Thursday, July 15, 2010

Challenging Your Bad Body Image

While doing yoga at The Peace School* this morning, I noticed how beautiful I felt in my body – not an outer beauty, but a feeling of strength, of being at peace within my body, feeling connected to the bigger picture of my life. As you may know, I have been writing a book, “Imagine Being At Peace with Food, Your Body, Your Self” which is about using “Parts Therapy” to recover from Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating. I’ve been writing this book for a long, long time – it’s embarrassing how long. But, I am very happy to report, I am working on the very last chapter!!! So as my Blog article, I am using an excerpt from the last chapter, “Making Peace with Food and Your Body.” If you all cross your fingers, maybe a publisher will accept it by the New Year. Anyone know a publisher?

Challenging Your Bad Body Image

……Think way back, why did you start your very first diet? For most of you, feeling ‘Fat’ and being uncomfortable in your own skin was something you’ve felt since you were a kid. In the majority of cases, feeling bad about our bodies was the first symptom of our eating disorder. And unfortunately it is usually the last symptom to go…….
So part of recovery is going to be learning to not trust the negative feelings you have about your body and learning to feed your body as if you did not have these negative feelings, which you will know to be untrue – even though you will still have these feelings for a while. Huh? Clear as mud – right? Don’t worry I’ll try to make this as clear as I can.

We have to admit to ourselves, “Hating my body doesn’t work!” It just makes all the other symptoms worse, much worse! If hating your body actually worked, if it actually motivated you to stop bingeing, then everyone would have ideal bodies.

Body hatred is based on a distorted Body Image. Body Image is the picture you have in your mind of what you think you look like, combined all the judgments and criticisms you have about what you think you look like. It is not based on what you actually look like in reality to all the people in your life. The majority of women (and increasingly men) have a distorted view of their bodies – we do not see ourselves as others see us. I compare this to being color-blind. If a person were color-blind, they would not be able to see some colors the way all other people see them. And they would know this as a fact and would accept that their perception of color was distorted. Let’s say the color-blind person wanted to buy an outfit for a wedding, they would need to rely on someone else’s perception, “Do these colors go together?”

I’m sure you get it so far. Because if you were wearing a lavender dress and one hundred people said to you, “Your dress is lavender,” you would agree with them. But if 100 people said to you, “You’re thin,” you would think, “No, I’m not. They’re just saying that. They don’t know the real me…” One or more Parts of you would not let that information in; these Parts would not trust others’ perceptions (even if they are based in reality).
Why would you not believe others when they tell you how you actually look? Because our Body Image is not only based on what we think we look like, it’s also based on sensations we have inside our bodies. This is the body’s version of Emotional Reasoning: “If I feel it, then it must be true.”

I’m sure you have all had an experience similar to Gabriela who feels good as she talks, laughs and jokes with her co-workers at the office. If you stopped her at this point to ask what she feels about her body, she would actually have to think about it – her body is unimportant and irrelevant at this moment. But then she receives a phone call from her extremely critical boyfriend. After she hangs up she suddenly ‘feels fat’ and decides to skip lunch. If you were with Gabriela, you know she would look no different than she did before the phone call. But Gabriela ‘feels’ different inside her body. Why? Gabriela feels unpleasant body sensations caused by the emotions and thoughts stirred up by the phone conversation – and Gabriela misinterprets these sensations as ‘feeling fat’. Gabriela is not aware that she is actually feeling angry, trapped, helpless, resentful, and sad.

‘Feeling fat’ gives Gabriela a feeling of control, she can do something: she can skip meals, restrict food, eat salads, exercise – she can purge. But if Gabriela acknowledged the emotions and thoughts stirred up when she talked with her boyfriend – it wouldn’t be so easy to control or do. No, she would have to use all the tools in the last two chapters to handle her emotions, change the relationship or accept him as he is.
You have become very skilled at turning emotions and thoughts about other things, people or situations into ‘feeling fat’. In fact you can make yourself feel fat right now. I do this with my clients in my office – I recommend you do this with your therapist or a friend you trust.
Look at the person you are with and have them look at you so you know what they look like. Now, pick a body part – don’t tell each other what part. In your mind, make that body part feel fatter – you know exactly what I mean. Make it feel even fatter. Come on you can do this. Feel it growing and growing. It feels really big now. Look at your friend. Ask your friend if she feels fatter. Does she look different to you? I guarantee she does not. Do you feel fatter? Ask your friend if you look different. I guarantee you look the same to her as well.
Did you feel fat? Yes, you did. You had sensations of that body part getting bigger. But was it real – did your body actually grow or change? No. You experienced real sensations, even though your body did not change at all. The body sensations felt like it, but nothing actually happened. So even though you felt fatter, the feeling is not reflected in reality. I coach my clients to repeat several mantras to themselves every time they feel fat, “I am color-blind. I cannot see myself accurately. I do not look like I feel. I do not look like I think I look.”

I would love to hear your comments or reactions to this excerpt. And I hope you look forward to reading the whole book soon - hopefully very soon!
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

*The International Association for World Peace, also known as The Peace School, located at 3121 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL 60657, teaches Peace Breathing, Meditation, Massage, Self-Defense and Yoga. They sponsor Peace Day at the Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago in September of each year. Check out their website: or call them at (773) 248-7959.

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