If you have binge eating, food addiction or emotional eating, you may feel that your body is your adversary, as my patient, Marla did.
Marla has difficulty expressing anger or fear and often completely disconnects from any sensations in her body associated with her emotions. Her dissatisfaction with her body started when she was very young, somewhere around age eight when her mother got sick and was in bed a lot of the time. Marla began to have to take care of her mother and her younger sister. She had to leave her childhood behind and put her own needs aside. During this time, food became a comfort and an escape for her. She couldn’t remember a time in her life when she was aware of what she was feeling and how those emotions felt in the body. All she remembers is feeling unhappy with her body and feeling betrayed by her body for being bigger than she wants it to be.
Your body has all the wisdom you need to manage your life.
The body is the early warning system that helps you identify the emotions that are driving your behaviors. Your body can provide you with expert advice on what to eat and how much to eat. You can also use your body to experience true mindfulness by connecting to your body’s wisdom and using your body to ground yourself emotionally. Despite this, many people struggle with body hatred and body image issues.
What is body image?
Body image is the picture you hold in your mind of your body. When you hold a negative picture or are dissatisfied with your body, it can be a significant predictor of compulsive overeating, binge eating, emotional distress, depression, problems in your relationships, or the use of steroids in men.
When you experience negative feelings about your body, it may be the result of past hurtful experiences from childhood, which can lead to a disconnection between you and your body. This can lead to your self-evaluation (how you feel about yourself) being tied to your body size or shape and a desire to whip your body into shape.
Causes of body image issues
- Social media - Exposure to social media images of thinness has been associated with an increase in body dissatisfaction and negative mood. Newer trends in body positivity and body image advocacy, however, have contributed to improved body image and mood. So, choosing which social media "influencers" you follow can make a huge difference in your body dissatisfaction.
- Attachment styles - A parent or caregiver’s relationship with his or her child has a direct effect on the child’s later social development, individual perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations in future relationships. As it turns out, this pivotal early relationship also has an effect on the child’s body image. If you do have an insecure attachment style, it can predispose you to destructive coping mechanisms, such as bingeing or compulsive overeating, and also to negative self-esteem and body image dissatisfaction
- Past history of trauma - Trauma has a direct effect on the body, causing it to be frozen in a state of fear or on red alert (hypervigilant). Traumatic experiences are stored in what is called "body memory" as opposed to conscious memory. Trauma can trigger the stress response making it difficult for you to regulate your emotions and soothe yourself during times of stress. And it may be one of the reasons you use food (or alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling) to self-regulate, self-soothe, and deal with stress.
Your body is your best friend.
The body is where you start to heal from past hurts, trauma, and abuse. The body is constantly offering you wise feedback on what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. On when to be active, when to rest and relax. And despite what it has gone through, it has continued to work on your behalf throughout your lifetime. Listen to your body’s eloquent voice, make your body your ally, and use your body to live in the present, moment by moment.
Exercise: Tapping into Body Wisdom
After taking 3 deep cleansing breaths, sitting with your feet flat on the floor, allow your body to relax. When you are feeling relaxed, answer the following questions:
- If you were to listen to your body's wisdom, how would you address your negative body thoughts differently? (Example: I will interrupt my negative thoughts and say neutral or kind things about my body.)
- If you were to listen to your body's wisdom, what would it say to you about your body right now? (Example: I'm on a journey to healing that will benefit my body, mind and spirit.)
All the best,
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