Body Image In Times Of Change
Change is hard. We hear this all the time, and most of us have some intuitive sense of what this means. But even positive change can be extremely destabilizing, and it’s not uncommon for old behaviors related to food, movement or body image can resurface during transitions. So why is change (even the good kind) so hard, and what can we do about it?
As humans we gravitate towards consistency. Of course there are always anomalies or some external factors that disrupt our routine, but we are generally wired to seek stability. Even if you hate your job, for example, there might be comfort in knowing what to expect each day, including everything from what your awful commute will look like to how you can expect to feel after that dreaded meeting with your boss.
While change such as a new job might bring hope for better days, it can also bring a whole lot of uncertainty. Our bodies, always doing their best to protect us, lack the context for any given change and simply experience it as stress. For those with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, or for anyone who falls somewhere along the disordered eating spectrum, these issues can become markedly worse under the circumstances.
It’s a bit of a cliche to describe eating disorders as being about control, but this is one function they serve. When it feels like the ground is falling out from beneath us it makes sense to reach for the closest thing to tether ourselves to. If efforts to control the body through dieting or compulsive exercise, have ever been part of your repertoire, you might be surprised to find yourself reverting back to these behaviors. Remember, the body is just in survival mode at this point and can’t really discern between real and perceived danger. It’s doing the best it can to maintain equilibrium.
So what can we do to navigate change without turning on ourselves?
First and foremost is just acknowledging how hard change actually is, both physically and emotionally. That’s right, even just the process of processing and adapting to changes in our routine and environment can be physically exhausting.
Then we need to ramp up the self-care. I’m talking boundary setting, staying home, prioritizing convenience when possible (maybe drop off the laundry this week, or order takeout an extra night or two?). These little moments of expended or saved energy can really add up.
If you notice you’re starting to feel worse about your body or having urges to diet or lose weight, take some time to pause and ask yourself what’s really going on. Journaling on some of these questions might help: Why am I suddenly feeling this way about my body? What might I be distracting myself from? What else feels out of control in my life? How can I ground myself in the body I’m in today?
Lastly, there is no shame in reaching out for help to get you through periods of change and uncertainty. Think about the people in your life that help you to feel most grounded and nurture those relationships. If you’re used to holding things in and always trying to “keep it together,” it might feel uncomfortable at first to rely on others. But how would it feel for you to learn that someone important in your life was going through a significant change had been shouldering the burden themselves, and possibly resorting to some unhealthy coping mechanisms rather than reach out to you?
If you still feel unable to lean on your loved ones, there are plenty of other people willing to help—therapists, life coaches, clergy and other community members. Yes, change is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone.