When we’re struggling with body image issues, we can easily feel helpless. We can easily feel like nothing is going to change, and we’ll be shackled to the scale forever. We can easily feel like we’ll be fixated on our bodies forever—and how much we lack, and how many pounds we need to lose, and what we need to alter about our physical appearance in order to finally be deemed worthy.
Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thankfully, there are many ways you can effectively navigate your body image issues—without shifting your shape (or anything else about your looks). Below are seven tips to try.
- Pinpoint your feelings. Years ago, there were so many times that I felt terribly uncomfortable in my skin. I assumed it was because I was embarrassingly bloated and big and hideous. In reality, however, I was uncomfortable because I felt uncomfortable. I was lonely. I was sad. I was bored. I was anxious and unsure. I was angry, and I was burying that anger deeper and deeper—but not deep enough that it escaped my awareness. In short, I didn’t need to change my body. I needed to identify and understand and honor my feelings. Pinpoint your own feelings. You might simply ask yourself: How am I doing? What am I really feeling right now? What’s bothering me? And you might journal for 10 to 20 minutes. It’s also helpful to practice a body scan. My favorite example of this comes from Kate Swoboda’s book The Courage Habit: How to accept your fears, release the past and live your courageous life. She suggests readers set a timer for 5 minutes, and start at your feet, asking them: “Hey, what’s up today? No pressure. Just curious.” Then ask your knees, and keep going up, asking different body parts, until you reach your head.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Every day record three things that you’re grateful your body did for you or let you do, said Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, a registered dietitian in southern Utah specializing in disordered eating, eating disorders and body image concerns. “This shifts the focus from appearance to function and ultimately makes what you have, enough.” She shared these examples: “I am grateful for strong arms that allowed me to carry around my baby.” “I am grateful that my body allowed me to live today and experience x, y or z.” “I am grateful for the ability to see and feel the beautiful weather today.”
- Focus on how clothes feel. When trying on an outfit, turn away from the mirror, and focus on what the outfit feels like on your body, said Haley Goodrich, RD, LDN, a dietitian and nutrition therapist who specializes in intuitive eating, body image healing, and eating disorder recovery. For instance, are you comfortable? Does the fabric feel good against your skin?
- Give deeper compliments. Avoid complimenting others’ weight or appearance. Instead, compliment them on being a great friend, a good listener, easy to talk to and kind, said Kate Dansie, MSW, LCSW-C, a therapist at The Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland, who specializes in eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and self-injury.
- Make a list of everything that makes you you. “It’s essential to separate your worth and value from your appearance,” Fonnesbeck said. “Then, when you do have a negative thought about your body, you won’t feel so compelled to fix it.” She encouraged readers to list all the qualities, hobbies, interests and skills that make up who you are. “Who are you, regardless of what changes do or don’t happen to your body?”
- Refocus on your needs. Regardless of how you feel about your body right now or days from now, refocus on your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Reflect on what those needs are daily, and try to meet those needs, whether you love what you look like or not. The great thing is that you don’t have to wait to love your body or even like it to start treating yourself with respect, or to start responding to your needs. So respond away. Instead of spending time berating your body, spend time thinking about how you’d like to nurture your needs. For instance, how might you create an environment that nourishes you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually? How might you move your body in ways that are fun or calming or empowering? How can you structure your days so you can meet your needs?
- Surround yourself with body positive messages. Here’s the wonderful thing about today: There are allll sorts of powerful voices speaking up against diet and weight-loss messages. Surround yourself with these voices, which remind you that you’re not alone, and you don’t need to diet or be on a meal plan, and you can build a beautiful life at any weight, shape and size. For instance, here are a few of Goodrich’s favorite Instagram accounts: @beauty_redefined; @mynameisjessamyn; and @haes_sizediversity. Dansie stressed the importance of unfollowing anyone who posts body-shaming comments or content. She also shared her favorite accounts: @empoweredeating_; @bodyposipanda; @jennifer_rollin. In addition, these are several of Goodrich’s favorite podcasts: Food Psych Podcast; She’s All Fat; The BodyLoveProject Podcast.
When you feel terrible about your body, it can feel like everything is terrible, too. And you assume that weight loss will save your life, your sanity and your heart.
But there’s another way. Many, many other ways. Like the above tips, and these tips.
And there’s the fact that you can create a wonderful, fulfilling life at any weight. You can nourish yourself at any weight, focusing on what genuinely inspires, uplifts, energizes, soothes and feeds you.
And you are worthy at any weight. This is really hard to believe sometimes. But it doesn’t make it any less true.