Around this time of year, a great many of us are focused on adhering to our new year’s resolutions. An even greater number of us probably have at least one goal that involves our bodies in some way. Workout X times a week; only eat dessert Y times a week; lose Z pounds before Labor Day. Not all of these intentions are categorically wrong, of course: many individuals need to lose weight for health reasons, or have admirable fitness goals like running a marathon.
Even so, with so much attention directed towards the culmination of our efforts, we tend to overlook the possibility of failure, or at least encountering a few impediments along the way. What happens if you take an unplanned rest day? If you eat three cookies, is your weight loss plan forever altered? When these “failures” affect the way you perceive and live in your body, it’s important to reflect pragmatically and without judgment (a difficult feat for anyone struggling with body image). If you’re having one of those days, here are some things to read (and re-read, if necessary) before moving forward.
1. Scales are completely arbitrary.
I tossed out my scale years ago. Why? Because it’s reading fluctuated constantly, which invariably caused my mood to change in accordance throughout the day. Here’s the thing: our weight is different in the morning and at night. It’s different before, during, and after our periods. When you really think about it, basing anything on a scale reading is sort of ridiculous. I much prefer to base my weight on how my clothes feel. Without having to read some arbitrary number, I can determine whether my weight is stable based on how tight or loose my jeans feel.
2. Remember a time when you felt indifferent about your body.
It can be hard to recall a good body day when you’re feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, I know. Instead of thinking of a time when you were confident and happy with your body, close your eyes and remember a time when you simply felt indifferent towards it. For me, this period was in junior high school. It wasn’t that I felt particularly noteworthy (you can only feel so awesome in braces and a 90s stretchy black choker), but that I simply didn’t care–my memories during that time are associated with extracurricular activities and friends, not how well my jeans fit. If you can simply do this, your current feelings towards your body will slowly dissipate.
3. You’re not alone.
There exists a tremendous stigma towards negative self-image and eating disorders to such an extent that women are often afraid to admit to one another that they’re struggling. We all try to look our most beautiful and well-dressed when we’re out in the world, so it’s no wonder that we all feel rather disconnected and alone when we’re having a bad day, week, or month. But I’m here to tell you that body issues are as prevalent in our culture as air: we all have something that we’d like to change. And knowing that somehow makes our own pain a little easier to endure.
4. One day doesn’t change anything.
More than likely, your upset was brought on by a particular incident. You may have binged or restricted. You may have tried on a pair of jeans that were too tight, despite being your size. Maybe you skipped the gym every day this week. I’ve done it all, and I can confidently say that it doesn’t feel good when you wake up the next day. But the truth is that one day or one week are relatively insignificant in the big picture, and even though you may feel overweight or sick, nothing has changed physiologically. So take a deep breath, run a hot bath, and pamper yourself. Be gentle and remind yourself that you’re still the same person inside and out.
5. Overanalyzing does not help. Don’t do it.
For a long time, whenever I woke up with a disdain for my face or arms or stomach, I tried to pinpoint exactly what had caused the incident. I’d ask myself, “Did I binge because I had a fight with my mom yesterday? Is that why I’m scared to wear my new sweater? Maybe I need to eat a salad today to compensate.” Now, it can be helpful to identify the underlying cause of a particularly trying day, but in the thick of it, it’s best to overlook some of the bigger questions. They’ll still be there a few weeks from now. Focus on getting well, whatever that means for you, and moving forward.
What do you try to remember on bad body days? (And any tips for having a good body day?)
Also by Molly: How to Stop Over Analyzing and Feel Happier
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Photo: Leanne Surfleet via Flickr