You are not a sponge. I’ve mentioned this in several posts in the past, but I think you can never remind yourself enough. You are not a sponge. I am not a sponge. And every thought we have or every thought we hear is not a fact. It’s not truth.
I’ve written about positive body image and how I think having positive body image doesn’t necessarily mean loving your body, but rather can you think of your body less. Can you build a fulfilling life outside of your body? In this post I talked a lot about that and specifically about identifying your values and being able to align your behaviors and thoughts with your values. I think that process is really, really helpful but I also know that the fear of what others think of you – whether specific people or society as a whole – can be crippling when it comes to accepting your natural body size.
Some common fears, among many, that I hear from clients are….
“If I allow my body to change, nobody is going to love me. Who is going to be attracted to me?”
“People will think I’ve let myself go if I let my body change.”
“This is the only thing I’m successful at or that sets me apart. If I let go of this, what will give me recognition from others?”
These are thoughts that you have. And they are real thoughts. But the question is….are they true? What is that thought rooted in that would make it true? What experiences have shaped that belief? Can you take that thought to trial and challenge it? Is it actually true?
Remembering that you are not a sponge allows you to challenge these thoughts instead of passively and automatically believing they are true. There are many thoughts that go through our head during the day that we can observe and just let pass on by. The thoughts to latch onto and grab hold of are the thoughts that align with your values. The goal is to observe the thought, recognize whether or not the thought is true and/or it aligns with your values and then to reframe the thought before it leads to an unhelpful behavior.
There are a lot of thoughts and beliefs that are shaped by diet culture. And more often then we realize, we passively take them as true. Accept them as fact. This is how the narrative of how we perceive food, our bodies and ourselves develops. And it can stem back years and even decades.
So back to those common fears I hear often from clients. Let’s challenge those fears and take those thoughts to trial.
“If I allow my body to change, nobody is going to love me. Who is going to be attracted to me if my body changes?”
When this thought comes up I ask clients to think of their friendships ….are there friends in their lives that are in relationships they admire? Almost always they can identify at least one relationship they look up to and admire. I then ask if those people have perfect bodies. The answer is always no because nobody has a perfect body. If they can’t think of a relationship in their life they admire, we then can name some relationships they could relate to via the internet. The point here is that there are many many women in many many different body sizes that are deeply loved by their significant other. You are no exception to that love. **
Perhaps a helpful way to think of this is ….a person that is deserving of the love I could give and is deserving of loving me will be one who loves my heart, not my body. A love that is contingent on your body size will be a suffocating and lonely relationship. I can’t imagine emotional and physical intimacy in a relationship that was dependent on body size. Because it’s not your pant size that matters. It’s your heart. And no pant size can take away from a heart + soul that is loving and living out her values and a fulfilling life.
If we, as women, focused on transforming our hearts + souls as much as we did our bodies, we’d turn the world upside down. When you’re focused on living our your values instead of changing your body, you will be your fullest self. This post might be helpful in continuing to dismantle this fear. ** If you have had painful experiences in the past that have shaped your belief around love and your body, I have so much empathy and compassion for you. You were dealt an unfair set of cards and although you have no control over that, there is healing for you. I want you to know that.
“People will think I’ve let myself go if I let my body change.”
But will they? Is that an internal perception that you’ve projected onto others?
Maybe there are some people in this world that will think that…people also preoccupied with micromanaging body size. I use to be one of those people, and when I thought “Oh, she must be struggling in some way because her body changed” …really, that was my own issue. That was my own perception and my own problem that I needed to work through. Not the girl who’s body had changed. That had nothing to do with her, but everything to do with me. So even if someone has that opinion which you cannot control, is their opinion of your body worth living a life obsessed with food and exercise that keeps your body a certain way? This is your life. If you constantly trying to please other people, you will be miserable and exhausted for your entire life. I’ve seen that in my own life.
Letting go of micromanaging your body size actually gives you more control over your life. You are in control instead of food and exercise controlling you. Society might say, “She let herself go.” “She’s not as disciplined.” But can you reframe that thought to one that is actually true? Because you haven’t let yourself go, you’ve let yourself let go of life sucking crap that was controlling your life. You’ve let yourself go from being controlled by food, other’s opinions on what you should do and a false expectation of who you should be. Letting your body change can be an external sign of positive internal changes as you learn to advocate for yourself, respect yourself and live your life in a way that allows you to be who you were fully created to be. That’s called taking control of your life.
“This is the only thing I’m successful at or that sets me apart. If I let go of this, what will give me recognition from others?”
Controlling food and exercise and micromanaging your body size doesn’t make you unique. It makes you like everyone else. The majority of people are trying to control what they eat and fight their natural body size. This might sound morbid…but people don’t talk about their loved one’s body size or discipline around food and exercise at funerals. They talk about that persons heart and who they were at the soul of their being. How they impacted and loved others. That’s what people remember about others.
Micromanaging your body size doesn’t help you work through the pain of insecurity that lies in your heart. I have insecurities just like you and just like everyone else. I have doubts and fears about who I am and what others think about me. But no matter what my body size or what types of food I eat or how many miles I run, that doesn’t help me heal those insecure areas of my heart and realize truth…it numbs me out.
There will be a lot of thoughts that show up in our brains and a lot of thoughts that we will hear from others and the media…but we aren’t sponges. The first part of this process is recognizing how certain thoughts influence your behaviors. Then can you take that thought to trial and ask, “Does this thought help or hold me back from living out my values?” If the only value you can think about it being small or fit or anything around food and exercise….stop. Realize that is a complete waste of your time. Make yourself sit down and think about what you value.
You are not a passive victim to every thought that enters your mind. You get to choose what thoughts you engage with because they align with your values and what thoughts you observe and then let pass by because they don’t align with your values.
Very helpful and well written post. Thank you for this!!
glad you enjoyed Jen! hope you are well 🙂
Love this and something I am working on. Reframing those thoughts can be exhausting! Have you ever had to ask a friend to not engage in talking about food and body and obsessive exercise around you? I am trying to figure out how to keep a relationship with this wonderful friend, but our conversations always end up at her exercise schedule, good food/bad food, fat loss, etc. How do I protect myself in my recovery, but not shame her for being where she is? It’s funny, I used to actively engage in these conversations, but now that I am working hard to let go of the last dregs of my eating disorder hearing her talk just makes me sad. Oof, this is a tough one.
I have the exact same problem with one of my best friends. I see this girl on a daily basis and I love her to death, but her conversation topics can be so unhealthy for me at this point in my life.
That is really really hard. I think advocating for yourself and drawing some boundaries around what conversations you engage with in friendship is important. Empathy and gentleness in that conversation are really important I think…saying something like, “Hey, I’m in a process of trying to heal myself of unhealthy thoughts/behaviors around food and my eating disorder, exercise and my body and even though these conversations might be okay for you, they are really triggering for me. I would love to hear about all the other things going on in your life.”
What’s interesting is this girl knows what I’m going through and working on, but doesn’t seem to get how uncomfortable her comments make me. And she is a fitness instructor/trainer so her world literally revolves around this stuff. I know I’m not the only person who is struggling with this because, sadly, the majority of women seem to end up talking about dieting in some way. My goal this year is to make some friends who are so focused on other aspects of life that they don’t want to waste time talking about that crap. If food is brought up it’s because some experience was amazing and delicious, or some workout class was a lot of fun. I’m done talking about calories burned and food being “healthy” or “guilt-inducing”. Bleh. I need to get brave and be honest with her. Our friendship will either evolve and grow from this or maybe it’s not the best fit for me right now. Ava, I feel you on this. We ultimately need to take care of ourselves, but also remember to offer our friends grace because we used to be right where they are. Sending hugs your way 🙂
If she’s a fitness instructor she probably won’t change her perspective anytime soon. I have a casual friend like this and she’s just going further down the diet rabbit hole, now doing cleanses where she eats no solid food. It’s bonkers. You could try being more firm with her, but she may never stop the diet talk in front of you. Sometimes you have to distance yourself from people if you’re not getting anything positive from the relationship and it’s draining you instead.
I would encourage you to be honest with her 🙂 Even though she knows what you are going through, sometimes we aren’t even aware of how what we say affects people. I said hurtful, triggering things too in the past I’m sure. You can be honest and draw boundaries, that’s okay and part of caring for yourself <3 And yes, grace grace grace and compassion.
Amber @ Bloom Nutrition Therapy says
Oh my GOSH I love this post! This post is everything. I can relate on so many levels. I especially love the last concept about wanting to be recognized for success in controlling food and body. For YEARS I had literally tied my identity into being the “fitness buff” among my peers and the “healthy eater.” When I was first working through my issues, one of my greatest fears was, “Who will I be without this?” But then I realize that being this controlling person wasn’t what I wanted to be remembered for in the end. Just like you pointed out here, I realized that no one waits on their death bed and says, “Man, I wish I hadn’t eaten that donut that one time,” or, “I wish I had ran 1 more mile that week.” No. No one is doing that. People want more experiences, more time with their family and to feel loved. Instead of wasting all my time and energy on controlling my body size, I choose to spend that extra energy into fulfilling life experiences, ones that I will never regret!
Just like you pointed out here, I realized that no one waits on their death bed and says, “Man, I wish I hadn’t eaten that donut that one time,” or, “I wish I had ran 1 more mile that week.”
Yes SO TRUE.
This could not have come at a better time – I have made great strides on the journey towards better nourishing my body and mind, however exercise addiction has been tough to kick! Today I woke up with a pain in my knee and instead of running through the pain (I don’t know of any examples where this is actually a GOOD idea) I decided to listen to my body and take an INDEFINITE break from exercise. I’m scared, overwhelmed, and a little bit sad, but this article was the perfect reminder that I am more than the miles I run, sooooo much more! Thank you thank you thank you always <3
Natalie, I’ve been there too- I took an indefinite break from running two years ago and it was very hard, yet definitely the best decision I’ve made for my well-being. I have so much more of a life now AND I’ve brought exercise back in a balanced way. Sending you lots of compassion during this time and cheering for you!
It often is the hardest piece for many so you are not alone in that! It is anxiety inducing but press into that anxiety with curiosity and work to better understand yourself. Moving through the anxiety is key in your journey. Rooting for you <3
So much truth! This is the core of what I’ve been working on with someone, and it’s so disconcerting and uncomfortable to think that well into adulthood, I don’t know how to find joy/fulfillment beyond worrying- about my body, my weight, what other people think, etc.. I loved what you said about the big things we could do as women if our efforts were focused on our hearts and souls vs our bodies- it makes me grateful and hopeful to think that, and also so frustrated at myself that I am the only thing standing in my own way.
Thank you for continuing to shine the light!
There is so much hope! Often with much in life, we are the ones standing in our own way. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to get out of your own way. I’ve had to do the same <3
Maybe there are some people in this world that will think that…people also preoccupied with micromanaging body size. I use to be one of those people, and when I thought “Oh, she must be struggling in some way because her body changed” …really, that was my own issue. That was my own perception and my own problem that I needed to work through. Not the girl who’s body had changed. That had nothing to do with her, but everything to do with me. So even if someone has that opinion which you cannot control, is their opinion of your body worth living a life obsessed with food and exercise that keeps your body a certain way?
^^ Perhaps my favorite part about this post. I love that you didn’t just dismiss this fear by saying “no one is looking at you/judging you anyways so don’t worry about it.” That response is always frustrating when I know people are judging because guess what- I AM! I’m so guilty of making assumptions about other people based on their bodies. Now that I’ve made so much progress in healing my relationship with my own body, I’ve noticed that I’m not as critical of others either. So I think you’re right… all of the things I noticed about others appearances were just projections of my own issues. I’m far from perfect and I definitely still “judge books by their covers” from time to time, but now that I am less of a “sponge,” as you say, I am able to pause and ask okay what was that judgement about? Her or you? And sometimes the judgment goes the opposite way- not just noticing others who “don’t look good” but those who I think are too thin. Ive convinced myself that other women have eating or exercise disorders like I did just because they don’t have much body fat. Sure it’s possible that they are struggling but it’s also possible that this is their natural set point. What is definite is that it doesn’t really matter.
Thank you so much for putting this difficult topic (that we ALL judge) out there instead of brushing it under the rug. So real. So good!!
I’m so glad that was helpful – I think it’s important to realize we can’t control everyone and that is OKAY. Also realizing what people think about us might not be actually about us can also be really freeing. And also open a door for self reflection for the “judger” –> I was the judger at one point and had to step and be like..OH, THIS IS ABOUT ME.
Megan @ A Continual Feast says
Ahh man this is so good, Robyn! Such good truth. It reminds me of that verse that tells us to “take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ”!
love that verse so much <3
Erin Drum says
PREACH, Robyn. This is so dang good. The middle point hits home with me and WOW I want to keep reading this over and over. Thanks for your truth bombs! 😉 xoxo
glad you enjoyed Erin!
Wow, Robyn. Thank you so much for your words and your honesty. This is the best type of “tough love” that anyone struggling with negative food and body thoughts needs to hear. Our thoughts are not our reality, and learning how to sift out the helpful thoughts from the unhelpful thoughts can truly make a world of difference in how we approach our lives. I loved your point about the pain of insecurity in our heart; these food/body fixations are always manifestations of something deeper going on, and I think when we do the work on those underlying issues and get at the heart at what makes us come alive as well-rounded beings and not just bodies, we are setting ourselves up to be live more freely.
We are not sponges, I repeat that to myself all the time. YES, pain and discomfort often precedes freedom. <3
Nicole @ Laughing My Abs Off says
Wow you really hit the nail on the head with this one, Robyn! It’s like you were speaking to 4 years ago Nicole who literally thought ALL those things. Older and wiser Nicole sees how inconsequential and overrated the quest for the “perfect body” is (and theres no such thing anyway). Thank you.
so encouraging to hear about your growth!
I needed this today. I’ve been dealing with a knee injury that results in me moving far less than I’d like to and anger at that has slowly transformed into over thinking what I’m eating and not honoring hunger cues. Just let it be. So I am refocusing on the fact that I’m seeing awesome things happen in my professional life and embracing this moment as it is.
LET IT BE. I’ve said that to myself so many times…especially through injuries. I’m thinking of you and know there is so much goodness in this rest <3
As always, a lovely post. I’ve been struggling recently with the fear of changing body sizes. I’m getting married in July and have NO desire to lose weight. I’m currently in my dietetic internship and have been on my journey to intuitive eating and body love. BUT (isn’t there always a but?) there is something uniquely panic inducing about the thought of going to a dress fitting 6 MONTHS before you’re supposed to wear the dress and feeling like your shape can’t change during that time. ACK. As I said, struggling,
I TOTALLY can relate to the panic of your body not being able to change. Oh goodness that hits so close to home. I also had zero desire to lose weight or change my body for my wedding, but knowing that it couldn’t really change that much b/c the dress would be too small gave me anxiety too. But remember, they CAN also take a little bit out or put a little bit in if you body changes because it needs to throughout this season. My dress didn’t fit PERFECTLY and all was well in the world, and on that day. <3 Here's a post I wrote about wedding weight loss if that is encouraging for you. Congrats! Soak up this time.
You’re right — while objectively I know that they could always let the dress out,my crazy brain is very resistant to that idea for some reason. I read your post on wedding weight loss about every week. It’s like my wedding sanity mantra!
Meghan Dillon says
Robyn – this post was absolutely amazing. As someone who has been a pretty low place and struggled with disordered eating, the fears you listed rang true for me years ago. In retrospect, and after gaining the weight I so needed — everyone who loved me then STILL loves me now, and releasing the control has given me the space to let so much more into my life. Love that you address these topics in such a relatable way <3
Thank you for sharing your journey Meghan – I know someone will be encouraged so much by reading this! Sending love to you <3
Emily Swanson says
Love this so much. What you said about the state of your heart, the size of your heart, being the thing that matters reminds me of 1 Samuel 16:7, But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’
That always encourages me so much, and your constant encouragement throughout the post to analyze the thoughts that are being projected on us through diet culture and our own misconceptions was SOO good. It’s 100% true that we are not sponges and we don’t have to absorb everything we are told; thank you for reminding us to think about what we value. IF I just value having a ‘perfect’ diet or skinny body my values are off.
Maggie Niemiec says
I love this and relate to this so much, Robyn! So much truth here.
“A love that is contingent on your body size will be a suffocating and lonely relationship. I can’t imagine emotional and physical intimacy in a relationship that was dependent on body size. Because it’s not your pant size that matters. It’s your heart. And no pant size can take away from a heart + soul that is loving and living out her values and a fulfilling life.”
YES. Thankful for the men who show what healthy relationships rooted in love (not body size!) look like.
Shana Powell says
This blog and some of the recent podcast recommendations have been a breath of fresh air!! I truly did not realize how insidious diet culture is. It was easy to tease out dysfunctional ED thought patterns but diet culture is so normalized and shrouded in this “health” halo, that it can be so, so difficult to differentiate. My favorite nugget from this post is shifting the focus away from thinking about the body at all to focusing on other strengths. What hobbies and relationships could have flourished if I wasn’t running 8 miles every single saturday or during the hours I spent following “healthy living” blogs (that seemed to all end with authors suffering from ammenorhea)?
I love the idea of a “health” halo. So true! It’s so sneaky. Rooting for you as you continue to navigate this path and advocate for yourself!
Molly @ a la Molly says
“PEOPLE WILL THINK I’VE LET MYSELF GO IF I LET MY BODY CHANGE.”
This thought kept me out of full recovery from my ED for so long. I finally came to the same realization as you, there is no way it would be letting myself go, because I wasn’t in control. Food, exercise, and the fear of others’ opinions were in control. It was very freeing to come to this realization.
Love all your points in this point, because I have been through them all!
So so glad it resonated. I can relate to thinking that at one point too <3
Thank you so much Robyn! Hit home hard.
I’m really trying right now to re-frame my thoughts & embrace my body. It’s been a hell of a struggle as my mother really enforced (and still does) the notion that being thin is very important. I even feel as if she treats me better when I’m ‘looking fit/thin’ gah. I’m so grateful I’m working on this before I have children of my own. I will not instill that message in them.
I know deep down, I think we all do that bodies are made beautiful because of the soul that resides within them.
Apologies for any mistakes, English is my second language.