My last post on 9 Real Tips for Improving Body Image seemed to resonate with quite a few peeps. I’ve got some more thoughts on this topic so I appreciate everyone who emailed or commented to say you were interested in reading more. You helped keep me accountable to writing Part 2—another 9 tips for improving body image. I really hope these are helpful:
1. Engage in attuned movement. Rather than forcing yourself to exercise in order to burn calories or for permission to eat later, let mindfulness and pleasure lead the way in how you exercise and move your body.
An unhealthy relationship with exercise can take shape in many forms, but it’s often characterized by exercise that’s numbing or disconnecting from the body.
Attuned exercise, on the other hand, involves paying attention to how your body feels during and after exercise—enhancing the mind body connection. Some examples of exercise known for promoting body awareness include yoga, tai chi, qi gong, dance such as Nia, swimming, hiking in nature, and walking meditation. As you might expect, there are studies indicating attuned movement helps promote attuned eating.
Part of the health benefits of exercise comes from the genuine pleasure and enjoyment it provides you. That means no pain = more gain.
2. Understand what “body image” means. It’s common to mistake body image with how your body actually looks. It’s much more complicated than that. Body image is a subjective mental idea (i.e. processed by your brain) of how your body looks impacted by how you feel, which helps explain why it’s vulnerable to changing at a moment’s notice. That’s why you can wake up feeling one way about your body, only to find yourself feeling differently only moments later.
I should mention that those suffering from an eating disorder are more prone to suffer from negative body image due to having the brain hijacked by the eating disorder/malnourishment. The treatment for body image distress in these cases involves treating the eating disorder, including weight restoration if needed.
3. Decode heavy feelings. The next time you “feel fat,” kindly remind yourself that fat is not a feeling, and get curious about what emotions are there. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD says, “When people are not used to dealing with negative feelings, it’s not unusual for the body to become a dumping ground for expressing ‘heavy’ feelings.”
Rather than feeling anxious, overwhelmed, scared, angry, sad, lonely or guilty, it’s more familiar (and more socially acceptable in our culture) to “feel fat”.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, healing body image often requires the help of a therapist skilled in eating and body image concerns. (If you need any support finding such a therapist, contact me and I’d be more than happy to help you find a good fit.)
4. Reflect on the people you admire. Come up with a list of at least five people, living or dead, whom you admire. What specific qualities do you admire about them? What inspires you about them? Notice if there are common themes in what you admire in others. Perhaps you admire their courage or bravery, authenticity, resilience, kindness, compassion, generosity, wisdom, listening presence, zest for life or sense of humor. (Or perhaps you most admire your heroes for their abs of steel and buttocks that resemble those of a photoshopped teen. No? Inteeerreesting.)
What you admire in others helps provide insight on what you most value.
Notice what role, if any, body and weight have on what you admire and respect about others. Notice whether your standards for yourself are aligned with what you most value.
5. Know this: BMI = Bullcrap Made Important. Most of my clients are surprised to learn that there’s little to no relationship between weight and health. Our society, (medical providers often included) makes false, dangerous assumptions that thinner = healthier. If you’d like to learn more, check out this book and growing movement Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight. (And if you want to give your healthcare providers a compelling review study to chew on, here you go.)
6. Be responsive to your body’s basic needs. Basic needs include your body’s need to eat, hydrate, rest, and sleep. Friendly newsflash on that exercise-in-order-to-have-permission-to-eat thing mentioned earlier: nourishing your body, like breathing air and drinking clean water, is an essential need and a birthright, not something you need to earn. As a board certified sports dietitian, I fully understand the importance of fueling correctly for exercise. However, forcing yourself to exercise so you can allow yourself to eat is no less kind than forcing a baby to crawl on a treadmill for twenty minutes before s/he can be breastfed. That’s right. You and babies have something in common: equal rights to be nourished.
Just like any other relationship, how you treat your body absolutely impacts your relationship to it. So please try to be kind and respectful, okay?
7. Ditch the damn scale. There is one thing the scale truly measures…you ready? The scale measures…your relationship to gravity. That’s it. That damn piece of metal doesn’t measure “okayness,” health, well-being, happiness, lovability or self-worth.
Life coach Rachel Cole writes, “The scale takes you away from yourself. Giving it up brings you home.” In other words, weight is more often than not, a distraction. As an external cue (something outside of yourself), focusing on weight distracts from the ability to honor your internal cues (where your body’s wisdom lives). I’ve often noticed with clients that whether the number is up, down, or the same, it isn’t helpful.
If you haven’t already put the scale away, I encourage you to experiment with putting it away for a longer period of time and just see what that’s like. Imagine the freedom you have to gain from ditching the scale. Kinda like how the characters in the movie Office Space ditched their printers and fax machines in that hilarious slow motion scene involving a baseball bat. (Hey, fun party idea!)
Life is short and so precious. Ask yourself if you really want to spend so much of your limited time here pursuing a lesser force exerted on the body by gravity.
8. Shift to body neutrality instead. If loving your body feels like an impossible goal, as it does for so many of us, try body neutrality instead, advises Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, owner of the renowned Green Mountain at Fox Run non-diet retreat center. Between body hatred and body love is the middle ground of body neutrality. I especially like the example of progressive affirmations on Hudnall’s post on body neutrality here.
9. Try these guided meditations. An intriguing new study from self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD at UT Austin, found that completing one of her guided meditations emphasizing self-compassion three times a week for just three weeks led to better body image.
Interestingly, compared to the control group, those who completed the meditations also significantly lessened “the degree to which self-worth was contingent on perceived appearance.” Researchers noted, “Since appearance tends to be the most important domain of self-worth for women, the fact that contingent self-worth on appearance was reduced suggests that self-compassion may help women discover a new way of relating to themselves.”
If you take a closer look at these tips and the ones in my previous post, so many of them relate to tuning out what’s unhelpful and continually tuning into yourself. So much wisdom resides in our bodies. Being attuned to your body is essential for meeting your needs–body, mind and spirit–and living a fulfilling and authentic life that is yours to live.