This month Weightless turns six years old! Wow. Holy moly. To honor the blog’s birthday, I’m sharing six lessons I’ve learned thus far about building a positive body image and taking compassionate care of ourselves. Life-changing lessons. I don’t say this lightly, and I don’t say it to create a catchy title. These lessons really have changed my life for the better. They’ve changed how I perceive myself, how I cope with pain, how I make decisions and how I live my life.
Below, you’ll find three lessons, and tomorrow I’ll be back with three more. Plus, to celebrate, I’m also giving away a book of your choice to one reader. Learn more at the bottom of this post.
And without further ado, the lessons:
We can change ourselves. Here I don’t mean that we can change our weight or shape or looks (as so many commercials and ads declare — “Lose 5 or 50 lbs and finally be happy!” “Finally be proud of yourself!” “Finally wear a bikini!” “Finally like yourself!”).
I mean that we can change how we feel about our weight, shape and looks. At any time. At any weight. At any shape.
For years I was convinced that weight loss preceded body acceptance. I was convinced that weight loss was a prerequisite for loving my body. That I didn’t have permission to care for myself or like my looks until I actually became thin.
But the life-changing realization is that we can embrace our bodies exactly as they are right now.
I know this isn’t easy, especially in a culture consumed with dieting and thinness. But you can start small. Small might be unsubscribing to blogs and magazines that don’t make you feel good. Small might be filling your blog reader with websites that do (like this blog; this blog; this blog; this blog; and this blog).
Small might be reading books (like the books mentioned below). Small might be working with a therapist on your struggles. Small might be simply giving yourself permission to be kind to yourself — whether you like your body a little or not at all. Small might be taking a few deep breaths, and going outside to savor the day. Of course, these small steps add up to some incredible changes.
We don’t have to buy into self-bashing thoughts. Sometimes, our thoughts aren’t very helpful. They’re saturated in worries and catastrophes. They’re critical and mean. They’re the toxic words of the people we had toxic relationships with. They’re the toxic words of the media. They’re the misguided words of our inner critic, who’s trying to protect us, but does so in damaging ways.
But we don’t have to internalize these thoughts. We don’t have to believe them. We don’t have to absorb them deep into our hearts, deep into our bones. We don’t have to let them dictate our actions or how we take care of ourselves. Remember that these thoughts aren’t universal truths. They’re not facts.
Instead, we can revise and reframe these unhelpful thoughts, so they become constructive instead of destructive. So our thoughts become supportive, encouraging and kind. So our thoughts help us make helpful decisions and lead full, healthy lives.
Food isn’t the answer to all our needs. I used to turn to food for everything. And yet, after I’d eat the particular food, I’d still be starving (and feel so ashamed). Because I really didn’t want that box of crackers or carton of ice cream. What I really yearned for was love, compassion, connection. I yearned to accept my body and myself. I yearned for a good night’s sleep and genuine relaxation. Food couldn’t give me these things.
Each of us has a variety of needs. No one thing can meet all of them.
Of course, food can be soothing and nourishing. And it does meet some of our needs. A bowl of hot soup on a cold day. A piece of thirst-quenching watermelon in the summer. A satisfying slice of chocolate cake. A juicy apple. Food is filled with nutrients and vitamins. And it’s yummy!
But it’s not an end all, be all solution.
Throughout the years, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to ask myself this question any time I’m upset and find myself turning to food for comfort: “What do I really need right now?”
Asking yourself a question like that helps you care for yourself in the most supportive way possible. It helps you give yourself exactly what you need. For instance, I might need peace, calm, compassion, movement. I might need a hug, a hot shower, a talk with my hubby, a yoga class, strength training, time with my journal, a good book, a good show.
Identifying our needs and responding to them takes practice. Sometimes, we’ll get it wrong. Because we’re human. And perfection doesn’t exist. But that’s why life is a process, and we keep trying, and we keep practicing.
What do you need today? What do you need right now?
P.S., Again, tomorrow, I’ll share three more life-changing lessons I’ve learned while writing Weightless.
Thank you sooo much to everyone who comes here and reads Weightless. Writing this blog means the world to me. It really does. As a small thank-you, I’m buying one U.S. reader a book of their choice on anything related to body image, mental health, well-being or self-care. To enter the giveaway, simply share the book you’d like to win in the comments. I’ll pick the winner using random.org. You have until next Friday, the 13th, at 11:59 p.m. EST to comment.
If you’re not sure which book you’d like, check out my recommendations in this post. And here are a few others: Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body by Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley; Sunny Sea Gold’s Food: The Good Girl’s Drug; Susannah Conway’s This I Know: Notes on Unraveling The Heart.
Update: The giveaway is closed. Thank you for your comments!