Smartphones, selfies and body dysmorphia – why selfies are toxic

why are selfies bad for you
why are selfies bad for you
Why are selfies bad for you?

When I first started struggling with mental health issues (and in particular body image), smartphones didn’t exist – and neither did selfies. Things were incredibly difficult for me – even though I wasn’t exposed to images constantly on social media, or compared myself (sadly) to selfies taken by the people I wished I looked like. Back then I only had magazines and television to trigger the insecurities which were being compounded every day by bullies at school – yet the damage from those things alone caused me to develop many issues (including Anorexia), and has stayed with me to this day.

Now though I see so many things which could have made things even worse for me back then – things which I’m sure help people to struggle and hate themselves when they’re already doing a good job of that on their own. Even for me now I struggle with selfies and that’s why I say they’re toxic – and share this post to show how you might be addicted or harming your self-esteem without even realising (and why it doesn’t matter if you don’t take a picture of yourself every day).

 We use selfies to compare with others

Selfies encourage us to compare ourselves with others. So added to the ‘normal’ photos we use to compare ourselves with, we’re now up against photographs which have been carefully selected from thousands (and cleverly edited). We can see what other people look like even more than ever before – this is down not just to social media, but to selfies too. Nobody in the 1940s would have commissioned a photographer to take a shot of them standing naked in their bathroom mirror.

I started taking selfies obsessively because I was comparing. And now I can’t stop. The only thing I do to help myself with this is not to look at other people’s.

We use selfies to compete with ourselves

If I don’t take a selfie on a day when I feel good, I worry that I may never look that nice again. Then when I’m feeling good I’ll look at previous selfies to help me to feel better – and to know ‘what works’ for next time. I’ll be able to feel better when I’m feeling down, as when I’m feeling bad I flick back through them and think ‘oh no actually, I’m not that bad’. On the face of it this all seems like a helpful coping strategy, but actually it perpetuates an already difficult (and time consuming) issue. It also opens me up to looking through past selfies and panicking that I am fatter, or uglier, or different-looking compared with how I was before. Opening up a world of completely unnecessary pain.

A lot of people use selfies in the same way as a sort of tool for monitoring themselves in some way. This is not good. It causes us to become MORE image obsessed as a result – which can only be a bad thing. If you need proof of how bad this is then use me as an example. I was very poorly when I was younger – much worse than I am now. Image wasn’t as important back then – and there was no way of knowing what other people looked like, at least not publicly. They’d have to get out their photo albums. Yet now when I am more clued up and understand myself better, have coping strategies, I still find that selfies make me feel bad. And I know that if they’d been around back then they’d have made life a lot worse for me. Think about young people who are in the position I was in over ten years ago. Think about how fucked up I was, and then consider the potential issues they could face. It’s sad, and it’s scary.

Selfies are addictive

Once you start it’s hard to stop. I think this is down to a narcisstic human instinct present in all of us. We all want to look and be the best. We all like the thought of admiration and praise – whether it’s from within or from followers on social media. We miss holidays, events, parties and special moments in our lives for the sake of capturing them. Either way, it’s damn hard not to take a selfie when you feel you’re looking good.

Selfies encourage us to obsess over how we look. They add to general anxiety as well as body image related issues

As discussed selfies take up headspace, and cause us to compare and scrutinise ourselves against each other and as individuals. We obsess over image when really in the grand scheme of life how we look means nothing. Then we encourage others to do the same and pass this toxic behaviour on to the next generation.

For me personally selfies add to my generalised anxiety, as they cause massive storage issues on my phones and computers, and make me panicky about ‘losing’ images. So I bury my head in the sand and refuse to face them until my phone tells me it’s full. And then I waste time and energy being anxious again.

Selfies put us in competition with others

I’ve made this point briefly before but naturally when we take a selfie and combine it with social media (or at least exposure to other people’s selfies) competition occurs. We are in competition with ourselves wanting to look better and better, but we’re also in competition with others – feeling we have to ‘out do’ them with a better, more beautiful selfie. Various beautifying products and apps (along with selfie accessories) are testament to this.

Selfies aren’t a true representation of you anyway

In my post The Camera Does Lie I talk about the deception and distortion that goes on when we view ourselves through a lens or on a printed image as opposed to how other people see us with their own eyes. In that post I quote my fab friend and professional photographer Neil, who also takes issue with selfies. He explained to me that selfies obscure our true appearance (often in an unflattering way) because of the quality of the camera, the angle they are taken at and other environmental factors like lighting.

The bottom line here is that selfies are bad for us mentally. But I know from personal experience that stopping taking selfies is easier said than done! I hope that this article has shed some light on how selfies can be harmful, and that helps you to rationalise and understand them (and yourself) a little more. Follow my journey and take a look at further self-esteem and body image blogs and vlogs here.

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Why being ‘beautiful’ means nothing

better body image

better body image

I talk in my book Tough Love about why beautiful means nothing. But in this post the title takes a different meaning. 

It’s taboo to say you hate who you are or how you look – especially when other people think you are beautiful and even envy you. But so many people who are admired by others feel bad about themselves.

 

People often don’t believe me when I say that I struggle with how I look

I don’t believe that I am beautiful. I struggle to accept myself just as I am. This doesn’t change no matter how many compliments I get, or how many selfies I take. Maybe my self-confidence will improve (I’ve become better and better at living with myself now I have the tools to do so), maybe it won’t. But as a campaigner for better body image (and before that when I really struggled with Body Dysmorphia) I do find myself questioned by people who think I should be ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ to be able to talk about the issues I discuss. Some don’t believe I even have any issues with how I look – how can I when in their opinion there is ‘nothing wrong with me’? Surely I could say the same thing about them.

I used to model part time, and lots of people have an issue with this. ‘How can you hate yourself when you have stood in front of a camera in your underwear?’ Well, it’s complicated, but I had my reasons for modelling. Sometimes I’d feel fairly confident, I’d have had my make-up and hair done. Most of the time though I felt ugly and insecure. I feigned confidence because that’s what I was paid to do. I hated the photos and cringed when they were constantly shared on social media. So why didn’t I stop? I also carried on torturing myself with modelling because I hoped that one day I’d look like the people I wished to emulated (even though I never looked at the images through objective eyes – more on that below and in this post and this post).

‘You’re exceptionally beautiful, you get stared at, you get lots of compliments, you were a model.’ It sounds conceited and selfish to say I feel bad when plenty of people don’t have those things. But my opinions of myself were formed when I had none of that. When people treated me badly because I was overweight and didn’t look how they thought I should. Whether you’re admired or not, body image can be an equally difficult issue, especially when your perspective has been formed through the negative comments and treatment by others.

Yes, I’m very lucky not to have disfigurement or be hated by other people for the way I look like I was when I was younger. But whilst I recognise this and I’m grateful for it, deep down I still have issues with the way I look.

 

Being beautiful doesn’t make you immune to criticism (internally or externally)

As someone who was bullied for a long time but is now lucky enough not to struggle with bullies (at least outside of my own head), I understand what it’s like to be criticised constantly, and I know too well the lasting effect that has on a person. However I also know that whether you’re perceived as ‘beautiful’ or not (I’ve been both), you’re always going to be criticised by someone about something. It’s an inevitable part of life. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – and even if you are, some people like to make you feel bad about yourself because they feel bad about themselves.

 

Being ‘beautiful’ isn’t the most important thing in life – whatever you read, see or watch

In fact, being beautiful is one of the least important things in the world. It’s insignificant compared with parenthood, feeling the sun on your face, being free to live life the way you want to live it, having an amazing family, your health. But our society has moved beauty up in the rankings – and now a ‘successful life’ involves money and aesthetic acceptance.

There’s this idea that once you are ‘beautiful’ and ‘acceptable’ your life will be great and things will be easy for you. You’ll get the guy, have the amazing job, finally have the confidence to do the things you want to do.

Lots of ‘beautiful’ celebrities have drug problems. They take their own lives. They abuse themselves. If ‘beautiful’ was the measure of an easy life, wouldn’t that be different? It’s proof that we don’t see ourselves as we really are. It’s also proof that beauty means nothing. In the scheme of things and as whole human beings – of us as individuals it’s very small. What about our personalities? Our achievements? Our families?

 

‘Beautiful’ is subjective

The reason lots of ‘beautiful’ people don’t feel that way is because we all have a different perception of what ‘beautiful’ is. I cover this in Tough Love but also in this post, (link to someone wants what you’ve got) because often we find ourselves wanting what other people have, hating what we were blessed with and craving their ‘positives’ instead. But what if they’re feeling exactly the same way? Everyone’s idea of ‘beauty’ is different, so aside from it being pointless to try and be someone we’re not, it’s also misguided to believe that people who are conventionally ‘beautiful’ or universally admired think the same thing about themselves.

 

Need help with body image? Struggling with low self-esteem? Always on a diet or buying make-up? Take a look at the Body Image archive here.

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How does nutrition feel after an eating disorder?

Nutrition eating disorder

coconuts_high_res

Maintaining a healthy relationship with food is hardly easy in today’s society. We’re constantly bombarded with ‘eat this, don’t eat that’ articles, advertisements featuring ‘perfect’ bodies and dubious celebrity endorsements for diets and fitness regimes. This makes loving your body (and treating it well) really difficult – and it complicates basic nutrition beyond comprehension.

Eating disorders aren’t about food (you can read my article on this here), and they’re not strictly about how we look (another article on that here!). But food is undoubtedly a large element of an eating disorder, and body image can be an issue for many sufferers.

I developed Anorexia primarily because I was in a very bad place. I was being bullied relentlessly (mostly for how I looked, but for pretty much everything else too) but I’d also had a family bereavement which had been pretty traumatic for all of us. Because I’d been bullied for over three years at that point I’d developed severe OCD and had become incredibly depressed – but I also had massively low self-esteem. It’s fair to say I hated myself – inside and out. Whilst I tried desperately to fit in I didn’t feel I could change my personality – but I did start to feel that it could be possible to change my appearance as I became more exposed and aware of advertisements and articles largely aimed at young adults.

I was overweight before I developed Anorexia and had an incredibly poor diet – so I had absolutely no knowledge of how my body worked and how I should eat. This was a dangerous combination – as my ignorance meant I absorbed the false information I read and heard and saw like a sponge. I went on various diets before settling on one (a diet which is still prominent and popular today) and combined it with various other well-known ‘weight loss’ methods. I became obsessed with counting ‘points’ and ‘calories’, good and bad. Soon I was incredibly poorly with organ failure and seemingly no way out.

My perspective on food has been shaped by this experience – but I only developed it recently. My relationship with food continued to be poor (and confused) for nearly ten years following my recovery from Anorexia. And this is why I’m so passionate about denouncing diets and talking about nutrition in a positive, truthful way now – as well as discussing how important and precious our bodies are.

Diets are the worst thing you can do to your body

If human beings needed diets to function, we’d have died out a long time ago. We naturally instinctively know how and what to eat – just like many species of animal. But unfortunately as we’ve evolved the choice of food we have to eat has widened. And in recent years the natural foods we called staples for years have been replaced with second-grade, inferior alternatives – made in factories from chemicals and harmful preservatives. Our busy lifestyles make it increasingly difficult to accommodate food as it should be accommodated – and these things in turn have caused an obesity crisis.

Diet companies might appear to be the ‘solution’ to the crisis, the saviours here to ‘fix’ us and get us fighting fit again. But they’re actually exploitative (and lucrative) business, making money out of the bad choices we make and the poor habits we’ve developed. They’re not interested in emphasising the responsibility of the individual, caring for our self-esteem or ensuring our bodies (and minds) aren’t harmed as we desperately try to be ‘slim’. They don’t address the questionable motives many people have behind a diet – mostly to be aesthetically acceptable to others, not to be happy and healthy from the inside out. They’re temporary, rather than promoting balanced, healthy eating for life. And studies have shown that aside from the physical and psychological damage many diets cause, they often result in participants getting bigger (and unhappier) as a result.

For all of these reasons I believe diets are toxic. They emphasise our weight and appearance and nothing else – even the supposedly ‘holistic’ and ‘responsible’ ones. They promote disordered eating and make many people much more unhealthy as a result when they’re trying to achieve the complete opposite! But more than that I think they contribute to a climate of self-loathing that makes body image issues and eating disorders much easier to develop. And they make money from all of that – lots of it.

I believe that nutrition and self-esteem are linked

Good nutrition goes hand in hand with positive self-esteem. I believe that when we improve one, we improve the other naturally. Since I developed a healthy relationship with food, my relationship with myself as a whole person has improved. I know my mind better than I ever have done. I appreciate now that starving myself, living off crappy expensive diet foods and depriving my body of nutrients like fat is abusive and makes me weaker mentally and physically. And most of all I understand that I only have one body, and I need to look after it if I want to live my life and do the things I want to do.

If you’re on a diet or are considering one, I hope this article has stopped to make you think about the consequences of that – and the alternatives. Although we’ve not all been through something as perspective-shifting as an eating disorder, we can all learn to understand our bodies and love food so that we can treat ourselves better.

For more on my perspective, diets and body image you can take a look at my books and related blogs here.

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My love/hate relationship with photos

city-person-woman-hand

Last week I was asked to send some recent photos of myself for the press to use. They felt my professional photos were too polished – they wanted something real. I totally understood and I obliged, setting off into my iPhone archives to dig for images.

But that was when the panic set in. I almost had a full-on panic attack – I had to take myself off and have a couple of hours breathing space before I finally revisited the task and made a shortlist with the help of my friends and family. This is because photos are a bit of an issue for me – and have been ever since the birth of the selfie and my part-time modelling career.

I became obsessed with having ‘perfect’ photos taken of myself. This became more of an issue as the fire was fuelled by social media – which is full of ‘perfect’ images of unattainability.

I found myself constantly constructing scenarios in order to have photographs taken, missing (or not enjoying) great life events because I was worried about how photos would turn out, then comparing my photos to those of others and feeling inadequate. This unhelpful, harmful cycle made me incredibly miserable. So I cut down on modelling and banned myself from social media.

I still take photos of course, just not so many. The real problem comes with the many obsessive selfies I take. And the fact that I am shit with technology, so I have three devices filled with pictures that I’m terrified of losing (for obsessive reasons).

Because of this, going back through old photos stresses me out. I’m reminded that I need to store these precious memories. I’m also reminded that really they should be plastered all over social media (until my brain reminds me that they don’t). It also stresses me out because I start to compare myself back then to myself now – and (even though at the time I felt critical about myself even more than I do now) the contemporary me comes off worse. On top of that

So I was in a world of stress picking these images. I don’t have a solution for this one yet guys – I’m stll trying to figure it out myself. But I wanted to share the story to give a little insight into my journey. My post ‘why I never say I’m better’ is coming up in a couple of weeks, but before that I just wanted to demonstrate that few people ‘lose’ or ‘shed’ their demons completely. And recovery isn’t always about being ‘better’ or ‘free of mental illness’ (as I mention in this post for Blue With A Clue here) – it’s actually often about learning to live with yourself in a way that allows you to breathe and enjoy, and doesn’t hold you back from your life.

There are lots of things I’ve managed to improve, but my relationship with photos unfortunately isn’t one of them. In time however I’m confident that’ll change. Continue to follow my journey and let’s see together!

Do you feel the same about photos? Share your stories (anonymously) here.

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When’s it due?

This weekend I was asked if in pregnant (I’m not!) – here’s how I stopped it from destroying me.

pexels-photo-54289

‘When’s it due?’

It’s probably the worst thing you can inadvertently say to a woman who feels self-conscious about her weight – or any woman for that matter. Whilst on the surface it’s well-meaning and harmless, it horrendously backfires when it transpires that the woman in question is actually not pregnant at all. Then immediately your kind, caring curiosity is transformed into an ugly insult which can cause instant damage to the recipients self esteem.

I discuss briefly in Nutrition in a Nutshell and Tough Love that I struggle with constant IBS. Anyone who has or has had IBS will understand that dealing with chronic stomach pain and bloating day in, day out is no fun (especially when people think you’re making it up, are over-exaggerating or are being awkward). Over the past 4 years I’ve come to terms with the fact that I rarely have that much-coveted ‘flat stomach’. I’m pretty much always bloated.

This used to be a REAL problem for me. My stomach (along with my thighs) was a focus point whilst I had anorexia, and ever since I longed for the VS body (until I started to change my perspective and finally learnt how to love my body the way it is). Now I just accept it and make the best of it – and I get better at managing my IBS all the time (although it’s still difficult due to anxiety). The only time I feel self-conscious at all is on occasion in a bikini and on nights out – and clubbing is something I rarely do anymore.

My best friend’s hen do this weekend involved such an occasion – and as I’d tried the dress I’d bought especially for it on a week before with no issue I didn’t expect to get into it and feel like a whale. But unfortunately I did. My stomach was inexplicably round and hard – even though is been careful as usual with what I ate. The problem with anxiety linked IBS is that it strikes when it wants without your say – so I put the bloating down to some subconscious apprehension about the weekend as is normal for me.

We went out and I forgot about the bloat (as I’ve become used to dealing very well with my insecurities and no longer let them bother me too much). I put it to the back of my mind and we set off to the club.

Yet halfway through the night I was paid the ultimate backhanded compliment. As I stood washing my hands at the sinks the toilet attendant smiled, pointed at my stomach said to me: ‘Pregnant?’

In fact the tone of her voice was less ‘posing a question’ and more ‘Aww!’ Shocked I smiled back (as you do) and replied ‘oh,..no, actually…’ before scuttling out in disbelief feeling embarrassed as the queue of women waiting looked on.

Of course I went to tell the hen party crew who were all just as shocked as I was. None of them could understand why she’d said what she’d said – but in reality I could. When I’m particularly bloated I can look a couple of months pregnant – I’m just not use to people other than my inner voice pointing that out.

I could have done two things at this point. I could have gone home crying and feeling fat and ashamed, or I could shrug it off. The new me shrugged it off. The old me would have laughed it off, only to punish myself continually afterwards and embark on some harsh diets or IBS treatments to ensure it never happened again.

Yet it’s not just what we do in the immediate aftermath that matters. Comments can cut deep and still effect us even if we managed to stick a plaster on them at the time. And I soon found myself feeling a little more self conscious than usual about my middle area – both the bloating, and the fact that my rear has been slowly expanding for a few months now.

Now I’m nowhere near as bad as I have been in the past – feeling nauseous when I look at myself, kneading my stomach critically wishing it was slimmer. But I do generally opt for baggy clothes, only wear leggings and sometimes. But even then I felt a little fatter. I looked at the photos from the night with more critical eyes. I realised I was letting my anxieties and insecurities over how I looked rule me again – and I haven’t allowed that in a long time.

So how did I make sure I felt better and didn’t let the comments bother me further? And how can you do the same after a similar blow to your self-esteem?

The criticism could be one of two things. It could be that you already recognised the ‘flaw’, so now you feel a lot fucking worse about it. Or it could be something you’d never considered before, and now you’re thinking ‘Oh my god it’s worse than I thought. Now I have to sort that out too.” Either way, you’re left feeling bad. Here’s how you can stop.

I realised when I was feeling bad that I was allowing clever psychological tricks my brain used to play on me to slide into my life again. For example, when I used to weigh myself and I discovered I was a lb over my ‘perfect weight’, I’d feel fat for the rest of the day. I’d actually feel it – my clothes seemed tight, my face looked puffy in the mirror. This would carry on usually until the next day, by which time I’d forgotten. The tight clothes, the mystery bulges of fat and the puffy face were all in my imagination.

And so too were these ideas I was having about having ‘gained weight’. Since I don’t weigh myself anymore I panicked because I decided I must have got fat without realising it – but when I sat down with myself and rationalised it I realised I looked exactly the same. Just on that night I was bloated, my dress accentuated it and that lady made a misguided comment. That’s all there is to it.

Often how we feel is 100% in our mind – it’s not actually the product of anything factual or tangible. Don’t throw away all the good things about yourself for one perceived ‘bad thing’ – especially when someone else points it out to you. More often than not they have their own motives behind saying something thoughtless or unkind – so don’t forget that often it’s them, not you.

 

I would have literally fallen apart if someone had said that to me a few years ago. But now I’m able to live with myself better – and I can handle curveballs because I’ve developed tools to help me to deal with my poor body image and insecurities. Fancy taking your first steps to living your life to the full without body image issues? Take a look at Tough Love and my Golden Rules here.

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My first Youtube vlog!

diets bad for you

So I finally bit the bullet and moved (just a little bit) into the 21st Century today. I posted a video on my Youtube channel!

diets bad for you

It’s a bit rough around the edges and my editing technique definitely needs work (as does my Google profile) but hey – it’s my first go! You can take a look at the video here:

 

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Why these diet bars are some of the WORST things you could eat (especially if you want to lose weight)

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Despite having a daughter who constantly nags her and continually informs her of the evils of dieting and the truths of nutrition and good general health and wellbeing, my mum still struggles with her weight and self-esteem. She’s held negative beliefs about herself (and well-developed bad habits) for many years now, so it’s understandably difficult for her to change, but I’m making progress. She’s now only eating wholesome, healthy foods, consumes full-fat everything and is slowly but surely starting not to worry about calories and fat content.

Imagine my horror then when I return home to find a box of diet ‘treat bars’ on the coffee table – open.

Although for obvious reasons I can’t name the manufacturer, these were chocolatey sweet bars made by a popular diet company and only available via their regular meetings. The photograph on the box depicted an artificial-looking slab of cocoa and bright pink marshmallows with a creamy drizzle on top. It certainly didn’t look anything like healthy. Although I’m an advocate of real food, I don’t condone people cutting out conventionally ‘unhealthy’ things from their diets completely – food is all about balance. But what I totally disagree with is diet companies flogging expensive crap filled with additives and sugars which people trying to be healthy then buy, thinking they’re making a positive choice.

Here are just a few reasons why you should never buy these types of diet bars – and what you can eat instead to nourish your body and take care of your mind, too.

 

1 – The FIRST ingredient was sugar

As you may have gathered, I am very strongly against diets and diet foods for a number of reasons (some of which I’ll discuss in this blog). So I grabbed the box and studied the ingredients list, and straight away I confiscated them. The very first ingredient was a type of sugar. And the second, and the third. Then there were chocolate chips – predominantly made of sugar. And mini-marshmallows – predominantly made of sugar. As I went down the list it became clear that these bars had absolutely NO nutritional value whatsoever. And yet they were being marketed as a sensible choice for people who wanted or needed to lose weight or get healthy.

2 – The rest of the ingredients were largely unrecognisable

The ingredients I could make out all involved lots of sugar and little substance. But more frighteningly there were plenty of things on that list that sounded like the type of thing you’d clean your toilet with – totally unrecognisable chemical names which didn’t belong on a list of things contained within something a human being is going to digest. Again these chemical substances will never contribute to weight loss, and are more likely to contribute to weight gain. What’s more they won’t nourish your body in any way.

3 – There was zero nutritional info on the packet

Surprisingly given the nature of the brand there was no clear information explaining the nutritional value of the bars (laughable, since that’s about zero in reality!) Checking packets for nutritional content is not something I agree with at all (all the best foods don’t come in packets and we should eat without anxiety or over-thinking) but I thought it was telling that the actual contents of the bars were omitted, as if they had something to hide. I imagine that’s because one look at the calorie content would probably send serial dieters running for the hills.

You’ll know if you’ve read my books that I don’t believe calories are very helpful, and that they shouldn’t be counted or rationed. However most foods should display nutritional info, and if they don’t I think that’s pretty suspect.

What’s the alternative?

It wouldn’t be fair for me to talk about diet bars and what people ‘shouldn’t’ be doing then not discuss the better alternative. I go into more detail in my books, but after battling an eating disorder then spending years eating crappy diet foods and abusing my body I suffered the consequences and developed IBS. After that I made sure I mostly ate foods with good nutritional value – things which tasted lovely but benefitted my body, too.

I often make quick, easy and cheap cookies, cakes and bars which would perfectly substitute sweet rubbish like the bars my mum brought home this week. These are high in protein, low GI and full of good fats – great all-rounders if you’re peckish or fancy a snack. They’re real food, and you’ll recognise all the ingredients as most of them are in their raw state! If you fancy reading more about how I eat you can take a look at Nutrition in a Nutshell, or pre-order my recipe book here.

If you’re not into making your own food then there are other alternatives. How about mixing almond butter with cocoa and palm sugar and refrigerating for a Nutella-style snack? Boiled eggs with spinach? A slice of wholemeal toast with peanut butter? A little fruit with some cream or yoghurt and pumpkin seeds?

Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact I believe getting in right involves keeping it simple.

You can read more about diets and my view on nutrition here.

 

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The trouble with ‘I can always be better’

Body image blog

Body image blog

 One of the biggest problems for me over the years has been chronic perfectionism. It’s what led to me developing Anorexia, and it’s had a significant impact on my life ever since, leading me to struggle with my self-esteem and body image for over ten years.

A few years ago I realised a few things about myself, and one of them was how this relentless perfectionism really affected me when it came to being at peace with how I look. I noticed that whenever I was complimented, straight away I thought of what I could be or lacked, rather than accepting it and feeling good about myself as I was.

For example, I get ‘you’re exotic’ – well I could be more exotic. ‘Your hair is long’ well it could be longer. I rarely think ‘Ah thanks, yes it’s nice.’ ‘You have a lovely figure’ well my arse could be bigger, my boobs could be slightly bigger, my stomach could be flatter…you get the picture.

It could be better. That’s the root behind all the statements above. ‘Ah well yeah it’s okay, but I could be better.’ Roughly translated, that means ‘I’m not perfect.’

But NONE OF US ARE PERFECT! Absolutely nobody is perfect. And it comes back to this perfectionism I have, which I see more and more people struggling with now that we are so obsessed with how we look and often expected to conform to society’s ‘ideal’ image of beauty.

The trouble with ‘I can always be better’ is simply that we can’t. And we shouldn’t want or need to be, either.

It places a heavy emphasis on how we look rather than taking into account all the things that make us who we are. And that’s a dangerous game to play, because inadvertently you can cause yourself so much damage by striving for perfection (I know I have).

So how can we prevent or at least minimise need for perfection? It’s not easy, but it starts with a few small steps:

Stop comparing

This is a biggie. Comparison is what drove my eating disorder – and it defined my self-loathing ever since. I’d always look at other people and wish I had what they had, try and work out how I could get it too. But this is a pointless and dangerous exercise. The worst thing about comparison is that most people don’t even know they’re doing it – and if confronted deep down they know it’s futile, because we have to be ourselves. More precisely, we have to learn to be okay with being ourselves (more about this here hard to be yourself and here how I’m coming to terms with not being able to change who I am).

 Minimise exposure to other people

 In order to stop comparing it’s sometimes necessary to simply cut out the trigger, as I have done. Some people might say this is ‘cheating’, but if you’ve suffered with body image issues for a long time it’s hard to reverse your negative beliefs overnight. The core issues still need to be addressed, but in the meantime if you remove the trigger you’re going to feel better and more able to tackle the reasons deep down why you feel you’re not acceptable as you are.

Recognise your positives

This might feel impossible but have a go! Find just one thing you like about yourself, however small. This could be your nails, or your brows, or how tall you are. Whenever you feel bad remember that and focus on it. This is especially useful when you find yourself comparing, because more often than not you’ll find this so-called ‘perfect’ person is lacking in something you have. Also ask yourself, would you really like to be in their shoes? Do you want all of them, or just the one element you’re focusing on? If it’s one element, remember that there are lots of good things about you that you forget or take for granted, and these are things you wouldn’t want to give up just for the sake of ‘better’ hair or a different eye colour.

Focus elsewhere

When we focus on how we look we forget about everything else – especially if we’re perfectionists or have body image issues. So how about focusing on something different which doesn’t make you feel bad?

I noticed that when I focused on building my business and writing the books, I cared less about how I looked. I actually think now that it wasn’t necessarily that I cared less, I just didn’t have time to think about it as I did before because I was so engrossed in what I was doing – and my time was taken up with something positive and productive.

Want to learn more about better body image? Take a look at my Golden Rules here:

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