If you want a lesson in loving your body you just need to watch young children for a while. They are fascinated with how their bodies work and what they can do. They move with joy and rarely do they seem self-conscience about what they look like. They even say things like “I am soooo beautiful just the way I am” and they seem to really mean it. Rarely do we see adults with the same sort of self assurance.
So what happens between when we're 5 and now? As much as we'd like to deny it, our culture sends us incredibly strong these messages about how we're supposed to be. The fact that most of us have experienced a “fat” day speaks volumes. By now, most of you know the media influences body image, but did you know that according to Sophie Bissonnette, the director of Sexy Inc., women feel worse about themselves after flipping through women’s magazines. Even the Spiderman dolls that boys play with have drastically bulked up. When 80% of Canadian girls in grade four have been on a diet, it’s safe to say there’s a problem. This is scary when we consider that diets are: 1) Unhealthy and may lead to disordered eating; and 2) Yo-yo dieting is more harmful than being overweight. How did we as a society let this happen? More importantly, how we can start to reconnect with that confident, sassy, body – lovin’ five year old in all of us.
To start, you need patience. There is no one simple way to start feeling good about your body and yourself. Rather, it’s a lot of small things done together over time that makes a true difference. One of these things is to start challenging the idea that everyone can be very thin and that thinness equates being healthy. This isn’t true. Most people have a genetic, pre-determined set weight range and body type they will function best at. This has nothing to do with the number on the scale or the size of your clothes. It just is. Once you become realistic about what your body is meant to look like, you are heading in the right direction. It can be hard to let go of the illusion you want to portray to people, but if you can move towards self-acceptance you will likely be much closer to being the healthy, happy person you are trying to present to the world.
Another important component of developing a healthier relationship with your body is to increase your self-awareness. Stress has an incredible impact on how you view yourself, and how you eat. When you’re stressed, you quite often start to focus on things you can control and that critical part of your brains tends to kick into over drive. Have you ever noticed how during exam week, you all of a sudden think you’re body sucks more than usual? You may notice that you start to eat to help manage some of your emotions, or not eat because you have a nervous stomach or you’ve forgotten to eat. It’s important in these times to really connect with what’s going on emotionally and to find other ways to manage those emotions outside of food.
Relationship wise, you may be surrounded by friends or family who are very focused on their bodies and their images. If the people around you support or practice unhealthy lifestyles, it will be more difficult for you to challenge some of the negative misconceptions you have yourself. People who comment on your weight or size, or that of others, probably aren’t going to be helpful if you’re struggling with your own perceptions of your body. Spending time with people who don’t diet, or who have a healthy relationship with their bodies can be much more valuable.
The following list includes more practical ideas about how to take care of and respect your amazing body has been adapted from www.edap.org.
1. Emphasize your strengths. Remove all those “motivational” pictures of models on your fridge and replace them with beautiful pictures of yourself or with positive messages.
2. Challenge the current values of our society. All body sizes are good! Research tells us consistently that weight and looks have no influence on a person’s happiness. Remind yourself that your body is an instrument of your life, not an ornament.
3. Change your viewpoint. Instead of asking “how can I get thin? Ask “what can I do to be healthier and happier?
4. Get in touch with your body. Learn to recognize your internal signals of hunger and fullness. Then respect what you’re hearing. Simply asking yourself if you’re hungry throughout the day can help you to realize what it feels like.
5. Eat for the right reasons. Are you eating for emotional or environmental reasons? What other ways can you meet those needs? Maybe you could try to phone a friend or go for a walk if you recognize you’re eating to stuff emotion.
6. Visit a dietician to get information on what healthy eating looks like. Many of the books that promote a “healthy lifestyle” really promote unhealthy eating and diets. A dietician will give you the facts. Anything that promises a "quick fix" or encourages you to give up any food group is unlikely to be healthy or successful.
7. Get active. Forget the rules and “shoulds” of exercise and find activities that you do simply because you enjoy them.
8. If you catch yourself being self critical in front of the mirror or with friends, make an effort to stop. Remind yourself of your strengths.
9. Wear clothes that make you feel good about your body and reflect your personal style.
10. Enjoy eating mindfully. Let yourself enjoy the taste of food and remind yourself of the amazing things it provides for your body.
11. Walk with your head held high. Its sounds funny, but walking like your confident can help you feel more confident.
12. Thank your body for the things it does. Take time everyday to appreciate and cherish it. Do this by getting a massage, taking a bath, dancing, playing a sport or doing yoga.
If you find you're becomming pre-occupied by your thoughts of food and looks, judge a day as good or bad based on how much you ate or exercised, or somtetimes wish you could stop dieting, binging or exercising but can't, you might be at risk for disordered eating. Although people develop disordered eating for a number of reasons, many of the components of control and maintaining an illusion that things are going well, contribute to it worsening. If you notice that you are becoming pre-occupied by your body and food, we encourage you to contact Counselling Services or the Health Centre for further resources and/or counselling.
*modified feb 2011 from Rowland 2008