If you or anyone you love is struggling with body anxiety, body dysmorphia, disordered eating or an eating disorder please consider reaching out for support at www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk or by visiting The Lily-Jo Project’s designated eating disorders page here.
In the last two weeks, the U.K. government has announced a new anti-obesity initiative following evidence in a recent study that found obesity to be linked with an increased risk of Covid-19. Although well-intentioned, this initiative has been highly criticised by eating disorder charities as insensitive to those struggling with eating disorders, as it reinforces unhelpful stereotypes about weight and weight-loss.
At the Lily Jo Project, we are firm believers in holistic health. We know that our minds and bodies are connected, and we understand that when we pursue health in one area of ourselves, we find benefits in other areas.
However, we also value and trust the insight of BEAT, the eating disorder charity currently petitioning the government for both a change in tone in the campaign and for more discretion when considering the impact on the public’s mental health. More information on their campaign, #publichealthnotpublicshaming, can be found here. We stand alongside the sufferers of eating disorders who are standing up and sharing their own experiences at this time.
To support us all in both mind and body, we want to share our own insights into how we can all maintain body positivity during times of stress. Many people are feeling anxious about how living in lockdown has changed their bodies, and how they are going to maintain their own personal routines and structures when places like gyms and fitness centres are not necessarily open in the way they once were. Below you’ll find some tips about how to manage these feelings and cope with body anxiety after lockdown:
6 Tips for Coping with Body Anxiety
Honour what you’ve been through.
Since lockdown has lifted, there has been a lot of pressure to ‘get back to normal,” as if the last five months never happened. But they did happen, and they were not easy for anyone. Your body at the moment represents what happens to your body when it has been put under immense pressure and suffered from a huge change in your routine.
Maybe your body has gained some weight and that has made you anxious about returning to your pre-lockdown body as quickly as possible. Or, it might be that you’ve spent a lot of lockdown exercising and now you feel anxious that the time you previously had in lockdown to dedicate to your physical health will be taken away from you.
It might be that your body hasn’t changed at all but actually, you wish it had and you are feeling the pressure from the #beachbodyready campaigns to adjust. Wherever your body is, however it got this way, the important thing is to recognise the significance of it. This is a body that has made it over halfway through the most trying year in recent world history. This is a body that has survived. Let’s honour that body and thank it for getting you this far through a pandemic.
Don’t moralise body types.
As a society, we are all too quick to jump to a “fat bad, thin good” mentality. Of course, medically we know that obesity is damaging to people’s health, but what we get wrong as a society is thinking that we can diagnose someone simply by looking at them.
A healthy body is not necessarily a thin body, and a strong body is not necessarily a muscled body. It’s important that we don’t perpetuate this idea of “good” bodies because not only is it going to hurt our own mental health and make us believe we have to maintain a certain standard of body in order to be accepted, but because it is also discriminatory.
Many disability charities speak out about the issue of ableism, which is that in normalising one type of body we implicitly discriminate against others. When we say that our idea of a healthy body is “good” (and we say that healthy bodies must look a certain way) we make other bodies bad. One easy step towards avoiding ableism in your own life is changing how you talk about your own body – try not to use the words “good” and “bad” to describe your body. Use those words to describe your actions and your thoughts, not the skin you live in!
Call out body shaming
A lot of body anxiety can come from the feeling of being body shamed. This is something that happens so subliminally in our society it’s hard to pin down. It can come from advertising, from friends and family, from strangers and even from inside ourselves.
A lot of the time, we simply accept it and allow ourselves to be shamed because we believe that we should be. Something that can help alleviate body anxiety is questioning those moments when they happen and identify where the shame is coming from.
Follow these questions:
- Is someone suggesting that your body is somehow lacking?
- Do you believe that, or do you feel pressured because of an ideal body type you have been told to live up to?
- Are they shaming you because they are trying to sell you something, or because they are feeling insecure about themselves?
Answering these questions really helps you see if the shame is something you actually feel of your own accord, or something you are being manipulated into feeling. Then the only question that remains is: Do you think it’s acceptable to shame someone for their body?
Change your language around exercise
Exercise is great but it’s not great because it changes your body. Exercise is great because we are physically capable beings in all sorts of ways. We are animals living on the planet with our varied unique capabilities to run and jump and dance and when we do these things we are accessing a part of our body’s potential.
When we say we are running to lose weight, we are accidentally enforcing a negative view of exercise, that it is something we do to get a certain result. Actually, exercise is something we get to do for its own unique pleasure. So let’s try and change our language around exercise. Instead of saying: “I should go for a cycle, I feel so fat” let’s try saying: “If I go for a cycle, I might feel better about myself” or even, “I get to go for a cycle later, that will help my mood.”
When we do this, we are severing the connection between exercise and weight. Then, our exercise becomes about what our bodies can do, not what they look like. We can celebrate the bodies that can swim the extra length, can run the extra mile, or stretch a little further.
If you can, encourage this further by making your exercise a time when you are also clearly gaining something else. For instance, play a sport that encourages socialising so you are connecting with people, not focused on losing weight. Or,do a solo activity that you dedicate to yourself as “me” time, so you are focused on self-care instead. Exercise is something our bodies get to do, not something they have to endure.
Recognise that there is no perfect body…
You might be thinking, “hold on, there is a perfect body. Jennifer Ennis has it.” In some ways, you’re correct. She does have the perfect body. She has the perfect body for being Jennifer Ennis, a professional athlete. We all exercise in our lives, but a few of us in the world exercise professionally and our bodies show it.
So at what point did we all decide that everyone’s standard of an ideal body should be the body of someone who exercises for a living? Professional athletes do, of course, struggle with body anxiety – but they are often more concerned with making sure their body is able to do what they need it to do for their work as an athlete, not about how it looks. So what do you need your body to be able to do for you to live your life well, as whoever you are?
The perfect body is a myth because it doesn’t account for what people need in their lives. If you need to work twelve-hour shifts as a nurse to be fulfilled and happy, then you are likely not going to have the body of Jennifer Ennis, who spends the same amount of time training her body. There is no perfect body because…
Because nobody’s perfect…
Our expectations of our bodies are often out of sync with the reality we are living. We look at someone else’s life and their body and think that we can shame ourselves, work ourselves into that body. It just isn’t true.
Reality is always shifting and our bodies change with them; pandemics come, illness too, business and holidays and lifestyle adjustments and families – it’s irrational for us to believe that we should have a perfect body that remains completely unchanged by our imperfect lives and all the trials and tribulations and excitements that they bring.
We can be so cruel about our bodies, in ways we would never be cruel to our friends and family. So maybe think about the thoughts you have about your own body and ask yourself if you would be angry if someone said those things about your best friend. Are you treating your body kindly? Are you treating it with respect and patience it deserves?
Because health doesn’t come from shame. Health comes from caring for ourselves with acceptance and learning to like ourselves, mind, soul and body.
About the Author: Emma Hinds
Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.