I couldn’t see it, but everyone around me could. During my struggle with anorexia my body image was so distorted that I looked past the visible ribs, the thinning hair, the grayish complexion and the wrists that were so small I could cinch my watch to the last notch on the band and only saw someone who needed to lose more weight. The distorted body image that fuels and eating disorder is extreme and it took me nine years in recovery and relapse before I finally found freedom eight years ago.
Eating disorders don’t happen overnight, they are a slow progression down the slippery slope of negative body image. For many it starts with feelings of shame and inadequacy around weight and appearance and over time their body image becomes more and distorted.
It’s important to step back and take a look at how you feel about your own body and ask whether or not your body image is distorted.
Your body image may be distorted if…
…your internal narrative is highly critical of your body and appearance.
If you look in the mirror and your attention is immediately drawn to your “flaws” and the negative critic in your head points out that you really need to work on X, Y and Z because you’re “not that attractive.”
What you can do about it: Each time you look in the mirror compliment yourself on an aspect of both your appearance and your personality. Become your biggest fan.
…you have feelings of shame surrounding weight and appearance.
Perhaps you carry around past hurt from being made fun of for your size and weight? If the number on the scale triggers feelings of shame it may be fueling your negative internal narrative.
What you can do about it: Consider finding a therapist who specializes in women’s issues and dig deeper into the source of your shame. Healing past hurts is the first step towards freedom from your internal critic.
…you are tying your happiness, fulfillment and sense of worth to your weight and appearance.
This is a dangerous pairing that can lead to a very distorted self-perception.
What you can do about it: Think of the things that fulfill you and make you happy outside of your appearance and weight—or achievements that are tied to those two things. Remember that your value has nothing to do with the way that you look and everything to do with the unique aspects of your person that cannot be duplicated.
…your mood is linked to how you feel in your own skin.
Often times we hear the phrase, “I just want to be comfortable in my own skin.” Feeling comfortable in your own skin shouldn’t require that you look a certain way or weigh a certain amount, find comfort and acceptance with the body you have without feeling the need to change it.
What you can do about it: Next time you feel dissatisfied with your body and “uncomfortable in your own skin” get really real with yourself and ask why your mood has to be linked to how you feel about your appearance? Take some time to journal your response.
…a large percentage of your time and thought space is taken up by exercise, food, calories and weight.
If a majority of your time is spent planning meals, tracking calories, exercising and constantly thinking about your weight then there is a serous imbalance.
What you can do about it: Stop tracking calories and—if weighing yourself is a compulsive activity—get rid of your scale. Work on letting go of some control over these things.
It took me nine years to undo the negative perceptions I had created about myself in just a few years. I worked with a therapist to re-train my brain to disconnect my self-worth from my weight and appearance and to see myself in more gracious and positive light. If you find that any of these are true for you the best thing you can do is open up and talk about it: with a friend, loved one or with a therapist. Bringing light to and being vulnerable about our struggles with body image is the best way to change our perception of ourselves and find freedom.