If you are reading this blog, you will likely know that last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. The week is organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and the theme for 2019 was Body Image.
The Foundation published a report: ‘Body Image: how we think and feel about our bodies’, which is well worth reading. You can also check out the hashtag #BeBodyKind.
The MHF research showed that one in five adults have felt shame about their bodies, and one in three adults have felt anxious or depressed about their bodies.
Pretty stark statistics.
I know how easy it is for conversations about body image ‘to go wrong’. With a media that generally represents a very narrow version of beauty, health and fitness, it is easy to slip into a body image discourse that is about how we look, rather than how we feel about ourselves.
And that is why the MHF Report is so important – it is asking us to think about how we feel, rather than how we look. And that is a conversation we clearly need to have.
My body has been really good to me, even when I haven’t always been too good to it. I have run several marathons, hiked up some pretty big mountains, survived fall after fall from horses over a 40 year period and never had a broken bone or an operation. In 2018 my brilliant body ran 1,000 miles in ten months. It lives on between four and half and six hours sleep every night (its choice, not mine). I feel lucky for the body I have.
So it is perhaps a bit puzzling to reflect on the fact I am definitely one of the one in five who has felt shame about my body in the last 12 months.
In fact, on reflection, I have spent a fair amount of my life not being particularly happy with how my body looks. I have had numerous and repeated attempts at diets and exercise regimes generally with ‘success’ for limited periods of time.
In July 2015 my brother Andrew died. The first six months is a bit of a haze, but I know I ate and drank through the pain. I landed in the first week of January 2016 not feeling great physically or mentally. I resolved to try and start taking care of my health and find a way to stop being so faddish about it.
I had already entered the 2016 Brighton marathon and needed to get fitter and healthier to be able to complete it, and this became my focus. I did complete it with a new personal best time. But again, as soon as training for that was over I lost motivation and settled back into old habits.
The catalyst for change was when I started my new job at MHFA England last summer and I enlisted the expert support of Matt Boyles. Matt’s approach is a holistic one, helping to learn about our bodies and wellbeing. Under his guidance I am trying to be more in tune with my body. He has focused me to think about how I feel physically and mentally when I eat different foods, when I do and don’t exercise, and when I do and don’t drink alcohol.
Thanks in large part to Matt, I am now in a place where I know what my body can achieve and importantly how I feel about it. Adopting a more consistent approach to my health and wellbeing has a massive positive knock on effect on how I feel about my body image.
To find out more about how Matt encourages body positive confidence please check in with our Community Blog this Friday where we will publish my interview with him.