Fat acceptance is the idea that an overweight individual has every right to be happy and content with respect to their sense of self as well as their own body. It is a beautiful expression of the power that comes from accepting who you are, and loving yourself as you deserve to be loved. It stands in clear contrast to the emphasis that most of today's society places on uniformity and conformity in relation to body image. In doing so, it allows people who have never been able to lose weight in the past to achieve powerful breakthroughs and to reach their goals.
The contrasting idea of fat acceptance is shame. Fat shaming is the product of the sometimes quiet, and sometimes thunderous, wave of messages from society that state very clearly that being overweight is not okay. It poses the following question, which has shaped how millions of people have come to think about themselves: How can a man or a woman be accepting of their body when it falls so far outside of society's vision of the ideal form?
The answer to this question lies within the possibility that exists in the realm of acceptance. Acceptance, not rejection, is they key that unlocks the possibility of making the changes necessary to address our nation's obesity epidemic. In my experience, it is those who accept their weight and deal with it powerfully who achieve the most profound and lasting weight loss results.
How We Relate to Ourselves Matters
Language is both how we communicate with the world around us, as well as the way that we communicate with ourselves. In this way, the language that we use to describe ourselves becomes who we actually are. The combination of the words fat and acceptance literally come to mean the action of understanding one's current weight to be adequate or suitable. But fat acceptance needs to be more than accepting an unhealthy standard of living, of which I do not support, and instead a vehicle for change.
When patients come to my practice for help losing weight, I have found that many begin their road to wellness by recounting to me how terrible and awful they feel that they have allowed their weight to get so out of hand. They have not accepted their bodies as a physical manifestation of the metabolic issues present combined with the choices that they make, but rather, they reject the image that stares back at them in the mirror. It is an image of shame, instead of an image of power.
The first step in helping my patients is to provide access the possibility of accepting their bodies as they are. When I share that my first request of them is to open their mind to the possibility of accepting their current weight as a temporary condition that can be changed, some shrug this request off as an impossible task. They visibly show that they have no faith left in themselves, and that they truly believe that they cannot change. Others even attest that they will gladly eat cardboard and chew nails in order to lose their excess weight. Others vow to starve themselves if that is what I ask of them. When I hear these comments, I cannot help but think that there is something very wrong with the way in which society places labels on overweight individuals. Our collective conversation is such that my patients relate to their body and weight not from an empowering context, but one of self-punishment and shame. They feel as though they have done something wrong, and that their punishment should be every bit as awful as their perceived crime.
Fat acceptance holds such promise for my patients, just as it does for anyone struggling to lose weight, because it allows them to rethink the very core of who they are. Must they remain the societal pariahs who are undeserving of a decent life that they envision themselves to be? Or is there a reality in which they can deal with their dysfunctional metabolism from a position of power? Those patients who cease to view themselves through a lens clouded by feelings about their weight are able to view the world from an entirely new and exciting perspective. They become more than just their weight, and are able to face their weight loss challenge from a place of power and confidence.
How to Change Your Conversation
Begin with the belief that you are far more as an individual than just your weight.
Beginning to shift your internal conversation from one of shame and self-loathing to one of power and possibility begins with the belief that you are far more than just your weight. People tend to identify most with the qualities that they believe stand out the most. This step requires that you begin to identify yourself based on the qualities that make you a person deserving of your own self-respect.
Answer the following questions: Who you are presently? Who you will become when you have powerfully dealt with your weight?
Think of more than just weight loss, but of how you live your life. Maybe today you are "limited by your mobility" but are creating a future of "activity and mobility." With this example, what does it look like when you are able to do the things that your lack of mobility has prevented? What new possibilities exist for you, and how is your experience of life different?
I have found that this is truly where my patients come alive. Unburdened by their past feelings of self and self-worth, they share with me a sense of freedom that they haven't felt since long before they gained their weight. It is readily visible that these once resigned individuals are present to the possibility that they can take control of their weight loss, and regain their health and wellness.
Think of the action steps you will take to make the future you have envisioned for yourself a reality.
Outline each step that you will take in becoming a lighter, healthier you. An action step is not, a statement such as "lose weight." An action step is a specific action that you will take in order to reach your desired outcome. Examples of actions steps are things such as, "research a nearby gym," or "buy cute yoga crops." While these steps may seem small, they are manageable, something that your former commitment to, "lose 50 pounds ASAP," was not.
In my day to day work, I have found that fat acceptance is a crucial component to providing overweight individuals with the access, and even permission, to feel good about who they are. The journey to overcoming weight problems is one that requires travel down sometimes rocky roads, and fat shaming is counterproductive to the process. It is difficult enough to lose weight, and to make the lasting changes that allow weight loss to occur. A real possibility for change exists in the exercise of learning to accept yourself as a good and decent person who deserves the right to feel great about who you are. From this powerful context, I have found that my patients have been able to achieve phenomenal weight loss results. I can only hope that in sharing my thoughts on this matter that others will become present to the possibility that exists for themselves, as well, and make powerful declarations of who they are and who they will become.