Radical Acceptance of Body
For anyone struggling with an eating disorder and even those without, body acceptance can feel impossible. Many eating disorders survive off of body dissatisfaction. There’s a saying in the eating disorder recovery community that says, “body image is the last to go.” This is referring to the fact that even when someone has significantly decreased behaviors and is living in recovery, body image struggles often linger and can feel like there is no end in sight.
There has been a shift in how to approach body image work from promoting body positivity to aiming towards body neutrality instead. Body neutrality focuses on being mindful of all the functions and abilities of the body rather than loving the appearance of the body. Body neutrality highlights that our bodies are meant for us to live our lives with, not meant to be objects on display. This approach often brings more overall satisfaction in life and less body image distress. It can also increase gratitude towards the body because there is an appreciation for all it does rather than constant judgment and criticism for the way it looks.
I want to also offer a suggestion that body satisfaction or approval is not required in recovery. If the quest for body appreciation and acceptance is not working and has not been successful, then maybe consider if it is necessary. It is not helpful for someone struggling with body image to think about their body and engage in body checking behaviors for many minutes or even hours of the day. The same is true in recovery, it is not helpful or effective to spend many minutes or hours thinking about the body in an accepting or appreciative way either. If attempting to change judgments to appreciation leads to spending even more time thinking about the body it may be time to stop. The internal argument between criticism and appreciation may be leading to more preoccupation and distress about the body.
Body image work can look like radical acceptance meaning I accept that this is my body. I may not approve of this body, I may not like this body, and I am going to stop spending so much time trying to think and feel differently about it. Radical acceptance can provide freedom from constant thoughts, worries, and the desire to change. This may provide some freedom from feeling forced to love the body or spend hours and hours figuring out how to make peace with the body.
Disclaimer: this is much easier said than done. There are constant reminders in the world that encourage judging and obsessing about the body. It may be easier to passively go along with what others and society says to believe about the body. Also, for those in larger bodies, there is the added challenge of being faced with weight stigma and discrimination that result in frequent reminders that the body is unacceptable. These feelings and experiences are valid and need to be shared and addressed with a support system. At the same time, these feelings and experiences do not have to determine the relationship with the body or how life is lived.
Life doesn’t have to be about the body. Life can be about what brings joy and meaning. Just for today, I choose to radically accept my body as it is and focus on my life.www.timberlineknolls.com
*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*