It’s really hard to accept your weight in a culture that promotes the idea that with enough dedication, focus and commitment, your weight can (and should) be changed.
It’s really hard to accept your weight when others criticize it, when you’re told your weight is unhealthy, or unattractive, or wrong.
It’s really hard to accept your weight when everyone around you hates their’s, when everyone is trying out the latest diet, the latest detox, the latest workout routine.
Yes, it is really hard.
But it’s not impossible.
I turned to two excellent experts for insights on exactly how we can accept our weight right now.
I spoke with Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, a therapist and founder of The Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland, which provides eating disorder recovery coaching, along with therapy for adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety and depression.
And I spoke with Rachel Cutler, MSW, LCSW-C, also a therapist and eating disorder and trauma specialist at The Eating Disorder Center. They shared these six tips.
Rewrite your stories. Rollin encouraged readers to pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves about our weight. “Weight is inherently neutral—like shoe size—but we attach stories to it through modeling from others, messages that we received growing up, diet culture, and for some, a mental illness (i.e., an eating disorder).”
Over time these stories, Rollin pointed out, can become automatic—so much so that “body bashing can seem like that pair of comfortable yoga pants that you put on after a long day.”
To work through these stories, Rollin suggested doing this exercise:
- Take out a piece of paper, and jot down the most recent stories your mind has been telling you about your body.
- Next to each story, write down any emotions or urges that arise.
- Instead of asking yourself whether a story is true, ask yourself if it’s “helpful in terms of getting you in the direction of a meaningful life.”
- If the story isn’t helpful, ask yourself: What might be something I could tell myself that is more helpful? “It doesn’t have to be an affirmation or the ‘opposite’ of the current story—but something you can tell yourself that helps you to go in the direction of the life that you want.”
Practice body gratitude. When Cutler’s clients are experiencing negative thoughts about their bodies, she suggests they “work to challenge those thoughts from a place of body gratitude.”
For instance, if a client has the thought, “My arms are disgusting,” they might change it to: “My arms enable me to hug my dog” or “I am able to hold my children with these arms,” she said.
What has your body already helped you to do today?
Practice radical acceptance. Cutler also works with clients on radical acceptance, a skill from Marsha Linehan’s dialectical behavior therapy. “Radical acceptance means to fully and completely accept reality for what it is,” Cutler said. “This doesn’t mean that we like our current situation, but that we stop fighting against it,” because fighting against it “only creates further suffering.”
For instance, she said, you might tell yourself: “Although I don’t love my body, I accept myself as I am and acknowledge that some things are out of my control.”
Set boundaries. According to Cutler, this can actually be incredibly healing for our body image. “For example, if you have a family member who loves to talk about their latest diet, it is OK to tell them, ‘I am working to heal my relationship with food and my body, so diet talk isn’t helpful for me right now.’”
It’s also perfectly OK to tell your primary care physician, “I am trying to not fixate on my weight. If you could do a blind weight, that would be great,” she said.
Be intentional about images. Both Rollin and Cutler stressed the importance of paying attention to the images you’re consuming—and surround yourself with body positive images on social media.
“I often ask clients to do a bit of a social media detox, where they add in images of body diversity and remove anyone who makes them feel badly about their body,” Rollin said. Cutler also suggested “following new accounts on social media that build you up, as well as unfollowing those diet and fitness accounts that bring you down.”
Focus on your values, passions, and other meaningful things. What’s one of the biggest reasons to accept your weight, regardless of the number on the scale? As Rollin said, “the alternative is spending the rest of our lives chasing after a size that we were never biologically meant to be at the detriment of our values, passions, and our relationships.”
“We all have a limited amount of time and mental energy. Picture a bunch of jars with a limited amount of marbles in them. Spending our time focused on weight suppression (i.e., putting the majority of our marbles into the ‘way my body looks’ jar) takes away valuable time and energy that we could be devoting to more meaningful things, such as strengthening our relationships, crossing items off our bucket list, and exploring our passions.”
What if you still can’t accept your weight?
Just don’t let it stop you from doing anything—whether that’s dating, socializing, taking a trip, buying beautiful clothes, or taking compassionate care of yourself in other ways.
It’s similar to self-doubt: Everyone experiences (a lot or a little) self-doubt when they’re starting something new. Even seasoned authors become convinced their next book will be a failure or, at the very least, not very good. But they keep writing anyway. They let their self-doubt walk alongside them as they show up every day to write, and write, and write. And eventually the self-doubt slithers away. Or it quiets, as the computer keys drown out its chatter.
“I encourage clients to go after the life that they want now, acknowledging that often as we begin to fill ourselves with things we find meaning in, acceptance will follow,” Cutler said.
I wish the same for you.