That seemingly never-ending battle between our mental health and the media: The seeking of self love amidst a society encouraging self hate.

So I see all these transformation pictures on instagram and on the internet. Generally showing a person having lost weight between the two photos. The ones I see of girls online show women who have perhaps struggled with their weight, but are not necessarily always overweight,‘transform’ into a slim and toned woman, often with no signs of cellulite or stretch marks, and little body fat. These pictures make me, and probably many others, feel the need to ‘transform’ ourselves. We read their captions of how this change in their weight made them feel happier and more energetic, and we crave what they had. We crave the need to validate our happiness through our size and body. It is this unhealthy craving that spurs on generations of young women to dislike their bodies, and to think that being anything but ‘perfect’ is not acceptable. There is the need to fulfil this body stereotype in our own lives, we feel the need to be slim and toned and rid ourselves of body fat, because we see successful and beautiful women revelling in their weight loss success. We see the pride they take in the day to day ‘care’ of their bodies, the gruelling workouts and elimination of multiple food groups, and we envy their drive and success. Meanwhile, the majority of women who try to diet end up failing and falling into a cycle of overeating and dieting due to the strain they are putting their bodies under. They don’t understand that they need to give their body what it craves, they need to fuel it properly. The diet and exercise plans we see online are not sustainable. Diets consisting of limited calories only lead to disordered eating in the long term, along with a constant longing for a proper meal in order to silence the constant thoughts about food. This is disordered behaviour. We should be encouraging healthy eating without eliminating food groups, and we should be encouraging exercise without promoting only the aesthetics surrounding working out or playing sport. Sport and exercise alone can help to boost your self confidence and thereby your self image while releasing dopamine, a hormone that generates feelings of happiness.
I realise that some people who are overweight use online forums such as instagram to motivate themselves alongside others, i.e. slimming world. And yes, this form of dieting may work temporarily. But would you want to live your life counting syns? Obsessing over every morsel of food? For people looking to lose weight to become healthier and reduce the long term risks of being overweight, I would encourage healthy eating without relying on diet cultures such as slimming world, because the dependence on the structure of slimming world would distort your eating patterns when you no longer need to lose weight. A person who had lost weight by slimming world could easily fall back into old habits and gain back the weight, as many do, once they no longer need to abide by the rules. And so the reality of eating normally and regularly after their diet can become distorted. This is because diet cultures restrict our eating, they brand foods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. They don’t encourage eating to satisfy your cravings or to fuel your mind and body, because perhaps if they did we wouldn’t feel the need to overeat, when presented with a tub of ice cream for example. We would be satisfied with the one scoop because we know that we could have more if we wanted it, be it later in the day or tomorrow. There would be no off limit foods and so our mindset surrounding food would be less ‘all or nothing’. We would eat to satisfy our hunger, and put the fork down when we were full, with the knowledge that we can eat when we are next hungry once again, instead of having to deprive ourselves due to our calorie intake.
The transformation photos that I repeatedly see can be frustrating because it makes me feel like I need to change my body. Having struggled with eating problems for half of my life I am no stranger to the triggers of my disordered habits, nor am I oblivious to our society manifesting self hatred towards our bodies in order to buy into diet culture, or slimming teas and products. I have always wanted to be in a slim and toned body, and maybe it is the healthier part of me which stops me losing weight as I have no immediate need to, unless for aesthetics whereby I would claim to lose weight for myself, but in reality I would be doing it for the validation of society. But I often worry that maybe it’s the lazy part of me that no longer possesses the determination to lose the weight. The part of me which uses my eating disorder as an excuse to not losing weight. What an epic failure of a former anorexic my mind tells me. But the healthy part of me says this thinking is wrong. No, I don’t believe it is actually laziness. I think that the healthy part of me subconsciously doesn’t want to lose weight, despite my ever burning desire to do so. I believe that your body knows what weight it needs to settle at so that you can function healthily and enjoy life. I believe that you should ignore those transformation pictures telling you that you’ll be happier if you’re slimmer because that’s not necessarily true. Of course, that person could have become happier during the period of which he/she lost weight, but that isn’t a direct cause of the weight loss itself. That would confirm the lies that society tells us about weight relating to happiness. And in truth, the number on the scale does not determine your worth, your happiness. Believe me, I have been on death’s doorstep, dangerously underweight and starved and I still did not find happiness there. And now, many pounds heavier I would still not say I have found happiness. Because it is my mind that tells me I’m not good enough, not worth anything, it is not what my body looks like. That, unfortunately, is again an indirect link to eating problems and disorders. There is nothing wrong with how our healthy bodies may look, or how they may look different on everyone, it is our mind which is in the wrong. It is our mind which deforms our view on life, our self worth and our happiness. If you want to find happiness then try and work on your mindset, talk about how you feel, listen to others, challenge your thoughts. Once you change the way you view the world you will see how beautiful the human body is because of its flaws and imperfections. How beautiful it is because it looks different on every individual. A healthy body is a beautiful body no matter its shape or size or whether it has cellulite or not. We NEED body fat to keep us warm when it gets cold out, we NEED stomach fat (as women) to nurture our baby in the womb when pregnant, and we NEED food to give us the energy to walk across hills, and swim across oceans. Because maybe weight loss will give you a temporary feeling of joy, a temporary feeling of achievement, but you won’t be able to compare those fleeting feelings to the ones you experience when you’re truly content. Revolving your life around food, around weight, around looks, never ends well. It is a dark hole that sucks you in, controlling your life and your relationships. Even in less extreme cases where weight loss doesn’t result in eating struggles or disordered thinking, it can still affect your life in a negative way, like stop you from going out to a restaurant with your friends because you’re on a plant based no carb paleo diet.
I encourage healthy lives, healthy weights and healthy bodies. But I do not encourage unhealthy lives disguised by the success of weight loss or fitness, many eating disorders can be masked with fitness inspired pages or figure competitors. And I do not encourage body discrimination because all healthy bodies are not shaped the same way. Some healthy bodies may carry more fat around their legs and thighs whilst having a flat stomach, while others carry their fat around their stomach. Some bodies have more cellulite than others, some have stretch marks and some have scars. But they are all worthy of self love and acceptance. It is hard to try and accept yourself when you’re flooded with images of size 00 models, with big boobs and tiny waists. But these instagram influencers or models are not representative of the whole of society. And though it may feel like everyone around you, like your friends and co-workers, are all thinner and more attractive than you, know that you are probably viewing yourself negatively, and your low self esteem is reflecting on your perception of yourself by comparing yourself to other people. Comparisons are never healthy, whether it is to do with body size or successes and achievements. Everyone is different, everyone finds different people attractive, and everyone is going through different struggles and phases of their lives. So try not to compare yourself to others because, as I was once told, there is always going to be someone prettier or thinner or sexier than you and you just have to accept that. As also there is going to be someone uglier, or fatter than you. That’s life, there’s no need for comparisons if they’re only going to make ourselves feel worse about ourselves, instead we should cherish our differences and learn to love ourselves regardless. It is easy to say all these things, but it is harder to put them into practice. It is by no means easy to go against everything we have been taught by society about needing to look a certain way in order to be accepted by others. But the more we challenge these thoughts as a group, as a unit, instead of being alone in the fight, then the more we will realise it is perfectly ok to accept yourself for who you are at this very moment, instead of thinking about what you could change about yourself.
So here are a few mantras I’ve picked that you can remind yourself of if you forget that it is ok to find it difficult to begin the journey to self love.

I can choose positive thoughts.- I understand the power of my self talk and choose to select thoughts that are uplifting and positive.
I am confident in my decisions-I am the creator of my own destiny. I stand behind the things I do and say.
I surround myself with loving people-I can choose the people I allow into my life. I choose to surround myself with people who love and adore me.
I am strong-I am tougher and braver than I look.
I am worthy of love-I am worthy of being loved and cherished by others. My worth is untarnished by my imperfections or the way others see me.
Body, thank you for carrying me.
Appearance does not dictate health- I can be healthy at any size.
It’s ok for me to trust the wisdom of my own body- if it’s hungry, feed it.
I am capable.
Follow your fears, embrace them head on.
I am not my thoughts or emotions.
I have the power to create change.