How to improve body image

Summer Kessel, RDN, LDN, CSO

Trigger Warnings: Weight Loss, Weight Gain, Body Image, Body Size, Disordered Eating, Dieting, Exercise

Primary resource for the following text: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

If you or someone you know is in need of Eating Disorder support or information, please visit The National Eating Disorders Association website, review the screening tool, and access the toll-free National Eating Disorders Helpline (myneda.org/helpline-chat), and/or the 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741)

What is “Body Image”?

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It includes: 

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations)
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight
  • How you sense and control your body as you move
  • How you physically experience or feel in your body

Key Terms

Positive body image is a clear, true perception of your shape; seeing the various parts of your body as they really are. Body positivity involves feeling comfortable and confident in your body, accepting your natural body shape and size, and recognizing that physical appearance says very little about one’s character and value as a person.

A negative body image, on the other hand, involves a distorted perception for one’s shape, and may involve feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness. People who experience high levels of body dissatisfaction feel their bodies are flawed in comparison to others and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, and low self-esteem. 

Intentions

The goal of this article is to promote body acceptance and cultivate a positive relationship with your body exactly as it currently is. Even if you’re on a journey of working towards weight loss or self improvement, we can learn to better appreciate our bodies in their current states. It is important that we continue to embrace body diversity by recognizing all bodies are good bodies. While we all have our days when we feel uncomfortable in our bodies, the key to developing positive body image is to learn to overpower those negative thoughts and feelings with positive, affirming, and accepting ones. 

Practice Positive Thought Patterns

Although a top 10 list cannot immediately help you turn negative body thoughts into positive ones, it can introduce you to healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body. The more you practice these new thought patterns, the better you will feel about who you are and your body.

Ten Tips for Developing a Positive Body Image

1. Appreciate all that your body can do. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.

2. Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.

3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.

4. Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you.

5. Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you are.

6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. Build yourself up with positive affirmations that work for you.

7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good about your body. Instead of holding onto a pair of too-small jeans from years ago, replace it with a new pair that you feel good in. Work with your body, not against it. (Tip: There are clothing swaps online where you can trade your items with others—someone in need might appreciate your old pair of jeans.)

8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Unfollow pages that make you feel worse about yourself.

9. Do something nice for yourself — something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Get a massage or a pedicure. Practice self care. 

10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about dieting, calories, or weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

When thinking about food

Mindful eating and healthy physical activity are part of a balanced lifestyle. Assess your eating and exercise habits; strive for balance and moderation over extreme measures. Aim for balanced eating of a variety of foods in moderation. Don’t treat food as a reward or punishment; such behaviors set food up as a potential weapon for control. Avoid the idea that a particular diet or body size will lead to happiness and fulfillment. Practice how to eat in response to body hunger. 

When thinking about your body

Don’t constantly criticize your own shape (e.g., “I’m so fat—I’ve got to lose weight.”). This type of self-criticism implies that appearance is more important than character, and that there is always room to ‘improve’ one’s appearance.  Develop a value system based on internal values. Aim to equate your own personal worth with care and concern for others, wisdom, loyalty, fairness, self-care and self-respect, personal fulfillment, curiosity, self-awareness, the capacity for relationships, connectedness and intimacy, individuality, confidence, assertiveness, a sense of humor, ambition, motivation, etc.

Every body is different

It is important to remember that every body is different. We all have different genetic and cultural traits. Even if everyone started eating the same things and did the same amount of exercise for a whole year, we would not all look the same at the end of the year. This is because each person’s genetic inheritance influences their bone structure, body size, shape, and weight differently. Avoid comparing your body with your friends’ bodies or the people you see in advertisements or on your favorite TV shows. If you compare yourself to others, try to remember that we are all naturally different, which means we all have special qualities.

A note on “Ideal Body Weight”

Your “ideal” body weight is the weight that allows you to feel strong and energetic and lets you lead a healthy, fulfilling life. For example, when your body is healthy and at its ideal body weight, you are not too tired and you have the energy to interact with friends and family, participate in sports, and concentrate on school or work. While being overweight can be associated with adverse medical conditions, your body weight can be healthy across a wide range of weights. BMI, charts, formulas, and tables may be misleading and should be used under the guidance of a qualified expert.

Recommendations

It’s always a good time to work on improving your body image — in fact, for many people it’s a continuous process that doesn’t really have an end point. Practice our ten tips— the more frequent the better. Self-affirmation is a powerful tool. So remember: 

  • Treat your body with respect.
  • Give it enough rest.
  • Fuel it with a variety of foods.
  • Exercise moderately.
  • Resist the pressure to judge yourself and others based on weight, shape, or size.
  • Respect yourself and other people based on the qualities of their character and accomplishments, rather than just because of their appearance.

If you have more questions or feel like you would benefit from more support, please ask your Care Team to send you information about booking a 1:1 session with one of our Registered Dietitians at Sequence.

Summer Kessel, RDN, LDN, CSO

About the Author

Summer Kessel, RD, LDN, CSO is a registered dietitian nutritionist and mom of two who comes to Sequence as a member and 8+ years of experience in clinical and bariatric nutrition in Tampa, Florida. She is a champion for individualized, sustainable, realistic and evidence based nutrition and fitness interventions that improve quality of life. In addition to her professional skills, Summer has lost and maintained more than 100lbs —of course, not without challenges— over the past 12 years, sharing her personal journey along the way to encourage and support others.

Scroll to see all categories

Join the Community

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Popular Articles