What If I Can't Love My Body? Exploring Body Respect, Acceptance, Trust, and Love

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I have a minor bone to pick with body positivity.

I follow a lot of body positive social media accounts, writers and bloggers. Especially on instagram, people of all different shapes and sizes - some thin, some curvy, some large - frequently share pictures of their body along with commentary about how they love their body and all of its "flaws." Close ups of cellulite. Thighs with no gap. Big bodies in bikinis.

Frankly, I love it. I think it's so important for people to see that body positivity isn't dependent on how the world views your body. Body love is possible, no matter your size. 

But sometimes I worry that it makes body positivity seem unattainable. Like if you can't look in the mirror and love what you see, then you're not doing body positivity right. And if you can't just love your body, how can you do Intuitive Eating right? For someone in the depths of body hate, body love can feel totally unrealistic. 

The good news is you don't actually have to love your body to be body positive. Body positivity is something you can participate in today, no matter how you feel about your body. I like to think about the different levels/stages body positivity in terms I learned from the brilliant minds at Be Nourished. Do any of these connect with you? 

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Body Respect // Maybe you don't love your body, or even like it, but can you treat it with respect? Body respect doesn't require you to have any positive feelings towards your body, and you may harbor negative feelings for it, but you still treat it with respect. After all, no matter how you feel about your body, it's been there for you and with you since you were born. Nothing you've done or accomplished would be possible without your body - certainly that's deserving of being treated with respect. In practice, body respect means working towards not doing things to your body that are harmful - restriction, overexercise, etc - and trying to listen to it's needs. This is the baseline of what's required for intuitive eating. 

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Body Acceptance // Body acceptance is just as it sounds, accepting your body, as it is today. With acceptance, you don't necessarily feel positive about your body, but you can work with where it's at.  

Body Trust // In this phase, you trust your body's cues and signals and react to them from a place of self care and body respect. Building body trust is much like building trust in a relationship - it's something that's earned when you consistently treat someone (or in this case, yourself) with respect, compassion, and consistent acts of self care. The trust goes both ways. You trust the signals your body gives, rather than second guessing hunger or cravings. And because your body knows it's needs will be met, it responds with cues that are more consistent and easy to understand. I think this is a really happy place to be, but still, you may not be at snapping #bopo selfies at this phase (and that's OK!)

Body Love // When you hear the phrase body love, you might be imagining yourself channeling Ashley Graham's instagram vibes 24/7, but I think body love is deeper than that. I like to think of it similar to the love you feel in a long term relationship. Just as love isn't always lust, you can have days or weeks where you don't particularly like your body, or don't feel very connected to it. You may even have specific things you don't like about your body (being real - just like I have specific things I don't necessarily like about my husband). But there's still love and when you hit that slump, you take active steps towards reconnecting, and still treat your body with respect.

If you look in the mirror and don't necessarily love what you see, that doesn't mean you can't be body positive. There's a lot more to body positivity than positing a confident bikini selfie. Frankly, I don't think liking your appearance is the most important part of body positivity. Considering the fact that bodies are constantly changing, it doesn't seem smart to focus on liking our appearance, but rather on how we treat our body. Just like a relationship based on only liking someone's looks wouldn't pass the test of time, a love of your body based solely on appearance will fade too. Instead, foster a love of your body based on trust, respect, and an appreciation for what it does for you. 

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Working towards body positivity - and making peace with food - is never a linear process. It's helpful to work with someone to guide you through the process. I work with clients one-on-one, helping them rediscover the joy of eating and make peace with their bodies, and I would love to help you too! Click here for more information. 

Where are you at right now in your relationship with your body? What could you do to work yourself up a level? Leave a message in the comments! 

For my RD friends, I'm really excited to announce that I'm going to be part of a women's health round table dietitian discussion hosted by my friend Heather Caplan, an amazing intuitive eating dietitian, podcaster and running coach. We'll be talking everything women's health - puberty, PCOS, fertility, menopause, amenorrhea and sharing research, insight and advice as how to best help your female clients with their unique needs. If you sign up for the full registration, you get a mentoring call with one of us panelists. Here's a link with more information including the date, cost, etc, and here's a link where you can sign up (affiliate link). 

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