The food we eat, the amount of activity we get and the health of our mind all have a significant role in how we feel, think and believe we are. Pressures to conform to a certain societal ideal can sometimes lead to body image issues that take away from our confidence. These are more prevalent than we acknowledge, with 97% of women saying they have at least one negative thought about their body every single day. How do you take your power back and learn to truly Love the Skin you’re In?
Eating fresh and healthy food while understanding the portion sizes reasonable for your body, age, metabolism and level of activity is a good place to start.
I have been battling to lose weight since I had children. It was impacting my health by causing back pain and borderline diabetes. I had joined an exercise group 3 years earlier which helped a lot with my health, strength, stress levels and mood but it wasn’t enough to help with my weight.
I spent some time thinking about how I was going to tackle this issue. Many friends had done starvation diets and lost large amounts of weight in a small space of time but this didn’t sit well with me in many ways.
First off, I have to practice what I preach. Second, it had to fit into my lifestyle and be sustainable. Overthinking what and how much you eat, associating feelings of immense guilt with eating, battling to eat all food groups, having a list of forbidden foods and losing touch with your basic bodily functions such as responding to hunger, can all be signs indicative of a bad relationship with food. Unfortunately, these are the patterns that a lot of ‘quick-fix’ diets create and I had to stay clear of them. Thirdly, the focus needed to be on health, wellness and moderation.
I decided to see a dietician. I dreaded going but once I was there I felt so reassured. She helped me with getting to plan meals and eat more regularly so that I didn’t binge eat when I was starving. She also helped me set up realistic expectations of my middle-aged body and helped me to stop being so hard on myself. I started to see food as something that helps you grow, allows your brain to function, makes you strong and is something that you can enjoy.
With the weather getting warmer and the clothing getting shorter, one often starts to feel more self-conscious. This is not helped by the media that shows endless pictures of bronzed bodies in bikinis in August! With the emergence and massive growth of social media this comparison has exploded creating even more unattainable expectations of people of all ages, which is extremely destructive.
When I was growing up, the only external pressure I faced was from my friends, family, limited TV programs and magazines. I compared myself to others back then and I remember feeling ‘fat’ on the beach in my bikini. When I look back at those pictures, I quietly wish I still looked like that, but mostly, I wish I had loved myself more and been kinder to myself.
In my childhood and early adulthood, I was incredibly competitive. After I had kids, exercise fell away and I struggled to get into a regular routine. My body had changed, I was older and not as fit. I also battle with depression and anxiety. When my father suddenly died in 2016, I really struggled to deal with the loss. I was already on medication but felt that I had to do something as I was going down a dark hole. Eventually with the encouragement of a friend, I committed to a regular exercise group called Inside Out Fitness at Kirstenbosch Gardens and this honestly saved my life. I had been avoiding doing exercise because I was embarrassed to be the most unfit person. I reframed my competitiveness, I now compete against myself.
For a healthy mindset towards exercise, see it as something relaxing, enjoyable and meant to connect us with self, family, friends and nature. Sweating out the stress and getting a natural high from endorphins can improve your health and instead of viewing it as a chore, we can see it as something that can save us.
My sister loves running and meditation but hates group activities. My husband loves to surf. I love the outdoors and the feeling of being in a team so prefer to hike or run and avoid the clinical feel of a gym. You need to choose what fills your own cup. I always encourage patients to try out a few things until they find their fix. There is something out there for everyone.
The way you feel about yourself is all in your mind. If you focus too much on the more negative parts of yourself, you only ‘see’ the negative and none of the positive. The brain is like a muscle. When thoughts occur, the area in which the thoughts occur in your brain grows. For example, with repetitive negative thoughts, the part of your brain focusing on the negative grows. You literally have to retrain your brain to challenge the negative thoughts and provide a more logical or positive answer in order for the positive area to grow.
The way you feel in your skin has nothing to do with your skin and all to do with what’s in your mind. We always think that we would be happier if we were thinner, darker, lighter, taller, shorter, bigger boobs, smaller nose. The list is endless but these are all superficial things. They don’t make you happy. They will never be enough. The work needs to happen in your mind to accept the body you were given, to focus on the things that you love and not stress so much about the things that you cannot change.
If you think you might be having trouble with any of these, there are solutions. When you aren’t feeling great about yourself, my advice is to limit your use of or withdraw from social media. Focus on yourself, your body, your mind. There is no need to compare yourself to others. It’s only going to make you feel worse, not better.
Understand that eating disorders and other related conditions are actually about emotions and control. They have very little to do with food but rather the feeling of control and comfort that food brings.
It may start during times when your world feels ‘out of control’ and restricting food creates some sense of control over the situation. There is often an underlying low mood, high anxiety and low self worth which presents as low self-esteem and self-loathing, especially with relation to your body. More subtle signs include being preoccupied with food, calories and exercise. Wearing baggy clothes, being overly concerned with weight and the way you look.
These issues can be extremely entrenched and complicated and thus require a multidisciplinary team approach.
A psychiatrist oversees the treatment and will start with a physical examination to exclude any physical effects of the eating disorder. The psychiatrist is responsible for deciding on appropriate treatment and whether it should be inpatient or outpatient treatment. They will refer you to a dietitian and psychologist who have experience with eating disorders. The team works closely together and will meet with you together from time to time. It is vital that everyone is on the same page so that the eating disorder does not take over and control the process.
Feeling good in your skin is a mindset change. Don’t overlook your good qualities and don’t over think the things that you cannot change.
You can make an appointment here.