Seeking Connection: Learning to love my body

Last week, I told the story of how I learned to hate my body. If you missed it, don’t worry about it.

It’s no more interesting than the moment every adolescent girl has that triggers over 90 percent of us to feel deeply dissatisfied with our bodies as adults. The same old story that causes 80 percent of us to have patterns of disordered eating.

The same narrative that is the reason Americans spend more than $60 billion dollars a year on diet and weight loss products and almost $16 billion dollars a year on cosmetic procedures.

Aren’t you tired of hating on your body?

Body image is how you imagine you look. The interesting part is the term imagine, since what we imagine may or may not bear any relation to reality or how others see us.

Imagination is subjective, open to interpretation. And the opinions of other people shouldn’t rule our lives anyway.

Our body’s main job is not to be appealing to others but to act as a vehicle for our heart and mind.

We eat and exercise as a way to punish our bodies rather than celebrate them. We prioritize our body’s form over our body’s function and wonder why we are so unhappy.

I want my daughter to live in a world where her value is defined by her actions, not by her appearance.

So I knew I had to heal the broken relationship I had with my own meat suit.

I can truthfully say I love my body and rarely say anything negative about it.

When you aren’t constantly worrying about how you look, it frees up incredible mental real estate to think about things that truly matter.

Here’s what worked for me. Try it for yourself.

Many women have visual processing errors when it comes to their own image. We look in a mirror and see a collection of individual parts rather than a whole body.

Then we criticize each part, creating a deep disconnect between body, mind and soul.

Spend a few minutes staring at your naked image in a mirror. This isn’t to encourage narcissistic vanity, but a way to face how you actually feel about your appearance.

Thoughts and feelings will definitely surface. You might feel uncomfortable, sad, shameful or something else.

These feelings are valid, but they are also just feelings, opinions rather than a reality. They are temporary and variable.

For the first minute or two, notice any sensations or thoughts that arise. Try not to respond to them, simply pay attention to what comes up.

You’ll probably notice patterns of thought. Is there one area of your body that you either avoid looking at or look at more than others?

Often we really dislike one thing (for me it was my thighs, for my best friend it’s her belly, my mom throws shade at her neck). Find that thing and wait for a negative thought to come up.

It won’t take long; we have been conditioned since childhood to judge and compare our bodies.

Now reframe that thought from a negative statement to a positive one.

“I hate my wrinkles and need Botox,” becomes, “I have clearly laughed a lot in my life.”

“My stretch marks are gross,” becomes, “My amazing belly carried my children.”

“My thighs are fat,” becomes “I can hold a wall sit longer than anyone I know.”

This negative-to-positive mindset switch works for our body goals as well.

Goals are crucial to a healthy body, mind and soul. But goals are hard and we struggle to stay motivated.

Think about any New Year’s resolutions you made. Science says the odds are you have given it up by now. Wonder why?

It’s because we tend to make avoidance goals rather than approach goals.

An avoidance goal is one stated as something you won’t or can’t do, like, “I won’t eat sugar for 30 days,” or, “I can’t have wine until I lose five pounds.”

An approach goal starts with, “I will,” or, “I can.” It is written in a way to approach success, as in, “I will work until I can do 10 push-ups without stopping, or, “I will try new recipes to incorporate more greens into my diet.”

Science has found people who set approach goals have more success than those who choose avoidance goals.

People who set avoidance goals feel less connected to their goals, display lower self-esteem around those goals and thus have less motivation to hit that target. Avoidance goals write the universe as the villain in a Me-Against-Them story.

They make us feel like life is taking something from us and we will ultimately respond in a combative way — “Screw you Universe! You don’t own me. I’m going to have some cake and a glass of wine!”

The take-away here is the universe hears everything we say. We create our reality through our perceptions and thoughts. Remember body image arises from what we imagine our bodies to be. So start imagining a world where beauty comes in various shapes and sizes.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel. Follow her on Twitter @erinsmithauthor.