Body image starts to form in early childhood, and it can affect how you view your body’s attractiveness and health. Many of us struggle with body image concerns, and this preoccupation can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, mental health problems, and obsession with weight loss.
Since dieting doesn’t work and some research indicates that losing weight doesn’t change negative body image, experts suggest using self-compassion. Self-compassion is being warm, kind, and understanding with ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Treating ourselves with compassion includes honoring and accepting that we are human, and that we will have frustrations, make mistakes, and fail sometimes. In terms of body image, initial research has shown that self-compassion is related to fewer body concerns and less guilt about eating.
For many of us, self-compassion is a new skill that we must learn and practice. With practice, self-compassion becomes easier to access on a regular basis. Some ways to start practicing self-compassion include:
- How would you treat a friend? Think about how you would help a friend who is struggling. Then think about how you treat yourself when you are struggling – is there a difference? Consider treating yourself the same way you care for your friends when they are going through a tough time.
- Keep a self-compassion journal: Write about difficult or stressful situations in your life, recognize that everyone struggles some of the time, and write some kind, understanding words of comfort.
- Use kindness phrases: when you notice you are being critical toward yourself, say (aloud or in your head) a phrase of kindness. Examples include: May I give myself the compassion that I need; May I forgive myself; May I be strong.
More self-compassion exercises, including guided meditations, can be found here.