Q and A with Dr Emma Johnston, BIM Psychologist

My 8 year old daughter stands in front of the mirror and tells herself that she’s fat. I’m really worried that this is my fault because she has heard me say that too. What can I do to help her?

It has been shown in research that young children are influenced by their parents’ levels of body preoccupation and disordered eating. It makes sense that children raised in environments where the focus is on looking a certain way, constantly dieting, and self criticisms from parents about how they look, will result in those children having a greater focus themselves on the way they look and the pressure to look a certain way. Children do learn a great deal from their parents, and if they are exposed to an environment where looking good is a priority, or have parents who criticise themselves then that child will clearly believe that the way we look is very important and we should feel unhappy if we don’t look a certain way. Can you imagine the difference for a child brought up in an environment where there is no negative discussion about anyone’s body shape or size and there is an acceptance of engaging in regular exercise and eating sensibly. Therefore the best thing you can do is start immediately to change your dialogue about yourself and others. Focus on “feeling great” not on “looking great”. Emphasise to your daughter that her body is strong and healthy and allows her to do the things that 8 year old girls need to do.

If I am able to accept how my body looks now, that won’t help me to get healthier, will it?

This is a great fear held by many people- if we can learn to accept and love ourselves as we are now then we’ll just give up and stop trying to improve our health and wellbeing. This doesn’t make logical sense when we stop to examine the belief. If we love and value something then surely we are more likely to want to look after and nurture it. If we hate or despise something we are more likely to neglect and punish it. Applying this theory to our own body means that the more we can accept how our body looks and learn to love our body as it is now (recognising what it has done for us and the journey it has been on) the more motivated we will be to exercise and eat well.  Psychological literature continues to demonstrate that negativity does not motivate and change occurs and is maintained when negative self perceptions are minimised. So body acceptance is the most effective way to get healthier. This is explored in greater detail in The Body Lovin’ Guide as well as effective ways to accept and love our body.

 Is the Body Image Movement promoting obesity?

The Body Image Movement is for the promotion of health over the media driven ideals of beauty. In the Western World, obesity is an epidemic which is costing people their lives and costing economies billions of dollars in health care. So the quick answer is no. The Body Image Movement is not promoting obesity. Instead, we are spreading the message that  loving and accepting our body assists us to learn how to treat our bodies with respect and hence engage more easily in behaviours that are positive for our health (such as clean eating and exercise).  What is needed is a universal understanding that the body images promoted by the media are unrealistic and unattainable for the majority of people. Our body looks the way it looks because it has been on a journey and if we can learn to love and appreciate it as it is now, we can nurture it to be healthier and fitter.

 I can’t stand how my body looks – I hate my flabby belly. But I can’t seem to lose any weight. What am I doing wrong?

Hatred and negativity are not motivators for positive and sustainable change. It is hard to nurture and look after something that you hate. If you hate how your body looks, how can you expect yourself to be motivated to make the choices that will assist with weight loss. Where things are going wrong for you is in your mindset. The old adage “healthy mind, healthy body” is true. Without a healthy mindset, it is very difficult to achieve and maintain lifestyle changes. Please refer to The Body Lovin’ Guide for more detailed information about how to alter your mindset.

I don’t have good health. I’ve been living with Chronic fatigue Syndrome for many years. Is the Body Image Movement and the Body Lovin’ Guide of any value to me?

Absolutely! Here at BIM we like to think that the only pre-requisite for getting onboard with our Movement is to have a body! So, this is the right place for you. We stand for the promotion of health and wellbeing for everyone as we understand that each individual has their own unique health issues, past history or current situation they are dealing with. Health and wellbeing is important for everyone no matter what their personal situation. Health may have different definitions for different people depending on their situation, and here at BIM we strive to cater for every body and every need.

I’ve heard people talking about mindfulness. What is it and how can it help me get healthier?

Mindfulness is a wonderful concept that has been adapted from long held Buddhist philosophies. It describes living in a way that allows us to pay more attention and therefore be more appreciative of what is going on around us, rather than living much of the time locked within our own heads, listening to our own self talk. Negative self talk is destructive and unhealthy and so learning the art of becoming more mindful in our daily lives removes us from being influenced by our negative self talk and allows us to be more aware and attuned to our environment and how we are interacting with that environment. Mindfulness allows us to feel happier and more content. Mindfulness can also be applied to the way in which we consume our food. For example emotional eating occurs when we are focused on our thoughts rather than on our environment. Eating mindfully means giving the food we are putting in our mouths our full attention, rather than just eating in auto-pilot. Living more mindfully and eating more mindfully are both concepts that are explored in greater depth in the Body Lovin’ Guide. 

I feel constantly upset about my body but this makes me eat more of the foods that increase my weight. How can I get out of this cycle?

The first thing to do is figure out why you would be feeling upset about your body. Your body is an amazing machine which tells a story about the journey it has been on to date. We only get one body and so it is important to love it no matter what shape it is in right now. If your goal is to lose weight, join us at the Body Image Movement and learn how to accept and love your body, and then embrace some lifelong changes to enhance your health and wellbeing. Learn how to get rid of negative self image and set realistic goals for change using the Body Lovin’ Guide.

 What’s the 80/20 thing all about?

One of the fundamental premises of the Body Image Movement is the 80/20 wellness philosophy, as devised by the Founder of the Body Image Movement, Taryn Brumfitt. The philosophy states that we should strive for 80% of the time eating clean, exercising, get enough sleep, etc. and 20% of the time being able to do the things that we enjoy without guilt (such as eating some chocolate, or having a couple of glasses of wine). Now, why is this so important? Well, if we look at the very strict diets involving significant calorific reductions, or exercise programs requiring two to three hours every day devoted to exercise, or any number of the “fad” diets that are available, invariably the result is one of weight cycling. That is, there is initially a substantial reduction in weight, but this weight tends to reappear and often with some interest. The 80/20 philosophy is about promoting lifelong sustainable increased improvements in our health and wellbeing. By allowing for flexibility and a focus on sustainable health and wellbeing, this is a philosophy that will alter your outlook and behaviours for the rest of your life.

 I think there are some things I would like to change about my lifestyle but I am scared that if I start something new and can’t follow through on it then I’m failing. What should I do?

You have clearly stated one of the main reasons that we don’t make changes in our lives – a fear of failure. Let me reassure you – the Body Image Movement is about promoting health and wellness for all in a sustainable way. It is a revolution in changing the way people think about their body and other people’s bodies. It is not a diet manual or a structured regime for dieting and exercising over a defined period of time. The Body Image Movement is about promoting positive health and wellness overall and the Body Lovin’ Guide gives the reader the resources required to formulate their own plan for lifelong change. We embrace the need for flexibility in goal setting across the lifespan and we educate people about the fundamentals of a healthy mindset and clean eating.

Author: Dr Emma Johnston

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