You cannot isolate mindful eating from body shame, guilt and self-rejection.
If you have body shame, if you hate yourself, your situations, your life, it is going to be very difficult to cultivate the practice of mindfulness with food, and with everything, for that matter.
If you rely on punishment, judgement, motivation, and fear to do the work of mindfulness for you, it is going to be all of those things. It is going to be heavy and confusing. Dark, inconsistent.
If body shame and self-rejection have been a part of your philosophy and you are weary from its webs, self-acceptance, the breath of relief about where you are right now, is available to remind you of love. And kindness. Compassion. Empathy. Awareness. Life.
A common misconception about accepting yourself is that if you do its work, you will become a less than desired version of yourself and never achieve any of your goals and be stuck in a life you define mediocre, unsatisfying, boring or passive.
As it relates to food, the misconception is that self-acceptance will interfere with self-discipline, trapping you in a body you will never truly be at home in. That you could never truly be grateful for, or dare love.
But this isn’t true. And when broken down, you find it is rooted in even more fear, shame and guilt, perpetuating a vicious cycle of self-hatred that has never served you.
I read about accepting myself, exactly as I was and where I was at in life, a few years ago. The idea seemed simple, but it was very threatening and felt impossible to cultivate.
It seemed simple because all self-acceptance required of me was a decision to stop rejecting myself when I felt inadequate (there is always a que triggering our panicked responses, be curious about what sends you down these chaotic paths). Self-acceptance didn’t necessitate anything outside of myself such as a job promotion, approval from others, better relationship with a lover, or reputation, or a better house, car, bigger bank account, or fill in the blank.
It didn’t require working up to anything before it could be practiced, except the decision to practice it.
Because of this, it was also very threatening.
If self-acceptance didn’t have anything to do with outside affirmation and influences, and only had to do with my decision to practice it, then it was entirely my own choice to be comfortable and happy with who I was.
And I wasn’t comfortable or happy with who I was. I didn’t meet my own marks.
So, I didn’t accept myself. Or my body. Or my life. And I felt heavy, trapped, and stuck on a path that was dark and lonely and without a future.
Sometimes it seems easier, or even appropriate, to decide to hold off accepting yourself until “x”, “y”, or “z” happens.
Examples as they relate to diet and fitness:
- Losing the last 5 pounds (or 10, or 15, or 20).
- Getting a flatter stomach (or more toned arms, or thinner thighs or whatever).
- Fitting into your ideal size jeans.
- Eating what you think is the perfect diet (and never blowing it).
- Eliminating all feelings of inadequacy.
You are entitled to all of these goals (though all are not always worth your time), but when they necessitate your own self-acceptance, your comfort and happiness rely on their existence, and typically remain in the past or in the future. You might remember a few years ago as a happier time because you were thinner, or you might wait to be happy next month, when you finally (you hope), lose weight or eat perfectly (as you define it).
But what about right now?
What about being comfortable and happy with who you are and with your life today?
The belief is that achieving your goals with food and fitness (and everything else) will make you happy. That they will erase, or at least soothe, life’s difficulties. That things will make more sense, you will have more clarity, and you will finally be comfortable with who you are and where you’re at.
And that others will be comfortable and happy with who you are and where you’re at.
But this is only an illusion.
The reality is that you will continuously be growing and evolving with the seasons of life. You will experience hardship, and loss, and pain, and devastation, and it will hurt. It will hurt so much. But breathing into these experiences, being mindful of their purpose in your life, mindful of how you treat your body during these challenges, you will be relieved by all that is beautiful–grace, mercy, and kindness, friendship, love, and laughter. And hope.
Your body will change. Your face will change. Your hair will change. And everything and everyone else will change, too. For the better, and for the worse.
You will get promotions, and offers, and approvals, and rejections.
You’ll make friends, and then take different paths.
You will meet a lover and grow together, and you might lose them, and you might never.
And you can choose to accept yourself the entire time.
You can choose to be comfortable and happy about who you are and where you are at. You can certainly try to improve yourself and situations, but the safety that keeps you at home in your body will be in the process of choosing self-acceptance and will be available to be enjoyed and expressed lovingly, like you would with someone you cared about. It will serve you better than the negativity, judgment, anxiety, and worry that is to be found in the guilt and shame of self-rejection.
Accepting yourself breaks down the walls of guilt and shame that you’ve built all around you, so that you are finally liberated to go out and do what you need to do in this life without the burden of hating yourself or feeling stuck.
The truth is, accepting yourself will not turn you into a lazy and unlikable slob and prevent you from living a life you are proud of. It will relieve you, allow you to get over what is keeping you from moving forward, and free you to enjoy the short time you have to breath and love and wonder.
If you’re in the habit of waiting for something or someone to liberate your self-rejection, why not try choosing to do it yourself and see how it goes?
Why not see if you can enjoy who you are and where you’re at today?
And then try it tomorrow, and the next day, and then the next.
Keep goals, and keep learning, and keep exploring, because it keeps things interesting, and challenging, and rewarding, but keep in mind that you are exactly where you need to be right now to choose self-acceptance.
This is mindfulness. This is the work of being alive in your body, with all of your senses, with all of your intentions and energy. With your choices and your time. With your life.
This is for you, right now.
Image from Paris Hotel Boutique.