By: Michele Laine
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Are you able to see clearly the beauty that stands before you or is the view a distorted reflection?
If you’re among the many women and men with a skewed body image, you know the answer. Whether simple or complex in nature, it’s always different than what someone without this condition sees looking in that same mirror!
Maybe it’s your nose, skin, hair or another part of your body that’s focused on. The struggle is real. This lasting condition can begin after suffering from teasing as a child, or an emotional unresolved conflict, or from an eating disorder. Far too often it stems from Anorexia Nervosa and stays with the person long after they are freed from the disease. We just wrapped up National Eating Disorder Week and I thought it fitting to share with you this topic to help bring more awareness.
Through my personal journey with Anorexia, I can say that although I‘ve been cured from the disease since my late teenage years, the residual body image issues have never completely gone away. Luckily, I can report that it can definitely improve. It improves with sound nutrition, exercise, good sleep, stress management, acceptance of your own body and living in your own skin. More importantly, it improves with a changed mindset and perspective!!
I’d be lying if I told you the battle goes away and in my 40’s, I never have to deal with it again, but as perspective grows, body image changes and as perspective grows, life changes. Here are a few things I learned along the way to improve body image perspective and healthier ways of looking at myself:
- Throw away your scale – no seriously – do it!! One of my fondest memories was being able to throw my scale off our second story balcony and watch it smash to pieces. A bit of symbolism for letting that darned number on the scale go!! A number on the scale does not define who you are. There are so many stories on the internet you can google regarding body comparisons of a person at 155 pounds flabby vs 155 pounds on that same person fit and toned and multiple of inches and pants sizes smaller! Muscles are way sexier than skinny, trust me on this. Don’t be addicted to the number on the scale, it’s just a number.
- Focus on the parts of your body you like (or start finding them now!!!) No one hates every part of their body, begin by admitting to yourself one part of your body you like; your eyes? Shoulders? Lips? To begin to change, you must be able to break your focus on the areas of your body you dislike and learn to appreciate them in a new light.
- Get educated! The internet is a playground of endless information. Begin to research resources of healthy information your body and mind can thrive from. A few fantastic resources: sarahfragoso.com, everydaypaleo.com, AltShift at 30Kview.com and simplyhumanlifestyle.com to name a few. Stop skipping meals and starving your body. Identify and seek help to work through your issues of food guilt, self-sabotage, over exercising, restricted calories, punishment. What is your relationship with food? Be honest -what’s your relationship with yourself? Really spend time searching that answer. A helpful guide to such a breakthrough can be found at 30kview.com “Examining Body Image”.
- Be kind to yourself. Stop beating yourself up for poor food choices or for missing a workout and start paying attention to your self-talk. If you cannot be kind to yourself, no one else will!! Are you treating yourself kindly? Are you giving yourself credit for how wonderful you are and all the obstacles you’ve overcome (no matter how big or small)? Tell yourself something great about yourself and focus on the positive choices you make daily as those negative thoughts creep in. Wear clothes that make you feel beautiful – feel good about yourself!! To change the way you think about yourself, you must change the thoughts you allow to go through your mind.
- Have courage to make smart choices. Instead of eating the same foods that cause you the guilt, shame and loathing, can you replace those foods with healthy foods or even take a walk instead to set your mind straight? Take responsibility for you: teach yourself to cook or dust off those pots and pans if you haven’t been cooking in a while. Learn what healthy foods you like to eat that fit with your plan, teach yourself to shop and prepare those foods in a tasty manner and make extra meals for the week to stay on track. Choose to make time to shop for smart food choices and rid your house of any temptations. Take time to commit to making smart decisions when eating out. Life is a series of choices in everything we do and we are responsible for our choices!
- Be accepting of difficult days. Realty is, not every day is going to smell like roses! Some days are setbacks, but those are the days to dig deep into mindset and perspective to pull the reality out of the distortion. Focus on the good happening around you. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones to retrain your brain from believing the negative. Don’t let stress, boredom, loneliness, or unhappiness be a reason to criticize your looks. It’s important to know when the demons are attempting to creep in and to NOT believe those negative thoughts. They are thoughts- only thoughts. I encourage you to conduct an experiment – grab paper and a pencil and spend the day writing down every negative thought that enters your mind – no matter what it is, write it down. Each time you write one down, force yourself to find its positive equivalent. You will be amazed at how many thoughts appear on paper! This is an amazing exercise to continue for a few days while you begin to recognize the habit of how often the negative thoughts flow and as you begin the habit of changing them to positive self-talk.
- Believe in yourself and believe you are beautiful. You have more strength and courage inside you then you ever thought possible. Go out and face those fears and turn them into strengths and accomplishments. Did you know that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it? We make up the fear of the event or situation in our mind much more than the reality of living it out. This is why we often hear ourselves think or even say… “that wasn’t as bad I as expected.” As you begin to accomplish your fears, you’ll begin to build confidence in yourself. Confidence is beauty.
- Surround yourself with amazing, positive people. Fill your life with the love of close friends and family that make you feel extraordinary and fill life with lots of laughter. Focus energy into others, reaching out to help where needed, making a positive change in yourself and the world.
As a work in progress, I’m proud of how far I’ve come with my relationship with food. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I no longer spend hours worrying over every food choice or every bite of food I eat or how many calories are in each bite. I don’t allow myself to feel guilt for splurges; I own them and move on. I’ve not only taught myself to cook, but now enjoy creating recipes and sharing them with others. I’m finally healing my metabolism for the first time. Although the looking glass and I still battle from time to time, I’ve learned over the years to be appreciative and accepting of myself and my body. My body type will never match the pictures in that darned magazine that I desperately longed for as a teenager, no matter how much I wanted it or worked at it. It took a lot of years to come to terms with that because being young, strong, determined and willing was enough. So many women face that desperation every day. I want to be able to tell them there’s so much more life has to offer, to not allow themselves to let that desperation take over, to focus that energy on education and not allow years to pass waiting for those last five pounds to come off. That’s not living. Make friends, live more, smile more, love more. There’s no crystal ball to flash forward to what your health might be like in the future. Who would have known that after years of dieting and exercising the calories away in my youth I’d be left with a broken metabolism 30 years later? If I knew that, would what I put my body through been worth the struggle? Enjoy who you are, ALL the differences and similarities. Be confident in your body and rock what you’ve got!! One day you may have children who see you as the most beautiful thing in the world. Do it for them, teach them good health, happiness and confidence in their own skin. That’s the foundation they’ll need in the future. Remember, the reflection in the looking glass can be anything, let the reflection you see be what you allow it to be and allow it to be fantastic!
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