The root of most “troubled eating” is……..
Body worry… either the fear of becoming fat or trying to become less fat….. or manipulate the body in some way. When you peel away the layers, this tends to be the driver of food choice.
For most that I observe, this is a very conscious thought, but for many, a subconscious reason for lamenting over each bite of food. How will this food that I am eating affect my outward physical appearance. Will it make me fat? Will it help me lose weight? Will it make my tummy smaller & more cut? Will it make my thighs less jiggly, arms less flabby? This is the barrage of thoughts that come with most eating experiences. How can we not have troubled eating when each bite of food holds so much potential power?
These thoughts seem so normal and are reinforced through our societal beliefs that this is what we should be thinking about in the name of health, because what we look like on the outside is a great indicator of our health, right?
I am here to remind you of a few things: Healthy bodies can come in all shapes and sizes; that genetics play more of a role in the way our bodies look than most people are willing to acknowledge and there is not any one food, one meal, or one day of eating that has the ability to affect either the way your body looks or your health, for most people ( diabetes and mismatched insulin may be one of the few exceptions). When we make eating decisions based on how it will make one's body look we are often left feeling either hungry, unsatisfied or guilty about what we just ate. I would add that living on broccoli and grilled chicken or eliminating full food groups is ,over time, not going to lead to optimal physical health either but rather detract from it.
Consider for just a moment, if you could make decisions without the lurking thought of how it will affect your body’s appearance, what would you choose to eat? Would it be different than what you are eating now? What if you considered instead how the food will taste, how hungry you are, how it will make you feel during and after, will it sustain you for as long as you need on this day and sure, what about health. Of course moving in this direction is easier said than done. In our weight and thinness obsessed culture of course these thoughts of body manipulation are always lurking.
I am always reminded of something my former college student that struggled with disordered eating once said to me: “When I started working ”FOR” my body instead of “ON” my body, that is when I really started to become healthier and happier all around”. How about focusing on overall well being rather than being hyper focused on weight? Focusing on weight is one of many, many factors when talking about health outcomes, let us keep it in perspective.
Now, am I saying that you should not care about the way you look at all? No, and in fact I think this expectation that we love every inch of our bodies just the way we are sets people up for more guilt and shame because it is unrealistic given our current value system. But…. can you move the needle just a little more toward self compassion, how about self respect, appreciation for the things your body can do for you? How about some acceptance? Including accepting the sadness that we may feel when we come to the painful realization that most of us will never be the epitome of beauty in every single way as our culture dictates. What if we could begin to slowly understand that and that our value is not and should not be based solely ( if at all ) on how we appear to the world.
So how can you do that, just a little?
This is not easy work, it takes time, a lot of self reflection and some level of ability to move into the uncomfortable. But to start... simply asking yourself what ARE your motivators for the foods you choose? Do they feel balanced? One dimensional? Is it only based on health, weight or do you consider things like satisfaction and enjoyment...is it only one or the other? How do you feel after you make food choices? Do you experience feelings of guilt? Why? If you ask without judgement and come from a place of curiosity you may get more honest and insightful answers.
Some “low hanging fruit” approaches to moving toward a more positive body image:
Take a critical look at all media that you consume and how it makes you feel after consuming it. Does it make you feel “less than”, that you are not doing enough, etc. Is your social media feed all about “ clean eating” and ways to shrink your thighs? Are the magazines you are reading just about “ways to make you look 10 years younger” and images of only one perspective of beauty? Diversify! Follow people on social media that show more body diversity and that make you feel good ( like me! https://www.facebook.com/NutritionKaiCO/ ) and then follow the people that you respect...curate a postive feed.
Get clothes that you FEEL good in and that you are comfortable in. Nothing makes you more body obsessed than jeans that are too tight and are digging into your sides all day long.
Movement, of any kind. Research shows that people who move their bodies more, regardless of their size, have a more positive body image than those who do not. Getting up and taking a walk is one of the very few and real ways that you can feel better in your body IN THE MOMENT. This can be very helpful when you are having a “bad body day”.
Take a break from the mirror, for now. At some point, coming back to the mirror and focusing on the positives, even if it your eyelashes, can be very therapeutic. In the meantime, take a little break and see how it makes you feel to step away from the constant focus on perceived flaws.
Notice your triggers. Have you ever worn the same outfit a few days apart and all of a sudden you feel “fat” in an outfit that you felt confidant a few days prior? Obviously your body hasn't changed...but something did…what was it? We often allow our bodies to be the receptacle of our negative emotions. If you can try to figure out what caused this negative outcome, you can work on the real problem, rather than thinking you can work on your body more and make the issue go away.
This is a place to start, there is no magic & fast way to move through body image work. But it is totally possible to come out the other end and when you do the result will typically be more peace, more variety and more balance around food and an improved sense of overall well being. If you feel you want to move in this direction and need support, join one of my group classes https://www.nutritionkai.com/taste-of-food-freedom , or one on one sessions. Email me, and we can discuss what it is that you need and what the right fit may be. Lisa@nutritionkai.com