It may sound weird, but it’s true: You actually don’t need to love your body to learn to treat it well.
There’s a common misconception in the mostly amazing body-positivity community that accepting – even loving – your body is the first step to overcoming insecurity and self-hatred. (It’s not.) As someone who’s been through body dysmorphia and many, many years of disordered eating, I can tell you that body acceptance is actually a pretty advanced skill for most of us.
But, don’t worry, there’s still hope. Here’s a piece of my story.
How I Got Sick
I grew up hating my body, shrinking my voice and presence to make myself as small as possible. By 11, I was chest-deep in self-induced starvation, which I had hoped would solve the problem of my body being simultaneously too much and less than, but predictably, nothing changed, or at least not for the better.
I wasted years on years tracking calories in a notebook and crying over my mom’s scale when I should have been having fun and making messes that were easier to clean.
I think I was 22 the first time I looked at my body in the mirror and felt amazing – strong, graceful, and fucking #blessed.
Luckily, I didn’t wait until I had fallen in love with my body – fully, deeply, and madly – before I started working on treating it better. (God, my eating disorder recovery took long enough as it was.) Recovery was never a super-fun, 5-stars all around kind of time. But putting in the work day after day actually, you know, worked.
How I Got Better
At 14 my body felt like a deviled egg after I ate, like my insides were all hollowed out, but there was suddenly too much stuff in me.
I read self-help books and forced myself to eat food – ice cream, cereal, something – and then, usually, I cried, the way you would if you were stranded on a glacier in the middle of the ocean because that’s the way it felt to have food inside me. Sometimes, to be honest, it was too much, and I made myself throw up. But every day, I tried to do better, even though I didn’t feel any better about my body.
PS. This was my favorite book about eating disorder recovery at the time. (Note: This is an affiliate link, which means I make a small commission if you choose to purchase. There’s no additional cost for you if you purchase through an affiliate link and I only recommend products that I love.)
Eventually, eating food regularly became, well, regular. I didn’t think too much about it. It was a habit. Sometimes I felt like I needed to lose weight (or this sneaky variation: like I could lose weight). Sometimes – because eating disorders are tricky – I skipped a meal, or I tried a “juice cleanse” over the weekend, or I tried to please the gym gods with a “quick” hour-long run to make up for eating fries or pizza or something.
That’s kind of what recovery is sometimes – rolling the dice every morning to see if you’ll get better or worse today.
The (Dining) Tables Turn
But at some point, I stumbled into a place where ~everyone else~ (almost) was trying to eat paleo, keto, or some other red-headed step-child of our diet-obsessed culture, and I was the one being like, “Umm, I don’t think that’s healthy?” All without ever posting a picture on Instagram tagged #bodypositive – because (lol) I wasn’t.
And I don’t think you need to be “#bodypositive” either – if you’re not ready.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re already blessedly comfortable with yourself and your body, just the way you are, please, please, please keep doing you (and share your secrets in the comments! The people need to know.) Body positivity is a blessing and a worthy goal.
Plus, there’s no denying the fact that some people are better able to do this kind of work – recovering from disordered eating/ full-blown eating disorders + learning to live real fucking lives – after they have learned to love and accept their bodies.
But when it comes to food (you know, something you need to stay alive), there’s nothing wrong with jumping into healthier attitudes and behaviors way before you have some kind of spiritual awakening about your value as a person being separate from your physical appearance. Basically, my take (as always) is: Whatever works for you, dude.
“Whatever it takes.”
– The Degrassi theme song
Doing Better + Feeling Better
The good news is that treating your body better can make you feel better about your body. (That’s the good kind of behavioral cycle!) When I start the day with a skillet filled with veggies and a few eggs, I’m a little more likely to, like, drink water, practice yoga, and engage in a little low-key body acceptance than I would if I started the day by skipping breakfast and throwing back a shot of vodka.
When you start treating your body like it’s worth something, you’ll start believing that it is.
And no matter how “good” or “bad” your body is, I promise it’s worth something – because your body – even if it does nothing else – is the home of your mind + soul, and I promise you have something worth saving there (even if you think you don’t).
with so, so much love,