Sherry-Lee Smith – Psychologist, Perth WA
I recently returned to the gym after an extensive time of being away. This time away allowed me to experience it with new eyes and a little more wisdom. Many of us living in a western society tend to see our body as who we are. We are bombarded by unrealistic ideals about what we should look like and who we should be, as if our body is the most important part of who we are. Guess what? You are not your body nor are you your mind. We tend to over identify with both of these things. Who you really are is the consciousness which can observe both the body and the mind; the essence that uses the body and the mind as vehicles to fulfil a unique purpose. That is who you really are and what you are here for. This over identification with the body and the mind over our true selves perpetuates a living hell for people who suffer with body image issues. For many of the people I work with whether they come seeking help for eating disorders, compulsive exercise, weight loss difficulties, or body image issues, the gym environment can become a place of self-punishment, body-loathing and self-hatred. Many people on the process of recovery at some point or another want to avoid working out because it triggers their body image issues. However, avoidance isn’t the answer. You can use your triggers to work your way from body-loathing to self-love, taking your focus away from your body image and towards who you really are.
Practical tips to help you on your journey;
- Refrain from comparing yourself to others. This only perpetuates the preoccupation with your body image and weight. Everyone is on their own journey. Try catching yourself when you compare yourself to others and move your focus of attention elsewhere.
- Refrain from checking how your body looks. You can focus instead on perfecting your form rather than your body.
- Engage mindfully in your exercise routine. Exercise can be used as an active meditation. Allow any outside thoughts to come but don’t get attached to them, especially the critical ones about your body. Let them go and refocus your attention on what you are doing.
- Focus on health, fitness or achievement related goals rather than body image or weight goals. Small goals in these areas will get results faster and keep you motivated.
- Take your focus away from how many calories you are burning. This only serves to reinforce the cycle the punishment and unhealthy preoccupation with food and weight.
- Focus on the gift your body gives you. In between sets stop and close your eyes, focus on your heart and become aware of how your heart beats and the gift it is giving you by pumping blood around your body, keeping you alive and well. This act of gratitude towards the body shifts your focus from body-loathing to self-love. Love and appreciate everything it has to offer. Even if you don’t believe it at first, find something to be grateful for.
- Find some time to contemplate your positive qualities and how you can use them to serve others. Focus on your strengths and the gifts you have to give the world.
- Remember that the body is merely a vehicle. It deserves your love, respect and a healthy lifestyle but at the end on the day it’s really just a means to an end. It’s meant to help you accomplish something far more important than looking good. You are so much more than your body. Find the magnificence within you.
Sherry-Lee Smith is a psychologist who works in private practice in Mt Lawley, Perth WA. Sherry is available for consultations with eating disorders, body image issues (including body dysmorphia or muscle dysmorphia), weight loss difficulties, compulsive exercise as well as other mental health issues. If you would like further information about her services please click here.