In the last blog we looked at ‘Emotional Eating’ (EE), and ways we can change our behaviours to achieve more peace with eating and a greater sense of health and wellbeing. Just to recap – EE refers to seeking comfort and soothing emotions, such as stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, boredom or loneliness, through food. This blog will continue on from where we left off by looking at ways to foster a healthy body image. This is something I’m very passionate about this whole area, and this is why I wrote my new e-book; ‘Emotional Eating Learn to be free! A guide to living well and soothing yourself in ways other than food.’ This blog includes a few excerpts from the book.
Fostering a Healthy Body Image:
Body dissatisfaction is now a top ranked concern for young people in Australia and has increased as an issue over the last 30 years. Body image issues have increased worldwide over the last 30 years (NEDC, 2017). Why is this? Let’s look at what body image actually is, and then consider how you evaluate your own body image. We will also consider what influences the development of a negative body image, and look at how to improve your body image. Body image refers to the perception we have of our physical selves, and the thoughts and feelings that arise from this perception. These thoughts and feelings can be positive and negative (NEDC, 2017).
How Body Image Develops:
The way you think and feel about your body will have been influenced by your own personality and thinking style, and also by external factors such as interpersonal experiences and the values that our society promotes. What messages did your parents, teachers and friends give you about your body? Sometimes they dislike their own bodies and consequently model certain attitudes or behaviours, which you may unconsciously learn. Body image is shaped during childhood and adolescence, and can be influenced by negative messages given to us about our bodies or eating behaviours. Remember too that we are surrounded by images of beautiful people in magazines, in movies and on the television. These are often driven by advertising to sell us a range of products. Even images of famously beautiful people are modified to remove centimetres and lines!
Social media also sets unrealistic standards. Whether it is a ‘selfie’ or a photo with friends, it is important to remember that people will only post photographs they like on social media. As a result, we are bombarded with images that are impossible to achieve, and are constantly comparing ourselves to others. It is also important to reflect on how much your sense of self-worth is tied in with your weight and body image.
Signs & Symptoms of Negative Body Image:
Symptoms of unhealthy or negative body image may include:
- Obsessive self scrutiny in mirrors
- Thinking disparaging comments about your body and frequent comparison of your own shape and size to other people
- Envy or a friend’s body, or just as commonly: the body of a celebrity or someone else in the media
Some Tips to Feel More Positive About Your Body Image:
- Practice mindfulness when you have thoughts and feelings about your body. Monitor these.
- Quit harsh self-judgment and stop struggling with negative thoughts about yourself. Instead, focus on accepting these thoughts and the feelings that go along with them.
- Be mindful of any critical self-talk when you look in the mirror. Watch out for ‘selective attention’, i.e. focussing on one aspect of your appearance and exaggerating it.
- Be careful of mind reading; that is, thinking you know what others think about you! Just because you are not feeling confident about your body, does not mean that others are judging it harshly.
- Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents. Appreciate your whole self. What are your special qualities – are you kind, a loyal friend, punctual, a good cook? Recognise what your strengths are, for example, sense of adventure, creativity, empathy, gratitude, sense of humour, optimism, persistence, service or work ethic.
- Work on increasing positive self-talk. Sometimes you will have to challenge the negative thoughts to work on developing a new ‘inner voice’ that speaks positively about your body (refer back to the CBT section).
- Respect your body, as it does amazing things.
RESPECT YOUR AMAZING BODY
- Set positive goals focussed on health and wellbeing rather than weight loss.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others (a real trap!)
AVOID THE TRAP OF COMPARISONS!
- Be mindful of assumptions about others and their bodies, for example: “that (person, model) has it all because they are beautiful”. We don’t know what their lives are actually like.
- Be realistic about media images, most of the time they are heavily edited.
- Be careful of avoidance, that is, avoiding wearing certain clothes or going out because of anxiety about your body. Use your relaxation skills and positive self-talk to help you overcome this one step at a time.
- Reduce how often you check your appearance. Sometimes anxiety can trigger frequent checking, and we need to gradually cut this back.
- Ask for help. A positive body image will improve our sense of self-worth and self-acceptance. It will also positively influence our behaviours in relation to food. It is easier to focus on a balanced and healthy lifestyle if we are in tune with the needs of our bodies (NEDC, 2017).
Remember that overcoming negative perceptions of our body image is something that takes time. Be kind to yourself, share experiences with friends if you feel comfortable, use positive self-talk and allow for positive change to occur. So, in summary, quit comparisons and be kind to yourself. Learn to accept and love who you are, inside and out, as you are unique and special in many, many ways. You can read more in the ‘EE Learn to be Free’ e-book, and at helpful websites such as www.nedc.com.au, or seek help from a therapist or dietician with skills in this area.
LEARN TO LOVE WHO YOU ARE – YOU ARE UNIQUE AND SPECIAL!!
Body Image retrieved from National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2017: www.nedc.com.au/body-image
Weight & Body Image Disorders: Causes, Symptoms & Signs. Eating Disorder Help, Modified 2017.
 Weight & Body Image Disorders: Causes, Symptoms & Signs, Eating Disorder Help, Modified 2017,