Honoring Your Body: Health at Every Size with Christian Counseling (Part 1 of 2)
This article is the first of a two-part conversation on honoring your body. This first part is written from a “Health at Every Size” perspective (if you don’t know what that means, keep reading!), and the second will be written from a faith-based perspective and will be posted next month, so be sure to check back if you’re interested!
Unfortunately, for so many reasons, we live in a day and age where it’s hard to make peace with our bodies, much less develop a lasting sense of body-acceptance. Our culture, media, friends…even we ourselves put forward certain standards of what it means to be beautiful, loveable, successful, or even simply “ok”. We have weight-loss pills, exercise regimens, calorie counters, steroids, and laser surgeries. And yet instead of feeling full and vibrant and flourishing, we feel tired and discouraged and like we’ll never measure up. It’s time to re-examine our cultural values and learn, as a people, what it means to get over our bodies and into our lives.
Honoring Your Body – A “Health At Every Size” Perspective
“Start with this thought: Your body doesn’t represent your core self. You are many more important things beyond your body: Perhaps you are compassionate, intelligent, articulate, and/or creative. Don’t give your body more power than it deserves; it can’t define you. Instead, cultivate a value system that puts appearance in its place and honors bodies for more than their packaging. You body is valuable because it houses you.” Linda Bacon, Health at Every Size, p. 186
There’s a movement happening in our nation called Health at Every Size, or HAES. The premise of HAES is that the best way to improve your health is to honor your body and tune-in to its intuitive wisdom. The focus of the movement is on vitality, respect, and well being, not body shape or weight. The following are a couple of thoughts (with my own expansion) on learning how to honor your body from Linda Bacon’s book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight.
Appreciate what your body can do, not just how it looks. Take some time to stop and marvel at the wonder that is your body. Consider every tiny cell and nerve and fiber working together to keep your heart beating, your lungs expanding, your feet from stumbling…all while your mind is running through the day’s “to do” list. Your body is intricate and well designed. It has a wisdom all it’s own. The more we can learn to marvel at, respect, and tune-in to our bodies, the more we’ll come to appreciate them, “flaws” and all.
Learn the facts about health. Thinness does not equal health. Neither does fat necessarily equal poor health, and it certainly doesn’t equal laziness, or character flaws, or any of the other negative connotation we’ve added to it. Would it surprise you to learn that the eating habits of the fat and thin are not drastically different? Or that people with a BMI in the “overweight” category have a longer life expectancy that those with a BMI in the “normal-weight” category? Health at Every Size aims to set the facts straight and prevent people from buying in to misinformation about the relationship between body size and health. Understanding these health myths may help you honor your body’s natural wisdom and tune-in to its intuition.
Don’t let negative self-talk get in your way. It’s easy to forget how much power we have over our own thoughts. When a thought passes through our minds that we’re not “pretty enough” or “strong enough” or “smart enough”, we often assume that thought is true, that it reflects reality, or that we are supposed to sit there and listen to it. But just as we don’t have to allow other people to talk-down to us, we don’t have to give that power to our thoughts. The next time a thought like that comes to your mind, let it pass by with all of the other thoughts that move through your mind without grabbing your attention. Then pick a new thought that honors who you are and make it your mantra for the day.
Stand up for Cultural Change
It’s common in our culture to talk about our bodies in derogatory ways, to compare the shape and size of our bodies, and to compliment people on weight loss (whether it’s healthy or not). Unfortunately it’s much less common to compliment a person on good self-care or on the qualities of their character that we admire. Health at Every Size is movement for cultural change that stands up against fat-prejudice and promotes a lifestyle of vitality and freedom for people of all sizes. That change happens at a you-and-me level and requires that we “swim upstream” against the norms of our day. The more that we ourselves learn to get over our bodies and into our lives, the more cultural change we can create in our society.
Don’t Go-It Alone
It’s not easy to change the way we think and feel about our bodies, much less stand up to well-entrenched cultural norms. The first step toward body-acceptance is finding people who can support you in the journey. Whether that means getting some friends together to read Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size, joining a support group, or seeking professional Christian counseling, the journey will be smoother with the support of others. If any of the concepts discussed above are intriguing to you, or even if they seem ridiculous, that may be a good place to start the conversation. If you have concerns about where you land in the eating and body-image struggle, know that there are professional counselors ready to help you restore the joy and freedom in your life.
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