6 Ways To Stop The Negative Body Image Epidemic

Psychotherapist, author and Insight Timer publisher Andrea Wachter proposes and reflects on six ways to overcome negative body images that have sickened our society.
Andrea Wachter is a psychotherapist, Marriage and Family Therapist, author and speaker who uses her professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others.
It is on us to turn around the negative body image epidemic within our society.
Andrea Wachter is a psychotherapist, Marriage and Family Therapist, author and speaker who uses her professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others.

Body dissatisfaction has reached epidemic levels in our image-obsessed culture. I’ve devoted much of my life to helping people heal from food and body image issues and decided to propose six ways that we can turn this negative body image epidemic around.

I realize that some of the changes I propose might not be so easy to do. Long term patterns can be very ingrained and most of us are surrounded by some very unhealthy and confusing messages. But the suggestions I pose to you today are goals to strive for, and if we all begin to upgrade our body image programs and strict food rules, we can make things better, not only for ourselves but for future generations as well. We have enough to deal with in the world without having to spend so much time lost in body disapproval and food obsession.

Before diving into the tips, you might want to listen to the author’s own story, how she had overcome body hatred and eating disorders. Or listen to Andrea’s full talk of how to turn around the bad body image epidemic of our society:

  1. Her own body hatred and eating disorders. Andrea Wachter 5:17
  2. 6 Ways To Stop The Bad Body Image Epidemic (Full Talk) Andrea Wachter 17:26

The People Impacted By Negative Body Image Get Younger And Younger

Over the last few decades, the majority of my clients have been teens and adults with an occasional young child, but over the last several years, I began to notice a very disturbing trend. As our social media has grown, the age range of my clients began to get younger, so instead of seeing an occasional nine or 10-year-old in the course of a year, I started seeing young kids regularly. Can you imagine a six-year-old who hates their body? Or a seven-year-old refusing to get dressed for school in the morning or put on a bathing suit? Or an eight-year-old who’s obsessed with getting six pack abs and refusing to eat carbs?

Who among us even knew what carbs, fats, or six-pack abs were when we were six, seven and eight?

As I saw that this negative body image epidemic was striking more and more young children.

Our Kids Are Not Going To Change Until We Change

Children are not born thinking fat, carbs or gluten are bad, or that they should work out to burn calories. They learn it. Just like we learned all our rules and restrictions. We learned it from the culture, so there are no bad guys here, but now, kids are learning it from the culture and us.

So, what can we do? How can we turn this epidemic around? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’d like to propose six things we can all do or stop doing to upgrade our culture’s obsession with perfection.

Read about the damaging effects of lacking or absent self-love in children.

How To Turn Around The Negative Body Image Epidemic

Tip number one, stop fat chat.

Fat chat is the term I use for speaking negatively about fat, and there are a few aspects to this. First, can we all agree to stop talking negatively about fat on bodies and in food? All this does is cause and contribute to fear, obsession, and rebellion, and it leaves most people either avoiding fats or overdoing them because they feel so deprived.

Another aspect of fat chat is using the phrase, “I feel fat.” What if we all decided to ban that phrase?

First of all, fat is not even a feeling. It’s an essential food group and it provides cushion for our bones, warmth for our bodies and satiety for our food. The phrase, “I feel fat” keeps people from discovering and addressing their true feelings, which then takes them further from uncovering their true needs.

Another aspect of fat chat is talking about how good or bad you are according to what you ate or how much you exercised. How about saying you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy your meal or dessert as opposed to it being good or bad or too high in fat or calories?

man body silhouette

“If we all begin to upgrade our body image programs and strict food rules, we can make things better, not only for ourselves but for future generations as well.”

And finally, on the topic of fat chat, if you notice someone lost weight, how about saying, “It’s good to see you,” instead of, “You lost weight, you look great!” We have no idea of the means someone took to lose weight. They might be physically ill, they might be emotionally struggling, or they might have an eating disorder, in which case complimenting their weight loss is only encouraging their unhealthy behaviors.

Read more: The rise of social media has been considered an important factor in the recent rise in mental health problems among young people. Learn more about the positive and dysfunctional impact of social media on youth mental health.

Tip number two, stop dieting.

Whether you are on an official diet or you just think of foods in terms of good and bad — dieting is a setup for obsession and rebellion. The diet industry promises us that whatever plan, book, or food combination they are selling, it will help us with our overeating problem. But what they don’t tell us is that the diet itself is part of the problem.

Dieting leads to overeating. It is the number one reason why people overeat. So, let’s all work together on finding a balance between the prison of restriction and the rioting of supersizing. Practice tuning into your natural physical hunger signals, and then eating delicious, nutritious foods and learning to stop when you feel politely satisfied.

You need help getting to know your physical hunger and satisfaction? Explore guided practices for mindful eating to upgrade to a healthy relationship with food.

Tip number three, stop judging.

It’s far too common to make assumptions and judgments about another person based on what you see. In truth, we have no idea how healthy or happy someone is based on their appearance. How about we ban terms like obese, overweight, and underweight? Over and under what weight?

We have no idea what another person is supposed to weigh. People are either genetically predisposed to look the way they do, or they may be dealing with factors that contribute to their current appearance. Or their size may be a symptom of emotional struggles, in which case they need compassion, not criticism.

It is on us to turn around the negative body image epidemic within our society.

“We all have natural shapes and weight ranges that our bodies settle into when we treat them respectfully.”

We’re not all supposed to look the same or look like the media tells us to look. We all have natural shapes and weight ranges that our bodies settle into when we treat them respectfully. So, when you see other people, assume you have no idea if they are healthy or not based on their appearance, and send them the same well wishes you would hope to receive from them.

Tip number four, manage media.

What if we all refused to buy magazines or look at websites that feature emaciated, unrealistic-looking models or that advertise the latest diets and weight loss schemes?

Let’s stop reading articles and responding to ads that teach and preach extreme and unhealthy ideas about food, fitness, and physiques. And, while we’re at it, how about writing to the editors before we ban these magazines and websites and let them know we are signing off until they make a change? Let’s also screen the programs, websites and magazines our kids are looking at and treat dieting, extreme fitness, and pro-anorexia sites the same way we would porn sites.

Tip number five, early prevention.

If you see your child restricting certain food groups, over-exercising, binging or struggling with body image, take action the same way you would if you found out they were using drugs.

The sooner you treat body image disturbances and disordered eating, the lower the chances of them blooming into full-blown disorders. Get them professional help if needed and teach them everything you are learning. And of course, the more naturally and casually you eat all food groups in moderation and appreciate your body and all body sizes, the more likely it is that your child will follow in your healthy footsteps.

Before discussing tip number six, discover guided practices by Andrea Wachter to decrease the stress and anxiety when struggling with overeating or binge eating, experience love and appreciation for your body and break through the frustrating cycle of dieting:

  1. Stress Less Meditation for Overcoming Overeating Andrea Wachter 23:01
  2. Healing the Diet/Riot Cycle Andrea Wachter 14:24
  3. Love Your Body Andrea Wachter 12:01
  4. Getting Over Overeating Andrea Wachter 11:56

And finally, tip number six, stop laughing at or telling fat jokes.

Our culture is obsessed with looks because we have been programmed to think that thin is better than fat. But these are false programs, and they can be deleted.

Some of the sickest and most internally tortured people I know are thin, and there are people of varying sizes who are healthy and at peace. Fat jokes cause shame for people who are large and pressure and fear for people who are not.

We Can Say No To Fat Chat, Body Hatred, Extreme Dieting & Binging

Well, thank you for letting me get that off my chest. So, how about if we all strive for peace of mind instead of a certain number on the scale? If we can say no to racism and homophobia and child abuse and animal cruelty, we can say no to fat chat, body hatred, extreme dieting and binging.

We can tell our children all day long that they are beautiful just the way they are. But if they hear us trash-talking bodies or food choices, it’s these comments that will have the most impact. Our kids are listening to us, and we are all listening and learning from each other.

So, can we all agree to stop berating our bodies and start appreciating them for what they do for us? Can we stop dieting and restricting, and learn to eat real, delicious foods and allow our body’s wisdom to tell us when we’ve had enough? Can we learn to move our bodies in ways we love and rest when we need to?

Let’s reach out for support when we’re filled with emotions rather than stuff them down with excess food, diets, drugs, alcohol, or excessive screen time.

Let’s upgrade the soundtracks in our minds and speak kinder to ourselves.

Let’s change the conversations we’re having with each other about fats, carbs, calories, gluten, and weight to deeper topics. And how about we all commit to finding sweetness and fulfillment in our lives rather than from excess food or the fantasy of weight loss.

These are my hopes for you and the children in your life. And may we all live healthfully ever after.

Read more: Discover self-love and self-compassion advice from the Buddha.

(This is a transcription of Andrea Wachter’s talk “6 Ways We Can Stop The Bad Body Image Epidemic” published on Insight Timer.)

Meditation To Turn The Negative Body Image Around

By cultivating a more compassionate, mindful and grateful relationship with the body, meditation has the potential to change negative thought patterning and establish a healthy body image. Discover hundreds of free guided meditation for positive body image.

You might also be interested in Andrea Wachter’s 10-day course “How to make peace with the body you live in” on Insight Timer. You will uncover the root causes of your body image issues.

Meditation. Free.