Gabrielle Bernstein is now a best-selling author and self-proclaimed “spirit junkie,” known as a guru promoting self-love and radical self-acceptance. A spritely, energetic blonde, she is noticeably at home in her body. But like many other women, she started out binging on junk food, beating herself up at the gym and feeling at war with her figure.
She remembers the specific moment when she first noticed a change. Sitting in a roomful of women struggling with binge eating, she took one bite of a cupcake and didn’t want any more. The other women stared in disbelief. How? they wanted to know. She says that a thought came into her head, spontaneously and immediately: “I love myself too much to eat the whole thing.” The moment was incredibly powerful for her. She says, “I had this feeling of saying, ‘I am finally full. I don’t need to fill myself up with anything else.’”
While the moment might seem mystical—Gabby refers to it as a “miracle”—the steps she took to get there are anything but mysterious.
“Projection is perception,” she says, meaning that the outside world acts like a mirror for our internal feelings. “If you project that a size 10 sucks, then it will suck. If you can change the focus to say, ‘my body is healthy and strong,’ then the world will reflect that back to you. Women who live in their bodies are the sexiest women in town.”
To get that sexy, confident appeal down pat, Gabby encourages women to focus on recognizing and changing what they believe about themselves. Learning to love your body is, in her words, “an internal job. It is a decision to be kind to yourself.”
Whether your healthiest body is a size zero or a size 10, the goal is to accept the body you have, without comparing yourself to others. “When you accept the body you’ve been given, you can choose to nurture your body and to keep it as healthy, strong and fit as it can be.”
In a culture that constantly reminds us what Jennifer Aniston ate to prepare for the Oscars or how Kate Hudson lost 70 pounds of baby weight in a matter of months, it’s easy to believe that we can—and should—be in constant control of our contours. “You can’t control the outside,” Gabby says. “You can only heal and grow on the inside.” Body image is, after all, a feeling that arises in you.
For those who wonder (and we all wonder) if some women, but not others, are blessed with a special quality—beauty or brain chemistry or both—that allows them to love their bodies, Gabby says no way. “We all have that presence within us,” she says. “We just forget sometimes.”
With four simple steps, Gabby has helped many women remember.
1) Become aware. “The first step is to become fearlessly conscious of the negative belief systems you’ve been playing in your mind,” says Gabby. If you believe that you can’t possibly be beautiful until your stomach is flat, your pant size shrinks to a 6 or your bathroom scale registers 135, those thoughts are self-defeating. “You have to ‘out’ them because before that, you actually believe in them.”
The best way to gain that awareness is to simply pause in a moment when you might want to binge or over-exercise or fat talk. Notice that you’re not treating your body kindly and say to yourself, what thought is underneath this impulse? Just that awareness is a step in the right direction.
2) Challenge negative thoughts. For Gabby, learning to love your body is about letting go of negative beliefs. Negative beliefs about our bodies—thoughts like I have to be thin to be beautiful or No one will love me with this body—keep us trapped in a cycle of abusing and feeling bad about our bodies.
When those thoughts arise, you have the choice to challenge them. You can say to yourself, “I am valuable and beautiful no matter my size. I choose to care for my body kindly.” Over time, you will naturally make healthy choices because that’s part of what it means to be kind and gentle to your body. No need to put your confidence on hold until you get the body you want. With self-acceptance, a healthy body follows.
3) Set a daily intention. Gabby encourages her students to take active steps toward their goals by setting a daily intention. You might say something like, “I am willing to be kind to my body today” or “I choose to treat my body gently today”—anything that resonates with you and encourages a positive view of your body.
Whether you choose to say your intention aloud in front of the mirror, repeat it several times silently or write it in a journal, the method doesn’t matter. The key is simply to do it every day so that when you do get down on yourself (as we all do sometimes), your intention is there to catch your fall.
4) Meditate for three minutes a day. “Meditation uses the breath to help clear out the negative pockets of energy we store in our bodies,” Gabby explains. “It centers us, slows us down, and helps us connect with a more loving energy.” Each day, take just three minutes to sit quietly, focusing on your breath. That moment of focus can help you reflect on your daily intention, strengthening your ability to have a my-body-rocks kind of day.
For personal guidance, try Gabby’s 3-minute body love meditation, recorded specially for YouBeauty:
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