Positive body image is attainable, but takes work and vigilance. About 95% of all women and 45% of all men have negative thoughts about their body at some point in time. Media, with its idealized vision of men and women, has distorted our collective viewpoint and has many of us striving for an ideal that is only attainable by about 5% of the population. No matter what we eat, or how much we exercise, the size 0 eludes most of us. And when we get frustrated with attempts to reach that idealized size, we can end up giving up and eating destructively. Not being thin enough translates into not being good enough, and becomes a perfect excuse for not achieving.
Compounding this is how we judge ourselves and others for being “fat.” The negative self-messaging is particularly destructive; the more we experience something, the more deeply embedded the neural pathways become. Think of neural pathways as superhighways of nerve cells that transmit messages. The more you use one particular neural pathway, the more dominant it becomes. Messaging around negative body image becomes paramount. After years of negative messaging, it takes work to change.
We do not have to be victims to these internalized negative voices. We can rewire our neural pathways to create positive tracks, but it takes diligence and vigilance. We have to first recognize the negative voicing and then replace it with a more positive voice. Research shows that in a relationship it takes five positives to counteract one negative. Considering our negative thoughts happen in our internalized relationship with our self, the five to one ratio applies.
So how do we best apply neuroscience to our daily experience? Listen for your negative voice. Whenever you have a negative automatic thought, notice it and challenge it. The next step is critical: replace that thought with a positive one- or five! The following tips may help you turn it around.
Keep a top ten list of the things you like about yourself, having nothing to do with weight, body, or appearance. Read it at least once a day, and add to it as you can.
Make a list of the positive attributes of your body and of the positive things your body can do.
Keep a gratitude list. Read it regularly and add to it.
Volunteer to help others; research shows the more we give, the happier we feel.
Wear clothes that are comfortable and look good on you, working with your body rather than against it.
Keep perspective: instead of thinking of weight and body size as THE BIG THING, realize it is only a small part of who you are. Look at the other parts of your self and your interactions with those around you.
Look in the mirror every day and say that you are beautiful. Research shows that saying the words will imprint them in your psyche, even if you do not initially believe them.
Self-care on a regular basis. Whether it is a bath, meditation, a walk, or a drink with a friend, find an outlet that works for you and indulge.
Surround yourself with people who will support your positive efforts. Be aware of people trying to sabotage you, or feeding into your negative voice. Gently call them out.
Remember, beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body.
Unfortunately, for some of us, negative body image evolves into body dysmorphia and/ or eating disorders, both of which are serious mental health issues. Body dysmorphia occurs in approximately 2% of the population; approximately 80% of those with this illness have had suicidal ideation and about 24% of people struggling with it have attempted suicide. Eating disorders are a serious public health issue, with more than 20 million women and 10 million men having struggled with it at some point in their lives; without treatment, up to 20% of people with a serious eating disorder die.
If you think that you or a loved one is struggling with this, seek professional help. You are not alone. Treatment can be effective- there is hope.
Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Medium.