Book review: Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe

5/5 stars.

This may be the most important book I’ve read in years. And for that alone it deserves top rating. It’s also well written, thoroughly researched and deeply personal, which adds another dimension to it.

Sure there are a few minor things to remark on such as it focusing almost solely on the fashion and diet industry as culprits when it comes to eating disorders and self-loathing, though she definitely acknowledges that there’s more to it than this. I don’t think we hate ourselves because of the fashion and diet industries, I think we hate ourselves in the specific ways we do today (in part) because of these industries. If the world had been different we’d have found other things to obsess about and hate ourselves for. But there is something about the way our world is, in more general terms, that is not accepting. We are taught to judge ourselves and others, and taught to live up to impossible standards, to always chase a dream we think is just out of reach – and so it remains.

Another thing is that she points out the bias of scientific studies, and how there are often people with a controlling interest in diet companies behind studies saying it’s dangerous to be overweight – which is no doubt true. However she bases a lot of her facts on scientific studies too, and they may very well be biased in favour of body positivity, depending on who is behind them. I’m not saying that what’s in the book is not true, necessarily, it’s just important to keep a critical eye both ways and be aware of the background of these types of “facts”, in my opinion.

But what’s definitely true is that the focus on dieting and looking like a supermodel (while it’s a well known secret that not even supermodels look like supermodels, with the ridiculous amount of editing done to photos and video these days) has ruined many a young person’s confidence and even life. And this is the important part.

Whatever we look like or how our bodies perform physically and mentally, we are worthy of love and acceptance.

This is the main message of the book, and it is a very important one. And while I know this, there was something about reading a whole book on the subject and getting everything laid out like this from someone who really knows what she’s talking about, that made it really sink in. So even if you think “well, of course we’re all deserving of love”, I would still recommend this book. In fact, let me repeat it, and this time really think about it and its implications:

Whatever we look like or how our bodies perform physically and mentally, we are worthy of love and acceptance.

Your life is now, not when you’ve lost the last few pounds. Don’t hold off on doing things until “you deserve it”. You deserve it now, you’re living your life right now. And who knows for how long? To quote one of my favourite poems (again):

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Is it diet until you deserve to live your life or until you’ve lost the will to live it? Didn’t think so.

The tricky thing is finding a balance. I think we all know that it’s not healthy to spend our lives dieting, doing extreme workouts that leave us with no energy and generally restricting our lives because of what we should or should not eat and because of what we feel we deserve, depending on how “good” we are. You don’t have to be good (yes, I’m quoting Mary Oliver again). On the other hand it’s not healthy to eat cake for breakfast every day, it’s not healthy to get no physical exercise, to binge drink, to smoke, etc.

I strongly feel that this middle ground exists, though for someone (like me) who has struggled a lot with eating disorders and distorted self image it takes some puzzling to figure it out. Figure out what works for you. As an example: When I first started my weight loss journey a couple of years ago by now, I exercised 6 days a week and was constantly tired. I thought this is just what it was like and I had to suck it up. I remember a friend of J’s saying how I must feel so much better now that I’d started to lose some weight, but the response was “no, she’s pretty much just tired”. I’ve scaled back to 3-4 times a week, and I feel better. Like exercise actually gives me energy and makes me feel better, it’s not something that drains me and that I do just to burn calories. It’s something that I do to feel like the best version of myself. Granted I still have trouble getting going, but I know that I don’t have to go for hours, and I know that I’ll feel better after. Stronger, more refreshed. This works for me, but your mileage may vary.

This book focuses more on freeing yourself of self-hatred and obsessive behaviour, on feeling worthy and feeling self-love, and stresses that it’s OK to eat whatever you want and it’s OK not to exercise at all if you don’t feel like it, and that doesn’t make you less worthy of love – from yourself or others.

I agree with this in theory, and I think the message is more powerful without addenda, but I do worry that some may embrace being unhealthy and use body positivity as an excuse. I definitely agree that you are worth just as much if you’re unhealthy as if you’re healthy, and I think diets can be very destructive, but I also know that it feels really good to be healthy, in a normal non-obsessive way. It’s great to be able to run 10 km, to be able to walk for hours without getting tired, to sleep well and wake up feeling refreshed, to feel like the food you eat is nurturing your body.

One solution that the book suggests is intuitive eating. This basically boils down to listening to the hunger/fullness signals that your body is sending you. If you’re hungry – eat, before it’s “too late” and you’re so hungry that you’ll make poorer choices or are more likely to overeat. Likewise, listen when your body tells you you’re at a comfortable level of fullness – this is different for everyone. Also, abolish the thought that there is such a thing as good and bad food. The idea here is that when you don’t allow yourself certain things – like chocolate – you tend to feel deprived and become obsessive and there’s a bigger chance that you’ll end up binging.  Theoretically, if you allow yourself to have chocolate whenever you feel like it, you should start craving it less because it’s not forbidden, and you can have some whenever you want.

I think the principles of intuitive eating make a lot of sense, and I think it can be a good aid to re-establishing a healthy relationship with food and your body. I also think that if you’ve suffered from eating disorders it can take a lot of time to adjust to intuitive eating, and you need to give it time and allow for mistakes. Speaking from my own experience I know that even if I allow myself the things I want to eat without guilt I still have a tendency to binge – I think that’s just learned behaviour which is really difficult to get rid of. I also frequently feel hunger even when I know I’ve had more than enough food calorie/nutrition-wise that day, my “hunger meter” may simply be a little broken.

But I will strive to be kinder to my body. To fully accept that my body is part of me, and a miraculous part at that. Think of all the things my body allows me to do – all the experiences it allows me to have. I will strive to honour my hunger and eat when I am hungry, not when I should. And I will do my best to not judge myself or others based on how our bodies look or function.

Be kind, always.

Oh, and if you’re in the middle of an ED recovery process and are worried about triggers in this book, the sections that may trigger you are clearly marked so it’s easy to skip those bits. And I definitely think the rest of the book can still be immensely helpful in the journey to self-acceptance.

 

 

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