5 Tips to Build a Healthy Body Image After Weight Loss
The moment is different for everyone. You might notice that the rings on your fingers fit a bit looser. You might realize that a necklace sits lower on your chest. Or you might need to tighten your belt a notch in the morning. Whatever signal you get that your body is changing, it can be thrilling. Because while of course, you’re losing weight to improve your health, you’re probably also excited to see your progress.
But don't be caught off guard if you experience other emotions as well. “When patients are focused on weight loss, they only think of positive aspects and assume it will solve all their problems,” explains Alexis Conason, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan and a researcher at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital. “But it’s hard adjusting emotionally and physically to a new body.”
You might be nitpicking all the things you don't like about your body, or adjusting to newly loose skin. And even if you’re thinking, “Wow, I look great!” you might be overwhelmed when everyone from your bus driver to your sister-in-law tells you the same thing. And with your closet full of now-oversize clothes, the thought of shopping for new ones might leave you panicked.
How can you get over that “weight loss shock” and find comfort with your body image? Give your mind and body a chance to catch up to each other, with these expert ideas.
1. Stop scrutinizing your body.
Regardless of where you’re at in your weight-loss goal, it’s important to stop criticizing your body. Instead, try accepting your body and celebrating how it shows up for you. “Recognize what your new body can do for you,” urges Conason. “Every morning, think about one thing you’re grateful to your body for. It can be ‘I love the way my body is strong’ or ‘I can lift a heavy weight’ or ‘I can walk up stairs without losing my breath.’”
2. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is very different from just accepting yourself. Studies show that individuals with higher levels of self-compassion tend to have lower levels of body dissatisfaction and feel more positive about their body. Research also shows that folks who treat themselves kindly have been linked to more successful long-term weight loss.
3. Be a friend to yourself.
Say you gain back a few pounds and beat yourself up over it, but then your friend does the same and you build her back up. A word of advice: Treat yourself more like you do your friend. Studies say that being kind to yourself can actually help you respond to obstacles in ways that help you stay consistent with your goals.
4. Plan for awkward compliments.
In a perfect world, people wouldn’t comment on others’ bodies unless specifically invited to do so. The reality? Certain people may remark on your new body size when you have zero desire to discuss it. Even if the person seems to have good intentions (“You lost so much weight—you look incredible!”), it’s OK to push back on comments that make you feel scrutinized or uncomfortable. Plan ahead for how you might respond. A line like, “I know you mean well, but let’s talk about something else” can often do the trick.
5. Shop your comfort zone.
If shopping hasn’t been fun in a long while, you might be reluctant to head back to the dressing room. If that’s the case, go easy on yourself: As soon as you have the time and money, head to a store where you already feel comfortable and just grab a handful of smaller sizes. Then head to the dressing room. Try on everything and don’t obsess about numbers; many stores engage in their own unique “vanity sizing”—meaning you could be a size 12 at one place and a size 8 at another.