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We Need to Start Loving and Accepting All Bodies: Here’s How

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Before I begin, I want to say this: not all young people possess a mindset similar to the one I am about to discuss.

If you are able to see past our thin-obsessed society, I applaud you.

My goal is to reach out to those who feel the way I once felt – inadequate, insecure and resentful that I was missing out on life because I couldn’t escape the pressure to strive for physical perfection.

“You look great! Did you lose weight?”  

We’ve all heard comments like this before. They seem harmless, but these simple words can hold such destructive power over many young (and older!) adults.

Many of us praise those with naturally thin frames. When we see someone with this body type, we may quickly assign favorable qualities to that person. We assume:

1. They must have it all together.

2. They must value their nutrition.

3. They probably stay active and fit.

4. They most likely ace every exam.

5. They undoubtedly have the picture-perfect relationship we all dream of.

More detrimentally, we may assume that those with this “admirable” body type have acquired it in a healthy, balanced way. We make assumptions about the type of person they are, internally, based on what we can see, externally. But just like the old idiom tells us, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

As a matter of fact, some people eat far from a nutritionally-balanced diet, yet still possess the “ideal” body type as a result of genetics. Others deprive their bodies of adequate nutrition just to sustain the body type we are told to strive for. Both groups have the aesthetic our society praises, but their bodies are far from healthy. Despite such detrimental nutritional deficiencies, they are complimented and encouraged to continue on.

Our culture’s thin-obsessed mentality cause some of us to assume that those with larger bodies are lazy, inactive and unmotivated. Yet, in actuality, these people may eat more nutritiously or more actively pursue physical fitness than someone with a smaller frame.

But let me ask you this: have you ever assumed a person to be lazy or unmotivated solely because they have blue eyes versus brown? Why should one’s body type be any different? The unique physical characteristics you’re given are simply that — neutral factors that make you… you. Curly hair or straight, light or dark skin, larger body or petite — no physical characteristic is superior to the other, just simple observations that make you distinct from everyone else.

Skinny is not inherently “good;” fat is not inherently “bad.” 

We all have a body size and weight that is “right” for us based on our genetic makeup and life experiences. This is known as our “set point.” It is something we are born with, similar to height and eye color. And while many people despise the fact it cannot be changed or altered, this fact can serve as the foundation to help us challenge our society’s promotion of and preference for thinness.

Pressures to be thin drive many of us to pick up dangerous behaviors (bingeing, restricting, purging) that can severely harm us, both physically and mentally. And the greedy, ill-intentioned dieting industry, now worth over $66 billion, undoubtedly plays a part. Along with society’s power to target young adults’ insecurities, this is all too much fuel in the fire. I say it’s time to put an end to the destruction.

Accepting our natural shapes.

Respecting our naturally-born body shapes is crucial to our health. By turning our backs to the greedy and damaging diet industry, we can trust in our bodies’ natural abilities to take care of us. By doing this, we can eliminate the pressure to meet an idolized standard and embrace our own unique versions of health.

Here are three ways that you can both challenge diet culture and create an environment where all bodies are beautiful, acceptable and worthy.

1. Define what “healthy” looks like for you.

Healthy is not one-size-fits-all. Defining health in your personal life is crucial in understanding what your body needs to thrive. It’s important to identify what benefits your lifestyle the most. Your eating, exercise and relaxation habits are unique for a reason, and no two people are alike. Just like you can’t compare apples to oranges, you can’t compare the needs of an athlete and a computer engineer. And that’s OK.

2. Practice intuitive eating.

Trusting the diet advice of your college roommate, favorite gossip magazine or top Instagram influencer is not the answer. Your body has its own needs that only one person can accurately identify – you. Intuitive eating will help you to understand your body better than anyone else. In short, intuitive eating is about relearning to eat outside of the diet mentality, putting the focus on your internal cues like hunger, fullness and satisfaction, and moving away from external cues like food rules and restrictions. It’s how we ate when we were carefree little kids, and it’s how we should strive to eat for the rest of our lives.

3. Keep your blinders on.

Self-comparison gets us nowhere. Regardless of what new diet your roommate is trying, or what new exercise trend everyone on campus is talking about, remind yourself that your body is your best guide. Do not let the behaviors of others dictate your decisions. You are your own person, running your own race. Disregard the chaos going on around you and just keep looking forward.

My personal recovery journey has granted me wisdom far beyond my years, but out of all the lessons I’ve learned, I would say this is what has changed my life the very most:

When we stop aiming for perfection, we can finally allow ourselves to be happy with the blessings that are already within us and around us.  

And of all the things a person can be, happiness is the most beautiful.

Bio: Hannah Durbin is a recent 2018 college graduate from Elon University who knows the struggles of an eating disorder all too well. Hannah has built herself up from the rock bottom of her battle with anorexia nervosa and later struggles with binge eating disorder, to become a bright ray of hope for all living with mental illness. Since achieving a full recovery, Hannah has devoted a major portion of her life to eating disorder advocacy and awareness. She has transparently portrayed her ongoing journey, both online and out in the world, in hopes of emphasizing the resilience of the human spirit. While standing tall in her recovery, Hannah has gone on to establish a chapter of Project Heal at her university, work with renowned eating disorder advocates, and is a regular contributor to Eating Recovery Center‘s blogs.   

Image via Eating Recovery Center

Originally published: July 31, 2018
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