When you hold a negative picture or are dissatisfied with your body, it can be a significant predictor of compulsive overeating, binge eating, emotional distress, depression and problems in your relationships. Having positive feelings about your body if you are in a bigger body may be difficult in a culture filled with images of the thin “ideal,” but it’s not impossible.
In this podcast, you will learn:
1. How childhood adversity or trauma affects body image.
2. Why you may have trouble knowing what you are feeling.
3. How eating can be part of your survivor self’s playbook.
4. How to tap into your body’s wisdom.
Links mentioned in podcast:
Schedule a free consult to discuss your food and body image issues: https://findingyouranchor.as.me/CONSULT
To learn more about The Anchor Program a 12-week non-diet program offering ONLINE group and individual sessions for the treatment of binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction and compulsive overeating. Want to learn more about the Anchor Program? https://AnchorProgram.com
Hi everyone. Dr. Carolyn here with episode number 83, I don’t feel good about how my body looks. So we’re going to be talking about body image issues, but I think it’s going to be a little bit of a different spin on it than maybe what you’ve heard before and really excited to share this information with you that could transform your relationship with your body.
So I hear a lot of people who I work within the anchor program, talk about how they feel about their bodies and how they have dissatisfaction about size or shape or a particular body part that just continues to nag at them. It’s kind of like an ear worm in their ear that, oh my stomach’s too fat, my thighs are too big, my legs are too big or whatever it is. And that body image kind of ear worm just is a, uh, always in the background. So when you’re walking down the street, if you pass in front of a glass and you see your reflection, those thoughts may come up. Obviously if you’re shopping for clothes, they may come up. If you’re going on an airplane, they may come up. If you’re going to a dinner party, they may come up. So that constant dissatisfaction sometimes even hatred of your body is, is what we mean when we talk about body image issues. But how do you really define what body image is? Well, body images is actually the picture that you hold in your mind of your body. So just imagine that you have a picture in your mind about your body. Now, maybe the picture in your mind is a really unrealistic one from when you were 18 years old and you were a size five. I’m not sure what picture you have, but think about it for a moment and ask yourself, what is the picture you have in your mind of your body and that’s your body image. Now, when you have a negative picture or you are constantly having negative thoughts about your body, it can be a significant predictor actually of just the opposite of what you want. So it can actually predict compulsive overeating, binge eating, emotional distress, depression problems in relationships, and much more. So as it turns out, I think many people think that they can just hate themselves then as one of my former clients in the anchor program. So actually said, you may think you can beat yourself up and whip yourself into shape, and that will keep you from, you know, binge eating or, or, um, You know, emotional eating, et cetera, but it’s really just the opposite, the harder and more negative you are about your body the more likely you are to have these unwanted behaviors that you say you want to change. On the other hand, if you have positive feelings about your body that makes you much more likely to want to take care of your body and, and the studies show. And there are research studies behind this. The studies show that being more positive towards your body leads to, um, more healthy behaviors.
So, obviously it’s difficult to have a positive attitude towards your body given the amount of weight stigma that we have in our culture. You know, all of the advertising is filled with these images of the thin ideal. There’s even a morality attached to being thin. Like you’re more, you’re closer to God or you’re more, you know, moral, if you are, are not overeating or binge eating or living in a larger body. But despite all of that, it is possible to make peace with your body. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
So what I’m my declaration for you for this podcast is it’s time to claim and own your body now. Okay. You may have these immediate thoughts come up about I’d rather claim somebody else’s body, or I don’t want to claim my body unless it’s looks different or you know is a different size or shape. But honestly your body is yours to do with what you want. And by the way, your size is nobody’s business. So you can do, do with what you want with your body. And you may recall that many times in the past, on other podcasts, I’ve talked about the relationship between unwanted eating behaviors and childhood maltreatment, including abuse or neglect or other childhood experiences that have been studied in the adverse childhood experiences study such as having a parent with mental illness or a parent with a drug or alcohol problem. All of these childhood experiences that are relate to child maltreatment have an effect on your body, a direct effect on your body. So what you may not realize is that trauma or child maltreatment is stored in your body and it affects the body and the brain. I mean, obviously the brain is part of the body, but I want to make it clear that it does have an impact on the brain as well. And when trauma is not healed, it’s like an invisible wound that changes your body and your brain. So that invisible wound has a direct effect on the actual cells in your body and on the neural pathways in your brain. So we know from the trauma studies, like the adverse childhood experiences study, that trauma increases your risk for addictions, depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and over 40 other mental and medical health conditions.
So most of the patients that I see in the anchor program who have food and body image issues, all have a history of some kind of abuse or neglect or some maltreatment in there usually when they’re children. So you may may be wondering, well, what do you mean by neglect? Okay. Most of the people, when they hear me talk about trauma, they think about, you know, sexual abuse or physical abuse, or even emotional abuse, but what is neglect camp to do with it? Well, actually binge eating disorder, uh, individuals with binge eating disorder have a higher history of neglect in their childhood than for people who have other eating disorders and by neglect, it could be physical. It could be emotional as well. So physical neglect, you know, say you have a parent who has a drug or alcohol problem or a mental illness, and they’re just not present for you. So when you come home from school and you’re hungry or you get up in the morning and you’re hungry, there may not be food there for you to eat. For various reasons. Right? And so that kind of neglect actually does change the way your brain is hardwired and it also has a direct effect on the cells in your body. So these, you know, these kinds of traumas, you know, can, can lead to uncomfortable or even terrifying emotions that can also lead to nightmares or flashbacks. And we have learned usually since the trauma or since childhood to self-soothe with food and or other substances. So the easiest thing for a child to use to self-soothe is food. They don’t have access to a lot of other substances generally. And they also don’t have a lot of skills for dealing with, particularly with overwhelming kinds of stress or toxic stress that’s associated with the abuse or neglect, et cetera.
Okay. So we use food to cope. I’ve talked about how we use food to know, these terrifying emotions, to make us not think about the nightmares and flashbacks and that’s how food has been used by many, many people. So many people who I work with with food addiction, binge eating or emotional eating may not really realize this link between their childhood maltreat treatment or neglect and their current problems. But whether your mind remembers your body stores, the trauma, your body stores continues to play out the need to manage emotions, to deal with stress using food, because that’s the thing, you know, to do. So actually, using food to help you in these ways to help you cope with stress, to numb, these terrifying emotions makes your eating behavior part of your survivor playbook. So you, if you have had childhood maltreatment, you’ve survived and how did you survive? Well, you survived using food. Food helped you to survive because it helped to tamp down those overwhelming feelings. It helped you to distract yourself from some of the things that were happening, maybe in your life. So again, this trauma does have an impact on the brain and the body.
Let’s talk first about just some of the effects of trauma on the brain. And I maybe have mentioned some of these before, but number one is. Trouble regulating your emotions. So if you experienced trauma as a child, as an adult, you may still be finding yourself, overwhelmed with emotions and sometimes you may not even be aware of what you’re feeling. You just may feel uncomfortable or unsafe or agitated, and you don’t know how to regulate yourself. You don’t know how to self-soothe without using food. Another effect of trauma on the brain is problems with memory, focus, concentration, and motivation. Many people who have been traumatized have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And that’s because of the changes in the brain. And then the third way is an increased sensitivity to stress. So maybe something that your coworker doesn’t feel is very stressful. Feels extremely stressful to you, and you may have difficulty even figuring out how to manage your stress because it feels so overwhelming. So recently, for example, I talked to a client who saw their medical professional for some vague symptoms that they, the medical doctor was still not sure what caused it. And that led to them just almost spiraling out of control, feeling stressed and worried when this probably is going to turn out to be nothing too serious, hopefully. And even if it does turn, I mean, this person is young, so the likelihood of something serious, being there is lower and also the kind of symptoms that he was just that he or she was describing are, were mild. And so, again, the stress that maybe someone else could have handled, even though it would have been stressful for the other person, this person found it very difficult to manage that stress. And that usually comes from some kind of childhood abuse or neglect or childhood maltreatment. So. What more do I need to tell, tell you about this?
So if you’ve experienced any kind of trauma and it has had an effect on your brain, you, you may find that even at the smallest sign of any kind of danger, whether it’s real or perceived. That can trigger you to go right into a fight or flight response. And you know, what that fight or flight response is, you know, your heart rate goes up, your breathing accelerates, you can have stomach upset associated with it and your body is preparing to fight enemy, whether real or perceived or to run from that enemy or that situation. So that fight or flight response causes emotions and body sensations that can feel unpleasant and overwhelming and can actually throw you back into a trauma response. So, this is where your survivor-self then used food to tamp down all of those feelings and enable you to deal with the stress that you’re under. So the reason I’m, you know, kind of reiterating this over and over is for you to start thinking about that your body may be the way it is. Because not because something is wrong with you or something is wrong with your body, but because something happened to you and, and because it happened to you, it happened to your body, but the good news is your body has all the wisdom you need to run your life. When we talk about body image, that picture in your mind that you have of your body. And, and how that is affected by childhood adversities that lead can lead to you, feeling disconnected from your body. See, seeing your body as separate from you and not to be trusted, not safe. Maybe even seeing it as an adversary, an enemy that you have to, like I said earlier, whipped into shape. So why, while this may have helped you survive your childhood issues. As an adult being disconnected from your body can lead to difficulty with identifying how you’re feeling. And I have so many clients tell me, you know, when I say, well, what are you feeling? Why are you crying? And then say, I don’t know what I’m feeling. I never know what I’m feeling. I don’t know how to identify what I’m feeling. And that all comes from being disconnected from your body. Because again, your body is the source of wisdom that helps you understand what you’re feeling. Your body sensations when you’re angry, we’ll give you a clue to I’m angry because you’re clenching your jaw or your shoulders are tight. So that’s where body wisdom is important for being successful in running your life. So even though the survivor disconnection from the body helped you as a child, it can cause problems later on. It may not have numbed those unpleasant emotions, but now it also may be numbing your ability to feel joy or your ability to fall in love because your feelings are numb or you can’t identify your feelings. And so whenever you feel anything you want to just numb it with food. So, if you’re disconnected from your body, you can’t use that intuition and that wisdom that your body has, and your body speaks to you and gives you clues about what’s the best course of action to take in, in most situations in your life. But you have to be connected to be able to understand that. Just think about, you know, all the movies you’ve seen, where the woman walks down the dark alley and the music goes Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon, Doon do too. And we want to scream at her “Don’t go down the dark alley” if she hasn’t, if she isn’t disconnected from her body, probably the hair on the back of her neck would be standing up as she enters that dark alley, which would be the clue don’t go there. But if she’s disconnected, then she may not trust her body sensations, or she may be numb to them. And that could lead to, for example, getting repeated, repeating the same mistakes over and over, for example, having more, multiple abusive relationships because you’re just not picking up on the clues. From your body that your body will give you that the person you’re dating will end up being yet another abusive boyfriend or husband. And when we talk about food, our bodies really tell us what they need to eat. If you’re connected, they also tell us when we’re hungry and when we’re full. But if you’re disconnected from your body, you won’t be able to tap into that wisdom. And therefore, you can con you will continue to overeat because you’re not hearing that your body is saying, hold on, you know, I’m full. I don’t need any more or, you know what? I would like a cookie, but I don’t need a whole bag. So that’s the way in which your body wisdom can help you in your life.
So healing body image issues actually has to begin with the body because. The body hosts the trauma, and it begins by befriending your body, listening to your body and respecting your body’s needs. Now that doesn’t come all at once. I’m not saying you just wake up in the morning and suddenly I’m in love with my body and I respect my body and you know, I’m not going to put anything in my body that’s going to hurt it. No, it that’s not how it works people. Just FYI. So part of what it takes to recover is to learn to own all of your experiences, including the “bad ones”, the traumatic ones to do this you have to first learn new skills to deal with your emotions so that you no longer have to keep defaulting to food as your only way to cope with stress or unpleasant feelings. A healing also means stopping being ashamed of your food and body image issues or having to keep them in secret because they are after all part of what helped you survive. So in that way, you can be proud of how your body has helped you to get through so many different things in your life. And finally learning ways to stay present in the moment and calm in the face of triggers from your past and also from present day, challenges will help you to heal your body image issues. So again, healing begins in the body and it can start by no longer referring to your body in negative terms, you know, stop looking in the mirror and saying, I hate my stomach. Just don’t say anything, you know, start by not saying anything. And then gradually, maybe something positive can work its way into your mind and heart about your body.
Treat your body as if it were your friend. You don’t have to love your body and to be friended, you do not have to love your body to be friended, but imagine how you would feel. If you practice doing things for your body that you do for a friend, just saying a nice word, you look nice today. How can I help you? How are you feeling? Ask yourself those questions. Just like you’d ask a friend and then finally offer some compassion and respect to your body after all your body has helped you survive. And it’s continued to work on your behalf no matter what you’ve thrown at it. I don’t have to tell you that your body has survived all the things you’ve survived. Not saying you have to throw your body up, um, Macy’s day parade, but maybe a small thank you now and again, would be appreciated by your body and in the long run, learning to befriend your body will help you accomplish the goals of ending your food and body image issues more than trying to hate yourself then I hope that’s been helpful. I just want to remind you if you’re ready to begin the journey to make peace with food and your body. Seeing the show notes on how to schedule a free consult to discuss your own individual food and body image issues.
Well, I hope that’s been helpful to you and that you can start to make friends with your body as a way of healing from the trauma that you’ve experienced and that recognition of trauma being stored in your body, I think is so important. And it’s, it’s something that, you know, that we don’t talk about very much and most people don’t know about, but it, it actually has been proven in research that trauma changes ourselves. So we know on the, on a biochemical level, trauma has a dramatic effect on our brain and our bodies. So starting to befriend your body can be the entry point for your healing and enable you to stop using food as a way of numbing your feelings and coping with stress. So join me next time for, um, talk about how to deal with this pandemic fatigue, which I think is really adrenal fatigue. And I want to talk to you about five things you can do to help boost your energy and get you off the couch, help you pick up your focus and concentration. I think we’re all struggling with that right now. So I hope you’ll join me to talk about adrenal fatigue or pandemic fatigue or quarantine, fatigue, whatever you want to call it.
We’re going to be talking about it next time. Thank you.