In a previous blog post, I likened my relationship to my body to a marriage. I imagine some of you may be thinking “How can you have a relationship with your body? That is just weird.”
Well, yes, it is kind of weird. Weird and amazing. Just like a (healthy) relationship with another human being, our bodies have the capacity to offer us companionship, mutual affection (peanut gallery—shh!), comfort, understanding, education, acceptance, kindness, forgiveness, and support. But, just like a relationship with another human being can become splintered if not nourished and supported, our relationship to our bodies can become toxic and mutually destructive if we do not properly nourish, support, and sustain them.
How is your relationship with your body? Happy? Connected? Distant? Mutually Supportive? Volatile? Interested in bringing back more vitality and love to your relationship?
Consider these 10 tips to help you say “I do” to your body:
1. Communication is key; Learn to communicate effectively.
Healthy, functional, kind, and open communication is core to any strong and enduring relationship. This is crucial in the context of relating to our bodies and must be bidirectional. That is, we need to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us AND communicate kindly to our bodies. When we are able to quiet external noise that offers misguided advice or harmful messages and quiet the internal noise that may have become distorted over time because of the external noise, we may start to hear the important internal messages our bodies are trying to send. Our challenge is to learn to listen to what our bodies are telling us, even when that message may not be what we want to hear. Sometimes this message is “I need a break” or “I want more” or “I’m satisfied” or “I’m overwhelmed.” These messages are not just about food. Sometimes our bodies are telling us greater needs, greater hungers. Hunger for connection. For comfort. For contact. For movement. For rest.
2. Humor: Laugh with your body.
Humor can be a panacea for so many of life’s struggles and suffering and can help us develop a balanced level of humility and release. Bringing humor to our relationship with our bodies can provide healing and lightening of the intensity we sometimes may feel. But we have to be able to laugh with our bodies, not at our bodies. Well-intentioned, gentle humor that includes our bodies can allow us to move toward a more neutral, accepting stance rather than with humor that is caustic, demeaning, or minimizing. If we make a joke about our partners that isn’t funny to our partner, it might be a good sign our humor is not appropriate or kind. In the same way, if we make a joke that causes our bodies to experience more shame and self-loathing, we may want to consider whether the laugh was worth it. Humor shared with our bodies is curious, gentle, and kind, allowing us both to not take ourselves so serious while also respecting each other’s worth. Go ahead; find a way to laugh with one another!
3. Grow Together. A relationship is a work in progress.
Our bodies are not static beings. They will continue to grow, change, and develop as time goes on. This growth is continuous and constant. We cannot turn back or halt the clocks and the more we try to resist the progression of time, the more our bodies might fight against us to move toward their natural growth. Expecting our bodies to be what they were 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago is not fair to the nature of development. Our bodies continue to grow and change in positive ways. Providing us different ways to experience the world. With this growth and change come new and different needs. If we focus on what our bodies used to need, we may miss what they are asking for now.
Likewise, what we need FROM our bodies is different from 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago.
If we are not where we want to be in terms of our body image, body acceptance, or body ability, we can allow ourselves grace in knowing that change takes time and relationships are fluid, ever-changing. And, perhaps most difficult, we can consider that sometimes our partners are not able to provide us what we are asking for. Our bodies may not be able to function or appear in the ways they once did. Our challenge is in accepting this reality.
4. Affirm your body and relationship regularly.
Say things like “I love you,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” This can be general or specific. Here are some examples:
I love you for being strong, capable.
Thank you legs for allowing me to kick the soccer ball tonight with my son.
Thank you hands for brushing my daughter’s hair.
Thank you eyes for showing me the beauty of the sunset.
Thank you for telling me when and what you’re hungry for.
I appreciate your taking care of me through chemo, radiation, and surgery.
I’m sorry for taking you for granted. For neglecting you. For expecting more than you are capable of. For expecting you to be something you’re not. For not always giving you what you need.
Thank you, body.
5. Foster trust and security
Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship. If we are unable to learn to trust that our bodies are on our side, playing for the same team, we will continue to view and experience them as the hostile enemy. When we don’t trust someone or something, we act defensively in response. We adopt a more paranoid state, fearful and assuming that the other is out to get us, to hurt us. If we distrust our bodies, we react defensively and paranoid in response, assuming our bodies don’t have our best interest in mind. We start trusting external cues instead of our own internal wisdom: diet fads, the thin ideal, media, etc.
Trust is also a 2-way street. Our bodies need to be able to trust us, as well. They need to trust that we have their best interest in mind. That we will not deprive them or overwhelm them. When our bodies begin to experience deprivation (i.e, lack of food, nutrition that they need, rest, etc.), they respond resiliently, holding on to what they need to survive. This may feel like betrayal to us at times, but it is our bodies’ way of resiliently protecting themselves from starvation. Our bodies need to feel secure that we will provide what they need to survive (and thrive).
6. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
In the absence of external noise, abuse, or neglect, our bodies intuitively know what they need. But our bodies exist in a world that provides conflicting and confusing messages. When these messages are ingested chronically and not questioned, the messages can become toxic and disordered.
Asking for help is quite courageous. Being able to tolerate the vulnerable recognition that we may not know how to create a healthier relationship with our bodies on our own can be one of the bravest steps we take toward greater health and wellness.
If you have a diagnosable eating disorder, it is unlikely you will be able to rid yourself of destructive behaviors without professional help from a counselor, nutritionist, medical doctor, or team of these professionals. But even outside of a diagnosable eating disorder, many women and men who don’t meet criteria can benefit from outside help to build a healthier relationship with their bodies and food.
7. Be forgiving of each other’s wrongs and failures; accept each other’s limitations
Yes, sometimes our bodies will “fail us” because they are not perfect, robotic beings that are always capable of being able to perform in the same way, to the same standards we expect them to. Expecting them to do so stifles our ability to appreciate what they CAN do. Sometimes our bodies may disappoint us or fall short of the expectations we have placed on them. The neat thing is that our bodies are very forgiving of us. Even after years of mistreating our bodies, they will continue fighting for us as much as they are able, often resiliently so despite what they may be facing.
It may be helpful to ask ourselves whether our expectations are reasonable. Are we expecting things from our bodies that they are not capable of providing? And if this is true, our work may be in learning to accept and appreciate our imperfections and limitations. With this comes awareness of what resentments we may be holding on to related to our bodies. How can we create space for acceptance and forgiveness of our bodies’ limitations? Resentment breeds disgust. What are the ways you are holding onto resentment? As Elsa says, let it go!
8. Stop trying to control your body.
The more we try to control our bodies, the less they are going to listen to us authentically. Instead of trying to control our bodies, we can learn to listen to what our bodies are asking for and make space for what our bodies need. Our bodies are not entities to be controlled, confined, or made to fit into a prescribed fitness or appearance. A healthy partnership is one built upon nonjudgmental support and safety; not control and fear.
9. Keep the romance alive.
Okay, before you stop reading, thinking, “she’s taking this metaphor way too far,” bear with me. Maybe not romance in a traditional sense, but we can keep the excitement and the joy of moving with our bodies alive. And if we’ve never experienced joy through moving our bodies, this may be a signal that it’s time to try something different. To venture out of our comfort zone and find an activity of movement that we do enjoy.
If you’re finding yourself holding on to “how the romance use to be,” ask yourself if this expectation is getting in your way. Do you need to redefine what that romance can look like? If you were a pro-athlete in high school and are holding on to how your body used to once perform, are you letting a memory of what once was keep you from what could be? Movement doesn’t have to look the same as it once did. Find ways to move your body in new and different ways. You may discover new ways of experiencing and enjoying your body. Use this as an opportunity to experience joy in your body and an opportunity to connect more fully.
10. Commitment; Choose to love your body.
Lastly, but mostly importantly, if we hope to have a healthy, enduring relationship with our bodies, we need to first make the decision to accept and love our bodies. We need to choose to love our bodies—the good, the bad, and (pun intended) the ugly. Every day, we need to choose, again and again. This is a big commitment. It takes time, energy, effort. It’s not always easy. It takes both partners. It isn’t something to be taken lightly. Deciding to engage in a loving, accepting, permission-giving relationship that honors each other’s needs is the first step toward building a foundation that can sustain the hurts and struggles that we will inevitably experience in life.
So, go ahead. Take the plunge! Commit to your body. Why not? You may find the belonging you’ve been looking for is right there in front of you. Ready?
Repeat after me:
“Dear body, I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love and honor you all the days of my life…..I do.”