Love and fear make up the duality of most of our lives. They are the difference between acceptance and rejection, compassion and intolerance, admiration and hate– basically feeling good and feeling poorly. How we feel towards our body plays an important role in our mental and physical health. Through love we are able to discover what makes us feel good inside + out and therefore create a positive impact on our health and lifestyle. In contrast, fearing our flaws and going to extreme measures in an effort to “fix” them is a cause for stress and discouragement. Though it can be difficult to avoid criticizing ourselves based on body standards in the media, it’s so extremely important for our health and mental wellbeing to overcome this negativity. Fearing or hating your body can lead to health concerns such as body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. I, like a lot of women my age, struggle with fully accepting my body and I believe the first step to loving it is understanding the benefits.
Less stress on the body
At this point I’m sure we all have an idea of the negative effects stress has on the body– well feeling negatively towards our bodies can cause a great deal of it. In small doses stress can motivate us, but larger amounts hinder our ambition altogether. This explains why crash diets and extreme + sudden changes in exercise patterns usually don’t last. When we become overwhelmed by our own unrealistic expectations we’re more likely to lose interest and are left feeling defeated. This cycle can lead to even more negativity and body-shaming. Degrading our bodies on a consistent basis not only increases levels of stress, it just flat out doesn’t help us achieve our goals. On the other hand, loving our bodies pushes us to treat it with care. You don’t force and degrade things that you truly love, you nurture them. A loving mindset allows us to figure out what our body’s wants and needs are. By doing exercises we actually enjoy, finding a healthy relationship with food instead of crash dieting, and accepting our body for all that it is, we are actively loving ourselves. Bottom line is love feels good, fear doesn’t.
Feeds your motivation rather than draining it
The easiest way to get discouraged doing anything is by setting unrealistic expectations and then punishing yourself for failing. If we go from never exercising to creating this daily to-do of strenuous and dreadful exercises we don’t enjoy, it can only last so long. That’s not to say we shouldn’t reach for our best, but if it doesn’t work out as planned we must realize there might be a better way and not beat ourselves up over it. Figuring out what we really want is the first step to creating habits, and in order to find out what our body wants we need to love it enough to listen. Maybe you hate running and salads, so instead take salsa lessons and make some mean + healthy tacos. We all have our own preferences and it’s important to figure out what they are. There’s many ways to move your body, not just running or lifting weights, just as there are many delicious foods to choose from that are healthy. We have options, and we also have the internet *hallelujah*. Try new things, find your body passions and lose the have-to’s. Do what makes you feel good inside + out.
Positive reinforcements yield better long term results than punishment
It’s been shown that positive reinforcement has the greatest effect on long term behavior for conditioning. Though acting out of fear of punishment can produce results as well, it’s usually short-lived and can lead to negative emotions such as anger and resentment. When striving to feel good and change our lifestyle it’s important to create long term habits, and since going on crash diets and punishing ourselves for “cheating” can only produce short term results, it doesn’t seem to be the best path to take. It’s important we find ways to positively reinforce desired behaviors. Treating yourself to a new recipe that is not only healthy but includes your favorite food, or finding a form of exercise that is actually enjoyable are great win-win actions. Instead of punishing yourself for eating a food you prefer to avoid, promise yourself an item or experience you desire every time you mindfully replace this food with something healthier.
Loving your body is the only sure way to contentment
This is a difficult concept to grasp when we believe happiness is right around the corner from obtaining our ideal body, but true love is unconditional. The absolute only way to achieve true love for our body is by loving it unconditionally. Not when you lose 10 pounds or alter your features, but for all that it is right now. That’s not to say we should avoid altering our appearance– achieving body goals, grooming, and dressing in a way that makes us feel good are all great self-esteem boosters. But it’s important to remember that body love isn’t a result of reaching our idea of perfection, it can only come from within. Trying to achieve your ideal body is a vicious cycle with no end in sight. I believe the only way to be truly happy with our body is through learning to love it without conditions or fear.