Our bodies change. Continuously.
So why do we expect to become wiser, kinder and to grow as a person through life...yet we expect our body to stay the same size, or at least not grow with us?
The answer is often the influence of diet culture which tells us we can defy aging, stay thin and preserve our youth because that's better for us.
We blame our body for getting fatter, slower and losing flexibility as we age. There may have been childbirth, illness or injury but the outcome is typically the same; the experience of loss and grief as our body changes.
Acceptance feels weak, like we are giving up. We do our best to maintain our health but no-one is immune to the effects of time. There can be huge sadness around this!
There may be feelings of regret, guilt and anger too, these are the same emotions associated with the widely recognised 5 stages of grief and loss.
In a culture that conditions us to prefer and value thinness, mourning the loss (or the dream of achieving) the 'thin ideal' and the 'fantasy' of who you were going to become is very much like grieving the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship or loss of a job:
Stage 1: Denial
Here, you are actively pursuing weight loss. The focus is getting thinner - equally you could be working on keeping weight off that you've recently lost. You may be embarking on a diet, slimming plan, exercise programme, taking medications, supplements or even contemplating surgery to 'get back' to an earlier version of you. You may believe you were genuinely happier and, or healthier then. Maybe you were, perhaps you weren't. Some people never leave this stage.
When people first come to intuitive eating, it can be hard to believe because it flies in the face of pretty much everything we've been told. Even if you accept the science on a logical level, it can be easy to slip into denial. Many people have heard that 95-75% of diets fail and accept it as truth, but a lot more than 3-5% of people think they can be that 3-5% of "successful" dieters (note: I use quotes around successful because many of these 3-5% are engaging in disordered behaviors to maintain their weight loss).
If you are in this stage, now is a good time to engage in activities or seek support to detach your self worth from the scale.
Stage 2: Anger
The diet industry tells you what to do...it sounds so easy; just follow the plan. Which may work brilliantly at the beginning but then it gets tricky. You keep trying, trying really hard, doing everything you are told “should” work, but it stops working. You question are you doing it right. What's up with your willpower? The scale isn't budging. At this stage you become frustrated and angry.
This anger can be directed towards the diet that's not working. Or those people who can eat what the hell they like and stay thin. The people you feel are sabotaging your efforts or perhaps towards yourself and your body. Bring in the self berating and worsening body image....
We're taught that anger is a negative emotion, but it's a really important part of the healing process......as long as it's directed at the right things. So by all means get angry with diet culture and the diet industry, not with yourself. You are NOT at fault!
Feel the anger but also do what you can to redirect it. I've had clients write letters to food or to their bodies before. Follow HAES and Intuitive Eating practitioners on social media. Unfollow accounts that make you feel you need to be somebody else. Find body positive role models instead.
Stage 3: Bargaining
You're now feeling a mixture of emotions - from vulnerable and lost to refocused. You try to regain some control of the situation, or at least try to change the outcome. This is actually a defense mechanism, to delay the impact of more difficult emotions, like sadness.
You may be starting to become aware that diets don't work for you, that actually they cause more stress than you can handle and are making you miserable. You may have read a bit about Intuitive Eating or Health At Every Size and are thinking more about improving your health without having to lose weight but you're not quite ready to give up on the pursuit of thinness just yet, so bargaining takes place.
You come up with new reasons for engaging in restrictive behaviours but you say it's about health not weight, or say things like "I just feel more energy when I'm at a smaller size." Essentially, you're finding reasons to continue to engage in dieting behaviors. So you might allow yourself to eat a little more each day but you try going dairy free with the no wine in the week.
This is a good time to do more in-depth work to promote healing. If you haven't already, seek out an intuitive eating nutritionist (like me!) or dietitian who has experience working with body image concerns.
Stage 4: Depression
This is when the reality hits - that you can no longer keep up the food and exercise regime you had going and / or losing the thin fantasy of becoming the "person you were meant to be" when you were going to hit that goal weight. This CAN feel like losing an actual person.
You may mourn the loss of compliments from others. You may mourn the loss of an identity that was praised, valued and admired and you may mourn all the time, energy and money you lost pursuing thinness.
Of course, from the outside looking in, I know that a.) you are already enough and b.) you can do, see, achieve and become all those things in your thin fantasy, in the body you're in today.
It's in the stage that you may realise to move forward in your life, to live a life true to yourself, you have to let go of that body that will never be yours and in this stage....that loss feels, well, depressing.
It's really helpful to see people in a wide range of body sizes living joy-filled lives. Check out Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe (also on Instagram), Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker and The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor.
Stage 5: Acceptance
At laaaaast! The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter and you can see a new pathway forward. Now I'd love to say once you're here, you're here, but acceptance is typically a place you will slip in and out of. You may be in a place of acceptance, and all of a sudden find yourself in denial after being triggered by something.
My best advice for this stage is not to get too comfortable. Be on the lookout for triggers and label them as such. Understand that falling out of acceptance is normal and your journey is unlikely to be linear so you feel less shame when it happens. But food freedom, body liberation and living your best life (with health and happiness) are associated with this stage.
Here, let yourself appreciate your body and have fun in it! Find ways of moving your body with joy. Express who you are with your body. Allow your body to savour delicious and satisfying food. Think of it as your home and create a safe, cozy space for yourself to stay.