We live in a society where it is almost normal for us to exhibit some negative feelings, attitudes, perceptions, or behaviours towards our body. In fact, body image problems are so common nowadays that as many as 50% of young people report feeling concerned with how they look or what they weigh.
But why is this Important?
Well, there are a couple of reasons.
First, body image problems are associated with a range of negative mental health outcomes, including lower self-esteem, social isolation, symptoms of depression and anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and substance use and abuse.
Second, body image problems are the most potent risk factors for the development of an eating disorder – a class of conditions that have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
For these reasons, it is very important to address any body image problems before they spiral out of control.
Dealing with Negative Body Image
Changing how you think about, perceive, or behave towards your body is not easy; it takes a lot of work, and people need to be motivated in order to break out of the negative body image cycle.
Fortunately, we have a solid list of evidence-based exercises you could implement to help you address any negative feelings towards your body.
1. Dig Deep & Reflect on Where it all Started
The first and most important step is understanding the origins of your negative body image. In other words, finding out why you came to feel the way you do about your body.
The reason for this is that once you become aware of your “body image origins”, you will be much better equipped to handle or prevent the onset of any future events that resemble where it all started.
Such events are triggering and can maintain the problem, which is why you need to be aware of this.
Therefore, engage in expressing writing tasks to help you reflect on when, why, and how your body image problems started.
2. Accepting Your Body Image Experiences
Negative thoughts about our body can take over our life. It is not pleasant to constantly think about and obsess over how we look or how much we weigh at each waking moment.
Therefore, we need to modify our relationship with these experiences in a way that is more accepting of them.
To be more accepting, you need to teach yourself to focus your attention on the here-and-now, in a non-judgmental fashion.
This is a form of mindfulness because it is a way of stepping back and letting your negative thoughts and feelings towards your body subside.
So, whenever you are encountering a negative body image experience, try to practice some form of meditation or body scans because this will divert attention away from your body image.
3. Fixing Your Cognitive Biases
Body image problems are cognitive in nature.
This means that it usually stems from some irrational beliefs we hold towards our body.
Many people, for example, believe that everyone is judging their body or notices every little flaw as soon as they go out in public.
You need to correct these faulty assumptions and beliefs.
The best way to do this is to engage in cognitive restructuring and exposure exercises, where you directly test the validity of those specific beliefs you have and identify whether they are true or not.
Dr Jake Linardon
Dr Jake Linardon, PhD, is the founder of Break Binge Eating and a Research Fellow at Deakin University, Melbourne Australia.
With a focus on eating disorders, Jake has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on eating disorders and serves as an editorial board member for the International Journal of Eating Disorders.