Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Body Image

Here's How to Accept Your Body

Notice when you're hungry or full and you might be happier with your looks.

Key points

  • Knowing when you're full is linked to better body acceptance.
  • The ability to recognize body sensations is known as interoception, a skill that can be trained.
  • Sensitivity to body signals is also linked to emotional awareness.
All Go-An App for Plus Size People/Unsplash
Source: All Go-An App for Plus Size People/Unsplash

Accepting your body isn't easy. Even if you're fit, you might want to be fitter. Maybe your weight is in a healthy range, but you wish you had longer legs.

If you struggle with your weight, you might be angry and frustrated at the seemingly impossible task of slimming down or staying slim. It's natural: We live in cultures that reward people who look a certain way and we want those rewards.

But science provides some clues about how to feel happy with your body even if you don't grow longer legs or maintain a teenage pop star's waist.

Here's how: Improve your interoception, the fancy name for your ability to listen to your body and catch internal signals.

The connection between your stomach and body image. No I don't mean, "little stomach, good body image."

Jasmin Chew/Unsplash
Source: Jasmin Chew/Unsplash

A new study measured gastric interoception among 191 adults either in the United Kingdom or Malyasia. The volunteers first fasted and then drank water. They also answered questions about when they felt full and their body image. By analyzing how much water they drank, the researchers discovered that participants who knew quickly when the water was filling them up were more content with their bodies.

“It is possible that body image can be promoted by encouraging people to be more aware of internal sensations, such as feeling full,” said lead author Jennifer Todd of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, “Gut feelings can be good for you!”

Malaysia, by the way, has had a surge in obesity; nearly half the adult population is overweight or obese. In England, that total is more than half.

What is interoception? The center of interoception, or inner sensing, is the insula, a structure located deep in the brain. It receives signals from receptors throughout the body.

Interestingly, the signaling system doesn't just tell you when you're hungry or tired. Because emotions begin in our bodies—before you know you're "angry," your heart rate may rise and your face feel warm—people who perceive body signals easily are also more "in touch" with their emotions.

About 10 percent of us are better at feeling our own heartbeats—and therefore may catch anger more quickly. As you might guess, such emotional intelligence is linked to recognizing emotions in others.

On the other hand, weaker inner-sensing skills tend to go along with anxiety, depression, and lack of emotional self-awareness. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to need to be reminded to eat and have no idea when they're full.

There's also some research that training yourself to feel your heartbeat can cut symptoms of anxiety, including stomach distress.

We've been hearing for a long time that it is good to "get in touch with your body" or "get in touch with your emotions." If it will make you more empathic and also happy with your body, the benefits seem huge.

More from Temma Ehrenfeld
More from Psychology Today