"Looking at messages that are saying, 'Lose seven pounds in seven days,' can start tricking women into believing that they're supposed to be looking at their bodies as something they need to always be changing and making better," says Paula. But instead of building your abs, you could be building your body image! In her new book, Weighing Love (Burman Books, 2013), Paula shares her experiences with disordered eating and offers exercises for changing your relationship with food and your body. Here are the five lessons from Paula about developing a healthy body image.
1. Don't compare yourself to other women.
Mass media used to be the main source of ideal beauty. But now, in the age of the selfie, we're inundated with images of people in our social circles looking their best. And then there are people like the what's-your-excuse mom, posting pictures that beg us to compare our own bodies to their rock-hard abs. "Social media is even more directly accessible, because everyone's always on their phone, on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram." This tendency has caused those visual associations to be even more engrained in our sense of selves. If you feel yourself overwhelmed by these images, there's nothing wrong with disconnecting for a while.
2. Focus on movement, not working out.
"With the clients that I work with, instead of saying 'You need to exercise,' I always say, 'We need to work on movement,'" says Paula. Obsessing over working out isn't healthy. "We often look at exercise as, I need to go to the gym, I need to work out for an hour, I need to burn this many calories. That way of thinking is not necessarily coming form a self-loving place." But the truth is, movement is good for our bodies. "Our bodies deserve to move because that's what they're designed to do. That's beneficial for our bodies and that's taking care of ourselves." Rather than sweating it out at a gym where you're encouraged to measure yourself by pounds lost or minutes spent on a treadmill, Paula suggests treating your body with movement that you love, whether it be swimming, dancing, yoga or whatever other activity.
3. Eat from the earth.
Paula says eating decisions should be simple: If your food is coming from the earth, then it's a good choice. "People see food as calories. Let go of the calorie thinking," she says, explaining that changing this perspective will help keep you from evaluating your body by numbers. And eating shouldn't be something you spend a lot of your day thinking about, says Paula. She sees a lot of women who don't identify as having eating disorders or look anorexic, but their excessive thinking about eating and exercise has overtaken their lives. The term "eating disorder" shouldn't be a shameful label. "Most women at some point will have had some sort of dysfunctional relationship with food."
4. Think about your intentions behind your actions.
Paula asks her clients a seemingly strange question: Why are you eating? She's interested in the internal dialogue we have with ourselves when we eat. The main purpose of food should be to fuel our bodies, but many of us don't see it that way. "If you start doing things from a place of self-care and self-love, you'll naturally start to build your body image." And there's nothing wrong with setting new healthy goals. "By challenging yourself with things like a new yoga pose or trying a new recipe, that's allowing yourself to grow," says Paula. "The biggest thing to look at is: What's the intention behind this? Is the intention to lose 10 pounds to wear a bikini so a guy thinks you're hot? Or is the intention to challenge your body?"
5. Find opportunities to appreciate your body.
When Paula was struggling to love her body, someone told her that she just needed to learn how to love her pinkie finger, and then work her way up from there. Eventually, she could learn to love every part. "I'm Italian, I naturally have curves, and I'm never going to be a size zero, so why don't I embrace my shape?" says Paula. Now, she advises women to take the time to appreciate each body part when they're in the shower. "That's the perfect time to connect with your body," she says. "For me, instead of thinking, Oh, my thighs are horrible, I think, I love my thighs because they allow me to dance."