Since January we’ve been bombarded with ads urging us to slim down and “get your body in shape by summer.” “Lose weight by Memorial Day.” While some women manage to meet their weight loss goals in time to feel confident in their swimsuit, the majority of us don’t. While we can disguise unwanted pounds in heavy layers during winter, in summer there’s nowhere to hide when you’re invited to that pool side BBQ. Why should we have to hide? We turned to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, New York City based neuropsychologist and Teaching Faculty Member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College to give us some tips on how to boost body image despite the number on the scale.
- Recognize (and Stop) all the fat talk.
"Women are notorious for commiserating when it comes to body image," says Dr. Hafeez. If a woman says, 'I'm so fat,' the other woman might feel like she has to say 'no, I'm the fat one.’ ‘Have you seen my thighs?’ Then there's this back and forth over whose body is worse to elevate the other person. “Even women who don't feel negatively about their bodies will engage in this behavior and eventually, it can make them feel worse,” says Dr. Hafeez. Dr. Hafeez suggests taking the lead in offering compliments to friends and steering the conversation away from negative self-talk which serves no one.
- Don’t compare yourself to the ‘Insta thin.’
Comparing your “booty” or thighs to the countless fitness influencers on Instagram will do nothing to bolster your self-image. Instead, follow and like beautiful photos of healthy foods, plated and perfect. “You want to encourage well-being not get yourself down by comparing yourself to women who work out with trainers, are significantly younger and whose livelihood it is to be a swimsuit model. Comparison leads to discouragement, warns Hafeez.”
- Focus on improvement.
When it comes to your body, focusing on what you think is a problem area is just going to make you feel worse. Once you’ve acknowledged what you want to work on, focus on ways to improve and celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far. “If you haven’t reached your fitness goal understand it is a work in progress. Stick with it. Working out will also raise your endorphins which help to induce feelings of pleasure and reduce anxiety naturally,” says Dr. Hafeez.
- Be kind to yourself and commit not to a size, but to a lifestyle.
Doing something kind for your body serves as positive reinforcement. “You want to stay focused on the bigger picture. It’s about a healthy lifestyle not looking like a swimsuit model,” says Dr. Hafeez. Did you try new healthy recipes, opted out of dessert, drank water instead of coffee or diet sodas? Then praise yourself and treat yourself to a massage, a nice long uninterrupted shower with music, a pedicure, a facial or a delicious smelling body lotion.
“By taking some time for you, and doing something that makes you feel physically great, it’ll help you’ll feel well emotionally,” Dr. Hafeez explains.
- Undo the negative programming about your body.
Undoing negative thoughts about our bodies doesn’t happen overnight. Here are a few questions to consider when feeling down or anxious about your body.
How would it feel to savor the sensation of warm sun on my skin?
How would my body feel immersed in water on a stiflingly hot day?
How might swimming help me relax or exercise more?
What am I willing to do to reach my goal weight?
What 3 things can I appreciate about my body right now?
“It may also help to remind yourself that most people at the beach or pool are feeling sensitive about their bodies, too. They may not show it, but that doesn’t mean they are totally secure, happy and confident with their body.”
- Focus on the fun!
The majority of us live in climates where the summer is over quickly. Do you really want to spend the summer complaining about your body or, would you rather have fun? Think about how relaxing it will be to enjoy that good book with the sound of the waves in the background, napping under the umbrella, warmer temperatures, backyard get-togethers and night swimming in the pool. “You can spend your summer obsessing over cellulite or, you can enjoy time with your kids eating homemade fruit pops. Always choose fun,” suggests Dr. Hafeez.
- Finally, remind yourself why you are here?
You are so much more than your body. What are you doing with your life, besides obsessing about your body? Are you a parent who is raising confident kids, a student advancing your education, a loyal friend, pet owner, or a self-employed trailblazer? Focus on all you do, and want to do, with your mind and body. You’ll quickly realize you have more to offer the world than a 24-inch waist.
About the Doctor:
Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD is a NYC based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental and educational center in Manhattan and Queens.
Dr. Hafeez masterfully applies her years of experience connecting psychological implications to address some of today’s common issues such as body image, social media addiction, relationships, workplace stress, parenting and psychopathology (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc…). In addition, Dr. Hafeez works with individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, attention and memory problems, and abuse. Dr. Hafeez often shares her credible expertise to various news outlets in New York City and frequently appears on CNN and Dr.Oz.