You guys know that I’m all about taking small steps to create significant changes in our lives. And the great thing about building a positive body image is that you can do it in small parts. Even tiny parts.
Here are nine small ways you can build a healthier body image in the new year.
- Avoid the “save it for a better day” mentality. In other words, buy or wear that beautiful dress right now (not after you lose weight, have the perfect occasion or drop a size or whatever). Burn that deliciously smelling candle when you feel like it. Savor a glass of that fancy wine or a cup of tea or coffee with a loved one tonight — or with yourself. Speaking of which, plan a 3-course meal for one. Put on the pricey perfume, apply an extra layer of lotion before bed. It isn’t wasteful to take good care of ourselves.
- Try a new way to move your body. Focus on enjoyment (rather than numbers of calories burned, for instance). What just sounds like a fun physical activity? What have you been wanting to try? Hula-hooping? Salsa dancing? A barre DVD? A yoga class? A ski lesson? Karate?
- Press pause when negative thoughts arise. You need to lose weight. Bad. You look terrible. Who do you think you are to take time out for yourself? When these kinds of negative thoughts arise, say “Stop.” Take several sllooowwww, deep breaths. Acknowledge the negative chatter, and then think of your thoughts as passing clouds in the sky. Think of them as a habit you can change, one thought at a time. Remember that your thoughts don’t control your actions. So you can practice compassionate self-care, anyway, regardless of the negative thoughts swirling in your mind.
- Notice the sensations in your body. Simply notice, without judgement (with judgment would sound like: I’m soo sick of my stupid aching back. My stomach is disgusting). With curiosity and openness. Notice what feels tense. Notice what feels light or relaxed. UCLA has several excellent meditations, including a 3-minute body scan. Which you could make into a daily habit.
- Compliment yourself every day. I love my outfit. I worked really hard on that presentation. I love how my hair looks. It’s been a stressful week, and I’m doing the best I can. Some days it’ll feel like you have zero nice things to say, but even something as seemingly minor as I went to work and I cooked a good meal count — and can go a long way. Acknowledge that you’ve done a great job. Acknowledge that you’re trying. Practice praising yourself. Especially if you have kids, it’s important for them to see what self-kindness looks like.
- Identify one need, and provide it. As you get up in the morning or throughout your day, ask yourself: What do I need? For instance, you might need some quiet time, or a longer workout. You might need to journal or talk to a friend. You might need a bowl of hot soup or a hug from your spouse. Whatever your need, respond to it. Sometimes, you won’t be able to give yourself exactly what you need. But you can always modify. The key is to acknowledge your needs (i.e., I hear you. I’m listening), and find a way to realize them — even if it’s not an exact match.
- Clean out negative clutter. It’s hard to build a positive body image when you’re surrounded by items that contradict your intentions. Recycle women’s magazines (most, if not all, have the same tired body shaming articles about losing weight and watching what you eat). Get rid of the diet books and cookbooks. Get rid of your scale. Donate clothes that don’t make you feel good. Then fill your home with positive and inspiring messages and objects. You can even create your own body positive prints.
- Schedule at least an hour a week to do what you want. Depending on how full your schedule is, carving out an hour might seem easy or impossible. Every Sunday, look at your planner, and block out one hour the following week to do whatever the heck you want. If blocking out an hour for one day is too much, separate it into shorter intervals. But write it in. With pen. Think of this time as non-negotiable as a business meeting or doctor’s appointment for your kids.
- Get curious about what you’re eating. Truly TASTE your food. In other words, focus on its temperature, texture and aroma. Take your time with each bite. Focus on the experience of eating. Is your food sweet, spicy or salty? Are you enjoying what you eat? Taste your food as if you’re eating it for the first time. Consider how your food makes you feel. Does it irritate your stomach? (For instance, I don’t eat kiwi, because it turns my stomach. For hours.) Do you feel energized? Satisfied? This isn’t about “watching” what you eat. It’s about enjoying the experience of eating, seeing what nourishes us and what doesn’t and actually eating foods we like. It’s about listening to our bodies and respecting them.