Updated: Aug 19, 2021
So, its 2021 and body positivity is all the rage.
Juice fasts stole our money, that Alli weight loss drug made everyone publicly soil themselves, and the Kardashian's "waist trainers" *surprisingly* under-delivered. We're fed up with the gimmicks, pills and potions, and ready to trade in the self-loathing for whatever the fierce-ass kool-aid Ashley Graham is sippin' on.
But how do we bridge the gap between knowing we should love ourselves and actually doing it? How do we take years - decades even - of negative self-talk and transform it into positive affirmations we actually authentically resonate with?
The blue-print is present and accounted for, folks.
But first, its critical we tip our hats to why we've fallen prey to this beast of a burden in the first place.
For the average person, body image makes up about 1/4 of our self-esteem. But for those prone to dieting or disordered eating, that percentage can be much larger.
Not only that, but women with eating disorders also are more prone to body image misinterpretation, meaning they often mis-perceive the size of part, or their entire, body. This distortion is a real, physiological consequence of this illness, as well as its ugly step sister - diet culture. It's important that those of us prone to disorderly relationships with food or our bodies recognize this distortion, and attribute it to the pervasive diet-culture we live in, rather than being the result of any rational train of thought or scientifically-sound logic.
With that being said, lets dive our flawless little faces into the waters of self-love for once, shall we? I'm on a mission to want to make out with myself, and I'm taking you broads with me.
First stop: YouTube, obviously.
As much as I'd love to tell you I and only I can get you to love yourself, and the catalyst for said transformation can happily come in the form of cash, check or direct deposit, let me level with you for a second. Every sliver of knowledge or emotional aid you need in your life is available right now, on the internet, for free. Good music, great literature, "how-to" courses, Ted-talks, stand-up comedy, personal-growth conferences, winged eyeliner tutorials (#blessed), ya'll - the boob tube is where its at.
You know what I like to get into? Guided meditations. More specifically, guided meditations for positive body image.
I get it, its weird. But meditation, in all its tree-hugging, granola-gobbing crunchiness, is about as potent of a mind-altering "drug" as they come. As it turns out, training our brains to detect and speak on the positives in our lives/bodies rather than the negatives or imperfections actually has the capacity to re-wire our neural pathways, making those thoughts more and more natural overtime. What's more, channeling your inner Mahatma can also lower stress, reduce anxiety, improve digestion, promote high-quality sleep and reduce blood pressure too. Before you know it, 3 months of positive mantras down the road you catch your own reflection and go all, "YES JOHN, MY BODY IS A WONDERLAND, YOU WOMANIZING PROFIT YOU".
It works, okay?
Step 2: Create a list of people you love and admire.
Reflect; Does their appearance effect how you feel about them? Do they have thigh-gaps and abs that could grate gouda? Or are they selfless, vulnerable, generous, hard-working, brave. Sure, some of them might be both: shredded AND diligent, gorgeous AND kind (jerks) - but is their appearance the specific reason that you treasure them in your life?
The answers is likely no. What does that say about your worth in this world? Just think on it.
Step 3: Limit your time with dieting or disorderly-minded peers.
Even family. Scratch that, especially family.
Fact: The only thing more miserable than hating yourself, is being surrounded by other people that hate themselves too...and can't stop talking about it. And heaven forbid you're blood relatives! Then you're battling *bonus points*: a zero-filter zone, a shared food-space/eating environment, and genetic risk-factors for the same psychological pitfalls. Woof.
Seriously you guys, set boundaries like your sanity depends on it. If you live with those family members, speak up against their negative commentary on your meals or their own, and let them know you're tired of the toxic negativity, and are choosing happiness over perfection these days.
If you don't live with those family members but see or stay with them often, limit your time with them to 3-4 days at most. You become the people you surround yourself with. Protect your mental health, prioritize the space you need, guard your energy.
Step 4: Step outside your bubble - geographically, socially, and otherwise.
Right now, Google ideals of beauty from various time periods throughout history. Or better yet, in this current time period, but in another country far away. Realize how arbitrary and fleeting this current ideal of beauty you're striving for is. Is it really worth white-knuckling through the restriction, deprivation, self-mutilation, or negative head-space you're currently enduring just to acquire such a subjective and short-lived (not to mention unattainable, for most of us) physique?
Think about the poor Renaissance women that were born naturally thin, forcing themselves to gorge on meat pies and cheese tarts ad nauseum just to appear prosperous? I mean how PO'd would they be to find out they ate themselves immobile day after day only to be considered "gluttonous" and "lazy" by some futuristic haters?
Stop trying to fit this temporary mold and start stepping into the form you were created to take! Wouldn't you rather be praised or critiqued for the body you authentically have, than for the one you've been dieting and restricting in order to get?
Step 5: Recognize that self-love & intuitive eating is worth fighting for.
Food freedom, that is - freedom from intrusive thoughts about food, food-rules, or our bodies - is intoxicating. Rejecting the diet mentality, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full is how you stay healthy while also staying sane. On average, intuitive eaters weigh less than those that portion control or calorie count. They also spend less time thinking about food, have faster metabolisms, better moods, and are less likely to binge in response to advertising or all-you-can-eat buffets.
You will fall in LOVE with life once you start feeling the high that accompanies spontaneity, bliss, and rebelling from your food rules. You'll like a new version of yourself; reborn, in a sense. And THAT’S what will make recovery from negative body image or disorderly eating tendencies easier once you get there.
It’s hard to get there, yes. And as you start to move in that direction, those voices of self-critique will get louder in your head.
But you have to keep moving.
Practice self-care and focus on what you love about yourself and your body. Create a list of all the things your body lets you do or has gifted you in this life. Focus on those things.
When you’re out in public, look around and observe other people’s bodies. Look at how many different shapes and sizes there are and the different ways people move. Silently find something you like about each person. Then use that same skill on yourself when you look in the mirror. Extend to yourself the grace and compliments that you give so freely to others.
We are souls with bodies, not the other way around.
If others make comments about your weight or body, recognize it for what it is - their own insecurity (or fear) that they are projecting on you. Tell them your goals to work towards recovering from your toxic mindsets surrounding food and body image, and remind yourself daily that you are choosing happiness over perfection with every choice you make.
Staying negative, critical and self-ashamed is easy. But the courage, confidence, strength, and downright badassery you unleash the minute to decide to unconditionally love yourself...those are some stripes worth earning, my friends.
Dieting, restrictive food behaviors and eating disorders are often used to implement some illusion of control in a world that feels completely out of order.
They are, in many cases, the mind's attempt to create a manageable crisis, in order to distract from the greater one taking place behind the scenes.
When clients of mine have intense, emotional responses to subtle body changes or weight fluctuations, I find it helpful to unpack the real issue that weight control is attempting to distract them from coping with.
Who did you crave love from the most as a child?
Who did you have to be to receive that love?
What emotional scars do you carry?
What trauma have you walked through?
Does dieting or disordered eating comfort you in any way?
Does restriction feel like the only coping strategy you reliably have access to?
What kinds of benefits do you envision accompanying your “perfect body”?
Is it really weight loss you want - or is it the social and psychological factors you presume may accompany it?
In summary of everything above, I've created a quick & dirty resource for your reference - synthesizing all that I've learned in the department of body image and self-respect into a single, tangible 5-step graphic.
I hope it serves you.
One of my favorite quotes says you can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone that doesn’t like peaches.
Ladies, some people in this life just aren’t going to like you. And you get to choose whether they don’t like you for who really are, or whether they don’t like you for who you’re dieting and pretending to be.
Give compassion to yourself in the same manner you would give it to a child you adore.
And if you have children of your own, gift them the invaluable influence of a parent who loves, or at very least, respects themselves. Be careful with your words, your criticisms, your self-deprecating humor.
If we teach our daughters their value lies in their dress size, they will - undoubtedly, believe us.
I hope you found this empowering.
If you're looking for more personalized advice on how to eat intuitively or seeking one-on-one support in active recovery from disordered eating, please feel free to reach out via email.
Also be sure to check out my new Anorexia & Restrictive Dieter's Freedom Course, linked here. This product has been months and months in the making and is designed to walk you through each one of my recovery tools, tips and resources so the latest evidence-based recovery strategies can shape your unique healing journey. I hope you'll take the time to check it out if your heart is nudging you in that direction.
Thanks for dropping in today.
This post was written & medically reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Grace Pascale, MS, RDN. Grace Pascale Nutrition.