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Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Cultivate Positive Teen Body Image

Body image is defined as how and what you think and feel about your body. It includes the picture of your body that you have in your mind, which might or might not match your body’s actual shape and size.

“A person has a positive or healthy body image if they feel happy and satisfied with their body, and are comfortable with and accepting of the way they look,” says Danah Gutierrez, a body positivity advocate and host of the podcast “Raw and Real.mp3” together with her twin sister Stacy. “They accept that everyone is diverse, and that the body is not an ornament to be looked at.”

On the other hand, a person with a negative unhealthy body image feels unhappy with the way they look. “People who feel like this often want to change their body size or shape,” Danah adds.

A person’s body image is influenced by many factors. These include family environment, the attitudes of peers, social media, cultural background, and more.

Puberty is also a big influence. This is a time when a child’s body goes through lots of changes; at the same time, teens encounter the pressures of fitting in and finding a sense of belonging. “In my high school, conversations about who are the best-looking in our batch were common; students would be ranked based on who was the prettiest, and I was told many times that if I lost weight, my rank would go higher,” Danah relates.

This is why if you are a parent to teens or work with teens, it is important to know that you have an influence on your child’s body image. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be well-groomed or present themselves well; these are good values,” Danah points out. “But how much do you value appearances, and is it perceived in a healthy way? Because there can be situations when teens will not process it the right way.”

An unhealthy teenage body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which are risk factors for the development of risky weight loss strategies, eating disorders, and mental health disorders like depression. “It might also lead teens to look for detrimental ways to feel desired, to feel a sense of belongingness, or to be valued, such as turning to peers or the media,” cautions Danah.

On the other hand, teens who feel good about their body grow up more likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.

“When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful!”

Danah Gutierrez, body positivity advocate

Here are the things you can do to help your teen develop a positive body image:

  1. Explain that weight gain is normal during puberty. During this time, children feel “out of control” with the changes they are experiencing in their body. It can help tremendously to know about and understand these changes before they occur. Girls who are experiencing their first menstrual cycle, especially, should realize that growth and weight spurts are necessary and normal for their development.

  2. ‘Instagram vs. reality.’ Tell your teen to be more discerning of what they see on social media or tv. Help assuage their insecurities by explaining how the images are often digitally manipulated so that people look more ‘beautiful’ than they really are.

  3. Focus on inner beauty. “Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body,” says Danah. “When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful.”

  4. Discuss self-image. “Have an honest and vulnerable discussion with your teen about weaknesses and flaws (theirs and yours), share your own struggles and what healthy ways you took to be better,” Danah explains.

  5. Help establish healthy eating and exercise habits. If your child wants to eat differently or do more exercise, that’s OK – but make sure it’s for healthy reasons, and the dieting and exercise don’t become extreme. “Let your child know that healthy eating and physical activity aren’t just for weight loss – they’re vital for physical health, now and in the future,” points out Danah.

  6. Praise achievements. “Don’t have to limit compliments to appearance, i.e. you’re so fair-skinned, you’re so skinny,” says Danah. “Tell your child that you’re proud of them for things that aren’t related to appearance, such as ‘I love how you’re so eager to learn about life’ or ‘You’re so mature for your age’ or ‘I really enjoy your company.’” 

Also focus on what their body can do, rather than how their body looks. For example, you can say, ‘Wow, you hit that ball a long way’, rather than ‘Gosh, you’ve got big arm muscles’.

  1. Set a good example. If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about their body. Talk about eating healthy, not dieting; talk about exercising to be stronger, not to lose weight; and do let your child see you eating a variety of food, vegetables, and lean meats, not only diet foods or fat-free foods.

  2. Discourage family and friends from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight. Teasing can have a negative influence on body image and can also lead to bullying. It’s important to let everyone in your family know that teasing about weight or appearance is not okay. “I would call out the commenter by saying right away ‘What did you say? I don’t think that’s funny,’” Danah says. “Then I would have a private conversation with that person and tell them I would appreciate it if they did do that in front of my kid, that’s not going to help my child in any way, and I think my child is beautiful just the way they are.”

  3. Connect them with body positive role models. There are things teens cannot share with their parents, and that is normal. “So make sure there are other older people in your circle who are trustworthy, have good character, are grounded, and who carry themselves with confidence,” says Danah. “This way when your child needs to seek advice, they don’t just rely on their peers who  are just as confused and clueless as they are.”

  4. Actively listen and communicate with your child. Respect that they have insecurities. “Don’t just tell them ‘What you are feeling is wrong,’ take the time to listen and figure them out,” suggests Danah. “Assure them that their looks are not the only thing about them, that they have so much more to offer. Make them understand that their body is an instrument, not just an ornament; it’s an instrument to experience good things and bad things, to enjoy life. And tell them that they can be beautiful in so many other ways than just through their appearances.”

As a parent, teacher, or close adult relative, you are the most influential role model in your children’s life. If your teen seems to have anxiety or stress about how he or she looks, start by talking with them about your concerns. And if things don’t change and you’re still worried, consider reaching out to a health professional. MindNation’s psychologists are available 24/7 for online consultations with you or your child. Book  a session now through http://m/me/themindnation or email [email protected] . Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential.

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Get Inspired Self Help

8 Tips to Help you Stick to your Exercise Routine

Sticking to a workout routine is tough especially now that we are in the midst of a pandemic. With gyms and fitness studios closed and most of us isolating at home, it’s harder to find the time and motivation to break a sweat in the middle of working from home, taking care of the kids, or bingeing on Netflix. 

But according to strength and conditioning trainer/personal coach Ergel Villarta Arcinas (@evatrainingsystems), staying at home should not be an excuse to be sedentary; rather, it’s all the more reason why we need to push ourselves to exercise. “Regular exercise not only has physical benefits, it will also help reduce the stress, anxiety, and depression that many of us will be feeling from being isolated at home and having our routines disrupted,” he explains. “The endorphins that our body releases afterwards will also leave our bodies and minds feeling refreshed instead of ‘stuck’.” 

To overcome any mental barriers and make exercising a habit, you will need the right mindset and a smart approach. Below are some tips for making the most out of your workout-from-home routine: 

  1. Make exercising the same as eating or sleeping. One often-mentioned tip for coping with home isolation is to maintain a routine — i.e. follow a regular eat, sleep, and work schedule — so include exercise in your daily to-do as well. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you do it, as long as you allot the time, although Coach Arcinas cautions against working out too close to bedtime. “This is because the resulting post-exercise energy boost can make it hard for you to fall asleep, and lack of sleep is never healthy,” he points out. “Exercising during the day will be better so that you have the rest of the day to let your body relax.” That said, if evenings are really your own free time, he suggests that you opt for low intensity movements so that you recover faster. 
  1. Invest in a personal trainer. It may seem like added expense, but coaches ensure that you spend your exercise time mindfully and safely. “We develop  workout programs that take into account your capacity, goals, and skill level,” Coach Arcinas says. “This way, you see better results sooner and reduce injuries.” Sessions can be conducted through videochat applications like Google Meet or Zoom.

If you really prefer to workout on your own by following videos online, Coach Arcinas suggests that you research the background of the instructor first to make sure that he or she is really certified to teach classes so that you do not get injured. 

  1. Set realistic fitness goals. Don’t just aim to “be stronger;” instead, say you want to be able to do 20 full body push-ups in one minute by the end of the fourth month. When goals are measurable, specific, and time-bound, it’s easier to track your progress. Doing it this way and with the help of a personal trainer helps you focus your efforts, develop a more structured plan for actually achieving the goal, and creates a sense of urgency that can be motivating. 
  1. Embrace the small wins. Maybe your goal is to hold a plank for two minutes, and two weeks into your new workout routine, you’ve improved your ability from 20 seconds to 30 seconds. Even though your ultimate goal is a long way off, take pride in reaching this mini milestone along the way. It can provide the important confidence boost you need to keep pushing toward the bigger goal. 
  1. Think long-term. You didn’t get out of shape overnight, so you’re not going to instantly transform your body either. Expecting too much, too soon will only lead to frustration. Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t accomplish or how far you have to go to reach your fitness goals. Instead of obsessing over results, focus on consistency. And while the physical payoff might take longer, appreciate the instant improvements in your mood and energy levels.
  1. It’s totally normal to not always want to workout. It’s okay to have off days, and understanding that can help you embrace these difficult feelings and move past them, rather than viewing them as signs of weakness and giving up altogether. “If you are experiencing low energy levels because of bed weather, for example, ease into the workout by warming-up longer,” Coach Arcinas suggests. “Once your muscles are properly stimulated, you’ll be energized to proceed to the main set.” But if you really still feel sluggish after warming up and cannot proceed anymore, then that’s okay too, he assures; ten minutes of warming-up is better than five, and even just five minutes of movement is better than zero.

“However, if you are tired because you lack sleep, don’t force yourself to exercise because the risk of getting injured is higher,” Coach Arcinas says. 

  1. Change your vocabulary. Use words with positive versus negative associations to describe how you might feel or are feeling. For example, instead of considering the difficult moments of an exercise as being “uncomfortable,” think of them as being “intense.” You are not “dying,” you are being “challenged.” Shifting your vocabulary carries a more empowering mindset and will help you adopt a more positive attitude. 
  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. As you scroll through social media, it’s easy to feel resentful, intimidated, or even discouraged when you see someone effortlessly execute a yoga pose or consecutive burpees while you have yet to be as accomplished. But you’re likely not considering the fact that these other people were also new to yoga and burpees at one point, and probably put in a lot of hard work to get to their current fitness level. 

Exercise is important to our physical and mental health, but it’s really tough to build the habit. “The key is to build the routine first before advancing to goal-setting,” says Coach Arcinas. “Once you have developed the discipline, that’s when you work with a trainer to set time-based objectives such as ‘In four to six months, I want to be able to do this skill or lose this much body fat.’” 

Lastly, remember that exercising (whether at home outside of it) will always be one of the best investments you can make for your body and mind. “When you are physically and mentally well, you can do the things you enjoy more often and for far longer, like spending more time with your kids or even grandkids,” Coach Arcinas says. “For me, that benefit is even more important than having six-pack abs or being able to do 100 push-ups.”

Written by Jac of MindNation