Challenge cultural body messages

Challenge Cultural Body Messages (with Ayurveda)

I often speak out against restrictive dieting, because not only does it promote binge eating, it is a harmful practice that is not effective in helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Giving up restrictive dieting does not mean giving up health or fitness, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. When you stop restrictive dieting (and binge eating), you can focus on nourishing yourself – not starving yourself, and moving your body in a way that feels good – not punishing. You can learn to honor your physical signals of hunger and fullness, and you will start to realize that foods you truly enjoy are also the ones that fuel you in a good way.  Your eating will never be perfect, nor should it be, but you will discover a balance that feels natural and authentic and works for you.

Typically, at this point in the discussion, I say something like this:

“…and your body will find its natural weight, that is effortless to maintain.”

And, that’s where some confusion and anxiety may set in for you.  You may be thinking…What is my natural weight?…or…If I don’t control my weight, won’t it just keep increasing?  You may desire to look a certain way and believe you must do specific things to achieve your body goals.  You may believe that it’s your job to shape and sculpt your body into what you want it to be.

There is definitely a cultural message in the US (and likely a similar one in your own country) that we can make our bodies look the way we want them to look (and we are constantly presented with products or services to help with that endeavor).  So, when you hear someone like me or another eating disorder recovery coach or therapist say to “honor your natural weight,” or “trust your own body to regulate your size/shape,” or that “your body is different and unique;” it stands in stark contrast to the overarching cultural message.

To be able to convince yourself to give up restrictive dieting and harmful weight “controlling” practices, it can be very important to challenge the cultural body messages you receive. 

One helpful way to do that is to seek alternative perspectives, especially from other cultures; because in many other cultures, there is a vastly different “ideal” than in the US (or your own country), or it is simply a given that all of us are different – the shape of our bodies included – and there is no shame in that.

I learned about a useful and enlightening perspective on body size a few years ago, and I thought it would be helpful to share it here.  You may have heard of this before because it is common, but even so, I hope you will find revisiting it to be refreshing and empowering.

This perspective is from Ayurveda, which is the ancient Indian science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge).  This science developed 5,000-6,000 years ago and has been handed down through generations. Ayurveda is a holistic science of health, which focuses on maintaining a balanced state in the body and mind.

A key component of Ayurveda, which relates to the topic of this post, is the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Doshas are the biological energies that make up the human body and mind (Vata=air/space, Pitta=fire/water, Kapha=earth/water). Each individual has all three Doshas present, but typically one or two dominate.  The dominant Dosha(s) determine someone’s physiological traits, as well as his/her personality, likes, and dislikes.

Based on your dominant Dosha(s), it’s just a given that you will have a certain body type.  Here are the basic body types for each Dosha in Ayurveda:

Vata:   Thin build

Pitta:   Athletic build

Kapha:   Solid build

Vata Pitta Kapha

Other physiological and psychological traits are associated with these Doshas, beyond body type.  For example, when the Dosha is balanced, Kapha is associated with love and compassion; Vata with creativity; Pitta with intelligence. Vatas tend to be more cold (in temperature), dry, and fast moving; Pittas are more warm, oily, and have a fiery personality; Kaphas are more smooth and soft and calm.

In Ayurveda, body and mind differences are embraced, and it’s inherently obvious that you can’t change your basic composition.  A Vata type will never be a Kapha or Pitta and vice versa. By understanding your composition, you can make the best of it and live a healthy, balanced life; but you aren’t going to fundamentally change who you are, nor would you want to.

You are better off using your energy to make the most of your own unique set of traits.

There is no such framework in our culture.  In the US, someone who is a balanced and healthy Kapha type might be labeled “lazy” or told they need to lose weight.  Someone who is a balanced and healthy Vata type might be told they are not curvy (or muscular) or “sexy” enough.  Wouldn’t it be better if we could embrace our differences, and not all try to fit into one mold of what our culture considers ideal?

Peering into other cultures and seeking alternative perspectives about your physical makeup is a powerful way to help yourself overcome body image issues.

You certainly do not have to have a great body image to stop binge eating, but it does help your overall quality of life to accept your own body.  Furthermore, being accepting of your unique body and your own natural weight will help you give up the futile practice of restrictive dieting. When you honor your body and give it enough food, you stay out of that lower-brain-driven, “survival” state that fuels binge eating.  Then, you can more easily dismiss any binge urges that remain, and the destructive habit can fade from your life.

If you would like more information on how to overcome binge urges, you can download my free eBook.