With summer approaching fast, it’s easy to allow yourself to be seduced by a new diet, but these resources can help you forge a saner path to a healthier, happier life.
You could have the most nutritious diet in the world, but if you are in the habit of restricting your food choices and feeling guilt or shame when you eat something you “shouldn’t,” then your diet isn’t truly supporting good health.
Health isn’t just physical — emotional health matters, too. That means a healthful diet is one that nourishes you while allowing you to be at peace with your body and the food you put into it.
Despite the billions of dollars the diet industry pulls in each year, the research is clear: Not only do diets not lead to lasting weight loss, but they don’t do our emotional well-being any favors. Each time you lose weight only to regain it, you’re likely to become more confused and conflicted about what to eat and more entrenched in the feeling that your body is flawed and in need of fixing.
With summer approaching fast, it’s easy to allow yourself to be seduced by the idea of a new diet, but if you’re thinking about breaking free of the dieting trap, here are a few resources that can help you forge a saner path to a healthier, happier life.
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In her new book “Body Kindness,” registered dietitian nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield draws on the scientific research on dieting and weight issues, her own struggles with chronic dieting and body image, and her experience helping clients develop better relationships with food. She incorporates principles of intuitive and mindful eating to help readers form better habits around food, exercise and sleep, while also devoting ample space to important issues like emotional eating and self-compassion. You’ll find tools to help you challenge unhelpful voices in your head (like the ones that tell you that you need to diet and that your body isn’t good enough) and become the person you want to be by making choices that match your values. This is about total health for body and mind.
Instead of trying to get “beach ready” this summer — which generally means a new set of rigid food rules and another round in the war against our bodies — I asked Scritchfield what she suggests instead:
• Buy a bathing suit or clothes that fit your body as it is right now. “Try to feel good in the skin you’re in. If you can’t feel good, feel neutral,” she said. “Say ‘I want to live life right now and if this is my body … then it’s going to the beach and the pool.’ ”
• Make a list of actions (or inactions) that are disappointing you. “Frame your goals around new actions that are in line with the person you want to be,” she said, adding that while we can’t control our weight, we can control our choices. For example, you can fix problems like not sleeping enough and skipping workouts by making new choices that support good sleep and regular exercise. Similarly, if you’re frustrated with how much alcohol you drink or how much you eat out, you can choose to change those habits. “Even if these things don’t lead to weight loss, if they make you happier they’re worth it. You don’t want the only reason you’re taking on new health habits to be about weight loss. They’ll never stick. Habits should be about joy, energy and other things that help you every day.”
• Do random acts of kindness. “Research shows that being nice to others boosts our own happiness. Donate money or time to a cause you care about. Connect with someone you miss. Go have fun. Distract your ‘inner bully’ from intrusive negative thoughts about your body,” she suggests. “We should all be so lucky to have good health. It’s not a given. Yet, our appearance is not our health and there are many more important things we could do with our time than obsess over our Fitbits and food journals.”
Scritchfield also hosts the “Body Kindness” podcast, the latest addition to a small roster of thoughtful, intelligent podcasts by registered dietitian nutritionists who offer body-positive, nutritionally balanced alternatives to the diet culture. I also recommend “Food Psyche” by Christy Harrison, “Dietitians Unplugged” by Aaron Flores and Glenys Oyston, and “Love, Food” by Julie Duffy Dillon.
“My podcast is for the woman who has hit diet rock bottom,” said Dillon, who bookends each episode with love letters to and from food. “She has been on diets her whole life, yet feels shame for never ‘succeeding’ at them. She feels she takes up too much space and is hopeless about what to do next.”
Dillon said that anyone — male or female — who has a complicated relationship with food could benefit from listening to “Love, Food.” If she could wave a magic wand and change our relationship with food, what would that look like? “Food would be a great connector culturally and in families,” she said. “It would also nourish and energize us, but it wouldn’t take up as much energy. We would rely on our own innate wisdom to know how much and what to eat … there would be no need for calorie amounts on menu charts, or the diet industry.”
If you have a history of trying every diet under the sun, it can be hard to wrap your mind around the idea that there’s a different — and better — way, but Dillon thinks that food peace is possible for everyone. “No matter how complicated, everyone has the right to feel comfortable in her skin and at peace with food.”