Boost Your Body Image and Quality of Life

By:    Medically Reviewed: Tom Iarocci, MD   Published: February 21, 2014

Women of every size and shape can learn to love and appreciate their bodies, but it takes a self-compassionate heart and requires a blind eye to media hype.

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Every year, you resolve — with a little self-pummeling — to lose weight or tone up. This year, why not change things up? Instead of launching a diet or exercise attack plan, how about shifting your mindset instead of your diet?

That’s radical thinking, all right.

 

If you’re not at your healthiest body weight and that exacerbates a chronic or painful condition such as arthritis or diabetes, then it deserves your strictest attention. However, if you’re generally healthy and exercising already but cannot seem to love the body you inhabit, it’s time to explore other feel-good options, like changing your perception of your body, instead of beating yourself over those last 5 to 10 pounds.

 

Chances are you’ll not only be happier, but more self-possessed too.

 

According to a new study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers studied the body image perception of 1,800 women age 50 and older. They found that 12 percent of women were satisfied with their bodies, and all 12 percent experienced a better quality of life than those who were unsatisfied.

 

“We found that women who feel better about themselves are more likely to be engaging in the world and doing things that are healthy for them,” says psychologist and lead study author Cristin Runfola, MS, PhD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

Researchers also discovered that satisfied women were less likely to crash diet and to engage in destructive eating habits, such as purging and using laxatives. They made fewer body checks, such as pinching their stomachs and checking themselves in the mirror. And they were less envious of others, including younger women, and yearned less for their younger selves.

 

It’s not a whopping surprise that the more confident women also tended to be thinner than dissatisfied women and didn’t view gaining five pounds as “catastrophic.” They exercised significantly more, an average of six hours per week compared with 3.7 hours for dissatisfied women.

 

“These positive women actively work at body satisfaction,” says Runfola. “But their weight and shape don’t seem to have a negative impact on their life. It’s possible that some women don’t buy the stereotypical messages that only thin, young women are attractive.”

 

Interestingly, several women in the study had positive self-images despite their classification in statistical tables as overweight.

 

Take the Next Steps

How can you adopt some of that body confidence? Here are tips to get you there:

  • Silence your inner critic. Don’t say things out loud (or under your breath) about your own body that you would never say to a friend. Treat yourself with more compassion and self-respect.  
  • Ignore advertising that hypes only the thin and young. “Be a critical consumer of media,” says Runfola. “Learn what advertisers are trying to sell through their images.”
  • Exercise and eat for health. Don’t hit the gym or go to a restaurant with the notion that you’re exercising to drop pounds or eating only to slash calories. Think of mealtime as an opportunity to fuel an active lifestyle and make smarter choices.
  • Treat your body as a friend. Get a massage, dip in a hot tub or experiment with exotic moisturizers. “Treat your body as something that does good things for you, not as something to fight against,” says Runfola.
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sources
  • Runfola CD., MS, PhD, psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Global Foundation for Eating Disorders scholar. http://www.gfed.org/about/gfed-scholars/. Interviewed December 2013.
  • Runfola CD., et al. “Characteristics of Women With Body Size Satisfaction at Midlife: Results of the Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study.” Journal of Women & Aging 2013; 25 (4); pages 287-304. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=runfola+CD%2C+characteristics+of+women. Accessed December 2013.
  • Wood-Barcalow NL, et al. “‘But I Like My Body’: Positive Body Image Characteristics and a Holistic Model for Young-Adult Women.” Body Image 2010; 7 (2); pages 106-116. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20153990. Accessed December 2013.
  • Ohio State University. “Women’s Body Image Based More on Others’ Opinions Than Their Own Weight.” http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/intuitive.htm. Accessed December 2013.
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