How much do you love your body?
How willing are you to trust your body and listen instead of measuring and controlling?
For a long time, we have been obsessed with our body, the external visual we portray to the world. We starve and restrict, poke and prod, fill and augment, cover and hide our external canvas in the hope that we will be seen, heard, accepted and worthy of someone’s time and love. Although many would say that this is an exclusively female issue, men also feel the pressure to conform to a certain body image.
How are we to overcome something that is so deeply ingrained in society for hundreds of years and within ourselves often from a very young age. It is a journey that scares many and scared me for as long as I can remember. I remember in my pre and early teens as most people do, the awkward longing to fit in and be accepted by my peers. As someone who carried weight (or extra weight as I perceived at the time) I quickly cemented the belief that to be thin and attractive would certainly result in friendships, admiration and attention. I worried about what I ate, judged myself for eating too much or for not restricting the ‘bad’ food from my diet. My inner critics continued to judge, berate and call me out for not being thin enough, fit enough, pretty enough…the list goes on and is probably very similar to yours. Hindsight teaches me that those fears and judgements were emotional calls for attention that I did not understand or could not fulfil at the time. I didn’t have the awareness I have now. Even at 31 years of age, squashing these ingrained beliefs that my body must, at all costs, fit into some metric requirement of inches and pounds is hard to shed. Although shedding it has become my mission, shedding this damaging and destructive lie that if I don’t fit these measurements I will not be accepted, loved or worthy. Or the idea that if I don’t look after my body and keep it slim and supple that I am lazy, selfish and open for judgement, as is anyone who is overweight.
This list of requirements, of terms and conditions that we must adhere to was not created by us. A lot of the time we resist it because we know it is not true and that it does not serve us. In social media we see this consistent theme of looking our best and filtering our face and body so much so that we are often barely recognisable. In most media campaigns, gym promotions, films and TV series we see young beautiful actors and models who are paid to portray this message that we ‘must’ and ‘should’ fit into these prescribed boxes to be happy and fulfilled in life. In reality, we are left with a craving, an ironic hunger to live life to the fullest with purpose and to truly connect with ourselves and others.
Diet culture and conforming to requirements of how our body ‘should’ look has been prevalent in societies for centuries and continues to change and evolve. From Victorian corsets to skinny jeans we are constantly given an image we are told is acceptable. However, it is only a means of restricting us further. When we are so consumed with our external body, we don’t tap into the infinite abundance of intuition and creativity within us. Because if we actually put as much energy and time into our creativity and growth then we would be much more dangerous to the patriarchal, consumer and material driven world we live in.
These limitations and conditions only serve to keep us within these labelled boxes and are reinforced by the hashtags used on social media pages and the products we are sold. A young student of mine, 5 years of age, once said to me, You have to wear black if you’re not skinny. Not only was she aware that being skinny was acceptable and necessary but also that if you were not skinny you better try and blend in and wear something black. Children are so exposed to these ideas that most children have dieted, restricted their food or thought they were ‘fat’ before they even go to secondary school. Yet most of you can probably relate to wearing black on a day that you don’t feel trim and toned? Do you want this to be normalised thinking for your children? Or do you want to try and change the relationship you have with your body and food to set a good example?
Diet culture only benefits those who make money from it. Whether we are over eating, eating emotionally or restricting our food intake we are suffering because our relationship with our body and food has gone into full on destructive mode. It is destructive on a mental, emotional and physical level. It is not only confined to the weight loss industry, in recent years gaining weight and muscle is just as mainstream. Although this new trend has got more people to exercise which is a positive side effect, people are still chasing numbers and living a life of obsessively tracking, controlling and restricting their food.
Let’s look the negative thought patterns and emotions around losing weight;
- I am overweight and need to lose weight to be accepted, loved, more attractive etc. Until I reach this weight I am not accepted, not loved, not attractive.
- I will weigh and measure myself continuously. I will discount the fact that my body weight fluctuates during the day and month depending on more than just what I eat.
- I will discipline myself for going off track by further restricting my food to meet required goals.
- I will chase the number on the scales and until then I will put my life on hold, avoiding mirrors and cameras.
- I will push my body physically to the point of breaking to be fit and toned and to make up for the treats I cannot resist.
- I will allow myself a ‘cheat’ meal once a week, because I am not responsible, disciplined enough to listen to my body.
- I will motivate myself by imagining my differently sized and proportioned body to one day look like that of the photo-shopped model, specifically directed and photographed within perfect lighting for the perfect shot because she/he looks really happy in that photo.
If it was with any other substance than food, someone would step in and say, this is not a healthy relationship. Cheat, in any other context is not a good thing. When someone cheats on an exam or a race or on a partner, they have crossed the line. Yet when it is a ‘cheat meal’ it is totally accepted. Who are you actually cheating on? If it was an abusive partner who was controlling your every move, friends would be concerned and plead with you to get out. But when it comes to food we are cheered and congratulated for controlling our body and food. Cheating on ourselves and obsessive behaviour is not healthy and needs to be called out as such.
I am not saying don’t look after your body or never exercise. I am saying that we have to let go of the obsessive and destructive relationship we have with food and our body. I am saying that your body is a temple and I advocate this at every chance I get. Treat it well, nourish it with healthy food, stimulate it with fresh air and movement (whatever exercise suits you best), rest it sufficiently and give it all the tender love and attention it needs. Educate yourself on the body and how to look after it. Speak kindly to your body and don’t judge it for not fitting a fake photo-shopped ‘norm’ or for having dimples or stress marks. We have forgotten that our body is amazingly intricate and intelligent. We have forgotten that it carries out millions of jobs every day without a conscious thought from us. We have forgotten that our body tells us when we are hungry and when we are full, when we have overindulged and when we are sluggish and are in need of some extra nutrients. I am saying that we have lost all faith and trust in our body and we need to change our whole mindset and perspective of how we see and treat our body.
To start changing our perspective we first have to get rid of the scales. The reality is that we restrict and postpone the joy in our lives for the sake of being 5% thinner or lighter. The most dangerous tool to keep us in these boxes is the weighing scale and the measuring tape. How often have you stood on the scales and felt dread, anger, frustration, hatred, disgust? How often have you measured your body only to judge and berate yourself for not trying disciplined enough, or meeting that target? That is the first thing to let go of…scary as it may be, dump the scales. Exercising should be a fun, adult playtime where we can move and challenge our bodies and mind to grow and learn new things. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by trying to work twice as hard because you had a donut at lunch. Eating should be an enjoyable and mindful experience where we can taste and savour the food and be grateful that we have food at all. It should not have a heavy cloud of guilt or restriction associated with it. This kind of thinking is affecting us on a much deeper and cellular level and actually makes it harder for us to lose weight.
Secondly, I would suggest being more aware of when you eat, how you eat, why you eat. The majority of us know the difference of what is healthy and not healthy, we don’t need a six-week plan to ensure we eat good food. We need to be more aware of when we are eating with our emotions – when we are sad, happy, stressed, anxious, bored etc. The more we are aware of when and why we are eating emotionally we can fill ourselves up with those things instead of defaulting to eating actual food. Maybe you are hungry for adventure, creativity, passion, connection, knowing what you are hungry for and filing up on the actual things you want will be way more satisfying than eating a whole packet of biscuits!! Your awareness and intuition will be your guide for eating.
Thirdly and most importantly is to practice self-love, right now, every day, forever more. If you want to be loved and accepted, you have to start by loving and accepting yourself in all your beauty and glory. Say positive affirmations every day in the mirror, write down all of your amazing talents and achievements, ask you friends to tell you what makes you so special, do things that make you feel good in your body – get your hair done, have a massage, buy yourself a new outfit that makes you feel amazing! Remember the amazing times or struggle, strife and self-hatred your body never let you down. Know that right this minute you can be happy, loved, worthy and light up a room by just being there, regardless of your measurements.
Hearing that little girl speak about being fat was like a siren going off in my head and my heart. Except that this was no drill, it was time once and for all to heal and change my relationship with my body and food. My journey is still ongoing, and I have made it a priority to heal those old wounds and to change my whole thinking of dieting and my body. The irony for me was that when I let go of the control my body weight stopped yoyo-ing up and down, reduced and settled to my natural weight. I continue to learn and follow inspiring women on social media that reinforce this message and I have unfollowed anyone who supports diet culture. There are so many inspiring women, of all shapes and sizes that are living wonderfully fulfilled and happy lives and are reminding you to do the same (Check out the list below). We need more inspiration and less judgement from other women and men. We need to accept everyone wherever they are on their journey and not gossip that he or she has put on weight or has let themselves go. We need to encourage others to commit to loving themselves from the inside out and that work begins with ourselves.
My hope is that we remember our worth, heal our relationship with our body and in doing so let go of the fad diets. My hope is that we break out of the boxes that society is trying to shove us into and to be free to live a life without conditions. M hope is that we don’t spend hours editing and questioning whether or not to post a picture because of how we look. My hope is that we stop ‘dieting’ and instead commit to loving, nourishing and making our body as healthy as it can be, one day at a time. To wake up each morning and say to ourselves, out loud, in the mirror, you are beautiful and worthy regardless of the number on the scales and today I make a commitment to treat you well and to listen to what you need.
**This blog is intended as a suggestion for you to shift your thinking about your body and diet culture. For those who are suffering with body issues or illnesses on a deeper level I hope you have the courage to seek the support and healing you deserve to start loving your body again.
Inspiring accounts to follow
– there are so many more, please share if you have some favourites of your own x