This Body Talk activity can be done either individually or in a group setting. The objective of this body acceptance activity is to provide education about the role of body image distortion in eating disorders. The goal of this activity is to increase insight into distorted thoughts and projection of negative feelings onto body parts, to challenge people to renegotiate negative body image focus, and to develop tools to support body acceptance. This activity focuses on taking inventory of body image history from childhood to present day.
Markers, crayons or colored pencils (three)
Body outline diagram (two)
White board and markers (group setting)
Write down words or phrases that you associate with “body image” on the back side of your body outline diagram (individual) or on the white board (group). Think about or discuss these ideas together. Choose three colors of markers, crayons or colored pencils and a body outline diagram. Using a color code, identify, color and mark parts of your body where you assign judgement. Use “feel good about,” “feel neutral about,” and “feel bad about.”
Color code example:
Blue = feel good about
Yellow = feel neutral
Red = feel bad about
Next, take the second diagram and depict how you ideally want to feel about your body. You may want to date the diagrams so that over time, you can notice how your body image feelings change. Write down five realistic steps that you can take towards having a healthier body image and begin the steps.
I met Roni Maislish through LinkedIn (he is in Israel), as we both work in mental health and specifically with eating and emotions. We both recognize the emotional aspects of obesity and that it can be an emotional-mental-issue. Roni says, “Most of the time, when people talk about eating disorders, they forget the field of overweight and the emotional side of this field.” Roni created this workshop for therapists, family physicians, dieticians, and related professionals, which I will talk about more below.
Find four downloadable worksheets on emotions, eating, and body image at the bottom this article. I have used these worksheets when working with people over the years. Shannon Mick, NCC, LPC, CCATP, CTMH
By Roni Maislish
Therapist workshop – The Emotional aspect of Obesity (Introspection through the relationship with food and eating as a gate to change, cure and healing)
Background – How many times you had been surprised by overweight patients that told you to “fix them quickly”, who for years after years trying to lose weight, sometime seceded and then back again, gain the weight back? How many time your faith in your patient dissipate and you felt anger and frustration that he or she is not committed enough to the process like you? And how many times you felt that you are not able to understand emphatically (near-experience) why those patients cant keep on fighting, controlling and avoiding in their food and eating’s issues? and how many time you realized and told yourself that something is missing?
For all of you therapist from a variety methods and approach who dealing with the emotional aspect of overeating, overweight, emotional eating, emotional non-eating, non-acute eating disorder, obesity and more – you all most welcome to workshop (short educating program) where you become familiar, study and also go in depth to a new dimension which will enable you to see, understand and experience the “food and eating’s issue” not as a “problem to solve” but as a unique way that a specific person use to “tell his story” while integrate and keeping safe his “self”. And From this kind of listening stance we will be able to make place to our patients, while helping them finding their subjective way toward healing and restoring their wounded, un-develop and neglected self.
The workshop – In the beginning I will present my attitude in the last 15 years (which changing and modifying in time) for dealing with emotional eating’s issues. I will share with you my straggles, dilemmas and personal questions that occupied me since early childhood and connect it to my journey (both personal, academic and professional) and how I established and combined theories which gradually help me to meet myself and my patients from a “different” perspective (that sometime we can feel as if you speak an ancient languish).
Doing so, I will manly focus in two theoretical and clinical paradigms to help us to understand ideas I formulate these years– I call it: “the fat remember”/”the fat’s emotional role” (or, “if the fat will able to talk, what it will say?”):
The first paradigm based on Didier Anzieu’s work (manly his book :”I-Skin”, which written in French “Le Moi-Peau”) who dealt on the emotional-sensorial clothing (“I-Skin”) that a human beings wear from early childhood and making adaptation trough the years to avoid invasiveness and secure the self from hurts and fragmentation. In his work Anzieu present 8 function of this psyche soma’s envelop like holding, handling, protecting and more. In my work, regarding Anzieu’s ideas, I explore the fat, the overweight, mostly in the abdomen (but not always) and its role to establish and contributing the building of those 8 functions in case that the self no longer develop normally. For instance we will learn together about the connection of the stimulation-shield function in the “I-Skin” clothing to the gaining weight process to build “fat armor” against attacks on the self.
Later on, I will present the “self-Psychology” paradigm while understanding deeply that defense and resistance is not something that the therapist need to break, remove, overcome, or even to melt so we can see emotional aspects and reasons of gaining weight’s process as a reminder from a depress self which struggle to survive non-emphatic world. This self, as I see it, is still hoping that someone (maybe the therapist) will see beyond the “fat story” and help the patient to restart its “inner self program” and recover those years of deprivation.
Regarding the topic of this workshop and self-psychology, In his second book, “The restoration of the self” (1977, pp 80-81) Kohut refer to the triad: oral fixation, pathological overeating and obesity and present the understanding of the classical approach that deals with drive-awareness and the ability to control the drive (via its suppression, sublimation, inhibition of its aim, displacement, or neutralization). Instead, Kohut’s claim is that “the child asserts his need for a food-giving self-object” and “the child needs empathically modulated food-giving not food”. If this need remains unfulfilled, Kohut continue, then the child retreats to a fragment of the larger experiential unit, i.e., to pleasure-seeking oral stimulation (depressive eating). Kohut add that increasing awareness to those process renewed movement toward psychological health.
The combination between Anzieu’s theory and Kohut’s perspective, while adding the work of Eigen (Toxic Nourishment, Emotional Starvation), Ogden (The Autistic-contiguous position), McDougall (Theatres of the Body) – will all helps us to build new platforms and ideas which open new possibilities to understand the patient’s pain, to find beauty in the defensive-structure of the patient (his overeating patterns) and further on to develop the patient self-ability to heal and grow himself while seeing us ganging and flexible in our empathy enabling him to change too.
During our learning and in between the theoretical conceptualization that we will create, I will share with you some example from my clinical work. The main part in this section will be the “mindfulness meal” where we will be able , to search different possibilities for introspection of the connection between our relationship with food/eating and others relationship (family, marriage, career, friends, money, faith and more). In this mindfulness-experiential process, we will use motive like: choice, miss, lose, regret, planning, disintegration, aesthetics and more, to understand how a certain movement from our eating place’s seat to the buffet table represent original selfobject needs. That will help us to vary and enrich our empathic capability and responses to those patients that their selfobject need didn’t met yet and have a very complex relationship with food and eating. For example: One of the participants in the workshop can become aware that the way he choosethe food was similar to how others choosing and he can realized that he didn’t ask himself what are his special and authentic needs. Then he can share about that kind of pattern in other relationship (for example – he choose where to study upon his unique need or was it a “social decision”). That mindfulness experience of understanding will take us, as a group, to discuss how some of our patients will prefer the “socially eating” pattern which can give them a response for their twinship’s (alter ago) needs (they eat the same food like everyone so they feel part of the group, and the world). Those kinds of introspections around the table will encourage us to think about more emphatic response’s possibilities for more kind of needs (mirroring, idealizing).
If we will have enough time we will practice in pair the question: “for what I am really hungry for? (The dialogue between emotional hunger and physical hanger) and mediate on the “role of the fat” and more. We will complete our journey with sharing our experience and understanding, we will ask ourselves what surprise us today and we will have some time for questions and answers.
About the instructor –Roni Maislish M.A (psychotherapist and clinical social worker).
From 2005 I am working with overweight’s patients dealing with emotional eating that come from emotional long-term neglected. I the last 2 year I am working in Tel Hashomer (Sheba) hospital in an overweight treatment center (part of the endocrine institute) while between 2006-2011 I saw eating disorder’s patients (and their parents) in Soroka Hospital. From 2007 working as emotional eating’s therapist. Leading groups both for therapist and non-therapist, short workshop and year-long dynamic-study groups. Beside working with patients, I involve deeply in education-prevention roles schools, pre-school, eating disorder’s clinics, accompanying nutritionist, mantel health department, and much more .in 2008 I participated in a 5 days retreat in California leaded by Geneen Roth (the author of the bestseller “When food is Love”).
The hunger scale chart is one way to become more in-tune with your gut feelings and also, to have a better idea on whether or not you’re hungry and how much food to eat. Taking notes of how you feel will eventually lead to increasing your awareness and improving intuitive eating habits. The scale is 1-10. One, being that you’re feeling starving, weak, or dizzy and ten, is that you feel sick because you are so full.
When to Use
While deciding whether you should eat or not. Are you reaching for food because you’re hungry or because you’re feeling a particular emotion?
After eating a snack or a meal. Check-in with yourself to see where you are. Did you eat enough or did you eat too much?
Use this tool about twice per week, on a consistent basis, for about three to five months. This amount of time presents the opportunity to increase awareness and to settle into healthier habits.
How to Use
Pair this scale with practicing eating mindfully or intuitively.
Be non-judgmental of what number you are on the scale.
Feeling five or six after eating is appropriate. Seven is alright, every now and then, like during a holiday meal. The top goal is to feel comfortable.
Jot down in a journal or notebook your hunger scale number and a few other details, like what you ate, thoughts, and feelings.
Practice consistently, becoming more in-tune can take time. Practice being non-judgmental and patient with how long it might take you. It might take multiple changes and attempts, that’s alright.
Put the scale where you will see it and remember to use it. In a journal where you track habits, on the fridge, or on the dining room table. If you want to leave it on the dining room table, some people place it in a folder or a clear page sleeve.
Share what you’re working on with your dietician or mental health counselor.
Questions to Consider
An important point to mention is to notice thoughts and feelings while eating. A lot of times, we eat and are distracted by our phones, the television, or a conversation. Is this you? Are you feeling depressed or anxious while eating? Are you being judgmental or the food or yourself while you eat?
Another thing to notice is whether you are disassociated or non-present. Are you enjoying the food? Why or why not? Are you being mindful of the meal? Did you fly through the meal, eating fast? Did you eat at an abnormally slow pace? How big were your bites?
Having a better relationship to food is about mindset, which takes unraveling the current messages you have been operating under and re-wiring the brain with messages that serve you. This all starts out with discovering your current messages and limiting beliefs. After completing these questions, go back through your answers and look for behavioral and emotional patterns. What do you know now that you didn’t know before? How can you improve your relationship to food? How do you take action? Do you need to speak with a professional for support?
Download these questions below. Print them out and share.
What does “food” mean to you? What do you associate food and eating with?
What is your relationship to food like? Describe it like you would a relationship with an actual person.
How does food make me feel? How do I wish I felt about food?
Why do I eat? What 3 words describe my relationship to food right now? What 3 words do I wish did?
What do I want food to do for me?
Do you consider where food comes from or do you think of food as an end product?
Are you a distracted eater or do you just eat? If you are a distracted eater, what usually distracts you?
Do you record everything that you eat and drink? If so, what are your intentions behind it? Are your intentions healthy and appropriate?
What are the negative thought before, during, and after eating? Eating very little? Eating just enough? Overeating? Binging?
When, Where, and What is happening when you feel intense pulls toward food?
If I eat when I am physically not hungry, its because….
If my emotional eating is trying to tell me a message, what would that message be?
What stresses me out the most? What do I do to cope with stress?
Describe your first memory of dysregulated eating. How old were you? What were the circumstances of it? How did you feel?
What did your parents (or who ever raised you) used to say when talking about your body? What did they used to say when talking about their own body?
What did your parents (or who ever raised you) used to say when talking about how you should eat? What did they used to say when talking about how they should eat?
Who had the biggest impact on your food habits growing up? Why?
Name the positive and negative messages you received around healthy eating.
What habit(s) did you establish early on that you would like to transform?
Name somebody who you believe has a healthy relationship with food. What do you notice about them? How is your relationship with food different, and is it similar in any ways? What is between you and having a healthy relationship with food?
What are you craving in your life, what do you want more than anything, that you are using food to feel? Think of emotions.
Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
How will changing your dysregulated eating and improving your relationship to food affect your body, mind, and spirit in the future?
What parts feel the most challenging when thinking of a better relationship to food? Which parts feeling easy?
What patterns do you notice when it comes to nourishing yourself?
What inspires you to be healthy? How can you make more room for this in your life?
I feel the most like myself when…
I would love to do _____________, but I’m not sure I could. Why is that?
What do you believe you deserve in life? Thinking about that, what do you need to let go of to make it happen?
Imagine your life 3 years from now. If everything worked out the way that you hope for, what would that look like? Love? Family? Work? Wealth? Health?
To you, what does it mean to show up as your best self?
How could having a healthy relationship with food impact the rest of your life? Relationships? Health? Career?
Do you need additional support when working on having a healthy relationship to food? What kind of support do you need?
What is my body? How do I connect food and my body?
If I could wave a magic wand and have my dream body, what would it be?
When I look in the mirror, I feel…
What are my biggest daily challenges with food and body? If I didn’t have these problems, how would my life be different?
Dear body, I love you because…
List three positive intentions that you can use to motivate your journey towards intuitive eating and creating a healthy, sustainable relationship with food and your body. Example: “I will nourish my body every day and will speak kindly to myself to help support a healthy body and mind” Example: “I will speak kindly to my body and appreciate it for all it does for me every day.”
What are 3 things that you appreciate about your body?
Do you usually eat alone and or randomly? Do you eat with others at set times and places?
Write about your relationship to cooking. Do you like to cook or prefer someone else does it for you? Do you see it as a chore or as a fun pastime? Did you grow up in a household where one or both of your parents enjoyed cooking, or did you eat a lot of take-out and TV dinners? What are your favorite dishes to prepare?
How do you define the term “comfort food”? What is your favorite comfort food? Is it something your mom or dad or grandma used to make when you were little or an indulgence you only have a few times a year? Describe your ultimate comfort food in detail and reflect on why you associate it with contentment, coziness or well-being.
Is there anything about nutrition that you would like to learn more about?
Does your family have any special dietary rules?
How does your culture influence your eating habits?
How does the media / television commercials / social media / celebrities / models / etc. influence your eating habits?
What is your opinion on fad diets?
If you have tried a fad diet, which one? How did it affect you physically, mentally and emotionally?
Do you tend to eat the same foods over and over again? If so, why is that? Would you like to try new foods? How can you begin incorporating new food choices into your day? What would eating new foods do for you?
This worksheet helps with recognizing what our bodies do for us and what is unique about us. Think about the abilities and all that our bodies achieve every day, there are several! Walking, speaking, reading, thinking, feeling, eating, and reproducing, just to mention a few. Our bodies are elaborate and designed to do absolutely astonishing things! This worksheet is for anybody to complete: children, adolescents and adults; use in the classroom setting with children; use in a group setting, so that you can learn from and relate to others. I have used this as a tool when working with people who struggle with body image, eating disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) in a group therapy setting.
We may be dissatisfied with certain parts of our bodies and find it difficult to accept them. The focus tends to be on our flaws and sometimes we long for our bodies to appear or function differently, in unattainable ways (distorted thinking). As you work through the uniqueness section of the worksheet, remember that everybody is different and that if we weren’t, then how dull this world would be! Things that make you unique are your talents, special abilities, personality, a birthmark, etc… again, there are several!
A word about going against negative body image obsessing… we can battle our distorted thoughts and beliefs about our bodies by really thinking through body positivity and appreciation. Positivity and appreciation will increase self-awareness, and when we accept our bodies as they are and their unique characteristics, we can find peace and satisfaction. As we focus on these positive qualities, stay clear from thinking about what we view as flaws or what we dislike about our bodies because it is most important to be grateful for them and not judge ourselves. For example, you may not like the appearance of your birthmark. Try not to think about the appearance as much, give thought to a meaning behind the birthmark. Does or did anyone else in your family have that birthmark? How does your birthmark make you unique? At times, we are our most critical judges. Through this whole process of learning, appreciating and accepting, we gain self-esteem and it becomes easier to love ourselves as we are. Don’t give up if you become stuck, take a short break or ask for help.
Lastly, about taking care of our bodies and meeting our basic needs. Self-care sounds simple, but when there is a struggle accepting and appreciating our bodies, it is complicated. It is key to know ways that we can take care of our bodies to help them stay strong and healthy. Eating well-balanced meals, exercising the appropriate amount, practicing good hygiene, going to the doctor’s, dentist’s, chiropractor’s office when necessary, are all perfect examples of taking care of our bodies. There is an endless list of creative ways to take further care, such as, feng shui the bedroom to get better sleep, practice dance or yoga therapy, head to the spa, do simple stretches for your muscles, breathing exercises, etc. Self-care means feeling better, having gained confidence and love towards our bodies.