What does “Body Gratitude” mean to you? (March 2017)
Have you ever thought about thanking your body for everything that it does for you?
After carrying your groceries up the stairs or your purse on your shoulder? When standing on your feet at work or as you prepare a meal? Even simply allowing you to get out of bed in the morning or hug your loved ones.
These are all tasks that we take for granted. Every interaction, every feeling, every movement, occur because our bodies carry us through them. Sadly, when we are not happy with how our body looks, we focus on the negative instead of all the wonderful areas where our body allows us to succeed.
This type of attitude may not seem like a big deal, but maintaining it can cause larger problems. When we feel poorly, we eat to feel better. Left unchecked, these behaviors can often result in a binge and can become an ongoing issue. Learning how to develop a positive body image, and developing body gratitude, will help one be conscious of the food choices that are made, and feel better regarding one’s self.
One of the challenges that I see my clients experience is that they compare their bodies to friends, family members, or colleagues. All of our bodies are unique and are meant to be developed in a certain manner based on our genetic makeup. When we can learn to accept that our bodies have a place where they are naturally meant to be, it becomes easier to work on body gratitude.
I like to discuss “Radical Acceptance” with clients to help them with this. This term was coined by Marsha M. Linehan, Ph.D., the creator of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). Radical Acceptance is broken down into the following: 1) Accept the reality of what it is, 2) Accept the situation that causes you pain, and 3) Accept that life is worth living, even with painful events in it. An example of this that relates to body image would be: 1) My genetics mean that I have a specific body type that I can’t change, 2) It causes me pain that I am not able to change my body because I feel pressure to look a certain way, 3) My body may not be the societal ideal and it certainly isn’t perfect, but it gives me life and helps me to do amazing things that bring me joy, therefore, I am willing to learn how to give my body the respect it deserves. With this process of Radical Acceptance, comes a change based on the acceptance. Continuing with the above example, a decision based on acceptance of one’s genetic body type could result in a decision to stop dieting. With giving up dieting, I am no longer turning myself inside-out in an attempt to alter something I can’t change. Instead, I recognize my inability to change my genetic makeup, accept that my body is not merely decorative and should be appreciated for the abilities it provides me, and live my life without having to put my body through extreme measures. Practicing Radical Acceptance means working on accepting where one’s body is naturally and learning how to enjoy food without guilt or shame by eating the foods they truly enjoy and crave.
A common misconception about learning to accept one’s body is that it can open the door to potential loss of control. When we give ourselves permission to eat a food that we enjoy, and have been denied, there is a possibility that we may over eat it at first, and it is important to be aware of this. However, it worth noting that, eventually, the food won’t seem as special after as it’s being desensitized or made “legal”. This process can help the individual learn how to have more appreciation for what our body is capable to do. For example, my body is able to taste various foods and chew as this is a skill that I take for granted.
Learning how to focus on the many areas our body provides for us can make a huge difference in making our value of our body internal, as opposed to purely valuing it for its external appearance. Sadly, our culture perpetuates the idea that we should base the worth of ourselves, and others, purely on physical appearance alone. Imagine the change it would make if, instead, people focused their self-worth and happiness on different facets of their lives, such as: “did I have a restful night’s sleep?” or “It’s amazing that my body was able to heal itself from the terrible cold I had.” These thoughts and questions lead to important realizations that shift the focus of our experience. For example, getting a restful night’s sleep may lead one to think: “I would like to thank my body for this peaceful night’s sleep.” Realizing that the body has mechanisms to heal itself and fight disease can help us to better appreciate the amazing machine it is. These are things that many of us do not think about, or that are often forgotten. What about carrying a full-term pregnancy or delivering a baby!? Our body is strong enough to create another human being! How remarkable is that!? For these reasons, and so many others, our body deserves love, respect, and appreciation.
To achieve this outlook, it’s also important to learn how to focus on the positive. I always like to tell clients: “fake it till you make it.” This is a quote that I take to heart, as I often see people saying so many negative and mean things to themselves that the thoughts eventually manifest into poor self-esteem and lack of self-worth. It is important to learn how to say something kind, loving and supportive to ourselves. A great rule of thumb is to consider the following question when you find you are berating or talking down to yourself: “would I speak to my friend’s like this?” This question often reminds us to speak to ourselves as we would to all others we love. You wouldn’t remark on your friend’s body or call them names, so hold yourself and your self-talk to the same standard. Think of a time when your friend was beating themselves up emotionally and try to remember what you said to them. Most likely, you gushed about their wonderful attributes, their worth, and their talents and reminded them that their appearance does not make them who they are. Do the same for yourself. Shift the focus of your self-talk from the external to the internal, from the negative to the positive, from hate to love. Perhaps focus on one thing you like about yourself? Maybe it’s a quality about your personality or a hobby you have? This is an important place to begin as we work on changing focus away from the external. This is about working from the inside and finding the strength to thank yourself and your body for allowing you to do everything that you do.
I’d like to end with one final word of advice, to get you started on this journey of Radical Acceptance and self-love: write a gratitude letter to your body. Thank your body for everything it has done for you thus far, list the amazing abilities it gives you, the experiences it has provided for you, the way it has carried and healed you. I know your relationship with your body may be complicated, as all relationships are, so make this letter an on-going project. When you find yourself shaming your body for its external appearance, come back to this letter, and this list. Continually remind yourself that your body is so much more than merely decorative, until that way-of thinking becomes habit.