Several years ago, I was on a date with a former boyfriend, and I had my really heavy purse slung over my shoulder. My arm was pressed up against my side, and the skin on the top of my arm had gotten pinched up between my inner arm and the strap of my purse. I was happily chatting away when all of a sudden he said, “Someone needs to work on her arms a little bit.”
I stopped mid-sentence and felt embarrassment and shame wash over me. In that moment I was reduced to a body part — one that was unattractive and clearly unacceptable.
Rather than tell that guy to go f*** himself (which is what I would do now), I let his words rip a hole through my self-esteem and change how I saw myself. It’s sad to say, but I remember those words every single time I put on a sleeveless shirt or throw my purse over my shoulder.
Before that incident, I had never given my arms a thought. After that incident, I added my arms to the group of parts of my body I didn’t like.
You’re probably not aware that you see yourself as a collection of body parts. I like my butt, but I hate my stomach. I have nice legs, but my hips are too wide.
The media reinforces this disconnection with our bodies. I know you already know this, so I won’t go too much into it. But we are all — men and women alike — deeply affected by media messages. (If you want to hear more about this, please watch this powerful Tedx talk by Jean Kilbourne, who studies the effect of advertising on women and their self-esteem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy8yLaoWybk&vl=en.)
Thinking of yourself in this disconnected way affects everything: how you walk, how you eat, what you wear — what you do.
It affects how you carry yourself. You suck in your stomach, you hold your arms out just a little bit, you tilt your head down (or up), you stand with your legs slightly apart so your thighs don’t touch. All of these contortions put tremendous strain on your body.
When you feel constricted like this, your body must somehow neutralize the resistance. This physical resistance, in combination with the mental resistance you feel from hating your body, will likely culminate in binge eating, because that’s what you’ve trained yourself to do as a way to feel better. Bingeing makes you feel ashamed and out of control. It also makes you feel desperate for a solution for the inevitable weight gain, so you try and diet your way out of it.
Dieting creates a distorted relationship with food — it trains you to see foods independently of each other rather than working together to nourish you. They are either good or bad, they should be included or avoided.
Dieting disconnects you from the experience of eating and makes food your adversary. All of this reinforces the binge eating/dieting cycle, which makes you continue the distorted relationship you have with your body.
Here are two ways to start reconnecting with your body:
1) Change how you carry yourself.
2) Change how you eat.
Instead of constricting yourself, relax and let your body move more slowly. Walk more slowly, and try to make more deliberate movements. Stand taller. Breathe deeply. Eat more slowly.
Doing all of this makes you more conscious of what you’re doing and, most importantly, it changes your thoughts. Your mind stops racing so much, which makes you less likely to engage in the repetitive thoughts of how awful you look and how much you want to change the parts of yourself you don’t like.
Changing the physical affects the mental, and the mental then affects the physical. You will start to see yourself more whole; you will start embracing your entire body rather than just parts of it. Loving your whole body alters how you see food — you will begin thinking of food as part of an eating experience that supports your overall health rather than in categories (high in fat, too many calories, too much sugar). You will dramatically change your relationship with food.
Relaxed, peaceful thoughts lead to a relaxed, peaceful body. And a relaxed, peaceful body helps you slow down and enjoy the food you eat. Potato chips don’t land on your thighs and cover them in cellulite, and chocolate doesn’t go straight to your arms and make them untoned. You can occasionally enjoy potato chips and chocolate, because they are a part of your overall diet — which probably also includes lots of healthy foods.
You are not a collection of body parts. You are a whole person whose body is supporting you through your life. You can love it back, or you can work against it. Stop resisting it by making these two subtle changes, and move toward a body — a whole one — that you can love.