How you feel about your body impacts more than you may realize—the way you feel, what you do and the way you treat your body. For instance, imagine having a brand new car you really love – how often would you provide maintenance, clean your car and utilize it? Now imagine having a car you are embarrassed to drive – would you service it the same and utilize it the same way?
The answer is probably no. It’s important to realize the impact that body image can have on your overall wellbeing and health. Here’s a closer look at why body image is important:
· Negative body image prevents us from engaging in healthful behaviors. Many people avoid walking, working out or swimming due to fear of judgment from others.
· We may avoid playing in the ocean with our children or walking on the beach if we feel uncomfortable in a bathing suit
· We may eat or drink in situations where body insecurity or fear of social scrutiny occurs resulting in increased caloric intake
· Negative mood states or more severe episodes of depression may also result from missing out on opportunities to connect with friends and family because of poor body image. Depression increases cortisol levels, which negatively impacts weight management.
Tips for feeling good in your skin this summer:
1. Go on a social media and magazine diet
Utilize thenoun form of the word “diet” related to your eating habits. A diet (noun) is “the kinds of food that a person, animal or community habitually eats.” This is your healthful lifestyle of fueling your body with food “habitually” or “continuously.”
Avoid the verb form of this word related to your food selections. A diet (verb) entails short term restriction, which inevitably interferes with mindful and intuitive eating – the body’s natural tool for weight maintenance.
If you want todiet (verb) this summer, I suggest going on a social media and magazine intake diet. The airbrushed, filtered images found in magazines and on social media support the concept of a mythical thin ideal – which short of a genetic lottery win is not physically achievable for most people.
2. Start a gratitude journal
Reflect back, when have you ever felt “great” about your body? Most individuals remember criticizing their bodies as teens and now feel envious of their previous figures. Others lose weight and continue to struggle with body image. Body image is not necessarily correlated with one’s weight or size. You may choose to buy into a societal standard of what your body should look like or even a BMI standard of what is a normal weight, but this ignores many factors (e.g. muscle tone, genetic predisposition).
Some individuals will eat moderate meals and exercise and continue to fall outside this range similar to how many individuals will remain thin regardless of what they eat and how little they exercise. The number on the scale should not be your main measurement of health.
Start a gratitude journal, and make a daily list of reasons why you are thankful for your body. Focus on what you are able to do, the strength your body provides, and what you appreciate about your image. Attempt to view your current body through the eyes of yourself 10 or 20 years in the future. We can all appreciate our younger appearance, but how often do we take the time to appreciate our current strengths through a future lens?
3. Practice positive appearance based affirmations
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages about how thinness and beauty are equated with happiness, the body becomes the battleground on which our insecurities are focused. Unable to achieve the relationship you want, perhaps if you lost weight you would be more loveable? Having trouble moving up the corporate ladder? It must be because of your size. Feeling sad or depressed? If you lost the weight, you would never feel sad.
Appearance can impact romance, work, and mood – but we could also be greatly overestimating the impact of beauty and largely underestimating the impact of self-image and confidence. Practice positive appearance based affirmations. We are constantly bombarded with images and messages which tell us “I am not good enough.” As a result, this has become an automatic belief pathway in the brain. You must practice a new thought process if you want this to change.
4. Practice exposure based techniques and mindfulness to decrease body anxieties
Individuals who struggle with body image generally either (a) become hyper focused on their appearance concerns or (b) avoid their appearance and mirrors altogether. It is often helpful to practice a non-judgmental observational approach.
While observing yourself in the mirror, be curious about your body, notice your proportions, be descriptive (no judgment!) as if you are describing a friend for an artist to draw. Normalize how this activity may be anxiety provoking considering your history of body hatred and use mindfulness to develop distress tolerance skills. There are guided mindfulness meditations focused on body image, which may be helpful if you are unsure of where to start. Practicing these techniques with a trained therapist is also recommended.