Kelly Neilson, MDA RD LD
5 Tips to Combat the Effects of Negative Body Image
Do you feel the overwhelming effects of negative body image in your life? You sit down and hate the way your thighs look on the chair, or you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the window and bam, you’re beaten down by it.
Body image can be the hardest piece to tackle when healing from any form of chronic dieting or disordered eating. Often, it's the first symptom to appear and the last to go.
You may think it will always be this way, but if body dissatisfaction came into your life, it can also leave your life. You have a choice to free yourself from the effects of negative body image pulling you down. You can thrive and your body doesn’t have to hold you back!
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Body image is how your mind interprets what you see in the mirror or when you imagine what you look like. It includes your feelings, awareness, and beliefs about your bodily appearance.
What thoughts pop up when you look in the mirror? In a perfect world everyone would have a positive body image, where you feel comfortable and accepting of the way you were naturally made. You would clearly see yourself for who you are and understand that your value isn’t dependent on your body.
Due to today’s societal pressures, body image often becomes negative and distorted, especially with women. The most well-known contributor to an eating disorder is a poor view of one’s body.
A distorted body image is when the picture you have of yourself in your mind differs from your real-life body. The effects of negative body image include feelings of shame and anxiety. You become self-conscious about your body and fall into a trap of comparing yourself to others, believing your body is flawed.
Even if you think this is an impossible area to overcome, keep going! These 5 tips will help you combat the effects of negative body image right now simply by taking action in a few ways!
1. Toss the Scale for Good
The majority of women can say that the scale has never been a source of joy in their life. Honestly, it’s not supposed to be. It’s an inanimate object that many need to let go of.
Your experiences with the scale are real, no doubt about that. We’ve been conditioned to measure our worth by that number, so the meltdowns, false sense of security, and suffering are not a surprise.
When the number is higher, do you end up having a bad day? When the number is lower, do you feel a spark of confidence? If the number is lower, then you end up with anxiety making sure it doesn’t go back up. Either way, with the scale, you can’t win.
That’s exactly why tossing the scale needs to happen, despite how difficult it may be. The scale messes with your mind and disrupts your ability to listen to your body because the number is driving your decisions.
Take the scale and toss it in the dumpster. You will feel SO empowered when you do this! Bonus points if you smash the scale (maybe with a baseball bat? be careful, safety first). Ya know, just a healthy way to get any anger out you may have towards it. Check out this neat
2. Wear Clothes that Fit
Clean out your closet to get rid of clothes that no longer fit. Keeping sizes that are too small only makes you feel worse about yourself. Yes, even if you shove them in the back of the closet, you’ll still think of them.
If you’re hoping that someday you’ll get back down to that size, hate to break it to you, but you probably won’t be that size ever again without disordered behaviors. Think of how you got to that size in the first place.
To be clear, even if you weren’t recovering from disordered behaviors that resulted in your body size changing, weight gain and body changes are still normal. Your body will change and adapt to your environment and circumstances throughout different stages of your life.
It’s unrealistic to expect your body shape, size, and distribution to forever stay the same. Your 25 year old body will not look like your high school body, just like your 35 year old body will not look like your 25 year old body. AND THAT’S OK!
If you don’t want to throw your clothes away, donate them, or sell them! You’ll feel fresher and better able to accept and respect your body. Wear clothes that fit and are comfortable, say adiós to everything else!
If your clothes don’t fit, your body is not wrong. Your clothes are wrong.
Take a close friend shopping with you and try clothes on without looking at the numbers on the tags, and focus on what FEELS best. It can be a lot of pressure financially to buy clothes, so check out thrift stores like Goodwill or hand-me-downs from relatives and friends.
Clothes that don’t fit make you focus on your body MORE. Clothes that do fit allow you to take your mind off of your body so you can focus on your LIFE!
3. Less Time in Front of the Mirror
Practice reducing the amount of time you stand in front of your mirror. Set a timer if you need to; it’s easy to get lost picking yourself apart.
If you have a full length stand alone mirror, cover it up or put it under the bed. You can tell if an outfit matches from a half mirror in the bathroom just fine. For extra motivation, write inspiring and uplifting quotes to yourself on your bathroom mirror. A little sticky note goes a long way!
The mirror plays tricks on you, enhancing your worries about others judging your body. You can’t control other people’s thoughts, but you CAN decide not to be dictated by the fear of what others may (or most likely may not) be thinking!
The less time you spend looking at your body, the more you’ll realize that your body is the least interesting thing about you - in a good way!
You have so much more to offer the world than your body. Focus instead on developing the qualities that make you WHO you are. You might be funny, smart, brave, kind, talented, a good friend, loyal, quirky, or fun-loving. Who you are is what matters most.
4. Follow Bodies of all Sizes on Social Media
Hours can be wasted scrolling through social media, comparing yourself to every perfected photo and thinking that everyone exists in a thin body. Is following fitspo accounts really helping you? No. When one size is all you see, you develop a narrow view of beauty.
In order to stop hating your body and ACCEPT it, fill your Instagram feed with people who LOOK LIKE YOU! Begin to diversify your social media and see that there are so many beautiful people out there of all shapes and sizes. Your idea of “perfect” will start to shift.
Practice “people watching” when you’re out and you’ll truly see and notice ALL the different sizes, shapes, and bodies doing all sorts of activities. It’s a perfect example that you don’t need to shrink or change your body in order to do the activities you love or to feel like you fit in.
Once you can be more accepting of all body sizes around you, you’ll have more acceptance and compassion for your body. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that we were made differently on purpose, you’ll be on your way to peace with your own body.
5. Come to a Place of Neutrality
In recovery, many get overwhelmed at the idea of “loving” their body. Thinking you have to LOVE your body can feel daunting and too challenging. How could you “love” something that has been a source of pain, something you hated, and possibly still do?
That’s why allowing yourself to take steps toward having a neutral view of your body is key. No one changes overnight, and getting to a place where you’re at least walking away from full on hating your body can have a huge impact.
Body neutrality means you don’t have to think about your body too much. You can exist in your body and still be worthy as a person. A neutral perspective can allow you to break away from all the mental effort used. You don’t need to hate your body OR love your body; your body can just be.
Be in your here-and-now body regardless of if or when it changes. Give it unconditional body respect, treating it kindly and meeting its needs. Our bodies inevitably change on their own throughout different stages in life. It’s normal for your body to never be like it was before, because guess what?! YOU’RE not who you were before!
Truly accepting your body, gives room for you to separate your soul and who you are from your body. You don’t even think about your body because it’s not relevant anymore. All you need to do is treat it with respect.
Just so you know - you are so much MORE than a body.
You can do all of these steps today or you can take them one at a time. The point is you have to start taking action to create change. As a virtual anti-diet dietitian l work with many women combatting the effects of negative body image. I’m always here if you need me!