How can I improve my body image? This is a question that I get asked quite frequently both in my practice and in my personal life. My answer is usually the same every time; body image can be changed when you are committed to changing it. The relationship with your body is based on your thinking patterns and the lens that you decide to look through. It’s important to acknowledge that changing your body image outlook is very difficult and takes a lot of time and practice. However, having a better body image can be done. It takes commitment, support and hard work. By following these five steps you may begin to improve the relationship you have with your body.
How motivated are you to have a better relationship with your body? How willing are you to challenge the negative thinking that comes along with having poor body image?
In order to change the relationship with your body you have to be willing and wanting to do so. Believe it or not, we are sometimes more comfortable hanging on to poor body image because we may be comfortable with this thinking or fearful to challenge it.
You can identify your willingness to change by looking at both the positive and negative effects of your current body image. When doing this activity, you can clearly see the toll that your negative body image has had on your mental health and sometimes even your physical health.
Motivation for change is key whenever you are attempting to challenge or change a behavior. Explore and identify your current motivation to change the relationship you have with your body.
In order to make positive shifts in your body image, you need to identify where your current body image thoughts stem from. Identifying the core of these beliefs will help you to reframe and challenge negative ideals that you are holding on to. It is common that body image beliefs stem from childhood and adolescents. Family, peers, social media and experiences can all shape the relationship that you have with your body. Identifying the root of negative body image will help you gain awareness into the relationship that you have with your body. By identifying the root cause, you can target and challenge specific beliefs that you may have been holding onto through the majority of your life.
My favorite definition of acceptance is “the willingness to come into contact with a person’s whole experience.” To go deeper, when you have full acceptance you are not just acknowledging things, but willingly identifying difficult factors and inviting them to be part of your experience. This pertains to body image on so many levels.
One of the main aspects of having a healthy body image is giving up the idea that you need to change your weight or look a certain way. When you accept your body, you are acknowledging all of the emotions and thoughts that are attached to these ideas while also making a conscious effort to let them go. (AKA have a better body image.) Acceptance plays a major role in shifting the relationship you have with your body. When you stop trying to change your body and accept it, you are able to appreciate your body for what it is instead of hating on it for what is isn’t. Which brings us to gratitude.
When we are caught up in negative body talk we tend to focus on all the things that our body does not do (or does not look like) and we tend to forget all of the things that our body does for us. Showing gratitude and love to your body is a very effective way to improve the relationship that you have with your body and with yourself. Gratitude has been shown to increase overall well-being and decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. There are specific activities that you can do in order to show gratitude to your body. Making a body gratitude list is a very effective way to practice gratitude towards your body. Every morning (or night) write 10 things that you are grateful for about your body and continue to do so for 30 days. Practicing this activity regularly will help shift your overall attitude and relationship towards your body.
Any major change requires commitment. If YOU want to improve your body image you are going to have to be committed to this goal. Now commitment comes in many different forms. In this instance I will focus on commitment as it relates to behaviors. When wanting to improve body image there are many behavioral changes that can help. Actively challenging negative body thoughts is a behavior that you can use multiple times a day. There are a few ways you can challenge negative body thoughts. A quick and easy challenge is to come up with an affirmation that you can implement when a negative body thought comes up. Some common body image affirmations are:
My body deserves love and respect
I will accept my body for what it is today
My body is the vehicle that lets me experience the world
My worth isn’t defined by my body
I am allowed to take up space
Love fills every inch of my skin
Challenging your thoughts can help you gain control, and retrain your brain to shift towards more body positive thinking.
Like I said before shifting your body image to a more positive outlook is challenging but it CAN be done. Remember that it takes time to change thinking patterns so be gentle with yourself and your thoughts throughout this process. The relationship you decide to have with your body is up to you! Even though at times it feels like you have no control just remember that your body is a vehicle that you control both physically, emotionally and mentally.