Stepping Into the Great Unknown:
Are you living an embodied life?
If you struggle with disordered eating and body image issues, chances are you have learned to disconnect from your body. It isn’t safe to inhabit your body (or as I like to call the body our Earth Suit!) Over time, you lost trust with your body. This trust was lost many years ago. Perhaps at an early age you didn’t get enough to eat consistently; maybe food was scare or controlled in your household. Maybe boundaries were violated with your body in some way. Perhaps you went on your first diet in grade school. The messages from a coach or doctor told you that your body was the problem. Your body needed fixing (shrinking). Trusting your body wasn’t an option. It made sense to disconnect out of self-protection.
Many of us move around the world like floating heads, pretty disconnected from our body. The process of healing from food and body issues can feel scary because it’s stepping into the great unknown. In order to heal this disconnect from our heads back into our bodies and find safety again, we must lean into this new unchartered territory with brave and vulnerable hearts. We step into the great unknown that is your life so that we can honor how we lost trust in our bodies in the first place.
What is Embodiment?
What was your understanding of embodiment?
Are you living an embodied life?
Embodiment defined: The experience of inhabiting the body. Feeling “at one” or “at home” in the body vs. living “from the head up” or experiencing the body as a separate entity.
Your Story: What has come between you and being at home in your body?
How and when did you learn your body was a problem?
Diet culture teaches us to ignore and to override the body. If we feel hungry, we attempt to control, mask or suppress it. We work against hunger as if it’s a curse that defines our dangerous and untamed appetites. We count points or macros or calories. We track numbers in our fit bits and we spend extra time on the treadmill. We externalize our realities to control (and shrink) the body. We override our internal cues of fullness and enough ness. Diet culture further encourages this disconnect from our bodies and directly contributes to undermining body trust. When our appetites fight back, when we have a “cheat” day and feel crazy and out of control around binge eating, that feels like proof that the body cannot be trusted. We cannot be trusted. And so the cycle continues.
Diet culture continues to teach you to ignore your body. And to tell you that something is wrong with your body.That your body IS THE PROBLEM.
Research and Theories on Embodiment
My amazing teachers Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC and Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD of Be Nourished in Portland, were first to teach about Dr. Niva Piran’s research on the developmental theory of embodiment. Her research shows that there are five dimensions of embodiment that impact the quality of our lives.
1.Body-Connection & Comfort: The quality of connection to the body and the degree of comfort we feel in our body as we engage with the body in the world. Examples: do we honor hunger or wait too many hours in between meals/snack. Extreme hunger and extreme fullness do not feel comfortable in the body.
2. Agency: Both physical agency and also agency of voice, to speak up and advocate for self. Example: do you often say YES to something, someone, etc. when you really would rather say NO? How might this impact your eating or other behaviors related to food/ body?
3. Desires: Experience and expression of bodily desires. Can we connect to appetite? Can we connect to sexual desire? And through that connection, respond to it in a way that we choose, with joy, as we wish, with attunement, and with self-care? Example: Do you enjoy connecting to your sensual and sexual self by engaging in self-pleasuring activities? Are sex and masturbation seen as healthy and positive creative outlets free of shame and secrecy?
4. Attuned self-care: Can we engage with the world while we are being attuned to our bodily needs, to our relational needs, to our emotional needs, and also the need for meaningful engagement with the world? Or are we suppressing that? Examples: how often do you notice you are tired and take a nap, or do you push yourself to go to a gym workout? Do you have a regular yoga or meditation practice that helps you to connect internally.
5. Resisting objectification: Can we live in the world where we resist the pressures of objectification and experience subjective immersion with the body? Examples: How often can we show up without makeup or feeling the need to look a certain “acceptable/ beautiful’ way, but to just be? To show up with our selves unconditionally and unapologetically.
Accoridng to Dr. Niva Piran’s research, the way we live in our bodies is a central construct to our well-being. What that means is if we are chronically feeling disconnected from our body, we are not feeling whole in general. We may feel as if something is missing, like we are running a low grade fever of discontent, of anxiety or depression, of existential restlessness or emptiness. We might feel like we need to keep chasing the next thing we think will make us feel happy and whole again. It’s the proverbial hamster wheel. This hamster wheel just has us running in circles (and making the same mistakes (dieting again and again) and going nowhere fast.
If you are having a hard time connecting to your body now, try to think back to a time in childhood where you felt more carefree. Most of us (but certainly not everyone) can relate to more positive experiences of embodiment as children – a time in our lives before diet culture, weight stigma, and sexism crept into our understanding of ourselves.
Important Questions to Ask Yourself…
When you think back to your childhood, perhaps a carefree time of play and adventure, what do you remember of your experience of your body?
How does that differ with your experience of your body now?
How did puberty change your relationship to your body?
When have you felt a sense of power in your body (from the earliest of ages to now)?
If you were to imagine yourself feeling powerful, present, and clear about the value you bring to the world, how might your posture change?
How would you move through the world? How would you dress? What ways might you celebrate your body?
Explore feeling (or imagining feeling) a strong sense of your own power.
Moving away from diets and reclaiming your birthright to inhabit your body takes a lot of courage. You are entering the wilderness and stepping into the great unknown of your life. It can feel shaky and uncertain at times, but ultimately you know that this old system is not working. You want to feel whole again. You want to be trusted. You want to make peace with your Earth Suit rather than continuing to fight against it. You want to find peace and liberation from this struggle.
Know that you are not alone, and that connecting to others also on this path will help to ease any isolation and shame that is so common with this struggle. I encourage you to reach out, get support, find community so that we can all collectively heal together.
Much love, Karen Louise
References: Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC and Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD of Be Nourished in Portland; this information is from The School of Unlearning Training 2021