How Our Body Image Affects Our Health

Written by: Jorinde Berben
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My body image is an ever-changing flux. Sometimes I feel great, sometimes I only see flaws. My actual body also changes, with times of gaining weight and times of losing it again, times in which I nurture it with healthy food and exercise, and times in which I rather neglect my body and opt for comfort, fat and sugar.

I’ve noticed over the years that the way I treat my body and the way I feel about it are closely connected. No surprises there, really, but yesterday, it dawned on me that perhaps I’ve been seeing the connection the wrong way around: I used to feel that the way I treated my body was the source of how I felt about it. If I exercised and ate my veggies, I would feel good about myself. And if I ate chips and went to bed late, I would feel bad. I had lots of evidence for this too because those states did, usually, coincide.

What if, however, it is the other way around and the way I treat my body stems directly from how I feel about it, and how I feel about myself as a whole. If I love my body, just the way it is, that may seem like an excuse to keep living an unhealthy lifestyle since I don’t want to change anything. But if I truly love my body, I will actually want to care for it the way I know best. I may not care about the rolls of fat around my belly, but I will care about the fact that I’m giving it something that isn’t good for it.

Our motivation behind what we do has a big impact on how well and for how long we do something. If I decide to exercise because I think I’m getting fat, my motivation will disappear as soon as I feel better about myself, which may not have anything to do with changes in my body but rather reflects changes in my self-esteem or priorities. If I, instead, decide to exercise because I want to have a healthy lifestyle, the only reason to stop exercising would be because I don’t want to have a healthy lifestyle anymore (and I don’t really see that happening anytime soon).

Now, to be completely honest, this realisation has dawned on me before but somehow slipped my mind. I first talked in this blog post two years ago about learning to love my body and what that would entail. It was triggered by a deep sense of gratitude for how my body takes care of me. If I pay deliberate attention, I can still recall that feeling and don’t let it get snowed under by criticism and self-rejection.

Yesterday, I had my IUD removed after 5 years. The reason I had it placed is that I just had too much pain during my periods (and this may be a reason to get one again later), but I also know that the hormones in it impact my body. Having it removed is a choice to pay more attention to my body, to let it feel what it needs to feel, to nurture it in accordance with my cycle and what it needs at any one moment.

I have a strong desire to live a healthy lifestyle, but I have to make sure that I don’t skip the step of asking myself WHY that desire is so strong. It may be the only key to creating a lasting change.

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