Isa Robinson, Registered Associate Nutritionist is on a mission to inspire young women to love their bodies no matter what and to enjoy a healthy and balanced relationship with food. Here are her 10 steps to a better body image…
According to The Centre for Appearance Research, 50-70% of children and 60% of adults in the western world are unhappy with the way they look. In fact, a study of 320 women found 30% would trade a year of their life for the perfect body. Research has shown negative body image is associated with some deleterious impacts including increased risk of eating disorders, risky dieting behaviours, low self-esteem, poor mental health and raised inflammatory markers.
With summer fast approaching and with it, the inescapable onslaught of #bikinibody propaganda, I’m hoping I can persuade you to forgo the diet and spend some time working on a better body image instead. Because despite the cringeworthy cliché, the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself! Ok before I lose you let’s get to it.
Know the facts
Did you know that 95% of dieters are likely to regain the weight lost plus more! This is due to a complex interplay of appetitive hormones that thanks to evolution play a powerful role in helping humans seek out and eat food. Restrict food intake and this powerful hormonal concoction drives up hunger to full throttle making it near impossible to resist the entire packet of chocolate biscuits. It’s not that we fail diets, it’s that diets don’t stand a chance at the mercy of centuries worth of fine-tuned biology. So step one is to let go of the idea of your body as some malleable entity that you can change if you just stick to the diet and start appreciating it for what it is right now.
Break up with Diet Culture
Diet culture is anything that normalises weight loss or links food and eating to morality. It can be as blindingly obvious as an appetite suppressing lollypop or as ubiquitous as my fitness pal, which has made logging our food intake a seemingly normal behaviour and more dependent on our phones to tell us what to eat than our own innate hunger and fullness signals. Breaking up with diet culture is learning to recognise the stupidity in special K diets and laxative teas, to forgo watery hot chocolates and to undo the notion you are so “bad” for having a slice of cake. Frankly, it’s getting angry at the $60 billion industry that has a 95% failure rate that has you feeling like you’re going crazy around food.
Aim for Body Neutrality
The truth is, we’re probably never going to feel good in our bodies 100% of the time. Shifting the goal post from body positivity to body neutrality is a more realistic target.
Body neutrality is neither loving nor hating one’s body but simply accepting it for what it is. It’s about understanding that whilst we may not always be having a good body image day, there are a variety of reasons to be grateful for our hips and thighs from their functionality, to body pride and the way our bodies act as a vehicle to experience the world and form meaningful relationships with others. In studies focusing on female adolescents, positive body image has been associated with those who are accepting of their flaws and can appreciate their body for more that its physical appearance.
Developing a more compassionate self-dialogue is essential for building a better body image and is simply about speaking to yourself the same way you would a child or close friend. Research indicates how self-compassion practices, including positive self-talk buffer pressure to achieve the thin ideal and disordered eating, thus playing a protective factor against poor body image. So the next time you find yourself in a poorly lit Zara changing room ready to hurl all kinds of abuse at yourself. Pause for a minute. Would you really say this to your best friend? What might you say instead?
Identify your emotions
Contrary to popular opinion, Fat is NOT a feeling! Whilst fat and thin days may be fleeting actual changes in weight are gradual so what’s accounting for this illusion? Well, usually fat is a fall back for a negative emotion we’re struggling to identify. “I feel fat” can often mean, “I feel sad”, “I feel anxious”, “I feel let down”. Such emotions can be prompted by a bad day at work, a break up or a poor grade, as well as triggered by negative comments from relatives or the endlessness assault of airbrushed thigh gaps on social media. In building a better body image it’s important to be able to identify both triggers and emotions, emphasising the importance of addressing emotional health, which no amount of weight loss will solve.
Give back to your body
Research shows that engaging in mindful self-care can increase positive body image. Mindful self-care is about tuning into and honouring our bodies basic needs. This can be as boring as balanced eating, hydration, movement, sleep and visiting your GP for routine check-ups. Yet, it may also be about spending time with loved ones, hobbies and allowing yourself other rituals like a massage, bubble bath or manicure. Spa anyone?
That dress you’re hoping to eventually zip up, the jeans leaving you feeling a little too self-conscious to enjoy your evening, get rid of them! You are never going to feel comfortable in your body in uncomfortable clothes.
Social Media Makeover
Unfollow the #fitspo and the food police. Nope the wash board abs and how many calories are in a chicken breast posts probably aren’t making you feel good about yourself.
Equally diversify your feed with a range of different body types that give a more realistic depiction of the beauty in different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, races and sexualities. Include pages that inspire or make you smile, like travel, homeware or even cute pictures of puppies.
Know your values
The truth is, at your funeral nobody is going to remember you for your weight or what you did or didn’t eat. Instead it’s important to identify true values and passions. Perhaps it’s a particular vocation or something as simple as being with family and friends. Whichever, channel your time, energy and love into your true values, rather than being at war with your body. Life is short and ultimately you can live a successful and fulfilled life in very body you occupy right now.
A note on thin privilege
Last but not least I feel it’s important to touch on thin privilege. If you can fit into a normal size aeroplane seat, shop for clothes in regular stores and be with family members without them expressing “concern” about your weight, the chances are you have thin privilege. Those with thin privilege you are more likely to their health concerns taken seriously by doctors, in employment, paid a higher wage and accommodated and accepted within public spaces.
To note, you do not have to feel thin to have thin privilege. It’s about acknowledging that regardless of how you feel, you have been afforded certain advantages that others have not. It is only through addressing thin privilege, the elephant in the room, that we can truly create meaningful changes.
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