Be Kind To Your Body: A Dietitian's Plea to Today's Food Culture
“Man, I’m gonna have to run 5 miles to work that off.”
“I skipped lunch so I could enjoy this meal.”
“I worked out this morning, so I can eat more.”
These are all things I heard friends and family say over Thanksgiving, and it got me to thinking… Why do we put so much shame and negative feelings around enjoying food that’s meant to be part of a beautiful celebration?? Especially around the holidays?
Food is a beautiful thing. It gives us energy, keeps us healthy, and tastes darn good (most of the time, ha). So, why do we treat it like we have to earn it?? As we enter this last part of the holiday season, and enjoy a few more celebrations, I’d love for you to remember and focus on a few key points:
1. It’s ok to celebrate with food
Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries… they all revolve around food usually. And you know what? That’s ok! Nearly every culture in the world celebrates with food. It’s part of us. It gives us life and brings joy to the table and any gathering. Let’s embrace that. Instead of lamenting about how awful it is that everything revolves around food, let’s focus on eating real food and celebrating with friends and family. Food is to be celebrated, and we celebrate with food. Food is a gift. Let's enjoy it. No guilt.
2. Focus on building a healthy relationship with food
I tell all my clients that I'd rather them have a small/reasonable serving of the "real thing" than a huge serving of a diet food alternative. This helps them learn how to listen to their body's cues and signals far better than eating a bigger portion of "diet" food will (think alternative sweeteners, fat-free cheese, and zero calorie butter sprays).
For decades, we were taught that eating healthy was all a numbers game and that skinny/thin = healthy. The general opinion of society is starting to change, but there is still so much shame around food and eating as a result. Think about it… we throw around words like “clean eating” and obsess over macros now, and act like we (as a culture) have moved past calorie counting and low-fat dieting… but in reality, it’s the same mindset, just disguised to look like something else.
Building a healthy relationship with food is about so much more than numbers and making sure you hit macro goals. It’s about being mentally and emotionally ok if/when you don’t meet those goals, and not thinking twice about it. It’s about not letting thoughts of earning or working off food enter your head.
3. Stop the body shaming. Just stop.
Body shaming is so prevalent in our culture, most of us aren’t even aware of when we’re doing it. And it happens on both ends of the spectrum. There are people who are deemed “too skinny” right along with those deemed “too big.” We all have different shapes, and that’s ok.
“Healthy” looks different on each and every one of us. And it can even look different on the same person from one stage of life to the next.
Example: I’m 10 pounds heavier now than I was pre-babies, and body shaming culture tells me I should have to work to get those last 10 pounds off regardless of how it makes me feel… but if I’m being honest, my body image and self-confidence are better than they’ve ever been. I’m at a place where I know I’m eating a well-rounded diet, I know I’m moving a lot (I mean two toddlers don’t really leave me much choice!), and I know that I feel good. My pant size or the number on the scale don’t dictate how I feel anymore. And if you knew me in high school or college and knew the self-confidence issues I dealt with, you’d know what a big deal that is. And the day after Thanksgiving, I didn’t feel the need to go run 5 miles and work off lunch from the day before. I went about my day because I knew I’d nourished my body (and soul) in a different way that day, and that’s ok.
While BMI and ideal body weight are necessary measurements for certain health conditions, they are not a good reflection of health for most people. You can be a “normal” weight and have no muscle mass; and you can have a ton of muscle and be deemed “overweight.” We need to recognize that all bodies are beautiful and deserve to be nourished physically and emotionally, not punished for celebrating the wonderful gift of food with friends and family. What if we extended this idea of grace and kindness to ourselves, in addition to those around us?
Can’t we just enjoy our food?
Let’s get to a place where we can enjoy food and not stress about numbers and percentages. Exercise when we want, how we want, for whatever reason we want. Make sure you’re being true to yourself and living a healthy life, but don’t focus on the scale or how you look in a swimsuit... focus on how you feel: Do you feel comfortable in your own skin? Sometimes the answer may be yes, and sometimes it may be no. Focus on what your body can do, and enjoy a slice of cake at a party, have that favorite holiday dish. Do it wisely, do it sparingly, but ENJOY it!! Don’t think about the exercise required to “burn it off,” or punish yourself by restricting yourself afterward. Be honest with yourself and to your body... but don't be lazy… and I think you'll find you're much more happy with your relationship with food and your body.
A challenge for you:
I’d like to leave you with a challenge. When was the last time you focused on three things you really love about your body? Go ahead, do it now… Name three things you like about your body.
I’ll even share mine with you:
I like that I’m tall.
I like my eyelashes and eyebrows.
I like my broad shoulders.
See? It’s not so hard. ☺
Story by Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD of Milk & Honey Nutrition.
Check out the recipes photographed above for whole-food nutrition to love and nourish your body and soul: