It’s a common theme in therapy. “I don’t like my body.”
But it isn’t quite that simple, is it? What don’t folks like about their bodies? Sometimes it’s dysphoria, sometimes it’s a chronic illness or disability. Most of the time, though? It’s not that someone doesn’t like their body. It’s that they don’t like how they feel about their body. Or they have a specific image in mind as to what their body should look like, instead of learning how to love the body they actually have.
A lot of us get stuck in attaching health to body image and size. From friends and family messages to culture, to media, there are specific ties that we build between thin, muscular, toned bodies and health and attractiveness. And then we compare ourselves against that and assume that because we are not x enough, we somehow have less worth, are less loveable, less attractive, etc.
This can present problems not only in how we feel within our own bodies, but how we relate to our partner’s bodies. Bodies change. They age. At some points, your body might be cushier than normal, and at others, it might be leaner. Heck, as you age you may even lose some of your height! If we have one, fixed view of what is and is not attractive and desirable, we are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment and self-loathing.
So here I am, here to help you finally lose that weight. Give me twelve weeks of commitment and reach out to a counselor, and you’ll be well on your way.
D’s guide to weight loss:
Step one: Separate the health of your body from the image of it. These are two separate creatures that require different approaches, and one does not equal the other. Far from it! This is an ongoing practice of noticing when your thoughts are unconsciously connecting the two, and then breaking the bond between them and mentally pulling them apart. Over, and over, and over again. Our focus will be on health. At every choice, with every thought, we are asking “Is this a step toward true health or a step away from health?” You can also ask yourself “Does this honor me?” Health can be accomplished at any (and every) size, so don’t cross the health and image beams, got it?
Step two: Pick exercises that you find joy in, and let’s call them joyful moment activities. Not ones that focus on or promise results. Something that you look forward to doing, that you miss if you don’t go, and that you feel good walking out of. Do you love dancing? Swimming? Pickleball? Maybe you’re a runner, but that’s not necessary. Perhaps your joy is in nature on long walks or good hikes. Maybe you love the serenity of yoga or the challenge of pilates. Maybe you like doing this alone in your home, the sound of a busy gym, or the camaraderie in a group workout class. Maybe you just want to feel stronger. It could be that your life is stressful and what you need is a solid kickboxing class. Whatever it is, Marie Kondo that. Does it bring you joy? Great. If it doesn’t, then throw it out.
Step three: Create space for rest. Rest. It is so important. Please honor your body (sound familiar?) by giving it restful sleep each night. Nap when you can and your body asks it of you. Skip a workout if your body is begging for a break. Find ways to relieve stress other than overworking out, binge eating, restricting, or couch potato-ing it. Do things that make you sigh in relief each day. A nice bath, meditation, journaling, reading, an occasional nap, fishing, walking the dog, you name it. If you can’t let go of stress, the weight won’t let go of you, either.
Step four: Let go of tracking size and get off that scale. Whether you think you should lose weight or gain muscle, let it go for now. Instead, we’re going to be tracking compassion, strength, sexiness, and other feel-goods. Pick one for the week, and rate your felt experience day after day. Today, I feel a 4 on sexiness, and yesterday I didn’t move my body much. So today, I’m going to experiment with using my body in ways that feel good, and maybe tomorrow my sexy feelings will be a 5 or 6. Make sense?
Step five: This one is from Emily Nagoski. Every day stand in front of your mirror “as naked as you can stand,” and identify one thing you like about your body. It could be the shape of your nails, your hair, or your eyelashes. It could be your pinky toe. It does not matter what it is, as long as you genuinely – and this is the important part – *genuinely* like it. Can’t find something you love? What about something you don’t mind? We are not doing inauthentic affirmations. We are finding exceptions to the beliefs we hold. For the first two weeks, just find one. It’s okay if it’s the same, or if you find different ones. As the weeks go by, try adding more or switching it up.
Step six: Pay attention to what you put into your body. Not in a controlling or obsessive way. If it brings you anxiety, it’s in the wrong direction. We’re looking at what makes you feel good – not just now, but later today, tomorrow, and later this week. What does your body feel like when you eat more whole foods and step away from the packaged food aisles? What about when you consume less media that encourages unrealistic ideals? If you experiment with a week of eating whole foods, or unfollowing accounts that leave you feeling less than and following a broader array of bodies and people – how does it feel? How can you allow yourself to eat for pleasure, and choose to pause if the motivation to eat (or to not eat), or to drink or smoke comes from boredom, anxiety, or sadness? Is there another activity that would help soothe you? Can you retrain your mind to consume only that which nurtures you?
Step seven: Ask who taught you that. Many of the beliefs that we hold about bodies, attractiveness, and worth come from people and companies who profit off of us not feeling good enough. Want to look like this? Buy this underwear, wear these sunglasses, and dab on this perfume. If you learned negative body feels from your parents, wonder where they learned it. And think about how your life might be different if you were raised with love, health, and acceptance. Ask yourself who you learned your beliefs from, and then check in with your values. Do you want to do what those people said? Or do you want to make your own rules?
Step eight: Look for authentic connections with others. Humans can only thrive when they are in genuine connection with other humans, and sometimes we avoid social settings when we’re uncomfortable in our skin. If you’re low on friends, pick an activity that you would go to for the sake of it. Enjoy the activity, and be open to getting to know who else is there for their own enjoyment, too. Now you have a regular time to see them, less pressure to make friends and a built-in commonality. Art class? Writing workshop? Co-working space?
Step nine: Make a plan. I suggest finding 3-4 days per week that you can do one of the joyful movement activities that you identified. You can switch it up. Personally, I do swim once a week, pilates once a week, and then I try to go on walks, hikes, or do a little yoga. These things bring me joy. But let’s be specific. What days, what times, and where and with whom will you be doing these? Plan also for rest. What days and times of day do you notice your body needing some gentleness from you? When can you squeeze in time with others, or make a commitment to text or call a friend 1-2 times each week, without feeling overwhelmed? Once you make a plan, get to it!
Step ten: Give yourself permission. This is a lot, and what we are talking about is a lifestyle, not a quick diet. You will not be perfect. You will have days, maybe even weeks where you fall off on one or more of these. Be gentle. Tomorrow is a new day. Heck, today, right this moment. This is a new moment. Start again. It may be helpful to take these one step at a time. Get good at the first, then incorporate the next. You can do this.
Have you picked up on it yet? What type of weight are we trying to lose?
- The weight of other people’s expectations
- The weight of our own
- The weight of believing bodies can only look one certain way to be desirable
- The weight of believing that our bodies will never measure up
- The weight of striving for perfection
- The weight of judging ourselves and others
- The weight of what has been taught to us in order to sell to us
Is that “put down what you are carrying” by Trevor Hall I hear?
You, as you are, are enough. You are beautiful enough, thin enough, curvy enough, tall enough, man enough, woman enough, sexy enough… you are enough. As Terry Real says, there’s nothing that harshness does that loving kindness doesn’t do better. Let’s work on losing the weight and pain that we carry when we forget that we are enough, eh?
Reach out for support if you need us,