Article Contributed By: Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., Founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE
Let’s face it, many of us are in a disparaging relationship with our bodies. We transpose an innocent comment from a friend into a deposition on our appearance. We beat ourselves up—sometimes literally—every time we gain a few pounds, go on a crash diet, then cheat on that diet, throwing our body into a seesaw of malnutrition, binge eating, and more.
Our Environment Influences Our Body Image
We pick up on the body-image culture from seemingly everywhere:
- Work comments
- Magazines with size zero models on every page
- Clothes designed to hug and expose
From our earliest days, we hear our physical appearance is critically important in every facet of our life. One off-putting look or perceived slight can send us into crisis mode. If we are not careful, we pass this mindset onto our inner circle and to our children.
We know how we get here. The question is, how do we break out of this unhealthy mindset and get not only comfortable with our bodies, but have a healthy self-esteem?
What Is Body Image and How Does It Relate to Self-Esteem?
Body image is the mental picture we have of our body; what it looks like and how we perceive it to look. Self-esteem is the true opinion we have of ourselves, and how we respect ourselves as a person.
It is hard to feel good about ourselves if we hate our body. And it is hard to take care of our body if we have poor opinion of ourselves. It can be a vicious cycle. The good news is that we can control our body image and how we feel about ourselves.
Here Are Four Tools That Can Help With Both Body Image and Self-Esteem
Make peace with food.
Food is not evil. It fuels our body to help us achieve great things. It can taste wonderful and enhance the enjoyment of a meal, especially when spending time with friends. But for many of us, we use it as a crutch, then attack ourselves for what we perceive the food is doing to our body.
- Learn what foods provide nutrients for your body without introducing too many simple sugars, saturated fats and processed foods.
- Learn food combinations that make tasty, healthy meals.
- Experiment and have fun creating new dishes.
- Be disciplined at restaurants to avoid the food types you know are not helpful.
Try writing down what you were thinking and how you were feeling immediately before you ordered a meal or ate something in your fridge, and also if you denied yourself food that your body needed. Look for patterns and triggers.
After a while, when you sense the approaching feeling or emotions that trigger your disordered eating habits, you will be able to choose differently and begin to break your patterns.
Break Bad Internal Mental Habits.
Often, our views on body image and self-esteem come from our parents. For many, our mothers cooked our meals and impacted our opinions about food and correct body form. Ask yourself whether the subtleties around eating and meals in your childhood were positive:
- Ate healthy foods
- Enjoyed meals with others
- Happy dining experiences
- Mealtime was full of stress or anger
- Awkward silence
- Fear around whether the meal would be acceptable
Identify those feelings and whether they have impacted you. Try to separate what you know to be true about food and what you may still internalize from your family’s personal issues around food. Allow yourself to be free from old “bad habits” that subtly worked their way into your psyche.
Important: avoid making disparaging remarks about your own appearance.
Break Bad External Mental and Verbal Habits
This sounds simple, but, depending on how ingrained they are into your mindset, this can take discipline and practice to incorporate into your daily routine.
Avoid relationships where the other person makes unflattering remarks about your appearance or tries to pressure you regarding your body.
Avoid judging others based on their appearance. Be disciplined to eliminate those thoughts as soon as they arise. Focus on what someone says, how they act and treat others. Avoid all comments about others’ physical appearance for one week. Then one month. Can you do it? It can lead to healthy habits for your mindset and approach to body image.
Understand the root of your feelings about food, body image and self-esteem.
This may sound like therapist talk and, no doubt, an experienced therapist can be extremely helpful when dealing with significant body image and self-esteem issues. But there are things we can do ourselves to help.
Set aside a quiet time to journal your negative thoughts about your body. Write them all down. How do these thoughts make you feel about yourself? Certainly, some have a direct impact on your self-esteem.
Let’s try and understand where those feelings come from. As a little child, did you receive compliments of being a “gorgeous/handsome” little boy or girl? Or, were the comments more like, “Shouldn’t you lose a little weight?” Did you watch adults obsess about others’ body image on television, in magazines or in public?
Are you allowing your thoughts about body image to mask real issues—relationships, financial stress, work?
Knowledge About How We Feel Will Help Us
Understanding why we feel the way we do about our body and ourselves helps us work on getting to a better place. Once we identify our triggers and are honest about our thoughts, eating habits, and fitness regimen, we can begin to work on them.
Making progress in areas we know are important to us is one of the best ways to boost our self-esteem. And when we boost our self-esteem, our body image almost certainly will follow.
Help and Support Are Available
Successfully recovering from an eating disorder requires a holistic strategy to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual elements of a person. Depending on the severity of the eating disorder, seeking professional help is paramount.