A Healthy Lifestyle and Improving Body Image with Anxiety

February 1, 2016 Julia Banim

You can live a healthy lifestyle and improve your body image even with anxiety. I’m currently trying to lose weight through joining a local slimmers support group. I won’t lie, it’s been an uphill battle with hurdles all the way. I’ll reach a much longed for milestone one week and the next I’ll find myself feeling as though I’ve tumbled, bruised and defeated, back down the mountain. I’m a sufferer of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and so ever since I’ve stopped growing up, I’ve been steadily growing out in such a way that I often feel as if I have lost agency over my own body. Moreover, I have an overly emotional attachment to food. But, even with anxiety, I am trying for a healthy lifestyle while improving my body image, too.

Comfort Eating, Body Image and Anxiety

Comfort eating is common, especially amongst us anxiety sufferers. I will, personally, continue to eat long past the point where I am full. At my lowest points, I will eat until I feel sick and uncomfortable and then will continue to raid the cupboards listlessly for snacks, or, indeed, anything passably edible. Moldy toast, platefuls of syrup and raw cubes of jelly mixture have all been amongst my more questionable findings. As I write this blog post, I have just crammed a fistful of milk tray chocolates into my mouth without tasting a single one. I feel pretty queasy and, I will admit, stricken with a deep and gnawing shame. I can feel myself teetering on the edge of a “bad time.” I’m struggling to cope right now and the desire for a healthy, happy body has slid way below the everyday need to breathe in and out and to smile at the right moments. You can have that healthy lifestyle and body image you've longed for, even if you live with an anxiety disorder. Here are some tips. Take a look.

From about the age of 19 onwards, I’ve been pretty overweight. At times, I’ve slipped and become very overweight, noticeably so. The prospect of how rapidly this can happen if I don’t watch the scales is a constant, crushing fear of mine. My body image and self-esteem has taken a rather brutal battering as a result of this. Of course, I would describe myself as 100% body positive and thoroughly believe that men and women can be beautiful no matter what their clothes size. However, the feeling that I have so little control or choice over the shape of my figure is disempowering to say the least.

I’ve always hated the way that I look. As a teenager, I used to fantasise daily about scalding away my face to the bone with boiling water and reconstructing it piece by piece from scratch. The features that made me identifiable as a human being were nothing more than humiliations to me that I couldn’t scrub away. I felt too anxious to look anybody in the eye, certain that they would be openly repulsed if they stared into my face for too long (What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder, BDD (DSM-5)?). When I began to pile on the pounds, this only added new and complicated dimensions to my self-loathing. It was no longer just my mirror and my own perceptions that told me that I was undesirable. Now, quantifiable sources such as my bathroom scales and the zipper on my favourite dress were telling me that my appearance was socially unacceptable.

Tips for Anxiety Sufferers Who Want a Healthy Lifestyle

Losing weight is an emotional journey for anyone, but for a person with a mental illness there are added pressures. Finding the motivation can be tricky. It’s difficult to rustle up a nutritious breakfast and hit the gym when you’ve spent a tearful morning under the duvet, too frightened and self conscious to face the world or even so much as answer an email. When I’ve had particularly bad bouts of depression and anxiety, the relationship between myself and my body has become obscured. During such times, I have struggled to think of myself in any physical way whatsoever and so have pushed this side of myself deep beneath my subconscious. Many times, I have found it difficult to think of myself in the role of romantic partner or the carefree, young woman dancing in a nightclub. All the roles that society expected of me felt as though they would take 10 Herculean labours and then some to reach. I found it hard to think beyond the end of the day, or, indeed, the next pizza delivery, let alone to a future, healthier self. I know the sensation of feeling utterly overwhelmed and, frankly, baffled by the desire to lose weight.

I have learnt a few things whilst trying for a healthy lifestyle as an anxiety sufferer that I hope will be of some use to those who are on a similar journey. Trying to lose weight whilst suffering from an anxiety disorder is difficult, but by no means impossible. Having anxiety does not make you less strong, it only blinds you to the significant strength that you do, in fact, possess (Five Character Strengths of People With Anxiety). Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t regimented or if you don’t see results straight away, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Most importantly, don’t get tempted by dubious fad diets and extreme weight loss. Not only can these lead you down a potentially dangerous path, they are not sustainable and will not make you happier long term.

The key is to approach your healthy living regime and better body image is patience and self-acceptance. Rather than considering your weight loss journey as being about changing yourself, think about it as learning to love yourself a little better. Find other, more fulfilling ways to address your feelings apart from overeating (You Can Practice Self-Care On A Budget). This could be putting aside time out of your busy day to have a good chat with your partner or your best friend. It could even be as simple as spending time cuddling with your pet. Learn how to cook two or three healthy meals well. Not only is this therapeutic, it is also incredibly rewarding to know how to cook properly and will give you a sense of inner pride. Make sure you fill your cupboards with low calorie snacks and fruit for if, and when, the binge eating monster returns.

This is advice from my own, personal, relationship with healthy eating and anxiety. Everybody’s individual path is very different and I would love to hear your own stories about trying to boost your physical health whilst grappling with your mental health.

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APA Reference
Banim, J. (2016, February 1). A Healthy Lifestyle and Improving Body Image with Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Julia Banim

February, 2 2016 at 10:00 pm

The description of stuffing oneself until full and then plundering the cabinets looking for something to satisfy...this is so, so me right now. Lately I've been munching on whatever I can get my hands on: graham crackers with chocolate syrup (one that my child did come up with), fruit snacks, Oreos, etc. just to feel satisfied, if even for a moment. Usually the satisfaction quickly passes and I either feel guilty or nauseous, or a combination of the two. I have gained 30 pounds in just a few short months. I am finding more and more that clothes that I JUST wore a month ago no longer fit. And it's frustrating. It only makes me feel worse about myself. I take healthy eating seriously for maybe a day or so, but then I am right back to old habits. Comfort foods are too comforting for me. Somehow when I am scarfing down cookies I have lost the ability to look past the here and now and think about the long term: how much weight I am gaining from eating all of this junk, how much better I would feel (both mentally and physically) if I would eat healthier and exercise to lose the weight, and even how rotten I will feel just a few moments later after eating half a pack of red velvet Oreos. I am certainly saving this article for future reference. Now I know...losing weight doesn't have to be another "task" so much as a much needed step to improve my self-care. Thanks for this!

Elaine H
March, 3 2016 at 5:10 am

When anxiety strikes, I always rely on food. I agree, comfort food is key. Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

Moses Masika
June, 22 2016 at 6:42 am

Its very true that if you need to leave a healthy lifestyle then eat well.

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