Pills to control hunger, ads for facial injections, songs about the size of body parts, spray tans, hair extensions, padded bras…What do all of these have in common? They’re messages that you hear several times a day, telling you that you are not good enough as you are. That you need to be improved and enhanced. That you just don’t measure up.
Hearing these messages enough times can lead you to become self-conscious, or worse..it could lead to a poor body image.
The definition of body image is simply how you view your body. This is a completely subjective view, and it’s prone to being easily swayed by your thoughts.
How do you protect yourself against dissatisfaction with what you see in the mirror? Bolster, strengthen, and foster a positive relationship with your body! Dynamic Eating Psychology has some tried and true methods of developing a positive body image.
When it comes to feeling whole and supported, the media doesn’t do you any favors. You are constantly bombarded with images of perfect bodies. From the ads that pop up from the internet, to the line in the grocery store, and even in the catalogues that we received in the mail, it is impossible to ignore the images of unattainable perfection. The dramatic repetition of these images over time can cause you to compare yourself to them–only to leave you feeling less than perfect. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and it also the thief of a positive body image.
Unplugging from the media as often as your life allows will lessen these moments of comparison, and in turn can encourage you to focus more on the things in life that matter–things that are real. For example, instead of watching that infomercial on the next new way to get flat abs, go for a walk or take an exercise class. Instead of looking through the beauty magazine, treat yourself to a new article of clothing that makes you feel fabulous. Instead of yearning for the toned body you see on your favorite television talent show, grab a friend and go dancing! A positive body image doesn’t come from wishing that you had one; it comes from taking action in your life.
2. Observe Your Thoughts
Since body image is ultimately the way you perceive your body to look, being highly aware of your perceptions will help you discover your negative thought patterns and the tone of your inner voice. Observe in a day how many times you say to yourself, “I’m too fat,” or, “I would do that if only I looked like her.” This can be a very powerful exercise! Most people are unaware of how they speak to themselves, and when they discover how repetitive these voices are, it can be shocking.
Another thing that’s shocking is how your body chemistry responds when you talk negatively to yourself. When you attack yourself with negative words, your mind and body perceives this attack literally. This immediately puts the body in a stress response. Stress chemistry is not the body’s friend, unless you are being chased by a lion! What happens is that our sympathetic nervous system tells our body to release the stress hormones cortisol and insulin. Over a sustained period of time (read: every day that you express negative comments), these hormones tell our bodies to store weight, store fat, and not build muscle. Stress chemistry also wipes out our good gut bacteria, leaving us with weakened immune systems.
So if you think that your negative thoughts are not harmful, reconsider your self-dialogue. On the flip side, when you are in a positive mindset and coming from a place of love, the parasympathetic nervous system ignites, putting us in the optimal metabolic state for digestion and healing.
Notice your thoughts. Be kind to yourself.
3. Let the Conditions Go
Have you ever set a weight loss goal, only to become increasingly dissatisfied with your body the closer you get to it? Or have you dreamed of your life being perfect when you get the body that you want? Have you ever said to yourself, “I will start going to that dance class once I lose x number of pounds”? What this means is that we are putting off being happy until some unknown time in the future. We won’t allow ourselves love until we are something that we currently are not–that somehow we are better if you get down to that specific number on the scale, or until we fit into a coveted pair of skinny jeans.
Not only is this thinking coming from a place of self-rejection, it can lead you to a life of constant dissatisfaction and always chasing an unattainable goal–not to mention poor body image. What’s more, this frame of mind is no way to live your life. Hating yourself into getting the body you want is not only a waste of your precious time on Earth, it guarantees you absolutely nothing when you have reached that goal. Most people continue to be unsatisfied with their bodies even once they reach that number on the scale. If you lose weight by beating yourself up to get there, the fight is not going to automatically stop once you reach your goal; in fact, most people have to fight harder just to stay there.
Letting go of the condition that “I’ll love myself when…” or “l”ll be happy when…” will free you to start living the life that you truly want to live. How do you start going about loving yourself when you don’t really like your body? First, you need to realize that your body is just the outlet for something deeper. From a Mind Body Nutrition standpoint, we need to get to the root cause of why we are unhappy with ourselves. Journaling about what life would be like when you have the body that you want can help you learn where Life is calling you. For example, if you want to lose weight because you want more energy, look at the places in life that are dragging you down. Or, if you want abs of steel so you can show them off and be noticed, what can you do right now to be recognized?
Once you start living your life as you have been dreaming about, then your perception of yourself will shift. You will feel more true to who you are which undeniably evokes love. The more you are in this state, the quicker your body image will change for the better.
Embodiment is one of our favorite dimensions of Mind Body Nutrition here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Embodiment is at the forefront of a healing body image. The act of truly inhabiting one’s body is very powerful. Think about how often you are not rooted in your body, when you are checked out, distracted by the television or by your phone, or perhaps dreaming about being inside a different body. Embodiment means to feel how it feels to be in your body. It is so helpful in healing body image because when we aren’t embodied we tend to overeat or binge eat, talk to ourselves in an unkind way, become lazy, or overexercise. When we check in with our bodies, we listen to what we truly need. And most likely it’s not that extra helping of food, or that mean remark, or even running that extra mile.
Some of the best techniques to embody your body are slowing down, moving your body in a way that brings you joy whether it be walking, dancing, swimming, etc., deep conscious breathing, allowing yourself to feel pleasure, and listening to the innate body wisdom you were born with.
When you allow yourself to really feel how you are feeling, then you can start to address the places that need work, or rather, that need your love and attention. For example, if you constantly check out and eat to numb the pain inside, try slowing down and chewing your food slowly. Fast eating not only causes much undue stress on your system, but you will miss out on how the food tastes! Eating slowly allows you to experience the pleasure of eating, and since you are tuned in, you will eat much less. This is a way of loving yourself into the body that you want.
Another example of how embodiment heals is through moving your body in a way that you love. This helps us to really feel our bodies. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it is a wonderful way to reclaim ourselves from that checked out state. If you have stopped dancing (enter your favorite exercise here) because you don’t have a “dancer’s body,” then waiting until you get one could take a lifetime! Start moving now! You will begin to appreciate all that your body can do, and how it has taken care of you even when you weren’t treating it well.
Healing body image is not something that happens overnight. It is a practice. And this practice can lead us to taking care of ourselves on a deeper level, which will ultimately lead to a happier life. If you want to explore this topic further, check out our Eating Psychology Coaching Training.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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