Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Janna Dean, Healing the Body Image

I have always suffered from confusion about my body. I like it, deep down somewhere. It's a small frame padded with gratuitous curves. But on a daily basis I struggle with appreciating how it's like a litmus test of my content. I don't feel sad, I feel fat. I don't feel happy, I feel like I've lost weight. For several years (and many different scale weights) I've been seeking to heal myself of body image discrepancies. I have found a higher source in my friend and neighbor Janna Dean. Her thoughts are radically different from Yahoo's Front Page news sources on Losing Weight and Being Healthy. But in listening to her ideas I have come a long way. Janna will be writing monthly posts for me this year, we hope to help others who might have the same challenges. Enjoy!  -C. Jane


It is the beginning of January, a time when I reflect on my recent past-- my choices, my relationships and my regrets, a time for resolutions to change my course to a direction I prefer.  Many of you are doing the same thing now.  And each New Year there are countless people resolving to make new choices in order to feel better about themselves and their lives.  The goal is good but the problem is that our body- obsessed culture tells us the way to an improved life with improved self esteem is to battle your body.  I often wonder how many New Year’s resolutions focus on diet, exercise and appearance.   I remember a time when I battled my own body (its weight, its shape, its size, etc.) as if I could win self acceptance by rejecting my own self.   What’s crazy is that diets don’t even work!  And the hopeless effort leads to miserable thoughts and miserable feelings and more battles taken up against the body.  And so the cycle goes.

You may be stepping on the scale every day (or even multiple times a day) to determine how you will feel about yourself.  If the number goes up you feel depressed, discouraged and guilty.  If the number goes down you feel positive and encouraged.  You are battling with your own body and no matter the result of your diet, the diet industry is the real winner of the war—winning $50 billion a year!  And then they turn around, invest some of your money into developing the next “break-through diet” and posting advertisements on-line, TV, magazines, billboards, that are actually designed to make you feel bad about how you look and subtly (or not so subtly) give you the miracle solution that will finally bring you peace.

What you aren’t told is that the outcome to this war was decided before it began.  Seeking self acceptance and peace in your life through weight loss or body changes does not work.  Nor do diets.  Research shows that 90-95% of diets fail within the first year (with the lost weight regained plus some) and 98% fail within 5 years.   And we are told over and over again that the diet didn’t fail—we did.   We are led to believe that our own defects and mistakes led to the lost battle when we didn’t have a fighting chance to begin with.  But the good news is you don’t have to fight that battle anymore.   

In creating your own New Year’s resolutions consider this: you can choose your battle!   Rather than engaging in a battle laid out for you by the media and body-obsessed culture—a battle designed for you to lose--you can choose to fight a battle that you can win.  You can choose a battle that will help you achieve the self esteem and acceptance you are craving.  For me and my life, I choose to battle the cultural lies instead of struggling against myself.  I choose to battle the notion that my body shape, skin, hair style, clothing, and weight have anything to do with the peace I find in my life.   

To get you started in creating some alternative resolutions, here are some worthwhile battles to consider:
·         Throw away your scale and quit weighing yourself.
·         Eliminate “fat talk” about yourself or anyone else.
·         Honor your body—eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.
·         Say something positive about yourself every day.
·         Make a list of 3 things your body did well each day.
·         Express gratitude daily to those you love.
·         Acknowledge that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and are beautiful in their own right—beauty is subjective.
·         Exercise when it feels good and stop when it doesn’t .
·         Become a critical viewer of the media.  Acknowledge the insane standards set forth for us and laugh about the impossibility of it all and put your energy into something that will strengthen you.
·         Make a commitment to give up conversations about dieting, calories, weight, etc.
·         Work on developing areas in your life that you are passionate about.  You will be beautiful when you love yourself.

Of course, the reality is, this is just the beginning of the story.  These battles won’t bring peace immediately but they will open the door to a new chapter--healing.  And the rest of the story?  Maybe for another post.


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Janna Dean LCSW is a practicing therapist specializing in treating eating disorders and other addictions. She is the mother of two four-year-olds, loves camping and making cookies for her neighbors. Her neighbors really appreciate it. Cause they are good cookies.


I am C. Jane Kendrick and I working on the inside out. You can contact me personally at cjanemail @ gmail.com or leave comments on my facebook page and if you are on twitter you can find my tweets here. But no pressure.