Citrus Fruits

Body Image Issues in Women

 

Over 90% of women are unhappy with their bodies. Many women believe that if they are thinner, they will be happier, more attractive, popular, successful, lovable and in control of their lives. "Body image" refers to how you think and feel about your body, and how you picture yourself in your mind. Body image is closely associated with self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Your body image may or may not be related to your actual body weight, shape and size. You may think and feel that your body is much larger or smaller than it actually is. A woman of any size can have a negative body image, although being overweight can make the issue more severe. A negative body image can lead to dieting, and dieting can lead to disordered eating. "Disordered eating" is when an unhealthy relationship with food develops that may include fasting, constant restricting, over-exercising, binging and purging. Often, the issue isn't so much about food but about feelings - how we feel about ourselves: our self-worth. And self-worth often becomes synonymous with being a particular weight, size or shape. We can end up chasing unrealistic expectations and feeling inadequate if we 'fail' to meet them or sustain them. Because we then feel bad about ourselves, we punish ourselves even more or give up completely.

 

The line can become blurred between healthy and unhealthy. We are encouraged to eat certain foods and avoid others, limit our alcohol intake, exercise a certain amount per week, and maintain a certain body weight for optimum health. Where do we draw the line? Where do we find happiness, contentment, self-love and self-acceptance? How do we feel good about ourselves and our bodies? What is normal and healthy, and what is not?

 

Do you engage in any of the following behaviours?

  • Having strict rules about what you can and can't eat, and when you can and can't eat

  • Counting or restricting calories, macros or certain types of foods or food groups

  • Frequently weighing yourself, checking your body in the mirror, or pinching certain body parts to assess fat

  • Comparing yourself to other women

  • Thinking or ruminating about what your body weighs and what it looks like 

  • Avoiding your body image by wearing baggy clothes, refusing to be weighed or avoiding mirrors

  • Restricting food, comfort eating, over-exercising, chewing and spitting, binging and purging (vomiting, laxatives, exercise)

  • Feeling fat irrespective of actual body mass

  • Heightened awareness of the sensation of fat on certain parts of your body

  • Fear of gaining weight or losing control over your weight

  • Ignoring or over-riding your body's hunger cues

  • Categorising foods into "good" or "bad," "safe" or "dangerous," "clean" or "dirty," "allowed" or "not allowed"

  • Believing that if you are thinner you will be happier, more attractive, popular and successful 

  • Measuring your self-worth by what you look like or by the number on the scales

There are many things that can influence a negative body image. This includes the cultural idealisation of thinness, dieting and weight loss in everyday interactions and through the media. Peers can influence our eating behaviours, weight and body shape attitudes, and self-esteem. Family members may focus on body weight and shape, communicate messages about what is good or bad in terms of weight, or make negative comments about their own or others' bodies. Other influences can include stress, trauma, abuse, bullying, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, personality, perfectionism, issues of control, unrealistic perceptions of body size and body dissatisfaction. 

 

Therapy can help you in various ways. It can help you identify rigid, inflexible, all-or-nothing thinking about your body and food. It can help you identify unhelpful, inaccurate beliefs, and find alternative, more balanced, helpful and accurate ways of seeing things. It can help you tackle negative self-beliefs, promote self-esteem and encourage healthy behaviours whereby you treat yourself and your body with respect. It can help you disentangle your self-worth from your body image and eating. It can can help you find value, purpose, identity and meaning in life beyond food and body image. It can help you learn to accept your body "the way it is" rather than "the way you want it to be." It may seem counterintuitive, but once you really accept that this is how your body actually is (even if you don't like it or want it to be this way), then you are in a position to make the changes you need to cultivate a healthy relationship with food and your body. It can help you learn to trust and respect your body, and distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is the biological urge to replenish the body with nutrients. There are different signals including a growling stomach, fatigue or irritability. This is satisfied when you eat. Emotional hunger is driven by emotional need, such as sadness, loneliness and boredom. These create cravings, often for comfort food, which can cause feelings of guilt, shame and self-hatred. 

***

One of the problems with dieting is that although it can work in the short-term, over time it can become less effective because the body naturally fights back against ongoing restriction and starvation by slowing down the metabolism, increasing hunger cues and increasing stress hormones. As a result, it becomes harder to lose weight and maintain weight-loss, which adversely affects how we think, feel and behave towards ourselves, our bodies, food, health, weight and exercise. Many people find that dieting don't work for them, that they gain weight as soon as they stop dieting, or that they still feel unhappy with themselves or their bodies despite dieting.

Wildlife