Ditch negative thoughts and feel better about the skin you're in
While the advice to "love your body" seems easy enough, a surprising number of women have a hard time taking it to heart: According to an estimate from the National Eating Disorders Association, 80 percent of women in the U.S. are unhappy with the way their bodies look. So you're not alone if you've ever felt less than thrilled with the reflection in the mirror. But if the body blues have you down more often than not, it's time to boost your satisfaction when it comes to your one-of-a-kind physique. Read on for nine tips that will help you start loving your body as it is.
1. Curb the comparisons.
A 2010 study from the University of Louisville found that women's perceptions of their bodies were negatively influenced when they compared their appearances to those of others. When you find yourself making comparisons, stop and thank your body for all the things it allows you to do instead of what it looks like. No matter how you feel about it, "your body still continues to get up and go each morning, and it deserves a big thank-you," says Dina Zeckhausen, PhD, psychologist and author of Full Mouse, Empty Mouse, a children's book that addresses healthy eating and body image. "When I ask kids, 'What do you appreciate about your body?' they say, 'My body lets me play soccer!' or 'My body lets me give and get hugs!'" Take a page from their book and start appreciating your body for everything you can achieve because of it.
2. Change your approach to exercise.
A University of South Florida study from the November 2010 issue of the journal Sex Rolesfound that people with a distorted body image often work out because they feel like they must. If exercise feels more like a have-to than a want-to, it's time to revamp your regimen. Try different kinds of exercise to find the ones you enjoy doing. "Whether you actually lose a pound or not, your body image will be better after you have increased your endorphins through fun and playful physical activity," notes Dr. Zeckhausen. For a boredom buster, try belly dancing, which research has connected with high levels of body satisfaction.
3. Switch subjects.
A lot of women seek comfort by bonding through body-bashing talk, but in the end, it only makes us feel worse. A recent study in the January 2011 issue of Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that conversations about appearance predicted body dissatisfaction. Share these findings with your best buds, and agree to make an effort to talk about jobs, kids, current events and shared passions instead. Whenever you slip up (and it's OK if you do––the goal is awareness, not perfection!) change the topic to something more fulfilling.
4. Resist unrealistic expectations.
A Louisiana State University study from July 2010 linked having a negative body image with comparing oneself to images of models with an "ideal" body type. If this is a hot button for you, do yourself a favor and avoid magazines and TV shows that feature a lot of super-thin women. Says Dr. Zeckhausen, "If images of unattainable bodies fuel your insecurities, cut off the supply at the source!" When images of ultra-thin models can't be avoided, give yourself a reality check by reminding yourself that only two percent of American women are as thin as most fashion models. Or, Dr. Zeckhausen suggests getting a little perspective on the matter. "Instead of flipping through magazines, view artists' renderings of the female form over the centuries or take a life drawing class which allows you to see the female body through an artist's eyes. Observing a body through a perspective of line, color and shade can help you realize that 'imperfections' make an image more interesting."
5. Let others feed your spirit.
"When people compliment you, do you brush it off?" asks Dr. Zeckhausen. "Doing so is like throwing away medicine and wondering why you still feel sick." If you focus on negative thoughts about your body but won't let the positive feedback in, you're bound to feel bad about yourself. She suggests thanking others for their kind words, and advises that you "try to view yourself through the eyes of those who love you."
6. Stop the negative self-talk.
"Too often we normalize our body hatred by letting unkind words pass our lips about ourselves without a thought," explains Rosie Molinary, author of Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance. "We should catch and correct ourselves because our whole lives are affected by how we think and speak about our bodies." Her advice: Deposit a quarter into a designated container each time you criticize your body, and "watch your self-awareness soar and your habits change. When you've collected enough money, treat yourself to a gift or donate it. We can all change our language—and our minds."
7. Dress your personal best.
We often hang onto clothes from when we were thinner so we'll be inspired to one day fit into them again. But Dr. Zeckhausen says, "Instead of keeping skinny clothes as 'thinspiration,' donate too-tight or outdated items…buy clothes that fit your body now so you are less self-conscious. You deserve to feel pretty at your current weight."
8. Cut out the body checking.
A January 2011 study from the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that when participants repeatedly checked themselves out in a mirror it made them dissatisfied with their bodies––and it also gave them a heightened awareness of bodies in general. "Watch for times when you're checking yourself out in mirrors, windows, even shadows. When you catch yourself doing it, take a breath and change your focus," says Molinary. You won't look any different from one minute to the next, and "by curtailing the behavior that fuels your obsession, you train yourself to turn off the tape that keeps cycling in your head."
9. Think nourishment, not numbers.
Instead of going for a specific number on the scale, gauge whether your weight is "ideal" by assessing the following: Are you getting a variety of natural, tasty, satisfying foods and enough movement to stimulate your body and brain on a regular basis? Are you mostly fulfilled by what you eat, and rarely feel deprived? If freedom from deprivation—and the obsessive food- and body-related thoughts that come with it—means weighing more than you're "supposed to" (based on someone else's standards), it may be a healthy tradeoff you should make.
*This article by Tori Rodriguez originally appeared on WomansDay.com.