Yesterday, in this post, I shared three life-changing lessons I’ve learned about building a positive body image and practicing compassionate self-care. (I’m also hosting a book giveaway in honor of Weightless turning the big six, so be sure to check out that post.)
Today, I’m sharing three more lessons I’ve learned throughout the years.
Dieting is unnecessary, damaging and even dangerous. I used to think that I had to diet, that I should diet. I saw the commercials. I read women’s and “health” magazines, and dieting was everywhere. (Of course, sadly, it still is.) So I counted calories. I counted points. I bought frozen diet meals and desserts. I bought diet books. I bought shakes. I restricted (only to binge later). As a college freshman, I swallowed a diet pill, which made me feel like my heart was on fire. I spent many days hungry. I spent many days dissatisfied because I wasn’t eating what I really wanted to eat.
What’s happened in our society is that we’ve confused dieting with healthy, normal eating. Dieting is neither. In fact, dieting is a violent act, writes Rachel Cole. As she eloquently explains in her post:
I find diets to be physically violent, often leading to exhaustive cycles of weight loss and gain and sometimes insufficient calories (i.e. energy) and nutrition.
I find diets to be psychologically violent, often leading to mental obsession, increased stressed, shame, disempowerment, disembodiment, and a general sense of failure when the diet inevitably results not in weight loss, but weight gain.
I find diets spiritually violent, often severing the most sacred of ties between ourselves and the wisdom of our body. I can think of few things as holy and the act of feeding ourselves and this is exactly where diets wreck their havoc.
Instead of dieting, I like Ellyn Satter’s definition of “normal eating”:
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.**
Today, I give myself unconditional permission to eat whatever I want. Sometimes, that’s turkey chili. Sometimes, it’s salad and eggs. Sometimes, it’s sausage and pasta. Sometimes, it’s ice cream. Sometimes, it’s pizza. Sometimes, it’s oatmeal with raspberries. I focus on foods that nourish my body — foods that are filled with vitamins and nutrients. Foods that boost my energy levels. Foods that taste delicious.
And I remind myself that I’m not “bad” because I eat dark chocolate daily. I’m not “being good” because I’m choosing to eat salad. I’m not any better or worse than someone because of what I eat or don’t eat.
Movement is meant to be fun — and to serve you in any way you want it to. I’ve written several posts about this recently. But this realization has been absolutely life-changing for me, so I’m mentioning it, again. Moving my body is a big part of my life. I work from home. I often sit alone with my thoughts in my office (or on the couch). So I think of my workouts as cocktail hour (without the cocktails). It’s my time to have fun and laugh with my friends.
For me exercise also is empowering and energizing. It helps me to feel stronger and challenge myself. It reduces my anxiety and enhances my mood. It brings my mind clarity and makes me a better writer. It calms and centers me. It increases my circulation. And it simply feels good.
I love moving my body in all kinds of ways (from lifting weights to practicing yoga to walking to riding my bike). Because exercise isn’t just about pounding the pavement or hitting the gym. Again, it’s whatever you want it to be. And it may look different depending on the day, the season, your mood, your likes and dislikes. Depending on your needs and wants.
What are your favorite ways to move your body? What physical activities are fun for you? What physical activities help you lead a full life? What activities boost your energy and mood? What activities relax and ground you?
It’s important to forgive ourselves. Every day. Sometimes several times a day. Because inevitably we will fail. We will make mistakes. We will overeat and undereat. We will say mean things to others. We will say mean things to ourselves. We will fall short of our sky-high goals. We will let ourselves down. We will take steps forward. We will take steps back. And we’ll need to forgive ourselves. Novelist Ann Patchett believes that self-forgiveness is the key to making art and even leading a happy life.
I agree. Because self-forgiveness helps us to move on. It helps us to make healthy, supportive decisions. Because it helps us to build a compassionate relationship with ourselves, a connection that is the foundation for everything.
P.S., Again check out this post, where you can enter to win a book of your choice!
**For more about eating competence (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see www.EllynSatterInstitute.org/store to purchase books and to review other resources. ©2015 by Ellyn Satter published at www.EllynSatterInstitute.org.