The temps are rising and soon enough, someone is going to have to wrestle my beloved opaque tights away from me. Without the security-blanket-effect provided by layers of wool and down, summer body anxiety is real.
But here’s the thing: Despite all my initial fears about peeling the winter covers off, my body confidence never gets as much of a boost as it does on a warm-weather vacation.
1. Less clothes = less fear over exposing my body (really)
My fear of going sleeveless is right up there with some people’s fear of spiders, but the beach is the one place where I trade my long sleeves for, you know, an actual swimsuit. Somehow, once I start baring a little more, I’m more comfortable baring a lot more. It’s a kind of exposure therapy, really—I’m putting myself in a situation that causes distress only to have the fear lose its grip on me.
2. My inner food police is off-duty
How many times have I judged the success of my days by whether the calories I’ve budgeted on my MyFitnessPal app are in the red? Too many to count. While being on vacation is about leaving my should-do lists behind, for me, it’s also about taking a break from my should-eat (and not eat) lists. There’s no tracking, calculating, or over-planning my calorie intake. Food isn’t good or bad, it’s just—novel concept, I know—food. And that neutrality about my food choices translates to feeling more neutral about my body. It’s a state of mind I’m eager to maintain long after I wave goodbye to the sun and sand.
3. Everything slows down, especially my mind
Most of us try to love our bodies more by making sure we get enough movement, but it could be more stillness we really need. One 2014 study found that a 3-week period of self-compassion meditation led to significant reductions in body dissatisfaction and gains in self-compassion and body appreciation. While I try to meditate regularly when I’m home in New York, there are many days when the best I can do is a 10-minute Headspace session on a crowded subway on my way to work—while checking the time in between belly breaths to see how late I’m going to be. But on vacation, I remember this great mantra I once heard—”I have no time to rush”—and when the New Yorker in me wants to hurry out of my Airbnb to “get the day started,” I sit my booty back down and meditate before I do anything else.
Compassion meditation is kind of like a “fake-it-till-you-make-it” method—or, rather, a say-it-until-you-believe-it strategy: One way to do it is to silently repeat a loving phrase toward yourself, rewiring that part of the brain that has gotten so used to negative self-talk.
4. The gift of vacation “f**k its”
On a deep level, I know that someone else’s view or even criticism of my body is meaningless. But in my daily life, I can lose sight of this fact. I may even start to assume that people care more than they do. On vacation, however, surrounded by people I don’t know and will likely never see again, I’m blessed with the gift of “f**k its”: What other people think of my thighs is a problem for another day, another country, another girl. My mind is like a foreigner to all that nonsense, thinking, “No comprendo ‘cellulite.’”
5. I’m in my happy place—not just geographically, but mentally
There might be a lot more of the world I hope to see, but not every vacation has to cross a new locale off of my travel bucket list. Most of my PTO is spent in Greece (where I have roots), and it’s a place where I feel my happiness spike—and, yes, my body image improve—even before I step outside of the Athens airport.
Because, while so many of us think that being in a different body will make us happy, the truth is that a state of happiness often makes our present-day bodies much more acceptable—lovable, even. When I feel content and joyful (something that’s easy to achieve on a Greek island), I’m not succumbing to my mind’s favorite pastime of focusing on my weight. Really, all that obsession is probably just a distraction from tending to aspects of my life that would actually make me happier.
6. Confidence is one of the first things I unpack
Whenever I skip town, I try to build in a few days for solo travel, even if the majority of my trip will be with family or friends. There’s always a bit of nervousness at first—Will I be lonely? Will my plan to spend time with myself backfire? Will I feel like a loser? But inevitably, taking the plunge to go through with it anyway leaves me feeling empowered. No wonder psychologists have noted that “there is a really wonderful circular relationship between self-esteem and traveling. The fact that you went somewhere by yourself demonstrates strength,” as licensed psychologist Dr. Chloe Carmichael Peet told NBC. “Your behavior is reinforcing a positive self-esteem.” And I can’t deny it: Getting in touch with my inner strength makes it harder to focus on my flab.
7. Stress-induced weight gain doesn’t make it past customs
There’s a reality to how stress affects our body composition: A high level of the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to drive up food cravings and make it harder to get rid of belly fat. I’ve tried lots of things to de-poof my belly, but there’s simply no exercise routine or pair of Spanx that works as well as a week away from the stress of everyday life in a big city and soaking up all that Vitamin D.
I’m not the only one who feels this way—here’s what traveling solo taught another writer about self-love. Start with one of these 6 destinations perfect for solo travel.
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