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 and problems in your relationships. Having positive feelings about your body if you are in a bigger body may be difficult in a culture filled with images of the thin "ideal," but it’s not impossible.
It's time to claim and OWN your body!
Your body is yours to do with what you want. You may recall that i've spoken about the connection between trauma, especially childhood trauma and eating disorders. What you may not realize is that trauma is stored in your body. Trauma that is unhealed is like an invisible wound that changes your body including your brain.
Trauma increases your risk for addictions, depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes and over 40 other health conditions. Most of the patients who come to me with food and body image issues have been abused, neglected or maltreated in some way, usually as children. Their traumatized minds and bodies have coped by trying to mange uncomfortable or even terrifying emotions, nightmares and flashbacks by self-soothing with food and /or other substances.
Many individuals with food addiction, binge eating or emotional eating may not see the link between their childhood maltreatment or neglect and their current problems but their bodies continue to play out the need to manage emotions, deal with stress using food (which originated from their trauma).
Food is part of your survivor playbook.
Trauma has an impact on the brain and on the body. The effects of trauma on the brain can include:
- trouble regulating your emotions
- problems with memory, focus, concentration and motivation
- increased sensitivity to stress
If you experienced maltreatment as a child, you may find that at even the smallest sign of danger (whether it's real or perceived) triggers your fight or flight response causing emotions and body sensations that can feel unpleasant and overwhelming. This is where your "survivor self" used food - to tamp down those feelings and to enable you to deal with the stress.
Your body has all the wisdom you need to run your life.
When we talk about "body image" - the picture you have of your body may also have been affected by your childhood adversities leading to your feeling disconnected from your body - seeing your body as separate from you and not to be trusted or not safe. While this may have helped you survive your childhood adversity, as an adult it can lead you to have trouble knowing what you are feeling. While food can help you numb unpleasant emotions, it may also make you numb to feeling joy or love.
If you are disconnected from your body, you are not able to use your body's immense intuition and wisdom. Our bodies tell us when we are in danger, but if you don't trust your body's sensations or are numb to them, you may find yourself, for example, repeatedly ending up in abusive relationships. Our bodies tell us what to eat, when we are hungry and when we're full. But if you're disconnected from your body, you won't have the knowledge you need to change unwanted behaviors around food.
Healing body image issues begins by befriending your body, listening to and respecting your body's needs.
Part of what it takes to recover is to learn to own your experiences, including the difficult ones. To do this, it's important to learn new skills to deal with your emotions and to cope with stress. Also healing means no longer being ashamed of your food and body image issues or having to keep behaviors hidden because they are part of what helped you survive. And finally, learning ways to stay present and calm in the face of triggers from your past and present-day challenges.
Healing begins in the body. It can start by no longer referring to your body in negative terms. Start by learning to not say anything and gradually work towards saying something positive.
Treat your body as if it were your friend. You don't have to love your body to befriend it. Imagine how you would feel if you practiced doing things for your body that you'd do for a friend.
Offer some compassion and respect to your body. After all, your body helped you survive and has continued to work on your behalf no matter what you've thrown at it.
I don't have to tell you that your body has survived all the things you have survived. You don't have to throw it a parade, but maybe a small "thank you" would be appreciated. (smile)
PS: If you're ready to begin the journey to make peace with food and your body, schedule a free consult to discuss your food and body image issues.