In our battle with negative body image, we often resort to unhealthy coping strategies in an attempt to regain a sense of control. However, what may surprise you is that these efforts to regain control can actually leave you feeling even less in control.
Today, we’ll explore the underlying dynamics of this illusion and shed light on the unhealthy patterns that you may be unconsciously following. So, let’s dive into this topic and uncover the truth behind the illusion of control.
Unhealthy Coping Strategies
When struggling with negative body image, you might resort to various unhealthy coping strategies with the aim of taking back ‘control of your body’. It’s important to note that these strategies are often counterproductive and can further perpetuate negative a negative view of yourself.
Here are some common unhealthy coping strategies:
- Extreme Dieting – You might go on restrictive diets, severely limiting your calorie intake or cutting out entire food groups. This approach can lead to nutrient deficiencies, disordered eating patterns, and a negative impact on your physical and mental health.
- Obsessive Calorie Counting – Constantly tracking and monitoring caloric intake can become an unhealthy obsession. It can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, increased anxiety, and a loss of enjoyment in eating.
- Over-Exercising – Excessive exercise can be used as a means to control weight and body shape. You may push yourself beyond your limits, ignoring your body’s need for rest and recovery. This behaviour can lead to physical injuries, exhaustion, and an unhealthy fixation on exercise.
- Body Checking – Constantly scrutinising and evaluating your body can show up as excessive mirror gazing, pinching or measuring body parts, or taking frequent progress photos. This behaviour reinforces negative body image and self-criticism.
- Comparing Yourself to Others – Comparing your body to unrealistic beauty standards and filtered images on social media significantly impacts your body image and can lead to unhealthy behaviours to try and meet them.
- Seeking Validation from Others – Relying on external validation and seeking approval from others can be emotionally draining, contribute to a negative body image and create a reliance on others’ opinions for self-worth.
- Cosmetic Procedures – Perhaps you’ve considered cosmetic procedures as a way to alter your appearance and regain a sense of control. While cosmetic procedures are a personal choice, using them as the sole means to address body image concerns without addressing underlying emotional and psychological aspects can be problematic.
The Illusion of Control
It’s essential to acknowledge that these behaviours create an illusion of control rather than genuine empowerment. Society, including social media and external influences, often promote toxic ways to alter ourselves. Apps and tools designed for tracking calories or weight further reinforce the idea that you can and should control your body. However, these actions result in internal chaos, harmful beliefs, and a deteriorated self-image.
I encourage you to take some time today to reflect on the ways you may seek control in your daily life, especially regarding your body. By honestly assessing your behaviours, you can recognise if they are healthy or if they are in fact contributing to mental and physical health issues, strained relationships, and overall dissatisfaction with life.
How to start really taking back control
If you find that your control-seeking behaviours revolve around physical aspects such as weighing food or body checking, it’s helpful to be mindful of these actions and take gradual steps toward reducing them.
You don’t have to make drastic changes overnight. Start with small actions like skipping a day of weighing yourself or not body checking before leaving the house. Each time you refrain from these behaviours, you regain a bit of control, making it easier to continue progressing in a healthier direction.
Here are some things you can also try:
1. Shifting your Focus to Health
Negative body image often leads us to obsess over our weight, diet, and physical appearance. However, true control and a healthier perspective can be achieved by shifting your focus to prioritising your overall health and well-being.
KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN REDIRECTING YOUR FOCUS:
- Recognise the Importance of Health
Rather than fixating solely on how you look, acknowledge that your health is the most important factor. Your body is a vessel that allows you to engage in various activities, experience joy, and live a fulfilling life. Embracing a mindset that values the functionality and well-being of your body is a fundamental step towards fostering a positive body image.
- Create a Foundation for Healthy Coping Strategies
By shifting your focus to health, you create a solid foundation for implementing healthier coping strategies. Instead of seeking control over your appearance, channel your energy towards maintaining a balanced and nourishing lifestyle. This can include regular exercise, consuming a well-rounded diet, prioritising self-care, and fostering positive relationships.
- Embrace Holistic Well-being
Recognise that your well-being encompasses not only your physical health but also your mental and emotional state. Focus on self-care practices that promote mental and emotional well-being, such as mindfulness, stress management, and self-compassion. Engage in activities that bring you joy, fulfilment, and a sense of purpose.
- Shift the Narrative
Challenge societal ideals and cultural messages that prioritise appearance over health. Understand that true control lies in valuing yourself beyond your external appearance and embracing your unique qualities and strengths. This shift in mindset allows you to appreciate yourself for who you are rather than constantly striving for an unattainable ideal.
- Develop a Positive Relationship with Food and Exercise
Instead of viewing food and exercise as tools for weight control, reframe your perspective to see them as ways to nourish your body, support your overall health, and enjoy life. Adopt intuitive eating practices that focus on listening to your body’s cues of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Engage in physical activities that you genuinely enjoy and that promote strength, endurance, and overall well-being.
2. Surround yourself with Positive Influences
Another helpful step is to surround yourself with individuals who support healthy habits and encourage you to be yourself. By seeking out positive influences, you can create an positive environment that promotes self-acceptance and self-love.
KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN SEEKING OUT POSITIVE INFLUENCES:
- Identify Supportive Individuals
Surround yourself with people who uplift and support you in your journey towards a healthier body image. Seek out friends, family members, or mentors who genuinely care about your well-being and encourage positive habits. These individuals should value you for who you are beyond your appearance and provide a safe space for open and honest conversations.
Positive influences can help you embrace self-acceptance by celebrating your unique qualities, strengths, and achievements. They should encourage you to embrace your body as it is and focus on your inherent worth rather than external validation. Surrounding yourself with people who accept and love you unconditionally helps counteract negative societal messages and fosters a sense of belonging and self-worth.
- Encourage Healthy Habits
Positive influences will support your pursuit of healthy habits that prioritise your overall well-being rather than solely focusing on appearance. They will promote self-care practices, encourage a balanced and nutritious approach to food, and participate with you in activities that bring you joy and fulfilment. These individuals can provide motivation, accountability, and guidance on your journey towards improved physical and mental health.
- Challenge Negative Narratives
Positive influences help challenge and debunk societal ideals and negative narratives surrounding body image. They provide alternative perspectives and promote body positivity, inclusivity, and diversity. By engaging in conversations that challenge harmful beauty standards and encourage self-acceptance, these individuals help shape a more empowering and accepting mindset.
- Create a Safe and Nurturing Space
Surrounding yourself with positive influences creates a safe and nurturing space where you can openly discuss your feelings, fears, and challenges. Having a support system that listens without judgment and offers empathy and understanding can be immensely valuable. Sharing experiences and supporting one another in the journey towards a healthier body image creates a sense of community and reduces feelings of isolation.
- Seeking Online Communities and Resources
In addition to personal connections, consider joining online communities, forums, or support groups such as my Self Esteem Society. These virtual spaces offer a sense of belonging, a platform for sharing experiences, and access to resources that can aid in developing a positive body image.
3. Embrace the Process
Letting go of the need for control is a journey that unfolds gradually over time. It’s normal to experience anxiety or stress when you’re faced with situations you lack control in. However, by embracing the process and employing mindful strategies, you can navigate these moments with greater ease.
KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN EMBRACING THE PROCESS:\
- Practice Self-Compassion
Throughout this journey, it’s crucial to be compassionate toward yourself. Let go of self-judgment and perfectionism, and instead, offer kindness and understanding. Acknowledge that setbacks or moments of struggle are a natural part of the process. Treat yourself with the same empathy and support you would offer a dear friend facing similar challenges.
- Develop Mindful Strategies
Mindfulness is a powerful tool in navigating moments of anxiety or stress when control feels elusive. Practice being present in the current moment, observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This allows you to cultivate a sense of calm and detachment from the need for control. Engage in mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing, meditation, or body scans, to ground yourself in the present and alleviate feelings of unease.
- Reframe you Thoughts
When faced with situations that trigger anxiety or the desire for control, challenge negative or irrational thoughts. Instead of fixating on worst-case scenarios, consider alternative perspectives and reframe your thinking. Focus on what you can control, such as your attitude, actions, and responses, rather than the external factors beyond your reach. Remind yourself that letting go of control allows for personal growth and the potential for new experiences.
- Practice Self-Care
Self-care is essential throughout the process of releasing control. Engage in activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul. This can include activities such as taking breaks, engaging in hobbies, practicing self-reflection, seeking support from loved ones, or seeking professional guidance. Prioritising self-care supports your emotional well-being, reduces stress, and reinforces your commitment to nurturing a positive body image.
- Be Patient
Patience is key as you navigate the journey of relinquishing control. It’s important to acknowledge that change takes time and progress occurs in small steps. Understand that setbacks are a natural part of growth. Celebrate small victories and milestones along the way, recognising that progress is not linear. Embracing patience allows you to cultivate resilience and persevere through challenges.
Learning to Let Go of Unhelpful Coping Strategies
In our pursuit of control, we often become fixated on our appearance, weight, and diet. But I hope this blog has opened your eyes and mind to the bigger picture. The fact that you extend far beyond your physical appearance.
Is it truly the most important aspect of who you are?
Does it define your value or the love you receive from family and friends?
The answer is no. It’s not that important at all. Our bodies serve a purpose, they allow us to move, engage in activities, and find joy in life. But when we obsess over how our bodies look, we neglect the truly significant things that matter to us. As we grow older, we want our memories to be filled with laughter, cherished moments with loved ones and adventures. Shifting your focus to these meaningful experiences and values grants you true control over how you see, think and feel about yourself.
Letting go of control is a gradual process, and it can be overwhelming and anxiety inducing. Feeling of being out of control was something I struggled with a lot. I worked hard to develop self-acceptance, mindful strategies, ways to challenge my thoughts, create positive habits and treat myself differently. I share all of these through masterclasses, resources and coaching inside my Be You Membership. Check it out and come and join us inside if you want some support along the way.
Hey I’m Natalie, Supporting women like you on their road to self-acceptance and building their self-esteem is – as cliche as it sounds – my calling.