If you are overweight and planning to lose a few kilos in the New Year, first shed harmful attitudes about your body as feeling bad about yourself does not actually motivate a person to pursue healthy behaviour, suggests new research.
The researchers pointed out that over the years, the ideal body type, particularly depicted in media images, has become virtually unattainable for most people, leading to development of critical thoughts about their body.
"There's a big gap between what we're shown as being ideal and what to aspire to and where we actually are as a population," said Pamela Keel, Professor at Florida State University in the US.
"That leaves people feeling bad about themselves, and, unfortunately, feeling bad about your body does not actually motivate a person to pursue healthy behaviour," she added in a statement released by the university.
The research team tested a new programme encouraging body acceptance and seen dramatic results.
The programme was designed to reduce the risk of eating disorders and poor body image.
One exercise called mirror-exposure may initially feel uncomfortable, but it directs a person to stand in front of a full-length mirror in little or no clothing and identify specific body traits that are good.
The praise might focus on the body's function.
"You would say, 'I really appreciate the way my legs take me wherever I need to go,'" Keel said.
"'Every day without fail, they get me out of bed, to the car, up the stairs and into the office. I don't have to worry about walking.' It can be that kind of functional appreciation of what your body does for you," Keel added.
Or a person might appreciate the appearance of a body feature like the skin, or the shape of the shoulders or neck.
Another exercise encourages people struggling with body acceptance to think about specific activities they avoid, such as not going swimming in the summer or not wearing shorts when it's hot, and then choosing to go out and do them.
The researchers found that the strategies work, and the benefits often go beyond improved body image.
"It turns out that discarding those unattainable body ideals also improves your mood, self-esteem, reduces disordered eating behaviours and may reduce the risk of self-injurious behaviour," Keel said.
"All sorts of things get better as a result of feeling better about your body," she pointed out.