Making Lifestyle Changes From a Body-Positive Perspective

Nov 03, 2022

Hating yourself into change is a surefire way to lose ground.

Are you worried that being kind and forgiving towards your body will take away your motivation to make lifestyle changes for your health?

I am a proudly body-positive therapist. I refuse any suggestion that one kind of body is better than another because of size, appearance, age, ability, race, or any other one of the million beautiful varieties of humanity. 

As a therapist, I’m also all about supporting self-motivated change processes. That means that I believe in you and in your ability to make choices about your lifestyle that will make you feel fabulous, no matter what that happens to look like for you. You get to craft the mode of living that makes you feel best, and my role is to help you overcome the blocks that stand in your way. 

One huge block I see all the time with my clients is body shame. All too often, we try to draw our motivation for lifestyle changes from a deep well of judgment and self-hatred. It might feel like being harsh and critical towards ourselves will push us to work harder. But in fact, engaging in self-hatred is a surefire way to get stuck in a wrestling match with yourself. 

I’ve noticed this pattern time and time again. When motivation comes from shame, it’s just about impossible to stick with any change. It’s perfectly normal for a new habit to take some time to adopt, but when people come to a new habit with a shame-based perspective, they’ll beat themselves up for completely expectable backslides.

Self-hatred is not a good motivator for positive change. Nor is shame or disgust. You can’t punish yourself into a healthier relationship with your body. I truly believe if you want to make healthful changes in your life, the only way is to love yourself into it. 

But how? Thanks to the negative messages we all receive from our culture, self-hatred tends to come a lot easier than love. I know how challenging this process can be. But every skill is built by practice, and this is no exception. Start practicing today and watch your muscle for self-love grow stronger. I have plenty of reason to believe that you’ll find it a lot easier to reach your goals. 

Do you feel clear that there are changes you want to make in your life to improve your health? If so, I invite you to carefully consider these questions.

  • Do you feel angry with yourself when you don’t achieve a goal? If this describes you, please consider carefully how you might change this pattern. Making lifestyle changes is challenging. Despite what marketing campaigns might tell you, change is not linear and setbacks are inevitable. When you begin to make changes, your self-criticism will have many opportunities to take over. If you let it, it will undermine your motivation to try new things. Positive change wants a positive feedback loop. Tell yourself you are amazing for getting as far as you have, and let yourself know you believe you can and will get right back at it.
  • Are you a good starter? There is a lot of attention on sticking with lifestyle changes, and I can agree that endurance helps. But life is full of setbacks. We all get the flu, throw out our knees, take trips out of town, have stressful weeks, and just get plain tired sometimes! Flexing when life throws you a curve is a GOOD thing, not a lack of willpower. This is why starting again is at least as important as sticking with it. When you hit a roadblock, instead of telling yourself “I’m bad at sticking with things,” try telling yourself, instead, “I’m good at taking care of myself, and I’m great at pivoting. I’m restarting now.”
  • Are you a kind coach? If you can be encouraging to friends who are taking risks or braving new challenges, you have the skills you will need to lovingly coach yourself. But there is a catch: can you turn your own approval onto yourself? You will need to love yourself if you want change to happen. Please be a loving coach and cheerleader for yourself. You deserve it! Try sitting down with a journal and brainstorming kind, warm, supportive things you can tell yourself to encourage progress and be an effective cheerleader.

Originally published on Psychology Today.

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