Why is body dissatisfaction at an all-time high in this country? Why in this era of acute weight-consciousness are people in fact gaining more weight while spending enormous amounts of money trying to lose weight? Why as people try harder to do the thing they say they want to do, do they in fact sabotage their efforts?
The problem is complex and multifaceted in origin. But the solution is paradoxical: it requires a paradigm shift. “Trying to control” is at best a slippery slope when we are dealing with issues that have biological, psychological, sociological and spiritual components. We keep trying to apply the tenets of behavior modification to aspects of our lives that encompass alienation from ourselves, disconnection from our bodies and disassociation from reality. Our cultural values do not take into account genetic truths or biological laws, much less psychosocial dynamics or existential dilemmas. And neurobiologists are discovering that our midbrains – our emotional center – have a more powerful role in directing our behavior than has ever been suspected.
We attribute magical powers to a slice of sourdough bread or a rich chocolate brownie: a few “forbidden bites” confer comfort, solace, relief from whatever emotional conundrum we face, or even euphoria; those same bites also induce conflict, guilt, self-castigation, and a resolution to restrain ourselves forevermore. What do we truly seek, and why do we think we will find it in a piece of pastry? And why do we repeat this ritual that inevitably recreates a roller-coaster of emotional and physical repercussions?
Our self-alienation has become so profound that few of us consider how we feel or what we truly need, or if we stop to ask and answer that question, we seldom take it a step further to reflect on how to manage that need. Our body alienation is equally intact. We think less about our relationship with our body, how best to care for our physical self and how to respect and nurture our body, than we think about caring for our family, pets or even our cars. Yet our relationship with our body has major impact on the quality of our life, our relationships with others, our satisfaction, self-esteem and mood.
Plus we fight our genetics and discard healthy life style habits in favor of health-eroding schemes in an attempt to defy our heritage and emulate a body type possessed by at most 1% of the population, and no one over the age of 30. We have bought the message promulgated by the media that if we change our bodies, we will change ourselves, that success can be measured in pounds lost and that dieting is the royal road to happiness. Food is both the enemy and the solution to whatever ails us emotionally – we want both to soothe our souls with the substance whose original role was to provide us with energy and nourishment, yet to end up with fashion-perfect physiques.
And food itself has lost much of its former value as nourishment because so much of what we eat now has been sprayed with pesticides, amended with hormones, flavored artificially, colored, pulverized and processed. In our idolization of technology and obsession with speed, we rarely take the time to purchase, prepare and thoughtfully taste and chew wholesome meals. Fast food is easy, accessible, and quick to get and to gobble. We prioritize neither healthful food nor healthy eating habits.
With unrealistic body image expectations, distorted body attitudes, and skewed use of food, it is not surprising that we are unhappy with our bodies, and our lives. But the answer is not to keep trying to do more of what is already not working: emulating the impossible; alternately dieting and overeating; and finding new food substitutes with fewer calories, less taste and no nutrition. A shift needs to happen in our approach, perspective and expectations. We need to seek recovery not from living in a body we perceive as fat, misshapen or imperfect, but from being unhappy with what we cannot change. We need to learn what we can change. We need to build a relationship with our body that is founded not on false expectations of how we should look but that fosters self-care and body respect. We need to seek help to modify our views and to manage the emotional issues that keep us trapped in the myths of body change and food misuse as the means to forge a better self. And we need to discover what is truly valuable in ourselves and what has real meaning for us beyond the size and shape of our bodies.
These may seem like daunting tasks, but a therapist can help you, step by step, unravel the attitudes and beliefs that prevent you from developing a peaceful relationship with yourself and with your body. The media offers us unrealistic expectations and skewed perspectives; psychotherapy provides an opportunity and a safe place to explore and clarify our own truths and to separate fact from fiction. Instead of continuing to focus on what is wrong with yourself and your body, and how you don’t fit a fictitious ideal, you can learn to honor and respect yourself, your unique qualities, and the body that allows you to move and work and play. You can develop a new relationship with food, with your body and with yourself where serenity, not self-judgment, is central to your daily life.
For help with issues involving weight and body image, please contact Avis Rumney at (415) 602-1403 or AvisRumney@me.com.