Letting go of the "thin ideal"

When we begin to accept our bodies, we must come to terms with the fact that we actually don’t have a ton of control over our body size. There are a number of different factors that play into this reality, one of them being set point theory, which you can learn about from is short video from Lindo Bacon, PhD.

What’s it like for you to learn that your body size is not in your control? What’s it like to accept that your body may not be smaller?

You might be feeling a little let down or overwhelmed. You may feel angry or sad. You might feel a sense of freedom. Maybe you just feel a little lost.

For most, letting go of the dieting mentality means a lot more than reintroducing certain foods back into your diet. You are letting go of a dream that one day you'll be thin, and everything will just be easier, and life will be dreamy. You might be letting go of ways to connect with your friends and family. You might feel like you don’t have purpose or direction.

For me, coming to terms with the idea that I probably would never be a size 6 has been a journey. “But I’ve been that size before” has echoed in my head again and again or "I did it once, I can do it again". But after years of manipulation I have accepted that my body is not meant to be below a certain size. Sure, there has been weeks, maybe months of my life where I have successfully been a lower weight, or a smaller size. But when I look back at that time, it wasn’t dreamy at all…

I would spend months restricting myself, getting to a certain size or weight. I would receive praise, validation and attention from friends, family and love interests. It felt awesome, (it was actually better than awesome) it was a little addicting. But once I let myself “live”, or eat normally even for a day or a week, I started regaining the weight I had lost. I was too afraid to step on the scale, knowing that I wouldn’t like what I saw. So I would tell myself, the diet starts Monday and would binge for the rest of the week.

It felt like I was white knuckling my way through life. “Is this night out going to ruin all of this work?” were the thoughts going on in my head 24/7. A constant feeling of anxiety.

The “dream” of being thin, wasn’t actually that dreamy. Life didn’t get easier like I thought it would. It kind of felt like I was holding on by a thread. Every time I saw loved ones, all I cared about was if they would notice if my body had changed. “Were they judging me?” Was a constant thought and fear.

What I was eating felt like a war in my head. I felt shame over baked goods. I binge and restrict like no one's business. It was madness. Diet and exercise were the center of my life. And for what? Like a difference of 20lbs? This was my life for years.

I am a therapist who primarily focuses on eating disorders and body image. Doing this work requires a lot of research and unlearning. During the course of this research, I started to recognize my own disordered eating patterns that I still engaged in. A couple of years ago I made a conscious choice to heal my relationship with food completely.

To be honest, letting go of the thin ideal can bring up a lot of emotions. It can feel kind of empty. You are grieving the expectations and promises of a better life that you had intertwined with being thinner. You are saying goodbye to the rush of new diets, being praised for your willpower and receiving compliments for your body. You’re going against the norm of society and it’s natural to feel a lot of feelings about this.

I have now come to a place where I practice body acceptance and intuitive eating. Letting go of the "thin ideal" was a huge part of this journey. I wish I could say it was a simple process, but that would not be truthful. Here is a little bit of what I have worked through during this journey...

  • I had to grieve the dream of what a smaller body would do for me.

  • This comes with the responsibility of actually looking at what was going on in my life. I could no longer avoid my problems and think, "all I have to do is get thin, and things will get better". I had to start addressing my shortcomings and blindspots.

  • Acknowledge that weight loss was a way for me to distract myself from the discomfort I felt in the present. It was a way for me to feel safe and protected.

  • I had to find new hobbies and activities. (When you spend 75% of your time thinking about what you are making for dinner and when you will fit in exercise, when you stop, you suddenly have a lot of free time.)

  • I missed the rush of starting a new diet, the anticipation of it all. Losing 5-10 pounds quickly always felt good. Dieting makes you think you have found the answer to all your problems.

  • I have had to create boundaries with friends and family. A lot of people get uncomfortable when you challenge the status quo. This has been both uncomfortable and liberating.

  • I have gotten angry when I see friends buy into diet culture, but this soon turned into compassion.

  • I have had to start a real gratitude practice for my body. I am constantly practicing kindness towards myself.

  • One of the most important things to note is that I have had moments of doubt, or have definitely played with the idea of going back to diet culture (I could totally do a quick 30 day cleanse and lose 20lbs rights?) This is normal. In the grieving process we call this bargaining.

Yes change can be difficult, but what I have got in return is so worth it. Freedom looks like moving my body everyday because I WANT to. I may not be burning the most calories, but I move everyday because it feels good. I eat intuitively (I used to think this was a buzzword, but its the real deal). I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. I use gentle nutrition and eat delicious food that has been made with thoughtfulness and care. And I don’t beat myself up for the occasion corn dog or pizza slice. I have freed up so much mental space that I am able to pursue new dreams and hobbies. My body is no longer the enemy, we go on adventures, we get in trouble, we create magical things.

What does this journey look like for you?

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