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4 Healthy Ways to Boost Your Body Image

So you aren't thrilled with what you see in the mirror. What's the big deal? Don't a lot of people have poor body image? Yes, and that's actually a very big deal.

Woman looking at herself in a mirror

In a Glamour study headed by clinical psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke, 97 percent of women reported having at least one body-hating moment per day. Surveys show that poor body image doesn't only affect females, reports the National Eating Disorders Association, but up to 43 percent of men as well.

Prevalence doesn't make such attitudes unworthy of addressing. Poor body image raises your risk for depression, feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, weight-loss obsession, binge eating, unhealthy weight loss or gain and eating disorders.

All of these factors can detract from your relationships, work performance and health -- particularly if you end up engaging in risky lifestyle habits, such as extreme dieting or overexercise, to compensate.

While there's no instant cure for body angst, positive changes are possible. Make healthy shifts a priority by considering these steps.

1. Take inventory. When you revamp your kitchen, office or wardrobe, you first consider what you already have, right? Improving body image requires similar planning.

Explore the factors that seem to hinder your body image regularly. When do you tend to experience body-shaming thoughts? What are you doing? Who are you around? Write down your observations for a day or so. Common factors include frequent weigh-ins, reading beauty and fashion magazines and spending time with people who diet or fixate on appearance.

2. Detoxify. Now that you know what's hurting your body image, take steps to counteract these influences. If you're "scale obsessed," get rid of it or store it in a cupboard so you won't be tempted to step on it frequently.

Swap out magazines and entertainment that make you feel "less than" with empowering alternatives like books, websites, TV shows and magazines that promote healthier beauty ideals. Or explore topics you're passionate about, rather than the latest weight-loss trends.

Get rid of "fat clothes" that you keep around as reminders of an unrealistically thinner you. Wear comfortable apparel that fits well. If the numbers on the size tags bother you, remove them until they no longer do.

Distance yourself from anyone who fixates on appearance, prioritizing relationships with people who love or appreciate you for who you are. Replace negative self-talk with positivity. The more you state negative complaints, the more likely you are to believe them and set a harmful example for others.

Remember what your grandmother said: "If you can't say something nice...."

3. Respect your body. Rather than fight your body through dieting, bullying thoughts or grueling exercise, honor it. Doing so will not only improve your body image, it will also enhance your overall health.

Aim to eat mindfully -- with awareness and minimized distraction. (Yes, that includes your TV and cell phone.) Eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're comfortably full.

Emphasize whole foods, such as fruits, veggies and whole grains, in your diet, and look for creative recipes to enjoy them. Notice how you feel after eating nutritious, balanced meals.

Allow yourself moderate amounts of treat foods, eaten purely for pleasure. Lower-nutrient fare fits within a healthy diet, as long as you don't respond by turning every treat into an "I already failed, so may as well eat everything" buffet.

4. Prioritize your passions. Fixating on changing or shunning your appearance leaves you with less time to invest in goals and activities you're passionate about. When you find yourself obsessing over what you should or shouldn't eat, how much you weigh or how many bench presses you can manage, ask yourself why.

In many cases, poor body image reflects underlying issues in need of addressing. If you aren't sure what those issues are, consider professional guidance from a qualified professional, such as a therapist.

Once you've dug deeper, you may find that eating well and exercising for health and enjoyment comes easier and all the negative self-talk falling to the wayside. As a bonus, you'll have time and energy to invest in what matters.

--August

Readers -- Do you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about your appearance often? How do you "change the conversation" with yourself? Have you tried any of the suggestions mentioned above? Leave a comment below and let us know.

August McLaughlin is a nationally recognized health and sexuality writer and creator of the empowering brand Girl Boner®, with work appearing in DAME magazine, the Huffington Post and more. For nearly a decade she worked as a certified nutritionist, nutritional therapist and body-image coach, with a specialization in eating disorders. Known for melding personal passion, artistry and activism, August now uses her skills as a public speaker and journalist to inspire women to embrace their bodies and selves, making way for fuller, more authentic lives. Learn more at augustmclaughlin.com.

Connect with August on Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

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