It’s no secret that a lot of us have confusing and often damaging thoughts and feelings when it comes to how we view our bodies. Women are especially vulnerable to this, as a result of the constant barrage of images telling women what they “should” look like, with the subtext being that those who don’t conform to this are somehow lesser human beings.
In order to embrace our best bodies, we need to understand what that really means. “Best body” doesn’t necessarily mean the body we get when we count calories, exercise obsessively, and force our bodies to look like those we see on TV and in magazine ads. Rather, your “best body” is your healthiest body — and that will look different for different people.
We don’t all look like models when we’re living healthfully — and that’s perfectly okay! What’s important is that we care for our bodies, appreciate them and give them what they need, regardless of whether they meet some arbitrary standard. Here are a few tips to help you do that.
1. Stop comparing
It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others who may have a body type we think we want for ourselves, and to believe that we’re supposed to look the way that they do. With the omnipresence of social media, it’s easier than ever to measure ourselves against the photos we see on Facebook and Instagram.
But when it comes to body type, one size definitely does not fit all! You don’t know whether that person you see online is living a healthy lifestyle. And even if they are, it doesn’t mean that you have to look the way that they look. We all have unique bodies, and that’s actually a pretty great thing.
2. Focus on health
There is a misconception that being healthy means having a particular body type. That if you take care of your health, you’ll have a “yoga body,” or a six pack or large muscles. But the reality is, this may or may not be the case. And this kind of thinking leads to a great deal of body shaming. The thinking goes that, if a healthy lifestyle leads to a “good” body, then it’s your own fault if you don’t look like a fitness model. This kind of shaming is often internalized, leading us to believe that there’s something wrong with us because we don’t have a particular kind of body.
Let that shaming go. It’s based on false beliefs that have no relevance to your life. Each individual’s body is different, and for many of us, maintaining a healthy lifestyle may not lead to the body type we’re told we should aspire to have. But instead of judging your body for not conforming to a meaningless standard, appreciate all that your body does for you. Nurture it and focus on giving it the exercise and nutrition it needs to thrive — not on hitting a certain number on the scale.
3. Remember, it’s about happiness
So why is it that we want our bodies to look a particular way? For most of us, it comes down to happiness. We want to lose weight or look a certain way because we believe that this will make us happier. But that’s not necessarily the case. If you achieve the “perfect” body you’ve hoped for but you’re constantly worried about gaining weight — or you still feel you’re only a valuable person if you maintain that weight — then you’re not really happy.
The key to greater happiness isn’t losing a given number of pounds. It’s learning to love and accept yourself unconditionally, and to recognize that you are a valuable person, regardless of your weight.
4. Don’t be afraid to experiment
Just as our bodies are all unique in the way that they look, they’re also unique in the way that they react to particular diets. There is a never-ending supply of information about which diet is “best” — and we’ve all seen the claims that a particular diet will lead to the perfect body, light speed weight loss and optimal health.
In reality, our bodies have different and unique needs. While your co-worker may feel fantastic on a particular diet, it may not be right for you. And what’s more, each individual’s needs will change over time. The way you ate 10 years ago may not feel best for you now. So don’t get down on yourself if the diet that seems to work great for others just doesn’t feel right for you. Try different things, and don’t be afraid to adjust your course over time.
5. Stop judging yourself
Often, we prevent ourselves from achieving health because we judge ourselves, and this gets in the way of positive progress. If you’re trying to get in shape but you have a difficult time maintaining a workout routine, you might tell yourself that you just don’t have the willpower to follow through. You’ll get down on yourself and conclude that it’s pointless even to try. But most of the time, it’s not willpower at all! Maybe you haven’t found a type of exercise you truly enjoy. Maybe working out at a different time of day would make it easier for you. Maybe finding a workout buddy would be beneficial.
There are all kinds of reasons that may make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle — it’s not your shortcomings holding you back! So cut yourself some slack and ask yourself what you really need and desire in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
6. Remember: it’s a process
In many cases, we maintain unhealthy lifestyle habits because we use them as coping mechanisms. For example, many people binge eat because they turn to food as comfort, when something else in their lives is causing them distress. If this is the case for you, demanding of yourself that you immediately stop binge eating could actually be counterproductive.
Try to get to the bottom of what the deeper, underlying issue may be, and address that first, while gradually tapering off with the binging. You don’t have to adopt a perfectly healthy lifestyle overnight — and in fact, doing so would probably just cause you to boomerang back in the other direction. To achieve your “best” body and maintain it over the long-term, be gentle with yourself and recognize that it is a process.
7. Focus on what you really want
As mentioned earlier, most of us try to achieve a particular weight or body type because we believe it will make us happy. But so often, that’s not actually the case. Instead, ask yourself what you really want from your life. What will really bring you joy? Is it switching jobs? Is it learning to live more authentically? Is it finding a fulfilling creative outlet? Is it repairing a relationship? For many of us, these types of issues are what lie at the heart of body image and health challenges. Failing to nurture, love, and care for our bodies is often a symptom of deeper issues that are going on in our lives. If we can begin to address the underlying challenges, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will often become much easier.
For many of us, these types of issues are what lie at the heart of body image and health challenges. Failing to nurture, love and care for our bodies is often a symptom of deeper issues that are going on in our lives. If we can begin to address the underlying challenges, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will often become much easier.
— Sarah Cooke