To continue this month's wellness series with Guest Editor Uli Beutter Cohen of everbliss, we're sitting down once more with Kate L. Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, a clinical therapist, health coach and medical researcher. This time, Ms. Rosenblatt offers some staggering truths about eating and body image disorders, plus five ways to practice more positive self-talk. She also connects us with Breakfast Criminals founder Ksenia Avdulova, who shares her personal experience with the transformative power of self-love.
When was the last time you paused before picking up your fork, checking in with your mental and emotional state before imbibing? The concept may seem strange at first, but it can completely shift your self-talk and your correlated body image.
According to studies, around 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies. This staggering statistic has all sorts of alarming consequences, including a strong tie to the development of eating disorders, which affect an estimated 30 million Americans. That’s 10% of our population, and the numbers are continuing to rise.
The trend may be partially due to the spread of "thinspiration" across social media. Our mass cultural misconceptions can be harmful as well. The general public often sees eating disorders as lifestyle choices, assuming that sufferers should be able to simply change their behaviors and heal their illnesses on a whim.
The truth is, there are many different biological, psychological and social factors that put individuals at risk for eating disorders, and they affect all ages, genders and cultures. Negative body image can be catalyzed by various influences including past experiences and messages from friends, family and society.
But some of the most powerful forces are the voices in our own heads. And that's where a more mindful eating approach comes in.
Ksenia Avdulova, the founder of Breakfast Criminals, used to obsess over her weight and food, compulsively planning each and every meal. "I thought being the founder of a popular blog gave me a great reason to constantly think about food," she says. Eventually, she realized that she was caught in a harmful pattern and had an aha moment: it's not about how you look, it's about how you love.
Once she recognized that our bodies and our food are meant to be enjoyed, not feared, Ksenia started practicing intuitive eating, ditching diet labels and focusing on the feelings of pleasure and joy.
"Dissatisfaction and judgment bring us more harm on a cellular level than a piece of cake," says Ksenia. "It's vital to know what replenishes your body and your spirit aside from food – otherwise you start seeking fulfillment and satisfaction on your dinner plate."
Before beginning to eat, Ksenia suggests, "Close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself: What does my body need right now? You'll be surprised how often we reach for food when in fact what we need is rest, movement, water or a hug."
Like any habit, this new approach takes practice and patience. A trained expert (like a therapist or health coach) can provide valuable support and accountability. But to help you get started on a more self-loving path, here are five specific ways to begin cultivating a more positive body image, taking some cues from Ksenia's story.
1. Practice body gratitude: Say "thanks" for all that your body does for you. Yes, do it right now! Complete this sentence: "Thank you, [insert body part here], for giving me [insert something awesome]." This will help you strengthen your mind-body connection. It's especially important to send love to parts of your body that you're the most self-conscious about.
2. Set a daily reminder: Build a routine by setting a daily phone reminder to tell yourself a loving mental message. Beliefs are just thoughts we keep thinking, and positive mantras can eventually become defaults when you consciously and consistently devote energy to them.
3. Reset your social media consumption: Comparison is the thief of all joy. Clean house and stop following accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. And if you do find yourself revisiting those old accounts, instead of shifting straight into comparison mode, ask yourself: "What can I learn from this person or this post?"
4. Rewire your inner critic: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Take note when you catch yourself thinking or saying something judgmental about your or someone else's appearance, like, "Wow, I wish I were that thin!" or "That dress color really doesn’t suit her." Intentionally replace the destructive thought with a kind one.
5. Focus on feeling good: Pay attention to how you feel instead of how you look, whether as the final goal for meals or workouts. It’s easy to get caught up in the socially validated aspects of exercise, but instead, emphasize the amazing gift you're giving to your body.
In addition to these tips, Ksenia is a huge believer in the power of beginning every day with love and kindness, because "How we start our day determines how the rest of it goes." She encourages doing something genuinely joyful every morning: "It could be through a delicious acai bowl, going for a short walk, meditating, or blasting some fun music."
p.s. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating or body image disorder, reach out to a therapist or health coach on everbliss. Check out more of Ms. Rosenblatt's insights on mental health here.