Today, I want to introduce an exercise we often use in the treatment setting to help people who find that their poor body image is getting in the way of their lives.
An Exercise to Improve Poor Body Image
The first thing we do is create a list of the things in your life that take up the most of your time and emotional energy – the things that really influence how you feel about yourself. I’ll call these examples “areas of influence.” Areas of influence are things like school or work life, relationships, family, parenting, and special abilities. Weight, food control, or the pursuit of thinness may be on that list too. These domains are called “areas of influence” because how well you meet your standards in these areas influence your sense of value and worth.
- Body weight/shape: being thin, my ability to control my food
- Work: feedback from my boss, moving up in the company
- Family: helping my mom, being an engaged aunt to my nephew
- Piano: enjoy playing for people but don’t do that often
- Friends: never see them these days, wish I had more social life
Once you create this list, try to think about these areas of influence as slices of a pie and see how they fit in the circle. Then, do the best you can to give them a percentage of value. Again, their value is based on how much energy, thought, and emotion you’re putting into these areas each day. It may be upsetting to see this pie chart in front of you because it might not align with your values and what you believe is most important in life. Remember: If we want anything to change, we need to be clear about what’s happening now.
Pie Chart: Areas of Influence
Let’s look at the pie chart to the left as an example. As you can see here, body shape and weight take up about 75 percent of this person’s value chart. In other words, when it comes to feeling good about themselves, perceived success in the area of weight and shape is almost everything. There are a few other domains that take some energy too, but they really exist in the shadow of body. This pie shows that the bulk of the day is consumed with thoughts and worries about body weight and shape.
It’s very risky to have all your eggs in the weight and shape basket. It puts too much importance on this one area, too much pressure and potential to fall short, which can damage self-esteem again and again.
Creating More Balance to Reduce the Power of Weight and Shape
Now, we’ll talk about creating some more balance in your pie chart and in your life more generally with the goal of reducing the power weight and shape control have over your life.
Since you’ve come up with a list of how you invest your energies now, the next thing to do is to create an aspirational pie – wishful thinking, for now. In other words, let’s start with a list of pursuits, activities, and domains of life that you would like to be more present for and engaged with.
Let’s refer to the well-balanced pie chart below.
We see that this person does feel that weight, shape and appearance are important, but these factors are not primary in dictating how this person feels about themselves. Weight and shape are only a small part of the pie. Things like work, hobbies, family, and friends take up a fair amount of headspace and contribute quite a bit to this person’s sense of balance and well-being.
Over time, if we can increase the value of a range of activities and investments, we can decrease the importance of shape and weight. Again, we don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket. The way we do this is by deliberately focusing on things outside of weight and shape that have the potential to make you feel good.
So think about one or two areas that you might be willing to develop and consider taking two small steps this week toward investing in these areas. The reality is that every second you invest in these alternative areas of influence are seconds your taking away from the torture of the shape and weight trap.
Now, it would not be surprising if this task feels threatening to you. Sometimes, people fear that, if they move some attention away from shape and weight control, they might lose control completely. There’s a common feeling that, if you don’t attend to it fully, something bad might happen and you won’t be able to regain control.
If you identify with this feeling, then it just means that you need to move slowly. Even just a few small steps. Start with five minutes today. Intentionally and mindfully engage in an activity that has nothing to do with weight control or food. Once you make it through a few minutes, try again tomorrow and extend the time of engagement a little more. If you develop these efforts a little bit each day, over the coming weeks and months, you’ll be balancing out your life in a way that is critically important to your overall health and well-being.
Check out the previous posts in our body image series:
Stay tuned for more content from Columbus Park with additional strategies for conquering food and weight concerns.