Body Acceptance and Redefining Self-Worth: Learning to Embrace Your Body

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

We’ve been taught that our self-worth can be measured by the numbers on a scale. But our bodies are beautifully complex, and the truth is that there is no ideal weight or body type. Embracing bodies of different shapes and sizes — and appreciating those bodies for all they do for us — can help us recognize that our body acceptance and self-worth are truly immeasurable.

The Tenuous Connection Between Health and Weight

News headlines frequently warn of the latest study tying weight to health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems. And while these are valid health concerns, they don’t tell a complete story.

Over the years, the media has led the conversation about weight and body image, placing the blame on the individual for their weight. And the medical community has contributed to this discourse by focusing on how people can improve their health through weight loss [1]. But it’s the people who are the subject of these headlines who are caught in the middle.

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Research indicates that there are factors other than diet and exercise that can contribute to a person’s weight, including their family history and environment [2]. And frequently used measures like a person’s BMI (body mass index), which is an estimate of a person’s body fat based on their height and weight, are not a one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating health. Pro athletes, for example, can be characterized as overweight based on their BMI because of their muscle mass [3].

Despite these nuances, people are still judged for their weight, and this stigma often follows them all the way to the doctor’s office. In fact, a survey of six first-year medical students found that 70% preferred thin bodies. Even more troubling, 88% of the respondents thought that excess weight was a result of certain behaviors, 74% thought that excess weight was a result of ignorance, and 28% thought that people who struggled with their weight were lazy [4].

So, how do you embrace your body when the world is trying to define your worth by your weight?

Redefining Your Approach to Health and Body Acceptance

When you’re so focused on losing weight, it can sometimes feel like you’re punishing your body for not being what it’s “supposed” to be (i.e., a thinner version of yourself). But what if you honor your body for what it is right now?

The Health at Every Size (HAES) model offers an alternative way to define health, one that throws weight stigma out the window and respects size diversity [5]. This approach encourages people to eat intuitively, accept their bodies as they are, and be active for their health rather than to change their size or weight [1].

“For so many people, it’s hard for them to conceive of the idea that you can work towards health without mediating it through weight,” Linda Bacon, nutritionist, researcher, and one of the key proponents of HAES, told NPR. “What we know is that everyone can adopt self-care practices to improve health and well-being. We don’t have to focus in on weight status” [3].

This approach can be difficult for some people to understand because weight has been enmeshed with health for so long. But what many don’t realize is that HAES [5]:

  • Focuses on healthy activities and behaviors that promote a better quality of life, which may or may not cause a person to lose weight.
  • Is not ignoring other health concerns – People can suffer from health concerns no matter their size. HAES promotes a culture in which people can get the support they need without fear of weight stigma.
  • Does not promote poor health – Many people believe that HAES glorifies poor health by advocating for body acceptance. The truth is that this model advocates for inclusivity and better health outcomes for people who struggle with their weight.

African American girl working on self acceptanceWhen researchers reviewed several studies that evaluated the efficacy of the HAES model, they found that using this approach improved body acceptance, reduced psychological distress, increased physical fitness, and helped participants maintain their weight [1]. While the HAES model isn’t for everyone, this approach does offer a glimpse at what can happen when we start appreciating our bodies for what they can do instead of what they look like.

Body Acceptance and How to Start Embracing Your Body

Even if you haven’t adopted the HAES model, there are still things you can do to embrace the body you’re living with right now [3]:

  • Buy clothes that fit (and that you like) – Don’t hold on to clothes for a time when they’ll fit. Wear clothes that fit you right now and make you feel amazing.
  • Don’t wait until you lose weight to do something – You deserve to live a full life in the body you have right now.
  • Limit negative self-talk – We all have an inner monologue that can be quite mean at times. Remind yourself to be as compassionate to yourself as you would a friend or loved one.
  • Find a body-positive community – Connecting with others who are working on accepting themselves can help you start to embrace your own body.
  • It can be immensely difficult to separate your sense of self-worth from your weight, but taking small steps toward embracing your body can help you recognize that you matter — regardless of your size, shape, or weight.

References

[1] Penney, T. L. and Kirk, S. F. (2015). The Health at Every Size paradigm and obesity: Missing empirical evidence may help push the reframing obesity debate forward. American Journal of Public Health, 105(5), e38–e42. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302552.

[2] Williams, J. (2020, Feb. 3). The great body-acceptance debate. U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-02-03/body-positivity-weight-bias-and-the-battle-for-a-healthy-life.

[3] Godoy, M. (2020, May 22). How body positivity can lead to better health. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/25/717058366/rethinking-weight-loss-boost-your-body-acceptance-for-better-health.

[4] Geller, G. and Watkins, P. (2018). Addressing medical students’ negative bias toward patients with obesity through ethics education. AMA Journal of Ethics. 20(10): E948-959. doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2018.948.

[5] Dennett, C. (2020, May 1). Thinking about your weight? What you might be getting wrong about the Health at Every Size approach. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/thinking-about-your-weight-what-you-might-be-getting-wrong-about-the-health-at-every-size-approach/2020/04/30/a5cc6f8e-5418-11ea-9e47-59804be1dcfb_story.html.


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At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialty care for women and adolescent girls who are living with eating disorders, substance use disorders, and mental health concerns. Our residential treatment and partial hospitalization programming (PHP) help our residents achieve lifelong recovery by combining clinically excellent treatment with spiritual and emotional growth. We provide care that is holistic, personalized, and nurturing, empowering women to be active participants in their wellness journeys.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published Fenruary 3, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 3, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.