On Struggling with Body Image after Making Peace with Food, Going through Recovery, and Practicing Intuitive Eating

Q & A: Do you Still Struggle with your Body Image even after Practicing Intuitive Eating, Making Peace with Food and Letting Go of Disordered Eating? (Plus a Lesson on Embodiment) Part 2

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast q&a Feb 17, 2022



Show notes:



We’re back with part 2 of my answer to last week’s question from one of our Sams (find it here in part 1). This question which actually came in different but very similar versions from two Sams, was about whether or not after all the work I’ve done to make peace with food and my body I still struggle with bad body image days. If you haven’t already, listen to part 1 first, as I go into a lot more, talk a little about eating disorder awareness month, shared some of my past history, and gave you my first four resources for a bad body image day: dressing for comfort, "the log" and an incredible must read book, and the dog exercise I do each and every time I have a challenging day when it comes to body image.

Today I continue with three more, and share a story from this past summer that will hopefully help illustrate a lot of these resources in action.

First, my standard disclaimer that this is just me answering a question from my experience, sharing some of the resources that helped on my journey, and this is not meant to substitute medical, nutritional or mental health advice, in fact, one of the best things you can do if you’re struggling with your body image and relationship with your body, with food and with dieting, is seek professional help and support. You can find support for eating disorder recovery through NEDA and in The Butterfly Foundation for support and hep if you are in Australia, or do a google search with your country or city and the words eating disorder support or eating disorder therapists. Every country has its own organization that will help with both free and additional paid or insurance based options to support you on your recovery journey.

 


Let’s continue on from where we left off, with some additional resources and exercises for a bad body image day:

 


Dealing with a bad body image day resource: The Journal

When feelings that are too uncomfortable to handle come up, write. Write in a journal or a piece of paper. Describe what the feeling is, write as much as you can about it, ask yourself why am I feeling this way? Why am I feeling so negatively about my body? This exercise was brought to us by clinical psychologist Verena Kacinskis in episode 200 and it’s so helpful to leave the body anxieties on the page, and somewhere, along those scribbled lines, a truer and deeper reason for our upset can emerge, or at the very least, compassion can emerge, and you let it go, rather than continue to feed it more negative thoughts.

For more on journaling and the types of practices you can start incorporating when you sit down to write, check out this podcast episode.

 


Dealing with a bad body image day resource: Old you 

I like to watch these Youtube videos where people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, talk to young kids about the lessons learned in life. I have yet to encounter someone whose life lesson or regret was “I wish I had been thinner”, or “I wish I had skipped that family gathering because I ate past fullness”, or “I wish I had talked negatively to myself more in front of the mirror so I could attack myself into changing my body”.

 


Think of an older version of you, how you probably see older photos of yourself and say to yourself “what in the world was the problem, my body was ok and all I remember was thinking it was not thin enough, not toned enough, not curvy enough”. What will 60 year old you say to now you, what would 80 year old you say? If you were to talk to someone you loved in a younger generation, would you say the things you say to yourself?

I bet the advice would be, dance like you mean it, be active but only in a way you absolutely love, eat when you are hungry, read more fun books, go to all the movies, see all the friends, keep your values close, and those values include kindness.






Dealing with a bad body image day resource: Connect with your body

When all else fails, connecting with my body always helps. This means different things on different days for me. Sometimes it’s deep breathing and a meditation. Sometimes it’s a walk in nature, sometimes it’s using a foam roller for a bit to give my body some relief, or it could be a massage. For me it means not going running (that tends to raise my body anxiety sometimes), and not doing anything too vigorous. It is usually stretching, doing a quick yoga class for relaxation, and my favorite, doing a ballet class (more on this in an upcoming episode). Dance, especially ballet, with its softness and fluidity, makes me immediately come back to my body, and feel my deepest essence, it’s in this type of movement that I find myself. Another option, doing a yoga Nidra video on YouTube (like this one, or this one, or this one where you can see the blanket or pillow placement for maximum relaxation).

 


When we are having a bad body image day we’re having a day in which we’re strangely feeling our body too much, with a link to obsessive thought patterns that judge this feeling. I’m talking about coming out of that space, and into a space of true connection, of softness, and where you feel your body not as constrictive but as spacious.




An example of embodiment: lessons from the edge of the pool last summer 

The summer is by far the most triggering time when it comes to body image for me and for so many others. It is a time in which I feel much more exposed, and I am not one of those people that will just not go to the beach or to a pool party because of the way their body looks. I go, because going has meant freedom and learning more and more with each and every summer. This means summer is hard, but I face it head on, and I go to that pool, I wear that swimsuit no matter what my body looks like from one year to the next.

This year, during the summer, I was going through a bit of a harder time emotionally (I shared more about that in our end of year episode), and that is one perfect example of when that dance between the internal world and the external world is going through some turmoil, and therefore, everything is a bit harder. Body image issues are harder, dealing with criticism is harder, having to push on is harder. I was facing our usual family vacation in the country by the pool with all of this going on in the background and my family (except for Carlos), not knowing what was going on. There I was, a few weeks after someone at another pool party had made a comment about my body, having to face a new but familiar crowd. One of the people that was going to be there has what could be perceived by many as the “thin ideal/ideal body" by our current beauty standards, even though this person has body image issues of their own (which goes to show it’s not about the body), I felt vulnerable as the day was approaching, and felt vulnerable when it came, when I got there and saw the pool, when everyone was in the pool and I was taking off my sundress to sunbathe. As per my rule though, I did it anyway, and I was going to find a way to be okay, not even okay, but enjoy it, have fun, be present.

I remembered one of the many body image and eating disorder advocates that I found thanks to my friend Ve, Miriam Bottan. Her content is in Portuguese but I have connected with her content and her videos so much through the years (I use the translate button on instagram!). I love her way of raising awareness, and she always talks about embodiment. About not escaping your body when you’re having these thoughts and worries, but really learning to live in it.

 


I decided to think of pool time in this way: WWMBD What would Miriam Bottan do? Well, she wouldn’t focus on what happens to her stomach while she’s sitting, she'd just sit, she'd participate in the conversation, she'd eat the chips, and the fruit and the olives that my family was passing around. She'd drink that icy cold beer if she felt like it. Rather than being worried the entire time of whether her stomach was pulled in, or her posture was perfect, planning the way she'd sit and get up in case someone might see rolls or cellulite, she's spend the time feeling her body, being in her body, so that's exactly what I started to do.

I would focus on being there with confidence, being proud of the body that I have with all its imperfections. I ran with my dogs if my dogs came running, I got up and reached over and offered the olive bowl to everyone, I got in the pool and out of the pool and back in again like I did when I was a kid, with gusto, without over worrying or walking a certain way, or putting my dress back on. I just played, and swam, and ate, and rested, and laughed, and every time I did anything, on that first day, I felt my body rooted to the ground, like it’s been there for all the years I’ve been here, like deep roots hold me firmly in place, like I have a place in this world where I am sitting, and I can sit there with confidence.

It was the best pool day of my life, and my body was far from perfect (and I also say this knowing that I have a ton of thin privilege as well). This was a lesson in embodiment, a lesson in occupying the space you occupy from inside your body, not from inside your worry or your fear. Doing this, for one moment, one party, one pool day, one family gathering, is what helps me during a bad body image day the most. I say to myself time to get embodied, time to be here and not check out, time to move and be here with strength, because confidence is like the horizon, when you put a condition around it, as in “I’ll be confident when I reach my ideal body”, it continues to retreat as you approach it, but you can have it now, you can have it here.

That’s my long answer to your questions dear Sams, I hope these help as starting points, the work isn’t easy, not when our entire culture is telling us otherwise, but it is so worth it and it can be done. 

If you have a question you'd like answered in the show, leave it in the comments below or email us here. All questions are read anonymously for your privacy.

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