Body Confidence with a mental illness

Written by an Occupational Therapy Student at UniSA 💪🏼

Mental illness does not discriminate. It comes in all stripes, colours, backgrounds and yes, body shapes. Weight management is often a key goal for those using medication to manage their illness. Ahelpful strategy is to reframe your thinking and shift your focus to body confidence. Evidence suggests that internalised stigma, or negative self-talk and personal adoption of social stereotypes around weight, can impact the effectiveness of conventional weight-management interventions. Positive self-talk or body confidence can help boost motivation to take part in healthy habits that can contribute to weight management goals being achieved.

So how can we think about body confidence and weight management with a mental illness in a different way? Here are some tips you might find have found useful:

 Tap into other values to build positive motivation to take part in healthy habits such as eating nutritious foods and exercise. Weight management strategies are most effective when underpinned by behaviour change theory. Reframe your thinking in a positive way and focus on other positive outcomes of healthy habits. Values might include: fitness, strength, happiness, being part of group fitness activities, and self-pride.
 Remember that you can’t tell how healthy someone is purely by looking at them. Body Mass Index is not always a reliable indicator that someone is physically healthy. Focus on the positive behaviours and lifestyle factors that you are engaging in, and feel pride that you are working towards your goals even if you aren’t there yet. Consider reframing your thinking by swapping the term “weight management” with “health management”.
 Identify what you like about your physical appearance and focus on this. It is easy to focus on negatives and what we would like to change, but identify at least one aspect of your looks that you like and play this feature up. For instance, if you have beautiful eyes, you might like to wear gorgeous eye makeup to draw attention to this feature. When you look in the mirror, try to look primarily at the features you like rather than those you want to change.
 Explore health management options available to you through your GP. Work with your GPor other trusted health professional to develop and maintain healthy habits and health management routines. Your GP can refer you on to exercise physiologists and dietitians, who can work with you to meet the unique needs of your health management program. These services are often covered by health insurance when you have a mental illness.
 Receive advice from an occupational therapist around instrumental activities of daily living that support health management goals. These activities include: shopping, cooking, meal planning, budgeting and transportation to and from grocery stores. OTs can help you brainstorm strategies for modifying or adapting the techniques or tools you use for these activities. Laura has written a great article about occupational therapy tips for shopping with a disability which you can see on this blog!
 Make health management fun! Engage in physical activities you enjoy, find small healthy rewards for achieving your goals, and take part in group activities to find like-minded people to share the journey with.

Hope you have found these tips helpful!

The Yogi Guru in the photos can be found at 👇

https://instagram.com/mynameisjessamyn/

Further reading: White, C & Karacz, K 2019, “What about weight? Occupational Therapy responses to weight concerns in people with severe mental illness.”, webinar, Occupational Therapy Australia.

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