It can be hard to know where to start untangling the stressors we’re facing today. Negative body image and disordered thinking about food, exercise and our bodies can feel like an ambitious place to start, but hear me out.
Many of us have experienced body shame as a constant companion, one that we’ve lived with our whole lives. It becomes part of the background noise of our daily thoughts. It’s the voice in your head that tells you you’re too big to wear that dress, too old to be attractive, too feminine to be taken seriously. It’s messaging we’ve received from countless trusted sources throughout our lives, since before we were old enough to question anything. These external messages seep into our understanding of the world and our place in it. Consciously we push back against this unfair system, but subconsciously we absorb the lies. It’s in this push and pull that we experience the pain of body dysmorphia, disordered thinking and negative coping behaviors like food restriction, bingeing, compulsive exercising and constant dieting and dissatisfaction with our bodies and ourselves.
I am here to tell you: it doesn’t have to be like this. Unlearning the stories we grew up with about bodies and their inherent value takes work and commitment...but there are road maps through this wilderness and guides to help you along the way.
It’s important to remember that it is not your fault that you feel this way. Body shaming, weight stigma and disordered eating were commonplace before the pandemic, but COVID-19 commentary, heightened overall anxiety and over a year in lock down have compounded the issues to startling new levels If you are struggling with any of these and could use some extra support and guidance, help is available. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
1. Re-frame negative thoughts with evidence and compassion. Telling yourself to just stop the inner critique or “stay positive” won’t address the pattern. “I gained 15 lbs during lockdown and I feel gross” can become “lockdown was such a stressful time, I had to prioritize taking care of my loved ones over my normal routine and I’m so grateful my body was able to stay strong enough to get me through it”.
2. Unlink movement from weight or body management. Exercise can be a powerful stress reliever, but when it’s only objective is aesthetic, you lose access to all the restorative and mind-balancing benefits. Ask yourself what kind of movement you would do if it wasn’t going to change your body. Give yourself permission to modify, intensify, or skip movement altogether without guilt.
3. Investigate the belief behind body critical ideals. Instead of stopping at “I just feel better when I weigh x amount”, dig deeper. Find the belief at the core of that feeling. Do you feel better because you are treated differently? Because you feel more loved, desired, worthy, powerful, or safe? Do you truly agree that you at “x” weight are more valuable as a person?
Believe me when I say this: body image is the seat of so much pain and trauma, addressing this keystone can change everything about how you experience your life.
Shame of any kind creates stress in the body, and we know that stress is strongly correlated with a myriad of health and mental health conditions. Think of how much time, energy, money and heartache you have spent on this already in your life. If you could have all that back, what would you do with it? Think of your life from here on out. Do you want to keep paying that tax? If the answer is no (or even “maybe not?”) coaching can help you get there.
Ellie is a body image coach local to San Francisco! Find Ellie on Instagram or email her directly.