Body image is a big deal for many of us, and today we’re talking to a fab lady who has spent some time studying the relationship between body image and a whole range of factors. And she’s sharing some of her wisdom with us today. Let’s welcome Christchurch based dietitian Rachael Bensley from our pals at Body Balance Nutrition. Rachel completed her dietetic masters on body image and is an advocate for the non diet approach to nutrition. Here’s our interview:
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what promoted your interest in your thesis on body image and dieting?
I’m a registered dietitian, I work in a hospital, and also for Body Balance Nutrition. I studied at Otago University for 5 years, with a gap year in between to work at Disneyworld! During this break from uni my interest in the relationship between body image and dieting and the non diet approach started from reading the book “Intutive Eating”. I finally felt like something clicked, and the piece of the puzzle that had been lacking for me during my study had finally appeared! I then developed my knowledge base in this area while doing research for my Masters thesis, and haven’t stopped the reading, learning and practicing of the non diet approach since
While we are talking about your thesis, tell us a bit about it and what you found out.
My thesis was looking at adolescents and the relationship between body image (perceptual, affective, cognitive and behavioural aspects) and certain factors. These included concern about eating and weight, dietary restraint, fear of weight gain, and figure dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction was reported in high numbers, 54% of the females felt that their body was too fat. Nearly a third of females also reported having practiced dietary restraint. Keep in mind this was in a group of only 15 to 18 year olds! This was astounding to me, and also a sad reflection of the image obsessed culture we live in.
We found that this relationship was definitely present in males too, but reported in lower numbers. Females were concerned with different areas of the body such as their stomach and thighs, while males reported more dissatisfaction with their muscularity and height, with three quarters of the males reporting they’d like to have bigger muscles. Interestingly, participating in physical activity was related to lower body dissatisfaction.
Why do you think poor body image is such a big issue for girls? Is it becoming a bigger issue and more of an issue for males?
I think it is a combination of factors, and there’s evidence for various influences on body image in woman, and increasingly in young girls. These include the media, social media, advertising, peer pressure, and weight stigma. Weight stigma is in not only in the media, but is entrenched in our everyday culture. It is amazing what you notice once you become aware of it.
It is definitely becoming more of an issue for males, there is influence in our culture for males bodies to look a certain way too, and like I mentioned with what we found in my thesis, there was high amounts of concern in males for certain areas of figure dissatisfaction.
What are some key factors in being more accepting with the body we have and improving our body image?
Not dieting! There is a body of evidence that links dieting to negative body image and body dissatisfaction, among other consequences.
In terms of improving body image, there are various routes to do this. This could include seeing a non diet health professional, or even something as quick as unfollowing people on social media who influence your body image in a negative way. If you must set goals around your health, try setting ones that are weight neutral. There are plenty of behaviours such as finding movement you enjoy, and getting enough sleep that can improve how you feel.
What’s one key thing you’d want to share with woman about body image?
You don’t have to love your body, but accepting it and being thankful for what it can do right now is a massive step in the right direction, especially when we are surrounded by a culture that promotes the opposite.