So often, I get asked, “Ryann, how do I stop feeling so ashamed about my body changing in recovery?” And this question breaks my heart. It makes me so sad that we live in a world where, when you are doing massive healing work, you feel like a bad person because your body is changing in response to that healing.
Do you understand the distinction between shame and guilt? Shame is characterized by the belief that "I am a bad person for gaining weight," while guilt involves acknowledging, "I did a bad thing by gaining weight." Exploring this difference is crucial for fostering a healthier mindset around weighgain.
Before moving forward to unpack this, it is vital to reiterate that if you gain weight as a result of healing your relationship with food, that was weight you were meant to gain, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. However, I know that’s easier said than done. But why?
Shame is that heavy, lingering feeling that makes you believe you are fundamentally flawed or unworthy. It often arises from internalizing societal expectations, judgment, or negative beliefs about oneself. This might look like:
🚩 Feeling the need to conform to society’s idealized body standards, believing that one must attain a certain body shape or size to be deemed acceptable or attractive.
🚩 Accepting and internalizing negative judgments or stereotypes about one’s body, such as assuming that being overweight equates to laziness or lack of discipline.
🚩 Adopting negative self-perceptions based on societal beauty norms, like viewing oneself as unworthy or unlovable because of not meeting certain weight-related standards.
🚩 Linking one’s sense of self-worth exclusively to their weight, believing that personal value is determined by adherence to societal expectations regarding body image.
🚩 Embracing societal stigmatization related to weight, leading to self-blame and believing that any challenges or negative experiences are inherently linked to one’s body size.
🚩 Constantly comparing oneself to unrealistic beauty ideals promoted by media, leading to feelings of inadequacy and shame for not aligning with those unattainable standards.
Thinking that if you shame yourself enough, you will change isn’t a helpful approach. Here is why:
- It Hinders Progress Shame acts as a barrier to progress by focusing on self-blame rather than recognizing the journey and efforts you’ve made in recovery.
- Negative Impact on Mental Health Continual feelings of shame can contribute to anxiety, depression, and a negative self-image, hindering your overall well-being.
- Blocks Self-Compassion Shame often prevents the practice of self-compassion, a crucial element in the healing process. Instead of understanding and kindness, you may find yourself trapped in a cycle of self-criticism.
How to Let Go of Shame
You are not a bad person because your body is changing in recovery. Below are five steps to help you believe that too:
01) Cultivate Self-Compassion
Replace self-criticism with self-compassion. Understand that recovery is a process, and your changing body is a testament to your strength and resilience. Here are some examples to help illustrate the idea of replacing self-criticism with self-compassion in the context of body image:
- Negative Self-Talk:
- Self-Criticism: “I hate how my body looks right now. I can’t believe I let myself get to this point.”
- Self-Compassion: “Recovery is a journey, and my body is going through changes. I appreciate the strength it takes to heal, and I’ll be patient with myself.”
- Comparisons to Others:
- Self-Criticism: “Everyone else seems to be in better shape than me. I should be more like them.”
- Self-Compassion: “We’re all on different paths. I’m proud of my progress and resilience, and I’ll focus on my own journey rather than comparing myself to others.”
- Focusing on Imperfections:
- Self-Criticism: “I can’t stand these scars. They make me feel so ugly and flawed.”
- Self-Compassion: “These scars tell a story of strength and healing. They are a reminder of what I’ve overcome, and I’ll embrace them as a part of my journey.”
In essence, replacing self-criticism with self-compassion involves recognizing the challenges of recovery, appreciating your body for its resilience, and being kind to yourself throughout the process.
02) Challenge Negative Thoughts
Identify and challenge negative thoughts associated with shame. Ask yourself if these thoughts are based on unrealistic expectations or societal pressures. Here are examples that demonstrate the process of identifying and challenging negative thoughts associated with shame in the context of body image:
- Negative Thought A:
- Thought Associated with Shame: “I can’t show my body at the beach; I’m too embarrassed. Everyone will judge me.”
- Challenging the Thought: “Is this feeling of shame based on realistic expectations? Am I assuming others will judge me, or is this a societal pressure telling me I should look a certain way? I’ll focus on enjoying the beach and recognize that people’s opinions don’t define my worth.”
- Negative Thought B:
- Thought Associated with Shame: “I should be much thinner by now. I’m a failure for not losing any weight.”
- Challenging the Thought: “Am I setting realistic goals for myself, or am I influenced by societal standards of beauty? I’ll appreciate the progress I’ve made in my own way and understand that everyone’s journey is unique. My worth is not determined by conforming to arbitrary standards.”
- Negative Thought C:
- Thought Associated with Shame: “I’m not as attractive as other people. I don’t measure up.”
- Challenging the Thought: “Am I comparing myself to an unrealistic standard of beauty? Beauty comes in many forms, and I’ll appreciate my own unique qualities. I’ll challenge the idea that attractiveness is limited to a specific look and recognize the diversity of beauty.”
In challenging negative thoughts associated with shame, the goal is to question the validity of these thoughts, recognize unrealistic expectations, and foster a more compassionate and realistic perspective toward one’s body.
03) Reframe Your Narrative
Shift the narrative from shame to empowerment. Acknowledge that your body changes are part of a positive transformation, reflecting your commitment to health. Here’s an example that illustrates the shift from a narrative of shame to one of empowerment in the context of body image:
- “I hate my body; it’s not what it used to be. I feel so ashamed when I look in the mirror. I should have taken better care of myself.”
- “My body has gone through changes, and that’s okay. Instead of feeling shame, I choose to empower myself. These changes are a reflection of my commitment to health and well-being. I’ve prioritized my mental and physical health, and my body’s transformation is evidence of positive changes in my life.”
- Celebrating Progress: “I acknowledge the progress I’ve made on my health journey. Each change in my body tells a story of commitment and resilience.”
- Gratitude for Health: “Rather than focusing on what my body isn’t, I appreciate what it is: a strong, resilient vessel that supports me on my journey to better health.”
- Mindful Self-Care: “I’m committed to taking care of myself in a way that aligns with my well-being. This means nourishing my body, exercising for strength, and embracing self-care practices that make me feel good.”
- Rejecting Unrealistic Standards: “I refuse to measure my worth by societal standards of beauty. My body’s transformation is a testament to my individual journey, and I won’t let external expectations dictate how I feel about myself.”
- Embracing Change: “Change is a natural part of life, and my body’s changes signify growth and positive transformation. I choose to embrace these changes with love and acceptance, knowing that my worth extends far beyond my physical appearance.”
By shifting the narrative from shame to empowerment, individuals can cultivate a positive and compassionate relationship with their bodies, recognizing that changes are part of a meaningful journey toward health and well-being.
04) Seek Support
Connect with others who are on a similar journey. Share your experiences and feelings with a supportive community or a trusted friend who understands the challenges of recovery. Here is a safe space you are always welcome if you need it!
05) Focus on Health, Not Appearance
Redirect your focus from appearance to overall health. Embrace the idea that a healthy body comes in various shapes and sizes, and your well-being is not solely determined by external standards.
Here are examples that illustrate the idea of redirecting focus from appearance to overall health and embracing the diversity of healthy bodies:
- Shifting Focus:
- Previous Focus: “I need to look a certain way to be considered attractive.”
- New Focus: “Instead of obsessing over appearance, I’ll focus on my overall health. Feeling strong, energetic, and balanced is more important than conforming to narrow beauty standards.”
- Embracing Diversity:
- Previous Belief: “Only one body type is considered healthy and beautiful.”
- New Belief: “Healthy bodies come in various shapes and sizes. I’ll celebrate the diversity of bodies and recognize that well-being is about feeling good, not fitting into a specific mold.”
- Prioritizing Well-Being:
- Previous Priority: “I’m only happy when I achieve a certain look.”
- New Priority: “My happiness is tied to my overall well-being. I’ll prioritize habits that contribute to my physical and mental health, recognizing that a healthy body looks and feels different for everyone.”
By redirecting focus from appearance to overall health and embracing the idea that healthy bodies are diverse, individuals can foster a positive relationship with their bodies and prioritize well-being over external standards of beauty.
Releasing shame around your changing body is a profound step toward holistic healing in binge eating recovery. Understand that your worth goes beyond societal expectations, and your journey is uniquely yours. Embrace self-compassion, challenge negative thoughts, and surround yourself with supportive communities. As you let go of shame, you open the door to a more positive and empowering relationship with yourself and your body. Remember, every step you take is a stride toward a healthier, happier you.
Must Read Books To Break Out Of The Comparison Trap
Just so you know, I do review everything I recommend. When you buy through links on this page, we may earn a commission.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson
⚠️ Trigger Warning: spicy language and some weight loss talk
There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.
The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
A thought-provoking self-help book that explores the profound teachings of Alfred Adler through a unique Socratic dialogue. It delves into the principles of happiness, relationships, and personal growth, challenging conventional beliefs and encouraging readers to embrace their individuality with courage and wisdom.
The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery by Brianna Weist
This is a book about self-sabotage. Why we do it, when we do it, and how to stop doing it—for good. Coexisting but conflicting needs create self-sabotaging behaviors. This is why we resist efforts to change, often until they feel completely futile. But by extracting crucial insight from our most damaging habits, building emotional intelligence by better understanding our brains and bodies, releasing past experiences at a cellular level, and learning to act as our highest potential future selves, we can step out of our own way and into our potential. For centuries, the mountain has been used as a metaphor for the big challenges we face, especially ones that seem impossible to overcome. To scale our mountains, we actually have to do the deep internal work of excavating trauma, building resilience, and adjusting how we show up for the climb. In the end, it is not the mountain we master, but ourselves.