When we think about dealing with our eating or body issues, we might feel overwhelmed. Maybe we’ve been in this same spot before, finally fed up with following food rules, only to get back on some diet or “meal plan.” Maybe we still cling to the idea that thinness will bring joy. Maybe we don’t know where to start. Maybe we worry we’re in wayyy too deep, and we’ll never be able to eat without fear, to not yearn for weight loss.
That’s OK. Focus on taking small steps—steps that help you genuinely reconnect with yourself, steps that honor your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
I love what Sarah Ruhl writes about smallness in her brilliant essay collection, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater. She’s talking about community theater (and yet more): “Smallness is subversive, because smallness can creep into smaller places and wreak transformation at the most vulnerable, cellular level.”
Here’s a list of small ways you can start creating significant transformation at the cellular level, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first. Tackle a step a day, or a week or a month. Go at whatever pace feels comfortable.
- Take a movement class—yoga, dance, tai chi, kickboxing, spinning—purely based on the criteria that it sounds fun (not because of the number of calories you’ll burn, or because you think you should).
- Write the truth about something that’s been bothering you inside your journal.
- Tell someone you trust.
- Eat something for lunch because you’re craving it. Don’t think about what you should eat (i.e., a source of protein, a vegetable, something that has __ fat grams). Think about the spices, textures and tastes you’d like to experience. And choose your lunch based solely on that.
- Write down mantras to help you navigate food guilt, if it arises. Registered dietitian Emily Fonnesbeck suggested these: “I am in charge, not the fear or anxiety.” “I am learning how to eat a wide variety of foods to nourish my body without guilt.” “Food is meant to be pleasurable and enjoyable.” “I can trust my body to tell me when it’s had enough.”
- Search for weight-neutral therapists to work with.
- Call several therapists and ask them how they’ve helped others with your same concerns. Make an appointment with the therapist whose words resonate most with you.
- Think of one draining task you can remove from your list.
- Schedule an adventure for your week—whatever adventure sounds exciting, nourishing and fun for you. You get to define the word adventure on your own terms. A day at the amusement park. A morning at the beach. A cool art exhibit. A new movie. A new sushi place for dinner.
- Process an emotion right now with your hands. That is, start a tiny garden. Scrub something. Work with clay. Knead dough. Create a collage based on your feelings.
- Eat when you’re hungry.
- Unfollow anyone on social media who promotes weight loss and the diet mentality.
- Follow people who truly focus on helping others to nourish themselves at any weight, shape and size: like Mara Glatzel, Jennifer Rollin, Colleen Reichmann, Christy Harrison, Haley Goodrich and Emily Fonnesbeck. These women also have recovered from their own eating and body issues and/or illnesses, which is another reminder that no matter how impossible it initially feels, yes, you can get better. I’m sure none of these women thought they could, and yet, slowly, with hard work, they have.
- Scan your body to check in with how you’re feeling. As Kate Swoboda suggests, ask each body part these questions: “Hey, what’s up today? No pressure. Just curious.” Or “What would you like me to know?” or “What feels true?”
- Listen to a podcast that focuses on genuine self-care and wellness (like this one and this one).
- Make your own list of compassionate, caring, fun activities you’d like to do, and beliefs you’d like to adopt (e.g., all food fits into my daily diet, including pasta, potatoes, and dessert). Then break them down into teeny tiny steps, and take one step today.
When you have eating or body issues, you might easily feel overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated and helpless. When will this (guilt, anxiety, desire to diet, pursuit of weight loss) end? Why can’t I just stop? Why does it have to be so hard? Why didn’t it stick last time and the time before that?
But remember that life is not linear. Remember that there are awkward firsts and messy middles and even messier in-betweens. Remember that small steps, even the tiniest steps count, because they make an imprint on our souls. They tell us, yes, this is impossible.
Remember to savor those small steps, to live inside those moments. To savor the dessert. To savor the first appointment with your therapist (because you’re starting to do the important work). To savor a restorative yoga class, where you feel in tune with your body, or with one body part, or with your heart. And to give yourself grace on the days it feels like it’s all falling apart.
It’s not. It’s not all falling apart.
When you start therapy, it’s not uncommon for you to feel worse. Yes, worse. Because you start sharpening your self-awareness. You start acknowledging and processing your pain. You start using your senses and paying greater, closer attention. At first this can feel demoralizing and disappointing. But it’s actually a sign of progress. A significant sign. And taking this path, this perhaps more difficult path, is what leads to long-term healing.