Use change psychology, not a diet, to improve eating habits

Diet plans make us believe we’re the problem if we failed to improve our eating habits on their diet. But key principles of “behavior change psychology” teach us that it’s how diets approach eating habit change as the real issue.

So there’s nothing wrong with you if you’ve “failed” on a diet, or a meal plan. You’re not flawed if you “cheated; nor are you a willpower weakling if you couldn’t establish perfect eating habits in twenty-one days.

Armed with the wisdom of change psychology, I hope you’ll stop berating and blaming yourself, show yourself compassion and make an empowering choice to get off the dieting treadmill for good.

The Seven Myths of Changing Your Eating Habits

Let’s debunk the seven myths of how to change your eating habits, starting with one of the most common ones:

1. Just tell me what to eat

In a 2021 study on human behavior change and dieting, Stanford University scientists confirmed what we already know about human behavior: what we say we want isn’t what we actually want or need.

In the first four weeks of the study, participants received all their meals and snacks. Yet even when eating healthy was made “easy,” participants still struggled to follow the plan, reporting adherence on average of a seven out of ten. Then, in the next eight weeks of the study, participants shopped, prepped, and cooked their own diet compliant meals. And as expected, adherence dropped further to fifty percent.

But what’s the real “ah-ha” from the study?

Participants were given the choice to continue food delivery or shop, prep and cook on their own. And they all declined food delivery. (Mainly, they preferred more variety in their meals and snacks).

And there’s one more stunner.

While participants “were eager to receive shopping lists, recipes, and sample meals,” and “expressed strong intentions of using these materials,” they rarely used them. In the end, participants only made small adjustments to their typical diet.

Ultimately, diets don’t solve the complex challenges that humans have.

2. To improve eating habits, “Just do it”

Next, we might believe that changing our habits is as simple as “just do it.”

Dr. John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition and nutrition advisor for companies like Apple and Nike and pro and Olympic athletes, offers a great analogy to illustrate why diets and strict meal plans aren’t effective strategies for change.

He compares giving someone a diet and telling them to “just do it,” to giving a beginner exerciser a heavily loaded weight bar and saying copy me to do a snatch, an advanced exercise. A diet involves complex skills too, forcing you to make a bunch of difficult changes all at once and then sustain them perfectly.

But that’s not how we set someone up for successful change while learning any new skill.

Instead, simply the process of change. Start where you’re at with an assessment of your current nutrition skills. From there, build the ones that you need (versus a one-size fits all diet) with practice, through specific consistent actions that you’re ready, willing and able to do within the context of your life.

Even if you could write a book on nutrition, consider approaching change as if you were that beginner weightlifter. Don’t load yourself with a heavy bar and a complicated exercise that you may not have the ability to do yet.

3. Where’s my willpower?

While willpower is commonly considered a limited resource, current research shows this to be true – only if we believe it to be true.

Willpower, like a muscle, can be strengthened.

With a growth mindset, the belief that anything can be improved with sustained effort, you can build resilience.

4. 21 days, now what?

Additionally, I bet you’ve probably heard that it takes twenty-one days to build a habit.

But James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, disagrees.

James Clear, Atomic Habits, improve eating habits

So again, focus on consistency while developing any new skill like improving your eating habits; no perfection is necessary.

5. Coach, kick my butt

So next, while you may think you need coach “hard-ass” to motivate and keep you accountable to improve your eating habits, think again.

Change psychology research shows it’s human nature to resist being told what to do. Even if we insist it’s what we want and need, that rebellious teenager in you can emerge.

Instead, look for a health coach specializing in behavior change, a “non-judgmental guide, trained in motivational interviewing, appreciate inquiry and allyship” recommends Sandra Scheinbaum in a 2022 Forbes article.

While support facilitates the change process, an effective coaching relationship is collaborative and compassionate. A coach is someone who believes in you and harnesses your natural strengths to support change by nurturing self-efficacy.

6. Just set a smart goal

Furthermore, while we think we just need a clearly defined goal to shift our eating habits, what actually drives successful change is deep clarity on why it’s important to you, beyond your superficial why.

Try “The Five Whys” exercise developed by the Toyota company. Ask yourself why your goal is important to you five times, until the clearest reason emerges, one that honors your personal values and priorities.

Change thrives with a clear purpose.

7. On and off the wagon

And finally, for some reason, (um thanks diet culture), we think we need to be perfect, or we failed when trying to improve our eating habits.

We’re either “on the wagon” or off.

Maybe you’ve seen the image illustrating how change really works – a scribbled line with loops up and down. Yes, change is that messy.

Improving eating habits, change is messy

So instead, what if you kept “the wagon” rolling along with consistency?

What if we normalized and expected bumps in the road?

What if we saw obstacles and challenges not as failures, but as feedback, opportunities for learning and growth?

Now that’s an empowering and effective approach to change rather than labeling yourself a failure, feeling guilty or ashamed for “cheating.”

So the next time you think you want or need a meal plan or diet to improve your eating habits, challenge yourself and remember that’s not how human behavior change really works. ♡ Tanya

Five steps to sustainable self-care

What if you said goodbye to quick fixes and welcomed sensible, sustainable self-care into your life?

Sure this might sound like a great idea, but pressing the easy, convenient button is way more appealing, because frankly, you’re stressed, moody, don’t have the time to slow down and no matter how much you sleep, you still feel exhausted.

Maybe your pantry is full of Gwyneth Paltrow goop-like supplements, such as “High School Genes,” “Madame Ovary,” and a “G.Tox 7-Day Reset Kit.”

You’re doing all the “right” wellness things, but perhaps you still have this nagging sense of feeling unwell. And you’re not even sure you feel any better $195 later.

While wellness sprung from good intentions, “we are now relentlessly flooded with exploitative offerings, questionable ideas, and a mounting pressure to stay devoted to the divine doctrine of wellness,” says author, Rina Raphael in her book, “The Gospel of Wellness, Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care.”

“Women have been led down a kale-covered path promising nothing short of salvation,” says Raphael.

Hey listen, if you love those supplements, go for it (but maybe read the disclaimer first). I’m definitely not judging as I’ve spent hundreds of dollars (eek, maybe thousands if I’m honest) on all kinds of weird supplements and magical products over the past decade.

I get it. I’m human and I want to fit in and feel good about myself too.

So it’s no wonder we fall for Gwyneth’s solutions that prey upon our insecurities and give us hope, promising to boost our menopausal metabolisms so that we can fit into a pubescent pant size. Well, maybe, err, for the short-term.

What can you do instead?

Say goodbye to magic bullet solutions and decide to change and grow your self-care routine. For good.

While not as fun or flashy as taking goop’s “Balls in the Air” supplement, the basics of self-care work. And when approached sensibly, building a sustainable self-care routine can be simple too.

So here are five steps to sustainable self-care:

5 Steps to sustainable self-care

1. Evaluate your self-care skills

  • Are you eating enough protein or veggies?
  • Is there room for better quality food?
  • Do you eat consistently or skip meals?
  • Do you stop eating when you’re satisfied?
  • How often do you move your body, drink enough water, get adequate sleep?
  • Have you considered that your wellbeing includes a healthy connection with others? What, if any, self-care strategies do you practice to manage stress?
  • And how about feeling empowered, like you matter and you’re making a difference?

That’s known as the deep health approach to self-care, one that transforms your whole health, not just one aspect of it. Taking a wide-lens look at your wellbeing matters because each area of your health is deeply entwined and influences your eating and self-care behaviors. When you understand this, you may learn that you’ve been trying to solve the wrong self-care problem.

2. Rip off the self-care Band-Aid

rip off the self-care band-aid

Let’s say you’re exhausted so you take two “Why Am I So Effing Tried” capsules because you desperately need more energy. Or, you’re sick of struggling with emotional eating, so you start a 21-day sugar detox to stop your “go to” comfort habit of emptying a family size bag of M+M’s with a glass of Chardonnay.

On the surface, a diet or supplement may seem to “fix” your challenge, but they’re both just band-aids. As a specialist in habit behavior change, I’ll teach you to see that all human behavior solves a problem. Together, like detectives, we’ll look for the root cause; we’ll focus on the “why” of your behavior or symptom and take action to solve the source of your stress or fatigue.

While a behavior, like stress eating, may seem “spur-of-the-moment,” the groundwork is laid in advance.

But don’t worry if your struggles feel insurmountable. You don’t need to improve all your self-care skills at once.

3. Simplify for sustainable self-care

Next consider how you learn any new skill. You would take one step a time, right?

Let’s say that with compassion, you discover the source of your unwanted M+M and Chardonnay stress habit. You’re overwhelmed with work and parenting, lack me time, so you stay up late and sleep poorly. And this becomes your daily pattern. It feels like there’s no way to stop this vicious cycle. But there is, when you simplify the learning process.

Instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at yourself forcing yourself to solve all these challenges at once (hello more stress), you choose one self-care skill to practice. Maybe it’s replacing your late night phone scrolling with reading a fun book to wind down before bed.

And because life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, meet yourself where you’re at right now. Do a nervous system check. Ask yourself: what am I ready, willing, and able to change within the context of my real (and maybe messy) life? Sensible self-care simplifies your life. So let’s not add another “to do” to an already overflowing list.

4. Ditch self-care perfectionism

imperfect sustainable self care

What if you averaged B+ self-care at the end of year?

Don’t let an all-or-nothing, “on and off the wagon” mindset get in the way of good, sustainable self-care. Sustainable means it flexible and success is on a spectrum. Consistency is the name of the game.

And finally, self-acceptance is foundational to sensible and sustainable self-care.

5. Radically accept yourself

Honor your unique body. You wouldn’t try to force a size 8 foot into a size 4 pubescent shoe would you?

Listen, feeling crappy about yourself can be a life thief causing you to chase an “ideal” body that was your high school size or was never yours. That unrealistic mindset can create a messed up relationship with your self-care.  Meet yourself with compassion and recognize you’re not alone. Take back your time and money. Regain your inner peace and confidence.

Say goodbye to magic bullet, trendy solutions.

Say hello to sensible, sustainable self-care.

Grab your free assessment and let’s get you started!

Complete the self-care assessment and you’ll get a complimentary coaching session to support you on your way back to feeling energized, confident and empowered!

♡ Tanya

(This article was originally published in the December 21, 2022 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

How can I eat healthier without dieting?

You want to eat healthier without dieting, so you search for a solution.

You scroll through your social media feed and see a sponsored ad for a trending diet or eating plan. It promises to “fix” your body and make you feel better quickly and this sounds appealing. Because right now, you’re feeling burnt out, like your to-do list is never-ending, there’s just no time for yourself, you just want guidance and a place to start.

But you’re also thinking, “How can I feel and eat better without dieting?” Isn’t there another way?



"How can I eat healthier without dieting?" Good nutrition is a set of skills to learn and practice.
Good nutrition is a set of skills to learn and practice, not a diet.

Eating better is a skill

The great news is that good nutrition is a skill that you learn, just like speaking Spanish or playing the piano. So you can stop searching for diets and eating plans.

And how do you learn anything new?

You break the skill down into bite size chunks, just like you did with Spanish and the piano.

You didn’t learn to do it in 21 days or learn everything all at once, did you? Heck no! Diets force you to overhaul your eating behaviors on day 1 and don’t create long-term sustainable shifts in your eating habits.

So what specific nutrition skills do you need?

Nutrition skill domains

Skill # 1: Eat enough nutrients.

This is a key domain to building balanced meals which balances your blood sugar (glucose, A1c) and prevents diabetes, increases your energy and reduces mood swings and cravings!

So what are the specific practices under this domain?

  • Eat enough protein.
  • Eat enough vegetables.
  • Eat enough quality carbohydrates.
  • Eat enough healthy fats.
  • Drink enough water.

Practices are what you can do to build and improve the skill of eating enough nutrients.

Eat healthier without dieting

Let’s say that you want to practice eating enough protein.

We’ll collaborate on a specific action you are ready, willing and able to do reliably and consistently. Then, we’ll discuss potential challenges and obstacles that may come up for you in boosting your protein intake.

An example of a specific action could be adding an egg to your avocado toast.

But what if somedays you’re just not in the mood for eggs, then what? Or, what if you woke up late, you’re rushing around to make your kids breakfast and pack their lunches and no there’s just no time for your own breakfast?

Together, we will come up with a plan B and C so that you are more likely to make progress.

Success isn’t perfection.

It’s not all or nothing, pass or fail.

Success is progress and it’s on a spectrum.

Maybe one day all hell broke loose and nope, despite backups plans, you ate no protein, no breakfast. It’s ok. You are human. It’s how you are taking care of yourself for the most part and a key tenet of Intuitive Eating.

This is how the deep health coaching process works.

We identify where you’re currently at with your nutrition and self-care skills. Then, you practice, practice practice.

So this is how you eat, feel and live better without dieting.

Non diet nutrition coaching focuses on adding more nutrient dense foods (rather than taking them away) and supporting you in making it happen it within the context of your real life.

Rate your healthy eating skills

Remember, just knowing about the nutrition skills below is not the same as doing and taking action. And just like skill # 1, there are many practices to build under each skill domain.

Skill # 1: Eat enough nutrients.

Skill # 2: Choose better quality foods.

Skill # 3: Eat well consistently.

Skill #4: Eat well intuitively.

This is the process that I’ll take you through to improve your health, whether it’s practicing a specific nutrition skill, adding movement back into your life, creating a nightly routine to sleep better, or adding 5 minutes of breathing into your day to manage stress. These are all health skills and they can be learned with practice.

Diets don’t teach you skills, nor do they give you the time necessary to create true and sustainable change. Instead they promote tons of weird stuff like bananas are “bad,” eating tons of bacon, and limiting your veggies. Ugh.

Eating better is a skill. I’ll say it over and over again.

Kick diet culture to the curb.

So if you want to eat healthier without dieting, immerse yourself in learning, practicing and taking specific actions to gain these four critical nutrition skills.

Eating healthier doesn't require dieting.

Free Assessment

Take my deep health ASSESSMENT to receive your complimentary 30-minute coaching session.

Get started now and move from feeling burnt out and overwhelmed to 💪 feeling empowered, knowing you get expert support and guidance to feel, eat and live healthier — for good!

Does mindful eating work?

To answer the question “does mindful eating work,” let’s first define it.

Mindful eating:

  • gets you back inside your body, instead of following outside advice on the internet telling you what’s best for your body.
  • teaches you to slow down and notice the taste, texture and aroma of food. Why is this important? Because satisfaction is a critical piece to feeling “full” (aka “just” satisfied).
  • guides you to sense which foods make you feel your best, as every body is different.
  • supports you in enjoying and savoring your food, versus eating tasteless “diet” foods.
  • teaches you to honor your unique hunger (energy) needs, which change every day. Your body thrives on rhythmically being nourished throughout the day. So trying to ignore physical hunger or skip meals is stressful on your body.
  • encourages you to bring relaxation and presence to your plate to support your digestive health.
  • can help you have a healthier relationship with food and your body.

How mindful eating works

You can practice mindful eating, by following the BASICS created by Lynn Rossey, author of Savor Every Bite.

B: Breathe and belly check before you eat.
A: Assess your food.
S: Slow down.
I: Investigate your hunger throughout the meal.
C: Chew your food thoroughly.
S: Savor your food.

But does mindful eating really work?

You have to be clear on what “work” means.

Carrie Dennett, registered dietitian, warns us in a Seattle Times article that mindful eating has been co-opted by diet culture for weight loss. Mindful eating isn’t about restriction, controlling yourself, being hyper-vigilant about your eating, or feeling ashamed of making certain food choices.

It’s about getting back inside your body.

It’s a practice of deep listening.

The actual intended benefit of practicing mindful eating is to be in touch with your body’s unique needs.

So does mindful eating work?

Yes, if you’re practicing mindful eating to guide you to what’s healthiest — for YOUR body. ♡ Tanya

Curious about the difference between mindful eating and Intuitive Eating?

Read The Ten Benefits of Intuitive Eating on my blog.

Get healthier, no diet culture BS required

“Get healthier and feel better in your body,” might sound like the same ‘ole, same ‘ole approach to your health. But to be clear, it’s not.

It’s about reclaiming the word “wellness” from diet culture which takes an all-or-nothing approach to your eating and defines “success” as only one number on the scale that must never waiver. (Spoiler alert: humans are NOT robots so numbers on the scale WILL fluctuate).

The diet culture ask is:

get healthier, feel better in your body, no diet culture BS required
get healthier, feel better in your body, no diet culture BS required

As a nutrition and master health coach, that frustrates the heck out of me because getting healthier involves building skills with your nutrition, as well as your whole self-care routine, i.e. your movement, sleep and how well you cope with stress (as you will always have some 🤪).

In addition, diet culture, which has been around forever (hey I’m talking to you Weight Watchers), says that you’re only “healthy” if you fit into one jean size or BMI category.

But this is far too simplistic of a definition and can actually harm you. How? Because it makes you feel like something is wrong with you if you don’t have a “perfect” body or don’t eat “perfectly.” Yikes. There’s nothing wrong with you. And to make matters worse, feeling this way may lead you to try yet another diet or meal plan to “feel good about yourself.” Sigh.

So how can you get healthier and feel better in your body?

Practice good nutrition and self-care, not the diet culture BS.

It’s time to put it to bed 🛌 forever (good night and good riddance!)

Learn and build nutrition skills + a self-care routine = feeling better in your body.

Practice these three critical nutrition coaching tips:

1. Slow down. 🐢

I’m sure you’ve heard of the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Yup, slow and steady wins the “race.” This is the opposite of completing 21-days of “clean” (aka perfect) eating or a month long detox.

And, most importantly, it’s simply not enough time to build nutrition and other wellness skills. Many of my clients work with me for at least 3 months, with most choosing support for a year or more. Why? Because…

Change is a process. And, I’ll be with you every step to support you (instead of being a dictator telling you what you “should do).” So give yourself the space to learn and practice, at your pace.

2. Ditch striving for perfection. 🅱

Stop putting so much dang pressure on yourself to never eat a “bad” food or only eat “clean” foods or beat yourself up because you skipped the gym because you had a terrible night’s sleep. You are human dang it.

What if you could average a grade B throughout the year with your nutrition, sleep, movement and stress coping skills? How would that feel? (I imagine pretty dang good).

The best way to start getting healthier is to meet yourself where you’re at. You’ll start your journey by completing a nutrition and deep health assessment and then together, we’ll create a plan to reach your goals by having you practice and build ONE skill, every two weeks. Over time, all these skills add up to one big change.

FYI: Diets force you to make a bunch of changes with your nutrition in a short amount of time period, so no wonder they’re not sustainable.

3. Be nice 😀 to yourself.

Instead of forcing yourself to eat better or get to the gym, relying on willpower, and white knuckling it to “be good,what if you could build self-care skills that you are truly ready, willing and able to do, within the context of your unique life?

How does that sound?
For example: maybe you’re ready to learn which and how much healthy fats to eat more of, some of and less of, but you’re not willing or able to practice mindful eating right now. No problem.

When you give yourself plenty of time to change, ditch perfection and build nutrition and self-care skills that are “doable,” overtime, that’s when the magic ✨ happens!

(Share this blog post with a friend: “.”)

Hope you found these three non-diet nutrition tips helpful! Ready to get started? Complete your self-care assessment and receive a 30-minute coaching session!

To your happiness and health, ♡ Tanya

P.S. Want a little more support with feeling better in your body? Read my latest article: Positive role models shape a healthy body image

Think you are addicted to sugar?

You might think you are addicted to sugar.

But over the many years that I’ve worked with clients, I’ve learned that cravings for sugar are caused by a multitude of factors including:

  • consistently eating unbalanced meals which creates unbalanced blood sugar levels (so your body is “smart” and boosts cravings for carbohydrates and sugars as the quickest way to boost your blood sugar.)
  • not eating regular meals throughout the day; skipping meals on purpose or because you’re busy; trying to save calories so you eat very little at breakfast and lunch so when you get home you feel ravenous and sugar sounds extra palatable.
  • dieting, restricting calories and carbs means you may not be getting the proper energy and nutrients. Plus, you will often crave the foods that aren’t on your plan.
  • white-knuckling it to completely avoid sugar because diet culture labels it as “bad.” So when it is available, you feel out of control around it.  It’s “forbidden fruit.” You’re human and you want what you can’t have. Did you know that research shows a key difference between a dieter’s mind versus a non-dieters mind? A non-dieter will eat a cookie (or two) and move on. A dieter will obsess (physical and mental struggle) over whether to have the cookie or not and how many is too many. Ugh.
  • you don’t allow yourself to have anything sweet without guilt or shame. Don’t forget that humans are born with a sweet taste bud.
  • you lack sweetness in your life, so you crave sweet foods which only temporarily fulfills this need.

So what does the research say about sugar addiction?

Research from the European Journal of Nutrition states:

“We find little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviors, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar. These behaviors likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar.” – “Sugar addiction: the state of the science.”

Think you are addicted to sugar? Think again.
Think you are addicted to sugar? Think again. 📸 credit: Jennifer Rollin, Eating Disorder Therapist

If you think you are addicted to sugar, consider these key nutrition skills:

7 tips to beat sugar “addiction”

  1. Learn to build balanced meals and snacks with quality protein, fat and carbohydrates. When you’re eating mostly carbs or sugary foods or drinks and you’re not eating enough quality protein or fats, you will experience blood sugar highs and lows (crashes). And when you crash, your body will crave carbs (sugars) to boost your blood sugar back into the normal range.
  2. Eat these balanced meals regularly, spaced throughout the day to avoid getting overly hungry (hangry).
  3. Ditch the diet culture BS and learn to listen and honor your individual hunger needs. They change every day depending on your activity level. Yes, you need to eat enough calories and quality carbohydrates. If you don’t, your biology will kick in, in the form of cravings, to get you to eat more.
  4. Learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. And if your hunger isn’t physical, pause and consider what you are really needing right now?
    Read more: 3 Reasons why you can’t stop stress and emotional eating (and the solution)
  5. When you choose to eat something sweet, eat real sugar, not artificial sugars. If a package says it’s sugar-free, be wary as this often means they’ve replaced sugar with a fake sugar.
  6. When you eat the cookie(s) or ice cream or other sweet, slow down and savor it. When you feel guilty, you may tend to eat these foods quickly, “to get rid of the evidence.”
  7. Feed your sweet taste bud. Yes, really. Are there sweet foods that you enjoy that are higher quality? I love fresh berries, apples and dark chocolate. Create a list of these foods and have them readily available.

So what did you learn about your relationship to food and your current nutrition skills? Where could you use support?

If you’ve always thought you are addicted to sugar, but now see that your cravings may be caused by a lack of critical nutrition skills, practice these seven tips.

And as always, if you could use support, reach out. I’d love to help.

♡ Tanya

How can I improve my body image?

Positive role models shape a healthy body image

Maybe you’re wondering “how can I improve my body image” in our body perfectionist culture?

Well, what if you knew when you were younger that all bodies aren’t the same?

Every body is different

That’s what 26-year-old pop singer and former “American Idol” contestant, Jax, wished somebody had told her.

This summer she posted “Victoria’s Secret,” a song she wrote about toxic body ideals. And clearly, it resonated – boosting her TikTok followers to over 11.9 million.

The song, inspired by a 14-year-old girl that Jax babysits, fights back against the body shame the teenager experienced while shopping at Victoria’s Secret for a swimsuit. When Jax picked her up from the mall the girl was crying. Her friends had told her that she was “too fat and flat” to wear a bikini, she shared on TikTok. And Jax could relate.

Comparing her body to photoshopped images of false ideals of health, fitness and beauty and “itty bitty models on magazine covers,” led to disordered behaviors with food.

“Can’t have carbs and a hot girl summer. The f—ing pressure I was under to lose my appetite, and fight the cellulite, with Hunger Games like every night” are lyrics from her song.

How can I improve my body image? Know that normal bodies have body fat, cellulite, stretch marks, any signs of being human and living your one precision life.
How can I improve my body image? Know that normal bodies have body fat, cellulite, stretch marks, any signs of being human and living your one precision life.

So, what would Jax go back and tell her younger self?

“I know Victoria’s ‘secret,’” she sings. “She was made up by a dude. She’s an old man who lives in Ohio, making money off of girls like me, cashing in on body issues, selling skin and bones and big boobs.”

Body appreciation shaped in youth

Boy did I need this song some four decades ago. I grew up in Victoria’s Secret culture.

Lamenting my cellulite and lack of “thigh gap,” I sunbathed slathered in Hawaiian Tropic oil, lounging on a plastic lawn chair in my backyard. My 16-year-old self thought being thin and baking in a tanning bed was the answer to my self-worth.

I bought padded bras and bikini tops. I ate my mom’s fat-free Snackwell cookies and Baked Lays potato chips, leaving me hungry too — for pasta with Parmesan and butter sauce. All my behaviors driven by wanting to fit in, belong and feel good in my skin.

How I wish I’d been exposed to diverse role models – real people representing health, fitness, and beauty. Instead, I would spend far too many years trying to attain one “ideal” look.

Role models crucial to body appreciation

Role models matter. They can shape a healthy body image. And body image is broader than just how we think and feel about our physique. It influences our sense of self, says Charlotte Markey, author of “The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.”

So how can you improve your body image?

Seek out diverse health and beauty role models to create a positive shift for the next generation. Furthermore, it can help us all heal from toxic body messaging.

Heal from toxic body messaging

In addition to Jax, consider Melisa Raouf, 20, who will be the first to completely forgo makeup while competing for Miss England next month. The event introduced a “Bare Face” round in the competition in 2019. Why? Because most contestants were submitting highly edited images of themselves wearing lots of makeup. Organizers wanted women to “show us who they really are without the need to hide behind makeup and filters on social media,” said Angie Beasley in a New York Post article.

Raouf, who hopes to promote inner beauty and challenge the beauty ideals perpetuated on social media, says she been inundated with messages from other young women expressing how much confidence Raouf has given them.

Or how about 37-year-old, Molly Galbraith, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong? Her worldwide health and fitness movement focuses on helping women feel strong, confident and empowered in their lives and bodies.

In addition, we can also learn from Ali Stoker, the first wheelchair-using actor to appear on a Broadway stage and the first to be nominated for and win a Tony Award.

“We’ve been convinced to be more concerned with others’ experience of looking at our bodies than our own experience in living in our bodies” says Stoker in an Everyday Health article titled “Celebrities Who’ve Spoken Out About Body Image.”

And one of my favorite role models in athletics is 41-year-old mom and greatest of all time tennis star Serena Williams, who’s been outspoken about her body throughout her career.

“I look like a normal athlete,” Williams told the Miami Herald in 2015.

We’ve been taught for decades that all bodies can and should be the same shape to be worthy, healthy or beautiful. So William’s message can’t be shared enough.

Normalize normal bodies for body confidence

Consider how you might think and feel about your whole self if you grew up with role models who looked like you — without makeup, wearing a swimsuit or playing your favorite sport.

And let’s remember that the people who influence how we feel and think about our bodies the most are those we encounter everyday — teachers, doctors, coaches, parents.

Read more: Mom’s body attitude shape’s daughters

Jax says that “Victoria’s Secret” was her way to share her personal story with people of all ages and genders. Never compare your body to what you see on media. The song was intended as a message to all corporations, not just Victoria’s Secret, marketing toward people’s insecurities she told PopSugar.

“I hate the idea of anybody losing their sense of self-worth while someone else gets rich off of it” Jax says.

How can I improve my body image? Know your body's worth is infinite.
How can I improve my body image? Know your body’s worth is infinite.

Ultimately, the whole point of her song is to normalize diversity in body types. And it’s working. She’s seeing a “million different shapes and sizes and colors and stories rocking out” to her song and feeling super confident in their skin.

We all can, because now we know Victoria’s real secret is, “She was never made for [real bodies like] me and you.”

Improve your body image by seeking out healthy role models. ♡ Tanya

[Originally published in the September 28, 2022 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide.]