Reading Time: 5 minutes
Adele’s holiday is imminent. Though she dreams about exchanging the steamy heat of Hong Kong for the beautiful Italian Riviera, a huge cloud is hanging over her halcyon images of summer: Adele hates her body. She detests her protruding stomach and her face distorts in disgust at her enormous thighs. She longs to join her young daughter in the pool, but the thought of wearing a swimming costume is horrifying. Even the anticipation of having to wear shorter sleeves, exposing her flabby arms, makes summer feel daunting.
Adele’s New Year’s resolution to lose weight fizzled out in late January. Subsequent diets have gone the same way and she sits before me, dejected and miserable, acutely aware that, once again, her holiday is destined to bring as much pain as pleasure. She ruminates on her options. She could crash diet, temporarily exulting in the rapid weight loss. But, as an experienced dieter, she knows the hunger, fatigue and ultimate disappointment that such an approach will inevitably bring. Denial is another option, perhaps more satisfying in the short-term. If she pretends not to care about the shape of her body, she can smother her unhappiness with copious quantities of gelato, postponing her focus on weight until her holiday is over.
The alternative option that I put to her meets with incredulity and no small amount of irritation: “Adele, since there is little healthy weight loss that can be achieved in the short-term before your holiday, perhaps the most positive thing you can do for yourself right now, is to try to accept yourself.”
But I hate my body!
Einstein, among other smart folks, defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If that’s true, then when it comes to weight loss, there’s a great deal of madness going on. How many times have you dieted prior to your holiday, only to regain all the weight you lost – and more – by the time your holiday ended? How many hours have you spent focusing on the areas of your body that you hate? Has any of this deprivation and self-abuse worked? Has it made you slimmer and more content with your body, or have you ended up at the same place, time and again?
So, how about considering another option? Perhaps you could open yourself up to the possibility of being OK with your body. I’m not suggesting you accept your current body forever, just right now. And here’s why:
1. Accepting your body will allow you to enjoy your holiday.
If your holiday is only a few days or weeks away, there is very little you can do about your weight before you go. It doesn’t matter how much you abhor your stomach, a few weeks of weight loss will not change its shape significantly. The only thing you can alter in the brief time that you have before you go away is how you relate to your body. You can choose to spend your holiday hating your tummy and allowing your thoughts about it to make you miserable or you can decide to accept it as it is.
Instinctively, you may be railing against this idea of choice – feeling like such a choice is beyond your control. But you do have the choice to approach your body differently. Like most of us, you have probably allowed yourself to accept an idealised version of the human body, created by a powerful advertising industry, and have used this image to judge yourself. You can choose to continue to do this, thereby continuing to make yourself unhappy, or you can drop these comparisons and learn to appreciate your own unique body. If you can opt for the latter approach, you will give yourself much more space to appreciate the people and places around you, which will increase the likelihood that your holiday is a positive experience.
2. Accepting your body is the route to sustained weight loss.
If you’re significantly overweight, if you’re at risk of diabetes or heart disease, if your knees hurt when you walk and you cannot climb a flight of stairs without panting for breath, you would be wise to start looking after your health. Since it is intuitive for you to care for that which you love (think of how much more you give to your children compared to your acquaintances), the natural extension of developing a more positive relationship with your body is that you feel more inclined to look after it.
Increasingly, you will want to eat healthier, tastier food and you will be more disposed towards moving your body in a way that leaves you feeling energetic and positive. In an unforced manner, you will tend towards living more healthily before your holiday and this will continue throughout your holiday and beyond.
In addition, taking care of your body will extend to ensuring that your summer wardrobe fits comfortably and flatters your figure. And, finally, accepting yourself and your body allows you to acknowledge that you cannot always be perfect and a little gelato on holiday is good for your soul. In essence, if you can replace self-abuse with self-acceptance, you will naturally make the healthy choices that are so essential to your feeling and looking good.
3. Accepting your body will ensure your children can accept theirs.
To a young child, his or her mother is supremely beautiful and complete, just the way she is. When your words or actions are self-deprecating, your child will start to question their own wisdom: If their opinion of you as beautiful is so clearly wrong, what else are they wrong about? Is their body imperfect, too? By relating positively to yourself, you allow your children to continue their unconditional belief in you and in themselves. In so doing, you provide them with a strong antidote to the image-based messages they will face in later life.
You can never reclaim this summer. In the blink of an eye, your children will be grown and the thighs that you detest will be too frail to allow you to wander through picturesque villages. Determining to accept your body right now allows you to live your life more fully, to support your children more completely and to act in a manner more aligned to making positive, healthy choices. If years of dieting and self-abuse have got you nowhere, how about trying something a little different this summer?
Steps to acceptance
Try the following exercises to help you to develop a more positive relationship with your body.
1. Use a piece of string to create a circle on the floor that corresponds with how large you think your waist is. Hold the two ends of the string and wrap them around your waist. Is the circle you formed the same size as your waist, or is your perception of yourself different from reality?
2. Stand in front of a mirror naked, or revealing a part of your body that you feel uncomfortable with, and, if only for a few moments, try to view yourself without judgment. Can you see the colours in your skin, the undulating pattern of your body, your freckles and skin markings? Can you look at your body without comparison to a media-led ideal? If you are willing and able to do this, you will start to reframe how you see yourself.
3. Try to become more aware of your self-destructive body thoughts, and then: Put those thoughts into words and repeat them out loud to fully appreciate how abusive they sound. Do you allow anybody else to speak to you like that? Ask yourself where these thoughts have come from. As a mature adult, do you need to hold on to cruel words spoken to you by others? Is it wise that your opinion of your own body is defined by idealised, airbrushed images of teenage models? Become conscious of how much time and energy you use brooding on self-abusive thoughts. Negative introspection can leave you fatigued and empty, with an emotional hunger that no amount of food can satiate.
4. Write a letter to the one part of your body you detest the most – for example, your thighs – allowing yourself to express all your feelings about them. Don’t hold back! Now place the pen in your non-dominant hand and write a reply from your thighs, to yourself. Continue this dialogue between yourself and your thighs, swapping between your dominant and non-dominant hand, until the conversation comes to a natural end. It sounds crazy, but try it and you might be surprised by the results.
Love Food Live Life is designed to help those who wish to move away from emotional eating, and Nicolette Ray welcomes informal enquiries from those who are concerned about their relationship with food (firstname.lastname@example.org).