Food for Thought: Healthy Body Image
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Now that summer is upon us, we are dressing for warmer weather and outdoor activities and showing a little more skin at the lake, beach or pool. Wearing more revealing clothing and swimsuits may increase our anxiety about how we feel about our bodies. TV, media and fashion industries continue to promote body images that may be unhealthy and unrealistic for the average person. In the age of social media, platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook elevate these images as ideal. Recently, movements such as Healthy at Every Size, The BodyLove Project and The Body Positive have encouraged people to make peace with their bodies and learn to love and accept them.
On the other hand, American obesity levels are at an all-time high with four out of 10 Americans having a body mass index (BMI) more than 30. Research also tells us body image problems typically stem from the adolescent years, when peer pressure is at its highest. Difficulties with body image are not just reserved for women. Many men also possess poor body images for some of the same reasons as women, with the added pressure to have a muscular athletic body.
So how do we balance achieving a healthy body weight and combat the unrealistic body images of the media, all while making peace with the bodies we live in?
1. Start with your family tree.
Our genetics play a significant role in our body type as well as where fat is stored in our body. For example, if your father and grandfather have a short and stocky stature, it is likely you will have that stature as well. Having a realistic view of the body types present within your family can help you have a more realistic expectation of what your body could look like.
2. Don’t believe everything you see.
Consistently remind yourself that most fashion magazines use a significant amount of photo-editing to modify and enhance appearance to look flawless. Many tricks exist to enhance, change or alter appearance in the media. The images portrayed in magazines are unrealistic for even the models themselves in real life. Comparing ourselves to this unattainable standard can lead to increased feelings of body dissatisfaction.
3. Beauty is more than skin deep.
Focus on your positive qualities. Maybe you’re a great parent, a good listener, skilled at some craft or hobby, you have a good sense of humor or are always kind and compassionate to those around you. These qualities are the essence of true beauty. Actively practice positive self-talk about these traits. Surround yourself with people who love you and affirm these things about you, and daily affirm them to yourself as well.
4. Aim for good health instead of appearance.
Nourish yourself with a healthy diet rich in:
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and legumes
- Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds
- Low-fat dairy and lean sources of protein such as fish
Healthy eating not only helps you feel better but improves sleep quality and supports weight management. Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionists can assist you in developing a tailored eating plan just for you.
It is important to remember that one’s body mass index does not necessarily determine a person’s physical fitness. Regular exercise will improve your strength and sense of well-being. If you feel uncomfortable going to a gym or exercising around others, there are many exercise programs available online that can be done in the privacy of your own home. Again, the overall goal is good health—not weight loss.
5. Enjoy your life and have fun!
If you have been putting off certain activities because of how you feel about your body, take the initiative to do something a little out of your comfort zone. If you like to dance, go out dancing with a group of trusted and supportive friends. If you want to go swimming, start off at a friend’s pool to build your comfort level. Set small, attainable goals to build your confidence.
6. Avoid comparison.
It can be so easy to compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to unrealistic beauty standards and body images. Only compare yourself with yourself, knowing what you are realistically able to achieve. Strive for the healthiest version of you.
If you feel a negative body image is a serious problem for you or you struggle with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or orthorexia, seek professional help immediately from your physician, counselor or specialized psychologist.
Remember, your body is only a small aspect of what makes you, you!
To schedule a one-on-one nutrition consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.
Article provided by Ginny Ives, RDN, LD, CDCES, LPC, Director of Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.