Welcome to my guest blogger series on the body.
This post is by counsellor and psychotherapist Marg Ryan, who has a private practice in Caulfield, Melbourne, Australia.
Marg is a certified Somatic Psychotherapist, Trauma Specialist and Couples’ Counselor, She has a Bachelor of Arts, Diploma of Education, a Masters of Organisational Psychology and underwent intensive training in Somatic Psychotherapy at the Australian College of Somatic Psychotherapy where she earned her Clinical Diploma of Somatic Psychotherapy. Marg also completed a specialist course in couple therapy at Relationships Australia – a leading provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.
Ditch the Diet and Steady the Scales
Your brain and your heart need to be in sync to be able to ditch the diet and feel good in your own body. However, steadying the scales and losing the body image obsession by managing your thoughts, feelings and sensations is skilful. We think and feel stuff about our bodies all of the time. A lot of it is critical.
Tim Minchin the comedian in his song “Not Perfect ” captures the dilemma:
“This is my body …And I live in it
And the weirdest thing about it is I spend so much time hating it
But it never says a bad word about me.”
The external pressures that feed unhealthy body obsession are everywhere, on billboards, in the media and in the fashion industry. In the hairdresser, we pick up magazines plastered with headlines about a celebrity mum who has miraculously managed to do away with any evidence that she even had a baby six weeks ago!
Yet this is the media myth. It is a huge adaption and change process having a baby…huge… Yet there are no photos of 2am tears, tantrums and tensions. We devour the glossy pictures and the magical belief that this diet or celebrity can show us the way …
Reshaping how you feel about your body
Understanding why you may be someone who hates their body is the key to change. I think it is an “inside out job” you do on yourself. It is all about your emotions.
The real heart of the problem is that you may have not learnt how to manage, soothe, and bear difficult feelings. No-one taught you how to “feel and deal” with life situations that trigger big feelings inside.
Yet you often think it is all about controlling the outside of your body – the way you look. You start off with the goal of changing your body, making it trimmer, stronger, sexier, more acceptable. Full of hope that a new diet or exercise regime will make you feel confident, successful and attractive.
The cycle goes like this:
- You participate with enthusiasm but then hit an inevitable road block
- You become increasingly emotionally reactive which eventually leads to eating slip ups
- Next, your internal critical voice starts up saying, “why bother, I’ve mucked it up anyway, may as well eat that cake.”
- Then you get angry, irritable, reactive and you begin feeling overwhelmed
- And on and on it goes in a vicious cycle of bingeing / dieting /excessive exercising and self loathing …
So you hate your body for more complex reasons than just the way it looks. Your body holds emotional pain and you try to run from it by distracting yourself with comfort food or you avoid it by exercising strict control over your food because you don’t know how to make the pain go away.
It is a really common experience that clients come to a psychotherapist about – an eating addiction – and yet they end up talking about
“being anxious about fitting in, belonging, measuring up, being loveable and generally being socially acceptable.”
They come because they realize they can’t kick this inner critic to the curb on their own. They have tried many times and failed. They realize that if it were so easy to feel good in your skin, to truly be compassionate and kind to yourself on the inside no matter what happened, they would have done it by now.
Find relief from your body image woes by digging deeper into how and why…
You can’t live in a bubble, external pressures are inevitable in some form, but you can find freedom by looking at the root causes of body anxiety on the inside. The volume of the inner critic voice can get loud as these bad feelings about your shape and size create a world of pain. To combat this, Tara Brach has some sage advise she says
“my mind can be like a bad neighbourhood, so I try not to go there alone.”
So….If you catch yourself constantly criticizing your body maybe it’s time to consider getting some support. Therapy can help you learn to manage those overwhelming thoughts of “I am fat, this is out of control, I look awful”. A therapist can encourage you to foster a kind and compassionate relationship to your body. Don’t underestimate how relieving it can be learning to catch the judgy internal conversation early. This takes practise and many repetitions. It’s just like learning a new grip of the tennis racquet. You can learn to be curious about that critical inner voice, learn to challenge it and along the way develop a more compassionate way of reshaping your connection to your body.