5 Steps Towards a More Positive Body Image
Long, hazy days; golden sunshine; ice-cream vans on street corners and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass. The British summer feels only just around the corner and you might be counting down the days to your holiday. You may be thinking about escaping the daily grind, and having some well deserved rest and relaxation.
As much as you are looking forward to your break, you may also be agitated by magazines health websites, tv and social media all now subtly (or not so subtly) piling on the pressure for you to embrace the concept of achieving the ‘body beautiful’ in the next 12 weeks or so. You might be feeling decidedly anxious as you contemplate this thought, whilst noticing that your pasty limbs, only recently given the light of day after being hidden under numerous layers, are feeling quite unready for this anticipated spotlight of attention.
Is it possible to engage with a 'bikini body' plan when you have a tricky relationship with food or are prone to feeling negative about your body?
Thankfully, things have moved on in some respects, with a shift from the extremely restrictive diets based on single food groups or intense detoxes of days gone by. These certainly had questionable health benefits and were very hard to sustain for more than a few short days or weeks. Instead, the move in dietary advice is more towards fresh ingredients, wholesome foods, treating the body well and feeling good from the inside and out. Hurray to this I say! However, is it possible to engage with a 'bikini body' plan, so beautifully laid out and packaged between the pages of your favourite magazine when you have a tricky relationship with food or are prone to feeling negative about your body?
If you have suffered in the past from an eating disorder or you continue to struggle with over-eating, bingeing, restricting or emotional eating, then these types of plans can be especially triggering for relapses. You might feel quite drawn to them as they offer the appeal of control and order around food, providing solutions and safety. They can be a beacon of hope on the horizon giving some certainty; some clarity and some concrete solutions to free you from your eating distress. Or are they?
Before you launch into your next bikini plan...
1. Know yourself
If you have a history of yo-yo dieting or tend to oscillate between ‘good’ (healthy) eating, and then bingeing and going ‘hell for leather’ (eating every food that you feel you have been depriving yourself of), then following any kind of strict rule-bound plan might set you up for ‘failing’ and feeling out of control with food. If you know that being overly strict with your eating rules actually exacerbates your eating problem, then it might be best to stay well clear of the plan.
2. Be very honest with yourself
Are you able to read these plans without taking them very literally and following them letter by letter? Can you take the gold nuggets of nutrition and food ideas, implementing the bits and pieces that are going to enhance your health? Can you be flexible and allow yourself some leverage or do you have perfectionist tendencies and feel that you have to take absolutely everything on board to do it properly?
The problem with having to do it perfectly is that you are left vulnerable. What happens if you are hungrier than the plan allows? If you eat that extra slice, does it send you spiralling downwards into a pit of despair of self-loathing and self-criticism? If so, be careful and think about how you take the information on board.
3. Assess your relationship with exercise
Are you going to keep doing the prescribed daily activity for the next so many weeks? Do you enjoy taking care of your body and looking after it? Or is exercise strongly linked to compensation for eating and a ‘should’ that you must do to maintain your self-esteem? Try to think about exercise as a pleasure and enhancement to well-being, and include it in your life in a way that is varied and manageable.
4. Promote self-worth
Is your self-esteem largely affected by your ability to achieve a certain number on the scales or by your dietary intake? If so, then you worth may be very dependent on the success of how you follow the regime. Would you be better placed to understand more what is leading you to focus so heavily on your body and to appreciate what is contributing to you feeling negative about yourself? You might think about a confidence building or assertiveness course rather than another diet; life-coaching, counselling or something that is going to help you feel truly better from the inside-out, building solid self-esteem.
5. Think long-term
Ultimately, think beyond the next 12 weeks or so. A long-term and sustainable approach to managing food and your body might be a better goal, if a slightly less exciting one. Value yourself for your many unique qualities and aim to feel confident and inspired by life. A healthy body might well be part of the package but not the definitive end-goal for well-being.