As a nutritionist, I want to empower people to eat better. That means making long term changes that make people healthier. Changing habits is hard whatever habits they are and you need to be motivated, particularly if attitudes and habits are engrained.
Diet culture and attitudes towards our bodies can get in the way of changes towards health. These attitudes can be the hardest ones to shift. They can seem to be motivating but often pushes us towards restrictions and rules. They can take motivation to centre around visible results like weight and shape to the expense of wider health and wellbeing.
Traditional ‘diets’ can lead us to restrict not only things that help towards the weight and shape goal, they can also limit things essential to health both mental and physical. Restrictions and rules can also take us away from one thing that I seek to encourage in people’s diets for health – diversity and balance. If one ‘fails’ then we go off in search of another and sometimes they are extreme.
Our body shape and our weight are not purely determined by what we eat and how we move. And our shape and weight are not the only things that impact our health. While excess weight and where it is carried can and does have negative impacts on health, shape and weight are often slow to change. Yet they are the outcome that we look for as the first measure of success. It can often mean that the motivation to make positive change is lost because we cannot see the change. That we are failing even though other aspects of health are improving. The weight change may come last and that is OK. Even if it doesn’t come at all, those changes we made to our lifestyle are still giving benefits. They can be measurable – our blood pressure, our cholesterol, markers of type 2 diabetes risk, our strength etc.
Also, we can have unrealistic goals for our body if we do not accept our body. After having a baby, many women seek to have their pre-pregnancy body back. For many women, no matter how we diet or exercise, it may be impossible to have that same body look back at us after children. We can have a healthy, fit and strong post-baby body that looks different to before and doesn’t fit the clothes we wore before, even if we reach our pre-baby weight.
In other words, moving towards better habits that improve health can be sabotaged because our perception of success is so rooted in what we see in the mirror and on the scales. If we are not aiming for a fitter, healthier body that we are in and aiming instead for a body that we can never be – our 18 year old selves, our pre-motherhood or pre-menopause self or someone else altogether – then that success is unattainable.
‘Body positivity’ is a term we are seeing more and more. Other words are used in place of ‘positivity’ like ‘acceptance’, ‘confidence’ and ‘neutrality’. The general principle is the same. Accepting and being grateful for the body you have is the cornerstone. That body looking back at you from the mirror deserves to be cared for, nourished and kept healthy regardless. Eating more of the things that make us healthy and feeling good should be done from a place of self care. Seeking the positives that those things provide us rather seeing lack of change as a measure of failure. It is not a choice between body positivity and health, the two can coexist. Should coexist.
This concept can be such a supportive framework to make healthy changes. Simple acceptance of and gratitude for our body can allow us to look after ourselves better. And not just in the short term to get a better weight or shape, but consistently in the long term even when our shape changes. Accept that our shape will change through life however well we eat. Acceptance even when our weight changes – in either direction. This mindset is also important if we lose weight or are too thin. Because we are thin does not mean we can stop looking after ourselves. Thinness is not automatic health. Weight bias affects thin people too!
This approach can be such a positive example to set to our children and how they see and treat their bodies. In a world where image is so valued but also often so altered and fake, this is a gift that cannot be underestimated.
But how do we move towards a better attitude towards our body? Join me and Cliona Byrne for a Facebook Live Coffee morning on 16th Feb 10.30 UK/11.30 Europe.
Check out this letter to the Mum who doesn’t love her body by Cliona Byrne:
To the Mum who doesn’t love her body
By Cliona Byrne- Body Positive Parenting
Hey Mama, You’re wondering how to kick the “I don’t like how I look” habit that has lasted most of your lifetime. I see you, you’ve literally tried to shake off all of those nasty feelings of feeling fat and frumpy. You’ve tried all the sugar/fat/carb-free diets, you’ve even tried the diets that were not diets but a way of life, and you’ve bought the work out gear and used it a few times (now you wear those leggings while doing your food shop). You’ve spent hours googling for the answers and asking your friends, family, and mum groups for the secret on how to look like an Insta fitness influencer. They’ve all just suggested the same things: a new diet/workout plan/let’s do it together plan.
And while you’re talking smack about your body and eating a different meal from your kids — they are there. You are your children’s greatest role model, and you can choose whether you show them how to be body confident and have a healthy relationship with food or if you show them how to feel bad in their bodies and have a strange relationship with food.
Here are some easy tips on how to change your relationship with yourself and nourish your body.
1. Forget the diet industry
The diet industry is based on making you feel like you’re lacking something and that the answer to what you’re lacking is a diet. Yes, you will lose weight temporarily but at what cost? Diets have a sneaky way of taking over your life, filling up your headspace, and shrinking your life. And diets don’t even work!!! It has been proven countless times that diets make you gain weight. Once you start to nourish your body normally again you often end up gaining back the weight and some extra. Then the diet industry has the cheek to put the blame on you, it was your fault because you didn’t follow the rules (that were designed for you to fail). Then what happens… you end up signing up for a different diet, a BETTER diet… and you start the whole thing all over again.
2. Fat is not a dirty word
The word fat is often thrown around as an insult. I’ve personally been called fat many times. The word used to make my blood chill. I had a fear of it and I physically felt pain when people called me fat. But now that word is neutral to me, it is just an adjective, no different from tall, blue, or soft. We can all internalise fatphobia and create a fear of becoming fat. Fat is not a marker of who you are or success or failure. No matter what your size, you and your body deserves to be treated with love and respect, especially from yourself.
Take your focus off what you don’t like about your body and place it on gratitude. Your body is incredible! It does so much for you, even when you think or say unkind things about it, your body keeps doing its best. Instead of creating a diet plan, sit down and write a list of reasons why you’re grateful for your body. Number one should be that it is KEEPING YOU ALIVE. Take a few moments and just think about all the great things that your body does for you.
4. Stop body bashing
Stop saying crap about your body when you’re with friends. Drop phrases like “I’m so fat”, “I hate my (insert body part)”, “I wish that I looked like that”, etc. Instead get into the habit of praising yourself and others. Stop ripping on celebs while you are at it and instead get into the habit of praising others for their successes and courage.
5. Throw it out
Get rid of any leaflets and booklets that you have from the diets you did in the past. You don’t want them hanging around as a temptation. Delete whatever you have on your computer. Just say goodbye to it like you would with a bad ex. Same goes for old clothes from long ago that no longer fit you. Donate those clothes, they served you once and it’s ok for them to serve someone else now.
Do things because you love doing them, not because you feel like you “have to”. For example, I personally exercise because I love how movement makes me feel; strong, empowered, and like a total badass. Replace movement that you don’t like with things that make you feel good. Explore yoga, Pilates, wall climbing, swimming, whatever. Own that movement as something that is for enjoyment and not for weight loss.
7. Forgive yourself
Forgive yourself for ever mistreating your body in the past. You can always start a new relationship with yourself. One where you see all foods as good. One where you eat to nourish yourself. One where you listen to your natural body cues. One where you don’t worry about the calories and points in foods. One where you start to accept your body… and someday… maybe even love it.
Cliona Byrne helps Mums who struggle with their body image to like their bodies so they can raise their kids to be body confident badasses. We all learn our beliefs on how we should look and be from our families, this is why Cliona created Body Positive Parenting, to help parents to raise their kids with a positive body image. Cliona is a certified coach and has helped families from all over the world to break the cycle of children inheriting their parents’ hang-ups and insecurities. Find more about Body Positive Parenting on Cliona’s website or follow her on Instagram.