Building a Healthy Body Image

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so let’s talk about body image! I think it’s safe to say everyone struggles with the way they look, or feel about themselves, at some point in their lifetime. There are the dreaded middle and high school years, ravaged by puberty, social cliques, and the final years of bending to parental expectations. Then the stressful, roller coaster ride of college, filled with pressure to lay the foundation of adult life on three hours of sleep. Adulthood comes next, with magazines, TV shows, and social media providing a constant reminder someone out there is doing it better, faster, and skinnier or stronger than you are. Comparisons are present in every stage of life and are often a trigger to feelings of “not good enough.” How do we work through that, and why should we try to heal the relationship we have with ourselves?

Let’s start with some introspection:

  • When did you feel the best about yourself? What was your lifestyle like in terms of nutrition, exercise, relationships, sleep, and stress level?
  • On the flip side, when did you feel the worst about yourself? What was your lifestyle like in terms of nutrition, exercise, relationships, sleep, and stress level?
  • What are some things that triggered your positive and negative views of yourself?
  • When was the last time you communicated with someone about those positive or negative triggers?

Appearance assumptions combined with stressful triggers can lead to a negative body image. This often leads to a state of distress. Some behaviors associated with a state of distress and negative body image are:

  • Preoccupation or obsession with appearance
  • Comparison or envy of other’s appearance
  • Regular negative thoughts or disparaging comments about yourself
  • Assurance-seeking tendencies or actions
  • Negative assumptions about how others see you
  • Withdrawn behavior or avoidance; protecting yourself from peer judgement

While these behaviors are intended to reduce distress and hide your perceived flaws as a way to protect yourself from being judged by others, they may actually increase long term distress. These behaviors may fuel negative body image and/or appearance assumptions, which in turn may push you deeper into disordered eating, body dysmorphia, depressive states or anxiety.

Do you find yourself in this vicious cycle when you face one of your triggers?

Let’s move into some helpful coping strategies and self-talk cues that may help you.

  • Adjust appearance expectations. Challenge yourself by building new vision of how you see yourself, both long and short term. Release rigid or absolute values, like certain weight or aesthetic desires, and find ways to embrace, or even highlight, your one-of-a-kind qualities.
  • Utilize breath awareness and meditation to alleviate attention or assurance seeking actions. Work to be in the present moment. Embrace non-judgmental thoughts of yourself. In short, try giving yourself grace and space to be more unique.
  • Acknowledge assurance seeking behaviors and work to find other solutions.
  • Talk through your negative assumptions about how others may or may not “see” you, be it in a journal or with a trusted source. How effective are your predictions and assumptions to begin with?
  • Make intentional space in your week, or day, to work on positive self-talk. Journal, meditate, or openly discuss qualities you enjoy about yourself, or are working to improve.

Moving forward, it may be helpful to write down some warning signs, along with a coping strategy or phrase to avoid cyclical, negative self-talk or disruptive body imagery.

Some examples:

Instead of: “I hate how I feel after eating poorly. Work is so stressful, I don’t have any energy to take care of myself.”

Try: “I know I have to work overtime this week, which often triggers unhealthy eating and negative thoughts about myself. I deserve to fuel my body well, so I’ll plan to pick up some pre-prepped health foods to keep me going. I will try to limit social media/screen time to get ample sleep, and try to get in a short but effective workout so I feel confident and energetic.”

Instead of: “I wish I looked like so and so. He/She has it so easy, I’ll never look or feel as confident as them because I’m not as talented. I should just give up.”

 Try: “I’m inspired by my peers, but acknowledge my path is different and unique. I need  different training stimulus and nutrition/fueling to fit where I’m currently at. I am willing to improve my health and fitness on my terms so that I stick with it long-term.”

Be aware of problem situations that may be a trigger, and work to find productive, healthy solutions. Keep a personal mantra or encouraging phrase in your mind to help you. Arm yourself with a plan, because your best self is worth fighting for!

Sending love and confidence,

BK

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