webpchecker

Should you make your Thanksgiving meal healthier?

Should you make your Thanksgiving meal healthier?

I believe that every body can enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

But as a nutrition student back in 2012, I would have found that statement reckless, disregarding the “epidemic” of weight/health challenges facing our country.

That year my parents traveled from Maryland to Denver to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me and my family. While I swung kettlebells and climbed revolving stairs at 24 Hour Fitness, Mom and Dad went for a stroll around the neighborhood. While I ate a “lighter” lunch to “earn” and “burn” the calories I would consume, they ate their regular meals.

To me healthy meant I had to be thin, low body fat. Though far leaner in my mid-40s than I’d been in my 20s, I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. All I saw were my perceived flaws: the cellulite, my furrowed forehead and a roundness to my female belly that I believed wasn’t flat enough.

I cooked my family a “clean” holiday meal, removing ingredients that my nutrition books touted as “bad” — the marshmallows in my husband’s favorite sweet potato casserole, the gluten in my dad’s famous sausage stuffing.

But I wasn’t done subjecting my parents to my righteous rules of nutrition perfection. For a class project they agreed to track their food so I could scrutinize their supposed nutritional flagrancies and offer upgrades promising “better” health. Bless their hearts.

A diet-culture-laden decision

Looking back now, I see that neither my parents’ nutrition nor health needed fixing.

The real flaw?

My misguided belief in diet culture, disguised as wellness, and its simplistic, one-dimensional definition of health: that only a thin body is ideal. When we expose the origin of this false depiction of health and redefine it, every body can enjoy holiday favorites, no “earning” or “burning” of food required.

Should you cut the carbs in your Thanksgiving meal
Should you cut the carbs in your Thanksgiving meal?

Weight doesn’t automatically equal health

According to Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, “you’ve been lied to about the relationship between weight and health so that you’ll perpetually try to change your weight.”

This message is driven by what the Nagoski sisters call the Bikini Industrial Complex, the “$100 billion cluster of businesses that profit by setting an unachievable ‘aspirational ideal,’ convincing us that we can and should — indeed, we must — conform with the ideal, and then selling us ineffective but plausible strategies for achieving that ideal.”

And sadly, this false and simplistic definition of “wellness” can lead to lifelong weight worry and make it difficult to feel good in our bodies. Simply put, it’s a chronic stressor.

Food psychologist Paul Rozin agrees. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, registered dietitians and authors of “Intuitive Eating,” say that in his 1999 research study “Rozin was way ahead of his time and concluded that the negative impact of worry and stress over healthy eating may have a more profound effect on health than the actual food consumed.”

Food and weight worry can harm your health.
Food and weight worry can harm your health.

Furthermore, Rozin’s research showed that while Americans have the most food worry and least food pleasure, the French were found to have the exact opposite, plus a longer life expectancy. Consider some mainstays of the French diet: bread, brie, creme brûlée — foods containing the “forbidden” ingredients my nutrition books said were “unhealthy.”

Yes, absolutely, nutrition plays a key role in your health and in preventing chronic disease, but your health is impacted by far more factors than nutrition and exercise. According to research in author Christy Harrison’s book “Anti-Diet,” “eating and physical activity combined account for only about 10 percent of population health outcomes.”

Yes, read that again.

Your health is complex

Other important factors include financial and social status, healthy childhood development, social environments, personal coping skills, traumatic experiences, weight stigma, access to health services, gender, race, physical environment, education and literacy, food and job security, and genetics.

And do you know what’s highly protective of your health?

Positive, satisfying relationships of any kind.

Healthy thanksgiving connection with Snoopy and Woodstock
Healthy thanksgiving connection with Snoopy and Woodstock.

The Nagoski sisters found that relationship quality was a “better predictor of health than smoking, and smoking is among the strongest predictors of ill health.”

So this holiday season, instead of fretting over the marshmallows in your husband’s childhood favorite sweet potato casserole or the gluten in your father’s famous sausage stuffing, consider taking a gentle nutrition approach to healthy eating.

And let me be clear, if you enjoy making a healthier Thanksgiving meal and participating in the 5K Turkey Trot because they make you feel good, GO FOR IT!

Ultimately, remember that gentle nutrition, Principle 10 of Intuitive Eating, is about honoring your whole health.

Practice gentle nutrition to eat healthier this holiday season.
Practice gentle nutrition this holiday season.

Make an empowering decision

So taking all this into consideration, I’ll let you decide if you’d like to make your Thanksgiving meal healthier. Think about what might be healthiest for you.

But let’s not make it a “should.”

As a nutrition professional practicing gentle nutrition throughout the year, this year I’m choosing to enjoy a traditional meal. And, because I love moving my body, I’ll most likely hit the gym, not to “earn or burn” my food, but because it’s just what makes me feel strong and vibrant, period.

Happy Thanksgiving. ♡ Tanya

P.S. If you want to learn more, check out my article: Healthy eating doesn’t mean perfect eating.

P.S.S. This article is an edited version of the original published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide on November 25, 2020.

Subvert The ‘Body Hierarchy’

My body is not better than or less than your body — or any body.

But is it? As I type this statement I’m spammed. A text notification pops up on my computer screen reading: “Tanya, 1 cup at 8pm shrinks your belly while u sleep, this is why Shark-Tank judges back it! Learn more.”

I question my supposed worthiness as 51-year-old, postmenopausal woman. My rounded belly is judged as a “flaw,” and by purchasing this quick-fix product, I’m promised flat, “attractive” abs, at least defined by perfectionist cultural standards of health and beauty. Sigh.

We’re barraged day after day by these oppressive messages that certain bodies are more valuable than other bodies.

These messages are based on body hierarchy, a system that ranks our place on its ladder depending on our unique human characteristics. Some we’re born with; others change as we live. The list includes body size, gender, race, class, age, ability and health status. Body hierarchy is built on the belief that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to have a body, such as: Thin bodies are better than fat bodies. Young bodies are better than old bodies. Abled bodies are better than disabled bodies.

The root of the cause

So the solution to poor body image isn’t to fix our bodies or even to just try harder to love what we see in the mirror, making our body the problem. It’s to dismantle what’s driving it, the root cause, this system that ranks some bodies as better than others.

When we embrace body diversity the system will crash and body image will be a challenge of the past. Ultimately, by celebrating the uniqueness of each human body we can create a kind, just, compassionate world for every body.

On a recent podcast episode of “Unlocking Us,” shame researcher Brene Brown highlights the potential power we over this body hierarchy. She had read an article revealing that “if every woman woke up and said, ‘I love what I see, I’m not buying anything,’ would be a faster collapse [of the economy] than the airlines after 911. It would be within 24 hours, the entire system.”

Yes: Collectively, we are that powerful.

Embracing body diversity

“Human bodily diversity is a form of natural intelligence,” Sonya Renee Taylor, activist and author of “The Body Is Not an Apology,” says on Brown’s podcast. “It means that all bodies are supposed to be different because that is the version that is specific to your particular journey.

“In order to have a thriving world,” she says, “a thriving ecosystem that works in harmony, we need variance. We recognize that. We know that innately. And yet because we are so far away from our own sense of inherent knowing of our enoughness, we’ve constructed a world where that’s not true for our bodies.”

So, let’s take action.

“‘Check your privilege,’” body image coach Summer Innanen says on her podcast, “Fearless Rebelle Radio,” “means that you bring attention to your words and actions to make sure you’re not harming others who actually experience discrimination, and that you’re using privilege to be an ally to eradicate fat phobia.”

For example, while exploring the body-positive movement I learned that I have “thin privilege” — the advantages that are associated with someone who lives in a body deemed “acceptable” by society and that exist only because of weight stigma, discrimination or stereotyping.

“As a thin or in-between-size person,” Innanen says, “this is not to say that you can’t have a messed-up body image or that you don’t struggle emotionally. Rather, it’s about acknowledging that your experience is not the same as someone who actually lives in a larger body.”

So if we are calling ourselves “fat,” when we are not, we must stop.

Thin or in-between-size people, unlike those living in larger bodies, aren’t bullied or judged by others for simply enjoying a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone. Shopping for clothes in their size is no big deal. And a visit to the doctor’s office isn’t filled with the dread of potentially being judged purely by your body weight.

Or perhaps you do love your body. But “if you only love your body when you love how you look, that’s not love,” says Lexie Kite, co-founder of Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit whose mantra is “Women are more than just bodies. See more. Be more.” She continues, “That is conditional and objectifying. You deserve love.”

Ultimately we must recognize there’s a huge difference between disliking our bodies and being attacked by society for our body size.

Examine your body talk

Because of body insecurities we may shame ourselves for simply eating dessert or having a round belly. While our intention isn’t to harm other bodies, acknowledge these comments as fat phobic.

Furthermore, recognize fat shaming as placing blame and making assumptions about people’s behaviors based solely on their body size, without acknowledging the complex factors that affect our health.

And let’s stop comparing our bodies with other bodies, as comparisons hold up this oppressive system.

Consume body-positive media

The average American woman is between size 16 and 18, according to a 2016 study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.

Yet the majority of the images we see don’t represent reality.

We can intentionally choose to consume media that are countercultural, portraying realistic bodies, and to unfollow and block media that make us feel-less than or better-than other bodies.

On Facebook and Instagram we have the power to hide ads or report ads and include a reason. “It’s offensive” is my personal favorite.

And to take a stand against spam texts and emails selling magical belly-shrinking potions, add filters to your phone and computer.

Remember: No body is born inherently better than another body. Body image wouldn’t exist without body hierarchy.

Let’s collapse the system and create a kind, compassionate, just world for every body.
Be a rebel.

(Originally published in my column, Radical Acceptance, Jackson Hole News and Guide, October 14, 2020)

Enough with the War on our Bodies

We’re suffering from another health crisis.

“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat,” says Lindo Bacon, author, researcher, and professor, Ph.D., MA, MA.

So what’s driving this war on our bodies?

It’s diet culture’s weight-centric portrayal of wellness — thin equals healthy and it’s solution… dieting.

The Body Hate/Diet Cycle

It begins when you compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals. You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, and/or feel “fat.”

Then, when you most likely don’t measure up (because only 5% of women naturally possess the body type diet culture models as healthy), you fall prey to diet culture’s solution to fix it: the latest fad eating plan to “fix” your body.

You choose a diet that restricts what, when, or how much to eat.

At first you “feel better” – lose weight. It’s “working!”

Until it’s not.

Eventually, you feel deprived and struggle.

Then, the “diet backlash” kicks in and you crave – the “bad” and “forbidden” foods or you just feel hungry.

You “fall off the wagon” and “cheat.”

You feel guilt, shame, frustration for not having enough willpower judging yourself as the failure, not the restrictive approach.

The months pass and you regain some, all, or even more weight than when you began.

Then, back in body hate, you repeat – hoping the newest plan will work and you’ll be one of the 5% of dieters (the unicorns) that can change your body size permanently — sustain it.

Thus, you remain stuck in the body hate/diet cycle, year after year, passing it down, generation after generation — leading to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough, unhealthy.

It’s a helluva business plan. By 2025, the worldwide weight management market profits are expected to reach $442.3 billion according to Grandviewresearch.com.

The good news is there’s an antidote to this body hate/diet madness.

We stop believing thin is always healthy and fat is always bad and explore new health paradigms.

Re-examine weight science

In Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight – and What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown, we are encouraged to think critically about the scientific research on weight science as “some of the contradictory findings on weight reflect our incomplete understanding of highly complex mechanisms and systems.”

The “complexity doesn’t come across very well in headlines or sound bites,” thus the “nuances of the research on weight and health often get lost in the rhetoric,” says Brown.

In her book, Brown breaks downs the “Four Big Fat Lies About Weight and Health” – Americans are getting fatter and fatter; Obesity can take a decade or more off your life; Being fat causes heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other serious illnesses; and Dieting makes us thinner and healthier.

Dr. Bacon concurs, “the misconceptions around weight science are astounding.”

In Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD detail how our current weight-centric model of health is ineffective at producing healthier bodies. And it may have unintended consequences “contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distractions from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrements, and weight stigmatization and discrimination.”

If you think your body is the problem and that diets are the solution, I ask you to think critically and remember that it’s diet culture that is driving and profiting off of these assumptions, and to explore alternative approaches to wellness.

A New Wellness Approach to Consider

“What If Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss” by Virginia Sole-Smith, also breaks down how focusing on body size isn’t making people healthier.

Because “research has shown that it is the behaviors people practice—not the size of their bodies—that have the biggest impact on mortality,” some clinicians are trying a weight-neutral approach called Health at Every Size (HAES).

Health at Every Size, trademarked and founded by the Association of Size Diversity and Health, is an anti-diet approach to healthcare. It’s known as the “new peace movement” because it strives to end the war on bodies and defines health in a more inclusive way.

It eliminates weight stigma, respects diversity and focuses on compassionate self-care such as “finding the joy in one’s body and being physically active and eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options,” says Bacon and Aphramor in Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight.

Sole-Smith describes the impact of having a doctor who removes weight from health care as “literally life-changing.”

You can heal from this health crisis.

You don’t have to be at war with your body — stuck in the body hate/restriction cycle to take care of your health.

You deserve peace and food and body freedom.

Be critical of weight science.

Be open to new health paradigms.

Be a rebel.

Escape from the body hate diet cycle

Do you or someone you love struggle with healthy eating and/or suffer from body dissatisfaction?

If you said yes, it’s absolutely not your fault. It’s diet culture’s.

Let’s break down two major drivers of these challenges:

  1. You compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals.
  2. You’re stuck in “diet culture” (which created these body ideals) that profits off selling you the latest greatest eating plan, shakes, programs to maintain or “fix” your body, under the guise of wellness.


This can lead you to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough – regardless of your size or shape.

And it all seems perfectly normal, and is considered the way to take care of your “health.”

It’s a helluva business plan – keeping you coming back for another “hit of success” (= pounds lost) despite research showing you it’s temporary (unsustainable) for 95% of us. In fact, by 2023, the worldwide weight loss industry profits are expected to reach $278 billion.

Again, I repeat, it’s not your fault. It’s the culture we live, eat, move and breathe in and we’ve been passing these messages down for generations, thus keeping us stuck in:

The Vicious Body Hate/“Diet” Restrictive Eating Cycle:


START:
 You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, feel “fat”, and/or you’re told to lose weight for a variety of reasons.

RESTRICT: You choose one of the restrictive eating plans du jour. During this time, you may experience “feeling better” and/or losing weight but at some point either during, at the end of the 21 or 30 days, or months later when you’re trying to “sustain” it, you experience…

DEPRIVATION: the “diet/restriction” fatigue, backlash. This is when cravings kick in for certain types of foods (such as carbohydrates), “forbidden” foods (your favorite dessert) or you just feel hungry and simply want more food. Which leads to…

GUILT: You feel like you’ve “cheated,” “given in,” “fallen off the wagon” “don’t have the willpower” – you judge yourself as the failure, not the approach. You may regain weight, or for many of you who’ve been stuck in this cycle for years and years, even more weight than when you began. (Studies show that up two-thirds of us will regain more weight than lost).

💣TRUTH BOMB: Did you know that “diets” and restrictive eating can actually be the cause of perceived eating challenges such over-eating, intense cravings, bingeing and emotional eating? (Ironic, huh – as we often go to these plans to “fix” these “problems.”)

REPEAT: At some point (next year, next month) you begin again with another round of your “favorite” eating plan or you try a new one that promises you that you will be part of the 5% of people (the 🦄 unicorns) that can change your body size permanently – sustain it. Remember, we’re not all supposed to be the same size and that health and body weight are a complex subject (see my article ⬇️ to learn more).


The good news is that there’s a way out of this madness.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s not a quick fix. But worth it – if you finally want to have a healthy relationship with food and feel good in your body.

What you can do instead:

  1. Re-educate yourself and learn more about how health can come in different sizes and shapes and how your health is impacted by many factors. ​That’s why I take a “deep health” coaching approach – when all dimensions of your wellbeing are in sync (physical, mental, emotional, relational, environmental and existential).To learn more, come on over to my blog and read: Size or shape doesn’t define your health
  2. Practice “true” self-care from this new space.

What if you could allow your body to be the size and shape it where its healthiest – when you’re nourishing it by listening to your hunger and fullness cues, being aware of which foods make you feel your best, moving in ways that bring you joy and living your best life? Don’t allow “diet culture” to be the life thief that it is – taking away your precious time, energy, health and happiness. Want to learn more about how you can learn to eat intuitively and take care of your health? Check out: Intuitive Eating: Do you need to relearn how to eat?

What to learn more about how “deep health” coaching can help you feel and be your best self? [](https://www.tanyamark.com/get-started)[Schedule a 20 minute consult](https://form.jotform.com/93306600537150) to chat with me.

I’d love to support you, Tanya

The Before and After of Hating Your Body

Taryn Brumfitt posted a before-and- after photo of herself on Facebook.

But with a twist.

Instead of the conventional “before” photo, where you’re sad and miserable and your body is viewed as “undesirable,” Brumfitt first posted her body-building competition photo, posing in a silver bikini and high heels.

Next she posted a photo of her natural woman’s body — relaxed, smiling, sitting sideways on a stool, nude — her body the shape it settled to when she was no longer trying to control it.

The after photo was her “liberated” body, when she let go of unrealistic body ideals, the belief that her appearance equaled her self-worth and that well-being has a certain look.

Yet it took some time to have the courage to post a photo like that.

It started with her in tears slumped on her bathroom floor in despair. She felt exhausted, resentful, and hated her body after having her third child.

Stressed over “getting her body back” and feeling judged for “letting herself go,” Brumfitt set out to fix her “broken” body.

At first she considered cosmetic surgery. But she worried about the message that choice would send to her daughter and turned to fitness instead. She signed up for a body-building competition, and after months of intense training and restrictive eating she attained what culture considers the “perfect” body.

“I would go to the beach with my children to eat fish and chips, and I would pull out my Tupperware container of boiled chicken and vegetables — not much fun for a lover of food like me,” Brumfitt said in a Greatist.com article.

The “picture of health” on the outside, Brumfitt felt miserable inside. The amount of sacrifice, time and obsession wasn’t worth it. She realized that if she had to restrict, overexercise and punish herself to maintain that body type, her body wasn’t meant to be at that weight.

After listening to her competitors’ fears about gaining weight after the competition, Brumfitt was ready to take the stand for healthy body image that changed the course of her life.

The Facebook photos went viral, receiving 3.6 million clicks overnight, and she received over 7,000 emails from people all over the world sharing their stories of eating disorders and body image challenges.

Seeing she had the power to create a greater impact on our global body-hating epidemic, Brumfitt founded the Body Image Movement and produced “Embrace,” a social-change documentary film examining body image struggles.

You too can embrace

Maybe you’re one of the 91% of women dissatisfied with her body, seeking that elusive perfect “after” photo, beating yourself up over what you see in the mirror and every morsel of food you eat.

Culturally we’ve been conditioned to believe we can love our bodies only when they’re in “perfect” condition.

But “bodies aren’t meant to stay the same,” says body positive social media influencer Megan Jane Crabbe on Instagram.

“Bodies are supposed to grow and change and carry the signs of our life on them,” Crabbe said.

It’s normal for a body to change through the natural stages of life: puberty, childbirth, menopause, (or “manopause” for the gentlemen) and a multitude of other reasons, including illness and injury.

“How can the signs of having lived be anything other than beautiful?” Crabbe said. “Our changing, growing, aging bodies are extraordinary, and we deserve to inhabit them without shame.”

Self-love, not body hate

You’re not going to just wake up one morning and love your body.

“It’s like a muscle that grows and it grows over time,” Brumfitt said in a BusinessChicks.com article, “and it’s something you’ve got to give a lot of love and a lot of energy to, but it’s so worth it.

“When it comes to health,” she said, “you can’t look after something that you don’t love.”

Self-care not self-control

Embracing your body doesn’t mean you don’t care for your body. It’s not “letting yourself go.” It’s not promoting “obesity” or “mediocrity” in your health.

It advocates self-care, not self-control. But how do you tell the difference?

Are your behaviors driven by the feeling you “need” to or “should” control your body? Are they creating stress? Do your actions feel punitive?

Or do your behaviors feel nourishing, building, relaxing — true self-care?

What foods feel nourishing to you right now? Sometimes enjoying a slice of cake with your best friend nourishes you beyond the ingredients. What kind of movement feels good to you today? Maybe rest is more nourishing.

Self-care is subjective. It’s about what feels right and good for you, now.

For Brumfitt, some days self-care is yoga. Some days it’s deadlifting 240 pounds. Some days it’s playing with her kids at the beach, running marathons, writing or hiking.

See the difference?

Be part of the revolution

The Body Image Movement is a judgment-free zone.

The movement instead stands for: celebrating our bodies for all that they can do, have done and will do; body diversity in the media and advertising; acknowledging that aging is a privilege; and health at every size.

It’s not profit before people, excessive Photoshopping in the media, the notion that weight determines your health, the objectification of women.

You have a choice about how you spend your life. You can live at war with your body or you can embrace it.

As Crabbe said in a recent Instagram post:

“I have given up on my body.

“I’ve given up on my body becoming something that it was never supposed to be.

“I’ve given up on my body being a measure of my value as a human being.

“I’ve given up on my body being the reason why I don’t deserve happiness because I’ve always deserved it.

“And I’ve finally let myself go into the world without believing that fitting into a bulls–t cultural standard of beauty is all I have to offer.”

Here’s to letting ourselves go. I hope it feels damn good.

You can be caged or liberated. In 2015 I chose liberated, and I assure you, it feels damn good.

As You Shelter in Place, Forget About Your Weight

Is the Quarantine15 on your mind? It needn’t be.

We’re living in unprecedented times, and the fears are real. But fearing weight gain shouldn’t be one of them.

Social media’s latest pandemic hashtag — quarantine15 — is just ol’ diet culture ramping up again to prey upon our body insecurities, body shaming us for profit. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the posts:

“Gaining weight in college was called the freshman15. This time it will be the quarantine15.”

“Walking around the house in a sports bra will make you put the quarantine snacks away quick. Eat lunch in your swimsuit.”

“Please tell me that I’m not the only COVID Carboholic.”

Shame on you, diet culture, for making us feel ashamed if our bodies change, especially during a global pandemic, especially as food and eating challenges are “normal human responses to a global pandemic that do not need to be pathologized or treated as abnormal,” as stated by experts at TraumaAndCo.com.

Jackson psychologist and Wyoming Psychological Association President Sadie Monaghan concurs, recently sharing this response to weight fearmongering on her Facebook page:

“I am seeing a lot of fatphobic content on social right now. If you need this, let me say it loudly: Eating for comfort during a collective trauma is OK. Gaining a couple of pounds probably means you were forcing your body to be a weight it didn’t like. Urges to hoard food are a human response to perceived scarcity. Not ‘exercising’ for a few weeks or months is not morally wrong.

“You are more than your weight and/or shape. Weight is not equal to health status. Food is not good or bad, it is nourishment, whether for the body or soul or both. Go easy on yourself and others and don’t push weight stigma or food rules during a crisis, or ever.”

Or ever.

This pandemic will end. But diet culture will flourish, unless we burn it down. Remember: The $72 billion dollar-industry can profit only if we feel “flawed.” Diet culture is built on body shame, and it has warped so many into believing that it’s normal and healthy to be obsessed with “fixing” our bodies and to be hypervigilant with food and exercise.

But we can change that at any time, even now. Maybe especially now.

“In the rush to return to normal,” writes Dave Hollis, author of “Get Out Of Your Own Way,” “let’s use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth returning to.”

Collectively, when we speak out and confront diet culture we can start to undermine its place in our society. As shame researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown says, “Shame is deadly. And I think we are swimming in it deep.” But shame can not survive empathy because “shame depends on the belief that I’m alone” Brown says.

Let’s reclaim our time, energy, money, happiness and self-worth. Let’s imagine a new relationship with ourselves.

In this new normal, fitness is building muscles and improving balance, flexibility, agility and the quality of our sleep. It’s strengthening our energy, mood and mental health. It’s not hyperfocused on weight loss or body image. In this new normal, we enjoy movement for the pure joy of it.

In this new normal we explore nutrition and healthful eating as learning and practicing the basics of human nutrition while tuning in to listen to our body’s needs, internal cues of hunger, fullness, satisfaction and which foods make us feel our best. We transition away from a rules-based and restrictive model of nutrition and toward trusting our bodies, something BeNourished.org calls a “birthright.”

“You were born with an inherent trust for your body,” the website says. “Somewhere along the way you became disconnected from that way of knowing.”

In this new normal, health professionals and any person contemplating going on a diet will learn “Health at Every Size,” an evidence-based compassionate model that switches the focus from weight to healthy behaviors.

“Trumpeting obesity concerns and admonishing people to lose weight is not just misguided, but downright damaging,” says Lindo Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size and Body Respect.” “It leads to repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, to food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, weight discrimination, and poor health.

“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Every time you make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be. Everyone can benefit from good health behaviors.”

In this time of uncertainty I hope what is most important is becoming clear and what is not falls by the wayside. Let the hashtag quarantine15 fall away while you turn your attention to building a new, truly healthy normal.

(This article was published in the April 29, 2020 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Post these body-positive mantras everywhere

Remember the little girl who used to run through the sprinkler wearing her swimsuit, shouting and giggling with pure joy?

Not once did she think about her body’s appearance. She had full body freedom.

Then she grew older, and culture’s body perfectionist ideals engulfed her thoughts about her body.

That girl may now be you, struggling with how you perceive your body. And you certainly are not alone.

According toDoSomething.org’s article “11 facts about body image,” approximately 91% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. That’s almost all of us.

But we, as a culture, can get body freedom back, no matter what our size, shape, age or ability, by stopping the judgment of our own and other people’s bodies.

Berating our bodies has become normal, and it must stop if we wish to create a compassionate world where all bodies are valued. Remember, there’s a human being living inside each body.

So how do we train our brains to be body positive? We practice a process called neuroplasticity, which states that “where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows” says Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, author of “Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence.”

“How you focus your mind can change the physical structure of your brain,” says Siegel.

And “what you practice grows stronger” says “Good Morning I Love You” author, Shauna Shapiro, a clinical psychologist and internationally recognized expert in mindfulness and self-compassion.

Thus, it’s possible to rewire your brain to be happier with your body through practice.

Remember, you didn’t learn how to play soccer, play the piano or tie your shoes overnight. You practiced. You trained. You weren’t good at it. Then, over time, you scored goals, played a concerto and began tying your shoes without help.

Creating a healthy body image is no different. You can change your brain to think positively about your body, and all bodies.

“Your ‘body image’ is stored in your brain cells, not your fat cells, says body image therapist, Ashlee Bennett.

But I can hear your objections: “Tanya, this is all nice and fluffy, but really, how can I like my body? I just can’t. I can only be happy with it if or when …”

A long list of research (which I encourage you to explore on Dr. Kristin Neff’s website, SelfCompassion.org) shows that we take better care of ourselves, physically and mentally, when we practice self-compassion and respect our bodies, not hate them or berate them.

OK, so are you with me now?

Let’s practice rewiring your brain for body positivity.

As an individual, as a community, as a culture: I challenge you to see, hear and speak body positive messages, every single day.

My favorites include:

“Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” — Lindsay and Lexie Kite, directors of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined

“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act. — Caroline Caldwell

“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” — Louise Hay, motivational author, “Love yourself, Heal your Life”

“I hope one day your human body is not a jail cell, instead it’s a sunny 2 p.m. garden with daisies thriving because of self love.” — @positivebodyimage

“Life’s too short to be unkind to yourself.” — @justgirlproject

“You are so much more than a body.” — @beautifullyflawedbean

“Body confidence does not come from trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ body; it comes from embracing the one you’ve already got.” —JenneandLindsey.com, empowering women through style

“Don’t value your body over your being.” — Unattributed

“We get so worried about being ‘pretty.’ Let’s be pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty smart, pretty strong.” — Britt Nicole

“We have a saying in our house. ‘There’s no wrong way to have a body’.” — Amy Pence-Brown, body image activist

“Happiness isn’t size-specific. Happiness has very little to do with what you look like and everything to do with who you are.” — Anna Guest-Jelley, founder and CEO of Curvy Yoga

“Healthy bodies come in different sizes and shapes.”

“It’s not what you see in the mirror that needs changing, it’s culture.”

“Stop fixing your bodies, start fixing the world.” — Eve Ensler, writer, performer, playwright “The Vagina Monologues”

“My body is not yours to critique and discuss. My body is not yours for consumption. My body is my vessel. An archive of experiences. A weapon that has fought battles only I understand. A library of love, pain, struggle, victory and mystery. Your eyes cannot define all it has endured. Do not place value upon my body, place it upon my being.” — Sophie Lewis, activist @sophaaa

Now that you have some great body positive messages, what do you do with them?

Write them on sticky notes and post them on your bathroom mirror.

Ask permission to paint a body positive mural on a window at a local business.

Unfollow unrealistic Instagrammers that portray only pure perfection in their eating habits and images of their bodies.

Create a daily gratitude journal practice for your body. Celebrate what your body does for you, not what it looks like.

Post positive quotes on social media with hashtags such as #thisbodycan, #beyoutiful, #beautyredefined #redefiningwellness #bodyimagemovement #thebodyisnotanapology.

Discuss these concepts and create a body positive bubble in your circle of friends, at your gym or yoga studio, in your classroom, with your teammates, at home with your family.

Harness the power of your brain — rewire it — toward positive body messages.

Remember, ladies, that little girl is still there … inside you … waiting. Let’s go get her.

Be responsible for bringing positive body “energy” into the world.

Run though the sprinkler, wearing whatever you want, dang it, and enjoy life to the fullest.

Be a rebel.

(This article was published in The Jackson Hole News & Guide, March 18, 2020).

Body acceptance is a radical act of self-love

Body acceptance is a radical act of self- love. 

Amy Pence-Brown, a 39-year-old mother of three, is a body image activist internationally known for her radical stand for self-love at the Capitol City Public Market in 2015.

Pence-Brown stood blindfolded in a black bikini, with the following message written on a chalkboard placed at her feet, holding markers in her outstretched arms inviting the crowd to support her radical declaration of self-love.

“I am standing for anyone who has struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable,” her sign read. “To support self-acceptance, draw a heart on my body.”

By the end of her social experiment she was covered in marker, having been drawn on by young and old, men and women. You can watch the video here.

Three years later over 200 million people have viewed this stand for radical body liberation making it one of the most viral videos of all time.

“This is powerful. This is humanity,” she said. “This is a revolution. I’m honored and blown wide open with hope.”

The shift toward body acceptance

Amy’s “Stand For Self Love” changed me.

Her radical declaration of self-love cracked open something deep inside me. I felt our shared humanness. I, too, wanted to advocate for radical acceptance — of all bodies.

Professionally, I began to see a need for this work. As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, I held the false belief that if we exercised and ate “well” — the two magical pieces to health — we could achieve a fit and healthy “looking” body.

I was wrong.

I learned this after having hundreds of intimate conversations, often filled with tears and stress with Jacksonsites and clients around the country.

I started seeing bodies and health differently, with my eyes wide open. I started seeing myself differently.

I had made a career out of being healthy to look healthy. I took a critical look at my own body image. When I did, the worries, fears and shame that I felt about my body over the years flooded through. Now, as a 54-year old woman, I’ve added on another layer to my body image: aging.

I want to be clear about where I am at now professionally. Most clients want weight-loss which makes perfect sense. Often they, like many of us, want to eat better to feel better, but the real hope is that eating the “right” foods will help us maintain an “acceptable” size or change our bodies. This is a normal and natural reaction to living in our perfectionist body culture that says there’s only one “right” way to have body. It’s based on the false belief that there’s only one body size or shape that’s “healthy” or “attractive.”

I help clients make peace and heal their relationships with food and their bodies. I help clients gain the crucial tools to achieve true health and well-being, and support them as they disengage from the latest diet trends or body ideal.

It’s been three years since Pence-Brown’s video went viral, and I still think about it. I reached out to Amy for her wisdom on being a body image activist and radical Idahoan. When I mentioned this column, she was both excited yet surprised, in the best kind of way.

“I’ve had a lot of pushback against body positivity for years in the region, due to a long-supported fat-phobic culture with a severe dedication to healthism,” she told me.

Though her work has received positive national and international attention, regionally that has not been the case. She hopes to “pave the way to this slow opening of minds, hearts and eyes to the possibility that there might be a new way, a better way, to live and enjoy our bodies than we’ve been taught previously.”

Fat (and thin) Girls (and guys) Hiking

Body positivity activism recently made its way to our community.

This past week I attended one of two “Fat Girls Hiking, Trails Not Scales,” body positivity hikes in Jackson. Founder Summer Michaud-Skog set the ground rules: Hikers were to refrain from diet talk, body shaming or weight loss talk.

The focus was on enjoying the outdoors in whatever body you’re in. Our Jackson group was represented by different body shapes, sizes, genders and ages.

“We love getting outside as a family and exploring, teaching our kids to move their bodies, respect the earth and enjoy the outdoors,” said Stephanie Marie Martinez, who brought her entire family. “Also teaching them that body type doesn’t dictate what you can do in your life. Be it small children or fat adults.”

Elevating the body acceptance conversation

I plan to provide new ideas and perspectives on how we see bodies and dive deeper into body image in Jackson and how we might redefine health and what healthy looks like.

I also want to be honest and up front; I am still learning to navigate body image myself. My intention isn’t to “fix” body image, self-confidence or self-esteem because we are not “broken.” My intention is to be of service to this community and News&Guide readers, to infuse our hearts and spirit with compassion, for ourselves and every body; to help us see our humanness and practice radical acceptance … of all bodies, no matter what your body size, shape, gender or age.

Our hearts are craving more — to be more than bodies.

“All bodies are good bodies, imperfect as we all are,” Pence-Brown said in an interview with People magazine. “Life is too short to go on hating yourself, so start loving yourself where you are right now.”

I stand with her and with you. Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was originally published in the October 3, 2018 edition of the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Radical Acceptance is a new column focusing on promoting healthy body image and redefining health). 

Mirror mirror on the wall, what we look like isn’t all

Your thighs are too big.

Your belly isn’t flat.

You have too many wrinkles.

Your stretch marks are ugly.

Your grey hairs make you look old.

Your cellulite is hideous.

Millions of women hear hurtful statements like those when they look in the mirror.

I was one of them. These were my statements. I bet they’ve been yours, too.

According the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, 97 percent of women dislike their bodies on an average day. Body dissatisfaction is so common it’s the norm.

That is a problem.

“The pressure to measure up to the American beauty ideal — thin, firm, smooth and young — is greater than ever before,” according to a Psychology Today article, “A Duty to Be Beautiful,” by Heather Widdows. It’s become normal to partake in the dizzying number of beauty products and procedures available to us. And as more and more of us engage in beautifying, those women who don’t may feel like their bodies are not OK as is.

Redefining beauty isn’t about choosing to participate in beautifying or not. Instead it’s about creating a cultural shift in how beauty is defined and how our self-worth as women is defined.

Over the decades, cultural beauty ideals have changed to include almost all body types, but it hasn’t been since the Renaissance that women’s natural bodies were viewed as beautiful.

Can we reclaim our natural bodies? And can we be more than our bodies?

Yes, we can. And it’s time we do.

To help us create that shift I examined research from two body image experts, Lindsay Kite, who holds a doctorate and runs BeautyRedefined.com, and Renee Engeln, body image researcher, professor at Northwestern University and author of “Beauty Sick.”

“The message that ‘all women are beautiful, flaws and all’ is really nice. But it isn’t fixing anyone’s body image issues,” Kite wrote. “That’s because women are not only suffering because of the unattainable ways beauty is being defined. We are suffering because we are being defined by beauty. We are bodies first and people second.”

Engeln said messages that tell us that our looks matter more than our actions keep us tied to the mirror. The more space our physical appearance takes up in our heads, the less time and emotional energy we have left for living the rest of our lives.

That preoccupation of trying to attain unrealistic beauty standards causes increased anxiety, worry, feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, disordered eating, relentless dieting and exercise obsessions, mental and physical health issues and overall diminished well-being, Widdows writes.

But we can change. We can unwind our culture’s beauty ideals from our self-worth. Two research-based body image strategies show us how.

First, shift your compliments to traits other than physical appearance. That may take more practice than you think.

My sister recently sent me a photo that captured the personality of my niece. She was lifting up her homecoming dress to show her Under Armour athletic boy shorts, a testament to her unique and funny character.

My natural reaction was to say how pretty she looked in her dress. Instead I said I loved her sense of humor and how feminine and strong she is.

Engeln recommends that we create a household where we don’t talk about appearance, though not because complimenting someone’s appearance is bad. Rather, the practice of complimenting someone for who they are and how they contribute to the world shifts the focus of worth off of appearance.

If you’re a mom who wants to break the body shaming cycle but is feeling behind, Engeln said it’s never too late to start. And don’t be afraid of messing up.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” Engeln said of this practice she’s been working on with her niece. “But I always try to correct it if I slip up.”

Don’t know where to begin? Here are a few ideas to get you started:TinyURL.com/changeyourcompliments.

Second, be aware of the media you consume. Does what you watch, read or view help you feel good and empowered as you are? Or are you left feeling less than or not enough?

Notice if you find yourself comparing yourself with the before-and-after images on social media or clicking on the “how to get ripped abs in five days” articles or admiring the beauty ideals portrayed on the latest Netflix series.

The Beauty Redefined blog, penned by Kite and twin sister Lexie, beautifully described the problem of comparison.

“Self-comparison divides and conquers us, tricking us into seeing each other as enemies instead of allies and bodies instead of souls. When we mentally remove ourselves from the competition for beauty and attention that pits us against each other, we can finally unite in empathy and sisterhood.”

Clear out messages of body perfection and make room for body positive affirmations. For a list of body positive social media accounts to follow check out TinyURL.com/bodypositivesocialmedia.

Even as a body image movement global ambassador, I still sometimes compare myself with unrealistic beauty ideals. But my thinking has changed. It’s not that I love my stretch marks and cellulite or think my wrinkles are beautiful. But I don’t hate them either. I just … think they’re human.

Let’s redefine beauty. And let’s be more than our bodies and beauty.

I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty.

Before I’ve called them intelligent or brave.

I am sorry I made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is the most you have to be proud of

when your spirit has crushed mountains.

From now on I will say things like, you are resilient

or, you are extraordinary.

Not because I don’t think you’re pretty.

But because you are so much more than that.

— Rupi Kaur

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

Size or shape doesn’t define your health

Your body is not a billboard for your health. Your body is your home.” — Amy Pershing, founder of Bodywise

When we look at our health and bodies from this perspective, we can make room for self-compassion, tolerance and patience. Yet American culture focuses the lens on our physical appearance, convincing us that our health is defined by our size or shape. This is a distorted idea of health.

We need to zoom out. We need to widen the lens and look deeper into an evolved definition of health. We can’t assume someone’s health status, abilities or goals based on the size or shape of her body.

“Fit bodies don’t necessarily tell the story of a healthy person, nor do (larger) bodies tell the story of a lazy person,” wrote Erin Brown, an author for Girls Gone Strong, a body-positive health-and-fitness website focused on female empowerment. “You can’t know everything about a person’s behavior or life by simply looking at her body.”

No ideal shape or size

Healthism — a preoccupation with health as a primary achievement of well-being, as first defined by political economist Robert Crawford — emphasizes personal responsibility while ignoring important social determinants of health. In a world steeped in dieting culture and healthism, it can be assumed that many people have already been trying to change their eating habits (maybe for years), and their inability to sustain such changes has resulted in feelings of shame and self-doubt.

Thus, trying to maintain or attain a body that culture portrays as healthy may take us further away from health.

The truth: We’re not all meant to be some “ideal” size or shape. If we all ate exactly the same way and had identical exercise regiments we would still look vastly different from one another.

Body diversity is part of what makes us human.

“The body is our home, our temple. Just as everyone’s literal home looks different so does everyone’s body and that is something to be celebrated and respected. If we can cultivate inner peace and a feeling of home within, then we can take that with us everywhere rather than looking to external sources to feel comfortable, welcome and at home.”
– Ariel Mann, Yoga Instructor

Widen the lens, redefine health

What does an evolved definition of health look like?

Health is mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s about nourishing your whole self, looking through a wider lens from a whole human being perspective, not just your physical body. It encourages us to honor our deepest self and empowers us to see our truth. Health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual.

And one thing that health doesn’t define: your self-worth.

Factors that affect our health include: genetics, environment, life experiences, access to health care, socioeconomic status, culture, trauma, illness, age, community, education, social support, sleep, spirituality, stress level, stigma, self-esteem, safety, self-care routine, employment and job security, physical activity, mental health, relationship with food, body and self, individual thoughts, feelings, beliefs, happiness, relationships, connection, sense of purpose … you see where I’m going here.

So how can we honor true health?

One way is to speak our authentic truth, to tell our stories and to express our experiences as a human being. We often struggle to speak openly about what we are really experiencing in our lives and what’s really affecting our health. When we focus on weight, thinking we need to change the size and shape of our body, our lens focuses on food and exercise — a very narrow view.

When we widen the lens we see all the things that impact health.

Perhaps you’ve been through a divorce. Maybe you’ve experienced an illness, injury, death in the family or a traumatic life experience. Yet somehow your body is the problem? We need to reinforce the complexity of the human experience instead of reinforcing health as the pinnacle of success and happiness.

Last month I read an article in The New York Times, “Why Your Cardiologist Should Ask Your About Your Love Life,” in which cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar describes research suggesting diet and exercise alone are not enough to roll back heart disease.

“It is increasingly clear that our hearts are sensitive to our emotional system — to the metaphorical heart, if you will. Doctors like myself are trained to think of the heart as a machine that we can manipulate with the tools of modern medicine,” Jauhar wrote. “Those manipulations, however, must be accompanied by greater attention to the emotional life that the heart, for so many years, was believed to contain.”

But what are we told by experts to do when our health is poor? Exercise more. Eat better.

While certainly these can be healthy strategies, we need to look at our health from a whole human being perspective. It’s time for a paradigm shift for health. Let’s widen the focus of the lens and see ourselves as more than our physical bodies.

You can decide what health means to you. Redefine health. Your size and shape doesn’t define your health.

(This article was published in the October 31, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).