The sun is shining (finally) in Boston and it’s feeling like Spring. It’s time for me to blog again about body image…
So what does body image have to do with health and nutrition…? Everything! In fact, it’s one of the things that can hold back our best efforts to take good care of ourselves and eat well.
This week I saw a client who has been making progress in her eating disorder recovery. She’s been eating more intuitively and feeling good about herself, focusing more on her relationship with food instead of her weight. Then, BAM, she goes in for a doctor’s appointment and has to step on the scale. (Well, she didn’t really have to, but she did.) Her body and weight concerns quadrupled and she started to doubt all the real progress she was making. Then, perhaps not coincidentally, she hung out for a bit with the jeans in her closet that don’t fit any more.
Now why would she do that to herself? Why sink back into a place of body loathing when she has been working so hard on body acceptance? I wondered with her if being confident, self-assured, and asking for what she needs (from food, from anybody) is just less familiar than feeling bad. She knows she doesn’t enjoy focusing on what she doesn’t like about her body, but there is some sick kind of comfort in it. So many times I see clients make progress and start to feel great about themselves; then they pull out those skinny jeans that no longer fit. Just this act puts them right back in a place of self-loathing, judgment, and feeling “less than.”
When I talked to my client further about her resistance to telling the doctor not to weigh her (when the appointment had nothing to do with her weight) or donating the ill-fitting jeans, she admitted that she is afraid that she needs the scale and the jeans to “keep herself in check.” If she doesn’t have the jeans in her closet, she might “let herself go” and gain too much weight. Exploring further, she admits to worrying that if she asks for what she needs, she will be “too much,” her needs will be too great. In her inner world, it’s better to be small, not needy, more in control.
How many women out there worry about taking up too much space, needing too much, being too demanding or too “big?” Well, a lot of us do — and it’s not just women. My client was willing to let the jeans decide if she was good enough, despite all the work that she has done on her personal growth.
Are you measuring your self-worth with a scale or a pair of skinny jeans or some other summery item of clothing that you may try on in the next several weeks? My next thoughts are for my fellow New Englanders and those who live in seasonal climates…
Here in Massachusetts, it gets really cold in winter. (Okay, yes, all you mid-westerners may say that we don’t know just how cold it can get, but bear with me.) I noticed that my children’s guinea pigs (who regular blog readers are familiar with) got quite a bit rounder this winter. They adapt to the cold, eating more to keep warm. Then, they lose the weight naturally when the weather gets warmer. They go outside more and hibernate in their warm spaces less. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us tried on that bathing suit and said, “Oh, look, I put on a little winter weight this year. Well, by the time I need to wear this, it’ll fit,” and just let nature take it’s course?
Don’t we all crave heavier foods in winter and lighter foods in the summer? If you can find a normal eater who’s not dieting or cutting back on her food in any way, you will see that she often notices this natural shift in weight and doesn’t freak out about it. Those that freak out about it — and diet like crazy in April and May — all too often end up experiencing unhealthy weight-cycling. Many of my clients struggle each year with food in the Spring, instead of simply noticing the ebbs and flows of weight that can just happen in their lives. I wish for them to know the truth (and I rarely admit to knowing any truths) that deep down they are the same wonderful people, despite weight fluctuations.
We all want to feel good in our bodies. We all want to have vitality and strength and lightness of being. But putting too much emphasis on whether or not we can fit into a pair of jeans or a summer dress is a recipe for low self-esteem and a troubled relationship with food and exercise. I have a wish for you, as you enjoy the brighter days of Spring: take everything that doesn’t fit you in your closet and donate it or consign it or give it to a friend who will wear it. Why do we hold on to these things (anything, really) that makes us feel less than the stellar beings that we are? Wear things that make you feel good, express something about you and who you are, and always remember that you are SOOOOO much more than the size of your jeans.