My Body, Myself addresses mindshare --the time in your life and space in your mind taken up with your body’s appearance and your eating behavior. We all live somewhere on the mindshare continuum.
You could be obsessed with staying thin; people suffering from anorexia have 100% mindshare on food. Or you could be preoccupied with going on diets -- restricting your food to lose weight -- with potentially between 25%-75% of your mindshare devoted to what you eat. Or you could spend your day noticing how your body appears to others: checking yourself on your scale, mirror, fitbit, and in selfies -- just making sure you are "okay." Or you could have a tape-recording playing in the background of your mind, telling you something horrible about your body's appearance at points throughout the day.
Mindshare spent worrying about your body stems from the unquestioned assumption that your body needs improvement, which is the negative body image that underlies almost every eating issue. A negative body image is normal in today’s world because we are living in a society obsessed with youth, thinness, and having the perfect body. Seven of eight women living in our current diet culture are unhappy with their body.
Most women today devote a tremendous amount of mindshare to judging and punishing themselves because of the shape of their bodies and their eating behavior. Often these thoughts are happening under the surface of the mind, and we're not always aware of what's going on until we ask ourselves. Where do you think you live on the graphic below?
A healthy amount of mindshare devoted to food and body would be about 10-15%. This amount pays attention to taking care of yourself: fueling your body well, making sure you are moving and getting enough pleasure in your day. You can see that at 10% of mindshare devoted to whole-self care, you have 90% of your day available to live your life in the white spaces, above. This is mindshare available for relationships, meaningful work, spiritual pursuits, and engagement with the world.
At the higher percentages of mindshare spent on your body and food, you are experiencing a complex, personal cocktail of some the following issues:
- A constant preoccupation with your body shape or size going on in the background or foreground of your mind
- An obsession with or fear of weight gain
- An obsession with or fear of food
- The use of food to soothe undetected emotions
- The control of food and/or exercise as a distraction from your emotional life
- The control of food and/or exercise used for defining who you are as a person
- An obsessive need for your bathroom scale or your clothing size to read a particular number
- A core belief that the size of your body reflects your worth as a person, or is a very big piece of who you are
- A feeling of shame about the body you have been given to live your life from
The vast majority of women in the developed world can relate to this on some level:
- A 2017 British study revealed an epidemic of eating disorders in middle-aged women numbering in the tens of thousands,
- 20 million women in the US, or 12.5% of all women, will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime
- Recent surveys of 28K Australian adolescents determined that their Body Image is the #1 concern in adolescents' lives
- 70%-80% of women report being unhappy with their bodies (there are lots of different studies and reports on this percentage, all concluding that the majority of women are unhappy with their bodies)
- 90% of teenage girls and 50% of adult women will be on a diet this year
- 45% of women who are on a diet are considered a normal weight for their height
- the average woman goes on 61 diets in her lifetime by age 45
- the average woman spends 31 years of her life dieting
- the majority of people we go to for help, such as nutritionists or dietitians, remain either actively eating disordered or prone to the same patterns of thinking that fuel such behaviors
- 40% of models are anorexic
If you are able to look at what's going on with you, you'll see that the real problem is spending the finite time you have on earth unnecessarily giving away too much mindshare to food, eating, and your weight. Taking care of your body is important work that should go on in the background of your day, setting the stage for you to live how you want to live.
Unfortunately, our shallow culture has turned taking care of yourself into spending much our mindshare sculpting our appearance to look like an unachievable ideal. This pursuit has overtaken the mindshare of many women who end up believing on some level that looking a certain way is the most important thing in their lives.
You only get so much time alive. What would you be doing with the time and space in your life if you weren't thinking about how your body looks and what you were eating?
The problem is, you think you have time.
- Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Body Respect, 2014.
- Carolyn Costin, Your Dieting Daughter, 2013 (2nd edition).
- Renee Engeln, Beauty Sick, 2017.
- Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, 2014 (2nd edition).
- Rachel Simmons, Enough As She Is, 2018.
- Julia V. Taylor, The Body Image Workbook for Teens, 2014.
- Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch,Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, 2017.
Eating Disorder Resources:
MyBodyMySelf is written for the 7 of 8 women in our culture who spend too much time unhappy with their body and their eating behavior. The information posted in MyBodyMySelf is from research on women's relationship to their bodies and eating that I began at the University of Chicago's social work school. It is not treatment or a substitute for treatment for an actual eating disorder. If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from an eating disorder, direct your questions and concerns to your doctor. Eating disorders are serious mental health issues and require treatment from specialized, mental health professionals.
Here are eating disorder resource suggestions, including where you can find a physician who specializes in eating disorders in your area:
- NEDA, National Eating Disorder Association www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
- BEDA, Binge Eating Disorder Association www.BEDAonline.com
- MEDA, Multi-service Eating Disorders Association, https://www.medainc.org/resources-2/helpful-links