Have you ever felt down about how your body looks? In a world where there’s a lot of pressure to look toned, strong, ripped, muscular and defined, it can be easy to feel low when you don’t quite feel that your body is at its best. Social media is filled with (heavily edited and filtered) pictures of “perfect” bodies, before-and-after transformation pictures and six-packs. Magazines are packed full of (photo-shopped) men flaunting how many hours they’ve spent in the gym and how low their body fat percentage is. When you are comparing yourself to these (often unrealistic and heavily edited) images of what bodies “should” look like, it’s understandable that you may start to feel down about your body. A survey from the UK charity the Mental Health Foundation found that 28% of men have experienced anxiety because of body image issues and a study from charity CALM suggests that almost half of all men struggle with their mental health due to how their body looks.
As you embark on a weight loss journey and start to change the way your body looks, it’s especially important that you’re feeling good about your body (even though it may not look exactly as you want it to just yet). Often, people will give up on their health and weight-loss goals if they feel bad about their bodies. The way this pattern plays out is often as follows:
- You decide to go on a health journey and are excited about getting healthy and strong.
- You’re making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle but aren’t really noticing any drastic changes in how your body looks after a week or two.
- You feel down and bad about your body and impatient to see results faster.
- You think “what is the point in even trying – this isn’t working” and then you give up on your goals.
- However, if you had just been a bit more patient and hadn’t felt so bad about your body, you would have kept going with the positive diet and lifestyle changes and would have felt much better several months down the line.
This is why it’s so important that you build a positive body image on your weight loss journey – even though your body doesn’t quite look how you want it to yet. Here are 6 tools you can use to feel better about your body:
1. Remind yourself that change takes time
When you begin on a health journey you can want to see results really quickly. You may even find yourself frustrated and down if you don’t notice changes in your body and appearance after a few weeks or a few days. It can be helpful to remind yourself that change takes time and that it’s important to be patient with the process. Gradual and slow change is much more sustainable in the long term. Often, crash diets and extreme weight loss can cause eating disorders and ultimately result in weight gain. It’s much more helpful to achieve slow change and gradual progress than it is to do something extreme that doesn’t have lasting results.
2. Focus on your positive qualities
We all tend to be pretty harsh on ourselves and this often involves obsessing on and focusing on our flaws rather than celebrating our strengths. However, other people will not usually even notice the flaws that we’re obsessing over. We tend to be much kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. You can therefore improve how you feel about your body by aiming to focus on the things that you like about your appearance and your body rather than those things that you don’t like about it. It can also help to focus on aspects of you that have nothing to do with your appearance such as your personality traits and what other people like about you, so that you shift the focus away from what you look like.
3. Limit your use of social media and consumption of TV/magazines that make you feel bad about yourself
Research has indicated that exposure to the media can have a negative impact on body image. It can therefore help to limit the time you spend on social media and to only follow those accounts that make you feel good about yourself and your body. Also, stop watching TV shows or reading magazines that make you feel down about your body. Aim to not compare yourself to others. When we make comparisons with other people, they’re not typically a fair comparison as we will compare the “best version” of someone else against the “worst version” of ourselves. Keep reminding yourself that the filtered and edited images that you see on social media or in magazines often do not represent reality.
4. Wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself
The survey carried out by The Mental Health Foundation found that one in five of the men that participated had felt the need to dress in a way that hid their body or certain body parts. When people struggle with their body image there can be a tendency to either wear really baggy clothes to hide away or to wear old clothes that are too tight. Both of these options can make someone feel bad about themselves and their body. It’s helpful to try and find clothes that not only fit well but are also flattering and make you feel good about yourself. You may resist buying nice new clothes, thinking “I will buy clothes once I am at my goal weight”. However, it’s important that you feel good about yourself day-to-day so that you stay motivated to keep making good choices and to keep pursuing your goals. You’re much more likely to stay motivated if you’re feeling good and positive about yourself than if you feel down about yourself and your body.
5. Remind yourself that body image standards are arbitrary and pursuing these body “ideals” can be harmful long term
In Western culture, there’s a strong drive for men to either strive to have a very muscular body or to have a very lean and thin body, due to the images portrayed in the media. However, research suggests that pursuing “muscularity” can cause unhealthy behaviours such as extreme dieting, steroid use and excessive weight training. Negative body image is also one of the biggest drivers of eating disorders in both men and women. Also, the drive to pursue either a muscular body type or to pursue thinness for men seems to be very heavily influenced by a range of factors, including images portrayed in the media, the influence of friends and family, the country someone was born and raised in and comments from peers. Effectively, your environment and the influences around you will shape what body type you aspire to and think is attractive. However, when we look at how this differs in different countries and throughout the ages, you realise that we’re often just aspiring to quite arbitrary body image standards. Also, a lot of the very muscular or very lean bodies that we see in the media do not necessarily represent “good health”. The person who has this body does not necessarily have a well-balanced diet and healthy exercise regime. They may instead be using steroids, struggling with an eating disorder, spending so much time in the gym that their personal life and relationships are struggling or otherwise not doing well. True good health is a balance between physical health, mental health and emotional health. The images you see on social media and in magazines don’t necessarily represent good health.
6. Talk to and open up to others about how you feel
Men can be reluctant to open up to others about how they feel about their bodies. However, not sharing your thoughts and feelings with others can leave you feeling isolated and alone. There is often so much pressure to be strong and tough and not show any weakness or vulnerability that many people don’t open up about how they’re feeling or what they’re going through. Know, however, that it’s very normal and very common to feel down and bad about your body and that it can actually help to talk about this. Talking about your feelings and what you’re going through is not a sign of weakness - it is, in fact, a sign of immense strength. Whether you talk to a loved one, a friend or a mental health professional about how you’re feeling about your body – just sharing your thoughts and feelings can really help you to manage and process them effectively.
The bottom line
Many men struggle with their body image and this is often the result of the unrealistic and unhelpful images that are portrayed in the media of very muscular or lean bodies. Minimising your exposure to these images can be helpful. However, it can also be helpful to remember that you don’t know what people have done to look this way – they could be miserable, struggling with an eating disorder, using steroids or spending their whole life in the gym. It’s much more helpful to just aim to be as happy and healthy as you can be rather than worrying about what other people look like and comparing yourself to others. It can also help to aim to celebrate all of your strengths and positive qualities as you begin on the journey to good health – as feeling good about yourself is likely to be far more motivating long term than feeling bad about yourself and your body.