10 Ways to Improve Body Image

“Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.” – Aesop

The way that you see yourself when you look into the mirror and the way that you feel about your body when you put on your clothes can be potentially sensitive topics for many people. Even people who feel comfortable within their own skin experience times when they notice their body image feeling a bit shaky. Perhaps you have found yourself indulging in one too many late night treats or avoiding one too many of your favorite forms of exercise. Whatever your personal relationship with your body may be, it is worth considering some practical steps that you can take to mindfully realign your presence with your body.

Rather than view parts of your body that you dislike with disdain or rejection, try mindfully directing love and gratitude toward them instead. Take a moment to thank your legs, stomach, or arms for all of the hard work they do to move you through the world. Try closing your eyes, taking a few slow deep breaths and allowing yourself to settle into a place of heartfelt gratitude. Treat yourself with greater kindness and compassion as you accept your physical form precisely as it is.

How to Improve Body Image

10 ways to improve body image:

(1) Let go of unrealistic ideals.

If you allow yourself to live in a psychological place of believing that you can only be happy when parts of your physical form are different (e.g., losing weight, changing your hair or skin), it will be incredibly difficult to ever come to a place of authentic satisfaction with your true self. The real “you” is not your physical form, but the intangible essence within that embodies all of your loving qualities, dreams, and quirks. When you practice radical acceptance of your body, you let go of comparisons in your mind and embrace yourself fully within the present moment.

(2) Be kind to yourself if you gain a few pounds.

If you notice that you have gained a few pounds from holiday overeating, lack of exercise, or stress, direct heartfelt loving-kindness toward yourself. If you react with disgust or self-hatred, you only serve to fuel unhealthy stress that can take an even greater physical toll on you. Pause in the moment as you assess the situation and mindfully get back on track toward feeling healthy and at ease in your body.

(3) Act on a resolution today… not tomorrow.

Avoid falling into the pattern of putting off healthy habits until a later date. Life will always provide you with unlimited excuses for why you “can’t” do something healthy for yourself. The only loser in that battle is you. Allow this very moment to be a wonderful opportunity to move toward healthy habits. Avoid changing too many things all at once, and instead focus on one small and healthy thing that you can do for yourself today. Once this new healthy behavior becomes an automatic habit, move on to another.

(4) Maintain your exercise routine.

Actively seek out ways to maintain a healthy and balanced exercise routine, even if you “don’t feel like it” or are “too busy.” Notice the way that you feel after you have engaged in a healthy form of exercise. Remember this positive feeling and carry it with you as motivation the next time that you feel yourself sinking into an exercise rut. When exercise becomes part of an overall healthy lifestyle, it will seem like less of a task and more of something that is simply part of who you are.

(5) Integrate walking into your daily routine.

Take the time to seek out ways to be more active in your regular routine. This might mean parking your car further away than you are used to, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking (rather than driving) to lunch. Notice the way that you feel when you integrate walking into your routine. Try applying an active mindfulness meditation to your walking to use this time as an opportunity to be more present to the moment.

(6) Balance your nutritional intake.

Try actively asking wise mind for guidance with your food intake and notice what a difference it makes on your eating habits. Before you begin to eat, ask the wise and healthy part of yourself if what you are about to eat is truly in your best interest. Apply greater moderation and portion control to your meals and actively practice mindful eating.

(7) Allow yourself to be proud of what your body can do.

When you notice improvements in your physical health/body (no matter how small), take the time to pause and celebrate your progress. Find healthy ways of reinforcing any healthy habits. For example, try rewarding yourself for meeting your weekly exercise goals by treating yourself to that new book you’ve been eyeing or taking a long bubble bath. Avoid reinforcing healthy behaviors with unhealthy habits (which will only undo your progress). For example, rewarding yourself for healthy behaviors with drinking alcohol or eating unhealthy food is clearly not in your best interest.

(8) Take advantage of exercise/health tips from reputable sources.

Try accessing trusted/reputable websites such as WebMD, Yoga Journal, or HelpGuide.org to gain useful knowledge on how to lead a healthy and balanced life. Avoid falling into the delusion of trying “quick fixes” or buying into unrealistic promises. Recognize that any authentic and meaningful growth will only come through putting in the work. Remind yourself that it’s worth it.

(9) Assess your body mass index (BMI).

Use the BMI calculator provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make your assessment. Determine whether or not your weight may pose a significant health risk. As you begin to think of your weight and body as being more closely connected to your health and a healthy lifestyle and less connected to superficiality or a determinant of your self-worth, your actions may shift toward building that healthy lifestyle. Consider developing a healthy motivation for taking care of your body that is less attached to what you believe will make you “beautiful.” Remember that there is little beauty in actively rejecting and disliking yourself.

(10) If you have serious body image/eating issues, seek professional help.

Notice how much of your mental and emotional energy is devoted toward fixating on your body/weight in an unhealthy way. Does your preoccupation with your physical form limit your abilities to build and engage in a meaningful life? Be honest with yourself about your felt perception of how seriously you may be preoccupied with your body/weight/eating. Often, these preoccupations have deeper emotional roots that don’t actually have much to do with your body at all. If you feel that you may benefit from discussing your concerns or experiences with a mental health professional in your area, try locating a therapist from Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist.”

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Whitbourne, S. K. (2010, December 14). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201202/the-beauty-spot/10-steps-better-body-image

Featured image: 34/365 B is for Battling the Bulge by Helga Weber / CC BY-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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