Tag Archive for: mental health and stress management

mindfulness

mindfulness

In the hustle and hurry of today’s world it can be difficult to prioritize yourself—especially when it comes to your mental health. Between career demands, family and relationship responsibilities, and everything else life throws at you, there’s probably a lot on your plate. And there’s nothing wrong with that if—and this is a big if—you’re taking the time to care for your mental health, too.

Many workplaces have started to notice over-stressed employees aren’t operating at their best. So they have incorporated “mental health” or “wellness” days into company leave policies and monthly schedules. While this is a great practice, there are usually only a handful of such days scattered throughout the year.

But mental health should be a daily priority.

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between keeping up with the demands of your life or prioritizing your mental wellbeing. You can do both. All it takes is a little practice and proactive self-care. Read on for mental health tips you can use no matter how busy your schedule is!

Start at the Source: Identifying and Managing Stress

Ah, stress, that all-too-familiar feeling. Every person has experienced it at one time or another—probably many, many times. A small amount of day-to-day stress is inevitable, and, for most people, perfectly manageable. When stress piles up, however, it can start to take a toll on your mental—and physical—health. That’s why stress management is a crucial element of your mental wellness each day.

According to a recent poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, stress is on the rise among adults in the United States. And the problem is a global one, too. But many adults can’t point to an exact cause of their stress. Usually, however, stress can be traced to one common denominator: time. More specifically, not having enough of it. After all, who hasn’t felt like their responsibilities pull them in a thousand different directions?

One study suggests this feeling doesn’t actually stem from running out of hours in a day. Rather, the stress many people feel from their daily responsibilities arises from “emotional conflicts” between the various tasks.

Imagine, for instance, you take some “me time”—an hour to pursue a hobby, read a book, or take a nap. There’s a good chance that a small amount of guilt will accompany that activity—guilt over not being “productive” or about putting off other tasks. The guilt creates an emotional conflict, which can lead you to experience higher levels of stress than you otherwise would experience. In other words, even if you have the time for self-care, you may feel like you don’t.

How can you eliminate some of that guilt surrounding self-care, and, in turn, the stress that comes from it? As is so often the case, it’s all about mindfulness.

Slow down and take a moment between each task to remind yourself why you’re doing it. Whether it’s a work project, decompression time, or cooking dinner, it’s important to acknowledge why the task is worth your time. So before launching into that next to-do list item, take a few deep breaths and think about the why.

10 Mental Health Tips for Prioritizing and Practicing Self-Care on a Busy Schedule

You’ve learned to avoid the guilt—and stress—that can arise as you try to fit self-care into your schedule. Now discover what self-care looks like on the go. Most of these mental health tips take 30 minutes or less and can be integrated into a workday. Because, let’s face it, you might not always have the time (or funds) for a 90-minute deep-tissue massage.

  1. Establish routines and stick to them: Good sleep, full and nutritious meals, as well as exercise are just a few lifestyle elements that can elevate your mental health and mood on a day-to-day basis. So what’s the catch? To really see the benefits of these practices, you need consistency. And consistency requires a routine.
    Whether it’s cycling to work each morning or a strict bedtime, try to incorporate habits into your daily routine that promote consistent sleep (at least seven hours a night), some form of exercise, and nutritious eating. That means if you decide to meal prep for the week on Sundays, stick to it! These daily and weekly routines will give your life structure you can lean on for support when life gets busy.
  2. Find time for exercise: The benefits of exercise sometimes seem too good to be true, but it really is great for both physical and mental health. You’re probably familiar with the physical benefits of daily exercise, but did you know that 30 minutes of exercise each day can also elevate your mood, reduce stress, and decrease anxiety levels?
    And this doesn’t necessarily mean 30 minutes of hard, sweat-inducing cardio. Daily exercise can be as simple as walking or cycling to work in the morning or using a treadmill desk. There are even office-friendly exercise bikes if you want to be really creative with it!
  3. Practice mindfulness: If you’ve ever thought about trying meditation but written it off as too involved or time-intensive, mindfulness might be just the thing for you. Mindfulness—the practice of being mindful— means creating awareness of the present moment. The best part? It doesn’t matter which moment you choose—you can bring mindfulness to any activity or task.
    The first step is controlling your breathing. Close your eyes and start breathing in a slow, controlled cadence. Try to focus on the sensation of the air filling your lungs. When you open your eyes, bring that awareness to whatever you are doing. If you’re eating, pay attention to the sensations and flavors each bite brings. If you’re putting the final touches on your presentation for tomorrow, make every additional note or slide intentional.
  4. Try progressive relaxation: There’s a common misconception that meditation requires large chunks of uninterrupted time and a designated space. Enter progressive relaxation, also known as progressive muscle relaxation (or PMR). All you need for PMR is 10-15 minutes and a place to lie down. (If you can turn the lights out, that’s an added bonus.)
    During progressive muscle relaxation, you’ll do exactly as the name suggests: relax each muscle group in turn. Starting with your feet, clench the muscles as tight as you can, hold it, and then release. As you release, exhale. To complete the process, you will repeat this cycle for each muscle group, moving gradually up your body. The practice can be used to rest the body and relieve stress and anxiety.
  5. Focus on the positive: You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘You are what you eat.’ But when it comes to mental health, often you are what you think. So try to keep your thoughts positive! If there’s a conversation you’re dreading, focus on the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel afterwards. Stuck on a frustrating work task? Look at it as an opportunity to learn and develop a new skill.
  6. Keep a journal: Journaling feels like one of the best kept secrets of adulthood. Which is to say it’s shocking more people aren’t keeping a journal. Your journal can be whatever you want it to be. If you’re trying to keep your thoughts positive, a gratitude diary could be just what you need to help you focus on the good. Or maybe you need a space to vent, work through your thoughts, or ramble about your day. A journal is good for all of it. The act of writing can be cathartic and help you release negative thoughts and emotions you have accumulated during the day.
  7. Take advantage of telehealth: When it comes to managing your mental health, there’s nobody more qualified to help than a licensed professional. Unfortunately, not everyone has time for therapy. Here’s the good news: telehealth and virtual therapy options are widely available, so it’s never been easier to find a therapist to fit your schedule. If you feel like you could benefit from the help of a professional, don’t let the thought of adding another commute to your workweek deter you. We live in a digital world—you might as well take advantage of it.
  8. Put the phone (or laptop) away: If you’re old enough to remember a time when you didn’t always have a phone and computer in your pocket, you probably wax nostalgic for those days occasionally. While smartphones, laptops, and other devices are incredibly useful and convenient, they have drawbacks. Whether it’s fighting off the temptation to tune into your work email or Slack channel at the dinner table or browsing social media in bed, there’s a good chance your devices have worked their way into nearly every part of your life. This can increase the stress you feel from work, generate FOMO (fear of missing out), and generally affect your mental health for the worse.
    So consider unplugging for a bit. Turn the devices off at bedtime. Or leave them at home for your evening walk. A little bit of time away from the virtual world might be the break you didn’t know you needed.
  9. Make “me time” non-negotiable: No matter your age or occupation, it’s important that you make time in your schedule for yourself every day. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate activity. “Me time” could be simply cooking dinner. Or going for a fifteen-minute walk. Or painting a model airplane. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing if you want to be doing it.
  10. Take a day off: This last one isn’t always possible, but if you have the opportunity or option, consider taking a day off. Many employers offer mental health days, but if yours doesn’t, consider calling in sick or taking a vacation day. Gift yourself the time to go for a hike, catch up with a friend, or work through the stacks of dishes that have been piling up. Whatever you end up doing, a break from work can provide a much-needed breath of fresh air—literally and figuratively.
exercise and aging

exercise and aging

Most people know the basics of staying healthy—at least in theory. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly. Sleep enough. But putting these healthy habits into practice is where there’s room for improvement. This is natural. Nobody is perfect, after all, and change can be difficult, especially after years of forming certain lifestyle habits.

Here’s the good news: supporting health at any age is possible no matter how long you’ve been putting off healthy lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to start living your best life.

Many people—especially those in middle age and later—think they’ve passed a point of no return on their health journey. That is, they think it is too late to see the health benefits of certain lifestyle changes. But studies show you can enjoy the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes at any age.

In other words, it’s never too late to start caring about your health and learning how to take care of your body. The first step is learning about the supporting science, and then applying health tips for all ages to support physical and mental health throughout your life.

Neuroplasticity: Habits, Change, and the Aging Brain

Humans are creatures of habit. Daily life is built around routines—meals, work, sleep, and hobbies. And, as you’re probably aware, these habits can be hard to break or change.

There’s a neurological reason for this. As you repeat certain behaviors or activities, the neurons in your brain rewire and adjust the way they fire to code that behavior as a habit. So the behavior literally becomes wired into your brain.

Naturally, these wired habits are difficult to break—difficult, not impossible. Your ability to change habits has, in part, to do with neuroplasticity, which is simply your brain’s ability to change.

From infancy and childhood (even into early adulthood), the brain is incredibly plastic. This means it changes and develops easily. As you age, this process slows so much that scientists used to think neuroplasticity disappeared completely around age 25. In other words, they thought the brain’s wiring was fully set by your mid-twenties.

Recent studies, however, have shown this isn’t the case. Your brain can form new connections, create new neurons, and change its structure at any age. The process might look different as you age, but it is still possible.

So yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And, more importantly, you can form new habits to support health at any age.

Out With the Bad: The Benefits of Dropping Unhealthy Habits Today

When people confront lifelong habits—whether it’s smoking, drinking too much, or eating too many processed food—they often ask the same question: how much of a difference could it really make?

The answer is simple. Dropping unhealthy habits as soon as possible can have a huge positive impact on your health.

Take smoking for instance. For a pack-a-day smoker of 20 years, each additional day spent smoking might seem like drops in the river. But the health benefits of quitting smoking, such as decreased risk of heart disease, can be seen after just one day.

Remember, if your goal is to replace unhealthy habits in your lifestyle, you have to start somewhere. Each day that you stick to your goals, you work towards rewiring your brain. So even if you’re not seeing immediate health benefits, you are working to create new neural pathways that will help you maintain a healthier lifestyle going forward.

Making the Change: How to Take Care of Your Body as You Age

The habits you set in early adulthood are factors that will shape your health profile later in life. Depending on your lifestyle, your risk for serious ailments will change. But those statistics aren’t set in stone.

Adults in their sixties, seventies, and beyond can still see the benefits of improving their diet, physical fitness, and mental health. Together, these positive lifestyle changes can set the stage for a happy and healthy life that extends well into old age. Whether you’re a teen, early adult, or pushing past middle age, look at the following tips for supporting health at any age:

  • Incorporate exercise into your routine: Whether it’s a daily walk, weight training, or high-intensity cardio, it’s important to stay active no matter your age. In young adults, high levels of physical activity improve cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and can help you maintain a high level of fitness later in life.
    If you’re middle aged or older, physical activity is just as important, if not more so. Increased levels of physical activity can help support you overall cardiovascular health, and more. And for older adults, physical activity helps keep muscles strong, helping maintain mobility and ensuring you can continue performing day-to-day tasks.
  • Eat nutritious food: Your diet affects nearly every aspect of your life. Food is fuel, and you want to make sure you’re giving the body the nutrients it needs to run effectively throughout life. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, your diet provides your body with the fuel it needs to grow and develop.
    As you age, your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight—which looks a little different for everyone—and can help support total body health throughout your life.
    Additionally, healthy eating can just make you feel better. It’s hard to quantify, but people who eat nutritious foods often report feeling more satisfied and energized throughout the day. And this is a benefit you can take advantage of at all ages.
  • Keep your brain engaged: Scenic walks, reading, or learning a new skill are a few activities that can help keep your brain engaged throughout life. The brain loves a challenge—so why not give it one?
    By striving to learn throughout life, you can keep your brain active. This promotes neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to continue to learn and grow into old age. Staying mentally engaged and challenged can also help optimize mental health throughout life.

Stay Positive with a Growth Mindset to Stay Healthy as Your Age

No matter your age, caring about your health involves adopting a growth mindset. It means believing that your health and lifestyle can change for the better. It’ll just take time and effort.

Remember, these changes don’t have to occur all at once. Start small and work towards your larger goals. It’s natural to slip up, but it’s up to you how you respond to your mistakes. So what are you waiting for? Take the first step towards health—no matter how small.

Woman After Weight-Loss Looking In Mirror

Woman After Weight-Loss Looking In Mirror

Your body image is the way you view yourself—the mental picture you’ve created from several factors. Naturally, physical metrics—like body size and weight—play a part in shaping your image of yourself. But psychological, mental, and emotional factors make just as big of an impact on how you see yourself, and how accepting you are of your body.

Here’s the catch: your body image isn’t always accurate. Your perception—shaped by all the facets listed above—can be skewed. You’re often your harshest critic—especially when it comes to the way you look.

A negative body image can impact your life in many ways and keep you from feeling your best. Nobody wants that, so it’s time to start untangling the psychology of weight, body image, body positivity, and body acceptance.

The body positivity discussion exists on an individual and societal level.

On an individual basis, body positivity describes a frame of mind. When you’re body positive, it means you generally feel good about your body. This includes accepting the changes that your body naturally can—and will—experience. Body positivity requires having realistic expectations for yourself, and, more importantly, being forgiving of your body as it changes.

Body positivity also describes a broader social movement. Society has had unrealistic beauty standards for about as long as popular media has existed. And that’s a long time. In recent years, people have talked more openly about the negative effects these beauty standards can have on individuals. When you are constantly exposed to unrealistic images of how you “should” look, it’s pretty hard to feel good about yourself. Makes sense, right? The body positivity and body acceptance movement is simply people calling for changes to the norm. Advertising and media should reflect the real world: this means representing people of all shapes and sizes.

So contrary to popular belief, body positivity isn’t a fad. And it certainly is not encouraging people to be unhealthy. Rather, body positivity is a frame of mind and a social movement simply encouraging people to be more accepting of themselves and others.

 

Factors That Influence Body Image

The human brain is constantly taking in and processing information—both consciously and unconsciously. It’s one of the things that makes life so interesting. But it can also be a bit inconvenient. Because of your brain takes in so much information, your body image is often influenced unconsciously by the world around you.

Some factors that might have a negative impact on your body image include:

  • Culture and family: Beauty standards vary from culture to culture. How well you fit in with your culture’s ideas of beauty can have a lasting impact on the way you view yourself. Your family can have a similar influence—for better or for worse. A supportive, body positive family can help foster body acceptance in children. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. Judgmental family members can have a lasting toll on an individual’s self-image.
  • Media: As mentioned above, advertisements and other forms of media—especially those related to the fashion industry—play a big role in shaping society’s beauty standards. And often, those standards are unrealistic. Comparing yourself to an unattainable (and possibly unhealthy) standard of beauty often leads to a negative body image. Try to be mindful of the media you consume—especially on social media!
  • Weight loss or fluctuations: Rapid or extreme changes to your appearance can impact body image for the worse. This even includes weight loss. Many people who shed weight rapidly still have a negative body image. One possible cause for this is “phantom fat,” a phenomenon in which people still feel overweight, and even view themselves as overweight after they have quickly dropped some pounds.
  • Skin conditions: Body image isn’t all about weight and size. Acne, scarring, and other changes to your skin can impact body image, too. Because of airbrushing, makeup, lighting, and other post-production tricks, people in the media always seem to have perfect-looking skin. Remember: this doesn’t necessarily reflect how those people look in reality. And you exist in the real world. So when you compare your skin to theirs, you’re not being fair to yourself.

Body Image and Health: The Effects of Body Positivity on Your Physical and Mental Wellbeing

Most people want to feel good about the way they look—to have a positive body image. It might sound simple, but this goal can be harder to reach than you might expect. But there are good reasons why it’s worth it to keep aiming for body positivity.

After a while, body negativity can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. Body positivity and body acceptance, on the other hand, can boost your confidence, mood, self-esteem, and general sense of wellness and fulfillment. This can help reduce social anxiety, improve your performance at work, and benefit your interpersonal relationships.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Positive body image is also linked to healthier lifestyle habits. People with a positive body image tend to maintain a healthier diet, smoke less, and drink less alcohol than their body-negative peers. This creates a positive feedback loop. The better you take care of your body, the better you’ll feel about it. And the better you feel about your body, the more you’ll want to take care of it.

Phantom Fat: The Psychological Effects of Weight Loss on Body Image

Contrary to popular belief, improving your body image isn’t always a matter of losing weight. This is because, as mentioned above, your body image isn’t always tied to how you look—it often has more to do with your thoughts and other mental and psychological elements.

A phenomenon known as phantom fat is good example. When a person loses a substantial amount of weight—enough to change their physical appearance—they sometimes still see themselves at their previous weight and size. And they still feel their “phantom fat” on their body. People experiencing phantom fat report worries about knocking things over and perceive themselves as much larger than they actually are.

People’s experiences with phantom fat vary greatly. And there’s not one guaranteed way to help your brain catch up with the way you look. Often, it just takes time. After years and years of learning to view yourself one way, it can take a while to change those thought patterns.

Changing your brain can take longer than changing your body, but that mental adjustment is possible. Whether it’s replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones, throwing out the scale, or reciting affirmations, there are countless strategies for boosting your body image. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you.

Tips for Maintaining a Body-Positive Mindset

At this point, you probably have one main question: if body positivity is so important, what can you do to keep your body image positive? There’s no fix-all solution—body acceptance and positivity look different for everyone. Try a few of the following tips and practices to see which help keep your body image positive!

  1. Keep your self-talk positive: If you find you frequently experience critical thoughts about yourself and your appearance, try replacing those criticisms with self-affirmations.
  2. Move your body every day: You may be sick of hearing about the benefits of exercise, but there’s a reason you hear so much about it. Exercise really works wonders! A little bit of movement each day, even if it’s not rigorous exercise, can really help you keep your self-image up. This could mean jogging, cleaning, dancing, or going for a walk.
  3. Be kind to yourself: A lot of people write self-love and self-care off as corny and unimportant. Don’t let that be you! There’s no right way to practice self-care, but try doing something each day that is truly for yourself. This could be as simple as setting time aside for reading a good book or as involved as going out for a massage.
  4. Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable: When considering your clothing choices, be sure to account for two factors: how the clothes feel physically and how they make you feel. If your clothes are too tight, itchy, or otherwise uncomfortable, it’s hard to feel good about yourself. Try to find clothes you like the look of that are also comfortable.
  5. Be mindful of who you surround yourself with: Your friends, coworkers, and peers can have a huge impact on your self-image. Try to surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good. This goes for social media, too! A social feed full of negativity won’t do your thoughts any favors.

You’re constantly bombarded with messages about your body—from your loved ones to what you see on your screens. With all this input coming in waves, even a healthy body image can be worn down or swept away entirely in a tide of negativity. That’s why it’s important to buoy your body image with a raft of body positivity.

The journey to body acceptance and a healthy body image isn’t an easy one. And it’s different for everyone. So before you embark, it’s nice to know just how positive your body image already is.

The healthy body image quiz below will walk you through different aspects of body positivity. The points from your choices will automatically tally up, and your score at the end will reveal how your body image positivity compares. Once you find your score and the group you fall into, links to resources are waiting to help you improve or maintain your healthy body image.

Take the Healthy Body Image Quiz

 

 

Food cravings come in all varieties and flavors. Whether it’s a late-night hankering for something salty or a hole in your stomach that only ice cream can fill, a craving can be a powerful feeling. But what causes these longings? And, more importantly, what is your body trying to tell you through them?

Although the exact root of food cravings is up for debate, there are two main schools of thought: food cravings are generally thought to be either psychological (tied to emotions, anxieties, etc.) or physiological (tied to vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies). Though the facts are still being uncovered, exploring both of these approaches can give you valuable insights into your health.

Strap in for a crash course in cravings: what they are, what you can learn from cravings, and what to do when they come creeping up.

What are Food Cravings?

Food cravings are a nearly universal experience. That being said, the frequency and intensity with which people experience food cravings varies greatly. For some, a craving is simply a lingering desire—maybe you’ve been thinking about your favorite salty snack all day and have to stop for some on your way home from work. But food cravings can be much more intense, causing people to compulsively snack on certain foods.

In day-to-day conversation, cravings are often labeled one of two ways: sweet or salty. But in reality, people crave a huge variety of flavors and types of food: carbs, coffee, fats, and even non-food items (but this article is going to focus on foods). Cravings can be brought on by sensory input—sights, smells, and, of course, tastes—or other factors, such as anxiety and stress.

Because the term “food cravings” covers such a broad range of experiences, understanding your own cravings requires self-reflection. It’s not always the cravings themselves that are important, but rather the context in which you experience them.

Physiology vs. Psychology: The Craving Debate

As mentioned above, some researchers believe food cravings indicate nutrient deficiencies, while others think food cravings stem from anxiety, stress, and other mental factors. In short, it’s a question of physiology (the body) vs. psychology (the mind).

So which theory is correct? Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer. But let’s dig through the evidence.

The notion that cravings indicate a nutritional deficiency in your diet makes sense. There’s a certain logic to it, which is perhaps why this is the explanation many people latch onto. If you’re craving salty foods, you must be low on sodium—or so the reasoning goes.

It would be nice if food cravings were that straightforward and easy to unpack, but there isn’t really any science to back it up. Instead, the physiological underpinnings of food cravings are much more muddled. It’s true that an unbalanced—or nutrient deficient—diet can lead to cravings. But it won’t lead you to crave specific foods depending on what your body needs. An unbalanced diet may impact your body’s ability to feel full and satisfied. And when you don’t feel properly full after a meal, that makes room for cravings to sneak into your day.

The psychological explanations from some food cravings are similarly complex. It’s tempting to assign cravings for particular foods to specific mental states or emotions. (Examples include: If you’re craving pasta, you want to feel comfort and warmth. Cravings for crunchy foods reflect your need to vent aggression—and so on.) And though there may be some truth to this line of reasoning, it’s not that clear-cut.

It’s true food cravings often reflect emotions, but specific foods—or flavors—are not universally linked to specific emotions. If you are craving pasta, for example, it might reflect the fact that you’re stressed. For another person, however, this same craving might mean they simply had a long day and love pasta. Memories can also play a role in these cravings. If you associate pasta with certain fond memories, you may crave pasta when you subconsciously want to evoke or re-experience those memories and emotions. Context is everything.

In short, your cravings can tell you about both your physiology and psychology. To learn what your body is telling you, however, don’t focus too much on the food you are craving. Focus on the context in which those cravings arise.

Food Cravings and Feelings: What is Emotional Eating?

You’ve likely heard someone reference emotional eating, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard an exact definition. That’s because “emotional eating” is a bit of a catch-all: it means any eating that is stimulated by a feeling other than hunger. Eating because you’re sad? That counts as emotional eating. Eating because you’re bored? You guessed it, also emotional eating.

Eating when you’re not hungry might sound strange, but it’s incredibly common. Most people enjoy eating—especially when it’s a food they love. And because it is enjoyable, eating can easily become a go-to response for a whole variety of stressors, emotions, and other experiences life throws at you. Eating can be comforting, fun, and exciting—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Because emotional eating isn’t directly responding to hunger, however, it can often lead to overeating. This, in turn, can lead to negative feelings or stand in the way of your health goals.

Here’s the good news: there are a number of tried and true ways to identify and avoid emotional eating in your own life.

One of the most common strategies for managing emotional eating is keeping a food journal. It’s where you record the things you eat, when you eat them, and how your mind and body feel. This helps put the two pieces of the puzzle together: the cravings and the context.

By putting these elements side by side, you may start to recognize patterns. Maybe you eat a lot on days when your partner is working late. This could indicate boredom and loneliness trigger your cravings. Or maybe your cravings hit after nights where you work late. This could mean you’re eating to release the stress of the day.

What is Your Body Actually Saying With Food Cravings?

If you find yourself experiencing frequent food cravings or emotional eating, it’s worth taking time to reflect. What is your body trying to tell you? Or, to be more accurate, what is your body responding to?

Is it stress? A poor diet? Boredom? There are endless possibilities, but only you can find the root cause. It is, after all, your body.

The process doesn’t have to be complicated—just listen to your body. And pay attention to context. As mentioned above, a food journal is a great tool for identifying what causes your cravings. Are you eating in response to certain emotions? Or is it the result of a diet that never leaves you feeling full and satisfied? Both can be managed with small lifestyle changes.

Tips for Satisfying Cravings in a Healthy Way

You can’t identify a cure without first diagnosing the problem. Similarly, you won’t be able to manage or avoid food cravings without first assessing why you are experiencing those cravings. Once you’ve identified the cause of your cravings, you can start to work on solutions. If you need some ideas, don’t worry—here’s a list of a few common strategies for managing cravings:

  1. Incorporate fruits, veggies, and other nutrient-rich snacks into your day-to-day routine: Healthy snacks are underrated. A handful of nuts and a few carrots will leave you feeling full and energized. And this can help you avoid some of those salty cravings during the work day.
  2. Stand up and move: Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be rewarding and beneficial. If you find that you often eat in response to stress, try going for a quick walk. Being outside and moving can help your body produce stress-managing endorphins that will leave you feeling more relaxed than a bag of potato chips.
  3. Chew gum: If you often eat out of boredom, gum might be a solution for you. Chewing gum gives your mouth something to do, which may seem small, but can help stave off cravings throughout the day.

As you experience, reflect on, and manage food cravings, remember to be generous with yourself. Understanding what your body is telling you through food cravings requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-compassion. Sure, you’re trying to give into cravings a little less, but nobody is perfect. A scoop of ice cream (or three) every once in a while isn’t such a bad thing—you can always start again tomorrow.

Body positivity and body acceptance are usually talked about in grand, sweeping terms. Most people are discussing the body positivity movement, not body acceptance on an individual level. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It often takes a movement to make changes. (And the body positivity movement has done a lot to redefine beauty standards in advertising!)

But when it comes to body acceptance and positivity on an individual basis, representation in advertising is only a piece of the puzzle. The others are self-love and self-acceptance.

So what can you do in your life to foster body acceptance and body positivity? Here’s a hint: forget about the scale. Or at least put it away for a bit. Keep reading for a rundown on what exactly body acceptance means, tips on how to promote body acceptance in your own life, and some health metrics you can turn to instead of weight.

What is Body Positivity?

Put simply, body positivity means feeling good about your body. Not your body as it could be or your body a month ago, but as it currently is. Here’s the thing: the human body is constantly changing—it’s a normal part of life. So body positivity also includes accepting those changes as they come.

There are a lot of misconceptions about body positivity and body acceptance out there, but the most common is that body positivity promotes unhealthy lifestyles. And, more specifically, the body positivity movement is telling people it’s OK to be unhealthy.

As mentioned above, this is not true. Body acceptance doesn’t promote unhealthy lifestyles because it doesn’t promote any sort of lifestyle. It’s not about telling people how they should look or how they should live. It’s about telling people it’s OK to feel good about themselves no matter how they look or live. The goal of body positivity and body acceptance is to separate your self-worth from the way you look.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals for yourself and the way you look. Just make sure you’re mindful about those goals. But more on that later!

Body Acceptance and Weight

Modern society is too focused on weight. For many people, it is the only indicator of health they pay attention to. And, as a result, their perception of their own health is tied directly to their weight—and nothing else.

Weight-based evaluations of health are often based on the bathroom scale and the body mass index, or BMI. The BMI takes four data points (your height, weight, gender, and age) and provides a number that sorts you into one of four categories: underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, and obesity. While this can be a useful guide for some people, BMI should not be used as a sole indicator of health. Many athletes, for instance, are overweight by BMI standards because of their muscle mass.

Another flaw with the BMI is that, at the end of the day, it’s still centered around weight. Becoming too focused on your own weight can have a negative impact on your body image, mental health, and distract from other health indicators—such as how you actually feel.

At the end of the day, the human body is complex and so is your health.

That being said, it can be hard to break free from the weight-focused mindset. Whether it’s unkind comments on social media or children being bullied in school for their weight, many people will face some form of weight stigma in their lives. And this can reinforce the notion that weight is the only metric that matters.

So what can you do to break free from this mindset and create a lifestyle built around body acceptance? The key is finding other ways to measure and monitor your health.

A Different Approach: Health at Every Size

Moving away from weight-centric measures of health looks a little bit different for everyone. And that’s because “healthy” looks a little bit different for everyone. This is the fundamental logic behind one increasingly popular approach to health—Health at Every Size, or HAES.

HAES encourages people to ditch the scale and focus on other elements of healthy living: self-care and intuitive eating, for example. Whereas many people equate a healthy living to weight loss and maintaining a societally determined weight, HAES is built around the idea that you can foster a healthy lifestyle regardless of your size or weight. Naturally, this requires a certain amount of self-acceptance.

Here’s the good news: once you get started, it’ll create a positive feedback loop. Weight stigma can sometimes contribute to decreases in mental and emotional health, which can make self-care difficult. But as you start focusing on other elements of your health, you’ll start to feel more comfortable with yourself. And as you feel more comfortable with, and accepting of, your body, it becomes easier to focus on healthy lifestyle habits that aren’t based on weight.

Tips for Fostering a Lifestyle of Body Acceptance and Positivity

At this point, you’ve hopefully picked up on one thing: body acceptance and positivity require you to focus on aspects of your health other than weight or unrealistic standards of body image. But how does that knowledge turn into action and results?

Fortunately, there are a few tips to help you practice body positivity in your day-to-day life:

  1. Monitor your internal dialogue: It’s easy to get down on yourself. Especially with all the negativity circulating online. The first step towards body acceptance is ensuring your internal narrative doesn’t start to mirror that negativity.
    It might seem cheesy, but one of the best ways to maintain positive internal thoughts is through affirmations. Saying positive statements about yourself out loud can lead to changes in your internal narrative. This can be especially helpful if you frequently find your thoughts turning negative.
  2. Move your body every day: Whether it’s a walk down the block or a half hour bike ride, moving your body is a great first step towards body positivity. Exercise can give you a sense of accomplishment, release positive-mood-supporting endorphins, and help keep your body and mind feeling healthy.
    When it comes to movement and exercise, be generous with yourself. Give yourself the tools you need, too. Try a new pair of walking shoes or a smart exercise watch to help motivate you to move. And, some days you might only manage a quick walk around the neighborhood—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
  3. Try intuitive eating: This dietary approach is all about connecting with your body and its needs. The guiding principle behind intuitive eating is simple: eat when you feel hungry, stop when you feel full. Intuitive eating works best if you identify foods that are nutrient rich, keep you full, and satisfy some of your cravings.
    Eating when you’re hungry sounds pretty simple, right? Paradoxically, it’s incredibly simple and tricky to actually put into practice. In the hurry and hustle of today’s world, you might find yourself scarfing down meals on the go or in the few minutes you find to eat. Often, this can lead to eating too much—you don’t give your body time to process the fact that it’s full. Intuitive eating requires you to slow down and really listen to your body. (For tips on slowing meals down, check out this story on a related concept—mindful eating!)
  4. Tweak your typical online diet: Often, the most negative messaging in your life come from your online intakes. Though it has its benefits, internet culture and social media can become a rabbit hole of counterproductive comparisons and negative self-talk. If you find yourself constantly comparing your life or your body to those of people online or in pop culture, consider changing what you look at online. A short break from the apps and sites you frequent can also do wonders for your self image.