Today I interviewed Sheralyn Bucknell, author of one of my favourite body image and management books, The Body Battle. This book explores disordered thinking in regards to eating, exercise and self-image. One of the things that makes this book a stand out on this topic is that it addresses not only the psychological and physical aspects of body management but the spiritual too. Sheralyn’s approach to helping women gain healthy body image and management is to first understand and address the condition of our spiritual health. I love this approach and I agree that it works because how many of us have tried addressing just the physical (exercise, eating) or just the psychological (mindset) and found that this hasn’t resulted in long term consistent healthy body management? So maybe it’s time to try something different.
Welcome Sheralyn, tell us a bit about your book the Body Battle and how it came about.
I wrote the Body Battle a few years ago to help anyone who struggles with their body management – which I’ve found is most of us! Not everyone has an eating disorder, but lots of people have disordered thinking with their eating, exercising and self-image.
In my early twenties, I got caught in the trap of keeping a tally in my mind of what I ate, and ensuring I was super fit. I started out wanting to take good care of my body, but before long I had become a slave to myself. If I ate food that wasn’t on my ‘good’ list I would feel bad, and would then make sure I exercised extra hard the next day to delete it off the ‘bad’ list! If I didn’t get to go for a run before work, I would feel fat before lunch time – such a driven and tiring way to live. People envied how healthy, disciplined and fit I was, but it became quite an exhausting cycle for me!
Through a series of unexpected events that led to a life-changing encounter with God, I became a Christian. I had grown up without any church involvement, so this spiritual stuff was altogether new to me. During this time I discovered I had fear in regards to my body – fear of fat, failure, rejection, food – and this is what was driving me to live by high standards that become tiresome rules around what I would eat and how I would exercise. It was such a relief and joy to come to understand God’s amazing unconditional love for me. This allowed me to learn to value myself more and rest in the way he viewed me which took that fear away. The security I found in his love freed me to eat well (but not perfectly), to exercise consistently (but not fanatically), love the skin I was in, and accept my imperfections.
You mentioned loving the skin you’re in, how do you think we can find a healthy love for ourselves in a world that screams ‘you’re not good enough right now’?
Choosing to believe what God says about us is vital in developing a healthy self-love. He loves us unconditionally, celebrates our uniqueness and reminds us we are valued for who we are, not what we look like. It is a choice to either listen to his message, or the ‘perfect body, perfect life’ message of the world that tells us we need to be a certain shape, height and weight to be accepted or valued.
I recently viewed a particular Instagram account that had 7 million followers and every picture was a selfie in a provocative pose. This person is an ‘influencer’ but what are those 7 million people being influenced to look and be like? It breaks my heart. It’s so important to be aware of what you’re putting into you mind and who you are being ‘influenced’ by. That is why I love voices like yours Amy that offer a well-rounded and achievable message. We are wise to seek out people who speak truth, and have a positive life message. Choose wisely!
Thanks so much for your kind words, Sheralyn. Yes it really is important to ask ourselves ‘is this content I’m consuming on social media helping me in managing my body or leading me to the comparison trap and stealing my joy?’ I recently wrote a post called ‘what to do when social media leaves you feeling inadequate’ and it touches on this.
So you include a spiritual approach to managing your body. Would you say that this book will also help those people who don’t consider themselves spiritual? Why?
I believe humans are three part beings – body, soul (mind/emotions) and spirit – with each impacting the other. We tend to separate our body and manage it with diets, exercise plans, and varied rules and regulations. Often our body battles are directly related to things that have happened to us, or things that have been said to us. I used to be all about my body, and did not even consider my spirit. This approach made me so bound up in rules I could never consistently live up to. It was a tiring, demanding and unsustainable way of living. Thankfully my newfound relationship with Jesus led me to freedom.
Involving Jesus in our lives, brings truth and real power to the mix, which I believe is the missing link! This might sound far-fetched to someone who has never considered that God might want to help them look after their body. You may think “isn’t God too busy running the universe?” The thing is, He cares for his creation, especially humans who he created for relationship with him! He wants to help us with any struggle we have, no matter how big or small. I encourage those who already have a personal relationship with Jesus to include him in their body management (many Christians don’t think to do this!); and for the person who may not consider themselves spiritual, I would encourage them to give God a go – he is only a prayer away – his love and power is available to everybody and everybody’s body!
Do you have any advice for women who feel they lack self-control when it comes to body management and as a result are overweight or unfit?
Going around the mountain of failure and defeat is demoralising and exhausting and is not how we were designed to live. We are created to climb the mountain, not circle it! We are all familiar with that inner conflict of wanting to do good, but then doing the opposite. Let’s face it, most new year resolutions don’t make it past February! Jesus tells us that self-control becomes available to us as a result of involving him (through prayer and time in his Word). He refers to self control as a ‘fruit of the spirit’ – something that grows in our life as easily as an apple on a tree and is not something we have to stress or strive for. There is hope for anyone who lacks self-control – it is simply a matter of connecting with the right power source! In our own strength, we can only accomplish so much, but when we connect with his spirit, an unlimited supply of hope and power is at our disposal. Such a relief.
What about advice for women who are a harsh task master to themselves, women that constantly exercise, watch every calorie and get anxious if they stray from their routine?
I know this woman well, because I used to be her! What a constant pressure it was to keep all the plates spinning. Focusing on eating super healthy and being super-fit doesn’t necessarily make us any healthier or better at the end of day – actually, it can create all sorts of mind battles and wear us out. When we obsess about our body, our identity becomes misplaced. How fit we are, how good we look, and how healthy we eat, are very fickle things to put our trust in. Desiring to look our best, and take care of our body is a good thing, but when those good intentions take centre stage and we fear weight gain and become bound by rules and regulations – this is not so good. So, the woman who lacks self-control, and the woman who is disciplined – both need freedom. The dictionary definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one desires. The state of NOT being imprisoned or enslaved.” We can be imprisoned by discipline and we can be imprisoned by laziness and defeat – but freedom sets us free!
You’ve spoken a lot about finding freedom in managing your body. Can you explain what it means to discover body freedom and how can we do this?
Having body freedom means you are:
- *enjoying the skin you are in and free from the comparison trap (the thief of joy!)
- *celebrating and accepting your uniqueness
- *knowing your worth is not what you weigh and your value is not your appearance
- * able to care for your body – nutritious food, regular exercise, adequate rest – without fear, fanaticism or constant failure
- * enjoying a thought life that is free from an over focus on eating, exercising and other body rules and regulations
- *appreciating how complex and amazing your body is
- *acknowledging you are more than a body – you have a spirit and soul (mind/emotions) too – with each impacting the other
If you could not say yes to the points on this checklist, it could be a good idea to chat with someone you know who has body freedom, or someone you would feel comfortable being honest with. Bringing our thinking and struggles into the open can help us work out the ‘why’ behind what we do. I would also recommend following people like you Amy, who have a free and balanced approach.
A challenging list! I highly agree chatting these through with someone further along in their body freedom journey is helpful. It can really help clarify incorrect thoughts or beliefs associated with our ‘why’ that can hold us back from living in freedom.
Speaking of thoughts, how do you think our thoughts and the words we speak impact our self-esteem and efforts to care for our bodies? What practical tips do you have for changing thought patterns?
There is a saying “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Not true! The words we speak, and the words of others can have a great impact and cause serious damage. I have spoken to many adults who still struggle with the effect of a word spoken to them in their younger years – a negative comment by a father to a vulnerable teenager about their weight and appearance; or a suggestion by a dance teacher to lose weight; or a boyfriend pointing out how beautiful other women are. Unhealthy thoughts and beliefs can emerge from those wounding words i.e., “I am fat and unloveable:”, “I am big and unacceptable;”, “Everyone is better than I am.” Beliefs like these may drive someone to be super disciplined with their body management, or perhaps overwhelmed, and not even bother trying.
Changing thought patterns and beliefs takes effort and focus. A good start is becoming aware of your inner dialogue, then identifying and challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts. The bible says “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. This is how we are transformed – from the inside out. Having an accountability partner can be helpful, – giving someone permission to challenge you when they hear you speak negatively about yourself. Removing yourself from the influence of negative people wherever possible is also a good strategy. Instead, find positive people who care about you, believe in you and want the best for you. Forgiving anyone who has spoken wounding words that have hurt you is very important.
Do you have a favourite positive thought or verse that helps with your body image?
I have several but one that stands out is – ‘God didn’t give me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.’ – 2 Timothy 1:7
I love this verse because there can be so much fear around body management and how we look – but fear is not from God. He gave me power to be balanced, and not bound up with my eating and exercising; he gave me his unconditional love which allowed me to love myself without having to measure up to worldly standards and expectations; and he gave me a sound mind so I could think positively and freely about my body and my life.
Is there anything else you would like to share with Eat Pray Workout readers?
Enjoy being you, because everyone else is taken! It is wonderful to respect and care for your body – but remember, you are much more than a body. Keeping everything in perspective and in balance is important and the way to do this is by having your spirit, soul, and body working together. Then you will find victory over your body battles, and other battles in your life too. Finally, remember… you are fully loved, fully, accepted and fully forgiven – all day, every day by your father in heaven.
Want to know more?
What a wonderful and thought provoking interview. I highly recommend reading the book in full as it expands on these things and is really relatable whatever your body management struggles might be. You can purchase The Body Battle on Amazon or by contacting Sheralyn directly via firstname.lastname@example.org and she will post one out to you. You can also follow Sheralyn on @_thebodybattle on instagram.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this approach, was it something new to you? Let me know in the comments below.