Functional Action: Choosing Wellness Over Beauty

By Sarah Spitz, LMSW

Two summers ago I completed a training with Chelsea Roff, the founder of a non-profit called Eat Breathe Thrive, which supports individuals in overcoming food and body images challenges.  The Eat Breathe Thrive program uses interactive activities and mind-body practices to offer participants tools for long term recovery.  One of my favorite parts of the curriculum focuses on “functional action,” which means acting in a way that puts our body’s utility/wellness before beauty/attractiveness. This means appreciating our body for what it can do, rather than for what it looks like. 

So what does “functional action” really mean?

In regard to our bodies, the Eat Breathe Thrive program views “functionality” as our ability to embody the full potential of human life. When we make “functional” choices, we support our body’s ability to fully engage in life. For those of us with eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image struggles, many of our choices may not be “functional" and can lead to negative and harmful consequences. Below are some concrete examples to understand functional action. 

What does functional action look like in practice?

The statements below put “beauty” over "functionality." These types of thoughts and statements are not considering what is actually best for our bodies. These choices can lead to health consequences, as well as keep us from engaging fully in life.

Eating: “I eat x because it does not cause weight gain”
Exercise: “I go to the gym everyday because I want to have a flatter stomach”
Social Life: "I will ended up eating too many calories so I usually don't take my friends up on invites to got out to dinner."

Below are ways in which “functional action” can be applied to the above examples: 

Eating: “I eat x because it improves my digestion and gives me energy”  
Exercise: “I go to yoga three times a week because it helps me to de-stress after an intense work day."
Social Life: "I am going out for dinner tonight with friends who are really important to me, and am looking forward to enjoying their company over a delicious meal."

When trying to determine how to apply functional action to your life, think of what choice is nourishing to your body - physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.

Sarah Spitz is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with disordered eating or body image struggles, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.