Q:  I'm a 37 year old woman who has recently put on about 15 pounds in the past several years after having my second child.  Between stress, two kids, new medications, and just not having enough time to go to the gym, I haven't been able to lose the weight.  I usually find myself focusing on the negative aspects of my body.  It's gotten to a point where it's starting to impact my relationship with my husband-I'm self conscious, avoid sex, and don't even like being touched or hugged. I don't want my daughter seeing her mother feel so uncomfortable in her own skin. What can I do to have a more positive body image?

Poor body image can impact many aspects of our lives, inside and out, consciously and unconsciously.

A specific event or situation can trigger assumptions, thoughts, and interpretations regarding appearance which can lead to negative body image perceptions.

Identify and recognize possible causes--media and beauty industry imagery, cultural/societal norms, interpersonal experiences (i.e. teasing of appearance), personality characteristics (i.e. low self-esteem). Body image issues tend to follow a cyclical pattern of negative thoughts and assumptions that can also feature such things as symptoms of depression or anxiety, unhealthy behaviors including compulsive eating or food restriction, or self punishment.

It's important to make peace with your body. Recognize that our bodies do extraordinary things and they should be respected and appreciated. Consider just how much your negative beliefs have impaired your ability to function in regular daily activities and to construct and hold a positive image of yourself.

No two bodies are the same. Watch the people around you, at work, at play, even walking down the street. It's clear that everyone has a different shape to their body. No two bodies are identical. It's important to understand that most people, even those who may be considered highly attractive, successful people have aspects of their bodies, and their lives, that they feel they would like to change.

To confront negative body imagery, begin by writing down the positive and negative beliefs you have about your body. Create verbal affirmations, for example: I deserve to be happy and healthy. I love and accept my body just as I am, and I value and respect myself. Use these affirmations to reinforce positive thoughts and challenge negative beliefs. Although they may be difficult to resonate with at first, it's important to practice/read/say them on a regular basis.

Edit them when appropriate, and develop a realistic, achievable plan to take positive beliefs from paper, to practice, to reality.  If you are not practicing personal awareness, positive self talk/internal dialogue or affirmations, know that you may be naturally reinforcing your negative beliefs, consciously or unconsciously, therefore perpetuating the negative cycle.

Change is a gradual process and requires practice. It is not easy. However, by identifying and challenging negative thoughts, reinforcing your positive thoughts and constructing and implementing a plan to enable realistic change, you can effect a significant positive transition of your mind and body.

Each individual and their experiences are different. For guidance and support you may wish to seek assistance from a licensed professional to aid in the process, particularly if you find negative thoughts or body image are impacting your ability to function productively in your daily life.

Tracy Tucker, AM, LCSW is an Illinois Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice providing therapy services to adults and adolescents in the Chicago land area. Her areas of specialty include disordered eating, self-esteem and body image, personal and professional development, relational issues, and loss and grief. Tracy received her Master of Arts from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She is a member of The National Association of Social Workers and serves on the board of directors for The Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County. For further information, visit www.supportandtherapy.com.