Episode 91: How to Improve Your Body Image
Episode 91: How to Improve Your Body Image
Diet culture and weight loss tools thrive off of making us hate our bodies. The good news is that you CAN reject the societal pressure to change your body and choose to love your body instead. In this week’s episode, Alyssa breaks down the necessary steps toward loving the body you have.
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Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hi Everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host Alyssa Scolari, happy to be here for another solo episode. It is a beautiful day that I am recording. The weather is heating up and with the warm weather, I have noticed not just in my private practice but also really just on social media, in general, and the people around me, the conversation is shifting to how can I get in the best shape possible for the warmer weather for summer, for shorts and skirts and short sleeve shirts and things like that. And so I will likely be putting out an episode like this every year when the weather warms up because we need it.
Alyssa Scolari [01:16]:
We are talking today about how to improve your body image, which is a really hard thing to do. We know that our society pushes thinness, thinness, thinness and diets and eating healthy and losing as much weight as you can. And well, honestly, of course they do. Because it might shock you to realize this but the diet industry alone in the year 2021, grossed $254.9 billion. And even worse than that, by the year 2026, it is projected to gross $377.3 billion. So, of course, they’re pushing diets because they are making big bucks off of it. Now, a lot of people will say that this isn’t true.
Alyssa Scolari [02:21]:
Diet is in the name of health and higher weight can be correlated with the onset of so many different diseases. And to that, I will say, there is a large body of research out there showing that this simply is not true. And that many of these studies that found that information, the way these studies were conducted were basically set up in a way to achieve that similar result, right? To achieve that result that they were expecting. That yep, that’s what we know. Having fat on your body means that you’re going to have disease and then eventually you’re going to die an early death.
Alyssa Scolari [03:02]:
That is actually not true and we have a very outdated way of looking at things. I mean, for the love of God, our doctors in the United States … I don’t know about other countries but the doctors in the United States are still using the BMI, which is the body mass index, which basically takes your weight and your height and does a calculation and spits out whether you are obese or not and the level of your obesity and how at risk you are. We know now that the BMI is flawed in so many ways. Number one, because it doesn’t tell you anything about body composition.
Alyssa Scolari [03:44]:
It is just assuming, based on your height and weight, that you are all fat. If the number on the scale is higher, then that must be fat. Therefore, you are unhealthy and therefore you need to do something. So the BMI has been telling people for years, that people who are healthy need to lose weight and it is something that doctors have not seen a problem with. Well, I should say most doctors haven’t seen a problem with. And it is something that our diet industry hasn’t seen a problem with because dieting is a huge money maker. Now it might be a money maker but it also was a soul breaker, it literally rips our souls apart.
Alyssa Scolari [04:29]:
Especially for those of us who live in larger bodies like myself. I am a self-identified fat person and I can tell you through years of battling an eating disorder, I have been up 120 pounds, down 120 pounds. And at my thinnest, I felt my worst physically. At my heaviest, I felt my best physically. I feel my best physically right now in my body as a fat person. Yes, I do. I have had blood work. I have been to doctor after doctor, all who have said that my blood work looks healthy. My blood pressure, healthy. Cholesterol, healthy. Everything is good but I am a fat person.
Alyssa Scolari [05:15]:
And this startles people because they’re like, “Well, how can you be fat and healthy?” Because we have been taught that the two are opposites, that they cannot exist at the same time. That if you’re fat, you must be unhealthy. You must have a problem with eating. This is not necessarily the case. There is so much research that shows that this is not at all true. Now this isn’t necessarily the topic of today’s episode, right? We are not going to talk about fat phobia today, touching on it a little bit. What we are going to talk about today is how to love yourself in spite of the bullshit that society is pushing on you, about you are only worthy if you are thin and starving.
Alyssa Scolari [06:03]:
How can you love yourself if you are trying to break up with diet culture and you are trying to figure out how to love the body that you are in? This episode is for you because it is one of hardest things when we are living in a society that is seething with fat phobia. It is ubiquitous everywhere you turn, even just social media, right? Even if you’re following E! News on Instagram, which is basically the news outlet for all of the celebrities. I mean, they are so quick to post when somebody gains five pounds, loses five pounds, as if it’s the only thing that matters.
Alyssa Scolari [06:48]:
So learning to love yourself in the society is hard. And if you are somebody who lives in a larger body or who has been struggling with diets your whole life, then you likely also have a history of food related trauma. And that can also make it really hard to love your body. If you are an abuse survivor, sexual abuse, physical abuse, that can also make it really hard for you to love your body. And the warmer months are upon us depending on where you live in the world and people are wanting to wear things with less material that covers less of their bodies and that is causing so much anxiety. It is causing people to buy into more and more diets.
Alyssa Scolari [07:37]:
And what I want to say is this, if you are going to spend your money this summer, don’t spend it on a diet, spend it on learning how to love yourself because that is going to be the most important thing. So how do we do this? How do we love ourselves? How do we love the bodies that we’re in? This can be really, really difficult, as I said. It’s been a journey for me and it’s something that I work on every single day. And this year, in particular, I am really committed to respecting my body and loving my body, regardless of what the number on the scale says. I haven’t stepped on the scale in months. I have no clue what it says and I don’t plan to step on the scale.
Alyssa Scolari [08:21]:
My goal is to respect and love my body, regardless, even though I have no control over what it’s doing. I am just listening to it. I am feeding it when it tells me to, I am moving when it tells me I need to move and I am learning how to be okay with that. And we are going to talk about how you can be okay with that, as well. Now this is a process. You cannot wake up tomorrow and expect that you are going to be like, “Oh wow, I love my body. This is great.” No, it doesn’t work like that, unfortunately, right? Because we cannot erase years of self hatred and body loathing in a day. And for some people it might feel too overwhelming. The thought of having to love your body might feel too overwhelming.
Alyssa Scolari [09:08]:
So we are going to take this in bite size pieces and help you learn how to respect and love the body that you are in. And first we start with simply noticing. Because I would bet that for so many of us and myself included, we don’t even recognize how much negative self-talk exists in our brains. Like we look in the mirror and we’re like, “Ugh. Oh, I hate this about myself. Oh my gosh, look at my neck. Oh, look at my arms. Look at that. Oh my gosh. When did that get there?” Or, “Oh, look at my stomach. Oh, I can’t wear these jeans,” right? This is some of the dialogue that goes on in our head all day long.
Alyssa Scolari [09:50]:
“Oh, I really shouldn’t be eating this. I really should not be eating this brownie right now. This is so bad. I am going to step on this scale, I’m going to find out that I gained weight tomorrow.” It is constant. It’s really hard to have any kind of respect for your body when you are constantly talking like crap to your body, right? And that’s what we’re going for first and foremost, we are going for a basic level of respect. Because like I said, we can’t expect that you’re going to love yourself right away. But we do have to have you respect yourself first and foremost, but we can’t fix a problem if we don’t know the problem is there.
Alyssa Scolari [10:27]:
So first we have to recognize when we are treating ourselves like crap. And so it can just be a goal for you to pay more attention to the dialogue in your head. And if you need a place to start, start with the morning. Start with when you’re getting dressed in the morning. I want you to be very, very particular about noticing the thoughts that are popping up in your head about when you’re getting dressed. What are you telling yourself about how you look? Are you thinking to myself? “Oh well, I’ll look so much better in these pants when I’m five pounds thinner?”
Alyssa Scolari [11:04]:
Are you thinking to yourself, “Oh, I can’t wear this.” What are you saying to yourself? I know for me, that is something I have struggled with so much. The mornings are hard for me or they used to be really hard when I would go to get dressed, right? “Oh, I can’t wear this. I don’t look good in this.” Fortunately for me, that noise has died down a lot. So I do not struggle with that as much, but that is because I have been working hard on trying to notice when these thoughts are coming up and that is what you have to do. And when you are noticing them, you don’t need to judge them, just notice them at first, that’s it.
Alyssa Scolari [11:46]:
And if that’s all you can do right now, that is okay. I do not want you to try to essentially run before you can crawl, so to speak. You know? So it’s going to be really, really hard for you to notice these thoughts and then immediately go into, “Oh no, but I love myself.” Because for a lot of people that feels not very sincere and some people, like the fake it till you make at mentality and if that works for you, great. But I find that with body positivity and with improving your body image, that doesn’t work so well. So all I need you to do is notice without judgment, that is first and foremost.
Alyssa Scolari [12:26]:
Because, again, we can’t change a problem that we don’t know is there. So it’s very important for you to notice all the ways in which you are disrespecting yourself, disrespecting the body that you live in. So next, once you have spent a couple of weeks or months just noticing how you talk to yourself, you’re going to try to respect your body a little bit. Just a little bit, a little bit of respect. Notice the things about your body that you haven’t said to yourself. For example, it can be as simple as, I am really appreciative that my body allowed me to move through my day today and spend time with my friends, partner, children, coworkers, colleagues, et cetera. It can be as simple as that.
Alyssa Scolari [13:24]:
Wow, I am really grateful for the way my body feels when I am taking a walk outside in the warm sunny weather. It could be as simple as that. It could also be as simple as, I notice the way that my body has full mobility, if you are somebody with full mobility, right? The way that my feet can hit the ground in the morning and I can get up and I can walk into the bathroom and I can use both of my arms to brush my teeth, right? Things like that, keep it very simple. It is a level of respect. Have you ever had a teacher in school that you didn’t really like because they were kind of a hard ass, but you also respected them. So you knew better than to say anything bad about them or mouth off to them.
Alyssa Scolari [14:18]:
That’s kind of the way you want to treat your body in these early stages, right? You don’t have to like your body. You don’t have to look in the mirror and go, “Aw, I love my arms and my … No, no, no, no. Because for some people that’s too much, that’s not where you’re at right now. But there is a level of respect that you can try to give your body. For me, I think that dialogue looks more like, I am really appreciative body that you helped me to survive so much trauma for all of these years. And I think if you are a trauma survivor, this is definitely going to ring true for you.
Alyssa Scolari [14:58]:
My dialogue also looks like, I am really grateful that I was able to go in my backyard and let the sun warm my skin and to be able to experience that sensation. I’m really grateful that I have the mobility to be able to bend down and plant things in my yard because my yard is going to be looking slamming in a couple weeks. I am really grateful that my body allowed me to enjoy that meal that I just had. We had Chick-fil-A yesterday. It was the first time I’ve been to Chick-fil-A in six months and we rarely go but we were on the way home from a doctor’s appointment and we stopped and we got some chicken and we were waiting in line and there were people around me that were all much thinner than me. Very, very thin.
Alyssa Scolari [16:05]:
And I was really in the comparison game. I shouldn’t be eating this. I should not be eating this, right? I’m shoulding myself, like hello, big red flag, Alyssa. So I was not able to love myself in that moment because I was filled with a lot of just body dysmorphia and some body loathing. But I was able to respect myself and I was able to say, “I am really grateful that I was able to even get up and walk in here and I’m really grateful that my body has been able to communicate to me that I’m hungry and that I need food. And I’m also really grateful that I am able to go out and I am able to buy a meal on a whim.”
Alyssa Scolari [16:48]:
All of these things of gratitude that I was trying to say in my head, mostly centered around, I am thankful that my body led me to this spot and that my body is going to do exactly what I need it to do. All I need to do is listen to it. And in listening to it, I could understand that in that moment, that food was what I needed. That is what my body was telling me. That is what I wanted. That is what I needed. And therefore I got that and I was able to enjoy my meal so much more afterwards. So it is a basic level of respect. Once you are able to start respecting your body in little ways here and there, then it might be to time for you to move into a stage of reflection.
Alyssa Scolari [17:39]:
And what I mean by that is going back and visiting some of the disrespectful things you have said about your body. Going back and visiting some of the ways that you feel about the body that you live in and reflect on them. Why do I feel this way? Do I feel this way because this is reminding me of an incident when I was younger, where somebody told me that I was fat or somebody told me I needed to lose weight? Is this related to some kind of trauma in my life? Is this related to systemic marginalization against fat people, wherein, I have always felt that I have been stigmatized because of my body and therefore have internalized that? Where might this be from?
Alyssa Scolari [18:34]:
Because sometimes it’s helpful to know that and maybe it’s not, right? Maybe this is something where you skip that stage. But for me, it was really helpful to figure out, why do I feel this way? Why do I feel like I can’t wear this outfit? Is it because I tried to wear an outfit very similar to this back in the day and somebody told me I should never go out looking like this? Is it just because society and the way that they treat fat people as a whole? And when I’m able to identify the source of the disrespect, it’s actually easier for me to dismiss because I can tell and it becomes very apparent to me that my self-hatred actually has nothing to do with me. I don’t actually hate me.
Alyssa Scolari [19:21]:
I learned that I have to hate myself because of the way I was treated when I was younger or the way that society treats my body, it’s actually not me. And when I realized that the problem really isn’t me, I am able to move through those thoughts much easier and get back to a place of self love and self respect. So I think that reflection is really important for me. It might not necessarily be for you but it is something to experiment with, reflect. Where did these thoughts come from? Where do I see this at? Am I looking at social media and seeing people constantly talking about how they are working out for weight loss or dieting or wanting to get in shape for the summer? Is that where I’m getting it from? Just some things to ask yourself.
Alyssa Scolari [20:09]:
And then with that reflection comes disputing, right? So again, if you are noticing, “Oh, this actually comes from a time when I was younger.” And I know for me, a lot of my fears about eating in front of people comes from when I was younger and people would point out my food assumption when I was a little girl but then also directly related to my body. Like people would smack my hand when I would go to get second helpings at the dinner table at a family party. Or if I would go and get a piece of cake at a baby shower or bridal shower or whatever, somebody would say something, like yell across the room about my weight and my body.
Alyssa Scolari [20:56]:
So when I recognize things like that, I can dispute that and I can say, “Okay, that was a comment that was not about me. That was based on that person’s own insecurities, their own internalized fat phobia and it actually has nothing to do with me or my body.” If I am exercising and I’m feeling really triggered by my exercise and I’m like, “Oh, I wonder if I lost weight from this workout or whatever,” I might be like, “Huh, where does that come from?” And then I can identify where it comes from. And then I’m like, “Okay, but in reality, I know that exercise is not a weight loss tool.”
Alyssa Scolari [21:39]:
And I know that when I was being told that it was, these people did not know they were so rooted in their own fat phobia and diet culture that they did not know. And therefore, I can try to let these beliefs go for myself. So I am able to use science and facts about weight to be able to dispute my beliefs. And then the final step is choosing to love yourself. It is a choice and it is a choice that you must practice time and time again. And here is where I can say sometimes a little bit of that, fake it till you make it can work, because there are times where I have a really hard time loving my body.
Alyssa Scolari [22:32]:
But I say, you know what? I’m going to choose to love you today. I’m going to choose to. I don’t necessarily feel love right now, but love is what I’m choosing. And then I have to go into starting from a baseline of respect. And then from there I can build up love. What does that look like? What does love look like? It looks like an appreciation. It looks like being able to touch all of the parts of your body, even the parts that you really struggle with the most and say, “Hi.” I mean, really, as silly as that sounds, say hi to the parts of you that you have been avoiding for so long.
Alyssa Scolari [23:19]:
Notice it, understand what your body has done for you to be able to get you to the place where you are now and learn to develop an appreciation for it. And almost like a wonder, it is a wonder for me that my body has survived so much. It has gotten me through so much. And what, I’m going to sit here and I’m going to hate it simply because of how it looks because society has told me that I’m supposed to hate myself, fuck that. This body has gotten me through so much trauma, all of the worst days of my life. And yeah, there are times where my body and I have been at odds, right? My endometriosis battle, it’s been rough.
Alyssa Scolari [24:07]:
And I am now learning how to love my body after that because what I see now is that my body is the greatest teacher. My body knows all the questions I have, right? Oh well, what weight should I be? You know, what do I need to eat today? How much water do I need to have? My body already has the answers to that. I don’t need to be asking those questions. All I have to do is think less, talk less and listen more because my body is so wise and so is yours. And from understanding that, I have learned to develop a love for my body because I’m not going to let stigma be the reason I hate myself. I’m not going to let stigma be the reason I feel like I can’t go out and enjoy myself during these warm months ahead.
Alyssa Scolari [25:05]:
And I truly hope it can be this way for you. So these are the steps. Notice, respect, reflect, dispute, love. They are not from anywhere special because I created these steps myself. This is what has helped me. This is what has helped so many of the people that I work with and this is what has helped so many other people who have struggled with their body image. And if you are struggling, I hope that this can help you. It is hard work and these steps aren’t necessarily linear. You could finally get to a place of love and then something could happen and you could go right back to self hatred because self hatred is sort of a default for us.
Alyssa Scolari [25:51]:
So these steps aren’t necessarily permanent, it’s kind of cyclical. And it really depends on where you’re at in life but these are the things that have helped me time and time again, to get to a place where I can be confident. And I really want that for you all, too. So I hope you have a wonderful week and I am holding you in the light and I will see you next week.
Alyssa Scolari [26:18]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are at lightaftertrauma and on Twitter, it is at LightAfter pod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightafter trauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again that’s patreon.com/light aftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.
Alyssa Scolari [26:55]: