By: Ann Rogerson, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)
Welcome back! We’re in the third blog of the “positive body image” series and we’re jumping into the second component of positive body image: Understanding the needs of your body and attending to them. If you’ve missed the first component of positive body image, feel free to check out our previous blog! (insert link)
Understanding the needs of your body and attending to them – while this may sound easy, it often isn’t! To understand the needs of your body and attend to them, a few things have to occur:
- You have to recognize your body’s needs;
- You have to know what works best for you in attending to those needs;
- And you consciously have to choose to meet those needs in a supportive way.
Let’s break it down with an example – introducing Nathan and Estella. Nathan wakes up late Monday morning to a mild headache (likely due to the 4 hours of sleep). He takes 2 Advil (although one would likely have handled it) and chugs his morning coffee. Considering he’s already late he skips breakfast, brushes his teeth and packs a granola bar for lunch (better than nothing, he thinks).
Estella wakes up Monday morning with an hour and a half to get ready for work. She starts her morning with 15 minutes of light yoga to stretch out any points of tension before having a shower, washing her face and brushing her teeth. Estella then enjoys a smoothie (no dairy though – she knows her body has difficulty digesting lactose) and makes a filling lunch to enjoy later.
What’s the difference between Nathan and Estella? From a body image perspective, Estella recognizes the needs of her body and attends to them in a supportive and mindful way. In doing so, she not only nurtures her body, but she also nurtures her body image. Cook-Cottone (2018) identified that positive body image is connected not only to how one thinks or feels about their body, but how one actively chooses to treat it.
If we had an imaginary continuum and we placed Nathan and Estella at opposite ends, where would you place yourself? I’m assuming that a majority of us would be somewhere in the middle! Let’s be real, we don’t always have the capacity to perfectly attend to our body all the time. And that’s okay. Developing a more positive body image is about making personally meaningful choices in how you can care for your body. It involves flexibility, empowerment, self-compassion and asking, “what feels right for my body?”.
So, how can we go about treating our body well? It starts with recognizing our body’s needs, even the small ones! For example, Tylka and Wood-Barcalow (2015) found that women who presented with positive body image engaged in activities such as wearing sunscreen and attended cancer screenings.
What bodily needs could you focus on meeting this week? Try choosing one or two that are important and meaningful to you.
Get specific about what you will do and why it matters to you.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be big or extreme.
For example, this week my goal was to consume 2 liters of water a day. I decided not to push myself to consume the suggested 2.7 liters, considering I probably consume only about 1 liter of water a day currently!
If you need help getting the creative juices flowing, I’ve generated a list of basic body needs that you can choose from.
General Body Needs (not an exhaustive list!):
- Physical activity
- Self-care (ie. wearing SPF, attending check-ups, engaging in stress-relieving activities)
- Physical contact (Asking a loved one for a hug, snuggling a pet)
As an alternative activity, consider the body’s needs on a moment to moment basis. Pay attention to what your body may be telling you and respond in a timely, appropriate and supportive manner. For example, you may notice that as you read through this blog your eyes felt dry or strained. This may be a cue that you’ve had enough screen time. If this is the case for you, what could you do right now to listen to your body?
Please note: these activities are suggestions only and may not be suitable for everyone. For tailored care and support, don’t hesitate to reach out to a practitioner here at Redbird Therapy.
Cook-Cottone, C. (2018). Mindful Self-Care and Positive Body Image. In E. Daniels, M. Gillen & C. Markey (Eds.), Body Positive: Understanding and Improving Body Image in Science and Practice (pp. 135-156). Cambridge University Press.
Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. L. (2015). What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Body image, 14, 118-129.