weight anxiety fuelled by unrealistic expectations

Five practical ways to tackle weight anxiety and feel better in your body

6 July 2023

What happens when you think about eating? Does the thought of a meal in a restaurant fill you with dread? Do you get anxious about eating? Or is it that you feel a sense of rising panic at the idea of putting on weight? Weight anxiety affects people differently. It may be you experience a sense of worry about how certain food will affect you. Or it could be noticing your mind going into overdrive when you eat chocolate or crisps, for example.

Anxiety about weight is increasing

Anxiety affects millions of people world wide. It’s experienced as feelings of fear, worry, and unease. Increasingly more people are experiencing anxiety about their weight.

In fact, anxiety does have an impact on weight and eating habits. And certainly, weight and eating issues can contribute and worsen existing anxiety. A recent study found that people who struggled with their weight were more likely to experience anxietyi.

Weight anxiety is a particular type of anxiety that’s defined as excessive worry and stress about weight, shape, and appearance. It can show itself in various ways, such as constant body checking, obsessive thoughts about weight, or feelings of guilt and shame related to eating.

weight anxiety negative self judgement

Why weight anxiety?

You can feel under pressure about your weight, shape and appearance for a number of reasons:

  • Social Pressure
  • Society as a whole promotes unrealistic beauty standards that are impossible for most people to reach. Thinness, in particular, is aligned with success. When you can’t reach these impossible ideals, you can end up feeling inadequate or ashamed about your body
  • Media Influence
  • The media bombards us with images of “perfect” bodies. They’ve often been, airbrushed to fit an unattainable ideal. If, like most of us, you’re being constantly exposed to these pictures, you can’t help but compare yourself unfavourably to all the images you’re consuming. It’s easy to see how you can end up feeling dissatisfied with your own body which in turn can lead to weight anxiety.
  • Personal Experience
  • People often feel that’s it’s ok to make comments about your weight or appearance. If you’ve had negative comments or experiences about your size or shape from family, riends or doctors, it can affect how you feel about your body. In the long term, this can play a part in you developing weight anxiety.

weight anxiety constant self judgement

Weight anxiety and disordered eating

Weight anxiety often leads to disordered eating patterns and impacts body image. This can set up a vicious cycle where anxiety triggers unhealthy eating patterns, such as extreme dieting, binge eating, purging, or taking diet pills. This, in turn, reinforces the anxietyii.

Research indicates a link between anxiety, depression, and binge eating. People with higher levels of anxiety and depression are more likely to engage in binge eating. The binge eating makes the anxiety and depression worse. which, in turn, increases the anxiety and depression symptomsiii.

Higher levels of anxiety are also associated with greater weight gain over time. A study following 6,695 adults over four years found those with the highest anxiety gained more weight than those with lower anxiety. This was found to be true, even after controlling for other factors such as age, sex, and physical activityiv.

This cycle can be challenging to break. It’s important to consider all the factors that may be contributing to a person’s anxiety and disordered eating patterns and to develop the strategies that will help them to tackle weight anxiety.

Breaking the cycle

It’s crucial to take a holistic approach to managing weight anxiety and reduce its impact on wellbeing. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  By providing the right support for each client, new ways of thinking and acting can be learned with time. Working to address your weight anxiety can help you to stop fighting with your body and help you to find the courage to try new things and to live a life you enjoy.

When I work with clients with weight anxiety, we work in partnership to find ways for them to manage their anxiety and change the way they feel about their body. Together, we look at how they can spend less time worrying and more on living the life they want.

Have a look at https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/five-ways-to-boost-self-esteem/and https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/worry-what-to-do-when-you-cant-stop-worrying/ for more ways to help with weight anxiety.

getting support can help weight anxiety

Here are my top five practical ways to help you to manage weight anxiety. Beating anxiety can take time. Each step can be learnt and built upon. By taking these steps one by one, you can start to live your life on your own terms.

1. Shift your focus away from weight

Recognising your weight anxiety is the first step towards breaking the cycle and embracing a healthier relationship with your body. One way to do this is to try and take your attention away from focusing exclusively on your weight. Instead, it’s helpful to focus on a healthy lifestyle that includes balanced and gentle nutrition, regular exercise, and self-care. This can help you to feel better about your body, improve your physical and mental health, and reduce anxiety about your weight.

2. Don’t listen to your thoughts

Start to notice how often you have negative thoughts about your body, food and eating.  Anxiety around food and eating is often fed by critical thoughts, such as “I can’t eat that, it’s too fattening” or “I’m going to gain weight if I eat this.” Learn to challenge these thoughts by questioning how true they are.  You may also be able to find evidence to contradict them. For example, you could focus on things you like about yourself that are not related to your weight, or remind yourself that people come in a range of sizes and shapes.

weight anxiety can surface when we see ourselves on screen

3. Curate your social media

If you’re like most people, you spend a lot of time on social media. You may not realise it, but the images you’re consuming affect how you feel and can lead to increased weight anxiety.

Try and remind yourself that what you see on social media is a carefully curated image and has often been edited to make the person look good. Rather than having a steady diet of unrealistic images that make you feel anxious, surround yourself with people who promote realistic images of the human body. This can help you to improve how you feel about your own body and make you less anxious about your weight. It can support you towards finding it easier to accept yourself.

Take the time to find and engage in social media platforms and communities that emphasise diverse body shapes, sizes, and beauty. After a few weeks, don’t forget to check in and see if it makes a difference to how you feel about yourself.

4. Learn to experience your body from the inside out

This sounds a bit strange but it can really help you to change how you experience your body and reduce your anxiety about your weight.

You can learn how to do this by starting to shift your attention from the outside of your body and how your body looks – to the inside and how your body feels. Women especially have been taught to go through life looking at their body from the outside in, observing it as if it is an object. It then becomes second nature to pick apart the bits you dislike. Instead, see if you can start to experience your body from the inside. You can do this by focusing on sensations that you can notice.

Rather than judging how a part of your body looks and if you like or dislike it, try and sense into this area and notice whether it feels warm or cold, soft or sharp, tense or relaxed, etc. Changing how you relate to your body in this way by sensing into the body instead of only looking at it can help you to understand your body as a living, breathing being that communicates with you, rather than an object in need of changing.

5. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety by helping you stay present in the moment. Take a few deep breaths before you eat, and pay attention to the taste, texture, and smell of your food. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine to manage anxiety and increase self-awareness. Techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and body scans can improve your overall well-being and help you develop a more positive relationship with your body.

For more go to https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/the-benefits-of-body-awareness/

Would you like to make living life easier, right now? Get your free Live Life on Your Terms recording here and begin to live your life with confidence.

If you believe you or someone you care about has an eating disorder rather than weight anxiety you can get help from Beat, the eating disorder charity

iAmiri S, Behnezhad S. Obesity and anxiety symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuropsychiatrie : Klinik, Diagnostik, Therapie und Rehabilitation : Organ der Gesellschaft Osterreichischer Nervenarzte und Psychiater. 2019 Jun;33(2):72-89. DOI: 10.1007/s40211-019-0302-9. PMID: 30778841.

  • iiNeumark-Sztainer, D., Paxton, S. J., Hannan, P. J., Haines, J., & Story, M. (2006). “Does body satisfaction matter? Five-year longitudinal associations between body satisfaction and health behaviors in adolescent females and males.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(2), 244-251. doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2005.12.001.

iii Grilo, C. M., Reas, D. L., & Hopwood, C. J. (2014). “Prevalence and Correlates of Binge Eating Disorder in a Community Sample of Female Adolescents.” International journal of eating disorders, 47(4), 397-402. doi.org/10.1002/eat.22245.

  • ivFaith, M. S., Butryn, M., Wadden, T. A., Fabricatore, A., Nguyen, A. M., & Heymsfield, S. B. (2011). “Evidence for prospective associations among depression and obesity in population-based studies.” Obesity Reviews, 12(5), e438-e453. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00847.x.
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