AMH everyBODY’s better body image strategies

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week continues, AMH everyBODY offers some self-help strategies people can try to improve their own body image:

  • Keep a body gratitude journal. A daily routine that includes self-deprecating comments about your body is likely making you feel worse. In order to come to a more balanced perspective, it is important to start to shift your attention and appreciate good things about your body. One way to achieve this is to keep a body gratitude journal. Try to write something daily that is positive about your body. You can include things like, “I had a good hair day,” “My legs allowed me to walk to my favourite coffee shop,” or “My arms allowed me to hug a friend.” At first, it may be hard, but it will get easier with practice.
  • Clean your social media feedWe are all barraged on a daily basis with images and messages emphasising thinness and/or the attainment of an ideal physique. To counteract these messages, it is important to find messages that support body acceptance and the inclusion of a range of bodies. Instead diversify your feed, read body-positive blogs and follow body-positive role models. It’s also a good idea to stop following social media sites that promote the thin or fit ideal. Hit unfollow if anyone makes you feel bad about yourself, or makes you question your own worth. Remember also that what we see on social media is only a snippet of someone’s highlight reel, not the reality of their whole lives and how they actually feel.
  • Buy clothes that fit now. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it. Instead, buy at least a few basic items that fit now and that makes you feel good. Most people find that this leads them to feel more confident and reduces anxiety and self-disparagement when getting dressed. Remind yourself that clothes were made to fit us, we are not made to fit into clothing. A clothing size can tell you nothing about your worth as a human being.
  • Challenge avoidance and stop body checking. Avoidance and body checking have been implicated in the persistence of eating disorders.  Avoidance can involve the complete covering up, refusing to wear appropriate clothes for the situation (wearing a hoody in the summer, refusing to wear shorts or a sleeveless top on a summer day, refusal to swim because of anxiety over wearing a swimsuit) or complete avoidance of doctors who might weigh them. Body checking is the repeated checking of one’s shape and weight and takes a variety of forms from repeated weighing, measuring (with a tape measure or by touch), or obsessive checking in the mirror. Avoidance and body checking only perpetuate anxiety. Those who avoid can practice gradual exposure with their ED team, and those who obsessively check can practice reducing. Exposure can also be gradual. For example, one can first wear sleeveless shirts around the apartment for increasing lengths of time before eventually venturing outside wearing them.
  • Challenge negative body language. Engaging in critical or stigmatising “fat talk” – negative and judgmental comments or conversations that are focused on weight and appearance – is detrimental to body image. Avoiding such judgments (e.g., “I feel so fat!”) can improve body image. Consider taking a pledge to not engage in critical body talk. If you wouldn’t say it to a loved one, then you don’t deserve to be saying it to yourself.
  • Be open about how you are feeling. If you feel uncomfortable, talk to your therapist and fellow trusted supporters about it.  Even if they can’t “solve the problem” in the moment, they can definitely share in carrying the burden. This work is hard and it is common to experience discomfort in working through these difficult emotions. Remind yourself that all your emotions are valid and that no feeling no matter how difficult it is, is ever permanent. 
  • Know that cognitive distortions are real symptoms of eating disorders. Remind yourself of this when you look in the mirror. There are a lot of really helpful interventions that you and your treatment team can practice to combat thoughts like, “My arm just got bigger from eating that sandwich,” or “I will gain 10 pounds if I eat this cookie.” Your therapist can help you sort out more about how these distortions impact how you feel about your body. It can be helpful to create a list of coping statements to counter some of these distorted thoughts.
  • Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself. Remind yourself that your size is the least interesting thing about you.  You have so much more to offer the world.
  • Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
  • Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as how you want others to see you — as a whole person.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognise the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  • Do something nice for yourself — something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, or find a peaceful place outside to relax.

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