There is a common belief that body image is correlated with one’s actual physical appearance. That is, many of us believe that if we somehow “improve” how we look – by losing weight, for example – we will be happier with our appearance. It makes sense, but it is not always true. A Purdue University study has demonstrated that Caucasian teenage girls who lose weight, transitioning from an obese weight into a healthier weight range, still see themselves as overweight even after they’ve shed the pounds. So, losing weight doesn’t always make us feel better about ourselves. Why is this? Here are a few reasons.
The wrong diet
Often, we believe that losing weight will make us feel happier and more confident. So, in a desperate attempt to shed the pounds, we undertake crash diets, begin counting calories, and put ourselves through punishing workouts. This might help us to lose weight, but because that kind of lifestyle is unsustainable, we feel constantly stressed about keeping the weight off. On the other hand, if we adopt truly healthy lifestyles and begin to accept our bodies at any weight, we will likely reach a healthy size and be able to maintain it without the stress.
Much of the time, the reason we believe losing weight will make us happier and help us feel better about ourselves is because we think it means others will like us more. But there will always be people who find fault with us – even if we look like supermodels. To truly feel happier and more confident, our self-esteem has to come from within; it can’t be based upon winning the approval of others. Not to mention the fact that the people who truly matter will approve of us and care about us regardless of our weight.
Many times, poor body image begins with feelings of unworthiness. We don’t believe we’re “good enough” the way we are, so we look for ways to fix that. We hone in on weight because we feel that if we can just come a little closer to society’s impossible standards of beauty, it will make us worthier, more valuable people. Of course, this is not the case, because weight is not the real problem. So oftentimes, we drop the pounds but find ourselves still feeling “not good enough.” This is because we haven’t addressed the underlying emotional issues that are causing us to feel unworthy. If we heal those issues, we will be able to improve our body image, whether we actually lose any weight or not.
So what can we do to actually start feeling better about ourselves? Here are a few suggestions.
Recognize negative self-talk
Clearly, how we feel about ourselves – positive or negative – often has little to do with our actual physical appearance. When we truly accept ourselves, we understand that we are worthy and valuable regardless of the number on the scale. But the reverse is often true, as well. We frequently internalize negative beliefs we have about ourselves, or critical comments others make about us, to the point where they become a part of our identity. We may not even realize that the judgmental picture we hold of ourselves is not based in objective reality.
To rectify that, we need to begin to recognize when we’re being critical of ourselves and remember that those thoughts aren’t true – they are merely the result of our fears and insecurities. Then we can begin to put new, self-loving thoughts in their place. Eventually, these positive and compassionate thoughts will become our new habits!
Embrace real health
Rather than simply trying to lose weight, it is important that we begin to create a truly healthy lifestyle for ourselves. That means eating whole, natural foods, allowing ourselves to savor our meals, and engaging in physical activity that we truly enjoy. This can help us to establish more of a sense of embodiment and body awareness, which can in turn boost our body image. Our relationship with our body can be a wonderful window into bigger issues that impact how we feel about ourselves at large. So working to improve our body image can be the first step in a powerful journey toward self-acceptance.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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