How to handle a changing body image
Body image. This is something we all have — whether it is positive or negative, we all have thoughts about our bodies. And when you’ve gone through some sort of a change physically, like weight loss or weight gain or even pregnancy, your body image is likely to change too.
Because one of the most common questions I get from women lately is about how am I dealing with my postpartum body or how I did deal with accepting my body as it changed when I was recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, I knew this was a post that I had to write. I’ve addressed this question in so many emails, it’s about time it lives on the blog in an in-depth way.
How to handle a changing body image
First of all, it’s not easy. And I would be lying if I told you that I was perfectly happy with the appearance of my current body, because I’m not — it’s not as lean as it once was, that’s for sure. I would also be lying if I told you I was perfectly happy with my changing body as I gained body-fat and inches while trying to overcome hypothalamic amenorrhea a couple of years ago too. (Quick side-note: In case you’ve missed my story and are unclear, hypothalamic amenorrhea is the loss of a menstrual cycle from too much stress, too much exercise or too little food. I struggled with hypothalamic amenorrhea while working as a trainer and group fitness instructor doing multiple workouts a day, and through acupuncture, changing my diet, reducing my workouts and much more, I was able to regain my cycle and ultimately get pregnant a full year later. Read more here or in my ebook.)
I want to be totally clear that when you have gained weight and your shape has changed due to recovering from something like an exercise-induced lifestyle condition, or even an eating disorder or a pregnancy, the number one thing you must do is give yourself grace. We are often too quick to point out our own flaws and fixate on the number on the scale or the fact that our leggings are a little too tight around the mid-section now. We have to pull back on the self-criticism. It’s normal to feel that way, so don’t feel bad about feeling that way, but try to approach your mindset from a different perspective.
By the way, all in, I probably gained about 25 pounds over the course of a little over a year in order to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea and ultimately get pregnant naturally. That’s a good deal of weight. I had to increase my body-fat in order to get my reproductive system humming again, and I stopped weighing myself regularly during this time. I grew out of the majority of my clothes. Then, I gained another 34 pounds during pregnancy on top of what I already had gained. Yes, my friends, in the course of three years, my body had MORE than 60 additional pounds on it at some points. And I’m still alive, I’m still happy and I’m still healthy. Now, let’s get to the tips …
Tips on how to improve your body image
Focus on the FEELING.
This is the tip that I employed aggressively as I was recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea (let’s call it “HA” moving forward) and now again as I’m in the postpartum phase. Rather than focusing on trimming my waistline or fixating on the size of anything on my body, I focus on the feeling. How I feel — not emotionally — but physically and energetically. My real wellness, if you will. (Because, believe it or not, a visible six-pack has NOTHING to do with real health.)
As I started to heal my body from HA, reduce my workouts, change my diet and add some weight to my frame, I started to get a little more energy every day. I started to get better sleep, which was a game-changer. I began to feel so darn good. Because my hormones had been off for so long, I had become used to a baseline of feeling, which wasn’t my true potential — it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t what it could be. As I healed, I realized that WOW, I felt so whole and healthy, even if my pants weren’t fitting. My skin began to glow. My digestion was fabulous. I rarely ever got a headache, which I had been so prone to when I was off balance. In fact, finding this new amazing way of feeling had me so happy, I was actually able to embrace my body and get excited to wake up refreshed each morning in the skin I was in.
And now, in the postpartum period, I try to focus on that awesome wellness feeling by eating mostly the right foods to keep me energized. I try to get as good of sleep as possible (not easy) and move around enough to feel mobile and access endorphins most days of the week so that I feel whole. And when I spend time just going after a good “feeling” — I don’t think about the appearance of my body as the goal. It’s a beautiful thing. Because then, the better you start to feel physically, the better you start to appear as well.
Buy new clothes.
This sounds so easy, right? But for some of us, it’s not. We hold onto those size x-small leggings and size 0 dresses just because we may want them again. Let’s be honest, you probably don’t need them any longer, so get rid of them. Sell them on Poshmark or on ThredUp or donate. Empty your closet of the things you don’t need any longer so they aren’t staring at you in the face. (And let me just tell you, I made a killing when I began listing all of my super small, but cute, workout wear, and that made me very happy, because I love to sell things hehehh!)
If you’ve just had a baby, I’m not saying to get rid of everything in your closet, because more often than not, you may get back into a lot of what you wore before. But I am saying that if you’ve had to gain some weight to get to a healthier place, then you hopefully won’t be going back to your much smaller size. Invest in a few new pieces, like a good pair of high-waisted jeans and high-waisted workout leggings that fit you right now. Shoving your body into older too-small clothing is not doing you any favors. Clothes are key. And this isn’t a fashion blog, but buying a few quality pieces, rather than a lot of cheap stuff, is always the way to go. Quality workout-wear hugs in all the right places, regardless of your size. Trust me on this!
Listen to the compliments of others.
I don’t often tell you to listen to what other people say, because I usually think that we are our own best cheerleaders, motivators and teachers. However, if you’ve gained weight during a recovery or gained weight from a pregnancy, more often than not — you are being WAY too critical of yourself. This is when it’s time to listen to your friends, family, coworkers and significant other when they tell you how great you look.
How many times have you gotten a compliment and brushed it off or completely ignored it? Well, stop. People aren’t telling you that you look great for no reason. You look great. Listen.
Do a daily bodyscan.
This is something that I haven’t perfected yet, but it goes like this: Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down so that your spine is straight. Close your eyes and think about every part of your body from the toes to the crown of the head. Address that body part in your mind, picture it, thank it, and continue up until you’ve hit all your parts. Wiggle your toes, flex your butt and activate your parts as you think about them. During this time, it’s the perfect opportunity to thank your body for all that it does.
If you’ve been working to get your cycle back, you can thank your body for normalizing, thank it for trying to recover, and thank it for giving you a second chance to live hormonally healthy. If you’re in the postpartum phase, place your hands on your tummy and verbally thank your body for growing and birthing a human being. It’s no small feat, and you need to show appreciation for it. Thank your arms for being able to carry that baby around too.
Check in with your body, notice how you feel, spend time thanking your parts and commit to speaking to yourself with positivity for all that your body does each day to help you to live a great life.
Smile at yourself in the mirror.
Are you one to stand in front of the mirror and tear apart your reflection? Don’t! When I was recovering from HA, I definitely had trouble with negative self-talk. Then, one day, I decided to try to be more positive. I think I had just come home from a great acupuncture session and was feeling positive about my hopes for healing, and I stood in front of the mirror and just smiled. Wow. It felt good. I started to do this more and more. A smile goes a long way — both to make other people feel happy when you see them and they need some kindness — and to make yourself happy when you look into the mirror.
And now, it’s so easy to smile at myself in the mirror, new body and all, especially when I have little Brady in my arms — arms which may not have as much definition as they did before, but serve an even more important role than ever in my life.
As you begin to start a smiling practice in the mirror, it’s the perfect time to take those positive mantras and that gratitude you’ve established for your body from your bodyscans. It’s all coming full circle here, you see. Be nice to yourself. Be a friend to yourself. And so on. And so on.
Focus on performance, not aesthetics.
If you are in the postpartum phase and still seeing some extra weight and general flab, it’s easy to think you may as well quit working out, because you’ll never get back to where you were. But I disagree. Now is the perfect time (once you’ve gotten the okay from your doctor and you’re six weeks out from childbirth, of course) to start to focus on your performance, rather than your aesthetics. You have so much to gain!
Say you set a goal to power walk at a fast pace for 10 minutes and you reach that. Then you add on another 5 minutes and you reach that. Then you try to do a plank on your toes for 1 minute, then you are able to add on another 1 minute. Instead of trying to get into your old workout wear, try to create athletic improvement from where you are now, and you’ll be focusing on something much more positive. (And even though you will have lost a lot of strength and endurance during pregnancy, you’ll find that you can gain it back quite quickly when you start exercising again.)
How does performance relate to body image? Believe it or not, when you start to get proud of your performance gains, you immediately start to speak more kindly to your body and to yourself. No matter how small those performance gains are, by the way.
And how does this relate to someone who may be limiting their working out due to trying to recover from HA? You can go after your own gains with flexibility or mobility work. Try doing gentle yoga and seeing if you can start to get deeper into stretches days in and days out, or begin to work on inversions or backbends to really open up your body. There’s always work to be done, and none of it needs to be done to the extreme or detriment of your hormones.
Be proud to be a woman, a shapely woman, at any size.
This is where I don’t want to lose you, but something I started to learn to appreciate as I was recovering from HA and began to get more into Eastern medicine and research on hormones: Women are meant to be shapely and fertile looking. This day in age, with so many Instagram fitness celebrities rocking their straight ripped bodies, we can forget that the modern definition of beauty is not like it once was.
This is not to say that naturally thin or athletic women’s bodies aren’t beautiful. They ARE. This is to say that all types of women’s bodies are beautiful. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to look like all the Instagram stars with 1 million followers look like. You need to look like you. You need to look like you look, if you physically feel good. (See the first point in this post, if you need a reminder.)
This is a big world, and there’s room for every body type. So learn to embrace your womanly curves or lack thereof, because they’re perfect.
Try not to glamorize your former body.
Don’t glamorize your former body. What does that mean? It means that where you are now, well — realize that you’ve done a lot to get there. If you are recovering from HA, then you are creating a more friendly place in your body for your hormones to regulate and your natural cycle to take over. And that’s how it should be — it’s how your body should be working. So your current body is the one you want, not the old body, which may have been a bit trimmer — but it was not functioning properly.
The same goes for you postpartum ladies. Your body NOW is the one that grew and birthed your child or children. So THIS is the body you want to be in. It may not look like it used to look, but it’s been through a lot and has brought so much into your life.
It’s so easy to think about how you “used to look” and wish you were back there again. But in reality, when your body changes due to healing from a condition or from growing a human, the body you really want to be in is the one that’s put in the work. Thank this body. Thank it right now. Because even if it hasn’t fully recovered yet, it’s trying really hard, and you’ve got to let it.
You are more than your body.
Bodies are vessels, but you are here on this planet to be more than just a body. Make sure you are not equating your self worth with your size or even your appearance at all. In fact, once again, if you go back to focusing on feeling good, you will be able to be more proud of your body, but also know that as a person — you are way more than just what you see in the physical world. You have a sense of humor. You have intelligence. You have talents. You are loved. You are a soul. You are so much. Never forget that! 🙂
That should do it for now, my friends. And I know, all of this is much easier said than done. So take baby steps to get there.
I want to thank you for reading this post. It’s not a simple one to write, because I know how sad it can be for so many women to feel like they’re no longer in the shape or condition that they want to be. We are in a society where looks, appearance and being a small fit size are given so much importance. And sadly, appearance is fleeting, shallow and does NOT bring true happiness. You know what brings happiness? HEALTH!
I think that being healthy is the best thing you can do for yourself, and you have to remember that being healthy has nothing to do with what size clothes you wear or how visible your muscles or cheekbones are. So go out there and be good to your body, my friends. Eat some veggies. Eat some treats, but not too many. Drink a lot of water. Move around. Seek out quality sleep. Rely on your community. Thank your body for all that it does. And know that you’re doing the best you can to find true health! And THAT’s real beauty.Learn to love yourself! Here's how to address a changing body image on A Lady Goes West ... Click To Tweet
Here are some other posts you may enjoy:
- Life after recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea
- How I’ve approached my postpartum fitness
- What I’m doing to have a healthy postpartum recovery
- My journey to get pregnant and how I overcame hypothalamic amenorrhea
- What it’s like to get acupuncture and why you may need Traditional Chinese Medicine
Questions of the day
Have you ever struggled with your body image?
What’s a tip that you use to feel better about yourself?
Do you have a positive self-love mantra?
This post is EVERYTHING. Thank you for writing it with such honesty and transparency. As you already know, I’m struggling with some form of HA. So much of this post hit home to me, especially the negative self talk. While I have gained some of the weight recommended, my body is not responding yet. My body image plays a major role in my life and I do not vocalize that often. I never put a bathing suit on anymore because I hate how it looks. And it’s scary to think about losing the one thing you have control over, but health definitely trumps appearance. I really appreciate you sharing this post because I know if I can relate, and I’ve never dealt with pregnancy or post-partum, so many other women can too.
Hi Courtney! I know how hard you are on yourself, and I think you can take a lot from all of these points for sure. I know also, that as a type-A gal, you probably get down on yourself for your appearance, when most people would KILL to look like you — they sure would — don’t forget that. Your body is working SO darn hard for you, even if you still struggle with some health issues — so keep on focusing on finding the solution, give yourself some rest, and know that you are a very beautiful woman — inside and out! Thank you for reading, my friend! Come back to this one if you need reminders hhehe! 🙂
For sure. This a bookmark-worthy post for me. Thanks for the kind words in your reply. Xoxo.
Any time, my friend!
Thank you for this, I really related to everything you said. I’m still getting used to my recovery from HA body and it isn’t easy but I’m getting there!
Hi Erin! You said it — it’s NOT easy, and body acceptance won’t happen overnight. But you can definitely get there, with little steps at a time. Be kind to yourself, lady! You are doing GREAT! 🙂
This is such a powerful message. I think as women we beat ourselves up too much over our weight. I’ve been there too… me 10 pounds less was NOT healthy… but it’s hard to get beyond that sometimes. These are all great ways to realize that often those extra pounds can be beautiful!
Hi Julie! They sure can! Oftentimes we don’t see how good we actually look too — 10 pounds is soooo darn insignificant if it puts you at a healthier place. Practice that self-love, lady! 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I love the way you said that, Julie. That “those extra pounds can be beautiful.” You are so right.
She sure is!! 🙂
Love this post!! It’s amazing how much we appreciate our bodies after giving birth, but it’s still hard some days. Such good tips and reminders here!!
Hi Abby! It sure is — it’s never easy to have things look different — especially when we get a bunch images on TV and social media of perfection. But when you really think about it, what you did was amazing! We’ve got to be appreciative of the skin we’re in! 🙂 Thanks for reading, lady!
That was such a wonderful article. I love the focus on health and being grateful for what our bodies do for us. So many great tips, thank you!
You are so welcome, Amy! I hope you are being kind to yourself, lady! 🙂 Thank you for reading!
Great message. It’s so important to hear. Thanks.
Hi Stefanie. Thank you for reading it and hopefully receiving it too, my friend! 🙂 Have a wonderful day!
What a great message all of this is! Loved reading all of it. While I didn’t suffer from HA, I do have a post partum body that is different than it’s ever been. I’m slowly working on my fitness but totally need to take the message of grace, appreciating my new body for growing my perfect girl and take compliments. That’s so true. People tell me I look like I “bounced back” and I’m like eh no, my hips, etc but I need to say thank you and mean it. Awesome post! And you really do look great ?
Hi Rose! I know — how often do you think like “are they blind or just being nice” when they compliment you? They MEAN it! And your body now is TOTALLY the amazing body for you, lady! I hope you continue to work on accepting it and loving it! Thank YOU for reading, my friend!!
Your are such an inspiration! Thanks Ashley for being so real and candid always! Sometimes its hard to remember these things when we are deep in it, but love always wins!
You are very welcome, Lexi! Thank YOU for reading, and I hope this helps! 🙂
What a wonderful post. You are pretty amazing!
Thank you! 🙂 You are very sweet!
These are great tips, Ashley, and thank you for sharing your story! I have alot of clients who deal with this struggle, and heck, even pregnancy has given me some experience with it too! I love the reminder to give grace, wear clothes you feel good and powerful in, and to focus on performance rather than looks/aesthetics – those have helped me! Great post!
Exactly, Sarah! It’s not so easy, but with a little work, we can all do better to improve our thoughts on self image. I’m sure you see a ton of it, and now you can relate even better with your clients having felt some of it while pregnant!
Love this! Body image can be so challenging. I know shifting perspective to what my body could do, rather than how it looked was a huge positive in my life. I’m not perfect at it, but it has made me appreciate and like my body a lot more.
Totally! That’s the way to think about it — and it’s a big shift. I’m so happy you’ve made that mental adjustment, lady! 🙂
Awww this is great! It is definitely a transition but I’m proud of where I’m at and what my body has done. It definitely took me a year after having Donovan to feel back to normal! You are doing great Mama!
Thanks, Marielle! I’m glad you are in a good place with the bod and self love! Sooo important, momma! Thank you for reading! 🙂
I got so excited when I saw the title of this post. Thank you for writing it and being honest with us. Appreciate it so much & will def be coming back to re-read.
Thanks, India! You are the best! And you’re doing great, lady! Don’t forget that!
Great Post! I am 30+lbs up and still not recovered from HA, but like you I have realized I am actually healthier now, and I get far more compliments on looking good now than when I was (looking back) very lean. It’s so much more common than is admitted among fit women and that’s so sad – we are perpetuating this unattainable shape ideal for other women who don’t realize it’s not healthy!
Hi Andrea — I’m so sorry to hear you are dealing with HA, but yes, it is definitely all-too common. I’m glad you are realizing that you are healthier now and are better for it! I hope you get all the way better soon, lady! Thank YOU for reading and for spreading the word on this issue for sure!
What a beautifully written post, Ashley. Like you, I have an extremely sensitive reproductive system and have been dealing with HA for along time, and my love for running is not helpful. However, I have made several positive changes over the past months in the hopes of starting a famil, and hope to continue to make more. Seeing your positive attitude toward your changing body is so inspirational and encouraging. You are truly gorgeous, and the little bit of extra weight has indeed made you more beautiful. Keep the body positive posts coming!
Hi Geni! Wow! Thank you SO much for the sweet comment! I truly appreciate it. And I’m so glad to know that you have made the right changes to get yourself healthy again. Running is hard on the body for sure, and I also know that sprints and interval runs do NOT do well with my sensitive system — as much as I love the feeling of them. But you will find other forms of movement that feel good and do better for your body. Keep up the awesome work, lady! I hope you continue to heal and have that family one day soon! 🙂
Ashley, I also had to gain a 25-27 pounds in the last year in order to get my cycle back so that I can get pregnant. I’ve also been going to acupuncture once a week for the entire year. It’s been a journey of emotions, I know you can relate. While some days I miss being “small”, I remind myself of my goal to be a mother, and that I am clearly not meant to be as small as I was since I just recently got my cycle back at this weight. Now, onto year 2 of this journey, and hoping to get my happy ending. I commented on your post about TCM and acupuncture, and like I said then, I am totally a believer. While I can attribute my cycle coming back to the weight gain, I know that the acupuncture and herbs have done wonders for me physically and emotionally. I could go on and on, but yes, this post is SO true and needed at this point in my life. Thank you!
Hi Allison! Props to you for doing the work. It’s work to recover. I know! And I’m SO happy to hear you’ve had luck with acupuncture, like I have. I am not going anymore and I miss it SO much. When I have child-care, I plan to add it back into my routine, because I know I can always benefit from it. And YAY for your cycle returning! Remember — even if the cycle is back you are still healing, so stay the course with balance and kindness to yourself, and hopefully you will conceive soon, lady! THANK YOU for reading! And I hope you are proud of the healthy woman you see in the mirror today!
This is such a beautiful post, Ashley. You are spreading such an amazing, positive, and important message – I think we can all benefit from being a little kinder to ourselves – I know it’s hard – changing bodies are HARD to deal with (I’m dealing with a very changed body right now, myself) but it’s something we have to learn to accept, acknowledge and love.
Thank you for sharing this! You’re an inspiration…oh – and you DO look great!
Thank you so much for reading, Jamie! And yes — pregnancy is a time of many changes, and for an ultra-athlete like you, I know that’s tough — but so worth it!!
This is a wonderful post – thank you, Ashley! ” As I healed, I realized that WOW, I felt so whole and healthy, even if my pants weren’t fitting” —> This is where I want to get. This is the feeling that I’ve started to experience, and want to experience it more in my life as a whole! “In fact, finding this new amazing way of feeling had me so happy, I was actually able to embrace my body and get excited to wake up refreshed each morning in the skin I was in.” —> This is incredible. I think once we start to experience that wonderful, freeing feeling of true health and happiness and being who we are meant to be, it can become addicting! I hope to live my life always searching for this feeling and doing the things that will get me there, and only there!
Hi Cora! The hardest part is KNOWING that you can feel amazing no matter your size, so if you’ve got that down — you are on the way, lady! Keep up the great work!! Feeling and being healthy is worth everything you’re doing!
Thank you for this! After turning 40 I felt like my body went in the tank despite the fact that I eat super healthy and workout so I get it. OMG I can’t believe I’m 40. Anyway! I think you look great and you have a cutie by your side now!
Going off of how you FEEL instead of how you look or how you think the culture thinks you should look is AMAZING! 🙂 I loved your tip about buying new clothes too. That was probably one of the biggest things for me.
Hi Emily! It’s very hard, but you’re doing awesome! Thank you for reading, my friend! Go for that great FEELING! 🙂
Amazing post, Ashley! Thank you for addressing – but also, for empowering. I really needed to read this today (and will definitely be back to read it again when I need these powerful reminders).
Hi Nicci! Thanks so much for reading and receiving it, lady! We can all use the reminder. 🙂
Thanks for speaking this truth! So many of us, myself included, have been there!
Yup! It’s easy to fall into the negative self-talk trap! Thanks for reading, Kelli! 🙂
There’s so much truth is your writing. I needed to read this, even though it’s not always easy to internalize. Struggling with body issues is awful and I just hope I can work through it as I do not want my daughters to have to go through what I did/am.
Thanks for posting and being so real.