Ever looked in the mirror and wished you could change something, anything, everything about the reflection looking back at you? Maybe you wish you were more toned or slimmer or taller or curvier or had bigger boobs or a smaller bum. Not being 100% satisfied with your body has to be a pretty universal mindset but I like to believe that it’s well within our grasp to develop and maintain a healthy body image.
Over the years I’ve realised a few things about having a positive body image. When I was about sixteen, I saw a picture of myself and was shocked to realise that I was looking a bit chubby. Not overweight exactly but not slim either. I decided then and there that I needed to make a few changes to reach a point where I was happy with my body again.
Over the next year, I dropped two dress sizes and lost about two stone. I didn’t go on a restrictive diet or cut out everything indulgent, I simply made some manageable changes to my diet and kept going with it until I was at the size I wanted to be.
So here are a few things that year taught me about developing and maintaining a healthy body image.
Accepting your body the way it is
1) Get to know your body
I think the very first step you have to take on your path to developing a healthy body image is to understand your body. You need to know what your natural state is: your weight, your metabolism, your reaction to certain foods (such as getting a stomach ache if you eat too much gluten).
I’ve found that developing a good understanding of my body makes me more tolerant of the phases it goes through. I know that if I eat too much bread I’m going to get bloated and so I don’t have to panic every time that I’ve put on weight.
2) Wear clothes that make you feel great
If you want to feel confident and happy in yourself, I find that it really helps to wear clothes that make you feel great. Choose things that fit you properly, are flattering for your figure and comfortable to wear. Squeezing into a pair of skinny jeans two sizes too small isn’t going to give you a lot of body confidence. Nor is wearing a crop top if you’re conscious of your stomach. You don’t have to abide by the latest fashions, only your own body and personal preferences.
3) Don’t strive for the impossible
Maintaining a healthy body image means not trying to strive for the impossible. Take me for example. I’ve got quite an athletic build and that means broad shoulders and strong legs. I’m never going to be super skinny with a delicate ballerina-like build so I know never to compare myself to people with that build. So by all means, eat more healthily and do more exercise, but don’t expect to be able to alter your basic body shape.
Developing a healthy diet
4) Look at what you eat in a day
When I saw that photo of myself that shocked me into wanting to lose some weight and become healthier, the first thing I did was analyse what I was putting into my body on a typical day. I took note of the snacks and the size of my portions and how many sweet things I was consuming. I was able to notice which parts of my diet I could do without, which things I could cut down, and which things were okay to stay. I’d taken a great first step on my journey to developing a healthy body image.
5) Find a healthy diet that works for you
Having a positive relationship with your body means finding a diet that works for you. There are always going to be new trends and fads when it comes to diets but I’ve found that the trick is to pick whatever works best for you.
For a while, I maintained a healthy weight by watching my portion sizes (I have a tendency to be a bit greedy!) but then I tried a vegan diet and found that it worked really well for me because it meant that I could eat as much as I wanted without having to worry about putting on weight. So I think it’s about finding a diet that suits your preferences while always making sure that being healthy is your main priority.
6) Don’t go on a diet
Choosing a healthy diet isn’t the same as going on a “diet”. To me, going on a diet means restricting what you eat and counting calories and not eating until you’re full. I don’t think any of those are good habits to get into when it comes to developing a healthy body image.
Growing up, my parents always warned me against going on a diet. The problem, they’d say, is that diets just aren’t sustainable. Maybe you lose some weight on your no fat, no sugar, no carbohydrates diet but if you can’t sustain those restrictions you’re just going to end up putting all the weight back on which is going to make it a whole lot more difficult to have a positive relationship with your body.
7) Get moving
A great way to develop a healthy body image is to make sure you’re doing enough exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym everyday. My favourite ways to exercise are walking, doing yoga and doing some stretches in the evening. I find that yoga in particular helps make me feel centred, connected, and generally great in my body.
8) Avoid grazing throughout the day
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of snacking throughout the day…a biscuit here, a sugary drink there, some fruit, a few pieces of chocolate. Not only is grazing bad for your teeth, but the chances are that if you’re been filling up on snacks throughout the day, you won’t be as hungry for a healthy dinner in the evening. I’ve found that it’s better to stick to your main meals and have only a few extra healthy snacks in the day.
9) Eat until you’re full
To develop a healthy relationship with your body, you have to look after it. That means not restricting yourself. The trick is to make sure that you’re always eating until you’re full and satisfied. That way, you’re not as likely to reach for the sugary snacks because you skipped lunch and are starving hungry. Instead, you’ll be filling up on the good stuff and your body will thank you for it.
10) Everything in moderation…even moderation
I love this saying. I think that a big part of having a healthy diet is making sure that you’re having things in moderation. Things like sugar and fat and salt. But I also think that a balanced diet is about being able to treat yourself as well.
I have a great system where I only buy chocolate for myself every two weeks. Because I’m not having it all the time I can really enjoy the times I do have it and enjoy a big bar of chocolate with no lingering feelings of guilt. The aim is, after all, to develop a positive relationship with your body. This means that you have to really treat it from time to time.
Developing a healthy mindset
11) Love your imperfections
I doubt that there is anyone out there who is completely and utterly satisfied with their body and far more people who are painfully aware of their imperfections. Wouldn’t it be great if we learned to love them? If we realised that having scars and wobbly bits and hair that grows in places you’d rather it wouldn’t are normal.
It’s definitely not easy loving your imperfections but if you tackle one thing at a time it’s achievable. I learnt to love my broad shoulders and my hairy arms and I’m still working on loving my not completely toned stomach. I think that developing a healthy body image is about realising that you’re not perfect and that’s okay.
12) Decide what your priorities are
I think at some point you have to decide how important it is for you to have your body a certain way. If you’re desperate to be slim and toned but you’re a big foodie, you have to decide whether you’ll willing to have a super healthy diet and workout lots.
I’ve always struggled with this one. I’d love to be super toned but I’m not a big fan of intensive exercise. So I’ve made the decision that for now anyway, I’m not going to chase after a perfectly taught body and instead enjoy food and relaxing a bit more (while still aiming to remain slim).
13) Be patient
If you really struggle to develop a healthy relationship with your body, I think the best thing is to be patient. Make small changes to your diet, to your attitude, to what you wear and don’t expect to suddenly wake up one day feeling 100% confident in your own skin. It takes time and it’s a lifelong process of learning to love your body the way it is.
14) Don’t be afraid of change
Another big thing about maintaining a healthy body image, is recognising that your body is constantly changing. The chances are that you’ll go through times in your life when you’re slimmer, and times in your life when you’re a bit bigger. They’ll be times when you’re confident and times when you’re not. Times when you’re young and toned and times when you’re older and wrinklier. I think it’s about embracing the changes and doing your best to love yourself throughout.
15) Count your blessings
At the end of the day, I’d argue that the most important thing to bear in mind, is what you have to be thank your body for. Be grateful that you have a body that works as it should do, that supports you and lets you move and experience life. Not everyone is so lucky and if you are, make sure that you remind yourself of what you have to be thankful for next time you’re fussing over a few rolls or wrinkles.
– Tiger Lily –