Body Image & Acceptance
The first thing I’d like to say is that I feel hypocritical writing a blog on body image… In my life experience, my professional experience, and my human experience, I know very few women who love their bodies, no matter their weight, shape or size, including myself. I have days where I’m very proud of my body, days where I truly appreciate my body and what it does for me on a daily basis, and I even days where I can love and embrace my curves and body size. But saying I love my body would be a stretch.
In my years working at an eating disorder clinic, this was a topic that repeatedly came up: “how do we help someone love their body?“ From a clinical perspective, there isn’t one strategy or therapeutic modality that has proven to be effective in improving body image. This is a very individual journey. That being said, there are strategies we can implement and actions we can take to help us with body acceptance and to learn to truly appreciate the bodies we are in.
Appreciation – Practice naming all the beautiful and amazing things your body does for you on a daily basis. Research shows that the more we focus on these qualities, the more we actively appreciate them, bringing them to the forefront of our minds. The same is true of the negative self talk we have, where we criticize and disparage our bodies. The more we do it, the more present it is. Fuel your mind with the positive by vocalizing or journaling your individual gratitude.
Acceptance – Self-acceptance is a lifelong journey. While we can certainly set goals and work towards healing and growth, it’s very important for our mental health and self worth to accept what is outside of our power and control. Just as we cannot control our height, there are many things about our bodies and appearance that are outside of our control. Practicing self acceptance through gratitude and positive affirmations (I am kind, I am beautiful, I am strong, my body does so much for me, I love that my body can...etc.) promotes positive body image. Another important factor is surrounding ourselves with others who embrace their bodies and practice self-acceptance over self- deprecation. These strategies all contribute to a healthier mindset on embracing ourselves, just as we are.
- Realistic, healthy, & attainable (medically supported) goals –Seeking balance with the way you fuel your body, exercise your body, and treat your body is a vital part of this process. A great first step might be working with a registered dietitian who can help you find a healthy balance of meeting your nutritional needs and while also incorporating, “trigger foods” (this could mean foods that you label as, “bad,“ foods that trigger unhealthy behaviors, or foods that you try to avoid or binge on). Learning to honor your cravings and not associate that with guilt or, “being bad,” helps reduce the stigma around these foods, as well as having a healthy mindset towards balanced eating. The more we stray away from diet culture and unhealthy beliefs around food, the more we can embrace our body’s needs & cravings without feeling guilty, therefore leading to healthier self-worth and body image.
Always remember, we are works in progress. There is no destination-only growth. Every day is a step on this journey, and it’s often two steps forward and one step back. If you are really struggling with body image or an eating disorder, know that you are not alone and there are many resources to get help. I recommend starting with a therapist and registered dietitian who specialize in this area. You are worthy.
Maggie Wilhelm is a Licensed Professional Counselor, specializing in working with women across the lifespan dealing with low self-esteem, relationship challenges, major life transitions, or trauma. Maggie’s work with clients is rooted in CBT, which she uses to help clients make sustainable life changes and better understand the connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Maggie is also certified in Trauma-Focused CBT and brings knowledge of other evidence-based modalities, including Interpersonal Therapy and DBT, to her sessions with clients as well.
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