When I was out of shape and heavier than my ideal weight, I assumed that when I got into shape, I’d feel incredible about my body. When I looked at pictures of women with fantastic, fit bodies, I thought they must always feel self-confident and love their body.
Because I never felt safe as a teen—always felt like I was in danger of being attacked—I always wanted to appear badass and strong. Since my teen years, this is how I wanted to look:
After using fitness to fight back against my depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I finally got the body of my dreams. After a few years of work, my body looked just like the bodies I had envied.
I had the body I yearned for. Actually, I pretty much imagined that it would solve all my problems.
But it didn’t.
Even though I looked like this:
It should have at least solved my body-image issues, right? Why wasn’t I thrilled every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror?
I liked the way certain areas looked, and I was happy with my strength and progress, but I always saw the imperfections. I always saw what could be improved.
WHY AREN'T I THRILLED WITH MY BODY?
I hate to tell you, but if you’re expecting to cure your body-image issues when you achieve your ideal body, you’re going to be disappointed.
I have spent my life criticizing my body. Day after day, I wasn’t happy with it. I assumed that when my body changed, my body image would change with it.
The brain gets accustomed to patterns of thinking. With years of practice, I had actually trained my brain to find fault in my body. My brain wasn’t going to produce any new thoughts about my body until I TRAINED IT TO THINK THEM.
Repeated thoughts create neural pathways in our brains like the constant rush of a river cuts through rock. If we want to change the course of the river, we have to divert it. Otherwise, it flows through the same pattern the river itself has carved.
Without knowing it, I carved out neural pathways that assured that every thought I had, regardless of my reality, would follow the same pattern. The pattern of looking for faults. When I fixed one, my brain served up another. It was the only path available.
So I consciously created a new one.
To do that, I had to tell myself everything I wished I felt about my body. It felt unnatural and strange, but I had to repeatedly tell myself that I loved my body. I had to consciously look at myself in the gym, after the shower, while getting dressed, and tell myself everything I wanted to believe about my body, including:
- I have a great body.
- I got my dream body.
- my body is strong and powerful.
- I look like a total badass.
- my body was earned.
And the big one:
- I love my body.
I looked at my body the way I would see it if it belonged to anyone else (that it looks badass and super hot), and then condition my brain to think those more positive thoughts.
These aren't just cheesy affirmations. This isn't new-age fluff. This is neuroscience at work. This is actually altering brain patterns and taking control of thoughts. So get on board!
You may be thinking, "That's great for you, but I don't have a great body. I don't look like a badass. And I don't love my body."
THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT.
You won't love your body until you tell yourself you do. The brain is an organ of habit, and it will habitually think the thoughts it has been conditioned to think. Unless you divert it. And you have the power to do just that.
Trust me. Having the perfect body won't make you love it. If, like me, you have a history of low self-esteem and/or disorder eating, it can be particularly difficult.
I was not happy with my body even though I had my dream body. And it's not just me. There are countless stories of beautiful actresses and models who are utterly unhappy with their bodies and their lives.
Why? Because body-acceptance (and body-love) comes from within. It is not dependent on the appearance of your body.
Just like happiness comes from within and is not dependent on what you have on the outside. It's cliche because it's true.
I know this truth sucks. I know you want to think, "Nope. When I look like that, I'll be happy. I know I will. How could I not?"
The only way to be happy with your body when you get in fantastic shape is to be happy with your body before that. Train your brain to think positive thoughts about your body the way it is now—regardless of how it looks—and you will have the body you love.
Loving your body does not mean that you don't want to improve it, so don't worry that body-acceptance will make you complacent! If you are in pursuit of your dream body, or are just getting healthier, loving your body now will propel you toward your goal.
Studies have shown that improved body-image enhances weight management in women. When you love your body, you want to treat it well. The better you treat your body, the better you will want to treat it.
It is well worth the few minutes a day to consciously look at your body in the mirror and think positive thoughts about it. Tell yourself the things you want to believe.
If you already have positive things to say about your body (e.g., I have feminine curves, I have lovely shoulders, my skin is soft and smooth), then take time to compliment yourself for those things too.
But the more aspirational the affirmation, the better.
Often, the more uncomfortable the affirmation makes you feel, the better. It used to make me feel uncomfortable to say, "I love my body." It just seemed like such a crazy thing to say (and to think!). Simply with repetition, I am not only comfortable saying it, but I actually believe it.
WHAT IF I REALLY HATE THE WAY MY BODY LOOKS?
You can love your body even if you don't love the way it looks. There are so many reasons to love your body, so make a conscious effort to focus attention on those things. Here are some reasons and ways to love your body.
Appreciate it for what it has done for you.
Your body has been through a lot for you. It has taken you through some really tough times. It has protected you from illness, it has healed itself from injury. Maybe it has grown and birthed a beautiful human being.
If you're like me, your body has fought to survive a lot of punishment. It's amazing to me that my body has survived an attempted suicide by overdose of serious-liver-damaging medicine, repeated poisoning through alcohol abuse, hundreds of deep self-inflicted lacerations, seizures, severe bulimia (which includes electrolyte imbalance, esophageal damage, and malnutrition), and more than a decade of very heavy cigarette smoking.
That's a hell of a lot to put up with, but my body has done it. It has worked hard to heal itself, and deserves appreciation for it.
What has your body been through for you? How could you hate something that works so hard for you?
Appreciate it for what it can do.
Your body can do so much. Maybe it can dance. Maybe it can carry the kids and the groceries. It can give comforting hugs. It can help you stand up tall. Experience the beauty—sights, sounds, tastes, smells—of this world. Grow a human being! Regenerate! Heal you from injury and fight viral and bacterial invaders.
Why would you hate something that provides so much for you?
Concentrate on all of the non-physical things you like about yourself.
List every single thing that you like about yourself. You are a whole person, not just a body.
Visualize those people who've met are so wonderful, kind, jovial, loving, funny, and vibrant. Think about how much you love them, regardless of how their body looks. That's because beauty isn't skin deep, and those people prove it.
Move that body! Not only does exercise release mood-boosting and pain-reducing chemicals that make you feel great, but studies show that exercise improves body-image. And it works even before any physical changes occur. Exercising itself will improve your body-image.
When exercising, never judge yourself for what you cannot do. Guard your mind against negative thoughts. Exercise is a tool for you to connect with your body, so there is no room in it for judgement. The body and mind LOVE exercise, so treat yourself to some movement.
DON'T GIVE UP UNTIL YOU LOVE YOUR BODY
You CAN change the negative thoughts you have about your body, regardless of how it looks. You have that power. We all do. It's up to you to use it.
There's no excuse not to.
It's about consciousness, effort, and self-love. And you ARE worth it.