Dealing with Negative Body Image

In my work with clients, I often say negative body image is the first to come and the last to leave in the treatment of food and body issues.  And that is a pretty consistent truth for the many recovery journeys I have witnessed over the years.  My clients have taught me the meaning about body image, regardless of whether they have a full blown eating disorder or not. 

Everyone has (at least) a bad body image day.  No one is immune to body image struggles in our culture.

Depending on where you fall, if at all, on the disordered eating spectrum, dealing with harsh, intrusive, negative thoughts and compulsions regarding your body is a common part of dealing with disordered eating.  You may recognize all too well some of these recurring negative thoughts used to bully and shame yourself.  So many try to manage these thoughts and feelings by stuffing them and putting on their "I'm fine" or "It's all good" masks of virtue, hiding the truth that they are at war with their body.  Many try to manage the pain of being in their skin and their body shame by:

  • Over-exercising

  • Restricting eating

  • Dieting

  • Mindless, emotional eating

  • Comparing

  • Competing

  • Shaming

And this can lead to a dark journey into the world of eating disorders and disordered eating.  Yet, many hover in this place of emotional ickiness where they cannot shake the uneasiness of living in their skin and make genuine, though harmful, attempts to get relief.  For many of you, this battle is really not about your body.  Often times, when we move away from the laser focus obsessions on what needs to change in our body and pull back the blinders, we will recognize that something else is going on in you life.

Instead of defaulting to negative food and body obsessions, I work with my clients on how to acknowledge what they are really feeling and what they are really thinking in that moment.  Then we work on respecting those thoughts and feelings in the moment.  I also emphasize the truth in how my clients feel.  What they feel is always real, but rarely is it ever fact.  Finally, we focus on how to respond differently when body hatred arises. Instead of stuffing, minimizing, or denying - which can only fuel the negative thoughts and coping tools - I work with my clients on accessing new tools and strategies when the dreaded body image surfaces.

When there is too much focus on feeling better in your body and not looking at the connection with bad body image to other factors - physical, emotional, social, and spiritual - then I think we are limiting the potential of experiencing true healing.  It is okay not to love your body all the time, but it is imperative to focus on respecting your body and being grateful for your body, even when you do not like it.  You can actually dislike your body while also showing your body respect and gratitude.  Eventually, respect and gratitude will win if you hang in there.

Consider this strategy in your relationship with your body.  With heavy doses of respect and gratitude, in addition to responding differently to your bad body image days, the feeling of your body may never being enough may dissipate, and eventual truce with your body may be declared.  And if one of those days surfaces again, the hope is you do not shame yourself for backsliding in your recovery, but see your body image difficulties as a hint to investigate further.  All the while administering generous doses of respect and gratitude.