If your own mind is spitting out negative thoughts on its own, try practicing “thought stopping,” a technique often used in cognitive behavioral therapy, Dr. Cox said. When a negative thought about your body pops into your brain, say “stop.” Then, mindfully replace that thought with a positive one. For example: If you’re standing in front of the mirror, zeroed in on your belly fat, stop that thought and remind yourself that your body carried a baby, or has run marathons or allows you to haul mulch in your garden.
Be aware: It’s not just personal.
Diet culture is everywhere. For example, the terms “quarantine 15” or “the Covid 19.” These terms of weight gain pushed the idea on social media and popular culture sites that, amid mass illness and unemployment and other pandemic woes, one aspect worthy of your emotional energy was staying thin enough to fit into your jeans.
Even if no one has ever found fault with your body, you have most likely internalized ideas about how bodies should look. Chances are, those ideas are divorced from our actual health. These ideas are connected to capitalism’s incessant need to sell diet products, said Connie Sobczak, co-founder and executive director of the Body Positive, a nonprofit that leads body-positivity training. Creating a hierarchy of good, better and best bodies generates market opportunities for selling what we need to get those bodies.
Take a good look at your media and social media consumption. Consider unfollowing or muting thinness-championing friends, influencers and celebrities. Another step? Calling out — even if only to yourself — examples of fat phobia in TV shows, movies and more. When you start purposefully noting diet culture whenever you see it, you’ll be astounded at how it has permeated our daily discourse.
Remember, you belong here (and everywhere).
People who live in larger bodies often do not feel welcome in certain spaces — like the gym, Dr. Cox said. But practicing body acceptance can change that.
“Research shows that shame doesn’t work,” Dr. Cox said. “Shaming doesn’t actually lead to behavioral change, but acceptance fosters behavioral change and fosters us to be active in spaces that we traditionally are not welcome in.” She pointed to a 2011 study in the journal Qualitative Health Research. Participants were invited to join the Fatosphere, an online community where the word “fat” was neutral and treated like any other descriptor: i.e., having brown hair or being short or tall. Negative conversations about weight were not allowed, and participants were urged to open up about their experiences in a safe body-positive space. After a year of participating in the Fatosphere, participants reported positive changes to their overall well-being. They also felt more confident going into spaces they traditionally would have avoided. When people begin to see their bodies as the wonder they are, not the things they are not, “people actually do find the liberty to do things that society tells them they can’t do,” Dr. Cox said.
Taking that first step into a seemingly hostile space may be daunting — especially after a year spent at home. Dr. Cox recommends beginning with positive affirmations.