'Tis the season for discounted gym memberships, weight-loss resolutions and post-holiday body snark: "Ugh... this muffin top is outta control!" "I feel gross!" "That's it—I'm getting rid of this jelly belly!" Ouch. Weight shaming and blaming is the opposite of healthy. This year, practice a little body kindness instead so you can truly transform your health.
If you don't like your body, chances are you're less social, generally less satisfied with life and more insecure in your relationships than people who aren't bothered by their appearance, according to a new national study of more than 12,000 adults. Other research shows that regardless of the number on the scale, if you think you're overweight and feel bad about it, you're likely to gain more pounds in the future than people who don't think they need to slim down. Skip the body-bashing and think positive with this research-backed advice.
Think Beyond Your Weight
There's nothing wrong with aiming for a healthy weight, but the scale isn't the only—or even the best—predictor of actual health or fitness. "We need to look at other numbers like blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. Emotional well-being, too, is just as important as the physical," says Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. "Body shame and weight stigma can lead to depression and anxiety." On the other hand, people who accept their shape take fewer sick days and report feeling healthier than those who are more self-critical, regardless of their weight, a 2008 study from Columbia University found.
Find a Real Health Hero
"Fitspiration" bloggers and Instagrammers who post pictures of their sleek bodies say they do so to inspire people to meet their own health goals. But the majority of these sites and accounts focus on physical appearance, not wellness. Just looking at their pictures can instantly make you feel worse about your own looks, a recent study in the journal Body Image found. "All bodies, regardless of their size and ability, can participate in fitness as part of true self-care," says Poirier. So look for real-life role models who are more like you and less like some idealized version of "fit."
People who spend more time in nature appreciate their bodies more than those who don't get out as much, a new British study found. Not only does exposure to nature reduce stress, making us feel better about life in general, but it may also help us focus on what our bodies can do rather than how they look, the researchers say. Being outdoors puts things in perspective, they say—it's tough to focus on hating your thighs in the face of a breathtaking sunset, especially if it's thanks to those thighs that you made it up the mountain to see that view.
Work It Out
A single workout can make you feel better about the way you look, a review of research in the Journal of Health Psychology found. Researchers analyzed 57 studies and found that working out makes people feel more attractive, regardless of fitness level. Try yoga for some bonus body image points: a new Canadian study found that women who did an hour of yoga got a bigger body image boost than those who took a resistance-training class.
Cut Back on Facebook
The more time you spend looking at friends' photos on Facebook, the less you'll like your own body, say researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, after looking at 20 separate studies on social media use and body image. The issue comes from comparing ourselves to others, says Anne Poirier, who runs a "body neutrality" program at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a well-known non-diet weight management facility in Vermont. "Limiting time on social media is one of our strategies for helping participants build a more positive self-image," she says. "By comparing themselves less to other people they start to become less dissatisfied with their bodies."