5 Tips for Practicing Body Neutrality in Daily Life

A handful of reminders for your body-image journey, through the lens of body neutrality.

Illustration by Chanelle Nibbelink

Approaches like body neutrality, body positivity, and “Health at Every Size” can help combat weight-related stigma and shame. Here’s what to keep in mind for body acceptance.

1. Dieting isn’t the be-all, end-all.

Dieting has a shockingly low success rate, with some studies suggesting that up to 97 percent of dieters regain most or all of the weight they lose within three years. Yo-yo dieting — losing and gaining weight cyclically — has been linked to heart disease, insulin resistance and high blood pressure, and calorie restriction is more likely to cause psychological distress than to result in long-term health goals. Instead, experts encourage intuitive eating — listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues — for a less rigid, less emotionally charged relationship with food.

2. Medical systems have a lot to fix.

One of the most significant steps doctors can take in combating fat bias, weight discrimination and health disparities is to realize the hazards of relying on body mass index to determine health. That’s because BMI only looks at the relationship between weight and height and doesn’t take into account muscle mass, different types of fat (and how they impact health), race, sex and age, according to a 2013 landmark paper by Penn researchers on the need for a better metabolic health measure.

3. Skinny doesn’t equal healthy.

Smaller bodies aren’t necessarily more healthy, and likewise, bigger bodies aren’t automatically unhealthy. Indicators including heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cardiorespiratory endurance, along with social determinants — access to health care, education, employment, community safety, housing, food (in)security — greatly impact health. This is especially relevant to Philadelphians who have experienced consistent poor health outcomes for more than a decade.

4. Joyful movement beats punitive exercise.

Experts are finding that people who adopt habits for the sake of feeling good rather than to lose weight fare better in the long run. That’s why Jenny Weinar, licensed clinical social worker and founder of Home Body Therapy, advocates for joyful movement, or pleasurable physical activity: “Even among more vigorous forms of movement, there might be some that are more or less enjoyable for you personally. Making this distinction is key, because both what you do physically and how much you engage in it can positively or negatively affect your mental health, self-perception and self-confidence.”

Julianna Hirsh, a personal trainer and coach for City Fitness’s WE/FIT program, offers three body-neutral alternatives to your current self-talk.

Current talk: “I love my body, flaws and all!”
Try this instead: “My body deserves trust and respect — not because of appearance, but because it takes me places and helps keep me safe.”

Current talk: “I only exercise to lose weight and burn calories.”
Try this instead: “I move my body in ways that help me connect to myself.”

Current talk: “I feel good/bad about myself because I love/hate the way I look.”
Try this instead: “The way I look is the least interesting thing about me.”

Published as “The More You Know” and “Change the Conversation” sidebar content in the 2023 issue of Be Well Philly.