What if you didn’t start a new “diet” every January?
No restriction. No elimination. No guilt. No shame. No “shoulds.” No “failure.”
And what if you actually became healthier? No scale necessary.
Sounds great, right? Got it, you say. I’ve got one in mind that says it’s “not a diet.” Such “non-diets” fill our inboxes or social media feeds, promising to rid us of the “Quarantine15,” pandemic weight gain that I wrote about back in April (“As you shelter in place, forget about your weight”).
So first, a quick PSA: Don’t be fooled. Diets have rebranded by co-opting terms from eating psychology, Intuitive Eating and the anti-diet movement, claiming they’re not “fad diets.” Ultimately, if you have to restrict or eliminate specific foods — to limit when you’re allowed to eat or how many calories you can consume — yup, it’s a diet. Ultimately, if you’re promised weight loss, it’s a diet.
You might be thinking, “But what’s wrong with wanting to lose weight?” Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you or me (as I’ve been there too) — or anybody. Instead, what needs questioning are deeply ingrained cultural beliefs such as: It’s weight loss itself that makes you healthier; it’s fat itself that makes you unhealthy; health is entirely your personal responsibility and mainly is about what you eat and how you move, ignoring environment and systemic issues.
“Our stories and bodies are too complex and too varied to fit into the oversimplified narratives peddled by dominant culture,” says the website BeNourished.org. “You may not love the body you occupy, but will you respect it? Try to listen to it? Get curious about it?”
The desire to “diet” may just be a protective coping mechanism for living in a weight-obsessed, size-stigmatizing culture. We all want and deserve to belong, to feel good about ourselves. It’s a basic human need. When it comes to our approach to whole health, I believe we can do better.
Try healthy behaviors
Shifting to weight-neutral self-care can feel scary or impossible, or can bring up resistance. It’s natural. I felt this way, too. Separating weight from wellness took me years. This approach might not be for you, right now, or ever. And that’s OK, too. Body autonomy is yours, and yours only, to choose.
So with kindness and compassion I offer four health behaviors to try with the intention of planting a seed to awaken curiosity to learn more about how you can honor your body and yourself without restriction, elimination, guilt, shame or “shoulds.”
Ditch the scale
First, take one baby step and maybe put the scale away. You know how “that number” can either make or break your day, which is hard on mental health, which is often neglected in our pursuit of physical “health.”
Consider if you’ve ever given up on healthy behaviors because you didn’t reach your “ideal” number or couldn’t maintain it. When you practice healthy behaviors your body may prefer to weigh more, less or stay the same. Your body is meant to change as you age and move through stages of life. There is no “ideal” weight you should be forever (as I’ve learned as 51-year-old, postmenopausal woman).
Furthermore, having “a number” interferes with your ability to listen for your body’s physical cues: hunger, fullness, satisfaction, how certain foods make you feel, how movement makes you feel.
So skip the scale and the mental mind game. Keep going. Practice self-care, not self-control. If you want more inspiration to ditch “that number,” read my Nov. 13, 2019, column, titled, “Say ‘no weigh’ to the scale.”
Feel good in your body now
Feeling uncomfortable or unattractive in your clothes sucks. Consider buying a few outfits that make you feel good now. If you’re on a budget, check out online thrift stores and consider consignment or trading with friends. I used to believe that holding onto clothes for if and when was “motivating.” It’s not. It just created guilt, shame and stress.
You deserve to feel good about yourself at any body size. Clothes are supposed to fit you, not the other way around.
Shift your “why”
Detach healthy eating and exercise “success” from a scale number. Focus on the long list of health benefits instead, such as improved health markers, energy, mood and the function of your physical, mental, emotional body. If your primary motivation to eat better or exercise is dependent on and focused solely on counting or burning calories, you may give up if your body doesn’t change (or change enough), thinking, “It’s not working so why bother.”
Keep going, and enjoy how eating and exercise make you feel.
Be more than a body
Finally, embrace body diversity and rebel against messages suggesting your self-worth or value as a human being is tied to your appearance.
‘Aim higher, friends’
In a recent Instagram post, dietitian Anna Sweeney discussed a tough conversation with a client who desired above all else to be thin, young and pretty. It unexpectedly made Sweeney cry “to think about this human’s existence being boiled down to her earth suit. Or any of yours, for that matter. You are not on this planet for the sake of being visually appealing. Period.
“Aim higher, friends,” she says. “We are given one body. That’s it. And truly, taking care of yours has nothing to do with what it looks like.”
A local client concurs: “I’ve spent basically my entire life dieting, then gaining back the weight and more. I felt guilty every time I ate ice cream, even just a spoonful. I’m making peace with food and my body now. Shifting to self-care behaviors without the scale determining my health has given me the courage to like my body for how it is, not what some diet will promise me. I nourish it properly for my active lifestyle. My new personal tag line is, ‘The elimination of the stress of eating is so much better than the elimination and restriction of food.’”
Consider practicing self-care from a weight-neutral place. No restrictions. No elimination. No guilt. No shame. No “shoulds.” No “failure.” No scale.
And get healthier.