Body Image: Promoting Positive Self-Perception

By Jeannie Versagli, R.D., LDN

Body image is the subjective mental picture of one’s own physical appearance. This perception is formed through the influence of variables such as memories, experiences, generalizations, and comparisons to others shaped by current cultural and social norms. These feelings can be positive, negative, or both.

Woman looking into compact mirror holding lipstick

What happens with a person whose perception of self is negative?

These individuals will often engage in extreme behaviors to change their body image. Here are three problems that may occur together or in isolation due to poor body image.

  • Over-exercising is an unhealthy means in which individuals may attempt to manage their weight and or appearance through excessive exercise/activity. Over time this behavior leads to hormonal imbalances, especially regarding cortisol and estrogen. A large portion of weight loss that does occur due to over-exercising tends to be in the form of muscle wasting. This is the result of the body burning muscle for fuel instead of fat. Due to elevated cortisol levels and decreased estrogen, fat storage will begin to accumulate around the abdomen in the form of visceral fat. In addition to hormonal imbalances, these individuals, on many occasions, also suffer from macronutrient, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies resulting in a further decline in overall health.
  • Eating disorders present themselves in the form of yo-yo dieting, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and or binge eating disorder. Long-term, any of these approaches have the potential to severely compromise the nutritional status and health of the individual. Some may even lead to dangerous, life-threatening health complications.
  • Mental health issues or illnesses may contribute to or develop as a result of poor body image. In addition to low self-esteem, many individuals may also experience varying levels of anxiety and depression.Also, many of our neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation are produced in the gut. Therefore, when our nutritional status is compromised, so is our production of these “feel-good” chemicals.

What factors contribute to a positive body image?

Food and body image are linked together. The better you can nourish and care for the body, the greater your chances of improving self-esteem and confidence in yourself.

  • Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your everyday life. Look to incorporate eating the Mediterranean diet to provide all the nutrients the body needs.
  • Avoid fad or crash diets and focus on mindful eating. Poor behaviors can often sabotage our efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Three woman taking a selfie in front of sparkling lights

Consider the following recommendations for building a healthier body image:

  • Appreciate all that your body can do.
  • Know that we are all unique and different and that there is no such thing as a perfect weight. The key is to be a “healthy” weight.
  • Remember that most of the images we see on TV, on social media, in magazines, etc., have been “tampered” with to create the illusion of the perfect body. No one is perfect or flawless! Not to mention beauty is truly only skin deep.
  • Choose to follow media that is inspiring and realistic. Focus your attention on personalities that inspire you to become a healthier version of yourself. You can redirect your focus by learning a new hobby, learning a new language, going back to school, traveling, getting involved with charity efforts, taking up a sport, etc. Filter who you emulate.
  • Accept that our genetics may predispose us to be built in different ways. That includes how our body distributes muscle and fat.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it. Read this article on how cleaning out your wardrobe and getting rid of pieces that don’t make you feel your best can help with your self-image.
  • Do something nice for yourself.
  • Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself.
  • Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Seek out professional help from a behavior and or nutritional therapist and a personal trainer to aid in your recovery.
  • As your body image changes and improves, you will likely find that you have more time and mental energy available to you. Devote some of this time and energy to helping those around you.

It is important for each person to develop a healthy and comfortable relationship with their body image. Having a healthy body image results in healthy eating, improved socialization, healthy exercising, a healthy mind and body, and improved relationships.

By taking care of your body, you will be taking care of YOU.

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