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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 to and nourish your body

“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.

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).