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:

  1. I’ve never run before but I’d like to run a marathon some day
  2. 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:

  1. I need to be more healthy so that I can lose weight and not be so fat – I hate my body
  2. 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!

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS

Body Positive, or Unhealthy?

Being body-positive is so important to ensure that we are caring for ourselves, but what happens when it goes too far?

If someone is severely underweight or severely overweight, but happy with their bodies, is that okay? What if they have underlying health problems as a result of their weight?

This problem often arises because we don’t always have a good picture of what it means to be a healthy weight, and the idea of what our bodies are supposed to look like can be extremely distorted. While measures such as BMI can be helpful in determining a healthy weight range for someone of a given age and height, the reality is that everyone’s body is different, and certain weights may not be realistic for some people compared to others.

So what does all of this mean? The crux of it is that while we want to be body positive and love ourselves regardless of what’s on the outside, we also have to be realistic, and we want to strive for healthy lifestyles.

That leads to the next question… what does it truly mean to be “healthy”? While this may seem like a complicated question, it’s actually quite simple.

In order to be healthy, it is recommended that you eat a variety of different foods (balancing macro and micronutrient intake), and exercise regularly. There is a lot of misinformation about health and nutrition out there, so I want to take some time to dispel some of these myths.

Myth: I have to eat a low carbohydrate diet in order to reach or maintain a normal weight

This is a very common myth that many people believe. With diets like Atkins and the Keto diet, there has been a lot of talk about low carbohydrate diets being the only way (or best way) to lose weight and be healthy.

While this is certainly an option for many people and many are successful using this method, it’s not recommended by most professionals. There are a few reasons for this, especially that it’s likely not a sustainable diet. As time passes, people are more likely to gain the weight back later on once they stop eating low-carb, as is the case for many diets that include dietary or food restrictions (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).

 Additionally, low-carb diets may be ineffective because of how our bodies work. Carbohydrates are actually quite useful! Our bodies use carbohydrates for fuel and many internal processes, including digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals.

Not only do most health professionals not recommend a low-carbohydrate diet, but the golden standard ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), suggest that the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).

If you want to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, the best way to do so is to eat a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fats from a variety of different sources. If you want to lose weight, decreasing your overall intake of food is the best way to lose weight and stay healthy. MyPlate is a great resource to help you pick meals and foods that balance essential nutrients for our bodies. Stay tuned for part 3 of this blog series for more tips on how to lose or gain weight, depending on your goals.

Myth: I have to take up running or other high-intensity exercise to be healthy

General recommendations for adults and exercise is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and get a gym membership – there are many different things that you can do to stay active! Some of these include:

  • Walking at a moderate to brisk pace
  • Cleaning
  • Working a job that requires physical labour, such as housekeeper, mechanic, or factory worker
  • Doing yoga
  • Swimming
  • Gardening
  • Shoveling snow
  • Cutting the grass, and many other household chores

Getting enough exercise is important to ensure that our bodies are strong. Moderate exercise helps us maintain bone, joint, and muscle strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and increases endorphins that make us feel good!

Not only that, but studies have shown that getting 30 minutes of exercise per day can help reduce your risk of health problems, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even many types of cancer (Mayo Clinic, 2018).

Myth: I have to be within a certain weight range to be healthy

It’s true that BMI (body mass index) is a common method of determining whether or not someone is in a healthy weight category based on their height an age. While many healthcare professionals use this as a baseline to determine if someone is over or underweight, it is important to note that it is not a tried and true method to determine someone’s overall health.

Tom Brady
CJ Anderson

In reality, there are many factors that contribute to someone’s weight, including genetics, body-fat percentage, and bone structure. Consider this: Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, is 6’4” tall and weights approximately 225lbs. Based on BMI, he is overweight. However, Tom Brady is an elite athlete who has 6 Superbowl rings; we would be hard-pressed to suggest that he is unhealthy. The former running back for the Los Angeles Rams, CJ Anderson, is considered obese by BMI standards, and he played against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl last year!

Of course, most of us are not Tom Brady or CJ Anderson, and are not elite athletes. However, what this illustrates is that BMI is not always the best way to determine whether or not someone is healthy.

Instead of using BMI, try setting some goals for yourself based on the performance of your body, what you’d like your body to be able to do, or goals you have for your future.

Myth: I can’t have treats or eat the food I like if I want to be healthy

I think this myth scares a lot of people because honestly, food is SO GOOD and the thought of having to restrict or cut out certain types of foods can be upsetting. But I have good news! You don’t have to cut anything completely out of your diet in order to be healthy!

As I mentioned before, being healthy is all about getting a variety of nutrients from a range of different foods. Health is all about balance. Do you have to cut out McDonald’s from your life and give up those sweet, sweet chicken nuggets? No! Should you eat chicken nuggets every day? Also no.

Have a sweet tooth? Eat some chocolate. Just don’t each excessive amounts of chocolate every day. If you’re trying to lose weight, a big part of the difficulty can be training your body to eat smaller portions. In addition to portion control, it can be beneficial to get a better balance of different types of food in your diets, such as fruit, vegetables, protein found in meats or meat alternatives, and whole grains.

Myth: I have to be skinny and look like models and actors in order to be considered healthy

The media fills us with images of thin women and muscular men, suggesting that that’s how ‘normal’ or healthy people look. But this isn’t always the case, and the goals and ideals for one person may vary drastically from another person’s.

Consider the body image differences between an NFL linebacker and an acrobat. Both are arguably fit and healthy, but the physique goals for the NFL linebacker are likely going to be very different from that of the acrobat. The linebacker may be focused more on size and strength, whereas the acrobat might be focused on strength and flexibility, and not gaining size.

Again, health is about what you do, not necessarily about how you look. Think about what you want from your body, and what you want it to do. Is that in line with how you envision yourself looking? As always, you should consult with your doctor before making any food or exercise changes.

In our next edition of this blog series, we will explore how you can work to focus more on health and your personal goals, and less on how you look in the mirror.

References

Insel, P., Ross, D., McMahon, K., & Bernstein, M. (2013). Nutrition (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.

Mayo Clinic. (2018, December 14). Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS

Part 1: How to Stop Hating Your Body and Start Loving Yourself

I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. My butt is too big. I have no curves.

How often have you heard these things from your friends? What about from yourself?

I imagine your response to friends and family is reassurance that their body is beautiful and they have nothing to worry about. But I’m guessing your response to yourself isn’t the same. So why the double-standard?

Body image, self-esteem, and self-worth in general are all things that people struggle with from time to time (some of us more than others). Where does this come from? The answer is likely complicated, but I believe that the media, and in particular social media, has contributed significantly to the decline in self-esteem in women and men.

A study done at Simon Fraser University found that women who used the internet more often were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies (Ghoussoub, 2017). Furthermore, a study in Ontario concluded that 30% of females and 25% of males between 10 and 14 years old reported that they had dieted in order to lose weight in the past (National Initiative for Eating Disorders, 2017). These numbers suggest that our self-image begins to decline at a young age and can persist into adulthood, for both women and men.

Think about when you were between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. I know for me, I was never happy with my body at that age. And looking back on photos now, it’s difficult for me to understand why – my body seemed perfectly normal.

Having said all that… what do we do about it? It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of negative body image, as we have so many factors influencing us: the media, friends and family, how we were raised, the food industry, etc. But regardless of where those negative thoughts come from, there are a few things we can do to help.

Stop Trying to Compare

Social media is filled with success stories of weight loss, athletes, and models showing off their products and bodies to the world. While these stories and images can be inspiring, they can also lead to a great deal of comparisons, which can then lead to negative self-esteem.

If you find yourself saying “I wish I was more like him/her”, or “I’m not as good as him/her” while cruising social media, it might be a good idea to shift gears a little bit. Maybe try filtering what you see so that you see posts of people who can lift you up rather than making you feel down about yourself. This may be more body-positive blogs, or just accounts that focus less on body image and more on other values or interests that you have. Taking a break from social media altogether might be something to think about as well, as for some of us, the pressure to be like others and compare ourselves can become too much.  

Remember, your journey is uniquely yours. No one else has been through what you’ve been through with the tools that you have, surrounded by the people you’re around. You have to decide what you want your journey to look like, and it doesn’t have to (and probably won’t) look like anyone else’s.

You are More than Just the Way You Look

Who are you? How would you describe yourself? You might include your age, your family, your occupation… do you include your weight? While we may not explicitly describe ourselves to others based on our weight, many people have their identity tied to their size.

Perhaps you’ve always seen yourself as the chubby one in your group, or you’ve always been known to be petite. We can get really fused to these ideas and it can be difficult to step away from that and envision ourselves as anything else.

Your identity is tied to a lot of different, least of which is likely your appearance. Whether you are tall, short, thin, or heavy-set, the important aspects of who you are are unlikely to change. So the next time you find yourself focusing on the negative aspects of your body, try refocusing to the positive aspects of your personality and who you are.

Having said that…

Appreciate Your Body

Our bodies are amazing things. From our digestive systems breaking down food and nutrients to fuel our bodies, to our musculoskeletal system that allows us to move around, we’re a lucky species!

We often neglect to focus on what our body can do for us, and instead focus on how our bodies look. Think about it, for most of us, our bodies allow us to: breathe automatically without thinking about it; digest a wide array of foods; fuel our bodies for intense exercise; support our bodies through walking, sitting, twisting, and other movements; grow a baby inside a woman’s body; and so much more!

These things are all amazing, and even if your body can’t do some of these, it can still do unbelievable things. Rather than focusing on how your body looks, remind yourself of what it can do for you, and what it’s capable of. Want to get stronger and be able to life your body weight? Great! Go for it. With some training, time, and effort, you can do that.

Instead of having goals that focus on how you look or the number on the scale, try for some goals related to your physical abilities, such as being able to walk or run a certain distance, lift a certain amount of weight, or be more flexible. For example, I’ve recently shifted my fitness goals from looking at the number on the scale, to working on my cardiovascular fitness, and I’m currently training to do a 10km run in August.

Reframe your Self-Talk

This is probably the hardest one. We are often so hard on ourselves, especially when it comes to our personal appearance, and we constantly put ourselves down. So how can you change that? Well, when we truly believe the negative things that we say about ourselves, it can be difficult.

The more that we put ourselves down, the less positive we feel, and the less likely we are to make changes to our routines in order to improve on our habits. Picture this: you’re on Instagram late at night, and see a model who you feel is more fit than you. You resolve to diet so you can be more like her. The next day someone brings donuts into the office, and you have one. You feel terrible after and criticize yourself for not being successful for even one day of the diet. You view the rest of the day as a write-off, because what’s the point anyways? Then that night you’re on Instagram again and the cycle continues. The worse we feel, the more we restrict, the more we restrict, the less realistic it is and the more likely we are to fail. The more that we fail, the more discouraged we get, etc. We have to be able to break this cycle, and it starts with our self-talk.

Think about how you talk to yourself when you look at your body. Would you talk to a friend in the same way? I’m guessing the answer to that is no. Why not? Is it because you don’t want to hurt their feelings? Because you think they’re wonderful regardless of how they look? Take some time to think about some of these things, and see if you can apply them to your own self talk.

Another tip that can be helpful is to repeat positive affirmations to yourself. Think about some of the things that you like about yourself; these can be general or specific. Repeat these things to yourself each day, and even more general things, such as “I am beautiful/handsome”.

Even if you don’t fully believe these things right away, they can be a powerful tool for giving yourself confidence.

Try out some of these tips to see if you can improve your relationship with your body, and if you can be kinder to yourself. It may take some time for these changes to take effect, but it may help to take some importance off of your appearance and instead put it on your abilities, values, and personality traits.

It’s great to be positive about your body. But what if you’re so positive about your body that you end up inadvertently reinforcing unhealthy habits? This can happen as well, and will be the topic of the next blog in this series. Stay tuned in April for its release!

References

Ghoussoub, M. (2017, February 20). Women with higher internet use report increased body dissatisfaction, study finds. Retrieved from CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/women-with-higher-internet-use-report-increased-body-dissatisfaction-study-finds-1.3991513

National Initiative for Eating Disorders. (2017). Canadian Reearch on Eating Disorders. Toronto: NIED.

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT

Another week, another snow and ice storm. Cue the frustrated and tired sighs!

Although it’s an expectation that our Canadian winters are a little up and down (to say the least), the weather can still have a major impact on how we’re feeling.

Being cooped up inside all day means that we are generally less active and have less exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and other people. This can leave us feeling tired, lonely, and having an overall sense of sadness. You may notice that it’s difficult to get out of bed in the mornings, or to gather motivation for activities that you normally do. Sometimes everything can feel like a chore, from getting out of bed in the morning, making meals, or attending social obligations.

It’s safe to say that many of us don’t feel like we’re at the top of our game during the winter months.

pexels-photo-713070Although there’s not a whole lot we can do to influence the weather, we can definitely influence how it affects us.

The following are some tips I’ve gathered that I’ve found helpful to keep my mood and energy levels in check over the winter months.

 

Exercise regularly.

In the summer, many of us are naturally more active with walking, running, swimming, outdoors sports, and outdoor household chores such as gardening or mowing the lawn. In the winter months, we tend to do fewer activities and spend more time indoors. This may mean that we are lacking endorphins that our bodies create when we exercise, leaving us feeling less-than-stellar.

Find an exercise routine that works for you and your schedule. You can check out our blog post about Staying Active in the Winter for more tips and ideas on how to stay active in the winter months.pexels-photo-373984

 

Use a therapy lamp.

We experience a LOT less sunlight in winter months as compared to summer months. This can leave us lacking in vitamins such as Vitamin D, which may be contributors to low mood.

Therapy lamps mimic the same type of light that the sun emits in the morning, helping us to feel re-energized and happier overall. It’s recommended to sit in front of a blue light for approximately 20-30 minutes per day for optimal benefit.

CR-Health-Inlinehero-Bright-Light-12-15These lamps can be purchased at many retailers including Costco or Amazon, such as this one: https://www.amazon.ca/Verilux-VT10WW1-HappyLight-Liberty-Compact/dp/B00K08ZDBI

 

Try supplements.

Similar to blue light lamps, supplements can be another great way to substitute important vitamins we may be missing during the winter months. Vitamin D drops are a common supplement to take during the winter months. However, it is always best to speak to your doctor about which supplements are best for you and your individual needs.

 

Make time for friends and social activities.

When the weather is at its worst, many of us opt to stay indoors in “hibernation mode” to avoid the cold and snow. Sometimes it feels good to hibernate, but if we isolate ourselves for too long it can lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness, and decreased motivation.

Instead, plan activities with friends such as coffee dates, fitness classes, or a paint night. If you’re looking for more inspiration, Groupon or Meetups can be helpful for finding fun and local activities in Hamilton.

pexels-photo-1524105

Get a check up.

At times we may be feeling down as a result of vitamin or hormone levels being out of whack. It’s never a bad idea to arrange a check up with your family doctor and to have blood work done in order to see if anything is off.

 

Hopefully you find these ideas helpful in coping with the winter blues.

We know how difficult this time can be, and you’re not alone in how you feel. If you feel you could benefit from talking to a therapist, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

On the bright side – Spring is only 27 days away!

By Kayleen Edwards, MA, RP

Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud – at work, parenting, or in life in general – and that it’s just a matter of time before it’s discovered that you’re incompetent?

Me too. There’s a name for this not-so-pleasant feeling: imposter syndrome.

I remember hearing about the term imposter syndrome for the first time in an undergraduate psychology class. In that lecture, we were taught that imposter syndrome is when an individual doubts their accomplishments, feeling thpexels-photo-1464531.jpegat they’re a fraud and that it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered. At the time, I remember thinking how I could relate, but how it made sense because I was still only in undergrad with many things still to learn. Although we were told this feeling could persist throughout one’s life, I figured I would reach a point where I had it “figured out” and would no longer experience this.

Fast forward to around nine years later, sitting in my office of a business I built with my business partner from the bottom-up, in a career I love, and wondering – did I fool everyone to get to this point? Is it just a matter of time before I’m discovered, and everyone realizes I’m not good enough?

Although the feeling ebbs and flows, imposter syndrome is a reality that almost all of us will experience at times throughout our lives. Does it mean we’re incompetent and should give up our career paths, our dreams, and goals?

NO!

Imposter syndrome is not a pathological medical or psychological condition, despite what the “syndrome” in the name may suggest. Imposter syndrome is so much more common than one may think!

The prevalence of imposter syndrome is downplayed because we don’t tend to talk to others about feeling this way. It can feel embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about it, as many of us feel like we’re the only ones who experience it. This can be further compounded by fear that others will judge us if they know how we really feel.

Social media can make matters even worse, when we scroll through our feed and see how the people we’re following “have it together” while we don’t. pexels-photo-533446.jpegThe truth is, most people only post the positive parts of their lives on social media, meaning that we end up comparing our inner negative feelings to how others present on the outside, without really knowing how that other person is feeling on the inside.

This sets us up for always feeling inadequate, since we can never truly know what’s going on in the inner world of the person behind the “perfect” social media posts.

So what can we do about it?

The number one thing we can do to combat imposter syndrome is to talk about it. The more we talk about it, the more we realize that we aren’t alone and that many others share the same fears, doubts, and self-judgments that we have. Talking about it also gives us the opportunity to get feedback from others about ourselves. If you’re feeling like a fraud and talk to a friend who reminds you of your accomplishments and all it took to get to where you are, you are more likely to re-think the fraud story you’ve been telling yourself. This ends up taking power away from the fraud story, and empowering you to know that you are competent.

Another strategy for coping with imposter syndrome can be to monitor your thoughts and do a self-validation activity with them.

For example, if you’re having the thought that you aren’t qualified to be doing your job, write down the thought exactly how it plays out in your head. It might look like “I’m fooling everyone to think I’m qualified for this. Someone is going to find out and I’m going to be fired and I don’t know what I’ll do then”. After writing this thought, think about and write down only the facts from this situation.

For example, you may write facts such as:

-I have the required education and experience for this job

-The interviewers chose me out of other candidates for this role

-I received a positive review at my last performance evaluation

-My boss emailed me a compliment last week about my performance

Next, it may be helpful to try and write the thought from the perspective of a close friend or loved one. For example, “It’s okay to feel like you aren’t good enough sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that the thoughts are true”, or “I know you’re a great employee – you work so hard”. In these statements we are validating the thought while also reminding ourselves that we don’t have to buy into it.

If you feel that you don’t have anyone to talk to about it, or that you’ve tried these strategies and you still feel the same way, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist about it. A qualified therapist can help you navigate thoughts of self-doubt and empower you to feel like you are in control, versus feeling like the thoughts control you.

Underneath imposter syndrome is a values system, meaning that there is something truly important to us about the areas we fear failure in.

They say, “We hurt where we care”, and this rings so true in the case of imposter syndrome.

We’re afraid of not being good enough because we truly value and care about being a good employee, parent, friend, or just person in general. What a wonderful thing it is to be so passionate about something, that we care this much about succeeding.

By Kayleen Edwards, MA, RP