Struggling with body image issues is both exhausting and demoralizing. Many people find themselves constantly fixated on their appearance–whether they are thin enough, toned enough, or whether their skin is unblemished or a part of their body is shaped in a certain way, to name just a few frequent concerns. Whatever your specific concerns are, they may loom over your life and make seemingly simple tasks like picking an outfit feel like fraught affairs. At times it may feel like your insecurities about your body are the only thing you can think about.
Struggles with body image are often accompanied by eating disorders, which can be just as painful and make it feel like you are in a constant battle within yourself. Every meal or snack may become a source of stress, guilt, or fear. Food, instead of being a source of nourishment, can become a source shame. You may find yourself so besieged by thoughts about what, when, and how much to eat that it drains the enjoyment out of life.
If any of the above sounds familiar, you are in the right place. Therapy can help you break out of the cycle of constant self-scrutiny and dissatisfaction, and help you reach a place of greater self-acceptance.
Everyone feels self-conscious from time-to-time, but for those with significant body image issues a fixation on appearance can start to cloud all aspects of life. Some of the signs that these concerns may have reached a point that it would be a good idea to seek the assistance of a therapist include:
Persistent focus on appearance: Obsessively thinking about body shape, weight, or appearance that takes up time, causes distress, and interferes with the ability to do daily activities.
Heightened social comparison: Difficulty being around others without engaging in continued self-comparison about appearances, often with accompanying feelings of inadequacy.
Perfectionist thinking: Believing that others will only accept us if we meet strict, high standards of attractiveness.
Negative self-talk: Engaging in frequent negative self-talk or self-criticism related to body image, such as calling oneself “ugly” or “fat”.
Body checking or hiding: Excessive body checking behaviors like frequent weighing or looking in the mirror, or conversely, behaviors aimed at hiding one’s body (like wearing oversized or baggy clothing regardless of weather or occasion).
Social withdrawal: Avoidance of social situations that feel exposing (e.g. going to the beach).
What are signals of disordered eating?
Similarly, we may all have moments where we feel conflicted about what to eat, but people with persistent eating disorders will often find that their lives start to revolve to an extent around at-tempts at controlling their eating. Unfortunately this often then has the effect of wearing down a person’s emotional reserves to the point where there become moments when eating feels out of control. Some signals that it might be time to seek help for eating behaviors include:
Binge Eating: This involves consuming unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time, often past the point of fullness. Individuals feel a lack of control during these episodes and a sense that they cannot stop binge eating. They may also feel anxious, guilty, or upset during and/or after them.
Compensatory Behaviors: Engaging in behaviors—especially after binge episodes— to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications.
Restrictive Dieting: Extreme restriction of food intake or certain food groups—not due to a medical necessity—with the aim to lose or control weight.
Emotional Eating: Eating in response to a range of negative emotions such as stress, sadness, anxiety, or even boredom. Food becomes a coping mechanism rather than a source of nourishment, and this may be a sign that there are deeper emotional challenges that need to be addressed.
Feel back in control of your life
Many people with body image issues and eating disorders get stuck in patterns where they are devoting a tremendous amount of mental energy into meeting the standards they perceive will make them acceptable, only to end up feeling depleted and subsequently at the mercy of impulsive behaviors that make them feel worse. This cycle frequently repeats in such a way that a person’s entire life can feel like it revolves around trying to and failing to feel acceptable.
Therapy can help break these feelings and patterns. I use proven approaches such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy to help you overcome your distress. Together we can help you slow down and observe what is happening in your emotional life. As you are able to slow down and recognize what is happening that causes pain, we can work together to help you develop new, more effective coping methods that are less likely to result in feeling caught in self-defeating patterns.
We can also create space to look at the distressing beliefs about what makes a person acceptable that may be fueling your negative self-judgments and attempts to perfect or control yourself. As these beliefs surface, you will have more power to challenge them and to develop different ways of seeing yourself and the world around you that are less self-critical and more self-accepting.
Ultimately, we will work together to help you feel free from constant self-evaluation and self-criticism so that you can spend your time and energy on endeavors that feel more nourishing and satisfying. Reach out and let’s talk about how you can get on the path to feeling more at peace with yourself.
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." - Henry David Thoreau
Difficulties with body image and disordered eating can both cause and result from a variety of other emotional issues. People struggling with negative body image often have difficulties with self-esteem, and may also suffer from symptoms of depression. Anxiety often is a significant contributor to eating disorders. Traumamay cause a person’s whole worldview to become more negative, including more negative self-perceptions around their body and eating habits.