by Naomi Finklestein, originally published here.
So, you’re tempted to start fresh in the new year.
Maybe you’re in pain (emotional and/or physical). Maybe you’re frustrated that your clothes aren’t comfortable or you feel out of control or stuck and you just need something to help you get a jumpstart into a healthier way of living.
And maybe you Just. Want. To lose. Weight. Who can blame you? Everywhere you turn, you’re getting the message that you’re not good enough as you are and that fat is bad. From ads for belly squeezing undergarments to “transformational” fitness programs, to your friends and family who are “finally doing something about their health” and posting their weight loss goals, weekly weigh-in results, and “progress” pictures. This incessant messaging is par for the course during this time of year and it’s hard to stay Body Positive in the face of it all.
It makes sense that you’re thinking of beginning a big overhaul on January 1st.
And hey…it might work. You might stumble upon the diet or lifestyle change that has been waiting for you all these years, lose the weight you’ve been trying to lose since before you can remember, and keep it off. You might. Maybe you even know someone who has done just that.
But statistics and science suggest otherwise.
Here’s what you’re up against:
- 95% of people who lose weight through dieting (aka “lifestyle change”) gain that weight back within 2-5 years, and often more (learn more about this here).
- If you’ve dieted before, the odds of you keeping off weight that you lose are even slimmer (no pun intended).
- Extreme exercising and food restriction are risk factors for eating disorders.
Looking for more information about why focusing on weight is ill-advised? Check out this blog post published recently by our friends at Be Nourished.
And here’s where you might be feeling discouraged and confused by what you’re reading. “Why is the body positive movement against health?!?” you might wonder, “Exercising is good for you and eating ‘healthy’ is important!” And we couldn’t agree with you more! But as it stands, the approach to wellness in the dominant culture doesn’t do much to help people develop sustainable habits that will lead to long-term health. Instead, people are treated like menaces to their own wellbeing, out of control, gluttonous wildcards who need to be reigned in and whipped into shape, ignorant fools who pose a threat to themselves and others.
We believe that there’s a more effective approach to giving your health a reboot than to blindly follow the advice of so-called “experts”.
After all, you are the one true expert of your own body! That said, we also believe in the excitement of a clean slate and a fresh start. So without further ado, here are 8 ways you can get that boost you’re looking for in 2019 without inadvertently risking your health and falling in to the dieting trap.
1. Explore Intuitive Eating
Did you know that there are 10 principles of Intuitive Eating? It isn’t just a philosophy, but rather a well-developed method to help people make peace with food and reconnect to their body’s wisdom around what, when, and how much to eat. To commit to the practice of Intuitive Eating, check out this article from NEDA by Aaron Flores, and the official Intuitive Eating Workbook by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole.
2. Rediscover the joy in movement
When you were a child, you moved for pleasure, and nothing else. Whether it was riding your bike, climbing trees, playing tag, dancing, or swimming, as a child, you understood the joy of movement, before the idea of burning calories was introduced to you. Take stock of your current joyful movement practice. Do you have one? What can you do to make your movement more about joy and less about obligation? Check out this article by our co-founder Elizabeth Scott and Ragen Chastain’s website, which is rich with resources, articles, and inspiration.
3. Educate yourself on Health at Every Size®
So much of the struggle we experience in relation to our bodies comes from the very simplistic definition of health that our western society (and beyond) take as law: Fat is bad and we should all do everything in our power to not be fat. This belief is harmful for people of all sizes, since thin people are therefore (mis)led to believe that they don’t need to exercise or eat thoughtfully—after all, they’re already thin. In researcher and author Linda Bacon’s words: “Health at Every Size® principles help us advance social justice, create an inclusive and respectful community, and support people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves.” To learn more, check out ASDAH (The Association for Size Diversity and Health) and Linda Bacon’s research, found in the books, Health at Every Size®: The Surprising Truth About Your WeightandBody Respect.
4. Commit to regular inspiration by subscribing to Body Positive podcasts and carving out time for them
There are tons of podcasts out right now on the topics of body positivity, Health at Every Size®, Intuitive Eating, and more, and it’s a great way to learn about and stay committed to the lifestyle. Three podcasts that qualify as both Body Positive and intersectional are Food Pysch, Body Kindness, and She’s All Fat. Check out our press page for episodes featuring The Body Positive staff. And of course, google is always an easy way to find more! Just be sure to keep your eye out for mixed messages and double binds—be a critical consumer.
5. Toss out your scale and find alternative ways to measure your health goals
How do you know when you’re healthy? How do you know when you’re not healthy? Could you create your own guide to help you stay connected and in touch with the state of your health—according to you? Perhaps it includes notes about your digestion, quality of sleep, moods, cardiovascular endurance, blood pressure, muscle strength, etc. Make a list of the things that are important to you, and create your own plan for tracking them. For more ideas on how to do this, scroll down to the bottom of this article by Isabel Foxen Duke.
6. Pursue alternative options for addressing body pains and disease (that don’t include weight loss)
The default assumption is that any illness or body pains experienced by a person who is considered “overweight” on the BMI chart would be alleviated if that person were to lose weight. There is a shameful number of cases of people who don’t receive proper medical treatment because of weight bias in the medical field. In fact, just last May, a woman named Ellen Maud Bennett died from cancer only days after her diagnosis. She had spent years seeking help due to feeling unwell, and the only response she received was that she should lose weight. Her obituary is a call to arms so that more people don’t have to reach a similar fate. If you feel that your concerns aren’t being taken seriously by your doctors and the only advice you’re given is to lose weight, check out Ragen Chastain’s resources for what to say at the doctor’s office. When it comes to benign body aches and pains, you may want to explore options for treatment such as acupuncture, meditation, physical therapy, or massage.
7. Find ways to prioritize mental health
We as a society put a ton of pressure and emphasis on achieving our ideal health, but that rarely includes our mental health. Not only that, but the emphasis that we place on our physical health often ends up taking a negative toll on our mental health (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression, etc). What are some ways you can nurture and address your mental health in 2019? Online or in person support groups, therapy, meditation, and creative expression are some ideas to start with. For a great selection of articles on mental health (and how it intersects with various identities) check out The Body Is Not An Apology. For a list of mental health resources, check out Jes Baker’s website.
8. Sign up for a course
You don’t have to do this work on your own. Thankfully, we live in a time where lots of support and information are at our fingertips. There are all sorts of courses you can do, whether in person or online, to help you refresh and reboot for 2019, no matter which aspect of your health and wellbeing you want to focus on. Our online courses at The Body Positive Institute are a wonderful way to begin 2019 with a fresh slate. Featuring videos, soothing audio meditations, beautiful worksheets, and reading materials, our courses can be done at your own pace and are available to you for a lifetime once you purchase them. We recommend the Fundamentals Bundle* for a comprehensive dive into the Be Body Positive Model.
Hopefully you feel inspired to approach the start of 2019 with a new outlook! This could be the year you finally develop the type of relationship with your body that you need in order to treat it with respect, kindness, and love for the rest of your life.