You ever get what feels like a sobering glimpse of what you look like?
And it legitimately startles you?
Or, you see a number on the scale that scares the shit out of you?
Whatever your body image trigger is… it doesn’t quite matter. What matters is the urgency we feel to immediately DO SOMETHING to FIX IT.
And I know you know exactly the urgency I’m talking about.
You’re like: THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM AND I NEED A HUGE SOLUTION.
You see, a whole host of human behavior is summarized in that very line above.
Our brains like solutions that seem to match the intensity of our perception of the problem.
BIG problems need BIG solutions. Or so we think.
The depth of your pain, discomfort, anger, sadness, disappointment, etc. subconsciously decides the depth of our proposed solution.
Let’s say you and your partner get into an argument. A BIG ONE. And they really, really hurt your feelings.
Your brain will likely present you with a whole host of thoughts AND solutions that match the intensity of your feelings during the argument as well as after UNTIL a resolution is found.
Your relationship to your body is no different.
We repeat this pattern until we can recognize it.
When you’re feeling like your body is a HUGE PROBLEM, you’re going to instinctively look for a HUGE SOLUTION.
This explains exactly why (almost) all of us have/still struggle with thoughts like:
I’ll just cut out ALL carbs!
I’ll just go for a run EVERY DAY!
I will NEVER take a rest day EVER again!
NO MORE DESSERT. EVER!
NO MORE ALCOHOL!
GET ALL OF THE CANDY OUT OF THIS HOUSE- IMMEDIATELY!
I NEED TO GO ON A DIET!
Our brains offer up BIG solutions to a perceived BIG problem.
It should come as no surprise that BIG solutions come with a side of BIG problems, which is ironic in that… aren’t we trying to remedy a problem?
Our brains don’t like to remember that, though. Tricky little bastards.
Our brains are not error-free. In fact, what our brains are really good at is tricking us.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of common thought errors (pulled straight from Google. You can read WAY more about thought errors, as well as read about each one listed below by Googling “thought errors.” MANY articles will pop up!)
-all or nothing thinking
-filtering out the positive
-mind-reading (aka making assumptions about what others are thinking instead of communicating/asking)
-emotional reasoning (aka believing your thoughts are all true!)
-labeling (aka instead of thinking “I made a mistake” you think “I’m an idiot!”)
-fortune-telling (nope, you cannot predict the future!)
-personalization (aka making everything about you/taking everything personally)
-unreal ideal (aka making up stories about how great everyone else’s life is except yours)
The list goes ON. Which means, NOPE, our brains are NOT error-proof AND they fool us ALL THE TIME!
So when your brain is perceiving a BIG THREAT (which can be your body image!) your brain is going to offer you up BIG SOLUTIONS to the threat.
If you have a history of body-image-related-trauma (or a history of any trauma at all- which, by the way, we’re ALL dealing with a certain level of trauma) your brain and your physical body can almost instantly become over-activated.
It is damn near impossible to make sound decisions when your nervous system becomes over-activated.
So, the first step: give yourself time to breathe, process, and calm down.
If you’re anything like me, one surefire way to send me to the moon in a rocket ship called “RAGE” is to tell me to “calm down” when I’m FREAKING OUT.
But this “calm down” isn’t meant like that. This “calm down” is “self soothe.”
Let’s say your friend posted a photo of you that you’re just seeing for the first time OR did not expect to ever see on social media. THE DREADED NOTIFICATION: “you’ve been tagged in a photo.”
You know damn well that your first thought is: “fuck. What photo is it!? What do I look like!?”
You panic before you ever even see the photo you’re tagged in.
Then, there it is. Just flying around out there on the internet. And you. look. like. shit.
You instantly start to think: “what the fuck? Do I really look like that? I seriously LOOK LIKE THAT? God! I’m such an idiot for even thinking I looked OK when I left the house that day! Was everyone judging me!? What did everyone say once I left!? I CLEARLY am delusional for not realizing I LOOK LIKE THAT. And this is a PROBLEM!!!!”
You begin to doubt your own reality.
You start to spiral.
Your brain provides you one of two options.
option 1: THE FUCK ITS.
option 2: BUCKLE DOWN
Option 1: the fuck its are when you decide, once and for all, that you are OVER IT. You nix your workout for the day or the entire week. Maybe weeks. Maybe MONTHS. You may or may not hit the drive through for lunch because “FUCK IT”, you rage-eat as soon as you get home from work, and DEFINITELY stuff your face once the sun goes down, because fuck it, right? NOTHING MATTERS. NOTHING IS WORKING. AND SERIOUSLY JUST FUCK IT ALL.
Option 2: buckle down and full blown panic-diet mode. You must find an immediate and very extreme solution.
You make grandiose plans and promises to yourself. And, what your brain conveniently forget to remind you of: we ALL know how this one turns out.
So, what do you need to do?
1. Name it to tame it. “Oh, I’m having a body image shame spiral and I am triggered right now!”
When your nervous system is reacting to a “body image problem”, the first thing you need to do is name it.
“Name it to tame it” is a phrase coined by Dr. Daniel Siegel.
2. Calm your nervous system down, soothe yourself, allow yourself to settle. Take deep breaths, hold an ice cube til it melts, wash your face with cold water, go for a walk, put your bare feet in the grass, drink a glass of water, sit with your eyes closed with your hands on your chest for 5 minutes, hum a song or gargle water (activates your vagus nerve which is soothing to the nervous system), give yourself TIME.
3. Observe your thoughts and get some perspective. Up until your triggering moment, you were doing JUST fine. You’ve survived each of your hardest days while existing within your body. Remind yourself that dieting pursuits of any kind will ALWAYS back fire. Remind yourself that your body is in fact NOT a problem- not even at all.
4. Check your actual wellness behaviors. Are you getting enough quality sleep? Are you getting enough down time and rest? Are you dealing with brand new stressors? Are you getting outside most days? (Yep, even when it’s cold– are you getting outside?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you limiting caffeine in the afternoon? Do you feel connected to your support system? Do you have proper boundaries in place at home and at work? Do you feel connected to your spirituality? Does your life feel fulfilling beyond what you look like? Are you eating nourishing AND enjoyable meals on a regular basis throughout the day? When was your last deload/break from the gym?
Navigating the space between a triggering event and your brain’s proposed solution is a journey.
It takes time.
You will not master this over night.
But it will get better and better over time, if you give it time, & if you give yourself grace and compassion.
BIG, extreme solutions can feel instantly gratifying, but… they’re not. Often times, what’s actually helpful, what we actually need is a softer, quieter, more compassionate approach that isn’t extreme at all. It’s often in the quiet, calm simplicity that we find the most helpful solutions.