How to Cultivate a Healthy Body Image
How often do you roll your eyes at an impossibly fit friend who still thinks she is fat? “Look in the mirror!” you may exclaim in exasperation. “You look great!” Chances are she’s not just fishing for compliments. While some people do suffer from the serious mental condition known as body dysmorphia, many of us have inaccurate impressions of our own bodies that can prevent us from appreciating the wonderful things we do for our health.
How does an altered body image happen? When do we make the transition from a happy-go-lucky child jumping into a swimming pool to a self-deprecating adult who can’t see beyond the size on our jeans? Well, years of yo-yo dieting, social pressure to reach an unrealistic ideal, and letting media images influence what we think our bodies should look like takes a toll on us. The airbrushed pictures of celebrities – male and female – that we see in the grocery store checkout become a basis for comparing our bodies to that of our expectations, or our perception of how we measure up to the expectations of others. But they don’t have to.
Here’s how you can check yourself before you wreck yourself, and start seeing the beauty everyone tells you is there. Photo: Success Yeti
UNDERSTAND YOUR BODY
Before consulting the scale for your daily validation of self-worth, consider what your body can do. And if you aren’t sure, test it! A body that can withstand a challenging fitness class, a running workout, a hike in the woods, or other endurance activities is not unfit. Assign some numbers to what you do to support your own health: miles walked, weight lifted, minutes spent in your target heart rate zone for building cardiovascular health. These are the numbers that matter.
If you aren’t happy with what your body can do, start making it more impressive. Healthy living is in the doing, not the having. Do the things that define fitness for you, and your body will get with the program.
CHECK THE CLOSET
Before asking a magazine to tell you whether you are too skinny or too fat, look in your closet. Has there been a dramatic change in the way your clothes fit over the past year? Are you physically comfortable in your clothes when you are not looking in the mirror? If obesity is a real issue for you, take the steps necessary to bring yourself into a healthier place. Take pictures along the way to see your progress over time, preferably of you being active, and look at them when you need a reminder of just how far you have come.
TRACK YOUR SUCCESS
Surround yourself with proof of your healthy habits. If you participate in local 5k races, tack your race bib to a bulletin board where you can see them. If you pride yourself on healthy cooking, display your cookbooks in a place where they remind you of that priority. Keep a chart of how many miles you’ve walked or ran over the course of the year on your pantry door as a reminder that living fit is what you do, no matter what you look like.
LISTEN TO YOURSELF
Our brains believe what we tell them, and negative self-talk can have a permanent impact. If you hear yourself starting to say, “I’m so (fill in negative adjective here),” stop and replace it with something positive: “I’m so happy the sun is shining today.” “I’m so lucky to have so many great friends.” “I’m so thankful for coffee.” You create that reality.
Here’s the good news: the kinder you are to yourself, the more inspired you become to do the things that lead to optimum health. Why wait to feel great? Get off the scale, step away from the mirror, and live healthy anyway. Soon, your brain will start to see beautiful things!
– HEATHER FUSELIER, CTTS, CPT, CHC