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After devouring impressive amounts of turkey, pies, cookies, and pumpkin-flavored everything over the holidays, New Year’s resolutions can turn into a desperate drive to get back in shape STAT. It’s ok to want to look your best for the new year, but gaining a little weight during the holidays is normal, so don’t let it bum you out. On average, people gain around 2 pounds each holiday season. Instead of stressing over small changes in your weight, it’s better to maintain a healthy weight and body image year-round. That way you’ll look and feel your best, no matter the season.
When weight worries go too far
It may be tempting to try crash diets that promise exactly what you want right this second: squeezing into your winter formal outfit in three weeks, being beach-ready for the summer, or looking good in that muscle shirt you just bought. But rushed attitudes toward changing your body are likely to backfire, according to Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, professor of community nutrition intervention at the University of Minnesota. “I recommend avoiding ‘dieting’ behaviors,” she says, explaining that besides being potentially dangerous, “dieting can also increase risk for gaining too much weight over time.”
Certain kinds of dieting may also be a warning sign of disordered eating, which is when someone has unhealthy behaviors and attitudes toward weight and food. Disordered eating is a problem that can sometimes lead to eating disorders, which are serious physical and emotional issues that can be life-threatening.
How many teens struggle with disordered eating?
About half a million teens just like you struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating patterns, and this includes boys. It’s important to address these patterns early, before they turn into clinical eating disorders. In a study of teenagers ages 13-18, less than three percent of teens with an eating disorder had spoken about it with a professional, possibly because they were afraid that others would find out.
Unfortunately, high school students are especially at risk. On average, eating disorders start around ages 12-13, and the teen years that follow are rife with peer pressure, media influences, and expectations from family, friends, and teachers; all of which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Instead of relying on potentially harmful ways to feel good about your body, strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle year-round. Not only is it better for your health, but also your self-esteem.
The power of positive body image
Your body image is how you feel about your body, including whether you feel attractive and whether you think other people like your looks.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and not liked what you saw? Do you often find yourself wondering what other people think about your body, while you criticize it yourself? If so, you may have a negative body image, and you’re not alone.
Learn about some of the most common eating disorders
- Anorexia nervosa: An obsession with weight loss, which leads to people starving themselves and/or exercising too much
- Bulimia nervosa: Binging or eating too much, and then throwing up or using laxatives to avoid weight gain
- Binge eating disorder: Binge eating regularly, often while feeling shame, guilt, or loss of control
Media and body image
If your views on what makes a body perfect are based on fashion models, celebrities, professional athletes, and other figures in the media, creating a positive body image can be difficult.
Media influences start early. From a young age, boys and girls begin to link their ideas of the perfect body to role models such as Barbie™ and G.I. Joe. This is where unrealistic body images can start. Throughout their lives, many girls link beauty to being thin and flawless, and many boys connect manliness to being tall and muscular. But these “body ideals” are unrealistic.
All of us are unique individuals. Our bodies look different because of genetics, our lifestyles, and the environments we live in. Just because we don’t look like a celebrity doesn’t mean that we should feel bad about our bodies.
Chukwu, a junior from Rialto, California, believes that positive body image is about setting the right goals for yourself. “I think it’s about the things you do with your body,” he says. “Maybe if you’re able to run a long time, that can make you feel good. Or maybe you can do a lot of pushups.”
Setting small, achievable goals for yourself can make you feel good about your body and what it can do for you.
Treasure, a junior from San Bernardino, California, thinks the key to feeling good about yourself is to stop the comparisons. “Everyone is made their own way, and you shouldn’t try to become someone else,” she says. “Don’t stop trying to be better, but don’t focus on being someone you’re not.”
Remember, your body is only one part of your identity. Other things about you, such as your humor, beliefs, and talents, play a huge role in who you are. Love yourself, and give your body a break once in a while!
Being your best you, all day, every day
Neumark-Sztainer stresses the importance of taking care of yourself by maintaining a healthy weight year-round. “Focus on appreciating your body for all that it does,” she says, “and take care of your body through healthful eating and physical activity.”
She encourages high school students to:
1. Listen to when your body is telling you that it’s hungry or full.
Slowing down is a great way to avoid overeating. When we eat too fast, we don’t give our bodies enough time to signal that they’re full. As a result, we end up eating more than we needed to.
Eating small healthy snacks, in addition to three solid meals a day, may prevent you from feeling the need to overeat or eat too quickly. Certain foods, such as those high in protein, will help you stay full and feel satisfied longer.
2. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but also a variety of foods.
Who doesn’t love a little variety? Eating healthfully doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless. Consider trying a new fruit, vegetable, or recipe each week. You never know, you may find a new favorite!
3. Find activities that you enjoy doing, and make them part of your life.
Sometimes different body types are good for different things, and this can change during puberty. While some people’s body and skills may be good for athletics, don’t worry if that’s not you. Your talents may lie in non-physical activities, such as art, music, writing, or acting. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be physically active in your own way.
Being active doesn’t have to involve treadmills, sit-ups, and weights. A great way to become more active is to do things you already enjoy, such as riding a bike, going for a walk, or even hula-hooping.
4. Make time to relax with calming activities.
Slow, deep-breathing exercises can help you relax, manage stress and depression, and get enough rest. Yoga, stretching, and reading a good book are also great ways to wind down after a long day.
Loving the skin you’re in
Having a healthy attitude toward your body allows you to explore other aspects of growing up, such as making good friends, becoming more independent, and challenging yourself physically and mentally.
Tips for building self-esteem year-round
1. Recognize that your body is your own, no matter what shape or size it is.
The differences in our size and shape are what make us unique. Even celebrities have things about them that they wish they could change. KidsHealth says it’s important to remind yourself that “real people aren’t perfect and perfect people aren’t real (they’re usually airbrushed!).”
2. Realize which parts of your appearance you can change, and learn to accept the ones you can’t.
By high school, many teens are already thinking about permanently changing their bodies through things like cosmetic surgery. But it’s important to consider whether the thing that needs to change is your body or your mindset. While cosmetic surgery may provide a small boost of self-esteem for some, becoming dependent on cosmetic surgery to change the things about yourself that you don’t like can also lead to long-term dissatisfaction and the never-ending desire to “fix” yourself.
Try focusing on what’s good about your body, rather than what you think is wrong with it. Some of the things about our bodies that we may not like—such as a crooked nose—make us unique and give us character. Chances are that your friends, loved ones, and romantic interests love the way you look and wouldn’t want you to change. If you worry about your weight or size, check with your physician to make sure things are ok. At the end of the day, as long as you’re healthy and happy, how you look is nobody’s business but your own.
3. If you find things you want to change, do so by setting small goals.
Sometimes achieving the small goals you set for yourself can be a huge confidence boost. For example, if you want to get fit or gain more muscle, set up an exercise routine that you can build on week by week. Whether or not the results are immediate, you’ll feel great!
Exercise can help you look and feel better. It’s important to note that while fitness takes hard work, regular exercise, and a healthy diet, it doesn’t need to be excessive. A healthy fitness routine can be as simple as 20 minutes to an hour of physical activity, three days a week.
4. When you hear that little negative voice in your mind, tell it to shut up!
“Excessive criticism tends to backfire,” says psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, PhD, in her book Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: The 4-Step Plan to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want. She says, “It leads us to focus on our so-called failures instead of the little ways that we could have improved.” Studies have also shown that this criticism can lead to higher levels of stress and depression.
Appreciate the complexities of who you are and what sets you apart from others. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about yourself or your life, focus on your positive qualities.
Here are some strategies to conquer negative self-talk:
- Notice. Some of us think negatively so often that we don’t notice we’re doing it. Try to recognize when your thoughts are making you feel bad so that you can learn to block them from the get-go.
- Breathe deeply. Find a way to calm your mind and body so that you can detect your negative thoughts. One easy way is to take deep, slow breaths.
- Respond. Fight negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you are looking in the mirror thinking, “I have fat thighs,” change that thought to, “My body is beautiful and curvy. I accept myself the way I am.”
5. Build your self-esteem by giving yourself three compliments every day.
Instead of waiting for others to compliment you, be your own personal cheerleader! Saying nice things to yourself puts you in charge of how you feel about your looks.
It’s important to remind yourself of all the non-physical things that you like about yourself, such as how funny you are, or how great you are at your favorite hobbies. Highlighting the positive qualities of different parts of your identity helps you see the whole picture.
Humans are complex creatures, and there’s a lot more to us than just how we look. Don’t be limited by focusing on looks alone. Play to your strengths and boost your confidence by remembering all of the things you excel at.
Thursday’s Child National Youth Advocacy Hotline
(24 hours/day, 7 days a week)
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
(M-F, 900 am-5:00 pm, Central Time)
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, professor of community nutrition intervention, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Jenna Volpe, registered dietitian and eating disorders specialist, Walden Behavioral Care, Waltham, Massachusetts.
CARE Services. (n.d.). How to address negative thinking. Retrieved from https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/How_to_Address_negative_thinking.pdf
Chansky, T. E. (2012). Freeing yourself from anxiety: The 4-step plan to overcome worry and create the life you want. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
Kidshealth.org. (n.d.). Body image and self-esteem. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/body_image/body_image.html#
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