girl standing amid sunrise, Jude Beck, unsplashRight now I don’t recognize my body. There is a fresh scar well below my belly from my C-section. There is more weight. There are blemishes and bigger thighs. There are curvier curves, an extra softness, and something I jokingly refer to as my marsupial pouch. I notice myself talking more and more about my appearance, and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.

My body has gone through an incredible transition, certainly a life-changing one—and it’s tough to get used to.

Years ago, I would’ve put myself on a strict diet and started counting calories. I would’ve bought some book about losing weight. I would’ve berated every inch of my changed body. If I would’ve succumbed to a slice of cake or cookie, I certainly would’ve berated my lack of “willpower.” I would’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed.

Maybe you too have been through a physical transition. Maybe you’ve had a baby. Maybe you’re struggling with an illness or are recovering from one. Maybe you’ve simply gained weight or lost weight for no particular reason. Either way, your body doesn’t feel your own, and that discomfort is affecting you. Deeply. Maybe it’s affecting the way you see yourself (i.e., negatively). Maybe it’s affecting the way you treat yourself (i.e., badly). Maybe you’re considering a diet. Maybe you’re trying to whip yourself into shape. Maybe you’re criticizing your body and everything else about yourself. Here are a few concepts that might help instead.

  • Reconnect to your body. When you don’t recognize your body, you can easily feel disconnected from it—you’re in the same room and yet many, many miles apart. Which only makes you feel worse, and like you need to alter your appearance immediately. If I shed a few pounds, then clearly I’ll feel better. Right? Instead, ask yourself: How can I reconnect to my body? What small kind actions can I take? This might be simply getting on a yoga mat, putting on your favorite music, putting your hands on your belly, and breathing in and breathing out. It might be taking a yoga, dance or Pilates class. It might be doing a yoga DVD. It also might be listening: listening to your needs and responding to them. Every hour or every few minutes, check in with your body. Pause, and tune into your physical sensations. What are you feeling? What are you needing? This can be as simple as getting something to eat when you realize that you’re hungry. Of course, listening to our bodies might not exactly be effortless, but that’s a good place to start. Another good place to start is by trying a body scan. In other words, start getting to know your body, again. Start connecting to this new body with compassion and care.
  • Read words that focus on acceptance. Surround yourself with words that bolster a positive perspective. Words that remind you and inspire you to take compassionate care of yourself and give you good ideas to actually do it. For instance, my friend Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of Curvy Yoga, penned the book Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day, which comes out this January. (If you pre-order a copy, you get a bunch of goodies, including an online retreat and a big discount on membership to the Curvy Yoga Studio. I can’t say enough awesome things about Anna and her work, and I highly, highly recommend getting her book.) Find the blogs and books that speak to you. For every woman’s magazine, “health” publication and celebrity website that screams you need to lose weight and shares the “secrets” of how to do so, there are blogs and books that help you to feel good in your skin and practice genuine self-care (resources that remind you of what matters).
  • Acknowledge, validate and honor your feelings. While it’s important to surround yourself with positive, empowering words, it’s also important to be honest with yourself. So if you’re feeling like crap, say, “well, I’m officially feeling like crap.” And that’s OK. Let yourself feel the way you truly feel about your body. Be compassionate by listening to your own feelings without judgment, without needing to dismiss or fix your thoughts or reactions. It doesn’t have to be “either/or.” That is, you can surround yourself with body positive resources, while also acknowledging that you’re in a negative space. Listening to our feelings is another way we honor ourselves.
  • Wear what you love and feel fantastic in. If you’ve gained weight, you’ll often hear tips such as “don’t buy anything until you lose the weight!”—as if that’s supposed to “motivate” you to change your body asap. Or maybe you feel like you need to “punish” yourself for gaining weight, and so you refuse to reward your “terrible behavior” with new nice things. You believe that spending money on new clothes is a waste, and you don’t deserve it. I used to think this way. For years. But this only makes you feel miserable (and adds a lot of unnecessary pressure). Recently, I bought several things that both make me feel good and are comfortable (especially around my scar). Please don’t punish yourself for any physical changes. Instead, try to work with them (and thereby work with yourself).

When you don’t recognize your body, it can be hard. Really hard. It can be especially hard because we live in an appearance- and thin-obsessed society, which makes it all too easy to bash ourselves when we steer away from these standards. But before you start trying to lose weight or engaging in anything else to change your body, consider first what you can do without changing a thing about your looks. Consider what you might gain from not spending time berating your body or yourself. Getting mad at yourself may not be worth your time, energy and attention. And there may be other (better) options.

Photo by Jude Beck.