How Running Has Helped My Journey of Body Acceptance

Hard truth: as many as 91% of women have reported having negative body image, thanks to a society that values thinness, whiteness, and unrealistic beauty standards. And while the body positivity movement has gotten a lot of buzz as a response to negative body image, it may not be the most realistic approach for many people. Think about it: after a lifetime of being told our bodies are unacceptable, we’re supposed to all of a sudden love our bodies? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Enter body neutrality. The goal of body neutrality is to remember you are a person in a body, and it’s a way to gradually shift from what we look like towards how we feel. With a body neutral mindset, you work towards feeling more neutral about your body rather than constantly picking yourself apart. 

One way to start practicing body neutrality is by finding a joyful movement that focuses on what your body can do, not what it looks like. In my personal and professional life, my work as a therapist is informed by being an athlete. I try to help my clients find joyful movement.

My favorite form of joyful movement is running, and I love helping people find empowerment through it. Here’s why running might help you on your body neutrality journey.

running towards body acceptance

Running can benefit your brain

Running has been shown to have a dramatic effect on depression. Running is known to elevate moods by releasing “happy chemicals” in your brain. Studies show as little as 150 minutes, two and a half hours a week, of cardiovascular exercise can improve depression. This can be a place to set as a goal. Any amount of movement can improve mood, so start with what feels achievable. Finding what fits into your life will be much more sustainable than targeting a specific number of minutes of exercise. 

Every body (and everybody) can be a runner

There is nothing that “makes” someone a runner other than running. There’s no pace or distance requirement. There is no such thing as a “runner’s body.” It is very freeing to claim back these beliefs from diet/wellness culture and recognize if you run, you are a runner.  

Running outside boosts Vitamin D

While running can be done inside on a treadmill, it is usually more enjoyable outside. Our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D when we spend time in the sun. I know we tend to think of spending time in the sun when it’s warm, but the sun is out even when it’s cold.  

Vitamin D has been shown to regulate mood, support immune health, help regulate the absorption of calcium. One bonus of running outside is the Vitamin D boost! Another benefit is Vitamin D can help cure us of our Zoom fatigue, as so many of us are finding ourselves in front of screens more than ever. 

Running gives you the power to choose

Running offers flexibility. You can do it alone or enjoy the benefits of a group run. You can do it inside, outside, any time of day. Having options allows for less rigidity. Less pressure creates space for more joy.

Running creates feelings of empowerment

Many, if not all, movements can create a feeling of empowerment when approached from a positive place. We all know there is no shortage of benefits from feeling empowered. Thinking you can’t do something and learning you can is empowering AF! 

If you currently can’t run for five minutes, there are a lot of accessible ways to get to that goal. If we focus on the successes, no matter how big or small, that creates positivity in our brains and helps us continue to move in a way that feels good. Let’s ditch all goals related to changing your body and build some confidence in who you are as a person.  

To me, running is about freedom, quieting my mind, and socializing. I hear the rhythm of my feet on the pavement or my music in my headphones. I feel my heart beating louder and my chest rising up and down. I do a body scan and truly feel embodied in this vessel that holds me. I am grateful. Finding a movement that makes you feel those ways is the key to joyful movement.

How to find your *own* form of joyful movement

If running’s not your thing, that’s okay – there are plenty of other ways to find joyful movement as you explore body neutrality. Here are some ways to work towards finding joy in movement. 

  1. Experiment: Try different, new things. Don’t be afraid to walk into that Zumba class you weren’t sure you were coordinated enough to do. 
  2. Write down how you feel before and after: It’s very easy to be frustrated when you are just learning something. Doing a check-in before and after is a good way to assess how your body felt with the movement. 
  3. Don’t be afraid to give something up: Sometimes we do things because “everyone we know” seems to be doing it or it’s trendy. But if you don’t like it, let it go! Forcing yourself to participate in something you don’t like is unnecessary. There is power in listening to your own likes and dislikes. 
  4. SMILE: Seriously, when you are participating in an activity try to check in with yourself and force yourself to smile.  If you ever see me sprinting down a hill you will see me smiling–there’s no better feeling!
Mental Health Think & Feel

About Stephanie Roth-Goldberg

Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCSW, CEDS-S is a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders. She is the founder of Intuitive Psychotherapy NYC, a small group psychotherapy practice focusing on treating eating disorders through an anti-diet, HAES lens. Stephanie works with athletes and the intersection of eating disorders and sports. Stephanie, a runner and triathlete herself is passionate about incorporating movement into eating disorder treatment to help folks feel empowered and connected to their bodies. She regularly presents on the subject of eating disorders and exercise. When Stephanie isn’t working, she can be found running around with her two children, writing, or triathlon training.