Body Acceptance as a Grief Process

Yes- the process of body acceptance can be paralleled to a grief process.

In a grief process, we’re left reckoning with a lost piece of ourselves- a part of us that felt central. To claim body acceptance, maybe even body love, we have to let go.
We let go of a dream body.
We let go of the pursuit of perfection.
We let go of a thin ideal.
We let go of the illusion of control.
We let go of the idea that a goal weight will come and save us.
We let go of the fantasy we have been sold for a lifetime.

When we let go of these ideals and beliefs- things that may have felt central to us for a long time- we experience loss. But as we let go, we choose ourselves. We choose our truth. We claim ourselves, just as we are. And that is so fricken powerful!

This blog post will lead you through the stages of grief in the process of body acceptance.

Thank you to the folks at Body Trust/ Be Nourished and to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross for their work and wealth of knowledge in this area.

What it looks like:

  • You’re hanging onto the belief that it is a realistic goal for everyone to create or sustain long-term weight loss.
  • Even if it hasn’t worked a hundred times, you’re convinced this next diet or exercise program will be the one.
  • Research shows only 3-5% of people maintain weight loss beyond 2 years post-diet, but you convince yourself you can be one of those people if you just work harder.

When you may find yourself here:

  • Diet culture’s seductive natures reels you back in with a new diet trend, a friend’s weight loss story, a celebrity endorsed “lifestyle program”.
  • You have a bad body day and your instinct to create a new weight loss plan kicks into gear.

How to navigate:

  • Continue to remind yourself of the harm dieting causes– both to you personally and in a larger, cultural sense (remember- it’s not your fault).
  • Educate yourself by following #HAES accounts and blogs, or reading anti-diet books.
  • Protect yourself from triggering messaging- unfollow accounts that focus on weight loss or dieting, create a bubble of friends who support you and don’t engage in diet culture or persistent body talk.
  • Detach your worthiness from the number you see on the scale.
  • Practice connecting with your body– breathing, body positive yoga, body scans.
  • Working with a coach or non-diet nutritionist you can trust will be helpful here.

What it looks like:

  • You feel anger, full of rage, jealousy, self-loathing or resentment.
  • You may continue dieting in order to avoid body shaming from others or yourself; or use food to soothe these big emotions.
  • While you may have been told anger is a “negative emotion”, this is a very important phase of the healing process.

When you may find yourself here:

  • Whenever the anger is directed inwards (blaming yourself and not diet culture for your feelings of “not good enough”)

How to navigate:

  • The most important thing is to externalize the anger you may have previously internalized– aka get angry with diet culture and the diet industry, not with yourself!
  • Remember- it’s not your fault for engaging in diet culture for most of your life, it’s not your fault that you’ve been told your body isn’t good enough as it is, it’s not your fault that larger bodies are marginalized.
  • Get mad about all the lies diet culture has fed the world for profit. Express your anger! Don’t suppress it. Don’t direct it inwards on yourself.
  • Find an outlet- punch a pillow, scream off the side of a cliff, write an angry letter to diet culture, get involved with activism, utilize body movement or energy practices.

What it looks like:

  • Finding new rationales for continuing restrictive eating behaviours- ones that aren’t related to appearance/body image- saying it’s not about weight but about “health”.
  • Trying to postpone ‘the inevitability’- which, in the case of body acceptance, is letting go of control over and manipulation of our body.

When you may find yourself here:

  • When we reengage in restrictive eating behaviours under another disguise, such as a ‘wellness program’

How to navigate:

What it looks like:

  • Feeling sadness or depression as you let go of the ‘ideal body’ or the ‘person you were meant to be once you lost weight’.
  • Again, we may have been told sadness is a “negative emotion”, but this is a necessary stage towards body acceptance.

When you may find yourself here:

  • You fall into an old belief that all your goals/hopes/dreams could only be achieved “once you lose the weight” and your future now feels out of your reach.
  • Example- thoughts like “I can only rock the style I love once I’m in a thinner body” or “I can’t meet a loving partner until I lose weight” are depressing!

How to navigate:

  • Develop an awareness of how weight stigma affects all people, regardless of their size.
  • Look for body positive role models. See people in a wide range of body sizes living joy-filled lives. Create community. Find people who are willing to be with you through the sadness.
  • Identify the privileges you’ve associated with thinness and start pursuing them today!  Remind yourself continuously- you can achieve all these things in the body you’re in now.

What it looks like:

  • Neutral about the loss of our ‘ideal body’ (not angry, not depressed)
  • Less preoccupied with the opinions, thoughts, and behaviours of others.
  • We no longer see our body size as a reason to delay life.
  • Lean into an internal, personalized definition of ‘normal’ eating and let go of external guides/plans/etc.

When you may find yourself here:

  • Eventually, there will be body acceptance!
  • Just remember, you can slip in and out of the space of acceptance.
  • This doesn’t mean you haven’t “done the work” or that you’ve failed at moving through the process… you’re simply human and might have some bad body days.

How to navigate:

  • Appreciate your body. Respect yourself and have fun doing it! Celebrate and live your life.
  • Joyful movement, intuitive eating, body expression.
  • If/when you do have a bad body day and fall out of acceptance- choose self-compassion over self-judgement.  You haven’t failed. You will likely feel differently tomorrow or even in the next hour. Falling out of acceptance is normal.
  • Come back to the tools or people or communities that support you.

Did the stages of grief in body acceptance resonate with you? Drop a comment below & let me know your thoughts!

Are you seeking support on your path to body acceptance and body love? That’s what I’m here for! Find out more.