I hope to god they don’t mention anything about my weight. I think I’ve lost a couple pounds since the last time I went home. Will they notice? Maybe I’ll just suck it in and not eat that much at dinner. They won’t notice anything then…Right?

As the holiday season approaches, we feel ourselves mentally preparing to see our families. Often the biggest concern for many is someone commenting on their weight. Women especially have felt the need to look thinner each time they go back to visit their families. In an effort to look thinner and not be commented on in a negative way, many have taken to sucking in their stomach. It feels like an easy way to avoid all the comments. However, sucking in your stomach too often or for too long can lead to health implications.

Stomach gripping is when individuals repeatedly and for prolonged periods of time suck in their abdomen in an effort to appear as if they have a flatter stomach. It leads to training upper abdominal muscles to contract for long periods of time and in an unnatural manner. This can lead to back pain, breathing problems, and other health concerns which then leads to imbalances known as “hourglass syndrome.”

Although an hourglass can be considered a preferred body shape, hourglass syndrome is nothing to envy. As a result of stomach gripping, the lower abdominal muscles are underused and become weak. The four muscles that become overused are the upper fibers of the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, transversus abdominis and the diaphragm.

In an effort to look thinner, the rest of our body is put at risk of weakened muscles and health problems. If you notice back and neck problems, a horizontal line on your stomach, a weak pelvic floor, or other signs of stomach gripping, try to break the habit by practicing proper breathing techniques. This holiday season, let us try to practice body positivity or body neutrality and be comfortable in our skin potentially starting with therapy to help challenge thoughts and feelings tied to body image concerns.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help challenge thoughts regarding body image concerns and increase self-esteem. Developing a more realistic perception of your body through using kind and positive self-talk and cognitive restructuring can help avoid the preoccupation of negative body image thoughts. Maintaining a self care routine through journaling and avoiding compulsive behaviors will take practice and patience however will also help avoid physical ailments in the future.

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