Why I used to struggle with body positivity

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Body Positive | Nadia Felsch

I’ve never been a huge fan of labels.

Right-wing, hippie, girlfriend, hustler, whatever.

A label to me can signal belonging to something sure. An idea, a community, a tribe. But equally, it can feel closed off to other ideas and options. Call it being a millennial because who doesn’t love another option or call it being open to ideas and eternally curious.

So years ago when I first stumbled across the term body positive, I cringed.

And here’s why.

As a professional in the Nutrition sphere I was flooded with images of supporting this term and essentially saying yes to obesity. That embracing this term as a Nutritionist would send the message that there’s no health risk to any body size. That I could be responsible for harm by embracing body positivity.

And in truth, I didn’t believe it. To be clear, I didn’t believe that body positivity was relevant past a certain size. Because aren’t we all meant to be thin?

And you know what that is?

That’s bias. That’s weight stigma. That’s thin culture at play.

The latter being insidious and also completely inextricable from human society.
 
Body Positive | Nadia Felsch

 

And in truth, I didn’t believe it. To be clear, I didn’t believe that body positivity was relevant past a certain size. Because aren’t we all meant to be thin?

No is the answer to that. Wholeheartedly and from a place of both deep inner work and years of professional training.

I also take responsibility here for my previous struggle with the term. Because I hadn’t done my own work.

I’d undertaken years of therapy for anxiety and focused on self development work surrounding mindset and moving beyond my disordered eating, body dysmorphia and orthorexia however I’d virtually ignored the external cues that affected so much of the latter.

 

[ you can read about my (secret) skinny craving here and my life after calories here ].

 

I’d instinctively began to embrace eating intuitively and learning to listen to my own internal cues.

And I’d embraced my body’s capabilities and it’s beauty too. Even when I wasn’t as lean as I could possibly be. Because I’d learnt on my own personal journey that it didn’t provide the happiness I thought it would. It didn’t change my world to be leaner. It actually made everything worse. Because it was never enough. That’s the truth about external validation. It’s not what you want and will never bring you joy.

I embraced other’s bodies in the same way too.

So what work hadn’t I done then?

I’d really taken no stock of what I mention above. No clear identification that diet culture and thin culture is not simply a desire of the individual, it’s the thread of almost everything we see, hear and do. It’s so normal we don’t even notice it. And I’m not the only one who missed this.

 

Body Positive | Nadia Felsch 3

What changed?

The status quo isn’t working.

And in fact that hasn’t changed.

I’ve however chosen to embrace and properly understand that fact.

Thin culture and diet culture isn’t helping anyone.

(except the shitty companies that sell total crap and continue to make $$ preying on the above).

Obesity and its related diseases continue to rise. Eating disorder rates continue to rise. Individuals are increasingly disconnected from their bodies and the food they eat. Instagram is a Nutritionist apparently.

In short, no one has any fucking idea.

Enforcing and cultivating one ideal of how we should look is not helping anyone, regardless of the size of their body. Individuals in smaller sized bodies feel discontented and disconnected just as those in larger sized bodies. This misery does not discriminate. Except that we mostly assume those in smaller bodies must surely be happier with their bodies right?

That’s really not the case.

The facts

We know that a focus on weight ensures an individual is more disconnected from their body and more unlikely to make choices that benefit their health.

Rather than focusing all our efforts on obesity or “fat” shaming as it leads to disease, consider this, weight cycling is in fact “associated with general mortality, mortality from cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, diabetes, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and suppressed immune function.” [1].

So yes, this is the case for people in smaller sized bodies too.

We also know that dieting is one of the largest indicators of weight gain in the future. First physiologically as the drive to hunger increases and also psychologically as the diet culture pervades and the cycle continues.

start diet to lose weight > lose 5kg via restriction, external food rules and misery > stop diet > overeat > gain 10kg > feel bad about self > start another diet

We also know that body dissatisfaction; which thin culture promotes so eagerly; makes eating intuitively “while appropriately identifying and honoring hunger” extremely difficult [2].

In other words, eating with your own intuition is a heck of a lot easier when we are less critical of our own bodies. One study has demonstrated that body esteem (positivity) “was the only significant psychological predictor of weight maintenance during a 1-year follow-up.” [3].

Body Positive | Nadia Felsch 3

Where to now?

Let’s change the conversation.

Internally and externally.

Enforcing and cultivating one ideal of how we should look is not helping anyone, regardless of the size of their body.

Body positivity doesn’t mean what I thought.

And now I regard it is as simply as it states: positive feelings for your own body. Gratitude, celebration and good feels.

Not in spite of your socially perceived flaws (which every single human on earth also has), though because of them too.

Catch yourself in the internal story of body loathing and laugh at the absurdity. Get mad at being a minion in the diet and thin culture. Decide that you’re going to live your best life and your butt size does not determine that outcome. Get in your body and feel it. Cultivate a deep understanding of what feels good and what doesn’t (AKA your intuition). Food, sleep, sex, relationships, movement, work, fun and otherwise. Make consistent decisions that work for your body.

And support this in one another.

It’s OK to feel uncomfortable with a new path though it’s not OK to ignore shitty comments your friends make about their own bodies or others. Be the difference and be a leader by example.

I can tell you personally that no one treats me differently at whatever body fat % I am now vs whatever I was 5 years ago. Actually no, I do. I love and appreciate my body more. I know it better. I listen to it more easily. And I also have far more time and energy to do other things now. Because hangry dieters aren’t getting much done are they?


 

References

  1. Mann et al 2007, ‘Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer’, American Psychological Society, vol. 62, no. 3, pp. 220-233, viewed online 29th April 2019, <https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0003-066X.62.3.220>.
  2. Schaefer, JT, Magnuson AB 2014, ‘A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues’, Journal of the Nutrition and Dietetics Academy, vol. 114, no. 5, p. 758, viewed online 29th April 2019, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24631111>.
  3. Higgins, L, Gray, W 1998, ‘Changing the body image concern and eating behaviour of chronic dieters: The effects of a psychoeducational intervention’, Journal of Psychology & Health, vol. 13, no. 6, pp. 1045-1060, viewed online 29th April 2019, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08870449808407449>.

 

 

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