This blog is long overdue to be honest.
In all my years as a fitness professional, the one goal I have watched almost every woman struggle the most with is being happy with her body.
(As I am speaking of my own experience, which is in Women’s Fitness, I am going to speak of “women” and “she”, but I am very certain this problem exists equally in men, trans and non-binary people as well.)
I have experienced many times that, no matter what a woman looks like, she’s just not satisfied with the way that she looks.
Sometimes this is because she literally sees something in the mirror that is not necessarily reality, such as seeing herself as larger than she actually is.
This is considered to be body dysmorphia.
Sometimes she is striving for an unrealistic goal that her body is not capable of, or shape that is just not natural to her body.
Whatever the actual reason, there is an abundance of women with body image issues.
And this is going to directly affect the care she gives herself (or lack thereof).
As I write this article we are mid-holiday season, approaching the time of year riddled with pressures for New Year’s Resolutions.
I have elected to write this in a bit of an impromptu fashion which is out of character for me, but I had this realization…
I have now received over a dozen requests from my clients for emails with resources like I’m about to provide you.
Many of my clients have approached me with some holiday anxieties about eating and exercise habits.
There is a common anticipation of overeating and not having the free time to exercise as much.
And I don’t doubt that that is exactly what is going to happen.
A lot of my clients are going to be entertaining family or traveling to visit people…the parents are going to have their kids home from school for vacation.
They’re going to be busy and enjoying more time with their loved ones…I honestly don’t want them prioritizing fitness during this time.
I obviously don’t want them to go off on a wild bender, but I don’t want them to avoid indulgence because they’re going to gain a little weight.
So instead, I want to encourage everyone to work on the goal of having a healthy mindset during the holiday season.
To achieve this goal you will need to:
- Maintain basic respectful nutrition habits, while making space for indulgence
- Exercise or do activity as you want to-not as you have to
- Most importantly: practice self awareness and self reflections
To self reflect, I find that people tend to enjoy affirmations and journaling or shadow work prompts.
Shadow work and affirmations are meant to create a sense of awareness about the behaviors and mindset you have about caring for your body.
(Note: This is in no way meant to replace therapy-most of my clients see therapists weekly to help address what is emotionally uncovered in their fitness journey.)
To help you understand and implement shadow work and affirmations I am going to be going over the following things:
- What is and how to do shadow work
- Shadow work prompts for body image issues
- What are affirmations?
- How to do affirmations
- Affirmations for body image issues
At the bottom of this article I am going to be suggesting other relevant blogs that you may find helpful in building a healthier relationship with the body.
Now, let’s get into the shadow work and affirmations…
Explaining Shadow Work
What is shadow work?
Let’s start with the basics:
Shadow work is the effort put into reflecting on and healing your shadow-self, or your subconscious self.
Examples of shadow work mediums include:
When using the phrase “shadow work” it will be most common that it is in reference to journaling with intentional prompts.
How to do shadow work
There really is no sternly-defined way of doing shadow work…
The intention of shadow work is to heal your relationship with yourself, so the frequency and duration of each shadow work session is really dependent on your own healing process.
That being said, I have observed some commonalities in the way people within my community have preferred to implement shadow work…
Here are some shadow work patterns I’ve noticed:
- Nearly everyone I’ve met prefers to do shadow work by keeping a journal
- It is common that someone would want to write about 1-3 shadow work prompts a day for the first 5-14 days, and then taper off
- A typical long-term journal habit will have the client writing about 1-3 shadow work prompts a month, at their discretion
- It is not unusual for a client to take a long break (several months) from doing shadow work and then return to it, as necessary
- It is most common for my clients to be looking for shadow work prompts relative to their body image or love of themselves
And it is because of these patterns that I’ve decided to collect my personal favorite things to reflect on, relative to body image, self care, self worth and self love.
30 Shadow Work Prompts for Body Image Issues
These journal prompts are based on what myself and my clients have found most beneficial to reflect on.
Select prompts at your own discretion-there is no need to follow a specific order or to even do all of them…
- Do you remember the first time someone commented on your body? What did they say and how did that make you feel?
- Write down a list of 25 things that you love about your body, are proud of it for or are grateful to it for.
- What’s one part of your body that you don’t like? Why does it bother you so much?
- Think back to when you were a kid and you were excited to run around, climb on things and explore…What’s an activity that you can do to make you feel like that again?
- Write a love letter to your body: apologize to it for any disrespect, thank it for all that it does and tell it what fun things you’re going to do with your body in the future.
- Do you feel societal unacceptance of your body or a part of your body? Is there a person (either around you or a social icon) who has a similar body to you, that you can look to as an example of self-love and self-acceptance?
- Is there a part of your body that you find yourself avoiding touching or looking at? Why is that? What can you do to practice more acceptance for this part of yourself?
- What is your favorite part of your body? Why do you love this part so much? What does it do for you?
- What is a type of physical self care that you’ve always wanted to try or be in the habit of? How can you start implementing that, even on a small scale? Make a plan.
- Take a moment to consider: are you holding your body to expectations of the past (such as high school athleticism or pre-pregnancy body)? Do you think it’s fair to place these expectations on your body? What would be some more realistic expectations to place instead?
- Think about all of the things that you prioritize over taking care of your body…would any of these things suffer or be compromised if you were suddenly sick and bedridden? How do you feel about the fact that your health impacts your ability to have an impact?
- Have you ever been bullied or abused because of your body or a part of it? How do you feel that has impacted your behavior towards your body?
- What is something that you feel your body needs to hear everyday? Why does your body crave to hear that? Can you start telling yourself that everyday?
- Have you ever felt out of control of your body in any way? What is something that you can do to take back control?
- Has any of your health and fitness behaviors been fueled by a dislike of yourself or your body, as opposed to an intention to love and nurture yourself? List them out.
- What is something you’ve achieved with your body that made you feel powerful(big or small)? How can you continue to make yourself feel proud and powerful about your body and what it can do?
- Do you ever feel nervous to be seen struggling, or to struggle in general? What can you do to give yourself permission to not be perfect all the time? What can you do to give yourself permission to struggle for the sake of your own growth?
- Does the age of your body cause you to underestimate your capabilities or have anxiety about physical expectations? Can you look to or talk to someone about nurturing (and/or challenging) your body as it ages?
- How much do you know about how your body works? What would you want to know more about, as far as your body and its functions are concerned? How can you learn more?
- Do you try to keep balanced habits, or do your habits tend to be extreme in one direction or the other? How can you start implementing habits that create a balanced lifestyle?
- How is your relationship with food? Do you know much about different ingredients, how to cook and how to nourish your body? How do you think knowledge about the food that goes into your body will impact the way you look at and treat your body?
- Are you in the habit of making your body pay for your emotions such as emotional eating or self-harming behaviors? What are some alternative, self-respecting habits that you can start working to replace these behaviors with?
- What are some times when you are not very patient and compassionate with your body? How can you be nicer with yourself?
- How often do you take a moment to stop and reflect on your body and how it feels? How can you set up reminders to do that more often?
- How often do you go outside and let your body connect with nature? What is your favorite type of nature to connect with?
- When was the last time you trusted your body to try something new? Make a list of new things you’d like to try, even if they scare you a little.
- Do you openly express yourself in the way you style and dress yourself? Why or why not?
- Are there any normal bodily functions, or needs, that you have been made to feel ashamed of (i.e. menstruation or sexuality)? What can you do to help yourself overcome this sense of shame and normalize this part of you?
- What comes to mind when you think of the word “big”? Do you have a positive or negative association with “bigness”? What are some examples of bigness being a positive thing?
- Is there something unique about your body that makes you a little insecure? How can you embrace this uniqueness?
What Are Affirmations?
The formal definition
Simply put, an affirmation is an affirmative statement.
It can be affirming you of your value, your safety, your skill, your rights…it’s just a positive phrase such as “I am worthy”.
The purpose of affirmations is to make positive self-talk your dominant internal dialogue, instead of doubtful statements such as “I can’t do this”.
The more you do affirmations, the more you will believe these positive statements and naturally think in this positive way.
What does it mean to “do” affirmations?
When we talk about “doing affirmations” we are talking about delivering affirmative statements to yourself (as opposed to someone else).
It is not mandated, but doing affirmations typically involves a series of different phrases, probably related to a single topic.
This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes, to several hours depending on your delivery method and mental health needs.
You can seek out affirmation suggestions from others, or come up with your own affirmative statements that you feel you need to hear.
The contingency with affirmations
Affirmations are very flexible with how, when and where you do them but there is one rule with affirmations…
They do not include “buts”.
There is no room in an affirmation for self-doubt, misplaced modesty or opposition to the affirmative statement.
“I am worth resting…but sometimes I should be working harder” is not an affirmation.
Even if you believe you should sometimes be working harder, there is a separate space for that type of reflection-it does not belong in your affirmation.
How To Do Affirmations
As with shadow work, there are so many ways to do affirmations!
Here are my personal favorites…
Listening to affirmative audios
Affirmative audios are simply recordings of someone reciting affirmative statements for a set amount of time.
On my YouTube Channel, I have examples of affirmations for a healthy fitness mindset.
You can also find affirmations relative to grieving, self care, guilt, shame, abuse and more.
When listening to affirmations, make sure you’re able to absorb most of what’s being said-if you like you can repeat the statements outloud after you hear each one.
(There are some affirmations that you’re meant to listen to during sleep so that would be the exception here.)
Personally, I like listening to 5-20 minutes worth of affirmations while I get ready in the mornings.
Some of my clients love listening to affirmations while driving home from work as a way to de-stress before getting home.
The benefit of listening to affirmative audios is that you don’t physically have to do anything but listen so they are great for when you’re on the go.
Writing an affirmation for the week
Because this requires a little more thought and reflection, this is a technique that I personally reserve for times when I know I will be struggling a little more mentally.
For example, if I know that I am going to have a really demanding week and will have a hard time resting, I may elect to use this method.
When doing this, I sit down for a second and think about what I am going to be struggling with internally…with the above example, I know I would have a difficult time letting myself rest and feeling like what I have done is good enough.
My respective affirmation would then be something like:
“You’ve gone above and beyond today, just like you do every day. It’s okay to stop and take a break now.”
The delivery method for this is handwritten, or maybe entered into your phone as a reminder that is scheduled to pop up at a certain time of day.
My favorite place to write these affirmations is on my bathroom mirror, using an old lipstick.
Another place to put these types of affirmations is on the fridge, on your desk or written on a paper and posted wherever you will be spending the most time.
Change out these affirmations weekly, or as needed-just make sure they don’t stay there so long that you start to disregard them.
Love notes to yourself
This is my favorite method, but it can be the most time-consuming and emotional.
With this method, you write a whole love note to yourself, your body, or a specific part of your body with the intention of expressing empathy, gratitude and acceptance.
The length of these letters are entirely up to you but they should be longer than a single statement.
As an example, I had a client who was struggling to give herself permission to rest-every time she sat down to rest she felt lazy and guilty.
So she sat down and wrote a love note to her body that said something to the effect of:
“Thank you for all that you do and all the opportunities you bring me. Thank you for having the strength to endure my restlessness-I know that my inability to rest is physically strenuous. I promise to treat you to more downtime going forward.”
All-in-all, the letter spanned 5 pages, took her an hour to write and caused a lot of crying-so definitely more of an energetic investment here.
But she kept that letter with her and re-read it every time she got that guilty feeling from resting, and eventually she didn’t need it anymore!
She had affirmed herself so much of her right to rest that it became an automatic thought in her brain every time she sat down to rest: “I have done more than enough today-I deserve to rest.”
30 Affirmations for Positive Body Image
These affirmations are the favorites of myself and my clients for maintaining a healthy relationship with our bodies.
Use whichever affirmations speak to you-there is no need to follow a specific order or to even do all of them…
- I am beautiful exactly as I am right now, without having to change a single thing.
- My body is a vehicle, gifted to me by the universe to allow me to spread my magic. I respect and honor this gift by caring for my body.
- I give myself permission to have flaws without shame-I am perfectly imperfect and I love that!
- Other people’s opinions of me are not my reality.
- I am a beautiful body of water and I embrace every jiggly wave and ripple.
- I deserve all the love, care and compassion-from myself more than anyone else.
- I love and value myself enough to set the boundaries necessary for me to have time to take care of myself.
- It is a privilege for me to hold weight to someone’s opinion…I do not take just ANYONE’S opinion to heart.
- I prioritize my relationship with myself and the people around me see that as an example of how special it is to have a relationship with me.
- I am capable and worthy of health, and all of the fitness goals that I aspire to achieve.
- I allow myself to enjoy my fitness journey, make space for fun and indulgence. I am not racing anyone to a finish line-I am learning to love and nurture myself.
- I am confident in myself and my ability to achieve…no one has the power to make that confidence waiver.
- I know that there is nothing wrong with me being confident-humility does not require me to disregard my magic.
- Strength and grace can exist in one space. I give myself permission to be tough and soft at the same time.
- I am grateful for everything I am right now, while still working to become even better!
- I am done disregarding or downplaying my power. I’m not shrinking myself or making myself more digestible…anyone who doesn’t like it can choke.
- I love myself, I push myself, I spoil myself, I reflect on myself…I got my own back and I am never disappointed.
- I happily put in efforts today that make my future self’s life easier, as an expression of self love.
- I am courageous enough to try…even if I fail, I will always be courageous enough to at least try.
- Self care is not a luxury, a gift or a reward…it is a necessity of survival!
- I am not competing with anyone outside of myself. I give other people permission to be the only them, and I enjoy being the only me.
- My value is not determined by how attractive or useful other people find me to be…my value is determined by how well I care for myself.
- I trust my gut instinct no matter what-even if it doesn’t make sense to me or anyone else, I trust myself.
- This is my body and I am in control of it. Others do not have permission to dictate how it looks, how I dress myself or what I do with my body…I am in control now.
- I respect and appreciate my body and its current capabilities. I do not hold resentment for what it cannot do at this time-only gratitude for what it can do and excitement for what it will learn to do.
- I do not punish myself for habits that may lead to poor health. I am compassionate and understanding with myself-I know that changing these behaviors takes time.
- I am proud of myself for everything that I have achieved-big and small, every achievement means the world to me.
- I am grateful for everything that makes me uniquely me-I have so many things to be proud of, including all of my quirks.
- I give myself permission to take my journey at my own pace-one that is respectful of myself and my body.
- The only person I have to worry about liking me is me.
What’s the takeaway?
Your mindset is arguably THE MOST important thing to train on your fitness journey…
You do way more thinking than you will ever do eating or exercising.
Take the time to make sure your mindset is contributing to your success-not making your journey harder than it needs to be!
If you need help getting started on your mindset training, don’t feel bad-it is an incredibly hard thing to do! Set up an appointment with me and we can talk about how and when to implement little mindset builders into your routine!
Here’s a recap of some of the information I provided throughout along with relative articles that may be helpful to you:
- Learn to respect the female condition by cycling your fitness habits with your menstrual cycle!
- Practice self-acceptance to understanding what your Fupa is and how to take care of it.
- Check out these affirmations that are specifically relative to your fitness journey.
- It’s the little things…5 Little Ways to Show Yourself Love and Respect.
- Read more about the mind-body connection and how your fitness journey and mental health are entwined.
Take care of your mind, and your mind will help you take care of your body!
That is the key to achieving ANY fitness goal!
This article was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, WFS founder of Adapted Fitness and Integrative Health and Fitness Specialist for Women. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at AdaptedToYou.com