Heading into December can feel like stepping onto a track as train headlights come barreling at you. (Or maybe it’s just me who panics at the thought of flipping the calendar to the last month of the year?) Along with the holidays, this month brings visits with family, gatherings with friends, holiday parties and concerts… I could go on and on. In past years, getting through this month without hating my body seemed an impossible feat. Thankfully, it no longer does.
Hating My Body Started Decades Ago
Before entering what I consider “real” recovery, I spent decades of my life hating my body. Walking into a room, the first thing I did was compare myself to everyone else there. Within seconds, I ranked myself, creating a hierarchy of bodies from smallest to biggest. Admitting this used to fill me with shame. Now it breaks my heart. Because I understand it was a result of living in a fatphobic and patriarchal world.
I was taught at a very young age that as a female, my appearance determined my worth. And sadly, I learned to rank women based on how closely they met our culture’s beauty standard. With olive skin and dark brown hair, by third grade I was consciously aware of the ways I didn’t fit the Barbie doll ideal. Long before I worried about my pants size, I felt I didn’t measure up to the blond haired blue eyed girls in my class.
And I know I’m not alone in this experience. Children as young as early elementary school talk about wanting to diet to shrink their bodies. While hating your body has become a norm, learning to accept yourself in the body genetics determines for you seems like a radical act. Again, this breaks my heart.
So How Do We Change the Narrative?
Decades of hating my body lead me to some very dark places. Dedicating my time, energy, and money to shrinking my body became a full time job and stole so much joy from my life. It wasn’t until some very important teachers entered my life, that I recognized there WAS another option. Christy Harrison’s podcast Food Psych along with her book AntiDiet opened my eyes to a new way of viewing health. Recovery Warriors connected me with other amazing humans doing this work. And Isabel Foxen Duke introduced me to the social justice component of body acceptance.
Today I work hard on body acceptance and recovery for many reasons. First, I don’t want to lose any more of my precious time on this earth hating my body. There are so many other reasons I believe my soul is in this lifetime. Second, I want to be a part of the change in this world that my children are growing up in. I want to teach them, by example, that human beings are valuable and worthy of love, safety, and acceptance at every size. In every shape. Every race. Every gender. Third, I want to continue growing my entire lifetime. Learning to heal my relationship with food and body has been a stepping stone towards much larger growth in my life.
On Surviving December without Hating My Body
Doing this work can be overwhelming on a good day. But enter December, the most hectic and often challenging time of year. Every celebration surrounds food. Coming face to face with friends and loved ones when my body has changed can feel unbearable. So how do I survive it without turning towards hating my body? Here are a few ways:
1. Nurture and Care for My Body
Anytime I’m stressed (good or bad), my appetite gets wonky. When I’m overwhelmed, the old pattern of trying to control my body to ease my raging nervous system feels familiar. Negative thought patterns I thought I’d finally let go of amp up in my brain. This is why it is SO important that despite the hectic schedule, stress, or even excitement happening- I must make it a priority to feed myself.
That means regular, filling, satisfying meals. Three times a day. Every single day. I must care for my body the same way I would care for any other living breathing animal. If I had a cat I would never make her skip meals because we are too busy. Or because relatives are coming to visit. Cutting back on my children’s dinners because I want them to look trim in their holiday outfits sounds ridiculous and cruel. So why would I do these things to myself?
Yes, a critical step to stop hating my body has been to recognize she is a living being who deserves to be nurtured and cared for. Every single day. Despite what is happening in the outside world.
And to take it a step further- I think about it this way. If someone I loved was struggling. Emotionally. Financially. Medically. In any way. I would want to care for them even more during their difficult time.
2. Take Deep Breaths
Anxiety has played a huge role in my food and body issues. (As it does with most people). I understand now that whenever my nervous system is highly activated, it makes everything feel harder. With my heart beating fast, my body in fight or flight, and panic running through my mind: hating my body is sort of a go to response.
Basically, when we feel unsafe in this world (that’s what a heightened nervous system is), our brains starts scanning the environment trying to find threats. Trying to figure out how to fix things to make us safer. In a fatphobic world that rewards thinner people with power and privilege, striving for a thinner body makes sense as a way to “fix” things.
When I’m in a panic and hating my appearance, it’s very difficult to talk myself out of why my stomach is “too large” or my legs are “too big.” Once in that fight or flight response, my brain isn’t in a place to reason rationally. That’s where deep breaths come in. Doing anything to regulate my nervous system (or to calm my body down) is much more effective than challenging my irrational thoughts.
Of course if I’m meditating regularly, taking time for myself, going on walks, and connecting spiritually, then my nervous system isn’t as easily activated. But in December, the days are shorter while to-do lists are longer and calendars are packed. Often these daily practices go out the window as I enter survival mode. But what I’ve learned is just because I’m not meditating regularly or following some sort of self care schedule, doesn’t mean I can’t stop at any moment during a stressful day and take some deep breaths.
That’s actually exactly when I need to do this practice the most.
3. Repeat My Favorite Mantras
I’m a huge fan of mantras and they’ve been really helpful in my journey to stop hating my body. One of my favorite mantras is:
Whether I’m getting dressed for a fancy holiday party, or about to walk into my 2nd grader’s class party, I remind myself of this one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my body. There IS something wrong with a world that treats people differently based on their appearance. And there’s something wrong with a world that denies people good medical care because of a number on the scale.
Maybe you resonate with this mantra. If so- great. Write it on your mirror, post it on your wall, place it somewhere you will see it. Every single day. And if it doesn’t resonate, no worries. Find mantras that DO stir a feeling in your gut. And practice those!
4. Accepting my Body vs Hating My Body
Body acceptance gets a lot of attention these days. Which is a great thing. But many in the world of body acceptance seem to promote the idea that accepting your body means you must feel beautiful. Be in love with your body. And parade around in itty bitty clothes taking selfies and dancing. Don’t get me wrong. I have mad respect for all of the people doing this on social media. It’s just that loving your body isn’t a requirement in body acceptance.
And this acceptance is very different from love. It just means I accept my body in whatever shape and size she is.
So how do you practice this? For me it means every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection and feel that panic in my gut, I take a deep breath. And say to myself: This is just what my body looks like right now. If my emotions are heavy, I practice giving myself compassion. It’s hard to live in a society that shames bodies for being round, soft, and squishy.
And then I try to move on with my day. I let go of the feelings that I need to fix my body, or change my body in some way. I don’t have to like my body. But I just accept this is what she looks like. In this moment, in this angle, in this mirror.
Again, this is a practice. Sometimes it is much harder than other times. But it starts with simply accepting what already is.
5. Mindful Self Compassion
Despite all the mantras I practice, all the ways I try to regulate my nervous system, and the nourishing meals I put into my body… December is still hard. Accepting my body is still hard. Living in a fatphobic culture is still hard.
We’re doing the best we can in this world and the least I can do is show myself compassion. Sometimes that means taking a deep breath, placing my hand on my heart, and talking to myself the way I’d comfort a child. And other times it means allowing myself to cry without shame or criticism. These are just a few examples. Mindful Self Compassion is a practice that can be life changing, and it looks different on everyone.
This Holiday Season
So wherever you are on your journey, this holiday season, I wish you joy. Happiness. Freedom. Community. Rest. Growth. And most of all- may you stop hating your body and move towards acceptance and compassion.