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Body image is how we feel about our bodies. Whatever our size or weight, we can develop either a positive or negative view of our bodies.

People with a positive image of themselves feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed. They don’t obsess about calories, food, or weight, and they have the energy they need to enjoy physical activity.

Those with negative body image feel more self-conscious, anxious, and isolated and are at greater risk for excessive weight gain and for eating disorders.

Here are some ways you can give yourself (and your family and friends) the gift of positive body image:

Monitor What You Say About Yourself: If you talk about your huge thighs, your latest deprivation diet, or your punishing workouts, listeners will naturally absorb these negative messages. It could cause them to worry about the size of their own thighs and think they should be dieting.

Shift Your Focus from Weight to Health: Stop obsessing about numbers on the scale, and concentrate on delicious nutrition and fun physical activity. You don’t always need to work out; sometimes, you just need to go for a walk or enjoy a leisurely bike ride with family and friends. Focus on the enjoyment of regular meals and making smart snacking choices.

Be Realistic About Size:  The size you are is likely based on your genetic and environmental history. Don’t obsess about normal weekly and monthly changes in your weight and shape. Work toward self- acceptance and self-forgiveness, and be gentle with yourself.

Ask for Support: Ask your family and friends for help and encouragement when your life is stressful.

Spend Your Mental Energy Wisely:  Make a conscious decision about how you wish to spend your energy. Do you want to pursue the ever-elusive “perfect body,” or do you want to enjoy your family, friends, work, or school – and just life in general?

Many of us carry around a lot of “shoulds” in our heads when it comes to eating. We tell ourselves the we “should” eat this and that we definitely “should not” eat that.

The problem is that many of these “shoulds” are based on limited or false information that comes at us from the outside. Instead of being guided by our own internal wisdom and appetites, we turn these choices over to some outside authority and, in the process, we lose touch with our ability to tune into our bodies and give them what they need.

We focus on what we should eat, but overlook paying attention to how we are eating.

In our busy lives, we often forget to slow down and eat mindfully by paying attention to our food and allowing ourselves time to enjoy it.

Social workers and registered dietitians suggest that normal eating includes:

  • Going to a meal hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
  • Being able to choose food you like and getting enough of it – not just stopping because you think you should.
  • Being able to give some thought to your food selection so that you get nutritious food without being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • Sometimes giving yourself permission to eat because you are happy, sad, bored, or just because it feels good.
  • Eating three meals a day—or four or five—or choosing to munch along the way.
  • Leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow…or eating more right now because they taste so wonderful.
  • Overeating at times and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable…and undereating at times and wishing you had more.
  • Trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.

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