I recently wrote an article about loving and accepting yourself regardless of your body weight. A number of people commented on my Facebook page and in private messages that they were concerned I was advocating for accepting ourselves at any body size, even if it was unhealthy. They were afraid that if we accept our overweight bodies we might not live healthier lives.
Let me explain in more detail what I think is the biggest problem with a lack of body and self-acceptance. Today in America both obesity and anorexia are on the rise. Studies have also shown that a majority of American women and girls are almost always on some kind of a diet, even though most diets don't work in the long run. So if we are perpetually on a diet that probably isn't working, then we are probably not very happy with our bodies or ourselves. I know it seems scary to accept your flaws, but life is too short to be in a constant battle with food and weight.
Most of my clients tell me that they are either on a diet or they are binging. This essentially means they are either starving or stuffing. How can we possibly feel good about ourselves in this type of doom loop? Both anorexia and obesity are serious health issues but are also often reflective of emotional struggles as well. Is it possible that we are going about this process in all of the wrong ways? Is it possible that if we accepted ourselves we'd actually seek to be both happier and healthier and thus move through life in a better way?
What if we chose to accept ourselves first? I mean really accept absolutely everything about our current bodies. Isn't it more likely that from a place of love and acceptance we will be far less likely to starve or stuff ourselves? If we care about and love ourselves, would we really be willing to hurt ourselves by denial or excess? Someone who is struggling with anorexia may deny herself full, healthy meals. Is that self-love? The person who is binging on unhealthy foods is also not loving or caring for herself.
Maybe if we stopped focusing on a number on a scale or a specific clothes size, we could actually accept our bodies and try to live the healthiest lives we can. Most of us have a set weight point based on genetics and eating from hunger and satiation. When we starve or stuff ourselves, we lose both our weight point and our natural hunger cues that help us maintain that set weight. When someone has a set weight closer to 150 lbs. but she thinks she should weigh 110, she will have to starve and exercise herself to get to that lower weight. In the meantime, she will have to ignore her internal hunger and fullness cues. Also, she is very unlikely to maintain that lower weight for any significant length of time.
So how do we actually accept ourselves and our appearance?
The first thing we need to do is to catch the negative messages that we are giving to ourselves. If you say something mean to yourself every time you look in the mirror, you are not accepting yourself.
Next we need to replace the negative thought with something kind, positive, or down right fabulous. In other words, say something nice to yourself when you look into the mirror. What would you say to a dear friend? Say the same thing to yourself.
Third, we need to act as if we cared about our bodies (kind of fake it until you make it) by eating in a way that shows we care for ourselves. A box of cookies isn't caring for yourself, but a well balanced dinner with a cookie at the end is not only reasonable, but caring. Adding a walk or some form of exercise is also a great way to show your body that you care for it. Punishing exercise or being completely sedentary means you are not accepting your body and you are treating it badly.
Accepting our bodies at any size allows us to move forward from that space with love and kindness — not starvation and stuffing. When we care for our body, we feed it better, we exercise with more energy and excitement, and we live fuller, happier lives. When we are starving or stuffing we can't possibly be happy and we can't possibly be focused on the people and things that bring joy to our lives. Finding your set weight requires acceptance, listening to your hunger cues, and focusing on health versus appearance. By doing so you will find that you move through life with more ease and more joy. How much more time do you want to spend hating yourself?
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.