As an eating disorder and body image therapist, many of the clients that I see struggle with hating their bodies. This makes complete sense: We are all raised in a culture which tells us that our value lies in our appearance, and that “thinner” is better. Also, individuals who have an eating disorder have a serious mental illness whose symptoms often manifest in a focus on food and weight.
Body image issues are complex, and often unique to the individual. One common challenge is that some people don’t want to work on their body image issues, as they tell themselves that the “solution” is to simply keep hating their bodies — which they hope will lead to changing them.
Following are a few important questions to ask yourself if you are struggling with wanting to work on improving your body image or to give up the “weight loss” goal:
Hating Your Body May Actually Serve a Function
It's important to examine the purpose that “body hate” might be serving in your own life. Often, the language of body-bashing is really the way that we communicate some deeper issues in our lives. For example, it’s easier to say, “My thighs are disgusting” than to say, “I feel lonely and rejected by my partner.”
Additionally, in focusing on hating your body and trying to change it, you take valuable energy away from focusing on other things. The analogy that I give is to imagine that you have a series of jars in front of you — one is “relationships,” another is “my kids,” “my passions,” “religion,” etc. Then imagine that you only have a certain number of marbles. When you put a huge amount of your marbles in the “body and appearance” jar, you have to devote fewer to the “kids” jar or the “my passions” jar. We have a limited amount of brain space as well, and when you use your energy to focus on body hate, you take away from things that are actually far more meaningful to you.
Another example: Let’s say that someone has a past history of being hurt in relationships and is afraid to date. Perhaps their focus on body hate keeps them distracted from having to confront the real issue of being vulnerable and intimate with another person.
What Truly Matters
In trying to micromanage the size of our bodies — which will very much find their “happy” weight themselves if we are able to practice listening to their needs and treating them with compassion — we recover precious time and energy that we could be utilizing for another purpose.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that our appearance and our bodies are the most valuable things about us. They aren’t. Our passions are more important, as are our relationships, and the way that we treat others. A number on a scale will never define the incredible person that you are.
If you are struggling with body hate, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself. You certainly aren’t alone. It’s not your fault that you were raised in a diet-culture, or that you may struggle with an eating disorder. However, you can make some new choices. You can choose to work on your body image with a professional — and you can choose to treat your body with kindness, even if you don’t love the way that it looks. Your body does so much for you every day, and it deserves your compassion as well as your care.
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