3 Ways To Respect Your Body When 'Body Positivity' Feels Impossible

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beautiful plus-size Asian woman smiling in a field in a big sun hat

When it comes to options for how we feel about our bodies, most of us have only heard of body hatred or body positivity. 

After you've spent years experiencing body hatred, it may feel like the only other option is body positivity. That's a big leap to expect from people. 

For most of us, body hatred is a given and body positivity feels impossible.

There is another option: body neutrality, and the focus is not whether we love or don’t love our body’s appearance, but rather to acknowledge the purpose of our body — that is it allows us to live.

Body neutrality is more conceivable, but still very challenging. 

I’ve got a fourth option to consider when it comes to leaving body hatred behind — body respect.

It is a stand-alone option that might be a tad easier to practice. Recently, someone asked me the difference between body respect, which I was preaching at the time, and body appreciation. I fumbled on the response.

So what is the difference between appreciating and respecting your body?

Respect includes recognizing it is right, important, and you don't need to change or harm it for your body to be better.

Three ways you can learn to respect your body

1. Acknowledge that your body is right and important.

I bet you disagree on at least one count.

We are taught to believe our bodies are wrong. It is likely that you have had a doctor who has weighed you, and suggested there is a “wrong” or “unhealthy” weight (in the large majority of cases, there isn’t). Same with every ad and institution and person who has tried to sell you a weight-loss product — including your gym.

Every time you got the message that you would be better if you were thinner, you were being taught that your body is wrong.

We are not taught that bodies are supposed to be diverse in weight (just like in height, hair, skin color, eye color: we accept it everywhere else!).

 We are not taught that weight is not an indicator of health. We are not taught that you can be healthy and fit and fat, or that you can be unhealthy, unfit, and thin.

Practice this by: Seeing your body as important may be the easier starting point. Listen to your body. Take the signs of hunger and fullness, pain, and thirst seriously. Rest when you are tired, or at least take a moment to pause. 

RELATED: Why I Gave Up On Diets And Started Listening To My Body

2. Your body is not wrong

We are also taught that our bodies are not important. We’ve learned that our body’s functional needs are much less important than what we want it to look like.

We’re taught to ignore most of our body’s signals. For example, we are told our hunger and cravings are bad. We are told to ignore fatigue and pain and just “push through.”

We are taught that what we want to weigh is even more important than our genetics.

If we believe our body’s genetics, needs, and signals it sends us are irrelevant, we believe our body is not important, right? We’ve learned to listen to diet culture instead of our bodies.

We aren’t taught why our bodies need fat and carbs. We aren’t taught the damage that eating the incorrect amount will do to our body.

Do you know roughly how much energy your organs alone need to keep you alive?? (Hint: it’s more than 1200 kcal.)

Practice this by: Consider your body in terms of genetics. Be okay with what your body looks like on the outside.

Come to terms with the truth that not all bodies look the same. Know that fighting against your body's natural size causes more harm than benefit. Know that you can be healthy at your body's natural size. 

RELATED: I Hated My Body So Much It Almost Killed Me

3. Practice not wanting to change or harm our bodies

Society's programming makes us want to change our bodies from the time we are young. We have been taught that we should change our bodies if they are outside of the acceptable level of thinness. Most of us believe we will be healthier if we make our bodies smaller.

Now we’re talking about harm. It turns out that most of the intentional weight loss attempts (i.e., diets) do not work. Although many people do initially lose weight, studies show the vast majority of us gain it all back within 1-5 years (and for most of us, even more). Not because we lack willpower, but because our bodies are biologically programmed to not allow long-lasting weight loss.

The weight cycling that happens when we lose weight and gain it back (multiply that by the number of diets you’ve been on) is where the harm comes in. Weight cycling can cause inflammation and puts us at increased risk of chronic diseases, hypertension, insulin resistance, decreased cardiac health, and shorter life span.

The emotional harm is obvious — dieting negatively impacts self-esteem and leads to eating disorders, self-loathing, and depression.

The physical harm is just being understood. Much of the harm previously attributed to obesity (this word promotes weight stigma) seems actually to be due to weight cycling. 

When we see our bodies as wrong, we are causing ourselves harm. When we see our bodies as unimportant, we are causing ourselves harm. And absolutely, when we go on diets (ANY diet), we are causing ourselves harm.

Practice this by: Imagine what it would be like if you did respect your body. Get a sense of how it would feel to let go all the energy you put into wanting your body to be different. 

Throw away your scale and the negative ideas about weight that impact your self-esteem. Stop saying mean things about your body, whether it's out loud or to yourself. 

It is not going to be a quick or easy journey to get to body respect, and it will likely be an ongoing effort.

There are concrete actions you can take there is a path. Body respect is liberating and empowering, most importantly, it is possible.

Your body deserves respect.

RELATED: 12 Ways To 100% Fall In Love WIth Your Body — No Matter Your Size

Suzanne Manser is a licensed psychologist with 20 years of experience using evidence-based therapy practices. She offers individual therapy sessions, group therapy, consultations, and speaking engagements to help with anxiety, eating disorders, and body image issues.

This article was originally published at My blog ( Reprinted with permission from the author.