No matter what your scale says, being comfortable in your own skin is up to you. It can be tough, in a society that prizes unrealistic images. But it's possible, and it starts with what you say when you look in the mirror.
One of the first rules of achieving a healthy and happy body image is to stop allowing "put-downs" in front of the mirror, says Lori Osachy, body image expert and lead therapist at The Body Image Counseling Center in Jacksonville, Fla.
"Even if in the beginning that means you have to jump in front of the mirror and shout, ‘You're awesome,' and then immediately jump back out, that's OK," she says. "The goal is to retrain your brain how to think positively about your reflection and your body."
Over time, telling yourself that you're beautiful, even if you don't believe it at first, will improve your confidence, she says. The psychology behind this technique is called "cognitive behavioral therapy," a method that psychologists and therapists use to stop negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones instead.
Robyn Silverman, PhD, body image expert and author, agrees that "faking" confidence will eventually turn bad body thoughts into good ones, though it takes time.
To speed up the process, Silverman suggests posting notes with positive messages on your mirror to remind yourself of your good qualities. Those notes don't always have to be about your looks. Jotting down things about your character will help you develop a more positive attitude toward your reflection.
Be Your Own Body Image Advocate
You would never tell your friend she looks fat in a bathing suit, or tell your coworker his arms are scrawny, so why would you tell yourself that?
"Treat yourself as you would treat others, and you'll find negative thoughts will lessen over time," says Leslie Goldman, MPH, body image expert and author of Locker Room Diaries.
Ditch the things in your life that make you feel inferior, whether that is body-bashing friends, fashion magazines with supermodels, or TV shows that portray men and women in an unrealistic, sexist way, Silverman says. If a family member or roommate makes you feel bad about the way you look, talk to them directly and establish a "fat-talk-free policy," she says.
If an advertisement or TV commercial makes you feel bad about yourself, examine it closer and look for the ways it's trying to sell you something. "Remember, if we didn't feel inferior to the models in the ads, we wouldn't want to buy the product," Silverman says.
Look Beyond the Scale
All too often, people get hung up on the number on the scale, rather than paying attention to how they feel, Silverman says. People of all sizes do that, and it doesn't help.
Instead of focusing on one number -- your weight -- pay attention to how you feel when you wake up or after you hurry to catch the bus. Also check on all your other numbers, such as blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Those may paint a better picture of your health than just your weight alone.
If you're trying to lose weight, Silverman suggests swapping weight-loss oriented goals with fitness goals like keeping your cholesterol level down or training for your first 5K.
"Instead of running away from your old body on the treadmill or the StairMaster, work toward a goal that makes you feel accomplished," she says.
Choose an exercise you love, and you'll be more likely to stick with it, Osachy says. When you exercise for stress relief and fun, your weight and health may naturally start to fall into place, she says.
As an added bonus, doing something you love will make you see your body in a different light, Silverman says. For instance, instead of loathing your thighs, you'll appreciate them because they enable you to do the things that you love, whether that is yoga or cycling.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Forget perfection or rigid rules. It's OK to splurge once in a while even if you're trying to lose weight, Goldman says. Not letting yourself have a little cake at a party may make you more likely to overindulge later.
Focus on the bigger picture and praise yourself for the healthy choices you make, rather than the times you think you've "failed," Silverman says.
Don't label any food as "bad" or "good." You'll only feel worse about yourself and your body if you eat something that isn't your definition of perfect, Goldman says.
Don't Compare Yourself to Others
"Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes," Goldman says.
Never resort to unhealthy measures, such as not eating or taking potentially dangerous supplements, to fit society's idea of what looks healthy, Silverman says.
If you're physically fit, and everything checks out with your doctor, you may want to redefine your weight-loss goals altogether. If negative thoughts about your body become overwhelming, or if you are finding it hard to give up perfectionistic habits about food, weight, or exercise, talk to your doctor or a counselor or therapist.