For those struggling with an eating disorder, negative body image and body dissatisfaction are common. When working to improve negative body image or body dissatisfaction, eating disorder specialists often help individuals focus on appreciating their body functionality, or what it can do, versus how it looks.
How appreciating body functionality over appearance helps improve body image
The idea behind this approach is that we live in an appearance-obsessed culture that promotes unrealistic body types and beauty standards. Living in this culture has us place too much emphasis on how our bodies look (their appearance, weight, shape, size, and so on), and it has us ignore all that our bodies do for us.
It is thought that this narrow perception of our bodies negatively impacts our body image and satisfaction. Therefore, focusing on what the body is able to do can help regain a more balanced, complex perspective toward our body. This, in turn, helps improve our body image and body satisfaction.
Types of body functionality
As mentioned above, body functionality is everything that your body is able to do. If we begin to explore all that our body is able to do, we can begin to identify several different types of body functionality. Based on their research, Alleva and colleagues have grouped body functionality into the following six categories:
- Internal processes. An example, “My body can digest food and heal from a cold.”
- Physical capacities. An example, “My body can walk and bike to work.”
- Bodily senses and sensations. An example, “My body can see and experience pleasure.”
- Creative endeavors. An example, “My body can dance and sing.”
- Communication. An example, “My body can communicate using body language.”
- Self-care. An example, “My body can shower and rest.”
How can you practice appreciating body functionality over appearance?
If you are wanting to practice appreciating your body’s functionality over its appearance, here are some research-based exercises you can practice:
- Keep a body gratitude journal. Write down the ways your body works for you versus how it looks. It can be helpful to think about the different types of body functionality listed above and to start with the statement, “My body can…”.
- Focus on joyful movement. Too often, our motives for movement and exercise can be appearance-focused. Instead of moving our bodies in order to change them, we can focus on moving our bodies in order to care for them and in ways that bring us joy and pleasure.
- Incorporate body mindfulness. Throughout your day, do your best to observe what your body is doing in the present moment. During these moments, you will find opportunities to simply observe all that your body is doing at that moment or even express gratitude and appreciation for your body. An example may be, “I appreciate that my body allows me to hug my loved one at this moment.”
- Intentionally replace body appearance thoughts with body functionality thoughts. If you find yourself focusing on your appearance or judging your body harshly, intentionally bring in thoughts about your body’s functionality. You can read from your body gratitude journal (mentioned above) or start with the “my body can…” statement.
If you find yourself struggling with these practices, it can be helpful to reach out to a therapist or counselor who specializes in body image and body dissatisfaction. They will be able to support you in building appreciation for your body and help individualize body appreciation practices with you.
1. Alleva, J. M., Martijn, C., Jansen, A., & Nederkoorn, C. (2014). Body language: Affecting body satisfaction by describing the body in functionality terms. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 181-196.
2. Alleva, J. M., Diedrichs, P. C., Halliwell, E., Martijn, C., Stuijfzand, B. G., Treneman-Evans, G., & Rumsey, N. (2018). A randomised-controlled trial investigating potential underlying mechanisms of a functionality-based approach to improving women’s body image. Body Image, 25, 85-96.
3. Alleva, J. (2018, Jan 4). One Powerful Way to Feel Better About Your Body in 2018: A simple change of perspective can help you feel better in your own skin. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-your-body/201801/one-powerful-way-feel-better-about-your-body-in-2018 on April 8, 2020.
About the Author:
Chelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.
She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published May 6, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on May 6, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC