People often ask me about body image. It’s a valid topic related to nutrition because negative body image can influence food choices. With body image work being complex and unique to each individual, it’s hard to give you the exact personalized support that I can give my clients. But I can share my quick tips on how to cope with bad body image days. If you feel like you’re stuck on tough body image days, this post is for you!
Bad Body Image Spiral
I was recently inspired by a post from @ItsRyannNicole on Instagram. She wrote:
The goal is not to never have a bad body image day again. The goal is to not let a bad body day ruin your entire day again.
In other words, the goal is to stop from spiraling on a bad body image day. Do you currently feel like you are spiraling on bad body image days?
Maybe this graphic of a bad body image spiral resonates with you:
First, there’s the trigger. This could be seeing an old photo of yourself where you liked your appearance more, stepping on the scale and not being happy with the number, or scrolling through a fitspo account & comparing your body to the images you see. The trigger is whatever shifts you into a bad body image zone.
Then, that leads to negative self-talk. You start to tell yourself: Ugh, my arms look so fat. I wish I looked more like her. My stomach isn’t toned or flat enough. These statements are filled with a lot of judgment and criticism.
Eventually, the feelings of shame and inadequacy take over. You move in the direction of your most dominant thought. The negative self-talk leads to a range of negative emotions: guilt, shame, or inadequacy to name a few.
Next, comes compensation or isolation. Instead of taking steps to feel better or take care of yourself, you compensate through restriction (eating less or overexercising). Or maybe you cancel your plans so that you can self-isolate and district yourself with binge eating.
Finally, you hit your lowest point. Feelings of anxiety or hopelessness take over. Your worth feels shattered. You think: I am so worthless.
Bad body image days are by no means easy, but it IS possible to work towards combating the spiral.
How to Cope with Bad Body Image Days
Here are a few tips to help you pause, reflect, and cope with bad body image days to avoid moving down the spiral.
Manage your expectations.
Negative or bad body image days are something many of us face. The idea that you will always have a happy and positive body image is an unhelpful one. Given the weight and body focused society that we live in, it’s likely that you will still run into triggers.
The NEW goal becomes how you respond once you are triggered.
- Can your new expectation be to respond with self-compassion when you feel triggered?
- Could it be to be kinder and more accepting towards yourself on bad body image days?
- Or maybe it’s making the commitment to take care of your body, no matter how you feel about it.
These new expectations are realistic AND achievable.
Shift your self-talk from negative to neutral.
If the trigger is the spark, then negative self-talk is the fuel firing the downward spiral. Rather than accelerating the downward spiral with negative self-talk, can you slow it down with neutral language?
- Instead of “my arms look so fat” – my arms embrace my partner, comfort my kids, and push me up off the ground when I am down.
- Instead of “my stomach isn’t toned or flat enough.”— my stomach allows me to digest and absorb nutrients. The pouch on my stomach protects my vital organs.
Notice the difference? Use neutral language to focus on how your body supports you. Every. Single. Day.
Feel your feelings.
Do you try to shove down uncomfortable emotions? Try feeling and validating your emotions. We are human – not every day is going to be filled with exclusively “feed good” emotions. So get comfortable with the negative emotions, too. They are just as valid.
On a bad body image day, this could sound something like:
- I notice that I’m not feeling great about my body today. I feel frustrated, angry, and upset. Despite the discomfort, I know that all my feelings are valid and I am allowed to feel them.
Consider journaling what you feel and discuss it with a safe person. This could be a trusted loved-one, counselor, body-image informed dietitian, or therapist.
Start treating self-care as a non-negotiable, especially on tough body image days. Self-care gives you the opportunity to take care of yourself and tune into what you REALLY need. After naming what you feel, select an activity that brings comfort when you feel that way.
- Anxious? Listen to a meditation with guided breathing technique.
- Exhausted? Cozy up on the couch with hot tea and your latest book club book.
- Lonely? Facetime a loved one or schedule a coffee date with a friend for the upcoming weekend.
For additional self-care ideas see: 24 Self-Care Ideas
Understand your triggers.
Get curious around your triggers. Overtime, you’ll start learning what triggers tough body image days for you. If you know that seeing fitspo accounts in your IG feed triggers you, unfollow these accounts. If you know that stepping on the scale makes you feel worse about your body, remove it from your home (better yet – smash the scale!)
Here are some prompts to test out:
- What triggered me today?
- How can I make an effort to remove that trigger in the future?
- Even though I couldn’t avoid the first trigger, are there other steps I can take to avoid making this day worse?
Understanding your triggers can help you be more proactive in future scenarios.
Bad body image days are by no means easy, but it IS possible to work towards combating the spiral. Choose at least one coping skill to test out and observe how it shifts your mood, energy level, and actions.
For additional support, schedule a free discovery call, to learn how Everglow Nutrition Coaching Programs can support you in fostering a better relationship with food, body, and self.