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 learned through my own rough patch with food and body image 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 have to mean suffering. 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 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.
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 differently. You don’t have to give up on worthwhile health and wellness goals, and I 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. Acceptance means embracing reality, because we can’t escape that no matter how hard we try, and therefore puts you back in charge.
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. 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. Another great quote:
So what does acceptance (as related to weight, health, food and body image) mean and how do you practice it? Here are some thoughts:
- 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 affecting your decision making in the present.
- Acceptance shifts focus to behaviors rather than outcomes. Remember: weight is not a behavior and is not indicative of health. You can find health in any moment by asking yourself what you need.
- 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.”
- Acceptance for where you are right now by choosing not to put off living a life you find meaningful. Put on the swimsuit and go to the pool, make memories with your kids, take the vacation, etc.
- Acceptance is a great way to challenge black and white thinking. Acceptance doesn’t deal in absolutes like “always” or “never”. It creates flow and flexibility.
- Acceptance brings food neutrality, or not looking at food as “good” or “bad”. Accepting 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.
- Most importantly, lack of acceptance will keep you from knowing and living the truth that YOU ARE MORE THAN A BODY. You have bigger goals, dreams, plans and potential than what you look like.
I know you will find that acceptance makes the situation less complicated and much more simple. Acceptance will never be giving up; it’s the only effective way to move forward.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD