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How to Improve Your Body Image with Gratitude

With Thanksgiving in Canada, literally around the corner, I wanted to chat about gratitude.

What I love about thanksgiving. It’s literally in the name. it’s that time of year that we pause and list all the usual things that we’re thankful for – our family, our kids, our spouse…

Which is great! BUT how many times a day, week, a year or even a decade do you pause to thank your body?

body image gratitude

I’m going to venture a guess that it’s not very many. Possibly even zero. Don’t worry, I think you’re in the majority.

There is a lot of media around body positivity and positive body image lately. But what does that even mean… because to me it sounds a lot easier than it actually is. I mean it took me a very long time to change those negative thought patterns. And to be honest, sometimes it still gets me. But now I have the tools to deal with it.

Body image refers to how an individual sees their own body, it’s your own perception of your body, what you believe about your appearance, how you feel about your body, how you move your body. The mental picture we have of our bodies is often held up against an image of what we think we should look like. The perception of your body can, however, be influenced by others. And often beliefs about ourselves begin at a young age. I know it did for me. If you haven’t yet, check out Episode 1 of the Nurture Me Podcast and listen to my story.

So, let’s talk about gratitude. Because gratitude has the power to shift your relationship with your body.

By definition, gratitude is the quality of being thankful, a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I want to point out that our bodies are pretty remarkable, whether we acknowledge them for it or not. Just think about all your body can do without you actually thinking about it…

Maybe it’s the science nerd in me that is completely fascinated that our bodies do so much just on their own. Your heart continues to beat, your lungs continue to breathe, your liver detoxifies, your kidneys filter, your pancreas controls your blood sugar, your digestive system takes food and turns it into usable energy! Come’ on that’s remarkable!

And that’s just what your body does on its own not even what you ask it to. I’m a firm believer in that statement our bodies can do what our minds set out to do. Meaning if you think you can’t, you won’t. But if you believe you can, you will.

Researchers have actually proven that gratitude can improve body image. The simple act of offering your body gratitude shifts how you view your body. Notice I said simple and not easy.

When I talk about gratitude for your body, I mean all parts of your body. Even those parts you shame, that you criticize, that you wish were different.

This is a practice I have been working on for some time. As someone who began body shaming at just 6 years old. My wounds and negative tendencies were deeply ingrained.

I recently read a quote, “what could women accomplish if we weren’t so focused on our bodies?”

It takes a whole lot of energy to feel shame for our bodies. I know because I’ve been there. I have stared in the mirror and told myself the most hateful things. Things I would never even dream of saying to another human being. Things that today I can’t even fathom.

I think as a society, we tend to focus way more on what we don’t like about our body – our perceived imperfections, the aches and pains, our shortcomings.

Brené Brown, a shame researcher, says that body image is the number one shame trigger for women. And the best way to diffuse shame is to talk about it and to know that you’re not alone in your struggles. A couple of weeks ago I hosted a workshop on body image. The women that showed up for my workshop really showed up. They were open, they were vulnerable and they shared their shame. And you know what, there was a common theme with how they viewed their bodies.

After the workshop, a participant mentioned to me that she would never have known that the other women were experiencing the same feelings and shame around their bodies because when she looked at them, she thought they had perfect lives and had no idea that they were struggling too.

But that’s the thing about shame, it’s really easy to hide. It’s uncomfortable to talk about and it has been a taboo subject for a really long time.

Because body shaming has become a social norm for most of us, it is going to take a conscious effort to begin to love and appreciate our bodies.

When I was deep in self-loathing telling my body that I was grateful for the way that it looked just felt like an outright lie. I’d say the affirmations and then cringe. These were supposed to help. But why did I feel so disconnected while I repeated them?

Because I didn’t believe them. They were so far from how I felt that I couldn’t connect the dots.

So, I changed my affirmations to what felt true for me. 'I am willing to' became my core statement. Because I was really willing to like my body.

I focused on being grateful for what my body does and less on what it looked like. And I’d focus on each part and name why I was grateful for that body part. What it does do for me. I have two fully functioning, legs, arms, hands, kidneys. I have a lot to be grateful for. But until I started this exercise I couldn’t see that.

I now look in a full-length mirror and offer each body part gratitude, starting with my feet. I am grateful that my feet carry me around. I am grateful for my strong legs that support me. I am grateful for my stomach for turning food into usable energy.

I highly encourage you to try this on a daily basis. When we offer our bodies gratitude how we view them shifts. You cannot be grateful and shameful at the same time. Choose the former.

If you’re on any form of social media, watched T.V. ever, or opened a magazine in the last 50 years… I’m going to venture a guess that you’ve compared yourself, your body and your life to someone else.

Researchers have studied how impactful it is to our psyche when we idealized certain body types. The more we hold an ideal of what we think our body SHOULD look like, the lower our appreciation of our actual body. When we nix the comparison, we allow ourselves to be who we are.

I know I have personally, unfollowed social media accounts that triggered my comparison voice and began following more accounts that supported self-love, gratitude and expressing joy. This has allowed me to take the time and do the work of releasing shame and start appreciating my body for all that it is and all that it is not.

It’s also really hard to hate your body and take good care of it. Because we simply don’t take care of the things that we hate…

How do you care for your body?

You could start by moving your body daily. Your body was designed to move, to stretch, to play. Stop punishing your body with exercise and start moving your body to feel good. A session at the gym shouldn’t be your punishment for eating birthday cake, pizza or a piece of chocolate.

I used to run every single day because it made me feel really good. It calmed my anxiety. It allowed me to feel free and safe in a life that was crumbling around me. Though I did lose weight, running was never about losing weight. I did it out of the pure joy of moving.

When you move your body from a place of joy and feeling good, you feel more grateful for your body’s ability to do so. What movement feels really good in your body? Go do that!

As a nutritional consultant, I may be a little biased but choose foods that make your body feel good, those which energize you, those which make you feel confident in your skin.

You can also care for your body by ending the negative self-talk.

I’ve wanted to be thinner, to not have cellulite, to have thighs that didn’t rub together, to have clear skin, to be prettier, to not have excess skin. There was a lot I wanted to change about my body and I would constantly remind it that I didn’t think it was good enough. I can recall standing in a mirror and looking at my body with utter disgust.

The thing is (and I think you’ll agree), I would never talk to my best friend, my sister or my mother that way. I send them love and positive encouragement. So why don’t we do that for ourselves? What if instead of beating yourself up, you gently encouraged yourself?

Kristen Neff has outlined three elements of self-compassion that I love.

1. Self-kindness

What if instead, you tried focusing on using kinder words, gentler words, more loving words. A year ago at a workshop, I learned an exercise that has stuck with me. When a negative thought comes up – if you’re sitting, stand up and if you’re standing, sit down. The physical shift is enough to knock you out of the negative pattern and allow you to choose a new thought.

2. Common humanity

When we’re suffering we tend to believe that we’re alone in our struggles. But the truth is that all humans suffer. To be human is to be mortal, to be vulnerable and to be imperfect. Letting go of the idea of perfection gives you a whole lot more energy to dedicate to things that bring you joy. And recognizing that you are not alone but surrounded by a community that is struggling alongside you.

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a non-judgemental, receptive state of mind in which one observes thoughts and feelings without trying to suppress or deny them. You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.

Start showing your body some love by offering it gratitude for all that it does for you (because it’s pretty amazing).

I encourage you to start writing down gratitude lists for your body. Each day list 5 things that you are grateful for about your body and why. Include your health, your physical appearance or the functionality of your body – whatever feels right to you that day.

What to do next...

  1. Any questions? Leave me a comment below.

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