How to heal from body image grief


Finding light at the end of the body grief tunnel

It's the holiday season once again - Winter Solstice to be exact.


Growing up, like many kids, Christmas was my favorite holiday with all the decorations, yummy cookies, presents, and being goofy with family.


Nowadays, while I still enjoy gift-giving, baking, and holiday light displays, there's a tear in my eye when I think back to those good old days.


We lost my Mom to cancer 2 years ago. Christmas was her holiday.


She loved decorating every nook and cranny of our house with tasteful decorations usually handmade by friends and local artists. She would bake no less than 4-5 different cookie recipes to share with family and fill platters at the annual Christmas party she and Dad would host for 50+ of their closest friends.


Mom made the holiday season glow and she always tried to make it special for me and my cousins, who we usually celebrated with.


These days, Dad and I decorate a little, bake not as much, and do our best to find the spirit of the season in our own way. The grief I feel for losing her is stronger at this time of year than any other.


Grief. It's a sneaky emotion.


You can be sailing along without a care in the world and then something triggers memories of time spent with a person, a pet, or even when your body was a smaller size.


Yes, you can feel grief for your body size and loss of the thin beauty ideal.


In fact, the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) created by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross can be felt frequently as you work to divest from diet culture and heal your relationship with food and your body. Here's how.


Grieving the loss of the thin ideal leads to healing

Denial


When you first learn that dieting doesn't work, usually from personal experience, and as you start learning more about the scientific evidence that supports the framework of Health At Every Size®, you think, "this can't be true! I'm going to be one of the 2-3% of the population that CAN have sustained weight loss."


You remember the thrill of getting compliments when you were able to lose a few pounds, but deny the loss of time, money, and energy it took to get your body to a lower weight - not to mention the emotional and physical pain that food restriction and excessive exercise caused your body.


Anger


As you come to terms with denial, you experience anger alongside the acceptance of your current body. It's completely natural and human to feel pissed at yourself for being seduced by diet culture all those years. It's necessary to get pissed at the cultural systems that told you your body wasn't good enough, to begin with - patriarchy, racism, sexism, capitalistic economics, etc. Getting pissed can motivate you toward activism against diet culture and further your healing process.


Let's take a pause and highlight none of this is your fault! You were simply going with the flow of a culture based on unrealistic beauty and have norms.


Bargaining


This stage can feel like you're swinging back around to denial or even pre-denial where you negotiate a trade, "if I can just lose a few pounds first, then I'll be able to embrace Health At Every Size® and Intuitive Eating no problem."


I encourage you to reflect on this idea of needing to lose the weight first, what that might take, and how doing so will affect your relationship with food and your body.


You might find it helpful to journal yourself through this activity to unpack what this negotiation is really all about.


Start with If... "If I lose weight, then I....(fill in the blank)." Then start with that last statement, "If I (use your then statement above), then I...(fill in the blank)."

For example, If I lose weight first then I will feel more comfortable in my body. If I feel more comfortable in my body then I will be more confident.


Keep repeating this reflection process as much as you need to unpack what the desire for weight loss is really all about.


Depression


Coming to the realization that long-term weight loss isn't sustainable and neither is the drive for the thin beauty ideal for the majority of the population is sobering. On top of that, the realization that perfect health isn't promised to anyone in any size body, no matter how perfect your eating and exercise routines are. Talk about a Debbie downer moment.


This is where flexing your self-compassion muscles is vitally important - remembering that none of this is your fault.


Acceptance


Eventually, no matter how long you dance between the other stages (this isn't a linear process), you're able to make peace with the reality that your body is ever-changing and that it's size, shape, and weight can't be manipulated in a sustainable way any more than your height or shoe size can be.


This doesn't mean you have to like this reality or that you won't lust over wanting to be thinner, smaller, leaner, fitt-er ever again. It does mean that by going through these stages you learn how to take care of yourself along the way. What's most important is that you allow yourself the feel the feelings and physical sensations that arise at each one of these stages. Feeling the feels is the most straight forward way to deal with them and heal from them.



Dark body image days won't last forever

As we close out another year and embrace the darkest day of the year, Winter Solstice, I want to offer you a compassionate reminder.


Yes, you will have dark body image days filled with grief. But just as the Earth revolves around the sun to find the light again, so will you with your body. Body grief doesn't last forever. Lean into your feelings, seek support in online communities, print resources, or with friends/family as needed.


If you're looking for a supportive Health At Every Size®, Intuitive Eating tribe, join the private SavorFood&Body Facebook Group to see how other non-diet folks navigate body grief and find body acceptance.


You may also find this blog post by Meredith Noble, creator of Made On a Generous Plan

Special thanks to Marci Evans RDN and Fiona Sutherland APD for sharing the If/Then reflection

Mountains under a blue sky

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