Healthy Habits: Building a Better Body Image

It’s hard to think of any other time when people were so aware of their bodies and health as today. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only heightened people’s awareness of their health but the periods of isolation, disruptions to daily routines has resulted in a lack of control over nearly every aspect of pandemic life. This has put many in a fragile state,  physically and mentally. While we all deal with stress and uncertainty in different ways for many this has resulted in an increase in body dysmorphia and unhealthy eating patterns.  Eating disorders are incredibly complex but being  psychological disorders they often overlap with other mental health issues such as depression, OCD and anxiety.

Studies have shown an overall increased incidence of eating disorders during the pandemic as well as the rise of depression, anxiety and mental health problems over this time period. A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders[1]  found participants with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorders reported heightened issues with their relationship with food.

Eating disorders are serious and potentially fatal illnesses yet often overlooked. While studies are limited in the UK the estimated figures are that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and reports in the UK had revealed a significant increase in the number of inquiries about eating disorder treatment since the start of the pandemic[2].

One factor that all eating disorders share is malnourishment—specifically, an undernourished brain. Food is nourishment yet the role of nutrition in such disorders is often overlooked. There are many nutrients, that the body needs to function optimally that have to be obtained from food. These essential nutrients including amino acids from protein, essential fatty acids, and minerals such as magnesium and selenium. are crucial for mental health and brain function.  The human brain makes up a stunning 25% of the body’s total energy requirement and its nutritional requirements are immense. Under nourish the brain and poor mental health and behaviours can arise.

No matter what your child / teen is going through, they very much need a loved one in their corner. It is equally as imperative that anyone suffering from an eating disorder – whether a child, teen, or adult – ultimately receive dedicated care from a psychiatric specialist who has experience in the treatment of eating disorders

How to Have a Better Relationship With Your Body

Diet culture has become unrealistic, laden with claims and myths, none of which is science-based. Increase in the popularity of social media platforms such as Tok-tok and Instagram, where people often showcase their fad diets or  thinness are certainly not helping.

Ditch the ‘Diet’ Mentality

Instead of focusing on diet think about nourishing yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally.  This may include looking at how to remove any key stressors in your life and prioritising how you feel over how you look. Cut yourself some slack – we are always our harshest critics. View food as nourishment for your mental and physical wellbeing.

Show Your Body Love

Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about your body take time to appreciate everything you do. Our bodies are amazing – take some time to remind yourself of this.  We all need to achieve and maintain a loving positive relationship with our bodies – that may not come overnight but start making small changes in how you think about your body and what it can do.

Start with Simple Steps

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated and does not mean following restrictive diets. Just small things like swapping fizzy drinks for water or herbal teas, cutting down on added sugars and syrups, adding more vegetables and fruits to your plate daily can make a huge difference to how we feel.

Be Active

Exercising can work wonders for your body and brain. Physical exercise is one of the most powerful natural antidepressants there is, and it does not mean hours in the gym or pounding the streets. A daily walk with friends, cycle ride at weekends – choose something you enjoy and that you can share with friends and family.

Stop Scrolling

Stop mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds and comparing yourself to perfectly filtered, photo shopped images. Put limits on your social media time and avoid going on your phone just before bedtime. If you have friends on social media that are making you feel bad about yourself just unfollow them. You need to surround yourself with people who do love you and build you up.

Be Mindful

Take time out each day to focus on yourself and how you are feeling. Remember that self-esteem comes from within rather than based on what happens on a day to day basis and certainly not through comparisons with others. If you find yourself being negative acknowledge this but don’t let them rule your actions or feelings about yourself.

[1] Jet D. Termorshuizen et al. Early impact of COVID-19 on individuals with self-reported eating disorders: A survey of ~1,000 individuals in the United States and the Netherlands. International Journal of Eating Disorders Volume 53, Issue11

November 2020 Pages 1780-1790

[2] Priory Group. Eating disorders. Nd. Accessed December 30, 2021.