Body Image and Energy Inefficiency

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Body image struggles come in many different forms: You may feel self-conscious or inadequate whenever your sister-in-law/substitute spin instructor/childhood pal is around, and relatively fine most other times. You may only worry when your weight fluctuates or you notice a bunch of new wrinkles or you have a big, painful acne breakout. But if you’re someone who struggles with your body image in a low-grade but near-constant way, you may not be fully aware of how much strength that struggle is draining off you, slowly but steadily.

Because it takes brain space and emotional capacity and ENERGY to roll something over and over in your mind, examine your perceived failures, ponder plans of attack. Negative body thoughts that aren’t fleeting or compartmentalized are like apps running in the background of your phone, draining your battery with every passing moment even though you’re not even using them. If you’re anxious about your body all the time, you’re unconsciously allotting resources to a complex and painful cluster of thoughts and feelings. You’re pouring precious energy into something that can suck it down forever and never be full.

We talk about wasting energy when it comes to leaving the lights on in empty rooms and letting cars idle, but less often when it comes to thought processes. And I’m loathe to say that negative body thoughts constitute a true waste; As someone who has struggled with anxiety for more than a decade, I know exactly how infuriating it is to be told that worrying is wasteful and pointless. I do, in fact, know that. But reminding me doesn’t actually help stem the worrying tide.

I also know firsthand how much energy it can take to feed the body image beast. I’m in a pretty rough place with my own body image right now, and my already-scarce stores of energy are tapped out. Since this is a relatively recent shift I can remember feeling less worried and more confident, and the marked difference it made in my overall state of mind. When I’m low, I burn off loads of precious energy without even realizing it. When I’m not, I can feel how much stronger, more engaged, and more enthusiastic I’m capable of being.

Do I have a quick fix or simple solution? Sadly, no. Am I saying that feeling better about your body will solve all of your problems? Also no. My point here is merely to say that working on your body image isn’t a vain or conceited pursuit. And that it may take yet more energy to do that work – mull, recite mantras, read helpful articles and books, talk with people who understand – but that putting that energy in will allow you to withdraw even more. Eventually. Feeling awful about your body drains you, and there’s nothing egocentric about searching for a way to conserve your own precious internal resources.

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Originally posted 2015-12-10 07:27:54.

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5 Responses to “Body Image and Energy Inefficiency”

  1. Sewing Faille

    “Negative body thoughts that aren’t fleeting or compartmentalized are
    like apps running in the background of your phone, draining your battery
    with every passing moment even though you’re not even using
    them. If you’re anxious about your body all the time, you’re
    unconsciously allotting resources to a complex and painful cluster of
    thoughts and feelings. You’re pouring precious energy into something
    that can suck it down forever and never be full.”

    So true, and not just for body image. I think of these as mental ruts– something you retread over and over again, digging yourself deeper each time, making the habit harder and harder to break.

    I’ve found that there’s only one thing that helps me break out of mental ruts, and that’s activities that get me out of my own head. For me, it’s rock climbing or making music. Whenever I find myself dwelling too heavily on negative thoughts, I’ll go do one of those two things for an hour or so, and afterwards my head is clear and the negative thoughts are gone. It isn’t permanent, of course, but the less time I spend dwelling on the negative thoughts, the harder it is to maintain them. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it might be something to consider.

  2. Stephanie Ganger

    When my energy runs low and I am not feeling great about myself; I try to attack the problem from multiple angles. I usually get a checkup including bloodwork to be sure something hasn’t changed and be affecting me negatively. I try to practice more self-care and get more rest. I do the mental reinforcement and every other trick in my bag to try to shore up my mental and emotional self.
    When everything fails I usually end up having to forgive myself because I said some pretty terrible things to myself. It doesn’t always work but at 42 my mental and emotional self image continues to be better than at any other time.

  3. janejetson

    Great post. I have dealt with an ED and body hate for years. I am still working on it but it has gotten a little better lately. Energy draining is a good description. I multi-task a lot unfortunately, I can ruminate about my body’s faults while going about my business. It is worst for me when I am getting ready to go out to a party or something and it is all I can think about when I am getting dressed.

  4. disqus_OdQPm4RH7S

    How do you handle getting dressed when your body image is not good? I am in a terrible place – I had a series of surgeries that went wrong and left my shoulder deformed. Now clothes hang asymmetrically, slide off one shoulder, bunch in odd places, and my back is hunched because of the shape of my shoulder. In addition to dealing with serious and chronic pain these surgeries left me with, I can’t stand looking in the mirror and seeing how lopsided I am now. Getting dressed is torture. What do you do when you can’t face yourself in the mirror?

    • Sally McGraw

      I’m so very sorry to hear this, my dear. Now might actually be a great time to create some dressing formulas for yourself – spend a few hours figuring out three or four groupings of clothes that work, jot them down, and then use them to get dressed in the morning without a mirror. That will diminish your day-to-day stress somewhat.

      But living the rest of your life without mirrors isn’t feasible, and at some point you’ll probably want to try to heal your relationship with your body. At least somewhat. If you can find a stylist to work with, they might be able to offer some suggestions on how to dress your new silhouette, or work with a free personal shopper at a department store like Macy’s or Nordstrom. And hopefully working with doctors and counsellors will help a bit with the pain over time. Talking with others who live with chronic pain might give you some additional support and solace, too.

      Again, I wish you weren’t going through this and that there was an easier solution. Thanks for sharing your story, and I hope this was helpful.

      If anyone else has tips or resources, please share them.