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Body Image & Self-esteem


QUESTION:

I was an overweight child, and because of that, I tend to have a poor body image.  Even though I am losing weight now, I can't help but be critical of my still overweight body.  I feel ugly most of the time.  Any tips on how to beat this?

ANSWER:

Harboring a poor body image can do more than just hinder your weight loss efforts.  It can make you downright miserable.

Poor body image is very common.  Although society as a whole can be very judgmental and critical of large individuals, they are oftentimes their own worst enemies.  They believe that they will only feel good about themselves once the they have lost the weight.  Unfortunately, this is putting the cart before the horse.

Your journey to becoming a healthier person will benefit greatly if it is preceded by self-love and self-respect.  It is very difficult to take the necessary steps of self-care (ex: good nutrition and body movement) if you do not believe that you are worth the effort.


STEP 1
Start by recognizing that the only opinion that matters is YOUR opinion!  Self-respect originates from the self -- not from others.


STEP 2
Break the vicious cycle of dieting.  In order to do this, you need to first recognize the cycle, which typically follows this pattern:
  1. You have feelings of inadequacy and discontentment with your body.
  2. You start a crash diet in an attempt to lose weight.
  3. You are not able to maintain the unrealistic requirements of your crash diet.
  4. You regain the weight that you lost (and oftentimes surpass your original body weight).
  5. Your feelings of inadequacy and discontentment with your body are worse than when you started.
Sound familiar?

There is one simple secret to avoiding this trap: DO NOT CRASH DIET.  Crash diets are not sustainable and they do nothing to teach you healthy habits.  Instead, try to convert your existing lifestyle into a healthy one.  MyFoodDiary.com is a great tool to help you do this.  Start your free trial today.


STEP 3

Chronic dieters who have experienced repeated failure commonly bash themselves with negative self-talk.  Re-wiring those negative self-talk tapes is the first step in learning self-love.

A good place to start is with positive affirmations, which are statements that affirm positive characteristics about you.  This can provide a gateway to achieving self-love.  We don't fully understand HOW positive affirmations work, but we know that they DO.

Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day and repeat the saying out loud to yourself -- preferably while looking in the mirror.  Affirmations should use words and phrases such as respect, cherish, care for, love, dignity, beautiful, treasure, worth it, whole, complete, esteem, confidence, empowerment, health, acceptance, and responsibility.  Create your own uplifting affirmations that have meaning for you.  An example may read something like this:

"I am beautiful, complete and whole.  I respect and cherish my body and its amazing and miraculous functions.  I love and care for myself at all times."

Repeat them throughout the day, especially when you recognize a negative self-talk tape being replayed in your mind.  Affirmations gently remind you what your focus should be on and help alleviate destructive thoughts.


STEP 4

Starting journaling your thoughts and feelings.  This is another powerful tool for identifying negative self-talk, and subsequently challenging it.  You do not need to write about anything specific -- just write at least 3 paragraphs a day.  Sooner or later, ideas and feelings will start to surface and you can confront them in writing.  Always end your journal entry with a positive affirmation.


STEP 5

Be patient and gentle with yourself.  Take special time out for yourself on a daily basis.  Whether it is a hot soak in the tub or 15 minutes with a good book, allow yourself that decompression time.  Remind yourself that you are more than what is on the outside and that people come in different shapes and sizes.  Refuse to succumb to the shallow criteria often put forth by society.  Explore your interests and talents and focus your energies on experiencing life through those channels.  Instead of concentrating on how you look, direct your energy and thoughts to how you FEEL when you eat well and move your body.  Always view your dietary intake and exercise as ways in which you are caring for and nurturing your body -- not as a way to simply lose weight.


FINALLY

If you continue to struggle, consider finding a counselor or a therapist to help you work through some of these issues.  Oftentimes, having an objective party to help you challenge your self-defeating beliefs can be very helpful.  Know that each of us has a purpose and a reason for being here and rarely does it have anything to do with how we look.


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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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