Maintaining an “ideal” weight has long been a cultural concern, especially for women in America. And no wonder—it’s a billion-dollar industry driven to convince us that we are not okay in the bodies we inhabit, and that the latest wonder plan is going to make us worthy. Most recently this has taken the form of drugs like Ozempic, which do work for weight loss itself but may have serious complications.
The problem is, many of the things we do in our desperation to lose weight are harming us more than carrying extra weight would. CNN recently reported that Ozempic and similar drugs have caused several cases of gastroparesis, a serious and chronic disease that slows or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine, even though there is no blockage in the stomach or intestines. It also came out that Lisa Marie Presley died from complications of weight loss surgery.
What if our goal was health and feeling good, and not a number on the scale? And how would we get to that mindset, after we’ve been fed this dream of thinness for our entire lives? But isn’t that unhealthy? Aubrey Gordon, in her book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, says, “what we think of as health risks associated with being fat may in fact be health risks of experiencing discrimination and internalizing stigma.”
It’s the internalizing stigma that’s my concern here; I’m not against any particular weight-loss effort. It’s the reasons why we do what we do that has me worried. In my observations and personal experience, it seems like self-hatred, or at least self-criticism, is at the heart of most of our weight-loss efforts. But in my own experience, it’s actually self-love that has spurred most of my healthy behaviors, not self-hate.
So, how can we begin to reformat our thinking? If we are programmed to think that we are not okay as we are, and we’d be so much happier if only we could rid those pounds, how can we get to appreciating and loving our bodies enough to treat them well? The following are some suggestions that have worked for me and changed my mindset about weight and my body.
Think about functionality. One of the things we can do is start to appreciate our amazing bodies for the sheer miraculous functions they perform for us every day. Be aware that your heart is beating, your lungs are breathing, and all kinds of other things are happening without you even trying. If you are mobile, think about how your legs, your beautiful legs, are getting you where you need to go today. Your stomach is not just pooching out; it’s also digesting your food and filtering out all the things that your body needs to thrive. In this way, we can start to truly appreciate our bodies exactly as they are.
Move for fun or joy. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of feeling guilty for not exercising more. We think we have to do this because we have to comply with what society is telling us is healthy. Our bodies are made to move, and unfortunately our modern world provides us less opportunity to do that. But research clearly shows the benefit of just taking small opportunities to move our bodies more— parking further away, taking the stairs, etc. And there’s a self-love aspect to moving because it feels good to do the things you enjoy. Walking in a forest, dancing to music in your living room, gardening.
Practice acceptance. Whatever your body looks like today is how it looks. Beating yourself up in your mind isn’t actually going to change what your body looks like today. If you do beat yourself up and hate what actually is, it is likely to lead you to take dangerous measures or simply overeating for comfort because hating yourself feels so bad. Perhaps it’s as simple as saying, “this is me today, whether or not I’d like that to change, so I’m going to treat today’s body with love,” could alter what your future body looks like. Because the way you treat a body you love is different than how you treat a body you hate. But even if this thinking doesn’t change your actual body size, your relationship with this body is now one of love and respect—and not hate and disrespect.
My wish for us all is good health. But good health begins with loving ourselves, as we are, so that we can treat ourselves well. If the goal is good health, the rest will fall into place, including a more peaceful state of mind.
Lisa Gray, LMFT, is a licensed mental health professional with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she specializes in high-conflict couples and chronic illness/pain. After working as an air traffic controller for ten years, and serving as a peer debriefing counselor for fellow controllers, Lisa decided to go back to school to study counseling. She graduated from John F. Kennedy University in 2004 with a master’s degree in clinical counseling, and has been working in the field ever since. Lisa is passionate about teaching couples to practice healthy conflict, so that their relationships can thrive and grow. Lisa reviews self-help books on her Instagram, Therapy Book Nook. She lives in the Bay Area with her family and three large dogs.