Some of us want to get stronger, some of us want to eat healthier, and some of us want to get more sleep, but the one goal we all have in common is to feel more self-love. Self-love is not something that’s taught in school. In fact, we’re more likely taught how not to love ourselves and accept our bodies from friends, parents, and the media (more on that below). But thinking we’re not good enough or constantly trying to change the way our bodies look is stressful, destructive, and a complete waste of energy.
Think about all the time and energy you spend obsessing about the way your body looks or not loving who you are. That time and energy could be spent on more important things like running successful companies, growing fulfilling relationships, and actually going through life feeling happy (imagine!). So how do we get out of the self-hate cycle and accept our bodies as they are? I turned to an expert for advice.
Dr. Adrienne Youdim is not your regular weight lost specialist—she’s a cool weight lost specialist. And by that, I mean she uses her expertise and practice to teach women how to achieve self-love and body acceptance first, knowing that true health can only begin when you love yourself. Dr. Youdim is an internist who specializes in weight loss and nutrition and served as the medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Weight Loss before opening up her own private practice in Beverly Hills. Read: She’s seen a lot of patients who do not accept their body as it is.
As if her long list of experience wasn’t enough, she’s also the author of the book Hungry For More, which connects the desire for weight loss with what we’re lacking emotionally. While she’s a weight loss expert on paper, she’s really a self-love expert because she knows that you cannot reach any health goal without it. Read on for her definition of body acceptance, where it comes from, and six tips that will help you achieve it.
What does “body acceptance” even mean?
We talk a lot about accepting your body and loving yourself, but what does that really mean? Does it mean looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking everything is perfect, or is it like any other romantic relationship where you feel unconditional love and respect? According to Dr. Youdim, body acceptance is different from self-love, but they both share an important factor. “Body acceptance and self-love are not the same, but they are both unconditional and are not dependent on outside factors,” she explained. “We can accept and love ourselves regardless of how we look, how much we weigh, what kind of car we drive, or how much money we make.”
Another important PSA: Body acceptance and loving yourself does not mean that you don’t have goals or aren’t prioritizing self-improvement. Rather, you love and accept yourself so much that you know you deserve to reach your goals. “For example, you can want to lose weight, but body acceptance means that you still accept yourself for who you are in this moment. In fact, that acceptance makes it more likely that we will achieve our goals.” In other words, you don’t accept your body once when you reach certain health goals, you can reach health goals because you accept and love your body as it is right now.
We talk a lot about accepting your body and loving yourself, but what does that really mean? Does it mean looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking everything is perfect, or is it like any other romantic relationship where you feel unconditional love and respect?
Where do body insecurities come from?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a “joking” conversation with your friends over which body part you hate most (Mean Girls style). I am certainly guilty. The sad truth is that body insecurities are so normal that it’s something we bond over with other women. If you’re the Cady Heron who can’t think of anything to dislike about yourself besides bad morning breath, you’re probably the outsider. When we grow up and assimilate to societal norms, we learn pretty quickly that hating our bodies is not only socially acceptable but expected.
“There is so much outside noise that affects how we see ourselves and particularly how we see our bodies,” Dr. Youdim explained. “Not only does social media, TV, and our culture at large dictate how we should look, but many of us are even affected by people we love. For example, a mom who struggles with body image may criticize her own body or engage in unhealthy weight loss strategies. Her words and actions are a form of role-modeing that sends a message to her children that a body needs to look a certain way in order to be acceptable.”
Bottom line: Your body insecurities actually have nothing to do with your own body. They come from external pressure to look a certain way or feel a certain way about yourself. For that reason, no pant size, weight, or body shape is immune. But good news: There’s a way out. Read on for tips to accept your body and love yourself more.
Tips to improve self-love and achieve body acceptance:
1. Start by being more aware
“The first step to achieving self-acceptance is self-awareness,” Dr. Youdim suggested. Self-awareness means knowing what we are saying to ourselves and the messages we’re sending to our bodies. She also suggested distancing yourself from the negative thoughts. For example, if you find yourself hating your thighs or feeling like everyone is staring at your stomach, notice the thought and then look at it objectively. Ask yourself, Is this belief really true? Would a close friend or confidant tell me the same thing? Then, think like the opposite is true, like your thighs look amazing, your jeans fit perfectly, or everyone is staring because of how good you look. “Operate from a place of possibility,” Dr. Youdim advised. “Dare to imagine a different story and allow for that new narrative to stick. With time and practice, it will!”
2. Know that self-love is a skill, not a circumstance
Self-love doesn’t just happen to you once you reach a certain weight, promotion, or get in a relationship. Self-love is a state of mind you work on internally, not a factor that hits you from the inside. If you need some proof, even Dr. Youdim has had to overcome insecurities too. “I was just as critical of myself at size 2 as I was at size 10,” she explained. “Self-love is an inside job, and being overly critical, engaging in self-limiting beliefs, or not accepting our bodies can and will happen at any size.” For whoever needs to hear this: Yes, you can and should love yourself, regardless of “imperfections” you see in the mirror. Stop thinking that changing those imperfections will make you love yourself more and start cultivating self-love as you are now.
Self-love is a state of mind you work on internally, not a factor that hits you from the inside
3. Notice where your relationship with your body is physically manifesting
And now where the tie between lack of self-acceptance and Dr. Youdim’s weight loss practice comes in: Your relationship to food has everything to do with your relationship to your body. “There is a physiologic reason why we can’t control ourselves when it comes to food,” she said. “When we are sad, unfulfilled, anxious, etc., we seek comfort and often turn to food for that comfort.” While a glass of wine or a tub of Ben & Jerry’s might feel temporarily comforting, it does not fix what is making us uncomfortable to begin with and, as Dr. Youdim said, does not address what we are truly hungry for. If you’re anxious or hateful when it comes to your body, those feelings manifest into uncomfortable feelings that then physiologically trigger food cravings. Your body is affected by negative emotions, including when you have negative emotions about your body. Start getting curious about cravings. Identify what you are truly hungry for and what would actually comfort the uncomfortable feeling.
4. Try intentional mindfulness and meditation
As for tangible practices we can add into our routines to cultivate more body acceptance, Dr. Youdim cited mindfulness, meditation, and journaling as being the most effective tools to improve our self-love. Since negative thoughts are typically automatic, being more mindful will allow you to catch yourself in these thoughts (read: self-awareness), and change thought patterns. As the mental health practice taking the world by storm, “studies show that we can foster greater self-acceptance through meditation,” Dr. Youdim said. Meditation in general can help with clarity, but try meditating with an affirmation like “I love myself” or “my body is healthy and powerful” to make it specific to body acceptance. And if meditating isn’t for you, journaling is also a powerful tool. “Writing is a gateway to awareness, self-healing, and transformative change. Gain awareness of thoughts and patterns, set intentions and goals, and offer yourself compassion and grace.”
5. Remind yourself that you are not alone
It may sound cheesy to say that you are not alone, but when we’re struggling with body image issues and lack of self-love, we often are overly focused on our own experience. For example, we’re thinking that everyone is judging us or that other people notice the insecurity like we do. In reality, no one thinks of you as critically as you think of yourself (duh!), and everyone is dealing with their own insecurities. Personally, when I start feeling overly insecure about the way I look, I take it as a sign that I’ve been too focused on myself and start checking in with friends or call my mom to see how she is.
“When we suffer, we imagine that we are the only one,” Dr. Youdim agreed. “Being human means being imperfect. A sense of common humanity can make you feel differently about negative beliefs you have about yourself. Remind yourself that you are not the only one suffering or experiencing insecurities.” When you’re focused on your body, remind yourself that you are not alone. Remember that no one is perfect and everyone has their own insecurities. And then, shift your focus to loving and taking care of other people; it will translate into loving and taking care of yourself.
6. Practice self-kindness (not self-judgment)
The last thing you should do when noticing your insecurities and negative thoughts is to add even more insecurities and negative thoughts on top of that. Don’t be angry at yourself every time you notice a negative thought come up. Instead, practice self-kindness as much as possible. Look into your reactions when you’re feeling inadequate or insecure: Do you feel compassionate and understanding, or are you criticizing? Dr. Youdim suggested thinking of a negative belief you have about yourself. Do you think you’re bad at your job, aren’t likable, or aren’t as attractive as someone else? Now think about how to reframe this belief with an attitude of kindness. How would your best friend, mom, or whoever is kindest to you reframe this thought? Even if you don’t believe the kinder version of the thought, after enough practice, you eventually will.