WTF Is Self-Love?
Have you ever heard people talking about “self-love” rolled your eyes?
Have you ever thought: “It would be easy to love myself if I could just lose weight. If I looked like her, self-love would be a breeze!”?
THIS WAS TOTALLY ME.
I totally thought that self-love meant that I had to be complacent, to give up the dreams and goals I had for my body and my life and just be happy—no, in LOVE—with what I had.
Even today, I see a lot of people using self-love in unhealthy ways:
→ As a justification for staying stuck in unhealthy habits.
→ As a band-aid to cover up the pain of not liking something about their bodies or their lives.
→ As just another thing to feel guilty and inadequate about. (Why can’t I just love myself like I am supposed to?)
While I am so glad that more and more people are talking about the importance of self-love on an individual and collective level, I think that all of the self-love memes on Instagram may be leaving out a couple of key things:
What does self-love actually look and feel like?
How does one go about the process of loving themselves?
So I want to set the record straight and get to the bottom of what self-love actually is, why it is important for healing our relationships with food and our bodies, and how we go about building our self-love muscle.
1) What actually is self-love?
When you hear the word “love”, what are the first things that come to mind?
The media has lead us to believe that love is dozens of roses, finding our “other half,” a state of bliss, romance, etc. etc.
But if you actually think of someone that you love unconditionally—be it a partner or a pet or a friend or a family member—you will find that your love for them is very different from that definition.
In fact, those people in your life likely do things that drive you nuts and make you want to knock them over the head from time to time, but even if you get upset or angry in the moment, you always recover and find compassion for them because you accept them for who they are.
Acceptance. That is what real love is.
Not just the wonderful things, but the shadow parts as well. We don’t abandon the people that we love when they go through times of darkness and pain, we have compassion for them and apply even more love.
So if we apply this concept to self-love, we find that it is not actually about gazing at yourself in the mirror with heart eyes, but accepting all parts of ourselves, being compassionate toward ourselves, and treating ourselves with respect… on both a physical and an emotional level.
When you truly love yourself, you treat yourself as you would your best friend.
In terms of your relationship with food and your body, it is the #1 most important factor because the more love you have for yourself, the more you will want to fill your body with nourishing foods that make it feel good and the less you will beat yourself up and feel guilt and shame for indulgences. Self-love also reduces the need for external validation and allows you to feel through your emotions and give yourself what you need, rather than turning to food or other vices for comfort.
And that’s not to say that you won’t have off days. We all have an inner critic on overdrive and can beat ourselves up from time to time, but cultivating a strong sense of self-love makes it easier and faster to have compassion for ourselves, forgive ourselves, turn down the volume on the inner critic, and come back to center.
2) How do I start loving myself?
Cultivating self-love in your life is like building muscle at the gym. If you want to see it grow, you have to lift heavy weights. You have to be consistent. And you have to acknowledge the small gains over time.
A first step—which is equivalent to getting your butt to the gym consistently—is bringing awareness to your inner critic. I often recommend that my clients track the critical things that they say to themselves, take time to pause and ask themselves what they would say to their best friend who had just said that about herself.
Just tuning into all of the negative things you say to yourself on a daily basis and asking yourself if they are really true and what you can do to apply more love to yourself or the situation is a huge first step.
Another step is what I call the “input cleanse”—I wrote another blog specifically on how to do this.
Most importantly, please remember that there is no time frame on the self-love process; it looks and feels different for everyone. Beating yourself up for not feeling “loving” or for being too negative is a double whammy of shame and completely counter-productive.
You may think you are doing “all the right things” and nothing is happening for you. Can you love the part of yourself that is frustrated with that? Can you be ok with your progress being slow?
Finally, I want to point out that it is possible to love yourself and still have goals.
It is completely possible and normal to create love and acceptance for your body and still want to change it.
In fact, it is more than possible and normal—it is wonderful!
Because a big part of loving ourselves is wanting to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.
I completely accept and appreciate my body for what it is. I am so grateful for my health and all that my body does for me on a daily basis. But I know that I could be eating more nourishing foods and incorporating more movement into my life. I am not beating myself up like I used to for not doing it, but I choose to do more of it because I love myself and I want to treat myself well.
It is from that mindset that sustainable and loving change can occur.