Tuesday, 1 November 2022

9 Tips For Ditching Diet Culture & Healing Body Image

Did you know that 9 out of 10 women report being unhappy with the way their body looks?

That figure probably doesn't surprise that many of us, right? In fact I grew up believing that it was actually a negative thing to like the way you looked. I was so worried about being seen as conceited that I was already engaging in self-shaming behaviour about my body by the age of 9.

Let's try another statistic - 8 out of 10 women stated that they would choose to shave 5 years off their life in return for "the perfect body". 

That one stings a little bit more, don't you think? That's a massive 80% of women feeling that their lives would be that much better if they looked a certain way that they'd be willing to die for it.

But this statistic is the one that really gets me...8 out of 10 women stated that they have opted out of important life events such as weddings and parties because of poor body image and low self esteem. 

This means that we as females are missing out on some of the most enjoyable moments in our lives, because we feel that we don't look good enough. 

I find that so incredibly sad. But also...very relatable. Because I spent most of my life being one of those women.

I grew up as most young girls in the 80s did, surrounded by diet culture. It seemed that Slimming clubs and weight loss magazines were everywhere I looked, and diets and weight loss efforts were certainly always a hot topic of conversation among the adults I knew. 

Although I was a naturally slim child, I didn't escape from the effects of diet culture - I was praised regularly for my slim frame and skinny legs from a very young age, and so I was always aware that one type of body was very much favoured in our society...and I was always scared of what it would mean if I didn't have that body type any more.

By the time I was 16, I had already been on more diets than I care to remember - despite still being under 9 stone in weight and never more than a size 10 in clothes. I think I felt that it was part of my role as a female to always be striving to be smaller, with a flatter stomach - I remember spending nights on end spent using an ab roller in my bedroom while staring at a poster of Britney Spears' perfectly toned tummy for "thin-spiration".

The magazines I read were full of body-shaming articles - with red rings of shame drawn around Kerry Katona's cellulite as she was papped on the beach, and photos of skeletal size 0 celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie adorning the other pages.
The TV shows I watched were no escape either - how many times were we exposed to Chris Evans weighing a post-pregnancy Spice Girl live on TFI Friday? And who else remembers watching Nasty Nigel body shaming Kym Marsh on Popstars, telling her she was too fat to be famous?

It's little wonder that, by the time I was diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid disease in my 20s, my relationship with my body was in tatters. So when the weight started to pile on post-diagnosis, I considered myself to be truly worthless.

I firmly believe that body shame and low self-esteem is damaging to young girls in many different ways, and one of those ways is that it makes us grateful for any crumbs of attention and appreciation we receive from love interests.

When I met a possessive and jealous new boyfriend in my early 20s, my low self esteem and poor body image created the ideal storm - it only took a few fat-shaming comments from him to see off what little self-belief I had left, and once the physical violence started - I was already the ideal victim.

The several years long abusive relationship that followed further cemented my belief that I was unloveable and that my body was a huge part of the problem.

I see all of these experiences as being linked, and I firmly believe that setting the foundations for better body image in young girls from an early age could be life changing and even life saving in many different ways. Which is why I'm such a strong believer in championing the body positivity cause, and sending out the message that we are more than what we look like - that we do not owe the world beauty or thinness, and that we are all enough just as we are.

But I understand that it can be difficult to find a place of self-love and acceptance when we live in a society that profits so greatly from our insecurities - the very insecurities that are spoon-fed to us from such a young age.

So here are some tips I'd like to share on how to start healing your own relationship with your body, and improving your body image.

1) Be Gentle With Yourself

You didn't learn to hate your body over night. It likely happened gradually over the course of your life, as a result of many different experiences - some may have been so subtle that you weren't even aware of them, and maybe you're still not. 
So you're not going to be able to learn to love and accept yourself overnight either. It's going to be a long process, and it's going to take a lot of inner work....but you can do hard things, and you're worth the effort.

2) Ask Yourself Who Is Profiting From Your Insecurities

No matter what negative feeling you're having about your body or the way you look, I can almost guarantee you that somewhere out there - someone is waiting to profit from that feeling. 

Let's think for a moment about all of the different companies who would be out of business overnight if every woman in the world woke up tomorrow and decided she was happy with the way she looked....it's not just the diet companies who would go bust, but also the plastic surgeons, shapewear companies, the beauty industry, hair dye manufacturers, aestheticians...there would be literally billions of pounds lost if we all decided that we were happy in our own skin. 

Isn't eye opening to realise just how much of a financial interest there is in keeping us insecure about our bodies?

Next time you have a negative thought about your body, ask yourself "Who might profit from this feeling?"...I bet it makes it that bit easier to turn the thought on its head and reminds yourself that you are good enough just as you are. 

3) Change What You're Exposed To

The way that the world is reflected back to us makes a huge difference to how we perceive our place within it. If all we ever see are thin women with "perfect" hair and "flawless" make up, looking glamourous - then we're likely to compare ourselves against those women and come up feeling less-than. Because although perfect is a myth and nobody looks that way 100% of the time, our minds don't allow us to think that way very easily.

But when you're out and about in the world, how often do you see people who look like that? Isn't it far more common to see a wider range of body types on the high street than you see in magazines and on Instagram?

So maybe it's time to change what you're exposing yourself to. Stop buying the beauty magazines that make you think everybody looks perfect all of the time, unfollow or mute the "perfect" insta-glam women who make you feel less-than - and instead focus on filling your feed up with a diverse range of people of all different shapes, sizes and colours. When you allow your social media feeds to reflect the true diversity of our society back to you, you begin to realise that there is so much beauty in that diversity - and that can really help you to feel a sense of belonging, rather than a sense of negative comparison.

4) Ask For What You Need To Heal

This one can be tricky but it's so important. While you're working on healing your relationship with your body, don't be afraid to let the people in your life know that you'd appreciate some boundaries around the conversation topics that you don't feel comfortable with.

If your family or friends are likely to bring up diet and weight loss chat, or make comments about your body in any way - it's ok to let them know that these topics are off-limits around you now. You are allowed to ask and advocate for what you need in order to help you to heal yourself.

5) Invest Time In Your Healing

So many people tell me that they would love to be able to come to a place of self-acceptance with their bodies, and feel able to enjoy their lives and do the things they want to do right now without always waiting for some arbitrary dress size or number on a scale. 

But despite claiming to want this, they are so often reluctant to devote real time and effort into that healing. If only we were all as determined to heal our relationships with our bodies as we were to lose weight, we'd have no problems! The effort, time and money so many of us poured into years of dieting is eye watering - so maybe now its time to invest that time and money in a new way.

Buy yourself some books on the subject of body image healing and body positivity - so many of them can be completely life changing. Invest in a body image therapists time if you can to give yourself some support and guidance along your journey.

But most of all, invest the energy and dedication in healing yourself - because self acceptance is not going to happen on its own.

6) Start Slowly

Don't go diving straight in at the deep end, throwing on a bikini and heading right to the beach if your not quite there yet - you could end up doing yourself more harm than good if you take big steps before you're ready.

Instead maybe start with just taking the time to look at yourself in the mirror every morning, naked if you can, and just get familiar with your body. When that inner mean girl voice crops up, don't let her speak - instead challenge yourself to name just one thing that you like about your body. The more you do this, the easier it will become over time - kind of like exposure therapy.

7) Challenge Yourself Regularly

Although I do advocate taking baby steps at first, once you've had a bit of practice and read some books that have brought about a shift in your mindset - it's time to start challenging yourself a bit.

Whether it's wearing something that shows off a part of your body that you don't usually like to show, wearing brighter colours than usual or allowing yourself to eat in public without examining the menu first - only you know that challenges you need to embrace in order to help yourself heal, but the more you challenge yourself - the more progress you will make.

8) Throw Away The Past

Clinging on to a lifestyle and a mindset that you're trying to move away from isn't going to be helpful. Which is why I'm a big believer in throwing away the scales! Unless you have a medical need to keep track of your weight, there is no reason to have them in your home - your weight has far less impact on your overall health than we were led to believe and focusing on healthy behaviours is far more beneficial for our bodies than focusing on weight loss.

By the same token, if you're somebody who holds on to items of clothing that no longer fit as "motivation" for slimming down into them - now's the time to stop. You don't need to pine for a body that you no longer have, it is far more beneficial to care for the body that you have today. So get those old clothes listed on Vinted, let somebody else enjoy them and use the money you make to buy yourself something that feels good on the body you have right now. You deserve that.

9) Set New Goals

If you're used to a lifetime on weight-related goal setting, it can feel a bit strange to leave diet culture behind and stop thinking in terms of losing x weight by x date.
Instead try setting some more fun and exciting life goals - maybe you've always wanted to swim in the ocean with your kids but you've never felt confident enough, set yourself a goal of getting in the ocean without changing your body to do it. Keep reminding yourself that your life is happening right here, right now - and you're missing it! You don't need to be a certain weight or dress size to enjoy it. 

I hope this tips are helpful. I firmly believe that every person deserves to feel at peace within their bodies, and that diet culture has stolen enough women's freedom and enjoyment. Time to take up the space we deserve in the world proudly and unapologetically. 

You are enough.

If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me on Bloglovin'
Blogger Template Setup by fazal