How I Stopped Ruining My Body Image
I am currently receiving EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. For those who don’t know what it is, it can be explained shortly as reprocessing your traumatic memories with the help of your therapist. During the session, you activate both lobes of your brain by following a stimuli left and right with your eyes (there are multiple other ways to do it: you can wear headphones and hear a beep on your left and right ear, follow your therapist’s hand with your gaze or be touched on the knees). While doing this, you are asked to let your mind wander (thoughts, feelings, memories, real or imagine scenarios, anything works!). Every few minutes you stop to describe what you have been thinking about. Without any comments from your therapist. I know it sounds very weird but somehow it works. I see my therapist weekly and let me tell you, it gets intense. Usually when I leave my session, I just want to lay on my bed and watch the ceiling for the next 4 hours.
By nature, it brings up a lot of memories. Some are pleasant and others really unpleasant. I am not sure if this is the case for every client but personally, I literally relive the memories that come up on my mind. For a moment, I become the version of myself in the memory. And in the unpleasant ones, you don’t want to be that person. You want to deny, with every cell of in your body, the fact that you experienced that moment, that you were that person once. I think this is what makes the treatment intense, you are left having to acknowledge the versions of yourself that you just want to consign to oblivion.
This week, it was the version who felt weak against the whole world. The version who wanted to feel strong by making herself ‘‘pretty’’. The version who starved herself during the day and came home to inhale any food she can get her hands on. The version who just cannot stand her body, let alone herself.
When I left the session, I immediately found myself comparing that version of myself to who I am right now. I thought about the similarities between us. And the differences, of course. I kept asking myself ‘‘What changed?’’, ‘‘What is the essence of this change?’’.
It is a tough question. So, I couldn’t come up with solid answers. Yet, there was one thing that stuck out: my attitude towards my body. And this is how I came up with my ‘6 Ways You’re Ruining Your Body Image’ post.
I realized that besides the fact that I had an eating disorder and an unhealthy relationship with food, I was constantly making the situation even harder on my body.
1. I kept buying clothes that did not fit me.
I would go to stores and try out clothes. I would look in the mirror and have a mental breakdown in the cabins because I couldn’t fit in the sizes I desired to be. There was so much self-hatred. In order to cope, I would try to ‘‘motivate’’ myself by buying the size that clearly did not fit me. I would tell myself:
‘‘You will start a diet tomorrow and you will fit in these pants next week or ELSE ***!!!’’
What a great way to motivate yourself right? Needless to say, it did not work. Every time I opened my closet, those pants would stare right at me: with their tag on, waiting to be worn. They would talk to me;
‘‘Remember that diet you should’ve started weeks ago? You still cannot wear me because you’re fat’’.
They were reminders of me being a failure, for not losing weight. This is just too much of a negativity to be reminded of everyday. I’m pretty sure that even on the days I didn’t acknowledge their presence, my subconscious knew that they were still there.
2. I would start a new diet every day.
Worst part of starting a new diet everyday is knowing that you have failed yesterday.
Every morning, I would open my eyes feeling extremely guilty. As if I was the biggest failure in the whole world. Then to cope with these extremely unpleasant feelings, I would automatically start thinking about what I should be eating. It had to be the healthiest option and the one with the least amount of calories. For some reason, that meant hard boiled eggs for me (You can imagine how I feel about them now). Knowing that I wasn’t going to eat something that I enjoy, I dreaded the idea of going to the kitchen. Even if I managed to get through my breakfast, there would come lunch, snacks and dinner. So many decisions to make. knowing that I had to choose the ‘best option’ for weight loss, I was getting extremely overwhelmed. I would starve, just sitting between meals. I could only think about one thing, and one thing only: food.And we all know where that goes.
3. I would weigh myself every day.
Stepping on the scale every day has a very weird effect on you. I can safely say that I was addicted to it, even though it made me feel extremely upset every time. You may ask, how can you be addicted to something that leaves you feeling awful? Here is how:
I would look forward to the next day, the moment I would weigh myself. When I think about it now, I can see that it gave me a purpose to get through the days.
I believe this was the function: whatever was happening in my life, it did not matterbecause the next day I would have to weigh myself. This meant I always had to stay focused on my diet and my ultimate ‘goal’. However, starting the day hating your body actually really works against this goal. You have a hard time believing that you can diet and actually succeed, even though you want it so badly. Then you generalize this to everything else in your life (‘overgeneralizing’ in psychology, a very common cognitive distortion). It is not about the diet anymore. Now you cannot succeed in anything in life. Therefore, it has a domino effect simply leading to low mood each time.
4. I would do body checks on every reflective surface.
After weighing myself and feeling disappointed, the next blow would come from the mirror.
I used to spend a whole 15 minutes (at least) in front of the mirror, examining my body; dreaming about the day I will look at it and feel good for once.
‘Am I bloated today? Is my stomach flatter than yesterday? My waist is so wide. My thighs touch each other. My stomach is definitely sticking out today’.
From this, it just went downhill. These body checks would go on throughout the day. There were so many times I was just zoned out looking at my reflection thinking those, losing out on conversations and quality time with my friends and family. Instead, I focused on how thick my legs are and what my next diet should be.
5. I would let my inner critique go on and on.
We all have critical thoughts about ourselves. It is quite easy to get caught up in these negative thoughts. They are hard to control. It is unrealistic to expect them to just vanish. Or even harder, to master controlling them so well that they don’t even exist anymore.
The best way to deal with critical thoughts is to accept that they come and go.
And learn when to draw the line. I used to just let my own critical voice bring me down. It would talk and talk for hours, saying horrible things. The worst part was that I was making it worse by saying things that I knew would hurt me. I would literally cheer those negative thoughts by saying:
‘‘You see how fat you look? You look disgusting’’, ‘‘You are such a failure, who is so weak-willed that can’t follow a diet without binging for a day?’’.
You know, all the good stuff. If there were two teams: me vs. my negative thoughts, I was always rooting for my negative thoughts. The thoughts were horrible on their own already and I was always on the lookout to make them worse to punish myself.
Later I learned that this was a self-harming behavior.
Safe to say that this hurt me more than any food, any binge could ever hurt me. Now, when I have negative thoughts; I let them come but I do not add to them. I don’t punish myself anymore. I just say ‘‘Wow, my disordered self is acting out again. Let’s hear what it has to say this time’’ and let it out with one condition: I imagine that it has a funny voice. Mickey Mouse’s does wonders for me. After some point, I just can’t take it seriously and eventually, I can turn its volume down. 100% would recommend.
6. I was following the wrong Instagram accounts.
Waking up to pictures of unrealistically skinny girls every day while I was still feeling guilty about my binge from last night.
How would this make me feel? Simply horrible. Nowadays we’re so used to seeing all these teeny tiny bodies on Instagram, you’d expect us to be desensitized. But no, I really do not believe so. It’s always an ongoing topic in the back of our heads that we have to lose weight, because ‘‘being skinny equals being pretty’’. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am obsessed with Emily Ratajkowski. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. I just love her. But I don’t think following her on Instagram is good for my mental health. Waking up to a picture of an extremely skinny model, or one with huge boobs, hips and unproportionately small waist; how is that doing me any good? It’s 9 a.m. and I find myself having been compared with at least 10 people already.
It’s a comparison that I can never win because they are celebrities who do this as their job, and I’m just me.
I have accepted this situation as it is and I honestly don’t think it makes one better or worse than the other one. Like on that one TikTok, ‘‘I’m somebody different’’. Now, I don’t buy sizes that don’t fit my body. Shopping is 250% more fun when you don’t hate your body for taking up space. I don’t push myself to start a new diet in the beginning of every week, Mondays are annoying enough on their own. I avoid looking at shops’ windows and mirrors - if it’s for body checking. My inner critique is so ridiculous to listen to, I don’t believe a word it says.
All this won’t matter if you weigh yourself everyday. Because doing that is what starts this whole downward spiral.
This is how you stop sabotaging yourself and ruining your body image. Trace back your steps. What behaviors lead to bad body image? How do you talk to yourself? What kind of images are you exposed to? You cannot magically start loving your body ‘as it is’. It requires awareness and effort. But in a nut shell, you can start with the following:
Throw away anything that does not fit you.
Stop restricting yourself both physically and mentally.
Steer clear of scales.
Avoid doing body checks.
Give your inner critique a funny voice.
Unfollow any Instagram accounts making you feel bad about yourself.