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Eating Disorders Week Blog

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Eating Disorders Week Blog

  1. 1. Eating Disorders Week Blog Body Dissatisfaction to Body Acceptance The human body, at peace with itself, is more precious than the rarest gem. Cherish your body; it is yours this one time only. The human form is won with difficulty, it is easy to lose. All worldly things are brief, like lightning in the sky; This life you must knowas the tiny splash of a raindrop; A thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being. Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) Writing a blog for Eating Disorders Awareness Week was on my mind as I queued for coffee this morning. While standing in line I perused the magazine rack to see how many front covers critiqued bodies or offered solutions to body problems. Of the magazines aimed at women the answer was approximately half. Two of them even had the same woman on the cover but took different angles on her body; one magazine suggested that this singer was overhauling her diet in order to get a man, whereas another applauded her newly single status and relaxed attitude towards food. Even as one part of me rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of these contrasting cover stories another pushed me to examine the photos on display more closely and to read the headlines offering extraordinary weight loss results in minimum time with very little effort. I walked away thinking about the multi-billion diet and beauty industry which is aimed towards the promotion of an unattainable and unrealistic ideal body shape and how difficult it is for all of us to switch off from this. Back in my office I typed “body shame” into google and got 35,500,000 results; “I hate my body” resulted in 80,000,000 hits; I hit the motherload when I entered “diet” with 454,000,000 results. Of course we are all aware of our culture’s obsession with bodies – indeed it is impossible to escape - but every so often it is important to take stock and refocus in order to develop awareness of our own relationship with our body and, if needed, to begin to improve this. During eating disorders awareness week we are asked to bring our attention to the difficulties experienced by people with an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a mental health disorder whereby an individual may use food or their body to cope with emotions or to feel in control of aspects of their lives. With eating disorder difficulties the body generally takes centre stage in the life and mind of the person. It becomes an object of disdain and a vehicle for change. Feelings of guilt and shame are inextricably linked to food, weight and body image. Happiness, pride and joy become associated with weight loss or weight control. Ultimately the person begins to define their worth in terms of their weight leading to high levels of distress and an increasing need to control their diet resulting, in some cases, in extreme weight control behaviours and in other cases the use of bingeing as an emotional release. Eating disorders impact upon every aspect of a person’s life: from their relationships
  2. 2. to their job to their hobbies and represent a very real physical threat to the health of the individual. Eating disorders effect men and women, young and old, and, unlike our society, do not discriminate based on size or shape. Body image distortion and negative beliefs about the body are prevalent across eating disorders resulting in significant distress for people. However, body image difficulties are not limited to people with eating disorders and are something that many people experience to varying extents. A number of factors are thought to be associated with the development of body dissatisfaction (see Nina Burrowes 2013 paper, Body image: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature for a discussion); these include our genetics, the environment in which we grow up and how we are thought to relate to our bodies by those around us (including our care givers and society as a whole). I have already mentioned the media, and while it is shown to have a role in body image dissatisfaction, this impact is not universal and is often determined by pre-existing body dissatisfaction. Individual psychological factors such as low self-esteem and depression also play a role in body dissatisfaction as do personality traits such as perfectionism. For many of us our relationship with our body has become objectified – what this means is that at times we relate to our body as if it is something that we own and can alter depending on external factors (such as fashion or celebrities) rather than something that we are. The picking apart of our body and continued attempts to reshape it and perfect it make it difficult to be “in” our body – for at any moment we may begin to engage in a critique of it. The thing we have to remember is that how we feel about our body impacts on how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about ourselves impacts on how we feel about our body. For most people their sense of self is closely linked to feelings about their body. But how do we begin to take ownership over our bodies and to build in ways to “cherish” it as Tsongkhapa suggests in my opening quote. One suggestion (made by therapist, Catherine Cook-Cottone) is that we need to begin to move towards feeling the connection between mind and body. This would involve recognising the needs of our body and starting to meet them rather than filtering these needs through the lens of an “idealised” or “idolised” body. On a daily basis we could begin to notice the simple things our body does for us – maybe notice what it takes for your body to get you from bed to work or notice how able your body is to manoeuvre around busy streets; or by reflecting on important life events – has your body helped you to do something extraordinary like get through a series of late nights before an important exam, or give another person pleasure, or run a marathon, or give birth?; perhaps we could focus outwards on the world around us and how it is our body that enables us to interact with our environment – look at the stars, swim in the ocean or play with an animal. Perhaps we could begin to look at our image not just as “a” body in the mirror but
  3. 3. has “our” body in the mirror; this body which allows us to express our values and the essence of ourselves to others. We could begin to build new habits such as becoming mindful of how we discuss our bodies, either with others or with ourselves. Or we could begin to build body affirming activities into our week, such as yoga, mindfulness or body care techniques (using scented body lotions, or massage). We could begin to eat healthily not for weight loss or with a goal in mind but in order to take care of our bodies. Or, we could allow our body to enjoy and luxuriate is those things which soothe us (a hot bath, a bar of chocolate) and try not to get caught up in recrimination or criticism. Eating Disorders Awareness week runs from February 22nd to the 28th , perhaps if I could be so bold, I would suggest that during this week you choose to begin to celebrate your body in some small way after all it is your vessel in this life and no matter where you go or what you do it is there with you – a map of your life and a testament to your existence.