Author: Katrina Wilson M.A. RPC
One of the most common aspects of eating disorder recovery is repairing your relationship with your body. Working on body image involves moving from the extremes of body hatred and body dissatisfaction towards body acceptance. Many people in recovery struggle with the idea of body acceptance and find it difficult to wrap their heads around being able to see their body in a positive way with unconditional acceptance. It’s hard to consider breaking away from the culturally sanctioned perspective of hating your body and trying to control and manipulate shape, weight, and size. It’s important to remember that there are many stops on the path to body acceptance - it can be daunting and unrealistic to expect yourself to jump straight to body positivity and acceptance. There are several other positive body practises that can feel more manageable, and can act as stepping stones as you heal your relationship with your body.
Body Neutrality – this involves refraining from having any sort of opinion on your body, whether it is positive or negative. You acknowledge that your body exists and choose to see it as a vessel that carries you through your life.
Body Respect – as with body neutrality, body respect includes withholding judgement about your body. Instead, you choose to focus on what your body does and how it functions in your day-to-day life. You work on seeing it as an instrument that plays and important role in your life and performs various tasks and functions that keep you alive and thriving. You start to acknowledge the wisdom of your body, moving towards building trust that it knows innately what it is doing, without any need for your input. You start to see your body beyond your shape and recognize the inner workings that are invisible to the eye.
Body Kindness – this practice has you moving along the path towards body acceptance and starts to bring in the element of positivity. You start to develop a positive view of the body, both in appearance and in function. You pay your body compliments, and you choose to do nice things for your body that help it to feel better and function better. You respond to body cues with kindness and understanding, recognizing that your body is only trying to help you.
Body Appreciation – closely related to body kindness, you choose to see your body with wonder and gratitude, recognizing all the ways it supports you in your daily activities. You start to develop a mutual relationship, starting to acknowledge that you and your body are a team and need to work together in order to be happy and well. You actively express gratitude towards your body in a way that feels right for you.
Body Acceptance – this practise offers a well-rounded view of your body, acknowledging its appearance and function as perfectly fine the way it is, with no intention to change it beyond helping it function better. You choose to accept the fluctuating nature of body and respond compassionately when you notice that it is struggling. You see yourself and your body as in this life together, recognizing that your job is to support your body in its efforts to keep you alive. You choose to respond to any negative judgements about your body with a gentle reminder of the new perspective you are actively pursuing.
Keep in mind that these practises are not linear, and you may bounce back and forth between them many times on your way to body acceptance. It is also important to remember that each of these practises is a choice. You can choose to engage in body neutrality, body respect, body kindness, body appreciation, and body acceptance, regardless of what the eating disorder says about your body. Body practises are very personal and individual, so it’s important to consider what works for you in each of the categories. You get to choose how you treat your body, and what you are willing to do to reach true body acceptance.