We live in an extremely weight-obsessed society. A lower weight is typically associated with being healthy. The problem with this is that the two are not mutually exclusive...because there are very unhealthy ways to lose weight (think: juice cleanses, extreme dieting and disordered eating patterns). With that being said, there are certainly healthy ways to lose weight, but you can also be healthy at any weight.
Self-care is essential to living a healthy and happy lifestyle. But so often, a primary focus on the number on the scale or appearance gets in the way of what truly matters: health and your overall well-being.
Take exercise for example. Exercise is the token answer for achieving and maintaining health. But what is the point of exercise if you don't really enjoy it?
Kevin, my boyfriend, is a classic example of this. He's tried lifting weights because that's the thing to do, and it just never stuck. But throw him a frisbee, invite him for a hike, or challenge him to a 30 mile+ bike ride and he is all for it. We dabbled a little about this topic because I wanted help getting my point across. He says that exercise in the way he likes relates to how he sees what I've taught him about nutrition. The thought of restricting certain foods or dieting makes him cringe, but now that I've shown him that healthy eating does not equal restriction, he doesn't see it as such a burden. And it is the same as exercise: It doesn't have to be about forcing yourself to do something that you don't enjoy.
As for me, I have been learning to go with the flow when it comes to exercise. I've felt my fair share of guilt from driving past the gym and just going home after work instead of doing my planned circuit workout. I am learning to accept that this OK, and doing what feels right should not bring feelings of guilt. That guilt stems from not doing what I think I should be doing (strenuous exercise because society says I have to), vs. doing what I want to do (take it easy, rest). Some days, I am ready to tackle a long run or circuit, but other days I either need to go to the gym and stretch my whole body out for 30 minutes, or I just need a walk outside followed by a hot shower, tea, and a book to read. I am learning that listening to my body and giving it what it needs is so much better than that rollercoaster of guilt.
All of this was really inspired by Rebecca Scritchfield, a fellow dietitian who preaches #BodyKindness, and author of a book with the same title. She says (in the context of exercise): "When appearance is the primary goal, there will always be work to do and you will never be satisfied." My RD friend Jenna (more here) recently shared this quote on Instagram and said she exercises for energy, stress relief, and happiness. I exercise for the same reasons, as well as to stay in physical shape for hiking (which I love) and walking around to explore new places. I also do things like circuit workouts because they are challenging and fun!
The purpose of this post is really to encourage you to think about your intentions when it comes to lifestyle habits like healthy eating and exercise. Is it solely about changing your weight and how you look, or is it about other factors that truly reflect health and wellness: Increased energy, positivity, stress reduction, improved digestion, flexibility, pain relief, etc.
I would also like to note that I have nothing against someone's personal fitness goals, because I too have goals of my own. But I do believe that health should be a top priority..just my RD opinion :)
With that being said, here are some ways you can live a happy and healthy lifestyle focused on self-care rather than weight loss:
1. Yes, exercise...but in a way that you enjoy!
There is no use in dragging yourself to the gym if it's going to make you miserable. Make exercise a positive part of your life by focusing on the benefits it brings you. Instead of focusing on which routine burns the most calories, do what your body feels like. Remember that all movement has benefits, whether it is running, walking, yoga or an afternoon game of ultimate frisbee.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet..and enjoy that, too.
We know the benefits of consuming at least 5 daily servings of fruits and veggies. They provide essential vitamins and minerals to keep your body running smoothly, help decrease risk of chronic disease, assist in lowering cholesterol, provide fiber to keep your blood sugars and digestion in check, and so much more. But don't beat yourself up for not liking certain healthy foods! Focus on the ones you do like and explore different ways to prepare them to enjoy on a daily basis.
I would also encourage you to be open to new ways to try fruits and vegetables that aren't on your go-to list. For example, if raw kale is not your thing...perhaps try it chopped up in an omelette, covered in cheese on a pizza, or blended into a homemade pesto.
And if butter is the only thing that is going to help you eat foods such as broccoli or green beans, then by all means use it!
And with that being said...
3. Don't deprive yourself!
Food does not only provide healthy benefits. It can bring pleasure, happy memories, and comfort. To me, experiencing all of these are forms of self-care. Diet culture promotes food restrictions and deeming certain foods as "good" vs. "bad". Eating something on the "bad" list brings feelings of guilt and stress. I am telling you it does not have to be that way. Instead of using up your energy and head space trying to keep yourself from eating that cookie..take it and savor it! That is, if you are truly hungry in that moment. This may keep you from binge eating sweets later on to compensate for that deprivation. (This concept is called "Intuitive Eating", which I'll talk more about soon enough!)
Health is not just about diet and exercise. Stress is linked to both weight gain and over consumption. In this case, I think it is time we stop feeling the pressure to squeeze in a workout no matter what, and stop worrying about every little thing we eat. Why not use that time to unwind a bit more from every day life? Personally, I notice a huge difference when I unplug from my phone and spend the night reading and drinking tea (if you haven't noticed, I really love tea), do something completely out of my routine that I enjoy, or simply go back to the Cape for the weekend.
5. Fuel yourself properly.
Instead of focusing on what you can order or prepare that has the least amount of calories or fat, choose foods that will boost your energy and keep you satisfied. By eating very little during the day, you are likely to feel extremely hungry at night which may lead to overeating. Focus on achieving an all day balance. Try to get a good source of lean protein (lean meats, eggs, tofu, nut butters, nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas, whole grains) and fiber (fruits, vegetables, oats, nuts, beans, whole grains) at each meal and snack. Both of these help keep you full for a longer period of time. Helping your body feel good is absolutely a form of self-care!
6. Unplug and stop comparing.
Yes, I believe that unplugging from social media and sitting with our own thoughts and feelings is a form of self-care and also growth. We are so stimulated every day by what other people are doing that it is becoming more difficult to think for ourselves. I recently turned off notifications for Instagram entirely because I was constantly looking at it and being aware that, for example, other people were working out and I did not go to the gym that day. But like...who cares?! One of my aunts said to me a while ago, "Who we are is defined by the decisions that we alone make for ourselves." This will forever stick with me. And I hope it will for you, too. Eat, exercise, and enjoy life the way that it makes you happiest. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by others but only if it brings you positivity.
What are your favorite self-care practices? I would love to know! I hope to keep this conversation going about health and wellness in terms of taking care of ourselves instead of worrying about weight! Weight really and truly is just a number. There is so much more to be said on this subject and you'll absolutely be hearing from me soon :)
Have a happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend!