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Body Image Issues & OCD in the Jewish Community: A Step-by-Step Guide

Body Image Issues & OCD in the Jewish Community: A Step-by-Step Guide by Fay Brezel, LMHC, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, LMHC
Do you ever find yourself struggling with negative thoughts and feelings about your appearance? Or maybe you experience persistent and intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety, which then leads to compulsive behaviors. If so, you're not alone! Body image issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can have a profound impact on your daily life.

But don't worry, there are ways to address these issues and develop a healthier relationship with your body. In this step-by-step guide, we'll outline strategies specifically designed to help you work through your body image struggles, even when they are comorbid with OCD.

Please note that while this guide is aimed at helping individuals work through their body image struggles even when they are comorbid with OCD tendencies, it's not intended to directly address OCD for those whose struggle is predominantly OCD. We hope to address that more deeply and directly in the future. In the meantime, you may want to find a therapist who specializes in treating OCD and you can do so right here!

With that, let's dive in and start making positive changes together!

Step 1: Acknowledge the Problem and Seek Support

The first step in addressing body image issues and OCD is to recognize and admit to yourself that you are struggling with a problem. If negative thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to body image are interfering with daily life, it is essential that you seek support from a therapist who can help you identify the underlying issues and develop a plan to address them.

If the body image issues and OCD tendencies are interfering with your eating and exercise regimen, you'd want to seek additional support from a nutritionist who works from an intuitive eating perspective. You should know that it is fairly common for individuals to work with both a therapist and a nutritionist as a treatment team when they are working through issues like disordered eating, OCD, and negative body image. Always remember that you are not alone, and there are professionals who devote their life's work to helping people just like you!

Step 2: Learn to Love and Nourish Your Body

Learning to love and nourish your body is crucial to improving your relationship with your body. This involves treating your body with compassion and kindness and allowing yourself basic human rights like eating and wearing comfortable and appropriately fitting clothes. You also want to learn to pay attention to what feels good and nurturing for your body. Experimenting with different types of foods, creating a balanced eating plan that works for your body, and engaging in joyful movement are all important steps in the journey of developing a loving and nurturing relationship with your body.

This is where an intuitive eating dietitian might come in. Oftentimes, it can be really difficult to listen to your body and nourish it when you the voices of people on social media telling you what's best for your body. When you combine those voices with your own OCD and body image issues, it is easy to get lost in a cycle of restriction and self-deprivation. Having a professional support team will help you drown out the unhelpful voices and begin to listen out for your own. 

Step 3: Manage Your Negative Thoughts

Managing negative thoughts is an essential step in addressing body image issues and OCD. You may find negative thoughts challenging to deal with, we all do! But it's crucial to challenge them and talk back to them.

You can try an effective technique whereby you challenge negative thoughts by responding to them with more accurate positive or neutral affirmations. For example, if your negative thought says, "I am not good enough," you can respond with, "I am good enough." If your negative thought says, "I am fat and ugly," you can respond accurately with something like "I may be fat (if that is true) but I am certainly not ugly because fat does not equal ugly." This way, negative thoughts lose their power and can be replaced by more positive, accurate, neutralizing, and affirming beliefs.

Step 4: Surround Yourself with Positive Messages

Surrounding yourself with positive messages can help combat negative thought patterns, break harmful core beliefs, and build self-confidence. You can achieve this by following body-positive role models on social media, listening to podcasts that recognize people for their unconditional worth and contribution regardless of their body look or size, and avoiding media that perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards. Spending your time and attention on healthier media and with human beings who have healthier body images despite being imperfect, can help shift the focus away from physical flaws and help you celebrate your unique qualities.

Step 5: Nurture the Body Parts You Struggle with the Most

Taking care of your body is essential to improving your relationship with it and it's super powerful when we specifically nurture the body parts we struggle to accept. For example, if you struggle with your tummy area, a self-care practice like massaging your stomach with lotion can be therapeutic as you are engaging in an activity to express your unconditional love and respect for a body part you struggle to like. Some other ideas of how to nurture your physical body, include; taking a relaxing bath and avoiding clothes that make you feel physically or emotionally uncomfortable. Paying attention to what feels good and soothing for your body will help you develop a sense of comfort, safety, and security within your body which will ultimately allow you to like, love, and respect your body.

Step 6: Focus on Positive Body Image Moments

No matter how awful your body image and OCD-checking behaviors might be, you most likely had a moment or hopefully a few moments when you were able to see your body in a more positive light. Whenever you have a positive body image moment, take note of it, create a mental frozen memory, and use it as a reference point in the future when you experience negative thoughts.

For example, if you remember feeling fit and strong during a jog, you can use that memory to challenge negative thoughts such as "I always feel fat and bloated" the next time that inaccurate thought pops up. Empower yourself by recognizing that you don't always feel so negative about your body. Rather, the negative thoughts are just more familiar because they've been playing in your mind thousands of times.

As you build an arsenal of body-positive memories you will accustom yourself to experiencing these more body-positive or body-neutral thoughts and feelings and they will outperform the negative ones with practice and repetition. 

Step 7: Act As If Your Body Rocks ('cause it does!)

Acting as if you don't have body image issues can help you cope with the body image and OCD tendencies you experience. If you have an event to go to and don't want to go because of your body image and OCD issues you can challenge yourself to show up as if you have none of these struggles. What would you wear? How would you feel? What would you eat? Give yourself the gift of having your cake and eating it too! Go to that party, eat the pasta, have dessert, dance like nobody is watching (because they're not!), and get to experience your positive qualities, unique personality, and fun-loving character. Acting as if you don't have OCD or body image issues will boost your confidence and self-esteem and help you get in touch with the self you truly love beneath the layers of struggle.

Step 8: Challenge Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a common trait among individuals with OCD and can worsen body image issues. It's important to challenge the idea of perfectionism and recognize that in reality nobody and NO body is perfect. Embrace your imperfections and acknowledge that they make you unique and beautiful. 

Step 9: Emphasize Function Over Appearance

To shift your focus away from appearance, emphasize function. Instead of thinking about how your body looks, focus on what your body can do. Celebrate your body's abilities and the things it enables you to do, such as walking, dancing, or playing sports. Experimenting with new forms of movements such as Zumba, pilates, yoga, or anything that speaks to you, can help you get in touch with and begin to appreciate the tremendous function and ability your body has. Your body is truly incredible and capable of more than a human being can ever fathom even on the absolutely worse body image day. Allow forms of movement to enlighten you to the miracle and gift your body is. 

Step 10: Be Mindful of Triggers

Identifying triggers that worsen negative body image and OCD symptoms can help you prepare for and healthfully manage life situations without regressing on the progress you've made. Your triggers may include social media, certain types of clothing, or specific people or situations. Once you've identified your triggers, you can develop strategies to manage or avoid them. You don't want to avoid all triggers because doing so will create a life that is isolating and lonely. Rather, you want to come to an intimate understanding of your triggers and then identify which should be avoided and which should be managed so that you can experience the ultimate in self-growth and healing. 

For example, you may want to limit your time on social media, avoid spending time with a friend who has a severe eating disorder, and armor yourself with skills so you can go to a family party despite it being a challenge and posing some triggers. 

Working with a therapist who specializes in body image issues can help you navigate this sometimes the confusing path of what should be faced, embraced, limited, or avoided. If you don't yet have an excellent therapist who specializes in these issues and understands the Jewish community, you can find yours right here!

Step 11: Practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique commonly used to treat OCD. ERP involves gradually exposing yourself to situations or objects that trigger OCD symptoms and learning to resist compulsive behaviors. This technique can also be applied to body image issues by gradually exposing yourself to situations or triggers that cause negative body image thoughts and learning to resist compulsive behaviors, such as body checking, self-loathing, restrictive or binge eating, and avoidance. Working with a therapist and an intuitive eating dietitian is the best way to practice ERP and reduce the body image and OCD symptoms in your life. 

Step 12: Consider Medication

In some cases, medication may be helpful in managing OCD and body image issues. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed for OCD, and they can also be helpful in managing anxiety and depression related to body image issues.

If you are ready to consider medication it is important to work with a psychiatric medication provider who understands that medication is not a quick fix but rather a tool among other tools and insights that are needed in order to properly heal. You can find a wonderful psychiatric medication provider who understands the unique struggles and needs of the Jewish community right here

Step 13: Embrace Diversity

To challenge unrealistic beauty standards and promote body positivity, it's important for you to embrace diversity. Surround yourself with diverse representations of beauty and challenge yourself to see beyond societal standards. In doing so, you will learn to celebrate all body types and sizes and recognize that beauty has no one-size-fits-all definition.

Step 14: Celebrate Your Achievements

Don't forget to celebrate your achievements with regard to working on your body image and OCD, no matter how small they may seem. Managing OCD and improving body image is a challenging journey, and it's important to acknowledge your progress and successes along the way. Celebrate your achievements with positive self-talk, self-care practices, with friends and family who know about your struggles and triumphs, and by treating yourself to something special.

Step 15: Be Patient and Persistent

Remember, improving body image and managing OCD is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and recognize that setbacks and difficult days are normal (refer to steps number 6 and number 14). Stay persistent in your efforts to challenge negative thoughts and behaviors, and focus on the progress you've made rather than the setbacks. Remember that regression and setbacks are part of every journey as life is always in a state of ebb and flow. Progress is not linear and even when you are in a low it is most likely that the low is higher than a previous low. You are heading in the right direction!

Let's wrap up!

If you're working through body image issues and OCD, know that it can be a challenging journey. However, it's a worthwhile endeavor as the relationship you have with yourself and your body is something you have for the duration of your life.

By acknowledging your struggles, seeking support, learning to nourish your body, managing negative thoughts, and practicing self-compassion, you can develop a healthier and more positive relationship with your body. With time, effort, and the right strategies, it's possible to overcome body image issues and OCD and live a fulfilling and happy life.

This guide was based on a live conversation I had with Michali Friedman, LCSW.

You can watch the full conversation right here:

Let us know if this was helpful to you by dropping a comment down below. Thanks for being part of our movement to make the Jewish community happier, healthier, and more whole. You're a rockstar. Xo, Fay

 

About the author

Fay Brezel, LMHC

Therapist, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, LMHC

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

  • 🎯 Direct
  • 💙 Warm
  • 💪 Challenging
  • 💡 Solution-oriented

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