When you’re struggling with food and body image issues, you might have no clue how to feel better. You might feel frustrated and overwhelmed. After all, when diet and weight-loss messages are everywhere you turn, how do you make a change? How do you know what changes to make? Where do you start? How can you genuinely nourish yourself?
A few weeks ago I published a piece that shared a variety of steps you can take. This time I wanted to interview several experts about other ideas.
I spoke with Kate Dansie, MSW, LCSW-C, a therapist at The Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland, who specializes in eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and self-injury; Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, a registered dietitian in southern Utah specializing in disordered eating, eating disorders and body image concerns; and Haley Goodrich, RD, LDN, a dietitian and nutrition therapist who specializes in intuitive eating, body image healing, and eating disorder recovery. All three work from a Health At Every Size®(HAES) perspective.
Below are their helpful, concrete tips.
- Pay attention to how you talk about your body (and yourself). Often we don’t even realize that we’re bashing our bodies or fixating on weight loss. All. The. Time. We don’t realize that we’re constantly saying things like I’m disgusting. I have the world’s biggest thighs. My skin is so gross. Why can’t I look like her? If I lost weight, I could finally have everything I ever wanted. And telling ourselves these stories regularly, means that we start internalizing them as facts, as defining features, as some ultimate gospel. Goodrich suggested regularly checking in with yourself and jotting down the things you say about yourself: “Pay attention to the way you talk about your body to other people and the internal thoughts you have.”
- Talk to yourself differently. Reflect on what you’ve written. As Goodrich said, “Would you say these things to someone you love? How might you word them differently?” Dansie stressed the importance of talking to yourself like you’d talk to a friend or your daughter. She also suggested describing your body in neutral terms, and reminding yourself that “there is no wrong way to have a body.”
- Identify behaviors that sink your body image. “Do you weigh yourself every day, or even multiple times a day? Do you engage in any body-checking behaviors like looking at yourself in the mirror often?” Dansie said. “All of these behaviors reinforce to you that your weight and appearance matter more than other things.”
- Make it harder to do these behaviors. Dansie suggested finding simple ways to make it harder to do these behaviors on autopilot: “Is there a mirror in your house somewhere that you don’t really need? Could you get rid of it or even cover it up on days you’re really struggling with body image? Or, if the scale is the problem, can you smash it? Move it to the trunk of your car?” Or, if that feels too tough, she said, write positive messages on Post-It notes, and cover your mirror and scale with them.
- Go beyond narrow labels. Instead of labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” Dansie said, ask yourself questions such as: Does this food give me energy? Does it sustain me for a few hours or just a short time? Do I find it satisfying? Unless you’re allergic to a certain food, all foods are welcome. You have unconditional permission to eat whatever you like, to listen to your body, to satisfy your cravings.
- Refocus your attention. “It’s not realistic to expect to have no negative thoughts about your body,” Fonnesbeck said. “Healing from body image issues isn’t about thinking you look great, it’s about thinking about a lot of other things more often than you think about how you look.” She suggested making a list of things you find meaningful and valuable, things that you want to give your time, attention and energy to. Then refocus on those things. Start thinking about those things more. Start doing them more. This might be anything from spending more time with your loved ones, to finally writing your book proposal, to taking walks in the park, to taking a photography class. I love what Jennifer Rollin, founder of The Eating Disorder Center, once said: “I don’t need you to fall in love with your body. I want you to fall in love with your life.”
- Contact a Health At Every Size practitioner. If you’re struggling with eating and body image issues, please know that you’re not alone, and please know that it will get better. Dansie highly recommended reaching out to a therapist who practices from the Health at Every Size® framework. Remember that you don’t need to feel terrible, or to sob every single day to see a therapist. It’s enough to hear a whisper from within that you want things to change.
We can feel better, we can create meaningful change, with the smallest shifts in our perspective, in our priorities and in our actions. One different choice can make all the difference. That is, instead of berating your body, you choose to do something kind and nourishing for yourself, such as reading a book in bed. Instead of skipping dessert, you choose a slice of cake that you’re craving. Instead of weighing yourself every day or every week, you toss the scale into the trash.
There are soooo many small (yet big) ways you can start honoring yourself. Consider picking one to try right now.
P.S. Stay tuned for additional tips for navigating your body image issues. Update: Here’s the piece with seven more small, helpful tips.