Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How to Make Peace with Your Body Once and for All

A new survey shows women are willing to give up years of life to be thin.

Key points

  • Sixty percent of women surveyed say the way they feel about themselves is largely influenced by their size or shape.
  • Weight stigma can increase one's risk for diabetes and heart disease.
  • Lifestyle decisions driven by body hatred tend to fail.
Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Source: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

If you are dissatisfied with your body, you are not alone. In a survey of over 4,000 women by Good Housekeeping, 87% reported having been on a diet to change their size or shape. Only 6% said they are "happy with their bodies." And an astounding 14% said they would be willing to take 1-5 years off their lifespan if they could have their ideal body. Other findings from the study:

  • 60% of women surveyed say the way they feel about themselves is largely influenced by their size or shape.
  • 69% feel that being in a larger body is unhealthy.
  • 74% have a list of "good" and "bad" foods and behaviors in their head.
  • 11% would give up sex in exchange for their ideal body.

While having self-doubt is a normal part of being human, if your self-evaluation is primarily dependent on your superficial appearance and your size or shape, that can lead to shame, negative self-talk, suffering, and the use of extreme and harmful behaviors to reach the ever-elusive thin ideal.

Is being thin, and the time and energy it takes up, really the most important thing?

In the GH survey, 51% of women said that being thin or losing weight is a good way to be healthier. This is a hard belief to challenge because it confuses weight (thinness) with good health and fatness with bad health. For most people with food and body image issues, it’s easier to focus on the external appearance of the body—the way you look—rather than on internal information. This outside-in focus can cause a lot of pain, as how you look is almost never good enough. Over time, by shifting from an external focus to an internal one, you can reduce the judgments and negative self-talk you experience with regard to your body image.

For example, good health is truly an inside-out job. What makes you healthy has to do with how your internal body processes work – your metabolism, your digestion, your heart and lung function. None of these internal processes are dependent on being thin. A study by Janet Tomiyama showed that weight stigma or weight shaming is actually bad for your health because it leads to elevated levels of cortisol and greater risk for heart disease and diabetes.

We unwittingly pass on our own biases to our children

Just as many of the women I work with tell me that they were put on their first diet by their mother, continuing to focus on such exacting and unachievable standards for health, beauty or self-worth is something that you can pass from generation to generation, setting your children and their children up to suffer over this issue as well. While parents may feel they are helping their children, in fact if you examine the impact of diet culture in your own life, you may realize how much yo-yo dieting, food obsessions, body dissatisfaction have cost you. Why would the cost to your daughters and sons be any less?

In the book, How to Raise an Intuitive Eater, the authors write that the most important things you can do to help your children are:

  1. Help them develop the belief that who they are as humans is not dependent on their appearance, size or eating behaviors.
  2. Support them in finding a way of eating with joy, using their body cues to direct them to what is nourishing for them.

It's understandable that in a fat-phobic society, those in larger bodies want to be thinner

From a social justice standpoint, living in a larger body in a diet-obsessed, fat-phobic society is a trial. Everywhere you look, diet culture exhorts you to lose weight. As well, many physicians have also bought into the thin = healthy myth. What is true is that most people who have struggled with their size will probably not find the "perfect diet" or be able to reach a "thin ideal." So what can you do? If you are able to accept yourself, just as you are; if you are able to allow yourself to feel valuable and worthy, no matter your size; if you are able to surround yourself with supportive people, including supportive people in the medical profession, would you be happier? Because what it gets down to is: What's your priority in life? Is it to be happy, productive, and healthy—or is it to be thin at all costs?

Decisions made from body hatred are often doomed to fail.

You choose; it's your body. If you choose to change how you eat, do so after you've come to at least feel neutral about your body. Don't do it because you hate your body. Whatever you do, spend the time (and therapy) needed to care about yourself no matter your size. Take time to begin to see yourself as the worthy, unique individual you are, no matter your size. And take care of yourself, no matter your size.

The first step toward greater satisfaction with your body is to stop seeing it as a separate entity to be controlled and manipulated. Your relationship with your body is your very first relationship. You come into the world with your body and you go out with it. Your body is the longest-lasting friend you have, and it performs miracles for you on a daily basis. It has helped you survive illness, injury, and other difficult times. It may have even given birth to a child. Your body may also have survived abuse, trauma, or substance use disorders.

If you can't change it, change your attitude —Maya Angelou

It seems to me that the most important accomplishment you can have is to be, or become, more authentic. To be authentic is to be fully expressive. What would it take for you to focus away from the number on the scale and instead change your attitude and put your focus on expressing to the fullest extent possible who you are in the world? How would that change your life for the better?





More from Psychology Today

More from Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H.

More from Psychology Today