What to remember on a bad body image day

My morning routine used to go a little something like this: I’d wake up, saunter over to the mirror and immediately lift up my shirt to begin my “morning ab check”. I’d look for signs of progress or regression in my quest to become the fit, healthy girl that I was posing to the outside world so well. If my tummy was looking flat enough and the lines in my muscles defined enough, I was able to go on with my day feeling okay (though not necessarily sane or good). However, if I hated what I saw - if the previous night’s binge left too much damage, if my daily gym sessions weren’t scraping the chub off my stomach like I wished they would - then it affected my whole day no matter how much I tried to ignore it. Getting dressed felt like a battle to hide the shame of what my stomach was because I thought the whole world was staring at it. Grabbing fro-yo with friends after work wasn’t an option when I was to be on full food restriction mode all day. I’d end the day feeling defeated and ugly and heading straight for the box of cookies in the kitchen, thinking, “What the hell, I’m already failing at my body goals… might as well eat before starting over tomorrow”.

Does this sound familiar? I struggled for years with warped body image, binge eating, and orthorexia. I’d base my self-worth on whether or not I felt skinny enough that day, if I’d worked hard enough in the gym, or if I was eating “clean” enough. Eventually, all the stress led me to binge eating… which only made my body image much worse.

Getting to the other side of all this took a long time. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this journey to body love and food freedom. These days, I give myself unconditional permission to eat whatever I want, I feel total bliss in my body, and I have tons more self-compassion than ever before. I don’t know how much I weigh nor do I care. I feel sexier, lighter, and more confident in my body than ever before. However, every now and then I’ll find myself getting bogged down by my bod.

It’s taken a lot of experimentation, flexibility, and patience to navigate the complexities of body image within my inner and outer world. Compassion has been the biggest ingredient in figuring all of this out. Put this into context for a second: Diet and fitness are multi-billion dollar industries that often make a profit off the insecurities of (mostly) women. So when I’m moping around about the fact that I’m not a size 0 like I was at age 16 (because, seriously, no adult on earth can fit into their high school prom dress), I give myself a little reality check about how I’ve been conditioned to respond to my changing body. The diet and fitness world would have us believe that we have “no excuse” to gain weight, that any amount of weight loss or muscle gain is possible if we just try hard enough. Instead of buying into this, what if we shifted the focus to something that actually feels good and more possible?

Reminding myself that “I’m not my body”, as tacky as it may sound, is a daily practice. We’re exposed to a lot of messages guaranteeing that losing the last 5 pounds will be life-changing. Here’s the truth: having a different body doesn’t change anyone’s life. In fact, at my smallest, I felt miserable at the sight of my body, and was equally unhappy in my life. The human body is simply the vessel that houses the Self. The more we learn to focus on the qualities that we possess inherently, not only do we obsess less about our physical appearance, we just don’t care as much. And the less we obsess, the less body image is likely to affect the way we eat, behave, and think. Less body image craziness = less food craziness.

While it may feel tempting to either restrict calories like crazy or binge eat a package of Chips Ahoy (or both in one day, as was my style) on a bad body image day, this just keeps us stuck in the restrict-binge-repeat cycle. So why do we keep ourselves in this cycle when we know how destructive and painful it is? What is so alluring about “starting over tomorrow” when it comes to eating and exercising?

Fear.

Fear of weight gain is much deeper than adding on a few extra pounds. It’s about the fear of being unlovable, because we’ve been taught to tie our self-worth to our physical body fitting into a truly impossible standard. This fear drives us to eventually binge eat and keep us in the cycle that reinforces our false belief of unworthiness. And the idea that we can “start over” on becoming loveable the next day is intoxicating.

How would you eat if you loved your body? What if fear of gaining weight weren’t an issue? Lots of people think that they can’t love their body or be free around food or else they’ll eat nothing but sundaes all day. But in reality, coming from a place of love means nourishing the body with healthy foods and indulging in foods we love without making the body sick or pained. What it boils down to is self-trust and believing that we are worthy of feeling as good as we want to, regardless of cellulite or thigh dimples.

So these days when bad body image strikes out of nowhere, I ground myself back down. I shower myself in self-compassion along the complexities of this journey in loving myself and my body. I remind myself that whatever fears are coming up are much deeper than my ego mind would have me believe, and that whatever I want is available to me - and no amount of tummy chub can stop that.