How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908

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What Is ‘Health’? And How Do We Define It?

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What is health and how do we define it? It’s a pretty complex topic and our interpretations will vary as much as our personalities. In 1946 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1) at the International Health Conference. This definition was put in place as of 1948. I don’t know about you but aiming for complete health in each of these areas feels like quite the daunting task, much like asking your crush out face to face in year 8 it isn’t going to happen.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”
– Mahatma Gandhi (2)

Well-being focus and all the buzz around it is booming. Gone are the days when it’s a popular idea to starve yourself to nothingness in order to achieve a fashionable “look”. The greater the engagement from each of us with our health can only be a good thing. With all this focus on healthy living, healthy eating and “living my best life” what happens when the foundations of understanding what health is and is not are poorly understood? In this sense, striving for health can be like navigating the maze in a Triwizard tournament with an extra catch, you’re blindfolded and there is no cup to be found. Bah ha! You’ve been Tango’d. Except when health is concerned, the consequences can be a bit more dire than a double happy slap. 

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Being aware of and taking responsibility for our health can help us in many ways, whether it’s feeling able and capable, happy and content, experiencing sadness in proportionate bouts and even saving us money on health visits and prescription charges. With the age of the internet however, the health messages we receive can be combobulated and skewed – identifying fact from fiction is a bit of a tough cookie to crack.

So how does the evidence for what is and isn’t healthy translate into simpler ideas? Is it being a certain “ideal” weight? Having the “right” body fat percentages? Is it healthy to living in one emotional state? Is avoiding the GP unless you think you might be legitimately dying mean you’re healthier than everyone sat in the waiting room for said GP? The waters become murky very quickly and it’s easy to lose sight elusive Goblet of Health whilst sashaying amongst the currents and tides of fads, shock factor headlines and public health campaigns that are somewhat not accurate anyway – think Weight Watchers in American schools and the Ob_s__y campaign by Cancer Research UK earlier this year. 

The crux in relation to nutrition and our relationship status with food doesn’t boil down to one measurement, or one aspect of health. What we eat and how we do or don’t eat affects countless aspects of our bodies and functioning. Some very real questions in relation to health and nutrition is currently in an antler head bashing contest amongst those in the field, whether accredited and qualified or not. Is it healthy to marginalise a population group because of a pattern of association without identifying causation? Is it healthy to drill diet culture into young minds, and thus setting them up for a lifetime of living “healthily” on diet culture? Is that even possible? I’m not convinced. I’m also not convinced that everything stocked in Whole Foods is automatically healthy – sorry not sorry. I’m also not convinced about the healthiness of many modern day normalities, such as our phones becoming an extra part of the human anatomy, using social media to gain self worth and validation, or extreme approaches to anything much at all. 

With health food shops donning more supplements than we can possibly afford or swallow, and health influencers donning skimpy clothing to show off abs, glutes that can crush walnuts and who can do more chin ups than an excitable dog can tail wags, does being healthy have to be so extreme? I’m going to go out on a whim here and speculate that there’s no extremes in being healthy. It’s actually more about a balance and happy medium as boring and unexciting as that may sound.

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A little secret not pushed by those cashing in on the trend, you don’t need an extreme diet to eat healthily. You don’t need an extreme exercise regimen to be healthy. You don’t need to always be happy and content to be healthy. Nor do you need to spend crazy dollar on fancy ingredients and farfetched meal plans. Health isn’t even a number on a scale. The BMI is a tool for guidance and definitely not definitive – many athletes have a BMI considered obese and I’ve never seen someone typically considered to be ‘obese’ competing at the Olympics.

Each of us will define health differently drawn from our lived experiences. The most important point to be made though is that health is not a destination but a tool for living. It isn’t the be all and end all, merely a snazzy individualised car for scooting through your days with. Yeah, you want to keep the gear box in check but you don’t want to be obsessing over whether your gears are always sliding perfectly. You also need to keep your oil and waters tanks topped up, but you don’t want to be watching them furtively whilst missing out on the enjoyment of your drive. It would be a shame to not enjoy and take in the views.

Sources:
1. http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/
2. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705649/

Hey! London Marathon, I’m Coming For Ya!!

Earlier this week, which day precisely escapes me, I had a sudden change of heart. I tried to defer my London Marathon entry until 2019. I had it in my head until this week that I was definitely going to cheer and not run this year. What I do remember about this decision making process is that it was at some odd hour of the night and I woke up friends and family to inform them of my sudden change in life choices.

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The next day, I honestly have no idea what day these events occured on, I decided to start pushing on the fundraising. I also dug around in my e-mails and realised my place hadn’t been officialy deferred. This seemed to be somewhat of a message from the nuiverse guiding me towards realising my personal legend (more about this later). It is my part in realising my personal legend to heed the signs laid before me – and so with confidence that the universe is colluding to guide me on the right path I decided to grab me confirmation email with my number on it and head over to the ExCel centre to collect my race pack and bib.

It’s been somewhat of a hectic week since. The excitment since going to the expo hasn’t really left me. I went back to my crew last week, another guiding message from the universe, and have been really welcomed back into the crew. (Honestly, there’s no love like crew love!). Everything was pointing me towards getting to that start line and that’s where I’m at right now. I have my race pack, bought a few essentials (read: high SPF bodyglide!!!) and everything is working out nicely. So what do I hope for on Sunday?

I hope I see more messages in the language of the universe because since embarking on my personal legend and listening to the language of the universe I feel more powerful than ever. I hope to enjoy the day and that it becomes the second day of 2018 to make the Top 10 of the year. I hope I am aligned with my feelings and let myself cry when i need to, laugh when i want to and generally have a bloody brilliant day. I hope I don’t cry so much that I can’t control my snot emissions. I hope I don’t get heat stroke and over heat. I hope I find the balance of hydration. I hope I can walk to the pub across from my home for the free Sunday Lunch they’re offering up.

Of course there are fears roaming around my brain’s white matter but right now I firmly believe that naivity is my friend. Let’s keep it that way until I hit the docklands part of the route notorious for breakdowns and seriously questioning life choices.

To sponsor me either follow this link;

virginmoneygiving.com/Monandthemarathon

Or text MVLM69 followed by the amount in £ to 70070

Example “MVLM69 £5” to 70070 to give £5

Thanks so much to everyone supporting me on this venture.

A Place for Processed Foods

There’s a lot of hype, or should I say anti-hype around the idea of ‘processed foods’. Frequently the term “processed foods” appear on lists of “bad foods” and “foods to cut out” in a number of “diet programmes”. I realise I’m using a lot of quotation marks here but it’s necessary.

A lot of these “diet programmes” requiring participants to cut out “processed foods” are often vague about what is classified as a processed food and what isn’t. This leaves the restrictions of the diet wide open for interpretation. I’m not a fan of these programmes, Whole 30 for example, is a whole load of bullshit neatly packaged to sell people more rules around eating that are unnecessary, restrictive and let be straight here, based on complete bullshit science – if you can even associate the Whole 30 with any sort of science at all.

In general though, there’s a trend towards whole food in general. Whole meaning, better, organic preferably, plant based, raw maybe, and likely to be found at hiked up prices in places like WholeFoods. (Sorry WholeFoods, I kind of like you and kind of detest you all at once). The problem is with this trend is that it perpetuates food snobbery and food elitism. It not only labels all other foods as lesser, to the extreme of basically calling anything else devil like poison. It’s an easy ploy to buy into with the current health status of the western world keeling over with lifestyle associated diseases more so than has ever really faced human history.

It’s scaremongering and food propaganda, harnessing fears of foods, to sell products and programmes that will cure all consequences of eating from the devil’s path. I wish I was exaggerating. The thing is, a lot of processed foods have a very good place in our food industries. I’m not talking about money here, I’m talking about widening the availability of a wide variety of food choices to more and more people worldwide. The food industry, although it has a lot to answer for, has made having a decent meal in the evening not require someone cooking all afternoon for the family. The food industry has made it possible to preserve foods at higher nutritional qualities with less nutrient and quality degradation in various forms from frozen to dehydrated powders.

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These products don’t exist because people are lazy. They don’t exist to tempt us into a life of crippling illness. They serve a lot of people, some who may not have the skills to cook from scratch, those who have a stringent budget where buying processed might offer more affordable options, or those with few cooking facilities in their homes. Not everyone has a freezer, or even an oven. Many are now living with hob plates, maybe a microwave and a kettle. Sadly, this isn’t a vast minority anymore – Yo! London landlords, this isn’t OK for £600+ a month!.

Then there are people who have the skills to cook, have the knowledge of what a meal consists of, has a fridge freezer and an oven but for some reason or other are not able to cook as they’d ideally like to all the time. I fall into this category. Living with a chronic mental illness means that sometimes I’m fine prepping veg, buying fresh and cooking up a few meals in preparation for the days ahead. It also means that sometimes, this is an insurmountable task so I will either rely on convenient options, or not eat then make up for it in an all out ice cream and chocolate frenzy.

Many may disagree that convenience “processed food” is a healthy option. It isn’t always but there is a lot available now in the form of ready meals. These get pricey though. To keep eating a relatively balanced diet in a pretty regular pattern is as important as a regular sleeping schedule for management of my illness. If that slides I’m basically putting my foot a bit more to the metal towards a breakdown, a crisis or an extended period of really not functioning.

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Why is this relevant? Tonight for dinner I had some frozen veggie sausages, cheap smash and some frozen peas and sweetcorn. The smash is from the days when we had no money. The best before dated to April 2015. I figured a sealed pack of powder that will smash up into a kind of mash couldn’t do too much harm. I seem fine so far. This meal meant that I ate something filling and more wholesome than ignoring eating all together. However, without such processed foods – everything was processed from the gravy granules, the mash powder, the frozen veg and factory made sausages, this meal wouldn’t have existed. I would have likely just done without until I couldn’t do without any more. You see, for many people in many situations throughout society, processed foods are a lifesaver. They can often be a better option. So demonising “processed foods”, getting on the nutrition high horse and engaging with food elitism isn’t necessary – and often the arguments for such a stance are inaccurate, based on cherry picked science, sometimes written by people claiming to have credentials that upon digging deeper actually mean very little, and scaremongering us into paying £3 for an avocado and £4 for a 100g bar of chocolate.

It makes you wonder who the real devils are in all of this?

The (Virtual) Big Half

The Big Half was on the 4th March. It was a while ago now. So far ago that a virtual option was initiated because many people couldn’t travel to the start line because of The Beast From The East, and yesterday we had a great day of sun and warmth. In order to count, the half effort had to be completed and up loaded by Sunday 11th March.

The same weekend as The Big Half, Bath Half was cancelled. My Dad had signed up for that so we would have been running a half at the same time at different races, somewhat of a cool coincidence. After a few weeks of excited and nervous talk neither of us wound up running that Sunday. We agreed though, to complete our half efforts virtually together – him in Devon and me in London. So the following Saturday that was our plan. We set off around 1 with a drop in phone call at the start, somewhere around half way and after we finished. Our pace and fitness levels are in a similar region so when we did touch base at the halfway point and the end, we had both completed a similar distance, and finished in close time to each other.

I didn’t plan my route for this. I was volunteering on Saturday morning in Archway, so that was my start line. I glanced at the map and chose a direction. I had a rough route planned, with the destination of direction being home. At Camden I changed my game plan as I stumbled along the canal pathway. In Camden it was busy but as I pushed along the canal path it became more spacious, less crowded and quite pleasant.

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I’ve rarely been on the canal path in London. I’ve dipped on it here and there but I’ve never run along it. It was good, something I’d recommend and a lot of other people probably would considering the amount of people you see running them online and in real life. It’s ideal ground for distance or a quick jog because it’s flatter than a pancake. The scenery is a contrast to London’s usual smoggy buildings and over-packed roads. Then when I checked the map to see if I was still going to be in London if I kept going, read: the flyover motorway gave me in the inclination I was running pretty west, I realised it was time to leave the canal path. After some snaking through Ladbroke Grove, I hit the parks that touch edges with each other from Hyde Park to Green Park with some laps, then St. James’ Park before heading towards London Bridge along the South Bank.

“Running 13.1 miles on Saturday after volunteering turned out ot be the most relaxing day of the week.”

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Totally pooped on the train home!

It was a perfectly (un)planned distance route for a half, starting at Archway and finishing right outside London Bridge station – my fast track homeward bound. I had a lot of uni work on around this time, and trying to juggle studying with doing other img_4221things to relax is a balance I’ve not yet mastered. I’d spent a lot of time watching TV because that seemed like what people do to relax. I was wrong. I don’t run as frequently as I would ideally like myself to (a goal in the making), but running 13.1 miles on Saturday after volunteering turned out to be the most relaxing day of the week – and t

his is what I need to keep reminding myself when I decide to sit in my chair and watch TV.

Now my first half marathon medal of 2018 is hanging on my rack, exactly where it should be.

What It Really Means To Love Your Body

“I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw. If I can do it, you can too” – Insta Influencer

Of course you do, you epitomise the current beauty ideal: Gym Bunny Barbie, Health Freak Barbie, Can Survive In These Proportions Barbie – but this image is still unattainable for most.

#BodyPositivity #LoveYourself

Apparently loving how you look is still the secret elixir to loving yourself and your body. Loving yourself still equates to enslaving yourself to your reflection. I mean, it’s important to not hate what you see but apparently, according to this particular Insta influencer, aesthetics remain key to happiness and health.

Good for you but I call bullshit.

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When you love someone else how do you say what it is you love about them? Do you say, they have chiseled abs, a stunning jaw line and a booty worth twerking about? Of course you do during the lust phase, the honeymoon period of not being gable to keep your hands off each other. What about a year down the line, or five? After you’ve dealt with their death shattering snore, their farts at the airport security from nerves and little habits that are generally quite annoying, what do you say then? Valuing a partner on looks alone won’t sustain a relationship.

A deeper connection. The way they know what to say to cheer you up? The way they so badly don’t know how to cheer you up but you find it funny in hindsight? How about the conversations that never end and stimulate your mind and soul to no end? And the way they put a packed lunch in your bag even though you said you didn’t want one because they knew you’d get hungry and eat it anyway? None of those things are banging on about abs and jaw lines, so why should we focus on loving ourselves in this way? Putting the sole focus on body positivity on loving your reflection is pure, utter and complete bollocks.

The process of starting to love yourself includes more depth than this. It includes acceptance and appreciation, gratitude and developing core self-esteem. it is a process of the mind and a matter of perspective. I’ll use myself as an example. I don’t love how my body looks, far from it. I’ve gained a lot of weight these past couple of years from my medications, being unwell and generally neglecting myself at times. Self neglect when unwell with mental illness means more than not showering enough or brushing your hair, it includes not eating properly, not changing, not exercising, not sleeping, or over sleeping and neglecting every aspect of self-care there is.

I’m actually ‘technically’ according to the archaic BMI chart overweight at the moment. At the same time I don’t hat my body, far from it. In fact, I like my body more than I ever did and not because of how it looks. I accept that my body is at its biggest and I’m working on managing that in order to remain healthy. I accept my belly, and the scars on my arms and that a lot of my clothes no longer fit. I don’t like it and I accept it.

The reasons I love my body are more of an appreciation. My body allows me to run and climb. It allows me to have energy to do things in the day My heart beats and my lungs breathe with ease. My muscles are stronger than they one were and this allows me to progress at my sports activities if I put the effort in. I am capable of different experiences like the view from the top of a great big hill over a beautiful landscape, all thanks to my body. I feel different textures which can be soothing for me. I smell the beautiful wafts of perfume and baked bread thanks to my body. I can enjoy sex thanks to my body – here’s a hat tilt and wink to my nervous system and vagina for all the orgasms. I can see beauty. I can express myself fun entirely uncoordinated dancing. The list really is endless, but thanks to my body I am alive and can experience many wonders of living thanks to my body.

That’s some pretty dope shit and you know what the crux of all these things is? I can’t see any of this in my reflection or a picture alone. Yet I love my body for of these things.

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Through psychological work over many years I learned to respect, appreciate and accept my body in a holistic way. Becoming toned, health food obsessed and going to the gym most days didn’t change my perspective and feelings towards my body, therapy did. I didn’t even heal through an Eating Disorder service or therapeutic programme for eating disorders. I did it via a course of schema therapy. I am very lucky to have received this on the NHS I know, and I wouldn’t recommend going down the roads I did to land in the place. Now I’m on the other side of that part of my life though, I acknowledge this isn’t necessarily the answer for everyone. I also learned to stop caring what others thought of me and my body.

I enjoy my body and this provides my motivation to live a healthy lifestyle in order to maintain good physical and mental health. I exercise because it makes me feel good holistically in addition to reaping the health benefits over the longer term. I exercise because I love my body, not because I hate it to want to change it or look a certain way, and this is why I’m not buying the “I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw” as a phrase of self empowerment and body love.

Our love for ourselves goes deeper than our reflection, just as our love for other people does. It comes from our mind, our heart and a healthy dose of self compassion. Acceptance and gratitude are also helpful ingredients for the elusive loving yourself recipe. And if you don’t love yourself yet, but you are embarking on a journey of gratitude, acceptance, and self compassion honestly, it only gets better. It pays to pay attention to our mind and how we think about ourselves. Not everyone needs intensive therapy in order to achieve this, and if you do, that’s OK do. This is the part where I say, if I did it, so can you. You’ve got this, at whatever stage you’re at.

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I can honestly say I know how it is to hate yourself – and now look at all the things I think are pretty neat about my body. Reach out, ask for support, but most importantly work from the inside out and eventually maybe you’ll look in the mirror and say, “You’re not looking perfect dear body of mine, but I think you’re pretty neat and I love you anyway like I’d love a cat with three legs and one eye”.

*fist bump*

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Running Naked Into The Unknown

Learning to run free and be free.

By naked Running I don’t mean with all my bits on show for the world, or suburban streets to see. I seem to have dropped off the edge of the running world somewhat lately.  I went to my last race and have not run so much since. You could say that I have become somewhat out of the habit. Anxiety has helped this happen and hasn’t been particularly supportive in getting my back on the road lately, or in getting out and doing things that need to be done either. I guess that’s how anxiety rolls. A self destructive little shit bag that gives no fucks to the nuisance and frustration that breeds in it’s wake.

So I haven’t been going out so much for a run, and have instead been mastering the skills of procrastination, avoidance and how to be unfairly self-punitive very well lately. On Saturday morning my friend kicked me out the door. I had watched my block tick tock past tiem to leave for ParkRun. I was gong to go for a run anyway despite having missed ParkRun because she hadn’t got any sleep due to my incessant snoring therefore getting out would give her some space to actually catch some Z’s. She woke up as I was getting ready because being a Saturday morning it took over an hour to get my kit together – side note, I need to tidy up! She said just go for a run anyway, you’re even dressed already, even a short run around the block and you’ll feel better.

A good pep talk is something she’s extremely good at. So without more hesitation, and seeing as I was dressed in my kit I went. I didn’t take my phone, or music and I didn’t set my watch to track distance or pace or time. Ergo the term free running that I’m using. There may be a name for this hat I’m unaware of, if so feel free to enlighten me.

I Just ran. Just me, the sun and fresh air. My legs carrying me around an unplanned route to “just do it”. Honestly, this is the sense that Just Do It helps because I wasn’t pushing my body too far physically. I wasn’t exhausted, I was just doing it to get out and just do something over nothing. This philosophy is something I want to bring back to my relationship with exercising.

Fuck stop exercising, start training. At the moment I’m in a such a place that just doing some exercise regularly is going to benefit me more than a training plan that will likely feel overwhelming with 1-2 weeks.

This is whole experience goes against every grain of my person. I am a massive planner and even though the unknown scares us all, I think some of us are particularly fearful of the unknown. Even if that unknown is going out the door for a run without a particular route in mind. I am better at this than I used to be and think that for an obscure and bizarre as this goal may be, this is something that working on could turn out to be very valuable for me because lessons and insights that we learn about ourselves in running often transcend into the bigger picture of our lives.

Maybe I can learn to let go a little bit – and the scary yet exciting aspect of that idea is that I’ve got no bloody idea where it’s going to take me, how it’s going to take me or when the end is. I’m going to guess there’s no end destination and that the process of going, being mindful and enjoying is probably going to be the more rewarding part of developing this new mentality. Here goes. A new goal of the most unstructured type I have probably every embarked on. In a calculated fashion maybe aiming to do this twice a fortnight is a good goal. The rest is unknown, and that gives me a butterfly sensation – not the exciting type- as I write that.

Maybe I can be as enthusiastic about naked Running as I was when I saw this photographer

Here’s to letting go. Here’s to exercising out of self compassion. Here’s to the unknown and whatever that may bring. *bites nails and looks around nervously*.