My job is to help people heal from the damage done by diet culture. Breaking free from diet culture is not quick or easy, and this is partly because it is foisted upon us daily from every direction; magazines, films, TV, mainstream medicine, social media, “health & wellness culture,” etc. And, if anyone needed proof of just how pervasive diet culture is, the ramped-up focus on food and our bodies during recent times is all the proof you need. I have been dismayed (but not surprised) at the conversations around peoples’ eating behaviours and weight gain whilst we are being asked to stay at home to support our NHS and save peoples’ lives.
Whether you are someone who has struggled with disordered eating and poor body image or not, if you’re finding that your inner food police and body critic have resurfaced or are louder than usual right now, I want you to know two things;
Firstly, it’s very normal for these disordered thoughts and feelings to be coming up in times of heightened anxiety. Diet culture teaches us that if we can just shrink our bodies enough, or if we can really “perfect” our diet, everything else will be OK, from everyday life stressors to global pandemics. We are in unprecedented times, so think of these voices as an unhelpful coping mechanism coming in to try to “save the day”. Disclaimer; acting on these voices may give you temporary feelings of relief, achievement and even control, but these feelings are fleeting and may even end up negatively impacting your health.
Secondly, just because the food police and body critic voices are loud, doesn’t mean they are right. It’s pretty hard not to hear diet culture messages right now. Everyone from celebrities to friends and family are posting about their daily lockdown workouts, “healthy” lockdown diet plans and some may even be sharing fatphobic jokes about weight gain in lockdown. With this in mind, it’s important that we take care of ourselves as best we can whilst we are getting through this time. Here are some simple food and body-image related self-care tips that you may find helpful.
Be mindful of your inner food police and body critic
When they do pop up, give two or three self-compassionate counter messages back. This is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy and if practised regularly, may help turn down the volume of these unhelpful thoughts. I’ll give you an example;
Unhelpful thought; “I have been eating way more “bad” foods than normal, it’s so bad for my health!”
- “I am eating more comfort foods than normal during this stressful time, which is perfectly normal and OK.”
- “There is no such thing as “good” and “bad” foods, all foods are allowed as part of a normal diet.”
- “Some of the foods I’m consuming may not be considered “highly nutritious”, but they are emotionally nourishing, which is equally as important.”
Avoid or restrict social media
Social media can serve as a trigger for all sorts of negative self-talk, so try to be mindful of how much is healthy for you.
Move your body
in a way that feels good for you e.g. a ten-minute stroll around the block, some light stretching or dancing around your living room to your favourite music.
Eat a variety of foods
and/or whatever foods that are safely accessible to you. Remember, it’s totally normal and OK if your eating habits are different right now. We are all doing our best to get through this, and that is GOOD ENOUGH.
Wear comfortable clothes
Wearing tight or uncomfortable clothes won’t help with negative body image thoughts. Go for comfort in lockdown… and out of lockdown! My current uniform is sweatshirts and stretchy leggings or joggers, and I’m not sure I will be able to go back to anything else after this is over (including bras).
Try writing down thoughts and feelings, always with heaps of self-compassion. The CBT exercise I mentioned earlier can be very effective if written down too.
Be kind to yourself and your body
Your body may change during this time, and despite what diet culture wants you to believe, that is more than OK. Your body is on your side and I urge you to give it what it is asking for e.g. rest, comfort food, sunshine, connecting with friends and family (via phone or video call).
Learn about HAES and Intuitive Eating
Here are links to a couple of my favourite resources; Anti-Diet (book) and the FoodPsych podcast, both by Christy Harrison and Intuitive Eating (3rd or preferably 4th Edition) by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch.
Jessica conducts one-to-one sessions and workshops from The Isbourne centre in Cheltenham.