Back in Part I of this post, we made the scientific case for why there’s no reason to fear accepting your body: it won’t make you gain weight, and there’s a bunch of research to suggest that it’s actually the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. But what do we mean by accepting your body? And how can you get there?Well, we know what the opposite of acceptance is–it’s that destructive (and ineffective) cycle of having self-critical thoughts, blaming yourself, putting yourself on doomed-to-fail diets, and blaming yourself again. So you’d think that acceptance would be about replacing those self-critical thoughts at the beginning of the cycle with more positive thoughts. While that’s a possibility, and even something that will likely come with time, it’s not what we mean by acceptance. What we’re talking about is learning to accept your body and mind as they are–negative thoughts and all.
Acceptance has the power to disrupt the cycle of criticism by inserting itself directly after the self-critical thought and before the blaming begins. Because acceptance has to do with how you respond to your thoughts and feelings. For example, you might look at your body and notice that your thighs have gotten bigger. You might then feel bad about that fact. Especially as you begin this process, negative, self-critical thoughts and feelings will happen. They’re inevitable. Acceptance means letting the thought that your thighs are bigger be true, and letting your feelings about that thought also stand. But it also means not giving the thoughts or feelings more import than they actually deserve–not judging the thoughts and feelings one way or another. When you’re able to do this, you’re actually able to keep perspective and make much wiser, sustainable choices for yourself.
How Mindfulness Leads to Acceptance
So, how do you get to a place of acceptance? One great way is by practicing mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness means approaching your life with a non-judgemental focus on the present moment. Mindfulness doesn’t ask you to change how you think. Instead, it teaches you to change how you react to the thoughts you have.
Mindfulness helps you create the space between your thought and your judgement of the thought by having you pause and be present in the moment. It helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings. The simple act of being aware of your thoughts and feelings can help you take them a little bit less seriously. Pausing can help you accept your thoughts, feelings, experiences, health, relationships, and your body for whatever they happen to be in the moment, rather than trying to label and change them.
–You have the thought that your thighs are too big
–You then can either jump into the judgement that you need to change their size
–Or, you could pause.
Once the pause is there, you’re much more likely to consider the context around the thought. Maybe, for example, you were already having a bad day and you had the thought after you looked at a magazine of photoshopped women. Just taking a moment to pause and realize the context might help you to realize that the combination of your bad mood and the magazine is what caused the thought. You might then realize it’s the magazine’s photoshopping–not you–that needs changing. Or, even more ideally, if you were being mindful of your bad mood, you might not have even picked up the magazine, knowing it was likely to cause you distress.
It’s this ability to pause–to return to present-moment awareness–that allows you to develop acceptance. Mindfulness teaches you how to pause, to be in the moment, and to practice acceptance. Acceptance helps you take your self-critical thoughts less seriously so that you can respond in ways that are healthy and productive.
Learning to Pause
Far from being something you do, mindfulness is actually about not-doing. Learning to do nothing–tobe instead of do. Specifically, you can learn to be instead of do through meditation practice. Meditation is the formal practice that trains you to pause, to come back to the present moment, and to recognize your thoughts and feelings before you react to them.
But you can start practicing pausing mindfully today, without a formal meditation practice.
The next time you have a negative, self-critical thought about your body, try to physically stop what you’re doing. Pausing is the suspension of activity and intention.
Try then to just be in the moment. Observe the moment without judging the self-critical thought as good or bad. Try to be open to whatever you’re thinking or feeling or seeing. Stop trying to control the moment, just be in it. Be aware that the present moment is always changing, and so whatever thoughts or feelings you’re having now may slip away in the next moment to make way for new thoughts and new feelings.
You get to decide what your response will be after you’re finished pausing. If during your pause you’re able to recognize your self-critical thought as part of a disruptive and negative cycle, perhaps after pausing you’ll choose to move forward with more self-compassion.
We hope next time you find yourself being critical of your body, you’ll take a moment to pause. For more practice with mindfulness and getting to a place where you can accept your body, go to golantern.com/body.