4 Ways to Stop Obsessing About Your Body

In Advice and Encouragement, For the Ladies by Debra Fileta

“My thighs already look gross. I don’t want to get fat”. 

I was in the middle of a counseling session with this young gal discussing some of her most recent eating patterns when she exclaimed the above phrase. Month by month, her attitude toward food and eating had become more and more concerning until finally her mother decided it was time to bring her in for counseling.

The most concerning part about all this- was that this young gal was only 8 years old.

I read an article addressing the dangers of body-image issues.  The most horrifying thing about this article was the fact that it was addressing patterns found in elementary school aged children, and the eating disorders and self-esteem issues that are becoming a serious problem even among 6-9 year-olds.

But sadly, I’m not too surprised. As a professional counselor, every year I’m seeing these issues pop up at an earlier and earlier age.  The concept of body-image has taken such an important priority in our society and the effects of that are slowly trickling down into the generations behind us.  If for no other reason than that, something has seriously got to change.

I don’t know of many things that have such power over how a person feels about themselves than that of body-image.  For many young men and women, our physical appearance has become the measuring stick against which our entire value and worth are assessed by.  But let’s get real: as detrimental as this value system can be, it’s really hard to just “walk away” from that measuring stick when everything around you is pointing you in that direction.

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that we live in a society that glorifies the physical, and to be honest, it’s really easy to get caught up in that.  We all want to look good in one way or another.  We want the world around us to stop and take notice.  That is the natural outflow of the fact that we were created to be loved and adored.

I get that.  But, I also see that this desire has become a dangerous idol for many people, young and old.  We’ve allowed this natural desire for love and attention to fuel an unrelenting obsession with the physical- an obsession that is destroying the lives of countless individuals in its aftermath, leaving so many without hope and without significance because of a few natural short comings (and sometimes no short comings at all!)

At one point in my life, I found myself walking down this dangerous path– a life of obsession, negativity, and self-deprecation that was sucking every ounce of joy, value and worth from my life little by little.  The negativity I had was even starting to affect the people around me, who graciously had enough love for me to call it out for the trap that it was.

I had to make a decision to get out of this pit before it got too deep.  It wasn’t easy, let me tell you that. I was so used to living by a value system that was based on the external that I had forgotten how to do it any other way.  Slowly, but surely, I was able to deliberately put some things into action that saved me from some serious pain.  Here are some things that helped me break free from this cycle:

1. Choose to stop thinking negatively:  First and foremost I had to take some major inventory of my thoughts.  Believe it or not your brain is actually train-able.  Patterns of thinking will easily develop based on the route you encourage your thoughts to go.  I had been stuck in some seriously catastrophic patterns of thinking that had become so natural I hardly noticed them.  I had to start taking the time to listen for my negative self-talk, begin to write it down, and call it out for what it was: straight up lies.

The second part of this process was not just calling out the lies, but replacing them with truth.  I had to begin developing a totally new value system that was based on the value and worth that God had for me.  I memorized verses, talked to God, and read books that reminded me of what my true measuring stick was, and I had to daily (sometimes hourly) choose to measure myself up against the qualities of the internal rather than the external.

2.  Take inventory of who you spend time with and what is coming out of your mouth:  This was huge for me.  I realized that so much of my time was being spent with people just like me- stuck in a rut, measuring themselves up by standards that were pretty much unattainable- and we were all falling short together (group failure can be addicting).  Every conversation and interaction was reinforcing my need to focus on my shortcomings, whether it was through complaining, comparing, or competing.  I had to make a point to limit my time with the people that only added to my physical baggage, and hold myself accountable for the things I was allowing to come out of my mouth.  The less you think about something the less you talk about it- and the less you talk about it, the less you think about it.  It was time for me to start making some real changes.

3.  Get involved in things that promote your true self:  It’s easy to get caught up in a faulty measuring stick when you feel as though you have nothing else of value.  I knew that I had so many qualities and talents that had been hibernating due to my fixation on the physical.  I had to take the time to stretch those muscles again and realize that I had so much more to offer the world than my appearance. I had to learn to love myself from the inside-out.  I got out there and volunteered, used my leadership qualities, wrote encouraging notes, and spent time with those in need.  I took advantage of these little things that reminded me that I had so much to offer and gave me a fresh glimpse of the world around me.

The truth is a negative and self-deprecating person has the ability to be just as vain and conceited (if not more) than someone who is arrogant and prideful, because at the end of the day- whether negative or positive, both individuals are fixated on SELF.  Getting out and getting involved helped me take the needed time and energy to focus my life on others instead of being so completely wrapped up in myself.

4.  Take a look at the deeper issues:  For some individuals, the concept of body-image issues runs very deep.  A few of the above steps might be helpful to some extent, but won’t have the power to pull them out of the trap of their body-image obsession.  Control issues, abandonment fears, and lack of boundaries in their world are just some of the things that might be fueling the need to focus on the physical.  If this is you, don’t take these things lightly.  The longer you are in this trap, the more difficult it is to get out.  Take some time to address these issues by finding a professional counselor and giving yourself the opportunity you need to focus on gaining back the control and getting your life back.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person that is adding to the value and self-worth of the next generation.  I want to be a person that sees the good inside of others, and begins to encourage them for the God-given qualities and value that are unique to them.

But at the end of the day, that only begins when I learn to see the good inside of me.

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter