Body image issues are widespread and often, body image is closely tied to self-worth.
People often say they “feel fat.” But, is feeling fat a true feeling?
Why do we associate a feeling with body fat?
I want to take time to appreciate the wonderful breadth of knowledge and insight that my good friend and colleague, Calene Van Noy, was gracious enough to share with me. She is a dietitian who works with patients who have eating disorders, and she has great insight for these patients and anyone who struggles with body image issues.
Her words really resonated with me, and are so applicable to everyone. We all need a little more self-love and a little less self-criticism.
Health isn’t circumscribed by a number on a chart. And it certainly shouldn’t be determined by a label we give ourselves or a label we think others are giving us either.
I hope you enjoy her wisdom as much as me.
I was at the park with my sister earlier this week and she told me about her seven-year-old son in the bathtub whining to his dad that he couldn’t shampoo his hair. The dad was frustrated – “Of course you can, just do it!”
My sister overheard and came into the bathroom and quietly whispered, “It’s not about the hair”. She then proceeded to ask her son what he did in class today – handing him the shampoo.
The seven-year old started talking and shampooing his hair without any fuss and her husband understood. It’s not about the hair – he was stuck in a feeling and didn’t know how to get out. Simply talking about his day got him unstuck and capable of washing his own hair.
Understanding our Body Image
When you “feel fat” – it’s not about the fat. It’s a common statement, and there are feelings behind it – but “fat” is not the feeling. It’s like saying “I feel the water.” If we don’t identify what we are feeling we will feel frustrated and lost.
In this blog post, I will explore how you can stop “feeling fat”, make a shift towards greater happiness, and improve your overall health by improving your body image.
First, can you just stop yourself from “feeling fat” by just saying to yourself “Hey, stop it! Fat is not a feeling!”? Yes -you can! The first step is being honest and real. Then go a little deeper and look for the true feeling behind the statement.
As you search for your true feeling it’s very possible you will uncover uncomfortable feelings. Do it anyway.
Identify what you are feeling and figure out why. Write it down, talk with someone about it – get it out. This will help you to become more self-aware. The wonderful news is that self-awareness allows you to open the door to wonderful feelings like these:
- I feel peaceful.
- I feel understood.
- I feel appreciated.
- I feel protected.
- I feel motivated.
- I feel confident.
- I feel empowered.
- I feel significant.
- I feel loved.
See how great this will be?! Making the effort to understand yourself, to identify what you are feeling and why will shift you into a path of greater happiness!
How you view your own body, what is called “body image”, has both an impact on your health and your level of happiness. If you think “I feel fat”, that thought is likely linked to unhealthy body image.
Studies show that around 65% of the population says their weight impacts how they feel about themselves more than family, school, or career. A person may have a great life, but in effect, they are saying “So what if I have a great job, a husband and children who love me, this extra fat makes me miserable.”
There’s also plenty of evidence showing that when you think you are fat, you have a higher chance of becoming obese. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy in large part because when you think badly of yourself, you are less likely to take good care of your body.
I recommend the book Fat is Not a Four-Letter Word to help shift your thinking on cultural expectation surrounding weight and appearance. A quote from the book: “Stop dieting. Odds are, you don’t even need to lose weight.” (1)
A healthier approach is to ask yourself “What did I eat that was green today, and did I get some good exercise in?”
Establishing a healthy body image can help you become healthier and maintain a healthy weight. The range of healthy weight is likely broader than you think. It can also help you develop a greater inner resilience (2).
The following factors have been found to be important in creating a positive body image (3). I will briefly explain each concept.
Body Image Issues: Keeping Positive Self Talk
Positive Body Image includes:
- Adaptive investment in appearance
- Conceptualizing beauty broadly
- Inner positivity
- Interpreting information in a body-protective manner
- Body appreciation
- Body acceptance/love
Adaptive Investment in Appearance
This isn’t some new Wall Street buzzword. It means you can evaluate your body and take healthy, positive steps in improving your body and your appearance. For example, you might say to yourself – “Woah, I’m tired and people keep saying I look tired, so I’m going to start going to bed at 10 pm instead of 1 am.” Bingo!
You’re adjusting and taking care of yourself. Included in this category: sleep, exercise, eating healthful foods, good hygiene, etc – it’s all about awareness and self-care. Be engaged in your health. As you might imagine – it can make a huge difference in your level of health and energy!
Conceptualizing Beauty Broadly
Can you look out in the world, among your friends, family, co-workers and beyond and see the beauty in all shapes, sizes, colors, personalities, and inner characteristics? Ever catch yourself saying, “Check out my dentist’s eyes when he smiles and tells me he’ll see me next week to fill my cavity.” Haha -ok- maybe that’s a bad example!
How about when your aunt laughs and you think “It’s just awesome how her entire body laughs!” Give it a try – it’s fun to find the beauty in everyone, and it will make it easier to appreciate the beauty in you.
Negative self-talk is a monster that has an insatiable appetite. The best thing to do is to identify it and kick it out!
Your monster might say “No wonder you’re so fat, all you eat is junk-food!” So first you identify the negative talk “Well that was mean and not true – I do eat healthful food, in fact, most of the time I do.” So out the monster goes – you are putting a stop to that negative thought.
Now you must fill that void. You can fix the statement – “I am great just as I am and I do eat healthful and nourishing foods.”
Or maybe you use a mantra you’ve created. An example: “Head up, heart open. I am capable and confident. I am a force for good.” Create something that resonates with you.
Interpreting Information in a Body-Protective Manner
We are constantly ingesting information. What we do with the information and how we choose to receive it make a difference.
For example, let’s say after looking at Instagram for a while you start to look down at your belly and think – no way am I ever putting on a bikini and posting a picture of myself! Then it hits you.
The act of scrolling through your feed and seeing some bikini bodies just made you feel poorly about your body! Tell yourself you don’t need to waste time and waste energy on that. Decide to protect yourself. You can delete your account, put time limits on your use, unfollow some accounts – you get the idea. You are protecting yourself, your mind, and your body.
Your body feels everything you think – absorbing it in ways that can either help or hurt. Body appreciation may come naturally to you, or it may be a foreign concept.
We all know it’s nice to feel appreciated. If you appreciate someone, you do nice things for them, you express your appreciation, you encourage them to rest after they’ve worked hard. It’s the same with your body.
Give thanks, feed it good food, be proactive about your thoughts, do nice things for your body like a walk along a river’s edge.
Our body gives us life. Think about this for a minute: your soul/spirit loves your body. Sure, sometimes our mind tricks us into thinking we hate our body, but we love it just the same – we can’t help it – it’s our life-line!
Once we accept our body as valuable just the way it is, we can progress.
I’ll share with you something that has made a powerful daily difference in my life: dressing in oils. Sounds strange – huh? I learned it from a lovely lady in Australia. After you step out of the shower or bath – put a little bit of fractionated coconut oil in your hand, or in a beautiful bowl like my neighbor down the street has made (see picture).
Add a couple drops of your favorite CPTG essential oils (I like to add a blend called Balance). Now, you’re going to rub that lovely oil on your body and as you do you say out loud to your body “I love my ankles, I love my knees, I love my thigh, I love my tush…” working your way up your body.
You go all the way up your body rubbing in the oil and giving yourself some appreciation and self-love. The oil is warming and the benefits of the essential oils are powerful.
Body Image Issues: Conclusion
It’s not about the fat, it’s about you. Becoming more positive is beautiful and will bring more happiness into your life. I hope you will make the effort to take good care of your body and let yourself shine!
Calene Van Noy, RDN, is a registered dietitian of 18 years. She has worked at the Center for Change-an Eating Disorder Clinic. She is the mother of 6 beautiful children.
- Schroader, Charles R. Fat is not a Four-Letter Word. Minneapolis: Chronimed Publishing, 1992. Print.
- Kumar Tiwari, Gyanesh & Kumar, Sanjay. (2015). Psychology and Body Image: A Review. SHODH PRERAK: A Multidisciplinary Quarterly International Refereed Research Journal. 5. 1-9.
- Tylka, T.L., Wood-Barcalow, N.L. What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Elsevier. Volume 14, 2015, Pages 118-129.