I co-taught a Q&A session recently. It was a good experience for me for a lot of reasons, and I’ve reflected a lot on it since. The type of questions being asked had a sense of desperation behind them, especially as the subject matter turned to weight. As I left the room after the class, I wondered to myself “how do you effectively help people understand that problems will never be solved when in a state of fear, anxiety and lack of acceptance?”. But as with all things in life, it’s doubtful that only hearing it will help, they have to be willing to practice it. If you are one of those people willing to address your health and wellness concerns from a place of acceptance and love, then this post is for you.
I am fully convinced that the adversity, challenges and trials we face in this life are to make us better. The way they make us better is by overcoming them. The power to overcome our troubles comes from the power to endure them, employing tools like patience, hope, persistence, faith, trust, self-awareness, curiosity, creativity, kindness, compassion and gratitude. It’s the little daily decisions and practices, bit by bit, that help us reach our goals. What derails us is feeling like we should be there already. This quote comes to mind:
Struggling doesn’t mean you have to suffer. If you are struggling, you have the opportunity to learn and grow and become better than you ever could have otherwise. You have the opportunity to feel peace, hope, trust and true happiness even in the midst of it. You can choose to accept it and learn from it and find your way through it, or you can fear it, feel anxious about it and wish you didn’t have it….all of which contribute to your own suffering. Neither is necessarily easy, but the latter option is hard AND miserable. By choosing to approach the situation from a place of acceptance, I promise that you will find inspiration and greater clarity. As you get curious as to what you could learn, you will move forward in productive change. Trust your feelings – when you feel peace, you are on the right path. Then take it a day at a time.
So there it is: acceptance. Acceptance is often associated with complacency or staying the same so I get that might sound confusing. However, the opposite is actually true. Acceptance, as discussed, allows you to stay present and mindful about how to move forward. Acceptance doesn't mean you don't want things to change, it just means you are willing to look at the situation through new eyes. I'm not asking you to give up on worthwhile health and wellness goals, and would validate any of the feelings and emotions you have about them, I just encourage you to open your mind to the idea of a more peaceful (and more effective) approach. Wanting to live in a healthier body is definitely a worthwhile goal. But feeling like you must be there RIGHT. NOW. often leads to behaviors that are unrealistic, unsustainable, unhealthy and possibly harmful. By accepting where you are, you can learn, grow, dig in, trouble shoot, break down barriers and move past bumps in the road with much more ease.
Anxiety lives in the future, while peace lives in the present. When you feel anxious, it's very hard to find answers to your questions. I find that those who try the hardest to "control" their weight or otherwise improve their health through rigid methods are often the ones that have the hardest time doing it. Living in the future or trying to control an outcome creates enormous anxiety and prevents you from living presently. Being mindful about what's in front of you allows you to use your own wisdom to make choices in your best interest. It allows you to nourish and take care of your body rather than fight against it, which is what will allow you to meet your health and wellness goals most effectively. It creates self trust and confidence and inspiration and gratitude...and sanity. In fact, it reminds me of another great quote (I'm a sucker for a good quote!)
So what does acceptance (as related to weight, health, food and body image) mean? It may be different for everyone but here are some common denominators:
- Accepting your story, which means having a full understanding of the past and what has led you to this point. Often we reject things that have happened in our past because we feel they were unfair or we fear feeling vulnerable. Accepting them means learning and understanding how they may be effecting your decision making in the present.
- Be honest with yourself. This means you take full responsibility for your choices, while practicing patience and self-compassion as you learn a new way of thinking and behaving around food. It means taking a good hard look at what has led you to this point, which in my experience has very little to do with "eating too much and moving too little."
- Rebelling...but only as far as it helps. What I mean is to rebel against the idea that you need to diet, but avoid the need to prove a point. Example: let's say you are out to dinner with friends and no one wants to order dessert but you. Order it! On the other hand, let's say you go to dinner with your mom who is always harping on you to make "better" food choices. As you browse the menu, you notice a salad that sounds amazing and you would love to order it. But then you remember that your mom will likely comment on your "good" food choice (since salads are the quintessential diet food) so you order the pizza instead (the quintessential anti-diet food). The point is, make choices YOU feel good about that honor your feelings, hunger, satisfaction and intuition.
- Accepting and welcoming all feelings and emotions. It's likely that you will feel a wide range of emotions as you moving forward in solving a problem. That's OK! Let them be what they are and allow yourself to feel them. It's in understanding the feelings you have about your circumstances that will teach you the most and allow you to move forward. Rejecting or avoiding these feelings means lack of acceptance of what is. It's also wise to remember that you feel feelings, you aren't the feeling itself. You may feel angry, frustrated, confused, etc...but it doesn't have to become part of your identity. Emotions are an experience; they don't have to define who we are. "I feel angry" is much different than "I am angry." In addition, this practice is a very effective tool for overcoming emotional eating. Instead of avoiding feelings, you allow yourself to feel them.
- Living a life you love right now. For example, If your motivation for better health is to be able to play with your kids, find ways to do that right now. I think you will find that if you start living a life you love, you might just find it.
- Focusing on what your body can do instead of what it looks like.
- Avoiding all-or-nothing thinking, perfectionism, restriction vs chaos cycles, etc. You will not meet your long-term health and wellness goals through short-term, quick fixes. In all likelihood, the issues that surround food have nothing to do with the food itself.
- Food neutrality which means not looking at food as "good" or "bad". Accepting (yup, there's that word again!) food for what it is rather than labeling it will allow you to make choices that are in your best interest rather than out of fear, deprivation or restriction.
Last but not least, the best reward for self-acceptance is the ability to listen to your own wisdom. You can call it intuition, a sixth-sense, a gut reaction...but as you stay present and get curious about your concerns, you will find you have all the answers you need. In my experience, these answers can often defy conventional wisdom or reason. I know you will find that acceptance makes the situation less complicated and much more simple. An inner vision develops that allows you to see straight to the heart of the matter. As you trust it, I think you will find you've been lead to something even better than you had planned.
I have one goal for anyone I work with: to leave them better than I found them. With that as my goal, I’ve had to get very clear in how to do that. This is what I’ve found – when I lead them inward, they find their own answers. As you love and accept yourself and your situation, you will be wise beyond your wildest dreams. Because of that, the hardest part of my job is seeing people unwilling to try this different, far more effective and much more peaceful approach. But the choice is ultimately yours; you get to decide! What choice will you make?
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD