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.
To help resolve any unfinished business that you have with another person, write a letter. This may be written to a person who has hurt or wronged you, and who is no longer a part of your life. DO NOT ACTUALLY SEND THEM (or anyone) THIS LETTER, this letter is for YOU. Keep it confidential.
I STRONGLY suggest doing this activity with a professional counselor and talking through the situation with them. They can support you.
Writing this letter will help you to:
Reflect and process
Think more slowly
Maybe to forgive the wrong-doer
Forgive yourself, if you need to
Put your thoughts and emotions to paper
Release pent up thoughts and strong emotions, like pain, sadness, and anger
Find some peace, healing and resolution
Empowerment and improve self-esteem
Increase self-care and self-love
There are no set rules for writing this letter. You may find it difficult to start this process, just dive right in. The letter can be edited and re-organized to how you would like. Start with the wrong-doer’s name, like you are writing a letter. If you’re unsure of how long your letter should be, try aiming to write one to three pages just to get an idea. Once you have that, you will better know if the letter should be any longer. The letter is to benefit you and to help resolve any unfinished business, the length of the letter doesn’t matter quite as much. End the letter with your name.
Important things to think about including:
Things that you want the wrong-doer to know.
Anything that you want to say to them.
Talk about what they did to you.
Talk about how you feel.
Talk about your reaction to what they did.
Talk about the impact that it has had on yourself. What areas of your life have been impacted? How has it been changed?
Write about what you wish went differently.
Write about how you wish things ended with that person.
Is there anything that you could have done differently?
Allow yourself to be open to writing anything that comes up.
This is a challenging exercise, so take a break if you need to, re-visit it. *Self-care is very important through this process.* Work on acknowledging your thoughts and emotions, know that they are natural and occur for a reason, but let them roll away (not sticking in your mind) as you write. Utilize coping strategies to reduce intense stress, anxiety, emotions, etc. Try to make sure that you’re in a good “mental space,” not overly anxious or panic when you write this. It is helpful to be able to think clearly and be focused. After you finish writing this letter, read it out loud to yourself. Reading it to yourself might be emotional because your brain will be processing the information slightly differently, hearing your own voice read what you wrote is powerful. Read it to a counselor, they will listen and be able to guide you. If you think that it would be beneficial reading it a second or third time, then do so. Notice if your thoughts and emotions changed the next time through. Lastly, when you are ready, you completed the letter and read it out loud, destroy the letter for resolution (and confidentiality). There is symbolism in destroying the letter. It isn’t returning. Allow yourself to be healed and empowered. Love yourself. Notice how you feel while destroying the letter and afterwards. Do you feel physically lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders? Do you feel empowered? Did you sigh in relief or smile?
Once again, please talk with someone if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is rewarding to speak with someone, brain imaging research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) can be impactful right away.
IMPROVE the Moment is the next skill. The acronym IMPROVE makes life a little bit better when it is not going so well.
During a crisis, you have two options. You can sink into the distress or invest in behaviors that might improve how you feel in the moment.
I: Imagery M: Meaning P: Prayer R: Relaxation O: One thing (or moment) at a time V: Vacation E: Encouragement
Imagery is powerful because your mind can convince your body that you are elsewhere. A good example is being at the beach. When you’re actually sitting on the beach, your muscles are relaxed. When you imagine yourself at the beach (and you’re elsewhere), you can still get your muscles to relax, you convince your body that you are sitting there.
Ideas for imagery
Use an app or purchase a recorded guided imagery. You can also just use your own mind and create a guided imagery.
• Forest path • Walk on the beach • Favorite place • Safe place • Sunflower field • Stroll by a stream • Waterfall • Garden of butterflies • Sunset • Star gazing • Mountain summit hike • Sitting by a campfire
Practice and enjoy the benefits! Also, imagine yourself doing well and practicing your skills.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the founders of existential therapy, once said “If there is a why, then a person can figure out the how.” [Look him up, his life was remarkable. He wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is about being a psychologist in a concentration camp. He is well-known for this book, but he has several other accomplishments.]
List and contemplate your “whys” for working on any problem.
Examples: Why stay safe?; why practice your skills?; why improve your self-care?
Having meaning motivates you; your whys will motivate you to act.
Prayer is a calming ritual, it also provides connection, guidance, and peace.
Pray where you are at, or go to your place of connectedness or worship. This skill is useful anywhere and at anytime. Connect to your spirituality.
Everyone needs relaxation. What do you do to relax? What do you think could be relaxing that you would like to try?
Schedule in some of those relaxing behaviors every day. Keep in mind that relaxing also takes practice.
Tips for practice: Be mindful of your breathing; be mindful of tense muscles and release the tension; sit in a quiet place.
One thing (or moment) at a time
Take on only one thing in the moment. When we try to juggle or do too many things at once, we become overwhelmed and or shut down completely.
Example: You don’t know how to make it through your day, but you know that you can make it through the next hour, or through the next 5 minutes. Focus on what is manageable.
Take a break from your stressors or crisis. These breaks need to be planned, like scheduling a walk in the park in the evening, or watching your favorite movie before bedtime. Taking quiet time to reflect, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises are also good ideas.
Allow yourself to take a break when you feel that you need it.
You need encouragement during those tough times. The things that you say to yourself matter, they influence how you feel.
During your self-talk, say affirmations, coach, and cheer for yourself.
Write down 10 affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout difficult times.
• This crisis will pass. • I can do this! • I have everything that I need to get through this.
Download affirmations to help get through a crisis here
When people “cope” with stress and crisis, they find out ways (behaviors) that relieve stress, however, some of these ways come with heavy consequences. Examples of ineffective behaviors are drug and alcohol use, self-injury, gambling, spending money, and overeating.
We can learn distress tolerance skills to effectively manage the stress and crisis. These skills are more helpful than dealing with the consequences of the ineffective behaviors that make life worse.
Try it out
Make two lists, one is your ineffective coping behaviors, and the second is your healthy coping behaviors. If you’re struggling coming up with the healthy ones, keep thinking, because everyone has at least a few.
The goal is to work on eliminating the ineffective coping behaviors on the first list while developing the behaviors on the second.
This process is “doing more of what works”, replacing the ineffective with the healthy and effective.
Guidelines to improve distress tolerance skills
1. Practice the skills daily, even when you’re not feeling distressed. The skills tend to be enjoyable, so practicing shouldn’t feel like work.
2. Diversify the skills, try new ones, and practice every skill more than once because you don’t know which ones will “click” for you.
3. Organize a distress tolerance plan for when you’re in crisis and choose to follow the plan. It will keep you focused. Write down your organized plan on an index card. This would be your coping behaviors and any people who can provide support. Keep this card with you.
This index card plan works well for children while they’re away from home. Example: at school.
This is general information on distress tolerance and the skills to learn to better cope with stress and crisis, the next step is to learn the skills themselves, practice applying them, watch for improvements, and make necessary adjustments.
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?
Instead of thinking this way, we should think in terms of seeing the shades of gray, between black-and-white thinking. Practice being flexible and find middle-ground options in your behavior. Trying to see the opposing side.
▪︎ When in conflict, find something to agree about in the other person’s perspective. ▪︎ Instead of procrastinating on a task, break the ice with one or two small steps. ▪︎ Make a list of at least five positive qualities you (or someone else you are down on) have.
If you’re stuck in the above thought patterns, try the opposite.
Look at the other side of things. We often default to the negative side of situations or ourselves. We can be critical and harsh. Look at the opposite side of the dialect.
▪︎ Is there a silver lining or hidden opportunity in the problem that you are facing? ▪︎ What strengths, skills, resiliencies, and resources do you have? Play to your strengths.
A favorite quote of mine by Arthur Ashe, which is relatable, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
▪︎ What skills can you improve to better manage a crisis? Aim to be more skillful, trying a new skill can be helpful, too!
See other perspectives
There is no position in existence that accounts for every perspective. Think about other people’s perspectives and ideas that are the opposite of yours. Look for the pebble of truth in those perspectives and ideas. Where is the middle ground between the opposite perspectives?
Make gradual changes
Changes are often more gradual than dramatic, life changes slowly overtime. Reflect on a problem. If the problem were less severe or resolved, what are some behaviors that others would notice you doing?
To begin making gradual changes, practice those behaviors.
• If you’re feeling depressed, add daily exercise. • When struggling with social anxiety, initiate a conversation with someone. • When isolated, reach out to friends and family to talk.
This dialectical technique supports positive change. Think about your history and the times when helpful and healthy behaviors were prominent. Do more of those helpful and healthy behaviors now. Do more of what works!
• Keeping a planner or journal. • Make self-care a priority. • Engage more actively in your social support.
Embrace the things that are not problems
We’re easily preoccupied with our problems. You could write a “Gratefulness List,” or you could write a fun list including hilarious and dramatic problems that you don’t have.
“Not a problem” list examples
• I am not kidnapped and being examined by aliens. • I don’t have smallpox. • I am not lost in the desert.
It’s easy to feel powerful emotions, such as anger and disgust towards people, especially if we don’t like them because of mean, rude, and unskillful behavior.
The next time you’re in this situation, it can help to practice compassion by imagining what circumstances lead that person to be unkind and unskillful.
What unhappiness exists for such people?
Try practicing compassion the next time you feel hurt, upset, and wronged by somebody.
Our thoughts and feelings are often too rigid, causing us misery. Learning to be flexible and to “go with the flow,” will bend and not break those thoughts and feelings.
Consider other perspectives and practice being more flexible in situations, flowing with reality rather than imposing your will against it.
10 questions to check in on someone’s mental well-being
1. How are you feeling, really? (Mental and physical) 2. What’s taking up your headspace right now? 3. What was your last full meal and have you been drinking enough water? 4. Have you been sleeping? 5. What have you been doing for exercise? 6. What did you do today that made you feel good? 7. What’s something you can do today that would be good for you? 8. What’s something that you’re looking forward to in the next couple of days? 9. What’s something we can do together this week, even if we’re apart? 10. What are you grateful for right now?