Today we welcome Emily Fonnesbeck, RD to the Body Image Series! Emily is a registered dietitian who gets it, she’s been there. Her perspective is hopeful and inspiring.
Hi Emily! Thank you for taking the time to be a part of the Body Image Series. It’s great to have you. Let’s start off with your thoughts on body image.
The interesting thing about body image is that it’s really subjective. We see what we want to see, or have been trained to see. Two people could have the same body type and while one has a very positive body image, the other could have a hard time feeling good in their body or about their body. I’ve learned that we create our own reality when it comes to body image, which is influenced greatly by societal standards of beauty. I think it’s inspiring to know that we have the power to change how we view ourselves – to build a positive body image – but it does take establishing boundaries with what media we let influence our perception of beauty.
I think it’s also worth noting that body image has a lot to do with not only how you view your body, but how you feel in your body. So many of us focus on aesthetics without also considering how we feel physically. I find re-focusing attention from what your body looks like to what it can do or how it feels is an effective strategy for gaining body appreciation. Essentially, an individual can learn to work with their body and support their health rather than beating themselves up.
Wow, that was so well said. I love the way you honor body image as an individual experience. There are a few different terms we hear commonly when discussing body image. What do you think about body acceptance and body positivity?
Acceptance is powerful. Often we associate acceptance with complacency or stagnation. However, acceptance actually leads to positive change. In my experience, a critical mind just makes us miserable. Body hatred or manipulation often brings restriction, disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food whereas body acceptance often brings nourishment, moderation and the ability to listen to your body and anticipate it’s needs. Acceptance gets us where we want to go, in a peaceful way.
I think it’s important to note that you can feel positive about your body without loving it. Often love can feel to rigid or too much to ask, and that’s OK. Don’t let that keep you from enjoying a positive and healthy relationship with your body.
What challenges have you faced related to body image and how have you overcome them?
I probably run the risk of making generalizations here, but I honestly don’t think there is a soul alive who hasn’t at one time or another struggled with negative thoughts or feelings about their body. For such a universal issue, you would think we would be more open about it. I am pretty open about my struggle with disordered eating (Orthorexia) in recent years and part of recovery has been needed weight gain. It’s been a good experience and I’ve learned a lot. In particular, I’ve experienced what research has shown – a malnourished brain can cause body dysmorphia, while a well-nourished brain seems to appreciate a well-nourished body. The closer someone comes to their genetically predetermined weight, the less body image issues they have. Interesting right? My body image has dramatically improved with weight gain. Actually, I don’t know that it’s just improved WITH weight gain, but BECAUSE of it. Now that I am at a more appropriate weight for my genetics and body type, I rarely have negative thoughts about my body. Obviously I’ve done a lot of psychological work around eating disorder recovery, but I credit adequate weight and nutrition to a more positive body image.
That’s such an important point you make about the effects of a malnourished brain on body image. Now that you have experienced this yourself, how do you encourage body acceptance or positivity amongst others?
First and foremost, I practice it with myself. That’s how we change our culture – it all starts with our own relationship with ourself. Naturally that extends to friends, my kids, family members, clients, etc. I don’t say mean things about my body nor do I make comments about other people’s bodies – to them or behind their back. None of us need to spend our time talking about body shape or size. Body acceptance would happen automatically if we made it a non-issue.
How do you handle situations where a friend or family member is being negative about themselves?
I’ve learned that if you don’t engage in the conversation and/or counter with more positive dialogue, over time it tends to take care of itself. Or, for those who are comfortable, have a conversation with that individual or individuals where you are honest about how that kind of talk makes you feel. Negative body talk is so socially acceptable, they may just have no idea!
What type of movement makes you feel most accepting or positive in your body?
I love yoga, a sentiment echoed by many in the body positive community. Feeling your body move in any fashion fosters connection, but yoga takes it up a notch. Yoga imitates life for me – calm in the midst of struggle, fluid movements between moments of quiet strength, times of rest and relaxation coupled with tough work and effort. Yoga also makes me feel physically AND mentally strong, and I love to feel the body and mind work together.
If body positivity was a recipe, what would the ingredients be?
I love this question Curiosity, acceptance, neutrality, movement and nourishment.
Do you have a favorite body image quote?
LOVE this one (pronouns can be changed to “he” or “they”)
“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful for the way she thought. She was beautiful for the sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful for her ability to make other people smile even when she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful, deep down to her soul.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
A big priority for me is sleep. My kids are old enough now that my husband and I can set predictable sleep patterns. That really makes all the difference for me. Another big one is not saying mean things about myself or other people. That might sound inconsequential, but not spending time making assumptions or passing judgements helps me stay positive and live what I believe – that we are all connected and divine.
Emily Fonnesbeck is a Registered Dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She belongs to Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and Behavioral Health Nutrition dietetic practice groups. She also completed training in Adult Weight Management and is a Certified LEAP (Lifestyle, Eating and Performance) Therapist for autoimmune, digestive and inflammatory conditions. Her nutrition passion consists of helping individuals free themselves from diets, food guilt, food shame and obsessive exercise. She has a non-diet, client-centered approach and uses the principles of Intuitive Eating to help people make peace with food and their bodies. You can stay in touch with Emily on her website, blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.
Coming up next week: “When my body started changing during puberty, I immediately became insecure. My hips and thighs grew a lot and to me it felt out of nowhere. All of a sudden I was told I should start watching what I ate and I quickly grew out of my clothes. That’s when my negative body image started creeping in.” -Addi Black