Your Budding Daughter: Some Practical Suggestions for Parents

What? Already?
Puberty in Girls, Step By Step
The Stages of Development
'Is This Normal?' When to See Your Physician
Helping Your Daughter to Be Well-Informed
Sex Education
Menstruation, tampons and pads
In Closing

What? Already?

Puberty! It started happening to my 10-year-old daughter this spring. She needed new sandals - women's size 7 sandals! She got those little bumps under her nipples that we doctors call 'breast buds'. Next, I was 'excused' from joining her in the dressing room when we shopped for her clothes, and the bathroom door was locked when she showered. The pants I hemmed up in June were too short by October, despite only being washed once. And she admits to 'maybe' having a few hairs 'down there'.

As a loving mom and adolescent medicine specialist, these are heady times for me. I am proud of my daughter and thrilled to see her embark on this road toward womanhood. I know that she is progressing normally. But still, I think, 'Hold on, she's only in fifth grade!'

My daughter is perfectly normal. Puberty, often first recognized at the onset of breast development, usually begins about the time a girl turns 10. There is a wide range of 'normal' starting times, and the onset time varies in different ethnic groups. For instance, it may occur between the ages of 8 and 14 in white girls, and may begin as early as 7 years of age in African American girls.

Puberty in Girls, Step by Step

Puberty is outwardly manifested by two main sets of changes:

  • Rapid increases in height and weight, referred to as the height and weight spurts

  • Development of breasts, and pubic and axillary (underarm) hair

Tracking the changes during puberty

These changes, and the other physical changes of puberty, occur in a predictable sequence. We use sexual maturity rating (SMR) scales to track a youngster's progression through puberty. Knowing the timing of these changes, related to each other and related to the sexual maturity ratings, is very helpful. After all, most of us like to know what to expect. For example, when my daughter developed breast buds, I was able to tell her that she'd start finding little hairs near her labia majora (outer lips of the vagina) within six months or so. And she knows that she is likely to have her first menstrual period about 2 years after her breasts first started developing. This means she'll be a little over 12 years of age, close to the national average of 12 years and 4 months.

The height spurt

Ultimately, 20-25% of a girl's adult height is acquired in puberty. The height spurt usually begins just before or after breast budding develops. Over a period of about 4 years, girls grow close to a foot taller than they were at the beginning of the height spurt. The bones that grow first are those furthest from the center of the body. This is why my daughter's shoe size shot up before the rest of her body began growing faster. The earlier growth in the arms and legs accounts for the awkwardness and 'gangly' appearance of many teenagers. Their center of gravity is shifting, and they haven't gotten used to those long arms and legs. The growth in the spinal column alone accounts for 20% of the height increase. This is why it is important to check for scoliosis (sideways curvature of the back) before puberty begins. A slight curve can turn into a much larger one during all that growth.

The weight spurt

A girl's height spurt is followed about 6 months later by her weight spurt. This is, of course, when she can never get enough to eat. Fully 50% of ideal adult body weight is gained in puberty. In girls, the proportion of body weight in fat increases from about 16% to nearly 27%. Lean body mass, especially muscle and bones, also increase substantially. It's the growth and maturation of bones, in particular, which makes calcium intake so important.

Getting enough calcium

Most of you know of the importance of good calcium intake for all women, especially growing teenagers, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. Milk and other dairy products are the least expensive, most convenient sources. Nonfat milk has just as much calcium as whole milk. If your daughter doesn't like milk, try doctoring it up with chocolate powder or syrup (this is the only way I can get my daughter to drink it). Calcium is also available as a nutritional supplement in tablet form, but many teenagers find the tablets too large to swallow comfortably. Your daughter may like the fruit or chocolate-flavored calcium-supplement chews available in drugstores now.

The Stages of Development

The table below summarizes the events at each stage of development. The average (mean) age listed here can vary widely; about 2 years either side of these listed ages will usually be considered normal.

Sexual Maturity Rating Average Age (Years) Features What Happens
1 8 2/3 Growth, breasts and pubic hair Height spurt begins. Body fat at 15.7%. Breasts are prepubertal; no glandular tissue. No pubic hair.
2 11 1/4 Breasts The areola (pigmented area around the nipple) enlarges and becomes darker. It raises to become a mound with a small amount of breast tissue underneath. This is called a 'bud'.
2 11 3/4 Pubic hair and growth A few long, downy, slightly darkened hairs appear along the labia majora. At the end of this stage, the body fat has increased to 18.9%.
3 11 2/3 Growth Peak height velocity (maximum growth rate) is reached. Body fat is now 21.6%.
3 12 Breasts Development of breast tissue past the edge of the areola.
3 12 1/3 Pubic hair Moderate amount of more curly, pigmented, and coarser hair on the mons pubis (the raised, fatty area above the labia majora). Hair begins to spread more laterally. Menarche (first menstrual period) occurs in 20% of girls during this pubic hair stage
4 12 3/4 Pubic hair Hair is close to adult pubic hair in curliness and coarseness. Area of pubis covered is smaller than adults, and there are no hairs on the middle surfaces of the thighs. Menarche occurs in 50% of girls.
4 13 Breasts Continued development of breast tissue; in side view, areola and nipple protrude.
4 13 Growth End of growth spurt. Body fat reaches mature proportion: 26.7%. After menstruation begins, girls grow at most 4-5", usually less.
5 14 1/2 Pubic hair and Body fat Adult. It is normal for some long pigmented hairs to grow on the inner thighs. Body fat remains at 26.7%.
5 15 1/4 Breasts Adult breasts.

'Is This Normal?' When to See Your Physician

Parents often have concerns about whether their daughter is starting puberty too early or too late, or whether she is progressing normally. Occasionally they may also notice a physical feature which seems 'different' and want to check it out. Hopefully, the information provided above will be useful in charting your daughter's progress. But whenever you are uncertain, it is best to seek out medical advice. Every girl is different.

Some 'differences' that should lead you to the doctor

There are a few things that should definitely lead you to the pediatrician (or adolescent medicine specialist, if there is one in your area). They are:

  • No breast development by age 13.

  • No menstrual period by between the ages of 13 ½ to 14.

  • In a girl who is at Sexual Maturity Rating 3 or higher, cyclic abdominal pain (pain similar to period cramps) every 3 to 5 weeks, but no menstrual periods. This is rare.

  • Development of pubic hair but no breast development within 6 to 9 months.

Breast development is a very individual thing. There are, however, a number of potential 'dilemmas' to be aware of in this process. They are:

  • Asymmetry (one breast much larger than the other): This may be minimal, or it may be visible even when your daughter is dressed. Some girls with asymmetric breast size are embarrassed to wear a swimsuit, regardless of the extent of asymmetry. In severe cases, plastic surgery is the ultimate answer. This can be performed in teenagers after puberty and after the breasts are fully grown.

  • Very large breasts: Very large breasts can be a source of constant embarrassment and self-consciousness from puberty onwards. They can also cause medical difficulties, namely back problems. Plastic surgery is 'medically indicated' and may well be covered by a health plan, particularly if you and your surgeon are persistent.

  • 'Too small' breasts: Breasts that are 'too small' may also cause embarrassment. Small breasts do not cause medical problems; they do not affect a woman's ability to nurse a baby. With that said, I live in southern California, where breast augmentation seems to be 'de rigeur' for anyone who wants it. Regardless of where you live, I suggest trying some of the ideas in the 'tips' section below before delving into the intense debate about breast augmention surgery. Remember also that teenagers are famously self-conscious about their appearance. Once your daughter is older, she will hopefully have developed more self-confidence. She will then be in a better position to make an educated decision about breast augmentation.

  • Inverted nipple(s): An inverted nipple means just that: the nipple is pointed inwards, rather than outwards. Looking at the breast from the side, you do not see the tip of the nipple protruding. This condition occurs occasionally. It can interfere with breast-feeding. If you notice it, bring it to your doctor's attention. A new non-surgical treatment has recently become available.

  • Tuberous breast disorder: This is a fairly uncommon disorder that often goes unrecognized until a new mother has difficulty breast-feeding. In this condition, growth at the base of the breast (where it attaches to the chest wall) is restricted by a band of tissue. Breast tissue, therefore, grows outwardly while the base remains narrow. This results in a breast shaped like a tuber (for example, a potato). Tuberous breast disorder is surgically correctable.

Helping Your Daughter to Be Well-Informed

Hopefully, your daughter is already well-informed about puberty and the menstrual cycle. It is also important at this time that she be well-informed about sexual intercourse and sexuality.

Sex Education

I recommend that you and your spouse/partner talk with your daughter about when you think it is acceptable to have sexual intercourse. Please be sure that she is well equipped to decline or refuse sexual intercourse - and that she knows that anyone, including a friend or a date, who forces her to have sex, is committing a crime.

She should know that pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are the common consequences of teenage sexual activity. And, despite your own recommendations, she needs to know about contraception - including emergency contraception. Emergency contraception refers to the 'morning after pill', and it is much less unpleasant and much easier to obtain nowadays.

Menstruation, tampons, and pads

  • I suggest that girls make themselves familiar with their bodies by using a hand-held mirror to look at their genitals, early in puberty if possible. Having a drawing on hand is helpful in identifying the different parts of their anatomy. I believe that this helps girls to become more comfortable with their developing bodies. And when the discussion comes to tampons, as it almost inevitably does, they have a better sense of what is involved.

  • Within a year of the time your daughter begins breast development, purchase several different packages of sanitary supplies for your daughter and invite her to check them out. I consider this part of 'de-mystifying' menstrual periods. (And, one of her visiting friends might need something).

  • Every girl should maintain a menstrual calendar to keep track of her periods. I suggest she keep a small calendar and pen right with her sanitary supplies. It is most helpful for physicans reviewing the calendar if the first day of flow is marked, say, with a circle and the last day with an 'X'.

  • What about tampons? There are pluses and minuses. Sports involvement may be limited or impossible for girls who are having their period but not using tampons. Other girls are fastidious and do not want to risk a bloodstain on their clothes. Still others are uncomfortable about touching their genitals or fearful that using tampons may be painful. Here is what I recommend to my teenage patients:

    • Talk about tampon use with your mother. Some mothers are concerned that using tampons means that a girl will no longer be a virgin. Actually, the opening in the hymen (membrane that partially covers the opening of the vagina) is usually large enough for a mini-sized tampon by the time of a girl's first period. Other mothers are rightfully concerned about the risk of toxic shock syndrome. This has become a rarity since the materials used to make tampons were changed some years ago. I believe that tampons are safe for all women, provided that they are changed at least every 4 hours during the daytime and do not leave the tampon in place for more than 8 hours at night. Some women prefer to use tampons during the daytime only.

    • If staining, and not sports participation, is the primary concern, then an investment in black panties might be all that is needed.

    • Try different brands and types of pads and/or tampons to see what works best for you. 'Super' pads can feel (and look) like a diaper on a diminutive teenager. On the other hand, a 'mini' tampon may not absorb enough flow to last more than a few hours, and this can be a problem at school. I suggest a combination of a mini-tampon and a pad for maximal protection.

    • If your daughter wants to try tampons, I recommend trying teen-sized tampons (marketed as such). I think that a slim plastic applicator is easier for a girl to use than tampons without an applicator or with a cardboard applicator. Also, a bit of lubricating jelly or Vaseline placed on the tip of the applicator may make the insertion easier at first.



  • When to wear a bra? I think that whenever your daughter requests one, it's time. Developing breasts are quite tender, and even the logo on a sports T-shirt may cause discomfort. Fortunately, those smooth cotton 'sports' bras are available everywhere.

  • If your daughter is concerned about breast asymmetry, consider purchasing a padded bra and removing the padding from one side. In more marked cases, you might wish to order a set of the bra inserts advertised in newspapers and women's magazines. Again, use the insert in one side only. If this is inadequate, I recommend that my patients who are too young for surgery, or who can't arrange payment, seek out assistance at a shop specializing in breast prostheses (artificial breasts). Although generally used by women who have had a mastectomy (removal of a breast), a prosthesis can also be helpful for severe breast asymmetry.

  • Given the emphasis on 'normalcy' and on breasts in our society, I think it is reasonable for her to wear a padded or lined bra if she wishes. Most commonly, only older girls (SMR 4 or 5) have this concern. As mentioned earlier, this is a temporary concern for many adolescents.

  • If your daughter has very large breasts, it is important that she wear a bra designed especially to provide extra support, often by use of a criss-cross design in the back. If possible, it should be purchased at a department store that has specially trained undergarment fitters.

Getting more information

If you need help or more information on any of these topics, there are some great web sites operated by SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) and Planned Parenthood. SIECUS has a special 'For Parents' section. Planned Parenthood has a special section for teens, and there is also a special website for adolescents called 'Go Ask Alice' from Columbia University. For the most up-to-date information about emergency contraception, check the Emergency Contraception website at Princeton University.

If you haven't already done so, purchase or borrow books about puberty, sexuality, and teen issues for your daughter. SIECUS provides an excellent bibliography of resources for parents, children, and adolescents. Here are a few of my personal favorites. You'll find more information about them in the SIECUS bibliography.

It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Sex and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris

My Body, My Self, by Lynda Madaras and Area Madaras

What's Happening to My Body? For Girls, by Lynda Madaras

What's Happening to Me?, by Peter Mayle

The Period Book: Everything You Don't Want to Ask (But Need to Know), by Karen Gravelle and Jennifer Gravelle (When it comes to periods, this is the most practical book; it's fun, too.)

In Closing

This article has focused mostly on normal and non-gynecological aspects of puberty. While my suggestions and recommendations are far from complete and definitely not inclusive, I hope that the information provided above have given you some information on what physical changes to expect during your daughter's puberty.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2027, December 27). Your Budding Daughter: Some Practical Suggestions for Parents, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 29 from

Last Updated: March 26, 2022

Being Overweight Affects Your Sex Drive

Being overweight hampers your sex life

Add a bad time in bed to the list of ways excess weight can impede your life satisfaction. In a survey of more than 1,000 obese and normal-weight men and women, more than half of obese people reported problems with sexual enjoyment, sex drive or sexual performance or avoided sex altogether, compared with only 5 percent of their normal-weight counterparts. It's unknown whether the problems are physical or psychological. However, losing weight makes obese women feel more confident, says Martin Binks, Ph.D., co-lead researcher and director of behavioral health at Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. And that's true for women who are merely overweight too: After dropping 10 or 20 pounds, women told Binks "they feel younger sexually."

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2025, December 21). Being Overweight Affects Your Sex Drive, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 29 from

Last Updated: March 26, 2022

Lots of Food. No Sex. Time for Rehab

I'M AN ADDICT. My drug of choice isn't heroin, crystal meth, or crack cocaine, but it's just as destructive and impossible to kick cold turkey. I'm strung out on food.

I'm 35 years old, stand 5'10" tall, and weigh 300 pounds. I am obese. Over the years, I've tried every diet to hit The New York Times best-seller list, yo-yoing all over the scale, from a rotund 315 pounds down to a burly 245, and rebounding back to a plump 300. Nothing seems to work, and inevitably the jones to graze always gets the best of me.

Every evening, I eat myself into a coma, then crash in front of the TV or down enough Jack Daniels and ginger ale to dull my senses. My edibles-as-drugs problem is compounded by the fact that I live in New York City, home of the world's best food fixes--thick, juicy steaks at Smith & Wollensky's, the world's greatest pizza at John's, dry-rub baby-back ribs at Virgil's BBQ, and the tastiest ethnic restaurants. But, let's face it, even if I lived in a gastronomic backwater, I'd still do the same thing.

This is what it's like being a walking fat body: I have to shop at big-and-tall stores, paying top dollar because nothing in the pages of this or any magazine fits me off the rack. I need a seat-belt extender on airplanes. And I have a hard time stuffing myself into the cheap seats at Knicks games.

Even more disturbing: My weight is harshing my sex life. Performance isn't the issue--it's just getting in the game. Usually hesitant to approach women, I often rely on friends to make the opening move. I shrug it off to shyness, but I know the real reason: I'm afraid to have relationships with women because I don't find myself attractive, so why, I figure, should they?

I'm not looking for your pity. Fuck that. I'm comfortable in my skin. While the looks and sneers sting, they usually come from superficial assholes I wouldn't want to know anyway. But the health implications do terrify me: limited mobility, diabetes, liver damage, gout (from which I already suffer), heart disease, and stroke. All point to an early grave.

Then came the assignment: Spend two weeks at the Duke University Diet & Fitness Center (DFC) in Durham, N.C., and write about it for Men's Fitness. I felt like I had just won the lottery.

Orientation: May 9

Established in 1969, the DFC is one of the country's oldest weight-management centers. From the outside, this one-story brick building looks like my old grammar school. But inside, it's more like a clinic, with its large gym, 25-meter pool, and many doctors' offices. Its program teaches health and wellness through diet, exercise, and behavior modification--voluntary rehab for the weight-challenged.

Looking around orientation, I size up my hefty comrades. They, too, seem to think, "What the hell did I get myself into?" When the time comes for introductions, this might as well be A.A. "Hi, my name is Chuck, and I'm obese."

I was sure the other attendees would wallow in self-pity: "I ate myself into a blob because life dealt me crappy cards." Boo-fucking-hoo. But in reality, I get a positive vibe from my fellow food fiends. Most are fired up for the coming battle and unafraid to share experiences. I admire that.

Day One: May 10

Enrolling in the DFC is like earning a master's degree in healthy living. The most repeated lesson: The keys to fitness are time management and organization. But to me, the idea of planning out meals and exercise is non-spontaneous and unappealing--I've always flown by the seat of my extra-large pants. This will be the hardest adjustment.

Medical, nutritional, physical, and psychological evaluations begin today. I'm poked and prodded by anyone in a lab coat. The goal of this interrogation, explains DFC director Dr. Howard Eisenson, is to produce a clinical profile to ensure I'm healthy enough to go through the program. It's humiliating--I can't go more than seven minutes on the treadmill during my stress test. My lab results show no abnormalities, but I still feel like a big whale.

Day Two: May 11

Today we focus on good nutrition. You need a comprehensive understanding of what healthy comestibles are and how they affect your body. Indeed, as Funkadelic once put it, "Free your mind and your ass will follow."

During my physical assessment, I realize exercise doesn't have to be monotonous and shouldn't be painful. The slogan "No pain, no gain" is bull-shit. "If you're hurt," cautions Gerald Endress, DFC's fitness manager, "you won't get off the couch. Your success in this program and in life depends on getting out and doing some physical activity."

As the day ends, one thing is clear: Losing weight and getting healthy will be a long process. I didn't wake up one morning with this huge gut. It took years of lethargy to eat and drink myself into this shape. I simply let my consumption spiral out of control in college--and never stopped.

Day Three: May 12

This morning, I attend a meditation class to learn how to "communicate" with my body and make peace with my inner-hunger demon. Sounds ludicrous, but I am actually able to converse with my pained parts--specifically, my sore back muscles, pounding head, and grumbling stomach--simply by concentrating and asking each what it wants. By recognizing there is a problem, my body feels better. This type of touchy-feely crap normally doesn't fly with me. This experience, however, is enlightening. (It still freaks me out, though.)

Next up, I meet with nutrition manager Elisabetta Politi, who corroborates my worst fear: I eat too much shit. Who would've thought fast food, Chinese delivery, and pizza aren't good for you? "Proper eating is all common sense" she says. "Stay away from heavy fats, count calories, eat less processed sugar, limit your sodium intake, and you'll be fine."

Uh, easy for her to say. In my world, eating isn't just a means of sustenance--it's a social event. Food should be enjoyed, even celebrated. "You can still eat out in restaurants with friends," she assures me. "Just choose the right things off the menu and manage your portions. You'll learn."

Behavior modification, then, is the gateway to shedding pounds. Of course, when I was young, my parents practically taught me the opposite--that leaving food on my plate was a waste of money. Or they'd say, "Clean your plate: Kids are going hungry all over the world." This was clearly a mistake of good intentions, but it's not their fault I have self-control issues. They were looking out for my best interests. Now I'm an adult. I have to learn to leave more food on my plate.

Day Four: May 13

Let's talk alternative exercise--yoga, for instance. I thought that was a chicks-ercise. But after road-testing these simple stretching movements and correct breathing and relaxation techniques, I'm invigorated, my focus and mental acuity enhanced. Also in my new routine are water aerobics, a daily one-hour walk, and, three times a week, a half-mile swim and weight workout. This healthy-living "crap" might just work.

Later, my group gathers to interpret our lab results. Mine are not good. Suddenly, my newfound enthusiasm takes one to the gut--I have quantitative evidence that I'm on the road to an early grave.

My glucose is high. (I'm, like, one candy bar away from diabetes.) My cholesterol's good/bad ratio is bad/bad. (It's 6.2--it should be under 5.0.) And my triglycerides (fat stored in the bloodstream) are double the norm. Plus, I display four of the five indicators for increased risk of heart disease. (My father, while not overweight, died of a heart attack at age 59.)

Graded on a curve, my results aren't so horrible: A couple of people in the group learn they have serious medical conditions needing immediate attention. Others' cholesterol levels are as high as the population of Hong Kong. Still, this doesn't comfort me. After all, I'm on what is derisively called a "fat farm." And I'm not vying for the DFC's coveted Most Weight Lost prize. I'm fighting my own demons.

Day Five: May 14

What a turnaround--I'm on top of the world this morning! I've lost nearly eight pounds.

Portion control helped get me to this point. They're not starving me, just giving me smaller amounts of healthier foods. Instead of eating lots of starchy fillers--potatoes, rice, etc.--my plate is filled with fresh vegetables, salad, and fruits. Food preparation is also key: limiting oil, mayonnaise, and fatty condiments, and grilling or steaming foods, not frying.

The result: I feel better, I have more stamina, and I'm thinking more clearly--after just five days!

I'm also really digging Pilates. The stretching and strength-enhancing movements have loosened my limbs, improved my flexibility, and tightened my stomach muscles. (It's even better in a coed class: Some of the positions are very sexually suggestive.)

Though I'm enjoying my time in this sheltered environment, I wonder how I'm going to translate my experiences here to the real world. That's where today's Planning Your Restaurant Experience class comes in handy. It teaches us how to order off the menu by asking the waiter about ingredients and preparation. And we're reminded about portion control, a difficult hurdle for me because I've always enjoyed the supersize, more-for-my-money mentality.


Day Eight: May 17

Eating healthier starts with buying healthier foods. This afternoon, nutritionist Monette Williams takes me and another patient, Warren, on a tour of a Kroger's supermarket. Instead of grabbing items off the shelves impulsively (as I would at home), we stroll the aisles and carefully read nutrition labels. The foods Warren and I normally buy are loaded with sodium, processed sugars, and wasted calories. Now we're empowered, knowing which foods to reject and which to embrace.

Last Day: May 22

I'm a convert. Two weeks ago, I would never have predicted such a change in lifestyle and attitude. Now I know that pessimism is what killed my other healthy-living attempts.

Still, going home is a little scary. I'm worried about falling back into gluttony. But I've resolved to join a gym, mapped out my exercise regimen, and worked out some menus. I've lost 12.5 pounds and more than halved my triglycerides to normal. Last Thursday, I was ready to buy burial insurance--now I'm looking into mountain bikes.

One Month Later

The real world isn't as scary as I predicted. I'm still losing weight (I'm down 24 pounds), and I exercise daily. Every morning I stretch, then walk an hour. I lift twice a week, play racquetball, and do yoga and Pilates. And I can't imagine powering down Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough on the couch.

The DFC taught me we all need to get off our fat asses, exercise, and eat healthier foods. More important, I learned I have an amazing support system. My family and friends are here for me, and I can call them anytime.

I'm still hardly slim--I strive to be 200 pounds by May. At that point, I'll be a changed man. Well, a thinner, more fit one, anyway.



According to Harvard research, Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements may incorrectly classify some men as being over-weight when they are, in fact, in very good shape. Why? Muscle weighs more than fat, so a 250-pound weightlifter and a similar-sized office drone can often have the same BMI. That's why--if you're trying to get fit--it's better to focus on your waist circumference, rather than your actual poundage. You can mark progress with a tape measure, or simply grab a pair of jeans you can't fit into anymore and try them on once a week. Even if your weight and BMI aren't changing with your workout, the jeans should gradually start to fit you better--a sure sign your program is working.


It's not just your imagination that having a wife weighs you down. Most married men are thinner pre-vow than post--as those wedding pictures (and cruel friends) are sure to point out. One theory suggests that not being on the lookout for a partner allows you to get comfortable (i.e., fat). On the flip side, marital problems also lead to stress-eating and the inevitable weight gain that follows. But before you swear yourself to the single life or call that divorce attorney, there is one more twist to the equation. You may be thinner when you're single, but studies show that married guys live significantly longer than bachelors. The choice is yours, cowboy.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2025, December 16). Lots of Food. No Sex. Time for Rehab, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 29 from

Last Updated: March 26, 2022

The Competitive Nature of My Eating Disorder

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As someone who started flirting with anorexic behaviors in early adolescence, I have cycled both in and out of many toxic, compulsive traits over the years. But although I consider myself to be in a stable, consistent recovery mindset now, the competitive nature of my eating disorder still pulls me back into its orbit sometimes. In fact, I noticed this competitive streak reassert itself as recently as last night.

The normally sweltering temperatures in metro-Phoenix have begun to cool down, so I went for a run with my husband to soak in the evening breeze. However, I was not hydrated enough to maintain our pace, and he easily outran me. Knowing my husband, this was not a race to him—it was a chance to spend quality time together—but as soon as he passed me, the competitive nature of my eating disorder took control. 

What Factors Drive the Competitive Nature of My Eating Disorder

If I had to guess where the competitive nature of my eating disorder comes from, I would say it's the reflection of a core message I internalized at a formative time in my life. As a teenager who felt ostracized by my peers and uncomfortable in my own skin, I believed that being the thinnest person in the room would make me superior to everyone else. On the flip-side, I also assumed that encountering somebody thinner would make me a failure. I became convinced that my worth hinged on how successful I could be at maintaining anorexic behaviors. This belief stoked the competitive nature of my eating disorder until it was all I cared about.      

At this juncture of my healing process, the internal message isn't necessarily, "I need to be the thinnest," but it does manifest in other ways. For instance, last night it came across as, "I need to be the fastest and the strongest. I need to prove that I am more powerful and athletic than my husband." So although I felt nauseous and exhausted from the lack of hydration, I forced myself to continue running. I insisted on winning a race that was not even meant to be one in the first place. But that is how the competitive nature of my eating disorder works—it pushes me to unhealthy (often self-destructive) lengths because to do any less would be a failure. Of course, that's not true, but the eating disorder voice can be quite persuasive.    

How I Try to Redirect the Competitive Nature of My Eating Disorder

Do you have a competitive nature that can cause your eating disorder behaviors to resurface if you're not careful? How does it manifest for you, and what are some of the coping mechanisms you use to combat this tendency? Please share in the comment section below.

Making Mistakes Gives Me Anxiety, but I'm Improving

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Nobody is perfect. Another way of saying that is: everybody makes mistakes. They're an opportunity for growth—something about failing forward, or, without mistakes, there is no progress, and so on. Some people take their mistakes in stride, learning the lessons and moving forward, seemingly unconcerned. As for me, whenever I make or may make a mistake, I deal with anxiety bombs of varying sizes that go off inside me, rendering me twitchy, edgy, and generally a mess.

Fear of Making Mistakes and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

I recently came out as a perfectionist. I didn't realize this until my therapist pointed it out. Apparently, I have very high standards for myself—unreasonably so, as I would never hold anyone else to these standards. Oddly, I'm not outwardly demanding of myself. My perfectionism is subliminal, like a constant gnawing at my psyche, warning that something terrible is going to happen and it could be of my own making.

I can only assume that everyone feels something when they learn they've made a mistake, depending on its magnitude. Realizing you miscalculated and undertipped your waiter might give you a twinge of guilt, while forgetting to pay the electric bill might give rise to stress and a hurried phone call to remedy the situation.

In similar situations, my reactions would be as follows:

  1. Undertipped waiter: I lament for hours about how inconsiderate I am and how, without my tip, my waiter can't feed his kids.
  2. Forgotten electric bill: I berate myself, calling myself stupid, cursing my brain's inability to remember simple due dates while pacing frantically around the room wondering when the lights would be shut off, leaving my family in the dark, unable to settle on what needs to be done before finally doing it. 

These examples demonstrate my anxiety after I've made a mistake. Under certain circumstances, my anxiety spikes even before I take on a task. Given I worked for years in a pressure-filled IT environment, on-call all hours of the day and night to make decisions on how to resolve issues, this pre-mistake anxiety was a real issue.

I remember a time when my pager went off in the evening for a downed computer application. I knew what had to be done. I was certain of it. Heck, I wrote the program myself. Still, I was afraid to screw up. My anxiety was so high that I paged my backup to handle the issue. He didn't respond. I paged my colleague again. Then again, and again. I paged him four times before he finally responded, after which I lied, said my computer was on the fritz and asked him to fix the issue. The worst part was I knew where he was and why he couldn't respond. He was at a funeral! I knew this, but the anxiety associated with making a mistake was so high that I intruded on him regardless. I felt both intense relief and intense shame

My Anxiety Around Making Mistakes Is Getting Better

Last week I scraped the side of my car on a pillar while pulling out of my father's underground parking spot. Before I started therapy, this is what would have happened next:

  • My heart would've started pounding.
  • My breathing would have accelerated.
  • I'd have gotten nauseous.
  • My palms would have become sweaty.
  • I would have immediately cursed myself out for being careless and stupid.
  • I would have gotten out of the car and stared at the damage in tears, frozen with indecision, before driving home to admit my shameful, undoubtedly costly mistake to my husband.

Instead, I merely stopped short, looked in the side view mirror, and whispered, "Please let there be minimal damage." Then I drove home.

I was more than a little surprised, yet super satisfied, at how untroubled I was by the ordeal. "Huh," I said aloud to myself, "go figure." 

I've had some time to ponder the link between my anxiety and my ability to accept my mistakes, both before and after they occur. Has my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) negatively impacted my ability to accept that I will and do make mistakes? Or is it the reverse? Has my fear of making mistakes exacerbated my GAD? It's like the chicken and the egg, I suppose.

Happily, after a lot of hard work in therapy and practicing positive affirmations almost daily, I've slowly begun to accept my mistakes as growth—even a scraped car.

"I am innocent, and I do the best I can with the tools I have."

Therapy has helped me realize that I have an innate fear of making mistakes, of doing something wrong after which strong consequences will occur. Knowing where my intense fear of making mistakes originated or, more precisely, from where my fear of the dreaded fallout stems has helped me build resilience and acceptance of myself for the mistakes I may or do make. Now, rather than having to deal with anxiety bomb shrapnel, I'm happy to say that I'm much calmer, which allows me to think more clearly, assess what needs to be done, and integrate what I've learned.  

BPD and Suicide: My Experience

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All too often borderline personality disorder (BPD) and suicidal ideation go hand-in-hand and I am no exception. I am grateful today that I survived my childhood and early adult years, but it was not easy. This is my experience with suicide before I knew I had BPD. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)

BPD and Suicide: Surviving My Childhood

Throughout my childhood and teen years, suicide was an idea I wouldn’t consider, apart from the occasional re-evaluation of my choice not to die by suicide.

I liked being alive as a kid, but I hated my life. I liked how I thought and I enjoyed being happy — even though I wasn’t. I spent a lot of time feeling isolated and trapped. I lived under a strict schedule. My daily activities were organized every half-hour in an excel spreadsheet and taped to the refrigerator.

You see, my mother used to be a radical Christian. I was always under watch as I was homeschooled. I couldn’t listen to non-christian music, and most Disney movies were off the table. But even though I did all the cleaning, cooking, and childrearing, I knew that I would be free one day. One day, I would be big and in charge of myself. I knew, even as a seven-year-old, that eventually, this would end, even if it felt endless.

So, I resolved not to entertain the solution of suicide.

BPD and Suicide: Suicide Awareness Month

If you tie an elephant to a pole, it will struggle and pull to get away. However, once it realizes that it cannot, it will stop. You can untie the elephant, and it will not run away because it thinks it is still trapped.

Suicide awareness month has me considering my inner child. The one that’s still banging on the doors of her prison, hoping time will soon open the doors. It reminds me that even though I have escaped, there is a piece of me that, like the elephant, doesn’t realize I’m no longer a prisoner.

In my next post, I'll be discussing my experience with suicidal ideation as an adult.

If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.

For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources, and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.

Trips Home Are Difficult Because of ADHD

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I recently traveled from Scotland to my parents' house in Ireland. While it was great to see everyone, trips home aren't always plain sailing when you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Trips Home with Adult ADHD Trigger Impatience

One of the main challenges I face during visits home is impatience. So accustomed as I am to my own schedule, it's difficult to cede control and march to the beat of multiple drums, so to speak. Sometimes that means waiting around for people to get ready for dinner. At other times it means going to places I wouldn't normally go to. At all times, these external factors are underpinned by a sense of impatience (on my part).

And, in truth, I don't disguise my feelings all too well. People know how I'm feeling just by looking at my face.

However, I'm aware of this. I know I can be inflexible and want things to be just so. That's why I make a concerted effort to look at things objectively. Sometimes impatience is justified; most of the time it isn't.

I Accept My Nature, Then Change My Behavior to Counter Impatience

Thanks to ADHD, I will always struggle with impulsivity and impatience. However, I like to be good company, and bouts of unreasonable childishness don't help me or anyone else.

So, when I feel my impatience isn't warranted, I have a bit of a chat with myself in order to navigate through the situation.

First, I accept my nature. I understand that, even with ADHD medication helping considerably, I'm never going to be zen all day every day. Then, I remember why I came home in the first place: to see family. So, what does it matter if we go here or there? What does it matter that the plans have changed and now this is happening instead of that? When I answer those questions I can relax a bit more, because these issues barely count as issues. It's the company I'm in, not the slightly inconvenient situation, that's important.

My Routine Is Never Too Far Away

Eventually, trips home end and become trips back to Scotland. In my estimation, a week spent visiting family is plenty: it's ample enough to spend quality time with one another, and not too long that nerves get frayed. And, it's this knowledge that my routine is never too far away that helps me when I'm struggling to remain zen at home.

Do you struggle with impatience? How do you cope during visits home? Let me know in the comments.

Being Honest on Dating Apps About My Mental Illness

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Deciding What to Disclose About My Mental Health and Dating History

I've been on and off dating apps for many years. I joined a few of them again recently, and I've been struggling to decide how much to share about myself and my mental health, both on my profiles and in the messages I send.

I want to be honest with potential partners about who I am and what I'm looking for, but there are many things that I feel nervous about disclosing, including the following:

  • I have large gaps in my dating history, partly as a result of my ongoing mental and emotional instability.
  • I haven't been in a serious relationship in 10 years. (I did have a boyfriend who was the tender young age of 22 in 2017, but that was short-lived and was mostly sex dressed up as a relationship.)
  • In all my 44 years, I've only had two romantic relationships that lasted longer than a year.

What would a young man I'm chatting with think if he knew these things about me (aside from recognizing the fact that I'm clearly a cougar)? I suppose it depends on what he's looking for.

Someone who's looking for a serious relationship might be reluctant to take a chance on a person with a terrible track record, in terms of the length and number of that person's past relationships. They might assume that person isn't able to commit to a relationship and isn't able to function well within one. It would be reasonable to say that I am one such person.

Looking at my past, there's every reason to believe that I'm not able to make a long-term commitment. There's also evidence to support my belief that I simply don't know how to function in romantic relationships.

Reframing My Weaknesses as Strengths

Maybe the best way for me to tell someone on a dating app about my mental illness and dating history is to reframe them for myself first. Then, when I decide to share details about these things, I'll be able to provide some context at the same time:

  • I have gone long periods without dating, but that has taught me to be independent and enjoy my own company.
  • While I haven't had a serious relationship in recent years, I have dated casually, and there's nothing wrong with that. I enjoyed it, and it allowed me to have some companionship and intimacy while keeping a lot of time and space for myself.
  • Just because I've only had two serious romantic relationships doesn't mean I'll never have a third. That's something I want, and I'm taking steps to find it, or at least make room in my life for when it finds me.

I may have more mental health challenges than some people, but I'm resilient and proud of everything I've achieved. I may struggle to accept many things about myself, but I know I'm more than the sum of my weaknesses and shortcomings. I need to remember that if someone finds out about my mental illness and decides to reject me, they aren't someone I'd want in my life anyway.

Understanding Your Brain: In Between Mind and Matter

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to another installment of How to Live a Blissful Life. Last week, I left you with approximately five-hundred words that could've been singularly captured with the Kanye West lyric, "when you try hard, that's when you die hard." That's why they pay him the big bucks, though, and to each his due. For my own part, I've killed nearly one-hundred words in this preamble and told you next to nothing, so I ought to get on with understanding our brains already. 

In this episode, we step away from abstract speculation to learn a more technical schematic. This is a How-To blog, after-all, and with an order as tall as bliss, it's critical we understand our most important tool. I'm talking about your brain, of course, the very organ that mental wellbeing—and its antithesis, mental illness—originate from. Now, plenty of ink more knowledgeable than mine has been spilled on this subject; a quick Google search will tell you almost anything you want to know about the flesh-wad in your head. What I want to do today isn't give you a lesson that Wikipedia could deliver better. Instead, I want to offer you a perspective you'd be hard-pressed to find amidst the citations.

Understanding Your Brain

Matter Is Not the Mind

Your brain is nothing more than a mechanism to process information and to yield appropriate responses. In this context, "appropriate" means pro-survival. Like everything else with a metabolism, the human brain can be understood as just another adaptation molded over millennia to help the organism it's attached to stay alive long enough to reproduce. These gifts of sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch are merely gateways for the information that HQ needs to process and categorize. The sound of running water—move towards. The smell of putrid flesh—move away. Boiled down to your essence, all you are is a machine designed to keep a few gametes alive until you can turn them into zygotes. Feel better yet?

Maybe not but you will. Get over the sting of this reductionist view, and you might find a gleaming, glitzy, golden lining. Once you understand the job of your brain, you can stop feeling so betrayed by it, so terrified of it, and so deeply and utterly bewildered because of it. Your brain isn't you. Not in the slightest. It's the best tool you've ever had to create you.

Mind and the Matter

Let's take this a step further. We're verging back into woo-woo territory (my homeland), so strap in accordingly. Posit you've accepted that your brain is simply a means of experiencing the world in order to stay alive in it. What does that make you?

You're something altogether more enchanted. You are the sum total of everything you've ever experienced. You are the space between your brain and the world it seeks to apprehend. You are, in short, pure observation. 

Say what? I'll tell you! Say: "I will return to the next post of this blog on October tenth so see what the heck Joanna is talking about." Rome wasn't built in a day, and bliss cannot be built in five-hundred words, even by Kanye. In the meantime, you have some homework. 

  1.  Mentally chew on what you've read here. 
  2. Begin to observe yourself observing the world. Notice yourself salivating when a donut arrives in your purview. Feel your blood pressure rise as you sit in yet another traffic jam. Listen to yourself sobbing. 
  3. Stay curious. It may have killed the cat, but it just might save you. 

Until next time, friends. Adieu. 

See Also:

Rewire Your Brain with the Power of Your Mind

Understanding Your Addiction: Addiction Hijacks Your Brain

Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain

Anxiety: It's In Your Head (Your Brain!)

5 Strategies That Reduced My Homework Anxiety

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In middle school, I struggled to learn as quickly as most of my classmates. Sometimes, I could not finish all of my in-class assignments during the school day. So I added them to my homework folder. As my homework folder thickened, my anxiety increased. Looking back, several strategies helped me get through my homework anxiety. Continue reading this post to learn about five of those methods.

5 Methods to Reduce Homework Anxiety

  1. I took a 30-minute break after school. After school, I was mentally exhausted. All I wanted to do was eat a snack and watch music videos. My parents allowed me to do one of those things within a 30-minute break between school and homework hours. Having that time to do what I wanted made me feel rewarded for going to school. It also provided an incentive for me to keep studying.
  2. I prioritized assignments by their due dates and difficulty levels. In eighth grade, my anxiety was terrible due to the school workload. I was taking Algebra, Biology, and U.S. History. I was decent at math but terrible at science and history. Most nights, the history readings took me several hours to complete. So unless I had an upcoming test or a big paper for another subject due the next day, I always worked on history assignments first.
  3. I worked on assignments in 30-minute chunks. Inattentive ADHD and visual processing issues made it difficult for me to focus on reading for long periods. By working in 30-minute intervals, I was able to absorb a good amount of information and then take a five-minute break before continuing the assignment. I tried to do this for every assignment I had.
  4. I took an hour-long break. While working on assignments in 30-minute intervals helped me feel like I was making progress, I needed an incentive to keep going. So after about two hours of studying time, my parents allowed me to have an hour-long break. During that time, I ate dinner with my family and watched a TV show. This was a nice distraction from all the work I still had to finish. By the time my break ended, I felt ready to finish my assignments for the night.
  5. I asked my parents and teachers for help. My parents assisted me with homework when I had questions or when I needed someone to quiz me. When I could not complete all of my homework before bedtime, they wrote letters to my teachers explaining that I did my best but could not finish all the work.

    The next day, my special education teacher helped me finish the assignments from the previous night. She also helped me create a homework schedule. Having been stigmatized for my learning disabilities, I felt ashamed for asking my parents and teachers for help. But ultimately, it was the best solution for my mental health and academic success.

    In high school, I still needed help with homework, particularly for U.S. History. However, I was able to create my own schedule and complete all of my assignments on time.