Struggling with Body Positivity? Try This Instead...

From social media and celebrities to ad campaigns and wellness programs, body positivity messaging is popping up everywhere these days.

Of course, I’m all for feeling positive about your body. Absolutely!

However, I know it can be really freaking hard, especially if you’ve been at war with your body for years.

If you, like many, struggle with body shame, the idea of making the leap from body loathing to body loving can feel really daunting, if not impossible.

This is completely understandable given our culture’s obsession with unrealistic beauty standards and terribly misguided, damaging tendency to judge and value bodies based on their appearance.

While I do believe you can greatly improve your relationship with your body, I know it can be tough to dig the skin you’re in every single day, even when you've worked hard toward feeling more body positive.

Do This Instead
Rather than striving to reach a state of perpetual body positivity, which can feel forced and like just one more thing to struggle with and fail at, I encourage you to instead focus on body kindness, body respect and body appreciation.

Why? Because no matter how you feel about your body, you can always be kind to it, respect it and appreciate it.

For many of us, practicing body kindness, body respect and body appreciation feels so much more accessible and doable than feeling unconditional adoration for our bodies. All three things can be done at any given moment, in both big and small ways.

What It Might Look Like
What body kindness, respect and appreciation look like is up to you. To help get you started, here are a few practices to consider:

  • Speak respectfully about your body to yourself and others

  • Dress your here-and-now body in well-fitting, comfortable clothes that make you feel fabulous

  • Honor your body’s hunger, cravings, desires and needs

  • Nourish your body with foods that are pleasurable and satisfying

  • Move your body in a joyful, energizing way

  • Acknowledge all the miraculous things your body does for you

  • Rest your body with plenty of sleep and relaxation

  • Soothe your body with caring, tender touch

  • End the comparison game—your body vs. other bodies or your former body

  • Revitalize every cell in your body with regular doses of nature

As I’ve seen with myself and with my clients, by focusing on body kindness, respect and appreciation, in time, you will naturally start feeling more positive feelings toward your body.

What Hitting Diet Rock Bottom Looks Like

Josie has been dieting for more than 20 years.

At the age of 11, she went on her first diet. She’s been riding the dieting roller coaster ever since.

Over the years, she’s tried dozens of plans and programs, some of them multiple times.

She can easily rattle off the number of calories, points and carbs in hundreds of different foods.

Again and again, she’s felt the euphoria that comes with weight loss—and the shame that accompanies rebound weight gain.

When friends, co-workers and celebrities have raved about their new diet, she’s always jumped on board believing “This might finally be the one!”

Lately, however, she just can’t muster up her usual enthusiasm.

She’ll start a new diet then abandon it after a week or two.

Her decades of yo-yo dieting have left her feeling frustrated, exhausted, depressed and hopeless—and like a huge failure.

Josie's ready to throw her hands up in the air.

She's finally hit diet rock bottom.

Hitting Diet Rock Bottom
Although she’s unhappy with her weight, Josie can’t stand the thought of going on another diet.

She can’t stomach one more Last Supper, one more Monday of starting over, one more list of good and bad foods.

She’s burned out on tracking, counting, measuring and weighing.

She’s sick of letting her bathroom scale dictate her mood, her behavior and how her day unfolds.

So much of her life, she feels, has been wasted obsessing over every bite, feeling guilty about her choices and strategizing how she can make up for her food sins.

Josie’s tired of packing her own food to take to social gatherings and being preoccupied at parties by all the food she’s not allowed to eat but really, really wants.

She’s sad about how many events she’s skipped because she feared falling off the wagon or didn’t like how she looked.

After decades of being told what to eat, Josie doesn’t even know what she likes anymore.

She eats what she thinks she should, which often leaves her feeling unsatisfied and, understandably, scrounging for more food.

Her long list of food rules has sucked all the joy and pleasure out of eating.

The more she deprives herself, the more she finds herself eating in secret and bingeing on all her forbidden foods.

Many foods are banned from her house because she simply doesn’t trust herself with them.

Josie’s tired of denying her cravings, sneaking food, swinging from restricting to bingeing, and feeling out of control and ashamed.

She’s flat out dieted-out.

No matter how tempting the latest new diet may sound, she now knows all too well that it will not improve her relationship with food and her body—it will only make it worse.

Yet, she doesn’t know what to do. For most of her life, all she’s known is dieting.

Sound Familiar?
If any of this sounds familiar, you’ve likely hit diet rock bottom, too.

Please know, you’re not alone.

I’ve heard hundreds of stories like Josie’s over the years.

And while you might feel like you’re stuck and at a dead end, you’re not.

Rejecting the diet mentality is the first step toward reclaiming your power from our toxic diet culture—an oppressive system that keeps you stuck in a vicious cycle and distracts you from more meaningful, fulfilling life pursuits.

The next step is learning how to listen to and trust your body again so you can eat intuitively—that is, according to your inner cues (e.g., hunger, fullness, pleasure, satisfaction) versus external rules.

By putting the same effort you put into dieting toward getting out of it, you can cultivate a more peaceful, trusting, intuitive and roller coaster-free relationship with food and your body.

As I’ve said before, I don't have any magical powers. Neither do my clients. If we can do it, so can you.

I Felt So Ashamed of My Weight Regain

I wiggled into my only pair of jeans that still fit, draped a shawl over my upper body, and anxiously headed out the door.

It was the best I could do to hide my larger size—besides not leaving my house at all, which was what I had been doing.

As I rode the train downtown to meet a few past coworkers for tea—friends I hadn’t seen in a year since I was laid off from the company we all worked for—I thought about all the ways I could justify my weight gain.

It felt important that I acknowledge it first before they had a chance to jump to any conclusions.

My life had changed drastically over the last year. There were so many things I could point to that would possibly explain my fuller face, bigger belly, heavier hips and thicker thighs.

Afraid of What They Might Think
Despite what may have sounded like valid reasons for my body changes, more than anything, I was afraid my friends would think what I was thinking about myself: That I was a failure. That I was weak. That I had lost control and let myself go.

I feared my reputation as a super-disciplined healthy eater and exerciser—who was applauded for losing a lot of weight a few years prior—was now tarnished.

I feared I would now be the topic of water-cooler gossip.

I felt so embarrassed and ashamed.

No Longer a Success Story
When I had shed all those pounds, I truly thought I had finally cracked the weight-loss code.

With arrogance that I now mightily cringe at and regret, I strutted around believing I had conquered the one thing so many people struggle with.

I had successfully lost weight.

And now I had regained it.

I was no longer a success story.

The Body Fights Back
Sadly, if I had known on that train what I know now, I could have saved myself from a lot of unnecessary pain, isolation and suffering.

Unlike what’s so commonly believed, rebound weight gain is not due to a lack of willpower or self-discipline. Nor is it from following the wrong plan or program.

When you deprive your body of food, it thinks it’s being subjected to a famine and will do everything it can to survive.

This means triggering numerous physiological and psychological changes, like increasing food thoughts, intensifying cravings, boosting appetite and decreasing metabolism.

When you understand the compensatory measures a body makes when it’s restricted of food, you can understand why an estimated 95 percent of dieters regain the weight they lose, and up to two-thirds gain more than they lost.

It's not because they fell off the wagon!

If I Only Knew Then
If I had understood that my body was simply trying to keep me alive, I might not have felt ashamed for not being able to maintain my weight loss.

I wouldn’t have blamed myself and viewed my weight gain as a personal failure and character flaw.

Nor would I have wasted so much time and energy strategizing about how I was going to fix my body and being stuck in a vicious restrict-binge cycle for the next few years.

I wouldn’t have avoided events, activities or friends who love me regardless of my size.

Instead of being mad at and mean to my body, I would have been grateful for how smart it is! 

Ideally, if I knew everything I know now about how damaging dieting and diet culture are on both an individual and collective level, I would have never attempted to achieve the impossible thin ideal in the first place.

I would have better understood my internalized weight stigma and respected my genetic blueprint instead of trying to force my body to be something it was never meant to be.

A New Success Story
Thanks to everything I’ve experienced and learned, I’ve redefined what a success story is when it comes to food and my body.

For me, it means having a peaceful, trusting, nourishing and intuitive relationship with both—one that’s completely shame-free.