Did you know that if we all ate and exercised the exact same way, we would still all look completely different? This is something I’ve had to remind not only my patients but myself when it comes to maintaining positive body image while trying to lose weight. In my 10+ years as a dietitian, I have worked with patients who have decided to pursue a weight loss journey for a variety of reasons. However, regardless of the reason, maintaining a positive body image through the experience is important. One of my most favorite Health at Every Size (HAES) dietitians, Cara Harbstreet, often shares this: “When you think about the way you eat or exercise, ask yourself, ‘Am I doing this because I love my body, or hate my body?”
If we’re eating or exercising a certain way from a place of hate for our body, we’re likely to see our interventions as a negative experience such as depriving ourselves of certain foods, cutting out entire food groups, or eating at a very low calorie level. In regards to exercise, we may see physical activity as punishment and not think to choose a type of exercise or activity that seems pleasurable. On the flip side, when we’re coming from a place of love for our body and overall body positivity, we may choose new dietary habits that focus on all the things we’re interested in adding more of to our diet, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, eating more home-cooked meals with our family, or thoughtfully drinking more water because we’re aware of its benefits to our body. Our physical activity choices from a place of love for our body might include types of movement that seem more fun to us such as playing tennis or going on a power-walk outside with a friend or family member versus finding an activity that makes us feel miserable for the sake of calorie burn.
If you’ve joined the Scale Back weight loss challenge from a place of negative body image, this is a great time to challenge yourself to take steps towards a more positive body image. It may feel like you can only think more positively about yourself once you’ve reached your Scale Back goal, but the reality is, your worth as a person is so much more than a number on a scale.
One of my most favorite ways of maintaining a positive body image is keeping a gratitude journal about my body. For example, you may journal or state out loud that you appreciate your legs today because they’re helping you run after your grandchildren, or you appreciate your strong arms because they’re helping you haul that heavy frozen turkey you’re about to cook for a holiday meal. Another tactic I often suggest for positive body image is to surround yourself with positive people. If you’re constantly in an environment where people are saying disparaging comments about their own body or what they’re eating, it’s likely that the negativity will rub off on you as well. Surrounding yourself with people that remind you of your worth and show you that you’re a significant contribution to their life can help reinforce your appreciation for yourself and foster self-love. Lastly, I recommend challenging yourself to be a critical viewer of social and media images. I often use the quote “comparison is the thief of joy” when it comes to looking at others on social media. Reminding ourselves that everyone is posting their “highlight reel” can help keep things in perspective with remembering that our journey to health is unique to everyone else’s journey because we are all different people.