Is shedding weight on your list of New Year resolutions? Scientists suggest that losing the critical thoughts and negative perceptions about your body may be a better idea. Every year, many of us pledge to work harder at being healthy, losing weight or eating more veggies. Researchers from the Florida State University (FSU) in the US tested a new programme encouraging body acceptance and saw dramatic results. “Consider what is really going to make you happier and healthier in 2018: losing 10 pounds or losing harmful attitudes about your body?” said Pamela Keel, Professor at FSU. Body dissatisfaction is a pervasive problem, especially among young women. Over the past 35 years, the ideal body type has become virtually unattainable for most people, and that creates a mismatch with reality. Keel has documented strategies to help people feel better about themselves.
‘The ideas come from an intervention programme called “The Body Project” developed by Eric Stice, Senior Research Scientist at the Oregon Research Institute, and Professor Carolyn Becker at Trinity University in Texas. It was designed to reduce the risk of eating disorders and poor body image. One exercise called mirror-exposure may initially feel uncomfortable, but it directs a person to stand in front of a full-length mirror in little or no clothing and identify specific body traits that are good. The strategies have worked in studies led by Keel and other researchers.
This approach, focusing on positive things rather than singling out negative ones, helps transform people’s feelings about their bodies. “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,” Keel said. Another exercise encourages people struggling with body acceptance to think about specific activities they avoid, such as not going swimming in the summer or not wearing shorts when it is hot, and then choosing to go out and do them.
“Most people experience a sense of freedom when they realise that nothing bad will happen if they wear a swimsuit or shorts in public – everyone is completely fine with it. This reinforces body acceptance through experience,” she said. Research has repeatedly found that the strategies work, and the benefits often go beyond improved body image. “It turns out that discarding those unattainable body ideals also improves your mood, self-esteem, reduces disordered eating behaviours and may reduce the risk of self- injurious behaviour,” Keel said.
The results for healthy body image and healthy eating patterns have been replicated among diverse groups of participants, including a national sorority system and men at risk for eating disorders. “When people feel good about their bodies, they are more likely to take better care of themselves rather than treating their bodies like an enemy, or even worse, an object,” Keel said. “That’s a powerful reason to rethink the kind of New Year’s resolutions we make for 2018,” she said.