On Tuesday night I went to see the new movie Embrace which is an incredibly powerful documentary about the struggles that so many of us face around body image. It discussed the ways in which women are sent messages that their bodies are not good enough and the cycles of self-loathing and shame that build up over our lifetimes. And yet it was also an incredibly hopeful and empowering movie because it really made the case for another way. It set out a new approach for how we should honor and love our bodies as vehicles for life rather than objects to be judged by those around us (and ourselves).
As I was sitting there, I was thinking about all of the conversations I have had in the course of my work with clients, workshop participants, and friends about the anxieties that so many of us have about how our bodies look and how much shame and worry we experience around food, which we see as our Achilles heal. We believe that if we were just more controlled about what we ate, everything would be better. I say “we” here because this used to be my life. I lived in a constant state of obsession about what I was eating. I would negotiate with myself, deprive myself, count calories, workout to “earn” calories back, and not even enjoy the food I did eat because I was either anxious about whether or not I had made the “right” choice or I was wolfing it down because I was so hungry. In short, I was miserable. In the past few years, though, things have gotten much better for me. I no longer track what I eat or feel guilty when I have “junk food.” Sure, I still have days when I am not happy with my body or feel like I have overeaten, but those are now short lived, and often hormonal, which I’m cool with.
I am so grateful that this shift has happened for me and I wanted to share with you a couple of things that I truly believe have helped me to find this path:
1) I stopped eating for weight control and started eating for energy and health. I made a decision to stop focusing on the calories but instead to focus on eating things that made me feel good and gave me energy. In order to do this I had to pay attention to which foods actually made me feel good and which ones left me sluggish. Once I had this figured out, the foods choices became much easier and less stressful.
2) I decided to honor my cravings. I came to realize that when I stopped myself from having something that I really wanted I became fixated on it and felt deprived. This sense of deprivation inevitably ended up with me eating extra “healthy” things to try to make up for what I wasn’t letting myself eat and then breaking down and eating what it was I had wanted anyway. So now, when I am craving something, I honor that craving and eat a little bit of whatever it is sooner rather than later. This helps me to regulate the impulse and stay feeling satisfied.
3) I taught myself to love my body, at least a little bit. This one was really, really hard for me at first but overtime it got easier and very powerful. I have a practice that I complete each day which is to take stock of three things that went well in my day and why. This practice has helped me to be a happier and better person (I have learned a lot of lessons about what works as a parent from this exercise). At the suggestion of a friend, I made a rule for myself that for one month at least one of the three things each day needed to be something positive about my body. Sometimes it was a positive feeling I had about my appearance and sometimes it was something cool my body had done for me or allowed me to do (a head stand, carrying my kid, completing a workout, etc.). By shifting some of my positive energy to my body I was able to start to actually see all the good things about it. It was a revelation.
Do you struggle with body image and how it relates to your relationship with food? If so, please get in touch about working together or sign up for my new virtual group starting in late October! Details here.