Balancing body positivity with healthy eating

Many of us are self conscious about our bodies and, by extension, of our eating habits. It can sometimes feel like there is a dual narrative that is in conflict with itself. On the one hand, there is the temptation to succumb to the demands of beauty standards and try to force our bodies into a perceived perfection. On the other hand, there is a movement telling us to reject this totally, that we are beautiful as we are and to eat what we want. So, in the midst of all this, how do we clear out the clutter and listen to what we actually want?

Being body positive means celebrating your body and, therefore, should also mean taking care of that body. However, I find that walking the line of self-love and doing what’s best for my body can sometimes be more challenging than it sounds. Let me give you an example: I love eating chocolate. My body definitely doesn’t need as much chocolate as I give it and it’s not very good for me to overeat this treat. On the one hand, I’m not overweight and I enjoy it so I’m tempted to say: self-care isn’t selfish and enjoy an extra line of my favourite chocolate. However, I know that if I keep this up – my body will not thank me for it; by imposing certain limits I’m being kinder to my body and allowing it to function at it’s best.

To be clear, it’s not just about the chocolate. Essentially, this applies across my entire eating regime. For a long time, I’ve not thought too much about what I eat and have enjoyed that freedom immensely. However, over recent weeks I’ve become aware that I am slowly but surely putting on weight. That’s fine in some ways, as I’m still relatively slender – BUT it doesn’t make ME feel good. I feel more sluggish and bloated and not as high energy as I have done in the past. I want to make simple changes to start to change this for myself. A big part of that brings me back to the chocolate – I simply don’t need as much as I eat. Likewise, with bread and, more broadly, with the portion sizes that I eat.

What I find challenging, is balancing this care for my body and trying to get it back to where I would like to see it – without become obsessive about calories and meal planning. I’m trying to introduce change slowly and make sure they’re my choices, but it still feels like I’m ‘banning’ myself certain foods. To be blunt: I don’t want to become someone who talks loudly about calorie count at meals. I kinda hate that person. I’m still working on finding the line, between healthy eating and not over thinking or criticising myself at every meal. I worked hard to become more relaxed and more body positive – I don’t want to give that up.

I’ve recently started introducing more exercise into my life as well, and it’s a similar story. I want to take care of my body and for it to be strong and flexible and ready to take on any situation – but I also don’t want to start using exercise to punish my body into shape. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into the latter without even realising. I might say that I want to get strong and I’m exercising to look after my body – but it’s not completely true. I’m exercising because I want my flat torso and thigh gap back. There is nothing body positive about that really, but it’s the truth.

In reality, I’d still quite like to conform to societies beauty standards. It’s not my sole motivation by any means; I really do want to feel high energy and ‘ready to go’ again – the bloated feeling from eating too much is not great. However, there’s no getting around the fact that I also want to cut back on foods and start exercising because I want to feel sexy once more. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – but it is important to question where that comes from. The simple answer: the patriarchy.

I find it difficult to find the balance between two extremes. On the one hand, the patriarchy is screaming at me to be a beautiful woman and work hard to conform. On the other hand, the body positive movement, is telling me to f*** that s*** and not worry about what I look like. However, it can be hard to look after your body well, without also starting to worry what you look like. I feel like I’m never fully pleasing either side.

However, the bottom line is: I don’t need to. I don’t need to ‘please’ anyone but myself. I will probably never be the perfect woman or the perfect feminist and I’m ok with that. I’m trying as hard as possible to clear out this clutter, and these narratives around what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my body and think for myself. When it comes to food, I try to hear myself think. Do I actually want this? Am I hungry? Does this taste good to me? By asking these questions, I’m trying not to buy in to either side and just listen to what my body is telling me it needs. Similarly, with exercise, I’m trying to listen to what feels good and test how much I can push myself. If I find myself thinking about weight during exercise, I push the thought away. Instead, I think of my strength- how I can use that to keep me safe, to take up space, and to give me more energy to bounce through life with. I want to make my exercise and eating habits about me: not about pleasing anybody else.