When you’re bombarded with images of perfectly airbrushed bodies every day, it’s easy to feel like you’re not healthy or attractive. A study published in the journal Body Image found that only about a quarter of men and women were very to extremely satisfied with their appearances. The problem with this negative thinking is that it can diminish both your mental and physical health: As that study found, there was a correlation between satisfaction in your appearance and satisfaction in your life as a whole. This means that maintaining healthy body positivity is one important way to feel good in your mind, body and soul.
It’s important to note that being body positive doesn’t mean promoting unhealthy habits; rather it’s about being kind to your body and nourishing it with healthy food and activity. That’s why the Lifestyle Management Institute in Danvers, Massachusetts focuses on educating patients about the best ways to love and take care of their bodies to promote healthy body positivity.
1. Stop Assuming Things
“You may look at someone who’s overweight and think, ‘They’re really unhealthy,’ when you don’t know their blood pressure or cholesterol numbers,” said Joan Hagerty, RN, a registered nurse at the Lifestyle Management Institute. “You can’t determine someone’s health status by just looking at them.”
Conversely, that slim person in the waiting room could have blood pressure readings that put her dangerously at risk. The rock-hard quarterback on the other side might be prediabetic due to poor food choices. Being skinny doesn’t necessarily make you healthy, and having some fat on your body doesn’t necessarily make you unhealthy. Keep in mind that your body is not a fashion statement.
2. Consider the Circumstances
If you struggle with your weight, don’t get discouraged. Many people have extenuating circumstances and conditions that prevent them from looking like a swimsuit model.
“There can be a medical reason for weight gain, and the side effects of some medications can also add unwanted pounds,” said Hagerty. These include antidepressant and antipsychotic medications, and some drugs for diabetes and epilepsy, to name a few. Don’t beat yourself up for having different circumstances.
3. Don’t Live by the Numbers
Yes, your blood pressure and cholesterol are important, but those numbers on the scale don’t need to dictate your life. By being on an appropriate exercise program and eating plan, you’re doing something for yourself and you will see benefits. Even if the needle on the scale isn’t shifting as quickly as you might want it to, focus on how working out regularly and eating well can boost your energy and improve your mood.
4. Be Patient with Yourself
If you have not been exercising, you will get to your target heart rate quicker and that can be encouraging, Hagerty explained. Unfortunately, this means the more exercise you do and the fitter you get, the longer it will take for you to reach that target rate.
“Also, the fitter you are, the quicker your pulse comes back to normal,” she said. For this reason, knowing your target heart rate can ensure you get the most out of your workout without doing too much. Put another way, it can help you “be right in the middle,” which is a good place to be when you’re on a journey to being healthier.
It likely it took you a while to get to where you are today, and it will take you a while to get to where you want to be. So be patient with yourself and remember that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as you would take your daily medications make sure you get your daily dose of exercise.
5. Know What Fit Actually Means
“Fit is someone who puts in the effort to exercise, whether it’s going for the gold on a rowing machine or committing to brisk walks every day,” said Hagerty. It’s about carving out and devoting the time to exercise so that it’s always a priority.
“Some people come to our program and they’re killing it in here, but they don’t see the results they think they should because the numbers on the scale aren’t showing significant changes,” she said. “We tell them, muscle really does weigh more than fat. You have gained some muscle, so that number may not change, but you are getting fit and working toward a healthier lifestyle.”
6. Work on Loving Yourself
You can’t improve your own well-being when you’re obsessing about everybody else. The important thing to remember is no two people are the same, Hagerty said.
“We know everyone is on a different page, so to speak, and you can’t judge what you should be doing by looking at the person next to you,” she said. “Everybody’s on a different journey. Who you are just might be who you are. Your actions define your success, not that number on the scale.”
7. Focus on Health Above All Else
If you’re putting in the time and energy to get healthier, above and beyond that, you really can’t ask too much more of yourself, can you?
“Poor or negative body image and low self-esteem can be connected, but at Lahey Health, we’ve found that most of our program participants, whether male or female, develop a stronger sense of self toward the end and as they continue on maintenance,” Hagerty said. “We don’t focus on pounds but on long-term success of healthy eating and healthy living. Work out because you love your body.”
When you’re feeling down on yourself, it can be hard to look in the mirror and think positive thoughts. That’s why being body positive takes a real effort — you have to put in the work of being healthy, and that work becomes a testament to how much you love your body. If you struggle with your body image, reach out to the Weight Management Program at Lahey Outpatient Center, Danvers to see how you can get started on the path to body positivity.