Mental Health Tips for Coping with Body Image Issues

Dominica Fox-DeMarco

February 25, 2021

Behavioral health coach at Ginger. NBC-HWC. Masters level health & wellness coach and yoga teacher. Passionate about self-compassion, mindfulness & self-love.

Mental Health Tips for Coping with Body Image Issues

Warning: Some of the information in this article may be triggering those with current or previous struggles with body image, food, or an eating disorder.

When I was 10, I began having thoughts that my body wasn’t “good enough.” As a dancer for most of my childhood, I can recall comparing my body to others. It didn’t help that my school documented BMI and weight and informed us of those numbers in what we referred to as the dreaded “fat letters.” At a young age, like so many girls, I was not immune to the societal pressure that glorifies weight loss and has turned diet culture into a billion dollar industry. As a result, I began years of yo-yo dieting, disordered eating, excessive exercising. The idea that once I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happy, consumed my developing mind.

I’d like to believe I’ve come a long way since those days and no longer live in that restrictive mindset. I am forever grateful for therapy, yoga, and the help of anti-diet and body kindness practitioners (i.e., specialists who help heal individuals’ relationships with food, movement, and their bodies). But, it’s not easy being in eating disorder recovery, especially with countless messages insisting we’ll achieve happiness when we shrink our bodies. From the painful personal experiences of living trapped in a disordered mindset, the reward of breaking free from diet culture is liberating. With access to the right support and information, there is hope for those who have been struggling for far too long.

As a seasoned mental health coach with this lived experience, I value the idea that we are more than our bodies and that they are meant to fluctuate and evolve over time. The energy we spend despising and wanting to change our bodies can be a taxing experience. My goal and motivation is to show others a different perspective and to help others love and accept their appearance — flaws and all. As the psychotherapist and meditation teacher Andrea Wacther thoughtfully advises, “Shift from viewing your body size as the most important focus in life to seeing that there are many other important aspects of life.” The following tips are meant to help you do just that:

Rewrite your body narrative. Your body narrative is the story you’ve told yourself about your body from a young age. Taking time to reflect on the origin of your body narrative can help you begin to unravel beliefs that might not be serving you anymore. Ask yourself, “At what age did I start having concerns about my body?” “How did the stories I used to tell myself impact my life at the time?” Recognizing how these patterns formed in your mind is an important step. Once you’re clear, you can start to undo patterns that you’ve held onto from a young age. For more on body narrative, check out. “Making Peace With The Body You Live In” by Andrea Wachter.

Practice intuitive eating. Intuitive eating emphasizes viewing food from a neutral place. Rather than thinking of a food as either healthy or unhealthy, which can make you feel guilty and lead to a strained relationship with food, intuitive eating integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought into food choices. Reminding yourself you’re allowed to feel pleasure through eating can help you adopt a more neutral and kind outlook on food choices. Christy Harrison is an excellent resource if you’d like to find out more about intuitive eating.

Question what you hear about diets and exercise. Diet culture promotes the exhausting and consuming worries about what we “should” or “should not” eat. It increases food guilt and body shame, and it manufactures obsessive thinking patterns about food and exercise. It is valid to question these entrenched eating beliefs and give yourself the compassion you deserve.

Use compassionate self-talk. Think about what you would say to a close friend or child when you have unhelpful thoughts about your body or food. Consider both the internal and external language you use when thinking and talking about your body, other people’s bodies, and food.

Ditch the scale. You’re not defined by the number on a scale. If stepping onto a scale causes you to feel overwhelmed or anxious, ask yourself if knowing your weight will benefit you in any way, and then find the courage to walk away. Keep in mind you have the option to decline being weighed during doctor and medical appointments.

Engage in joyful movement. Approach movement and exercise from a place of love, nourishment, fun, pleasure, and joy, rather than as a way to burn off calories or punish yourself. Use exercise and movement as a way to respect and nourish your body.

Set healthy boundaries. If you’re in a discussion with someone who is complaining or criticizing their body or food, you can choose not to participate. If you feel comfortable, let them know that discussing weight loss and diets brings up emotional discomfort. Gently communicating that you’d prefer not to talk about these subjects because of your own personal struggles can be rewarding.

Seek out support. Identify the underlying feelings of your body image or food issues by talking with a therapist, a coach, or a non-diet dietitian, i.e., a practitioner who emphasizes healing your relationship with food rather than dieting.

Follow body-neutral accounts on social media. Here’s a list of body image accounts on Instagram that offer amazing content in this area. Do a search for hashtags like #haes (health at every size) or #antidiet to find meaningful content in this area.

As a person in eating disorder recovery, I acknowledge the struggles that can happen on a daily basis. We all deserve to live in greater harmony with ourselves. I hope that these body kindness tips can help you develop a more peaceful and accepting view of both food and your body.