Navigating your way in a society that is seemingly obsessed with the “perfect” body (and the ever-changing idea of perfection) is TOUGH. Thinness, fitness, youth, attractiveness, and physical ability are characteristics that our culture undeniably worships – a reality reflected in the messaging we consume daily, consciously or otherwise.
We’re bombarded with messages that tell us that our bodies are not good enough, whether it’s through advertising, social media, or even our own families and friends. These messages can lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy, anxiety, and low self-esteem… and a desperate need to change your body no matter the cost.
We can’t change the culture we live in, so what can we do instead?
We can change the way we think about our bodies. We can choose to appreciate our bodies for what they are.
Body appreciation is showing gratitude for your body.
Developing body appreciation is like growing a protective shield – It can significantly reduce body dissatisfaction, making you less susceptible to external pressures and less likely to engage in disordered eating.
More than that, when you appreciate your body, you start to accept it, treat it with respect, and look out for your needs. This isn’t just good for your overall physical health but also mental well-being.
Body appreciation is a skill that anyone can work on – you don’t have to love your body or be satisfied with how your body functions to develop body appreciation.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the definition of body appreciation, why it’s important, and how to develop it. I’ll also provide some actionable tips and tools to help you get started.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
This blog post is intended to be a tool to provide body image support and encouragement. However, it is not a substitute for professional help or medical advice.
If you have or suspect you have an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder, I strongly encourage you to seek the guidance of a qualified professional.
The information provided in this post should not be interpreted or used as medical advice. Always consult your physician or a healthcare professional on matters relating to your health and well-being.
Content Warning: Some cited research may contain fatphobic language and perpetuate weight stigma.
What is Body Appreciation
Body appreciation is the practice of recognizing and expressing gratitude for your body (physical traits and functionality), regardless of appearance.
It’s not about loving every feature of your physical appearance or the number of things your body can do, but valuing your body’s current abilities and acknowledging its limitations with self-compassion and care.
It’s about being thankful for any of the positives, such as a unique physical trait passed down through generations or your body’s ability to heal from an infection.
- Positive regard: Viewing your body positively for what it is without trying to change it to fit someone else’s definition of beauty.
- Acceptance and appreciation: Valuing your body for its unique qualities and abilities and being grateful for what it can do for you.
- Respect: Treating your body with respect and care. This may look like eating when hungry, engaging in enjoyable and flexible movement, or resting when needed.
- Resisting sociocultural appearance pressures: Being aware of the unrealistic beauty standards that are often portrayed in the media and not letting these standards dictate how you feel about your own body.
Why is Body Appreciation Important
Our society is saturated with body image concerns. These concerns can have a significant impact on our mental and physical health. For example, people with negative body image are more likely to engage in unhealthy dieting behaviors, have low self-esteem, and experience anxiety and depression.
That’s where body appreciation comes in. When you appreciate your body, you’re more likely to treat it well and take care of its needs, leading to a number of benefits, including improved physical health, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased self-worth.
In fact, body appreciation is associated with increased physical activity and intuitive eating, and reduced disordered eating, dieting, and cigarette and alcohol use.
It also fosters higher self-compassion, life satisfaction, and happiness and decreased negative emotions such as depression. Body appreciation also serves as a protective factor when exposed to societal beauty ideals.
Unraveling the Impact of Body Image Issues
Body image concerns are complex and influenced by a myriad of factors, including past experiences, family, social circle, media, and societal beauty standards.
In 2023, we live in an appearance-obsessed culture, and body image concerns have become a pervasive issue. From an early age, we are exposed to media and societal messages that promote a narrowly defined ideal of beauty – a standard that pretty much no one can live up to (especially considering most of what we see is edited with filters, face-tuning, and Photoshop).
According to research, body image concerns have become alarmingly prevalent in our society. Numerous studies have shown that many individuals across different age groups and genders experience some level of dissatisfaction with their bodies or feel self-conscious about their weight or appearance. While specific statistics may vary, it is evident that body image concerns affect a significant portion of the population (5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
Why does this matter and what can we do?
Body image concerns have been identified as a strong risk factor for developing eating disorders. The constant pressure to conform to societal beauty ideals can lead people to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or even resorting to dangerous methods to alter their appearance.
These behaviors can lead to consequences that not just affect someone’s health but can also impact their life.
Amid these challenges, body appreciation offers a way to build a healthier relationship with your body. While body appreciation alone won’t solve all body image concerns, it can be a powerful tool in building a positive body image. It’s accessible to anyone (although some may struggle more with this or may need guidance from a professional) and can be developed with practice.
By recognizing and expressing gratitude for your body, you can shift your focus from self-criticism to self-acceptance and self-compassion.
Benefits of Body Appreciation
- Encouraging healthier behaviors. Body appreciation can promote increased intuitive eating and physical movement while reducing the likelihood of disordered eating and the use of substances like cigarettes and alcohol.
- Boosting psychological well-being. It also promotes higher levels of self-compassion, life satisfaction, and happiness. Plus, it has the power to reduce negative emotions and decrease depression and anxiety.
- Providing protection against societal beauty standards. Body appreciation helps to build a strong, positive body image that isn’t easily swayed by external pressures.
- Promoting proactive coping. Body appreciation can prime us to anticipate potential body image hurdles and develop effective strategies to overcome them. It’s about foreseeing and preparing, not just reacting.
Body Appreciation and Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating and body appreciation are two complementary practices that can help us develop a healthier relationship with our bodies. When we appreciate our bodies, we are more likely to show respect for and care for them and vice versa. They build upon each other, and when used in tandem, their effect is amplified. In my work with clients, I’ve found that integrating these two practices can be incredibly helpful.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based, weight-neutral approach to eating that works to heal your relationship with food and body image.
What does that mean? Instead of a goal of weight loss, Intuitive Eating is about health gain.
Weight loss diets use restrictions and rules to change your body into something “better” and are typically driven by self-loathing and/or shame.
In contrast, Intuitive Eating is about tuning into your body’s internal wisdom to honor, nourish, and respect your body and is driven by self-compassion and guided by your values.
The Connection Between Body Appreciation and Intuitive Eating
Body appreciation can help with intuitive eating by helping to see beyond physical appearance and diet culture pressures. It helps us realize that our bodies are not objects that need to be fixed but rather our homes for experiencing the world.
Body appreciation helps us tune into our body’s needs rather than relying on external factors or what diet culture tells us we should eat.
This might look like:
- Eating enough food to have the energy to run after your toddler, rather than trying to get by with as little food as possible.
- Running before work to boost your energy and focus, rather than to burn off calories from the night before.
- Choosing foods that you enjoy and that make you feel good, rather than foods that you think you should eat based on a diet rule or restriction.
It’s important to remember that both intuitive eating and body appreciation are a journey, not a destination. It’s a constant work in progress and it’s normal to have bad days, but just because you have a bad day doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress. Come back to your values and your reasons for starting this journey, reflect on your progress, and practice self-compassion.
Examples of Combing Intuitive Eating and Body Appreciation
Here are a few ways to meld body appreciation with intuitive eating:
- Reflect on function: Instead of focusing solely on how your body looks, take time to appreciate what it does for you. Do you love how your legs carry you through a morning jog or how your arms hug your loved ones?
- Respond to hunger cues: Honor your hunger cues by eating when hungry rather than ignoring it or trying to “trick” yourself into feeling full.
- Practice self-compassion: No one is perfect, and everyone has off days. If you find yourself struggling with intuitive eating or experiencing negative body thoughts, offer yourself kindness and understanding. How would you speak to someone you love going through something similar?
- Eat nourishing and satisfying meals and snacks: Choose foods that are not only nourishing but also enjoyable and satiating.
- Engage in Mindful Movement: Participate in physical activities that you enjoy and feel good, rather than as a punishment, a way to burn calories, or change your body.
Tips and Tools for Developing Body Appreciation
Here are some ways to work on body appreciation. Note: everyone is different, so some of these ideas may be more helpful than others. Explore them and see what resonates with you.
Show Gratitude for your Body
Notice and practice gratitude for your body. This can enhance self-worth and life satisfaction, reduce the need for external validation, and help you to appreciate your body (13).
Every day, write down 1-3 things you’re grateful for about your body. For example, ‘I am grateful for my body’s ability to recover after the cold I had last month’ or ‘I am grateful for my hearing that allows me to listen to my favorite music.’
If you’d like a template for this, download my free Positive Body Image Toolkit.
Note: This activity can feel hard if you have a disability, illness, or have lost function from a previous point in your life. It’s okay and normal to allow yourself space to grieve. Your emotions and experiences are valid.
Even if you have lost function or health or have limited function or health, it’s important to take time to remind yourself and appreciate all of the other ways your body functions for you (i.e., allows you to laugh and connect with others).
Surround Yourself with a Positive Social Circle
One of the best ways to develop body appreciation is to surround yourself with people who appreciate and value you beyond your physical appearance.
These are the people who recognize your core qualities, values, and characteristics and that don’t discuss bodies negatively (their own or anyone else).
This can be in the form of friends, family, or support groups/communities. When you have people who accept and appreciate who you are as a person, it helps reinforce your own body appreciation and instills a broader sense of self-worth that goes beyond physical attributes (14).
- Make a list of the current people in your life who fit this bill. Schedule some time each week or month to hang out or chat on the phone with these people.
- If you need more people in your life who are supportive, join new social groups, find support groups, or join online body liberation communities. There are many resources available to help you find people who will support your journey to body appreciation.
- Set boundaries with those who often discuss bodies negatively. It’s okay to let them know that you are working on your relationship with your body and that this isn’t helpful for you. If you notice someone shaming their body or someone else’s, change the conversation to focus on positive body function. They’re likely still stuck in diet culture, and this can be a great opening to start a conversation about how body shaming harms them and others around them and how to cultivate body appreciation instead.
Respect and Care for Your Body
The way we treat our bodies matters. Show respect and care for your body through nourishing meals, gentle movement, adequate rest, and other self-care practices. By prioritizing your body’s needs, you acknowledge its importance which shows appreciation.
Create a self-care routine this week by adding in one simple thing that prioritizes your body’s needs. This will look different for everyone depending on your needs and may even vary from week to week for the same person. Here are some examples:
- Add in one serving of vegetables at dinner.
- Set a bedtime and schedule it so you get adequate sleep.
- Say no to an extra obligation so you can have some downtime.
- Go for a 10 min walk outside twice this week before your day starts to get some morning sunlight and gentle movement.
- Add a source of protein to your usual carbohydrate-dense breakfast for added satiety.
- Make time for your favorite Saturday afternoon group yoga class.
- Make a pitcher of infused water so you’re inspired to drink more throughout the day.
Reframe Negative Body Thoughts
Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all intertwined. It’s our natural instinct to focus on the negative. However, negative thoughts about our bodies can become a significant barrier to body appreciation and how we feel about our bodies.
On a day when you feel neutral or positive about your body, jot down some negative thoughts that frequently cross your mind. For each of these thoughts, come up with a more positive or neutral reframe.
Keep this list handy and add to it as new negative thoughts arise. When tough days come around, you can refer back to this list for a gentle reminder of your reframes. It’s okay if this feels challenging at first; remember, it’s a practice, and it will get easier with time.
Here are some examples to get you started:
- Negative thought: “I hate that my thighs touch when I walk.”
- Reframe: “My thighs are strong and allowed me to hit a PR on squats at the gym yesterday.”
- Negative thought: “My stomach is too flabby.”
- Reframe: “My stomach is integral to my body. It digests my food which provides me with the energy I need to stay alive.”
- Negative thought: “My skin is too wrinkly.”
- Reframe: “These lines represent the life I have lived and the laughs I have had. I’m grateful that I have the privilege to get older and cherish the lines as memories.”
- Negative thought: “I wish my arms were smaller.”
- Reframe: “My arms allow me to hug my child when they’ve had a tough day, providing them with solace and a sense of safety.”
- Negative thought: “I hate my freckles.”
- Reframe: “My freckles are a unique constellation etched on my skin that reflects a shared connection to my mom and my grandpa. They are a unique part of my identity, reminding me of who I am, and where I come from, and they carry on a family trait.
Functionality appreciation is an aspect of the broader concept of body appreciation. While body appreciation encompasses all aspects of appreciating your body, including both its appearance and function, functionality appreciation specifically hones in on the appreciation of your functional capabilities, regardless of appearance.
Body appreciation and functionality appreciation share similar benefits, such as higher life satisfaction, gratitude, overall well-being, and self-esteem. However, functionality appreciation is more strongly related to mindful eating (15, 16).
Create a journal of all the things you appreciate about what your body can do versus how it looks. Write “I appreciate that….” and come up with a list of everything you can think of.
For some examples:
- Enjoying a nostalgic movie
- Having a deep and meaningful conversation
- Crafting artwork
- Playing an instrument
- Going for a run
- Enjoying an ice cream cone
- Listening to your favorite music
- Doing a pull-up
- Accomplishing a goal
- Recovering from illness
- Digesting food
- Taking a rejuvenating nap
- Enjoying the cool feel of rain on your skin on a hot summer day
Without your body, mind, and senses, you wouldn’t be able to do some of your favorite things.
Anytime you feel yourself focusing too much on appearance, revisit your list of everything you appreciate about what your body can do for you.
Healing Strength of the Body
We all go through periods of acute illness or injury. Our bodies may have experienced intense stress, endured diseases, or sustained injuries, but with time and care, they mend, recover, and regain function.
Take note of all the times your body has gone through hardships and recovered. This can be as significant as recovering from a major surgery or as seemingly insignificant as recovering from a common cold.
Think about the extraordinary complexity of the healing process, how cells regenerate, wounds close, strength returns, and the organized response of immune cells that work together to fend off disease-causing microorganisms and facilitate recovery.
Write down your experiences. What illnesses and injuries have you gone through, and how has your body shown resilience by recovering? Reflect on this and allow this knowledge to inspire appreciation and respect for your body and encourage proactive decisions for your health and well-being.
Adapting to Loss of or Lack of Functioning
Similarly, the body may be born with or go through an illness, injury, aging, pain, stress, etc. that results in chronic loss of or change in functioning.
This can trigger a range of emotions, from frustration and sadness to fear and grief. It’s okay to grieve the lack of or loss of functionality or the changes in your body. These feelings are normal, as shifts in our body’s functioning can dramatically impact our lifestyle, self-perception, and overall well-being.
While these changes might be challenging, they do not diminish your worth or your capacity for joy and fulfillment. Recognizing the difficulty of the situation is important, but so is seeking value, meaning, and potential in your present circumstances. This is not easy to do, so remember to have patience with yourself and practice self-compassion.
Journal Prompts for Coping:
- Ways in which my body functions differently than expected or has lost function:
- What emotions (good, bad, or neutral) did I experience as a result of this (tip: a feelings wheel may help with this):
- Examples of how I (or my body) have adapted and shown resilience:
- Examples of things that make me feel better (i.e., physical exercises, therapeutic activities, favorite hobbies, support groups, therapy, nutrition, sleep, meditation):
- Examples of all the things my body can still do/ things that I appreciate:
Body Appreciation Affirmations
Affirmations can help in improving body image by helping to reframe negative thoughts and beliefs about our bodies.
By repeating these statements, we can gradually rewire our thought patterns and create a more balanced perspective on our bodies.
Incorporate affirmations into your daily routine. Choose a time of day when you can dedicate a few minutes to repeating your affirmations. This can be when you wake up, during your morning coffee, or before bed.
- I appreciate my resilience during difficult times.
- I’m grateful for my introspection and ongoing growth.
- I celebrate my eye as they reflect my family history.
- I appreciate the mind-body connection I feel when practicing yoga.
- I am grateful for being able to enjoy the beauty of an evening sunset.
For even more body appreciation affirmations, how to craft your own affirmations to make them more impactful, tips for using affirmations, and the limitations to affirmations, check out 50+ Body Acceptance Affirmations to Build Body Gratitude.
Body Appreciation Meditation
A Body Appreciation Meditation is a mindfulness technique that encourages us to tune into our bodies and appreciate their functions. The process involves systematically shifting your attention through different parts of your body, from your head to your toes. This can promote interoceptive awareness (the ability to sense the internal state of your body) and a greater understanding and appreciation of our bodies. It helps us to become aware of sensations, functions, and capabilities that often go unnoticed in our daily lives. It can also promote relaxation and reduce stress.
Try this simple body appreciation meditation. You can do this sitting or lying down, whatever feels more comfortable for you.
- Begin by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. With each exhale, let go of any tension you might be holding. Allow your body to relax.
- Start by focusing your attention on the top of your head. Notice any sensations you might be feeling – warmth, coolness, tension, comfort, or perhaps nothing at all. Next take note of all the functions of your head (your senses, housing and protecting your brain, etc). Take time to acknowledge and appreciate each function.
- Gradually move your attention down your body to your neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, etc. Continue moving your attention downward until you reach your toes. For each part of your body, note any sensations you feel and appreciate the functions that part plays.
- When you finish with the body scan, take a moment to appreciate your body as a whole. Think about how all these parts work together to keep you alive, functional, and capable of experiencing the world around you.
- Finish with a few more deep breaths, and when you feel ready, gently open your eyes.
Final Thoughts and Next Steps
I hope you have found some valuable insights and practical tools to help you deepen your body appreciation. Body image work is not easy, some days will be easier than others. Remember to have patience and self-compassion.
If you’re interested in learning more about body image or Intuitive Eating, check out some of these other blog posts:
- Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss [Everything you Need to Know]
- 100+ Intuitive and Mindful Eating Affirmations to Help Combat Negative Self-Talk
- Intuitive Eating Before and After [What to Expect When You Start Intuitive Eating]
- Looking for an Intuitive Eating Coach? Read this!
- Why Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Work: An Expert’s Perspective
- The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating [A Complete Guide + Free PDF]
If you’re ready to take the next step in your journey and really dive into body image work and Intuitive Eating, I’d love to help you along the way! I offer one on one nutrition and intuitive eating counseling services to help you find food freedom.
My one-on-one services are tailored to your specific needs and concerns. We work to develop a plan together that will help you achieve your goals and fit into your life. Whether you’re looking to break free from the diet cycle, overcome emotional or binge eating, or stop hating your body, I’m here to help.
I also understand that everyone’s preferences are different, and it can help to explore other options as well. Check out my blog post on how to choose an Intuitive Eating coach that’s the best fit for you. You can also check out the Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory to find other counselors trained in Intuitive Eating.
Kristin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics with a concentration in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has experience conducting systematic reviews and writing and evaluating scientific literature in peer-reviewed journals. She has a goal of making evidence-based nutrition information accessible and easy to understand.