In my last post, I mentioned struggling with an eating disorder. It used to be that I thought it was oversharing to ever mention that or talk about insecurities/weaknesses…but oddly enough, ever since I started opening up about overcoming body image issues, I’ve had more and more people approach me and let me know how much it helped to hear about someone else’s struggle. Most of these people have also asked how they can find freedom from the same kinds of challenges. While I’m no psychologist and I’m far from perfect, I have overcome most of those demons, and I’m pretty happy with my pretty imperfect body. So these are a few suggestions based off what’s worked in my experience. I hope it proves helpful to anyone struggling with body image or disordered thoughts/behaviors.
- Get naked. Seriously. After you shower, do everything else you need to do to get ready for the day before putting any clothes on. Sleep naked. Clean your bedroom in the buff. (Yall have no idea how many business emails and phone calls I’ve answered wearing my birthday suit. Thank God for 21st century technology.) If you currently dislike your body – and I know even that can be an understatement – this probably sounds like the last thing you want to do. But getting naked and staying naked forces you to get used to your body without anything to hide your real or imagined imperfections. After awhile, you’ll find yourself getting more and more comfortable with your body. (In psychology, this is called exposure therapy.) Sure, you might still want to change a few things, but this body is the only one you’ve got – you’ll be much better off all around if you learn to appreciate it in any stage. And believe it or not, you may eventually start to really like being naked. Just be sure to discuss your birthday suit policies with your roommates before you become a domestic nudist.
- Wear clothes that fit well. I’m not a very fashionable human, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that clothes that fit you properly will always make you look better. When you’re uncomfortable with your body, it’s tempting to wear clothes that hide your shape or squeeze into a smaller size so as to not have to reconcile yourself to seeing a larger number on the tag of your jeans. But if “fitting properly” means going up a size from normal, do it. (Don’t panic over sizes, anyway. I have pants in my closet ranging from size 2 to size 9…And trust me, my bum doesn’t grow 5 sizes overnight. They all fit.) While we’re on the topic of clothes, it can also really help to know what styles/shapes suit your body. For example, long flowy tops will always make me look like Jabba the Hut (too big a bum), and cap sleeves (too big shoulders/biceps) will make me look like Honey Boo Boo’s mother. But on the other hand, I know that fitted sweaters, ballet necklines, and strapless tops really work for me. So I wear what works and don’t even worry about the stuff that makes me look like Mama June.
- Do a social media cleanse. Forget going on a stupid juice cleanse – the best kind of detox you can do is to get rid of unhealthy social media. Instagram, twitter, facebook, pinterest…if you’re familiar with any social media platforms, you know what I’m talking about. It’s really, really easy to compare your life to the perfectly-filtered version displayed by everyone you know. On top of that, social media is a breeding ground for disordered thoughts/behaviors/habits regarding food, exercise, and body image. Don’t let yourself go down the toxic rabbit hole of “fitspiration” – unfollow any social media accounts that inspire guilt, obsession, or negative self-image. This might be even harder than doing a week-long juice cleanse, but it will be far more beneficial to your well-being.
- Set a performance-based goal. Get excited about your physical potential to be a badass. Maybe you want to do a Tough Mudder. Maybe you want to run a 10K (and not on accident…I’m still a little traumatized). Maybe you want to learn how to do pullups, or hold a handstand, or tap dance like Ginger Rogers. Set a goal based on what your body can do, rather than how it looks. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but you’re likely to be happier, enjoy your workouts more, and be more appreciative of your body if you make performance-based goals your priority. So set a goal, break it down into steps, and have fun getting on with it! And as you work towards those performance goals, allow yourself to celebrate your achievements – and the body that makes them possible – along the way.
- Remind yourself that your worth does not come from your appearance. It’s easy to say, but it can be difficult to truly believe (and live like you believe it) that your body/appearance ultimately has no bearing on your worth as a human being, your capacity for happiness, or the amount of value you are capable of contributing to the world. If you need help remembering this, check out this hero, this remarkable family, or this incredible man. If you’re spending all your time in the gym (or in the kitchen prepping food, or in front of a mirror measuring yourself…you get the point), it’s going to make this very difficult. So, as counterintuitive as it may seem, get out of the gym. Reevaluate your priorities, and reorganize your time accordingly. Invest in your well-being and stay healthy, but remember that the physical is only one aspect of life. (And healthy really is good enough!) There’s a lot of life happening outside of the gym, so don’t miss out on having an amazing life because you’ve focused all your efforts on having an amazing body.
If you’re struggling, please know that you are not the only one who’s walked this valley, and that it is entirely possible to beat this. I’d encourage you to reach out to someone, and to get professional help if you need it. (I’m happy to help point you to some resources if you shoot me an email – eatprayliftblog [at] gmail [dot] com.)
Take things one step at a time, and one day you’ll surprise yourself with how far you’ve come – just keep taking the next step.