Learning to Love Your New Body
By Kasey Goodpaster, PhD
A common goal among those seeking to lose weight is to improve body image. For many, body image does improve after weight loss, but for others, it stays the same or can even become worse. That is, there is no direct relationship between body size and body image. Body image has little to do with what your body looks like on the outside, and much more to do with how you think about your body. If you are prone to negative thoughts about your body now, these thoughts can continue even after weight loss; for example, by feeling negatively about extra skin. Thus, no matter where you are on your weight loss journey, learning to love your body is an important process to start now.
Identifying Body Image Self-Talk
An important first step in improving body image is to identify any negative thoughts related to your body, because thoughts affect how we feel and what we do. When you’re looking in the mirror, what kind of thoughts are going through your mind? Are the words you’re using to describe yourself positive or negative? Notice how these thoughts then drive your mood and your actions. After thinking about your body, do you feel positive and motivated, or do you feel negative and discouraged? How do these emotions then affect your eating, activity, social interaction, etc.?
Changing Body Image Self-Talk
After identifying any problem areas related to body image, begin critically examining the thoughts that are making you feel more negative. For example, catch yourself when you start criticizing your body and ask the following questions:
1) “What do I appreciate about my body?” Pay attention to both the physical and non-physical aspects of yourself that you do like. Also think about the many important aspects of your body beyond its appearance. For example, take time to appreciate how your body helps you to move, eat, breathe, talk, and engage in things you like to do.
2) “What would I tell a friend who was having similar thoughts about his/her body?” Often, we are much harder on ourselves than we would be on anyone else. Asking yourself how you would respond to a friend with negative body image can help you to be more objective.
3) “Am I being realistic?” In our culture, it’s nearly impossible to not be affected by unrealistic standards of beauty projected by the media, which bombards us with images of airbrushed models and fitness “thinspiration.” When you think about how your body “should” look, try to challenge those expectations and consider what’s more realistic based no your age, genetics, body type, etc.
Starting to Love your Body Now
Learning to love your body is an ongoing process. Rather than waiting for a time in the future when you feel positive about your body to live your life, start behaving as you imagine someone with a positive body image does now. Do you find yourself avoiding certain places, events, or people because of your body image (e.g., mirrors, beaches, shopping, class reunions)? Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised at how much better you feel when you do the things you used to enjoy. Finally, take care of your body by eating foods that make you feel good, exercising in a way that’s fun for you, and pampering yourself whenever you can.