Accept Your Body, Accept Your Tree
By Gia Marson, Ed.D.
To reach full recovery from disordered eating—and to be the healthiest you can be—means being willing to abide by the facts of your body, which is determined by four elements: your individual genetics, biological functioning, attitude, and lifestyle. Acceptance means seeing your mind and body as inextricably linked to all the aspects that make you who you are. It means embracing your whole, unified self.
Some people think “acceptance” means passively giving up on yourself. Or that it’s rooted in feeling superior or perfect. Not at all. Acceptance is an active decision.
Some of the rules that govern how we think about our bodies are fixed, and we have little control over them. Genetics is one uncontrollable factor, and it plays a major role in body diversity and health. Yet, how we respond to our body is in our control—we get to choose how we treat it.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s imagine that you want to reach a height of 6' 3". If your genetics are in sync, then you’re in luck. At the same time, if you can’t meet nutritional and other necessary conditions during important developmental windows, your growth may be impaired.
The power that comes from body confidence can enhance how you think about and treat your body. Eating disorders come with a formidable barrier in this area. The thoughts that come along often confuse what is absolutely required for sustenance with what is optional. That’s why a trusting relationship with your family, dietitian, therapist or doctor is incredibly helpful. Within those connections, you can learn to honor the facts (not feelings) about your genetics and stick with what is true when it comes to meeting your biological needs.
Accepting your tree is within your control. You can do this by making a commitment to consider your genetics and making realistic, healthy choices that lead you to optimal well-being. Seeing food as medicine is one step to creating a mindset of body acceptance. Another step is taking a good look at how your attitude influences your self-image. In "Getting Clear" (2014), Ann Kent Rush writes about developing a healthy self-image.
She points out that you can stand for justice and dignity even when overt and covert messages of discrimination—based on color, sex, age, origin, and body type, size or shape—persist. She shares wisdom from a family member: “Most people seek to exert advantage over others and they’ll latch onto any difference as their excuse to gain an edge...don’t believe them.” Have you ever thought about how the biases of advertisers, media and even people around you affect how you view yourself?
How might we stop believing messages of inadequacy from companies who are trying to sell something? The diet, fitness, fashion and social media industries are for-profit enterprises. Their business models are based on the likelihood that the more you find wrong with yourself, the more you buy and the more they earn. But you have choices. You can stop believing those messages.
Instead of passively being the person someone else wants you to be, actively define yourself. Become the writer of your own story.
Even as your body acceptance grows through attitude shifts, you’ll want to think about how your lifestyle influences your self-view. It might help to visualize how you spend your time. For example, try making a pie chart that illustrates how you spend your time and assign percentages to each area. Now, reflect on what you see. Can you put your finger on any lifestyle habits that positively impact your whole health and those that enable you to stay true to the attitudes that reflect your values? Once you associate factors that bring about greater body acceptance for you, you’ll be better able to catch opportunities for true health in the future.
When you observe that your body acts in a right, proper or effective way, then you may feel trusting. Eventually you’ll find faith in your body. This can take time to develop if you’re recovering from an eating disorder. To build trust, begin to nourish yourself consistently and practice attuned listening and responding—your body’s physical and emotional cues will get louder. You’ll be ready to receive messages with greater accuracy. You’ll notice subtle shifts in sensations.
By paying attention, you’ll become aware of differences, such as the distinction between very and somewhat hungry, neutral and comfortable fullness, bored and tired, sad and lonely, or even inspired and joyful. With a more mindful approach to your body’s functions, you will be able to hear internal messages more clearly and respond with actions that nourish, fuel and satisfy you. Gently accepting your body in the present moment is an ongoing task, a process throughout recovery from any illness and, in a different way, for the rest of your life.
Try writing an affirmation that you can recite daily on your journey of body acceptance and loving your tree. Or you can use this one: “I agree to abide by the truths of my body just as it is.” Say it out loud. When you speak, your brain listens.
I hope you’ll be willing to patiently put up with your body and its needs so that you can grow, heal and live well. As your biological functioning, attitudes and lifestyle change, take on the responsibility of caring for your body. I hope you’ll promise to provide yourself with ingredients of whole health.
About Gia Marson, Ed.D.
Dr. Gia Marson is a licensed psychologist, consultant, integrative medicine health coach, a clinical director on the board of the Breaking the Chains Foundation, and a longtime meditation practitioner. She is coauthor of The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook: An Eight-Week Individualized Plan to Overcome Compulsive Eating and Make Peace with Food.