Get Ready for a Whole New Outlook on Your Body
Stop trying to fix your body. It was never broken.
Susan Ward, LCSW
Susan K. Ward has been working in the field of eating disorders for more than 25 years. She has developed the method for treating body image issues combining her knowledge of the body, dance movement, visualization techniques, and positive psychology. The most important message that Susan conveys to clients is the message of self-acceptance as the beginning of the journey towards wholeness. Susan helps teens and adults establish a healthy weight and a positive body image.
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All About Body Image
What is Body Image?+
Body Image is defined as how we think we appear and how we perceive that others see us. Body Image perception is a two fold process. We look at ourselves and make a snap judgment about how we think we look and also we think of how others see us, as well.
Having a positive body image is the cornerstone of a healthy self esteem. When we have a positive body image, we appear more confident and alive in our bodies. The number on the scale does not have to be the predictor of our self esteem. In fact, it is important that we do not weigh our self esteem. Our weight is a number on the scale. Our body image is how we feel in our body, how we move, what energy we exude and our confidence. People often think that thin people have a good body image while overweight people have a poor body image. This is not necessarily the truth.
Body image is as much about what we think of ourselves, what we say to ourselves about our appearance and self worth as is our physical appearance. In fact our inner self image and inner dialogue influences our body image and sense of self more than our physical appearance. Your belief system about yourself is of paramount importance in building a healthy self image. A positive body image comes from having a realistic perception of your size and weight.
Feeling comfortable in your own skin is also a sign that you have a positive body image. Viewing yourself without comparing yourself to others is also a good indication of a healthy body image. Comparisons generally lead to self criticism and negative judgements. Realizing that we are all unique and have different body shapes and sizes is the beginning of creating a positive sense of self. By seeing yourself as unique, you can accept yourself as you are. Body Image can change with our moods, however, having a realistic concept of yourself and not expecting perfection helps with health and self esteem. Developing a positive dialogue with yourself about your body and having a healthy realistic attitude to changing your weight, if necessary, is the beginning of building a positive self image.
There is a genetic component to the way we are built and how we appear. We can gain and lose weight, however, our genetic footprint and our appearance is determined by our family and genetics. Where we gain and lose weight is affected by our genes, however, our weight can be determined by our diet rather than just by genetics. The good news is that we have some control over our appearance. Accepting our basic appearance and having healthy eating, exercise, dress and grooming regimens can enhance our looks and build a healthy self esteem and a positive body image.
Having a positive body image is not necessarily about your size, height, weight, hair color or shape. Having a healthy body image means that you feel comfortable in your body and think positively about yourself most of the time. It does not mean that you are perfect in your eyes or in the eyes of your family or society. It simply means that you accept yourself as you are today and generally think positive thoughts about yourself when you look in the mirror. You may have more positive thoughts about certain parts of your body than of others. Generally, no one loves every aspect of their body. Being comfortable with your body builds a good body image. Trying to achieve perfection is a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction.
Stages of Acceptance+
How is Body Image developed?+
Our sense of our body begins in infancy. Having a body and exploring our bodies is part of development. Moving and crawling and walking and jumping gives us a sense of our body in space. Seeing a baby's joy at discovering what the body can do is the beginning of developing a body image. Messages about our bodies and appearance come from our family, society, and our peers. We hear about our bodies from the time we are born. If we get critical messages, we will have to repair our body image later in life. As our bodies grow and change, we perceive ourselves differently. Our view of our body as a child is different when we become a teenager. As we mature and age, our body image changes again.
Book Review Testimonials
“I bought one copy of this book, then ordered an entire case from the publisher... to give to my friends who struggle with a compulsive eating disorder, too. Susan Ward, thank you for writing with such acceptance, such insight, such good sense, and such restraint. Each entry helps me toward honesty, humility, and hope; each day I sit on the throne and regain my sense of self and hope in my own ability to recover. No real religious stuff, but gentle, healthy, spirited, friendly words. Buy it, then buy lots more and give them away!”
“Although this book does use some principles or phrases from the 12 Step program, the internal questioning that the author encourages is terrific, and I have been consistently surprised and uplifted by the quality of her daily writings here. Her urging to go way beyond mere dieting and her comments that make you think and explore the psychological reasons, restraints, and pressures that occur when one overeats only helps towards her goal which I think is this: Enjoying food and finding out how to give it the proper place in your life. If you are a compulsive eater or a continuous dieter who wants to delight in eating but "eat to live" rather than "live to eat," I think this book is fabulous and terrific. I have shown it to several friends of mine who also have had compulsive issues with food and after reading several passages, they all wanted to buy the book. Plus, it's great to be able to read a short passage whenever one wants. Obviously, you can read a great passage from another day on a different calendar date. I find the bite-sized passages (pun intended!) just the right amount when I need help. I recommend this book for anyone of whatever size they are who has had issues with weight management and feeling happy about one's body. An ace book, five stars all the way.”
“I personally bought this book many years ago. I still use it to today. I also recommend this to anyone who is struggling with food issues. Its QUICK & DAILY positive readings set the tone for your day and can help you focus on the positive. I highly recommend this to many of my patients also.”
What are we supposed to eat again?
Our modern lives are filled with information. We carry the answer to every question in our purses and pockets: for most of us, our smart phones are always by our side. If it’s not our phones, a computer is close by as well.
Any search engine can provide diet, workout, and nutrition tips in seconds, and that doesn’t even include the health magazines we may have downloaded to our phones or follow on Twitter and Facebook. Messages of what to eat and not eat are everywhere.
By the time we finally open the refrigerator, cupboards, or go to the nearest deli on lunch break we can’t even remember what it is we are supposed to eat.
Journaling is not just that thing we did in junior high to purge our feelings for the cute boy who sat in front of us without having to tell our mothers. Journaling or writing, whatever you want to call it, is a way to slow down and organize all of those thoughts jumbled up in our head.
You may be familiar with the analogy describing the difference between the brains of men and women: men’s brains are like waffles and women’s brains are like spaghetti. Disclaimer, I didn’t mean to use delicious starchy foods to offset your diet goals; that’s just how the saying goes. But, as women we tend to not compartmentalize our thoughts. This goes with eating. Eating is part of the greater picture of our day, not so much a task that we check off a list.
Especially for those who are not numbers people, diets like the 40-30-30 meal plan may not be the natural way to think about eating.
A food journal is a great way to not only jot down the specific foods we put into our bodies each day but a place to write down goals and specific diet and nutrition tips so they are someplace safe. We all know that many things that merely go in our memory, and not down on paper, can be lost forever.
Writing is also more than a way of remembering things and organizing our goals. It is a powerful way to release our feelings and creativity. Instead of using food for comfort, take a piece out of your notebook, and write whatever comes out. Once the writing starts sometimes thoughts and feelings we didn’t even know we had come out. Once on a roll, that urge to eat may be long gone.
Writing empowers us. It gives our thoughts validity. It makes us feel like we have something important to say and share with the world. It creates self worth, and leaves us feeling human. It’s the reason that writing remains a standard form of communication even though it has changed mediums over time.
The next time something becomes overwhelming, eating most likely will not make it go away. Don’t allow the overwhelming aspect of what to eat and what not to eat take over. Instead take a few minutes and write down a couple of things: what you plan on eating for the day, and whatever is on your mind that day.
How to become aware of your hunger
It seems like an easy concept, eating when hungry, but for most of us we have trained ourselves to ignore hunger cues and eat when its convenient or when we are stressed out. After eating this way for a long time, it takes time and practice to become attuned to hunger signals.
There are a couple of ways to retrain your body to associate eating and hunger together. Initially you will need to create a reasonable schedule for eating your meals, which will train your body to expect food at certain times of the day. Eventually your body will respond, but eating in between set times can throw the body off.
The second way is to spend a few days only eating when you’re hungry. During these days, it will be extra important to exercise and drink plenty of water to keep up energy levels.
It will be important to grade your hunger throughout the day to figure out when you are hungry. There is a scale from 1-10 that will help with this exercise:
1: Very, very hungry
2: Hungry, just past time to eat
3: Time to eat
4: Feeling just slightly empty
5: Satisfied after a light meal or snack
6: Full after a moderate meal
8: Stomach feeling distended
9: Too full
10: Thanksgiving Day stuffed
Some claim they never feel hungry and eat only because it’s a normal mealtime or because they see food on advertisements. If you aren’t hungry when it’s time to eat, try eating a lighter meal or a smaller serving and then expect to be hungry for a snack later on.
This is a technique that will assist in changing your lifestyle and controlling your weight once and for all. Schedules do often rule when we eat so learning subtle differences on the scale will help control portion size.
Really? Diet Tips that Work?
Seriously, it seems like diet tips never work. This is frustrating to say the least, but there are ways to make dieting work. It’s not easy though. The ways many of our lives are structured are not conducive to healthy eating habits.
Give these tips a try. Really give them a try. Following this advice for a day, or even a week won’t produce results, but if you stick to them, you may say to yourself, “Wow, these diet tips worked.”
1. Create an eating environment
Pick one place at home and work to do your eating. This must be a seated place. Sit down and enjoy your food, slowly. Eating in a designated area allows you to associate eating with that area, so you won’t be temped to eat wherever and whenever.
2. Become aware of your hunger
Acquaint yourself with your own rhythm for eating and hunger signals. Initially you will most likely need to set up an eating schedule: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pick a reasonable time for each meal and stick to it for a week or two. Don’t get too impatient if this is hard at first. If you have eaten compulsively or erratically for a while, it will take time to establish your own personal rhythm.
3. Rate your hunger
Throughout the day grade your hunger level on a scale from 1-10 and chart your levels. This will help you become an instinctive eater. Learn the refinements of your own cues to help you become a natural eater. When you eat make sure you are at least a 3 on the scale and only eat until you are a seven.
4. Plan meals and snacks in advance
Planning meals and snacks in advance allows your body to settle into a predictable routine and helps you avoid desperate energy crashes. Don’t wait more than three hours to have a small meal or snack.
5. Respect the structure you’ve put in place
Studies have shown that ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger, spikes at our usual mealtimes––even if we have just eaten. If lunch comes early, expect to be hungry again. Having a healthy snack, or portion of lunch on hand, could prevent a vending-machine run.
Go ahead, give this a try and you may be pleasantly surprised. However, remember you are changing a lifestyle, so be patient. Keep in mind you are learning a way to live, not just a way to diet.
The Sting of Genetics
Thanks to high school biology class, it’s not a mystery why we look like our parents. Genetics play a big role in our body types, which can be a comforting and daunting thought. Knowing where and how we put on weight allows us to feel less discouraged when trying to lose weight, as we are prepared for that to be a problem area. However, it also causes us to be discouraged when that stubborn fat won’t go away.
Women’s bodies are more prone to genetic variations than men. Studies show that several genetic mutations could easily explain why some people are more prone to obesity.
Ladies, if you are thinking right now that its not fair that you get all of the body image problems, men are plagued by genetically predetermined baldness, so there is a trade-off.
There are also those fruits many women use to describe their body types: the apple and the pear. Apple-shaped women carry their fat in their mid-sections and pear-shaped women carry more fat in their thighs and hips.
Unfortunately apple-shaped women, according to studies, are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease, even if they aren’t obese. This may not seem fair, but with scientists being able to identify genes, they can hopefully find ways to turn these genes off and prevent obesity.
So thank your parents for the life they have given you, and hopefully not be too angry about the body type they bestowed upon you. Remember those teenage years, you’ve already gotten back at your parents.
Body Image: Where Does it Come From?
What do we see when we look in the mirror? Trick question. There is only one thing we are going to see in the mirror and that is ourselves and whatever else is in the room. It’s the way we view ourselves that dictates how you see yourself in the mirror.
Our self-image is developed early on. Our caretakers develop our sense of self in the way they touch, hold and respond to us. Our body image is part of our self-esteem and the way we value ourselves.
Physically, males and females view ideal body image as opposites. Men view size as a privilege and women view size as a liability, but in both sexes, a negative or positive body image stems from upbringing and personality.
The funny thing about body image as that it’s constantly fluctuating. One minute you will feel great about yourself, and the next minute feel the need to do a hundred sit-ups. These changes arise because our thoughts and perceptions are influenced when we interact with others and our environment.
Body image isn’t all emotional and mental; it is also a biological part of our survival instinct, awareness of the body in space and how much room we take up.
Due to media and other powerful images, we all have different ideas of what a perfect body means, but most of the time these ideas are actually myths or unattainable no matter what we try.
Everyone is built differently and unfortunately this can leave people feeling like their bodies are inadequate even though they can’t do anything to change it. The only way to fix this is to feel confident in your own body.
Sometimes there are ways to change the composition of our bodies through healthy diet and exercise, but if and when our body changes that doesn’t mean anything else about us changes, and it’s up to us to find our own self worth in something other than our body type.
It’s still early in the year, but many have already kissed their New Year’s resolutions goodbye. This, however, is not an excuse to see those midnight snacks as a failure and wait for next year to start your healthy eating habits. Goal setting, luckily, knows no time constraints. Start today, and even tomorrow is acceptable. The goal doesn’t need to be lofty. Here are a few tips for setting goals:
• Set realistic goals.
• Visualize goals to make them real.
• Break goals down into small achievable steps.
• Create an action plan by defining specific tasks to move you forward.
• Manage daily tasks that contribute to the goal.
Tracking your progress is important in goal setting; a journal is a helpful way to do this.
Documenting progress reinforces positive behavior and will help you reset the goal if you aren’t making progress.
You may think it’s just those homemade chocolate chip cookies that are getting in the way of reaching your goal, but your attitude actually plays a bigger role. When setting a goal make a list of potential obstacles:
• Build a support system of family and friends.
• Create your own affirmations to reinforce positive outcomes.
• Believe in yourself so you have the courage and confidence to achieve.
Goal-setting studies show goals and tasks need to be moderately difficult. Goals that are too easy or hard will decrease motivation. Having a challenge that is also realistic energizes you, leading to greater efforts and pride in one’s performance.
Like anything worth being good at, goal setting takes practice. Don’t let set backs douse your fire to keep going. Each set back is a way to learn and reenergize your spirit. Remember, your goal and its outcome are yours, so you to decide if you have failed or succeeded. With a positive attitude and determination, you are capable of making real and powerful change in your life.
Midlife crisis; Anorexia later in life….
Eating disorders in middle to late life. Why are individuals becoming anorexic at a late age when they should know better?
Generally anorexia is a eating disorder that impacts girls in their teenage years but now we are seeing individuals later in life developing eating disorders specifically anorexia later in life.
The ideal woman is becoming thinner and thinner. If you look at the Miss America pageant from the 1950s the women were more voluptuous if you look at Marilyn Monroe she was not a stick figure of a woman she would have been considered more of a full figured woman. One of the biggest changes that occurred was when the model Twiggy from the UK came out and some would describe her as emaciated looking. That image began to change the image of feminine beauty.
Stop Starving Yourself
People who make an effort to exert self-control are attracted to aggressive art and public policy appeals, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. They also don’t appreciate messages that nag them to control their behavior.
“We set out to examine whether exerting self-control can indeed lead to a wide range of angry behaviors and preferences subsequently, even in situations where such behaviors are quite subtle,” write authors David Gal (Northwestern University) and Wendy Liu (University of California San Diego).
“Research has shown that exerting self-control makes people more likely to behave aggressively toward others and people on diets are known to be irritable and quick to anger,” the authors explain. The researchers found that people who exerted self-control were more likely to prefer anger-themed movies, were more interested in looking at angry facial expressions, were more persuaded by anger-framed appeals, and expressed more irritation at a message that used controlling language to convince them to change their exercise habits.
Plumbing My Depths
I am bridging the gap between known and unknown parts of myself. As I struggle with compulsive eating patterns, I gradually uncover the reasons behind this behavior. I release the known patterns around food as am willing to explore the depth of my feelings. Taking the focus away from food and my body size allows me to feel the feelings which have been covered up by my preoccupation with something outside myself. I encourage myself to become the risk-taker. Many times I chose safety when I chose to focus on diets, body size or exercise. I feel safer within myself now as I am willing to focus on my feelings and my memories. I erplore my personal potential as I plumb the depths of my spirit.