Hannah Cartwright (seen here), London’s leading Nutritionist, talks about diet culture & body image.
Diet culture is a culture that sets a focus on an idealised size which results in many of us trying to fix ourselves, whether that is through meal plans, calorie counting, cosmetic surgery (the list goes on) to do so. There have been so many changes in culture over the decades: skinny bodies, lean bodies, curvy bodies and strong bodies. Diet culture makes money from society and feeds off individuals insecurities and dissatisfaction with their body image.
When we diet, there is insufficient energy to fuel the body’s needs, which will result in weight loss. The body notices this weight loss and it is therefore mediated by a hormone called leptin. Over time, our appetite increase and a hormone known as grehlin signals to our brain to eat, our taste buds change and we desire more carbs. At first, our will power is so high that we ignore these signals and turn the hunger and satiety signals off completely. Our metabolism slows down. Eventually, after a period of starvation, we then give in because of our biological needs which can result in guilt, shame, excessive exercise etc. You have not failed. This is the diet cycle. It is not your legs, your tummy, your arms that you need to change, it is diet culture and the thoughts you have towards yourself that does.
Unfortunately, distorted body image and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is one of the many psychological impacts of food restriction and a consequence of dieting.
By meeting your nutritional needs your body image will actually start to improve. Invest in your health and happiness by seeking professional help from a nutritionist who can help you incorporate the correct amount of nutrients and energy for your age, gender, lifestyle and many more factors that are involved. They can also support you on this journey to body acceptance.
With this said, it can be really, really challenging to make peace with looking or feeling different to our former self. It is okay to have negative body image thoughts from time to time, but the best thing you can do is not to let them take over, or steal from your present happiness, and prevent you from giving your body the respect it deserves.
Is it possible to befriend our past selves and present selves? Yes it absolutely is and here are some ways to help you form this new relationship:
Delete all of the photos on your camera roll that you ponder over and wish you still looked like. It is worth reflecting on why you are so keen to view old pictures and see other bodies. Ask yourself why? How does it serve you? Is it helping you? Or is it simply inviting comparison and leaving you feeling inadequate and that your body isn’t good enough?
Tolerate your emotions and feelings- sit with these feelings of discomfort instead of acting on them. These thoughts often aren’t static, notice how they move and shift. It can be useful to write a dialogue with the negative self and counter back with your healthy self. For example, “you look well” does not mean “you look fat”.
Body checking refers to an obsessive thought and behaviour about appearance, and this may present as frequent weighing, looking in the mirror, pinching or wrapping hand around stomach, waist, thighs or arms. It may also include approval and assurance from others so frequently asking questions like “do I look fat?”. By reducing this kind of behaviour, it can also decrease the shape and weight concerns that you may have, and facilitate better body image satisfaction. Keep track of how often you are engaging in body checking and once you have a better idea, challenge yourself each time you notice yourself doing it. Some questions you could ask yourself are:
What am I looking for?
Why am I doing this?
Has anything changed since the last time that I body checked?
Follow accounts on social media that feature diverse bodies. Instagram has a clever algorithm that shows more of the aspects that you view the most. If you comparing yourself to one type of body and scrolling through unrealistic ‘fitspo’ photos or models who have been photoshopped and had ‘touch-ups’, then they are going to pop up more and more. Ultimately, you will start to believe that these are the norm. Think about how many different types of bodies you see day-to-day, and then think about how many of these you actually view online. This can result in lower body satisfaction and cause a lot of comparisons, and the feeling of needing to try and change our own bodies in some sort of way.
Buy clothes that fit your new body and make you feel comfortable. Have a good sort out and get rid of any clothes that aren’t serving you.