It’s easy in our society to pass judgment on others based on body size. The common belief is that having a thin body equates to health, and a higher body weight means one is less healthy. Many of us know people who have proved this belief wrong and, now, research shows that weight is not a good predictor of health.
While health is certainly influenced by genetics, more importantly, it’s a compilation of self-care practices including eating healthy food, getting regular physical activity, maintaining good hydration, managing stress and keeping good sleep hygiene. Unfortunately, societal pressures to be at an “acceptable weight” lead to many unsustainable unhealthy dieting and exercise practices as well as mental distress.
According to Ursula Ridens, a registered dietitian at Sharp HealthCare’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, “Focusing on what you don’t like about yourself, such as the size of your jeans, tends to backfire, leading to decreased self-esteem.”
“Imagine the effects of beating yourself up time and again for eating too much,” says Ridens. “Self-defeating thoughts enter the picture — ‘I’m not worth the efforts to eat better and be more active.’”
“Consider how a child engaging in negative behavior responds better when parents focus on positives,” Ridens explains. “Similarly, taking a more compassionate nonjudgmental stance with yourself by putting emphasis on well-being rather than weight sets you up for feeling worthy of positive change.”
“Being curious about what you notice sounds a lot different than criticizing your poor food choices,” adds Ridens. “For example, ‘It’s really tough when I’m stressed, and eating has become my way of dealing with feeling overwhelmed.’ This opens up doors to gain insight and make change from a place of gentle awareness, versus harsh criticism.”
Researchers found that a Health at Every Size® (HAES) approach — which includes accepting and respecting diversity of body shapes and sizes, eating for well-being, and life-enhancing movement — decreases weight stigma, improves relations with health care providers, leads to healthy behavior change and improves health outcomes.
Ridens suggests the following tips to help you make healthy changes:
- Build body trust. Listen to your body’s physical hunger and fullness cues (i.e., mindful eating). This leads to eating an amount of food that’s best for you.
- Slow down. Become aware of other influencers of eating like boredom, stress or emotions. This brings opportunity to redirect eating that’s not driven by physical need.
- Choose foods that enhance body function. Rather than eating fruits and vegetables to cut calories and lose weight, become aware of the nurturing value of plant-based foods — such as decreased inflammation and improved cardiovascular health.
- Move your body in ways that feel good. Rather than exercising for weight loss, choose activities that build strength, stamina and flexibility while improving blood circulation, joint mobility and body confidence.