Respecting Your Body When You Don’t Love It

This blog article is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical advice.

Respecting your body when you’re having a bad body image day can feel impossible.

Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with social pressures to conform with unrealistic standards of beauty. Seeing bodies glorified for their thinness, fitness, whiteness or able-bodied nature at every turn makes accepting our bodies difficult when we don’t fit the mold. 

As a non-diet dietitian, my mission is to guide you towards peaceful relationships with food and body. One place to start this journey is with the Intuitive Eating principle “Respect Your Body.” 

In this post, we explore how to practice body respect and appreciation. I’ll share 8 ways to practice treating your body with the kindness and understanding it deserves.

What Does Respecting Your Body Mean?

Respecting your body is at the core of the Intuitive Eating philosophy. It involves acknowledging and accepting your body’s unique shape, size, and abilities without judgment. 

This principle encourages you to shift your focus away from trying to achieve unrealistic beauty ideals. Instead, it focuses on fostering a positive relationship with your body by finding self-worth outside of your appearance and appreciating your body’s capabilities. 

Respecting your body also means listening to your body’s cues and responding with care and compassion. Our body tells us when it needs nourishment, movement, rest, or self-care. Body respect is about honoring those needs without falling into the trap of comparison that causes us to second guess our body’s signals.  

By embracing this approach, you create a foundation of self-respect and self-care that supports both physical and mental health. Practicing the principles of Intuitive Eating is associated with less disordered eating, a more positive body image, and greater emotional functioning.

How To Start Respecting Your Body

Embarking on the journey to respect your body begins with small, yet powerful steps. 

These steps will help you start shifting your mindset and actions to foster a healthier relationship with your body:

  • Recognize negative self-talk
  • Start to apply self-compassion
  • Learn to reframe your thinking about your body
  • Practice positive affirmations
  • Challenge unrealistic beauty ideals
  • Meet your body’s basic needs
  • Express gratitude for what your body is capable of
  • Define your worth outside of your appearance

Step 1: Recognize Negative Self-talk

Becoming aware of negative self-talk is the first crucial step in changing your relationship with your body. 

This involves noticing the critical, often automatic thoughts that arise about your body throughout the day. These thoughts might be judgments about how you look in certain clothes or criticism about what and how you eat. They might be loudest when looking in a mirror or looking at social media.

Recognizing a negative thought might sound like, “I’m having the thought that my thighs have lots of dimples.”

Acknowledge this thought, but remember, acknowledgment doesn’t mean agreement. Our inner critic often stems from a complex mix of diet culture messages, past experiences, and personal expectations. 

This voice in our heads can be harsh and unrelenting, focusing on perceived flaws and shortcomings. It’s crucial to recognize these thoughts as merely thoughts, not facts

Step 2: Apply Self-compassion

Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a good friend. 

When you notice negative self-talk, respond with compassion rather than criticism. Remind yourself that your value as a person encompasses so much more than your appearance

Continuing with the above example, a compassionate response might sound like, “My thighs are unrelated to my value as a person, friend, or parent. I decide my worth, and I am worthy.”

Practice speaking to yourself in a gentle, reassuring voice. Self-compassion also means giving yourself permission to feel whatever emotions arise, without judgment.

Thought bubble with the words "I can show myself compassion when I"m struggling" in it.

Step 3: Reframe Your Thinking About Your Body

The inner thoughts we have about our bodies significantly shape our feelings and behaviors. But we don’t have to accept that negative narrative as the truth! We have the power to interrupt our automatic thoughts and rewrite the script we hear in our minds.

By questioning and changing negative thought patterns, we can shift our mindset to one that champions self-respect and positive self-regard. Reframing these thoughts involves consciously changing your perspective on a thought. 


When automatic negative thoughts about your body arise, pause and ask yourself: 

  • Is this thought helpful? 
  • How does it make me feel about myself? 
  • Is this an old story?
  • What do I get for buying into this story?
  • Who benefits from this thought?

Often, you’ll find these thoughts are based on unrealistic standards or perfectionist ideals that bring on body hatred. 

For example, if the thought, “I feel disgusting,” comes up, try reframing it. “I’m learning to accept my body as strong and capable,” is a possible reframe. This practice doesn’t negate discomfort but shifts the focus towards body appreciation and functionality.

Thought bubble with the words "I don't need to act on my negative thoughts" written inside.

Step 4: Practice Positive Affirmations

Replacing self-critical thoughts with positive affirmations is a powerful tool in reshaping how we view our bodies. Affirmations reinforce our ability to appreciate our bodies for their strength, resilience, and the incredible experiences they allow us to have. 

Examples include:

  • “I can be kind to myself even if I’m having a bad body image day.”
  • “Life is too short to waste time obsessing about my body. I have many amazing things to achieve and need that time to focus on moving ahead with my life.”
  • “Knowing my body weight tells me nothing about what I am capable of, who I am or what makes me special. Weight is just a number, not a value.”

For more on crafting and using body image affirmations, check out my article on body image affirmations.

Step 5: Challenge Unrealistic Beauty Ideals

Societal beauty standards are not only unrealistic but constantly changing. Because of our genetic differences, they are impossible for most of us to meet. 

To illustrate this point, I like to think about our canine friends. Golden retrievers will never look like chihuahuas no matter what kind of chow their owners feed them. The same goes for humans. Eating and exercising like a movie star will not transform our bodies into carbon copies of theirs because genetics predominantly determines our body size and shape.

Recognizing and challenging unrealistic ideals can liberate us from the pressure to conform to rigid dieting or exercise practices. 

To practice challenging unrealistic beauty standards, consider these points/actions:

  • Your value comes from your unique traits, your actions, and your contributions to the world, not from how closely your genetics fit the current (and ever-changing) “ideal” body standard. 
  • Question media messages and societal norms that equate thinness or specific body types with happiness and success. People of all sizes find love, success and satisfaction.
  • Celebrate diversity in body shapes, sizes, and appearances, starting with your own.
  • Ask yourself, “What traits have I received from my most beloved ancestors?” Celebrate the gifts that they have given you that make you uniquely you.

Engaging in this critical thinking helps to dismantle the power these ideals hold over us and fosters a more inclusive and accepting view of beauty. 

Step 6: Meet Your Body’s Basic Needs

Respecting your body means attending to its fundamental needs for nourishment, movement, and rest. Eating intuitively, resting when tired, and engaging in enjoyable physical activities are all forms of self-care that honor your body’s needs. 

Respecting Your Body with Nourishment

Nourishing your body is an integral part of respecting it. Instead of succumbing to restrictive diets, practice Intuitive Eating by listening to your body’s hunger and satisfaction cues. Allow yourself to savor a variety of foods without guilt, focusing on nourishing rather than depriving.

Pay Attention to the Sensory Experience of Eating

Take the time to really notice the flavors, textures, aromas, and visual appeal of your food. This mindfulness during meals can elevate the act of eating from mere sustenance to a pleasurable, fulfilling experience. 

According to a review, mindfulness-based approaches appear most effective in addressing binge eating, emotional eating, and eating in response to external cues, focusing on the sensory properties of foods and internal indicators of hunger and fullness.

Balance and Variety

Nourishing your body doesn’t mean adhering to strict food rules but rather embracing a diverse range of foods that provide you with a mix of nutrients. Embrace the joy of discovering new foods, flavors, and textures. Nourish your body in a way that feels both satisfying and enjoyable

You can learn more about how to add balance and variety to your meals here

Thought bubble with the words "I can have a bad body image day and still respect my body's need for food" in it.

Respecting Your Body With Joyful Movement

Consider your approach to physical activity. Do you move because you love to or because you hope it will change your body or lead to weight loss?

Studies show that moving for pleasure or well-being rather than exercising to lose weight results in healthier body image. This perspective shift allows you to celebrate your body’s capabilities and discover the fun of an active lifestyle

So, whether you choose dancing, walking, or playing a sport, the key is to find activities that feel like a natural expression of joy or play rather than a chore. Some days you might crave a vigorous workout, while on others, a gentle stretch or a quiet walk may feel more aligned with your body’s needs. 

Respecting Your Body With Rest

Rest is not merely a pause in your routine; it’s an active component of self-care and respecting your body. Adequate rest supports physical recovery from exercise, emotional well-being, and mental clarity. Additionally, pursuing rest involves setting boundaries to ensure you have downtime to recharge

Respecting your body with rest means allowing yourself to take breaks, get sufficient sleep, and engage in relaxation practices without feeling guilty or lazy. In today’s fast-paced world, where productivity is often prized above well-being, honoring your need for rest can feel revolutionary. 

Rest might include: 

  • Mindfulness: Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi
  • Reading, Writing or Journaling 
  • Crafts: Knitting, Sewing, Painting, Woodworking, Pottery, etc.
  • Nature: Watching a Sunset, Camping, Forest Bathing
  • Watching TV or Movies
  • Going to bed an hour earlier than normal
  • Talking to Friends or Family
  • Taking a Vacation
  • Turning your phone off for a day (or a half day)

Step 7: Respecting Your Body with Gratitude

Expressing gratitude for your body is a powerful way to shift your focus from criticism to appreciation. Recognize the incredible things your body does for you every day

Here are three ways you can start right now:

Body Appreciation List

Creating a body appreciation list encourages you to celebrate the myriad ways your body supports you. 

For example:

  • My legs enable me to walk and hike.
  • My arms allow me to embrace my loved ones.
  • My eyes let me see the beauty of the earth. 
  • My lungs let me breathe and live. 

This practice helps to shift the focus from how your body looks to what it can do, fostering a sense of gratitude for its functionality.

Gratitude Journaling

Start a gratitude journal to acknowledge and appreciate your body’s abilities. Celebrate the small victories and express gratitude for the unique qualities that make you who you are. 

For instance, you might write about the strength you felt during a morning walk, the sensation of nourishment from a meal, or the ability of your body to heal from a bruise. Celebrating these moments can enhance your appreciation for your body’s abilities and your growing relationship with it.

Building Your Mind-Body Connection

Strengthening your mind-body connection is essential for deepening your sense of gratitude. Practices such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises can help you appreciate the present moment and connect with your body on a deeper level

For example, through yoga, you can explore and appreciate the strength and flexibility of your body, while meditation can help you cultivate a peaceful state of mind, allowing for greater appreciation of your body and its sensations. Here are 5 simple Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) mindfulness exercises to try!

Step 8: Finding Your Worth Outside Your Appearance

Navigating the journey to self-acceptance and cultivating genuine self-worth requires us to look beyond the surface, to value ourselves for the unique individuals we are, far removed from the constraints of physical appearance. This section explores practical steps to detach your sense of self-worth from your appearance, guiding you towards a more fulfilling self-recognition and appreciation.

Recognizing Your Best Qualities

Recognizing your intrinsic qualities can significantly improve your self-esteem, independent of your physical appearance. Imagine how a best friend would describe you; they’d likely focus on your personality, your heart, and your mind rather than how you look

Try writing down your best qualities and posting them in a prominent place, like on your mirror or fridge. 

Examples: 

  • I know how to lighten the mood with a well-timed joke 
  • I’m a good a shoulder to cry on 
  • I’m known for my creative ideas
  • I solve problems quickly
  • I make everyone around me feel at ease 
  • I’m a good listener

These characteristics are your true essence, contributing far more to the world than physical appearance ever could. Reflect on these attributes, and allow them to reinforce your sense of worth.

Limiting Social Media 

While social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok offer entertainment and connection, they can also perpetuate harmful messages about our bodies, eating, food, and beauty ideals

Take control of your social media experience by trying the following: 

  • Actively curate your feed to include positive and diverse representations of bodies 
  • Unfollow accounts that promote unrealistic beauty standards
  • Unfollow accounts that promote fad dieting (and dieting in general)
  • Unfollow accounts that post before and after photos (this promotes weight bias)
  • Surround yourself with content that uplifts and inspires
  • Take regular breaks social media
  • Reconnect with the real world after using social media
  • Engage in activities that boost your mood and self-esteem

By surrounding yourself with messages that uplift rather than diminish, you’ll nurture a more accepting and compassionate view of yourself and others.

Thought bubble with the words "I can let go of diet culture" in it.

Wearing Clothes That Make You Feel Comfortable

The clothes you wear should make you feel confident and comfortable. Let them reflect your personal style rather than conforming to fashion trends that may not align with your body’s unique shape. Case in point, skinny jeans made my legs feel like sausages. No thank you. Next!

Embrace outfits that make you feel good about yourself, whether that’s cozy sweaters that offer comfort or bold colors that express your vibrant personality. Fashion is an extension of your identity, a way to say who you are without having to speak. 

By choosing clothes that fit well and suit your body type, you celebrate your individuality and step out into the world with confidence.

Final Thoughts on Respecting Your Body 

Respecting your body is a journey, and it starts with these small, intentional steps: 

  • Recognize negative self-talk
  • Apply self-compassion
  • Reframe your thinking about your body
  • Practice positive affirmations
  • Challenge unrealistic beauty ideals
  • Meet your body’s basic needs for nourishment, movement and rest
  • Express gratitude for your body
  • Define your worth outside of your appearance

By embracing the Respect Your Body principle of Intuitive Eating, you can foster a positive relationship with your body, allowing for self-love and appreciation to flourish. Your body deserves respect even if the concepts of body love or body positivity seem out of reach right now.

Remember, your worth is not defined by societal standards; it’s a reflection of the unique and incredible person you are!