The holidays are nearly upon us, and that means lots of time with loved ones, celebration – and lots of good food. Unfortunately, for many, this season brings a barrage of negative thoughts about their bodies, especially after all the feasting is over. This year, why not do things differently? Start off by promising yourself that you won’t give in to self-criticism. The first step to a happy and healthy holiday season is to accept your body as it is. 

We all struggle with negative thoughts about our bodies. Glamour magazine launched a survey in 2011 that found 97 percent of women have at least one negative thought about their bodies every single day. And plenty of men struggle with their body image as well. We’re bombarded with media images and advertisements that tell us we have to measure up to an ideal. The result is dissatisfaction with and even hatred of our bodies. 

This negative thinking about our bodies, especially during the holidays, can cause stress and anxiety. Chronic stress is a leading contributor to weight gain. So the more we harbor negative attitudes about our bodies, the more stressed we become, and the more difficult it is for us to lose the weight that’s often triggering the negative thoughts in the first place. 

More, when we think negative thoughts about our bodies, it makes us more dissatisfied even after we have achieved our goals. We worry about relapsing into old bad habits, or we obsess about calories and exercise, instead of simply enjoying being healthy, or celebrating our success in weight loss. Ultimately this can lead to burnout, more stress and—you guessed it—weight gain. 

So how do we fight this negative cycle? The answer can be boiled down to one simple word: acceptance.

Acceptance means taking our body as it is right now without criticism or judgment. It does not mean we have to love every aspect of our body, but we accept even the least lovable parts. This acceptance frees us up to begin to enact positive changes in our lifestyle, which will result in better health overall. Accepting our bodies as they are means we accept ourselves as we are. Once we have established peace with this, we have a firm footing to move forward to where we would like to be. 

To achieve acceptance, we have to deflect negative thoughts and focus on what’s good about our bodies; in other words, think positive. We can start by focusing not on how our body looks, but on what it can do. Our legs carry us from point A to point B; our arms can lift heavy objects and wrap the people we love in a hug. Focus on these positive things when negative thoughts arise. 

More, we have to reject comparisons. Don’t compare yourself to superstars and models, or even to your friends and family members. They are not you, and their bodies are not yours; reject the notion of the “ideal” and focus on accepting and being grateful for your own body.

Only with a strong base of self-acceptance can we make small changes that will impact our long-term health. Acceptance provides the patience and stamina to take what’s good—your body, whatever it looks like now—and make it even better. Simply make small, daily changes. Add a little something healthy to your meals. Do 15 to 30 minutes of comfortable exercise. Build from there as these things become normal for you. 

As you work healthy habits into your routine, you can start to push yourself. By making small, incremental changes you will put yourself on the road to long-term health, because these habits will become part of your lifestyle.

Accepting the body as it is can be a tough exercise, but it is crucial to overall mental and physical health. Hating our bodies only feeds into a cycle of risky behaviors that reinforce our negative self-assessment. Start off this holiday season right by learning to accept the skin you’re in. 

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