As you know, one of the main topics we cover in the blog and in our podcast has to do with improving our relationship with food and eating. Weird for a vegan cooking website, I know. The thing is, we can't talk about cooking without talking about food, and we can't talk about food without talking about the way we eat, and as you've heard me say many times before, we can't talk about the way we eat without looking at our relationship with our own body. One of the reasons why I decided to open up today's topic is because bikini body season messaging is already filling the air. Almost like when you pass a bakery, get a whiff of those baguettes and suddenly all you can think about is bread.
It's already all over social media, it's in our subconscious the minute we feel the weather getting warmer or we book that beach holiday. It's even making its way into the news, TV commercials and our conversations with friends. We'll be talking about bikini season messaging much more in depth in our next post and episode of this series, but I thought it was important to first open up the topic of that little inner voice we all have and the formation of belief systems. It's those belief systems that make pre-bikini messages cling to us like a scared koala bear, so I think it's there that we need to begin.
You know how much I love to create mini series in the podcast and blog and I've called this one the bikini revolution. Why? Because it's part of my mission to help you find happiness and balance where you are right now. In winter or in summer, on a beach or off a beach, so that whenever the thought of bikini season enters your brain, you think: "I already have a bikini body, because the only requisite for that is having a bikini and having a body". Check and check!
To all our guy readers and listeners out there, don't think that this is just for my girls. I know the pressure men and boys have nowadays to fit the current standards of fitness and masculinity. Swap the word bikini for your favorite palm tree printed swim trunks and let's begin.
None of us are immune
At the beginning of this year I shared some very personal posts on my relationship with food and food restricting (in our intro, part 1, part 2 and part 3 of our dieting chronicles series). Even though I've found a blissful balanced place with food, even though I've finally been able to stop my overeating, emotional eating and the subsequent dieting habits that filled so many years of my life (you can read more of my personal story here), there was still one thing left to work through: bikini season.
In spite of being in a place of loving my body with all its imperfections, and especially in a place of finally feeling sane with food, something weird started stirring inside me as soon as I felt the first warm days of spring this year. Why? Because a few years ago, this was right around the time I would start "getting that bikini body ready", whatever that means.
Actually.... I know exactly what that means.
It meant dieting, over-exercising, taking progress pictures of my body, figuring out how many weeks were left before I had to remove my summer shift dress and reveal my polka dot bikini (for some strange reason all my bikinis have polka dots on them), and reveal the body that was in it. Out of all the countless diets I went through as a kid, and even leaving the January weight loss shame game in the dust, nothing was as damaging to my self esteem and body image as pre-bikini season preparation.
Don't get me wrong. You know how much I believe that health is golden, that the way we eat impacts us deeply (in more ways than just our physical health), and you know how much I love to feel strong and how exercise is a part of that for me. There's a big difference though, between taking care of your body, and feeling like you have to alter yourself for the beach selfie.
This year was the ultimate test for me after leaving all of my dieting rules and extreme exercise habits behind, and it was thanks to noticing the voices in my head that I realized that if I wasn't careful, I would fall into the bikini trap yet again. This time though, I listened, and I answered back.
The voice inside our head and the stories we tell ourselves
I often catch that little voice inside myself trying to keep me from trying something new or slightly scary. We all have it, many of us don't like it, but I always like to think of it as that self preservation instinct that prevented us from sticking our hand in the fireplace when we were kids, or that kept me from jumping off the high branches of the endless trees I used to climb as a kid.
We all have this amazing mechanism inside us that tries its best to keep us from harm. Sometimes though, we confuse our belief systems with that voice and feel it's gospel.
The voice inside our heads that keeps telling us to drop the cookie because summer is almost here is also a self-preservation mechanism. We want to fit in, we don't want to stand out. We've let all our society's fat phobia and perfectionism seep into our pores and we want to be safe from the shame we feel when our bodies don't seem to fit the standards of beauty. We want to feel better than we did that summer when we spent the entire day at the beach with a shift around our bum, or without joining our friends in the water because "the novel we were reading was too good" (i.e. I don't want to feel vulnerable and out of control by showing a body I don't feel comfortable in). We don't want to miss out on that walk on the beach with our friend because we're afraid of what might jiggle, but that little voice tells us otherwise.
The voice wants to protect us from those feelings of inadequacy by making us believe we need to perfect the body we're in. Doing it from the inside out seems nearly impossible.
Here's the thing though, that voice doesn't have all the information.
What the voice doesn't know
- The voice doesn't know how obsessive we can get trying to reach a standard of beauty that is unattainable unless we do the extreme and keep doing it forever (maybe not even then).
- It doesn't know that restriction with food leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.
-It doesn't know that overexercise can do more harm than good, or that overeating, binge eating and emotional eating are the inevitable result of dieting and restricting, not the cause of it.
- It doesn't know that people who have reached those standards of beauty never think it's enough. They still feel insecure when they take off that sundress at the pool, they still feel there's room for improvement, and quite honestly, the closer I got on several occasions to having a body that was closer to those beauty standards, the worse I felt. The more "out of my body" I felt.
- The voice also doesn't know that you have power over it, that you can change the way you look at yourself in the mirror and feel about yourself. That this is where you find body freedom, not when the last dimple of cellulite is gone.
- It doesn't know that you are the boss of you and that you can answer back.
For years I thought it was my job to listen to that voice and do my best to be perfect. The only thing it brought me was additional years of a messy relationship with food and with exercise. It all started with bikini season as a teenager, and it ended with the bikini season that made me realize something was very very wrong.
Challenging the voice
In today's post and podcast episode I want to challenge that voice, our beliefs about our self- worth and our body, as well as the stories we tell ourselves. Not the protective voice that tells us not to walk into that dark alley late at night, but the voice that tells us all sorts of mandates about ourselves and our daily lives. It's also a form of protection, yes, but it's different in the sense that it's not about our personal safety anymore, they are the voices we latch onto, to believe they aren't excuses or our own neurosis, but in fact we see them as truths. They aren't things we can accept and learn to love, but a streak of bad luck sent from above that we need to keep punishing ourselves with.
There are so many types of stories we tell ourselves:
- "I'll be able to do this when I'm thin",
- "I'll find love when I'm perfect",
- "I'll only be able to enjoy my summer if my body is fit",
- "I'm powerless over sweets so I need external rules and diets to stay in control",
- "I can't be trusted with food"
- "what I'm doing isn't enough",
- "I'm not worthy",
- "if I can lose this weight everything else will sort itself out",
- "weight loss hasn't worked before because I haven't been good enough, strict enough or I didn't have enough will power"
- If my body isn't perfect everyone will notice and talk about it when I'm not there",
- If my body isn't perfect, I can't/won't be happy.
These voices and beliefs keep us from living a joyful life with whatever circumstances surround us, whatever size or shape our bodies are.
If there's something life has taught me so far it's that so much of our daily life is about the way we look at it, the way we approach it, the mindset we have when we're going through something. This includes dreaming of being the girl who plays in the sand and in the water and not the one that stays under the parasol with all her armor still on.
Since we started Brownble, and many years before that with my previous blog, we've received tons of emails from our readers sharing their experiences with food and their struggles. They talk about their habits and their personalities as if they're written on their skin with a permanent marker that just won't come off. The truth is that habits, beliefs and actions can be changed, we can live better lives and do remarkable things when we understand the power of belief systems, the stories we tell ourselves, and especially, when we finally find a way to ease that internal voice that wants to keep us where we are, when we're afraid of trying something new. By something new I don't mean the latest exercise program or diet, I mean a bikini revolution, in which we learn to love our bodies first, and start living a full life without the need to be perfect.
How do we start doing this? By challenging the voice. By speaking back to it.
Every time you hear that voice that says you have to go for a run because you had a piece of cake. Every time you think about the summer and your first thought is not of your dogs or kids playing in the water or of you taking a nap in a hammock, and instead you go straight to that "muffin top", use that second of negativity and turn it into a bikini revolution:
Change the "I can't!" to a "Why Not?"
- Change an "I can't" thought into an honest "why not" conversation. Go from, I can't go on that cruise if I don't lose this weight to "why not? I am worthy. The people who truly love me will love me no matter what. The only way to find balance within is to stop going on the punishment-restriction-shame cycle." Throw in a "diets don't work" in there for good measure.
Re-learn how to look at yourself in the mirror
- When looking at yourself in the mirror, focus on the things you like about your body, but also think and pat yourself on the back for the things that might have given you the lines around your eyes, or the stretch marks around your belly. Have you smiled and laughed uncontrollably? Did you have a baby? Did you go through trauma and expressed it through emotional eating? Give yourself a hug and a big dose of understanding that most likely you managed in the best way that you could. You're still standing, and that's always a win.
Change the rules of the game
- Yes, your relationship with food and eating can change, but it won't be through restriction or with a magazine body in mind. It instead has to be from a place of nourishment and satisfaction. Re-learning that you aren't powerless, lazy or a slob. Nor do you have to change your body in order to be happy. You're learning something new here at Brownble and it's that restriction, deprivation, or punishment through food and exercise is not the way to a balanced relationship with food and your body. That's one of our main pillars here at Brownble and my mission after having struggled with these issues for so many years. It took me forever to finally realize that my issues with overeating and emotional eating were a result of restricting, not the reason I would then restrict. It was the punishment and false sense of control that kept me glued to the seat of a dieting rollercoaster I couldn't get off of.
Find the resources that will help and empower you
- I'd be doing this post and episode a disservice if I didn't include some of the resources that have helped (and are still helping) me change my relationship with food and my body and that took me from a place of control, perfectionism and obsession, to one of enjoyment of food and finding balance. Leaving food behind after I ate deliciously, to then live my life. I can't recommend these resources highly enough:
2 must read books
2 must watch movies
Find help, you deserve to heal and live a happy life full of self love
- If you find that you are abusing your body or mental health in any way by over-obsessing about your body or food, or through restriction, deprivation, over-exercise or self-harm. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, depression or anxiety please seek the help of a qualified specialist. You can find support through a qualified therapist through some of the resources below:
Change what you see
- The tagline of the movie I recommended called Miss Representation is "You can't be what you can't see". This is so true of body image and the idea we have of what a perfect body looks like. Until we start seeing real bodies of real women and men in magazines, TV, on Instagram and Facebook, until photoshop becomes totally uncool (because it's TOTALLY uncool), we need to change what we put in front of us, for the sake of our sanity, our self esteem and our health.
- Stop following fitspiration boards and blogs that proudly say "no pain no gain", "or nothing tastes as good as skinny feels".
- Instead follow the goddesses out there who dare to be imperfect and are incredibly inspiring.
- Look at what a real body looks like. Look at what many different bodies look like. How some women have wide hips, some have skinny hips, some have big breasts and lots of curves, others are more athletic and square. Others have stretch marks from when they had their baby, and others are naturally slimmer. How some have cellulite and others have muffin tops. How many of these bodies, with these imperfections, can still be healthy, strong, and beautiful in their own way.
- Look for real instead of "ideal", and change what you see and what you read.
- Use the hashtags #bodypositive #bopo or #haes to find some body image rockstars, and when you stumble upon an image that seems to show a body without imperfections, question it.
- Question if that model has dieted for days before a shoot, or whether she or he has been airbrushed, photoshopped, has a fake tan, or simply has a different body type.
- Question and change what you see. There are hundreds of men and women out there who have struggled and passed this road less travelled before you, and who can empower you to start living a better life right now, loving the body that you're in regardless of what it looks like and what the current standard of beauty is.
We'll cover much more in part 2 of this series coming soon, in the meantime, I'd love to leave you with this quote by Pema Chodron:
"It's also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that's sitting right here right now... with its aches and its pleasures... is exactly what we need to be fully human. Fully awake. Fully Alive" - Pema Chodron