Your Body Image -- Wendy Oliver-Platt, MD -- 4/29/03

WebMD Live Events Transcript

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What do you want to see? What is healthy for you? Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, joined us to discuss how you can develop a healthy body image.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Hello Dr. Oliver-Pyatt. Thank you for joining us today. Where do most of us get our ideas about body image?

Oliver-Pyatt: Most of us get our ideas from the people and culture that surrounds us. In our society, things are quite different because of the degree to which we are exposed to media. We are not simply surrounded by our family and friends and neighbors. We are surrounded by television and magazines, cartoon characters, and Disney movies from the time of our earliest memories. These images become the standard by which we judge ourselves.

Moderator: And what kind of messages are we getting?

Oliver-Pyatt: We are getting messages that the genetically based and biologically based shape and size that our body is predetermined to become does not fit the bill. We exist within a society where we confront a double bind on a day-to-day basis. On the one hand our body size is expected to meet standards that do not make biological sense, and on the other hand, we are inundated with sugar and fat-laden foods and don't know how to manage our impulses with the foods.

Our impulses with the foods are confused by the ideas we have about dieting. We have a vicious cycle. On one hand we have the culture-bound belief that our body and shape should be something that doesn't make biological sense, and on the other hand we have the false belief that dieting is the path to this body. What happens is that the dieter inevitably breaks the dietary restraints because dietary restraint is temporary. This leads the person to view himself or herself as a person who cannot be trusted with food. This causes them to develop compulsivity with food. As they start to binge and gain weight, and at the same time they see themselves as a person who cannot be trusted with food, they are led to believe they must follow a diet, thus completing a vicious cycle. The byproduct of the cycle is weight cycling, obesity, and eating disorders.

Member: I want to feel good about my body before I lose weight, yet I think of myself as so fat. How can I start to really like my body before I start a fitness plan?

Oliver-Pyatt: I feel that one of the most difficult aspects in helping a person dealing with these problems is the issue that these individuals experience their self-esteem as directly linked to their body size and shape. Ironically, this lack of self-acceptance hinders the person's efforts to obtain fitness of both mind and body. It is essential that people begin to explore themselves on a deeper plane than their weight. Rather than viewing self-love as a feeling, which may or not pass through the person, we need to make an active decision to love ourselves in the present moment and to view self-love as an option, an action, and a choice. Any and every act we partake in on a day-to-day basis can be viewed as gentle and self-loving or not. As M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, "Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves, does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to loving, whether or not the loving feeling is present." While M. Scott Peck describes love in this way as applying to a couple, this idea can be applied to how we feel about ourselves, as well.

What this means is that you must begin to treat yourself today with dignity and as a delicate and special being. You must forgive yourself for your imperfections and be as kind to yourself as you are to others. It also means you must accept responsibility for caring for your own needs. Responsibility implies "being responsive." This may mean many things in actions you can take. It may mean buying yourself clothes TODAY that you feel good about TODAY. It may mean saving up for a vacation. It means we are willing to live in the present moment.

As we begin to respond to ourselves and take ourselves seriously, we become less desperate, and in becoming less desperate, we also become less compulsive. On of my most joyous moments as a therapist recently was when a young mother, who is also bulimic, took her young boy to a swimming pool while simultaneously wearing a bathing suit and eating an ice cream cone. This is part of the path to fitness of mind, body and, spirit. All must go together, all must go hand in hand.

Member: Do you think most people diet or begin a fitness program for the wrong reasons, meaning to look good rather than to be healthy? How does that affect success rates and how important is it to change that basic motivation from image to health?