Recovering from Body Image Issues

Dr. David Wiss

August 31, 2022

Eating Disorders

Body image is one component of personal identity. It represents how we think, feel, perceive, and behave regarding our bodies. Body image disturbance, and full-blown body hatred, unfortunately, signify our times. Body image is closely associated with disordered eating, but not all people with body image issues have eating disorders.

It’s critical to acknowledge that body image disturbance is not exclusive to matters of size and shape but can also include concerns about specific body parts, hair, skin, and other features of cultural contribution and social construction.

While many people struggle to feel at home in the body they live in, there are powerful movements underway that are changing the prevailing narratives. Are you a part of this conversation?

It’s no secret that the average BMI has risen steadily in the US and in other countries in the last four decades. We’ve all seen the data- you don’t need me to report it. Anti-obesity rhetoric in public health campaigns has been pervasive. Can negative language toward larger bodies be creating new problems?

Weight Stigma

Recently it has become evident that the perpetuation of weight stigma has only made things worse, supporting the need for weight-inclusive health policies [1]. Body size is the next social justice movement. Let’s all put an end to sizeism.

It’s also well-known that social media use has increased body comparison, leading to widespread exposure to unrealistic and surgically modified body types, heightening body image issues across all ages, groups, and genders [2–5]. Importantly, there are also movements online (i.e., social media) which have made progress in reducing weight stigma.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a growing phenomenon characterized by obsessive thoughts about one or more perceived flaws or defects in appearance. This can lead to compulsive body checking and avoidance of social situations based on shame and anxiety.

Many people assume that their body image issues will disappear once they “correct” their perceived flaws. In some instances, this can be the case, but disturbances often persist or reemerge over time.

Many people who have sought cosmetic procedures to fix their perceived flaws experience a temporary reduction in anxiety and distress. Still, often the anxiety returns, and they resume searching for other ways to modify their appearance. This is not a criticism of cosmetic procedures but rather a warning not to fall down certain traps when there may be other solutions.

Internalized vs. Externalized Body Image Issues

Many people externalize their issues by endlessly discussing their bodies with others, often seeking forms of confirmation or reassurance. Those who externalize their body image issues are more likely to comment on other people’s bodies and pay more attention to appearance-related images [6]. In this study, susceptibility to attentional bias was a vulnerability factor for the prolonged persistence of negative body image in daily life.

Others internalize their body image issues and never discuss or share them with others. We just want to open the conversation for you and invite and encourage some healing. In the Wise Mind Nutrition program, we’ve shifted the focus away from weight and appearance and toward eating for optimum mental wellbeing. Are you here for it?

Body Image Healing and Recovery

If you’re experiencing body image dissatisfaction, whether mild or severe, we have 14 recommendations for you. First and foremost, we recognize that deep healing in this area can take some time. One helpful place to start is to ask: who is profiting from my feeling negative about my body? The answers often point to deep systemic problems in our society.

There’s no easy fix for persistent body image issues. The experience of living in a body that doesn’t feel like “home” can be traumatizing, but recovery is always accessible. Several considerations have been proven to be beneficial for many. Consider the following:

1. Your Body Weight is Not as Much of a “Choice” as Most People Seem to Think.
• Weight stigmatization has led to the assumption that one should be able to use diet and exercise to manipulate their body weight to whatever they decide. This is not supported by the data.
• There are many other contributors to body weight that are cultural, genetic, rooted in socioeconomic context and local environment, as well as psychosocial and biological [8–11].

2. Your Appearance Doesn’t Define You.
• Contemporary society tends to favor the material world and overlooks the importance of our inner worlds. When you strengthen your identity and sense of self, the material world becomes less influential and less dominating.

3. Many People with Bodies Considered Desirable by Society have Persistent Body Image Concerns.
• This highlights that our perception of our bodies is not solely a function of our bodies but also our inner world, including unresolved wounds from our upbringing, and subconscious obedience to social constructs.

4. Body Image Issues Across the Entire Gender Spectrum.
• Many people still assume that body image is a feminine issue. It has become increasingly clear that all people are susceptible to body image concerns.

5. Trauma, Particularly Early in Life, Can Create Difficulties with Feeling Safe in Your Body.
• As you embark on your healing journey, trust that increases in the safety of your relationships will increase the perception of safety in your body.
• In trauma treatment, food and body issues often spike at the beginning but then begin to improve over time. Dissociative states can disconnect the mind and the body, but the integration of mind and body does occur with proper treatment and patience.
• Consider the mantra as part of your daily routine: “There are no active threats in this moment. I am safe in the body that I live in. There are no perceived crises that I need to manage today. I’m calling a truce.”

6. You Cannot Heal a Body That You Hate.
• Negative self-talk and harmful thoughts about your body will not motivate you toward meaningful healing. Such negativity often makes the situation worse.
• Positive self-talk and loving thoughts about your body will motivate you toward meaningful healing. The healing energy generates from love and acceptance.

7. If Body Positivity Doesn’t Feel Accessible to You, Focus on Body Neutrality.
• Neutrality is a position of safety and protection. It’s free from the emotional charge that will likely set off a cascade of thoughts and behaviors that often work against you.

8. Stop Engaging in Conversations about Weight and Appearance with Others.
• You can opt out of these conversations entirely and set boundaries with people who have not positively influenced you. You can also make amends with people with whom you’ve engaged in these conversations in the past and set a new basis for constructive communication moving forward.
• It’s just as inappropriate to make a comment about the weight that someone has lost as it is to make a comment about the weight that someone has gained.

9. If Your Body or Appearance Changes in a Way that Feels Favorable to You, it’s OK to Feel Good About it and be Proud of the Progress you’re Making.
• There’s no shame in seeking to feel your best. Don’t let other people influence how you should think or feel about it. Meanwhile, you might not need to tell everyone about it and post about it on social media.
• If you must share your progress with nutrition and exercise, focus on the cognitive and mood benefits. If you want to post a before and after picture, post your brain scan!

10. Stop Following Images of Bodies on Social Media.
• Many people don’t realize how daily exposure to this imagery sets up unconscious body comparisons and perpetuates the cycle of body dissatisfaction. Give some of these accounts a rest and watch your body image improve.
• Remember the mantra: “to compare is to despair.”

11. If You Become Hyper-Focused on Appearance-Related Issues, Turn Your Thoughts to Someone You Can Help.
• Often, we end up in the “cave of self,” but we can step out into the Sunlight of Spirit when we become interested in the welfare of others and how we can meet their needs. Call someone and ask how they’re doing.

12. If You Have a Body Image Attack, Use Breathing Techniques to Ground Yourself.
• Make sure you’re comfortable and do 21 cycles of nasal breathing. Count down from 21 and focus on the sensations of breathing and counting. If your mind wanders, simply return to the breath.

13. Don’t Wait Until Your Body Changes to Start Enjoying your Life.
• Social isolation doesn’t work with recovery and will likely work against it. Instead of changing your body, focus on changing your mind about your body.

14. Seek Professional Counseling to Discuss Body Image Issues, Either with a Licensed Mental Health Professional or a Registered Dietitian Experienced with Disordered Eating.

We’re here for you. You cannot make peace with food until you make peace with your body. Let’s all be a part of the movement toward world peace. Whether you are looking for treatment for bulimia nervosa, anxiety, depression, or are just frustrated by eating late at night, Wise Mind Nutrition can help you.

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