It can be hard to appreciate our bodies, let alone feel confident in them, when there are so many societal expectations and pressures heaped on us on a daily basis. Developing a positive body image is a major component in my work helping people overcome eating disorders at Rock Recovery. We run body image therapy and support groups to tackle the issue. Just like recovery from disordered eating, healing our view of our bodies isn’t linear and looks different for each individual.
In recent years, terms like “body positivity” and “body neutrality” have started popping up in an attempt to help people of all shapes and sizes develop a positive body image. The general premise behind these phrases is that after years of listening to toxic diet culture and fat-phobic messages, we can’t be expected to “love” our bodies overnight and without intentional effort. We often have to go back to basics. Body neutrality focuses on learning to love our bodies for what they allow us to do at a baseline. Body positivity focuses on learning to celebrate and appreciate our bodies for their unique beauty, regardless of what the media or society says.
While I think both approaches can be beneficial, I’ve taken a slightly different spin on things in my own body image and eating disorder recovery journey.
I prefer to focus on body peace.
One definition of peace is, “freedom from disturbance.” A woman who is at peace with and in her body is freed to become who she is created and called to be without constant negative thoughts weighing her down.
Here are three ways I believe you can find more peace with and in your body, starting today.
01. Let go of comparing yourself to others
It can be hard to find peace in our own bodies when we are constantly comparing them to someone else’s. Our bodies are unique to us, and there is beauty in that. One of my favorite barre instructors always uses the phrase, “Love thy neighbor and ignore thy neighbor!” While she clearly isn’t advocating for neglecting to do justice or good in the world, she gives a jarring yet playful reminder to keep our eyes on our own paper and not get distracted by the losing game of comparison. I often repeat this phrase to myself when I catch myself getting envious or feeling less-than when one of my peers has an accomplishment that I desire. The compare-and-despair cycle never goes well, and this helps me to nip it in the bud before it even begins.
02. Let go of trying to manipulate your body shape or size
Finding peace with my body started with accepting my body as it was created. I wasn’t spending countless hours and resources trying to change my shoe size, so why was I so desperate to shrink my natural body size and shape? I started to realize that I was buying what the world was selling when it told me that smaller bodies are good and larger bodies are bad.
I started to get curious about the body I had been given. What was its natural size and shape? How much did I need to eat to nourish myself appropriately? What sort of activities brought me joy and made me feel good?
Practically, this meant throwing (or at least tucking) away the scale, no longer having a goal weight, stopping counting calories, and listening to my body when it needed rest more than movement. Striving to hit certain numbers or abide by restrictive rules keep us stuck and unable to accept our bodies as they are. This process took me years of intentional therapy and hard work. Today, I can confidently say that the decision to actively try to accept the way your body was created can start immediately and bear instant fruit, even if the journey is messy.
03. Let go of focusing on your weight; focus on how you treat yourself (even when misguided professionals say otherwise)
I will never forget a visit to my doctor (whom I mostly loved). We had a great conversation about how well I was doing, how I was eating and exercising, how happy I was, and how great my labs looked. Suddenly, her brow furrowed. “Oh,” she said. “It looks like your BMI is in an unhealthy category. You should try to lose some weight.” With that she turned and left the room and came back with a seven-page document on weight loss.
I was shocked and so disheartened. This doctor knew my eating disorder history and we had moments before agreed that I was doing everything I should for my health and well-being. But that one, meaningless number didn’t fit some outdated and inaccurate chart, so I was given a homework assignment that would have totally derailed all the health and joy I had found. This experience reaffirmed my belief that as long as I am taking care of my health, I don’t need to focus on the number on a scale.
At the end of the day, body peace is based on how we feel about ourselves, not how we look. Read that again. Your size or weight is not the thing that determines your worth or will make you feel at peace in your own skin. Body peace comes when you shift your false beliefs about what makes you valuable and embrace who you truly are.
Registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out—and Never Say Diet Again, Rebecca Scritchfield says, “You can’t hate yourself healthy.” Body image is an arena where we have shown ourselves far too much punishment and hatred and not enough kindness and generosity.
Finding peace with and in our bodies means accepting our bodies as they change and paying attention to the signals our bodies give us without jamming our fingers into our ears or taking out the magnifying glass to notice every small shift. It’s a lifelong process that requires intentionality, practice, patience, and lots of grace. While we will never do it perfectly, it is something we can all strive to start today, right where we are.