A negative body image may be the reason why so many fail at reaching their weight loss goals. Research has shown that an improved body image can increase the effectiveness of dieting approaches. By removing worries and anxieties about other peoples’ opinions on our appearance, positive changes in eating behavior become easier to implement.
It’s ironic but true: the more concerned we are about our body image, the harder it is for us to make a change as the stress from these worries often lead to overeating. Change the perception of how you see yourself, help improve self-esteem and your weight loss program will be more effective.
What is Body Image?
Body image is a perception of how we see our physical self in mind’s eye. It is always subject to change depending on mood or physical experiences. The perception is learnt through experience with others and/or close interaction of social culture and the media, but more often its closely linked to the individuals self-esteem.
An improvement in body image will play an important part in anyone’s weight loss program to help overcome the struggle to lose weight successfully. A negative body image is developed from a distortion of the image we see in our mind to what is seen by others. Many feel they are heavier or less attractive than they actually are.
Body image issues have become rather common in modern Western culture. We are constantly exposed to a false reality about how we should look. TV, tabloids and other media send confusing messages about what a normal human is meant to look like. Body image problems grow from the disparity between perceived self and an ideal for what constitutes a perfect body. Studies have shown that women guessed that men preferred body shapes thinner than those that men actually reported. In other words, it’s a common problem for a perfectly attractive woman to think she is overweight.
Indeed, there is a crisis of body image in our culture when women are striving to be thinner than the ideal which men find attractive.
If you experience the following thoughts you may have a poor body image:
- “I wish I looked like him/ her”
- “I am so fat”
- “What if he/she/they don’t like the way I look “
- “I just can’t do anything right to lose this weight”
A poor body image can lead to unhealthy behaviours:
- long term crash dieting
- constantly checking appearance in mirror
- exercising too much
- weighing yourself daily
- avoiding social situations
Improving Body Image
Thankfully, there are many methods which are effective in helping to improve one’s body image. Implementing some of these practices as part of your overall weight loss strategy can be just as important as counting calories or pushing yourself through an exercise for the purpose of reaching your weight loss goals. We tend to avoid some of the approaches suggested below out of a certain “cheesiness” element they carry. But even if some of these approaches to improving your body image seem silly, keep in mind that they are effective tools to transforming your body.
Observe your self-talk. We all talk to ourselves in our heads constantly throughout the day. Even though these words are not said aloud, they can have just as big of an impact on your self-esteem as anything anyone says to you. Negative self-talk can trigger coping mechanisms to deal with the stress we are putting on ourselves. Cultivate within yourself an objective observer. Become more aware of your thoughts and actions. When you’re engaging in negative self-talk, don’t scold yourself about how you need to stop doing it. Just observe it. Just notice that you’re doing it like you might notice you’re cold. When we begin to notice and accept certain negative behaviors without judging or condemning them, they have a tendency of falling away.
Practice gratitude. Positive psychologist Shawn Achor reveals in this talk a daily practice that can lead to more success in any productive endeavor. Achor recommends writing down three new things we are grateful for each day. He also suggests journaling a positive experience from the previous 24 hours in order to help relive it. By doing this, it turns our focus in life to paying attention to things we have a reason to feel grateful for. It’s a simple little practice that can have a profound impact on your emotions.
Focus on how you feel rather than your weight. For a moment, throw your scale aside and stop thinking about your weight loss objectives. Close your eyes. Take some deep breaths. Pay attention to how your body feels. Well, how do you feel? Sometimes we get so caught up in the stress of reaching our target body weight number that we forget to stop and smell the roses and appreciate the process. No matter where you’re at with your weight loss progress, never stop taking time to appreciate the journey you’ve made no matter how small.
Reassess your role models. Do you have a tendency to admire people based on their appearance and little else? It’s a common problem: we judge people on their looks or their wealth and fail to acknowledge all of the ways in which they’re unique and great. Then we do this to ourselves by objectifying our self-worth as the sum of our appearance. Philosopher Alain de Botton calls this snobbery: “A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.” Are you being a snob to yourself and to others?
Relax! Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to chill out. If you’re feeling stressed about your body image, just take a little break from thinking about it. Practice slow, deep breathing. Treat yourself to a massage. Listen to some calming music. Go for a walk and admire all the ways in which nature is perfectly imperfect. Our problems are always waiting for us to reengage them when we’re ready.
Changing old thought patterns requires a determined effort. It’s a slow process but anything worth having doesn’t come overnight.