By Elizabeth Saviteer, MS, CN, LMHC and Brandi Olden RD, CSP, CD
Body image…one minute we feel great about it, the next minute we feel shame about it. Why IS that? How do we overcome this self-induced suffering? How can we stay in that “good” feeling about our body forever and ever and ever? Is that even possible?
Even as veterans in the field of eating disorder recovery, we readily admit that discussing body image with clients, can still be a challenge fit for a king. The challenge is that our culture, much of the medical community and our personal insecurities have mis-shaped our perceptions of what is most important and valuable to us regarding health, wellness and fitness. The perceptions are now the little voices in our heads telling us what to eat, how to eat, where to eat, how much to eat, why we should/shouldn’t eat, how we should or shouldn’t feel about our bodies, what to say about food in social settings, and the list goes on and on and on.
Read about discrepancies between the research and public health messages in this book: Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon
These mis-shaped perceptions influence how we think about our personal value and self-worth. Consider one of the most popular perceptions today: To be a happy, successful, worthwhile human being one must be attractive in a particular way.
Deep down on a spiritual and rational level, we have a deep knowing that this isn’t true. You do not love and cherish your best friend because they are physically beautiful and scored well on their SAT exams many years ago. You probably value their friendship because they are a good friend, they make time to give you attention and a listening ear, their actions are genuine, kind, generous, supportive, and your personalities work well together.
1 Samuel 16:7 “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
The unfortunate truth is that most of us have been so indoctrinated into this one example of false valuation that we feel it to be true on an emotional level. And when you believe this thought then your brain can mistakenly make the assumption that you ARE that thing. You inevitably, hold yourself to a set of unreasonable expectations regardless of genetic body shape or size.
As eating disorder professionals, the overwhelming part of this falsehood, is that no one is immune to the pressure surrounding these false ideals. When combined, as it often is, with our deep need for social connection, public self-loathing is the result. The name for it is Diet Bonding.
Definition of False Values: Externally sourced beliefs and judgments that we are exposed to in different areas of our life, often through the media and echoed by our peers, family & co-workers. Distress stems partly from a conflict between our true values and our false values.
Definition of Real Values: Internally based and resonate deeply within us. They reflect the kind of people we want to be. They are reflected in our character, in our relationships, in our search for purpose, and our spiritual beliefs. They are informed by our morals and our conscience. They are deeply meaningful to us and create the compass with which we strive to navigate our lives.
Yup, men and women bond over body-hatred. Spending hours discussing a new diet plan, how much weight has been lost or “needs” to be lost has become a normal daily conversation topic. The proof of the pervasiveness is that in the midst of these conversations, our conversers naturally counter-balance our negative talk with genuine compliments. The response we give them-rejection and minimization.
It’s easy to get swept up in the allure and seduction of pursuing these false values. Life is hard, and messy, and painful at times. We all want to escape into a fantasy of an alternate reality, where we meet this impossibly perfect body and perfect health ideal and live happily ever after. Then we return to reality and see that our fantasy self doesn’t match the real thing. Ouch. The disappointment we feel when we realize we’ll never live up to the image of our false values brings us a lot of suffering. This is a root of negative body image.
It is time to give up unrealistic expectations and get “Real” with who you are. It is worth your time to search your soul for a moment. What is really important about the kind of person you want to be? When you are 80 years old and reflecting upon your life, how will you feel about the things you will remember the most?
Discover your own Values_Questionnaire.
The answers to these questions will put you on the path to freedom from the Body Image Trap.
How will you feel when you are no longer plagued by body guilt or shame but instead filled with compassion, acceptance and a deep knowing that your day to day actions are a reflection of your values instead of some external/cultural ideal?
Be well and be nourished,
Elizabeth and Brandi