Recently I started my final clinical placement as a nursing student working in child & adolescent mental health. One specific focus of our program is rehabilitation for individuals with eating disorders. It is heartbreaking to see 80lb girls cry because they are afraid of chocolate milk and calories. Irrationally they think they are fat and hate their tiny bodies, striving to be ever thinner.
Unfortunately I think the ideal body types depicted in the media can be pretty toxic for a lot of people. A research study in Fiji looked at how teenage girls felt about themselves before and after the introduction of TV in their society. The results were astonishing! Before being exposed to the world of Hollywood, size zero, and commercials convincing them they needed to buy products to make them more beautiful the Fiji girls liked the way they looked and almost nobody had an eating disorder. Once TV was introduced body dissatisfaction went through the roof, as did the incidence of dieting and eating disorders.
There’s no doubt that you can alter your physique by exercising and eating good nutrition but fostering a healthy body image can be an even bigger challenge for some people. I’ve seen absolutely ripped guys tell me they are too small and thin waif-like girls who don’t want to “get big muscles like a man” (as if your hormones would let you!). Genetics play a large role in how our bodies look and how we respond to exercise and nutrition. No matter how hard we try, most of us will never look like we belong on the cover of a magazine and that is perfectly okay. I’m not saying it’s okay to be fat or that fitness goals aren’t important, just that it’s important to have realistic ideals and standards for yourself. Obsessively counting calories and freaking out if you miss one workout is not healthy or fun for anyone.
How to foster a healthy body image:
- Stop watching so much TV. Why are you spending a mini fortune to buy advertisements that make you feel like you are a) inadequate and b) need to buy something to help you overcome this invented inadequacy?
- Focus on what you like about your body. Whether you have stunning blue eyes or a main full of curls, there are unique features that make you different from everyone else – embrace them!
- Be nice to yourself. The more respect and love you have for yourself, the easier it will be to listen to and meet your needs. Take time to enjoy your own company, take a walk, cook a lovely meal, or go for a run. The relationship you have with yourself is one of the most important ones you will have during your lifetime.
- Stop spending so much time looking in the mirror. Sure, check and make sure your shirt’s not on backwards or that your makeup looks okay, but don’t keep checking and checking and checking your appearance throughout the day. Do you honestly have nothing better to do with your life energy than worry about how you look all the time? I used to work with a personal trainer who would constantly stare at herself in the mirror and play with her bangs, even while she was training clients. Needless to say, her clients weren’t very happy that she wasn’t paying attention to them and she didn’t last very long at the gym.
- Be awesome! Nobody really cares if you look awesome and just sit there. Get out there and do stuff! Volunteer, be a good friend, go camping, learn to play an instrument, write a book… Sure you can enjoy fitness but one day you will get old and your body won’t look the same as it did in your prime so don’t base your entire self worth on how you look. You are a soul with a body, not the other way around.
- Stop eating wheat. Guaranteed you will lose fat and feel better about your body. Today’s wheat has been genetically modified to increase crop yields without any testing on its suitability for human consumption. The result? Epidemic rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Are you sure you want that bagel?
- Appreciate what you can DO, not just how you look. Be proud of running a 5km race or setting a new personal best for your deadlift. Exercise goals tend to revolve around weight loss and neglect all the other awesome things that come from the hard work you put in! Not only can you improve your strength and endurance, there are tons of changes that happen inside your body to make you healthier. It’s harder to see that your blood pressure is going down or that your bones are getting stronger but these things are just as important (if not more) than fitting into a certain size.