Co-written by Nisha Parker
It's no surprise that negative body image affects people of all ages and genders, considering how frequently the media exposes us to unrealistic standards of beauty. Open a magazine and you are bombarded with images of stick-thin fashion models, airbrushed women with poreless skin, celebrities with perfect makeup and hair, men with chiseled jawlines and glistening abs, and dozens of articles on how to "lose weight fast" -- the obsession of the century.
Check Instagram and get lost in the plethora of photos of bikini models with tiny waists and glowing skin, promoting the newest weight loss supplements and "detox" teas. The list goes on, and it is dangerously easy to get sucked into the mentality that we must attain these very specific standards; it's no wonder so many of us have trouble feeling confident in our own skin.
The "ideal" body type presented by the media certainly does not represent the average person, and hating your own body does more harm than you may think. Many of us think that hating our bodies can motivate us to change and become healthier, but this mentality can actually produce the opposite effect. This weight-focused approach can lead to short-term weight loss, but most people have trouble maintaining these results and do not necessarily improve their long-term health.
In fact, yo-yo dieting and constant cycles of weight loss and weight gain are associated with greater occurrences of hypertension, insulin sensitivity and a number of other health problems. This mentality can also lead to being unhealthily preoccupied with food and body, reduced self-esteem and eating disorders. If you are struggling with body positivity and an unhealthy relationship with food, registered dietitian Julie Duffy Dillion (takes a non-dieting/body positive approach to healthy living) has a great podcast.
A healthy lifestyle should be motivated by love for our bodies rather than hate. Those who accept and love their bodies typically eat healthier and exercise more than those with negative body image. Studies show that focusing on health at our current size, rather than focusing on weight loss, is linked to improvements in blood pressure, blood lipids, eating and exercise habits, self-esteem and body image.
This approach, known as Health at Every Size (HAES), has been shown to improve both physical and mental health. Body acceptance is something everyone can work on, regardless of weight. I recently heard a fellow RD, Rebecca Scritchfield, encapsulates this idea in the saying "you can't hate yourself healthy." To learn more about how to be more kind towards your body, Rebecca has a fabulous podcast called Body Kindness.
Our ideal weight is whatever size we reach when we treat our bodies healthily. Another name for this is out natural weight. It may not match the body type glorified by the media or be the same size as our friends, but whatever weight we reach when we are living a happy and healthy lifestyle is our ideal weight to take on the world.
We each only have one body, after all, and we should focus on all the great things it can do for us when we treat it well. Eat healthy (and delicious) food to nourish and fuel for your body as well as your mind, and exercise in a way that allows you to feel good. So, stand up straight and love your body, because a positive body image is clearly vital for good health -- both mentally and physically.
If you are looking to improve your relationship with your body and want to be more positive towards it, download my list of 10 Steps to a Positive Body Image.
To learn more about Health at every size and why your health is so much more than your weight visit HaesCommunity.com.
Also, Linda Bacon, PhD has written many interesting books on the topic of body size with a refreshing take on changing one's body size.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST: