Someone recently asked me how long I’ve been on my body acceptance journey, and I realized it’s been more than a decade. It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning exactly because there was quite a while when I kept thinking there had to be another way than my years of chronic dieting. But to make it easier to remember, I count the beginning as when I first started seeing a nutrition therapist who specializes in intuitive eating.
At the beginning of this journey, I thought it would be entirely about healing my relationship with food. And while that has happened in many ways, so much more has unfolded from there that I rarely even think of food as one of the top things that has changed in my life since I have become more body accepting.
I say “more” body accepting because I never like to give the idea that I’m 100% body accepting 24/7/365. I actually don’t believe that’s even a thing. Or, well, I don’t think it’s a thing in the way we imagine it will be. I definitely used to think that being body accepting would mean I never, ever had a negative thought about my body ever again.
But now I think it means hearing those thoughts quiet and knowing how to support myself when they do come back around. Because I think we all have moments where doubts or old self-criticisms or comments from a hurtful person come rushing back, but that doesn’t mean we’re back to square one. Quite the opposite, really. So that brings me to the first thing I’ve learned:
1. There’s no end point to body acceptance
And that’s the good news. When I first started my body acceptance journey, I (like so many other people!) thought a day would come (sooner rather than later, please and thank you) when I could just brush my hands off and declare my relationship with my body solved. Moving on.
And, of course I thought that! Everything in culture told me that would be true and profited from me believing it. At the time, my relationship with my body was mostly transactional. I tried to tell it what to do (in the form of a diet), and it either did or didn’t respond how I wanted (99% didn’t). My body was totally other from me, which makes complete sense when you consider how I outsourced everything about it to the latest diet that told me when to eat (hunger cues? What hunger cues?) and when to move my body (time to get on that treadmill!).
I never would have thought I wanted a conversational relationship with my body because I had no frame of reference for what that could even mean. Not to mention I wouldn’t have trusted my body as a conversation partner anyway. That’s something I could only truly understand through what I learned next:
2. Body acceptance is a practice
As often as I say this, people still don’t always believe me: I’m not body accepting at all times and in all circumstances. Negative thoughts still pop up from time to time. I still occasionally get intrigued by the latest “cleanse” or “healthy eating program” (which is generally what we call diets now). But what’s different now is that when I catch these thoughts, I notice them. I don’t automatically believe them like I used to. They now make me pause and say, “Oh, you again. What’s going on here?” Then I get to be curious about how and why these thoughts are arising and how I can let them go with kindness. For me, they often come up when I’m sick or stressed, so now that I know that pattern, it’s easier for me to address it. And, also:
3. Body acceptance has shown me where body acceptance is not enough
Because sometimes you need something else/more/different. While body acceptance has changed so much in my life, it’s not the solution for every problem I have. Nor is yoga. As I’ve shared, yoga helped me get to know my body cues much better. And as I learned to listen to what my body was telling me, body acceptance helped me respect those messages and respond to them through things like decreasing stress, not saying yes when my body was telling me no, and so on. All of that sifting, plus acupuncture, journaling, therapy, movement, supportive friends, and more helped me to realize that as much as things had changed for me, there was still a core of everyday dread and anxiety that I could never shake. Enter: Zoloft. I now tell anyone who will listen that it’s the second best thing that’s ever happened to me, after meeting my husband. It’s not for everyone, but I never would have known it was for me unless I was able to get down to that place where I could see it clearly. Because, really:
4. Body acceptance is about living your life
On your own terms. I can’t even tell you how many hours (read: years) and dollars (read: thousands) I spent on dieting and changing my body over the years. You might already know about a lot of them from my book. Throughout all of that, I kept imagining my fantasy life that would happen once I finally lost all the weight I wanted to: no problems with myself, my relationships, my career, my finances, my health, and so on and so on.
It turns out I was coming at that from the wrong angle, though. I saw my life as a problem to solve that, once solved, would never be a problem again. But that’s not how life works!
Life is nothing but seasons and cycles and ebbs and flows and two steps forward and one step back. And what that means is there are spirals of growth and learning. My life isn’t perfect now that I’m more body accepting. Far from it. But it is a life I’m living, not waiting to begin once I finally lose x pounds. It’s one where I’m engaged in the muck and the glory and the everydayness of it. No more waiting on something unknown to drop into my lap because:
5. Body acceptance clarified what is important to me
Since I had a distant relationship with my body for so long, it was really hard for me to read the signs of what worked for me and what didn’t work for me. I brought the same harried energy I brought to dieting to everything I did, taking an all or nothing approach to most of my life. I also put tons of energy into school and career achievement because, at least on some level, I felt like this was a way to prove my worth that I thought was otherwise in serious question (or nonexistent) because of my weight.
Over time, as I developed more skills to be able to listen to my body, I started to notice things like — “Why do I constantly have a feeling of dread in my stomach.” And “Why can’t I ever stop people pleasing or unplug?” As I continued to deepen my relationship with my body, I began to realize that I wasn’t living the life I wanted to. I was so caught up in the rat race of success (even as a yoga teacher, which I realize is just a *bit* ironic!) that I wasn’t present for anything and rarely let myself enjoy anything. That is, until…
6. Body acceptance simplified my life
And I don’t just mean I got to toss my diet books (though that was awesome!). For so long, my life was a pile of complication: I was on a million diets, I somehow decided I needed two master’s degrees, I worked long hours, I didn’t sleep well or for very long, I constantly waited for the other shoe to drop, I wasn’t present in my relationships, I forgot much of what happened to me because I was always living in the future in my mind, and so much more.
The reason I say body acceptance simplified my life is that I thought the “end result” of body acceptance would be running through fields of puppies (basically my lifelong dream, minus the running) all day every day. It never occurred to me, again because it wasn’t possible for me to understand in my past frame of reference, that what would happen is so much would fall away.
As I started feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin, I realized I wanted more of that. I didn’t want to be so busy all the time, and I didn’t have to be (yes, there’s still plenty I have to do, but it turns out I don’t have to say yes to every single thing that comes my way). I didn’t want to say my priority was my husband and my wellbeing and my close people but put them all on the way way backburner, constantly. I didn’t want to not know what was going on with my closest friends.
So if I had to sum it all up, here’s what I’d say: Loving your body isn’t about a hashtag or wearing a specific article of clothing or getting it “right.” It looks different for everyone. And it’s about taking back the time, energy, and resources that diet and beauty culture take from us so that we can use those resources to show up — for our bodies, our lives, our relationships, our work, and our community.