Expressing Love For The Body Parts You Hate Takes Intentional Work

·7 min read
Our bodies do so much for us every day, so why not show them how much we care? (Photo: Tara Moore via Getty Images)
Our bodies do so much for us every day, so why not show them how much we care? (Photo: Tara Moore via Getty Images)

Around Valentine’s Day, Canadians fuss over how they show loved ones how much they care. What are the most heartfelt gifts to give? Words to say? Flowers to give? (Maybe think twice on the rose bouquet …) With all this rumination on romancing others, loving ourselves gets left by the wayside.

Self-love is challenging to feel for many, as we’re our own biggest critics. The brunt of the bashing tends to start with what we see in the mirror after all, there’s a reason why droves head to the gym for their New Year’s resolutions and why so many equate wellness with slimness.

Why is it important to love our bodies? Not doing so can impact our entire outlook. Body image, mental health and self-esteem directly influence each other, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) notes, as regularly focusing on perceived physical shortcomings can translate to negative thinking about other aspects.

Breaking up with one’s vicious cycle of body-hating is hard, but not impossible. If you’re looking to start a whirlwind romance with your body, here’s how to do it:

Start with a body scan

Good news: You’re hotter than you think you are, according to science. Research shows that we tend to magnify our physical flaws, when in reality others don’t notice these traits as much as we think they do. The bad news: Because your gaze is so used to lingering on what you hate, you’ve unconsciously trained yourself to feel dissatisfaction on reflex. Feeling this uncomfortable can lead to feeling disconnected from your body or, in some cases, turn into body dysmorphic disorder.

How can you unlearn this muscle memory? One way is through mindfulness, which asks practitioners to take stock of themselves through body scans. As a UC Berkeley health project indicates, body scans help us notice both what emotions a certain body part evokes and how that may manifest; clenching, tightening and unease are common responses. Without trying to change that body part, practitioners may find relief in acknowledging a difference between how they feel about their body and how their body actually experiences physical sensations.

Work out with the right intentions

Exercise can cultivate unhealthy relationships with our bodies, but a healthy motivation has been proven to improve your self-esteem; if you’re able to appreciate how your body improves at running or lifting weights, you’ll feel much better about its worth in a way that doesn’t relate to how it looks.

10 Ways to get motivated for a morning workout. Story continues after the slideshow.

Move Your Alarm Clock

Instead of sleeping with the alarm next to your bed, move it to the other side of the room. That way, you’ll have to get up and get out of bed to shut it off. Once you’re up, it’s that much easier to stretch, don your workout clothes, and head out the door for a brisk walk around the neighbourhood or to the gym for a morning workout routine. If you use an alarm that plays music, set it to a song from your workout playlist to help get you in the mood for exercise.
Instead of sleeping with the alarm next to your bed, move it to the other side of the room. That way, you’ll have to get up and get out of bed to shut it off. Once you’re up, it’s that much easier to stretch, don your workout clothes, and head out the door for a brisk walk around the neighbourhood or to the gym for a morning workout routine. If you use an alarm that plays music, set it to a song from your workout playlist to help get you in the mood for exercise.

Make A Date

Having a workout routine buddy is a great motivator. Make plans to meet your exercise partner at the gym at 6 a.m. or on the tennis courts at 7 a.m. You’re less likely to poop out if you know someone is waiting for you. “You don’t want to be the one who overslept or was too lazy to get up and get moving,” says Burron.
Having a workout routine buddy is a great motivator. Make plans to meet your exercise partner at the gym at 6 a.m. or on the tennis courts at 7 a.m. You’re less likely to poop out if you know someone is waiting for you. “You don’t want to be the one who overslept or was too lazy to get up and get moving,” says Burron.

Make Friends at the Gym

If you don't have an exercise buddy yet, chances are you will make one after a few weeks of sticking to a morning workout routine at your gym. You'll become familiar with the regulars who also exercise there that time of day. “It does inspire you to get up and move because you know they’re there and will wonder where you are if you miss a day or two," Burron says. "It’s a social factor that can help motivate you in the morning.”
If you don't have an exercise buddy yet, chances are you will make one after a few weeks of sticking to a morning workout routine at your gym. You'll become familiar with the regulars who also exercise there that time of day. “It does inspire you to get up and move because you know they’re there and will wonder where you are if you miss a day or two," Burron says. "It’s a social factor that can help motivate you in the morning.”

Have a Set Goal

Every Sunday night, create your workout schedule for the coming week. Tell yourself, for example, “This week, I’m getting up at 6 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and running three miles before work.” Schedule your morning workout just as you would an appointment. You’re more likely to follow your morning workout routine if you write it down, Burron says. If you don’t make it, write a note in your calendar to explain why. Later, you can analyze your exercise excuses and look for ways to overcome them.
Every Sunday night, create your workout schedule for the coming week. Tell yourself, for example, “This week, I’m getting up at 6 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and running three miles before work.” Schedule your morning workout just as you would an appointment. You’re more likely to follow your morning workout routine if you write it down, Burron says. If you don’t make it, write a note in your calendar to explain why. Later, you can analyze your exercise excuses and look for ways to overcome them.

Load Workout Music Onto Your Music Device

“Music is a good motivator in the morning,” Burron says. “If you have a great playlist, it can be enough to get you out of bed in the morning. Having workout music works for me.” Research has shown that listening to music when you exercise can produce positive thoughts and help offset fatigue. Burron suggests using a faster tempo to pump you up first thing in the morning and switching to a slower tempo toward the end of your workout routine.
“Music is a good motivator in the morning,” Burron says. “If you have a great playlist, it can be enough to get you out of bed in the morning. Having workout music works for me.” Research has shown that listening to music when you exercise can produce positive thoughts and help offset fatigue. Burron suggests using a faster tempo to pump you up first thing in the morning and switching to a slower tempo toward the end of your workout routine.

Prep the Night Before

To follow through on a morning workout routine, it helps to lay out your exercise clothes and equipment the night before. That way you don’t waste any time getting dressed and ready for your workout. One possible disadvantage of exercise in the morning is that your time may be limited — overcome this limitation by having a set routine and not wasting time looking for your sneakers or your weights.
To follow through on a morning workout routine, it helps to lay out your exercise clothes and equipment the night before. That way you don’t waste any time getting dressed and ready for your workout. One possible disadvantage of exercise in the morning is that your time may be limited — overcome this limitation by having a set routine and not wasting time looking for your sneakers or your weights.

Reward Your Efforts

If you meet your exercise goals and get up early four out of five days to work out for an hour, do something nice for yourself at the end of the week, like getting a manicure, seeing a new movie with a friend, or going to a baseball game. Buy a new workout outfit, take a well-deserved soak, or cozy up to your eReader — find what motivates you, Burron says, and use it to give you that push out of bed each morning for your workout routine.
If you meet your exercise goals and get up early four out of five days to work out for an hour, do something nice for yourself at the end of the week, like getting a manicure, seeing a new movie with a friend, or going to a baseball game. Buy a new workout outfit, take a well-deserved soak, or cozy up to your eReader — find what motivates you, Burron says, and use it to give you that push out of bed each morning for your workout routine.

Tell the World About Your Plans

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, you can tell everyone you know about your morning workout routine. Post your exercise plans on Facebook. Once you do so, it’s harder not to follow through with it, Burron says. You also can use social media to boast of your accomplishments — tell your friends that you swam 16 laps (about a mile) or ran three miles before work. They surely will be impressed, and it will motivate you to keep up your workout schedule.
Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, you can tell everyone you know about your morning workout routine. Post your exercise plans on Facebook. Once you do so, it’s harder not to follow through with it, Burron says. You also can use social media to boast of your accomplishments — tell your friends that you swam 16 laps (about a mile) or ran three miles before work. They surely will be impressed, and it will motivate you to keep up your workout schedule.

Too Sleepy? Give It Time

At first it may be difficult not to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, rather than jump out of bed to exercise at the gym or go on a 30-minute walk. But after about a week or two, your body will adjust to your early workout schedule and it will be easier to get up and out of the house and head for the gym, Burron says. Here’s why: When you exercise regularly, you sleep better at night. When you sleep better at night, waking up to exercise is easier to do.
At first it may be difficult not to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, rather than jump out of bed to exercise at the gym or go on a 30-minute walk. But after about a week or two, your body will adjust to your early workout schedule and it will be easier to get up and out of the house and head for the gym, Burron says. Here’s why: When you exercise regularly, you sleep better at night. When you sleep better at night, waking up to exercise is easier to do.

Look Forward to a Better Breakfast

You may want to eat something quick, like a banana or a handful of almonds, to give you a boost of energy before your workout routine. Then after you cool down, have your real breakfast — and make it special as a reward for your efforts. But don’t sabotage your exercise efforts by eating a high-fat muffin or fried eggs and bacon. If you promise yourself a healthy, satisfying breakfast, such as eggs with veggies or oatmeal with fruit and nuts, when you get back, Burron says, that will motivate you as well.
You may want to eat something quick, like a banana or a handful of almonds, to give you a boost of energy before your workout routine. Then after you cool down, have your real breakfast — and make it special as a reward for your efforts. But don’t sabotage your exercise efforts by eating a high-fat muffin or fried eggs and bacon. If you promise yourself a healthy, satisfying breakfast, such as eggs with veggies or oatmeal with fruit and nuts, when you get back, Burron says, that will motivate you as well.

As Everyday Feminism’s Sarah Ogden Trotta says about exercise, moving with purpose made her realize her body was more than an object to be fat-shamed. “It helps me to feel powerful and strong and has helped to repair my traumatized and eating disordered relationship with my body. My body is capable of so much and so am I,” she wrote.

Combat your distorted mirror with affirmative talk

Anyone can have a toxic relationship with their body, from conventionally attractive celebrities like Billie Eilish to the lonely men who self-identify as incels and obsess over their facial structures. However, women and youth are especially likely to develop this problem. A global poll found that one in five Canadian women were unhappy with their bodies and around 42 to 45 per cent of Canadian students weren’t satisfied with their size, according to a national quadrennial study.

Watch: Billie Eilish opens about her “toxic” relationship with her body. Story continues below.

Peer pressure in one’s community can also impact body image: Many gay men report feeling unhappy with their bodies and children of immigrants may struggle with family conversations about their appearances.

To deprogram yourself, start small. When you catch yourself looking at something you dislike in the mirror, force yourself to thank that body part. It can help to say how the body part helps you in your everyday life or to remind yourself how it helps the rest of your body function.

Thighs, thank you for carrying me where I want to go. Belly, thank you for helping me digest. Skin, thank you for protecting me,” dietician Christy Brisette wrote as affirmation examples on her site.

Treat your body like royalty

Pampering our bodies isn’t just a frivolous indulgence. These rituals can form positive associations with body parts that, if done often enough, can be stronger than your anxieties.

Giving your muscles the gift of physical relaxation can go a long way. (Photo: Aliaksandra Ivanova / EyeEm via Getty Images)
Giving your muscles the gift of physical relaxation can go a long way. (Photo: Aliaksandra Ivanova / EyeEm via Getty Images)

If you start associating your hair with a relaxing hair mask routine, your brain will be reminded of how relaxed you feel, which encourages self-love over intrusive negativity thoughts.

Smash shame with allies

Canadians whose bodies don’t fit societal norms, such as bigger individuals, may have a harder time loving their bodies, as society may demean people who look like them.

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Edith Bernier is a body-positive writer from Quebec. She founded Grossophobie, a blog that provides resources on fatphobia. She notes that for herself and others of bigger sizes, isolation is a major defence mechanism.

“The world can be a rather unsafe place when you’re a bigger person. Sometimes it feels safer to stay at home,” she told HuffPost Canada, adding that the stigma of weighing more can lead to depression or anxiety. “All these microaggressions throughout the day reminds you that the world is not meant for a body like yours. The struggle is real.”

The solution to isolation and shame is finding allies, especially those who will listen to how you feel about your body and can comfort you, Bernier advised.

“It can be really hard to express it, but there are people who are willing to help you carry that weight,” she said. For those who can’t find this support in-person, online communities have been proven to improve well-being: A study of the “Fatosphere,” as online fat acceptance communities are known as, showed that users felt more self-acceptance about their bodies when they started communicating with people who could relate to their struggles.

Start unfollowing people on social media

Women who spent over 20 hours a week online were three times more likely to dislike their body than those online for less than an hour, a Simon Fraser University study found. As researcher Allison Carter told CBC, this statistic doesn’t suggest screentime is the problem; pervasive, impossible ideals on social media are.

“In today’s age, with the rapid rise of Facebook and Instagram, the opportunities for appearance comparisons are unprecedented,” Carter said.

That’s why Bernier recommends changing what you consume online: Unfollow accounts that provoke negative thoughts about one’s body and follow people who look like you.

“Expose yourself to different bodies,” she said. For fat Canadians who need inspiration, she recommends listening to Lizzo and following bigger athletes like Sarah Robles.

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