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There are very few people who don’t spend a little time worrying about their body image including their body weight and shape.

After all, we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that “slimmer is better”. It’s virtually ingrained in us that a thin, fit body is linked with success and happiness, and that gaining weight is something to be ashamed of.

A pervasive “diet culture” has sprung up, with trim and toned celebs spruiking fad diets to ease the shame of being what’s considered “overweight”.

It’s not just the media that’s spurring on unrealistic expectations about how our bodies “should be”. Off-hand comments about you putting on a few kilos, or constantly hearing complaints like “I look so fat in this dress!” can unconsciously contribute to your body image issues.

What is Body Image?

Look at yourself in the mirror or picture your body in your mind. What do you see? How does it make you feel?

Body image is what you believe about your appearance (accurate or not), as well as how you feel about being in your body.

People with a negative or distorted body image are at risk of developing Eating Disorders, Disordered Eating Behaviours and are more likely to experience Depression, Anxiety, low Self-Esteem and social isolation.

It’s not just overweight people who suffer from a negative body image. Even people within a healthy weight range can develop distorted views about their body size and shape or fixate on a particular body part. In their obsessive quest to “fix” themselves, they may become vulnerable to Dieting or restricting calories or food groups which in turn can lead to Disordered Eating Behaviours such as Stress, Emotional or Binge Eating.

Your Own Internal Image of Thinness Drives Your Unhappiness

For both males and females, Disordered Eating Behaviours appear to come from a desire to be thin (known as the internalisation of thinness) or to have the ideal body. Research by Mancilla-Diaz et al. (2012) found that in regards to social body ideals, there is a strong influence from society, culture, peers and social media. In particular, a female’s internalised ideal body is a major risk factor in the development of Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Behaviours such as Restrict and Binge Eating. The same study found that more so for females that there was a significant peer of friend influence, on their internal body ideal.

Signs Your Focus on Body Image and Weight is Unhealthy

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Maintaining a healthy balance of what you eat and exercise is important to overall physical and psychological well being. When your focus on body image becomes excessive, and you start to find that eating and exercise becomes a struggle, emotionally distressing or perceive that you are a failure, then your mental health can begin to suffer.

Signs of Body Weight and Shape Focus Based on Diet Culture and Behaviours:

1. Feeling extremely self-conscious about your weight, or a perceived bodily flaw, constantly comparing yourself to others and experiencing constant, negative thinking about your body.

2. Prioritising working out over everything else – spending increasing amounts of time exercising, even at the expense of other important engagements and pushing yourself to physical exhaustion.

3. Weighing yourself compulsively (often several times a day) and feeling depressed when you see a result you’re unhappy with.

4. Counting every calorie or weighing every gram, to the point where you’re cutting out a huge range of foods based only on their caloric value.

5. Becoming obsessed over a diet regime and following it religiously. Fad diets that eliminate important nutrients can be highly detrimental to health. In addition, dieting ensures that food, body weight and the need for willpower are always at the forefront of your mind.

6. Avoiding social functions for fear of having to eat in front of other people or succumbing to the temptation of restricted foods.

7. Regularly skipping meals or employing tricks to suppress hunger such as chewing gum or constantly chugging water.

8. A belief that achieving a certain body weight equates to happiness. Believing being thinner will solve all your problems can cause obsessive thought patterns that lead to neglecting the true sources for improving your life habits, career, relationships and happiness.

Are your eating patterns causing a Disordered Eating Behaviour? Read about the complex patterns of Disordered Eating

7 Tips to Improve Body Satisfaction and Acceptance

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While it’s true that focus and consistency play a huge part when it comes to improving your eating habits, if you Stress too much over the negatives, you can fall into obsessive thought patterns. Here’s are some seven (7) tips on how to improve how you think and feel about yourself and your body and avoid the obsessive thinking traps:

Tip #1 – Aim for a Healthy Acceptance

Diet culture and 12-week challenges revolve around unattainable goals for perfection and to get the perfect body shape and weight. This focus will always let you down. Humans possess flaws and blemishes that nothing can fix – and that’s perfectly fine!

Remember, there’s more to a person than their weight, body shape and looks. Beware of your inner critic and counter it by focusing on the positives in life – your strengths and attributes.

Tip #2 – Become Aware of Your Negative Self-Talk and Thoughts

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Pay attention to what your mind is focusing on day-to-day. Are you falling into depressive moods because of negative thoughts about your body? Listen to these thoughts and write them down. Recognising these negative attributions is the first step to positive change.

Tip #3 – Be Mindful of Triggers

If a Youtuber’s healthy living channel is causing you to reflect unhappily on yourself – look away! The same goes with Instagram, TV shows and magazines that can trigger obsessive thinking over dieting, exercising, losing weight and body shape.

Tip #4 – Stop Comparing Your Body

Going around comparing yourself to others is tiring and pointless. Everyone’s body and physiology are totally different. As for bikini-clad Instagram models, remember, loads of them are digitally enhanced and posed to reduce their natural flaws – pretty much nobody looks like that!

Tip #5 – Focus on Who You Are

Rather than focusing on what you hate about your body and yourself, take the time to reflect on what you are good at and why people love you. Remember, your interests and hobbies, as well as the people you enjoy spending time with, represent who you are, not your body weight and shape.

Your Self-worth is connected to your body image, satisfaction and acceptance. Find out how you can improve your Self-worth….. 

Tip #6 – Nourish Your Mind and Body

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A healthy lifestyle equals a healthy body, so make sure what you eat is well-balanced. A good ratio to follow is 80% whole foods and 20% processed foods. If you restrict yourself too much, this could lead to Binge Eating Behaviours. In turn, this will impact your ability to make healthy choices, increasing your Stress levels which often results in cycles of dieting or restriction and Binge Eating and ultimately, weight gain.

Tip #7 – Finding Joy and Happiness

Having an ‘ideal’ body won’t lead to happiness! You need to live your life now and do things which make you happy. Doing things you love can also result in higher Self-esteem, Confidence and Acceptance. The happier you are, the less you will focus on your body weight and shape because you will have more to focus on and live for. Happier people also find it easy to nourish their minds and bodies, live a healthier life and be a healthier weight.

N.B. If your body dissatisfaction is starting to seriously impact your life, seek professional help. If obsessive thinking about body image is affecting your mental health and relationship with food, talk to a Psychologist.

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