False Body Positivity and What to do Instead

People think that I’m immune to certain things because I’m a dietitian. Well let me tell you, I’m not! I think it’s important to be real and honest about those things.

body-imageI often notice a girl who goes to the gym about the same time I do. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for her continuous work to build strength and athleticism. Despite this, I realized I began comparing myself to her and feeling negative about myself. “You need to work harder to be leaner like her,” and “You need to lift more to be as strong as her,” were thoughts that crossed my mind. As if simply comparing myself to her weren’t enough, I caught myself at another, equally dangerous behavior: I started comparing her to myself. “She probably wishes she had my height,” I thought.

When I actually noticed those thoughts going through my mind and recognized what it was doing to me, my stomach turned.

“What’s so bad about that? She probably does wish she had your height,” my champions would cheer.

Well, maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t wish that. What that other girl may or may not envy about me is beside the point. I aim to be okay with myself as-is, no questions asked, unconditionally, in any situation. That means noticing when I’m making comparisons, and digging deeper to find out from where that comparison is coming. Taking a compassionate, non-judgmental perspective can help me explore what I’m feeling and why I’m assessing myself in that way.

Cutting myself down by comparing myself to another person is a slippery slope that will surely to lead to discontentment. Do I really want to feel good about myself by diminishing someone else? If finding fault with another is the only way I can be okay with myself, I need to do some serious work figuring out why I’m in a rut of negativity.

Many who struggle with self-acceptance have heard “body positivity” sayings such as, “Everyone has something they’re insecure about,” or “Even the most attractive person in the world would probably be jealous of something about you.” I am here to tell you these are nonsense. Yes, they might be true, but do they matter?

Essentially, relying on others’ insecurities means that you cannot be content unless others are dissatisfied. Why avoid your own insecurities by taking solace in the fact that others have them, too? Why would you need the most attractive person in the world to be jealous of something about you before you accept yourself? Each of those statements are false body positivity. They are backwards comparisons masquerading as foundations for improved body image and self-esteem.

By relying on false body positivity, you hinge your happiness on something external over which you have no control. What if that foundation is shaken? Where will you turn for your true, unwavering body positivity?

Even I, as a dietitian and someone who encourages self-acceptance and a confident body image, fall prey to these comparisons. I have found two methods to help myself internalize self-acceptance rather than seek it from outside of myself:

  1. Be thankful for what your body is capable of, thankful for the aspects of your health that are good, thankful for the opportunity to improve the negative aspects of your health. Focus on the things you love about your body, not because anyone else should love them, too, but simply because you love them.
  2. Speak for yourself, not against anyone else. Strive to focus on your own merits and improve in the areas where you are weakest. This goes for nutrition, fitness, and health in general, in all aspects of your life. Eating one brownie when your friend ate two does not make you a better person. Stick to one brownie because you feel satisfied and are honoring your hunger, or eat a second brownie if that’s what your body is telling you! Drop the comparison, and listen to your individual needs.

When it comes down to it, how you feel about your body or mind or soul or decisions has no bearing on anyone else. Build your own self-acceptance from the inside for a resilient confidence.

Please share your experiences with comparisons and self-acceptance in the comments section below! How do you practice internalizing a positive self-image?

5 Ways to Make More Effective Health Decisions

How many decisions do you make in a day? I’m not talking just about the big, obvious decisions like whether to apply for a new job or where to go on vacation. I’m talking about the small, almost imperceptible, day-to-day decisions that affect your health:

Should I have a piece of candy from the bowl on my co-worker’s desk?

Should I increase the rate on the treadmill for the last 0.1 mile?

Should I have pickles on my sandwich?

I’m not here to tell you what choices to make in the face of decisions like these – either way you choose could be appropriate depending on what the rest of your day or the rest of your week has been like, and which choices will support your mental and social health, as well (check out my article on total well-being here).

I am here to provide you with encouragement. The constant decisions we all make on a daily basis take their toll. Research has indicated that the more decisions a person makes, the more likely they are to experience “decision fatigue” and find themselves giving in to temptation. You can use this information to your advantage.

  1. Recognize that the more decisions you make, the harder it will be to continue making good choices. If you are aware of the role decision fatigue may be playing in your health, you will be more able to counteract the effect when you see it popping up in your decisions.

  2. Turn off autopilot. Be mindful of each decision you make that affects your health. Be mentally present in each decision. “Going with the flow” may lead you to making a poor choice or continuing a behavior that you have been wanting or trying to change.

  3. Set yourself up for success. You can make good decisions easier for yourself by making adjustments to your environment. For example, pack a gym bag to take with you in the morning and go straight to the gym after work to pre-empt the decision whether to leave your house again after you get home. Try packing a healthy snack (great examples here) so that you have a better option available in that afternoon slump besides the vending machine at work.

  4. Flex your decision-making muscle. You’ll be making many of the same decisions repeatedly. When you buy bread at the store, you will have to decide between white and whole-grain bread every single time. The more you make the decisions to buy the whole-grain bread, the easier that decision becomes until it doesn’t really seem like a decision anymore, but more of a habit.

  5. Use a mantra. Come up with a mantra – a short, meaningful phrase – to coach yourself through those tough decisions and keep working toward your health goals. It doesn’t matter if come up with your own or borrow one – it just needs to be meaningful and motivational for you. My personal mantra is, “Getting better, getting stronger.” It helps me through both health decisions and tough workouts.

You have to make health decisions every single day. Even though it may become easier to make those decisions, you have to be mindful and make the best choice for your overall health that you can each time a decision comes up. One choice about one decision will not make or break your health, because health is a lifelong journey, not a moment in time.

 

Sources:

Tierney J. Do you suffer from decision fatigue? The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Published August 17, 2011. Accessed February 21, 2015.

Anderson J. Think yourself fit! SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=1012. Accessed February 21, 2015.

You Can’t Hate Yourself Healthy: What Healthy Really Means

Health is not dieting your way to an “ideal” weight or punishing yourself with exercise because you just really wanted that slice of cake. Health is not scanning every room to rank yourself on the “who’s in the best shape” list or avoiding going out with friends because you worry about what they’ll think of the meal you order at the restaurant. Health is not obsessing over every calorie you eat or talking yourself out of going to the gym because you might not be as strong as the person grunting out squats next to you.

YOU CAN’T HATE YOURSELF HEALTHY.

What does it mean to be healthy?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Some sources point out that WHO’s absolute use of the word ‘complete’ would result in categorization of most people as ‘unhealthy.’ Still, the point remains that optimization of well-being in each aspect – physical, mental, and social – is the means to reach greater overall health.

Health (and, alternatively, adverse health risk) can be measured using a myriad of factors including, but certainly not limited to, alcohol use, cholesterol, hypertension, nutritional status, BMI, physical activity, air and water quality, health care access, and quality of life. No single measurement is the deciding factor of whether or not a person is healthy, but rather, the bigger picture created by the collection of indicators is what matters.

YOU CAN LOVE YOURSELF HEALTHY.

Healthy is the loving act of taking care of yourself – giving yourself what you need to be okay physically, mentally, and socially. The trick is finding the balance between choosing nutritious foods and not making yourself crazy over calories, between doing exercise you enjoy and not beating yourself up if you miss a day. There is so much more to being healthy than how you compare to someone else, or even how you used to be. Health is about you in your life right now.

You don’t have to be perfect to be healthy. It would probably be harmful to your mental health if you tried to be perfect. What you can do is recognize that attention to your total well-being is how to reach a state of health and do your best to nurture yourself physically, mentally, and socially.

How do you take care of yourself and love yourself healthy?

 

Sources:

World Health Organization. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.

National Center for Health Statistics. Health Indicators Warehouse. http://www.healthindicators.gov. Accessed February 2015.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People. http://www.healthypeople.gov. Accessed February 2015.