Body Image, Food & Acceptance Once & For All
I have yet to meet a woman who likes her body. Who can honestly say she's happy with how she looks. The idea that our physical appearance does not meet the standard model - that it's somehow lacking or misshapen - is all pervasive, and it creeps in at the very start of the transition from childhood to adult.
Most of the women I speak to in my coaching practice (I would estimate around 80%) have, at the very least, poor body image; most have an unhealthy relationship with food and/or a historical or current eating disorder. This dysfunctional behaviour around eating seems to be even more prevalent in those who have struggled or are currently struggling with alcohol dependency.
My personal story with food goes like this... at the age of 12 or 13, I latched onto the odd comment alluding to the fact that I wasn't thin. I wasn't overweight by the way, far from it. But I wasn't thin. And this was the era of the supermodel, when Kate Moss ruled the runways and graced the covers of Vogue and Elle, and the look of the moment was 'heroin chic'. Which, from my perspective today as a 46-year-old, is a gross distortion of beauty, one that could only emerge in the affluent West, where we enjoy the luxury of being able to play around with fashion and image, safe in the knowledge that all of our basic needs are adequately met, thank you very much.
So there I was, playing with the notion that I was falling short of perfection, that I SHOULD be perfect, and slowly coming to the conclusion that perfection would be realised only in thinness. Over the course of the next couple of years, my weight dropped by around three stone, and, via a combination of starving myself, making myself sick, obsessive weighing and heavy alcohol use, I cultivated the double whammy of a stick thin physique and rock bottom self-esteem.
Everything that followed then reinforced these habits. I spoke to myself in an incredibly punitive way; I hated myself, using alcohol to obliterate the mental torture and men to alleviate the agony of self-loathing and self-destruction.
Eventually, after decades of repeatedly entering the boxing ring with both food and alcohol, trying to beat these opponents but instead being beaten to a pulp, I quit drinking and started to learn the art of self-compassion.
This road to recovery did not happen overnight. It took years, about 8 of them; turbulent periods of trial and error, two steps forwards and one step back, overeating, under-eating, self-care followed by spells of utter self-loathing.
Self-esteem is a small and faltering ember that requires constant care and attention in order to provide it with sufficient oxygen to thrive and burn an eternal flame.
What I have learnt through all of this is that acceptance is a wonderful gift. Acceptance means not bargaining, not negotiating, not trying to alter what fundamentally is. Acceptance is about saying "This is it, this is what I'm working with". And that is a full sentence - there's no condition attached to the end of it that says, "...but if I lose a couple of stone, then I'll be happy".
It means saying, "Yes, this is me. And I am enough".
Where we are wise to invest our time and energy is in making good decisions for our optimum wellbeing; things like taking regular exercise, practicing meditation, eating a healthy, nutritious diet and ensuring we get enough sleep. And not drinking alcohol, of course.
With mindful awareness, a sense of gratitude and self-care, comes a different attitude to food, one that perceives it as an element of our life that leads to contentment, balance and staying in a good place, without the endless torment that comes with living with disordered eating.
If you are struggling with any of the issues covered in this blog, you can contact me now on firstname.lastname@example.org or by completing the contact form here.