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The 4 Body Truths You (and Every Girl) Should Know

The things I love most about my friends have nothing to do with what they look like.

Let that truth sink in.

I know deep in your heart, dear reader, you feel this way too.

But despite that heartfelt truth, weight and appearance take a front seat in most of our lives, driving or crushing our self-confidence.

Women and girls are literally not participating in their own lives, opting out of important life events because they don’t believe they look good enough.

As a body image coach and ambassador for The Body Image Movement, I’ve observed in media, especially social media, that there’s this misconception that the goal of heathy body image is for us to eventually love the appearance of our bodies, “flaws” and all.

But “body image work has very little to do with our outside appearance because the reality is, even if we come to love the appearance and shape of our bodies now, they are ever-changing” says clinical psychologist Dr. Colleen Reichmann.

Fostering a healthy body image involves talking openly about the realities of living in a human body. By teaching our young girls to normalize “normal” bodies by embracing diverse and changing bodies and acknowledging the complexities of human health, we can push appearance where it belongs, to the back seat and get back to living fully.

I encourage you to share these four body truths, ones I wish I’d learned as a young girl, with your girls.

The 4 Body Truths You (and Every Girl) Should Know

“Precious girl, your body is supposed to look different.”

Tell her she was born with a unique body. Encourage her to embrace the differences in her own body and respect all bodies. Diversity is part of the human experience.

Her body is not flawed or imperfect. There’s no one “right” way to have a body.

And be upfront with her. Share that our culture will try to convince her otherwise, but she can resist.

“Precious girl, your body will change.”

Explain to her that her body will go through life transitions: puberty, maybe pregnancy, perimenopause, menopause.

Tell her what to expect from her body, such as the average child gains 40 pounds during puberty, and that it’s good and normal. And that bodies change for all kinds of reasons: injury, illness and just living. Teach her that our culture demonizes aging, but she can celebrate it.

And that “no matter what, if we are privileged enough to age, we will all wind up in bodies that society has deemed as ‘not the beauty standard’ anyway,” says Reichmann.

At the end of her one precious life, no one is going to stand up at her funeral and remember her for her waist size. The most attractive thing about her should have more to do with her heart and how she treats people.

“Precious girl, your body is not a machine, it’s a miracle.”

Tell her that her body has innate wisdom, sending her messages to meet its needs for self-care, and for her to listen.

Help her separate her weight from her wellness.

Warn her of diet culture’s false and simplistic definition of health and to resist comparing herself to social media influencers’ before and after images and “eat like me, move like me, look like me” messaging.

Remind her that even if everybody ate the exact same foods in the same amounts and exercised the same, we’d all look vastly different from one another — again, honoring body diversity.

Tell her the importance of having a healthy relationship with food. Tell her exercise is a celebration of what her body can do, not a punishment for what she ate. Talk openly with her about the dangers of dieting and “clean” eating. Labeling food as “clean” or “dirty” is just dieting by another name. In a large study of 14- and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder compared with those who didn’t diet according to National Eating Disorders Association. And maybe you didn’t even know this, but discuss with her that eating and exercise disorders come in all body sizes, again, according to NEDA. Yes, read that again.

Explain that she’ll be bombarded by advertising messages trying to profit off body insecurities that the billion-dollar weight loss industry created. It’s about profits, not health.

And share that human health should be embraced with compassion as complex and multifaceted.

“Precious girl, fall in love with your life.”

Ultimately, teach her that the goal of healthy body image isn’t to love our “flaws” but to be able to live out our values in such a way that appearance takes more of a back seat.

“The real goal is to create a life that feels bigger than appearance. It’s to be able to live out your values in such a way that you are in your life, versus staring at it on the periphery,” says Reichmann. “This likely means having some days where, yeah — you don’t love the outside of your body as much as other days. But the goal is for you to continue living out your values with very little impediment on those days as well.”

And finally, take some time to share with your daughter the things that you most love about her and her friends that have nothing to with appearance.

We have more to offer this world that has zero to do with our bodies. Empower your daughter to be more than a body.

“You have more to do than be weighed down by pretty or beautiful. You are a fiery heart and a wicked brain. Do not let your soul be defined by its shell.” — Unknown

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Ready to transform your relationship to food and your body? Get started!

(This article was originally published in the October 27 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide Weekly.)

Let’s not cave in to the pressures of diet industry

Thin is “ideal,” and more body fat and weight gain are always “bad.”

Everybody agrees those statements are true. But are they?

Author and registered dietitian Christy Harrison dispels those myths in her book “Anti-Diet” and shares extensive research on the roots of diet culture to show us how we got to today — biased against fat. Spoiler-alert: It was not about health.

For much of human history, higher weights were associated with robust health and beauty, and thinness was equated with poverty, illness and death.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that fatness was observed as a trait often seen in “savage” people, making higher weight a negative attribute. Women were also believed to be at greater “risk” of fatness, a sign of evolutionary “inferiority.” Thus, anti-fatness beliefs were born that had nothing to do with health.

Regardless, the Victorian era brought a preference for hour-glass-shaped women, a visible sign that their husbands had the money to keep them well fed and away from work. Actress Lillian Russell, whose body mass index would have placed in her the “obese” category, was admired for this shape.

But that changed in 1890, when the preference for thin women emerged with the creation of the Gibson Girl, a pen-and-ink drawing, not even a real woman. She was young, white, wealthy, hourglass shaped, impossibly thin and a bit athletic to show that women can do things like tennis and croquet.

Marketers targeted women hoping to achieve that “ideal” look, offering weight-loss products, compression garments, diet pills containing arsenic, industrial toxins, thyroid extract and even tapeworms, according to Amy Ferrell, author of “Fat Shame.”

In the 1920s, ideals for women’s bodies trimmed further with Coco Chanel’s straight and slim flapper dresses. Women had to bind their breasts and restrict their food intake to fit into the dresses. This ushered in products like scales, laxatives and “reducing soaps” that claimed to wash away fat.

Next came the women’s suffrage movement, with opponents portraying suffragists as fat and “uncivilized” to dissuade women from joining. Early feminists played into anti-fatness by fighting back against this messaging by portraying women’s right’s activists as “civilized” and “evolved,” with images of thin, white women. Thus, slimness was related to civility and beauty.

All that changed in the early 1900s. From a strong cultural bias against fat came an insistence on weight loss advice. Some doctors were irritated with these requests, seeing them as problems of vanity, not health. But they found the overwhelming public demand difficult to refuse, and scales became common in doctors’ offices.

Doctors were further influenced by life and health insurance companies, which at the beginning of the 20th century began using the BMI, the height- to-weight ratio, to categorize people as “normal weight,” “overweight” and “underweight” to determine premiums.

While some preliminary data found “overweight” to be less healthy, a 2013 research study in the Journal of American Medical Association found “overweight” as the BMI group with the lowest mortality. Despite this flaw (and many others, including that BMI was never intended as a medical instrument), the BMI is still used to assess health.

Next came World War I and food shortages. Self-discipline with food was expected, and fatness was seen as a moral failure. This set the market for weight loss products ablaze: †he 1920s encouraged smoking and fasting for weight loss. The 1930s introduced diets and pills, gyms and weird gadgets like vibrating belts. The 1940s brought amphetamines for weight loss, while calisthenics and bariatric surgery emerged in the 1950s.

The 1960s brought more diet pills (despite doctors warning against them back in 1943), Overeaters Anonymous, Weight Watchers and Twiggy, the 16-year-old British model who set another impossible standard for the “ideal” woman. From 1970 through the 1990s the market for dieting grew rapidly and now included men, people of color and the elderly.

By June 1992 the narrative shifted when a National Institutes of Health panel of weight-science experts concluded that diets don’t work and that most people who’ve intentionally lost weight regain most or all of it within five years. And a 1995 Washington Post article titled “Losing the Weight Battle” reported that “a decade of dieting mania has actually made people fatter.”

Yet the diet industry flourished. In the mid-1990s the number of dieters skyrocketed, with 44% of women reporting they were trying to lose weight, though 37% of those women were in the “normal” range of BMI.

Then in 1998, approximately 29 million Americans became “overweight” overnight without gaining a single pound. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to lower the cutoff for “normal” weight BMI from 27.8 to 25 to follow World Health Organization guidelines. The WHO report was primarily written by the International Obesity Task Force, which was funded largely by two pharmaceutical companies that make weight-loss drugs, according to “Fat Politics” author J. Eric Oliver. Many “obesity” experts had ties to drug and weight loss companies, including the chair of the NIH panel, Xavier Pi-Sunyer, reports Oliver.

Weight loss became massively profitable and still is. The U.S. weight loss industry reached a record $78 billion in 2019, according to BusinessWire.com.

So you might be thinking, “All this history is enlightening Tanya, but why does it matter?”

Because despite what we’ve learned we’re still stuck in our “thinner is better” beliefs. Because our daughters are searching “healthy eating” on TikTok and following how-to guides to disordered eating to fit the “ideal” body size.

Because you can shop at TJ Maxx today and still buy ridiculous vibrating belts promising to “melt away your fat.” Because we still seek diets like Noom, a “mobile weight-loss company” with revenues over $400 million dollars in 2020. Because we still equate our self-worth, health and beauty to our body size. Sigh. And because we can learn from history and change.

Insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting different results, Albert Einstein said. It’s time to stop this madness and radically shift from weight to a whole person-centered approach to health and well-being. Be a rebel.

To your happiness and health,

-Tanya

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).

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

Check yourself: Fat isn’t a four-letter word

Though we believe fat is bad, it’s not our fault.

“Fat” has been promoted as a dirty word in American culture since World War II, when the diet and fitness industries promoted mass obsession with weight and body shape.

“In the United States, fat is seen as repulsive, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all as something to lose,” wrote Jana Evans Braziel in her book “Bodies Out of Bounds.”

Our culture has indoctrinated us to fear fat if we want to be good, happy and healthy. As a result, those assumptions are accepted as truths.

All weight gain is bad; all weight loss is good.

All thin people are happy; all fat people are unhappy.

All thin people are healthy; all fat people are unhealthy.

As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutritionist, I, too, believed those misguided statements as truth. It’s the constant narrative that we hear, see and feel every day.

I am asking you to challenge those assumptions. Critically analyze those statements instead of eating up everything we’ve been fed over the generations about bodies and fat. Let’s elevate the way we speak about body fat in our own bodies and other bodies. It matters.

Question fat phobia

First, let’s recognize that we are all affected by weight stigma, regardless of our shape, size, age, gender and more. We may live in fear of getting fat, or we may struggle daily trying to (or believing we need to) rid ourselves of it. It may affect us personally or affect someone we love.

We’re paying dearly for this fear of fat in our country and our community. Consider the following stories from Jackson Hole.

A 55 year-old woman avoids going to her favorite yoga class because she’s embarrassed by her reflection in the mirror. Yoga feeds her spirit, but she can’t bear the pain of seeing her own image.

A divorced man in his 40s spends hours working out at the gym, agonizing over his changing body and trying to reclaim the body he had in his 30s. He feels the pressure to have a ripped, masculine “Jackson” body.

A teenage girl feels ashamed at the doctor’s office after being weighed and told to lose weight. It was assumed that she didn’t workout and eat healthy, when, in fact, she did.

A mom feels embarrassed by her post-baby body. She won’t take her kids to the rec center because she’d have to wear a swimsuit.

A woman in her 30s struggles with an eating disorder and is complimented for her thin body. The compliments reinforce her belief that thin is ideal and healthy and that fat is “bad.”

You get the picture. We dread trying on clothes. We isolate ourselves by declining invitations to places where we can’t control the food. We buy the Skinny Buddha tea, hopeful. We casually bash our jiggly arms in daily conversations with our friends. We bake cookies for our kids, but we won’t have any, or at best, “just one.”

These are our stories, our experiences living in a body in Jackson and in our country. It’s time for us to make an investment in changing how we speak about our own and other bodies so we can tell new stories, because it’s costing us.

Fearing fat comes at a cost

Fat phobia is keeping us from living our lives fully.

Our culture’s fear and hatred of fat holds us hostage, trapping us with hyperfocused food rules and obsessive exercise routines to maintain our bodies. It restricts us, keeps us stuck in a waiting zone to get on with our lives, if or when we change our bodies.

As you read these stories I imagine you felt the loss of precious physical, mental and emotional energy, your own or someone you love’s, deep in your heart.

We will remain stuck in this fat-fear cycle year after year unless we make a radical shift and change how we as a society speak about fat and our bodies.

Let’s begin by banning fat talk. I think we can agree that making negative comments about our own bodies and others’ bodies benefits no one. It keeps us stuck believing there’s a “right way” to have a body. It keeps us from the reality that body diversity is part of the human experience. It keeps us believing the statements that culture has fed us about body size as truths.

When you criticize your own body or judge another body ask yourself, “Who’s benefiting from my insecurities?” The quick answer: the $70 billion diet industry.

On the flip side we must also recognize that comments we believed are positive, such as complimenting someone for weight loss, aren’t always a compliment. They can, in fact, be harmful.

Before you make any comment, check yourself. Pause. Reflect. See your own humanness and see the humans living inside these bodies, not just the bodies.

The assumptions that society has led us to believe are not blanket truths. Question them because the belief that fat is a four-letter word, “repulsive, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all as something to lose,” is keeping us from living fully in this one beautiful life.

“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy,” Anne Lamott wrote. “It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

Let’s not end up here. Live fully today.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was published in the November 28, 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).

Say ‘No Weigh” to the Scale

“You can live the rest of your life without knowing how much you weigh.”

Does that sound radical and maybe even unfathomable?

The statement comes from registered dietitian Christina Frangione, who suggests we all can say “no weigh” to measuring your health with diet culture’s ruler: the scale.

While we may believe health is manipulating our bodies to an “ideal” weight and maintain that weight throughout our lifetimes, that belief is false. In fact, it’s making many of us less healthy.

Created by the $72 billion dollar diet industry, healthy-as-thin has infiltrated the nutrition and fitness industries, duping far too many of us into a lifetime filled with food preoccupation, exercise obsession and body dissatisfaction.

Does that sound healthy?

‘Ideal’ weight is a fallacy

As a culture we are obsessed with the number on the scale and the belief that we have an “ideal” weight.

You know, that number — the number you weighed when you were 22, pre-baby, on the ski racing team, when you were restricting gluten, dairy, sugar on your 21-day detox, after your fitness contest. Or maybe that number is simply one you’ve been told you should attain but have never weighed.

We get that one number stuck in our heads and believe we can’t like our bodies or be happy and healthy until the scale sings it. Whatever pops up on the scale sparks joy or utter despair, all in a matter of seconds.

Again, that’s not healthy.

As a body image and redefining wellness ambassador, I must remind you that weight doesn’t necessarily indicate your best health because bodies are born different sizes and shapes.

Some bodies are naturally small, and others are naturally big. Small bodies may be healthy or unhealthy. Big bodies may be healthy or unhealthy. Every body is different.

It’s understandable that we focus on scale weight, as that’s all we’ve ever been taught: Lose weight, get healthier.

But that’s not the case for every body. For some, attaining and maintaining a thin body comes with relative ease. If you’re thin or have lost weight and kept it off by honoring your body’s needs, that’s wonderful. But it doesn’t mean every body can do it.

As a former “eat this, not that” nutrition coach and fitness professional, I had that false belief because, frankly, I live in a body that’s naturally thin.

But for many, focusing on attaining an “ideal” weight is a full-time job and a struggle. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to force your body into a size it was never meant to be. In many cases, it can’t be done.

You are not failure when that happens. It’s diet culture that’s failing you.

If you need to maintain a strict eating and exercise regime to maintain your “ideal” weight, that’s not a healthy weight for you. We normalize restrictive eating and obsessive exercise and call it healthy. It’s not.

Perhaps you do attain your goal weight. At what cost, and is it sustainable? For most, that “success” is fleeting, leading us into a life of yo-yo dieting and a desperate hunt for the next eating and exercise plan promising to fix our bodies.

Even more distressing, when you focus solely on an “ideal” weight and see little to no change, you may give up on healthy behaviors despite dramatic improvements in health markers, like improved cholesterol, blood sugar and cardiovascular health.

And, finally, diet culture doesn’t tell you that your body is meant to change naturally throughout life’s stages. As a 52-year old post-menopausal woman, my body weight and shape has shifted. Scale numbers will fluctuate daily and throughout your lifetime.

But I have to lose weight

I can hear you pushing back: “But what if I am trying to lose weight for my health, not my appearance?”

You’re told to lose weight as the sole solution to having health challenges such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, knee pain.

People in thin bodies have those health problems too. But only people in heavier bodies are told to lose weight to solve them.

As a mind-body-nutrition coach I have respect for every body, regardless of weight. Together we focus on the healthy behaviors that your unique whole body needs, and we allow your weight to be where you feel nourished, not punished or controlled.

Don’t worry: Not focusing on weight loss doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your body or your health. It means that you are prioritizing whole health and feeling good over a number on the scale. It means that you are enhancing your overall health by freeing up precious time and energy — mental, emotional and physical.

So if you’re not focusing on scale weight, then what?

Listen and nourish

“When weight loss is the goal,” intuitive eating counselor Krista Murias said, “depriving and restricting the body become more important than listening to and nourishing it.”

Listen to your body. Diet culture has convinced us to tune out.

Stop forcing yourself to eat kale if you hate it. Stop forcing yourself to trot in the Turkey Day 5K to “earn” your holiday dinner. As clinical psychologist Dr. Coleen Reichman said: “Sometimes it’s healthier to skip the workout. Your soul probably needs more attention than your glutes today.”

Focus on healthy behaviors, not the number on scale. When you do, you can let the weight stigma against yourself go and finally find real freedom and intuition with food and fitness to live your best life.

Be a rebel. Dump your scale.

Listen. Your body is talking

In addition to truly healthful behaviors like intuitive eating and pursuing movement that makes you feel good, listen for your other needs like:

• more sleep

• counseling

• meditation

• a job change

• saying no unless it’s a, “hell yes!”

• more frequent vacations

• learning to communicate more effectively

• connecting with your partner

(This article was published in the November 13, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Imagine Your Life Without a Diet

(This is the second of two articles on dropping diet mentality. Read part one, “A healthy eating tip for the New Year: Ditch the diet,” here.)

Imagine if you woke up New Year’s Day and weren’t consumed with thoughts of having to fix your body.

Imagine not refusing the brownie because it’s not on your list of approved foods on your “diet” to get thinner.

That doesn’t need to be a dream if you stop believing that food and total body vigilance are the answer.

In the first part of this article, I suggested that if you’re thinking about dieting — that is, using willpower and restriction to control your eating — don’t.

So if not dieting, what can you do to take care of your whole health instead? Try something radically different. Transform how you eat. Transform how you view your body. Move on with your life, the ultimate reward of pushing diet culture off your plate.

Begin by relearning how to eat.

The problem with any diet is that “most people trying to control the size, shape or weight of their bodies have learned to put the rules of the new plan before their body’s actual needs,” according to BeNourished.org, a website focused on healthy eating and body image.

Intuitive eating is the antidote because it’s based on the opposite premise. Instead of restriction, you are guided to tune into internal cues and your body’s needs. That includes learning to honor your individual hunger, fullness, satisfaction and which foods make you feel best.

Essentially, intuitive eating is just … eating.

But because “diet mentality is so deeply ingrained in societal beliefs, that intuitive eating, our natural way of eating, is considered revolutionary,” says the Loving Me Project, which encourages women to live a purpose-driven life.

When we no longer live by external food rules and societal beliefs that our bodies are too much or are not enough, we can get on with our lives.

What are you really “hungering” for? If it wasn’t about controlling your food to transform your body, what would you focus on each new year — and the rest of your life?

“Letting go of the idea of a smaller body, means creating space for a bigger life,” The Loving Me Project says. (You can follow the project on Instagram at @the.lovingmeproject).

Think big, not small, in the new year – without a limited view of “what’s healthy” — where diet culture wants to keep you focused, continuing to spend your time, money and energy, year after year. Instead use your head space to answer these questions:

• What would a life beyond dieting and body worry look like for you?

• What do you really want out of life?

• What really matters most?

• What would make this upcoming year extraordinary?

Envision your future as if it’s already happened. Describe the diet culture-free life you would create for yourself, and email me your answers at tanya@tanyamark.com.

“Diet culture steals your joy, your spark, and your life, which is why I call it, ‘the life thief,’” said Christy Harrison, author of “Anti-Diet.”

Don’t spend your life thinking you’re broken, a project to be fixed. Don’t be the 90-year-old woman refusing the fresh-baked brownie from her granddaughter because she’s “watching her waistline.”

Do something radical in the new year: Don’t diet. Listen to your body and live fully.

Tips for the New Year:

Listen to your body

Ready to learn how to listen to your body’s internal cues?

Transform your body image, not your body. It’s what you think about your body that’s the real challenge.

“I am too fat,” “I’m too skinny,” “I have too many stretch marks,” “I don’t have enough muscle.”

What if we swapped the endless pursuit of fixing or hiding our bodies, believing that our bodies are not enough or too much, to pursue a healthy body image instead?

What if instead of trying to change our physical appearance, we adjusted our mindset, our thoughts?

Focusing on changing your body image verses changing your body, can produce life-changing benefits. This switch can boost your self-esteem, banish persistent body anxiety, promote comfort in personal relationship, improve your relationship with food, reduce unhealthy dieting habits, improve your relationship with exercise, reduce the risk of developing an eating disorder, decrease social isolation due to body worries.

And most of all, changing your body image can improve your overall quality of life. Controlling your body shouldn’t be your life’s work.

Remember: “You are not alive to just pay bills and lose weight,” says Caroline Donner, author of “The F*ck It Diet.”

Read to re-learn how to eat?
Intuitive Eating: Do you need to re-learn how to eat?

Ready to transform how you view your body?
5 Steps to a Healthy Body Image