Body Acceptance: Why You Have to Feel Worse Before You Feel Better

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I tell all my coaching clients that they are courageous, strong, and have a lot of heart. I say this not just so that they feel good about themselves, I say it because it’s 100% true.

Working on accepting our bodies in a culture that wages war on bodies every day, is not easy. Walking away from the worn out path of diets onto a path that is still pretty rugged, is not easy. Doing the work to unlearn the lies we’ve been taught about what is “beautiful”, challenging our own internalized fatphobia, and letting go of the external validation and praise that a thin body can give us (or the hope that a thin body can give us), is not easy.

So why even bother? Why not just continue to pursue the thin ideal?

Because achieving the “ideal body” will never give us the lasting happiness and freedom that we are ultimately seeking.

If you’re reading this you’ve likely already come to this conclusion, or perhaps are just beginning to.

But just because we understand this intellectually, doesn’t mean we can escape the emotional processing that comes with ending our pursuit of thinness (and trust me, I’ve wished I could have escaped it many times!)

So why is it so hard? Why can’t we just say “I accept my body” and be done with it?

Because the only way out is through.  

Below are some of the main emotions we tend to encounter when we decide to work on accepting our bodies, rather than trying to change them:

Anger: It can be very angering when we wake up and see all the ways diet culture disempowers us, and how we’ve in turn disempowered ourselves. I love anger because it strongly urges us to stand up for ourselves and our values. It can point out clearly where injustices lie and helps urge us to put our energy into shaping the kind of world we want to see. No more discriminating against people for their size and how they look. No more subpar medical care for people in larger bodies. No more...what is the “no more” for you?

Frustration: It’s very common to feel frustrated by the changes in our bodies when we gain weight. I personally remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t bend as far in yoga poses as I used to. And I was frustrated when my clothing became too small and I had to buy new clothes (more than once). It’s normal to feel frustrated when things that we are used to, change. But eventually we adjust and become comfortable with our new normal.

Grief: “Losing” our thin bodies, or ending the dream that one day we will be thin, can be experienced as real grief - and we have to let ourselves feel this. The reality is when we live in a culture that gives privilege to those who are thin, not having a thin body can be experienced as a tangible loss. Whether that is a loss of compliments we used to receive from others, or the end of a dream of what our lives would be like if we could just be thin. And grief comes in waves. We may feel down some days... at other times it may bring us to our knees. But eventually, as we work through the grief, we move into living lives that are more true to ourselves. We become more empowered.

Fear: This is without a doubt the biggest emotion that we all, well, fear feeling. Truthfully, fear is what keeps most of the population chasing the thin ideal. And why wouldn’t it? We live in a fatphobic culture (literally - fearing fat). We are told by the medical community that fat is bad (despite the lack of evidence that proves this), and we have either experienced first hand, or have witnessed people, being treated worse by family, friends, or partners for being bigger. So of course we would fear weight gain.

Feeling fear is usually where a reckoning occurs. It’s the place where we we stand face-to-face with what feels threatening to us, and we choose to keep moving forward anyways. This is where the real change takes place - because when we can feel the fear and live our lives anyways, fear ceases to limit us, and instead strengthens us.

Like anything we embark on that is challenging, the result is ultimately life-changing. And the beauty of working on body acceptance is that unlike reaching a weight-loss goal, the changes we experience within ourselves last, and end up influencing all areas of our lives for the better.

When working with my clients I always encourage gentleness throughout this process. Unlike the pursuit of thinness which ultimately distracts us from what’s happening in our lives, body acceptance puts us directly in touch with what is going on within and around us. So I highly recommend working with a trained coach or therapist who is HAES (Health at Every Size)-informed, and who can walk with you through this process.

I know choosing to accept your body in diet culture can be hard, but if there is one thing I know for certain to be true - is you are courageous, strong, and you have the heart to do this.

If you’re ready to take the next step in accepting and loving your body, learn about my one-on-one coaching program here.

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Photo credit: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash