14 Tips for the Self-Image You Deserve!April 25, 2016
Have you ever lost weight but were still dissatisfied with how your body looked? Yes? You can relax because you’re in good company. One of the most common adjustment issues for people who have lost weight is having a negative self-image. People who struggle with this problem typically have a long history with it but, after losing weight, it can play out differently.
Before weight loss, it may have been a matter of general body image dissatisfaction. After losing weight, it may be a matter of sagging skin of the stomach, breasts, legs, and arms. Even though the weight loss is evident to all, the person who lost the weight has a unique perspective. What we see, and what the rest of us see from the outside, can be two entirely different views. People who experience dramatic weight loss understand that it takes a while for “the head to catch up with the body.”
People who experience dramatic weight loss understand that it takes a while for “the head to catch up with the body.”
How a Negative Self-Image Occurs
The origins of negative self-image can go back to early development. People whom I’ve interviewed have identified experiences in childhood where they became aware that they were different than their peers. It’s always been fascinating to me how detailed their recollections can be. They’ll recall the first and last name of the boy who teased them 20 years ago in sixth grade. They’ll remember the exact moment when a friend pointed out that they were gaining weight. One patient remembered having weight issues in the fourth grade because she had developed early. She recalled, “I wore a full-size bra by the time I was 10.” She noted that all of her friends were “straight up and down” during that same time. “I felt self-conscious about this figure I had.” She was fully aware that she was different in this way, and developed a negative self-image.
Experiences from friends and family can have a profound impact on how we view ourselves.
Adolescence is a fascinating time in our development as well. This is the phase of life where we’re trying to figuring out who we are and what we identify with. The experiences we encounter during this time helps shape our identity, gives us a sense of self or lack thereof. There is an immense social pressure to fit in and be accepted by our peers because having a sense of belonging/being “normal” helps us feel secure as people. Unfortunately, this is where we begin believing our worth and value is tied to our body shape, degree of attractiveness etc. The reason this is such a key issue is that it is an identity issue which plays out through adulthood.
The formation of our identity during adolescence can affect every aspect of our lives. Interestingly, the average onset of problematic weight gain for a weight loss surgery patient is around 12 years – typically the beginning of pubertal changes. What takes places during adolescence is extremely influential to the core of our being. I believe this is why even successful weight loss surgery patients can have difficulty in seeing themselves as thin; they’re just not used to it. I know many people who are more than ten years post-weight loss surgery and still struggle in this area. It’s an ongoing process to recalibrate one’s eyes to the reality of a different body.
The Weight of Words
If it’s true that words affect us, the words that you speak about yourself have influence too.
A negative self-image is reinforced through negative messages you’ve entertained from others. Once you hear that you’re “fat,” “ugly,” or “dumb” from someone (once or repeatedly), it’s likely that you’ll reiterate this same message to yourself over and over. The consequence is that this false belief becomes well ingrained. To counter the negative effects, you have to “rewrite” or replace these messages with positive ones.
Being told you’re fat as a child can play out in a number of different ways, sometimes it sets someone up for being so. Teasing from peers or family members at almost any stage of development can solidify your perception of self. Your parental influence is powerful as the comments and criticisms received from this source hit us at our core. Patients will often tell me that they always thought they were fat but when they see pictures of themselves from that period they realize it wasn’t always so. And once someone hears those negative comments often, they began to see themselves through lenses that reinforce that belief.
To sustain an improved body image, it is important to think and feel differently about your looks, shape, and weight. Practicing a positive body image means you no longer let those aspects define your value and self-worth. No matter what your age, you’ve given enough time and energy to those negative thoughts. It’s time to give the old thoughts less power over your life. Entertaining negative thinking contributes to compromised decision-making and, more than likely, a pattern of self-neglect. Simply, practice positive self-talk, if you don’t reinforce you’re worth it, you’re less likely to sustain it (health).
14 Tips & Thoughts for Having a Positive Self-Image
- Beware of comparisons – everyone has their own journey, you’re only responsible for yours.
- Validate yourself on a daily basis – positive words are like verbal vitamins!
- Do not criticize yourself aloud – this reinforces the negativity.
- Attend to your body’s needs – stay hydrated, don’t skip meals, get enough protein daily.
- Learn to accept compliments – all you have to do is say, “Thank you.”
- Do some form of activity every day – whatever your limitations, do what you can!
- Remember, beauty is a mindset and it’s more than skin deep.
- Other people’s standards don’t define you e.g. the media, commercials etc.
- Accept yourself one aspect at a time; you can love your body and try to change it simultaneously.
- Choose clothes that make you feel good, work with your body not against it.
- Practice optimism – confidence is attractive!
- Surround yourself with people who also want to live and think healthy.
- Scales don’t define you either.
- It’s about good health and quality of living. Don’t let the world distract you from keeping the main thing the main thing.
Having a positive self-image and body image comes through the practice of respecting your body, caring for it inside and out. It’s about loving yourself for who you are now, how you’ll be, and who you were. As one patient told me, “I was always good enough, I just didn’t believe it.” You can believe it, just live it.
ABOUT THE AUTHORDr. Steven Reyes offers expertise on the psychological adjustments associated with weight loss surgery. Dr. Reyes is best known for his compassionate coaching and therapeutic approach in helping others with their psychological and physical well-being. Dr. Reyes' research includes a phenomenological study of the post-surgical adjustment issues with weight loss surgery patients between 1 and 2 years post-op.
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