Body image has a huge impact on how we feel. Seeing ourselves honestly and realistically can be a great start in achieving weight loss goals. Art can be a wonderful tool to help this process. It can spark discussion and aid in verbalizing feelings about self worth. It can reach a part of the brain traditional “talk” therapy doesn’t access, and be particularly effective in addressing body image. While it is helpful to explain and discuss feelings, talking is intellectual and can contribute to the divide between thoughts and feelings. When we talk about our feelings we may not actually feel them.
How we see and depict ourselves affects how we eat. If all we see is a fat, ugly body, then that self hate can turn inwards and encourage weight gain. If it hides our true self and keeps us from engaging in the real world it can be seen as protective. Either way creates friction with inner needs and a willingness to deal with body image perceptions.
When we move into the right side of our brains, the creative side, we detach from the need to explain and, instead, can feel more deeply. Creating something uniquely our own helps us to connect with how we feel inside our bodies. Each artistic representation celebrates diversity of ideas, materials, and forms, which can then develop into an appreciation for the diversity and uniqueness of the form that moves us through our own life journey.
Along with music, dance, drama, writing, photography, and other forms art, “creative arts therapies” can free the inner soul since they’re based on the act of creation rather than the final product. And the final result becomes an expression of art, not defined as good or bad. Through it we learn how to appreciate who we are in the moment, explore reasons for our behaviors, and establish new parameters for self-acceptance. It can give us tangible depictions of how we see our bodies and the feelings we experienced while bringing them to life. All in a safe place to explore ways to manage those feelings.
Art therapy doesn’t have to be formal to be effective. I can’t even draw stick figures! Simply coloring have been shown to help us relax and relieve stress because the action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity in the colors and mixes we choose. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills- the coordination necessary to make small, precise movements. The relaxation coloring provides lowers activity in the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.
Carl Jung- an influential psychiatrist in the 1800’s- was one of the first to suggest coloring relaxes people. He did this through mandalas, circular designs with concentric shapes similar to windows in Gothic churches, the article reads. This is just one aspect of art therapy and its amazing power to get us out of our heads and closer to our hearts.
Art provides an opportunity to express emotions that are difficult to articulate. Avenues like mental health counseling and support groups are wonderful for discussing the complex emotions that arise during the weight loss process, but sometimes those feelings can be difficult to put into words- and even more difficult to share directly with others. Yoga and other stress management routines are wonderful for tuning inward and increasing self-awareness during the weight loss process, but are not avenues for expressing one’s thoughts and feelings.
It’s not a matter of filling up time with activities to take the place of, or distract from eating. It’s a means to allow our inner creativity to participate in the choices we make when eating. Too often, people feel depressed and deprived, constantly obsessing about food and weight. In one study, participants used food as inspiration. Talking about colorful, tasty fruits and vegetables turned into vast collages on poster boards. Actions follow thoughts. We create what we focus on. Rather than obsessing about food, it became about drawing, painting, cutting and pasting food instead of eating. And it worked.
Art uses tools like paint, pencils, mixed media, and photography to help nonverbal expression. Instead of attempting to put feelings towards ourselves and our bodies into words that are never perfect or precise, art provides the opportunity to put those emotions into a different dimension filled with lines and color. Vibrant hues can say a great deal about one’s state of mind, and the act Itself is soothing.
How to get started? It’s simple. While there are counseling centers where you can participate in art therapy sessions under the guidance of a licensed counselor, you can practice art therapy on your own too. All you need is a coloring book that suits your fancy or some paper along with a few colors of paint or a box of markers, crayons- and time to yourself. It’s a blank canvas. The rest is up to you.