Change rooted in shame doesn’t stick
(Dana Sturtevant, co-founder of BeNourished, Food Psych Podcast)
When I heard Dana Sturtevant say “Change rooted in shame doesn’t stick” on the Food Psych Podcast, it was one of those moments where my understanding about the lifelong battle I had waged against my body shifted into something more peaceful and attainable. Suddenly it all made sense.
Of course, as a therapist, I already believed this in theory. I would never dream of cultivating change with my clients through shame. I believed they deserved self-compassion and alignment with themselves. And yet, my desperate desire to change my body was deeply rooted in shame. It was ALL about shame. Shame that I put on weight again. Shame that I couldn’t “figure it out”. Shame that my body was built the way it was. Desperately wanting to change…because of shame. My efforts to change were rooted in shame, so of course they wouldn’t stick! (That and the actual science that proves that more than 95% of diets fail and that our genetics are in charge of our body size more than our efforts).
“There just isn’t scientific evidence to support any theory of how to lose weight and keep it off. No matter how many times or how authoritatively the message is repeated that diet, exercise, and discipline can get you what you want, it doesn’t change the fact that it has not proven true for any but a tiny minority of people” (Health at Every Size, Bacon, p. 43)
Instead of continuing to shame myself for not seeing this truth earlier, I allowed myself to celebrate it when it all clicked. Healing my body couldn’t be about shaming it, it needed to shift to accepting it, caring for it, and fully embodying it. And, diet culture had sucked the life out of me (literally) for over 15 years. I wasn’t going to do that for 15 more.
So I took to healing my body image and my relationship with food through a Health at Every Size lens. Health at Every Size (HAES) is guided by:
“Respect – including respect for body diversity
Critical Awareness- challenges scientific and cultural assumptions, values people’s body knowledge and their lived experiences, acknowledges social-justice injustice and that disadvantage and oppression are health hazards
Compassionate Self-Care: Supports people in moving towards mindfulness; attuned movement, eating, and other self-care strategies.” (Bacon and Aphramor Body Respect, pp 81-92)
The change I was really seeking was right here in these three guiding principles. I had work to do to let go of shame and grieve my “fantasy body” that had driven my life for so long. I did this with exposure to body diversity, support from friends and a therapist, and research. The change wasn’t eating less and waist training my torso into a shape it could be; the change became so much more connected to my being and much deeper.
Letting go of the shame might feel scary—because the shame is what may be keeping you connected to what you think is the *right* way (pursuing thinness, perfectionism, etc.)
My invitation to you is this: notice where you might need self-acceptance (with your body or otherwise); notice what feels scary about acceptance, and then meet yourself in a place of compassionate self-care. Your “goal” may move, but my guess is, you will be living in a more grounded and authentic growth filled way!