There’s been a big movement within my profession and embraced by other behavior specialists for “health at every size” (HAES) and intuitive eating. I certainly agree that body size or shape does not matter when it comes to someone’s worth. However, I often find myself in disagreement with the broad sweeps that the movement sometimes makes. Intuitive eating is an important skill, but if someone’s appetite hormones are innately out of whack, it doesn’t work.
Every 𝘣𝘰𝘥𝘺 is different and everybody is living through a different situation. We all need to have compassion for each other. As a registered dietitian who has decades of experiences as such, I’m certainly empathetic for people’s struggles with body weight, body image and healthy eating goals.
I’m concerned however, that we can take body positivity and the intuitive eating philosophy too far. Far enough that I see some younger people who don’t think they need to try to manage their weight at all, or pay any attention to the health consequences. Positivity and weight management can live together in the same household.It's not about changing your self, or looking a certain way, it's about managing your health. Click To Tweet
There are lots of perspectives on this, and in many ways, your environment may be stacked against you.
Your Digital and Built Environment
We live in a society that supports dysmorphia Everywhere you look, you see images. More images are coming at your eyeballs than ever before. This intense focus on appearance, body image, and food intake can cause a lot of distress. Even if the images or messages are supposedly “body positive” ones, or “healthy food”, they may be distressing (self-talk that includes “I should look like that” or the pressure of “I should be eating better”).Step away from your digital device. You don't need to be thinking about what to eat, whether it's healthy, or what you should be doing, 24/7. Click To Tweet
Enough with the “shoulds”. It’s healthy to unplug once in a while (work on every day habits such as docking your phone in another room, not bringing it with you everywhere, disabling notifications, setting a lower number of screen-time hours, etc).
There was a time when I thought the built environment or food marketing tactics didn’t matter that much. They do. Even when you try to make changes in your habits, you may find that food is everywhere. Street vendors. Big box stores. Convenience foods.
Food portions are also too big…In store bakeries (FYI – muffins and bagels of the 1970s were 1/4 to 1/3 the weight of current bakery muffins) and on the plates at restaurant chains. Or, food is often just “too much”. No, we don’t bacon on everything. We don’t need pulled pork ON top of a burger. We don’t need giant smoothies (even if they are made with healthy stuff). You don’t need to be “dousing” your food with “healthy” olive oil. Everything does not need to be *extra*.
Time to Downsize Plates and Portions and Move More
You can’t control the built food environment around you, but you can change your own environment. In order to make a change in your eating and exercise lifestyle, look around your own kitchen. You don’t need big plates, giant mugs or tumblers. It’s true, you will be satisfied with less when you fill a smaller plate. Keep a pair of sneakers by the door and start a new after-work routine with a 30-minute walk (especially if you are working from home now).
You can still eat foods that you enjoy, but portions matter. Even when it comes to healthy foods. For example, a whole avocado provides 250-300 calories and 25-30 grams of fat. Healthy monounsaturated fat, yes, but it’s too much at one sitting for most people. A “serving” is actually 1/3 of the avocado.
I could give endless examples of this. I recently joined friends for an outdoor happy hour. I ordered a “personal size 10-inch” chicken-veggie pizza. I enjoyed 2 small slices with a beer and ate it two more times the following week for lunch. In other words, it wasn’t a “personal one-serving”. It was 3 servings. Just because they serve is as “one serving” doesn’t mean it’s one serving. To-go boxes are a great way to reduce food waste and save money.
Find Your Balance
Instagram influencers are so busy saying it’s okay to listen to your body, that you might be losing track of practical guidelines. You can argue that “not all calories are equal” and compare a 900 calories plant-based salad to a 900 calorie cheese steak sandwich or a 900 calories of chips and soda.
But in the bigger picture, balancing calories and exercise is a good idea for most people. Calories still count and fitness enhances health. Lots of things may impact the calorie needs of different people (including age, gender and overall fitness), but each body does require a certain amount of energy to function properly.
It’s not that “carbs are bad” or that “keto doesn’t work”, it’s that some foods (especially easily digestible carbohydrate) can be eaten in portions that are too big, and some diets are unbalanced.
Take a look at these two 250-calorie plates.
One plate has 2 slices of sourdough bread on it. You could toast them and eat this for breakfast. The second plate is more balanced, enjoying the toast but with some fruit and cheese for a wider variety of both macro- and micronutrients. It’s probably will also give you more staying power (keeping you full longer). This is an example of “it’s not just about the calories”.
Love Yourself, Set Goals
You can do both at the same time. I’m a dreamer. However dreams and goals require a plan. Never stop growing and learning! You need to take action to stay healthy. Take daily deep breaths and accept yourself as you are deep down inside. You can also take steps to improve yourself. This may mean both changes in your actions towards yourself (no negative self-talk) and your actions toward others.
We all come in beautiful shapes, sizes and colors. 🌺 While obesity is a complicated disease with many influences (your body’s metabolism, socioeconomic and geographic demographics) the fact is that it IS a health risk, and it’s okay to want to take action and find support to lose weight. It requires the support from a health care team (not an Instagram influencer). Find the right dietitian and the right program and surround yourself with supportive loved ones.
Small steps. Good vibes.