Updated: May 25, 2020
Usually the reason you go on a diet is because you don’t like your body and you want to change it. So, if you are caught up in dieting and wanting to lose weight, you are most likely caught up in a lot of negative body-talk about yourself. This happens because over the years the diet industry teaches you to feel bad about your body. It also teaches you that “if you just work hard enough, you can change your body”, Both these diet messages can leave you pressured to live up to narrow, unrealistic beauty standards, such as a slim yoga or an athletic body. Indeed, think about it, the messaging in the media, fashion and health industry is that “thin is better”. And the problem with believing this messages is that it makes you feel inadequate; that you have to “fix” something about your body or yourself. And this in turn motivates you to extreme dieting or excessive exercising to change your body shape.
So, to really get out of the diet mentality, you need to have a mind shift in how you view and treat your body. If you continue hating your body and believing it needs to be changed, you will most likely get sucked back into diet culture and dieting behaviours. You will get sucked back into the never-ending diet-binge cycle.
To stop hating your body is not easy. And the idea of “loving” your body can be a very hard to accept, especially if you’ve been hating it for so long. You can’t just wake up one day and suddenly not be affected by all the “thin is better” messages and fall in love with your body.
Which is why Intuitive Eating starts with “body respect”. Even if you can’t love your body at the moment, you can u start to think about respecting it? This means to start treating it with dignity, caring for it and meeting its basic needs. Even if you can’t get on board with accepting or loving your body, they encourage you to at least try to get on board with respecting your body. The more you can practice body respect, the more easily you will be able to practice the other principles of Intuitive Eating.
Here are some ways to start practicing Respect Your Body:
Get Comfortable: Are you wearing clothes or underwear that is too tight and uncomfortable? If yes, wearing clothes that are too tight can leave you feeling fat and remind you that you are failing to achieve the unrealistic thin ideal. Are you wearing these clothes as a punishment, to remind you that you need to try harder to lose weight? Tight clothes just make you feel worse about yourself. So get rid of them. Always remember, you deserve to feel comfortable in your clothes and deserve to wear the clothes that you like and make you feel good. Get some clothes and underwear that fits what is called your “here-and-now body”. You could just start with a few clothing items and go from there.
Stop weighing and measuring yourself: If every time you step on the bathroom scales you experience anxiety or negative thoughts about your body or yourself, then please, please stop weighing yourself. The number on the scale does not tell you anything about your health, your body composition, or your worth as a person. And you know, that pair of pants or that dress that you keep around because “one day” when you fit into it again, you’ll know you’ve achieved your weight-loss goal? Have a wardrobe clean out and get rid of them. Understand that every woman’s body changes throughout their life. We go through puberty, childbirth, menopause. To try to make a 40 year-old body into a 20 year-old body is totally unrealistic and setting you up for failure and feeling bad about yourself.
Quit Body-Comparing: Do you ever compare yourself to other people’s bodies? If you are constantly thinking about your own body then you are most likely thinking of other people’s bodies. This is very common. One way to help quit playing this body-checking game is to understand that most of the time, you don’t know the story behind how someone got that thinner body. Maybe they are on a rigid diet and are miserable. Maybe they suffer from an eating disorder. Maybe they are very stressed out and have trouble eating. Maybe they just have a naturally smaller body. There are lots of reasons why someone may have lost weight or has the “ideal” body. So try to keep that in mind if you notice yourself body-checking and comparing.
Stop Body-Bashing: This is every time you think about all the body parts you hate, or that you wish were different. How many times a day do you pick fault with your body? You could try keeping count and you may be surprised at just how often these thoughts pop up. A way to counter these body hating thoughts is to try to replace them with a more positive thought about your body. When you look in the mirror, try focusing on the part(s) you like. Maybe it’s your hair. Or your eyes. Or your hands. Or if it’s really hard to find a part you like, try thinking of a reason you’re grateful for your body. For example, if you usually think “I hate my thunder thighs”, you can replace that thought with “I’m grateful I have two legs that are strong and help me walk every day”. Or maybe you think, “I can’t get rid of this post-pregnancy belly”, you can counter that with, “I’m grateful my body was able to create and carry another wonderful human and it’s normal that my body will change after pregnancy.”
Another way to counter body-bashing is be compassionate to yourself. Ask yourself, what would you say to your best friend or daughter who says the same harsh things about their body? It will probably not be the same response as your harsh self-judgments. It can feel unusual to start talking to yourself in a kinder manner, but it does get easier and more natural over time. Also, while you are doing this, try not to engage in fat-talk, the public form of Body-Bashing. This is judging someone else’s weight or size, while in conversation with another or a group of people. The more you talk about yours or other people’s weight and body with others, the more you will stay stuck in hating your body.
Respect Body Diversity. It is easy to judge yourself and others in a negative way if you or they don’t match up to the “ideal, thin” body type. Mainstream media images of women are generally very narrow ideals of what the “perfect" body looks like. But the real-world is made up of many different female bodies, of different weights and sizes and shapes and colours. It always seems easy to accept that people are different heights or have different coloured eyes or skin, but it seems hard to accept that people come in different weights and sizes. There’s a strong message out there that you’re “good” if you're thin and you’re “bad” if you’re fat. But the size of someone’s body does not necessarily determine how healthy they are.
To start to understand and respect body diversity expose yourself to diverse images of bodies. Learn more about the non-diet approach of health and follow body positive/non-diet accounts on social media. Notice how often you have judgmental thoughts about your own body size or others.
Be Realistic: If you were once at what you believe to be your “ideal” weight, ask yourself, were you happy then? What did you have to do to maintain that weight? When we ask these questions to my clients, I will often hear that they were on a rigid diet or exercising for hours a day. Those are not normal, healthy behaviours. Those are dieting and disordered eating behaviours. With Intuitive Eating your weight will settle into the place that it feels most comfortable and natural for your body. This may not be what you think your “ideal” body is, but your weight will be more stable and sustainable and you will be way happier.
Do Nice Things for Your Body: Even if you don’t like your body, it doesn’t mean you can’t treat it well. You only have one body and it deserves to be taken care of, no matter how you feel about it. Get regular massages, buy nice smelling soaps, or get your hair done in a way that makes you feel good.
Don’t Put Your Life on Hold: How many projects, plans or events have you put off because you believe you're not thin enough? We often hear women say that they want to lose weight before going to the beach because they’re afraid of others judging their body. What about dating? Or traveling? Or applying for that job you want? Why should you hold off on doing things that are important to you just because of the size of your body? Make a list of all the things you would do if you were in your “ideal” body. Then pick one of those things and start doing it today, in your here-and-now body. Engaging in activities or projects you enjoy, regardless of your body size, will boost your confidence. You deserve to have an engaging and happy life NOW.
Pick one thing that you feel you could start practicing today. Stay kind with yourself. Respecting your body is not an overnight change, it’s a process. By practicing this principle, you are freeing yourself from the shackles of diet culture and starting to make peace with your body and food.
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012) Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes.