Another year has arrived and Instagram hashtags have already moved from #foodcoma to #detox. It seems that for everyone on my feed, this is the year that they're going to have the perfect body. And to be clear their idea of a perfect body is perfect skin, flawless abs and a thigh gap. The reason I'm making this clarification is that for me- like many other sufferers of chronic illnesses- a perfect body would be one that was working in order and didn't seem to have a meltdown at a moment's notice. Having a long-term illness (for me it's Crohn's Disease) can completely change the way we see our body: from something that could do with losing a few pounds to something which makes us question everything around us. Here's 6 ways in which your body image changes with a chronic condition...
1. Style goes out of the window. Remember that time when you use to coordinate your shoes with your handbag? Turns out that goes out the window when you swap heels for comfy slippers (and believe me once you stop wearing heels, you never go back!) Now you're one of those people that say things like 'that looks comfortable' and 'ooh that's nice and soft.' Embrace it: you'll save lots of money and you'll never spend the night shivering because your coat didn't go without your outfit (dressing gowns go with everything).
2. You stop thinking about the aesthetics. There was a time when you used to scrutinize your body in the mirror; wondering why you were too fat/thin/pale/freckly/spotty (delete as appropriate). If you've been diagnosed with an illness, I bet it's been a while you thought about what your body actually looked like since you're too preoccupied with what's going on the inside. Healthy people never think about their colon, liver, lungs and kidneys but once you've been diagnosed you become hyper-aware of your insides (and, as a result, less concerned about the outside). In some ways, it's refreshing and reminds us about what's really important. Yet in other ways it's sad: when it seems like our bodies are struggling, we forget all the things we like about ourselves and our body can easily become something to despise rather than love. Whilst it's not healthy to define our body image by its fat percentage, it's equally not healthy to define it by our illnesses.
3. A big part of this defining ourselves can be the feeling that we can't trust our bodies. It used to be that you had a decent relationship with your body: you promised only to eat takeaways at weekends and it promised to stay within a stone of your goal weight. Yet when an illness sneaks up on you, you can't help but think it's a crafty bugger who catfished you into thinking it was invincible. Especially if your diagnosis comes out of the blue and knocks you for six. It can be hard to have faith in your body and many spoonies (the phrase coined for those with a chronic condition) suffer anxiety as a result (in fact, I recently wrote a whole post about anxiety with a health condition.) It can feel like our bodies have betrayed us and thus we start to question symptoms we had never thought of before. This can also be worsened by the baffling array of side effects caused by the cocktail of meds we're prescribed that make our body do all the kinds of freaky things. Why is my face suddenly puffy and round? Why is my tongue so furry? Why can't I stop itching? These are just some of the questions spoonies might ask themselves on a daily basis.
4. You up your supplement game. It used to be that the only supplements you took were those ''hair and nail strength formulas' everytime you cut your hair too short. Now you're practically a member of staff at Holland and Barratts (they should definitely give you a discount card at the very least) You're all about the Omega 3, the iron, the probiotics. F**k the condition of your cuticles, you've got bigger problems.
5. The way you see food totally changes. Once you know you are unwell, the way you see food changes. For some this can be because food intolerances emerge (in my case gluten and I endured a conscious uncoupling two years ago) and your diet is restricted. For others, what they put in their body becomes the best way of giving it a shot to heal and recover. Of course this can easily go to the extremes with people declaring themselves raw vegans or embarking on fasts. We can start to beat ourselves up since the stakes of a late night kebab seem much higher than they did pre-diagnosis. It's such a tricky area and one where there's no real solution other than trying our best (and not beating ourselves up when we indulge).
6. You celebrate the good times. On a slightly more upbeat note to end, our bodies also do amazing things. Whether through medicine or just sheer good luck they can heal and mend- both for short or long periods of time. And when that happens, we are simply amazed. 'Look at me!' you declare 'I'm on a night out! I'm wearing a dress! I just ate a burger! in the same marvelled tone as if you are in fact walking on water. All of sudden you're so incredibly grateful for your body for doing its job. And even when days turn to months, we still never take our body for granted.
Being happy with your body in this day in age is pretty damn hard for all women, let alone those of us who are battling health problems. We're bombarded with images of Victoria Secret models and Kylie Jenner trying to make wheelchairs fashion accessories (what's next, Kim Kardashian wearing a colostomy bag to the beach?) So perhaps our New Year's Resolution should not be to eat clean or tone up, but to simply wise up try and accept our bodies for what they are. Our bodies might not seem as if they're always being kind to us, but it doesn't mean we can't be kind to ourselves.
This post was originally published at www.abalancedbelly.co.uk