People often hear the phrase ‘self love’ and cringe. I want to change that. Self-love is a huge part of a healthy mindset. How can you expect to care for your body and maintain a positive relationship with food and fitness when you have a negative relationship with yourself?

Zanna Van Dijk

Zanna Van Dijk

When people see my transformation pictures, they see only the physical changes; what they don’t notice are the mental ones. I have been through a long process of self-acceptance. I’ve gone from focusing on my flaws and never being satisfied with my progress, to completely and utterly loving, not only my body, but my mind, and accepting myself for who I really am – which is so much more than how I look.

Loving yourself is a choice that you can make. Admittedly, it is a challenge. Especially in a world where we are conditioned to pull ourselves apart. Multi-million pound industries rely on us being self critical and play on our insecurities. Images of perfection, many of which are digitally manipulated, are thrust in our faces at every turn. It is not encouraged to be confident or happy in yourself. We are all eager to be self deprecating, pessimistic or negative. In a society like this, we cant be blamed for doubting ourselves.

We need to open ourselves up to the possibility of body positivity. In reality, if you do not accept your body at the beginning of your fitness journey, you will never be satisfied. You need to love yourself first. Before anything else. Before you lose weight. Before you get fit. Before you get your ‘dream body’. If you tell yourself ‘I’ll be happy with myself once I am a size 10’ or ‘once I have abs’, you will never be satisfied. Once you achieve one goal you will find something else you have to do before you can be happy. This leads to a vicious circle of never being truly satisfied with yourself, your body or your life. You need to allow yourself to love yourself and be happy right here, right now. This will allow you to embark on your fitness journey for the right reasons, not from a place of self-hate but from a place of self-love. You will make positive and lasting changes because you love your body and want to take care of it.

It’s all very well telling you to love yourself, but how do you actually do that? Its tough and it takes time, but it is possible. Here are my top tips to get started:

  • Reflect on your relationship with yourself. Is it a good one? Are you happy in who you are as a person? Do you feel limited by your won lack of self-belief? Do you want to love yourself more? You have to actively choose to think more positively and to make a change to your mindset. Don’t get me wrong here, self-love isn’t about thinking you’re the badgers nadgers. It is just about accepting yourself, warts and all, and working on being the best version of you.
  • Reflect on who you are as a person, beyond how you look. What really makes you you? Think about your best friend. Why do you love them? I’m pretty certain it is because of their kindness, sense of humour or intelligence, not their thigh gap. People love you because of who you are, not because of your appearance. Place value on your personality rather than your appearance, and self-love becomes a whole lot more achievable.
  • Surround yourself with positive and empowering people. The sort of people who bring you up, compliment you, encourage you and make you feel amazing. Try to remove negative people from your life, or at the very least spend less time with them. If you’re struggling to find others on your wavelength then don’t be afraid to meet new people though social events, new hobbies or even online.
  • Comparison is the thief of joy. We are constantly bombarded with images of other people with perfect bodies, perfect relationships and perfect lives. We compare ourselves and end up feeling like we don’t live up to the standards everyone else is setting. The reality is those standards don’t exist. The people you see in the mainstream media or social media are airbrushed , edited, filtered and Photoshopped to portray an image of perfection. Beyond appearances, they often share only the best bits of their lives. The happy moments and the highlights. And you know what? That’s ok. That is the nature of the media. What matters is that you don’t absorb this content, assume it is real and then compare yourself to it. See it for what it is – a false representation of reality. Take inspiration and motivation, but do not compare.
  • Love your imperfections. No one, and I mean no one, is perfect. Every single person has flaws. Every single person has down days, slip ups, fails and is rejected. Every person cries. Your flaws do not define who you are. What really matters is how you respond to them. Even if you cant love them, at least try to accept them and the go from there. We are perfectly imperfect.
  • Think about all the time you have spent worrying about how you look or what other people think about you. Now imagine if you had spent that time on something positive like building your career or bonding with your loved ones. All of a sudden picking yourself apart seems like a big waste of time, doesn’t it? We aren’t here forever, so use your time and energy wisely.
  • On a similar note, realise the value of self-love. It manifests as self-belief, and with self-belief you are extremely powerful. You are confident in who you are and your abilities, and you can do anything you set your mind to. You develop qualities such as grit, the ability to get back up after rejection of failure; and you become comfortable with going out of your comfort zone to achieve your goals. And ultimately, these skills will help you achieve success in all areas of your life.
  • Work on being positive in all aspects of your life, beyond body image. Try to see the good in every situation and don’t waste your energy on moaning, complaining or getting angry about small things. Spread happiness by bringing up others, complimenting them and encouraging them. Be the kind of person you want to meet. At the end of each day I like to do a quick self development task that takes only minutes. I ask myself what were three positive things that happened in the day, and one way in which I could improve the next day. This enables you to find the good in every single day, even the really rubbish ones, and also lets you reflect on yourself and your actions.
  • Talk to yourself…yep, really. This is where it starts to get a bit cheesy, but I promise this works. Take time each day to look in the mirror and point out three things you love about yourself. Not just your body, but who you are as a person. Tell yourself that you love yourself, that you love your body and that you’re going to take care of it. This is especially effective if you do   it in the morning, as it sets you up with a positive mindset for the day ahead and motivates you to make healthy and happy choices throughout the day.
  • Realise that it is perfectly ok to love yourself. No one is going to think you’re arrogant. If anyone ever says anything negative about you, it is a direct reflection on their own lack of self-worth. People who are happy in themselves do not criticise and bring down others. Break the mould of self-deprecation. Smile at strangers, walk with a spring in your step and let your positivity light up a room.

Zanna’s book STRONG is published by Headline, £16.99 (available in Trade Paperback and ebook)