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Feeling rubbish about your body? Here are some tools to cope.

The sad reality is that many, if not most, of us have experienced times where we feel badly about our bodies and the way they look. It’s far from surprising when you think about the narrative that most of us have grown up with; that there are ‘good bodies’ and ‘bad bodies', our worth and desirability intrinsically linked to the way we look. So accepted was this narrative that we saw magazine cover after magazine cover plastered in pictures of celebrities in bikinis with headlines like “21 shocking bodies”, “stars lose fight with cellulite”, “50 best and worst beach bodies”. As though a woman’s (a stranger’s, no less) body is an amusing tidbit to snigger at over your morning coffee. No bloody wonder a lot of us have issues.

I suffered acutely throughout my teens and early adulthood as I battled with disordered eating and body dysmorphia. Though I thankfully recovered, it’s common to go through phases when negative feelings about your body and negative body image rears its horrible head. I found it really presented itself again in the months after I had Thea. The changes to my body felt out of my control, and it was incredibly hard to accept. Just as it does now a couple of months after giving birth to my second baby Rudy, my body felt softer, and fit much more snugly (or not at all) into my clothes. I know many of you can relate; I hear these sentiments expressed so often by women who have experienced a change in their body’s appearance (postpartum, a more sedentary job, lockdown, menopause, PCOS). Poor body image really can consume you - creating feelings of guilt and shame, lowering confidence and sometimes making you isolate yourself from certain social situations where you feel others are judging your body in the same way you are judging yourself. It’s so important we have the tools to cope with poor body image and build a positive relationship with our bodies just as they are.

It’s not to say that fat loss or any other aesthetic goals are bad. I really don’t believe body acceptance and/or body positivity and having aesthetic goals to be mutually exclusive. I for one definitely have aesthetic goals at the moment, but I’m also much more accepting of my postpartum body this time around than I was after having Thea. I wish creating ‘good body image’ was as simple as a 3 point checklist, but failing that, I wanted to share a few of the things that are helping me.

Wear clothes that fit (like, actually comfortably fit)

This might sound daft and painfully obvious, but hear me out. When it comes to feeling good about yourself, forcing yourself into jeans that are a size too small and spending the day uncomfortable and oh-so-aware of how your jeans don’t fit the way they used to is not where it’s at. It’s also not remotely flattering and will only make you feel worse. I get not wanting to invest in a whole new wardrobe, especially if your long term goal is to lose a bit of weight and/or gain some muscle, but think elasticated waistbands, floaty dresses, even buying a couple things secondhand that you can resell if you need to (hello, vinted) are very good ideas.

Stay away from the scales

Honestly I don’t think weighing yourself is ever the best measure of progress, but particularly if you’re feeling a bit pants about yourself as it is, keep well away. Even now, when my rational brain knows that the number on the scale doesn’t mean anything as there’s so many confounding variables that can impact it (water retention, muscle loss or gain, where I’m at in my cycle, etc etc) seeing that number go up still has the ability to send me into a spiral.

Work towards a ‘performance based’ goal

Make what your body can do your primary focus. Setting yourself a goal lift to a weight you’ve not lifted before, run a distance you’ve not run before, do a pull up or a press up, even just a goal to go to the gym a certain number of times a week - these are all tangible goals that will give you a sense of appreciation for your body beyond the aesthetic. And if you achieve your goal? Make a new one. Rinse and repeat and perhaps, before you know it, those aesthetic goals will start happening without you pouring your energy and emotion into them.

I know this stuff isn’t going to solve all your problems, and improving a negative body image (especially when you’ve struggled with it for a long time) is hard work. For those of you struggling at the moment, I see you. I hope in time you can feel good about your body in the way you deserve to, and I’d love to support you. If you feel like your negative body image is more than a phase/season and it's significantly impacting your mood and your eating behaviours, please seek help. Contact Beat Eating Disorders helpline or, failing that, please speak to a trusted loved one or even myself. You aren't alone.

I’m now back to personal training in Weston-super-Ware, and returning to personal training in Bristol. Slots are currently full but if you’d like to be added to my waitlist (I intend to add more session availability in the near future) then get in touch, or I have immediate availability for online/remote coaching options.

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