Correct negative thoughts that damage self-esteem and discover you love the body you have—even during bikini season.
Have you told yourself lately that your thighs are too big, or grabbed your waist to see if you could pinch an inch? In the quest to look your best, you might be falling into common body image traps—negative thinking that can harm your health. Individuals with poor body image tend to have lower self-esteem, and higher rates of depression and anxiety. Want to learn how to be kinder to yourself while boosting your self-worth? Here are four body image traps to avoid.
Trap #1: Obsession with a specific weight.
You've dieted and worked out for months, but your 110-pound goal remains elusive. Dr. Lara Ostolosky, a psychiatrist with the University of Alberta Hospital's eating disorder program, says that being obsessed with a specific weight is often a biological war you can't win. "People don't realize that weight is largely genetically determined," says Dr. Ostolosky. Trying to be a certain size—and failing—can introduce even more body image issues.
Stuck in this trap, people often put life on hold until they reach their weight loss goal. Stephanie Cassin, associate professor and director of clinical training at Ryerson's Department of Psychology in Toronto, says that pressing pause on activities can create health concerns. "All the things you’re holding yourself back from—taking an exercise class, socializing, buying new clothes—are the things that help improve mood. If you're avoiding them, it could lead to depression and low self-esteem."
The fix: Shift your mindset. Realize that being healthy at your genetically determined weight is more important than being a certain size. "Focus on what your body does in terms of function versus what it looks like," says Dr. Ostolosky. "Without a healthy body, what can you do? Your choices will be limited physically and psychologically." Follow the Canada Food Guide and exercise regularly, and your weight will naturally settle at a healthy number.
Trap #2: Making unfair comparisons.
It's in our nature to compare ourselves to others, but when you get hooked on measuring yourself against celebrities, people who are younger than you, or how you looked 15 years ago, you've stumbled into the unfair comparison trap.
The fix: Instead of comparing yourself to an actress or model in a magazine who's been digitally enhanced and retouched, or an 18-year-old (when you’re past that age), look to people in your own age group—real people just like you. "It requires a conscious effort because we're used to making unfair comparisons, but it's much more fair," says Cassin. And forget about comparing yourself to the old 'you' from ten years ago. "Maybe your body looks different now because you’ve had three children since then. Life circumstances change."
Trap #3: Body checking.
Do you weigh yourself daily, pull at your stomach to see how much you can grab, or check your appearance in a mirror at every opportunity? You may be guilty of body checking. "We tend to focus on the areas we're dissatisfied with, but body checking is detrimental to body image," says Cassin. Every step on the scale, every grab, or peek in the mirror can make you feel depressed or anxious.
The fix: Resist the urge to weigh yourself daily. "A woman's weight can fluctuate by up to five pounds on a daily basis; these changes can be due to multiple factors such as fluid retention, hormones or stress," says Dr. Ostolosky. The numbers you see are often misleading. The only way to determine if the scale’s findings are accurate is to look at weight trends over several weeks, not days.
It's also helpful to chill out on the constant scrutinizing. People you meet don't grab your stomach or stare close-up at your face, looking for faults. You shouldn't either.
Trap #4: Fat talk.
If your friends continually make negative body image remarks about themselves and others, blame the 'fat talk' trap. "It can have a contagious effect and make you assume that everyone's negative about body image," says Cassin. If you start to believe that these thoughts are normal, you might join in and hurt your own body image in the process.
What your friends say about themselves can also damage your own self-worth, too. "If you're hanging out with a friend who is always talking about how they're fat—and they're thinner than you—it might make you wonder, what's she thinking about me?" says Cassin.
The fix: Get your friends to agree to a fat talk ban—for a week or even a day—and discuss more meaningful subjects instead of weight and appearances. But if your friends are hesitant to curb the negative chatter, Cassin suggests expanding your peer group to embrace people who aren't engaging in fat talk.