On Nonjudgment and Body Acceptance

(Bronskvinnorna | Sculpture by Marianne Lindberg De Geer | Photo by Lars Aronsson)

(Bronskvinnorna | Sculpture by Marianne Lindberg De Geer | Photo by Lars Aronsson)

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

If you can see the issue clearly without value-judgment, you can set about a course to resolve the issue without negativity.

To change, especially in terms of the body, we must feel safe to change. (Just as a child develops within the refuge of a community.) And we are unlikely to change (long-term) in a positive way when the pressure is high and the environment, hostile. We will shell deeper into what we already know — and for that to change, solutions must come without judgment.

Dr. Caroline Weinberg writes:

The solution is not to reframe obesity as superfluous, but rather to seek a new approach to a decades-old problem. We need to focus on treating and preventing obesity, not only through intensive weight-loss regimes for individuals, but by attacking the root cause: the behaviors that are damaging to your health, no matter what your size.

A Rational Approach

It's an uphill, lifetime battle, but it's still a fight worth having. We have come to a point where body acceptance must be a part of what it means to be civilized, but this must be paired with an objective understanding of individual well-being.

Dr. Weinberg writes:

The psychological impacts of fat shaming and discrimination are profound, but health care professionals cannot deny a major medical issue because society is cruel. ... It helps no one — not the doctors, nor the patients, nor their families — when we allow people to delude themselves, and to redefine the relationship between weight and health. We may have reached a new normal, but that doesn’t change the optimum. On the other hand, reducing all of health to a mathematical formula of ‘weight over height squared’ is absurd.

So where does that leave us? As a culture, we must embrace different body types and accept that a person’s weight and waist circumference are not a commentary on their worth.

To change your body, you must first accept your body. Only then can you deal with what is.

Objectivity

Honesty comes in many forms, and often we mistake personal honesty, how we believe things to be, with objectivity, the way things are. An example of personal honesty is when it isn't lying, they believe what they are saying, even when factual inaccuracies are self-evident.

Unless solicited, I would never give anyone advice or guidance, but on numerous occasions, I have been asked for help. My approach is based on objectivity, and I leave my Self, my emotions, and my personal judgments out of it.

When asked, "Hey Sam, I am overweight, does that make me a bad person?"

I answer, "What does your weight have to do with morality or your worth? We cannot measure goodness by weight and in this case, lack of weight. Imagine a court system where cases were decided by having people stand on scales — whoever weighs the least wins. Then the verdict would be independent of actual guilt or innocence.

"Your virtue is not dependent on your weight. A scale only measures the downward force of mass in relationship to gravity. Nothing more.

"I know it seems different in the court of public opinion or in the cartoon reality of weight loss shows where the person who weighs the least literally wins but let me tell you weight says nothing about the reality of who you are. How you treat others is the best determiner of your character. And a scale is just not up to the task. But since a number on a scale is straightforward and convenient, we've taken it to mean more than it is because we as a group like to feel better than others, and we'll use anything as evidence. That does not make you a bad person, it makes those who make others feel inferior — bad people. You should only feel bad about yourself if you join in that behavior, and you can't blame your weight for that."

When asked, "Do you think I should lose weight?"

I answer, "No. I don't care what you weigh or how you look. You're fine with me the way you are. I have no expectations of you. You came to me unhappy with who you are, however, I can accept you as is. But if I were to ask, 'Can you accept yourself as is?' what would your answer be?

"If you want suggestions on how to become healthier, I can provide that. If you don't want suggestions, that's fine, too. If you become happy with who you are and no longer want to make changes, that's also fine. In fact, I can help you with self-acceptance as well."

To tell another adult what to do as if I had ownership over them is a form of authoritarian paternalism. It's absurd and irrational. I don't own them. I have no jurisdiction over them. Why would I care what they weigh? That's their private affair. They are not my toys. They are not my property to farm. They are fellow human beings. My equals.

However, if asked, "Do you think I am at an optimal weight for health?" and if the objective answer were, no, I would say so. If they were at an optimal weight, I would say, "Yes, you are at an optimal weight, and any further weight loss would risk detriment to your health."

For there to be objective feedback, it begins with the way it is framed. If you can see the issue clearly without value-judgment, you can set about a course to resolve the issue without negativity.

When asked, "Do you think I should change?"

I answer, "No. I'm personally okay with your behavior. Feel free to live your life the way you please. No judgment from me."

However, if asked, "Do you think I should change if I wanted to get healthier?"

I would answer, "Yes, that would be the logical thing to do based on your intent. Your current health is the result of who you are. If you want to change your health, you should change yourself accordingly."

What needs to change is not your weight but you as a person. Your weight is a byproduct of who you are. For that byproduct to change, you must first change.

Think of it as a logic equation: A equals A, and b equals b. If you are A and you want b, no matter how bad you want it, no matter how unfair you think it might be, A will not equal b. Only when A becomes b, will b equal b. If you are an unhealthy person, and you want a healthy body, you must first become a healthy person to attain a healthy body.

We are resistant to real change because we fear vulnerability. It's less vulnerable if we think it's only our weight, that's surface level. However, if the change must come from deep within, we feel exposed and defenseless. But how can we create any great change without vulnerability? It takes courage to change. To really change. W.B. Yeats writes:

It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.

Perhaps it takes motivation to lose weight, but it takes courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul.

Can I Be Myself Without Being Judged

When asked, "Can I have a cheat day?"

I answer, "A day you can eat as you please? You have free will. That is the simplest pleasure of a free person. Why ask me for permission? You have the liberty to eat what you please, and doing so would not be a cheat, especially when doing so harms no other.

"Cheating is when you act dishonestly to gain an unfair advantage over another. An athlete who takes a performance enhancing drug is not the same as an athlete who eats as they please. Answering randomly on a test may only give you disadvantages. And if you fail, that still does not make you a cheater, and it still does not put you in the same category as someone who had the answers beforehand.

"The result of cheating will bring better performance and praise from society until the truth is revealed. Whether or not people know the details of your diet, unhealthy eating will not increase performance or praise. It may only bring about more judgment. Then it is the worst of both worlds, the shame of cheating with none of its advantages. What an awful way to perceive your eating. It speaks to society's moralized eating dilemma.

"Cheating is a term coined by trainers to control behavior through guilt. Eating freely is cheating and rigid eating, like rigid religious beliefs, are "pure" and "clean." Then the nemesis of cheating is "clean" eating — psychological ploys using moral and religious language. 'You're only allowed to do this because I let you, because I gave you permission.' We were already used to this idea, having to always be watched by an eternal father. And for these reasons, many who seek trainers or nutritionists are conditioned to ask for permission. It's patronizing and disrespectful, and for obvious reasons, has failed to make people healthier or happier. It only makes the innocent feel guilty for being themselves.

"No one owns you. Do not willfully give away your freedom to others. The real power to live a healthier life belongs to you. No one can do it for you.

"Perhaps you want to convince yourself that if I say you can have a cheat day, somehow by magic, you won't gain any weight no matter what you eat. You may or may not gain weight, but it will have nothing to do with what anyone says, and will be wholly dependent upon you.

"Our wills cannot dictate the laws of science, and neither you nor I can control the universe. For example, giving an agoraphobic permission to leave the house is not a guarantee of safety. What will eventually be will be, independent of any false authority, and beyond anyone's foresight.

"But you feel restricted, and you want to eat without guilt. But the guilt exists in your head. And if all you want to know is if I will shame you for eating freely, I won't — because I don't care."

Even if the question were reframed to, what do I think about cheat days, how would my opinion change anything? Some will accept nothing less than a moral view, even though we hate the sting of moral judgment. We keep seeking it because it's the only way some know to value themselves.

Some who hate judgment will still demand it. Some only want positive judgments (you're amazing), others will only want negative judgments (you're lazy). And if they do not get the judgment they seek, they take offense. The absence of praise becomes the same as an insult.

Projection

You want me to be a vehicle for your own self-judgment or absolution. You are using me to speak to your unconscious. If you believe your true self is less than worthy, you want to know if it's alright to be yourself — to drop the guise and cheat.

We have been that hurt and traumatized, we've internalized it, the judgment perpetuates from within, with no more need of outside abuse. We are our worst critics. So we have learned to keep ourselves hidden. This is the classic response to all identity issues. But you're dying to come out, it's a heavy cross to bear, and you want someone else to carry it for you, but we each have our own crosses to bear.

Can I have a cheat day: Can I be myself without feeling judged? And if I say, yes — if I can accept you, then perhaps you feel you can be compassionate with yourself as well. If I don't judge you, maybe it's okay for you not to judge yourself. Even though you have always been told you should, that there is something wrong with you. You seek outside validation but the one who needs convincing that you are worthy of love is yourself.

Can you be yourself without your own judgment? I don't know. Only you can know that. That is your decision to make, and no one else's.

If I were asked, "Would eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, be against my best interest for optimal health?"

I would answer, "Yes. Unless what you naturally gravitated toward was healthy, and you tended to eat reasonable amounts at reasonable times as a matter of course."

Self-Compassion

When asked, "Why can't you understand how difficult it is?"

I answer, "I can, but can you? Can you be lenient with yourself when you look in the mirror? If I give advice, it is only because you have asked for it. I can stop at any time. You want me to understand your struggles, and I do, but can you, yourself, take that into consideration when you criticize yourself? Do you ask yourself, 'Why can't you understand how difficult it is?' when you set expectations for yourself. Isn't this what this is really about? Rather than I, you want to know why you can't be more understanding of yourself?

"You want it all, and when you can't have both, you give yourself criticism from both sides — for setting the bar too high and for being a failure. Rather than balance, you want the volume of both dials on high. But that only creates chaos and noise."

We are willing to make ourselves unhappy to be skinny. We are mistaking vehicles for happiness for happiness.

We don't need shame or judgment to help someone change. We must treat one another as adults, as sentient beings, rather than conduits for our own controlling nature. If we must control, we should control our own controlling nature — and our want to control others.

Motivation as Demotivation

It's common to use a scale for motivation, but constant measuring might be more demoralizing than it is motivating. We cannot jump on a scale without feeling judged, or even worse, shamed.

We use self-loathing as the main fuel for motivation. But if that's the case, how can we stay motivated? We confuse demotivation for motivation because demotivation has an initial period of passion. But any extreme emotion, including spite and hate, can be passionate; however, it is only a matter of time before they poison you.

If you can accept yourself, if you believe you are worthy and valuable, you would naturally do things that would match your self-perception. If you do not view yourself in this way, any attempt to do good for yourself will feel inauthentic and unnatural — doomed to fail.

In Daring Greatly, research professor Brené Brown writes:

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

If you are only yourself on your cheat day, then every other day will feel inauthentic. Then those are the days you are cheating your true self. And everything you do on a regular basis will be against your true nature, all your rules and goals serve only to restrict your authentic self, eventually leading to implosion. People have proven they are willing to die for their authentic selves. Then it is no wonder we sabotage our our health goals, because it is our health goals that are sabotaging our true identities.

But if every day were in line with your true self, then you would not need a day to act freely. Then it is about changing yourself so that your normal behavior is in line with the person you want to become.

Your true self is not fixed, it is fluid. If your true self is leading you to results you do not like, rather than restricting your true self, change to become the self that does not need restriction. Or don't, and start embracing yourself as is. Change yourself or change your expectations. Or perhaps meet in the middle.

Why Seek What You Hate?

Fitness is driven by appearance, and that is the irony. We hate judgment, but we keep seeking it. Perhaps we seek what hurts us to validate our own suspicions, that we are broken and in need of repair. (Much of our cultural and religious baggage has sold us on this notion.)

Sick of society's judgment we go to the gym to make it stop. But the gym with its fun house mirrors is the den of judgment. Where people take photos of themselves for praise and candid photos of others to shame them online.

We are fed up with society's abuse. So we do competitions where we are professionally judged — numbered, disrobed, and ranked like cattle. All to motivate ourselves to escape society's judgment. "I hate how society's looking at me, so let me go and train so I can be looked at."

Our solution begets the problem. We are solving judgment with judgment. It's a vicious feedback loop that deeply affects our psyche. And even with good intentions, we, too, will begin to judge others — just as harshly as we judge ourselves. And that, not your weight, says the most about your character.

Before we can escape the judgment of others, we must first learn to stop judging ourselves. Do not seek to be sainted or demonized. Just live. Be. Embrace. And know that the very fact that you are alive is proof that you are worthy to be here.

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