Do you struggle with body image and accepting the body you see in the mirror? Are you tired of constantly thinking about your body and comparing yourself to others?Does looking at photos of yourself send you into a negative downward spiral? So many of my clients struggle with their body image too. They spend so. much. time. and headspace thinking about their bodies. For many, how they feel about their bodies holds them back from fully living their life.
It’s not their fault and it’s not your fault. Body image is predictable in this age. The epidemic of body hate should be headline news, but unfortunately remains a silent epidemic struggle for so many, which is why I wanted to shine the spotlight right in its face. Body hate is a big business in mainstream media and culture, and sadly it keeps us small in spirit, consciousness, character, dis-empowerment, and keeps us from stepping into our potential that is right there waiting to happen because body hate is a nasty disease, it takes over, and is hard to deal with.
Simply put, body image is what we imagine our body to be. Imagination is a tremendously powerful force in the human psyche. What we imagine about ourselves, about life, drives our emotions, our metabolism, our thoughts, and our behaviors. On a deeper level, a negative body image says, “I reject the body given to me. I am at war against myself. I am no good. I am not enough. I am unlovable as I am. I do not deserve to experience the simple pleasure of bodily existence.”
A poor body image is way more than an emotional or psychological concern. It can dramatically influence our health and physiology. It may drive us to adopt a diet that is nutritionally unsound, which can lead to a long list of metabolic symptoms. The pure, simple, physiologic stress of constantly attacking the body with psychic pressure by itself can lead to very wide range of symptoms, most notably poor digestion, poor assimilation of nutrients, fatigue, inflammation, mood concerns, immune challenges, diminished energy levels, and lower metabolism and calorie burning capacity. Our dietary choices driven by negative body image can further impact eating challenges such as binge eating, overeating, and emotional eating. Daily restriction and “dieting” tactics to achieve “the perfect body” (whatever that is) can give you a 99% guarantee you’ll experience overeating or binge eating episode in response.
At the end of the day, (in our mind) our attempts to lose weight so we can have a happier body image actually works against us, and rather pushes us closer to creating an inability to lose weight, and the likelihood of gaining it, which only further increases our frustration about the body.
Do You See Food As The Enemy?
Most body image challenged individuals have a relationship with food where the food is essentially the enemy. Even though they may love food, it is a source of intense stress because it paradoxically gives great pleasure and fulfillment, but leads to the evils of weight and body fat. This creates a fundamental battle in the mind that cannot be logically resolved. Because of this conundrum, body image challenged clients live in constant fear, fight, struggle, and frustration. If you see food as the enemy, then every time you eat, the body will be in some degree of physiologic stress response, leading to a wide range of symptoms mentioned above.
How Do You Develop Body Image?
Body image is determined inside each of us by a combination of factors – culture, religion, family, peers, media, and personal experiences and soul lessons through life. In my experience, I often here about stories from a clients about how he or she was bullied, participated in a body subjective sport like dance or gymnastics, had a parent or family member who struggled with their own issues with food, a doctor who recommended a diet for them when they were 9 (and so many more,) that passed along messages that he or she was not acceptable at their current weight. Hate and body shaming is IMPOSSIBLE for a young mind to successfully process and mount an immune response to it. And so, the young mind takes things from the outside and OWNS them. They assume the message. Just ONE experience, ONE comment, can be enough for one to take those words and eat them and introject it such that they repeat it to themselves like a curse. So if you are struggling with a negative body image, please know, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Body hate and weight shaming are powerful, invisible force fields not just for innocent kids, but for adults, meaning, just because you can’t measure it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist -like love- and you have EVERY right to feel overwhelmed with these messages.
The exposure to millions of messages about body image is like experiencing paper cuts every day.– Marc David
To help put you on the path to healing body image, let’s review FALSE beliefs about how to heal it so you can stop wasting your time and energy going down a path that has no victory flag waiting for you in the end.
#1 We Falsely Believe We Can Heal Body Image By Changing the Body
Most people look to heal their negative body image by changing the body to an impossible-to-reach standard. At some point in life, we feel our current body is unlovable and/or unacceptable, and NOBODY wants to inhabit a body that is “unlovable”! The first sense that the body is unlovable, it’s our first sense to get the hell outta there.
Separating from the source (that which is created whole starting at birth) is called disembodiment. Disembodiment leads to shame (I AM not enough, I AM unlovable), which leads to the need to control (food, people, money, weight, etc) because control = safety. High needs for control leads to a quest for perfectionism and then (surprise) when we cannot achieve the perfect weight or perfect body, perfect whatever, we fall into a downward spiral of self abuse and self attack leading to even more disembodiment.
**Disembodiment–> Shame–> Control–> Perfectionism–>Self Abuse**
The mind believes that “when things are perfect, my weight is perfect, then I will truly have control and my life will be OK forever.” Perfectionism, in and of itself, is a disease. It is an impossible goal that grips people like a bad virus and takes over our minds and destroys our true potential. Perfectionism implies we are finished with our work, that means there is no more work to do, no more suffering, “only goodies in life will I have”, “I am beyond criticism and can no longer be touched by judgement of others”.
Negative self body attack is like constantly being bombed like in a war and nobody wants to be in that state so perfectionism subconsciously leads to safety to get out of pain suffering. When you look at it in this light, it seems like a reasonable instinctive survival strategy in your mind but when you shine the light of consciousness upon it, you see it’s true colors. Simply put..having a culturally “perfect body” does not guarantee self love and a happy body image.
#2 We Falsely Believe We Can Heal Body Image By Losing Weight
Many individuals feel that once that reach that “magic number”, just like reaching the “perfect shape”, all will be good in the world, they will feel comfortable in their own skin, and feel happy with themselves and in life. But what happens when you reach this magic number? It’s still not good enough, is it? If I had a dime for every time I heard that story. Even at their lowest weight, those that struggle with negative body image STILL self attack, pick on themselves and their physical flaws.
Are you thinking, “But I remember when I did lose weight before, I DO remember feeling happy”. Sure, you can get a temporary high and ego boost from losing weight via extreme diet and exercise and you can feel great for a while, but then it’s not enough. These experiences are “false positives” – they are temporary blips on the screen that are generally not sustainable and eventually bring us back to struggle and self attack and dissatisfaction.
Can I just scream that there is NO SUCH THING AS THE PERFECT WEIGHT? There is literally no evidence that suggests for you, your ethnicity, your age, this time or transition in your life, that you should be X weight. If this were predictable, we all would be the same and totally boring. Unfortunately, weight numbers are shoved in our face, from doctors, to diet programs, to media like “The Biggest Loser”. I’m here to tell you to let go of the magic number of your ideal body weight and relax into your journey. You don’t know, I don’t know, what that number will end up being when it comes to your “natural weight”. And I promise you, if you can stow away your scale for a few months, you will really begin to see how the number on the scale has been totally numbing you from life. The majority of my clients end up never ever stepping on the scale again once they start working with me. And they end up happier, healthier, embodied, and feeling great.
#3 We Falsely Believe We Can Heal Through Diet and Nutrition
My clients KNOW about nutrition, as I’m sure you do too. Our efforts to get out of the body that is “unlovable” are through diet and exercise, that’s what you know, that’s what the world tells you to focus on. The body changes but what still resides is “I’m unlovable”, making it virtually impossible to love yourself, love your body, and sustain any habits you’ve been trying to create. Which is why…
96-99% of people who diet gain the weight back within a year
This is why negative body image is actually not a “food problem”. The symptoms of negative body image come out often through food and diet-binge cycles or through restrictive eating and chronic dieting behaviors.
Food often times is restricted, it becomes a war of “good vs bad”, and something we HAVE to do versus something we WANT to do. Exercise is also used often as a weapon, it’s not just to “feel good” rather it’s to burn off the 100 extra calories you “shouldn’t” have eaten that day, or as penance for a “bad weekend” of eating, or because you saw yourself in the mirror that morning and said awful comments about yourself. Collectively, once again, this creates stress on the body and a plethora of emotional and physiological consequences. When we only obsess about food and exercise to achieve the perfect body, we don’t sense the body and are not truly in it, we check out to some degree. We think about the body rather than experience it. This is what 99.9% of people are missing when it comes to their success, is themselves! Their body! And Being in it!
#4 We Falsely Believe We Can Heal By Having a Body That We Believe is More Acceptable to Others
The world projects that we should look like the movie stars on TV, the models in the magazine, or Spartan warriors or bodybuilders. They convince us that when you have this “acceptable” body you achieve more happiness, money, dreams, sex, and more. So we go on this quest, to conform to what the world believes is acceptable in terms of body shape while silently cursing the body we’re currently in, triggering the cycle of disembodiment, shame, control, perfectionism, and self attack.
Did you know that Judy Garland had an eating disorder? Experts believe this is what drove her to her drug overdose in the end. Strong example, but she is one of many examples that pokes holes in your belief that if you achieve the look that the world finds acceptable that you’re going to feel GREAT about yourself and you won’t ever have to worry it ever again. I work with a LOT of “fit” individuals who seem to fit the “profile” body of what the world suggests your body should be like and yet, they still body hate.
I attempted to take this path myself. I stepped into the bodybuilding world for years. I had magazine tear outs on my wall of women who I wanted to look like. I became obsessed with not only looking like them but being BETTER than them (because what they looked like wasn’t enough, right?). Years later I found myself depressed and suffocating in the dark world of food and weight. I lost who I was as a person because I was so disembodied. Today, although I no longer have the fitness model look or all the muscle I worked so hard to achieve, I am literally the HAPPIEST I have ever been because I went on the journey to reconnect with myself and my body again, and in that process, remove all the toxic messages I ate about weight and body image from the world. I want you to know that having the “perfect” body literally guarantees nothing.
#5 We Falsely Believe We Can Heal By Hating the Body into Change
Somehow we think we can hate our body now, attack it, call it names, pick on it, ignore it, dismiss its needs, dismiss its wisdom, try to force it to do all kinds of nonsensical things and then ONLY when it loses the weight will we love it. That’s called superficial love my friends, waiting until conditions are met to show any kind of love towards self. Do you love your friend more if your friend would lose more weight?? Of course not. Oftentimes our friends except us without conditions. They are accepting our body without conditions. And you should too.
The whole purpose (in our mind) to losing weight is for us to be able to love ourselves more and be happy and empowered, but how can you expect to go down the road of self attack to find a place of self love? This is LOGICAL ABSURDITY! This is another reason why so many lose weight or change their shape and find it’s still not enough.
Healing body image means moving from conditional love of the body to unconditional love of the body…
Loving your body, this vehicle that you are in now that is literally going to be with you throughout your entire transformation, does not mean that you are “in love” with everything about it. It does not mean you do not wish to shape shift your body. It simply means to stop hating it, and accept it unconditionally. Finding “body neutrality” is another term that is often used that represents the same goal that the hate towards self subsides.
Your journey forms the destination, you must love yourself INTO your weight loss and transformation. You cannot HATE yourself into it. It just doesn’t work that way. Self attack means, literally, you’re under attack, and what does that lead to? More emotional and physiological stress and its metabolic side effects so you hating on your body all the time is keeping your body in a state of stress, moving your body AWAY from its metabolic potential and ability to achieve its natural weight!
It is wise NOT to measure your success with body image by how much weight you lose or how you change your shape. Assess, as best you can, if you’ve made an inner shift and have truly moved to a place of more self love. Consider this: a negative body image has us constantly in judgment of the body, speaking to it in a hurtful way, and performing acts of diet and exercise that are punishing and unloving. It has us walking through the world in a constant and silent rejection of one’s own self. Thus, every small act of self love is a medicine, a healing, a reprogramming of the virulent disease.
Body Image cannot be fixed. It can only be evolved, healed, and cultivated. Healing body image is about connecting to a higher purpose for your life. Consider how much energy goes into attacking and thinking about your body? That becomes your purpose, and when it’s only about ‘changing this part of my body’ we end up robbing the world of US.
Negative body image is, ultimately, a spiritual, soul issue – a challenge to find deeper meaning and teachings and personal growth when it comes to the phenomenon of being a “soul in a body.” See body image challenges as a beautiful area for growth and healing rather than a curse.
Healing body image requires courage, self inquiry, and at times feeling emotions that are uncomfortable or painful, it’s more of a constant practice that takes baby steps forward. There are no shortcuts. So relax, this is going to take a little time and that’s ok. I know that doesn’t sound sexy and that isn’t something that sells in mainstream media, but it’s the truth. And it is time someone was actually truthful and real with you about these very painful challenges.
Because you have “inherited” your body image from family, culture, religion, and media – a negative body image is not so much a personal issue as it is a collective one. And as it’s a collective issue to the development of negative body image, the solution also resides as a collective one. Ask for help. Surround yourself with the right professionals, coaches, support groups, educational tools about body image (and not diets!). Stop following people on social media that feed the toxicity and anxiety around body image. Do not let this dominate and cause you to take it to your grave as so many do. You CAN live a life not dominated by body hate. You may not see how exactly the means to getting there looks like, but I promise, it exists. You are MORE than a body. You deserve to feel good, to feel comfortable, starting NOW in the body that you’re in.
Shelby McDaniel, Eating Psychology and Mind Body Coach
Sources: The Institute For the Psychology of Eating, Module 02, 1-4 (Accessed 2019)