In the United States, many of us struggle with body image in some form or another. We are constantly inundated with media messages and images on how we should look and what we should or should not eat. People of all backgrounds, shapes, and sizes may experience inward and outward criticism in regard to physical size. This type of exposure may lead to many unwanted health consequences including but not limited to: unhealthy body image, lowered self-esteem, unnecessary stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions, eating disorders, and disordered eating behaviors. The only way to avoid messages from the media is to live off the grid in the middle of nowhere. Most of us like being in community and don’t want to trade in our creature comforts just in order to avoid the media. So, how do we turn away from or turn off media messages so we are no longer running around with bulls’ eyes on our backs, subjected to media influence?
Sure, you can unplug from social media and stop reading magazines, but the advertising and marketing messages are still ubiquitous in everyday living. By identifying what the societal devices are, we can begin to unravel the binding forces that keep us wrapped up in these ideas that we are not good enough and we must keep striving for something outside of ourselves—which is entirely untrue.
Helpful Realizations: 1. These media messages exist for companies to make money. 2. These companies want you to buy their products. 3. You have been identified as the target audience for millions of products and services. 4. Marketing and advertising companies have millions of dollars wrapped up into research that focuses on the psychology of consumerism. 5. Marketing and advertising companies appeal to different emotions to sell you products and services. Most likely, you have felt shame, guilt, lust, and/or pleasure while looking at an advertisement designed to sell you something.
One of the negative outcomes from marketing campaigns is disordered eating. Disordered eating is a relatively new term that refers to abnormal eating behaviors but is not characterized as an eating disorder as defined by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Some of these behaviors may manifest as1:
- chronic restrictive eating
- chronic yo-yo dieting
- preoccupation with food, body, and exercise that has a detrimental effect on emotional state
- eating compulsively
- emotional eating
- feelings of guilt and shame around eating and exercise (or lack of)
- extremely rigid ideas around food and exercise
- night eating
- difficulty recognizing and/or adhering to hunger cues
Now that you have a better idea of the negative ways big media’s influence can affect you, let’s explore some helpful tools that may protect you from its influence (and to also avoid or reduce disordered eating patterns).
- Observe mindful eating techniques. This can be very simple as Dr. Susan Albers o
utlines in 5 S’s of Mindful Eating2.
- Sit down while eating. Give yourself the attention you deserve by taking the time to focus on nourishing your body.
- Slowly This allows you to tune in to your body’s signaling cues.
- Savor the flavor and all the unique qualities of the food. Embrace the pleasure in eating.
- Simplify. Give yourself a break by making it easier to make healthy food choices. For instance, keep a small bag of nuts and/or seeds in your car and office. Instead of reaching for that candy bar, grabbing fast food etc., you have another choice available at your fingertips.
- Smile. This step can help you to express gratitude which may help ease stress and anxiety and also improve digestion. This also allows you a moment to tune into your level of fullness.
- Engage in intuitive eating. In Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole outlines the ways we can eat intuitively3.
- Reject the diet mentality.
- Honor your hunger.
- Make peace with food.
- Challenge the food police.
- Feel your fullness.
- Discover the satisfaction factor.
- Cope with your emotions without using food.
- Respect your body.
- Exercise—feel the difference.
- Honor your health—gentle nutrition.
- Take the HAES approach. HAES stands for Health at Every Size. This is a movement started by Linda Bacon which focuses on a non-diet approach to eating. It encourages the individual to practice self-compassionate care in place of dieting. It also challenges social norms and accepted scientific claims that say obesity is a problem and must be “battled”4.
- Other principles to adopt:
- Self-compassion—Make space for all the feelings, all the ups and downs, all the mistakes, and all the growing pains. Allow whatever you’re feeling to be okay. You are beautiful, after all, there is only one you.
- Self-acceptance—Embrace your own uniqueness. Allow you to be you, no matter what. Meet yourself wherever you are. Take the pressure off from trying to be something you’re not and be who you are. We are all perfectly imperfect.
- Functional Eating—In order to tip the scales back to more functional eating, you must understand why you eat the way you do. By paying attention to your own unique body’s cues, you can start to understand the language of your own body. Your body is constantly communicating with you. Allowing your body to be heard and listened to can help improve your body-mind relationship.
- Reclaim Pleasure in Eating—It is your birth right to enjoy eating. Own it and embody the pleasure.
- Abandon Guilt and Shame Around Eating—You owe nothing to no one. Guilt and shame are useless and do not serve you or your goals around freedom of eating.
- Explore Your Relationship with Food—Keep a journal about food. Record your stories and feelings around food.
- Enjoy the Moment—Be here now. When you live in the future or in the past, you rob yourself from the present moment. And now is all you have. Capture the moment in your being.
- Feelings Around Food—Pay attention to your feelings around food. These feelings serve as powerful messengers that inform your relationship with food.
- Keep a Curious Mind—Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take nothing as fact. Allow yourself to change and transform—whatever that looks like for you.
- Behold the Process—You may stand tall, you may fall, you may crouch down and look around. Success is never linear, although you may currently believe it is—challenge that belief. Honor the journey. The mere act of engaging in the process is in itself a success. Always try to view it as such.
“The journey of a thousand miles, begins with one small step.” ~Lao Tzu
I invite you to take that first step AND I encourage you to keep going.
To health with it,
Sara Sandhya Foster
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org. Accessed Dec 5, 2017.
- Susan Albers, PsyD. Eating Mindfully. http://www.eatingmindfully.com, Accessed Dec 6, 2017.
- Evelyn Tribole. Intuitive Eating. http://www.intuitiveeating.org. Accessed Dec 6, 2017.
- Linda Bacon, PhD. http://www.lindabacon.org. Accessed Dec 5, 2017.