How to overcome body image issues

Body image is tough for the majority of people. With unrealistic expectations from society, body comments from family members and weight loss advice from the medical field, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle! Body image takes time and effort to improve. This post, written by my colleague Kourtney Johnson, RD, LD, will outline how to overcome body image issues that are manageable and realistic!

How to overcome body image issues according to experts

Bri Campos, a body image expert, recommends tackling body image issues in a certain way. 

She suggests discussing intersectionality first, which shows you how power, privilege and discrimination collide to affect body image, before talking about body image. 

Then, you need to establish your goals with your counselor, dietitian or other provider. For example, goals might include wearing a swimsuit to the beach, going for a walk outside or having a conversation with your partner about body image concerns.

After that, it’s important to identify the narrative about your body and where the story comes from. This makes it easier to understand the root problem so you are able to challenge the narrative alongside your support team.

When working through body image issues, it will be uncomfortable at times. However, feeling that discomfort is part of the healing process which will allow you to come out on the other side feeling better about your body!  

There are other strategies that Erin also uses in her work to help you overcome body image struggles. Some tools work better than others, and sometimes it takes trial and error to determine what’s best for each person.

Reframe misattribution thinking

Reframing negative thoughts supports positive body image. When people aren’t used to confronting difficult emotions, it’s common for the body to become the recipient of such feelings. To figure out why you might have thoughts like “I feel heavy” or “I feel fat,” first you need to identify the thought that is misattributed, or incorrectly aimed at your body, and then reframe it with three possible alternatives. 

In their “Intuitive Eating Workbook”, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch give the example of feeling heavy, and then list the following possible reasons for this sensation:

  1. I feel heavy because I am stressed.
  2. I have a lot of work to do.
  3. I need to make a heavy decision.

Rather than dealing with these heavy emotions, it is easier and more socially acceptable to blame your body. If you can just “fix” your body, then everything else will be better. At least, that is what society tells us!

Being able to identify, attribute, and accept emotions is a necessary step toward accepting your body.  

Focus on function

When learning how to overcome body image issues,  you might find it helpful to focus on the function of your body. This might mean you list out the jobs your body allows you to do each day or how certain parts help you participate in activities you enjoy. Removing the focus from how your body looks to how it works can help you shift how you see your body and instead actually appreciate it for all it does. 

Coping with body changes

It’s not always easy to deal with changes in your body, especially when you gain weight. Typically guilt, shame, stress and other negative emotions come on strong in these situations. You might also need to deal with “side effects” of body changes, such as needing new clothes or dealing with comments from others.

How to handle the “side effects” of body changes

Part of learning how to overcome body image issues is knowing how to deal with comments, the need for different clothing sizes, and the associated feelings.

Receiving comments from anyone about your body is difficult. You might want to hide, yell at them or simply ignore them. There’s no right answer here, but a dietitian like Erin who helps  with body image struggles can be a reasonable, neutral person in your corner when figuring out how to handle body comments.

And if new clothes aren’t in the budget right now, consider getting pieces you can wear as part of several outfits. Consignment shopping is also a much more affordable way to add clothes to your collection with prices often being a fraction of the retail price. You might also consider looking through a friend’s clothes if they wear a similar size and have items they no longer wear. Keep in mind that clothes can make you feel more comfortable, confident and better about yourself in general! 

When it comes to the feelings of your body changing, do your best to allow yourself to feel them. Burying feelings will only make them grow with time, and you’ll feel better when you experience them in the moment instead of repressing them. Again, this is where it might be helpful to work with a therapist or dietitian, as having someone to talk to and a safe space to feel your feelings can do wonders when dealing with body image issues.

The pressure to lose weight

Even when you go through the work to improve body image, there might still be a voice in the back of your head encouraging you to lose weight. While you have the ability to decide what’s best for you, making an informed decision is the best way to move forward.

Reflection is a crucial part of making this decision. What are the pros and cons of limiting your food intake or increasing exercise to change your body? What are the pros and cons of not making changes to food or exercise? What will happen if you do manipulate your food intake or exercise, and nothing happens to your body? What happens if your body changes but then ends up again where you are now? What are the consequences of trying to change your body?

You don’t have to love your body in order to choose an anti-diet approach. You can accept that it doesn’t look the way you want it to while still choosing to nourish it the way it deserves. 

Tying it all together

It’s common to struggle with body image, and while there are recommended ways to deal with it, different strategies are available to try. And when learning how to overcome body image issues, having a person in your corner, such as a dietitian or therapist who is trained in helping people in this area, can be a huge asset in helping you make progress with the relationship you have with your body. 

Looking for more support? Book an appointment today! 

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