How to drop the weight-loss focus, get healthy, and feel good about yourself
BY TORI RODRIGUEZ
Want to enhance your self-esteem and body image, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce depression, lessen your chance of developing an eating disorder, and quadruple your physical activity level? (I know - it’s a no-brainer.) Sounds like quite a challenge, but that’s exactly what a group accomplished in a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Think they did it by dieting? Think again.
Their success was due to their participation in a program called “Health at Every Size” (HAES), a non-diet approach that focuses on self-acceptance, intuitive eating, and mindful exercise. Throughout a two-year period, the HAES group was compared to a group of dieters to assess improvements in health. The findings show that the dieters worsened or remained the same on all levels after initially losing weight, most of which they had gained back by the end of the study, while 92% of the HAES folks maintained their healthy behaviors.
This holiday season, as many of us are gearing up – again – to lose weight, let’s finally accept that dieting doesn’t work and can actually cause mental and physical health problems. I propose that this year and going forward, instead of setting ourselves up for disappointment, let’s give ourselves the gift of good self-care by making better health our priority instead of thinness. Check out the tips below to start enjoying the benefits of HAES.
♥ Accept yourself as you are right now, regardless of your weight. That doesn’t mean you have to like it or that you can never try to change it (though I would strongly encourage ongoing self-reflection about why you feel you MUST change it even if you are consistently eating well, exercising, and otherwise taking good care of your health), but it does mean you don’t put off liking yourself for when you weigh less. It’s hard enough to make lifestyle changes without constantly beating yourself up, so make self-compassion a priority and be gentle with yourself. Plus: be aware of and resist societal and media pressure to be thin.
♥ Focus on nourishment instead of deprivation. Rather than fixating on what you can’t eat, aim to give your body what it needs to function optimally. Consult a dietitian if you need some guidance, but be aware that many dietitians take the old-school, unscientific weight-loss and diet-y approach. Look for one who embraces the HAES approach or overlapping approaches like intuitive eating.
♥ Remember that nourishment includes sometimes indulging in foods you love that aren’t perhaps the top nutritional picks. The more you restrict your eating, the higher your risk of getting caught in the binge/deprive cycle typical of disordered eating.
♥ Don’t make your moods and self-worth contingent on whether you had a “good” food day or a “bad” food day. Instead, strive for “good enough”, and recognize that your worth as a person is independent of the food you put in your body. Of course, chronically feeding yourself unhealthy foods could signify issues that need to be addressed.
♥ Emphasize the process over the outcome. Think long-term and focus on healthy behaviors you can comfortably do every day instead of fixating on weight loss. This results in sustained health gains because the motivation is internal versus external - how you feel and what works for you, instead of how you look and what others think about it. Obsessing about appearance deters you from doing what’s best for your body and makes you more likely to take extreme measures. Aim for better health instead of better-looking, and you can’t go wrong.
Go here to read the basic principles of HAES along with some eye-opening facts and statistics about dieting and weight loss culture: https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=161
Check out these books by the creator of HAES:
Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About your Weight
Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight
… and this one by Anita Johnston, which isn’t specifically HAES but is anti-deprivation and pro-intuitive eating with lots of beautiful, nourishing language and stories throughout: Eating by the Light of the Moon
Also, search for info and books on intuitive eating and mindful eating
And it might be a little dated but I love this book: The Don't Diet, Live-It! Workbook: Healing Food, Weight and Body Issues, by Andrea Wachter, LMFT, and Marsea Marcus, LMFT