Recently I had the opportunity to attend a body image workshop for clinicians in Chicago with Marci Evans and Fiona Sutherland (two complete all-stars in the world of dietetics and body image healing - yes I am fan girling). I learned so much from them over the two days, I'm still unpacking it all (and likely will be for next month or two!) BUT there was one takeaway message that hit me hard early on and has stuck with me since. This is it: Body image is extremely complex and very closely tied to our sense of connection.
I know hindsight is 20/20, but truly, I see this so much, both in working with clients and in my own personal body image experiences.
If connection fosters better body image, poor body image then, is associated with a sense of disconnection. This disconnection shows up in a number of ways:
Disconnection from relationships or FEAR of disconnection
Feeling disconnected from other people, whether it be friends, family or just people in general often results in a sense of insecurity. Sometimes the disconnection is real, as in the case of a falling out or moving away from home, and sometimes it's a fear of disconnection or a lack of acceptance, a social anxiety. Either way, insecurity drives us to look critically at ourselves with the intent of belonging more. Sadly, in a world that focuses so much on outward looks, a lot of us end up blaming our body weight or appearance. Even more, as my friend Victoria so wisely points out in sharing her own story of healing , insecurity usually sets us on the path of comparison. And we all know where comparison leads: to more discontentment and disconnection.
There are a few ways in which we can proactively cultivate connection in our relationships and set up protective mechanisms to prevent unhelpful comparison and expectations. Here are a few:
- Schedule time to meet with friends/family regularly. You could set up a weekly play date, coffee date, walk in the park, or a dinner club. You could also set up Face time dates with long distance connections. Although, I suggest having real life face to face interactions as much as possible.
- While we're at it, take breaks from social media. It will eliminate a lot of the comparison and unrealistic expectations and give you more time to connect in person.
- Let go of perfectionism. I know easier said than done, but really. Relationships are messy and imperfect and expecting them or yourself to be perfect will only isolate you from having authentic connections with people
Disconnection from our bodies
Our body image is also closely related to our physical awareness of & connection to our bodies. There are many ways in which we can become out of touch with our bodies, and sometimes it's a purposeful action to protect ourselves. We might not trust our bodies because we have experienced physical trauma or because we have suffered from an illness that makes us feel like our bodies have failed us, and so body disconnection has served as a coping mechanism. Other times, chronic dieting leads us to feel like our bodies don't work properly - when really our bodies have just been trying to protect us and keep us energized.
Whatever the reason, it's not always easy to connect with our bodies, it can be uncomfortable and may even require outside help from a therapist. But the truth of the matter is that being able to respond to our bodies' cues: feeding them when hungry, going to the bathroom, sleeping, moving them, this fosters a sense of trust which helps us accept and appreciate our bodies for all that they can do -- a huge part of feeling comfortable in our own skin.
From a very practical stand point, this is where intuitive eating (IE) comes in handy. IE helps cultivate interoceptive awareness or attunement to your body-- AKA connection. If you haven't read the book, I highly suggest you give it a read, and if you really want to deep dive into this concept, I'd suggest picking up the workbook and doing the activities. You can find the book and workbook on my resources page!
Disconnection from our values
Every one of us have times when we feel like we aren't living according to our values. If we aren't careful, this can cause us to take on shame. Shame is this sense that our behaviors have the ability to change our worth and identity. For example, shame tells you that when you don't act on your values you ARE a bad person. It sounds like this: I AM mean, I AM a failure, I AM...etc. Shame is seriously NEVER helpful and the shame we feel about ourselves almost always creeps into our body image. Cultivating connection to our values may mean we're mindful of our decisions and how they line up with our values, but it ALSO means giving ourselves compassion in moments when we make mistakes. Just because you mess up, doesn't mean you don't have values, it just means you're human.
Disconnection from our faith
Sometimes this misplaced shame from making mistakes leaves us feeling disconnected to our faith. But if you're a christian, you have to know that this isn't what the bible says. The bible says that NOTHING can separate you from the love of Christ and that there is NO condemnation in Christ Jesus (Read Romans 8). The reality is that we are often the ones judging ourselves, keeping ourselves in a cycle of shame and poor body image, while all along God sees us as righteous, forgiven, washed in Jesus' blood, beautifully and wonderfully made. So if it's shame from something you've done or something that's been done to you that's keeping you from going to God, know that you are exactly who He wants to hear from. Jesus says that He came for the weary, the lost sheep, the brokenhearted, not for the people who have it all together (Psalm 34:18 & Matthew 11:28-30). If you want to hear more about what God's word has to say about your body image, identity and relationship to food, sign up for the newsletter here and receive your FREE copy of the the Finding Food Freedom Devotional.
This topic stirs up a lot of questions for many people, if you need someone to help you work through these things and your relationship with food, I'd love to journey with you in one-on-one nutrition counseling.
I hope this post was helpful for you, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how connection relates to your own body image in the comments below!
Until next time, happy fueling and stay nourished :)