From Body Grief to Body Acceptance: The Way Forward with Amanda Mittman, RD
In midlife, there’s a very relatable silent battle that you’ve likely engaged in, perhaps without even knowing its name. It’s that feeling you get when you glimpse yourself in the mirror or realize last season’s clothes no longer fit. It’s that disconnect between your mind’s eye and the image in front of you. That’s body grief. And left unaddressed, it can keep us paralyzed.
My guest on this episode is Registered Dietitian, Amanda Mittman who is also an expert in helping women heal from this intense emotional response to aging-related body changes.
The shifts we begin to see in our bodies in midlife can trigger a range of complex emotions that usually prompt us to take action. When we turn to dieting, it’s common to discover that this once-reliable crutch may no longer offer the same results. The good news is there is nothing about YOU that needs fixing. The challenging news is that moving through these feelings is a process that requires heaps of self-compassion.
Aging in general can create a sense of urgency to address our changing bodies, especially when we consider our family history. Societal pressures that idolize sixty-year-old women who appear forty and downplay discussions about this life stage also often contribute to this anxiety. So how do we cope?
For one, we need a safe community where our fears and uncertainties can be openly shared and addressed. Part of why Amanda is such an incredible guide through body grief is that she offers practical tools that you can use at the exact moment it strikes. Just like any other type of grief, the healing of body grief isn’t linear. But when we commit to naming the emotions, sharing them in safe spaces, and honoring our bodies for what they allow us to do, we can learn to thrive in these new bodies.
If you’re ready to discover a more nuanced idea of body acceptance (that goes beyond “giving up”) join me and Amanda for this much-needed reframe about body image in midlife.
Jenn Salib Huber: 0:00
Hi and welcome to the Midlife Feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm you r host Dr. Jenn Salib Huber. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor and I help women manage menopause without dieting and food rules. Come to my table, listen and learn from me trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you.
Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. And if you're looking for more information about menopause, nutrition and intuitive eating, check out the Midlife Feast community, my monthly membership that combines my no-nonsense approach that you all love to nutrition with community, so that you can learn from me and others who can relate to the cheers and challenges of midlife. Hey, everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. So if I say the words body grief, what comes to mind?
I'm going to bet that there's a good chance that you are going to think of the last time that you got dressed in front of the mirror or caught a reflection of yourself or just woke up with that I don't recognize myself anymore. What is happening, how can I fix it? What do I need to do? Stat, and my guest on this week's episode is Amanda Mittman. She is a fellow non-diet dietitian who works with people in midlife, who is really well versed in helping people manage these body grief moments, and we have a really good conversation about the process of grieving and it's not a problem, it's a process along with some of the very useful and practical strategies that you can tap into if you're having a bad body image day or if you recognize yourself in some of the moments that we describe.
So I hope you enjoyed this episode. I really enjoyed this conversation with Amanda and I welcome any opportunity to just kind of have more conversations about the really real feelings that we have when our body changes, instead of just love yourself, be kind to yourself, but actually acknowledging that, yeah, there actually is some grief for the body that we don't have or the body that we have been trying to achieve. So listen in and let me know what you think. Welcome, amanda, to the Midlife Feast.
Amanda Mittman: 2:35
Thank you, Jen, for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Jenn Salib Huber: 2:39
So the topic that we're going to talk about is, I think, going to be pretty popular, because we've talked a lot about body image. We've had different people talking about body image, we've had conversations about eating disorders and all that kind of stuff. But talk to me about body grief. What is body grief?
Getting In Touch: What is Body Grief?
Amanda Mittman: 3:02
Yeah. So you know that feeling when you look in the mirror and you're like I just can't even deal and you just feel like absolute crap in your body and the thoughts are like I can't believe I let it get like this. I can't believe this is my body. Am I stuck like this? Living in this body feels so hard and the emotions that come with it, the emotions of people grief, sadness, depression, disbelief. That is, body grief when what we're kind of faced with does not match up in our mind with what we think we should be looking like or maybe even if we talk about movement, how our body is moving, it's just almost like the suck. So my mentor, bree body image with Bree Campo. She calls it sitting in the suck.
Jenn Salib Huber: 4:04
And that's what.
Amanda Mittman: 4:05
I liken it to because there's no two ways about it. When we feel grief around our body, it sucks.
Jenn Salib Huber: 4:15
And it feels like quicksand, like when, I think, anybody who has ever struggled with their body or their body image or whatever it is. When you have that moment of being yanked out of your body and in that space of judgment and fear and shame and disappointment and all those things, you don't know where to turn. And I think that's why, for so many people, getting back into the diet cycle is comforting at first, because it's what they know.
Why Body Grief Hits Hard in Perimenopause and Menopause
Amanda Mittman: 4:47
Yeah, I mean, that's what we've been trained to do. We're like really good at dieting, or what tends to happen is, let's say, we're going about our day and we look and then we get a catch of glimpse in the mirror and we're like, oh my God, or we try and pair of pants that maybe fit a week ago, and we know that in midlife we kind of redistribute and things don't fit the way that they do and we start feeling really badly about our body. As humans, we will do anything in our power to not feel distress and discomfort, because that doesn't feel good, right? We're pleasure seeking creatures and so what we know how to do and this was my story for decades, you know, this is why I do the work that I do is the moment that, like I would feel something distressing, my brain would go ding, ding, like we don't want to do this anymore.
But what do I know how to do? I'll die it, I'll lose weight. I know how to fix it. The problem is, is that then you for me at least, I kind of got taken down this path that you know wasn't healthy at all. But also, as we get older, we don't lose our bodies don't work the same way that perhaps that they did in our first diet. Maybe we lost the weight and kept it off, maybe for a little bit longer. Now it's like you could do all the things and like nothing, budgets, and so we're not getting that reward, we're not getting the feedback, but we, but we still feel stuck. And so that's when I'm sure clients come to you. That's when clients come to me and are like, okay, I don't like my body. Or they'll say like, I need to lose weight. I don't like my body, but I can't lose weight anymore and I don't want to. I don't want to get on this. I don't want to be on this hamster wheel anymore. What do I do? I feel stuck.
Jenn Salib Huber: 6:26
Amanda Mittman: 6:27
There's no quick fix. And there's, you know, there's just no quick fix. So this bargaining phase of okay, I feel really badly in my body. Let me just try one more diet. It's natural, it's normal. My brain still goes there Like I know, I don't do it, I don't follow it through, because I know that that's not you know what's for me, but my mind still goes there, just because it's just some natural bounce of what I have done for so long, and it's so. I say, oh, maybe I should do X, y or Z. And then I have to kind of self talk myself out of it and, like Amanda, like we don't do that anymore, and then what that leads us to is back into body grief. So let's talk about the relationship.
Jenn Salib Huber: 7:11
Let's talk about the relationship to perimenopause. So in perimenopause we're in this changing hormone soup. We're on this roller coaster of hormones and emotions. We also know that that's having an impact on the brain. So, just like when we're in puberty and our hormones are changing and it impacts how we feel about our body and how we see our body. Talk to me about why that, why that is so hard again, why perimenopause is that added layer of the suck?
Amanda Mittman: 7:46
Because we're going through another shift and we don't understand. We also don't really understand it, and I think also there's not a big community like based around this either. Okay, not a lot of people are talking about it, and so I feel like we're all in our own little silos, going through these changes and being like what the heck is happening. So there's almost this disbelief of like, oh wait, I'm like in like puberty again, like and I know it because I'm like I totally broke out. I'm like what am I 13 again, like what is happening, and so it's. I don't think we expect it.
Certainly our doctors are not talking about it. Certainly influencers are not talking about what happens. What we see really is people in their, you know, 30s, 40s, 50s, who still look like they did in their 20s, right, and we're celebrating that. We're not celebrating those of us whose midsections are thickening, right, because as they should, right. So I think it's a surprise and I think it's lack of information and education of what to expect, and so we're kind of again like we. What I hear from a lot of clients is like they just kind of wake up one day in a way and they're like what I don't feel, like me and my body feels like it's out of control and I and I want to fix it. I don't know what to do and I think that I don't know what to do. Then kind of breeds that distrust in our bodies and the grief around like am I stuck like this, like is this it forever more? And it can be. It's just a confusing, confusing time I noticed for me personally.
Why We Hit the Panic Button About Our Bodies in Midlife
Jenn Salib Huber: 9:28
So I want to come back and talk a little bit too about what's happening in perimenopause outside of just like the hormone changes, is that I think a lot of the fear that we have around our body changing is also wrapped up in the fear of aging. And so you know, when you're younger and your body changes, I think there's still safety, or this feeling of safety that you have youth on your side right or that there's like there's always quote unquote time to fix it. And because perimenopause often like crash, lands unexpectedly without an invitation and it often feels more urgent, like that is the sense that I get from people. I know that was kind of my experiences that like the body changes are happening and it's like, oh my God, I need to fix this like ASAP yesterday, because now I'm really running out of time, and so then we also have all of the diet, wellness culture, people that are like just waiting, waiting to throw you that life preserver and say here I have the fix because I don't know about you.
But like when I hear from a lot of times when people come to me they've already like, like you, they're kind of like I don't want to diet anymore but I don't know what else to do and they're grieving their body, but they're also kind of feeling the grief of like I feel not stupid, but like I feel gullible for having believed that like this one thing was gonna be the magic cure. So like they're grieving the body, they're grieving what they didn't work. Maybe they're grieving their money, but like it feels a lot more layered than I don't want to like try and compare other body grief, but it just feels like it's layer upon layer of change and things that we're being asked to adapt to.
Amanda Mittman: 11:30
Ooh, yeah, you know, what came to my mind is, especially around this age. You know, like, where is our place in society, in a way, like if we've had children you know we've done that, perhaps, and like you know we've done that duty. Never mind, a lot of us are in the peak of our careers and doing awesome work, but just in like society, where's our place, like? Where do we fit now? So I see, I feel that for myself personally, like it's kind of like a like okay what now and then. I also think that the aging piece is huge, because what I hear often I'm sure you do too is well, my parent died at age 60 of a heart attack and I have high cholesterol now, or diabetes runs in my family and I have, you know, my doctor told me I have prediabetes or like elevated and fasting insulin.
What now? Right, like all that and then, and so there's concern, understandably, but then the concern also kind of spins out into like I gotta fix this now. And so for anyone who's like bought a product or like read a book about fixing your glucose or something like that, right, like this is the thing that's gonna do, of course you did, because you want to take care of yourself. It comes from like a really good place, and it's so hard to kind of sit in that fear of, well, maybe something happened to a parent or a grandparent at your age and like, I'm getting to be that age or well, what's next?
What does my life look like now? There's a lot of question marks, I think, and it can be scary. Yeah, and I think, coupled with the fact that again nobody's talking about this, like I was having I was just like you know those days where you would like maybe woke up and you're like I'm feeling perimenopausal today, like I just like everything about my day. I was like I'm irritable, I have acne right, like I'm hot, you know all that sort of stuff, and I'm like I need to talk about, I need to tell somebody, and I was like scrolling through my friend list and I'm like I love my friends, I have wonderful friends and they know, but like there was like maybe one person that I could tell that to and that felt really. And then I felt badly about that because I'm like, well, I'll text them, but also like I feel really alone.
Jenn Salib Huber: 13:47
Yeah, yeah, no, it is. It can be very isolating, for sure, yeah, okay. So let's talk practically speaking. So somebody gets up, they go to put on their favorite outfit, it's a new season, let's talk about like it's season change, clothing change, wardrobe change and something doesn't fit. Yeah, how can we help them manage that? What would you say is the first step after that moment of suck?
Practical Advice For Honest Moments of Body Grief
Amanda Mittman: 14:20
Yeah, the first thing I just want to say is to validate that, because we go into it kind of thinking like, oh, I'm just going to put these back on. They should fit should being the word. What I just want to just say ahead of time is I think we have in our head that we're supposed to fit into clothes from each year and that we're not supposed to change size. But especially around this time in midlife, it's that changing body. So the first thing that I would say is it's okay to feel upset about it.
Jenn Salib Huber: 14:51
Amanda Mittman: 14:52
It's okay and that's the grief If we sit in this kind of suckiness and think about how do you cope with distress or grief in other areas? So, if you're sad about something, what are some of the things that you like to do, do you Well, first, I would say, also is to stop trying on clothes. Perhaps in that moment and one of the kind of things I teach my clients to do is to scale, which is kind of a motivational interviewing technique, but really check in with yourself. Let's say you try on those pants, they're not buttoning right and you're like oh my God, my body is wrong. This is bad, like you're starting to like the thoughts are going. What I would first question, I would ask yourself, is can I deal with this at this moment?
Do I really feel like I'm able to like actually unpack this? And if you are not right, so you could scale yourself on a scale like one to 10. So one meaning like I got this, this is easy, no problem, and 10 being this feels really, really, really, really hard and I feel really really activated right now. If you're anywhere from like a six to a 10, which means like this feels really stressful. Stop, stop what you're doing Take. You know you could, even if you can't kind of unpack the thoughts and fears that you're having right now, just put them in a little box, like put them away.
You can take it down later. They will always be there and do something to kind of help yourself, kind of regulate whether it's a grounding exercise or just leaving the room or calling a friend or listening to music. If you feel like you're like a one to a five and you're like this feels really challenging, but I can still do this, I can still continue to try on my clothes or you know, I think I can, can meet myself with compassion, then keep going. But I think it's important to know like your distress level in this and if it is high, that's OK, it's OK, that's great, and this is hard. Yeah, and this is this is really really hard to do.
Jenn Salib Huber: 16:56
It is, and one of the things that I remember doing kind of early on in my journey and that I often hear from people is like testing their bodies by trying on clothes, mm, hmm, you know it's like, well, if that didn't fit, then I have to try this next thing I have to keep. I have to keep going until I find something that does fit the way that I want it to. And so, having this, this scale of like, I need to check in. And how am I feeling? And if I'm feeling really distressed, no good can come of this, right, yeah, being able to play it forward and say, like, what's going to happen here, right, I'm only going to feel worse. There is nothing about this that is going to give me actual like reassurance. And about my body, because I that can't happen as a result of trying something on or not trying something on that that body kind of acceptance comes from within.
Your Body is Not the Problem
Amanda Mittman: 17:56
Exactly, and and I think to remember that is that your body is not the problem. You know those are supposed to. You know your body, your body is your body. The clothes are meant to fit you, not the other way around, right? And so if your pants don't fit or something doesn't look, you are truly deserving of wearing clothing that fits, and that's what body kindness or body compassion, body respect is, and and that's hard to get to so you might not be in that space yet.
You might still be in the place where you want to feel really, really angry and mad at yourself that you don't fit into those clothes anymore. And I want to give you that space to experience that, because if we say, oh no, just love your body, like you're fine, like just like go buy all new clothes, you know we would never say that, but I think that that's some of the messaging that we do get from kind of body positivity cultures, like just love yourself, it's very like gas, kind of gaslighting a little bit, and I'm like, no, I want to feel angry, like I want to feel pissed.
I love those pair of pants, I love them, I wore them every single day, I have them in two different colors. And now what am I going to do? Now what am I going to do? And there's this kind of sense of, like, loss of identity. There's loss of, maybe ease, of you know what's in your closet. So there's so much going on and so it's okay to be mad and once we kind of sit with that anger and be like, yeah, this really really sucks, I'm pissed about this. Only then can we move on more towards body acceptance, which means doesn't have to mean I love it, you don't even have to like it. But what it says is I accept. I accept that this is my body, I accept the fact that I maybe I'm in between sizes or these things don't fit, and I'm. I have like four things hanging in my closet right now. That's kind of where we want to end up but, Sitting in that grief of this feels really hard is okay and and necessary and Grief isn't.
Jenn Salib Huber: 19:55
I was, I, I don't know who said this. I wish I knew who said this grief isn't a problem, grief is a process and I love kind of Holding on to that in a moment of grieving anything because it really keeps us committed to like it's the process that I need to move through. It's not something that has a quick fix. It doesn't right right like. It isn't something that I can like buy an off-the-shelf, you know fix for. It's a process and it takes time and I think acceptance is is a huge part of of moving through that, although not always easy, as I'm sure you know, you, you certainly see. Yeah, how do you, how do you define body acceptance in a way that people see it as Something different than giving up?
Body Acceptance Is Not Equal to "Giving Up"
Amanda Mittman: 20:46
Yeah, I know, and I hear that a lot right, if I accept my body, that means I've given up and I I. What I want to say is when you kind of learn to accept what is right, it, what I think, what I think of is saying this is my body, period, end of sense. So what we're doing is we're removing all the stories and this is work that you can do with the therapist or, you know, wait, inclusive, provider of Okay, like when we. What are the stories that are kind of surrounding if I accept my body? But if we take the stories out, it's just this is my here and now body, here and now, because your body is gonna change. We don't know how, but it will, it'll continue to change, and so body acceptance is being in a place again where you don't have to like it or love it.
That's not can't, it's not conditional, it's I Accept that. This is where I am and once I accept it, then I can start to do the body image work, then I can start to think of ways that I can be kind to myself. So I could not like the way my body looks but still continue to eat. I can be really pissed that my pants don't fit anymore, but I'm still going to, yeah, like, choose gentle. Maybe I'm not gonna do my high-impact aerobics that don't feel good on my body. I'm gonna continue with gentle movement, right, and so those things are available to us, kind of in the acceptance piece.
We're not trying to change it, we're accepting and and just to let you know that you're gonna bounce in and out of acceptance and grief and bargaining and anger Denial back to like, like you said, it's a process, yeah, and so you might hit acceptance for like a Hot second. Great, like celebrate that we don't stay in acceptance and I'm like here I am forever more. I'm constantly, like I said, it's like a roller coaster, you know, accepting body, my body, grieving my body. Sometimes I really like it, sometimes I'm really angry with it. Yeah but the acceptance is this is my here and now body period. End of sentence. How can I treat myself in kindness? I?
Digging Deeper When Body Grief Strikes
Jenn Salib Huber: 22:57
Love how you describe taking the stories out of it. I think that that is so. I think that's a really helpful point I often talk about when I'm working with people. You know, tell me your story and I don't, and I'll tell them it doesn't even matter if it's true. All that, all that matters is how the story that you tell yourself right, and so if we can and continue that and say, like, just body acceptance is the here and now, without all the stories about your body and why you feel it went, you know what went wrong, like we can exclude all of that and just be present with our body, that I love, that I really do yeah, one thing I just want to say is, if you find that your body distress or grief is like really high at a particular moment, one of the questions that you can ask yourself is what else is happening in my life right now?
Amanda Mittman: 23:56
Because our bodies have become the perfect scapegoat. Because, like we talked about Earlier, we know how to diet really well, we know how to avoid distress, but when things are going like pretty tough or when something else is happening in our life that's not related to our body, the easiest thing a lot of us know how to do is to put it on our body, because we know how to do that really well, like I know how to put myself down to like teeny little pieces Very, very well, and doing that is much easier than sitting in the distress of Gosh. Life feels overwhelming right now.
I have too much on my plate, whatever, whatever, and so one of the things I just want to say to people, one of the things my first question always is, when I notice my body distress ticking up, is what else is happening? And Usually it's like there is something going on in life where things feel either I'm not, I don't feel in control, or they're overwhelming. It could also be kind of, as I'm going towards getting my my cycle, you know, in that, because we know that we're still in that like toxic soup and now things are really wacky. But really just checking in, and that could also help us pull apart the story of like, okay, is there a story going on here? Or, and what is that story about? Or is it about something else? Because a lot of times it's not necessarily about the body.
Jenn Salib Huber: 25:12
Amanda Mittman: 25:13
Oh, that could be helpful, yeah.
Jenn Salib Huber: 25:15
Yeah, yeah, because it is easy to just say, okay, my body's the problem and I'm going to fix it. But you're right, I would say nine times at a 10. When we dig a little bit deeper, there's something else that's going on, and sometimes it's not being able to take care of ourselves in a way that, like refills our capacity. Right, we beat up on ourselves for not being able to meal plan and not being able to go to the gym and not being able to do all those things, and then we blame our body when we've just been juggling too many balls, like we have not been able to take a hot minute and actually sit in our body and be like, hey, what do you need, friend?
How can I take care of you today? So I think that asking that question is so, so helpful. Yeah, these have been some really great practical strategies for kind of managing the most common moments of like seeing a reflection or trying something on or feeling like we're in this, this grieving process. Is there anything else that you feel would help people as they move through kind of moments of having these bad body thoughts? Any kind of other tips that people can come away with?
Amanda Mittman: 26:30
Yeah, it's just that like this won't last forever. That feeling of feeling distress and grief. You it will kind of, as we talked about, it will ebb and flow. I mean, if you feel like you are stuck there in that, please seek support from other. You know from others who can help you with that. But you know, what I say to my clients is can we stand in the hope Right, there has to be kind of some hope of that one day I will feel like I have a better relationship with my body. It's not going to be perfect. We are in a relationship and we know no relationship is perfect, but it takes work. And can we stand in the hope that one day this will get easier? Some clients say, no, I don't see that it's like great, that's good information, let's, let's talk about it. But if you kind of continue to accept, offer kindness you don't have to love, you don't have to like, but seek support, it can get easier.
The Missing Ingredient in Midlife According to Amanda
Jenn Salib Huber: 27:31
Yeah, I love that Fabulous advice. So what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?
Amanda Mittman: 27:41
Okay, you asked me that before we got on. I was like I know what I'm going to say. The missing ingredient in is community Yep, my favorite too, yeah, I mean I wish I could come up with something like super sexy here and something like, you know, pull it out and be like it's this one thing that's going to solve everything. But but I really felt that when I was going through my own tough day and I was like who can I talk to about this? And there was like I was like I'm a provider, like there's no, like nobody else, and I realized how incredible it is to be in community with others and be able to talk about this.
Jenn Salib Huber: 28:20
Yeah, you know absolutely.
Amanda Mittman: 28:22
I think that is kind of like the missing sauce, and it would be amazing if we could just talk about middle life like it is, not have to fix anything, not have to change our bodies, not have to kind of embark on health diets and things that we have no time and space for and energy for. So find your people Like you, jen. We've created an incredible community and that is just so important.
Jenn Salib Huber: 28:50
Thank you so much. I know that people are going to want to learn more from you, so where can they find you?
Amanda Mittman: 28:58
Yeah, so I wear a couple of different hats, but the best place is on Instagram, so you can find me at the bitchin B I T C H I N body image R D. So bitchin body image R D. And then also my private practice in Massachusetts is at Happy Valley Nutrition. Happy Valley Nutrition, and we're over there.
Jenn Salib Huber: 29:24
We'll have those in the show notes too.
Amanda Mittman: 29:26
Thanks, appreciate it.
Jenn Salib Huber: 29:27
Thank you so much for joining me today. I really love being able to connect with other R? D's and providers who are, you know, trying to make this a more body confidence space for women in midlife. So thank you for the work that you do.
Amanda Mittman: 29:45
Thank you. Thanks so much.
Jenn Salib Huber: 29:49
Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. For more non diet, health, hormone and general midlife support, click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing, because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.
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