It’s no secret that weight loss and improved health top the charts when it comes to the most common New Year’s resolutions. However, a recent study suggests that we may be more successful in achieving our goals if we simply focus on improving our self-image rather than the number we see on the scale.
A professor at Florida State University and her research team are testing out a new program that encourages body acceptance. “Consider what is really going to make you happier and healthier in 2018: losing 10 pounds or losing harmful attitudes about your body?” Keel asked.
She says the disparity between what we believe to be an “ideal body” and what is actually attainable make it difficult for a person to feel motivated enough to make changes.
The Body Project
In her research, Keel refers to “The Body Project” as one strategy that could help improve self-image. The program was designed by Eric Stice (Oregon Research Institute) and Professor Carolyn Becker (Trinity University in Texas) to reduce the risk of eating disorders and poor body image.
One popular exercise in the program requires standing in front of a full-length mirror in little to no clothing. The person must identify the parts of their body that they like. The praise doesn’t have to be appearance related. For example, one might say: “I really appreciate that my legs allow me to get around every day.”
If the subject feels negativity towards a specific body part, the idea is to simply spend less time thinking about it. By focusing on positive attributes, the individual begins to transform their feelings about their body, says Keel.
The key is acceptance
“If you make yourself consistently behave outwardly in a way that reinforces appreciation and acceptance of your body, then those actions will eventually get you to a point where you actually do feel that way about your body,” she added.
Another helpful exercise is to think of specific activities that are avoided such as swimming or wearing shorts, and then doing them. According to the study, this simple exercise may help to instill a sense of freedom. The individual will realize that nothing bad happens by doing these activities. In fact, everyone is completely fine with it. Thus, this simple exercise reinforces body acceptance through experience.
Through her research, Keel has found that these strategies really do work and often go beyond improved body image. Once unattainable body ideals are eliminated, there is often an improvement in mood, self-esteem and overall eating patterns.
When people feel good about themselves, they are more likely to take better care of themselves rather than treating their bodies like an enemy or object,” said Keel. “That’s a powerful reason to rethink the kind of New Year’s resolutions we make for 2018.”