Chasing a different body weight: what are you trying to compensate for?

Arnold-Schwarzenegger

It seems that whenever we feel that we are lacking something, we usually try very hard to compensate for that lack. The kind of lack that we want to compensate the most is any type of inner lack, for example a lack of self-esteem, self-compassion or feeling inadequate in some way, for example by not conforming to current body shape ideals.

And when we have this much focus on bodies and appearance, it is more or less impossible to feel totally fulfilled in the way we look, because we are constantly bombarded with messages of how the “perfect” body should look, i.e. how you should look. This is all a cynical sham of course. Most if not all of those pictures of slim, toned and tanned bodies we see in advertising have been photoshopped beyond belief.

Companies are very good at making us feel a particular type of lack that their service or product can compensate for, maybe a new car (the old one is not good enough), plastic surgery (your body is not pretty enough) or weight loss (you don’t want to look fat while on the beach this summer), etc. Buying something for ourselves can obviously perk us up a bit but we also know that this effect is very short-lived, a mere rush, unless there is a genuine internal change (which usually takes time and effort).

Since body weight is very much influenced by our internal beliefs, thoughts, feelings and emotions, we can help ourselves improve on those internal factors by understanding more about what we are trying to compensate. For example, if we feel that our current weight is not appropriate, then we have negative thoughts, feelings and emotions about our body that we need to be aware of. Perhaps you were told as a child that you needed to lose weight by a parent, a teacher, a coach, i.e. you were told that there was something wrong with the way you looked. Maybe you then internalized those beliefs, which then started to influence your thoughts, feelings and emotions regarding your appearance and body weight.

Bild 2014-10-27 kl. 08.25 #2

If you are running around from one diet to the next, perhaps it is time to look at those negative beliefs, thoughts, feelings and emotions, to see where they come from, and start practicing greater body acceptance instead to gradually reduce those negative internals factors. You will certainly feel better about yourself, and you will be much less vulnerable in the future to negative outside influences, e.g. advertising that promotes unrealistic body shape ideals.

Bullying and obesity go hand in hand in so many ways

If you have any working experience in an obesity treatment facility you would be very familiar with the many gut-wrenching stories of bullying that the patients have experienced. A routine question to ask the patients is if they have any clue as to why they gained the extra weight to begin with. It’s not unusual to hear that it all started with the bullying, usually from a young age.

bullies_kids

You may think that this is mainly peer-to-peer, but it can definitely be from parents as well. Usually this would be related to something they perceive to be not quite right with the child, perhaps carrying a tiny, tiny amount of extra weight. The child will then be told that there is something wrong with them. Obviously this is not the case, it’s the parent who is wrong for instilling the child with an erroneous negative self-belief (there is something wrong with me).

And how many stories have we not heard about  the completely insensitive bullying athletics coach/PE teacher who thinks that the child is overweight and needs to lose weight ASAP, and who always picks these children last for the teams, et cetera, et cetera.

The message for these bullied children is unbelievably negative: you are not good enough, there is something wrong with you, nobody wants to be with you. It’s not exactly strange that the obese in general have lower self-esteem and confidence than normal weight individuals, both as children and as adults.

Then there is the more classic case of bullying among children, sometimes from pre-school, because of a lack of tolerance and respect for what looks slightly out of the norm, particularly give our completely unrealistic body shape ideals. More and more studies are now confirming all those anecdotes about the toxic effects of bullying:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25157018

Indeed, obese children are much more likely to suffer bullying than normal weight children, which is confirmed by both the children themselves and also the teachers. But this does not mean that the bullying only happens during the childhood years. Studies on obesity bias and discrimination are becoming much more common, for example by Rebecca Puhl and colleagues at Yale. Please take the time to watch some if not all of this excellent talk, for example on how stigmatization has a profoundly negative effect on our physical, social, psychological and emotional health and well-being:

If we are serious about preventing obesity, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of zero tolerance towards bullying, in whatever form it comes in, and regardless of where it comes from. We also need to address all those negative self-beliefs and fears that arise as a result of bullying. This include things like body dissatisfaction because we perceived our body as the reason the bullying started in the first place.

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I also firmly believe that anyone who wants to lose weight long-term needs to overcome their more or less inevitable body dissatisfaction, and connect in a more positive way with their bodies, as opposed to rejecting them and seeing them as the source of shame and discomfort. The more you have of negative thoughts and emotions in relation to your body, the more weight you are likely to trap. It’s not exactly a surprise that more and more studies are now confirming that bullying leads to weight gain, which leads to more bulling, which leads to more weight gain, which leads to more bullying…

Erik Hemmingsson

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