Body Image and Eating Issues
Body Image and Eating Issues
Dear Tacit,

I am in university and find myself struggling with high levels of stress, which end up triggering some body image and eating issues for me.  What can I do about this?

Signed: Getting Triggered
Dear Getting Triggered,

What terrific insight you have into how your buttons get pushed.  High levels of stress (like a return to school, or a work-from-home restriction, etc) can often cause a regression of sorts with the stability we feel, even subconsciously, with our self esteem/confidence.  And this will easily manifest itself into higher levels of anxiety, depression and other stress responses, like body image issues or eating issues.  There are a couple of preventative steps you can take, to ensure these stress responses/relapses do not get too severe.  But of course, if you are struggling, one of the best options is to access some counselling support for a short period of time, as a maintenance phase of the wellness work you have clearly already been doing on your own.

As with any mental health issue, the first line of defense is the development of a strong, positive support network.  This can include informal support – the encouragement of friends, family, self help groups, reading resources, etc.  And it can include touch base sessions with your doctor, trainer, nutritionist, therapist, etc.  Be sure that you are reaching out to people who truly understand your situation.  This is NOT the time to follow the exact wrong advice/prompts (to over exercise or under eat) that might be shared by those who are unknowing/uneducated in the proper needs for your circumstances.

Check your balance and address this as a DAILY foundational requirement.  Are you eating, sleeping and drinking enough water every day?  Are you active in healthy ways, at different intervals throughout the day (not sitting for long periods of time)?  Build in down time for pauses/breaks from the stress of the day.  And be sure to create energy refill moments throughout the day too (these are different from pauses).  You don’t want to end up feeling drained completely.  Those distorted thoughts can only start to intrude when you are overwhelmed and exhausted.

At meal time, try to eat with people who care about you.  When you eat alone, unhealthy thoughts can intrude with every bite of food you take.  But when you eat with others, the focus is no longer on your food.  Rather, there is a social distraction, laughter, and other people to take centre stage, while you embrace the sustenance you need.

Find distractions, especially at times when the trigger moments seem to happen. Keep your mind occupied with healthy, positive thoughts (feed your happy hormones) and the distorted patterns will not have room to surface.  Practice your self-soothing strategies (multiple times a day – more as the stress increases).  We all have things that we do to cheer us up, calm us down, or allow us to take a breath and feel centered again.  It might be something as simple as enjoying your favourite smell or tea, taking a hot bath/shower, listening to music, sitting by candlelight, revisiting a happy memory, going for a walk, journaling, etc.  These are easy things to sprinkle multiple times throughout the day.

And watch that self talk! Be your own cheerleader – not a critic.  Focus on the things you are most proud of, the things that are going well, and the ways you feel strong.  Do not feed the negativity and doubt that will end up growing the unhealthy urges.

Hope this helps…

Take care!

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