How to navigate bad body image.

Once you’ve made strides in making peace with foods and you have let go of the rigid control around your eating, what happens next?

For some of us, we will maintain our current weight. Others may lose weight, and others may gain weight. Depending on genetics and the level of restrictive eating, this is a natural consequence of food deprivation. Your body eventually will return to its genetic set point weight. 

And, this is where things can get a little tricky. The internal critic may tell you, “Recovery isn’t worth it, maybe you should go back to the old ways and lose this weight!” Indeed, you can be weight restored, AND still be struggling. This is a critical point in your recovery journey, and many people I’ve worked with over the years are often tempted to want to go back to their old behaviors to feel better.

1. Know that the desire to want to lose weight is a part of diet culture and a part of your eating disorder that is conditioned/learned. The collective consciousness tells all women (and some men too) that losing weight is good, gaining weight is bad. Fight back against diet culture and the normative discontent that infiltrates every aspect of our culture. Learn to protect yourself against it. Stop reading toxic magazines, TV shows, unfollow those that make you feel worse about yourself on social media, and boycott diet foods and ‘clean eating’ products.

2. Decode your fat feelings! When you feel FAT, know that fat is NOT a feeling. Each time your feel bad about your body, it means that you are ambivalent about noticing something you are thinking or feeling. Try to investigate what else you might be feeling? Is there something you are distracting yourself from? It is often easier and more familiar to feel fat, than it is to feel ANGER or SADNESS, etc. in some area of your life. Feeling fat is an alert signal, and invitation for you to dig deeper below the surface to reveal something in your life that needs more attention, awareness and kindness.  Feeling fat is therefore a gateway to self-discovery. Becoming adept at decoding means addressing your real thoughts and feelings with compassion and understanding, and the more compassionately you treat yourself, the less you will find yourself using bad body thoughts to distance you from your experience and from your true feelings.

3. Apologize to yourself. When bad body thoughts occur, use this as practice to develop your internal caretaker. Or, your ideal parent voice. This voice is curious about what may have triggered the bad body image thoughts. She will apologize for using harsh words and being mean and unforgiving with you. Ask yourself if you would ever talk to anyone else the same way you talk to yourself? Mostly likely, not! Once you apologize, set the thought aside and move on.

4. Challenge the authority of your bad body thoughts. Again, our toxic diet culture profits off women hating their bodies. Challenge the current cultural ideals and actively ask yourself: “Who says…” Who says that my body should look like hers? Who says my stomach should be flat? Who says my thighs can’t touch? Who says my butt’s too big? Who thinks so? What’s wrong with large butts? You get the idea! This is important to stand up to both the cultural oppression AND your inner critic.

5. Stay far far away from the scale, also know as the crying machine. Stop body checking. Throw out clothes that do not fit or are too small. These things only feed and strengthens the eating disorder mentality. These behaviors increase bad body thoughts and increase the likelihood that you will not be able to eat intuitively. Identify the ways you might be sabotaging yourself and commit to doing something different that moves you closer to your recovery goals. If you need support, reach out to your therapist or dietitian for accountability.

6. Learn to let go of weight loss as the goal. This will take some time, perhaps a long time. Commit to a daily practice of self-care. Do nice things for your body. Get plenty of sleep, eat nourishing foods, move your body in ways that feel good, e.g. yoga, get a massage, and go for a walk in nature. Reconnect to what truly matters in life. Your Earth Suit (ask your body) is only here to protect and take care of you. It wants you to feel good and when you do nice things and take good care of it, it will start to feel more like a friend than an enemy. Restoring trust takes time, so be super patient with yourself.

7. Gratitude list. Make a list of all of the things that you are grateful your body does for you. When you find yourself shaming on yourself, repeat some of these gratitude statements. Examples: I’m grateful for… my legs that allow me to walk, my eyes that let me see the world around me, my ears to hear music, my nose to smell the roses, my skin to protect me, my heart that is strong and keeps me alive, my brain that got me through college or got me the job I have, my arms that allow me to pick up my cat… and keep going! Studies show that gratitude lists when practiced often really can increase our happiness quotient, helping us to feel more joy in our lives.

8. Adopt a new definition of beauty. Unfollow the people on social media that make you feel bad about yourself. Do it now. Follow #bodypositive folks. Imagine what it would be like to give more value to what is inside of you. Your value and worth as a person is SO much more than the size of your Earth Suit. Remember that there is only one of you in the universe. Celebrate your uniqueness. Turn around your perceived “flaws” into assets, rewrite your story, and throw out the ‘rules’ of the culture. Remember body confidence does not come from trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ body. It comes embracing the body you already have! If we chase after this idea that we’ll finally feel great about our bodies (and in turn ourselves) once we are a certain size, shape, or weight, then we’ll likely be waiting to love ourselves for our entire lives. Developing a positive body image is formed through the process of continually committing to unconditionally loving and accepting your body and yourself.

 

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Ghandi

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Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN

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