Want to take responsibility for your health without dangerous dieting? Here are 6 things you can do to honour your health without it becoming obsessive, preoccupying or fear-driven.
1. Listen to your body
This might sound really obvious, and you’ve probably been told it a million times before, but seriously, think about how often our eating is motivated by external cues (self or other’s imposed food rules, all those ”shoulds”, the clock, that prescriptive meal plan, your points or calorie allowance for the day) rather than our own internal cues (hunger, fullness, satisfaction, the need to soothe).
Now you don’t have to be constantly checking in with yourself to be listening to your body, and eventually you will be able to be tuned in without even having to think about it too much, but, especially while you're still learning, a quick body scan before meal times can really help.
Here’s how to do a quick 30 second body scan: take a deep breath, close your eyes if you can, then literally scan your body, ask yourself some questions - how you’re doing, what do you feel, is there any pain, what’s your energy level like, are you craving anything?
2. Stop weighing yourself
This may sound radical but as long as we are trying to control the size of our bodies, our food intake and movement will be dictated by that. Weighing yourself totally distracts you from being able to listen to and trust your body. You may feel like if you stopped the weighing, you wouldn’t be motivated to change, to eat healthier or to do more exercise, but all weighing yourself is actually doing is cultivating shame and eroding away self-trust. You're never going to shame or punish yourself healthy. Yes, changes to eating behaviour or movement can absolutely have positive effects on our health, but they can all be done without any emphasis on weight.
As long as we are trying to control the size of our bodies, our food intake and movement will be dictated by that.
3. Be curious
One meal, one snack, one day or one type of food (unless you have a food allergy or rare medical condition) will not make or break your health. Different foods, drinks and meals all have different components that will affect your body differently. Take note of those effects. Some will make you feel energised, some sluggish, some will bloat you, others won’t. It also may not be the things you assume or have been told will have negative effects, so be open-minded, non-judgemental and curious in your approach to food. Know that, if a particular food does make you feel sluggish etc., in no way does it need to be cut out of your life, maybe you choose not to eat that food on a day when you need lots of energy, but that’s just it, you have the power to choose!
4. Heal your relationship with food and your body
In many ways the way you relate to food is much more important than the actual food you’re eating. When you are in a place where food has lost its morality, and is just food, you can make eating choices that are honouring to both your physical and mental well-being. However, if you’re viewing them as either “good” or “bad” or are feeling like a good person when you eat the “good” ones and a failure if you eat the “bad”, that’s a sign that you’re seeing food through a diet-culture lens. A cupcake and a kale smoothie may not be nutritionally on a par, but your choice of either one has absolutely no effect on your worth as a person.
I don't want to over-simplify this, I know from personal experience the frustration and difficulty of this journey, so if this is an area you’re struggling in, please consider working with a non-diet nutritionist or dietitian who can guide you in healing your relationship with food and teach you to eat intuitively. (Find out more about 1:1 coaching with me here.)
In many ways the way you relate to food is much more important than the actual food you’re eating.
5. Find joy in movement
Our bodies were made to move but diet-culture has turned exercise into negative food: "I ate this so I need to burn this many calories", or, "I’m going out for a meal tonight, so I need to do X number of minutes on the cross-trainer". When our motivation to exercise is purely to compensate for what we eat, or to manipulate our bodies in some way, it’s easy for it to feel like punishment. Who enjoys opting in for daily punishment? Not me. If we can re-frame our view of it, and our motivation for doing it, to be something nourishing and joyful, then it’s not a chore.
Find movement you truly enjoy doing, something fun! It could be a team sport, hiking, ice-skating, a dance class, walking your dog or crazy living-room dances with your kids. If you enjoy it, it won’t be as hard to make time for it and you’re likely to keep wanting to do it.
Let go of the lies you’re believing about what “counts” as exercise. You don’t have to be sweating buckets, in pain or throwing up for it to “count”, in fact, that’s definitely not what you’re aiming for! Challenge yourself yes, but movement is movement, and you don’t need it to measure up to what you or others think it “should” look like.
Do what feels good. Sometimes that might mean not exercising at all for a while, especially if you've been overdoing it on that front.
6. Add in, don't take away
When it comes to food we are all too quick to restrict and cut things out, and the repercussions of this are twofold. Firstly, restriction of any kind can really trigger disordered eating and lead to feelings of deprivation and preoccupation with said food/food type. Secondly, cutting out particular foods or food groups, carbohydrates or fat for example, means that your meals aren't really balanced and so are unlikely to truly satisfy you physically.
Next time you're tempted to completely eliminate processed foods from your life forever, in favour of raw vegetables, only to wind up on a 9am donut binge 2.5 weeks later, try this: add the veggies in, but don't cut the other stuff out completely. You may find that you eat less of the processed stuff anyway because you're eating more veg, and even if you don't, you're still benefiting from the addition of the vegetables. Remember, your eating doesn't need to be perfect to be healthy!
If you need some help making peace with food and are ready to jump off the diet crazy-train, or you just want more clarity in the area of nutrition, movement and health, get in touch about one-to one coaching.