Here at The Gut Co, we are all about health. Unfortunately, in this modern world, it seems that more than ever a majority of the focus on “health” is only equated to weight loss and being skinny.
"Health” doesn’t have to mean weight loss and “diet” doesn’t have to always be in the context of weight loss.
So, let's seek to define health and diet so we can be sure of exactly what they mean. Then, we can encourage you to be mindful of what you consume, not only in a sense of food but in every aspect of your daily life.
What Am I Consuming?
We consume visual media everywhere we go - phones, billboards, window displays, advertisements, films, tv shows, and music videos to name a few.
Even if it’s not with ill intent, all forms of media carry some kind of bias on how someone should live their life. It’s very unlikely you’ll be able to avoid all of this, nor should you unless you want to.
There is a lot of discourse surrounding social media; it’s become the hub for inspiration, networking, business and a platform for the arts.
It’s very easy to forget it’s a relatively new thing that hasn’t been around long enough to have long-term studies on its impact on individuals.
A study of 227 female college students found a relationship between time spent on social media and comparisons between themselves and others on the platform in a negative way.1
On the other hand, since social media is so powerful, it’s worth noting how the reach of the platforms to its users could also be used to create a positive effect on consumers. Another study noted that brief exposure to body-positive Instagram posts resulted in improved body image in young women.2
How Do I Monitor What I Am Consuming?
In our opinion, the best course of action is to change how you react to or respond to these stimuli. For example, appreciating your uniqueness rather than comparing yourself to others and putting yourself down.
When we see an “unattainable” body advertising an outfit, we could think “I could never wear that”, “I’m not like them” or “I wish I could be them”. These thoughts can be grating and make us feel negative about ourselves.
Instead, we can think “that’s a great outfit”, “they look good”, and “I wonder how I could replicate that with my clothes or a new item”. An advertisement is merely a suggestion; you do not need to do anything and you do not need to change anything if you do not deem it necessary or unless your doctor advises you to do so.
According to the world health organisation, there are three definitions of health:3
Health is the absence of any disease or impairment
Health is a state that allows the individual to adequately cope with all demands of daily life
Health is a state of balance, an equilibrium that an individual has established within themselves and their social and physical environment.
There are other definitions scattered about historically, however, none of them seems to mention weight loss.
The definitions of a diet are:4
the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. "a vegetarian diet"
1. restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight. "I began dieting again"
a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. "I'm going on a diet"
It’s interesting to note that the word "restrict" is used as for most people, it isn’t a particularly pleasant ordeal to restrict oneself from anything.
The problem with the modern world is that if restriction results in a positive thinking pattern based on weight loss, the individual is at risk of slipping into unhealthy habits and patterns. This is unfortunate considering that the majority of restrictive diets are veiled in a message of “health”.
This isn’t to say that weight loss can't improve health in some individuals - if a person is to become ill and a doctor advises that weight loss will help with the healing of the illness or their overall health, it is best to go with that advice.
This is more so an acknowledgement of the urge in so many individuals to want to lose weight, be that due to unrealistic ideals portrayed in the media or just comparisons of self to others daily, which is an easy cycle to fall into.
It’s mentioned a lot nowadays and you may be tired of hearing it, but it’s worth reiterating that we are all unique; if we all ate the same things and did the same fitness training every day, we would all look vastly different. This is due to many factors such as your metabolism, genetics, height - so on and so forth.
More focus needs to be shed on viewing oneself positively and uniquely. Although this has become more common in this day and age with the trend towards self-care, self-love and acceptance, this shouldn’t be something that’s just encouraged every day; it should simply be the baseline of universal existence.
Most negative perceptions of bodies are often rooted in varying degrees of “Fatphobia”, which is defined as a “pathological fear of fatness”5
Think about it in this sense - the bodies you see on the billboard tell you that you look different to how you should look. Comments are made by people in your life, there are jokes about weight in old films and tv shows, songs that describe desirable body shapes “hourglass figure” etc.
The individual may then undergo a journey of radical change to their weight or their body and this may be difficult to upkeep and may result in a disorder. This change is usually undertaken without a doctor’s advice or supervision.
Now they feel like they are closer to being accepted as one of the “in” crowd. They begin to feel “normal”, yet they are likely tired all the time. They may lack motivation, but they now look like the people on the billboard. They can grow to resent the people who do not now look like them and the judgement comes in.
It makes sense why everyone is so scared of gaining weight and not being skinny because we are told that it's bad and unhealthy. We see a person who’s larger than a model and people attack saying “they’re unhealthy”.
Are they actually concerned with the individual’s health? Or is it a reflection of themselves that they are annoyed that someone else is secure in themselves when they had to try too hard to hold onto an idealised view of themselves?
We do live in a world of comparison nowadays. With TikTok and Instagram, we are constantly checking to see what other people are up to and usually attempting to follow suit, so it makes sense that we may be subconsciously holding onto ideals of body shape and form.
It’s easy to understand why this happens and why it's perpetuated from an empathetic standpoint, but what steps can we take as individuals to make it easier for ourselves and others? Here is a set of tips that may help.
Separating Yourself From Your Thoughts (Also Known As Mindfulness)
It would be extremely easy to fix negative perceptions of oneself and body if we just didn’t think about it, however, this is unrealistic. That’s why it’s best to start by just practising mindfulness now and then.
Thoughts are like waves in the ocean; they come and go oftentimes with no identifiable rhythm or reason. The only time you’re in danger is when you get carried under by a wave or into a heavy stream in the river, just like how there’s no risk of your thoughts harming you unless you attach meaning to them.
The thoughts that come after the initial thoughts that we have little control over often become repetitive mantras; we begin to accept them and internalise them. This then becomes our attitude toward ourselves.
It’s not likely that you will immediately be able to detach from your thoughts, so a good way of checking in with yourself is to challenge them and then detach.
Consider if the thought is based on fact or opinion? Is this a realistic assumption? How much evidence is there to suggest the thought is true? Unless the thought is something like whether or not you locked the front door or turned off the oven, it may be best to just let it go.
Secondly, replace these thoughts with something helpful, “I will never look like that” to “I love myself and I am unique” it may sound silly but it can truly be good for you. You won’t lose anything by giving it a try.
Body Appreciation – Unique Form and Function
Viewing your body on a level of strict ideas and societal guidelines is not the best thing in the world for your brain. It's best to view your body in terms of what it does for you.
Your entire system can help you see the world, make beautiful meals, and engage in physical activity, to name a few. Every functioning human body has incredible potential for activity; even if it is limited, there are still positives to be drawn out.
We are all unique and special. Once we start to appreciate our bodies for what they do we will all be more likely to nourish them and keep them doing what they do best - keeping us alive and helping us to thrive.
Focusing On The Positives
It takes a lot of effort to focus on positive aspects of yourself, which is ironic as it seems to take so little effort to dwell on the negative aspects of yourself and indulge in comparison.
This is simply because we are so used to it in this day and age; it's conditioned and ingrained into our psyches.
We are on a crash course of constantly seeking to be faster, more productive, make more money, and be fitter. It can be massively overwhelming, so don't forget it's ok to just slow down sometimes.
Focusing on what you have and what you are grateful for will help you level out and remain present, and there are ways to make sure you have a stasis to come back down to when things get a bit much:
Keep a gratitude journal. There could be a section on things you like about your body, personality and character
Make a list of affirmations you can repeat every day
Honour your food cravings
Eat foods which nourish and strengthen both your mind and your body
Meditate on gratefulness for your body and what you have
Engaging in activities that make you feel good
These are simple things you can do which can take very little time, or you can add as much time to them as you want - it’s all in your control.
Detaching From Comparison
A negative view of oneself can often come from comparisons to people you know or celebrities whether they are Hollywood actors, TV or internet stars.
Try to be aware of when you begin to have thoughts of comparison and detach yourself from them. These thoughts are merely conditioned suggestions and it's your choice whether you engage with them or not.
I will reiterate once again that you do not have to do anything you don’t want to. But if following or engaging with posts centred around celebrities makes you feel bad, then maybe it’s worth switching up your feed.
This doesn't mean you need to unfollow anyone or your particular interests, but maybe following body-positive influencers and people with different body shapes and all different representations of life can help you to engage with more helpful content for you.
Why not try having an evening with a book and a bath rather than scrolling your phone? We all love a scroll, but just like anything else, it's best in moderation.
Challenging Online and Media Representations
Remember that a lot of what you see online or on television/the big screen has been heavily edited. The higher the budget usually the more refined it will be. Think about plastic surgery in Hollywood - the more expensive the plastic surgeon, the less you can tell any kind of surgery has taken place.
It’s the same with makeup artists in films and editing techniques. However, with the relatively new online celebrities, there are all kinds of applications being made that allow people to alter their appearance. People can now clear their skin, and alter or completely change their face and body shape.
There’s no real benefit to focusing or trying to work out whether or not what you see is edited, as some edits can be incredibly realistic to the untrained eye. It's more helpful to just not care at all and be part of the movement toward online honesty.
This can be seen in the trend “body honest” which shows individuals posing in ways that allow their bodies to be seen realistically.
Focusing On Non-Physical Traits
If you are to lean into thought, make sure it's toward positive self-focus and gratitude of self. Think about traits regarding your intelligence, resilience, creativity and kindness.
Remember a time when you could’ve been unkind but remained pleasant cool, calm and collected, or a project you’re proud of. In the same way that you can get caught in a loop of comparison and criticism of yourself and others, you can repeat these positive thinking patterns.
We are spirit and mind; your story and character define who you are, and your physical form is just something that comes along with that.
Spend Time With People Who Are Good For Your Self-Esteem
Think about what the company you keep says about your mental state. Do your friends talk positively about other people or their bodies?
It’s extremely easy to internalise other people’s thoughts when you spend a lot of time around them. In a similar way that if a family member was terrified of dogs in your upbringing, you’re likely to be afraid of them too as a result.
We are inherently a product of our environment. This doesn’t mean we have to change our environment, just our reaction to it.
You don't need to lean into self-criticism and join in when others do, you can suggest self-love or encouragement towards it. Even if those around you disagree at first, it’s much better to have planted a tiny seed than fuelling a fire that doesn’t do anyone any good.
On the other hand, if the negative things people around you are saying are directed at you, it’s probably best to try and distance yourself from them or have a conversation that highlights this.
Often the bad things people say about you come from insecurity or an imbalance in their minds. It’s always best to approach these situations with kindness rather than anger.
Aside from this, there are plenty of online communities that are centred around self-love and acceptance. No pressure to drastically change anything or anyone in your life for that matter but it remains important to be looking out for yourself whenever you can.
Self-love and kindness to yourself can be difficult, but being mindful of what your mind consumes can help you get there. Monitoring not only what you consume but also your reaction to everything around you is the key to a happier and healthier mental state.
Filling your life with positivity and being mindful of your attitude towards yourself and the world will help you to achieve real peace.
- Fardouly J, Vartanian L. Negative comparisons about one's appearance mediate the relationship between Facebook usage and body image concerns. Body Image. 2015;12:82-88. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.10.004
- Cohen R, Fardouly J, Newton-John T, Slater A. #BoPo on Instagram: An experimental investigation of the effects of viewing body positive content on young women’s mood and body image. New Media & Society. 2019;21(7):1546-1564. doi:10.1177/14614448198
- 3.Sartorius N. (2006). The meanings of health and its promotion. Croatian medical journal, 47(4), 662–664.
- Dictionary O. diet_1 noun - Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes | Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com. Oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com. https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/diet
- 5.. Robinson B, Bacon L, O'reilly J. Fat phobia: Measuring, understanding, and changing anti-fat attitudes. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 1993;14(4):467-480. doi:10.1002/1098-108x(199312)14:4<467::aid-eat2260140410>3.0.co;2-j