7 tips to help someone with negative body image

negative body image and how to build body image resilience

Negative body image and building body image resilience

 

Body shaming has become a significant issue around the globe, potentially attributable to social media influencers and diet culture creating and promoting unrealistic body ideals.

It’s important to remember that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and this is what makes us unique. How someone looks is probably the least interesting thing about that person, but we know that body shame and negative body image is a serious issue, affecting 61% of adult men and women and 66% of children (UK Parliament, 2020), and this can lead to low self-esteem and confidence in all areas of life.

In this article, we will discuss how you can help someone with negative body image.

 

What is negative body image?

A negative body image is when someone has a distorted view of their appearance. It may be caused by poor self-esteem, lived experiences, unrealistic expectations, or a combination of both. 

People who suffer from negative body image tend to compare themselves unfavourably to others, which leads them to feel dissatisfied with their bodies. They may even find fault in every part of their body, and this can progress to finding fault in other elements of their lives too. 

People with negative body image may also feel uncomfortable about certain parts of their bodies. For example, if they don’t have society’s ideal of a flat stomach, they might feel embarrassed to wear tight clothes. Or, if they don’t have clear skin, they may feel compelled to wear make-up.

 

Where does a negative body image come from?

Developing negative body image stems from the culture we live in, the messages that were internalised when we were younger, traumatic lived experiences such as being bullied and the media.

A negative body image comes from society’s obsession with body ideals, such as thinness. The media, although beginning to change, has constantly promoted pictures of skinny or athletic models, and encourages the belief that these are the ideal shapes for women. You may find that you have, or someone you know has, been chasing these body ideals, and this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with your body, with food, and with exercise.

 

What are the consequences of negative body image?

When you put so much emphasis on your appearance, you can become obsessed with it, spending hours looking in the mirror or comparing yourself to others, and what others think of your body. This obsession can lead to the belief that your appearance defines you, or you place all your self-worth on how you look, and lose sight of all your other qualities, abilities, and achievements.

When someone feels low or ashamed of their body or themselves, this may lead to emotional eating to suppress these feelings and provide comfort.

Emotional eating combined with society’s emphasis on thinness, can lead to restriction or over-exercise to ‘counteract’ the food eaten, and more feelings of guilt and shame about yourself and your body. This is known as the ‘binge-restrict cycle’, which for some can spiral into bulimia nervosa, a severe eating disorder with medical consequences. These negative feelings can also lead to feelings of unworthiness, which can cause restriction of food eat and exercising out of punishment, which is associated with anorexia nervosa (Hosseini, 2021).

If you notice any of these signs, speak to your doctor: 

  1. You avoid social situations because you feel bad about yourself or are concerned about what you look like.
  2. You have trouble sleeping because you can’t stop obsessing over your weight and size. 
  3. You feel guilty about eating or drinking anything. This may look like lying to your family members about what you ate, eating in secret, or engaging in punishing behaviours after eating such as exercising, restriction or self-induced vomiting.
  4. You use alcohol or drugs to cope with your problems.
  5. You have thoughts of suicide. 
  6. You are constantly trying to lose weight, and relationship with food or your body has progressively become worse.
  7. You think you may be suffering from depression or another mental health problem. 

 

How can you help someone struggling with negative body image?

If you know someone who is struggling with body image, here are seven ways you can help: 

  1. Be there for them and support them. When you notice someone being judged by another person, or judging themselves, protest it.
  2. Compliment people on attributes, not looks. This can help remind people that they are loved for things aside from their appearance.
  3. Offer advice. Sometimes, we need to hear other people’s perspectives.
  4. Encourage them to try new things. This can help remind people that there’s more to life than obsessing about how they look.
  5. Show interest. People open up much more when they feel listened to and understood. Maybe sharing your experiences with body image, or even showing interest by asking questions and listening carefully can help people. 
  6. Remind them that their opinion matters. People with negative body image might struggle to take complements because their opinion of themselves is different than yours. Advise them that the only opinion that will make the most difference to them is their own, and they can improve their opinion of themselves starting by practicing some self-kindness.
  7. Help them find support if they need it. Negative body image often leads to depression and anxiety, which may require psychological intervention.

 

If you or someone you love are struggling with negative body image and it is affecting other areas of your or their life, we are here to help! At Embody Health London, we are experts in treating disordered eating, eating disorders and negative body image. Book your free discovery call to learn more about how we can help you.

 

Elle, RD, BSc, MSc

EHL x

 

References

Hosseini, A. (2021). Body Image Distortion. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546582/

UK Parliament, 2020. Body Image Survey. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmwomeq/805/80502.htm

 

Everything you need to know about intuitive eating and health at every size

intuitive eating and health at every size

How to get started with intuitive eating and understanding Health at Every Size

 

Dieting can be harmful to our health, both physically and mentally.

Diet culture paints dieting as normal and encourages unhealthy and unrealistic body expectations. As a result, we lose touch with what we actually like to eat, what our body wants and needs, how to eat to for health and wellbeing, and also how to feel comfortable in our own skin.

In this article, we will explore intuitive eating and health at every size (HAES), two concepts which can help you to nourish and respect your body and enjoy what you eat, and as a result, lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle.

 

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based self-care eating framework that involves trusting the body, listening to and honouring its physical, emotional, mental and social needs. Intuitive eating is not a diet, it doesn’t impose rules about what to eat or not eat- it is about becoming embodied, fine-tuning your capacity to hear your body signals, acknowledge your emotional needs, moving with joy, and eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. In this way, intuitive eating encourages a healthy relationship with food and your body.

Although this way of eating is referred to as ‘intuitive’, for many people it’s not. Years of dieting or eating mechanically, having rules around food and depriving yourself of foods you enjoy, can send your hunger and fullness cues out of sync, making it hard to trust your body.

 

The 10 key principles of intuitive eating 

  1. Reject the diet mentality

Intuitive eating is not a diet and is about embracing neutralising all foods in addition to eating for physical and emotional health and satisfaction, not weight loss.

  1. Honour your hunger

You may not yet know what hunger feels like, or how to respond when you feel hungry if you have regularly dieted or eaten mechanically in the past. When you diet or restrict, your body may silence its hunger as a direct consequence of ignoring hunger signals for too long.

By learning how to respond to your hunger, you are less likely to overeat, and get stuck in a cycle of overeating and restricting.

  1. Make peace with food

Diet culture promotes rules and rigidity around food. In intuitive eating, no food is good or bad. Whilst there is a nutritional difference between an apple and an apple pie, there shouldn’t be an emotional difference.

  1. Challenge the food police

Challenging the thoughts and external influences that tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat. Intuitive eating is about eating in a way that works for you, and no one else.

  1. Respect your fullness

Your body will also tell you when it’s full, although this can be hard to detect when you’re used to dieting and eating strict portions. It may feel as though you are never full, and this could be due to being over hungry.

Check in with yourself throughout meals to see how food tastes and how hungry or full you are feeling.

  1. Discover the satisfaction factor

When you have foods you enjoy regularly, and eating is a pleasurable experience, you may find it takes less food to satisfy you. Remember, you should eat foods to physically satisfy you, but to also satisfy your tastebuds!

  1. Honour your emotions

Emotional eating is a common way of dealing with emotions. Explore other ways that you can cope with emotions and feelings you face, such as taking a walk, meditating or journaling. Identifying what physical hunger feels like is important when relearning to trust your body.

Physical hunger: This is the biological urge to eat in order to fuel and nourish your body. This comes on gradually and intensifies, from a rumbling stomach to fatigue and irritability. It is satisfied when you eat any food.

Emotional hunger: emotional hunger is driven by emotional needs. Stress, loneliness, boredom and sadness can create cravings for foods. Emotional hunger can be hard to satisfy, as it normally calls out for a specific food and cannot actually resolve the emotion being felt.

  1. Respect your body

You may not love your body but getting to a stage where you stop criticising yourself for how you look and can accept and appreciate it for what it does, can improve your body image and self-worth, which will reduce your likeliness for wanting to diet and help you trust your body more.

  1. Exercise because it feels good

Exercise for enjoyment and because you respect your body, not to burn calories or because diet culture makes you believe that you should.

  1. Honour your health with gentle nutrition

It’s important to enjoy the food you eat, but also to eat food that nourishes your body. This will usually come last once you debunk all food rules, food choices can be made from an unbiased authentic place using knowledge and what the body feels as key indicators.

 

Will you lose weight if you adopt intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is not about weight loss, it is about providing your body with what it needs. You could gain, maintain, or lose weight with intuitive eating. Eating intuitively is likely to bring you to your set point. If you are underweight at the moment and under nourishing, your body may show signs of physical hunger and when you honour this, this may lead to weight gain. Conversely, if you’re currently overeating or eating emotionally, becoming more attuned with your body, and eating in response to hunger and fullness signals could lead to weight loss.

Studies have linked intuitive eating to better body image and relationships with food, lower BMIs and weight maintenance (Dyke & Drinkwater, 2014). Research also shows that people who intuitively eat are less likely to develop eating disorders (Bruce & Ricciardelli, 2015).

 

What is HAES?

HAES (pronounced HAY-S) is a weight-neutral approach to health, aiming to address weight-bias and stigma for those living in larger bodies, and emphasising that health is more than the number on the scale.

The HAES paradigm acknowledges that regardless of your body shape or size, if you engage in health promoting behaviours such as moving your body in ways you enjoy, nourishing your body in ways you can celebrate by honouring variety and moderation, and by engaging in self-care regimens – THIS is what promotes health and longevity, independent of your weight or ‘body mass index’.

Celebrating body diversity whilst encouraging health is achieved through:

  • Weight Inclusivity
  • Health Enhancement
  • Eating for Wellbeing
  • Respectful Care and Life
  • Enhancing Movement

 

Why is HAES important?

The principles eating for wellbeing and enhancing movement are shared by both concepts of intuitive eating and HAES. As discussed above, intuitive eating is associated with better body image and weight maintenance, suggesting that doing things for ‘health’ as opposed to ‘weight loss’, as diet culture encourages, is more beneficial our long term mental and physical health.

Body shaming does not help people improve their health; it actually does the opposite. By removing weight-stigma and promoting healthy behaviours regardless of what shape or size you are, it is not only winning the war against diet culture but improving lives.

If you would like to learn more about how you can improve your body image, eat intuitively and step away from the diet cycle for good, reach out to us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com.

 

Elle, BSc, MSc

EHL Team X

 

References

  • Van Dyke N & Drinkwater EJ. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutr. Aug;17(8):1757-66. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013002139. Epub 2013 Aug 21. PMID: 23962472.
  • Bruce, L. J., & Ricciardelli, L. A. (2016). A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite96, 454-472.