Mindfulness and Body Image

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

As seen in S-Life Mag:

Being mindful is a beautiful way of approaching one’s relationship with food and body. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to make the leap from struggling with food and body to mindfully eating and experiencing your body. Often, mindfulness is used as yet another way to try to control or manipulate one’s appetite or weight, which leads to further self-criticism and punishment. I’d like to propose an intermediary (and more practical) way of cultivating mindfulness, which is less about mindful eating (“Rate your hunger”, “Put your fork down between bites”, “Sit at a table and eat with no distractions”) and mindfulness of bodily sensations (“Feel your body as it rests on the chair”, “Notice the breeze as it hits your skin”) and more about actually having moment-to-moment awareness of your body’s needs.

To be able to get to a place where you can actually notice the amazing nuances of all of your senses and be fully present, honoring your basic needs and wants is essential. How do you begin? First, by getting very clear about your authentic goals regarding food and body. Ask yourself - are they your goals or society’s goals? This may be difficult to tease apart. Once you get very honest about what YOUR goals are for yourself, they may look something like, “To have a relationship with my body and food that is easy and pleasurable and without stress and striving.” Notice how there’s nothing about body manipulation (That’s society’s message). You can never actually be mindful or fully open to the present moment if you are trying to manipulate your body.

Struggling with your body necessarily means that you are living in your thoughts, and thoughts pull you out of the present moment, into judgment, and into the past (What could have been, what should have been) or the future (What will be, What you hope to be). Thoughts of regret, hope or anticipation immediately lead to tension. Do you notice that?

Can you allow your body and food to be what they want to be? To be what they will be anyway, no matter how much you try to change, manipulate and control it? Can you accept that your body is a miraculous and utterly mysterious organism that just somehow functions to keep you alive and gives you precisely the right signals and signs, if you could only listen to them more? Can you accept that you actually have no control over the ultimate fate of your bodily organism? And then from that place of acceptance, nonjudgment, nonattachment, and compassion, make mindful choices that nourish, sustain, and just allow it to be? In my therapy work, I’ve used the phrase “kindness compass” to inform moment-to-moment decisions. What’s the kindest and gentlest choice you can make in this moment?