My Biggest Step Towards Better Body Image

“Surround yourself with people who empower you to become better.”

A year ago, this quote would have empowered me to put on my running shoes and push myself to run as far, as fast, and for as long as I possibly could. The world I was surrounded by at the time viewed “better” as gaining endurance, improving strength, and ultimately being thin.

A year later I am truly starting to love myself and my body again, and now this quote hits me entirely different. I now strive not to be around those who push me to my limits and represent disordered eating and diet culture, but those who support, encourage, and preach HAES (Health At Every Size), intuitive eating, mindful movement, and body acceptance.

Not only does this go for people who physically surround you but also the media you are consuming. Social media can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to connectivity and healing. However, in eating disorder recovery and for anyone who has experienced disordered eating, body image distress, etc it is so incredibly important to be mindful about who you are following and engaging with.

We all know that it feels like social media has a way of reading our minds. When I am having a bad body image day, that weight loss ad seems to find me. However, the key is to slowly block, unfollow, and scroll past the content that makes you feel lesser than because of your weight, shape, habits, food consumption, etc.

This can be so much easier said than done. I know being an athlete, it has been so difficult giving myself permission to rest and recover. The overwhelming number of fitness influencers always seem to find their way onto my page, flaunting their weight loss journey, overwhelming everyone with the motivational quotes about getting off the couch, and making me feel like I am taking the easy way out by not meal prepping 24/7.

Last summer, while I was at my lowest weight and worst with my exercise and eating, I too made a food and fitness account. I was also the most depressed, anxious, and miserable I have ever been. I was trying to eat vegan and would have spent hours trying to convince you (and myself) how great the meals were when really I hated them. I am not saying that fitness influencers don’t truly love working out, but I can guarantee you that a good majority eat and exercise the way they do to try to maintain or manipulate their body AND THAT, MY FRIEND, IS DISORDERED AND MISERABLE.

Imagine if instead of spending all that time and energy to change and manipulate your body, you invested in loving yourself as you are. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief. We don’t need this productivity, change, strive for thinness, balls to the wall mentality all the time. We need to stop associating bigger bodies with “unhealthiness,” complimenting weight loss, and demonizing weight gain like it is a result of a lack of motivation, laziness, and “indulgence.”

As I have previously talked about, my body image growing up was really bad. I had two sisters and a mom who were much smaller than me, and I always compared myself to them. However, when my eating disorder began, my body image was probably the best it had been in a while. Weird huh? Not all eating disorders center around body image and my restriction, purging, and exercising behaviors when they started were all used as coping skills for the panic, anxiety, and SI I was experiencing. However, as time went on and I lost more and more weight, I was complimented and encouraged to like the changes that were occurring.

Beginning in the fall when weight restoration and weight gain were being strongly encouraged and somewhat forced upon me, I became so scared of gaining weight. This fear was only further encouraged by my social media and the influencers I had come to look up to during this disordered period. The consumption of this media kept me stuck in this cycle of fear and behavior use, and it was not until I went into residential and was limited to an hour of phone time per day (that was spent making phone calls rather than on social media) that I was able to separate myself from the ideals of society, athletics, and what those who surrounded me praised.

Since getting out of residential treatment and over the last six months, I have started my own social media detox. I go on social media everyday, but I unfollow any account that broadcasts anything that supports or promotes diet culture. I have also followed every account that is HAES, supports intuitive eating, and promotes body acceptance. The more I saw real, authentic, unedited bodies on my social media feed, the more I felt a shift in my own body image. It took a month or two for the suggested followers to shift from fitness influencers to inspirational speakers and eating disorder advocates but it slowly happened. As time went on, I would look in the mirror, and the fat I saw on my body did not bother me because I wasn’t looking for the six pack that had been present in every photo I looked at the night before. It has helped to normalize my body for me because I no longer see my current body as the demonized “before” photo on every weight loss journey on my feed.

I experienced this shift during a trip this past week to the beach. I used to dread going to the beach and wearing a bikini. I was self-conscious about sitting up and people seeing rolls on my stomach, fat moving while I was walking, or anyone trying to take a photo if I didn’t have a shirt on. However, this last week I was able to move freely without caring about how others perceived my body, and even found myself flinging my body into the sand during a heated game of Spike Ball with my friends. It truly is the little things that make me realize how far I have come, but my goal is to share what I can attribute the progress to in order to help others struggling with something similar.

By surrounding myself with the media and content that supports my recovery, I can feel myself healing, loving myself more, and experiencing a shift in my body image. While I still have numerous ups and downs and my body image is far from perfect, I can say without a doubt that the improvement I have experienced is due to the social media detox. While I know the excitement of change and the idea of “bettering yourself” in the form of appearance is appealing, I would encourage you to follow and consume media that makes you feel supported, whole, and motivated to love yourself rather than motivated to spend your whole life bending over backwards to try to live up to the lies of diet culture.

If you want to start a social media detox on your social media, these accounts are a good starting place to help shift to body positive media consumption
Courtesy of @uncsportsnutrition

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