by Crystal Savoy, MS, RD, LDN
When you hear the term “body image” what does that mean to you? What does it bring up for you? There are many definitions for body image – we have our own experiences that inform our perception of body image and then we have the definitions in the literature. For example Thomas Cash, PhD, a body image researcher defines it as:
“Body image refers to how you personally experience your own embodiment. More than a mental picture of what you look like, your body image consists of your personal relationship with your body – encompassing your perceptions, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions that pertain to your physical appearance.”
– Thomas Cash, PhD
Note: it has nothing to do with the physical body or “needing” to change it and all about our relationship to it mentally and how we treat it! Now what about positive/healthy body image? I like to think of people having a positive body image when they get to a mental place where they are not preoccupied with their body and they are able to live a fulfilling and meaningful life knowing that they are so much more than just body.
“Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good, it’s knowing your body IS good, regardless of how it looks.”
-Lindsay Kite, PhD of Beauty Redefined
You can explore your relationship with your body at any stage of eating disorder treatment or recovery from diet culture. Two things you can do to start that journey are outlined below:
- Mindfulness – I saw a quote recently that cultivating mindfulness is now non-negotiable because of the way that our brains are wired and the environment we live in. This makes total sense to me as we are constantly receiving messages about what we should look like and should be doing with a side of “don’t you dare take a minute to yourself!” To me, mindfulness means slowing down and being in the present moment noticing what is true for you without judgement. Now you might be thinking “I cannot sit still alone with my thoughts for 10 minutes.” Don’t worry! While that might be helpful for some and you might get there eventually, anyone can implement mindfulness strategies into their day without it feeling like one more thing on the to-do list. Start with everyday tasks/routines you already do and try to stay present in the moment. For example, when brushing your teeth, showering, driving in the car, or grocery shopping, bring awareness to what you are doing at that moment. Of course our thinking minds will chime in. The point of being mindful isn’t to not have any thoughts but instead to bring yourself back to the present rather than thinking about the “next” thing. Sometimes I’ll just say to myself “slow down” as a gentle reminder that I don’t need to move through the day so quickly. What does mindfulness have to do with body image? It helps connect us to our bodies inner wisdom and rely on internal cues rather than rules.
- Self Kindness – OOF. This one is hard. Giving yourself the kindness you give to others might sound pretty straight forward, but it’s something my clients find pretty difficult to do. Understandably! Caring and giving people tend to do just that – care and give to others (often so much so that they forget about themselves). So how can you turn that kindness inward? In a moment of distress or negative self talk try reminding yourself that these are human experiences that all of us are dealing with and you are not alone. Another thing I like to have clients practice is called, “What am I feeling? What do I need?” So when you’re feeling sad or alone, what do you need at that moment? Can you call someone or take a moment to just check in with yourself and take a deep breath? If you’re feeling burnt out or tired, is there one thing you can take off of your plate?
These are just two of many components to a healthy body image. Body image is a topic that tends to inadvertently get put on the back-burner in recovering from disordered eating. Because of that, and knowing that having a positive and healthy body image prevents eating disorders and relapse, all the clinicians at CNC360, LLC include body image counseling as part of their work in helping clients move towards full recovery.