One of the best things about having a blog is getting to meet and interact with some wonderful people.
Ashley, who writes Nourishing the Soul, a blog about body image, media literacy and disordered eating, is one of them.
Ashley is a writer and therapist who specializes in treating body image issues, trauma, eating disorders and other types of mental illness.
I love her blog because in addition to asking thought-provoking questions, Ashley also features relevant research and her own insight as both a clinician and someone who’s been there.
She inspires us to dig deeper. Plus, Nourishing the Soul is filled with positive messages about body image, food issues, self-discovery and more.
So I’m really excited to publish my interview with her today.
Below, Ashley shares what Nourishing the Soul is all about and how she nourishes her soul and how we can nourish ours, too. Since she specializes in eating disorders, I also asked her about the many myths surrounding eating disorders.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, where Ashley talks about working with individuals with body image struggles and how we can improve our body image.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself, and how you started Nourishing the Soul.
A: I recently completed my doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Xavier University and have a passion for working with people with serious mental illness, as well as those struggling with issues of body image, low self-esteem, and the effects of eating disorders.
While I am primarily a clinician, I also enjoy research. The focus of my own research has been on media literacy which involves the teaching of skills to help individuals become more aware and educated consumers of media messages. That’s the professional side.
The more personal side of me (which I don’t believe can be segregated from my professional work) is a woman who has faced the same pressures that all women and men face in society today – to look, think, and behave in a certain way, to use food for purposes other than nourishment, and to become disconnected from the wisdom of our bodies.
It was a combination of my professional interests and my personal passions that prompted me to create Nourishing the Soul in April, 2010. When I began conceptualizing the site, I envisioned a space in which I could use my experience and knowledge to help spread awareness about disordered eating and issues in recovery and self-improvement.
As the site has grown, the scope has grown to include topics like forgiveness, mindful eating, eating disorders in men, relationships, acceptance, and the futility of dieting. My mission is to use NTS to spark thoughtful self-reflection and energetic debate about issues that impact the health of our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Q: What would you like readers to take away from reading your blog?
A: It might sound cliché, but when readers visit Nourishing the Soul, I want them to leave feeling truly nourished. I think that this happens when readers feel that they have had an opportunity to expand their awareness, reflect on how the information resonates with them, and voice their thoughts.
As I mentioned, my goal is to help readers reconnect with their bodies, minds, and spirits and begin to appreciate themselves as truly, uniquely beautiful. This isn’t an easy task in a culture that promotes unhealthy and unrealistic ideals – and not just in size and shape, but in other areas as well.
There are so many pressures on individuals to achieve success, remain unfulfilled in their relationships with others and themselves, and stay disconnected from their internal wisdom. I believe that this is why, as a society, we experience so much mental and physical illness.
I hope that Nourishing the Soul plays a small role in encouraging its readers to develop a healthier and more respectful relationship with themselves. I also hope that readers feel encouraged to share on the site. I do not call myself an expert, and certainly not on every topic. We learn best from each other. I hope that NTS is a place of growing from our interactions, not simply from the content I share.
Q: What are some ways you nourish your soul?
A: As I’ve written on my blog, I tend to be somewhat conservative when it comes to trying new things. So I’ve recently made a concerted effort to push beyond my comfort zone and branch out with my experiences.
I’ve done new things like tried yoga – it took me way too long – gone camping, and put myself out there with my blog. I believe that new experiences nourish the part of us that longs for novelty and adventure. Even for those of us (like me) who tend to prefer stability and structure, taking risks and challenging the stories we have of ourselves helps us uncover new realities.
When I’m not pushing my own limits, I love to read as a means of nourishment, and spend time with my family. I need a balance of time alone and with other people.
Q: How can readers nourish their minds, bodies and spirits?
A: My goal is to help inspire readers to find their own nourishment. No two people will enjoy and be strengthened in the exact same ways, so it’s really about a journey of self-discovery.
I think that one way that you can do this is like what I said before – taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone. I love the fabled Albert Einstein definition of insanity, that it is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.
I think that growth – and nourishment – are about challenging what we’ve always done and being open to new opportunities and experiences. For some that may involve developing a new way of being in relationships. For others it means learning to accept faults and come to peace with the past. For others still it means going sky-diving!
Q: You also specialize in treating eating disorders. What would you say are the most common or most damaging misconceptions about eating disorders?
A: Oh there are so many! First, I think a major misconception about eating disorders is that you can tell if I person has an eating disorder simply by looking at them. Eating disorders can occur in people of all shapes, sizes, and weights.
Because a person may not happen to look “malnourished” or extremely thin (or overweight), this does not mean that the person is not struggling with their relationship with food or that their health is not in serious jeopardy. For instance, a person may have bulimia nervosa and be of an average weight. Despite his or her average weight, the person could have dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, acid reflux, constipation, and a myriad of other issues.
Another frustrating misconception is that individuals who have eating disorder “just want to be thin.” While a desire for a smaller physique may be part of the issue (though not always!), eating disorders do not simply develop because someone wants to be skinny.
As I mentioned before, there are lots of factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, like genetics and family roles. I think that sometimes the desire to be thin gets focused on in our society because we don’t want to look at the other complex factors. And even if this desire is present, it’s often much more complex than it looks. For instance, what does being thin represent to the individual?
A final damaging myth is that eating disorders occur only in adolescent girls. There are many other demographic-type stereotypes that go along with this as well, such as that this is a “rich girl” disease. This is utterly wrong. Up to 15% of individuals with eating disorders are men (depending on the study) and the age of people with eating disorders is rising, possibly because many have gone untreated for so long and because more older individuals are becoming more comfortable with seeking treatment.
Treatment centers all over the country are seeing increasing diversity in people seeking help. One hope I have is that one day anyone that struggles with eating issues feels comfortable in seeking out appropriate help. That starts with community education, combating stigma, and becoming more inclusive as providers of services.
Thank you, Ashley, so much for your insight! Be sure to stay tuned for part two tomorrow on all things body image!
P.S. If you missed it, last week Ashley kick-started our blogging series called “Self-Discovery, Word by Word,” where both bloggers and readers write a post or paragraph centered around the word of the month. This month’s word is gratitude. Please check out Ashley’s post for details on how you can participate. Here’s my post on gratitude in case you didn’t get to read it.