Do you struggle with looking in the mirror and accepting what you see? Are you constantly criticizing the way your body looks? In this post I will break down how we get negative body image, how a distorted self-image can impact our health and wellness, and finally how to overcome negative self-image!
How We Get Negative Body Image
Diet Culture Messaging
It’s pretty simple, really. The answer is: diet culture. The unrealistic expectations that are placed upon us by today’s society have us striving for, well, a body that is unrealistic.
Our society places value on a thin body. We’ve been told that being thin will lead to success, love, acceptance, etc., etc. And we see this messaging everywhere. We see it all over social media, in our favorite TV shows (aren’t the most successful and likable characters usually thin?), and in ads as we catchup on the latest episodes of our fave TV shows. Even if we aren’t actively paying attention to it or don’t hear the words “Thin=better” the connection is made.
This then causes us to strive for thinness and compare ourselves to those thin bodies. Even if they’re airbrushed and we know that, we STILL compare. We start to get a more and more distorted self-image as we continue to strive for these unrealistic expectations. And we fall into the comparison trap with each and every person we see. (Be sure to checkout my post on how to stop the comparison game!)
Negative Self Image As A Way To Cope
Another way we develop negative body image is from stressful events in our life. When we feel stress/anxiety/depression/etc. we may turn to our bodies as a way to cope. We want to feel “control” and we feel that if we turn to our bodies, trying to manipulate the way they look, we will feel relief from the trauma/emotions we have experienced.
How Effects of Negative Body Image Impact Our Health & Wellness
Diet culture tells us that thin= healthy. However, the advancements in the Health At Every Size movement show us otherwise. Health behaviors have been shown to be correlated with a decreased mortality risk than weight itself. Health and wellness are not determined by the scale, BMI, etc. The Health At Every Size book, and also the Body Respect book, both explain this really well and give lots of scientific evidence to support the HAES movement!
But, regardless of this knowledge from scientific studies… we still strive for thinness. That’s how strong diet culture is. It’s a HUGE industry that makes billions on billions of dollars each year off of their…well… lies.
The thing here is that dieting and diet culture, striving for that ideal of thinness, is a predictor of weight gain in the long run. Weight cycling that occurs with yo-yo dieting (think losing weight, then re-gaining it and then some, losing that, then regaining that and then some, etc) actually increased our risk of disease in the long run.
And if you’re saying “Well, it’s the weight gain that is causing those disease risks!” think again. One study showed that women in a larger body sizes who have a history of yo-yo dieting had more health risk factors than women in larger body sizes who have not had the same dieting history.
So, you can see that when we strive for this thinness that we THINK is going to contribute to our health and wellness… the opposite happens! So backwards, I know. But it’s true.
Also, negative body image due to fat shaming and weight stigma can decrease likelihood of making those health promoting behaviors we talked about earlier.
Now, I’m not saying that weight loss is BAD by any means. It can be a natural thing that happens. I do believe in the set point weight theory. I have an entire blog post on the set point weight theory which explains this more. Essentially, your set point weight is the weight your body wants to be at and functions optimally at. In order to get there some may lose weight, some may gain weight, and some may simply maintain weight. None are “bad” and all happen.
And we haven’t even touched on the mental health and wellness side of things get! Personally, this is what I experienced heavily during the disordered eating, when I was striving for that “ideal body” that diet culture stowed upon me. I wasn’t happy. I was depressed. Mostly because I was hangry AF, but also because if we don’t have adequate nutrition due to striving for thinness our bodies won’t be able to produce things like neurotransmitters effectively. Neurotransmitter, such as serotonin, which is responsible for things like mood. On the flip side, dopamine (the “reward” neurotransmitter) may be over-produced, which can lead to anxiety and the ability to go without rewarding and enjoyable things, like food.
To sum this section up: striving for weight loss will lead to more negative health outcomes than simply living in a larger body. And dieting in the pursuit of weight loss and the “ideal body”‘ can zap your joy.
How To Overcome Negative & Distorted Self Image
Alright, the moment you’ve been waiting for. HOW do we overcome this negative body image?! Well, gorgeous, here are 5 tips that can help you to overcome negative body image and start respecting & appreciating the body you’re in!
- Do a social media ‘detox’. I feel so silly saying that word, but it fits. Since we know that seeing and taking in diet culture messaging is a reason we GET negative body image, in order to overcome it we must do what we can to limit that exposure. Go through your social media feeds and unfollow anyone who makes you feel negatively about your body or who causes you to feel like you need to diet.
- Go back to science. Going back to the above studies that I discussed in the section on how negative body image affects our health really helps me. I’m a facts kinda gal and it’s easy for our thoughts to start swirling around and making us really want to change our bodies. When I look at the facts on the impact dieting and food rules have it helps me to do what I know feels good and will help my health- those behaviors, NOT weight loss.
- Start a journal practice. Journaling is important for SO many reason, many of which I discuss in my post on gratitude journaling for mind & body which has over 40+ journal prompts. Journaling can help manage anxiety and stress, which may worsen poor body image. It can also assess your thoughts and feeling for those diet culture messages. I recommend replacing each negative thought with a positive one. So, write down some body positive quotes (Checkout my body positive Pinterest board for some ideas!). One study actually found that writing down positive body image aspects led to an increase in self-image as compared to those who only wrote about negative aspects.
- Focus on respect and appreciation. Let’s be real… we won’t always love the reflection that we see in the mirror. BUT we can always respect and appreciate out bodies. I like to list 5 things that I can respect my body for when I less-than-love the way it looks in the mirror. This really helps me make peace with it and also treat it with respect. This goes back to those health promoting behaviors we chatted about earlier!
- Use mantras and affirmations. If you hang around the blog often, you know that I am a HUGE fan of positive affirmations and mantras. I describe it like this: We’re in a forrest and so used to traveling a certain path (negative body image). We will continue taking this path because it is clear and easy to follow. Only when we create a new path will we (and our thoughts) do in a different direction. So, repeating more positive statements starts to create that path, and the more we do this, the more our brains will take that path automatically and leave the negative body image path. I have a list of intuitive eating affirmations that you can checkout if you need some ideas on where to start with this! Think your thoughts don’t matter? Self-affirmation has been tied to maintaining positive self-view and self-acceptance.
And a little bonus one for you, be sure to ask for support when you need it! Don’t feel like you have to though through negative body image alone. Talking it out with a supportive community who is going through the same struggles as you can be sooooo beneficial!
I hope these tips were helpful in showing you how to overcome distorted self image! If you’re looking for more body positive inspo you’re in luck because I put together a free 5-day positive body image challenge for you! Each day I will guide you through an exercise to complete in order to help improve body image. I’ll also give you an journal activity each day to further cement those positive vibes. And, it only take about 5 minutes a day! FAB! You can sign up for the 5 day positive body image challenge here!
Leave a comment with which tip you are going to try to help combat negative body image. I love hearing from you guys and even just stating your goal to put one of these tips into action will make you more likely to achieve your goal of overcoming negative body image!
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