American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

By Erin Nitschke and Dominique Adair 


The concept of body positivity has gained significant traction, and rightly so. What is body positivity? It's a movement that champions self-love, acceptance and appreciation for bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities. Isn’t this what we all want—to experience self-love, grant ourselves grace and practice gratitude for what our bodies can do? At first glance, this movement is positive and necessary. However, like any movement, it's important to strike a balance and avoid falling into the trap of extremes. In this article, we'll explore the importance of navigating the extremes of “weight focus and weight neutrality to discover true harmony in our relationship with our bodies. 

The Ditches of Extremes 

At one extreme, a focus on body weight alone is underscored by the pressure to conform to society's narrow standards of beauty. From airbrushed magazine covers to flawless social media #fitfluencers, we're bombarded with images of unattainable and unrealistic “perfection” at every turn. This constant barrage of unreasonable ideals can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even disordered eating behaviors. The obsession with these idealized standards can take a toll on both physical and mental health. 

At the other extreme, we see the glorification of unhealthy habits under the guise of body positivity. This can manifest in the form of a mis-adaptation of the health at every size rhetoric that downplays the importance of healthy lifestyle choices under the guise of body acceptance. While it's crucial to embrace diversity and challenge harmful stereotypes, it's equally important to recognize a body of literature that ties disease risk to excess adiposity (i.e., body fat). While seemingly contradictory, acknowledgment of obesity and its associated health risks doesn't necessarily contradict the principles of body positivity. Body positivity is about promoting self-acceptance and self-love regardless of body size or shape. It's about recognizing that all bodies are valuable and deserving of respect and dignity. 

In addition, it's important to acknowledge that obesity, like other health conditions, can have negative impacts on health. Ignoring or downplaying these risks can be harmful. Therefore, promoting body positivity should not mean denying or ignoring the potential health consequences of obesity.  

Consider adopting a more holistic approach to health that encompasses physical, mental and emotional well-being. So, how do you find harmony amidst these extremes? It starts with shifting your mindset from one of comparison and judgment to one of compassion and self-care. Instead of fixating on how your body looks compared to others, focus on how it feels and what it can do. Celebrate your body for its strength, resilience and capacity for growth and prioritize nourishing yourself with wholesome foods, staying active in ways that bring you joy, and practicing self-care rituals that honor your body and mind. 

Walking Toward the Harmonious Middle  

Navigating toward the midpoint between weight-centric and weight-neutrality is a challenge and that journey will look different for each individual. Each person will have their own “leanings” and perspectives on how they hope to arrive at whatever their goals may be. That is okay. As your journey begins (or continues), this is an invitation to consider the following steps as you calibrate your compass, using the acronym I.N.S.P.I.R.E.  

I = Ignore Extremes: Think about your “why” and try to find compassionate, important and relevant reasons for embracing those behaviors that feel best.  

N = No single right answer: What is right for your partner, colleague or neighbor is not necessarily right for you.  

S = Set boundaries: Limit exposure to media and social media content that perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards or prompts negative thoughts. Instead, surround yourself with supportive friends, family members and communities that celebrate diversity and promote body positivity. 

P = Practice self-compassion: Take time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings about your body. Notice any negative self-talk or harmful beliefs that arise. Then, challenge unrealistic beauty standards by questioning where these standards come from and how they impact your self-perception. Finally, talk to yourself like you would a friend! 

I = Illuminate your plate: Prioritize nourishing foods that fuel your body and support your overall well-being. Aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Also, listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Eat mindfully, savoring each bite, and stop when you're satisfied. 

R = Reach out for help: If you're struggling with body image issues or disordered eating behaviors, consider seeking support from a therapist, counselor or healthcare professional. You may also opt to work with a certified health coach, registered dietitian or exercise professional who can provide personalized guidance and support on your journey toward balanced health and well-being. 

E = Enjoy movement: Find physical activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good. Whether it's dancing, hiking, yoga, swimming or any of the countless other ways to move your body, choose activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Shift your mindset from thinking of exercise as a means to change your body to considering exercise as a way to honor and care for your body. 

Final Thoughts 

Above all, finding harmony in your relationship with your body requires kindness, patience and self-compassion. It's a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance that unfolds over time. Together, let's challenge both extremes of this discussion and strive to create a world where each unique approach to self-care is honored because it is ours alone.  

For more on this topic, read 5 Tips for Boosting Body Image, where you’ll find practical strategies you can put into practice right away, starting on the inside and culminating with loving who you are.