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Towards a Positive Body Image – Part One

girl-with-positive-body-imageMany women, and increasingly more men, have difficulty in cultivating a positive body image over time. Making adjustments and adaptations to our expectations of how we should look often comes at a high price. We often are too hard on ourselves. Very few of us look like our 16 year-old selves for the rest of our lives. Being realistic about how we look and what we can do about looking our best at any age means cultivating a positive body image. A positive body image is not just about how we look – it’s also about our attitude to our health and well-being.

A positive body image comes from understanding the role good food, adequate sleep and exercise play in your life.

Consider the following points:

Now it’s time to consider your eating habits – your diet – your everyday diet behaviour and eating patterns.

Learning to be more mindful about your diet pays off in the long run. Try the following exercise to begin being more mindful about your diet.


Exercise: Diet awareness

Directions: Think back over the past two weeks. Be as honest with yourself as possible. Answer the following questions:

If you have difficulty answering any of these questions, or you don’t like the answer you’ve given, analyse why that might be the case.

Perhaps it’s time to not only reflect, but act on making a change.

We’ve all heard the maxim, ‘You are what you eat’ and it’s true! Eating the right things is important in order to be and keep healthy. Hippocrates once said: ‘Thy food shall be thy cure.’

Rules Vary!
You might be thinking that life isn’t fair. There are rules for some and not for others! We all know people who just don’t seem to put on weight. And yes, you’re right – life isn’t fair!

The fact of the matter is that genes can’t be changed. This means that some people will always be heavier in the legs, than others, wider in the hips, broader in the chest and rounder in the face. Body build can be divided into 3 basic types. However, few of us are purely one or another and often appearances can be deceptive.

But, an ectomorph or thin person can still put on fat and look slim and weigh less while having a high proportion of fat to muscle. On the other hand, a mesomorph body build type can also be quite hefty.

Stop Press!
Research has confirmed something we’ve always known. People can be divided into two groups: ‘easy weight gainers’ and ‘hard weight gainers’. So it’s true! Some people put on weight far more quickly than others.

It is also true that we often eat much more than we imagine we do.

Do the following exercise to become more mindful about your eating habits.


Exercise: Eating Awareness

Directions: To become more aware of what you eat and when, keep an eating awareness diary for one week. Write down everything you eat over the period of that week. You may be tempted to cheat – but try not to! Only by being honest with yourself, will you see the situation clearly.

Have a look at your diary at the end of the week.

If you want to make changes, think through what they should be and above all – be realistic!

Remember – when it comes to achieving the ideal weight for health – and maintaining it – some of us are going to have a harder task than others.

Research supports the old theory that you should always leave the table when you are no more than 80% full.

Being overweight can be dangerous to your health. Generally speaking, it lowers your life expectancy and increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, gallstones and gout. Further problems can arise for the joints of knees, hips and lower back, causing osteoarthritis and aggravating the condition where it already exists.

Some people complain, ‘But I hardly eat a thing and I can’t lose weight‘ and ‘I haven’t changed my intake and I seem to gain weight easily‘. The fact of the matter is, if your weight is increasing, your intake is too much for your metabolism at this stage. Some people may have to cut their intake to less than half to maintain their previous weight.

Desiree, a 43 year old mother of four and small businesswoman quipped at one of my workshops: ‘I swear that the day I turned forty I started to pile on the weight. Now it seems that I have to eat half as much and exercise twice as much as I did in my thirties – and that’s just to maintain my weight – never mind losing any!

By our midlife years, our bodies become less efficient at burning up calories. And it is a fact that women tend to burn up calories less efficiently than men. A little excess weight, say five to ten pounds, is not considered harmful. But for those people who are seriously overweight, the need to shed excess pounds is more pressing.

Your ideal weight depends on whether you have a small, medium or large frame. A general guide is more acceptable than some which seem inflexible and arbitrary. For instance, the ‘average’ circumference of a woman’s wrist is eight inches and of the ankle, nine and a half inches. Measured across the front of the stomach between the two bony hip joints you can feel with your fingers, the pelvis is, on average, nine inches. This is a flexible guide and if you are above or below these measurements, then your build tends towards one end or other of the ‘average’ frame size.

If you believe you need to lose weight then beware of ‘fad’ diets or diets which make unrealistic claims. The mindful individual avoids:

Sadly, the long-term effect of many such diets is to replace all the pounds you lost and sometimes add some more! These diets may be positively dangerous to your health.

It is far better to establish sensible eating patterns. Remember, it’s far better to lose two or three pounds steadily every week than to achieve a drastic weight loss, only to replace the lost pounds some weeks or months later. Once you’ve reached your goal weight – keep to the same eating pattern to maintain your ‘right’ weight.


It’s Your Choice: Changing Your Eating Habits

What you eat contributes greatly to your body’s appearance. Too much of the wrong foods can leave you overweight, feeling lethargic and may result in skin and hair problems. The first step to losing weight is to change your eating habits. And as you’ve seen, that doesn’t mean starving yourself on lettuce leaves and celery stalks. Remember, that one of the major hazards of dieting is that when your food intake is reduced, so is the amount of nutrients you take into your body. But – good eating habits can be satisfying, low in fat and high in health and energy benefits.

If you are serious about choosing a healthy diet – and creating a new, energised you – you’ll need to do some careful planning. You deserve the attention. Become more balanced in your dietary approach and lots of stamina and vitality – and a healthy radiance will be your reward!

Remember, the aim of eating healthily is to stay healthy. Don’t have unrealistic expectations for weight loss and adopt a more balanced approach to both your diet and your life.


Becoming More Balanced

Sometimes people are unrealistic about how much weight – and they really mean fat – they can lose in a short period. It takes several days of a reduced intake of food/drink calories – and some exercise as well – to lose even one pound of fat.

Beware! Your scales can only tell if your efforts are paying off over a period of weeks. Daily weights are fickle. Your daily weight can vary by as much as two pounds from one day to the next depending on how much fluid you retain, how much you sweat and whether you have been drinking a lot of coffee or alcohol, which are diuretics.

Remember also: Not all weight is created equal. When fat is lost and muscle gained, there may be little change in weight. Muscle weighs more than fat. However, fatness has been reduced as can be evidenced by a smaller size of clothing fitting your re-proportioned body. Use a tape measure to prove your results.

Always be practical in your quest to lose weight. Weigh yourself weekly at the same time of the day and with approximately the same amount of clothing and write it down. If you weigh yourself more often than this, don’t expect the scales to reward you. They will not reflect your eating behaviour – and your good exercise plan!

Give yourself time to lose weight – because you didn’t gain weight overnight, don’t be in a rush to lose it. Forget the diets that promise: ‘Lose 10 pounds in 10 days’. The net result of a crash diet is muscle loss, dehydration, weakness and depression. And the return of all those same pounds in the weeks that follow.

Staying motivated is one of the biggest problems people report. You need willpower and motivation. Everybody will have unique challenges in finding ways to increase their willpower and motivation.

Here are some motivational tips:

Develop the art of helpful and supportive self-talk. We all talk to ourselves and the more positive and supportive messages we tell ourselves the more they will come true. Don’t be negative – don’t tell yourself you’re weak-willed, greedy and you’re a failure. Build your enthusiasm by using some of the following examples of helpful self-talk – and then develop some of your own!

‘I know myself – I doubt myself, but I know that if I stay with this long enough it’ll really pay off.’

‘I’ve done well in setting limits on my cocktails – I’ve curbed my alcohol intake well, even though I ate a little too much yesterday.’

‘I’ll let myself have that little piece of cheesecake later if I’m still feeling desperate – I’ve been good all week.’

Surround yourself with tokens and experiences that help remind you, support you and make you feel good. Cut out magazine pictures of your favourite vacation resort and put them up on your refrigerator door. Listen to motivational tapes. Place book titles and sayings from books that make you feel enthusiastic on a noticeboard. Pin up pictures of friends and people who inspire you and give you confidence as examples.

Find a good reason to lose weight. It’s human nature to need a reason for doing things. Think of something that’s important for you – plan a vacation by the water so you can plan to wear that lovely new swimsuit. Decide to go out more which will make you want to look better.

Increase your accountability. See a dietitian, go to a group, perhaps a friend can help you monitor your progress each week.

Motivation means moving. Being stuck in one place is the opposite. Become unstuck. Get moving!

There’s another good reason to get moving. Dieting alone results in a loss of both fatty tissue and muscle. Exercise, on the other hand, results in the loss of mainly fatty tissue. Your body is reshaped by the firming and toning of your muscles that exercise gives you.

Become more mindful about your body – and cultivate that positive body image – by becoming more mindful about your everyday diet and movement habits.

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