Photo of psychologist Amber Dwinell
  • July 5, 2024

Making Peace With Your Body With Amber Dwinell

Join us as we chat with Amber Dwinell to take a deep dive into making peace with your body.    […]

Join us as we chat with Amber Dwinell to take a deep dive into making peace with your body. 

 

 

Q1: We always like to start our episodes with a very important question. What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I am really, really into Marvel movies.
I love it and pop culture.


Q2: Would you mind setting the scene for how people develop body image issues and what that can look like?

Before I dive into talking about our relationship with our body, perhaps I might just start by acknowledging some of my privileges, if that feels okay. So today, I’m speaking from a white, able-bodied, neurotypical, and thin-bodied privilege. 

I’m also speaking from a feminist framework. So I’d like to acknowledge the feminist founders of these ideologies. What that means is a feminist framework acknowledges the context of our society and how this has shaped our relationship with our bodies. 

So body image, or I like using the term “relationship with body,” is about the thoughts and feelings that come to mind when we think about our body, how we feel within our body, how we feel others perceive our body, and the beliefs and conditions all attached to our body. 

I also want to acknowledge that this isn’t fixed; it can change every day, how we feel about our bodies can change every day. 

 

Q3: What are some of the factors that impact our relationship with our body?

When we think about the factors that can impact our relationship with our body, a couple of core factors come to mind. 

First, being diet culture; the next being our family and social network, the messages that we experience growing up, social media, and then also this innate social cognitive drive that we all have to fit in. So, let me unpack each of those. 

Diet culture is a multibillion-dollar, self-perpetuating industry. I grabbed a little stat before this podcast, and it was really shocking, actually, because in Australia this year, the weight loss market alone was $522 million. 

When I say “self-perpetuating,” I mean that diets often set this unattainable goal. When we fail it, there is always another diet waiting for us to try. Diets are often so appealing because they promise feeling better, emotionally, feeling healthier, feeling happier. When we fail this diet, this unattainable goal, it’s very much internalised and something that’s put on us to try and do better.

The next factor that I mentioned is really our family and the social network around us. If we were exposed at a young age to any diet-related messages from immediate family members or people around us, or even not just diet messages, but appearance standards, being told about the wrong or right way to have a body from a young age by immediate family members is incredibly impactful. 

Also, engagement in highly competitive sports or any sport that had a real focus or importance on weight management can be hugely impactful on how we feel within our bodies and what we think our bodies should look like from a young age.

Another factor is this social cognitive drive that we have to fit in. What I mean by this is, over time, women’s bodies change depending on the beauty standards at the time. Of course, this is different across cultures too, and importantly, this is not our fault. 

This happened because of this social cognitive process that we’re largely unaware of. If we think about thousands of years ago, think about a cave person. Their number one goal was to stay safe and stay alive, right? 

What the cave person learned really quickly is that if we are in a group, we are most likely to survive. If we’re alone, we’re most likely to be eaten by a tiger or whatever. So then it became really important that we were liked and fit in within our social group. It’s actually wired in our brains, this functional tool of comparing ourselves to the other person in our social group so that we can stay within our social group. 

This is a tool that our minds use to protect ourselves from being excluded, so that we’re not alone and eaten by a tiger. 

Fast forward to now, being ostracised and excluded is the worst feeling. So, we’re wired to experience comparative thoughts as very automatic thoughts. And all humans require social connection to stay alive; from being a baby to now, that doesn’t change. Even as I speak, I can feel anger inside of me because diet culture is essentially perpetuating and profiting from a largely out-of-control cognitive process that we use to stay connected and stay alive. That’s pretty messed up.

Then, of course, depending on whether or not you are in a body that has been marginalised by our society, that is going to change everything again. We all experience this differently because we all live in a society that tells us how to have a body and how not to have a body.

 


Q4: In terms of our relationship with our body and body image, how can that start to affect our relationship with food?

The dangerous thing about diet culture, or having these thin ideal standards, is that it forces us—as we were saying before—to internalise diet failures or even body size differences as our fault or something we can or should be taking control of. And this isn’t the case. 

Just as we were saying before, around when we speak to people and we learn about the onset of their eating issues or body image-related issues, we hear things like people being told at a young age that their body was wrong and they should be trying to lose weight. So, of course, we internalise this and then do things to try and take control back and make a change in our body. 

Also, how we feel in our body impacts so many parts of our life. If our sense of self-worth, feeling loved, and being comes from how we feel within our body and how we feel we look, it is going to be really important for us that our bodies look a certain way. 

This, in turn, can lead to this internal drive to make changes with our relationship with food. Then it changes from making choices around nourishing our body to making choices that will change the way we look because it’s really important for us.

 

Q5: We chatted a little bit earlier about social media comparison as being such a major factor. Do you have any tips for people who find that they’re struggling with this?

Before I go on to the practical tips, just wanting to acknowledge that if you are living in a marginalised body, you are undoubtedly feeling the effects of this firsthand. 

I don’t think simple cognitive strategies around Instagram or how we talk to ourselves is going to fix this. Because again, this is a societal problem, and it’s not your fault. But, these strategies might help bring compassion to ourselves and also maybe help reduce the triggers for comparative thoughts. 

One of those things is just assessing your social media. Asking yourself, “What are you being exposed to every day? What kind of messages is this sending to me? Is it triggering comparative thoughts? And then, ultimately, is this what you want?” 

So there are a couple of ways we can curate Instagram, for example. By clicking on a photo, either at the top right or bottom right, there are those three little dots. When you click on it, you can select “Not Interested.” This is really important because it will then stop showing you photos of similar things to that kind of photo and help you create your own algorithm. 

 

Q6. Do you have any tips for someone if they notice the urge to go on social media on a poor body image day?

I think being reflective and asking yourself where it’s coming from can help pause and check in with yourself. Maybe you’re needing something else in that moment. 

If it’s as simple as, “How am I feeling? What am I needing?” Because, again, if we come back to why we’re experiencing the urge to compare, it’s because we’re trying to protect ourselves. 

If we come back to that idea and give ourselves what we’re needing, acknowledge that feeling, maybe it won’t be as intense. That was great.

Another tip is, when you do notice that comparative thought, is sending yourself and the person you’re comparing yourself to a little well-wish. This is helpful because you can create some distance between yourself and the person and also the damaging comparative thought. 

You could say something like, “I wish that person well on their journey, but it’s different from mine. And that’s okay.”

 

Q7: We talked about how we can protect ourselves from social media and media comparisons. But we know that diet culture and body image ideals also play a role. How can we protect ourselves from those?

The number one thing here is being aware that it exists and asking ourselves how it impacts us, because this will be different for everyone. 

It will vary depending on whether you are in a marginalised body or not. I think that’s a really important place to start, acknowledging we live in a society that tells us how to have a body.

Meeting ourselves with compassion first can be really hard to challenge or change existing beliefs about a fear of weight gain, something reinforced by our society. We want our body to hear our compassion first. 

Another thing we can do is surround ourselves with people who challenge diet culture and its ideals every day. I think social media is a good place to start. There are some amazing people doing beautiful advocacy work. Having that on your feed can be really helpful. 

Often, when we first become aware of the toxicity around diet culture and this ideal, a lot of anger surfaces. Just talking about it brings up so much anger in me. We notice it in our everyday life, from comments made by friends. 

It always comes back to what you feel you need to cope with this. It varies for everyone. For some, it might be advocacy work, writing letters, acknowledging the anger. For others, it’s about bringing compassion in first. It just depends on what you need.

 

Q8. It can be hard to find a health professional that’s the right fit. Any tips for finding the right one?

It can be challenging. When researching and reading bios, trust your feelings during the booking process. 

Recognise yourself as the expert; you’re in charge and know what you need. If you need referrals for psychologists to support you with your relationship with food and your body, the Butterfly Foundation is an excellent resource for options in Australia. They also have an online portal. 

In your first therapy session, you’re still determining if it’s the right fit. This is the time to ask questions about their approach and express your needs to feel supported, safe, and heard. You might need structure and a clear plan, or you might prefer a conversational, relaxed style. 

Clearly communicate these preferences to your therapist. It might take a few sessions to connect, but you’re in charge. Follow what feels right for you and speak up about your needs.

It’s also okay to try different therapists and health professionals. You’re not always going to feel completely comfortable with the first person you meet. It can be normal to try out different therapists and dietitians until you find someone who understands and supports you in the right way.

 

break up with diets ebook

Q9: Could you shed some light on what it can feel like to go through the therapy process? I know some people might expect to feel better quickly, but it doesn’t always happen that way.


Well, the initial stage is usually an assessment period, and therapists often ask a lot of questions about you and your experience. This might not just take one session; it could take a couple. So, you might not get any concrete intervention in those first few sessions. 

In terms of how it feels, it depends on the kind of therapy you’re seeking. For me, I offer trauma-informed and strength-based practice, which means I’ll likely talk to you about what has happened to you, your experiences with your body, food, and the onset of some of your difficulties. This can mean discussing challenging topics. However, this can be done safely, compassionately, and at a pace that suits you.

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

About Amber:

Amber is a psychologist who is passionate about creating a therapeutic space full of warmth, curiosity and gentleness. She works collaboratively with clients through a combination of therapeutic methods – including Gestalt Therapy and Internal Family Systems, mindfullness approaches of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Compassion Focused frameworks.

Where you can find Amber:

Website: https://www.amberdwinellpsychology.com/

Instagram: amberdwinell_psychologist

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Join us as we chat with Amber Dwinell to take a deep dive into making peace with