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5 steps to a more positive body image

Posted November 2

Hating our bodies and dieting to change them is not working. It’s not working on a physical level, and it’s definitely not working to improve our mental well-being. (Deseret Photo)

The National Eating Disorders Association defines body image as “how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses what you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions and generalizations), how you feel about your body (including your height, shape and weight) and how you sense and control your body as you move.”

So body image is about how you feel in your body not just about your body.

As many as 3 in 4 American women and a growing number of men are engaging in disordered eating behaviors. The way people eat is a result of how they feel about their bodies. Many restrict their food or go on a fad diet as an effort to change their body or lose weight. Many experience the dangerous dieting cycle of restriction, giving up, feeling guilty, bingeing, gaining weight and recommitting. Dieting is actually associated with an increased likelihood of weight gain, eating disorders and a disordered relationship with food. So, hating our bodies and dieting to change them is not working. It’s not working on a physical level, and it’s definitely not working to improve our mental well-being.

What if people could create a space where they love their bodies and work with them instead of fighting against them? What if the motivation in a person's choices about food and eating came from a deep sense of self-love and not self-hate?

Here are five steps to get you started on cultivating a more positive body image.

1. Make a list of your favorite things about yourself that are not weight or body-related. Keep this list in an accessible place and reference it often. Add more things to the list as you think of them.

2. Surround yourself with people who are positive about their own bodies. Don’t be afraid to set social boundaries about what types of conversation topics are appropriate and uplifting for you. Also, surround yourself with people on social media who are positive about their bodies and people who have diverse bodies: bodies of color, larger bodies and really any bodies that aren’t the everyday magazine cover kind because those aren’t even real — they’re airbrushed.

3. Treat yourself more like you’d treat your younger self or your child. Bashing, shaming, hating has never worked to motivate any child in the long run so why would you expect that to work on yourself?

4. Find ways to move your body that feel good and energize you. Focus on what your body does for you to enhance your life. Yoga, walking, hiking and dancing are potential ways to move your body that will energize you and help to foster a sense of self-love.

5. Having a positive body image is a practice, so don’t expect yourself to get it right the first try. Think about it like learning any new skill — it takes time, effort and tenacity. But, working on creating a body positive approach to life will likely lead toward better mental and physical health. So jump on board and start being more positive and kind to your body.

Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.

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