For many of us, the Christmas season is abruptly ended by New Year’s Day and the countless messages alarming us that it’s time to scrutinize our lifestyle. Or more pointedly, it’s time to scrutinize the size, appearance, and culturally-defined “desirability” of our bodies. As a clinically trained dietitian specializing in eating disorders and body image recovery, I often hear the retort that the pursuit of weight loss is a pursuit of health, a quest that we’re told should be endlessly encouraged and fought for. But at what cost?
Letting go of the “body project”
With the ring of a new year, many of us hear internal and external clangs of judgment, shame, and guilt over a body that doesn’t seem to proclaim evidence of hard work, self-control, or the laudable pursuit of health. And so, with the hopes of finally securing approval in this world, we resolve to achieve our best (read: smallest, strongest, sexiest, healthiest) self
If the notion of viewing your body as a project to accomplish feels relatable, you’re not alone. In fact, for years now, losing weight has ranked in the top three new year’s resolutions. Considering that 75 - 90% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, the high prevalence of resolutions centered around improving the body should come as no surprise.
What I see in both my anecdotal experience with clients and in the evidence-based literature, is that the quest for a different body than the one you are currently in causes more harm than good. This is evidenced by the continuously climbing prevalence of eating disorders. 20% of which end in premature death. This is also demonstrated by an abundance of research that shows those who engage in chronic dieting and weight-cycling behaviors experience dramatically increased risk of many morbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
As it turns out, naming your body “unacceptable” and employing forceable efforts to change it (typically via food restriction, exercise abuse, and other disordered behaviors) negatively impacts both your physical and mental health. And while there are often individualized behavior adjustments we can make to better support our health and honor our needs, it’s important to recognize that weight loss isn’t simultaneous with health improvement, nor worth enhancement. It’s important to know that health does not come in one specific size, and worth is not determined by the health or functionality of our physical bodies.
What might it be like if, this year - rather than focusing your precious time, energy, and headspace on striving to manipulate the size and appearance of your body - you instead let go of the weighty and damaging pursuit of the “body project”?
What would it be like if, instead of fighting against the authority of your God and your genetics, you made the radical resolution to walk towards body acceptance?
Would it be liberating? Peaceful? Daunting?
Your body is already good
As a dietitian informed by my Catholic spirituality, I also see the damage that a constant rejection of your body places on your spiritual health. When you endlessly strive to make your body “good,” you reject the reality that God already made you good (see Genesis 1). When you are constantly preoccupied with achieving weight loss, meeting cultural beauty standards, and even perfecting physical health, you create idols as you begin to view these things as your litmus test of worthiness.
This year, I invite you to consider losing the weight of the burdensome endeavor to change your body. Instead, I encourage you to compassionately and curiously begin the journey of accepting the body you are in, today.
It is a good body.