Can you ever truly love and accept your body after an eating disorder?

by Health

During the depths of an eating disorder, the idea of “body love” and “body acceptance” seem like a foreign language you never have a hope of understanding yourself. They seem abstract, impossible. But is it possible to do the work, and achieve body love and acceptance? Or is this an unrealistic goal no matter where you are in your recovery journey?

Overcoming unrealistic body expectations

The thin ideal is shoved down our throats from every angle right from the moment we enter this world. We’re constantly told that, to be loved and accepted we have to look a certain way, to be healthy our body has to be a specific shape, and to be considered attractive we have to be a particular size. These unrealistic body expectations are inescapable, and hugely damaging. In fact, they’re a huge contributor to eating disorders in many of us.

However, a significant focus in recovery is learning and accepting the fact that these expectations are simply not a reality for most of us – nor should they be! In recovery, we work towards accepting our own bodies as they are. We banish the idea that we should all aim to be a certain weight, shape and size, instead shifting our focus to nourishing our body, and learning to meet our own individual needs. We discover the idea that we’re all healthy at different shapes and sizes – and that may mean that for some of us, it’s actually healthier to occupy a larger body than it is a smaller one.

Basically, we recognise that there’s no “one way” to look that will make you happy, loveable, or satisfied. To feel this way about your body, deeper work has to be done.

In doing this work, we move towards body acceptance. Body acceptance simply means we learn to appreciate our bodies for all they do, and allow us to do. Instead of constantly criticising our bodies, we turn towards gratitude.

But is this the same as “body love”?

Is body love a reality?

For many people, “body love” implies an unwavering, unconditional, constant feeling of love, appreciation and acceptance towards our bodies. It implies that we should feel complete and utter love towards our bodies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s the idea that we can look in a mirror, and feel complete joy at the image staring back at us.

Can you imagine ever truly feeling this way? In all honesty, even people who have never struggled with body image or disordered eating, or those who consider themselves fully recovered, will never experience this body love every moment of every day.

The truth is, complete body love is impossible. We’re all human – moments of self-doubt, poor body image days, and moments of feeling uncomfortable in our own skin are (unfortunately) part of being human.

In this way, the emphasis on aiming for body love can actually be counterintuitive, and place immense pressure on us. If we’re forever aiming for something we can never achieve, we can feel like a failure whenever we feel scrutiny or doubt towards our bodies. It’s a way of setting yourself up for disappointment, and another unrealistic expectation to burden yourself with.

So what should you be aiming for?

Let’s work towards a strong middle ground: body neutrality. Body neutrality is all about accepting you’ll have both good and bad days, and releasing expectations of your body and how you feel about it. You don’t have to be madly, sickeningly in love with yourself, and you also don’t need to loathe your own appearance! It’s simply letting yourself “be”, as you are.

In this way, it’s far more authentic and achievable than body love and acceptance. You’re not ignoring your imperfections or putting pressure on yourself to love your body every day, but you are honouring your body, caring for it and showing it gratitude, and nurturing it without judgment.

Body neutrality allows you to shift your attention away from your body, and instead focus on living a full, happy life. It’s about devoting your time and energy to your values, passions, hobbies – in short, you don’t have to waste time stressing over or hating on your body, giving you so much more capacity to lean into life!

Body neutrality is a great place to aim for. It’s so empowering when you reach a point in your recovery journey where you can release expectations you hold over yourself. Letting go of the need to eat, exercise, look or act “perfectly” is so liberating and invigorating, and this is the entire premise of body neutrality!

Always remember it’s completely normal and okay to have moments of poor body image! You’re only human! The aim of the game is to know that these low moments will pass, and to resist judging yourself for having them. Instead of being quick to criticise and condemn yourself, and decide you’ve jumped 10 steps back in your road to recovery, show yourself some kindness and compassion, and know that it will pass! And when it does, you’re free to turn your attention to the things in your life that bring you joy, fulfilment and freedom – more so than any body shape or size ever could.

 

Need some help getting to a place of body neutrality? We’re here to help! Join Recovery Club today and be supported by a community of incredible recovery warriors, and get access to all the tools, strategies and resources you need to help you on your recovery journey!

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Sarah King

Sarah King

Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.

Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.