The Complexities of Body Image

I hear many different relationships that people have with their bodies, their nourishment, and their lifestyles. When one of these relationships is out of balance it often causes great suffering. I have worked with many clients over the last 12 years who have had unhealthy relationships with their bodies.


  • I am disgusted by my body.
  • I eat food when I know I’m not hungry.
  • I used to exercise but I can’t motivate myself any more.
  • I feel hopeless about losing weight.
  • I refuse to try any more diets because I don’t want my whole life to revolve around food.
  • I don’t like what I see when I look in the mirror.

Please read about how I worked with one client around these issues. The client’s name and many details have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.

When Jackie came in for our first session, she told me that she had always struggled with her weight. She remembered her mother telling her that she was “getting pudgy” when she was in third grade. She remembers hiding how much she would eat from her parents and especially from her mother after her father moved out when she was twelve years old. As a woman in her thirties she feels like she should have solved this issue by now, but she is still struggling. She hates her body, hates being naked with a partner, and makes poor choices with food regularly. When I asked her how much of the day she spends thinking about her body, food, or what she “should” be doing around her body or food she told me she spends 80% of her waking hours with bad feelings about her body and her choices. That’s a lot of life energy!

My hypothesis was this: she was hyper focused on food and on her weight because she was trying to bury an old pain. I had no idea what this old pain might be but it is rare of someone who is not in pain to become hyper focused on anything – especially something that is bringing them pain. When I asked her about pain she listed a few events in her life as if she was reading from her grocery list – with no emotion. I have found this to be quite common with people when they are primarily connected to their analytical minds.

In order to help get deeper into the issue than her analytical mind was allowing us to go, I suggested that we work with hypnosis. As she closed her eyes and got ready to focus more on her body she said, “I hate doing stuff like this. My stomach is already feeling nervous.” I felt like we were already closer to the root of the issue and we had hardly begun. As we did hypnosis she had a hard time feeling her emotions. She was scared of what might happen and her mind kept going to her to do list. Her mind was jumping to the future to try to avoid what she was feeling in the here and now. When she finally became relaxed enough to open up to her own body she felt a pit of despair in her belly. She cried unstoppable tears even though she had told me when we first met that she never cried. As we followed the feeling of despair she had uncovered she found herself hearing the news that her grandmother had died. She had plans to see her grandmother the next day but her grandmother died unexpectedly in her sleep the night before. She was completely shocked and devastated. She was very close to her grandmother and she had never known anyone who had died before. As she put the pieces together she suddenly remembered that her grandmother died just after her dad had moved out and her grandmother was her father’s mother. Her mother had never had a good relationship with her mother-in-law and told Jackie that she didn’t want to hear any more crying about her grandmother because she was dealing with a divorce and she didn’t wan to hear anything else about her soon-to-be-ex-husband or his family.

We had uncovered the place where Jackie had been given no choice but to swallow her pain – pun intended. She was mad at her mom and she knew that her mom didn’t like it when she ate junk food so she hid it and ate it behind her back. The cycle of comforting herself with food, stuffing her feelings, and focusing on something other than pain had begun.

As Jackie consciously saw the confluence of experiences and behaviors that had come together she started to see a way out. She started to realize that she no longer had to bite her tongue and swallow her pain. She started to experience a sense of freedom that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She also felt a deep connection and sense of gratitude toward her grandmother for the first time in a long time. She found it very healing to connect with the memories of what she had loved about her grandmother and she was thrilled to be able to talk about her openly. As Jackie started to shed her pain and unravel the coping mechanisms that she had developed through that time, she started to unravel her old habits, too. Her relationship to her body shifted to one of respect and honor and her health blossomed. As she started taking care of her body other parts of her life that she had never talked about in therapy started to shift in positive ways, too. She started dating and her friendships deepened. She had more life energy for activities that interested her since she wasn’t spending 80% of her time beating herself up about her body. As her body shifted she realized that how she looked was just a side note to how she was treating herself. She realized she was more committed to treating herself well than to how she looked. And yet she knew she looked healthier and healthier as time went on.

Are you or a loved one muddling through difficult issues in your life? If so, please call or send me an email to discuss how working together might help.

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