How to Focus More on Health, Wellness & Happiness, and Less on How you Look in the Mirror
Well, here we are – the final installment of Overcoming Negative Body Image. So far, we’ve discussed:
- Negative body image
- How to stop being so hard on yourself
- Appreciating your body
- Re-framing self-talk
- Myths and facts about healthy eating
Now that we’ve talked about some of the psychological aspects of body image, I want to talk about what we can do from a physical standpoint in order to move towards being healthy. Of course, working on how you view your body is important, as is working on your food intake, but what about exercise?
How do we move towards our goals of being healthy without going overboard or being unsuccessful? What if we get too obsessive about it? What if we set our goals too high and we fail?
These questions can be daunting, and I think we’ve all experienced some form of this. When I first started running to help supplement my weightless efforts and improve my cardio fitness, I went too hard too fast and injured myself, which meant I had to take some time off. This was terrifying to me because I was so afraid of gaining the weight back. But I just kept in mind what my goals were, and really put my energy into focusing on my nutrition. Once I was healthy, I went back to running and gradually increased what I was doing instead of doing too much too fast.
There have been a few things I’ve learned along the way (some the hard way!) that I think might be helpful:
Reframe Your Goals
Sometimes the goals that we set for ourselves can be unrealistic or be difficult to quantify or attain. We may want to be ‘skinnier’ or ‘curvier’, or want to have the body we had in high school. These types of goals are difficult to quantify or measure as we go, and it’s hard to tell when we’ve reached those goals.
While it’s okay to have a general goal of wanting to lose or gain weight, reframing your goals to be more in line with what your values are might be more effective. For example, if you want to be able to go hiking with your friends without getting winded, perhaps a walking program would be a good start, and the goal could be more focused on your performance in terms of walking or hiking.
If you’re thinking right now that you’d like to be healthier in general, think about what that really means for you. Do you want to eat more veggies? Move around more?
Focusing more on increasing these behaviours can help us move towards specific goals that are less focused on how we look or the number on the scale. In turn, we may be less likely to be critical of ourselves if we’re less focused on our appearance.
Set SMART Goals
You may have learned about SMART goals in school, but if you haven’t, it’s just a way to think about our goals that breaks them down and makes them a little more specific. SMART goals are:
- Specific: the goal is not vague (I want to run 2km)
- Measurable: you can measure your progress (I can use a GPS watch to measure my distance)
- Attainable: within the confounds of what you can do; not unrealistic (I can run 2km in 3 months)
- Relevant: it’s something that’s important to you (I want to run to play soccer again)
- Time-based: it’s not open-ended (I want to run 2km by September 1st)
The difference between a SMART goals and a ‘regular’ goal may be the difference between success and failure. It’s important that we are clear with ourselves about our expectations, and that we set goals that are realistic.
Consider the difference between these two statements:
- I’ve never run before but I’d like to run a marathon some day
- I’ve never run before, so I’m going to start training to run a 5km race next year
The first one almost sounds like a dream; something you’d daydream about while sitting on your couch. The second one sounds actionable. It’s something you can realistically see in your future. The best part about these types of goals is that you can break them down even further!
Running a 5km race by next year may seem really daunting if you haven’t run before. But if you break that down over the next 52 weeks and map out a plan to gradually increase your running distance, you can focus on each week as it comes. The ultimate goal doesn’t change; you’re just helping to set yourself up for success.
Make changes because you love your body, not because you hate it
This is a big one. We often talk about how much we dislike our bodies and wish we could change them. But why not make changes because we love our bodies instead? That doesn’t mean you have to love every inch of your body, but maybe you can work on appreciating your body, and reminding yourself of the importance of self-love.
Start running because you’d love to see the amazing things your body can do. Eat more veggies because you know your body deserves to be nurtured. Cut down on snacking on junk because you know that healthier snacks make you feel good, and you deserve that!
Again, consider the difference between these statements:
- I need to be more healthy so that I can lose weight and not be so fat – I hate my body
- I’d love to lose some weight and start moving more so that I can nurture my body and really use it to its full potential
The first sounds discouraging and intimidating. Everything about it is negative. You need to do it, instead of you’d love to do it. The second one sounds almost exciting. Imagine what you can do and how your body might feel if you can make these changes? Sounds better than self-depreciation, if you ask me!
If you had to choose one of the above to say to a friend or family member, which would you choose? Likely you’d choose the second one to try and encourage them and help them move forward with compassion and love. It’s important that we treat ourselves with the same level of love and compassion.
It doesn’t have to be about beating ourselves up. If we can start to reframe our goals and reframe the reasons that we do things, we give ourselves so much power to make meaningful changes in our lives.
It takes some time and it’s important that we be patient with ourselves. But if you keep working on it, you can make some meaningful changes in your life and start moving towards your values – and loving yourself even more!
RP, MACP, CPT, FNS