"I feel fat", a message that transcends into many linguistic and cultural differences, hitting home for many of us regardless of race, gender, size, intellect or socioeconomic status. It is a saying we hear all around us. A saying we may often say to ourselves.
This inner critic can pick up momentum over time. At first maybe it was just that- being hard on ourselves for what we see in the mirror. For some however, this started to progress. Chronic unhappiness surrounding your body image can impact your life and stop you from feeling joyous and free.
Here is a brief screening of typical characteristics of body shaming:
Body shaming-how you see yourself compared to the standards of society.
1. Do you struggle to look in the mirror due to the severity of how self-critical you are?
2. Do you often look in the mirror to check your appearance?
3. Do you find yourself often referring to feeling 'fat'?
4. Do you struggle to follow through with plans and/or avoid making any plans due to not wanting to be seen?
5. Do you often feel uncomfortable being yourself and often hide behind false cheerfulness?
6. Do you often find yourself being stuck in the "tyranny of the shoulds, "telling yourself what you "should" or " should not" have ate, done etc.?
7. Do you believe that if you could just alter your weight or body, everything would be fine?
8. Do you find yourself more isolated and depressed due to chronic unhappiness over your body?
9. Do you avoid buying new clothes? Do you hate getting dressed?
10. Do you avoid weighing yourself (or going to a doctor because they may weigh you) or do you often weigh yourself?
11. Do you find yourself often comparing your body with the body of others?
12. Do you struggle to be intimate with your spouse due to feeling uncomfortable about your body?
Facing the problem
Struggle with body image can cause your inner circle to shrink, it can damage relationships and it can lead to isolation. It is important to understand that body shaming varies from individuals who show only slight symptoms to others who can relate to all of these characteristics above. Body shaming thoughts and behaviors can improve with recovery. If you don't take steps to change, it can get worse.
Alleviating some symptoms
Here are some useful tips that when we put into practice, we can start to see a difference.
These tips may be challenging since it is based on healing yourself from doing the inner work (despite what your body looks like). Without doing the inner work, that inner critic will follow you regardless of what the scale says. Do the inner work and you will see changes.
1. Get to know yourself
Feelings: First off, feeling "fat" is not a feeling. Overtime when we minimize, deny or alter how we truly feel, this word is the best fit. Feeling 'fat' is the best we can do to express ourselves. This is where it is important to build your emotional vocabulary. For starters, try and use: sad, glad, mad or fear. Next time you hear yourself saying you feel 'fat', try and dig deeper. How are you really feeling in this moment? Your feelings have value and intelligence.
Values: You are not "one dimensional". If you have been living your life valuing yourself based on beauty and what your appearance is, lets try and expand our values.
From the book, 'Codependency for Dummies' from Darlene Lancer, I was inspired by her value exercise. Here is a miniature version of it:
I added some values with a star next to it. Try and think of which values you give your time and attention to. Think about what values are the most important to you. Write on it and get to know yourself.
*Truth *Respect *Health *Achievement * Nature *Compassion *Freedom *Beauty *Justice *Friendship *Recognition *Family *Service to others *Education *Adventure *Wealth
2. Focus on yourself Understand that comparing and despairing is not helping you! When you catch yourself doing it, interrupt that thought process. Understand the power of focusing on yourself as a way to be more productive. In another blog post about being a refuge to harsh criticism, I wrote a helpful exercise on this.
3. Be mindful of "external-esteem" Codependency is a term you might have heard before. A version that really hit home for me was the idea that you are looking for something from the outside (something external like food, a spouse, number of a scale, etc.) to validate you or make you feel 'good' internally (produce dopamine and 'good' feelings). Yet, this type of chase does not last long. You will find yourself in a cycle. Chasing the "goal to happiness" flag wherever the wind blows it. Honesty is an important part of this process. Try and think what you often daydream/ fantasize about, usually that is a good indicator of what 'external 'esteem means for you.
4. To the perfectionists- when nothing's good enough. Self-hatred and beating yourself up doesn't help. IT DOES NOT HELP. So try this instead, be gentle with yourself. I often find the serenity prayer helpful with this. It is the idea of having acceptance to the things we cannot change. We cannot change what happened in the past. EVER. We cannot go back in time and change things. We cannot change what we ate yesterday or last week or a minute ago. We cannot change that. Nor can we change the body we have right at this moment. Accept that first. Then move on to having the courage to change the things we can. What can you change? This is where it comes into play the slogan of, " take the next right action". For some however, you may be very deep into the cycle of yo-yoing with your body and food, it is hard to know what that might mean. For you, the next right action is seeking help. Seek help; it is very hard to get out of this cycle alone. I will add a section of additional resources that can help you.
5. Worrying and Obsessing. Unfortunately the amount of worrying and obsessing over your body is being counterproductive. It takes you out of life and stops you from being a regular participant in this world. The more we obsess, the more it takes over and now it is controlling us. We no longer have control over it. Interestingly, when we are in a group of people who are talking about this, our own obsession starts to lift. We hear other people say our exact thoughts. We get out of our own head and we start to genuinely listen and relate. Seeking a support group for this can truly bring on a transformation.
The recovery process
What recovery from this looks like? Recovery is that even if you still say self-critical things about yourself, you no longer buy it. Recovery is you truly believing you are not just 'one dimensional'. You know your value and you matter. You will no longer be as reactive to an old perceived threat such as someone being intimate with you or having to go into a bathing suit. As little or big as the progress may seem, recovery is possible and we can actually show up in life instead of avoiding it.
-Seek professional help from licensed counselors that specializes in body positivity and self-criticism. If in the Ocean, NJ area, you can contact me to set up a free consultation to see if I can meet your specific needs.
-Seek nutritionist and dietitians that can help you understand your body's needs.
With a support system, you can see yourself not needing to go through this also. We only have one shot to this life; it is time you start participating in life again.