There have been so many changes in my life since my last post, getting married, moving, etc, and it got me thinking about change.
How about you all? Has this season of life been full of change too?
Some of us welcome and like change, but my experience is that most of us struggle with it. We are scared of the unknown and would prefer to stay in what is familiar even if that is hard, too. We often put a lot of energy into trying to prevent change and control our lives so that “things stay the same.” My experience is that life keeps happening though and I spent a lot of wasted time and energy trying to avoid and block what I now believe is just the natural flow of life; it is ever-changing. And when I was fighting change I ended up feeling as if life was against me and it was an uphill battle. This was not a fun way to live and I was exhausted ALL THE TIME.
I also see this ongoing battle with the wonderful women I work with every day. They are spending so much of their precious time, energy, and finances on trying to control their body size and ward off the natural changes we experience in our lifetime as women. Like, having more fat tissue around our bellies so we can grow a human life and more fat tissues around our breasts so we can feed and nourish that life, or just simply growing into our adult bodies!
I have found in my work that once we start intuitively eating, many, but not all, of us experience body changes. And this can be one of the most difficult parts of the recovery journey for many. It can feel physically uncomfortable, mentally painful, and emotionally it often feels like a grieving process of the “thin ideal” we have held so tightly to. Working our way through these body changes is imperative and if your body is changing right now because of the amazing, brave work you are doing I want to offer a few helpful questions, journaling ideas, and tools that might be helpful. I also want to applaud and hug you for being courageous and caring for yourself!
What else am I gaining?
One of my favorite questions to ask women when we begin discussing the weight gain they are experiencing after letting go of restriction is: “What else are you gaining in this process?” The answers are often profound: I am gaining more flexibility, freedom, connection, presence, energy, trust. I also ask them to be more specific because really deeply understanding how recovery improves our life on a daily basis is motivating, for example: I can go to brunch with my friends and drink mimosas and order pancakes, I can say yes to spontaneous ice-cream with my partner at the end of a date, I have more time to write, I feel more present and efficient at work, I am kinder and more patient with my mom, etc. What answers come to mind when you ask yourself what else you are gaining or what else you hope to gain?
How did I live out what deeply matters to me today? What did I offer to myself and other?
I often hear advice given regarding body image work to the effect of “when feeling critical of your body name a part of your body you do like.” I disagree with this piece of advice and find that it is often not helpful for long term healing. True body image work is about learning to place our sense of worth outside of our physical appearance and more on what deeply matters to us, our core values. If we just start focusing on parts of our body we “like” that still leaves us hyperfocused on our physical appearance…which will continue to change throughout our lifetime and thus is not sustainable as our primary source of self-worth and validation. When noticing struggles with your current body changes I encourage you to name something else valuable or meaningful that you bring to the world, for example “I was patient today when waiting for my kids to get ready for school. I was helpful to my coworker when they didn’t know how to answer an email. I was brave and ate that donut I was scared to eat. I sent my friend a silly text because I know she is having a hard time.” Ask yourself how you showed up in the world and the gifts you offered yourself and others when you find yourself criticizing the body you did those things in. It can really shift your sense of self and mood!
When else have I allowed for change and what was the outcome?
Sometimes when change is happening it feels so scary and big and overwhelming that we tense up, dig our heels in, and try to keep things the same. In seeing our changing bodies, we have to let go of behaviors and ideas that are no longer serving us…for example letting go of daily exercise, letting go of counting calories or macros, letting go of our scales. And so often I hear from clients “I am just so scared, I don’t know where my body will end up at its natural set point, how much weight am I going to gain?” All of this unknown is scary and takes bravery, sometimes it is helpful to reflect on our past experiences of being courageous and letting go of something that was no longer serving us even though we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Have you ever left a partner you knew was not right for you even though you were scared of being alone? Have you ever quit a job that was zapping all of your energy and not utilizing any of your talents and weren’t sure you would like your new job? Have you ever moved away from home to a new city or college? Often times our experiences of letting go bring us to new opportunities and experiences we didn’t even know were possible, such as finding your soul mater after ending a relationship that wasn’t right, finding your passion at a new job, finding a community you feel right at home in, etc. I can’t tell you where your life will take you once you let go of trying to control your body size but I imagine it is going to be far better than the prison of dieting and likely open space for joys, adventures, and new exciting experiences that are unexpected!
Buying Clothes That Fit Your Current Body and Letting Go of Clothes That No Longer Fit
No longer fitting into clothes that once fit can be one of the hardest parts of the process. I hear so many clients say “but I love my clothes”, it feels like a “failure” to let them go or “I am still hopeful I will fit into them when I really get this intuitive eating thing down.” However, I cannot say enough about how important it is to take this step. It just isn’t kind to ourselves to wear clothes every day that are physically uncomfortable or constricting or to have a closet full of clothes you feel “taunted” by every time you walk into your closet. The way to be compassionate to ourselves and even protect ourselves on this journey is to buy clothes that fit our current body and to donate, trash, burn (whatever feels best!) the clothes that do not fit us anymore. I also think if you are intentional in your process, it can actually be fun learning to dress your new body and see what feels authentic and representative for you in this next stage of life.
Saying Goodbye to our Idealized Body Size
The experience of our bodies changing can feel a lot like the grieving process. Grieving the loss of the body we envisioned we “should” have or did have. The stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. I am sure you can reflect on how fearing or experiencing body changes has brought up feelings of frustration and sadness. And of course, denying that our bodies are meant to be larger, as well as bargaining with ourselves about how we can still try to control our body size if it is for “wellness or health” is all a part of this process. That being said, I want to note that the final stage of grief is ACCEPTANCE. The final stage is not “love” or “positivity.” I think this is important because if we believe we are supposed to get to a place of loving and feeling ecstatic about our new bodies we might be setting ourselves up to feel like we are failing. Although I think it is wonderful to love your body and think it’s beautiful, body image work is deeply about accepting our bodies as they are today and accepting they will continue to change and thus do not determine how we should feel about ourselves. Acceptance means that we no longer have to fight or punish our bodies but can instead keep them comfortable in clothes that fit, nourish them with foods that satisfy us, and let them move and rest in ways that honor their needs. In what ways can you practice accepting the body you are in today?