Body Image and Self-Acceptance

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Between the blogs Joanne and I have written, as well entries by others that we have shared, we have posted quite a bit lately about body image and self-acceptance. While the link between these topics and nutrition is likely obvious to some readers, it occurs to me that it might not be so apparent to others and an explanation is probably in order.

The driving force behind our food choices is multifaceted. When I gave a talk to the FDA last month, the participants and I brainstormed a list of factors that influence our eating: perceived nutritional value, health concerns, availability, cultural norms, emotions, ethics, allergies, culinary expertise, previous experiences, finances, taste, time, and personal goals, just to name a few.

Within personal goals often lies a desire to look different. Consider the following examples: A model severely restricts his or her eating, becoming anorexic in the process, in order to gain a certain look. A naturally-slender man, convinced that his lean frame is responsible for him still being single, forces himself to overeat in hopes of gaining weight and finding a partner. A husband tells his wife that she is “not ready for that dress yet” and so she diets, convinced that he will not be attracted to her until she loses four more pounds. A young lifeguard, self-conscious about being in a bathing suit all day, becomes bulimic.

Those are all real people who we know, either through our work or our personal lives, and they are all examples of individuals adapting unhealthy eating behaviors because of how they feel about their appearances. Therein lies the problem: More often than not, dissatisfaction with how we look leads not to healthier lifestyles, but to harmful behaviors.

Oftentimes, a deep issue is being displaced and playing itself out through one’s food choices. Therefore, in addition to working together with us on their eating, we encourage our patients, when appropriate, to work with a qualified therapist on severing any link they may have between their appearance or weight and their self-worth, and to love and accept themselves the way they are regardless of their size or shape.

As these issues fade away, space is created for a healthier, simpler, and more satisfying relationship with food.