Want To Improve Your Body Image? Consider Who You're Hanging Out With
When we think of wellness, our minds often jump to superfood green smoothies or exercise, and while a healthy diet and movement contribute to our health, it turns out that who you surround yourself with affects your health.
A new study out of the University of Waterloo found that female college students who surrounded themselves with body-positive people1—aka those not focused on their body image—for a week had an easier time eating intuitively, appreciated their bodies, and had increased body satisfaction, while those surrounded by body-focused individuals experienced the opposite effect.
"Women may experience benefits from trying to interact with more non-body-focused individuals even if the frequency of their body-focused interactions is high. Furthermore, the benefits of doing so may be readily experienced on that same day and even carry over to the next day," the study reported.
Intuitive eating or tuning in to the body's needs instead of focusing on a diet or weight-loss goals has been associated with healthier eating habits and could lead to more weight loss as people are less focused on doing things the "right" way. A more flexible perspective on your diet leaves room for exploring what works for your body and what foods give you energy and support healthy digestion.
Appreciating your body and inspiring others to do so could in turn affect positive mental health outcomes as poor body image could lead to adverse mental health outcomes2 like anxiety and depression. Research shows a link between body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem and mood3, so it's worth taking some time to become aware of how you view your body and how others around you view theirs because the people we surround ourselves with DO affect our body image.
"If more women try to focus less on their weight/shape, there may be a ripple effect shifting societal norms for women's body image in a positive direction," said lead author Kathryn Miller, Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Waterloo, in a statement.
It's important to remember that body positivity is not something that happens overnight. We all deal with insecurities from time to time surrounding our appearance, and therefore we should first be gentle with ourselves and others as we embark on a body-positive journey.
Some ways to begin a body-positive journey include moving in ways that feel good to you, slowing down when eating, finding gratitude for your food, massaging your body to show it you care, and hanging out with others who support a body-positive journey. We know it's not an easy journey but the benefits, as we see, reach far beyond us.
Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.