Make Health *AND* Body Image a Priority – You Don’t Have to Choose.
An opinion piece came out this weekend in the NY Times that was titled, “Smash the Wellness Industry.” It has stirred a lot of praise, high fives, and “yeah, me too’s” being shouted from those who have ever been manipulated by a fad diet. And let’s be honest, most of us fit in to the latter category (including myself prior to adopting a well balanced, whole food, plant-based nutrition lifestyle focused on health not weight loss).
It is estimated that 45 million Americans will go on a diet each year, yet 2/3 are struggling with the disease of obesity and its life-threatening effects. According to the most recent NHANES data collection, more than 1 in 3 adults are overweight, more than 2 in 3 adults are overweight and or obese, and last but not least – 1 in 6 children (2-19 y/o) are considered to be obese. Being overweight/obese and inactivity pose serious health risks for both our youth and adult populations, ranging from Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalances, infertility, many cancers, joint damage/pain, inflammatory conditions – the list goes on and on!
Yet, unfortunately the wellness industry, as well as this article, focuses that number on the scale as a beauty issue, a self worth issue, a social acceptance issue — not the scientific health outcome measure that it can be. I do agree with many points made in this article. I believe we, especially women, need to support each other in driving out this comparison and “ideal body image” culture that we have created. I believe we need to put more worth on our intellect, our morals, our relationships and our impact on this world. I agree that much, if not MOST of the wellness industry and diet plans are focused on weight loss as their bottom line – NOT HEALTH. I agree that we need to not define our worthiness by how “perfect” our daily diet is or what pant size we wear. I do not promote extreme dieting, restriction, or disordered eating of any kind. I AM in promotion of teaching others how to be grateful for the abilities that are bodies posses and what foods promote health for today and all of the tomorrows to come. However, the overweight and overconsumption issue in our country is killing us… plain and simple. I feel that this piece, while mostly relevant, gave in to a popular idea of “I’m going to die sometime, might as well die happy.” But if we are not living our best every day, and not healthy enough to make a positive impact on this earth while we are here… then what is the point?
In our current era of YOLO (you only live once) and “Just Do You” we have seriously skewed our perception on health and self improvement. We have two extremes of self worth attached to our outward appearance: either be extremely thin like the celebrities, models, and fashion icons — OR justify a state of unhealthy and a state of “self love” focusing only on beauty itself rather than the long term goal of living healthy (which can bring much happiness through enjoying life with family and friends because you are healthy and able to do so and also being considerate of food system sustainability and kindness for all). The author mentions that she is happier now with her food freedom but also realizes she will never love her body. I do not think that this our only option. She mentions “eating the hearty foods men eat” as a goal to happiness, yet I question what we are classifying as happy. We cannot let others define what we should look like, no negotiating on this one. But my focus here as an optimal wellness promoting dietitian is HEALTH. When we focus on beauty alone and giving in to high fat, high salt and sugar foods (which change the chemical makeup in our brain to induce a feeling of pleasure) – we are ONLY looking at that moment in time, NOT investing in our future.
So I challenge you, as well as myself today. I challenge us to have an open mind about what we are truly capable of, to celebrate where we are now and what we have learned up until this point in our journey. Let’s celebrate what our bodies are capable of, strive for more, and do what makes us feel alive. Let us push past the norm of doing what makes us feel good in fleeting moments yet creates destruction later on, and instead find passions that also help us pursue health and set our souls on fire! Never let anyone tell you how you should look. If you feel yourself going in to over comparison mode on social media… it’s time for a break. I am not a fan of how this article chastises and makes fun of those looking to improve their health and who may share it with the world in the form of before and after photos or tales of improved health outcomes. If it is not for you, then do not follow someone – but I challenge us to show support and spread positivity instead of ugly comparisons and critiques as we are all on our own journey! The number on the scale should not define you as a person, should not dictate your emotions, or determine how you will treat yourself. However, if it is indicating potential health risks and you are looking to improve your health (not only weight), seek an educated professional who isn’t trying to sell you a magic pill or product. Be real, eat real food, be REAL grateful for this life and how are differences are what makes us beautiful.
I am calling out the wellness industry – the doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, personal trainers, health coaches and gurus alike to stop promoting short term diets and playing on people’s insecurities and START focusing on how we can all come together to create LONG TERM health through factual scientific indicators.
I believe in the concept of intuitive eating, if also combined with a health focus. I work with clients on positive journaling of daily accomplishments, gratitude journaling and affirmations, and with trying new recipes and forms of exercise NO MATTER THEIR AGE. I focus on teaching fulfilling, health promoting, and delicious plant based nutrition practices that are for LIFE not for a month. Pass me a plate, I’ll fill it with plants, flavor, and fun that I promise will never feel restrictive or boring – only leaving you with a satisfied belly and many more tomorrows to come!