Building a Positive Body Image

Do you love and accept your body for what it is right now, unconditionally?

If your answer is no, don’t stress! You are NOT alone!

Body image is “…the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception.” (National Eating Disorders Collaboration)

In this day and age, negative body image is a serious issue. This leads to us being conditioned to focus on what we believe are our flaws and ignore when others point out our beauty or our improvements. With the rise of social media, this concept of the ‘ideal body’ is now not only constantly bombarding us on the front cover of magazines and TV ads, but now has the power to infiltrate our thoughts all day every day simply via scrolling through your phone. It is no wonder why body image is an increasingly prevalent issue! We are constantly being told that we need to look a certain way to be sexy, to be loved, to be accepted… But we are all unique individuals that have diverse eating habits, exercise in different ways, live in varying environments and have completely different schedules, responsibilities and priorities. So WHY on earth do we expect to all look the same as well? The answer? We SHOULDN’T!

Mindset
It has almost become the norm to solely focus on how our bodies needs changing and improving. Instead of this, shouldn’t we try to focus on loving and appreciating our bodies as a vessel that allows us to walk, run, dance, play with our kids or even just go to the gym? The human body is a beautiful, unique and amazing in its capabilities but we often lose sight of this in the web of negativity we see when we look in the mirror.

Let’s do a quick experiment. I want to ask you a few questions and take a minute to truly think about how each of these would impact YOU, in the context of your own life:
1. What would happen if you re-directed your goals from a number on the scale or a % body fat, to increasing your strength or cardio fitness or improving your relationship with food?
2. What would happen if you changed your motivation to exercise from wanting to lose weight/change your appearance/get rid of those pesky fat stores, and redirected your focus it to how strong, powerful and energized you feel when you work out?
3. What would happen if your motivation to ‘eat well’ stemmed from an intrinsic love of feeling great when you eat healthful foods? You want to ‘eat well’ because you just feel motivated, energized, not deprived and simply ready to take on the world, when you nourish and fuel your body with an abundance of colourful and exciting foods?

So how do we change our mindset? How do we alter our motivations? How do we change this automatic, in-built way of thinking that we have had for as long as we can remember?

Reframing our Inner Voice
The inner voice in our head has direct influence over our mindset and motivation. Unlike our trainer who helps to provide us with a positive external motivation a few times a week, this inner voice is going to be with us every second of every day. If our inner voice is negative, constantly telling us that we aren’t good enough or punishing us and making us feel shameful and guilty for having a piece of our favourite chocolate, then we are going to start believing it, aren’t we?

Changing our self-talk has powerful implications on our overall health and wellbeing. A 2015 study showed that those that had a positive body image gained less weight over time, than those that had lower body satisfaction (Loth, Watts, van den Berg, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2015). What does body image have to do with our weight? When we have a negative body image, we slip into a cycle of negative self-talk, leading to decreased motivation (more reliance on food as comfort and that ‘all-or-nothing mentality’), leading to weight gain, leading to feeling even worse about ourselves… and so the cycle continues. What we need to do is BREAK this cycle. If we break this negative self-talk through body positivity, self-love and self-acceptance, then we are able to shift our mindset and respond to adverse events in a positive light. For example, if you gain weight over a few weeks, instead of cursing yourself, feeling lazy and useless for gaining the weight, instead you can choose to respond positively: ‘oops I have gained some weight this fortnight. I better work on making healthier meals and getting a few extra steps into my days this week!’.

One fantastic tool to use is if you feel yourself slipping into a negative mindset or negative self-talk, remind yourself of this quote:

“Talk to yourself like you would like your child to talk to themselves if they were in your shoes.”

Image credit: https://positivepsychology.com/positive-body-image/

Three things you can to TODAY to increase your body positivity:

1. Do this experiment every day for one week (try to come up with new things each day!): Look in the mirror, butt naked. Feel scared? Stay with me. Look in the mirror, butt naked and tell yourself 3 things:
• 1 thing that you are good at
• 1 thing that you like about your personality
• And 1 thing that you like about your body

2. Crowd your socials with positivity! Unfollow accounts on social media that make you feel worse about yourself. If you scroll through your feed and find yourself comparing yourself to somebody else, feeling jealous or even just feel as though you are in a worse mood because of the image/account, simply click unfollow. It could be someone you used to know, or a celebrity. Do you feel lighter? Now replace these with positive accounts! They can be centred around self-love or totally unrelated such as travel or cute dogs! A few body-positivity centred accounts you may wish to check out include @nude_nutritionist and @bodyimagemovement

3. Find a positive mantra that resonates with you. Put it as your phone background. Print it off and put it up in your office. Stop, close your eyes, take 5 deep breaths and repeat the mantra in your head when you find yourself being harsh on yourself. Some great mantras to boost body positivity may be:
• Today is a good day to be alive.
• I love my body.
• My body deserves to be nourished.
• I am a good person.
• I am loved.
• I am beautiful inside and out.
• Food is not the enemy.
• No food is naughty.
• Guilt is a waste of time.
• I am a great mother/father.
• I love and accept myself.
• I am blessed to have a healthy and functioning body.

Remember, happiness does not come from a number on the scale, or the size of a dress you can squeeze yourself into. Happiness comes from fuelling and moving your body in ways that makes you feel at your absolute best, alongside a positive, resilient and thriving mindset.

JORDAN KAIN (APD, MND, EXSPSC)
Dietitian and Exercise Scientist

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