If you have followed me for a bit, you might know that I have a serious passion for self-care through holistic nourishment and guiding those along the path to achieving optimal health without dieting.
However, I have noticed a bit of confusion around this topic, especially since diet culture and clever marketing has made weight loss synonymous with health. I'd say, 99.9% of my conversations with strangers develop into them sharing their latest weight loss attempt. But this a common myth, and one I LOVE to dispel for my clients.
Being in the wellness space is both humbling and completely gratifying. While I view my own mistakes with my personal journey more as feedback rather than failures (and you should too), it would have been a MUCH smoother and quicker path to ultimate health, food freedom and self-love, had I learned these tips a little sooner on. So I hope you find these helpful.
Here are 5 things that I believe are integral for achieving optimal health:
1. Ditch Diet Culture. Diet culture is a belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over well-being. This includes but is not limited to: rigid eating patterns or rules that on the surface area in the name of health, but in reality, are about weight shape or size. Not to mention, there is a growing feminist movement to expose diet culture as a form of oppression on women’s bodies. Think about it, there is a multi-billion dollar a year industry constantly pumping out new or repackaged diet trends, and clever marketing, preying on our insecurities- further perpetuated an unrealistic standard of beauty.
2. Honor Your Hunger. Hunger is a natural biological cue that lets you know that your body needs sustenance. After years of ignoring this cue due to diet rules, or rigid meal timing, we can become disconnected from these body messages. Denying biological hunger often backlashes and leads to “primal hunger” that may result in overeating. Hunger is not the enemy. When the rigid rules in your mind, conflict with the direct experience of your body cues (hunger), I call this 'eating from the neck up', vs. 'eating from the neck down'. Eating from the neck up (having set meal schedules, rules about when and what to eat, regardless of hunger), you eventually lose trust in your body, and your body loses trust in your ability to care for it.
3. Cope with Emotions without Using Food. In many cultures, food is often used to celebrate, comfort, or reward, so it’s no wonder we connect emotions to eating. However, the problem comes when it’s the ONLY way to cope with emotions. And when you add dieting to the mix? Studies show dieters have an INCREASED risk of using food to cope with their emotions. Emotional eating experiences are less often a food problem, and more often an unmet needs problem. Again, the dissociation from our own physical needs that occurs while dieting reinforces this disconnect from our emotions. Learn to deconstruct your own eating behavior by asking:
What am I feeling right now? (ex.fearful, angry, sad, shame, joy)
Then ask what do I need right now? (ex. distraction, support, self-care, to deal directly with the feeling)
4. Toss the Scale. Weight loss does not equal improved health. In fact, the growing pressure to lose weight has proven very harmful and has led to widespread nutrient deficiencies, dangerous weight loss efforts, eating disorders, body hatred, size harassment, and occasional deaths. On top of that, the vast majority of people who try to lose weight on a restrictive diet regain it, regardless of whether they maintain their diet or exercise program(Bacon, L. 2010).
Here's the thing, as a Holistic Nutritionist, I know nutrition therapy can be an effective way to promote health and reduce disease risk reduction in many cases. However, I believe it cannot be an effective strategy when there is a focus on weight loss, calorie restriction or unresolved emotional eating and body image issues. What is the true reason behind stepping on the scale each day? What does it really have to do with our health, especially now that we know what we know? For myself and for many of my clients, it was used to TELL us how to feel each day. To tell us if we were worthy of eating that day. To tell us whether or not we needed to punish ourselves with exercise that day. Or to tell us "screw it, nothings working" and we proceed to overeat that day, regardless of hunger or fullness. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
This is a HUGE problem because it completely disconnects us from our TRUE emotions and how we feel IN our bodies. Getting our answers from a scale is the way people avoid processing actual emotions (cue emotional eating). So instead of relying on the scale for answers, turn inward each day and ask YOURSELF:
How do I feel today?
How can I nourish my body today?
What type of moment might feel good today?
5. Celebrate Your body Through Movement. Dieters often choose a physical activity based on calorie burn or as a form of punishment- and not something they necessarily enjoy. When you focus on those extrinsic factors, instead of the pleasure and benefits of consistent joyful movement, you are setting yourself up for the same mentality that you have around dieting, to also exercise. It becomes a chore, and more often than not, when dieting stops, so does the physical activity. By instead finding movement you enjoy and can do consistently, you can reap the long term effects of the regular, more sustainable movement.
Here is what we know about Movement
It's part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
It increases muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
It improves balance and physique, lowers resting heart rate, blood pressure, and improves oxygen delivery throughout the body.
It balances blood sugar and improves immune function.
It aids in digestion and elimination.
We also know that active people are much healthier than sedentary ones, regardless of weight. Physical Activity leads to longer life exercise increases self-confidence, self-acceptance, and a sense of personal worth.
The bottom line:
When we can learn to shift our focus around health AWAY from dieting and weight loss, we can pay more attention and put more effort into the behaviors that actually impact our health!
Bacon, L. (2010). Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.
Tribole, E.(2017). The Intuitive Eating Workbook. California. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Katie is a Registered Holistic Nutrition Practitioner and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health Education. She has dedicated the past decade to helping others in various health-centered roles, including community outreach and as a Wellness Champion for a major US airline.
Katie is a Licensed Body Positive Facilitator and provides support in both group and one-on-one settings in order to dispel the myths of diet culture and reinforce a holistic, health-focused approach, instead of a weight focused approach.
She began Katie Valley Wellness in 2018 as a way to share her passion with others while providing motivation and support to those on their own health journey. She is also an instructor for Life Long Learning Classes at the local college, has partnered with Fieldstone Counseling and Wellness Center, as well as offers additional support to online programs for Naturopathic Doctor, Kimberley O'Brien.