“When I lose 10 more pounds I’ll be happy.”
“Ugh. My hair is so thin.”
“Put down that cookie! Only two more months until swimsuit season.”
“I should really do something about those fine lines that are beginning to creep in.”
Sound familiar? That is the loud, negative and, quite frankly, uninvited voice inside your head that keeps you in a constant state of needing to better anything and everything about your external self.
Why is it so hard for us to accept our bodies? Society has put so much value and importance on our outward appearance that it places what’s on the inside — intelligence, compassion, humor, etc. — on the backburner. In an effort to perfect our “flaws” so that we can finally get to a place where we can be “happy,” it has become difficult to even consider accepting or loving our physical bodies as is.
But the truth is that if we tell that unwelcomed voice to simmer down and finally begin to appreciate and respect our bodies, we’ll ultimately end up happier and healthier. Science has shown that when people have a more positive body image they may have a more positive quality of life and a healthier body. Here’s why:
You gain skills that are central to weight loss.
A 2011 study found that when people feel more positive about their own body image, their ability to regulate their eating habits also improves. “As body image improves, the researchers found that autonomous motivation, self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to produce a desired result) and self-regulation skills, which are central to weight loss, also improve and emerge as the best predictors of a beneficial weight,” says Misti Gueron M.S., RDN, medical nutrition therapist at the Khalili Center.
You sustain more weight loss than dieting.
While your main desire to accept your body should not be to shed pounds, it may help the process in the long term. “A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that ‘health at every size’ participants improved and maintained weight loss, while the group on a diet initially lost weight, but eventually gained it back and had little sustained health improvement,” says Alyse Levine, M.S., RD.
So while no one will argue that going on a diet can help you lose weight, it’s keeping the weight off that is most challenging. Body acceptance and positive self-talk can lead to more sustained weight loss than a “quick fix” diet that helps you drop weight only to gain it back again.
You become more mindful, reducing distress.
In a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, participants who had completed at least six months of a weight-loss program were randomly assigned to receive a one-day, mindfulness and acceptance-based workshop targeting obesity-related stigma and psychological distress or be placed on a waiting list. At a three-month follow-up, participants showed greater improvements in obesity-related stigma, quality of life, psychological distress, distress tolerance and body mass as well as both general and weight-specific acceptance and psychological flexibility.
In fact, effects on distress, stigma and quality of life were above and beyond the effects due to improved weight control. “The takeaway is to incorporate mindfulness and acceptance into daily life, such as meditation, yoga, writing and intuitive eating,” says Alyse Levine M.S., RD, founder of eatingreset.com and advisor to crateful.la. So how do you learn to accept and respect your body, even with some extra weight? Here are five strategies that can help:
5 Strategies to Accept Your Body — Now!
1. Make a choice.
Even if in the beginning you “fake it till you make it,” start by deciding to accept your body. “The simplest thing anyone can do is choose to accept their body. It’s a choice, nothing more. Accept how you feel about it and remain committed to taking care of yourself in kind and compassionate ways,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN. Feel free to share your choice and ask for support from your friends and family. Tell them you will no longer focus on or talk about your self-perceived negative body attributes, but rather you’ll do all you can to take care of yourself and feel good in your body.
2. Practice positive self-talk.
Replace blaming and shaming with gentleness and gratitude. Start by noticing the words that go through your head about your appearance each day. For most women, they’d never criticize a friend the way they criticize themselves — and if they did, they wouldn’t have friends for very long! To get started: “Write down a list of specific things you like about yourself: For example, ‘I have a great smile,’ ‘I have nice eyes’ or ‘I love what my strong arms can do.’ Read them every night until you truly believe them, and then replace with new ones,” says Alyse Levine, M.S., RD.
3. Stop comparing your body to others.
Make a rule not to participate in diet talk or comment on other women’s bodies in ways that put you down. When you “mentally or verbally compliment others, appreciate the diversity of beauty rather than ranking yourself among others,” says Alyse Levine, M.S., RD.
4. Show your body you love it.
Rather than focusing on restricting your diet to lose weight or working out solely to burn calories, focus on nourishing your body, moving it and giving it pleasurable experiences. “Do activities that make you feel good about yourself, whether that is painting your nails, getting your hair done, taking a brisk walk or trying a fun new workout with a friend. This type of positive stimuli leads to good feelings, which in turn can help you have a globally healthier relationship with your body. Pamper as often as needed!” says Alyse Levine, M.S., RD.
5. Get resourceful.
“There are several organizations, outreach centers, universities, specialized professionals and self-help books devoted to the area of improved body acceptance, such as the 10 Will-Powers for Improving Body Image from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA),” says Misti Gueron, M.S., RDN. Involved in this exercise is making daily affirmations like “I will practice taking people seriously for what they say, feel and do, not for how slender or ‘well put together’ they appear.”
What Do YOU Think?
Do you have challenges accepting your body? If so, has it affected other areas of your life? Would you be willing to try any of the tips in this article to help you accept your body more? Share your experience on how making lifestyle changes has affected your life, and maybe your knowledge will help others.