Accepting your body is the first and most important step to getting healthier.
The way you feel about your body might have an even greater impact on your health than your actual weight, according to a number of scientific studies. The research isn’t meant to tone down the health risks associated with being overweight, but the findings reveal that feeling bad about your body could be harmful to your wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
In a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, a survey of over 100 female college students found a link between negative body image and a “generally diminished quality of life.” Other studies have linked weight dissatisfaction to higher blood pressure, glucose levels, and body-mass indexes (BMIs), as well as a greater risk of metabolic disease, disordered eating, and lower self-esteem.
A more recent study in 2014 found that weight dissatisfaction was linked to an eventual onset of type II diabetes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be an issue that’s going anywhere anytime soon, as another study revealed that feeling dissatisfied with body image is a growing problem.
Multiple studies have found that people who are satisfied with their bodies tend to exercise more often, so part of the problem may simply be that people who like their bodies take better care of them. In general, people who aren’t happy with their bodies exercise less and put on more weight, according to research.
“Weight dissatisfaction may actually discourage people from engaging in healthy behaviors,”Christine Blake from the Arnold School of Health in South Carolina told Quartz’s Harriet Brown. “They might be less likely to respond to programs that encourage health, saying, ‘Ah, forget it.’”
So what’s the best way to go about tackling weight issues? Instead of jumping to diets and rigid exercise schedules, Blake suggests that the first necessary step is to help people with body image issues gain a sense of self-acceptance and body positivity. Focusing on weight issues can often lead to stress, self-loathing, or other unhealthy behaviors, so before an individual can make genuine progress, he or she must let go of negative self-inflicted thoughts.
Managing weight-related issues can obviously be guided by doctors, but parents can also make a difference. A study back in 2009 looked at adolescents from 24 different countries and found strong links between body dissatisfaction and problems with parent-child communication, so healthy relationships at home could have a significant impact on feeling good about our bodies.
These studies certainly raise an interesting point since most people jump to the conclusion that the biggest issues when it comes to weight-related health risks has to do with, well, actual weight. But it appears that there’s an even more important issue to smooth out before all else, and as cliché as it sounds, accepting yourself must come first. You may roll your eyes hearing the whole “accept and love yourself” shpiel from your mom or in an inspirational Instagram post, but now even science confirms the importance of accepting your body.
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