By Hailey Shafir, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS
Most women are conditioned to focus more on how their body looks, instead of on how it feels and functions. This can translate into a number of issues including poor self-esteem and body image, but it can also have ripple effects on women’s physical and mental health. Research shows that both men and women with poor self-esteem and body image often develop bad habits that increase the risk for eating disorders, mental health issues, and even substance abuse. Even seemingly good habits like dieting and exercising can become unhealthy when the focus is solely on trying to change weight or appearance.
Women who are more critical of their bodies are more easily lured by fad diet trends, weight loss supplements, and cosmetic procedures, despite the way these can negatively impact their overall health. They may be able to make healthy choices for a short time but are more likely to give up when these don’t seem to be paying off on the scale or in the mirror. Eventually, body image issues will resurface again in the future, even if they do make progress or meet their goals.
On the most basic level, it makes sense that the more you dislike your body, the less likely it is you will treat it kindly and take good care of it. You might not always like the way your body looks, especially as you get older, but try to appreciate it for all it does. Every day, your body helps you accomplish things you need and want to do, big and small. It makes it possible to go places, have new experiences, and move freely. Your body might have even brought children into the world or helped you overcome a major illness or injury.
Like it or not, you have this one body, and it needs to last you a lifetime – hopefully a long and healthy one. Instead of just focusing on how your body looks, try to invest time and energy into keeping it strong and healthy. This means making decisions based on your long-term health, instead of your short-term appearance.
How can you make sure that in ten, twenty, or thirty years your body can still do all of the things you need and want it to do?
Some Tips to Get You Started
- Do What You Love: Continue to live an active lifestyle, not for your weight, but to maintain your ability to do the things you love. Make a list of the things you want to continue to be able to do, like working in the garden, going for hikes or bike rides, or picking up your nephew or grandson. As you age, this will become more important, as the phrase, “use it or lose it” becomes more of a reality.
- Listen to Your Body: Stay in tune to your body’s needs. Your body communicates its needs to you through sensations like hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain. Stay aware of these cues and when you notice them, adjust your behavior. Remember that your body’s needs are constantly changing, requiring more frequent adjustments from you depending on your age, physical and mental health, and stress levels.
- Mind What Goes in: Be very aware of what you put into your body. This includes feeding your body with nutrient dense whole foods and avoiding harmful pesticides, sugars, and chemical additives when possible. This also means avoiding overuse of drugs like caffeine, or alcohol abuse, and any other potentially addictive substances. Even seemingly “natural” drugs like marijuana can have harmful effects on your body. Even exposures to chemical cleaning products or hygiene products can negatively impact your health.
- Be Preventative Instead of Reactive: Take preventative actions to protect your health, instead of just reactive measures once you are already experiencing problems or symptoms. This means keeping preventative and wellness check-ups with health care providers and attending early to any initial concerns you have about your health. Consult with your healthcare provider about other personalized recommendations they have for you based on your medical and family history.
- Mind-Body Connection: Research has long suggested that there is a powerful link between the mind and body, suggesting that physical and mental health are inseparable. Pay attention to changes in your stress levels and mood. When needed, increase your self-care, take time to recharge, and even consider seeking counseling if you think it could benefit your mental health.