Life in Balance

Through this online art blog/gallery we can encourage, inspire and share hope with one another…We invite who you to share your “NAPS” (News, Art ,Poetry, Songs) or inspirations. Email if you would like to share inspirations. Please note we can not post advice with regards to nutrition and exercise.

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Body Image among the LGBTQ community

By Natalie Leibowitz

The impact of homophobia and transphobia, in addition to cultural factors within LGBTQ communities, may lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating as common concerns in this population. Gay and bisexual men may find that there are strict body standards within the community. Gay, bisexual, and transgender men have an elevated risk for developing eating disorders, largely due to higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and higher body dissatisfaction. One study found that gay and bisexual men may have a rate of eating disorders 6-9 times that of straight men (Feldman and Meyer, 2007).

There is conflicting evidence as to whether there is a higher rate of eating disorders among lesbians compared to straight women. However, studies have shown high levels of body shame and dieting among lesbian-identified individuals. Many LGBTQ individuals live in poverty, impacting their food security, access to resources, and access to healthcare. This increases risk for poor mental health, including development of disordered eating. Trans individuals are at a particularly high risk for poverty and mental illness due to the social isolation and discrimination many face.

A sense of connectedness to the gay community, and the community at large, has been demonstrated to be a protective factor against development of poor mental health for this population. Creating a culture of support in our families and communities can have a positive impact on the mental health of LGBTQ individuals. It is important that health care professionals be sensitive to the particular needs of LGBTQ communities, so that early intervention and appropriate treatment can be sought for eating disorders and related concerns.

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) shared on their own blog the trend of “Pride dieting” and why it is important to promote positive body messages when celebrating Pride.

Happy Pride Week everyone! Let’s celebrate diversity and acceptance within our communities.

For more information on LGBTQ health topics, visit Rainbow Health Ontario (


1. LGBTQ People and Body Image presentation by Loralee Gillis and Kinnon Ross McKinnon at the NEDIC 2015 Body Image and Self-esteem Conference.

2. Rainbow Health Ontario. LGBT People and Eating. March 2014


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Pet Therapy for Anxiety


Arnold 🙂 Photo cred: Natalia

By Natalie Leibowitz

There has been much evidence of the benefits of the human-animal bond in managing a range of illnesses, including heart disease, dementia, seizure disorders, and more recently, anxiety and depression. A pet can provide companionship, comfort, and emotional support. They help to ease loneliness, reduce stress, encourage social and physical activity, and create a sense of calmness. Dogs in particular, are able to detect changes in the mood and anxiety level of their owners, which can be a helpful tool in recognizing and managing anxiety.

The following is a recent article published in the Toronto Star sharing the story of a woman who credits her dog with helping her cope with anxiety and complete her university degree



Canadian Service Dog Foundation. Emotional Support Animals.

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Tobias Jones: Creating a Space for People

Recently, this came up in the news, a wonderful experiment in community and acceptance. I will post some excerpts from the excerpt, you may wish to read the full one here:

Tobias Jones: ‘Communalism can be an antidote to the sadnesses and sorrows of modern life’

In 2009, Tobias Jones turned his home into a retreat for troubled people, a process he documented in a series of articles for the Observer magazine. In an extract from a book about his experiences he tells how his children reacted to some of their new housemates

In 2009, my wife, Francesca, and I set up a woodland sanctuary in Somerset with the sole purpose of offering refuge to people going through a period of crisis in their lives. We hoped to emulate a community we knew down in Dorset, a place that was a haven for those struggling with addiction, bereavement, separation, depression, penury, eating disorders, homelessness, PTSD and all the other ailments, illnesses and misfortunes that beset us in life.

We’re doing this because we believe that communalism can be an antidote to many of the sadnesses and sorrows of modern life. Not just addiction, say, or homelessness, but also the issues that lie behind those more explicit ones; problems such as loneliness or simply dismay at modern life. Communal living offers the chance to find belonging instead of rootlessness, commitment in place of impermanence and purpose rather than despair. It allows a deeply satisfying, paradoxical combination of anarchism and traditionalism, of counterculturalism and conservationism.

Inevitably, when people hear of our woodland sanctuary, the first thing they ask about is our three children [Benedetta or Benny now 10, Emma, eight, and Leonardo or Leo, five], about whether it’s wise to expose them to all sorts of obvious and less obvious threats. Over the years, we’ve had to be pretty shrewd to ward off some insidious dangers. But the many advantages to our children of a place such as this are another reason why we’re doing it in the first place. We noticed when we were travelling around various communities before setting up this refuge that the children who had grown up in radical, open-door groups were remarkably mature, eloquent and unfazed by the most weird or eccentric arrival. They were non-judgmental, but at the same time they were able to make some fairly sound judgments and appeared less susceptible to the seductions of drink, drugs and other temptations.

I’ve got to admit that after five years of living like this I can certainly see the attractions of being a nuclear family again. But we still believe it’s been great for our children: they share every meal with half-a-dozen others – recently arrived strangers or long-term guests – which gives them first-hand experience of the wonders and excitements, and the dangers and deceits, of life.

In those first few months, we were still unsure of so many things. At that stage, we were simply a family home and we didn’t have any legal structure. Windsor Hill Wood was not a charity, or a social enterprise, or a community interest company, or anything else. I could tell visitors all our theories about communal living, but it was still just chatter. We hadn’t decided how long people could stay or on what terms. Our aim was to resolve those issues in conversation with guests, not impose them from the outset. But back then, at the outset, it made people think we were underprepared, if not in fact rather capricious.

Of those who shared their ideas about how the place should work, some were aggressively forthright, others simply asked suggestive questions. But it did mean that over those first 12 months we took some key decisions that have never really changed. We knew we had to become a dry house, meaning there would be no alcohol on site. I had volunteered at a couple of recovery communities where people who lived in dry houses were still allowed to get hammered off site and it made recovery very difficult. If we were serious about helping people battle addiction, we knew there could be no alcohol off site either, meaning none of us could head out, have a drink and then roll up back here. The same went for all non-prescribed drugs. The third golden rule was no physical or verbal violence. Being a drink- and drug-free house also, I think, sent out a message to everyone who suspected we were whimsical hippies or junkies: this was a serious and safe place.

There were other important resolutions. We decided on a common purse to pay for food, each person contributing £30 a week, and kids paying half. It meant nobody had their own shelf in the fridge or the larder. All food was communal and people could eat whatever they wanted. As we were beginning to have people with eating disorders spending time with us, we all ate together, sharing every meal and making it clear that attendance wasn’t optional. Apart from that contribution, however, we decided we would never charge rent. There were two main reasons: we had seen, in many communities, that people paying rent are, understandably, reluctant to do communal work as they feel they’ve already paid up; we wanted to make Windsor Hill Wood as accessible as possible.

The 9pm watershed became a lifeline for us, as we came to understand the importance of privacy. We decided that anyone not living here had to be off site by that time, and that no one would ever go in anyone else’s room without permission. Everyone had their own sanctuary. There was a door they could shut. Likewise, guests would never come upstairs into the children’s rooms. Francesca and I also decided that we would close the door to our side of the house at 9pm. Over the years, it was one of the things that kept us sane.

Encouraging our children to be accepting and non-judgmental like that had always been one of the aims of this place. We were happy to have them surrounded by people who were born on, or had consciously moved to, the wrong side of the tracks. They were surrounded by conversations about all sorts of topics and almost nothing was off-limits. I realised, one day, how many adults we’d had discussing love, politics and religion around the table when seven-year-old Benny, her hair in bunches, stood up on the pew behind the new table to make an announcement.

Freddie was a thin, wan character who hadn’t washed or shaved for a few months before he arrived here. With him, it was as if there was no one home. He looked blank and bored. He stood vacantly in the kitchen and couldn’t work out where the fridge or dishwasher could be. He didn’t ask either, just stood still and stared. The lights had gone off inside. In the workshop, I asked him to hang up a mallet next to the others on the tool board, but he shuffled along the line of tools – the froe, the adze, the auger bits – and couldn’t identify the mallets.

“To the right,” I said and he turned slowly, like he’d got a crick in his soul.

In the end, I took it from him and showed him where it lived. He said nothing. At lunch, he ate dry bread. Even the most hardened guest was looking at him with sympathy, unable to get any sort of reaction from him. We offered cheese or salad or omelette, but he just munched on his white bread, staring at his lap. He was on anti-psychotics and I wasn’t sure how much that slowed him down.

“He’s less than monosyllabic,” Maggie said to me.

To begin with, all he could whisper was “yes” and “no”. After a couple of days, he would say short sentences, looking at the floor timidly and whispering so quietly you had to ask him to repeat what he had said. When we did have brief exchanges, he told me he needed to come here because he had to find his voice again. He had retreated so far into his shell he didn’t know how to get out, he said.

For that first week, one or two people were wondering why we had Freddie here. Any rational community would have said “no thanks.” But others thought we could help him, that he was going through a crisis, and that he might emerge from it by being here. After a trial week, we told Freddie he could stay as long as he needed.

Slowly, he began to speak in full sentences. He looked us in the eye. He smiled and started to make jokes. I would see him wandering around the pig pens, patting the broad sows and talking to them. He would sit with us in the chapel. The children took him by the hand down to the pond to look at the tiny frogs, the size of a fingernail, crawling through the damp moss on to dry land.

He began to open up to us, explaining about the breakdown he had been through. He had taken too many recreational drugs and was eloquent about his paranoia and delusions. He had been, he said, full of anger and pain at the idea that he had no free will, so kept doing things to prove he was free. For a few years, he was an ascetic wanderer. He walked and hitched thousands of miles without money, getting as far as Moscow before turning round and heading back. He had done the same round much of Africa. He had smoked too much weed and began to get paranoid, thinking that his expressions of his freedom were in fact being forced on him. “They were expecting me to do it,” he kept saying. He had hoped to be enlightened but had sunk into darkness. When he stopped travelling, the whole experience of years as a wandering beggar caught up with him and he collapsed into a silent stupor.

It was clear his brain was still struggling. He was holding an apple core one day and looked over to Gav.

“What shall I do with this?” he whispered.

“What do you want to do with it?” Gav smiled.

“Get rid of it.”

“Put it in the compost then.”

“But that’s in the other room.”

“Put it on your plate then.”

“But that’s the other side of the table.”

“Well, hold on to it then.”


So he held on to it for the next half-hour until he finally got up and put it in the compost. He hadn’t been joking; he simply didn’t know what he should do with it and didn’t want to do something that required any effort.

I watched him over the next few weeks, never sure when to indulge or when to challenge his eccentricities. He would spasm a lot, shivering and raising his shoulders.

Other times he would stand in the kitchen and contort his body into extraordinary shapes, almost like a clown or a comic.

It felt as if his fanatical expression of freedom was a tilt at mortality and that the reason he wanted to avoid responsibility was to avoid ageing. But the fact that it was spoken, and out there, meant it could now be looked at. Freddie seemed to grow in the next few weeks. He did small things like lay the table. He was good at carpentry and helped in the workshop.

His [NHS] psychiatric nurse came to visit him after a month and couldn’t believe the improvement. She, like us, could see that Freddie was emerging, like a butterfly from a chrysalis.

“What have you done?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Gav told her. “We’ve just created a space for him.”

This is an edited extract from A Place of Refuge: An Experiment in Communal Living, published by Quercus on 2 July (£20). To order it for £16 go to or call 0330 333 6846

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Towards Size Acceptance: The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement

By Natalie Leibowitz, Social Work Summer Student

Health at Every Size (or HAES) is a movement that has been growing among health-care professionals and the general community. It is an approach to health-promotion that encourages size-acceptance as an alternative to the use of the traditional weight-centered approach. HAES was born out of research suggesting that measures of body weight do not accurately reflect a person’s health status, and that our cultural obsession with thinness and weight loss is actually doing more harm than good.

The HAES approach aims to shift the focus away from weight and onto health. It encourages nourishing lifestyle habits, including intuitive eating, joyful movement (as opposed to strict exercise), stress management, and building supportive communities. It looks at poor health as a wider social and cultural issue, rather than an individual issue. Thus, it takes away from the blame and shame that often comes with the typical weight-focused approach.

The ideal of thinness leads individuals to believe that being thin will grant them with health, happiness, and acceptance. Likewise, health professionals have been trained to believe that weight loss is the key to prevention and treatment of illness. In reality, there are a variety of factors that play a larger role in the development of chronic illness than weight. Yes, people who are classified as “overweight” are more likely for example to develop diabetes. However, this has very little to do with weight and much more to do with social factors such as poverty and weight-based discrimination.

Making behaviour change has been found to be much more helpful in improving health than weight loss alone. This has been backed by several studies that have found that health markers such as blood pressure are strongly related to lifestyle behaviours (balanced eating, moderate physical activity), regardless of a person’s weight. The weight loss itself only plays a very small role. By focusing attention on behaviour change, the HAES approach eliminates measurements and numbers from the definition of what it means to be healthy. The lesson for family, friends, and health professionals who are supporting an individual’s journey to health, is to focus on the person’s behaviour rather than on their body size.

People who follow the HAES approach find that they have reclaimed the ability to enjoy food again. They are also more accepting of their own and others’ body size, as they understand that health comes in every size.

For more information on HAES, including finding HAES-friendly healthcare professionals in your area, you can visit or


  1. The Association for Size Diversity and Health.
  2. Linda Bacon. Presentation at NEDIC’s 2015 Body Image and Self-Esteem Conference

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“Live Edge” – Peer Support Culture as a Way of Life

By Michelle Scott

We at Riverwalk are strong believers in peer support. We believe that some of the strongest and most meaningful support can come from people who have “been there” – people who have had similar experiences and can share their stories of struggle and success in order to teach each other and learn from one another.

We believe that a culture of peer support is integral to living a balanced life. By culture of peer support, we mean peer support that extends beyond support groups or wellness campaigns. We mean peer support as a way of life.
One of the most wonderful things about being human is our ability to connect with one another, to feel in tune with a relative stranger just by virtue of them having had similar experiences. Unfortunately, this capacity is often underutilized in our society. In many ways we are encouraged to pit ourselves against one another, to compete for affection, attention, status, money. We are often encouraged to cast a cynical eye on expressions of genuine caring, often asking ourselves, what does this person really want from me? what are they trying to sell me? It is often easier to churn out expressions of cynicism and derision than genuine expressions of gratitude. This creates a culture in which many people are afraid to show personal vulnerability and caring for one another. Talking about ‘caring for one another’ makes people uncomfortable. Even reading this may be making you uncomfortable. Because, why should I care about someone I don’t even really know? what is their life to me?
If we were all more open to one another, open to sharing our own vulnerabilities while trusting that others would not exploit them, and being open to showing care and respect for others when they show their vulnerabilities to us, we would be able to build a culture in which we did not have to put up a front of cynicism, boredom, and derision. We would feel more complete, more connected, and less lonely. We would understand and nurture the power of togetherness by rallying against the inherent isolation of a single human existence reflecting solely on itself.
We are all “peers” in one way or another – we have, all of us, experienced some sort of hardship and challenge. We all have the capacity to draw from our experiences to lend strength to others and draw strength from others when we need it.
This is the kind of culture that we are wishing to create at Riverwalk. We are launching our new outreach campaign, Live Edge, and in doing so we are making a declaration to do our part to change the culture of human interaction as we know it in this society. We want to work towards banishing the inherent suspicion and fear that we have when it comes to being open to one another. We want to create an environment in which people can feel free to express their true thoughts and feelings without fear of retribution. All are welcome to join one of our groups, contribute writing or art to our blog, volunteer at one of our events, or make a donation in someone’s name. Check out for information on how to get involved.
We also encourage others to carry this spirit of peer support into their everyday lives. Being the first among many in any revolution of thought is a daunting task. But we are here for you every step of the way.
We all share in this existence together, and we all have the capacity to support one another and the permission to draw on each other for support. This is possibly the greatest advantage of being a human, of being alive.
This is our Live Edge.