Unrealistic body image isn't healthy



photoSherri McMillan, owner of Northwest Personal Training.


Here are some steps to learn how to love your body and improve your body image.

• Step one: What's realistic for you?

Is there a history of excess fat in your family?

Which parts of your body or your physical attributes are you satisfied with?

What is the lowest weight you have maintained as an adult for at least one year?

Based on your genetic predisposition, your age and the amount of time you want to spend exercising, what type of "ideal" physique is achievable for you?

• Step two: Manage negative and irrational thoughts.

Listen to your thoughts at the times when you feel worst and listen for irrational/negative thinking.

Dispute these thoughts by asking, "Why is this so?," "Where is this negativity coming from?" and "Could their be another possible explanation or interpretation?"

Imagine repeating what you've said to a close friend or child. We could never imagine talking to others as we talk to ourselves. The next time you catch yourself thinking irrationally or negatively, ask yourself if you'd ever speak this way to another human being. You deserve the same type of respect you'd give anybody else! Remind yourself that if you continually practice negative self-talk, eventually you may actually start to believe your own words. Your self-esteem can end up taking a real beating.

Displace continuing irrational beliefs by techniques of thought stopping (when worrying, think of a stop sign and then pleasant thoughts) and stress management (when worrying, participate in your favorite relaxation techniques like massage, reading, baths, journal writing, etc.).

Learn to live in the moment and to experience true joy in your life. Stop worrying about the past or the future.

Each night before you fall asleep, make a mental note of what was the best part of your day or of something that you experienced that you really appreciated or enjoyed.

Live today! Self-hatred takes a lot of time and energy. Obsessing about your body weight, nutrition plan and exercise program leaves you tired and depressed. Deciding to not enjoy the here-and-now because you've decided to wait until you lose the weight will leave you feeling deprived and will often lead to more negative feelings and behaviors. Remember that thin thighs, a small butt and a six-pack set of abdominals is not the ticket to a meaningful existence. Fill your life with interesting experiences and people and you'll enjoy a much higher quality of life.

• Step three: A little help from my friends!

Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who inspire, challenge and support you. Keep people around who are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Often people have very unrealistic expectations of the type of body they would like to achieve. They often refer to popular magazines to determine their ideal body. But they are ignorant to the fact that many of the models are 23 percent underweight to begin with, have been made-up for hours, enhanced with camera tricks, and still, once the photos are developed, the pictures are cropped, airbrushed and manipulated by computer to produce a very unrealistic, unhealthy, so-called "perfect" image.

Cindy Crawford was once quoted as saying, "Even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford!"

It's very important for you to examine your genetics and to understand that fat loss is dependent on your genetic breakdown. About half of fatness is genetically determined. You can't change this! Here are some stats to help you understand this relationship.

• If one of your parents is obese, you are two times more likely to be overfat.

• If both of your parents are obese, you are four times more likely to be overfat.

• One study also makes this relationship very clear. Overfat identical twins were fed 1,000 excess calories per day for seven weeks. You would expect that each pair of twins should gain the exact same amount of weight. But in fact, the weight gain ranged from 9.5 to 29.3 pounds. It's most interesting to note that although the actual range of weight gain between twins was very high, the twins in each pair gained exactly the same amount of weight!

So, here's the message. You have a choice. If you are a pear-shaped individual, you can either choose to be an in-shape pear or an out-of-shape fatter pear, but you'll most likely always be a pear!

So examine your parents and your family to determine the types of expectations you can place upon yourself. Some people have good genes and have it easy in terms of maintaining an ideal body weight. And others have to work a lot harder. But at the end of the day, you make the choice to do the work necessary to look good, feel great and live life to the fullest!

What is sad are the people who get caught in the, "Geez, if I could just lose this extra 10 pounds, then I'd be happy" syndrome -- yet, when they do lose the weight, they're still not satisfied. If you believe that you'll be happy once you lose the weight, you'll never be skinny enough to be happy. It's a vicious cycle, and it never ends unless we learn to love the body we have right now, not tomorrow or next month or next year.

It's OK to want to make health improvements, but you can't hate and despise the state you're in now. Making these lifestyle changes is about believing you deserve to be healthier! You deserve to take the time out to exercise and eat well. It's not about making the changes so you can look like someone else. If you make changes with this as your ultimate goal, you will not succeed, and you'll be miserable for life! Take our word for it. We've seen it happen time and time again! Body hatred and dissatisfaction are hardly reserved for only the morbidly obese. In fact, many women who clearly have very little body fat to lose are not happy with their body proportions.

We are often our own worst critics and can be so hard on ourselves.

Sherri McMillan,M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.