I hear it all the time: “I’m simply not healthy at my current weight.” If it feels impossible that you could find ways to get healthy WITHOUT dieting, you’re not alone. At the same time, feeling super out of control and guilty around food all the time isn’t exactly healthy, either. So what are you supposed to do?
To start, I want you to know that dieting is the EXACT opposite of what you need to create peace and control around food. And that doesn’t hold you back from finding your best health.
I help clients get “the best of both worlds” by turning their attention to behaviors, instead weight so they can get relief from food guilt and improve health at the same time. Whether or not weight loss happens a result of healthy changes in your life doesn’t really matter. Either way: you will be at the weigh that is healthy for you. By letting your body find the weight that is meant for your genetic profile and by leaning on Intuitive Eating skills, you can improve your health effortlessly without restriction. This is probably much more than you can say of your last diet.
This post will help you focus on behaviors that link to improved health. Although not an exhaustive list of health promoting behaviors to chose from, this list will give you a solid start improving your health without dieting. At the end of this post, get my free guide to help you organize your thoughts toward an action plan.
healthy habit #1: sit less
A 2018 Advisory Committee at the national level found a strong relationship between time in sedentary behavior (ahem, that’s when you sit for loooooong periods of time bingeing all four seasons of the Crown) and the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality in adults. If you’re not ready to start a full-blown workout plan, that’s okay. Aiming to “sit less” is a good start to reducing your health risks and feeling better in your body at the same time.
Consider forming habits like getting up to stretch between Zoom calls, taking the stairs vs. elevators, and doing light movement around your house each day. What would help you to sit less during the day? Start small. It will be enough!
healthy habit #2: move more
Some of my clients find their intention to move more feel “easier said than done” because of past punishing experiences around exercise after years of dieting. On the one hand, they know movement makes them feel better, or at least, that it could. They want to be fit and strong.
But on the other hand, they just can’t seem to motivate themselves! In this instance, I work with clients to first neutralize their relationship to movement by seeing it as more than a mechanism to “earn food” and “burn off calories.” For some clients, they experience the opposite situation because they fear weight gain: they genuinely feel afraid to skip a workout, and this leads them to injury, anxiety, and, alters their social health as they choose movement over work, family, and friends.
Either way, this important coaching step of neutralizing your relationship to movement helps motivate to move in ways that feel joyful and authentic. When clients identify ways to move they like and easily fit into their lives, they are more likely to create a lifestyle of movement that places them well within the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. For most, this means fun and friendly forms of activity like walking, hiking, spinning, and yoga – but you can find your own way. What would feel good for you?
healthy habit #3: eat more fruits and vegetables
Fruit and vegetable intake, if privileged to have access and afford them, reduces health risks. However, it’s important to note: you don’t need to go over board! 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetable offer enough benefit. Studies show after that, there are diminishing benefits to eating much more. This is good news for those who just aren’t that into produce. The nutrition science says you can work toward eating enough without being extreme and still get good outcomes.
Diet culture impresses on dieters to eat majority fruit and vegetable in order to be healthy. Instead, I find focusing on eating enough is what matters most. If you can meet 5 servings a day on average, most of the time, your body will be better for it. Add produce in whatever ways that feel satisfying, instead of using them to restrict so it feels sustainable and you can get the long-term benefit! If food guilt prevents you from doing this in any way, you may want to consider working with someone to help you create a healthy relationship with food.
healthy habit #4: improve your sleep hygiene
The Sleep Foundation states that “strong sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene.” Considering the daytime and pre-bedtime activities that best support your sleep are helpful to consider for any one considering Intuitive Eating.
Since Intuitive Eating relies on your body’s ability to sense your hunger, fullness, and emotional cues , adequate sleep can be an important asset driving your ability to practice self-care in other areas of your health and wellbeing. Poor quality or not enough sleep act as attunement disrupters to your body’s natural ability to sense itself. These sensations signal your needs and are powerful tools to empower your self-care. My clients work with me to figure out the specific elements, such scheduling wind-down time, that best support their journey toward trusting their bodies again.
healthy habit #5: eat enough
After a lifetime of dieting, many of my clients feel like they don’t even know how to feed themselves. They often try to eat as little as possible earlier in the day, which often leads to overeating at night. Not to mention the daily nagging food guilt that makes them feel exhausted. Restricting all day ruins their mental health, and since most diet programs drasticaly underfeed their participants, it also hurts physical health too by inviting feelings of fatigue.
Working to eat regularly helps you to feel in control, satisfy hunger, and energize you to perform all other activities well. Though this health behavior is often discouraged by dieting, “eating less” at all costs is not actually a health promoting behavior. Look at this list of disordered eating habits put forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics . How many of these look a lot like diets you’ve done the past?
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed
As you can see, dieting is NOT health. The problem I find is that women in bigger bodies have come to think these behaviors are normal to tolerate because diet culture normalizes them. However, they are not normal. Learning to eat enough, and not too little, is the most sustainable, health promoting goal you can work toward at any body size.
Are you doing these things, but still feel uncomfortable in your body?
In many instances, negative body image can manifest itself as concern for health. This is rooted in our cultural fear of fatness driven by the medias depiction of what “health” looks like. (seriously, google image search “healthy woman” – and you’ll find what I mean – thin white ladies are not the only representation of what it looks like to be healthy.) It’s important to affirm to yourself that health doesn’t have a look or size, and is actually a complex, multifaceted state of being only you can define.
My clients spend time defining authentic health with me in the No More Guilt program. We make specific targets for mental, emotional, and physical so they can be sure achieve health goals they most value. For some clients, this includes helping them work with their medical team to work through medical diagnoses in ways that don’t feel “diety” and restrictive.
For the part of you that may be struggling with your body image, and not health, know that it can take time to learn to be okay with your bigger body. I work with my clients to heal broken body image so that they get the relief they are hoping for: health and happiness without food guilt.
This post includes a few of the many skills I offer through my No Guilt Framework. Each individual will find different skills helpful at different times, and this post is by no means an exhaustive list of how to improve your health. I’m a Registered Dietitian, but I am not YOUR dietitian, so any change should be discussed with your primary care doctor, or, whoever participates in your general care.
I offer group and private coaching programs that help you create a plan and practice these skills with the focus and consistency you need to FINALLY be okay with your body. Apply for coaching and I’ll meet with you to describe how you can go from feeling completely stuck in negative body image to feeling free and peaceful around food, just like my clients do.