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When Obsessing with a Perfect Body Image Becomes a Disease

When Obsessing with a Perfect Body Image Becomes a Disease

It’s no secret that men and women struggle with body image. We are constantly bombarded with ideas of the “perfect body” and despite knowing it’s photo-shopped beyond belief, it can be difficult to ignore the feeling that we need to change somehow.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders claims that eight million people in the U.S. have some type of eating disorder. That’s about 3% of the total population.[1]

So what can we do? How to practice self-love without flaunting our “hot” bodies in the face of someone who hates their body? How do we overcome shame and practice acceptance? Read on to find out.

Self-worth is NOT about size!

Hey. You. You’re worth it. You deserve happiness. You’re an incredible person and you should really recognize that in yourself. If you feel like you’ll never be able to think positively about yourself, take a breath. We’ll get there together. Not only are you beautiful/handsome exactly as you are, but you’re smart and witty and just plain awesome.

First of all, let’s define some things:

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Body Image: Body image is just that; an image. It’s based on your thoughts and your feelings about your body. The way you think other people look at you can negatively impact your own self-views, and cause a slew of negative thoughts bout your appearance. It’s the way you feel about yourself, inside and out. And it’s a big deal [2].

Self-esteem: Do you like yourself? Do you recognize how awesome and unique you are? If so, you have great self-esteem. If not, we’ll get there. If you have low self-esteem, it can be really hard for you to feel worthy and confident. When you have good self-esteem, you feel empowered, courageous and confident. You find yourself really caring about your mental and emotional health. And it’s not just about liking your body. It’s liking everything that makes you, you!

    It’s okay that you aren’t happy with yourself every single second.

    Take this test adapted from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale to gauge where your self-esteem currently is. Add up the number of points you’ve chosen. The higher the number, the higher your self-esteem.

    The way you answer the questions can fluctuate, as we can’t all be 100% happy with ourselves all the time.[3]

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      Thankfully, there are steps you can take to boost your self-esteem.

      1. Realize how cool you are. Make a list of all the things that make you, you! This isn’t being cocky, it’s being confident. You have so many unique qualities. Appreciate that about yourself.
      2. Put your heart into your work. Whether at school or a career, really give 110% every day. Learning gives you so much power and the confidence to change the world.
      3. Stay active. Take a dance class or join a team. Go for walks and don’t text the whole time. Focusing on your own health is one of the best ways to be selfish and start to love yourself.
      4. Stop being so cruel to yourself. Do you tell yourself things like, “I’m so fat,” “I’m so ugly,” “I hate how I look”? Ouch. Write down the things you’re saying to yourself. Then think about the list. How does it contribute to how stressed out you are? If it does, try to get to the root of it. Maybe you tell yourself you’re fat, and maybe you have since a relative told you your stomach was getting big. It’s okay to acknowledge if you’re medically overweight and want to get healthier, but don’t confuse poor health for “disgusting,” “gross,” “unworthy”.[4] And don’t let someone’s words, no matter how recently they were spoken, impact your current views.
      5. Make a new list. Write down mantras that you will try to practice. Try things like “I won’t speak harshly to myself. I will not judge other peoples’ bodies in an attempt to feel better about mine. I will not allow others to be cruel to me about my looks.”
      6. Challenge yourself. Try to avoid insulting yourself for a whole week. How did it feel? Do you feel different physically?

      Ditch that body/image shame.

      Speak Kindly, even if the voice is in your head.

      The things you say inside your head don’t always stay there. In fact, the mean things you tell yourself can impact your emotions and even your opinion of other people. Even if you’re reading this and thinking that you are pretty kind to yourself, realize there is always room for improvement.

      So if your list of mean things you say to yourself is really short, focus on making it a goal to write an even shorter list. Monitor your self-talk weekly and consistently try to replace any hurtful words with kind ones.[5]

        Stop focusing on other peoples’ opinions.

        This is a tricky one, especially in a time of judging ourselves based on the number of virtual “likes” we receive. Overthinking and hyper-focusing on someone else’s words or actions toward us is dangerous and downright destructive.

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        Time to wake up, people. The voice in your head is not who you are. It’s just an excitable commentator. You are the game. – Mark Rice-Oxley

        Basically, we have to create a whole new relationship with our thoughts. We need to be aware of when that bad day we’re having was completely created by our own self-loathing. Be present in the real world, and spend less time on social media. Get in the habit of telling yourself why you’re awesome as soon as you wake up. Don’t obsess when things go wrong, celebrate when things go right.[6]

        Regain control.

        Fun fact: You are in charge of yourself. You determine your worth. Not the model on the cover of a magazine, not the popular girl you graduated with that has 3K Instagram followers. You.

        It’s just a fact: someone will always be wealthier than you, smarter than you, prettier than you, etc. But that doesn’t mean you’re poor, dumb and ugly! Why spend your life comparing yourself to other people when your body is the only one you get to live in. Love yourself. The rest will follow.[7]

        Drop the negativity, even if it means dropping “friends”.

        It’s an ugly fact, but it’s a fact all the same. Toxic people have toxic attitudes, and that toxicity is contagious. Surround yourself with positive people who inspire you, encourage you and love you. A wise woman once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” and she is so very right.

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          Quit comparing.

          I know, I know, I’ve already said this. But it’s that important! Psychologist Leon Festinger said that our desire to compare ourselves to others is a drive as powerful as thirst! Think about that for a second. The only person we should compare ourselves to is our past selves. Take a look at where you are versus where you’ve been. Appreciate those mile-markers, not someone else’s.[8]

          Remember: There is no such thing as perfection.

          I think we’ve all come across at least one person in our lives that seemed to have it all. The perfect relationship, the perfect job, the perfect bank account, etc. But did they really? Eh, probably not.

          When you look at someone’s outward appearance and assume you know how easy they have it, remind yourself that you don’t know anything about their journey. Instead of being jealous of that person or wishing you were them, appreciate how inspired you are by him/her and focus on making the necessary changes in your life to be proud of yourself.[9]

          So make it a point to start new today. Take baby steps toward liking yourself. Eventually, you’ll be taking strides toward loving yourself. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, physically, mentally or emotionally. Appreciate people for what makes them unique, and rejoice in what makes you, you.

          Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Heather Poole

          Heather shares about everyday lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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          Last Updated on October 30, 2019

          How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

          How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

          Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

          In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

          Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

          You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

          What is the Stages of Change Model?

          Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

          Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

          Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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            The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

            The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

            The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

            The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

            1. Precontemplation
            2. Contemplation
            3. Determination
            4. Action
            5. Maintenance
            6. Termination

            How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

            To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

              Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

              Stage 1: Precontemplation

              At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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              For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

              Stage 2: Contemplation

              At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

              You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

              The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

              Stage 3: Preparation

              At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

              Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

              Stage 4: Action

              When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

              Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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              Stage 5: Maintenance

              After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

              Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

              Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

              Stage 6: Termination

              Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

              However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

              How long does each stage take?

              You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

              So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

              The limitations of this model

              The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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              Require the ability to set a realistic goal

              For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

              If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

              Difficult to judge your progress

              The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

              Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

              Conclusion

              The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

              While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

              Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

              Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
              [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
              [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
              [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
              [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
              [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
              [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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