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Three Strategies for Better Body Image

Contributed by Carolyn Jones, RN, LPC, CEDS, Director of Nursing at Eating Recovery Center. A nurse, clinician and manager, Carolyn has dedicated her career to the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues. If you look at what goes on in our society, most women have some issues with body image or body dissatisfaction. When treating someone with an eating disorder, however, body image and acceptance is usually one of the last things to change, but is something that can easily trigger a relapse if the patient is unable to accept their body. Below are three strategies for improving body image in the eating disordered population. At Eating Recovery Center, we talk a lot about thoughts—particularly being able to identify what thoughts are related to your body image, accepting the fact that you have those thoughts, and understanding that thoughts don’t need to lead you into behaviors. We encourage patients to really look at whether there is a way to change thoughts, or reframe them to focus on something positive about the body. For example, maybe it’s focusing on the function of the body over the appearance, and thinking about what the body allows them to do in living their values and meeting their goals. Many body image issues stem from the images and messages of the media. We really try to help patients avoid obsessing about media by limiting exposure to the movies, the magazines, the advertisements, etc. While there’s no way a person can get around what society says we should look like, developing and practicing that awareness and intention not to totally immerse yourself in those images and messages and learning to discern positive messages from those that lead to an unhealthy body image can be very helpful. Another strategy to support a positive body image involves identifying some of the behaviors that might facilitate maintenance of a negative body image. For example, a patient might spend an inordinate amount of time looking in the mirror and picking apart each feature—“I can’t stand my nose because…I can stand my hips because…” Identifying and interrupting behaviors like this, or weighing themselves multiple times a day or trying on six different outfits before they go out, can begin to pull an individual out of the deep pit that negative body image can pull them into so they can really focus on their values and be present for things that are going on in their lives.

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