Hello everybody, welcome to episode 109 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. And today’s question I’m going to present to you a little differently. We’re going to talk today about body shaming, eating disorders, and body image. And the girl who sent her question in gave me a detailed history of her background in back and forth we had over email. So what I want to do is sum it up briefly for you before I get into the question because obviously a lot of what she told me pertains to not only how she constructed her question but how I intend to answer it.
The preface is that our asker today is a college student who has struggled mightily her whole life with body image. She grew up overweight and was ridiculed for that by family. In middle school, she developed anorexia, which she did not treat or even disclose to anyone, and has since been caught in a cycle of becoming obsessed with food, avoiding certain clothing, and being in and out of sports. She recently tried to join her college’s cross country team, but her physician would not fill out her physical form out of concern for her health, and she was also diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). She’s currently struggling with PCOS, of course, but also bulimia.
With that history in mind, let’s take a look at her question and see what we can do…
QUESTION: “It's hard to see body images that you wish you had yourself, and it's hard to accept the fact that some things about you can't change, no matter what you do. What's your advice on coming to terms with how our bodies are?“
How Severely Were You Impacted During Childhood?
So this is an example, everybody, of why we really want to listen to people’s stories as best we can before giving advice of any kind. This is a question that is answered very differently for someone who is suffering from bulimia and a long history of body image struggles versus someone who just wants to see 4 abs instead of 2.
Now for you, asker of this question, it’s really important to understand how severely impacted you were in childhood by this. Much of the reason we get stunted in different ways during childhood is because certain needs aren’t met.
It’s kind of like this all throughout life, right? We have a need or a desire, we fulfill it, and we then move onto the next thing because we realize there are still bigger fish to fry.
Just talked about this on the show the other day: high school problems seem so daunting, impossible, at the time.
Once we’re into the world of work and raising families, we laugh at that stuff because we realize how insignificant it ended up being compared to what we have now.
The Values You Want To Live By As An Adult
Put this on your own childhood. Even before we are able to reproduce, many of us have the urge to be physically appealing. We see it in movies, we see physically attractive people getting more attention, etc. – it’s everywhere. Until we receive even a neutral amount of recognition in this way, it’s hard to see how insignificant it actually is.
It’s hard to realize that true love is more important than image if our image isn’t first validated, you see what I mean?
For you, I worry that this is what you’re stuck on. I’d say that anyone struggling with body image is dealing with something similar in traces, but obviously your pain has a much deeper history than most.
The goal then, is to start separating the values you had as a child from the values you want to live by as an adult. The goal is to release the emphasis on looking like a fitness model and the illusion that your family and your peers will have more genuine love for you if you do look that way – unless that’s something that you truly believe in your heart of hearts, but I’m betting you know better than that.
This release isn’t easy, of course, but it is essential and possible with the help of a therapist – which based on what you told me, you’ve not tried yet.
Body Shaming: Work With Professionals Like A Nutritionist, Etc.
As for what advice I can offer directly, it’s hard for me to assume too much since I’m not a specialist in treating eating disorders or PCOS – not that PCOS is treatable anyway.
In addition to a therapist, I think it’s also important to start working with a nutritionist and whomever else your doctor would recommend, because the physical aspect of this clearly cannot be ignored.
That being said, I do know that bulimia is primarily defined as a mental illness and with the exception of a little bit of recent research showing that some neurochemicals we acquire genetically could cause bulimia, it stems from psychological damage. Given the history you shared, I’d be very surprised if yours was the result of nature rather than nurture.
With that in mind, whatever control you feel you have over your eating habits right now or whatever control you’ll learn that you have through therapy, I think you should exercise that control remembering that all of your efforts so far have only brought you pain.
Body Perception vs. The Body Itself
Whatever amount of choice you’ve had in the matter so far has been deployed to help you appease what you feel is the right physical image, and it doesn’t seem to have brought you any more peace of mind from body shaming.
Again, the enemy here is not the way your body looks, but how you feel your body should look. And any control that you do have, any power that you do have, should be put towards changing your perception of your body as opposed to the body itself.
Body Shaming: How Long Will You Fight Your Pain?
But what if you don’t have any control? What if your suspicions are correct and that you truly can’t change any of this no matter what you do?
I ask you, might that discovery be the biggest blessing to come from all of this? If you relinquish control or your idea of control, there’s nothing left to fight. And this is not me advocating for not making changes we want for ourselves, but the essential first ingredient to all that change anyway is first accepting where we’re at.
How long are you going to fight with your pain before trying to allow it? How long are you going to fight with your pain before working with it?
How long are you going to fight with your pain before letting the lessons that come with it flow through you? Another 15 years?
I know you’re predisposed to think about body image differently, but it’s important for us all to understand that so much of our worry comes from trying to figure out solutions that aren’t necessarily there. There’s a lot of empowerment that comes with adaptation, and the more you at least give that a chance, the easier it becomes to accept things – regardless of if we can or can’t change them.
All right, everyone, that’ll do it. Asker, thank you so much for sending this question in and providing some of your background, as well. While I do feel this is the type of thing that’s much more in the wheelhouse of someone who you can talk with regularly, I hope you found this episode to be a good roadmap and jumping off point to move in the right direction on a journey that will be long, but worth every second.
Also if you or anyone else wants to hear more about this topic, episode 22 dealt with a similar body image topic and was one of our best received episodes, so I advise you to go back and check that one out.
If you have a question of your own you’d like on the show, don’t hold it in. Email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’d love to hear from you. So until next time everyone, take care of yourselves, and I appreciate you being here today.