How to Break Your Body-Shaming Habit

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How to Break Your Body-Shaming Habit

I know a woman (not a client) who, about a year ago, decided to do something pretty radical to her body. It affected everything—from what she ate to how she worked out to the clothes she wore. This experiment was so radical that she even ended up making new friends and buying new clothes.

It wasn’t a diet, exercise plan, a gym membership or a life coach. In fact, it was only one thing, and it took her less than 15 minutes to do … not 15 minutes a day, 15 minutes once.

She changed whom she followed on Instagram.

“I realized I was looking at certain women in my Instagram feed and feeling bad about my body,” she says. “So I unfollowed them and followed more women who were beautiful, but in a wider variety of shapes, sizes and colors. I just added more variety to the images I was seeing every day when I scrolled through my phone.”

After a few weeks, she also started following women who were doing things with their bodies that she wanted to do. Strong things. So she followed Olympic weight lifters. Javelin throwers. Women doing handstands and flipping logs.

“I was enjoying following them so much that the ‘fitspiration’ crap on my Pinterest board started looking stupid. Those women were just skinny and sweaty. So I started unfollowing them, and my Pinterest board started to look like my Instagram feed. And I was feeling even better about myself.”

Already lifting weights a few times a week, she started trying to lift a little heavier when her body felt like it. Soon she was carrying heavy, squatting heavy and eating differently, too. “It just made sense. I wanted to take care of myself, and it felt good. I wasn’t depriving myself.”

Soon she was reading different magazines. “A lot of the fitness, nutrition and women’s magazines were reminding me of what I had unfollowed on social media. So I started reading more cooking magazines. Not diet magazines, cooking magazines. Then I started watching different movies and TV shows, too. More about middle-aged women, about their ambitions, their lives, and not if they were pretty enough. It wasn’t really even conscious until I realized how good it made me feel to watch stories about women as people instead of objects.

“A few months later, people started asking me if I had lost weight, but I have no idea. I didn’t weigh myself as a rule, because when I did that, I just got into a shame spiral. I’ve definitely had to buy new clothes, but [it’s] because I’m shaped differently now.”

This story might seem extreme, but it’s not off base. Social science literature calls this a “change in the motivational climate.” Some version of body acceptance can be found in just about any long-term weight management study that measures it. In fact, body acceptance might be more important at certain stages of a weight-loss journey than almost anything else.

In a study with 239 overweight women, study authors found “Reducing the levels of concern with body image (i.e., the investment in appearance) … is more strongly related to the successful adaptation of eating behavior.” The researchers (and many subsequent study authors) concluded that body self-acceptance and a further emphasis on diet and exercise for deeper reasons like, “I do this because this is part of who I am,” result in better choices about what to eat without feelings of social pressure.

We start to do the hard things … because we want to do them! In motivation research, this is called “autonomy,” and it’s the opposite of feeling controlled. It is the feeling that you’re acting in accordance with your own values and of your own free will. And, according to 40 years of motivation research, it is the most important factor in permanent change. Yes, even more important than Pinterest “fitspo.”

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  • Healthattherightsize

    I found the title of this article really misleading. I assumed it was going to be about the HAES movement and I really appreciate it’s about actually being healthy! A healthy lifestyle with a mixture of good diet and exercise will make you feel better about you.

    • HAES is about exactly what this article is about: choosing to engage in healthy habits because they make you feel good and you want to care for your body, rather than because you’re pursuing an ideal body type or a number on the scale. I thought the headline and content were on point, and a breath of fresh air from MFP.

      • bayareacat

        Well, let’s be fair, HAES has an OK premise. People shouldn’t get too hung up that they don’t look like super models, or they are heavier than some arbitrary “goal weight”. But HAES often seems to attract people looking for an easy way to excuse obesity (and the associated health problems that come with it). Unfortunately, those people are the biggest, and loudest voices in the HAES community, and when people think of HAES, THAT is what they think about.

  • TamaraG

    I completely agree with the steps she took and am so happy for her and her results. I stopped watching so much TV, got off Instagram, spent more time reading the Bible and googled fitness more than dieting and I Began to lose weight! Thank you Lord! It really started with me realizing that too much on TV and the gram nowadays is fake. If I want to change my situation I have to do it for me and no one else. The Bible taught me that I couldn’t keep comparing myself to everyone else. So all in all determinatiom mixed with a lot of faith, gave me the resolve to take some serious life changing steps and I couldn’t be happier! Still dropping weight and loving the changes I see from the inside out!

    • Joann

      Thanks Tamara for your post. I too need to make some serious life changes. I watch TV way more than I should. My goals this year is to read a lot more and to get rid of friends that are not in the same page as me. They can bring you down at times.

  • Tiffany

    I’m going to do this right now. I just had a crazy wake up call. I follow way too many “Instagram Models” and it is bringing my self-esteem down for sure.

    Thank you so much for this article!!!!

  • Looking at others too much is definitely a huge modern-day social media-inspired problem, no matter if it’s about body shape, wealth or ‘happiness’. Disconnecting (at least from time to time) is a great happiness technique that needs to be present in your life.

  • Elaine

    I need to do this … stop worrying about the scale and just feel good about my body. Our society really has to stop judging and maybe we won’t judge ourselves so harshly.

  • MAYLIN

    Great blog post! I was getting so over stressed about how to get started and what to do to lose 30 lbs I decided to create a simple and non stressful 30 day plan. I broke it into 3 parts and today I’m on day two! It’s a lifestyle and I am determined to reach my goal and love my self in my journey! #BEcomingMyBestSelf #IRefuseToBeOrdinary #FitChicainTraining

  • Bob

    When you are eating wrong and mistreating your body, it is normal to feel shame. You SHOULD feel shame.

    A shameless society helps few, and enables many. Being ok with a BMI of 35, and stoking that stance with more denial will lead to early death by heart disease or cancer.

    But I want you to LIVE!

    So go ahead. Feel shame. Feel it deep in your bones. Cry. Get it all out.

    Then get out of bed tommorow and stop eating dairy and beef. Create a love affair with kale and spinach, and DO something serious!

    *crumples up this article, then throws it in the trash*

    • Leena

      Cutting out dairy? I had a BMI of over 30 and never cut out dairy. I now have a BMI of 20.
      Living healthy is not about eliminating food groups.

      • Bob

        Yes. Dairy is awful for your body and sabotages dieting because it promotes weight gain (cow’s milk is designed to turn a 60lb calf into a 400lb cow, and will do the same to you.)

        Also, cacin promotes tumor growth, and the fats within promote heart disease.

        You might have a bmi of 20 (congrats btw), but you are far more like to die of cancer or heart disese if you continue to eat dairy. Please look into the China study; it will blow your mind.

        Did you know that food groups were invented by the government and heavily influenced by the dairy and meat industries?

      • Bob

        Yes Leena, you should cut out dairy. Here is why:

        Dairy will sabotage your diet, because it is a weight gain promoter. I is ‘designed’ to turn a 60lb calf into a 400lb cow. Why ruin your hard-earned 20 BMI status by eating something that is destined to make you bigger?

        Dairy also promotes tumor growth (casesin in particular) and heart disease. Eating cheese is worse for your body than smoking. Literally.

        Please look into the China study (and many others). The facts will blow your mind. If you want to stay lean and live a LOT longer, then you should stop eating dairy today.

        Also, food groups were invented by the government, not nature herself. The meat and dairy industries had much influence with the final structure. Along with many millions of dollars of brainwashing, it has us all thinking “Milk does a body good!”, but the facts say the opposite.

        • Liz

          Hi all, to understand why cutting out bread and dairy is silly just look at the French. They are one of the healthiest and thinnest on the planet. It is important as Americans we realize our portions are rediculous and we live off sweet drinks…..add toouch driving and television and you have a disaster. We should be focusing on habits…not food groups.

          • Bob

            Being thin and fit don’t mean people have healthy arteries, or have special resistance to cancer. (I was in Paris recently, and it amazing how thin everyone is. It is because they walk everywhere. I lost weight during my visit, eating like a king.)

            The French paradox isn’t a paradox at all, because they haven’t been eating heavy dairy and meat diets for long, which creates and illusion of immunity. (Soon they will catch up to GB but probably never to our rediculous level of disease.)

            People did not evolve to drink cows milk. It is a fabricated food group. Please read up on casein and the China study. That knowledge could add many years to your life.

          • Debby

            This is absolutely true. Think about it.. if you were a hunter/gatherer would you want to be chasing down wild buffaloes and trying to milk them? Cows were not domesticated during the time where our genes were really being shaped, and our genes do not adapt quickly. It takes thousands of years to adapt to dietary changes. Some say as long as 10,000 years ago. We don’t have litters of babies and have children on average only once every 20 years. That’s why we haven’t genetically adapted to these changes. We definitely weren’t milking cows back then.

            We WERE, however, eating meat and hunting! You can’t claim that you follow and believe in ONE aspect of human evolution (DAIRY) and use that as evidence and ignore another aspect of evolution (HUNTING FOR MEAT). That’s illogical. China study was flawed and has many confounding variables. Ignore the fact that Chinese eat a lot LESS (longevity), walk and exercise a lot more, still have a lot of OTHER kinds of Cancers, ignored that Chinese eat a huge variety of meat, etc. etc.

            You could absolutely not follow a vegetarian diet in the wild. You’d starve.

            By the way, I have a degree in nutrition specializing in paleolithic and functional nutrition and studied this extensively.

  • bsarticle

    The article title says to stop bodyshaming. Then, it proceeds to body shame “skinny and sweaty” women. It tells us how following skinny women is a bad idea.

    • Avriel Fleming

      Skinny women have been told for SO LONG that their bodies are the qualifying standard to be beautiful, that when someone finally says “don’t strive to be skinny” (because everyone deserves to love who they are and how they look), they feel victimized and “shamed”.

  • Blackdawn_70631

    “Those women were just skinny and sweaty.”
    Finally, I’m so glad to hear that. My husband gets irritated sometimes with me because he thinks I’m trying to lose weight, then many of my MFP friends think I’m trying to lose weight.
    I’m not. I’m eating more, working out more. Weight lifting.
    I was once even asked why I was weight lifting. Why not? Why is it so strange for women to weight lift.
    Then so many women force their bodies into that size 2 because size 2 is hot. I’m a size 14, and only 5 pounds overweight. So why should I force myself onto a size 2 because it’s supposed to be hot.
    I want to be big. I want to be thick. Be toned. Not starve myself. Still eat and still be healthy.
    I have a Bio Screening come up. The last came up a rating of 85%. This time I’m hoping for a higher number with better numbers. But I’m doing it all against the usual “diet to be skinny” plan.
    I’m following my own “diet to be healthy” plan.

  • Alyssa

    Are there any recommendations for some great boards to follow?

  • Coco_Mosaic

    I love this! Do you mind if I link this to my blog on writers press? I’m going to share with as many people I know that need to read this. It is just about the definition of accepting who you were 20 years ago is not who you are today. Work within your limits, and choose what makes you happen than trying to achieve what 20 years has done. It isn’t realistic and it isn’t realistic to think it will last if you do not make a lifestyle change. I hope this helped reach many people the level they needed to get their motivation. It is important you keep your values true to you and not try to keep up with what society has decided the perfect body type, size and number. If you want to be anything like a role model to your children or siblings is be the example they need to make it possible as well.

  • JA

    GoodArticle…istopped eating most junk food and sugary sweets.started the squat challenge and pulled out my kettlebell..ican say now im averaging losing 6 lbs/month x3 months now..the easiest thing ive ever done is to stop eating my unhealthy sweets..I’m now a toned size loose 12 and feel great..I’m just eating better and watching portions and staying within calories..iuse this site everyday..I’m hoping to lose 30 more pounds in a year and see a size 9 again..

  • Hackie

    Ironically, this image promotes body shaming–the standard slender, young, beautiful blond. True, she has tattoos (maybe real, maybe not), but it’s still the image most of us cannot be.

  • Ryan Kennedy

    I never stuck to a diet when my main motivation was to not feel bad about being fat. Now that I care a lot less about body image, I don’t beat myself up about food, and the weight is coming off.

  • Bob

    Living without dairy is not a diet plan; It is the way we evolved as primates eat.

    Do you have arthritis? Or any other auto immune disease? Allergies? Firbroids? Just a short list of things that can be cured by giving up dairy.

    Please look into casein and the China study, then tell me I’m wrong.

  • Michael

    This is true for guys as well. One of my biggest battles in my self image. I’m 5’11” 225 pounds. On paper in over weight. However I track my diet, workout three to four times a week. Track my heart rate, track my blood pressure and on paper I’m as fit as they come…but in the scale not so much and I beat myself up over it extensively. I didn’t have the formed abs, the ripples in my biceps… But I’m okay with that. I’m kicking my own butt and getting faster and stronger than before and lifting weights heavier than before…. You’re biggest concern should be yourself pushing yourself, and that was my toughest lesson

  • DANI

    Love this article!!! I agree too much hype & airbrushing on magazine, tv etc..about the dieting, being skinny & much more. I like this woman’s take, tell & show the truth…reality!.. not photos that have been tweaked. Im 50 & my body’s metabolism seemed to come to a halt. I am physical active but, had to up my protein, change eating healthier & do different exercise routines..Walking, running, biking, lifting weights, Rocking My Yoga, HIT etc. Its all about having a positive “I Can & Will” attitude! Only “YOU” can make the change in your body happen. Yes, I believe in the power of prayer..I asked God to help me stay focused, motivated, give me the strength & determination to never give up until I reach my short & long term goals! ” Life Is Awesome”!!!

  • Nina