Raise your hand if you’ve ever said or done any of the following:
- Pinched your stomach for fat
- Looked for cellulite somewhere on your body
- Hated your body type
- Looked at magazines and felt inadequate about yourself
- Went on a diet in the last 3 months
- Been envious of your thinner friends
- Compared yourself to someone else
If you said yes to any of the above, fear not: you aren’t alone. Most of us have looked in the mirror, seen something we don’t like, and immediately started thinking negatively about our bodies. In fact, body dissatisfaction is at an all time high today, with millions of people struggling with eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder.
You likely know that you shouldn’t be spending so much time worrying about the externals, but you don’t know what to do to fix the problem. You try to tell yourself not to worry about your appearance, to be happy with who you are and to stop comparing yourself to others, yet, you still cling to your negative internal monologues. Why? Because you have no concrete tools to break out of your “stinking thinking” mentality.
How does beating ourselves up and constantly ruminating about our bodies help us get what we want out of life? It doesn’t. In fact, it can cause feelings ranging from mild discontentment to severe depression.
How do you solve the problem? By making a decision: if you’re tired of beating yourself up, if you want to embrace your intrinsic worth and learn to actually start liking your body, here are some next steps to consider:
You can’t change what you don’t notice, so start paying attention to what you pay attention to. That means you have to key into what your mind is always focusing on during the day. Notice your self-talk and any behaviors that are self-limiting. Listen for negative patterns in your head. Are there consistent themes? Write them down. For example, you may feed yourself a steady diet of thoughts like, “I’m a loser, I’m fat; I’m unlovable because of my appearance.” Noticing these negative attributions is the first step to change.
Watch for Thinking Errors
People who struggle with body image issues tend to gravitate toward certain thinking errors. Here are just a few of the biggies:
- “All or nothing” thinking. I’m either perfect, or a total failure.
- Magnifying/Catasphrophizing. Gaining a few pounds means no one will ever love me.
- Emotional reasoning. I take my feelings and make them facts about my intrinsic worth. I feel fat so I am a loser.
- Negative self. Negative ways of thinking that make it harder for me to achieve my goals or get what I want from life.
Watch for triggers
If TV, Internet, social media, the fashion industry, the food industry, or magazines trigger your negative feelings or feelings of inadequacy, steer clear of them for a while. This doesn’t mean you don’t read a magazine, or watch TV, it means you choose more wisely about what you want to put into your brain.
Every magazine out there will depress you if you compare yourself to the cover girls and guys. Even though you know they’re digitally enhanced, it’s still a bummer. Pay attention to who you’re comparing yourself to, and make a deliberate attempt to stop and reset your mind.
Recognize the big four
Don’t try to be perfect: instead, practice accepting yourself. Stop judging yourself on your appearance or body image. There is a lot more to a person than how much they weigh—focus instead on your strengths and attributes. Be ware of your inner critic; try practicing being grateful for what you do have. Do not get stuck in victim mentality. The “poor me” syndrome will keep you stuck and going nowhere.
Develop positive counterstatements
Start a list of positive statements to refute the negative things you’re telling yourself: it’s important that you have some measure of belief in their veracity. Instead of saying “I hate my body”, try saying “I’m grateful I have a healthy body. I’m grateful I can go for a run or carry my child.” You may not be perfect, but who says you have to be?
Think of the bigger picture
Living in a world that places so much emphasis on how we look is hard, but there are so many things that are much more important than how much we weigh or whether we have cellulite. Try getting outside your head and do something of eternal significance. Go to Haiti to help rebuild; volunteer at a homeless shelter; or go visit someone in a nursing home. Actions like these will dramatically change your perspective about what matters.
Perhaps the most important part of learning to like our bodies is being grateful for them.
Have you ever felt dissatisfied with your body? Ever struggled with negative self-defeating thinking when you look in the mirror? If so, what steps have you taken to beat stinking thinking?