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Body bashing – how negative body image isn’t all about your body

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Our body image is not a static entity. Body feelings can change in an unpredictable, momentary flash, from ‘I’m pretty okay’ to ‘I’m ugly and unattractive’. It can feel like an emotional, white-knuckle roller coaster ride, leaving you hopelessly out of control.

But why?

One moment, you’re walking Rex through the park, with his tail wagging contentedly; you’re appreciating the morning sunshine and bright autumn leaves. It’s a moment of calm, with body thoughts completely absent from your head.

Twenty minutes later, it’s 8.00am

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– an unexpected phone call and a multitude of demands have suddenly landed. You feel stressed and irritable. Your mind wanders towards the biscuit tin, perched on the shelf above you, just out of reach of little hands. You consider eating a custard cream or two. You’re not remotely hungry, but you feel fixated on the thought of munching.

Seconds later, you haven’t even eaten the biscuit, but you swear that your stomach is suddenly bloated, bulging, distorted and huge. Your jeans feel tight. You look down at your body and feel a creeping sense of

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dissatisfaction sweeping over you.

If you have a tricky relationship with food, negative body feelings are often intense and unpredictable in nature. They can be overwhelming and annoyingly intrusive. But interestingly, they often have nothing much to do with your body at all.

So, what then?

Firstly, if you’ve been dieting or being restrictive with food, you may have become overly sensitive to natural body signals. Normal stomach satiation after a meal, might be interpreted as bloating or ‘fatness’, when it is absolutely not this. You’ve

SelfishMother.com
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unwittingly trained your brain to focus in on the minutiae, to a point that leaves you preoccupied and distressed. You focus more and the feelings intensify. Ahhh!

And, if you’re invested in losing weight or changing body shape, then you’ll probably be paying more attention to your body than the average Jo or Joanna Bloggs, going about their day. What we give our attention to, it expands.

Looking in reflective surfaces to judge and critique, or idle body checking of how far your fingers can reach around a body part; your mind unconsciously

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collects this data and ruminates over it. Thoughts build and evaluations are drawn, often unhelpfully.

But it’s the emotional triggers that are the ones I’m mainly talking about. They can often unintentionally catapult body image down a destructive path. Envy of the colleague with the seemingly perfect life; overwhelm at the mounting list of tedious jobs and the feelings of failure that creep in, from not nailing them; anxiety about your child’s friendship group or sheer exhaustion from juggling all the balls. Before you’ve had chance to catch

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your breath, it’s your body that getting the bashing and being labelled as wrong, ugly and inadequate. You might not even realise that you are doing it. When in fact, it has nothing to do with your poor body!

The good news is that your body bashing can be reduced, and self-esteem improved, through a few simple steps.

Here’s how.

1) Start to gain awareness of your body bashing triggers. What sets you off? Is it really about your body? Explore the thoughts and feelings arising in day-to-day life. Do this for a week or so to see trends and

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patterns. You might be wholeheartedly surprised by the results.

2) Problem solve the things you can. Envy, boredom, frustration – how can you manage these feelings in a constructive way, without directing them inwards? Endless body checking or stomach monitoring – work to cut down behaviour in baby steps. Distract yourself as necessary.

3) Work to practice self-care daily. Value your body, not just for aesthetics but what it can do for you. Direct your energy towards life areas that meet your deepest and most important values. Don’t waste

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another minute of your precious life on unnecessary body bashing!
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Harriet Frew

By

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- 30 Sep 19

Our body image is not a static entity. Body feelings can change in an unpredictable, momentary flash, from ‘I’m pretty okay’ to ‘I’m ugly and unattractive’. It can feel like an emotional, white-knuckle roller coaster ride, leaving you hopelessly out of control.

But why?

One moment, you’re walking Rex through the park, with his tail wagging contentedly; you’re appreciating the morning sunshine and bright autumn leaves. It’s a moment of calm, with body thoughts completely absent from your head.

Twenty minutes later, it’s 8.00am – an unexpected phone call and a multitude of demands have suddenly landed. You feel stressed and irritable. Your mind wanders towards the biscuit tin, perched on the shelf above you, just out of reach of little hands. You consider eating a custard cream or two. You’re not remotely hungry, but you feel fixated on the thought of munching.

Seconds later, you haven’t even eaten the biscuit, but you swear that your stomach is suddenly bloated, bulging, distorted and huge. Your jeans feel tight. You look down at your body and feel a creeping sense of dissatisfaction sweeping over you.

If you have a tricky relationship with food, negative body feelings are often intense and unpredictable in nature. They can be overwhelming and annoyingly intrusive. But interestingly, they often have nothing much to do with your body at all.

So, what then?

Firstly, if you’ve been dieting or being restrictive with food, you may have become overly sensitive to natural body signals. Normal stomach satiation after a meal, might be interpreted as bloating or ‘fatness’, when it is absolutely not this. You’ve unwittingly trained your brain to focus in on the minutiae, to a point that leaves you preoccupied and distressed. You focus more and the feelings intensify. Ahhh!

And, if you’re invested in losing weight or changing body shape, then you’ll probably be paying more attention to your body than the average Jo or Joanna Bloggs, going about their day. What we give our attention to, it expands.

Looking in reflective surfaces to judge and critique, or idle body checking of how far your fingers can reach around a body part; your mind unconsciously collects this data and ruminates over it. Thoughts build and evaluations are drawn, often unhelpfully.

But it’s the emotional triggers that are the ones I’m mainly talking about. They can often unintentionally catapult body image down a destructive path. Envy of the colleague with the seemingly perfect life; overwhelm at the mounting list of tedious jobs and the feelings of failure that creep in, from not nailing them; anxiety about your child’s friendship group or sheer exhaustion from juggling all the balls. Before you’ve had chance to catch your breath, it’s your body that getting the bashing and being labelled as wrong, ugly and inadequate. You might not even realise that you are doing it. When in fact, it has nothing to do with your poor body!

The good news is that your body bashing can be reduced, and self-esteem improved, through a few simple steps.

Here’s how.

1) Start to gain awareness of your body bashing triggers. What sets you off? Is it really about your body? Explore the thoughts and feelings arising in day-to-day life. Do this for a week or so to see trends and patterns. You might be wholeheartedly surprised by the results.

2) Problem solve the things you can. Envy, boredom, frustration – how can you manage these feelings in a constructive way, without directing them inwards? Endless body checking or stomach monitoring – work to cut down behaviour in baby steps. Distract yourself as necessary.

3) Work to practice self-care daily. Value your body, not just for aesthetics but what it can do for you. Direct your energy towards life areas that meet your deepest and most important values. Don’t waste another minute of your precious life on unnecessary body bashing!

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Harriet Frew

I'm a Mum of three (one daughter and twin sons). I'm a therapist specialsing in eating disorders and body image; working for the Adult Eating Disorder Service at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge and in private practice. I am passionate about supporting people to recover from eating disorders. I like to try my hand at ninja warrior training and parkour, when I have time!

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