Research says so: Researchers in Portugal compared a control group of women trying to lose weight with diet and exercise advice only, with a group who also received an intervention focused on body image.
The scientists took various psychological and physical measurements for a baseline, and again a year later. What they found was that women who had received the intervention had better body image after a year, and had lost more weight.
Body image was measured a few ways: self-perception (what you think you look like compared to an ideal), and dysfunctional investment (worrying about your appearance too much). Dysfunctional investment breaks down again into body shape concerns (my thighs are enormous) and social physique anxiety (I’m the fattest girl here).
And in the end, dysfunctional investment appears to be the real enemy here. It seems the less we fret over our (perceived or real) fat, the more likely we are to lose it.
It’s a pity that for many of us, thinking and saying rotten things about our own bodies is a habit so ingrained, we’re hardly aware we do it. If you take a look at the Body Shape Questionnaire the researchers used to calculate body shape concerns, chances are good you will find something in there you’ve thought or felt. Maybe a few things. Maybe too many.
I provide the link for introspection, not any sort of diagnosis—only to say that if you hear yourself in a lot of these statements, here is empirical evidence that you’re getting in your own damn way, weight-wise. Stop it.
Easier said than done, of course. But here, from the research paper, are strategies used in the intervention to improve research participants’ body image:
- Asking participants to view and gradually explore their body and its parts, in front of a mirror, in the privacy of their home
- establishing more realistic goals and expectations for themselves and their weight/body, by confronting their ideal physique with the real limits in their biological capacities to meet their goals (e.g., observe their own and their parents weight history)
- providing dance and relaxation classes
- helping participants understand the concept of body image (i.e., a subjective construct, independent of physical appearance) and recognize the social and personal roots of their own body image development
- asking participants to keep a self-monitoring diary to record critical body image experiences in which they feel self-conscious, their beliefs in the situation (e.g., thoughts, self-statements, negative “body talk”), and the associated emotional and behavioral consequences
- helping participants cope with stereotypes and prejudice, facilitating the abandonment of the idea that they must look different to be happier
- and working on cognitive restructuring to help participants challenge their maladaptive assumptions about appearance and its salience to their life and self-worth, by promoting the evaluation of evidence for and against their beliefs and the construction of alternative thoughts
I’m not saying any of all that is easy. But it’s worth thinking about and experimenting with if you struggle to maintain a healthy weight.
Or, my friend Jean Fain has written a book called The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-By-Step Program to Losing Weight with Loving Kindness. It’s also not a bad place to start.
On a related topic...I had a Dairy Queen Mini Blizzard the other day, and I say brava Dairy Queen. It’s a perfect size and I didn’t feel queasy and sticky when I was done (as I do after a full-size Blizzard). Go ye forth and eat Mini Blizzards (in moderation) and help prove in the real world that we will buy smaller servings when given a chance, as research shows we would.