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What is body neutrality and why is it important in eating disorder recovery?

Many people have heard of the body positivity movement, a campaign encouraging people—though primarily cisgender women—to embrace, appreciate, and celebrate their bodies, regardless of shape, weight, skin color, or size.

While there are many advantages to this perspective, which attempts to shift away from the negative views perpetuated by toxic diet culture, the body positivity movement still falls within the same dichotomy presented by diet culture—that bodies are either good or bad.

Encouraging people to think of their bodies as inherently good is a step in the right direction. However, it still keeps the conversation within the same dangerous terms that can set the tone for disordered thoughts and behaviors.

In the wake of this push for a positive body image, the body neutrality movement has developed as a more realistic alternative.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
April 2, 2024
April 2, 2024
What is body neutrality and why is it important in eating disorder recovery?
In this article

What is the body neutrality movement? 

The body neutrality movement branches from the body positivity movement in several important ways.

Rather than push the image that one should love their body in all ways at all times, the body neutrality movement advocates for a more measured and realistic approach—that it doesn't really matter how a person feels about their body.

Instead of focusing on how the body looks, the body-neutral movement asks people to think about what their body can do. The idea is to help people see their body as a physical vessel and just one part of who they are as a person.2

While it's difficult to determine when body neutrality began to replace body positivity, the movement started around 2015.1 It first started gaining widespread recognition, particularly within the intuitive eating community, where it was used as a tool to promote healthier relationships with food and exercise better.1

Benefits of a body-neutral mindset

The concept behind body neutrality may seem subtle, but it can lead to significant differences in people's perspectives.

Deemphasizing physical appearance

Subscribing to the dictates of diet culture and practicing body positivity put undue emphasis on physical appearance.

Even thinking of your body in a positive light suggests that you should be thinking about your body—or, even more dangerously, tying your sense of self-worth to your weight, shape, or size. This type of fixation on body image, weight, shape, or size is one of the cardinal symptoms of most eating disorders.3

Encouraging more natural emotional responses

Many critics also argue that there's a kernel of toxic positivity buried within the body positivity movement. In other words, the movement cajoles followers into being happy or positive at all times, even when they don't feel this way. This can plant seeds of doubt or even encourage a more negative body image if someone finds themselves at odds with these messages.2

Instead, the hope is that focusing on what the body can do can more genuinely create a more positive body image while maintaining the same inclusive spirit behind the body positivity movement by offering a platform that differently-abled people, transgender people, and anyone else can follow.2

Promoting acceptance

And the overall hope behind a body-neutral mindset is to help someone cultivate a sense of acceptance or peace around their body. Rather than feeling pressured to see themselves as one extreme or another, people can just be, allowing their bodies to simply exist and continue to serve them and their needs on a daily basis.

Body neutrality and eating disorder recovery

The type of acceptance encouraged by a body-neutral mindset goes hand-in-hand with radical acceptance, a philosophy used in many eating disorder treatment plans.

A component of some types of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), radical acceptance involves accepting reality exactly as it is, despite how distressing or uncomfortable it may be.5 With eating disorder recovery, a positive body image can help individuals learn to accept themselves just as they are, much in the way the body neutrality movement does.

When used as part of eating disorder treatment, radical acceptance-based DBT has been shown to help:4

Instead of attempting to avoid or change a situation, someone who is practicing radical acceptance acknowledges the truth, allowing them to move forward on their healing journey.

However, neither body neutrality nor radical acceptance means people should give up on healing and peace in their relationship with food, movement, and body image. Rather, it is about forgoing the desire to lose weight or change their appearance to prioritize how they feel, which can promote better mental and physical health.

How to think “body neutral”

If you like the sound of body neutrality but are unsure of how to start practicing this concept, here are some tips:1,2

  • Eat what you want to eat based on internal cues.
  • Engage in mindful eating, which involves being present and savoring your food.
  • Redirect size- or weight-focused conversations.
  • Avoid body talk, whether with others or with yourself.
  • Listen to your body and give it what it needs.
  • Choose physical activity that brings you pleasure.
  • Acknowledge re-framing self-criticism.
  • Appreciate your body for what it does for you.
  • Acknowledge the ways your body may not work well or needs support without judgment or criticism.
  • Engage in self-care only when you want to and not when it feels like an obligation.
  • Wear clothes that you feel good in and like the look of.
  • Focus on compassion instead of judgment.
  • Be patient with your progress.

This last point about patience is particularly important—you’ve likely spent your whole life internalizing body negative messaging from society. It will take some time to unlearn those thoughts and perspectives and embrace a new way of approaching your relationship with your body and yourself.

Finding help for eating disorders with body neutrality

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder or even persistent thoughts of being "too fat," "too thin," or otherwise being the "wrong" shape or size, it's important to seek out help.

Your primary care physician or therapist can be a good place to start. These experts are generally knowledgeable on eating disorder symptoms and can help you find a specialist, program, or other type of appropriate care.

Help is available

At Within, we strive to bring thoughtful care to every patient, wherever they are in their body acceptance journey. Our clinical care team will work with you in a body-neutral framework to practice radical acceptance, intuitive eating, joyful movement, and compassionate care through our remote eating disorder treatment program.

Call our team today to learn about the next healing steps you can take to overcome disordered eating.

Get help today

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. What’s the Difference Between Body Positivity and Body Neutrality? (2022, April 21). Cleveland Clinic. Accessed January 2024.
  2. Sreenivas, S. (2023, January 30). What Is Body Neutrality? WebMD. Accessed January 2024.
  3. Eating Disorders: About More Than Food. (n.d.). National Institute on Mental Health. Accessed January 2024.
  4. Lynch, T .R., Gray, K. L., Hempel, R. J., et al. (2013). Radically open-dialectical behavior therapy for adult anorexia nervosa: feasibility and outcomes from an inpatient program. BMC Psychiatry, 13(293).
  5. What is Radical Acceptance? (n.d.). Palo Alto University. Accessed January 2024.


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