I love to watch my little girls play. They are utterly un-self-conscious. They are fully in all their moments and have yet to become hyper-focused on their looks. The last thing they’re doing when they’re running, playing, or simply standing still is worrying about what they look like.
They haven’t developed the habit of sucking in their stomachs or standing so that their arms don’t press up against their sides. They don’t obsess about what they’re going to wear so they can cover up what they hate about themselves. They don’t hold their bodies in an uncomfortable way to appear smaller, and they haven’t yet learned how to think of themselves as a collection of body parts. It’s beautiful.
It’s beautiful not only because I’m their mom but also because I know intimately what it’s like to do the opposite — I sucked my stomach in for so long I’m surprised I didn’t burn enough calories to make it go away. But this is about more than just weight. It’s about how women shrink not only their bodies but also their lives.
But let’s talk about the weight first. If you want to lose weight, the last thing you want to do is create or feel any kind of resistance. That’s because if you’re an emotional eater, you’ll eat to make yourself feel better. So any time you feel any kind of discomfort — stress, frustration, sadness — you will naturally look for a way to relieve that feeling. And what you’ve trained yourself to do is eat.
But if feelings create resistance, imagine the kind of resistance you create by constricting and contorting yourself — you are literally resisting your own body. And by resisting it, you are keeping yourself stuck in it.
Also, doing things like sucking in your stomach and sitting uncomfortably in a chair so that your cellulite doesn’t show means that you are directing all your attention on exactly what it is you don’t like. And you don’t want to focus on what you hate about yourself . . . unless you never want to change it.
You have to embrace your body as a whole and accept it for exactly what it is, right this very second. It took you a lifetime to get the body you look at today — it’s a physical manifestation of what’s going on inside of you. You’ve heard it said before that what you think about, you bring about. And it’s the truth.
If you constantly focus on what you look like and what you don’t like about yourself — your wrinkles, your skin that’s starting to sag, and the weight you can’t seem to get rid of — all this negative energy will push you to do extreme things to get rid of it. This of course means that you’ll keep trying to crash diet your way out of it, “fail,” and do it all over again. And stay stuck.
And then you never get to the root of the issue, which is the way that you eat. You have to change your thoughts and your habits around food and eating if you want anything to change.
However, if you learn to relax into your body and to love and appreciate it, you’re going to naturally do those things that are good for you and take better care of yourself. You’re going to eat more slowly, you’re going to choose healthy foods that make you feel good, and you’re ultimately going to lose the urge to binge. And you’re also going to be a lot less mean to yourself when you slip up.
It also means that your focus will shift from the outside in to the inside out, and this is what you want. As long as you keep working from the outside in, you’ll stay stuck. That’s because when you act based on what you look like, you tend to pull back and stop once you start to see results. When you lose a few pounds, you revert back to your current habits, and the weight reappears.
But when you act based on what you feel like, there’s no finish line. There’s no end goal, because there’s no limit to how good you can feel. Not only that, choosing to eat healthy foods is the opposite of forcing yourself to avoid unhealthy ones. The former is empowering and the latter is an exercise in willpower, which means more resistance to be neutralized.
So constricting your body is highly resistant and leads you to do all the things you don’t want to do. Plus, it’s exhausting physically and demoralizing emotionally to feel like you’re working against your own body. Not to mention it’s a total waste of time — and ultimately your life — to constantly obsess about what you look like.
Okay, easier said than done, right? If you’re used to sucking it in all the time, it can feel really hard to stop. Here are some ways to ease yourself into the practice of “letting it all hang out”:
Stay in. The main reason we suck everything in is because we’re worried about what other people think. So practice in your house when there’s no one there to judge you. Walk around naturally and comfortably, move more slowly, breathe more deeply. It will probably surprise you to realize how often you don’t relax and how much resistance you hold in your body. Then notice how releasing this resistance changes how you think and, subsequently, what you do.
Loosen up. Oh my Lord, take off your skinny jeans and wear something comfortable for once! It’s easy to feel like wearing something really tight to help hold everything in is a good thing, but really it just creates more resistance. Having to adjust your underwear that’s wedged up in there and constantly pulling your waistband over your muffin top every time you stand up is kind of miserable and the opposite of relaxing into your body.
You don’t have to slouch around in sweatpants and a ratty old t-shirt, but try wearing something a little less constricting. Wearing clothes that aren’t so tight or fitted really helps you take the focus off your body and makes it a lot easier to practice not holding it in all the time. Plus you can breathe, which is nice.
Look up. Worrying constantly about what you look like keeps you looking down at your body instead of what’s out there in front of you. So you’re not only constricting your body, you’re narrowing your perspective overall.
Look up instead. Look at what’s going on around you. Just looking up and out helps you hold yourself differently — you’ll stand taller and take up your space more, both of which make you feel more powerful and confident. And it’s a lot easier to let your body relax when you’re not staring at it constantly, wondering if everyone else thinks you look fat.
Don’t forget to fully realize the benefits of letting your body go like this. Make mental notes — or even actual notes in your journal — of how your thoughts, feelings, and actions change as a result. Do you feel more peaceful and less critical of yourself? Do you have less of a desire to binge? Do you feel like you have more creative energy?
Creative energy is amazing, because you can use it to your advantage. Try something new. Eat at a new restaurant, go shopping for something you don’t usually wear (hopefully less form-fitting), get a massage. Taking yourself out of your rut and building on the good feelings you have spills over into all areas, including how and what you eat.
I mentioned earlier that this isn’t just about weight. By constantly trying to shrink our bodies, we as women are shrinking our lives. Resisting our bodies like this means that we never take up our space. We get out of everyone else’s way, we stay quiet and don’t say what we need to say, we say “sorry” for every little thing, even when no apology is needed. We make our lives about pleasing everyone but ourselves.
It devastates me to think that my little girls are already starting to learn how to reject themselves based on what they look like — even though they are completely beautiful, inside and out. I want them to live full, complete lives, to set huge goals and dream as big as they can. Do I want them to waste their whole lives trying to be small, in any way? Hell no. And I don’t want that for you either.
The irony is that if you live small like this, you will never, ever lose weight. You have to make your life about something meaningful and fulfilling. You have to access that powerful part of you that you shoved down a long time ago and let it come out. Trust me, it’s in there.
So don’t suck it in. Don’t cover it up. Let it all go and fill up the space around you. Let your body send your soul the message that you are here for a reason. Then go figure out what that is, start living it, and watch your body take shape.