Disentangling your body image from your body.
Body image issues aren’t rooted in your actual appearance, but on underlying feelings and emotions about yourself which get projected onto your body.
Do you have moments where it suddenly seems like you have worse body image than others?
Ever have those days where you just “feel fat”?
Side note: I’m not trying to be insensitive by using this saying, but rather I’m highlighting this as one of the more commonly-used ways eating disorder sufferers (and others) express a variety of negative feelings (whether we know it or not). Notedly, the use of this specific phrase itself exists for another myriad of social reasons that I unfortunately don’t have space to go into now (or fortunately for those of you reading this who’d prefer that I keep things brief).
Hands down, one of the most eye-opening things I’ve read in my recovery journey so far has been “fat is not a feeling”. Because it’s not! It might seem like a simple idea, but it really opened up an entirely new perspective for my own introspection and looking at society as a whole. I already eluded to this in a previous post, but the demonization of the word “fat” and its use to mean something negative (while entirely unfortunate, but also not my place to re-claim…) is all too common in our society and among people with eating disorders alike, often when the intended message is something entirely different. Yes, you may be dissatisfied with your body (and that sentiment is very real and true) but that doesn’t mean your BODY is the problem. It is entirely possible that this dissatisfaction came about because of other triggers.
Your body is not to blame.
So what is? At a certain point we have to confront WHY this feeling comes about in the first place, or more specifically, what exactly it’s trying to tell us.
For a number of reasons, us eating disorder sufferers have come to over-value weight and shape (or eating) and consequently, we often tend to be have become very aware of our perceptions of our bodies and food, and less aware of our true internal feelings and what our lived-experience is actually like. Because, let’s face it, living with an eating disorder (or chronic dieting) is the opposite of pleasant, yet somehow our disease has blocked our access to that information that otherwise “healthy” people may be privy to. Accordingly, this means that if our body was trying to tell us something, it knows that by ringing the “I feel fat” alarm bell, we will most likely tune in.
“Your body image is stored in your brain cells, not your fat cells”. – Ashlee Bennett
THE IMPORTANT THING IS to recognize that this feeling does NOT call for a disordered reaction. It does not mean that changing your body will in any way make you feel better in the long run. In fact, it likely means there’s something else going on to which you might need to attend. No external change will make you love yourself – that has to come from within.
Importantly, we can especially learn to rely on these messages if we’re eating reliably and weight-stable, where more likely than not, these “fat” feelings signify something deeper-rooted.
Woo hoo…more introspection and soul searching! (*Sarcasm alert*)
Exhausting…I know, but let’s accept it friends, this work is never done!
To consider what this body dissatisfaction might be trying to tell you, ask yourself this:
“If this were true, if I were fat, what would that mean about me?”
Importantly, put any attempts to be politically correct aside. This exercise is meant to dig down to those core beliefs we harbour that may get erroneously projected onto our bodies.
What does being fat say about you as a person? Your personality? Your relationships? Your life? For a moment, entertain those dreaded worst-case scenarios.
For example [Note that we are taking note of beliefs about ourselves that might be misplaced, and that this doesn’t mean you necessarily hold these judgments about others.]: Does being fat mean you would be unattractive or unlovable? Do you think you would come across as less-than or not worthy? Do you think it would mean you were undisciplined or lazy? What do you think being fat would say about your success or capabilities?
“What is it you hope the “perfect body” will give you? How can you give that to yourself now?” – Kristina Bruce
Now look back on the list you wrote. Can you see how other situations of stress or low mood could cause us to feel like this as well?
Vulnerable circumstances that leave us feeling stressed, angry, sad, hurt, scared ETC. can CERTAINLY feedback to how we feel about our bodies (as is often tendency for people with eating disorders or those with preoccupation about weight and shape).
The thing is, once you start to be able to recognize this, you can also see that changing your body isn’t the solution. In fact, by now you might have experience that suggests the opposite! Despite what society largely condones, weight loss does NOT guarantee happiness or love and acceptance. In fact, the pursuit of weight loss drives us father away from our authentic selves. It distances us from being able to acknowledge WHY we feel the need to change ourselves or our bodies in the first place – WHAT we are trying to feel better about?
Are we really seeking acceptance? Love? Security? Connection? Happiness? Feeling successful or desirable? Feeling in control, empowered, or disciplined? Do we need an outlet to express ourselves? Something to heal our pain?
This leads to the next question – once you’ve recognized that you feel like crap (and you know that your disorder only delivers empty promises) now what? I know you likely still feel bad, but if I’ve learned anything in recovery, it’s that sitting with discomfort for a while prevents a lot more discomfort later down the road.
“You can’t fix the interior of the house by painting the roof and planting roses”
Start considering how you can address your underlying needs. How can you give yourself those things HEALTHILY? Pro tip: it’s totally okay not to know and you probably won’t know right off the bat. There might not even be a quick “fix” to the problem, BUT you can certainly try and take care of yourself. Truthfully, long as you’re trying to consider things differently you’re succeeding. Unfortunately, much like life, it’s mostly trial and error.
“We’ve all accumulated pain in our lives. One of the ways we try to avoid feeling pain is to become “untouchable”. Striving for the thin ideal is one method used. But like all avoidance methods, it only works short term. Only healing pain, lasts.” – Kristina Bruce
For example, if I woke up and felt terrible about my appearance, I might check in to realize that it’s the middle of a busy time at school and work and I’m feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list (e.g. incapable, anxious, unsuccessfully etc). What does my eating disorder do to alert to me that I’m feeling this way? Turn on the urges. “Maybe you’ll feel more in control of life if you control your food”, “Maybe you’ll feel successful if you lose weight”. Lies. Lies. Lies.
It takes time to unlearn an oppressive belief that you might have been living under for ages, but it IS possible. And you’ll slowly start to see that if turning to destruction was the answer, it probably would have worked by now. From experience I know you’ll slowly start to believe that there is another way. We’re all just trying to navigate complicated feelings on our journey to finding peace and love and going down a path we’ve already taken won’t get us any closer to where we need to be.
- Kristina Bruce
- Ashlee Bennett – Body Image Therapist
- “Paradigm” – WOTD
- “Cloudy” – WOTD
- Body Image Patient Manual