It is the beginning of the year, and around this time, we often feel a lot of pressure to start new eating and exercise programs, to go on diets, or to set new goals to change our body in some way.
Many of us want to feel and be healthier. So we embark on a program, buoyed by initial enthusiasm, only to discover that our programs are punishing and unsustainable in the long-run. We fall off the bandwagon and often feel badly about ourselves, wondering why our good intentions often end up in the same old dead-end.
To complicate matters, we may be aware of a growing concern of many doctors and nutritionists that diets, punishing exercise programs, and weight loss regimes are actually harmful to the mental and physical health of a majority of people. (You can read more about this here, here. and here.)
Worries like this often help us understand why it is so hard to stick to diets, and it can often make us feel less ashamed of our failures. However, we may still wish we had some way to feel better and more confident in our our body.
I want to assure you that you deserve to feel peaceful and confident in your body and to cultivate habits that helps you feel great about yourself and your life. You can definitely do this. Below are five things you can do to help you along this path.
One: Develop an I’m the Boss of Me Mindset
We often receive the message that everyone else knows better than we do what we should do about our body and that they expect us to follow their advice. This is a common feeling especially around the New Year or the summer time when so many advertisers, companies, and well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) family and friends tell us what everyone must do to lose weight, get in shape, or be better somehow.
Pressures like this can make us feel like our opinions about our body don’t matter. Such feelings cut us off from our body wisdom.
Your feelings, opinions, and thoughts about your body are extremely important—in fact, they are of primary importance. You are the closest person to your body because your body is an integral part of you. Because of this, you are in the ideal position to listen to and to know what is best for your body.
In fact, you are an expert on your body!
You may decide to go on a diet or program in the New Year. You may, on the other hand, decide that diets are the worst thing ever for you, and you will never go on one again.
Either way, you get to decide because You are the Boss of You.
When you develop an I’m the Boss of Me Mindset, you realize that you have the right and responsibility to take care of your body in a way that makes sense to you and to reject any body advice that doesn’t work or make sense to you.
Can you follow some kind of eating and exercise program? Sure, if it works for you and makes sense to you. Can you reject all diets and weight loss programs forever? Sure, if it works for you and makes sense to you.
How do you know if an eating or exercise program works for you and makes sense to you? It should help you feel more peaceful and confident in your body; it should connect you with food and movement that you love (see #5); it should help you feel good and have more energy; it should be sustainable.
And of course you can (and probably should) consult experts and other knowledgeable people about wise ways to eat and to move. However, as you certainly already know, there is a lot of conflicting advice out there about the right way to eat and to move. You must ultimately decide, in the midst of the conflicting advice, what is best for you.
Two: Recognize that loving and wise habits that build body-confidence are the important thing–not losing weight.
One of the weirdest (and most dangerous) messages we receive regularly about our body is that losing weight should be our default setting. By default setting I mean that we often get the idea that we should automatically want to, and that we probably need to, lose weight.
In fact, we often receive the message that losing weight and manipulating the shape of our body should be our main goal in life and even an obsession.
These are all unhelpful and potentially dangerous messages for many reasons, but I will focus on two particular reasons. First, dieting—which is the primary way people try to lose weight—increasingly appears to be physically and emotionally damaging, as well as unsustainable, to many people. You can read more about this here, here. and here.)
Secondly, your primary goal in life is never to weigh a certain amount, to be a certain size, or to look a certain way. Your primary goal is to be YOU in all your unique goodness, beauty, and complexity.
The combination of your personality, your life experiences, your body, and your interests and talents give you a unique worldview and skill set that no one else has. We will call the combination of all these things your unique goodness. Your purpose in life is to develop and use your unique goodness for your own benefit and the benefit of the whole earth.
One of the most important ways that you do this is by recognizing that you are worthy right now (see #3) and by showing yourself—including your body– kindness, compassion, and respect–which is the practical expression of love.
Loving yourself practically nurtures your unique goodness and heals wounds that keep you from expressing your unique goodness.
When you love yourself in the way I have mentioned above, you create a peaceful oasis in your mind, body, and spirit.
When you do this, you create the ideal conditions to listen to your body, to understand its messages clearly, and to create new habits your body needs, rather than ones that other people tell you should adopt.
When you adopt loving habits that flow from inside of you, this builds body confidence, and those are the kinds of habits you are most likely to stick with and that are most likely to bring you excellent results. (You can see #5 to read more about these kinds of habits.)
Your goal in life is not to lose weight. Your goal in life is to be YOU and to love yourself practically by building body-confidence habits.
Three: Know that you are worthy right now no matter if you are you are petite, voluptuous, thin, fat, skinny, very muscular, or somewhere in between.
We often believe (and other people and cultural messages sometimes tell us) that we are only worthy if we are a certain weight, shape, or size. I will call these kinds of messages, Worthy, Only If Messages. Because of the Worthy, Only If Messages we believe, we often begin diets or start new programs out of a fear that unless we change ourselves, we will never be worthy of love or anything good.
It is very possible and extremely wise to replace Worthy, Only If Messages with Worthy Now Messages.
Worthy Now Messages tell us that we are worthy right now and that we do not have to change ourselves to be worthy. Being worthy means that we are valuable, capable, deserving of compassion, connected to something bigger than ourselves, and essential. You are worthy at every weight, size, and shape, and you can never lose your worth.
I know it is very hard to believe these things sometimes. If you are having problems believing that you are worthy right now, I recommend that you read this post, which explains more in depth why you are worthy now and provides you with some exercises to remind you of your own worth.
Believing we are worthy now does not mean that we avoid areas in which we need to grow and change. In fact, the realization that we are worthy right now helps us realize we may need to change in certain areas. For example, we may decide that we are engaging in thoughts or actions that make it hard to remember and express our worth.
When we change out of a sense of our own worthiness, rather than from a feeling of unworthiness, it helps us make changes that are wise, reasonable, kind, and sustainable.
Four: Know that you are beautiful, whether you are petite, voluptuous, thin, fat, skinny, very muscular, or somewhere in between.
One of the worst things about Worthy, Only If Messages is that they suggest that we are only beautiful if we meet some narrow standard of beauty. These messages also usually further imply that we are gross if we fail to meet this standard of beauty. Many of us have been mocked or bullied at various times in our life for failing to meet this supposed standard of beauty. For instance, we may have been told that we are too fat or too thin or that our teeth or hair or skin or nose or ears or some other part of our body is ugly or disgusting.
Most of us want to feel like our appearance connects us with other people, rather than driving them away. Therefore, Worthy, Only If Messages that tell us we are gross unless we meet a very narrow (and unrealistic) standard of beauty make us feel horrible about ourselves, as well as ashamed and alienated from our bodies.
Let me assure you that no matter if you are petite, voluptuous, thin, fat, skinny, very muscular or somewhere in between, you are beautiful. Beauty does not come from achieving one particular look. Beauty is an internal state expressed externally which we cultivate by loving ourselves (in the way I have described above) and loving others (while also setting appropriate boundaries). The more we do these things, the brighter our inner light shines, and the more our beauty shines. (You can read about true beauty here.)
Five: Whatever you decide to do about your body, do it out of love, not out of fear.
Guess what? If you decide you don’t want to lose weight or that you will never go on a diet again, that’s fine. You’re the boss of you. If you decide that you would like to feel better in your body or be healthier or follow some kind of program, that’s fine. You’re the boss of you.
But whatever you decide to do, please do it out of a place of love, rather than fear. Please do it from a sense that you are worthy right now and that anything you do should help you express your worthiness, rather than pressure you to prove your worthiness.
Here are some habits that I find help me to act out of of a place of love towards my body, rather than fear.
Live Trustfully: Trust that your body is extremely wise (it keeps you alive every day), and it really wants to help you be healthy and happy. It’s okay if you don’t feel like this is true yet. You can make a conscious decision to act like it is true–for instance, you could do a year or several months experiment in which you act like your body is your friend and wants to help you.
Here is a simple way to do it. Affirm each day or frequently throughout the day that your body is your friend and wants to help you. Here is an affirmation or peaceful thought you can use to encourage this view:
And then choose to do one or more of the activities below that help you nurture your relationship with your body and tap into your body wisdom.
Breathe Deeply: If you do nothing different this year, I highly recommend that you develop an intentional breathing practice that helps you breathe more deeply and with greater lung capacity. Modern living encourages very shallow, ineffective breathing and often contributes to fatigue, stress, anxiety, and lack of energy.
I have struggled with ineffective breathing my whole life, and it has often caused me problems. Two years ago, I began a very simple, deep breathing practice, and I was amazed by the results. If you begin a consistent, deep breathing practice, you will definitely experience positive benefits, and it may just change your life. (You can read more about this here and here.)
Listen to your body regularly. One of the most awesome benefits of breathing deeply is that it calms down your nervous system and helps you be still and quiet for a while. Doing this allows you to listen to your body more effectively, and it helps you develop better interoception.
Interoception is an intelligence that allows us to tune in to our body signals and our inner condition. Most of us have developed enough interoception that we know when we are tired or thirsty or that we need to use the restroom.
We can develop our interoception even more, however, and when we do so, we become fine-tuned to our emotions and how they affect our body. This can greatly improve our ability to solve problems, to be flexible in our thinking, and to understand ourselves and others in more practically effective ways. (You can read more about interoception and its benefits here and here.)
One of the best ways to develop your interoception is to spend time daily–whether it is a minute or ten minutes or an hour–being silent, breathing, and paying attention to your feelings and inner sensations. You can call this meditation or you can call it being quiet or chilling out. Practicing intentional silence regularly helps you listen to your body so that you can become a wise and effective boss of yourself.
Act kindly toward your body. One of the most basic and powerful things we can do is to act kindly towards our self like we would towards a pet, a friend, or child we love. You don’t have to feel kindness towards yourself. You can just act kindly. Here are some of the best ways you can do this:
Drink water and give yourself sun and nourishment regularly, like you would a plant.
Give yourself time regularly to rest and play, even if it’s just a little bit, like you would a child.
Listen to yourself and to your emotions, wishes, and dreams regularly, like you would a friend. (You can read more about listening to your dreams here.)
With all of our concern about weight, diets, fitness, detoxing, etc, we have made eating extremely difficult, and many of us actually have eating anxiety: we are afraid we are eating the wrong food or the the wrong portions or that we are eating at the wrong time.
Eating is very basic and should not cause us anxiety. It should not be so hard. To get back to a place where eating is more natural and less stressful, I recommend a Love-Centered Approach to Eating. It’s pretty simple. Eat what you love: Eating what you love entails eating foods that you enjoy, that make you feel good emotionally and physically, and that give you energy to do the things you love to do.
When we make weight loss the goal of eating, it often leads us to eat food or quantities of foods that we dislike, that make us feel bad, and that sap us of emotional and physical energy. This disrupts our natural relationship with our body and the joy of eating. When we focus on eating food we love (in the way I have defined above), it leads to greater health and peace.
(The Love-Centered Approach to Eating is grounded in principles from the Intuitive Eating and HAES–Health at Every Size–communities, as well as ideas from mindful eating. You can read about these ideas and supporting research here, here, here, and here.)
Just like the goal of eating is not to be certain size, the goal of moving (exercising) is not to lose weight. The goal of movement is to feel good and confident in our body, mind, and spirit.
When we use movement or exercise solely to lose or maintain weight, we turn movement into a punishing and self-loathing event. This makes many of us want to stop moving all together.
This is so unfortunate because movement is one of the most amazing things in the world we can do. Movement makes us more wise, free, creative, at home in our body, peaceful, and strong. Moving regularly in a wide variety of ways helps us stay strong, confident, and balanced as we age, and it gives us more control over our life.
So in 2020, rather than beginning a punishing exercise regime, consider playing regularly instead. When you play, you don’t have to change into special clothes or exercise a certain length of time or worry about getting your heart rate in the zone (although you can do all these things if you want to).
Rather, think about doing some kind of movement that kindles your curiosity and brings you joy and that you can do on a regular basis (for however long you want to do it).
You can make almost any movement playful because playing is more about the attitude you bring to an activity, rather than the specific action you do. To make an activity playful, consider doing it because it feels good and is interesting to you. Also, consider doing the activity at the intensity and for the duration that feels good to you. It’s okay to take breaks if you need to do so.
Adopting a playful activity towards movement and exercise (rather than a punishing one) will help you do the activity more and will likely increase your stamina and strength in the process. (You can read more about this here and here.)
Contemporary living (with its sedentariness and technological prevalence) encourages us to live much more in our head than in our body. There is nothing wrong in itself with sitting or with technology or with living in our head sometimes.
But you are not just your head or brain. You also have a body that has a variety of senses–sight, taste, smell, feel, sound. The more you nourish all these senses, the more alive and joyful your body feels, and this helps you develop a more confident relationship with your body.
This year, consider engaging your senses regularly in a rich and meaningful way. Here are some ways to do this that anyone can do:
Sit or walk around trees and water and plants more, which provide us with a sensory bounty.
Make your own food and enjoy the process of preparing food and cooking.
Listen to music you love.
Dance (you can even dance in a chair if you have a disability or handicap).
Take up a handcraft. For instance teach yourself to paint with watercolors or to crochet or knit. Or build with legos or some other material. You can find all sorts of craft ideas at your local craft store.
Hug people you love if you (and they) feel comfortable hugging.
Make and bake bread.
Take a bath with a candle and bath salts.
Try dancing or hula hooping or juggling.
Go on a very slow walk around trees and pay attention to unique things you see.
Wash your bed sheets regularly and enjoy their fresh, clean feel.
Plant a small patio or backyard garden.
Play an instrument and sing–even if you do it badly and by yourself.
This is just a brief list to get you started.
Any activity you enjoy that engages your senses (especially multiple senses at once), rather than numbing them) will nourish you. Nourishing your senses regularly and intentionally is not a waste of time–it is about you being more alive.
When we feel more alive and awake in our body, it helps us feel more confident, peaceful, and joyful.
Do the people you spend the most time with help you live a life (or at least support you pursuing a life) filled with greater kindness, love, body confidence, joy, mindfulness, rest, and peace?
Or do the people spend the most time with encourage you to harm your body, think badly of it, and to treat yourself unkindly, dangerously, and harshly?
It is really hard to develop a good relationship with your body if you hang out with people who encourage you in the latter way. If you find your friends are more like the second list, rather than the first, please consider making new friendships that encourage you to have a kind and loving relationship with your body–or at the very least, set boundaries with the current people in your life. (You can read more about setting boundaries here.)
We are all meant to live peacefully and confidently in our body. Practicing some or all of the habits mentioned above can greatly strengthen our ability to do this. These habits have brought a lot of confident and peace into my life, and I am going to continue to work on them this year. Want to join me?
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