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Here’s one Thanksgiving ‘tradition’ you can drop

Every body deserves 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 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.

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 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.

Weight does not equal health

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

The lie 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.”

This false and simplistic definition of “wellness” can lead to lifelong weight worry and make it difficult to feel good in our bodies. It’s a chronic stressor.

Food psychologist Paul Rozin concurs. 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.”

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, certainly nutrition has a role in your health and in preventing chronic disease, but your health is impacted by far more factors than what you eat and how you move. 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. Other health-related behaviors account for only another 20 percent.” If you do the math, we have some individual or societal control over only 30% of our health.

The complexity of ‘health’

Other important factors are 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 positive, satisfying relationships of any kind. 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.”

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

Remove weight hate from your holiday plate.

(Originally published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, November 25, 2020).

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).

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,” local yogi Ariel Mann said. “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.”

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.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

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

Dear diet — it’s not me, it’s you, so goodbye

Dear Diet Culture,

Things just aren’t working out between us.

You make me feel ashamed when I’ve eaten a “bad” food. You make me feel dirty if I haven’t eaten “clean.” You’ve taken away my personal autonomy to choose what to eat and enjoy eating.

I will no longer allow you to judge my self-worth by my food choices or my body size or shape. You’ve kept me from having the relationship that I truly I desire — peace with food and my body.

While I used to feel guilty for cheating on you, I’ve learned that there’s no cheating when it comes to food. I did not marry kale and go behind its back to rendezvous with chocolate chip cookies.

My self-trust and ability to sense true biological hunger and fullness has eroded. Your restriction and deprivation intensify my cravings and make me feel like I am overeating or a failure when I inevitably desire half-in-half in my morning coffee.

You’ve made me a slave to the scale and its number, deciding for me whether I am going to have a good or bad day. You’ve made me feel dissatisfied with my body unless it fits culture’s “ideal.” And I am angry with you for judging me by my body size and shape assuming that I don’t take care of myself.

I will no longer socially isolate myself in order to control my food more easily. You’ve made me preoccupied with food, especially those dang carbohydrates. I’m breaking up with you because I don’t believe that bread is inherently bad. Especially if it’s a slice of crispy, warm Persephone Bakery bread.

You’ve promised me a better life with a new and improved body, but I know that this awesome life is happening now, not if or when.

I know that you will try to seduce me into staying in this relationship by enticing me with the latest, greatest eating plan in the New Year. I know there’s a better way for me to take care of my health and make peace with food and my body.

You’re just not right for me. I am so over you.

Yet I’ll be honest. I am afraid to break up with you.

I am fearful that without you I won’t know how to control my food and my body. If diets worked, the one I started with you last January would have done the trick and I wouldn’t be thinking about the next one.

And you don’t fool me. I know that “diets” are out. In order to stay hip and relevant and market to the next wave of dieters, you, the $70-billion diet industry, have ditched the word diet and hijacked the words “wellness,” “health” and “clean eating” to focus my attention away from the negative press that diets don’t work. But the strategies remain the same — restrictive eating with short-lived results. You seduce me with quick fixes, 30-day plans, 10-day detoxes, promising it will be different this time, because it’s not a diet.

You’ve lured me into pseudo-dieting, unconscious dieting. I might not be on a eating plan but I’m still stuck in dieting mentality. I limit my carbohydrate grams. I am obsessed with eating only foods that are healthy, also known as orthorexia. I have rules about when I should eat. I pay penance for eating “bad” foods by doing extra exercise. I sometimes put on a “false food face” in public by skipping the dessert at dinner to then go home and eat my sweets in privacy, feeling guilty when I eat nutritionally deficient foods.

No matter what you call it, a diet is still a diet if you “eat sparingly or according to prescribed rules,” at least according to Merriam-Webster. The language may have changed but the diet remains.

Diet Culture, you’re the problem. It’s not me. Nor is my body the problem.

In 2019 I’m starting a new relationship. I will nourish not only my physical health, but also the health of my mind and spirit. Because what’s health if it doesn’t take into consideration stress levels and my mental health?

And nope, Diet Culture, you will no longer dictate my ideal body shape.

My ideal body shape is whatever shape my body is when I am nourishing it without restriction and participating in movement without obligation.

Diet Culture, we’re breaking up. It’s not me. It’s you.

No longer yours,

Radical Acceptance

(This article was published in the December 27, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

We can stop apologizing for our bodies now

Repeat after me: “The body is not an apology.”

This mantra, coined by world-renowned activist, poet and author Sonya Renee Taylor, challenges us to shift away from shame for living in a perfectly imperfect human body.

Instead of viewing our bodies as problems that need to be fixed, we can heal from generations of body shame created by cultural messaging based on assumptions about health and perfectionist body ideals.

We can dismantle body shame by understanding its origins and the myths that cultivate it, by learning to separate wellness from weight and celebrating body diversity as part of the human experience.

‘Crappy inheritance’

First, we need to remember that we weren’t born feeling ashamed of our bodies. We learned it.

A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found 50% of girls internalized the thin ideal by the age of 5. In my practice clients can easily pinpoint when they began to feel shame for the bodies, and, yes, it’s predominantly during childhood.

Body shame is a “fantastically crappy inheritance,” Taylor said. We continue to pass it down generation after generation, but we aren’t obligated to keep it.

We’ve been programmed to believe a culturally created idea that we should attain this “perfect” body type, at any cost, if we want to be viewed as healthy and attractive. It puts us at war with ourselves, according to “Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave Out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand About Weight,” by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.

“Our culture perpetuates the anti-fat myths that keep people depressed and at war with their own bodies: a war where little battles might be won in the short term with a diet, but then lost overall because those who turn to dieting can rarely maintain long term the look that is accepted as norm — one that is not necessarily the best weight for them and they feel worse about themselves for their failure,” the book states.

When we understand that health comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, we can dismantle the myth that thin equals healthy. Health improvements, such as changing diet and exercise habits, are beneficial independent of weight loss.

In addition, weight and BMI — body mass index — are poor predictors of disease and longevity.

Millions of people became “overweight” overnight when in 1997 a panel of nine medical experts chosen by the National Institutes of Health voted to lower the BMI cutoff from 27 to 25 in order to stay in line with the World Health Organization Criteria. They argued that a “round” number like 25 would be easy to remember, according to Harriet Brown, author of “Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight and What We Can Do About It.”

Furthermore, the bulk of epidemiological evidence suggests that five pounds “underweight” is more dangerous than 75 pounds “overweight,” according to the Health at Every Size Fact Sheet.

We need to remember the reason we see so much weight-loss messaging: It’s big business. BusinessWire reports it an industry worth a stunning $72 billion in 2019.

Changing your future, today

I challenge our community to see weight and health differently, whether for our own mental, physical health and emotional health, or for our children or patients.

Instead of basing your health “success” on the number on the scale, create exercise goals based on improved strength, balance, agility and cardiovascular gains. Skip the restrictive 30-day eating plan and practice improving your nutrition without strict “no’s,” as there’s a place for all foods on your plate. And, of course, wellness is not just physical health. How are you caring for your mental and emotional health?

Finally, we need to see and accept body diversity and body changes as part of the human experience. Imagine a world without body judgment, a world in which we no longer had to apologize for our bodies. How would you live differently?

Here’s what Jacksonites had to say:

• “I would enjoy my glass of wine and chocolate guilt-free and not stress over trying to get back my six-pack abs.”

• “I would have breastfed in public instead of hiding myself in my house for days on end, going crazy with boredom.”

• “I would wear a bikini and try a sport I’ve always wanted to try: surfing.”

• “I wouldn’t hate my body and think of normalcies such as stretch marks and cellulite as hideous and disgusting.”

• “That little number on the inside of my clothes wouldn’t be a trigger for disordered eating.”

• “Doctors wouldn’t be worried about my body not returning to ‘normal’ after pregnancy.”

• “My growing sixth grader wouldn’t look in the mirror and say she’s fat and needs to lose weight.”

• “When I get dressed, I would no longer feel like I had to strategically hide body parts.”

• “There would be attractive outdoor clothes that fit me, whatever my size.”

• “My daughter would look at my ‘mom belly’ with its loose skin and stretch marks with wonder and respect for its ability to create a baby.”

• “I would stop obsessing over the 5 to 10 pounds that I am constantly gaining and losing and realize that it’s where my body naturally wants to be, just part of living my life, enjoying a scoop of ice cream with my kids, going for brunch with my girlfriends.”

• “I would finally feel relaxed, at peace, accepted and attractive, just as I am. I would feel liberated.”

There is no wrong way to have a body. Repeat after me: “The body is not an apology.”

Wellness has become another word for diet

“No one is going to stand up at your funeral and say, ‘She had a small waist and a great thigh gap.’”

—Ailey Jolie, registered clinical counselor

As a woman, former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, that could have been how I was remembered. My identity was health and wellness. And my professional success, for the most part, used to be measured in pounds and inches lost.

After years of working in the fitness and nutrition fields, I saw the harm the “wellness industry” was perpetuating and my part in it. I felt dishonest teaching that you could have the “healthy” body you desired if you just ate well and exercised more. We are not here on planet earth to spend a heartbreaking amount of time, resources and energy trying to mold our bodies.

That wasn’t the legacy that I wanted to leave behind for future generations.

Trending toward moralistic

“At its core, ‘wellness’ is about weight loss,” author Jessica Knoll wrote in “Smash the Wellness Industry,” an opinion piece printed in the June 8 New York Times. “It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.”

Even smart, successful women have fallen prey to weight loss disguised as wellness, Knoll noted. She described a recent lunch with her friends during which they struggled to order off the menu: One was eliminating dairy to lose weight, another was trying to be “good.” And they were all picking apart their perceived flaws: excess body fat, cellulite, post-baby weight. She wondered what the men at the next table were talking about.

I doubt it was weight loss.

Health has become fear-based and moralistic — good, bad, clean, dirty. We believe we must worry about every morsel as if we’re just one bite away from disease. And for many, exercise is a “should,” though at times rest may be the best form of self-care.

How do you determine if a behavior is truly healthful? Simply put, if self-care is creating stress, it’s not self-care. Chronic stress is worse for our health than anything we eat or any workout we skip.

Different word, same diet

Your body at its healthiest and fittest may not look the way you hoped or were led to believe it would. As Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit promoting body image resilience, wrote in a recent Instagram post: “We must learn to separate cultural outward body ideals like thinness from our health and fitness pursuits.”

Although the language we hear every day has shifted away from weight loss to healthy behaviors, the underlying goal of the diet industry disguised as wellness remains: Pounds lost equals success.

Take Weight Watchers, for example, which in September 2018 rebranded to WW with an attempt to redefine the acronym as “Wellness Wins,” a move to “reimagine” the program. But examine the company’s messaging on its Instagram:

“What sweet treats do you save your SmartPoints for?”

“Raise your hand if your scale is always wrong on Mondays”? Laughing emoji.

“Seeking: SmartPoints refund for food that didn’t taste as good as it looked.”

“Me: How you feel is as important as how much you weigh. Also me: Removes dangly earrings before stepping on the scale.” Laughing emoji.

What struck me most was how frequently the laughing emoji is used, a move that seemingly makes light of our perceived food and body failures and preoccupation with the scale and food.

How we feel about our bodies is no joke. I have a well-used tissue box in my office to prove it.

We don’t need more of the same, no matter what it is named. We need honest messaging that frees us from a war with ourselves, that frees us from believing that we even need to start our week out by stepping on a scale.

Your values, your life

Getting clear on your personal values is the start of creating space for a meaningful and impactful life. I love to use value cards, which present 80-plus values sorted into three piles: very important, important and not important.

Once you’ve determined your top five values, go live them. Let these values guide your daily decisions. Let them take up space in your mind that you once dedicated to dieting and weight loss.

To further put things into perspective, I’d like you to answer three profound questions asked by author Martha Beck:

“How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took a seat on that bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan living under Taliban rule?

“You don’t know? That’s the right answer. Because it doesn’t matter.”

Right on, Martha.

That is the legacy I want to leave behind.

If you, too, find yourself stuck in the toxic messages of the “wellness” industry and it’s distracting you from living fully into your personal values, take heed of this powerful message from News & Guide Deputy Editor Melissa Cassutt:

“I read obituaries for a living, and weight has been mentioned in exactly zero. I never even see beautiful or handsome used. What families and friends often remember is how a person made them feel.”

Don’t allow the diet industry disguised as wellness define your health. Know your values, focus on them, and take care of your whole self. You will be remembered for how you made others feel, not for the size of your waist or thighs.

And that is truly the most beautiful thing about you.

(This article was published in the August 21, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Weight Shame Hurts Every Body

This is a shout-out to all the women and girls working on liking their bodies. This s— is hard.

Why? Because today’s perfectionist, fat-phobic (weight stigmatizing) body culture feeds our dissatisfaction.

It fuels poor body image by spreading the conventional “wisdom” that healthy equals thin and fat is bad.

“Diet culture leads most women to see themselves as ‘too big’ and makes it difficult for people in larger bodies to feel they don’t need to shrink themselves,” says Christy Harrison author of “Anti-Diet.”

It’s become normal for women and girls to obsessively count carbohydrate grams and to anxiously pursue 10,000 steps on their Fitbits, all to manipulate what we believe are our bad bodies.

And we’re doing this to become … healthier?

We believe we must avoid weight gain or lose weight — at any and all costs — if we want to be happy, loved and have a body that’s accepted by diet culture.

“I truly believe that for the vast majority of the population, managing or losing weight is not about health but about a fear of not being accepted by others,” says body acceptance coach Kristina Bruce.

“A much bigger health concern we have on hand here is the staggering number of people who feel shame about their bodies. The only time I don’t like how my body looks is when I fear what other people will think of it. This tells me once again — my body is not the problem.”

Agreed. Your body isn’t the problem.

The problem is we view our bodies through the lens of a $72 billion diet culture that stigmatizes weight.

Harrison explains that weight stigma “frames larger bodies as a problem and tells people that they need to shrink themselves in order to be okay, which is the very definition of weight stigma.”

Virgie Tovar, an activist, author and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image, explains how weight bias affects us all through what she describes as three levels of weight stigma: intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional.

Intrapersonal is how much you internalize the negative stereotypes about weight.

“The fact that we pretty much all have some level of intrapersonal weight stigma in our society is one of the hallmarks of living in diet culture,” Tovar says.

Second, interpersonal weight stigma is how you are treated based solely on weight or size — such as body shaming or bullying.

Lastly, institutional fat phobia describes how larger bodies are marginalized in society. For example, if you go to buy a ski jacket and the only color in your size is black or you have to buy a men’s jacket.

Weight stigma makes it difficult to like your body unless you are “lucky” enough to be one of the 5% of women who naturally possess the “ideal” body type. And even many of those women live in fear of weight gain.

Furthermore, evidence-based research shows that not only is weight stigma harmful to our body image, but feeling bad about our bodies is affecting our health, regardless of body size.

“I Think Therefore I Am: Perceived Ideal Weight as a Determinant of Health,” a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that the larger the difference between people’s current weight and their perceived “ideal” weight, the more mental and physical health problems they’d had in the past month, regardless of their body mass index. The study included 170,000 people of a variety of races, education levels and ages.

One major reason weight stigma is so harmful is that it’s so darn stressful for everybody, but especially for those living in larger bodies.

“Stress hormones … can have damaging effects on both physical and mental if they are secreted over a longer period of time called allostatic load,” writes David Levitin in his article “The Neuroscience Behind Why We Feel Stressed — and What to Do About It.”

That leads to a dysregulation in critical body systems — including the immune, digestive, cognitive, reproductive systems — and creates cardiac and mental health problems.

A 2018 study found that “perceived weight discrimination doubles the 10-year risk of high allostatic load. Eliminating weight stigma may reduce physiological dysregulation, improving obesity-related morbidity and mortality.”

Research by Harrison — the “Anti-Diet” author — comes to the same conclusion: “Weight stigma has been linked to an increased risk of mental-health conditions such as disordered eating, emotional distress, negative body image, low self-esteem and depression.”

If you’ve felt “so much better” after weight loss — especially after living in a larger body — could it be the result of no longer experiencing weight stigma and not necessarily the weight loss itself? It’s a question Bruce has asked.

So, ladies, here’s my shout-out to help you like your body: Don’t buy into diet culture’s weight stigmatizing. I’ll stand with you.

I’d also like to leave you with words of wisdom from poet Hollie Holden:

Today I asked my body what she needed,

Which is a big deal

Considering my journey of

Not Really Asking That Much.

I thought she might need more water.

Or protein.

Or greens.

Or yoga.

Or supplements.

Or movement.

But as I stood in the shower

Reflecting on her stretch marks,

Her roundness where I would like flatness,

Her softness where I would like firmness,

All those conditioned wishes

That form a bundle of

Never-Quite-Right-Ness,

She whispered very gently:

Could you just love me like this?

(This article was published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, February 5, 2020 edition).

Reduce the Impact of Stress with Micro-resilience

What’s micro-resilience and how can it help you minimize the impacts of daily stress?

Let’s think of micro-resilience this way: What’s the normal way you live your life?

  • Do you power through your emotions, fatigue and stress?
  • Do you end up collapsing at the end of the day?
  • Do you believe in pushing yourself to prove yourself and validate your self-worth?

The pushing through and feeling completely “spent” can lead to us feeling like it’s too big a hole to climb out of. We feel completely deflated and don’t know how to come back. Thus, we remain stuck in this vicious cycle.

Inevitably, our bodies start screaming for quick ways to feel better thus we reach for the glass of wine or comfort food despite not being truly hungry or thirsty. This is a very normal and natural response from the body. It wants to find the quickest way to feel better but these quick fixes don’t help our resilience, they’re just mental bandaids.

But what if we never reached this point and, instead, built in ways to micro-recover throughout our everyday lives?

All of this pushing through is super stressful to the body. It takes a long time for our bodies to bounce back from this prolonged, chronic, low-level stress. If we practice self-care, we may be focusing only on the bigger things (like weeklong tropical vacations, sleeping late on Saturdays, etc.) to recover and bounce back or give back to our minds and bodies.

Micro-resilience is about recharging your batteries while living your daily life.

It’s about weaving small recoveries into your daily routine. Instead of pushing through and needing to take serious downtime to recover, I’m encouraging you to incorporate small moments of relaxation in your daily life so you’re not so depleted by the end of your day and week.

7 Micro-resilience tips to break the chronic stress cycle:

  • Taking a 5-10 minute walk outside during your afternoon break to clear your head (and leave your phone behind)
  • Closing your office door to meditate for 5 minutes
  • Diffusing calming essential oils like lavender at your home or office
  • Eating lunch without distraction. Yes, do nothing but eat. Instead of answering emails while eating, use the time to relax and clear your mind. Did you know that “multi-tasking can effectively lower your IQ and make things take up to four times as long to accomplish?” (Source)
  • Standing in Amy Cuddy’s power pose. Harvard found that “…whether you are sitting or standing – opening up your arms, spreading your feet apart, and extending your posture, reduces cortisol (the fear hormone) and increases testosterone (giving more confidence to take risks). Once your body chemistry shifts from fearfulness to confidence, you can be more resilient about how you respond to what is happening around you.” (Source)
  • Create an emotional first-aid kit that you can tap into when you need a boost. Collect items – mementos, pictures, or pieces of music – that can trigger positive feelings and help you conquer negativity. Personally, I have notes of appreciation from clients posted and a picture of my dog that says “Make Time For Play” in my office. Taking a moment to “soak them in” can give me the boost I need to change my mindset. (Source)
  • Stop skipping meals or pushing past your typical meal times. To be and feel our best, our bodies thrive when they receive steady nourishment (energy) throughout our day.

The options are endless and very personal to each individual. The book The Sweet Spot by Christine Carter Ph.D. has lots of great ideas and information about building micro-resilience. Once you find a few easy recovery methods that work for you, you’ll notice what a difference it makes in your day.

Want to learn more? Check out Dr. Jim’s scientific research with elite tennis players and how micro-resilience habits during a long tennis match were able to bring their heart rates down to an ideal more quickly and perform overall better. We can apply this same habit to our everyday lives.

Let’s recharge our batteries along the way so we can be and feel our best, all day, every day.

  • Tanya

What’s Healthier Than Kale?

Kale’s all the rage. Everyone’s talking about it because it’s healthy. But do you want to know what’s even healthier than kale?

Having a good relationship with food!

I used to think that because I loved eating healthy food I had a healthy relationship with food. Over time, though, and with further education, I had the courage to dig deeper and finally learned that my relationship with food actually wasn’t healthy at all. It was a relationship filled with stress and worry – about my health, and about my ever-changing body.

Sometimes, we have the best intentions for our health and the plan still backfires because we don’t have a healthy relationship with food. We can get stuck in the cycle of “being good” and then go back to our usual habits, and then starting all over again with a new plan. Again, again and again.

The Diet Mind

For example, let’s say you make the decision to give up processed sugar. On day one, you feel empowered. Day two still feels pretty good, by day three you’re pretty proud of yourself… but as the days go on you’re starting to feel restricted, like you’re on a diet (or an eating plan), like you have to be regimented and restrictive.

This is the diet mind the vast majority of us have developed over the years.

Over 20 million women and 10 million men have been diagnosed with clinical eating disorders according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Yet if these statistics included subclinical challenges with eating called “disordered eating” which falls between eating disorders and normal eating, the numbers would be shocking says Hilary Kinavey, therapist and founder of BeNourished.

I fell into this category of “disordered eating” when I was obsessed with eating all things healthy.

Even when we consciously try to make change just for health’s sake, our preprogrammed mindset begins to take over and follow old patterns.

When we are engaged with the dieting or restrictive mind, we are nervous, anxious, thinking about weight (even if it’s supposed to be about health) and preoccupied with food. Thoughts become black and white. Flexibility and pleasure are replaced with agendas and plans. We tighten up and we lose our grounded footing. Self-hatred dominates.

  • Be Nourished

So, how do we conquer this mentality?

With awareness and by taking baby steps.

The first step that you can take today is taking the time to pause and reflect on your unique relationship with food. I encourage you to try this journal exercise:

Sit somewhere quiet, without distractions. Grab a pen and paper and let your mind flow. Don’t try and come up with the “right” answers, just let your hand write what it wants to. Speak from your heart.

Journal: Make Peace with Food

  • How would you describe your current relationship with food?
  • If your relationship isn’t where you’d like it to be, what would an ideal relationship with food be and feel like for you?

As a Mind Body Nutritionist, my favorite strategy for helping clients have a healthier relationship with food is by taking them through the re-learning process of becoming an Intuitive Eater again.

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based, dynamic integration approach which connects the mind and the body. The 10 Intuitive Eating principles work by either cultivating or removing obstacles to body awareness. It’s a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.

It’s a liberating process. It brings you back into your body and taps into your own innate wisdom.

Intuitive Eating is not a diet or food plan. Period. There is no pass or fail, therefore, there is no “blowing it,” rather it’s a journey of self-discovery and connection to the needs of your mind and body. Ultimately, you are the expert of your body. Only you know what hunger, fullness, and satisfaction feels like. Only you know your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Intuitive Eating is an empowerment tool – it’s time to unleash it and liberate yourself from the prison of the “diet” mindset and dissatisfaction with our human bodies.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

♡ Want to become an Intuitive Eater? Check out my private and group coaching options! I’d love to support you on this life-changing eating and self-care journey!