I recently attended a conference where psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke gave a fantastic lecture about body image and decoding the language of I feel fat. Her philosophy is that a situation occurs–it could be you just tried on a pair of jeans that were tight or something completely unrelated, like you got angry with your sister–which then triggers you to become negatively focused on your body image in some way. Suddenly you are aware of this body part or that body part, and end up “feeling” fat.
This feeling distracts you from an emotion, thought, or belief you had (have) about yourself regarding the situation that occurred just before you had the negative body image thought. It may sound confusing, but think about it the next time you start body checking or focusing on negative body image thoughts. What prompts you to start focusing on your body image? Many of you might say that it just “happens” and is automatic.
While that might be true because body checking and the hyper focus on body image becomes habitual, I challenge you to start being mindful of specific situations that trigger body image thoughts. Just what are you distracting yourself from? It is often much easier to focus on body image than to face the deeper implications of your emotional/mental/cognitive state.
For instance, if you pass another woman on the street, make a comparison (and subsequent judgment on yourself), and suddenly “feel” fat, then maybe you are distracting yourself from your belief that you just don’t feel good enough. This might lead to the fact that you’re single, which then could lead to the feeling that you will never be in a relationship because you don’t feel good enough or pretty enough, which could then trigger your ultimate fear of being alone and abandoned. After that takes place in a millisecond (perhaps on a less conscious or subconscious level), you suddenly look down at your thighs and believe they are so much larger than they were 30 seconds ago. Pardon my long example, but this is how it can happen.
Maybe it is completely unrelated to body image, like, you are worried about getting into graduate school or are procrastinating about studying for a test. It is much easier to focus on body image, as well as engage in ED behaviors than to face potential failure or to have to buckle down and face the dread of doing something you don’t want to do.
I think it is common to think of ED symptom use as what you actually do with food. But, body checking and focusing on body image is also an eating disorder symptom. Whether it is the food or the body image, all of it serves as a distraction to a larger issue. So, as you go through your day today and catch yourself body checking or focusing negatively on some part of yourself, ask yourself the question, “How is my body image distracting me from being present?”