With all its unpleasant and embarrassing symptoms, IBS can take its toll on your self-esteem. I know, I’ve been there! It’s such an important topic, but one that’s not often spoken about. Well, today’s the day! Our guest poster for today is breaking the silence.
Rebecca Clyde is a Registered Dietitian, health coach, and body positivity champion, so she’s pretty much the perfect person to talk to all of us here about body image and IBS. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca!
As many of you know, Irritable Bowel Syndrome comes with uncontrollable GI functions, symptoms which are constantly changing, flare-ups that can lead to too much time spent in the bathroom, missing out on favourite activities and social events, and finally lots and lots of feeling crappy. Such disturbances to your productivity and to your life can lead to frustrations and feeling bad about yourself. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
What is Body Image?
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror, or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses what you believe about your own appearance including memories, assumptions, and generalizations, and how you feel about your body, including height, shape, and weight. Body image also involves how you sense and control your body at rest and through movement. Ultimately it’s defined both by how you feel in your body and how you feel about your body.
Women and Body Image
Body image researchers collectively say that a negative body image is totally normal for women; that it’s essentially a part of being a woman. Negative thoughts about our own bodies are bad. On the other hand, you’ve probably been told that you have to hate your body enough to then make positive health changes. Unfortunately this is totally wrong. Research actually indicates that young girls in particular who were teased about their weight were 2-3 times more likely to report unhealthy eating habits.
Learn to Love Your Body
The positive effects of having a healthy body image run far deeper than improving your relationship with yourself and removing some of that negative self-talk. Think about your body like your favourite item of clothing. You may have spent a lot of time finding that item, or possibly a lot of money. You’ve invested a lot into this item. Unlike that t-shirt you got for free that you didn’t really want, you actually take care of this piece of clothing. You may take the extra steps to clean it appropriately, you don’t wear it to clean your house or do dirty yard work, and you may not lend it out to friends. You cherish that piece of clothing and you take care of it.
If you learn to love your body for what it allows you to do, you’re far more likely to actually take care of it. This concept was brought to body image relevance by a study conducted in the mid 1990s. Project EAT, a study out of the University of Minnesota, surveyed 5000+ adolescents about their health habits and their body image perceptions two separate times within a five year period. The numbers that came out of this study indicate that the students who disliked their bodies were more likely to follow unhealthy dieting tactics, they were less likely to exercise consistently, and were actually more likely to diet and to binge eat. For all of the people who tell you that the more you hate your body the more you’ll do to change it, I’m sorry to say that the science suggests otherwise. Adolescents who scored high on body acceptance actually ate more fruits and vegetables, exercised more, and didn’t binge as often. Even though these are adolescents, behaviour theories suggest that our experiences and behaviours early in life shape our behaviours later in life.
Body Image and Weight Loss
Research also indicates that dieting doesn’t work for most people, although 90% of women diet regularly. Dieting doesn’t work because 95% of people who participate in weight loss programs regain it in 1-5 years. Dieting for weight loss is actually often associated with weight gain as a result of binge eating. And finally, body dissatisfaction and weight change behaviours have been shown to predict future physical and health difficulties including both weight gain and obesity, as well as eating disorders.
Body Image and Self Esteem
Long story short, a positive body image is good for your self-esteem, your life, and also your health. If you accept your body as it is and love it for what it allows you to do instead of its malfunctions or how it looks, you will open your world to your own potential. As far as your health, getting to a place where you love your body will uniquely position you to take care of your body. If you act like your body is the amazing and unique home that it is, you will treat it better. You’ll nourish it with healthful foods, movement, and enjoyable activities.
Body Image and IBS
We often think of body image as something that’s affected by comparing ourselves to the impossibly fit & skinny bodies in the media. While this is true, the way we see or imagine our bodies is built off of so much more. For someone who has a physical characteristic that makes them look different than others, they can be lead to believe that their body isn’t as good or as beautiful as others’. The same goes for anyone who suffers from frequent and incapacitating bowel issues. While your outward physical appearance may not be that different from others, the way you feel in your body could definitely be different. And that affects how you feel about your body.
How to Improve Body Image
First of all, you need to recognize what affects your body image. In order to do that, consider these following questions:
I think _________________________ about my body.
I think _________________________ about other’s bodies.
I feel __________________________ about my body right now.
Then add the IBS layer. Add how your diagnosis/symptoms affects each of these areas.
Strategies for Improving Body Image
Let’s talk about the expert recommended methods to improve your body image, as well as the real life strategies that have worked for 3 different women who suffer from different forms of IBS.
- Recognize your triggers. Identify what triggers cause you to feel poorly about how you look and feel. This is vague because everyone is so different. The next step is to reduce those triggers or resist them.
- Get moving. Studies show that exercise improves gut function, as well as your body image. Start small, and stick to activities you enjoy. That way you’ll be in a better place to continue moving and reaping the benefits.
- Be upfront with your needs. This is a recommendation from a friend with IBS. She said that she has found so much freedom after sharing her needs with those close to her. It’s allowed her to participate more frequently in activities she enjoys, such as road tripping. In addition to gaining support and help, you can connect to others suffering from similar experiences. This helped another friend connect with a family member who suffers from similar IBS symptoms. They commiserated with each other, laughed over mortifying experiences, and learned how to deal with symptoms from one another.
- Be grateful. Gratitude for her body and what it allows her to do helped another friend accept and live with her IBS. We all have our challenges in life, and putting that in perspective helps some to look on the bright side.
- Go with the flow. One particularly difficult aspect of IBS is the inconsistency of symptoms and triggers. Since our gut is affected by so many aspects of life, there’s no telling how it will react to a situation or a food. Instead of being furious with your body for reacting negatively to a food you love or typically do well with, write it down and move on.
And finally, in the immortal words of Amy Pohler, “That is the motto women [with IBS] should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.” IBS is different for everyone, don’t think you’re any less than anyone else because your body or your digestive system reacts differently to food than others’ do.
National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-body-image. Accessed 17 October 2016.
Garner, Rockert, Olmsted, Johnson, Coscina 1985…..
Via Center for Change 7/13/15 webinar. Understanding the pressure on women to be thin, by Nicole Hawkins PhD. http://centerforchange.com/webinars/ Accessed 8/15/16.
Stice, Cameron, R. P., Killen, J. D., Hayward, C. & Taylor, C. B. (1999). Naturalistic weight-reduction efforts prospectively predict growth in relative weight and onset of obesity among female adolescents.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 967-974.
Field, A. E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malspeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H. R., Gillman, M. W., & Colditz, G.A. (2003). Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents.Pediatrics, 112, 900-906.
Le Grange, D., & Loeb, KL. (2007). Early identification and treatment of eating disorders: prodrome to syndrome. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 1, 27-39.