This Is How I Ditched Body Positivity & Embraced Body Neutrality
You've definitely heard the term "body positivity" before, but "body neutrality" may be a new one. The first time I heard the term "body neutral" was from right here at mindbodygreen! I was taking over mbg's Instagram stories and Ray, mbg's movement editor, suggested I use the word "neutral" over "positive" in my messaging. My immediate question was, "Why?" Why would I not tell people to be positive about their body? Given I've dedicated my life to encouraging humans to be more comfortable in their skin, this seemed counterintuitive.
The response was impactful. So impactful that I've completely ditched the term "body positivity." "It's about loving yourself as a person, not just as a body," she explained.
The more I started to let the idea sink into my head, the more it made sense. It's pretty impossible to be positive about anything 100 percent of the time, right? Real-life people (aka all of us) have days when body-positive isn't attainable. When you just can't look at yourself with love. When your affirmations sound more like sad sonnets. And your mind hits a dark place where the light seems distant. If you're only committed to being body-positive, these days will make it feel like you've failed, but if the goal is to be body-neutral, the task becomes simpler. Because some days we feel good about our body, some days we feel bad about our body, but on all days, we can respect our body.
I've been working in fitness for over 12 years, and I had an eating disorder for at least eight of them. I fell in and out of anorexia, bulimia, and disordered eating patterns for so much of my life, I couldn't imagine a world where I didn't fear food. I actually thought my behaviors were validated because they were "part of the job." I had to be the skinniest if I wanted to be the best instructor out there. And the thing is, I've always been a petite person. I think it's really important to note that disordered eating and eating disorders do not discriminate; they affect people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It's truly mental, not physical. Yes, large bodies can have eating disorders. Yes, small bodies can have eating disorders. And yes, even wellness people can have eating disorders.
At some point, a shift started to happen. I was fed up, alone in my process, completely hopeless, and hungry. I decided to start making some changes. Here are some tangible things I did that helped me become body-neutral. I hope they can help you, too.
1. Toss the scale.
Scales measure one thing and one thing only, your weight in relation to the weight of the earth. It does not measure your physical health, mental health, muscle mass, happiness, or how many times you've smiled that day. It will tell you less in the morning, more at night, and will fluctuate based on how recently you've eaten. It's unpredictable, and yet we put so much value on the number.
Word of advice: Ditch it. And if knowing your weight is a trigger, you can even ask your doctor to not disclose the number. I have no idea how much I weigh, and I've never been happier.
2. Stop labeling foods as good or bad.
I recently did an interview, and they asked me if I ever fall off the wellness track, and if so, how do I get back on. Do I ever fall off the wellness track? Meaning do I ever eat a burger or indulge in cheese? Hell yes, I do! But is that inherently "bad"? If I eat salads for an entire day is that labeled "good"?
The more we place food and habits into categories, the more we begin to punish ourselves when things don't go as planned. There are no good foods. There are no bad foods. There are just foods. And we have the power to decide what is right for us to eat, when it is right to eat it, and how much is right for us to consume.
3. Have talks with yourself.
When I start falling into a low place, I talk myself into a safer mindset. I may say something like, "There is no such thing as a perfect body. The food/beauty industry can capitalize on my insecurities, and I won't let them win. My body is allowed to change as I age, the same way I don't expect my mind to think the same way it did in my 20s; I also don't expect my body to look the same way it did in my 20s. My mind, talent, personality, and character are more important than the size of my pants." While these conversations may not pull you completely out of the funk, they will help you remember that your thoughts are a conditioned response and not a true representation of the truth.
4. Talk about your triggers.
Does your mom always comment on your weight? Do you have a friend who constantly body bashes? Tell them. I know this isn't an easy thing to do, but it will help protect you. Finding the right words can be tricky, but standing up for yourself is empowering. It can be as simple as "I would rather not talk about body weight because it makes me feel unhappy, and as my friend/parent/other, I know your intention isn't to do that."
5. Shift your motive for working out.
OK, this one is important. Oftentimes we work out as a punishment for something we did. Example: "I ate so much this weekend I have to go to the gym." Several years ago, I told myself I wasn't allowed to work out unless I could come up with a reason that didn't involve physicality. "I am working out today because I need to clear my head before a big meeting." This way, you aren't punishing yourself but rather gifting yourself with movement in order to enhance your mental state!
My recovery has been a journey, and honestly, I still have to work on it daily. Get skinny quick, join our 12-week program, do this 30-day challenge, prep your summer body...this rhetoric enters our lives in both obvious and subtle ways all the time. It may not be easy to stay positive, but it's a hell of a lot easier to stay neutral.