No one raises their hand and volunteers to spend a good portion of their day being consumed with negative body image thoughts. This often happens over time and can become someone’s new normal. The good news it that there is hope. Many people who have struggled with poor body image have found ways to get help, and no longer spend their days criticizing their body.
So what are we even aiming for when we talk about “improving body image?”. We are often sold the dream that if we try this diet, or exercise plan we will fall in love with our bodies. In commercials, magazines and social media we are often fed messaging that makes us believe we are supposed to love every inch of our bodies.
This is a rather new phenomenon and pretty unattainable. When working through negative body image the goal is never to “fall in love with your body” but rather, not be consumed with poor body image thoughts.
The end goal is to get to a “B Minus”. If we can hit a B- on an average day this will help body image thoughts not affect your mental health, relationships and allow you to divert your energy to family, friends, hobbies and other areas of your life that you value.
More importantly, having a positive body serves as a protective factor which makes an individual more resilient to eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
The first step to working through body image is to evaluate with your own therapist where you believe you currently stand. On average, what grade would you give yourself for your body image? D+? Failing? A-? Getting a good understanding of how negative body image currently impacts your life can be a helpful jumping off point to improving it.
Below are six common techniques used to improve body image thoughts.
- For 24 hours record every body image thought you have.
You want to become completely aware of just how prevalent your body image thoughts are on a daily basis. When you look in the mirror, what are your thoughts? Getting into the shower, getting dressed, looking at a picture of yourself, going out to social events, and as you’re getting ready for bed. These are all times when you really want to hone in on your thoughts. Are you body checking? Is there a specific area of your body that you tend to think about more? Record it on your phone or in a journal.
- Once you have a record of what your thoughts are share them with your therapist. Look for triggers, patterns and routines.
You can identify what time of the day or activities trigger these thoughts and consider how you can create routines to help mitigate some of the “red zone” areas (for example: instead of spending time criticizing your body before getting in the shower, you can come up with a new routine to help break that habit).Your therapist can also go over common CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) distortions so you can have a toolbox ready to use when these thoughts come up.
- Use visualization.
Close your eyes and picture the last negative body thought you had as if you just typed it up on a computer screen. Hold the image of that sentence in your mind. Now picture yourself pressing the delete button and erasing that sentence. Retype one positive body thought instead and hold that image in your mind. Seeing the sentence written out on a computer can help you question it’s validity. Often we believe that every thought we have is 100% true (when that simply is not so). Writing them out and visualizing it being typed out can help you question if it’s even accurate.
- When you have a body positive thought hold onto it.
When you find yourself glancing in the mirror or your reflection and you notice that you’re thinking about something positive about your appearance, make sure you pause. The longer you can stay in this moment and hold onto this thought, the more neurons fire off and it gets embedded into your implicit/ unconscious memory. It can be something as small as you like your nail color today, or that new shirt you just bought is flattering. Take just a few extra seconds to sit in that moment and replay that thought.
- Go deeper.
For many, negative body image thoughts are very distracting and are a great way to distract your mind from thinking about something else. If you find yourself having a worse than normal body image day, try to dig deeper. Work with your therapist on what else is going on underneath the surface. For some people it might be previous trauma, a current stressful relationship or depression/anxiety.
For example, after doing some work in therapy you start to notice that your poor body image days often coincide with the days you get into an argument with a loved one. You start to notice that your mind automatically starts thinking poorly about your body so you don’t have to feel sad, or angry about the argument you just had.
- Have a body positive arsenal.
Counter-conditioning is something you can be working on daily and will dramatically help improve body image thoughts. We are given many messages from television, celebrities, and our own social media of what we are “supposed to” look like. The best way to combat these messages is to revamp what you’re allowing your attention to go. Follow body positive social media accounts. Listen to podcasts where people share their own journey of overcoming poor body image. Avoid magazines, people and images that may trigger poor body image thoughts. Bring these up with your therapist and brainstorm ways to help counter-condition these thoughts.
Simply because you woke up today with negative body image thoughts does not mean you have to experience living like his forever. There are many ways to help improve body image. Find a therapist in your area who specializes in body image and can help.
About Danielle Swimm, LCPC: Danielle is a therapist in Annapolis, MD. She enjoys helping others improve their relationship with food and their body. Her areas of concentration include eating disorders, anxiety, and body image improvement for adults and adolescents. She also works with a variety of disordered eating and has a passion or mind-body health. Interested in setting up an appointment? Fill out the “Send a Message” to your right!
Disclaimer: This is in no way a replacement for a therapeutic relationship or mental health services. This is for educational purposes only and should be in used only in conjunction in working with a licensed mental health professional. If you are looking for a local professional feel free to use the contact tab to request an appointment or search Psychology Today for local therapists in your area.