What is Body Neutrality and Why Would We Aim for It In Recovery?

Integrated Eating is delighted to present a blog from our nutrition intern, Makenzie Teramo. While interning for us this summer she attended a webinar given by The Renfrew Center that was presented by McKenzie Wilkins and Rachel Phillips Tenny called Body Neutrality: How to Exist Between Loving and Hating Your Body. This blog delivers an overview of the topic of body neutrality and why we aim for it in recovery. 

One thing all individuals with eating disorders have in common is a disordered, distorted and/or dysfunctional relationship with their body. When we enter into recovery, one important aspect to address, understand, process and heal is how we relate to our body. How our healing clients do this is a personal and unique journey. This said, in the field we tend to see this process on a spectrum. On one side we have body dissatisfaction. Way on the other end we have body positivity. Someplace in the middle lies body neutrality. While it may seem the goal is to “reach” body positivity, leaning into a more neutral relationship may actually serve recovery better in the long run. SAY WHAT??

Body positivity requires those to love their body no matter what. But how realistic is this for anyone- especially those afflicted with eating disorders? It is natural to compare ourselves to others. It is impossible to always feel positive about any type of relationship, including the one we have with our body. Issues tend to arise from the body positive approach in moments that negative thoughts sneak in. Those that are either focused on body dissatisfaction or positivity tend to be less flexible and have very little skills to battle negative thoughts. Long term results show negative actions taken upon oneself during these vulnerable moments. 

Body neutrality reminds our patients that we are more than just a body. 

The concept of body neutrality instills that how we feel about ourselves isn’t just about our appearance. It invites a larger approach to our “body” - not just how we look- but who we are, what we have to offer and how our body becomes the vehicle to achieve these things. This approach seeks acceptance to the truth that our body will change. Not only in the course of one’s recovery process, but throughout time and stages of life. This non-judgmental stance invites a person to fuel energy into values, hobbies and one’s organic gifts verus what they think or how they  feel about the parts of their physical body. 

Here is an example: Let’s say a thought enters regarding a person’s arms. Someone how was stuck in body dissatisfaction may exclaim,  “I hate my arms; they are so flabby!”.  A person practicing a more body positive approach may say,  “I love my arms, they are strong!”  However, body neutrality suggests we consider what these arms do for us. This individual may include, “I appreciate that my arms allow me to hug others to show how much I care, carry groceries up to my house, and to pet my dog.”

Recovery may in fact include all-moments of body dissatisfaction, sentiments of body positivity, and cultivating a larger non-judgemental viewpoint of one’s body. This said, body neutrality certainly has a critical place in eating disorder treatment and one that when adopted may lead to a transformed relationship with one’s body.