What if there were a way to manage kindness toward self and body that didn’t involve semi-starvation, grueling workouts and verbally beating yourself into submission? The typical Western way of taking care of our body is to severely diet, over-exercise and fill our heads with self talk that goes something like this, “keep going, push, you’re weak, don’t stop, I don’t care if you’re tired, do you always want to be this fat, you’re disgusting, your health is at stake, you’ll never be loved, you’re a looser…” The litany of self-flagellation goes on.
There are so many inherent problems with this approach. Here are three biggies that come to mind for me as some of the worst offenders.
First, severe calorie restriction down-regulates the metabolism, just ask former Biggest Loser contestants what it’s like to try and subsist on only 600 calories per day in order to maintain their weight (it’s physically impossible). So it doesn’t work, for 95% of the population, the restrictive calories in/out, crazy exercise routine fails, but yet it continues to be sold in one form or another as the only path toward health. You are meant to eat, as you are meant to breathe and sleep. It’s your biology. With every restriction and denying your hunger, there is a binge around the corner for the majority of people.
Next, and this is in no order of importance, when you constantly self-attack you’re putting your nervous system into a sympathetic state (fight or flight), which impairs digestion, metabolism, your ability to absorb nutrients, increases insulin and tells your body to hold onto fat. Again, this impairs your natural state and inhibits the signals that work to nourish your body.
Lastly, it’s just plain awful to be so venomous toward yourself. It hurts your psyche and soul and makes it near to impossible to show up in the world in a loving and giving way if you’re unable to express a modicum of compassion toward yourself. Maybe you’re thinking well it’s not mean, how will I motivate myself if I don’t push myself. Let me be clear I’m not a fan of constant stasis if you’re hoping for change, especially if the change is moving toward a new approach based in kindness. An approach that allows your body to find its natural state. The attack bus will not get you where you want to go in any sustainable way.
Pushing harder, beating yourself up more, still not going to get you there, however you define there, but know there is no perfect health, weight, body… I don’t care what the charts say. It’s this constant quest for the unattainable perfection that keeps you in the hamster wheel of restriction, binging, self-pummeling behaviors that’s crazy making! If you’re ready to try something new, here are a few practices that have helped me immeasurably.
- Accepting who and where I am at this moment and each and every moment. Trust me some moments, not so great. Some days, not loving my body or the way my backside is looking in my jeans, but truly in the scheme of things and life’s challenges, who cares! Accepting myself doesn’t mean I have to love every aspect of myself always and believe I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. But, it does mean that I have a right to live in the present and accept and respect who I am, challenges and all, that I can stop beating myself up for my past “sins” and stop the constant fantasizing about my future perfect life and how great it will be with me as a size 6. Nope, been there, not so perfect! Accepting yourself means that you can fully inhabit your body and your life as is and start living and making changes as you see fit, not as anyone else or society deems necessary!
- Self-forgiveness is still a work in progress for me, but as I practice it more it becomes easier, more natural. Having spent way too much time condemning myself for not having the perfect body, thoughts, actions…there’s gold in this practice. Not having a perfect body, being fat, being thin is not a sin or a virtue, it’s just a body size. As a culture we have to stop placing moral judgments on bodies, especially women’s bodies, which is endemic and unhealthy to our empowerment and growth. Self-forgiveness is a way to reclaim our power and ultimately realize through the process that there is nothing to forgive, we haven’t committed any egregious unforgiveable acts!
- Learning to truly listen to my body. I love this practice. It encompasses all areas of my life, not just food and movement, though it’s an incredible tool to help me check in to see what my body needs. Am I full, am I hungry, not how many points or calories do I have left. Am I in the mood for a big ole salad with lots of protein, a pile of carbs, do I want something crunchy, a bit of sweetness, something creamy? How does the food I eat feel in my body? Do I feel like a harder workout today or is my back bothering me and slower, gentler more sustained moves would be more beneficial. My body, my choice, my likes and dislikes. How I’ve also been using this practice is to determine what’s working and what’s not in other areas of my life…like my job, how I spend my free time, is a friendship based on guilt or obligation…How can you listen to all areas of your life and find ways to enrich yourself and thus those around you?
These three simple, yet not always easy to implement, practices are ways to practice self-kindness and love. You can fill in the gaps however you see fit. Does acceptance mean not waiting to buy a lovely outfit until you’re size X? Does forgiveness mean making the choice to speak kindly toward yourself when you’re not perfect? Does listening to yourself and what your body needs mean a night on the couch with Netflix or meditation or yoga or dessert? How do you start, you just start, you become aware, you get quiet and listen to the voice buried inside that you’ve been pushing away. Slowing you build your practice, what works for you and you find your true voice, your validity, not defined by a culture that tells you you’re not good enough because of your pant size or level of health. When you stray from your practice you gently return and remember “oh yeah I don’t have to punish myself, I’m innocent and deserving of love.” Because empirically you are, so when you forget again, just keep reminding yourself, you are deserving of love and kindness, period, no qualifications required.