Whether you're actively trying to lose weight or struggle with body envy, most of us occasionally get a little down on how we look. But constant body dissatisfaction can lead to a host of negative effects, including depression, negative body image, social anxiety, and disordered eating. To help you overcome the slump, here are our top science-backed and expert-recommended ways to practice positive self-talk and stay motivated to stick to your weight loss goals. Hit a plateau? Check out these 20 ways to overcome a weight-loss plateau.
Return to Your 'Why'
"Weight loss should never feel like a punishment," says Lisa Samuels, RD, founder of The Happie House. "The choice to lose weight should be yours and yours alone. If you decide to embark on a weight loss journey…Do so because you're making healthy decisions for you." With that in mind, use this journey as an opportunity to discover new, fun activities. "No diet and exercise regimen is one size fits all. Try different things until you find something that's realistic and enjoyable."
Show Yourself a Little Love
Researcher Kristin Neff distinguishes in her TED talk between self-esteem and self-compassion. While Neff says self-esteem comes from believing we are better than others, self-compassion directs us to love ourselves simply as we are. Self-compassion was shown in one study to help improve body dissatisfaction and motivate people to continue self-improvement efforts. Neff says self-compassion can be as simple as changing the language we use with ourselves. For example, if you went ahead and ate that damn cookie, don't beat yourself up for it. Instead of thinking how terrible you are for eating the cookie, remind yourself that you'll do better tomorrow.
"Exercise is as much a physical training as mental," says Sassy Gregson-Williams, founder of Naturally Sassy, a Global Online Workout Studio, Recipe Platform and App. "These patterns are so ingrained in us, we want instantaneous results, and if we stray from that narrow unattainable path we set for ourselves we feel defeated. Allow these thoughts to come, and breathe them away, changing the conversation."
Write a Body Gratitude List
"Every morning and every evening, write down three things that you love about your body," says Stacey Brass-Russell, a Transformational Health & Life Coach. This isn't just about loving parts of you that you love and think look great. You can feel gratitude for your heart for beating, your lungs for breathing, and your eyes for seeing.
"It's important to go deeper into seeing ourselves as more than our body parts or just what is aesthetically pleasing." Kasey Brown, a certified personal trainer and blogger at Powercakes adds, "Our bodies are there for us, every step of the way, and the more we appreciate what our bodies can do, we don't focus so hard on things we want to change physically."
Ask Yourself "Why?" Before You Eat
A review of several studies suggests that self-compassion activities, like reflecting on how fantastic something will taste before eating it instead of focusing on cutting back on calories, show better promise for weight loss and body satisfaction. Before digging into your next meal, take a moment to appreciate how great it looks and tastes, instead of analyzing whether you're eating as "healthy" as you should be.
Enjoy Every Bite
"If you're going to eat something decadent or 'bad,' enjoy it and then totally revel in the pleasure you are getting from it," says Brass-Russell. "When you associate pleasure with eating you actually have better digestion and metabolism and you absorb whatever nutrients are available."
One study found that a simple, daily self-compassion meditation improved women's measures of self-compassion, body dissatisfaction, body shame, and body appreciation. The positive effects of three weeks of meditation lasted three months or more, according to researchers. You can even get some of the exact meditations used in the study right here. Samuels also suggests mindfulness practices, like journaling. She says, "If you can understand why you're having negative thoughts about your self-image, you have a better chance at changing or releasing them."
Remember a Time You Felt Confident
According to one study, people who recalled a social interaction where they felt relaxed (versus anxious) were more likely to show higher self-esteem in their next social interaction. If you're headed into a high-stress situation and feeling less than confident about how you look, take a moment to visualize an easy-going and pleasant event you recently attended—let that glow carry you through.
Find a Support Group
If your body image issues go deeper than a passing bad mood, you may want to consider professional help—and that doesn't have to just mean seeing a therapist. Look online for a local body positivity or weight loss support group. One study found that a group led by a psychologist and a peer moderator was effective at helping breast cancer survivors improve their body image.
Ever feel like a lack of confidence is holding you back? A study found that affirmations could help improve people's performance in a high-pressure negotiation. Specifically, though, participants were asked to focus on their greatest negotiating strengths. So rather than just telling yourself that you're "good" or "kind," remind yourself of your greatest strengths specific to the task at hand.
Look Back at Your Successes
When you hit a weight loss plateau, maybe it's time to remind yourself how far you've come. "Our bodies are amazing," says Brown. "When you start to write down the progress over time in your strength gains, mental toughness and doing everyday things more easily, that's when the focus starts to shift." Samuels takes it one step further, suggesting that you toss the scale entirely.
Join a Club
You may think that having a lot of friends should be enough to keep you from getting down on yourself. And yet, we still have that nagging dislike for one thing or another that we see in the mirror. Research has found that joining a formal group—as opposed to just having friends—can have a greater impact on your self-esteem. A sense of belonging and purpose help take our attention off our self-doubt and refocus it on the group's greater goals.
Start a Hobby
"Find an outlet for your negative thoughts and feelings," says Samuels. An art class or trying improv could be a way to get out of your own head. "Wherever you can, try to draw inspiration from your experiences with self-image and turn it into something beautiful."
Switch Your Focus
Despite all our best efforts, sometimes the number on the scale just doesn't change. During these times, focus on a different goal, says Gregson-Williams. "Shift the focus from weight and aesthetic ideals to goals based in strength and performance. Try to focus on something your body can achieve by building it up, not breaking it down."
The idea of power posing has gotten a fair amount of press, both positive and negative. But you don't have to full-out stand like a superhero to get the effects. Other research has suggested that simply sitting more upright improves your confidence. Next time you feel like shrinking back in your seat, sit tall and proud to trick yourself into a little boost in confidence.
Dress for Success
Most of us have that one outfit we know is a confidence booster, and there is actually research that supports this. But when your LBD is in the wash, or you just can't get away with wearing your confidence uniform for the third straight day, try wearing anything black. One poll found that people wearing black are perceived as more confident.
Get Comfortable in Your Skin
Samuels suggests, "Walk around your home naked, work out in a sports bra, or wear a form-fitting outfit, as long as you feel comfortable, sexy, and confident. Donate your old clothes that don't fit or are outdated."
We've all heard that exercise gives us endorphins. But what do you need to do—exactly—to get that mood boost? Research has found that higher intensity exercise gives a greater endorphin release, so book that HIIT class and let go of the negativity.
Highlight Your Best Feature
"Learn how to do the best makeup for eyes or lips if you know you have enviable features," says Brass-Russell. " If you have crazy long legs, show them off! If you have sexy shoulders, update your wardrobe and find a few new off the shoulder or sleeveless tops." Not only does taking advantage of your best assets help you look fantastic, it's also an exercise in self-love.
Eat for Fuel, Not to Diet
Brown notes that her clients have the greatest success when they focus on what their bodies can do instead of how they look. When they eat to fuel that power, their bodies often change aesthetically as a result. "Their bodies naturally start to shape differently because they've taken the stress off of the process and are enjoying the journey."
Do Just One Thing
"[Wellness] is about doing one thing every day to feel healthier in body and mind," says Gregson-Williams. While what you eat and how you exercise is important, so is nourishing your mental health. Break down the big goals and strive to accomplish just one thing for your body or soul. "Being able to slow down the journey to your goal and appreciate the process will get you there faster in the end."