It's that time of year again, when every magazine cover, celebrity or health website and TV show seems to be constantly reminding you that the time's a-ticking until summer rolls around, which can only mean one thing: You'd better be at the gym working on your "bikini body."
The extra body pressure isn't helping, when so many young women already struggle with body image issues and eating disorders. As it is, 20 percent of college women say that thoughts and fears about food and weight dominate their life. But even for those who are less concerned about weight, these anxieties can creep up or become amplified in the late spring and summer, and beach body weight-loss countdowns sap the enjoyment out of warm-weather activities.
But it doesn't have to be that way. XOJane blogger Leslie Kinzel pretty much sums it all up when she wrote, “I have a beach body. It’s this one, the one I take to the beach.” If you're feeling anxious about putting on your summer swimwear, scroll through the list below for five things to remember when you're stressing about having the perfect body.
1. Extreme dieting is unhealthy and ineffective.
"Biggest Loser"-style weight loss efforts aren't just unsustainable -- they're also unhealthy. A low-calorie diet is not necessarily a well-balanced one, and significant calorie restrictions can lead to malnutrition. Extreme dieting is also linked to eating disorders, which can have hugely negative physical and mental health impacts.
If you're looking to get in shape, try an outdoor activity that you actually enjoy, whether it's yoga in the park, swimming, surfing or hiking. Being active should be fun, and it doesn't have to feel like an obligation. Try focusing on health rather than weight -- and remember that skinny doesn't mean healthy.
2. You CAN find swimwear that's flattering and comfortable.
Your main focus when swimsuit shopping -- that harmless activity that so many women have come to dread --
should be comfort. Whether it's a bikini, tankini or one-piece, find something that makes you feel awesome, no matter what your size.
Size-18 fashion blogger Gabi Gregg started the "fatkini" gallery last year when she posted a photo of herself (looking fabulous) in a bikini on xojane.com, proving that women of all sizes can look sexy in their swimwear.
"I love my body. I think we should reject these fashion rules about what we are and what we are not allowed to wear," Gregg said on the "Today" Show. "We have to be happy with the bodies that we have right now."
3. Summer is about having FUN.
... NOT about stressing over your weight and logging in hours at the gym while your friends are out having fun in the sunshine. And despite what certain women's magazines may have you believe, there is no size requirement for wearing a bikini, hanging out at the beach, or just plain enjoying yourself.
4. There is no one right 'Bikini Body.'
Tabloids that constantly call out celebrities for having anything less than a "perfect" body (ie, cellulite or a fuller figure) can make it seem like you won't be allowed on a beach unless you're a size zero. But we shouldn't have to tell you that gorgeous (and bikini-ready) bodies come in so many more shapes and sizes -- and that anyone, of any size, has a bikini-worthy body. ANd as Kinzel said, your beach body is just the one you take to the beach.
Keep body image anxieties in check with some body-positive affirmations to help you stop stressing about your weight -- and help you remember all the good things your body does for you.
5. Sane is better than skinny.
Dieting and weight-loss preoccupation can quickly become all-consuming, and it's likely that counting calories, obsessing over the number on the scale, and giving up all your favorite foods will take some toll on your mental health. An obsession with weight is never healthy, and it only takes your energy and focus away from more important things -- like enjoying your summer. So ditch the magazines, put on your favorite summer outfit, and go enjoy your favorite warm-weather activities. Even if you initially feel uncomfortable, getting outside and trying to have a good time (at exactly the weight you're currently at) will sooner or later start to feel natural -- and fun.
Tell us: How do you avoid summer weight-loss pressure? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet @HuffPostTeen.