Live a well-rounded life
When you spend a ton of time fixating on things you’d like to change about yourself, there’s not much time left to enjoy life. This can lead to poorer emotional health and a diminished quality of life.
Take action: Focusing on living a balanced life can help give your body image a boost and improve your quality of life, says Andrew Walen, a psychotherapist, certified eating disorder specialist, and founder and CEO of The Body Image Therapy with locations in Washington, D.C, and Columbia, Maryland. “I teach my clients to develop what I call the eight keys to a well-rounded life: Physical health, emotional health, spiritual health, their work or academic success, relationships with family, relationships with friends, personal development of artistic or avocational interests, and indulgence in joy and adventure.” Set aside time to work on these areas of life, and you might just reduce the unhealthy focus on body image, Walen says.
Before becoming a health coach, Davis struggled with her body image and relationship with food. Understanding the root causes of her body dissatisfaction was one of many things that turned her onto a healthier path. “In my experience, gaining a deeper understanding of why I was unsatisfied with my body changed everything. Writing can help to shed light on dark thoughts that aren’t serving us. Once you’re aware of these negative thoughts, you can take steps to shift towards a more positive outlook,” she says.
Take action: Davis suggests writing in a journal at least once a day. “Let it all go on the page and determine what immediate action you should take to shift your mindset. Write it down. You always have the power to rewrite your story,” Davis says.
Set performance-oriented goals
When you’re hoping fitness will deliver a desired body type, you’re bound to get frustrated and down on yourself. Losing weight, building muscle, or reaching any physical appearance-based goal for that matter can be tough! Instead of focusing on how fitness makes you look, consider how your workouts can make you feel and what they can help you accomplish. “Setting performance goals that are reasonable and within a person’s physical capabilities provides a sense of accomplishment, which in turn reduces a fixation on body image,” Walen explains.
Take action: If you enjoy running, train for a 5K. If you want to improve your upper body strength, work towards being able to do five pull-ups or 15 push-ups. It doesn’t matter what you strive for, all that matters is you have a performance-based goal, and you’re taking steps to reach it. Your body is far more capable of greatness than you probably realize.
Take a hike
You might already know that spending time in natural environments like parks can help boost your mood. But here’s a lesser known bit of information: It may also help to restrict negative appearance-related thoughts, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Body Image. While the researchers aren’t sure why this is, they hypothesize that time spent in natural environments allows people to distance themselves—both physically and mentally—from situations and communities that are heavily appearance-focused. Spending time in peaceful natural environments may also provide the peace and quiet needed to reflect uninterrupted, see “one’s body as part of a wider ecosystem requiring protection and care,” which can help foster self-kindness.
Take action: Take a nature walk, go cross-country skiing, or check out a national park. Anything you think you might enjoy doing outdoors is worth making time for on a weekly or daily basis.
Identify body parts you love
If you look in the mirror and think things like “I hate my thighs” or “I wish I were ten pounds thinner,” you’re not doing your body any favors. Harsh self-talk is associated with negative psychological and physical health outcomes. Interestingly enough, however, daily body-focused gratitude can have the opposite effect, helping people feel better about their bodies, regardless of their body mass index, or BMI, according to a small 2018 study published in the journal Body Image.
Take action: To reap similar results at home, spend five minutes each day writing down things you like about your body. Maybe you love your legs or are really proud of how strong your arms have become. It doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you’re kind to yourself and consistent with your practice.