Q: I dread summer. I’m overweight and every time I look in the mirror I feel sick. The idea of wearing shorts or – shudder – a bikini fills me with total dread. What can I do to feel better about myself?
A: I think, if we’re honest, few of us dance around with delight at the prospect of baring flabby pasty flesh after a long winter of thick sweaters and furry boots. But I hate that you’re beating yourself up about your body.
Are you really overweight? We’re fed this ridiculous size zero image of the ‘perfect woman’ which, frankly, is insane. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes and, truly, there is no such thing as ‘perfect’. Even supermodels have parts of their bodies they loathe. And please remember that pretty much every image you will see in a magazine has been tweaked and photoshopped.
I’d love you to focus on having a strong, healthy body – rather than a thin one. If you really are overweight (taking into account your height and bone structure) then maybe it’s time you started being kind to your body. Our bodies are incredible things – think about all they do for us, uncomplainingly for the most part. Yet how do we treat them? With loathing and contempt. Sad, isn’t it?
What would your body really love you to do for it? Check out Pete Cohen’s website (www.weightlossguru.com) – I’m not mad on the title he uses (let’s focus on gaining health and strength and happiness, rather than losing weight, huh?) but I do like his approach to working with (rather than against) your body in gaining health.
Use the power of your mind to help. Visualise the strong, healthy, happy body you deserve and make it totally, utterly real in every detail. Have this future you standing in front of you and, when the image is as clear as you can make it, step forward into it; become it. Repeat this several times a day.
Also spend time in front of the mirror (no, don’t wince!). Look into your eyes and say to your reflection: ‘I love and approve of myself’. Ten to one, you’ll find yourself disagreeing and that’s okay. Just let the negative thoughts come out and repeat again: ‘I love and approve of myself.’ You may well find that you will unearth the source of your negative body image with this exercise – many of us hold onto old beliefs that were foisted on us when we were young and impressionable; or we believe the hurtful comments people have made to us over the years. Time to decide what is healthy for you and what isn’t.
If you really fancy kickstarting a healthy living plan, I’d thoroughly recommend a weekend or week on one of The Body Retreat‘s retreats (www.thebodyretreat.co.uk). Forget that old bootcamp nose in the mud stuff – these guys will give you a grounding in healthy eating and will introduce you to a whole barrage of different kinds of exercise, so you can discover which you love – and which you loathe. They also help you understand the psychology behind over-eating and eating food that your body hates. Truly, they work wonders.
Read my report here.
You can change your relationship with your body. Trust me on this because I’ve done it. I’ve shed four stone and now only eat foods which make my body smile. Sure, I have the odd chocolate moment (who doesn’t?) but I’ve stopped killing my body with bad food choices and I’ve made friends with exercise. And you know what? It feels fabulous. Do I feel totally at ease in my body? Not yet. But I’m a darn sight closer than I used to be.
Go for it! If I can do it, I know you can do it too.
A version of this originally appeared in my Natural Health column.
You might also want to consider a slow safe detox – something all bodies love from time to time. I have developed a one-month plan that you can fit in around a normal working life – no need to become a hermit!