Cultivating a Positive Body Image

Written by Aven Moran

Looking into the mirror and seeing someone looking back who does not elicit a feeling of happiness and acceptance can be a frustrating experience.

Especially if we’ve made attempts to improve on our physical form — such as losing weight and increasing physical activity — finding a way to provide ourselves with self compassion and loving kindness in these moments might seem like a fantasy. We may have lost some pounds but cannot yet see the weight loss in our reflected image.

When we are feeling upset and disappointed, the last thing we may feel compelled to do is say kind and loving things to and about ourselves. However, practicing methods of self-regulation during these times will positively affect our overall health and well being.

Identify Feelings

First, begin by noticing and naming negative feelings and placing them (metaphorically) somewhere outside of the physical body, such as in a journal. By perceiving these thoughts and feelings as contained in a cycle that is unstable and impermanent, we are provided with the opportunity to move forward. If we were instead to view these thoughts and feelings as a permanent fixture in our identity, we will spiral into a void of negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk can lead to a physiological stress reaction that causes our brain to increase levels of the hormone cortisol. This can push us to act in ways that will counter this by increasing one of the many pleasure-inducing hormones, such as dopamine. This can manifest in several ways, such as craving sweet, salty and fatty foods, which can lead to the impulse to overindulge. This results in even more negative self-talk that erodes our self-esteem, and the negative cycle continues.

Create Realistic Expectations

Thinking that we can fit into a size 0 when our body type and bone structure is that of a size 8 sets unrealistic expectations for ourselves. It helps to identify our individual body structures and recognize that other men/women — and/or the image we see in the media — is not us. We have our own unique bodies, minds and abilities. That image we see in the media is not realistic for us: that image is realistic for that person in the image. We get to set our own goals. We get to create our own self-image.

Think Happy Thoughts

Through the practice of identifying negative thoughts and shifting them to be temporary instead of a part of our identity, we provide ourselves with the flexibility that is necessary to learn and grow. For example, we can shift our thoughts from, “I’ll only be happy when I no longer have this extra weight,” to “My happiness does not completely rely on whether or not I have extra weight.” Try telling yourself: “I would like to work on changing my weight because I’m not satisfied with the way I currently look, and I cannot do some activities I would like to do.”

Learn to Evolve

Presenting ourselves with the opportunity to learn and grow takes courage and a bit of humility. But wanting to change does not mean that we are not a whole and complete person — it means that we are evolving. Evolution is disruptive and the ego does not like this; it will fight to keep its dominance. Noticing when the ego rears its head takes practice. With patience and consistency, even the ego can learn to adapt and evolve.

Put Self-Compassion into Action

View yourself as a whole person, inside and out, not just parts of a body. Try these actions:

  • Make a list of the top 5-10 qualities you like best about yourself that are not about how you look or how much you weigh.
  • Wear clothes that make you feel good and are comfortable for the body you currently have.
  • Write down what makes you unique, what you love about your body and what your body does for you every day.
  • Remind yourself that just because someone else looks a certain way on the outside, they still have struggles.
  • Remind yourself that being skinny doesn’t make someone good or better than others.

Finally, find a quiet time and space to close your eyes and say out loud: “My body deserves love. I feed my body nourishing food and exercise because my body deserves to be taken care of. I will continue on my journey. I am evolving. I choose healing over punishment. I am unique and I am strong.”

About the author

Aven Moran

Aven Moran is an Integrative Behaviorist at AVEN WELLNESS, LLC.  She has a MA in Counseling with a focus in Health Psychology, Mindfulness and Motivational Interviewing and is a NBC-HWC Candidate. When she’s not helping her clients reach their goals, Aven is managing her household of boys and dogs and enjoying an active lifestyle.

Health JournalSubscribe to our Thursday “Healthy Reads!”