Cultivating Positive Body Image

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “body image”? The true definition of body image is “one’s thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes about their physical appearance.” It can be positive, negative, or in between, and it often can ebb and flow!

It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, thoughts, and generalizations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your overall size, height, shape, and weight.
  • How you physically experience or feel in your body, how you feel when you move in your body, etc. 

Many of us internalize messages and thoughts about our bodies from a very young age that can form either positive or negative body image. Having healthy body image is important in prevention of eating disorders, and mental well-being, and it often can be an important factor in having a healthy relationship to food.

But remember, body image isn’t about just LOVING your body, so changing your body isn’t going to ‘fix’ poor body image. Body image has to do with your mind and your thought patterns, so focusing on these is how to help cultivate more positive body image thoughts.


Body image is a strong predictor of health, rather than body size. A 2008 study that looked at over 170,000 people showed that the larger difference between someone’s perceived “ideal” weight and their current weight, the more mental- and physical-health problems they found – independent of BMI. Simply put, the desire to get to a lower body weight or your “ideal” weight, NO MATTER your weight, can cause worse health.

So, how to cultivate positive body image?

  • Look at where/when negative body image is coming from and aim to decrease those instances. For example, do you feel bad about your body when you’re scrolling through instagram and comparing yourself? Do you feel bad about your body when flipping through magazines? Or do you feel poorly about your body when you’re around a certain group of people? Also think about when you aren’t thinking about your body at all, like when you’re engrossed in your hobbies, or around people who make you feel loved – and see how you can increase these instances to help have MORE positive body image days.
  • Treat your body with respect. Show yourself kindness and self-compassion. Notice any negative thoughts you may have about your body, and change them to be more neutral (then eventually, make them positive if it feels right!). For example, if you’re having the thought, “I feel so bloated and ugly today.” you can change that to, “These feelings are just feelings. I have a body just like everyone else and it enables me to do the things I love.” Also, remember you don’t have to LOVE your body to have body respect. If you hated the neighbor’s dog you had to babysit, you still need to care for it by feeding it, moving it, nourishing it, letting it rest, etc. Think of your body the same way. You don’t have to love it everyday (no one does!), but can you give it care and respect?
  • Negative body image thoughts often coincide with other emotions, such as stress or anxiety. So when negative thoughts about your body pop up, get curious. Ask yourself, “Is there something else going on that’s making me feel this way?” Sometimes it’s something completely different that’s projecting as body image, such as stress (like an upcoming work presentation), fatigue, or feelings of loneliness if you miss friends, etc.
  • Practice mindfulness. Researchers have found that students who practiced aspects of mindfulness, such as being present in the moment or sharing in experiences non-judgmentally, had improved mental health and a better relationship with their bodies and food. Practice meditation, focus on being in the moment, practice deep breathing, or practice yoga! Mindful eating is also a great tool during mealtime.
  • Remind yourself that healthy habits matter SO much more than the number on the scale! Anyone can strive for health & wellness, and even those in smaller bodies can be unhealthy. What’s most important are your health-promoting behaviors (such as sleeping, not smoking, exercising, eating balanced meals, stress management, etc.). Remind yourself of your healthy habits and behaviors on days you may feel down about your body.
  • Practice self-care to respect your body and make it feel good – such as yoga, movement, getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, brushing & flossing your teeth, treating yourself to a massage, stretching, bathing, etc. These are all forms of respecting your body, and can help you feel confident for taking care of your body.
  • Write down a list of things you like about yourself (and that others like about you) that have NOTHING to do with your body. Are you funny, smart, kind, generous, loyal, a good friend, etc.? What makes you YOU? People love their friends and family because of their personality, qualities, etc., NOT because of their body…
  • Surround yourself with positive people, and stop comparing! If you notice that certain people always make you feel worse about your body, or are ALWAYS talking about weight loss, getting skinny, etc., set boundaries and limit those types of people if they make you feel poorly. And remember that ALL bodies are good bodies! Fill your social media feeds with diverse bodies of all shapes and sizes. We love all different types of dogs, whether big or small, so we should think of humans the same way. Bodies are naturally diverse!

And if you resonate with saying or writing affirmations, you can focus on these statements to help strengthen your body image:

  • “I respect my body.”
  • “I will show a positive attitude towards my body.”
  • “I am comfortable in my body.”
  • “I am attentive to my body’s needs.”
  • “I appreciate my unique characteristics.”

If you’re struggling with body image, disordered eating, or simply want to get on a path towards a healthy relationship to food, book your first session today!