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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).

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).

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

Are you a Normal Eater?

There is so much stress and confusion around what to eat these days that many of us have no idea what normal eating is anymore.

You may even be suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder and not even know it as it’s becoming increasingly more common in younger girls and middle-aged+ women because of perfectionistic food and body ideals from diet culture.

Why? Because…

Disordered eating and the pursuit of thinness is so normalized in our culture that it’s often dismissed and even encouraged within health and wellness fields.

  • Sarah Herstich, LCSW, Signs Your Client May Be Suffering From An Eating Disorder

(Learn more about treating eating disorders here, by Jared Levenson)

Health and fitness magazines are filled with articles about what to eat in order to attain a perfect size. Popular social media posts claim you should eat this, not that, and talk of clean eating in a way that insinuates everything else is dirty. All of this fuels our insecurities about what we eat.

We may have grown up in households where we heard things like, “I’m so bad! I just ate ___“. Or maybe we heard the word fat being thrown around as a negative term. Maybe everything in the fridge was labeled Fat Free or Low Calorie. And maybe our mothers loved baking cookies for us, yet the talk around the house about “good” and “bad” foods left you feeling so guilty about eating those lovingly prepared cookies.

Of all the things we learned growing up, the lesson so many of us didn’t learn was the fact that the food we eat doesn’t make us good or bad → it has no inherent moral value.

Yes, there’s a nutritional difference between apple pie and an apple, but morally, there’s no difference. But in our current culture, diet culture, we feel guilty for simply enjoying a slice of pie because it contains processed sugar, gluten, dairy etc.

After finishing nutrition school in 2012, I avoided all these “bad” foods because I feared the health consequences from eating them. I restricted my eating so much that I would avoid certain social situations (because I couldn’t control the food and worried about my willpower to resist tempting foods) and was obsessed with avoiding anything “bad.”

When I “faltered,” I felt like I wasn’t walking the talk and that I was totally inauthentic as a nutrition professional. I was obsessed with eating only things that are considered “healthy” to be “healthy.”

Obsessing about ‘wellness’ can actually make you quite unwell. – Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C

Eating Psychology, Intuitive Eating

Thankfully I discovered Dynamic Eating Psychology and studied to become a coach when I learned that my restrictive, seemingly perfect “healthful” eating was actually not so healthy – it would have been considered “disordered.”

I returned to normal healthful eating, “gentle nutrition,” when I became professionally certified in Intuitive Eating.

I let go of the supposed “healthy” restrictive food behaviors and learned to tune back into my own body’s cues and needs.

What I love about Intuitive Eating is that it’s not just focused on food. It’s a self-care eating framework that focuses on our WHOLE health – physical, mental and emotional because our health is more complex than what you eat and how you exercise (and what your body looks like – as fit doesn’t have a look despite what diet culture tells us).

So what is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating is different than an eating disorder. It lies between normal eating and an eating disorder and according to survey results conducted by Self Magazine and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 75% of women regularly engage in disordered eating and exercise patterns.

Oh wow. I was shocked when I discovered this fact.

According to National Eating Disorders Collaboration, examples of disordered eating include:

  • Fasting or chronic restrained eating
  • Skipping meals
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Unbalanced eating (e.g. restricting a major food group such as carbohydrates)
  • Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse
  • Steroid and creatine use – supplements designed to enhance athletic performance and alter physical appearance
  • Using diet pills

And “dieting” is one of the most common forms of disordered eating.

“Dieting is the number one cause of the onset of an eating disorder and seeking help early is the best preventative measure.” – NEDC

What is Normal Eating?

According to the Ellyn Satter Institute, Normal eating:

  • is going to the table hungry, and eating until you are satisfied.
  • is being able to choose food you enjoy and to eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should.
  • is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • is giving yourself permission to eat because you are happy, sad, or bored or just because it feels good.
  • is mostly three meals a day – or four or five – or it can be choosing to much along the way.
  • is leaving cookies on the plate because you will let yourself have cookies again tomorrow, or eating more now because they taste so great!
  • is overeating at times and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable…and under eating at times, and wishing you had more.
  • is trusting your body to make up for (what you feel are) “mistakes” in eating.
  • takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area in your life.
  • © 2018 Ellyn Statter Institute

In short, normal eating is flexible... it varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your food and your feelings and so much more. It’s time to return for our physical, mental and emotional whole health.

In order to help you return to normal eating, I teach you how to eat again using a self-care framework called Intuitive Eating. Want to learn more about it, click here.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Are You In A Constant Struggle with Food?

Are You In a Constant Battle With Food?

As a former exercise trainer and current holistic nutritionist, I thought I had a healthy relationship with food because I ate healthy foods. Not so.

The key word is RELATIONSHIP. Only a few years ago did I learn to begin making peace with food and my body. What’s your relationship to food like?

Watch the video below or check it out on YouTube or Facebook

Do You Have a Healthy Relationship with Food?

Here are the questions to answer below to begin exploring your relationship with food. (And yes, I will respond to you personally!)

Explore With Me!

  • Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with food?
  • Why or why not?
  • Was there a time where you felt like you had a better relationship with food?
  • When was it? And when do you remember it changing and why?
  • Tell me your thought process around food and eating. What’s it like for you NOW on a daily basis?

I look forward to hearing from you!

  • Tanya