5 Tips for Managing Negative Body Image Thoughts

Primary Therapist Thaimi Fina, LMHC is the facilitator of the Body Image Group for women at the Oliver-Pyatt Centers. Through her work, she has learned various strategies to help battle negative body image thoughts. In her post, she shares five effective ways to establish a more positive relationship with your body.

Whether they struggle with an eating disorder or not, most women (and men!) experience negative body image thoughts throughout their day-to-day life. Unfortunately, this has become our norm. Despite the automatic nature of these thoughts, it doesn’t mean that we have to be bound by them and allow them to impair our daily functioning. As a Primary Therapist in Casa Verde at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, one of my most valued tasks is facilitating the Body Image Group for our adult women. Throughout my time facilitating this group, I have had the privilege of learning a lot from our women about which strategies have proven most effective in battling their negative body image thoughts. In this post, I will be sharing 5 of these tips with you in hopes that they will assist you in managing these thoughts and making peace with your body.

Tap into your values and determine the most values-oriented actions you could take.

During one of my groups, I provide clients an expansive list of potential values and ask them to prioritize their top five values. These values may include honesty, family relationships, spirituality, independence, health, etc. Clients are then asked to identify a situation that would likely trigger negative body image thoughts and brainstorm as many different actions they could take in that moment to manage these thoughts. Then, they are asked to reference their list of top values and identify the most values-oriented actions they could take. For instance, say you experience negative body image thoughts while getting dressed to go to work. You could decide that these thoughts are too strong, they are impacting your mood, and you should just stay home and avoid being seen today. However, you choose to reference your list of top values which include family relationships and independence, and identify values-oriented actions you could take instead. You decide to call a loved one to share your frustrations or maybe just distract with small talk. You also remind yourself of the importance of showing up to work in order to continue striving for financial independence, and commit to going to work. These thoughts may still be present, but you are not allowing them to control your life.

Write a letter of gratitude to your body and read it when negative body image thoughts arise.

During another body image group, our women begin by participating in a gratitude meditation. There are many wonderful gratitude meditations available on youtube if you’re interested! Then, they are asked to write a letter of gratitude to their bodies, choosing to suspend criticism for just a moment, and taking the time to honor their bodies. As they write this letter, clients are encouraged to reflect on all the ways that their body serves them and enables them to live a life worth living. This letter could serve as a powerful reminder of your body’s amazing resilience and value, when you find yourself criticizing its appearance.

Commit to doing one to two random acts of kindness for your body each day.

These acts of kindness could vary significantly from person to person but should include any action that makes your body feel good and honors your body’s needs. These acts of kindness could include (but are certainly not limited to): resting when your body is tired, taking a mindful walk, taking a warm bath, putting on a favorite scented lotion, getting a massage, wearing a cozy sweater, honoring your body’s hunger and fullness cues, stretching, meditating, etc. Create your own list of acts of kindness that resonate the most with you and commit to trying 1-2 of these acts each day. Building a better relationship with your body doesn’t just involve battling the negative, but also actively creating positive interactions with your body.

Practice self-compassion.

You can’t control that these negative body image thoughts pop up in your head, but you do control whether or not to beat yourself up for having them. Instead, it is important to gain awareness of how these thoughts became so embedded in our heads. We live in a society where women are constantly given the message that their worth is determined by their appearance and body size and that they must never be satisfied with either. It’s no wonder that we feel compelled to criticize our bodies and compare them with unrealistic ideals of perfection. As you work towards building a better relationship with your body, practice self-compassion and be patient with yourself. Choosing to honor and accept your body exactly as it is, is truly revolutionary in our society. Rather than beating yourself up when these negative thoughts arise, speak to yourself with the same loving kindness that you would to a loved one.

Actively seek and create body-positive messages.

Be creative and find ways to surround yourself with body-positive influences. This tip could include following body-positive blogs or Instagram accounts. Create your own pro-recovery and/or body-positive Pinterest board. Join organizations and participate in events that promote body acceptance and health at every size. Create and display a collage of images and quotes that inspire you to be kind to your body and honor it. Spend more time with friends and loved ones who do not engage in negative body talk. Serve as a role model for others and avoid criticizing your body in conversations with others. The options for carrying out this tip are endless. Our society, mass, and social media are full of images and messages that promote body shaming and/or unrealistic body ideals. Actively work towards surrounding yourself with very different messages and avoid following accounts that reinforce your negative body image thoughts.

These are just a few of the strategies that the women in our program have found most helpful in battling negative body image thoughts. As you begin trying some of these tips, I encourage you to remember that the goal is progress and not perfection. These thoughts are common and likely to pop up from time to time but you can become more effective in how you manage them and choose to respond. Remember that a thought is just a thought. It does not determine fact or how you must respond. I hope that you find these tips to be helpful and encourage you to brainstorm your own strategies for building a better relationship with your body. To end, I will leave you with one of my favorite poems from Nayyira Waheed. “And I said to my body. Softly. ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath. And replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’”

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