And in order to change you need to...
“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” – Kim McMillen
Do you look in the mirror each morning and think – “I’m just so in awe of my body – the way it allows me to move, dance, live life and have fun”. Chances are, your encounters with the mirror aren’t quite so enjoyable. Rather than appreciating all of the wonderful things that your body does for you, you scrutinise how it looks, picking yourself apart.
Take a quick moment to stop and ask yourself how highly you value yourself. Do you love and appreciate yourself? Do you value your body, your intelligence, your talents and your abilities? Or do you spend most of your time thinking about how you aren’t quite thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough…or something else enough? A lot of us were taught to be modest growing up and of course, not bragging about yourself to anyone that decides to listen is probably a good thing. However, what this modesty has morphed into for many of us, is extreme internal negativity. By that I mean, that when we talk to ourselves and when we perceive ourselves, we do so in a way that focuses on our flaws and ignores all of those great things about us.
A very important step to take, if you want to change your lifestyle and eating habits, is to build up your self-esteem. So many people that I have worked with, whether overweight, obese or slim, lack confidence and are very critical of themselves. Rather than focusing on their beautiful eyes, they obsess about their wobbly thighs, rather than enjoy their long hair, they worry about their flabby tummy, rather than celebrate the good things about themselves, they are fixated upon those few things about their appearance that they do not like. This is doing them no favours when it comes to changing their relationship with food.
When someone with low self-esteem goes on a diet or tries to get healthy, they are doing so to punish their body for not being good enough. However, to really want to take care of something over the long term, you NEED to love and appreciate it. If you do not love and appreciate your body right now, you are never going to want to nourish it and nurture it. You are never going to want to look after it by feeding it healthy food that is good for you. Instead you will keep choosing to punish it with unhealthy food and starving yourself – hating your body will keep you trapped in the cycle of eating badly (for the short-term hit of pleasure it gives you) and then trying to diet because you are too “fat” or “unattractive”. Hating your body can also itself drive you to comfort eat because you feel bad about yourself. Basically – nothing good comes out of self-loathing.
Think about it this way - which child is more likely to thrive? One you nurture, show love to, use kind words with and take care of or one you criticise, punish and abuse for not being good enough? The first of these two children is, of course, more likely to be happy, healthy and enjoy their life. It seems so obvious when we think about how we are treating other people and yet for most people it is not natural at all, when it comes to how they treat themselves.
Perhaps you are worried that if you accept yourself, if you love yourself too much – you will never change? That the only way you can motivate yourself to lose weight, to do better, to climb higher and to achieve more, is by telling yourself how fat, lazy, slow or stupid you are? The “tough love” thing does sometimes motivate people to make changes, yet often they give up when they have a weak moment, they will relapse if they feel bad about themselves or soon they will revert to their old ways. Worse, any journey they do go on to change their life, will be one driven by a negative voice, that will leave them feeling awful and not good enough most of the time.
Studies have shown that improving the body image and self-esteem of obese individuals HELPS them to lose weight. For example, a study conducted in Denmark suggested that resolving feelings of non-acceptance due to excessive weight, can help patients to achieve weight loss (Meyer et al., 2018). Whilst it may seem more likely that weight-acceptance would discourage weight-loss, the study found the opposite to be true. This suggests boosting your self-esteem can assist you to lose weight.
It may seem confusing – but in order to want to take care of your body and your health – you need to value YOURSELF and your BODY and your HEALTH. If you don’t truly value these things why are you ever going to want to really take care of them? Even if you can’t love your body right now for what it looks like, start to appreciate it for what it does for you. Perhaps it has allowed you to have children, to paint, or to dance. Our bodies are amazing, beautiful things and yet we all too often undervalue them for not looking as perfect as the image of an airbrushed supermodel that we feel we need to live up to.
Waiting for the weight to come off
I’ve noticed that for many people who struggle with their weight or disordered eating, that they measure their self-esteem mostly based on how much they weight or their body shape. So if they aren’t slim and toned or 55kg (or whatever goal weight they have set themselves), they just are not confident, don’t feel worthy and do not feel good about themselves. This is despite them doing well professionally, having great relationships, having lots of friends, being extremely talented etc… basically they ignore everything else about themselves that makes them valuable/special (precious even) and just feel rubbish about themselves just because of their weight.
A sad thing happens as a result of this basing self-esteem entirely on weight or body shape. It means that the individual feels bad about themselves, stops doing other things that they enjoy (sometimes completely losing focus at work/in their professional lives etc) and then often uses food as a way to cope with how bad they are feeling … the more they think about their weight, the more they obsess about food and the more they obsess about food the more they feel the need to eat…and the more weight they put on. It is a horrible and vicious cycle.
A very important step in healing your relationship with food is to build up your self-esteem and one important way of doing that is seeing that you are so much more than your weight. Think about all of the things that you have going for you, all of the compliments everyone has ever paid you, think about your positive qualities, your amazing personality traits and start appreciating that you are so much more than a number on the scale. You can even appreciate your body for what it has allowed you to do – maybe it allows you to move, to travel, to have had children, to dance, to paint etc. Our bodies are truly amazing and in focusing just on what they look like we lose appreciation for everything they do for us.
And in order to change you need to....really love and appreciate yourself!