This post was originally shared September 2015. Images and text have been updated.
If someone asked you to describe yourself in a sentence, what would you say? I think most people would probably spout off a list of personality traits, hobbies, profession, passions, or describe themselves in relation to others (i.e. parent, spouse, child, etc).
Now, how would you describe someone you love? If I were to describe my husband, I would do the same. He's a talented engineer, supportive husband, loyal friend and compassionate and humble human being with a witty sense of humor.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that for most of you, your weight didn't make it into that brief description. That's because who we are as a person is so much more than a body size.
Yet, it doesn't always feel that way. In my practice, I work with men and women who have deeply internalized their size as part of their identity, usually unconsciously. I see people in bigger bodies who have internalized the negative stereotypes that society often portrays of them. I can't tell you how many smart, successful, and hardworking people I've worked with over the years who consider themselves lazy, as that is a stigma commonly attached to fatness (p.s. I use fat as a neutral descriptor, not a pejorative term - a [naturally existing] body size is not an insult). Yet when you look at what they've achieved in life, they are anything but!
I've also worked people in smaller bodies who have so deeply internalized their identity as a thin person (along with society's fatphobia), than any change to body size becomes an assault on self identity. When you're constantly complimented for your appearance over your personality and achievements (as often happens in this thin obsessed culture we live in), it's easy to see how self worth can get wrapped up in body size.
Given this fact, it's easy to see why a changing body can be so distressing - because it challenges our self identity.
That's not to say that your body shouldn't play any role in your self identity. Your body will often dictate your experiences in the world (especially if you are in a marginalized body), and experiences shape who you are as a person. So it's impossible to separate the two.
That said, who you are is so much more than a body. And seeing how your body is almost certain to change during your life, it doesn't seem like a smart idea to wrap your self identity up in it.
It can be a helpful activity to build out a self identity outside of your body. One exercise I learned in my individual supervision work with Evelyn Tribbole (one of the dietitians who founded Intuitive Eating) is this activity called Petals of Self Worth. In it, you fill in the flower petals with characteristics you value about yourself, that don't have to do with appearance. If it's hard to do, think of compliments you have received from others. Feel free to make as many flowers as you like. Below is one I did for myself. I also included a blank one at the bottom of this post that you can save for yourself.
I think part of making peace with your body is also accepting any possible future body - or at least working towards that. I cannot freeze my 34-year-old body in time. Barring death by freak accident, it's highly unlikely my body will always be free from chronic disease. Being able-bodied is not a guarantee.
I can't say that future changes to my body will be easy to accept. Body love is a journey, not a destination, but I do know that building a self identity outside of my appearance gives me strength to weather the bumps along the way.