Expert Insight: Choosing Body Appreciation over Body Loathing

“Advertising for many commercial goods functions by cultivating our body insecurity or hatred in order to sell products.  If we all believed we were attractive as we are, for example, we would have little need for most commercial beauty products.  Women in particular are taught that their self-worth is determined by how well they match the cultural standard of beauty.  Most of us therefore feel inadequate and that we can never measure up.  And it seems as if advertisers have recently realized that they were so busy exploiting women’s insecurities, they’d forgotten half the population. So now they’re doing their best to make men feel equally horrible about themselves.  Buying into these images doesn’t benefit anyone but the advertisers”.

– Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor, “Body Respect”.

A few years ago, when I was facilitating a workshop on emotion-driven overeating, I was talking about not buying into “the cultural standard of beauty” that Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor describe.  One of the participants became quite angry and said something like “it’s all very well to say that but this is how the world works”.

Her point was that the pressure – especially on women, but increasingly on men – to be thin and attractive is real and, essentially, we have no choice but to conform. I understand her frustration.  I get it.  I agree the pressure is very, very real.

But I don’t agree we have to conform.

Not conforming doesn’t mean you give up on yourself – in fact, quite the opposite.

It means you stop beating up your body and begin to appreciate all that it does for you.  It means you’re more attuned to its needs. It means you’re more likely to invest in your health and well-being.  It means you want to do the very best for your body because you believe it’s of value.

After all, what we value and appreciate we want to look after.

Not conforming to the pressures placed upon us is, therefore, an act of empowerment and self-care.

Personally, it helps me to remember this when my body-shaming inner bully is dripping poison in my ear about how I don’t look “right” or “good enough”.  It wants me to loathe my body because it doesn’t measure up.

I remind myself I have a choice.

I choose deliberately and consciously not to conform.

How about you?

 

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Click here to read a great article about the history of the “ideal woman” by Jaqueline Howard of CNN.  It includes a really wonderful animation by Anna Ginsburg which depicts the ideals imposed on women’s bodies through the ages.  It’s only just over 2½ minutes long and well-worth viewing.

 

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Additional questions for this month’s eatonomy group on Saturday 29th June can now be found on the News page.

Expert Insight: The Self-Care Gender Gap

“One gender-related theme that stood out was related to caretaking.  Every woman in the study, but none of the men, reported putting others before themselves…

Tina was a compulsive eater who used food as a way to practise self-care.  During the second interview, she began to realise how taking care of others led her to eat: “I had no down time.  I had no time for myself and I think I was using food more than I had been to take the edge off and medicate myself, reward myself, treat myself”.

– Patricia Goodspeed Grant, “Social and Emotional Origins of Comfort Eating”*

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Expert Insight: Questions of Identity

“In my work with women who experience despair and conflict in their relation to food, I have found that in the first hour they talk about eating.  By the second or third hour they tell me they feel confused and do not know what to do with their lives.  They have little sense of who they are or what they believe.  They are lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied.  They are struggling with all the questions of identity their mothers also faced”.

Kim Chernin, “The Hungry Self”

In many ways, little has changed since Kim Chernin’s book was first published over 30 years ago.

In my work with clients with overeating issues today, I’d say the majority are struggling with questions of identity.  They also feel lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied.  If food is an escape, it’s the discomfort of these feelings they’re often attempting to escape from.

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Expert Insight: Losing Weight Naturally

“When you do start to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full after years of being on one scheme or another, you will most likely go down a size or several sizes.

Unless you have been eating drastically less than your body needs for years, your weight should stabilise at its natural set point, which will be lower than what you’ve achieved through dieting and bingeing”.

Susie Orbach, “On Eating”

When clients first seek help for their emotion-driven overeating issues, they often think if they can sort out their weight, everything else will be OK.

In this way, therapy can be seen as another weight-loss initiative.  There’s sometimes a sense of disappointment that we’re not focusing on weight during sessions and, as a result of this, some clients assume I’m anti-weight loss.

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Expert Insight: What Makes You Truly Happy

“The more you know about what makes you truly happy, the better you will be at finding it. Pleasure, joy, contentment and satisfaction may be sitting on your doorstep, but they’re not going to reach up and ring your bell!”

Karen R. Koenig, “The Food & Feelings Workbook”

Ironically, pleasure, joy, contentment and satisfaction will be ringing my doorbell this afternoon in the shape of two of my best women friends.  We’ve known each other for decades and, although we only get to see each other once or twice a year, we always seem to pick up where we left off.

I have no doubt that during the two days we’ll be together we won’t stop talking unless we’re asleep.  We’ll cry, we’ll talk utter nonsense and we’ll laugh until it hurts which, for three 50-something women, is – let’s face it – a risky endeavour.

In short, we’ll have an Utterly Good Time.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: What Makes You Truly Happy”

Expert Insight: What We Really Lose When We Diet

“I started each new diet with burning enthusiasm – this was going to be the diet to beat all the others, this time I was really going to lose weight and keep it off forever.  I never did.  Every single diet ended with me regaining all the weight I had lost, plus a few pounds extra.  What I did lose, I had not intended to lose – I lost time, I lost energy, I lost me”.

Dr Cherie Martin, “Naturally Slim Without Dieting”

It breaks my heart when I see a young woman on Instagram hating herself for not being able to stick to her slimming club’s diet plan, dreading her next weigh-in and vowing to do better tomorrow.  What will tomorrow bring for her?  More of the same and, in all likelihood, a life-long messed-up relationship with food.

Perhaps you were once that young woman.

I was.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: What We Really Lose When We Diet”