Over 90% of women are unhappy with their bodies. And a majority of that group would even go so far to say they "hate" at least one part of their body. This dissatisfaction leads them to change their eating habits and the way they think about food, often in an unhealthy way. It's time we speak honestly about the complicated relationship many women have with body image and food.
Allow me to repeat the statistic from above in a different way. In a room of 100 women, about 8 of them feel good about their bodies. When I read statistics like this one I can't help but think about how f*&%!^* up that is. And as I started working with more and more women through health coaching, it only reaffirmed these disappointing facts and figures.
Interestingly, in my experience, negative body image does not discriminate based on education level, wealth, geography, occupation, or relationship status. All types of women are looking in the mirror and pinching and lifting and squeezing and manipulating areas of their body they wish were different. And it's hard to adjust that behavior when it's so common.
Recent media campaigns like Health at Every Size and Dove body positivity ads aim to promote self-acceptance regardless of body size and shape. They celebrate women as beautiful and powerful. The intention is noble and I commend these groups for starting an important conversation. But I find myself wondering if they are making a meaningful impact, especially for women that have been exposed to years of negative influences toward their body image and food choices.
Maybe the negative influences are just more powerful than the positive ones? Or maybe we are able to accept the general idea of body positivity but unable to practice it with ourselves?
I think another reason for this phenomenon is that women aren't easily able to distinguish between healthy behaviors and feelings and unhealthy ones because the line is increasingly blurry. Diets use words like "balanced", "detoxifying", and "fat-burning" which all sound positive when realistically almost every "diet" is based on restrictions that when broken leave us feeling worthless and disappointed.
As soon as you have to use significant brain space and emotional energy on what to eat and when and how you're inching closer to an overall unhealthy relationship with food, especially if those decisions are closely linked with how you feel about your own self-worth.
Some of the information out there about food and health is objectively useful, for instance, fruit and vegetables can boost your immune system and promote a healthy heart and body weight. However, eating only fruits and vegetables does not a healthy diet make.
Measuring your weight can be a helpful way to collect data about changes to body composition. Weighing yourself obsessively and feeling bad about the outcome is anything but helpful.
Do you see the difference?
Insecurity and unrealistic expectations can cause us to warp information in our minds or take it to the extreme. We also often feel so desperate for change that we take the information at our disposal and assume it's true without doing our due diligence on the validity of the facts or the source.
It's important to acknowledge that there are varying degrees of dissatisfaction with one's body and varying degrees of unhealthy or disordered eating patterns. One of the biggest challenges to writing health blogs offering advice to women is not knowing where they fall on the spectrum of these issues. With coaching, I carefully ask questions and listen to responses to help women acknowledge where their thought patterns might be disordered and how they can feel better about themselves through living a more mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy life.
Women deserve to feel good about their bodies. They deserve to have a good relationship with food. But in order to get there, we need to have real conversations. We need to take accountability for the messages we put out there and seek help for potential issues we may be experiencing.
As I hope you can tell, I'm passionate about this topic. So passionate about it that I wrote a book! It details my own journey with body image and disordered eating and offers helpful tools if you or someone you know is struggling with the same thing. If you are interested in reading it, you can buy it here!