Love Thyself: Learning to Have a Healthy Body-Image

Maybe it was for health reasons or maybe, you just wanted to feel better about your appearance. No matter what your motivation was for losing weight, you’ve done all the work, lost the weight and yet, still don’t feel great about your appearance. You are not alone. Many individuals, both men and women, feel a real disconnect between what the scale says and how they think they look after weight loss. If you’re grappling with this issue, the first thing you need to know is that you deserve to feel good about your appearance. These additional steps can also help.

Getting Your Brain In Sync With Your Body

Body image may be determined more by what we think we see than by what is actually reflected back at us in the mirror. This may be especially true for people who have lost weight, says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., the author of “The Woman in the Mirror,” and founding director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. “ Our brain does a lot of work helping us navigate around the world. It helps us estimate where we will fit. It is a complicated neurological process! When we change our body size, our brain often lags behind in readjusting our size image,” she explains.

Helen L. Coons, Ph.D., ABPP, president and clinical director of the Women’s Mental Health Associates, agrees. “People react differently to weight loss. Some individuals are delighted to wear smaller clothes, feel more ease in their movement experience themselves in a different light. Others experience weight loss as a struggle with a new identity. There is a dis-alignment between the old and new view. What helps is becoming more accepting - supportive of themselves and having a healthier lifestyle,” she adds.

Getting your brain to recognize your new body isn’t as hard as you may think. These exercises may help.

Have Realistic Expectations 

“Many individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight, especially women, expect to look like a Vogue Magazine cover model afterwards,” says Coons, who recommends working toward a realistic view of what a beautiful body can be. You don’t have to be model thin to be gorgeous.

Beware the Mirror 

“For many people, looking at body parts they are unhappy with is a strong relapse risk for unhealthy behaviors,” says Bulik, who recommends avoiding that obsession. “When you start getting down on yourself for what you see, which is a distorted image anyhow, it can demotivate you and you can lose your enthusiasm for eating healthfully and being physically active. The mirror is just about the worst measure of self-worth out there,” she adds.

Give Yourself a Smile 

Of course, mirrors will have to be part of your daily life. Bulik recommends walking up to the mirror with a smile on your face. “It is actually quite hard,” she explains. “Many people use the mirror as a flaw detector. They walk up to the mirror frowning and then scan head-to-toe for what is wrong. Instead of doing that, look at something you like – your hair, eyes, or smile, and compliment yourself on who you are as a person, not on your appearance,” she suggests.

Embrace Yourself 

Finding ways to connect with your body in a positive way, such as having a massage, maintaining physical fitness through exercise or finding a new challenge can help sync up your view of yourself with your new body, says Coons. “Find a new challenge which you can now do that you couldn’t when you were overweight, such as running or cycling,” she recommends. “These may now be easier on the joints than they were before. If you act like a physically fit, athletic person, you may start to view yourself that way. You can see yourself differently by embracing the world and embracing motion,” she adds.

Make Positive Changes 

While you were overweight, you may have had trouble taking care of yourself in many ways. This is the time to tend to your appearance by having a teeth cleaning, wearing nice clothes and getting a haircut. “These aren’t just band aids,” says Coons. “Strategies like these help people look in the mirror and like who they see,” she adds.

Create a Positivity Network 

Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. Coons recommends reaching out to people you trust who are completely accepting of your weight loss, and asking them for positive reinforcement for your appearance, when you don’t like what you see. “A loving partner can also help,” she adds.

Enjoy Your Body 

“Find some sort of movement you love and do it often. Whether it is yoga, dancing, hula hooping, swaying to music, swimming, or t’ai chi, give your body the movement it craves in a safe, respectful atmosphere. Do something nice for your body in gratitude for all it has done for you,” says Bulik.

Enjoy Life 

It may be hard at first, but practice letting go of negative self-talk and negative self-obsession. “Quit looking at your belly. Look up and look out,” says Coons. “Who are you with? What are you contributing? These are much more important happiness factors than the size of your thighs.”