What is a healthy relationship with my body?
Most of us from time to time will experience dissatisfaction with some part of our bodies, most of us will engage in some amount of checking ourselves in the mirror to make sure we are happy with our appearance. However, there is a distinct difference between this very normal human experience, and having an unhealthy relationship with your body or poor body image.
According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration:
“Body Image is a combination of the thoughts and feelings that you have about your body.” Notably, it is not a reflection of your actual appearance, but more specifically how you think and feel about your body and appearance. ”
Can positive body image reduce the risk of eating disorders?
As with most areas of mental health, we tend to only focus on body image when it has gotten so bad that someone has developed a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. Where, they have a significantly negative biased view of either a certain part(s) of their appearance or their body as a whole and this negative point of view leads to ruminative thinking, significant worry and distress around their body. subsequently , this can lead to attempts to try and change their appearance, hoping that as a result they will feel better about themselves, however whilst these actions may be effective in changing the appearance of the person, remember that poor body image is the thoughts and feelings about your appearance, so often this does nothing to improve the person’s body image and thus increases their dissatisfaction further.
Certainly as psychologists we aim to reduce negative body image, but we also need to understand and promote positive body image too. In addition, I am incredibly passionate about preventative mental health in general. That being, caring for our mental health holistically to ensure we are as resilient as we can be when life inevitably throws us a curveball.
Thus I am writing this article from the perspective of How can I have a healthy relationship with my body? To help reduce the chances of me developing a poor body image or an eating disorder. Not to mention having a positive body image has been found to be associated with a range of positive health benefits.
Why is it important to have a healthy relationship with your body?
Research has found individuals with greater positive body image also reported less depression, higher self-esteem, fewer unhealthy dieting behaviors, lower drive for muscularity, and greater intentions to protect their skin from UV exposure and damage.These connections between positive body image and health-related indicators were actually similar for women and men. These findings suggest that positive body image has significant implications for health and well-being beyond objective body size or appearance.
What does it mean to love your body or have a good relationship with your body?
Loving your body can feel like an impossible task, and certainly we can feel lost is what that even means, let alone how we can love our bodies more. That is why I tend to veer towards the language of having a healthy relationship with my body instead. What does that mean though? Like any relationship for it to be healthy it is going to probably need some fundamentals; such as respect, listening, support. If we were saying the sorts of things that we sometimes say to our bodies, the other person would probably leave right? So we want to give our bodies the unconditional love we would a child, a pet, a close friend or family member. We might not always like what they do, say, but we love them anyway. We might disagree at times, and even fight, but you still love them.
So having a healthy relationship with your body means:
- Respecting your body/appearance – you speak kindly about your body, practice acceptance about the body parts/things in your appearance you don’t particularly like
- Listening to your body – we can become so disconnected from our bodies, prioritising diet rules or superficial health advice rather than listening to our bodies, not to mention pushing them when they need to rest, moving them when they want to move. Listening to our bodies is one of the ways we can have a healthy relationship or love our bodies more
- Support your body/appearance – have your body’s back, protect it from information sources that make you feel bad about it, develop healthy routines that allow for it to function optimally (but don’t forget to listen to it either), nourishing them with more fruits and vegetables for example, not for the purposes of weight loss but to support and love our bodies
“If you only love your body when you love how you look, that is not love. That is objectification.”
More Than a Body, Lindsay & Lexie Kite
Author: Samantha Sheppard, B Psych (Hons).
Samantha is a registered psychologist with experience working with children and adolescents (and their families), young adults and adults. Samantha empowers others with their mental health using a non-judgemental, compassionate approach, and particularly resonates with the social and emotional wellbeing framework.
To make an appointment with Samantha Sheppard try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
Gillen, M. M. (2015). Associations between positive body image and indicators of men’s and women’s mental and physical health. Body Image, 13, 67-74.
Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. L. (2015). What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Body Image, 14, 118-129.
Webb, J. B., Wood-Barcalow, N. L., & Tylka, T. L. (2015). Assessing positive body image: Contemporary approaches and future directions. Body Image, 14, 130-145.
Wood-Barcalow, N. L., Tylka, T. L., & Augustus-Horvath, C. L. (2010). “But I like my body”: Positive body image characteristics and a holistic model for young-adult women. Body Image, 7, 106-116.