It's no secret that diet culture is alive and well in today's society. Everywhere you turn, there are images of thin models and celebrities telling you that if you want to be healthy and fit, you must be thin. Of course, this can lead to a cycle of guilt, shame, and self-hatred when weight is gained or not lost—all under the guise of “being healthy.”
Fortunately, there is an alternative approach to health and fitness that doesn't involve beating yourself up over your body shape: body neutrality. But what exactly is body neutrality? In this article, I’m sharing what body neutrality is and how it can help you take control of your health and fitness.
What is Body Neutrality?
In simplest terms, body neutrality is about accepting and respecting your body irrespective of your size, weight, and shape. As body image coach Anne Poirier explains, "body neutrality prioritizes the body’s function, and what the body can do, rather than its appearance." (Cowles, 2022) This may sound simple enough in theory, but it can be challenging to implement. After all, we live in a world where our worth is often based on our appearance—especially for women.
How to Practice Body Neutrality In Everyday Life
When I work with clients to take control of their health and fitness, I advocate for starting small when practicing body neutrality. By starting with body neutrality, you’re opening up the opportunity to improve yourself from the inside out. However, I know that oftentimes the thing that holds clients back is not knowing where to start. If that’s a question holding you back, here are three steps to practice body neutrality in your everyday life.
1. Reframe the Way You Think About Your Body
Instead of thinking, “I hate my body,” try thinking about what your body allows you to do. For instance, when I started working on becoming more body-neutral, I stopped keeping track of how much I weighed from week to week. By contrast, I started tracking how much weight I could lift each week. Doing that enabled me to appreciate what my body can do instead of focusing on its appearance.
As a health coach, I’ve learned that reframing how you think about your body will help you think more positively about your body. This isn’t to say that you’re always going to be positive about your body because you’re human (and anti-fat bias is common in our society). Nevertheless, you can feel more in control of your health and fitness by intentionally breaking the cycle of negative self-talk.
2. Making Health-Promoting Behavior Changes
However, understanding the concept of body neutrality isn't enough. You must also implement it with intentional changes focusing on promoting healthy behaviors. This includes being mindful of how much time you spend scrolling through social media and giving yourself grace when you’re tempted to compare yourself to others (hint: less is more!).
This also entails self-care activities like taking a long walk or reading a good book. In essence, doing health-promoting things aren’t about following a restrictive diet or spending hours in the gym. Instead, it’s about engaging in behaviors that aim to ensure you’re able to be healthy and fit without sacrificing joy.
3. Setting Realistic Health and Fitness Goals
Since we’re on the topic of joy, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of setting realistic goals. I know that being realistic might seem limited initially, but I promise you it is not. By realistic, I mean thinking deeply about your current lifestyle.
For example, my client Natasha started working with me because she wanted to eat healthier. However, as a busy tech entrepreneur Natasha doesn’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. So, setting realistic health goals for her looked like investing in a meal-prepping service. It also looked like learning how to choose healthier menu items. No matter what your goals are, being body neutral will help keep you focused on what matters when it comes to health and fitness—your overall well-being!
Final Word From Tomesha
By practicing body neutrality instead of feeling shame or guilt over our bodies, we can shift our focus away from restrictive diets or unrealistic expectations toward recognizing our bodies' capabilities. In doing so, we can move closer toward our goals sustainably. With time and patience, I'm confident that anyone can learn how to take control of their health and fitness without sacrificing their mental health along the way! If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend!
Cowles, C. (2022, May 12). Can ‘body neutrality’ change the way you work out? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/02/well/move/body-neutrality-exercise.html