What's Your Body Image?

what’s your body image?

With today’s cultural and technological appetites, especially for social media, we have laid sadly ourselves bare to the constant bombardment of staged and altered images of perceived beauty. For many, the relentless nature of it has become an assault on our rational minds. Selling the idea of physical perfection is now a multi billion-pound, 24/7 business.

 


We no longer serve as mere observers, we are now also participants, creating our own content or seeing ourselves recorded in the videos and photographs of others – it has become increasingly difficult to remain visually anonymous. It can feel as if the scrutiny and pressure is all-pervading; instead of relaxing and being present in the moment, we are worrying instead about how we look, how we will be recorded, and how many social media hits we’ll receive. These worries may be justified: many people now rely financially and professionally on their ability to promote an inspirational lifestyle (even traditional occupations command a headshot or visual representation) and the added pressure of a thousand anonymous eyes can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Away from our digital footprint, we are also open to the scrutiny of others ‘in the flesh’ so to speak – people we meet during our day, each of whom presents an opportunity for our natural curiosity of comparison to rear itself. “Does so-and-so look slimmer than me? Younger? How about their hair – is it better than mine? Oh, I wish I had their shoes…”. Much of this internal dialogue is so automatic that we are often barely conscious we are even doing it. And yet we may have been thinking that way for so many years that it has now become a deeply inherent daily habit.

Turning our attention inwards, the mirror is yet another cue for our automatic chatter to rev up uncontrollably. But, notably, have you ever taken a moment to pay attention to what it is you are actually saying to yourself? One day, write down these internal thoughts and statements, as once seen objectively in black and white, many people are taken aback by how unkind and derogatory they can be to themselves. Would you talk to friends like that? No! Furthermore, let me pose one further question: does it work? Do the constant negative comparisons, unpleasant comments to your reflection and the feelings of self-doubt empower you to lead a healthier, happier life? Again, no. I thought not!

So let’s explore the idea of body image a little deeper. With better, greater insightful understanding, can we afford ourselves a more positive, contented, kinder view of our incredible selves (for we are all incredible in different ways!)?

What is Body Image?

Body image is a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation (how we inherently feel about ourselves) and by noting the reactions of others (be that personal and/or cultural). It is a self imposed verdict of our own aesthetic born from past and present experiences, perceptions and beliefs – but, thankfully for those with a negative body image, it carries huge and positive scope for change.

How do you move towards a more positive body image?

If you feel your negative body image is significantly and detrimentally impacting your life, it may be sensible to seek out help. There is nothing at all to be ashamed of in recognising that your negative internal dialogue may be affecting your happiness, relationships and daily activities.  An element of support to break the cycle of negative thought would be a good thing, not only for you but also for those around you.

Blog Post: What’s Your Body Image?

What does a positive body image look and feel like?

I can hazard a guess that many of you understand what a poor body image feels like. But what about the flip-side?

Well, firstly, it is an honest, clear and true perception of your shape, without skewed perception or lens of negativity. Contrary to often popular belief, having a positive body image is neither a sign of arrogance, nor ignorance (of the things that we can do to keep ourselves healthy and optimally nourished – I say this as the media is too often scathing of women that defy the need to conform to what many regard as ideal body shape).

Next is a true appreciation of your natural body shape and a deeply held understanding that physical appearance is in no way a reflection of character, personality or value as a person. Sadly, this belief can be a hard one to shake. We are repeatedly conditioned by marketing and advertising to believe that skinnier, younger, wealthier, blonder etc. means better in some way. This message feels particularly strongly pushed toward women. But of course it is not true. When we actually stop to think about it, we all know this logically – there will be hundreds of people you look up to and feel inspired by, whose bodies do not conform to the marketer’s vision of what is ‘right’.

Outward appearance is only one minute part of what makes up a person’s contribution to this world, yet we often seem to be giving it the biggest chunk of our mental energy. Perhaps a little more balance, a little more focus on the other attributes we aspire to, may be a useful starting point. What would your chosen attributes be? How could you give them more of your conscious space?

Asking yourself these questions can be a truly beneficial exercise, which may then lead to healthy lifestyle changes started with all of the right motivations. All too often it is about shape or weight and not, as it should be, focused on the celebration of having a happy, healthy, well cared for body and soul. We are better placed to seek out healthy changes started with all of the right motivations. After all, it is far easier and more pleasurable to maintain new habits if started with a true desire to nurture optimal health than it is to maintain habits that are for the sole purpose of running away from self loathing. Losing weight is never the key to happiness or fulfilment. But promoting your thoughts into a more positive place, daring to show yourself some support and affection, and making changes because you genuinely feel that your mind and body deserve to be nourished wonderfully well – now, that may well be the magic bullet that you’ve been searching for. The foundation for all lasting physical change starts with psychological change.

Finally, a positive body image is one in which you feel comfortable, confident and grateful for your body. Out-loud gratitude can be a brilliant way to instantly disarm the perpetual cycle of negative, internal dialogue. Why not try, quite literally, to thank your body for legs that can walk, kidneys that don’t need dialysis, and eyes that can see vivid sunsets? It is, obviously, a slightly trite exercise and you may well be suffering from a body that doesn’t work as well as you’d like, but by focussing on the good things and remembering that not everyone is lucky enough to share them, you’ll seek out a new perspective that you may have struggled to find beforehand.


“and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied, ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.’ ” – Nayyirah Waheed

Here are suggestions of other tips and tricks to think about:

Here are suggestions of other tips and tricks to think about:

1. Reduce the opportunity for comparison. Do you really need to check social media multiple times a day? Or continually compare yourself to contemporaries? It may help to temporarily suspend social media accounts to afford yourself space to invest in your body confidence.

2. Be kinder to yourself! If that sounds an impossible task, make it more achievable by being kinder at specific points in the day. For example, when getting dressed each morning, be more conscious of your internal dialogue and the moment you hear a negative thought, consciously say (in your head or out loud) “Be kinder!”. Practice this increasingly throughout your day and, soon enough, new connections will be made in your brain that break old, negative habits in place of new, positive ones.

3. Consider meditation. There is now a plethora of apps and programmes that offer beginner guides to meditation, some needing just a few moments a day to follow. Many focus on acceptance, compassion and gratitude, and these can be incredibly beneficial in allowing yourself the time and space to develop a more positive body image.

4. Explore mindful self-compassion. Unlike many self-esteem based exercises, mindful self-compassion avoids any external comparisons. It aims to teach you how to better manage feelings of inadequacy by learning how to respond with heightened kindness and understanding. It’s the practice of repeatedly evoking good-will toward ourselves especially when we’re suffering. There are books, online articles and courses around the UK which offer assistance with developing this powerful skill.

5. Write to yourself from the perspective of a wonderful, wise sage. Seek out a quiet, private moment and write a letter to yourself with the sentiments of someone who knows your innermost thoughts and anxieties and is present purely to be kind, reassuring and supportive. Imagine it was sent from a best friend or cherished relative. Use your imagination and don’t hold back because no one else need ever read it.

6. Make a list of all the wonderful things you feel nourished by – be that physical, emotional or spiritual. Grab some blank paper and your favourite pen and jot down the times when you feel especially nourished, loved and cared for. Be as specific as you can. Whenever you feel negative thoughts creeping back, refer back to this list to reinforce the feelings of love and completeness.

If you are struggling, try breaking it down into the following headings:

• Physical nourishment, for example: Walking on the beach with the wind in your hair; picking berries on a sunny afternoon; drinking iced mineral water to quench a real thirst.
• Emotional nourishment, for example: Watching a comedy that makes you laugh out loud; listening to much loved music; sharing old and happy memories.
• Spiritual nourishment, for example: 10 minutes of guided meditation; a peaceful walk alone in the woods with no distractions; taking a moment to just be still and listen to the birds.
• Social nourishment, for example: Cooking and sharing Sunday lunch with best friends; spending an evening with cherished friends; weekends away with family.
• Intellectual nourishment, for example: reading an interesting new book; taking a one-off evening class in something creative like pottery or floristry; attending a thought-provoking lecture.

7. Rewrite your story. We tell ourselves multiple stories about who we are and what we are capable of achieving. All too often these stories only serve to limit us: ‘I am too unfit to exercise. I will make a fool of myself’; or, ‘I will never lose weight. I am too busy and it’s never worked before. I don’t want to feel a failure again’. The good news is that once you have identified the counter-intuitive sentiments of your own dialogue, you can consciously start to re-write it: ‘My body is adaptable. If I take things slowly I will be able to work towards that 5K run’; or, ‘Everybody has the potential to lose weight. I will make gradual lifestyle tweaks, maybe just one a week, so that positive change is more achievable’.

Try answering the following questions:

• What are the limiting stories or beliefs you tell yourself?
• With no restrictions, how would you re-write those stories?
• What one small thing could you do today, if you were that person you want to become?

Body image is an intensely personal, intimate topic. If you are someone who experiences negative body image, I do hope this article resonates with you – in whole or in parts. The good news is that there are simple and achievable things you can do to help lift yourself out of the vicious cycle of negativity. Finding what works for you can not only lead to a happier, healthier perception of our uniquely wonderful bodies, but also potentially a happier, health life all around.


Thinking About: Oily Fish

thinking about:
oily fish

We have all seen the headlines that oily fish is apparently yet another ‘superfood’ and therefore something we should be including more of in our diets. But does the evidence support these claims? And if so, what types of oily fish should we be on the lookout for?

Examples of oily fish

Anchovies, Sardines, Pilchards, Herring, Mackerel, Trout, Salmon, Tuna (fresh tuna only)

  What actually is an oily fish?

Oily fish differ from white fish, aside from being darker and stronger in flavour, due to their higher ‘good’ fat content. One such family of ‘good’ fats, the omega-3 fats, are thought to be very important in maintaining our health and preventing ill-health. Oily fish is one of the key sources of omega-3 fats in our diets.

What actually is an oily fish?

Oily fish differ from white fish, aside from being darker and stronger in flavour, due to their higher ‘good’ fat content. One such family of ‘good’ fats, the omega-3 fats, are thought to be very important in maintaining our health and preventing ill-health. Oily fish is one of the key sources of omega-3 fats in our diets.

Examples of oily fish:

Anchovies, Sardines, Pilchards, Herring, Mackerel, Trout, Salmon, Tuna (fresh tuna only)

Can’t we get omega-3 from plant oils, like rapeseed?

Yes, and no. ‘Omega-3’  fatare actually a collection of different fats, which we get from various sources. But it is the long-chain omega-3 fats, known as ‘DHA’ & ‘EPA’ that have been associated with the majority of health benefits in clinical studies. These are mainly found in oily fish, fish oil supplements or some phytoplankton supplement.

Plant sources of omega-3, from walnuts or rapeseed oil for example, provide us with more of the short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, our bodies are rather inefficient at converting these into the more biologically active long-chain DHA & EPA forms. So, at present, it’s generally considered best not to rely on plant sources as your only source of omega-3 fats. Vegans take note.

The potential benefits of oily fish & omega-3 oils

One of the key benefits of consuming oily fish is therefore thought to come from their high concentration of these omega-3 fatty acids – although they also contain a number of other beneficial nutrients too: protein, vitamin D, iodine, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, B vitamins and even calcium in the smallest fish (where you eat the bones, such as anchovies & sardines).

Omega-3 fats have been linked to all sorts of potential health benefits. It is important to point out that many of these research findings have not been proven in large-scale population studies, and so may therefore not be applicable to everyone. However, they do give us some enticing hints to possible future uses.

Here are a few examples of current research areas:

  • They may potentially help to reduce blood triglycerides (Musa-Veloso et al., 2010), and blood pressure (Cabo, Alonso and Mata, 2012).
  • They may reduce the risk of stroke (Chowdhury et al., 2012)
  • EPA (one of the long-chain fish oils) could sometimes be beneficial to people diagnosed with major depression (Sarris et al., 2016).
  • They may help to promote optimal growth of the brain and eyes in developing infants when consumed during pregnancy, and may also reduce the risk of pre-term delivery for some babies (Jordan, 2010).
  • They could reduce the risk of autoimmune diabetes in adults (Lofvenborg et al., 2014), although there is no clear evidence that they reduce risk of the more common Type 2 diabetes.
  • They could reduce your risk of developing ‘wet’ macular degeneration (a major cause of adult blindness). (Rahu et al., 2008)

If you do choose to take omega-3 oil supplements, please do make sure it is a high quality form, and that you have discussed it with a healthcare professional

Baked Trout on a Bed of Vegetables

As with all things nutrition related, there is almost always a balance of positives and negatives to consider:

The potential downsides of oily fish 

Unfortunately, most fish and shellfish now contain some levels of pollutants or heavy metals such as PCBs or mercury. The larger oily fish, such as fresh tuna, can contain higher concentrations of these than the smaller fish (Chahid et al., 2014). This may be a concern if you eat a lot of fish, or eat mainly the largest types of fish – such as shark or marlin. Also, farmed fish may contain more pollutants, and less omega-3 fats, than wild or marine fish, although there are some examples of good practice in farmed fish production now (Rodriguez-Hernandez et al., 2017).

I would consider it sensible to therefore try to balance the benefits of eating oily fish (getting the omega-3 fats and other important nutrients) with the risks of eating too much (exposing yourself to an excess of pollutants or heavy metals).

In general, it is advised that this balance falls at around 1-2 portions of oily fish a week, ideally enjoying more of the smaller varieties (mackerel & sardines) than the larger ones (especially tuna): a portion is in the region of 140g, or 1 medium sized fillet (NHS Choices, 2017). You can also enjoy another 1-2 portions of white fish or seafood (i.e., not oily fish) on top of this per week.

A word on fish in pregnancy

Eating fish in pregnancy is good both for you, and for your baby (if you can stomach it!), and is therefore to be encouraged.

However, you can be a bit more vulnerable to the effects of pollutants during this important time, so the dietary advice is slightly different. This advice is also true for those who are considering pregnancy, or are trying to conceive, too.

  • Avoid shark, swordfish and marline altogether, and minimise your intake of fresh tuna. The largest types of fish such as these can contain high levels of mercury which can damage a baby’s developing nervous system.
  • Avoid all raw shellfish, such as oysters.
  • Eat no more than 1-2 portions of oily fish per week – so that means no more than 280g/week. Ideally, try to stick to smaller types; unsmoked mackerel (look in the freezer aisle), sardines in olive oil, and organic or wild salmon or trout.
  • Eat up to 1-2 portions of ‘other’ fish (such as white fish) or seafood products a week on top of this, such as canned tuna. NHS guidelines say no more than 4 cans of tuna a week, but I would suggest 2 cans per week is still a reasonable amount, particularly if you are having your oily fish as well. Eat a variety of fish wherever possible.
  • Be very careful if you are taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy. Some of these, such as cod liver oil, can contain high levels of vitamin A – which can be harmful to your unborn baby. Speak to your midwife or doctor for more information.

I would also generally advise that you follow the same advice for children.

For more information on fish in pregnancy:

A reassuring word in this complex area: It is considered better for you to eat a couple of portions of fish each week than to avoid it altogether due to anxiety regarding mercury or pollutants. The majority of the UK population does not consume enough oily fish to meet suggested dietary guidelines. In other words, be conscious of potential pollutants, but don’t let them put you off eating fish altogether.

Any advice about choosing sustainable oily fish?

Sometimes, it can seem like the more you know about nutrition, the more complicated it can be to decide what to eat. And then adding in environmental mindfulness to that equation can seem rather daunting. But there are lots of resources available to help you make these decisions, and once you’ve done it a couple of times it does get much simpler – I promise.

Intensive fishing and unsustainable farming practices are threatening our fish populations. Check out the Marine Conservation Society’s easy to use website to help guide the most sustainable seafood choices:

goodfishguide.org

In general, I look out for either organic or wild fish whenever I can get hold of them.

A few of my preferred fish suppliers:

  • lochduart.com – responsible, eco-friendly farmed salmon from Scotland.
  • fish4ever.co.uk/welcome-to-fish-4-ever – ethical canned fish
  • reelfish.co.uk – ethical canned tuna (I tend to just stick to the ones in spring water)
  • newlynfreshfish.co.uk – mail order fresh fish from the traditional fishing port of Newlyn in Cornwall, packed in a leak-proof box with plenty of ice so it reaches you in great condition. You can phone or email them to arrange delivery of seasonal, wild fish to your preferences – or simply order one of their ready-made selection boxes.

Disclaimer: Please discuss this topic with your doctor or nutrition professional (visit my FAQ page for info) if you are interested in finding more information, or considering taking supplements. There are certain instances where increasing your intake of omega-3 fats is not advisable. As with all articles on ameliafreer.com, this is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice.

Cabo, J., Alonso, R. and Mata, P. (2012) ‘Omega-3 fatty acids and blood pressure’, British Journal of Nutrition, 107(S2), pp. S195–S200. doi: 10.1017/s0007114512001584.

Chahid, A., Hilali, M., Benlhachimi, A. and Bouzid, T. (2014) ‘Contents of cadmium, mercury and lead in fish from the Atlantic sea (Morocco) determined by atomic absorption spectrometry’, Food Chemistry, 147, pp. 357–360. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.10.008.

Chowdhury, R., Stevens, S., Gorman, D., Pan, A., Warnakula, S. and Chowdhury, S. (2012) ‘Association between fish consumption, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and risk of cerebrovascular disease: Systematic review and meta-analysis’, BMJ, 345(oct30 3), pp. e6698–e6698. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e6698.

Jordan, R.G. (2010) ‘Prenatal Omega-3 fatty acids: Review and recommendations’, Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 55(6), pp. 520–528. doi: 10.1016/j.jmwh.2010.02.018.

Löfvenborg, J.E., Andersson, T., Carlsson, P.-O., Dorkhan, M., Groop, L., Martinell, M., Tuomi, T., Wolk, A. and Carlsson, S. (2014) ‘Fatty fish consumption and risk of latent autoimmune diabetes in adults’, Nutrition & Diabetes, 4(10), p. e139. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2014.36.

Musa-Veloso, K., Binns, M.A., Kocenas, A.C., Poon, T., Elliot, J.A., Rice, H., Oppedal-Olsen, H., Lloyd, H. and Lemke, S. (2010) ‘Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid dose-dependently reduce fasting serum triglycerides’, Nutrition Reviews, 68(3), pp. 155 167. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00272.x.

NHS Choices (2017) Fish and shellfish. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/ (Accessed: 3 February 2017).

Rahu, M., Chakravarthy, U., Young, I., Vioque, J., de Jong, P.T. and Bentham, G. (2008) ‘Oily fish consumption, dietary docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid intakes, and associations with neovascular age-related macular degeneration’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(2), pp. 398–406.

Rodríguez-Hernández, Á., Camacho, M., Henríquez-Hernández, L.A., Boada, L.D., Valerón, P.F. and Zaccaroni, A. (2017) ‘Comparative study of the intake of toxic persistent and semi persistent pollutants through the consumption of fish and seafood from two modes of production (wild-caught and farmed)’, Science of The Total Environment, 575, pp. 919–931. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.142.

Sarris, J., Murphy, J., Mischoulon, D., Papakostas, G.I., Fava, M. and Berk, M. (2016) ‘Adjunctive Nutraceuticals for depression: A systematic review and Meta-Analyses’, American Journal of Psychiatry, , p. appi.ajp.2016.1. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15091228.