A lot of focus has recently been placed on improving our mental well-being, but what’s been missing from this discussion is our relationship with our bodies. If anything we have been allowing disordered eating and a negative body image to be disguised under the banner of ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ eating. I have struggled for several years with issues surrounding food and body image and when I heard about intermittent fasting, I was able to use this ‘life hack’ as a way to disguise skipping a meal. Healthy eating is obviously important for both our physical and mental health and in itself is no problem, but healthy eating has unfortunately become twisted by a society built around body image.
I want to shift the conversation away from positive body image and onto positive body relationships. If we are basing our worth on the shape and size of our body then we are never going to be happy. Our bodies change shape daily and our aim should be on health rather than looks. We should be striving to fuel ourselves with a wide range of nourishing foods and moving our bodies regularly in ways that feel good for us. This healthy lifestyle will look different for every and so too will how the body looks. In a healthy form some people will be smaller, some more muscular, some larger—it doesn’t matter, what matters is a healthy and functioning body.
Think how amazing your body really is
When we determine the worth of our body on how it looks, we miss out on all of the amazing things it does for us on a daily basis. My legs have carried me around this Earth and allowed me to see so many things, my arms have allowed me to hold those I love, my belly has digested food for me, my eyes have allowed me to see the beautiful world, and my mouth allows me to eat and speak. When we focus on the things our body does and provides for us, we start to see it as the miracle that it is.
In the field of positive psychology, research has gradually begun focusing on the importance of the body in terms of mental wellness. Many tactics have come from this research to help improve people’s relationship with their body. Some of these are teaching adolescents about the ‘tricks of the trade’ in media, changing the ideals to include a more diverse perception of beauty, challenging the sexual objectification of the body, and, as mentioned above, focusing on the functionality of the body.
Start changing the way you think and feel
Through these tactics for helping improve positive body relationships and image, psychologists have developed some body-related positive psychological interventions. The aim of these interventions is to unify body and mind, create a healthy relationship to the body and improve mental wellbeing and happiness.
Physical activity is not the same as exercise, it is simply being active and raising your heart rate. You can add more physical activity into your life by cycling to work, taking the stairs, walking with friends for a catch-up—anything that is going to get your heart rate increasing and release those ”feel-good” hormones. Physical activity has long been known to help improve our mental well-being and obviously, our physical health. It is thought to improve positive emotions, self-esteem, body image, cognitive functioning, and purpose in life amongst other things. So try and create a more active lifestyle and you’ll reap many benefits including realising the capabilities of your body!
When it comes to physical activity, it is recommended that we include cardio, strength, flexibility and neuromotor exercises to that ‘routine.’ While walking, running, cycling and swimming may all be good ways of getting cardio and going to the gym allows strength, yoga is a really easy way to incorporate all four of these aspects into one activity. You can use yoga to increase your heart rate, do bodyweight training and obviously neuromotor and flexibility. The other great aspect of yoga is it again allows you to marvel at what your body can do and how by moving it in this way you can gain strength and flexibility. It is also one of the best ways of connecting mind and body. When used as an intervention yoga has benefited people in numerous ways including; an increase in positive moods, more energy, higher satisfaction, more confidence, increased well-being and improved overall quality of life, as well as decreasing stress, depression and anxiety-related symptoms.
You may have heard of gratitude journaling and know the amazing benefits that practicing gratitude can have, but this well-established intervention can we tweaked in order to help us fall in love with our bodies. The basic idea is the same as gratitude journaling in that each day you write three things that you are grateful for, however, in this intervention the three things you are grateful for surround your body. So, for example. yesterday I could write “I am so grateful that my arms allow me to cuddle and play with my dog, I am grateful for my skin that allowed me the pleasure of feeling the warm shower, and I am grateful for my nose which brought me the smell of the beautiful flowers.” The things you are grateful for should surround functionality of the body rather than how it looks. This is a really great way of switching your mindset and being able to marvel at the magic of your body.
Acts of kindness
Again, this is another twist on a classic psychological intervention. It usually involves random acts of kindness to strangers which can be a great way of improving your own well-being, but this body-focused intervention surrounds acts of kindness towards your body. Think of it as intentional and regular self-care day. Once a week for 5 or 6 weeks create a loving and kind environment for your body. This could be things like taking a bubble bath, making a lovely meal that you usually couldn’t be bothered to make, going for a hike in nature, taking a yoga class, dancing to music in the kitchen or wearing an outfit you feel unstoppable in. On the designated acts of kindness day you should try and do at least 5 loving and kind things for yourself—they don’t all have to be huge things, but just be intentional throughout that day about being kind to your body.
Love yourself unconditionally
I know ”love yourself” gets thrown around left right and centre, but it really is the most important task we have. Every day we should be learning to love ourselves more and more. But loving yourself doesn’t always look like bubble baths and cake, self-love also involves discipline and giving your body the nutrients and movement that it needs. Loving yourself means doing the mental and physical work that needs to be done.
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Photo: Joanna Nix on Unsplash; Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash; Karim Dangou on Unsplash