I've gained so much weight in the last year that I had to buy a completely new wardrobe. After years of living with an eating disorder, it was weight I needed to gain, but the change was still jarring.
Healing my eating disorder and giving up my orthorexic tendencies has been a process, to say the least. Over the last few years, I've been gradually gaining weight, but I've also been gaining self-acceptance, true health and a loving approach to food and exercise — all things I denied myself for a very long time.
Part of the healing process is physical: eating more foods, not being crazy about what I put in my mouth, embracing intuitive eating, letting go of restriction and rigidity.
But the deeper healing has had nothing to do with food or fitness. Rather, the real transformation came from doing work on my own body image.
I used to have an adverse reaction to the phrase "body-image"; it seemed so un-glamourous, so uncool. I was so much more willing to manipulate my body physically than work on my mindset about my body.
But when I finally realized that without the dogmatic restrictions I was used to imposing, my body would change and I'd finally have to face the idea of working on my body image in order to feel OK — nay, good — about myself and function in the world without negative self-talk debilitating me.
The idea that just changing my perception of the idea of body image would help me feel more comfortable in my body at this new weight didn't even cross my mind. But to my surprise, it has changed my life for the better.
Finally, I am able to see myself with more compassion by focusing on looking for worth beyond my physicality.
Now that I'm not so focused on controlling my weight and body, I have the time and energy to pay attention to other things and approach things as more than just a body. It has made me feel powerful, and I now know that taking care of my mental health is just as important as taking care of my physical health.
Body image work is essential to my self-esteem and to maintaining a mental health level that lets me function at my best.
Here are three ways of thinking that can change how you feel about your body for the better.
1. Recognize that your body is constantly changing.
Sure, you've hit your "goal weight," but in a few hours, the scale may display a different number. That's because at any given moment, our bodies are undergoing massive change. Getting comfortable with your body at one particular size or shape won't be useful to your mental health because chances are, something will be different tomorrow.
If you recognize and honor the fact that your physical appearance is bound to change (aging, diet, weather!), it becomes much easier to appreciate and accept your body every day. But that acceptance starts in your head; measuring your worth on a fleeting physical appearance is a waste of time.
2. Know that loving your body will help you take better care of it.
I used to think that if I loved my body at a weight I didn’t think was ideal, it that would mean I'd remain there or gain even more weight. But it's actually the opposite that's far more likely because simply hating your body isn't an effective route to change.
Think about it this way: Picture your favorite sweater, the one you wear weekly, that makes you look and feel amazing. Now think about how you treat that sweater. Do you take good care of it, hanging it back up after wearing, getting it dry cleaned immediately if you spill something on it, being wary of letting your clumsy sister borrow it? Or do you throw it on the floor in a dirty, crumpled mess at the end of the day?
I'll assume everyone chose the first option, and now I'll assume that you get the metaphor. Your body is that sweater. If you treat it well every day and love it unconditionally, it will stick around a heck of a lot longer and in much better condition than if you stomped around on top of it in dirty shoes.
You take way better care of something you love than something you resent. You'll intuitively treat your body with more respect when you actually love it, so the more self-care and compassion you give to yourself the healthier you will be.
3. Think of your body as a tool you see the world through.
Time for another metaphor. Think of your body as the car you drive that gets you from point A to B. The car you need, the car you rely on to experience life and see the world. If that car were to fail or run out of gas, you wouldn't scream at it and tell it to keep going anyway. You'd fill up the gas tank or take it into the shop, repair it, let it rest and listen to what it needs.
In the same way we'd listen to that sputtering car, it's crucial that we listen to our bodies and follow their cues rather than ignoring them like so many diets instruct us to do. When you run out of fuel, don't force yourself to keep going. Refuel with whatever your body needs, whether it's food, sleep or a personal connection. Treat it well, like something that matters.