Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Body Image and Weight Management

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Body image is:

  • How you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.
  • What you believe about your own appearance including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations.
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight. 
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.
  • How you feel in your body, not just about your body.

Negative body image is:

  • A distorted perception of your shape—you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are.
  • You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.
  • You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

Positive body image is:

  • A clear, true perception of your shape—meaning you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person`s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

People with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.

We all may have our days when we feel awkward or uncomfortable in our bodies, but the key to developing positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural shape and learn to overpower those negative thoughts and feelings with positive, affirming, and accepting ones.

©2005, National Eating Disorders Association. Permission is granted to copy and reprint materials for educational purposes only. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

Ten Steps To Positive Body Image

One list cannot automatically tell you how to turn negative body thoughts into positive body image, but it can help you think about new ways of looking more healthfully and happily at yourself and your body. The more you do that, the more likely you are to feel good about who you are and the body you naturally have.

  1. Appreciate all that your body can do. Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
  2. Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about you.
  3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
  4. Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you—as a whole person.
  5. Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
  7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
  8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.
  9. Do something nice for yourself—something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
  10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

©2005, National Eating Disorders Association. Permission is granted to copy and reprint materials for educational purposes only. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

Effective Weight Management

Isn't it tempting to try and lose that extra 10 pounds with a crash diet? You starve yourself for a few weeks and suddenly your clothes fit again. You look and feel great for a few more weeks and then.... your clothes start to feel a bit tight again. Within a month or two, those 10 pounds are back! What happened?

Crash diets do not work because they are a short term solution to a long term problem. The only way to lose weight and to maintain that weight loss is to develop a change in behavior and life style. You need to exercise regularly and eat healthy, low-fat meals. If this becomes your regular routine, you will remain slimmer and healthier for a life time.

Another problem with restrictive diets is that people develop the mindset that they can be "model" thin. It is impossible to maintain a level of weight loss and thinness that is too extreme for your height and build. We know now that everyone has what is known as a set point around which their body weight stabilizes. This set point is probably determined by hereditary factors, childhood diet, body type and so on. It is very difficult to lose weight below that set point and keep it off. Likewise, it is difficult to gain a lot of weight above that set point and maintain it, unless your are consistently overeating and consuming high calorie, high fat food. Your body functions best around its set point, so it is important that you set a reasonable goal for weight loss and weight maintenance. This weight level will vary from person to person and will not be "model" thin for most of us. Examining weight charts, talking to a nutritionist and/or a physician, and taking a realistic look at your body build can be helpful in setting a reasonable goal.

Many "diets" have such strict guidelines that one can only adhere to them on a temporary basis. In addition, there are usually "forbidden foods" which you are not supposed to consume. Who can maintain this on an on-going basis? It is okay to consume any food so long as it is done in moderation. Therefore any restrictive diet is doomed to failure and it is likely that you will return to your regular eating pattern unless you develop a more realistic way of eating.

In addition to developing more reasonable ways of eating, it is also very important to exercise as a way to effectively manage your weight. It is extremely difficult to lose weight without exercising. Trying to lose weight without exercising would require serious food restrictions and could be hazardous to your health. Exercise also has added benefits. It helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system in addition to changing your metabolism. Your body becomes better able to burn fat while maintaining your muscle tissue. Exercise also gives you added energy and it helps you recognize when you are truly hungry rather than just bored. When you exercise regularly there is a clear demarcation between hungry and not hungry.

A reasonable exercise program would be thirty minutes of exercise, three to four  times a week. It is important to consult your physician before you start any exercise or weight-loss program. A reasonable weight loss goal is one to two pounds per week. While this may sound slow, this type of weight loss is the easiest to maintain and it allows you to lose fat. Quicker weight loss is simply losing water and/or muscle.

Effective weight management usually requires an analysis of your eating patterns so that you can change some of your behaviors. Do you eat or snack non-stop while watching TV or reading a book? If this is the case, then you want to pay attention when you are consuming your meals and enjoy the taste of your food. You also want to stop buying unhealthy snack foods so that you will not be tempted. Do you tend to overeat when you get worried about upcoming projects or exams? Can you talk about your anxiety or concerns with friends or family rather than eat?

It is also important to give yourself positive feedback when you make small steps toward changing your lifestyle. This could be saying positive things to yourself out loud or rewarding yourself in some small way. It is just as important to avoid giving yourself negative feedback. Do not say "I ate too many fattening things today...I'll never lose weight," and then proceed to eat anything and everything and forget your goal. It is far more helpful to say, "Today I did not eat very well but that will not matter if I continue with my plan for eating healthier."

There are many resources on campus and in the Baltimore area for effective weight management. If you would like to discuss body image, weight management or any other issues, please call or stop by the Counseling Center for an appointment.