In this personal essay, Integrative Nutritionist, Jennie Miremadi, M.S., shares the story of her own body image struggles and the self-loving wisdom she gained in overcoming them. Read below to see how Jennie learned that food isn’t the enemy – self-hatred is – and find a few of her seven positive practices for reshaping body image to make your own. Here’s Jennie…
When I was 14, my relationship with food began to unravel.
I’d just had the stomach flu and I’d lost a bunch of weight – fast. I hadn’t given the weight loss any thought, until I walked into my ballet class and the first thing the teacher said was, “Looking good, Jennie. Keep it up.”
My teacher didn’t know it, but those few words profoundly impacted my body image and my relationship with food. I had been a normal, healthy weight, but after that, I became completely obsessed with being thin. I refused to eat any fat and I started counting my calories. When my mother was cooking dinner, I would wait until she wasn’t looking and skim the fat out of the food on the stove. A few years later, I started popping diet pills and I forced myself to run for an hour every day, even though I hated it.
When I wasn’t artificially restricting my intake with diet pills, I was jumping from one fad diet to the next. Not only were my eating patterns unsustainable, they were destructive and unhealthy. The worst part was that I was miserable, and my obsession with food and my body was preventing me from really living.
What I didn’t realize until years later was that the real solution to my struggles involved breaking free from the dieting and the deprivation and learning to love and accept myself. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t easy. I saw nutrition experts and read books, but they generally focused on yet another “plan” or diet, which was just fueling the problem.
Ultimately, I realized that I had to find my own solution. I traveled all over the world, learning whatever I could about mind and body, focusing heavily on the spiritual. I learned about nutrition, and began regularly incorporating yoga and meditation in my life. My relationship with food started to change as I focused on nourishing my body physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I also began to examine the underlying reasons that I had struggled with food and body image for a sizable chunk of my life. I used EFT, an energy-based technique, to work through the blocks that were keeping me from having the relationship with food that I wanted.
It was this work that enabled me to let go of my destructive eating patterns and listen to my body. I was finally sustaining my ideal weight naturally, but more importantly, I had discovered my self-worth and dignity, and it had nothing to do with the number on the scale. This was the most profound transformation of my life.
The crazy thing is that overcoming my own personal battles helped me to find my purpose in life. I had been a lawyer for many years, but realized my true calling was to help others with struggles similar to the ones I had overcome.
The key to conquering a negative body image isn’t punishing, shaming or hating yourself. In fact, it’s the opposite. The real solution is learning to love and accept yourself just as you are.
Here is a great place to start…
7 Practices for Body Image Balance:
Focus on your gifts
You are so much more than your body, your size and your weight. And, you are worthy of so much more than a life spent feeling not good enough. Are you kind, funny, a good listener, smart and fabulous? What characteristics do you have that make you amazing? Focus on that. Make a list of all of your best qualities and put it in a place you will see it frequently as a reminder of how special you are.
Channel your three-year old self
The next time you think punishing or shaming thoughts about your body, take out a picture of yourself at three years old. Now imagine saying those same things to the child in the picture. Would you call that sweet girl or boy fat, ugly or disgusting? Would you tell her that she needs to lose weight, go on a diet or get rid of her stomach? That little child is still part of you. Instead of berating her, give her love and tell her how amazing she is.
Don't wait to be happy
How do you think you will feel once you achieve your body goals? Do you think you will be happier? More confident? More joyful? Instead of focusing on your body as a way to achieve those feelings, find other ways to feel that way now. Meditation, EFT, a daily gratitude practice and spiritual connection are all a good place to start.
Love your body by listening to it and nourishing it with foods that make it feel great. That means being present with your food, slowing down and putting away distractions while you eat, truly tasting your food and noticing how that food makes your body feel. Focus on eating real, nutrient-rich, whole foods that not only taste delicious, but also nourish your body and make it feel great.
Be kind, gentle and compassionate with yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, complement yourself, shower yourself with words of encouragement and give yourself the love that you deserve.
Stop doing exercise that you hate
Make exercise a reward for your body, not a punishment. Focus on doing activities that you love that also make your body feel good.
Thank your body
Appreciate all that your body does for you. Without it, you couldn’t see that beautiful sunset, hike in the canyon or take your favorite yoga class. Your body enables you to enjoy so many of life’s pleasures. Thank it, be grateful for it, and take care of it.
What do you think about Jennie’s story? Can you relate? What changes have you made in your life to create a more loving environment for yourself?