October 26, 2020

5 scientific ways to boost your body image

If you feel bad about your body, the obvious solution is to ‘fix’ it. Lose fat. Gain muscle. Transform. Transform. Transform. However, changing one’s body doesn’t necessarily improve negative body image. While losing a few centimetres may temporarily make you feel better, the unaddressed, complex factors that contribute to body image, such as beliefs, cognitions and emotions, are likely to fuel recurring body dissatisfaction. Your negative focus may simply shift from, say, your thighs to your arms or another body goal. What to do instead? Change the way you relate to, think and feel about your body by consistently practising some of these science-based tactics. Over time, you may come to feel more comfortable in your skin.  

1.Turn inwards. Research shows that paying greater attention to internal bodily sensations, such as hunger and fullness, may increase our appreciation of our bodies by causing us to recognise and appreciate the body’s amazing functionality and needs rather than lamenting its perceived superficial shortcomings.  

2. Exercise. Not to melt the fat off your thighs or firm up, but for the other benefits of moving. Research shows that people with poor body image who embark on a regular exercise regimen experience improved feelings about their bodies, regardless of whether their bodies visibly change. For motivation, consider goals related to how you want to feel, rather than how you want to look -- think increasing strength/flexibility/cardiovascular fitness.  

3.Edit your socials. While fitness and healthy eating accounts can serve as inspiration, certain types of ‘fitspo’ and recipes based on restrictive diet practices may in fact fuel comparisons that undermine body image. Edit your social media accounts and replace images that make you feel bad about your body with more realistic ones. You may even choose to abandon body-focused accounts and instead follow accounts with healthy food ideas, inspiring travel images, great DIY ideas or cute animals that make you feel good.  

4. Change the conversation. Take a cue from psychologists and challenge unhelpful beliefs and thoughts about your body (these thoughts and beliefs can lead to negative feelings). For instance, if you believe you are more worthy at a certain weight (and less worthy otherwise), test it against reality. Is it really true? Do you believe that about others? Replace it with something more compassionate. 

5.Write to yourself. Spending just 15 minutes writing and reviewing letters to oneself can significantly increase body satisfaction, research shows. Try writing a letter of self-compassion or a letter of compassion directed at your body from the perspective of an unconditionally loving friend who sees your perceived flaws yet still responds with kindness and acceptance. Alternatively, write a letter to your body showing gratitude for everything it does to help you get through every day.  

If body image dissatisfaction is causing you distress or undermining your ability to enjoy activities, consider consulting a psychologist, who can help you to untangle the factors that maintain unhelpful thoughts and beliefs and realise greater freedom.  

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