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Five Activities for Improving Body Image — Registered Dietitian Columbia SC

Part of healing your relationship with food is healing your relationship with your body. However, as anyone who has done this work can tell you, improving body image is hard work. Because bodies change through life, both in appearance and functionality, body image healing is a lifelong journey.

Unfortunately, many of the mainstream messages about body positivity can make it seem like improving body image consists of waking up one day and just deciding to like your looks. If only it were that simple! For starters, body image is much more complex than liking your looks – your personal relationship with your body encompasses your thoughts, feelings, physical abilities, and the felt/somatic sense of being in your body. It’s also impacted by how others treat or see your body based on it’s appearance. You could be 1000% secure with the appearance of your body if you existed in a vacuum, but we live in a society rife with fatphobia, ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and so on, and that is going to have an impact.

When body image is treated as something that can be fixed with a 10 step listicle, it can add to the shame many people experience for struggling, especially when those listicle’s done acknowledge that body image goes beyond what someone sees in the mirror.

That said, while improving body image may not come from finding the perfect body positive mantra to repeat in the mirror each day, many people do find it helpful to have actual activities they can work on to support healing. While body image healing is complex, one thing I’ve learned is that some people are “homework people” and they like to have tangible activities or skills to work on.

In this blog post, I’m sharing five of my favorite body image activities to work on with clients. Instead of treating them like a magic wand that will “fix” body image, I’d encourage you to think of these activities as things you can do to help you feel just a smidge more comfortable in your body (or to feel a little less uncomfortable, if that connects with you more). Think of improving body image as finding lots of little things that make a 1-5% improvement in how you feel in your skin! While none of these activities are a magic fix, they may be a tool that helps you feel just a smidge more comfortable day to day.

Five Activities for Improving Body Image

Express gratitude to your body

In the book More Than a Body, body image researchers Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhD, remind us to view our body as an instrument, not an ornament. One way to do that is to express gratitude to your body for what it does for you. While the big accomplishments can be powerful, like thanking your legs for carrying you through a hike with the most incredible views, I think it’s even more important to thank your body for the everyday stuff. No matter how you feel about your body, you can’t really do anything without it. Like it or not, it’s your partner in a lifelong group project! You’re stuck together, and things will be easier for you if you show it some appreciation every once and awhile, even if there are things about it you really dislike. Think about thanking it for the little things, like allowing you to experience the joy of wrapping your arms around your partner (or dog! or both!), powering you through a physical task at work, or helping you quickly fight off a cold that knocked out the rest of the household.

I should note, body gratitude can be ableist – what if you’re dealing with a chronic illness or disability? It’s really hard to express gratitude to your body when it feels like it’s failing you. While this may not be an activity that connects with you, I have found that it can still be helpful, even if you’re dealing with significant chronic illness or disability. If you’re alive, your body is doing powerful, and important work, even if it does some tasks more effectively than others. Try thinking small! One of my clients with multiple chronic conditions, including one that impacts her mobility, pulled out her son’s old college anatomy book at my suggestion to get some inspiration . I’ll never forget her coming to session excitedly exclaiming “RACHAEL!! Do you know your intestines have FINGERS to absorb nutrients??” (Lol yes I did know, and yes that is pretty much true!). For her, understanding the magic of our body and how it functions helped her feel and express gratitude to it. She left session saying that her body is a miracle. So go ahead, thank your renal corpuscles and lung alveoli to help improve your body image!

Ditch the scale

One way to move beyond valuing your body based on a number is to get rid of the instrument that tells you that number. Even if you don’t weigh yourself regularly, having a scale in the house reinforces the message that your weight is something you should be monitoring or managing. Tossing the scale (or smashing it!) can be cathartic!

Not quite ready to go that far? It’s OK! For some people, ditching the scale is a slow process. Here’s a blog post I wrote with some strategies to help you stop obsessively weighing yourself.

Joyfully move your body

Give yourself the gift of joyful movement, doing something for fun in your body without a goal of calorie burning. Depending on your current movement routines and physical fitness, doing something longer or more intense might be appropriate. However, when I work on this activity for improving body image, I have clients focus on integrating joyful movement in less than 10 minute spurts. By keeping it to a length of time most people don’t think “counts,” it helps ensure the movement is being used for fun rather than weight control. Some of my favorites are dancing to a favorite song, taking a quick stretch break, walking around the block to get some sunshine, playing with a nostalgic, movement-based toy (think hula hoop or skip it) or playing an active game with kids.

Want to learn more about joyful movement? Here’s a blog post I wrote on the topic.

Create art

Art can be a powerful tool for healing. For my clients who like to express themselves through art, one of my favorite activities for improving body image is “petals of self worth,” which I learned during individual supervision with Evelyn Tribole (one of the founders of intuitive eating). The goal of this exercise is to help expand self worth beyond your body size and begin to see yourself as a nuanced, complex human being who brings more to the table than a body.

To do this activity, first, paint, draw or color an image of a flower. If you’re not an artist, just print one off the internet! Then, for each petal of the flower, write down a characteristic about yourself that you value that has nothing to do with your appearance. For some people, this can feel really hard! Ask people you love what they value about you, or come back to your flower every day for a few weeks and slowly work on it. Keep your art somewhere you can look at it frequently as a reminder of your self worth.

Get angry

Activated by yet another headline about a supposedly miracle weight loss medication, or an unsolicited comment about your body? Instead of internalizing the body shame, allow yourself to get angry. It’s really fucked up that we have to navigate a world that places so much value on weight and appearance. It’s infuriating that there are so many people profiting off of others insecurities. It fills me with rage seeing how mainstream medicine treats weight, when we have overwhelming amounts of research showing just how little it means for overall health.

These things should make you angry. By giving yourself permission to feel and express anger, you’re redirecting those feelings towards the people who actually deserve your ire, instead of internalizing your feelings and viewing yourself as the problem, which leads to shame. For many of us (especially us women), we’ve been taught to fear or avoid anger, but anger has it’s place, and it can be healing when directed in an appropriate way. If it’s hard for you to express or let yourself feel anger, talking about it in therapy may be helpful.

The Bottom Line on Improving Body Image

Remember, improving body image is a long and individual journey, so some of these activities may connect with you while others may not, and that’s OK! You’re allowed to take what you need and leave the rest.

I’m a big believer that if it’s accessible for you, individual support from a trusted clinician, like a weight inclusive therapist or dietitian, can be one of the best gifts you can give yourself. There are also some books and workbooks that may be helpful. Here’s some of my favorites:

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