While losing weight can often be a healthy step, it needs to be done safely. That means ensuring that your mental health is looked after, as well as your physical health. This is particularly important during a time when we’re surrounded by reality TV and social media, both of which, studies suggest, are making people feel more worried about their appearance.
Having a positive body image
Your ‘body image’ is how you think and feel about your body. Having a positive body image generally means you feel comfortable with your appearance. Having a negative body image can mean feeling self-conscious, worried or ashamed about how you look, or about particular parts of your body.
A variety of factors can influence your body image, from your friends and family, to culture and the media. You can’t always change these pressures, but you can rethink your attitudes and behaviours towards them. Here are some tips that might help.
- Take stock of your attitudes towards your body and your weight. For example, if you always filter and edit photos of yourself before posting them on social media, take a second to stop and reflect on why you feel the need to do that. Thinking honestly about your attitude in this way may help you to challenge and adjust them.
- Aim for balance and moderation, in both your diet and ideas about your body. Move away from the unrealistic idea that having a particular body size is linked to feeling happy and fulfilled. The important thing is to be healthy both physically and mentally.
- Some people who’ve taken steps to feel better about their body image suggest remembering how amazing and unique your body is. You probably have features that others want, even if you don’t realise it.
- Tune out from and unfollow shows and social media accounts that make you feel worse about yourself.
Having a negative body image can make you feel really down. For some people, it leads to problems such as depression, anxiety or an eating disorder. If you could do with some mental health support, don’t hesitate to reach out to your family and friends, as well as your GP for medical advice. Support organisations such as Mind (0300 123 3393, mind.org.uk) can also help.
Understanding where you are on the scales
It’s a good idea to understand whether your weight is at a healthy level, so you can take steps to adjust your lifestyle if necessary. About six in every 10 adults in the UK are overweight, while others are about right or underweight. Body mass index (BMI) can be a useful guide measure – but remember it doesn’t tell you everything. For example, it doesn’t distinguish between muscle and body fat, or take into account things like age or gender. Talk to your doctor if you’re not clear where you stand with your current weight.
Eating well and being active
If you do want to lose weight, the age-old combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise is still the best way. Make sure you talk to your GP before starting a specific weight-loss plan if you have a health condition or are very inactive or obese. You also shouldn’t try to lose weight while pregnant.
You may be keen to lose weight quickly. It's easy to fall into the trap of extreme dieting or exercise to lose weight. But this isn’t sustainable in the long-term and it can be bad for your health. With an extreme diet, you might miss out on vital nutrients your body needs to function, and with extreme exercise, you can get injured. It’s best to set yourself a gradual plan, based around simply improving your diet and introducing more physical activity into your routine.
Setting achievable weight loss goals
- Start by thinking about what you want to gain from losing weight, and if it’s the right time to begin. If you've tried to lose weight before but it didn't work, what could you do differently this time?
- Think about what really motivates you and use this to stick to your weight-loss plan.
- Make sure you reward yourself for achieving goals you've set (but not with food – think about treats like a massage or new shoes instead).
- Be kind to yourself. Don't feel down if you slip up once in a while on your quest to eat well and exercise. Just accept it and pledge to get back on track.
- Draw on others for support and encouragement. Why not start exercising with friends or join a gym class, for example? You could involve the whole family, especially at home with healthy eating, to help keep the positive changes sustainable.