Even though I have a pretty healthy outlook about food and exercise these days (summed up in a single word: moderation), I spent years struggling with a negative body image, disordered eating and exercise habits, and weight fluctuations. I feel fortunate to have been able to overcome these issues and return to "normal" eating and exercising, which was a major feat. But even though my outward habits were positive and healthy, I was still struggling on the inside, and didn't like what I saw in the mirror. Even though no one else could hear them, I said hurtful things about myself. I didn't wear shorts or even a bathing suit for nearly a decade because I never felt like my body was good enough to be on display. Clearly, I had more work to do.
It's been an ongoing process for me to go from loathing my body to liking it to loving it (at least some parts). It's an ongoing process for me to care less and less what anyone else might think about it. Some people view this as a common struggle that we just have to deal with, but I don't. No one should have to feel bad about how they look, and everyone CAN develop a healthier body image with practice.
In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 20-26), I'm going to share the 8 simple ways you can foster a more positive body image starting today.
What are some of the ways that you honor your body each day?
- Dress for the body you have today. This is one of the best things I ever did for myself. Don't wait until you're 2, 20, or 200 pounds lighter to wear clothes that fit you well and flatter your figure. You deserve to look and feel your best right now.
- Talk back. Talk back to your TV when you see commercials that use a woman's body to sell products. Talk back to companies with your wallet by NOT buying said products. I used to subscribe to a lot of women's health and fitness magazines, until I realized that they tend to glorify just one body type: super skinny. Reading these magazines made me feel bad about myself, so I canceled my subscriptions. I stopped feeling pressure to look like the pictures since I didn't have to look at them anymore—and I sent a message with my dollars (and feedback) to the publishers.
- Turn every negative thought into something positive. It's not easy to suddenly say "I love my legs" if you don't feel that way, but there are plenty of ways you can turn negative thoughts into more positive ones: like that your legs are strong and get you up the stairs at work without getting too tired.
- Compliment yourself in ways that have nothing to do with your looks. We tend to focus so much on what we see in the mirror and overlook our many other amazing attributes. Are you a good friend? A good listener? A successful professional? A smart driver? How about simply a warm, caring, friendly, or positive person? Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with your looks. Then next time you feel down about your appearance—or start to self-criticize—take out this list and remind yourself just how awesome you are. Better yet, start and end your day reading that list. Every. Single. Day.
- Exercise because it's good for you. It took a long time for me to view exercise as something more than a means to: burn calories, lose weight, or change my body. But you know what? Now that I view it as something that makes me feel good, strong, fit and healthy, I actually exercise more consistently than I ever did before, which ultimately means that my body has never looked better. It's funny how focusing on the wrong thing can undermine your efforts. If you're obsessed with the calorie burn or hate to exercise, stop counting your calories burned (I still NEVER track them to this day), and start exercising at an intensity level that simply feels good to you. Even more important: Find something fun that you really love and do it, even if it's not the biggest calorie burner. Your body deserves this respect.
- Eat healthy because your body deserves it. Honor your body by eating as much nutritious and nourishing food as possible so that it can perform at its best and be healthy. Stop making every food decision based on calories alone.
- Don't feel bad about cravings—or giving into them. I still struggle with this one myself. When I eat things that I know aren't good for me, I tend to "feel fat" and guilty. A little bit of guilt may be OK—that's what stops you from eating ice cream for EVERY meal, after all. But food is one of our greatest pleasures in this life, and you can and should enjoy eating. Sometimes, that means indulging in some less-than-healthy foods (notice I didn't say "bad" foods). What's most important is that you are present, making these choices consciously (not emotionally or on autopilot), honoring your craving without going overboard, and not letting the occasional dessert or rich dinner send you into a shame spiral that you can't climb out of.
- Never allow anyone else to disrespect your body. This is a really important one. Never EVER let someone else disrespect your body by criticizing it, hurting it (this can mean many things), or objectifying it. Get negative people like this out of your life or at least tell them that you will not stand to have your body disrespected ever again. You deserve love and respect from yourself, but from other people, too. If someone disrespects your body, stand up for it. Remind yourself that you're great and—most importantly: If someone has a problem with you, it's their problem, not yours.