[Read the transcript below]
Hi there, it’s Dr. Courtney Raspin here, and it’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
This year’s theme is body image, and it couldn’t be more important than now to address this because we know that so many people struggle with body image difficulties. These difficulties are linked with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and so many other mental health difficulties.
In my 20 years of working with body image problems and eating disorders, I’ve learned quite a lot about how the brain processes information and forms what we call body image.
I’ve also learned that you can leverage that knowledge, that scientific information to actually shift your body image, to actually change the way the brain processes information so that you can get rid of some of those old beliefs and take on some newer beliefs.
So what I’d like to do today is impart some of that knowledge to you so that you can take that away and from right now, from today, start working on improving the way you feel in your skin.
Now let’s talk brains for a minute.
Every day your brain has to take in a million different sights, sounds, comments and sensations and figure out a way to process them.
It’s absolutely impossible for the brain to focus on all these things, or to process all of these things at once so it’s developed some really clever ways on deciding what’s important to pay attention to. So in this way, it can cut past a majority of stimuli that it thinks are irrelevant, and focus on only the things it decides are important.
Now most of the time, this is a really clever strategy. It keeps us focused and allows us to quickly and efficiently make sense of the world.
But when it comes to negative body image, these brain shortcuts are not always such a good thing.
That’s because these shortcuts (what the brain focuses on), they’re driven by what we as psychologists call “schemas”.
Now schemas are like mental frameworks. They’re made up of the beliefs and the ideas we have about ourselves. I like to think of them like little files and folders in our brain. We have a little filing cabinet in our brain and in there are all these little files and folders and those are our schemas.
When it comes to negative body image, you might have a number of outdated files that have been in there, in that body image folder, for a really long time. Maybe they’re labelled things like ugly, disgusting or unlovable.
Now if these are the only files you have in your body image folder, if these are your currently held beliefs and ideas about your body, your brain is then programmed to scan the environment and focus on the things that confirm these beliefs.
The beliefs belong in files that are already established in your brain, so they can be quickly and neatly filed away. And as time goes on and more and more information gets into these files, they support the negative schemas, those negative beliefs, and they get stronger and stronger, while a bunch of really important and relevant information that might contradict all of those may be just ignored or thrown to the side because there’s nowhere to put it.
Now, knowing that this is the way our brains process information, knowing that this is the way our brains work is really powerful, because we can leverage that science to make our brains attend to new things, create new, healthier schemas, and in turn, improve our body image.
One of the most powerful ways to create these new files, these new schemas, is to do a little bit of brain reprogramming.
Rather than let the brain do what it automatically does, you need to train it to focus on and grab information coming in that belongs in the new files that you want to create.
You can do this retraining by setting some time aside daily, paying really close attention, and recording, maybe on your phone or on a piece of paper, you need to record anything and everything that makes you feel good about your appearance and your body.
It could be a time when your body gave you great pleasure.
It can be a time when you did something challenging and achieved it, a time you felt strong, attractive and confident, even just for a second.
It could be a compliment that somebody gives you that ordinarily you would just toss aside and it would get lost because there’s nowhere to file it away.
Don’t dismiss things as being insignificant or small. Record everything.
Now if you make this a conscious, regular practice – training your brain to focus, grab and record – you’ll soon have a bunch of new material for your body positive files.
Instead of fat and ugly, you might have strong legs, a great smile, soft skin, or even great fashion sense. Who knows!
You will create your own, unique files as you gather your own unique set of information and go through the world.
The important thing is that once these files are created and start to fill with the new information, your body positive schemas will become stronger and your brain will slowly learn to pay close attention to information that belongs in those files instead of the old, outdated and harmful ones.
So my challenge to you is to start keeping a positive body diary log now.
Other than your negative body image, what do you have to lose?
And I’d love to hear how you’re getting on with it, so if you have any questions or any concerns, be sure to drop me a message and I’ll get back to you.
Good luck with it all, and until next time, take care.