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Cultivating love

Listen carefully! I am going to tell you the great secret to embracing a healthy lifestyle for good: The key to taking good care of your body for the duration of your life, is to love it.

If you love something, you want what is best for it. You want to nurture it, provide for its needs and give it the best care you are capable of. The opposite of loving your body, is rejecting or hating it. When you reject and hate something, you don’t particularly care what happens to it. You’re not motivated to spend energy on its behalf. If it falls under your care, you may give it the bare minimum of attention or neglect it or punish it because, after all, you hate it.

Intellectually, you can probably see my point easily- that love and acceptance of your body will help you to do what it takes to have a healthy lifestyle…but, this understanding doesn’t automatically help you to have different feelings!

If you have a history of body-hatred, if you have seen your body as the source of all unhappiness in your life, and if you have followed one punishing diet after the other, interspersed with the typical frantic between-diet-over-eating, then you have a history of abuse, and it’s virtually impossible to just change your feelings.

You need to learn how to love, you need to cultivate love.

How can I learn to love my body again?

(I say again, because all little kids love theirs. Loathing our own bodies is something we learn, and we can unlearn it too!)

In a book by Harville Hendrix about marriage, called “getting the love you want”, he encountered the same problem when guiding couples to more fulfilling relationships, and has offered helpful solutions.

He explains that he initially saw his role as a therapist as helping husbands and wives to understand the dynamics of their relationship, to see how they had linked feelings about their partners with needs left over from childhood, and to remove emotional blocks. Once he had done that, they were supposed to “automatically evolve to a more rational, adult style of relating”, but, he found that in spite of new insights, couples clung to established behaviour.

This problem led him to experiment with some more direct approaches to helping couples let go of counterproductive habits and replace these with more effective ones. To help couples restore a sense of love and goodwill- he assigned a homework exercise.

They where to go home, each make a list of positive, specific ways their partner could please them (e.g., rub my shoulders for 10 minutes in the evening, buy flowers once a week etc), swap lists, and commit to giving each other three to five of those behaviours a day.

Almost without exception, when couples began to artificially increase the number of times a day that they acted lovingly toward each other, they began to feel safer and more loving.

How can that help an eater?

We can apply the same principle to start changing our feelings about our bodies. When you treat your body with love and respect, even when you don’t feel it, it will reward you in such a surprisingly delightful way, that despite your doubts, you will find real feelings of love and respect developing. If your body could write a wish-list, asking for loving behaviours from you, what would be on it?

On mine would be:

  • Plan to feed me- buy ingredients that you know I enjoy and prepare meals for me (if this is on your list too, it implies that you need to learn how to cook if you can’t)

  • Allow me to eat until I feel satisfied, no more, no less

  • Make sure I get enough sleep and rest

  • Drink enough to keep me hydrated

  • Wear comfortable clothes that don’t pinch or constrain my movement (shoes too!)

  • Walk barefoot

  • Listen to music I love, dance!

  • Swim when you get the chance

  • Ride a bicycle downhill

  • Stroke a cat or dog

  • Smell fragrant flowers or scented candles or my favourite perfume

  • Get hugged

  • Go outside, feel the sun warm my skin

  • Let me see beautiful things

  • Create lots of opportunities for me to move- to stretch and run and use my muscle

  • Play games

One condition…no conditions!

Dr Hendrix specified as part of his exercise, that the behaviours were to be gifts, not a bartering tool.

He says most marriages are run like a commodities market, with loving behaviour the coin in trade. But this kind of “love” does not work. If John rubs Martha’s shoulders in the hopes that she will let him spend the day fishing, a built-in sensor in Martha’s head goes: “look out, price tag attached!” There is no reason to feel good about this gift because she will have to pay for it later. The only kind of love that she will accept is the kind with no strings attached.

In the same way, if I am allowing my body the freedom to move, I must let go of the expectation that movement should bring weight loss- it will interfere with my ability to feel and enjoy. If I let my body eat to satisfaction, I must not mentally count everything I eat and plan for how I will make my body “pay” for it later- this undermines the whole process, and trust and love will not develop. It is only when we allow our body to reciprocate our gift of care of its own accord that we start to see how capable and clever it is and how it does pay back many times over for being treated well.

Sound Bite

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend it. Martin Luther King Jr
We find love only as we give love to others Douglas M Lawson
Effort matters in everything, love included. Learning to love is purposeful work Michael Levine

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