Do I Have to Love My Body?

I'm ok
Okay with the selfie at last.

“Allow me to suggest a revolutionary action: Let’s try to be okay with our bodies. I am not saying you have to love your body. I can’t help but notice that this goal is frequently pushed on women, but never men, and if men don’t need to love their bodies, it seems to me that women can get by without it, too…Perhaps loving your body is something to strive for, but all we really need to do is respect our bodies, appreciate them, and be generally okay with them.” –Traci Mann, PhD, author “Secrets from the Eating Lab”

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been reading Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. I love so many parts of this book, like all the scientific evidence for the failure of weight loss diets. I’ll talk more about the book in a future post, but for now…see above quote.

Why did I love this quote so much? Because I found it to be profoundly freeing.

Part of the talk around giving up dieting revolves a lot around learning to love your body. As someone who dieted for most of her adult life, I didn’t even know what this would look like in practice. I tried a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, telling myself that I loved my body and that I wasn’t going to torture it anymore. In reality, I no longer wanted to punish myself with deprivation and food obsession not for the sake of my body, but for my peace of mind.

But I espoused body-love because it seemed like a good idea. Even on this blog I talk about learning to love one’s own body, and loving my own body. What I probably come closer to, though, is this idea of being okay with my body.

I was raised, as most of us were, in a world where fat bodies were not seen as attractive. We still live in that world. One of the first things I did, after discovering Health At Every Size®, was to find ways that I could see large bodies as attractive, or at least not unattractive. I’ve never been one to focus too much on the outsides of other people…I reserved that obsession for myself. But I bought the party line that fat was not attractive, because that’s how I had been treated and that’s what everyone said. So I spent time on fat fashion blogs and I started looking at fat people around me with a neutral eye and I realized that there is nothing inherently unattractive about fat bodies. With just a little bit of practice I soon was able to see every body without bias. While it was easy to see others’ fat bodies as completely acceptable and even lovable, I still struggled with my own evolving body.

As my body continued to change dramatically after quitting dieting, I was unable to look at it in photos for a long time. With GI problems that cause severe abdominal bloating after even a small meal, I sometimes even avoid mirrors. While I don’t particularly have any animosity toward my body, loving it just seemed…a tall order. And a lot of work.

All of that doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent okay with my body. I’m not embarrassed about my body with others – I’m not shy about being in a bathing suit or wearing body-con clothing. I have enormous gratitude for my bod and what it allows me to do. When I have those momentary “ehhh” photo moments, I remind myself that I’ve been under the unrelenting influence of completely unrealistic expectations for how women should look for all of my life. I also remind myself that I want to be more than about how I look. How I look is really the very least of me. And in the end, I really did become okay with my body.

I don’t require others to love my body, so I’m not sure that I need to either so long as I respect it and have some gratitude for it. What I want most of all is for my body to occupy zero space in my brain for most or all of the day – for it to lose the importance it has held in the past. My body is not my life’s work. What I do, how I am, is. Being okay with my body is frankly enough for me for now.

Want to feel freedom with food?

Tired of feeling ruled by food? I can help you get free. Learn more here.

Subscribe and get my free guide, Why you overeat …and what to do about it.

Click here if you just want my newsletter!

But What if I Get Fat?

Big_Fat_Red_CatI think a question people contemplating giving up dieting might ask is, “But what if I get fat?” I think it’s a good question and it doesn’t really get talked about enough in the intuitive eating world, in my opinion.

I first heard about HAES® while sitting in my introductory nutrition class in college, given by the woman herself, Dr. Linda Bacon, size acceptance activist and author of the book Health at Every Size®. She really turned my head with her talk of not-dieting and fat acceptance. It took a few months before I was fully able to digest (pun intended) all that she was saying. When I did finally take it all in and decide to give up dieting myself, I didn’t think about whether I would get fat again. I was so hungry and tired of dieting while continuing to be dissatisfied with my body that I just couldn’t bear to do it anymore. Naively, I thought I had taken care of my “fat” problem years ago when I first began dieting and then, against all odds, maintained a lower weight for 8 years before my dieting got really crazy.

Had I asked myself that question at the time – but what if I get fat? – I’m not sure what the answer would have been. I was definitely not in a fat acceptance headspace for myself at that moment. For others? Sure! For me…uh….no. All I knew is that my dieting and the quality of life it gave me was not sustainable or enjoyable and almost anything would be better, including whatever consequences of not-dieting might be.

And so yes, after a number of years of not-dieting, I did get fat again. It seemed inconceivable that just eating in a slightly more relaxed way – the way I ate throughout most of my 20s! – would cause my weight to suddenly and dramatically go up, and yet up it went. Every year was another 10 pounds gained until I arrived at my original pre-any-diet weight last year. My body now maintains that weight – at least for now – without me thinking much about it.

Why on earth, one might ask, would anyone give up dieting if they are “successfully” maintaining a lower body weight? Good question. Well, that person might feel the way I did – that dieting had taken over their lives and they are no longer fully themselves. Or they might be sick of fighting constant food cravings. Or being hungry all the time. Or fearing food. Or someone might have an eating disorder that is threatening their lives. Everyone is different and I respect any and all reasons to give up dieting – or to keep it up if that’s what feels right.

But for those wanting to say goodbye to dieting, what can you expect if you give up dieting? If you were originally a heavier person and you’ve been maintaining a lower weight than your natural body weight…yes, you might gain weight once you start to eat more intuitively. If you’ve been suppressing your natural hunger cues for a long time, you’ve sent your body a message: there is not enough food available in your environment. Your body responds by becoming very efficient at storing energy – i.e., hanging onto fat. This is also why dieting often yields fast weight loss results initially, but then slow down and eventually stop (and then reverse) the longer the diet continues. It’s just your body trying to save your life in a perceived famine.

If you’re one of those folks who gains weight, you’ll likely have some self-acceptance homework to do. I’ve talked recently about how this isn’t easy, but totally worth it. While you might have heard a lot of kudos for your weight loss – the ubiquitous “You look great, did you lose weight?” – unfortunately, the way society currently operates, you won’t hear the opposite: “Omigod, you look amazing, did you gain weight??” On one hand, this kind of sucks! On the other, you realize quickly that relying on the opinions of others for your self-esteem is a no-win game.

Sometimes the only critic you have to contend with is the person looking back at you in the mirror. That can be even harder to deal with than facing the opinions of others. For me, learning to accept my body started with first being able to see the beauty of other fat bodies. I poured over fat fashion blogs in awe – these women look fantastic, why did I see fat as ugly for so long?? I stopped seeing weight as a measure of my self-worth. I also decided to focus on what my body could do for me rather than what it looked like. I am lucky to be able to walk long distances, use a hula hoop, swim, lift weights, ride a bike and dance in my living room, so I focused on celebrating that instead of what shape my body was. I focused on my behaviors – eating healthfully (and enjoyably) and engaging in movement I loved. Working at appreciating my body was a worthy endeavor that eventually paid off – I’m much more at peace now with myself than I ever was on a diet.

In the end, there are many worse things than gaining weight and getting fat. For me, life on a diet was worse. I know this because I was willing to give it up without even thinking about the possible consequences. Eventually I was able to trust in the wisdom of my body to take me and my weight where it needed to go. Then I just needed to take my mind there with it.

Want to feel freedom with food?

Tired of feeling ruled by food? I can help you get free. Learn more here.

Subscribe and get my free guide, Why you overeat …and what to do about it.

Click here if you just want my newsletter!