Advice From A Body Positivity Coach: Love Yourself
Finding Your Self Worth
We are taught from an early age that our self worth is wrapped up in our bodies. Especially for women, we must either be thin or striving for thinness at all times. A woman could have an amazing career, family, and friends, but if she’s “feeling fat”, it can ruin her whole day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are brave and outspoken voices of the fat acceptance movement, encouraging loving your body and feeling confident in your own skin.
But sometimes, it all seems like a little much. What if I’m not feeling good or bad about my body? What if it’s just there and I don’t feel any particular way about it? Body positivity to me is having a general good sense about your body, but thoughts about food, weight, and body appearance only take up a very small part of your life, if any at all. Imagine if you had all of that time back to think about other things. What could you do? How would you feel?
As a body positivity coach, I work with clients around establishing healthy thoughts and habits around their bodies, health, and overall wellbeing. Today, I'm going to share that same advice with you!
Shifting Your Mindset from Dieting to Body Positivity
When I was first shifting my paradigm to a Health At Every SizeTM approach, my trainer said “Only a dieter will eat an entire Hershey’s bar.” I could see the other therapists, physicians, and dietitians in the room look at her inquisitively, preparing their questions. She continued, “A dieter will eat an entire bar of chocolate, because they will not allow themselves to eat more tomorrow. Food for dieter is associated with goodness or badness and a chocolate bar, in this case, is bad. So in the dieter’s mind, which is a deprivation mindset, they are thinking ‘well, I will never allow myself to have this again, so I better eat it all now so I can start fresh tomorrow.’ A non-dieter will know that they can have a little now, and there will be more tomorrow.”
After working with hundreds of women (10 year olds to 60 years olds) I have found this dieting mindset to be true. Someone who has an intuitive, healthy relationship with food knows that they can have some chocolate now, and that it will still be there tomorrow, if they want it, or if they don’t want it, whatever. However, those who are in the dieting mindset or all in or all out – shifting from one extreme to the next (often known as yo-yo dieting).
Signs That You May Have a Dieting Mentality
The first sign of a dieting mentality is deprivation. People on diets deprive themselves and see that deprivation as a good thing, as willpower, and they see it as necessary. But unfortunately, deprivation is not sustainable and what should be a small part of someone’s thoughts, becomes all-consuming. When we’re deprived of something (especially if we do this to ourselves) all we can think about is the thing we can’t have. Food then becomes a really big part of what we think about. For some it becomes the ONLY thing they think about.
The second sign of a dieting mentality is exercising to burn calories. Someone on a dieting mentality is exercising and clocking in how many calories they are burning, specifically to counteract the calories they have consumed. Exercise is not necessarily from a place of self-love, but of punishment and self-hate. It may partly be about feeling good, but under the surface lurks a voice that says “you have to do this in order to be thin / beautiful / successful / etc.”
The third sign of a dieting mentality is spending time in front of the mirror wishing you had a different body. Maybe it’s a flatter stomach or a smaller chest or maybe you wish you had a whole different body. Yes, we all have done this, but that doesn’t make it normal, it just makes it even sadder that body hatred is as pervasive as it is.
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The Origin of Low Self-Esteem
Let me make it perfectly clear, we are not born hating our bodies. We are born with a love for ourselves and at our inner core we want to be loved by others. Along the way we were trained by not only society, but sometimes by the people we loved the most that we are not good enough. And for women, one of the ways we try to make ourselves good enough is through controlling the way our bodies look.
As a body positivity coach and licensed therapist, clients often find it helpful to work through their feelings of low self-esteem to uncover areas that may have led to the way they feel about themselves and their bodies. However, feeling this way – especially in our western culture, is often part of being human. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect and live up to some unrealistic, idealistic version of ourselves that we’ve created in our minds either based on what we have been fed in media, society, or our relationships instead of truly getting to know the incredible people that we are. The idea of “perfection” is so tainted to the point that we don’t see how beautiful and unique and fully lovable we already are.
Creating and Practicing a Body Positivity Mindset
If you found yourself ticking all the boxes above, you are not alone. Most women have been there. In fact, this is so ingrained in us, that sometimes when I begin to question or even gently challenge a client’s dieting mentality, it is met with resistance. Society is very invested in you having the dieting mentality. We can break out of it together, but it takes a lot of work.
The first thing you can do is educate yourself. Diets don’t work. They simply don’t. After two years most everyone will gain back all or more of the weight they lost on a diet. And it’s not because consuming a few calories doesn’t make you thinner; it technically does. Diets don’t work because they are not sustainable. It is simply impossible to keep up with the level of time and energy it takes to maintain a diet.
In addition to diets not working, they are downright harmful psychologically and physically. Weight cycling from the results of dieting has been linked to very significant health problems and has in fact been shown to cause more problems than being overweight. Not to mention dieting is one’s own personal cycle of abuse: set unrealistic goal, fail at attaining goal, feel even worse.
4 Ways to Begin Your Body Positivity Mindset Journey
#1 Be Honest with Yourself. The dieting mentality is not like it used to be. Gone are the days of Atkins, Weight Watchers, and aerobics (but can we keep the leg warmers?!). Dieting isn’t even a cool word anymore. We have hidden ways of keeping ourselves in the dieting mentality. While there are certainly people with medical and ethical reasons for being vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, sugar free, etc.,, these types of restricted forms of eating can be motivated by an underlying desire to be thin.
Orthorexia, a new term that includes an obsession with things like clean eating and meal planning, is on the rise and is hard to identify as problematic because on the surface it appears to be someone making healthy choices. So be honest: is food taking up a small part of your life or is it a huge part of your life? Is your food intake and your weight an obsession?
#2 Eat Intuitively and Relearn Trust. When a baby has a bowl of food in front of him, he knows when to stop eating. We can learn to tune into our bodies again – I see people do it all of the time. Have you ever had a week where you were really busy and ate a bunch of junk food and then you craved veggies one night? That’s your body craving the things it needs. You can actually relearn to trust your instincts around food. Some helpful tools used in the Health At Every Size Approach can help you gain back your trust in your body.
#3 Practice Joyful Movement. What feels good? Maybe it’s stretching after a long day in front of your computer. Maybe it’s singing in a choir or walking your dog in the crisp fall air as the moon is rising. Maybe it’s playing red light green light with your children or going on a ten mile hike to see a beautiful mountain view. Whatever it is, do it because it feels good.
#4 Practice Size Acceptance. Waiting for the imaginary day when you are the weight you want, when you look the way you want, when you can wear the clothes you want, and you can finally feel like the confident person you want to be is simply a tortuous way to live! Doing all of the things like dieting, depriving, burning calories, doesn’t really work. The goal is never reached, the happiness never comes. So size acceptance is about living the life you want now, in the size you are now.
I know you’re thinking “easier said than done!” I get that. Let's just acknowledge right now that the thoughts of weight will still be there. The fear of hunger, the fear of fat, the fear of gaining weight, the disgust with your body….those feeling will still be there, but just make an agreement with those feelings to put them in a little box and bury it in the backyard (while you’re at it you can throw your scale in there too). Don’t worry, it’s still there, you can always go dig it up, but those feelings just aren’t needed right now. You can still practice joyful movement, eating intuitively, and size acceptance even when those thoughts are there.
Road to Recovery: Making Power Moves for Your Self-Esteem
The road to recovery will look a little different for everyone, but the basic steps are the same. I like to share with my body positivity clients who are on their healing journey that it’s okay to get mad! It’s not fair that this mentality was encouraged in you from a young age and continually pressed upon you into and throughout your adult life.
The first step for every person looking to make power moves for their self-esteem is to decide that you’re not going to play along anymore. You have to make the decision to press on and work hard for YOU. Healing journeys are rarely easy, but you can do it. You can begin to see positive changes in your mindset and health if you make the decision to make your health a priority.
Secondly, just with any recovery program – having a support system can help establish accountability, offer encouragement, and give you a place to turn to when things feel heavy. A way that you can begin to build a support system virtually is to join a book club with similarly goal-oriented friends or even strangers! Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon is a great book to get started with.
Lastly, if you find that you need a little extra support or know that you would benefit from one-on-one work, find a licensed therapist or life coach that has been trained in frameworks such as Health At Every Size. Once you start to see all of the ways that we are taught to hate ourselves, you can be empowered to do something about it for yourself and for others.
A final note: Although a body positivity mind set can be helpful for everyone, it can also be very important to distinguish between a diet mentality and Eating Disorders behaviors, as these can often look similar in one's day to day life. Please keep in mind that if you or someone you know is struggling with an Eating Disorder, it could be critical to get help and support from a doctor or therapist who has been trained in treating Eating Disorders. If you'd like additional information on distinguishing between a diet mentality and Eating Disorder behaviors please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Stephanie Oliver, M.A., LMFT, UKCP is an active, engaged, and down to earth counselor who takes great interest in your overall well-being. She works with couples, families, and individuals to help them reach their full potential in life and their relationships.
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