We live in a world of puzzling, often mind blowing opposites. At the same time that we are in the midst of an obesity “epidemic,” we are also surrounded—often relentlessly so—by images of thin, airbrushed perfection in movies, magazines, and television. Actresses and public figures who fail to fit into the thin ideal are criticized and bullied in cruel but unfortunately not unusual ways. Many of the rest of us criticize and bully ourselves when we look at our own reflections in the mirror. Billions of dollars a year are mobilized to help each of us achieve the “perfect” body—continually moving us toward a goal that seems to have no finish line.
As a psychologist who works day in and day out with people struggling with weight, eating, and body image issues and as someone who loves fashion (and was a former fashion magazine editor), the confusing and often extreme measures that we take to look good are a matter of both personal and professional significance. Most of us are not genetically wired to have the bodies of runway models. We want to look and feel good. We want to wear clothes we love and that look good on us. We want our friends, partners, and strangers to find us attractive. We are human.
Does looking good mean having to starve, torture our bodies, take dangerous pills or engage in other extreme weight control measures? If, out of desperation, we try these strategies, what does it mean for our health and wellbeing long-term? Is it possible to achieve our fashion and beauty ideals with our physical and mental health in tact?
The simple answer is…. yes. Unbelievable, right? I have seen it happen again and again in my office, in even the most resistant naysayers. You have all the best answers and solutions within you…waiting to be discovered, if you are willing to put misery aside and experiment with a few simple but powerful strategies.
To start feeling better and more beautiful without losing a single pound, give these steps a whirl:
1. Start looking for beauty role models in your own life, not on screen.
2. Challenge conventional ideas of what is beautiful. This builds on the previous step. Instead of assuming that only thin is beautiful, look for examples of beauty in others of all shapes and sizes, in your everyday life. If you look, you will find.
3. Change your body language. Research shows that simply sitting up straight, walking with confidence, and standing tall can literally change how others perceive and respond to you, as well as how you feel about yourself. Acting and looking confident and beautiful literally creates more of that feeling in yourself and is reflected by others.
4. Get Active. Pick an activity or sport that you enjoy. Physical activity creates a flow of positive brain chemicals that impacts every area of your life. Ask a friend to join you for even better results.
5. Buy clothes that you like right now, at your current size. Buying clothes at your current size does not predestine you to being that size forever! Committing to dressing your current body in a modern, sophisticated way is the beginning of demonstrating your own worth and self respect. Others will begin to respond to you differently when you treat yourself well.
6. Food is fuel, not foe. This is a tough one for many people. When you are stuck in a roller coaster cycle of dieting and bingeing, gaining and losing the same few pounds again and again, and then constantly beating yourself up over it, you are more likely to binge eat, eat emotionally, and end up heavier than your body wants to be. Taking charge of your life, refusing to speak to yourself in a negative way, and thinking about using food to fuel you—rather than to numb out emotionally—changes your relationship with food and allows you to make choices that sustain you, not deplete you. Think about adding foods that will increase your energy and vitality, not taking foods away. By doing this, you may naturally shift your entire mindset about food and eating.
7. Don’t go it alone. Invest in your relationships. Talk openly with trusted others about your struggles. Help friends with their issues. We are not alone in this world, so why should you feel that way?
8. Give judgment a rest. Start to be an observer of yourself and your own thinking process. When you notice yourself judging yourself or others, put that critic to rest. Beating up on yourself creates and reinforces feelings of depression. Speaking and thinking kindly about yourself and others, leads to a positive, reciprocal flow of emotion and behavior. Give it a try.
The steps above should help you start to feel and look better, even if the number on the scale stays exactly the same. Your brain may be your most important muscle. Train it wisely.