“I need to lose weight before I’ll look good in my bathing suit!”
How many times have you said something similar to yourself or heard other people echoing the same sentiments? For most people, this is a slippery slope and a set up premised with dislike for yourself. I have worked with several women, and some men, who disliked their bodies and felt they had to change it before they would be comfortable. A concept I try and work with is that acceptance is necessary prior to change.
Acceptance is Necessary Prior to Change
There is nothing wrong with trying to lose weight in many cases, but I do want to challenge the way you may be approaching it and the negative messages you may be sending yourself prior to beginning a diet. What I have noticed in clients having continual struggles with their body image and who have trouble staying at a weight they are happy with is an active dislike towards their body from the beginning. They point out areas of their body they think are unattractive and regard these parts almost as parasitic hosts that took hold which are separate from themselves. They speak about themselves with dislike, criticism, disapproval and sometimes even disgust. These clients usually approach weight loss purely from an aesthetic point of view. As a therapist in San Diego, I think this is a set up for failure. Yes, you may lose weight, but not only will you likely gain it back but I’m not sure you’ll really be any happier with yourself after you achieve your goal weight. For many clients I have seen, though, the weight stays relatively the same, and attempts “fail” and criticism towards self increases.
What I advocate for clients is a total shift regarding how they view their bodies and their weight. Yes, it’s a difficult shift because it’s a major change in thinking including how a person views their body and self. Instead of viewing the body as an aesthetic led by control and criticism, I urge my clients to start accepting their body as the amazing machine it is which moves them through the day and maintains mobility, health and play. Even if the numbers on the scale aren’t to a person’s satisfaction, they can still praise and recognize their bodies for how it serves them and how it functions. If people can begin to respect and appreciate their bodies, they’ll be able to make changes to it much easier. As part of respecting one’s body, people will want to care for their bodies from the inside out. Food can be viewed as the fuel it is, as something to strengthen and nourish, and as something to be enjoyed instead of that having to be restricted or thought of as “bad”. For many clients I’ve worked with, once this shift occurs and they started regarding their body with respect, gratitude and acceptance, their weight began changing as a consequence of health, NOT as a consequence of rigid and restrictive diets. The focus was not on the body as something they didn’t like any longer, but the focus became taking care of the body they had. As soon as people stop criticizing their body and have a new attitude towards it and what it does for them, I believe they’ll have a much better chance at losing weight and being happy with their body. This has been my experience with clients and people outside of therapy.
Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information, feel free to call or email her.
Office hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 6:00.