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We live in a culture that’s obsessed with dieting. Whether it’s banter about cutting carbs, eating as the cavemen did, or fasting for extended intervals of time, it’s hard to escape the constant chatter that puts weight and body size over our well-being. Interestingly though (and the media has us convinced otherwise!), studies show that thinness and health are by no means equivalent. Diet culture and weight stigma can, in fact, be harmful and skew our relationship with food and our bodies – which opens the door to disordered eating behaviors. Our bodies are not meant to look the same; we are all designed to thrive at different sizes. And the role of food is to ultimately nourish our bodies so we can live our lives to the fullest.
So, how can you foster a positive relationship with food and your body when our society is trying to convince you otherwise? We reached out to some of the nation’s leading non-diet and body-positive registered dietitians for their words of wisdom.
For far too long, people have been taught to hate our bodies and have been conditioned to think that we should want to change them. “People think changing our bodies will make us happier, worthier, more loveable. But, really, this just disconnects us from our true selves. It occupies so much mind space, it’s hard to have time or energy for other, bigger, more fulfilling things,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS. Ask yourself: would you rather spend your time obsessing about the number on the scale or the size of your pants or being fully present doing the things that bring you joy?
“One question I love to have clients ask themselves is, ‘how would I feed myself if I felt OK with my body?’ So often, we focus on weight loss as a proxy for getting healthier, but these are really two different things. More often, the focus on weight loss takes us away from health. When weight loss is put on the back burner, it makes space for thinking about healthy eating in a flexible way,” says Rachael Hartley, RD, LD. Focus on health barometers other than weight loss as a starting point – such as improved mood, better sleep, glowing skin, or reduced anxiety.
“While foods may be nutritionally different, they are not emotionally or morally different,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD. Aim to change the conversation around food as either “good” or “bad.” Remind yourself that you’re not “bad” because you ate a cupcake or “good” because you opted for the salad. “This helps stop giving food power over how we see ourselves. Food is just food: something we need to live, but also have a right to enjoy,” affirms Melissa Nieves, LND, RD, MPH.
“Try tuning out the external world and all its dieting messages and get really curious about what’s happening inside your body,” advises Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN. “This way, you can make decisions from a place of self-care and self-compassion rather than self-control and self-punishment.” Each eating experience is an opportunity to show yourself some kindness – sometimes, that may look like eating a chocolate chip cookie, and other times, it will look like blending up a plant-powered smoothie.
“Many of us disconnect from our innate hunger and fullness signals from an early age. With time and repeated attempts at dieting, it further numbs our ability to decipher how we’re feeling,” says Harbstreet. “But, just as we wouldn’t berate or criticize other physiological sensations (like feeling out of breath after running up the stairs or needing to use the restroom on a long road trip), we can work to respond to hunger and fullness with less judgment.”
Since so many of us have been conditioned to second guess our hunger signals, it’s important to build back body trust. How to do this? “a) tune in and pay attention to your hunger signals and b) eat each and every time you are hungry. If you aren’t feeling any hunger cues, make sure you are eating consistent meals and snacks throughout the day – at least three meals and several snacks,” says Rumsey. These Carrot Cake Energy Bites are a great snack to keep on hand when hunger strikes.
Easier said than done, body respect (which is different than loving your body), “can have a profound impact on the way you view your body and live your life,” says Katy Fortman, RDN, LDN, CPT, CHC. “Body respect includes giving your body comfortable clothes that you’re able to move in, feeding it when it’s hungry, and not comparing your body with anyone else,” she continues. “You deserve to feel comfortable moving around the world and honoring the vessel that allows you to do so.”
We understand and respect your desire in possibly wanting to lose weight – but we’re also here to tell you that you are enough just as you are. Our team of dietitians and nutritionists aim to support you on your health journey, whatever that may be. Food isn’t something that’s meant to be feared – it’s something to be celebrated.
McKenzie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, nutrition writer and communicator, who truly loves meeting and connecting with people. Grounded in science with an integrative and holistic approach, she aims to make the world a healthier, happier place by helping people feel their best from the inside out and encouraging others to restore a judgment-free relationship with food. McKenzie has been a contributing editor for the award-winning publicationEnvironmental Nutrition and her numerous articles, nutrition tips, and recipes can be found in publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Today’s Dietitian, Food and Nutrition Magazine, and more.
McKenzie graduated magna cum laude from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Seattle. She is a member of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the dietetic practice group, Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie cooking in her sunny kitchen, hiking along with her favorite Southern California trails, or packing her bags and heading out for her next adventure.