Being at Peace With Your Body
Amongst a wellness revolution and a saturation of heavily filtered/perfected images on platforms such as Instagram, we are unsurprisingly still seeing a rise in eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. Did you know that 80% of women in the UK are dissatisfied with their appearance, and the biggest worry young women around the ages of 13-16 experience is about what they look like? Not to mention the 10% of men that are currently struggling with Body Dysmorphia in gyms. I know, these facts are hard-hitting, but there are things we can do to cultivate a more positive body image and get a little bit more body confidence for ourselves and society.
Health, wellness and body confidence to one person looks different to another, as we are all SO different, no one size fits all and health does not exist in a single body shape or a bowl of kale. I am going to share with you 6 key tools, including exercises so you can feel more at peace in your body:
My first crucial piece of wisdom/advice here is to remind yourself and practice mantras that you can relate to, for example: YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN A BODY, no matter what the media/or body-obsessed culture likes to convince you of otherwise, how you look does not define who you are as a person. The amount of food or alcohol you consume does not correlate to your worth, the size of your body does not correlate to your worth, who are you beneath all of that? Write who is at the core of you now on a piece of paper.
Secondly: Food and body image do coincide with each other and this is often best known as Food and Mood. I often go by the saying that, food is only as guilty as we make it. Controversial, maybe? Does that mean you should never include vegetables and protein into your diets, no! Our bodies do thrive off vegetables, fats, carbohydrates and protein, but that doesn’t mean that if we eat chocolate or a slice of cake we are not eating well or that these foods are “bad”, one of the key principles of intuitive/unrestrictive eating is eating for pleasure and enjoyment! There is a rise in eating disorders such as Orthorexia, which is an obsession with eating “clean” foods only, and if this doesn't happen, people are often left feeling insanely guilty. One of the best things you can do is listen to what your body needs and wants, allowing yourself to enjoy what you truly fancy/ (for me I have some chocolate most days because I enjoy it) this can stop you feeling deprived, guilty or in conflict with food and your body. A helpful place to start would be to ditch the diet books, practices, do a social media clean-up of any unhelpful diet information, disengage with diet talk amongst peers and really think about what foods you enjoy and make you feel food as this is unique to everyone. Remember that we are all so unique and what works for one person may not work for another, always seek advice from a qualified Non-diet Nutritionist or Dietitian that can advise you on eating in a way that feels good for you psychologically and physically.
Thirdly: “Train from a place of love” (quoted by Felicity Hayward on the Girl gains podcast.) Amongst a wellness revolution, it feels like everyone is a fitspo and hitting up 2 gym classes per day. While there are many benefits to living an active lifestyle, and it is something I advocate for, as it helps relieve stress, improves your mental health and physical wellbeing and can leave you feeling empowered and ready to start the day. My advice would be cultivating a positive experience with your body by moving it in a way that works for you, this could be dancing, swimming, lifting weights, boxing or even walking! Exercising from a place of self-respect, self-compassion and actual enjoyment is SO much more beneficial to your mental and physical wellbeing. Moving your body is a great gift and one that extends to everybody that is able for it, what we are shown in magazine and gym advertisements is not the reality.
Finally: Stop and ask yourself right now, is your BODY really the problem, or what you THINK about your body? If society was to change its ideals of beauty, would you change yours? Strive not to look like the photoshopped image on the magazine, or anyone else in fact, strive to work on feeling like the best version of YOU, because that is the only thing you can ever truly attain and the relationship you have with your body and self is the most important one you will ever have. Surround your social media feeds with bodies of all shapes and sizes, fat bodies, people of colour, old people, young people, men, women, non-binary. Diversifying what you see will remind you that there is no one way to look or be. Body checking in mirrors and distorted/negative thoughts about your body can often be a sign that it’s time to seek some help from a Therapist or someone who has training in body image and/or eating disorders/body dysmorphia.
Here are a couple of exercises I do with my clients to help improve their body image:
The first one is: Make a list of what your body does for you inside-out. It is so easy to get caught up in our legs not being x shape or our teeth not being “white enough” or calling ourselves horrible names because we experience bloating. Have you ever thought to stop and think of what your body is? Have you ever focused on the feeling of your legs carrying you through a hike, walk or running for that bus to make your dream job interview? These are things we take for granted every day and things that some people in the world are robbed of in tragic circumstances. Our body is the sum of your organs and think of the amazing abilities having working legs and a healthy strong heart allow you to do? Give this a go next time you are feeling negative about your body, get out that pen and paper and write about how your arms enabled you to swim in the sea and how your heart beats to keep you alive!
Second: Write a letter to your body, in third person and start to consider it as a vessel that you have complete responsibility for, what would you say to it if you truly and deeply respected it despite what it looked like, what would you say to your younger body, the one you neglected, starved or treated disrespectfully. Think of how you can learn to trust in one another again and remind yourself it is your home, a home that you are in sole responsibility of. Treat your body well and I promise it will serve you internally and externally.
To conclude, remember that your body and appearance doesn’t define who YOU are as a person or what choices you can make. Even if you feel bad about your body, you still need and deserve to eat, just because them jeans didn’t fit you in that shop, you still deserve to own and wear jeans. The day I stopped going to war with my body was the day I finally felt at home in it and you can too.
Whatever your journey, know that nothing lasts forever and YOU have the power to strengthen your mind and life to live more freely, in peace with your body.
For more information or support contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Laura Phelan is an Eating Disorder Specialist Therapist and the founder of Phelan Well.
Since her recovery from Anorexia 10 years ago, she now specialises in Eating Disorder Recovery and helps people develop a healthy relationship with food and body image. Her training is from the National Centre of Eating Disorders, this remarkable and inspiring training is continually updated in line with the latest thinking from a range of psychologies and healing approaches and is approved by The British Psychological Society.