I’m not anti-weight loss, but like most intuitive eating coaches, I’m anti-pursuit of weight loss.
But what happens when you know this on an intellectual level and you’ve succeeded in ditching the diet, but you still haven’t made peace with your body?
In my experience as an intuitive eating coach, the body image piece is the last to click. It isn’t a linear or quick process; it often takes a lot of self-compassion, patience, and perseverance. But the time is going to pass regardless of whether you like your body or not. I figure you can spend the rest of your life trying to change it while loathing it, or you can do the necessary work to make peace with it and move on to other things that will ultimately prove more fulfilling.
Here’s 5 reasons you still haven’t made peace with your body and how to troubleshoot each piece of the puzzle.
1 | You’re comparing your body to a younger (and possibly still developing) version of itself.
While it makes sense that 37-year-old bodies won’t necessarily look like their 17-year-old versions, it’s sometimes difficult to accept and move forward with our aging bodies due to a number of factors. Female representations are arguably narrow; we’re taught we must always be hot. Who gets airplay? Hot twentysomethings, MILFs, cougars. If you get pregnant, you’re only permitted a small baby bump (and you best not carry weight anywhere else) and once you deliver, you need to lose the extra weight right away.
The first step is really to set boundaries, and to regard your body as a vessel (what it has and can do) rather than an art piece (what it looks like.) Cellulite, stretch marks, wobbly bits, saggy boobs - these are part and parcel of the aging experience. Sometimes we get lucky, but by no means should Christie Brinkley set the standard for everyone else.
Gently (and with a lot of compassion) shift your focus away from how much you hate your body to what it can do. If you’re not sure what it can do, I recommend starting there. How many push-ups can you do? Which forms of movement do you enjoy? Maybe you love taking walks around the neighbourhood after dinner with a cup of tea in hand. Maybe you love the way it feels to belly dance. Maybe you like swinging in the park.
Secondly, immerse yourself in positive images. Unfollow social media accounts that don’t resonate with you or lead you to think negatively about yourself.
2 | You’re playing a dead-end game of comparisonitis.
We’ve inundated with transformation stories at every corner. From magazines to social media platforms, we’re reminded that if we don’t have something, it’s only because we don’t want it enough or haven’t worked hard enough to achieve it. But in my experience — and while many will certainly disagree — I think discipline is overrated.
Whenever you pursue a goal, you need some degree of discipline. You need to commit and stay the course.
But ultimately the goal itself can (and should?) sufficiently drive you without much coaxing on your part. Whenever I’ve felt too much pushback from something, it’s usually a sign it’s not for me. I like to compare challenges to leather shoes. You want the shoe to fit somewhat snug initially because leather stretches out and you don’t want to be left with an oversized shoe. But you don’t want the shoe to fit too tight, either.
Weight loss is difficult for most people because it asks us to override our hunger signals to meet an arbitrary number on the scale, a measurement, or a percentage. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes no sense. It counters our very programming.
But weightlifting to get stronger? This one’s easier. We can wrap our heads around it.
Running to strengthen our hearts and lungs? Yes.
Eating to fuel performance? Yes.
So when it comes down to stories about so-and-so and her amazing weight loss, think critically about it. Maybe that person lost weight, but will she keep it off? Chances are good that she won’t (they say 90-95% of diets fail.) But getting stronger and eating a balanced diet make a lot of sense regardless of age or experience and they work with our biology — not against it.
3 | Your friends are still dieting in various degrees.
It can be enormously difficult to live as an intuitive eater. It seems like everyone is on a diet, looking to spot reduce, or working to change their size or shape in some way.
How can you possibly feel good about your body if everyone around you feels the need to change theirs?
Regardless of whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague, I recommend having strong boundaries. Let them know what you’re trying to do (i.e. make peace with your body, accept your body, stop being at war with food…or your own words!). I find people are generally pretty receptive if you just let them in on your plans.
Another option is to find some body positive groups to join or additional friends who are not as wrapped up in diet culture.
4 | You’re consuming toxic media.
Comparisonitis and toxic media consumption are totally linked, but the difference is this: comparing yourself to others is active and conscious (“I need to change”), while media consumption is (in my experience) tends to get internalized and grows from the inside out. Suddenly you want things you never thought you’d crave, like chiseled abs, a thigh gap, and a booty. You’re consumed with the idea that you’re not enough, not worthy, and not deserving, even if none of these things are true.
One of the first things I get my clients to do is to ditch the negative media and surround themselves with more positive influences. Narrow beauty ideals may be the only ones we’re exposed to, but they’re not the only ones that exist. The body positive world is filled with gorgeous, diverse representations of femininity and appeal to a broad range of people.
5 | You’re carrying unrealistic expectations for what your body should look like.
I get it. We’re taught from a very young age to criticize our bodies and to treat them like projects. We’re taught we’re not good enough if we don’t meet the (arbitrary) ideal, and that regardless of our desires, we should always be working toward meeting it — that it’s “unwomanly" not to.
But we’re not all meant to be Kate Mosses or Beyonces or Ashley Grahams, to be gaunt or voluptuous or “curvy in all the right places” or to have “legs for days.” That’s okay. Your body isn’t wrong. Over the course of our lives, our bodies are going to change. They’ll be bigger or smaller, firmer or softer, stronger or weaker. It is okay — and perfectly normal — to have cellulite, wobbly bits, and stretch marks. Pigmentation and moles. We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re only meant to be human.