How to navigate the 5 stages of body grief
Navigating the stages of body grief
A big part of body acceptance work is being able to grieve the loss of your ‘perfect’ body ideal.
Clients struggle with this because they pin their hopes and dreams on having the ‘dream’ body.
But, understanding body grief helps clients work through this loss, and heal the relationship they have with their body.
In this post, I’m sharing:
- What it means to experience body grief
- A detailed look at the five stages of body grief you must work through to feel better in your body
- Tips on how to navigate each of the stages.
Listen or read below:
What is body grief?
In Body Grief – how to let go of the perfect body, I introduced the concept of body grief and why it’s so important to healing the relationship with your body.
So, if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you go check that out first.
Put simply, body grief happens when you give up the fantasy of having a certain body type and the life you always imagined would come with it.
There are five stages of body grief, and in this post, I’m explaining each stage in more detail and how you can manage them.
The 5 stages of body grief
When you experience body grief, these stages don’t necessarily happen in a linear way – you can cycle between the various stages.
In denial, you don’t want to let go of your idea of the perfect body. For most women, this means being thinner.
Serial dieting is common because you’re conditioned to believe that dieting is the magic bullet to a thinner body. This conditioning is part of the denial stage.
People find it hard to believe that diets don’t work. Most have heard the statistic that diets don’t work 95-97% of the time, yet there are still many who think they can be that 3-5%!
Even once you’ve accepted that diets don’t work, it can be easy to slip back into denial when you hear about someone’s miracle weight loss on a trendy new diet.
At this stage, it’s important to keep educating yourself about diets and weight loss AND protect yourself from triggers by creating a safe diet free space.
You might want to research studies looking at the effectiveness of diets and learn about Health at Every Size.
You can also question how effective diets have been for you in the past. Did they really deliver long-term results? How did they make you feel? What did dieting cost you mentally, physically, and financially?
In the anger stage, your anger may be directed at yourself or others.
If you’re angry at yourself, be self-compassionate. It’s not your fault you didn’t achieve the perfect body.
The perfect body is an illusion sold to you by beauty and diet culture. It’s understandable that you’d want to have this illusory body, because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to want.
Instead of being angry with yourself, get angry with the industries promoting this unattainable ideal.
Get involved in activism, whether that’s campaigning for changes to advertising standards or working in your community to help young people stop defining their worth by their weight, shape, or appearance.
In this stage, you want to accept your body as it is, but can’t get past feeling there’s still a chance to achieve your dream body.
These opposing feelings may mean you decide to do one last diet and/or invent reasons to start a diet by saying things like, “I have more energy in a smaller size” or “It’s about health not weight“.
Many clients are at this stage when they start work with me. It’s common for the diet thoughts to pop up just as they’re trying to work on body acceptance.
Working with a body image therapist or coach at this stage can help you to unpick these opposing thoughts and work through what’s really behind your desire for the perfect body.
If you believe that your life can only be better when you have the perfect body, being unable to achieve that body can feel like a devastating loss.
Depression is triggered by your dreams and goals feeling out of reach without that body.
It’s important to acknowledge that it is possible to do, have or become whatever you want in the body you’re in now. It’s only you that has put conditions on your hopes.
Identify all the goals and dreams that you’ve associated with being in your ideal body and create a plan to work towards them now in the body you’re in.
In acceptance, you’re coming to terms with the loss of your dream body. Some days you can say, “This is my body” even though you may not like it.
Acceptance is about recognising the reality you’re in, regardless of how it makes you feel.
However, this isn’t a final destination. You can pass in and out of acceptance.
For example, friends talking about their latest diet might send you back into bargaining or denial.
Or because a date rejects you, you might assume it’s because they didn’t like your body and you’ll never meet a partner, sending you into depression.
It’s important to understand what triggers move you into the other stages of body grief so you can acknowledge them, and work through them as they arise.
Coaching questions for the stages of body grief
In my next post on body grief, I’m going to explore how to sit with the discomfort of body grief.
But until then, I’ve got some coaching questions to help you digest and take action on this post:
- What stage(s) of body grief have you been experiencing?
- Which stage do you most frequently find yourself in?
- Based on what I’ve shared in this post, what’s one action you can take to manage your body grief?
If you need support managing your body grief, I’ve got you. I help clients work through their body grief on my coaching programme, The Body Confidence Journey.
Let’s find out if the programme is the next best step for you: