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⚠️Trigger Warning: eating disorders, body dysmorphia
Positive vibes only. That’s the message much of the wellness space shoves down our throats. We’re supposed to love every inch of our bodies, every single minute of every single day.
Perhaps the message is well-meaning. After all, it’s better to promote body positivity for all bodies instead of just for those who fit the thin ideal. Still, there is, perhaps, a problem with promoting body positivity and body love.
For me, body positivity was just as unattainable as the thin ideal.
When I was suffering from orthorexia, body dysmorphic disorder, and binge eating disorder, the last thing I wanted to do or even could do, was love my body.
I could’ve tried to use affirmations or mantras like, “I love my body,” or “I am perfect and complete just the way I am.” The issue with those was that they didn’t feel authentic to me. I would say them and not believe them, and instead of making me feel better, they made me feel worse.
I felt lightyears away from feeling how I knew I “should” about my body.
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Instead of trying to fit my “square peg” mind into the “round hole” of body love and positivity, I decided to work on body neutrality.
As the term suggests, body neutrality is seeing one’s body from a neutral perspective, neither good nor bad, positive nor negative.
I found an intermediate step with body neutrality where I could respect and appreciate what my body could do for me. I could see my body as simply a body and move on with my day, whether I felt like I liked or disliked what I saw in the mirror.
I realized I could still live a full, happy life and not hang so much of my self-worth on whether I loved my body or even what it looked like.
Eventually, as if body thoughts were on a sliding scale from hate to love, I was able to go from body hate to body neutrality and (now most days) to body love.
It’s also worth noting that, even as someone who is recovered and is in training to be a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, not every day includes body love, but every day includes body respect and appreciation.
I can have a bad body image day, recognize it, and focus on body neutrality as a way to remind myself that my thoughts are just that: thoughts. They are not reality or truth.
Here are three ways I found body neutrality to help my body image recovery:
1. I used body-neutral affirmations.
Body neutral affirmations are factual statements. They are effective because they are objective. They cannot be refuted.
Some examples would be, “I have a body,” “This is a human stomach,” or “Many people have a stomach like mine.”
The latter two were particularly helpful for me because my body dysmorphia mainly was about my stomach, but someone can swap “stomach” out for whatever body part(s) bothers them.
2. I followed social media accounts that showcased different body types.
If I could see people in different bodies than mine, accepting those bodies and living happy, fulfilled lives no matter their size, it would inspire me to do the same.
If I saw bodies similarly “flawed” to mine–bodies with scars, rolls, and stretch marks–and the people in those bodies thriving, it would inspire me to do the same.
Related: Coping with Triggers on Social Media
3. I realized that love and respect are two separate things.
There are plenty of people that I respect for their strength, their ingenuity, the way people are magnetically drawn to them. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything they do, love them, or believe them to be perfect humans.
Many of us respect our bosses but do not love them. We treat them cordially and with respect for their knowledge.
I did the same with my body. I began to appreciate it for what it could do and was grateful for those gifts instead of picking it apart for what I felt was wrong. I could see, walk, and pick up my son. Not everyone can do those things, so I had to learn to respect my body for its abilities and be grateful for them.
The journey from body hatred to body love is long, nonlinear, and incremental.
For me, using body neutrality as an intermediate step was an authentic and gentle push toward the goal of recovery.
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Alana Van Der Sluys is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, author, speaker, and eating disorder survivor. She is the founder of Freedom with Food and Fitness, an online community dedicated to empowering women to heal their relationship with food and their bodies, and ditch diet culture through intuitive eating. Freedom with Food and Fitness offers a variety of resources to those ready to leave chronic dieting behind, including free resources, group coaching programs, online courses, a podcast, quizzes, and guided meditations. Alana is a contributing writer for several national publications, including the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), Elephant Journal, Recovery Warriors, The Edge Magazine, and Best Holistic Life Magazine. A lover of whisky and travel fiction in her downtime, Alana lives in New Jersey with her husband, Scott; son, Archer; and fur baby, Captain Oats.
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