9/11/18: USC Center for Health Journalism, Cedars-Sinai PPD Screening Program May be Model for State
Summer 2018: Cedars-Sinai Catalyst Magazine, The Helping Hand of Los Angeles Funds Postpartum Depression Screening Program, scroll down to page 40 of magazine
5/18/18: TODAY.com, Alyssa Milano on Postpartum Anxiety
5/3/18: Cedars-Sinai Maternal Mental Health Research
10/19/17: Cedars-Sinai Postpartum Depression Screening Program
3/24/17: MomCo. App for Social Support
Dr. Accortt is a California licensed clinical psychologist. When she isn't seeing patients in private practice she conducts research in the OBGYN department at Cedars-Sinai. She will update this page with important maternal mental health news and research.