Bella Vida Therapy

Molly Papp, MS, MPH, CSAT, LMFT #88196

Bella Vida Therapy

Molly Papp, LMFT

You deserve a beautiful life

Sex, intimacy, and relationship therapy

Who's the Boss?

Have you ever had the conversation with your partner about who "wears the pants" in the relationship? Most of us have, and while we may argue over who calls the shots, in reality many relationships are a balance of compromise between two people. At least, that's the goal! What I have found is there is often a battle in the relationship. For power, control and decision-making. It's hard to give that up without feeling you're 'losing' in a way, or compromising your wants and needs for someone else's.

But then again, don't all healthy relationships involve some bit of compromise? This is where it gets tricky. So yes, in order to have a long, happy marriage you do have to admit when you're wrong and not always get your way. If you cannot do those things, your partner will likely become resentful towards you over time. Even if they appear on the outside to be fairly passive or it's your style to defer power to one person more than the other. No one likes a control freak. We all need to feel heard in a relationship for two simple reasons: respect and empathy. We need to feel our partner respects us and is understanding of our feelings (even if they don't agree with us).

Think about this: when you were growing up, you listened (for the most part) to your teachers. Why? Because you respected their power. You knew they were above you in a sense, being adults and authority figures. In a relationship, if that respect is 1-sided, as in one person is the teacher/authority figure and the other is the student, a divide will occur. The war begins. But how many of us have had that 1 teacher who made us feel really heard, respected and understood? That's when the dynamic shifts. In a relationship, if you can trade off between being the student and being the teacher, at times leading and other times following, your union will bloom. The reason is because you will feel validated when you bring up your concerns to your partner. They don't have to agree with you, they just have to listen. That is the empathy part. Many times they won't agree! This is just real life. But all the negative things people do in an argument (rolling eyes, giving the silent treatment, being sarcastic or defensive, name-calling) place you at odds with your mate. You are not being respectful or empathetic when you call someone a name, period. Instead you become that problem kid in class, breaking the rules just because he did not get his way. 

Instead, be that teacher who listened, even when the student was crying over forgetting their lunch. Be that student who sat silently while his teacher lectured on something he did not ever understand. You will have to lose many battles in a relationship to ultimately win the war of a mutually satisfying union. So put down those weapons and lean into your partner. Teach them, let them teach you. Respect them, and empathize with how they feel. It may not always be your views, but as long as it's not compromsing your values to let them lead sometimes, there's no harm in keeping any negative opinions to yourself. Remember you are not at war: you're fighting on the same side. 

Making Peace with My Body: How You Can Do It Too

Recently I was watching an interview with Amy Schumer. She was describing the day she became aware of her body in a negative sense. It was 5th grade and one of her friends told her she had a big butt. I can recall a similar incident happening to myself. For me it was 3rd grade and my two best friends told me I looked "normal" and had fat legs. Suddenly I was aware of my body being not okay. I instantly wanted to be like them in that moment. Skinny, blonde, tan. They didn't mean anything by it of course, but the damage was done. That comment tipped off a decade-long war to mold my God-given tall, athletic, fair-skinned shape into what I (aka society) deems desirable, beautiful, even just acceptable. Food became the enemy. I ate as little as possible and obsessed with jealousy over those who seemingly didn't suffer from my same affliction. I remember glaring at the popular, thin girls at school during lunch. Not only was I envious of their chocolate chip mini muffins, I was jealous of the way they ate. It was so free. I could tell they could care less if they ate the crust off their PB&J sandwich or how many calories were in that apple. I wanted so badly to be like them both physically and internally too. I didn't want to care so damn much about what I looked like. I wanted to be happy with myself. 

It took nearly 20 years before I could say I love my body. I know my story is not unique and millions of women (and men for that matter) feel shame about the way they look from a very early age. It's not only sad but a giant waste of time as well. Instead of running for the hell of it and eating pizza at slumber parties, I would exercise for hours to burn off every calorie I ate and lie about not liking pizza or anything else I deemed too fattening. Life is very small when you try to become very small because it's literally all you can think about. When you can eat food, what you will eat, how you feel after you eat. And the cycle continues of guilt and shame and longing, day after day. 

For me to truly 'see the light' and stop this cycle of madness it took three events:

1. Being hospitalized for basically poor health

2. Realizing I would never be an actress or model (hence did not need to stay underweight)

3. Just getting sick and tired of being sick and tired (recycled phrase but incredibly true)

The last reason is the biggest one I want to elaborate on. Once I stopped worrying about what I ate (or rather didn't eat), I could actually live my life. I could go out to eat and actually look forward to the meal. I could cook with oil and the food actually tasted good. I could hang out with friends and go on dates without pre-planning my workouts before or after. I could actually breathe and enjoy my natural state. It felt like I was holding my breath for two decades, sucking in my stomach, pretending to be something I just wasn't. I am not a waif and I will never be skinny again. While tall, I'm not a naturally large person either. Food is not something to fear anymore but something that makes me feel good both emotionally and physically. 

I wanted to share this story because I know so well what it's like to check yourself every time you walk by a mirror and immediately find all the flaws in your body. It sucks. You stop seeing your body as a functional gift (like a child does) and start seeing it as something you treat like garbage. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? For control? For attention from men? For the compliments from our family and friends? For our thin-obsessed culture? Whatever the reason, it does not have to be this way. There is a whole world out there that doesn't begin and end in the grocery store or at the gym. There's amazing bread to be eaten in Paris, phenomenal beignets in New Orleans and delicious pasta in Italy. If you gain 10 pounds (or 25 like I have) you may be giving up on your 'perfect body' but you are also giving in to your perfectly imperfect life. Which includes some chub, cellulite, and hair. You are not ever going to look like those women on TV. Even they don't! But once you start accepting your body for all the amazing things it does for you, the war will be over. You will have so much more time to develop all of the truly important things like your hobbies and relationships. 

Our bodies are literally miracles. We need to see as such. They enable us to walk, hug, have sex, eat, sing, and a million other things. Not everyone is able-bodied. That alone is a blessing. I pushed a baby out of my vagina almost 1 year ago. That is pretty bad-ass if you ask me. And yeah, it means I will never have a flat stomach again. I'm totally okay with that. I eat muffins now. And I have never been happier. If society or anyone tries to tell me that my jean size is more important than that then I have two sentences for them: I don't care what you think. I love my body. Try that on for size! 

 

How to Forgive and Why It Matters

Growing up, our parents taught us a lot of things. How to be a nice human, how to change a flat tire, maybe even how to navigate the stress of adulthood. But what often is overlooked is how to forgive. Children are taught to say "I'm sorry" whenever they accidentally make someone cry. But as adults, this gets lost in translation. We still apologize, but the reception has changed. No longer is it easy to accept an apology since we aren't talking bruised elbows, we're talking bruised hearts. Forgiveness as an adult is harder because the feelings are no longer new.

Children are so innocent and naive. Every injury, internal or external, heals fairly easily. Kids want to forgive and move on. It's like they don't have time to focus on being mad. They are too excited about life. It's only over time that this shiny outlook tends to dim. Especially when the hurts are many and the repairs few. Adults who experience an inordinate amount of painful betrayal as children easily lose their forgiving nature and turn mistrustful and scared. That fear often keeps them at a distance from anyone who could ever hurt them again. And when they finally do let someone in, if their trust is broken it brings up all those harmful old emotions, as if it were only yesterday that their father forgot to pick them up (again).

It's simply harder for adults to forgive, especially when they come from an abusive or neglectful upbringing. But it's not impossible. It just takes learning how, when, and why to forgive. First off, ask if you want a relationship with the person who hurt you. If you do, forgiveness is crucial. If not, it's still important but may take time and be one-sided since the relationship could suffer as a result. Next, you cannot force being ready to forgive someone. What I have noticed as a therapist is that the common thread of being able to forgive is when the person who has been hurt feels like they have been truly heard and understood. If their offender truly gets how it felt and how much they were hurt, then it's a lot easier to forgive them. When that person does not 'get it,' it's more difficult to let that anger and sadness go, but doing so is still important for one's self. This is the why of forgiveness. 

We forgive not because we have to, but because we need to. Carrying around anger, resentment and toxic hate will only make you feel all those things. Maybe not every day, but each time you're triggered by a memory, the same pain will resurface. Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook for what they've done. But it is about realizing that you don't forgive to heal them, you forgive to heal you. Forgiveness allows you to move forward with your own life. It takes away the power of what they did to you. It makes you feel empowered and in control because you choose how to feel. Now of course this is easier for hurts like breakups and betrayals. It's almost unimaginable for deeper pain like losses and death. Those are much harder to swallow and that is why time to grieve first is essential. No one can tell you how to feel or when you will be ready to let go. Maybe today, maybe in a year, maybe never. But the greatest gift you can give yourself is to forgive someone who may not even deserve it. It does not say you are 'okay' with their behavior. It says you realize that you no longer want to cause someone else's mistakes to ruin your future.

Forgiveness also can be incredibly restorative to a relationship marred by bad decisions. It's scary to trust someone who's hurt you. However, if you can learn to trust them again (after they have shown you they have changed), you are rewarded with the gift of appreciation and grace. The future can be even better than the past because you both realize that you've seen the worst in each other, confronted the unacceptable, and learned you can get through the inevitable lows. As long as you are not constantly forgiving someone who does not show real remorse and behavior change, forgiveness will only enhance both your relationship and your life. Letting go of all the old pain also helps you to no longer be encumbered by ghosts of the past. We cannot change what we've done. We can only learn to accept that it happened and try to not make the same mistakes. No one is without fault in life. Forgive those who've wronged you and you forgive yourself in the process. 

How Respect Bulletproofs Your Marriage

There's one question I like to ask whenever I have a new client coming to me for relationship issues and it is the following:

Do you respect your partner?

That may seem like an obvious thing, but what I often hear is "Yes, but..." while they list a bunch of things that they actually don't respect about their loved one. So in actuality, they don't respect their partner. They just say they do.

Why is respect so important? Because if you do not respect someone, you will not treat them well. If you feel "better" than your partner for some reason, you will likely not be very nice. If you do not feel grateful to be with them, your behavior will reflect that belief. Many people lose respect for their husbands or wives due to their own assumptions and entitlement. It often is nothing that the other person has "done, " but instead is an inability to look at one's OWN issues and instead place all the blame on them. When the other person has done something wrong (or we feel they have), respect is definitely lost, and instead replaced by resentment. Respect is lost in both cases. Communication about these feelings is crucial in processing this loss of respect instead of ignoring it and allowing the anger to build. If you feel yourself being disrespectful towards your partner for any reason, you need to talk about it both with yourself (introspection) and with the person you vowed to love forever.

Besides taking the time to talk, there are also simple ways to repair lost feelings of respect. For my clients, I recommend they make a list of all the things they find unique and endearing about their partners. Not things that made them fall in love, rather things that keep them in love. There is a difference. People change, so clinging to someone's characteristics from 10 years ago can be really disappointing! His brown hair will turn gray, he will abandon his love of making your breakfast every morning, and he will let go of his dream of making it in the music business. You will stop staying up until 1am to watch his favorite old movies, your pants will get bigger, and you will give up learning French so you can talk to his grandmother.

Loving someone unconditionally means understanding that they will change. We all do. We can lose respect for someone if they fail to live up to the person we (or they) thought they would be. Making a love list actually reminds us of why we are staying in the relationship. It adds perspective as well. We all can get caught up in our own egos and begin to take someone for granted. Some people even go so far as to look elsewhere or breakup entirely with someone they love when they really should have looked internally at what was "wrong" with their dynamic.

Finally, I encourage my clients to share their lists with their significant others. Why? In openly talking about what you both still find attractive about one another you both remind each other of why you're together. You will also grow closer in sharing things you love about each other that you wouldn't normally share in everyday conversation. Couples need to have these discussions. I have seen way too many relationships that end up on the brink of collapse due to neither person really taking the time to appreciate their spouse. The grass is usually not greener, aside from those who leave an abusive relationship which is a completely different situation.

Most of the time people just drift apart slowly, so slowly that you don't even notice it until you wake up one day and you're an ocean apart. No boat will ever get you back together. Bulletproof your marriage instead and practice daily respect for one another. Apart from the list exercise, make an effort to listen, refrain from name-calling, cut down on the sarcastic comments, never give the 'silent treatment,' and in general let your partner know how much you love them and appreciate them. All of these things communicate respecting someone you love. You chose to be with them and they you. So why not let them know that you feel lucky to be theirs?

The Beauty of Being "Good Enough"

I once stayed up all night doing extra credit in order to beat a classmate and win first place in our class. It was second grade so this was serious business. I sustained myself on cinnamon Pop Tarts and skim milk as the sun slowly rose on a blistery Indiana winter morning. All that hard work and my classmate ended up beating me. I was livid! Or at least as angry as a 9 year old can be about anything. I wanted so badly to be the best, to be perfect, that I nearly drove myself to childhood diabetes! All for recognition and the approval of my teacher. It didn't even come with a prize.

Oh the first world problems of being a perfectionist. It's not a huge problem, except when it is. When your quest to do everything 'right' or at least your definition of how things 'should' be is so strong that you forget about the negative consequences, then something is wrong. If you also experience strong anxiety when things are not perfect, then you definitely know what I mean.

I consider myself a 'recovering perfectionist.' That label has taken me 20 years to earn, but with it I have learned that life is so much better if you can just do things good enough. As in, do you best, do a good job, but don't make yourself crazy trying to set unrealistic standards. The problem with needing everything you do to be perfect is that it takes away from actually you know, enjoying you life! If your house has to be perfect then you inevitably spend a lot of time cleaning, not playing with your dog/kid/spouse. If your job has to be perfect, then you work longer hours than necessary and put off doing that class/hobby/dinner with friends you always say you'll do. If your relationship has to be perfect, then good luck because that will never happen. And trying to force happiness when there is conflict is not healthy.

People become complacent, get lazy, and generally screw up. But there is a difference between being all those things and doing a good enough job to be happy with your efforts. That is not lazy. And it's a much easier and happier way to live. If you continue to strive for perfection, you may miss out on actually living this 'perfect' life you want so badly.

I once told my husband that we could spend all out time and efforts building our dream house. But what if we wake up one day and there's no one in it? We wasted our time and attention on all the external things that we lost the family inside. That is the point of letting go of perfectionism. I wish I could go back and tell my 9-year old self, "Go to bed. It will be okay. You are a kid for such a short period of time. Enjoy it. You can worry about work in about 10 years." I would also caution against inhaling Pop Tarts because that did not turn out well for my waistline.

But alas, time moves forward not back and we can only learn from our mistakes. I just hope you can learn from mine and repeat my mantra when you find your perfectionist ways creeping back in as you obsess about cleaning the house spotless, making diner, nailing that presentation at work, AND running a 5K. All before 5pm. Let it go, it's good enough. Because it is, and so are you.

Top 5 Things to Never Say in a Relationship

I once had a client tearfully reveal to me that her husband told her she was a bad lover. As in, the worst he had ever had. Gentlemen, that is never okay. No woman will ever feel uninhibited or relaxed again with you sexually if you tell her she is lousy in bed. It got me thinking about all the crazy (and usually mean) things I have heard clients tell me over the years. Either they or their partners have said something really impactful, and it's never forgotten. These off the cuff remarks do serious damage to relationships. Usually the intent is not malicious, but let's be honest, we all can remember every bad thing our partner has ever said to us, yet the compliments are much harder to recall. The point is, there are nicer ways to communicate what you mean, and the following 5 methods are NOT recommended!

1. "I hate your friends." Or "One of your friends is hot." If you don't like his or her friends, just pretend to. Be nice to them and limit the time you spend in their presence. Plus, it's a good excuse to allow your partner their solo time without you there feeling miserable. It also puts them in a really bad situation having to choose between you and their friends. As far as the "hot" remark goes, it will only inspire jealousy and friction between your partner and their friend. 

2. "Fuck you." Or any similar sentiment ("fuck off," "go to hell," "you're a bitch," etc.). This is just cruel. Don't be cruel to someone you love and care about. This is most likely said in anger, in the heat of passion, and not really meant. But I can guarantee whomever you say this to will remember you said it for the rest of their lives. Don'treat your life partner worse than you would someone at the gas station who stole your pump.

3. "Yes I had an orgasm" (when you didn't) Lying about sex will only breed resentment. If you fake it during sex, then he thinks "Great, I'm the man!" and will do exactly what he did when he "made you come" every time you have sex from now to eternity. You'll only be pissed off at him when he doesn't try harder, but the only person to blame is you because you told him it worked. Be honest. Unless you have already said it, and in that case, leave it in the past and just stop doing in moving forward. Because if you tell him now that you've been faking it for years, then the poor guy will feel terrible and second guess himself every time you two have sex. Not cool.

4. "My ex was better at that." Or really ANYTHING about your ex doing something better than them. Not just sexually, but pretty much any issue. No one in their right mind wants to hear how their lover's ex was amazing or better in any way than them. We all pretend our partners are virgins when we meet them because we like to believe that no one existed before us. Either that or that all their exes are hideous and cannot compare in any way to us. So lock up those memories in your mind and never give your partner the key. I'm not saying never talk about your past relationships, since this is beneficial to learn patterns and history, but do not compare in a negative way. Comparison creates unhappiness. Remember, they are exes for a reason.

5. "You are acting crazy." What does this mean, exactly? What does "acting crazy" look like? Nowadays it seems to mean anytime someone (usually a woman) shows "too much" emotion, they are labeled crazy. The term is hurtful and not specific. And will not resolve anything. Instead of labeling your partner so negatively, communicate what you actually mean. Perhaps it's, "When you yell at me I do not feel respected. We won't resolve anything calling each other names. Let's both calm down and talk later when we have clearer heads." Not: "You're acting crazy! Why are you screaming? Fuck this, I'm leaving." See the difference? 

There is no perfect way of communicating and odds are at some point in your relationship, you will both say something you regret. Take it from a couples therapist who has seen too many relationships fail based on simple but powerful words and think before you speak. 

Ten Things Couples Should Do Before Having Kids

Movies and TV sell us such a compelling reality of family life. Dad, mom and 2-3 kids gathered together in a gorgeous house that realistically they could never afford. They're smiling and laughing over dinner with no arguing or sarcastic comments. Mom looks great and dad is never stressed from work. They gaze lovingly at each other with hints of passion still burning, promising adult fun after the kids go to bed.

Where can we get that life? The answer: it doesn't exist. That is a fantasy of what family life is like, with the reality being much more...busy. And messy. Not to say it's not an amazing reality, but life definitely changes once 2 becomes 3 or 4 or 5. As a therapist, I often see couples who focus solely one their children, to the detriment of their marriage. Let's be honest, kids are tough. And if you don't have a really strong foundation before you have them, they can stress even a good marriage out or completely derail a somewhat off-track relationship.

The best defense is a good offense, which is why I've seen many marriages thrive even after baby if they were able to do certain things before life changed and baby's needs began to come first. Because once he or she comes out, alone time with each other is precious. So is having hour-long sex and not talking about poop. Here are my top 10 things I think couples should do before they have a baby to give them the best chance of staying connected as life gets filled with more love and more craziness:

1. Go on that dream vacation you two keep talking about and putting off. Share a bottle of wine in Florence, take a safari in Africa, or lay on a beach in Aruba for 10 days doing exactly nothing. Trust me, it'll be a whole lot harder with a kiddo slowing you down. And you'll have those amazing memories to reminisce about together when you go to Disneyland for the 20th time for "vacation."

2. Have long, boozy dinners filled with amazing conversation and 3-course meals. Talk about your dreams. Really get to know each other. Laugh over stupid stuff and bond over shared interests. Yes, you do this as you begin dating someone, but continue to do it as you grow a deeper relationship with your mate. It really keeps you glued together and creates the intense intimacy needed to foster a strong long-term union. And again, it will be 1000 times harder to do this once you have a family.

3. Buy each other cool stuff for birthdays and anniversaries. And make a big deal out of them. Spurge on that expensive pair of cuff-links he's always wanted or throw her an unforgettable surprise party. Show each other how much you care with the extra income you have now before it goes to the diaper/toy/college fund account and doing so would make you feel guilty for buying him/her something so frivolous.

4. Focus on your careers. Use the time before babies to really put your energy into establishing yourself at work so that when you do get pregnant, you a. won't feel like your job is in jeopardy when you're gone on maternity leave, b. won't feel guilty about staying late to work 4 nights out of the week, and c. have extra money saved up for unexpected expenses like you know, a house to raise all those kids in!

5. Talk about where you want to settle down and who will help you raise the children. When you're just starting out you don't really care where the best school districts are or if you're driving distance away from your folks. If anything, often you want some space from family to make it on your own. Flash forward to two kids later and it suddenly becomes incredibly valuable to live in a family-friendly neighborhood and have loving grandparents nearby to give you both a break. Planning ahead both prepares you and helps prevent you from having to make some pretty tough decisions later on down the road.

6. Get to know each other's families really well. Because once that little bundle of joy comes along, you're going to be spending a lot more time with each other. Hopefully you all get along and that's a good thing but if it's not, mend any struggling relationships before baby. Why? So that family gatherings are filled with happy, normal things like ugly sweaters and taking baby photos, not awkwardness and strained conversation.

7. Get in the best shape of your life. Take the time you have now to look your best for yourself and your partner. Spend 2 hours at the gym or perfecting your hair into perfect beach-y waves. Likely you will never be this size or this attractive again, so now is the time to be selfish and vain. It sounds odd, but in a few years your hair routine will consist of a brush and a hair-tie and those skinny jeans will be traded for flattering yoga pants. And for the guys out there, the term "dad bod" exists for a reason. You won't have the time or energy for working out as much as you did before so enjoy those washboard abs while you can.

8. Discuss how you'll raise the kids. As in what religion will they be, what discipline style will you practice, and who's going to be the primary caretaker or breadwinner? Not exactly sexy conversations but essential real-life decisions you both need to make together before she gets knocked up.

9. Talk about your childhoods and what traditions you'd like to carry on, along with what mistakes you feel your parents made that you DON'T want to repeat. This can be difficult, but analyzing your childhood is important for figuring out what either made it great, just okay, or terrible. Many people repeat generational patterns, it's hard not to. We model our parenting styles on what we witnessed growing up. This can be a good thing. But if you were unhappy as a kid because of something your mom or dad did, don't make the same mistakes. If you had a really shitty childhood, get into therapy way before you bring another life into the world. Trust me, I have seen far too may families destroyed by one parent's unfinished business that negatively impacted their kids.

10. Finally, talk about (and SAVE) money. As in, who is going to pay the bills, clean the house, cook, etc. Those things can be done on your own or paid for. Also discuss what your future will look like and who will handle financial planning for college/retirement and what your budget will be. The "funny" shopping addiction you two joke about can have serious long-term ramifications if not dealt with. Kids are ridiculously expensive so start saving NOW if you plan to have children in the next oh, 10 years. It may seem silly but money is the #1 thing couples fight (and break up) over, so be smart and decide what your plan is as a duo before new members of your team begin draining your funds.

This list is meant to be helpful and funny, but looking over it I see I make kids seem like annoying, no-fun leeches who drain you of your spirit and money. Not true! Kids are life-creating. They make even small moments remarkable with their innocent wonder. Having children will honestly be the best thing you will EVER do if that's the path you decide to take as a couple. Just be prepared so that when your family does grow you'll experience fewer growing pains. Having your whole life change overnight is shocking enough.

How To Stop Hating Your Body

I was 8 years old the first time I thought I was fat. My stick-thin friends called me "normal" and "healthy," but even back then I knew it was code for fat. During reading circle time, they would poke my unflexed legs and watch in amazement as they jiggled instead of staying still like their long, sinewy limbs did. Hot, uncomfortable shame swept over me and I vowed to begin a diet and exercise regimine immediately so I could be skinny just like them. Jane Fonda workout videos and fat-free everything became my best friends. Looking back, I am amazed I even knew about dieting and weight loss. I also am struck by how sad it is that as a little girl I cared more about what I looked like than playing outside or watching cartoons. I think it boiled down to fitting in, something of paramount importance to all adolescents. Add in divorcing parents and social anxiety and it makes sense I was desperate to feel in control of my young life.

This insane, ludicious obsession with thinness enveloped me for nearly 15 years, and sometimes (rarely now, thank God) threatens to creep up on me at times in my life when I am stressed or feel out of control. It got in the way of me going out, having fun, and generally leading a normal life. I let food and weight control me instead of me controlling it. While my case is on the more extreme side, I truly believe the majority of us (especially women due to the correlation society places on our looks and our value) can relate to feeling shameful about our looks simply due to a number on a scale. The truth is that the size clothes we wear has absolutely NO relation to who we are as human beings, but try telling magazines and TV that. Our entire lives we are spoon-fed the belief that you can never be too young, rich or thin. In reality, the thinner I got, the more depressed and miserable I became.

What I want to share with others is not that "society sucks!!" or that we are doomed to be slaves to a patriarchal, image-obsessed society. The media has actually come a long way since I was a kid, now showcasing "plus-size" (hate that term because it in itself is shaming) models on magazine covers like Glamour and Sports Illustrated. It will never be perfect and sadly, millions will continue to suffer from eating disorders as the mainstream message is to conform into the white, thin box.

Instead I want to explain how I learned to stop punishing my body for its alleged sin of being too big. My Oprah "ah-hah" moment came when, in the hospital from a blood clot and anemia likely not helped by living off grapes and Diet Coke for my entire freshman year of college, I suddenly realized I didn't want to live like that anymore. I wanted to be happy with myself just as I was, not "if only I was X-weight." I wanted to stop filling my brain with insane figures like how many calories are in a french fry and instead just eat the damn french fry! It took years to actually walk to walk, but the more foods I gradually allowed myself to eat and the more pounds I gained, the more I stopped caring so much about something as insiginificant to my happiness as a couple pounds.

Today I move my body because it feels good, not just because it burns calories. I will never be a size 2, no matter how many miles I run. The term body type exists for a reason- it's usually related to the weight your body settles at. I had to stop forcing myself to be this model-skinny person that I was never designed to be. Even those gorgeous girls aren't really that thin- everyone is photo-shopped! Stop comparing yourself to fake images and body accetance will be a lot easier to swallow. (pun intended!)

Diets fail because no one can live in such a strict vacume nor should they; food is wonderful part of life! Letting go of my disordered eating showed me how food binds us as a culture. If I had never learned to stop obsessing, I would have missed the best date of my life with my how-husband where we gorged ourselves on wine, pasta and rib-eye. It was one of the best meals and memories of my life, capped off by ice cream for dessert, of course!

Realizing how much our bodies do for us has also helped me embrace self-love instead of hatred. Pushing a baby out of you will do that pretty fast, as will being sick in any way. I also worked towards being a little less ungrateful. Instead of complaing about how "unfair" it is that some girls can eat whatever they want and not gain weight, now I am grateful for having ten fingers and ten toes in a world where there are thousands of people who cannot move their legs or are blind, deaf or otherewise physicaly disabled. Reality check!

The final step on my journey towards self-aceptance of my body was the hardest but also most impactful. I stopped being a jerk to myself. It's crazy how we will tell ourselves the cruelest, most hurtful things in our heads. I'm talking things we would never say to another person for fear of making them cry. I used to look at my "fat" legs and say I was worthless, ugly and would die alone. Nice, huh? When I began to practice actively saying "You rock!," "You are beautiful," even "Nice ass!," my world changed. I felt better about myself and not just my apperance, but me, who I really am. I felt like I was my own personal cheerleader. Because that's what we all deserve to have in ourselves, Be your own best friend, the one supporting you no matter what. Say nice things to yourself, every day. Especially when the negative, dark thoughts enter your brain. Tell them to GET OUT! Now this is not advice to be ignorant of your flaws, but instead realistically see yourself as not perfect but more of a work in progress, as we all are. Set small goals for things you want to change if you have them, but don't obsess about it. Life is waaaaayyyy to short to attempt to be perfect. Honey, it ain't never gonna happen! Even Instagram is an altered reality of filters and specific angles, all designed to fool the world into thinking that is what someone looks like 24/7. I hope that everyone: man, woman, and especially child, can learn from my many mistakes and useless body-shaming. How do you stop hating your body? Begin treating your body as this amazing, strong and really useful vessel that houses, but is not a reflection of your beautiful soul.

And Then There Were 3...How to Keep Things Hot After Baby

A typical Saturday night in the life of a single couple usually looks like this: getting dressed up, dinner out, maybe a movie afterwards followed by some sex if you're lucky. And then a baby comes and EVERYTHING changes. Your nice outfit? Yeah, it's likely yoga pants and no bra. Dinner out? It's called take-out, and it's luxury because you need to save to pay for all those pricey diapers. Movie? You won't see a movie in a theater above a "PG" rating for a decade. And sex? What's that? Ironically, what you did to make the baby is really hard to do once he or she actually gets here. Nap time becomes the only time for intimacy, and usually you just want to nap too!

So what's a couple to do to keep the romance alive? All is not lost! While 'date night' often has to be amended, it doesn't have to disappear. Because it should not. Having time together to connect as a couple is essential. While it is true that you do connect with your partner while you watch them care for your child, it's not the same. That is "mom" or "dad" role, not exactly sexy.

Take some time, even with baby (but preferably not if you can get grandma to babysit), to break out of the norm and get dinner out or go to the beach for a picnic. Those small things are important to break the monotony and force each of you to remember each other as people, not just parents. Keep the baby talk to a minimum. Slap on some makeup or grab a collared shirt and just go.

When it comes to the sex part, things can be tricky. Once you're cleared to do it by your doctor, the desire may not be there. Your body is destroyed and that baby weight for some odd reason didn't all leave with the baby! Dad may have also gained some sympathy weight, leaving you both feeling not so hot about your naked bods. But reconnecting in bed is also important to keeping the flame alive after baby. I suggest having sex even if the initial desire isn't there because it will likely be sparked once you get going. And it's also something you did before baby that will be a little or a lot different, but reminds you of who you are and who your partner is, along with why you love them and find them attractive.

Take the time as well to feel good about your own body as well. When baby goes down for a nap go for a walk outside with him or her strapped to you. But no matter how much exercise you get, the hard truth is that your body will never be exactly the same. It's hard to learn to accept that things are different when you look in the mirror, but exercising and putting effort into how you look (hair, makeup) does go a long way to help a new mom feel pretty again. And to the dad's out there: never, ever tell your wife/girlfriend they look anything other than amazing, because they basically just pushed a brick out of a pinhole so be quiet or complimentary, those are the only two options.

The last piece is the day-to-day new normal that you both have to adjust to. Gone are lazy Sundays spent in bed or having endless mimosas at brunch. Bye bye going ANYWHERE without being at least 15 minutes late and needing to pack the entire house. Seriously, why do 8-lb babies require so much crap?! While it's true that little errands like grocery shopping have become entire day-long events, they can still be a time to hang out with your partner. Instead of trying to do everything on your own (speaking to the primary baby caretaker in the relationship), spend weekends together doing some of those errands together as a family. It will make it easier on you as well, since doing anything with a baby is basically impossible.

Remember to communicate, communicate, communicate! If not, resentment is bound to build up. No partner should feel ignored or overly responsible in the relationship. Use 'date night' or after the kiddo has gone to bed to catch up with each other, and not just with your DVR'd shows. Although that is also good bonding too! Yes, things have changed and life is 100% different. But with a little prioritizing, things will only get better from here. Trust me, there is nothing more endearing that seeing your partner rock his newborn son to sleep or more hysterical that seeing him get peed on. These are the things that will bind you together even through the sleepless nights.

 

Lust versus Love

There is nothing like that feeling of meeting someone new. The butterflies, the rush. It's intoxicating. When a relationship first starts there is no one else you'd rather be with, no other place you're rather be than in your lover's arms. Your usual routine doesn't matter and who cares if you're tired for work the next day? When you are in lust, none of that matters. It's almost as if that person is your whole life, and you've only just met them.

That feeling is amazing; I wish it could last forever. But in new romance, the butterflies eventually fade, and are replaced by a deep feeling of love and comfort. Maybe not as sexy as those first few months or years, but it's important to realize the differences between a new relationship and one that's stood the test of time. Why? So you remember that the love you have for your husband or wife is actually more amazing than any initial romance can ever be. This is crucial because after awhile, we tend to forget that. Our partners become less intriguing because we get used to them. It's not that they change (except possibly physically over time), it's our perception that shifts. We don't appreciate what we have. That's dangerous because we stop trying to keep the romance alive. Others will tempt us with the allure of newness, but it never lasts. Not with anyone! No romance can sustain the intensity of new lust.

Having more realistic expectations helps normalize every relationship stage. New love is exhilarating and all-consuming. After the initial rush fades there's usually a transition period in relationships when you let your guard down and really commit to your person. It can be difficult and many run from this level of commitment. Others embrace it and move on to the last phase which is lasting love or a long-term relationship. Those who end up in a committed relationship with someone also go through their own stages depending on how long they are together. There are bound to be moments of sadness, fighting, boredom and loneliness. What makes lasting love amazing is that no matter what, you don't just walk away as you would with a relative stranger in a much-newer relationship. When you commit, you give up the freedom to walk away. In doing so you gain safety and an indescribable feeling of being loved for who you truly are. I am talking about your spirit, nothing superficial such as money, makeup or muscles.

The point is, every relationship stage has it's benefits and its drawbacks. Enjoy wherever you are in your relationship and stop comparing it to other ones that may seem more thrilling. You can have love and lust in a long-term relationship, it just takes more work because on both a chemical and emotional level, you aren't experiencing the same feelings as a new relationship. For those in lust, enjoy the tingling feeling and remember that if it's the right person, you have years to build trust and comfort. One day, week, month and year at a time.